Ah! Another year at the movies. Just kidding. I had an old boss who would say “what a semester!” at the end of every work day. What a semester, as we say!
A few housekeeping notes:
- We’re not doing a top ten list this year. By “we,” I mean “I.” Everything is jumbled up together. Assume that if it’s here––minus some of the NYFF stuff––it’s accessible via one of the gajillion streaming sites we have access to. Or it will be accessible very soon!
- Martin Eden is technically a 2020 release but I saw it last year, hence its exclusion. He is hot, though, and the movie is good.
- OK, just those two things, I think.
It’s First Cow. It’s been First Cow. All damn year. Part of last year too. To me, it is indisputable and undeniable.
In an effort to write about First Cow and talk with one of its stars, John Magaro, for Bright Wall/Dark Room back in March, I filled in the rest of my missing Kelly Reichardt blindspots. I also revisited Certain Women in my summer school class. I lead with Reichardt because few people I know who seek out her work don’t find something meaningful and momentous.
Has there ever been a more aptly titled film? Well, maybe Wendy and Lucy. I think a lot of people think they could make something like this, and it’d be a mere fraction of what Reichardt is capable of doing with half the dialogue.
Wendy and Lucy
Movies are fundamentally about not following Peter Sarsgaard to a second location.
Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, The Two Popes (the popes don’t kiss), Ready Or Not (Adam Brody is hot), 1917, Joker (remember this?), Jawline, Honeyland, Dark Waters (if you ever see me in person again, you can ask me to do my impression of Mark Ruffalo’s West Virginia accent going “190 cows?” which I have been perfecting over the past eleven months), Richard Jewell (good movie), A Hidden Life (incredible movie).
Hahaha, GOD, this was awful! Awful! Who comes away with their dignity––only Colin Farrell? Listen, I am a total mark for Guy Ritchie––no, I haven’t seen Aladdin––but this is indefensibly bad. I watched on an edible and I felt like I was having a stroke every time Jeremy Strong spoke. (On one hand, I don’t give a shit if straight actors play gay; on the other hand, gulag for Jeremy Strong).
Thinking about how my old company went almost a year without having an HR department, which was just as functional as when we did have an HR department.
Birds Of Prey
The score of the year? No question. Great little movie. Excited to see what de Wilde does next.
The Way Back
One hour into the movie, my friend Spencer opened up a blueberry Chobani and it’s all I remember about the experience.
Howl’s Moving Castle
I kept a regular sleep schedule for about seven straight years of my life up until this past March. During that time period, someone would occasionally invite me to one of those late night showings––in Chicago, at the Music Box; in New York, at Metrograph––and I would make a huge deal about how it would mess up my precious little sleep schedule. Since mid-March, I haven’t had a regular night of sleep. Back in February, I let Rebecca talk me into an 11:30pm showing of Scarface. I bitched and drank an espresso at 10:45pm. If you’d told me that Al Pacino delivers the infamous “this whole town’s a pussy waiting to get fucked line” while drinking some fruity tropical drink out of, I don’t know, a coconut? I would have prioritized this movie years ago.
War Machine, Bohemian Rhapsody (maybe the most morally bankrupt studio film in the last ten years. Like, do people know you can listen to Queen on Spotify?), Bill & Ted Face the Music (this brings me no joy to write), The Devil All The Time (improv show ass movie), Ammonite, Happiest Season (I was once in a political science class where some girl was making some long-winded, bizarre argument about, I don’t know, charity taking the place of welfare state and a boy interrupted her and said, “no offense, but are you from the past?”), Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (good for Mark Rylance), The Personal History of David Copperfield, The Midnight Sky, Kajillionaire (I talk to my mom every day on the phone).
Mel Gibson younger in this than Timothée Chalamet is now.
[tim robinson voice] has this ever happened to you?
This year, we are all inside man.
Mad Max 2
I like that in a dystopian future plagued by violence, everyone always makes time for an original, fresh, fun outfit.
Born In Flames
More films should take risks like this.
When you are a former smoker and a movie says the phrase “100,000 cigarettes” like six times, there should be a warning or whatever.
