Recap: Best of June 2017

the beguiled elle fanning nicole kidman moviesI did a lot of running around in June and didn’t make it to the movies much at all as a result. I still managed to introduce myself to some #cinema though. Here are the highlights.

Dogville (2003)
Directed by Lars von Trier

I still have a lot of Lars von Trier blind spots. I love Melancholia. I have mixed feelings about Nymphomaniac. I haven’t seen anything else except Dogville.

And Dogville, my friends, is very good. It’s a dark, nasty film. And it’s incredibly and thoroughly alive.

Kidman is absolutely fantastic here, and there’s a scene featuring her and Patricia Clarkson that I’ll be holding on to for quite some time.

The Beguiled  (2017)
Directed by Sofia Coppola

In May, I had a fabulous time watching Don Siegel’s The Beguiled. Then, in June, I had an equally fabulous (albeit, somewhat different) time watching Sofia Coppola’s.

Though more classy and more elegant than the ’71 version, Coppola’s The Beguiled doesn’t completely deny its more lurid origins. Where Siegel’s film goes to bed with pulp, Coppola’s often flirts with it instead. Both are valid takes on the story at hand, and examining the differences between them is worthwhile in and of itself.

I have yet to see Somewhere, but The Beguiled is one of Coppola’s very best as far as I’m concerned. Like much of her previous work, it’s “about” femininity, the underside of certain types of privilege, and the maddening power of boredom. A moody, Gothic-tinged, deeply psycho-sexual story is the perfect vehicle for such topics, which may be why The Beguiled feels more fully developed to me than a few of Coppola’s other films. It’s calculated, intelligent, and visually beautiful. It’s also surprisingly funny and features compelling performances from Kidman and Dunst.

Scarecrow (1973)
Directed by Jerry Schatzberg

Scarecrow is very sad and very well acted. Hackman is stellar, but Pacino is especially devastating. Schatzberg’s film also demonstrates a great deal of empathy and patience for its main characters, unfortunate individuals who it depicts tenderly and with considerable emotional detail.

I’ve never seen Midnight Cowboy, but maybe I don’t need to now.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Directed by Clint Eastwood

“She was trash.”

“Mo cuishle”

I cried.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

I may have seen this as a kid, but I definitely didn’t watch it often, and I have no memory of ever making it through the whole thing until I caught it at The Egyptian in June.

It’s embarrassing how much of Spielberg’s work I haven’t seen. Fortunately, E.T. has encouraged me to do something about that. As most know by now, it’s a touching, delightful film that’s bursting with heart. It’s not the kind of movie that I want most days, but it’s a thing of beauty all the same.

Until Next Time
Best of May

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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.

#JusticeforIshtar2k17

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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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

THIS IS A MOVIE THAT EXISTS

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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March 2017 Recap: The Worst

worst movies march 2017I met 20 movies in March, 4 of which were very much not good.

Burning Sands (2017)
Directed by Gerard McMurray

What we have here is a clumsily crafted film with a muddled, unintelligent script. I saw this at a screening, and it was a complete slog to get through. So much so, that I can’t imagine actually finishing it if I were to watch t on Netflix (which is where/how it was released).

The rather green cast is the least of this film’s problems. In fact, the performers aren’t really a problem at all, but there’s also no way they can save it either.

After hearing co-writers Berg and McMurray speak at a Q & A, it’s clear that they were trying to do far too much with this script. Sadly, the film they  think they wrote and the one that plays out on screen are so far apart that it seems fair to blame them for the majority of the movie’s problems.

Burning Sands lacks direction and winds up feeling diluted and confused. Even worse, some of the messages it tries to convey don’t come across as particularly well thought out either (combining Frederick Douglass quotes with a fraternity hazing narrative feels suspect at best). Lack of clear or coherent direction aside, the film is also cliched, boring, and terribly predictable.

For what it’s worth, this often feels like a knock off version of last year’s Goat, a film that doesn’t deserve to inspire copycats.

The only good thing here are the shots of Trevante Rhodes shirtless.

Wilson (2017)
Directed by Craig Johnson

Though I don’t know much about Daniel Clowes (sorry), I was initially intrigued by Wilson, as it represents Johnson’s followup to The Skeleton Twins. Unfortunately, it’s not a good follow up, and I have a feeling that the fact that Clowes (and not Johnson) wrote the script might have something to do with that.

There are some chuckle-inducing moments here, and both Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern do some solid work here. That said, the vignettes and stops and starts don’t cohere into anything substantial, and the whole thing makes for a long, unfulfilling 100 minutes.

Wilson‘s narrative tries to cover too much ground, and has a number of wasted moments and holes alike. Perhaps the script was too large and a number of things got lost in the editing. Or maybe Clowes doesn’t have enough experience with screenplays.

Hopefully this doesn’t damage Johnson too much. His last film had a much narrower scope and felt more complete. It was also funny and more touching than this one.

Wilson wants to be quirky and offbeat; instead, it’s just off. And it doesn’t warrant much more than a disinterested shrug.

Life (2017)
Directed by Daniel Espinosa

The murderous alien in this film is named “Calvin,” and all of the characters insist on calling it that even though it’s completely ridiculous omg.

Life is the sort of empty, intellectually lazy, bloated, uninspired bull shit that pisses me off. Especially since nearly $60 million dollars were spent creating it.

I also hate Life because sci-fi is great, and it very much isn’t.

It’s as if someone put Alien and Gravity into a blender and then sucked all the depth, character, craft, and good ideas out of them. The resulting concoction can easily be sipped through a straw, but it’s so bland that I can’t imagine why anyone would want to consume it.

Monster/creature movies don’t work if the monster/creature can ONLY be read literally…

After the first 20-30 minutes or so, it becomes insufferably repetitive and predictable. One exception to this is the very end (which is savage and hilarious), but by the time it rolls around, it’s far too late.

There’s also an alien-pov sequence in this that is so laughably bad, pointless, and out-of-left-field that I’m still confused by it. . .

A boring, frustrating thing.

The Ugly Truth (2009)
Directed by Robert Luketic

I would never choose to watch this movie. But, as a grad student, choice isn’t something I seem to have much of.

The class I watched this in presented it as an example of a “bad movie,” which it is. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of bad that can be enjoyable. Sure, I may have laughed a few times while watching this, but I only did so as a way of coping with just how unintelligent, clunky, boring, and offensive so much of it is.

This “romantic comedy” is neither romantic nor comedic. It is sexist, cringe-inducing, and inane though.

Heigl and Butler and both off, and Butler’s accent slips every five minutes or so.

Cheryl Hines is the only bright spot here, but she only has a couple of scenes. (For what its worth, she shows up in Wilson too).

Until Next Time
April will be my busiest month this semester, so my movie-watching may slow down in the coming weeks. I’m also hoping to post some more developed writing here over the summer though.

Best of March coming soon.

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February 2017 Recap: The Best

movie reviews best movies february 2017Now that you know which films did the least for me last month, here are the ones I’m most eager to visit again.

John Wick (and John Wick: Chapter 2) (2014/7)
Directed by Chad Stahelski

I put off watching John Wick for a while, simply because I didn’t expect too much from it. As it turns out, that was rather silly of me.

John Wick = A DAMN GOOD TIME AT THE MOVIES. Of the two, I have a slight preference for the first one, largely because I was so pleasantly (and repeatedly) surprised while watching it. The action is fun, intense, and well-choreographed. Keanu is Keanu. The films have guns, great suits, and a sexy night club aesthetic. There’s no forced romance. No time to fuck around. Just well-crafted and supremely entertaining action film-making.

Another aspect of John Wick that sets it apart is its world-building. The universe that the films occupy is somewhere between fantasy and reality and is both distinct (to an extent) and rule-bound (so that it’s coherent). Additionally, Stahelski  and the films don’t fall into the trap of taking themselves too seriously. John Wick would be outright ridiculous (and a lot less fun) without a sense of humor; luckily, we don’t have to worry about that.

Bond who?

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Directed by Roman Polanski

I dig this movie. I dig the various levels it works on. I dig it as a horror film, as a cynical mediation on society, as an exposé of the struggles of women, as a witch-mystery… take your pick.

For all the suffering that Rosemary endures, Polanski continually infuses (black) humor into this. And where today’s worst horror films lack characters entirely, Rosemary’s Baby is brimming with them. Not only does this enhance the “reality” (and thus, the horror) of it, it also renders it much more entertaining than some of its genre counterparts. Characters or no characters, it certainly delivers on craft and sheer intelligence as well…

It wouldn’t be unfair to call this one “slow-burning,” but it’s engrossing for majority of its substantial run time and, more importantly, its final pay off is far better than most. In fact, the final scene stands out as among one of the best endings I’ve experienced in quite a while. It’s tonally disarming, and it’s all the more unsettling precisely because of just how much Polanski withholds.

