Tuesday, February 28


Sneaking up on me

I try to stay a few steps ahead of the Frisco film schedules but here's some notable events that I overlooked until now, in order of time-sensitivity:

1. The Castro is showing a Hitchcock double-bill tonight, tomorrow and Thursday. Rear Window, one of the big-screen must-sees of all time, plays with Frenzy.

2. When I mentioned today and tomorrow's Doc Days screenings of the complete roster of Oscar-nominated documentaries at the Balboa, I should have done some more investigating. It's an adjunct to the Documentary Film Institute's Leacock / Pennebaker tribute running March 2-5. The Castro will be showing documentaries in 35mm prints all day Saturday March 4, while March 2, 3 and 5 provide the perfect excuse to check out the DeYoung Museum's Koret Auditorium, as they'll project video of rarer works. All screenings before 7PM are free, including D.A. Pennebaker's Original Cast Album- Company about the recording of the cast album for Stephen Sondheim's musical (Friday at the DeYoung), Robert Flaherty's towering Louisiana Story, which featured Richard Leacock as cinematographer (Saturday at the Castro) and Robert Drew's portraits of John F. Kennedy, Primary and Crisis, which featured both Leacock and Pennebaker behind cameras (Sunday at the DeYoung). Evening screenings are $10 and include the tributees' 1971 collaboration with Jean-Luc Godard, 1PM (Friday at the DeYoung) and a double-bill of Don't Look Back and Monterey Pop (Saturday at the Castro). Even the East Bay gets a bit of the action: Oakland's fabulous Grand Lake Theatre plays Pennebaker's Only the Strong Survive and the Oscar nominee Street Fight on March 2nd. And in the North Bay's Larkspur, a two-day engagement (as far as I know unrelated to the Doc. Film Institute) of Street Fight plays at the Lark Theatre March 1-2.

3. David Kipen comes to a Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books to promote his retort to Andrew Sarris and the auteurists in his wake, the Schreiber Theory at 7:30 PM this Friday, March 3rd. I've read the first half of the book and skimmed the second half (which is a somewhat The American Cinema-esque evaluation of screenwriters' bodies of work) and I wish I could be there to try to get a few more answers about his rather underdeveloped theory. Kipen provides lots of evidence that screenwriters have careers worth following, and he indulges in some truly fascinating speculation over the possibility of the Observer Effect making director-as-auteur evaluations of modern American films increasingly fruitless since 1968. But he doesn't spend enough time explaining how the mechanics of filmmaking might allow screenwriters to claim more responsibility over the quality of finished products than directors have. Since I can't make it, would someone reading this like to attend and get to the bottom of Kipen's argument?

4. The Naz 8 in Fremont is currently showing a Bollywood Fight Club remake. Warning: it's hard to find any actual good reviews of this film.

5. Another film festival I've never attended, the Tiburon International Film Festival, is on the horizon. Showing a huge number of films (230!) in only eight days (March 9-17) I hardly know where to begin to dissect the program. There's a Spotlight on Hungarian Cinema. Joseph McBride will be on hand March 12 for screenings of a pair of silent Westerns (or is that Western Silents) Tumbleweeds and the Great Train Robbery. Also on the 12th, Joe Dante will present a rare theatrical showing of his made-for-Showtime Homecoming, and on March 13 Shirin Neshat will be honored alongside screenings of several of her films.

Tuesday, February 21


Party Like it's 1926 at the Balboa

The Balboa Theatre has updated its Upcoming Program List page with a schedule through the end of April. This week and next it's playing Malick's extraordinary The New World with the World's Fastest Indian (which I haven't seen yet; why do I get the impression that it can't possibly be as good as its Cult- and Clash-fueled trailer, the most exciting two minute ad in recent memory?) on one of its two screens. The other house hosts French noir Classe Tous Risques through Sunday. Monday, February 27 is the theatre's annual birthday celebration, at which they encourage the audience to dress in their best Roaring Twenties get-ups and enjoy live entertainment, refreshments, short films and a feature from the theatre's first year open. I haven't been to the occasion since 2002 when they showed Buster Keaton's the General with a live piano accompaniment by Richard Koldewyn, but hope to finally make it back. This time around they're showing a Valentino film called the Eagle with a live score by Nik Phelps and Larry Dunlap.

