State of the Cinema 2017

In what’s become a Strohltopia tradition, we have saved our yearly retrospective for Oscar Sunday. This gives us a chance to see more titles and also to cool down our hot takes and reflect a little bit.

Joshua Strohl:

First thing’s first, let’s be clear about one thing for 2017: there’s David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return, and then there’s everything else. We have come down on the side of considering it not to be a movie. It engages throughout with the medium of television in a way that is essential to its meaning. But we all agree here at Strohltopia that no other work of television or cinema comes remotely close to it from this year or any other year in recent memory.
In 2016, I made an effort to watch as many new releases as possible. This year I just did my thing, but I ended up watching a comparable number of movies anyways. Here are a few notes on my impression of the state of the cinema:
  • Franchise movies were a lot better this year than in previous years. Alien, Blade Runner, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, John Wick, XxX, Fast and the Furious, Resident Evil, Transformers: all pretty good.
  • Get Out is the zeitgeist movie. I admire it, and I think it does some things exceptionally well, but where’s the ending?! It could have been a great movie if it stuck the landing. As it is, I’m not quite there with it.
  • For once the Oscar front-runner (The Shape of Water) is actually a bomb-ass movie, but this means it’s probably going to lose. I’m putting my money on Three Billboards (woof), joining Crash, Argo and The King’s Speech in the Oscar dumpster fire.
  • Tough year to be a Woody Allen fan. He made his most personal movie in a long time, with the WORST POSSIBLE TIMING. I went to see it, and there were hecklers in the audience. Looking at Wonder Wheel itself, aside from all the controversy, it’s a gorgeous movie. He borrows thematic and stylistic elements from Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams to examine the painful dissolution of his own family.
  • I kinda liked the Disaster Artist okay until I saw James Franco cut off Tommy Wiseau at the Golden Globes, which made it clear that this was a smug James Franco vanity project, more interested in mocking The Room than paying tribute to it.
  • One of the biggest surprises of the year for me was Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting. I’m a Danny Boyle fan, but Trainspotting is not one of my favorites from him. The sequel, however, is an exceptionally inventive stylistic marvel. It brilliantly conveys the weight and melancholy of living on as a recovering addict, without any highs to be had. One of the best examples ever of a late sequel.
  • God’s Own Country is a much better cinematic romance than Call Me By Your Name. Armie Hammer’s character in the latter doesn’t feel like a real person with real desires. God’s Own Country is overflowing with sexual tension, and is also considerably more moving. Its conclusion is well-earned.
  • The Assignment: I really wanted to love the new Walter Hill movie. I do have fondness for it, but I just couldn’t get over Michelle Rodriguez in the first act.
  • I could not handle Fifty Shades Darker. It was so icky to me that it made my skin crawl. The Snowman and The Book of Henry, on the other hand, are the kind of remarkably bad movies that are almost worth seeing to marvel at their ineptitude.
  • I could see how a cynical person might scoff at The Post, but this is master class old-school pop filmmaking. It zigs and zags with seemingly effortless finesse. Its simplicity is a virtue, not a bug. Along with Lincoln and Bridge of Spies, it rounds out what was, for me, an excellent trilogy linking history with the present through retro filmmaking.
  • This year I had a major personal epiphany about how much I love Ridley Scott. I’ve always loved his brother Tony, but I had mixed feelings about Ridley. Mixed feelings no longer: I rewatched most of the Ridley Scott filmography and totally loved it, for the most part. These movies have some flaws, but they are technical triumphs. Alien: Covenant is misunderstood and wildly underrated. Dr. Moreau in space, with freaky Fassbender robots making out with each other and crazy shit like that. Exceedingly dark, hostile, and boundary pushing stuff from an 80 year old big budget auteur.

Without further ado, here’s a ranked list of everything I saw this year:

1. Good Time (Safdie Brothers)Good Time Still
White hot lightning! This is what I’m talking about. Pure cinema: hypnotic, visceral and persistently surprising. I left the theater wide-eyed and giddy.

2. Song to Song (Malick)

Song to Song Still

Y’all don’t deserve Terrence Malick.

3. Phantom Thread (Anderson)

Phantom Thread Still

Paul Thomas Anderson swings for the fences every time he makes a film. His latest is exquisite and beautiful, an ethereal and brooding gothic romance that I’m still thinking about months later.

4. A Quiet Passion (Davies)

A Quiet Passion Still

A bold and haunting Emily Dickinson biopic. Terence Davies’ second masterpiece in two years is hard to summarize because it is so full of complex emotions and transcendent moments. It’s a staggering and painful film. Cynthia Nixon’s performance is one of the best of the year.

5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Lanthimos)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer Still

A diabolical and twisted black comedy that is alternately repulsive and hilarious. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. This is one sick movie and I loved every second of it.

6. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Morrison)

Dawson City Frozen Time Still

This documentary about long-buried, decaying nitrate film discovered under an ice skating rink in a Yukon mining town reminded me of why I love cinema. It lays out an impressively researched timeline before it uses scarred images and the weight of history to bowl you over.  It moved me to tears.

7. Stronger (Green)

Stronger Still

David Gordon Green channels his inner Hal Ashby in one of the most humane movies in recent memory. This movie deserves to be seen: it’s what America needs right now. It’s tender and heartfelt and avoids the pitfalls that sink nearly every movie in the “dramatization of real life tragedy” genre. I loved it.

8. Raw (Ducournau)

Raw Still

As we said earlier in the year, this is some high-brow French cannibalism shit right here. It’s a simmering, seething, blistering depiction of blossoming female sexuality. Julia Ducournau is a director to watch.

9. Nocturama (Bonello)

Nocturama Still

Nocturama gets in your head and stays there. It’s a strange, dread-inducing tone poem about a group of young terrorists who hole up in a massive department store after carrying out a series of coordinated attacks in Paris. This could have easily been a cliched mess, but it unfolds in an anything but predictable manner. It’s abstract and dreamlike. It also manages to make Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair take on a new indelible dimension.

10. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Zahler)

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Still

Who knew Vince Vaughn had this in him? His performance as a man with a code at the center of this bone-crunching, skull-smashing exploitation movie is as soulful as it is shockingly physical and violent . This movie is weird and savage and sad. It’s a completely original vision of what exploitation cinema can be.

Everything else..

11. The Shape of Water (Del Toro)

12. Personal Shopper (Assayas)

13. T2 Trainspotting (Boyle)

14. Faces Places (Varda and JR)

15. BPM (Campillo)

16. The Post (Spielberg)

17. The Lost City of Z (Gray)

18. Contemporary Color (Ross Brothers)

19. Alien: Covenant (Scott)

20. God’s Own Country (Lee)

21. Behemoth (Liang)

22. Antiporno (Sono)

23. Blade Runner 2049 (Villenueve)

24. The Beguiled (Coppola)

25. Wonder Wheel (Allen)

26. Logan Lucky (Soderbergh)

27. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Besson)

28. Person to Person (Defa)

29. Tag (Sono)

30. Coco (Unkrich)

31. Baby Driver (Wright)

32. Detroit (Bigelow)

33. It (Muschietti)

34. Lady Bird (Gerwig)

35. A Ghost Story (Lowery)

36. Last Flag Flying (Linklater)

37. A Cure for Wellness (Verbinski)

38. Downsizing (Payne)

39. The Challenge (Ancarani)

40. The Work (McCleary)

41. Better Watch Out (Peckover)

42. Staying Vertical (Guiraudie)

43. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Baumbach)

