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Kevin B. Lee’s ‘Better Than Boyhood’: ‘Goodbye to Language,’ ‘Dear White People’ and More

Kevin B. Lee's 'Better Than Boyhood': 'Goodbye to Language,' 'Dear White People' and More

At this point, “Boyhood” is sweeping so many awards and so many critic lists and polls that any list that doesn’t feature “Boyhood” feels like a breath of fresh air (this coming from someone who’s reserved a spot on his top ten for the film). Kevin B. Lee does one better by calling his top ten list, and its accompanying video essay, “Better than ‘Boyhood.” 

Lee is a longtime Linklater fan, but he considers his new film to be somewhere in the middle of the pack of the director’s films, well below “Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused” and the “Before” trilogy. “…for all of its long range scope and ambition, I find it lacks the intimacy and the specificity of his greatest films. It feels too much like an all-purpose anthem for the coming-of-age experience, which may account for why it’s so phenomenally popular.” Here, instead, is Lee’s top ten, presented on Fandor:

1. “Goodbye to Language 3-D” (Jean-Luc Godard)
2. “The Strange Little Cat” (Ramon Zurcher)
3. “What Now? Remind Me” (Joaquim Pinto)
4. “The Missing Picture” (Rithy Panh)
5. “Citizenfour” (Laura Poitras)
6. “Dear White People” (Justin Simien)
7. “Policeman” (Nadav Lapid)
8. “The Dance of Reality” (Alejandro Jodorowsky)
9. “Vic + Flo Saw a Bear” (Denis Cote)
10. “Bad Hair” (Mariana Rondon)

Here’s Lee’s take on his favorite film of the year:

And then there’s the truly visionary. The radical break from convention, opening up new possibilities for making images. That’s what’s in Goodbye to Language by Jean-Luc Godard, who’s eighty-four years old and still searching for ways to challenge our fundamental notions of what cinema is and could be. He scores in this film with a use of 3-D that can rightfully be called revolutionary. There’s no way for me to present it here, but even the 2-D versions of these images take footage from camera phones and breathe new life into them, pushing us to see anew. This is a film made of fits and starts, with only feints of a narrative at times, frequently impenetrable. Much of the conventional means of engaging with cinema are all but abandoned. What remains at the core of it are the images, which is ironic because these images feel unstable, volatile, practically on the brink of exploding, tearing out a giant hole that might open a way for us to see out of the cinema we know into one that’s yet to come.

I’m less in love with Godard’s latest than Lee (the 3-D is astounding and more than enough to recommend the picture, but Godard’s aphoristic mode of communication does little for me), but I’m wholly on board with his number two pick, Ramon Zurcher’s playful lark “The Strange Little Cat,” a former Criticwire Sleeper.

The single most resourceful film I saw this year was a student feature from Germany. “The Strange Little Cat” turns one cramped apartment kitchen into a cinematic playground where every movement and every shot plays in perfect sync even when showing the off-synch dynamics of the family that lives in this space. This is what I mean by the intimacy and specificity of detail that I wish was more present in “Boyhood.” “The Strange Little Cat” is proof that strange little things that can make the biggest impact.

Less strange and more overtly striving for social relevance is Lee’s favorite comedy of the year, Justin Simien’s “Dear White People.”

Such tension is also at work in “Dear White People,” an impressive first feature made twenty-five years after Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” In fact, it feels like a “Do the Right Thing for the Obama” generation, where efforts at racial integration have led to increasingly complicated formations of identity politics. The film tackles this mess head on and emerges as the funniest movie of the year, and one of the smartest.

Just one spot above “Dear White People” is another major statement about the modern world, Laura Poitras’ “Citizenfour.”

From one of the funniest films to one of the most sobering, “Citizenfour” chronicles the historical leak of U.S. government surveillance secrets by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It’s a monumental work, not just as a historical record, but as a sensitive account of the media’s role in telling the story. It uncannily resembles a Hollywood thriller, raising questions of how fiction seeps into the fabric of our reality.

Finally, Lee highlighted a few coming-of-age films he preferred to “Boyhood,” including “The Dance of Reality,” Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first film in 14 years, and “Bad Hair.”

“Bad Hair” from Venezuela is a youth movie that has something missing in “Boyhood”: the genuine confusion of growing up. The boy in this film explores his sexual identity in ways that don’t fit the expectations of society or his stressed out single mom. It creates a dramatic tension that is incredibly rich and never slips into feel good sentimentality.

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