The 11th Annual EMOs

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It’s that time again! Ethan’s Makeshift Oscars give me a chance to reflect on my year in film that was 2017. As always, to qualify, a film both had to be released in 2017, and I had to see it within the year as well (so, I still have a lot to catch up on – and I’ll just say that “Lady Bird”, which is not represented here because I didn’t see it until Jan. 5, would’ve been a power player). As with last year, I’m just diving straight into winners in each category, before listing others “receiving votes”: that is, not my top pick but other films, performances and elements worthy of a shout-out.

Before diving into the EMOs themselves, I do want to note two things about 2017, at least as regards my film-going. First, this is the year that an inundation of original content on streaming platforms, Netflix in particular, really challenged my conception of a “new release” and what content to cover here. Sure, pleasant but relatively trifling fare like “Win It All” and “The Incredible Jessica James” fit the traditional bill of a “movie” thanks to their one-off nature and hour-and-a-half run-time – but can I really say that they were more central to my cinematic experience this year than, say, HBO’s “The Young Pope”? Netflix’s “Wormwood”? Or (though I’m only partially through the series still), Showtime’s “Twin Peaks: The Return”? Should I really spend time praising Nicole Kidman’s performance in a misfire like “The Beguiled” (though, rest assured, she is a gem in it) when your time would probably better be spent watching her in “Big Little Lies”? Is a sprawling, ambitious work like Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” better compared against a theatrical barn-buster like “Get Out” – or its Netflix neighbor, “Godless”?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. The EMOs are already, um, a little unwieldy and going full Golden Globes and adding a whole bunch of new categories to recognize the growing influence and experimentation of episodic content is an exhausting thought. I’ll chew it over, for another year at least.

The second thing I wanted to point out was the overall roaring success of Hollywood genre entertainment this year. This stuff tends to go in cycles, so perhaps next year we’ll be right back to bemoaning the billion-or-bust attitude of current tentpole productions. But, at least this year, the studios seemed to figure out how to deliver popcorn thrills with a dash of genuine, adult emotion. The middle-of-the-road adult drama may be dead, but you know, if we have more “Logans” and fewer “The Judges”, it might not be the worst thing.

In any case – on with the awards!

Best Action: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Receiving votes:
Baby Driver
Atomic Blonde
Dunkirk
War for the Planet of the Apes
Logan

Funniest Film: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Receiving votes:
Logan Lucky
The Trip to Spain
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The Big Sick
Baby Driver

Most Fucked-Up Protagonist: Justine, Raw

Receiving votes:
Travis, It Comes At Night
Terry and Bob, War on Everyone
Logan, Logan

Most Deserving to Have Everyone Involved in Production Die a Fiery Painful Death Just For Making Me Watching the Trailer: Monster Trucks

Receiving votes:
CHiPS
The Book of Henry
The Space Between Us
Transformers: The Last Knight

Best Cameo: Frank Oz, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
(spoilers oops whatever)

Receiving votes:
Tilda Swinton #2, Okja
Stephen Root, Get Out
Luke Evans, The Fate of the Furious

Breakthrough Actor/Actress of the Year: Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Receiving votes:
Jessica Williams, The Incredible Jessica James
Garance Marillier, Raw
Kelvin Harrison, Jr., It Comes At Night
Grace Van Patten, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Best Poster:
It Comes At Night
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Receiving votes:
Split
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Proud Mary
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The Killing of a Sacred Deer
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Get Out
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Ingrid Goes West
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The Shape of Water
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Phantom Thread
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Star Wars: The Last Jedi
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Flatliners
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Best Trailer: Black Panther

Receiving votes:
It Comes At Night
The Florida Project
Thor: Ragnarok
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
It
Atomic Blonde
Blade Runner 2049
War for the Planet of the Apes
The Death of Stalin

Best Scene: “Now you’re in the sunken place”, Get Out

Receiving votes:
throne room fight, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Tom Hardy’s landing, Dunkirk
bikini wax, Raw
opening heist through opening credits, Baby Driver
ALF truck heist, Okja
staircase fight, Atomic Blonde

