Recap: Best of May 2017

movies ishtar a serious man the immigrantI met some damn good cinema last month.

A Serious Man (2009)
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

One of my more immediate film-watching goals is to fill in some of my Coen Bros. blind spots. So, hopefully, my recent viewing of A Serious Man motivates me to stick to that goal…

I went into A Serious Man without knowing anything more than that the Coens directed it and that Michael Stuhlbarg stars in it. I knew nothing specific about the plot, and I’d heard very little from anyone who’d already seen it. While the film definitely has its fans and has been favorably reviewed, one also gets the sense that it’s been flying under the radar. Sandwiched between the higher-grossing Burn After Reading and True Grit, it’s possible that A Serious Man hasn’t received quite as much attention as it deserves. For, even if I still need to see some of the Coens’ films (including Miller’s Crossing and Blood Simple), I feel relatively confident asserting that A Serious Man represents some of their very best work.

Like many a movie-person, I’ve enjoyed Stuhlbarg in many roles. Most recently, he’s also been hilarious in Fargo season 3. But I’ve never seen him as fantastic as he is in A Serious Man. His especially Coenesque performance here is top-tier.

There are no holes in A Serious Man. The cast is solid. Deakins’s cinematography is lovely. And the writing is absolutely stellar. The script is super smart and wonderfully funny. It’s intricate, inspired, and fully itself as well. Viewers need not be Jewish or work in academia to get a kick out of A Serious Man, but the Coens delve deeply into the absurdity of both to supremely entertaining results.

I love this movie. I can’t wait to watch it again. The Uncertainly Principle can’t be avoided.

Ishtar (1987)
Directed by Elaine May

I recently got my ass out of the house and attended an Elaine May double feature at the New Bev. It as was a great time. 10/10. The first film on the bill was A New Leaf. While that film is unquestionably funny and was a whole lot of fun to watch with a crowd, the real highlight of the night was Ishtar. Many laughs were had. Many chuckles were heard. I basically smiled for two hours straight.

If you haven’t seen Ishtar, don’t let the negative reviews or it’s reputation as as a flop scare you away. Elaine May was so next-level, this one may have been too ahead of its time. Many of today’s large comedies can’t even begin to hold a candle to it. Watch it if you like to have a great time.

Ishtar is absurd and absurdly lovable. It lampoons show business, international espionage, and its leads’ status as stars in hilarious fashion. It’s a good movie. Full stop. In fact, it’s an absolute delight.

Every second of Hoffman and Beatty performing is comedy gold. And while viewers might not initially welcome the turn the film takes once it moves to Morocco, May finds her comedic feet again rather quickly. There may be some bumps along the way, but Ishtar is so packed with genuine laughs and stand-out gags, that any such missteps are quickly erased.

Also, as good as Hoffman is in this, Beatty is the real highlight for me. In fact, his portrayal of the hopelessly stupid, but sincerely well-meaning Lyle Rogers is now one of my very favorite comedic performances. He’s brilliant here, and I feel sorry for those who can’t see that.


The Immigrant (2013)
Directed by James Gray

In the last two months, I’ve gone from seeing none of Jame Gray’s films to seeing three of them: Two LoversThe Lost City of Z, and The Immigrant. I appreciate all three of the films, and all of them resonate on a deeply emotional level. On top of that, The Lost City of Z is also incredibly grand, and it represents one of the best theater-going experiences I’ve had this year.

That said, my favorite film from Gray is The Immigrant. It’s absolutely lovely. Joaquin Phoenix is very good in it, and Marion Cotillard is downright stunning.

The Immigrant‘s story may be simple (all three of the Grays I’ve seen have that in common), but its combination of delicate execution and emotional weight sets it apart.

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Directed by Olivier Assayas

Kristen Stewart is so beautiful in this, and her performance is top-notch. Binoche shines too, and Assayas delivers stunning images and captivating interactions throughout.

That said, one thing that doesn’t work here is the presence of Chloe Grace Moretz. She (albeit, somewhat appropriately) feels like an uninvited guest, and she steals time from Binoche and Stewart, both of who are far more talented and more interesting on screen.

I was enraptured by Personal Shopper, and I’m eager to revisit that film, but at the moment, I give the slight edge to Clouds of Sils Maria. There is a porousness and an evanescence to both films that contributes significantly to their particular mood and feel. That said, Clouds of Sils Maria holds together just a little bit more, and it feels like a more complete thought. I love the ideas in Personal Shopper, but it also gestures toward thoughts more often than it sees them through.

That said, Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria work beautifully as a pair, and their concerns overlap in some fascinating ways.

The Beguiled (1971)
Directed by Don Siegel

I decided to watch the original The Beguiled in preparation for Coppola’s upcoming film. What a good decision that was!

The Beguiled is wild. It’s trashy. It’s fun. It has Clint Eastwood, a turtle, and thirsty women (of all ages)! It also has castration anxiety and a Civil War setting. It’s the psychosexual Southern Gothic you’ve been waiting for. It’s sort of amazing that it ever got made. Go watch it.

Until Next Time
I’ve been travelling a bit lately, which has made my life a little irregular. In an effort to pretend that I’m not actually returning to grad school in a few weeks, I’ve also been taking it pretty easy, and I haven’t been making enough of an effort to introduce myself to new movies.

However, while I do say I want to do a lot of things I don’t ever do, I do really want to try to go to more rep screenings once I’m back in LA later this month…

So there’s that.


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