Supporting Actress Smackdown — 1994

A reader since 2006, I considered the Supporting Actress Smackdown begun by film blogger Stinkylulu an unalloyed pleasure. To banter alongside Nick Davis (Film Comment, Nick’s Flick Picks), Tony Award winner Itamar Moses (The Band’s Visit), and Eric Anderson (AwardsWatch) was no less a delight (we lost Sheila O’Malley thanks to a sudden emergency). 1994 marked the zenith of my Oscar obsession; it would wane steadily, despite my treasuring bits of trivia like a squirrel does an acorn (didja know that Dianne Wiest remains the only actor to win two Oscars in the same category for the same director???).  Continue reading

Screenings #36

A mixture of revivals and exciting foreign language films screening here for the first time dominated my May watching. Thanks to FilmStruck, the beautifully titled The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice revealed itself as second-tier Ozu but, as those experiences can be, an enchanting one. Meanwhile my second viewing of Giant in twenty years surprised me. In 1996, I let it run over me like a thresher through grain; now I appreciated how George Stevens treated the aging Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor couple as aging adults who’ve cobbled a life together, no matter how fraught. Stevens splits the difference between a leisurely arranged mise-en-scène in which we can study the characters interacting with each other and their environment and a static one. James Dean still throws me out of the movie, which is the point; the concentration of Stevens’ camera – no quick cuts for him! – makes his goon show performance even stranger.

The Rider (Zhao, 2018) 8/10
Annihilation (Garland, 2018) 6/10
Solo: A Star Wars Story (Howard, 2018) 5/10
Let the Sunshine In (Denis, 2018) 7/10
You Were Never Really Here (Ramsay, 2018) 8/10
RBG (Cohen, West, 2018) 6/10
Zama (Martel, 2018) 7/10
Opuntnia (Fenster, 2018) 5/10
Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017) 4/10
* La Ciénaga (Martel, 2001) 7/10
Nenette et Boni (Denis, 1996) 6/10
Cold Water (Assayas, 1994) 6/10
Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day (Fassbinder,1972) 7/10
Baal (Schlöndorff, 1970)
* Women in Love (Russell, 1970) 6/10
Fellini Satyricon (Fellini, 1968) 5/10
* Belle de Jour (Buñuel, 1968) 10/10
* Giant (Stevens, 1956) 6/10
The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice (Ozu, 1952) 7/10
* Black Narcissus (Powell-Pressburger, 1944) 8/10

* Indicates repeat viewing

‘Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day’ another example of Fassbinder’s splendor

Critics mention the plenitude of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s catalog in every appraisal because it staggers us to think he could have written, directed, and occasionally starred in more than thirty films of astonishing control, verve, and replete with ideas. His okay to poor films (Satan’s Brew and Despair are on my list; yours is different) we forgive because sometimes he released another couple within a ten-month span, not merely raising our admiration but casting those misses in newer, more forgiving lights. Continue reading

Olivier Assayas’ ‘Cold Water’ makes U.S. debut

“1972. Near Paris,” the title card announces, but for the remaining ninety-two minutes Cold Water doesn’t feel like it. It isn’t just that the characters in Olivier Assayas’ 1994 debut dress or style their hairs in the style of teens too young for the convulsions of the soixante-huitard generation; their manner also struck me as too contemporary too. This isn’t a knock, though. One of the advantages of watching this film after twenty years of acquaintance with the Assayas corpus is noting how much of Cold Water anticipates tropes and sequences to which he’d return. Continue reading

‘Belle de Jour’ still startles, amuses fifty years later

Sometime during the making of Belle de Jour – whether during the scripting with Jean-Claude Carrière or filming in Paris in 1967 – Luis Buñuel must have realized he was directing a movie about an erotic subject, not an object. Yet the dirty old man made a comedy anyway. If comedy has often required things – good, bad, or otherwise – happening to people, then the heroine of Belle de Jour subverts this truism. From the queasy first frame to the chilling last, Catherine Deneuve’s Séverine Serizy is in charge of her destiny. Continue reading

