Friday, June 25, 2010

Open wide for some soccer!

I passed Il Duce on the left-hand side last night, and scribbled down a few thoughts right over here.

Meanwhile, it’s World Cup time again, and right on schedule, the entire world has been seized by futbol fever. Well, the parts of the world that aren’t predisposed to hate a sport in which few points are scored and ties are commonplace. Seriously, folks- you’ll go nuts over American football, which alternates 45 seconds of boring waiting for 5 seconds of play, but you whine about a sport in which the ball stays in almost constant motion? What gives?

Anyway, now that the White Elephant is more or less over, it’s time to do something else that’s fun and seasonal here. And with the World Cup heating up (USA! USA!), I hit upon the idea- the World Cup of Cinema! Here’s how it works:

Heading into the Knockout Stages, I’ve made a list of all sixteen of the remaining nations, and then selected a movie to represent each nation. The criteria for selecting these were (1) the movie must have been filmed (in whole or in part) in the represented country, (2) it must be a film I have not seen, and (3) it must be available on DVD for obvious reasons.

Having chosen my sixteen films (see below), I will then wait to see how the tournament pans out. Following the championship game, I will watch the selected title from the winning country and review it for the site.

Sounds pretty easy, I think. It’s a little sad to see that France and Italy aren’t in the mix, since even if their teams are full of prima donnas and crybabies I would like to have an excuse to include one of the Rivette movies I can stream at MUBI and an early Antonioni film in the selection. Still, I like the diversity of this list, which makes me wish I had time to watch more than one, but my schedule being what it is… well, you know. Maybe in four years I’ll find the time for something more ambitious.

Anyway, the titles I’ve selected are:

Argentina (Group B winner) – The Official Story (1985, Luis Puenzo)

Puenzo’s film was one of the critical darlings of 1985, when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and garnered the Best Actress prize for star Norma Aleandro. It then took home the People’s Choice Award at Toronto that year, then won Best Foreign Film awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics’ Association, the Golden Globes, and finally the Oscars. And considering how strong the Argentine team is looking this year, it probably behooves me to pick something good.

Brazil (Group G winner) – Elite Squad (2009, Jose Padilha)

Padilha’s 2002 documentary Bus 174 was one of the finest “nonfiction” films of the past decade, so I’m curious to see what he can do with fiction. Elite Squad was a pretty controversial choice for the Golden Bear at the 2009 Berlinale, with some critics condemning the film as “fascist”. Still, I’m curious to see Padilha take on Brazil’s criminal culture again from a different angle than he explored so vividly in Bus 174.

Chile (Group H runner-up) – Machuca (2004, Andres Wood)

This was one of the few films I could find from Chile, aside from a handful (such as The Maid), which I’ve already seen. Still, the premise- the friendship of two boys set amidst the 1973 coup of Allende- could be promising, unless of course it’s sentimental mush. Could go either way, really.

England (Group C runner-up) – The Servant (1963, Joseph Losey)

Plenty of worthy titles from the UK, so I consulted the BFI’s list of greatest Brit films from a few years back. The two highest-ranked titles I haven’t seen- Kes and Brighton Rock aren’t Netflixable- but this one is, so there you go. This is one I’ve been meaning to watch for years, coming as it did smack dab in the middle of Losey’s most fruitful period, right between Victim and Accident.

Germany (Group D winner) – In a Year of 13 Moons (1978, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

I’ve been working my way through Fassbinder’s filmography over the years, but I’ve always heard that this one is pretty strong meat even by RWF standards, which may explain why I’ve avoided it thusfar. Still, it’s one of the most celebrated of his films, so it’s one I ought to watch sooner or later, so why not now?

Ghana (Group D runner-up) – Cobra Verde (1987, Werner Herzog)

Yeah, yeah- I know that Herzog is German, and Klaus Kinski is hardly even of this Earth. Still, do you know how hard it is to find a movie from Ghana? This one was partially filmed there, so that’s good enough for me. USA! USA!

Japan (Group E runner-up) – Tokyo Olympiad (1965, Kon Ichikawa)

Plenty of great Japanese films I still need to see, but this one seems the best fit for my purposes, considering that it’s a doc about a major international sporting event that happens every four years and all. Plus its rep is pretty stellar, with many critics comparing it to Olympia except more rooted in humanity and with a welcome absence of Nazis. Should be fun.

Mexico (Group A runner-up) – Solo con tu pareja (1991, Alfonso Cuaron)

I originally toyed with the idea of selecting a Santo movie, especially after hearing a coworker professing his love (or at least his childlike affection) for Mexican wrestling pictures. However, after seeing the limited selection of Santo classics on Netflix, I re-evaluated my choice. Fortunately, I’m a fan of Cuaron’s work, especially Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien, so I’m more than a little curious to see his debut effort. That it’s been released on a Criterion DVD just makes me wonder all the more why I’ve been dragging my feet. It’s not Santo, but I’ll take it.

