The 9th Annual EMOs

It’s time for Ethan’s Makeshift Oscars – the ninth (ninth!) annual edition. The rules are the same as always: to qualify for nomination, a film had to be both released and seen (by me) in 2015. This year, 36 movies met those conditions, so there’s a lot to get through – let’s get right to it!

Best Action Film:

  • Spectre
  • Furious 7
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
  • Sicario
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Mad Max: Fury Road

Funniest Film:

  • Inside Out
  • Grandma
  • Tangerine
  • Results
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
  • What We Do in the Shadows
  • Mistress America

Most Fucked-Up Protagonist:

  • Trevor and Kat, “Results”
  • Max, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
  • Marlon Brando, “Listen to Me Marlon”
  • Caleb, “Ex Machina”
  • Steve Jobs, “Steve Jobs”

Most Unethical Science:

  • The Martian
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • Ex Machina

Most Appealing Depiction of 1950s-era New York:

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Carol
  • Brooklyn

Best Entry in a Franchise Originating From the 1970s or Earlier:

  • Spectre
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Creed
  • Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Sixth Sequel:

  • Furious 7
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Creed

Most Deserving to Have Everyone Involved in Production Die a Horribly Painful Death Just for Making Me Watch the Trailer:

  • No Escape
  • Hitman: Agent 47
  • Hot Pursuit
  • Entourage
  • Mortdecai

Scene-Stealer Award:

  • Julie Delpy, “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
  • Snoop Dogg, “Pitch Perfect 2”
  • Meryl Streep, “Suffragette”
  • Paula Poundstone and Bobby Moynihan, “Inside Out”

Breakthrough Actor/Actress of the Year:

  • Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, “Tangerine”
  • Michael Angarano, “The Stanford Prison Experiment”
  • Rebecca Ferguson, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”
  • Daisy Ridley, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
  • Julia Garner, “Grandma”
  • Emory Cohen, “Brooklyn”
  • Mya Taylor, “Tangerine”
  • Lola Kirke, “Mistress America”

Best Poster:

  • Red Army

  • Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Ant-Man

  • The Hateful Eight

  • Brooklyn

  • The End of the Tour

  • Sicario

  • It Follows

  • Carol

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  • Tangerine

Best Trailer:

  • Macbeth
  • Chi-Raq
  • Spectre
  • Creed
  • Steve Jobs
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • Spotlight
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • The Revenant
  • Hail, Caesar!

Best Scene:

  • counting potatoes, “The Martian”
  • the Berlin Wall goes up, “Bridge of Spies”
  • opera operation, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”
  • Mexico City, “Spectre”
  • infrared raid, “Sicario”
  • “We’re not ugly people,” “Carol”
  • dancing, “Ex Machina”
  • one-shot fight, “Creed”

Best Use of an Existing Song:

  • “Uprising,” Muse, from “Pitch Perfect 2”
  • “Shaun the Sheep Theme,” from “Shaun the Sheep Movie”
  • “We Belong,” Pat Benatar, from “Pitch Perfect 2”
  • “This Will Destroy You,” The Mighty Rio Grande, from “Room”
  • “Casadh an Tsúgáin (Frankie’s Song)”, from “Brooklyn”
  • “Get Down Saturday Night,” Oliver Cheatham, from “Ex Machina”

Best Original Song:

  • “Lucky Stiff,” performed by Eric Idle, from “Lucky Stiff”
  • “Fine on the Outside,” performed by Priscilla Ahn, from “When Marnie Was There”
  • “Feels Like Summer,” performed by Tim Wheeler, from “Shaun the Sheep Movie”
  • “See You Again,” performed by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, from “Furious 7”

Best Original Score:

  • Fernando Velázquez, “Crimson Peak”
  • Thomas Newman, “Spectre”
  • Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury, “Ex Machina”
  • John Williams, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
  • Howard Shore, “Spotlight”
  • Dan Romer, “Beasts of No Nation”
  • Junkie XL (Tom Holkenberg), “Mad Max: Fury Road”
  • Carter Burwell, “Carol”
  • Jóhann Jóhannson, “Sicario”
  • Michael Brook, “Brooklyn”

Prettiest Pictures:

  • Hoyte van Hoytema, “Spectre”
  • Danny Cohen, “Room”
  • Alwin Kuchler, “Steve Jobs”
  • Cary Fukunaga, “Beasts of No Nation”
  • Charlotte Bruus Christensen, “Far From the Madding Crowd”
  • Yves Bélanger, “Brooklyn”
  • Maryse Alberti, “Creed”
  • Sean Baker, Radium Cheung, “Tangerine”
  • John Seale, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
  • Roger Deakins, “Sicario”
  • Edward Lachman, “Carol”
  • Vladimir Ilin, Yuri Klimenko, “Hard to Be a God”

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • Tim Talbott, “The Stanford Prison Experiment”
  • Drew Goddard, “The Martian”
  • Aaron Sorkin, “Steve Jobs”
  • Emma Donoghue, “Room”
  • Aleksei German, Svetlana Karmalita, “Hard to Be a God”
  • Nick Hornby, “Brooklyn”
  • Phyllis Nagy, “Carol”

Best Original Screenplay:

  • Paul Weitz, “Grandma”
  • Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, “Inside Out”
  • Alex Garland, “Ex Machina”
  • George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
  • Andrew Bujalski, “Results”
  • Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, “Tangerine”
  • Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington, “Creed”
  • Noah Baumbach, “Mistress America”
  • Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer, “Spotlight”

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Rebecca Ferguson, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”
  • Jessica Chastain, “Crimson Peak”
  • Julie Walters, “Brooklyn”
  • Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs”
  • Marcia Gay Harden, “Grandma”
  • Tessa Thompson, “Creed”
  • Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight”
  • Joan Allen, “Room”
  • Phyllis Smith, “Inside Out”
  • Alicia Vikander, “Ex Machina”

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Ezra Miller, “The Stanford Prison Experiment”
  • Benicio Del Toro, “Sicario”
  • Emory Cohen, “Brooklyn”
  • Kyle Chandler, “Carol”
  • Michael Sheen, “Far From the Madding Crowd”
  • Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”
  • Kevin Corrigan, “Results”
  • Sam Elliott, “Grandma”
  • Michael Keaton, “Spotlight”
  • Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”
  • Oscar Isaac, “Ex Machina”
  • Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”

Best Actress:

  • Amy Poehler, “Inside Out”
  • Carey Mulligan, “Far From the Madding Crowd”
  • Lola Kirke, “Mistress America”
  • Cobie Smulders, “Results”
  • Carey Mulligan, “Suffragette”
  • Emily Blunt, “Sicario”
  • Mya Taylor, “Tangerine”
  • Lily Tomlin, “Grandma”
  • Charlize Theron, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
  • Greta Gerwig, “Mistress America”
  • Brie Larson, “Room”
  • Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn”
  • Rooney Mara, “Carol”
  • Cate Blanchett, “Carol”

Best Actor:

  • Billy Crudup, “The Stanford Prison Experiment”
  • John Boyega, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
  • Matt Damon, “The Martian”
  • Jacob Tremblay, “Room”
  • Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”
  • Guy Pearce, “Results”
  • Michael B. Jordan, “Creed”
  • Leonid Yarmolnik, “Hard to Be a God”

Best Acting Ensemble:

  • Suffragette
  • The Martian
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • Grandma
  • Steve Jobs
  • Mistress America
  • Brooklyn
  • Carol
  • Spotlight

Best Director:

  • Sean Baker, “Tangerine”
  • Ryan Coogler, “Creed”
  • John Crowley, “Brooklyn”
  • Lenny Abrahamson, “Room”
  • Noah Baumbach, “Mistress America”
  • George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
  • Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”
  • Todd Haynes, “Carol”
  • Aleksei German, “Hard to Be a God”
  • Jafar Panahi, “Taxi”

Best Film:

  • Ex Machina
  • Inside Out
  • Tangerine
  • Creed
  • Brooklyn
  • Mistress America
  • Room
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Spotlight
  • Carol
  • Hard to Be a God
  • Taxi

 

Most Overblown Title: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

I mean I know “Avengers: Four Days and a Little Bit of Ultron” isn’t very catchy, but there’s got to be a middle ground somewhere we can agree on.

The Knucklepuck Award for Best Imitation of “D2: The Mighty Ducks”: “Pitch Perfect 2”

An accolade that far more movies should strive to achieve.

Most Unexpected Screed on Ethics in Documentary Filmmaking: “While We’re Young”

I think Adam Driver: Manipulative Documentarian is actually still a more frightening villain than Kylo Ren.

A Thing That Exists: “Lucky Stiff”

You can look it up on the IMDB and everything!

Biggest Boost to Sweden in the Most Attractive Accent Competition: “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words”

I mean Bergman and Alicia Vikander might be enough, but can we count Isabella Rossellini towards this as well? Because then it’s just a no-brainer.

Best James Bond Movie: “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

For god’s sake, Martin Campbell, where are you? When Tom Cruise is doing a better job at this than Sam Mendes the empire really has fallen.

The J.J. Abrams Award for Most Pointless Fan Service Plot Twist: Christoph Waltz revealed as Blofeld, “Spectre”

WE KNOWWWWWWWWW

Most Confusing Cultural Mashup of Adolescent Sexuality: “When Marnie Was There”

A Japanese anime based on a British novel…so…how much repression are we talking about here?

The Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Award for a Movie Starring Vin Diesel’s Face That Also Made Me Cry: “Furious 7”

Shut up I’m not crying you’re crying IT’S BEEN A LOOOOOOOOOOOONG DAYYYYYYYY

 

Sexiest Sheep Surgery: “Far From the Madding Crowd”

They should resurrect “ER” but set it at a veterinary hospital. Matthias Schoenaerts would be the next George Clooney in less than two episodes.

 

Most Difficult to Criticize Without Sounding Like an Awful Human Being: “Beasts of No Nation”

Look the use of child soldiers is awful and horrific and violence in West Africa is a blight on our collective humanity but…..usually my movies are better when they have a narrative? NO I KNOW I’M SORRY I’ll go sit in the corner now.

 

Science Science Science Science Science. Science? Science!
“The Martian”

I’m so excited to read the book so that I can get EVEN MORE SCIENCE ISN’T SCIENCE THE BEST

Best/Worst Audience Member: the woman in front of me who clapped and cheered every time anything vaguely inspirational happened in “Suffragette”

I was so very very torn between “fuck the patriarchy” empathy and movie snob etiquette.

Best Reason to Delete All Your Voice Memos from the Cloud, Right Now: “Listen to Me Marlon”

I know I shouldn’t be encouraging this as an archivist but I also don’t need anyone from the future hearing my personal renditions of “1989” and turning it into a documentary.

Most Distracting Facial Hair: “The Stanford Prison Experiment”

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LOOK AT IT!!!!!! LOOK AT IT!!!!!!

The Connie Britton in Season 1 of “American Horror Story” Award for Stubborn Loyalty to a Miserable Piece of Real Estate: Mia Wasikowska in “Crimson Peak”

Oh my god JUST LEAVE THE HOUSE you can literally go stay in ANY OTHER HOUSE

Most Polite Werewolves: “What We Do in the Shadows”

They would never dare imprint on to your newborn baby daughter, I’m sure.

Best Jimmy Stewart Impression: Tom Hanks in “Bridge of Spies”

“Merry Christmas you wonderful old Eastern Bloc!”

Worst At His Job:  Kylo Ren, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

A close runner-up to Luke Skywalker, who decided to be alone and sulk but still found the time to LEAVE A MAP. Geez, Luke, that’s like when a mopey eight-year-old runs away from home and wobbles back through the door two hours later because he forgot to pack some snacks.

Wildest Tonal Swings Between Witty Entertainment, Complex Character Study, Tone-Deaf Hero Worship and Outright Misogyny: “Steve Jobs”

In other words, an Aaron Sorkin joint.

Delightfulest: “Shaun the Sheep Movie”

Shaun-The-Sheep-Movie

I mean just look at this picture. What more do you want in your life?

Best Reminder That Lily Tomlin Deserves to Be Put on Mount Rushmore: “Grandma”

We could just take off Thomas Jefferson. They’re basically the same person, right?

Proudest of Itself For Suggesting That the War on Drugs Might Be a Morally Complex Situation, You Guys: “Sicario”

I spent the afternoon in Tijuana once and it was just sooooo enlightening you guys I kept asking for drugs and they ACTUALLY GAVE ME DRUGS BECAUSE I PAID FOR THEM let’s write a movie about that

Largest Pile of Collective Neuroses: “Results”

Did I mention this debuted at Sundance?

Best Argument That Yeah, Steve Jobs Probably Always Wanted to Fuck an iPod: “Ex Machina”

I’m just saying he had a thing for curves you know.

The Rocky Balboa Award for a Franchise That Managed to Win an Improbable Moral Victory By Simply Outlasting the Competition Until It Looked Great By Comparison: “Creed”

How is it that I still care about Rocky movies? What sorcery is this?

Too On Point: “Inside Out”

I did one of those stupid online quizzes about what “Inside Out” character is in charge of your brain and I got Fear and I can’t even really argue with that so I’m going to just prove the point and lie in bed and fret for the rest of the day.

Best New Christmas Movie to Break Up Those Awkward Family Visits With Your Conservative Cousins: “Tangerine”

Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!

Most Meta Movie to Watch in Brooklyn: “Brooklyn”

I would absolutely take a job as a shopgirl and live with Julie Walters if it meant getting a bedroom in Brooklyn Heights.

Most I Laughed At a Movie to Stave Off the Haunting Recognition of the Farce That Is My Life in New York: “Mistress America”

The other day I had to sit next to a guy with a foul-mouthed ventriloquist dummy on the subway and all I could think was WWGGD (What Would Greta Gerwig Do)?

Most Akin to Injecting Meth Into Your Eyeballs (I’m Guessing): “Mad Max: Fury Road”

AUGH WHY DOES IT BURN THIS WAS THE WORST IDEA

Most Tolerable Attempts at Boston Accents: “Spotlight”

This stands in stark contrast to the “Black Mass” trailer, which is a wicked, gawdawful mess.

