Sunday, March 23, 2014

Best New TV Shows

After the success of 2013’s TV shows spotlight, it felt appropriate to do another spotlight in 2014 to catch up with more TV shows/series. The following six shows are part of this spotlight:

Justified, Season 4 (2013) 
House of Cards, Season 2 (2014) 
Orange is the New Black, Season 1 (2013) 
The Newsroom, Season 1 (2012) 
Six Feet Under, Season 1 (2001) 
True Detective, Season 1 (2014) 

With the exception of Six Feet Under, the remaining shows have been released within the last two years. The newest show is True Detective which concluded its 8 episode run on March 9, 2014 while all episodes of House of Cards Season 2 were released on Feb 14.

Justified Season 4 

Justified finished slightly behind Breaking Bad in last year’s TV show spotlight as the first 3 seasons proved to be quite remarkable. Since the ending of Season 3 offered a natural conclusion to the series, I didn’t see a relevance for Season 4. Therefore, it was not a surprise when the first few episodes of Season 4 turned out to be a let down. The structure of Season 4 certainly played a part in the disappointing start. In contrast to previous seasons, S4 consists of a single narrative arc and each episode gets one step closer to putting together all the pieces of a puzzle. The story revolves around an apparent accident that took place a few decades ago and incorporates present day events in unfolding an unsolved mystery around that incident. As the show focuses on elements of this older case, the first few S4 episodes don’t incorporate the dynamic office dialogues that lit up the first 3 seasons nor are key characters from previous seasons given much screen time.

Thankfully, half-way through Season 4, things finally start to pick up. Not surprisingly, the show gets intriguing when Raylan’s colleagues get involved and when Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) enters the frame and brings the mafia with him. The presence of the mafia sets off a series of events which embodies similar momentum that the last few episodes of Breaking Bad’s S5 had when the show appeared to be heading towards an explosive conclusion. In the case of Justified, those anticipated mouth-watering sequences do arrive and even Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson, impressive as always) makes a vital appearance.

In the first 3 seasons, there were only 1-2 episodes that didn’t belong in the overall structure of Justified. However, Season 4 contains many throw away episodes which don’t add much to the overall story. Still, the show manages to end on a high note and partially redeems itself. Season 5 is currently underway and it will be a few months before I catch-up with that.

House of Cards Season 2
Season 1 of House of Cards was a slow burning chess match where Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) played his machiavellian moves in order to become vide-president, thereby putting him "one heartbeat away from the presidency". In S1, Underwood was always in control and ensured those around him acted according to his wishes. However, all that changes in S2 when everyone is aware of Underwood’s tactics. People can see right through him and start countering his tactics. On top of that, a powerful villain emerges in S2 who attacks Underwood from every single direction, including taking down Francis’ favourite rib joint. This villain Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney) had a small vital role in S1, but is the centre of all the action in S2.

The pace is relentless in S2 and episodes move at a breakneck speed with year/month long events unfolding in days. This quick unraveling of events is mostly because S2 condenses 2-3 seasons worth of material in just 13 episodes. As a result, there are many script jumps which require a huge suspension of belief. For example, Tusk is depicted as a man who bring down the entire nation whenever he desires. In order to demonstrate his power, Tusk shuts off power in an entire city with one phone call and takes America on the brink of international conflict with China. He also flows millions of dollars to either political party as he desires. Besides possessing incredible powers and an endless pot of money, Tusk is also omnipresent. Anytime someone calls his henchmen, no matter which part of the nation they are in, Tusk is present in the room. He also appears to know what exactly every character is thinking. Another example of a script convenience is a key live interview for Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) that goes on for hours, with extended breaks which allow swift resolution/action on topics that would normally takes days. There is a lot of material to cover so the script just cuts out the logical progression that would take place between two events.

On the positive side, Kevin Spacey owns the show like he did in S1. It is hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Francis Underwood. The characters of Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) and Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) are once again essential but even their characters are shown vulnerable in S2. The biggest addition to the show is Molly Parker whose character of Jackie Sharp demonstrates a blend of intelligence and grace. Jackie looks composed but can be ruthless if she desires. There are some motives about her character that are not revealed leading one to believe that she may be a key player in Season 3.

Many aspects of Season 2 of House of Cards are much more compelling than S1 but some of the events in S2 are a bit too ridiculous to digest.

Orange is the New Black 

Orange is the New Black is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir about her time served in prison for carrying a suitcase full of drug money. The opening minutes of Episode 1 catch one off guard in terms of expectations about a show set in a prison. Most prison TV shows or films show characters who are arrested, persecuted and transported handcuffed to prison. But in Orange is the New Black, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is dropped off to prison by her fiancee and proceeds to voluntarily check herself in. Of course, once she checks in, the harsh reality of prison life descends and erases any comforts that Piper once knew. Dealing with prison is complicated enough but her life is made even troublesome when she finds out her ex-girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon) is in prison as well. It was because of transporting Alex’s suitcase that Piper is serving her jail term. Therefore, there are plenty of emotional and unresolved issues that Piper must navigate, in addition to understanding the power dynamics and hierarchy of prison life.

Orange is the New Black is one of the best balanced shows made in recent years where each character is given an equal voice and adequate screen time. Plus, the writing is very strong and balances the brutality of prison life with enough moments of humor and compassion that allows one to care for each character. Piper is the focus of the series but the show does an excellent job of giving other characters ample screen time. The flashbacks, which are used to fill in the backstory of the characters, help make this show so rich and layered. In the flashbacks, a different and much nicer side is shown for each character which contrasts with their rougher persona in prison. Such a contrast illustrates how prison life transformed their core personalities. The reason for each character’s presence in prison is not revealed right away but gradual episodes fill in a portion of their past. This allows viewers to guess possible crimes but sometimes, the truth is more shocking than one’s imagination.

Season 2 will be released in the summer of 2014.

The Newsroom (HBO show, not the Canadian one)

HBO’s The Newsroom takes a fabulous premise of filtering real life events via fictional characters. This means, certain key events from 2010-2011 are used to propel the dramatic tension in the show. We get to see the frantic chaos that could have unfolded when the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill story first broke out. In a similar manner, the Egyptian Revolution and the capture of Osama Bin Laden are also given vital parts in the show. Also, The Newsroom deals with the ever present topic about how TV ratings impact coverage of relevant news and journalistic integrity. Of course, since this is an Aaron Sorkin show, it means characters talk without breathing and their words turn into actions even before the other person has processed the idea. Such back and forth snappy dialogues make for an addictive entertaining show but this method also distances the show from any semblance to reality even though the show’s goal is to depict real events.

Like House of Cards S2, the first season of The Newsroom packs too much in its 10 episodes. If some of the stories had been cut out, then the show could have taken the time to properly depict events. The show also tries to include a few romantic elements which really don’t any depth to the characters but instead weaken the show. There is much to admire in The Newsroom but sometimes the overblown ability of the characters to solve problems is hard to fathom.

True Detective
On the surface, True Detective looks to be heading down a path that has been covered by many films before: two cops with radically different personalities become partners to hunt down a serial killer. But after a few episodes, it becomes apparent True Detective is something entirely different. Even though the cops appear to be at polar opposites, the show takes time to outline their personalities. In addition, the show gives ample time to the swamp and other Louisiana surroundings making the locales a central character, something which takes away the focus from the two cops, Rust (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty (Woody Harrelson). As the season progresses, Rust and Marty appear to be minor characters compared to nature and become even smaller when the swamp area is viewed from above. Hints are given as to the larger scope of the show and this is clear near the end with talks of the universe and even a glimpse of a wormhole.

The entire show was shot on 35mm and that decision plays a vital part in the rich visual language of True Detective. It is quite rare to talk of TV shows from a visual perspective but True Detective extends beyond the narrow frames one finds in other TV shows. A perfect example of how the show shatters a normal TV show frame is depicted in Episode 4 with the now famous 6 minute tracking shot. Besides the tracking shot, episode 4 elevates the show to a higher level. This starts when Rust dives back into the underbelly of a criminal world, thereby plunging the show into dark territory. Interestingly, even though the show deals with dark material, for most of the episodes, it is daytime that appears to be terrifying. This point is hammered home in the nail biting finale where horror exists in the day while nighttime offers comfort.

Season 2 of True Detective will have a new director, new lead actors and likely a completely different setting. That is good news because whoever comes in to direct S2 can work from a blank canvas and not be tied down to events in Season 1. This gives the show much more flexibility than other TV Series.

Top Shows ranking 

Arranging the six shows in order of preference:

1. True Detective, S1 
2. Orange is the New Black, S1 
3. House of Cards, S2 
4. Justified, S4 
5. The Newsroom, S1 
6. Six Feet Under, S1 

As chance would have it, a show titled Six Feet Under lands up on the 6th spot. Six Feet Under S1 has plenty of witty dark humor and that is impressive given the grim setting of a funeral home. But the show premiered back in 2001 and feels more dated than the other shows.

In terms of story, Orange is the New Black is the best overall show but the visual language of True Detective is enough to edge it to the #1 spot. Plus, there are some irresistible moments of cinematic magic in True Detective.

Overall, best TV seasons 

As an experiment, I wanted to do a rough comparison of 29 complete seasons of the following 13 shows that I saw.

