Best of 2006 Odds and Ends

ca_filthyDoes my loyalty lie with you, the reader, whom I'm hoping will seek out the movies I recommend, or does it lie with the films and the filmmakers who made these films I love, regardless of whether or not they were lucky enough to secure distribution?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I've written many times about how much I love making lists (especially best-of-the-year lists), but there are always some stragglers that get away from me and my obsessive list-making. For example, I hate film critics who are pretentious to the point of including films that are literally impossible for the average person to see (i.e., films not released theatrically, in the area of the critic's origin or otherwise; films that not released to DVD; etc.). However, being the OCD film nerd that I am, I do find myself in exactly the position of being a pretentious film critic a fair amount of the time (which is fair, I guess, because I am a pretentious film critic). So does my loyalty lie with you, the reader, whom I'm hoping will seek out the movies I recommend, or does it lie with the films and the filmmakers who made these films I love, regardless of whether or not they were lucky enough to secure distribution? My general rule is that I'll include a film on my top ten list if it either (a) showed at least once to the public in St. Louis in the theater (thereby making inclusions in the St. Louis International Film Festival and the Webster Film Series fair game), or (b) is readily available on DVD at the time that the list is written, so long as films falling in either category received a proper theatrical run elsewhere in the United States (the same as the rules are for Oscar consideration).

Some years are heavy on films of this sort, but luckily for my sanity and your ability to connect with the dumb things I write, it was a light year on this front. The only real contender is Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy, which I saw at Sundance in January, and which opened in New York in September, never making its way to St. Louis. It's a delightfully short (76 minutes), drifty movie about two old friends (Daniel London and Will Oldham-yes, that Will Oldham) reconnecting, subtly, while on a camping getaway. Luckily, Kino has the rights for U.S. distribution, so we can reasonably expect a DVD release sometime next year.

ca_butbA film that does not have theatrical distribution at all in the United States (yet) and is wonderful and deserves mention is Guy Maddin's new film, Brand Upon the Brain!, which I was fortunate to have seen in the New York Film Festival (good thing for you I have yet to track down the new Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Syndrome and a Century, or either of the two new Jia Zhangke films, the narrative Still Life and the documentary Dong, because this paragraph of films that don't have distribution yet would otherwise be undoubtedly longer). BUTB! screened at NYFF and at Toronto, and all of these screenings were special, once-in-a-lifetime screenings. I've been hooked on Maddin since 1992's Careful, so was looking forward to his new chunk of weirdness anyway, until I found out the film was going to be screened in both Toronto and New York. Brand Upon the Brain!, if seen under normal circumstances, is a silent film with music, narration, and sound effects. In Toronto and New York, there was no sound whatsoever coming from the speakers, and instead the score was performed live by an 11-piece ensemble, the narration was performed live by Isabella Rossellini (!), and the sound effects were done live by three Foley artists (turns out that flapping a sheet while popping bubble wrap sounds exactly like a crackling fire, or that eating celery into a microphone is a gruesome sonic reproduction of gnawing at a live human's limbs), and at the climax, a solo was performed by a live castrato (which I can't say I fully understand). While the film stands well on its own, it will sort of make me sad when they find someone brave (and smart) enough to distribute it, if only because it has serious logistical problems when, say, transferring it to DVD, or showing it on several screens across the country at once.

Moving on from theatrical releases, there are always some special DVD releases that I like to mention. One of the stealthier ones of these is Bitter Films Volume 1: 1995-2005, which, to my knowledge, is only available at bitterfilms.com (to whose mailing list I belong, and they didn't even send anything out about this release), and contains all of brilliant animator Don Hertzfeldt's short films of the past decade (except for his newest, "Everything Will Be Okay," which showed at SLIFF last month and was as wonderful as one could reasonably expect). We also finally saw the DVD releases of Noah Baumbach's first feature film, Kicking & Screaming, in a fantastic Criterion Collection edition, and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist in a regular, non-Criterion Collection edition, but exciting nonetheless. Netflix has the exclusive rights (for the time being, anyway) to a DVD of John Waters speaking, as he did at Webster University back in October of 2004, called John Waters: This Filthy World, which is funnier than anything you'll see from a standup comedian anytime soon. (Imagine John Waters doing a disc in the vein of An Evening With Kevin Smith—it's sort of like that, only exponentially funnier.) I also like the recent trend of hiring Waters to do commentaries on films he did not have anything to do with, as he did on the "Hollywood Royalty Edition" of Mommie Dearest and the Synapse release of Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out!). Synapse followed up last year's great collection of weird grindhouse trailers, 42nd Street Forever, Volume 1 this year with 42nd Street Forever, Volume 2: The Deuce, which is just as good. Finally, it's nice to see the appearance of Wholphin, the quarterly DVD from the guys of McSweeney's, which is reliably the best selection of short films on DVD every time it comes out.

And this is only the stuff that I think isn't obvious and deserves to be pointed out. I was excited that they finally released the un-dicked-with versions of the original Star Wars trilogy, too, so don't e-mail me and tell me that I forgot it. | Pete Timmermann

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