Gonna Stay Away From the Jokes With This One: “Room”

Soooooo….how’s everybody’s day going…..

Most Superfluous Men in a Year of Superfluous Men: “Carol”

On the other hand, cutting out the male characters would have denied us the great joy of Cate Blanchett saying “Harge” multiple times.

Nobel Physiology and Medicine Prize for Documentation of Heretofore Unknown Bodily Fluids: “Hard to Be a God”

I think a liquid that is equal parts piss, shit, vomit, snot, spit and bile should be called “splorge.” Like, “hey, you’ve got some splorge on you.” Any other suggestions?

Moviest Movie About Moviemakers Making Movies: “Taxi”

I kind of like movies.

The First-Ever ERPs

We’re winding down the year of film that was 2015 – already critics are inundating our Twitter feeds and blogrolls with endless Top 10 lists and back-and-forth debates about the merits of movies that the general public still won’t get to see until at least February. It’s still a few weeks before I join in the fray with the 9th Annual EMOs (Ethan’s Makeshift Oscars), but I’ve been considering how, while rewarding/mocking the new releases of 2015 is fun and all, it isn’t entirely reflective of my experience of the year in film. Every year, between visits to the theater to see the latest Marvel monstrosity, I continue my personal cinematic education in the form of DVD rentals from the public library, Criterion Blu-Ray sales, repertory screenings, etc. Sometimes I take the time to talk about these films from years past in this space – my MoMA Mia series this past summer, for instance – or maybe I’ll take a moment to write a snarky tweet, but far too often I let these experiences go by without further comment.

So I’m unveiling what I hope will be a new annual tradition – the first-ever ERPs (Ethan’s Repertory Picks). These will not be as exhaustive as the EMOs – it’s rather difficult, even with my anal list-making habits, to keep track of every pre-2015 film I watched in the past year, and frankly, ain’t nobody got time for that anyway. But what I can do is give out some notices and recommendations regarding the films that, for whatever reason, stood out to me the most this year. Then we’ll wrap things up with a Top 10, Classic-Style.

(And, for the record, I feel pretty safe handing these out now, because the rest of the December will almost certainly be consumed by catching up with 2015 releases before awards season, along with repeat viewings of “The Muppet Christmas Carol”)

Enjoy!

For When You, Like a Good Soviet, Are Feeling Exceptionally Literally-Minded: “Nine Days Of One Year” (1962), Mikhail Romm

It’s pretty much all there in the title, except for the fatal radiation poisoning. Which is, tragically, far less exciting than it sounds.

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For Proof That Even Legendary Art-House Directors Choke on the Middle Entry of a Trilogy: “La Notte” (1961), Michelangelo Antonioni

I honestly didn’t think it would be possible for Antonioni-ennui to sink in while watching people as beautiful as Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau and Monica Vitti, but dear lord did I not care about a single person in this film.

For A Reminder That American Politics Could Always Suck Even More: “The Confession” (1970), “State of Siege” (1972), Costa-Gavras

I mean I’m not saying it couldn’t happen at all, but at least right this second I am not really concerned about being arrested by apparatchiki.

film_760_stateofsiege_original

For When You Run Out of Funny Animal Videos on YouTube: “Cat Ballou” (1965), Elliot Silverstein

To think that in the ’60s you had to shell out $5 in order to see a drunk horse.

For Prestige Filmmaking That Just Smothers All the Talented People Involved With Its Sheer Competence: “The English Patient” (1996), Anthony Minghella

There is a reason “Oscar bait” is associated with bland, tasteful period pieces, and this movie is pretty much it. Well, that and “Dances With Wolves.” And “Driving Miss Daisy.” And “War Horse.” And “Out of Africa.” And “Forrest Gump”…

For When You Loved “Mad Max: Fury Road” And Want More And It’s Just So Sad They Never Made An Original Or A Third One, Isn’t That Weird? : “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” (1981), George Miller

Strangest franchise numbering outside of the “Fast and Furious” movies, really.

mad-max-2-max

For When You Want to See John Wayne Wear a Uniform That Really Makes His Eyes Pop: “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949), John Ford

Honestly, the far more momentous John Wayne-related cinematic moment of the year came from Karina Longworth’s podcast You Must Remember This, where I learned that John Wayne once looked like this.

I mean, what?

For When You Need to Trick Your Horror-Movie-Loving Friend Into Watching a Landmark Work of American Neorealism:
“Killer of Sheep” (1978), Charles Burnett

Most misleading title ever? Discuss.

killerofsheep070402_560

For the “Freaky Friday” Fans: “Cobra Woman” (1944), Robert Siodmak

I really think the body-swap genre could be revived with a copious amount of dick snakes.

