Compiled by Fiona A. Villella

The Entries

Jared Rapfogel

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa

Angelo Salamanca

Girish Shambu

Megan Spencer

Mark Spratt

Brad Stevens

Stephen Teo

Boris Trbic

Erik Ulman

Fiona A. Villella

Peter Wilshire

Robin Wood

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Best of 2001

by Jared Rapfogel

Enough has been written about the events of the year and their effect on movies (and vice versa) that I don’t feel the need to add my two cents, except to say that movies seemed neither all-important nor unimportant to me before September 11th and so in that sense at least, nothing has changed.

It’s hard to know how to evaluate the year’s worth of movies. Labeling a single year “good” or “bad” cinematically speaking strikes me as distressingly vague—when people do so they rarely bother to explain what exactly they mean by one or the other. For one thing, in the mainstream American press, there’s usually an unspoken assumption that it’s exclusively or primarily American releases being judged, which obviously limits the playing field substantially. There’s nothing wrong with concentrating on domestic goods but it’s presumptuous to do so without making the choice explicit. On the other hand, if you open up your survey to films from all over the world, you can’t honestly pretend to have seen more than a tiny fraction of the year’s films.

Secondly, it seems to me that there are very different ways for a year to be “good.” If you’re judging a year by the number of unqualified masterpieces produced, you’re likely to be disappointed more often than not—masterpieces are hard to come by. But a true love of movies isn’t sustained by masterpieces alone—personally, I think of a successful year as teeming with movies that come within sight of the summit. If one or two or three of those manage the rare, almost miraculous feat of scaling the heights, then I’m ecstatic; but if it came down to it, I’d rather see many near-perfect films than one or two masterpieces. (For those who are baseball-literate, criticizing a year for lacking masterpieces is like criticizing a season without a perfect game, even though it was full of no-hitters.)

What Time is it There?

Looking back over the films I saw last year, it does seem a little lonely in the upper-most reaches. But with movies like La Captive, Eureka, Legend of Rita, Our Song, Time Out, and Werckmeister Harmonies, I’m not inclined to complain. There weren’t any movies that immediately stick out in my mind as spectacular, but that’s more descriptive than critical: the movies that I thought came closest to perfection this year—The Circle; Farewell, Home Sweet Home; I Prefer the Sound of the Sea; and What Time Is It There?—were all decidedly low-key, small-scale, finely tuned films. To bowl the viewer over was simply not part of their game plan.

The Tailor of Panama deserves mention: I liked this movie a lot when I first saw it, mostly for its very strange, wacky sensibility and for Pierce Brosnan’s evil-James Bond star turn—it struck me as clumsy and awkward at times, but thrillingly out-there. Seeing it again just the other day, though, I found that its unconventionality is much more substantive and subversive than I remembered, involving not just genre-tweaking but a very broad, very frank satirical attack on the U.S. military and the CIA (among other things). It’s sad that this was so little discussed upon the film’s release—given more recent events, its relevance is undeniable and it’s almost hard to imagine the film being released these days. The satire may have seemed too broad at the beginning of the year; now it seems like a documentary. It’s funny, but maybe a little too funny to be funny.

It’s also the case that, living in New York, most of the movies I see are not new releases. When people ask me what my favorite films of the year are, I’m at a loss—I don’t really distinguish between the old and the new. As far as I’m concerned, with all the opportunities I have to see movies from all over the world and from all periods of film history, every year is a fantastic year. This year I saw a few movies that vaulted to the very top of my all-time list: Nicholas Ray’s Bitter Victory, Chris Marker’s The Last Bolshevik, and Frantisek Vlacil’s Marketa Lazarova, a truly astounding film. And thanks to various retrospectives, I saw each and every film by Tsai Ming-Liang, Ousmane Sembene, and most satisfying of all, Eric Rohmer. Finally, I’d like to mention the one day when I decided, bravely, to give movies a rest for an afternoon and broaden my cultural horizons by detouring into the art world. I went to the New Museum to see the William Kentridge exhibit, which had been strongly recommended to me, only to find that the heart of the show consisted of a series of profoundly beautiful, strange, and magnificent animated films.

