I’ll begin by apologizing for my tardiness as festival fatigue has finally worn off following its conclusion. I saw a total of fifteen films at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival, most of which were well worth seeing barring a couple of duds. This sheer volume of viewing paired with my continuing obsession with comparing my opinions with others’ yielded something fruitful, more specifically an overarching moment of self-reflection regarding my personal tastes. I’ve further distanced myself from past fears of harboring dissenting opinions, and thankfully, I feel much more confident in ironing out the criteria to befit my growing canon of personal favorites. Catching up with wide-release fare I’ve missed throughout the festival’s duration will prove tiresome, but I plan on eliminating a few blind spots in between these viewings whenever possible. Feel free to check out my ranked list of everything I saw at PFF24 here.
Mountains May Depart is Jia Zhangke’s insular tale of life and love spanning three consecutive time periods. Beginning with a focus on a love triangle between young Tao (Zhao Tao) and two potential male suitors – one a white collar coal miner, the other a wealthy investor – the film transitions to the present before coming to a close in the year 2025. As time goes by, these same individuals drift in and out of each others’ lives as organically evolving change becomes something of a centerpiece, for better and for worse.
For those familiar with A Touch of Sin, let it be known that his latest is a drastic departure in terms of subjectivity and tone. Mountains May Depart is a wholly accessible yarn steeped in basic human relationships and the ebb and flow of life itself. Shot in three different aspect ratios indicative of the time period in question, Jia’s decidedly slight illustration of each scenario exudes earnest sympathetic vibes that help transcend the banality of the various goings-on.
The nuanced advancement of the narrative from scene to scene feels a bit sluggish given the ordinary disposition of what transpires, however the sensitivity directed toward the film’s subjects is enough to procure and sustain our respective investment levels. With the first two-thirds being entirely enjoyable, viewers will undoubtedly have a hard time transitioning into a final third that features a hokey, English-speaking teenage Dollar and Sylvia Chang’s Mia: Dollar’s teacher and soon-to-be lover. Barring the quality of the central performance, investment rarely dwindles as Dollar’s existential uncertainty as a burgeoning adult rounds out the platter of life’s messiness that the film employs as its thematic through line.
It’s easy to pinpoint why Mountains May Depart‘s existence as an ostensibly run-of-the-mill character drama could earn a fair share of detractors. The success of Jia’s latest is immediately contingent upon our respective investment levels and, despite a palpable earnestness and uniqueness of presentation from segment to segment, what transpires consciously sidesteps melodrama to remain low key albeit effective. There’s little to read into, but to be honest, this slice of unfettered human interconnectivity through the times hit nearly all the right notes despite the predictably varying quality of its entirety.
This year’s festival circuit has yielded quite the crop of talent. From reemerging masters to fledgling auteurs, this fall season has me itching to see what many already have. I’ve done my best to avoid spoilers as I steadfastly compiled a list of what I’d most like to see at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival, of which begins this Thursday with two back-to-back screenings of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa. I’ll be attending the earlier of the two thanks to the convenience offered by my work schedule, and throughout the ten days that follow I’ll be seeing an additional fourteen films. Part of me is questioning my resolve in relation to the task at hand, then again I live here and am offered the luxury of being able to space these screenings out accordingly to much of my own excitement. I invite you to peruse my full schedule below as well as my list ranking of everything I’ve seen this year thus far here.
Hello everyone, and welcome to my not-so-punctual list of the best films that I saw throughout the year 2013! For a second consecutive time, I ventured out to Toronto, Canada for a predictably lauded TIFF experience – once that you folks have likely recognized as one of note given my discussion of many a worthwhile film. As always, the films I saw last year – regardless of a scheduled 2014 theatrical release – are eligible by default for this list’s consideration. So, without further adieu, I now present to the list you’ve been (or haven’t been) waiting for!
NOTE: While everything I’ve reviewed already has been paired with an excerpt from said reviews, let it be known that I still feel the same way about each of these films with the exception of 12 Years of a Slave, of which has grown on me since my initial viewing of it. That being said, click on the images to read my full-length reviews (where applicable)!
If you’ll forgive my purposeful tardiness, I’ve decided to dedicate this past month’s retrospective to my second consecutive TIFF venture, during which I had the pleasure of viewing a total of ten films in the company of friends both new and old. Confidently honing a requisite sum of festival knowledge, this year’s festival turned out to be one hell of a well-rounded experience as fun was had both in and outside of varying featured venues. From insightful Q&As laden with celebrity eye candy and pleasant surprises to simply enjoying a good meal in between, TIFF 2013 assuredly served as an ample perpetuating precursor for my now insatiable festival appetite. That being said, I’ve ranked my top five viewings in order from “liked” to “loved,” so feel free to click here to peruse my musings on them and everything else!
Other first-time viewings (in alphabetical order):
Adore (Fontaine, ’13)
Blind Detective (To, ’13)
Gravity (Cuarón, ’13)
Night Moves (Reichardt, ’13)
The Paperboy (Daniels, ’12)
Prisoners (Villeneuve, ’13)
Putty Hill (Porterfield, ’10)
The Sacrament (West, ’13)
Stray Dogs (Tsai, ’13)
We Own the Night (Gray, ’07)
Total number of films watched (including re-watches): 13
A stylistically polarizing effort, A Touch of Sin travels the path of least resistance in exploring socioeconomic and political unrest in mainland China, intermittently employing wuxia ideologies among sporadic bits of violent brutality. Skillfully woven together, a series of four distinct vignettes are told in succession, each of which sport their own sense of discernible individuality as basal unifying nods to each other exist to emphasize the wraparound misfortune of these respective livelihoods. From initially and unsuccessfully tackling local corruption in a peaceful manner to supporting one’s family any which way he can, the aforementioned violent outbursts rarely seem out of place as desperate final means of righting what’s wrong.
Narratively speaking, A Touch of Sin rarely breaks new thematic ground as it opts to instead play the sympathy card, our establishment of substantial or tenuous emotional bonds with the central characters playing a heavier-than-average role. Needless to say, the film’s aptly humanistic flair overpowers agreeably thin jabs at cultural commentary, most of which serve only to justify the necessarily brash last-ditch efforts these individuals are driven to take. An appropriately nuanced melancholic tone forgoes unevenness, mirroring the film’s unilateral intentions in addressing its easily identifiable inspirations.
As a unified whole, the film decidedly sidesteps propaganda to embrace an accessible, frequently hard-hitting emotional underbelly. Tapping into the psyche of the affected civilians at its core, A Touch of Sin is a fine example of solid, region-centric storytelling that asserts its strengths over that which the more critical could – and will – predictably gripe about. Whether you do or don’t condone the jarring violence permeating each bout of conflict resolution, A Touch of Sin‘s presentational confidence and effectiveness transform it into an identifiably engaging effort, even despite the issue of segmented narratives varying in terms of the strength of their parts.
As of approximately 10:30 EST Friday morning, folks, it’s official – my 10-ticket package for this year’s TIFF has been redeemed, prompting me to share with you the specifics of my upcoming festival experience. Having already familiarized myself with the art of film selection and once foreign Canadian geography, my sophomore stint has thus far yielded a larger amount of smooth sailing throughout the somewhat extensive pre-planning process. Now confident in my ability to enjoy the festival to the fullest, here’s the full eclectic list of screenings I’ve chosen to attend: