Wednesday, April 22, 2015

SFIFF58 2015 Cinema of the Americas



After three weeks of anticipation, the San Francisco International Film Festival's 58th edition is set to take off tomorrow night. Thus far film-415 has checked out the awards and special presentations announced before and after the opening press conference and surveyed SFIFF58's impressive line-up of new works from France and Asia. In this last pre-fest entry, I'll spotlight some U.S. films of personal interest followed by a look beyond our northern and southern borders.


My favorite documentaries usually center on politics or the arts and there's no shortage of either at SFIFF58. Topping my must-sees is Stanley Nelson's The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. Nelson, the consummate documentarian whose Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple won the festival's Golden Gate Award in 2006, will appear at the April 25 screening along with Black Panther Party members. From roughly the
same era of American history there's also Best of Enemies, which analyzes the legacy of Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr.'s famously caustic 1968 TV debates. Best of Enemies is co-directed by Morgan Neville, whose Twenty Feet from Stardom enlivened the festival two years ago on its way to an Oscar® win, and Robert Gordon, who'll accompany the film's April 24 screening. A Landmark Theatres theatrical release is slated for August. For a red-hot socio-political doc with local import there's Alex Winter's Deep Web, which profiles purported Silk Road owner and founder Ross Ulbricht. Director Winter will be on hand for the film's May 4 showing, along with a panel of special guests discussing the "current states of surveillance, privacy, journalism and where they intersect on-line."

For American arts-related docs, the big event this year is the Castro Theatre showing of What Happened, Miss Simone on the festival's second night. As an obsessed, life-long Nina fan, I've watched her perform live on several occasions and possess nearly her entire discography on vinyl. That's why I was so disheartened by the mixed reviews the film received at Sundance and Berlin. Still, I wouldn't dream of not taking a look for myself. Following the film, director Liz Garbus (Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, Bobby Fischer Against the World) will be interviewed on-stage by radio talk show host Tavis Smiley. Netflix, who bankrolled the film, will hosts its VOD premiere on June 26. For a music doc with a Bay Area angle there's Theory of Obscurity: A Film About The Residents. Don Hardy's film will hopefully unravel some the mystery behind the Bay Area's prolific (over 60 albums!) avant-garde musicians and multimedia artists, perhaps best known for their tuxedo, top hat and eyeball helmet stage costumes. Hardy will attend all three SFIFF screenings.

Other biographical documentaries on the SFIFF58 roster include Douglas Tirola's self-explanatory Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of National Lampoon and Iris, a glowing portrait of fashion maven Iris Apfel. Sadly, the latter will also go down as the farewell film from revered director Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens), who passed away last month. In Stevan Riley's Listen to Me Marlon we'll get to experience Brando as never before, via 300 hours of secret audio tapes the actor recorded throughout his life. The film's April 25 screening will feature a special introduction by esteemed movie writer David Thomson. If you miss them at the festival, Landmark's Opera Plaza will host the theatrical release of Iris on May 8 and Listen to Me Marlon on August 7. Finally, none other than Isabella Rossellini is expected to attend the festival's world premiere of Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno Live!, director Jody Shapiro's accounting of the iconic actress' eccentrically educational, how-animals-have-sex stage show.

Looking over the roster of U.S. narrative features, I've heard really terrific things about Love & Mercy, Bill Pohlad's biopic about Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson. Paul Dano and John Cusack play the young and older Wilson respectively, with Paul Giamatti taking on Eugene Landy, the Svengali-like therapist who nearly ruined Wilson's life. What especially excites me about this film is that it's co-written by Oren Moverman, the guy who concocted Todd Haynes' radically offbeat Dylan biopic, I'm Not There. Moverman is a director as well as a screenwriter, and his new film Time Out of Mind will play at the festival's Richard Gere tribute. Love & Mercy director Pohlad will be on hand for the film's May 1 screening.

Five additional domestic features that have my interest piqued were all Sundance breakouts. Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was a late addition to the SFIFF line-up. It receives one screening on April 29 and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon will be there. Also garnering lots of Sundance raves was Sean Baker's Tangerine, the shot-on-iPhone 5S odyssey about a L.A. trans-hooker ferreting out her errant pimp/boyfriend on Xmas Day. Director Baker and screenwriter Chris Bergoch are expected to attend both SFIFF58 showings. Two years ago I slept through most of Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess, but I'm still game for Results, his new Guy Pearce-starring comedy set in a Texas gym. The main attraction for me is co-star Cobie Smulders, whom I know and adore from the only network TV sit-com I've watched in 40 years (How I Met Your Mother). Results opens at Landmark's Embarcadero Cinema on June 5, followed by Tangerine on July 17.

From the festival's Vanguard section, I'm bracing myself for the unpleasantness of Rick Alverson's Entertainment, which Variety critic Scott Foundas describes as a "dark, weird odyssey through a soulless American nowhere, with perhaps the world’s most abrasively unfunny insult comic as guide." Last but not least, everyone I know is excited about the Bay Area premiere of The Royal Road, the latest personal essay film from San Francisco filmmaker Jenni Olson. Shot on gorgeous 16mm film, Olson uses California's El Camino Real highway as a jumping off point to "burrow into the endlessly mineable terrains of history and memory."


There are two Canadian films in SFIFF58's line-up, Dark Wave entry The Editor and Guy Maddin's The Forbidden Room (co-written and directed by former Maddin student Evan Johnson). I believe this will be The Forbidden Room's first screening since its Sundance and Berlin premieres and I'm beyond jazzed we get to partake in it so soon. Inspired by the co-directors' dream of recreating imaginary "lost" films, The Forbidden Room appears indescribable even to those who've seen it. My favorite attempt is from Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema, who characterizes it as "a majestic culmination of Maddin’s prowess in
silent cinema tropes, a delirious, maddening rabbit hole of rippling nightmares that somehow, inextricably, fashion themselves into a cohesive narrative made up of cascading tangents." There's also an eye-popping cast that includes Udo Kier, Charlotte Rampling, Geraldine Chaplin and Mathieu Amalric.

Maddin's history with the festival goes all the way back to his debut feature Tales from the Gimli Hospital in 1989. He received SFIFF's Persistence of Vision Award in 2006 and who can forget the on-stage foley effects and live Joan Chen narration that accompanied 2007's presentation of Brand Upon the Brain? It's been announced that Maddin will indeed be here to present The Forbidden Room's sole SFIFF screening on April 25. If you've seen him before, you know he's an irresistible hoot. Maddin's expected appearance resolved my second biggest scheduling conundrum of SFIFF58 – whether to see The Forbidden Room or the simultaneous Guillermo del Toro tribute at the Castro. Sorry, Guillermo. (My biggest scheduling conundrum? That would be the excruciating May 5 choice between Cibo Matto performing to Yoko's Fly at the Castro and the lone screening of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep. The 2014 Palme d'or winner was unceremoniously slipped into SFIFF58's line-up just a few days ago and will make its Bay Area premiere the same day as the film's DVD and Blu-ray release.)


