Conspiracy (2001; d. Frank Pierson)
The definition of “the room where it happens”. The awful room where something vile was decided. The TV movie starring Kenneth Branagh (so excellent) about the Wannsee Conference. It’s superb. Based on the one surviving transcript of the minutes taken during the meeting. All participants were told to destroy the transcript. One person didn’t. That’s why we even know about this damn thing. The movie is CHILLING and very well done. Timely, too. Watching the faces around that table – Nazis, all, but Nazis who assumed that they were still in the business of doing government stuff and enacting policies, however vile – realize the next step that will be asked of them. The implications. The realization of what, actually, it was that they were doing. It’s brutal.
Justified (Season 1-6)
I started Justified late in December and binge-watched it during the wretched – worse every day – month of January. Has 31 days ever felt so endless? Also in December, I found a new apartment and will be moving there tomorrow. The whole thing – looking at apartments, getting approved, signing lease – happened in a 24-hour period. I make almost no money. The stress has been unimaginable. I have considered moving out of the city altogether. Taking a roommate. Move to Memphis. Drastic measures, but things I have considered anyway. It feels like the worst possible time to move, but I have no choice in the matter. I don’t want to move. I don’t want to leave this beautiful apartment, the place where I got my shit together, got diagnosed, started my freelance career for real. My point is: January was a whirlwind and maybe 5% of it included any pleasure. Supernatural is out to lunch. My normal escape hatch has vanished. So the 5% of the entirety of life in January that provided any escape or pleasure was in the Justified binge-watch. I watched the whole thing so quickly that now I need to go back and watch it again, take more time with it. It’s so rich and deep. The dialogue: “Well, Raylan, you’re talking to a man who’s sleeping with his dead brother’s widow and murderess. So if you’re looking for someone to cast stones on this matter, you have picked the wrong sinner.”
Hidden Figures (2016; d. Theodore Melfi)
One of the best films of 2016.
Rashomon (1950; d. Akira Kurosawa)
In this world where some stupid blonde broad refers to “alternate facts” with a straight (albeit rictus leer) face, (not to mention the fact that that stupid broad has any national platform whatsoever), I wanted to re-visit this gorgeous film that digs into the malleability not of truth, not necessarily, but of perception, of narrative. There isn’t only one way to look at things. The only WAY to look at things is from your own viewpoint. You can’t get OUT of your own perspective. Machiko Kyô, for me, is the real stand-out here. Her physical work! I mean, she’s going toe to toe with Toshirô Mifune, and he’s a ferociously physical and gigantic actor. I love the film.
Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (2016; d. Fisher Stevens, Alexis Bloom)
Heartbreaking. I reviewed for Ebert.
America, America (1963; d. Elia Kazan)
A personal project for Kazan, it was one of his declarations of independence from working on other writers’ stories. This was the story of his family, fleeing the Turks in Anatolia, going through amazing hardships to get to America. I would highly recommend seeing this now, especially in the current climate. It’s intensely moving. I agree with what Kazan said, and other critics said, that the lead kid he found is not very good. But the film is filled with classic Kazanian moments. Amazing footage of real-life places and real-life people. Kazan always wanted to film on location. He was an innovator in that regard. And, side note: I’ve seen the film before, of course, but somehow (amazingly, all things considered) it had never occurred to me that:
In my life, I have had romantic entanglements with not one, but TWO, men whose fathers played fairly significant roles in America America. What on earth can this mean? It’s so specific! I swear I did not do it deliberately! It comes from my association with the Actors Studio obviously, but STILL. I should put it on my Dating profile. “Only those whose fathers were in Kazan’s America America need apply. Kthxbai.” Charlie texted me and asked me to go to a movie a couple of weeks ago. I texted him back that the night he suggested didn’t work for me. He texted back: “Tell the truth. It’s because my Pops wasn’t in that Kazan movie, isn’t it.” Thank you JESUS GOD ESPECIALLY NOW for funny people.
Ma (2016; d. Celia Rowlson-Hall)
A really striking first feature from Rowlson-Hall. I reviewed here.