24, S1 and S8 
Boardwalk Empire, S1 
Breaking Bad, S1-5  
Game of Thrones, S1-2 
Homeland, S1
House of Cards (USA), S1-2 
Justified, S1-4 
Mad Men, S1-6 
The Newsroom, S1 
Orange is the New Black, S1 
Six Feet Under, S1 
True Detective, S1 
The Walking Dead, S1-S2 

Taking each season on its own and comparing the overall Excellence Per Minute (+EPM) & Soap Opera Moment (-SOM), the following is a rough preference order:

1. Breaking Bad, S4 
2. Mad Men, S4 
3. Breaking Bad, S3 
4. Mad Men, S1 
5. Breaking Bad, S5 
6. Justified, S1 
7. Justified, S3 
8. House of Cards, S1 
9. True Detective, S1 
10. Orange is the New Black, S1 

It is not a surprise that Breaking Bad (3 mentions), Mad Men (2) and Justified (2) occupy the top 7 spots in this list. House of Cards, True Detective and Orange is the New Black are excellent new additions to this list.

Next shows to be watched

The first half of Mad Men’s final season starts on April 13. Also, in the next month, I will be viewing the first two seasons of The Americans.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sundance Film Festival

2014 marked the 30th anniversary of the Sundance Film Festival, a festival that has been the launching pad for many exciting cinematic voices over the years. The festival’s importance in discovering new directors was nicely highlighted by the trailer shown before all the films which gave a glimpse of some of the stellar titles that played at the festival. The first Sundance was held in 1985 but it is acknowledged that the festival shot into the limelight in 1989 with Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotapes which changed the perception of the festival. Besides being the launching pad for Soderbergh, Sundance ushered the discovery of many other American directors including Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, 1992), Kevin Smith (Clerks, 1994), Kelly Reichardt (River of Grass, 1994), Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, 1996) and Darren Aronofsky (Pi, 1998). All of these directors, plus many more, have made the jump from Independent to Commercial cinema thanks to their discovery at Sundance. Even James Wan’s Saw premiered at Sundance before it transformed into a multiplex franchise. 

The success of certain Sundance films or genre means the media attention seems to gravitate towards a similar subset of the festival’s output. One hears plenty about how a certain work is a “Sundance film”, words which paint the festival in a single light. In recent years, that term has been associated with Little Miss Sunshine or Sunshine Cleaning, two films that seem to embody the kind of films that Sundance loves. But these films are not representative of the entire body of carefully programmed films that make up the Sundance film festival. Over the years, documentaries and a growing list of foreign films have premiered at the festival. Although, one would not know that from the media coverage. As this year showed, the films at Sundance represented a multi-tiered global outlook, not only in terms of the foreign film selections but the topics covered in many American films as well. Even though many films were American productions, they were shot in foreign locations or featured topics that were universal in theme. And as it turned out, through a series of intriguing choices, I ended up with many films which were tied together despite coming from different parts of the world. The 13 films I saw can be grouped together in the following 5 categories.

The Arab Spring 

Talal Derki’s Return to Homs embodies the characteristics of the “Direct Cinema” movement that originated in the 1950-60’s. Just like the pioneers of Direct Cinema, including Michel Brault, Derki shared the same quarters as his subjects and thereby put himself in harm’s way to get footage of the Syrian Revolution. Once the Syrian Revolution started in 2011, most of the Syrian media were not allowed in the country. Derki was a rare person who was able to capture the events which makes the footage essential in understanding what went on while the rest of the world continued to sleep. Derki and his crew continued filming even when bullets were fired in their direction. Such vérité footage results in many gut wrenching moments when people are on the verge of dying on-screen. By keeping the focus on a few key people, Return to Homs shows the human impact a revolution has on people. But one can also extrapolate these personal experiences to a larger scale and understand what motivates people to act the way they do. In essence, the film focuses on a few streets in a city but this microscopic focus helps shed a light on similar struggles going on in other streets not only across Syria but the rest of the Middle East.

While Return to Homs views the Arab Spring from a street level, We Are the Giant takes a few steps back and looks at the Arab Spring from a bird’s eye view not only in the present but even from the past. We Are the Giant inserts quotes and pictures from the past which frames the Arab Spring in context of past revolutions and the inclusion of tweets and social media footage shows the currency of protests. Social media is the new weapon of protest. Previously, the printing press allowed people’s revolutionary messages to be distributed but as We Are the Giant shows, social media manages to accelerate the revolutionary process by distributing live video with text to portray events in real time. And just like how the printing press threatened those in power, the same applies for tweets and blog posts. A blog post or a single tweet can land a person in jail and subsequent torture as shown by We Are the Giant. The film examines the Arab Spring from a larger scope but it highlights three stories about families from Libya, Syria and Bahrain whose loved ones are impacted. The stories are shattering but help one to understand the reason why the Arab Spring revolution started and why people are taking to the streets. We Are The Giant is the only Sundance film that I saw which got a standing ovation for its director, Greg Barker, which it rightly deserved.

Return to Homs and We Are the Giant pack a heavy emotional punch but both are essential viewing that allows one to see the world in a new light. In 2013, The Square, a documentary about the Egyptian revolution, premiered at Sundance. 2014 saw the world premiere of We Are the Giant while Return to Homs got a North American premiere. The programming of these three films shows a different side to Sundance, one that is going beyond the traditional media coverage to highlight relevant stories.

Neo-Noir: blood spilled to defend a family 

Blue Ruin (USA) and To Kill a Man (Chile/France) come from different countries but they compliment each other and present a complete picture of what happens in a society where the innocent are left to protect themselves.

An alternate title for Blue Ruin could easily be “To Kill a Man” because a killing takes place early on in the film. Dwight (Macon Blair) has no choice but to kill in order to protect his family. The killing dates back to a family feud and his murder is a further addition in a cyclic act of an “eye for an eye”. Blue Ruin wastes no time in jumping right into events and moves at a rapid pace while maintaining the tension on a knife’s edge for much of the film. A few moments of humor are sprinkled throughout the film which provide a welcome relief as the humor releases some of the tension. Blue Ruin is a perfectly realized neo-noir that depicts some of the same spirit that has made Justified such a worthy show. The film debuted in Cannes 2013 but will only get a wider American release in April 2014. As it stands, Blue Ruin is the best American film of 2013 that I have seen.

To Kill a Man can be called a precursor to Blue Ruin because the film shows the path a man is forced to undertake when contemplating murder. Jorge (Daniel Candia) is bullied and humiliated by a local gang to the extent that his family is no longer safe. The law cannot act fast enough and as a result, Jorge has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. To Kill a Man contains many sequences which defy belief and just when one expects the film to end, it continues and further astounds. When all is said and done, the words “Based on a true story” appear just before the closing credits. The decision to show these words at the end of the film is masterful as it manages to put the entire film in a different light. Without the appearance of those words, one would question the decisions that took place in the film. Yet those words lend reality to the events and instead manage to make the film a larger case study of what can happen in a society where the innocent can no longer be protected by the law, the same law which makes it easier for the guilty to always evade capture.

Hostile World, defending oneself 

Liar’s Dice and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, debut films directed by women, also depict a hostile world where women are potential prey to men. But the two films take radically different approaches in how the female characters handle their situation.

In Geethu Mohandas’ Liar’s Dice, Kamala (Geetanjali Thapa, mesmerizing) travels from Chitkul to Delhi in order to find her husband whom she has not heard from in 5 months. She takes her daughter and their family goat along the journey. However, a woman traveling without a male companion in India, especially in Delhi, is never safe from men’s constantly prying eyes; a fact that has gained a lot more exposure in the last 2 years with the huge number of documented rape cases. Kamala meets a completely untrustworthy stranger (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) but the film shows that given the dangerous setting, even this stranger becomes a rope to cling on. Liar’s Dice manages to stay away from the usual romantic attitude that Bollywood and foreign films depict India in. Instead, harsh reality is allowed to filter in. The cinematography is breathtaking and shows snowy parts of Northern India rarely seen on screen. The acting is also memorable with Geetanjali Thapa properly expressing her character’s anger and fear while Nawazuddin plays his dishonest persona to perfection.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night beautifully turns the table from a girl who could be an easy prey and makes her the hunter instead. As per the title, a girl does walk alone but she is not the one in danger. Instead, every man in her sight is. This is because the black and white Iranian film is a contemporary take on a Vampire story. The fact that the girl wears a hijab when attacking men can clearly be read as a subtext on the treatment of women not only in Iran but the Middle East. But instead of being subdued by the men, the girl bites back. Ana Lily Amirpour’s film is seductive and features a pulsating soundtrack which combined with the Californian setting gives the entire work an American feel, except that it is in Farsi and takes place in a fictitious place called “Bad City”. Plenty of touches of Jim Jarmusch can be found plus a nod towards early David Lynch as well.

Natural Resources: Corporations, Cycle of Boom and Bust 

A few films highlighted the methods that corporations go about in extracting natural resources from nations and the impact it has on local residents of a city/nation.

In Marmato, the gold mining methods in a small Colombian town are shown and how the Canadian corporation’s decisions play a part in the resident’s lives. The town residents have been gold miners for centuries and they live close to the mines on the mountains. However, the corporation wants to instead use an open mining technique which would level the mountain, thereby displacing the residents. The residents try to fight the corporation but their plight faces a tough political battle as depicted by the film. One could easily replace gold with oil, shale, silver or any other natural resource and the film would still be relevant in the unfolding of events.

