19 December 2011

Skandies: Best undistributed films, 2009

(For those unfamiliar with the Skandies, my annual survey o' cinema, now in its (gack) 17th 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 2009 but failed to secure New York distribution (and hence eligibility for the Skandies proper, which has a two-year window) by the end of 2011. 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 '11 around the beginning of February, after everyone's had a chance to see whether purchasing a zoo will solve all of Matt Damon's problems.

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 (except where noted—you guys admire an awful lot of movies so obscure that they have not a single damn comment).

In reverse chrono:

#20 Accident (Soi Cheang) 22 pts | 3 votes

"So all in all, the potential is there and I must say that I personally enjoyed watching the movie, just because it was so silly and unapologetic in its stupidity (the eclipse at the end, and that road sign...), so in a way this movie would rate 1 star based on script and 10 based on premise, hence the rating of 5."

#19 Ruhr (James Benning) 23 pts | 2 votes

"I felt a very deep calm come over me for the duration of this segment, a relaxation that reminded me of the cradle. The pulsation of the smoke (the coke purifying requires cold water application to the process every 10 minutes or so) was quasi-erotic, in the sense that it felt somehow intimate without at all being titillating. This is obviously a very personal reaction, many people were bored by it."

#18 Bena (Niv Klainer) 24 pts | 1 vote

"The motivations of all the characters are artfully obscured, and at first we might question the authenticity of the son’s insanity and the plausibility of the woman’s new role in the troubled home. But small flashes of mood coloration, both lighthearted and surreal, gradually distance us from a realist stance and suggest a more abstract, fabulous reading, which makes better sense of the ominous geometry of the story." [From a TIFF wrap by Dan Sallitt.]

#17 Fish Story (Yoshihiro Nakamura) 27 pts | 2 votes

"The fish story is indeed a punk rock song cribbed from a book by an incompetent translator who did not appreciate the significance of the English term, "Fish story." It is also a collection of seemingly diverse people loosely related to the punk rockers who cut the record. It is not at all clear what most of these people have to do with one another. All, however, is clarified in the end."

#16 Eighteen (Jang Kun-jae) 27 pts | 3 votes

"As a low key yet realistic (and naturalistic for what its worth) study of a love torn, broody, and generally pessimistic young man trying to mull a potential future for himself in a city in Korea—the film keeps you involved enough—although the ending when it comes may seem a little abrupt—the little coda that pops up right after the end but before the credits roll is just perfect enough to offer you the insight that nobody ever knows what the heck they're doing...and that you probably shouldn't brood so much over the actions of someone else because of that fact anyways. Its not a bad way to end the movie, not a bad way to end it at all."

#15 Kinatay (Brillante Ma. Mendoza, DGPI) 27 pts | 4 votes

"Wow, the foreign viewers just had a triple whammy—walking along the alleys of the ghetto, then taking a tricycle ride and then a jitney ride. Most of these foreigners probably have not even seen a tricycle or a Philippine jitney in their lives. The viewers-cum-tourists get to see more of Manila from the vantage point of someone in a tricycle and a jitney. It must be exciting for them just as I am excited seeing people ride elephants or camels or land speeder (like Luke Skywalker) for everyday purpose."

#14 Oxhide II (Liu Jiayin) 34 pts | 3 votes

"One way to interpret the film is to see the compulsively slow pace, the insistence on the minuscule details, and more importantly, the warmth, steadiness, and predictability of family life—metaphorically portrayed as the procedural routine of dumpling making, as an antithesis of the fast pace, uncertainty, and over-arousal of modern life. If that's Liu's goal, she has certainly succeeded by forcing the viewer to attend to the inertness and particularities of mundane life."

#13 Air Doll (Hirokazu Kore-eda) 40 pts | 4 votes

"In the early 70's I used to wander in and out of sex shops in Soho London. One of the high-ticket objects that always caught my eye was the rubber blow-up dolls labelled "sailors help". I always tried to imagine a lonely sailor having sex with this travesty of an imaginary woman. What particularly puzzled me was:—"how is the doll more satisfying than masturbation with the hand?" I concluded that all its contrivance was superfluous, and that those that used the doll, must need to create a highly complex artificial world. Koreeda's movie—which I viewed exactly forty years since I last looked at a "sailor's help", features certain technological advances—the skin tones are more life-like and the latex is less rubbery, the hair and make-up is more convincing—apart from these minor alterations its the same old dumb doll."

#12 Alexander the Last (Joe Swanberg) 45 pts | 5 votes

"Maybe it's me; maybe I don't get the whole "Mumblecore" genre of films about twenty-somethings but at just an hour and a quarter, it was an ordeal to sit through, even on TV at home. How does one do a movie with improvised dialog? Watch A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman or any one of the Christopher Guest-directed movies. That's how you do it, folks."

#11 In Comparison (Harun Farocki) 50 pts | 5 votes

"In Comparison is a globe-trotting The Way Things Work illustration, with an unwavering feel for the beauty in human labor and craft. Farocki's playful coverage of one worker's brick-hurling is unforgettable, and, what's more, the elemental materials look gorgeous in 16mm." [From an NYFF piece by Nicolas Rapold.]

#10 Final Flesh (Vernon Chatman) 54 pts | 3 votes

"Whether Vernon Chatman manages to tear the clothes off morality to expose its naked body is up for debate. But what's clear is that Final Flesh does achieve its goal of showing how one man’s fetish—no matter how goofy or scripted—may be another man’s smut." [From a Tiny Mix Tapes review by Jspicer.]