I only wish I'd seen more of the silent film accompaniments former Club Foot Orchestra member Phelps made with his Sprocket Ensemble over the years. I never went to his monthly "Ideas in Animation" shows at the Minna Street Gallery or his appearances at the Red Vic. I did see him play scores for a Trip to the Moon and Felix the Cat's Astronomeows once at the Exploratorium, and saw him alternate between chilly synthesizers and his jaunty clarinet, appropriate for the Balboa's screening of the penguin-filled South last summer. Anyway, now's the time for some last-minute Sprocketeering, as Nik and Nancy-Denny Phelps are on the verge of moving to Europe. In addition to the Eagle, the Balboa will provide chances on March 2nd when it hosts one last "Ideas in Animation" show with Nik & Sprocket Ensemble at 9PM. Prior to that will be Nik and Nancy's presentation of a program of sound-saavy animations entitled "Toones and Tunes", including 1934's La Joie de vivre, Bathtime in Clerkenwell (which seems to me to be just the music video the Fleischer Brothers would make if they lived today), and Nik providing a live score to Nina Paley's Fetch!

The Balboa is also one of several Frisco Bay theatres hosting events for the 78th Oscars on March 5th this year (others include the Rafael, the Roxie, the Parkway, the Castro, and the Lark.) Not only that, they're also complimenting the Lumiere's upcoming programs of nominees for the Animated and Live-Action Short awards by presenting Doc Days, a two-day explosion of all nine films (5 Features, 4 Shorts) nominated for Best Documentary Oscars in time to help you win the pool this year. The Documentary Short nominees will then be reprised on a program playing just after the ceremony, March 6-9.

That's just the beginning, though! I'm very happy to see that my neighborhood theatre is increasingly booking films I couldn't quite summon to motivation to trek out to when they played the Castro during the past year or so. Already the Balboa has enabled me to finally be gobsmacked by the uncensored version of Baby Face I'd missed at, by my count, 3 other Bay Area venues. (Baby Face is briefly returning with its double-bill-mate, William Wellman's morally fascinating Night Nurse, March 3-5.) This Spring they're showing most of the David Lynch series that played across town in December: a week of Blue Velvet starting March 24, an ultra-enigmatic double bill of Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway April 1-2, and on April 3-4 Wild at Heart (which also plays the Parkway this Thursday) plus Eraserhead which the Castro didn't deign to play (presumably because Lynch doesn't let prints of that film ciculate any longer now that he's so happy with his digital restoration, the version the Balboa will be showing). Another in-case-you-missed-it-at-the-Castro showing is Bertolucci's masterpiece the Conformist March 17-23. I saw it there but hope to see it for a second time.

There's even more. Most notably an open engagement of Caveh Zahedi's brave and funny confessional I Am a Sex Addict starting April 5, and soon after a sequel to last year's great series of films set, and often filmed, in Frisco. With an Earthquake centennial showing of the 1936 disaster epic San Francisco, and stuff like Howard Hawks' Barbary Coast, Ida Lupino's the Bigamist and Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up, Doc? this series looks very nearly as droolworthy as last year's was. And you thought this was going to be a dry Spring.

