Best of 2011

January 21, 2012

Better late than never. This annual task seemed especially hard this year, happily thanks to an embarrassment of riches (a situation exacerbated by my going to Cannes for the first time). As usual my list doesn’t hew to any international release patterns, it’s just the best of the new films I saw in 2011, even though some of them, including #1, aren’t coming out until this year (and some may not get a release at all). And it doesn’t include some 2011 releases (like The Arbor, Uncle Boonmee and Bill Cunningham New York) that I saw in 2010. The order of these (except for #1) has changed many times during the compiling, so don’t read too much into the difference between a place or two, and plenty of the runners-up (Drive, Shame, Play, Kill List) could have edged into the top ten in a lesser year.


1. THE TURIN HORSE (Bela Tarr, Hungary)
2. HUGO (Martin Scorsese, USA)
3. LE QUATTRO VOLTE (Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy)
4. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
5. THIS IS NOT A FILM (Jafar Panahi, Iran)

6. TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS (Radu Muntean, Romania)
7. THE TREE OF LIFE (Terrence Malick, USA)
8. MYSTERIES OF LISBON (Raoul Ruiz, Portugal)
9. PINA (Wim Wenders, Germany)
10. HOUSE OF PLEASURES (Bertrand Bonello, France)

20 runners-up (fiction), in alphabetical order:
BRIDESMAIDS (Paul Feig, USA); DRIVE (Nicolas Winding Refn, USA); ELENA (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia); KILL LIST (Ben Wheatley, UK); MARGARET (Kenneth Lonnergan, USA); MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (Sean Durkin, USA); MEEK’S CUTOFF (Kelly Reichardt, USA); the first ten minutes of MELANCHOLIA (Lars von Trier, Denmark); MICHAEL (Markus Schleinzer, Austria); THE MILL AND THE CROSS (Lech Majewski, Poland); MISS BALA (Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico); OF GODS AND MEN (Xavier Beauvois, France); PATER (Alain Cavalier, France); PLAY (Ruben Osterland, Sweden); A SEPARATION (Asghar Farhadi, Iran); SHAME (Steve McQueen, USA); SLEEPING SICKNESS (Ulrich Köhler, Germany); TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Tomas Alfredson, UK); THE TRIP (Michael Winterbottom, UK); WEEKEND (Andrew Haigh, UK)

10 runners-up (documentary), in alphabetical order:
ARMADILLO (Janus Metz Pedersen, Denmark); BEING ELMO (Constance Marks, USA); CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (Werner Herzog, Germany/France); THE INTERRUPTERS (Steve James, USA); MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (Matthew Akers, USA); MOUTH OF THE WOLF (Pietro Marcello, Italy); PROJECT NIM (James Marsh, UK); SENNA (Asif Kapadia, UK); EL SICARIO, ROOM 164 (Gianfranco Rosi, Mexico); THE SWELL SEASON (Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins & Carlo Mirabella-Davis, USA)

Guilty Pleasures:
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (George Nolfi, USA); LIMITLESS (Neil Burger, USA); WAR HORSE (Steven Spielberg, USA)

Guilty Displeasures (films I wish I’d liked more):
MELANCHOLIA (Lars von Trier, Denmark); A DANGEROUS METHOD (David Cronenberg, Canada)

2010 releases I’m glad I caught up with in 2011:
MONSTERS (Gareth Edwards, UK); NY EXPORT: OPUS JAZZ (Henry Joost & Jody Lee Lipes); WINNEBAGO MAN (Ben Steinbauer, USA)

Best old films seen for the first time in 2011:

1. POSSESSION (Andrzej Zulawski, Poland/Germany, 1981)
2. THE CLOCK  (Vincente Minnelli, USA, 1945)
3. BABY FACE (Alfred E. Green, USA, 1933)
4. CLUNY BROWN (Ernst Lubitsch, USA, 1946)
5. LA SFIDA/THE CHALLENGE (Francsco Rosi, Italy, 1958)


My 100 Favorite Films of All Time (circa 1989)

December 17, 2011

Back in 1989, not more than a couple of years into full-on cinephilia, I solidified my all-time Top 100 with the help of a bunch of old film magazines, a xerox machine, a glue-stick and a typewriter. I’m happy to say that the list holds up pretty well though obviously there’s a lot I’d change 22 years later. Click on any of the pages to enlarge.


