1 PEDRO COSTA, NO QUARTO DA VANDA (IN VANDA'S ROOM, 2000) Against the ostentatious rawness of post-Dogme 95 neorcalist European cinema (characterized by consumer-grade camcorders tottering through perfectly lit sets), Costa's film mobilizes a completely different concept of cinematographic realism. Working daily for more than a year in the slums of Lisbon's Fontainhas district, shooting nonactors exclusively, Costa constructed his narrative with the rigor of Straub-Huillet, telegraphing expression less through meticulous, nonidentificatory speech than through a highly stylized composition of texture, sound, light, and dialogue. No Quarto da Vanda is a grim, Victorian ghetto film about heroin and the painterly quality of DV images.
2 CHRISTIAN KRACHT, 1979 (KIEPENHEUER & WITSCH, 2001) A key figure in the mid-'90s new wave of German pop literature, Kracht self-consciously abandoned the genre in writing 1979. The book makes me think of the refined stylistic hybridity that Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul effects in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). Even though the two works drift in opposite directions--Weerasethakul's journey is composed of a series of filmic transformations from the expanse of rural Thailand, ending in an urban Westernized space; Kracht's wanders away from the latter into the total liquidation of the subject in the labor camps of Maoist China--both demonstrate a distinct form of genre reflexivity that doesn't fall back on fashionable pseudo-Brechtian conventions.
3 KENJI MIZOGUCHI, SISTERS OFTHE GION (1936) If Stieg Larsson and David Fincher's Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) appears as the embodiment of sexy, smooth feminism-on-demand for lefty intellectuals, Mizoguchi's Omocha, the younger of two geisha sisters in this Japanese pre-World War II drama, is a much less service-oriented agent of antipatriarchal force. At the end of the film, Omocha launches into an intransigent speech that allies her with the disobliging heroines of Madchen in Uniform (Leontine Sagan, 1931), Black Girl (Ousmane Sembene, 1966), and Mouchette (Robert Bresson, 1967).
4 AGNES VARDA, LIONS LOVE (1969) A Nouvelle Vague take on late-'60s America, Varda's made-in-LA feature stars filmmaker Shirley Clarke (playing herself) opposite a hippieish menage a trois of Warhol starlet Viva with James Rado and Gerome Ragni (the composers of Hair). For most of the film, the latter three are shown in their rented Hollywood bungalow reciting Pop aphorisms as they lounge around in a big bed in front of a TV. The double shootings of Andy Warhol and Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968 serve as a backdrop for this slack mix of French engage anti-illusionism, Edenic acid fantasy, and examination of violence and media culture.
5 LESLIE THORNTON, PEGGY AND FRED IN HELL: THE PROLOGUE, 1984 One might wonder why, despite their use of the most sophisticated visual effects, recent sci-fi and fantasy movies are often so stupendously square in their vision of extraterrestrial and para- or abnormal activity. By contrast, watching Peggy and Fred--two kids completely immersed in the rapid, commodity-saturated mediascape of the mid-'80s--offers a highly disturbing, twisted vantage onto the apocalyptic disaster of contemporary life.
6 WILLIAM (NEW YORK) Located in a garbage can on the fifth floor of 17.9 Canal Street, this promising contemporary art venue opened in January with a show highlighting the graphic production of Jack Smith. …