Looking southward, 2014 was somewhat of an off year for Latin American cinema. Few films from the region received much critical attention on the fest circuit and the handful of breakouts, like The Way He Looks and Futuro Beach, have already seen their Bay Area festival and theatrical releases come and go. Happily, the one Latin American film appearing on my SFIFF58 wish list did manage to make it onto the roster. With Lisandro Alonso's Jauja, South America's most noted minimalist returns with his first film in six years. Premiering in Cannes' Un Certain Regard sidebar to excellent reviews, this trippy, meta-Western is set in a Patagonian outpost with Viggo Mortensen as its unlikely star. The actor also produced and co-composed the score. A second Argentine film I'm hoping to see is Two Shots Fired, an existential comedy repping the first new feature in 10 years from New Argentine Cinema director Martín Rejtman. As he did in 1999 with Silvia Prieto and again in 2004 with Magic Gloves, Rejtman will be personally accompany his latest work to the SFIFF.

Other South American entries at SFIFF58 include new films from Chile (El Cordero), Peru (NN) and Brazil (The Second Mother). Mexico is represented solely by Arturo González Villaseñor's powerful-sounding documentary All of Me, which depicts the women who hand off food to rail-riding Central American immigrants en route to a new life in the U.S.A. From the Caribbean region SFIFF58 offers Murder in Pacot, a drama set in post-earthquake Haiti from the always interesting Raoul Peck (Lumumba). Sand Dollars arrives from Haiti's next-door neighbor and stars Geraldine Chaplin as one-half of an interracial, intergenerational lesbian couple. This work from the Dominican Republic was co-directed by Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas, a filmmaking team whose impressive previous features, Cochochi (2008) and Jean Gentil (2011) screened at previous SFIFF editions.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

SFIFF58 2015 Asian Cinema



Once upon a time, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) was the principle way Bay Area movie lovers kept up with Asia's key filmmakers. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Hong Sang-soo, Brillante Mendoza to name a few, were all directors whose films screened at SFIAAFF, often with the filmmaker in person accompanying a small retrospective. Since SFIAAFF transitioned into CAAMFest, however, they've evolved away from programming the higher-profile Asian art films one might find being discussed, for example, at Fandor's Keyframe Daily or in the pages of Film Comment or Sight & Sound. Luckily for us, the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) has stepped up big time. The festival's 58th edition includes nearly every new and noteworthy Asian-centric film my cinephilic heart could desire.

I had almost lost hope of ever seeing Black Coal, Thin Ice, the Chinese neo-noir that won Berlin's Golden Bear and Best Actor prizes well over a year ago. It's one of two Asian features I had the chance to preview on DVD screener and it was well worth the wait. Written and directed by Diao Yinan, this slow-burning, neon-hued policier follows a dejected former detective as he investigates a sad-eyed laundress who might also be a serial Black Widow. Set in the wintry northeastern province of Heilongjiang, Diao's brooding, off-kilter yarn yields a succession of swell surprises – death by ice skates, nocturnal Ferris wheel sex and a beauty parlor shootout that could be the biggest WTF moment you'll have at the festival.

I've also had a look at J.P. Sniadecki's The Iron Ministry, the latest doc from the folks at Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab. While less abstract than Leviathan (SFIFF 2013) and not as formally rigorous as Manakamana (SFIFF 2014), Sniadecki's film sticks to the SEL template of visually engaging, observational-yet-immersive non-fiction filmmaking. This intimate look at Chinese passenger trains begins with several minutes of black screen accompanied by grinding metal. Then the camera sets off to probe the train's physical components. When a human element is finally introduced, it's in the form of a boy's brilliantly sarcastic parody of train safety announcements. Sniadecki captures the chummy claustrophobia endured by eating and sleeping passengers and we the viewers are rarely permitted a glance at the train's passing scenery. The director records, and occasionally participates in, guarded conversations about life concerns in contemporary China. The film's bravura set piece has Sniadecki trailing a snack vendor as he wends his way through the train. The one thing everybody wants – instant noodles – is of course the only thing he doesn't have. In anticipation of SFIFF58's screening of The Iron Ministry, the Pacific Film Archive will host a two-night retrospective of the Sniadecki's work, with the director in conversation with local film writer Max Goldberg.



The Chinese film I'm most anxious to see at the fest is Red Amnesia, the third entry in director Wang Xiaoshuai's (Beijing Bicycles) Cultural Revolution trilogy. Veteran stage actress Lu Zhong stars as an older widow disoriented by the massive changes in modern China. She has strained relations with her two sons – a successful businessman and a gay hairdresser – and she's being stalked by a mysterious stranger who may possess unsavory knowledge of a past transgression. I'm also curious about Peter Ho-Sun Chan's Dearest, which takes on the subject of child abduction in a nation that still enforces a "one-child" policy. In his review for Variety, critic Peter Debruge claims the film's first half "reeks of self-righteous social-issue filmmaking," but then "takes a sharp turn into far more interesting, morally complex territory," once the child in question is returned to his parents. As a possible antidote to all these serious art films, SFIFF58 will also present legendary director Tsui Hark's 3-D historical action-adventure blockbuster The Taking of Tiger Mountain, adapted from one of Madame Mao's infamous Eight Model Plays from the Cultural Revolution era.


South Korea is represented by three films in the SFIFF58 line-up, beginning with the latest joint from prolific auteur Hong Sang-soo. Hill of Freedom is the time-fractured tale of a Japanese man tenaciously determined to regain the romantic affections of a Korean colleague. This 66-minute film with mostly English dialogue received mixed reviews when it played at Venice and Toronto, but I'm delighted for the chance to see it on a big screen. At nearly three times the length, writer-director-actor Park Jung-bum's 180-minute Alive is said to be an immensely powerful and incessantly grim depiction of a rural factory worker's struggles. Park's last film, The Journals of Musan, won the festival's New Directors Prize in 2010. Finally, in Kim Seong-hun's slick police thriller-cum-social satire, A Hard Day for one cop begins with a hit-and-run accident on the way home from his mother's funeral, and then proceeds to get worse. The film's final twist reportedly "brought down the house" at its Directors' Fortnight premiere at Cannes.
 