2011 New Releases

December 4, 2011

Every 2011 theatrical release that I’ve seen so far this year (or last year at festivals), in alphabetical order (by US title)… [revised 1/2/12]



My Favorite Films of the Past 24 Years

January 17, 2011

In the spirit of the NME which always recapped their best singles and albums of previous years under the banner “Lest We Forget,” here are my annual top choices for best film of the year ever since I started making such lists (when I was, of course, two).

2010 I AM LOVE (Luca Guadagnino, Italy)

2009 TWO LOVERS (James Gray, USA)

2008 A CHRISTMAS TALE (Arnaud Desplechin, France)


2006 CLIMATES (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)

2005 CACHÉ (Michael Haneke, France) *

2004 DOGVILLE (Lars von Trier, Denmark)

2003 GERRY (Gus Van Sant, USA)

2002 BLOODY SUNDAY (Paul Greengrass, UK)

2001 WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (Bela Tarr, Hungary)

2000 DANCER IN THE DARK (Lars von Trier, Denmark)

1999 EXISTENZ (David Cronenberg, Canada)

1998 THE THIN RED LINE (Terrence Malick, USA)

1997 BOOGIE NIGHTS (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)

1996 BREAKING THE WAVES (Lars von Trier, Denmark)

1995 INSTITUTE BENJAMENTA (The Brothers Quay, UK) **

1994 SATANTANGO (Bela Tarr, Hungary)

1993 NAKED (Mike Leigh, UK)

1992 A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY (Edward Yang, Taiwan)

1991 THE GARDEN (Derek Jarman, UK)

1990 THE DECALOGUE (Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland)

1989 THE THIN BLUE LINE (Errol Morris, USA)


1987 WINGS OF DESIRE (Wim Wenders, West Germany)

* In retrospect, I would like to switch my 2005 vote with my #2 THE NEW WORLD (Terrence Malick, USA)

**Ditto for my 1995 #4 (I was way off!) HEAT (Michael Mann, USA)


Best of 2010

January 16, 2011

Belatedly, these were my favorite new films seen in 2010, regardless of whether they had a US release or not or will have one in 2011. For sticklers, my “official” list of the best US releases of 2010 (in which Pedro Costa’s barely released Ne Change Rien, which I saw in ’09, was my favorite film of the year) was published in IndieWire a few weeks ago. It may not exactly tally up with this but don’t hold that against me. I found it harder than ever to rank these films and all I know for sure is that I loved watching everything listed here and highly recommend them all.

This also may be the one and only time that my favorite film of the year has my favorite poster of the year.


1. I AM LOVE (Luca Guadagnino, Italy)
2. SYMBOL (Matsumoto Hitoshi, Japan)
3. FISH TANK (Andrea Arnold, UK)
4. THE ARBOR (Clio Barnard, UK)
5. ALAMAR (Pedro González-Rubio, Mexico)

6. BOXING GYM (Fred Wiseman, USA)
7. BLACK SWAN (Darren Aronofsky, USA)
8. ANOTHER YEAR (Mike Leigh, UK)
9. CATFISH (Ariel Schulman & Henry Joost, USA)
10. THE GHOST WRITER (Roman Polanski, UK)

20 runners-up (fiction), in alphabetical order:
The first two thirds of CARLOS (Olivier Assayas, France); CERTIFIED COPY (Abbas Kiarostami, Italy); COLD WEATHER (Aaron Katz, USA); ENTER THE VOID (Gaspar Noe, France); the first half of FILM SOCIALISME (Jean-Luc Godard, France); GREENBERG (Noah Baumbach, USA); THE ILLUSIONIST (Sylvain Chomet, France); MOTHER (Bong Joon-Ho, South Korea); NEVER LET ME GO (Mark Romanek, UK); REGRETS (Cedric Kahn, France); SCOTT PILGRIM SAVES THE WORLD (Edgar Wright, USA); THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (Juan José Campanella, Argentina); THE SOCIAL NETWORK (David Fincher, USA); THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal); TANGLED (Nathan Greno & Byron Howard, USA); TOY STORY 3 (Lee Unkrich, USA); THE TREE (Julie Bertuccelli, Australia); TRUE GRIT (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, USA); UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand); WHITE MATERIAL (Claire Denis, France)

12 runners-up (documentary), in alphabetical order:
THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF PHIL SPECTOR (Vikram Jayanti, UK); BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK (Richard Press, USA); 45365 (Bill Ross & Turner Ross, USA); JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK (Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg, USA); LAST TRAIN HOME (Lixin Fan, Canada/China); MARWENCOL (Jeff Malmberg, USA); THE OATH (Laura Poitras, USA); OCTOBER COUNTRY (Michael Palmieri & Donal Mosher, USA); RUHR (James Benning, Germany/USA); SLEEP FURIOUSLY (Gideon Koppel, Wales); THE TWO ESCOBARS (Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, USA); THE WHITE STRIPES: UNDER THE GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS (Emmett Malloy, USA/Canada)