For When You Just Need Some Anna Karina In Your Life, Which Is Every Moment of Every Day, Duh: “Vivra Sa Vie” (1962) and “Pierrot Le Fou” (1965), Jean-Luc Godard

Which I’m pretty sure is literally the reason for these movies existing in the first place.

For When You’re Just in the Mood to Feel Shit About Everything: “Prisoners” (2013), Denis Villeneuve

Cue the Tegan and Sara: *Everything is awesooooooome….everything is cool when you’re part of a team….*

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For a Reminder That “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” Is Intended To Be the Most Depressing Holiday Song Ever Written: “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), Vincente Minnelli

Was Judy Garland ever allowed to be happy? Like, in an unqualified, non-melancholic way?

For When You’ve Just Watched “Going Clear” And Thought, You Know What That Movie Needed, Was More Rock Hudson: “Magnificent Obsession” (1954), Douglas Sirk

I couldn’t in good conscience include it in my Top 10 here, but just know that there was possibly no other film this year that I received as much entertainment from.

mag_bedprayer

For When You’re Wondering Why Sam Spade Never Went Undercover As a Palm-Reading Psychic: “In the Palm of Your Hand” (1951), Roberto Galvaldón

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t go well.

For a Depressing Reminder That Philip Seymour Hoffman Was Better At Acting Than You Will Be At Anything Ever: “25th Hour” (2002), Spike Lee

Also that Spike Lee is one of the most talented working directors in the world and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

25thhour2

For Celebrating the Eternal and Engimatic Majesty That Was Ingrid Bergman’s Accent: “Gaslight” (1944), George Cukor, and “Journey to Italy” (1954), Roberto Rossellini

In fact, throw in Angela Lansbury, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten and we should just rename “Gaslight” to “A Cavalcade of Accents.” It would restore the twist ending while we’re at it.

For When You’re Too Cheap to Rent “Bonnie and Clyde”: “Gun Crazy” (1950), Joseph H. Lewis

Probably about 80% as good, but with 100% more Russ Tamblyn.

For Sunny, Warm Summer Days, Because Watching These In the Winter Might Put You On Immediate Suicide Watch: “Through a Glass Darkly” (1961), “Winter Light” (1962), “The Silence” (1963), Ingmar Bergman

I mean, I guess Sweden has to balance out the universal healthcare, 100% literacy rate and low unemployment somehow. Perpetual theological/existential crisis seems fair enough.

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For the Scorsese Fan In Your Life Who Could Maybe Watch Something With Non-White People Once In a While: “City of God” (2002), Fernando Meirelles

I’m not saying you should be wary of super-Scorsese enthusiasts, but I’m not not saying that.

For Horror Enthusiasts Who Know the True Enemy is Diabeetus: “The Thing” (1982), John Carpenter

The other enemy is CGI.

 

Top 10 Repertory Films of 2015

10. “This Is Not a Film” (2011), Jafar Panahi

this-is-not-a-film

In 2010, the Iranian government placed internationally-acclaimed director Jafar Panahi under house arrest and barred him from making a film for 20 years. Only a year later, “This Is Not a Film” arrived at the Cannes Film Festival – smuggled on a flash drive inside a cake. Part documentary, part video diary, and part declaration of political defiance, Panahi’s film is an astounding and utterly unique reflection on the political, moral and philosophical quandaries facing artists in Iran. Its difficult to say much about the film’s production, as Panahi’s sentence has included a prohibition from giving interviews, but the messy and improvised feel of “This Is Not a Film” may in fact be quite calculated, all the better to reveal the compulsion and spontaneity that drives Panahi, and many other artists across history, to create. Few movies are so radical in their simplicity.

 

9. “Rocco and His Brothers” (1960), Luchino Visconti

rocco-jaime-may-2014

A riveting family epic that combines the gritty, working-class aesthetics of Italian neorealism with operatic emotion. Sibling rivalries of mythology proportion (featuring that modern Adonis himself, Alain Delon) play out in dingy communal apartments and rubble-strewn backlots, captured in the unwavering clarity of Visconti’s deep focus. Two scenes of sexual assault (both against the same, pitiable target) remain among the most brutal, visceral experiences of this or any other year, all the more shocking considering the time in which the film was produced.

 

8. “3 Women” (1977), Robert Altman

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I never realized what a great tragedy it is that Ingmar Bergman never worked with Shelly Duvall, but Altman’s own, mumbly take on Bergman’s trademark crises of identity and sexuality is certainly a suitable approximation. Fascinating enough as an oddball drama about mismatched roommates for its first half, “3 Women” really turns into something special in its woozy, eerie denouement, as Duvall and Sissy Spacek play out their “Persona”-esque role reversal while Janice Rule insistently and methodically paints the most unsettling murals I’ve ever seen. Kudos to the production design and to Charles Rosher Jr.’s camera for its bleary, restless observation of Altman’s enigmatic tale.

