Kicks (2016; d. Justin Tipping)
Absolutely loved it. There have been so many excellent first-time directors making features this year. My review for Rogerebert.com.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955; d. Robert Aldrich)
I love this bizarre paranoid insanely phantasmagorical … film noir? Yes. It’s film noir on acid, pushed into its most Baroque form. But also … it’s a nuclear-dystopian-X-Files-conspiracy-theory-anxiety in the flesh? I’m sure Quentin Tarantino’s seen this movie 100 times. Not just because he loves Ralph Meeker (and I don’t trust a person who doesn’t love Ralph Meeker, or … worse … says “Who’s Ralph Meeker?”) – but because the entire plot revolves around a briefcase filled with … a mysterious object/entity/whatever that glows, light pouring out from the interior.
GOD, I love the opening, with Cloris Leachman racing down the dark highway in bare feet, scared out of her mind. Watched this for the 25th time, whatever, who counts, as research for a big project I was working on this month. Announcement to come TBD. That project nearly dern killed me.
The Wild Life (2016; d. Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen)
Re-telling of the Robinson Crusoe story from the animals’ point of view. My review for Rogerebert.com.
Far From the Madding Crowd (2015; d. Thomas Vinterberg)
This is a holdover from the Matthias Schoenaerts research-blast from last month. It started as preparation for the release of Disorder (my review here) which is still in my ever-changing Top 10 for the year. It’s been a great year. That research-blast also led me to write this monster-post about Rust and Bone, which I’ve been yearning to write since I first saw the damn thing. Anyway, I’ve always thought he was one of the best things going in our current Male landscape, so it’s been fun going back to re-visit all of this stuff I’ve already seen. I am not a Carey Mulligan fan. Like, at all. The fact that she gets leading lady roles baffles me. I just don’t see it. But HE in this … what a challenging role. In another actor’s hands, he would have seemed totally passive. Or a dupe. A lovelorn guy who didn’t get the girl and then sort of sticks around. But in his hands, it becomes this amazing portrait of selfless love. Which is how Schoenaerts talked about it in interviews. The man’s love is powerful, and yet uncomplicated. When he is rejected, he continues on with his life, but sort of hovers around her … in the background … trying to watch over her. Occasionally he intervenes. It usually does not go well. She pulls rank on him, randomly, even though when they first met the roles were reversed. He also manages to suggest deep and intense passion, by … raking up wheat and sharpening knives. I mean, the ENTIRE ROLE is subtext. It is not in the words he says. Schoenaerts recognized that. He’s wonderful. In my opinion, the reason to see it. Well, also for the fact that the book is wonderful and this is a fair adaptation.
The One Thing to Do (2005; d. Michaël R. Roskam)
A short film, starring Matthias Schoenaerts, long before he moved into the international scene. Directed by Roskam, who eventually would direct Schoenaerts in Bullhead, which got an Oscar nom for Best Foreign Film. This was the beginning of their collaboration. You can see Roskam’s striking talent already in his visuals. Two Belgian secret-intelligence guys – head to Italy, or the south of France, I can’t remember – to track down a guy wanted for war crimes. Told in a non-linear fashion, it’s hallucinatory and spooky: empty cafes, narrow winding alleyways, sudden cuts to Schoenaerts staring at himself in the mirror, cuts again to Schoenaerts sitting across from his colleague at a cafe, and his nose has been broken. He’s got a bandage over his nose, bruises under his eyes. It’s unclear what the hell they are doing. You have to figure out that they are actually agents to the government. You might think that they were gangsters, they both seem so shady. It’s an ambitious short, the short of a young man, trying to make a splash and a political statement. That part is a dime a dozen. What really matters and what you’re really left with is the look of those empty streets, the feeling of tension in the air, like a spring about to snap.
Another Day (2005; d. Ingrid Coppe)
Another short starring Matthias Schoenaerts. It feels more like a perfume commercial than a film. It’s a “mood piece,” very much a first short. I’ve seen a million like it. Pretentious. Beautiful. But to what end? There is no dialogue.
Lady with Red Hair (1940; d. Kurt Bernhardt)
Oh, this movie! Starring Miriam Hopkins and Claude Rains. I watched it for piece I was working on, coming out soon, I’m not sure when. I had never seen it before (it’s very hard to find. Unless you have …. ways. As I do.)
Wise Girl (1937; d. Leigh Jason)
Another film starring Miriam Hopkins – also for the upcoming piece I mentioned. What a fun assignment. I had never seen this one either. (Another very hard to find film). Miriam Hopkins plays an heiress who “goes undercover” in bohemian Greenwich Village to try to get her nieces back, so they can be raised in the wealth that is their birthright. Will the heiress be drawn into the egalitarian communal environment where everyone follows their bliss? Will she find herself having fun for the first time in her life? Will she fall in love with a broke painter? Well, what do YOU think. Very funny.
Something Wild (1961; d. Jack Garfein)
I wrote about this forgotten film here. At length. Ahead of its time in so many ways. Still ahead of our time. Extremely disturbing. Powerful. Unique.
The More the Merrier (1941; d. George Stevens)
After a long day in the city with my brother and my nephew – who stayed with me for a while in the beginning of September, to check my nephew into college – we were exhausted. I suggested a movie. Brendan and Cashel stood at my floor-to-ceiling shelf looking at all my titles. I asked Cashel what he felt like. He said “Something light.” I thought of The More the Merrier – an all-time favorite. I suggested it. It ended up being the most absolutely perfect choice. There were moments where Brendan and Cashel – both – simultaneously – were collapsed in laughter. Great stress release.
Rust and Bone (2012; d. Jacques Audiard)
Clearly I wasn’t done watching this film. Why would I be?
Injury Time (2010; d. Robin Pront)
Very upsetting and violent short film, featuring Matthias Schoenaerts – a year before Bullhead, 2 years before Rust and Bone. It was director Robin Pront’s graduating film from the Sint-Lukas Academy in Brussels. Jeroen Perceval (who would also show up in a key role in Bullhead) and Pront have collaborated numerous times (similar to Schoenaerts’ collaborations with Roskam, three-and-counting – there’s a 4th in post-production.) In Injury Time, Schoenaerts plays a skinhead-type raging-racist rugby fan (or football. Or soccer. Whatever they call it.) He’s basically stepped right out of Bill Buford’s terrifying book Among the Thugs. Looking for revenge. He pushes it too far. His friends – who are also psycho skinhead types – finally discover that they have a “line”, and that he has crossed over it. Extremely violent. Schoenaerts is a great psycho. He’s got tremendous softness and vulnerability as an actor, but he can cut all that off and go dead in the eyes too.
Daughter (2005; d. Marleen Jonkman)
A short film in which Matthias Schoenaerts plays a supporting role to two other leads. It’s been interesting to watch all of these shorts because you can see the slow development of a “career” – or, not even really a career yet … just an awareness of who he is, and what he brings to the table. In Daughter, he is skinny, looks like a woodcut of a medieval Christ, plays a regular guy, in love with the lead character who has Daddy Issues (understatement). He’s sweet, but it’s a nothing part. This is 2005. He did a lot in 2005. He did a ton of these shorts, and in each one he plays a different type of character.
The End of the Ride (2005; d. Hans Van Duffel)
Another short from 2005, with Matthias Schoenaerts in a lead role. Very good film. (All of these are on Youtube, by the way, for you Matthias fans out there). There are only three actors: Schoenaerts, Dolores Bouckaert and Günther Lesage. Schoenaerts plays a dying man, who begs to be let out of the hospital, because he’s done with treatment. His two friends take him home with them. Once upon a time, he dated the woman – she was the love of his life. When he got sick, she and his friend hooked up. It’s all out in the open between them. But it’s extremely intense. Everyone is grieving. Schoenaerts does not play a graceful and gentle dying man. He is demanding. There’s a kind of “Look. I’m dying. Do what I want you to do.” It’s an extremely rich subject, and quite emotional. It’s like a one-act play.
