[Originally published in The Weekly, November 30, 1977]
He’s stacking frozen dinners in his shopping cart when he notices an attractive woman, fortyish, coming in out of the blank L.A. sun. She turns down another aisle; he decides he has to go to that part of the market too. She can’t quite reach a box on the top shelf; he gets it for her, gives an amiable no-sweat smile, cannily steers his cart elsewhere.
A minute later, he’s back beside her at the produce section. She smiles politely. He grabs an avocado and beams, “These are really great here!”
Her smile gets a little strained as she glances around the commonplace market: “Here?”
He’s losing the moment. “The only trouble is, there’s too much for one person. No matter what ya do, that other half is gonna turn black”—his cowpie grin spreads wider in desperation—”and rotten“—things aren’t going quite the way he hoped—”and slimy!” She’s gone.
As anyone of taste and discernment must know, Lou Grant lost his job at the end of last TV season when he and Mary Richards and Murray Slaughter—everybody except Ted Baxter—got fired from the news department at WJM-TV, Minneapolis. It was TheMary TylerMooreShow‘s unorthodox way of writing finis to itself after seven years as one of the most successful comedy series in the annals of the medium.
The MTM team wanted to quit while the show was still at top form—an admirable ambition, but one that threatened to leave a number of fine character actors at loose ends, and at least one splendidly ripened (far from rotten or slimy) character in syndicated limbo.
[Originally published in The Weekly, July 7, 1982]
My wife just told me that Lou Grant is going to be on in Lou Grant‘s time slot this week. This is something new and different. It had looked as if CBS, not content with having cancelled one of the best dramatic series in television history, wouldn’t even let it die in its own bed: for the past few weeks, the 10pm Monday berth has been consecrated to pumping ratings life into a piece of dreck called CagneyandLacey. Lou’s fans had begun to wonder whether they’d have a chance to bid him farewell.
Actually, part of me has always been getting ready to live with LouGrant‘s cancellation. Fear of that eventuality brought me out of the closet in November 1977 to do my first television review. This terrific show had been on for about a month and hardly anyone I knew, people who ought to like and value it, was watching. (They didn’t know about it; it was on too late for a weeknight; “I only watch public television.”)
Quality in television scored one of its rare victories that season: LouGrant survived despite slow-building ratings. On ABC or NBC it would have been chopped after thirteen weeks, if not sooner. But CBS had a tradition of nurturing distinguished slow starters (including The Mary Tyler Moore Show where Lou Grant, if not LouGrant, had been born). The network remained patient. Critics spread the word and so did more and more regular folks. The show’s viewing strength grew. Come one miraculous week in the summer of ’78, a LouGrant rerun copped number-one position in the Nielsens and Ed Asner beamed at us from the cover of People.
I breathed a sigh of relief along with Lou’s other fans, but remained apprehensive. That summer fluke aside (what else was there to watch that week?), the program’s numbers weren’t that great. Any time I happened to notice the weekly top 10, or even top 20, shows listed in TV Guide, LouGrant wasn’t among them. Although it was being spoken of casually as a “hit,” and had begun to be treated like an institution, the possibility of permanency still seemed remote. A network can’t make big bucks off an only moderate hit, no matter how regularly it wins Emmys for its star (1978) or itself (1979).
[Original published in The Weekly(Seattle), July 13, 1983]
It’s 1938 in the French-African village of Bourkassa and Lucien Cordier, the one-man local constabulary, can’t get no respect. The lone inhabitant of the jail, an ancient black trustee who once poisoned his wife, must have been incarcerated long before Lucien’s time, because Lucien never arrests anybody. Let one of the locals start getting rowdy and Lucien, if he can’t run the other way, does his damnedest to look the other way. Small wonder that the principal resident predators, a pair of bored pimps, don’t hesitate to make public sport of him, or that his immediate superior, a half-day’s train journey removed, treats him the same way. Lucien fares little better in his own home: his wife Huguette refuses to sleep with him out of general disgust and also because she’s busy carrying on with a live-in lout named Nono, who may or may not be her brother. All in all, Lucien Cordier is a congenital, if affable, loser.
