1980s List Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 2)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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Cold Bishop
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#101 Post by Cold Bishop » Thu Jun 12, 2008 4:58 pm

No, it is the Director's cut that is shorter.

Just a quick search online brought this up...
TCM.com wrote:The production dragged on for a year and Burnett was already late when he submitted his nearly two-hour rough cut to the German studio, which proceeded to show the unfinished cut in the New Directors/New Films festival in New York.... Trimmed by more than half an hour, the 82-minute "Director's Cut" was released in 2007.

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Tom Hagen
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#102 Post by Tom Hagen » Thu Jun 12, 2008 8:14 pm

Perkins Cobb wrote:I certainly won't argue against Ebert as an all-around "friend of cinema," but ... my God, his taste is terrible.
My favorite gem is his 1980 list ranking The Black Stallion the number one film, ahead of Raging Bull. Truth be told, if Ebert were writing this list today, I imagine it would be significantly different. For example, The Decalogue would certainly make a higher showing.

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domino harvey
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#103 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jun 13, 2008 3:24 pm

Distant Voices Still Lives
Deep breath...
If this is British cinema's "masterpiece," the UK is fucked. Doomed by its rigid, often obnoxious self-imposed formal constraints, Davies' film attempts to replicate the past from the present by presenting elliptical passages, ie non-linear memories of times good and bad. Okay, sounds good. After all, Radio Days does more or less the same thing. But even though Radio Days is a comedy, its characterizations are full and rich: these complex characters could exist. In Distant Voices, the characters are archetypes: the abusive father, the flirty best friend, the diligent mother... This movie shows the viewer nothing new about these types of characters, nor does it tell us something we already knew in a fresh, interesting way. The use of tableaus and characters absently singing quickly outwore its welcome within the first fifteen minutes, and their use only increases as the film progresses, to my great annoyance. Proof that style isn't always everything. I'm usually able to give art house fare at least a pass, even when it under-enthuses, but not this time.

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sidehacker
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#104 Post by sidehacker » Fri Jun 13, 2008 4:06 pm

This movie shows the viewer nothing new about these types of characters, nor does it tell us something we already knew in a fresh, interesting way.
I don't think its suppose to be a deep character study. It's suppose to be more vague and poetic or something.

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domino harvey
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#105 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jun 13, 2008 4:10 pm

Certainly no movie has ever thought itself more poetic, but all I saw was shallow nothingness behind the gloss.

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denti alligator
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#106 Post by denti alligator » Fri Jun 13, 2008 4:38 pm

domino harvey wrote:Certainly no movie has ever thought itself more poetic, but all I saw was shallow nothingness behind the gloss.
This may be one of those films that you either "get" or don't. And I mean that on a quasi-emotional level. Either the songs and tableauxs move you or they don't.

Can someone who knows the film better put to words why it's so fantastic? (I can't.)

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zedz
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#107 Post by zedz » Fri Jun 13, 2008 5:00 pm

denti alligator wrote: This may be one of those films that you either "get" or don't. And I mean that on a quasi-emotional level. Either the songs and tableauxs move you or they don't.

Can someone who knows the film better put to words why it's so fantastic? (I can't.)
Probably not. I've only ever seen this on the big screen, and it's one of those purely cinematic experiences that is an emotional steamroller primarily in stylistic terms: the characters and narrative are, as domino notes, rather abstracted, but the camera movements, dissolves and mise en scene are, for me, hugely moving. Beneath the surface there's a huge amount of pain in this film, which is even more rawly expressed in the trilogy, and that's one of the factors that gives this film such impact for me.

But if you don't 'get' the songs (themselves an abstraction, a distraction, a simultaneous sublimation and expression of emotion) you're basically screwed. I'm just old enough to remember the 'community singing' generation.

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domino harvey
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#108 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jun 13, 2008 5:09 pm

The problem for me isn't a matter of whether I "get" what the film is attempting to portray, it's that I think it fails in these attempts. I will admit that I felt like Armond White halfway through watching this film, as I knew I would be ostracizing myself from the board with my opinion.

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zedz
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#109 Post by zedz » Sun Jun 15, 2008 5:58 pm

Sink or Swim

Definitely a contender for my top ten, this wonderful film crams more into three-quarters of an hour than many filmmakers manage in a career.

Like most of my favourite experimental films, Sink or Swim has a great structural and conceptual clarity, but it generates wonderful complexity out of that structure.

The film is built upon two trajectories, one running backward (the alphabetically titled sequences: Zygote, Y Chromosome, X Chromosome, Witness, Virginity etc.) and one running forward (the biological and autobiographical – from conception to adulthood). Its topic is Su Friedrich’s lifelong relationship with her smart, withholding father, but the autobiography is distanced, both through its use of the third person, subtly complicated as the film progresses, and through the rigorous formality of its means. The film works brilliantly as a companion piece to The Ties that Bind, Friedrich’s earlier film about her mother, but this is definitely the senior partner of the diptych, showing the filmmaker’s associative intelligence at its peak.

The film makes powerful use of silence. With only about three, very deliberate, exceptions, the only sound on the soundtrack is the little-girl narration of self-contained anecdotes, and some footage runs, like Friedrich’s early dream/nightmare shorts, in stark silence. Also in Friedrich’s arsenal is her burnished, evocative, diverse black and white photography (and found footage) and a great sense of irony, though this is not as witty as the subsequent Rules of the Road.

Although the components of the film are very simple, and so carefully separated from one another that their simplicity is fully communicated to the viewer as an intrinsic part of the aesthetic, the associations between them are extremely rich, and operate on multiple levels. First there’s the relationship between the ‘chapter title’ and the imagery that chapter contains. Sometimes it’s generally descriptive (‘Zygote’ consists of old biology film close-ups); sometimes it’s more oblique (‘Insanity’ features roving shots of what seems to be an empty hospital); sometimes it’s ironic (‘Competition’ is composed of stills of Occidental Madonnas alternated with Oriental Whores); sometimes the wires seem to be crossed (an animated kinship diagram illustrates ‘Discovery’ while shots of travel accompany ‘Kinship’); sometimes the connection is completely mysterious, or only explained by the narration.

Then there’s the connection between the imagery and the narration of each anecdote. Sometimes it’s a direct illustration (‘Discovery’); sometimes it’s an indirect or emerging one (‘Utopia’ builds up to an explanation for the incongruous circus footage we’ve been watching for a couple of minutes); sometimes it’s quite disjunctive, or elusive, or mediated by a chapter title that sits somewhere between the imagery and the narrative. And throughout there are little ‘eureka’ moments when a carefully contrived ‘chance’ coincidence creates a meaningful connection (the way in which Zeus’s "deadly thunderbolt" coincides with science film footage of a shadowy pulsation captioned “Primitive Heart”) or you see three very diverse elements conjure up a fourth or fifth (‘Utopia’ continues the film’s Greek mythology theme with the story of famed athlete Atalanta, accompanied by shots of bronzed women bodybuilders, in turn evoking Friedrich’s otherwise inexplicit – in this film, at least – identity as a feminist and lesbian).

The third level of association is between titles and narration, which is as subtle and changeable as the above associations. Fourth / fifth / sixth are the serial connections between those three elements. Despite the self-containment of each section, several of them build up into larger units – little narrative arcs or associations, even at the level of the chapter titles (e.g. ‘Temptation’ / ‘Seduction’ / ‘Realism’; ‘Memory’ / ‘Loss’; ‘Ghosts’ / ‘Flesh’). Some chapters carry on the narrative, or the imagery, of the preceding ones, some jump into apparently completely different areas.

Finally, there are the global relationships: the way the final, multi-titled chapter (‘Athena / Atalanta / Aphrodite’) relates to the Greek mythology theme and takes the film back its start, where Zeus gave birth to these three women; the very sly way in which Friedrich paces her revelations, so that information later in the film explains or amplifies or ironizes earlier sequences (the significance of Schubert, for instance; the relationship between Su and her aunt), or raises questions; the parallel development of motifs in the narrative and in the imagery (e.g. water and swimming); the brief coda, an audio and visual canon, that reveals the thematic significance of the film’s structure. A big part of reading the film as a whole involves paying particular attention to where Friedrich violates her self-imposed rules, such as the ‘Ghosts’ chapter, which eschews audio narration, third-person distanciation, prints the image in negative and uses sync sound.

At the heart, it’s the personal content that brings the filmic form to life, not the other way around, so Sink or Swim is a film that rewards on intellectual, aesthetic and emotional levels.

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foggy eyes
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#110 Post by foggy eyes » Sun Jun 15, 2008 6:41 pm

zedz wrote:Sink or Swim
Sold! I've been thinking about checking out Friedrich for a while, but this has completely won me over. Thanks for the fascinating analysis - although it might be worth noting that her website lists the date of the film as 1990.

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zedz
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#111 Post by zedz » Sun Jun 15, 2008 8:46 pm

foggy eyes wrote:
zedz wrote:Sink or Swim
Sold! I've been thinking about checking out Friedrich for a while, but this has completely won me over. Thanks for the fascinating analysis - although it might be worth noting that her website lists the date of the film as 1990.
Oops! IMDB agrees. I'm pretty sure it was on my previous 1980s list, so I just pottered on oblivious. Sink or Swim is probably top of the heap, but Friedrich's other films are well worth seeking out, and the (boxless) 'box set' is a great purchase. If you're picking and choosing, try to see Rules of the Road as well (on the Damned If You Don't disc).

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sidehacker
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#112 Post by sidehacker » Sun Jun 15, 2008 8:50 pm

Merry-Go-Round = best Rivette film! More on this later...

...later has come and here is the more. Warning: it may not make sense, but that pretty much fits the movie.

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Mr Sheldrake
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#113 Post by Mr Sheldrake » Tue Jun 17, 2008 8:37 pm

In the 80s Paul Mazursky tackled loose remakes of Truffaut, Renoir and the Bard himself along with an adaptation of a Singer short story. I was unable to see Willie and Phil but remember it as a bit of a mess, plot-wise.

Tempest begins a four film collaboration with screenwriter Leon Capetanos whose other film credits are minimal. These films all concern a dislocation of environment hopefully to some comic effect. Philip (John Cassavettes) exemplifies the male mid-life crisis, successful, rich, but, you know, unhappy. On a deserted Greek island with a luscious Susan Sarandon climbing all over him he’d rather recite baseball statistics than break his curious vow of celibacy. He’s able to conjure up storms too. In one of Mazursky’s narrative blunders Philip abruptly sacrifices a cute little goat to celebrate the rescue of the shipwrecked survivors of one of these conjured up storms meant to harm them. Everyone is horrified by the bloody act but in the next scene a perfunctory Shakespearean family reconciliation ensues with nary a mention of Phillip’s bad manners. This sequence is somewhat reminiscent of Blumes rape of his ex-wife in Blume In Love, a heinous act by today’s standards (then too) but rewarded by a baby, re-marriage and a trip to Venice. Still, I loved the scenery in Tempest, Molly Ringwald skinnydipping, Raul Julia’s dance with the goats and some funky coordinated surf dancing by Molly and Susan. Maybe Mazursky should have tried an out and out musical. Close your ears during Jackie Gayle’s horrendous ethnic and racial jokes.

Moscow On The Hudson presents a thankfully restrained but very hairy Robin Williams as a defector from Russia who commits the deed in Bloomingdales. The Bloomingdale security guards are funnier than Williams, and the romance sub-plot lays an egg, surprisingly because one of Mazurskys’ strengths is his depiction of male/female love/hate. In Moon Over Parador Richard Dreyfuss plays a struggling actor who gets to play the part of a lifetime impersonating a real-life dictator of a South American country who has inconveniently passed on. Raul Julia, again, very funny, Jonathan Winters as a retiree/CIA agent even funnier, and Mazursky himself, in drag, as the dictators mother. There might have been a real good movie here about the confusion of identity, indeed Mazursky seems at times to want to do just that, especially in the scenes with Sonia Braga as the Eva Peron like mistress. Mazursky gets serious (mostly) in Enemies A Love Story. Ron Silver is very good in the lead, but like the even better (ill-fated) Lenny Baker in Next Stop Greenwich Village, he’s not a star, never became a star, you wonder what he’s doing here. Which may point out that Mazursky needed the charisma of stars to put over his conceits especially when they flounder in sentimentality. I could have used subtitles to understand the heavily accented dialogue. Lena Olins’s performance was half lost to me but it looked like a good one. A Polish actress named Malgorzata Zajaczkowska is hysterically funny playing Silver’s second wife in a scene in which she discovers the ghost of his presumed dead first wife (Anjelica Huston) , to whom she had been a servant girl in the old country, standing in her doorway. The ending is unsatisfying but this a heartfelt, estimable movie.

Down And Out in Beverly Hills plays to most of Mazursky’s strengths and few of his weaknesses. Here we do have a charismatic star, Nick Nolte, as a modern Boudou upending a highly satirizable family of neurotics, discontents, and searchers, with a lot of money on the side. That this Boudou ultimately accepts conventionality when he tries to hit the road back to freedom still doesn’t detract from much of the pure fun that preceeded. Bette Midler’s Orgasm for the Ages may be the funniest moment in the Mazursky canon of laughter. For all his faults, Mazursky cares deeply for his characters and deserves comparison to Renoir. Although found wanting in such a comparison, you can always anticipate terrific performances, and I thought all but Moscow were very entertaining movies(no mean feat), containing some great comedy, and are probably much better than I described them.

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backstreetsbackalright
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#114 Post by backstreetsbackalright » Wed Jun 18, 2008 3:50 am

Allow me to heartily agree on Sink or Swim. Though less formally complex than Sink,The Ties That Bind is still worth a look or the 80s list, and is excellent preparation for Sink, since it handles maternal bonds where Sink deals with Friedrich's relationship with her father. (I haven't managed to catch Rules of the Road yet).

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zedz
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#115 Post by zedz » Wed Jun 18, 2008 3:24 pm

backstreetsbackalright wrote:Allow me to heartily agree on Sink or Swim. Though less formally complex than Sink,The Ties That Bind is still worth a look or the 80s list, and is excellent preparation for Sink, since it handles maternal bonds where Sink deals with Friedrich's relationship with her father. (I haven't managed to catch Rules of the Road yet).
In many respects, Friedrich's mother is a more interesting and complicated character than her father, and Ties is much more direct encounter with her than Sink is with him (he doesn't really 'appear' on the screen or soundtrack). It's easily my first choice out of Friedrich's 80s work, though I ought to give the spooky early shorts another spin. Gently Down the Stream is great (if that's not a 70s film).

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Gregory
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#116 Post by Gregory » Thu Jun 19, 2008 8:32 pm

I’d like to make a deal similar to the one for They All Laughed, if I may. The film I want to encourage people to watch is Bille August’s film Zappa, which is included as a second disc with HVE’s release of Twist and Shout. Anyone who agrees to watch Zappa can give me a film to watch, from any decade, and -- unless it’s extremely expensive to obtain and not available from any of my university libraries – I’ll watch it. Anyone can PM me about this, not just those planning to submit a list for the project.
Technically, I’m not asking people to watch both, but once people watch Zappa, I think (hope) they’ll want to see the follow-up, Twist and Shout, as well. They’re both outstanding. I’m not exactly sure why they put Zappa as the second film on the set – maybe they were worried people would assume the DVD had anything to do with Frank Zappa if "Zappa" were the main title.

I was floored by these films when I first saw them about three years ago. I have wanted to try to start a discussion about them, but I’m not sure I can do them justice in writing, and part of their significance to me is very personal.
The setting is Denmark, around 1959 in Zappa and 1963 for the second film. They’re both coming-of-age stories, and while they both contain “bittersweet” qualities, of the two Zappa is the more harrowing portrayal of growing up. It has moments of tenderness in the lives of its 13-year-old characters that are beautifully realized but, crucially, the director doesn’t shy away from depictions of intimidation and coercion. It is pretty far from being an excessively brutal or difficult film, but it looks deeply and directly at the things people often do to each other as they struggle for maturity or acceptance.

I find that in nearly all coming-of-age films that are bittersweet, the sweet serves to sugar-coat the bitter. It overwhelms the sorrow and regret, making them less troubling, and even less apparent, to the viewer. This is the nostalgic quality that to many viewers is part of their appeal. I'm not immune to this, and I know that’s often how memory works, but I don’t think it’s true to experience, so I do appreciate films that avoid this tendency. Au Revoir Les Enfants would be another good example of a film that succeeds in this way, which is perhaps more predictable given the setting of Nazi occupation.

In Twist and Shout, Bjorn, the main character from Zappa, is about 17. The mood is lighter in this film but it’s just as poignant and complex. One of the things that impressed me about the two films was how well they fit together and how natural the change in tone felt.
Last edited by Gregory on Thu Dec 11, 2008 2:43 am, edited 4 times in total.

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tavernier
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#117 Post by tavernier » Thu Jun 19, 2008 8:36 pm

Zappa was virtually unknown, even less so than Twist & Shout, which is why it was a mere "extra."

And yes, they are both wonderful films -- much better than They All Laughed (which isn't hard, I know).

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Gregory
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#118 Post by Gregory » Thu Jun 19, 2008 11:29 pm

That makes sense. It's a little curious that now Zappa has more votes on IMDB than Twist and Shout, although neither has a huge amount. I've read Zappa referred to in numerous places as a "prequel," but (assuming he wrote them in the order that he made the films) it doesn't fit the definition of what a prequel is.

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zedz
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#119 Post by zedz » Sun Jun 22, 2008 10:40 pm

Two more:

Gang of Four

The last (and first) time I saw this film, it was “the latest Rivette”, so my recollections of it were, to say the least, rather faint. I remembered its wonderful ensemble atmosphere, a couple of sharp, gloriously incongruous suspense sequences, and a general air of mystery (something all my favourite Rivettes have).

That’s all present and correct, but I was pleased to see the whole film has held up superbly, even matured like a fine wine.

It’s beautifully structured around a series of theme-and-variations scenes (the rehearsals with Constance; the girls in twos, threes or fours back at the house; individual encounters with the mystery man). Even the brief transition scenes are reduced to variations on a theme (the train ride out to the suburbs). The underlying plot edges along incrementally through the accrual of these variations (one of the plot points, for example, is the way in which the different encounters with Henri / Thomas / whatsisname are variations). There are also a handful of setpieces that stand on their own, such as the mock trial Anna, Claude and Joyce stage for Lucia, or Lucia’s encounter with the ‘ghost’ (it’s a wonderfully Rivettian touch that we are required to swallow the existence of a ghost that is otherwise completely tangential to the story), and a couple of episodes evolve into great suspense sequences (or parodies of suspense sequences). Anna’s night ride with Henri is a superbly modulated encounter in which the basis of the situation constantly shifts, becoming more and more unnerving, but failing to resolve itself conventionally. The same goes for the great scene near the end involving a drugged glass of whiskey. I couldn’t remember many details of the film from my initial viewing, but this scene was still blow-for-blow vivid, a Hitchcock riff in which we and the camera follow the glass around the room as the tension builds. Again, Rivette doesn’t give us the conventional payoff, but we do get a pretty dramatic climax out of it.

The ensemble work is really fantastic, the women’s relationships on a much more naturalistic footing than Celine et Julie or L’Amour par terre, and this is where the life is breathed into the film. The other key elements are either more formal (the rehearsals, though these are nevertheless fascinating, and enlivened by Bulle Ogier at her best) or more formulaic (the deeply buried thriller plot – though its surface manifestations are rather idiosyncratic). Their intersection is surprising and satisfying, and Rivette preserves a powerful air of mystery through keeping motivations and resolutions obscure (why does Lucia not turn the key over to Cecile? What is the ultimate fate of Benoit Regent’s character? Or Bulle Ogier’s?) which helps keep this film much more (or much less) than the simple thriller it could have devolved into.

I’ve often found Rivette’s style difficult to define, but very distinctive once you’re in its midst. David Ehrenstein’s evocation of Hawksian mise-en-scene was very useful for pinning it down, and this film is a great example of how he frames groups of people and favours medium-long shots. The blocking is fluid and the camera will often swivel and pivot to explore the ensemble, who will be dispersed throughout the space and move (or become reframed) to form different dynamic units. In many scenes, the camera operates on the same terms as the characters (without being anything so straightforward as subjective), inhabiting and ‘acting’ in the same physical space.

A Summer at Grandpa’s

Way back when, this was the first Hou Hsiao-hsien film I saw, and it’s still one of my favourites.

His elliptical storytelling style is front and centre here, with deft use of off-screen space and time, though the narrative context (a child’s eye view of this new community) provides a kind of ‘alibi’ for this approach. The events are beautifully, gently observed, and this film gives a better account of the feel of ‘empty time’ to a child than almost any other. I say ‘almost’ because one of the champions in this regard (and likely contender for my 80s list) is Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro. There are so many similarities between these two films that it’s hard to believe Miyazaki was not familiar with Hou’s film. The basic premise (mother in hospital with vague illness: children sent to stay in the country), its landscapes and many of its sequences (younger child befriended by curious, speechless local inhabitant; child lost in the fields and being searched for) are shared. There are even some tenuous visual connections: Tung-tung being followed by his remote controlled car resembles the tootling ‘baby totoros’. Of course, Miyazaki takes these ideas in completely different, magnificent directions, but Hou’s film has much the same charm, and there are scenes, like the sequence in which the kids slide in socks back and forth on polished floors, only to be met with their Grandpa’s silent dismay, that actually look as if Hou cribbed them from Ghibli.

Hou’s film takes in – obliquely – much darker material, however, including an armed robbery, a near fatal accident, unplanned pregnancies, possible rape and eugenics. Looking back, it’s quite amazing how much material Hou’s eliiptical style can fit into an hour and a half while still maintaining an air of unperturbable calm. Ozu is another reference point – this may be Hou’s most Ozu-esque work (it’s a great train film – they’re all through it, fulfilling a multitude of functions), and his handling of the groups of kids recalls I Was Born, But. . . and Good Morning. In terms of technique, Hou gets better and better, but this film remains a major achievement and personal favourite.

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#120 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Sun Jun 22, 2008 11:51 pm

I gotta show some love for Planes, Trains & Automobiles. John Hughes at his absolute peak. Two comedic geniuses making the best use of their enormous talents and their abilities as film actors to tell a pretty classic story of two men lost finding their way home (one literally and one figuratively).

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Hopscotch
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#121 Post by Hopscotch » Mon Jun 23, 2008 12:03 am

Anyone voting for In A Year of 13 Moons?

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zedz
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#122 Post by zedz » Mon Jun 23, 2008 12:10 am

Hopscotch wrote:Anyone voting for In A Year of 13 Moons?
Nope. It's 1978 (and made the 70s list - no. 52). Your Fassbinder choices this time are limited to Berlin Alexanderplatz (which should do considerably better this time around), Lili, Lola, Veronika and Querelle - and Theater in Trance if you're so inclined. My money's on Ronnie.

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Hopscotch
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#123 Post by Hopscotch » Mon Jun 23, 2008 10:29 am

Ah shit. I was looking at the U.S. release date, which was 1980 according to imdb, and just not paying enough attention all around. Oh well.

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zedz
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#124 Post by zedz » Mon Jun 23, 2008 5:50 pm

[tumbleweeds]
Last edited by zedz on Mon Jun 23, 2008 7:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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tavernier
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#125 Post by tavernier » Mon Jun 23, 2008 6:15 pm

The Wenders' film is 1991, no?

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