A Circuitous Route to Best Picture, 2018 Edition

I apologize profusely that I only update the blog right before the Academy Award winners are announced every year. As I mentioned last time, I am in the thick of an intense teacher preparation program. Quick update: Now I am a public school teacher in Baltimore. Still, all evidence to the contrary, my love for film has not abated. I hope to publish more essays this summer, when I finally have the time, but until then, I must leave you with the following: A Circuitous Route to Best Picture, 2018 Edition.

A refresher on the rules I set down for myself, as this is really just a mental exercise in connecting the Oscars’ top films of the year: I do not consult IMDb for help. I only use actors to connect the films–no other film practitioners allowed! The actors must have starred in a film together; I cannot use their romantic or familial relationships or TV roles to make the connections. Also, I cannot repeat movies or names, as many actors, just as in years past, have starred in more than one (or even two!) Best Picture nominees. Michael Stuhlbarg is this year’s MVP in that regard.

Let’s dig right in:

Phantom Thread
Alma, Reynolds, and Cyril tuck in. Image courtesy of Focus Features.
  • Phantom Thread with Vicky Krieps, who’s in Hanna with Saoirse Ronan, who’s in
  • Lady Bird with Timothée Chalamet, who’s in
  • Call Me By Your Name with Michael Stuhlbarg, who’s in
  • The Shape of Water with Octavia Spencer, who’s in Fruitvale Station with Michael B. Jordan, who’s in Black Panther with Daniel Kaluuya, who’s in
  • Get Out with Caleb Landry Jones, who’s in
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with Lucas Hedges, who’s in Manchester by the Sea with Michelle Williams, who’s in Venom with Tom Hardy, who’s in
  • Dunkirk with Mark Rylance, who’s in Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks, who’s in
  • The Post with Meryl Streep, who’s in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again with Lily James, who’s in
  • Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman, who’s in A Christmas Carol with Lesley Manville, who’s in
  • Phantom Thread
Darkest Hour
Churchill finds Dunkirk on a map. Image courtesy of Focus Features.

There are many ways that one can do this. This is merely the first path I took. Here are some slight variations that I could conjure off the top of my head:

  • The Shape of Water with Octavia Spencer, who’s in Fruitvale Station with Michael B. Jordan, who’s in Black Panther with Daniel Kaluuya, who’s in
  • Get Out with Bradley Whitford, who’s in
  • The Post with Tom Hanks, who’s in Bridge of Spies with Mark Rylance

Caleb Landry Jones’s starring in Get Out and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri effectively made it pointless to connect the two films via that weirdo indie classic known as Box of Moonlight. If he hadn’t mucked everything up, I’d have connected the two films thusly:

  • Get Out with Catherine Keener, who’s in Box of Moonlight with Sam Rockwell, who’s in
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

And if I’d chosen Armie Hammer rather than Michael Stuhlbarg to represent Call Me By Your Name, I could have done this:

  • Call Me By Your Name with Armie Hammer, who’s in Free Fire with Cillian Murphy, who’s in
  • Dunkirk

I could go on, but I have some lessons to plan for the week ahead. What connections would you make in this completely ridiculous but fun exercise?

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Another Circuitous Route to Best Picture: 2017 Edition

I apologize for disappearing from the site. I don’t need to tell you that it has been an amazingly stressful year–and it’s only going to get worse. Although, I cannot exactly blame He Who Shall Not Be Named for the dearth of new criticism on CINE FEEL YEAH. Since June I have been immersed in an intensive teacher preparation program; come this fall I should be an elementary school teacher at a Baltimore City public school. Right now, I am so ridiculously busy that I barely get any sleep.

Yet I could not go on without celebrating the previous year in movies by connecting all the nominees for Best Picture. As you might recall, I place a number of restrictions on my game-playing, in an effort to stretch my associative memory of movies. First, I cannot consult IMDb for help. Second, I can only use actors to connect the films–not directors or producers. Third, the actors must have starred in a film with each other; I cannot connect the movies through the thespians’ romantic entanglements or their TV appearances.

So without further ado, I give you A Circuitous Route to Best Picture: 2017 Edition.

hacksaw-ridge-2
Andrew Garfield, presumably on the eponymous Hacksaw Ridge. I dunno; I haven’t seen the film yet. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
  • Hacksaw Ridge with Andrew Garfield, who was in The Amazing Spider-Man with Emma Stone, who’s in
  • La La Land with Ryan Gosling, who was in Blue Valentine with Michelle Williams, who’s in
  • Manchester by the Sea with Casey Affleck, who was in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints with Rooney Mara, who’s in
  • Lion with Nicole Kidman, who was in Moulin Rouge with Ewan McGregor, who was in Our Kind of Traitor with Naomie Harris, who’s in
  • Moonlight with Mahershala Ali AND Janelle Monáe, who are in
  • Hidden Figures with Octavia Spencer, who was in The Help with Viola Davis, who’s in
  • Fences with Denzel Washington, who was in The Magnificent Seven with Haley Bennett, who was in The Girl on the Train with Emily Blunt, who was in Sunshine Cleaning with Amy Adams, who’s in
  • Arrival with Jeremy Renner, who was in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters with Gemma Arterton, who was in The Disappearance of Alice Creed with Eddie Marsan, who was in The World’s End with Simon Pegg, who’s in Star Trek with Chris Pine, who’s in
  • Hell or High Water.
hell-or-high-water
Outlaw brothers Ben Foster and Chris Pine in Hell or High Water. Photo courtesy of CBS Films.

I checked IMDb after making this list of connections, and I recognized that I could have taken some shortcuts, such as:

  • Fences with Denzel Washington, who was in The Manchurian Candidate with Meryl Streep, who was in Doubt with Amy Adams, who’s in
  • Arrival with Jeremy Renner, who was in The Avengers with Robert Downey, Jr. who was in Iron Man with Jeff Bridges, who’s in
  • Hell or High Water.

And to connect Hell or High Water back to Hacksaw Ridge, I made these moves:

  • Hell or High Water with Ben Foster, who was in Liberty Heights with Adrien Brody, who was in Midnight in Paris with Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, who were in Wedding Crashers with Vince Vaughn, who’s in
  • Hacksaw Ridge.

I also loved the idea of making the following connections, but I couldn’t work them into a coherent sequence:

  • Arrival with Amy Adams, who was in Drop Dead Gorgeous with Kirsten Dunst, who’s in
  • Hidden Figures
  • Lion with Rooney Mara, who was in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints with Ben Foster, who’s in
  • Hell or High Water.

What are your ideas? Sound them out in the comments.

Six Degrees of #OscarsSoWhite

It is a yearly tradition at CINE FEEL YEAH to play a twisted version of the classic party game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon once the Academy Award nominations for Best Picture are announced. To celebrate, I connect all of the finalists for the most coveted of film trophies to each other, using the names of co-stars who appear in other films with people in other nominated Best Picture contenders from the current year. This exercise illuminates the interconnectedness of the (kinds of) films that are nominated for Best Picture or any other kind of Oscar year after year. It pains me to say that this edition of “The Circuitous Route to Best Picture” is also as lily white as the nominees in the twenty-strong acting field this year. Again, this is indicative of how systemically racist Hollywood–and not just the Academy–truly is.

Before I solve this puzzle (and invite you to make your own connections in the comments section), allow me to enumerate some ground rules that I followed. First, I eschewed consulting “the Bible” (also known as IMDb), because I wanted to test my general knowledge of film history and individual actors’ filmographies. This leads me to my second restriction: I connected the eight films only through actors–never through directors, editors, production designers, screenwriters, and so on. And I never invoked actors’ TV roles or appearances. This is about film.

Without further ado, I give you the nominees for Best Picture of 2015:

The Big Short
The funny feel-bad movie of the year: The Big Short. Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

1.) The Big Short with Max Greenfield, who’s in Hello, My Name is Doris with Sally Field, who’s in Forrest Gump with Tom Hanks, who’s in

2.) Bridge of Spies with Amy Ryan, who’s in Jack Goes Boating with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who’s in The Talented Mr. Ripley with Matt Damon, who’s in

3.) The Martian with Kristen Wiig, who’s in Knocked Up with Jonah Hill, who’s in 21 Jump Street with Brie Larson, who’s in

4.) Room with Joan Allen, who’s in Pleasantville/The Ice Storm with Tobey Maguire, who’s in The Cider House Rules with Charlize Theron, who’s in

5.) Mad Max: Fury Road with Tom Hardy, who’s in

6.) The Revenant with Domhnall Gleeson, who’s in

7.) Brooklyn with Saoirse Ronan, who’s in The Lovely Bones with Stanley Tucci, who’s in

8.) Spotlight.

