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 by Sam Juliano
For the very first time since I began composing lists back in 1973 (as the film critic for the Bergen Community College Monitor-Jan Troell’s “The New Land” was #1 that year) 44 years ago I have decided to go with a Top 20. Including the 38 films I saw at Tribeca this year I have seen 173 films with the vast majority of these in movie theaters. For about twenty of the full total I have had to avail myself of Amazon Prime, DVD or blu rays. I had also added seventeen (17) films that I really like, but just couldn’t fit them in my Top 20 proper. After serious contemplation I have decided to include The Salesman, The Witch and Embrace of the Serpent on these lists. In the case of the first, I saw it before making my list and it was nominated for the foreign film Oscar meaning it did get an opening in 2016 theatrically. Some will continue to argue the other two are really 2015 films, but they didn’t open in NYC until early 2016, meaning that NEITHER film could make my list last year. These lists are not designed for on the spot posterity, just to gauge what was seen in a calendar year by the writer. I have the option down the line to restore films to their proper year to be sure. As this is my own list, I have the right to enact my own “rules.” Having said that I see so many others pretty much do the same thing. But I am wasting time on “dates” when I should be naming the films. The Chilean Pablo Larrain astonishingly has two films in the Top 20. Here we go:

1 Indignation (USA; James Schamus)
2 La La Land (USA; Damien Chazelle)
3 Manchester by the Sea (USA; Kenneth Lonergan)
4 Jackie (USA; Pablo Larrain)
5. Quand on a 17 ANS (France; Andre Techine)
6. The Salesman (Iran; Asghar Farhadi)
7. O.J. Made in America (USA; Ezra Edelman)
8. Paterson (USA; Jim Jarmusch)
9. Fences (USA; Denzel Washington)
10. Moonlight (USA; Barry Jenkins)
11. Under Sandet – Land of Mine (Denmark; Martin Zandvliet)
12. The Red Turtle (France; Michael Dudok de Wit)
13. Love and Friendship (USA; Whit Stillman)
14. Krisha (USA; Trey Edward Shults)
15. Neruda (Chile; Pablo Larrain)
16. Aquarius (Brazil; Kleber Filho)
17. My Golden Days (France; Arnaud Desplechin)
18. The Arrival (USA; Dennis Villenue)
19. The Witch (USA/Canada; Robert Eggers)
20. Lion (Australia/India; Garth Davis)

Runners-Up: (in no particular order)

American Honey
Things to Come
Captain Fantastic
Toni Erdmann
I Am Not Your Negro
Anthropoid
Cemetery of Splendor
Tower
Hell or High Water
Sing Street
The Handmaiden
Midnight Special
Julieta
Little Men
I, Daniel Blake
A Man Called Ove
Hacksaw Ridge
Little Sister
Chevalier
Nocturnal Animals
Evolution
Cameraperson
Hidden Figures
Weiner
Embrace of the Serpent
Tanna

 

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 © 2017 by James Clark

       The film world abounds with generally furtive protagonists locked into an almost hopeless and definitely endless dedication to sprucing up sensibilities that won’t do. One of the grand masters of presenting this unheralded and widely unsuspected mission is Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973), generally regarded (when regarded at all) as a mid-century inventor of chic crime sagas. When you have nothing else to do, the now very muted chronicling runs, check one of these out for the cinematic equivalent of a “good read.” Melville’s endeavors, however, when approached with something more than a good read, come to light as remarkably close to films like Nocturnal Animals, Arrival and La La Land.

In the spirit of reaching improved clarity about this still-buried treasure, I’ll be, near the outset of this manoeuvre, digging into Melville’s final film, Un Flic (1972); then, next, I’ll be showing that Melville’s (and Jean Cocteau’s) Les Enfants Terribles (1950) is at the heart of Stephen (and Tabitha) King’s Carrie (1974) as inducing Brian De Palma, in 1976, to get up close to what’s up with the work-load of carnal consciousness; then we’ll spend the rest of the year savoring such dare devils coming at us from many sources.