We Come as Friends examines the newly formed nation of South Sudan and depicts how colonialism still exists but hides in a new mask related to resource exploitation. In the film, the resource in question is oil which governs the level of foreign interest in the nation. One can imagine that the rest of the world would not have have cared about what happened if there was no oil.

The cycle of boom and bust related to resource discovery has been repeated throughout history and many films have shown towns that fall in either categories. The Overnighters shows the impact on the local economy when an influx of workers arrives. Williston, North Dakota is the site for a new gold rush to speak, that of shale gas. The town cannot accommodate the hundreds of new arriving workers who have no place to sleep. On top of that, the residents of Williston are wary and fearful of the strangers, who are Americans moving from different states.

A local pastor, Jay Reinke, puts up as many workers in his church as possible and helps find accommodations for others. But some of the workers are ex-convicts or felons which causes the town residents to fear them more. Reinke goes out of his way to treat every worker equally but that puts his reputation on the line. As the film progresses, the pressure of the town and the overnighters takes its toll on Jay Reinke, who is almost on the brink of losing everything, his faith and reputation. In fact, events threaten to make Reinke an overnighter as well. The film shifts from the larger focus of the town to a personal story about the pastor’s life because what happens is not foreseeable. The film was awarded a Special Jury Prize for intuitive filmmaking and that is justified as events take an unexpected turn but director Jesse Moss trusted his instincts and continued filming. Also, Jay Reinke and his family deserve credit for allowing the camera to stay on in their households even though many personal conversations were taking place. In many moments, Moss achieves a Direct Cinema style of intimacy and the camera becomes one with Reinke’s household. When all is said and done, The Overnighters leaves one shaken at what they have just witnessed. Such was the case with many audience members at the sold out show.

Young Ones shows a future when water has become a scarce resource and where humans fight for every drop of water. The film is sci-fi but the desert surroundings and theme of revenge evoke a Western genre. The story unfolds in three chapters, with each chapter highlighting a key character. Michael Shannon stars as the father, who is willing to fight for his family’s benefit, a theme shown in other films at the festival. The film highlights the battle of survival that ensues when a society is on the verge of collapse.

Cutter Hodierne’s Fishing Without Nets shows a Somali village where all jobs have dried up and the only real money that can be made is by piracy. The film covers a similar topic to Captain Phillips and A Hijacking but Fishing Without Nets is told entirely from a Somali perspective. The feature film is an expansion of Cutter Hodierne’s award winning 2012 short film by the same name which also debuted at Sundance. It is a wonderful time in cinema when three films such as A Hijacking, Captain Phillips, Fishing Without Nets can exist in a similar timeframe. The three films are directed by men from three separate countries but they present a 360 degree view of events. There are many scenes where the three films directly reference each other and show an opposing perspective. For example, in Captain Phillips, events are seen from Tom Hanks’ character’s point of view such as when he sees the pirates approaching on boats and boarding the ship. In Fishing Without Nets, the camera is instead in the pirate boats and events unfold from the pirates’ perspective when they are climbing onto the ship. Another example is regarding the negotiations between the pirates and the shipping company. A Hijacking shows the parent ship company offices when the pirates phone to demand ransom while in Fishing Without Nets, only the pirates are shown talking on the phone and we never get to see the company on the other side. Therefore, these three films paint a complete picture of the entire piracy operation including the men who fund the process and provide supplies to those who kidnap the hostage and those that make the deals.

Portrait of an Artist 

Tim Sutton’s Memphis is a beautiful contemplative film set in the city that has fulfilled many musical dreams. However, the film is not about an artist who is on the verge of discovery. Instead, it looks at an artist’s life when the lyrics stop. Willis Earl Beal plays a famous musician who is struggling to finish his new album. He is told by his agent that he needs to come up with something but as Willis indicates, lyrics escape him. He is suffering from the equivalent of a writer’s block and as a result, the film applies to any artist struggling to produce a work. Willis procrastinates, wanders the city and manages to find solace among the unemployed people who can barely make ends meet. Yet, Willis has a talent. A close friend advises him that Willis has a responsibility to God, to realize his artistic duty. Willis has the keys to the kingdom, he is at the state that thousands other want to be. But he decides to turn in his keys to the kingdom and goes on a less traveled but difficult journey. Casting Willis is quite the coup as the film shatters the boundary between reality and fiction. The film is not autobiographical but there are some moments which depict Willis’ working methods regarding his music recording. The decision to withhold music for most of the film is also smart because that makes one thirst for Willis’ songs. And when we finally listen to Willis’ voice, it is magical! The music and words of “Too Dry to Cry” are sprinkled throughout the film, elevating the film and giving the entire work a soulful momentum. Memphis is a worthy addition to Contemporary Contemplative Cinema and is one of the most original American film in years.

Mr. Leos CaraX is a documentary that demystifies Leos Carax and allows a window into his style. The film is an ode to the director and includes plenty of clips and interviews which help shed a light on Carax’s references and usage of citations. Denis Lavant is featured prominently and his interview is quite useful in understanding his growth as an actor over the years in working with Carax. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Harmony Korine, Richard Brody, Kent Jones, Gilles Jacob also provide insightful critical analyses. Tessa Louise-Salomé’s documentary makes one want to revisit Carax’s films while eagerly awaiting his new work; which hopefully is not another decade away.

Top 5 Films: a tie for 5th means 6 films

1. Return to Homs (Talal Derki)
2. Memphis (Tim Sutton)
3. Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier)
4. We Are the Giant (Greg Barker)
5. The Overnighters (Jesse Moss) and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)

I missed many other wonderful films due to scheduling conflicts or sold out shows. Whiplash (winner of both Jury and Audience Award for US Dramatic film), Imperial Dreams (Audience Award, Best of NEXT) and The Green Prince (Audience Award, World Documentary) were high on my see list. Discussing with dozens of other cinephiles, there were a few common titles that popped up on many other top lists. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood was #1 on many lists as was Mike Cahill’s I-Origins, talking about which made some people giddy with excitement. I-Origins was the winner of Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, a prize which Cahill also won at Sundance back in 2011 with his first feature Another Earth. Raid 2 was #1 on few lists and almost everyone was certain that the film’s extreme violence meant the film would not be released without some cuts in North American cinemas. Other films that got plenty of buzz were E-TEAM (Winner of the Cinematography Award: US Documentary), Wetlands, Watchers in the Sky (Winner of two awards for Animation usage and Editing), Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory (Audience Award for US Documentary) and Happy Christmas. We Are the Giant is the only film from my list that featured on two other’s list at #1.

An overall festival experience is made or broken by one’s choices. In this regard, almost all my choices delivered, which helped! Of the 5 films that I bought advance tickets to, 3 won top prizes. To Kill a Man won the Jury Prize for World Cinema Dramatic category, Return to Homs won the Jury prize for World Documentary while Fishing Without Nets bagged the Best Directing prize. Along with Return to Homs, Memphis, Blue Ruin and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night were on my must-see list before the festival started. Therefore, it was especially delightful to discover that these films were worth attending.

The only disappointments were Young Ones and We Come as Friends, but only because the films could not build on an early impressive setup. In the case of We Come As Friends that is understandable as the film was clearly impacted by the degrading situation in South Sudan. The film won a Special Jury Prize for Cinematic Bravery which recognizes the effort of director Hubert Sauper who tired to cover as many different angles to the South Sudan nation creation story as possible. We Come As Friends shows that making a documentary in a dynamic and constantly changing landscape can be challenging. This was also demonstrated in Marmato when the situation of the town residents worsened. However, Marmato ends before the tensions rose to a boil. One of the producers mentioned that they had to leave the country when there were concerns about their safety, something which helped give the film a natural ending. In the case of The Overnighters, the reason why the change in direction worked was because the main subject Jay Reinke was part of the film early on. As a result, he provided a continuation thread when the film changed course.

Return to Homs, We Are the Giant, We Come as Friends and Marmato depict a window into current events which are getting worse and changing constantly. As a result, these films don’t offer a natural conclusion because the ending of these struggles has not yet been written. But these films are essential because they serve as a living breathing digital document.

Sundance is interchangeable with American cinema and will always be a place where new American directors will be discovered. However, as this year’s festival showed, Sundance is giving a peek into the wider world outside of American shores by including films which are relevant and timely. No matter what category a film was programmed in and how different it was, it still fit in the overall program and showed that there was careful attention paid to ensuring all the films had a purpose.

The festival gets a lot of attention for its distribution side along with the celebrity presence. There are many private parties around the festival which feature celebrities and grab a lot of media coverage. This gives the appearance of a large closed-off film festival. But that is not the case as the festival has successfully managed to bridge its larger media aspect with a smaller independent feel. This is evident not only from the film selections but from some of the panels. I attended the Film Church on the final day of the festival where the Festival Director John Cooper and Director of Programming Trevor Groth talked about their festival highlights. Both John and Trevor were candid about some of their programming decisions and challenges that took place. The panel made it hard to believe that Sundance is the media crazy festival that some publications make it appear. Instead, Sundance felt like an intimate festival that is open to film lovers from all walks of life. This is also reinforced by talking to many of the volunteers and other festival patrons. There were many volunteers and patrons who have been attending for decades and shared a zest for cinema. In fact, every single volunteer I came across was a bona-fide cinephile, something I have not seen at another festival. One of the volunteers was a documentary maker and I learned that many of the volunteers working at one of the venues also worked regularly at the Toronto International Film Festival. Overall, Sundance proved to be a more open and inviting festival than I expected. And the variety of programming choices meant the festival balanced both artistic and commercial cinema while keeping its ears tuned to global events.