My god, are Mia Farrow’s cheekbones something else…

The Searchers (1956)
Directed by John Ford

SUCH A GOOD TIME AT THE MOVIES

The Searchers is neither perfect nor beyond reproach, but it is great.

There are so many wonderful, precisely-etched characters in this. So many memorable moments. So many lovely shots. The Searchers is his is a whole lot of movie for 2 hours. At times, it seems to overflow its own bounds (in a good way!).

Also, why didn’t anyone ever tell me just how funny this is? For all the serious drama and the heavier issues (you know, like murder and racism), there is a great deal of clever, downright hilarious writing here. There’s also a good deal of nuance, some of which may have been effaced by misreadings over the years.

While watching this, I experienced quite a few moments where I felt like I’d seen the film before. Surely this speaks to just how much influence it has had on subsequent works.

The Searchers is one of two films I’ve recently watched starring John Wayne, and it’s nice to finally see what all the fuss is about. He reminds me a bit of some of my older relatives; and so far, I have found it hard not to enjoy his onscreen presence…

Lol this is my first John Ford

The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa

This is only the second Kurosawa I’ve seen, and while it didn’t shake me nearly as much as as Rashomon, I still enjoyed it a great deal.

Overall, this feels much more contemporary than one might expect. Even if the two comedic-relief-peasants don’t hold up especially well, The Hidden Fortress remains undeniably impressive. Plus, Toshirô Mifune is A++.

A big visual feast, but one that exists on a smaller, more personal scale than its setting and images might indicate.

It is,—here I go again—A GOOD TIME AT THE MOVIES.

Time to watch more Kurosawa…

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)
Directed by Macon Blair

While it doesn’t boast the same level of sheer craft as the other films included here  Macon Blair’s directorial debut still deserves a shout-out. As a fan of both Blue Ruin and Green Room, I was  excited to watch this after hearing about its premiere at Sundance, and it did not disappoint.

There are a lot of really great, really hilarious lines in this. Laugh-out-loud stuff. A lot of fun. Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey are both delightful and they each play their quirky, offbeat, down-to-earth characters well, and with just enough humor for Blair’s script. They also provide this quick, crazy film with a much-needed emotional center.

You can see and feel traces of what appear to be Jeremy Saulnier’s influence here, but there’s also a wild abandon and an outlandish humor that’s not nearly as present in Blue Ruin or Green Room. Blair plays with tone and viewer expectations a great deal. Not only does he appreciate both black humor and explicit violence, but he also leaves room for affecting interpersonal drama. The films takes a number of hard turns, but it never goes completely off the rails.

There’s a lot going on in I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, and some of it is a bit too rough around the edges; at times, clumsiness creeps in, and it’s all too easy remember that Blair is new to this kind of directing. That said, the film remains a great deal of fun, and it’s a bold, promising first feature.

Until Next Time
March is well  underway, and I’ve already met a number of films. So far, my personal favorite are  Five Easy Pieces (1970) and Logan (2017). Stay tuned to see if that changes….

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Worst of February
Best of January
Worst of January

February 2017 Recap: The Worst

movie reviews death wish, aeon flux, imperial dreams“Worst” seems to harsh, and I don’t really like that, but oh well…

I met 22 movies in February, many of which were quite good. 3 however, proved rather frustrating.

Here are the least satisfying films I watched last month:

Death Wish (1974)
Directed by Michael Winner

My main problem with Death Wish is that it’s both fascist AND dull.

It simply didn’t do anything for me. No characters to care about. No style to sink my teeth into. No message I cared to pick apart… Maybe it’s just not for me.

The most compelling thing about Winner’s vision here is just how ugly it is. I’m being sincere. The world of this film is cold, derelict, and completely void of beautiful images. There’s something to that; too bad I don’t care enough about the rest of the film to spend any time figuring it out.

It’s also potentially relevant as a precursor to films like Taken I guess….

But it’s still pretty tedious and unengaging, and it leans way too far to the right for my taste.

Aeon Flux (2005)
Directed by Karyn Kusama

I watched Aeon Flux as “research” for a larger (science-fiction-related) project that I’m working on, not because I expected it to be a good movie. That said, I still found it disappointing. There’s the beginning of a good film buried away here somewhere, but poor execution wins out.

There are glimmers of good ideas all throughout Aeon Flux, but the film as a whole still ends up feeling uninspired. At times, it’s almost as if someone took a bunch of common science-fiction  motifs, but them in a blender, and then sucked all the life out of the resulting amalgam. I managed to stay interested for about half the running time, but I was all but checked-out by the end.

Some pretty images, but it lacks substance…

My take: this would be better if it were gayer and more focused. (Then again, what wouldn’t?)

Imperial Dreams (2014/7)
Directed by Malik Vitthal

Though it initially premiered in 2014, Malik Vitthal’s feature debut wasn’t released until Netflix made it available early last month. One assumes that John Boyega’s recent (and massive) increase in visibility thanks to Star Wars has something to do with this…

While I appreciate a number of Vitthal’s aims, the final product feels far too much like a first feature, and it lacks any distinctive style or vision. If Vitthal directs another film, Imperial Dreams provides little insight into what it might look like. I attended a Q & A with the director; based on his own accounts, the script for Imperial Dreams went through quite a number of revisions and was touched by many, many hands. Perhaps this is why the film is fine, but feels so unremarkable. An early cut of the film was also much longer, and the final version seems to be missing a few pieces, especially late in its narrative.

There is a sincerity to Imperial Dreams that I admire, but it doesn’t convey any of its messages with enough clarity, volume, or distinction.

That said, Boyega is quite good in this. He fully commits to Vitthal’s script, and his presence elevates the entire piece. He keeps the film watchable, even when the pieces around him feel a bit tired.

Still, why this has a 91% on RT at the moment is beyond me.

Until Next Time
As I indicated last month, I can’t write on all of the films I’m watching at the moment. For the time being, I’ll posting very brief reactions to everything on twitter and letterboxd; those reactions will then be supplemented by recaps of the best and worst films I watch (for the first time) each month.

Best of February coming soon.

Worst of January
Best of January

January 2017 Recap: The Best

janbestAnd so, now that you know what didn’t do it for me last month, here are the films I watched that stood out the most, and for the best reasons.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966)
Directed by Mike Nichols

I tend to not be too fond of movies that feel like ‘filmed plays,’ but this one is so lively, so biting, so clever, and just so damn much that I never found it lacking. Where some adaptations of theater are flat on the screen, Nichols’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is overflowing with energy and character (not to mention yelling).

As much fun as this film is—and it is a lot of fun—its remarkable ability to blend darkness with intelligence and humor is what I’ll remember most. As many have said before me, the two lead performances are also fantastic, with Taylor and Burton portraying their characters with nuance without ever sacrificing their incredible intensity.

Videodrome (1983)
Directed by David Cronenberg

Until last month, the only Cronenbergs I’d seen were Eastern Promises and A Dangerous MethodVideodrome represents the first step in my efforts to remedy this situation.

As someone who grew up without venturing into the horror genre, I’ve been a little wary of Cronenberg’s earlier work. As it turns out, I’m an adult, and watching Videodrome was no problem at all. In fact, it was absolutely delightful (in a dark, grotesque sort of way).

Videodrome is stylish, excessive, creepy, and—most importantly—thoughtful. Cronenberg’s picture of a world in which the barriers between man, media, and weapon have all but crumbled is fascinating in part, because it doesn’t feel that far-fetched. In Videodrome, an “enthusiastic global corporate citizen” seeks to turn us all inside out, to dissolve whatever holds us together and use us for its own ends…

Oh, and Debbie Harry is lovely.

Cabaret (1972)
Directed by Bob Fosse

Cabaret is A LOT. For all its decadence, playfulness, and exuberance, it never shakes lose a palpable sense of despair. I don’t typically like musicals, but I love this one. There is a grit and a realism to Cabaret, and though its got plenty of style, it never sacrifices substance in the name of spectacle.

For what its worth, I really love The Master of Ceremonies, a character  as endearing as he is strange and as unsettling as he is delightful…

I watched Fosse’s film two days before the Orange Beast was inaugurated, and that context may have heightened my sensitivity to its impact. The last shot in particular left me reeling; that reflection of all the Nazi’s in the club’s audience has burned itself into my brain. If you’ve never seen it, let it do the same to you too.

Alien (1979)
Directed by Ridley Scott

Ignoring the fact that it took me this long to watch it, Alien is a damn good movie. It’s enveloping, revolting, intelligent, and precisely calculated. The film uses its sci-fi and horror elements with purpose, and it’s an impressive exercise in sustaining cinematic tension. Where lighter science-fiction fare (like Star Wars) is expansive, Alien swallows up everything in its path. Alien is a film of dark, slippery, nasty surfaces; the imagery may not be subtle, but it is effective.

