16 December 2007

Skandies: Best Undistributed Films, 2005

(For those unfamiliar with the Skandies, my annual survey o' cinema, now in its (gack) 13th year, you can find the procedural-historical lowdown here, the 2006 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 2005 but failed to secure New York distribution (and hence eligibility for the Skandies proper, which has a two-year window) by the end of 2007. In the past, I've generally unveiled these simultaneously with the main top 20, but it occurred to me just now, as the final ballot came in—I set an earlier deadline for this section, since it's not as if any of these films will be slowly platforming throughout January—that they really ought to have their own separate platform, given their undeserved semi-obscurity. Check back for the best films, performances, etc. of '07 around the beginning of February, after everyone's had a chance to see There Will Be Blood.

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.

Finally, four films made the top 20 this year on the strength of a single vote. I briefly considered disqualifying them, but ultimately decided that one person's passion deserves more weight than, say, four token 5-point votes (which are sometimes cast for movies the voter didn't even particularly like, just to round out the ballot).

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 Pale Eyes (Jérôme Bonnell) 20 pts | 1 vote

"One man was very annoyed that things were not explicitly explained in the film, and accused the director of not knowing his own story. The director replied that he preferred to leave some of the story to the viewers imagination - a cheering audience seemed to agree. All in all the film tells an interesting little story, but about what?"

#19 Shanghai Dreams (Wang Xiaoshuai) 21 pts | 4 votes

"The movie starts at a characteristically slow pace, but picks up momentum towards the end with a tinge of a suspense thriller (just a tinge though)."

#18 Festival (Annie Griffin) 22 pts | 2 votes

"If you've seen Altman's 'Nashville', you've kind of seen this. It's just the era and backdrop that are different. Substitute Daniella Nardini for Geraldine Chaplin, Mangan or O'Dowd for Keith Carradine and you have the general idea."

#17 To Paint or Make Love (Arnaud & Jean-Marie Larrieu) 22 pts | 3 votes

"This is a movie that just begs for someone to observe how FRENCH it is, the implication being that other countries somehow can't get their celluloid souffles to rise quite like the Gauls. Be that as it may this IS, I suppose, typically French, whatever that means."

#16 Evil Aliens (Jake West) 23 pts | 1 vote

"About thirty seconds into the film you'll find yourself with your jaw dropped somewhere down to around about your knees as it opens with a sequence so hideously disgusting you can't quite believe you are really seeing what you are seeing."

#14 (tie) Mary (Abel Ferrara) 23 pts | 3 votes

"It leaves one with a vague feeling of religious unease and a sense of the demonic gnawing monotonously away at Christian tradition; yet another rusty nail in the resurrected Body of Christ."

#14 (tie) Tickets (Ermanno Olmi/Abbas Kiarostami/Ken Loach) 23 pts | 3 votes

"When I first started watching this movie I was looking for some kind of subtle metaphors but it soon dawned on me that this movie was indeed about people on a train."

#13 Sa-kwa (Kang Yi-Kwan) 24 pts | 2 votes

"Convincing acting by the lovely and soulful Moon So-ri and specific details about families don't quite save this picture from seeming bland and overlong; Kang's writing confuses subtlety with aimlessness."

#12 Black Sun (Gary Tarn) 25 pts | 1 vote

"The beauty is so incredible that it will reawaken your visual sense. I highly recommend it for people experiencing the visual burnout that often comes from staring at editing software on a computer screen for too long, or as an anecdote for a jaded mentality."

#11 In His Hands (Anne Fontaine) 28 pts | 2 votes

"Ann Fontaine doesn't like to repeat herself. This is as different from Nathalie as that was from How I Killed My Father and equally good. It would be easy to describe this as a cross between Brief Encounter and Le Boucher because it displays elements of both."

#10 Balancing Acts (Donna Schatz) 30 pts | 1 vote

"The documentary is about Man-Fong Tong, a Chinese boy who leaves his native walled village in South China at age 15, to train with a group of boys under the guidance of the "Old Man" to become a very successful acrobatic performer in Europe, the Middle East and the United States."

