Compiled by Fiona A. Villella

The Entries

Parts of this article are now hosted on the PANDORA archive of the National Library of Australia and Partners.

Acquarello

Richard Armstrong

Nicole Brenez

James Brown

Anthony Carew

Fergus Daly

Adrian Danks

Geoff Gardner

Ben Halligan

Noël Herpe

James Hewison

Peter Hogue

Alexander Horwath

Christoph Huber

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2001 Favourites

by Acquarello

I started to write individual thoughts for each of the films on my top ten list, but ultimately realized that what attracted me to the films that I had selected this year, as in any year, are the common themes that invariably define the essence of what it means to be human: connection, grief, loss, alienation, transience, insecurity.

My favourites for the year:

Under the Sand

What Time Is it There? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)
Eureka (Shinji Aoyama, 2000)
Intimacy (Patrice Chereau, 2001)
Durian, Durian (Fruit Chan, 2001)
Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)
Under the Sand (François Ozon, 2000)
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
The Vertical Ray of the Sun (Tran Anh Hung, 2000)
All About Lily Chou-Chou (Shunji Iwai, 2001)
Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Shohei Imamura, 2001)

Acquarello is a NASA Design Engineer and author of the Strictly Film School website.

© Acquarello December 2001        back to list of contributors

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Ghosts in the Afternoon

by Richard Armstrong

Carnival of Souls, Head over Heels, Friendship’s Death, The Haunting, What’s New Pussycat? Targets, Kiss Me, Stupid, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

These films are not great films. Often middling, some are downright poor. Whilst I can earnestly recommend Citizen Kane, Bicycle Thieves, M, and Vertigo to my students in class, the others are strictly for the pub afterwards. Yet they remain amongst my most treasured experiences in an auditorium or lounge. These funny little films are part of me, old friends I haven’t seen in years. Yet I get precious little opportunity to write about them nowadays. Imagine my excitement when Bravo, a British cable TV company, invited me to do just that, and for money…

When I received the email last summer, I dropped everything and compiled a list. Bravo wanted to generate a database of cult movies. An extremely elastic term, ‘Cult’ has embraced films from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (Nathan Juran, 1958) to Mad Max (George Miller, 1979), from Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) to Shadows and Fog (Woody Allen, 1992). From a list of titles Bravo themselves had come up with, I spotted Taxi Driver, Jaws and Vertigo! Since when had Jaws, the film that inaugurated the summer blockbuster, been regarded as cult fodder? When did such a paradigm of high Hitchcock become a niche midnighter? I must be getting old. I vowed that my own list would sport the quirky aesthetics, forbidden frissons, subversive imagery that have prompted patrons to peepshows, nickelodeons and grindhouses ever since 1895.

The list I came up with contained quite a few titles from the ’60s and ’70s. The ’60s were a watershed during which, with Hollywood in decline, the slack taken up with new American sensibilities, and the rise of European art cinema, movies became imbued, for the first time since the ’20s, with a modernist spirit. (For Nick James in the January 2002 Sight and Sound editorial, 1968 represents the apex of the cinephile era). I first began watching films seriously around the mid-’70s. It was a time when the fruits of these revolutions had begun to appear on British TV. In 1976, Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) turned up, prime time, on BBC1. Roger Corman horror flicks began to appear late on Fridays. Seasons of Truffaut, Lelouch, and New Hollywood cropped up as the schedules moved towards 1980. As infatuated as I was with the Warner Brothers gangster cycle, Humphrey Bogart movies, and Hedy Lamarr, I was bewildered and bewitched by the new modernisms. Seeing All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976) in 1976, I puzzled over the ellipses of what cinema had become. Billy Liar! (John Schlesinger, 1963), Elvira Madigan (Bo Widerberg, 1967), The Sterile Cuckoo (Pakula, 1969), The Strawberry Statement (Stuart Hagmann, 1970)—even the titles resonated oddly, the imaginings of an uprooting generation.

Because I had so many to cover, I had to write about them back-to-back. So I watched The Odd Couple (Gene Saks, 1967) in the morning, wrote about it, and watched Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971) in the afternoon. It felt odd to dust these midnight pleasures down in the hard glare of day. Daylight showed up fresh aspects, throwing time-honoured interpretations into the shadows. The romantic comedy Head over Heels (Joan Micklin Silver, 1979), in which Charles (John Heard) pines for Laura (Mary Beth Hurt), became a ‘buddy movie’ in which it is Charles’s crazy life which drives him ‘head over heels’ rather than anything Laura might have done. If I’d once seen Annie Hall clone Laura as the film’s motor, now she seemed relatively sane. What kept the film going now was the banter of Charles and Sam (Peter Riegert). Head over Heels also seemed possessed by a desultory mood which afflicts such other ’70s American films as The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1973), The Conversation (Francis Coppola, 1974), Night Moves (Penn, 1975) and Being There (Ashby, 1979), suggesting in retrospect a blanket sense of exhaustion. Head over Heels was called Chilly Scenes of Winter in America.

