Longtime instructors grab from a ready wheelbarrow of accumulated tricks the parables, dad jokes, and double takes with which to hold students’ attention for ninety minutes. At some point in the semester, often in the first third, I watch my film students wince on learning I still request DVDs. Buying movies they understand. The covers are cool; they grew up with parents playing Pixar movies in the player (some even remember seeing VHS around the house); besides, Floridians understand it may take days for BellSouth or Xfinity to restore WiFi service after even minor hurricanes. But using a streaming service to request hard copies? Continue reading
Whether it was Orson Welles proving how filmmaking and prestidigitation are species from the same genus, Bob Fosse pointing out the rot in the cultivation of a public persona, or Douglas Sirk shoving Americans’ noses into the cake of their polite racism, these final films incarnated what made these directors watching. All of then rank at or near the top of their director’s canon. Because it’s the holidays, John Huston’s adaptation of James Joyce’s short story looks most relevant; because we’re living in a permanently altered landscape, The Sacrifice looks most frightening. Continue reading
On first glance, the stylish MTV videos he directed for stars and wannabes look like his strongest work. So much of David Fincher’s film career consists of genre efforts with chic staging of violence. But like Otto Preminger the lumbering pace of bureaucracies and the sturdiness of institutions fascinate him: police departments (Seven, Zodiac), Harvard administrators (The Social Network), marriage (Gone Girl), masculinity (Fight Club), Brad Pitt (pick three). Few of his films reward further study, despite the precision of their visual design; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are rebukes to the notion that movies should be more than excuses or precise visual design. The exception: Zodiac (2007), an Unsolved Mysteries episode whose body count wears down a generation of Bay Area investigators. Continue reading
The usual tensions between wanting to recognize smaller over splashier fare manifested itself in the nominations by Florida Film Critics Circle, the organization to which I belong. Marriage Story led with the most nominations. I’m delighted to see Transit‘s Franz Rogowski and the enthusiasm for Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which hasn’t opened in South Florida.
For more categories, click here.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Franz Rogowski, Transit
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Taron Egerton, Rocketman
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Elisabeth Moss, Her Smell
Florence Pugh, Midsommar
Renée Zellweger, Judy
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
John Lithgow, Bombshell
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Annette Bening, The Report
Isla Fisher, The Beach Bum
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Margot Robbie, Bombshell
Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell
Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Greta Gerwig, Little Women
Sam Mendes, 1917
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Bong Joon-Ho and Han Jin-Won, Parasite
Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Lulu Wang, The Farewell
Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie, Uncut Gems
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes
Greta Gerwig, Little Women
Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Steven Zaillian, The Irishman
Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
Terrence Malick, A Hidden Life
No one who loved film in South Florida could have predicted ten years ago the arrival of several art house theaters. With the opening of O Cinema and Coral Gables Art Cinema and the transplanting of MIami Beach Cinematheque to bigger digs on Washington Avenue (O took over MBC last August), and the reactivation of Tower Theater under the aegis of Miami-Dade College, cineastes have options. Those of us long in the tooth remember a time when we’d pray a David Cronenberg film would hold just one more weekend at AMC Cocowalk as the multiplex made room for the latest chapter of Lord of the Rings.
New talents emerged (Joanna Hogg). Old masters found new ways to startle (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Claire Denis, Jim Jarmusch), with a deep bow to Frederick Wiseman, maker of several long documentaries (including National Gallery, In Jackson Heights, Ex Libris, and Monrovia, Indiana) that, within the confines of realist cinema, examined communities in peril. We said goodbye to Chantal Akerman, responsible for teaching us a new way of seeing. When a Todd Haynes tested himself, he produced fascinating, fraught movies like Carol with which I tousled but still watched repeatedly. So did Steven Spielberg with Lincoln, a film of its moment, this one the reelection of Barack Obama and the retelling of the fiction of bipartisan comity. In the same way stars like Laura Dern, Robert Pattinson and his Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart, and Brad Pitt discovered how age allowed for a foundation settlement firm enough to test the interstices of craft and star power; Juliette Binoche, her years as a global star behind her, reinvented herself in picture after picture. Olivier Assayas wrote and directed several films — a couple of which Binoche was lead — in which I lost interest but gained American box office traction.
Below are the fifty best films I watched this decade. If I reviewed it during its original American release, click on the director(s). 2019, of course, hasn’t ended yet, it should go without saying.
Annoyed by the thought of conscripting mirth, conscious that no one looked or talked like me, I didn’t watch many sitcoms growing up except The Cosby Show, which to a ten-year-old was queer enough in the archaic sense to play like a documentary of an Inuit tribe. Continue reading
I belonged to a Facebook film forum to which I’d often post links to my lists and reviews. On Friday afternoon a couple members and I had what I thought was a polite discussion about gender and sexuality and the casting of Scarlett Johannson as a transgender character in Rub & Tug, specifically about the importance of separating gender from sexuality. A poster alluded to Felicity Huffman in Transamerica. Not a good movie, I said, but at least the casting made sense: Huffman, a cis woman, plays a trans woman. Instead of decrying the “cultural Stalinism” of Hollywood, to quote a poster, let’s focus our anger at the industry’s reluctance to cast trans actors.
Yesterday morning I realized I’d been kicked off the forum; the moderator has also blocked access to him on Facebook. Perhaps other reasons led to my elimination. But if what I suspect is true, then here’s another reminder that liberals disgusted with Donald Trump who support gay marriage and may even have queer pals will turn into the most blinkered #MAGA cap wearers when they must discard a lifetime’s worth of assumptions.
The New Yorker‘s Alice Gregory interviewed Claire Denis as the French director works on High Life, herEnglish-language début starring Robert Pattinson and André Benjamin of Outkast and set in space. Among many fascinating bits are the following:
After buying coffee and taking her seat, Denis began to talk about her mother, who had died, at the age of ninety-four, six months earlier, during the filming of “High Life.” Still in mourning, Denis seemed incapable of avoiding the topic, turning to it in many of our conversations, with little or no segue. “When she was pregnant with my little brother, she had a bad pregnancy and had to stay in bed,” Denis said. After giving birth, her mother became depressed. “I remember very well, this little boy was my son, for a long time, until she recovered and took over. I remember when she was an old lady and she would say, ‘My son, my son!’ She was really in love with her son. And I had to tell her, ‘You know, in the beginning, he was mine!’ And it’s true that at that moment I realized how beautiful it was to see a new baby born, the changes every day.”
Denis, who never remarried, also never had children. Earlier, when we spoke about the decision, or nondecision, she told me, “It was a pain, and then it was a memory, and now I have accepted it.” She added, “Maybe this is just convenient for me, but I never thought of being a mother as an accomplishment for a woman.” At the same time, “loneliness, independence, solitude—it’s heavy,” Denis said. Since her divorce, a half century ago, she has had two long-term companionships. One lasted for twelve years, and the other, with a man whom she would not identify beyond confirming that he’s “also in film,” is, as she put it, “still going on.” She continued, “It’s also heavy to be a couple, but solitude is something very special that clearly tells you at some moments, in the day or night, that if you were to die in the next moment you wouldn’t ever again see a human face.”
I’ve written about solitude — aloneness — as a queerness. Friendships and lovers offer deepening, and the work is the satisfaction.
All this, and Let the Sunshine In you should watch.
After mixing a second cocktail like I never do on school nights and blistering my fingertips, I endured an Oscar ceremony slightly less predictable than expected: the appearance of nonagenarian Eva Marie Saint, trim and still hardy with a grin and a quip, enlivened a somnolent evening even with the likes of Ansel Elgort and Armie Hammer shooting raw hot dogs at plebeians watching the show next door to the theater. My monkey wrench picks to win? They lost. The Academy decided an award to Jordan Peele and bowing before Guillermo del Toro’s fish man movie was enough #woke for one night.
Before the ceremony A.S. Hamrah wrote a few amusing blurbs on last year’s most acclaimed films. Here’s a few:
When National Public Radio warns you about one of their upcoming pledge drives, they play a spot asking “if you believe democracy requires a free press.” Probably everyone listening believes that, but you never know. Steven Spielberg’s The Post is the perfect movie for those listeners, and for potential viewers who haven’t heard that newspapers, like NPR, need money to run.
The real story in this movie is how Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) got the Pentagon Papers to Washington Post reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) so The Post could publish them along with The New York Times and help bring the Vietnam War to an end. Spielberg for some reason decided that part of the movie lacked drama, and made it a subplot. The Post concentrates instead on bosses. We are asked to worry about the conscience of Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and the finances of publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) as her newspaper launches an IPO while she fiddles with her glasses.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Call Me by Your Name’s strength is that it really does seem like the character played by Timothée Chalamet made the film himself. Who else but an actual actor-director would end his film by staring tearfully into a fireplace in winter because he’s realized he will always be separate from other human beings, even though he spent last summer having sex in Lombardy with two kind and very attractive people (Armie Hammer and Esther Garrel)? The first Sufjan Stevens song that interrupts the movie so we can concentrate on nature for a few minutes also indicates the hand of Chalamet’s Elio at work, as he remembers how beautiful it was and how nothing hurt, before he found out on that last trip that Hammer’s Oliver was going to start dancing in public to “Love My Way” again.
THE SHAPE OF WATER
Despite all the positive representation of marginalized people and the explicit condemnation of men who work for the government, the film takes a gleeful delight in torture and pain. Often morose, it livens up when Shannon is tasering the fishman or engaged in bloodletting and beatings. It is a kind of horror movie, it’s true, but those scenes overpower the film’s invocation of desperate forbidden love.
