Oh, yes, cinema. We've got movies to keep us warm during those long, hard California winters. As baseball winds down, Hollywood will begin their seasonal rollout of prestigious heavy-hitters for those of us who were too busy
01. Mikio Naruse (from Nov. 1 to Dec. 2 @ UCLA Film Archive).
Reasons for excitement: Now, if I were one of those sorry nerds who draws up lists with titles like “Most Anticipated Director Retrospectives”, that hypothetical list I'd draw up may very well have a Mikio Naruse retro sitting right smack at #1. And why not? Of the great Japanese masters, Naruse’s cinema is the most modern and unsentimental, featuring extraordinary work from three of the finest actresses the medium has ever known: Hideko Takamine, Kinuyo Tanaka, and Setsuko Hara. But what makes this series a schedule-your-life-around-it kind of event is that, unlike his peers, Naruse’s oeuvre, both major and minor, are for all practical purposes impossible to view. He's probably the most significant director in world cinema whose films are almost entirely unavailable on video (Late Chryanthemum and When a Woman Ascends the Staircase are the only ones on tape I'm aware of; no DVDs at all, at least none with English subs). The long overdue traveling Naruse retrospective rolls into town next month -- I believe only the second Naruse series in the last twenty-five years -- giving me the chance to finally catch Wife, Be Like a Rose, Yearning, Scattered Clouds, Lightning, and other elusive would-be masterworks. Easily the cinematic event of the year for me.
02. The Passenger (opens Nov. 10 @ The Nuart).
Reasons for excitement: A just-concluded Antonioni retrospective has opened my eyes to the man's staggering visual ingenuity. Yes, Zabriskie Point shows a director acquainted with Boudrillard perhaps fondly but not too well, but oh what images! Antonioni has a peerless eye for framing architectural space, and for creating the perfect shot that encloses Modern Alienated Man in the cold metal and glass monoliths of mid-century Modernism. After surveying Antonioni, I was struck by how many of Wong Kar-wai's compositions in his 60s Hong Kong films were close approximations of the Italian masters', where iconic actors are framed and blocked facing different directions -- a perfect visual representation of alienated characters incapable of honest communication with one another. (Wong also shares Antonioni's fixation with shooting close-ups of the back of heads.) Antonioni and Godard are probably the two greatest living filmmakers, and The Passenger is the culmination of Antonioni’s modernist phase, for many the summit of his career. This one also features Jack Nicholson at the height of his combustible powers, though post-L'avventura Antonioni is not known for eliciting powerhouse performances, to put it mildly (Monica Vitti's chic somnambulance is a far cry from the wrenching performances you find in early Antonionis like Le Amiche and Il Grido). Put it together and you have a movie resting confidently on my list of the ten movies I most want to see. That is, if I were to devise such a list. Which I would never do, of course, not being remotely that geeky.
03. Hidden (Caché) (Opens Dec. 23)
Reasons for excitement: The best pound-for-pound boxer in the world is a title invented by boxing purists to recognize a pugilist, no matter what the weight class, who best combines all the skills of the sweet science into one package. If such a category exists in filmmaking, the Austrian perfectionist Michael Haneke would have to be on any purist’s shortlist. A filmmaker of impeccable control, Haneke parcels each bit of information so carefully that not one speckle on the frame is a mistake. It's a cinema where not one strand of hair is out of place. Combine that cinematic mastery with a provocateur's personality and the mind of a logician, and you have one of the few working filmmakers who can leave you trembling for hours (Funny Games) and keep you thinking for days (Code Unknown). His icy films are often too arid, determined, and anti-sensual for my taste, but it's obvious he's one of the most formidable film directors currently working. Hidden, the most acclaimed film at Cannes this year, may finally bring him the recognition he deserves. And frankly, if there's a filmmaker with the intellectual rigor and temperament to take an accurate temperature of the West's existential state, post-9/11, it's Haneke.
04. Brokeback Mountain (Opens Dec. 9)
Reasons for excitement: A gay cowboy movie starring Jake “skid row Tobey” Gyllenhaal will send few pulses racing. But when said gay cowboy movie is compared to The Age of Innocence, In the Mood for Love and Far From Heaven…well, you might as well tell me that Winona Ryder, Maggie Cheung and Julianne Moore are presently squeezed under my sheets, nude and awaiting my tender ministrations. Ah, yes…wait, where were we again? Oh, right. Perhaps an orgy isn’t an appropriate metaphor to express my enthusiasm for this particular movie, but let's just say I'm extremely pumped for this Ang Lee adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's...gay cowboy story.
05. The New World (Opens Dec. 25)
Reason for excitement: Reportedly Malick's "revisionist" (which really isn't so, in the sense that mainstream historians now tend to acknowledge the European savagery during the Age of Exploration) take on Pocahantas and John Smith, I'm guessing we'll be treated to lots of pretty pictures of indiginous people frolicking in paradise lost. Which is fine. I dug Tabu, too. More importantly, Colin Farrell, please do not show your bare butt more than three times in this picture. Your consideration is much appreciated.
