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A taste of lemon, a whiff of ash...

With departure for Cannes only days away, the specter of drifting volcano ash inspires its own shivery anticipation of the festival, and not in a good way.  Cannes is a convention city year around, and a new festival or international congress moves in pretty much as soon as the previous one moves out.  It's not like you could extend your hotel stay on the spur of the moment, and at Riviera prices, who would want to?

I'm hoping the only eruptions are of the cinematic kind.  For two weeks every May, the Cannes Film Festival is like a volcano blowing its top, spewing new movies day and night.  In view of this massive flow, it's a rather silly insiders' game to speculate on good years vs. bad years.   With hundreds of films to choose from, taking into account the official selections and the film market, this huge festival is what you make it.  Every year is a good year.  Looking for great art?  There's always some to be found.  Looking for low-down-sleaze?  There's more of that than you even want to know about.  Looking for new films from Latvia, for instance?  Take your pick, and get the scoop on the state of the Latvian film industry from an eager sales agent while you're at it.

Every year as Cannes looms, I'm reminded of the puckish advice of British director Mike Leigh ("Happy-Go-Lucky," "Vera Drake"), pronounced many years ago when he was on the festival jury. At the jury press conference, Leigh was asked about his expectations. "The festival is like a lemon," he said, "you just have to suck it and see how it tastes." As luck would have it, Leigh will be premiering his new film "Another Year" in the competition. I'm looking forward to seeing what flavor this one adds to the festival.

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Consensus? Mulholland Dr. is LA Film Critics' movie of the decade, too

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Critical polls conducted by Film Comment, indieWIRE, the Village Voice/LA Weekly, Cahiers du Cinéma and now the Los Angeles Film Critics Association have all chosen David Lynch's 2001 "Mulholland Dr." as the best movie of the decade.

UPDATE 2/12/10: The Muriels and Slant Magazine also choose "Mulholland Dr." as best of the Aughts.

Full list below...

Justin Chang writes at LAFCA.net:

Call us provincial -- David Lynch's psychoerotic noir is one of the essential L.A. movies -- but the more significant reason for the film's enduring critical favor may be its deconstruction of the toxic allure of the Dream Factory. "Mulholland Dr." projects an ambivalence toward Hollywood with which almost any critic can identify: Moving images have the power to seduce and move us, but many of them are the products of a system that routinely turns dreams into nightmares and artists into meat. Famously salvaged from a rejected TV pilot, Lynch's film stands as both a cautionary tale and a mascot for the triumph of art and personal vision in an industry that, from where we sit, often seems actively devoted to the suppression of both. [...]

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More film polls: Top 150 of Decade, Top 160 of 2009...

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Ow, my brain hurts. So, let's just get these out of the way, shall we? In the annual Village Voice/LA Weekly Film Poll, announced just before Christmas, 94 critics (including me) came up with 160 nominations for best films of 2009 -- and voted in a bunch of other categories, too, including Best Film of the Decade ("Mulholland Dr."). [My decade favorites are here.]

Meanwhile, Film Comment polled another big batch o' crix (a lot of the same ones, in fact) and came up with a somewhat different 20 Best of 2009 list -- and 150 Best Films of the Decade (topped by... "Mulholland Dr."). Just for fun, let us compare the two groups' Top Dozen for both year and decade:

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Losing control, or ceding control, or not...

Mr. Lazarescu pukes blood strings on his living room rug. He is not at all well.

Critics, filmmakers and pundits have been writing quite a bit over the last few years about what "digital" means for the future of cinema, and about the sorry state of the audience for foreign language films (not just distribution and exhibition, but demand) in the United States in the age of the DVD. Much of this speculative writing has been hopelessly vague and rather dismal -- and, in some cases, I don't think the writers really understand what they're talking about. But for every dozen "digital doomsday" observations, there's a concrete insight that's worth considering.

I'd like to take excerpts from three recent pieces and follow a thread that I think connects them:

David Denby, The New Yorker (January 8, 2007): In a theatre, you submit to a screen; you want to be mastered by it, not struggle to get cozy with it. Of course, no one will ever be forced to look at movies on a pipsqueak display—at home, most grownups will look at downloaded films on a computer screen, or they’ll transfer them to a big flat-screen TV. Yet the video iPod and other handheld devices are being sold as movie-exhibition spaces, and they certainly will function that way for kids. According to home-entertainment specialists I spoke to in Hollywood, many kids are “platform agnostic”—that is, they will look at movies on any screen at all, large or small. A.O. Scott, The New York Times (January 21, 2006):The [National Society of Film Critics] vote stands out a bit amid all this welter because its top three choices for best picture of the year were all movies in languages other than English. The third-place finisher was Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” which is in Japanese; the runner-up was “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” a Romanian film directed by Cristi Puiu; and the winner, by a narrow margin, was “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Guillermo del Toro’s tale of magic and malevolence in 1940s Spain. [NOTE: Subsequently, the mostly-foreign-language films "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Babel" were nominated for Best Picture Oscars, while "Pan's Labyrinth" received six nominations, including Best Foreign Language Film.]

The honors bestowed on those three movies, not only by the National Society of Film Critics, might be taken as evidence that foreign films are flourishing.... The movies are out there, more numerous and various than ever before, but the audience — and therefore the box-office returns, and the willingness of distributors to risk even relatively small sums on North American distribution rights — seems to be dwindling and scattering. For every movie that manages to solicit a brief flicker of attention, there are dozens that will be seen only at film festivals or on region-free DVD players.

David Lynch, in his book "Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity" (published December 28, 2006): I'm through with film as a medium. For me, film is dead. If you look at what people all over the world are taking still pictures with now, you begin to see what's going to happen. I'm shooting in digital video now and I love it. [...]

How we see films is changing.... A tiny little picture, instead of a giant big picture, is going to be how people see films. And the good news: At least people will have their headphones. Sound will become, I think, even more important.... The whole thing is, when those curtains open up, and the lights go down, we must be able to go into that world. And it many ways, it's getting very difficult to go into a world. People talk so much in theaters. And there's a tiny, crummy little picture. How do you get the experience?

I think it's going to be a bit of a bumpy road. But the possibility is there for very clean pictures -- no scratches, no dirt, no water marks, no tearing -- and an image that can be controlled in an infinite number of ways. If you take care of how you show a film, it can be a beautiful experience that lets you go into a world. We're still working out ways for that to happen. But digital is here; the video iPod is here; we've just got to get real and go with the flow. I think Lynch, Scott and Denby are all correct in what they say above. Although elsewhere in his piece, Denby oversells an idealized view of "the theatrical experience" (which "theatrical experience"?) as if all 16mm, 35mm and/or 70mm (or VistaVision or Todd A-O or IMAX) presentations were the same: The Best Of All Possible Ways To See A Movie. The most important thing, as I think all of us would agree, is that the audience feel able to submit to the film. We may fight it, we may be unwilling to go where the film wants to take us, but we should, as Lynch says, be allowed to "go into that world."

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