Best Use of an Existing Song: “Bellbottoms”, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Baby Driver

Receiving votes:
“Harlem Shuffle”, Bob & Joe, Baby Driver
Leia’s theme, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
“Father Figure”, George Michael, Atomic Blonde
“Take Me Home, Country Roads”, John Denver, Logan Lucky

Best Original Song: “Genius Girl”, perf. Adam Sandler and Grace Van Patten, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Best Original Score: Tamar-kali, Mudbound

Receiving votes:
Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water
Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk
Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Wind River

Best Cinematography: Rachel Morrison, Mudbound

Receiving votes:
Hoyte van Hoytema, Dunkirk
Philippe Le Sourd, The Beguiled
Dan Lausten, The Shape of Water
Steve Yedlin, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Ben Richardson, Wind River
Ruben Impens, Raw

Best Adapted Screenplay: Dee Rees, Virgil Williams, Mudbound

Best Original Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Receiving votes:
Trey Edward Shults, It Comes At Night
Rebecca Blunt, Logan Lucky
Julia Ducournau, Raw
Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water
Bong Joon-ho, Jon Ronson, Okja
Noah Baumbach, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Supporting Actor: Gil Birmingham, Wind River

Receiving votes:
Michael Shannon, The Shape of Water
Rob Morgan, Mudbound
Daniel Craig, Logan Lucky
Mark Hamill, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Garrett Hedlund, Mudbound
Mark Rylance, Dunkirk
Stephen Merchant, Logan
John C. Reilly, Kong: Skull Island

Best Supporting Actress: Betty Gabriel, Get Out

Receiving votes:
Elizabeth Marvel, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Tilda Swinton, Okja
Ella Rumpf, Raw
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Emma Thompson, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Robin Wright, Wonder Woman

Best Actor: Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Receiving votes:
Hugh Jackman, Logan
Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes
Channing Tatum, Logan Lucky
Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick

Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Receiving votes:
Nicole Kidman, The Beguiled
Garance Marillier, Raw
Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Jessica Williams, The Incredible Jessica James
Charlize Theron, Atomic Blonde

Best Acting Ensemble: Get Out

Receiving votes:
Mudbound
It Comes At Night
Logan Lucky
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Spider-Man: Homecoming

Best Director: Dee Rees, Mudbound

Receiving votes:
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Julia Ducournau, Raw
Trey Edward Shults, It Comes At Night
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Steven Soderbergh, Logan Lucky
Bong Joon-ho, Okja
Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
James Mangold, Logan

Best Movie: Get Out

Receiving votes:
Mudbound
Dunkirk
Raw
It Comes At Night
The Shape of Water
Logan Lucky
Okja
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Logan

 

The “I Ain’t Even Mad” Award for When Reese Witherspoon Self-Produces a Movie Where She Shtups a Twenty-Year-Old: Home Again

Most Deflating Revelation That One of Your Favorite Up-and-Coming Writer/Directors Wants To Be Tarantino: War on Everyone

Craziest Heigl: Unforgettable

Most Surprisingly Bland Film Featuring Furries, Bigfoot, and Michael Shannon: Pottersville

Best Solution to Mansplaining: talk over it with an extended Roger Moore/Moor bit, “The Trip to Spain”

Most Flagrant Abuse of the After-Credits Scene: Kong: Skull Island

Most Flagrant Abuse of De-Aging CGI: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Most Flagrant Abuse of “Narrative”: Atomic Blonde

Most Troubling Appropriation: The Beguiled

Least Convincing Candidate for “God of War”: David Thewlis, “Wonder Woman”

Fuzziest Friends: Kedi

Most Absurdly Satisfying Payoff to the Mythology of a Franchise About Cars Going Fast: The Fate of the Furious

The Most Brooklyn-ized Irishman Since David Neary: Chris O’Dowd, “The Incredible Jessica James”

Most Mixed Messages About Gambling: Win It All

*Endless Screaming*: Get Me Roger Stone

About As Feminist As A Movie That Puts Its Female Lead in a Coma for Half the Running Time Can Be, I Guess: The Big Sick