A Bigger Splash (2016; d. Luca Guadagnino)
For me, one of the films of the year. Matthias Schoenaerts, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, and Dakota Johnson, in a crazy decadent sun-drenched fucked-up situation during a vacation on an isolated island off the coast of Italy. A remake of the superb and sexually-luscious La Piscine, starring Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, two more gorgeous people you have never before seen in your life. There have been some updates and changes, but the situation is the same. Guadagnino directed the superb I Am Love, with Swinton also, and here she plays a totally different kind of character. A Chrissie-Hynde-type rock star – so in danger of losing her voice, that she is on “vocal rest”. She is not allowed to speak. (Swinton, apparently, only agreed to do the role once it was agreed that she would never speak. I love that. She’s so smart and weird.) Ralph Fiennes, in my opinion, gives a career-best performance. And Schoenaerts is superb: lazy and sensual, practical and stable. Dakota Johnson is the trouble-making sexpot. No innocent nymphet. This chick is up to no good. She’s disturbing. Put these four people in one house, and let’s see what happens. Loved it.
Audrie & Daisy (2016; d. Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk)
Very upsetting documentary. Reviewed for Ebert.
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (2016; d. Deborah S. Esquenazi)
Another very upsetting documentary. Reviewed for Ebert.
The Strange One (1957; d. Jack Garfein)
Jack Garfein also directed Something Wild (see above … which is indicative of the gigantic project I’ve been working on.) This was his first film. (Astonishing.) Something Wild in 1961 was his second (and final) film. If THOSE are the only two films you’ve directed?? Very fine directors go their whole careers without creating TWO such films! The film came totally out of an Actors Studio workshop situation. Everyone involved was Actors Studio. Ben Gazzara made his film debut (he’s unbelievable). Pat Hingle is great. George Peppard was basically discovered by Jack Garfein – and he’s wonderful in this. Those are the three real leads. A moody film about sadism in a military college. Jack Garfein is a Holocaust survivor, the only one alive in his immediate family, all of whom were killed in Auschwitz. The two films he ended up directing – and he also did the screenplay adaptations – are films about people who are trapped. He has said that it wasn’t until 50 years later that it occurred to him that somehow he might have been “working out” the horrors of his childhood. This is a great film.
The Perfect Crime (2016; d. Cathleen O’Connell)
PBS documentary about the Leopold and Loeb trial. This was a carry-over from my research for the Dean Stockwell piece in Film Comment. This is very good. You can watch the whole thing online.
Baby Doll (1956; d. Elia Kazan)
God, I love this movie. Directed by Elia Kazan. Script by Tennessee Williams (based on his one-act “27 Wagons Full of Cotton”). Starring Karl Malden, Eli Wallach (in his phenomenal film debut), Mildred Dunnock, and Carroll Baker. Elia Kazan said later in life that if he wanted to show people the films he was most proud of, Baby Doll would be one of them. It’s funny, messed-up, with three GREAT characters in the center, circling one another with competing objectives. Fantastic mood. Filmed on location in Mississippi, giving it an authenticity, mixed with the deeply moody atmosphere inside that crazy empty house. One of my favorite Kazans. And a very important film for me – along with East of Eden. Long story. But Carroll Baker – and her memoir – which I tripped over when I was 12 years old – was the beginning of it all for me. She was my guide, my “way in” to this world I knew nothing about: words like “Gadg” and “Jimmy” and “Marlon Brando” … I was so fascinated I began my own personal investigation into all of these mysterious individuals. And here I am today. When I met Elia Kazan, finally, it was like my whole life flashed before my eyes. No, it wasn’t LIKE that. It WAS that.
Sully (2016; d. Clint Eastwood)
I loved it. I remember that day in New York vividly. I could see the plane in the Hudson from the cliff in Jersey where I live. Cousin Mike has a terrific part, and he’s listed in the credits after the three leads. Go, Mike! Very proud of him.