A Fistful of Dynamite (Sergio Leone, 1971), I lately realized, is another boys’ movie about the love affair between a reflective explosives expert and a volatile peasant. Gaining a reputation among spaghetti western freaks and cinephile dopeheads following ’70s reruns on Chicago’s Channel 12, this ornate film has the feeling for cinema and auteurist inscription beloved of Leone watchers, and the leisurely pace and stylistic bravura preferred by habitual smokers. It is also underscored by one of the most textured and beautiful of Ennio Morricone’s scores.

Southwest to Sonora (Furie, 1966) is a retread of Marlon Brando’s revenge western One-Eyed Jacks (Brando, 1961), influenced in the meantime by an Italian genre which famously emerged in A Fistful of Dollars (Leone, 1964), itself derived from the arch ‘American genre.’ To see One-Eyed Jacks and Southwest to Sonora in one day is to witness the trajectory of the American western in the grip of modernism.

Watching The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963) in the wake of The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick/Eduardo Sanchez, 1998) is to see where the recent film got its mutating narrative space. At one point in The Haunting, Mrs Markway (Lois Maxwell) gets lost in Hill House, cinematographer Davis Boulton’s weird angles and sudden mirrors making for space that seems, to her, to change shape. As old acquaintances walked through my flat last summer, the films themselves seemed to change shape. These new films are not great films, but they’ve become part of me.

Richard Armstrong is a UK based film journalist and instructor. He is author of Billy Wilder: American Film Realist (McFarland, 2000).

© Richard Armstrong December 2001        back to list of contributors

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Notes on the 2001 Flinders University Film Society Programme

by James Brown

One of my favourite memories of 2001 occurred as a response to one of those regular disasters that seem to befall film societies: the breakage of the projector. I can’t remember if it was a lamp that blew or a belt that snapped, but I do recall that the film was Cockfighter (Monte Hellman, 1974) and it had about five more minutes to run. The film was not particularly interesting but the handful of people in attendance, myself included, desired a sense of closure. We wound up huddled around a nearby Steenbeck and watched Warren Oates win the ‘Cockfighter of the Year’ medallion on a screen that would fit inside a 14-inch television. We all went home a little happier since in this film about pride, arrogance and honour only one man and his cock was ever going to win. But after the victorious fight, Oates snaps the cock’s neck in front of his animal-loving wife. It’s quite an ending and it was worth the effort to see.

I think this usefully explains a certain desperation that exists within the Flinders University Film Society. Our general purpose is to watch films that are difficult to acquire elsewhere. We are concerned with the general limitations of viewing opportunities. Our ultimate aim is to provide a space to satisfy this desperate film-watching need that lurks within our regular attendees.

The programme I arranged this year attempted to cater to the heterogeneous tastes of our members. I’m not sure this approach was entirely successful since audience reactions were often contrary to expectations. However, there were some clear highlights and very few disappointments.

Une femme douce

While there are always personal exceptions, the films which seemed to have the most positive effect on members were Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955), Soshun (Yasujiro Ozu, 1956), Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1946) and Une femme douce (Robert Bresson, 1969). There has been something of a systematic approach to the screening of Bresson in recent years and this film was one we hadn’t yet seen elsewhere (most of our members are aged in their 20s and have attended less than three or four years of the national programme). There is an assured interest in minimalism and transcendentalism among a handful of Flinders’ member-students and the viewing of films such as Une femme douce and Les Anges du péché (Bresson, 1943) is essential to the further development of their film practice. Perhaps one value of showing these two films is the formalist validation they provide to filmmakers who are otherwise inundated with differentiated stylistic strategies. Bresson’s technique is not so much imitable as inspirational.

The screening of Ordet was remarkable for the film’s effect on the mood of the audience. The change of reels (our society has just one projector) usually allows time to surge to the toilet or engulf a cigarette. From memory, nobody moved or talked. The intermission may have only lasted for a minute, but it felt unusually out-of-time. Dreyer’s long takes and his camera movements through sparse sets emphasise duration and encourage strict concentration. The gap in time between the first and second reels may have wrenched each spectator briefly out of the text and provided a moment for reflection. But Ordet itself seems already structured to encourage such contemplation. Our middle moment, then, might be quite unique in terms of spectatorship. It provides time for engagement with the film when the film is not running, but with full knowledge that the film is about to run again at any moment (assuming there exists some faith in the continued operation of the projector!).