 

7. “Paths of Glory” (1957), Stanley Kubrick

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“Paths of Glory” is one of the most blisteringly efficient films I’ve ever seen. In less than 90 minutes, Kubrick jams in the horror, folly and injustice of the First World War – with no scrimping on the spectacle, either. Kirk Douglas gives an extraordinary lead performance, more complex than the usual paragons of virtue at the center of other cinematic anti-war screeds: his righteousness is never in doubt, but there’s a distinct sense he might snap and murder his superior officers for their gross inhumanity at any moment. And therein lies the inescapable, cyclical grind of war, something that good men can rail against but still find themselves consumed by. Features the kind of stunning visual imagery you expect from Kubrick.

 

6. “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” (2003), Kim Ki-duk

spring-summer-fall-winter-and-sp-11

Gentle, lyrical, meditative – Kim Ki-duk’s masterpiece is as easy and comforting to step into as a hot bath. The curious settings and characters – the film never really leaves the floating retreat of a monk and his young apprentice isolated in the Korean wilderness – feel slipped out of time, in an otherworldly reverie. But intrusions from the outside world (both literal and emotional/intellectual) cloud the film’s calm, reflective waters. Are we meant to take the narrative seriously, as the story of one man’s weaving spiritual journey? Does the seasonal structure hint at a broader allegory for enlightenment? One gets the sense that repeat viewings could give the same kind of fresh contemplation through repetitive action as walking a labyrinth.

 

5. “The River” (1951), Jean Renoir

Dem-3 Photo. Helene Jeanbrau © 1996 cine-tamaris.tif

Like the previous film, another unhurried, observational piece in love with both the natural beauty of its lush, exotic location and the quiet, ordinary people who inhabit it. Renoir suggests a true coexistence of race and culture in his depiction of a British family in barely post-imperial India – life, love and longing allowed to unfold leisurely, without trumped-up conflict or drama. Stunning Technicolor photography captures local tradition and custom without condescension or possessiveness; it is enough for Renoir to witness and pass along events without claiming to understand or explain them.

 

4. “Blow-Up” (1966), Michelangelo Antonioni

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Thomas (David Hemmings) leads a typical Antonionian life of empty hedonism as a fashion photographer, until the moment when, by chance, he photographs a couple walking together in a park. There is a conflict, or an embrace, and then…what? Thomas has potentially witnessed a murder, or perhaps not. A body appears and disappears again. The woman involves arrives at Thomas’ studio, agitated, but offering no answers. Obsessed, Thomas enlarges his photographs from the scene, again and again, hoping to gain a solution through empirical evidence. But the more he scrutinizes, the more abstract his situation becomes. This is Antonioni at his most quietly riveting – Thomas’ professionalism is fascinating in its single-minded determination, but his goal may be a fool’s errand. Is the illusion of purpose as sustaining as purpose itself?

 

3. “All That Jazz” (1979), Bob Fosse

All That Jazz

An explosion of color, movement, and sound choreographed by one of the best there has ever been at doing just that. Bob Fosse’s vaguely autobiographical fever dream of life on Broadway is more intensely personal than “Cabaret”, and thus crackles with electricity that even that other masterwork can’t quite match. Roy Scheider is stunning – it wasn’t until the very last scene of the movie that I realized the man convincingly, brilliantly played a famed Broadway dancer/choreographer for two hours, despite clearly not being able to dance a lick. That performance takes an exceptional kind of confidence to pull off, but Fosse had more than enough of that to share.

 

2. “Johnny Guitar” (1954), Nicholas Ray

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The original “Mad Max: Fury Road” – come for the familiar male lead, stay for the gonzo committed female performance. Joan Crawford was an odd star and an odder person, but “Johnny Guitar” shows what she could bring to the table: presence, and enough of it to make basically three films at once. Revenge Western, revisionist romance, lesbian psychosexual drama – Nicholas Ray was operating on several different layers here, and Crawford’s knocking them all out of the park. Everyone else, cast and crew both, more or less stay out of her way, and that’s exactly how it should be.

 

1. “Cat People” (1942), Jacques Tournear

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The most special films, and film experiences, often come from lowered expectations. In other words, there are movies that have no right to be as good as they are, and that’s kind of why we love them so much. “Cat People” might be the most extreme example of that I’ve ever encountered. The script is daft, the actors are a B-list studio’s C-list squad – and yet, under Jacques Tournear’s direction and producer Val Lewton’s creative guidance, something utterly magic happens. In Tournear’s shadows we find something as primal and atavistic as the forces that supposedly possess our doomed heroine: an utterly satisfying, riveting, beautiful, innovative entertainment.