A Little Chaos (2015; d. Alan Rickman)
Oh, Alan Rickman, you left us too soon. This movie is a little too … I just didn’t believe that a woman like Kate Winslet’s character existed. THAT BEING SAID: it’s a fun movie about chaos and order, taking place in the court of Louis XIV (played by Rickman: wonderful). Stanley Tucci, of all people, plays the Duke something-or-other. Matthias Schoenaerts plays the moody unhappily-married brilliant gardener at Versailles, who is annoyed and irritated by this new gardener (Winslet) coming in with her new-fangled gardening ideas. They fall in love. Of course. The screen is PACKED with brilliant British character actors. Lots of fun.
Magic Mike XXL (2015; d. Gregory Jacobs)
It’s been a rough month. It’s actually been a rough year! But last month … good God. One night I came home rattled and frazzled and WIPED OUT and could not do any work, so I calmed down totally with this bottle of Uncomplicated Joy.
Tunnelrat (2008; d. Raf Reyntjens)
Another Matthias Schoenaerts short! They’re all on Youtube. It’s a goldmine! This is a WWI story, two enemy soldiers trapped in a collapsed trench. The short is so claustrophobic I could barely breathe. And the ending is devastating. Not bad for 20 minutes.
Death of a Shadow (2012; d. Tom Van Avermaet)
This short film is heads-and-shoulders above the rest on this list. A truly creepy-weird premise from out of Edgar Allen Poe, or Gothic melodrama/horror. A nearly-unrecognizable Matthias Schoenaerts stars (he also associate-produced. Bullhead had come out, Rust and Bone was on its way … he started to invest in projects he really wanted to do.) You can tell there is a lot of money behind this. Special effects. Very very effective. And these effects do not compromise the emotions of the story, its strange catharsis, its obsession with mortality. Death of a Shadow was nominated for an Oscar, and rightly so.
Matthias Schoenaerts, “Death of a Shadow”
Suite Française (2014; d. Saul Dibb)
When one works an obsession, as I was working the Schoenaerts obsession, it leads you down some unexpected pathways. I am very glad to have discovered Death of a Shadow! And Suite Francaise – which I don’t think was even released here – maybe it was – at any rate, it’s not on DVD. But, like I said above, I have my ways, if necessary. The story of the German invasion of France, experienced in one small town. Germans commandeer private homes, the citizens have to live side by side with their oppressors. There’s one nice (?) German soldier (played by Schoenaerts) who lives in a home with a mother and her daughter-in-law (Kristen Scott Thomas and Michelle Williams). He plays the piano. He and the daughter-in-law bond about music. And then … oh noes … they fall in love. Her husband is off at war, has disappeared – maybe into a concentration camp. It’s a soap opera in the middle of a terrible war. The acting is very good, although you have to deal with supposed French people all talking in British accents.
Desert Fury (1947; d. Lewis Allen)
Rather hard to find. Dan had a gathering at his house for a small group of friends so we could watch Imogen’s pretty good copy of it. This movie is INSANE. Lizabeth Scott, Wendell Corey (who would be reunited again 10 years later in Hal Wallis’ Elvis project Loving You), a young Burt Lancaster, and Mary Astor. Technicolor. The color scheme rivals that of Johnny Guitar. You could write a dissertation on the colors of Mary Astor’s various outfits and head-scarves. And the sexuality! That was what really struck us. There is a clearly and openly gay relationship between the two male leads. It’s not subtext. It’s text. 1947!! I mean, come on:
Wendell Corey is the “odd man out,” watching jealously and heartbroken as his boyfriend starts taking up with Lizabeth Scott. It’s tragic. But then there’s all this sexual tension between the mother and … her daughter too. For realz yo. The thing is overBLOWN and SENSUOUS, and you drown into the colors and the intense emotions. If this movie is running on TCM, do yourself a favor …
Jeopardy (1953; d. John Sturges)
Interesting premise: Very short film, just over an hour, and it plays like a bat out of hell. Barbara Stanwyck, Ralph Meeker (see comments above), a scary situation, and the ultimate question (as told to us by Stanwyck in voiceover): Wives, how far would you go to save your husband? What would you do? Don’t answer before you watch the film!
