I saw Cold War last summer at a film festival in Ukraine, where I was on an awards jury. When it concluded, I stood up and declared aloud to no one in particular, “We have just seen the winner of the next Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.”
Of course I didn’t actually do that. Who am I to stand up and make pronouncements in English in a Ukrainian movie theater? (But I did mutter it to myself.)
Cold War has all the attributes of a classic Oscar-winner in that category: It’s accessible; it’s serious but also deeply romantic; it’s got political overtones; and it’s gorgeous to look at.
The Man Who Cheated Himself (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray+DVD) Moonrise (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) Gun Crazy (Warner Archive, Blu-ray) No Orchids for Miss Blandish (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)
Lee J. Cobb takes the lead as Lt. Ed Cullen, a veteran Homicide detective in a secret affair with socialite Lois Frazer (Jane Wyatt) while she’s in the midst of a divorce, in The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950), an independently-made film noir shot on location in San Francisco. When she shoots her soon-to-be-ex-husband (in self-defense), Ed looks over the incriminating evidence and decides that a cover-up is in her best interest. When he’s assigned the case, all looks good, except that his rookie partner—his newlywed and newly promoted younger brother Andy (John Dall)—digs into the evidence and uncovers contradictions in the case, despite Ed’s efforts to nudge him in other directions. It’s a classic good cop gone bad set-up but Ed isn’t greedy or corrupt, merely protective of the woman he loves, which gets complicated because he’s equally protective of his kid brother determined to pull at every loose thread. Wyatt is an unlikely femme fatale, less cold-blooded than practical, but Cobb is excellent as the tough mug of a cop swayed by love and the two deliver a beautifully understated coda that sums up their relationship without a word, merely glances and body language that suggests a tenderness that still exists between them. Dall is the opposite as the bright and energetic rookie on the trail of his first big case, with wide grins and a twinkle in his eye.
My Neighbor Totoro: 30th Anniversary Edition (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray) Batman: The Complete Animated Series (Warner Bros., Blu-ray)
Hayao Miyazaki is one of Japan’s living treasures, a beloved filmmaker whose animated films number among the most beautiful and most enchanting productions ever drawn by hand. In this day of CGI productions, the aging artists still personally draws his key frames and defining characters, with a love and craft that comes through every frame. They may seem old fashioned and perhaps too sweet for American audiences—his films, while loved by many, have never found the huge audiences that flock to the more knowing and culturally savvy Pixar films and Shrek sequels—but the lovely fables, epic adventures, ecologically-minded dramas and modern fairy tales are all treasures.
My Neighbor Totoro (Japan, 1988) was Miyazaki’s first genuine masterpiece and perhaps my favorite of Miyazaki’s films.
The title of 1983, a murder mystery turned conspiracy thriller from writer/creator Joshua Long, is more than an oblique reference to George Orwell’s 1984. Set in a parallel 2003 where the Berlin Wall never fell and the Communist Party has a chokehold on Poland, this alternate history opens on the 20th anniversary of devastating terrorist attacks. The national myth of martyred victims murdered by resistance groups and the necessary guidance of a benevolent government is trotted out in ceremonies celebrating Polish resilience. Katejan (Maciej Musial), a fresh-faced law student orphaned by the attacks and raised on such propaganda, is jolted from his complacency after his mentor, a beloved judge with deep Party ties, posits an unexpected question in his oral exams: what if the attacks didn’t backfire at all? What if they accomplished exactly what they were supposed to? When the professor is murdered by one of his students, Katejan starts to question everything he believes.
Welcome 2019 with one last look back at the best releases of 2018, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations.
1. First Reformed 2. The Rider 3. Roma 4. Leave No Trace 5. If Beale Street Could Talk 6. Private Life 7. Burning 8. BlackKkKlansman 9. Hereditary 10. Zama
A second ten (in alphabetical order): Annihilation, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Cold War, The Favourite, First Man, Happy as Lazzaro, Revenge, Shoplifters, Support the Girls, Suspiria
Cinematic achievement of 2018: the decades-in-the-making completion of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind, left incomplete at the time of his death.
David Coursen (Washington, D.C.)
