2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Monday, March 31, 2003

WFF Round-Up: Sunday

Spellbound (d. Jeff Blitz, 2002, USA) The Oscar nominated documentary about eight participants in the Howard-Scripps National Spelling Bee came with high praise, so I was expecting a lot, and I was not disappointed. Funny, touching, and thrilling, I was on the edge of my seat for much of the actual competition. I couldn’t believe many of the words those children were asked to spell, I had not even heard of the majority of them, and as I watched the actual spelling bee, I attempted to spell along with them, but was only able to successfully spell a small fraction of the words. I liked how the film introduced each kid and their family, all of whom were quite different (my favorite being Angela’s family of Mexican immigrants, and the one girl’s parents, I can’t remember her name, but she referred to her parents as “Archie and Edith Bunker”). I never gave much thought to the Spelling Bee’s, even when I participated in them, but I wasn’t that surprised by the pressure and lengths of preparation involved by all the children (I kind of wished the filmmakers would have explored this more critically, but then again, I liked how they left it to the audience to make a decision; for example, I thought Neil’s family put way, way too much stock into the Spelling Bee, but then again I could relate to his father’s arguments about striving). The actual competition was structured like a sports movie, and I liked how it moved, emphasizing the eight subjects, but allowing others to temporarily get the spotlight (my favorite had to be the girl who misspelled a word and then uttered “crap.”), and then there was a nice interlude between the two days, when the filmmakers visited previous winners, before concluding with a very tense final day. The more I think about it, the more I think that this film was more deserving of the Oscar than Bowling for Columbine.

Another thing has become clear to me, though, after watching this movie, we must, as a nation, strive to keep Harry away from caffeine.

Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time (d. Thomas Reidelsheimer, 2000, Germany) The best documentary of the WFF was another portrait of an artist, though this time, thankfully, the artist in question was not dying. Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy is an artist who works in nature, creating beautiful works out of stone, sticks, ice, leaves, flowers, moss, mud, snow, and natural pigments (he takes stones containing zinc and grinds them up, using the red pigment to color water) all of which are marked by one thing, their impermanence. It can almost be said that Goldsworthy work is really time, as he takes his cues from the ever flowing rivers and tides, which results in his work existing only momentarily in it’s present state, from the ineffable (he takes handfuls of powdery snow and throws it into the wind, allowing it to waft in the breeze) to the more permanent but ever changing (he creates stone sculptures that look like pine cones, which change as the environment around them changes; or caked on mud cracks and discolors as it is exposed to the air). Goldsworthy’s work reminds me of the Tibetan Buddhist monks who create intricate sand paintings, and then, after finishing them, sweeps them away. The entire film is like that; forgive the adjective, but the film, with it’s emphasis on natural photography, is almost hypnotic, trancelike, zen. But it’s never dull, with the beautiful artwork and Goldsworthy engaging personality (he delivers monologues to the camera, as well as voice-overs explaining his methods and metaphysics) enlivening the whole proceedings. Great stuff, it’s only too bad that Hollis Sigler’s artwork did not get a similar treatment.

Rivers and Tides was proceeded by an experimental short called Guiding Fictions, a combination of color splotches, found images, and asynchronous soundtracks. It was mildly engaging.

The Son (d. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, 2002, Belgium/France) My favorite film of the entire festival has usually come on the last day of the festival, and this year was no different. The Son is simply put, a great film, and definitely my favorite of the three Dardenne features. A simple, yet effective story of salvation, the film is transcendent without every leaving the materialist world (much like Bresson). Dardenne regular Olivier Gourmet plays Olivier, a Belgian carpenter who works at a vocational school for troubled youth (where he says he has a purpose); there he takes under his wing a young teenaged boy, who five years earlier, killed his son during a robbery. The film is anti-psychological, in the sense that we never explicitly learn why Olivier, as the character is also known, decides to offer an apprenticeship to his son’s murderer, probably because the character doesn’t know himself; the film also tells it’s story, as the two characters slowly bond over work, and what little recreation they partake in, without a trace of sentiment. The film is propelled by both the Dardenne’s expert hand-held camerawork (IMO, they are among the best directors working with hand-held cameras today) and Gourmet’s Cannes-winning performance, as he stoically tries to come to grip with the events that shattered his life. The film’s abrupt ending, while forestalling audience closure, was poetic. As one local critic put it when describing The Son: “Work will set you free.”

As an aside, as I was mulling over the film while waiting in line for Ten, I had a disturbing vision of the Hollywood remake of The Son. This bizarro world version starred Robin Williams and ended with a flood of cathartic tears. My God! The scariest thing that I saw (as it flashed through my mind) this past weekend. Shudder....

Ten (d. Abbas Kiarostami, 2002, Iran/France) You got to admire Kiarostami’s willingness to explore new ideas, even if his films are not completely successful. This film is an experiment, even a seemingly daring one at times, but is not in the same league with Kiarostami’s other films. The film, with the exception of one shot, is composed of precisely two camera angles: a diagonal shot from the dashboard towards the passenger seat, and another, similar shot towards the driver seat. The camera never moves, and the takes are generally very, very long. The film is composed of ten conversation between the driver: an upper-middle class woman who has recently divorced and remarried, and her various passengers, which includes her son (in four of the conversations), her sister (in two of the conversations), a younger female friend (in two of the conversations), an old woman going to pray, and a prostitute. Most of the time, the film cuts back and forth between the two people in the car, except in two cases: in the first conversation with the son, the camera is always centered on the kid, we only hear the mother on the soundtrack; and during the conversation with the prostitute, we only see the driver, and only hear the prostitute (the only time we ever see the prostitute is when she exists the car; the one shot that deviates from the rest of the film is a long take shot through the windshield, ostensibly from the driver’s POV, she watches the prostitute approach potential customers, get into one car, and drive off). The film has a very off the cuff, documentary feel to it (something maybe like the Tehran version of Taxicab Confessions), but Kiarostami breaks that up with some self-reflexive bits: occasionally between conversations we see a number, as if it was a leader of a reel, and there is often a bell-like sound too. All the various conversations deal with the subject of women in Iranian society, and especially their relationship to the (often ungrateful) men and their families. The film was interesting from this standpoint, as it often entered somewhat taboo territory with some frank conversations, and is something of a feminist statement. Still, Ten was not a complete success, and it took a lot of patience to watch, but I would still recommend it.

My 2003 WFF Top 10

I did it last year, might as well do it again:

1. The Son (d. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
2. Devils on the Doorstep (d. Jiang Wen)
3. Rivers and Tides (d. Thomas Reidelsheimer)
4. The Real Old Testament (d. Chris & Paul Hannum)
5. The Decay of Fiction (d. Pat O’Neill)
6. Mon-Rak Transistor (d. Pen-ek Ratanaruang)
7. Spellbound (d. Jeff Blitz)
8. Man, Made (d. Aaron Greer)
9. Divine Intervention (d. Elia Suleiman)
10. Tie *Corpus Callosum (d. Michael Snow) and Ten (d. Abbas Kiarostami)

Honorable Mentions: Earthsong of the Cricket, Girl 24, and Asurot.