November 2017 Recap

(image via DoctorMacro)

Yet another busy month has come and gone. Same old story for my lack of posting: lots of schoolwork and too many shifts at the theater. I've been busy enough that even my movie watching has suffered, with a number of days going by without watching any film at all--though my count still rounds out to slightly over 1 per day. This was my first Noirvember, and I was really excited to dig into a bunch of noir classics, but between time constraints and a lack of access to some of the films I would have liked to watch, a lot of my film choices fall under the neo-noir or more generic "crime" umbrella--still, among the handful of "real" noirs I got to, I did discover some new all-time favorites, so I would say my first foray into this event was a success. I also re-watched a number of films, most of them for my film class, but also Lover Come Back for the blogathon earlier this month and my annual viewing of V for Vendetta. I'm glad to see November end, but it was not without its cinematic high points, detailed after the cut.

First-Time Viewings: 29
Re-Watches: 6
  1. Hester Street (1975)
  2. Nobody Lives Forever (1946)
  3. Re-Watch: Bicycle Thieves (1948)
  4. Point Blank (1967)
  5. Re-Watch: Lover Come Back (1961)
  6. Notorious (1946)
  7. Re-Watch: V for Vendetta (2005)
  8. Split Second (1953)
  9. Cry Wolf (1947)
  10. Side Street (1950)
  11. The Narrow Margin (1952)
  12. The Best of Everything (1959)
  13. Zardoz (1974)
  14. Re-Watch: The Shining (1980)
  15. Rapture (1965)
  16. The Panic in Needle Park (1971)
  17. In a Lonely Place (1950)
  18. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
  19. The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
  20. They Drive by Night (1940)
  21. River's Edge (1986)
  22. Re-Watch: Rushmore (1998)
  23. The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)
  24. The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
  25. Spellbound (1945)
  26. Taxi! (1932)
  27. Scandal Sheet (1952)
  28. The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
  29. The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
  30. A Place in the Sun (1951)
  31. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
  32. Born to Kill (1947)
  33. Wonder (2017)
  34. Re-Watch: 12 Years a Slave (2013)
  35. Divines (2016)
By Decade:
  • 20s: 0
  • 30s: 2
  • 40s: 10
  • 50s: 8
  • 60s: 3
  • 70s: 3
  • 80s: 2
  • 90s: 2
  • 2000s: 1
  • 2010s: 4

Point Blank (1967) (image via Pinterest)

I knew I had to watch this seminal neo-noir this Noirvember, and it did not disappoint. The film is an exercise in style over substance, but every minute of it is captivating, and I was amazed by how much depth and emotion the filmmakers were able to pack into the rather simple storyline by way of well-timed flashbacks and a series of excellent performances, especially from Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. This a roller-coaster ride of a crime film with tension that just keeps building and building until its rather surprising and contemplative finish, and is a must-watch for anyone who enjoys stylish crime films.

Notorious (1946) (image via The Sanity Clause)

I'm going to be honest, and admit that up to now, I've never fully understood the appeal of Ingrid Bergman. Granted, I've only seen a handful of her films, but she never appealed to me the way she clearly does to her legions of fans. I'm happy to say that Notorious has finally made me see the light: she is truly radiant here, putting in a layered and heartbreaking performance that even outshines Cary Grant, someone who has always been a favorite of mine. I wouldn't go as far as to label this as one of Hitchcock's best, as I found the story quite lacking compared to the great performances and Hitch's trademark tension-building, however it is still a stunning example of romantic noir, with Grant and Bergman sharing incredibly chemistry. 

Rapture (1965) (image via IMDB)

Choosing my favorite film of the month is a very tough call between the film coming up next, and this, a haunting little coming-of-age story. A few months ago I sang the praises of Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly, and this makes for a perfect companion piece, a story about a troubled young girl living with her emotionally distant father whose whole world changes when a mysterious young fugitive comes to live with them. Like Bergman's masterpiece, this film is very difficult at times, but at other moments it is emotionally transcendent in ways that truly took my breath away, featuring a beautiful score and shot in B&W Cinemascope that gorgeously captures the isolated countryside that these characters make their home. Patricia Gozzi only appeared in a handful of films before retiring as an actress, but here she proves herself one of the most talented child actors I've ever encountered, putting in an unforgettable performance as the emotionally disturbed Agnes. This film is criminally under-seen and I don't hesitate to declare it a must-watch.