12 2009 releases I’m glad I caught up with in 2010:

Best old films seen for the first time in 2010:

1. WELFARE (Frederick Wiseman, USA, 1975)
2. THE STORE (Frederick Wiseman, USA, 1983)
3. WORLD ON A WIRE (R.W. Fassbinder, W.Germany, 1973)
4. GUN FURY (3D) (Raoul Walsh, USA, 1953)
5. BLIND (Frederick Wiseman, USA, 1986)


2010: Half-time score

July 11, 2010


1. I AM LOVE (Luca Guadagnino, Italy)
2. FISH TANK (Andrea Arnold, UK)
3. EVERYONE ELSE (Maren Ade, Germany) *
4. THE GHOST WRITER (Roman Polanski, UK)
5. MOTHER (Bong Joon-Ho, South Korea)
6. THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (Juan José Campanella, Argentina)
7. GREENBERG (Noah Baumbach, USA)
8. BLUEBEARD (Catherine Breillat, France) *
9. AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN (Jacques Rivette, France) *
10. WILD GRASS (Alain Resnais, France) *

Haven’t seen: DOGTOOTH, TOY STORY 3
*=Saw last year


1. JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK (Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg, USA)
2. THE OATH (Laura Poitras, USA)
    (Emmett Malloy, USA/Canada)
4. THE TWO ESCOBARS (Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, USA)
5. OCTOBER COUNTRY (Michael Palmieri & Donal Mosher, USA)

Haven’t seen: RESTREPO. Wish I’d seen on screen: SWEETGRASS


1. THE ARBOR (Clio Barnard, UK)
2. SYMBOL (Matsumoto Hitoshi, Japan)
3. THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal)
4. COLD WEATHER (Aaron Katz, USA)
5. LAST TRAIN HOME (Lixin Fan, Canada)
6. LOLA (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines)
7. REGRETS (Cedric Kahn, France)
8. A LITTLE DEATH (Gina Telaroli, USA)
9. THE WOODMANS (C. Scott Willis, USA)
10. RAPT (Lucas Belvaux, France)



1. JULIA (Erick Zonca, USA/France)
3. RICKY (Francois Ozon, France)
4. HUMPDAY (Lynn Shelton, USA)
5. BIG MAN JAPAN (Matsumoto Hitoshi, Japan)
6. AVATAR (James Cameron, USA)


1. SHUTTER ISLAND (Martin Scorsese, USA)
2. CYRUS (The Duplass Brothers, USA)
3. TRASH HUMPERS (Harmony Korine, USA)
4. OCEANS (Jacques Perrin & Jacques Cluzaud, France)


Tsai Lee Lu coffee

February 8, 2010

One of the highlights of the Rotterdam Film Festival, which I attended last week, was coming across Tsai Lee Lu coffee, the special brand produced by Taiwanese superstar director Tsai Ming-liang and his favorite actors Lee Kang-sheng and Lu Yi-Ching (the actress whom he nearly always casts as “Mother”). Too good to be true, like something invented in a cinephile’s fever dream, the coffee is beautifully packaged in parchment paper bags and labeled with the threesome’s faces. It apparently comes in different strengths or flavors (watermelon, I wonder?) and I was told that the one that I bought (which I haven’t tasted yet) was “very dark and smoky.” It was being sold at the festival at the superb (and temporary) Break Even store (which featured the greatest collection of avant-garde films on DVD that I have ever seen).

Tsai was in Rotterdam with his 2009 Louvre-set feature Face and a new 30 minute digital film Madame Butterfly set in a Kuala Lumpur bus station, but it was a short film directed by Lee Kang-sheng that had the most relevance to their new business venture. Remembrance is set in an old wood-paneled coffee shop that is closing for the last time. Lu Yi-Ching plays the owner while Tsai plays her final customer. A What Time Is It There poster hangs in the store and I had assumed that it must be the Tsai Lee Lu coffee shop but as you can see from the photos below theirs is much more modern.

If you can read Chinese you can probably order the coffee from their website (which the photos below are taken from) or visit the store next time you are in Taipei. David Lynch, eat your heart out.



