Supernatural, Season 7, Episode 22, “There Will Be Blood” (2012; d. Guy Norman Bee)
I had started a re-watch of Season 7 in November, so I finished it out this month. Season 7 was one of my least favorites, when I first watched it. I didn’t find the Leviathans scary. I found the whole concept not only rather silly but also judgmental and didactic in a way that doesn’t suit the show at ALL. Also, the whole season is about what the Leviathans are PLANNING, not what they are actually DOING. I still feel all of these things. But it’s a much stronger season than I remembered, in particular all of the smaller Arcs embedded in that larger one. It’s a very strong season in terms of the complexity of that main relationship. Plus: Charlie! And Garth! This particular episode has one of the creepiest scenarios the show has ever attempted. That pink room. The child sex-trafficking – not even implied, there it is front and center. It’s very upsetting.
Supernatural, Season 7, Episode 23, “Survival of the Fittest” (2012; d. Robert Singer)
I LOVED the ending of Season 7. I can’t believe I didn’t see it coming, what with Purgatory this and Purgatory that throughout the season, but there we have it. Yet another example of how effective Supernatural can be, with almost no special effects (that is, it can be effective when it chooses to be. When it gets lazy? The whole thing falls apart precipitously.)
Supernatural, Season 8, Episode 1, “We Need to Talk about Kevin” (2012; d. Robert Singer)
Season 8 is the weakest season (well, until Season 12 came along). There are some excellent things – mainly the Men of Letters reveal, plus the Bunker reveal. (And I am so over the Bunker at this point that I want to destroy it myself.) HOWEVER. The Dean-PTSD stuff is brilliant, and Ackles is brilliant. His understanding of it, the jumpiness and nerviness of the condition, the high-alert-threat mindset … it changes his demeanor completely. Now, that’s in the story itself but it wouldn’t work without his commitment to it. Season 8 is basically the season where both Sam and Dean get girlfriends and then break up with them. Sam dates Amelia (seen through a lemon-lime Lysol haze) and Dean dates a male vampire. And both Sam and Dean are whiny bitches about the other’s partner. I love the symmetry of it. Charlie clocks it, and Dean looks confused. Good stuff.
Supernatural, Season 3, Episode 2, “The Kids are All Right” (2007; d. Philip Sgriccia)
A re-watch for my next re-cap, whenever that will be. I love this episode. It’s a great one-off monster episode, and it sneakily establishes an Arc that will not come to fruition until Season SIX. PATIENCE.
Tower (2016; d. Keith Maitland)
One of the best films of the year. Unfortunately, a Top 10 only allows 10 entries. (Duh.) So some things had to be left off my Top 10. Regardless. This has been a great year for documentaries – the O.J. Doc, and 13th alone – but Tower is stunning. I’ve seen it a couple of times now, once with Allison, because I knew she would love it.
The Piano Teacher (2001; d. Michael Haneke)
I think I’m a fucked up individual and then I watch this and realize, “I’m doing pretty okay, actually.”
Hell or High Water (2016; d. David Mackenzie)
This movie has been a Little Engine That Could. A so-called “indie.” With a couple of stars in it (Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine), but not made for a lot of money. It has made back its money ten-fold, one of the most profitable indies of the year (and maybe even one of the most profitable movies, if you consider its small budget). Like Tower, I wanted to put this on my Top 10. If I had done a Top 20, it would have been on it. Every moment, every scene, every performance … gorgeous. An old-fashioned movie. Outlaws and lawmen. Standoffs and shootouts (one being a direct steal from High Sierra). But grounded in character and relationship. I absolutely loved this movie.
Supernatural, Season 12, Episode 7, “Rock Never Dies” (2016; d. Eduardo Sánchez)
The less said about this the better. I am actually kind of shocked that many fans seem to love this one. I thought it was horrendous. Embarrassingly so. Season 12 is made by people who appear to never have watched the former seasons. Or, they know the lyrics but they don’t hear the music. This entire situation has actually been upsetting me, so I haven’t been writing much about it.