Some lists

Best new releases (NY) of 2001 (and festival films soon-to-be-released):
La Cienaga (Lucrecia Martel, 2001)
The Circle (Jafar Panahi, 2000)
Code Unknown (Michael Haneke, 2000)
Eureka (Shinji Aoyama, 2000)
Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat, 2001)
In Praise of Love (Jean-Luc Godard, 2001)
The Lady and the Duke
(Eric Rohmer, 2001)
Legend of Rita (Volker Schlöndorff, 1999)
Our Song (Jim McKay, 2000)
The Tailor of Panama (John Boorman, 2001)
Va Savoir (Jacques Rivette, 2001)
Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Shohei Imamura, 2001)
Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, 2000)
What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)

Best films without an American distributor (as far as I know):
La Captive (Chantal Akerman, 2000)
Farewell, Home Sweet Home (Otar Ioseliani, 1999)
I Prefer the Sound of the Sea (Mimmo Calopresti, 2000)
I’m Going Home (Manoel de Oliveira, 2001)
La Libertad (Lisandro Alonso, 2001)
Love’s Refrain (short) (Nathaniel Dorsky, 2001)
That Old Dream That Moves (Alain Guiraudie, 2001)
Time Out (Laurent Cantet, 2001)

Revived or newly encountered in 2001:
Band of Outsiders (Jean-Luc Godard, 1964)
Bitter Victory (Nicholas Ray, 1957)
Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985)
Histoire(s) du cinéma (Jean-Luc Godard, 1998)
The Last Bolshevik (Chris Marker, 1993)
Marketa Lazarova (Frantisek Vlacil, 1967)
Mikey and Nicky (Elaine May, 1976)
Pierrot le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)
Recollections of a Yellow House & God’s Comedy (Joao Cesar Monteiro, 1989, 96)

Series and retrospectives:
Leonardo Favio retrospective
Kon Ichikawa retrospective
William Kentridge exhibition
Kiyoshi Kurosawa retrospective
Tsai Ming-liang retrospective
Eric Rohmer retrospective
Ousmane Sembene retrospective
Agnès Varda retrospective (especially Le Bonheur & Kung-Fu Master)

Jared Rapfogel is a regular contributor to Senses of Cinema and Cinema Scope.

© Jared Rapfogel December 2001        back to list of contributors

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2001 Reflection

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

I’m still making up my ten-best list for the Chicago Reader, in a year that for me was dominated by, among others, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, ABC Africa, and Waking Life. But I’d like to focus here on the momentous change in my cinematic life brought about by my finally breaking down and purchasing a DVD player—one that can play all the territories, and which is affording me a new kind of experience (as well as definition) of cinema.

Consequently I would cite as my favorite pieces of film criticism—along with Adrian Martin’s “John Cassavetes: Inventor of Forms” in Senses of Cinema Issue 16 (Sept-Oct 2001)—the “multimedia” essays by Yuri Tsivian and Joan Neuberger on Eisenstein’s Ivan The Terrible in Criterion’s two-disc DVD set, in a package which also includes deleted scenes, sketches, and storyboards. And in perhaps still another category—let’s call it the film as theme park—I’d like to cite two other two-disc DVD sets, both from France: deluxe editions of Louis Feuillade’s Fantomas and Wong Kar-wai’s In The Mood For Love. The latter is especially provocative in featuring cut scenes that I like in some ways as much as those included in the film, except for the fact that these appear to belong to a different film—an alternate version of In The Mood For Love that never existed.

Jonathan Rosenbaum is the film critic for the Chicago Reader. He is the author of many books including Placing Movies: the Practice of Film Criticism (University of California Press, 1995), Movies as Politics (UCP, 1997), and more recently Dead Man (BFI, 2000) and Movie Wars: How Hollywood And The Media Conspire To Limit What Films We Can See (A Cappella, 2000).

© Jonathan Rosenbaum December 2001        back to list of contributors

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2001 Reflection

by Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa

In the Mood for Love

The memorable films for 2001 for me were Waking Life (Richard Linklater), In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai), What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-Liang), The Circle (Jafar Panahi) and, to some extent, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg) and Yi Yi (Edward Yang). Thematically all these films are centered on the concept of self-awareness as being tragic. Characters who remain either asleep for most of the film or frozen in their adolescent consciousness (pining the loss of innocence or primal love) manage to “wake up” to a desolate sense of loss (the ruins at the end of In the Mood for Love, the artificial bedroom scene in the depoliticized A.I., where the young robot boy re-experiences a lost time with his mother). What Time is it There? ends with a disillusioned young woman in Paris still asleep in a park while a mythical man lifts her luggage from the water. The young man in Waking Life experiences several levels of suburban, small-town consciousness that doesn’t help him wake up (a reference to the isolation of the US towns from the rest of the world) and free himself from his inability to change his life. This can be seen as the political consciousness of the film that never comes to the surface. Only in The Circle is there a deliberate reference to time and the on-screen repression of the characters, who struggle to change their lives.

The photographic narrative style of What Time Is It There? with the digitized world of A.I. and the rotoscoped unstable world of Waking Life, and classical, romantic beauty stripped of history of the In the Mood for Love are challenged by the sober portrayal of the strong women in The Circle. The global culture of corporate America, portrayed magnificently in Yi Yi, is a poetic prelude to the tragedy and loss of September 11th and the following war in Afghanistan, reminding one of the thinking monkeys of the late Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the possibility of media, especially film to inform, inspire, and challenge the audience.

Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa is a Chicago-based filmmaker, teacher, programmer, and critic. Her essay on Iranian filmmaker Sohrab Shahid Saless is included in the English collection Life And Art: The New Iranian Cinema (London: National Film Theatre, 1999).

© Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa December 2001        back to list of contributors

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2001 Favourites

by Angelo Salamanca

Sublime Bordering On The Orgasmic:

Amores Perros (Love’s A Bitch, Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000)
La Ville est tranquille (The Town Is Quiet, Robert Guédiguian, 2000)
The One Hundred Steps (I Cento passi, Marco Tullio Giordana, 2000)
You Can Count On Me (Kenny Lonergan, 2000)

Inspirational:

The Pledge (Sean Penn, 2001)
The House Of Mirth (Terence Davies, 2000)
In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
15 Minutes (John Herzfeld, 2001)
Memento
(Christopher Nolan, 2000)
The Man Who Wasn’t There (Joel Coen, 2001)
Tigerland (Joel Schumacher, 2000)

Beau Travail

Brave:

Our Lady Of The Assassins (Barbet Schroeder, 2001)
Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 2000)
Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer, 2000)

Charmed The Pants Off Me:

Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)
The Vertical Ray Of The Sun (Tran Anh Hung, 2000)
Le Goût des autres (The Taste Of Others, Agnès Jaoui, 2000)
Pane e tulipani (Bread and Tulips, Silvio Soldini, 2000)
Everybody Famous! (Dominique Deruddere, 2000)

Angelo Salamanca has been involved in film for 15 years. He has recently written and directed his first feature film. He is based in Melbourne.

© Angelo Salamanca December 2001        back to list of contributors

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Favorite Films 2001

by Girish Shambu

In no particular order:

Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)/Waking Life (Richard Linklater)
Dreams and the unconscious life as the wellspring of fiction. Among the year’s richest films, partly because in their own respectively personal ways, Lynch and Linklater ambitiously take on as their subject the raw materials and processes of the storytelling universe.

Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)/What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-Liang)
A double-barreled blast of knockout cinema from Taiwan. Films that possess similarities (signature elliptical style, existential explorations of youth) and differences (Tsai’s droll comedy versus Hou’s drama-from-a-distance), and make us lament that these two world-class directors are not better known in the wider world of filmgoing. One suspects that in the heyday of the 1960s, when the likes of Godard, Bergman, Resnais, and Truffaut possessed broad name-recognition, Hou and Tsai might have been accorded the comparable status they deserve.

Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)/Lovely Rita (Jessica Hausner)
The teen film transformed into art cinema. Touching explorations of adolescent anomie, in which the long arm of homogenization reaches with equal ease into Austrian suburbia and the sunny American mall-scape.

Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000)/A Dog’s Day (Murali Nair)
Brilliant political allegories with black wit to burn. Soon after the film’s opening, when schoolteacher Takeshi Kitano aims a knife unerringly into the milky-white forehead of one of his eighth-grade students when she poses a dissenting question, Fukasaku’s film gives fair and fearsome warning of what is to come. In A Dog’s Day, a rural Indian hamlet becomes a hotbed of political intrigue when a dog bites a child. In both films, I heard the audience laugh nervously, tentatively, as if half-looking for permission from the poker-faced filmmakers.

Orphan Of Anyang (Wang Chao)/I’m Going Home (Manoel De Oliveira)
An adult and a child are thrown together by circumstance, catalyzing self-discovery. The China of Orphan has never been seen with quite such “cinema-verity” before. Oliveira’s film concentrates on what Michel Piccoli does at work while avoiding the grief that quietly waits to be acknowledged at home.

Martha…Martha (Sandrine Veysset)/ Last Wedding (Bruce Sweeney)
Two dark personal explorations, one in the context of a small French family (Martha…Martha), the other a Vancouver-based ensemble black-comedy. Both films feature characters who are systematically shorn of sympathetic qualities, yet making us care even more about their fates as the films proceed, a rare feat to pull off.

After The Reconciliation (Anne-Marie Miéville)/In Praise Of Love (Jean-Luc Godard)
Godardian meditations (one of them by the man himself) that turn everything they touch into poetry. Anne-Marie Miéville’s film, which is even more remarkable than Godard’s, features a stunning acting performance by him.