Two years ago SFIFF audiences were blown away by The Act of Killing, in which shameless, 1960's Indonesian paramilitary death squad leaders reenacted their crimes in the style of various Hollywood movie genres. Joshua Oppenheimer's stunning documentary would eventually receive an Oscar® nomination. Now the filmmaker returns with The Look of Silence, an equally acclaimed follow-up that shifts focus from perpetrator to victim, following the efforts of one Indonesian family to reconcile the 1966 murder of a beloved brother and son. If you're unable to catch either of SFIFF58's two screenings (one in SF at one at the PFA), The Look of Silence will open at Landmark Theatres on both sides of the Bay comes July 31.


Amongst the remaining Asian selections at SFIFF58, I'm most intrigued by Chaitanya Tamhane's Court. This Indian narrative feature depicts the trial of a 65-year-old social activist and performer, who is charged with murder after a sewage worker listens to one of his songs and then kills himself. Court distinguishes itself by delving into the personal lives of all involved – including the accused, the dead man's wife, the judge and the opposing legal teams – creating an enactment that indicts both India's class and judicial systems. The film created a lot of buzz when it screened at last month's New Directors New Films series at Lincoln Center and it's one of nine competitors for our festival's New Directors Prize. Other SFIFF58 Asian films competing for the same prize include Diep Hoang Nguyen's Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere from Viet Nam, and Afghani Oscar® submission A Few Cubic Meters of Love from director Jamshid Mahmoudi. Rounding out the festival's Asian roster is a pair of films from Japan: Daigo Matsui's Wonderful World End and Dark Wave selection The World of Kanako, a violent thriller starring immediately familiar actors like Kôji Yakusho and Joe Odagiri.

Cross-published on The Evening Class.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

SFIFF58 2015 French Cinema



I arrived at the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) press conference two weeks ago and immediately flipped through the catalogue, noting a prodigious number of must-see films that were already on my radar. Then I scanned the catalogue's Country Index and was struck by how few French films were on the roster. Was it an off year for France? Did most of the good stuff screen at last autumn's French Cinema Now series? Apart from a revival (Monte-Cristo), several co-productions and two documentaries with non-French subject matter (A German Youth, Of Men and War), franco-cine-philes at SFIFF58 appear to be left with just six features. The good news is they seem very well chosen, and I can vouch for two I already caught at January's Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent is a soulful, kaleidoscopic biopic of the celebrated French designer, starring Gaspard Ulliel (best known here as Hannibal Rising's young Mr. Lecter) as Saint Laurent and Jérémie Renier as his lover/business partner Pierre Bergé. The film elicited mixed reviews at Cannes, but grew in critical estimation over the past year – ultimately becoming France's Oscar® submission and the recipient of ten César nominations. Saint Laurent is a debauched ride through a destructive genius' life, all cradled in outsized period art direction and music. It also boasts an unforgettable succession of supporting turns from eminent European actors of today (Louis Garrel, Léa Seydoux, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and yesterday (Dominique Sanda, Helmut Berger). Seeing Saint Laurent on the Castro Theatre's big screen should be a scrumptious experience. But what really makes this a must-see SFIFF event is the expected presence of Bonello and Ulliel, who'll both be in the U.S. for a Bonello retrospective in NYC. Here's a promise of five bucks to anyone brave enough to ask Ulliel, "Dude, was that thing real or prosthetic?" The festival's lone screening of Saint Laurent is on Sunday, April 26 at 2 p.m. It also opens at Landmark's Embarcadero Cinema on May 15.


Just to be clear, Saint Laurent is a completely different movie than Jalil Lespert's Yves Saint Laurent, the somewhat middling, textbook YSL biopic that screened at last year's festival. Despite its faults, the earlier film does have a well deserved, César Award-winning lead performance from Pierre Niney, and the on-screen couture – courtesy of the YSL estate, who blessed the film – are the original, authentic YSL creations that once strolled Parisian runways. Unless you're well versed in everything Yves, I strongly recommended watching Yves Saint Laurent (just recently added to Netflix streaming) prior to taking in Bonello's impressionistic Saint Laurent. The latter makes little effort to situate the viewer with relevant information about characters and locations. I would have been lost had I not dutifully sat through Lespert's film first.

My unexpected highlight at Palm Springs was Lucie Borleteau's Fidelio: Alice's Odyssey. This feminist seafaring tale is a first feature for Borleteau, an established actress who served as assistant director on Claire Denis' White Material and Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale. Fidelio is anchored by a fearless performance from Ariane Labed (star of audaciously weird Greek flicks Attenberg and Alps) as a nautical engineer embarking on an extended container ship commission. She leaves behind a doting Norwegian boyfriend (Anders Danielsen Lie from Reprise and Oslo, August 31st), only to discover that the ship's captain (Melvil Poupaud) is an ex-lover from her sea cadet days. Labed's Alice navigates the resultant choppy emotional waters, whilst proving her mettle in a career dominated by men. Borteleau makes terrific use of the ship's imposing mise en scène and conveys a wondrous sense of life-at-sea.

Vincent is a another debut feature in SFIFF58's French line-up, featuring writer/director/actor Thomas Salvador as a mild-mannered construction worker who achieves superhuman powers when wet. In France, the film is being promoted as "Le premier film de super-héros français." Here it will compete for the festival's New Directors Prize and Salvador is happily expected to be in attendance. I'm also greatly anticipating David Oelhoffen's much-praised second feature Far From Men. Based on an Albert Camus short story, this neo-Western stars Viggo Mortensen – in his second SFIFF58 appearance after Jauja – as a schoolteacher forced to choose sides in the early years of Algeria's War of Independence. The wide-screen cinematography – with Morocco's high plateaus substituting for America's Monument Valley – is said to be breathtaking. The film's score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis has scored high marks as well.


Rounding out the festival's French roster are films from two veteran SFIFF filmmakers. The SF Film Society has championed director Mia Hansen-Løve since her first feature All is Forgiven, played the fest in 2008. Her fourth movie, Eden, spans two decades worth of France's electronic dance music scene and is based on the experiences of her DJ brother, Sven Hansen-Løve, who also co-scripted. Eden is one of five films comprising SFIFF58's World Cinema Spotlight: The Sounds of Cinema. The venerated "old French master" of this year's festival is 47-years-young François Ozon, whose SFIFF association spans from 2000's Under the Sand right up through last year's Young & Beautiful. By all accounts, his latest work is also one of his best. The New Girlfriend stars Romain Duris – whose personal appearance promoting Chinese Puzzle was a SFIFF57 highlight – as a widower who takes comfort in wearing his dead wife's clothes, to the delight of his late wife's best friend (Anaïs Demoustier). In his rave review for Variety, Justin Chang detects the influences of Hitchcock, Almodóvar and de Palma, describing The New Girlfriend as "a clever fantasia on the many varieties of sexual perversion."