Dear John (2010; d. Lasse Hallström)
My sister told me to watch this, after an indepth and lengthy discussion about our shared love of Channing Tatum. I hadn’t realized that Hallström directed it, and I love him! One of the best things about this movie, which I really enjoyed, was the father-son relationship (although how Richard Jenkins could have spawned Channing is one of the mysteries of Movie Magic). I also cried every single time Amanda Seyfried (who exudes kindness: watch the special features for Mean Girls. In her interview, she tears up when she talks about bullying in high school.) interacted with Richard Jenkins. I loved the coin sub-plot. And Channing is great. No surprise. He’s one of the best things going right now.
The Babadook (2014; d. Jennifer Kent)
Showing this movie to Jen, who had never seen it, was one of the great viewing pleasures this past month. She and I are horror movie buddies. We were hanging out at her house, I started talking about The Babadook, and whaddya know, it was streaming. I wrote about my initial reaction, and on a re-watch, and after discussing with Jen, I now think it’s a masterpiece. Mainly because of the final sequence. If it weren’t for that final sequence, if Kent had decided to end it with a vanquishing of The Babadook and a happy “now we can be happy” ending, it would have been fine, but it would have lacked the hugely suggestive (and redeeming, in my opinion) depth that it has. Kent fought HARD for that ending, and I’m not surprised to hear that nobody in The Powers That Be liked the ending. Because money-and-marketing people are stupid cowards who have absorbed conventionality and love-of-safety into their hearts through their bloodstream. Kent was after something DIFFERENT, something much much TOUGHER. The Babadook actually validates some of my own most personal ideas about life, things that nobody wants to hear. I almost can’t believe it exists, something this tough-minded. If you don’t re-think your own responses in your own life to terrible events … if you don’t wonder if you might be making some incorrect assumptions about your reaction to trauma … then The Babadook hasn’t done its job. Jen texted me the next day: “At the dog park, I found myself talking about The Babadook for 10 minutes to someone who hasn’t seen it.” Yup. The movie’ll do that.
All We Had (2016; d. Katie Holmes)
Katie Holmes’ directorial debut. I didn’t really care for it. Low stakes. I reviewed for Ebert.
Weekend (1967; d. Jean-Luc Godard)
Of all of his movies, this is the one that most obsesses me. I go back to it again and again. It’s hilarious, first of all. That long-take scene of the traffic jam is a masterpiece. But it’s his whole VISION that is so dauntingly brilliant.
Supernatural, Season 5, Episode 21, “Two Minutes to Midnight” (2010; d. Phil Sgriccia)
In terms of a season-wide Arc, Season 5 is the best, the most intricate, the most fascinating. There are so many elements to it, not to mention that both brothers spend the entire season in a state of anxiety about being raped by the OTHER brothers, the celestial ones. The series’ obsession with penetration, consent and co-option has never been as clear as that.
Personal Shopper (2016, but coming out in 2017; d. Olivier Assayas)
I had hoped this would “count” for 2016, in terms of lists, but it doesn’t. It’s being released in March 2017. One of my favorite movies I’ve seen this year. Kristen Stewart: she cannot stop being awesome. What a couple of years she’s had. And she’s still so young. So much more to look forward to. And her CHOICES for projects!! So impressive and strange and intuitive. She’s the real deal. Personal Shopper is the second collaboration between Assayas and Stewart (the first one being the magnificent Clouds of Sils Maria), and in it, Stewart plays a similar type of character. A gofer, a Girl Friday, peripheral to the giant egos of the ones she serves. There’s a lot in Personal Shopper, many elements, but my main takeaway is how unnervingly creepy it is.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970; d. Russ Meyer)
Famously, Roger Ebert wrote the screenplay. I love the movie and thought it was great that Criterion decided to release it. There were some howls from snobs (“Bottom of the barrel, huh, Criterion?” I saw someone complain on Twitter, and etc.) Dear snooty-snoots, culture is made up of all kinds of things, there’s a whole WORLD out there. I bought the Criterion version and had a blast re-watching. My pal Glenn Kenny wrote the essay for the release, and it’s a must-read.
Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath (2016)
I’ve seen each episode thus far. I can’t even believe the world has changed so much that this series is even occurring. Anyone who has read me for any length of time knows my history with the cult, and my obsession with it. It pre-dates South Park and “You’re so glib, Matt.” I am so enmeshed in it that I still hesitate to put that word on my site, since once upon a time I started getting a lot of traffic from Clearwater, Florida, and I got afraid that they were going to come after me. Leah Remini is a HERO. Not only is she bringing these stories to light (of well-known people – at least well-known in the cult-critic circles, of which I am a part – like Amy Scobee and Mike Rinder) – stories that have been published elsewhere, but you’d have to be really obsessed as I am – but she admits HER part in keeping this cult alive, and she is open about the fact that the series is, in some part, an act of redress. Man, Scientology pissed off the wrong woman when they pissed off Leah Remini.
13th (2016; d. Ava DuVernay)
One of THE viewing experiences of the year. 13th and I, Daniel Blake left me literally trembling with rage.
The Wave (2015; d. Roar Uthaug)
I had been meaning to see this on the big screen during its release last year (seems like it needs a big screen) but I missed it. It was streaming on Netflix. The story of Geirangerfjord, a famous fjord in Norway. It’s inevitable that one day the deteriorating cliffs will crumble into the fjord, causing a tsunami that will wipe out everybody in just 10 minutes. The Wave is one of those worst-case-scenario fantasies that help give voice to anxieties floating around in the air. The wave itself is 25 stories high (so frightening) and stunningly done. It’s got all the elements it needs: a frantic and obsessed geologist who KNOWS that something is wrong with the readings they’re getting, and he’s the ONLY one who takes it seriously. He and his family are about to move out of the area because he got another job, but the weird readings from the mountains keep him stuck, and his family … who are then directly in the wave’s path. Really effective.
East of Eden (1981; d. Harvey Hart)
Not the Kazan movie, but the 1981 mini-series, which I actually remember because I read the book right around that time, based on my OBSESSION with the 1955 movie, and Elia Kazan, and James Dean. Unlike the film, the mini series takes on the whole story, three generations worth. But without the underlying Steinbeck-ian themes of loss and memory and morality and free will, not to mention his VOICE … it’s just a soap opera. The mini series is embarrassing. The two male leads are terrible. It’s great to see Warren Oates as Cyrus! Jane Seymour does some interesting things as Cathy, but it’s still not the Cathy in the book. That special something, the Steinbeckian something, is missing. Watched it for research. A real slog.
No Home Movie (2016; d. Chantal Akerman)
On my Top 10 of the year.
The Nice Guys (2016; d. Shane Black)
Also a strong contender for my Top 10 of the year. A couple of days ago there was a kerfluffle on Twitter among a group of male film critics, arguing about whether or not the portrayal of women in this movie – especially the scene of the naked porn star (“porno young lady” as Gosling’s character says) on the hood of the car – was offensive to women. I should have gotten involved. But I have no desire to argue on Twitter, especially not in that particular scenario. A lot of women noticed the conversation too and their response seemed to be along the lines of, “I don’t want to hear men telling me what isn’t offensive.” Fair point. Neither do I! But MY point goes a bit deeper: “I don’t want to hear men telling me what IS offensive, either.” And I don’t want WOMEN telling me what I should (or should not) find “offensive” either. In fact, while we’re at it, I am sick of the concept of “offensive”, in general, because it’s such a …. polite word. PTA-polite. Suburban mainstream polite. It’s sniffing a nasty smell and going for the air freshener. If something rubs me the wrong way, I try to find another word to describe my reaction. Something not so … prissy and fucking middle class respectable. If the middle-class were in charge, there would be no revolutionary art, no bravery, no ambivalence and ambiguity. (And we’re basically there already.) Sex would be vanilla and everyone would be clothed properly and be lovely to one another, never rude or snippy or obnoxious. The values of the middle class say “Don’t rock the boat” “Play well with others.” Okay, fine, that works on the playground but it does not work with art, because most great art does not play well with others. If I think