And who needs villains when the body and reproduction are both absolutely terrifying all on their own?

For what it’s worth, I also watched Aliens this month and, while it’s very good, Alien is definitely the one I prefer. Narratively, its more tightly wound and less loose around the edges than its sequel. It’s also more atmospheric and leaves more room for rich, potentially radical thematic interpretation.

Anyway, Ripley and Jones the Cat are the heroes we need right now.

Margaret (2011)
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

I watched the theatrical cut of this film, and after learning what the extended cut adds, I’m more than content with that choice.

As with Manchester by the Sea, Lonergan uses Margaret to plumb the depths of trauma and guilt. This sprawling, somewhat unruly film doesn’t make the mistake of trying to oversimplify its subject matter for narrative convenience either. The film is messy, but so is everything it cares about, and it’s better of Lonergan’s last two works. The film is also haunted by the specter of 9/11 and serves as a meditation on the difficulties of integrating such an event into one’s understanding of the world (particularly as a young person).

There is a lot to love about Margaret, Anna Paquin’s performance very much included. She feels real in this film, and that fact is absolutely essential to its success. Lonergan’s script is layered and includes some of the most authentic-sounding mother-daughter interactions I’ve heard. Lonergan also embraces the awkwardness of his high-school-aged characters. Such a script would have trouble accommodating an overly polished figure at its center, but Paquin never allows that to become an issue. Her work here is controlled chaos at its best.

Mad Max: Fury Road, Black & Chrome Edition (2015/6)
Directed by George Miller

I’ve seen Mad Max: Fury Road numerous times. It’s my favorite movie (full stop). I know it well. And yet, the Black & Chrome Edition still managed to surprise me. Which is all to say that I’m so glad that George Miller invented cinema in the year 2015, and that he and Warner Bros. later decided to bless the masses even further by releasing this alternate version.

None of the energy or the glorious excess of the color version of Fury Road is lost in black and white. In fact, the images in this version are charged with even more power. I felt this film more intensely than just about any other. Swapping color for black and white highlights the incredible composition of the film’s images and lends them a strange, new beauty. There is a sense of timelessness conveyed by black and white that melds seamlessly with Miller’s tale. More importantly, the emotional element of the film is undoubtedly intensified in this edition. I don’t know how to describe it (I am, after all, in the realm of the abstract here), but I experienced itthe color version of the film packs a wallop, but this one left me reeling in a way I won’t forget.

I was lucky enough to watch the Black & Chrome Fury Road on a big screen. If you get a chance to do the same, don’t let it pass you by.

20th Century Women
Directed by Mike Mills

20th Century Women features a solid, nuanced, sensitive, and well-timed script from Mills and is bolstered by an exceptional lead performance by Annette Bening. Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning are also quite good.

Mills and his cast respect all of the film’s characters, and the result is a tender, emotionally intelligent work of art. 20th Century Women also excels at interweaving its different narratives with different moments in history. The film just feels good. And its now crystal clear that Beginners (2010) wasn’t a fluke.

Silence (2016)
Directed by Martin Scorsese

ALL HAIL, MARTIN SCORSESE.

Even if the last 15 minutes of the film don’t work for me (they don’t), it’s clear that only a master could have made this film.

So much of Silence is sublime (I know what the word means, and I mean it). This is especially true of Rodrigo Prieto’s cold, elegant, and overwhelming cinematography.

The film is also (appropriately) more ideologically ambivalent than some are giving it credit for. Silence presents. It does not judge.

The subjects that Scorsese tackles herereligion, sacrifice, morality, self-preservation, and much more besidesare complex in the extreme, and to oversimplfy them by opting for easy answers is work for much lesser films.

I’ve never really been a “fan” of Andrew Garfield’s acting, but Silence makes it clear that he is capable of giving a performance that is intense, layered, heavy, and controlled all at once. I’m sure Scorsese deserves some of the credit here, but Garfield’s performance here is one of the best of 2016 (that he was nominated for the hot mess that is Hacksaw Ridge instead is absolutely baffling). Though he’s not in the film all that much, Adam Driver also does impressive work here, and he’s quickly become an actor to keep an eye onhis range is impressive, and he has more sheer presence than most.

Silence left me rattled in that no other film has for a while, and I have little doubt that it will endure far longer than La La Land (or just about anything else from 2016). Silence is a brave and beautiful film, and Scorsese refuses to underestimate his viewers.

Until Next Time
Thanks for stopping by! I’d love to know what the best films you’ve watched recently are, so feel free to share in a comment below!

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