And a final word….

While on the subject of old films, I also just want to take the opportunity to recommend one more thing. I did not watch this movie in 2015, for the first time or otherwise – but this is the year we lost Chantal Akerman, whose “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,” remains one of the greatest movies you can experience, in this year or any other. It is not a simple sit, and it really deserves to be seen on the big screen – but if you do watch it at home, do yourself, and Akerman, a favor and commit to it. Turn off your phone. Resist the urge to pause, to take a break. Don’t fight the mundanity – think about what it’s doing to you, and why Akerman’s doing it. She was one of the greats, and deserves to be seen and discussed as one.

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MoMA Mia: Scorsese Selects (Some Pretty Great Movies)

So far this summer I’ve waded through the ups and downs of Kodak’s game-changing Technicolor technology, and briefly dived into the melodramatic depths of Mexican noir. Closing out MoMA’s sterling summer lineup is a series (supposedly) curated personally by Martin Scorsese, to show off many of the films that have had an influence on his own remarkable career. Whether Scorsese really hand-picked every film in this series, or the MoMA staff simply sifted through the numerous interviews where Scorsese has talked about his cinephilic upbringing (has any other filmmaker been more openly obsessed with discussing and preserving his personal favorites?), we may never know. Regardless, it’s been a great chance to catch some cult classics and revisit other gems for the first time on the big screen. As it turns out, whatever you think of his own films, Martin Scorsese has some pretty good taste. Who knew?



Sunday, August 16, 2:30pm: “A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven)” (1946), Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Compared to some of Powell and Pressburger’s epic collaborations (“The Red Shoes,” “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” “The Tales of Hoffmann”), “A Matter of Life and Death” (originally billed in the United States as “Stairway to Heaven,” after the film’s signature set-piece) is outwardly a downright modest affair: it clocks in at a perfectly average hour and forty five minutes, and for the majority of that running time centers around three or four characters. But really it’s one of the grandest works of original cinematic fantasy ever put on screen. The seamless integration of spectacular special effects and pseudo-scientific allegory into, at heart, an endearing romantic drama, must make Christopher Nolan sick with envy. I can hardly imagine, in 1946, convincing a producer to put so much cash and craft wizardry into a film without any established property or story as a foundation – but Powell and Pressburger did it, and all the better for us.

The setup is one that would’ve still been a raw subject for Britain in the days immediately following the war – David Niven plays a squadron leader who bails out of his burning bomber while returning from a bombing raid in early May of 1945 (mere days before victory in Europe). He has no parachute, and fully expects to die – but somehow, miraculously, he doesn’t, and washes up on English soil in a gorgeous sequence where Niven nails the quiet surrealism in a scene that otherwise shows a perfectly normal day at the beach. As it turns out, Niven was fated to die over the Channel, but the powers-that-be in “the Other World” (Powell and Pressburger leave their afterlife ambiguous regarding any division of heaven or hell) simply missed him in a batch of thick fog.

The depiction of the afterlife as just as stuffy and bureaucratic as our own is ingenious, and allows for delightful debates of the merits of human life and romance as Niven files a legal appeal to the higher authorities to be granted a reprieve from death (having, in his “borrowed” time, fallen in love with an American nurse). The visual and thematic contrasts (the “Other World” is filmed, counter-intuitively, in washed-out monochrome, while Earth gets the vibrant Technicolor treatment) are so simple, and yet you know no copycat could capture the same magic again; few filmmakers other than Powell and Pressburger could handle such grand material with such a light touch. A must-see and perfect entry into the Archers canon if the lengthy running time of “The Red Shoes” is (mistakenly) holding you back.

Saturday, August 22, 2:30pm: “Cat People” (1942), Jacques Tournear/ 5pm: “I Walked with a Zombie” (1943), Jacques Tournear

Val Lewton, RKO’s B-movie horror wunderkind, has pretty much completed the swing from forgotten studio stooge to cult-worshipped producer-auteur; thanks, in part, to the efforts of filmmakers like Scorsese and Tarantino who re-discovered and pushed Lewton’s films back into the cultural consciousness. It seemed only appropriate to finally catch up with Lewton’s two most famous works (both collaborations with the exceptional noir director Tournear) as a sort of double feature – spending the whole afternoon enveloped, as one might’ve at a summer matinee back in the 1940s, in Lewton’s shadows.

First, “Cat People.” You guys. Even several days later, I’m not sure I’m ready to properly describe how good this movie is. Working off his own 1930 short story (published with the less-ridiculous but also less-endearing title “The Bagheeta”), Lewton, along with Tournear and screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen, takes an absurd little premise – Irena, a young Serbian woman living in America, fears she is descended from a race of witches who turned into panthers when aroused – and manufacture more tension and fear than a hundred jump-scares put together.

