Notebook's 12th Writers Poll: Fantasy Double Features of 2019

In our annual poll, we pair our favorite new films of 2019 with older films seen in the same year to create fantastic double features.
How would you program this year's newest, most interesting films into double features with movies of the past you saw in 2019?
Looking back over each year at what films moved and impressed us, it is clear that watching old films is a crucial part of making new films meaningful. Thus, the annual tradition, now in its 12th edition, of our end of year poll, which calls upon our writers to pick both a new and an old film: they were challenged to choose a new film they saw in 2019—in cinemas or at a festival—and creatively pair it with an old film they also saw in 2019 to create a unique double feature. Together, the two films form a snapshot of the year's viewings—not limited just to the latest releases—that were important to them.
All the contributors were given the option to write some text explaining their 2019 fantasy double feature. What's more, each writer was given the option to list more pairings, with or without explanation, as further imaginative film programming we'd be lucky to catch in that perfect world we know doesn't exist but can keep dreaming of every time we go to the movies. Feel free to share your own ideal 2019 double features in the comments below.
NEW: Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, USA) 
OLD: As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (Jonas Mekas, 2000)
I really felt the loss of Jonas Mekas passing earlier this year. I often catch myself daydreaming of his work; reels of magic and melancholy, home videos like no other. As I Was... is a memory box of truths and ideas, of love, innocence, forgiveness and hope; a wondrous daydream that understands something deep and wordless about life and love. The final scenes in Marriage Story have a daydream quality, there's a tenderness in Charlie and Nicole's infinite tie that finely balances against estrangement and inexplicable feelings. These small gestures reveal an empathy in which Mekas was the master, small gestures such as tying up a loved ones shoelace or watching them smile into the camera. We are shown something strange and beautiful about love, the pain and complexities of it. The importance and power of it. 
NEW: Space Dogs (Elsa Kremser, Levin Peter, Austria/Germany)
OLD: White Bim, Black Ear (Stanislav Tostostkiy, 1977)
One dog beamed into space and a certain death for the greater good of mankind; another loses his owner and suffers endless indignities. Both Russia-set films skillfully point towards non-anthropomorphized animal representation while ruthlessly laying bare man's infinite cruelty. If we cannot be kind to man's best friend, how can we ever be kind to one another? 
NEW: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, France)
OLD: Lianna (John Sayles, 1983)
Two intimate tales of first lesbian love, both told with empathy and a lack of sensationalism that's frustratingly rare (especially in Lianna's case—a film nearly 40 years old and directed by a straight man!) Much of the drama plays out on the actresses' faces, and the stars of both films possess the kind of unique charisma that flourishes in stories told outside of mainstream Hollywood.
NEW: Long Day's Journey into Night (Bi Gan, China)
OLD: The Blood of a Poet (Jean Cocteau, France, 1932)
"To sleep, perchance to dream."
NEW: Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov, Russia) + OLD: So It Doesn't Hurt (Marcel Łoziński, Poland, 1998)
Solitude of ostracized single women as transcendence.
NEW: Transit (Christian Petzold, Germany) + OLD: Under the Pavement Lies the Strand (Helma Sanders-Brahms, Germany, 1975)
Not simply because these two films are German and set in troubled times -- but also because they are so permeated with the magic, desire for and also perhaps the impossibility of love.
NEW: Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry, USA)
OLD: Puzzle of a Downfall Child (Jerry Schatzberg, 1970)
Spirals within spirals within spirals. Exhausting episodes of reflection, addiction and lurid glamour in tight spaces. Altogether too mournful to tip over the edge into camp, but always too rabidly performed to risk becoming stodgy. High stakes, high-wire spectacles of survival.
NEW: 1985 (Yen Tan, USA) + OLD: Zero Patience (John Greyson, 1993)
NEW: Knife + Heart (Yann Gonzalez, France/Mexico) + OLD: Crimes of Passion (Ken Russell, 1984)
NEW: High Life (Claire Denis, France) + OLD: Secret Ceremony (Joseph Losey, 1968)
NEW: Baat3 bou6 bun3 hei2 nou6 oi1 lok6 (Lucid Dreams, Gwaan1 Wai4 Paang4 {Teddy Robin Kwan}, 2018) + OLD: Die Gruft mit dem Rätselschloss (The Curse of the Hidden Vault, Franz Josef Gottlieb, 1964)
NEW: Kamera o tomeru na! (One Cut of the Dead, Ueda Shin'ichirō, 2017) + OLD: O jardim das espumas (Luiz Rosemberg Filho, 1971)
NEW: La mafia non è più quella di una volta (The Mafia Is Not What It Used To Be, Franco Maresco, 2019) + OLD: 'Aḥdāṯ bidūn dilāla (Muṣṭafā Derqāuī, 1974)
From cinema-as-cinema-can to society understood as an A-feature with a C-programmer plot: The total picture experience.
NEW: Sairā Narasinhā Reḍḍi (Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, Surēndar Reḍḍi, 2019) + OLD: Taiyō no ōji. Hols no daibōken (Horus, Prince of the Sun, Takahata Isao, 1968)
NEW: Gosudarstvennye pohorony (State Funeral, Sergej Loznica [& Sergej Gerasimov, with Irina Setkina, Elizaveta Svilova, Grigorij Aleksandrov, Mihail Čiaureli, Ilʹja Kopalin《Velikoe proščanie, 1953》], 2019) + OLD: La dialectique peut-elle casser des briques? [1973 Dubbed Version] (Can Dialectics Break Bricks? (René Vienét [& Gérard Cohen {& Tú Guāngqǐ 《Táng shǒu táiquándào, 1972》}], 1972/73)
NEW: Bait (Mark Jenkin, 2019) + OLD: Humanoids from the Deep (1980; Barbara Peeters [& Jimmy Murakami Teruaki & James Sbardellati])
A crash course in accurate political cinema.
NEW: Caang1 saan3(Can4 Jiu6 Sing4 {Evans Chan}, 2016-18)/Ngo5 mun4 jau5 jyu5 hoe1(2018; Can4 Jiu6 Sing4 {Evans Chan}, 2018) + OLD: Dàtóng: Hong1 Jau5 Wai4 zoi6 seoi6 din2 (Can4 Jiu6 Sing4 {Evans Chan}, 2011) + Hong1 Jau5 Wai4 ji6 saam1 si6 (Can4 Jiu6 Sing4 {Evans Chan}, 2013)
NEW: Gai3 jyun4 toi4 cat1 hou6 (No.7 Cherry Lane, Joeng4 Faan4 [& Xiè Wénmíng {Joe Hsieh} & Zhāng Gāng] + OLD: Ming4 zi6 dik1 mui4 gwai3 —“Dung2 Kai2 Zoeng1” dei6 tou4 (Can4 Jiu6 Sing4 {Evans Chan}, 2014)
NEW: Zung1 Jing1 Gaai1 1 hou6 (No. 1 Chung Ying Street, Ziu6 Sung4 Gei1 {Derek Chiu}, 2018) + OLD: Siu1 sat1 dik1 dong2 on3 (Connie Lo4 Jan1 Wai6, 2017)
In case there was ever any doubt: The Ferroni Brigade stands with Hong Kong!
NEW: Il traditore (The Traitor, Marco Bellocchio, 2019) + OLD: Les assassins de l'ordre (Law Breakers, Marcel Carné,1971)
NEW: Danmarks sønner (Sons of Denmark, Ulaa Salim, 2019) + OLD: Skin Game (Paul Bogart [& Gordon Douglas], 1972)
NEW: Charlie Says (Mary Harron, 2018) + OLD: Helter Skelter (Tom Gries, 1976)
Outcasts in a world of neurotic togetherness, Part 1: Enlightenment's pain.
NEW: Armed (Mario Van Peebles, 2018) + OLD: Sol Madrid (Brian Geoffrey Hutton, 1968)
NEW: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018) + OLD: Cross of Fire (Paul Wendkos, 1989)
NEW: Dirty Money: The Confidence Man (Fisher Stevens, 2018) + OLD: The Predator (Stormy Daniels {Stephanie Clifford}, 2007)
A State of the Union address for our times.
NEW: Spit and Ashes (Maria Beatty, 2019) + OLD: S.C.U.M. Manifesto 1967 (Carole Roussopoulos & Delphine Seyrig, 1976)
NEW: Searching Eva (Pia Hellenthal, 2019) + OLD: The Mafu Cage (Karen Arthur, 1978)
NEW: Psykosia (Psychosia, Marie Grahtø, 2019) + OLD: Mourir à tue-tête (A Scream from Silence, Anne Claire Poirier, 1979)
Feminism then and now. What remains is the quest for an identity – or more precisely put: The right for an identity potentially different cum apart.
NEW: Pānipat (Āśutōṣ Aśōk Gōvārīkar, 2019) + OLD: The Brigand of Kandahar (John Gilling, 1965)
NEW: Bratstvo (Leaving Afghanistan, Pavel Lungin, 2019)+ OLD: Ḫāneh-ye Tārīḫ (QādirṬāḥirī, 1996)
NEW: 12 Strong (Nicolai Fuglsig, 2018) + OLD: Muntele Magic (Anca Damian, 2015)
An Afghanistan picture show.
NEW: African Mirror (Mischa Hedinger, 2019) + OLD: Let the World Speak (Petri Hämäläinen & Hannes Laurila & John Mpaayei & Esko Rintala, 1960)
NEW: #sandravugande (Filip Remunda, 2019) + OLD: La Femme au couteau (The Woman With the Knife, Timité Bassori, 1969)
NEW: This Is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection (Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, 2019) + OLD: Ona vse ešče vertitsja (Sulaimān An-Nῡr, 1978)
A Sub-Saharian Africa picture show including everything from a missionary movie to what looks and feels like the last echt Soviet film.
NEW: Über Leben in Demmin (Living in Demmin, Martin Farkas, 2017) + OLD: Das Mahnmal (The Memorial, Max Jaap, 1949)
NEW: Der Funktionär (The Communist, Andreas Goldstein, 2018) + OLD: Ikarus (Icarus, Heiner Carow, 1975)
NEW: Fortschritt im Tal der Ahnungslosen (Progress in the Valley of the People Who Don't Know, Florian Kunert, 2019) + OLD: News & Stories. Veränderung ist das Salz des Vergnügens: Einar Schleef inszeniert "Wessis in Weimar" im Berliner Ensemble (Alexander Kluge, 1993)
Remembrances of a nation lost, with a lighthearted coda in the here and now.
NEW: Der Junge muß an die frische Luft (All About Me, Caroline Link, 2018) + OLD: Junges Licht (Young Light, Adolf Winkelmann, 2016)
NEW: pain, vengeance? (Stefan Hayn, 2019) + OLD: Kulenkampffs Schuhe (Regina Schilling, 2018)
NEW: Polizeiruf 110: Die Lüge, die wir Zukunft nennen (Dominik Graf, 2019)
OLD: Die Sieger – Extended Version (The Invincibles – Director's Cut, Dominik Graf, 1994-2019)
Remembrances of a nation lost, with a bleak coda in the here and now.