44. Call Me By Your Name (Guadagnino)

45. XXX: The Return of Xander Cage (Caruso)

46. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Gunn)

47. John Wick: Chapter 2 (Stahelski)

48. The Florida Project (Baker)

49. The Assignment (Hill)

50. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Johnson)

51. Atomic Blonde (Leitch)

52. Princess Cyd (Cone)

53. Brigsby Bear (McCary)

54. Lucky (Lynch)

55. Gerald’s Game (Flanagan)

56. Leatherface (Bustillo, Maury)

57. How to be a Latin Lover (Marino)

58. mother! (Aronofsky)

59. The Square (Ostlund)

60. The Bad Batch (Amirpour)

61. Get Out (Peele)

62. Happy Death Day (Landon)

63. The Fate of the Furious (Gray)

64. All the Money in the World (Scott)

65. Kidnap (Prieto)

66. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Anderson)

67. War For the Planet of the Apes (Reeves)

68. Graduation (Mungiu)

69. Girl’s Trip (Lee)

70. Free Fire (Wheatley)

71. The Great Wall (Yimou)

72. Strong Island (Ford)

73. Transformers: The Last Knight (Bay)

74. The Villainess (Jung)

75. Thelma (Trier)

76. The Lure (Smoczynska)

77. Only the Brave (Kosinski)

78. Blade of the Immortal (Miike)

79. Justice League (Snyder)

80. Wonder (Chbosky)

81. The Big Sick (Showalter)

82. The Foreigner (Campbell)

83. Donald Cried (Avedisian)

84. The Belko Experiment (McLean)

85. Okja (Bong)

86. The Devil’s Candy (Byrne)

87. Kuso (Flying Lotus)

88. Power Rangers (Israelite)

89. Wind River (Sheridan)

90. Kedi (Torun)

91. The Glass Castle (Cretton)

92. The Void (Gillespie, Kostanski)

93. Salt and Fire (Herzog)

94. Life (Espinosa)

95. Darkest Hour (Wright)

96. Brad’s Status (White)

97. Daddy’s Home 2 (Anders)

98. Despicable Me 3 (Coffin)

99. American Made (Lyman)

100. Split (Shyamalan)

101. Bitch (Palka)

102. Roman J. Israel Esq. (Gilroy)

103. Rat Film (Anthony)

104. Wonderstruck (Haynes)

105. The Little Hours (Baena)

106. Queen of the Desert (Herzog)

107. Dunkirk (Nolan)

108. The House (Cohen)

109. Mr. Roosevelt (Wells)

110. Beatriz at Dinner (Arteta)

111. The Unknown Girl (Dardenne Bros.)

112. 47 Meters Down (Roberts)

113. The Disaster Artist (Franco)

114. Paris Can Wait (Coppola)

115. Colossal (Vigalondo)

116. Hounds of Love (Young)

117. Jungle (McLean)

118. The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Hughes)

119. I, Tonya (Gillespie)

120. Wonder Woman (Jenkins)

121. Una (Andrews)

122. Ghost in the Shell (Sanders)

123. Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Vaughn)

124. Super Dark Times (Phillips)

125. Fist Fight (Keen)

126. Suburbicon (Clooney)

127. It Comes at Night (Shults)

128. Blood Money (McKee)

129. Gifted (Webb)

130. Vengeance: A Love Story (Martin)

131. Geostorm (Devlin)

132. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (McDonagh)

133. Logan (Mangold)

134. Stray Bullets (Fessenden)

135. Kong: Skull Island (Vogt-Roberts)

136. Before I Fall (Young)

137. Columbus (Koganada)

138. The Mummy (Kurtzman)

139. The Mountain Between Us (Abu-Assad)

140. The Emoji Movie (Leondis)

141. Snatched (Levine)

142. The Circle (Ponsoldt)

143. Baywatch (Gordon)

144. Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts)

145. The LEGO Batman Movie (McKay)

146. The Boss Baby (McGrath)

147. Beauty and the Beast (Condon)

148. Lady Macbeth (Oldroyd)

149. The Discovery (McDowell)

150. XX (Benjamin, Clark, Kusama, Vuckovic)

151. The Book of Henry (Trevorrow)

152. The Snowman (Alfredson)

153. Rough Night (Aniello)

154. Fifty Shades Darker (Foley)


Isabel Garcia:

  1. Song to Song (Malick)
  2. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Morrison)
  3. Raw (Ducournau)
  4. The Shape of Water (Del Toro)
  5. A Ghost Story (Lowery)
  6. Atomic Blonde (Leitch)
  7. Tag (Sono)
  8. Good Time (Safdie Brothers)
  9. Personal Shopper (Assayas)
  10. Detroit (Bigelow)

Honorable Mention: Faces Places (Varda and JR), Nocturama (Bonello)

Worst of the Year:

  1. The Circle (Ponsoldt)
  2. The Boss Baby (McGrath)
  3. The Book of Henry (Trevorrow)
  4. The Snowman (Alfredson)
  5. Snatched (Levine)

Matt Strohl:

I haven’t seen anywhere near as many new releases as Josh has, but here’s my top 10. I thought genre movies were strong this year. There are more in my top ten than ever before. Among my many blind spots, the most regrettable ones are A Quiet Passion, The Shape of Water, Phantom Thread, and Milla. Without further ado:

  1. Good Time (Safdie Brothers)
  2. Song to Song (Malick)
  3. Raw (Ducournau)
  4. Antiporno (Sono)
  5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Lanthimos)
  6. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Zahler)
  7. John Wick: Chapter 2 (Stahelski)
  8. Nocturama (Bonello)
  9. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Morrison)
  10. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Johnson)

Honorable Mention: XxX: The Return of Xander Cage (Caruso)

Worst of the year:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (McDonagh)
I could go on all day about how much I hated this movie. Suffice to say that any movie with the phrase “three billboards” in the title that both starts and ends with an image of three billboards never had a chance.

I also hated: The Unknown Girl (Dardenne Brothers), The Florida Project (Baker), Spiderman: Homecoming (Watts) and The Discovery (McDowell).

Angela Shope:

  1. Song to Song (Malick)
  2. mother! (Aronofsky)
  3. The Shape of Water (Del Toro)
  4. The Lost City of Z (Gray)
  5. Good Time (Safdie Brothers)
  6. Blade Runner 2049 (Villenueve)
  7. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Johnson)
  8. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Lanthimos)
  9. Personal Shopper (Assayas)
  10. Nocturama (Bonello)

Honorable Mention: It (Muschietti)

Worst of the Year:

  1. The Mummy (Kurtzman)
  2. Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri (McDonagh)
  3. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Besson)
  4. The Florida Project (Baker)
  5. The Great Wall (Yimou)

Streaming Recommendations, vol. 3

Streaming Recommendations, vol. 3

I hope these recommendations are helpful: I really want to encourage my friends to watch more movies, because TV is trash right now. Netflix original content is ESPECIALLY trash. I would almost cancel my Netflix subscription if not for Jessica Jones and the damn BBC nature documentaries. The only current TV shows I’m watching are Ink Master and Crazy Ex Girlfriend. I’m excited for Homeland season 7. Whatever, though, I’m glad to be free of the ball and chain of keeping up with TV shows.  More time for movies.

