The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Thursday, December 30, 2021
JFK YEAR ONE: I've posted my favorite films of
2011, 2001, 1991, 1981, and 1971. And now for something completely different:

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1961, it gave its Best Picture award to West Side Story, a musical with vivid cinematography, an excellent score, and a lousy script. I prefer these:

1. Yojimbo
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Kurosawa and Ryûzô Kikushima, from a novel by Dashiell Hammett

It was based on Red Harvest, it inspired A Fistful of Dollars, and it managed, impressively, to be better than both.

2. Lola
Written and directed by Jacques Demy

The Short Cuts of the French New Wave.

3. Yanco
Directed by Servando González
Written by González, from a story by Jesús Marín

I'm not sure if this Mexican movie is available with English subtitles, but that doesn't really matter: There's hardly any dialogue, and when the characters do occasionally talk the words aren't all that important. The movie's sound, on the other hand, is very important indeed.

4. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen
Directed by Karel Zeman
Written by Zerman, Josef Kainar, and Jiří Brdečka, from a story cycle by Rudolf Erich Raspe

This film feels like it's set in a Cornell box.

5. Chronicle of a Summer
Directed by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin

A documentary thorough enough to include a scene where the cast critiques the movie.

6. The Hustler
Directed by Robert Rossen
Written by Rossen and Sidney Carroll, from a novel by Walter Tevis

"You have the best excuse in the world for losing. No trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning, that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey."

7. The Innocents
Directed by Jack Clayton
Written by William Archibald, Truman Capote, and John Mortimer, from a novel by Henry James

A slow-burning horror flick inspired by The Turn of the Screw.

8. The Exiles
Written and directed by Kent MacKenzie

Life in L.A.'s Bunker Hill before the planners tore it down.

9. The Ladies Man
Directed by Jerry Lewis
Written by Lewis and Bill Richmond

If you really want to know why "the French" love Jerry Lewis, this is the picture to watch. The sets could have come from a Tati film, the story shatters more narrative conventions than anything by Godard, and tracking all the Freudian undercurrents could serve as a cineastes' full employment act. Beyond that, it's pretty damn funny. I could do without a couple of sappy scenes with Pat Stanley, but otherwise this is Lewis in peak form.

10. Eugene
Written and directed by Ernie Kovacs and Joseph Behar

Kovacs was the first genius of TV comedy, experimenting with television the way an earlier generation of clown-artists experimented with film. That inventive spirit is on display in this surreal ABC special, which obviously owes a lot to the silent era but looks forward much more than it looks back.

Honorable mentions:

11. Blast of Silence (Allen Baron)
12. Viridiana (Luis Buñuel)
13. Il Posto (Ermanno Olmi)
14. Underworld U.S.A. (Sam Fuller)
15. Accattone (Pier Paolo Pasolini)
16. Mother Joan of the Angels (Jerzy Kawalerowicz)
17. One-Eyed Jacks (Marlon Brando)
18. Last Year in Marienbad (Alain Resnais)
19. Killers on Parade (Masahiro Shinoda)
20. Zoo (Bert Haanstra)

Of the films of 1961 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in La Notte.

posted by Jesse 10:38 AM
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Tuesday, December 28, 2021
SAYONARA, BRETTON WOODS: We've gone through my favorite movies of
2011, 2001, 1991, and 1981. Can you guess what's next?

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1971, it gave its Best Picture award to The French Connection, a thriller that I enjoyed but whose exalted reputation mystifies me. I like these better:

1. The Last Picture Show
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Written by Bogdanovich and Larry McMurtry, from a novel by McMurtry

I'm not sure if this counts as a "modern western," but if it does, it's my favorite modern western.

2. A Clockwork Orange
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Kubrick, from a novel by Anthony Burgess

And for those people who would reduce every story to a simple political message, a quick reminder: A film can present two ugly alternatives without advocating either one.

3. Mon Oncle Antoine
Directed by Claude Jutra
Written by Jutra and Clément Perron

One of the darkest Christmas movies this side of Pandora's Box, but with some fleeting moments of genuine joy too.

4. McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Altman and Brian McKay, from a novel by Edmund Naughton

Altman does to the western what he did a year earlier to the war movie and would do over the following few years to the private eye film, the gangster picture, and the musical.

5. They Might Be Giants
Directed by Anthony Harvey
Written by James Goldman, from his play

My favorite Sherlock Holmes movie, though strictly speaking Sherlock Holmes isn't in it.

6. Walkabout
Directed by Nicholas Roeg
Written by Edward Bond

An enigmatic film about desire, communication breakdown, and the beautiful, treacherous Australian landscape.

7. Trafic
Directed by Jacques Tati
Written by Tati, Jacques Lagrange, and Bert Haanstra

It's a worthy follow-up to Play Time, and if it isn't quite as good...well, not every movie needs to be a masterpiece.