Red, White and Blue
Wrong main character.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Could barely get through this — I guess in the right way? I dunno, man, I guess here’s where I’m the grump.
She Dies Tomorrow
Does anyone want to have a kid with me??????????????????????????????
Notes on an American Film Director at Work & Italianamerican
Catherine Scorsese’s kitchen wallpaper is so stunning I teared up.
I Am Not Your Negro
Taught this over the summer.
Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda
Made me want to rewatch The Revenant, a movie I saw on both cold medicine and edibles and freaked out the entire time.
Made me believe Taylor Swift is the most important musician of all time.
I keep calling one of these children a bitch.
David Byrne’s American Utopia
Made me believe David Byrne is the most important musician of all time.
I really loved this family.
It’s a good thing our healthcare system works fine, and it’s a good thing I had no health insurance for the last two months of this calendar year.
The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart
Never mind — the Bee Gees are the most important musicians of all time.
The Pirates of Penzance, The Piano, Song to Song (weirdly moved by this… maybe I am becoming something of a “Terrence Malick stan”), Rio Bravo (Dean Martin is hot!), Beyond The Lights, Lovers Rock (best needle drop of the year), Another Round (this isn’t… not… elevated Tag, but it’s fine that it’s elevated Tag), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Sound Of Metal (I’m a former percussionist with partial hearing damage — how do you think I felt?).
Portrait Of A Lady (started this on an edible and when young Viggo Mortensen showed up, I got so stressed out I had to turn it off and finish it the next day), The Importance of Being Earnest, Lured, The Witches of Eastwick (there are at least six guys in Brooklyn who are like this), I Am Not A Witch, This Is My Life (awesome), Modern Romance (I miss doing one drug and talking about Beethoven to someone who doesn’t care), Smooth Talk (remember Joyce Carol Oates’ toe??), Defending Your Life, Housekeeping.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Total assault on the senses. Parade of proper nouns. These suck!
All The King’s Men
I hope everyone lives long enough to see their favorite American novel given this lifeless and literal an adaptation.
Perhaps there is no scene in all of cinema that is funnier to me than the scene in Closer when Jude Law and Clive Owen are having cybersex in an online chatroom. You can watch it for yourself here.
Road To Perdition
I know too much about contemporary RPGs to enjoy this fully, but even so, it is pretty great.
Loved this movie. At one point, Jude Law wears a maroon sweatshirt tucked into light wash jeans––an outfit I wear all the time! Hard not to think of it as an homage to me (Fran Hoepfner).
Malmkrog (about grad school), The Human Voice (cool font), Night of the Kings, The Disciple (cool score), I Carry You With Me, Nomadland (like, idk, every queer woman, I am obsessed with the national parks), Undine (hot!), MLK/FBI, Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue, The Truffle Hunters (great pups), French Exit (loathed this), The Woman Who Ran.
I’m always mad at Tom Cruise.
I’m always mad at Joe Pesci.
I’m always mad at my crush for murdering a family in cold blood.
Mikey and Nicky
A Cock and Bull Story
Maybe next year I give The Trip movies another try.
Friends With Money
I’m always mad at my three friends.
I am always mad at Heathcliff and/or Cathy.
Je suis toujours en colère contre mon seul ami.
I’m always mad at Daft Punk (?).
Made me think about college in a bad way.
Overlord (obviously, I know fighting in WWII was not a vacation…), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Down in the Delta, Da 5 Bloods (Chadwick Boseman performance of the year), Unrelated (reminded me of when I once asked my poet neighbors if they thought I could get “Carol-ed” aka have an older woman fall in love with me and take me on a road trip to Chicago, and they were like, “you are too old therefore, you would be the Carol”), The Vast of Night, Mr. Bean’s Holiday, Notting Hill, Lost In America, The Cabin in the Woods, Back To The Future Part II, The Truth (loved this!!!!!), Shithouse (going to college in California is like vacation), On The Rocks.
Desperately Seeking Susan
Aidan Quinn is the answer to who was Jake Johnson before Jake Johnson?
Ricki and the Flash
Wait, it’s so funny most of this takes place in “Indiana.”
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Merchandise Mart canon!!!!!!
Something like this happened at the high school of basically every Midwesterner I have ever known.
