Critic, Taipei Mansions
|Wong Kar Wai
|Goodbye, Dragon Inn
|Muriel ou Le Temps d'un retour
|A Touch of Zen
|SORTIE D'USINE (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory)
|Louis & Auguste Lumière
|Yourself and Yours
The filmmaker closest to my heart writing his portrait of Hong Kong in lightning, driven purely by instinct and desire. Entirely made of odd little moments of redemption and reconnection amid a city full of danger and light. Blurred colors and rapid bodies together and apart, perversity and compassion alongside each other, pop songs echoing through mindscapes; In the Mood for Love is my favorite, but this is still Wong's most singular film.
Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Almost a film that seems to write its own completely deserved hosannas, but everything remains enriched and anchored by the tortured, beautiful passion of Tsai: for Lee Kang-sheng, for cinema, for King Hu, for Dragon Inn (the greatest of elemental action films), for Taipei, for rain, for cruising, for Mandarin oldies... an infinite text in an impossibly compact form.
Muriel ou Le Temps d'un retour
I adore the haute couture modernism of Last Year at Marienbad more, but the shock to the system that this film constantly provides cannot be denied. A film of endless puncta, where the ersatz surroundings map onto the furtive barriers placed between characters and the viewers. Dislocating edits abound, mental flashes that could also be the consciousness of war-torn landscapes asserting itself; Resnais rends it all asunder in the haunting coda.
Jean-Pierre Léaud gives my favorite performance ever, and so many others in this magnum opus exist in that same rarefied orbit. The icon of extended cinema, rarely surpassed in length but never bettered in its playful unspooling of narrative and experimentation. As dizzying as any docufiction, as bracing as any psychological drama, as socioculturally political as any agitprop, as delightful as any hangout languor, as bold as any avant-garde piece... I love Céline and Julie Go Boating even more but this is the ultimate film, by Rivette or anyone else.
Maybe the most quietly potent depiction of family ever made, the irresistible comfort food of dumplings allowing for endless points of personality, dissension, and quiet coexistence. Like the best films, it has an uncanny sense for what matters in a shot, in a cut: what is off-frame informs what is in-frame, and obscured images only increase the invisible connections within this one "real-time" interaction. Eating is almost besides the point when Liu's family has been wrapped so tightly together by their separate but shared creations.
The most essential and human of films, the preeminent example of cinema's sublime gifts: the ability to be transported from one part of the globe to the other, the evocation of memories of things long gone, the declaration of total fascination and compassion cloaked under the neutrality of the camera eye and the displaced narrator. In between the happiness and the black lies the zone of digital ambiguity, and we shuttle between the three more and more rapidly each moment; thank God we had Marker to capture our collective state of being.
A Touch of Zen
The greatest director of action was also one of cinema's great spiritualists. Hu's grand canvas of flashing swords, jump cuts, and seas of green ultimately gives way to stupefying transcendence, but this shift just bolsters the indomitable force of the vicious fights and cagy interactions that came before it. The supernatural can only be defined in relation to the human, and each and every finely etched and choreographed moment given to either manifestation burrows deep into the soul.
SORTIE D'USINE (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory)
Might as well be the first film, yet still one of the most complex and rewarding: movement as narrative, dozens of actions suggested and enacted, the end-of-shift "rejection" — real? staged? n'importe quoi — of the Lumière filmmaking apparatus yielding one of the purest expressions of the unconventional family that can form among the cast and crew (everyone fills both roles here) ever. It's only fitting that two brothers directed this; cinema as both work and play begins here.
A difficult choice between this and the equally great A Brighter Summer Day, but the sentimental part of me won out, in large part because of how this stands in for all the films Yang was unable to make, the final film that should have been the middle of what was already the greatest body of work a director has ever had. That it transcends those expectations to become its own delicate, devastating evocation of family, using the city and the modernity to harmonize all of its auteur's most incisive and moving abilities, is testament to his total mastery. My favorite film.
