The Seattle Screen Scene Top 100 Films of All-Time Project

When the new Sight & Sound poll came out in 2012, Mike and I each came up with hypothetical Top Tens of our own. For the next few years, we came up with an entirely new Top Ten on our podcast, The George Sanders Show, every year around Labor Day. The podcast has ended, but the project continues here at Seattle Screen Scene.

The idea was that we would keep doing this until the next poll comes out in 2022, by which time we would each have a Top 100 list (well, 98 for Mike because he had a couple of repeats one year). That time is now. Here are our final Top Tens of the project. At letterboxd you can find our complete individual lists, as well as our joint Top 198.

Here are Mike’s Top Ten Films of All-Time for 2021:

1. The Quiet Man (John Ford, 1952)

2. The Smallest Show on Earth (Basil Dearden, 1957)

3. Private Property (Leslie Stevens, 1960)

4. That Man from Rio (Philippe de Broca, 1964)

5. Uptight (Jules Dassin, 1968)

6. Dilwale Dulhania La Jayenge (Aditya Chopra, 1995)

7. Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2002)

8. Sparrow (Johnnie To, 2008)

9. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (Declan Lowney, 2013)

10. The History of the Seattle Mariners (Jon Bois, 2020)

And here are Sean’s Top Ten Films of All-Time for 2021:

1. Hellzapoppin’ (HC Potter, 1941)

2. Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959)

3. Duvidha (Mani Kaul, 1973)

4. Renaldo & Clara (Bob Dylan, 1978)

5. His Motorbike, Her Island (Obayashi Nobuhiko, 1986)

6. Slacker (Richard Linklater, 1990)

7. Ballet (Frederick Wiseman, 1995)

8. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang, 2003)

9. Throw Down (Johnnie To, 2004)

10. Claire’s Camera (Hong Sangsoo, 2017)

The Seattle Screen Scene Top 100 Films of All-Time Project

When the new Sight & Sound poll came out in 2012, Mike and I each came up with hypothetical Top Tens of our own. For the next few years, we came up with an entirely new Top Ten on our podcast, The George Sanders Show, every year around Labor Day. The podcast has ended, but the project continues here at Seattle Screen Scene.

The idea is that we keep doing this until the next poll comes out in 2022, by which time we’ll each have a Top 100 list. Well, I will. Mike will have only 98 because he repeated two from his 2012 list on the 2013 one.

Here are Mike’s Top Ten Films of All-Time for 2020:

To-Be-or-Not-to-Be

1. To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)

tokyostory

2. Tokyo Story (Yasujirō Ozu, 1953)

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3. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (Roy Rowland, 1953)

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4. Shree 420 (Raj Kapoor, 1955)

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5. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)

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6. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, 1975)

raging bull

7. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)

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8. Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan, 2007)

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9. The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, 2009)

Master

10. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)

And here are Sean’s Top Ten Films of All-Time for 2020:

1. The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)

2. Mughal-e-azam (K. Asif, 1960)

3. Yearning (Naruse Mikio, 1964)

4. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Bill Melendez, 1966)

5. Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968)

6. The Terrorizers (Edward Yang, 1986)

7. Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan, 2007)

8. Dusty Stacks of Mom (Jodie Mack, 2013)

9. The Midnight After (Fruit Chan, 2014)

10. Liz and the Blue Bird (Yamada Naoko, 2018)

2019 in Review

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As I did last year, I asked the team here at Seattle Screen Scene to send in their favorites of the past year. They could be anything: movies, books, music, non-entertainment related thing, whatever. They could be from 2019, or from the past decade. No rules. This is what they said:

Lawrence Garcia:

Top 10 of 2019 (by world premiere):

1. To the Ends of the Earth (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
2. Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello)
3. A Voluntary Year (Ulrich Köhler & Henner Winckler)
4. A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick)
5. I Was at Home, But… (Angela Schanelec)
6. The Young Ahmed (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
7. The Traitor (Marco Bellocchio)
8. Tommaso (Abel Ferrara)
9. Belonging (Burak Çevik)
10. Synonyms (Nadav Lapid)

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Sean Gilman:

1. Kyoto Animation

I was of course quite taken with Naoko Yamada’s Liz and the Blue Bird last year, and had begun watching KyoAni’s unclassifiable series Nichijou, but after the devastating fire that rocked Kyoto Animation’s studio this year, I spent some serious time catching up with their work, and nothing I watched in 2019 made me happier. Sound Euphonium!, the series from which Liz and the Blue Bird spun off, is as gorgeous as anything Makoto Shinkai has done, but with a depth of feeling and character that belies its teen drama trappings. The earlier series K-On! is more fun, more cartoonish, but ultimately just as rewarding., and even more dedicated to the purity of being a show about nothing. These series, along with Liz and Yamada’s 2016 film A Silent Voice, had me seeing echoes of the slice-of-life anime genre everywhere: from more obvious antecedents like Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Linda Linda Linda to two of my favorites from this year’s VIFF: Mikhaël Hers’s Amanda and Dan Sallitt’s Fourteen, even in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. In the 2003 documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore, the genius writer and wizard predicted that thanks to exponentially increasing information, right around 2015 our culture would reach its boiling point and turn to steam. I think he’s undeniably been proven correct, and these films and shows, grounded in the minutiae of interpersonal experience, are the only antidote I’ve found to the speed and weightlessness of the present.