something doesn’t work, then there are other words to use than “This is offensive.” Offensive to WHOM, I ask? And if I’m NOT offended, does that mean I’m brainwashed by the patriarchy or matriarchy or whatever group thinks it has the Truth? So having a bunch of men talking about how offensive that scene was in its portrayal of women rubbed me the wrong fucking way. Mainly because of its assumption that all women were probably offended by it. I guess I’m not a woman then, because I was delighted and horrified by that scene. In it are many of Shane Black’s obsessions: innocence and corruption, violence and vulnerability, sex as Product and sex as human life-force. She looked gorgeous on that car – I’m not afraid to admit it, that’s part of the destabilizing beauty of that moment – but also terrifyingly vulnerable. I am sensitive to cruel and toxic objectification and sorry, boys, but that ain’t it. Or maybe it is to you but do NOT assume that every woman must/should/does feel the same way about it. I’m a woman and I know what sexual vulnerability is about. Being reveled in and adored when I’m naked, and also being afraid when I’m naked: I have experienced both. And all of that is there in that small moment, including my own projections onto her beautiful body, which I’m sure was deliberate on the part of Shane Black. My problem with the women’s side of this conversation is a constant as well, although the men bickering about whether or not it was offensive embarrassed me for them. But I am equally turned off by women who assume that because something “offends” them it must offend ALL women (the implication being “all right-thinking enlightened women”.) In this particular scenario, both genders (at least the mouthpieces I’m talking about here) assume that women’s responses are monolithic. I saw this this year in the initial reaction to Elle: a lot of the outraged women on Twitter were saying “No woman could accept this movie” “No woman would act like this” “Men should be barred from making movies about rape” – these comments, to me, were more scary than the movie itself. Comments like this are used (albeit unconsciously probably) as an intimidation tactic. I don’t intimidate easily. But comments like that do not promote discussion. Comments like that want there to be NO discussion, except among those who agree 100%, and that is totalitarian. Additionally: When men jump into the fray, arguing about how offensive something is to women, they are White Knighting for us, and so often – SO SO OFTEN – White Knights get shit wrong. I’ve experienced it in person. Some man says, “My God, that movie was offensive to women” and I say, “Really? How so? I loved it!” And then everything gets very awkward. Especially since I’m a woman. These men STILL treat women as “other”. They don’t know how to listen to us. And so they assume they know what we’re all about, because we all are somehow the same. I’m not saying they do this deliberately. They mean well, most of the time. But all I will say is: Do better. Moments like this have an “I’m protecting your honor” subtext. Honor? Please. “Honor” is just another way women have been held down and held back: you men clashing your big phallic swords to protect our honor. Same shit. And so these current-day White Knights are just exhibiting a patriarchal mindset, a condescending, “Never fear, Ladies, we’ve got your back!!” The attitude echoes Paul Ryan’s “Women should be championed and revered” comment. These White Knights don’t know they’re doing it. They believe they are allies. They don’t think they are sexist. They think that good ol’ boys and dudebros are the sexist ones, not THEM. They should know that I have experienced more misogyny – exponentially – from nerds and geek-boys than I EVER have from good ol’ boys and dudebros. Gimme a Dudebro over a White Knight any day of the week. Look, women NEED allies. Support is totally appreciated. But do not assume that you know how ALL women think – because by assuming, you are acting like a Douchebag Man Who Doesn’t Listen to Women, just like all the supposed “dudebros” you abhor. What “offends” one woman may not “offend” another, and hopefully your mind won’t explode trying to contain those contradictions. (Same goes for you, too, women.) Unbelievable, I know: women don’t all think alike! What is this world coming to? All of this is to say that I fucking loved The Nice Guys and was not “offended” by one thing in it. As a matter of fact, the main takeaway for me is its old-fashioned sweetness and its care for the characters. Loved it in the theatre, and wondered if it would hold up. Bought a copy, watched again, and was so happy to see that it did. A movie like this hits so many sweet spots for me.