Heist (David Mamet)/The Deep End (Scott McGehee and David Siegel)
Genre films as vehicles of auteurial exploration. Heist is simultaneously a supremely enjoyable gangster film and an essay on the gangster film genre, and both films are blessed with smashing lead performances. Gene Hackman beautifully defrosts the staccato Mamet dialogue in Heist, and Tilda Swinton is strong and silent super-Mom incarnate in the domestic thriller The Deep End, a remake of Ophüls’ 1947 The Reckless Moment. Hewing close to Ophüls’ thrust, The Deep End startlingly uncovers the oppressive absence of privacy or tranquility in the claustrophobic average household.

Kandahar (Mohsen Makhmalbaf)/Delbaran (Abolfazl Jalili)
Experimental yet powerful; abrupt yet absorbing; fragmentary yet unified. Both these Iranian films deal with Afghanistan and even absent the current crisis, they would be imperative and important viewing.

La Cienaga (Lucretia Martel)/Love’s Refrain (Nathaniel Dorsky)
Two very different films, both sharing a strong evocation of mood. The Argentine La Cienaga (The Swamp) cuts you like the broken wine-glasses that ignite its narrative, and in its vision of the world, time is marked by the dependable occurrence of bruising accidents. On the other hand, San Francisco-based Dorsky’s experimental film Love’s Refrain sensitizes us to intensely overwhelming moments of beauty in the most commonplace of objects. Can the simple and natural occurrence of light, shadow and color be this potent? You have no idea.

Va Savoir? (Jacques Rivette)/Time Out (Laurent Cantet)
In both these leisurely French films, the central characters play roles and take refuge in performance as they struggle to come to terms with their lives and their chosen vocations. Laurent Cantet’s follow-up to Human Resources (2000) is sad but clear-eyed. Veteran new-waver Rivette continues his examinations of theatre and life by focusing on six characters in search of themselves, tied together by the common denominator of a week-long Paris run of the Pirandello play “As You Desire Me”. Both films feature strong performances, Aurelien Recoing in the former and a galaxy of acting talent luminously led by Jeanne Balibar in the latter.

Highest pleasure quotient:

Discovering the treasure trove that is the Ernst Lubitsch oeuvre. From the razor-sharp German silents (like The Doll and The Mountain Cat) to early American pre-talkies (like his magnificent version of Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan that contains not one epigram from its source), the golden 1930s of Trouble In Paradise, One Hour With You, The Merry Widow, Ninotchka and The Shop Around The Corner, ending with the graceful and mordant Heaven Can Wait and Cluny Brown. Could this be the most underrated body of work in cinema?

Girish Shambu is on the faculty at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.

© Girish Shambu December 2001        back to list of contributors

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2001 Top Ten

by Megan Spencer

Here’s my Top Ten and my alternative Top Ten list, respectively, of best films for 2001.

1. Rosetta (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 1999)
2. Hedwig & The Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)
3. La Ville est tranquille (The Town Is Quiet, Robert Guédiguian, 2000)
4. Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige, 2000)
5. Before Night Falls (Julian Schanbel, 2000)
6. In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
7. You Can Count On Me (Kenny Lonergan, 2000)
8. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)
9. Lantana (Ray Lawrence, 2001)
10. The Vertical Ray of the Sun aka At The Height of Summer (Tran Anh Hung, 2000)

Brilliant special mentions that make up the other Top ten list are:

1. Nurse Betty (Neil LaBute, 2000)
2. À Ma Soeur! (Catherine Breillat, 2000)
3. Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
4. Requiem For A Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
5. Croupier (Mike Hodges, 1998)
6. Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer, 2000)
7. Monkeybone (Henry Selick, 2000)
8. Josie & The Pussycats (Deborah Kaplan and Harrly Elfont, 2001)
9. The Limey (Steven Soderbergh, 1999)
10. The Goddess of 1967 (Clara Law, 2001)

Megan Spencer is the resident film critic at Australian national broadcaster Triple J Radio and is an independent video documentary maker. She is based in Melbourne.

© Megan Spencer December 2001        back to list of contributors

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2001 Best

by Mark Spratt

Released:

Amores Perros (Love’s A Bitch, Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000)
À Ma Soeur! (Catherine Breillat, 2000)
Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)
Elvis: That’s The Way It Is (Special Edition) (Denis Sanders, 1970)
Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
Tigerland (Joel Schumacher, 2000)
In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)

Unreleased:

Memento

Pollock (Ed Harris, 2000)
L’emploi du Temps (Time Out, Laurent Cantet, 2001)
Kandahar (Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 2001)
The Gleaners & I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, 2001)
The Isle (Kim Ki-Duk, 2000)
Trois Huit (Philippe Le Guay, 2001)
What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)
Chunhyang (Im Kwon Taek, 2000)
Brève traversée
(Catherine Breillat, 2001)

Mark Spratt has a long working background in exhibition, cinema management, programming and freelance reviewing. The director of Potential Films, he has now been a distributor for over 10 years.

