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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

NYT's 25 Best Movies of the 21st Century


  • A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke)
  • Silent Light (Reygadas)
  • Three Times (HHH)
  • Timbuktu (Sissako)
  • Wendy and Lucy (Reichardt)
5 Contemplative films out of 25, that's 20% of the best of the century (so far). 
Not bad for a mainstream journal that publishes Dan Kois (the bored philistine).

22 comments:

Remy Renault said...

To be fair though, it's a pretty banal list in general. And while I wouldn't expect the average New York Times arts section reader to have seen Silent Light or anything by Zhangke, they still strike me as films that are all too easily assimilated by the elite film critic establishment of which people like A.O. Scott, David Denby, and frankly even, J. Hoberman are card carrying members. Alonso, Costa, and Martel, and for that matter, the Turkish Demirkubuz strike me personally, emphasis on personally as this is just my two cents, as more aesthetically confrontational figures.

In either case, they could have done better with the more mainstream-friendly entries on the list. I'd have included Carol, The Master, The Skin I Live In, and The Piano Teacher to start with. Perhaps I'd throw in 35 Shots of Rum, and I'd try to represent Farhadi somehow as well, and also Kiyoshi Kurosawa. And maybe I'd controversially throw in something like Miami Vice. Anyhow, just my personal thoughts.

À toute!

Benoit Rouilly said...

I agree with you. For me, the fact they don't mention Mulholland Drive is a proof they can't be taken seriously.
Farhadi is also my idol, one of the best of the last decade or so.
But I don't know Dermikubuz, I'm intrigued.

Remy Renault said...

I have a question Benoit. I wanted your opinion on something not related directly to this post. There seems to be a dark side in France (where I live, and yes I speak French) to the 'exception culturelle', which is that English-language 'films d'auteur', such as from PTA, Todd Haynes, and/or Lynne Ramsay, or for that matter English-language films by Assayas and Lanthamos tend to suffer from guilt by association, since they're automatically linked to crass commercialism by virtue of being in English. There seems to be a cultural chauvinism at play where French cultural institutions are reluctant to promote films like The Master, A Beautiful Day, and so forth, and so they don't perform very well at the box-office here. Assayas talked about this in an interview saying when he sought French-funding for Personal Shopper they were suspicious simply because it had Kristen Stewart attached to it, and so must be a 'commercial' film. French institutions will pour heaps of resources into promoting say Loveless, or Le Client, or Ceylan films, since they'e regarded as 'cultural' product whereas an English-language 'auteur-driven' film couldn't possibly be cultural product because of its link to "Les Anglo-Saxons". What are you thoughts on this?

Benoit Rouilly said...

Salut Remy,
I'm not aware of this problem, and I'm not following the box office stats closely to have an informed opinion. I'm not sure they are performing less than equivalent French-speaking art films or World art films... art films in general are not performing very well, even in France. The miracle of "l'exception culturelle" is that they are distributed at all, and outside Paris too. So the access to culture is preserved. Unlike in the USA where the screening in theaters is reserved to money-making movies.
So the institutions are giving money to protect the access to the theaters for every small films... and they can't spare this aid for "commercial movies". There is a commission that study the case of each contenders ("l'avance sur recette" http://www.cnc.fr/web/fr/resultats-2016 ), which lends money to films at the stage of screenwriting as an advance on the money they "might" make at the box office. Naturally, most films never pay back this advance. But they are really strict to make sure the money goes to the needy.
Assayas is a household name and can gather investors by himself by now. Although I wonder why his English-language film would not benefit from this aid. I'm also surprised that PTA, Haynes or Ramsay would be blacklisted because they are not blockbuster material... I have the feeling that France helps the American (or British) indie too but you're right, I see no English name on the link above. I see "Elle" by Verhoeven, in 2014, but maybe it's because it was in French.
If the government doesn't help them directly, at least there are private distributors who are willing to buy them and put them in theaters, which is rare in the USA (where nothing foreign is in theaters outside NYC and LA). Maybe they think that by the simple fact they are in English, the market of the USA is open to them to pay back their investments.
In France an art film that fares very well makes 400,000 spectators when they reach mainstream appeal (a blockbuster makes at least 2 millions spectators) so it's a niche market for indie films that is split between many world cinemas.
I didn't see "Sils Maria" was it in French-English? It had Stewart attached to it too.

Remy Renault said...