Best of 2009

December 31, 2009


1. TWO LOVERS (James Gray, USA)
2. 35 RHUMS (Claire Denis, France)
3. PONYO (Hiyao Miyazaki, Japan)
4. ANTICHRIST (Lars Von Trier, Denmark)
5. THREE MONKEYS (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)

6. MOON (Duncan Jones, UK)
7. THE HURT LOCKER (Kathryn Bigelow, USA)
10. THE WHITE RIBBON (Michael Haneke, Austria)

20 runners-up, in alphabetical order: ADVENTURELAND (Greg Mottola, USA); ALEXANDER THE LAST (Joe Swanberg, USA); BEESWAX (Andrew Bujalski, USA); CARGO 200 (Aleksey Balabanov, Russia); A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Robert Zemeckis, USA); FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Wes Anderson, USA); THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE (Steven Soderbergh, USA); THE HEADLESS WOMAN (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina); HUNGER (Steve McQueen, UK); IN THE LOOP (Armando Iannucci, UK); INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Quentin Tarantino, USA); JERICHOW (Christian Petzold, Germany); LIVERPOOL (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina); LORNA’S SILENCE (The Dardenne Brothers, Belgium); POLICE, ADJECTIVE (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania); STILL WALKING (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan); SUMMER HOURS (Olivier Assayas, France); TOKYO! (Michel Gondry/Leos Carax/Bong Joon-ho, France/Japan); A TOWN CALLED PANIC (Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, Belgium); WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Spike Jonze, USA) and the first half of FUNNY PEOPLE (Judd Apatow, USA)

Guilty Pleasures

THE BOX (Richard Kelly, USA); runner-up: MICHAEL JACKSON’S THIS IS IT (Kenny Ortega, USA)

Best Unreleased

1. NE CHANGE RIEN (Pedro Costa, France)
2. EVERYONE ELSE (Maren Ade, Germany)
3. ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLONDE-HAIRED GIRL (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal)
4. BARBE-BLEU (Catherine Breillat, France)
5. AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN (Jacques Rivette, France)

Best Documentaries

1. LA DANSE (Frederick Wiseman, USA/France)
2. GUEST OF CINDY SHERMAN (Paul H-O and Tom Donahue, USA)
3. OF TIME AND THE CITY (Terence Davies, UK)
5. REMBRANDT’S J’ACCUSE (Peter Greenaway, UK/Netherlands)

P.S. I forgot BEACHES OF AGNES (Agnes Varda, France) which should be #2

Best Old Films Seen for First Time in ’09

1. PITFALL (Andre de Toth, USA, 1947)
2. ALL THE MARBLES (Robert Aldrich, USA, 1981)
3. L’ENFANCE NUE (Maurice Pialat, France, 1967)
4. DILLINGER IS DEAD (Marco Ferreri, Italy, 1969)
5. LE COMBAT DANS L’ILE (Alain Cavalier, France, 1962)


My favorite films of the ’00s

December 30, 2009

1. DOGVILLE (Lars von Trier, Denmark, 2003)
3. WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (Bela Tarr, Hungary, 2000)
4. THE NEW WORLD (Terrence Malick, USA, 2005)
5. GERRY (Gus Van Sant, USA, 2002)

6. DISTANT (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey, 2002)
7. PLATFORM (Jia Zhangke, China, 2000)
8. FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan/France, 2007)
9. TURNING GATE (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2002)
10. FAR FROM HEAVEN (Todd Haynes, USA, 2002)

20 runners-up:

BEFORE SUNSET (Richard Linklater, USA); BIRTH (Jonathan Glazer, USA); BLOODY SUNDAY (Paul Greengrass, UK); CACHÉ (Michael Haneke, France); CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (Andrew Jarecki, USA); A CHRISTMAS TALE (Arnaud Desplechin, France); CLIMATES (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey); CODE INCONNU (Michael Haneke, France); DANCER IN THE DARK (Lars Von Trier, Denmark); THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (Cristi Puiu, Romania); KILL BILL VOL. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, USA); MEMENTO (Christopher Nolan, USA); THE RETURN (Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia); SOLARIS (Steven Soderbergh, USA); SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand); SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (Charlie Kaufman, USA); 25TH HOUR (Spike Lee, USA); YI YI (Edward Yang, Taiwan); WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan); THE WHITE DIAMOND (Werner Herzog, UK/Germany)


Serious Men: The Coens and Soderbergh against the world

November 22, 2009

Is it just me or did anybody else get The Informant! and A Serious Man a little mixed up? You vaguely knew that the Coen Brothers directed one and Steven Soderbergh directed the other, but you couldn’t quite keep them straight, right? (No? Maybe it was just me). For years now the Coen Brothers and Steven Soderbergh have been dividing up the work of making the smartest, most beautifully-crafted, halfway-serious, semi-indie films out there, but until this fall I’ve never really thought of them in the same breath, and that’s despite both of their close connections with George Clooney (who appears in neither of these films, even though he seems to be in every other film out right now). But then The Informant! and A Serious Man were released within two weeks of each other and it got me thinking.