© Mark Spratt December 2001        back to list of contributors

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Top Ten 2001

by Brad Stevens

In roughly preferential order.

1. Agua E Sal (Water and Salt, Teresa Villaverde, 2001)
A masterpiece in which each element achieves perfection. Everything is communicated, with a mastery worthy of Antonioni, by the relationship between characters and landscapes. The images are so pure: it’s like seeing such things as the sea or a child’s face with new eyes, for the first time.
I can’t imagine any human being – anyone who cares about what it means to be human – not being moved by this sublime work.

2. La Naissance De L’amour (Philippe Garrel, 1993)

3. The Flowers Of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1998)
The first time I tried to watch this, I had to switch off the video after the opening scene – I couldn’t take so much beauty.

4. Women Of The Night (Zalman King, 1999)
King’s recent films exist totally apart from anything else in contemporary American cinema: like Limelight and Le Testament D’orphee, their only point of reference is the director’s private universe.

5. Agnus Dei (Miklos Jancso, 1970)

6. SIB (The Apple, Samira Makhmalbaf, 1997)

7. Sátántango (Béla Tarr, 1993)

8. Suzhou River (Lou Ye, 1997)

9. Black And White (James Toback, 1999)
Toback’s failures are more interesting than many other director’s successes.

10. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999)
Proof that the spirit of Marco Ferreri is alive and well.

To which I might add Romance (Catherine Breillat, 1999), Three Seasons (Tony Bui, 1998), In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000), Uptight (Jules Dassin, 1968), The Rage: Carrie 2 (Katt Shea, 1999), Thieves After Dark (Sam Fuller, 1983), Anzio (Edward Dmytryk, 1968), Maborisi (Hirokazu Koreeda, 1995), Abendland (Fred Keleman, 1999), the restored version of Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966), and so many others. The year’s biggest laugh was provided by the video store scene in Bleeder (Nicolas Winding Refn, 1999), an indispensable guide to which filmmakers are considered hip and which are considered square (how horrifying to find John Cassavetes in the latter group). Sam Mendes’ vilely misogynistic American Beauty (1999) stands unchallenged as the worst film I saw in the last 12 months.

In his Chicago Reader review of Richard Linklater’s Tape, Jonathan Rosenbaum remarked that “We keep encountering more and more twaddle about the state of world cinema even though the growth of digital video makes it impossible for anyone to keep up with the state of local cinema in any large city, much less any country, still less the world”. This is certainly true, but I think it might be useful to bear in mind an alternate truth, which is that one has only to see Agua e Sal in order to know that world cinema is in pretty good shape.

Brad Stevens recently completed a book, Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision, which will be published soon in the UK by FAB Press. He has written for numerous film magazines worldwide.

© Brad Stevens December 2001        back to list of contributors

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Best Films of 2001

by Stephen Teo

Bad Guy (Kim Ki-duk, Korea 2001)
The latest work by one of the most original talents in Korean cinema. Kim is shaping up as the toughest of contemporary maverick directors. Like The Isle (2000), Kim’s best known work so far, Bad Guy offers a stunning vision of the director’s raw edge originality and his taste for allegory. His other works are now due for discovery, including Birdcage Inn (1998), Real Fiction (2000), and Address Unknown (2001).

Funeral March (Joe Ma, Hong Kong 2001) and One Fine Spring Day (Hur Jin-ho, Korea 2001)

Two fine, understated works of tragic romance. Funeral March seems to me to work very well in the post-September 11 atmosphere (it even has a sequence set in New York, discreetly evoking memories of the Twin Towers horror while the narrative gets to grips with its own screen tragedy, very cleverly and sensitively done). One Fine Spring Day is a much more subtle character study of a relationship and the verities of life, but I think it goes well with Funeral March as a companion piece. For me, at least, I can’t think of the one without thinking of the other.

The Circle (Jafar Panahi, Iran 2000), Platform (Jia Zhangke, China 2000)

Two films I saw on the festival circuit in 2001, and I still think of them when I go to bed. Both films are cerebral, but are also cinematic marvels at the same time: the directors have a way with the camera that makes them the most prodigious and natural talents in current world cinema. It wouldn’t change my selection, but I wish I could have seen the longer version of Platform.

Mirror Image (Hsiao Ya-chuan, Taiwan 2000)

A small, offbeat gem from Taiwan produced by Hou Hsiao-hsien.

