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Perhaps Thomas Jefferson didn't exactly write, "Every man has two countries - his own and France"--but he should have.

Nous sommes tous Français.

Nous sommes tous Parisiens.


Holy shit!

This track off the new Grimes record is amazing and addictive. I can't stop listening to it.


Reasons to be Thankful
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Situated between the Canadian and American Thanksgivings:

01. Family
02. Friends
03. The Dawn of the Justin Trudeau Era
04. The End of the Stephen Harper Era
05. Carly Rae Jepsen
06. John Oliver
07. Donald Trump's (finally) faltering poll numbers (though isn't Carson in some respects just the kinder, gentler, less-racist-only-by-default Trump?)
08. Despite Grantland's sad demise, FiveThirtyEight is still with us (for now anyway).
09. It is 18ºC/65ºF on Nov. 2nd in NYC.
10. See above re. family/friends. Also: Trudeau/Harper. (I miss Canada :()


Asking for Lattes
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I just found out (late, as usual) that one of my all-time favorite artists is currently taking an indefinite hiatus from music and is now the proud proprietor of a coffee shop in suburban Ottawa. This news is kind of lovely in its smallness (it fits with the intimate scale of her songs) but also strange. This is not, evidently, an "also/in addition to" project, like mega-artists lending their names to lines of clothing or accessories or perfume. Rather, it's like if, say, Morrissey said 'forget about making records and playing shows' and instead decided to open a bowling alley back in Salford.

I hope for Edwards' sake that her café is a continued success, but for my sake I really hope this hiatus doesn't persist for too long. She's one of the very best we've got, and, frankly, the qualitative difference between a mediocre cup of coffee and a fantastic cup of coffee, while not negligible by any means, is far smaller than the gap between a perfectly-crafted and sung Kathleen Edwards song and ninety-nine per cent of current music.


Gone from us too soon.

I checked in nearly every weekday, and was seldom, if ever, disappointed by what I found there. (Although, to be sure, there were times when I probably could've been more productive without Grantland's many welcome distractions...)

Because it was essentially sui generis it may sound like faint praise to say that it was the best site, or even publication, period, "of its kind" ever, but it's not. Above all, generic categorizations and qualifications aside, the writing was just really good. Sometimes really, really good--which, of course, should hardly be surprising given the diverse murderers' row of talent assembled.

Thank you, Grantland editors and staff. The Internet is a darker place without ye.


Two Albums
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Though I was initially a touch cool on Emotion, I've come, upon repeated listens, to love it almost as much as the near-perfect Kiss, if not, yet, quite as much, though I may very well get there still. "Run Away with Me" and "LA Hallucinations" are two of the best songs she's made to date, for sure, and there really isn't a less-than-terrific song on the album (even the expanded/deluxe version[s]). Between Kiss and Emotion, I feel like I *get* her more fully, in terms of where she falls as an artist. Even though the new record is somewhat more "adult"/"mature"/"sexy," it's still a very far cry from the dominant currents in fem-pop (Rihanna, Beyoncé, Nicki, Miley, LDR, even in some ways the Taylor Swift of Red/1989). CRJ is not angling for their turf, though, at all: she's our Kylie Minogue, i.e., pure, ebullient dance-pop bliss, "sexy" only incidentally, and edgy not at all ever.

Meanwhile, there's the pressing business of the new Miley album. I think wherever one falls, it's a pretty major statement from a major artist, and the people who condescendingly dismiss it are just assholes who would rather settle for less. As with Emotion, I like Dead Petz more and more the more I listen to it, though not by any means all of it (there's some pretty risible shit on there), but when it's good--"Karen Don't Be Sad," "Twinkle Song," "Space Boots," "Dooo It!," etc.--it's brilliant, and really sweet and moving. And as an album (such a deeply unfashionable thing in 2015!) it works so well, encouraging a charitable view of some of its missteps. It says a lot that in the album's opening moments Miley declares, via vocoder, that "I don't give a fuck," then on the closing track: "I had a dream / that I didn't give a fuck / but I give a fuck / I miss you so bad, I think I might die." The duration of the album itself, then, is Miley's incomprehensible "dream"?! Or her whole Bangerz-era "don't-give-a-fuck," Rihanna-esque persona/posturing (already belied by Bangerz's ultimate tenderness) is the dream?? Either way, I think the superficial transition from hip-hop/blaxploitation chick to "psychedelic" music-fest neo-hippie matters far less than the more profound transition from "I don't give a fuck" to "but I give a fuck," and what the great chasm between those two opposed statements represents.