NEW: Salt and Fire (Werner Herzog, 2016) + OLD: Die Geschäftsfreunde (The Deadly Companions) (Martin Müller, 1968)
NEW: Hanne (Dominik Graf, 2018) + OLD: Der zweite Frühling (Second Spring, Ulli Lommel, 1975)
NEW: Königin von Niendorf (Queen of Niendorf, Joya Thome, 2017) + OLD: Das Wunder (Eckhart Schmidt, 1985)
The Bavarian movie spirit: Alive and kicking, in its Swinging Schwabing- as well as its mystic variety. Not everything of worth was lost after all...
NEW: Mosul (Matthew Michael Carnahan, 2019) + OLD: La battaglia di El Alamein (The Battle of El Alamein, Giorgio Ferroni, 1969)
NEW: Lán xīn dà jùyuàn (Saturday Fiction, Lóu Yè, 2019) + OLD: Le Silencieux (Escape to Nowhere, Claude Pinoteau, 1973)
NEW: Metri-ye Šīš-o nīm (Just 6.5, SaꜤīd Rῡsta´ī, 2019) + OLD: Roma a mano armata (The Tough Ones, Umberto Lenzi, 1976)
They did 'em better in the old days but that doesn't mean they don't know how to do 'em with style and balls today as well.
NEW: BuyBust (Erik Matti, 2018) + OLD: Saang2 gong2 kei4 bing1 (Long Arm of the Law, Mak6 Dong1 Hung4 {Johnny Mak}, 1984)
NEW: Sān shàoye de jiàn 3D (Sword Master 3D, Ji5 Dung1 Sing1 {Derek Yee}, 2016) + OLD: The Abotess and the Flying Bone (Hans Scheirl, Dietmar Schipek, 1989)
NEW: Soeng4 zoi6 nei5 zo2 jau6 (Always Be With You, Jau1 Lai5 Tou4 {Herman Yau}, 2017) + OLD: Jam1 joeng4 lou6 4: Jyu5 gwai2 tung4 haang4 (Troublesome Night 4, Jau1 Lai5 Tou4 {Herman Yau}, 1998)
Genre guts and glory the East-Southeast Asian way, with a bit of mad, bad and dangerous to know queery Austrian avant-garde genius thrown in for some Brecht'ian perspective.
NEW: The Commuter (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2018) + OLD: Una partita di scacchi (A Game of Chess, Luigi Maggi, 1912)
NEW: Den of Thieves (Christian Gudegast, 2018) + OLD: Money Movers (Bruce Beresford, 1978)
NEW: Lukas (Julien Leclerq, 2018) + OLD: Colt 45 (Fabrice Du Welz, 2014)
Crime and sometimes also a bit of punishment.
NEW: The Night Comes for Us (Timo Tjahjanto, 2018)+ OLD: Sierra Jim's Reformation (John B. O'Brien, 1914)
NEW: The Mule (Clint Eastwood, 2018) + OLD: The Underworld Story (Cy Endfield, 1950)
NEW: Ghost Stories (Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman, 2017) + OLD: Lei5 bik1 waa4 gwai2 mei6 hai6 lit6 - Kei4 waan6 je6 (Tales From the Dark 2, Can4 Gaa1 Soeng6 {Gordon Chan}, Lau4 Gwok3 Coeng1 {Lawrence Lau aka Kawrence Ah Mon}, Gwaan1 Wai4 Paang4 {Teddy Robin Kwan}, 2013)
They did 'em better in the old days but that doesn't mean they don't know how to do 'em with style and balls today as well – The Sequel.
NEW: Domino (Brian De Palma, 2019) + OLD: Captain Voyeur (John Carpenter, 1969)
NEW: Avengement (Jesse V. Johnson, 2019) + OLD: The Glass House (Tom Gries, 1972)
NEW: Death Kiss (Rene Perez, 2018) + OLD: 10 to Midnight (J. Lee Thompson, 1983)
Blood shall be spilled. Dust be my destiny.
NEW: Le daim (Deerskin, Quentin Dupieux, 2019) + OLD: Le Far-West (Far West, Jacques Brel, 1973)
NEW: The Helsinki Accord (Mamdooh Afdile, Iddo Soskolne, 2019) + OLD: Neotpravlennoe pismo v moskvu (Unsent Letter to Moscow, Mikhail Kalik, 1977)
NEW: The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine, 2019) + OLD: Bondi (Paul Winkler, 1979)
Outcasts in a world of neurotic togetherness, Part II: Dreams of genre.
NEW: Lisa! (Mario Schollenberger, 2018) + OLD: [Behind Porn] (?, 192?)
NEW: Interstellar Civil War (Albert Pyun, 2017/18) + OLD: Il seme dell'uomo (Marco Ferreri, 1969)
NEW: High Life (Claire Denis, 2018) + OLD: Isolation (Billy O‘Brien, 2005)
NEW: Luz (Tilman Singer) + OLD: Moc (Power, Vlatko Gilic, 1973)
NEW: Premikā p̀ārāb (Premika, Ṣ̄iwkr Cāruphngṣ̄ā, 2017) + OLD: Wie ein Vogel auf dem Draht (Like a Bird On a Wire, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1975)
NEW: Bodied (Joseph Kahn, 2017) + OLD: Transformation (Gerda Lampalzer, 2009)
Deliria transcendence-wards, with a bit of dialectic science fiction thrown in for good balancing measure.
NEW: Gaa1 wo4 maan3 si3 ging1 (A Home With a View, Jau1 Lai5 Tou4 {Herman Yau}) + OLD: Criminally Insane (Nick Millard, 1975)
NEW: Der goldene Handschuh (The Golden Glove, Fatih Akin, 2019) + OLD: Les onze mille verges (The 11,000 Sexes, Eric Lipmann, 1975)
NEW: Ma nudité ne sert à rien (My Nudity Means Nothing, Marina de Van, 2019) + OLD: Fantasy (Gerard Damiano, 1979)
Sinema, or: Swallow me, abyss!
NEW: I piccoli maghi di Oz (The Little Wizards of Oz, Luigi Cozzi, 2018) + OLD: The Passionate Stranger (Muriel Box, 1956)
NEW: Love, Death + Robots: Zima Blue (Robert Valley, Maxime Luère, 2019) + OLD: Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants (David Mamet, 1996)
NEW: D'après une histoire vraie (Based on a True Story, Roman Polanski, 2017) + OLD: Muk6 lou6 hung1 gwong1 (Victim, Ringo Lam Ling dung1 {Ringo Lam}, 1999)
Cinema as a hall of mirrors. Getting lost in an eternity of reflections.
NEW: Subject to Review (Theo Anthony, USA)
OLD: Images of the World and the Inscription of War (Harun Farocki, Germany)
In which Farocki and Anthony examine the cracks in a technological spectator’s veneer of objectivity. That the knowledge complex Farocki once examined in the military can now be found in areas of life as inconsequential as tennis says a lot about how Anthony’s project can be seen as an elaboration on his predecessor’s.
NEW: The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine, USA)
OLD:  The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973)
Despite the stark difference in visual contrast between the two main protagonists, there is a fascinating proximity in their aptitude to mumble their way through crazy water-sided, light-filled worlds. Looking for something ethereal until a final release is achieved, the characters wobble around in a boozy and dreamy landscape; oscillating between various extreme situations, they poetically and naturally simplify for everyone to comprehend. The two movies offer some true guilty pleasures: Panini-haired Zac Efron on one side, neon-speedo sporting Arnold Schwarzenegger on the other. A foggy melancholic delight in both cases.
NEW: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, USA) + OLD:  Road house (Rowdy Herrington, 1989)
It's not like a mysterious diamond-cut-bodied silent yet philosophical man has never been seen in the ever-evolving (?) world of film, but Swayze and Pitt definitely share some common ground. Shady fragmented past, a taste for suddenly brutal methods and what seems to be strong pheromones attracting anyone and anything's sexual attention: they cross, on the contrary of my first double bill, their entire story without much babble. Observing, estimating and judging without barely a word, we as a spectator are pushed to side with these forcibly admirable wise tree trunks until their final punch out irremediably occurs, proving with a samey caveman elegance their godliness. Commonly-defined candies in their fantasied and memorabilia-filled sweet shops , we still gasp at their way with a mix of guilt and curiosity.
NEW: Heimat is a Space in Time (Thomas Heise, Germany)
OLD: Thief or Reality (Antoinetta Angelidi, 2001)
A film with an almost impossibly vast scope—a multigenerational epistolary epic about life in Germany spanning World War I to the present day—and a film almost impossibly intimate, seeming to take place entirely in one’s mind. A film about the way politics and external forces shape our lives, and a film about the internal workings of grief and free will. A film deeply intertwined with history, and a film deeply skeptical of history’s authors and forms. A documentary made up largely of long takes of the natural world, and a Brechtian, Surrealist, often discontinuous fiction. Taken together, they encapsulate most of what cinema has to offer.
NEW: Dolemite is My Name (Craig Brewer, USA)
OLD: Cinema Inocente (Julio Bressane, 1979)
Rarely, if ever, is cinema innocent, but the protagonists of these two films, Rudy Ray Moore and porno-chanchada film editor Radar, definitely are. Nietzschean vessels of a cinematographic will to power.
NEW: Suburban Birds (Qiu Sheng, China)
OLD: Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, 2013)
Secretly, lives cycle through a landscape.
