- David Copperfield (George Cukor)
- Where is the Friend’s House (Abbas Kiarostami)
- Sans Soleil (Chris Marker)
- Slacker (Richard Linklater)
- Coda (Sían Heder)
- Life Goes On (Abbas Kiarostami)
- The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg)
- Osama (Siddiq Bakman)
- The Third Man (Carol Reed)
- She Done Him Wrong (Lowell Sherman)
1- With David Copperfield we have a sublime example of the MGM ‘tradition of quality It was the biggest, richest studio of the time, with the largest stable of great actors under contract. Making a film of Dickens’ novel already gave the project a cachet of greatness, but MGM was able to load it with big stars of the day like W.C. Fields, Edna May Oliver, Basil Rathbone, Lionel Barrymore and Una O’Connor. The casting is uniformly perfect. I feel that Dickens knew that someday there would be a genius comic actor named W.C. Fields so he wrote the character of Wilkins Micawber as a gift to the future. The direction of George Cukor is solid as always. What struck me this time around is that there is no ‘take’ on the novel that the film is trying to champion. It is just a straight-forward illustration of the classic novel. No agenda, just phenomenal resources in the service of telling the story. Something I fear we would never see today.
2- I deeply admire Chris Marker’s La Jetee. I have heard about Sans Soleil and became interested in seeing it especially since it made the top 100 of the recent Sight + Sound poll (more about that in another post). Sans Soleil is a flood of documentary footage from Japan and Guinea Bissau, among other places, held together by a narrative of a woman reading letters she received from a fictitious director from his travels to these places. My critical faculties were overwhelmed trying to tie the letter content with the film of the various locales. I failed utterly, but I didn’t care. I was along for the ride. The narrator reads the letters with such conviction and the visuals are so gorgeous, that I felt that even if I don’t know what the point of the whole thing is, someone does/did.
3- Slacker for me was an absolute joy. Linklater’s first feature kind of reminds me of La Ronde, except spread over 100 characters and minus the syphilis. And it is infinitely more diverting than La Ronde. The is no appreciable link as we follow one character to the next, but I didn’t care. Everything is so engagingly portrayed. I haven’t seen a film that gave me such as sense of place (Austin, TX) since my beloved Nashville. Please do yourself a favor and spend time in this very satisfying world.
4- Coda was a must-see for me because I have this project to watch every Best Picture Oscar winner. It confirms my feeling that recent Best Picture winners have been average at best. This really felt like an Afterschool Special Movie, except with more dirty words. It was fine and uplifting as expected. Best Picture? The same category as The Bridge on the River Kwai or Casablanca? OK, I guess
5- The Fabelmans seems like such a personal film illustrating Spielberg’s childhood, that I feel I have no business passing judgement on it.
6- Osama is a film that needs to be better known. It is from pre-Taliban Afghanistan filmed in Dari. I didn’t realize that Dari is the language of an educated sector of the Afghani population and that it is almost identical to Farsi. It came as no surprise then, that the film was very similar to a lot of the New Iranian Cinema I have been enjoying. In many ways it is a real-life A Handmaid’s Tale.
7- In his book The American Cinema Andrew Sarris defined the concept of auteurism to the American film lover. He define an auteur as a person whose mark on a work is immediately recognizable. This has most often been taken to mean the director. However Sarris also points to Greta Garbo as someone whose mark on a film is the most recognizable element of the film. I would definitely put Mae West up for consideration as the auteur non pareil. She owns the universe she moves in. She is brilliantly hilarious and sexy and self-deflating at the same time. If you have any doubt about her mightiness, just watch as she very sexually eyes Cary Grant up and down, and then declares, “You can be had!” I am honored to have her as a fellow Brooklynite.