Most Unexpected Use of John Denver In a Year Full of Unexpected Uses of John Denver: Free Fire

Most Irresponsible Recruitment of a Minor Into, Like, Highly Dangerous Superhero Bullshit: Tony Stark in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

I, For One, Welcome Our New Ape Overlords: War for the Planet of the Apes

Troubling Evidence That Taylor Sheridan Has No Idea How to Write a Female Character: Wind River

Most Surprisingly Coherent Mash-up of “Freaky Friday” and “Armageddon”: Your Name

Your Once-a-Decade Reminder That Adam Sandler Can Act If He Wants To, He Just Doesn’t Want To: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Most Needs To Learn from Ryan Gosling in “Drive” and Never Open His Mouth: Ansel Elgort, “Baby Driver”

Sylvester Stallone in “Creed” Award for Making Me Suddenly Care About a Character Despite Not Having Any Emotional Attachment  Whatsoever to His Previous 17 Franchise Entries: Hugh Jackman, “Logan”

Most Cleverly Meta Blockbuster That’s Kinda Ruined By Everyone Being Obsessed With How Cleverly Meta It Is: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Cutest Pig-Cow That I Would Definitely Still Eat: Okja

Most Gleeful Daniel Craig: Logan Lucky

Weirdest Shade Thrown at Baltimore: The Shape of Water

Most Likely to Not Think About At All For Eight Months Until That One Night You Suddenly Wake up Soaked In Cold Sweat: It Comes At Night

Better At Convincing Me To Go Vegetarian Than “Okja”: Raw

Most Milked Out of Kenneth Branagh’s Two Days On Set: Dunkirk

Whatever the Opposite of Escapist Entertainment Is: Mudbound

If I Could, I Would Have Voted for It For a Second EMO: Get Out

Screen Watch: July 21, 2017

Thoughts on movies, TV, and other things seen on flat screens

Ansel Elgort;Jon Hamm;Jamie Foxx;Eiza Gonzalez

Baby Driver

I’ve pretty much always been along for an Edgar Wright ride, even “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” – and, while “Baby Driver” is better than that oft-maligned flop, it shares and drastically augments my growing concern that Wright has no idea how to cast his leads if Simon Pegg isn’t involved. Michael Cera’s lack of range and off-putting nebbishness tanked “Scott Pilgrim”‘s emotional core, and likewise whatever heights “Baby Driver”reaches are very frequently in spite of, not thanks to, Ansel Elgort’s black hole of charisma. He’s not *bad* exactly, as Baby, the getaway driver with a heart of gold, but he’s utterly boring, and when your narrative is nothing but familiar genre tropes strung together, boring is a cardinal sin.

There’s an exception or two of course: when Elgort gets to show off his training in ballet, as in the way he dances to himself in the car of the film’s opening, outstanding heist sequence, you practically weep wondering what “La La Land” could’ve been with actual dancers leading the way. But mostly Elgort is relegated to playing straight man to a more eclectic (and more fun) cast of supporting characters. Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm spice up the patter, finding room to play in the too-long gaps between undeniably exquisite chase scenes.

Wright’s been one of the best action directors in the world the past decade, hiding behind the comic facade “Hot Fuzz”, “Scott Pilgrim” and “The World’s End”; “Baby Driver” drops much of the parodic pretense, and it’s exhilarating. The chase scenes are slick, sweet, crowd-pleasing; it’s just too bad Wright’s formal mastery is paired with an utter disinterest in narrative innovation. “Baby Driver” is totally content, for instance, to let Lily James’ character be exactly a genre cliche, practically stepped straight out of a James Cagney flick. I still whole-heartedly believe Wright’s got a masterpiece in him, but gods it won’t be “Baby Driver 2”.

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The Beguiled

As usual, Sofia Coppola’s latest is utterly ravishing, and its opening shots of a misty, murky, overgrown Virginian estate immediately sets your mind for a moody, complex thriller – that simply never arrives. Coppola’s particular, repeated treatise on repressed white femininity has played out before with more engaging and engaged characters and style (“The Virgin Suicides”, “Lost in Translation” and “Marie Antoinette” are all hardly perfect, but they are bold messes).