He’s such a loser that when he finally, grandly announces “a decision,” it’s that “I decided I don’t know what to do.” This decision is imparted to his big-town superior, Marcel, who has his usual fun scrambling Lucien’s already-dim wits and booting his ass. Somewhere in the course of this lazy-afternoon exercise, Marcel carelessly gifts Lucien with An Idea: if you’re kicked, kick back twice as hard. Serenely bearing what he takes as carte blanche for retribution, Lucien climbs back on the train, returns to Bourkassa, and straightaway shoots down the pimps.
A belated welcome to 2021 with one last look back at the best releases of 2020.
It goes without saying that this has been an unusual year in every way. It is no less true for the year in cinema, as theaters shuttered across the nation (in Seattle, they were shut down for more than half of 2020). Many films were delayed by studios, some independent films chose the Virtual Cinema route, other films went the more tradition video-on-demand, and an unprecedented number of major films debuted directly to streaming services. That leaves the question “What qualifies as a 2020 film?” more open to interpretation. It also disperses the releases across a more varied landscape, making it harder to see everything that one might have access to in more normal years. That’s one reason our annual accounting is delayed this year. We’re just trying to grapple with the changes and catch up with what we can.
With that noted, here are the lists of Parallax View contributors and friends.
Contributors listed in alphabetical orders. Films listed in preferential orders (unless otherwise noted)
1. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt) 2. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao) 3. Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov) 4. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman) 5. Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen) 6. News of the World (Paul Greengrass) 7. The Assistant (Kitty Green) 8. Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell) 9. Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg) 10. The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannel)
Absolute joy in a hard year: Bill and Ted Face the Music (Dean Parisot) and American Utopia (Spike Lee)
Great drama, dubious history: Mank (David Fincher) and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin)
And a few more memorable films (in alphabetical order): Ammonite (Francis Lee), Bacurau (Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho), Corpus Christi (Jan Komasa), Da Five Bloods (Spike Lee), Emma. (Autumn de Wilde) (the last film I saw in a theater), One Night in Miami (Regina King), Palm Springs (Max Barbakow), Sound of Metal (Darius Marder), The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson), Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart)
David Coursen (Washington, D.C.)
1. Dead Souls (Wang Bing, China) 2. Small Axe: Red, White and Blue (Steve McQueen, UK) 3. Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee, U.S.) 4. Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov, Russia) 5. Small Axe: Alex Wheatle (Steve McQueen, UK) 6. Young Ahmed (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium) 7. The 40-Year-Old Version (Radha Blank, US) 8. The Assistant (Kitty Green, U.S.) 9. Atlantiques (Mati Diop, Senegal) 10. (Tie): Small Axe: Mangrove/Lovers Rock/Education (Steve McQueen, UK)
Honorable Mention: Uncut Gems (Josh and Benny Safdie, U.S.), Bacurau (Kleber Filho and Juliano Dornelles, Brazil)
And thanks to MUBI for, among much else, introducing me to the work of Yuzo Kawashima.
Robert C. Cumbow
I watched about 230 movies during 2020 (and the few weeks since), but only 14 were 2020 films. Of those, seven make my Top 10. I’d call them the most interesting films of 2020 that I saw, rather than the best, because I saw so few 2020 releases. Lots of catch-up to do in 2021. Most looking forward to Tenet and Synchronic.
