16 December 2009

Skandies: Best Undistributed Films, 2007

(For those unfamiliar with the Skandies, my annual survey o' cinema, now in its (gack) 15th year, you can find the procedural-historical lowdown here and results from previous years over yonder.)

Here, then, are the group's estimation of the best films that premiered during 2007 but failed to secure New York distribution (and hence eligibility for the Skandies proper, which has a two-year window) by the end of 2009. I used to unveil these simultaneously with the main top 20, but it occurred to me a few years back that they really ought to have their own separate platform, given their undeserved semi-obscurity. Check back for the best films, performances, etc. of '09 around the beginning of February, after everyone's had a chance to see whether this frighteningly positive buzz on Sherlock Homes [sic] could possibly be on the level.

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. In particular, I have to assume that almost nobody who didn't attend NYFF 2007 has been able to see Abel Ferrara's Go Go Tales, which wound up receiving but a single lonely vote. (Not that I think it's any good whatsoever myself, but I fully expected to be overruled.)

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 Night Train (Diao Yi Nan) 25 pts | 3 votes

"There are elements of suspense and also an interest for non-Chinese in observing the detailed workings of a society. The acting is restrained but convincing. In justifying my lowish score, I would point to the relative lack of pace and complexity as factors against engagement."

#19 To Each His Own Cinema (Various) 25 pts | 4 votes

"But it is on the foil of such serious arty attempts that other contributions shine, like Lars Von Trier. I had expected something conceptually more intriguing from him, but maybe it is conceptually intriguing to, in the company of illustrious artists, deliver something that is just gross. Trier addresses one of the most serious issues of watching movies: the idiots you're watching them with. He offers an ultimate example of that character, and the ultimate solution."

#18 I Just Didn't Do It (Masayuki Suo) 26 pts | 3 votes

"Incidentally, the film's official website gives the English title as I just didn't do it. But the Japanese title might be more accurately translated as I still didn't do it. When reading this out loud, 'still' should be emphasized to make the meaning clear (which is maybe why they chose 'just' instead). 'Soredemo boku wa yattenai' is what you might say after someone talks at you for a long time, telling you how bad you are for doing something and how damning the evidence against you is."

#17 United Red Army (Kôji Wakamatsu) 31 pts | 2 votes

"This is an uncompromising film directed by master of controversy Kôji Wakamatsu. The story is linear and easy to follow. Perhaps it saturates the viewer with too much information, and some parts are too long, but it is quite interesting to see the formation of a terrorist group and their descent to hell. Furthermore, the fact that Wakamatsu knew a lot of the terrorists, himself participating in some of their earliest actions adds weight to the film."

#16 Happiness (Hur Jin-ho) 31 pts | 3 votes

"Gorgeous music, photography, acting, direction. Recommended, except for those that don't like those stories that could be entitled Happiness.

#15 Crashing (Gary Walkow) 33 pts | 3 votes

"The body nudity was replaced by some embarrassing conversation and the sex was replaced by invasion into personal space, and everything happens in a light mood. So, don't expect Crashing to be a movie for your sexual hormones or your fears, it isn't for your brain either, if you are a writer or do any other form of creative work it will be 75 minutes of pleasure."

#14 The Banishment (Andrei Zvyagintsev) 34 pts | 4 votes

"Zvyagintsev certainly takes his time with every action of the film. It's as if he thought he was writing a 500-page novel rather than making a movie. The effect is not so much a sense of completeness as a kind of hypnotic trance. Everything is marked by the fine clear light, the frequent use of long shots, and the pale blue filters that give everything a distinctive look. Some of the long landscape shots are absolutely stunning, and the interior light and the way shadows gently caress the faces are almost too good to be true."

#13 RR (James Benning) 35 pts | 2 votes

"As the film began to adjust the camera’s relative distance from the train from shot to shot, I also found myself shifting in my seat: moving forward when the train was too far and moving backwards when the train was too close. I found it quite alarming that there was a set distance in which I was comfortable perceiving the train. And I must express some gratitude to Benning for making me aware of this programmed tendency. Who knew?"

#12 The Mourning Forest (Naomi Kawase) 35 pts | 3 votes

"It's very well-known that Japanese films that win prizes in Cannes rarely fit the typical Japanese tastes. I guess movies, especially at film festivals are considered to be art, so perhaps truly amazing works are not meant to be understood by an average viewer like me. Or maybe Western audiences simply see the Japanese as a mysterious group of people, and liked the mysterious couple in this film behaving erratically in the enigmatic forest."