Margot Kidder – RIP

Besides her adult, chain smoking, fully sexualized Lois Lane in the 1978 Superman and even better sequel Superman II – quite different from the male comic writer’s idea of a career woman – the late Margot Kidder gave a couple of other performances for which she should be remembered. I still haven’t watched Black Christmas. Besides the title role in Brian de Palma’s 1973 Sisters, the Canadian played an eccentric young woman who seemed to have walked out of a Deborah Eisenberg story in the long-forgotten 1981 Heartaches. Thanks to a terrific cast (Annie Potts! David Carradine!), Heartaches has a pleasing scrappiness. I don’t think it’s gotten a DVD release; I saw it on crappy VHS in the mid-nineties (the cover was the size of a billboard). Willie & Phil, Paul Mazursky’s neutered 1980 re-imagining of Jules et Jim, needed lovers and tormentors worth of her (to be fair, the original suffers from the same ailment). Much later, after her brief period of Hollywood stardom, she played Alexis Arquette’s mother in Never Met Picasso (1996), once again a welcome sardonic presence in a movie that was one of my first experiences watching homosex.

The last twenty years of her life were not pleasant; the film business is not kind to pros dealing with bipolar disorder. But she became a courageous liberal activist.

Thirty-five good romantic comedies

Numbered but not ranked, here’s what I could think of in twenty minutes. I debated including The In-Laws; it depends whether you think it’s about the romance between Alan Arkin and Peter Falk.

I need an all-gay screwball comedy.

1. Trouble in Paradise (1932), dir. Ernst Lubitsch
2. The Palm Beach Story (1942), dir. Preston Sturges
3. A New Leaf (1971), dir. Elaine May
4. Midnight (1938), dir. Mitchell Leisen
5. Shampoo (1975), dir. Hal Ashby
6. A Summer’s Tale (1996), dir. Eric Rohmer
7. Groundhog Day (1993), dir. Harold Ramis
8. Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), dir. Ang Lee
9. What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984), dir. Pedro Almodovar
10. 10 (1979), dir. Blake Edwards
11. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), dir. Woody Allen
12. The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), dir. Jacques Demy
13. Tampopo (1986), dir. Juzo Itami
14. Say Anything (1989), dir. Cameron Crowe
15. I Love You Phillip Morris (2010), dir. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
16. Top Hat (1935), dir. Mark Sandrich
17. Frances Ha (2013), dir. Noah Baumbach
18. Twentieth Century (1934), dir. Howard Hawks
19. The Apartment (1960), dir. Billy Wilder
20. Smiles of a Summer Night (1957), dir. Ingmar Bergman
21. Together (2001), dir. Lukas Moodysson
22. She’s Gotta Have It (1986), dir. Spike Lee
23. Pierrot Le Fou (1965), dir. Jean-Luc Godard
24. Tootsie (1982), dir. Sydney Pollack
25. It Happened One Night (1934), dir. Frank Capra
26. Damsels in Distress (2012), dir. Whit Stillman
27. Raising Arizona (1987), dir. Joel Coen
28. My Man Godfrey (1936), dir. Gregory La Cava
29. Something Wild (1986), dir. Jonathan Demme
30. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), dir. George Armitage
31. Head-On (2004), dir. Fatih Akin
32. Flirting with Disaster (1996), dir. David O. Russell33.
33. Theodora Goes Wild (1936), dir. Richard Boleslawski
34. Obvious Child (2014), dir. Gillian Robespierre
35. How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998), dir. Kevin Rodney Sullivan

Screenings #35

Boy oh boy did I watch a lot of what an old pal called fillums this month! Most date from my spell watching films for the Miami Film Festival 2018. I’m going to start writing blurbs for films that strike my interest; for the rest you can click the links.

* Denotes repeat viewing

The Workshop (Cantet, 2018) 6/10
Claire’s Camera (Hoo, 2018) 8/10
On the Beach at Night Alone (Hoo, 2017) 7/10
The Death of Stalin (Iannucci, 2018) 6/10
Love, Simon (Berlanti, 2018) 6/10
Unsane (Soderbergh, 2018) 5/10
Sollers Point (Porterfield, 2018) 7/10
Killing Jesus (Mora, 2018) 6/10
La Familia (Cordova, 2018) 6/10
Ashes/Cenizas (Jacome, 2018) 7/10
Love in Youth (Perkins, 2018) 4/10
Cocote (De los Santos, 2018) 7/10
Winter Brothers (Pálmason, 2018) 7/10
Heaven Without People (Bourjeily, 2018) 5/10
The Hunting Season (Garagiola, 2018) 6/10
Comedy of Power (Chabrol, 2007) 7/10
Lights in the Dusk (Kaurismäki, 2005) 7/10
A Short Film About Love (Kieslowski, 1988) 9/10

* The Tin Drum (Schlöndorff, 1980) 4/10

I had trouble finishing Günter Grass’ cinder block of a novel in my undergraduate Continental lit course; the admixture of allegory and conventional realism felt dense. Volder Schlöndorff’s adaptation preserves what made the novel insufferable.