Spotlight
Spotlight celebrates the collaborative investigative reporters of The Boston Globe. Image courtesy of Open Road Films.

Now, it’s easy to connect #8 Spotlight to #1 The Big Short:

8.) Spotlight with Rachel McAdams, who’s in The Notebook with Ryan Gosling, who’s in

1.) The Big Short.

They do say that it’s a draw between Spotlight and The Big Short, after all.

Fan-Made: Case Studies Inside Film Cultures, from Tarantino to Point Break

Early on in my academic study of film history and theory, I realized that the best way to understand the impact that the Movies have on our lives, to investigate these “popular entertainments,” is to watch what is and once was popular. I’ve seen a great number of films that never interested me as a filmgoer (I’m looking at you, Spider-Man 3), but I feel a professional obligation to see them nevertheless. This doesn’t mean that I see everything. (Who has the time, anyway?) For instance, I draw the line at certain kinds of horror movies, like torture porn or possession flicks. Limits. We all have our limits.

But when I examine popular films (by which I mean unequivocal blockbusters or cult classics), whether I am a self-professed fan or not, I tap into another world. Or at least I try. I want to know all the angles: all the controversies, all the gripes, all the pleasures that audiences have and share with one another. I have to see what all the fuss is about.

There was a lot of fuss about the Movies in 2015. Even though comic book superhero movies, studio tentpoles based on YA literature, and reboots of long-dormant franchises still dominated the box office this year, as they almost always do, to paraphrase New York Times film critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, the major studios pulled off the unthinkable: they gave us stuff that we largely wanted and liked, and thank god their original flicks with mid-size budgets did well, too. Maybe this means that film isn’t dying.

Christian and Ana are no closer to a business accord than when they started. Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Christian and Ana are no closer to a business accord than when they started in Fifty Shades of Grey. Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

As I actively participated in the hullabaloo surrounding the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor-Johnson, 2015), Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow, 2015), and even Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams, 2015), the whole world of fandom was thrown into sharp relief. “Fan-made,” which generally connotes those cultural products that are made by amateurs, created in the spirit of or in homage to well known works, suddenly landed on a much bigger stage, with more money attached, in 2015. Now, I’m not suggesting that J.J. Abrams isn’t a professional—even if I do think he’s famous for aping Spielberg and for re-imagining other creators’ properties. He tried his best with Star Trek; he improved upon George Lucas. I also do not mean to diminish Taylor-Johnson’s talents; she elevated her source material (the poorly imagined fan-fiction/erotica drivel written by E.L. James) by focusing on the ridiculousness of what ultimately amounted to no more than the protracted business negotiations of a sexual contract between a man and a woman. Unfortunately, Taylor-Johnson won’t be returning for the next installments, and Universal has allowed James, who objected to Taylor-Johnson’s choices, to pass her husband, Niall Leonard, control over the screenplay for Fifty Shades Darker (James Foley, 2017).

However, while we’re on the topic of credibility, it is worth mentioning again that Trevorrow only had a low-budget romantic comedy to his name (Safety Not Guaranteed, 2012) before Spielberg handed him the keys to the Jurassic Park franchise and World‘s estimated $150 million budget. He foundered a few times while promoting his monstrosity, unable to convince us that the relationship between onscreen leads Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard didn’t reek of sexism and that the reason women are not called upon to direct giant studio tentpoles is because they simply don’t want to. And to top it all off, Trevorrow delivered a cynical CGI-laden horror show, without any of the thrills, wonder, or charm of the 1993 original. Can you tell that I am a huge Jurassic Park fan?

Can you believe Claire and Owen end up together? Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Can you believe Claire and Owen end up together in Jurassic World? Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

It is well established that I am not a fan of Star Wars. But I knew that I was going to see the biggest film of the year in the theater. For a while, I just didn’t know when. Originally, I decided that I would wait a couple of weeks, allow the crowds to thin out. Then I decided that, in order to fully immerse myself in the fan culture, I had to see it opening weekend. I had my heart set on seeing filmgoers dressed as their favorite characters, maybe even turned away because they forgot to read the theater’s weapons policy and misguidedly brought that plastic lightsaber from home. I attended a sold-out show on the Sunday morning of its opening weekend. There were no Chewbaccas or Luke Skywalkers in the audience. Hell, we didn’t even have to stand in line before entering the auditorium. There were no hoots or hollers when the film franchise’s logo flashed across the screen. But I had tears in my eyes then, because I knew that I was sharing an experience with a larger, more enthusiastic community of film fans, even if they weren’t sitting in that darkened room with me. (They went at 8 pm Thursday night, right?) All in all, though, it was kind of like seeing any other movie.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is predicated on the idea that familiarity will sell. That is, it will fill nostalgic hearts and minds and also sell a shit ton of toys. I also understand that most diehard fans of the epic space fantasy series resent mastermind George Lucas’s three prequels, not only for introducing the abomination that is Jar Jar Binks but also for boring audiences to tears. (Full disclosure: I’ve never seen the last two prequels, inelegantly referred to as Episodes II and III.) So it seems only logical that a Star Wars superfan like J.J. Abrams would be able to bring back for his fellow fans what I imagine is the wonder and excitement of the early films. As I like to say, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the best movie in the franchise, but that isn’t saying much.” It is a loving pastiche of the original trilogy, only it is well made. Its racially and sexually diverse cast is new and more than welcome, especially since the unequivocal lead is a resourceful young woman named Rey, who, throughout her (mis)adventures with former Storm-Trooper Finn, father figure Han Solo, and furry sidekick Chewbacca, gradually learns the source of all her magical abilities. (It’s the Force, duh.) Star Wars: The Force Awakens may be the ultimate fan movie experience that everyone wanted this year or any year, for that matter (just look at how its box-office haul continues to grow and grow, beating all kinds of records), but it left me with nothing more than a newfound interest in why it is so important and life-defining to so many people.

OK, I didn't go Thursday night, but this is the kind of fan experience I would have liked to have had, even as a Star Wars anti-fan. Image courtesy of Orlando Business Journal.
OK, I didn’t go Thursday night, but this is the kind of fan experience I would have liked to have had, even as a Star Wars anti-fan. Image courtesy of Orlando Business Journal.

Instead, I received the superfan experience that I had hoped to witness at Star Wars while attending a special presentation of The Hateful Eight in 70mm. Though I initially balked at the price for a ticket to the film’s limited Roadshow Edition ($20!), I reasoned that the promise of receiving a souvenir program and watching the shadow and light show of actual celluloid—and of a rare, large format, no less—unspooling through a projector had enough value for me. Well, that, and because I wanted to see Quentin Tarantino’s latest. His cinema of indulgence, as I like to think of it, is an acquired taste, but I love how he wears his ecstatic cinephilia on his sleeve. In the case of what is billed as “the eighth film by Quentin Tarantino,” this indulgence extends to amplifying the moviegoing experience for spectators to a new extreme, even for him.

Previously, Tarantino and best friend Robert Rodriguez put on a Grindhouse program in 2007, double billing their unapologetically trashy B-movies Death Proof and Planet Terror, respectively. Just as with Grindhouse, the auteur and his co-conspirators (historically, the Weinstein brothers Bob and Harvey) have injected a film history lesson about bygone exhibition practices back into contemporary pop culture, reminding today’s audiences that going to the Movies used to be a special, spectacular event. The limited Roadshow Edition of The Hateful Eight, complete with an instrumental overture, twelve-minute intermission, a handful of minutes not included on the digital prints of the film, and, not to mention, an earlier release date, subverts current film presentation trends such as surcharging tickets for movies screened in 3D and IMAX formats. You could even make the argument that the real star of the picture was the tangible film itself. Theaters had to be retrofitted with the right technology to screen 70mm, and transporting the heavy reels of film also proved a herculean task (the film is three hours long, mind you). Just read Adam Witmer’s account of what it is like to run the unfamiliar platter system of the 70mm projector at movie theaters in Los Angeles, with Tarantino sitting in the audience, to boot. It is mighty thrilling stuff.

Two of The Hateful Eight, being... hateful. Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
Two of The Hateful Eight, being… hateful. Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

I enjoyed The Hateful Eight as a film story, right up until the end, anyway. But what I will most appreciate about it is the experience that I had going to the Movies on this occasion. Unlike at Star Wars, I had to wait in line to be let into the theater showing The Hateful Eight. Before the presentation began, I watched loving couples, movie nerd guys, and families with teenage or young adult children snap photos of themselves holding up the souvenir program. It was clear that I was a part of something big, something made for fans of Tarantino and for fans of cinema. I was glad that I had plunked down the $20 to attend a film event that hadn’t been replicated in fifty years. Would I do it again? Well, not every film gets or deserves this treatment, so that’s a moot point.

The plethora of reboots, remakes, and re-imaginings of popular films—or, in the case of The Hateful Eight, the reconstruction of 1950s and 60s film exhibition practices—not only allowed fan culture to come to the fore in 2015, it damn near took control of our moviegoing habits. They were everywhere, and more are even coming to the small screens. Netflix will drop all episodes of its original series Fuller House next month, and fans of the family sitcom have already proposed new (sinister) ways of looking at the story of DJ Tanner raising her own kids with the help of friends and family in San Francisco. Twin Peaks is not definitely returning, this time to the cable channel Showtime. These TV shows help prove that “fan-made” doesn’t just mean a low budget, quirky reinterpretation of known properties by pop culture consumers. It also means “for the fans.”

Returning to the realm of the Big Screen, I found myself going to movies this year that I never would have imagined wanting to see if not for the perception that they would be special opportunities for me to participate in fan culture. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was one of them, but so was Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015). Now, maybe it was because I had begun to appreciate the action film in all of its tense glory through repeated and ecstatic viewings of Speed (Jan de Bont, 1994)—more on that in part four—that I had wanted to see what one of my favorite film critics, Bilge Ebiri, had dubbed “the Sistine Chapel of action filmmaking.”

If I had ever seen the three original films by George Miller—1979’s Mad Max, 1981’s Mad Max: The Road Warrior, and 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome—I didn’t remember them. They mostly resonated with me through their influence on my childhood favorites Tank Girl (Rachel Talalay, 1995) and Demolition Man (Marco Brambilla, 1993). In any case, I loved Fury Road. All at once, it was a recycling bin filled with iconography from every corner of cinema, refashioning elements of the modern vampire myth and Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) in the process, but it also felt so incredibly fresh. I had never seen a setting like that, simultaneously warm and inviting but also austere and unforgiving. Still, before its release, I never could have predicted that Fury Road, a frenetic road war movie with a preponderance of supposed practical effects and real stuntwork, would go on to top so many critics associations’ lists of the best films from 2015, including that of the National Board of Review. And a nomination for Best Picture? Who would have thunk it, indeed?

Donnie accepts that he's a Creed, but he resembles a Balboa. Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
Donnie accepts that he’s a Creed, but he resembles a Balboa. Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

I’m not one for sports movies. I rented Southpaw (Antoine Fuqua, 2015) out of boredom and quickly lost interest. However, I rushed at the chance to see Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015) in the theater, finding it my economic, political, and social obligation to support minority filmmakers. It didn’t matter that the only Rocky movie I had ever seen was the fourth installment in the franchise. On second thought, it probably helped that I had seen Drago bludgeon Apollo Creed to death in the ring in Rocky IV (Sylvester Stallone, 1985). For Creed is about a young black boxer’s coming to terms with his identity as the illegitimate son of the late world heavyweight champion. Aside from the stellar performances—especially by lead Michael B. Jordan—and an amazing single take that approximates what a real-life boxing match is like, I loved the call-backs to the original film, snippets that I recognized because I am a pop culture junkie and know Rocky iconography without ever having seen the movie. I loved the early scene where Adonis “Donnie” Johnson shadowboxes his father, taking Rocky’s place in one of their bouts, footage of which Donnie projects onto a wall, streaming the video from YouTube. Later, his running through the street while neighborhood kids on bikes roll alongside him reminded me of Rocky’s triumphal climb up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. What an exhilarating cinematic moment; it may have been like what film audiences experienced in 1976. I don’t remember how enthusiastic the crowd was when I saw Creed, but I couldn’t stop grinning from how well co-writer/director Coogler had rebooted, remade, and re-imagined a cultural touchstone that had run out of gas in recent years, how he had made it relevant to today’s audiences. With every day bringing us news of another unarmed African American being gunned down by excessive police force, Creed is a celebration of a strong black body, a multifaceted character with a complex inner life. In other words, it is a reminder that Black Lives Matter and are full of underestimated and untapped potential. Shame the Academy couldn’t see it.

But not everything produced with a strong fanbase in mind succeeded financially or critically. No one really cared to see Terminator: Genysis (Alan Taylor, 2015), probably turned off by its confusing story. Is it a sequel, a prequel, or what? And the remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 cult classic about a group of bank robbers who spend most days catching some waves off the Los Angeles coast, Point Break, crashed and burned. Like many people who grew up loving the campy original, I was at first hostile to the idea that Warner Bros. was going to distribute a remake of my beloved romance between Johnny Utah and Bodhi. But I learned that it is possible to appreciate both versions. In fact, it is possible to watch them both at the same time.

Those were some good times: the original Point Break. Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.
Those were some good times: the original Point Break. Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Having seen the trailer a couple of times, I was intrigued by how the filmmakers (including director/cinematographer Ericson Core and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer) had made a case for a new Point Break in 2015. It’s a Point Break set within the world of extreme sports, a picture about the forces of nature and economic inequality. In this version, Johnny Utah is an FBI cadet who, based on his previous experience as a poly-athlete (I’d never heard that term before!) hypothesizes that a series of crimes performed through gravity-defying stunts on separate continents are all the work of the same daring team. They’re chasing what he calls the Osaki Eight, a series of physically demanding stunts that bring one closer to Nature. In other words, this legendary philosophy (the progenitor of it died while attempting his third challenge) is kind of like The Force: it is meant to do good. But the group, led by Bodhi (who else?), commits criminal acts in order to give back, including hijacking millions of dollars being transported by a plane. Releasing the bills miles high to the Mexican villagers below, they also accomplish their goal of strategically falling through the sky and opening their parachutes inside a cave, effectively going from above to below the earth’s surface in one fell swoop. This is not your childhood’s Point Break. In addition to highlighting what was wrong with the original (the surfer gang wasn’t a band of Robin Hoods), the film is a showcase for the striking photography of beautiful natural landscapes and the real stunts performed by professional athletes that are littered throughout.

C'mon, Bodhi, why don't you take off your shirt, too? You know you wanna... Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
C’mon, Bodhi, why don’t you take off your shirt, too? You know you wanna… Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

I watched the new Point Break with the original, so ingrained in my memory, playing at the same time in the back of my mind. I could giddily anticipate some gestures and exchanges, such as the moment when Utah fires his gun into the air in a blaze of bullets after just having it trained on Bodhi, thereby allowing his friend/object of desire to get away before the feds arrive. I was the only one in the theater who yelped when she saw James Le Gros cameo as an FBI director (Roach lives!). Despite these call-backs to the original, I can assure you that this Point Break is its own campy thing. It is less a remake and more a re-imagining. And I couldn’t help thinking that an early scene set in a dilapidated Parisian train station (if memory serves) is the closest either film comes to shooting a love scene between the men. Here, Bodhi and his gang hang out, fighting each other for no apparent reason. Although couched as a test of Utah’s character and mettle, the fisticuffs between he and Bodhi signal a love and brutalism that binds them together. I just hope that in twenty-four years, if they even wait that long to remake Point Break, Bodhi and Utah consummate this desire to turn the other into himself. To fuck, as it were.

Fargo Season Two
Minnesota state trooper Lou Solverson (center) confronts Gerhardt scion Dodd in Fargo. Image courtesy of FX Networks.

However, the most immersive and rewarding fan experience that I had in 2015—and which carried into 2016—didn’t even involve going to the movie theater. I became obsessed with the FX original series Fargo, created by Noah Hawley and inspired by the 1996 film of the same name written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. I initially eschewed the first season of the mock true crime anthology series because Billy Bob Thornton starred. I hold a grudge against the man for having won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay the year that John Hodge’s script for Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) was nominated in the same category. (More on that film in part four.) However, I had read that the show was amazing, and when I spotted the first season on DVD at my public library, I snatched up the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about Fargo.

Set in 2006, it follows Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman in a stunning debut), a sheriff’s deputy in a small Minnesota town who is the only one who can see what is really going on: perennial schlemiel Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman, putting on his best north Midwestern accent) is in cahoots with the mysterious assassin Lorne Malvo (a charismatic Thornton). Malvo’s not-quite-solicited murder of Lester’s high school bully sets off a dangerous and absurd chain of events, transforming Lester from a mild-mannered underachiever into a successful insurance salesman with a murderous streak. A suitcase buried in the snow even figures prominently in a second narrative thread concerning Malvo’s manipulation of a grocery store king (Oliver Platt) who hired him to find his blackmailer. That reminds me: I really ought to check out Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (David Zellner, 2014).

Anyway, I fell under Fargo’s spell immediately. I devoured episodes, reveling in the show’s intricate plotting, nuanced performances, and references not just to the Coens’ film but their whole cinematic universe. I finished in time to watch the second season as it aired, but I waited until my DVR had recorded all ten episodes before diving in. I wanted to go at my own (delayed but faster) pace.

For the second outing, Noah Hawley and his new writer’s room set the story in 1979, during the so-called Sioux Falls Massacre, which Molly’s retired sheriff of a father (Keith Carradine) referenced on a regular basis throughout season one. Going in, I already knew that at least two characters would survive: Molly, now played as a young girl by Raven Stewart, and her father Lou (played as a young state trooper by Patrick Wilson). All bets were off regarding everyone and everything else. The second season is more ambitious in style, story, and setting, incorporating a Midwestern turf war between a German-American crime family in Fargo, the Gerhardts, and a bigger, more streamlined operation in Kansas City that wishes to absorb the former’s drugs distribution business. Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst), a Minnesota beautician with a dream, accidentally runs over the youngest brother of the Gerhardt clan while he (Kieran Culkin, who knows a thing or two about family dynasties himself) tries to flee the scene of his triple homicide inside a remote diner. Peggy enlists the help of her dim-witted but well-meaning husband, the apprentice butcher Ed (Jesse Plemons), to get rid of Rye Gerhardt’s body. A call-back to the memorable woodchipper scene in the film Fargo ensues, as Ed disposes of Rye’s body the only way he knows how: with a meat grinder.

 

Fargo meat grinder
Ed prepares Rye Gerhardt for the woodchipper meat grinder in Fargo. Image courtesy of FX Networks.

Although the characters and storylines are different between the film and each season of the TV show, a cottage industry exists in which viewers spot references to the film in the new series. Originally, this activity maddened Adam Sternbergh, novelist and contributing editor of New York magazine, whose favorite film is Fargo. Writing for Vulture, he recounts the process of coming to terms with the TV show, whose announcement in 2014 made him feel “something between doubt and existential despair,” by being “able to let go and watch the show in the spirit in which it perhaps was always meant to be watched.” The widening of the show’s scope in season two to include references to the larger Coen “mythology” has influenced Sternbergh to see Fargo as “the ultimate tribute” to the filmmakers, continuing:

The show accepts as a given that the Coens haven’t just created a distinctive visual style, or a stable of recognizable character types, or a set of consistent thematic concerns: They’ve created all those things, with such richness and abundance that their films now qualify as a genre unto themselves. The Coens may have started out making noirs, or Westerns, or comedies, but now they indisputably make Coen Brothers films. Their work has become a stand-alone genre that exists to be referenced, caricatured, borrowed, even shamelessly strip-mined. And it’s rich enough to inspire not just a spinoff, but an expertly executed ongoing televisual homage.

My favorite reference in season two to the Coen Brothers’ filmography comes at the end of the seventh episode. With the eldest Gerhardt brother in his possession, Ed Blumquist phones low-level KC mob enforcer Mike Milligan (a transfixing Bokeem Woodbine) to make a deal: he’ll give him Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) in exchange for help in getting the Gerhardts off his back. The song “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” made famous by the Dude’s dream sequence in The Big Lebowski (1998), plays out the scene before the end credits roll. But rather than lift Mickey Newbury’s original 1967 track from the film, Hawley and Co. do something extra geeky: they put on an anachronistic funky cover of the song by the pop-synth band White Denim. I’d never heard of this musical group before, but I can only imagine that they probably first heard the song as I did in 1998: while watching The Big Lebowski. In this way, Hawley and his collaborators have taken their Coen fandom to new intertextual heights. Like White Denim, Hawley and his colleagues have taken a text (almost) exclusively associated with the Coen Brothers film genre, to use Sternbergh’s taxonomy, and created something new. Placing the cover of the song inside the playful homage that is Fargo the TV series emphasizes the fan culture from which both the cover song and the TV program were born and which they continue to stimulate.

Read the Montage Series, 2015: A Year in Reflection, from the beginning.

Man, “You Should Be Dancing”: Memorable “WTF” Movie Moments

There are shots and scenes in films that are designed to take your breath away. Sometimes it’s the gorgeous cinematography, dazzling special effects, or a character’s sweeping romantic gesture that does the trick. The filmmakers’ choices, when properly executed, generally advance the narrative and enhance the overall movie-going experience. Think: any scene from Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (2006), with Clint Mansell’s score pushing the spectator through the heavens, or the moment Drs. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler first glimpse the Brachiosaurus on their way into Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993). These scenes are memorable because they are beautiful, intense, imaginative, and poignant.

But what about those scenes that, seemingly out of the blue, disrupt a film’s serious tone? Whether driven by camp, satire, or irony, these scenes are usually shocking and hilarious. I bet each of us has our own collection of these filmic moments. I know that my dad, for one, enjoys it whenever a character is surprisingly killed in the middle of a scene, such as when a shark jumps out of the water and eats Samuel L. Jackson after he gives a rousing, survivalist speech to the members of his team in Deep Blue Sea (Renny Harlin, 1999). However, my collection of favorite “what the fuck?” movie moments revolves around, well, men dancing.

Before I share with you my top five, I need to clarify the criteria by which these dances make the cut. None is from a musical (that’s why his dancing is so jarring for the viewer), but a song–sung live or reproduced through the character’s sound system or radio–does play a part in each case. In all but two instances, the actor spontaneously dances by himself, and his body–clothed or unclothed–is on display. What I like most about these moments is how they individually and collectively represent a direct address to the female gaze. Some are more sexualized than others, and still a few are downright horrific and disgusting. Since these dance scenes are generally the bright spots in a dark (or even frivolous) film, there is no Tobey Maguire strutting down the street in Spider-Man 3 (Sam Raimi, 2007). And as much as I enjoyed the whitewashing effect of the cast singing and dancing to the O’Jays at the end of The Voices (Marjane Satrapi, 2014), their “Sing A Happy Song” routine is actually too big a choreographed set-piece to make the moment seem spontaneous overall.

Without much further ado, I give you my five favorite scenes of men using the power of dance to lighten a deeply disturbing mood:

Number one, with a bullet, comes from Alex Garland’s much celebrated directorial debut Ex Machina (2015), which opened in wide release last Friday. This scene may receive pride of place on this list because of my crush on the actor Oscar Isaac, whose sinister artificial intelligence mastermind Nathan dances with a female android. However, the real reason it lands here is because Nathan turns something as joyful as disco-dancing into a physical threat directed at houseguest Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who disapproves of Nathan’s methods. Trust me, the commitment of the actors in this scene elevates it to high comedy, even when the scene is taken out of context from the whole picture.

Another classic. Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, the Resident Doofus of Mergers & Acquisitions, takes rival Paul Allen (the beautiful Jared Leto) back to his place in Mary Harron’s brilliant 2000 adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, American Psycho. Before chopping his colleague to pieces, Bateman waxes philosophical about the misunderstood meaning behind Huey Lewis and the News’s “Hip to be Square.” Apparently, it’s about the pleasures of conformity, something he knows a lot about. While Bateman doesn’t dance dance, per se, he does emphasize his point with a quick nerd-accented shake of the hips. You stop laughing as soon as he strikes an ax into Allen’s head.