Cross-published at Wonders in the Dark.

Monday, January 13, 2014

South American Films

The 18 South American films of the 2014 Movie World Cup have been selected. The three films from the six nations follow the following criteria:

Film 1: previously seen film from 2005 - 2013
Film 2: unseen film from 2005 - 2013
Film 3: film from 1960 - 2004


Film 1: Neigboring Sounds (O Som ao Redor), 2012, Kleber Mendonça Filho
Film 2: Once Upon a Time Veronica (Era Uma Vez Eu, Verônica), 2012, Marcelo Gomes
Film 3: Entranced Earth (Terra em Transe), 1967, Glauber Rocha

As hosts of the 2014 World Cup, Brazil are expected to win the soccer tournament and anything other than first place would be seen as a failure. Keeping that in mind, I tried to pick three films that should give Brazil a very good chance to win the Movie World Cup title. Neigboring Sounds is an excellent film that finished #2 in my 2013 film list while Glauber Rocha's film should be a strong candidate. Marcelo Gomes' Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures was my favourite 2005 film, which is why I have high hopes for his 2012 film.


Film 1: Gone Fishing (Días de pesca), 2012, Carlos Sorin
Film 2: Extraordinary Stories (Historias extraordinarias), 2008, Mariano Llinás
Film 3: Invasion (Invasión), 1969, Hugo Santiago

Argentina won the 2010 Movie World Cup thanks to Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool. Alonso's 2008 film was certainly eligible to be picked as Film #1 but I opted for Carlos Sorin's film because it enhances the lonely man aspect from Alonso's film with a bit more emotional weight making it a worthy selection.

On paper, one of the strongest films in this competition could be Extraordinary Stories. It is a film that has received high praise in many quarters. I have to thank Allan Fish for his review that ensured this film stayed in my memory.

Completing a strong selection for Argentina is the stunning 1969 film Invasión. I had not heard of this film until recently but once I found out that this film was co-written by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares, then it was an automatic selection.


Film 1: Tony Manero, 2008, Pablo Larraín
Film 2: Old Cats (Gatos Viejos), 2010, Pedro Peirano/Sebastián Silva
Film 3: The Battle of Chile (La batalla de Chile), 1975-79, Patricio Guzmán

Tony Manero won the 2011 Copa America Book and Film Spotlight and was an automatic selection. It is certainly the best of Pablo Larraín's trilogy which includes Post Mortem and No.

Selecting Old Cats is a bit of a gamble as I know very little about this film but I wanted a Sebastián Silva film in this competition and this was the most accessible of his three recent films.

The Battle of Chile was also an easy selection. Currently, I plan to watch all three parts as part of this Movie World Cup but I may only use one part for the competition scoring.


Film 1: Crab Trap (El vuelco del cangrejo), 2009, Oscar Ruiz Navia
Film 2: Dog Eat Dog (Perro come perro), 2008, Carlos Moreno
Film 3: Oedipus Mayor (Oedipo alcalde), 1996, Jorge Alí Triana

Crab Trap is one of the best Colombian films I have seen in the last few years and it made my honorable mention list in 2010.


Film 1: Crónicas, 2004, Sebastián Cordero
Film 2: Qué tan lejos, 2006, Tania Hermida
Film 3: A Titan in the Ring (Un titán en el rincón), 2002, Viviana Cordero

There was a possibility that all three Ecuadorian films could have been from Sebastián Cordero. I have previously viewed Crónicas and Ratas, ratones, rateros while his last film Europa Report and 2009 feature Rage are readily available. However, Europa Report and Rage are foreign co-productions that are not from Ecuador which is why I opted for Qué tan lejos (How Much Further).


Film 1: A Useful Life (La vida útil), 2010, Federico Veiroj
Film 2: Bad Day to go Fishing (Mal día para pescar), 2009, Álvaro Brechner
Film 3: Whisky, 2004, Juan Pablo Rebella/Pablo Stoll

Whisky won the 2007 Copa America Film Spotlight and it is a film that has stayed in my memory for the last few years. I have not revisited this film since 2007 which is why I am excited about having this film compete in this spotlight.


On paper, Brazil and Argentina appear to have the strongest selection of films. This feels appropriate as Brazil won the 2006 Movie World Cup while Argentina took the 2010 Movie World Cup. Seeing a Movie World Cup between these two nations would indeed be a dream final. However, there are a few other nations which have a strong film line-up and might cause an upset. That being said, as a minimum, I expect one of Brazil or Argentina to reach the 2014 Movie World Cup final.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Best Films of 2013

It was an excellent year for cinema demonstrated by how many worthy films had to be left out of this list and many others that I failed to see because they never got released in my city such as A Touch of Sin, Stray Dogs, Ship of Theseus and Norte, the End of History. The distribution problem for foreign films seems to get worse every year but since these films only make a fraction of the box-office revenue, no one seems to care. As a result, the importance of film festivals and an increasing amount of VOD options cannot be overstated.

One aspect that stood out from some of the best films of 2013 was their mature approach to relationships, especially between parents and children. Like Father, Like Son, Before Midnight and The Past come from three different countries but they all managed to smartly depict the two way impact parents and kids have on each other. The visuals and sound design of many films left a mark, including some that were left out of this list. For example, the sound of Lootera is impressive as is the background score in 12 Years a Slave which gives a cue when the nightmare is over. 12 Years a Slave could have had no dialogue and the score would have still been ample in navigating the emotional state of the characters. In the case of Gravity, the technical aspects are far superior than the story and acting. Gravity was the first film I saw in the IMAX 3D format and that proved to be a very immersive physical experience. It was also the most memorable cinematic experience of the year but Gravity does not feature in this list, emphasizing the strength of this year’s output.

Top Ten Films of 2013 

1. Like Father, Like Son (Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda) 

A mature film about the two-way relationship parents and kids have on each other. At times devastating but an enriching experience. Hirokazu Kore-eda is certainly a worthy heir to the cinema of Yasujirô Ozu.

2. Neighboring Sounds (2012, Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho) 

Rarely do I utter masterpiece after finishing a film but this was the only word that came to mind as the credits rolled. The sound design is remarkable as is the constant sense of dread that lingers over every frame.

3. The Great Beauty (Italy/France, Paolo Sorrentino) 

Just when I think Italian cinema can't match its former glory comes this wonder of cinema. How on earth did Sorrentino make such a film? Is it really him that directed it? It feels like the ghost of Fellini, Antonioni and former Italian masters came on the set, possessed Sorrentino and made him make this film. There are also tiny hints of Terrence Malick and Matteo Garrone as well.

4. Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (Canada, Denis Côté) 

Denis Côté toys with the audience by making a specific genre film under the cover of another genre. I am not going to reveal what the specific genre is because it is worth seeing this film cold without any prior knowledge. Côté clearly alerts the audience what to expect but his alarms are mistaken for humor which is why when the film does eventually reveal its true nature, it jolts the senses.

5. Bastards (France, Claire Denis) 

Shares some elements with L’Intrus but this heads towards neo-noir territory with devastating results. Like the real world, some of the biggest villains don’t appear to be evil on first glance but only show their true color in dark enclosed spaces.

6. Before Midnight (USA, Richard Linklater) 

Before Midnight depicts a perfect way to make a trilogy as the characters grow off-screen and each film allows the audience to catch-up with events in their lives, just like old friends do when meeting after a long gap.

7. Leviathan (2012, USA/France/UK, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel) 

The fluid style jolts the senses forcing one to experience the world in a new light. The sound and visuals also make this feel like a horror film.

8. The Act of Killing (2012, Denmark/Norway/UK, Joshua Oppenheimer) 

Even though the documentary is rooted in Indonesia, it is universal in depicting how men kill with the aid of media and politicians. The depiction of torture/killing could easily be set in Latin/South America/Africa while the media manipulation applies to most nations. But no individuals will ever admit their crime with such brutal honesty as those in The Act of Killing, making it a living digital document.

9. The Fifth Season (2012, Belgium/Holland/France, Peter Brosens/Jessica Woodworth)  

The two directors earlier work Khadak was infused with color but all color is mostly drained out of The Fifth Season in order to depict a bleak winter like feeling. Such a depiction works because this transmits the desperation and misery that hangs over the village. At times, the film hinges on dark comedy mostly associated with the cinema of Roy Andersson while some of the bar/tavern scenes and apocalyptic dread evokes Béla Tarr.

10. Drinking Buddies (USA, Joe Swanberg)

Relationships are common fodder in American Independent cinema but Joe Swanberg has managed to cut through all the mumblecore and get to the heart of how two people connect with each other. In few short scenes, we can easily assess whether two characters are right for reach other because their body language depicts their true feelings. And like a Hong Sang-soo film, alcohol is always on hand allowing the characters to relax and open up.

15 Honorable Mentions, roughly in order of preference

The Last Shepherd (2012, Italy, Marco Bonfanti) 

A few years ago, the documentary Sweetgrass showed beauty in following a herd of sheep through the mountains. That film was wordless but The Last Shepherd fills in those missing words and elevates that concept by introducing us to the wonderful person that is Renato Zucchelli. Renato decides to change the perspective of young kids who have never seen or touched a sheep. The film follows his journey from the countryside to the city as he brings 700 sheep to Milan’s centre thereby creating a tiny miraculous sight.

