Monday, January 11, 2021

Carlo Pangalangan Labrador's BEST OF 2020


Another Year. We’ve all had some iteration of terrible this year, we don’t need to be reminded. The only reason I bring it up is it does have some bearing on what ended up on this list. It usually takes me til March of the following year to catch up on movies I wanted to see from the previous year, then compile my list around that time. This year, since I was pretty much able to see everything as they came out and had the free time to watch them, I have a list before this current year has ended.

Another thing I would like to bring up is how we consider our End of Year Film Lists reflecting the imdb/wikipedia/google release year, but more than likely films from the previous year tend to trickle in. Take for example Matthew Barney’s Redoubt. It’s listed as a 2019 release, but I saw in its theatrical run in LA in January of 2020. There would be some confusion when looking back at my own lists because of the release year/year seen in the cinema discrepancy. How about Tommaso and First Cow? History will say they were 2019 releases, but they definitely had their (virtual) theatrical releases this year. This is nothing new, people compiling lists have been dealing with this for ages, so ultimately, it’s your list, you can include whatever you want, but also I do propose that we allow some leeway, at least with the range of a year, if people were to include releases from the previous year.

My viewing experience of Redoubt seemed foreshadow 2020, more than I thought at the time: before going to see the movie, I witnessed a car crash right outside the theater (the NuArt in Los Angeles). Fortunately everyone was ok from the crash, it was just jarring to hear that noise and being incredulous that it was happening right in front of you. In contrast, Redoubt was a mostly calming film, with no dialogue (totally my jam). It became a metaphor for our year: a quiet calm inside, and chaos reigns outside.

10) Bill & Ted: Face the Music—This is a sentimental pick. We are continually reminded with each belated sequel how unnecessary they are, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that by the end of this, I was quite moved.

9) Sonic The Hedgehog (Jeff Fowler) & Bad Trip (Kitao Sakurai)—Two road trips with plenty of commonalities, both were charming comedies with one straight man and a wild man (or wild hedgehog) getting themselves into wacky situations and along the way, revealing the kind nature of people. Both films also had great post credit sequences. And I can’t remember the last time I saw Jim Carrey this engaged in a performance, he was a delight.

8) Crazy World (Nabwana I.G.G.)—I saw this early into the pandemic, when TIFF made a bunch of titles, old and new, play on YouTube for about a week. I didn’t manage to catch a lot of them, still bummed I missed Ticket of No Return. Anyway, I was glad to catch this, an earnest delight, clearly made on a low budget but full of inventiveness and passion.

7) The Sound of Metal (Darius Marder)—This was an assured debut with one flaw I couldn’t get past. I really wish the film had the strength of its convictions to consistently show what Reuben’s hearing loss was like, and occasionally show what the world sounds like to outsiders, instead of the other way around. Other than that, Marder shows great control of mood and atmosphere, keeping the non-diegetic music to a minimum, and getting great performances out of a mostly nonprofessional cast, and Riz Ahmed is excellent as always, I wouldn’t be mad if he won an Oscar.

6)Tommaso/ Siberia / Sportin’ Life (Abel Ferarra)—Abel Ferrara probably didn’t intend to make a nesting triptych, but circumstances of this year has made it so. Tommaso and Siberia were meant to be a diptych, as the character Tommaso is writing and conceptualizing Siberia. Sportin’ Life covers the premiere of Siberia at the Berlin Film festival, peppered with clips from his previous work, musical performances, sound bites from press junkets and conferences, and oh yeah, a pandemic broke out right after, so Ferrara includes clips from the news, and the protests and riots from BLM. Watching it at the end of 2020, it feels like a summation of the year. It’s strange now to see footage of crowds who aren’t socially distanced, even the notion of seeing live music now seems so alien. And the image Ferrara chooses to end Sportin’ Life with sums up his and many others’ rage at the year that was. Sportin’ Life cannot be seen without the previous two films, or even some context of Ferrara’s career—none of the clips from his own work are identified, and, strangely enough, look like they were recorded from a tv screen. I do enjoy Abel’s journey inward, and having Willem DaFriend in tow as his surrogate. Siberia really stayed with me, and I feel of the three, it’s the one I will revisit again.

5) Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)—This is one that I really wish I could have seen in the theater. Eliza Hittman makes films that are immersive and tactile, giving you a sense of place and experience through careful choice of image and sound. Her films are often heartbreaking, and this is no exception. The scene from which the film takes its title is devastating.

4) Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg)—A film that I did not expect to hit me like it did. I’ve never had the taste for alcohol, but I have had close friends who have been alcoholics, so I’ve seen how it has ruined their lives. Vinterberg has a bombastic opening then he scales back, the film becomes quiet and almost passive like its lead character, only gradually gaining power as the stakes are raised in the drinking experiments he embarks with his friends, with really creative use of onscreen text. I haven’t seen a Vinterberg movie since It’s All About Love (one I’d like to revisit), so does this constitute a return to form? It certainly feels like a jumping off point for another movie that’s as engaged as this one. The ending was cathartic.

