It’s that time of year again, when critics, reviewers, and bloggers rethink the movies from the past year to generate lists of their favorite viewing experiences. This year, instead of printing the staff’s lists, I thought it would be interesting to share the perspectives of our members, patrons, and regular viewers about the movies available at Facets—either on the big screen in the Cinematheque, as part of a class in the Videotheque, or in Rentals. My reasons for this new feature, which will appear every Wednesday during January, are many. Because Facets members and patrons tend to be knowledgeable cinephiles or diehard movie lovers, I thought their top ten lists would make good suggestions for future viewing. Plus, I was curious about which Facets screening or rentals title struck a chord with patrons. Finally, it is simply a good idea to bring new voices to the public discourse on film.
First up is cinephile Jason Coffman, whose eclectic tastes have given him a good eye for exploitation films that are much more than they seem. I love an organized list, and Jason helpfully noted whether a title was one he viewed as a rental, or as a big-screen offering at Night School, Film School, or the Cinematheque. (read on for Jason’s list)
10. Ricky (2009, dir. François Ozon, Cinematheque) The best possible way to see Ricky is to know absolutely nothing about it, but that’s generally impossible these days. The first half of the film seems to be a straightforward drama about two people who meet, have a passionate affair, and have a child. Then the child grows wings. Truly strange, often very funny, and surprisingly poignant.
9. The Headless Woman (2008, dir. Lucrecia Martel, DVD rental) A well-to-do woman in Argentina hits something with her car. She stops for a moment but then continues driving, and then time seems to fall apart. Calm on the surface but highly unnerving, The Headless Woman makes the ordinary seem profoundly creepy.
8. Django (1966, dir. Sergio Corbucci, Night School) Legendary spaghetti western that I had somehow never managed to see until this year. Django is a badass drifter who drags a coffin behind him everywhere he goes. He wanders into what appears to be a ghost town and finds himself in the midst of a bitter struggle for control of the town. Seriously awesome, and that title song will stick in your brain FOREVER.
7. Female Trouble (1974, dir. John Waters, DVD rental) As much as I love John Waters, I’ve still not seen all of his pre-New Line works. Fortunately, Facets has it available for DVD rental, so I was able to watch the hilariously depraved tale of Dawn Davenport in the comfort of my own home. After her parents refuse to get her cha-cha heels for Christmas, Dawn runs away, gets knocked up, and eventually becomes a celebrity for being a hideous, hateful monster. If you know of anyone who’s only ever seen Hairspray, suggest they watch this one next.
6. Crude (2009, dir. Joe Berlinger, Cinematheque) Incredible but seriously depressing documentary following the attempts of a huge group of Ecuadoran citizens to sue Chevron for environmental damage. Their heroic lawyer is a truly remarkable character, but this is less a David-and-Goliath fight than it is ant vs. elephant.
5. Hideout in the Sun (1960, dir. Doris Wishman, DVD rental) I became obsessed with Doris Wishman in 2009 after watching her amazing A Night to Dismember. Again, Facets proved to be an invaluable resource in finding her back catalogue. This 2-disc set features Wishman’s first feature film and a host of fascinating extras. The film itself is a surprisingly entertaining nudist movie, and it looks great in this transfer from Retro-Seduction Cinema.
4. Fuego (1969, dir. Armando Bo, Night School) Lew Ojeda introduced the world of Armando Bo and his brand of overheated sexual melodrama from Argentina to an excited midnight movie audience with Fuego! Voluptuous Isabel Sarli plays rampaging nymphomaniac Laura, who falls in love with wealthy Carlos. Unfortunately, Laura can’t keep her sexual urges in check, and the only solution is so utterly ridiculous that you’ll find yourself laughing out loud in disbelief.
3. The Beaches of Agnès (2009, dir. Agnès Varda, Film School Class) One of the many great things about Facets is their Film School classes. This year I took a class about the films of Agnès Varda, which ended with a viewing of this autobiographical “documentary.” Varda’s reflection on her life and work is endlessly fascinating, filled with her wise ruminations and guest appearances by friends as diverse as Chris Marker (who appears as an animated cat) and Zalman King!
2. It Came from Kuchar (2009, dir. Jennifer M. Kroot, Cinematheque) After having read about the Kuchar Brothers in various books and articles about independent and outside cinema, I was anxious to track down some of their work. Unfortunately, that’s not really an option: Aside from a few random releases, most of the Kuchar Brothers’ work is not readily available. Adding fuel to the fire is this excellent documentary, which starts off with what the Brothers are doing now and then goes back to cover their decades-long careers in filmmaking. I’m glad to have learned so much about the brothers and their films, but this documentary made me even more determined to track down their work!
1. The Living Wake (2007, dir. Sol Tryon, Cinematheque) Mike O’Connell is undeniably perfect as K. Roth Binew, an egomaniacal self-proclaimed genius whose doctor has diagnosed him with an extremely rare disease that will cause him to die at a very specific time. On the day of his death, Binew and his assistant Mills (Jesse Eisenberg, post-Squid and the Whale and pre-Zombieland)set out to invite everyone in their small town to Binew’s living wake to celebrate his life and death. In a just universe, O’Connell would win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Binew. Bizarre, hilarious, and surprisingly touching.