The Past (France/Italy, Asghar Farhadi) 

Examines the complicated and messy aftermath of a separation. As the film shows, a separation does not guarantee a better future but instead can lead one down a never-ending hole of misery.

Thou Gild’st the Even (Turkey, Onur Ünlü) 

This gorgeous black and white surrealist love story is unlike any film released in the last few years. It is packed with surrealist images that are seamlessly integrated within the ordinary fabric of town life. As a result, the film's blend of humor and shock results in a darker blend of comedy that most palates have not yet encountered.

Borgman (Holland, Alex van Warmerdam) 

The initial premise appears to be taking a page out of Haneke’s Funny Games but that is a red herring as Borgman builds on Alex van Warmerdam’s previous films, especially The Last Days of Emma Blank. The dark humor style cut across Dutch society can be found in Warmerdam’s previous films but Borgman takes everything to the breaking point.

Drug War (2012, China/Hong Kong, Johnnie To) 

The documentary style throws one off from the usual Johnnie To stylish films. But make no mistake, this is vintage Johnnie To as he dives deep into the world of police and criminals in a way that only he can. The two films that came most to mind while watching Drug War were To’s PTU and Infernal Affairs with regards to the police procedures and surveillance activities.

A Hijacking (2012, Denmark, Tobias Lindholm) 

Just like his previous film R, Tobias Lindholm uses a double perspective to paint a complete picture of events. And he does so without using any violence or even having a hero in the film. The entire film instead focuses on tense hostage negotiations which end up becoming bargaining sessions stretched over weeks and months. 

Aurangzeb (India, Atul Sabharwal) 

Atul Sabharwal’s film smartly fuses the family-political battles from Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug (1981) with the double character element found in Kagemusha and numerous 1970-80’s Indian films. The end result is a film that feels familiar yet is still unique given the contemporary setting in Gurgaon where real estate deals are ruthless.

Frances Ha (2012, USA, Noah Baumbach) 

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig have created a memorable character whose honesty puts her in many foot-in-mouth moments but those awkward moments only add to the film's bittersweet style.

Watermark (Canada, Jennifer Baichwal/Edward Burtynsky) 

Once again, Burtynsky captures beauty in the most unlikely places forcing us to contemplate the consequences of our actions on this planet. The film is an extension of his retrospective that toured Canadian museums a few years ago. Essential viewing!

Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns (India, Tigmanshu Dhulia) 

Tigmanshu Dhulia heightens the sexual and political elements from the first Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011) film thereby creating a riveting follow-up chapter to the story of a man holding onto his crumbling kingdom. Jimmy Shergill continues to thrive in what may be his finest on-screen role to date.

Passion (2012, Germany/France, Brian De Palma) 

For most of its running time, the film is an enhanced version of Love Crime but the dizzying Hitchcockian ending is truly mesmerizing. The ending left me out of breath and feeling similar to what others have felt when watching Vertigo for the first time.

Inside Llewyn Davis (USA, Coen Brothers) 

The best Coen Brothers film since O Brother, Where Art Thou? features characters who are perfectly in tone, with the exception of Jean (Carey Mulligan). At first, the anger of Jean feels overplayed in comparison to the material but as events later in the film indicate, her behavior is an act meant to suppress her guilt. That realization takes place shortly before a literal kick to the stomach is delivered making it an appropriate fade to black.

In Another Country (2012, South Korea, Hong Sang-soo) 

Hong Sang-soo's easy flowing style incorporates Isabelle Huppert's whimsical character perfectly resulting in plenty of humor.

Computer Chess (USA, Andrew Bujalski) 

A playful look at various computer programmer personalties, ranging from the very shy to those whose supreme confidence borders on arrogance. The black and white visuals coupled with the video footage give the film a 1980’s look and feel, at a time when computers were bulky machines that required some effort to transport from room to room. The humor is derived from the collection of eccentric personalities and as a result, the scenarios feel natural and not forced. As a bonus, the film also literally depicts HAL's birth. 

Blue Jasmine (USA, Woody Allen) 

This feels like a Mike Leigh film filtered through conventional Woody Allen characters. As a result, there is some anger in the material that is displayed on a few occasions. Some of the best moments appear when the characters stop talking and we get a sense of their true feelings.

Update: Jan 2, 2014

For my 2013 year end list, I only included films that I saw from Jan 1 - Dec 31 2013. This means Nebraska which I saw on Jan 1, 2014, can't be included. However, it is a truly wonderful film that is far funnier than American Hustle or The Wolf of Wall Street. Nebraska would have surely found a spot in my 2013 Top 10.

Also, restricting the list to 25 films meant Gravity, Lootera, 12 Years a Slave, The Missing Picture, Fruitvale Station and OXV: The Manual just missed out.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Best Bollywood films: 2013

I cannot do a Best Indian films of 2013 list because not many Indian films got released in my city. The majority of titles that made it to cinemas were some of the bigger Bollywood and Punjabi films. One of the biggest disappointments of 2013 is that Ship of Theseus never got a Canadian release. The much praised film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012 but never touched Canadian shores after that. The fate of Ship of Theseus puts things in perspective. If a film praised at TIFF cannot find proper distribution, then one fears for the fate of other Indian titles who fail to travel the film festival circuit. Thankfully, there were some worthy Bollywood Films made in 2013. Here are the top 3 Bollywood films seen in 2013:

1. Aurangzeb (Atul Sabharwal)


Atul Sabharwal’s film smartly fuses the family-political battles from Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug (1981) with the double character element found in Kagemusha and numerous 1970-80’s Indian films. The end result is a film that feels familiar yet is still unique given the contemporary setting in Gurgaon where real estate deals are ruthless.

2. Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns (Tigmanshu Dhulia)

Tigmanshu Dhulia heightens the sexual and political elements aspects from the first Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011) film thereby creating a riveting follow-up chapter to the story of a man holding onto his crumbling kingdom. In comparison to the first film, Mahie Gill’s Biwi (wife) character is far more bolder and gives an assured, seductive performance while the Gangster character has more substance because of Irrfan Khan’s addition. Jimmy Shergill continues to thrive in what may be his finest on-screen role to date.

3. Lootera (Vikramaditya Motwane)


At first, Lootera looks like another Bollywood love story but thankfully, the love story is a facade which gives way allowing a Bengali inspired technically rich film to emerge. The sound design in Lootera is mesmerizing and allows everyday sounds to filter through the frame when needed. As a bonus, this is a rare Bollywood film that does not show snow as romantic. The first half of the film is infused with color but when the second half shifts to a colder landscape, the color is drained from the frame creating a cold sensation anticipating death.

Other Mentions

Bombay Talkies has many memorable moments in all the four shorts but overall Dibakar Banerjee’s segment steals the show.

Pankaj Kapur is at his intoxicating best in Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola.

Rishi Kapoor's stand-out performances in Aurangzeb and D-Day highlights that his impressive evil character role in Agneepath was not a one time acting decision. He is still doing romantic roles but it is impressive to see how he has reinvented himself.

The wicked ending of Raj Kumar Gupta's Ghanchakkar stays long in the memory, especially since nothing in the film prepares one to expect such a dark turn of events. The ending takes a path that 99.9% of Indian films would never take. For that reason alone, the film deserves a nod.

Bejoy Nambiar's David has a calm beauty to it although that beauty does not fully get transmitted until the final moments of the film.

Remo’s ABCD (Any Body Can Dance) features some of the best choreographed dances seen in an Indian movie. A lot of the moves are inspired from shows such as American’s Best Dance Crew and So You Think You Can Dance but the film manages to incorporate Indian dances beautifully in the mix. The casting of Lauren Gottlieb from So You Think You Can Dance highlights the worthy decision to cast trained dancers in the film.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

2014 Movie World Cup

All 32 nations have qualified for the 2014 World Cup. Therefore, it is time to officially start the 2014 Movie World Cup, a soccer related film spotlight that has become a regular feature on this blog since 2006. Although, there will be some differences this time around.

In the past, only unseen films were selected for the spotlight. This resulted in some films getting hammered at the tournament meaning that nation left no impression in the spotlight. Also, hunting for films from some nations took a few months due to lack of accessible films from certain parts of the world. And when a film was eventually found, it was not a decent enough entry to compete in the spotlight. This time around, previously seen films will be pulled in to allow each nation a decent chance to put up points. Also, previously only a single film was selected from all the 32 nations. This time around, each nation can have up to 3 films which means the spotlight can have as many as 96 films, making it the most ambitious spotlight.

The rules for finding three films will be:

1. Previously seen film from 2005 - 2013

The goal is to pick a strong film from the last 8 years that is capable of giving their nation a chance to win the Movie World Cup. Therefore, previous best of the year films or top 10 films will be chosen.

2. Unseen film from 2005 - 2013

This is similar to the past where the goal is to find new films from different nations. The difference is the restriction of the year to find newer films.

3. Films from 1960 - 2004

1960 is selected as a starting point because not all the 32 nations had a viable film industry prior to 1960. Therefore, these nations would not have many selections to select before 1960 or even if they did, those films are hard to find. The flip side is this criteria puts some nations such as England, USA, France, Germany and Italy at a disadvantage because it eliminates many worthy films these countries produced prior to 1960. Ideally, this criteria should try to select some classic films between 1960 - 1970. But that will not always be possible. Also, this criteria can select a previously seen film.

There should be at least 1 unseen film out of 3 but the goal is to have 2 unseen films out of the three. Currently, some films are already selected. Below is a listing of all the nations and the films selected so far.

South America (6 nations)

Brazil: Neighboring Sounds (2012, Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Argentina: Gone Fishing (2012, Carlos Sorin)
Chile: Tony Manero (2008, Pablo Larraín)
Colombia: Crab Trap (2009, Oscar Ruiz Navia)
Uruguay: A Useful Life (2010, Federico Veiroj)

Europe (13 nations)

Belgium: Kill the Referee (2009, Yves Hinant, Eric Cardot, Delphine Lehericey)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Croatia: Buick Riviera (2009, Goran Rusinovic)
England: too many choices..
France: Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax)
Germany:  Everyone Else (2009, Maren Ade)
Greece: Unfair World (2011, Filippos Tsitos)
Holland: Borgman (2013, Alex van Warmerdam)
Italy: Le Quattro Volte (2010, Michelangelo Frammartino)
Portugal: The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Manoel de Oliveira)
Russia: Alexandra (2007, Aleksandr Sokurov)
Spain: In the City of Sylvia (2007, José Luis Guerín)
Switzerland: Das Fräulein (2006, Andrea Staka)

Asia / Oceania (4 nations)

4 very strong films from Asia will ensure these nations will give a real test to the remaining nations.

Australia: Snowtown (2011, Justin Kurzel)
Iran: This is Not a Film (2011, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi)
Japan: Like Father, Like Son (2013, Hirokazu Koreeda)
South Korea: The Day He Arrives (2011, Hong Sang-soo) 

Africa (5 nations): Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria.

Unfortunately, no films have been selected so far. Although, with the exception of Ivory Coast, the remaining nations have multiple film options.

North American / Caribbean (4 nations)

A strong selection of films will ensure these nations will be able to put up enough points to stand a good chance of advancing out of their groups.

Costa Rica:  Cold Water of the sea (2010, Paz Fabrega)
Honduras:  El Porvenir (2008, Oscar Estrada)
Mexico:  El Violin (2005, Francisco Vargas), Post Tenebras Lux (2012, Carlos Reygadas)
USA: too many choices...

Official film viewing will start on Dec 1, 2013 and end by June 1, 2014.

Like in the past, the films in this spotlight will follow the official World Cup draw of being split in 8 groups of 4 nations each. The top 2 films from each of the 8 groups will advance to the second round.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Film Log: 2013

2013 has been a truly rewarding and fun film viewing year mostly due to the 90+ films seen as part of the Wonders in the Dark Western Countdown. Another major highlight of the year has been finally seeing a Lav Diaz film, legally and free. This was made possible thanks to's Dialogue of Cultures International Film Festival (DCIFF).

Once again, the total number of films seen has exceeded my expectations. I never expected to see these many films but somehow I ended up going over 300 films yet again and reaching close to 400.

Total number of features (fiction and docs) seen: 390

The above total includes 54 features that won't be released until 2014. Those 54 titles are removed from the list below.

Film (Year, Country, Director): [optional rating out of 10]

Swapner Din (2004, India, Buddhadev Dasgupta): 8
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007, co-production, Russell Mulcahy): 5
Lockout (2012, France, James Mather/Stephen St. Leger): 4
Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010, co-production, Paul W.S. Anderson): 4.5
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, USA, Rupert Wyatt): 8.5
This Means War (2012, USA, McG): 0
Good Hair (2009, USA, Jeff Stilson): 7.5
Carnage (2010, USA, Roman Polanski): 9
Zero Dark Thirty (2012, USA, Kathryn Bigelow): 8
Get the Gringo (2012, USA, Adrian Grunberg): 6
Robocop (1987, USA, Paul Verhoven): 7.5
Robocop2 (1990, USA, Irvin Kershner): 7
Bullit (1968, USA, Peter Yates): 9
Resident Evil (2002, USA, Paul W.S Anderson): 6
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004, co-production, Alexander Witt): 5
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012, USA, Marc Webb): 7
Robocop 3 (1993, USA, Fred Dekker): 4
EasyA (2010, USA, Will Gluck): 6
The Woman in the Fifth (2011, France/Poland/UK, Pawel Pawlikowski): 8
In Another Country (2012, South Korea, Hong Sang-soo): 9
Liberal Arts (2012, USA, Josh Radnor): 7.5
Wanderers in the Desert (1986, Tunisia, Nacir Khemer)
The Expendables 2 (2010, USA, Sylvester Stallone): 5
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008, South Korea, Kim Jee-Woon): 6
The Age of Ignorance/Days of Darkness (2007, Canada, Denys Arcand): 7
Greetings to the Devil (2011, Colombia/Mexico/USA, Juan Felipe Orozco): 6
The Bourne Legacy (2012, USA, Tony Gilroy): 2
Bab’Aziz (2005, Tunisia co-production, Nacer Khemir)
Atlas Shrugged: part I (2011, USA, Paul Johansson): 4

Payback (2012, Canada, Jennifer Baichawl): 8
Baraka (1992, USA, Ron Fricke): 10
Universal Soldier (1992, USA, Roland Emmerich): 5.5
Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009, USA, John Hyams): 8
Terror’s Advocate (2007, France, Barbet Schroeder)
Cries and Whispers (1972, Sweden, Ingmar Bergman)
Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (2012, India, Sameer Sharma): 5
Au Hasard Balthazar (1966, France, Robert Bresson): 10
Mouchette (1967, France, Robert Bresson): 10
The Imposter (2012, UK, Bart Layton): 7.5
Universal Solder: Day of Reckoning (2012, USA, John Hyams): 7.5
A Man Escaped (1956, France, Robert Bresson): 10
Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola (2012, India, Vishal Bhardwaj): 6.5
End of Watch (2012, USA, David Ayer): 8
Samsara (2011, USA, Ron Fricke): 9.5
The Grey (2011, USA, Joe Carnahan): 7
The Exterminating Angel (1962, Mexico, Luis Buñuel): 9
The Driver (1978, USA, Walter Hill): 8
Escape from Planet Earth (2012, USA, Cal Brunker): 8
Fantasma (2006, Argentina, Lisandro Alonso): 9
The Conquerors (1932, USA, William A. Wellman): 9.5
La Libertad (2001, Argentina, Lisandro Alonso): 9
Diary of a Country Priest (1951, France, Robert Bresson): 9.5
Pickpocket (1959, France, Robert Bresson): 10
Southern Comfort (1981, USA, Walter Hill): 4
Goodbye First Love (2011, France/Germany, Mia Hansen-Løve): 7
Chakravyuh (2012, India, Prakash Jha): 5
Gamer (2009, USA, Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor): 6
Side by Side (2012, USA, Christopher Kenneally): 7.5
Ted (2012, USA, Seth MacFarlane): 5
Atlas Shrugged Part II (2012, USA, John Putch): 2
The Wild Bunch (1969, USA, Sam Peckinpah): 9
White Lightnin’ (2009, UK, Dominic Murphy)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011, USA, David Gelb): 8.5
The Warriors (1979, USA, Walter Hill): 7
Searching for Sugar Man (2012, Sweden/UK, Malik Bendjelloul): 9
The Shining (1980, USA, Stanley Kubrick): 10
Room 237 (2012, USA, Rodney Ascher): 8
Resident Evil: Retribution (2012, USA/UAE, Paul W.S Anderson): 5
The Man with the Iron Fists (2012, USA/Hong Kong, RZA): 4
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011, USA/UAE, Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor): 5

Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry (2012, USA, Alison Klayman): 8.5
A Late Quartet (2011, USA, Yaron Zilberman): 6.5
Bolt (2008, USA, Byron Howard/Chris Williams)
We Have a Pope (2011, Italy/France, Nanni Moretti): 7
Spring Breakers (2012, USA, Harmony Korine): 8.5
The Place Beyond the Pines (2012, USA, Derek Cianfrance): 8.5
Detropia (2012, USA, Heidi Ewing/Rachel Grady): 9
Berberian Sound Studio (2012, UK, Peter Strickland): 9
Upstream Color (2013, USA, Shane Carruth)
Pieta (2012, South Korea, Kim-ki Duk): 3
The Searchers (1956, USA, John Ford)
The Act of Killing (2012, Denmark/Norway/UK, Joshua Oppenheimer): 10
Computer Chess (2013, USA, Andrew Bujalski): 9
Neighboring Sounds (2012, Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho): 10
Down Terrace (2006, USA, Ben Wheatley)
Bronson (2008, UK, Nicolas Winding Refn): 7
Ministry of Fear (1944, USA, Fritz Lang)
The Last Man on Earth (1964, USA/Italy, Ubaldo Ragona/Sidney Salkow)
Robot & Frank (2012, USA, Jake Schreier)
5 Broken Cameras (2011, Palestine/Israel/France/Holland, Emad Burnat/Guy Davidi)
How to Survive a Plague (2012, USA, David France)