House of Mirth (Terence Davies, USA 2000), Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer, UK 2000), The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, France 2000), The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, Austria-France 2001)

Night of the Hunter

Retrospectives

Best experience: watching Raul Ruiz’s first completed feature Three Tragic Tigers (1968) for the first time, in a Ruiz retrospective organized by the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

Second best experience: Watching a restored Night of the Hunter (1955) being premiered at the UCLA theatre. Even though I saw only about half the film because I had to rush to the airport (I had seen the film many times before, of course), I did get to see the extra features that were put on for the show, including several outtakes of Charles Laughton introducing the movie with biblical quotes, and Lillian Gish, replacing Laughton with the reading (because he just couldn’t get it right).

Criticism

Tomes on Hong Kong cinema are still coming out, attesting to the vibrancy of film criticism in this area. The newest offering is At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World, edited by Esther Yau (published by University of Minnesota Press, 2001), and it’s one of the best.

The one book that I most looked forward to reading this year was Christopher Frayling’s Sergio Leone: Something to Do With Death (London: Faber and Faber, 2000), although after reading it, I came away with mixed feelings (it was good on Leone’s life and work, but there were quite a few moments when Frayling seemed intent on biting the hand that feeds him, such as giving Peter Bogdanovich far too much space and scope to destroy Leone’s reputation, unfairly in my view).

I enjoyed reading the “Film Critics” pieces in Senses of Cinema, Issue 13 (April-May 2001); and the John Cassavetes section in Issue 16 (Sept-Oct 2001) is the most sustained, comprehensive coverage on a single filmmaker that Senses has yet done.

Stephen Teo is the author of Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions (London: BFI, 1997). He is currently working on a Ph.D.

© Stephen Teo December 2001        back to list of contributors

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Top Ten 2001

by Boris Trbic

1.   The Isle (Kim Ki-Duk, 2000)
2.   Faithless (Liv Ullman, 2000)
3.   Virgin Strapped Bare By Her Bachelors (Hong Sang-Soo, 2000)
4.   The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001)
5.   In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
6.   Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, 2000)
7.   Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
8.  Lantana (Ray Lawrence, 2001)
9.   The Pledge (Sean Penn, 2001)
10.   Not Forgotten (Makoto Shinozaki, 2000)

Boris Trbic holds an M.A. in Media Studies and is a scriptwriter, reviewer and media teacher.

© Boris Trbic December 2001        back to list of contributors

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Reflections on Cinema in 2001

by Erik Ulman

I see few new films each year, since in San Diego we don’t get many of the ones I most want to see, like Godard’s Éloge de l’amour, for instance, or Straub and Huillet’s Sicilia! or Operai, Contadini or, indeed, anything they’ve made since the mid-’80s, when their work (infuriatingly) stopped getting US distribution; so this reckoning is far from conclusive. Still, of the new films I saw this year, I liked Lukas Moodysson’s Tillsammans best, for its warmth and abundance. At first I was irritated with its zooming and lurching camera; but this instability proved both engaging and appropriate. The film’s subject is a commune in 1975 Sweden, whose complex relationships it follows with humor and without condescension: both Moodysson and his marvelous cast deserve high praise for the vividness and humanity of the characterizations. On the other hand, I most detested American Pie 2, which a friend and I attended as a sociological experiment and found so dispiriting that we had to take refuge in Planet of the Apes. It is in many ways the opposite of Tillsammans: grindingly formulaic, sexually hypocritical, dully acted, and relentlessly unfunny, except, apparently, to the teenage audiences on whose crassest instincts Hollywood capitalizes and depends.

If American Pie 2 was the worst new film I saw, Jacques Rivette’s Va Savoir was the most disappointing. I deeply admire what I have managed to see of Rivette’s work from the ’60s and ’70s; and although I’ve been more lukewarm about his recent films, advance notices describing Va Savoir as “nimble” lifted, tentatively, my expectations. Unfortunately, I found the film flat, banal, and dishearteningly conservative. Tropes familiar from Rivette’s earlier movies, notably the imperfect parallels between theater and life in L’Amour fou, recur here, but are divested of formal, intellectual, and emotional intensity; and the few moments that promise to come to life (a dinner conversation ostensibly about Heidgger; the concluding resolution of the film’s tangled relationships) simply don’t. One remembers the incredible vitality and risk of Rivette’s earlier films, his collaborations with performers among whom the late Juliet Berto was perhaps the most glorious; and one wishes that something of the joyous and conspiratorial invention that surges through Céline et Julie vont au bateau could have found its way into this stale and plodding farce. I might also mention my disappointment with Apocalypse Now Redux, which in revised form revealed its confusion, excess, and bad faith altogether too clearly.