Top 100 Films of the Half-Decade: 2010-14
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01. The Tree of Life (Malick)
02. Boyhood (Linklater)
03. Before Midnight (Linklater)
04. To the Wonder (Malick)
05. Goodbye to Language (Godard)
06. Karamay (Xu)
07. The Immigrant (Gray)
08. Lincoln (Spielberg)
09. Margaret (Lonergan)
10. Blue Is the Warmest Color (Kechiche)

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11. Beyond the Hills (Mungiu)
12. The Deep Blue Sea (Davies)
13. Greenberg (Baumbach)
14. Barbara (Petzold)
15. Of Gods and Men (Beauvois)
16. Meek’s Cutoff (Reichardt)
17. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong)
18. The Act of Killing (Oppenheimer)
19. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch)
20. Clouds of Sils Maria (Assayas)

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21. The Turin Horse (Tarr)
22. This Is Not a Film (Panahi)
23. Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow)
24. The Social Network (Fincher)
25. Phoenix (Petzold)
26. Kill List (Wheatley)
27. The Past (Farhadi)
28. Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami)
29. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen/Coen)
30. Almayer’s Folly (Akerman)

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31. Spring Breakers (Korine)
32. The Lords of Salem (Zombie)
33. Two Days, One Night (Dardenne/Dardenne)
34. The Homesman (Jones)
35. Melancholia (von Trier)
36. The Cabin in the Woods (Goddard)
37. Moneyball (Miller)
38. The Golden Era (Hui)
39. Mr. Turner (Leigh)
40. Love Is Strange (Sachs)

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41. Film Socialisme (Godard)
42. Toy Story 3 (Unkrich)
43. Force Majeure (Östlund)
44. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Takahata)
45. Bernie (Linklater)
46. The To Do List (Carey)
47. Stories We Tell (Polley)
48. Resident Evil: Retribution (Anderson)
49. Stray Dogs (Tsai)
50. Rhymes for Young Ghouls (Barnaby)

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51. Holy Motors (Carax)
52. The Loneliest Planet (Loktev)
53. 12 Years a Slave (McQueen)
54. A Dangerous Method (Cronenberg)
55. All Is Lost (Chandor)
56. The Secret of Kells (Moore/Twomey)
57. Young Adult (Reitman)
58. Winter’s Bone (Granik)
59. Somewhere (Coppola)
60. A Separation (Farhadi)

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61. Like Father, Like Son (Koreeda)
62. If It's Not Now, Then When? (Lee)
63. Black Death (Smith)
64. The Ghost Writer (Polanski)
65. Silver Linings Playbook (Russell)
66. Much Ado About Nothing (Whedon)
67. Winter Sleep (Ceylan)
68. The Tiger Factory (Woo)
69. I Wish I Knew (Jia)
70. Carlos (Assayas)

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71. Bluebeard (Breillat)
72. Air Doll (Koreeda)
73. Bridesmaids (Feig)
74. The Hunt (Vinterberg)
75. The Skin I Live In (Almodovar)
76. The Bling Ring (Coppola)
77. A Touch of Sin (Jia)
78. Starry Eyes (Kolsch/Widmeyer)
79. The Babadook (Kent)
80. Our Sunhi (Hong)

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81. The Wolf of Wall Street (Scorsese)
82. Dream Home (Pang)
83. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Ceylan)
84. Gravity (Cuaron)
85. Postcards from the Zoo (Edwin)
86. Life without Principle (To)
87. Frances Ha (Baumbach)
88. Life of Riley (Resnais)
89. Winter Vacation (Li)
90. The Boxtrolls (Stacchi/Annable)

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91. Song of the Sea (Moore)
92. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Fincher)
93. Magic Mike (Soderbergh)
94. The Mill and the Cross (Majewski)
95. A Year without Summer (Tan)
96. The Adventures of Tintin (Spielberg)
97. Black Coal, Thin Ice (Diao)
98. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson)
99. A Field in England (Wheatley)
100. East Meets West (Lau)


Song of the Summer?

