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December 30, 2010

My Best of 2010

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William Powell in The Last Command (Josef von Sternberg - 1928)

A year ago at this time, I was reading Catherine Russell's book on Mikio Naruse. My intention was to be a little more knowledgeable about Naruse prior to seeing the six films he made that are currently available on English subtitled DVD. As it turned out, Naruse was the featured filmmaker when the Denver Film Society had a Japanese Film Festival last Spring. Most of the the festival films were familiar titles, already on DVD. But I did get to see a couple films not on DVD. One of the Naruse films was Lightning. The other is my -

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Classic movie seen for the first time ever and in a theater: Yearning. I got to see this twice. Another collaboration of Mikio Naruse with Hideko Takamine. And while I'm glad to know that several Naruse silent films will be made available this coming Spring, between Yearning, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs and Catherine Russell's descriptions, plus some Youtube glimpses, I want to see more late period Naruse.

Updated December 31. I had just found out through a Japanese Facebook friend that Hideko Takamine had died of cancer on December 28. In addition to Yearning, I have previously written about Twenty-four Eyes and Carmen comes Home. Only a small sample of her work is available on subtitled DVDs. I feel incredibly blessed that I did have the opportunity to see even one film in a theater, the way it was meant to be seen.

Classic movies newly available on DVD: The three Josef von Sterberg silent films from Criterion wowed me more than his better known, and more popular work with Marlene Dietrich. Now that I've seen Underworld, I can't look at Rio Bravo in quite the same way. How come no one told me before that Evelyn Brent and Betty Compson were really hot? I like the bonus of having two sets of music tracks to choose from. Now if only we could get the Chaplin estate to release The Seagull, von Sternberg's film that was mysteriously shelved by the producer, the "Little Tramp" himself, assuming there is still a decent print in some vault.

Also: Tomu Uchida's five film series of Miyamoto Musashi. These films are suppose to be lesser Uchida films by those who've had the opportunity to see more of his work. I don't care. I liked these films, and am appreciative that I could finally see some of his films after reading about him over thirty years ago. Normally when handed a series of films, I write about the entire set at once. These films are so good that I wrote about each film separately. Just having something by one of the pioneers of Japanese cinema available on English subtitled DVDs would be enough reason to be thrilled, but AnimEigo's colored subtitles and extras make it even better.

Best soundtrack that came with a movie: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll. I never realized how much I missed Ian Drury, or at least hearing "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick" after so many years. A frequently funny and moving film, showing the talents of Andy Serkis without the CGI enhancements.

Also: Soul Kitchen. Music has played an important part of Fatih Akin's films. Here we have a mix of Kool and the Gang, Artie Shaw, Quincy Jones, Ruth Brown and Roger (of the Rubber Band) among others. Not on the soundtrack is The Doors' song of the same name, though.

David Amram Award for Best Soundtrack by a "Classical" composer: John Adams for I am Love.

And, yeah, there were a couple of films I saw theatrically that make my "Best" list:

Poetry and When We Leave. I saw both of these films in 2010, and I'm not going to wait until 2011, when they get their conventional theatrical releases to put them on a list. Based on varying platforms for film release, I am not going to abide by 20th Century standards. That said, both films start out fairly quietly, building up to devastating endings. If you haven't seen one or both films, there should be much more in print and online this Spring. I saw both of these films last November at the Starz International Film Festival, where I also saw . . .

The Best Movie without a Distributor: God's Land. Preston Miller loves Yasujiro Ozu, or at least Ozu films. Filmed mostly over a an extended period of weekends, this is one of the few films where there is only a few moments of camera movement, and every shot is so well composed and thought out, with all of the motion within the frame. And if you want to complain about the fact that some of the people involved in the film are Facebook acquaintances, all I can say is you have your Social Network and I've got mine.

Posted by peter at December 30, 2010 08:05 AM

Comments

Nice list. I would like to see more late Naruse as well. Actually, any Naruse would be great, but this is the period I feel most undernourished in. I've only seen one film post-When a Woman Ascends The Stairs, which is the quite remarkable Her Lonely Lane, another starring Takemine and really showing her range.

John Adams is justifiably getting a lot of attention from his music in I Am Love but as a longtime fan I feel I should point out that he composed no music specifically for the film; it's a collection of many of his prior works. If you like Adams, I'd love to hear what you think of Penny Woolcock's telefilm version of his opera The Death of Klinghoffer, which is available on DVD.

Posted by: Brian at January 2, 2011 11:42 PM

I was unaware that the Adams music was previously composed work. Still, it was an inspired choice.

You might have read elsewhere that Eclipse will have a three disc, five film set this March of silent films. Now if only BFI or Eureka would follow up on their sets, or the folks at AnimEigo would listen to my suggestion for later Naruse films.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at January 3, 2011 03:57 PM