The Naked Spur (1953; d. Anthony Mann)
Great Western, directed by the great Anthony Mann. Small cast: Jimmy Stewart, Robert Ryan, Millard Mitchell, Ralph Meeker (see above. Hm. Could I perhaps be working on something??), and Janet Leigh! Powerful personalities: mercenaries, an Indian-killer, a giggling psycho, a short-haired feisty woman who spends the majority of the film fending off the sexual advances of all of them, who seem to regard her as a prize. The movie is a feast of Good Acting.
I Wake Up Screaming (1941; d. H. Bruce Humberstone)
I’m not a film noir historian. There are enough of those out there. This is an early example of this new style (new to America, at any rate), and it’s a great example. Wonderful performance from Victor Mature and Betty Grable, fantastic lighting effects – dramatic and almost 100% abstract.
Bringing Up Baby (1939; d. Howard Hawks)
Man, I just needed to relax. It makes me laugh every single time. I wrote about the film’s dirty mind years ago for Capital New York. All that talk about bones and boxes. The man is searching for his LOST BONE. I mean, come on. I know this movie by heart, and yet it is still full of surprises.
I Love You Again (1940; d. W.S. Van Dyke)
What on earth is better than William Powell and Myrna Loy together? I wish the industry today operated the way it did then: two people are shown to have unique chemistry, and therefore, they make 10 films together, sometimes playing the same characters (as in The Thin Man series), but sometimes not. I mean, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin … their chemistry in Prairie Home Companion was so off-the-charts, that if it had happened in 1940, their dynamic would have become a franchise.
I had actually never seen I Love You Again, but it’s part of a Powell/Loy box-set I own, so one night I pulled it out. It is hilarious. William Powell starts off playing a cheapskate fuddy-duddy whom no one likes (because who on earth ever likes a cheapskate fuddy-duddy?) Then he gets a bump on the head, and wakes up and he is an entirely different person, a fast-talking wise-talking gangster. Turns out: the gangster had been hit on the head 9 years before, woke up as a fuddy-duddy, not remembering anything in his past, and then proceeded to live his life as that fuddy-duddy – even MARRYING a woman (Loy) – and so now, he has woken up back to himself, and decides to PRETEND he is still the fuddy-duddy husband so that maybe he can con his “wife” out of her money. This is a ridiculous situation so ripe with comedic possibilities. The wife knows her uptight husband has changed. He is more ardent, sexually, first of all. She doesn’t know how to handle it. There’s a moment where Powell forgets his wife’s name (it’s Kay), and he fumbles around for it, and what comes out is: “Oh …. Kay. Okay! Ohhhkay. Oh! Kay!” He’s trying to nail down her name in his head, and he looks completely insane. Powell was so brilliant. Very entertaining movie.
Moonlight (2016; d. Barry Jenkins)
One of the best films of the year. Opens in the States on October 21. Mentioned it here.
Christine (2016; d. Antonio Campos)
This film – about the 1970s TV reporter who committed suicide on air – opens in two weeks. It stars Rebecca Hall. I’ll be reviewing for Ebert.
I, Daniel Blake (2016; d. Ken Loach)
Again: one of the best films of the year. It opens October 21. Mentioned it here.
8 Mile (2004; d. Curtis Hanson)
A re-watch in tribute of the recently deceased Curtis Hanson. When he died, everyone was talking about LA Confidential and Wonder Boys. Fine films! But let’s give it UP for 8 Mile!
The Heiress (1949; d. William Wyler)
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001; d. Joel Coen)
People don’t seem to discuss this one all that much when they discuss the films of the Coen brothers. I thought it was fantastic when I first saw it in the movie theatre, and I thought it was fantastic on this re-watch. Stylish and dark and … slightly crazy. UFOs. I mean, come on. UFOs.
