Encompassing 30 films, feature-length and short, recent and old (but watched for the first time this September), the 9th listicle of 2020 opens with John Carpenter's genre-bending and genre-defining masterwork Assault on Precinct 13, and ends with a small piece of traditionally animated magic El Mago Georges, with in-betweeners ranging from a delicate modern fairy tale to highly experimental tone poems.
IN A TIME-MACHINE
1. Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, 1976)
2. Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Benjamin Christensen, 1922)
3. The Big Night (Mauro Bolognini, 1959) - Bursting with fancy-free life of moral decadence and smoothly roaming across Rome under the energetic direction, this Pasolini-written crime-drama seduces the viewer with its propulsive jazz score, wonderful B&W cinematography and incredibly handsome cast. It is also absolutely magical in its simplicity!
4. Anaphase (Levi Zini, 1996)
5. When the Tenth Month Comes (Dang Nhat Minh, 1984) - Talented and adorable actress Lê Vân stars as a young widow, Duyên, in Dang Nhat Minh's 1984 drama When the Tenth Month Comes (originally, Bao gio cho den tháng Muoi) that wonderfully poeticizes a countryside life (and pushes it extremely close to the realm of the supernatural on a couple of occasions!) during the last days of the Vietnam War. Ms Vân's delicate performance alone is the reason enough to spend 80 minutes with this (handsomely lensed) feature.
6. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
7. Finis Terrae (Jean Epstein, 1929)
8. The Secret of the Black Trunk (Werner Klingler, 1962) - Knife murders, experimental drugs, secret identities, underground labyrinths... This pulpy 'krimi' thriller has everything, even a 'sound-hound' comic-relief character! Not lacking in suspicious mugs, its twisty story is directed with a keen sense of pacing and wit, captured in beautifully noirish B&W images and accompanied by an enticingly cacophonous score.
9. The Mansion of Madness (Juan López Moctezuma, 1973) - There's a certain method to Moctezuma's creative madness that pervades his debut feature – a fairly loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's short story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether. Jodorowskian in (panic movement) spirit and Felliniesque in baroque excesses, with Rafael Corkidi beautifully lensing the increasingly frantic action, The Mansion of Madness is a bizarre dark comedy which has an irreverent satire of a totalitarian regime buried under the layers of riotous eccentricities. Filmed at the attractively dilapidated locations (of an abandoned factory?), it is highly recommended for the 'ruin porn' aficionados.
10. World Gone Wild (Lee H. Katzin, 1987) - "Nothing makes sense in a world gone wild", and yet this insanely weird mélange of Seven Samurai, Mad Max and Streets of Fire works like a charm, with the story dictated by the rule of cool and logic lying in pieces after being thrown out of the window. Starring Catherine Mary Stewart as a sweetheart school(bus) teacher, Michael Paré as a hunky renegade hero, Bruce Dern as a desert hippie-shaman and Adam Ant as a charismatic villain who brainwashes a choir-boy-like army with the help of The Wit and Wisdom of Charles Manson, this post-apocalyptic action flick also features the gang of almost naked cannibals and a trigger-happy explosive expert (Julius Carry) who wears a violet leotard and a mail coif. Cheesy fun and bizarre costumes abound!
THE 21st CENTURY CINEMA
1. Angel (Harry Cleven, 2016) - Highly poetic, daringly gentle, hopelessly romantic, heartachingly beautiful and incredibly sensorial, Angel (originally Mon ange) is a modern fairy tale which succeeds where many features of our time fail – to revive the magic of classic cinema in an almost effortless manner. Its delicate, admirably sensual cinematography by young, yet extremely talented Juliette Van Dormael lends it an absorbing, dreamlike atmosphere complemented by caressing string score and whispery, low key performances by minimal cast including Elina Löwensohn (reliable as ever) and Fleur Geffrier (absolutely enchanting). Both actresses are faced with the challenge of performing next to an 'invisible' partner who represents the former's son and the latter's lover (voiced by excellent Gauthier Battoue in adulthood), whereby director Harry Cleven is up to the task of showing us this character who cannot be seen. In achieving what seems impossible, he makes brilliant use of close-ups, soft focuses and gauzed lenses, intensifying the pervading and already strong feeling of intimacy...
2. Its Existence Commenced This Hour (Wolfgang Lehmann, 2019) - Behind the liquid curtain of multicolored abstractions, the nature sinks into a trembling dream and becomes one with it. Strengthened by haunting, borderline alien soundscapes, their unity rips the fabric of reality... I only wish it were possible to touch the incessantly mutating images.
3. Luz: The Flower of Evil (Juan Diego Escobar Alzate, 2019) - The ever-growing madness of religious zealotry and the incredibly lush verdancy of Eden-like mountain setting contrast and complement each other in one of the most visually stunning feature debuts of recent years. Boasting temperamental performances, especially from Conrado Osorio who portrays a false prophet addressed only as El Señor, and brilliant color-grading which makes virtually every shot worth framing and hanging on your wall (many kudos to another firsttimer, Felipe Martinez), Luz feels as if The VVitch were retouched by Jodorowsky in his prime, and impregnated with Bergmanesque questioning of faith...
4. Kasper Bjørke Quartet: The Fifty Eleven Project Full Visual Album (Justin Tyler Close, 2018) - Danish musician Kasper Bjørke's five-year-long struggle with cancer is tenderly reflected in a meditative anthology of music videos turned experimental tour de force imbued with striking imagery of dreamlike quality. Various influences, ranging from Terrence Malick to Pina Bausch to Butō dance, are seamlessly blended in a haunting, highly interpretive film marked by an exemplary wordless performance from Kristján Ingimarsson. Also praiseworthy is dancer Bobbi Jene Smith in an uninhibited role of Mother Nature.
5. Human Lost (Fuminori Kizaki, 2019)
6. Hoffmaniada (Stanislav Sokolov, 2018)
7. Birthday Wonderland (Keiichi Hara, 2019) - In the latest offering from Keiichi Hara (of Colorful and Miss Hokusai fame), Alice in Wonderland is re-imagined for the umpteenth time, with a mustached alchemist by the name of Hippocrates (sic!) as a stand-in for the White Rabbit. Not the first, and most probably not the last anime about a girl who gets 'spirited away' to another world in order to become a better person, Birthday Wonderland pulls the viewer in by virtue of lavish animation and great attention to detail, but comes off as a bit generic in terms of story and characters. Although its magic gradually wears off during the second hour, there's still a lot to enjoy here...
8. Dogs Don't Wear Pants (J.-P. Valkeapää, 2019)
9. Acid (Aleksandr Gorchilin, 2018) - With a naked drugged out guy gone crazy and some foursome action featured in the first 15 minutes, Acid appears to be quite bold by Russian cinema standards. As Gorchilin's provocations grow increasingly milder, the film loses its steam meandering through 'rebelliously' aimless everyday of disenchanted bourgeois youth. And yet, by virtue of Kseniya Sereda's crisp widescreen cinematography and magnetic performances, it remains strangely captivating all throughout the end which begins with a funny dream (or trip?) sequence involving a toilet. Thinly-cut slices of empty lives are served along with a cup of cold and bitter tea, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a little jar of jam to dip your fingers in...
10. Metamorphosis (Hong-seon Kim, 2019)
SHORT FILMS, OLD & NEW
1. Eventide (Muriel Paraboni, 2016) - Stunningly beautiful widescreen compositions, haunting music and lyrical voice-overs interweave into a lush, delicate tapestry of lucid dreams, elusive emotions and lingering memories, as Muriel Paraboni dives into the subconscious of his characters, enveloping them in an aura of secrecy. In his exploration of their transfiguring innerscapes, he employs B&W to intense color transitions, as well as the surroundings – vast open spaces and minimalist interiors where shadows grow more intense. This way, he establishes an oneiric, meditative atmosphere which provides you with a peculiar mélange of melancholy and solace acting as an equivalent of a soul-healing potion. Decidedly abstract in its treatment of the physical world – nature, humans and artifacts of their creation – his Eventide is a ravishing tone poem, with moving images turned into its verses.
2. The Arrival (Justin Tyler Close, 2019) - Dedicated to installation and environmental artist, painter and sculptor Lita Albuquerque whose daughter, Jasmine, and first grandson, Adé, appear in the film, The Arrival is a moving, hyper-poetic reflection on grief, loss and rebirth. Shot around the ruins of Ms Albuquerque's home-studio lost in the Woolsey Fires in 2018, it marries a surreal, childlike performance to an experimental, post-apocalyptic fantasy, featuring an inviting 16mm cinematography by Jeremy Cox and evocative cello-score by Lo Fang.
3. Black Angel (Roger Christian, 1980)
4. On Floating Bodies (Sibi Sekar, 2020) - Soaked in dense, unforgiving shadows which at times seep in from the darkest recesses of Lynchian realm, On Floating Bodies is a mysterious, devastatingly beautiful tone poem of obscure images, evocative words and haunting music slowly waltzing into the great nothingness, equally frightening and comforting. An impressive calling card for 23-yo filmmaker Sibi Sekar.
5. Fountain of Dreams (Jordan Belson, 1984)
6. The Sower (Janja Rakuš, 2020) - Sowing seeds of a mysterious cosmic color that is all colors at once and no color at all, Janja Rakuš grows an abstract phantasmagoria of mesmerizing power. As the amorphous images of her short film 'bleed' and 'melt' before your eyes, they remain constant in their emanation of obscure light, evoking time in a standstill, and space outside of the physical one. If The Sower were a living entity, it would most probably act as a portal towards eternity...
7. Suspense (Phillips Smalley & Lois Weber, 1913) - A home invasion, a car chase and the brilliant triangular split-screen - all in an early, ten-minute thriller by the first American woman director Lois Weber who also plays the wife role.
8. My Brain is Screaming to Rest (Josh Parmer, 2020)
9. Saturn Returns (Dan Siegelman, 2018)
10. El Mago Georges (Kati Egely, 2020)