- The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler)
- Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky)
- Offside (Jafar Panahi)
- Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu)
- Schizopolis (Steven Soderbergh)
- Scream, Queen: My Nightmare in Elm Street (Roman Chimienti/Tyler Jensen)
- Caught (Max Ophuls)
- The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo)
- Rosetta (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
- The Green Fog (Guy Maddin)
1- The Best Years of Our Lives makes me think about writing a piece on movies that one can watch over and over again. Why is it so effortless to watch this long movie so many times? I think there are two factors: an incredibly rich script with vibrant, living characters, as well as the magical cinematography of Gregg Toland. Toland’s legendary deep focus pulls you into the depth of the world he is photography in such a profound way, that you feel as if you are living these people. Plus it has Myrna Loy. I mean, come on
2- By watching Mirror I have completed my traversal of Tarkovsky. I feel that Mirror is the most “difficult” of his films. Maybe it is because I ‘know’ what to expect since the difficulty didn’t bother me the way it might. I felt privileged to watch such a beautiful thing. There is always next time to ‘get’ it. Although, I feel that I will revisit The Sacrifice and Stalker before this one, not that either of them are easier.
3- Thank you, Criterion Collection for opening up the world of contemporary Iranian film to me. Offside is another amazing film by Jafar Panahi that is not about what it seems to be about. A bunch of girls separately sneak into a stadium dressed as boys in order to watch a World Cup elimination game. Of course, women are not allowed at public sporting events and the convoluted reason why, which is given several times in the movie, is that women should not be exposed to men cursing, and so for their own purity, they are forbidden entrance. What happens between these spunky teenagers and their slightly soldiers ordered to watch them during the game, is constantly surprising and I would even say delightful. Panahi is currently under a 20 year ban from making films, yet he keeps turning out masterpieces. Is the ban a sham just for appearance, like the reason the girls can’t go to watch a game freely?
4- I am a great admirer of Steven Soderbergh. He has put out a very eclectic body of work. Schizopolis dates from his earlier years as a director. It is experimental in the way Richard Lester was with his Beatles films. In fact, Soderbergh cites Lester as an inspiration. The experiments are fun. Whole sequences of dialogue in meaningful no sequiturs that begin to make sense, among other gimmicks. Games and silliness about, but instead of aggressively trying figuring it out, I sat down comfortably next to it and joyfully went along for the ride. Great, nutty fun.
5- Scream, Queen: My Nightmare in Elm Street starts out as the story of Mark Patton (one of the film’s producers) and how, after landing his first starring role in a film, had the opportunity destroyed because of the obvious gay subtext that the writer and director loaded onto the second installment of the Freddy Kruger franchise. Patton claims he was only playing it as written. The director and writer deny any sneaking gay subtext, even they both admitted years later that they were in some way responsible. Patton got the blame for the film’s bad box office performance, with the director and writer claiming that his performance was what gave it the gay tinge. When informed that he would never be considered for ‘straight’ roles again, he walked away from movies entirely. However, he carried what was, to me, justifiable grudge, especially against the writer. The film takes a very interesting turn and becomes a story about someone who has held on to anger and a desire for revenge for 30 years, but was now ready to deal with it effectively. A nice little documentary.
6- I know I am supposed to revere Max Ophuls but I find his movies dull. The much-lauded tracking shots and moving cameras always seem pretentious and distracting to me, in a way that Toland’s deep focus never does. Caught was a pleasant surprise. A kind of noirish thriller, with James Mason as the good guy. Robert Ryan is psychotic, as usual, as a Howard Hughes-like megalomaniac who marries a very young and super lovely Barbara Bel Geddes. It is a shame that she didn’t do more films. What a presence of grace she lends any film.
7- The Battle of Algiers is a film I have been chasing for decades. Every time I had the opportunity to watch it, dread would set in. I was afraid it would be grim and dull Man, was I wrong Very few films feel as visceral as this. Much has been written about the fact that no stock footage was used, that Pontecorvo shot everything himself. It is astounding when you see the final result. Although it depicts the Algerian fight to throw off French colonial rule, the deeper meaning seems to be that the struggle corrupts both sides.
8- I have loved everything I have seen by the Dardenne brothers. I love how they examine true moral issues, both on the individual and societal level. Rosetta was the bleakest of their films which I have, and I was supremely impressed. Not sure that I need to see it again anytime soon, but I will gladly watch Young Ahmed or The Kid With The Bike any time. I guess I am a sucker for a glimmer of hope at the end of a lot of bleakness.
9- What fun to watch The Green Fog in light of the 2022 Sight + Sound poll coming out this week. This film makes a fabulously fun argument for the lasting influence of Vertigo, which dropped from first to second place in the recent poll (whatever that tells us). Guy Maddin and his colleagues have used the Hitchcock film as a template to make their on riff on that film. Using found footage from old films and lots of 1970s TV shows, this found-art version uncannily hits all the high points of Vertigo but much in the way a 5th grader’s book report diorama illustrates a book. But it is so lovingly done, and in such good humor, that perhaps even Hitchcock would have approved. Some of the found footage so fits the Hitchcock film that I actually gasped a few times. Great fun.