Joel and Ethan Coen are, respectively, 8 and 5 years older than Soderbergh. All three of them have been making films since the mid ’80s. Though the Coen aesthetic is easier to pin down than the Soderbergh aesthethic (Soderbergh being far more restlessly adventurous and experimental) their filmographies have much in common. Both (if I can refer to the Coens as a single entity from now on) have made noiry thrillers (Blood Simple; The Underneath) and both have made comic thrillers (Fargo; the Ocean trilogy); both have made jail-break movies starring Clooney (O Brother Where Art Thou?Out of Sight); both have made ravishing black and white fables (The Man Who Wasn’t There; Kafka); both have essayed left-of-field remakes (The Ladykillers; Solaris); both have contributed short films to portmanteau projects (the Coens to Paris, je t’aime and Chacun son cinema, Soderbergh to Eros). And both have won Oscars and Palmes d’Or.

Above all, both are incredibly fast-working and prolific. The Coens have made half their 14 features in this decade alone. But Soderbergh trumps that, making almost as many features (12, or even 13 if you count Che as two films) in the ’00s than the Coens have made in total, not to mention a TV series (K Street). But the Coens write all their own material, while Soderbergh, who started out as the archetypal writer-director with Sex, Lies and Videotape seems to rely more these days on other screenwriters. The Coens moonlight as their own editor under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes, while Soderbergh (who also moonlights occasionally as his own editor under the pseudonym Mary Ann Bernard) works as his own cinematographer under the pseudonym Peter Andrews (and is one of the best cinematographers in Hollywood at that).

Which brings us to The Informant! and A Serious Man: two very different films which could hardly be more alike. Two films about bespectacled Midwestern suburban putzes who wear their pants too high and feel that the world is against them. Both films had little fanfare before they started getting themselves noticed this summer (The Informant! with its Saul Bass-y poster, A Serious Man with its what-is-it trailer) then premiering within a day of each other at the Toronto Film Festival (though The Informant! had bowed four days earlier in Venice) and opening theatrically within three weeks of their premiere. (Though both directors have appeared in one of the previous two New York Film festivals, I would assume that the NYFF must have rejected both these new works). Though the films have widely differering budgets ($7 million for A Serious Man, $22 million for The Informant!) neither really looks particularly more expensive than the other, with the big difference in cost being the casting: Soderbergh has Matt Damon, while the biggest names in A Serious Man are Richard Kind and Fyvush Finkel (the film’s star Michael Stuhlbarg being better known on Broadway). Though A Serious Man is a film about Judaism (or is it about Jewishness?) and The Informant! is a film about Capitalism (or is it about greed?), the two films have a similar setting and a similar darkly humorous tone. Both films were shot on location (A Serious Man in Minneapolis MN and The Informant! in Decatur IL) and spend equal time in suburban living rooms, kitchens and driveways, offices, and motels. In both films FBI men arrive on doorsteps and bosses linger in office doorways making veiled threats.

Larry Gopnik in the Coen film is a Job-like figure who suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (Stuhlbarg played Hamlet in Central Park last summer in preparation) while Damon’s Mark Whitacre is a man who, though even more paranoid than Gopnik, is more the agent of his own demise. Both ultimately are company men (and scientists no less) just trying to work their way up the ladder—Whitacre as a biochemist at a giant Midwestern corporation, Gopnik as a physics professor at a small Midwestern university.

One of the biggest differences between these serious men, beyond their religion, is their wives. One has the most supportive wife in living memory. The other, the least. If you’ve seen either you’ll know what I mean.

Due to the presence of Damon and the backing of Warner Brothers, The Informant opened with a $10 million weekend, has played on up to 2,505 screens and  has grossed $33 million to date. A Serious Man (distributed by Focus Features) had a $251,000 opening weekend, has played on up to 262 screens and has grossed $7.5 million. But A Serious Man is the better reviewed film (79 metacritic rating, 86% rotten tomato rating, against The Informant!’s 66 and 76%) and looks to play longer.

Adding to the confluence of these films is that I feel almost exactly the same way about them. I enjoyed them both a lot and was a little dissatisfied by them at the same time. If I had to recommend one over the other it would be A Serious Man, but only just.

And then, of course, there are the posters. Assume the position…