Freelance film critic and programmer
|Carl Th. Dreyer
|Wake in Fright
|Song Il Gon
|Diqiu zuihou de yewan
Loosely adapted from several contes by Sheridan Le Fanu, Dreyer's first sound film offers shadow play and in-camera trompe l'oeil to confound dreams and death, with no clear way out of all its uncanny narrative convolutions. For in a triumph of the irrational, this eerie memento mori never allows either protagonist or viewer fully to wake up from its surreal nightmare, leaving itself lodged in the mind.
A cynical jidaegeki (as well as an allegory of post-war Japan's shifting values) where the verbal duelling is as hard-hitting as the climactic swordplay, and where a house's echoing chambers and stories within stories paint a wilfully unpretty picture of codified hypocrisy and compassionless privilege.
Wake in Fright
This feral classic of the Australian New Wave is Kafka Down Under, as a seconded English migrant becomes trapped in a boozy nightmare of machismo, 'mateship' and forced bonhomie from which there may be no escape. Here the very worst side of Australian masculinity and mediocrity is laid bare in all its self-loathing, self-destructive ugliness, as though that extraordinary outback landscape, here captured in beguiling widescreen, is just too much for a man.
Lynch's nightmarish feature debut sets out in black and white (and all the shades in between) the anguish and anxiety of the (pro)creative process, as a curious man struggles with the conflict between his care for the strange, imperfect 'baby' that he has already brought into the world, and his desire for a future unencumbered by it. This is an unnerving, at times impenetrable concatenation of dreams, and a richly textured masterwork of surreal unease.
Looking back to the forms of the western and the B sci-fi, this punk-inflected satire repossesses American culture and takes it for a wild ride. Cox's outsider view is sharp and strange, skewering the social alienation of the Reagan era without nostalgia’s usual rose-tinted glasses.
This dizzying amnesiac mystery takes the Freudian symmetries of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), the modernist labyrinths of Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961), the psychogenic fugues of David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997) and the ghostly doppelgängers of Kim Jee-Woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), and yet ends up blazing its own circuitous, branch-strewn trail through the viewer’s dark consciousness, where it will take up residence, only to be further complicated by multiple viewings.
A mute, Méliès-like fairytale dystopia realised with all the monochrome expressionist stylisations of silent-era cinema, but finding innovative ways to let its characters speak. Reflexive, allegorical and poetic, Sapir's film is nostalgic in its retrofuturism, while always making the medium part of the critical message.
Radically adapted by Tony Burgess from his own 'unfilmable' novel, this brings an inventively semiotic approach to tired old zombie tropes, making language itself, and the arbitrariness of the sign, both source and vector of a viral outbreak in the backwoods of Ontario, and leaving an irony-uttering shock jock to talk his way out of, or into, the rapidly unfolding apocalypse. There is nothing like it – and like the shifting reality that it portrays, McDonald's Saussurean horror alters in meaning with every viewing.
An intelligent, elliptical doppelgänger mystery about a man – less heroic figure for identification as pathological object of study – who is at odds with himself, engulfed by modernity and entrapped by matriarchy, with a contradictory desire for, and fear of, the opposite sex. The chilly perfection of Villeneuve's direction is offset by a chaotically interwoven dual narrative which demands decipherment over several viewings.
Diqiu zuihou de yewan
This noir-inflected trip down memory lane (with an extended single-take dream sequence in 3D) is all at once an exploration of yearning, a metacinematic hall of mirrors, and a romantic mystery which puts the viewer in the mood for love (or at least for cinephilia), while calmly and quietly delivering fireworks.
I don't really believe in canons or rankings, and could choose my 'best' films – and compile multiple lists of them – from literal thousands of favourites that, broadly speaking, defy being meaningfully compared to one another. So here is *a* list of favourites, which I have deliberately ensured has no overlaps (apart from one single exception) with my list submitted in 2012. I have tended to favour either films that look back over cinematic history and create an echoic effect, or films that demand multiple viewings for their interpretation, as this, at least to my mind, is part of what gives them their lasting quality. I also, obviously, adore them all, and many others besides.