Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Year in Review

2006 has been a great year of cinema. Not only have I seen more films this year than any other (more than the previous two years put together). But also the quality of films has increased. I maintain a database of films I’ve seen and the scores I’ve given them. I have developed a competition with myself to try to increase the year’s average score from year to year by avoiding films that I expect to be at best ordinary. Life’s too short to waste on throw-away movies.

This year I have managed to weed out most of the dogs. However, it’s getting harder to beat the previous year’s average because over time I’m becoming more critical of the films I see. Perhaps past scores have been generous by my standards of today.

Highlights for me this year have been:

  1. Starting a dedicated calendar in MS Outlook for film releases, festivals and special screenings.

  2. The discovery of ACMI as a rich source of film screenings not available elsewhere. At the start of the year I was between jobs and took the opportunity to catch up on as much cinema as I could.

    ACMI’s Stanley Kubrick retrospective in January afforded the opportunity to catch up on his films I hadn’t seen. I saw Killer’s Kiss (1955), The Killing (1956), Paths of Glory (1957), Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Love the Bomb (1964) and Barry Lyndon (1975). Lolita was my pick with 4.5 stars and I gave 4 stars to each of the others. I had been to ACMI a few times prior, but now I make it a point to see what ACMI is screening.

  3. Discovering Melbourne Cinémathèque. My partner Zoe and I selected Wednesday as a week-day evening to see a 7pm film each week after work. By chance this is the day that Cinémathèque has it’s screenings at ACMI. $85 buys annual membership and the opportunity to see around 100 rare and classic films on the big screen. Some of the highlights of this year were films by Jean-Pierre Melville, Maurice Pialat, Marco Bellocchio, Andrei Tarkovsky, Rainer Fassbinder, Werner Herzog and (my favourite director) David Lynch.

  4. Becoming a committee member of Melbourne Cinémathèque. I turned up early for the regular screening one week, not knowing that the Annual General Meeting was to be held. An invite was given for further committee members, and I took up the offer.

  5. Writing a 2,000 word review of David Lynch’s Lost Highway (my all-time favourite film) for distribution at Cinémathèque. This was a challenge for me as I hadn’t written to this extent on cinema before and also because of the very elusive nature of the film.

  6. The best year yet for Australian films. In the past I have avoided Australian films which are typically clichéd, contrived and embarrassing to watch. While some of 2006’s fit into this mould, many did not. I saw 19 Australian films this year, 3 times my average, and two (Em 4 Jay and Ten Canoes) I gave five stars. In fact, Em 4 Jay was my favourite film of the year. I consider it my equal favourite Australian film – the other being The Boys.

    Despite Australian films taking my 1st and 3rd places, I don't think I can be accused of any bias - local films also figure prominently in my worst list.

  7. Getting to more film festivals than ever before. I could only take one day off work, but managed to fit in 15 films over the course of 18 days at the Melbourne International Film Festival (my favourite was Climates by Nuri Bilge Ceylan from Turkey). I also saw 9 films at the French Film Festival (the pick was The Child) and fitted in screenings at the Queer, Mexican and Italian Film Festivals.

  8. Getting included on some media lists for film previews. Working full-time, I can’t take full advantage of it, but fit in some advance screenings. It’s great to see a film without being pre-empted by any exposure to previews and advertising.

  9. Last, but not least, was setting up my blog which only happened as a result of many of the above events. I Googled Em 4 Jay reviews and found Alison Croggon’s review on her blog Theatre Notes. By chance it was her husband, Daniel Keene, who is the writer of the film as well as Alkinos Tsilimidos’ previous films Silent Partner and Tom White.

    Alison suggested the blog, and now 10 weeks and 16 articles later, I’m still going in spite of the recent trauma of losing a teenage son to suicide – more on that in the future, perhaps. In relation to my grief, I will say that resuming my film-going after a short break has been very therapeutic. Unfortunately there's not much on at present (that I haven't seen), until ACMI's Focus on Movie Magic season starts next week and the new releases in a couple of weeks or so.
    By then, I'm back at work - d'oh!

Some of my plans for 2007 (other than film reviews) include:

  1. Honing my critical skills (quality over quantity of reviews)
  2. Learn more about the history of cinema to give a broader context of films I review
  3. More detailed coverage of Q&A sessions (I finally bought a digital recorder)
  4. Interviewing one or more local film identities
  5. Writing an article on the significance of film for me
  6. Collaborating on an article on how to develop children’s critical skills by analysis of the films they watch
  7. To further my film network and increase my involvement in cinema

A couple of people have asked me for my obligatory top 10 lists. I’ve never done them before, but for what it’s worth I offer them here. I’m going to borrow a leaf from the book of the venerable Jonathan Rosenbaum and offer my top 20 and bottom 10. The top 20 includes festival and non-commercial contemporary screenings (eg ACMI) as indicated.

[Edit: Links to my reviews or comments added where available]




Em 4 Jay


Hard Candy


The King




Ten Canoes


Happy Feet


The Child (L'enfant)1


Lost and Found




No. 2


Climates (Iklimer)2




A History of Violence


The Constant Gardener


Time to Leave (Le Temps Qui Reste)


X-Men: the Last Stand


Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (Qian Li Zou Dan Qi)


The Libertine




Little Miss Sunshine


Hidden (Caché)


Gravehopping (Odgrobadogroba)3


Walk the Line




Live & Become (Va, vis et Deviens)


Be With Me2


Fallen (Krisana)2


Oliver Twist


United 93


V for Vendetta

1 French Film Festival
Melbourne International Film Festival

Photos: Nick Barkla & Laura Gordon, Em 4 Jay; Gael Garcia Bernal, The King; Ten Canoes


delon melville said...

Hi Paul,

I might have to get a Cinematheque membership


Do you think you could email me your Lost Highway review pleeease ;)

Have you seen the Lost Highway thesis on the net somewhere, posits the characters are emotions that the Pullman character is experiencing. I think they guy is from Arizona. Do a search on, the forums there. That is the place that linked me to it. Been a few years since I read it. Worth tracking it down.

If you cant find it with the roadmap above, give me a hoi and I will attempt to find it for you. Perhaps you have seen it.

No room in your top films for

A Guide to Recognising Your Saints


Don't Come Knocking

gotta leave a spot for Inland Empire

PS, at the vegie bar every second week too ;)

delon melville said...

That si not the link, still searching, those are a tad more cerebral and into theory. Which is fine, but not the links I was after. Will read at a later time.

And "The King". Shocking film. :)

Paul Martin said...

Delon, I haven't seen that thesis. On face value, I don't agree with the idea, but am happy to hunt it down. Shouldn't be hard.

All my top 20 received at least 4.5 stars from me. Both those films got 4 stars. Enjoyed them immensely, but I've seen a lot of cinema (just over 200 on the big screen). I've actually run out of films to see as I'm not interested in The Queen, though I'm planning to see Heading South on Wednesday.

LH review is on its way. I'll get it up here one day. I'm at the Vegie Bar each Friday evenings with the family.

Paul Martin said...

Delon, that site is the best resource for Lost Highway that I've seen. I've quoted from it in my review.

Em 4 Jay, The Child and The King are three films that I saw this year that physically affected me for hours after seeing them. I rarely get that from a film, so 3 in a year is pretty monumental for me.

I highly recommend Cinematheque. At less than a dollar a film, and each one a gem (well, that's debatable I suppose), you can't beat it for value. I usually see one film (there's usually 2 each week), so it works out at around $1.50 per film. But then, I don't go every week, so maybe $2/film. I can handle that.

They have concession prices, and you can also take out a mini-pass - 4 weeks for under $20.

Anonymous said...

tough task for you Paul.

Lots of literature out there on LH, and it would be a difficult analysis I am sure!

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for the link, anonymous. I don't know of any film that captures the imagination like Lost Highway. It was the trigger for me learning about the internet in 1997. I saw it on a Friday night and spent the rest of the weekend searching for information to try to make sense of what I had just experienced. I have never had a film affect me to the extent that LH has.

And Delon, it wouldn't surprise you to know that I'm looking forward to Inland Empire.

Alison Croggon said...

Great wrap-up, Paul. It also made me realise what a cinematic ignoramus I am - I think I've seen two films on that list. Oh well. You can only run one life, I guess...

Paul Martin said...

Delon - aka anonymous ;) - the difficulty in reviewing Lost Highway is not the amount of material, but the elusive nature of the film. After obsessing on it for days, I felt I had a fairly good handle on it. The online research I did - including interviews - supported my understanding.

When writing the review, I had to consider that the audience may not have seen it. I didn't want to divulge specifics but still give a sense of what it's about. For such an unconventional narrative that's so surreal - I found that a tough call.

Alison, you're less ignorant about cinema than I am about theatre. I understand what you say about 'one life', but really, there's always room for something else - if you take the opportunity.

At least you got to see the finest film of the year. What's the other?

Noel Tanti said...

hi paul... lost highway is a film that intrigues me too even though it is not my favourite of lynch's... i find it a tad too cerebral for my taste...

you might want to check this out...
i haven't read it but the author is highly recommended...

ps... i would love to read your review of lost highway :)...

Paul Martin said...

Noel, the review is on its way, though it would have been helpful if you'd left your email with your post (I found it by tracing you through your blogs).

I suppose I tend to be cerebral at times, and my need to understand Lost Highway really blew me away. But now that I understand the core of it, I don't think you need to understand Lost Highway to enjoy it. As I say in my review, you can enjoy the experience of not understanding it. Most people that have seen Lost Highway didn't understand it at all.

And yet, understanding it, I realise now that it is quite a simple story and you don't need to think too much. The film is designed to be experienced, to be felt. If you just go along for the ride - as wild as it is - you can get a good sense of what it's about. And there are lots of keys that Lynch gives to unlock the mystery. You just have to watch out for them. The main ones that I detected are the photo of Renee and Alice, and the different 'realities' of Fred and Pete.

Marina said...

Happy New Year and the very best for 2007.

I really like your list of best and worst thought I was disappointed to see "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Hard Candy" on the worst list. It's all subjective right?!? :)

Paul Martin said...

Hi Marina, happy new year to you too.

My blog has only been up for 2 months or so. My review of Little Miss Sunshine is on the At The Movies site, along with a discussion. I'm not sure whether I did a review of Hard Candy. I did leave some comments somewhere that I found nothing to like about it except for the opening credits. In fact, I distinctly remember during the opening credits thinking they looked so nice and wouldn't it be funny if that was the only good thing about it. Well, that's what happened, and it wasn't funny. ;)

shane smith said...

Hi Paul,

I came across your excellent blog when googling EM 4 JAY. I'm the co-director of OzFlix: Australian Film Weekend in Toronto, Canada. OzFlix is a Festival for Aussie shorts, docs and features, to give them a showcase in Canada and hopefully get some of them acquired for distribution or broadcast in North America (that happened with PUPPY after we screened it last year).

I'm hoping we can do something to increase the profile and appreciation of EM 4 JAY over here. I agree with you- it's a great film. I've heard of TOM WHITE, but not seen it- I'll have to track it down.

OzFlix runs Feb 9- 11, 2007 in Toronto.
Spread the word!