Cross-published on The Evening Class.

Monday, April 6, 2015

SFIFF58 2015 More Awards & Special Events




A seemingly revitalized San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) unveiled the line-up for its 58th edition at a press conference last week. Duly impressive in both breadth and imagination, this year's fest is the first to bear the full imprint of SF Film Society Executive Director Noah Cowan, who was appointed to the job 14 months ago.

The first thing regular SFIFF attendees might notice is the structure under which films are now organized. Marquee Presentations is a new section comprised of "the festival circuit's most buzz-worthy titles," that will "often include interesting personalities in attendance." Fortunately, buzz-worthy hasn't translated into bigger ticket prices for these 18 select films. Dark Wave encompasses the genre films previously exhibited under the fest's Late Show banner and Vanguard is a newly created section for experimental works. All other non-competition feature films fall into the potentially nebulous categories of Masters and Global Visions. This year's 79 shorts will be spread across six programs and can be found amongst the Golden Gate Awards Competition listings.

Another practicality worth mentioning for 2015 festival-goers is that after five years, the New People Cinema venue is out and Landmark's Clay Theatre is back in. Although I appreciated New People for its close proximity to SFIFF's main venue, Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, not to mention the stadium seating that guaranteed clear sight lines to the subtitles, its subterranean location could become unbearably warm and stuffy, particularly for the final screening of the day. The Clay is a longer schlep from the Kabuki, which can be problematic if you have limited time between movies. But it's a worthwhile trade-off because the Clay's DCP projection, in my opinion, is the most gorgeous in the city. I'm also ecstatic the festival will be using the beloved Castro Theatre more than in recent years. The Mission District's Roxie, which most certainly has been used as a venue at some point since the fest's founding in 1957 – although perhaps not in the 40 years I've been attending – will host the Dark Wave shows on Friday and Saturday nights.

In my first report for SFIFF58, I explored the awards and special events that were publicized prior to the festival's opening press conference. Here are some thoughts on those just recently announced.
 
● Apart from Jason Segel's personal appearance, nothing in SFIFF58's line-up excites me as much as rock band Cibo Matto's gig at the Castro Theatre on May 5. I've been a fan since their 1996 debut Viva! La Woman, and was relieved when last year's comeback album, Hotel Valentine, turned out to be amazingly good. For their Castro gig, the band will perform a new score for Yoko Ono's 1970 film Fly, in which the camera follows a housefly for 25-minutes as it circumnavigates a nude woman's body. Here's hoping they'll find a way to incorporate Yoko's "vocalizations" from the original soundtrack. The Cibbo-Ono connection actually goes back to when Sean Ono Lennon was in the group and romantically linked with band co-founder Yuka Honda. Cibo Matto also provided back-up for Yoko when she performed at the 1996 Free Tibet concert in Golden Gate Park. Their SFIFF58 program will include a new score for the 1970 film adaptation of Oskar Schlemmer's famously trippy Bauhaus-era Triadic Ballet (which you can preview here), and other promised treats.

 ● Another propitious-sounding program from SFIFF58's Live & On Stage sidebar is Kronos Quartet Beyond Zero: 1914 – 1918. The venerable San Francisco avant-garde string quartet will perform Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov's titular anti-war composition, which incorporates everything from air-raid sirens to chanting monks. The program's visual element is supplied by filmmaker Bill Morrison, best known for his experimental collage film Decasia, which played the festival in 2002. Morrison has taken 35mm nitrate films shot during the Great War, converted them to HD and assembled them to accompany Vrebalov's musical construction. The rare WWI imagery Morrison recovered is believed to have "never been seen by modern audiences." For a more detailed description of the work, check out these notes on Kronos' website.

● While Cibo Matto occupies the time-slot traditionally given to a silent film accompanied by live rock music, have no fear, there will be classic silent cinema at SFIFF58. This year's Mel Novikoff Award, presented annually to an individual or institution enhancing the public's appreciation of world cinema, goes to "translator, scholar and film sleuth" Lenny Borger. The program will include a screening of Henri Fescourt's 1929 silent masterpiece Monte-Cristo (a North American premiere clocking in at 218 minutes!), in a new restoration spearheaded by Mr. Borger. Prior to the Monte-Cristo showing, Variety critic Scott Foundas will interview Borger, himself a former Parisian correspondent for the esteemed trade journal. Their conversation will revolve around Borger's career as a sub-titler of classic French cinema – his work includes new translations for The Rules of the Game, Children of Paradise, Quai des Orfervres and many others. For some fascinating background on Borger, check out this interview at Paris-Expat.com.

● This year's Persistence of Vision Award, given to a "filmmaker whose main body of work falls outside the realm of narrative feature filmmaking," honors British documentarian Kim Longinotto. Her powerful, women-centric films have been a mainstay of the festival for 15 years, with my own personal favorites being Divorce Iranian Style and Gaea Girls (the latter a look at Japanese female wrestlers). The program will include an on-stage conversation (interviewer still TBA) plus a showing of Longinotto's latest work. Dreamcatcher is a portrait of Brenda Myers-Powell, a 25-year veteran of prostitution in Chicago who now dedicates her life to preventing the sexual exploitation of at-risk youth.



● I'm probably safe in predicting that the wildest and weirdest – and perhaps the most wondrous – SFIFF58 program will be Welcome Space Brothers: The Films of the Unarius Academy of Science. Unarius was/is a benign Southern California religion/cult, who in their 1970/1980's heyday employed public access TV to spread a message of reincarnation and psychic space travel. Documentary filmmaker Jodi Wille (The Source Family, SFIFF 2012) will be our guide to all things Unariun. Her program will feature a compilation of the Unarius Academy's "best" videos and a screening of the 1979 featurette The Arrival, which is about "an aborigine who overcomes psychic amnesia to work through his past life as a genocidal space commander." The Q&A will be attended by "core Unariuns." Wouldn't miss this for all the stars in the galaxy!