Our film society tries to address the demand for certain works that are very difficult to access on videotape. One salient example of a filmmaker largely ignored by video distributors is Ozu. Thankfully, a reasonable number of Ozu’s films are available from the National Library of Australia (NLA) on 16mm. This year we screened both Soshun and Ochazuke no aji (Yasujiro Ozu, 1952). The print quality of the latter, also known as The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice, was quite poor, a scratched and fluctuating sound track the prominent offender. Soshun (Early Spring) was inevitably the better viewing experience in comparison but both films were excellent, useful screenings. While Ordet is concerned with the probing of a kind of pure faith, Ozu’s enquiries into human behaviour always seem less dramatic but in affect more purely contemplative. With the inclusion of the Cinémathèque screening of the formally rigorous Equinox Flower (Yasujiro Ozu, 1958), our convergence with Ozu this year was an abundant highlight.

For the few weeks that we emphasised film noir screenings, Ulmer’s Detour stood out for its brevity, precise genre coding, its pace and ironic ending. We also watched a pair of Anthony Mann directed films shot by John Alton, T-Men (1947) and Raw Deal (1948), as well as some of those borderline noirs that typify certain elements of the style, The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1946), Mad Love (Karl W. Freund, 1935) and Serie Noire (Alain Corneau, 1979). I’m not sure I could critique our responses to these films given that the level of desire to see them was so high … that is, to see them on film. Even with a film such as Ordet, the value of perceiving tones of black and white in comparison to shades of video grey is one of our society’s most prized provisions. In an era when it is quite common to hear talk of, ‘the only way to watch a movie at home is on DVD,’ I would feel inclined to propose that, ‘the only way to watch a movie at home is on a 16mm projector!’ With the availability of a wide selection of films from the NLA catalogue, it doesn’t seem all that ridiculous to suggest that the true home cinema is a Bell & Howell pointed at a white sheet.

Certain other films we screened this year were appraised with more contention. Le revalateur (Philippe Garrel, 1968), an “experimental” short film homologous to a dream-like haze of paranoia and obscurity, was loved by some but aroused contempt in others. I think everyone found Geschichtsunterricht (Jean-Marie Straub/Daniele Huillet, 1972, aka History Lessons) incredibly difficult, but the long takes of the streets of Rome shot through a car window were really quite soothing. The theme of unrequited love also seemed to divide the audience. Mad Love, He Who Gets Slapped (Victor Sjostrom, 1924) and Between Us (Bill Mousoulis, 1990) met with both empathy and scorn.

The society projected over 30 films in 2001, many of which were always going to be some of the better films we would watch in any year. In terms of reputation, some films surprised (e.g., Attack! [Robert Aldrich, 1956], Chinesisches Roulette [Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1976], X – the Man with the X-Ray Eyes [Roger Corman, 1963]) or slightly disappointed some members (e.g., Sansho dayu [Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954], La passion de Jeanne d’Arc [Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928], Sunrise [F.W. Murnau, 1927]). But considering the eclecticism of the programme, the limited availability of certain films and the always seductive offer to see films projected as films, each week’s screening proved successful.

James Brown is yet to leave Flinders University.

© James Brown December 2001        back to list of contributors

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Film: 2001

by Anthony Carew

À Ma Soeur!

Five favourite films that got a commercial release in Melbourne:
1. You Can Count On Me (Kenneth Lonergan, 2000)
2. À Ma Soeur! (Catherine Breillat, 2000)
3. Bounce (Don Roos, 2000)
4. Rosetta (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardennes, 1999)
5. Crazy/Beautiful (John Stockwell, 2001)

Five favourite films that didn’t:
1. The Isle (Kim Ki-Duk, 2000)
2. Totally Flaky (Jacques Doillon, 2000)
3. The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001)
4. Le Maladie de Sachs (Michel Deville, 1999)
5. Martha… Martha (Sandrine Veysset, 2001)

Five worst films I had the misfortune of sitting down to watch:
1. When Brendan Met Trudy (Kieron J Walsh, 2000)
2. Swordfish (Dominic Sena, 2001)
3. The Gift (Sam Raimi, 2000)
4. Everybody Famous! (Dominique Deruddere, 2000)
5. Small Time Crooks (Woody Allen, 2000)

Anthony Carew, human-being, has seen 189 films so far in the year 2001 AD of the Christian calendar.