Onward to 2018!
Too young for Wiseguy, I recognized Kevin Spacey as a formidable actor after watching him play an office manager with more cunning than his colorlessness would suggest in the film version of Glengarry Glenn Ross. I wasn’t sure he coded queer onscreen until he and Judy Davis spent ninety minutes bitching in 1994’s forgotten The Ref. Three films in 1995 cemented Spacey’s eminence as Weird Villain Du Jour: Swimming with Sharks, Se7en, and, most known, The Usual Suspects, for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Spacey specialized in a silken, literate menace familiar to Robert Vaughan fans. Two performances fed, lamprey-like, on the signals he sent to gay audiences. As the corrupt cop in L.A. Confidential, Spacey has a spasm of conscience after setting up a wannabe James Dean clone with a closeted assistant district attorney; although director Curtis Hanson shows Spacey dancing with a woman in his first scene, it’s too perfect, and the way Spacey plays it he puts distance between himself and her even if they would’ve sleeping together; it’s as if he’s watching himself while filing his nails. And in 1999’s American Beauty the actor allows himself to figure in a couple of sight gags that are the equivalent of the wink-wink references to secrets concealed he likes to make at award shows: neighbor Chris Cooper, playing yet another closeted man in a Spacey film, looks in horror from his window as his son Wes Bentley seems about to go down on the older man.
A leading man at last, Spacey thereafter stumbled. Like Susan Sarandon, an essential spring snapped in his acting brain the moment he won Best Actor; what came easily to him looked pantomimed. Again, gay audiences could understand the intentional nullity of a character and a performance such as the one played and given, respectively, in K-Pax; Spacey wasn’t good enough an actor to hide human feeling while at the same time quashing the queer notes, as the epistemology of the closet teaches us. Or perhaps he was good enough of an actor but not fearless enough. He didn’t get Kevin Spacey Roles again until House of Cards‘ Frank Underwood but too late: the memory of an instinctive malevolence clung to every gesture, neutering him. Better is the ring leader in Baby Driver, where Spacey figures out that, at this stage in his career, he can best show lust for another man onscreen by being as curt as possible.
By now the world knows what likely happened between Spacey and actor Anthony Rapp in 1986 when Rapp was fourteen. Spacey’s statement doesn’t deny it happened; he says he doesn’t remember it happening, which newspaper veterans will note is a non-denial denial. Michelangelo Signorile makes a couple of well-intentioned mistakes in his column denouncing Spacey. When Spacey wrote, “I choose down to live as a gay man,” Signorile scoffed, “This is the language of the enemies of LGBTQ equality, who claim homosexuality is a choice.” Choosing to live publicly as gay is a choice; indeed, choosing to come out is a choice. Nathaniel Rogers makes a point I’ve seen often:
Soon we’ll see the tired old hateful tropes come to play wherein LGBT enemies and ignorant media will equate homosexuality (which is neither good nor evil but just is… like heterosexuality) with predatory behavior and illegal activities like sex with minors.
After two weeks of revelations that have likely proved career-ending for Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin, and James Toback, I doubt the straight public will associate predatory behavior in which minors are targets as exclusively homosexual behavior. The Roy Moores thought we were evil before 2017. Let them think so and die.
A separate but related point: comporting oneself around the young remains a fraught topic in gay circles. The paranoia we feel is both one of the last vestiges of the closet and, I admit with regret, a necessary one. For terrified parents, how easy is it to think the predations of older men contaminated their sons. When I was eight, one of my grandmother’s closet friends, a married man who I learned years later led a double life with the wife’s consent, stopped visiting her home. We remain forever on guard around the young lest we provoke suspicions.
But despite the victory-lap setup, Demme frames the concert as just another day on the job, especially for musicians and dancers in Timberlake’s expansive retinue. Timberlake is the movie’s center, but it often seems more interested in the people off to either side. During “Let the Groove Get In,” Timberlake strides out onto a transparent catwalk stretched over the audience, the better to show off his impressive dance moves. But when it’s his turn to hold the spotlight, Demme cuts back to the stage, framing a distant Timberlake between a horn player and a guitarist whose bodies dominate the frame, as if to remind us who’s really responsible for that all-important groove.
Adams rather too strenuously assures readers that Timberlake is a minor performer, but it doesn’t matter. Demme’s method allowed vestigial talents their moment — and why not? Flattering the performers by emphasizing their labor on stage constituted Demme’s best talent; Demme had no patience for star turns. A pity he never filmed Drake.
A frivolity I can’t forego, the Golden Globes take place the evening before I return to work through a grueling new semester. If I want to know about “grueling,” let’s see how many awards the Hollywood Foreign Press hands to La La Land. I confine my commentary to movies unless the spirit, i.e. Aperol, moves me. Continue reading