2. Chinese Movies

A perennial entry on my list of course, at least for the past six years. Most of my movie-watching this year was project-related: an obituary for Ringo Lam, a big piece on Jia Zhangke, a complete run through the work of Fruit Chan and partial dives into the filmographies of Ann Hui and Herman Yau. Seems like I spent the first quarter of the year on Jia, as the initial essay led to a lecture and a comprehensive look at his use of pop music, and then multiple podcasts where I talked at length about Ash is Purest White. But on the whole, this year’s Chinese films have been disappointing, whether because 2018 was such a good year, or as a result of the censorship and political concerns that have split Chinese-language film into multiple, mutually-hostile camps. Increasingly dispirited, I realized a couple of weeks ago that I hadn’t watched a Johnnie To film all year. None since April of 2018 in fact. But with a rewatch of Romancing in Thin Air (his best film of the decade) and an initial viewing of his surprise 2019 film Chasing Dream (dropped mere weeks after rumors of his retirement traversed the twitterverse), I’m feeling a bit better.

3. Star Wars

Well, until I think about Rise of Skywalker that is. I’d like to think that its failure can be agreed to be the nadir of the Disneyfied blockbuster era. That in the future we’ll be getting more idiosyncratic works out of the properties the corporate behemoth mined from my childhood faves. The Mandalorian is cool, and some of the Star Wars comics are pretty great (Doctor Aphra!). Rewatches of Clone Wars, RebelsRogue One, and The Last Jedi have confirmed that is possible to produce good, distinctive work under the Disney umbrella. But I also watched all of the MCU movies this year, and while I’ve now developed a grudging liking for most of them, they have yet to produce anything as good. And if the MCU is the Star Wars model moving forward. . . whelp. I’ll just be retreating a couple of decades into the EU books in the new year, I guess.

4. Reading Books

Speaking of books, I finally finished Robert Caro’s The Power Broker and it is magnificent. I loved it so much that I immediately started reading his LBJ series, knowing that it’ll probably take me most of the 2020s to finish it. I don’t care, it’s great. My chronological read-though of Agatha Christie continued, with some of the best and some of the worst books I read this year. I also read a bunch of Eliot Weinberger (the best) and continued to hack away at Against the Day and Middlemarch (both great) and even started another couple massive, but delightful, book projects (Ducks, Newburyport and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy). I finally caught up with some standout comics from the past: the first two volumes of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. My chronological read through of Marvel Comics continues apace as well: most of it is bad, but the Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange, and The Amazing Spider-Man are generally really good, and Jim Steranko’s run on Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD is the first thing to really break with the Lee/Kirby model and take the superhero comic somewhere new and weird.

5. The Beacon Cinema

The most exciting thing to happen to the Seattle screen scene in 2019 was the opening of the Beacon. I only made it there opening weekend, but checking the listings every week always sparks the kind of joy that’s been missing around here for a long time. And those shows I did see were the best non-VIFF theatrical experiences I had all year: the opening night show of Gold Diggers of 1933 (sweltering hot because they hadn’t figured out the AC yet, but no one cared) and the following day’s quadruple feature of City Lights, To Be or Not To Be, Speed Racer, and Buddha’s Palm. Nothing in 2019 made me like movies more.

6. Free Time

Maybe it’s just that Award Season has me down. It’s the time of year when I feel obligated to watch a bunch of movies I’m not really interested in, just so I can have a say in what people are calling the best of the year. It’s very dumb. But looking back at the movies I watched this year, almost all of them were related to some kind of writing project. A lot of those were very good, of course, but right now I’m really treasuring the movies I watched for no reason at all. Desperately Seeking Susan, for example. Or the Kyoto Animation stuff. The slasher movies I caught up with at Halloween: the Slumber Party Massacres and the first two Halloween sequels. Watching Shaolin vs. Lama dubbed just because RZA mentioned it in a video. Even capping off my MCU binge with Howard the Duck was an absolute blast. I’m increasingly ambivalent about the whole writing about movies thing, about turning what used to be my hobby into (almost completely) unpaid work. Watching things without a deadline, for no reason other than that it’s there and it looks interesting, should be the goal, right?

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Jhon Hernandez:

Not a very strong year of movies for me. Didn’t see much, and didn’t love much of what I saw. The list includes new films, and also the best old films I saw this year.

A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick)
Richard Jewell (Clint Eastwood)
The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)
Ad Astra (James Gray)
Little (Tina Gordon Chism)

A Day in the Country (Jean Renoir)
Set It Off (F. Gary Gray)
Bamboozled (Spike Lee)
Lo Zebu e la Stella (Franco Piavoli)

Hope 2020 is better!

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Sue Lonac:

Sue’s Top Ten Films of the Decade

1. Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins, 2016): The most beautiful and moving film of the decade, Moonlight also featured some high-risk experimental moves that paid off handsomely. It turned mistakes into integral structural elements, cast three actors who look nothing alike as the same character, and expertly fused indelible moments of reality (like Mahershala Ali’s actually teaching Alex R. Hibbert how to swim) into the fictional world. A masterpiece.

2. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, 2018): Utterly brilliant, vibrantly imaginative, totally hilarious. John Mulaney should have won an Oscar for his sassy turn as Peter Porker/Spider-Ham.

3. Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik, 2018): This intensely suspenseful and profoundly affecting drama is a close-up depiction of a young woman’s mastery of survival skills and her simultaneous painful individuation from her father. Not one false step for the length of the film.

4. What We Do in the Shadows (dir. Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, 2014): This vampire-mockumentary is the funniest film ever made.

5. Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller, 2015): The guitar is also a flame-thrower.

6. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele, 2017): Jordan Peele’s “elevated horror” film is both a completely terrifying thriller and an incisive, illuminating comment on the emotional experience of being marginalized and never truly safe. Absolutely original.

7. Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho, 2019): Not as bonkers as Snowpiercer, less brittle than Okja, Bong Joon-ho’s latest exposes the deep cruelties of class inequity with real feeling but no sentimentalism. The film is tragic, hilarious, stylish, and resolutely unflinching in its look at human ugliness and human frailty.

8. Selma (dir. Ava DuVernay, 2014): This film had one of the most thrilling climaxes of the decade in the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s soaring speech at the courthouse. The film is even more remarkable given that DuVernay had to write all the speeches herself because Steven Spielberg refused to give up the film rights to King’s real speeches. Somehow, she caught the tone, the rhythms, and the distinctive verbal finesse of the real King’s writing perfectly. For his part, Oyelowo caught all the cadences of the real man’s voice exactly without ever descending into impressionism. A triumph.

9. Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 2013): The expertly managed suspense of this film was secondary to its delicate depiction of a woman’s fear, bravery, loneliness, strength, and resourcefulness. Cuarón created a work of great psychological realism that rises to the level of myth by its last, profoundly resonant frames.

10. Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig, 2019): Simply lovely.

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Evan Morgan:

10 for 2019

After putting together multiple Best of the Decade ballots and enduring countless year-end roll calls, I cannot abide another rank ordered catalog of movies, so I’m taking Sean’s open-ended invitation to heart this year and offering a few non-cinematic favorites, chaotically organized. Admittedly, because I am a captive who loves his captor, there are still some films and filmmakers included in this personal sampler platter (please, let’s not call it a list) though it does seem that, with each passing year, literature and music conquer more and more of the mental space that I once greedily stored away for the seventh art. If there was simply less room in my head this year for cinema, well, that was probably for the best. We could all stand to watch a few fewer movies. Then again, I’ve been offered the key that unlocks this dark little room once or twice before, and each time, without fail, I stay put, right where I am.

The Fiction of David Stacton

My regular rendezvous with novelist, historian, poet, and all-time great gay David Derek Stacton were, without doubt, the most rewarding that I had this year. His fiction encompasses an incredible range of topics, periods, and experiences (a small sample: the doomed life of Giovanna d’Aragona, Duchess of Amalfi; Akhetaton’s failed attempts to remake Egyptian state religion; a sexual roundelay at an international film festival circa 1962) but they are united by Stacton’s unusual voice, which is wisecracking and aphoristic, and by the melancholy emotions that they inspire, which Stacton conjures up despite his work’s obvious literary “flaws.” Stacton’s characters are described with cutting wit, but they are stubbornly theoretical; his narratives lurch forward without much development; everything is subordinate to a good turn of phrase. And yet, somehow, each Stacton novel gives birth to a universe—and then, brutally, one epigram at a time, snatches it away. “Not that there will not be a new world, but this is the end of ours. And being selfish, we are concerned with that.” There is also, for a particular kind of reader, the unexpected inkling of recognition: I would challenge anyone of the other persuasion to read a Stacton novel (preferably one that lacks obviously queer content, of which there are many) and not to experience some shock of the familiar. Stacton’s people may often be kings and sovereigns, men who rule over vast swaths of land and who command the most prized levers of power, but they are closeted fantasists all. They thirst after precisely that which society says they cannot have, and, being subject always to the laws of sociological circumstance (for who is the ultimate subject of a society if not its ruler?), they remain forever behind a mask. Their only true dominion is a borderless empire of solitude.

Jean-François Stévenin, in front of the camera, yes, but—more importantly—behind it.

Monsieur singulier

The Cinema of Patricia Mazuy

Gone to earth!

Titanic Rising

No other work of art from 2019 offered me so much comfort amid the general doom. Music for drowning people.

Crying with Mikhaël Hers

I included Amanda on Seattle Screen Scene’s 2018 round-up, so, even if I had some minor reservations, the film clearly clicked for me on a first viewing. It took a revisit this year, however, for me to understand just how deeply it had penetrated my heart. (I wept thrice.) Encountering Hers’s earlier work was crucial: in classic auteurist fashion, I can now list a dozen ideas and images that recur throughout his oeuvre, most of which reach their zenith in Amanda. But I won’t, because if I’m being honest, what really matters to me is that I got to savor the sweet taste of validation. A pet theory is—by my lights, anyways—confirmed: namely, that despite a certain straightness of approach, Hers’s films belong, indisputably, to the Diagonale lineage. Like Paul Vecchiali, Jean-Claude Guiguet, and Marie-Claude Treilhou (whose first film, Simone Barbes or Virtue, gets a cameo in Montparnasse), Hers believes—with a conviction unparalleled in contemporary cinema—that tears are a gift.