Josh collaborated on this list with me. We worked most of it out together. Blurbs written only by him are labeled with his initials, ‘JS’, while ones written only by me are labeled ‘MS’.


Amazon is by far the best of these three streaming services at the moment. It’s the only one that has an appreciable number of quality films made before 1980. We are sticking with titles that are available on prime, but we highly recommend the MUBI and Fandor channels for tons of incredible content, much of it previously hard to find.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Exploitation heaven. One of the best genre movies of recent years. In a revelatory performance, Vince Vaughn kills a lot of people with his bare hands. Don Johnson is perfect as the ruthless warden and Udo Kier himself shows up as a creepy henchman. Warning: this movie is *violent*.


Cronenberg’s oddball DeLillo adaptation. Robert Pattinson is great. For Cronenberg fans only.

Battles without Honor and Humanity (MS)

Aggressively paced, frenetic 70’s yakuza flick. The central theme is fairly typical for Japanese films about the post-war era: moral degradation brought on by the necessities of self-preservation. The old yakuza bosses are protected only by a rapidly deteriorating code of honor. This is the first installment of Kinji Fukasaku’s Yakuza Papers series. The other installments are also on Amazon. If you like this, you’ll like those as well.

XXX: The Return of Xander Cage (MS)

I hate going to the movies in Missoula (because I hate listening to other people eat and crinkle bags while I’m trying to watch a movie), but you better damn well believe I went to see this. And then I watched it 10 times when it came out on video. This is Vin Diesel to the Vin Diesel power, complete with a crew of misfits and an utterly hilarious Nina Dobrev performance. One of my favorite action movies from recent years.

Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)

If you haven’t seen the original Gone in 60 Seconds, you should go for it. H. B. Halicki’s DIY passion project is one the best car movies ever.

Rio Lobo (MS)

Howard Hawks’ last film, a western starring John Wayne. If you like Westerns and haven’t seen it, definitely go for it.

A Quiet Passion (JS)

A bold and haunting Emily Dickinson biopic. Terence Davies’ second masterpiece in two years is hard to summarize because it is so full of complex emotions and transcendent moments. It’s a staggering and beautiful film. Cynthia Nixon’s performance is one of the best of the year.


The Paperboy

We love Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy with our whole hearts. This is a Strohl brothers movie if there ever was one. Ultra-sleazy Florida noir. The sweatiest Florida noir since Body Heat. Exceptionally memorable performances from Nicole Kidman, John Cusack and Zac Efron.

Bullet to the Head (MS)

One of the most under-appreciated movies from recent years, this is Walter Hill and Sylvester Stallone in fine form. I’ve watched it a dozen times and I don’t plan on stopping. It’s an odd couple hitman-and-cop buddy movie.

Lessons of Darkness

Our favorite Herzog documentary. He filmed burning oil fields during the Gulf War and added sci fi narration. It’s a companion piece to Fata Morgana and The Wild Blue Yonder (which are also great). It’s less than an hour long.

Battle Royale (MS)

The last complete film by Kinji Fukasaku, who directed the Yakuza Papers series (see Battles Without Honor and Humanity above). Ripped off by the Hunger Games, this movie– also about children in an island death match–is vastly superior and is as disturbing as the concept warrants.


Alexandre Aja’s remake of the Joe Dante horror classic pretty much nails it.

Oculus  (MS)

This is one of my favorite recent horror films. It’s inventive and terrifying. It centers on a creepy mirror that distorts reality.


‘Nuff said.

Next (MS)

I think I may have already recommended this, but it’s worth repeating. This is top shelf “Nicolas Cage can see two minutes into the future” kind of shit.

High Rise

Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel. It’s pretty fucking out there.

Dog Eat Dog (JS)

Paul Schrader’s savage 2016 experimental film stars Nicolas Cage AND Willem Dafoe. It is completely batshit crazy and unhinged. Its audacity is truly something to behold.


Bertrand Bonello’s film was one of the best of 2017. A group of young French terrorists hide out in a mall and avail themselves of various consumer comforts. We appreciated the level of abstraction that the movie maintains. This would have been an easy premise to mess up. Memorable usage of Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair.


Person to Person (JS)

The kind of small indie film that gives small indie films a good name. Person to Person follows a variety of characters around NYC in several unrelated stories. This is a gentle, lovable film that reminded me of early Jarmusch.

Lucky (JS)

This movie is really all about Harry Dean Stanton. It’s crafted as a farewell to the legendary actor, and he pours his heart and soul into the role. Lucky is a 90 year old man who smokes all day and wanders around a small town getting into misadventures and random conversations (including one with David Lynch about the wisdom of tortoises).

Like Someone in Love 

The great Abbas Kiarostami’s second to last movie. Not for everyone. The digital photography is remarkable. It’s a French-Japanese production about a non-sexual connection between a young call girl and an elderly professor. It’s a slow burn with an ending that we found profoundly devastating.

Hobo with a Shotgun

Retro grindhouse splatter flick with an air of authenticity. Starring national treasure Rutger Hauer in the titular role as the Hobo with a Shotgun. This should be an easy decision: either you’re the kind of person who wants to see Hobo with a Shotgun or you’re not.

Black Rain (JS)

Awesome Ridley Scott thriller. It’s about a New York cop who plays by his own rules (Michael Douglas) transporting a prisoner to Japan. The prisoner escapes and Douglas has to track him down, leading to a conflict with the yakuza. Motorcycle races and decapitations ensue. Stellar art direction and cinematography. Scott makes Japan look like Blade Runner.

You Kill Me

We want more John Dahl movies. He was king in the 90’s, but now he mostly does TV (does TV really well). Alcoholic hitman in AA played brilliantly by Ben Kingsley. The portrayal of alcoholism (something we have experience with) resonates for us. Luke Wilson and Téa Leoni are great as well.

Film Diary, vol. 3

Film Diary, vol. 3

I’ve gotten way behind on this, since I spent two weeks earlier this month in Mexico and was very busy with work in the weeks leading up to that. I’m going to streamline this installment: films are grouped together and discussed in batches where appropriate, and miscellaneous films get very brief comments.

Andrzej Żuławski and related

Cosmos, Fidelity, Possession, That Most Important Thing: Love, L’Amour Braque, The Third Part of the Night, Diabel, On the Silver Globe, Hard to Be a God (German)