One dare devil we need to open with, however, has been virtually ignored for years at this spot, namely, David Lynch. And the delirium of his Lost Highway (1997) involves, to a distinguished level, that heart-pounding crisis of perceptual lostness which is incumbent on all who care to see what cooks. Nearly seven years ago, my take on this movie stressed the noir aspects and particularly the equations of courage and cowardice. We did, of course, have to account for its being one of the most punishing narrative pitfalls in the history of cinema. But, in lieu of a premium upon consciousness per se, the matter of the two sets of hard-pressed lovers came down to a mechanistic fulcrum whereby entities are twinned in such a way that the initial presence finds itself preceded by a presence at the opposite end of the universe. This factor of Lynch’s reckoning did play a part in the coherence of the film. (The consensus that the helmsman did not have a serious idea of what was afoot, and that therefore his film is a shambles due to a self-indulgent reach exceeding its grasp, is insulting nonsense based in ignorance of what a major artist [requiring a reputation by which to raise millions of dollars] is about.) But what now must be added is the second and more primordial polarity that a material-inertial presence paradoxically is amenable to and dependent upon finite intentional consciousness to complement the formation of reality. This state of affairs accounts for a union of Fred and Renee Madison who dare to aspire to subtleties of creative dynamics, as implicated in the rough and tumble of Pete and Alice who tend to lead a far less subtle existence. Continue Reading »

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By J.D. Lafrance

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the typewriter, Michael Mann brought the crusading journalist back with The Insider (1999), which did for television journalism what All the President’s Men (1976) did for newspaper reporters. By 1999, with the exception of The Keep (1983) and The Last of the Mohicans (1992), people expected to see a bang, bang, shoot ‘em up, cops and robbers story from him. While Heat (1995) is often regarded as his signature film, The Insider is The One, an ideal fusion of his artistic and commercial sensibilities.

While The Insider certainly has its version of cops and robbers, good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats, Mann subverts his own stereotypes where the good guy and the bad guy are encapsulated in one man who grapples with his soul and makes hard decisions based on what he believes is right. For the first time in his career, Mann presented a vast antagonist and not just a serial killer or a bank robber but instead powerful institutions – a wealthy tobacco company and a major T.V. network. While they are given human faces – the CEO of the company or a high-ranking executive – they are minions of a much greater threat.
Continue Reading »

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by Sam Juliano

Near the conclusion of A. H. Taylor’s The Color Machine the Mayor of Colormazoo addresses a crowd of testy petitioners with judicial clarity that hearkens back to  Shakespeare.  When this wise and all-knowing arbiter of righteousness asks his chagrined audience to “lend me your ears” one may recall Mark Antony’s funeral speech in Julius Caesar, but the final resolve is more in tune with the closing monologue of Romeo and Juliet, when Prince Escalus lays the rightful blame on the city’s warring families -the Montagues and the Capulets- whose adversarial episodes have resulted in foolhardy skirmishes and a tragic end.  Taylor understandably steers clear of any notion of violence, but his telling implication is abundantly obvious.  The book’s titular oracle is something you might expect to see in a Roald Dahl novel, especially in view of the biting irony of having to fix something that should be permanently destroyed, but Taylor relies on an idea that proposes that if people can’t see the errors of their ways, the proverbial rug will be pulled from under their feet.

