Movie of the Year
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I have not seen nearly as many new films this year as I do most years--being the parent of a seven year-old kid, I think I've seen more animated features than not--but even if I had, I strongly suspect that Hou Hsiao-hsien's astonishing The Assassin would still, by a formidable margin, be my movie-of-the-year pick. Even by Hou's superlative standards, his latest work is exquisite and thoroughly entrancing, so strange and enigmatic, yet elegant, in its rhythms. It also provides more compelling evidence for why Hou is our greatest narrative filmmaker: that is, specifically, because he manages, at once, to work within the basic, essential constraints of narrative stoytelling and to subtly subvert every pro forma rule of plot and character. This is particularly pertinent given that Hou is operating within a genre, the wuxia drama, with such distinct rules and tropes. There is a story here, and a fascinating one, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But the relationships between characters, and the connections betweens events, are as ethereal and shifting as the streaks of light and shadow that Hou, as ever, employs to masterful effect. The causes and meanings underlying the events of the narrative--the political and familial feuds, obscure details of history or legend--are purposefully dwarfed by the majestic enormity of the natural landscape, which Hou and DP Mark Li Ping-bin capture in stunning, painterly compositions that are formally classical but never remotely obvious. The fight sequences, occurring in fits and starts and often abruptly abbreviated or de-emphasized within the frame, further underscore the small-scale quality of human relations against the longue durée history of a natural environment that still, in the ninth century, wholly overwhelmed all human societies--even purportedly powerful empires. This fundamental aspect of the distant (premodern, pre-industrial) past has rarely been captured so purely or expressively on film.


I was honestly just going to post some observation about how Donald Trump has, rather shockingly, evolved from a mere idiot and asshole into nothing less than the American Marine Le Pen--if not, perhaps, Jean-Marie Le Pen--but the New Yorker beat me (and no doubt many others) very precisely to the punch. (They even sort of look alike, no?) As John Oliver reminded us, the European far right is quite a different animal from the North American far right. Now, the only thing distinguishing the hateful rhetoric here from there is the language in which it's delivered. What is more horrifying still, both Trump and Le Pen have at least a semi-realistic chance of getting themselves elected, thanks entirely to the lowest common denominator of humanity in their respective countries. Good on the politicians who've expressed disgust at Trump's insane proposals. Martin O'Malley put it best.


If pressed...
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At this precise moment, I would say this is a pretty fair accounting of the 25 films and albums that I like the most (with zero effort made to diversify w/r/t directors/artists):

01. Days of Heaven (Malick)
02. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer)
03. Au hasard Balthazar (Bresson)
04. Citizen Kane (Welles)
05. The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles)
06. Sunrise (Murnau)
07. Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight (Linklater)
08. The Night of the Hunter (Laughton)
09. Vertigo (Hitchcock)
10. Barry Lyndon (Kubrick)
11. Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick)
12. Chimes at Midnight (Welles)
13. Flowers of Shanghai (Hou)
14. Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami)
15. The Tree of Life (Malick)
16. Histoire(s) du Cinema (Godard)
17. Tokyo Story (Ozu)
18. The New World (Malick)
19. Nosferatu (Murnau)
20. Boyhood (Linklater)
21. Diary of a Country Priest (Bresson)
22. City Lights (Chaplin)
23. Touch of Evil (Welles)
24. Sátántangó (Tarr)
25. The Thin Red Line (Malick)

01. The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead
02. Van Morrison, Astral Weeks
03. PJ Harvey, 4-Track Demos
04. PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love
05. The Smiths, Rank
06. Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis
07. Kathleen Edwards, Asking for Flowers
08. X, Wild Gift
09. Jay-Z, The Blueprint
10. Sleater-Kinney, Call the Doctor
11. Love, Forever Changes
12. Prince, Sign 'o' the Times
13. John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band
14. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska
15. The Beatles, Rubber Soul
16. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out
17. The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow
18. James Brown, Live at the Apollo
19. Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain
20. Radiohead, Kid A
21. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York
22. The Beatles, Revolver
23. Talking Heads, Remain in Light
24. Morrissey, Vauxhall and I
25. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake