Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ben Armington's Two Eyes

Since my own two eyes were not nearly enough to see and evaluate all the repertory/revival film screenings here on Frisco Bay, I'm honored to present local filmgoers' lists of the year's favorites. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from cinephile and four-time IOHTE contributor Ben Armington, Box Office Emeritus:


This was a strange year in that I spent more movie going time watching general release movies than bathing in the tremulous glow of fine bay area rep programming. This means that I saw Gaspar Noe's punishing Enter The Void twice and a White Material / Burlesque double feature but somehow missed the boat on nigh complete retros on masters like Rosi and Monteiro at the PFA, early Chaplin at the Castro, the landmark Radical Light series, and pretty much everything at the YBCA. I am happy to note that the Roxie theater, where I sometimes work, has been stepping up with some great, inventive programming, including a couple of tantalizing noirish series spearheaded by Eliot Levine.

1. Bad Lieutanent / Blue Collar (Roxie, Not Neccesarily Noir Series)

Twin trips to a singularly personal hell that capture a versimillitude rarely seen on the big screen. I still think of the end of Blue Collar everytime someone complains to me about their towheaded boss' lame antics. Awesome soundtracks as well, by Schooly D and Jack Nitschze respectively. The best double feature of the year.

2. To Have and Have Not (Paramount Theater)

Getting a chance to see a Hawks' picture at the gorgeous Paramount theater would be a high point of any year. I think this was Bogie and Bacall's first movie together, and, regardless, you're pretty much watching them fall in love on screen. Before the movie, Paramount employees carted a large 'wheel of fortune' wheel on stage and gave out raffle prizes, mostly gift certificates to local businesses. The ticket price was $5.

3. Pandora and The Flying Dutchmen (PFA)

A wonderful, unique romantic fantasia etched in bold technicolor that revels in it's Lost Generation literateness and plays like a hollywood version of The Saragossa Manuscript, You completely believe that poets would commit suicide over Ava Gardner.

4. Metropolis (Viz Cinema, Another Hole in the Head Fest)

Reliable rep warhorse Metropolis got a new lease on life with the release of a magnifent new cut with restored scenes, but the real find for me was Giorgio Morodor's 'remix' from the 1980s, which shortens, tints and tarts the film up with glorious wall to wall synth rock. It plays like a passionate, incoherent fever dream of Fritz Lang's classic, and was something to behold.

5. Jennifer's Body (Castro, Midnite for Maniacs)

An imperfect but hugely enjoyable movie that kind of does for vampires what Ginger Snaps did for werewolves. The gore was memorably gruesome and inventively deployed, and Megan Fox, who knew? The pre-screening interview with pregnant producer/screenwriter Diablo Cody was utterly charming, informative and free of pretension.

6. The Thing / Videodrome (Castro)

Carpenter and Cronenberg at the height of their powers, awe-inspiring on the Castro screen. Long live the new flesh!

7. Day of Wrath / Vivre Sa Vie (PFA)

The first section of Day of Wrath, detailing the trial and torture of an elderly woman suspected of being a witch is haunting and profound in an almost supernatural way. Not to be repetitive, but... Dreyer and Godard at the height of their powers, awe-inspiring at the no-popcorn-crunching PFA. Also: Anna Karina!

8. Nightmare / Mark of the Whistler (Roxie, I Still Wake Up Dreaming series)

These two films were actually pretty mediocre, but they stuck with me as superb distillations of author Cornell Woolrich's talent for twists of fate that are staggering in their cruel logic and pitiless view of human nature, not to mention frequent forehead-slapping implausability. Of course, the movies soften Woolrich's harsher edges, but this stuff can still really take you out at the knees.

9. The Witches (Castro, Matinee for Maniacs)

Truly frightening as only a children's movie can be, this Roald Dahl adaptation by the man who brought you Bad Timing succeds on many levels. For me, Anjelica Huston's balls-out diva turn as the witch queen and the flesh-rending transformation scenes were amazing but the ending, where the boy seems to have found contentment as a mouse only then to be returned to human form, was a real heartbreaker and genuinely moving. Produced by the great Jim Henson.

10. Wake in Fright (Clay Theatre, SFIFF)

I went to this expecting an ultraviolent thriller in the Road Warrior mold, and was instead treated to a bleak outback Lost Weekend complete with controversial kangaroo wrestling and drunken Donald Pleasance. A mean little movie that was nonetheless fascinating.

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