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Carl Theodor Dreyer (#110 of 12)

The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies Ranked

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The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies Ranked
The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies Ranked

From Bram Stoker to Anne Rice, from Nosferatu to Buffy, it’s safe to say our cultural fascination with the blood-sucking undead isn’t going away anytime soon. Not unlike zombies, those other revivified metaphors that feast on the living, the template afforded by these folkloric beings allows for no shortage of insights into the human condition, with the topics of sexuality, addiction, and mortality chief among them. By far the most famous of these, Dracula, is often cited as the most popular fictional character in all of cinema, with nearly 200 separate film appearances according to IMDb. Of course, the legend of these creatures extends far beyond just this particular icon, and those who are quick to mock the Twilight franchise for allowing its fanged characters to appear in full sunlight, unperturbed, are clearly unaware of the elasticity they’ve exhibited throughout both print and film history. Here, a fairly strict definition of the corporeal undead has been employed (apologies to Louis Feuillade and Claire Denis). These 10 films highlight not just great vampire films, but great films, period, and for each that made the cut, there was at least one more vying for inclusion.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2014

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2014
San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2014

There’s something undeniably special about viewing silent films at the Castro. As the theater was built in 1922, it’s not too difficult to imagine that at least a handful of the films screened as part of this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival program didn’t light up the same walls with their shadows almost a hundred years ago. And what celestial shadows they were and are. At a boutique festival such as this, which only runs for four days (May 29 to June 1) and screens less than 20 feature films, it’s possible to see a clear curatorial byline—a dedication to variety that cuts a wide swath across directors (no two film by the same auteur), genres, and countries, all the while pushing forward the radical in form and narrative.

Many of the films that came out of (post)modern and historically revisionist eras of filmmaking—such as Robert Aldrich’s Ulzana’s Raid and Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man—expressly took the rewriting (and righting) of historical memory as the meat of their content. But it’s rare to find a film clear-eyed about race relations (from 1928!) that also takes a Native American—or, half Native America and half Italian, in this case with Edwin Carewe’s Ramona—as its central character. Ramona stingingly darts away from the historically and morally muddied path of so many westerns that would come in the years of the talkies. In this film, white men are seen as the intolerant, merciless, and murderous villains, tacitly bent on genocide. In a scene rivaling the direct brutality of the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin, the eponymous Ramona (an incredible Dolores del Rio) and her husband barely survive an attack on their village as white men play shoot ’em up for no better reasons then greed and bloodlust.

Review: Michael Witt’s Jean-Luc Godard: Cinema Historian

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Review: Michael Witt’s Jean-Luc Godard: Cinema Historian
Review: Michael Witt’s Jean-Luc Godard: Cinema Historian

While Daniel Morgan’s fantastic 2012 book Late Godard and the Possibilities of Cinema devotes a significant portion of its pages to Histoire(s) du Cinéma, Michael Witt’s Jean-Luc Godard: Cinema Historian offers a book-length study of this singular work, filled with color still frames and images, in what’s unquestionably the most comprehensive English-language examination of Godard’s endlessly complex work of video historiography.

Such comprehension doesn’t solely result from close readings, however, as Witt goes to extensive lengths to tease out the theoretical, historical, and even autobiographical details which enveloped Godard during the film’s construction. In taking his study to these lengths, Witt probes the ontology of Godard’s work, suggesting the film as a work of film history, above all else. That is, Witt seeks to legitimate Godard’s role as a cinema historian, even at the expense of elevating him as a “cinema poet,” as has often been the claim. Godard, himself, rejects the notion that Histoire(s) du Cinéma is an “audiovisual poem,” and has remained insistent that his work is more concerned with the intersection of poetry and history, rather than being exclusively a work of either. Witt carefully examines Godard’s claims in this regard, the film’s use of montage, and even Godard’s vehement hatred for television (he once referred to it as “absolute evil”) as a means to move past simply an identification of references within the film and toward a polyvalent illumination of Godard’s multifaceted intentions.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Kenji Fujishima’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Kenji Fujishima’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Kenji Fujishima’s Top 10 Films of All Time

In trying to whip up a Top 10 for this alternative Sight & Sound poll, I decided from the beginning to try to forgo any extra-cinematic considerations and simply go with 10 films that mean a great deal to me personally. There’s an implicit canon-building aspect to this particular exercise, and surely some would feel a need to take into account not only previous Sight & Sound poll-toppers (Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game, , etc.), but also such things as historical importance in coming up with a list for posterity. But where’s the fun in that? Besides, screw posterity: I’m totally willing to admit, at the outset, the possibility that any of my favorite 10 below may decline in estimation over time, to be replaced by another film entirely that I may begin to appreciate more as I grow older. For now, though, these are 10 films that I could not part with in my life.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Eric Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Eric Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Eric Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

I approached this project the exact same way I expect I would’ve handled being given a ballot in the actual Sight & Sound poll: by procrastinating until the very last second and making a lot of spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment rules to dictate how I could possibly whittle down dozens of films into a list of 10. (I know, everyone else probably would’ve said “hundreds of films,” but I’ve always been a little cine-anorexic.)