I’m more than halfway through a full Żuławski survey. I will hopefully finish it for the next diary installment. The only one of his films I was familiar with was Possession, which is one of the best horror films ever made. I give it my highest recommendation, but gird your loins, it is definitely some shit. The first full Żuławski retrospective in the US was held at BAMCinématek in 2012, and they called it “Hysterical Excess.” Żuławski was so insulted by this title that he cancelled his plan to appear. I will therefore avoid using these words to describe his films. Żuławski is singular in his total disregard for the experience of the audience. Żuławski gives the least fucks of any major filmmaker. I wasn’t crazy about Fidelity (which is like a melodrama from hell) or Cosmos (which is about the human urge to assign meaning and is so untethered that it’s hard to engage with), but they are worth watching if you’re interested in Żuławski. The Third Part of the Night and Diabel are very strong early works from when was still in Poland. They are both challenging but relatively accessible (emphasis on ‘relatively’). Diabel is the better film of the two. That Most Important Thing: Love is even more accessible and was a hit in France, where it was made. It features Romy Schneider as a washed up actress working in soft porn. An admirer puts everything he has into financing a production of Richard III for her to star in (along with Kinski). It’s great. L’Amour Braque is awesome, but I need to see it again. The dialogue is experimental and hard to translate, and the subtitles on the version I watched were pretty bad. I know French well enough to follow it, but there’s a Mondo disc out there with better subs. On the Silver Globe is the single most aggressively abrasive movie I’ve ever seen. It’s nearly three hours long, and it was supposed to be longer. Polish authorities forced him to shut down production and destroyed his sets. He deals with this in the film by drawing attention to it. He includes sections of voiceover narration and dislocated footage where he summarizes scenes that are missing. The narrative is mostly incomprehensible except in outline, and these scenes where he narrates what’s missing are almost comical because he talks SO FAST and much of what he says is more confusing than clarifying and it adds to the breathlessly fucking insane feeling of the movie. The story is about a group of astronauts who are stranded on a distant planet and initiate a new civilization that progresses into the dark ages, a messiah arrives, etc. The whole movie is at a screaming, howling fever pitch. It takes endurance. I loved it. I followed it up with an obvious companion piece of medieval futurism: Aleksei German’s Hard to Be a God. German’s last film is about a group of Russian scientists who live on a planet that is just like earth except the Renaissance never happened because of a violent movement to suppress intellectual progress. The film is from 2013, but it certainly feels apt for the age of Trump. It’s about the aggressive stubbornness with which human beings cling to stupidity and ugliness. The movie is caked in mud, blood, and feces. The narrative is pushed to the background (I would advise reading a plot summary to help with following it) and the focus is on abjection. It’s a brutal three hours long, but I recommend it to anyone who’s into this kind of thing.

Jean Renoir

The Golden Coach, French Cancan, Elena and Her Men, The River, A Day in the Country, La Chienne, Night at the Crossroads, Toni, The Southerner, Woman on the Beach, This Land is Mine, The Lower Depths

The more Renoir I watch, the more I like him. I had watched several of his movies that I hadn’t seen before over the last few months and finally decided to just go for it and watch everything extant. I haven’t gotten into the silents yet but I only have a few talkies left. Once I finish all the stuff I had never seen before I will revisit the ones I was more familiar with (Rules of the Game, Grand Illusion, La Bête Humaine)

I went back and watched The Golden Coach again because I felt like the first time I watched it I was in a foul mood and didn’t fully appreciate it. I’m so glad I did, because The Golden Coach is an unqualified masterpiece and one of Renoir’s best films. I liked it vastly better the second time around. Anna Magnani is profoundly funny. La Chienne, The Lower Depths, Night at the Crossroads, and Toni are proto-noirs that I totally loved. His version of The Lower Depths is very, very different from Kurosawa’s. Renoir has Jean Gabin doing a sort of Pépé le Moko reprise and the whole thing is light on its feet and comical, whereas Kurosawa’s is all doom and gloom. I like this one better. The River is easy to appreciate on the surface for its striking use of color, but it’s also perhaps Renoir’s most difficult and complex film. A Day in the Country, Woman on the Beach, and Night at the Crossroads are fragmentary, but there’s enough there to judge them by, and they are all great. Woman on the Beach is his best American film. It does feel sadly incomplete. The other two, however, feel oddly perfect in their fragmentary form. The ending of Day in the Country gains impact from its tacked on quality. Night at the Crossroads is already so elusive that the patchy narrative fits just fine. I can’t think of a movie from this time period that’s anywhere near so dark (literally: sequences are filmed outdoors at night without added lighting). It clearly had a huge influence on Bela Tarr, and is a key point of reference for The Man from London.

Last note on Renoir: while it’s not as great a film as The Golden Coach, French Cancan is extremely fun and I recommend it without reservation. It’s Renoir’s 42nd Street, with Jean Gabin as the founder of the Moulin Rouge.

Miklós Jancsó 

The Round-Up; The Red and the White; Silence and Cry; The Confrontation; Red Psalm, Elektra, My Love; The Pacifist

I had been wanting to reappraise Béla Tarr and I decided while I’m in a Hungarian frame of mind I should do Jancsó as well. Jancsó’s stuff from the mid-60’s through the early 70’s is extraordinary. The Round-Up is my favorite. It has more of a narrative than the other films but a very unconventional one. I would describe it as a Kafka-esque political horror movie in the visual idiom of the American western. I’m not sure if Leone saw this or not, but either he was influenced by Jancsó or they had a lot of similar ideas around the same time. The Red and the White is a stark, formally innovative anti-heroic war movie. It’s my second favorite. These two are among the best films ever made. Silence and Cry is a minor work, and The Confrontation is transitional (both are worthwhile). Red Psalm and Elektra, My Love are among his most important works. They both feature extremely long takes, constant motion, and tons of folk dancing. They are quite different from The Round-Up and The Red and the White, but they have related anti-authoritarian themes and are characterized by comparably brilliant large-scale outdoor cinematography. I also tried watching The Pacifist, one of Jancsó’s Italian films, but I did not enjoy it and gave up after a half hour. The sound design was just too terrible for me to cope with, especialy because, unlike his other work, this film is heavily dialogue driven.

Béla Tarr 

Damnation, Sátántangó, Werckmeister Harmonies, The Man From London, The Turin Horse

I like Tarr a lot, but I’ve never been quite as ardent a fan as many others. I wanted to reappraise his most important works (I still haven’t seen the earlier ones, but I intend to). My esteem for him definitely grew on this watch-through. For me, the ranking is very clear and there are big gaps between each movie and the one ranked below it. I like Sátántangó the best by far, followed by The Turin Horse, followed by Werckmeister Harmonies, then The Man From London (which I think is somewhat underappreciated), and then Damnation. Sátántangó is a masterpiece of the highest order and arguably the best movie of the 90’s. I watched it through in one sitting and was totally enraptured. It’s a 7 hour non-linear, ultra-slow burn, nightmare noir and every image is stunning. The Turin Horse is like an apocalyptic Jeanne Dielman for horses. Werckmeister for me has a bit of an identity crisis. I haven’t read the novel, but from what I’ve been told, the film strips away a lot of the more overtly political content. At the same time, though, it makes very explicit visual references to 20th century totalitarianism. I think it might have worked better to go further one way or the other: either be more direct about the politics, or go further in the direction of abstraction (which is what I would have preferred). I must say, though, that Werckmeister contains one of the most striking images in the history of film. If you’ve seen it, I hope you know which one I’m referring to. It nearly knocked me over in my chair. The Man From London makes the noir currents that run through Tarr’s work explicit. I think it’s necessary to see Renoir’s Night at the Crossroads (also based on a Georges Simenon novel) to fully appreciate what Tarr is doing in this film. Damnation for me feels immature. It contains the seeds for a lot of the ideas that reached fruition in Sátántangó, but he didn’t quite have the chops yet and the material is nowhere near as compelling. It’s worthwhile, though, for anyone interested in Tarr.

Otto Preminger

Daisy Kenyon, Fallen Angel, A Royal Scandal, Whirlpool, Forever Amber, Bonjour Tristesse

A bunch of Preminger blind spots. I thoroughly enjoyed every single one of them. Forever Amber is particularly underappreciated. It’s Preminger’s equivalent to Polanski’s Tess or Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Bonjour Tristesse was my biggest Preminger blind spot and it did not disappoint. It’s possibly his best film.