Song of the Summer.


Get Up!
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It's Sleater-Kinney Day in Vancouver!!!

In honor of the reunion, Spin recently ranked all 109 S-K songs. My top 40, for the record, would look something like this:

01. "Good Things"
02. "Turn It On"
03. "Sympathy"
04. "The End of You"
05. "Not What You Want"
06. "I'm Not Waiting"
07. "Youth Decay"
08. "One More Hour"
09. "Start Together"
10. "Call the Doctor"
11. "Get Up!"
12. "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone"
13. "The Remainder"
14. "Far Away"
15. "Dig Me Out"
16. "The Size of Our Love"
17. "Jumpers"
18. "Oh"
19. "Modern Girl"
20. "Stay Where You Are"
21. "It's Enough"
22. "Words and Guitar"
23. "No Cities to Love"
24. "#1 Must-Have"
25. "One Beat"
26. "Ballad of a Ladyman"
27. "The Drama You've Been Craving"
28. "My Stuff"
29. "Taste Test"
30. "Don't Think You Wanna"
31. "Night Light"
32. "Step Aside"
33. "You're No Rock n' Roll Fun"
34. "The Fox"
35. "No Anthems"
36. "Burn, Don't Freeze"
37. "White Rabbit"
38. "Angry Inch"
39. "Write Me Back, Fucker"
40. "A Real Man"

And the albums (all of which are great):

01. Call the Doctor
02. Dig Me Out
03. One Beat
04. The Hot Rock
05. All Hands on the Bad One
06. The Woods
07. No Cities to Love
08. s/t
On 'probable cause'
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Great interview with David Simon regarding the current situation in Baltimore.


"The king ordered it!"
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Well, he did.
Couples Therapy
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I went into Noah Baumbach's latest really hoping (and honestly, expecting) to like it a lot. Halfway through, I was convinced that I didn't (or wouldn't?) like it much at all. By the time Bowie's "Golden Years" played over the closing credits, I had come around somewhat, though I'm still not sure how much (or maybe more importantly, why) I like(d) it, if indeed I did. Because it's one of those movies that constantly made me think of other (in most instances, better) movies, perhaps the best way to work out my jumble of thoughts on While We're Young is through a series of short compare/contrasts.

While We're Young and The Mindy Project I like The Mindy Project. It's a good single-camera half-hour sitcom that thoroughly embraces its slightness--its sitcomness, in the best sense--in an age of 'cinematic' TV shows. It's also consistently funny and sweet. While We're Young is, surprisingly, not particularly funny, and its attempts at sweet mostly fall flat, but at least for the first half of Baumbach's film, it feels very much like a sitcom, in the most facile sense. The generation-gap gags--hip hop dance class, a street 'beach' party, a mescaline-fuelled spirit quest, etc.--were too obvious, and felt like a half-baked episode of Mindy, except that Danny's determined squareness would've made for a funnier contrast with the 'youthful,' bohemian rituals, and the ostensibly up-to-the-minute pop culture references would've been fresher on Mindy, too. Despite the presence of Adam Driver playing a very Adam-from-Girls-type character, this stretch of While We're Young traffics more in old-fashioned sitcom silliness than the Quality Television mode of Lena Dunham's show.