Apart from that, I have seen many older films for the first time this year, among which my favorites would include They Were Expendable, Point of Order, Au Hasard Balthasar, Moses und Aron, and On Top of the Whale; and I was also impressed by several indelibly alert performances, most notably by Lou Castel in Fists in the Pocket and Zohra Lampert in Pay or Die. Among the film books I’ve read recently I would single out for praise Gilberto Perez’ The Material Ghost, which strikes me (especially in his exposition of History Lessons and his thoughts on Renoir, Kiarostami, and Ford) as some of the best criticism I’ve read—intelligent, nuanced, patient. Any disagreements I may have with certain of his valuations (for example, his dismissal of Letter to Jane) don’t diminish my admiration.

One last note: 2001 should also be remembered for Budd Boetticher, who died at the age of 85 on November 29. In April, Scott Marks, film curator at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts, programmed a miniature Boetticher retrospective; and it was a delight not only to see both a restored print of Seven Men from Now but also the great director himself. I am grateful to have heard him reminisce, and for the modest, elegant, and resonant films (The Tall T, Comanche Station…) that he left us.

Erik Ulman is a composer and writer currently teaching music at the University of California, San Diego.

© Erik Ulman 2001        back to list of contributors

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2001: a year in the movies

by Fiona A. Villella

Just a word or two: here in Australia, we’re significantly behind so that items on this list will be last year’s discoveries for many elsewhere in the world. A sad state of affairs indeed. In addition: I don’t claim to have seen everything released in Melbourne this year (which I haven’t) and so this list is the best of the limited amount of films I managed to see this year.

(In some kind of order…)

House of Mirth

House of Mirth
Not only an exquisitely executed variation on the society vs. the individual theme, entrapment by social decorum (and with an authentic female bent), but also the precious loss of dreams and desires that society and cold reality so often implies.

Rosetta
As in House of Mirth, the same kind of desperation and despair running through the veins of its central character, though here the film’s style is wholly different: enmeshed with her minute by minute fluctuations.

Saint-Cyr
An allegory about the distortion of ideals when applied to reality, the corruption of power and the spirit to fight back. With such performances, production design, and score, this was nothing less than totally gripping, totally moving, totally stirring.

You Can Count on Me
Uplifting not only in its affirmation of ‘shared experience’ and life-long bonds despite changing identities, but also in the freedom and space – a sense of the myriad possibilities of life – that seemed to fill each moment of the mise en scène.

The Circle
Because every moment of this film seemed ‘stolen’, filmed on the run and under cover. Ultimately revealing – in a strongly metaphorical structure – a precise portrait of women’s survival, resourcefulness, and despair in everyday Iran.

The Town is Quiet
Forget P.T. Anderson and Ray Lawrence, this is a film that is genuinely interested in the politics and poetics of people and place, and in understanding any kind of common zeitgeist shared by its random characters.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
One crazy, beautiful, very moving and haunting film that really is unlike anything else to come out of Hollywood recently. No doubt, it’s the Kubrick legacy.

‘R-Xmas
Because it’s at one with its unconventional characters, because it’s both mysterious and rhythmic and because it’s politically incorrect.

Yi Yi
A film that I have found to really linger long after I’d seen it: perhaps it was the delicately crafted, keenly observant and sprawling view of middle-class Taiwan.

Platform / Peppermint Candy
Two films to explore specific social and political eras of China and Korea respectively, in formally astonishing ways: the first, a sweeping view of history told via a minute observation of ‘slight’ moments in the lives of a travelling theatre troupe; the second, adopting a time structure of the uncanny.

The Man Who Wasn’t There
It’s no surprise that the Coens’ serious turn ultimately ends in an image of death. But what a terribly bleak, piercing evocation of the ‘silent majority’ of ’50s America, the man in the grey suit.

Zoolander / Monkeybone
I just love that part of American cinema that doesn’t take itself seriously at all, where imagination can run amok with little respect for decorum, and which can still explore serious themes in a highly satirical and clever way.

The Son’s Room
All previous instances of discursive provocation in Morretti’s films (movie-making, politics) are nowhere to be found here in this very ‘straight’, almost conventional but genuinely tender reflection on death and the loss of a child. Plot trickery may be at an absolute minimum here but that’s just it: everything is centred on a single event and its ramifications for others.

Other highlights: Kippur, The Gleaners and I, The Piano Teacher, Calle 54, Wreckmeister Harmonies, À Ma Soeur!, Walk the Talk, Mullet, Vengo, Vertical Ray of the Sun, The Yards, Time and Tide, Running Out of Time, The Others, The Party, Amores Perros, The Pledge, Brother, Ring, Liam, The Isle, Faithless, Joint Security Area.

Guilty pleasures: Riding in Cars with Boys, Dude, Where’s My Car?