* Straw Dogs (Peckinpah, 1971) 6/10

* Seven Days in May (Frankenheimer, 1964) 7/10

Sometimes I confuse boudoir scenes between Ava Gardner and Kirk Douglas in Seven Days in May and Walter Pidgeon and Gene Tierney in Advise and Consent. Both are plush films starring a bunch of Hollywood troopers taking advantage of Kennedy-era licentiousness to let their cynic flag flap.

* The African Queen (Huston, 1951) 7/10

A Woman’s Face (Cukor, 1941) 6/10

After a splendid twenty-minute opening sequence in which Robert Planck’s camera nods toward two drunk women dancing in its enthusiasm to take in other characters in the room, George Cukor and — surprisingly! — Joan Crawford fight the plushness of the design and Donald Ogden Stewart’s stilted script. Still, this story of a disfigured Swedish woman looking for love and finding only Conrad Veidt and, worse, Melvyn Douglas is more compelling than its reputation suggests. Unfortunately, Cukor’s touch falters directing a horror of a child named Lars-Erik; when Crawford considers shoving him off a funicular, I bet the 1941 audience applauded.

Flamingo Road (Curtiz, 1949) 6/10

Sidney Greenstreet as a Southern sheriff wants to run carnival dancer Joan Crawford out of town. Zachary Scott plays smart patsies better than anyone in the era, and he can’t help regarding Crawford as if she were a kitten that crawled to him over glass. Michael Curtiz’s trademark expressive lighting doesn’t get much play in these “rural” (i.e. studio) settings.

‘The Maltese Falcon’ still airborne

“You’re not going to go around poking at the fire and straightening the room again, are you?” Sam Spade asks Brigid O’Shaughnessy after fifteen seconds of quiet admiration. Caught in another lie, Brigid can’t shake what Spade calls the Schoolgirl Act, the part that has fooled so many men before Spade. Yet as played by Mary Astor this is a dangerous woman despite her posturing and piss elegance. “Despite” is the operative word in John Huston’s adaptation of The Maltese Falcon, a still astonishingly fresh debut in which men and women aren’t what they seem but don’t mind being caught lying so long as the object of their quest falls into their hands. For a gimlet-eyed wisecracking San Francisco detective like Spade, trying to figure out who shot and killed his partner Miles, the touch of exoticism that the Falcon brings to his life amuses him no end; Huston catches him in moments when he’s delighted by his performances before this rogue’s gallery, chuckling to himself as he realizes what he can get away with. Continue reading

New York gets its Ingmar Bergman retrospective. Make your own.

Despite its status as a cosmopolitan center, standing astride a doomed peninsula and the broth-warm waters of the Florida straits, Miami is Cape Coral next to New York City. Goddamn Film Forum and its centennial retrospective on Ingmar Bergman. In search of a proxy experience, I’ve revisited several Bergman films on DVD and streaming services in the last two weeks and plan to revisit more. Whether they “hold up” in the crassest sense matters not a whit beside the many glimpses of the numinous in even a minor work like Face to Face (1976), in which Liv Ullmann’s psychiatrist wanders through a room, picking up an object here, discarding it there, trying to keep her sanity while the camera fixes on her like an inquisitor; or the splash of a man overboard as he sinks to his self-inflicted death off-camera in a major film like Shame. Continue reading

With ‘The Crime of Monsieur Lange,’ Jean Renoir found his voice

In Jean Renoir: A Biography, one of the essential recent film texts, Pascal Mérigeau writes about the young French director’s collaboration with poet Jacques Prévert:

More than anything, he had to have found the means and the strength to give form to these streams of words, this deluge of ideas, and this profusion of energy — something that would express them without restraining them and that would make them both accessible and appealing at the same time. The tour de force accomplished by Renoir with Lange amounted to giving the illusion of improvisation while structuring chaos — without ever ceasing to be chaos.

