Films Seen – Jan/Feb 2010

I thought I’d review films this year, as well as books. I’ve not watched much cinema in the last few years, having lost my taste for it – but suddenly it seems to be coming back.

I guess my taste in films has a lot of similarities with my taste in books. For a start, a lot of foreign-language ones. – If we compare though what we might call the “literary” with what we might call the “arthouse”, then I’d say my opinion was much the same: some arthouse films are very good; whilst others are absolute rubbish, dullness passing itself off as profundity.

It’s on the other side of films – the more, how shall we say, “Hollywood” end that my taste is probably different. If I can’t read “popular” novels because they are just too dreadfully written, this isn’t so with Hollywood cinema, which can be very well made indeed. I’m not sure what this says about the respective industries, or about people in general.

If you want some specifics: the Guardian did a list of the top 100 films of the 2000s round the turn of the year: – neither of the films I enjoyed most was in it. Not merely that, one was only mentioned in the comments by two people; and the other wasn’t mentioned by anyone at all. They were, respectively: Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046, and Tran Anh Hung’s At the Height of Summer. – On the negative side, I feel great difficulty in expressing my utter contempt for the entire oeuvre of Lars von Trier (or at least as much of it as I’ve ever been able to bring myself to watch).

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11 thoughts on “Films Seen – Jan/Feb 2010

  1. I got dragged to see Breaking The Waves when it came out and hated it with an almost unreasonable passion. Ghastly almost beyond description.

  2. I watched about ten minutes of it – and that, only because it had Emily Watson in it. Actually, I guess I’ve only seen those ten minutes of Breaking the Waves, The Idiots and a few episodes of The Kingdom. Enough to fill me with life-time’s unremitting hatred.

  3. If you can get a copy, and are willing to endure more hatred, his Medea ain’t all bad. Made for TV, I believe. I also liked Europa, so perhaps I might suggest the early work. After Europa, it seems to have gone sour.

    When I was at college, every cool kid had a Dancer in the Dark poster in their dorm…little fuckers.

  4. oh, and if you’re going to bring up the dichotomy between “hollywood” (or Bollywood even) vs. “arthouse” you’ll also have to consider taking up the dichotomy between documentary and fictional narrative. Arthouse documentary, if you will, (usually more experimental), can be quite good, without all that French/Italian (or mimicry thereof) bourgeois baggage. You should try to find screenings in the area of films without distribution. That’s the gold mine.

  5. 2046 is one of the most visually entrancing films I’ve seen. Do you know ‘In the Mood for Love’, an earlier work by Wong Kar-Wai to which ‘2046’ is in some ways a sequel? Tony Leung is one of the best actors around these days, and seems to be in every other Chinese/Hong Kong film that gets a release in this country.

  6. EC: I’m afraid I’ve forsworn watching any von Trier ever again. The same goes for a few other directors: Oliver Stone, Michael Haneke, Carlos Reygadas (and no doubt some others I forget).

    CN: I have seen “In the Mood for Love”, and I may or may not have known 2046 was the sequel. There are certainly references in 2046 to a back-story which are pretty incomprehensible. Maybe I need to watch both back-to-back sometime. – Looking through his directorography on imdb, I think I’ve seen most of his early films and later films (there’s a couple in the middle I’m not so sure about).

    On the subject of the visually entrancing, so is the other films mentioned above, and all else by Tran Anh Hung; – and, if I was compiling a list of favourite 90s films, the works of the Chinese, Zhang Yimou (Ju Dou; Raise the Red Lantern) and Chen Xaige (Farewell My Concubine; Temptress Moon), all of them notably for rich, striking use of colour. It must be something East Asian.

    Another thing I omitted to mention in my preferences was a general hatred for all American Indie cinema. (Anything you might see, for instance, at the Sundance Film Festival). I hate American Indie cinema with a passion; I find Hollywood infinitely less objectionable. – I also hate pretty much all of what might be called British Indie cinema. (There are, of course, a few exceptions).

  7. Yikes! – “Oliver Stone” and “Michael Haneke” not only in the same sentence, but in the same category.

    I’m with you on Ollie – a badly sloppy technician who initiates and gesticulates in the middle of projects that beg for exactly the opposite kind of governor.

    But no mas to Haneke? Why not, if you’d care to rant? The White Ribbon is a great movie – a mean, grueling peer of, say, (one of) Bergman’s sick-soul-of-the-century flick(s) (From the Life of Marionettes).

    (I read a strange fact about The White Ribbon – namely, that Haneke shot it in color and transferred it to b&w. If true, I don’t know enough about film coloration to know what Haneke was after – but the movie looks great, so (for me): whatever works.)

  8. yes, well Indie films are about as Indie as Indie music these days. Or do you also hate the progenitors (say, Jarmusch, Lynch, et al)?

    i’m pretty much done with von Trier myself. no need to ever really REWATCH that stuff.

  9. Haneke: I was thinking, as I was writing it, that maybe I’ve been a bit too harsh on Haneke. It’s usually one film which pushes me over the edge; – or makes me look back darkly on the rest of a director’s catalogue. In Haneke’s case it was The Piano Teacher. I’d also at the time seen Funny Games (the original version), and maybe Code: Unknown and Benny’s Video. [One of the problems in all this recounting of films is that there are so many films I may or may not have seen]. – The Piano Teacher just irritated the hell out of me with its harrowingness.

    Lynch/Jarmusch: Lynch I’ve nothing against; I grew up watching his movies. Jarmusch’s films I find incredibly tedious. This is typified in my mind by Down by Law – an incredibly tedious film, whose tedium is made obvious to the viewer when it’s suddenly enlivened halfway through by the appearance of Roberto Benigni.

    I’m really getting into film-watching this month. There’ll probably be a lot of early Wim Wenders (they seem to be flogging it off cheaply at the moment), pre-Wings of Desire stuff. I figure his films were likely more interesting when he was collaborating with Peter Handke rather than Bono.

  10. I know what you mean about American ‘indie’ cinema, although I’ve doubtless enjoyed many individual films that might come under that category. I don’t know if you’ve had the misfortune to see ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, but for me, it’s a perfect example of the kind of rubbish marketed as a mature alternative to Hollywood, but which in fact reproduces many of Hollywood’s worst sins under a veneer of infuriating kookiness. Visual poverty, implausible situations presented as if they were realistic, dreadfully unsubtle writing, good actors giving horrible performances, music straight out of a mobile phone commercial, and an ultimate endorsement of the very values it’s supposed to be questioning. I can recommend ‘Junebug’, however, which is a small American film of 2005 which manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of indiedom. My favourite movie of the past ten years is probably ‘Syndromes and a Century’ by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose ‘Tropical Malady’ is also superb.

    ‘The Piano Teacher’ is, I agree, pretty awful. What’s meant up to be harrowing ends up being unintentionally hilarious. I picked up one of Elfriede Jelinek’s books once, and had a similar reaction as I read the first few paragraphs; I wasn’t inclined to read further. I haven’t seen ‘The White Ribbon’, but I think ‘Hidden’ is a masterpiece.

  11. I think you characterise American “indie” very aptly. I have seen Little Miss Sunshine, though all I remember is that they were at one point standing in a car park. Why I remember this specific about the film, I don’t know.

    I’ve seen Syndromes and a Century but don’t recall it well.

    I didn’t find The Piano Teacher absurd. Perhaps emotionally overwrought. It’s part of the erroneous notion: extreme emotion = good drama, that I really can’t bear. – Perhaps in my mind I fitted it in with Haneke’s comment on Funny Games (the original), that he made it so that people would walk of the cinema; – I feel he probably made The Piano Teacher by the same criterion.

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