15 December 2008

Skandies: Best Undistributed Films, 2006

(For those unfamiliar with the Skandies, my annual survey o' cinema, now in its (gack) 14th year, you can find the procedural-historical lowdown here, the 2007 results here, and results for previous years about 2/3 of the way down my main page.)

Here, then, are the group's estimation of the best films that premiered during 2006 but failed to secure New York distribution (and hence eligibility for the Skandies proper, which has a two-year window) by the end of 2008. I used to unveil these simultaneously with the main top 20, but it occurred to me last year that they really ought to have their own separate platform, given their undeserved semi-obscurity. Check back for the best films, performances, etc. of '08 around the beginning of February, after everyone's had a chance to see The Curious Case of David Zemeckis.

As ever, disclaimers abound. While roughly 40 professional and amateur cinéastes vote in the main survey, a smaller subset takes part in what's become known as the Undies—basically the folks who make it out to multiple festivals. (You can find their names way at the bottom.) And of course circumstances dictate that the results will skew in favor of those undistributed films that have been most widely seen, with a particular advantage going to anything that played at Toronto. No doubt many other excellent films were simply not seen by enough people to make the cut; feel free to mention overlooked favorites in the comments.

Alas, I'm too harried at the moment to write up commentary on 20 films, many of which I haven't seen. So I've let various folks who've posted their thoughts on the IMDb provide a characteristic remark.

In reverse chrono:

#20 Rain Dogs (Ho Yuhang) 18 pts | 2 votes

"This was a unique setting—a Chinese story taking place in Malaysia—where 40% of the population is Chinese, and where the Cantonese people, I would think, have a different culture than the Cantonese in China or Hong Kong. This made me curious—how would they be different? What differences would this movie zero in on that would continue to pull me into the story? Well—I'm not sure I could answer that by the end of the movie as the themes in this movie were quite universal from what I could tell: 1) Family separation; 2) family closeness; 3) Isolation; and 4) Isolation within family."

#18 (tie) A Lion in the House (Steven Bognar & Julia Reichert) 25 pts | 2 votes

"Prior to watching the film I would often get into these meaningless debates about whatever on the IMDb message board as well as other "blog" sites, but after watching this film it made all of that seem trivial and thus a waste of time. The film forced me to get my priorities straight, and my respect for what the doctors, nurses, and volunteers do at the average Children's Hospital has increased five-fold."

#18 (tie) El Custodio (Rodrigo Moreno) 25 pts | 2 votes

"Do you enjoy being transported to the scene? If you answer 'Yes, I like to be transported to—say—Wonderland,' then you should go somewhere else. This movie develops in the painful, ordinary, real world. Most people will find this movie annoying and somewhat boring. Some of us will regard it as an experience on its own."

#17 Slumming (Michael Glawogger) 26 pts | 3 votes

"Shot mostly in bleak colours and with occasional black humor the film for the largest part of time avoids the symbolic cliché-traps of art-house cinema. Some symbols are used too often and too bluntly for my taste, for example the snowy landscapes = the coldness of the society or the garden gnomes = the smugness of people."

#16 Windows on Monday (Ulrich Köhler) 28 pts | 3 votes

"It's not so much the possibility that Köhler has changed his style (I think he hasn't) or that I didn't like the movie. It's simply the fact that you shouldn't watch certain films when you are depressed. As the film has finally been officially released into German cinemas, I decided that my initial reaction to it needed some balance. What can I say after I've seen it again? The second viewing not only reaffirmed the qualities of the film, but was also a pleasant experience in itself. Next time I watch a film by Ulrich Köhler it will hopefully be in a relaxed frame of mind."

#14 (tie) HANA (Hirokazu Kore-eda) 30 pts | 2 votes

"It is a pleasant surprise that Kore-eda can do comedy and still keep it real. I was beginning to think that he was only good at grimness, but I was reminded of the small comic touches in Nobody Knows and After Life. I can't remember if there was anything funny in Maborosi. [Ed's note: No.] I just remember how depressing it was." [Ed's note: Yes.]

