Idiot Savant Online

John Lichman's third attempt at a personal blog and online savanting idiotic.

An Idiot Savant’s Online Top Ten of 2010

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On a personal level, 2010 was kind of awesome. It marked the first time I went to Sundance and SXSW. Unfortunately, it also saw me being laid off from a gig I enjoyed and move back in with my folks when I couldn’t get another job in Los Angeles.

Then I started a production company (based on what someone read on my Twitter) and then I folded the same company once I didn’t want to sink a few thousand dollars into a conceptual idea not fleshed out. So it was both the positive and negative amounts of awesome throughout the big one-oh. But assembled here are some of the films that stuck out most for me over the year while I was an employed film writer/producer before becoming freelance and finally just being a guy who lived at home and barely can go to the multiplex. Sad trombone, no? Well, in the words of my forefathers, fuck that noise. Here’s my personal choices of ’10.

[TIE]10. FRED: The Movie/Trash Humpers
Dir. Clay Weiner/Harmony Korine

No films better asked an assembled audience, “what do you expect from us?” Horrified auteurs and festival attendees at 2009’s Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival muttered just that as the “found footage” of Trash Humpers unspooled in front of them demanding they “make it make it DON’T FAKE IT” or “FUCK IT FUCK IT DON’T SUCK IT.” Pretty simple, no? But Harmony Korine’s ode to dread was a legitimate cinematic experience when it finally got a DVD and roadshow release in 2010. Not the type of gore spectacle foretold by A Serbian Film, Trash Humpers is an ‘oughts-view back into the time when found footage meant more than searching for “stunts” on YouTube. It’s a dark glimpse into a world populated with freaks and weirdos that we don’t want to admit is more real than newborn porn or another Saw film. Korine’s lo-fi esthetics prove the classics ain’t ever got a style, but they do–and we do too (nor can I help paraphrasing The Refused.)
Conversely, the best “current” esthetic that inherits Korine’s verite-by-way-of-fuck-you format is the character of Fred Figglehorn. A hyperactive, high-pitched construct for YouTube by Lucas Cruikshank, Fred is a child of the Internet (and a heavily implied broken home) searching for some form of acceptance. And what better way to do that than by bleating your heart out on stupid shit across a webcam? FRED: THE MOVIE takes the meta-nature further: Fred (still Cruikshank) is now in high school, in love with neighbor Lucy (British pop songster Pixie Idol who doesn’t bother to remove her accent) and lives in fear of the school bully, Kevin, who takes the time to shout, “I RUN THIS CUL-DE-SAC,” which he does across from Fred’s own home. From there it degenerates into a mixture of subtle class commentary (Fred has never seen a Mexican, has never left the suburbs) and almost presents itself as a hyperactive response on how found footage became doctored into the viral web hits YouTube is famous for privatizing. There is no better double feature to see our transition of video consumption than Trash Humpers followed by FRED: THE MOVIE.

8. Sweetgrass
Dirs. Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor

How do you convince an audience that your film is culturally and socially relevant in a market where jobs are in decline and you represent actual American tradition? That’s a great question and one Sweetgrass never got around to figuring out. Perhaps the best documentary about the end of classical americana when it comes to employment, this 2+ hour take on sheep herding is both relaxing and utterly exhausting. It drags you through the daily chores while showing how draining the job can be. While Castaing-Taylor did the brunt of shooting compared to Barbash’s producing, this is one of the most majestic and engrossing films to explore employment over the last year.

7. Lovers Of Hate
Dir. Bryan Poyser

A pure product of Sundance/SXSW or something greater? Lovers of Hate is a simplistic idea of a three-way love story that gets turned around thanks to a creative force in the form of Bryan Poyser and leads Alex Karpovsky, Chris Doubek (whose Sundance stories are the stuff of legend) and Heather Kafka. Honestly, it’s probably one of the most entertaining films of the year and Doubek is a fucking powerhouse in this. I also keep the press notes/comic in a shadowbox with my Trash Humpers notes–a minor perk. I also drunkenly accosted Poyser during SXSW 2010 by saying “I lost my job but your movie is fucking awesome. I wan to be Chris Doubek when I grow up!” Not the best thing to say, but the point remains: I want to be Doubek when I grow up.

