In 2016, after years of staying away, I spent a lot of time in movie theaters. With a few exceptions, this meant I forced myself into public acts aloneness in the city of Denver, which is not conducive to such acts.
I liked this very much, though I still find it difficult to adjust to the popcorn-eating of fellow moviegoers. The world today might excuse/explain this trait of mine, which other eras would have called a quirk or bad manners, as something that makes me special. Give me a hug/death. But while I allow for the possibility that I’m really very brilliant for not being to stand the sound of popcorn-chomping, it’s really the smell that gets to me and, even more so, the disrespect. It doesn’t at all bother me that hordes of horrific food items might be publicly consumed at some blockbuster movie, but at Carol? Or Moonlight? Non-horrific foods and beverages, discreet foods, like bits of chocolate, I would not object to those.
Yes, I am an e l i t i s t. But the point of a dark room lit up on one wall seems to be the darkness and popcorn cuts through all that like the vilest fluorescent light.
Barry Jenkins. Moonlight. 2016.
Recent Movies I Loved That I Saw in Theaters
Todd Haynes. Carol. USA, 2015.
Barry Jenkins. Moonlight. USA, 2016.
Chaitanya Tamhane. Court. India, 2014.
Paul Verhoeven. Elle. France, 2016.
Old Movies I Loved That I Saw in Theaters
Satyajit Ray. Jalsaghar. India, 1958.
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Black Narcissus. UK, 1949.
This weird little theater near where I live had a mini (old) film festival over the summer. India seemed to be a theme. It’d been years since I saw a Ray film and I’m thrilled I got to see Jalsaghar on the big screen, especially for that stunning kathak sequence. I don’t entirely get why the film goes on much farther after that scene. Black Narcissus is gorgeous, despite all the difficult feelings one has dealing with the brownface and creepy white gaze. Maybe the fact that the film came out shortly after we became independent and that it seems to allegorize the white folk being chased away by/from the land, maybe that soothed me.
Other Notable Movies I Saw in Theaters
Jeff Nichols. Loving. USA, 2016.
Ben Wheatley. High-Rise. UK, 2016.
Loving is an Oscar-baity movie that manages to be fairly restrained throughout. I quite liked it, perhaps mostly because it was educational, but also because Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as Richard and Mildred Loving are beyond charming. High-Rise . . . I don’t know. I feel obligated to watch adaptations of J. G. Ballard’s work, but it was too much to expect Crash-levels of excellence here. Who is this Ben Wheatley? No idea. Cronenberg knows what to do with actors, but I’m not sure even he ccould do anything useful with Tom Hiddleston. He looks like an underwear model.
Anyway, High-Rise is on Netflix now. It’s an OK watch.
Ava DuVernay. 13th. 2016.
Movies on Netflix I Loved
Jacques Audiard. Dheepan. France, 2015.
Ava DuVernay. 13th. USA, 2016.
Obsession #1: Paul Verhoeven
Turkish Delight. Netherlands, 1973.
The Fourth Man. Netherlands, 1983.
Total Recall. USA, 1990.
Showgirls. France/USA, 1995.
Elle. France, 2016.
I should probably say something intelligent about my obsessions, but I can’t. These movies are fantastic in their diversity. Sometimes they’re trashy or campy. They are guilty of “excesses.” I love every single one of them (though I guess Total Recall is lower down the list and therefore not in my little collage thing).
OK, this is petty: I often read IMDB trivia and one of the tidbits about Elle (which you must see, but trigger warning for sexual assault) begins:
The initial plan was to produce the movie in the United States, but there were problems finding a female lead. Nicole Kidman, Sharon Stone, Julianne Moore and Diane Lane were offered the role, but they all passed on the opportunity.
Diane Lane?! LOL, who thought of Diane Lane for this role that the almighty Isabelle Huppert eventually killed?
Jacques Audiard. Dheepan. 2015.
Obsession #2: Jacques Audiard
Regarde les hommes tomber. France, 1994.
De battre mon cœur s’est arrêté. France, 2005.
Dheepan. France, 2015.
I didn’t start watching Audiard films because of the buzz around Dheepan. The first two films I saw because my film club in Bangalore was screening them (I’m still on the mailing list and try to keep up on my own). They were excellent—frightfully sensitive to its male protagonists caught up in a life of crime, or a past life of crime. In De battre, for example, a young gangster, after running into his mother’s former music manager (or teacher? I don’t remember), decides to audition to be a pianist. I wasn’t expecting Dheepan to match the complexity of these earlier films—I suppose I didn’t think a white French director would really be able to tell the story of a former Tamil Tiger and refugee “family” trying to make it in France. Unfair of me, maybe. It looks like Audiard collaborated very productively with Jesuthasan Antonythasan, who plays Dheepan and was once a young Tamil Tiger. The entire film is from the refugees’ perspective; much of it is in Tamil; and both women are fully realized characters.
Claire Denis. Beau Travail. 1999.
Obsession #3: The Cinema of Sensation
Chantal Akerman. La captive. France, 2000.
Claire Denis. Beau travail. France, 1999.
Bruno Dumont. L’humanité. France, 1999.
Agnès Varda. Les glaneurs et la glaneuse. France, 2000.
