Blogger in a Red Blouse (after Pierre Bonnard)
Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
Before jumping in to the list proper, I want to pay tribute to a few individuals who deserve a spot above the fold. First of all, no account of the past year would be acceptable without mentioning Sam Juliano and Allan Fish. Sam's site, Wonders in the Dark, was where I spent most of my online time (that is to say, truth be told, most of my free time) this past year, and Allan's massive countdown was one of the primary reasons why.
I've tipped my hat to Allan's work, which will soon be appearing in book form, elsewhere (see the "Wonders in the Dark" tab above). But here I'd like to kill two birds with one stone, by linking my favorite essay Allan's written, which also happens to be about Sam Juliano.
Sam is a great guy, whom I had the good fortune to meet in person last fall, and one of the most generous and enthusiastic bloggers out there (example: when asked which of his own pieces he wanted to submit to this round-up, he selected a tribute to another blogger). However, Allan's piece so perfectly captures Sam's eccentricities and likability that I'll shut up and let it speak for itself:
"The Genesis of Wonders in the Dark - A Tale of Three Sanshos" • Allan Fish, Wonders in the Dark"Secondly, he’s terrified of flying, so it’s rather lucky he lives in New York, where he sits and waits for the mountain to come to Mohammed, presiding over gatherings at Juliano Towers like a modern day Trimalchio mixed with the spirit of human kindness. A sort of dictatorship by generosity and fuelled by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that means when he gets interested in something there’s no holding him back. When the blog was starting up, you couldn’t get him away from the computer. Believe me, I tried; I couldn’t even do it when I was there. In my harder moments I nicknamed him the Sultan of Sycophancy, but there’s one crucial difference. A sycophant flatters to deceive, to ingratiate, to impress; it’s all part of a plan. With Sam I think he knows no other. He couldn’t say a bad word about anyone, unless they insult one of his children. By which I don’t mean Melanie, Sammy, Danny, Jillian or Jeremy, but a particular film seen by him as sacred. Slag off Far from Heaven, say, and he’ll go onto his haunches and start issuing forth verbal vitriol worthy of Malcolm Tucker in full bollocking mode."
Next, I have to acknowledge my own favorite blog post of the year, and perhaps of all time. It's disarmingly simple: in response to my call for personal picture galleries, Dean Treadway decided not to pick ten or twenty screen-caps, but rather 200. He did so spontaneously, mostly avoiding thematic or chronological organization and the result is a sweeping, giddy love song to the whole grand cinematic smorgasbord. His epigrammatic captions also manage to capture some of that movie magic, but it's the images that speak louder than words:
"A Cinema Gallery - 200 Images: Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV - Part V - Part VI" • Dean Treadway, Filmicability
Finally, I want to mention Tony Dayoub, one of this The Dancing Image's earliest and most consistent commentators and followers. He came on board in August 2008, when I was writing about "Twin Peaks," and offered a number of insightful and knowledgeable observations. Meanwhile, he has maintained and grown a thriving movie blog, Cinema Viewfinder, and begun writing for other venues as well (most recently, the sleek online Nomad publication Wide Screen). Over the past few years Tony has been developing a professional site that captures the best qualities of the pros (economy, focus, consistency) as well as the amateurs (a focus on what he finds interesting, a flexibility to the approach). He has offered several selections from 2010, and ultimately I went with his take on The Social Network, probably the most-discussed film of the year - yet I found Tony's review to be one of the sharper takes on the movie.
"As the fast-paced film progresses it becomes clear that these barriers never really come down, they just become frustratingly transparent, allowing those who are 'out' to get a look in without ever actually making it 'in.' Like the crucial sliding glass door I described earlier, the barriers become almost invisible, sneaking up on the characters and the viewer. The Social Network's climax, in which Saverin finally discovers how far out of the loop he is at Facebook just as the company signs up its millionth user, mostly plays out with Saverin and a lawyer behind a closed office with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall which allows us to see, not hear, a loyal old friend get stabbed in the back by Zuckerberg. By the time Saverin comes out and causes a scene, we are witnessing the aftermath, not the incident."
"NYFF10 OPENING NIGHT Movie Review: The Social Network (2010)" • Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder
And without further ado, the grand round-up begins below...
