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Stray Dogs (#110 of 5)

Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2014

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Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2014
Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2014

From Clayton Dillard’s introduction to Slant Magazine’s Top 25 Films of 2014: ” In a year when The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game offer a most banal and repressive sort of historical biopic treatment for their respective subjects (and are being largely celebrated nonetheless), it becomes ever more important to draw lines in the cinematic sand to understand what we talk about when we talk about movies. Art historian Michael Fried once wrote of the burgeoning war between theater and modernist painting, and in many ways, contemporary filmmaking is rife with similarly antagonistic, fiery battles.” Click here to read the feature and see if your favorite films of the year made our list. And see below for a list of the films that just missed making it onto our list, followed by our contributors’ individual ballots. Happy reading.

BAFICI 2014 Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History

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BAFICI 2014: Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History
BAFICI 2014: Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History

The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Film seems to channel the sheer variety of the Internet, where it seems all movies from all eras are available. During 10 days, all sorts of films are made available at several venues within the Argentine capital, from horror flicks to forgotten commercial failures, classic studio productions, modern art-house fare, and experimental cinema. BAFICI seems to pride itself on its eclectic selection, and its broad pickings allow audience members to trace surprising connections between movies that might appear to have nothing else in common outside their shared inclusion in a festival. A sort of creative viewership is encouraged, as one comes to realize that an American rock fable, a miserablist Taiwanese drama, a visual poem with vampires, and an epic about social and political traumas in the Philippines have plenty in common.

Walter Hill’s unsung Streets of Fire and Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs have probably never been mentioned in the same sentence. Seen back to back, they reveal strikingly similar qualities, as both might or might not be science-fiction films. Streets of Fire is set in a fantasy land, which mixes costumes and vehicles from the 1950s with the urban squalor of the 1980s. When a motorcycle gang, led by fresh-faced Willem Dafoe, kidnaps a local pop singer (Diane Lane), it’s up to the gruff masculine hero played by Michael Paré to save the day. There are references to an unnamed war and the city appears to be in a state of crisis (its police force is sorely understaffed and justice is meted out by civilians). The characters are so conventional that they recede into the background as they follow archetypal signposts, and because their exploits are so predictable, the environment absorbs our attention instead. Diners and theaters from the American Graffiti years have decayed underneath rubble and trash. In an abandoned factory, the motorcycle gang has established a decadent bar where naked dancers strike aggressive poses, using their sexuality as a weapon. Having been recently and luminously restored, Streets of Fire plays differently today than it did back in 1984. What was originally a blend between the present and the past is now the combination of two different pasts, which together suggest a kind of future.

Viennale 2013 Stray Dogs, La Última Pelicula, The Fifth Gospel of Kaspar Hauser, Sto Lyko, & More

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Viennale 2013: Stray Dogs, Joys of Cádiz, La Última Pelicula, The Fifth Gospel of Kaspar Hauser, Sto Lyko, From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf, & More
Viennale 2013: Stray Dogs, Joys of Cádiz, La Última Pelicula, The Fifth Gospel of Kaspar Hauser, Sto Lyko, From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf, & More

As a kind of “festival of festivals,” the Viennale is one of the most esteemed fixtures in the world-cinema circuit. Positioned at the back end of October, the festival is able to showcase the strongest titles that have previously premiered elsewhere. Two such titles spotlighted during its 51st edition rank among the year’s finest films: Albert Serra’s Story of My Death, which I’d seen three times in four days at Locarno in August, and Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs, an altogether different kind of epic that was also shot on digital. Telling the simple tale of a Taiwanese family’s spiral into homelessness and despair, the film manages to be emotionally and intellectually engaging despite and because of its characters’ teasingly suggestive backstory. It boasts one arresting image after another, its unusual camera angles showing people trudging through some of the most strikingly disorienting architectural or other spaces since The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and it’s boosted mightily by Lee Kang-sheng’s central performance. As a father of two who makes his living by standing at a crossroads every day holding an advertisement, Lee is an intense ball of simmering hurt.