#11 At Sea (Peter Hutton) 37 pts | 4 votes

"There are moments when Hutton's camera gazes are ineffable; Hutton doesn't dictate our feelings or thoughts to us, giving the unique opportunity to engage in this document in a present tense. When he introduced the picture he forgave in advance those who chose to nap. I, for one, did not nap though I did shut my eyes ever so briefly in the 2nd part (at sea) during a long take of the rolling sea; when I re-opened them the sea was still rolling over and over, undulating, unfinished, never done until... cut, his roll of film ran out."

#10 Inside (Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo) 38 pts | 6 votes

"This film starts out incredibly bleak and depressing in the first 20 minutes. Then it turns really shocking really quickly. Then it goes from shocking to cruel, to immoral, to extreme, to nearly unwatchable, and then finally completely unwatchable. About 30 minutes in, I had to pause it and collect my thoughts. I couldn't believe what I was watching. I had no idea that this film was as shocking as it was. However, if I had known that the film would only get ten times worse in just 2 minutes, I probably would have been too scared to watch. This film doesn't mess around. It is an uncommonly effective piece of film-making. It is one of the most depraved films I have ever watched."

#9 Eat, for This Is My Body (Michelange Quay) 42 pts | 3 votes

"This peculiar film has no apparent narrative. It is an assemblage of extended vignettes, a few documentarian in style, the rest fiction. The formal and deliberate acting taunts us for an explanation. It's anyone's guess. The goings-on are sufficiently elliptical to be interpreted according to one's prejudices."

#8 A Week Alone (Celina Murga) 47 pts | 3 votes

"I sat there and felt a lot of tension only because I expected any moment some violence breaking out on any side. But nothing of this is happening. The film does not invite you to expect anything dangerous, it was only in me. But I'm very sure that most people in the audience had the same feelings. According to movie rules there must be something terrible coming from this combination."

#7 [REC] (Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza) 48 pts | 5 votes

"OK, I admit it, I'm shallow, I didn't know about this film's existence until I saw Quarantine and went onto IMDb.com and saw all these complaints on how [REC] was so much better. So I went onto youtube and found [REC] just to see what it was like and the strange thing is, I saw Quarantine in the movie theater, I wasn't scared, I watched [REC] on my computer and it scared me to death."

#6 Nightwatching (Peter Greenaway) 71 pts | 6 votes

"The film badly needs editing. Everything that happens when a camera is turned on is not necessarily art or even interesting. The 144 minutes I saw would have benefited had they been shrunk by nearly an hour. First kill all of the improvised scenes. Then kill all of the gratuitous sex scenes and needless expletives. Then kill all of the scenes in which an actor talks directly to the audience. Then kill all of the precious, mannered references to other Greenaway films—statues played by semi-nude actors, sides of beef hung out to dry, etc. etc. Tighten up the detective story. Lighten up the art analysis. Minimize the posing scenes. Voila. You'd be at 90 minutes without any problem."

#5 The Sun Also Rises (Jiang Wen) 74 pts | 4 votes

"While The Sun Also Rises captivates with its sumptuous colors, magical realism, high energy, and outstanding performances, its elliptical plot and lack of coherent narrative suggests that Jiang may have purposely clouded the film's meaning in symbols and code to escape the Chinese censors."

#4 A Gentle Breeze in the Village (Nobuhiro Yamashita) 74 pts | 5 votes

"This is a classic movie about 7 or 8 students in a small Japanese village. It especially would be an interesting movie to people living in big cities. It shows the life of school children in a small village. The closeness of people and their affection to each other are nicely shown. I would have given 10/10 but the story could have used more affection between the two main characters in the movie. A must see for the people who grew up in cities like me. Very interesting movie overall. The website guys wouldn't let me post unless I write at least 10 lines. This is plain idiotic. It will be 10 lines in the next sentence. Now it is 10 lines as they required!"

#3 Angel (François Ozon) 84 pts | 6 votes

"When I learned that Ozon directed a movie in English about a young artist, I was waiting for a sort of kitsch version of Esther Kahn (the wonderful movie another French director—Arnaud Desplechin—made about a young lady in Britain in the early XX century), but I couldn't be more wrong: Angel is a sort of feminine (or Gay) version of Tim Burton's Ed Wood, describing how a strong imagination—no matter how bad it is—can completely recreate the world, and how you can fully live in a fantasy universe, when you believe hard enough in your talent and your art."

#2 All Is Forgiven (Mia Hansen-Løve) 109 pts | 6 votes

"The co-authors Hansen-Løve and Clementine Schaeffer skip narrative connective tissue in telling their tale, nor do they necessarily include all the key moments to dramatize. Exactly how Victor gets into the sanatorium isn't shown, for instance, nor when he and Annette get divorced, and so on. There is a certain casual elegance in this, a simplicity, a naturalness with setting, a focus on conversation, but at times the progression is simply unclear."

#1 Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong) 151 pts | 10 votes

"Secret Sunshine was a hot topic of conversation in Korea. It is like Da Vinci Code. While Da Vinci Code helps us discuss the early church history, Secret Sunshine prompts us to deal with life's messiness and find meaning when life seems unbearable. With a shallow interpretation of the movie, people misunderstand Christianity and its theology. With a deeper interpretation, this movie will help us see beneath the surface. Some people say they quit attending church worship service after they watched Secret Sunshine, and Lee Chang-dong responds by saying, 'They were already anti-Christ before they watched this movie.'"

THE VOTERS: Mike D'Angelo, Alex Fung, Skander Halim, Jeremy Heilman, Sky Hirschkron, Don Marks, Victor J. Morton, Charles Odell, Jason Overbeck, Theo Panayides, Matt Prigge, Vadim Rizov, Dan Sallitt, Michael Sicinski, Chris Stults, Froilan Vispo, and C. Mason Wells. Thanks to all.


2000: Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku)
2001: Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)*
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)
2006: Taxidermia (György Pálfi)*

* (released commercially after the window of eligibility had closed)


C. Mason Wells said...

D'oh, totes forgot about MOURNING FOREST. Happy to have helped push UNITED RED ARMY into the top 20, though. Need to track down GENTLE BREEZE, WEEK ALONE, and RR.

kaifu said...

This is always a fun topic to read. Thanks Mike and the rest of the cinéastes. Can we also see the entire list of nominations?

Jeremy Heilman said...

Oops! I forgot about Go Go Tales entirely, which would have been my #2 choice, after Secret Sunshine, which is rightfully at #1. Sorry Abel! :(

Robert Fuller said...

I wasn't even aware of an undistributed Ozon movie. So it's his first film in English, and the only one of his films to not be released in this country? How does that make any sense?

Robert Fuller said...

(other than Swimming Pool, which I momentarily forgot about)

Michael said...

Yep, Jeremy, I too forgot about GO GO TALES, which would've placed about 5th on my ballot had I not had my head up my ass. Bad job me.

Also, had I been able to spend the time I'd wanted to, I'd have made it through those 07 Undies discs I've had piled up on my desk forever -- NIGHTWATCHING, UNITED RED ARMY, NIGHT TRAIN (3 I'm ashamed not to have seen yet) but also the very well-regarded CONTINENTAL, A FILM WITHOUT GUNS, which I just d*wnl*aded this weekend.

Point being: I AM LAME.

md'a said...

This is why everybody should maintain a giant nerdy master list of every film they've ever seen, easily searchable by year.

also the very well-regarded CONTINENTAL, A FILM WITHOUT GUNS

Which finished 21st, actually, though it was just one 25-pt. vote from Don Marks.

Night Train is quite good, would surely have placed even higher had more people seen it.

Mark Asch said...

Dennis Lim's Ozon profile in this past Sunday's Times alluded to a 2010 NYC theatrical release for Angel (finally: IFC Films has been sitting on it for more than a year; I saw it at their BAM series last fall).

This must surely mean that Romola Garai is the smart-money favorite for all next year's Best Actress with a Lazy Eye laurels.

Don Marks said...

I was hoping to push CONTINENTAL into the top twenty all by my lonesome, but it necessarily lost some points when I finally caught up with GENTLE BREEZE, which was magnificent. I'm very happy to see it place so highly here.

Looks like 2007 was a particularly good year for Japanese cinema, with four films in the big twenty. I'd also throw in a good word for ADRIFT IN TOKYO, which might not pack the punch it could, but is a pleasing amble nonetheless.

But back to CONTINENTAL. It's a very promising debut. Lafleur maps out the patterns of personal loneliness with rigor, bleak humour and a smidgen of hope. It's static shots recall the work of Roy Andersson, but Lafleur's film is more low-key, not as hyper-stylized, with less caricature and fewer flights of fancy.

As always, thanks to Mike allowing us to remember the films that fell through the distribution cracks.

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Anonymous said...

Hey Mike, what happened to that Top 100 of the Decade thing you were doing on Twitter? It stopped somewhere in the 30s. Or has it just changed venues?

Dan Sallitt said...

For some reason the IMDb always gets the premiere dates of Celina Murga films wrong. It took them years to move Ana and the Others from 2002 to 2003, and now they're doing the same thing to A Week Alone, which has to be a 2008 premiere. If it had really been 2007, it would have gotten 10 to 15 more points from me.

Anonymous said...

Unrelated topic, Mike, but what happened to the Top 100 of the Decade countdown on Twitter? Was following along until #37 Training Day, then it stopped. Will it resume?

dd said...

Don, thanks for your championing of CONTINENTAL - I just watched it, and it's a fantastic film, one that's truly slipped under the radar.