"Great Acid Cinema: WIZARD OF OZ (1939)" • Erich Kuersten, Acidemic Film
"Ascorbic Victory" • Dave, Anagramsci
"A Wounded America: Bad Lieutenant and Southland Tales" • Stephen Russell-Gebbett, Checking On My Sausages
"Mayne Island Tree Spirits" • Terrill Welch, Creative Potager
"Kore-eda proceeds to slowly unravels things, allowing his characters to be displayed naturally from this situation and being comfortable enough in those characters to simply let us study them and take away some subtle and understated points. There are no verbal explosions and no blow-ups here, but everything sits and simmers, sometimes just boiling over before quickly being pushed back down. There's a surprising and welcome lack of melodrama here, which makes this fare comparably to another family drama I watched earlier in 2009, Summer Hours. Both films served as introspective and realistic studies of the universal truths that come with how a family works. It's when Still Walking portrays the realities of these types of family gatherings, that it is at its best and is a sterling example of the genre."
"Still Walking" • Troy Olson, Elusive As Robert Denby
"The (Possibly) Great Unfinished Films - The Thief and the Cobbler" • Chris, Febriblog?
"Observations of the suicidally cool: Tom Ford's A Single Man" • FilmDr, The Film Doctor
"Today, Film Studies For Free presents an entry of links to online studies of the cinematic split screen. Rather excitingly (for this blog, at least), the resources include the above video essay on this very topic ... by FSFF's author."
"Split-Screen Studies" • Catherine Grant, Film Studies For Free
N Highland Ave & Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028
Dear Hollywood Producers, Writers, and Directors,
I write to you at this critical time on behalf of the worldwide movie-going public. They have not requested that I write this letter, but the situation is urgent and, selfless hero that I am, I accept that it is my duty to save the world of cinema using the judicious power of this blog. Maybe you'll make a movie out of my story one day. You have a lot of bad ideas like that, actually, which is why I'm writing this letter..."
"Concerning the Next Decade: An Open Letter to Hollywood" • David Getahun, Getafilm
Effective is the Altmanesque slow zoom toward Karen and Richard Carpenter having dinner at a restaurant, our view becoming tighter as the tension of the scene rises, with Karen insisting that she isn't hungry and Richard pleading/demanding that she eat something. Also notable is the scene in which Haynes employs a slow pan that searches for Karen across her seemingly empty room as Richard calls out for his sister, only to find her face down on her makeup table next to a box of Ex-Lax. Given this mÈlange of techniques, I suppose Superstar could have come off like a class project, an exercise designed to teach a novice film student about the inherent effects of basic editing and cinematography. Instead, Superstar comes across like the product of a practiced filmmaker who, like Hithcock before him, understood the emotions of every scene just by diagramming the camera angles. Haynes' next film, Poison, would seem in some ways experimental. Superstar, by contrast, seems entirely assured."
"The Conversations: Todd Haynes" • Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard, The House Next Door
"2009 in Film (and Some Thoughts on Two Years of Blogging)" • Kevin J. Olson, Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies
"Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)" • Adam Zanzie, Icebox Movies
"A thought occurred to me as I was writing my recent post Agent Provocateur. I had focused on two films starring Anna Karina (Pierrot Le Fou) and Harriet Andersson (Summer with Monika), in which both had played characters who were unsympathetic on paper and yet were transformed into charismatic roles on film. These challenging roles had been written specifically for them and directed by their respective lovers – and this is when the thought occurred to me. The most memorable female roles that I have seen committed to film, the best work and performances by actresses, have all been created and directed by their lovers."
"Labour of Love" • Susan, Kinetic Frames
"While the film is almost totally controlled by Hess, who appears in nearly every scene, supporting player Sasha Grey proves quite a charmer as a local TV reporter searching for her missing sister. Grey, who shot Smash Cut before her stirring turn in Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, is a real natural and she has a very refreshing and stylish quality about her. Smash Cut also reveals an aspect to Grey that The Girlfriend Experience played against and that is her natural warmth in front of the camera. She’s good throughout the film, specifically in the film within a film where she shows herself naturally adept at horror, comedy and (yes) even Shakespeare."
