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Joel Mayward

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Everything posted by Joel Mayward

  1. Thanks for the update, Ken. I am assuming that the Top 100 list itself will be included in the book somewhere, yes? Do you have contact info for the publisher or knowledge of where they'll post a CFP? And any idea about formatting or style?
  2. Thanks, Beth (and my apologies—I somehow missed your comment of praise on the first page!). I think I entered the film with the expectation that the narrative would center more on Pai, but she's often relegated to the sidelines in more ways than one, giving much more attention to her grandfather. And as much as I appreciated the various depictions of Maori practices, I also felt like I didn't get a sense of place or world for Pai's community (perhaps that's intentional? to make the viewer feel like an outsider looking in?), like what various buildings or locations meant, and how the characters negotiated their post-colonial identities within those places, and how the filmmaking itself was exploring those places (i.e. shot composition, lighting, and particularly the conspicuous soundtrack). I perhaps expected something less conventional overall. But I can see its appeal.
  3. Resurrecting this thread to say that I finally watched Whale Rider for our consideration of the Top 100, and I definitely found myself having had the same reaction as Jeff, Andrew, and a few others from nearly two decades ago: disappointment. Some of the final images—y'know, the actual whale riding—were striking, but only in that they weren't as blunt-edged and formulaic as nearly everything else preceding it. For those who resonated with the film's message and aesthetic (M. Leary may be the only one still active here, but Matt Page, Ron Reed, and Stef Loy seemed to highly praise the film), has this film held up for you? An anecdote: a few years ago, at the largest academic conference for scholars of religion, I witnessed a paper presentation on Whale Rider as seen through the lens of Christian theology, which made Pai into a "Christ figure" who was "baptized" in her retrieval of the necklace in the ocean, and experienced a salvific death and resurrection in the final scenes of the film (the whale riding!). It was a classic example of imposing one's religious ideas onto a film in order to somehow "redeem" it, seeing "Christ figures" everywhere. In the Q&A following the paper, a Kiwi scholar of religion pointedly asked the presenter if he had even considered that indigenous spirituality and religion might be a better hermeneutic for understanding the film. She graciously, but firmly, inquired as to whether he had done any research on Kiwi religion at all, pointing out that his interpretation was the equivalent of a sort of religious colonialism/imperialism. The presenter squirmed, and admitted that he had not considered this at all, but "would love to answer your question afterwards" before moving to the next person. I don't know if he ever sought her out afterwards, but he certainly didn't publicly apologize for his errors. What made this even more ironic was that the presenter had opened up his talk with a spoken acknowledgement of the indigenous lands where the conference was being held (which, afterwards, felt more like virtue signaling than actual honoring of indigenous culture). It was one of the strongest real-life examples I have ever seen of academic myopia in the film-and-religion discourse which allows for and excuses bad interpretations of cinema, a sort of blinkered way of interpreting films through a personal hegemonic lens without even considering what the film (or filmmaker) is saying for itself.
  4. I honestly think that one reason for my lack of memory of watching this film may be precisely due to the horrors of it, as if (and this is extreme language, but bear with me) watching it was a form of trauma in confronting the atrocity of the death penalty in America, particularly the death of a person innocent of the crime they were executed for.
  5. As I began watching this on Vimeo, I had the sudden realization that I had actually seen the film before, which doesn't happen very often—I had somehow blocked it out of my memory or simply forgotten all about it until some of the opening scenes, where it all came flooding back. It's definitely a film worth our consideration for the Top 100 list, though I also confess that I found myself strangely unmoved, despite its powerful and ostensibly affecting premise.
  6. I, for one, will be rating this quite highly. Cave of Forgotten Dreams is one of the only films I've seen where the 3D experience feels essential to really grasping the entirety of what the film is doing. But even without 3D, it's a stunning documentary, and one of the best films about art (or perhaps it's a film about cinema?) I've ever seen.
  7. Rome, Open City is certainly the most overtly religious of those three films, and there are some powerful moments (Pina's tragic death, the execution of the priest). But there's something about the visual composition and the narrative structure of Germany Year Zero that pushes it just a bit above Rome, Open City for me. The horror of war and ideology feels more pronounced and insidious in Germany Year Zero (and more timely/relevant than ever in our current American political climate), and the bombed-out landscape of post-war Germany is something that can't be replicated in a studio. There is something about "truth" and "reality" which the neorealism aesthetic captures in Germany Year Zero, even through a fictional film—it demonstrates the power of the cinematic form to be revelatory, even when it's simply showing us the world as it is (Rossellini does this in Rome, of course, but in a different way than in Germany). The final shot of Germany is a Pieta scene, and on par with any of the Dardennes' climactic affecting moments in terms of pathos. And perhaps what pushes Germany Year Zero into the "essential" territory for me is its influence on the Dardennes themselves (I know, I probably talk about the Dardennes way too much!). It's the brothers' favorite film, and in one of Luc's journals, he calls it "our model" for filmmaking. All this to say, if Rome, Open City made our list above Germany Year Zero, I still wouldn't be too heartbroken. Both are extraordinary films, and both worthy of consideration and contemplation.
