14 February 2015

Skandies: Best Undistributed Films, 2012

We interrupt the countdown momentarily to spotlight the Undies, which I was too busy to deal with during the holidays this year.

Here, then, are the group's estimation of the best films that premiered during 2012 but failed to secure New York distribution (and hence eligibility for the Skandies proper, which has a two-year window) by the end of 2014. As it happens, fewer and fewer notable films—where "notable" is defined as "made some noise on the fest circuit and were likely to be seen by several voters"—are failing to secure a week-long NYC run. Two years ago we finally hit what I consider a tipping point: Five people who usually vote in this section (out of a pool of only 17) chose to abstain, saying they just hadn't seen enough eligible titles. As a result, a number of films would have cracked the top 20 on the basis of a single vote. So I whittled the list down to just a top 10, and there's been no need to re-expand it since. It's a good thing, really—in a perfect world, there'd be no need for this category, and we're getting remarkably close.

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 10 films, many of which I haven't seen. So I've let various folks who've posted their thoughts on the IMDb or Letterboxd provide a characteristic remark.

In reverse chrono:

#10 Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen (György Pálfi) 37 pts | 3 votes

"When I went to see this movie I was full of doubts and without any idea how can a film like this look like. But from the very first moment it grabbed me, took me out of the real world and for one hour and a half I was just sitting with an open mouth or because I had to laugh or because I was that amazed."

#9 Thursday Till Sunday (Dominga Sotomayor) 40 pts | 4 votes

"The final breaths of a failed marriage through the eyes of a couple of kids. If that description doesn't entice you the movie will probably bore you to death, as it did to me. As an art house drama it bungles the drama for an austere style and a couple of strained artistic touches. This is one of the many Chilean movies of late that have utterly disappointed me. I don't know what it is with the new slew of young film makers that seem uninterested in exploring the Chilean society outside the confines of the well-to-do Chilean middle class."

#8 differently, Molussia (Nicolas Rey) 43 pts | 3 votes

"As a presentation the film acts almost like ambient music, allowing the viewer to zone in and out of the proceedings with little fracture to their understanding of the logic of the screen images. In fact, the very nature of the spliced order of the film disallows for such a practice, throwing cohesive narrative functions out the window. In this sense one is reminded of Michael Snow’s 1967 film Wavelength, a 45-minute image of a room that slowly zooms in with different characters entering the space at random events. The calm and disorientation it invites is crucial to its tangential reception, which could also be said for differently, Molussia. As it stands the film is a presentation of banality that becomes interesting for the lack of interest it dredges up."

#7 Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari (Alexey Fedorchenko) 45 pts | 3 votes

"Based on the premise and structure of the film, there's no way this should have worked. But after seeing it at TIFF, this film is nothing short of spectacular. It's hard to take one's eyes off it as it shifts short vignettes of these different women—some funny, others terrifying and many emotional. The film is not always easily understood, but is always engaging and genuine. I felt incredibly sad to have had to rush to another screening of an ultimately inferior film and missed the Q&A with this fine director. However, judging by this, he'll have a powerful career and hopefully make a name for Russian cinema around the world."

#6 Hemel (Sacha Polak) 45 pts | 4 votes

"All those Dutchies ingredients from the eighties were brought in and yes of course after a minute the first sexual brutality was shown on the screen. I don't have any problem with that as long as it has a function. It becomes annoying if you have the feeling it's done to provoke or to make money. This film is empty, has beside of a good leading role a terrible, monotone Hans Dagelet in a leading role. The tone of the film is nasty, negative and full of...eh nothing.. The director was more thinking about making from a cinematographic point of view nice shots, than thinking about the content of this movie."

#5 Tower (Kazik Radwanski) 46 pts | 5 votes

"I try to be fair to arthouse films that attempt something different to mainstream films, but really guys, what the fuck? Where's the plot here? Where's a sense of pathos? Why should we hang around with this creepy loser—not an outright creep, not a lovable loser, nothing that makes him watchable—for the better part of an hour and a half? NOTHING HAPPENS. There's a couple of chances for something to happen, but then it's shied away from in favour of 'character development'—of which there is precisely none, because he's the exact same at the finish as he is at the start. And by the by, this isn't one of those Duplass complaints where there actually is stuff that happens but it's very low-key. Seriously, nothing happens. Pointless."

#4 A Month in Thailand (Paul Negoescu) 58 pts | 4 votes

"I think I can safely say this film was a terrible waste of time. First of all, the title is very misleading, as there will not even be a glimpse of the beautiful beaches and resorts in Thailand, rather, the audience will [be] treated to images of the dusty streets and cheesy night clubs of Bucharest, the Romanian capital. Thailand is only mentioned, repeatedly, as a cheap exotic vacation spot, "only the plane ticket costing a little bit more." The film starts on New Year's Eve with a sex scene between Radu and his girlfriend, Adina. This however, is not a quality sex scene in any way, being devoid of any hint of passion or emotion. You might be forgiven to believe that the guy is having sex with a random street prostitute. Any decent director would have sent this scene directly to the cutting board, but it seems Mr. Negoescu decided it should be good enough for the pornographic subculture of the Romanian youth."

#3 Everybody in Our Family (Radu Jude) 76 pts | 4 votes

"I have not seen a Romanian movie for a while and good to be back with a good drama that partially filled with the dark humour. This family movie is about a father, Marius and his ex-wife, Otilia and her new husband, Aurel and his stepdaughter, Sofia. The movie determines the story of a family about a particular matter which varies the opinion from each others. Except the opening few minutes the remaining of the story takes place inside a house before it concludes."

#2 The Extravagant Shadows (David Gatten) 81 pts | 4 votes

"As Gatten himself has joked in the press notes, he has taken the opportunity of his very first feature—and his first digital work, at that—to fully instantiate one of the great critical shibboleths of our time (generally attributed to Gene Hackman’s character in Arthur Penn’s 1975 film Night Moves, regarding Eric Rohmer). The new David Gatten film isn’t just like “watching paint dry;” that’s actually what it is. But of course, that’s not all that it is. For one thing, Gatten isn’t simply painting the glass over and over, with a maniacal monochrome intensity. He is generating impromptu colorfield “canvases,” the relation of each subsequent color chosen not only for its stark contrast and vibrancy against the previous one, but for the way in which, during the time of drying, the inconsistencies will produce cracks and fissures between the two pigments, a layered relationship that at times looks scraped, at others like an abstract landscape. In every case, Gatten asks us to observe differential between the rapid action of his loaded brush and the (relatively) slow motion of the wet paint bonding with the dry, forming a new, somewhat unpredictable expanse." (From an actual review by Michael Sicinski, as not a single IMDb or Letterboxd user has reviewed this film to date.)

#1 Eat Sleep Die (Gabriela Pichler) 88 pts | 6 votes

"Also another aspect here. The immigrants have become the new working class. A new kind of situation." [sic]

THE VOTERS: Mike D'Angelo, Alex Fung, Sky Hirschkron, Don Marks, Victor J, Morton, Theo Panayides, Vadim Rizov, Dan Sallitt, Michael Sicinski, Chris Stults, C. Mason Wells, and Blake Williams. Thanks to all.

For the record, here are the next 10 films (actually 13, as there was a 4-way tie for 20th), in alphabetical order:

Circle in the Sand (Michael Robinson)
Coming Forth by Day (Hala Lotfy)
Eega (S.S. Rajamouli)
Housemaids (Gabriel Mascaro)
Inside (Zeki Demirkubuz)
Just the Wind (Benedek Fliegauf)
Marriage Material (Joe Swanberg)
People's Park (Libbie Dina Cohn & J.P. Sniadecki)
Sleepless Night (Jang Kun-jae)
Tiger Tail in Blue (Frank V. Ross)
When Night Falls (Ying Liang)
Winter, Go Away! (various)
You, Me & Us (Jacques Doillon)


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)*
2007: Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong)*
2008: Just Anybody (Jacques Doillon)
2009: Face (Tsai Ming-liang)
2010: Hahaha (Hong Sang-soo)
2011: Dreileben: Beats Being Dead (Christian Petzold)

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


goran said...

The Romanians seems to have fallen out of favour rather quickly. Barely anyone seems to have seen Everybody in Our Family and yet it was one of the best films I saw that year - absurdly hilarious and increasingly shocking yet believable in such a raw way.

And I can't believe Sleepless Night hasn't been remade already, much less released. One of the most masterfully calibrated thrillers in years.

Michael said...

That's how it goes. Critics and festival programmers are always looking for the next "scene," so Romania is regarded as yesterday's news.

But Radu Jude's latest film is a big critical success at the Berlinale, so perhaps he'll finally break through.

Robert Fuller said...

Everybody in Our Family is indeed excellent.

Another overlooked gem from that year is The Fifth Season, which nobody seems to have seen.

Vadim said...

I think this is the first year that I actually liked all of the films on my Undies list, without needing to slot in any filler. (Forgot about You, Me & Us, unfortunately.)

The titles I voted for that didn't make the top 10 or next 20: Die Welt, which I'm guessing most people/voters didn't see at New Directors/New Films, Thom Andersen's Reconversion (I think it's only screened once in NYC so far), and two movies that don't seem to have screened much in the US outside True/False (Eliane Raheb's Sleepless Nights) and Cristian Soto & Catalina Vergara's The Last Station), so fair enough.

Vadim said...

Oh, and I don't think The Fifth Season ever showed in NYC. Nor Eat Sleep Die, oddly enough.

Blake said...

Well crap, had I remembered A Month in Thailand was eligible I'd have made it my top point-getter. (Still would've placed 4th, in either case.) Its under-appreciation is much more criminal than Everybody in Our Family's imo.

No Belvaux even in the top 20? Guy can't catch a break. Here's hoping Not My Type is not eligible for Undies 2016.

Michael said...

I was kind of surprised by the no-show of Brissane's The Girl From Nowhere, but I guess no one's seen it, or Brissane's brief moment in the limelight is over.

Blake said...

Think you mean Brisseau, though Briassane's Sentimental Education is an earlier front-runner for my top Undie of 2013 (alas).

Blake said...


Michael said...

Yes, Brisseau, I am an idiot.

md'a said...

No Belvaux even in the top 20? Guy can't catch a break.

I'm a fan and even I could only scrounge up 5 points for One Night aka 38 Witnesses. The final scene will haunt me forever, but otherwise it's his weakest film that I've seen. (Still haven't caught up with the first two, but Pour rire at least is reputedly superb.)

md'a said...

Actually I guess After (the) Life from the Trilogy is slighter weaker than One Night. But mostly just because it's so redundant in that context.


Bjorn Olson said...

I'm just glad that Nicholas Ray has risen from the grave and is making movies again.