Anthony Carew December 2001        back to list of contributors

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2001 Favourites

by Fergus Daly

My film of the year:

Besides Jean-Luc Godard’s Éloge de l’amour (in which the presentation of an ex-Resistance fighter, now old, reminded me of my dear Mother after her stroke, and moved me not only for that reason but more generally for the fact that you’ve never seen anything like her in a Godard film before), I would also commend an Irish TV series Bachelors Walk by John Carney and Tom Hall, a vaguely New Waveish romantic comedy in 8 episodes which, hopefully, marks a turning point in Irish filmmaking. The final episode ended on what must be the most audacious scene ever shot in this country. Three hard done by ‘lads’ sit in armchairs in a city centre apartment and cry for the entire duration of Tom Waits’ ‘Kentucky Avenue’.

I would also like to mention how much I despised Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and its neo-imperialist attitude to all things Eastern.

Favourite film criticism of 2001:

Adrian Martin, “Garden of Stone: Philippe Garrel’s L’Enfant secret (1982)”, Senses of Cinema Issue 15 (July-Aug 2001)

Fabien Boully, “Lier un corps a un regard: la rencontre et au-dela chez Philippe Garrel” in Vertigo, no. 21, 2001

Fergus Daly is the co-author of a book on Leos Carax forthcoming from Manchester University Press.

© Fergus Daly December 2001        back to list of contributors

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2001 Top Ten

by Adrian Danks

In preferential order:

1. Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 2000)
2. The Gleaners & I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
3. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
4. One Day in the Life of Andre Arsenevich (Chris Marker, 2000)
5. Outer Space (Peter Tscherkassky, 1999)
6. Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer, 2000)
7. The House of Mirth (Terrance Davies, 2000)
8. Totally Flaky (Jacques Doillon, 2001)
9. Faithless (Liv Ullmann, 2000)
10. Wild Blue, Notes for Several Voices (Thierry Knauff, 2000)

Bubbling under: The Circle (Jafar Panahi, 2000); Lan Yu (Stanley Kwan, 2001); Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (Hong Sang-Soo, 2000); The Yards (James Gray, 2000); A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001); Little Otik (Jan Svankmajer, 2001); Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4pm (Claude Lanzmann, 2001); Shrek (Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, 2001); The Big Animal (Jerzy Stuhr, 2000); Platform (Jia Zhangke, 2000); Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, 2000); The Mission (Johnny To, 1999); Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story (Vincent & Shelly Dunn Fremont, 2000)

Underrated: most of the films listed above, particularly Sexy Beast and The Yards; also Tigerland (Joel Schumacher, 2000), Liam (Stephen Frears, 2000), and Meet the Parents (Jay Roach, 2000)

Overrated: Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrmann, 2001); The Bank (Robert Connolly, 2001); Cunnamulla (Dennis O’Rourke, 2000); Lantana (Ray Lawrence, 2001); The Isle (2000); O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel Coen, 2000); Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000); The Deep End (David Siegel & Scott McGhee, 2001); Before Night Falls (Julian Schnabel, 2000); Time for Drunken Horses (Bahman Ghobadi, 2000); The Pledge (Sean Penn, 2001); The Beaver Trilogy (Trent Harris, 2001); ABC Africa (Abbas Kiarostami, 2001); Time & Tide (Tsui Hark, 2000); Series 7: The Contenders (Daniel Minahan, 2001); Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001); Croupier (Mike Hodges, 1998); anything directed by Ishii Sogo, especially Electric Dragon 80,000 Volts (2001) – Pokemon has a much greater subtext; Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Shohei Imamura, 2001).

Worst: several of the scenes added to Apocalypse Now, especially those involving Playboy bunnies, surfboards and Willard laughing; Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, 2000), not a homage but a blight upon the musical; Cunnamulla (Dennis O’Rourke, 2000); How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Ron Howard, 2000); Serenades (Mojgan Khadem, 2001); Man of the Crowds; Ring O: Birthday (Norio Tsuruta, 2000); Visible Secret (Ann Hui, 2001); Needing You… (Johnny To, 2000); Not Forgotten (Makoto Shinozaki, 2000); The Mummy Returns (Stephen Sommers, 2001).

Best retrospectives and revivals: Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955); The Bartered Bride (Max Ophüls, 1931); A Double Tour (Claude Chabrol, 1959)/This Man Must Die (Claude Chabrol, 1969); The Exorcist: Directors Cut (William Friedkin, 1973); The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1963); Lola (Jacques Demy, 1961); The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)/One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder, 1961); Gimme Shelter (David & Albert Maysles, 1970); Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953); The Tarkovsky Retrospective at The Melbourne Cinémathèque; The Fountainhead (King Vidor, 1949).