Johnnie To:

Life Without Principle, Blind Detective, Breaking News, Running Out of Time

I hadn’t seen any of these, and it was a real treat to watch them. Breaking News is the most important work of the bunch. It’s about the police managing their public image through the media, and full of incredible action sequences. Running Out of Time is a lesser work, but it has its pleasures. Life Without Principle is exceptional. It does for the bank what Three does for the hospital, combining a Triad thriller with a financial thriller. It is the best film I’ve seen about the financial collapse. Blind Detective is the same formula as Mad Detective, but this time he’s blind and the cop who brings him back in for a cold case is a woman who he has romantic chemistry with. It’s a lot of fun.

Jean-Luc Godard

A Woman is a Woman, First Name: Carmen

A Woman is a Woman, a “neorealist musical,” is one of Godard’s most accessible movies and a great pleasure. I hadn’t seen First Name: Carmen before. I thought it was quite enjoyable for 80’s Godard. It’s very loosely based on Bizet’s Carmen and features a Maoist terrorist cell, a string quartet rehearsing Beethoven, and Godard himself as a filmmaker who pretends to be a patient in a mental hospital. I also tried to watch Detective, but I couldn’t do it.

Mario Bava

Black Sunday; Kill Baby, Kill

I’ve seen both these movies several times but they are always a delight to revisit. Bava is pure joy for anyone who likes horror. Black Sunday is goth heaven and a great place to start with Bava; Kill Baby, Kill is from later in his career and marks his return to gothic horror. It’s one of his best.

Agnes Varda, Sandrine Bonnaire

Le Bonheur, Vagabond, À nos amours

I didn’t like Le Bonheur. Its most obvious point of reference is Bonjour Tristesse, which is a million times better. The conceit of Le Bonheur is to maintain a sickly sweet tone throughout while exploring dark territory. The tone is so unpleasant that the only way to enjoy the movie is to actively engage with it at the conceptual level, but the conceptual level isn’t all that interesting. I liked Vagabond much better. The great Sandrine Bonnaire plays a voluntarily homeless young drifter. Things do not go well for her. I didn’t love it, but her performance is worth the price of admission. I decided to make it a Bonnaire double feature and watched Pialat’s À nos amours along with it. Hurray for Filmstruck. I had been wanting to see this film for a long time and it did not disappoint. Ultra-raw portrait of a teenage girl (Bonnaire, in her debut performance) with a chaotic home life who acts out sexually. It’s a great film.


Dragon Inn, Warriors of Heaven and Earth, A Touch of Zen

Filmstruck did a wuxia feature around the holidays and I immediately watched these. Dragon Inn is a perfect movie, with endless rewatch value. A Touch of Zen is more ambitious. It’s like the Once Upon a Time in the West of wuxia. Warriors of Heaven and Earth I didn’t care for.

Taiwanese coming-of-age movies

A Brighter Summer Day; A Time to Live, a Time to Die; Rebels of the Neon God

I don’t know what it is, but no one does coming-of-age better than the Taiwanese. I watched one movie each by the big three (Yang, Tsai, and Hou). All three of these films were new to me, and they were all great. They all showcase the distinctive ability of these three filmmakers to infuse images with emotion in the manner of a memory. A Time to Live, a Time to Die is extremely poignant and depressing. Rebels of the Neon God is less hard hitting and more stylized. The obvious points of comparison are Wong Kar-wai and 90’s Greg Araki. A Brighter Summer Day is a towering masterpiece, easily one of the best films of the 90’s. The restoration is gorgeous. It’s a four hours long and overflowing with nuance. I recommend it without qualification. I haven’t seen Yi Yi for a while, but my sense was that this is even better.

John Cassavetes

Love Streams, Opening Night

I hadn’t seen either of these late works by Cassavetes, and I was floored by both of them. They are among his best films. Love Streams in particular totally blew me away. I read someone describe Opening Night as “Birdman if Birdman was good.” While I think this is a little too generous to Birdman, which I hated, it’s a nice point. I recommend these strongly to anyone who likes Cassavetes. If you don’t know his work, I would start with the earlier stuff.

Sergio Corbucci

The Great Silence, Django

Top-tier spaghetti westerns. Note that the dubbed version of Django should be avoided at all costs. The dubbing is atrocious. The only way to watch it is on blu-ray, in Italian with English subtitles. It’s so awesome: the primary conflict is between Mexican Bandits and the Klan. The Great Silence features Klaus Kinski as the villain. It’s awesome, but the ending is…. questionable.

Fritz Lang

Ministry of Fear, Spies

Spies is available to stream in HD on amazon! It is one of the keystones of the espionage genre and the central influence for the Bond series. It’s an absolute treat. Ministry of Fear has narrower appeal but I liked it a lot. It’s a wrong man movie where the McGuffin is a cake!

Roberto Rossellini

Fear, Amore

A couple Rossellini blind spots, both minor works. Fear is an excellent tight little dramatic thriller where Ingrid Bergman is blackmailed for an extramarital affair. Amore is an anthology of two short films about love, both featuring the inimitable Anna Magnani. It was very controversial in the US, and became the subject of a landmark censorship case. The first short is an experiment, following one side of a phone conversation and resting entirely on Magnani’s considerable chops. The second short features a small role by co-writer Fellini as a vagrant who she thinks is St. Joseph. I wasn’t crazy about Amore but it’s worth seeing.

Murnau and related

Faust, Nosferatu, City Girl, The Last Laugh, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, Tabu, Tabu (Gomes)

I have been meaning to watch Tabu (Gomes) for years, but I kept putting it off because I felt like I should watch the Murnau film it borrows its title from first, but then I felt like I should just revisit all of Murnau’s most important works at the same time. I finally did it. I would say my favorite Murnau is Faust, followed by The Last Laugh. Faust is half dark expressionism, half slapstick Satan. Both elements worked perfectly for me and I found many shots to be at least as striking as more famous material from Nosferatu and Sunrise. I was a little underwhelmed by Gomes’ Tabu. It’s okay. I think people overhyped it to me and my expectations were too high.

Satyajit Ray

Devi, The Music Room

I’m continuing to slowly work my way through S. Ray. The Music Room is stunning. Easily my favorite Ray film so far. It’s about the death throes of a noble house, as the patriarch spends every last penny bringing the greatest musicians in India to perform in his music room. It’s transcendent. Devi I didn’t care for. It is desperately in need of a restoration, but even bracketing the poor quality, I found it to drag quite a bit. It gets pretty good towards the end, but it was already too late for me. I also attempted to watch The Chess Players but I couldn’t get into it. I am not blaming the movie for this: I may just not have been in the mood. But the style is jarringly different from the other Ray films I’ve seen and I didn’t find it engaging.

Japanese New Wave

I had been watching through Imamura and really enjoying it, but I decided to take a step back and fill in a little more context. I watched quite a few movies from the Japanese New Wave, covering a lot of blind spots and revisiting important works.