8. Bananas
Directed by Woody Allen
Written by Allen and Mickey Rose

"All children under 16 years old are now: 16 years old."

9. Macbeth
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Polanski and Kenneth Tynan, from a play by William Shakespeare

Welles did Macbeth as a film noir. Kurosawa did it as a samurai picture. And Polanski did it as a Hammer horror movie.

10. Dirty Harry
Directed by Don Siegel
Written by Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims

A peeping-tom cop is driven to sadism by the horrors of street crime and his department's inability to contain it. In the sequels he becomes an almost cuddly character, but here Harry Callahan is easy to empathize with but hard to like: an antihero in a movie with more nuances than many critics will admit.

Honorable mentions:

11. The Hired Hand (Peter Fonda)
12. W.R.—Mysteries of the Organism (Dušan Makavejev)
13. Duck, You Sucker (Sergio Leone)
14. Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman)
15. Klute (Alan J. Pakula)
16. The Hospital (Arthur Hiller)
17. A New Leaf (Elaine May)
18. Jabberwocky (Jan Švankmajer)
19. Basic Training (Frederic Wiseman)
20. Play Misty for Me (Clint Eastwood)

Best monologue: Elliott Gould on writing letters to the spy who reads his mail, in Little Murders.

Of the films of 1971 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Out 1 and The Working Class Goes to Heaven.

posted by Jesse 10:23 AM
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Sunday, December 26, 2021
DAYS OF PUNK AND REAGANS: I've reeled off the best movies of
2011, 2001, and 1991. Now let's jump back another decade.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked at 1981, it gave its Best Picture award to Chariots of Fire, the film that appears in the dictionary next to the phrase "Oscar bait." Here are some better ways to spend your time:

1. The Decline...of Western Civilization
Directed by Penelope Spheeris

If this isn't the best rock doc ever made, it's certainly the funniest.

2. Coup de Torchon
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier
Written by Tavernier and Jean Aurenche, from a novel by Jim Thompson

Apparently, a Jim Thompson story still works when you transpose it to colonial Africa.

3. Blow Out
Written and directed by Brian De Palma

Like Blow Up crossed with a '70s conspiracy thriller.

4. Lola
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Written by Fassbinder, Pea Fröhlich, and Peter Märthesheimer

Another conspiracy movie, sort of. One where everyone in town but one is in on the conspiracy.

5. Mephisto
Directed by István Szabó
Written by Szabó and Péter Dobai, from a novel by Klaus Mann

In 2006 it emerged that Szabó had been an informant in the aftermath of Hungary's failed 1956 revolution. He claimed at first that he had done this to save a friend's life, then admitted that this was a self-serving lie. I relate these unpleasant details not to criticize this absorbing film, but to suggest that its textured portrait of an opportunist adjusting to life under totalitarian rule might have a touch of self-lacerating autobiography to it.

6. Gallipoli
Directed by Peter Weir
Written by David Williamson, from a story by Weir

One of the great antiwar movies. Such a shame about the soundtrack.

7. Time Bandits
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by Gilliam and Michael Palin

"Why does there have to be evil?" "I think it has something to do with free will."

8. Polyester
Written and directed by John Waters

Few motion pictures are this cruel to a protagonist. Even fewer manage to be this funny in the process.

9. Stations of the Elevated
Directed by Manfred Kirchheimer

For anyone who ever suspected that a city's true public art is its billboards and graffiti.

10. The Aviator's Wife
Written and directed by Éric Rohmer

This starts with the sort of misunderstanding that has fueled a thousand sitcoms, then takes the story in a messier, more emotionally authentic direction.

Honorable mentions:

11. Modern Romance (Albert Brooks)
12. Songs for Swinging Larvae (Graeme Whifler)
13. Ms.45 (Abel Ferrara)
14. Vernon, Florida (Errol Morris)
15. America is Waiting (Bruce Conner)
16. God's Angry Man (Werner Herzog)
17. Once in a Lifetime (Toni Basil, David Byrne)
18. Pixote (Hector Babenco)
19. Hôtel des Amériques (André Téchiné)
20. Das Boot (Wolfgang Petersen)

Of the films of 1981 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Huie's Sermon.

posted by Jesse 10:36 AM
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Friday, December 24, 2021
'91 REVISED: I've listed my favorite films of
2011 and 2001. Now let's step back another 10 years.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked at 1991, it gave its Best Picture award to The Silence of the Lambs. There are things that I like about that highbrow slasher flick, and there are things that I don't; it squeezed its way into my honorable mentions, but it didn't make the top 10.

1. The Rapture
Written and directed by Michael Tolkin

The best movie ever made about apocalyptic Christianity.

2. Hearts of Darkness
Directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper

A behind-the-scenes look at Apocalypse Now that doubles as a remake of Apocalypse Now.

