Film Comment Selects 2012 Preview

If you needed any confirmation about the deep-seated fannishness of film critics, all you'd have to do is eavesdrop on their pre-screening chatter as they find their seats or their post-screening blabfests over their beverages of choice. Rather than dazzlingly insightful analyses of current cinema, the banter typically runs to volleys of "Do you catch such-and-such yet?," or "Oh, how was that--should I seek it out?"

Which is exactly what makes New York's annual Film Comments Selects so much fun. Indeed, its programming reflects this same purity of enthusiasm, as if the editors at one of the medium's top journals got together and asked, "Hey, what's really cool that should we could present to our fellow film freaks?" Wait, did I say, "as if"? Scratch that--there's no as if about it.

With a diverse, no-boundaries lineup, Film Comments Selects starts on February 17 and runs through March 1. During that period it gives local cinephiles a chance to catch recent titles whose releases were too fleeting or distant ("Did you miss that?") and those of the much-anticipated variety ("...wish that were playing now") as well as a few rarely screened gems from yesteryear ("I've always wanted to see Altered States in 35 mm"). As such, the series will present several much-buzzed about films such as Snowtown, Margaret (with Kenneth Lonergan in attendance), and the unassuming yet masterful I Wish. In addition to those, here are some other highlights that I can personally--well, "recommend" would be putting it mildly.

Headhunters
Super-smart in both conception and execution, Morten Tyldum's ultra-tight crime thriller provides the giddy sense of never knowing where it'll head in the next five minutes--and yet the assurance that those in the driver's seat know exactly where they're taking you. One word of advice: don't read too much about this film, especially any sort of plot synopsis, before seeing it. A sure-fire crowd-pleaser, Headhunters (pictured above) is one of my very few must-see's of the year so far.
Fri Feb 17: 4:00 pm | Mon Feb 20: 4:15 pm | Mon Feb 20: 8:45 pm

Rebellion
Utterly gripping. Not quite political drama, not quite hostage thriller, but perfectly appropriating elements from each. Pensive and thoughtful throughout, and with a slow but steady build toward full-blown tragedy, Rebellion is chilling both in its specifics and its larger resonance. Moreover, it's terrific on aesthetic grounds as well; as just one example, the camerawork is consistently stunning, featuring some remarkably long tracking shots, but without ever showing off. Politically, this film is about as antithetical as one could get to last year's similarly-themed The Assault, also a French production. In short, it's nice to see Kassovitz at the top of his game like this.
Thu Feb 23: 8:45 pm| Wed Feb 29: 1:45 pm |

Whores' Glory
Choosing a topic that would appear to have been done to death, both in fictional and nonfiction contexts, Michael Glawogger nonetheless fashions a doc that, at its worst, is utterly disarming and, at its, best is revelatory, moving, even awe-inducing. It's the kind of doc where you want a director Q&A or commentary track because you can't help wanting to know more--how did he capture certain events, how did he win the trust of his subjects (sex workers and their johns in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mexico), and how did he avoid laughing (or crying) at particular moments? In any case, this not just a doc about prostitution but, more soberingly, about the world we live in. Also welcome is the fact that the film does not consist of a bunch of jostling, poorly composed shots that are deemed acceptable because they reflect "reality" (one of my gripes about Born into Brothels). And then there's the soundtrack, which expertly uses everything from trip-hop to P.J. Harvey to underscore the often haunting content. Oh, and on the off-chance that you're planning to see this film with a family member, I'll save you a bit of embarrassment: there is some fairly explicit sex in the last fifteen minutes. Neither erotic nor depressingly sleazy, the sequence, like the rest of the film, keeps things excruciatingly real.
Sun Feb 19: 3:50 pm |

Transfer3.jpgTransfer
Doesn't conclude with the visceral jolt I kept expecting, given that a major theme here is "the body"--its construction and deconstruction. Still, its slightly cerebral approach is both consistent and effective, helping Transfer fall into the "quietly devastating" category. Oh, and by the way, it happens to be one of the most compelling movies about race and racism I've seen in a while. In fact, this is arguably why such sci-fi allegories exist at all, to shock us into realizations about how the world actually works in the present tense.
Fri Feb 17: 4:00 pm | Mon Feb 20: 4:15 pm | Mon Feb 20: 8:45 pm |

faust3_400p.jpgFaust
How many fascinating, even visionary, films can possibly be inspired by the Faust legend? There's Murnau's and Švankmajer's, but also more tangential riffs such as Fausto 5.0 and The Devil and Daniel Webster. Well, now we can add Aleksandr Sokurov's film to that list, and add it near the top. A meticulous, transporting level of craft and detail creates a look-and-feel that doesn't register as mere period piece but rather as a completely realized, living world in the manner of Tarkovsky or The Saragossa Manuscript. The delicate play of light in nearly every scene plus the off-handedly grotesque content combine to suggest some unlikely cross of Vermeer with Hogarth or Bosch. Indeed, Faust is so remarkably constructed that it might not even register at first that virtually the entire film is structured as a series of walk-and-talks.
Fri Feb 17: 4:00 pm | Mon Feb 20: 4:15 pm | Mon Feb 20: 8:45 pm |

Alps
...a bit too close to Noriko's Dinner Table in terms of basic premise, and lacking the powerful ending it's clearly shooting for, Alps is effective largely because of Lanthimos's terrific direction. An acquired taste? Maybe. Guess I've acquired it. Fully evident here is his uncanny gift for placing the camera just where it needs to be to create an unsettling effect from what is ostensibly the most mundane of shots. The script has several laugh-out-loud moments that, placed against the darkly serious undercurrents, set up some classic bits of edgy comedy. More ambitious in many ways than Dogtooth, but with a reach that also exceeds its grasp, Alps is still worth seeing simply as another memorable outing in the career of a singular talent.
Thu Mar 1: 9:30 pm |
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