First Cow When Forever Dies Bacurau Vast Of Night The Invisible Man Beanpole A Muse
My best home movie-watching experiences of the year were: Beau Travail on Criterion The Grey Fox on Blu-ray at last Mädchen In Uniform from Kino
I also loved catching up with: Dragged Across Concrete Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
1. House of Hummingbird (Kim Bora) 2. Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen) 3. The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell) 4. Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg) 5. Mangrove (Steve McQueen) 6. Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles) 7. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman) 8. Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello) 9. Relic (Natalie Erika James) 10. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)
(as published at Scarecrow Blog) 1. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt) 2. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao) 3. Gunda (Victor Kossakovsky) 4. Fourteen (Dan Sallitt) 5. Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen) 6. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman) 7. Ammonite (Francis Lee) 8. (tie) Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov) Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell) 10. French Exit (Azazel Jacobs)
Very close to making the last spot: Major Arcana, And Then We Danced, The 40-Year-Old Version, Babyteeth, Bacurau, Sound of Metal, The Assistant, The Invisible Man, La Verite, Vast of Night, Collectiv, Sorry We Missed You
Richard T. Jameson
First Cow Nomadland The Vast of Night Lovers Rock Beanpole Mank Promising Young Woman Never Rarely Sometimes Always The Assistant A White, White Day The Trial of the Chicago 7 / News of the World
First Cow Beanpole Nomadland Promising Young Woman Never Rarely Sometimes Always Lovers Rock (Small Axe) Ammonite The Vast of Night A White, White Day The Assistant
Listed in the Cannes festival catalog as “Untitled” and shown via a print lacking its final sound mix, Wong Kar-wai’s new picture is both more of the same and a tentative step in a new direction. Although the Hong Kong director continues his fruitful partnership with first-rate, Australian-born cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and although In the Mood for Love is often gorgeously framed, lit, and color designed, there’s virtually none of the swoopy/slithery camera moves that frequently outran purpose and sense in Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, and Happy Together. Instead the visuals respect the discretion and emotional delicacy of the two principal characters, nextdoor neighbors (Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-wai) who gradually realize that their respective spouses are having an affair. Mutual pain draws them together, after a fashion (the spouses themselves are scarcely seen and remain faceless even then). But this being the hyperromantic yet inveterately lonely world of Wong Kar-wai, we should know not to count on the fulfillment that the wall-to-wall Nat “King” Cole song track yearns for.
If you’ve never heard of South of Heaven, West of Hell, there’s an excellent reason. If you have heard of it, it’s probably because you stumbled upon the information that it marks the directorial debut of singer-actor Dwight Yoakam, who managed to sweet-talk a spectacularly quirky cast into abetting the enterprise: current girlfriend Bridget Fonda and her papa Peter; indie-world luminaries Vince Vaughn and Billy Bob Thornton (for whom Yoakam made a memorably loathsome villain in Sling Blade); character-acting stalwarts Bo Hopkins, Matt Clark, Luke Askew, and Scott Wilson; and such icons of the florid fringe as Bud Cort, Paul Reubens, and Michael Jeter. All should file for workman’s comp and alienation of audience affection because they got themselves mired in one of the dumbest, most inept, most tediously self-indulgent messes in the history of showbiz hubris.
One of the most eagerly anticipated offerings at Cannes this year, Shadow of the Vampire is the first feature in a decade from E. Elias Merhige, whose only previous effort was the one-of-a-kind avant-garde feature Begotten (1990). That amazing film visualized a timeless cycle of birth, death, and regeneration, in Druidic images at once primeval and postapocalyptic, that seem to have been developed on protoplasmic stock and projected with a flickering bioluminescence. What more appropriate directorial casting, then, for an imaginary (?) account of how F.W. Murnau, the cinema’s first poet of the supernatural, might have made Nosferatu, the first, albeit unofficial, screen version of Dracula.
What’s sadder than a would-be lilting comedy that just doesn’t lilt? It doesn’t help when someone decides to name the thing Bossa Nova and fill it with the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. The music sounds as sea-breezy and listenable as ever, but Bruno Barreto’s movie is flatfooted to the max.
“Have you ever killed a man? … Have you ever made love?” It’s tempting to call this latest film by Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses, Max Mon Amour) a meditation on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays in the military — except that in Kyoto’s Shinsengumi militia in 1865 it almost seems that every third warrior “leans that way,” with at least half the rest precariously susceptible to feeling the same, or fearing that they might start feeling the same, at any moment. There doesn’t appear to be notable scorn for the practice, but veterans like Captain Hijikata (Takeshi Kitano) worry that excessive fascination with a pretty boy like the new kid, Kano (Ryuhei Matsuda), can mess up morale and, er, take the edge off military preparedness.