Friday, December 29, 2006

2006 Top Ten: Alberto Zambenedetti

Alberto Zambenedetti
Ph.D. Candidate in Italian Studies, NYU

1. Arrivederci Amore Ciao

Italian cinema is dead. This is a well-known fact. Which makes this Hitchcockian, bleak, gritty, blood soaked, dark, claustrophobic, anguishing thriller all the more relevant. Suspended between Notorious and Ichi the Killer, Arrivederci Amore Ciao is the story of the homecoming of a former terrorist who spent twenty years in exile working as mercenary hitman for foreign governments. With the complicity of a corrupt detective – played by a splendid Michele Placido, who drives a BMW, sports a “Just For Men” dyed handlebar moustache, and speaks with a hilarious Sardinian accent – the man travels back to Italy and becomes a bouncer in a strip club, a police informer, a thief, and finally opens up a high-class restaurant and goes (almost) legal. All of which through lying, scamming, torturing, stealing, killing, and fucking his way up in society. In the context of a national cinema that still worships the auteur and looks down upon mainstream products, this film breaks all the frames, and recuperates the idea of genre, which in the Italian tradition is always hybrid. With its totally nihilistic portrayal of mankind and its wonderfully pornographic display of ultraviolence, Arrivederci Amore Ciao is absolutely delightful…

2. The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

The plot of this utterly unconventional film is quite simple: a deranged inventor summons to his private island the best piano tuner in the world and challenges him to prove his skills in tuning a series of sound-making automata. The machines are to accompany the beautiful soprano the inventor had killed and resuscitated in a concert for his guests. Utilizing a mixture of live action and stop-motion they had perfected in The Institute Benjamenta, the Brothers Quay deliver one of their finest films to date. Delicate yet disturbing, poetic yet nightmarish, The Piano Tuner subsumes the obsessions and idiosyncrasies of the filmmakers and combines them with uncommon cinematography, framing, and mise-en-scène. The result is an uncompromising art film (or film about art) that discloses its treasures slowly, quietly, and with exquisite taste.

3. Miami Vice

Michael Mann recuperates the series he had created in the eighties and plants a new seed in the twenty-first century. Do shantung suits, fast-boats, Ferraris, gunfights and beautiful women stand the test of time? Absolutely. Are über-wealthy villains, undercover fast-mouthed cops, bizarre homoerotic breaks and loud soundtracks still enticing? Yes, indeed. At least to me. Especially when Mann himself directs, and further develops the aesthetics of the previous Collateral, which in my opinion had a few rough edges that needed some smoothing. In this respect, Miami Vice is a wonderful step forward and makes me yearn for a sequel, if not even for a whole trilogy. Few other films this year have given me such sheer thrill and excitement, despite the long running time, the open ending, and the fucking overpriced popcorn.

4. The Departed

Although I have to admit that I have not seen the original, I am pretty damn sure this was the best remake of the year. Shamefully, I also need to admit that at the time of writing I have not yet seen any of the Clint Eastwood Iwo Jima films. Which leads me to argue on previous convictions that Scorsese is the finest contemporary American director, especially when he devotes himself to mafia stories. His Bostonian cops and mean-streeters are simply wonderful, in all their unrepentant misogyny, their luscious profanities, and their blind phallocentrism. If it is true that psychological complexity seems to be bestowed on some characters only, the effect of this apparent shortcoming is hysterical, especially in the interaction between flat and deep, between protagonists and sideshows, at least until the final coup de théâtre.

5. Inland Empire

Spooky, disturbing, unnerving and utterly idiosyncratic, Inland Empire is David Lynch at his finest. Little can be said about the plot, if not that Lynch seems to be ruminating on doublings and re-doublings, further exploring the road he had taken with Mulholland Drive. Freed by digital technology, Lynch drags the viewer into a serious audiovisual nightmare whose texture, sound, editing, lighting, cinematography, and loose plotlines seem to be designed with the clear intent to violate one’s consciousness. Or, at least that’s how I felt when I saw it.

6. Borat

One of the funniest movies ever made. And in many ways, one of the creepiest, considering the fact that Borat holds up a mirror not only to the United States, but also to the West as a whole. Sacha Baron Cohen crosses every line, establishing new standards for comedy based on political incorrectness in all its facets, constantly underlining the limited understanding we have of eastern countries while staging the situation in reverse. Already a classic, this film in all probability sentences the end of a character that Cohen had played on the Ali G show, but I am quite certain that everyone who saw Borat is looking forward to follow the adventures of Bruno on the big screen…

7. A Prairie Home Companion

Silky smooth, warm and fuzzy, A Prairie Home Companion is a great way to go for a filmmaker who delivered so many wonderful and controversial masterpieces. Superb acting, a light directorial touch, and a charming frame are the strengths of this film, which turned out to be Robert Altman’s last and perhaps least ambitious project. Certainly, my judgment is influenced by the departure of the great director, but I am sure that the film would have made this top ten in any case.

8. Private Fears in Public Places

Quietly, like the snow that falls over this studio-made Paris, Alain Resnais delivers a soft-spoken masterpiece about love, loneliness, and human relations. In his adaptation of the play by Alan Ayckburn the Nouvelle Vague master grapples with the tough questions in life with taste and a self-contained modesty that befit a director of his stature. Visually spellbinding and beautifully acted, Private Fears in Public Places is a nuanced jewel that exemplifies the creative genius of an artist who, with sixty years of cinema under his belt, still finds new ways to beguile the audience.

9. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Although I hate pretty much everything on horseback (apart from the attached example) Tommy Lee Jones’s border epic kept coming back to mind in the course of the year. At the same time new and old, modern and old-fashioned, this western/southern story of subaltern rancheros touches upon politically relevant issues but packages them in universal values like friendship and loyalty. Having underestimated it at the first viewing, I give it a spot in this top ten exactly because I feel the need to see it again. Despite the fact that it does not star Bo Derek.

10. Romàntico

Probably the best documentary of the year (at least according to me) – and in some way complementary to The Three Burials – Romàntico listens to the migrants, their plights, theirs stories, and their songs. Apparently, The Battle of Algiers was screened in the Pentagon to help fight the war on terror. I suggest that this film is screened for the head of every state who is currently dealing with waves of illegal mass im/e-migrations. Twice daily.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am delighted to see, Alberto, that Miami Vice is ranked so high on your list. Cheers!

7:35 PM  

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