Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another semi-cool widget

You will notice a new widget I have added in the sidebar, between the archives and the blogroll. It's kind of cool, but it'll get boring if it doesn't get updated for a long time (I'll try not to let that happen). I have started it off with a list of 15 fine films I saw this year. (I didn't limit it to 2007 releases because I didn't see, well, even 15 of them at all, let alone 15 worth mentioning.) 2004 seems to have been a reasonably good year, with four entries out of 15.

On a film's individual page at imdb, the title is always listed in the original language (which means that sometimes you can't recognize it: did you know that #57 on the imdb top 250 list, as voted by you the viewers, is Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi?); but even on this list the title can be misleading. For instance ... oh heck, I'll just list them again here, as I don't have to link to them again, and I have a few comments anyway. This post will be far away down the page soon enough, I imagine. Click on the plus sign next to each title (in the widget) for more info! (Tell your browser to allow popups for this page in order to go to the corresponding imdb page.)

1. The Lives of Others

This is that East German movie about the Stasi. Sebastian Koch is excellent as the dissident playwright caught up in tragic circumstances, but the film really belongs to Ulrich Mühe as the Stasi agent with wavering loyalties. Koch is also good in Black Book, which just missed the cut (maybe later).

2. Kill!

Awesome samurai flick. Tatsuya Nakadai is the man. 'nuff said.

3. Downfall

Bruno Ganz was a fixture in German cinema during the 70's and 80's (e.g. Wings of Desire, Messer im Kopf, etc.) Here he plays Hitler. This film is monumental and I can't imagine what it must have been like to see it if you lived in Germany during those terrible days (kind of like The Lives of Others in that respect, but more so). I can't judge the accuracy of Ganz's Hitler impression, but he's totally convincing in any case. Fun fact: if you saw The Ninth Day, you'll remember Ulrich Matthes as the heroic priest; well, here he plays Goebbels. Yikes!

4. Together

This is a hilarious and moving film from Sweden (I laughed, I ... well, I was moved) about communal living (hey, the 70's happened in Sweden too, y'know) – portrayed with all its lumps, but lovingly all the same. Great comment at the imdb page ("the aesthetics of porridge").

5. Head-On

This starts out as what I guess is a culture-clash comedy, about Germans of Turkish descent, but then veers into deeper waters, with surprising impact (thus the title?). It takes a while to get where it's going, but it's definitely different. I don't know what else to say here so I'll leave it at that.

6. Sansho the Bailiff

I don't know how they get The Bailiff out of "Sansho dayu", but there it is. At least the DVD cover gets it right. This is a classic of Japanese cinema, newly out on DVD (thank you Criterion!!). More melodramatic than I expected (and the director himself was apparently a bit dismissive of it later on), but still jawdropping (e.g. the abduction scene – whew!).

7. The Taste of Tea

One of those quirky Japanese films about a quirky family. Yeah, sounds boring, but give it a chance and its weird rhythms will beguile you.

8. House of Fools

Another film that works better than its description: a lunatic asylum in Chechnya caught up in the madness of war. Look out for the bizarre, gutsy cameo by Bryan Adams the rock star.

9. F for Fake

That's what it says on the box; not sure where the listed title comes from (and the imdb page has "Verités et mensonges"). Orson Welles giving us a lesson in art fakery. This one is totally out there.

10. 49th Parallel

Again, that's what it says on the box (in huge letters). Much better title than "The Invaders." One of the lesser-known Powell & Pressburger efforts, but if you like them (or if you are Canadian) you will definitely enjoy this unusual yet very entertaining film (w/Anton Walbrook!). Look out for Laurence Olivier in what is, well, not his best-known role. Another clutch Criterion release (so was Kill!, btw).

11. Mysterious Skin

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is riveting in this Gregg Araki film (warning: hard to watch at times). The big revelation is no surprise, but that doesn't matter as much as you'd think. Great cameo: Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe on 24) as ... what Chloe on 24 would be like if she were a UFO abductee instead of a CTU agent.

12. Pan's Labyrinth

Never got to it in the theater, but I finally caught up with it on DVD. Eye-popping fantasy (set during the Spanish Civil War this time) from Guillermo del Toro (director of Hellboy).

13. Prince of the City

Cop corruption drama in the Serpico vein, from ... the director of Serpico. The big breakthrough – and AFAICT the only big role – for Treat Williams, who is in virtually every scene. Cool time capsule.

14. Take My Eyes

Surprisingly involving Spanish drama about an abusive relationship.

15. The Cranes Are Flying

Just saw this one last night (thanks are once again due to Criterion for a marvelous transfer). Wow. Yet another war movie, this time from the Soviet angle. And once again, I cannot imagine what a Soviet audience must have thought, not only having lived through that time themselves, but also seeing it so freely portrayed on the screen (thanks to the "thaw" after Stalin's death). There's a scene in which two bright-eyed factory girls are about to regale the young hero's father with the customary patriotic bromides and he just cuts them off with a mocking laugh – the audience must just have gasped. Breathtaking cinematography throughout. See this one first.

All in all a good year at this end. Check back in 2009 for some 2007 releases!

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