● In addition to the aforementioned Monte Cristo and Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone, SFIFF58 will feature three more revivals – two of them newly restored 35mm prints courtesy of UCLA's Film & Television Archive. Wanda (1970) is considered a progenitor of the American independent film movement and Barbara Loden is credited with being the first woman to write, direct and star in her own feature film. This story about a disaffected coal miner's wife who hooks up with a petty criminal was the only film directed by Loden, who was also a Tony Award-winning actress, Ernie Kovacs TV show sidekick and second wife to Elia Kazan. Also screening in 35mm will be Stanton Kaye's Brandy in the Wilderness, a 1969 "diary" film depicting the dissolution of Kaye's relationship with writer/actress Brandon French. Finally, SFIFF58 will host the U.S. premiere of 54: The Director's Cut, a near total reconstruction of Mark Christopher's reviled 1998 flick set in NYC's debauched discotheque, Studio 54. This new version screened to acclaim at this year's Berlin Film Festival, resulting in its being rebranded a minor masterpiece. Director Christopher, as well as actors Ryan Philippe and Breckin Meyer, are expected to attend the sure-to-be-fabulous Castro Theatre screening on the second night of the festival. For a fascinating overview of 54's tortured history, check out this article by Variety's Peter Debruge.


● The far-out future of the movie-going experience will be amongst the topics for rumination in SFIFF58's State of Cinema Address. The talk will be delivered by none other than Douglass Trumbull, the director, visual effects artist and inventor responsible for the look of such movie classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner


Cross-published on The Evening Class.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

SFIFF58 2015 Anticipating the Line-up



The San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) is busy gearing up for its 58th edition, with the full line-up set to be announced at a March 31 press conference. Based on press releases emanating from the SF Film Society in recent weeks, I'd say things are already looking pretty sweet.

In addition to being the longest-running film festival in the Western Hemisphere, SFIFF is this Bay Area cinephile's favorite fortnight of the year. As has become a tradition here at film-415, on the eve of the SFIFF58 press conference we offer an overview of what's been announced thus far, some prognosticating over what else might be in store and finally, a list of 20 films we're most hoping to find on this year's roster.


 ● SFIFF58 gets going on April 23 at the Castro Theatre with Alex Gibney's Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, which arrives fresh from its SXSW world premiere. The insanely prolific Gibney, whose recent warts n' all docs on James Brown and Scientology aren't even six months old, was inspired to make a film about Apple's co-founder after witnessing the mass public lamentation that followed Job's death. It's a portrait Variety's Justin Chang describes as "deeply unflattering" and "more than willing to speak ill of the dead." Other reviews have dubbed it a "tech-age Citizen Kane." Gibney will of course be in attendance, along with "additional special guests." Those guests will need to be extra special, however, to stem a post-screening exodus to MUNI's F-streetcar line – the most expedient way to reach SFIFF58's opening night party at Madame Tussaud's wax museum at Fisherman's Wharf. There I look forward to an evening of unbridled, faux-celebrity selfie-taking at one of the most fabulously inspired ideas for a party venue ever.

The fest closes 15 days later with a Castro screening of Michael Almereyda's Experimenter, described as a highly stylized biopic about a once controversial social psychologist. Peter Sarsgaard stars as Stanley Milgram, he of the infamous 1963 Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures, as well as later work that was central to formulating the Six Degrees of Separation theory. This will be Almereyda's fifth film to play SFIFF. The most memorable for me were his 1994 post-modern vampire flick Nadja and the NYC update of Hamlet with Ethan Hawke (the latter of which closed the festival in 2000). SFIFF58's Closing night special guests are still TBA and the party will be held at Mezzanine.

● This year's Centerpiece film is James Ponsoldt's The End of the Tour, based on Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky's memoir of a days-long encounter with writer David Foster Wallace. Ponsoldt, whose last film was The Spectacular Now, will be on hand for the screening along with star Jason Segel. Full disclosure – I adore Mr. Segel and am beyond enthusiastic over this impending SFIFF appearance. (I mean, I even went to see a friggin' Muppets movie because this guy was in it.) Segel has received near-unanimous raves for his performance as the reticent, yet occasionally garrulous author Wallace, in this his first dramatic feature leading role. The film, which co-stars Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky and boasts a screenplay by playwright Donald Margulies, was also one of the best-reviewed movies at Sundance. This all happens on May 2 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.



● SFIFF58 rolls up its sleeve for an injection of old-school Hollywood glamour when Richard Gere accepts the fest's Peter J. Owens Award for excellence in acting on April 26 at the Castro Theatre. The program will include a career-best clips reel, on-stage interview and a screening of Oren Moverman's Time Out of Mind, in which Gere plays a NYC homeless man. In his rave review for Variety, critic Justin Chang praises Gere's "beautifully judged performance, plain and true, and one for which he appears to have purged every trace of actorly vanity or self-consciousness." The film also features Jena Malone, Steve Buscemi, Kyra Sedgwick and Ben Vereen in supporting roles. Fun fact – the last time a Richard Gere movie played SFIFF was in 1986, when Days of Heaven screened at a tribute for cinematographer Nestor Almendros.

● More than two decades after he first charmed SFIFF audiences with his 1994 debut feature Cronos, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro returns to claim the fest's Irving M. Levin Directing Award (f.k.a. the Founder's Directing Award and before that, the Akira Kurosawa Award) at the Castro Theatre on April 25. From his astonishing filmography the festival has chosen to screen 2001's Spanish Civil War chiller The Devil's Backbone, in a program that will also feature a clips reel, on-stage interview and a promised sneak peak at del Toro's future projects. May the choice of interviewer be as inspired as last year's pairing of Richard Linklater with Parker Posey.

● Nine films will compete for this year's New Directors Prize and as usual, it's an intriguing band of contenders. The Tribe boasts the highest profile, having screened in Cannes' Critics Week sidebar where it ultimately took home the Grand Prize. Directed by Miroslav Slaboshpytskiy, this tale of social Darwinism is set in a Ukrainian school for the deaf and told completely in unsubtitled sign language. I've also read excellent things about Laura Bispuri's Sworn Virgin, which recently premiered at Berlin. Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher stars here as an Albanian woman who has lived her life as a man and is now imagining other options. Remaining New Directors Prize hopefuls include filmmakers from Viet Nam, India, Ivory Coast, Chile, Albania, Afghanistan and France.