While We're Young and Greenberg This comparison is important less for how While We're Young fits within Baumbach's oeuvre than for the stark difference in cadence between these two films. Greenberg, an inexhaustibly terrific movie and the number-one reason why I expected to unequivocally like While We're Young, is so unhurried in its pacing, taking its cues from the sun-slowed rhythms of a lazy summer. I keep finding new ways into Greenberg each time I revisit it. I never found a way into While We're Young, a way to be genuinely engaged and care. Even when the new film becomes a leaner, meaner affair in its last act, it's still too plotty and airtight. I also much prefer Ben Stiller's full-on malcontent in Greenberg to the milder, more Woody Allen-ish malcontent he plays this time.

While We're Young and Reality Bites Winona Ryder was my first movie-star crush. When I saw Reality Bites as a kid, I really wanted her to choose Ethan Hawke's Troy. He was cool, and smart, and sensitive--read italics as scare quotes---and women like Winona should end up with cool, smart, sensitive people, no? Watching Reality Bites again a couple years ago, for the first time in a long while, I was rooting instead for Ben Stiller's Michael, partly because he now seemed the lesser of two evils and partly because, for christ's sake, he was at least a fucking grown-up. While We're Young, in a nutshell, is about re-watching Reality Bites twenty years later, pulling for Troy because your own life-circumstances are maybe a little too Michael, then abruptly pulling an about-face when you remember what should have already been obvious, which is that Troy is, at best, full of shit and, at worst, completely insufferable.

While We're Young and Before Midnight On the other hand, maybe Troy turned some decisive corner and grew up to be Jesse, who is far from perfect, but is at any rate a thoughtful, interesting adult in a way that Troy wasn't (yet?) and Stiller's Josh in While We're Young isn't quite. Having a partner like Celine certainly doesn't hurt in turning brooding, "sensitive" boys into fully-formed, if imperfect, men, though Naomi Watts's Cornelia (her best performance since Mulholland Drive) is no slouch, and even though (or very possibly because) her character is under-written, she's the MVP of Baumbach's film (Charles Grodin is a close runner-up). But as (like Before Midnight) an ultimately resilient portrait of domesticity, While We're Young lacks both the affection and the necessary seriousness of Jesse and Celine in Greece. Maybe Jesse and Celine live lives much like Josh and Cornelia when they're back in Paris going about the grind of their everyday obligations? Maybe between films they're taking MDMA with the Euro hipsters from the "Prayer in C" video? Maybe. But I really hope not.

While We're Young and Neighbors I thought occasionally of the Before... films, and even once or twice of Eyes Wide Shut, while watching While We're Young, but far more than either I thought of Neighbors. The couple played by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are much closer in spirit to Josh and Cornelia, with Zach Efron and Dave Franco serving a similar narrative function to Driver and Amanda Seyfried here. The difference, though, is that Neighbors is, purportedly, a broad/dumb, gag-to-gag comedy that only secretly has a big, generous heart and some smart things to say about marriage, parenthood, and the generation gap (if not, regrettably, the toxic, misogynistic culture of fraternities). While We're Young is, purportedly, an incisive critique of marriage, mid-life crises, and overconfident millennials, but it's too broad and silly and on-the-nose. Until it's not...

While We're Young and The Shape of Things...and it morphs into something like Neil LaBute's 2003 film. Remember that one? It's been over a decade since I last saw it, but I can still recall feeling awful for poor Paul Rudd following the third-act meta-twist. While We're Young employs a comparable, late 'gotcha', but I didn't feel...much, either for the duped party or the duper. Which is a fairly serious problem given that, unlike LaBute's chilly exercise, wherein the theatrical quartet are pawns arranged just so, While We're Young is a character piece--it's about people first and foremost. Unless it's not...

While We're Young and F for Fake (??!) ...and it's really about authenticity, and forgery, and the role of Truth in Art. If so, and this might well be the case, it would help to explain both the (seemingly) autopilot first half and the suddenly schematic later section -- but the Welles comparison is still sacrilege: Catfish is closer. Or Woody Allen doing Bergman.


(Re)Start Together

In less than a month, I get to see my all-time favorite band again - for the first time in a decade!
'Excited' is an understatement.


