When it comes to end of year top tens, I find the undistributed lists far more interesting (and useful) than the standard ones which, naturally, have a lot of overlap. Learning about a film that's been tucked away at festivals or simply never found its way to these shores is (for me, at least) endlessly fascinating, especially when the recommendation comes from someone whose taste you trust.
Between festivals, film markets, submissions to Benten, and the luxury of living in NYC, I'm afforded many opportunities to see films that might never find US distribution. If I had my way (and an endless supply of cash) I'd happily acquire and distribute all of the below. As it stands, one or two are strong possibilities. Fingers crossed.
I'm adhering to the IndieWire Poll rules for my list, which disqualifies any film that has a US distributor, even if no release date is set. This means that Erick Zonca's Julia, still one of my favorites of the year, will not appear on the list below.
In ranked order, my top ten undistributed films of 2008 are:
- Du Levande (You, The Living), Roy Andersson, Sweden
The second best film I saw this year, and one that will find a permanent place on my all-time favorites list. Andersson's surreal series of vignettes is aesthetically similar to 2000's Songs From the Second Floor, but tonally its antipode. Andersson calls this "a film about the grandeur of existing", and there are no better words to describe this occasionally joyous, life-affirming masterpiece.
- Sparrow, Johnnie To, Hong Kong
The prolific Johnnie To takes a break from guns and gangsters to create a wonderful homage to both Jacques Demy and Hong Kong itself. A musical without songs, this film had me smiling from the first frame to the last.
- Night and Day, Hong Sang-soo, Korea
- Tony Manero, Pablo Larrain, Chile
Larrain's darker than dark portrait of Pinochet-era Chile is bleak, disturbing, and brilliant. Did I mention it's dark? I recorded a podcast about the film with Aaron Hillis and Time Out film critic David Fear that can be heard here.
- United Red Army, Koji Wakamatsu, Japan
Wakamatsu's three-hour docudrama about Japan's notorious leftist guerilla group is as brutal as the beatings its members inflict upon themselves. See Danny Kasman's excellent review over at The Auteurs.
- Jesus Christus Erlöser (Jesus Christ Savior), Peter Geyer, Germany
1971. Klaus Kinski stands alone on a stage in front of 5000 people and attempts to read his own version of the New Testament. Things don't go well. Klaus has tantrums. Chaos ensues. The screening in Berlin was made even better thanks to Jurgen's smuggled flask of Absinthe.
- Voy a Explotar (I'm Gonna Explode), Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico
- Guest of Cindy Sherman, Tom Donahue/Paul H-O, USA
One of the best films at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, this candid, confessional documentary about co-director Paul H-O's now-defunct relationship with photographer Cindy Sherman is surprisingly moving, and an interesting study of both the NY art world and what it's like to be a celebrity's "plus one."
- Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Sacha Gervasi, Canada
I have to admit that for the first ten or fifteen minutes I was convinced this was a Spinal Tap-esque mockumentary. (That one of the band members is named Robb Reiner certainly didn't help me think otherwise.) Yet Sacha Gervasi's doc about a once-famous heavy metal band that is determined to make it big for a second time is both a funny and touching underdog story, with just the right amount of pathos. One of the few movies this year that made me well up.
- Chugyeogja (The Chaser), Na Hong-jin, Korea
Like Memories of Murder and The Host, The Chaser is yet another example of how Korean cinema excels at transforming and transcending genre. A smartly written, thoroughly unpredictable thriller that, save for a few minutes near the end, never succumbs to cliché. Both humorous and horrifying, it becomes that much more impressive when you realize it's director Na Hong-jin's first film. Halfway through I found myself wondering why Hollywood hasn't bought the rights yet. Oh wait, they have. With Leonardo, no less. Sigh.