In a Lonely Place (1950) (image via DoctorMacro)

Here is my other favorite of the month, a romantic Noir that twists the conventions of Golden Age Hollywood to their breaking point. I've anticipated my first viewing of this masterpiece for a very long time, but decided to save it for Noirvember, and I'm glad I did because even if this had been the only noir film I watched all month, it would have been enough. Humphrey Bogart is one of my very favorite actors, but I don't hesitate to label this his best performance; and I'm now a great fan of Gloria Grahame, an actress who previously wasn't even on my radar but puts in a magnificent turn here, first as a woman in love, and then as a woman in fear for her life. Grahame and Bogart share amazng chemistry, and I was amazed at what Nicholas Ray got away with in depicting their fast-moving, intimate relationship: he constantly, subtly switches the action between their neighboring apartments in a way that must have appeased the Production Code, but ultimately has the viewer assuming they're cohabiting despite not being married. In his Noir Alley intro, Eddie Muller discussed the debate over In a Lonely Place's status as a noir, and in many ways it really doesn't fit the mold of how we generally picture this genre, but it is indeed dark, brutal, and tense in a way many classic noirs only wish they could be, and the tragic romance at its heart really could not be classified as anything else. A truly magnificent film noir, one of the greatest I've ever seen.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) (image via Variety)

I really had trouble talking myself up to going to the theater to see this, being so burnt out from all of the busyness, but I knew I would regret it if I didn't see it on the big screen. My instincts were right: this is such a visually and aurally stunning film, and I really don't think my TV at home would do it the justice it deserves. The original Blade Runner is a movie close to my heart, a film I actually kind of hated on first viewing but eventually grew to love, and I definitely feel this film is a worthy follow-up, much better than I ever dreamed it would be when it was first announced. The story is quite flawed, and I think I'll become more critical of it on future viewings, but the real power of this film is to make you feel something, and I know I'll always value it on that level. One scene that particularly stood out to me was one in which we see the process of creating the fake memories that are then implanted into replicants; the maker of these memories is so careful, so emotionally invested in her work that her process is utterly transfixing. There are many scenes like this, and they're what make this a minor masterpiece.

River's Edge (1986) (image via Mubi)

I was drawn to watching River's Edge because of the great cast and some positive recommendations, but I was really dubious whether I would actually like this. This movie is proof of why I sometimes still watch movies about which I have doubts: it offers room for them to surprise me, and surprise me this one did. What I expected to be a melodramatic story of teen angst and callousness turned out to be, indeed disturbing, but also unexpectedly hilarious. Crispin Glover puts in an out-of-this world performance as a teenage drug addict on the brink, and I found myself unable to contain my laughter in many of his scenes as he desperately, outrageously tries to cover up a murder that he didn't even have anything to do with. While there is certainly a lot of dark subject matter being tackled here, it's actually handled with a lot of sensitivity, and it mostly comes off as a fascinating character study rather than an overblown condemnation of society. Another under-seen oddity that comes recommended.

The Lady From Shanghai (1947) (image via Letterboxd)

My second Orson Welles film, the first being his other seminal noir, Touch of Evil. That film was a great introduction to his career and this film sees the excellence continue, with Welles putting in a surprisingly sympathetic and likable turn as the lead and Rita Hayworth at her best, both in terms of her looks and her talent, as the woman who leads him astray. I didn't know a lot about this film going in, and so I was not aware of the iconic carnival sequence at the end; or rather, I had seen images from it but didn't know they were from this film in particular. An absolutely gorgeous, stunningly innovative scene that caps off a great slow-burn noir, making this my other great discovery this Noirvember.

A Place in the Sun (1951) (image via The Red List)

Earlier this year I watched the TCM premiere of An American Tragedy, the first adaptation of the book that would later spawn this much more well-known film, A Place in the Sun. I found that film excellent in terms of performance and cinematography, but greatly lacking in its story. This film is perhaps even more flawed in this respect, as it tries to make Montgomery Clift's character more sympathetic without actually changing any of the story elements that blatantly set him up as an unsympathetic character. Even still, I found myself drawn in by this film in a way I wasn't by the original, and it all comes down to Clift and Elizabeth Taylor. They are magic on-screen, all of the love and respect they felt for each other manifesting in their scenes together, and I was able to put aside my concerns quite easily just to see these two interacting, one of the great friendships in Hollywood just beginning to flower. Sometimes star power really is enough to make something worth the watch.

Looking ahead to December, school is basically over now until after the New Year, so I have a packed slate of film viewings and blog postings on my agenda--hopefully I have better luck sticking to my plans in the coming weeks than I did this month! No specific themes for my planned movies, just whatever strikes my fancy. Keep checking back to see what I can come up with amidst the insanity Star Wars: The Last Jedi is going to bring to my working life!


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