The ones we didn’t need to have: Apocalypse Now Redux (Francis Ford Coppola); The Ishii Sogo retrospective at the Melbourne International Film Festival; Viva Las Vegas (George Sidney, 1963); Office Killer (Cindy Sherman, 1997); How to Marry a Millionaire (Jean Negulesco, 1953).

On compiling the ‘best of’ list I was surprised to come to the conclusion it was actually a good year (with a hell of a lot of overrated films as well, particularly from Australia). It was also a year in which individual films provoked diametric responses. It was great to see Apocalypse Now again on the big screen, but I never want to see that much of it again (those new scenes actually made me totally rethink my previous high opinion of the film). I was exhilarated by the very opening of Moulin Rouge but wanted to leave the cinema during the following scene where Toulouse Lautrec crashes through the ceiling. I think this is possibly the ‘shrillest’ film I’ve ever seen, incredibly energetic and busy but with virtually no sense of rhythm. It is also a somewhat dishonest film in the sense that it wants you to believe in the emotional world of its characters while only ever presenting this through the ironic filter of a bunch of “silly love songs”. Give me the startling moment where John Cale is heard singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on the soundtrack for Shrek any day (move over Elton and Randy and let Leonard score the next Disney movie).

All of the films in my ‘best of’ list have great moments such as Agnès Varda tracing the lines on her aged hands with the ‘new’ technology of digital video in The Gleaners and I, the final, devastating circular camera movement of The Circle, the breathtaking movement from chilly North America to the sunlit glint of the Mediterranean in The House of Mirth, or the glide and bounce of Maggie Cheung throughout In the Mood for Love (all films and moments of texture, physicality and fleeting gestures). Still the images of the year I will most like to remember bookend Sexy Beast and Beau Travail. Both the opening of Sexy Beast and the ending of Beau Travail are defined by music (from about the same time), and are moments both detachable and integral to the films they instigate and crown. I have written elsewhere in Senses of Cinema about the opening of Sexy Beast and wouldn’t dare attempt to describe or explain the final scene of Beau Travail (except to say that it’s ineffable and the greatest in a line of singular dance scenes in Denis’ film – moments which the films struggle to contain and then just let go). Moments of music, motion, synchronicity and sublime excess (of literally letting go or letting it all hang out) that can almost let me imagine that Moulin Rouge and Dancer in the Dark never really happened.

Adrian Danks is President of the Melbourne Cinémathèque and lectures in cinema and cultural studies at RMIT University, Department of Communication Studies.

© Adrian Danks December 2001        back to list of contributors

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Best and Worst

by Geoff Gardner

Year’s highlight: the Budd Boetticher Retrospective, Brisbane International Film Festival

10 Best (in alphabetical order):

À Ma Soeur! (Catherine Breillat)
Amores Perros (Love’s A Bitch, Alejandro González Iñárritu)
The Circle (Jafer Panahi)
The Jang Sun-Woo Variations (Tony Rayns)
Nurse Betty (Neil La Bute)
The Orphan of Anyang (Wang Chao)
Seafood (Zhu Wen)
A Tender Place (Shinichi Nagasaki)
Visitor Q (Miike Takashi)
Yi Yi (Edward Yang)

Next in line:

Brother

Les Amants Criminels (François Ozon)
Brother (Takeshi Kitano)
The Deep End (Scott McGeehee & Dan Siegel)
Harry He’s Here to Help (Dominik Moll)
Lan Yu (Stanley Kwan)
Rosetta (Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-liang)

Best Old movies:

The Apartment (Billy Wilder)
Carmen Jones (Otto Preminger)
Come and See (Elem Klimov)
In the Realm of the Senses (Nagisa Oshima)
Muriel (Alain Resnais)
and the Tarkovsky season

Guilty Pleasures:

For the Love of the Game (Sam Raimi)
The Tailor of Panama (John Boorman)

Biggest absence:

Millenium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien)

Worst Films:

The Man Who Sued God (Mark Joffe)
Chunhyang (Im Kwon Taek)

Geoff Gardner was once a film distributor and, twenty years ago, director of the Melbourne Film Festival.

© Geoff Gardner December 2001        back to list of contributors

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2001: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

by Ben Halligan

The films that distinguished 2001 were themselves distinguished by a renewed stance of political interventionism: so many films from contemporary Iranian cinema present moral imperatives (and to devastating effect), so many contemporary European films now systematically problematise the certainties supposedly to be found in everyday reality. And with new work from Godard, Denis, Sokurov, Herzog, Breillat, Haneke, Alex Cox and Mohsen Makhmalbaf on the horizon, the cinema is becoming an essential way of making sense of the world. It was no surprise to learn that Pontecorvo, Scola, Maselli et al were filming the G8 protests and their outrageous suppression in Genoa in July. Looking beyond Varda’s self-effacing modesty, perhaps her own “protest film,” Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse, offers a blue-print for the kind of cinema to come: confrontational, contemporary, engaged, provocative, quietly didactic. That so many filmmakers associated with the ’60s are now back in action is an indication of the contemporary role of film. Attending non-American films is becoming a radicalising process: if for nothing else, then for cinema, at least, we’re living in interesting times.

