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Archive for January 1st, 2016

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“Embrace of the Serpent” is Sachin Gandhi’s #1 film of 2015

 by Sachin Gandhi
Note:  Sachin Gandhi’s remarkable end-of-the-year presentation is unique in many ways, but in the realm of art house it is incomparable.  Gandhi is a close friend and associate, and the proctor of the fabulous blog, “Scribbles and Ramblings.”  This is the first list that has posted at Wonders in the Dark:
In contrast to previous years, this year’s best film list consists solely of films released in this calendar year, even if that means a film got only a single screening at an international film festival. There are no older 2013, 2014 titles even if they only got local theatrical screenings this year. As always, film festivals provide the bulk of the movies in this list. Out of the top 10, only 2 films got a regular theatrical run in the city and only one of those titles was released outside of the film festival circuit. The film festival circuit continues to be a wonderful parallel distribution network. Many independent and foreign films only live on the film festival circuit. Once their festival run ends, some of these films disappear for good. Some lucky ones get life via legal digital streams. Some others don’t even appear on torrents.
The regular theatrical release cycle continues to be dominated by commercial studio films while independent local and foreign cinema struggle to get screen time. If a city does not have a Cinematheque or an Arthouse cinema, then chances are, there will be limited chances to see independent and foreign films in a cinema. The contrast between studio and foreign cinema was perfectly highlighted on Dec 18. On that day, there were 99 shows of STAR WARS in local cinemas while one of the arthouses had a single show of DHEEPAN, the Palme d’Or winner at Cannes. This is the 1% vs 99% battle in terms of contemporary cinema. A film that wins the top prize at Cannes is certainly going to be distributed but films that don’t win at Cannes or get much festival love will struggle to get even a single show, even if they are worthy films. Great cinema is still being made even though it is getting harder to see in a local theater.
2015 saw the release of films by multiple Asian masters. 5 of those films make this top 10, while Jia Zhang-Ke misses out with his emotionally beautiful MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART. There are still many films that I need to catch up on, especially ARABIAN NIGHTS, THE PEARL BUTTON, THE TREASURE, OFFICE, THE EVENT. For all those missed titles, there are many more that I was fortunate to have seen. Here are my Top 10 films of 2015, followed by 16 honorable mentions.

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by Sam Juliano

The team that dazzled picture book aficionados with last year’s Edward Hopper Paints His World, and a series of other non-fiction titles over the years have again collaborated on a splendid work based on an actual event.  Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor’s engaging documentation results in a breathtaking rescue story that yields the same kind of crowd-pleasing denouement that made Jerry Pinkney’s Caldecott Medal winner The Lion and the Mouse so unforgettable.  Burleigh’s narrative follows the food-seeking journey of the largest mammal on the earth from the icy waters of the arctic to coastal California, where the hump back whale is after a massive volume of krill.  Burleigh’s exclamatory descriptive language (i.e. “She spanks the cold blue with her powerful tail, Bang!; Down in the depths, her call echoes.”) is perfectly wed with Minor’s magnificent aquamarine gouache paintings.

The event, as described in a “Behind the Story” afterward occurred on December 11, 2005, when fisherman detected a hump back whale struggling to free itself from rope entanglement near the coast of San Francisco.  Quick notification was sent on to whale specialists and rescue divers, who then performed aquatic miracles in averting a tragedy, but for the endangered mammal and the would-be human saviors it was a tenuous and harrowing episode that from the start posed an enormous risk.  The crisis is laid out in compelling terms by Burleigh:

The whale feels the tickle of thin threads/She plunges on./She tosses.  She spirals sideways as spidery lines tighten around her./The struggle begins./The web of ropes cuts into her skin.  She flails, starts to sink, fights for sir. (more…)

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