Supernatural, Season 12, Episode 8, “Lotus” (2016; d. Philip Sgriccia)
This episode pissed me off. Horrible. Misguided. Tone-deaf. All surface, no subtext. Lazy. Unforgivable. I’m actually going easy on it with these comments.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947; d. Henry Koster)
Watched while I was in Chicago. Snowy day. In Mitchell’s cozy nook. Neither of us know how many times we’ve seen the movie. We know the sequence by heart. The start of the big Gladys Cooper scene, Mitchell said, “Here we go.” We both cried at the same spots. We paused to discuss. I so want to go to that skating rink. Magic.
A Letter to Three Wives (1949; d. Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
Another favorite, watched with Mitchell. For more indepth thoughts on the film, please read my friend Stevie’s comments on this post.
Seven Samurai (1954; d. Akira Kurosawa)
I cannot imagine what it must have been like in the 1950s to have the films of Kurosawa start to wash up on American shores. The films still astonish and terrify, they are awe-inspiring accomplishments. Seven Samurai is a stunning and exciting action film, taking place over 3 hours, but it zips by so quickly it’s almost a disappointment when it ends. The crowd fight scenes are thrilling, and the characters are unforgettable. The final shot is epic. Recently, Glenn Kenny reviewed Mifune: The Last Samurai, a documentary about brilliant actor Toshiro Mifune, which Kenny thought was a kind of Mifune For Dummies. Not for those who loved him and were obsessed by him (and our numbers are legion). In the review, Glenn sums up his issues with it in the following paragraph: “Mifune: The Last Samurai,” a documentary on the actor directed by Steven Okazaki and narrated by Keanu Reeves (the script is by Okazaki and Stuart Galbraith IV) got off on a somewhat bad foot for me. Explaining Mifune’s place in the firmament of pop culture, the narration says of his collaborations with director Akira Kurosawa, “without them there would have been no ‘Magnificent Seven.’” This is factually true but seems to me to throw out a very crucial baby with the bathwater. What makes Kurosawa and Mifune crucial is that without them there would be no “Seven Samurai.” Thank you, Glenn.
Swiss Army Man (2016; d. Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)
I can’t say enough good stuff about this movie. I resisted it at first, mainly because the reviews coming out of festivals were so rapturous. Why do I do this to myself? I can’t help it. I’m a spiky pissed-off woman with a female Irish pirate for an ancestor. Just like her, I don’t play well with others. I withhold until I’m damn well ready to check it out for myself. As so often happens, I watched and fell in love with it. (But it often goes the other way too. Exhibit A: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Once I watched that shitshow, the hype that came out of Sundance made me think: “Was it the elevation that brought on the rapture? Because … ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?”) Anyway, Swiss Army Man was one of my favorite films this year, and since it was such a strong year, it couldn’t go on my Top 10. What a profound and beautiful film. What an exploration of human life – our bodies, their embarrassments, their responses – but, and even more profoundly, what an exploration of male relationships, an exploration of the possibilities in male intimacy. Not sexual, although that might be a part of it – and the fact that I have to say “not sexual” is indicative of the problem. Intimacy between men, love, friendship, adoration … is still seen as extremely threatening, and it’s fucked us UP. It’s the final frontier. I really liked Annie Julia Wyman’s essay on it in the LA Review of Books.
Patriots Day (2016; d. Peter Berg)
Reviewed for Ebert.
In a Lonely Place (1950; d. Nicholas Ray)
1. One of my favorite movies.
2. My favorite Bogart performance.
3. One of the best – and most brutal and cynical – movies about Hollywood in existence.
Everyone was so excited when Criterion decided to release it. I bought a copy finally and gloried in it, and all of the special features, for hours. My friend Imogen Smith wrote the beautiful essay.