Well there's the occasional foreign film that makes it outside NYC and LA like Amour or A Separation, but otherwise yes, I'd say that's pretty much the case. Ironically though, US-based distributors are probably more likely to pick up 'serious' art films from overseas, since American moviegoers are likely to view any non-English-language as a 'cultural' experience, so the films that are easiest to market as 'heavy artistic' experiences such as Haneke's are the ones easiest market to the American-based demographic interested in watching 'foreign films'. This is why Intouchables went unnoticed and why Au Revoir La Haut doesn't even have a US-distributor, because who cares about foreign crowd pleasers when *we* have our own. Truth be told, I don't think the French 'hoi poloi' is any more interested in say Ceylan than the American one is, except that in France the distribution of his films is partially funded by the state and other 'non-profit' cultural institutions like France Inter and so forth. But Loveless was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, so it should be getting a decent statewide run, but we'll see. They're also releasing Happy End, but that performed pretty dismally in France considering the Amour triumph, so they be reluctant to promote it too heavily.

Benoit Rouilly said...

Cinema costs a lot of money to make, and the audience is so few to pay back investors, especially art films. Only a few chosen ones are lucky to make a profit, even among the mainstream genres. So I don't see how it could work otherwise than what we have in place in France (with state funded aid for the "art et essai"), unless the cost of production are dramatically reduced for art films and the price of admission is raised tenfold for art film audience...
There is a market in the USA for artfilms, with the college campuses, the eldery, the immigrants from around the world (second or third generation), and urban cinephiles... but it's a shame that the plethoric festival circuit (where filmmakers don't draw any money from screenings) has replaced, with the VOD at home, the local theaters (that are closing down one after the other).
Artfilms in France fare a little better than in the USA because there is a cinema culture here still (curiosity for world cinema and culture of theaters), but not enough to sustain a market without state aid of course.
A Separation is mainstream (it's just foreign), but Amour was a hard UFO to market. But there are good foreign mainstream movies, why do you think the USA is closed to them? Is it pure competition? Or is it that the audience is really faithful to domestic products?

Remy Renault said...

"a hard UFO to market" MDR

At any rate, I think it's a complex situation, and the fact that Americans are just a bunch of philistines who don't care about art is really just one factor among many, even if it is one factor among many. But like you said, much of it comes down to the public subsidies for cultural dissemination you have in France that don't really exist in France. In any case, I don't have a problem with multiple co-existing distribution schemes for art films, so Ceylan's works getting released on blu-ray and made available on the itunes store in North America is still a heck of a lot better than nothing. I'm fine with theatrical distribution co-existing with blu-ray/digital. How else will someone in the boondocks of Iowa manage to access something like Horse Money. Even fifty years ago, I can't imagine a film like 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her was any more widely distributed in theaters than Winter Sleep was three years ago. In many ways, I think the DVD revolution was a saving grace for cinephilia, since it meant you didn't have to fly to Paris or New York to see a Bresson film. Surely, you'd acknowledge companies like Criterion, Eureka, Cinema Guild, and so forth provide a valuable service. In my opinion, the theatrical and home viewing experiences each have their pros and cons, and there are benefits, going both ways, you can extract from one that you can't from the other. I certainly agree with you that without the "exception culturelle" those Left Bank revival houses and all those corner bookshops would probably struggle to survive!

Remy Renault said...

As I insist on numerous occasions, I agree there's a sizeable public, even in the US, that's interested in "more than the typical Hollywood fare", the kinds of people that watch films like Haneke, Almodovar, Farhadi et al. or on a wider scale PTA and Todd Haynes, so yes, the market exists, and even if I don't entirely share your anti-home viewing stance, I do wonder myself why something such as Once Upon a TIme in Anatolia, Jauja, or 35 Shots of Rum can't be widely distributed in North America. They're not terribly more "difficult" than Haneke's stuff.

Benoit Rouilly said...

You're right, there are benefits to the video viewing, it has democratized the access to rarities (not to mention the piracy that doesn't benefit the filmmakers). DVD companies of high standard you mention are great alternatives and they make some money for the filmmakers so they can continue to make more films.
But I can't help but find it sad that big pictures can't be seen on the big screen anymore for most people. It's more an aesthetic matter, maybe an out-of-date question in today's digital age.
Although David Lynch says in his Cahiers interview that if you watch close enough your smartphone or tablet, the screen is as big as if you're seating at the back of a theater (with the headphones on of course).
What about Mubi and Fandor? I only tried Netflix for a month, the choice is mainly mainstream.
Jauja is like Amour, hard to sell because of its lack of dialogues. In spite of Viggo Mortensen. But they are all beautiful films for those who have the patience (Anatolia, Jauja, 35 shots). Maybe the critics aren't doing enough to sell them to their readers, maybe readers don't read critics anymore (and visit the tomatometer instead!)
I haven't seen Costa's Horse Money, how is it?