  8. I also haven't seen 85 of the nominees, but I think my voting process will differ from Darren's—my 3's, 4's, and 5's are pretty even at the moment. That spreadsheet is really helpful, and I find myself periodically adjusting the numbers as I think more about a particular film or revisit it.
  9. Evan, I'll advocate for two: Germany Year Zero and Secrets & Lies. Both are remarkable works of realist cinema, but with different tones and in very different contexts. They don't really have overt depictions of religion, per se, but are profoundly moving and loaded with spiritual/theological/existential ideas and questions without feeling preachy. The latter film is an all-time Top 10 favorite film for me, but is sadly also rather difficult to find (Criterion Channel was streaming it at one time, I believe). I'd also highly recommend Upstream Color, but your mileage may vary.
  10. I watched Faust for the first time today, which made me wonder how many of our nominated films are essentially about a person facing execution or a terminal illness. I'm not surprised that this would be a common feature—facing one's mortality is certainly an existential/spiritual concern—but I'm also concerned about including cinematic depictions of transcendent moments of happiness, love, and grace on our final list. "Spiritually significant" should encompass joy as well as sorrow. Also, please watch Stop Making Sense.
  11. I just realized that we didn't nominate any films from Jeff Nichols. I'd thought Shotgun Stories was an Overstreet favorite, and I have a high view of Take Shelter. Count me as another Nolan fan, and as someone who will likely rate Interstellar fairly high in the voting.
  12. It's decidedly bleak as hell, but I think its aesthetic and themes are as if the Dardennes had made Malick's Badlands. Wanda is an enigmatic character who floats through existence—"Wanda" connotes both "Wander" and "Wonder"—and doesn't quite seem to land anywhere. The presence of large looming churches in the background of many of the shots, as well as the strange trip to Holy Land USA, seems like an interrogation of Americanized Christianity, where faith has become a commodity and an excuse for ignoring abuse and sin. I think Wanda's story is that of an existential and spiritual crisis where the person having the crisis is to passive, submissive, and inarticulate as to not necessarily have the resources to know why she's feeling or doing what she's feeling/doing. But just because Wanda is not as verbose as Walker Percy or Soren Kierkegaard or St John of the Cross in poetically sharing about her existential crisis, Loden's film about the fictional Wanda can serve as a witness for such real-life Wandas wandering and wondering in the marginalized places of America.
  13. Maybe this has been clarified already somewhere, but does Men with Guns (1997) refer to the film directed by Kari Skogland or the film directed by John Sayles? I am assuming the latter, but the former is what came up on Amazon Prime in a search, so now I'm curious.
  14. There are so many great films which, at least at one point in time, give Weinstein as executive producer credit, including Carol and (a Ken favorite) Rounders. Apparently there's an alternate "American" ending to The Double Life of Veronique due to Weinstein's insistence. Emily Nussbaum has a great essay in her book, "I Like to Watch," on her love for Woody Allen and how she dealt with that in light of Weinstein and #MeToo where she asks, "what should we do with the art of terrible men?" For myself, I find that I'm inconsistent on this. I now find it quite hard to separate art from artist with Polanski, Allen, and Gibson (for others, like Louis C.K., I honestly have never found either the art or artist appealing or particularly insightful). And my own personal appreciation or hermeneutic of art appreciates "artist-art-audience" as a threefold interweaving dynamic, which means here that I take the artist's background and context as one factor in how I interpret and value art, but not the factor. How that plays out for me seems to differ with each artwork I experience; the threefold dynamic means that I sometimes place more value on the art itself (beyond artist or my own initial reactions), where others I find my personal experience outweighs the other two (e.g. Steven Frears' Philomena is an all-time favorite film, and incredibly significant for me personally, but I didn't nominate it for this list because it's a conventional good-to-great drama). All this to say about McCarey—I wasn't aware of his involvement with HUAC, and while it will now inform my viewing of his films, it likely won't be *the* interpretive factor for me.
  15. Imagining Baron Cohen doing Galoup's dance is...well, it's something.
  16. A quick look at Rotten Tomatoes reveals a total of 3 "rotten" reviews. And one of them mentions pacing.
  17. I have lots of thoughts about these scenes and characters and their ontology (of course I do!), but this is the Beau Travail thread, so I'll try to stay with Denis. If I'm understanding the inscrutable/ineffable distinction, Ken, the former is one of epistemology and the latter is one of perhaps communication or language? Regarding the former, it seems like you're saying that Levant's character is not only inscrutable to use as the audience, but he's also inscrutable to himself. To take it a step further, I wonder if the other men around him (particularly Colin's character) are just as inscrutable to him, seemingly unknowable and distant despite their close proximity and spending so much time together. I think much of what Beau Travail is exploring—or at least this is what it provokes in my mind—is the absolute subjectivity of the Other, and yet the inherent need to be not only seen but felt/touched/connected to an Other in order to be wholly human. Galoup seems to long for such connection sense of self-identification by way of the Other, and frustrated that he can't understand or connect with others, that there's a distance even when seemingly so close. And I think the camerawork and choreography really heighten this sense of intimate distance for us as the audience.