This Is Us, Season 1, Pilot (2016; d. Glenn Ficarra, John Requa)
Allison made me watch the pilot. This is what she and I do: force one another to watch things. And neither of us are ever sorry. I am so out of the TV Loop that this had not struck my radar. It’s absolutely lovely. I will continue to watch! Beautiful acting, too. It made me cry a couple of times. Well played.
A Letter to Elia (2010; d. Martin Scorsese)
A re-watch for this big piece I’m researching. My feelings about Elia Kazan are well-documented on this site, not to mention the unforgettable night when I met him, so I’ve been having such a good time with this research project. Scorsese talking about his personal reaction to East of Eden makes me tear up.
Where Danger Lives (1950; d. John Farrow)
A fascinating film starring Robert Mitchum as a doctor (yum), who gets embroiled with what appears to be a poor little rich girl (played by Faith Domergue), who then turns out to be lying in order to reel in the good doctor. Claude Rains is deliciously evil, in such a cool and smiling and unruffled way. The mood of the movie is out of its mind. So paranoid, so richly sexual.
Tension (1949; d. John Berry)
I love this movie! Nerdy pharmacist (Richard Basehart) married to Hot-Babe Malcontent (Audrey Totter) ends up changing his name/entire personality in order to get his revenge. Once he takes on the new personality, all kinds of other things start changing for him. He also meets an adorable amateur photographer played by Cyd Charisse. The sexually sick implications in Tension, especially in regards to the marriage, and how she keeps him reeled in, despite the fact that she humiliates him constantly, are so strong that you almost want to look away.
The Fall (2013-2016; created by Allan Cubitt)
I binge-watched the entire three seasons this past month. It has multiple things I adore and NEED in my life: Gillian Anderson. John Lynch. A variety of Irish accents. A sexually sadistic serial killer. Belfast locations. Compulsively watchable, for many reasons. The acting is top-notch, across the board. Jamie Dornan gives a very creepy portrayal of obsession: watch how his face changes when he’s preparing or re-living or lost in his thoughts. It’s a whole different thing than the passive benign husband/father thing he’s got going on. Gillian Anderson, though … What I love about the performance is its chilly blend of competence and messy complexity. Her whispery voice. Her cold eyes. The outfits. Her absolute unconcern with how she’s regarded. But it’s very well-written because the majority of her backstory is left unspoken. And the glimpses we do get are startling, and you have to hurriedly incorporate them into your understanding of the character. A reminder that nobody – NOBODY – is what they seem. On an actress level, the performance is “campy” but not in the overused sense of the word. It’s high camp. It’s baroque camp. It’s reveling in the surface of it: the heels, the silky blouses, the curves of her hips in those tight skirts, the paleness of her skin, etc. Anderson knows that the surface will be the main component of the character. And it is only through the meticulous creation of and maintaining of that surface that we’ll get the revelatory “Oh wow” feeling when the cracks start to show. But surface is ALL. This is the kind of acting that used to be par for the course in the 1930s and 40s. It’s out of style now, more’s the pity. But this? This is what it looks like. There’s honestly nothing better. I so enjoyed watching her work.
20th Century Women (2016; d. Mike Mills)
I’ve seen it twice now. My 4-star review for Ebert.
Hail, Caesar! (2016; d. The Coen brothers)
“Before you say your line, just give a … a mirthless chuckle.” [Pause filled with the dead air of incomprehension. Then:] “A mirthless chuckle?” “Yes, just a mirthless chuckle.” And watching how that poor actor interprets what “a mirthless chuckle” should look like is one of the funniest moments in film this year. I love every second of this film. Should have been on my Top 10, but what are you gonna do.
Christmas, Again (2015; d. Charles Poekel)
I reviewed this beautiful movie when it came out and thought I’d revisit. It’s somewhat hard to track down. I think I found it streaming on Amazon Prime. It’s so delicate, you might make the mistake of thinking this is just a “slice of life” movie. It’s not. I loved it even more the second time. I saw even more than I perceived when I saw it originally. It got DEEPER.