Cruel Story of Youth, Violence at Noon, Empire of Passion, Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, Death by Hanging, Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, In the Realm of the Senses

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Oshima movies I had seen, but so much of this stuff is on Filmstruck that I decided to reconsider him and take a look at a wider range of his stuff. I found it to be a mixed bag. I did not like most of the freewheeling 60’s stuff. I actively disliked Diary of a Shinjuku Thief and Japanese Summer: Double Suicide. They both played dated for me. Shinjuku Thief is full of stuff that Kurahara or Yoshida did better, and the Godardian formal flourishes didn’t impress me at all. Japanese Summer is too straight faced in its Freudianism. It has aged poorly. I didn’t like Violence at Noon either, but the technique is interesting (there are like 2000 cuts). Cruel Story of Youth is pretty good. Stylistically, it’s heavily influenced by Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause, but the material is considerably more lurid. I completely loved Death by Hanging. It’s a pitch black comedy about a Korean murderer who inexplicably survives a hanging. I also liked Empire of Passion and In the Realm of the Senses quite a bit. I had seen them before, but they benefit tremendously from their beautiful HD restorations. I haven’t seen any of Oshima’s other later works, and that’s where I’ll go next. I definitely prefer his mature style to the early stuff.


Pastoral: To Die in the Country, Farewell to the Ark

Terayama is arguably the most untethered of the bunch. His stuff is closer to Jodorowsky than Oshima, but more personal and focused. These movies are fantastic and completely batshit.


Gate of Flesh, The Taisho Trilogy: Zigeunerweisen, Kagero-za, and Yumeji

I’ve been a fan of Suzuki for a very long time, though I had only seen his yakuza movies (Branded to Kill, Tokyo Drifter, Pistol Opera, among others). Gate of Flesh is well regarded but I didn’t like it as much as the yakuza stuff. The Taisho Trilogy has only recently become widely available. There’s an arrow blu-ray set and MUBI played all three titles. He was fired back in the day for pushing his experimentation too far in what were supposed to be marketable genre films. He made the Taisho Trilogy independently many years later, and these films were his first chance to really do whatever the hell he wants. They are totally bonkers, of course. I loved the first two, but I wasn’t crazy about Yumeji. The narratives of the three films are not connected, but there is quite a bit of continuity. They share the 1920’s setting and a similar visual style and they all feature amazing performances by the great Yoshio Harada as an Id figure.


Eros + Massacre (Yoshida), The Warped Ones (Kurahara), Pale Flower (Shinoda)

I’m very excited about the new HD Yoshida transfers. Beware the version of Eros + Massacre on amazon streaming. It’s the shorter cut, and should be avoided. The movie is tremendous, and certainly one of the most essential works of the Japanese New Wave. The Warped Ones is a blast. It’s like The Wild One or Kathryn Bigelow’s The Loveless, but way more frenetic and scored with white hot jazz. Pale Flower was pretty meh compared to the other stuff.

Roman Porno Reboot

Wet Woman in the Wind, Antiporno

The Roman Porno is a venerable tradition. It was a series of films from the legendary Nikkatsu studio that ran from the early 70’s through the late 80’s. Promising directors were given an unusual degree of creative freedom, on the condition that they deliver a sex scene every 15 minutes. Nikkatsu rebooted the Roman Porno series in 2016, inviting a number of interesting directors to make new films following the old formula. MUBI featured these two and I was very excited to see them. Wet Woman in the Wind is a comedy, and it’s pretty good. It’s nothing exceptional, but it succeeds as a genre update. One probably needs at least some familiarity with Roman Porno to appreciate what it’s doing. Sion Sono’s Antiporno, on the other hand, will melt your damn face. What a movie. He follows the formula: there is a lot of sex and nudity. But he does everything he can to deny the viewer any degree of titillation. It is truly an “anti porno.” There is plenty of vomit and the emphasis is on humanizing sex workers. The visual style is stark and confrontational. I loved it.


Eyes Wide Shut, Barry Lyndon

I don’t know if any filmmaker benefits from rewatch more than Kubrick. These two, 2001, The Shining, and a Clockwork Orange are the top tier for me, followed by Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, and The Killing. The only one I don’t really like is Full Metal Jacket (I love the first half but dislike the second half, when they actually go to war). Anyways, Barry Lyndon is one of the greatest movies ever made and I was delighted to watch the new Criterion Blu-Ray. It’s really a tremendous upgrade. I watched Eyes Wide Shut as a Christmas movie, and I think looking at it through the Christmas lens serves it well. Christmas lights are to Eyes Wide Shut as candles are to Barry Lyndon. Between Sátántangó, A Brighter Summer Day, La Belle Noiseuse, and Eyes Wide Shut, I watched four of the best movies of the 90’s during the last few months.

Hollywood Musicals

The Gang’s All Here, Meet Me in St. Louis

I have been meaning to see both of these for a very long time. They were both tremendous. The Gang’s All Here is an over-the-top, awe-inspiring audiovisual bonanza. Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland, is elegiac and moving. It seems to have influenced Renoir’s The River.

New(ish) Releases

Dunkirk: There are three stories that take up different amounts of time and the formal concept is that they all intersect at the critical moment. But the intersection turns out to be of the “improbable timing saves the day” variety. Meanwhile, the movie totally fails to give us any understanding of the layout and where everything is relative to the other stuff, and focuses on illegible close ups that try to capture the disorientation and confusion of battle. But the best action filmmakers– the Scott brothers, Kathryn Bigelow– can do both things at once. They can lay everything out, make us understand what’s at stake every step of the way, but at the same time capture the subjective experience of the individuals. Dunkirk is basically zoomed in confusion and then hurray we got there in time. It tries to overwhelm us with size and loudness to compensate for its inadequacies. Also: the dead boy on the boat storyline is shameless, unearned audience manipulation.

A Ghost Story: Ghost story from the perspective of the ghost, with some neat formal tricks. Meh.

Thor: Ragnorak: I enjoyed it to the extent that Waititi’s voice shines through, but I’m pretty much over the Avengers (though Thor is my favorite of the bunch). I also tried to watch the Spiderman: Homecoming movie but I turned it off after 10 minutes because they were the worst 10 minutes of any movie I watched this year.

Mom and Dad: Delightful new horror movie from Brian Taylor, director of personal favorites such as the Crank movies, Gamer, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Here he’s without his usual collaborator, Mark Neveldine, and it doesn’t seem like very much is missing. I appreciate this movie’s unity of purpose: parents everywhere are possessed with the uncontrollable urge to murder their own children. That’s it, nothing else happens in this movie. The Nicolas Cage factor is strong, and Selma Blair is pretty damn Cage-y in her own right. Anyone turned off by the idea of parents trying to murder their children should stay away.

Happy Death Day: Groundhog Day has become a genre. I absolutely hated Before I Fall, but this one was pretty good. Solid execution of the premise “Groundhog Day meets sorority slasher movie.”

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected): Pretty good, nothing new.

Atomic Blonde: Very fun.

Train to Busan: One of very few good non-Romero zombie movies.

Good Time: I haven’t totally made up my mind and I still need to see a few things, but I think this was my favorite movie of 2017. It absolutely requires good image and sound, so don’t watch this shit on your laptop.

The Last Jedi: Postmodern Star Wars. I loved it.

Better Watch Out: pitch black horror, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Girls Trip: Worth watching for Tiffany Haddish alone. Jada Pinkett Smith is also great, but I thought Latifah and Hall were weak and I couldn’t handle the inspirational speeches.

Blade of the Immortal: Middling Miike. Not as good as I wanted it to be, but enjoyable.

Dawson City: Frozen Time: Fantastic documentary about a trove of silent films found buried under an ice skating rink in Dawson, Canada (which is an old gold rush town in the Yukon).