3. Homicide
Written and directed by David Mamet

"When you start cumming with the customers, it's time to quit."

4. Raise the Red Lantern
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Written by Zhen Ni, from a novel by Su Tong

"It's all playacting. If you play well, you fool the others. If you play badly, you only fool yourself. If you can't even fool yourself, you can fool the ghosts."

5. Tribulation 99
Written and directed by Craig Baldwin

We'll get to JFK soon enough. But this is the great sprawling conspiracy epic of 1991.

6. Blooper Bunny
Directed by Greg Ford and Terry Lennon
Written by Ford, Lennon, and Ronnie Schelb

One of the few latter-day Bugs Bunny cartoons that retains the edge of the originals.

7. JFK
Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Stone and Zachary Sklar

Stone throws so many theories into this movie that his psychedelic montages take on a life of their own; the cascading images and ideas sweep aside any single story about what happened in Dallas in 1963. As a result, whether he intended it or not, the film looks less like an historical thesis and more like a panoramic view of the psychic landscape in paranoid post-assassination America. Needless to say, that's much more interesting than the standard Oliver Stone message-movie.

8. Slacker
Written and directed by Richard Linklater

Obsessive geeks, conspiracy theorists, alt-media weirdos, an anarchist invoking Guy Fawkes, even a "Ron Paul: Libertarian for President" sign: Here is your guide to the ensuing 30 years of the counterculture.

9. Point Break
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by W. Peter Iliff

I'll tip my hat to Andrew Sarris and call this "expressive esoterica."

10. Prime Suspect
Directed by Christopher Menaul
Written by Lynda La Plante

How amazed I was by this miniseries when it first came out. A police procedural whose solution wasn't telegraphed from the beginning. With red herrings that might actually mislead you. On television! In those days this was just about unheard-of.

Honorable mentions:

11. Delicatessen (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro)
12. Blood in the Face (Anne Bohlen, Kevin Rafferty, James Ridgeway)
13. The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
14. Zentropa (Lars von Trier)
15. Little Man Tate (Jodie Foster)
16. Dogfight (Nancy Savoca)
17. Thanksgiving Prayer (Gus Van Sant)
18. The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (Jan Švankmajer)
19. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme)
20. Flirting (John Duigan)

Of the films of 1991 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in A Brighter Summer Day.

posted by Jesse 9:54 AM
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Wednesday, December 22, 2021
OUR YEAR OF TERRORS: On Monday I told you my favorite films of
2011. Today we'll talk about a year that was much better for movies, if not for everything else.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 2001, it gave its Best Picture award to A Beautiful Mind, a biopic that starts strong, peaks with an ably executed plot twist, and then gradually degenerates into crap. It isn't on my list.

1. Mulholland Drive
Written and directed by David Lynch

In dreams it isn't unusual for a person to switch identities, for one figure to turn into several (and vice versa), or for time to fall out of joint. And as Lynch's soap opera evolves into a horror movie, it follows the logic of an especially nightmarish dream.

2. Spirited Away
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki

All of Miyazaki's fairy tales are wonderful, but this is the one I like the most.

3. Y Tu Mamá También
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Written by Cuarón and Carlos Cuarón

As engrossing as the plot is, what really lingers after this picture are the details of a larger world lurking in the background while the protagonists obliviously zoom by.

4. Sex and Lucia
Written and directed by Julio Médem

The picture that proved DV could be used as artfully as film—and did it by embracing the alleged drawbacks of the medium. I imagine Médem talking with his cinematographer: "So the sky looks washed out? OK; see if you can make that beautiful."

5. The Man Who Wasn't There
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

"He told them to look not at the facts but at the meaning of the facts, and then he said the facts had no meaning. It was a pretty good speech. It even had me going."

6. Donnie Darko
Written and directed by Richard Kelly

Harvey meets Carnival of Souls.

7. The Office
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

Steve Kurtz always gives me a hard time when I put a season of a TV show on one of these lists. Well, look: This is a coherent three-hour story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Feel free to give me some shit if I start slipping in some seasons of the American Office, which is amazing at its best but is also more sprawling and open-ended. But these six episodes could be a miniseries.

8. Waking Life
Written and directed by Richard Linklater

Alex Jones' cameo haunts this movie the way Donald Trump's walk-on role haunts Home Alone 2, but as far as I'm concerned that just adds to the effect. (Reason #23,000 not to trust the Motion Picture Academy: It found room for Jimmy Neutron among its Best Animated Feature nominees, but not for this.)

9. The Sopranos 3
Written by David Chase, Todd A. Kessler, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Terence Winter, Lawrence Konner, Frank Renzulli, Michael Imperioli, Salvatore J. Stabile, and Tim Van Patten
Directed by Van Patten, Allen Coulter, Henry J. Bronchtein, John Patterson, Jack Bender, Daniel Attias, and Steve Buscemi

Yes, more television. Come on: They're all moving pictures, right?