#9 Symbol (Hitoshi Matsumoto) 55 pts | 7 votes

"Perhaps the best film I could compare Symbol to would be Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yes, it's a bold comparison, but an apt one as well. Just substitute Kubrick's towering monolith and epic wormhole sequence for Hitoshi Matsumoto's room full of baby penises and a penis wall climbing ascent into the future and you're basically looking at the same film."

#8 Let Each One Go Where He May (Ben Russell) 57 pts | 4 votes

"Russell and the Pansa brothers are demonstrating a specific pattern of Saramaccan migration during the tourist season. But the well-trod path they follow is also emblematic of the larger situation of the post-colonial subject under global capitalism. These freed slaves' cinematic strolls and trudges bear greater weight than those found in films by (to take the most obvious examples) Béla Tarr or Gus Van Sant, because this mobility is something the Pansas' forebears simply did not have." [From a review by Michael Sicinski.]

#7 The King of Escape (Alain Guiraudie) 63 pts | 4 votes

"Two popular outlets of French hipness, Cahiers du Cinéma and Les Inrockuptibles, published reviews praising Le roi de l'évasion ecstatically. 'A hilarious, festive and liberating tale carried along by an exceptional cast' wrote Serge Kaganski in Les Inrocks. 'The hedonistic outlook makes for the gentlest film French cinema is capable of,' raves Eugenio Renzi in Cahiers. 'One leaves The King of Escape full of wonder,' he goes on, 'with the impression of having learned to desire all bodies.' The latter comment is inspired by the final scene in which a bunch of naked fat middle aged and old gay men are all in bed cuddling."

#6 It Felt Like a Kiss (Adam Curtis) 70 pts | 5 votes

"If you're into Negativland, you'll probably be into this."

#5 Disorder (Huang Weikai) 76 pts | 5 votes

"It's bracing, occasionally confusing, and heavily ideas-driven—Weikai assembled the footage from over one-thousand hours of footage he collected from other, amateur filmmakers, and while stitching this footage together, he followed but one rule: No successive scenes could come from the same source tape. It's a film that aspires toward democracy, that hopes to represent the multitude." [From a piece in The Atlantic by Hua Hsu.]

#4 Like You Know It All (Hong Sang-soo) 78 pts | 8 votes

"Film students watch out because you're all portrayed as fawning idiots here. Hong doesn't treat himself much better, visually contrasting himself through Ku as a juvenile frog, somewhere between a tadpole and the full-on Budweiser croaker. Perhaps he believes his best work is yet to come, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one."

#3 I Killed My Mother (Xavier Dolan) 103 pts | 5 votes

"There are borrowings from Truffaut, Wong Kar-wai, and lots of others that herald a giddy love of movies. Dolan is good at playing himself (not everybody is), and the camera likes him. If he continues to make movies—and with the encouragement he's gotten, which includes several awards at Cannes, he's unlikely not to—Xavier Dolan may turn into a good filmmaker."

#2 About Elly (Asghar Farhadi) 113 pts | 8 votes

"Just because All about Elly appears to be simple at first, it is actually really deep; once I suspected that every frame in this film means something and is not just there, I entered an alternate visual language, which then communicated the urgency of what Elly's disappearance meant to me. I felt that this film thereby manages to tell me emotionally what I could rationally never fully comprehend: what it means to actually live in a country like that. No other film from Iran has ever done that for me, and I've rarely seen a film from another culture that managed to do so. So I would assume that Farhadi has taken directing to another level here."

#1 Face (Tsai Ming-liang) 146 pts | 13 votes

"I loved some sequences, including the cigarette lighter illumination; a couple fun song numbers that are obviously lip-synched to; and a final erotic scene, (maybe?), with three women gyrating and disrobing in front of a man lying in a bathtub, covered with tomato paste, inside a meat locker. One can't forget it as the women look anything but sexy while in that location and the sound of meat hooks and chains clanging makes the whole thing rather jarring. And how can you not be oddly intrigued by the strand of saliva connecting the bathtub man's lips with the main woman's after a kiss, stretching further and further out until finally dissolving? Yet even those moments couldn't detract from the others that only found themselves leaving me shaking my head"

THE VOTERS: Mike D'Angelo, Alex Fung, Sky Hirschkron, Don Marks, Jeff McCloud, Victor J. Morton, Jason Overbeck, Theo Panayides, Matt Prigge, Peter Reiher, Vadim Rizov, Dan Sallitt, Michael Sicinski, Chris Stults, Froilan Vispo, C. Mason Wells, and Blake Williams. 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)*
2007: Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong)*
2008: Just Anybody (Jacques Doillon)

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


Kevin said...

Hey, I've actually seen a few of those (Accident, Symbol, etc.).

Thanks, Fantasia Film Festival!

kaifu said...

Whoa, Air Doll was not distributed in NYC? Anyway I don't think it belongs to any 'best' list...

kaifu said...

Whoa, Air Doll was not distributed in NYC? Anyway I don't think it belongs to any 'best' list...

Slayton said...

Kore-eda is one of my all time faves but, yeah, Air Doll is his worst and nowhere near the best of any year... Bae Doona is pretty special in it, though.

I like the About Elly mention!

eric said...

I'd say good call on FACE, but it wouldn't mean anything since ALEXANDER is the only other film on the list that I've seen. (And the only films I recall seeing that would qualify are THE DUST OF TIME and NYMPH).

Michael said...

Nope, the Angelopoulos is 2008, according to the IMDb (which is correct in this case -- it world premiered at Thessaloniki 08).

eric said...

Thanks. An embarrassing mistake on my part...I was looking that (c) year for the DVD packaging, not the movie itself. Still thanks for the list. I've already ordered a copy of ABOUT ELLY.

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