● SFIFF is big on documentaries. Nearly one-third of the line-up has been given over to non-fiction filmmaking in recent years, which isn't surprising given the Bay Area's stature as a doc-producing hotbed. Ten films will battle it out in 2015's Golden Gate Awards Documentary Feature Competition, with J.P. Sniadecki's The Iron Ministry at the top of my must-see list. This meditative look at China's railway system comes from the folks at Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab, whose revolutionary documentaries such as Manakamana, Leviathan and Sweetgrass have enriched previous SFIFF editions. I'm also excited about two films which won Sundance's Special Jury Prize and Grand Jury Prize. Respectively, Bill and Turner Ross' Western looks at two neighboring cities on opposite sides of the Rio Grande, while Crystal Moselle's bizarre-sounding The Wolfpack observes a family of six teenage shut-ins whose entire worldview is based on the DVDs they watch.


● Performance artist-author-movie director Miranda July returns to SFIFF with the west coast premiere of her performance piece New Society, on April 28 and 29 at the Brava Theater Center. Co-presented by SFMOMA, New Society is said to be heavy on audience participation, with some performances witnessing more audience members up on-stage than in their seats. The Boston Globe's Don Aucoin describes it as an "innovative theatrical experiment illustrating the myriad ways societies form, cohere, change, fracture, and maybe persevere over time." Ah, but does it have anything to do with film? Most everyone I know is either a MJ lover or hater. The former have seen to it that both SFIFF performances of New Society are already at RUSH.

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Each year I can't help but speculate on which films will fill out the remaining SFIFF line-up. Landmark Theatre's upcoming release list is a good place to start, except when it's not. This year only four flicks on the arthouse chain's calendar smell like potential SFIFF candidates: the narrative features Aloft (Claudia Lhosa) and Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello), as well as docs Ivy (Albert Maysles) and Dark Star: HR Gigers Welt (Belinda Sallin).

Last year the festival screened Philippine auteur Lav Diaz' sublime Norte, the End of History roughly two months before it reappeared at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. This year Diaz' From What is Before won the top prize at Locarno and is scheduled for a June YBCA screening. Will SFIFF jump in and lay claim to another Diaz Bay Area premiere?

Every January I travel to the Palm Springs International Film Festival and see films that might appear at SFIFF. Among the prime PSIFF selections I caught this year, all of which I'd be pleased to revisit, are the aforementioned Saint Laurent, the French New Wave-inspired Mexican film Güeros, Belgian director Fabrice du Welz' creepy remake of The Honeymoon Killers (Alléluia), Mexican satirist Luis Estrada's scathing The Perfect Dictatorship, feminist seafaring drama Fidelio, Alice's Journey and Bruno Dumont's comic, made-for-TV police procedural Li'l Quinquin. And while the latter is currently available to stream at Fandor, it is very much worth watching on a big screen if one has that opportunity.

Past SFIFF wish lists were always culled from films that played the previous year's festival circuit, as well as those debuting in the early months of the current year. This year, however, the list is exclusively composed of remaining unseen titles from 2014. If asked to name five 2015 releases I'd most love to see at SFIFF58, I'd have to say Peter Greenaway's Eisenstein in Guanajuato, Pablo Larraín's The Club, Guy Maddin's The Forbidden Room, Sebastian Silva's Nasty Baby and Jayro Bustamante's Ixcanul Volcano.

Finally, both The Tribe and The Iron Ministry appeared on my initial list and were replaced once they were announced as screening in competition. So in essence, two wishes were granted straight out of the gate.


My SFIFF58 Wish List

Alive (South Korea, dir Park Jung-bun)
Five years after he won the festival's New Directors Prize for The Journals of Musan, I'm hoping director-writer-actor Park returns with this follow-up, a grim three-hour formalist portrait of a struggling soybean paste factory worker.

Eden (France, dir. Mia Hansen-Love)
The SF Film Society has Bay Area-premiered all three of this director's works (All is Forgiven, Father of My Children, Goodbye First Love), so I wouldn't be surprised if they've also carved out a slot for this drama spread across two decades of France's electronic house music scene.

The Fool (Russia, dir. Yuri Bykov)
This was the second prominent Russian film of 2014 to deal with one man's fight against systemic political corruption (Oscar® nominee Leviathan being the other). Artem Bystrov won Locarno's Best Actor prize for his portrayal of a naïve plumber raising the red flag on an about-to-collapse apartment block.

Free Fall (Hungary, dir. György Pálfi)
The director's delightfully weird debut feature Hukkle played the festival in 2003, but his subsequent three films, including 2006's internationally popular Taxidermia, have gone Bay Area M.I.A.. Pálfi's new one took best director and jury prizes at Karlovy Vary, and follows the bizarre events witnessed by a woman who's jumped off her apartment building rooftop.

Goodnight Mommy(Austria, dirs. Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz)
Twin boys make life hell for their facially disfigured mother in this "fairy tale for Dogtooth enthusiasts," co-written and directed by Ulrich Seidl's wife (Veronika Franz, who also co-scripted several Seidl films including Import/Export and all three Paradise films).

Horse Money (Portugal, Pedro Costa)
Costa expands his acclaimed Fontainhas slum trilogy into a quartet, following its Cape Verdean protagonist Ventura into his new life. SFIFF brought us the first (Ossos) and third (Colossal Youth) Fontainhas installments and will hopefully follow through with Costa's latest, which earned him the Best Director prize at Locarno.

Hungry Hearts (Italy, dir. Saverio Costanzo)
This director won SFIFF's FIPRESCI prize in 2005 for the almost Oscar®-nominated Private. His first English language film centers upon a mother's postpartum psychosis and won awards for Best Actor (Adam Driver) and Best Actress (Alba Rohrwacher) at Venice.

In the Basement (Austria, dir. Ulrich Seidl)
Austria's "guru of the grotesque" returns to documentary filmmaking with this look at his fellow countrymen's penchant for domestic subterranean weirdness.

Jauja (Argentina, dir. Lisandro Alonso)
South America's most noted cinematic minimalist comes back with his first feature in six years, a trippy meta-Western set in a Patagonian outpost, featuring a lead performance by an actual movie star (Viggo Mortensen, who also produced and co-composed the score).

Journey to the West (Taiwan, dir. Tsai Ming-liang)
Tsai's beguiling 2012 short Walker, in which actor Lee Kang-sheng posed as a monk and s-l-o-w-l-y traversed a series of Hong Kong cityscapes, has been expanded into a Marseilles-set feature, and boasts an assist from actor Denis Lavant.

The Look of Silence (Denmark, dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
SFIFF audiences were blown away two years ago by eventual Oscar®-nominee The Act of Killing, in which Indonesian paramilitary death squad leaders reenacted their crimes on film. Oppenheimer's equally acclaimed sequel follows one family as they confront those who murdered a beloved family member back in 1966.