10. Lantana
Directed by Ray Lawrence
Written by Andrew Bovell

"This is not an affair. It's a one-night stand that happened twice."

Honorable mentions:

11. The Pledge (Sean Penn)
12. Storytelling (Todd Solondz)
13. Claire (Milford Thomas)
14. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
15. Gosford Park (Robert Altman)
16. The Others (Alejandro Amenábar)
17. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
18. Buffy the Vampire Slayer 5 (Joss Whedon)
19. The Last Words of Dutch Schultz (Gerrit van Dijk)
20. What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-liang)

That item at #18 is the fifth season of a television show—sorry, Steve!—so Whedon is listed as the showrunner, not the director. Though he did, as it happens, also direct some individual episodes.

Of the films of 2001 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Fat Girl.

posted by Jesse 10:29 AM
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Monday, December 20, 2021
THE YEAR BEFORE THE YEAR THE WORLD ENDED: Let the other blogs pick the best flicks of 2021. Here at The Perpetual Three Dot Column, we'll let that question sit for a decade; instead, each December I list the best movies of 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and so on.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 2011, it gave its Best Picture award to The Artist, a fair-to-middling arthouse hit. This wasn't a great year for movies, but even so, I can still think of 20 films that are better than that one:

1. We Need to Talk About Kevin
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Written by Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear, from a novel by Lionel Shriver

A horror movie about the monster's mother.

2. It's Such a Beautiful Day
Written and directed by Don Hertzfeldt

"He will learn more about life than any being in history. But death will forever be a stranger to him. People will come and go, until names lose all meaning, until people lose all meaning and vanish entirely from the world. And still, Bill will live on. He will befriend the next inhabitants of the earth, beings of light who revere him as a god. And Bill will outlive them all. For millions and millions of years. Exploring, learning, living, until the earth is swallowed beneath his feet. Until the sun is long since gone. Until time loses all meaning, and the moment comes that he knows only the positions of the stars, and sees them whether his eyes are closed or open, until he forgets his name, and the place where he'd once come from. He lives, and he lives, until all of the lights go out."

3. Tomboy
Written and directed by Céline Sciamma

This is just as gender-bent as the film at #5. But where that picture is a pulpy, sensationalist fantasy, this one is all low-key naturalism.

4. Bernie
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth, from an article by Hollandsworth

Jack Black's best gig since High Fidelity; Shirley MacLaine's best since Being There.

5. The Skin I Live In
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Written by Almodóvar, from a novel by Thierry Jonquet

Tie me up, tie me down, forcibly subject me to elaborate plastic surgeries.

6. The Muppets
Directed by James Bobin
Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller

There's a a character here who goes out one Halloween dressed as Kermit the Frog. Some other kids laugh at him, and one of them says something like, "What is this? 1978?" And out in the audience, sitting with our sons and daughters, are a bunch of aging parents who are happy to have Kermit back but who know it will never be 1978 again, and that one day when we're gone our grown children might stumble on this old movie called The Muppets and realize in a sad flash that it will never be 2011 again either.

7. Kill List
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Written by Wheatley and Amy Jump

An initiation.

8. A Separation
Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi

As in so many real-world conflicts, everyone here is at least somewhat sympathetic but no one invariably does the right thing.

9. Margaret
Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan

A big, loose, sprawling movie where it feels like you could follow any secondary character offscreen and find youself in a different big, loose, sprawling movie.

10. Another Earth
Directed by Mike Cahill
Written by Cahill and Brit Marling

Like Margaret, this is about a teenager who feels responsible for someone's death. But it goes in, shall we say, a different direction.

Honorable mentions:

11. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
12. Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)
13. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
14. The Interrupters (Steve James)
15. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
16. Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman)
17. Young Adult (Jason Reitman)
18. Fake It So Real (Robert Greene)
19. Kumaré (Vikram Gandhi)
20. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)

The year's best puzzle-box: Sound of My Voice, a film carefully constructed to allow two different interpretations of just about everything you see.

The year's best fuck-you: This Is Not a Film, covertly recorded in the apartment of an Iranian director while he was under house arrest and banned from making movies. It was then smuggled to Cannes on a flash drive in a cake.

Finally, a shout-out to Take Shelter. People say this has an "ambiguous" ending, but the meaning of the final scene seems clear to me. Too bad: A genuinely ambiguous conclusion might have pulled the picture into the top 10. Instead the end feels literal-minded, and this otherwise excellent movie doesn't quite make it to the top 20.

Of the motion pictures of 2011 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Bron/Broen. Which is actually a TV series, but I have a broad understanding of the phrase "motion picture."

posted by Jesse 9:32 AM
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