Sunday, February 19


Festivals, Naruse and the PFA

If you've been to the movies sometime since Tuesday, you've probably seen that the newly renamed Center For Asian American Media (CAAM, formerly NAATA) has distributed the program schedule for the 24th edition of its International Film Festival to be held March 16-26. And it looks like a very tasty line-up, heavier on films by established and emerging critically-acclaimed auteurs than last year. I'm thrilled, of course, to see that they're helping to fulfill three of my top 20 film wants for 2006: Wisit Sasanatiang's Citizen Dog plays March 17th and 18th, Zhang Lu's Grain in Ear plays the 18th and the 19th, and four Shaw Brothers martial arts classics from the Heroic Grace II series, including Quentin Tarantino's favorite kung fu film King Boxer a.k.a. Five Fingers of Death, take over the Pacific Film Archive as part of the festival's final weekend. (The rest of the films in the series are promised to play the Balboa in May if you can wait that long.)

But there's a lot more I never would have anticipated. First, I'd all but given up on seeing Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 2003 tribute to Yasujiro Ozu, Cafe Lumiere showing on a local screen, but it will happen at the Castro March 19 and at the PFA March 25. I'm also particularly interested in the Burnt Theatre (Mar. 21 & 22), the latest from Cambodia's leading documentarian Rithy Panh, whose S21: the Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and the Land of the Wandering Souls both bowled me over. Sam Fuller fans take note of a March 18 screening of his 1959 twist on the buddy/cop film packed with themes of racial tension and post-war reconciliation the Crimson Kimono, the first role for pioneering Asian American leading man James Shigeta who earns a spotlight on his career also including Walk Like a Dragon and Bridge to the Sun. He'll be interviewed at the Crimson Kimono's screening. Tributes to the late Kayo Hatta (the Picture Bride, March 22) and Pat Morita (the Karate Kid, Part II, March 21) will feature Tamlyn Tomita, who worked with both, at "select screenings". And a special event happening only March 25 at the San Jose venue, Camera 12, is a look at the National Film Registry-selected home movie footage shot surreptitiously by David Tatsuno at the Topaz, Utah internment camp during World War II.

There's so many other intriguing titles that I don't know where to stop. Just a few more of the many that entice me: Singapore's Be With Me, Japan's Linda Linda Linda, and the local production Colma: the Musical. I'm reminded again why this is usually one of my favorite film festivals of the year.

Another rapidly approaching film festival has released its program online: San Jose's Cinequest, running March 1-12. I've never made the trip down the peninsula to check this reportedly filmmaker-friendly festival out for myself, but this year I've already spotted a few offerings that might entice me in the retrospective and/or experimental vein. In the latter category, Jon Jost's Oui Non plays the Camera 12, March 2 & 4. In the former category, the restored California Theatre will host Friday evening silent films with live organ accompaniment, Fritz Lang's Metropolis on the 3rd and Buster Keaton's Seven Chances (with the short One Week) on the 10th. In both categories, William Greaves' 1968 Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One and his 2005 follow-up Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2 play on the same program at the California on the 4th and 5th of the Month. Cinequest closes with Deepa Mehta's Water, one week before it plays CAAM's festival.

On Thursday I attended my 13th and final film in the Mikio Naruse retrospective, Her Lonely Lane, an adaptation of the autobiography of poet and novelist Fumiko Hayashi, who wrote five novels Naruse adapted into films before this, including his most agreed-upon masterpiece Floating Clouds. Add that to the three "pre-retro" films I saw last November and the two I've seen on video, and Naruse (18) beats Ozu and Kurosawa (14 apiece) as the Japanese director from whom I've seen the most total films. Though I actually missed more Naruses in this series than I saw, I really appreciate the PFA's decision to present them in approximate chronological order. It was fun to see stylistic tendencies and themes emerge and retreat, even with an incomplete sampling of an incomplete (as so many of his films are considered lost) retrospective. For example, it could only be taken as a sign of directorial maturity to notice that by a certain point in the series he had all but abandoned recurrent visual motifs like the damaged shoe or sock to indicate a character's poverty, or narrative crutches like the vehicle accident (sometimes it worked better than others). And to compare Hideko Takemine's go-getting eponymous (doubly so when you realize the character's name is Okoma, not Hideko) role in the 1941 Hideko the Bus Conductress to her 1962 portrayal of Hayashi as all but completely beaten down by poverty and bitterness, but still able to maintain an artist's spark, was all the more moving having seen her in the likes of Floating Clouds and Flowing in the meantime.