Audition (2012; d. Celia Rowlson-Hall)
Short film directed by (and starring) Celia Rowlson-Hall. Actors will totally understand this film. And women will understand it even more. The whole thing is on YouTube.
Prom Night (2010; d. Celia Rowlson-Hall)
I had watched these short films in preparation for watching Ma, Rowlson-Hall’s first feature. Rowlson-Hall is young and seems to make one short film a month. There’s so much stuff out there. I really admire her!
The Comeback (2005, 2014)
It’s so hard to watch. Why did I put myself through this again? Because she is so brilliant. Uncannily Gena Rowlands level of brilliance in honesty and brilliance in characterization and fearlessness. What is so brilliant is that Valerie Cherish wants so badly to come off as a “good sport.” It’s that desire to be perceived as a “good sport” that infuses everything she does, every reaction, every interaction, every aside. It is her desire to be a “good sport” that makes her look so NUTS. If she could just allow herself to be cranky, a bitch, whatever, she might be a happier person. Intensely moving and intensely TRUE about being an actor.
Kedi (2016; d. Ceyda Torun)
Get ready for this one, peeps. In the current moment of heretofore unimaginable stress, this documentary about the huge population of street cats in Istanbul, works as a powerful healing tonic. I came out of the screening in tears. Opens next week.
Last Tango in Paris (1972; d. Bernardo Bertolucci)
Brando gives one of the most towering performances of his career. A strong giant reduced. Devastated. Devastating. I re-watched this in preparation for a podcast. Jessa Crispin (aka The Book Slut, once upon a time) reached out to me and asked me to be a guest on her new podcast. (I believe it’ll be the first episode!) We have been corresponding about Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, and the controversy around it, as well as the controversy around the treatment of Maria Schneider in Last Tango. We were frustrated by both controversies and she decided to “have me on” to discuss. I haven’t seen Last Tango in years. A couple of weeks ago we got together and recorded the podcast. It hasn’t launched yet. As is so often the case with these things, I now have no memory of what I said. But we had a good time talking.
Millennium (1998, 3rd season)
It’s been a long long time since Keith and I got together to binge-watch Millennium. I have it down as June 2016 in my “viewing diary.” This past year has been so terrible, an annus horibilis (and 2017 will be another annus horibilis), but somehow … art MUST matter still. It is even more important now. I reached out to Keith at the beginning of January. We set a date. I went out to Brooklyn, had a wonderful conversation with Keith and Dan, where we connected and shared our emotions, something I realized was long overdue. I have been almost completely isolated for the entirety of January. Bad. Then Keith and I picked up where we left off: Season 3, Episode 7. We watched about 8 episodes, stopping only to go and get some sandwiches at a nearby deli. We sat in their comfortable main room, with the shutters closed (yes, actual shutters), a dark cave, which was something I also have needed. Quiet viewing with a friend. We made it up to “Sound of Snow,” an intensely moving episode about grief, and dealing with the final moments of his wife. “Collateral Damage” stars an extraordinarily hot young actor named James Marsters. I know “Buffy” fans know him. It took me a second to clock him as the real estate developer – with a signed photo of Donald Trump on his wall – in Supernatural‘s “Shut up, Dr. Phil.” Everyone else probably already knew that.