Beginners (2010; d. Mike Mills)
I re-watched this in preparation for my 20th Century Women review. I loved it first time around, although my main takeaway was not Christopher Plummer but the love story between Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent (in particular that first scene at the costume party which I think is just beautifully conceived and carried out). Beginners is about Mills’ father and 20th Century Women is about his mother. The “quirks” in Beginners have vanished in his second movie, a giant leap forward. Mills is young, too. This is exciting because we can expect much more from him. He’s got “it.” Or what I consider to be “it” which is an ear for dialogue and a devotion to people. Not much happens in his movies. There’s an inciting event (“Wow, my dad came out of the closet at 75 years of age”), but after that … it’s chaos. There’s a kind of James Brooks-ish all-over-the-place thing going on, and I like that. I don’t care about plot. Please just give me interesting characters!
Tomorrow (1972; d. Joseph Anthony)
Early Duvall: in between To Kill a Mockingbird and The Godfather – released the same year as Tomorrow. This movie was a favorite of my dad’s, in particular Duvall’s performance. I remember the first time he spoke of it to me. I hadn’t seen the movie, and Dad couldn’t remember the name of the movie, but he described the character and the performance, even some of the scenes, with vivid detail. It made a huge impression. I re-watched this (and boy is it hard to find) for another project I was working on. It’ll be screening on TCM this month and I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t seen it.
Ninotchka (1939; d. Ernst Lubitsch)
If there’s such a thing as a perfect movie, Ninotchka is it. Greta Garbo is such a brilliant comedienne. Her deadpan is so dead that it goes to her very soul. Until it cracks. Every line reading is hilarious to me. The film is breathlessly passionate. Gorgeous love scenes. Eerily upsetting, in terms of what would happen in Europe that year, and through the next 4 years. The Eiffel Tower. The civilization of France. The semi-comedic treatment of Communists. (I love the scenes back in Russia in the communal apartments.) I watch this movie and get swept away every single time.
Fences (2016; d. Denzel Washington)
Denzel Washington directs a film adaptation of the great American play, August Wilson’s Fences. Washington has transferred the Broadway production (which brought both him and Viola Davis Tony’s, and rightfully so) to the screen with loving care. He wants us to hear these words, dammit. LISTEN to the prose of one of the great theatrical masters. So silly, these film nerds who complain that it’s not cinematic enough, that it feels like an adaptation, that it feels like a play. Maybe it feels like a play because it IS a play? So, are you saying that if Denzel Washington crowded up the screen with gizmo-moves and Steadicam-moves and twisty-twirly tracking shots, you would have deigned to give the movie the attention it deserves? I’m being harsh, but these people do not live in the real world, and by real world I mean the world where audiences come into a dark space, as one, to watch – and LISTEN TO – a story being told. Listen, I love good camera work and shot construction. But sometimes camera work is a distraction, unnecessary, a show-off. Fences is a great piece of writing, and Washington has done all of us a great service by presenting it to us plainly and simply. It is not visually uninteresting, but that backyard really IS a stage – in the play and in the movie – where people come out and make their points, tell stories, fight it out. Washington has not made the mistake of “opening up the script” like you’re supposed to do. It’s a great great play. Why mess with it? “Film is a visual medium,” drones some nerd who has never created anything in his life. (I’m on a roll this morning with the rants. It’s 2017. Let’s start strong.) YES. Film IS a visual medium, and so sometimes that means Andrei Tarkovsky, sometimes it means Chantal Akerman, sometimes it means P.T. Anderson, and sometimes it means putting the camera in the best spot and letting the actor/words be the star. It’s such a joy to see these actors work, as painful as this story is. There’s a lovely elegiac feeling to some of it, like you can sense August Wilson looking back on something, considering another era, one in which he grew up, the neighborhood he knew, the people he knew. This is what happened. This is who we were. Seeing Washington, one of our greatest actors, as Troy – the one-time Negro League star, now bitter, a bully to his son, a tough man, a principled man who betrays his own principles, a garrulous story-teller … God, it was satisfying! His physical work was extraordinary too: you could see the athlete he once was, but you could also see that those muscles were going to fat, that his back was atrophying from crouching on the side of that garbage truck, that this is a man facing mortality and hating every second of it. Viola Davis is a miracle. To complain that this film is uncinematic – even when you are being blessed with the enriching miracle of a performance like hers – represents an attitude of base ingratitude (not to mention a misunderstanding of what movies are actually FOR, at their most simplistic level.) Superb. I didn’t see this soon enough to put it on any list. One of the best films of the year.