Certain Women (2016; d. Kelly Reichardt)
This beautiful and quiet film opens on October 14. Please see it. Support smaller films. Support films made by women, especially talented women such as Kelly Reichardt. It’s gorgeous and sad, but all done in such a gentle way, no bopping you over the head with import or a “message.” Little character studies. Mentioned it here.
Miss Stevens (2016; d. Julia Hart)
Wow, Lily Rabe is wonderful. I’m not all that familiar with her work. I’m a fan now. An English teacher drives 3 of her students to a Drama competition out of state. The Teacher is … a total mess. She’s a good teacher but it’s the only thing she’s good at. She bonds … sort of … with the students. She hooks up with another (married) teacher during the competition. She drinks a couple of glasses of wine when out to dinner with the kids and tells a slightly inappropriate story. She bonds with one of the students, in particular, who clearly has a huge crush on her, and it feels like it might start to tip over into something … inappropriate. I wasn’t crazy about the soundtrack (too many on-the-nose songs played in on-the-nose moments), but I really enjoyed the film – especially the Theatre Kids aspect. I participated in acting competitions like that myself in high school and college. It’s pretty much exactly like that.
Other People (2016; d. Chris Kelly)
Molly Shannon, y’all. Molly Shannon. This is a GREAT performance. The lead actor/character is the least interesting person in it, which is unfortunate since he’s, you know, the lead. But the ensemble is so good, and the story so heartbreaking that I got sucked in, and was a wreck by the end. If you’ve had to take care of a parent in the final stages before death … well. This movie nails it. It’s quite beautiful. And Molly Shannon, y’all.
Supernatural, Season 4, Episode 1, “Lazarus Rising” (2008; d. Kim Manners)
A favorite episode for so many different reasons. Padalecki’s line-reading: “I don’t pay, Dean.” But I’m mainly “in it” for the RED camera, and the look of pure-cinema it gives. The look is so different from Season 3 as to be a shocker if you go from one straight to the other. This is Beauty on an intense and achey level of perfection and expression. Freckles and sweat and dirty fingernails and dust and silence. It makes me yearn for the show to look like this again. I know those days are done. I know they are not coming back. I miss the Beauty and the Artistry in terms of Mood, because Mood is SO difficult to achieve, the MOST difficult, and mood HELPS the story tremendously. How do you tell the story when the guys are wearing orange-tinted greasepaint and the scenes are lit like a soap opera or a music video? Season 4 though … whoo boy. Those early seasons are beautiful in their total darkness and horror-noir shadows. Season 4 moves into something else, helped by the RED. One of the most sensitive cameras ever developed. Yummmmmmm.
Pelé: Birth of a Legend (2016; d. Jeff and Michael Zimbalist)
Why is everyone speaking English? Why? It takes place in Brazil, a polyglot nation, first of all. It makes no sense, AND runs counter to the whole theme, which is that through Pele, Brazil found pride in itself and its mixed-race population, and who they were. What, American audiences won’t read subtitles? Well, those people are stupid, why do you want to reach them anyway? Having everyone speak English when the whole thing takes place in Brazil pulled me out of it. Aside from that, though, I am a sucker for a Sports Genre Movie. And so the journey of Pele, much of it already familiar to me, was beautiful to watch – and extraordinary. He created records that have yet to be broken. So yeah, I’m a sucker. I cried. Sue me. I wish they had been talking all of the different languages and dialects, though. This is a story about BRAZIL.
Giant (1956; d. George Stevens)
This year is the 60th anniversary of this epic! It’s playing at the Film Forum this week and I went on Friday night for its opening night. The director’s son, George Stevens Jr., and Carroll Baker (see above … it’s Carroll Baker Month round these here parts) were both in attendance for a discussion before the film. The place was packed. It was a pouring rainy night and the ticket line went out the door and down the block. A line out the door and down the block for a film from 1956. I love New York. I’ll be writing more about the night when I have a second to breathe.
George Stevens Jr. and Carroll Baker, September 30, 2016, Film Forum