Yet North American cinema no longer seems to offer any kind of useful reflection, meaningful critique or mature response to contemporary American society. Like many other areas of the American media, it has shirked a historical role: I didn’t realise that the idea that “American films have never been so bad” (often heard a couple of years ago in relation to the endless substandard blockbusters) would exact such a price. Where are the North American filmmakers of the ’60s now? The only exception to the dross was Boorman’s timely variation on cynicism, paranoia and American foreign policy. It is perhaps time to cease watching American films.

Chris Morris’s BrassEye satire on media attitudes towards paedophilia provoked a storm of controversy, legal threats, tabloid backlashes and official inquiries. For a while this half hour, late evening comedy was the only talking point in the British media, whole swathes of which added self-inflicted injury to the insult in the process; the government came out of the affair looking equally ridiculous. Channel 4 (UK) were forced to apologise but countered with the claim that they wouldn’t think twice about commissioning such a programme again. The way in which BrassEye palpably altered the wider debate over the issues it raised is only one indication that Morris is a Dennis Potter for our times.

Films of 2001:
La Fidélité (Andrzej Zulawski)
The Circle (Jafar Panahi)
The Last Resort (Pawel Pawlikowski)
La Commune (Peter Watkins)
The Navigators (Ken Loach)
No Man’s Land (Danis Tanovic)
The Tailor of Panama (John Boorman)
Sexy Beast
(Jonathan Glazer)
Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (Agnès Varda)
Harry, Un Ami Qui Vous Veut du Bien (Dominik Moll)
Blackboards (Samira Makhmalbaf)
At The Height of Summer aka The Vertical Ray of the Sun (Tran Anh Hung)
A Time for Drunken Horses (Bahman Ghobadi)

Best Revivals:
Alfie (Lewis Gilbert)
La Bête (Walerian Borowczyk)

Best Television:
BrassEye (Christopher Morris / Channel 4)
Mondo Macabre (Pete Tombs / Channel 4)

Best Short:
Cry for Bobo (David Cairns / Tartan Shorts)

Best Multimedia Event:
Mogwai European Tour ’01

Best Books:
Slavoj Žižek, The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-Theory; British Film Institute, London 2001
Kenneth Tynan, John Lahr, The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan; Bloomsbury, London 2001

Benjamin Halligan is currently preparing a critical biography of Michael Reeves for Manchester University Press for publication in 2002.

© Benjamin Halligan December 2001        back to list of contributors

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Favourite films 2001

by Noël Herpe

Et là-bas, quelle heure est-il ? (Tsai Ming-liang)
L’Anglaise et le Duc (Eric Rohmer)
Je rentre à la maison (Manuel de Oliveira)
La Chambre du fils (Nanni Moretti)
The Man Who Wasn’t There (Joel Coen)

Noël Herpe currently teaches French literature and French cinema at the University of Chicago. He writes for the journal Positif, and works as an adviser for the foreign selection of the Cannes Film Festival.

© Noël Herpe December 2001        back to list of contributors

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2001 Favourites

by James Hewison

In alphabetical order:

Address Unknown

Chunhyang (Im Kwon Taek)
Electric Dragon 80,000 Volts (Ishii Sogo)
Freedom (Sharunas Bartas)
The Isle and Address Unknown (both Kim Ki-Duk)
Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
Pau et Son Frere (Marc Recha)
La Pianiste (Michael Haneke)
‘R Xmas (Abel Ferrara)
Sauvage Innocence (Philippe Garrel)
Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr)

James Hewison is Executive Director of the Melbourne International Film Festival.

© James Hewison December 2001        back to list of contributors

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The Year in Review

by Peter Hogue

Movie-wise, 2001 was an improvement on 2000 even though not quite as interesting, or as bewildering, in its diversity. By my count, at least, more really good films made it into Chico theaters than did in the previous year. But a remarkable, and at times troubling, trend from 2000 continued in 2001 – the market logic of demographics and hype choked the theaters with mediocre glop while also leaving less and less room for the real thing. Thus while there were more really good films in local theaters this year, the number of outstanding films that arrived here only on video and/or cable went up also.