I'll miss Naruse, but anyone who literally missed Naruse's wonderfully comic Wife, be Like a Rose! in November will get a second chance at 3PM on April 9 when it screens alongside a talk and signing by Phillip Lopate, who has a new book on the history of film criticism in this country. Though you won't find word of the screening on the new printed March-April calendar; it was announced by Susan Oxtoby before Her Lonely Lane. What is on the calendar, besides the Asian American Film Festival, is a mini-retro for Jacques Demy featuring five of his most beloved films plus his widow Agnes Varda's memorialization Jacquot, a single screening of Victor Erice's the Spirit of the Beehive on April 16, and a fun-looking series of Earthquake-related films marking the centenary of the biggest "Big One" Frisco's seen. They'll be showing Flame of Barbary Coast, the Night the World Exploded, Earthquake with a simulation of Sensurround, and a number of experimental and documentary shorts April 6-9. There will actually be a lot of documentaries there in the next couple months; Michel Brault (in March) and Kim Longinetto (in April) will be presenting a healthy portion of their work. And Tuesdays will bring a six-evening series called Vantage Points: New Documentaries by Women, ending on April 18th with Jenni Olson's the Joy of Life, which you must see if you still haven't caught it yet.

A few last things to note: Artists' Television Access has some interesting upcoming screenings including the Passion of Joan of Arc February 23 and Salt of the Earth March 2. Other Cinema has released its spring schedule too. The Castro will be playing the Heart is Deceitful Above All Things March 24-30 and L'Intrus March 31-April 6. The Roxie, which since affiliating with New College of California seems to have become something resembling a second-run house, at least in part, is promising a James Toback retrospective to go along with the Outsider when it screens April 7-13. Take a look at the Parkway's special events schedule if you haven't in a while. And have a good day.

Saturday, February 11


Canis Luna

Happy Year of the Dog! The Lunar New Year began nearly two weeks ago, but as the SFPD clears the streets for tonight's parade it still seems apropos to make the greeting. And what better way to celebrate the season than to participate in that grand tradition of watching a movie from Hong Kong's film industry? There are currently two excellent options available in Frisco's Richmond District. Both come courtesy of the brightest light in Hong Kong film production currently going, Milkyway Image Productions. This company was founded in 1996 by The Heroic Trio's director Johnnie To and The Peace Hotel writer/director Wai Ka-Fai.

Of the two the prolific To has drawn the most auteurist attention through films like The Mission, and seen the profile of his films at international festivals meteorically rise, with an entry at Cannes both of the past two years. His 2005 Election played in competition but has failed to find a North American distributor as of yet. But his 2004 out-of-competition chair-gripper Breaking News was picked up by Palm Pictures and began a week-long run at the Balboa yesterday. Much has been made of the film's opening shot, which recalls Touch of Evil's opener in its virtuoso complexity. Interesting, then, that in a way Breaking News seems to self-consciously dissect the whole the Hong Kong action film genre the way that the Welles film, according to Robert Kolker, "recognize(s) the formal properties of noir in a way its earlier practitioners did not." In To's universe both the criminals and the police cannot exist as they do without the presence of cameras and recording equipment. (The film's inquiry into the nature of the relationship between police and media may make the film topical to Frisco residents in light of recent scandals, but I suspect To is less interested in depicting a fact-based relationship than making a point about the way the media constructs our images of cops and robbers.) One question is, does a film like Breaking News signify the decline of a genre at the same time that it exemplifies and comments on it, as Kolker argues Touch of Evil did? Perhaps so, according to the distributors who passed on bringing Election here while it plays throughout Europe and Asia.

Wai Ka-Fai may be the lesser known of the two Milkyway founders but Too Many Ways to Be #1, the first film he directed after the partnership began is my favorite of the studio's films. Filled with every low-budget camera trick conceivable, hilarious references to Triad films, a proto-Run, Lola, Run structure and even an undercurrent of anxiety about the Handover, its an extremely audacious film. Most of Wai's subsequent films have either been co-directing gigs with To (Fulltime Killer, Running on Karma) or breezy comedies made specifically for the Chinese New Year box office season (like last year's reportedly awful Himalaya Singh). His new film the Shopaholics definitely fits in the latter category (and though the imdb claims it fits in the former as well, I find no corroboration that this particular film was co-directed by Johnnie To or anyone else). But though the tone and themes of the film are incredibly light, fluffy and corporate-sanitized, it's still a treat to watch because of its incredibly fast-paced humor, charming performers and completely over-the-top (even for Hong Kong) exuberance. Lau Ching-Wan plays a "decide-o-phobic" doctor who, in the most absurd meet-cute I've witnessed, meets Cecilia Cheung's consumer-goods-addict when she helps him deliver a baby at a shopping mall. Her role in the birthing is to buy dozens of colorful umbrellas to place around the operation for privacy. The doctor's cure for for Cheung's case of big city affluenza is romance, but unfortunately his similarly afflicted ex-girlfriend (Ella Koon) shows up, and Cheung meets an equally eligible and wishy-washy bachelor (Jordan Chan). I wonder if this farcical symphony of pussyfooting and one-upmanship is a conscious attempt to capitalize on Fire Dog Year anxieties? The final reels of the film force the characters, dressed in sharp tuxes and bridal gowns, to shuttle across the city under orders of a centrally-commanding Jungian headshrinker. She seems to be a potential stand-in for Wai, directing people's lives according to a script she didn't write herself (as in this case Wai didn't). If Wai uses similar reverse-psychology techniques to combat pressures of the box office and corporate sponsers, it's no wonder that his films are often so hard to pin down, as enjoyable as they can be.

Other than Fulltime Killer, none of Wai's films have been properly distributed in this country. That's why it's such a unique treat to have the country's last holdout of the Chinese-language cinema circuit, the Four Star, where The Shopaholics enters its second and likely final week, playing only once a day (9:40 PM).

One last note, still Hong Kong related, before signing off: fans of classic kung fu films will be thrilled to learn that the Asian-American International Film Festival will be bringing four films from the Heroic Grace II series in March (and that the Balboa will be bringing the series again in May). Actually all of Jennifer Young's sneak peek look at the SFAAIFF just posted to the Mobius Home Video Forum looks pretty tantalizing. The full schedule is expected to be released on Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 8


And Now: the Best New Films of 2005

In between all the film festivals and events happening right now, just thought I'd squeeze out a post that's been long in coming. I already ran down my favorite filmgoing experiences of last year, but avoided talking about "new releases", knowing that I had submitted such a list to Senses of Cinema's World Poll which was still in the pipeline. Here's that list; forgive me for the gimmcky presentation; it's just that the question of documentary vs. fiction filmmaking was a real and major theme of my cinematic exploration last year.

More excitingly, I have the honor to present an end-of-year wrap-up by a friend and fellow cinephile from my neighborhood, Adam Hartzell. Adam is a contributor to the excellent resource koreanfilm.org and to greencine daily, and is a much more well-travelled moviegoer than I, attending out-of-town film festivals every year. So it speaks well of local film programmers that eight of his top ten were films you or I could have seen on a Frisco screen last year.

