Who doesn't love the full-page grid in each issue of Film Comment tabulating ratings from eight critics for two dozen or so newish films? Whether it's stars and bombs, numerical or letter grades, or even thumbs, these pictograms can be somewhat helpful when they come from individual critics but are exponentially more fun when lined up in neat rows. Instructive, too, as they simultaneously map a film's critical reception and each participating critic's taste. Screen International's daily charts become talking points at festivals. If you're lucky, you might have a consistently updated table to turn to for your own local area, maybe even one you can trust, as I do in Cargo Ratings.
Then, of course, there are metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, but if you're reading this, you, too, probably find those pools too large; beyond a certain number of critics, discretion, and with it, trust slip away. IndieWIRE may have taken a good, measurable step toward solving that problem, though, with criticWIRE, launched just yesterday. More than 90 film critics and bloggers are slapping letter grades on many, many more films, but these 90+ are known quantities to indieWIRE readers. At the moment, it takes some poking around before you get a feel for who thinks what about which films, but not only will the form probably evolve over time, the database-like nature of such an online tabulation of ratings allows you to decide for yourself how deeply you want to explore how well or poorly a film is faring or an individual critic's likes and dislikes.
At any rate, as iW editor Eugene Hernandez notes, of all the films opening this week, Aleksandr Sokurov's The Sun, whose two-week run at Film Forum in New York begins tomorrow, is being greeted most enthusiastically at criticWIRE. It is the latest (and last?) in Sokurov's "Men of Power" series, films that are, as writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times, "to say the least, idiosyncratic biographies - of Hitler (Moloch, 1999), Lenin (Taurus, 2001) and Japan's wartime emperor, Hirohito (The Sun, 2005) - that concern themselves less with the defining actions of 20th-century dictators than with their shadowy inner lives.... A former protégé of the previous generation's great Russian master, Andrei Tarkovsky, and one of Susan Sontag's favorite filmmakers, Mr Sokurov, 58, is known as a dour, deadly serious auteur, interested in the gravest of philosophical questions about mortality and spirituality. But that reputation belies the beguiling strangeness and even the loopy humor of some of his films, certainly of Moloch and The Sun."
More, most recently, from Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Andrew Tracy (Reverse Shot) and James van Maanen.
Ray Pride on one of today's most vital DVD releases: "Milestone Films, one of the most important distributors of gone-missing films from international film heritage, including Killer of Sheep and I Am Cuba, releases Kent Mackenzie's The Exiles presented by Charles Burnett and Sherman Alexie, a restoration of an almost-unseen 1961 fiction film in film noir tradition, the story of Native Americans in Los Angeles' Bunker Hill District as they struggle during the Bureau of Indian Affairs 'relocation period.' Glistening with bright light and darkening sorrow, the no-budget Exiles, shot in 1958 on short ends, was indie decades before the slapdash label was applied to many an undernourished project."
More from Sam Adams (Los Angeles Times), Michael Atkinson (IFC) and Richard Brody (New Yorker). Earlier: Reviews from a theatrical run in the summer of 2008.
Other notable releases: Downhill Racer, "featuring one of best performances in [Robert] Redford's career" and "responsible for turning Redford into the icon to independent film," writes Sean P Means in the Salt Lake Tribune. At Criterion's Current, Todd McCarthy praises "the picture's flinty personality, questioning nature, and striking physicality."
"The first vampire film to ever win a prize at Cannes, Park Chan-wook's Thirst places the ethical questions of human-community parasitism front and center, as you'd expect from a man whose most famous films are slow-pig-sticking ordeals of retribution and moral poisoning." Michael Atkinson at IFC: "Park's resume is also notorious for its merciless pop-movie extremism, and at times (as in the still rather spectacular Oldboy) you can't help noticing a basic conflict between his Chandleresque exploration of life-or-death moral justice and his lurid sensationalism." More from Darrell Hartman at Interview.
Topics most discussed (far as I can tell) over the past couple of days: sadly, a rather vicious pile-up of critics and programmers over at Thompson on Hollywood; and sadly, too, albeit in a more serious and lasting way, the passing of Edward Woodward at age 79. Edgar Wright's is the remembrance most passed around via Twitter, but while you're at the London Times site, you may also want to see their obituary and other actors' tributes.
Meantime, the current end-of-the-year and end-of-the-decade lists entry is being updated; keep an eye, too, on our ongoing Manny Farber series, and for more news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @theauteursdaily (RSS).
Updates, 11/18: "The Sun, which broke a local taboo in representing the emperor on screen, has a brooding sepia palette and a subliminal Wagnerian soundtrack," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Time is compressed: Although the movie's event spans months, it feels as if it might be unfolding over the course of a lazy weekend. The drama is low-key and prosaic, save for Hirohito's vision of flaming death from flying fish airplanes in the sky."
"Mr Sokurov seems to me far less interested in Japanese history than in creating a world that in its perverted and closed logic conveys the psychology of power, a reasonable endeavor for a filmmaker born under Soviet totalitarianism," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. "The sense of imperial decay is exquisitely conveyed by the eerie and sui generis beauty of Mr Sokurov's images - here he serves as his own cinematographer - which at times suggest the soft-focus style of some 19th-century photography. At other times, however, you might as well be staring at a neglected exhibition in a natural history museum, a vision of life shrouded in dust and cobwebs. What strange world is this, you might wonder, even as the all-too-human figures, the horrible facts and catastrophic battles gradually come into focus."
"There can be little excuse, I think, for essentially absolving Hirohito from responsibility in the matter of Japanese war crimes, which the film definitely does, even if implicitly," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC. "But Sokurov likes politics to generate from his films like heat from a fire; remember how Russian Ark pointed no explicit fingers, but by virtue of The Hermitage tour, in and of itself, made a devastating statement about aristocratic super-wealth. For him, Hirohito is just a diffident man who made decisions and succumbed to delusions and lived 24-hour days like the rest of us (Issey [Ogata]'s performance is chilling and hard to forget), and who seems shut off from his decisions' consequences, like royalty everywhere."
"Sokurov sees his titans of history as men playing gods, and Hirohito's climactic renunciation of his divinity is the deeply affecting end point," writes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York.
For Henry Stewart, writing in the L Magazine, "A character study compelling in its moodiness devolves into a plodding portrait. Sokurov, it turns out, is still easy to admire and hard to love."
Updates, 11/19: Daniel Kasman: "Using his unique form of cinematic chamber-psychology, Sukoruv has made an incisive look at the difficult question of Japan's leadership responsibility, not through political drama but through a subtle and nuanced evocation of the inner spiritual, moral, and identity confusion of a single human."
"'Moving, wandering, searching, or escaping to freedom.' This was the theme that Mackenzie subsequently identified in his films, and The Exiles concerns just such an itinerancy and a desire for escape." Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.
More on The Exiles from Dennis Grunes and Peter Keough.
Updates, 11/20: "Although it predates Sokurov's Alexandra, which is similarly concerned with sifting through the rubble, The Sun took four years to reach American theaters, but the long delay hasn't diminished the force of Sokurov's experimentation," writes Sam Adams at the AV Club.
"I'm not sure why the movie is generating such enthusiasm," blogs the New Yorker's Richard Brody. "The ridicule of an isolated, seemingly delusional emperor seems to be Sokurov's intention, in which case, it was done better in The Great Dictator."
Updates, 11/22: Sean Axmaker talks with Sherman Alexie on The Exiles commentary track, and now, on his own site, modestly recalls the experience.
At GreenCine Daily, Jeffrey M Anderson highlights more extras in this package.