Yourself and Yours
An unabashedly personal pick, both expressing my ardor for Hong's entire oeuvre (The Day He Arrives or Night and Day could have easily been here) and for this film specifically: the film that got away, for once a truly overpowering romance refracted and reborn through performance, incidents piling up that miraculously lead to unexpected rapprochement. The final three scenes are each among the greatest sequences of directing, writing, and acting ever put to screen.
Not my ten favorite films (that would be too easy), but instead ten sui generis masterpieces that I adore and admire deeply. Each of these films stands — or deserves to stand — as a monumental work in both the history of film and my relation to the medium. I also established some ground rules: only one film per director, and only films I had seen more than once.
Five films from Greater China (three from Taiwan, one from China, one from Hong Kong), four films from France, and one film from South Korea/the infinite worlds that Hong Sang-soo occupies, which all seems right.
No obvious/total consensus choices (from a 2012 vantage point), and no American/English-language-only films, partly by accident and partly on purpose: maybe they'll make a resurgence for me in the next ten years, but this feels exactly true to my interests at the moment.
Impossible to name *all* of the omissions, but indulgent homage must be paid to the films and filmmakers I had to leave out. Not all of these are masterpieces, but all of them have stuck in my mind and keep me wondering still. I can't imagine my cinephilia without these films; think of it as a cracked self-portrait, full of unity and contradictions, the goal of true obsessive listmaking.
Not including the filmmakers who I have chosen for my top ten, in no particular order and grouping:
Mulholland Dr. and Twin Peaks: The Return and David Lynch generally, Platform and the work of Jia Zhangke at large, Hollis Frampton's (nostalgia), Ozu Yasujirō's Late Spring, Max Ophuls's Letter From an Unknown Woman, Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse and much of Fritz Lang, Paul Vecchiali's Femmes Femmes...
Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and Notorious, Perceval le Gallois and all of Éric Rohmer, Chuck Jones's Duck Amuck, Sparrow among other choices from Johnnie To, Beijing Watermelon and so much of Ōbayashi Nobuhiko, Mariano Llinás's La Flor, Jacques Demy's The Young Girls of Rochefort, Abel Gance's Napoléon, Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons, Bruce Baillie's All My Life, Li Han-hsiang's The Love Eterne, Josef von Sternberg's Shanghai Express and Anatahan...
Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself, Christian Petzold's Transit, Peter Chan's Comrades: Almost a Love Story, Fei Mu's Spring in a Small Town, Marie-Claude Treilhou's Simone Barbès or Virtue, Raúl Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon, Kurosawa Akira's Seven Samurai and High and Low, Ōshima Nagisa's Death by Hanging, Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura, Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up and Like Someone in Love, Louis Feuillade's Les Vampires and Tih-Minh, Lisandro Alonso's Jauja, Michael Snow's Wavelength, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century and Cemetery of Splendour...
Leo McCarey's Ruggles of Red Gap, Hou Hsiao-hsien's A City of Sadness, Pietro Marcello's Martin Eden, Tsui Hark's Peking Opera Blues and Shanghai Blues, Tarr Béla's Sátántangó, Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez's Manakamana, Steven Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Serge Bozon's La France, Mizoguchi Kenji's Sansho the Bailiff, Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter, Satyajit Ray's Charulata, Joseph Cornell's Rose Hobart, F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, Jon Bois's The Bob Emergency, Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game, Claire Denis's Beau Travail and 35 Shots of Rum, Marguerite Duras's India Song, Heat and Miami Vice and too much from Michael Mann, Eduardo Williams's The Human Surge, Naruse Mikio's Yearning, Anno Hideaki's Neon Genesis Evangelion finale...
François Truffaut's Two English Girls, Hal Hartley's Trust, Sammo Hung's Pedicab Driver, Wai Ka-fai's Too Many Ways to Be No. 1, Mike Leigh's Naked, Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis, Kurosawa Kiyoshi's Cure, Morgan Fisher's Standard Gauge, Hamaguchi Ryūsuke's Asako I & II and Drive My Car, Carl Theodor Dreyer's Gertrud, along with the collective oeuvres of Jean-Luc Godard, John Ford, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Jacques Tourneur, Howard Hawks, Claude Chabrol, Luis Buñuel, Robert Bresson, John Woo, Takahata Isao, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Miyazaki Hayao...