Best DC non-theatrical Premieres: An Elephant Standing Still Family Tour
Singular Blessing: The Other Side of the Wind
And the 11 best of the rest, listed alphabetically BlacKkKlansman Black Panther Claire’s Camera First Reformed Happy Hour Loveless Madeline’s Madeline Private Life Roma Sorry to Bother You Wormwood
Robert C. Cumbow
The Top 10
(Disclaimer – The list of important 2018 films I have not yet seen is embarrassingly long—so many movies, so little time—and is included here for context: If Beale Street Could Talk; Roma; Black Panther; Transit; Other Side of the Wind; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Eighth Grade; Mid-90s).
Of the ones I did see, the ones I enjoyed most: First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Hostiles (Scott Cooper; technically 2017 but released in Seattle—scantly—in 2018) The Party (Sally Potter) The Old Man and the Gun (David Patrick Lowrey) The Endless (Aaron Moorehead & Justin Benson) You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay; year’s best example of telling a story in sound design) Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson) First Man (Damien Chazelle, whom I still don’t like, but I can’t deny how much this film affected me) Green Book (Peter Farrelly) Annihilation (Alex Garland)
A Little Respect (because it’s actually been a pretty good year for movies): Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Coen Bros.) The Mule (Clint Eastwood) The Wife (Björn Runge) Mary Queen of Scots (Josie Rourke) The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos) The Rider (Chloé Zhao) Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio) A Quiet Place (John Krasinski) A Simple Favor (Paul Feig) A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper—a few things about this movie made me like it a lot more than I expected to, and persuaded me that Cooper has a directorial eye and instinct to be reckoned with)
2/3 of a Good Movie: Vice Hereditary BlacKKKlansman
1/3 of a Good Movie: Sorry to Bother You
Music: Justin Hurwitz, First Man Max Richter, Mary Queen of Scots
Too many great performances this year to list favorites, so I’ll just mention Cynthia Erivo, a compelling presence in Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale, whose name should be a household word by this time next year.
Favorites of 2018 1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel & Ethan Coen) 2. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) 3. The Rider (Chloé Zhao) / The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard) 4. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) 5. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik) 6. Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada) 7. Hereditary (Ari Aster) 8. Bird Box (Susanne Bier) / A Quiet Place (John Krasinski) 9. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham) / Mid90s (Jonah Hill) / Minding the Gap (Bing Liu) 10. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
1. Leave No Trace 2. First Reformed 3. Fair Game (director’s cut) 4. Springsteen on Broadway 5. Three Identical Strangers 6. Love, Gilda 7. The Death of Stalin 8. A Moment in the Reeds 9. Sorry to Bother You 10. Outside In
Also recommended: We the Animals, BlacKkKlansman, Return to Mount Kennedy, On Chesil Beach
1. The Rider 2. Support the Girls 3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 4. Lean on Pete 5. First Reformed 6. Roma 7. Hereditary 8. Zama 9. You Were Never Really Here and Leave No Trace 10. First Man
My Top 10 honorable mentions would have the slow-winding Korean gem Burning; the psychotropic Nicolas Cage thriller Mandy; Bo Burnham’s very funny coming-of-age tale Eighth Grade; the Melissa McCarthy film Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which is as much about loneliness as literary scandal; the cutting British comedy The Death of Stalin; the torrid black-and-white romance of Cold War (opens locally in January); Yorgos Lanthimos’s wicked comedy The Favourite; Hirokazu Kore-eda’s prizewinner Shoplifters; Alex Garland’s sci-fi puzzler Annihilation, with a strong Natalie Portman performance; and Charlize Theron’s postpartum workout in Tully.
