Top Film of September 2018 – Burning (Lee, 2018)

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Lee Chang-dong confirms early in the run of his 2018 film Burning that we are finally seeing the Haruki Murakami adaptation that realizes, with a camera fixating on a perspective that could only belong to the reticent Murakami male-lead, the renowned author’s amalgamation of the fantastically elusive and graciously mundane. The familiar dead-end threads embedded within his storytelling are present, but what’s triumphant is is the efficient imagery of a mental state that looks at everything but the surface, echoing a prose more eager to exist in the headspace of a moment than it is to tie a bow. In the quintessential Murakami sequence, a moment of imperturbable desire ensues. Lee’s camera cares little for the assumed. Rather, it’s the ephemeral instance of circumstances beyond the protagonist’s understanding, fixating on a detail that, in other minds, would be forgotten within the second. It’s the cinematic logic that accordingly sets the expectations for a mystery that really shouldn’t be a mystery.

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45th Telluride Film Festival – Cold War, Wernor Herzog, and Being Mistaken for David Lowery

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A weekend I never imagined living, my time at the 45th Telluride Film Festival is now the window that is prominently clouded with rose-tinted glasses. Having never attended a film festival of this caliber, the concept of indulging in a slew of quality films over the course of four days while frequenting a crowd of cinephiles with likeminded interests was an endeavor I had trouble maintaining any handling of. Each day, beginning with our morning 7 A.M. discussions, was overwhelming with familiar faces, an enticing notion of letting those heavy eye-lids close during one of the four screenings, Q&As with Ken Burns and Wernor Herzog, channeling Larry David by telling people not all bald people look alike, and coffee-fueled discussions with fellow students over the merits of our recent theatrical experience.

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Top Film of August 2018 – Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (Tati, 1953)

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Jacques Tati’s 1949 debut feature Jour De Fête used the idyllic small-town vibe of France and disheveled it with a travelling circus that yielded cumbersome results from those accustomed to a model of modest life. The townsfolk are established from their various trades and residences, introduced from both a respective idiosyncratic quirk and a reaction to this intrusive manufactured design. The key figure to migrate within their little lives for the use of an elaborately conceived cinematic gag is François (played by Tati himself), a mailman whose vehicle of choice is a bicycle with the quaintness of the cobblestone street it zips through. This schematic design would go onto be the creative template for Tati as a filmmaker and an actor. Set pieces would become more resourceful for the detail of a gag, the sense of location would become more astutely realized by the varying characters that inhabit them, and the tall, gangly stature of Tati, who would go onto play a four-time reoccurring pipe-wielding fellow known as Monsiuer Hulot, would be the protagonist to dichotomize the socially embedded culture within the elaborately luxurious locations.

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Top Discovery of July 2018 – Mission Impossible: Fallout (McQuarrie, 2018)

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In his second outing with the IMF, Christopher McQuarrie does everything needed in order for Mission Impossible: Fallout, the sixth entry in this twenty-plus year cinematic franchise, to maintain its high wire act from beginning to end. Its plot, which has been needlessly convoluted in prior installments to a point of annoyance, is concocted at the basest level in order to deliver a succession of what this series has always excelled in: the set piece. It reduces connective tissue between each piece for the necessary expository elements and character interactions in order to thrust us back into its globe-hopping template that conceives one astonishing, bravura performance of movement after another, allowing the series to achieve a first, of which there are several: each set piece is subsequently topped, not from the realized scope, but the breathless execution of a slew of moving parts McQuarrie has allowed for himself that can make a chase on foot more of a visceral experience than a 25,000 foot HALO jump.

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Top Discovery of June 2018 – Fury (Lang, 1936)

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“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” proclaimed Network’s (1976) Howard Beale (Peter Rinch), a quote that inextricably struck the chord with both the fictional crowd of Beale’s world and the post-Vietnam Gerald Ford audiences that flocked to this sensationalist-driven picture. It’s the articulative snippet from Paddy Chayefsky’s piercing script that has remained in the public conscious throughout the subsequent decades, often cited for a relevance that’s more apparent now than before. This appreciation creates a separation in the viewer’s mind by evaluating its own contextual merits while acknowledging that the success of these merits is built around a cynical core that has been brought to the fore in a society that no longer resembles this exaggerated concept. An attitude that can very well be ranked alongside Ace in the Hole (1951), The Caine Mutiny (1954), last month’s highlight, or any other film that examines the morally repugnant social kernel for drama, we treat these pictures as a retrospective for how ahead of their time they were, as if transparency hadn’t already been engrained.

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Top Discovery of May 2018 – Seven Days in May (Frankenheimer, 1964)

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The opening sequence for John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May demonstrates the miscalculation of political dynamic that drives the film’s tyrannical bent. The credits themselves, scrolling over the constitution as the forceful, patriotic beat of Jerry Goldsmith’s score takes hold, is overwhelmingly precise with its patriotism, articulating this bind on the people that will subsequently be thwarted as the story unfolds in this post-nuclear age that has allowed a subset of ideas to be embedded, no matter the boundaries, allegiances or moral consequences.  Outside of the integral establishment that supposedly embodies this document are protestors proclaiming their right, lashing out against President’s Lyman’s (Frederic Marc) recent signed treaty with the Soviet Union by marching in drab, expressionless fashion where intent is only known from picket fences. Frankenheimer’s camera is detached, slightly shaky at a lower angle that suggests a control that is at odds with demeanor. Exploding within the second, this guerilla characteristic aligns with the crowd’s breaking point. The spatial relation is haphazard with disorienting perspectives, from the back of a bystander’s head (jarringly establishing a motif that operates as a plea for personal control) to the array of feet as they try to hold ground within uncontrolled chaos.

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Top Discovery of April 2018 – You Were Never Really Here (Ramsay, 2018)

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The knee-jerk reaction for Lynne Ramsay’s latest feature, You Were Never Really Here, is to grab onto its ‘70s American bones and single out Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver as its obvious antecedent. Its commonality of story, a lone man, plagued by PTSD, stumbles towards a personal trajectory that’s both reprehensible and intelligible with its actions, is clearly justified through its surface. But this comparison bears little resemblance through the contextual roots springing from the respective auteurs. Scorsese’s film felt like a landmark of realization; a character piece driven by the inner-musings of an exact climate, firmly in place by an aesthetic that had yet to be refined. Ramsay’s poetic sensibility has been apparent from the onset, even in her first short, Small Deaths, and what makes her work fascinating is that this progression is a shift of what had been assembled; each subsequent film doesn’t necessarily broaden the craft but relate it to content in a way that makes this familiarity feel like a breath of fresh air.

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