6. The Ghost Writer
Dir. Roman Polanski

Aka “THE FILM WHERE EWAN McGREGOR IS LED AROUND BY HIS NOSE SO A MASTER CRAFTSMAN CAN HONE HIS SKILL, PRESENT A PLOT AND EXPLAIN THAT HE HAS YET TO LOSE ‘IT’ WHILE PRESENTING AN ALLEGORICAL REPRESENTATION OF GORDON BROWN AND TONY BLAIR AS A SINGLE COMPOSITE CHARACTER.” Of course, that title was too long. Now for fun trivia: second week at The Rotten Tomatoes Show we were told by our EP that one of our hosts would fly out to Europe to meet Roman Polanski because he wanted to use Current as the news channel announcing the “major news.” Instead of payment, he’d agree to an on-camera interview sans stipulations. Then, of course, the whole Los Angeles DA stuff broke and the negotiations died. In the final cut, he used a CNN composite. But it was a rough few hours in the office since, “why can’t we ask about the rape” was brought up more than once. Also: “I don’t feel comfortable interviewing him if he’s going to dangle this over our heads.” But it went away, we forgot about it and then The Ghost Writer wound up as one of the more fun thrillers of the year.

5. The Wild Grass
Dir. Alain Renais

An ode to the power of cinema and cat crunchy absurdism, The Wild Grass is like a pinball ricocheting off every bumper known to man in the film world. I’d go into it a bit more, but you may as well listen/download an old Grassroots Podcast from NYFF 2009 when we (i.e. myself, Vadim Rizov, Glenn Kenny and Keith Uhlich) discussed it.

4. The Social Network
Dir. David Fincher

Commercials these days tout this as “the film heralded by more than 350 critics as the film of the year!” For good reason, David Fincher’s Network is a stylish and utterly crisp method of stylization. The breath is CGI and its plot is a culmination of theory and vaguely defined reality under Aaron Sorkin’s breathless delivery. This is the world Fincher hinted at making and only glimpsed within Zodiac–now it’s dialed past 11.A zeitgeist film if there ever was a reason to spew incessant praising adjectives and king rat of more than a few critical organization’s Best Of lists. Network seemingly has crowned the next five years of Who’s Who among Jesse Eisenberg (you know, the kid from Cursed), Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer(s).

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Dir. Edgar Wright

Speaking of fun terms like “zeitgeist” and “CGI,” Edgar Wright continues to show he’s going to out-“Cameron Crowe” Cameron Crowe in the next few years. An adaptation of a seven-part comic by Bryan Lee O’Mally, Scott Pilgrim relied wholly on its visual interpretation: Michael Cera as Pilgrim seemingly playing the role he built for himself on Arrested Development and Superbad. Ditto for Schwartzman. Pilgrim took its references from everywhere in the nostalgia handbook–causing a rare bit of confusion among a mainstream audience. While cultural critics could lovingly fawn over the use of Zelda’s theme, others wondered what that 8-bit crap was. Then came the inevitable backlash: “too many people saw the film for free,” Internet Neckbeards proclaimed as if to explain why the film/concept marketed for them did so poorly. But it’s very clear: it didn’t do poorly. Scott Pilgrim is beloved by those that understand it. Going by the dove-tail for “OTAKU” that’s such a popular buzzterm these days this week it’ll be equally beloved by the masses in a few months. Wright is a perfect voice for a tuned-in-yet-eternally-on generation that uploads the best fights from his own film in YouTube friendly bites. Then again, being an otaku sucks.

2. Hadewjich
Dir. Bruno Dumont

My first Dumont was an amazing surprise. Back in Alice Tully Hall I was given a Dumont primer by Glenn Kenny and, earlier at the coffee/pastry troughs, Andrew Grant. I steeled myself for the inevitable rape sequence, the denying God while the heroine stared into the eye and brutal atrocities washed across the screen. Instead I received a film that demanded answers about faith and would be willing to go to any lengths for a definition, spanning culture, gender and classification of its ending. I’m terribly poor with classifying best actors, but Julie Sokolowski is incredible. She sucks you into her search and–if you’re familiar with Dumont–you become desperately concerned with what she’s getting herself into. It hurts to say, but Hadewijch keeps me from checking out Dumont’s earlier works just because I want to keep this work pure in my head of what can be expected from a director.