On Beauty
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I recently re-watched The Immigrant, which must be one of the most beautiful films ever made. I also recently revisited Barry Lyndon (on Blu-ray) and Flowers of Shanghai (on film as part of the Cinematheque's Hou Hsiao-hsien retrospective), my favorite films by Kubrick and Hou respectively, and I really think James Gray's movie is in that same superlative territory, at least in terms of exquisite, overwhelming beauty. Who else working today approaches such rapture? Malick, of course. Godard sometimes: In Praise of Love for sure, and parts of Goodbye to Language. And Terence Davies once or twice per decade. After that...


Mephitis mephitis!
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But, luckily, no stinkers below.

01. Boyhood (Linklater)
02. Goodbye to Language (Godard)
03. The Immigrant (Gray)
04. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch)
05. Clouds of Sils Maria (Assayas)
06. Phoenix (Petzold)
07. Two Days, One Night (Dardenne/Dardenne)
08. The Homesman (Jones)
09. The Golden Era (Hui)
10. Mr. Turner (Leigh)
11. Love Is Strange (Sachs)
12. Force Majeure (Östlund)
13. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Takahata)
14. Winter Sleep (Ceylan)
15. Starry Eyes (Kolsch/Widmeyer)
16. The Babadook (Kent)
17. Life of Riley (Resnais)
18. The Boxtrolls (Stacchi/Annable)
19. Song of the Sea (Moore)
20. Black Coal, Thin Ice (Diao)

01. Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night; The Immigrant
02. Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
03. John Lithgow - Love Is Strange 04. Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria
05. Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel
06. Tilda Swinton – Snowpiercer; Only Lovers Left Alive
07. Nina Hoss – Phoenix
08. Timothy Spall – Mr. Turner
09. Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
10. Channing Tatum – Foxcatcher

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01. Lykke Li - I Never Learn
02. EMA - The Future's Void
03. Miranda Lambert - Platinum
04. Nicki Minaj - The Pinkprint
05. Tove Lo - Queen of the Clouds
06. Taylor Swift - 1989
07. Iggy Azalea - The New Classic
08. Lucinda Williams - Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
09. Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence
10. White Lung - Deep Fantasy

01. Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea – "Problem"
02. Taylor Swift – "Blank Space"
03. Shakira feat. Rihanna – "Can’t Remember to Forget You"
04. Beyonce – "7/11"
05. Tove Lo - "Habits"
06. Charli XCX - "Boom Clap"
07. Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX – "Fancy"
08. Avril Lavigne – "Hello Kitty"
09. Ariana Grande feat. The Weekend - "Love Me Harder"
10. Azaealia Banks – "Chasing Time"


VIFF: Words and Godard
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The best film I saw at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival was called Adieu au langage, but if anything, this was, by far, the talkiest bunch of films of any year I've attended VIFF. There were a few exceptions, of course—most notably, Tsai Ming-liang's dialogue-free Journey to the West—but Godard's own film (pointedly) wasn't one of them. Goodbye to Language is as loaded with oblique philosophical musings and long-winded discussions as any Late Godard work, but the overlap between discursive and formal ideas here feels altogether more on-point than in anything he’s done since In Praise of Love. Tsai’s latest might, in fact, provide the best point of contrast. Journey to the West, a feature-length expansion of Tsai’s red-robed-monk-walking-very-slowly-idea—executed so effectively in his hypnotic short, The Walker—ultimately pays diminished returns in long form, despite the new setting of Marseilles, the addition of Denis Lavant (as a kind of apprentice to Lee Kang-sheng's oblivious, contemplative monastic master), and a couple legitimately stunning compositions. By comparison, Godard’s first foray into 3D, the short The Three Disasters, felt like an interesting enough experiment that didn’t hang together particularly well—a minor curiosity within his later filmography. Which is why (to my tastes anyway) the perfect marriage of 3D form and content in Goodbye to Language was almost as surprising as it was pleasurable and exciting. As a movie-going experience, there is nothing else quite like Goodbye to Language, at this film festival or otherwise. Since a capsule review (i.e., language!) is doomed to do this great film even less justice than a 2D screening would, suffice it to say that this is a legitimate theatrical ‘must-see’ in an age of wait-til-it's-on-Netflix. Yet, insofar as Godard's work has always been concerned with the philosophical implications of representing ‘reality’ through the various signs and tropological figures of artistic media, this is a sly, provocative reiteration of his raison d'être.