Unforgiven (1992, USA, Clint Eastwood): 10
Wreck-It Ralph (2012, USA, Rich Moore)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, Italy/USA, Sergio Leone): 10
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, USA, George Roy Hill)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971, USA, Robert Altman)
The Man from Laramie (1955, USA, Anthony Mann): 8
The Shooting (1966, USA, Monte Hellman): 8.5
Hour of the Gun (1967, USA, John Sturges): 5
Vera Cruz (1954, USA, Robert Aldrich): 7
How the West was Won (1962, USA, multiple): 6
The Train Robbers (1973, USA, Burt Kennedy): 7.5
Jeremiah Johnson (1972, USA, Sydney Pollack): 9
High Noon (1952, USA, Fred Zinnemann): 9
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, USA, John Huston): 8
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, USA, John Sturges): 10
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, USA, John Ford): 10
Johnny Guitar (1954, USA, Nicholas Ray): 9.5
Rancho Notorious (1952, USA, Fritz Lang)
Garden of Evil (1954, USA, Henry Hathaway): 6
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973, USA, Sam Peckinpah): 7.5
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976, USA, Clint Eastwood): 8.5
Death Race (2008, USA/Germany/UK, Paul W.S. Anderson)
Brave (2012, USA, Mark Andrews/Brenda Chapman/Steve Purcell): 8
Flight (2012, USA, Robert Zemeckis): 7.5
Sholay (1975, India, Ramesh Sippy): 10
Stagecoach (1939, USA, John Ford)
Rango (2011, USA, Gore Verbinski)
Tumbleweeds (1925, USA, King Baggot/William S. Hart)
Rio Bravo (1959, USA, Howard Hawks): 10
The Tall T (1957, USA, Budd Boetticher): 8
Escape from Fort Bravo (1953, USA, John Sturges): 6
Silverado (1985, USA, Lawrence Kasdan)
Strange Frame (2012, USA, G.B. Hajim): 5
The Gunfighter (1950, USA, Henry King): 10
Rawhide (1951, USA, Henry Hathaway): 5
The Magnificent Seven (1960, USA, John Sturges): 8
Ride Lonesome (1959, USA, Budd Boetticher): 10
Decision at Sundown (1957, USA, Budd Boetticher): 10
Comanche Station (1960, USA, Budd Boetticher): 8.5
My Darling Clementine (1946, USA, John Ford): 10
El Topo (1970, Mexico, Alejandro Jodorowsky)
Heaven’s Gate (1980, USA, Michael Cimino)
Warlock (1959, USA, Edward Dmytryk)
3 Bad Men (1926, USA, John Ford)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939, USA, John Ford)
Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns (2013, India, Tigamanshu Dhulia): 9
Red River (1948, USA, Howard Hawks/Arthur Rosson): 10
Special 26 (2013, India, Neeraj Pandey): 6.5
Paint Your Wagon (1969, USA, Joshua Logan)
Hombre (1967, USA, Martin Ritt)
Destry Rides Again (1939, USA, George Marshall)
Cat Ballou (1965, USA, Elliot Silverstein)
Wyatt Earp (1994, USA, Lawrence Kasdan)
Ride the High Country (1962, USA, Sam Peckinpah)
The Long Riders (1980, USA, Walter Hill)
True Grit (1969, USA, Henry Hathaway)
Rio Grande (1950, USA, John Ford)
Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976, USA, Robert Altman)
Shane (1953, USA, George Stevens)
Westworld (1973, USA, Michael Crichton)
Seven Men from Now (1956, USA, Budd Boetticher)
The Professionals (1966, USA, Richard Brooks): 9
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957, USA, John Sturges): 5.5
Joe Kidd (1972, USA, John Sturges)
The Wind (1928, USA, Victor Sjöström)
Little Big Man (1970, USA, Arthur Penn)
Hang ‘em High (1968, USA, Ted Post)
High Plains Drifter (USA, Clint Eastwood)
Forty Guns (1957, USA, Samuel Fuller)
3:10 to Yuma (1957, USA, Delmer Daves): 10
The Shootist (1976, USA, Don Siegel)
Winchester ’73 (1950, USA, Anthony Mann)

Bombay Talkies (2013, India, K. Johar/D. Banerjee/Z. Akhtar/A. Kashyap): 8
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002, USA, Kelly Asbury/Lorna Cook)
Man of the West (1958, USA, Anthony Mann)
Pale Rider (1985, USA, Clint Eastwood)
Dances with Wolves (1990, USA, Kevin Costner)
Duel in the Sun (1946, USA, King Vidor)
The War Wagon (1967, USA, Burt Kennedy)
Dead Man (1995, USA/Germany/Japan, Jim Jarmusch)
Track of the Cat (1954, USA, William A. Wellman)
Yellow Sky (1948, USA, William A. Wellman)
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949, USA, John Ford)
The Big Trail (1930, USA, Raoul Walsh/Louis R. Loeffler)
The Ox-bow Incident (1943, USA, William A. Wellman)
Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia (1974, USA/Mexico, Sam Peckinpah)
Wagon Master (1950, USA, John Ford)
The Westerner (1940, USA, William Wyler): 10
Before Midnight (2013, USA, Richard Linklater): 9.5
Fast & Furious 6 (2013, USA, Justin Lin): 7.5
The Rambler (2013, USA, Calvin Reeder): 7.5
Despicable Me 2 (2013, USA, Pierre Coffin/Chris Renaud): 7.5
Lootera (2013, India, Vikramaditya Motwane): 9
Dredd (2012, UK/USA/India/South Africa, Pete Travis) : 7.5
Compliance (2012, USA, Craig Zobel): 4
Stand Up Guys (2012, USA, Fisher Stevens): 2
The Last Stand (2013, USA, Kim Jee-Woon): 5.5
Jack Reacher (2012, USA, Christopher McQuarrie): 5
The Perks of being a Wallflower (2012, USA, Stephen Chbosky): 7.5
Pacific Rim (2013, USA, Guillermo del Toro): 6
Chicken with Plums (2011, France/Germany/Belgium, Vincent Paronnaud/Marjane Satrapi)
Little White Lies (2010, France, Guillaume Canet): 8
A Hijacking (2012, Denmark, Tobias Lindholm ): 9.5
Hard Times (1975, USA, Walter Hill)
Side Effects (2013, USA, Steven Soderbergh): 8
Rangeelay (2013, India, Navaniat Singh): 1
Infernal Affairs II (2003, Hong Kong/China/Singapore, Wai-keung Lau/Alan Mak)
Internal Affairs III (2003, Hong Kong/China, Wai-keung Lau/Alan Mak)
Raanjhanaa (2013, India, Aanand Rai): 5
Leviathan (2012, USA/France/UK, Lucien Castaing-Taylor/Verena Paravel): 10
Go Goa Gone (2013, India, Krishna D.K., Raj Nidimoru)
Hard-Boiled (1992, Hong Kong, John Woo)
Infernal Affairs (2002, Hong Kong, Wai-keung Lau/Alan Mak)
The Canyons (2013, USA, Paul Schrader): 6.5
Bottle Shock (2008, USA, Randall Miller)
Elysium (2013, USA, Neill Blomkamp): 7.5
Fruitvale Station (2013, USA, Ryan Coogler): 9
Frances Ha (2012, USA, Noah Baumbach): 9.5
Spirited Killer (1994, Thailand, Towatchai Ladloy/Panna Rittikrai)
Buenas noches, España (2011, Spain/Philippines, Raya Martin)
A Royal Affair (2012, Denmark/Sweden/Czech Republic, Nikolaj Arcel)
Blue Jasmine (2013, USA, Woody Allen): 9
Satyagraha (2013, India, Prakash Jha): 3
D-Day (2013, India, Nikhil Advani): 7.5

Like Someone in Love (2012, France/Japan, Abbas Kiarostami)
On the Road (2012, co-production, Walter Salles)
The Company You Keep (2012, USA, Robert Redford)
Laurence Anyways (2012, Canada/France, Xavier Dolan)
Charade (1963, USA, Stanley Donen)
The Grandmaster (2013, Hong Kong/China, Wong Kar-wai)
Ghanchakkar (2013, India,Raj Kumar Gupta)
Passion (2012, Germany/France, Brian De Palma)
The Grand Seduction (2013, Canada, Don McKellar): 8.5 

The Missing Picture (2013, Cambodia/France, Rithy Panh): 9
The Past (2013, France/Italy, Asghar Farhadi): 9.5
Like Father, Like Son (2013, Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda): 10
The Tears (2013, Mexico, Pablo Delgado Sanchez)
Blackbird (2012, Canada, Jason Buxton): 8.5
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, USA, J.J. Abrams): 4
Up the Yangtze (2007, Canada, Yung Chang)
Sarah Prefers to Run (2013, Canada, Chloé Robichaud)
Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (2013, Canada, (2013, Canada, Denis Côté): 10
In the Name of (2013, Poland, Malgorzata Szumowska)
OXV: The Manual (2013, UK/Australia, Darren Paul Fisher)
Golitzus and the Pelican Company (2012, UK/Holland/France/Croatia, Peter Greenaway)
The Rocket (2013, Australia, Kim Mordaunt)
The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012, Belgium/Holland, Felix Van Groeningen)
Mother, I Love You (2013, Latvia, Janis Nords)

