In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis reminds us that Bertolucci has been "an Italian bourgeois son in the 1940s, a French New Wave disciple in the 1960s, a venerated European auteur in the 1970s and a global art-house brand in the 1980s. In 1962, at 21, he was an award-winning poet with a first feature, The Grim Reaper, at the Venice Film Festival. Two years later he was in Cannes with Before the Revolution. There were more successes, including nine Oscars for his 1987 epic The Last Emperor. Since then, though, the praise has ebbed as has the urgency of the discussion concerning his work." So the question now is, "Does he still matter?" As she weaves her way through the filmography — and this is, of course, a must-read — she decides to close in 1977, with 1990, "something of a beautiful mess... It's an attempt to grapple with Italian history that, as is true of any work which enters the world, is now part of history. Given this, to ask whether Mr Bertolucci still matters is to miss the irrefutable and obvious point that his films are part of cinema and, in this sense, have never not mattered."
For Justin Stewart, writing in the L, Bertolucci is "cherished as the questing international risk-taker who has so often seemed to be productively at war with his own instincts. The most identifiable aspect of Bertolucci's films, their boldface Style often provided in large part by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, represents his desire, from The Conformist on, to please audiences, while his dedication to personal and off-kilter content supplies the contradictions and friction that have kept his career engaging."
The Conformist, by the way, opens at New York's Film Forum on Friday for a week-long run. Michael Atkinson in the Voice: "If you're a fledgling, Bertolucci's masterpiece — made when he was all of 29, and showing in a new print at both venues — will be the most revelatory experience you'll have in a theater this year. Fleshing out novelist Alberto Moravia's shadow-box between political compliance and personal shame, Bertolucci created the most arresting mise-en-scène ever concocted for any movie, set entirely in rainy city afternoons and indigo evenings. You can hardly help corresponding the film to seminal mood moments in your own life."
The "story's essence is timeless," writes Violet Lucca in Slant. "After a childhood sexual experience (that ends in murder, no less), Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) becomes a radical centrist, striving to embody the status quo by any means necessary.... Detailing the psychology of complicity is relatively rare within works of fiction; even the most reprehensible villains get to be mavericks, ensuring a certain degree of respectability. It's the type of cavalier despicableness that makes up the majority of history. But however bitter Marcello's betrayal of the wellbeing of others and his own desires, what's truly haunting about the denouement's dual ironies is that inescapable reality of the human condition: Our actions are largely futile and inconsequential, regardless of how pleasurably or painfully we execute them." More from Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 5 out of 5 stars).
The New Yorker's Richard Brody on Luna, starring the late Jill Clayburgh: "Channelling a Viscontian elegance of visual contour and intimate psychological detail, Bernardo Bertolucci probes the sumptuous grace of bourgeois surfeit to its electric core of perverse desire — and ultimately suggests that it's made of frustrated dreams of normalcy."
Bilge Ebiri for Vulture: "As the celebration of his work grew near, the director recently sat with us to dissect thirteen of the key scenes in his filmography."
"What great filmmaker in the world today is the most unheralded, the most unknown?" asks Gerald Peary in the Boston Globe. "A prime candidate is China's Lou Ye, 45, whose oeuvre, with the exception of Suzhou River (2000), has barely registered outside of film festivals. The revelatory four-entry The Films of Lou Ye at the Museum of Fine Arts, [today] through Dec 30, shows this Shanghai-based director as a master of cinema." And isn't it interesting that he adds: "Lou's astonishing work rivals the finest films of Bernardo Bertolucci in viewing a nation's cataclysmic history through the prism of sexual politics."
Back to New York. I Am Secretly an Important Man opens today for a week-long run at the IFC Center. Eric Hynes in Time Out New York: "With his Coke-bottle glasses, spectacular schnoz and homemade tattoos, Jesse Bernstein specialized in making strong impressions — a notion that Peter Sillen's engaging documentary does nothing to dispel. Seattle's kazoo-voiced answer to William S Burroughs, Bernstein was a spoken-word poet and spiritual godfather to the late-80s grunge movement, with a bohemian bio at least as impressive as his free verse. He crammed a lot of living, from childhood polio to adolescent porn, into 40 restless years."
"Bernstein had more unusual experiences before he was 18 than most people do in a lifetime," agrees Steve Dollar at GreenCine Daily. "He met jazz piano genius Phineas Newborn Jr while confined to Camarillo State Mental Hospital. He hitched a ride on Ken Kesey's magic bus. He worked as an opening act for the Holy Modal Rounders, whom he abandoned when he feared they were trying to hold him captive. And so on.... The writer and performer remains such a secret that the film plays out as a kind of mystery, with the director playing investigator. Sillen was lucky in that Bernstein was obsessed with constant video documentation of himself and was an incessant collaborator, leaving a huge trail of pixels and paper — not to mention a string of ex-wives, ex-lovers and two now-grown sons. Some of the footage is so grainy and degraded it looks marvelously like the video equivalent of a photocopied 'zine."
More from Mike Hale (NYT), Ken Marks (New Yorker), Nick Pinkerton (Voice) and S James Snyder (Artforum).