Richard T. Jameson
1. Roma 2. First Reformed 3. Leave No Trace 4-12 alphabetical: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Border Burning The Death of Stalin Hereditary If Beale Street Could Talk The Rider Shoplifters You Were Never Really Here
In alphabetical order: Black Panther Can You Ever Forgive Me? If Beale Street Could Talk Mary Poppins Returns Paddington 2 The Rider Roma Shoplifters Widows Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
A splendid second 13: BlacKkKlansman, Crazy Rich Asians, Disobedience, Eighth Grade, The Favourite, Incredibles 2, Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Searching, A Star Is Born, Where Is Kyra?, Whitney, Wildlife
Most Memorable Movies (2018) 1. Leave No Trace 2. First Reformed 3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 4. Roma 5. Shoplifters 6. Burning 7. You Were Never Really Here 8. The Rider 9. Support the Girls 10. If Beale Street Could Talk Documentary: Struggle: Life and Lost Art of Szukalski
1. Suspiria 2. Revenge 3. Apostle 4. Hereditary 5. Mandy 6. Sorry To Bother You 7. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? 8. Eighth Grade 9. Love, Gilda 10. Black Panther
1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 2. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts 3. Hereditary 4. Paddington 2 5. You Were Never Really Here 6. First Reformed 7. Roma 8. The Rider 9. Mandy 10. Cold War
Filmmakers and film programmers
Brian Alter (programmer, Grand Illusion)
Best gut-punch ending: BlacKkKlansman Best film about millennials: Never Goin’ Back Most depressing film: First Reformed Best weird film: Mandy Favorite repertory screening: AGFA’s restoration of Godmonster of Indian Flats
Megan Griffiths (filmmaker, Sadie, The Night Stalker, Lucky Them)
You Were Never Really Here (d. Lynne Ramsey) Eighth Grade (d. Bo Burnham) The Rider (d. Chloé Zhao) Minding the Gap (d. Bing Liu) Destroyer (d. Karyn Kusama) Roma (d. Alfonso Cuarón) Madeline’s Madeline (d. Josephine Decker) Outside In (d. Lynn Shelton) Leave No Trace (d. Debra Granik) Sorry To Bother You (d. Boots Riley)
Jennifer Roth (producer: The Wrestler, Black Swan, Laggies, Mudbound)
Cold War Shoplifters Zama You Were Never Really Here American Animals Land of Steady Habits (self-promotion aside) Can You Ever Forgive Me Roma Private Life The Rider
When you win the Best Picture Oscar, you’ve got a choice: play it safe or take a chance. Moonlight director Barry Jenkins obviously decided to gamble.
Jenkins’ follow-up to his intense 2016 prize-winner is If Beale Street Could Talk, a complex, offbeat adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel. The story revolves around Tish (wondrous newcomer KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), two lovers who’ve known each other since childhood. As the film opens, Tish finds out she’s pregnant while Fonny languishes in prison—two situations we’ll eventually learn more about as the movie skips around in time.
At its most inspired moments, Aquaman plunges straight into the deep end—like when a giant octopus commences an undersea gladiatorial contest by rapping its tentacles across a collection of oversized drums, or when someone offers the movie’s villain a weapon that “converts water into beams of energized plasma.”
I mean, if a movie is going to be this wacky, you really should give in. And I wanted to.
The problem with Aquaman, the latest attempt by the DC Comics faction to match their rivals at Marvel, is that it never picks which wave to surf.
The first soundtrack album I ever knew deeply was Mary Poppins, and of all the delightful songs from that movie, the one that really stirred my childhood self was the chimney sweep’s anthem, “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” It took me a few years to understand that songs in a minor key sound darker than songs in a major key, but even as a kid I sensed that something about that tune was slightly eerie—its philosophical mood gave ballast to the movie’s floatiness.
There’s nothing like that minor-key tone in the new Mary Poppins Returns, no waft of night magic to offset the cheerful candy colors. But otherwise this is a crisply executed and refreshingly old-fashioned musical, drawn again from P.L. Travers’ Poppins books.
The new Spider-Man movie opens with an apology about being yet another Spider-Man movie, which pretty much sets the tone: This is a flip, oh-so-postmodern take on a franchise that won’t stop rebooting itself. An animated Marvel saga, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse tips its hat to the existing Spider-Man movie thread while introducing the idea that multiple universes hold different Spider-Men.
That convoluted concept must be fun for some people, because Into the Spider-Verse has been winning rave reviews (and a nod for Best Animated Film from the New York Film Critics). I’m not raving, but the film is certainly different.
Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.