The cinema of sensation is a term coined by film theorist Martine Beugnet to talk about filmmakers who are sometimes called/overlap with the New Extremists. I prefer c of s because Beugnet is a very discerning writer (even if our tastes aren’t exactly the same) and because her critical lens attends more to form than simply transgressive content. It’s a term that applies quite perfectly to one of my favorite filmmakers, Bruno Dumont. I put quite a few of Beugnet’s films in my dissertation bibliography, which meant re-engaging with several favorite films and discovering some new works. Akerman’s La captive is a modern adaptation of Proust’s novel of the same title (volume five of the Search). Denis’s film is about the French Foreign Legion. Something my dissertation wants to think about is the relationship between human and landscape as intersubjective; the image of figures merging into the ground is of particular interest. Plenty of that in Beau Travail.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. 1972.
Obsession #4: Petra von Kant
Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. West Germany, 1972.
I suppose I should say my obsession is with Fassbinder, and I do love his films, but I don’t know, it’s all about Petra for me. Petra is a fashion designer with a difficult love life. The movie, which was made for television, takes place entirely on set, just as the play it is based on would have done. It’s an all-woman cast. The costumes are outlandish and feel like couture. This is apparently costume designer Maja Lemcke’s only film credit. Who is/was she?
John Waters. Pink Flamingos. 1972.
Obsession #5: Camp? Cult? Movies I Should’ve Seen Years Ago But Only Got to Now?
Jim Sharman. The Rocky Horror Picture Show. UK/USA, 1975.
Paul Verhoeven. Showgirls. France/USA, 1995.
John Waters. Pink Flamingos. USA, 1972.
John Waters. Hairspray. USA, 1988.
I get Rupaul’s jokes about 100% better now and I already thought he was hilarious.
Tengiz Abuladze. The Wishing Tree. 1977.
Everything Else I Loved or Liked I Don’t Know How to Categorize
Tengiz Abuladze. The Wishing Tree. USSR, 1977.
David Fincher. Zodiac. USA, 2007.
Todd Haynes. I’m Not There. USA, 2007.
William Friedkin. Sorcerer. USA, 1972.
Teinosuke Kinugasa. Gate of Hell. Japan, 1953.
Stanley Kubrick. Barry Lyndon. UK, 1975.
Stanley Kubrick. Full Metal Jacket. UK/USA, 1987.
Rémi Lange. The Road to Love. France, 2001.
Richard Linklater. Dazed and Confused. USA, 1993.
Cristian Mungiu. Beyond the Hills. Romania, 2012.
Nagisa Ôshima. In the Realm of the Senses. Japan/France, 1976.
Corneliu Porumboiu. Police, Adjective. Romania, 2009.
Ridley Scott. Alien. UK/USA, 1979.
Claude Sautet. Un mauvais fils. France, 1980.
Abderrahmane Sissako. Timbuktu. France, 2014.
I feel a little cheap putting David Fincher on my list, but Zodiac was surprisingly good. Dazed and Confused is probably the only Linklater film I’ll ever take seriously. I had no idea what In the Realm of the Senses was about before I started watching it, let alone that it was based on a true story—it scared the bejeebus out of me, which of course means I liked it. Tengiz Abuladze’s The Wishing Tree is a masterpiece.
Movie I Don’t Know How to Think About
Philippe Grandrieux. Sombre. France, 1998.
I’d love to talk with someone who has seen this.
Jean-Luc Godard. Vivre sa vie. France, 1962.
Wim Wenders. Paris, Texas. West Germany, 1984.
Michael Winterbottom. 9 Songs. UK, 2004.
Rob Zombie. The Devil’s Rejects. USA, 2005.
9 Songs was talked about because it has all this not-faked sex in it. The sex scenes are actually really beautiful, and poignant in the way they allow you to understand the stage of romance the two characters are in. But everything else lacks in insight. It’s supposed to be about this couple’s relationship, from first meeting to break up. But it’s all from the guy’s p-o-v and the girl, she’s not quite an MPDG, but there’s something off about her stake in the whole thing. Maybe they should’ve made this a short film with just the sex scenes in it. The story would’ve made more sense to me. But I guess that’s called porn.
It all seemed achingly conservative in the end, and that’s my problem also with The Devil’s Rejects and Paris, Texas. The latter begins well, but then it goes into all this family crap, reuniting-mother-and-child crap, abandoning-father crap. It’s just crap. Rob Zombie seems pretty into the American-family-melodrama crap too.
Luis Mandoki. White Palace. 1990.
Movies I Watched Again or Again-Again . . .
I have been writing movie recap blog posts since before this current website (in the olden golden days, I blogged about all movies and all books I read) and I generally don’t mention movies I watched again, whether it was a silly rom com or a Bresson film I want to write poems about. But there are always movies I come back to. Like I need to watch one Julia Roberts movie per year and one Cronenberg movie, even if he hasn’t made anything new.
I spent a lot of time re-translating and re-syncing subtitles for Le cri de la soie early this year. And I had this sudden, urgent need to watch White Palace again, which was due partly to St. Louis nostalgia. But oh my god, Susan Sarandon and James Spader in the same movie space! It’s not just me, is it? I mean, Saranspader!
Here are some, not all, movies I enjoyed watching again this year.
Laurent Cantet. L’emploi du temps. France, 2001.
David Cronenberg. A Dangerous Method. UK, 2011.
Michael Lehmann. Heathers. USA, 1988.
David Lynch. Mulholland Drive. France/USA, 2001.
Luis Mandoki. White Palace. USA, 1990.
Yvon Marciano Le cri de la soie. France 1996.
Roger Michell. Notting Hill. UK, 1999.