Also screening in NYC, a one-night-only special event this evening at the Walter Reade: In Memoriam: Mario Monicelli. And this brings us to the year-end roundups, lists, awards and so on. By now you'll have heard that Mark Zuckerberg is Time's Person of the Year (and In Contention's Guy Lodge has zeroed in on the inevitable passage in Lev Grossman's piece stressing the differences between the real founder of Facebook and Jesse Eisenberg's character in The Social Network). Time's cover package also includes dozens of "Fond Farewells," brief yet effective remembrances — because the editors have put some thought into deciding whom to ask to write them. A few examples: Arielle Dombasle on Éric Rohmer, Isabelle Huppert on Claude Chabrol, Warren Beatty on Arthur Penn, Peter Fonda on Dennis Hopper, Kirk Douglas on Tony Curtis, Sophie Dahl on Patricia Neal, Jerry Zucker on Leslie Nielsen, Alexandra Silver on Lynn Redgrave and Gloria Stuart, Catherine Mayer on Alan Sillitoe, Richard Corliss on Satoshi Kon, Dino De Laurentiis, Jean Simmons, Lena Horne, John Forsythe and Peter Graves, James Poniewozik on Barbara Billingsley and Tom Bosley and Joe Sacco on Harvey Pekar.
One of the lists I look forward to most each year is Slant's. I thought I'd snip a line or two from each of the seven critics as they blurb their way from #25 through to the top this year. Here, for example, is Bill Weber on Dogtooth (#1) on the page where you'll also find each of the writer's individual lists: "Director Yorgos Lanthimos's elegantly blunt scenario of three twentyish adult children imprisoned by a crypto-dictatorial father on their lush estate, force-fed an incorrect vocabulary and myths of menacing housecats, reads just as well as a gloss on the permanent baggage of family as it does a metaphor for the ruthless daddyism of political strongmen."
Fernando F Croce on The Ghost Writer (#2): "Survival in a wolfish world has been Roman Polanski's career-long theme, and this impeccable, Nabokovian comedy of menace finds the controversial auteur in insinuating fine form, his traumas and foibles embossed in every foreboding widescreen composition." Nick Schager on Jessica Hausner's Lourdes (#3): "An opening shot that descends from God's to man's perspective encapsulates the POV of this aesthetically and tonally controlled tale, in which wheelchair-bound Christine (a magnificent Sylvie Testud) travels with other 'pilgrims' to the holy sites of Lourdes in search of divine healing." Ed Gonzalez on Maren Ade's Everyone Else (#4): "This richly playful, intuitive, and frank romance ponders a deceptively simple question: Is respectability necessarily a sign of maturity?" Andrew Schenker on Vincere (#7): "If, as Bellocchio shows through jingoistic newsreels, the film image can be a powerful tool for propaganda, it can also serve more positive redemptive and recuperative purposes, the former illustrated through Ida's joyful self-projections while watching Charlie Chaplin's The Kid, the latter through the Italian director's own bold act of cinematic remembrance." Simon Abrams on Let Me In (#10): "Alfredson's [Let the Right One In] was made two years ago and is more than strong enough of an adaptation to stand on its own two feet. And yet, somehow, Reeves made the better film." Joseph Jon Lanthier on #13: "Sopping with detached narcissism and unprocessed disappointment, October Country is close to what we'd presumably get if we gave one of the tangential interviewee-hicks from the annals of Errol Morris's America a camera and unprecedented editorial control over his own story."
"Hundreds of sheep a-grazing, two swans a-schizing, one geek a-coding..." Jim Emerson's Scanners entry is the most fun way into the poll of MSN Movies' critics, the resulting top ten and the mini-essays accompanying each of those titles. Jim breaks it down:
10. Kathleen Murphy on Sweetgrass
9. Don Kaye on Exit Through the Gift Shop
8. Mary Pols on Toy Story 3
7. James Rocchi on Dogtooth
6. Sean Axmaker on Let Me In
5. Glenn Kenny on Carlos (and at Some Came Running, he expands his own list to 20)
4. Richard T Jameson on The Ghost Writer
3. Glenn Whipp on Winter's Bone
2. Kim Morgan on Black Swan
1. Jim Emerson on The Social Network
The AV Club lists the "15 worst films of 2010." #1: The Last Airbender.
"Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Canada's Top Ten is an unique annual event, established in 2001 by TIFF to honor excellence in contemporary Canadian cinema, reinforcing TIFF's commitment to Canadian filmmakers." Screenings and discussions are planned for January 20 through February 1, and here's the lineup.
At the Playlist, "Canadian identical twin-sister indie rock duo Tegan & Sara have kindly each emailed their individual lists of their top 10 films of the year. The talented duo's latest effort, Sainthood was shortlisted for the 2010 Polaris Music Prize and we recommend giving it a spin."
Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins is having a very good year in Japan. Chris MaGee chalks up some of the awards so far.
Tom Hall has begun listing his "Top Ten Cinematic Experiences of 2010": "Not necessarily films (although sometimes), these are the experiences that defined my year in film culture."
"We've been asking the top culturati of 2010 to pick the best of the year's entertainment," blogs Jada Yuan in Vulture. "Naturally, that meant we'd have to talk to Patti Smith, author of the wonderful memoir Just Kids, about her extraordinary relationship with the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith's answers were as idiosyncratic as the woman herself."
The New York Times Magazine presents its 10th annual "Year in Ideas" issue. The New York Observer's "Best of 2010." From National Geographic, the "Top Ten Discoveries of 2010." The Futurist scopes out trends for the decade ahead.
IN OTHER NEWS
"Film Studies For Free is delighted to pass on news of the launch of Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image.... The make up of the international editorial team bespeaks the very high quality of this new journal. And the star-studded line-up for its first issue, together with its extraordinarily interesting table of contents, shows just how thrilling those all too unusual 'analytic philosophy' and 'continental philosophy' juxtapositions can be!"
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