Can the same be said for Olivier Assayas's no less loquacious Clouds of Sils Maria? Well, that depends on what we take to be the raison d'être in the oeuvre d’Assayas, a slippery, chameleonic auteur with an uncommonly varied body of work. After seeing the marvelous Clouds of Sils Maria, I’m apt to say that identity and performance, and the hazily delineated space between, might be his great theme. Returning, in certain respects, to the territory of Irma Vep and André Téchiné's Assayas-scripted Rendez-vous, the new film centers on an actress (Juliette Binoche) who is deeply ambivalent about taking on a dramatic role that hits a little too close to home for her. As Binoche's aging star, Maria, prepares for the part, a never-better Kristen Stewart performs various roles—personal assistant, rehearsal partner, and confidant, among others. As these roles begin to blur together, so, too, do the subjectivities of Binoche and Stewart, Maria and Stewart's Valentine, and the theatrical characters in the play for which Maria is reluctantly preparing. This tension among identifies, real or performed, is mostly explored through the extended conversations (and line rehearsals) of Maria and Valentine, set against the gorgeous back-drop of the Swiss village of the film’s title. The obvious comparison here is with Bergman’s Persona, and I’m sure Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson’s psycho-sexual two-hander was never too far from the thoughts of Assayas, Binoche, and Stewart. But, much in the same vein as Clean and Summer Hours (two of Assayas’s best films, in my view), Clouds of Sils Maria is a warmer film, often very funny, more poignant and humane than any of Bergman’s film work, excepting (maybe) Fanny and Alexander.

A more direct heir to the austere mood and tone of Bergman’s chamber dramas is Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or winner, Winter Sleep. Even the title sounds like something Bergman might have made in the late ‘60s or early ‘70’s. Yet, where most of Bergman’s films from that period center on women (hence, the somewhat misleading comparisons elicited by Clouds of Sils Maria), Ceylan’s latest focuses on a middle-aged man, an explicitly Shakespearean figure (he owns a sprawling, idyllic property called the Hotel Othello) whose closest antecedent in Bergman is probably Victor Sjöström’s melancholy old professor in Wild Strawberries. Ceylan’s protagonist, Aydin, is a wealthy former actor who now presides over his family’s vast holdings on the Anatolian steppe, while penning a weekly column in the local newspaper and beginning work on a monograph concerning the history of Turkish theater. While Aydin regards himself as a magnanimous Man of Letters, his recently divorced sister and much younger wife see him as a pompous, patronizing blowhard, too enamored of the sound of his own voice (pontificating aloud or on the page). Most of Aydin’s relatively impoverished tenants seem to share this view. This troubling trick of perspective—between how one perceives oneself in relation to one’s family and community, versus the very different perception of others—is expressed, again, through long, tangential exchanges between characters; the composite image of Aydin with which we’re left is haunting for its incongruous layers, resulting in what might well be Ceylan’s least schematic, and best, film to date.

The difficulty of really “knowing” a singular, complex individual is another major theme among several of this year’s festival offerings. Where Aydin is a grand fictional creation, the enigmatic people in other instances are based on historically notable figures. Neither Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner nor Ann Hui’s The Golden Era are biopics in the usual sense. Timothy Spall’s J.M.W. Turner is the kind the peculiar, eccentric subject that we’ve come to expect at the center of artists’ biographies, but the grunting, introverted landscape painter is flagrantly uncharismatic and scarcely psychologically legible. His artistic method is vividly demonstrated, but his genius is not explained—much to Leigh and Spall’s credit. Leigh is more concerned with re-situating Turner within the social and cultural context of his particular milieu; the material details of time and place are recreated with the same meticulous precision that distinguished Topsy-Turvy and Vera Drake.