#9 C.R.A.Z.Y. (Jean-Marc Vallée) 30 pts | 3 votes

"This is a movie I will never forget, which is so rare. It is a diamond. The best Canadian movie ever. the best movie about the 70s ever. The best movie about religion stigmas and evolution of the occidental societies ever. You will hear from this movie."

#8 No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Martin Scorsese) 30 pts | 4 votes

"I watched some of this with my 5yr old daughter and she noted that Bob was singing really silly but she liked it. I last saw Bob perform in '86 when his performance was totally crap live. He may as well have stayed home - as he made Tom Petty look good. By contrast this compilation shows us the awesome talents of the young Bob and the more human side, perhaps before the constant touring wore him down."

#7 A Perfect Couple (Nobuhiro Suwa) 36 pts | 3 votes

"I can't quote scene or shot, but found Un Couple parfait almost unbearably suspenseful on the shot to shot level. Low lit, grainy images of Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's Marie whisper her emotional state more effectively than words could. Even when she's absolutely still, she isn't. A shallow breath. A blink. But when she moves!"

#6 Through the Forest (Jean Paul Civeyrac) 67 pts | 7 votes

"Shot in wide aspect ratio with pale amber filters, Civeyrac's new film is a myth or elegant fable whose subjects are three pretty girls and a pretty boy. The main character is Armelle (Camille Berthomier), chattering naked on a bed in the first image of the film (in which there are just ten shots, set off by chapter headings), where we glimpse only the well-formed naked butt of her lover Reynaud (Aurélien Wiik). Suddenly the room darkens, a storm rumbles, and Armelle can't understand why."

#5 The Sun (Alexander Sokurov) 70 pts | 6 votes

"Think about Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill, Eisenhower, Stalin and Hirohito. Which one do you feel least able to describe? Sokurov and Ogata play on that enigmatic image."

#4 Takeshis' (Takeshi Kitano) 81 pts | 7 votes

"Perhaps the title isn't (incorrectly) denoting a plural, but actually means that this film belongs to "more than one Takeshi"? It belongs to all of Takeshi's personas, and characters. It COULD just be another example of misuse of the poor apostrophe, but maybe Takeshi studied hard at school, and has dedicated this self-parody to himself, and his own multiplicity."

#3 Who's Camus Anyway? (Mitsuo Yanagimachi) 100 pts | 6 votes

"Was what happened at the end reality or was is it the imagined fictional ending of the film project? I just don't know which one it was and perhaps that was Yanagimachi's intent...to blur the lines between the real world and the world of cinema and show how sometimes we can never know where the fiction ends."

#2 Princess Raccoon (Seijun Suzuki) 103 pts | 9 votes

"There is such a vast expanse of things wrong with Princess Raccoon that I hardly know where to start. Perhaps its worst faults are being both aggressively unintelligible and mind bogglingly monotonous. If the reels got mixed up or if half of them got lost in shipping the audience would not know the difference. If you don't believe me I dare you to steal a print and have someone run the reels in random order. If you can tell me which one goes where I will give you every penny I have." (NOTE: There is a small but nonzero possibility that this comment was written by the director of Quiet City.)

#1 Tale of Cinema (Hong Sangsoo) 167 pts | 10 votes

(NOTE: This is the criminally undistributed Hong's second victory in this category, following 2002's Turning Gate.)

"There is so much smoking and drinking in this film that my chest and head hurt by the end-I felt like I could smell the smoke and the beer. I was not familiar with the director's other films, but I might seek them out at this point, as this film did perplex and fascinate me, exactly what world cinema should do."

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


Don Marks said...

Was the voting body a bit thinner this year or were the votes more spread out than usual? I'm surprised my one 25 point vote for Black Sun put it as high as number 12. I figured that the Hong win was inevitable considering his support amongst this group. Maybe someday I'll have that 'eureka' moment with him, but I find his work frustratingly choppy. Even though Hong eventually makes something quite effective of it, I found the first half of Tale Of Cinema a chore to sit through.

md'a said...