The Color of Pomegranates: Awesome new HD restoration on Filmstruck (forthcoming on blu-ray). Exists entirely outside conventional film grammar. It’s awesome. There’s a code to be cracked but it’s one of those things where you wonder whether cracking the code would diminish it. It works great at the surface level.

The Night of the Hunted: I think this is the first non-vampire movie I’ve seen from Jean Rollin. It resembles early Cronenberg, with more sex. Very good.

Man with a Movie Camera: having this on demand in HD is a luxury that we must not take for granted.

Lady in the Lake: Whoa! First person noir. We see everything through the detective’s eyes, and the clues are right in front of us, and so we are invited to “play detective.” It’s a great film.

The Seventh Victim: tremendous Lewton/Robson horror noir.

Purple Noon: This is René Clément’s adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley. It destroys the Anthony Minghella version. Alain Delon approaches the limits of human perfection as Tom Ripley. I googled his performance in this movie and found lots of straight guys posting about coming to terms with homosexual feelings the movie induced in them. And then I realized that this was probably why I googled it.

Le Million: Delightful comedy from Rene Clair, massively influential.

Wagon Master: One of John Ford’s best movies. It’s about a Mormon wagon train headed west and the various less-than-savory characters they pick up along the way. It succeeds at every level.

Playtime: I revisited Tati’s greatest masterpiece to compare it with the Dougie Jones material from Twin Peaks: The Return. My brother was totally right: Lynch was clearly riffing on Tati. What is most distinctive about this movie is the sheer number of gags he works into a single sequence. Most comedies run one gag at a time, or one gag and a little something in the background. Tati just piles it on, to the point where it overwhelms the viewer and one must just give oneself over to the chaos.

A Zed & Two Noughts: The Cook, The Thief… was a favorite when I was a kid but I haven’t really followed Greenaway since. I finally watched this on Amazon and I didn’t really care for it. I thought the parts were better than the whole. The thematic focus on mortality didn’t do anything for me.

Touchez Pas au Grisbi: I was so excited to see this Becker maserpiece in HD on amazon. If you haven’t seen it, don’t hesitate. I haven’t seen any of these Becker movies in a long time and I’m excited to revisit more of them in HD.

City of Pirates: Ruiz at his most untethered. It’s great, but I prefer his slightly more tethered stuff.

The Conformist: I don’t love The Conformist, but its style is undeniably striking.

Yoyo: This is my first movie by Pierre Etaix. I loved it. It starts out as a silent film and traces the history of film in its form. It’s nostalgic and moving.

Lola: Demy’s first film. I didn’t like it as much as his musicals but it was interesting to see.

Tampopo: The best food movie.

The Tales of Hoffman: I have been wanting to see this for ages. I finally pulled the trigger and I was a little let down. I don’t really care for the music, to be honest, and the visual inventiveness became tiring well before the film was over.

Lady Snowblood, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance: Lady Snowblood is a personal favorite, but I actually hadn’t seen the sequel before. I didn’t like it.

Scarface: I have seen the De Palma version a zillion times but I hadn’t seen the Hawks original in a very long time. It was very interesting to revisit it. De Palma’s remake follows the original more closely than I remembered.

Jacques Rivette, le veilleur: For Rivette fans only. Denis’ documentary is delightful. He is interviewed by Serge Daney.

A Colt is My Passport: Stellar Japanese noir, starring Joe Shishido.

The Devil, Probably: I think this is the only Bresson movie that’s not an adaptation. It’s difficult and bleak.

Keane: This showed up on the horror streaming channel, Shudder. It’s not really a horror movie, though. It’s a psychological thriller about a man with a loose grip on reality looking for his lost child. Incredible performance by Damien Lewis. I watched this because I like Kerrigan’s work on Starz’s Girlfriend Experience series. It’s a good film.

Léon Morin, Priest: To be honest I found it a bit dull. Certainly the only Melville film I would say that about.

Daisies: Věra Chytilová’s anarchic female buddy picture was the central influence for Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating. It’s awesome.

Fellini Satyricon: I loved the first half, but I had the same issue here that I have had with other Fellini movies after his early period: the second half lost me. I don’t necessarily blame Fellini for this, it’s probably some defect in me as a viewer. I am going to keep trying with his later work.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman: Ghost sailor has six months to make the most selfish woman in the world love him so much that she’s willing to die for him. Ghost sailor is James Mason, woman is Ava Gardner. She’s also pursued by a matador and a racecar driver. It’s even better than it sounds.

L’Âge d’Or: It has its moments, but not my favorite Buñuel

Zero de Conduit: perfect little movie.

The Naked City: I thought I had seen this, but it turns out I was conflating it with Dassin’s Night and the City. Night and the City is a much better film, but this is entirely worthwhile.

Ronin-gai: 90’s samurai movie. Underwhelming.

My Neighbor Totoro: Absent of any real conflict or villain, this film approximates the aimless imagination of a child, with the weighty backdrop of a sick parent.

Le Main du Diable: solid oldschool French horror

Sweet Smell of Success: This film is ripe to be remade for the social media era. It feels very relevant to the contemporary moment. Curtis and Lancaster could never be topped, though.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past: I watched this on an airplane. It was terrible.

How to Be a Latin Lover: I also watched this on an airplane. It was delightful. I laughed so loudly (with headphones on) that people were giving me looks.

2017 Year in Review: Albums (i.e., Rap Albums)

2017 Year in Review: Albums (i.e., Rap Albums)

I didn’t really put a lot of effort into keeping up with new releases outside of rap, but I tried to at least sample everything that I heard positive reports about.  I don’t think I encountered any masterpieces this year.  Among rap albums, I would go out of my way to say that for me Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN was the worst major release of the year, mostly because of the slow jams.  I was extremely disappointed, because I really liked one or two of the singles, but what a bummer of an album.  On the other hand, Kendrick’s guest spots on other people’s stuff were uniformly excellent.

My favorite rap albums and mixtapes were

  1. Without Warning- 21 Savage, Offset and Metro Boomin.  Perfect trap album.
  2. You Only Live 2wice- Freddie Gibbs.  A leap forward for a great lyricist.
  3. Big Fish Theory- Vince Staples.  Maybe not his best rapping, but the EDM!
  4. Project Baby 2-  Kodak Black.  Kodak gets reflective.
  5. Flower Boy- Tyler the Creator.  Tyler (the ultimate homophobe) comes out of the closet.  Not my favorite musically but this thing is profound.
  6. My Favorite Mixtape- Boosie Badazz.  Cancer just made Boosie harder.  But also more reflective.  Feels like retro 3rd coast shit, with lots of twang.  A little uneven but my affection for it is high.
  7. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music- 2 Chainz.  The best 2 Chainz album.  Nothing groundbreaking,  just a solidly executed trap album.
  8. 4:44- Jay Z.  I got tired of it fast but this is undeniably good.  Hova as provocateur/late capitalist robber baron/motivational speaker/apologetic husband who the whole world wants to smack for this Becky shit
  9. Culture- Migos.  Overplayed but extremely solid.  Well-executed trap.
  10. Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 2- Cardi B.  Cardi is breakthrough MVP of the year.

Honorable mention to Gucci Mane.

There was one jazz new release I got into: Fluku from Large Unit.  I heard the track Happy Slappy on the radio and was captivated.

