This year saw more than its fair share of good and even great movies — not that all of them made it to Los Angeles. Sure, Stray Dogs had a one-off screening at UCLA and A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness played AFI Fest last year, but neither received proper theatrical bookings (nor are they scheduled to).
Which isn’t to fault the distributors or even the arthouse theaters in L.A., who normally find a home for challenging fare of this sort. This has long been a complicated issue with too many moving parts to easily nail down, and that doesn't seem likely to change anytime soon. Driving from Silver Lake to the Nuart is still a hassle, the Laemmle chain still needs to pay the bills and sometimes our programmers simply don't dig the same movies as their counterparts in New York. Oh well — at least Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language 3D is coming to the Aero next month.
Here are the the best movies of the year that haven't yet been released in L.A. — and let's hope they will be soon:
Norte, the End of History may have been the most difficult film on this list to book — its four-hour runtime alone is enough to alienate most potential viewers — but the tireless folks at Cinema Guild still managed to screen Lav Diaz’s Crime and Punishment-inspired opus as far afield as Oklahoma City and Duluth, Minnesota. Not so here, where the meditation on class divisions and revenge has yet to play publicly a single time. (It's now streaming on Netflix, however.)
Robert Greene's Actress is in a similar boat. Well-received on the festival circuit and also being distributed by Cinema Guild, the genre-blurring documentary (just don't call it a hybrid) zeros in Brandy Burre of The Wire's attempt to relaunch her acting career. It's often unclear where fact ends and fiction begins, but it's also besides the point when such a simple-sounding premise produces such unexpectedly gripping results.
Northern Light is much more conspicuous in its absence. Nick Bentgen's experiential documentary about a yearly snowmobile race in Michigan’s awe-inspiring Upper Peninsula may be the most audience-friendly film on this list, not to mention one of the most quietly moving. That it received a theatrical release in cities like Portland but not here should be sobering for anyone who considers themselves part of our fair city's cinephile culture, but at least you can watch it on Amazon.
In a year full of terribly received faith-based films, the remarkably sensitive Stop the Pounding Heart went largely unseen by believers and heathens alike. That's a shame, as any Christian moviegoers who don't ascribe to Kirk Cameron's brand of faith may feel more represented by Roberto Minervini's semi-fictional depiction of life on a small, deeply religious farm in Texas. (There are rumors afoot of a potential L.A. opening early next year, but nothing has materialized just yet.)
Two more in the ever-expanding "New York but not Los Angeles" category are Israeli drama Policeman and the avant-garde A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, which begins at a Finnish commune and ends with a thrilling black-metal concert in Norway. Nadav Lapid's police procedural was named the Village Voice's best undistributed film of 2011, and the fact that the unconventional story made it to theaters at all is a small marvel — there's a small window of time when releasing something like this as a "new" movie is viable, and Policeman just barely fit through. Sadly, anyone who caught Spell at AFI last November could likely have guessed it was too weird (and, frankly, brilliant) to ever play here again.
Aside from a weeklong run in San Diego earlier this year, Dominga Sotomayor's Thursday Till Sunday didn't get distributed at all. More than two years after it screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival, its absence in L.A. is still baffling. Sotomayor is an exceptionally intuitive filmmaker, and this story of a Chilean family on the verge of collapse going on a road trip is gently heartbreaking.
Thanks to a one-off showing at UCLA in March, Tsai Ming-liang Stray Dogs played in Los Angeles exactly once. Woe be to any fools who, like this writer, were unable to attend. As punishing as it is rewarding, Tsai's occasionally despondent portrayal of familial frailty in the face of poverty won the Golden Lion at Venice last year before getting picked up by Cinema Guild, but its many laurels (not to mention Tsai's sterling reputation among cinephiles worldwide) apparently weren't enough in this bizarre marketplace.
Josephine Decker is one of the most exciting new filmmakers around, and her debut features Butter on the Latch and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely signal the arrival of a unique auteur worth watching in the years to come. Los Angeles-based distributor Cinelicious released the Double Decker in New York last month, and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely screened at AFI Fest, but there are no plans for them to open here. Fret not: Butter and Mild are available on Fandor, and demand to be seen at your earliest convenience.
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