Eating with Joseph Wechsberg

Life (and history and culture) is meals.

Black Wings Has My Angel

I do not believe in “Lynchian” as an adjective to describe works made by anyone other than The Man from Another Place, but for once I’m tempted to use it. A complete cosmology of American desire.

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An infinite mansion is best explored with friends.

A King Alone

Who is it who said, “A king without diversion is a man full of wretchedness?”

Japan’s “Lost Decade”

The 1980s get a bad rap among Japanese film critics. Numerous theses abound, some more compelling than others, but I sense that the implicit idea is, essentially, a version of that old saw about economic prosperity and aesthetic ambition: good times produce bad art. An obvious if undefeatable fallacy, so I won’t bother with a full-throated rebuttal. I’ll just assume, with utmost generosity, that the scholars have simply been watching the wrong movies: this so called “Lost Decade” bears fruit as bountifully as any of the more cherished periods of Japanese film history. Personal favorite Nobuhiko Obayashi had his greatest run from ‘82-’86; Seijun Suzuki returned from television exile with the Taisho Trilogy; Kiyoshi Kurosawa made his debut with a superior screwball porno. And those are the big names. I keep running across little curios that suggest rich veins yet to be mined. There’s Yokohama BJ Blues, for example, a jazzy noir about a singer who moonlights as a P.I. and who—between torchlit performances of ditties that describe too much drinking and too much Hemingway—investigates Yokohama’s gay crime syndicate; or The Lonely Hearts Club Band in September, a biker movie in which a middle-aged, middle-class salaryman exacts violent revenge on a gang of young cruisers. Their crime? Choosing to ride their own road while society barrels forward in a different direction. If, strapped in with the culture at large, we fail to glimpse them as we zoom on by, if we continue to survey cinema from its empty, homogenized center, rather than from its shabbier margins, that’s on us, not the movies.

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Ryan Swen:

Top 10 2019 Double Features

2019 was an unusually great year for film, both in terms of US releases and in my viewing of new-to-me films. In commemoration of this, I’ve decided to steal Mubi’s annual “Fantasy Double Features” idea (which three fellow Seattle Screen Scene writers have contributed to) and list my 2019 top ten along with ten of my favorite first watches. Most of these are fairly obvious picks, but they’re all eminently great films.

1. La Flor (Mariano Llinás)/Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974, Jacques Rivette)

Two sprawling films co-conceived by their directors and four actresses, openly engaging with the limitless potential of storytelling, viewership, and cinema, exploding barriers one indelible moment and flight of fancy at a time.

2. Asako I & II (Ryüsuke Hamaguchi)/Syndromes and a Century (2006, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

Sure, there’s the bipartite construction of each film, but registering even more strongly is the subtle interplay between the city and the countryside in each, and how they inform and shape the sense of romance on display. Their senses of rapture resonate together, even if one’s height is at the beginning and the other’s at the close.

3. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan)/India Song (1975, Marguerite Duras)

Two of the most intoxicating atmospheres put to film, using a surfeit of formal daring and judiciously deployed star presence to encapsulate worlds and histories of longing and loss.

4. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)/Stray Dogs (2013, Tsai Ming-liang)

Decay of the body, the landscape, and the nation, captured in a way only digital technology and the talents of some of the most masterful directors and actors alive can do.

5. Transit (Christian Petzold)/The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933, Fritz Lang)

Two Germanic masters operating at the height of their powers, daringly depicting the fascist forces thriving under strife and unrest and the romantic agents desperately trying to resist and survive.

6. Ash Is Purest White (Jia Zhangke)/A City of Sadness (1989, Hou Hsiao-hsien)

Two of the greatest modern directors cast a glance back at the weight of national change, locating unrest in the quotidian and in the absences that accumulate as the years go by.

7. Grass (Hong Sang-soo)/Certified Copy (2010, Abbas Kiarostami)

Some of the most elusive films by enormously elusive filmmakers, utilizing familiar forms and actors in entirely unfamiliar and emotionally/relationally revelatory ways.

8. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)/Mahjong (1996, Edward Yang)

In a certain sense Bong’s airtight constructions and Yang’s freewheeling approach are at odds, but both capture the hustle and disappointments of capitalism, the transactional nature of interpersonal interactions.

9. High Life (Claire Denis)/The End of Evangelion (1997, Hideaki Anno)

This really should include the entirety of Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the most significant experiences I had with any media object this year; these are works moving between coldness and viscera, anguish and remove, operating with frightening range and abandon.

10. Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry)/The Mother and the Whore (1973, Jean Eustache)

Though one of Perry’s earlier films would be an even better fit; there’s no redemption for Eustache’s characters, just a sense of total exhaustion. But there’s plenty of that in Perry’s latest, as maximalist and overtly sensorial as Eustache’s approach is minimalist and documentarian.