This concern for placing the elusive biographical subject within his/her historical context is also apparent in The Golden Era. Yet, more radically than Leigh, Hui never establishes a fully stable or secure vantage point from which to consider her subject, the writer Xiao Hong (Tang Wei). Mirroring the process of researching and writing a biography about a long-deceased historical figure, Hui consults with (actors portraying) some of Xiao Hong’s close acquaintances, who speak directly to the camera about their experience with the (ostensible) protagonist. Some have complained about this somewhat jarring strategy, but I felt that it allowed the seams of the narrative to show in a very fruitful way, deliberately undermining the seductive sweep of the handsomely mounted epic by conceding that the larger story is constructed around imperfectly remembered and sometimes contradictory interpretations of Xiao Hong’s life. Only in the film’s opening and closing moments is the subject allowed to speak for herself: in the first instance, stating the basic facts regarding her birth and death; in the second, reading an excerpt from her final literary work, Tales of Hulan River.

In other films at this year’s festival, characters are only able to speak some version of the truth through song. In Kris Elgstrand’s Songs She Wrote About People She Knows, Carol (Arabella Bushnell) is tight-lipped in conversation, by no means eager to get caught up in the long, drawn-out discussions of Godard, Assayas, and Ceylan’s films. (Full disclosure: I am personally acquainted with Elgstrand and Bushnell – but their movie is terrific, at any rate.) Instead, where Carol is able to speak her mind is in short, musical messages (rather in the style of early Nellie McKay!) that she leaves on the answering machines of her neighbors and co-workers. Her seething frustrations with those around her are no less severe than the criticisms directed at Winter Sleep’s Aydin by his sister and wife, but their expression, here, through song positions Carol’s vitriolic messages in an ambiguous space between everyday language and art. If Carol and her message-recipients finally arrive at something like a collective happy ending, it’s because her musical soliloquies, presented as art, have managed to facilitate the beginnings of actual dialogue.

The revelatory power of song is also hugely important in Christian Petzold’s superb Phoenix, though I shouldn’t say much more about that here. Without giving too much away: the lines demarcating authentic from performed selves are as rough, jagged, and increasingly indeterminate as they are in Clouds of Sils Maria—or, for that matter, in Vertigo, the film most explicitly referenced in Petzold’s deeply cinephilic mise-en-scène. But where Hitchcock’s masterpiece is, above all, a meditation on the painful, personal process of creating art, Petzold’s drama, set in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of World War II, is really only partly about cinema, or artistic representation more generally. Like Godard’s bifurcated treatment of “La Nature” and “La Métaphore” in Goodbye to Language (or the overriding themes in his monumental Histoire(s) du Cinema), Phoenix is about the literally unspeakable in the history of the twentieth century. Mounds of grey rubble dotting the scarred cityscape say something about this history, but images can only describe and circumnavigate real historical trauma—or worse yet, semiotically subsume it. Words can do little more, admittedly, yet—whether written, spoken, or sung—they’re finally, very nearly all we’ve got. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Top 10 Films

01. Goodbye to Language (Godard)

02. Clouds of Sils Maria (Assayas)

03. Phoenix (Petzold)

04. Two Days, One Night (Dardenne/Dardenne) A series of difficult, emotionally fraught conversations made, remarkably, for the festival’s most thoroughly suspenseful film, besides perhaps Phoenix; the Dardennes’ best work since Rosetta and Marion Cotillard’s second astonishing performance of late, after her tremendous turn in James Gray’s The Immigrant.

05. The Golden Era (Hui)

06. Mr. Turner (Leigh)

07. Winter Sleep (Ceylan)

08. Life of Riley (Resnais) Alain Resnais’s swansong is as talky as any film mentioned above, but where most of those are decidedly dark, or at least moody, Life of Riley is a sprightly, engagingly theatrical comedy: all the grim business of death and dying occurs off-screen/stage—both in the non-presence of the terminally ill, Godot-like title character and the inevitable echoes of Resnais’ own recent passing.