But I feel like we did this better as a podcast, again, when Vadim, myself and Dan Sallitt discussed it and Around A Small Mountain back at Grassroots (listen/download here.)

1. Red White & Blue
Dir. Simon Rumley

You’ll be hard pressed to find a better modern western than this: a love story set against the type of Austin Robert Rodriguez has long abandoned for green screen robots. Taking a very Doom Generation vibe, we start out with the black widow Erica, meet punker Franki and finally get introduced to Nate–one of the best roles Noah Taylor could ever strut and pick his teeth through. Of course, this is an idealized landscape of Austin re-imagined through quick cuts and a three-act structure that seems to twist a new knife in with each introduction. It’s been a long time since I re-watched it, but the final shot fading out against a fire in the desert is one of my favorite endings this year against the one I stole from Kevin Lee (Eccentricities Of A Blonde-Haired Girl).

Honorable Mentions:

A Serbian Film

This film erupted at SXSW 2010 and immediately became the biggest “WTF” gross-out film of the year. While a lot of folks (myself included) left the Alamo Lamar with newborn porn fuzzy in our heads, A Serbian Film would quickly become a film whose popularity and word-of-mouth discussion that fizzled out in an age of torrenting. The film literally has no chance of a theatrical release in the US since the director/producers have issued a strict claim they won’t edit for content (and it doesn’t hurt they keep asking for a very large sum of money that no distributor will make back.) Unfortunately, the more one gives A Serbian Film thought the more the film’s grotesque and obscene moments lose their edge, even if we’re to assume Serbia’s own people feel like unwilling members of a gonzo porno. The film falls apart aside from one of the more graphic deaths by asphyxiation. But there’s nothing here aside from some catchphrases and scenes that are better suited for some YouTube video with the title “MOST EXTREME DEATHES EVAR!!!” cut beside the money shots from Martyrs and Saw.

The Perfect Host

Another unreleased festival film. It’s got a lot of negatives stacked against it (hackney plot, something that could be condensed to 30 min for The Twilight Zone) but there’s just something so utterly wondrous about David Hyde Pierce getting to portray a deceptive dinner host who turns the tables on a desperate crook. It literally begs a rep theater programming to offer dinner party, murder mystery and screening.

Tetsuo The Bullet Man

Purely for the Shinya Tsukamoto completist in your own family. I grew up on Tetsuo: The Iron Man when a friend asked me if I wanted to see “fucked up shit” and then marathoned it alongside The Doom Generation and Eraserhead. After getting further and further into tokusatsu genre as a whole, Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo concept stuck with me. An attempt at giving Katsuhiro Otomo’s character from Akira flesh, the human body remains a deep fascination with Tsukamoto’s work as a whole. Tokyo Fist gave up on metal transformations for the physical by way of physical activity and Nightmare Detective chose to focus on the hypothetical changes given by suggestion and dreaming. But it was his Tetsuo concept that launched Tsukamoto into a global auteurdom by exploring the body through modification, a trend which at this point was like claiming you ate babies and made handicrafts with their viscera.

And yet, as the series progressed, Tsukamoto became more distant from his work and seemed only to realize that brand marketability overshadowed his other works (Tokyo Fist, Vital, the Weinstein fiasco that resulted in Nightmare Detective.) Tetsuo the series became a transforming version of Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive concept: the end of the first and second film, TETSUO II: BODY HAMMER, resulted in the apocalypse of a world under technology. The second film hinted at a world in which family became secondary to the power of a gun. And The Bullet Man…I saw it at Tribeca in April. I went to the press Q&A with Tsukamoto and amidst a crowded room of horror site writers and sci-fi folks I asked if this was a response to accepting a culture that was accepting of technology. I threw in a bunch of more stuff about modernity, family concepts and some other grad-school wankery bullshit. More than once through the translator, Tsukamoto nodded and finally when “happier apocalypse” was mentioned he laughed and said,

“Yes. Yes, I like all of those ideas. So yes, please attribute them to this film.”

Watching a director/writer you admire and realizing he had made this film purely to bank on his previous films is a crushing experience when he sits only inches away from you.

Restrepo

My first ever Sundance film. It’s also a doc whose access and editing remains so utterly offensive to me based on what it was supposed to represent and how it was screened. That’s it.

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