#14 (tie) Bled Number One (Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche) 30 pts | 2 votes

"Even if the cinema was discovered more than a century ago, the director of this film shoots today in a, so to say, genuine style (we could say à la Lumière), that is disregarding any authorial input, getting rid of any drama rules, collapsing the dialogs and then just standing discreetly in front of (apparently) 'nothing happens.' A very acute authenticity rises then, in this non-interventionist way of filming which provide some beautiful portraits (in gros-plan) and a collection of 'bricks' of pure (inner) time. The movie is supposed to be charming and original in giving us all freedom to see these bricks together in a virtual composition. But this is a little bit too virtual even if I appreciate this particular way of being 'cool' by letting the story to tell (or to lose) itself."

#13 The Untouchable (Benoît Jacquot) 30 pts | 4 votes

"This film punishes the senses deliberately, subjecting its audience to a ripping gauntlet of painful visual and aural textures. Our eyeballs are lacerated by the relentlessly jumpy hand-held camera, pans too swift to apprehend without nausea, and the barrage of disorientingly abrupt jump cuts. ears attacked by the harsh banausic soundtrack, pounded by soulless machinery, everything torturously intrusive and overloud, even tap water, where even sitar and tabla are twisted into instruments of pain."

#12 The Paper Will Be Blue (Radu Muntean) 33 pts | 3 votes

"The characters all seem to fit so well with the general confusion but also adding compassion and humor to the whole story that one might think this is almost a documentary of real events. Of course, this is achieved through an attention for detail that only those familiar with Romania would truly appreciate. But do not let that put you off; the real message of this film has nothing to do with specific issues and humor transcends borders."

#11 The Right of the Weakest (Lucas Belvaux) 40 pts | 4 votes

"Imagine Michael Mann's Heat crossed with Ken Loach's gritty northern England- and Scotland-based social dramas, and you have an idea of what this film feels like—a heist film with thoroughly uncool, long-term dole recipients and other downtrodden working class folk as the perpetrators, instead of Robert De Niro in post-modern Californian seafront diggings dashing from holdup to holdup."

#10 Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (Takashi Miike) 40 pts | 5 votes

"The film, essentially, is about existence. It is a concept spanning 4.6 billion years! Miike, who normally makes cynical if not outright self-deprecating microcosmic yakuza and horror movies, has aggregated all of those impressions into a claustrophobic, life-refracting prism of all the world's details and created a blemish on the face of the world of cinema that audaciously, patiently, calculatedly tackles humankind and the self-worth behind which it hides, self-worth largely created by the belief in God, which this film could be read as implicating doesn't exist."

#9 Congorama (Philippe Falardeau) 41 pts | 4 votes

"Throughout the film many ideas pranced across the screen: colonization, electric cars, world's fairs, etc. But none are ever dwelled upon. This is much more about the characters and the film technique than about anything political. And I don't blame Falardeau for this; Alejandro González Iñárritu has danced his way all the way to the Academy Awards by juggling with time and serving up scenes that overwhelm the viewer with awesomeness, so why shouldn't this film be eye catching and appealing? I just wish that I didn't see it as nothing more than low rent Babel. For much of the film I felt as though it were wrongfully up on my screen, squatting as it were, not doing anything to warrant my attention. 'Do some tricks,' I told it telepathically, and eventually it did, and some that even impressed me."

#8 Retribution (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) 43 pts | 5 votes

"However, exactly like in Cure, the exaggerated complexity towards the end of the film nearly ruins the whole viewing experience. I said it before and I'll say it again: just ONCE I'd like to see a Japanese occult-thriller that doesn't leave me scratching my head after the final denouement. The events in Retribution were fairly comprehensible for about three quarters of the movie, but then suddenly it seemed like everyone involved in the production lost interest and just came up with the most confusing finale imaginable."

#7 Container (Lukas Moodysson) 45 pts | 3 votes

"Lukas Moodyson's far-out new feature film is not for everyone. In fact, it's not for anyone. Or perhaps, somewhere in some abandoned mental home there is someone, wallowing in their own waste products, sucking a warm thumb, breaking wind and giggling, who might regard Container as a masterpiece. The rest of us, stuck with boring old sanity and intelligence can dismiss this drivel as the pointless waste of space it so assuredly is. Container is just the kind of "arty" irrelevance that makes a certain kind of film fan go all weak at the knees. Shot on grainy black-and-white and blessed with a voice-over so inane and expressionless it makes David Beckham sound like Orson Welles, this movie has to be seen to be believed. Seeing it, however, is not advisable."