The Fifth Season (2012, Belgium/Holland/France, Peter Brosens/Jessica Woodworth): 10
Thou Gild’st the Even (2013, Turkey, Onur Ünlü): 9
Borgman (2013, Holland, Alex van Warmerdam): 9
Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2013, New Zealand, Anthony Powell): 10
Pandi (2012, Canada/India, Maria Saroja Ponnambalam): 8.5
After Tiller (2013, USA, Martha Shane/Lana Wilson): 9
Lily (2013, USA, Matt Creed): 8.5
Gravity (2013, USA, Alfonso Cuarón): 9.5
The Suicide Club (2012, France/Canada/Belgium, Patrice Leconte)
Epic (2013, USA, Chris Wedge)
Pain & Gain (2013, USA, Michael Bay)
The Bling Ring (2013, co-production, Sofia Coppola): 4.5
The East (2013, USA/UK, Zal Batmanglij): 5
The Killing (1956, USA, Stanley Kubrick): 10
Killer’s Kiss (1955, USA, Stanley Kubrick)
The Croods (2013, USA, Kirk De Micco/Chris Sanders)
For a Few Dollars More (1964, Italy, Sergio Leone): 9
The Lunchbox (2013, India co-production, Ritesh Batra): 5
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013, India, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra): 3

Mud (2012, USA, Jeff Nichols): 6.5
Nuit #1 (2011, Canada, Anne Émond)
Death Rides a Horse (1967, Italy, Giulio Petroni)
La Pointe Courte (1955, France, Agnès Varda)
Drug War (2012, Hong Kong/China, Johnnie To): 9
A Simple Life (2011, Hong Kong, Ann Hui)
Bonsái (2012, co-production, Cristián Jiménez)
The Great Gatsby (2013, Australia/USA, Baz Luhrmann): 6.5
Iron Man 3 (2013, USA/China, Shane Black): 7
Watermark (2013, Canada, Jennifer Baichwal/Edward Burtynsky): 9
Post Tenebras Lux (2012, Mexico co-production, Carlos Reygadas)
The Fastest Gun Alive (1956, USA, Russell Rouse)
Paradise: Love (2012, Austria/Germany/France, Ulrich Seidl)
Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010, China/Hong Kong, Tsui Hark)
The Left Handed Gun (1958, USA, Arthur Penn)
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011, China, Tsui Hark)
Beyond the Hills (2012, Romania/France/Belgium, Cristian Mungiu)
The Blue Kite (1993, China/Hong Kong, Zhuangzhuang Tian)
Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobaara (2013, India, Milan Luthria): 2
The Woman Next Door (1981, France, François Truffaut)
Now You See Me (2013, France/USA, Louis Leterrier): 5.5
Paradise: Faith (2012, Austria/Germany/France, Ulrich Seidl)
Paradise: Hope (2013, Austria/France/Germany, Ulrich Seidl)
All Is Lost (2013, USA, J.C. Chandor): 8.5

Century of Birthing (2011, Philippines, Lav Diaz): 9

It’s the Earth Not the Moon (2011, Portugal, Gonçalo Tocha)
After the Battle (2012, France/Egypt, Yousry Nasrallah)
Old is the New (2013, Switzerland, Dario and Mirko Bischofberger)
The Internship (2013, USA, Shawn Levy): 6.5
The Day He Arrives (2011, South Korea, Hong Sang-soo): 9.5
Warm Bodies (2013, USA, Jonathan Levine): 4
Gimme the Loot (2013, USA, Adam Leon): 8
Mapa (2012, Spain, León Siminiani)
She, a Chinese (2009, UK, Xiaolu Guo)
A World Not Ours (2012, UK/Lebanon/Denmark, Mahdi Fleifel)
Turbo (2013, USA, David Soren): 3
The Way Way Back (2013, USA, Nat Faxon/Jim Rash): 9
Captain Phillips (2013, USA, Paul Greengrass): 8
GMO OMG (2013, USA/Haiti/Norway, Jeremy Seifert)
12 Years a Slave (2013, USA/UK, Steve McQueen): 9
The Hunter (2010, Iran/Germany, Rafi Pitts)
Mr. Nobody (2009, co-production, Jaco Van Dormael)
Chasing Ice (2012, USA, Jeff Orlowski)
To the Wonder (2012, USA, Terrence Malick)
Stories We Tell (2012, Canada, Sarah Polley)
The Iceman (2012, USA, Ariel Vromen)
Parkland (2013, USA, Peter Landesman): 5
Man of Steel (2013, USA/Canada/UK, Zack Snyder): 6.5
Aurangzeb (2013, India, Atul Sabharwal): 9
ABCD (2013, India, Remo): 7.5
Bad Day to go Fishing (2009, Uruguay/Spain, Álvaro Brechner)
In the Fog (2012, Russia co-production, Sergei Loznitsa)
United Red Army (2007, Japan, Kôji Wakamatsu)
Blancanieves (2012, Spain/France/Belgium, Pablo Berger)
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013, France/Belgium/Spain, Abdellatif Kechiche)
Yumurta (Egg) (2007, Turkey, Semih Kaplanoglu)
Süt (Milk) (2008, Turkey/France/Germany, Semih Kaplanoglu)
Everyone Else (2009, Germany, Maren Ade)
Once Upon a Time Veronica (2012, Brazil, Marcelo Gomes)
Foreign Parts (2010, USA/France, Verena Paravel/J.P. Sniadecki)
The Great Beauty (2013, Italy/Japan, Paolo Sorrentino): 10
Chennai Express (2013, India, Rohit Shetty): 2
Monsters University (2013, USA, Dan Scanlon): 3
The Last Days of Emma Blank (2009, Holland, Alex van Warmerdam): 8
The New World (2013, South Korea, Hoon-jung Park): 5
Sightseers (2012, UK, Ben Wheatley): 4
Dabangg 2 (2012, India, Arbaaz Khan): 5
World War Z (2013, USA/Malta, Marc Forster): 3
John Day (2013, India, Aishor Solomon): 4
Bastards (2013, France, Claire Denis): 9.5
The World’s End (2013, UK, Edgar Wright): 7
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, USA, Ethan Coen/Joel Coen): 9
American Hustle (2013, USA, David O. Russell): 6
Drinking Buddies (2013, USA, Jow Swanberg): 9.5
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, USA, Martin Scorsese): 7.5
Blackfish (2013, USA, Gabriela Cowperthwaite): 7.5
Kai Po Che (2013, India, Abhishek Kapoor): 7.5
28 Hotel Rooms (2012, USA, Matt Ross)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bad Day at Black Rock

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, John Sturges) 

A train stops at Black Rock, startling the town residents. John Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) gets off the train and is quickly approached by Hastings (Russell Collins), the telegraph agent, who is upset why he was not told the train was going to be stopping. Macreedy replies that it must not be important. But Hastings replies the train has not stopped in town for four years. Macreedy mentions he has to go to a place named Adobe Flat and inquires about a car but Hastings says there are no cars. Macreedy then goes towards the hotel. The town residents are fixated on Macreedy as makes his way from the train station to the hotel. He asks for a room but is told there is no vacancy. He ignores the words and pulls the register towards him and writes his name and goes up to a room. Hector (Lee Marvin), who has been keeping a close eye on Macreedy ever since he got off the train, goes upstairs to intimidate Macreedy.

At this point, the movie looks to be a western setup where a fight will break out between the stranger to the town and Hector with his band of tough men aching to take Macreedy out. But no such fight breaks out because Bad Day at Black Rock is not a traditional Western. In fact, no horses are seen anywhere as the town has embraced automobiles, a vehicle which boosts the power of several hundred horses. However, the dozen buildings in Black Rock show signs of a traditional Western town consisting of a hotel, jail, bar and a grocery store. Such buildings are similar to what one would find in a traditional Western film town but Bad Day at Black Rock is set a few months after 1945, after the end of the war. Therefore, the time period in the film is well past the end of the traditional Western film era. However, the town of Black Rock is holding onto the last fragments of the Old West before modernity washes over. With the exception of the car, many old mentalities of the Old West remain, including distrust of the stranger. In trying to justify why the town is wary about Macreedy, the unofficial town leader Smith (Robert Ryan) mentions that it must be an old remanent of the Old West. To which Macreedy relies that he thought the Old West was about hospitality. The Old West was indeed about hospitality but not towards strangers, as illustrated by countless Western films where the stranger was distrusted and looked upon suspiciously. Later on, Smith even likens the presence of Macreedy to a virus:

 “This guy's like a carrier of small pox. Since he's arrived, this town has a fever, an infection, and it's spreading.” 

This statement ignores the fact that everyone in town is on feverish edge because they are guilty of a crime. Their guilt quickly becomes apparent when the residents freeze up or never give a straight answer anytime Macreedy asks about Adobe Flats or Komoko. He wants to go Adobe Flats to look for a man named Komoko but it is clear the town is hiding a secret regarding Komoko.

Bad Day at Black Rock plays out like a thriller with the unraveling of the mystery around Komoko keeping the tension on a knife’s edge. The soundtrack also brilliantly heightens the tension. If there was a femme fatale in the film, the movie would have inched towards noir territory. But there is only female character who is a quiet bystander. However, the film has an essential role in cinema because it builds a bridge between the Western and crime genre. Bad Day at Black Rock is a rare film that depicts how the Western genre landscape slowly transformed to the noir film genre which became common place starting the 1940s. Even though both western and noir genres are united by their love of guns and intense rivalry between opposing camps, very few films have depicted how a straight line can be drawn between the two genres. This is where the essential quality of Bad Day at Black Rock shines through as it is a perfect transitional film that connects two of cinema’s loved genres.

Note: This film was ranked #20 in my Western Countdown ballot.