Films like Memento, Mulholland Drive, and Mexico’s Amores Perros were further signs of a heartening new narrative freedom in art cinema. But movies written and designed to suit their own advertising flackery remained the industry’s idea of “leading edge” work. And even though there was still room for some feisty and inspired “indies” (Hedwig & the Angry Inch, State & Main, The Pledge, You Can Count on Me, Ghost World, Haiku Tunnel, etc.), such gaudy trifles as Pearl Harbor, Angel Eyes, and Vanilla Sky were prominent among the numerous signs that mainstream American moviemaking has lost its way to everything except the box office.

Fortunately, there was room as well for a handful of truly outstanding American works: Memento, The Deep End, Mulholland Drive, and Baby Boy, in particular. Those four, each in their own way, play fast and loose with conventional Hollywood-bred expectations and emerge with great mainstream potential just the same. The tepid response of supposedly mainstream audiences to at least two of these films suggests that the mainstream is slowing to a trickle, if not drying up altogether.

Those four American films are among the ten or so best films I saw in Chico theaters this year, joining a couple of raucously brilliant British films (Sexy Beast and Snatch) and four foreign language gems – Amores Perros (Mexico), The Princess and the Warrior (Germany), The Circle (Iran), and Under the Sand (France). Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon belongs in the Chico Top Ten for 2001 also (though, technically, it is a 2000 release).

And there were a good many foreign films worthy of runner-up status in Chico theatres – Bread and Tulips (Italy), Together (Sweden), The Road Home (China), The Vertical Ray of the Sun (Vietnam), The Closet (France), With a Friend Like Harry (France), Divided We Fall (Czech Republic), Widow of St. Pierre (France), The Time of the Drunken Horses (Iran).

But the list of outstanding films that reached us only through video or cable is every bit as impressive as the best of the year’s theatrical releases, and the majority are foreign films: a couple of masterpieces, Raul Ruiz’s Time Regained and Edward Yang’s Yi Yi, sit at the head of the list followed by Claire Denis’ extraordinary Beau Travail, Alain Resnais’ Same Old Song, the monumental Fragments * Jerusalem, Madadayo (the final film by the late, great Akira Kurosawa), Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love (Hong Kong), Tonie Marshall’s Venus Beauty Institute (France), Lea Pool’s Set Me Free (French Canada), Laurent Cantet’s Human Resources (France), Bruno Dumont’s L’Humanite (France), Ken Loach’s Bread and Roses (U.K./U.S.A.), and Volker Schlöndorff’s The Legend of Rita (Germany).

The most unjustly neglected film of the year is probably John Singleton’s Baby Boy, an astonishing drama about Southern California hip-hoppers and their families. It was overlooked by critics and audiences alike almost everywhere in this country [America] but it’s available now as a rental on VHS and DVD. And DVD is the way to go with this one, if you can: the disc’s extra features help put this daring film’s provocative elements into perspective.

DVD continued to emerge as a special boon to film buffs. The classics and special features of the Criterion Collection have been especially noteworthy, and some special films (like Venus Beauty Institute and L’Humanite above and the restored version of Apocalypse Now) are available locally only on DVD. And occasionally there are films which are virtually unwatchable in “formatted” VHS but which come across very well in letterboxed DVD – like Wim Wenders’ goofy Million Dollar Hotel and Mathieu Kassovitz’s hellacious Crimson Rivers.

The best documentaries I saw during the year were Fragments * Jerusalem (on the Sundance Channel), Ken Burns’ Jazz (on PBS), Frederick Wiseman’s Belfast, Maine (also PBS), Keep the River on Your Right (shown here at the Pageant), and Agnés Varda’s wonderfully quirky The Gleaners and I (Sundance Channel).

Best Performances: the ensembles in Yi Yi, Va Savoir, The Deep End, You Can Count on Me, State & Main, Sexy Beast, Venus Beauty Institute, and The Dish. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung (In the Mood For Love). Taraji P. Henson (Baby Boy). John Corrrigan (Hedwig & the Angry Inch).

Best Cinematography: Amores Perros, In the Mood For Love, Yi Yi, Crimson Rivers, Sexy Beast, Life as a House.

Best Nostalgia: O Brother Where Art Thou? and The Man Who Wasn’t There.

Best Western (an out-of-favor genre that still matters to me): All the Pretty Horses, The Claim (see it on DVD), and the horseback segment of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Missing in Action: we can get along without the ultra-offensive Baise-Moi, and Jacques Rivette’s Va Savoir and Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl are likely to turn up sometime soon. But how come no local theater has had time for Barbet Schroeder’s Our Lady of Assassins?