The list of “obstructions” ought to be familiar to anyone with any exposure to this parlor game: one per decade, one per country, one per genre, one per boyfriend. But having willfully backed myself into the corner of having no more time on hand, I am forced to use a list I’ve already built elsewhere: the list of films I previously designated as favorites on MUBI. I like using that as a starting point because my choices there seem neither too conservative nor too outré (or at least both simultaneously), and I first started ticking them off as an exercise toward building a list of my 50 favorite movies. Plus, I limited myself to one choice per director.

The number of “nominees” there now stands at a slightly lower sum than that original goal (how have I still not picked a Bresson?!), but it still seems the best middle ground I can find between favoring my, well, favorites and giving movies I consider to be among “the greatest” their due. The only major wrench in this plan is that, of the 46 movies shortlisted, all but about a dozen of them are from the U.S. And nearly half are from the span between 1966 and 1976.

Well, no point dancing around statistics. A strategy is a strategy, so onward and upward, in chronological order:

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot

We’ve stormed the gates and are now officially part of the canon-forming establishment…or (fingers crossed) the canon-altering anti-establishment. That’s right, for its seventh installment, the venerable Sight & Sound poll to determine the 10 best films of all time is including among its ranks of voting members a whole slew of bloggers and new-media representatives, including a handful of writers from Slant.

Not, unfortunately, all of us. But, speaking on behalf of all of those who didn’t get a ballot, I can say we’re not jealous, but instead thrilled that the same critical profile that once placed Trash, Showgirls, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Lickerish Quartet alongside Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, John Ford, and Carl Theodor Dreyer will be making its mark in what nearly any card-carrying cinephile recognizes as the most authoritative word on the canon.

SXSW 2010 Postscript: On Cold Weather and Original Live Scoring

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SXSW 2010 Postscript: On <em>Cold Weather</em> and Original Live Scoring
SXSW 2010 Postscript: On <em>Cold Weather</em> and Original Live Scoring

Cold Weather (Aaron Katz). You’re bound to stumble upon a couple of mumblecore movies if you spend enough time at SXSW; regardless of your love or hate for that term and style of low-budget filmmaking, there’s no denying that the festival smiles favorably on the likes of Joe Swanberg, Andrew Bujalski, the Duplass brothers, or anyone in their “extended family,” and having an outlet of this magnitude is one reason why mumblecore hasn’t died out yet, despite seemingly annual proclamations to the contrary from critics. However, because most of these films are only slight variations of one another, the so-called movement will eventually peter out if it doesn’t evolve. This year, SXSW showcased a few examples of that evolution in Cyrus and Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather, a film with polish, wit, and impeccable comedic timing.

Katz’s features have always had a visual refinement that other mumblecore films tend to lack. The warm, sunny cinematography of Quiet City perfectly matched the story of a sweet yet fleeting romance, while Cold Weather, conforming to its title, goes for cooler hues and an overall cleaner, more pristine look. It’s not an unwelcoming style, but a crisp, precise, attractive one, much like Frank Griebe’s work in The International, or more recently, the brisk look of The Ghost Writer. With this visual scheme and a slow but deliberate camera, Katz and his cinematographer Andrew Reed inject a quiet confidence in Cold Weather.

Love One Another: Early Dreyer at BAM

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Love One Another: Early Dreyer at BAM
Love One Another: Early Dreyer at BAM

The last five films of Carl Theodor Dreyer are accepted classics of world cinema, written about, shown regularly, and given the full Criterion treatment on DVD. Many who have only seen a few silent films have seen his The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), and Criterion recently put out a comprehensive Vampyr (1932) that helped to shed some light on that misty, eternally disorienting film, with its radical, bizarre use of space. His three late sound films stake their claim in an essential Criterion box set: Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943) continues to exert its nearly unbearable tension; watching it is like working up a sweat, almost dying, then letting the sweat evaporate off of your mind and body until you are as free of fear as the accused witch Anne (Lisbeth Movin). (Dreyer disowned his next film, the nearly never-seen Two People {1945} but I’ve heard that a rare print was screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and I can only hope that this final piece of the Dreyer puzzle will someday play in New York and elsewhere.)

Day of Wrath: Church of Cinema

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<em>Day of Wrath</em>: Church of Cinema
<em>Day of Wrath</em>: Church of Cinema

Like the esteemed film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, I discovered Day of Wrath in my teens. One of the local PBS stations was showing Carl Theodor Dreyer’s film about 17th century Danish witch trials (adapted from Anne Pedersdotter by Norwegian playwright Han Wiers Jenssen) late at night. I stumbled across the film already in progress as elderly Herlofs Marte (Anna Svierkier) was being stripped and tortured in order to force a confession: Was she or was she not in league with Satan? Could she name other servants of evil? An hour or so later, I was still riveted to my seat, watching another, younger woman accused of witchcraft stare out at nothing as she contemplated the tortures awaiting her and the image dissolved to a blunt final condemnation written on a scroll. I was all messed up. What kind of inhuman order could put a harmless old woman and a vivacious young one on such a senseless conveyor belt to doom? Shortly thereafter I saw Schindler’s List, and these two very different films about persecution fused in my mind.