To Be or Not To Be (1942; d. Ernst Lubitsch)
So subversive that it couldn’t exist now! It was subversive then too but the atmosphere is even worse now, when Humorlessness reigns supreme. Look at the brou-haha about The Interview, with the studio caving into the threats from the Self-Appointed Policemen who didn’t want ANY of us to see the movie since THEY were offended by it (that word again!) even though none of these people had even SEEN it yet. “But I’ve HEARD about it and it sounds OFFENSIVE.” Thanks, but I’ll make up my own mind. To Be or Not To Be was made right as America was getting herself involved in the war in Europe – which makes the film’s attitude – not to mention its plot – that much more out-there and courageous. It’s “Springtime for Hitler” almost 30 years before The Producers. It’s “Springtime for Hitler” WHILE Hitler was on the loose. Mr. Lubitsch, you’ve got some nerve. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny. Screwball slapstick. Nazis. Jack Benny. Sooooo funny. A young Robert Stack getting up to leave the theatre every time Benny begins the “To be or not to be” speech which – classic Lubitsch – pays off hugely in the final moment. Carole Lombard: every gesture, eyebrow raise, line-reading: perfection. An actor impersonating Hitler out in the streets of Warsaw. A nefarious plot to infiltrate a Nazi gala affair … there are a couple of scenes that Tarantino lifted wholesale into Inglourious Basterds. A hilarious movie with brass balls.
East of Eden (1955; d. Elia Kazan)
For that research thing I keep mentioning. I won’t name what it is but it’s probably pretty obvious by now. I have seen this movie many many many times, and I can say – with little exaggeration – that seeing it when I was babysitting, age 12, changed the course of my life. I always think of that when I go back to see it again. I have such personal feelings all wrapped up in it. But still: it’s a gorgeous piece of film-making from Kazan, in particular the colors, and his fluid use of Cinemascope – not an easy feat. He pulls it off. Back to the Fences conversation: there is not one uninteresting shot here. It’s not just Kazan showing off. He had many challenges facing him, in particular how to tell this personal intimate story about a father and two sons without a lot of closeups, since closeups don’t really work in Cinemascope. The emotion, then, the power of the emotion, is in his framing, his use of colors, the way he tilts the camera sometimes – yes, calling attention to itself – but always serving the story. It’s heightened overblown 1950s melodrama and much of it has nothing to do with what Steinbeck wrote (or very little, let’s say that), but it’s a clearly personal piece of work, as most of Kazan’s films are. James Dean is so compelling and captivating you can’t believe it’s his debut. The second he shows up, it’s obvious: That’s a star. Now I can say that because I know how it all turned out, but apparently in the early screenings, the second the camera came to rest on him in that opening sequence, him sitting crouched on the sidewalk curb, the teenage girls in the audience flipped ….. OUT. Instant recognition: THAT. I WANT THAT. GIMME GIMME. Not every hot young actor causes that kind of reaction just from sitting on a sidewalk curb, but Dean did.
Justified, Season 1, Episodes 1 – 12 (2010; created by Graham Yost)
Jessie. Helena. Help me. HELP ME TO BEAR IT. I love it so much I’m having heart palpitations. I’m so excited that I have 5 more seasons to go. I can’t wait for my cousin to show up! It’s so good. The first episode practically brought me to orgasm. And on that note …