Here, she ventures into historic drama and a loaded premise (a house full of Southern women who shelter a wounded, handsome Union soldier) – while apparently uninterested in most any of the implications of setting the story in a specific time, and a specific place. As told by Coppola, you could transplant this story to any war, in any time; and while universality can be a legitimate point to make, in this case the vagueness simply leaves more questions than connections: beyond the lazy explanation of “that’s the source material”, why the Civil War? Why Virginia? Why dismiss the house’s slaves with a literal one-liner of hand-waving dialogue? It is difficult to get engaged with a story that feels like it is only half-heartedly justifying itself.

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Okja

Bong Joon-ho’s ability to pull off a kitchen-sink approach to genre and tone remains unparalleled – it’s difficult to think of any other director who can slip from black comedy to thrilling action to quiet drama and back again so quickly, and so easily.

Like his previous high-profile international effort, “Snowpiercer”, “Okja” features a blatantly off-key performance that threatens to tip his delicately balanced boat over. In “Snowpiercer”, Chris Evans unfortunately never seemed to receive the “satire” memo; here, Jake Gyllenhaal seems to have taken it too close to heart, putting in such an outrageously cartoonish performance that it becomes impossible to focus on what is actually happening in any of his scenes, much less get emotionally invested in them.

But, far more finely calibrated performances from Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano and lead Ahn Seo-Hyun make “Okja” a winning, if not overpowering, modern fable. The heist/chase scene that arrives mid-second-act is one of the best setpieces of Bong’s career, and the early scenes of Ahn and her charming super-pig together in the forest channel Miyazaki in the best way.

 

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War for the Planet of the Apes

The “shock” that we can empathize with digital creations is, at this point, entirely stale – we can’t pretend like Pixar hasn’t been at it for 20 years now. Less examined, and less truly appreciated, is the ability to create utterly seamless blends of CGI and physical realities. I have yet to really be *convinced*, for instance, by literally any Marvel movie, in which weightless blurry robots are destroyed by weightless blurry humanoids, with Chris Hemsworth’s face grafted on to the blur most resembling a human head. Suspension of disbelief means that I can still carry on, and even greatly enjoy, most of these movies. But Hollywood has a problem, and it has to do with weight, and the under-explored (at least, when it comes to the cultural conversation around movies) psychological correspondence between physical and emotional presence.

I’m a newcomer to the new “Apes” trilogy, so yes, I’ll join the party and confirm that “War for the Planet of the Apes” is a shining example of movies that do *not* have this problem. Despite largely taking place in a “real” setting (that is, not Thanos’ asteroid, or a Death Star, or some other completely fantastical green-screen environment), Woody Harrelson’s character is more or less the only human character of note, the entire film otherwise being carried by the apes that seem to be equal parts performance-capture and VFX artistry. Film criticism and discourse has long resisted the true appreciation of collaborative efforts – witness, most everyone’s tendency (including my own) to continue referring to movies by their director as “author”, despite us all objectively recognizing that every movie is a herculean mosaic of group effort – and thus, credit for Caesar the chimp seems destined to be handed disproportionately either to Andy Serkis or Weta Digital, when the truth is likely an un-categorizable middle ground.

Regardless. Caesar’s struggle to consider what a leader can or should be, and the tension between those impulses, is a resonant and affecting creation. The third-act prison-escape drama of “War” threatens to drag out the story too long, but it comes roaring back to a thrilling conclusion thanks to Reeves’ sterling craft and canny eye for set-pieces.

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Veep, season 6 / Silicon Valley, season 4

Both HBO stalwarts had solid seasons of comedy, but neither really came close to their respective peaks. The best moments came from those mid- to late-run magic moments of actors and writers who so thoroughly know their characters by now that they’re free to just revel in the wriggly, weird details – see: Zach Woods’ Jared in “Silicon Valley”, revealing ever more hilariously disturbing pieces of his childhood and nearly creating a spinoff show with his schizophrenic side personality, tech bro “Jim Chambers”; or Tony Hale, Matt Walsh and Timothy Simons in “Veep” all somehow finding new depths of empathy and disgust in what, five seasons ago, were already one-note characters (Sam Richardson and Clea DuVall, secret MVPs over the past couple seasons of the show, were generally under-served this time around, but still came through with 101 mph fastballs in limited screentime).

