Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2007 - The Year in Review

2007 was my biggest year of cinema. I don't think numbers adequately tell the story, but I saw more films than any other year (283, compared to 201 in 2006). While US films were once over 50% of the films I'd see in a year, I have succeeded in increasing the proportion that films from elsewhere make up my viewing experience. In 2005, US films made up 53% of the films I saw, in 2006 it was 38% and in 2007 it was 28%. The number of countries that I've seen films from has increased from 12 in 2005 to 34 in 2006 to 41 in 2007. MIFF and the other film festivals have been of enormous help in bringing up that number, which I see as crucial to varying the cultural experience of cinema.

Having taken up French language classes at Alliance Française during the year, I've been making a point of going to as many French films as possible. I tried to weed out the middle-of-the-road comedies and family dramas during the French Film Festival (research has become an important aspect of attending any film festival), and the festival was consequently a great experience for me. The highlights were Private Property and Poison Friends.

It was soon after this that I took up French classes, and now I get free tickets to most of the cinema releases of French films. Even though I hate many of them, I find them good for practicing my listening skills. The downside is that French films unfairly occupy 6 out my 10 worst films of the year, when in reality they're probably no worse than the worst of Hollywood.

I saw 7 French films in 2005 (8% of all films seen that year), 27 (13%) in 2006 and 53 in 2007 (18%).

Interestingly, the films just outside of my worst 10 are not all bad, so I've been reasonably successful in weeding out bad films from my cinema-going. Films that didn't quite make my worst 10 include Perfume: the Story of a Murderer, Sunshine, Breaking and Entering, West and Stranger Than Fiction.

As far as local films, they increased from 20 to 24 over the last year, but 2006 was a much better year for quality. The only standout local for me this year was Kriv Stenders' Boxing Day, though Anna Broinowski's Forbidden Lie$ and Rolf de Heer's Dr. Plonk both were compelling in different ways. Australia produced quite a large number of competent films during 2007, but no others really stood out in particular. Noise had some fantastic aesthetics (namely, the camera work), but majorly flawed in other respects. Both and Home Song Stories and Romulus, My Father were worthy stories, and had strong elements, but neither really excelled as a whole. Maybe the immigrant coming-of-age thing is getting a bit overdone.

In general, new cinema releases were pretty poor this year. Either there's less and less quality making it here, or less being made, or I'm getting more particular. I've made up separate lists for my favourite new releases, festival screenings and retrospective screenings. The strongest list is the retrospectives, all five-star films for me. Festival screenings come next and new releases last.

Looking at my year in review for last year, I see that I achieved half of my goals or more for this year. I've seen roughly the same number of new cinema releases as in 2006, so the increase in films this year has been festival and retrospective screenings. I find myself becoming more and more indifferent to new releases, and more and more selective. As I generally write on anything I see, going to something mediocre is a double burden: first of all enduring something of little or no interest, and then writing about it. Consequently, I have found myself being quite particular about attending media screenings.

ACMI has become a significant feature of my cinema experience. In 2005, I attended only two screenings there (just over 2% of films I saw that year). Last year it was 57 (28%) and this year it was 134 (45%). Melbourne Cinémathèque is only part of the reason. I've been very impressed by some of the seasons that have screened there: my favourites this year were the Focus on Land and Freedom and the Focus on Isabelle Huppert. Interestingly, neither of these were centred on a single director. One focuses on a theme, the other on an actor. Also, a special mention to the Focus seasons for Catherine Breillat (especially Sex is Comedy) and François Ozon. I also enjoyed the La Mirada screenings that ACMI hosted.

At Melbourne Cinémathèque, rediscovering Krzysztof Kieslowski was amazing. I saw the Colours trilogy when they were released in the early 1990s, but on second viewing at Cinémathèque, Blue became my second favourite film of all time, the first serious contender to Lost Highway. Blue's screening with Blind Chance probably equals last year's double of Lost Highway and Eraserhead as my all time favourite double screenings. I've since bought all the available Kieslowski films on DVD. The other highlight was the Czech New Wave season. Actually there were many highlights, but these were my favourite. And Come and See was also a very powerful experience, perhaps my favourite war film of all time.

Some of the cinema highlights for me in 2007 include:

  • Getting onto the media list of every distributor except 20th Century Fox. (While Fox's films often don't particularly interest me, I would like to get the release details without having to chase them.)
  • Gaining AFCA (Australian Film Critics Association) accreditation
  • Staying for the second film at Melbourne Cinémathèque screenings - that's an additional 40 films right there.
  • Taking two and half weeks off to attend MIFF with a full festival pass. I saw 40 films over 19 days. It was a great experience and I learnt a lot from it. I'm planning to do the same this year, but I'm going to vary the types of films I see. The highlights for me were: Mister Lonely, Inland Empire, The Man From London, Still Life, Shotgun Stories, Beaufort and Snow Angels. The Shohei Imamura retrospective impressed me (I saw all but one), especially A Man Vanishes, Intentions of Murder and Vengeance is Mine.
  • Meeting fellow bloggers, particularly during MIFF.
  • Interviewing Alkinos Tsilimidos, my favourite Australian director. We had two meetings; I've transcribed one but have yet to complete the other. Alkinos is a true auteur with vision, and it disappoints me that the type of films he makes (like Stenders' Boxing Day) don't get the recognition they deserve.
  • Getting to various Q&A sessions with directors, writers and actors.
  • Taking more time researching what to see at festivals
  • Being more selective with new cinema releases and with media screenings
I don't have any plans for 2008, other than to continue as I have during 2007. I just want to see as many films as practical, of as high a quality as possible and with the greatest diversity available. And to have some kind of balance in my life. Cinema is my favourite art form, but life must have balance. And I wish someone would come forward to fill the vacuum that the closure of the Lumiere has left. I'd fill it myself if someone would fund it.

