April 2017 Recap: The Best

movies they shoot horses dont they the last picture show two for the roadIt took me a while to get this post up, because the end of the semester was very messy.

I also saw significantly less films in April than in the first few months of the year, but I’m hoping to make up for that a little bit once summer arrives. Less movies = less “The Best” movies. I’ll also be skipping “The Worst” of April, but you can always check out my letterboxd if you want to see what I didn’t like.

Since it’s nearly mid May already, I’m going to keep these pretty clipped.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)
Directed by Sydney Pollack


And I love it. Pollack rides that fine, wonderful line right between greatness and trash. He rides it hard. The ride is wild.

This is a bizarre, dark film. It commits fully to its primary metaphor. It isn’t really subtle. It’s exploitation, but it’s also the best of exploitation kind there is.

I hate even bringing The Hunger Games into contact with this (which is miles ahead of anything Gary Ross has ever done), but imagine, if you will, a world in which that film is cinema for adults (rather than pseudo-cinema for teens). That world exists! We are living in it! Just watch this Pollack movie from 1969! (I don’t even hate THG, so don’t come at me).

Immense balls, intense central conceit, and sheer wackiness aside, I also thoroughly enjoyed Jane Fonda’s performance in this. Bruce Dern’s intense stare (which is featured in the background of numerous scenes) is also very fun.

I knew next to nothing about this before seeing it, and I feel like it changed my life forever. It certainly had me emotionally off-kilter for a good week at least. Never before have I seen such a pure, accurate depiction of my own soul. I am so tired! Being poor is like that! (So is grad school!) Capitalism and spectacle are that crazy!

Yeah, it’s all sort of obvious, but obvious can be good (my “proof “of this is that I like this movie).

I want to own this movie on Blu-ray right this instant, and the fact that I can’t is a tragedy! If you haven’t seen it, try to find a way to do so.

They do shoot horses. Yes, yes they do.

The Last Picture Show (1971)
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

This is the second film in this post that HITS WAY TOO CLOSE TO HOME. #tooreal

Interestingly, there are several thematic connections between this and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, but for the most part, Bogdanovich and Pollack’s respective approaches are quite different. There’s plenty of exploitation here too, but The Last Picture Show is less overtly stylized, more realistic, and more contemplative than Pollack’s film. It’s quieter, gentler, and a good deal sadder too.

This film boasts a lot of well-etched, multi-dimensional, believable characters and benefits from a noticeably strong sense of place.

This has quite the ensemble cast, but Ellen Burstyn is definitely the standout for me.

I was also quite taken with the use of sound here (which ties into that “strong sense of place” I mentioned just a second ago).

An elegy for small-town America (and for a kind of place that hasn’t gone away).

I’ll certainly be revisiting this one when I get a chance.

Two for the Road (1967)
Directed by Stanley Donen

Full disclosure: I’m a bitter, bitter woman who almost never enjoys movies about two people who are in love at some point. I tend to resent them. Sometimes I scoff at them and comfort myself by deciding that they’re too “unrealistic” to be good (as if realism has anything to do with a film’s quality! lol).

For me, Two for the Road is an exception. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, that I may even make an effort to seek out other such exceptions.

Somehow, this is the first film I’ve seen staring Audrey Hepburn, and (spoiler alert) she is an absolute delight. She’s adorable in this, and she has such charm and presence that one’s eyes are constantly drawn to her. Her outfits are amazing (and rather amusing) as well. I also enjoyed Finney. He and Hepburn work beautifully together and have more than enough energy to support Donen’s project.

Donen’s overlapping storytelling is executed beautifully and works to add considerable depth and emotional heft to the film. With its episodic form, its numerous timelines, and its many shifts from comedy to drama, Two for the Road could have been a train wreck; it’s an elegant, beautifully crafted balancing act instead. Good stuff.

Until Next Time
I’ll be travelling a good bit in May and June, and I’ll be taking a class in July, but I still plan to watch a lot more movies and to post more things to this blog over the summer. I bought a number of Criterions and inherited a sizable assortment of DVDs recently, and I’m eager to start making my way through them. If FilmStruck ever gets their act together and releases a Roku app, I’ll start meeting some of the films on that platform as well.

I also picked up Five Came Back at a bookstore the other day, so maybe I’ll read that too…


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