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015; d. Sam Taylor-Johnson)
I know, I know. I’ve been assigned to review Fifty Shades Darker, so figured I finally needed to check this out. I bought the books back when they came out, because I love dom-sub erotica, but they are so poorly written I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I was interested to watch because Anne V. Coates – the editor who received a Lifetime Achievement Award last year, whose tribute reel – read by Diane Lane – was written by Yours Truly – edited it. Her comment about the film, “I thought it should be more raunchy.” I completely agree. Because I binge-watched “The Fall” last month, Jamie Dornan was very close to the surface of my consciousness, and in this movie he removes the serial-killer psychopathy that he portrayed so brilliantly in The Fall, but kept the chilly need for control. Dakota Johnson was a revelation. Although not really, since she was so good in A Bigger Splash, one of the best films of last year. What really struck me in this ponderous film with zero tension (“will she or will she not sign his contract of consent?? Tune in next week!”) was just how much her sense of humor is clearly irrepressible. Even in THIS material. And THAT is why I think she’s very very good, someone worth watching, someone who is the real deal. There are times when he gets all Thuper Therious about his sexual intentions and she literally bursts into laughter. It’s so REAL. It’s what you would do! I’m very impressed that she was open enough to allow that kind of non-literal very human reaction into her performance (and impressed with the not-very-talented director for realizing these elements would help save his film.) You watch this stuff and think, “Oh my God, people, just get to fucking. It’s not that big a deal. People have been fucking since the beginning of time. Express your kinks, get on the same page, and get on with it.” I look forward to the next installment, mainly so I can study Dakota Johnson.
Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath (2016)
I watched the final episodes. They often brought me to tears. This entire experience has been extraordinary. Especially with my fascination with that cult, well-documented here, a fascination that has led me into some pretty sketchy waters. As someone who has been a critic for almost 20 years now, maybe even more, I cannot believe I have lived to see this day. Leah Remini is one brave woman.
Children of Men (2006; d. Alfonso Cuarón)
I loved it when it first came out. The book is a work of genius, and Cuarón did right by that powerful source material. I haven’t re-watched it since. I now think it is a masterpiece. It hit me really really hard, even more so the second time. I was flattened by it.
The Salesman (2017; d. Asghar Farhadi)
Farhadi has been in the news, as has his lead actress, the marvelous Taraneh Alidootsi, for announcing they would not attend the Oscars (the film is nominated for Best Foreign Film) because of the Muslim Ban. Also, who knows if they would even be “allowed in.” It is my opinion that the Oscars should be canceled in solidarity with this Oscar-winner. They should refuse to go on. A much more powerful statement than celebrities standing onstage ranting about Trump for three hours. I know it won’t be canceled, but I want to go on record saying that that’s what I think should happen. It’s a disgrace. Regardless: Asghar Farhadi is one of my favorite filmmakers working today. If you watch, in order, Fireworks Wednesday, About Elly, A Separation and The Salesman, you will be stunned by the enormity of his accomplishment. I think he leaves most American directors in the dust. And his WRITING. He is the only heir to Henrik Ibsen in our current landscape. Other people TRY to be Henrik Ibsen, and they come off as lecturing sanctimonious superior bores. Farhadi digs into, burrows into, moral and political and ethical and social issues with the devotion of a true humanist. The Salesman is a work of genius. And the final scene. I’m not exaggerating when I say I have not recovered. I almost couldn’t get through it. It opened last week. Please please see it. Especially to show your support of Farhadi. This is a man who understands authoritarian mindsets. His films are not about that so much. He is interested in examining class issues in Iran and how it plays out in all kinds of unforeseen ways. But mainly, he is interested in people. There are no villains. But by the end of each of his films, the characters have been altered forever.
Supernatural, Season 12, Episode 9 “First Blood” (2017, d. Robert Singer)
This whole season has been such a disappointing and disheartening experience. It actually upsets me to watch it now. Especially in the current heartlessness and brutality in our national dialogue. Supernatural was always a series willing to go deep. To embrace complexity and nuance. To sit in the unknowingness. To avoid certainty, or at least QUESTION and INTERROGATE certainty. Now it’s just its surface. It’s become Nothing. I’m actually really upset about it. I sound annoyed but it’s just because I’m upset. It feels like everything beautiful and hopeful is being ruined.
Mr. Gaga (2017; d. Tomer Heymann)
I so recommend this film. It opens today, probably in very limited arthouse release. It’s a documentary about famed Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. His choreography! Stunning! I was not familiar with his work at all. The opening of the film coincides with the opening of one of his shows here in New York. I’ve been so distracted these days by my move and the state of the world that I only have so much room to take in new things, but I would love to go see his work in person. I reviewed for Ebert, the review will go up today. I’ll provide a link when it’s live.