Pather Panchali (1955 India)
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Shown: Subir Bannerjee

Melissa Tamminga:

In the midst of 2019 year-end (and decade-end) lists, I find myself reflecting more on viewing experiences, often viewing experiences I’ve shared with others, more than specific 2019 films I loved. It’s the moments of film-related insight, or inspiration, or emotion, and, especially, personal connection, I think, that will keep me going this new year, in a world that feels increasingly lost and chaotic, in need of beauty and of reminders of humanity.

In no particular order, just a few of these moments:

–Re-watching Pather Panchali and seeing and feeling, as I hadn’t before, the heartbreaking beauty contained in waterbugs and wind-whipped lily pads, a world contained in a series of images and feeling again that thing, that knowledge you can’t know but you have to feel, the thing that is cinema

–The rapturous reception of Godard’s Breathless by one particular film history student — though an avid and voracious consumer of film, she’d never seen anything like Breathless and her joy in it, whatever my jaded reflections on the New Wave, particularly with regard to women, reminded me what is so invigorating about the New Wave, perhaps particularly to youthful film lovers

–Watching The Florida Project with a group of students who’d never seen it nor heard of it but, as a group, were more moved by it than by any film I’ve ever shown to a class, and who managed to sweep away any reservations I had about the film myself; their wide-ranging discussion afterwards about social justice and the need for marginalized perspectives, reminded me just how provocative a medium film is and how grateful I am for it

–Discussing If Beale Street Could Talk with a student who was doing an independent study and landing in our discussion on the point in the film where the camera seems to hold its breath, where it stops time, contains an overwhelming emotion that cannot be done with words — in remembering the scene together, all we could do was look at each other and say nothing for a long moment

–After a screening of Stories We Tell, one student walking up to me in tears, so moved was she by the film, and then we both just cried together

–Watching Wadjda with my 10-year old, who loved the way Wadjda colored her shoes with a black marker, a moment of two girls and a simple, shared humanity

–The stillness of the rapt silence when my film history students watched Killer of Sheep and the way they struggled to articulate themselves about what they’d seen and been so moved by afterwards

–Watching Eighth Grade with my teen daughters and seeing the way film can reach across distances and bring validation and healing in ways that perhaps no other medium can do

–My daughters all falling in love with Agnès Varda while watching Faces Places

–Experiencing, yet again, the truth that film moves others in ways it does not always move me, in this case, after years of earnestly trying to get my daughters to love the Star Wars universe as I do, it was, ironically, the deeply flawed Rise of Skywalker (and, let’s face it, the hot blood of the Kylo Ren and Rey dynamic) that finally got them to see the light, and, at their bidding, we’ve re-watched the original Star Wars films as a family, and now they are pretending they’ve always loved the series

VIFF 2019 Index

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Here is an Index of our coverage of the 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Sean Gilman:

The Wild Goose Lake (Diao Yinan)
The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers)
The Shadow Play (Lou Ye)
PreviewWhite Snake, White Lie and Hard-Core

Evan Morgan:

Minding the Gaps: An Interview with Dan Sallitt
PreviewBlood Quantum, A Hidden Life, It Must Be Heaven, Parasite, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Synonyms, Vitalina Varela, and The Wild Goose Lake.

Sue Lonac:

And Then We Danced (Levan Akin)

Lawrence Garcia:

Amanda (Mikhaël Hers)
Atlantics, The Laundromat, Jeanne, I Was at Home, But…, Beanpole, Pain and Glory
PreviewA Hidden Life, Krabi 2562, Marriage Story, and The Twentieth Century.

Melissa Tamminga:

Young Ahmed (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
Parasite (Bong Joonho)

Sean, Evan, Lawrence and Melissa:

The Frances Farmer Show #21 – VIFF 2019Amanda, Wet Season, I Was at Home, But. . ., Fourteen, The Whistlers, Parasite, Young Ahmed, and A Hidden Life.

The Seattle Screen Scene Top 100 Films of All-Time Project

When the new Sight & Sound poll came out in 2012, Mike and I each came up with hypothetical Top Tens of our own. For the next few years, we came up with an entirely new Top Ten on our podcast, The George Sanders Show, every year around Labor Day. The podcast has ended, but the project continues here at Seattle Screen Scene.

The idea is that we keep doing this until the next poll comes out in 2022, by which time we’ll each have a Top 100 list. Well, I will. Mike will have only 98 because he repeated two from his 2012 list on the 2013 one.

Here are Mike’s Top Ten Films of All-Time for 2019:

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1. One Week (Buster Keaton & Edward Cline, 1920)

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2. King Kong (Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933)

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3. Pit Stop (Jack Hill, 1969)

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4. A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971)

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5. The Truth About De-evolution (Chuck Statler, 1976)

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6. Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985)

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7. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

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8. Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)

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9. Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994)

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10. Mad Max Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

 

And here are Sean’s Top Ten Films of All-Time for 2019:

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1. Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu, 1948)

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2. The Quiet Man (John Ford, 1952)

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3. Kiss Me Kate (George Sidney, 1953)

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4. Airplane! (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams & Jerry Zucker, 1980)

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5. Excalibur (John Boorman, 1981)

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6. City on Fire (Ringo Lam, 1987)

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7. Platform (Jia Zhangke, 2000)

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8. Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, 2003)

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9. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)

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10. Baahubali (SS Rajamouli, 2015/2017)

SIFF 2019: Week Three+ Preview

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Heading down the home stretch of this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, here are some titles to watch out for.

