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Archive for November 2nd, 2010

by Joel

#94 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

Let me take a moment to clear up some misunderstandings about the “Best of the 21st Century?” title. The question mark is there for a reason; this is not my canon for the decade, but rather the collective critical canon as compiled by the website They Shoot Pictures Don’t They?. A talented critic named Kevin B. Lee started an exercise years ago in which he moved through the website’s all-time canon, watching and discussing the films he had not yet seen. His imaginative approach is to create video commentaries for each film – while my own work here is nowhere near as ambitious, I’m taking a similar approach, writing about each film on the 21st Century list that I haven’t seen. Key point: that I haven’t seen, so I have no way of knowing, going into a viewing right before a review, if I’ll like the movie in question. I’ve seen a few responses in the past saying something to the effect of “Can’t wait to see your other favorites” or “Do you really think this is one of the best of the whole decade?” Hopefully this introduction clarifies my approach.

I bring this up because otherwise some of you might be confused by what follows. So far in this series, I’ve been generally positive about the films discussed even if dissenting from the acclaim in some regards (which was already too much for some). This time I have to dissent from the apparent consensus altogether; by and large, I didn’t care for In Praise of Love, so for me that response to the question mark of my series title would have to be a “No.” It’s ironic that this film would be the one to warrant that response, since Jean-Luc Godard is one of my favorite directors of all time. Yet even in his prime, I think he could be hit-and-miss, often within the same film. We take the lows of Godard because the highs are so exhilarating; unfortunately in Praise, the latter are scarce and the former all too abundant. Though some have seen it in exact opposite fashion, I find the movie gets much better as it goes along, leading finally to a rapturous conclusion, but it’s too little too late to save the movie as a whole. The meta-questions on Godard’s old work vs. his new are most creatively addressed by Bob Clark in his “the-best-way-to-criticize-a-film-is-to-make-another-film a-video-gameresponse to Film Socialisme last week. As for In Praise of Love, I come not to praise but to bury. So proceed below the fold…

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1946 98m) DVD2 (France only, no Eng subs)

Aka. Utamaro and His Five Women; Utamaro o meguru gonin no onna

Painting is my life

d  Kenji Mizoguchi  w  Yoshikata Yoda  ph  Minoru Miki  ed  Shintaro Miyamoto  m  Hisato Osawa, Tamexo Mochizuki  art  Isamu Motoki

Minosuke Bando (Utamaro Kiwagita), Kotaro Bando (Seinosuke), Kinuyo Tanaka (Okita), Hiroko Kawasaki (Oran), Toshiko Iizuka (Takazoke), Kyoko Kusajima (Oman), Eiko Ohara (Yukie), Shotaro Nakamura (Shozaburo), Aizo Tamashima,

Between the golden era of the 1930s and his greater still platinum period of the 1950s, Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1940s work has too often been overlooked.  It’s true that no absolute bona fide masterpiece was made in this period, but to dismiss the work would be extremely short-sighted.  His 47 Ronin films, while not his best or most comfortable work, bear comparison to any other version of the tale, and Woman of the Night and The Loves of Sumako the Actress are both exquisite minor pieces in their own way.  His two central works of the period, however, remain My Love Has Been Burning and this earlier film from 1946.  It must be put in context here when the film was made.  The Japanese studio system had been crippled not only by the war but by the occupation, and Mizoguchi himself had been so creatively stymied that there is a case for declaring Utamaro the first true Mizoguchi film of its decade. 

            Utamaro is the most famous painter in Japan in the late 18th century.  His talents as are unquestioned as his own belief in them, and he gives himself to them absolutely.  His main interest is women – as one such woman accurately observes, “he loves all women to catch their soul” – while never himself giving more than his talent.  He makes enemies both from inside the artistic hierarchy and from without, where many complain at his scouring brothels for courtesan subjects.  (more…)

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by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

Animation is a land of many peoples. It is not a genre, as some may still call it, but a collection of media through which any genre can be depicted.

For this reason my countdown will be a little different in that it will not explore the conventional forms of a particular genre and discuss how they are followed or broken. Instead I will try to talk about the trends, the innovations, the strengths and weaknesses of animation and bring a still much-undervalued corner of Cinema and Television into the spotlight and, indeed, the limelight.

We all grew up with animation : Top Cat, Wacky Races, Stoppit and Tidyup, The Magic Roundabout, The Clangers…and then, with the exception of the marquee titles, grew steadily away from it. This countdown will not be only about ‘mature’ works but about the kind of things we would have watched as children if we had only been able.

As other (brilliant and exhaustive) Countdowns and Polls have done, my Animation Countdown will not consist solely of an abstract appreciation of an artist’s ‘animating’ craft. The films and television shows chosen (all animation qualifies, including shorts) are the best ones that happen to be animated. By ‘best’ I mean the ones that make the biggest impact of any kind. What made this a particularly exciting project for me was that, making no distinction between best and favourite, I’ve had the pleasure of revisiting and discovering works that really inspire and thrill me.

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