09. Foxcatcher (Miller) An abrupt shift in tone from Bennett Miller’s Moneyball (a movie I actively love), but one that avoids the caricaturish treatment of famous subjects that marred his Capote. If Steve Carrell’s heavily made-up, against-type turn as disturbed billionaire John du Pont is inadvertently a “stunt performance” of sorts, it’s still much more nuanced and sensitive than Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s over-praised Truman Capote; Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, providing a more prosaic counter-balance to Carrell’s menacing eccentricity, are no less excellent.

10. Black Coal, Thin Ice (Diao) In mood and texture, if not precisely in plot: The Big Sleep re-imagined in a drab, snowy Chinese industrial city. Or (more modestly) Cold Weather with real badges and blood.

Some other films:

Exit Chienn Hsiang’s film may be the most forgettable film I saw at this year's festival, but it’s not bad precisely because it’s genetically engineered not to be. That is, this Taiwanese entry feels throughout as if it was concocted from a "How to Make an East Asian Art-house Movie That Will Appeal to Programmers At Western Film Festivals" cookbook: two parts Tsai, two parts Apichatpong, a dash of Hou and Edward Yang, Jia to taste. I felt like I'd seen every scene, every composition, every narrative trope in five other, better films.

Man on High Heels Well-meaning, mostly well-acted, almost well-executed, and roughly as sweet as it is silly, although its silliness at times threatens to cancel out some of its sweetness.

Maps to the Stars Cronenberg’s return to the deliriously perverse mode of Crash; he’s still got it and the cast is game, but it’s genuinely hard to tell whether the script is as obvious and on-the-nose as it seems or if that’s just part of the meta put-on.

White Bird in a Blizzard Somewhere between an interesting character study and an effective pastiche. I found it enjoyable enough while I was watching it—quite funny and smart in places—but it left a bad taste on my palate afterward, not least for its ultimate “reveal,” which felt too much like a cheap punch-line and negated the sense of mystery that the film had sustained up to that point—what David Lynch aptly described as “killing the golden goose.”

Top 10 Performances
01. Marion Cotillad – Two Days, One Night
02. Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria
03. Nina Hoss – Phoenix
04. Timothy Spall – Mr. Turner
05. Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carrell – Foxcatcher
06. Eva Green – White Bird in a Blizzard and Julianne Moore – Maps to the Stars
07. Haluk Bilginer and Melisa Sözen - Winter Sleep
08. Tang Wei – The Golden Era
09. Fan Liao – Black Coal, Thin Ice
10. Juliette Binoche – Clouds of Sils Maria
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Three-quarters through the year (and, significantly, pre-VIFF), these are--in a very general sense--the things I've liked most in 2014.

01. Boyhood (Linklater)
02. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch)
03. True Detective (S1)
04. Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea - "Problem"
05. The Immigrant (Gray)
06. Tove Lo - Truth Serum (EP)
07. Mad Men (S7 pt. 1)
08. Miranda Lambert - Platinum
09. Orange Is the New Black (S2)
10. Shakira feat. Rihanna - "Can't Remember to Forget You"
11. Snowpiercer (Bong)
12. Game of Thrones (S4)
13. Morrissey - World Peace Is None of Your Business
14. The Killing (S4)
15. Nicki Minaj - "Anaconda"


Nobody Does It Better
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In his brilliant review of Bob Stanley's book, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé, Christgau crafts a shorter spiritual sequel to his classic article "US and Them: Are American Pop (and Semi-Pop) Still Exceptional? And by the Way, Does That Make Them Better?" (preserved for posterity here). Meanwhile, over at Billboard, he uses a piece ostensibly on Jason DeRulo to reiterate a personal statement of purpose.

From the time that I first discovered music criticism, I have enjoyed reading Christgau's Consumer Guide columns and his annual Pazz & Jop essays. Today, I read far less music writing generally than I once did, yet I still actively look forward to reading his new work--in whatever format, wherever it happens to turn up. He's still the Dean for a reason.