The Legend of the Stardust Brothers – An experiment from mid-80s Japanese cinema about a fictional New Wave band. Directed by Macoto Tezuka, the 22 year old son of legendary comic book creator Osamu Tezuka.

Distinction – Jevons Au was one of the five directors who contributed to the controversial Hong Kong omnibus film Ten Years, and one of three directors who made Trivisa, one of the better HK films of recent years, under the Milkway Image umbrella (where he also co-wrote Romancing in Thin Air). This is his solo directorial debut, a social problem drama about a school musical program for kids with disabilities.

Enamorada – Archival presentation of the 1946 Mexican melodrama starring María Félix and Pedro Armendáriz.

Lynch: A History – David Shields’s film about sports, the media, and American racism, compiled entirely from hundreds of archival clips of Seahawks legend Marshawn Lynch, is the essential film of this year’s festival.

I am Cuba – Mikhail Kalatozov’s ground-breaking 1964 Soviet-Cuban propaganda film is quite simply one of the greatest movies ever made. The cinematography (by Sergei Urusevsky) is wildly innovative, but the story itself, an episodic accounting of the social conditions which paved the way for the Cuban Revolution, is just as breath-taking.

One, Two, Three  – One of Billy Wilder’s greatest comedies, featuring one of James Cagney’d finest performances. He plays a Coca-Cola executive in Cold War West Berlin trying cope with his boss’ daughter’s romance with a Beatnik Commie Red while opening the Soviet market to the wonders of profitably fizzy sugar. Possibly the fastest movie ever made.

Go Back to China – Director Emily Ting follows up her amiable light rom-com It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong with this film about a Chinese-American woman who has to go back to China to work at her father’s toy factory. The father is played by Hong Kong comedy icon Richard Ng.

Barbara Rubin & The Exploding NY Underground – Chuck Smith’s documentary about the avant-garde filmmaker and the crazy art world she frequented (Allen Ginsburg, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, etc etc).

I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians – The latest from Romanian director Radu Jude is about a theatre director attempting to stage a show about the massacre of tens of thousands of Jews in Odessa after its capture by Romanian troops in 1941.

House of Hummingbird – SIFF calls it “Eighth Grade in South Korea.” But it’s probably better than that sounds.

The Dead Don’t Die – Jim Jarmusch’s zombie movie opens June 13. SIFF has it slightly earlier.

MEMORY – The Origins of Alien – Documentaries about Alien are always welcome. This one “features a treasure trove of never-before-seen material from the O’Bannon and Giger archives, including original story notes, rejected designs and storyboards, and exclusive behind-the-scenes footage.”

SIFF 2019: Week Two Preview

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Here are some of the movies we’re looking forward too during this second week of the Seattle International Film Festival:

Mrs. Purple – Justin Chon’s debut film Gook was well-received when it played here a couple of years ago, and for his follow-up he continues to explore Korean-American family dynamics, this time with what SIFF suggests is a strong Wong Kar-wai/Christopher Doyle influence.

No. 1 Chung Ying Street – One of my favorite under-the-radar films from last year is this protest drama from Derek Chiu. The first half is set during pro-Cultural Revolution/Anti-British riots in Hong Kong in 1967, the second in the aftermath of the Umbrella protests of 2014. Rather than simply having the two mirror each other, rhyming past and present, Chiu instead configures the present as an extension of the past, where the personal and family dramas of 50 years ago remain unresolved. It’s a clever approach to a familiar subject.

The Bigamist and The Hitch-Hiker – Two Ida Lupino features in SIFF’s archival program, the first is a domestic melodrama starring Lupino, Joan Fontaine and Edmund O’Brien, while the second is a classic film noir, one of the cheap, nasty ones that is tremendously fun.

Cities of Last Things– I don’t know anything about this Taiwanese film, but SIFF says “Three actors portray one tortured Taiwanese police detective in this sci-fi-tinged noir, told in reverse-chronological order, about the significant events that led him down a path of retribution.” Sounds good to me.

In Fabric – Another retro film from Peter Strickland (The Duke of BurgundyBerberian Sound Studio), this one a “fetishistically stylized hommage to giallo that satirizes consumerism as hypnotically as it seduces your senses”

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool – A PBS doc about the great musician and composer that is about as good as these things get. If nothing else, it’s almost two hours of non-stop Miles Davis music.

Non-Fiction – Both Evan and I really dug Olivier Assayas’s comedy about rich people, infidelity, and book publishing when we saw it at VIFF last fall. It’s got Juliette Binoche as an actress in a TV cop show and a bunch of delightfully insufferable French people talking about e-books. It’s the best Woody Allen movie of the past 30 years or so.

