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Top Ten Movies (2022 Edition)

I was writing this up elsewhere and I thought it’d be worth saving here too. This particular version is prompted by the release of the 2022 Sight and Sound poll results.

  1. The Master — my favorite PTA. Is it the best? Easy to argue that one, but it’s messy and sprawling which I love, and it has my favorite actor of all time, who I still mourn.
  2. Tokyo Story — what an incredibly heart-rending movie. The sadness lies in the stillness. It is as calm as The Master is messy.
  3. In the Mood for Love — the greatest visual director of our time (I kindly assume he’ll make another movie some day) and two of the best actors I’ll ever see. Nostalgia. Coincidence. Sadness.
  4. Crash — my favorite expression of Cronenberg’s thesis statement: mankind will evolve into something else some day and we’d best be ready for it. I love the chilly violence of the Toronto highways in this.
  5. Beau Travail — not just for that final scene, although I will happily explain why Denis Lavant is remarkable for hours, just ask me, see if I won’t. If there’s a common theme to these first five movies (and there is), it’s desire. Claire Denis knows how to put desire on screen.
  6. The Third Man — I swear I didn’t notice until I was making this post, but this list can be divided into arthouse and genre, and we’re now in the genre section. For a long time Casablanca was in this slot but The Third Man replaced it for me. Vienna as a haunted house.
  7. Brazil — this is the movie that taught me there was more to life than the multiplex, and I still love it for the messy excess of it all, plus it’s about rebellion and I find that still resonates with me.
  8. The Big Sleep — yeah, the plot makes no sense, but I’m not in it for the plot. I’m in it for Bogart and Bacall and a poisonous toxic Los Angeles and the snappy dialogue. And for Dorothy Malone.
  9. City of God — did you hear about the time a couple of Brazilians took the pyrotechnic effects from The Matrix and the disjointed narrative that Tarantino didn’t invent anyhow and bent them to their whims to tell a story about their homes? It’s really good.
  10. Lawrence of Arabia — I have been lucky enough to see this in 70mm on a high quality screen three times, and if I could only ever see one movie like that again it’d probably be this one again. For my money, there has never been a better epic. Those dunes.

Holy Motors, Hiroshima Mon Amour, 8 1/2, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, and Three Colors: Blue could very easily be on my top ten as well.

Notes: 2022-12-04

Sarah Polley haș some absolutely wonderful thoughts about making a movie (Women Talking) with a mostly female crew. If you’re really fretful about assigning any behaviors to genders in particular, consider it as a piece about how much value there is in challenging norms. “They crafted a budget based on 10-hour days, shot in and near Toronto, so everybody could be home for bedtime.” Can’t wait to see this one.

EA patented a technique for detecting in game cooperation by mapping out of game social connections. Well, they say collusion, but I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work in the general case. Back when I was playing competitive Ingress, I could sometimes figure out which agents from other regions were close by paying attention to who followed up on whose Reddit posts. Lack of in-game communication between cooperating players is also a sign of an out of game communication channel. It’s not totally surprising that this can be automated, but it’s a good reminder that privacy is tricky.

See also this Bellingcat piece on identifying the location of a far-right extremist from a single photo plus knowledge of his allies.

Back to movies! In a previous notes post I linked to a Scott Adkins interview about direct to video action movies. As a follow-up, check out this article on French action thrillers and Sara May, the Netflix exec who acquires them. This is great stuff. When people complain about a lack of mid-budget and low-budget movies? This is where some of those movies are. It’s sort of a publicity article for Lost Bullet 2 but that’s OK, cause I liked Lost Bullet a bunch.

Radley Balko, my favorite libertarian, apologizes for a decade-old puff piece on Stewart Rhodes and explains why he made the mistakes he made. Good for him.

Tom Whitwell’s 52 Things I Learned In 2022 has at least one iffy lesson (dog buttons, come on, Clever Hans has some words for you) but overall it’s a fun source of trivia and interesting notes.

We’re gonna lose so much culture… well, no, that’s not the right lesson here. We’ve already lost immense amounts of culture. When I read articles about Syrian cassette tapes vanishing or lost movies, what I should remember is that this is still better than the days when nothing could be recorded. It’s like lost languages, right? We preserve them better now than we ever did.

Covid Conclusions

Feeling mostly better other than being a bit more tired than usual. The final timeline:

  • 10/29: almost certainly my initial exposure — I was at a loud crowded event without a ton of mask usage.
  • 10/31: light symptoms.
  • 11/1: first positive test (all my tests were at home).
  • 11/2: Paxlovid course started.
  • 11/6: Paxlovid course ends; maybe a couple of negative tests in the next few days? Can’t recall.
  • 11/11: testing positive again; feeling sick but able to focus.
  • 11/13: negative test (probably because at-home tests are not 100% reliable).
  • 11/15: positive test again; able to focus well enough to deliver budget presentations.
  • 11/19: able to write code again! A surprisingly important milestone.
  • 11/23: negative test again, and this time the negative tests stuck. Haven’t tested positive since.
  • 11/27: still getting a bit tired here and there, as noted, but I feel pretty much OK otherwise.

All told that was three and a half weeks of positive tests, and I felt pretty sick during most of that. Able to focus but definitely not great. Please get vaccinated and boosted.