Lastly, here are my lists for 2007.

Retrospective screenings
This is the strongest list, which is not unsurprising, given that these films span several decades. Other than Three Colours: Blue, the order of the list is fairly arbitrary.

  1. Trois couleurs: bleu (Three Colours: Blue, Krzysztof Kieslowski, France, 1993)
  2. La double vie de Véronique (The Double Life of Veronique, Krzysztof Kieslowski, France, 1991)
  3. Beau travail (Good Work, Claire Denis, France, 1999)
  4. Idi i smotri (Come and See, Elem Klimov, USSR, 1985)
  5. La séparation (The Separation, Christian Vincent, France, 1994)
  6. Le belle noiseuse (Jacques Rivette, France, 1991)
  7. Made in Britain (Alan Clarke, UK, 1982)
  8. Przypadek (Blind Chance, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1981)
  9. Family Life (Ken Loach, UK, 1971)
  10. The Bellboy (Jerry Lewis, USA, 1960)

Scener ur ett äktenskap (Scenes from a Marriage, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1973)
Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba, Mikheil Kalatozishvili, USSR, 1964)

Festival screenings

  1. Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine, UK, 2007)
  2. Nue propriété (Private Property, Joachim Lafosse, Belgium, 2006)
  3. The Man From London (Bela Tarr, Hungary, 2007)
  4. Sanxia haoren (Still Life, Jia Zhang-Ke, China, 2006)
  5. Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, USA, 2007)
  6. Beaufort (Joseph Cedar, Israel, 2007)
  7. Ma mère (My Mother, Christophe Honoré, France, 2004)
  8. Snow Angels (David Gordon Green, Canada, 2007)
  9. El violin (The Violin, Francisco Vargas Quevedo, Mexico, 2005)
  10. Les amitiés maléfiques (Poison Friends, Emmanuel Bourdieu, France, 2006)

New cinema releases
Mungiu's film is my arthouse favourite of the year. I had to include Lynch's because I think it's such an important work, even if I didn't enjoy it anywhere near as much. No Country For Old Men is my favourite mainstream release and Boxing Day was the only Australian film that stood out.

  1. 4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2007)
  2. Inland Empire (David Lynch, USA, 2006)
  3. No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, USA, 2007)
  4. Boxing Day (Kriv Stenders, Australia, 2007)
  5. Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, USA, 2006)
  6. The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, USA, 2006)
  7. Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany, 2006)
  8. Paris, je t'aime (Various, Liechtenstein, 2006)
  9. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, UK, 2007)
  10. Zodiac (David Fincher, USA, 2007)

Top 15 films seen this year:
I find it virtually impossible to rank these in any particular order (other than Three Colours: Blue), so I have listed them in alphabetical order. These are all the films I saw this year that I think deserve 5 stars. A special mention also to Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line, which I watched on DVD.

  • 4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2007)
  • Beau travail (Claire Denis, France, 1999)
  • The Bellboy (Jerry Lewis, USA, 1960)
  • Le belle noiseuse (Jacques Rivette, France, 1991)
  • La double vie de Véronique (The Double Life of Veronique, Krzysztof Kieslowski, France, 1991)
  • Family Life (Ken Loach, UK, 1971)
  • Idi i smotri (Come and See, Elem Klimov, USSR, 1985)
  • Inland Empire (David Lynch, USA, 2006)
  • Made in Britain (Alan Clarke, UK, 1982)
  • Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine, UK, 2007)
  • Nue propriété (Private Property, Joachim Lafosse, Belgium, 2006)
  • Przypadek (Blind Chance, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1981)
  • La séparation (The Separation, Christian Vincent, France, 1994)
  • Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba, Mikheil Kalatozishvili, USSR, 1964)
  • Trois couleurs: bleu (Three Colours: Blue, Krzysztof Kieslowski, France, 1993)

Worst 10 films
I've only included cinema releases here.

  1. Il mio miglior nemico (My Best Enemy, Carlo Verdone, Italy, 2006)
  2. Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One, Guillaume Canet, France, 2006)
  3. Dream Girls (Bill Condon, USA, 2006)
  4. Prête-moi ta main (I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single, Eric Lartigau, France, 2006)
  5. Désaccord parfait (Twice Upon a Time, Antoine de Caunes, France, 2006)
  6. Breaking and Entering (Anthony Minghella, UK, 2006)
  7. Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forster, USA, 2006)
  8. Fauteuils d'orchestre (Orchestra Seats, Danièle Thompson, France, 2006)
  9. Changement d'adresse (Change of Address, Emmanuel Mouret, France, 2006)
  10. Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places, Alain Resnais, France, 2006)

Festival worst


Cibbuano said...

what an excellent post! It's always remarkable to look through your review archives for the year and start to formulate a 'Best Of' list!

Quite an extravagant year for you: Bleu - incredibly cold and beautiful, loved La belle noiseuse and La double vie.

Did you review Still Life? I'm very - very - interested in seeing it.

Also, a Worst Of list is an interesting, albeit important idea. People should reflect on why they don't like films, as well.

Here's to 2008!

Marina said...

Congratulations on a fantastic film going year.

I'm particularly impressed by your ability to take in so many French films - Kudos!

I look forward to checking out a few of the films on your best list, particularly "This Is England" which is one I've been meaning to catch up on.

Best wishes for another great year!