"'That Guy Makes Ed Wood Look Like Orson Welles.'" • Jeremy Richey, Moon In The Gutter
"4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle" • Ed Howard, Only the Cinema
Motion pictures, long strips of pictures on a thin cellulose base, have special issues for preservation. Until about 1950, virtually all motion pictures intended for theatrical exhibition were shot and printed on film using nitrocellulose as a base. This film is generally referred to as "nitrate." Nitrocellulose, a compound originally made of cotton (cellulose) treated with nitric and sulfuric acids, was developed in the Nineteenth Century as an explosive. By their nature, explosives are unstable. Celluloid used in photographic film was produced by treating nitrocellulose with camphor, to produce a plastic-like substance...
Sadly, most films didn't survive long enough to decompose or burn. Producers sold prints and sometimes negatives to companies that would burn them to recover the silver used to capture the images. Others dumped prints that no longer seemed useful in landfills. There are stories, possibly true, that some movies were recycled as guitar picks."
"Why Do We Need to Preserve Films? A Brief History of Nitrate (Part I), (Part II), (Part III)" • Joe Thompson, The Pneumatic Rolling-Sphere Carrier Delusion
"The Rules of the Game (1939) – TSPDT ranking: #3
I’m not trying to suggest that Renoir’s playful, lusty tragicomedy is secretly a horror movie. But I just really love Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, and I love Renoir’s very theatrical take on it. This macabre little dance routine is performed by members of the nobility for the benefit of their friends, and also for us, the audience. In a movie where trivialities and misguided passions lead to serious consequences, it only makes sense that skeletons and ghosts should be reduced to characters in a brief entertainment."
"In many respects, A Walk on the Moon was a warm-up for her role in Unfaithful. In that film, she played a 1960s housewife who gets caught up in the sexual revolution of the era and cheats on her husband with a good-looking traveling clothes salesman. Whereas her character’s motivation was clearer in that one, it is more ambiguous in Unfaithful. In fact, Lyne cast Lane based on her work in A Walk on the Moon in which he found her to be 'very sympathetic and vulnerable.'
During the production, Lyne fought with 20th Century Fox over the source of the affair. Executives felt that there needed to be a reason while the director believed that chance played a large role. Early drafts of the screenplay featured the Sumners with a dysfunctional sexual relationship and the studio wanted them to have a bad marriage with no sex so there would be more sympathy for Connie. Lyne and Gere disagreed and the director had the script rewritten so that the Sumners basically had a good marriage. He said, 'the whole point of the movie was the arbitrary nature of infidelity, the fact that you could be the happiest person on Earth and meet somebody over there, and suddenly your life’s changed.'"
"Unfaithful" • J.D., Radiator Heaven
"Episode #499" • Robin and Laura Clifford, Reeling: The Movie Review Show
"It’s difficult to begin a discussion of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr. anywhere but the film’s famous shot, perhaps one of the most famous in all of cinema. The front facade of a house has broken free of its moorings during a cyclone on a Mississippi River port and falls onto Keaton, who’s saved only by the fact that he’s standing in the exact location of the second-story window’s course. It glides right over him, leaving him standing bewildered. The shot is brilliantly executed (more on that in a moment) and it never grows old to watch, but the reason to begin with it happens to be something else entirely. I like the shot in the larger context of Keaton scholarship because it symbolizes his approach to filmmaking: chaos and mayhem swirl around the stone-faced comedian, trying only to keep his footing in the world around him."
"Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)" • T.S., Screen Savour
"Fort Apache (1948), first of the director’s cavalry trilogy, marks a stark shift in tone and attitude for Ford. It is from this film onwards that Ford’s view of the west becomes progressively unromantic. For one, the central protagonist, Colonel Thursday (Henry Fonda), is gradually alienated from us. His actions seem increasingly misguided and the only force of sanity comes in the form of Sergeant York (John Wayne) who acts as our mouthpiece in the film. Colonel Thursday is a prisoner of his own position in the army. He’s the first of Ford’s many men to show loyalty to external ideologies than to his conscience (“Tell them they’re not talking to me, but to the United States government” says Thursday). These men abandon what is essentially human for some vaguely defined concepts of glory and martyrdom (One can imagine how much Ford would have admired Stanley Kubrick’s first masterpiece). These are also invariably the men who believe in establishing hierarchies and locking people into rigidly defined categories that could systematically be manipulated and deployed (Ford’s reaction to such men would move from fascination to ambivalence to utter contempt, as is evident in his last Western). Consequently, the film, like most of Ford’s subsequent works, is full of petty rituals – ball room dances (compare this mechanical waltz with the divine dance sequence in The Grapes of Wrath), coldly worded field orders, automated salutations and bookish sentences. Ford would take a decade and a half to convert the cynicism of this film to a monumental tragedy."