Love & Mercy (USA, dir. Bill Pohlad)
What excites me most about this Brian Wilson biopic, starring Paul Dano and John Cusack as the younger/older Beach Boy genius, is that it shares the same screenwriter as Todd Haynes' radically offbeat Bob Dylan biopic, I'm Not There.

Magical Girl (Spain, dir. Carlos Vermut)
This "calculated exercise in genre movie subversion" cleaned up at last year's San Sebastian Film Festival, taking home prizes for Best Film (the Golden Shell) and Best Director.

Maidan (Ukraine, dir. Sergei Loznitsa)
After garnering international acclaim for narrative features My Joy (SFIFF 2011) and In the Fog (SFIFF 2013), Loznitsa returns to his documentary roots with this strictly observational accounting of the 2013/2014 Ukrainian uprising.

Pasolini (France, dir. Abel Ferrara)
Not even the stinky reviews from the Venice Film Festival have dampened my desire to catch Ferrara's avant-garde imagining of director Pier Paolo Pasolini's (Willem Dafoe) last day on earth.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Contemplating Existence (Sweden, dir. Roy Andersson)
Sweden's king of absurdist, fixed-camera tableaux came to Venice with his first film since 2006's You, the Living and went home with the fest's top prize, the Golden Lion.

The President (Georgia, dir. Moshen Makhmalbaf)
The Bay Area hasn't seen a new film from key Iranian New Wave director Makhmalbaf since 2001's Kandahar. His latest is a parable about the Arab Spring which won the top prize at last year's Chicago International Film Festival.

Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait (France, dir. Wiam Bedirxan, Ossama Mohammed)
This acclaimed "poetic lamentation" on the horrors of Syria's civil war combines amateur on-line footage – assembled and narrated by exiled Syrian auteur Mohammed – with that of a female, Kurdish activist schoolteacher reporting from the front lines in Homs.

Songs from the North (USA, dir. Yoo Soon-Mi)
Winner of the Best First Film prize at Locarno, this documentary is being touted as the film to see about North Korea.

Winter Sleep (Turkey, dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Nearly one year after it won the Palme d'or at Cannes, Bay Area movie lovers are still waiting to see this new work from one of the world's leading filmmakers. If there's one movie I can't imagine not being included in 2015's SFIFF line-up, Winter Sleep is it. 

Cross-published on The Evening Class.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Favorite Films of 2014


Ten Favorite Narrative Features

Boyhood (USA dir. Richard Linklater)
I was tempted to plunk another film in the top spot just to stand out from the crowd, but this really was my fave flick of the year. I'm especially grateful to have seen the "festival cut" with Linklater's dream soundtrack, which included songs from Outkast, Daft Punk, Weezer and others that were sadly M.I.A. from the theatrical release. At that same Castro Theatre screening at this year's SF International Film Festival, I had the added pleasure of watching Linklater be interviewed on-stage by none other than Parker Posey, followed by a post-screening Q&A with the director and daughter/star Lorelei. Finally, I'm compelled to give a loud shout-out to Ethan Hawke, who's gotten zero Awards Season love for what I consider the best performance of his career.

Clouds of Sils Maria (France dir. Olivier Assayas)
After narrowly missing last year's Ten Favorites with his autobiographical Something in the Air, Assayas came through with my number two film of 2014, a funny, whip-smart, deliciously meta treatise on movie actresses starring Juliette Binoche and a staggeringly excellent Kristen Stewart. This All About Eve for the age in which we now live proved a stellar closer for the SF Film Society's French Cinema Now series.

Locke (UK dir. Steven Knight)
Tom Hardy delivers the performance of the year in this gripping portrayal of a construction manager juggling multiple crises via Bluetooth whilst barreling down a UK highway in the dead of night. The film also reps an astounding achievement for sophomore director Steven Knight, who kept things moving at a intense clip and created keen visual interest in the lone setting of a car's interior/exterior.

Eastern Boys (France dir. Robin Campillo)
A gay, middle-aged Parisian gets more than he bargained for after hooking up with a Ukrainian hustler in this stunning discovery from 2014's SFIFF, which in its third act transformed into the most intensely nerve-wracking thriller I'd seen in years. Until now, director Campillo has been best known for co-writing films with Laurent Cantet (The Class) and for his only previous feature as director, the revered 2004 zombie flick, They Came Back.

Moebius (South Korea dir. Kim Ki-duk)
In the first 10 minutes of this outlandish horror show from formalist shock-meister Kim, a woman retaliates against her philandering husband by cutting off their teenage son's penis and eating it. Then shit starts to get really weird. Did I mention there's absolutely no dialogue (but lots of grunting, screaming, moaning and groaning) or that the same actress plays the disparate roles of both wife and mistress? Moebius had a brief NYC theatrical release this summer, but no Bay Area programmer had the balls to touch it. Once again, all-too-frequently (and wrongly) maligned Netflix came to the rescue!

Club Sandwich (Mexcio dir. Fernando Eimbcke)
After a five year hiatus, my favorite Mexican director returned with yet another knowingly heartfelt and hilarious deadpan comedy, this one about a pubescent boy encountering first love while on holiday with his single mother at an off-season beach resort. It was an added thrill to have Sr. Eimbcke on hand at the film's SFIFF screenings.

Birdman (USA dir Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Bursting with bravura scriptwriting, direction, acting, music and camerawork, this was a film so entirely original and kinetic in its conception that it nearly defied description. And Dear God, I'll never take your name in vain again if you'll let Edward Norton beat out J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) for best supporting actor.

Force Majeure (Sweden dir. Ruben Östlund)
In this brilliant, bristling social satire from Sweden, a family man endures the shame brought on by an act of cowardice at an Alpine ski resort (the latter of which supplies this year's most intriguing mise en scene). I've seen six of the nine films shortlisted for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar® and this is by far my favorite (sorry, Ida).

The Dance of Reality (Chile dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky)
Latin America's 85-year-old silver screen surrealist emerged after nearly a quarter century's absence with this autobiographical opus magnum that nearly exploded with cinematic invention. Considered in tandem with the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune, it represented a genuine embarrassment of riches.

Mommy (Canada dir. Xavier Dolan) 25-year-old gay French-Canadian wunderkind Dolan delivered a massive jolt to 2014's Cannes competition with this emotionally super-sized epic about a fiery single mom's love for her sociopathic teenage son. This is the young director's fifth film in as many years and the third to make my annual Top Ten.

* I missed several opportunities to see Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Two Days, One Night, and am fairly convinced it would have made this list had I seen it. (I'll finally catch the film next weekend at the Palm Springs International Film Festival). Also, for what it's worth, Bruce LaBruce's Gerontophilia and J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year came this close to Top Ten inclusion.