SIFF 2019: Week One Preview

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Here are some of the movies we’re looking forward to this first week of the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival:

The Third Wife – The debut feature from Vietnamese director Ash Mayfair has been making the festival rounds to some acclaim. This period drama, about a young girl who gets married off to a wealthy landlord looks to have some Raise the Red Lantern vibes. Could be the second good Vietnamese movie to hit Seattle Screens this year, after Furie.

The Phantom of the Opera – SIFF’s archival program is one of the highlights of this year’s festival, and it kicks off with this silent version of Phantom starring Lon Chaney. I last saw this more than 20 years ago, on Halloween, in a gothic-style Catholic church in Spokane, where it was accompanied by the church organ. It was pretty cool. It plays here at the Egyptian, with a live score by indie band The Invincible Czars.

A Family Tour – Ying Liang’s mostly autobiographical film about a director who is exiled from China after she directed a movie that looks exactly like Ying’s 2012 film When Night Falls, which got him exiled from China. The director hasn’t seen her mother in years, but they arrange a meet-up during a film festival in Taiwan. A quiet, deeply sad movie about the personal consequences of abstract repression.

3 Faces – The latest from Jafar Panahi promises to be a clever bit of meta filmmaking from the Iranian director mostly famous here in the US for continuing to make movies despite being officially banned from doing so.

The Nightingale – Babadook director Jennifer Kent’s new film is a Western set in 19th Century Tasmania. Her SIFF bio says “she was inspired to become a director after seeing Lars Von Trier’s 2000 film Dancer In The Dark and was able to assist the Danish director on his 2002 film Dogville.”

Storm in My Heart – The latest cinephile doc from Mark Cousins, whose very fine The Eyes of Orson Welles just finished its run at the Film Forum a couple of weeks ago. This one compares and contrasts Lena Horne and Susan Hayward via two of their musicals, Stormy Weather and With a Song in My Heart, respectively.

Ten Years Thailand – An omnibus of short films that imagine the future from four Thai directors, including Tears of the Black Tiger‘s Wisit Sasanatieng, Aditya Assarat (Wonderful Town) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Knife + Heart – A  giallo-inspired film, the second feature from Yann Gonzalez. The Grand Illusion is going to play this on 35mm in June, along with Gonzalez’s first film, You and the Night. I haven’t seen either of these, but Evan tells me they’re good and I’m inclined to believe him.

Invest in Failure (Notes on Film 06-C, Monologue 03) – The SIFF description says that someone named “Norbert Pfaffenbichler pieced together clips from 160 James Mason films to examine the eternally urbane star’s career.” You sold me at “Norbert Pfaffenbichler”.

Between the Lines – A new restoration of Joan Micklin Silver’s 1977 film about an underground newspaper fighting to survive in Boston. Starring Jeff Goldblum and John Heard.

Spione – A revival of Fritz Lang’s 1928 silent film. The only time I saw this was very very late at night while taking care of a newborn, so I don’t really remember much about it. But Fritz Lang enthusiast Evan says it’s one of his very best.

A Faithful Man – Louis Garrel following in the footsteps of his father and every other French director in making a film about infidelity. Garrel also stars, along with his wife, Laetitia Casta, and Lily-Rose Depp, the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis (who is in Knife + Heart).

Entanglements in the Dark Web: Cam and American Vandal

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When David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin made The Social Network in 2010, a lot of discourse was generated with a lot of genuine surprise that a film about people being in front of their computers would be so compelling to watch. There was reason for that reaction: there had been and have been many films that fail to really engage in modern communications whether on computers, social media, or texting. Many filmmakers and shows outright avoid ‘the smart phone issue’, setting films in periods that predated that technology or build a world where characters simply do not engage with those ways of communication and online interaction in the narrative. But as this decade has grown from The Social Network, there has gradually developed a syntax for how films use and integrate people on computers and smart phones, how people use social media and the ways people on those platforms use technology, such as cataloguing and uploading videos. Two works, a feature film and a television program, Cam (Daniel Goldhaber and Isa Mazzei) and season 2 of American Vandal (Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda) show the multifaceted complexities and personal stakes tied to each of their digital landscapes that go to show that you cannot just ‘get off your computer’ to remedy things when something bad happens to you online.

Cam and American Vandal, both available to stream on Netflix, both make perfect sense as entertainment to watch on your computer or electronic device. The films are not merely about their characters being entangled on the Internet–both use real-life platforms, apps, websites, and even in some cases create their own fictional but cannily similar to real-life websites and platforms which nail the dialogue our characters have with the great unknowns on the other side of their communications.