3) DAU (Ilya Khrzhanovsky)—For scale and ambition alone, this deserves a spot on this list. Stories about it have been infamous/legendary, a filmmaker attempted a real Synecdoche, New York. It raised a lot of questions, and even now with the films available to be seen to stream, it still remains a mystery how they were able to pull this off. The timing of the release after the pandemic gave people enough time to watch the films, and gradually parsed them over the subsequent weeks. This mysteriously stopped halfway through, so there’s still a handful of DAU films that haven’t been seen. I’ve only seen the first two releases, Natasha and Degeneration, so I can only speak to those two. Natasha was a surprisingly low key opener, sticking mainly to three locations, only teasing us with the larger world outside. I was also surprised that Khrzhanovsky was closer to Cassavetes than any of his Russian contemporaries, he really allows the scenes to play out, initially with harmless jabs, then eventually escalating to interrogation with torture. It doesn’t quite set the table for the 6 hour Degeneration, which was hard to watch in the sense of knowing that you will be spending a lot of the film’s running time with truly evil men, whose thoughts eventually manifest into violence. The whole time I was watching, I never checked the time or paused to see how far along I was, that’s how well Khrzhanovsky handled time passing: I was firmly immersed in the world.

There is a clear moment when the film turns—it’s after innocent young men leave, and are replaced by skinheads, one of whom, Maxim, is a Neo Nazi in real life. Google him after seeing this and it seems like a continuation of his characters’ fate. That is another question the DAU films bring up—how much of a character are the participants playing? And how were the sexual engagements done? Was the set up like reality tv? Regardless, Khrzhanovsky has pulled off a coup. Even if it was a spectacular failure, I would still be more intrigued by it than an adequate, risk averse film.

2) Lúa vermella (Lois Patiño)—GigaChad and Über-talented, Lois Patiño does it again. Sometimes life just isn’t fair. I’ve admired his work since seeing Mountain in Shadow almost a decade ago, and it’s been beautiful to see his work develop and expand. There is some narrative here, but I didn’t try too hard to keep up or interpret what was going on, as soon as I saw the flicker like a dying bulb, I gave myself completely to the film, and enjoyed the experience. Patiño has a way of shooting and framing that makes tangible images feel unfamiliar, each frame felt like something new. This was what The Wandering Mare was trying to do, but lacked this clarity of vision.

1) TreeTV (Marty Schousboe & Joe Pera?) & Redoubt (Matthew Barney)

Relaxing Old Footage with Joe Pera was a near perfect film, it has a natural end, and Joe Pera even acknowledges it, but then it keeps going and overstays its welcome. The best thing to come from it was the gag about TreeTV, which I’m glad they actually followed through in making, because it was exactly the thing I didn’t know I needed to see. It is 5 hours of footage of trees, so relaxing, only accompanied by ambient music; as much as I like Joe Pera’s narration, it wasn’t needed here. I feel it’s apt that since we watched the majority of movies in 2020 on our home screens, TreeTV was my favorite thing I saw. Hey, if people back in 2017 put Twin Peaks: The Return as their favorite movie, I put TreeTV as mine in 2020.

And fuck it, let me pair Redoubt with it, another mostly ambient, and wordless film. Matthew Barney has been opposed to his work not being seen in the cinema, and I was fortunate enough to see the entire Cremaster Cycle and River of Fundament in theaters as special engagements, and I was glad Redoubt was given a proper release in a regular movie theater. I’ve already given the context to the screening above, and not many people were fortunate enough to actually see one of their favorite movies in 2020 on a movie screen. It is now my favorite Matthew Barney film, it shows how much he’s grown as an artist who uses film as one of his mediums. There’s not as much cosplay here as his previous work, and the quiet moments don’t feel as empty as they sometimes do in his other films.

My two favorite films of 2020 do what I wish more films would do: less talking, and more visual exploration.

As an appendix to my list, I also wanted to include Old Films seen for the first time, these films are now some of my favorites, and unlike most of my 2020 list, I’m pretty sure I look forward to revisiting these films for years to come. Some quick takes: Street had made it to my best of the decade list that Marcus asked me to contribute to Pinnland Empire, but for years I was only going by a 20 min excerpt on youtube. One of the silver linings of the pandemic was that there were several free virtual screenings, and that finally gave me the opportunity to see Street in its 61min entirety, and it’s now one of my all time favorite films.

Wonderful Ice Cream Suit was indirectly recommended to me by John Cribbs, and it’s a crime that Disney buried it on its release and it’s not available on Disney+. I had to seek out a DVD copy of it, and it’s a delight, a wonderful tribute to a neighborhood in LA that’s now rapidly changing: Boyle Heights. Streets of Fire is often considered the start of Walter Hill’s decline, but I was pleasantly surprised that it’s still one of his stronger films. It’s definitely a kindred spirit to The Warriors, and yet another addition to the great movie year that was 1984. I want to thank Patrick Horvath for putting me on to Season of Monsters, it’s a great film that makes use of long takes, I might even say Jancsó does long takes better than Bela Tarr (who coincidentally makes an appearance in this). And finally, I'm really glad that Frank and Eleanor Perry are getting a lot of love recently, it’s well deserved. It started with The Swimmer, and more recently, Diary of a Mad Housewife finally received a Blu-ray release. Play It As It Lays is my favorite movie I’ve seen from them, it perfectly captures the floating ennui of driving through LA.

Street (James Nares, 2011)

Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (Stuart Gordon, 1998)

Streets of Fire (Walter Hill, 1984)

Snack and Drink (Bob Sabiston, 2000)

The Landlord (Hal Ashby 1970)

Wrong (Quentin Dupieux, 2012)

Season of Monsters (Miklós Jancsó, 1987)

Rubin & Ed (Trent Harris, 1991)

Targets (Peter Bogdonavich, 1968)

Play It as It Lays (1972) & Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970) (Frank Perry)

Spiral Jetty (Robert Smithson, 1970)

U.S. Go Home (Claire Denis, 1994)

Monkey Business (Norman Z. McLeod, Marx Bros., 1931)

Thanks again, Marcus, for letting me share my favorite films of the year, and I’m glad you and Scott made it through a difficult year. There’s already plenty to look forward to in 2021, see you next year!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...