Part of it is the lighting, which deserves to be listed up there with the best of American noir. The film’s look probably emerged partly from simple business concerns – RKO was still reeling from the financial hits of Welles’ “Citizen Kane” and “The Magnificent Ambersons,” and could only afford a handful of sets – but the shadows don’t just hide the low budget. They are perfect for this insidious tale of a lurking, engrained evil; Lewton and Tournear were savvy enough to know that the monster we can’t see is far more frightening than the one we can. There are two nightmarish sequences in particular – one in a swimming pool, one on an empty city street, both involving Alice, Irena’s romantic competition, being threatened by Irena’s “cat form” – that are master classes in suggested suspense. The film is made all the more discomforting by the lack of a clear-cut protagonist: Irena is both the film’s primary threat and its only sympathetic character, surrounded by a blandly naive husband and a predatory psychiatrist. French actress Simone Simon was probably cast for her unmistakably kitten-like presence, but she’s also very believable as a woman conflicted about her own desires and capabilities.

“I Walked with a Zombie” can’t live up to the same schlocky-title/genius-film ratio as “Cat People,” but really that says more about the latter. As B-movie horror ideas go, a voodoo take on Jane Eyre is also pretty fantastic. Lewton was clearly obsessed with the idea of inherited evil (the episode of Karina Longworth’s podcast You Must Remember This about Lewton is all-around fascinating, but particularly revealing in discussing Lewton’s lifelong interest in atavism), and the ancestral burden of slavery in the Caribbean is certainly a doozy – made all the more powerful here because Tournear, Lewton and writers Curt Siodmak (noir director Robert’s brother) and Ardel Wray keep that aspect of the white Holland family’s interaction with the black inhabitants of their island largely relegated to subtext (and one super-eerie figurehead of Saint Sebastian). “I Walked with a Zombie” is a very Victorian tale of passion-as-possession, and the supernatural, voodoo elements of the story reinforce that sense of human behavior controlled by seething, swirling forces beyond our control. There are fewer standout sequences than in “Cat People,” but a visit by the in-over-her-head Canadian nurse Betsy to a voodoo gathering is just as moody and uneasy as anything in the earlier film.

Did I mention both these films are barely more than an hour long? What else do you need to hear?

Tuesday, August 25, 7:30pm: “Gun Crazy” (1950), Joseph H. Lewis

Before there was Bonnie and Clyde, there was Bart and Laurie (on the silver screen, anyway). Arthur Penn’s classic 1967 film is generally credited for busting down Hollywood’s self-imposed barrier against explicit sex and violence, but after finally watching Joseph H. Lewis’ cult noir hit, it’s clear that “Bonnie and Clyde” owes “Gun Crazy” a major debt for unscrewing some of the hinges.

A pair of sideshow sharpshooters with no discernible skills or interests besides guns, Bart and Laurie are clearly destined for a life of crime, especially after Laurie makes her appetite for, um, luxury, known. “I want a lot of things – big things,” Laurie declares, in what will certainly not be the last of the film’s censor-dodging innuendo. Poor Bart, completely smitten (and with no other option besides the institutional repression of the army), will get her those big things, though his love of shooting comes with a crippling fear of actual killing – something that increasingly becomes a problem as their jobs get bigger and more dangerous. Everything that “Bonnie and Clyde” made explicit, “Gun Crazy” teases: the sexual, fetishistic link between the two lovers and violence, male shooting prowess as compensation for impotency, the inevitable and necessary doom of social misfits and deviants.

And, also like its sister film, “Gun Crazy” is a technical marvel: instead of Penn’s famed “dance of death,” there’s the extended one-take bank heist sequence, in which the camera never leaves the back of Bart and Laurie’s car as they drive through town, distract and knock out a security guard, and make their get-away. It’s riveting and immediate stuff, especially since we’re so used to car scenes from that period of filmmaking (including other shots in this same movie) being rear-projected. The claustrophobic, contained effect is consistent throughout the whole film: Lewis and cinematographer Russell Harlan often film the two leads in stark close-up, sweating and twitching as the authorities slowly gain on them.

If there’s a relative knock against “Gun Crazy,” it’s that its two leads are nowhere near the performers that Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are. John Dall and Peggy Cummins are serviceable no-names, but clearly never reached the A-list for a reason (Dall was much more engaging two years earlier as one of the prep-school murderers of Hitchcock’s “Rope”). But the script – co-written by a blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, working under the assumed name of Millard Kaufman – works with that, giving Bart and Laurie a broader appeal as symbols of social disturbance, rather than uniquely motivated individuals. It’s a fascinating hint of the transition from the post-war trauma of film noir to the discontent of the New Wave.