by Jesse Hawthorne Ficks
“I’ve never needed to watch a film three times at Sundance before…”
- Memphis (Tim Sutton, US)
I’ve never needed to watch a film three times at Sundance before, but Sutton’s unique “observational journey” (a style he first executed, wondrously, with his 2011 debut Pavilion ) explores the “real” city of Memphis. Its frustrated main character’s trek to find his own private transcendence kept me coming back for more and more. Musician Willis Earl Beal, then signed to the independent UK label XL Recordings, plays himself (Woody Guthrie meets Kool Keith) on a search to not only find and create a mystical music, but—through sorcery—achieve the next level of existential bliss which may or may not be attainable by any means necessary. I cannot prepare you for the intense experience you might have when watching this visionary film. Like the path traveled by the lead character in last year’s Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis , Beal’s journey is a long and winding road that many may be uninterested to follow.
- Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, UK/US/Switzerland)
Jonathan Glazer has proven he is an uncompromising artist by way of Robert Bresson, Chantal Akerman and Clive Barker who may have the power to change a handful of people’s perspectives towards their own existence on earth.
- Welcome to New York: Director’s Cut (Abel Ferrara, France/US)
Abel Ferrara made headlines this year with two movies, the first being Pasolini , led by Willem Defoe’s stunning performance as the tragic Italian auteur. The second, Welcome to New York , gives Gérard Depardieu his meatiest role in years. Based on the true story of French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn, infamously charged with the sexual assault of a hotel maid during a visit to New York City, it contains a monster-like performance from Depardieu (who hasn’t been without his own controversies of late). It’s rightfully bound to invite direct comparisons to Harvey Keitel’s balls-to-the-wall role in Bad Lieutenant (1992), especially since the film has garnered ecstatic write-ups along with downright repulsed responses. The real Strauss-Kahn has announced he will be taking legal action against the film, but what’s most baffling is that according to an Indiewire report, “IFC Films wants him to deliver an R-rated cut” to American audiences. And Ferrara is livid (see the Indiewire article for his colorful quotes). Transgressive cinema with a soul has always been Ferrara’s modus operandi. It’s your duty as a film lover to refuse to watch IFC’s censored version and seek out Ferrara’s original cut.
- Boyhood (Richard Linklater, US) + Mommy (Xavier Dolan, Canada)
Diving relentlessly into their millennial young male protagonists, these two films helped me re-connect to my own juvenile delinquency and universally sync up with the next ones in line.
- Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen, US/UK) + Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh, UK)
Do not be deterred by lazy critics dismissing these old masters’ latest masterpieces; Allen is working with some truly remarkable layers here by sneakily revising Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve (1941) and George Cukor’s My Fair Lady (1964) by way of Darius Khondji’s glorious camerawork and Colin Firth’s hilariously cynical protagonist. Leigh does something quite similar by allowing Timothy Spall to hauntingly grunt and snort his way through Bill Pope’s shockingly picturesque photography.
- Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium) + Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, US)
Inevitability is a rare occurrence in storytelling and both of these immensely moving films force you to slowly, meticulously inhabit their tragic characters’ journeys. While the Dardennes continue to do no wrong (utilizing one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, Marion Cotillard), Reichardt’s film has grown on me in a dark and profound way. Forgive me, Jesse Eisenberg, I really did initially overlook your nuanced descent.
- Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea/Czech Republic/US/France) + The Purge: Anarchy (James DeMonaco, US)
Subversive genre filmmaking is always at its best when the script allows for anything to happen to any of its characters.
Snowpiercer screens Friday, January 2 as part of MiDNiTES for MANiACS Ridin’ the Rails Double Bill at the Castro Theatre.
- Goodbye to Language 3D (Jean-Luc Godard, France) + Interstellar 70mm IMAX(Christopher Nolan, US)
- From What is Before (Lav Diaz, Philippines) + Calvary (John Michael McDonagh, Ireland/UK)
- Love is Strange (US) Ira Sachs + Coming Home (Zhang Yimou, China)
- The Tribe (Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, Ukraine/Netherlands) + Heaven Knows What (Josh and Bennie Safdie, US)
- A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor, US + Mardaani (Pradeep Sarkar, India)
- Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, US) + Enemies Closer (Peter Hyams, US)
- Goodnight Mommy (Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, Austria) + The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, Australia)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, US) + The Boxtrolls 3D (Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, US)
- Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman, US) + The Guest (Adam Wingard, US)
- Ilo Ilo (Anthony Chen, Singapore) + Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, US)
- See You Next Tuesday (Drew Topia, US) + Happy Christmas (Joe Swanberg, US)
- The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer and Anonymous, Denmark/Finland/Indonesia/Norway/UK)
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks teaches film history at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and curates/hosts the MiDNiTES for MANiACS series at the Castro Theatre. The series screens 16mm and 35mm prints around North America and emphasizes underrated and overlooked cinema in a neo-sincere way.