Netherlands (Group E winner) – Soldier of Orange (1977, Paul Verhoeven)

Haven’t seen any Verhoeven films pre-The 4th Man, and of those this one seems the most promising. Like his later Black Book (which was pretty awesome in my opinion) this deals with the Dutch experience in World War II. Plus this being Verhoeven there should be plenty of violence and probably some tits as well. So yeah, awesome.

Paraguay (Group F winner) – Paraguayan Hammock (2006, Paz Encina)

This is the only film I’ve ever heard of from Paraguay, home of legal eyelash implants. It played at Cannes in 2006 where it won the FIPRESCI prize, and has since gotten positive notices elsewhere, placing at the top of Muriels voter Adam Lemke’s list of 2008’s best films. Also, it’s not on DVD, so if anyone can tell me where I might find this I’d greatly appreciate it.

Portugal (Group G runner-up) – In Vanda’s Room (2000, Pedro Costa)

I’m still kind of on the fence about Costa, but there’s no denying that he has a unique vision. This was one of the few of his films I missed at the Wex’s Costa retrospective a few years back, but now that it’s been released on DVD by Criterion I’m willing to give it a shot. Three hours though- yikes.

Slovakia (Group F runner-up) – Zelary (2003, Ondrej Trojan)

Zelary was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2003. However, it was originally submitted by the Czech Republic, not Slovakia. Still, it was filmed almost entirely in Slovakia, so I’ll take it.

South Korea (Group B runner-up) – A Tale of Two Sisters (2003, Kim Ji-woon)

The last decade has seen a surge in strong genre films from South Korea, and one of the most acclaimed is Kim’s atmospheric horror movie. The film was recently selected by Scott Tobias of the A.V. Club for his New Cult Canon column, and it was remade by Hollywood in 2009 as The Uninvited. And I figured that with all the arty stuff flying around I should throw at least a handful of genre movies into the mix, so this seemed a good decision.

Spain (Group H winner) – Blood Wedding (1981, Carlos Saura)

Saura is one of Spain’s best-known filmmakers, but aside from a few recent films and his classic Cria Cuervos, I’m woefully underversed in his work. Blood Wedding is the first and perhaps best-known of his so-called “Flamenco Trilogy,” and was released a few years back in a supposedly gorgeous Eclipse box set. Seems as good a place to delve deeper into Saura as any, methinks.

Uruguay (Group A winner) – The Pope’s Toilet (2007, Cesar Charlone / Enrique Fernandez)

This crowd-pleaser, co-directed by the Oscar-nominated cinematographer of City of God, played in both the 2007 Un Certain Regard and that year’s Toronto Film Festival, where it got largely positive reviews. It was also a Film Movement release. But honestly, it’s mostly here because it’s one of the few Uruguayan films available through Netflix, along with Whisky, which I’ve already seen.

And finally…

USA! USA! (Group C winner) – Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966, Harold P. Warren)

Back when wannabe auteur was paying off his cast and crew with “shares” in the film after he ran out of money, no one could possibly have imagined that Manos: The Hands of Fate would become, after a fashion, a pop-culture phenomenon. Ever since it was voted “worst movie ever” by the brain trust as MST3K, Manos has become a cult classic among aficionados of bad movies, much like Plan 9 From Outer Space before it and The Room after it. It currently sits at #8 on the IMDb’s Bottom 100, which means that should USA somehow survive a Knockout Stage that will potentially pit them against Brazil or the Netherlands (to say nothing of the other half the bracket), I’ll be able to watch and review this before Scott “Mr. Unwatchable” Von Doviak gets the chance. Woohoo! USA! USA!

Finally, here’s the matchups for the Round of 16, which begins this weekend:

Saturday, 26 July
Uruguay (The Pope’s Toilet) vs. South Korea (A Tale of Two Sisters)
USA! USA! (Manos: The Hands of Fate) vs. Ghana (Cobra Verde)

Sunday, 27 July
Germany (In a Year With 13 Moons) vs. England (The Servant)
Argentina (The Official Story) vs. Mexico (Solo con tu pareja)

Monday, 28 July
Netherlands (Soldier of Orange) vs. Slovakia (Zelary)
Brazil (Elite Squad) vs. Chile (Machuca)

Tuesday, 29 July
Paraguay (Paraguayan Hammock) vs. Japan (Tokyo Olympiad)
Spain (Blood Wedding) vs. Portugal (In Vanda’s Room)

So, who are you rooting for? Sound off in the comments.

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