Walker Brothers canon!!!!!!!!!!
City So Real
Not a movie?? Shut the fuck up. Amazing.
Blow Out, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery (yeah, baby), Punch-Drunk Love, Jurassic Park, Shallow Hal, Jerry Maguire, Sunset Boulevard, Stop Making Sense (sublime), Apocalypse Now (watched this on my 29th birthday… very cool…), Raiders of the Lost Ark, National Treasure, Barry Lyndon, Network, Taxi Driver, Original Cast Album: Company, All That Jazz, My Cousin Vinny (Tomei), Being John Malkovich (Diaz), Casino (Rickles), That Thing You Do!, Double Indemnity, Love & Basketball, Back To The Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
My mom loves this movie and so do I.
Maybe would have liked this more if I read the book.
The Watermelon Woman
Hot and smart!
But I’m A Cheerleader
Cute and funny!
Girls are so mean omg.
My Own Private Idaho
I’m always in love with my one friend :(
Chuck & Buck
Made me feel horrible. Basically not like anything anyone would make anymore — in a good way! Mike White is so good on Survivor!
To think that I spent literal years of my life leaving events early saying I had to go do work at home, and now I am at home all the time, not doing work. I can’t wait to leave an event early to go home and do work again soon. :)
What’s Up, Doc?
Blondes in academia are real and they are dangerous.
The Squid and the Whale
Plot of movie would not have happened if Benjamin just got an MFA in Fiction from Rutgers University.
Movie about how sometimes you disassociate when doing homework.
Things To Come
Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
Literally the last two years of my life.
The Damned United
Soccer and grad school are the same.
Mostly glad this did not happen to me in grad school.
Midsommar for people who actually went to grad school.
Agree that boys like jerking off and girls like going to grad school.
I’m Thinking Of Ending Things
Let Them All Talk
A great film for a guy like me — someone who always used to show up to the club or a bar wearing a backpack. A new Soderbergh hasn’t clicked with me for a minute, and the longer I sit with this one, the more I love and admire it.
Sweet Smell of Success
Munich (movie is about study abroad), Blackhat (Blackhat), Snatch (Farina), Married To The Mob, The Limey (perfect), Enola Holmes (this is charming actually), Mission Impossible III, The Old Guard (Martin Eden), Killing Them Softly, Haywire, Mangrove, All The President’s Men, The Sting (ily Scott Joplin), 300 (wish this was gayer and/or dumber), Tesla (basically fits this category… shut up), Deerskin, The Long Kiss Goodnight, True History of the Kelly Gang, Blow The Man Down (does anyone care that I’ve gotten back into knitting or who cares? lmk).
God, this movie is so great. Continuously underrated. Someone at a rep theater pair this with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and then Venmo me $10!
Promising Young Woman
Its unwillingness to reach catharsis is its own kind of catharsis. For some, at least, by which I mean for me. I dunno, buy me a seltzer and we can talk about it. Heteropessimism decadence. Second best needle drop of the year.
In early August, there was a brief period of time where I became convinced my brain was broken. I do not mean this in a “reading too many tweets” way, but in a genuine “I think something could be very wrong here” way. I took many phone calls with doctors near and far, eager to try to fix what was happening remotely. My roommate was out of town; my family lives far away. I was not without support, but I also knew the more I discussed what I thought was happening, the more real it would become, and the further loss of control that would come with that realness. I was not just rattled — I was terrified. Scared to go for a run, scared to sleep, scared to be alone. As I poured myself into online research, Spencer or one of my other poet neighbors would swoop in with the needed, funny perspective of, “If your brain is broken, I no longer have to take your dating advice,” or “your busted brain could explain why your taste is so awful.” I finally wrangled an in-person doctors appointment and sat for hours in an examination room as little wires shooting out of a boxy machine were adhered to different parts of my body. They started with my heart. I lay — stupid floral-print button-down shirt unbuttoned, chest bare, sweating, alone, exhausted, hungry — as the doctor and I watched the monitor for a few silent minutes. She turned back to me and smiled, pulling off the wires. “Wonderful heartbeat. You have a perfect heart.” I laughed because, well, there are a lot of people who would disagree with her on a matter of principle, but also because it was a lovely, stupid, exaggerated thing to say to someone really going through it. Anyway — it is my brain that’s broken, not a lot but definitely a little, it’s manageable, to be sure, and I am, or will be, okay. Most of what I remember is not so much the fear of those weeks but coming out of the doctors office, sun beating down on my forehead, thinking about my perfect heart.
It’s not this, but it’s not not this.
In The Cut
I am an English teacher named Fran.
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie
In A Lonely Place
Perhaps the best novel to film adaptation I’ve ever seen, in part because it allows both of the entities to exist as their own thing. You don’t have to have one to have the other, but I’m thrilled they have each other, an odd little pair. “Anyone looking at us could tell we’re in love.” Gorgeous!
Still kind of speechless on this one.
Google dot com how many takes tampopo egg yolk scene.
We learned there are aliens in real life like six different times this year and it didn’t even matter.
God, this made me laugh.
Young Peter Capaldi! Astrology subplot!!! So lovely to talk with Gabrus about this one on High & Mighty.
Wife guy canon — maybe one of the best structured films I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Obviously I’m writing this as someone in love with Ray Winstone.
In lieu of a top ten list, I wanted to give a little extra love and attention to the films of Mike Leigh which I watched over the course of June and July, mostly in chronological order. Before this summer, I’d seen Leigh’s two most recent films — Mr. Turner, which I owe a revisit, and Peterloo, which is as prescient as ever. I’d not realized, only otherwise familiar with his period works like Topsy-Turvy or Vera Drake, the scope and depth of his filmmaking. I love him! Even when I don’t love the film, I love the sensibilities, the detail, the writing. I love a guy who always calls on his regulars to do good work. I know I missed some of the early stuff and the shorts, but I am hoping to fill that all in sooner than later. All said and done, engaging with Leigh’s work was the best use of my time at home this year.
I’m always mad at my one friend.
Fell in love with Ruth Sheen doing the sweep of the Leighs. So expressive, so real, so wonderful. Insane they made a movie about the stuff I think about every day.
Life Is Sweet
Would die for this movie — a note-perfect family comedy. Has it all! Nice dad, nice mom, gay sister, rude sister, bad boyfriend David Thewlis, Timothy Spall doing… something???? On more than one occasion this year I have made plans to watch a new movie and then decided to rewatch this one.
In lieu of my opinion, I will link you to Carrie Coon putting this at the top of her Criterion top ten.
Secrets & Lies
How does he do it?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!
This one’s hard: the performances are wonderful, but the structure is odd. The past and the present feel much less in conversation with each other than they are. To Leigh’s credit, I think a lot of people think they could write something about friends from college both then and now, and it would be far worse than this. To go through Leigh’s filmography is to realize, in part, how much you miss Katlin Cartlidge, which might be enough.
Maybe the most emotionally robust film I have ever seen in my whole life? Or, alternatively: a movie about a theater company unionizing around Timothy Spall.
All Or Nothing
Almost wrote a stirring defense of James Corden but decided against it.
That this still feels prescient is more of a condemnation of society than a praising of the film, but it’s pretty close. This is the first of Leigh’s films I remember hearing about at the time of its release, a type of “she gives abortions… but she’s really nice about” description where the “but” is doing all of the moral work of summary. Imelda Staunton is sort of the perfect Leigh lead — deeply human, barely if at all capable of keeping it all together — but it’s Phil Davis’s return to the Leighverse that felt so special to me. I don’t know, for like two hours after watching, I googled “was Vera Drake real” to make sure she “turned out okay” (??). Long year!
My favorite non-2020 release I watched this year and the best I’ll ever feel about turning 30 in seven years.
Who gets to be happy and why? There’s a shift in focus in the back half of the aughts where Leigh dives into “happiness privilege.” In Happy-Go-Lucky this works, in part, because of the strength of Sally Hawkins’ perfect — it doesn’t cross your mind (my mind) to loathe her for her optimism. But here, patience grows thin. Who blossoms, who flounders. Does it have to be that way forever? Glad I saved this one for last. Gave me something to think about this year, next year, the one after, too.
see you in 2021, xo.