I pair these two together because they’ve also both lost pretty much any narrative engagement to the cyclical nature of sitcoms at this point: the perpetual up-and-down fortunes of Pied Piper and Selina Meyer’s presidential hopes are, at this point, in dire need of a Daenerys Targaryen wheel-breaking. Perhaps, with T.J. Miller’s departure from “Silicon Valley”, that show will at last leave behind Ehrlich’s goddamn living room (or, at least, give us more Jian-Yang).

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House of Cards, season 5

Boy, speaking of wheel-spinning. Does this show have an endgame? A point to make that it didn’t make in season two? Any reason for existing at all? I mean, the ending of season five puts us back in literally the exact same place that season three ended, with the promise of Underwood vs. Underwood. Last time turned out to be a roughly two-episode-long feint; why should I believe the political thriller that cried wolf? Especially when there’s barely even fun to be had in the supporting cast anymore? (Does Lars Mikkelsen even know he’s still on this show???) The only glimmer of life here is Patricia Clarkson more or less playing Tammy One Goes to Washington.

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GLOW, season 1

Where “House of Cards” has grown utterly stale despite self-serious insistence that it’s “relevant”, “GLOW” feels fresh by embracing familiar, comfortable formula done well. We are in true boom times for half-hour comedy, but even so “GLOW” stands out for its snappy and savvy writing and top-to-bottom charming cast of established (Alison Brie, Marc Maron) and should-be (Sunita Mani, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young) stars. It won’t inspire as many thinkpieces as many other peak-TV offerings because it’s message, and implications, are straightforward and not terribly ambitious, but that’s most increasingly welcome in a bloated landscape of cultural conversation.

The 2nd Annual ERPs

Last year I rolled out my first-ever ERPs – Ethan’s Repertory Picks. They’re meant to be a supplement to the ongoing EMOs, recognizing that my year of movie-watching is defined just as much by repertory screenings, Netflix binging and Criterion classics as by new releases.

This is not a  comprehensive rundown of every pre-2016 film I saw over the past year, but it is just an opportunity to give some notices and recommendations to movies that, for whatever reason, good or bad, stuck out to me. Then we’ll wrap things up with a Top 10 of classic picks – the most essential viewing experiences, good enough to deserve some legitimate thoughts thrown their way. Please enjoy!

For When You’re On a 90-Minute Sugar High And Literally Can Not Hold Your Attention For More Than Five Seconds At a Time: “The Transformers: The Movie” (1986), Nelson Shin

For When You Want to Feel Even More Shit and Terrified About the State of State Surveillance and Politics Than You Already Are: “Citizenfour” (2014), Laura Poitras

For Comfortingly Fictional Russian Spies: “The Deadly Affair” (1966), Sidney Lumet

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For Uncomfortably Not Fictional Nazis: “Hitler’s Madman” (1943), Douglas Sirk

For a Terrifically Gerunding Double Feature: “Knowing Men” (1930), Elinor Glyn; “Designing Woman” (1957), Vincente Minnelli

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For When You Want to Delve Into the Dark Side of the Expanded “Fast & Furious” Universe: “Better Luck Tomorrow” (2002), Justin Lin

For Adorably Mean Lucille Ball: “Dance, Girl, Dance” (1940), Dorothy Arzner

For When You’re Stuck in a Snowstorm in Donner Pass: “Trouble Every Day” (2001), Claire Denis; or “Ravenous” (1999), Antonia Bird

For Some Casually Sexist Superhero Bullshit That At Least Has Michael Peña In It: “Ant-Man” (2015), Peyton Reed

For Quality Family Time But You Really Need It To Be With Someone Else’s Family: “Monsoon Wedding” (2001), Mira Nair