There was also one electronica release that grabbed my attention: Black Origami from Jlin

The pop releases I liked best were

Utopia – Björk

Plunge- Fever Ray

Take Me Apart- Kelela

I enjoyed Hiss Spun from Chelsea Wolfe but I thought it was weaker than her previous album.  I liked the Lorde album but I’m not proud of that.  I thought the St. Vincent album was her best yet but I got tired of it very quickly.  Please feel free to send recommendations for stuff I missed, especially jazz, metal, electronica and classical.  I just haven’t had the energy to rigorously keep up with new stuff outside of rap.


Thoughts on The Last Jedi (spoilers)

Thoughts on The Last Jedi (spoilers)

[NOTE: I wrote this at like 2pm the day The Last Jedi was released.  I had absolutely no idea at the time that the debate surrounding the film would be so intense.  I just googled the title to see what came up and the first thing I saw was reporting about Twitter backlash.  It seemed to me like some whiny Gamergate fanboys with overly rigid expectations.  I wrote parts of this in response to that backlash.  Since then, I have heard many, many, many other critiques and defenses of the film, and while I still do not relate to people who dislike it, I can better see where some of them are coming from.  I am not going to rewrite this but I’m going to edit to soften my tone.  To be clear, though, I mean to be responding only to the original complaints that I first encountered, not to the full range of criticisms that are being made of the film]

Judgments made in the first week after a Star Wars release should always be taken with a grain of salt. Everyone who’s not a jerk wants a new Star Wars movie to be good. We pack into the theater and cheer when ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ shows up on the screen. If the movie delivers some good thrills and nostalgia and has no catastrophic faults, we are inclined to be generous.  I think hyper-positive initial reactions to The Force Awakens and Rogue One reflected this generosity.  The Force Awakens has its merits but is seriously flawed: its botched redeployment of Harrison Ford is a travesty, there is too much J.J.  Abrams cheekiness, and it goes way too far in favoring nostalgia over evolution (another fucking Death Star?).  Rogue One is a perfectly good movie but it lacks distinctness and flare.  Everything is in its right place but there’s no ambition.

The Last Jedi has the best direction of any Star Wars movie.  There are some brilliant sequences in the original trilogy but the direction is not the main attraction.  The Last Jedi is the first entry in the series that I would describe as auteurist.  It’s a damn shame that J.J. Abrams and not Rian Johnson will direct Episode IX.  Johnson directed some very decent movies: Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper.  He also directed the two best episodes of Breaking Bad (Ozymandias and Fly).  The Last Jedi is a leap forward.  Things I would call attention to include Snoke’s chamber (even if Snoke himself is a bit of a blemish on the movie), Rey’s dream sequence, the incredible beat drop climactic moment (if you saw the film you’ll know what I mean), and the spaghetti western idiom he employs in the showdown between Luke and Kylo.  Star Wars gets some motherfucking mise-en-scène!!!

So yeah, I loved it!  There is no question in my mind that this is the best Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi, grain of salt not withstanding.

I haven’t read many other reactions but I just learned that there’s backlash:

Here are the main points of contention: there’s no REAL climactic lightsaber duel between Luke and Kylo, Rey’s parents are nobodies, anti-climactic end for Luke, alien milk, no backstory for Snoke, Snoke built up and then dispensed with too easily.

I really couldn’t disagree more strongly.

Coping with the original trilogy presents a problem for new Star Wars films.  On the one hand, there’s the Scylla of nostalgia, and on the other hand there’s the Charybdis of disconnection.  The Prequel Trilogy erred in the direction of disconnection while The Force Awakens and Rogue One erred in the direction of nostalgia.  The Last Jedi is the first one that gets the balance right.  It addresses Empire, but it defies your expectations by inverting it rather than rehashing it.  Instead of opening on an ice planet, we close on a salt planet, but the Walkers are there to visually recall the Hoth battle.  In place of Luke teaching Rey the way Yoda taught him, we get Rey and Yoda teaching Luke all over again.  Instead of a climactic reveal of remarkable parentage, we get an anti-climactic reveal of unremarkable parentage.  But it’s a reveal that makes the story more compelling.  Rey is nobody from nowhere– more like Anakin than Luke.  Instead of a climactic light saber battle, we get trippy sleight of hand that beautifully flows into the final realization that the mythology surrounding Luke is more powerful than his abilities as a warrior.

The Twitter backlash is right about one thing: Snoke sucks.  But this film was saddled with Snoke by The Force Awakens.  Eliminating him so abruptly was the best thing it could have done.  We get a Hitchcockian surprise that one of the main characters isn’t actually one of the main characters and we get rid of Snoke, all in one fell swoop.  Regarding the alien milk: come on, who are these people who have a problem with this?  I didn’t know that fanboys are so squeamish.

Here are some other things I liked about the movie:

-The jokes are actually funny

-Better dialogue, which helped improve new characters like Poe and Finn

-Dig the Rashomon angle on the fall of Kylo

-I did a good job avoiding learning anything about this before seeing it, and I didn’t have a clue that Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro were in the movie.  I had no idea how badly I needed to see Laura Dern with purple hair going kamikaze in a space ship.  I’m sure my face lit up like a Christmas tree when she first appeared.  Del Toro is delightful (also love the Justin Theroux bait and switch.

-Mark Hamill completely nails it.  The polar opposite of the Harrison Ford disaster in Episode VII.

-Good job with the critters.

-The ending sets up the third film for a more authentic nostalgia.  We are down to a rag tag gang of outsiders all over again.  I just wish it weren’t J.J. Abrams’ turn.

A Guide to Jacques Rivette

A Guide to Jacques Rivette
Celine and julie.jpg
still from Céline and Julie Go Boating

There is wide chasm between the importance of Jacques Rivette’s work and the amount of attention it receives in the USA. My aim here is to promote Rivette awareness and provide information and guidance for those who are looking to get into his stuff but unsure of how to proceed.

1. Why Care About Rivette?
2. Chronological Survey
The Sixties
The Seventies
The Eighties
The Nineties
The Aughts
3. The Viewing Guide
Where to Start
Recommended Viewing Itineraries, organized by degree of hardcore-ness
Appendix: PAL speedup and what to do about it
Continue reading “A Guide to Jacques Rivette”

Woody Allen, Ranked

Woody Allen, Ranked

Presented without comment or explanation.

  1. Hannah and Her Sisters
  2. Husbands and Wives
  3. Annie Hall
  4. Crimes and Misdemeanors
  5. Another Woman
  6. Stardust Memories
  7. Sleeper
  8. Manhattan
  9. Sweet and Lowdown
  10. Deconstructing Harry
  11. Midnight in Paris
  12. The Purple Rose of Cairo
  13. Broadway Danny Rose
  14. Interiors
  15. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  16. Love and Death
  17. Scoop
  18. A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy
  19. Everyone Says I Love You
  20. Shadows and Fog
  21. Zelig
  22. Bananas
  23. September
  24. Irrational Man
  25. Blue Jasmine
  26. Match Point
  27. Radio Days
  28. Bullets Over Broadway
  29. Small Time Crooks
  30. Manhattan Murder Mystery
  31. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
  32. Take the Money and Run
  33. Alice
  34. Anything Else
  35. Whatever Works
  36. Mighty Aphrodite
  37. Magic in the Moonlight
  38. Cafe Society
  39. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
  40. Cassandra’s Dream
  41. What’s Up, Tiger Lily?
  42. Melinda and Melinda
  43. Celebrity
  44. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask
  45. Hollywood Ending
  46. To Rome with Love