With less than a month to go before top ten lists are due, time is running out to catch up with the best movies of the year. From now until the end of December, I'll be posting weekly updates about what I watch and whether I think it stands a chance to make my -- or your -- best films of 2012. This week I watched:
Girl Walk // All Day
Directed by Jacob Krupnick
Criticwire Average: A- (out of 4 critics)
This film had completely slipped under my radar until Movies.com's David Ehrlich started tweeting up a storm about it earlier this week, demanding Criticwire add star Anne Marsen to the list of candidates for best actress in our year-end critics poll. 70 minutes later, I understood his enthusiasm; this delightful tribute to dance and New York City is the most infectiously joyous movie I've seen in a long time. There's little plot and less dialogue; we simply observe The Girl (Marsen) as she flips out during a ballet class and then dances out into the street to the sounds of Girl Talk's "All Day" album, boogieing onto the Staten Island Ferry and then up through lower Manhattan, Midtown, and even Yankee Stadium. Along the way she crosses paths with the robo-hoofing Creep (John Doyle) and the tap-dancing Gentleman (Dai Omiya); almost everyone else she encounters are actual New Yorkers caught in their daily lives, and whose honest reactions to Marsen's bubbly energy and frenetic moves form a significant percentage of the pleasures of this one-of-a-kind blend of old school musical, viral video, and "Jackass" prank. Director Jacob Krupnick funded the film on Kickstarter, and with the benefit of hindsight we may someday look back at "Girl Walk // All Day" as the ultimate Kickstarter film, not only because it's glorious, exuberant fun, but also because its narrative -- an artist presenting their private obsession in the public sphere, where the audience can either reject or embrace and support it -- is a perfect metaphor for the act of making a movie through crowdfunding websites.
Will it Wind Up on my Top Ten List? It just might.
Could It End Up On Yours? I hope so.
Where Can You Watch It? You can watch the entire film at GirlWalkAllDay.com. I've embedded the first chapter below.
How to Survive a Plague
Directed by David France
Criticwire Average: A- (out of 32 critics)
This documentary recently won the Best First Film Award from the New York Film Critics' Circle, and seems destined to rack up more accolades before the year is through. It's certainly a remarkable, inspiring story -- the in-depth chronicle of how the gay men and women of New York City banded together in the late 1980s to combat not only the AIDS epidemic but also widespread apathy and ignorance about the deadly virus from drug companies and the federal government. Director David France's film is largely comprised of vintage home movies recorded by the members of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), and it's fascinating to see the inner workings of this organization as it came to grips with the fact that if they didn't spearhead the campaign to find an effective treatment for the disease that was destroying their community no one would. My one small gripe: France largely eschews interviews with most of the men and women featured in the archival footage until the very end of the film, presumably to raise the stakes of their race against time. On that front, he's successful. Still, once France lets us see the plague's survivors as middle-aged men, and we get to hear them speak so eloquently about their feelings of loss, relief, and guilt, I started to wish we could have heard them offer more expansive insights on the story as it was transpiring, instead of a few brief reflections after the fact. Still, "Plague" is an empowering film about heroic activists.
The Day He Arrives
Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Criticwire Average: A- (19 critics)
From Korean director Hong Sang-soo comes this deceptively low-key story about a retired film director (Yoo Jun-sang) who returns to his old stomping grounds in Seoul to see an old friend (Kim Sang-jung). The director, the friend, and several other associates seem to be walking in circles; back and forth between the same restaurant and bar, where they have oddly similar conversations recorded from a few stock camera angles. Inattentive audiences might think they're watching yet another film about the listless wanderings of unmotivated thirtysomethings. But look again: the conversations aren't just oddly similar -- at times they're completely identical. So are the shots. The characters' costumes, too. And the same actress (Kim Bo-kyung) plays two different women with connections to the director, a former lover and a potential new one. After the director and his new acquaintance kiss one night, she claims to remember nothing about the encounter the next. So are we seeing a series of days or variations on the same day repeated over and over (the title suggests it could be the latter)? Hong plays his cards close to his vest, but trying to interpret the results is consistently entertaining -- as are the entire ensemble's performances, particularly Kim as a guy uncomfortable with his fame and his endless encounters with fans and former colleagues. I still don't know that I've entirely worked out Hong's thesis, but I'd happily watch the movie over and over until I get it right. Maybe I'll wear the same clothes each time, too.
Will it Wind Up on my Top Ten List? It's unlikely, but I really enjoyed this movie.
Could It End Up On Yours? Unless you're a huge Hong Sang-soo fan, I doubt it.
Where Can You Watch It? On DVD -- I rented it on Netflix.
Read more of my Catch-Up Capsules.