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For Golden-Age Hollywood Doofiness With Just an Inexplicable Dash of Surreal Horror: “By Candlelight” (1933), James Whale

For a Detailed Instruction Guide to Heisting Jewel Shops and Then Getting Ridiculously Shot For It: “Thief”(1981), Michael Mann

For Making A New York Introvert Feel Better About At Least Occasionally Going Outside In Order to Watch Movies: “The Wolfpack” (2015), Crystal Moselle

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For An Eccentric Post-Apocalyptic Rock-Music Sci-Fi Thriller Featuring Strangely Attractive Dog-People-Hybrids That Literally Could Have Only Been Greenlit During Like a Ten-Minute Span in the ’80s: “Rock & Rule” (1983), Clive A. Smith

For When You Want to Watch “Titanic” But Don’t Want to Hear the Sound That Guy Makes When He Hits the Propeller: “A Night to Remember” (1958), Roy Ward Baker

For the Ur-Buddy Cop Comedy That Still Holds Up When Danny Glover Is On Screen and Less So When It’s the Other Guy: “Lethal Weapon” (1987), Richard Donner

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For Bleak Hollywood-Style Film Noir With Better Accents: “Odd Man Out” (1947), Carol Reed

For Normal Adult White People Working Out Normal Adult White People Problems: “Enough Said” (2013), Nicole Holofcener

For A Nasty R-Rated Marvel Movie That’s Not Nearly As Full Of Itself as “Deadpool”: “Punisher: War Zone” (2008), Lexi Alexander

For Dubbed Burt Lancaster Looking Fly As Heck: “The Leopard” (1963), Luchino Visconti

Top 10 Repertory Picks of 2016

10. “Fantastic Planet” (1973), René Laloux

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The allegory of Laloux’s cutout stop-motion masterpiece is thin, but broad (and, still far smarter than many of the derivative *coughAvatarcough* takes it inspired): in this tale of an alien planet where humans (Oms) are dominated and treated like animals by an advanced race of giant, blue-skinned Draags, you can easily spot the metaphors of racism, Cold War tension, etc. But the real reason to check out “Fantastic Planet” is the extraordinary psychedelic imagery, a batshit vision of surreal artistry. Wild, fantastic, savage – all the possible translations of the French title “sauvage” are appropriate here.

9. “The Ascent” (1977), Larisa Shepitko

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The bleakest film on this list by a country mile, terrible in its beauty. Yet Shepitko’s fable of Belarussian partisan fighters during WWII finds something mystical, quasi-Messianic, in the resilience of the human spirit in the face of death (…only some spirits, though). Even without the overt, uncanny spiritual imagery of a snowy, freezing purgatory, one has to consider anything with Anatoly Solonitsyn’s piercing stare something of a religious experience.

8. “An Autumn Afternoon” (1962), Yasujiro Ozu

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Ozu’s final film, and one of the most achingly lonely I’ve seen. Parents and children, husbands and wives – everyone’s well-intentioned, but no one communicates just right (particularly, you know…men). As Ebert wrote of “An Autumn Afternoon”: “We are here, we hope to be happy, we want to do well, we are locked within our aloneness, life goes on.” Only Ozu had a way of making such a profoundly fucking depressing statement seem tolerable – even oddly, gently, pleasant.

7. “Weekend” (2011), Andrew Haigh

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Eloquent, alluring, perceptive – “Weekend” deserves mention alongside some of the best cinematic stranger romances (although real talk everyone – why is this such a staple?) Supremely empathetic in the specificity and care given to reclusive, semi-closeted Russell and gregarious, vexed Glen, and all the nuances of their brief, ecstatic relationship, Haigh’s feature debut is utterly tender yet unsentimental. It’s one of those improvised, casual indies that oozes technique; an attractive contradiction.