Renoir had found his lodestar; for the rest of his career he might as well have written “the illusion of improvisation” on every shooting script. Among the most contemporary of his films, The Crime of Monsieur Lange is imbued with the optimism of the Popular Front, the coalition of leftist groups that won large legislative victories in the 1936 elections. In Léon Blum voters had elected for the first time in modern history a socialist prime minister to head a major Western power.

As a 4K restoration tours the country, cinephiles can watch Renoir’s neglected picture for the first time (I saw a reel-to-reel version in the late nineties at my university library, convincing myself that the experience of watching this scratchy, popping thing mattered as much as the film). Lest the description create the impression that Monsieur Lange chokes on its importance, the movie is a comedy. Lange (René Lefèvre), a docile publishing company clerk, is a Walter Mitty type, his mind on the westerns starring one Arizona Jim that he wishes he could write. Then a stroke of luck: when his boss fakes his death, Lange and colleagues form a co-op to publish their own work.

What happens next defines madcap, and fans of American screwball comedy of the Nothing Sacred or Easy Living will experience particular delight. Monsieur Lange‘s eighty-three minutes are among the fleetest in film history. Holding it together is the Prévert-Renoir collaboration and the sensibility of a director in the process of discovering his strengths. Mérigeau again:

No more in film than in literature or elsewhere are form and background differentiated; they come into being at the same instant and simultaneously impose their joint and indisocciable existence. Renoir does not fix upon the world of work in the film; he films the movements of those who are working, enters among them all, and goes from their world to an other. Their ceaseless comings and goings make the camera move, and because the camera is moving, they come and go ceaselessly

Renoir spent the better part of the 1930s honing the ceaseless comings and goings of his characters, producing an inexhaustible run of pictures such as La Marseillaise, The Lower Depths, Grand Illusion, and La Bête Humaine; I have a particular soft spot for the glorious short A Day in the Country. This method peaked in The Rules of the Game, often recognized as one of the two or three greatest of films but an infamous disaster in 1940. Chastened, Renoir emigrated to Hollywood, where he, Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger, and other European émigrés essayed reasonable compromises between their ideas and the big studio bosses’.

With this re-release of The Crime of Monsieur Lange, fans of cinema’s premiere artist get to experience the act of experiencing a masterpiece in real time.

The Crime of Monsieur Lange will show on Sunday, Feb. 4 at 1:15 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. at Coral Gables Art Cinema.

The sixty best directors

A couple weeks ago, ILX ran a list of our picks for fifty best directors in film history. Below is my alphabetized list, expanded to sixty; how the hell would you argue that Béla Tarr is “better” than Preston Sturges? Also included are a couple of contemporaries like James Gray and Desplechin whose work I anticipate even if in toto their work may not — yet — rank with the sainted company.

And I still forgot Steven Spielberg.

1. Chantal Akerman
2. Robert Altman
3. Olivier Assayas
4. Michaelangelo Antonioni
5. Ingmar Bergman
6. John Boorman
7. Frank Borzage
8. Luis Buñuel
9. Jean Cocteau
10. Sofia Coppola
11. David Cronenberg
12. George Cukor
13. Terence Davies
14. Jonathan Demme
15. Arnaud Desplechin
16. Jacques Demy
17. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
18. James Gray
19. Howard Hawks
20. Todd Haynes
21. Alfred Hitchcock
22. Hou Hsiao-hsien
23. Shohei Imamura
24. Aki Kaurismäki,
25. Abbas Kiarostami
26. Akira Kurosawa
27. Fritz Lang
28. Mike Leigh
29. David Lynch
30. Paul Mazursky
31. Jean-Pierre Melville
32. Kenji Mizoguchi
33. Errol Morris
34. F.W. Murnau
35. Max Ophuls
36. Yasujiro Ozu
37. G.W. Pabst
38. Sam Peckinpah
39. Roman Polanski
40. Michael Powell
41. Otto Preminger
42. Satyajit Ray
43. Jean Renoir
44. Eric Rohmer
45. Raul Ruiz
46. Douglas Sirk
47. Preston Sturges
48. Béla Tarr
49. Andrei Tarkovsky
50. Tsai Min-liang
51. Gus Van Sant
52. Paul Verhoeven
53. King Vidor
54. Luchino Visconti
55. Joseph von Sternberg
56. Orson Welles
57. Apichatpoing Weerasethakul
58. Frederick Wiseman
59. Edward Yang
60. Jia Zhangke