This is not actually my choice! I couldn’t, for the life of me, find the clip from Charlie’s Angels (McG, 2000) wherein client-turned-villain Sam Rockwell dances to “Got to Give It Up” by Marvin Gaye. A relative unknown at this time, Rockwell burned his name into my memory with his sexy shimmying to the song, a way for him to announce to Drew Barrymore’s Dylan, whom he just bedded, that he is in fact the bad guy from whom she’s been assigned to protect him. Yep, long before “Blurred Lines,” the Marvin Gaye classic had been associated with shameful sexual acts.

But it turns out that Sam Rockwell is a regular old Christopher Walken: he dances every chance he gets. Among the video treasures that YouTube has of his moves, is the above scene from Charlie’s Angels. The film never truly adopts a serious tone, and Rockwell’s Eric Knox lampoons earlier James Bond-type villains. He has a secret, coastal hideaway, and technology that goes BOOM! “Revenge is fun,” he says, because he likes to dance it out. Shame the above clip doesn’t run long enough to include his doing the splits.

Reluctant but hungry vampire Louis (Brad Pitt) has just swept young Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) in his arms and fed on her blood. At this turning point in Interview with the Vampire (Neil Jordan, 1994), Louis is disgusted with himself, whereas Lestat (Tom Cruise, electrifying) is elated that his protege has finally taken the plunge. How does he celebrate what Louis would rather forget? Why, by dancing with the corpse of Claudia’s mother, of course! The jubilant dancing and operetta singing sharply contrasts with the dark, spartan interior of Claudia’s home. It’d been a while since there was much evidence of any life there. Which is why Lestat’s bemused exclamation, “There’s still life in the old lady yet!” is so hilarious. An immortal, death is a joke to him, and for once, he has made the audience laugh with him. But poor Louis and Claudia: forever doomed.

Finally, how about some levity? Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003) isn’t a serious movie, except for maybe some of its apologists. Hands down, the best scene from this syrupy concoction is when Prime Minister Hugh Grant dances around 10 Downing Street to the tune of “Jump (For My Love)” by the Pointer Sisters, celebrating a personal and professional victory. In Curtis’s rewrite of the concurrent War in Iraq, the PM refuses to toe the line set by the lecherous American President (Billy Bob Thornton, never better). All because the Prez hit on the Prime Minister’s assistant/crush (Martine McCutcheon). A moment the country world can be proud of: Hugh Grant shaking his hips.

That’s it. What are some of your most cherished “what the fuck?” moments? Sound it out in the comments section.

To Each Her Own Cinephilia; Or How I Failed to Connect to Silver Screen Fiend

Cover Image of Silver Screen FiendI finished reading Patton Oswalt’s second memoir, Silver Screen Fiend, days ago but I’ve been struggling to find something to say about it ever since. That’s when it hit me: my not having much to say is indicative of how I feel about this book. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s mostly just underwhelming. As a film fanatic myself, I was very excited to read the newly released Fiend, whose subtitle is Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film. I thought it would offer me insights into how I might balance my career ambitions (whatever those are) with my chronic hunger to watch and analyze films and TV shows. Instead, Oswalt leaves it until the last chapter to bestow wisdom on this topic: “Movies—the truly great ones (and sometimes the truly bad)—should be a drop in the overall fuel formula for your life. A fuel that should include sex and love and food and movement and friendships and your own work. All of it, feeding the engine. But the engine of your life should be your life” (161, emphasis in original). I already knew all that. Thanks, Patton. What’s worse, he comes to the realization that the Movies have taken over his life only once The Phantom Menace profoundly disappoints him, and you know how I feel about Star Wars and George Lucas. At least I have never seen a film so terrible that it shook the very foundation upon which my cinephilia is built: I will never stop consuming films, because I want to better understand what effects they have on our lives, on our cultures.

Silver Screen Fiend briefly recounts the four years between 1995 and 1999 when he obsessively attended film screenings at the New Beverly Cinema and other repertory theaters playing classic films, in the hopes that feeding his addiction as much as possible would make him a (great) film director someday. At the same time, he also became a member of the alternative comedy scene in Los Angeles, and he wrote for MADtv for a short spell before the producers finally realized that his lackluster skits just weren’t cutting it. I’m not being harsh. Here is Oswalt himself on the subject of his being fired: “It also didn’t help that my writing at the time was so fashionably half-assed. I hadn’t even developed my distaste for typos, which made all the sketches I turned in look like I’d written them while being chased by Turkish assassins on a drifting steamboat” (133-4). There are amusing if not exactly laugh-out-loud funny scenes sprinkled throughout, such as his experience shooting Down Periscope (his debut film role, which also earned him a SAG card) and the legal trouble he and his friends faced when they tried to stage a table reading of Jerry Lewis’s controversial, never-publicly-shown Holocaust drama The Day the Clown Cried. What they wound up performing turned out to be a creative collaborative success: a series of sketches about their not being able to perform the screenplay itself due to a producer’s issuance of a cease-and-desist letter.

Although I could relate to his experience as a cinephile—and in particular, a desire to see films in the theater as part of an audience—I couldn’t connect with him in the way that I wanted to (that is, to learn about life through an addiction to film). The book itself starts in an off-putting way: he writes as if he is in conversation with the reader, who is either a friend or an acquaintance, outside the New Beverly, someone he “bulldoze[s] right over… and keep[s] gabbing” away about Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard and Ace in the Hole. I get it; his mind runs sixty miles an hour when you get him started on a film about which he feels really passionate. The problem is that throughout most of the book, he mainly just mentions film titles, ones that appear in the handwritten and poorly duplicated calendar that begins most chapters. Occasionally, he reminds the reader that he uses five film encyclopedias to keep track of what classics he should see, and he marks each entry with a note in the margin describing how and when he saw a particular film. An appendix at the back of the book lists all of the films he saw between May 20, 1995 and May 20, 1999. It’s 33 pages long and quite impressive, but ultimately not very useful. What am I supposed to get out of it? In addition to a decades-old film stub collection, I’ve kept a film journal for almost ten years as well as an alphabetical index of its contents. I can’t imagine that anyone else would ever want to look at such a document or the information it contains. (I started journaling and indexing as a way to keep tabs on what I’ve not only seen but written about as well.) So scanning the wide assortment of titles listed in his appendix, all I could think was, for example, “Ooh! I wonder what he thought of Trainspotting.”

Actor, stand up comic, and author Patton Oswalt.
Actor, stand up comic, and author Patton Oswalt.

Oswalt’s film addiction and comedy scene shenanigans are probably given equal “screen time” in the slim volume, but his stories about the latter were more exuberant, filled with more personalities. I think I know why this is, and it’s not because he’s a lazy writer. (If anything, he may be too energetic, especially when it comes to philosophizing about Vincent van Gogh’s creative genius, from which Oswalt draws great and sometimes confusing inspiration.) It is because, as he implies throughout, it is sometimes difficult for a rabid film fanatic to translate her enthusiasm for a film in a way that someone not as interested in it will understand and appreciate. In the chapter “You Can, Unfortunately, Go Home Again,” he writes about meeting a high school friend for a movie while they were both home for Thanksgiving in 1996. Sitting down to the Bruce Willis western Last Man Standing, he geeks out about how the “movie is based on [Dashiell Hammett’s] Red Harvest, but it got there by way of [A] Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo” (120). This fun fact lodges itself in his companion’s brain so deeply that Oswalt ruins the experience of watching Last Man Standing for the man, because he thinks he’s seen a version of a samurai film. Although I don’t condone binge drinking, this may be the best description Oswalt offers to illuminate the divide between people like us and people like his friend:

Movies, to him [meaning his old high school buddy] and the majority of the planet, are an enhancement to a life. The way a glass of wine complements a dinner. I’m the other way around. I’m the kind of person who eats a few bites of food so that my stomach can handle the full bottle of wine I’m about to drink. (122)

Owing to my gigantic sweet tooth, allow me to paraphrase this treatise using a dessert analogy instead. Some people I know don’t eat dessert or only do so on rare occasions, whereas I always eat dinner in order to have dessert. Since I’m in a confessional mood, I will also admit that sometimes I forgo dinner altogether and dash straight to dessert.

Early on in Silver Screen Fiend, Oswalt defines the film subculture he belongs to as one consisting of “sprocket fiends,” those who dwell in the “subterranean dimension” of repertory theaters, who travel through space and time at the will of a director and his/her vision (7-8). I learned on my first or second day in the Cinema Studies department at NYU that the rest of the Tisch School of the Arts referred to us as moles, because once we burrowed in the ground we were content to stay in the dark. Like Oswalt, I love the sound of celluloid passing through a projector. It makes me feel alive. That’s why the “First Epilogue,” written as a tribute to the owner and manager of the New Beverly Cinema, Sherman Torgan (to whom the book is also dedicated), is the best part. In it, Oswalt shows off his classic film knowledge in a highly imaginative and dexterous manner: he curates a 30-day festival of films that were never made but will hopefully entertain Sherman in the great beyond. If only Hal Ashby could have wrangled John Belushi and Richard Pryor for an adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. I especially love the quick mention that a young Frances McDormand, one of my favorites, costars as Myrna Minkoff and is, in a word, “Sublime” (172).

Classifying What I Saw in 2014: An Observational Study

Taking inspiration from Steven Soderbergh, I give you the list of movies and miniseries that I watched from beginning to end last year. Rather than frame my inventory of 169 titles within a calendar year, I decided to begin last year on March 3, 2014, the day after the 86th Academy Awards ceremony aired. Since I don’t plan on updating this list after today, these are all the movies and miniseries I watched through today, January 14, 2015. I don’t keep a log of TV shows and books that I read, although I do write down in a personal diary what I watch/read whenever I do. Titles in bold are favorites, and those crossed out are the absolute worst.

ON TELEVISION & CABLE My sister thinks I watch too much TV, to the detriment of my professional productivity. I am happy to see that this short list proves that pretty much the only stuff I watch from beginning to end on TV and cable are miniseries (excepting TV shows, of course). By the way, 47 Ronin is not as advertised. If, like me, you initially shirked the Keanu Reeves picture because you thought it would be a martial arts movie, I am happy to tell you that it is a romantic historical epic with a dash of the supernatural thrown in. Entertaining if not always convincing.

Celeste and Jesse Forever (Lee Toland Krieger, 2012)

To Rome With Love (Woody Allen, 2012)

Death Comes to Pemberley (Daniel Percival, 2013) miniseries

Olive Kitteridge (Lisa Cholodenko, 2014) miniseries

The Missing (Tom Shankland, 2014) miniseries

47 Ronin (Carl Rinsch, 2013)

 

ON DEMAND (that is, through an online streaming service that either releases a film before or during its theatrical run) As you can see, watching movies on demand isn’t really my bag. I much prefer to go to the theater, but sometimes it’s necessary to rent from Amazon or M-Go, as was the case with Alan Partridge. Did it ever play a theater near me?

Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas, 2014)

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (Declan Lowney, 2013)

Life Itself (Steve James, 2014)

In Secret (Charlie Stratton, 2013)

The One I Love (Charlie McDowell, 2014)

 

MOVIES I’D SEEN BEFORE I’m as surprised as you: I don’t revisit favorite films much anymore. For the record, neither Little Man Tate nor Go is an all-time favorite.

Little Man Tate (Jodie Foster, 1991)

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (Hy Averback, 1968)

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this

Virtual Sexuality (Nick Hurran, 1999)

Go (Doug Liman, 1999)

 

FROM THE LIBRARY Well, this isn’t surprising. My town’s library reopened about a year ago after staying closed for renovations for something like three years. I go there all the time, and about a month ago, I rented 15 movies at once and managed to see them all within a week. Dedication.

Another quick note: If I could label one film the most overrated from all 168 that I saw, it would be Locke. No, I’m sorry. It did not reinvent the cinematographic. Eighty-five minutes of Tom Hardy’s ridiculous Welsh accent is stretching my patience.

Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)

All is Lost (J.C. Chandor, 2013)

Hysteria (Tanya Wexler, 2011)

The Hedgehog (Mona Achache, 2009)

The Monuments Men (George Clooney, 2014)

Easy Money (Daniel Espinosa, 2010)

The Impossible (J.A. Bayona, 2012)

This is 40 (Judd Apatow, 2012)

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)

Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand, 1983)

Divergent (Neil Burger, 2014)

Nebraska (Alexander Payne, 2013)

Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh, 2012)

Muppets Most Wanted (James Bobin, 2014)

Wrinkles (Ignacio Ferreras, 2011)

We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson, 2013)

Out in the Dark (Michael Mayer, 2012)

The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)

Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, 2013)

Man of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013)

Hitler’s Children (Chanoch Ze’evi, 2011)

Turn Left at the End of the World (Avi Nesher, 2004)

Neighboring Sounds (Kleber Mendonca Filho, 2012)

The Pride of the Yankees (Sam Wood, 1942)

The Day He Arrives (Hong Sangsoo, 2011)

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Felix van Groeningen, 2012)

Our Children (Joachim Lafosse, 2012)

Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983)

Therese (Claude Miller, 2012)

Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki, 2011)

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (David Lowery, 2013)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marc Webb, 2014)

Le Week-End (Roger Michell, 2013)

THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971)

The Woman in Black (James Watkins, 2012)

Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2013)

42 (Brian Helgeland, 2013)

Europa Report (Sebastian Cordero, 2013)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Steven Spielberg, 1984)

Quartet (Dustin Hoffman, 2012)

Ender’s Game (Gavin Hood, 2013)

Farewell, My Queen (Benoit Jacquot, 2012)

To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)

The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)

The Earrings of Madame de… (Max Ophuls, 1953)

Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)

Good Hair (Jeff Stilson, 2009)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Steven Spielberg, 1989)

Despicable Me 2 (Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud, 2013)

Renoir (Gilles Bourdos, 2012)

Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2013)

In the House (Francois Ozon, 2012) This film confirmed for me that Ozon, one of my favorite directors, is a genius.

The Deep (Baltasar Kormakur, 2012)

The Rabbi’s Cat (Antoine Delesvaux & Joann Sfar, 2011)

The East (Zal Batmanglij, 2013)

Barbara (Christian Petzold, 2012)

No (Pablo Larrain, 2012)

Children of Paradise (Marcel Carne, 1945)

O’Horten (Bent Hamer, 2007)

Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, 2013)

Omar (Hany Abu-Assad, 2013)

Locke (Steven Knight, 2013)

Finding Vivian Maier (John Maloof & Charlie Siskel, 2013)

 

FROM REDBOX Thank goodness for Redbox. I wouldn’t have seen everything that I’d wanted to without it. Quick notes: Having loved Animal Kingdom, David Michod’s follow-up, The Rover, left a lot to be desired. Disappointing. Speaking of disappointment, Chef may have made my mouth water, but there was too little character development and narrative plausibility for me to become emotionally invested in the father-son road trip movie. Magic in the Moonlight is minor Woody Allen, OK, but it’s not as bad as your sister made it out to be.

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallee, 2013)

Labor Day (Jason Reitman, 2013)

Vampire Academy (Mark Waters, 2014)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller, 2013)

August: Osage County (John Wells, 2013)

Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock, 2013)

Winter’s Tale (Akiva Goldsman, 2014)

The LEGO Movie (Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, 2014)

Noah (Darren Aronofsky, 2014)

About Time (Richard Curtis, 2013)

Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)

Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013)

The Other Woman (Nick Cassavetes, 2014)

They Came Together (David Wain, 2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony & Joe Russo, 2014)

Belle (Amma Asante, 2013)

The Rover (David Michod, 2014)

Hateship Loveship (Liza Johnson, 2013)

Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre, 2014)

Million Dollar Arm (Craig Gillespie, 2014)

Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, 2014)

Neighbors (Nicholas Stoller, 2014)

Chef (Jon Favreau, 2014)

Begin Again (John Carney, 2013)

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Dean DeBlois, 2014)

Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen, 2014)

Pride (Matthew Warchus, 2014)

 

TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES My DVR is almost full of recordings from TCM, my favorite channel. These are the ones that I have seen and deleted. Exercising film appreciation is a daunting task.