Without futher ado, here's Adam:

To make it on my Top Ten, the film had to be released in the past few years and found itself on a screen in my vicinity in 2005. I saw 126 films new to me in the theatres in 2005. (Some of these were first time viewings of old school films and, thus, out of the running. But some of the highlights of those films were Carmen Santos's Sangue Mineiro (Brazil, 1929), R.D Pestonji's Country Hotel (Thailand, 1957), Lee Man-hee's The Starting Point (South Korea, 1967), and Masuda Toshio's The Velvet Hustler (Japan, 1967).) I chose to see these films within the confines of choices made by other people, e.g., retrospective curators, distributors and theatre owners. To give you an idea of the films I avoid, I never ended up seeing the trilogy of the third installment of the trilogies Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, or Star Wars. And to give you an idea of the films I seek out, in 2005, I traveled to Udine, Italy to see Park Chul-soo's Green Chair and Busan, South Korea to see Hur Jin-ho's April Snow and Nobuhiro Yamashita's Linda, Linda, Linda. So based on the choices I had available to me, choices enabled by some well-planned vacations, here are the best choices I made.

10) THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (Noel Baumbach, USA 2005)

I think I can fairly say that I'm not feeding delusions by saying that the father and eldest son here are not me, but I sure could relate to the often ignored plot element of driving around forever looking for parking. For that reason alone, this film could have easily been placed in San Francisco without missing a beat. The opening tennis match will remain a classic scene for me. We knew the characters immediately - point, set, and match. Although I've heard the "It's very Kafkaesque" joke before, I laughed yet again. This was the quirky film I needed on another dreary day during San Francisco's rainy season. Big Thanks to the Opera Plaza Theatres for providing me shelter from the rain and to Peet's Coffee too since someone finally opened up a coffeehouse nearby that stays open into the late evening.

9) BEYOND OUR KEN (Pang Ho-Cheung, Hong Kong 2004)

It didn't start off well. I was told by one of the volunteers that I'd sat in the wrong seat and he instructed I move. The seat I sat in was reserved, but not for me. When I moved to a seat closer to the stage, I began to feel this buzz in the air. I would learn soon that all the Italians were anxiously anticipating the arrival of Italian pop star Gianna Nannini about whom I knew nothing, but was to find out from the English translation provided on stage that a song by Nannini would be featured in Beyond Our Ken that figured as director Pang Ho-Cheung's inspiration for the film. And what a lovely little twisting film it was. Italian style as envisioned by this Hong Kong director whose film AV, which I'd seen a few days before, led me to believe, well, that Pang was a hack. I stand corrected. Great performances by Gillian Chung and Tao Hung helped this mystery about the strange companionship taken up by an ex- and present girlfriend of the same boy become one of my more memorable cinematic experiences this year at the Teatro Nuovo in Udine, Italy.

8) KAMIKAZE GIRLS (Nakashima Tetsuya, Japan 2004)

Take two at the Teatro Nuovo and again it's a story about an unlikely friendship. This film was just crazy fun. Although I prefer the slow-paced, artsy films, I can enjoy my spectacle just as much as the next film geek. The two fast friends are played to full special effect by Fukada Kyoko and Tsuchiya Anna. Juxtaposing a Rocco-obsessed, baby-doll-dressing, Japanese teen girl with an equally, fashion-plated, female Yakuza in scooter-wheeled training was just zany enough to work. This could have veered out of control but Nakashima takes us on several, bizarre, tangential courses while still returning us to the central theme of the film - friendship. The film takes Japanese teen expression through fashion seriously and has fun, but never ridicules. For once, a film I desperately wanted to receive a release in the States actually did.

7) A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (David Cronenberg, USA 2005)

Cronenberg tends to freak me out. But he doesn't freak me out as if he's pummeling me with violent visuals or grotesque graphics just for the sake of pummeling. There has always been a message and method for getting his freak on and his film Crash definitely solidified that for me. His latest installment is many things, but foremost for me it is pedagogy on human desires. As much as some of us might like to think we're incapable of violence, there's a history lying back there in all of us of possible acts committed if not actually enacted. And Cronenberg keeps mining our collective Id for all it’s worth. I caught this later than the average cinema bear, waiting to see it at the 4 Star with Brian at a completely packed house on Christmas because it seemed nicely sacrilegious to do so. (I also caught the first Orthodox Jewish film, Ushpizin, at a Saturday matinee for the same reasons.) But I definitely saw what all the fuss was about, along with the importance of theatres like the 4 Star and the crowds that love them.

6) GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK. (George Clooney, USA 2005)

I'd love to say 'Good Riddance' to McCarthy-ism, but sadly it's alive and well in the wiretappin' US of A. So this film provided further opportunities for me to reflect on how much does and doesn't change here. The choice for black and white was perfect in juxtaposing McCarthy's own words against the film and against us, resembling the conversations some of us have with TV pundits now. (OK, yelling at Bill O'Reilly's outlandish statements is not really a conversation.) David Strathairn provided one of my favorite performances this year, along with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, rounding out a film that didn't drag for me one bit. Well, it's a drag that this same old, same old refuses to die. But the presence of a considerably packed crowd at the Embarcadero Theatre during a matinee after work gave me some hope.

5) HOST & GUEST (Shin Dong-il, South Korea 2005)

I'd just be repeating myself with what I've already written here, so let me just say how nice it was to watch this film in a South Korean multiplex in Busan. If only every visit to a multiplex could bring such enlightenment.

4) GRAIN IN EAR (Lu Zhan, China and South Korea 2005)


3) VODKA LEMON (Hiner Saleem, Armenia, France, Italy, and Switzerland 2003)

This is such a simple parable with little dialogue and little scenery, yet sometimes the simple stories are the best ones. From the very beginning of the absurd opening scene of a village elder being dragged in his bed on route to a funeral through the icy roads, I knew I was in for a treat and the film's patient pace refused to disappoint. The crunch of the snow underneath the feet of these characters, the bodily defenses they engage in to protect themselves from the cold, all underscored a general theme of surviving in less hospitable climes. I love the Balboa theatre, but sometimes it is cold in the winter, and occasionally that temperature works perfectly with the film on screen.

2) NOBODY KNOWS (Kore-eda Hirokaz, Japan 2004)

This made a lot of critic lists last year, but I didn't get to see it until the beginning of 2005. Could a film get any sadder? But this wasn't melodrama mania. This was the kind of sadness that comes with intimacy, getting to know characters gradually so when tragedy strikes, you are not shocked into horror, you simply grieve along with the characters. Kore-eda is to film what Sigur Ros is to music. For some time now, Kore-eda has been exploring our reception of the deaths that surround us. Nobody Knows continues this exploration to show us what happens when we ignore the slow deaths around us that simple interventions could rescue. Instead, these kids find their own way to survive, demonstrating the paradox of human ingenuity that keeps us together and alienated at the same time. Big thanks to the Lumiere Theatre for providing me a safe place to let the tears drop.

1) THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERATOR (Caroline Martel, Canada 2004)

Although all the films listed here, (and many not listed), had an impact on me, none had as much of an impact as Montreal-born director Caroline Martel's montage experiment The Phantom of the Operator. The film explores the history of women operators, but it's so much more than that. Through a whispering French narration and creative use of industrial videos and other ephemera, Martel motivates us to rethink the part women have played in the telecommunication revolution, and all that still lies hidden behind every revolution. Her avant-garde approach is accessible even to this kindergartner within that school. Full disclosure might require me to note that I've worked in a phone center for the past 7 1/2 years. But one need not have worked in the industry to appreciate what Martel observes here. Martel schooled me in more ways then one, as all great documentaries do, but she also brought an artful respect to this topic, showing the beauty along with the disturbing, that transcends the topic while underscoring her themes at the same time. The Pacific Film Archives at the University of California, Berkeley rocks my world yet again. I saw my two favorite films from 2004 there, (A Certain Kind of Death and Invisible Light), and yet again they screened my favorite film of 2005.

Well there you have it. I'm sure Adam will be happy to address any comments you might have if you click the "comments" link below.

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