Three folks who usually vote abstained, saying they just hadn't seen enough films to fill a ballot: Bilge Ebiri, Victor Morton and Josh Rothkopf. So that probably had something to do with it. But it also seems to me that fewer notable films fail to land some sort of NYC run within two years of their festival premiere, even if it's only one week at Anthology Film Archives or something. Which of course is a good thing.

For those newcomers who don't want to wade through all the previous years' lists, the other annual winners have been:

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 Trail (Raymond Depardon)

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I'm not as big a fan of Hong Sang-soo as most cool critics seem to be, though of the three mellow-melancholy things of his I've seen, Tale of Cinema is easily my favourite.

I've managed to catch only 11 of the films on that list (I've seen most of the Top 9, but I'm yet to track down Who's Camus Anyway). Though I think The Sun is the best and most resonant (and most likely to be rediscovered in a decade) of the bunch, the one that most shocks me is C.R.A.Z.Y. - not because it's any good (it isn't) but because it's such an easy box office hit.

Also, I have to say, despite Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi's predictable loveliness, there were definitely at least 20 (and probably 200) more rewarding things in 2005 that never landed distribution.

Of my Top 50 2005 films, 4 went unreleased in the US:
- The Sun (which still haunts me)
- Based on a True Story
- The Ax (by Costa-Gavras)
- Tale of Cinema
Hovering just below these are Tickets, Lost and Found (a collection of Eastern European shorts including one by a pre-Palme-d'or Cristian Mungiu) and Shanghai Dreams.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Goran, around the time C.R.A.Z.Y. premiered at TIFF, Sony Classics was rumo(u)red to have been circling it. Nothing came of it, obviously.

I feel sort of ashamed that I forgot about CAMUS when I hastily assembled my ballot. I wasn't a big fan, and would have only thrown it 5 or so points, but still, that would have bumped it up to #2.

On second thought....

Don Marks said...

I read somewhere in the Canadian press that despite the C.R.A.Z.Y.'s obvious commercial qualities, interested American distributors balked at the cost of clearing the music rights for the soundtrack, which included The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy For The Devil" and David Bowie's "Starman".

Anonymous said...

For whatever reason C.R.A.Z.Y. popped up briefly on the release calendar last year. (Or was it the year previous?) I was scheduled to review it at one point, even. And then it just kind of disappeared again. I have no idea what happened there. I just assumed it eventually came out without me noticing or something.

matty said...

You probably all know this already, but I feel it's worth mentioning that nearly all of these films are available on DVD in their respective countries. An all-region player is all that's needed.

Anonymous said...

Did nobody else see Lee Myung-se's DUELLIST, or was it not that well liked (I still havent looked at the DVD of NOWHERE TO HIDE that was my first purchase after TIFF2005)? Of the fewer than 10 elibilibilge films I saw, that was the only one I was upper-case PRO on, so a sure 20-25 points at least (there were also a couple of lower-case pro films for me).

md'a said...

There were three votes for Duelist, including my own. Each was for only 5 points, however, so it just missed. You should really watch the awesome Nowhere to Hide, which is everything Duelist is only even more so.

md'a said...

Other films that got at least two votes but not enough points:

You Bet Your Life (3)
Isolation (3)
April Snow (2)
A Bittersweet Life (2)
King and the Clown (2)
Hell aka L'Enfer (2)
Seven Swords (2)
Green Chair (2)
Tokyo Magic Hour (2)

Peter Nellhaus said...

I saw C.R.A.Z.Y at a film festival screening and am glad I took advantage of that screening. Also glad that I saw Who's Camus Anyway? on DVD - great opening shot.

A film I bought on DVD when I lived in Thailand that is unknown stateside is Bewitching Attractions. Moon So-ri is frankly amazing in another performance that would have gotten more attention had this been from someone like Nicole Kidman.

Jamie Bullock said...

Hi there,

I am trying to get contact info for these filmmakers and ask them, and any other filmmakers that have undistributed films, to submit to "From Here to Awesome" www.fromheretoawesome.com. It's a discovery and distribution festival founded by Lance Weiler, Arin Crumley and M dot Strange that strives to connect filmmaker, audience and distributor like no one else has. Does anyone have good contact info for them? Thanks!