It's that time of year again! Anyone who kept up with last year's Viewing Resolutions knows that I love to set these goals every January 1, and also that I inevitably get diverted from these best-laid plans by the new releases, teaching-related choices, rewatchings of perennial faves, or other fixations of the moment. But the whole point of New Year's Day is that the whole sprawling field of the empty calendar feels full of possibility, so annual patterns be damned, surely this is the year when I finally check in with each entry on my self-planned itinerary through 24 English-language movies and 24 foreign-language movies?

If any of these titles look especially appetizing for you, either because you've already seen them or you'd be willing to take a gander at them in 2006, e-mail me and we'll coordinate our viewings. Chatting up movies with passionate partners is a delicious pleasure all year 'round.

February Viewings: L'Âge d'or
March Viewings: Code Unknown, Salesman
April Viewings: The Spirit of the Beehive
May Viewings: Mrs. Miniver
June Viewings: The More the Merrier, F for Fake
September Viewings: Matador
November Viewings: Sanshô the Bailiff

Director, Country, Year
Date Seen
Ace in the Hole / The Big Carnival Billy Wilder, USA, 1951
The Crowd King Vidor, USA, 1928
Crumb Terry Zwigoff, USA, 1994
Drylongso Cauleen Smith, USA, 1998
F for Fake

Orson Welles, USA, 1974 Jun. 19 Orson Welles' winking treatise about forgery and illusionism is an enjoyable lark, and there's no gainsaying the friskiness of its formal mélange, combining new footage, archival and newsreel material, inserts from famous films, cast-offs from Orson's own abandoned projects, and a teasing, climactic tête-à-tête between Orson and his co-writer Oja Kadar. Devotés of the personal mythologies of Howard Hughes, Pablo Picasso, and the notorious forger Elmyr de Hory will be especially gratified. Then again, call me a killjoy, but the implicit point about the ubiquity of trickery—especially in the arts and even more especially in the hands of inveterate formalists like Welles—doesn't lead us anywhere deeper than we've already assessed less than halfway through. Citizen Kane, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, The Third Man...all of them were just as illuminating about the borderzones between truth and falsity, but they contextualized these notions rather than holding out postmodern axioms in a vacuum, as though it were all (or, indeed, any of it) breaking news. A fine divertissement, but it's a puzzle-box of ideas about art rather than a fully satisfying film. B
Fast Company David Cronenberg, Canada, 1979
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang Mervyn LeRoy, USA, 1932
Jubilee Derek Jarman, UK, 1978
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie John Cassavetes, USA, 1976
The Killing of Sister George Robert Aldrich, USA, 1968
Lost Highway David Lynch, USA, 1997
Monsieur Verdoux Charlie Chaplin, USA, 1947
The More the Merrier

George Stevens, USA, 1943 Jun. 15 Sometime after World War II, maybe after They started putting fluoride in the water, our teeth got better but our comedies got worse. The More the Merrier gloriously reminds us how light-footed, randy, and specific Hollywood comedies used to be: suffused with wit rather than clotted with punchlines, and wedding the absurdities of a well-defined situation to the cheerful fractals of love and attraction. Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea are delicious here as attracting opposites (though not that opposite) thrown together by the wartime housing shortage in Washington, DC. Oscar winner Charles Coburn burns slowly but brightly as the mischief-maker who draws them together. The picture sputters toward the end, abandoning Arthur in particular to a bunch of needless weeping (it feels, sounds, and looks like a joke, but it doesn't really seem to be one). Still, the whole thing's a peach, and laugh-out-loud funny. A–
Mrs. Miniver

William Wyler, USA, 1942 May 10 The Academy, box-office, and zeitgeist champion of 1942 is neither as good nor as bad as you might think. Wyler, as ever, is attentive to his actors, and Garson, Pidgeon, and their surrounding brood of children and neighbors are an agreeable, believable lot without turning into jellybeans. The MGM production unit clearly took care with the project, but as often with Wyler in his most prestige-minded projects, his camera stultifies more often than you wish it would. Sermons abound, more patriotic than churchy. Garson's good, but she was better in her other big hit of 1942, Random Harvest, where she smarted from the pangs of love but didn't have to shoulder the Meaning of War. B–
Out of the Past Jacques Tourneur, USA, 1947
Parting Glances Bill Sherwood, USA, 1986
Performance Roeg & Cammell, UK, 1970

Albert & David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, USA, 1969 Mar. 26 I've now made three goes of the Maysles Brothers' canon, and while Salesman, to my mind, makes a better case for itself than the lurid irrelevancies of Grey Gardens, I still have a hard time balancing the officious immediacy of the Maysles' photography with the evident manipulations of their editing. At least in Salesman, they are the willing beneficiaries of some artful, O'Neill-style verbal riffs from their subjects—especially Paul Brennan, notwithstanding the fact that he works almost as hard as the filmmakers do to make himself the rather pyrrhic linchpin of the story. The glimpses of these Bible salesman footing their way on the retail trail is almost implicitly fascinating, but the intrusiveness of even a small camera crew shouldn't be forgotten, and the movie's elegism, however rough-hewn and distinguished for its era (or even for our era, with its proudly sensational "documentaries"), feels too consciously cultivated to mean all that much. B
7 Women John Ford, USA, 1966
The Steel Helmet Samuel Fuller, USA, 1951
The Tarnished Angels Douglas Sirk, USA, 1958
Thieves Like Us Robert Altman, USA, 1974
32 Short Films about Glenn Gould François Girard, Canada, 1993
To Each His Own Mitchell Leisen, USA, 1946

Director, Country, Year
Date Seen
L'Âge d'or

Luis Buñuel, France, 1930 Feb. 25 Predicting the textures, images, and counter-ideologies of longer, more narrative films he wouldn't make for 30 or 40 more years, Buñuel here achieves the peak of his early career: a surrealist vision that is outrageous in both the heretical and humorous senses, and a more coherent collage of associative imagery than the infamous Un Chien andalou. The repeated images of ecstatic smothering—in mud, in feathers, in something that looks like lava, or shit—ironically pose the abject as the prefered alternative to the dogmatic, and though Viridiana in particular would take this tension to more deliriously memorable places, the jokey effrontery already has an impressively sharp point. A–
Alexandria...Why? Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 1978
Bandit Queen Shekhar Kapur, India, 1994
Céline and Julie Go Boating Jacques Rivette, France, 1974
Code Unknown

Michael Haneke, France, 2000 Mar. 14 More expansive than Funny Games or Caché, but not finally as provocative as The Piano Teacher or Time of the Wolf, this polyglot Parisian drama once again demonstrates writer-director Haneke's formal and tonal gifts. The best scenes, including Binoche's humiliation on a subway car and a Malian cab driver's tenderly tense interview with his young son, are quite impressive on their own terms but also resonate in the broader contexts, unveiling Haneke's well-hidden emotional core. Still, Code often feels like a mosaic of social theses, familiar despite their urgency, and the effect was slightly more sublime in Claire Denis' I Can't Sleep. B+
Dakan Mohamed Camara, Guinea, 1997
Faat Kiné Ousmane Sembene, Senegal, 2000
Gertrud Carl-Theodor Dreyer, Denmark, 1964
Ivan the Terrible Sergei Eisenstein, USSR, 1944/46
Knife in the Water Roman Polanski, Poland, 1962
Landscape in the Mist Theo Angelopoulos, Greece, 1988
The Leopard Luchino Visconti, Italy, 1963
The Marriage of Maria Braun R.W. Fassbinder, W. Germany, 1979

Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 1986 Sep. 24 Almodóvar inscribes the opening credits of Matador over a montage of grisly demises from low-budget, exploitative horror movies, the colors in these clips so deeply saturated and the gestures of violence so ardent and brisk that the atmosphere they foster is one of camp psychosis. That's not a bad term for the register that Matador will thereafter inhabit. An early sequence in which the formidably coiffed María (Assumpta Serna) impales a naked, virile lover with a hairpin follows a runic, obsessive inroad into the codes and fetishes of S/M violence; later, when Angel (Antonio Banderas) attempts to rape the fluorescently dressed Eva (Eva Cobo), Almodóvar courts absurdism more bravely, and perhaps more tastelessly. Some of the acting is good, particularly from Julieta Serrano and Nacho Martínez, despite the film's priority on visage and affect more than intricacy of characters. Also, for a 1980s Almodóvar, the camera does a good job tracking texture and depth instead of just color and surface. As pervy as Bad Education, the structure and pace of Matador are similarly susceptible to lapses. It's unmistakably an early work, but it's a bracing one, and the bodies, however colorfully conceptual, also bleed real blood. B+
Open City Roberto Rossellini, Italy, 1945
Orpheus Jean Cocteau, France, 1950
Pandora's Box G.W. Pabst, Germany, 1928
Raise the Red Lantern Zhang Yimou, Hong Kong, 1991
La Ronde Max Ophüls, France, 1950
Sanshô the Bailiff

Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan, 1954 Nov. 26 A breathtaking masterwork, and a formidable corroboration of those readers who have chided me for not spending more time with Japanese cinema. The poor quality of many DVD and VHS transfers have kept me shy of the Mizoguchi canon, but I jumped on Sanshô when the restored 35mm print passed through Chicago, and it's hard to say what moved me most: the meticulously arranged shots, which somehow preserved their beautiful, articulate lines and tensions even as the camera tracked and panned; the evocative use of sound, both in strident moments of crisis and as subliminal reinforcement; the depth of irony and moral complexity, avoiding simplistic judgments and keeping perfectly in tune with the wide, unprescriptive camera angles and the sober, low-contrast photography; or the sheer amount of plot and the series of tragic reversals that Mizoguchi manages within two hours, elaborating a fable with personal, national, and spiritual dimensions while maintaining a primary, luminous allegiance to the art of film itself. A future candidate for the Top 100 list, no question, and probably the best movie I have seen all year. A
Scenes from a Marriage Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1973
The Spirit of the Beehive

Victor Erice, Spain, 1973 Apr. 18 The Spirit of the Beehive is a Spanish movie that looks almost Scandinavian; specifically, the ochres and umbers of the interiors, the harrowed chill of the sky and the fields, and the darker, ruddier colors around town kept reminding me of Sven Nykvist. So, too, the eye for contrasts and the precision of the camera movements, interspersed among painstaking and often arresting tableaus. However, unlike Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, another film where two watchful, mischievous children skirt around all kinds of tight-lipped adult dramas, all the while embarking on their own furtive trips to the rim of something unknown, The Spirit of the Beehive strikes me as a little too self-regarding in its cultivation of mood. Yes, Erice's pace and his co-authored script are subtly evocative, and wonderfully accessible for such a reticent, occasionally haunting film. Five-year-old Ana Torrent is a sensational find, and her face rewards more close-ups than many older actors can stand. Sill, at least for my taste, the film grows too replete with visual portents (the beehives, the Frankenstein monster, the abandoned shelter, the shattered crockery), themselves too suggestive of broader thematic reads—political, generational, and self-reflexively cinematic—that somehow feel too gossamer and, at the same time, a mite forced. Give me Dream of Light any day. B
That Obscure Object of Desire Luis Buñuel, France/Spain, 1977
Three Days Sharunas Bartas, Lithuania, 1991

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