Best Old Pro: Gene Hackman in Heartbreakers, Heist, and Behind Enemy Lines.

Guilty Pleasures: The Mexican, Kiss of the Dragon, and Blow.

Best Box Set: Jean Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy (DVD).

Best Marathon Movie: Béla Tarr’s eight-hour Sátántango (at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley).

Best Cinephile Event: Quentin Tarantino’s four-day seminar on the Westerns, B-movies, and cliffhangers of William Witney (at the Seattle Film Festival).

What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been: rented an unsubtitled tape of Amores Perros from Aztec Video before the film was released in the U.S., then got a preview tape with subtitles when it was released. Liked it without subtitles, had second thoughts with fragmentary viewings of the subtitled tape, then went to see it at the Pageant and rediscovered once again what a difference a big screen and proper framing can make. It was just sly and violent on the little screen, but in even a smallish movie theatre it took flight as a great tragicomic vision – and as the best film of 2001.

Peter Hogue teaches film and literature in the English Department at California State University, Chico. He’s written on film for Film Comment, Film Quarterly, The Velvet Light Trap, Movietone News and Film/Literature Quarterly.

© Peter Hogue December 2001        back to list of contributors

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2001 Favourites

by Alexander Horwath

Here’s a 13+2 Best List of films, which had their world premieres in 2001.

A: In Dreams (aka the New Rose Hotel-but-better category)

Millennium Mambo (Taiwan, Hou Hsiao-hsien)
Waking Life (USA, Richard Linklater)
Sauvage innocence (France, Philippe Garrel)

B: Betting on Beatrice (aka The Blackout-but-better category)

Trouble Everyday (France, Claire Denis)
H Story (Japan, Nobuhiro Suwa)

C: The Real/Violence (aka the As-good-as-The Bad Lieutenant category)

L’emploi du temps (France, Laurent Cantet)
Hundstage (Dog Days, Ulrich Seidl, Austria)
La stanza del figlio (The Son’s Room, Italy, Nanni Moretti)

D: Berlin Summer (pour un cinema mineur)

Der schöne Tag (The beautiful day, Thomas Arslan, Germany)
Mein Stern (My Star, Valeska Grisebach, Germany/Austria)

E: Cinephile Country of the Year

La Cienaga (The Swamp, Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)
La Libertad (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina)
La Fe del Volcan (The faith of the volcano, Ana Poliak, Argentina)

Bonus Track experimental Documentary:

Los (USA, James Benning)

Bonus Track Documentary:

Domestic Violence (USA, Frederick Wiseman)

Alexander Horwath is a freelance writer and curator based in Vienna and the designated director of the Austrian Cinémathèque.

© Alexander Horwath December 2001        back to list of contributors

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Best of 2001

by Christoph Huber

Tears Of The Black Tiger

La Libertad (Lisandro Alonso, 2001)
Platform (Jia Zhangke, 2000)
Gohatto (Nagisa Oshima, 2000)
Hotaru and Kya Ka Ra BaA (Naomi Kawase, 1999 and 2001)
Little Cheung and Durian Durian (Fruit Chan, 1999 and 2000)
3000 Miles to Graceland (Demian Lichtenstein, 2001)
Be My Star (Valeska Grisebach, 2001)
Rosetta (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 1999)
Dog Days (Ulrich Seidl, 2001)
Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsian-Hsien, 2001)
The Fast and the Furious (Rob Cohen, 2001)
A Fine Day (Thomas Arslan, 2001)
Tears Of The Black Tiger (Wisit Sartsanatieng, 2000)
Weapon of Choice (Spike Jonze, 2001)
As I Was Moving Ahead I Occasionally Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (Jonas Mekas, 2000)

Honorable mentions: Aufnahme, Time Out, Werckmeister Harmonies, Code: Unknown (and, to a lesser degree, The Piano Player), Three Businessmen, Os mutantes, Battle Royale, Ghost World, O fantasma, The Man Who Wasn´t There, Yi Yi, Éloge de l’amour, Brother, Water Drops on Burning Rocks, Time and Tide, Mulholland Drive, Martha…Martha, Danach hätte es schön sein müssen, Baise-moi, Love Me, Kanak Attack, Los, Audition (and, to a lesser degree, Visitor Q), The Devil´s Backbone and of course Dude, Where´s My Car?

Christoph Huber was thrilled at an early age by Roger Corman´s House Of Usher. His biggest fear since is that his writings on film (mainly for Videofreak and cycamp) are nothing but self-therapy. His other biggest fear is interviewing Aki Kaurismäki.

© Christoph Huber December 2001        back to list of contributors

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