NEW: Amazing Grace (Alan Elliott, Sydney Pollack, USA)
OLD: Sing Sing Thanksgiving (David Hoffman, Harry Wiland, T.C. Garcia, 1974)
The Church is perhaps the main organizing institution of African America and its gospel music is a form which has made incalculable contributions to America and to the world. Yet, like black Democrats running for President of the United States, there seems to be very limited space in cinema for gospel. These two films are noteworthy exceptions. The 1972 film of Aretha Franklin’s concert at the New Temple Baptist Mission church in Los Angeles answers the question as to whether or not Sister Aretha was coming back to the Church by showing you that she never left it. The film took 38 years to be painstakingly completed. While the audio recording of the concert became her biggest-selling album, as well as the highest-grossing gospel collection in history, director Sydney Pollack – hot from his Oscar for the dance endurance marathon weepie They Shoot Horses Don’t They – failed to do the most basic pre-production work. Pollack didn’t use a clapperboard to mark the start of shots, and didn’t write down the names of the songs after filming. Aretha had hoped for a movie acting career in Hollywood (Marvin Gaye had starred in Green Berets vs. biker flick ‘Chrome and Hot Leather’ the year before). While she put in a more than creditable cameo later in The Blues Brothers (1980) Franklin is said to have been unhappy with the production of ‘Amazing Grace’. Despite completing the film in 2013 from Pollack’s two thousand unsynchronized shots, Elliot was only able to get clearance from Aretha Franklin’s estate after her passing, which explains why the film was released, belatedly, this year. The result shows Aretha in her element, and what can’t be captured on an audio recording: her interaction with her family, musicians, and the 30-strong singers of the Southern California Community Choir. There’s also a glimpse of Rolling Stones Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger, who start out at the back of the chapel but by the end Mick is right down at the front, surrounded by Aretha’s close family who are all in a state of understandable rapture. An ungenerous take would be to say that Jagger knew there would be film cameras and couldn’t resist getting his mug in the middle of the shot. A more forgiving one would be to point out that the Stones were a R&B covers band for the first three years of their careers and when you’re called, you’re called. A connection between the ‘new’ film and the old one (actually filmed the following year, in 1973) is the original director the studio picked for ‘Amazing Grace’, James Signorelli. Signorelli was cinematographer on Super Fly (1972), made famous for its Curtis Mayfield soundtrack. In Hoffman, Wiland and Garcia’s 1974 documentary of a Thanksgiving concert at Sing Sing Prison, B B King and Joan Baez get the top billing, but the undisputed stars of the movie are the incredible Voices of East Harlem. With Mayfield as their record producer, the Voices - a 20-strong Harlem gospel choir in their teens and twenties - enjoyed a brief period of fame in the early Seventies.  They’re in the better known Denis Sanders-directed film ‘Soul to Soul’ of the 1971 concert given by black American musicians in Ghana. The Sing Sing concert, which also includes unfiltered footage of the grim reality of prison life and B B King in a kimono, gives you more - so much more - of the Voices than ‘Soul to Soul’ does. You don’t need any spiritual belief to receive the overwhelming, weirdly Wagnerian, tidal wave of hope, compassion, optimism, defiance and – above all else – Soul Power served up by the Voices. It hits you with the intensity of the midday sun, in a clear sky on winter’s day, bathing a cold prison recreation yard with warmth, love and light.
NEW: Fugue (Agnieszka Smoczyńska, Poland)
OLD: The Collectress (Kristina Buožytė, 2008)
In Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s Fugue, a woman’s amnesia is so severe that she does not remember her own name or recognize anyone in her family. The woman, Alicja (Gabriela Muskala), appears one day on a subway platform in Wrocław, not knowing who she is. Her husband recognizes her when she appears on television, and soon she rediscovers her life as Kinga, who is married and has a son. Smoczyńska’s film has much in common with one from 2008 made in neighboring Lithuania, Kristina Buožytė’s The Collectress. The subject of Buožytė’s film, Gaile (Gabija Jaraminaitė), a Vilnius speech therapist, arrives at a complete loss of affect—the kind of presentation in depressive patients that Julia Kristeva described in Black Sun—and, being a scientist, hires a video editor to film her engaging in increasingly risky behavior in order to observe any affective response she may have.
Neither film deliberately points to a specific event as the cause of the subsequent behavior by necessity, but instead views the event as a catalyst for a psychic reality that was perhaps always in the characters from the beginning. Smoczyńska and Buožytė find a sense of immediacy in what would otherwise be melodramas in that they are more concerned with who the characters become through the collapse of meaning that occurs in an identity crisis. In other words, neither film suggests that the viewer should sympathize with the subject merely for having “lost” something in a traumatic event. Both stand at a distance instead, regarding the behavior as phenomena. As a thought experiment, the protagonists could be fabricating their behavior and the films’ theses would arguably remain the same: the premises upon which the perception of both women is established dissolves, revealing something else.
NEW: The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, USA)
OLD: Time Stood Still (Ermanno Olmi, 1959)
One of the highlights of the Ermanno Olmi retrospective at Film at Lincoln Center this Summer—in fact one of the best films I saw all year—was Olmi’s 1959 debut feature Time Stood Still. In that film, an older man working as a caretaker of a remote dam construction site in the Italian Alps is joined by a new and much younger assistant over the Christmas holidays. Initially the two circle each other warily, barely speaking at first, until they grudgingly start to accept each other and eventually enjoy each other’s company. It is a lovely, understated film, heart-warming without being sentimental, with a wonderful sense of time and place. Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, which also starts with a younger man arriving to assist an older man in his care-taking duties in a remote location (this time an island off the coast of New England), immediately reminded me of Olmi’s film. Made 60 years apart, both films are shot in gorgeous black and white, have almost no speaking characters outside the main pair, and take place in a half-mile radius of inhospitable land. Where Olmi’s film is shot in TotalScope widescreen, Eggers’ is shot in a nearly square 1.19:1 aspect ratio (you could fit two of Eggers’ frames into one of Olmi’s).In both films a terrible storm precipitates a turn of events but things don’t go quite as well for Eggers’ maniacal lighthouse keepers as they do for Olmi’s gentle odd couple.
NEW: Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, Portugal)
OLD: Glory Sky (Takis Kanellopoulos, 1962)
Two films I saw at this year's Viennale—two films which both circle around the notion of loss, of historical powerlessness and imperialism, of narratives we tell ourselves (both individually and collectively) in order to cope and survive.
NEW: The Marshall's Two Executions (Radu Jude, Romania) + OLD: Perfect Film (Ken Jacobs, 1968)
How does one define found-footage cinema in a time when it is as hyped as ever? To answer: two distinctive short films by arthouse maestros, that offer very different methodologies and means, yet both using a dialectical approach towards capital-H history.
NEW: Dark Phoenix (Simon Kinberg, USA)
OLD: Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)
The adult woman returns home to exorcise the little girl inside. The body becomes violated, the mind corrupted with dreams of power.
NEW: La Flor (Mariano Llinás, Argentina)
OLD: Litoral (Raúl Ruiz, 2008)
Before embarking on what ended up being the most exhilarating, most transcending cinematic experience of my year, I was consciously haunted by the question every critic and programmer must confront at one stage or another in her career: Amid the glut of stories and images, is there anything remotely new to see? To tell? Are we just going through the motions, duping ourselves into championing recycled and processed art? Cynicism sometimes feel like an inevitable upshot of the work – when the giddy, childlike enthusiasm of watching becomes just that…mechanical work.
Then along comes a disarming experience like La Flor to swipe you off your feet and remind you that artists, that humanity, is yet to reach the end of the line. The infinite possibilities of storytelling; the limitless spectrum of human emotions; the overwhelming pleasures of genre films; and the miraculous nature of creation. Rarely has such a deliberately-constructed monolith of pastiche felt so original, so epic, so life-affirming.   
The unexpected epiphany I had with La Flor was near identical to that of Ruiz’s oft-forgotten mini-series—storytelling as a “mirror to the creative process,” as he once described it. Murder plots, ghost stories, high-pitched romances, are all packed in a beguiling mosaic reflecting our addictive, instinctual need to tell stories. Taking a lead from Foucault's Nietzschean genealogy, both Llinás and Ruiz understand that just like life, there no inherit meaning in stories themselves; that the only derived meaning is in the fundamental act of storytelling… in the basic act of creation.
NEW: Tlamess (Ala Eddine Slim, 2019) + OLD: The Last Movie (Dennis Hopper, 2019)
Cinema as an acid trip. The Tunisian maverick and l’enfant terrible of deceased Hollywood share one goal, and one goal only: to fuck up with you head in the different kind of means only film can afford. You can theorize about the meaning behind each: their fallen universes; their fractured masculinities; their raging rebellion. Does it all really matter though? They don’t seem to concur.
Here’s a barrage of glaring images and blaring sounds and engulfing onslaught of sensations - Kenneth Anger with illusionary narratives. You don’t need to understand, no need to search for meaning; you just need to see, to hear, to feel. Here’s an alluring invitation to get lost in this transitory experience: would you dispose of your dispositions, of your prejudices, and accept it? This is cinema as sex: dangerous, alluring, and strangely immersive.
NEW: The August Virgin (Jonás Trueba, 2019) + OLD: We May Have Many Names (Mai Zetterling, 1976)
Here are two stories about women that are drastically different in tone and approach: the first is a breezy, enchantingly melancholic Rohmerian tale of a thirty-something actress unsure where she wants life to take her next. The second is a brutal, unflinching Bergmanesque divorce drama about a wife whose life disintegrates when her husband confesses that he’s in love with another woman. Both, however, are stories of reinvention; of self-discovery; of hope and loss; of the love delusion; of the elusive search for finding one’s place in the world; of the eternally foreboding decision to be part of the world. Graham Greene would surely agree that the greatest trick cinema has ever played on us is to believe in the possibility of understanding one another; in seemingly providing a portal to the indecipherable human psyche. We may never fathom the full spectrum of our two heroines, but in the brief duration of both films, Zetterling and Trueba graciously grant us this gift of understanding – a promise that in exchange of our empathy, we may learn a few things about the other, and by default, ourselves in the process. 
NEW:  The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, USA)
OLD:  A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper, 2018)
Movies offer up a unique opportunity to engage our issues of time: the obsession to repeat and prolong; the tortuous sensation of enduring endless, stretched out moments.
My experience of The Irishman, the 3 hr 29 film by Martin Scorsese, is eclipsed by the last sixth of the total running time.  As Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) outlives his friends, narrative action is radically slowed. A distended final act is full of frames with a man living outside of his use;  alone, useless, a burden.
Revisiting A Star is Born, the experience of time is intoxifying and overwhelming as the toxic but true romance it captures. But as Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) outlives his feeling of use and being loved, he is as odd and displaced in the film frame as Frank.Both films capitalize on the pace and passing of time to highlight extreme love, loss and desertion.
NEW: Soni (Ivan Ayr, India)
OLD: In Bloom (Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Groß, 2014)
The purpose of this double-feature, which would screen In Bloom first, is to understand the ways in which gender plays a role in vulnerability and power. If film culture over the past few years has had a clear central topic, it is the dynamics of the underprivileged in their struggle for agency and equity. In Bloom, a Georgian film about two girls coming age and diverging in the paths they choose to take into adulthood, examines traditional culture that assumes the subservience and silence of women. When one of the girls is given a gun, suddenly the dynamics change, she walks with confidence, but with this newfound power comes a great burden of responsibility, and her friend watches her turn into something they both once feared. We transition from this anarchic sense of power to a more structural democratic one in Ivan Ayr’s 2019 Indian film Soni, which follows two women police officers in Delhi. Despite the formal authority of their positions here too they are bound by traditions that keep them below their male counterparts. While one fights these traditions respecting the boundaries set for her and her position, the other chooses to break them with her fists. Both of these films understand the difficult moral propositions that come with retaliation and revolution by those deemed lower in class, race, age, and gender. What they ask us is, are we willing to corrupt ourselves for our own liberation?