Classic reruns: Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Raging Bull, New York New York, The Blue Gardenia, Ivan’s Childhood, The Bartered Bride, Sound of the Mountain, The Apartment, One, Two, Three, Germany, Year Zero, The Decameron, Deep Red, Les Anges du péché.

Favourite film crit:
–  Adrian Martin, “John Cassavetes – Inventor of Forms”, Senses of Cinema, Issue 16 (Sept-Oct 2001)
In fact, that whole issue of Senses of Cinema, which – if I’m permitted to indulge – I regard as the finest so far: passionate, original, diverse.
–  Stephen Teo, “Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love: Like a Ritual in Transfigured Time”, Senses of Cinema, Issue 13 (April-May 2001)
–  Tara Brabazon, “The Spectre of the Spinster: Bette Davis and the Epistemology of the Shelf”, Senses of Cinema, Issue 13 (April-May 2001)
–  Kent Jones, “The Magnificent Anderson: House of Mirth”, Cinéma Scope, Issue 6 Winter 2001
–  Adrian Martin, “Sign your name across my heart, or: ‘I want to write about Delbert Mann’”, Screening the Past, 12 (March 2001)
–  Jonathan Rosenbaum, “Daney in English: A Letter to Trafic”, Senses of Cinema, Issue 13 (April-May 2001)
–  Jake Wilson “Distrusting Desire” Senses of Cinema, Issue 17 (Nov 2001)
–  Phone conversations with John Flaus
–  Kent Jones, “Life after September 11”, Film Comment, Vol. 37 No.6, Nov-Dec 01
–  Tag Gallagher, The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini – His Life and Films, Da Capo Press, New York, 1998

Fiona A. Villella is the editor of Senses of Cinema.

© Fiona A. Villella December 2001        back to list of contributors

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Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland

by Peter Wilshire

Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland (2000) is the best film I’ve seen all year. I think it’s also one of the best anti-war films ever made, up there with Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola 1979) (I have yet to see the new Redux version), Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick 1957) and the granddaddy of all anti-war films, the original version of All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone 1930). However, it is also a film that appears to have been criminally underrated and overlooked by many film critics and writers, at least in this country. Why didn’t they give the highest praise to this film? Is it because Tigerland is directed by Joel Schumacher, a big Hollywood director and producer? Admittedly, Schumacher has made a string of mainstream films of varying quality including, The Client (1994), Batman and Robin (1998) and 8mm (1999). Maybe another reason is because it’s too easy to dismiss the film as just another story about the Vietnam War. But Tigerland is not strictly a film about the Vietnam War nor is it a ‘combat film’. Indeed, it is not a conventional war film at all. What makes Tigerland fascinating is that it’s a complex psychological study of young recruits as they’re being trained for war.

Utilizing a cast of largely unknown young actors, Tigerland consists of finely detailed and complex characterizations that are rarely seen in films with a ‘war’ theme. The three main characters are Bozz (played by Irish actor Colin Farrell), his friend Paxton (Mathew Davis), the all-American college recruit who also narrates the film, and the psychopath, Wilson (Shea Whigham). Tigerland is a daring undertaking for any director, particularly a big Hollywood producer and director like Joel Schumacher. When was the last time a major Hollywood director attempted a film so confronting and so psychologically complex? I think it is a remarkable achievement and Schumacher must be given great credit. Tigerland certainly deserves more recognition. In time, I hope it will justifiably be regarded as one of the great anti-war films.

Peter Wilshire is a Cinema Studies Honours Graduate at La Trobe University, a film writer, and a life-long film enthusiast.

© Peter Wilshire December 2001        back to list of contributors

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2001 Reflection

by Robin Wood

Code Inconnu

The decline of Hollywood continues: it is difficult to think of a mainstream movie this year that was worth seeing. Best American movie: Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001).

Otherwise, the interest is primarily in foreign movies: Flowers Of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-Hsien); Yi Yi (Edward Yang); Code Inconnu (Michael Haneke); In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai).

The Hollywood cinema, dominated by corporations, is now (with even the future of life on the planet in jeopardy) given over to the project of ‘not letting people think’. Endless ‘action’ movies with explosions, computer-generated spectacle, car chases…; gross-out movies; painting-by-numbers romantic comedies. Usually with rapid editing and no real acting, just ‘expressions’, hence no real characters, just faces making the expressions.

Favourite Film Criticism:

Two admirable books on Classical Hollywood by the increasingly prolific Deborah Thomas: Reading Hollywood: Spaces And Meaning In American Film; and Beyond Genre.

Robin Wood is the author of several books, including Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (Columbia University Press) and Hitchcock’s Films Revisited (Columbia University Press). He is a founding member of the CineAction editorial collective.

© Robin Wood December 2001        back to list of contributors

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