By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Ernest Hardy's List
Baise-Moi(Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi, France) Behind the Sun (Walter Salles, Brazil)
The Believer (Henry Bean, USA)
Daresalam (Issa Serge Coelo, Burkina Faso/Chad/France)
Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, USA)
The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda, France)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, USA) In the Mood for Love(Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong/France) Memento(Christopher Nolan, USA)
Mulholland Drive(David Lynch, USA)
Our Lady of the Assassins (Barbet Schroeder, France)
Our Song (Jim McKay, USA)
The Town Is Quiet (Robert Guédiguian, France).
(In alphabetical order.)
Photo by Tracy Bennett
Norma Desmond once snapped that modern movies suffer because they no longer have faces. Filmgoers in recent years have noted a different problem. With both Hollywood and indie filmmakers settling into a fear-based, corporate-driven approach to art and craft, what’s often gone lacking is voices— voices with vision, reason, heart and style, voices with flair and a point of view. Filmmakers who have something, anything, to say. But this was an amazing year for purposeful, idiosyncratic voices behind the camera and onscreen. You simply had to look beyond the multiplex. It was a year in which fringe dwellers — a fat girl in France, teenage hustlers in Colombia, working-class black and Puerto Rican girls in New York, a mutilated transsexual rock star transplanted from Berlin to Middle America, gay Orthodox Jews around the world, an aged, iconoclastic French woman director with a digital camera and blistering social consciousness — seized the screen. What we saw in 2001 was an organic and fruitful flowering of various identity-cinema seeds that had been planted in years past and that, having been packaged and sold by the press and the industry, were often forgotten as soon as festival season ended: New Queer Cinema, the Year of the Woman, Afrocentric film.
This year, those voices coalesced into a choir of perspectives, accents and agendas that transcended easy categorization or marketing schemes. Identities and genres often merged, and frequently commented on or sang backup for one another. Agnes Varda’s Parisian gleaners and Barbet Schroeder’s Medellín hustlers reflected the same dire straits from across the globe. It was a fantastic year for queer film (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Come Undone, Our Lady of the Assassins, L.I.E., The Adventures of Felix, Burnt Money, The Iron Ladies, War Story); indie/art-house essays on the inner life of the underdog (Donnie Darko, Ghost World, The Believer, Our Song, Together, Lift, Fat Girl); and unflinching political treatises (The Gleaners and I, Lumumba, Baran, The Town Is Quiet, The Circle, Trembling Before G-d, Daresalam, Baise-Moi, Scout’s Honor, Apocalypse Now Redux). Many — if not most — of these films overlapped category delineations, which contributed to their richness. The power of these movies lay in their deep consciousness of the world around us, the toll and the fragile joys of living in it. Music, humor and caustic wit helped tell the tales, but it was in their detailed empathy for the outsider — a cleared space to tell the tale on his or her own terms — and the ability to make us identify with, understand or simply reckon with them, that vaulted these movies into the realm of the sublime. They had voices.
Paul Malcolm's List
Roof to Roof (Ara Corbett, USA)
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, USA)
In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong/France) Together (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden)
The Believer (Henry Bean, USA)
Trembling Before G-d (Sandi Simcha DuBowski, USA)
Cure(Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)
Eureka(Shinji Aoyama, Japan)
Amores Perros(Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mexico)
Ghost World(Terry Zwigoff, USA).
(In no particular order.)
The Los Angeles–raised writer-director Ara Corbett’s directorial debut, Roof to Roof, is the only student film in my Top 10. But that’s not why it deserves special mention: It’s a sublime example of a filmmaker finding a story in his own back yard, and telling it all the more honestly for the closeness of its concerns. Corbett’s graduate-thesis project for Boston University found life outside the classroom on the festival circuit, having screened at Sundance (where I saw it), South by Southwest and the IFP/West Los Angeles Film Festival, but failed to secure distribution. The film would be a tough sell for even the most altruistic distributor: Set in Los Angeles, it is a 73-minute, black-and-white feature in Armenian with English subtitles, shot with an entirely nonprofessional cast — ostensible limitations that Corbett weaves into an intimate portrait of a family and a community wrestling with class, assimilation and the burdens of love. The film centers on a tender pairing of gentle souls being slowly pulled apart: Zaven (Zaven Movsesian), an auto mechanic and single father to a 7-year-old girl, Amy (Amy Aivazian). Over the course of the film, the very resistance to cultural change that allows Zaven to hold himself in quiet dignity at the edge of an otherwise tight-knit Armenian enclave increasingly comes to threaten his sense of self. His lack of English skills jeopardizes his job, while Amy drifts toward the easy affluence of his middle-class, Americanized sister (Armineh Keshishian). Corbett shades Zaven, his most sympathetic character, with stubborn internal contradictions while acknowledging that a child’s innocent desires can be the source of a parent’s most acute emotional pain. It’s testament to his gifts as a screenwriter that he’s not afraid to let in ambiguity. His student status is more noticeable in underlit scenes and in occasionally faint or murky sound, but even the film’s rougher technical edges deepen the naturalism of Corbett’s more assured hand-held camera work: An opening house party at Zaven’s sister’s home pops with improvised observation, while a sequence that finds Zaven under the hood is shot through with the diffuse light of late afternoon, underscoring the determined solemnity of the man and his work.
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