6. “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” (1974), Rainer Werner Fassbinder

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Watching this film last April nearly made me weep – I have to say I can barely fathom what it might do to me if I revisited it now (and how much higher it might climb on this list). Radically political in the simplest, most romantic of ideas – that a young Moroccan man and an older German woman can fall in love and the world just might not fall apart – Fassbinder’s reworking of “All That Heaven Allows” expands and, it must be said, triumphs upon Sirk’s source material in just about every way: in the ferocity of its social conscience, the delicacy of its character interactions, the exquisiteness of its aesthetics (OK, the last one’s a contest, but we’re talking about beautiful apples and gorgeous oranges here). Gently painful but ultimately, so, so endearing (and a tad surprising) in its fundamental optimism.

5. “Tampopo” (1985), Juzo Itami

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What an utter joy of a movie. I had a smile plastered on my face from the first scene, where a gangster brings his meal of oysters and champagne into a movie theater while simultaneously chastising the audience (us) for being too noisy, and that grin stayed through the whole of Itami’s “ramen Western.” That (arbitrary, if catchy) genre description, doesn’t do justice to the play of styles, characters and plot points melded together, practically in sketch-comedy format, to create this assemblage of food-related picaresques. Nominally the center is trucker/cowboy/renegade chef Gōro’s quest to improve enthusiastic Tampopo’s ramen shop, but the true star here is Itami’s gleeful, energetic love of cinema, comedy and cuisine (do not watch unless you can immediately eat a true bowl of ramen immediately after).

4. “Portait of Jason” (1967), Shirley Clarke

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There are people who transfix a camera, and few of them are movie stars. You probably know one – that gregarious friend of a friend who electrifies the party whenever they walk in, or can’t take a bad selfie. Escort Jason Holliday is one of those people, and for an hour or so it is simply enough to watch him talk (and talk and talk), charismatically owning Shirley Clarke’s camera with funny and poignant tales from his life. Then somewhere, the tone shifts. Clarke and her partner Carl Lee’s questions from off-screen get more aggressive, accusatory. And what you thought you were watching is suddenly very different from what you are watching. The ethical conundrum behind the filming of “Portrait of Jason” is a struggle, but one worth walking through for yourself. The reality is more complicated, and heartbreaking, than I can write here.

3. “Yi Yi” (2000), Edward Yang

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At almost three hours and covering a year in the life of the Jian family, you could consider “Yi Yi” a chore, but you’d be delightfully, horribly wrong. Gently, carefully observed and stylish in an easy, graceful manner, Edward Yang’s film was one of the most comfortable, oddly familiar sits I had this year. This is the sort of film, along the lines of Chris Marker’s “Sans Soleil” or Tarkovksy’s “Andrei Rublev” (or, well….Tarkovsky’s anything?) that I wish I could just revisit once a year, because in familiarity just come more delight, insight and revelation in the details. Movies that indulge in such sensual pleasure rarely come this humanistic and understated.

2. “Hyenas” (1992), Djibril Diop Mambéty

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Bona fide satire wrapped in an ethically fraught morality tale that leaves more questions than it answers – and that’s exactly as it should be. In the Senegalese village of Colobane, a popular local businessman sees his life thrown into disarray when the town’s most prominent ex-pat suddenly returns home with her considerable wealth – and a major grudge – in tow. To say much more would be to ruin the complex turns of character that writer/director Mambéty have in store (well, at least for those who are not die-hard Broadway fans and might recognize that plot description from the Chita Rivera musical “The Visit” – both Mambéty’s film and the musical are adapted from the same stage play), and dampen the considerable, scathing fun. A sharp and fraught examination of modernity and neocolonialism.

1. “Losing Ground” (1982), Kathleen Collins

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If there were justice in the world, Kathleen Collins’ film would be considered one fo the great New York movies: spunky, intellectual, tense, it captures a time, place and community I can not recall seeing anywhere else in film. Following the domestic trials and slow liberation of a black, female professor of logic at City College, “Losing Ground” sifts through the haze of Manhattan in summer, picking out its scenes and encounters with utmost care. As one of the characters, an aspiring filmmaker, exclaims (in just one of the charmingly, casually authentic turns of Collins’ phrase): “Did you catch that subtle mise-en-scene, mi amigo?!” I did catch it, and you should seek out this absolute gem as well.