#6 The Last Communist (Amir Muhammad) 55 pts | 3 votes

"We are not sure why the film has been banned in Malaysia, because it is distinctly anti-communist. Young men were lured into the party with sex, not ideology. And modern day Malaysians are shown to be thriving on hard work, while the exiled and aged Communists languor in Thailand, singing karaoke and longing to return home."

#5 When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (Spike Lee) 62 pts | 5 votes

"Let me explain this in terms everyone can understand. This is not an issue about Republican or Democrat, Left or Right. This is about justice. When a Government that is responsible for its people turns its back on an entire State for immoral reasons someone needs to be accountable. This documentary explains in detail what happens when a government, any government, is not held accountable. There are no glass houses. Heed its warning. One day it could be you floating down Main Street."

#4 Interkosmos (Jim Finn) 63 pts | 4 votes

"May induce drowsiness; do not view while attempting to operate heavy space machinery."

#3 Idiocracy (Mike Judge) 65 pts | 8 votes

"Mike Judge has always had an eye for idiocy and has always delighted in pointing out the absurd in a direct, almost painful manner. This time he may have gone too far though; instead of taking a step to the side to allow the audience to see stupidity for what it is, he revels in it, smearing himself, the characters, and his film with a level of idiocy that may seem outlandish or even cartoonish to many, but may also, shockingly, seem all too familiar to anyone that's ever visited sand dunes, stadiums, cinemas, or any other place where the masses gather."

#2 The Free Will (Matthias Glasner) 83 pts | 5 votes

"Just saw this at the Tribeca Film Festival and it's one of the most intelligent, raw, intense and thought provoking films I've ever seen. It's unfortunate that some audience members and critics will focus on the graphic scenes of rape, tender lovemaking, masturbation and emotional trauma."

#1 Taxidermia (György Pálfi) 95 pts | 4 votes

"Oh my god! I just got out from seeing Taxidermia at MIFF 2006 and I was literally speechless. As I was one of the first to leave the theatre, I took it upon myself to stand out the front and watch the expressions on the faces of other patrons as they exited. Most were laughing in disbelief at what they had just seen, some were white as ghosts and some looked plain baffled. Whatever way you look at it, Taxidermia will certainly make a strong impact on you."

THE VOTERS: Matthew Butcher, Mike D'Angelo, Steve Erickson, Alex Fung, Skander Halim, Jeremy Heilman, Sky Hirschkron, Don Marks, Charles Odell, Theo Panayides, Matt Prigge, Dan Sallitt, Michael Sicinski, and Chris Stults. Thanks to all.


2000: Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku)
2001: Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) [released too late for the main poll]
2002: Turning Gate (Hong Sang-soo)
2003: Not on the Lips (Alain Resnais)
2004: The 10th District Court—Moments of Trial (Raymond Depardon)
2005: Tale of Cinema (Hong Sang-soo)


Gilidor said...

Wow, many of those actually opened up here in Montreal, including the French films and CONGORAMA, natch, but also a few others like TAXIDERMIA, for one.

Anonymous said...

Well, TAXIDERMIA had a release date and everything, but its US distributor, Tartan USA, folded before it made it into theatres.

I must say, I fail to see what people find interesting about Palfi's work. He has a "sensibility," yes. But it's rather callow.

md'a said...

I must say, I fail to see what people find interesting about Palfi's work.

Hey, me just Mr. Tallyman, tally you banana. I walked out of that monstrosity at TIFF '06. Three voters loved it, and in the absence of any real enthusiasm for anything else this year (which is really a testament to the fact that most good films do get some kind of NYC release, even if only at MoMA or Anthology), that was sufficient.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see enough films to vote. But if I had, Id probably have given IDIOCRACY 25 or so, and TAXIDERMIA 10-12.

As for the sensibility of TAXIDERMIA, my memory of 06 TIFF is that the (admittedly) juvenile fascination of the surface subject matter was just a hook. What the film was actually about -- the generation gap and its definition as contrarianism, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as played through this family, and Hungarian history as refracted through this family (basically -- honor/sex, materialism and anomie, all turned into sport).