06. Heroic Grace II: (from Nov. 17 to Dec. 11 @ UCLA Film Archive).
Reasons for excitement: More goodies from one of the great projects of the last five years, Celestial Pictures' remasters of the Shaw Brothers library. This sequel to the wildly successful Heroic Grace series aims to solidify the reps of baroque wuxia stylist Chu Yuan, aka Chor Yuen (Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan) and kung fu purist Lau Kar-leung, aka Liu Chia-liang (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin), two accomplished genre specialists who should by all rights be as respected as Maria Bava and Walter Hill. As it happens, I've caught a number of their films earlier this year, and this series will help round out my perspective. Perhaps a long-planned Lau/Chu post will finally get off the ground after this series. The one unmissable picture here is King Hu's The Valiant Ones, one of Hu's two hard-to-catch acclaimed pictures from the 70s (the other being The Fate of Lee Khan).
07. The Squid and the Whale (Opens Oct. 14)
Reasons for excitement: Dr. Akagi fights Old Boy to the death? Not quite, but it's nice to see Noah Baumbach rebound the last couple of years, first with The Life Aquatic, the wacky collab with Wes Anderson, and apparently now with this highly lauded autobiographical pic. The urbane wit of 90s indie stalwarts Baumbach and Whit Stillman have been sorely lacking in the age of Garden State, and so his return is a relief for sore ears. The trailer, like all Indiewood pics, sucks the big hairy ass, but I have it on good authority that the movie is more than just another quirky family therapy movie. Heck, I'm just happy Baumbach didn't need to cast freakin' Eric Stoltz to get a project off the ground this time.
08. Jacques Rivette (from Oct. 1 to Oct. 28 @ UCLA Film Archive).
Reasons for excitement: David Thomson called Rivette the greatest director of the last thirty five years, and Celine and Julie Go Boating the most significant film since Citizen Kane. Personally, I'd call Rivette Murder on the Assbone. And unfortunately, the taxing Rivette opuses I'm actually very eager to view, L'Amour fou, Out 1: Spectre, Le Pont du nord, Gang of Four, and Joan the Maid, are all missing from this series (as well as Rivette's awesome La Belle noiseuse), which explains why this series is placed so low. Last week, I had the chance to see the quite conventional (but surprisingly good) The Nun, and perhaps will hit this retro one more time, for a second dose of Up/Down/Fragile. But that's all. Hopefully the next Rivette series will be more comprehensive.
09. Match Point (Opens Dec. 25)
Reasons for excitement: A Woody comeback! Where have I heard that one before? In so far as his latest features the unbeatable combo of Scarlett Johansson and tennis (can we have a Maria Sharapova cameo please?), it could be the next Shadows & Fog for all I care. But it'd be nice if the Woodman would turn out an un-excruciating movie for a change. The Cannes consensus is that Match Point is Woody's best since maybe Crimes and Misdemeanors, and even perpetual Cannes crank D'Angelo is on board. And if D'Angelo can be trusted on anything, it's the oeuvre of Woody Allen (now underrated by those "serious" J-Ro Kool-Aid-drinking cineastes -- you humorless wankers, how do you dis Sleeper, Love and Death, Annie Hall and Manhattan?).
10. Aeon Flux (Opens Dec 2)
Q. You're not serious about this?
A. I'm dead serious.
Q. Dude, how much you wanna bet you're not even gonna watch this thing?
A. Maybe not, but Charlize looks hot and the trailer kicks ass. And do you remember those Aeon Flux segments on MTV's "Liquid Television" back in the early Nineties? So kewl!
Q. Oh dear. You do remember that noogie you delivered to "fanboys" as you slammed Sin City?
A. So what's your point?
11. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Opens Oct 21)
Reasons for excitement: Honestly, I don't know why this movie is this high. I mean, Tango & Cash was okay, but now we're supposed to be pumped about the writer of that movie's directorial debut? I guess everyone says it's good, and it's always a treat to see Robert Downey, Jr., so I'll go along like the sheep I am. Oooops! I just realized it wasn't Tango & Cash but The Last Boy Scout that Shane Black worked on! Sorry!
12. The Most Typical Avant-Garde and the Joseph Cornell series. Listed here to show I AM HARDCORE!!! It's actually a goal of mine to work through the a-g canon, and we've got some goodies here. Also, the silent horror series should be pretty awesome -- I'm hoping to finally catch the Lon Cheney Phantom, though regrettably not the Epstein House of Usher.
Nope: Memoirs of a Geisha, Rent, Elizabethtown
Proceed with Caution: The treacherous minefield of the Thinkpic -- All the King’s Men, Munich, Syriana, Jarhead.
On the fence: King Kong (the effects look great, but do we need to see this story again?), The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (read the book as a kid, not sold on the film version); Chicken Little (supposedly a good non-Pixar cgi-pic!), and the Louis Malle retrospective (I've seen most of his acclaimed works; his minor films appear eminently missable).
Special mention: National Lampoon’s Barely Legal. Description from Yahoo! movies: "Three high school sophomores try to make a porno movie in their basement while their parents are away at work." Res ipsa loquitur.
01. Three Times. All of HHH's greatest hits rolled into one, and it looks amazing.
02. A Tale of Cinema. Hong Sang-soo is my dawg.
03. Gabrielle. Chereau's breakthrough film?
04. Princess Raccoon. Seijun Suzuki's raccoon romp is likely the only picture I'll be seeing at the pathetic AFI Fest.
05. The Wayward Cloud. Tsai goes Irreversible. Which sounds awesome in theory; unfortunately, it seems to wow only the folks who evince a weakness for shocking feel-bad denouements.
06. Regular Lovers. I do not expect to be able to see this movie until ten years from now.
07. Tideland. It can't be that bad, can it?
08. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Because watching some poor Romanian schlub drown in his own urine is my idea of a good time. Or not. The love it/hate it film of the festival circuit this year.