In Malaysia, three young Americans with little else in common are united in a shared enthusiasm for beer, women, and righteous hashish. Eventually, “Sheriff” (Vince Vaughn) and Tony (David Conrad) head back to New York. Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix), a spacey but good-hearted sort, stays on with the notion of helping save the orangutans. Two years later, a brassy lawyer (Anne Heche) shows up in Manhattan with the news that her client, Lewis, has spent the interim in Penang prison. Arrested for a prankish misdemeanor they all shared in, he’s taking the rap for something worse:the dope stash they left him holding was a fatal few grams over the limit. Unless his fellow Americans return voluntarily to (literally) share the weight, in eight days Lewis will be hanged as a drug trafficker.
The Magnificent Ambersons (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
How did it take so long for the sophomore feature from Orson Welles to finally get its Blu-ray debut?
I don’t need an answer, I’m just thrilled that it’s finally here, and in such a beautiful edition.
The magnificence of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) is apparent from the first frames of the film. Welles sketches a vivid, idealized portrait of American life in the late 19th century in a brilliant montage that sets the time, the place, and the culture in a series of postcard images and comic snapshots. While Welles narrates (in his glorious authorial voice with an understated warmth and familiarity) the changes in fashion through the years,the images introduce hopeful suitor Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten in his star-making performance) and disappointed heiress Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello) and Welles effortlessly segues from exposition to story. The mix of silent movie-like compositions and imagery, striking montage, and radio drama narrative that introduces the world eases into a graceful, glorious long take that sweeps us into the “now” of the story: a ball at the Amberson Mansion, a place frozen in the past of those opening scenes, where social convention and grandeur are upheld for no reason other than tradition. It is beautiful, a portrait of wealth and culture out of touch with the world outside, and unconcerned with it. At its peril. Just as the fashions and conventions of society constantly evolved in those early montage sequences, so does industry and culture and life itself in the upheaval of progress in the 20th century.
The opening shot of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is a self-contained masterpiece—no surprise, considering the mind-boggling opening shots of Children of Men and Gravity, the Oscar-winning director’s two previous features. Here, our focus on a section of elegant floor tiles is interrupted by a wash of water that flows in waves across the floor, a mysterious image that turns out to be a housemaid washing up the exposed entryway at a Mexico City house, a favorite spot for the family dog to do its (apparently prodigious) pooping. As the water accumulates, the image changes, and we can now see the reflection of the sky above the entryway.
The water, the sky, the dog poop—everything will play a role in this intimate yet somehow epic film, which Cuarón has said is based on his childhood memories of Mexico in the early 1970s.
Along with its other wicked attractions, The Favourite serves as a corrective to all those fluffy period movies where pretty costumes and set design function as the cinematic equivalent of a bubble bath. The art direction is plenty handsome here, too, and the film will likely collect a few Oscars for its physical production. But The Favourite uses its lavish backdrops in order to show off the nastiest sides of human behavior—this is a beautiful dinner spread with a rat as its centerpiece.
[originallywritten for NoShame Films, August 27, 2005]
Our subject is primarily life, but if you feel that life’s missing something, steal a camera and try to give life a style.
Partner, Bernardo Bertolucci’s third feature film, has always been one of the most elusive of the director’s endeavors: a forthrightly experimental work—”a film that comes from the head,” in Bertolucci’s own phrase, “a totally deconstructed film”—that willfully declines to satisfy audiences’ conventional expectations regarding narrative and emotional identification with characters. Nominally based on the Dostoevsky novella The Double, the movie centers on—and largely transpires in the imagination of—a rather priggish young drama teacher in Rome played by Pierre Clémenti. Clémenti also plays the wilder, looser alter ego who begins to share the teacher’s life and, to an extent, identity; both go by the name of Giacobbe (or Jacob, in English-language commentaries).
You know an actor’s in the groove when a simple grunt conveys not only an entire character arc, but a movie’s essential meaning. Such a moment comes late in Green Book, and it’s one of a thousand things to savor about the performances in this film.
The groan emerges from the beefed-up body of Viggo Mortensen, playing a Bronx wiseguy named Tony Vallelonga (aka Tony Lip). It’s 1962, and Tony has been hired by a black jazz pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), to act as chauffeur during a concert tour. But Tony’s duties are not merely to drive a car; as a nightclub bouncer and a guy who knows his way around a brawl, it’s understood that Tony may have to provide protection for Shirley when the trip ventures into the American South.