Thursday, December 30, 2010

35 Shots of Rum/The Headless Woman

35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, 2009) [7] / The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2009) [8]

Both of these occupy similar space in my head, even if they aren't quite the same films. The Headless Woman feels like a Denis film while 35 Shots is a fairly straightforward film with moments expected out of Denis' work.

Coming after the intriguing but nearly incomprehensible The Intruder, 35 Shots of Rum is about as straightforward as you could get out of Denis. Focusing on a father and daughter and their relationships with a circle of friends and perhaps former lovers, the film is more a lyrical mediation than an actual narrative. Like most of Denis' films, the best moments for me are found in the moments where narrative takes a back seat. The opening sequence of trains moving through Paris sets a tone that anyone familiar with Denis can comprehend. The film's coup de grace is the much noted barroom scene, where the characters dance quietly to The Commordore's 'Night Shift', a moment that finds similar ground as Beau Travail. It's a beautiful moment in an understated film that lack of complexity is its best virtue.

Lack of complexity is not something to be attributed to The Headless Woman, a near inscrutable work that dabbles into class struggle, fantasy, and Hitchockian eeriness. What the film lacks in an understandable narrative it more than makes up for in Martel's formal mastery, as the film is brimming with fantastic shots. The story, from what I can gauge, centers on Vero, a well off dentist, returning home from a party. While driving home, she hits either a dog or a child, what exactly she or the viewer is never quite sure. This leads to Vero becoming more and more detached from her daily tasks, as she passes from scene to scene with only the help of others to get her through. This leads to one of the most striking scenes I've seen in film this year, as Vero is sort of "shocked" back to reality, where a burst of light and noise capture the screen. It's a scene of realignment for Vero, as she returns to consciousness but still racked with guilt over what she hit. Not much is concretely explained beyond that but Martel use of space and focus in composing her shots are excellent, almost mimicking Vero's existence as she navigates the film. I'm not familiar with Martel's previous work but knowing she deals heavily with social satire and class, one of the film's most interesting dynamic is the the class distinction in Vero's world. She, with blonde hair and European ancestry (to my best estimate) has a lucrative position as a dentist in a rural area with a large indigenous ancestry population. Many of these people work for Vero and they help her guide her through her "headless" state. The scene mentioned above is almost the epitome of this master/servant relationship. Outside of that, making much of heads or tails out of The Headless Woman is a fruitless exercise. Yet, its formal excellence makes dismissing it nearly impossible. It's certainly impressive in its inscrutability.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Useless Film Snob's Favorite Music of 2010

Juggling a full time job with master's course work isn't the ideal situation. Lack of content will be a continuous theme for the near future. The very least I can do is post my year-end album list. These are my favorite albums of the year but that's just my opinion:

Honorable Mention:
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros - Up From Below
Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
Shout Out Louds - Work
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Beat the Devil's Tattoo
Mountain Man- Made the Harbor
Woods - At Echo Lake
Trampled By Turtles - Palomino

25) Horse Feathers - Thistled Spring
Low key folk out of Portland for a band that should get more attention.

24) Joshua Radin - The Rock and the Tide
Radin's music is known for being Grey's Anatomy background music but by making things more uptempo, it makes it more interesting. The one unexpected selection that's needed on any list.

23) Blitzen Trapper - Destroyer of the Void
A bit too proggy in spots for my liking but 'The Tree' makes up for that.

22) Band of Horses - Infinite Arms
Nothing much new out of Band of Horses but I liked everything before.

21) Ryan Bingham - Junky Star
Bingham's songwriting is topical and more consistent and 'The Weary Kind' is a great song.

20) Spoon - Transference
Another Spoon album, another solid effort but nothing that overly wowed me.

19) Lower Dens - Twin-Hand Movement
18) Beach House - Teen Dream
Two Baltimore groups that create ethereal music with tinges of psychedelia.

17) Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do
Not quite up to my expectations of a DBTs album but not one to just throw out.

16) Old 97s - The Grand Theatre, Volume One
Like Spoon and Band of Horses, I'm going to like anything by the Old 97s even if it doesn't do anything spectacular.

15) Delta Spirit - History From Below
14) Phosphorescent - Here's to Taking It Easy
These feels like very similar albums to me, taking roots elements and blending into distinctive sounds for each group. Phosphorescent has improved with adding more musicians.

13) Ray LaMontagne & the Pariah Dogs - God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise
It seems ever LaMontagne album has its mopey moments but the new band behind him takes the songs somehwere a bit different.

12) Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone
The title track shows Mavis Staples can still sing.

11) The Walkmen - Lisbon
A more sophisticated album that has been slowly building interest but the competition is just too tough.

10) She & Him - Volume Two
It feels a bit twee all together but I'll fall for anything with Zooey Deschanel.

9) Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame
Another band that puts out consistent albums, I think the live feel of the record works in its favor.

8) Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away
It has a few too many mediocre songs to be great but when it hits its high marks ('The Curse', 'Folk Bloodbath"), it's really good.

7) The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
It has a similar structure and feel to their debut, and it's a better effort than their last.

6) The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
It may have too much Petty or Springsteen to it for some, but what I like about the Gaslight Anthem is that have no fears about wearing their influences.

5) The Black Keys - Brothers
This sounds like an earlier Black Keys album with more instruments. There's less of the quirks that Danger Mouse brought and that's probably the way I like it.

4) Tom Jones - Praise & Blame
This isn't a joke. Working with Ethan Johns, Jones brings his still strong voice to blues and gospel songs. It's been a tactic for an older artist to re-invent their career with an album of this type but for Jones it succeeds because he knows the music and his voice was made for it.

3) Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
Let me say for my own smug purposes, I was into Mumford & Sons before they became a fixture in Itunes top 10 albums. Their success is confounding mostly because this is all being done on word of mouth. Yet they still are being relatively successful. I played the hell out of this for the first six months of the year and 'White Blank Page' earns choice track of the year.

2) The Hold Steady - Heaven Is Whenever
The Hold Steady stretch out a bit musically but Craig Finn is still writing about the same old same old. What I said about the Gaslight Anthem goes for the Hold Steady and the infectious nature of their music holds a place at the top of any list for me.

1) The National - High Violet
The National have created a trio of stunning albums with this as well as Alligator and Boxer. No band uses the studio so intricately to create their sound but also not sound like a product of overproduction. There may not be a bad song on the album. For the second time in two albums, The National have my favorite album of the year.