76. Right Now, Wrong Then (dir. Hong Sang-soo)
"Right Now, Wrong Then" feels like Woody Allen at his best. Boy meets girl--a film director and a local artist--in a quaint little town. Doesn't end pretty the first time around, so repeat the entire thing, only the camera now views things at slightly different angles, and more attention is paid towards the seemingly insignificant details. Is he drunk, or is he just pretending? Why is she being coy, or is she? How cold is the air? How dark does the evening get? To make something grand out of small things is no easy feat, and for that alone, this Hong Sang-soo is one of the year's most pleasurable cinematic experiences.
77. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (dir. Roy Andersson)
There are weird films, and then there is this "Pigeon..." To try to make sense of it is an exercise in futility; you're supposed to watch without questioning and just take it all in. Do not ask me to explain what it's about. I can say it's about a pair of salesmen with briefcases stuffed with junk; or about the roasting of Negro slaves; or about a wry extended sequence involving an inept prince, a horse and a café in the middle of somewhere; or about the makeup artist's terrific work (the characters are so pale, they're almost dead). In fact, I can say a million other things, and still you won't be any closer to capturing the gist of this strange, strange film. Just... go see it.
78. The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
By far, the best thing I've seen this year.
79. Journey to the Shore (dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
If one day your dead lover suddenly shows up and invites you to a weekend by the sea, what would you do? Oblige the person, even though you clearly know the dead aren't supposed to come knocking at the door looking fresher than you? Or scream and raise hell, because, you know, you can see dead people, after all? "Journey to the Shore" is a love story that sidesteps the rational, but I'll be damned if I say it didn't hit me in the gut. The dead will be dead, but this fantasy makes the impossible beat with a heart more alive and convincing than most.
80. The Assassin (dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien)
American critics are currently going gaga over this film, which is popping up in more and more yearend lists and awards as December goes by. That is interesting because "The Assassin" is so unlike "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," or for a more recent example, "The Grandmaster," in that there is actually very little kung fu fighting for a film whose title essentially primes the audience for kicks, blows and flight. Instead, we get muffled dialogue, stunning choreography and a considerable number of sequences involving veils and curtains. The result is a beautiful creature--I believe highbrow writers would be more inclined to use the term "meditative"--but the Asian in me still wonders how much they actually spent on curtains.
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I officially cast my vote for Mark Lee Ping Bin as cinematographer of the year for his drop-dead gorgeous work in "The Assassin." I mean, landscape as layers, my friends!