"Frills Over Onyx" • Shahn, six martinis and the seventh art
"Cape Fear" • Bryce Wilson, Things That Don't Suck
"Grumpy Old Men: THE EXPENDABLES" • The Voracious Filmgoer
Arlene Sherman was the producer I worked with for Sesame Street and she was a wonderful person. So much creative freedom, unbelievable. She'd send a lyrics sheet, with a composer singing his own rough track. I'd do a storyboard and send it back. Very few changes ever. Then I'd do all the animation, shoot a pencil test and with approval, on to final coloring. I guess there were a few changes suggested but really very few."
WAX MASK talks to Sally Cruikshank • Max & Greg, WAX MASK
"From the fight choreography by Nick Gillard to the stellar coverage by David Tattersall, the action sequences of The Phantom Menace stand among the best work of its kind from the past fifteen years, and along with the work of Yuen Woo-ping on the Matrix trilogy and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, have helped usher in a new era of quality movie stunt-work. Since then, we’ve seen a rise in the popularity for films driven by similarly styled acrobatic fighting and one-on-one combat, mostly tied to the wuxu school popularized by the films of Ang Lee and the Wachowski Brothers, and further perfected in art-house craftsmanship by Zhang Yimou’s latter-day breakthrough hits as a Hong Kong action-director and Quentin Tarantino’s grindhouse action-packing in the Kill Bill movies. Though these swordsmanship-driven sequences have proven somewhat over-the-top for some filmgoers, and not quite as accessible as a simple punch-out or feats of down-to-earth aerial combat, they have proven exceptional contributions to the adventure genre and prove that swashbuckling in any form is likely to remain in style for the foreseeable future, a brand of wish-fulfillment as old as Douglas Fairbanks, as international as Toshiro Mifune, and as modern as Scott Pilgrim. And while we’ve seen impressive high-concept action set-pieces from Bond-maestro Martin Campbell, stellar movie shootouts from Michael Mann and Tom Tykwer, and a discouraging trend towards intentionally disorienting choreography and cinematography in Paul Greengrass’ Bourne movies and their ilk, the kind of work evidenced by TPM’s showstopping duel can provide either a classically styled palate-cleansing chaser to modern-day efforts, or even, if need be, an antidote."
"Notes on 'The Duel of the Fates'" • Bob Clark, Wonders in the Dark
"An ardent photographer, who loves to walk and observe the scenery around here, Terrill was spurred on to launch the entrancing Creativepotager blogsite this past December as a result of an unfortunate occurence in her life that required some serious reapplication. In August of 2009 David Colussi suffered a stroke that required cognitive therapy exercises to assist him in his recovery and required a great deal of one-on-one attention. As David’s health improved, assisted in large measure by disciplined walks with Terrill, an idea sprung to blunt the daily loneliness in their lovely strawbale timberframe home to “build community and conversation around creativity” while maintaining a flexibility that would not intrude upon David’s healing process. The blog, which has achieved a remarkable popularity among fellow artists and nature-lovers, has in the space of nine short months attracted the regular and profound participation of a number of exceedingly intelligent and passionate contributors, some of whom proctor their own blogsites, specializing in science, nature and art."
"Artist and Nature-Lover Terrill Welch: Mayne Island's 'Creative Potager'" • Sam Juliano, Wonders in the Dark
That's it. I had hoped to include a list of further posts as a conclusion (since many people submitted more than one pick) but I'll have to leave that for later on, in the comments section. Meanwhile, if anyone - either those already featured or those who missed out - wants to respond with more links to work you're proud of, feel free to do so below.
Happy New Year, er, Valentine's Day, and keep up the good work!