Born Yesterday (George Cukor, 1950)

To Paris With Love (Robert Hamer, 1955)

Tim (Michael Pate, 1979)

The Doctor and the Devils (Freddie Francis, 1985)

Lonely Hearts (Paul Cox, 1982)

Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)

Starstruck (Gillian Armstrong, 1982)

Friendly Persuasion (William Wyler, 1956)

Libel (Anthony Asquith, 1959)

Two English Girls (Francois Truffaut, 1971)

The Way We Were (Sydney Pollack, 1973)

The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993)

From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953)

Dark Victory (Edmund Goulding, 1939)

Georgy Girl (Silvio Narizzano, 1966)

2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Woman of the Year (George Stevens, 1942)

Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949)

The Magic Box (John Boulting, 1951)

The Grass Is Greener (Stanley Donen, 1960)

Love Affair (Leo McCarey, 1939)

The Black Stallion (Carroll Ballard, 1979)

An Affair to Remember (Leo McCarey, 1957)

Fatso (Anne Bancroft, 1980)

 

IN THE THEATER What can I say? Ever since I left New York in late 2011, it’s been a struggle to get to the movie theater. At least I’ve seen more Oscar bait movies in the theater this year than in years past.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer, 2014)

Words and Pictures (Fred Schepisi, 2013)

22 Jump Street (Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, 2014)

The Fault in Our Stars (Josh Boone, 2014)

Jersey Boys (Clint Eastwood, 2014)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves, 2014)

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014)

The Hundred-Foot Journey (Lasse Hallstrom, 2014)

The Trip to Italy (Michael Winterbottom, 2014)

The Skeleton Twins (Craig Johnson, 2014)

Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014)

Fury (David Ayer, 2014)

Dear White People (Justin Simien, 2014)

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2014)

Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014)

The Theory of Everything (James Marsh, 2014)

Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller, 2014)

Top Five (Chris Rock, 2014)

The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum, 2014)

Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014)

Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)

 

NETFLIX I can’t believe I see so little on Netflix. I really can’t. Logging into my sister’s account, scrolling through her queue (or list, whatever they call it now) of 500+ titles, is so completely overwhelming. That, and I have a voice in my head that tells me that rather than select from Netflix, I really ought to work towards cleaning out my DVR.

Beauty is Embarrassing (Neil Berkeley, 2012)

Short Term 12 (Destin Cretton, 2013)

Filth (Jon S. Baird, 2013)

Goodbye, First Love (Mia Hansen-Love, 2011)

Breathe In (Drake Doremus, 2013)

Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas (Arnaud des Pallieres, 2013)

Chinese Puzzle (Cedric Klapisch, 2013)

Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, 2003)

Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, 2014)

 

UNCLASSIFIABLE I hope it’s obvious how I saw these, if I didn’t see these in the theater or on demand or any other method listed here.

Maleficent (Robert Stromberg, 2014)

Transcendence (Wally Pfister, 2014)

Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman, 2014)

The Giver (Phillip Noyce, 2014)

Predestination (Michael & Peter Spierig, 2014)

News Clip: AMPAS Chooses an Oscar Host I Barely Know

I would like to thank the Academy for, in their latest attempt to court a younger viewership, choosing a host for the 85th Academy Awards whose creative output I’m completely unfamiliar with. This is a first. Congratulations, you just alienated a 26-year-old.

Per the Washington Post, the creator of the cult favorite TV show Family Guy (1999-present), Seth MacFarlane, is poised to emcee Movie Night on February 24, 2013. Isn’t he the guy who made a movie about a foul-mouthed CGI teddy bear? (Who cares if it grossed more than $420 million worldwide; what does that box office take say about us?) Isn’t MacFarlane also the guy who last week couldn’t find the microphone while presenting an award at the Emmys? Honestly, I thought this was a joke until I read press release attached to WP TV columnist Lisa de Moraes’s news brief.

It’s not that I have a list of more desirable candidates for the coveted hosting gig. But, if you insist… How about Jimmy Fallon? Hugh Jackman, perhaps? Louis C.K., if you want to be “edgy”? Ellen DeGeneres again? Wait, wait! I got it! Amy Poehler would be awesome as Oscar host. You might think she’s more associated with TV than she is with film. OK, that’s true, but so are all these other people (except Jackman, of course). After all, it’s not like MacFarlane is known for much else besides stupid animated fart jokes on TV.

None of this is to say that I won’t be watching the Oscars telecast when it airs. I hate it, always, but I can’t help myself.

Jump Cut: Trainspotting on TV

Tonight ushers in the premiere of CBS’s Elementary, the newest rehashing of the Sherlock Holmes story, set in a contemporary New York. It looks as if, in some circles at least, its promising buzz has turned into less-than-enthusiastic reviews. But I am going to watch anyway, for Jonny Lee Miller plays the iconic character. You see, with him returning to the American tube, this means that you can see four of the six members of the principal cast of Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) on TV every week. You might recall that besides being one of my very favorite films, Trainspotting represents a watershed moment in the history of my cinephilia.

In addition to Miller’s (Sick Boy) starring role on Elementary, three other Trainspotters keep busy as parts of big TV casts. Robert “Bobby” Carlyle (Begbie) is on the audience favorite Once Upon a Time (2011-present), playing a certain Mr. Gold, a creep whose storybook world double is Rumpelstiltskin. I only ever watched the pilot that aired last year. I watched, of course, because he is in it, but sadly it was not my cup of tea. Since 2008 (or the fifth season), Kevin McKidd (Tommy) has appeared on the same network, ABC, as Dr. Owen Hunt, Iraq War veteran/PTSD sufferer/Dr. Christina Yang husband-turned-adulterer in the commercial juggernaut that is Grey’s Anatomy (2005-present), which is entering its ninth—and hopefully last—season tonight. Finally, we have Kelly Macdonald (Diane). If there is a leading lady on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire (2010-present), then it would have to be her: she plays Margaret Shroeder, an Irish immigrant in 1920 Atlantic City who falls under the spell of the county treasurer/bootlegging gangster Enoch “Nucky” Thompson. The third season started a little more than two weeks ago with them, having gotten married to protect his investments, on the outs.

The star of Trainspotting—and the only bonafide “movie star” of the bunch—Ewan McGregor (Renton), was going to be part of an ensemble for HBO: indie auteur Noah Baumbach developed, co-wrote, and directed the pilot adaptation of The Corrections with author Jonathan Franzen’s full participation. Then in May, the cable channel pulled the plug on the production, for whatever reason. I was really looking forward to this, not because I know anything about The Corrections (which for the record, I do not), but because I knew it meant five, yes, FIVE! cast members of Trainspotting were going to be on American TV regularly. Interesting to see how their wildly different career trajectories brought them to the same medium, “across the pond” as it were, but on programs that couldn’t be any less similar.

The only cast member never to have secured a regular role on an American TV show is Ewen Bremner (Spud). What hypothetical or existing show can you imagine him having a part on? Although I gave up on it within the first five episodes of its most recent third season, I think I could imagine Ewen on FX’s Justified (2010-present). If you think the waifish Jeremy Davies can play the heir to an Appalachian drug empire with the most nervous energy, I wouldn’t put it past Mr. Bremner to do him one or two better. If he were cast—and I know this is nothing but a pipe dream—then maybe I’d tune into the show again. Even with Timothy Olyphant’s central performance, I couldn’t get interested in Justified, particularly because its Southern California filming locations betrayed its Kentucky setting to such an extent that I didn’t buy any of it. But I digress.

By way of conclusion, I think it’s worth noting the fun coincidence that the Oxford English Dictionary‘s “Word of the Day” is “trainspotter.” Not only do I subscribe to this mailing list, I collect the words I like the sound and/or meaning(s) of. Allow me to educate: according to the trusty ol’ OED, the word, a noun and originally and chiefly British, refers to 1) “A person (often a boy) whose hobby is observing trains and recording railway locomotive numbers, sometimes with other details” and 2) “In extended use (freq. depreciative): a person who enthusiastically or obsessively studies the minutiae of any subject; a collector of trivial information.” That’s me!

Though the OED gives “trainspotterish” as a related word, it stops short of giving the further association and definition of “trainspotting,” which refers to a heroin addict’s practice of finding a fresh vein into which he or she can inject the drug. (The markings on their arms resemble train tracks.) Yes, this means that the title of the book and movie Trainspotting represents a utilitarian concept, and in much the same way that we say we “geek out” whenever we get really excited about something in pop culture, thereby taking ownership of the image which may make us seem uncool or esoteric to others, I like to call myself a “trainspotter.” I don’t watch trains (but I do whenever I have the chance), and I’m not a heroin addict, but I am a trainspotter—especially when it comes to Trainspotting.