In American Vandal‘s second season, the two teenage documentary filmmakers from Season One, Sam (Griffin Guck) and Peter (Tyler Alvarez), are enlisted by the Catholic high school St. Bernadine in Washington state to solve a new incident: who spiked the cafeteria lemonade with laxatives to cause a massive ‘brown-out’ (read: diarrhea outbreak) and goes under the pseudonym “The Turd Burglar”? The Turd Burglar (online handle @theturdburglar) communicates their plans via social media with teases and oblique but ominous messages. At points even The Turd Burglar communicates with Peter and Sam as well. Part of this is lifted from common true crime tropes, such as criminals communicating with authorities, but in its high school setting and through contemporary technology, this becomes the bread and butter of American Vandal itself–a show that is a mockumentary and spoof of true crime docs in which series creator Tony Yacenda gets how to use online and smart phone communication as well as anyone. Season One (that dealt with vandalism in the teacher’s parking lot) was all about connecting clues from various witness accounts by using their phones and social media accounts which ultimate exonerated the accused. Season Two takes it a step further, namely unlike in Season One we definitively find out who committed the crime. The accused, teenager Kevin McClain, turns out to be an accessory and not the only accessory of The Turd Burglar. Peter and Sam quickly notice this is more than just a one-man job and find other students at the high school who are tied to The Turd Burglar. Like Kevin, they were all manipulated into committing these acts by blackmail because they were all catfished by an expelled student of St. Bernadine’s named Grayson Wentz, who was able to fool them all by copying and stealing from the social media account of a young woman from out of town.

The way American Vandal dives into this knotted plot is engrossing and unsettling all at once, one unshakeable scene being when Peter and Sam meet the girl who they were led to believe was the catfish of the St. Bernadine student only for her to turn out to be another victim and discovering her identity from her Instagram account got stolen on-camera. Then ‘The Dump’ (surely inspired from the iCloud leak photos of celebrities in 2014) occurs, where St. Bernadine’s students and a staff member have all of their compromising information and photos of themselves revealed to their student body and the local media. The vulnerabilities of teenagers being manipulated and used and the vulnerabilities of their technology being up for grabs to be stolen and used maliciously against them become intertwined. The season’s coda succinctly states in Peter’s narration, “We’re not the worst generation, we’re just the most exposed.”

Cam (a Blumhouse Production) is also about personal information getting compromised and stolen identity, in this case the stolen identity of a ‘cam girl’ an online sex worker on adult web sites. The film intelligently shows the blurred lines of online persona, sex work, reality, identity, and artifice, from the very start showing that not everything is as it seems. The film begins with Alice Ackerman (Madeline Brewer), who goes under the screen name of Lola­­­_Lola, broadcasting in her shag-carpeted, candy-colored room in her home as she interacts with fans who come to see her strip, perform sex acts, and other kinks that they jive with, which includes her pretending to kill herself. What makes this fake-out so effective is the building tension of Lola interacting with a troll in her comments section. It turns out that she and a friend are manipulating the situation, setting up a false troll to help Alice/Lola get attention and shoot up the rankings of the ultra-competitive cam girl website “FREEGIRLS.LIVE” (a fictional web site but a very credible imitation of that type of adult web site as far as layout and the quick, free-flowing messaging and interaction of user and performer). Over the course of the film, Alice finds out that what at first appears to be someone imitating her, or someone directly lifting videos from her shows and passing them off as their own. But it gets so much weirder than that. Cam was inspired by screenwriter Isa Mazzei’s own experiences as a cam girl which included having her own videos stolen, promoted as belonging to a different person on an adult web site. The film understands how these websites work and how the threat of stolen identity and how their anonymity can be breached and heightened. Losing your online identity becomes a kind of Steven Soderbergh meets Brian DePalma hyper-text. Alice has to confront her doppelgänger, who has become intertwined with her web persona because this is not just a hobby for her. It is lucrative work that pays her bills. So when Lola finds herself locked out of her online account, a financial resource is being cut off. This menacing omnipresence in her life is revealed to have happened because of her friend Tinker, the friend who had previously helped her rankings by posing as a troll, who created the account to feed directly into his fantasies that he felt Alice denied him.

Cam and American Vandal‘s disturbing depictions of being online can lead to cynical or alarmist readings of how bad being online can be. But that would be overlooking the many times each of them show the failure by those in power to protect these characters, whether they are still in high school or online sex workers.  School administrators, officials, as well as law enforcement in American Vandal look ridiculous in their quick rush to find a guilty party, as more ‘brown outs’ occur while Kevin McClain is under house arrest, and that they are unable to tell what is real versus manipulated, compromised ‘fake news’ shows how hapless the adults are in dealing with online-based crimes. In Cam, Alice’s run-ins with the adult web site’s customer service phone line goes nowhere and her attempt to get help from the police leads to nothing but their moral disapproval of her sex work and completely ignorant unsolicited advice like, ‘Just stay off the internet’.  Both works know how unrealistic this advice is, as the Internet is in each of their DNA formally and in how they both communicate in narrative to the viewer. One of my favorite sight gags in any film this year are the endless, ongoing messages that keep scrolling by the background in Cam whenever Alice is in the foreground. It is that level of detail becoming banal white noise that is exactly how to portray the 21st Century on-screen.

Both Cam and American Vandal know that they do not exist to solve the internet or show how to protect users with a safe and secure online experience, like a PSA or after-school special, but they do show how normal and abnormal online experiences have their own ebbs and flows. Those ebbs and flows can be significantly consequential to the depiction of the Internet as a Wild West that is boundless, as equal in promise as potential hazard. With that in mind, who could ever say a film about being in front of your computer or phone is boring?