NEW: Los Reyes (Bettina Perut, Iván Osnovikoff, Chile)
OLD: Homework (Abbas Kiarostami, 1989)
Los Reyes and Homework, which occupy vastly different sociopolitical contexts, are likewise centered on ostensibly opposed subjects: leisure and pedagogy. Bettina Perut and Iván Osnovikoff train their camera on a famed skate park in Santiago, observing the two stray dogs that live there, while also offering conversations between the layabout teens that frequent it, including banal banter, casual drug talk, stories of police brutality, and all manner of violent chance encounters. Kiarostami presents interviews of various schoolchildren, covering subjects such as poverty, illiteracy, war, corporal punishment, and domestic abuse. What's remarkable is that in both cases, the directors' découpage—judicious compositions that pull apart sound and image—places this wide range of personal stories on the same level of (in)comprehension and thus on the same emotional plane: Perut and Osnovikoff withhold the faces of speakers and any reaction shots; Kiarostami offers almost nothing but the faces of the interviewees, framed to suggest an interrogation set-up. In doing so, the filmmakers push their sociological snapshots of youth beyond mere commentary.
NEW: Bacurau (Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles, 2019)
OLD: Southern Comfort (Walter Hill, 1981)
Bacurau is upfront about its affinity to genre-master John Carpenter, from using his synth score in a music cue to having a village school named in honor of him (Joao Carpenteiro, that is). The narrative of a rag-tag motley crew of townsfolk under siege by outside forces runs in Carpenter's work whether Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from New York, or Prince of Darkness. However, Bacurau's point-of-view being with an off-the-map Brazilian village under threat by North American mercenaries made me think of when the great Walter Hill spoke about what he would do were he to remake his 1981 Louisiana swamp set masterpiece Southern Comfort, long seen as a Vietnam War metaphor. Hill stated he would re-work the point-of-view from being with his Army National Guardsman to the off-the-grid band of Cajuns who are, in the end, protecting all that they know in life from powerful people and interests that are disrupting it. Bacurau is wholly on the side of those being invaded than the invaders, they only react in violence when their world their land and livelihoods are threatened. This neo-Western shape shifts into something stronger than a genre film metaphor of Brazilian-American relations or the Bolsonaro era and into a powerful statement about the disenfranchised and forgotten being reawaken when under threat. Southern Comfort and Bacurau in the end both portray the power of blowback, albeit centered on different groups and organized power.
NEW: Amanda (Mikhaël Hers, France) + Fourteen (Dan Sallitt, USA) + The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, USA)
OLD: Sound! Euphonium + K-On! + A Silent Voice (Naoko Yamada, et al, Japan)
Naoko Yamada is a master of the slice of life anime, and I enjoyed nothing in 2019 as much as the Kyoto Animation series I watched that she worked on, K-On! and Sound! Euphonium, deceptively complex shows about high school girls in bands (rock and orchestral, respectively). Yamada’s crystal clear focus upon the minutiae of everyday experience I find reflected in the purity of Hers’s story of a young man and his niece in the wake of family tragedy. In Sallitt’s patient accumulation of details over a decade of friendship. And in Scorsese’s small moments of seeming irrelevance (“what the fuck do you know about fish?”) that nonetheless bubble up after a lifetime of memories. And her feature A Silent Voice shares with Scorsese’s the question of whether one can live past the opportunity for atonement.
NEW: Lynch: A History (David Shields, USA) + OLD: Harlan County, USA (Barbara Kopple, 1976)
Documentaries about American protest: one about race and filtered through sports, the other about class and filtered through music.
NEW: Little Women (Greta Gerwig, USA) + OLD: The Slumber Party Massacre (Amy Holden Jones, USA)
The pen is mightier than the drill.
NEW: To Live to Sing (Johnny Ma, China) + OLD: Linda Linda Linda (Nobuhiro Yamashita, 2005)
The beginnings of a music group in Yamashita’s slice of life masterpiece, and the end of an opera troupe in Ma's docu-fictional lament.
NEW: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, USA) + OLD: Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1985)
The joys and perils of being an idol.
NEW: MS Slavic 7 (Sofia Bohdanowicz & Deragh Campbell, Canada) + OLD: Dusty Stacks of Mom (Jodie Mack, 2013)
Objects as the repositories of memory.
NEW: The Dead Don’t Die (Jim Jarmusch, USA) + OLD: The Midnight After (Fruit Chan, 2014)
What do we do after the end of the world?
NEW: A Home with a View (Herman Yau, Hong Kong) + OLD: Street Angel (Yuan Muzhi, 1937)
Two visions of the neighborhood. In 1930s Shanghai, a place of solidarity and community and shared poverty. In 2010s Hong Kong, a place of vicious self-interested competition, ending only in death.
NEW: First Love (Takashi Miike, Japan) + OLD: Made in Hong Kong (Fruit Chan, 1997)
Young romance among uncontrollable urban violence.
NEW: Jeux de plage (Aime Natsuto, Japan) + OLD: Looking for Mr. Perfect (Ringo Lam, 2003)
Vacations gone awry. In Lam’s atypically light comedy, Shu Qi finds herself in a goofy spy story in Malaysia, while the multinational young people of Aimi Natsuto’s debut find themselves in an Eric Rohmer movie by way of Hong Sang-soo.
NEW: Fourteen (Dan Sallitt, USA)
OLD: Girlfriends (Claudia Weill, 1978)
Claudia Weill’s 1978 classic Girlfriends paved the way for a whole sub-genre of movies about women stranded in big cities. It’s a criminally overlooked gem whose savage humor and humanity would ripple on to Noah Baumbach’s 2012 Frances Ha, and were heard again this year in Dan Sallitt’s Fourteen, a gorgeous—and ultimately devastating—portrait of two best friends growing apart in New York City.  Girlfriends and Fourteen also share similar micro-budget credentials. Sallitt’s self-financing, DIY filmmaking is no mystery to discerning American indie connoisseurs, and Weill too worked on her first feature over the course of a year, two or three days a week. In 1980, Kubrick described it as “one of the most interesting American films I’ve seen in a long time.” But it remains an unsung gem that ought to be discussed, nurtured, and shared far more widely than it has—not least for that preternatural quality it shares with Fourteen, an ability to pay justice to all the nuances and complexities of female friendship and freedom. Weill said her film was inspired a line from “Advancing Paul Newman,” by Eleanor Bergstein: “this is a story of two girls, each of whom suspected the other of a more passionate connection with life.” It’s a statement that could have easily inspired Sallitt, too. And what a heart-warming and achingly nostalgic double bill this would be.
NEW: The Hottest August (Brett Story, Canada/USA) + OLD: Chronicle of a Summer (Jean Rouch, Edgar Morin, 1961)
In 1960, Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin wandered around Paris to ask friends and strangers: are you happy? Sixty years later, Brett Story zigzags across New York with a similar premise. But her multi-layered The Hottest August adds a slight (and timely) twist to the question: Are you worried about the future? A kaleidoscope of conversations and encounters that reads as a choral analysis of our impeding and inevitable doom, and the role filmmaking should play in it.
NEW: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
OLD: Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, 2003)
Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is such dense thinkpiece material that it could conceivably pair with a number of old movies I caught in 2019. Zabriskie Point? Visions of LA full of pop art billboards, alienating for Antonioni (naturally) but like swaddling cloth for Tarantino. Valley of the Dolls? Sharon Tate context, and a bona fide artifact of when the Old Hollywood idiom hadn't died yet, but the sixties had seeped in. The 35mm print of The Searchers that played at the American Cinematheque? Someone could write an article—and probably has—on how both end with characters crossing a threshold into the future while the problematically violent cowboy savior remains on the other side.
Still, because of its cup-runneth-over cinephilia, I'd like to couple Tarantino's quixotically nostalgic recreation of 1960s LA with Thom Andersen's quixotically embittered attempt to reclaim the city from Hollywood entirely. What you get are two epic tableaux of Los Angeles as a place both real and imagined. Andersen's video essay uses film clips to explore (mis)representations of the city, while Tarantino basks in myth and disposable pop and plays with industry legend like action figures. (I don't know what Andersen thinks of Once Upon a Hollywood, but the way the narrator of Los Angeles spits out the title of Pulp Fiction gives me a guess). Yet surely it says something about cinephilia if the pairing doesn't feel contrary. Watch them in close proximity, and they play off rather than negate each other: the curator as fantasist or historian, approaching how their hometown's immortalization is intertwined with a seductive and fraudulent apparatus. As undisciplined as Tarantino's fantasy is, it rewards thought and attention; the film is attuned to what Hollywood offers its fans, asks in return, and requires to stay running. And though Andersen is wary of the apparatus, he finds illuminating uses for it. It's both ironic and utterly appropriate that the American Cinematheque plays Andersen's film regularly here in Los Angeles, where its hook is surely a love of movies as much as any subversion thereof. A similar local destiny for Tarantino's unwieldy opus wouldn't surprise me, nor rankle me neither. Whether you want to draw, erase, or dance on it, looking for the line between the actual and the cinematized will tell you a lot about what's on either side.
NEW: Alita: Battle Angel (Robert Rodriguez, US) + OLD: Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)
Long live the new flesh, and let dopey movie love bridge the uncanny valley: two movies that have no business sharing a marquee apart from fulfilling the prophets of perverse futurism. The most intriguing thing about Alita is how its sci-fi universe treats tech and organic matter as interchangeable—and how that mirrors a filmmaking process that turns a CGI, motion-capture heroine into the object of romantic or parental affection for flesh and blood actors. It's all very warm, even fuzzy, but it seems like the sort of family entertainment we'd be getting more of if David Cronenberg had been Walt Disney. At the very least, I wonder/shudder at how much farther Cronenberg would have taken a scene where a smitten cyborg eagerly unzips her shirt so she can show her boyfriend her computer processor.
NEW: Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea) + OLD: High and Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963)
Social-not-socialist thrillers that survey the modern palaces of capitalist kings, then look downward from there.
NEW: Birds of Passage (Ciro Guerra & Cristina Gallego, Colombia) + OLD: Black God, White Devil (Glauber Rocha, 1964)
Modern genre material (a spaghetti western antihero, the arc of a gangster epic) plays out in landscapes so jagged, harsh, and bound to spiritual tradition that nothing modern can tame them.
NEW: Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodovar, Spain) + OLD: Love on the Run (Francois Truffaut, 1979)
Exercises in autobiographical fiction that arrive at the genre's climax: the realization that an artist's past doesn't belong to them alone.
NEW: Domino (Brian De Palma, Denmark/France) + OLD: Torn Curtain (Alfred Hitchock, 1966) + Topaz (Alfred Hitchcock, 1969)
It's so tempting when writing these to privilege the past: to look at a noble attempt from today, then pluck out a classic to say "this is how it's done." So as long as Hitchcock comparisons are unshakeable when it comes to Brian De Palma, I'd like to pair the nadir of late Hitchcock with De Palma's latest, which didn't get a lot of love from reviewers and probably doesn't deserve a whole lot more. Torn Curtain and Topaz, much bigger events in their day, don't move the needle much on what Hitchcock is famous for: suspense, humor, disturbing psychodrama, or cinematic auto-critiques. But then you think back and note that they chalk up some interesting choices by the end—and that Domino chalks up far more. And Frenzy was still to come.