Narrative Feature Honorable Mentions 
(38 more films that helped make 2014 a damn fine year for movie-watching)

The Amazing Catfish (Mexico dir. Claudia Sainte-Luce)
The Auction (Canada dir. Sébastien Pilote)
Bethlehem (Israel dir. Yuval Adler)
Blue Ruin (USA dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
Calvary (Ireland dir. John Michael McDonagh)
Chef (USA dir. Jon Favreau)
Child's Pose (Romania dir. Calin Peter Netzer)
Chinese Puzzle (France dir. Cédric Klapisch)
The Dune (France dir. Yossi Aviram)
The Easy Way Out (France dir. Brice Cauvin)
An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (Bosnia/Herzegovina dir. Danis Tanovic)
Foxcatcher (USA dir. Bennett Miller)
Gerontophilia (Canada dir. Bruce LaBruce)
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (USA dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)
God's Slave (Venezuela dir. Joel Novoa)
Gone Girl (USA dir. David Fincher)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (USA dir. Wes Anderson)
Happy Christmas (USA dir. Joe Swanberg)
Harmony Lessons (Kazakhstan, dir. Emir Baigazin)
Holiday (Ecuador dir. Diego Araujo)
In Bloom (Georgia dir. Nana Ekvtimishvili)
Jimmy P. (USA/France dir. Arnaud Desplechin)
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (USA dir. David Zellner)
Leviathan (Russia dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Lilting (UK dir. Hong Khaou)
Love at First Fight (France dir. Thomas Cailley)
A Most Violent Year (USA dir. J.C. Chandor)
A Most Wanted Man (UK dir. Anton Corbijn)
Mr. Turner (UK dir. Mike Leigh)
Norte, the End of History (Philippines dir. Lav Diaz)
Omar (Palestine dir. Hany Abu-Assad)
The Reconstruction (Argentina dir. Juan Taratuto)
Salvation Army (France/Morocco dir. Abdellah Taïa)
Stray Dogs (Taiwan dir. Tsai Ming-liang)
Venus in Fur (France dir. Roman Polanski)
Violette (France dir. Martin Provost)
The Way He Looks (Brazil dir. Daniel Ribeiro)
Zero Motivation (Israel dir. Talya Lavie)


Ten Favorite Documentary Features

What Now? Remind Me (Portugal, dir. Joaquim Pinto)
Jodorowsky's Dune (USA dir. Frank Pavich)
Citizenfour (USA dir. Laura Poitras)
The Dog (USA dir. Allison Berg, Frank Keraudren)
Finding Vivian Maier (USA dir. John Maloof, Charlie Siskel)
The Spirit of '45 (UK dir. Ken Loach)
Freedom Summer (USA dir. Stanley Nelson)
Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity (USA dir. Catherine Gund)
The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (USA dir. Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine)
No No: A Documentary (USA dir. Jeff Radice)


Documentary Feature Honorable Mentions

The Case Against 8 (USA dir. Ben Cotner, Ryan White)
Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank (USA dir. Sheila Canavan, Michael Chandler)
Last Days in Viet Nam (USA dir. Rory Kennedy)
Manakamana (USA/Nepal dir. Stephanie Spray, Pacho Velez)
The Missing Picture (Cambodia dir. Rithy Panh)
Natan (Ireland/UK/USA/France dir. Paul Duane, David Cairns)
The Salt of the Earth (France/Brazil dir. Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders)
School of Babel (France dir. Julie Bertuccelli)
The Square (Egypt/USA dir. Jehane Noujaim)
Violette Leduc: In Pursuit of Love (France dir. Esther Hoffenberg)


Special Citations

● American indies don't always have to suck: Joe Swanberg's Happy Christmas, Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin, Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child and David Zellner's Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

● Funniest line of dialogue: "I don't want to live in a world of dressed-up dogs!" from Jodorowsky's The Dance of Reality

2014's Sexiest Man Alive: Edward Snowden in Citizenfour

Cruel and unusual punishment: The final two static shots, lasting 14 and seven minutes respectively, in Tsai Ming-liang's Stray Dogs

Excedrin headaches #297 and #410: the "roving right eye" segments of Godard's 3-D Goodbye to Language and the screeching teenage girls in Lucas Moodysson's We Are the Best!

Best villain: Mae Paner as Magda the heartless moneylender who gets hacked to death in Lav Diaz' Norte, the End of History

Best dance sequence: Lika Babluani's hypnotic wedding dance in Nana Ekvtimishvili's Georgian coming-of-ager In Bloom

Best insect torture devices: Emir Baigazin's Harmony Lessons

The most fun I had at the movies in 2014: the SFIFF screening of Chinese Puzzle with director Cédric Klapisch and sexy French superstar Romain Duris in person, presenting a hilarious film that was loads better than any three-quel had a right to be.

She's everywhere! She's everywhere!: Isabelle Huppert in Serge Bozon's Tip Top, Niels Arden Oplev's Dead Man Down, Catherine Breillat's Abuse of Weakness, Ned Benson's The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby and Marc Fitousi's Paris Follies

Laughed myself sick: the office chair airbag scene from Nicolas Stoller's Neighbors

Movie ending that made me pump my fist in the air and scream, "Fuck, yeah!": Hany Abu-Assad's Omar

Sexiest Soviet filmmaker turned actor: Vsevolod Pudovkin in the SF Silent Film Festival's revival of Lev Kuleshov's 1924 Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks

Best Revival: the SF Silent Film Festival's mind-blowing 4K digital restoration of Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Worst Revival: the shitty 4K digital restoration of Richard Lester's 1964 A Hard Day's Night

Most ludicrous depiction of my hometown of Trenton, NJ: Michel Gast's 1959 I Spit on Your Graves, shown as part of the Roxie's "The French Had a Name For It" film noir series

Best use of a pop music classic: David Bowie's "Space Oddity" in Fruit Chan's dystopian Hong Kong nightmare, The Midnight After

Best films by established French auteurs that popped up on Netflix without ever having been screened in the Bay Area: Bruno Dumont's Camille Claudel 1915 and Arnaud Desplechin's Jimmy P.

You had to see it to believe it: Ex-soccer star Eric Cantona crawling around a cage dressed only in bulging white briefs while getting whipped by a snarling, white fur-clad Béatrice Dalle in Yann Gonzalez' You and the Night

Hated it!: Damien Chazelle's Whiplash

Didn't really get it: Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin