BIZ: indieWIRE Picks This Year's Favorite Pics Without U.S. Distribution
(indieWIRE/12.15.00) -- Whether it's the number of new distributors picking up films or some sort of lull in the creation of artistic and accessible works, there was very little consensus in our annual poll of the top movies of the year without U.S. distribution. As indieWIRE Editor-in-Chief Eugene Hernandez writes, "There was not a single film on my list of films without distribution that didn't ultimately find a home. Maybe this says something about the quality of the work, or maybe this also says that places like Cowboy Booking, Lot47, and IFC Films have cropped up to get some of the tougher films into theaters."
However, of last year's indieWIRE picks, only two of our six favorite undistributed films found a wider audience: "Spring Forward" was recently released by the new distribution arm of the Independent Film Channel (IFC Films), and Lynne Ramsay's "Ratcatcher" was released by Merchant Ivory Productions, another fledgling distributor. Katya Bankowsky self-distributed her documentary "Shadow Boxers," Rob Schmidt's debut film "Saturn" still remains in space (though there had been rumors that Strand Releasing had acquired it), while Christopher Doyle's "Away with Words," and Otar Iosseliani's "Farewell Home Sweet Home" seemed to have been forgotten.
Now on to 2000. A similarly eclectic mix of features fills out this year's selection, with only two films receiving any marked majority of votes, Paul Pawlikowski's UK favorite "The Last Resort," and Fatih Akin's German road movie, "In July." The remaining eight films all received two votes from our stable of contributing writers and editors, making for a narrow margin of inclusion. These were Adrienne Shelly's "I'll Take You There," the only U.S. entry in our selection, Samira Makhmalbaf's "Blackboards," Roy Andersson's "Songs from the Second Floor," Arnaud Despeschin's "Esther Kahn," Bella Tarr's "Werkmeister Harmonies," two Japanese films, Shinji Aoyama's "Eureka" and Makoto Shinozaki's "Not Forgotten," and Chinese director Jia Zhang Ke's "Platform."
Paul Pawlikowski's "The Last Resort" first caught indieWIRE's attention at the Edinburgh Film Festival, where Pawlikowski won an award for Best British Newcomer. But it wasn't until the Venice Film Festival, where regular contributors Andy Bailey and Andrea Meyer screened the film, that its impact was felt. In Bailey's review of the film, he wrote, "On the penultimate day of the 57th Venice Film Festival -- when grizzled festival-goers were least expecting it -- a 75-minute gem from Britain called 'The Last Resort' emerged as this year's undisputed Venetian swoon." Bailey championed the film's cast, noting "irresistible newcomer Dina Korzun" and "Paddy Considine, in another winning performance," and compared the film to "Breaking the Waves." "Though," he clarified, "Pawlikowski isn't after cheap hand-held melodramatics and heart-tugging pathos -- he's a committed documentary filmmaker who has tried (with unqualified success here) to inject his social realism with a more genuine narrative thrust."
A few of indieWIRE's writers saw Fatih Akin's "In July," as it traveled on the international festival circuit, from Germany to Greece. Regular contributor Ray Pride recently wrote in, "Fatih Akin's hilarious road movie, was perhaps the champion border-crosser I've seen this year, with 'Run Lola Run's' Moritz Bleibtreau as a naïf pursuing a mysterious Turkish woman from Hamburg to Istanbul. The story races across southeastern Europe, and it may be the most polished German movie I've seen since Tom Tykwer's masterful bubblegum. (It also has one of the best scenes I've ever seen about someone discovering marijuana: both poetic and hilarious.)"
Another festival crowd-pleaser, veteran Hal Hartley actress Adrienne Shelly's "I'll Take You There" also made our list. The quirky comedy follows regular-guy Bill (Reg Rogers) in his quest to get his beautiful, seemingly perfect wife (Lara Harris) back in his life. Ally Sheedy co-stars as a whacked-out unlikely love interest that forms along the way. After screenings at Telluride, the LAIFF, the Hamptons, and a Best Director win at the U.S. Comedy Arts fest, this endearing road-movie with a hilarious supporting performance by Alice Drummond as a sharp-tongued grandmother seemed ripe for the plucking by one of the smaller distribs. Back in April, Shelly noted the distribution search to be confounding. "I'm quite a nice mixture of amusedly bitter and rapturously zen about the whole thing," she wrote.
Now on to the more challenging fare. Shared winners of the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Samira Makhmahlbaf's "Blackboards" and Roy Andersson's
"Songs from the Second Floor" are the sort of rigorous, aesthetically bold films that apparently proved too daring for U.S. art-house distributors. Writing from Cannes, Mark Peranson wrote of "Blackboards": "Samira Makhmalbaf's second film (again co-written with father Mohsen, who also served as editor and producer) continues with the same main themes as 'The Apple,' the battles between parents and children and the need for education versus the need for survival. . . . At the age of 20, Makhmalbaf has already reached a level of complexity, both visual and narrative, than directors twice her age."
Regarding Swedish director Andersson's return to feature filmmaking after 25 years, Peranson recently filed this observance. "Oddly, 2000 had a noticeable lack of 'millennial' films; but along with Tarr's 'Harmonies,' the stand-out comes in Andersson's crafty, apocalyptic burlesque, an odd duck of one-shot, 'in medias res' wonders. It's what many people assumed was supposed to happen as the calendar struck triple-zero. For viewers familiar with the director's award-winning commercials, the film may feel like 40 ads strung together; others may find it a series of one-strip cartoons. Still, Andersson is selling a distinct, bleak view of the human condition: life is staying alive."
Fans of Arnaud Despeschin (and many have been cultivated since "La Sentinelle" and "My Sex Life. . . Or How I Got Into An Argument") would likely salivate at the chance to see his latest, "Esther Kahn," an English-language film starring Summer Phoenix as the eponymous, emotionally-empty heroine who aspires to be a stage actress in late 19th Century London. What more could you want? This Cannes competitor also features Ian Holm as Esther's acting teacher, providing for some of the more perplexing and engaging interactions to be found on screen all year. Not to mention one dreamy, unforgettable scene filled with balloons and existential questions.
Another Cannes premiere, Hungarian master Bela Tarr's "Werkmeister Harmonies" may drag in the slow first half, but as Peranson writes, "the four-years-in-the-making 'A Short (for B&etilde;la Tarr) Film About Revolution,' builds and builds, combining (believe it or not) ten minute takes, a narrative drive, deep-focus imagery, and a plangent musical score into a stunning climax that truly merits the oft misused adjective 'transcendent.'"
Another transcendent entry in our list is Shinji Aoyama's "Eureka," a lengthy black and white meditation on healing, and winner of the critic's prize for Best Film at Cannes 2000. Actor Koji Yakusho ("Shall We Dance?") turns in a powerfully understated performance as a bus driver who survives a violent hijacking, and then moves in with the remaining survivors, a pair of similarly traumatized children. The other Japanese entry is "Not Forgotten," ("Wasurerarenu-Hitobito"), by up-and-coming director Makoto Shinozaki. "As a prot&etilde;g&etilde; of Takeshi Kitano," writes in Ray Pride, "Shinozaki understands a thing or two about bursts of the unexpected, and the ending of the movie is shocking and grand."
Last, but not least, of our slate is "Platform," directed by Jia Zhang-ke, another minimalist, over 3-hour drama that had critics applauding, but distributors running. Yet if you asked indieWIRE contributor Peranson, he'd tell you "the intimate epic of Chinese cultural transformation to be the best film of 2000," he writes. "It also contains the best scene of 2000, one that must be seen to be believed: the clumsily comedic transformation of a state-sponsored communist cultural performance troupe into the All Star Rock N' Breakdance Band."
Runners-up (according to country):
Eliseo Subiela's "Las Aventuras de Dios"
Dominique Deruddere's "Everybody Famous!"
Chantal Ackerman's "La Captive"
Bruce Spangler's "Protection"
Denis Villeneuve's "Maelstrom"
Renny Bartlett's "Eisenstein"
Jiang Wen's "Devils on the Doorstep"
Jan Hrebejk's "Divided We Fall"
Katrin Ottarsdottir's "Bye Bye Bluebird"
Jean Pierre Sinapi's "National 7" (aka "Uneasy Riders")
Thierry Knauff's "Wild Blue: Notes for Several Voices"