Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Upcoming at the Cinematheque: Police, Adjective and more

I have heard very good things about the Romanian film Police, Adjective, which I hope to catch at the Pacific Cinematheque on Friday. It's playing as one of their Best Of The Decade series... which I quibble with on many counts, to be honest. Wendy And Lucy is a necessary and powerful film that everyone who cares about American cinema should have seen by now, but I have much more admiration for Kelly Reichardt's previous film, Old Joy, sadly not screening. Silent Light has some lovely images, but I simply couldn't get with its program, emotionally or philosophically (I have a hard time with Ordet, too), and don't really understand the fuss; is this just a matter of pretty photography? Children Of Men is simply not that significant as cinema - an effective action film, maybe, with some arrestingly bleak political and environmental predictions - but so what? It will be quickly forgotten; it contributes nothing vital to world cinema, is simply not an important film. Neither, in my opinion, is Pan's Labyrinth; it's visually splendid, and a crowd pleaser, but hardly a "best of" on the list of any discerning cinephile; truth be known, I vastly preferred Hellboy, which, while somewhat sillier and hardly a "best of the decade," either, has richer character development and engages in very entertaining and creative ways with noir's convention of the Byronic hero and with the superhero formula. It's simply more entertaining... Sokurov is an important filmmaker, but Russian Ark is basically an extended visual gimmick whose aesthetic value, aside from the paintings it showcases, seems marginal. The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu is an effective and powerful film that does have value, but there are easily fifty movies I'd put above it on my own personal "best of the decade" list, if I had time and energy enough for sufficient reflection. There are a few titles I haven't seen that will be playing, and a few that I don't quibble with at all (I vastly prefer Todd Haynes' homage to Sirk, Far From Heaven, to his Dylan film, I'm Not There, but the visual maginificence, cinematic innovation and sheer ambition of the latter film makes it essential viewing, and I'm glad Haynes ends up with two films on the programme). Cache, too, I have no quarrel with at all, and I suppose not A History Of Violence, either - though it's overrated, it does mark an important new direction in the work of David Cronenberg, and it's certainly one of the most widely-appreciated Canadian films of recent years. I understand its inclusion, put it that way.
Still, I have my own ideas about the best films of the last ten years. I'll restrict myself to North America - I don't have the stamina to consider world cinema in this light (plus my favourite foreign films of the last few years, like the Japanese Linda Linda Linda or the German False Confessor - also known as I Am Guilty, for the DVD release - wouldn't necessarily have a place on this list; much as I admire them, I can't objectively argue their overwhelming importance as cinema. I could argue - if I wanted to be perverse - that Hostel 2 has significance, but a bunch of people would roll their eyes and call me a troll, which is what I would be being, much as I appreciate that film. No; I'll be serious, and sober, and North American about things). Most significantly, Robinson Devor's Police Beat is being scandalously neglected here; it's by far the greatest accomplishment of American cinema in recent memory, even if it hasn't found a wide audience. It's nowhere as financially successful, but Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly is more innovative, politically relevant, and accomplished than half the films above - certainly a more important film than Children Of Men. Malick's The New World, which I didn't like much at first, has finally grown on me and begs for inclusion - especially the longer cut. Some acknowledgement should really be made to mumblecore, too - an exciting development in American cinema, even if it doesn't prove long-lived; my favourite films associated with that "movement" are Quiet City and Baghead, but there may be even better ones that I've missed. And a personal favourite of mine from the last ten years, very sadly neglected commercially and critically but idea-rich, joyously funny, politically challenging and perfectly crafted, is Gregg Araki's pot comedy Smiley Face, which, to my knowledge, has never screened theatrically in Vancouver. It's certainly a film that deserves praise, even if it hasn't been widely recognized as yet. I feel certain that someday, when people look back on this decade, that will be a film that will be remembered and talked about, assuming that film criticism emerges from its present function as an adjunct of advertising... The Cinematheque's list seems to place too much weight on wide recognition - as if box office makes a film worthy of inclusion; while there's a safety in this approach, it's not a very risky list at all, nor particularly educational (at least they didn't include There Will Be Blood in their programme. It's kinda satisfying how utterly that film appears to have been forgotten, after all the skirt-lifting that attended it...).

Still, I've been told Police, Adjective is a really good film - a VIFF favourite of a couple of people I spoke to last fest - and the other films on the list that I haven't seen (like Tropical Malady, which I haven't even heard of) do seem to merit looking at, if only because they've been given a place here. (And yes, folks, I haven't seen My Winnipeg, it's true. Guy Maddin is the olive of Canadian cinema for me - there's no denying his potency but what he does when I bite in is often unsettling and overwhelming, and I just can't figure out how I feel about the experience). It's great to have a "best of the decade" recap, one way or another, however much I quibble...

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