Let That Kitchen Sink In

In September 2022, the Criterion Channel added a British New Wave collection, which made me quite happy because I’d been interested in those movies ever since I listened to a Filmspotting series on the topic. Wow, back in 2008. I didn’t actually wind up watching any of those at the time, but 14 years later isn’t too bad, right?

I’ve been watching them in order as the spirit moves me since September, and since a few of them are leaving at the end of November — Criterion Channel collections aren’t necessarily permanent — I got into higher gear and finally finished off the collection today. My capsule reviews are here.

It was a really satisfying way to dive into the psyche of a specific time and place. My overall impression was that Britain was well overdue for a bunch of directors to escape their formalist constraints, and that most of those directors weren’t quite as free from the stereotypes of class as they thought they were. The seventeen movies were too varied for any universal statements but an awful lot of them centered around lower class men who badly wanted to be upper class and just weren’t well suited for it.

I enjoyed most of them. Particularly notable: Room at the Top, mostly for Simone Signoret’s performance. It’s the second movie I’ve seen of hers but this is the one where she really registered. She’s been in some great stuff, so I’m looking forward to more of her. Billy Liar was one of my two favorites: I hadn’t felt much emotional connection to John Schlesinger in the past, but wow, this one was good. And Kes was just beautiful and harrowing. I knew it wasn’t going to end well but that couldn’t stop me from delighting in those scenes of Billy training his bird.

A couple of them left me cold. Not to beat up on Richard Lester but wow, The Knack… and How to Get It is a misfire through modern eyes.

I also really liked seeing some of the actors who I think of as aged veterans in their prime. Lawrence Oliver, Albert Finney, Julie Christie, Richard Burton — all wow. And actors who were new to me, too; Dirk Bogarde was really something.

For whatever licensing reason, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner didn’t make it into the collection but I’ve got a date with S. to watch it in, um, looks like March based on our Thursday night date list for 2023.

Words Have Power

I grabbed Battle of the Linguist Mages from the library the other day (thanks, Libby!) and it wasn’t bad. It’s enjoyable reading Ready Player One from the anarchist point of view, even if it’s a bit broad. Don’t look for well-architected laws of magic here or anything — it’s more that a bunch of stuff happens in ways that amp up the fun factor.

But it’s really fun! The role of punctuation is top-notch and had me pausing midway through to do some Web searching.

Lawfare & Ideologically Inconsistent Extremists

I read Lawfare because it represents a place where fairly traditional liberal approaches to national security are meeting (occasionally) more progressive and practical understandings of the challenges before us. Accordingly I read their piece on composite violent extremism with great interest. I Don’t Speak German and others in the anti-fascist researcher sphere have been talking about this for ages, of course.

I think it’s a reasonably good piece. There’s one huge gap, however. The authors define “individuals who draw on a variety of disparate prejudices and grievances but do not adhere to a discernible ideological framework” as “ambiguous” and sort of throw up their hands; this is a failure, because in many cases the underlying similarity is accelerationism. In some cases — Christchurch, for example — accelerationism is an expression of a clear ideology. Often that’s white supremacy, but not always.

For example, one of their sample “ambiguous” extremists is Ethan Miller. In his online writings, he said “I’m going to Kickstart a Fucking Violent Revolution here.” He saw himself as an example for others like him and said so. So it’s true that his ideology wasn’t terribly coherent (although let’s not miss the anti-vax rhetoric, which is absolutely ideological) but if you don’t pay attention to the common thread of acclerationism, you will fail to prevent and you will fail to deradicalize.

Notes: 2022-11-23

Recovery from covid continues. Allow me to express the sentiment that wearing a mask is a very small price to pay for avoiding literally three weeks of reduced capacity, one week of which was complete downtime.

I installed an ActivityPub plugin for WordPress, so if you’re a Mastodon person you can effectively follow this blog at @Bryant@popone.innocence.com. This works very well for me, because it means I can easily put my longer-form permanent thoughts here and everything I post on my main Mastodon account (@BryantD@dice.camp) can be transient.

Tim Bray has an excellent article on practical uses of the blockchain. While he was at AWS, he was tasked with being part of a group that looked into whether or not AWS should provide blockchain services. Spoiler: they found no use cases that require a blockchain over a database. Distributed ledgers (which do not require blockchains) are handy.

The Man of the Hole is an absolutely wild story. He was an indigenous native of the Amazon rainforest whose tribe was wiped out by Brazilian settlers sometime after 1970 or so. We don’t know what his name was, because Brazil successfully avoided disturbing his solitary existence for over two decades. He died this August. I can’t imagine how lonely his life must have been, but apparently he knew there were people keeping an eye out for him and I guess he never showed signs of wanting contact. Read the article. The Wikipedia page also seems pretty good.

Interesting Rian Johnson interview (by Walter Chaw, who is great). I liked what he had to say about the meta-textual layer of an all star cast: what expectations does that create in the audience?

I want to invent a tabletop RPG mechanic around the Go First Dice. Follow the link for a deep dive, but the summary is that it’s possible to number four 12 sided dice such that when four people roll them, there will never be a tie and every possible ordering of the results is equally possible. In other words, everyone has an equal chance to roll highest, second highest, third highest, and fourth highest. (Second place is a set of steak knives, of course.)

Phew. Lots of backlog today.

I knew that Lagos was one of the biggest cities in the world, and growing fast. I did not realize that it’s the east end of a 600 mile stretch of coast that’s quickly turning into a megapolis.