May 2018 Recap

(image via The Playlist)

May was the kind of month where I look back and think, hey, maybe I really do watch too many movies. I watched so much and to be honest, some of these films could have used more time for reflection than I gave them as I just kept moving on to the next thing. With that being said, this was also a month where I often went out of my comfort zone and really learned a lot a variety of filmmakers and styles of filmmaking that I was previously ignorant of. In particular, I watched a lot of documentaries this month, my supposed least favorite genre--and discovered that I just have not been watching the right documentaries, as is usually the case when I make broad statements about film genres or movements. I watched Monterey Pop, Gimme Shelter, and Dont Look Back, all incredible and engaging looks into the 60s rock scene; the adorable and informative Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story; Icarus Film's 8-film DVD retrospective of Jean Rouch's work; and I did a double feature of Fitzcarraldo and the behind-the-scenes documentary Burden of Dreams, the rare making-of that is just as compelling as the film itself. All of these helped me gain a much greater appreciation of the documentary genre, and a newfound interest in exploring it further. Despite my foray into documentaries, however, I still watched a whole bunch of narrative films; read on to see my 5 favorites among these.
First-Time Viewings: 70
Re-Watches: 2
  1. The Fire Within (1963)
  2. Le Beau Serge (1958)
  3. I Knew Her Well (1965)
  4. A Brighter Summer Day (1961)
  5. Ride the High Country (1962)
  6. Scanners (1981)
  7. The Breadwinner (2017)
  8. Re-Watch: Persepolis (2007)
  9. Downhill (1927)
  10. They Died with Their Boots On (1941)
  11. The Lodger (1927)
  12. The Song of Songs (1933)
  13. The World of Kanako (2014)
  14. The Disaster Artist (2017)
  15. Lucky (2017)
  16. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
  17. Death in Venice (1971)
  18. Le Notti Bianche (1957)
  19. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
  20. Eraserhead (1977)
  21. Blood Simple (1984)
  22. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)
  23. Zabriskie Point (1970)
  24. The Ghost & Mr. Chicken (1966)
  25. Monterey Pop (1968)
  26. Queen Christina (1933)
  27. Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (2015)
  28. Gimme Shelter (1970)
  29. Re-Watch: Ninotchka (1939)
  30. Mammy Water (1953)
  31. The Mad Masters (1955)
  32. Moi, un noir (1958)
  33. The Human Pyramid (1961)
  34. La Punition (1962)
  35. Hunting the Lion with Bow and Arrow (1967)
  36. Jaguar (1967)
  37. Little by Little (1970)
  38. 10 Rillington Place (1971)
  39. Rampage (2018)
  40. Cat Ballou (1965)
  41. I, Tonya (2017)
  42. Dont Look Back (1967)
  43. Johnny Guitar (1954)
  44. Candleshoe (1977)
  45. Blackbeard's Ghost (1968)
  46. The Boy Friend (1971)
  47. The Bride Wore Red (1937)
  48. The Beast of the City (1932)
  49. Phantom Thread (2017)
  50. Call Me by Your Name (2017)
  51. The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)
  52. Charulata (1964)
  53. Lone Star (1952)
  54. The Last Detail (1973)
  55. Cinderella Liberty (1973)
  56. Too Wise Wives (1921)
  57. The Swimmer (1968)
  58. One, Two, Three (1961)
  59. La Bete Humaine (1938)
  60. Blues in the Night (1941)
  61. 711 Ocean Drive (1950)
  62. The Blot (1921)
  63. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
  64. Fitzcarraldo (1982)
  65. Burden of Dreams (1982)
  66. Cobra Verde (1987)
  67. Stroszek (1977)
  68. The Life of Oharu (1952)
  69. The Tin Star (1957)
  70. The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959)
  71. Jigoku (1960)
  72. Performance (1970) 
By Decade:

  • 10s: 0
  • 20s: 5
  • 30s: 6
  • 40s: 2
  • 50s: 11
  • 60s: 16
  • 70s: 15
  • 80s: 5
  • 90s: 1
  • 2000s: 1
  • 2010s: 10
Phantom Thread (2017) (image via Variety)

One of my great cinematic shames is my general indifference to Paul Thomas Anderson. I have seen nearly his whole filmography--only Hard Eight and Magnolia remain un-watched--yet despite his almost universal critical acclaim, I have never appreciated one of his films on a personal level. It is always appreciation from a distance: I can see how well-made they are, even agree that they are some of the best films of the 21st century, yet I can never muster real enthusiasm for them. It seems appropriate that my opinion would suddenly change with a viewing of one of his most divisive works; despite many finding this film too sterile and unemotional, I was fully engaged from the very first moments, and by the final scene I was left breathless by what I had seen. This is a work by an artist at the very top of his game, commanding astonishing performances from his actors in which much of the emotional weight of the story is left unsaid--nearly everything in this film is communicated visually, and with the most meticulously crafted visuals possible. This is a film that demands re-watches to better understand the unlikely romance that blooms between Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis, and in the case of this PTA film, I will be more than happy to re-watch it as many times as it takes to fully appreciate this mastery of the cinematic art form.

Call Me By Your Name (2017) (image via The New Yorker)

Despite my love for Phantom Thread, it is tied for my favorite film that was nominated for Best Picture this year--in fact, tied with the film that I watched directly after it, in one of the most cinematically satisfying evenings of my life. Where Phantom Thread is awe-inspiring as a masterpiece of filmmaking, Call Me By Your Name is an imperfect film that tugged at my heartstrings in all of the right ways, leaving me an emotional mess by the end; essentially, I love the former as a fan of cinema--one who has seen too many movies and still rarely sees one executed so well--and I love the latter as someone who wants to be moved by a film on a purely emotional level. Timothée Chalamet is a revelation, portraying so many complex emotions that really sell a character arc that has been done before, but never quite like this, with so much attention to detail and those little, pivotal moments that are left out of most mainstream films. This is a rare coming-of-age film that not only reflects what that period of life feels like, but actually evokes it in the older viewer, making you feel that way again if only for a little while. Rarely do I watch such an over-hyped film as this one and actually enjoy it more than I was expecting, but in this case, that is exactly what happened. While neither Phantom Thread nor Call Me By Your Name has quite managed to dethrone A Ghost Story as my favorite film of 2017, this trio leaves me confident that the future of cinema is in good hands.

The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) (image via rarefilm.net)

Today, Jack Nicholson is a national icon, known for such films as The Shining and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest where he plays belligerent, larger-than-life characters. However, I have developed a real appreciation for the Jack Nicholson from just a few years earlier, before he became "Jack Nicholson, national icon"--when his screen persona was still developing into what it is today. This month I watched my new favorite of these early films, the underrated gem The King of Marvin Gardens. Nicholson plays opposite Bruce Dern, the latter of whom plays the nutty and hyperactive role Nicholson would have played if the movie came out just a year or two later, while Nicholson himself plays the quiet, low-key brother who tries to keep Dern's ridiculous schemes from spiraling out of control. The film does not quite come together by the end, but its strength is in the parts rather than the whole; in particular, a stunning opening monologue by Nicholson that proves he is entirely capable of subtle, poignant acting even if that is not what has been demanded of him in his post-Shining career. This is an under-seen gem of a film that is definitely a must-see for fans of early 1970s American filmmaking.

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) (image via sge.org)

Several months ago, TCM dedicated a whole evening to the films of Werner Herzog, and this month I finally watched my recordings of them. I have long been intimidated by Herzog's filmography, full of jungle-set epics exploring the depths of human greed and selfishness, however I should not have been; the two films I watched that fit this MO, Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, are two of the finest films I have ever seen. In particular, I was truly amazed by Aguirre, the first film in my marathon; from the opening minutes, as an endless line of explorers and slaves descend a mountain so tall that the morning fog clouds the image, I was pleasantly transported into a world of myths and dreams, where the perilous jungle comes alive to crush any hint of civilization that might still exist within the foolhardy protagonists. Calling a film an "experience" is a cliche by this point, but in this case it is entirely accurate: there is no way to explain what it feels like to witness this journey into (a strangely alluring) madness other than to watch it for yourself. 

Performance (1970) (image via Rolling Stones)

I always love when I can cap off the month with a great film, and that definitely happened in May when I watched Performance. I have been very excited to see this film for a long time despite knowing very little about it--just the synopsis and the presence of Mick Jagger was enough to pique my interest. What I got was an incredibly strange, trippy film that left me reeling much the same way as something like the Japanese horror film House; there are so many inventive visual techniques being utilized, many of them at the same time, that it becomes a legitimate assault on the senses, and yet it is so unlike anything else you have ever seen that you never want it to end. Funnily enough, the film actually becomes more coherent once Jagger's rock star comes on the scene--the first act features disorientating cross-cuts to events that have happened either before or after the "main" timeline despite appearing to be occurring simultaneously--however all sense of coherency is abandoned in the last moments of the film, resulting in an ending that quite effectively defies all interpretation, yet simultaneously demands re-watches in order to try and understand the impossible.

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