Taylor’s black ink pencil drawings are accompanied by full page bleeding color puddles that are meant to convey that the long tradition of seeing things through the prism of color has now been suspended.  The full page color washes are meant to look drab and saturated, and they project a distinctly bleak picture.  A motley group of fuming residents are practically riotous in the opening spread.  A woman with a snail-like hairdo carrying an umbrella, frame lurches forward, while another belies his inner countenance under a wolf costume and others carry on as if their taxes had tripled.  A church in the background is meant to accentuate an underlining hypocrisy in this sorry hamlet of ignorance and prejudice, a place where one’s color means much more than their character, their integrity or their religion.  One man bullies a child, and others make angry gestures from windows.  The enraged crowd appear as if they will accept nothing less than full kaleidoscopic reinstatement.  Their ugly demeanor has been  downgraded for the youngest students of course, but one can’t help being reminded because of the context of the scene in To Kill A Mockingbird when the townspeople hellbent on mischief decide they will take the law into their own hands when they storm the jail where Tom Robinson is being held.  Taylor’s delightful rhyming prose sets the parameters of this impasses as one between “the town and Mayor”: Continue Reading »

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Two screen captures from the American masterpiece INDIGNATION based on a novel by Philip Roth

by Sam Juliano

Atlanta Falcon fans are not doubt still numb after last night’s Super Bowl debacle.  But if you are a Patriots fan like our fearless leader Donald Trump you are right now experiencing pure gridiron ecstasy.  It was certainly the most fantastical conclusion of any football championship game I have ever seen and I’m still wondering how it was possible that it played out the way it did.

Those who are interested in seeing my Top Ten and runners-up list, I apologize, but I still need one final week.  It will be posted on Monday, February 13th.  Right now it seems likely I will have a tie for my #1 position, as it is becoming fairly impossible to choose one over the other.  But until Monday, I might still change my mind a hundred times more!  🙂 We are still talking about the television countdown as a viable project for this year, but nothing has been yet decided remotely.

I finally caught up to the college drama set in 1951, INDIGNATION -based on a novel by Philp Roth – and it is a staggering masterpiece.  Though it was in theaters over the summer, I had to avail myself of Amazon Prime.  We saw: Continue Reading »

The Black Stallion

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By J.D. Lafrance

The two action/adventure films that made the greatest impression on me as a young boy were The Black Stallion (1979) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). While I’ve seen the latter countless times over the years, I realized recently that I hadn’t seen the former since my parents took me to see it in theaters back in 1979. How could this be? I seem to remember liking it enough that my folks bought me Walter Farley’s 1941 novel of the same name on which it’s based. It wasn’t exactly hard to find on home video or see occasionally on television.

I recently caught up with it and was instantly taken back to when I first saw it as a child. I was also able to appreciate its artistry more now as an adult. The Black Stallion is beautifully shot – it’s basically an art house film for children, which is unthinkable in this day and age of noisy CGI animated movies and dumbed-down live-action fare. This is due in large part to the intelligent screenplay – written by Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, and William D. Wittliff – and the masterful direction of Carroll Ballard who got an incredibly sensitive performance out of a young boy by the name of Kelly Reno. The film was regarded as a unique anomaly when it came out and continues to be one of the most under-appreciated children’s films.
Continue Reading »

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by Sam Juliano

The latest discussions in regard to a possible new project for the late spring have revolved around the possibility of a “Greatest Television Shows of All-Time” countdown.  We were thinking of Top 60.  If the project happens it is posed to include all shows – including mini-series like The Civil War, I Claudius, The World at War and Pennies from Heaven among others.  Obviously it would mix American, British and any other shows released around the world.  This particular project has been discussed for years, and it seems 2017 may be the time to launch it.  The poll on the greatest War Films is certainly still on the table, but perhaps for another year.  The TV poll will strictly remain at 60, which is still a most formidable venture.

January weather in the Metropolitan area has been comparatively mild, though with February and March ahead it could change quick enough.  The political climate though is pretty dreadful, but I’ll save further discussion for the comment section should anyone desire to broach it.

Lucille and I have been heading to the theaters frantically to see all the essential films remaining ahead of my own Top Ten Films of 2016 posting, set for Monday, February 6th.  We saw a bunch for a second time as well, including Oscar nominated films like The Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, La La Land and Jackie.  If I were to add those to the two first viewings in theaters my total this past week would be seven (7) films.  And that doesn’t include several I watched on amazon prime and netflix streaming. Continue Reading »