It’s that special time of year at Northwest Film Forum when our staff shares their “Top 10 Lists” from the past sun-round. Some are styled on the more traditional Top 10 Best Films lists we see regularly in the media at this time of year. And some push the boundaries of the Top 10 format. From our film loving hearts to yours: happy holidays, and here’s to a film-filled 2014.
TOP 10, BY HOUSE MANAGER CHRIS DAY
Continuing the trend from last year, here are my 10 favorite theatrical experiences of 2013. Confession: I missed my favorite film of 2013, Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux, in theaters, opting instead for a profound home viewing. Those can exist too (just put your cell phone across the room, dammit!), but here’s to the “sanctuary” of filmgoing.
10. Spring Breakers
Admittedly, Spring Breakers as a Harmony Korine film left me a tad underwhelmed (though there is much to be admired for sure), but nothing could take away the sensation of seeing this in a downtown multiplex. Sitting in a theater with endless advertisements, trailers for Stephanie Meyer adaptations (or knock-offs, naturally) that doubled as extended EPKs, and roller-coaster snack suggestions, was simply the only way to watch this, the most transgressive Hollywood film in years. Once the first absurd Skrillex beat drops (matching the film’s nearly apocalyptic imagery of beach flesh) it retroactively morphs that onslaught of pre-show ads into the fitting prelude-to-a-nightmare they are.
In the most exhilaratingly innovative film of the year, Terence Nance deftly mashes image and sound across many different disciplines together, and in doing so invigorates the potential for cinematic expression in the increasingly accessible digital medium.
I still cannot shake this film, whether for its unsettling (yet entrancing) atmosphere, its willingness to trust its audience to navigate their instincts rather than outright scare them, or perhaps for its humorous (yet utterly accurate) sense of film history. Berberian’s greatest touch is in the chance that Gilderoy, in working on a hokey-on-the-surface Italian horror film, could be shaken by the entirely plausible reality of genuine masochism. Pretend he’s watching Cannibal Holocaust, and not an Argento film, and the film’s sense of dread takes on a new set of consequences. But ultimately, this is a film that understands the capacity of organic materials to take on their own characteristics, continuing to surprise and envelope us, even defy us. The loops that keep evolving, despite our best efforts to contain them.
7. Phase IV
Saul Bass’ psychotronic nightmare of a creature-feature is a masterpiece of genre deconstruction, and the most astonishingly complex use of macro photography I’ve ever seen on film. So inspiring; once was not quite enough. It stood up just as evocatively the second time around, if for no other reason than to further attempt comprehension of the batshit-crazy restored original ending.
Less a film than a new way of seeing.
Cronenberg’s perfect thesis film: All of the predominant themes of his career are here, yet even in a scant 87 minutes, none get smothered in the process. Seeing this on an appropriately rough-around-the-edges 35mm print only enriches these complexities, the medium itself reinforcing the imagery.
Really, I’m more and more convinced this film deserves its controversial de-seating of Citizen Kane on the Sight & Sound list. What I derived from this particular screening, seeing it in a theater for the first time (and on 70mm to boot), was how Hitchcock pushed exposure, or lack thereof, to the limit with these images. It’s amazing how easily you succumb to this paranoid state, and how gently Hitchcock guides you into it. But just when you’re at your breaking point struggling for clarity, he turns the lights out on you, leaving you in the dark with no easy answers.
One day I’ll be able to articulate what this film means to me.
I’m far from surprised that the director of To Sleep With Anger (by my estimation one of 10 greatest films ever made) turns out to be as genuinely kind and compassionate a person as I’ve ever encountered, but it’s a delightful relief all the same. And that’s mostly because Charles Burnett’s films are not only some of the finest ever made by an American director, but are brimming with such life and humanity . His often-neglected second feature, My Brother’s Wedding, is no different, capturing a now-lost moment in time with a remarkable brevity and ease. In Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, there’s an aside about how cinema should never have let its subjects look away from the camera; that the most revealing moments are when people look directly into its eye, and stop pretending it’s not there. This film is full of those moments; actors that are acutely aware of the camera’s gaze, yet seemingly so calm and almost reassured by its presence, giving the camera such gloriously unguarded gestures and expressions.
Nathaniel Dorsky is a poet of images, and an artist that sees no reason to show his ephemeral works in anything less than the most carefully curated form. In his words, the cinematheque can become a sanctuary in which to view these works, a sort of public conjuring of private moments, where a group of people can watch images slowly unfold in complete silence and reflect on them however they see fit. However, anyone who attends his films in this sanctuary knows that true silence is impossible; sitting there privately collecting thoughts on these images on the screen, the viewer becomes hyper-aware of their every muscle, every throat-gurgle; then other senses start taking over. This is meditative cinema at its finest, and while I hope to see these images of Dorsky’s again and more, I hope to never fully understand their meaning.