NEW: Seven Years in May (Affonso Uchôa, Brazil)
OLD: Seeking the Monkey King (Ken Jacobs, 2011)
I saw, months apart, two decade-defining political works of filmmaking that truly illuminated what the struggles for all of us are right now. Although their approaches are wildly different, they do share a few similarities. Since they don't have to mask their political intent under a metaphor, they're short works, 40 minutes long, direct and to the bone. Even if Jacobs' work is way more abstract, its haunting flicker imagery is just as abrasive and reactive to the status quo as Uchôa's choice to keep the camera fixed on one person telling its awful story for over 20 minutes. They're both films that seem to come out of hellfire, out of deception and with a strong intent to try to denounce something that's happening out there. In a world that's literally burning up, these films try to shake us up and make us see that it's actually happening out there, you just have to look out your window.
NEW: Mister America (Eric Notarnicola, USA) + The New On Cinema Oscar Special (Eric Notarnicola, USA) + OLD: The Second Annual 'On Cinema' Special (Eric Notarnicola, 2014) + The Fourth Annual 'On Cinema' Special (Eric Notarnicola, 2016) + The Trial (Eric Notarnicola, 2017)
Had the chance to dive deep into the world of 'On Cinema' for MUBI, and it did not disappoint, this is among the best of the work in comedy done in the past decade.
NEW: Family Romance, LLC (Werner Herzog, Japan) + OLD: Tokyo-Ga (Wim Wenders, 1985)
Werner Herzog appears in the Wim Wenders Japan documentary saying that there's nothing else to film, and almost 35 years later he's shooting a film in the same place where he told that to Wenders. It felt as if time melted right in front of my face.
NEW: Varda by Agnès (Agnès Varda, France) + OLD: Le bonheur (Agnès Varda, 1965)
The demise of one of the greatest filmmakers of our time made me look back into one of my biggest blindspots in her filmography. It didn't disappoint.
NEW: Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea) + OLD: The Quiet Family (Kim Jee-woon, South Korea)
Alpha and Omega.
NEW: Monos (Alejandro Landes, Colombia)
OLD: Keep It for Yourself (Claire Denis, 1991)
The state of world-cinema distribution in the United States can't be *completely* fucked if a film as visceral and potent as Alejandro Landes' magic-mushrooms-and-machine-guns thriller Monos crawled its way into the lineup of the usually by-the-numbers, Leisure Seeker-ing art-house here in Baltimore. I'd programmed Landes' more intimate and equally excellent earlier feature Porfirio as a deep-cut offering for cinephilic heads within Maryland Film Fest 2012, and seeing him return after a long silence with major leaps in production scale and distribution reach provided me with perhaps 2019's most heartening theatrical surprise.
Monos' diabolical tone and sudden shifts in pace and perspective make it a full meal in and of itself. To compliment it without overloading the viewer, I suggest a pairing with a lighter, novella-length obscurity from the master, Claire Denis: 1991's Keep It for Yourself. More than any other Denis work, this New York-shot piece showcases the tonal overlap between her concerns and Jim Jarmusch's (with whom she worked five years earlier, as assistant director on Down By Law); there's even a John Lurie score to prove it. Bonus points for an early Vincent Gallo performance which feels more than a little like a trial run for his Buffalo '66 schtick.
Together, these films may say something about the early-career moves directors make to maintain momentum after their first features. More importantly, they'd definitely deliver any Notebook reader a cinema-affirming night.
NEW: Ray & Liz (Richard Billingham, UK)
OLD: Make Way For Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937)
Two humbling, crippling marriage stories that leave an indelible mark. The stagnation of Billingham’s punishing, deteriorating milieu seems to have been filmed through the scum on a used whiskey glass. Yet, the children born from this environment are inherently good despite the surrounding cruelty they’ve witnessed for years. The elderly couple in McCarey’s Depression-era masterpiece has seemingly lived the American dream. They appear to be good people, but their progeny are comfortably selfish and sometimes hateful. It just takes an economic downturn to reveal it. 
The contradictory nature of this pairing would frighten even the most romantic nostalgic away from tying the knot. Both films, when juxtaposed together, get at the terrifying essence of long-term commitment being a completely volatile and futile gamble with so many different ways to go wrong. It could be the parent, or it could be the child. Who’s doing the suffocating or manipulating is sometimes dependent on the social factors at play. Somehow this deeply moving, cynical double feature felt like the right way to go in 2019.
NEW: Uncut Gems (Benny and Josh Safdie, USA) + OLD: On the Bowery (Lionel Rogosin, 1956)
The dead don’t die in NYC.
NEW: CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans (Bruno Dumont, France) + OLD: Freddy Got Fingered (Tom Green, 2001)
Art penetrating life penetrating art. Made by alien auteurs that know us better than we do.
NEW: Just Don't Think I'll Scream (Frank Beauvais, France)
OLD: The Great White Silence (Herbert G. Ponting, 1924)
Two films about exploring separated by a world turned into images. The British romanticism of Scott’s death in the ice and the French existentialism of a man living in isolation. Both expeditions/films kept alive by a hunger for images, especially those we didn’t look for. And finally in both films a beautiful song to mourn the disappearance of light: "I See a Darkness" and "Abide Me."
NEW: Give Me Liberty (USA, Kirill Mikhanovsky) + OLD: The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940)
NEW: Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov, Russia) + OLD: Daisy Kenyon (Otto Preminger, 1947)
NEW: Dream Journal (Jon Rafman, Canada) + OLD: Hurlements en faveur de Sade (Guy Debord, 1952)
NEW: The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, USA) + OLD: Once Upon A Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
NEW: Heimat is a Space in Time (Thomas Heise, Germany/Austria) + OLD: In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (Guy Debord, 1978)
NEW: Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello, Italy) + OLD: Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 1939)
NEW: I Was at Home, But… (Angela Schanelec, Germany) + OLD: Critique de la separation (Guy Debord, 1961)
NEW: Fire Will Come (Óliver Laxe, Spain) + OLD: You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang, 1937)
NEW: Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, USA) + OLD: The Moon’s Our Home (William A. Seiter, 1936)
Considering that a) this invitation is meant to supply “a snapshot-creation of [my] viewing this year” and b) I believe all high-falutin’ curatorialistic maneuvers should be avoided, I can only say that I watched a lot of Fonda and Debord this past year and that both spoke very naturally to some of my favorite new films. Which, I guess, is exactly what a fantasy double feature amounts to. The distances between two works are often more interesting to me than the places where they intersect. As for the stills and the communities represented therein: “Like lost children we live our unfinished adventures.”
NEW: Atlantics (Mati Diop, France/Senegal/Belgium)
OLD: Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
Everyone has their reasons—even the dead. In Mati Diop’s sure-footed debut, the drowned laborers take possession of the women of their community to settle a score with the greedy builder who’s cheated them. But Souleiman, inhabiting the very inspector determined to hunt him down, returns for one last dance with Ada. In Mizoguchi’s masterwork, Lady Wakasa (the late, great Machiko Kyo) and Genjuro’s passionate but fleeting affair is built on a mutual deception. When Genjuro returns home, regretful and penitent, Miyagi, his wife will hear none of it. All she wants is to prepare him just one more warm meal. Two purely transactional hauntings; and two for love.
NEW: Transit (Christian Petzold, Germany)
OLD: Stopover in Dubai (Chris Marker, 2011)
Chris Marker's final video, which screened theatrically in an eclectic program of spy films at the 2019 International Film Festival Rotterdam, presents CCTV footage of the 2010 execution of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a member of Hamas’s military wing. The meticulously orchestrated plot was carried out by a 26-person Mossad hit squad, and we see nearly every minute of it--until the murder itself, which occurred in a Dubai hotel room, hidden from the view of cameras. Christian Petzold's stuck-in-time adaptation of Anna Seghers's 1942 novel likewise elides every moment of violence, denying us a certain kind of grotesque pleasure while enveloping us in another: the incomprehensible spectacle of history.
NEW: 143 Desert Street (Hassen Ferhani, Algeria)
OLD: Who's Afraid of the Bogeyman? (Helke Misselwitz, 1988)
Neither quite the best new film nor quite the best old film I first saw this year, but two of the most memorable, and two of the warmest. Two documentaries about a strong woman holding a small operation together (a tea shack in the Algerian desert, a coal operation in the last year of the GDR). Two films that offer a counterpoint between their matriarchal figure and the men she lords over to offer the portrait of a country about to go through significant changes (Algeria's Hirak Fridays have been as important to its past year and a bit as France's yellow-vested Saturdays); two films built on the special link that emerges over time between the person filming and the person being filmed, who in each case uses the shoot as an opportunity to develop her own performance; two films that don't so much reinvent the art of documentary as finely polish it, using all the resources of light and gradations of color (or black-and-white) as a way of doing justice to the human experience they portray.
NEW: Gemini Man (Ang Lee, USA)
OLD: Bad Boys II (Michael Bay, 2003)
The shared presence of Will Smith links two 2019 first-views of mine that, otherwise, are about as different as Hollywood action movies get. Gemini Man is an experimental, pseudo-VR blockbuster that, in the way it stages action along a 3D-enhanced z-axis and deploys high frame rate to make movements look eerily smooth, achieves a cool, tactical clarity. Bad Boys II, on the other hand, was and remains Bay at his most Bay: space and time are bent to the logic of the car crash, the film’s aesthetic forming at the intersection of twisted metal, incendiary explosions, and editing paced to the rhythm of onscreen machine-gun fire. Lee’s film, with its tale of bioengineered clones that evokes digital filmmaking’s own ability to “clone” stars onscreen, expresses an ambivalence about technology, shifting to full-on critique when the narrative pivots to the military industrial complex and its own high-tech experiments. Bad Boys II, in contrast, fetishizes every piece of hardware on display before, in the climactic scene, turning a story about the Miami Police Department into propaganda for American military might. If these two films were even just slightly less different, this double feature wouldn’t work. Given that they’re such diametrical opposites, however, they end up sketching out, by way of demarcating extremes, some of the contours and contradictions of contemporary American action cinema.
NEW: Dragged Across Concrete (S. Craig Zahler, USA) + OLD: Violent Cop (Takeshi Kitano, 1989)
The title of the Kitano film cuts right to the chase, and the Zahler transplants it knowingly into a fraught, stateside context where racially-charged police brutality is both political talking point and gutting reality. These films, especially Dragged Across Concrete, aim to provoke, observing their cop-protagonists’ strong-arm tactics with a mix of ironic distance and uneasy fascination. By now, it’s become customary to see Jack-Bauer-, Frank-Castle-type action heroes who violently bypass protocol to get things done, offering the catharsis that law-abiding viewers lack in real life. The approach here is different, however. Rather than a hero who saves the world, we have “heroes” that are part of the world, fighting but also absorbing and perpetuating the moral rot of a decaying society. These films offer not a stable moral position but a state of existence marked by senseless cruelty, social alienation, and would-be stewards of justice driven mad by despair and desperation. The resulting violence mesmerizes at the same time that it horrifies, a duality that forces the viewer to confront the nature of her own visceral response.
NEW: John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (Chad Stahelski, USA) + OLD: Shaolin Mantis (Lau Kar Leung, 1978)
Received action-filmmaking wisdom dictates that, even as the scale and intensity of set pieces crescendo toward an eleventh-hour climax, spectacular moments should be sprinkled with relative evenness throughout the preceding scenes. Films that follow this axiom are often the most consistently pleasurable to watch, and though myriad titles from 2019’s bountiful crop of action movies fit the bill (from Master Z to Avengement to Furie), I decided to go with the best of the lot. Parabellum is a textbook case on how to sustain an action picture with minimal plot; it intersperses a steady stream of smaller fights between four gargantuan ones (knives, dogs, bullet-piercing rounds, the glass box) that are spaced more or less uniformly across the film’s runtime. But let’s also take a moment to celebrate the back-heavy action films, those structurally unbalanced beasts that traffic in long stretches of anticipatory quiet before releasing the pent-up aggression in a gloriously drawn-out symphony of mayhem. Cue another great action film I saw this year: Lau Kar Leung’s Shaolin Mantis, which completes half its runtime with almost no martial arts before dropping a near-continuous, forty-minute-long string of nine fights, all featuring jaw-dropping choreography and camerawork that seems to know exactly where each whip pan and reverse crash zoom should go for maximum affective oomph. In action filmmaking, rhythm matters at the macro as well as the micro level, and in Parabellum and Shaolin Mantis, we have two different examples of masterful structure bolstering the momentum and impact of individual set pieces.
NEW: Midsommar (Ari Aster, USA)
OLD: Climax (Gaspar Noé, 2018)
When the idyllic sanctuary of nature is perverted into a backdrop of psychotropic purgatory.  In Aster’s Midsommar, the verdant forest becomes a sun-kissed labyrinthine hellscape, as the faintly tilting trees close in—trapping Dani in a bucolic, hallucinatory nightmare. The forestry wallpaper in Noé’s Climax warps into an incendiary inferno; the woods’ subliminally isolating imagery underscoring Selva’s descent into madness, to say nothing of the false sense of escape evoked by this panoramic facsimile.  In these shots, trees serve as omniscient, complicit spectators—as both women scream into the void, they tower and look on with quiet, menacing indifference. Ultimately, Mother Nature’s remote solitude makes her the perfect enabler to Dani and Selva’s cathartic, petrified and manic desperation.
These shots—which invert the warm and green color palettes between the previous two images—are a visceral reminder of why mirrors should always be avoided during psychedelic trips.
NEW: Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan, China) + OLD: Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017)
Two trench coat-clad men set against a vast and ghostly expanse of urban isolation.  Two luminous, neon-lit images inhabiting the psychic spaces of loneliness, despair, and the singularity of dreams/memories. Two sublime and ethereal visualizations of the anonymity and emotional detachment precipitated by technology, each conveying the alienating underbelly of modern metropolitan life.
NEW: Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry, USA)
OLD: Buffalo '66 (Vincent Gallo, 1998)
Two movies that can induce feelings of excitement and aggravation, but ultimately reward a tested patience. The ghost of John Cassavetes guides both Elisabeth Moss’ Gena Rowlands-evoking performance as well as the volatility of Gallo’s Billy Brown (in addition to Ben Gazzara’s role as Billy’s father). Elisabeth Moss and Vincent Gallo’s lead performances repeatedly cross the line between good and annoying, but their identical instincts for “too big” is what would make this double feature work so well.
NEW: Again Once Again (Romina Paula, Argentina)
OLD: Adoption (Márta Mészáros, 1975)
Motherhood's yearning and turmoil and joy at different ages, at different times and in different cultures—and told through different modes of cinema, autobiographical (Paula) and fictional (Mészáros). Both bracingly alive.
NEW: Domains (Natsuka Kusano, Japan) + OLD: Le psychodrama (Roberto Rossellini, 1956)
The uncanniness of acting, playacting, rehearsing, and performing, the viewing of which, for the audience, casts a spell that weaves between reality and fiction.
NEW: Villa Empain (Katharina Kastner, Belgium) + OLD: The Divisions of Nature (Raúl Ruiz, 1978)
Two great adventures into the mystical beauty and hidden history of particular architecture, a sub-sub-genre of cinema too little explored by great minds and imaginations.
NEW: The Voluntary Year (Ulrich Köhler, Heiner Wickler, Germany) + OLD: The Age of Our Own (Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1959)
Unpredictable portraits of young generations confused by their thinking but channeling bravely their energy and wiliness.
NEW: First Love (Takashi Miike, Japan) + OLD: A Good Lad (Boris Barnet, 1942)
Pluck, just pure joyful pluck.
NEW: Seven Years in May (Affonso Uchôa, Brazil) + OLD: Twenty Years Later (Eduardo Coutinho, 1984)
Brazil then and now as a hotbed of untold stories of suffering, survival, and resistance. The difficulty of telling such stories, the time it takes to enunciate and visualize them.
NEW: Just Don’t Think I”ll Scream (Frank Beauvais, France) + OLD: Montage muet francias Palais des congres (Henri Langlois, 1974)
Two intoxicating montage histories of cinema, both personal, but one as memoir (Beauvais) and one as self-appointed, idiosyncratic historian (Langlois).
NEW: Book of Hours (Annie MacDonell, Canada) + OLD: Va, Toto! (Pierre Creton, 2017)
The magical pursuit of domestic harmony and understanding.
NEW: The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, UK)
OLD: Floating Clouds (Mikio Naruse, 1955)
Two films about impossible love. Two women Julie, played by Honor Swinton-Byrne, and Yukiko, played by Hideko Takamine, love men who can't treat them right. Two men, Anthony, played by Tom Burke and Kengo, played by Masayuki Mori, are distracted by different demons. For Anthony in The Souvenir, it's heroin addiction. For Kengo in Floating Clouds, it's the ravages of war. He and Yukiko fell in love in French Indochina during World War II. During peacetime, she finds him, after he has returned to his wife. Declarations had been made, but this is a different reality now. Kengo wants to go back to life as it was, for Yukiko there is nothing to go back to and she wants a life with the most vivid element of her broken world. Mikio Naruse made a film without mercy, these lovers are products of their circumstances. Their backdrop, populated by dazed people trying to rebuild their lives with scant resources, is nothing like the opulent bubble occupied by Julie. Grainy black and white versus luxe pastel hues. Operatically mournful music versus an enveloping quietness. Julie is untouched by the world and craves experience whereas Yukiko has seen too much of it and craves respite. For Julie, loving Anthony is an initiation of sorts. For Yukiko, Kengo is a parachute that won't open. These women have been dealt contrasting hands yet play them with comparable passion.
NEW: The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, UK)
OLD: Tokyo Twilight (Yasujirõ Ozu, 1957)
Sometimes something you love falls apart and it's no one's fault and nothing ever feels right again.  Both The Souvenir and Tokyo Twilight confront abject, irreconcilable loss and no one is a better person for it.  They are also two of the most beautiful films I saw this year.  The Souvenir's emotional arc is patient, hypnotic, and Tokyo Twilight may be Ozu's most compassionate work.
OLD: Pools (Barbara Hammer & Barbara Klutinis, 1981) + NEWISH: Chromatic Wheels (Kerry Laitala, 2015) + NEW: Figments in Film, Number One (Kerry Laitala, 2019)
Saw these (and others) at a screening August 15th at the Balboa Theater in San Francisco’s Richmond District and they were more than worth the trip. About halfway through Laitala’s kaleidoscopic 2019 short, this inter-title appears: “Fame is a vapor, / popularity an accident, / the only earthly certainty / is oblivion.” The Barbaras get there without the words, but they’re highlighting their artifice in other ways, like drawing on the film stock. For all three women, it would appear, light is paramount in the orchestration of shape and color. Pools is a documentary of sorts and Kerry’s cinema is archival-ephemeral, a performance more than anything fixed.
OLD: India Song (Marguerite Duras, 1975) + NEW: The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack, USA)
Opposites attract, make magic. How Things Abut. One to put you to sleep, to dream; the other to get your limbs moving in your seat. In theory, at least, one is anti-cinema and one is animation, but both are documentaries. Duras choreographs a depth of field for people/shapes to pass through. Mack makes the real into patterns, patterns into music, a matching game almost. You could say they’re similar, too. Two of the more singular visions I saw this year.
OLD: The Young One (Luis Buñuel, 1960) + NEW: High Flying Bird (Steven Soderbergh, USA)
The stakes aren’t life or death in Sodey’s sleight of hand, but power is power and there’s always a fight for it in these protean polygons. A preserve or a court or a dinner table. Race is key, but not the key. Buñuel never looks like he breaks a sweat but the films are structural marvels, and his camera always more elastic than it registers. I love that the iPhone only really allows tilts and whip-pans in HFB. Means to an end, as each film preaches.
OLD: Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946) + NEW: Our Time (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico)
OLD: I Fidanzati (Ermanno Olmi, 1963) + NEW: home with you (FKA twigs, UK) + OLD: Adelheid (František Vláčil, 1970)
OLD: While the City Sleeps (Fritz Lang, 1956) + NEW: Mindhunter S02E09 (Carl Franklin, USA)
NEW: Holiday (Isabella Eklöf, Denmark)
OLD: Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970)
Two stark portraits of two blonde drifters, women viewed as ignorant and disposable by the men they cling to out of necessity and sheer circumstance. The opposite of feel-good feminist texts, these intrepid films are uninterested in black and white depictions of victimhood. These women are dignified not in spite of, but on account of their moral ambiguity and complicity, which invites reflection on the nature of feminist storytelling as fundamentally one of slippery, radical empathy.
NEW: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
OLD: Insignificance (Nicolas Roeg, 1985)
Cinema is not enough to re-write history or prevent the inevitability of death, but it is perhaps our greatest resource of immortality. It attempts to trap the soul and the emotion of the past in images and stories, and suggests that maybe fables are enough. It all becomes fairy tale eventually. When everyone who was actually there is no longer alive to provide context the past becomes interpretation, dream-like, surreal. In Nicolas Roeg’s Insignificance, Theresa Russell plays a stylized, impossible version of Marilyn Monroe who seems to move in and out of frame like a ghost haunting the audience from the past. There’s a longing in her eyes to see and experience everything she missed in her real life. Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and she never dies at the hands of the Manson Family. In Tarantino’s film she gets to exist as a person, with quiet moments of conversation on Los Angeles highways with hitch-hikers that we’ll never hear, because Tate’s radio is turned up too loud. Both these films are melancholic due to the knowledge we have of Monroe and Tate, but there’s a grace to seeing these stars again. Dimming, in the case of Russell’s Monroe, or exploding with Robbie’s Tate. Both lifted in the effervescence of the eternity that cinema tries to offer. The tragedy is the credits do eventually roll. The movie ends. They drift back to the land of the dead. Waiting to be summoned one more time.
NEW: Kamagasaki Cauldron War (Leo Sato, Japan, 2017)
This first dramatic feature directed by Leo Sato is an unfairly overlooked film slowly making festival rounds abroad with a luminous lead performance by Naori Ota. An irreverent comedy and socially conscious satire set in Osaka's vibrant working class neighborhood, it features residents as collaborators and renders the story beautifully on grainy 16mm. Its East Coast premiere was at Japan Cuts 2019.
OLD: Om-Dar-B-Dar (Kamal Swaroop, 1988)
I watched this film at this year's Flaherty Seminar, excellently curated by Shai Heredia. Unreleased theatrically in India until 2014, this cult film gave me much delight by its boundless energy and committed irreverence. Spectacularly surrealist, the plot is a head-scratcher concocted of images inspired by Swaroop's dreams including diamond-spewing frogs and a joyous scene of schoolboys dancing to electronic music in the classroom.
NEW: The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, USA)
OLD: Oedipus Rex (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1967)
Ancient Athenian audiences knew the ending of the tragedy before the play began. A trail of sin, a willful blindness, a family's destruction -- these were the stops on the road to a predestined end, and the attendant punishments of fate. Pasolini's Oedipus inherits this ancient morality, ending in blindness and exile. The Irishman likewise puts hints of a tragic end before the story's temporal beginning, but Scorsese's Catholicism - and that of his characters - allows the possibility of redemption. Frank Sheeran can't look honestly at his past, or at his present. He can recount his actions, but struggles to recognize his sins or admit his responsibility for their effects. He isn't man enough to admit to his mistakes, to say them out loud or to ask for forgiveness from the people he's hurt. But his sins can still be absolved and forgiven.
NEW: The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, USA) + OLD: Bad Lieutenant (Abel Ferrara, 1992)
NEW: Liberté (Albert Serra, France/Portugal)
OLD: Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies (Todd Phillips, 1994)
Well this ought to be fun. In a year with plenty of it for the climate movement and the global left, consider two variations on the ecstasy of defeat. In Albert Serra’s latest Enlightenment grotesque, the French aristocracy have fled the Revolution, and inaugurated a pleasure dome in exile beneath Poussin arbors. Over the course of what is either a single night or an eternity, they subject themselves and their willing victims to an exhibition of sexual atrocities: whipping, hanging, carving, asphyxia, piss and shit. When freedom is free—at last—to worship itself, philosophy collapses into dream, and each new debasement is consecrated as the pursuit of truth. Much the same could be said of GG Allin, the self-negating punk rock subject of Todd Philips’ directorial debut. GG’s very existence spares no provocation: he defecates on stage, assaults his audience and himself, and seems to get the cops called on him earlier and earlier at every show. If Serra’s libertines are feudalism’s rotting head, GG is capitalism’s ulcerous colon: allegories, in each case, for capitalism’s own crisis of excrement—of invisible emissions and human effluvia once excluded by its description that have returned, unbidden, to choke the machinery of power; of turds that refuse to be flushed.
NEW: To the Ends of the Earth (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)
OLD: Double messieurs (Jean-François Stévenin, 1986)
“In the mist of the mountains, everything happens.” That’s French critic Louis Skorecki on the final movement of Jean-François Stévenin’s indescribable second feature, Doubles messieurs, a film that begins like a prophecy of Adam Sandler comedies yet to come (two middle-aged bozos rekindle an old friendship, set off together to pull some pranks on a childhood buddy, and end up in a series of boyish misadventures after kidnapping his statuesque younger wife) but which arrives at its airy terminus completely transfigured. To the Ends of the Earth charts a similar course: the generic signposts point towards horror rather than comedy, though the film avoids any path that smacks of the familiar, and after much roving about, it too stumbles upon a transformation amidst a mountain range. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, like Stévenin, makes movies without recourse to a map—a dicey proposition, needless to say. There’s no guarantee that the audience will—like the kidnappee who relishes her own kidnapping—respond generously to so much enforced wandering. In fact, they may be apt to dismiss the journey as pointless, and their guides as incompetents, no matter that both directors display a rare receptivity to their surroundings (captured, in each case, by scope frames as monumental and as changeable as the natural environments themselves) and evince a deep, remarkably private sense of the people they shepherd around (Stévenin plays the lead wacko—which is to say some version of himself—so his empathy might be expected; Kurosawa is not often thought of as a personal filmmaker, at least not after the same fashion, but Atsuko Maeda’s TV host is the clearly closest thing he’s ever had to an authorial stand-in). For these artists, to reach a sublime summit—one which is sublime not merely because it is beautiful, but because its beauty catches us entirely unawares—is to run the risk of looking lost. Because, inevitably, someone will complain that your film is a mess, that you don’t know where all this is going, that you simply haven’t got a clue. To which Skorecki gets the last word: “Should a filmmaker know what he’s doing? Probably not.”
NEW: A Voluntary Year (Ulrich Köhler & Henner Winckler, Germany) + OLD: A Girl in Summer (Vítor Gonçalves, 1869)
“Where do you go now?”
NEW: The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania) + OLD: Maux croisés (Claude Chabrol, 1989)
NEW: Labyrinth of Cinema (Nobuhiko Obayashi, Japan) + OLD: To Sleep So As to Dream (Kaizo Hayashi, 1986)
20th century, go to sleep.
NEW: The Giverny Document (Ja'Tovia M. Gary, USA)
OLD: Territories (Isaac Julien, 1984)
"At every moment in time, next to the things it seems natural to do and say, and next to the ones we're told to think — no less by books or ads in the métro than by funny stories — are other things that society hushes up without knowing it is doing so. Thus it condemns to lonely suffering all the people who feel but cannot name these things. Then the silence breaks, little by little, or suddenly one day, and words burst forth, recognized at last, while underneath other silences start to form."
—Annie Ernaux, The Years
NEW: horizōn (Anya Tsyrlina & Sid Iandovka, 2019)
OLD: Anak Araw (Gym Lumbera, 2012)
I chose to pair these films because they weave intersubjective tableaus through the past, present and future - probing the formal limits of analogue and archival film in turn. Their sometimes mysterious and rhizomic nature invites repeat viewings, though that no way impedes their first viewings. Two films that have repeatedly re-entered my mind this year in pleasant and unusual ways.
NEW: Walking with Shadows (Aoife O’Kelly, Nigeria/UK)
OLD: Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
Walking with Shadows is an intimate character study so introspective it runs the risk of being labelled as brooding. And perhaps it is. Whoever said brooding was a bad thing? Director Aoife O’Kelly approaches the portrait of a young Nigerian man coming to terms with his sexuality as one would a story bearing such universal implications. O’Kelly chooses shadows, darkened hallways, dimly lit corners but interrupts the darkness with brightly suffused scenes of Lagos at its most vibrant states. Tender, aching and endlessly graceful, naturally the one film that comes to mind after viewing is perhaps the finest film of the decade, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.
NEW: Òlòtūré (Kenneth Gyang, Nigeria) + OLD: Joy (Sudabeh Mortezai, 2018)
Both films work like a double bill considering they share the same theme; the complex and highly operationalized human trafficking ring that starts from Benin, capital of Edo state, Nigeria and stretches across the Sahara desert, past the Mediterranean sea, terminating in big, shiny Europe. Only Europe isn’t quite the promised land it is painted to be as the victims who undertake this journey soon discover. Òlòtūré and Joy are markedly different in terms of style and approach to material and one is clearly superior to the other. But Joy more or less picks up where Òlòtūré leaves off and the two films together provide a heartbreaking but necessary understanding of the factors that fuel this perilous migration pattern.
NEW: The Burial of Kojo (Blitz Bazawule, Ghana/USA) + OLD: West Indies (Med Hondo, 1979)
Med Hondo’s rousing epic starts from the slave trade era and juggles colonial, post-colonial, and neocolonialist eras, heavily satirizing French imperialism along the way. Blitz Bazawule’s magical realism stunner is decades removed but still concerned with the aftershocks of some of these traumas. Both films, made by auteurs working at the height of their powers are unapologetically independent, structurally inventive and point to the possibilities of a robust homegrown cinema rooted in excellence.
NEW: Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)
OLD: Alps (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2011)
As long as we're used to conceive of the human self as subjective and individual, life is easy. However, difficulty arises when interpersonal closeness and society come into play. Rather than conceiving family as a fixed unit that endures without internal changes and one that is easily inscribed into a societal structure, both Parasite and Alps question the translatability of the human situation through the figure of the imposter. Or rather, instead of representing a horizontal relationship between individual and family, they both shatter the rational grounds we take for granted in masterfully embodying the concept of substitution through the characters' bodies.
NEW: An Elephant Sitting Stil (Hu Bo, China)
OLD: Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, 2000)
Some of the differences between the late Hu Bo (1988-2017) and his mentor Béla Tarr may be just as important as their similarities. The latter made black comedies whereas An Elephant Sitting Still, Hu’s only feature, doesn’t find anything to laugh about. Even though the metaphysical and novelistic cast of both artists allows them to treat a group of lost individuals as a cosmos, with Tarr’s visible whale carcass in Werckmeister Harmonies apparently rhyming with Hu’s offscreen elephant, the compulsion of Tarr to follow his characters isn’t the same thing as Hu’s compulsion to embrace his own by moving ahead of them in the process of encircling them. Both ultimately offer blistering sociopolitical critiques of their respective societies in spite of their metaphysical trappings. The task of making blighted, hateful, and mean-tempered fools lovable is an essential part of both Satantango and Elephant, but what makes the latter fools slightly more redeemable is the degree to which they try to connect with one another, even if the results are futile. Combine these movies’ running times and you’ll be stuck in their recognizable and oddly voluptuous hells for roughly half a day.
NEW: The Image You Missed (Donal Foreman, Ireland)
OLD: The Sun Island (Thomas Elsaesser, 2017)
Liberty and homeland. Two radical works of archival montage which trace a familial lineage across a vast bridge of time. Socio-political concerns are intertwined with personal ones within an essayistic discourse which self-reflexively questions the ethics of reportage, the revolutionary potential of counter-cultural art, and the moral dimension of aesthetics.
NEW: The Irishman (Scorsese, USA, 2019) + OLD: The Long Gray Line (Ford, USA, 1955)
Decades of American history filtered through the tunnel vision of a man who is unable to register the significance of the events he is living through until he has reached the end of his life. Marty Mahr and Frank Sheeran are both humble men with a military reticence, each one caught up in a passage of time which relentlessly drives them forward, each one unable to do anything other than subsist. Some semblance of purpose is provided by professional roles and the homosocial bonds that accompany them, and so Marty and Frank commit themselves to fundamentally American institutions – despite the fact that, as immigrants, they will never fully be accepted into their inner circle. Both films are largely focused on depicting the minutiae of their protagonist’s working life, with sweeping historical currents playing out in the background. At first, the passing of time is imperceptible, but it becomes increasingly accelerant. Children grow up, friends pass on, bodies grow old and infirm. Ultimately, each man winds up alone, lost in memories of times gone by but lacking the self-awareness necessary to face their own flaws and regrets.
NEW: The Halt (Diaz, Philippines, 2019) + OLD: In Praise of Love (Godard, France, 2001)
Creating an open dialogue between the present and the past is vital if we hope to resist any policy which might result in the repetition of historical injustice.
NEW: A Hidden Life (Malick, USA/Germany, 2019) + OLD: This Land is Ours (Renoir, USA, 1943)
“I must go. Not because I am harmful to society, but because I am harmful to tyranny”
NEW: Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
OLD: Valter brani Sarajevo (Walter Defends Sarajevo, Hajrudin Krvavac, 1972)
As I’m reflecting on another year steeped* in cinema, I find that more than any other new movie I saw it is—what else?—the new Tarantino that I can’t get out of my head.
For all its bombast, there is a sad, elusive movie buried somewhere within its provocative casing. So I think it would be a good thought-experiment to pair it with this far less sophisticated, insanely popular Yugoslavian partisan film, which I saw on a scratched-to-hell, wonderfully shitty 35mm print that looked like it had ran through the projector upwards of five thousand times before unfurling before us on that particular occasion. 
Walter Defends Sarajevo ends, following a string of treacherous and inscrutable double-crosses and twists of fortune, with our heroes atop a speeding train. These brave fighters commandeered it from Nazis attempting to transport arms in secret. The filmmakers revel in the violence of Walter and his team who blast away the cartoon fascists with the seriousness of 13-year-old boys. But it is this very cartoonishness that makes the whole thing such a delight to watch. Can we really wring our hands of it so easily? Squealing with joy and waving your fists in the air as each Nazi tumbles to his death is, after all, what you paid to see. And what vast audiences in Yugoslavia and China (seriously people, this is the most seen foreign movie in China’s history—they even have Walter museums!) paid time and again to relive. There is a purity to the insane cardboard spectacle of it all.
Tarantino is cognizant of such pleasures and is not above reveling in them. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood’s amazing climax, for instance, coaxes outrageous laughter from the audience by juxtaposing the violent deaths of the Manson killers with Cliff’s stoned good humor. He inflicts serious injury on them, smashing their faces against a stone fireplace and ordering his dog to tear at their flesh. Cliff grins cheerily as he does so, and we bask in his glow, smiling along with him. By this point in the film Tarantino has imbued his spectacle with a strange kind of narrative self-awareness; few but him can call attention to the way sequences slot into a structure in quite the same way. He breaks the logic of narrative willfully; he intrudes into otherwise contained sequences with all kinds of bizarre tricks; he emphasizes curiosities other filmmakers would streamline. 
In doing all this, he points to the gap between our expectations for a scene and the way they play out before us. Walter Defends Sarajevo is one of the most naked pleasures in violent spectacle I have seen. There is no remove, and expectations are only exceeded in their sheer explosiveness. With Cliff and the Manson killers, our lizard brain lust for retribution is somehow complimented by Brad Pitt’s playing of the scene: a spaced-out, good natured affect. QT draws us in while pushing us away. 
In other words, this most ostensibly unphilosophical of major filmmakers manages, in spite of a well-documented glee in inflicting horrors on his characters, to bake a philosophical remove into the film. It is why that violent spectacle leads so well into the heartbreakingly tender final scene with Sharon Tate’s voice on the speakerphone. Tarantino gives us the sad, the sweet, and the sadistic all in the same orgiastic rush of feeling. 
*Indeed, less steeped and maybe less interested than ever. I learned the hard way this year that a tumultuous personal life shot through with both serious accomplishment and total emotional collapse takes a toll on what is, after all, basically a monetized habit.
NEW: Midsommar (Ari Aster, USA)
OLD: A Very Curious Girl (Nelly Kaplan, 1969)
Vengeance is hers in the peculiar countryside. Though the torch-all payoff in one of these feels much more deserved than the other.
NEW: The Art of Self Defense (Riley Stearns, USA) + OLD: Terminal USA (Jon Moritsugu, 1993)
Preposterous and unpredictable satires elucidated with perfect elocution and punctuated with bloodshed. #America.
NEW: The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, USA) + OLD: Mysteries of Picasso (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1956)
Behold the master at work.
NEW: I Was At Home, But (Angela Schanalec, Germany/Serbia)
OLD: Places in Cities (Angela Schanalec, 1998)
NEW: Donbass (Sergey Loznitsa, Germany/Ukraine/France/Netherlands/Romania/Poland) + Peterloo (Mike Leigh, UK)
OLD: Fire on the Plains (Shin’ya Tsukamoto, 2014)
Worse than hell, even the randomness of death and disfigurement becomes predictable.
NEW: Luz (Tilman Singer, Germany) + OLD: The Glass Cell (Hans W. Geißendörfer, 1978)
Berlin as breaking glass.
NEW: Harriet (Kasi Lemmons, US) + OLD: Nightjohn (Charles Burnett, 1996)
Heroes for those who truly need them.
NEW: 3 From Hell (Rob Zombie, US) + OLD: Honeysuckle Rose (Jerry Schatzberg, 1980)
Gettin the band back together.
NEW: The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, US) + OLD: Singing Behind Screens (Ermanno Olmi, 2003)
The aging pirate’s last song.
NEW: The Hidden City (Victor Moreno, Spain/France/Germany) + OLD: La Region Centrale (Michael Snow, 1971)
Geography as chaos and character.
NEW: Endless Night (Eloy Enciso, Spain) + OLD: Monsters Club (Toshiaki Toyoda, 2011)
Alone in the woods, conviction becomes a series of abstract memories of violence.
NEW: Christ Stopped at Eboli: the uncut TV version (Francesco Rosi, Italy)
OLD: Me and My Gal (Raoul Walsh, USA, 1932)
After graduating last summer, I decided to move out to New York City with no steady job prospects. Between an endless parade of temp gigs, self-doubts, and heartaches, I spent seasons at the movies: tickets from Metrograph, MoMA, and MoMI (and that's just the M's) litter my room. For 79 blissful minutes, the Walsh film (which I saw around the first days of spring in a newly restored 4K DCP, courtesy MoMA's Dave Kehr) kept me in the throes of some kind of miraculously mundane sublimity. The crowd roared at all the right parts. The marginal drunks who fight with salmon, the cock of the brow that the gum-chewing waitress Joan Bennett aims at Spencer Tracy, her beat-cop beloved. They know how to reach each other without speaking. Me and My Gal is what falling in love looks, moves, and feels like; it has love of people, love of weirdness, a love equaling attention and presence to one's surroundings, love of a Lower East Side when Spencer and Joanie can go boating on the Waterfront in a zany, rushed, clumsy marriage finale—and it's all so organic, so snappy. Every ensemble member is grotesque and off and they fit in perfectly. Meanwhile, like Mass, I kept going again and again to Film Forum's screenings of Francesco Rosi's Christ Stopped at Eboli, a film whose uncut, 220-minute version has never received a release in the States, and comes to us with the force of a thunderclap. I'm confident that the Christ film contains the secrets of modern life. It's a guide on how to navigate the loveless, fractured, alienating, late capitalist hell to which we seem doomed. Both are theoretical, heady works that deal with the concrete: romantic Marxism (Rosi) and Marxist romanticism (Walsh). How I weep when Carlo Levi (Gian Maria Volonté) leaves the children of Aliano behind, how he promises a return that, of course, will never come. For 220 time-melting minutes, one feels more attuned to the pleasures of wind and of grass; one pays attention to the speech of an old geezer tax-collector, the town pariah, as he plays his clarinet at midnight; one tears up at the strains of Piero Piccioni's theme-dirge (theme "song" doesn't do it justice) as PP helps a stray dog send his warm rays into the center of a makeshift classroom filled with sugared-up schoolkids. All of this, Rosi says, will lead to a complete revolutionary remaking of the relationship between the State and the Individual, of unification, of warmth and of the final merger between a political life and an artistic life (they can never be binary). Did anyone hear Levi or Volonté or Rosi in their time? Will they now? Through troubles with l'argent, when love streams stopped flowing, these two films gave me not only comfort, but placed me in an uncomforting zone: they pushed me to think harder about my place in the world, how not to be dismissive or submissive or pessimistic. Each December, I look back at the past 11 months and marvel at how little I knew before, how little I still know now. It's remarkable to me that there was a time when Me and My Gal or Christ Stopped at Eboli (or Celine and Julie or News from Home or Terra em Transe or The Boy Who Liked Deer or Taking Off or Y Tu Mamá También or most of Jarmusch and Kaurismaki and Ferrara and Lee Chang-dong —all new to me in 2019) were not part of my DNA. Now, I say Joan's and Spencer's lover's code, "Everything's jake," to myself as if it were my mantra.
NEW: To the Ends of the Earth (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)
OLD: Like Someone In Love (Abbas Kiarostami, 2012)
I rewatched Abbas Kiarostami’s final narrative feature, about an escort with a jealous boyfriend who gets caught up in an unexpected relationship with a much older client, while organizing a film series made up of non-Japanese directors who shot or set films in Tokyo—a consideration of outside perspectives on Japan. Not long after, I saw Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest during the New York Film Festival, which also has to do with a cross-cultural journey: a Japanese TV host travels to Uzbekistan with a small crew to produce a travel show segment, hiding her feelings of alienation and distress behind her professionalism. Both films touch upon the precarious lives of women whose livelihood depends on the performance of gendered expectations, a veneer betrayed by our privileged access to fleeting moments revealing their vulnerable interiority and desires. In the hands of filmmakers as sensitive and adept as Kiarostami and Kurosawa, these investigations nevertheless leave room for plenty of mystery and ambiguity, suggesting an emotional distance that perhaps matches the remove of crossing national and cultural boundaries into mostly unfamiliar terrain (Kiarostami in Japan; Kurosawa in Uzbekistan). The pairing also offers a double-feature featuring Ryo Kase, one of Japan’s great contemporary actors whose career suggests a sustained interest in working with foreign directors or outside his home country—e.g., Letters from Iwo-Jima (Clint Eastwood, USA); Hill of Freedom (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea); Tokyo! (Michel Gondry, France).
NEW: The Chambermaid (Lila Avilés, Mexico)
OLD: Los Olvidados (Luis Buñuel, Year 1950)
2019 proved another strong year for Mexican cinema and it was also gratifying to see how many of these films, David Zonana’s Workforce being another, dealt with the subject of austerity and the dichotomy between the rich and the poor and the abject conditions that working class, people past and present, are forced to endure. One of there breakthrough arthouse offerings of 2019, The Chambermaid offered a fascinating glimpse into the machinations of a high class hotel in contemporary Mexico, taking time to express the viewpoint of both the haves and the have-nots. Rigorous in its economy, it’s a world of glass and expensive surfaces. By contrast, and restored as part of Cannes Classics, Buñuel’s Los Olvidados takes a more verité approach to depict the hardships of a bunch of Mexico City street kids, enduring abject poverty, physical abuse and a lack of maternal affection. One of the first films I remember seeing, it still causes a sharp intake of breath. 


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