  18. There's a shot in The Kid with a Bike that subtly echoes this moment from Beau Travail: when the first Beethoven movement begins to play after the opening scenes of Cyril trying to escape from the orphanage, there's a cut to Cyril asleep, and we can see his pulse beating in his neck—and it's beating fast, like a mouse, as if Cyril is always in motion/action even when he's asleep (see the screenshot). To bring it back to Denis: I think "inscrutability" or "ineffability" or "ecstasy" are all suitable descriptions for what's happening in Beau Travail, but it's a "fantastic of the everyday" (to quote Paul Ricoeur). That final dance feels like it's nearing or reaching for transcendence, and it does have an ecstatic quality to it, yet that's a different kind of transcendence than Malick's The Tree of Life or Kubrick's 2001 or even the final black hole moments of Denis's High Life, where the awe-some factor is more due to fantasy/sci-fi and expressionistic/formalist aesthetics. In Beau Travail, it's just a weird dude dancing alone; there's nothing really "fantastic" or formally expressionist about it. And yet it's somehow just as mesmerizing and affecting as the birth and death of the universe or traveling through a psychedelic star gate.
  19. What a powerful ending. I'm going to have to rewatch this film in order to really wrestle with everything that's happening going on, but for an initial reaction, I can say that I found this much more affecting than Close-Up, which is the closest film I can compare it to. A great film about filmmaking too.
  20. I do think keeping certain interior aspects of characters' lives "hidden" or opaque is an intentional aspect of the Dardennes' aesthetic (as well as Bresson's). Characters will often simply say, "I don't know" when they're asked as to why they do the things they do, as if some invisible interior force is compelling them forward (I write about this in that BW/DR essay on The Son). So yes, inscrutability is, in a way, key to what the Dardennes are doing. And in a related way, so is polyvalence, i.e. the possibility of multiple valid interpretations and different affective responses to their films upon subsequent viewings, where we feel strongly about the film by its coda (and particularly in the final moments), but can feel strongly in different meaningful ways each time we encounter the film. I think this all can apply to Denis's aesthetic as well (at least for certain films, like Beau Travail and 35 Shots of Rum), but it's also quite distinct from the Dardennes too. I would possibly put Malick in this category as well, but he's also doing something different with "inscrutability," something that isn't like Denis or the Dardennes or Bresson but could still be accurately described as "inscrutable." The one thing about the word that might not apply is the notion that it's impossible to understand or interpret these films. In fact, I think the mysterious or enigmatic quality provokes such a response, that we're compelled to try to interpret or understand it even when we recognize that we can't. Could any number of words describe why the final dance scene in Beau Travail is so powerful and meaningful? Nope. That's why it's gotta be experienced as cinema. But we're still compelled to try to explain and understand it, to make an interpretive wager, then wager again and again with every subsequent viewing. Sorry if the above is a word salad—it's a very stream-of-conscious effort. But I'm really enjoying this conversation.
  21. Joel Mayward


    The first images of Villeneuve's new vision of Dune are here via Vanity Fair.
  22. Darren and Mike, that interview/conversation is absolutely phenomenal. So much insight and wisdom there, and such a great example of both having a keen sense of what cinema is, as well as the significance of why such conversations matter and film criticism matter—we become more aware and open to truth through the very act of dialogue. I may add it to a syllabus whenever I teach Denis. I've only seen the film once, but I strongly resonate with what you've said here, Darren. That final scene totally stunned me; I recall had a bodily reaction to it, something more than frisson, as if whatever had been awakened in Levant had been transported through the screen and had awakened me too. In this, I think there's something to be said about the link between the somatic and the spiritual, that Denis's films (and Beau Travail in particular) draw out and lovingly dismantle the mind-body, spiritual-physical dichotomies, revealing that these supposed poles might be more united than imagined. So it's more than just the content of the film being "spiritual," or perhaps even the aesthetic alone—the reception we have to the film, what it does to us, to our bodies and souls (if we can even distinguish the two) is mysterious, even mystical. This brings to mind philosopher Jean-Luc Marion's concept of "saturated phenomenon," a phenomenological event or moment which so overwhelms the observer's intentionality and understanding that it exceeds mere cognitive reasoning. It's a moment of fullness, of excess, or as Darren says above, an "aesthetic explosion." Marion links this to divine revelation as "the gift." I wonder if Beau Travail could be a cinematic version of such a saturated phenomenon.
  23. That being said, I appreciate that Aren enjoys this film enough to own the Blu-ray and check out the final scene, and thought to come here to A&F to address the question raised months ago. And I think the *idea* of closing the entire Star Wars saga on Rey and a sunrise is a nice (albeit obvious) image. The execution of that idea in RoS left me more confused than content.
  24. Oh, my query isn't really of the Neil Degrasse Tyson sort. I don't think there's a real answer here beyond "there's poor writing and lazy ideas in Rise of Skywalker." I think the binary sunset scene in the original Star Wars is a great cinematic moment in that film. And I think the writers of Rise of Skywalker tried to build upon that moment for themselves without actually thinking through basic world-building or framing—if it requires multiple viewings and debates as to determine whether or not it's a sunrise or sunset, perhaps it isn't a particularly clear ending.
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