Jump Cut: “Tell Me That One About Kenny G Again”

Some films—good and bad—stick with you long after you’ve seen them, for a variety of reasons. There’s an intricately choreographed five-minute-long tracking shot re-enacting the British evacuation of Dunkirk. The guffaw-inducing sight of a soft mannequin, a stand-in for a bad guy, being dragged along the subway tracks. John Williams’s two-note theme for the mostly unseen underwater villain. But cinema being an audiovisual storytelling medium, it is often what is said that grabs your attention and refuses to let go.

I love collecting movie quotes, but in preparation for this article, I actually had difficulty listing my favorite lines. Watching as many films as I do, dialogue from movies I love and feel disinterest toward inevitably and unconsciously wind up in my idiolect. My movie-mad sister is my best friend, and we often communicate in Movie Talk. But even now, I’m struggling to come up with an example of something that we say to each other—with and without hints of irony. Just as it is for practically all cinephiles, I guess films are just so ingrained in our brains, so tightly knit into the fabric of our everyday lives, that the origins of some movie references we make regularly go unexamined. Let’s attempt to change that.

Then again, there are also memorable movie quotes that don’t fit easily into everyone’s daily conversations. Most of the entries on the following list of my favorite movie lines fall into this category. I should also note that this inventory is by no means comprehensive; I may continually add to it as they come to me. I invite you to tell me your favorites, too, in the comments section below.

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Let’s start with the line that inspired me to post on this topic: in Sydney Pollack’s 1995 remake of the classic romance Sabrina, a charming Julia Ormond stars as the titular daughter of a chauffeur who has loved the younger, commitment-phobic Larrabee brother David (played by Greg Kinnear) all of her life. During the opening credits, which unravel as she narrates her lovelorn situation (he doesn’t know that she exists, that she watches him routinely woo rich women from her perch in the tree outside her apartment above the garage on his family’s estate), Sabrina heavily breathes, with the slightest hesitation, “David… did a GAP ad.” I love the combination of her sincerity and the ridiculousness of her words. It’s as if—at what age? 30?—she is a teenybopper.

To be fair to poor Sabrina, she also makes an astute, perhaps even eloquent, observation later on in the film, after she’s returned from Paris elegant and confident. David’s older, uptight brother Linus (Harrison Ford) whisks her away to Martha’s Vineyard. He pretends to want to sell his house there so as to keep her away from a now-smitten David (but who’s now engaged to the daughter of a tech tycoon Linus is doing business with), so the conniving businessman invites her to take photos of his property. An amateur photographer, Sabrina reflects on her lonely, voyeuristic existence growing up, all while snapping views from the Linus’s house: “Every time I look through a camera, I’m surprised. It’s like finding yourself in the middle of a story… I think I’ve been taking pictures all my life, long before I ever had a camera.” Doesn’t that make up for her simple, pathetic idolization of a smug, rich jerk? Besides, opening up to Linus (and influencing his heart to melt in the process) is just the beginning of her journey to discover of who she really wants.

Sabrina and Linus enjoy the view of the harbor—and then of each other. Image courtesy of http://www.cineplex.com.

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Friends with Money (Nicole Holofcener, 2006) is about a group of four middle-aged women in Los Angeles, three of whom are either extremely wealthy or very well-off. Yeah, yeah, it may be best remembered because Jennifer Aniston plays against type as the fourth friend who has no money—and some questionable taste in men—but the real star of the show is Frances McDormand, who plays a successful clothing designer with anger management issues. In my favorite scene, she waits in line at Old Navy and flips out when a couple jumps in front of her as she walks toward the cash register. During the confrontation, in which neither the cashier nor the manager sympathizes with her passed-over situation, she points her finger in the butting pair’s faces, accusing them of ignoring her and shouting, “Yes, those two people! With their stupid fucking faces!” Why do I love this line? First of all, I should note that I’m biased: McDormand is one of my favorite actresses. I always find her entertaining. But because she lowers her voice as she spits out this line, it sounds as if she’s a monster saying, “stupidfuckingfaces!” Brilliant.

Be warned: if you butt in front of her while she’s waiting in line, Frances McDormand’s gonna come after you! Image courtesy of http://www.hotflick.net.

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If you’ve even just skimmed through the About the Site page on CINE FEEL YEAH, you might have noticed that one of my favorite comfort films (yes, like the food) is The Truth About Cats & Dogs (Michael Lehmann, 1996). A woman-centered adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, it stars Janeane Garofalo and Uma Thurman as neighbors who start spending a lot of time together after insecure veterinarian radio host Garofalo tells an amorous listener that she looks like the “dumb blonde” Thurman when he asks her out on a date. It’s a long story as to how he’s given this impression when he first meets them both at the radio station. More importantly, there are many choice lines in the film, but my absolute favorite is a quick exchange between the two women. Garofalo is sobbing in the department store where she let a cosmetics saleswoman make over her face. Pissed off that society dictates women make themselves attractive to men through cosmetic enhancement, she says, “If I was a guy, I think women would like, line up to go out with me. I’m smart. I have a good sense of humor. I make a great living.” Without missing a beat, Thurman nods, “I’d fuck you.” Garofalo responds, “Thank you, honey. I know you would.” This dialogue effortlessly gets at the root of female friendships. They don’t know each other well at this point, but they support one another in the face of seemingly absurd adversity—especially from the small voices deep within.

Opposites attract: Janeane Garofalo and Uma Thurman are best friends and know just how to comfort one another. Image courtesy of http://www.iluvcinema.com.

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The last two quotes I have for you right now are actually part of my everyday speech. Not only that, they are also the only two lines spoken by men to make the list. The first (or second-to-last, depending on how you look at it), comes courtesy of David Deblinger’s character in the sweet but acerbic and little-seen rom-com/satire of the fashion industry Intern (Michael Lange, 2000). Dominique Swain plays the eponymous gofer at a fashion magazine. During her tenure, she falls for the dreamy deputy art director, rolls her eyes at the shallowness of the industry’s top decision-makers, and even uncovers an editor’s selling insider information to a rival glossy rag. The intern befriends Deblinger’s flamboyant, straight-talking accessories editor, who, in the end, confronts another frustrated co-worker with the immortal line, “What’s with the angry?” Despite his sentence’s despicable lack of grammatical cohesion, I love to repeat it—ironically. You never know, if you use it to ask someone about what is making him or her upset, you might just put a smile on that person’s face.

I apologize: I couldn’t find a photo of Deblinger in Intern during my Google Image search. In its place, I’ll offer that I’m 99.99% certain I saw the actor riding the subway in Brooklyn once while on my way home (I think it was the No. 2 train). He was talking with his female companion, so I didn’t dare interrupt their chat to say anything. And definitely not to ask, “What’s with the angry?”

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24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002) is my all-time favorite film, and it is so highly quotable. I know it like the back of my hand, which is why I am usually disappointed in others’ estimations of its quotiness (can I coin that right now?). For example, I’d waited years to meet someone who had ever even heard of it. (Generally, whenever someone asks me for the name of my fave film, I have to repeat the title at least twice.) And when I finally did, while studying abroad in Northwest England, he quoted the movie back to me. How exciting, right?! Well, he chose the least creative line (“There’s a barbed wire fence! There’s a barbed wire fence!”). Well, to each his own, right?

Anyway, my favorite utterance comes early in the film, too. Steve Coogan, as real-life TV personality and Factory Records co-founder Tony Wilson, directly addresses the camera following his exhilarating hang gliding experience in the Pennines (director Winterbottom uses mostly real footage of Wilson himself performing the stunt). In doing so, Coogan/Wilson steps outside of the film while remaining fixed in the frame: “You’re gonna be seeing a lot more of that sort of thing in the film. All of that actually did happen. Obviously, it’s symbolic. It works on both levels. I don’t want to tell you too much, don’t want to spoil the film. But I’ll just say, ‘Icarus.’ OK? If you know what I mean, great. If you don’t, doesn’t matter. But you should probably read more.” Obviously, this is a pretty long, context-specific quote (he’s referring to the fame and fortune he and others attached to Manchester’s music scene cyclically gain and lose, by the way), so I don’t use the whole thing. I abridge it (“You should probably read more”) and try to imitate his flippant, condescending tone. Again, I never earnestly deploy the line, and I mainly just say it to my sister, who gets it, about someone else. After all, the movie’s all about irony.

Who is it? Steve Coogan or Tony Wilson tells you what to expect—without spoiling anything.