Remy Renault said...

Hehe, well watching a film on a smart phone is taking things a bit far I think. As long as I have access to good sound quality, a standard 15-inch laptop screen is probably the smallest I could tolerate. I'll take 1080p on a 15-inch screen over 480p on a 50-inch screen any day.
I actually haven't seen Horse Money either yet by the way. It's on my list. In any case, Netflix has a poor selection even if excellent picture quality. FilmStruck is the reverse as is Mubi, since the compression artefacts are often quite distracting. Compression artefacts aren't an issue if you rent a film on itunes though. All the Kino, Cinema Guild, Criterion, et al. material is available on itunes...if you have access to an American CB of course.

Remy Renault said...

An issue of concern for me though is the polarized nature of modern film culture, and this perhaps explains why I struggle to unreservedly surrender to the 'importance' of most of the CCC directors like Ceylan, Denis, Alonso, Costa, Zhangke, and so on, even if I admire them. These guys aren't penetrating a wider cultural consciousness in the way that Bergman, Antonioni, and Bunuel did or even in a way that 'serious' writers like Jean Genet and Marguerite Duras did. Whether the current zeitgeist or the nature of these films themselves is to blame I don't know, but I can't just surrender to this aspect of contemporary cinema culture without contending with the aforementioned schism. How do you feel about this? A lot of these films seem like they're only intended for an inner circle of 'experts' and fetishist viewers, which would include the two of us of course ;). They're 'museum pieces' from the get go in a sense. They're not 'campus favorites' the way Haneke's and Kieslowski's films are or the way Kafka is at times.

Haneke has perhaps penetrated a wider consciousness as did Kiarostami intermittently I suppose.

Benoit Rouilly said...

Well if you're talking about Bergman, Antonioni (and Haneke, Kiarostami to some extent), they are art films but narrative nonetheless, and Modern Cinema (for the first two) was a quasi-mainstream enthusiasm at the time. It was a time when art films were more popular, and many masters ruled this "genre". Nowadays is less than a golden age for art films. But we have to recognize that some of today's masters are supported by the press and invited to festivals or museums (especially in the USA). For instance, Weerasethakul is invited to do installations in the USA, Jia Zhangke or HHH are recognized as masters, books are published on them.
And if we talk about France, there was a series of exhibitions pairing up 2 (CCC) filmmakers together at Centre Pompidou in Paris, which is a cultural recognition, even if it's a museum therefore a clique of aficionados like you say. Mekas & Guerin, Alonso & Serra, Wang Bing & Rosales...
Béla Tarr did an exhibition in Amsterdam.
I don't think CCC has the potential mainstream appeal (narratively) that Modern Cinema had, so it will never break out in the wider cultural consciousness. But the fact they are adopted by festivals is already a big win, despite the bored critics who complain about that "mannerism".
Ceylan and Jia Zhangke (but also Kawase, Reygadas, Kore-eda, Dumont, Gus Van Sant, HHH, Kiarostami, Kaplanoglu...) have an accessible narrative style that a willing mainstream audience could "tolerate" if they tried in the right conditions.
But it's a little more difficult for the core CCC auteurs such as Tarr, Alonso, Bartas, Diaz, Tsai, Omirbaev, Andersson, Benning, Hutton, Dean, Fliegauf... they are mostly wordless and static which is not something the audience cope with easily unless they are art fans.
CCC is an art, it's not entertainment! so it's obvious they land in museums and festivals rather than at the multiplex.

Remy Renault said...

Hey Benoit:

It's been a few weeks. Anyhow, I just wanted to say a few things. I'm not entirely certain interest in 'film as art' has dwindled to the extent people suggest. Sometimes I just think second wave cinephiles, and this doesn't include you, are stuck so far up their own a** they're completely out of touch with the broader realm of "art and culture" within which the greatest films should ideally be getting appreciated. There are still tons of people out there interested in watching something "other than the typical Hollywood fare", even if an Alonso would only attract a tiny fraction of this population. Look at the number of imdb ratings films like The 400 Blows, Persona, Stalker, and most Haneke works have. Take a film like The Florida Project, for instance. It's by no means CCC, but it's not a middlebrow prestige picture either and it's certainly aesthetically engaging. Is it Dreyer or Bresson? Probably not, but that's not the point. But I guess I'm to some degree an anti-elitist at heart in the sense that Bresson and Antonioni films should ideally be perceived as "cool" things to "check out" the way we're primed to perceive King Crimson and/or Velvet Underground albums rather than as "Strombolian" works to aspire to in order to increase our cultural capital at cocktail parties. I think much of the obsession over categories like 'high art' is largely politically motivated and isn't always related to aesthetics. So perhaps the auteurist tendency to use the likes of Hawks, Lubitsch, or Ford as a club with which to beat down Bergman and Antonioni may be annoying but perhaps it was necessary if only to reinvigorate cultural discourse and resist the complacency of urban bourgeois museum goers. "Ah oui, j'ai vu l'expo de Kandinsky à Beaubourg l'autre jour. Ce n'était pas ma tasse de thé franchement, mais je suis content d'y avoir allé." "Oui, mais quand même il y a vraiment quelque chose qui te frappe dans ces toiles, tu sais...", and so on and so forth. I think you get the picture. I don't think 'reverse elitists' like Andrew Sarris were so much against art films as they were against the idea of 'serious culture' as a Sunday activity for bourgeois self-improvement.

Benoit Rouilly said...

I see The Florida Project made 5M$ in the USA and 1M$ in France, not bad for a "small" film.
Being a cinephile rather than a multiplex goer is an elitist practice because it's a niche, because titles are not readily accessible, because there is no advertisments, because they have less screens... But it doesn't have to be bourgeois! It's a cultural niche, not a social class warfare.
I think Hawks, Lubitsch, Ford, Bergman, Antonioni and Haneke are in the same bag of auteurism, at least today (long after the quarrels of cinéphile parishes), are they more open to a wider public? I don't know
I prefer the legacy of Sarris to Pauline Kael's ;)

Remy Renault said...

Well if the comments sections on blogs such as Girish's are anything to go by, it would seem the quarrels of cinephile parishes are far from dead ;)

Remy Renault said...

To be fair, I've never really managed to "get into" Hawks and/or Lubitsch myself. I'm more of an Ophuls guy when it comes to classical cinema.

Benoit Rouilly said...

Did you see much comments activity on Girish's blog recently?
I'm not into Hawks, Lubitsch or even Ford myself... I've seen The Searchers last month for the first time, and I wonder why it is so high on the Best Movie Of All Time list. It's beautifully shot, but it's very classical. I think modern cinema is much more interesting artistically, like Antonioni, Bergman...

Remy Renault said...

Well Ford certainly has his place in film history. I won't dispute that. I just don't understand though how certain cinephiles can dismiss Bergman, Antonioni, Kieslowski et al. as 'bourgeois' and yet not be phased by the reactionary undertones that are all over the films of Ford and Hawks.

Benoit Rouilly said...

True. We can blame the Young Turks at Cahiers for this cinephile mentality.

Remy Renault said...

Well, personally, I don't think i's fair to scapegoat the Young Turks. They're too important to film history, and we wouldn't be here today talking 'film as art' if it wasn't for them, and Godard was always on the side of 'art cinema' as was Bazin, although Rivette may have occasionally played the pseudo-populist game. In any case, they were praising Hawks, but in a different socio-cultural context. The fault isn't so much the Young Turks themselves but rather successive generations of cinephiles taking their writings out of context I think. Sorry, but I'm very much pro-Cahiers legacy. Not to disagree with you or anything on this front...

Remy Renault said...

On the flip side, I think there's a tendency to perceive the likes of Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kubrick, et al. as appealing to 'younger' film geeks who don't necessarily want to do their homework and appreciate the importance of 'drier' and 'less trendy' figures like Renoir and so forth, so I can sort of see both sides here.

Benoit Rouilly said...

Sorry to be late to the reply here.
I'm pro-Cahiers too. I was just jokingly putting the responsibility of their shoulders. I'm a fan of Bazin especially!
The Cahiers legacy is priceless.
But they started the tearing down the pedestal of artfilm masters to the benefit of genre masters.

I see no harm if the youngsters at least know of a Bergman, a Tarkovsky, a Kubrick (to me they are geniuses in cinema history), it's already hard homework compared to the king of mainstream cinema they were raised on today.
But I think Renoir is trendy too among artfilm lovers (thanks to Criterion)