April 2018 Recap

(image via Criterion)

April has essentially followed the same pattern as December: I finish my courses, do my final exams, and prepare for a nice, relaxing break, only for a big movie to come out and suddenly I have 8-hour shifts every day and I can barely stay awake from sheer exhaustion when I finally do get some free time at home. While all of this business is excellent for my theater, I am looking forward to things quieting down so I can finally get that much-needed break. In the meantime, I have been watching a lot of movies; I mentioned, also back in December, that I was making my way through old recordings on my DVR, and that process is still ongoing. Much of the backlog was recordings from TCM Imports, so I have been watching a lot of subtitled, black-and-white films from the 1950s and 60s, which has been a lot more fun and enlightening than one might expect. Again, it was very difficult to narrow down my highlights list to five, and I had to skip some truly excellent films, including the very smart and complex feminist film The Watermelon Woman, the surprisingly heartrending The Incredible Shrinking Man (this made a great double feature with Kafka's The Metamorphosis that I read for an English course), the impossibly fresh and funny A New Leaf, and the stunning Tokyo Twilight, perhaps the first Ozu film that I truly appreciated as I was watching it as opposed to after I had time to think it over. Read on to see the full list of what I watched and the even more incredible films that did make my highlights reel.

First-Time Viewings: 41
Re-Watches: 4
  1. The Champagne Murders (1967)
  2. Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962)
  3. The Watermelon Woman (1996)
  4. Your Name (2016)
  5. Re-Watch: Wadjda (2012)
  6. The Journey of Natty Gann (1985)
  7. Ashes and Diamonds (1958)
  8. Humoresque (1946)
  9. The Front (1976)
  10. The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
  11. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017)
  12. A Quiet Place (2018)
  13. Cry Danger (1951)
  14. The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)
  15. High Noon (1952)
  16. Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
  17. Midnight Lace (1960)
  18. The Odd Couple (1968)
  19. The In-Laws (1979)
  20. La Haine (1995)
  21. The Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)
  22. Una (2017)
  23. War Nurse (1930)
  24. La Ronde (1950)
  25. The Earrings of Madame de... (1953)
  26. Re-Watch: Chungking Express (1994)
  27. Isle of Dogs (2018)
  28. Re-Watch: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
  29. Wild River (1960)
  30. The Cobweb (1955)
  31. Cruel Story of Youth (1960)
  32. Boy (1969)
  33. Tokyo Chorus (1931)
  34. Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947)
  35. A New Leaf (1971)
  36. Until the End of the World (1991)
  37. The Coward (1965)
  38. Young at Heart (1954)
  39. The Florida Project (2017)
  40. The Young in Heart (1938)
  41. Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (1953)
  42. Re-Watch: Ghost World (2001)
  43. Tokyo Twilight (1957)
  44. Yoyo (1965)
  45. The Lovers (1958)
By Decade:
  • 10s: 0
  • 20s: 0
  • 30s: 4
  • 40s: 3
  • 50s: 11
  • 60s: 10
  • 70s: 3
  • 80s: 1
  • 90s: 4
  • 2000s: 2
  • 2010s: 7
Your Name (2016) (image via Forbes)

This film garnered a lot of praise back in 2016, but it was only this month that I finally had the chance to watch it. I am happy to say that it is a marvelously unique and complex film that absolutely lives up to the hype; I managed to avoid most details of the intricate plot, so I was literally on the edge of my seat to see what was going to happen next, especially in the devastating final act. Along with the excellent story-line--which I will not discuss here as I think it is best to go in blind for this one--I was equally impressed by the film's visual style. This is the first of Makoto Shinkai's films that I have seen, and I was amazed by his use of color and lighting throughout the film. Every single shot in this film is visually resplendent, from the bright city lights at night to the golden dappling of sunshine in the woods. Many are dismayed at the news that a live-action American remake of the film is coming, and while I also have concerns about how the narrative will be translated for a Western audience, my main issue with the idea of a remake is how much of the film's visual storytelling will be lost in the transition to live-action. A live-action version of this film deserves to be shot by someone like Vittorio Storaro--his work in Woody Allen's recent films possesses the exact brand of dynamic color and lighting that this film does--but unfortunately, I think that would be way too much to hope for.

High Noon (1952) (image via Letterboxd)

For a long time I have held that I do not like Westerns, but I am now coming to see, as I did with Italian neorealism, that I merely do not like a couple of the major canon classics, specifically some films by John Ford. Outside of those, I enjoy quite a few Westerns, and now added to that list is High Noon, a major canon classic that is just as great as its reputation. Gary Cooper is a favorite actor of mine, and here he gives perhaps his greatest performance as a tough, determined, yet inwardly sensitive sheriff faced with an impossible choice. If I were in his shoes, I am not ashamed to say I would have run off with Grace Kelly and left the town to its own devices, but the brilliance of his performance is that he is not a generic stoic heroic figure; you understand that he, too, wishes he could just leave, yet he is a good man, strong enough in his moral convictions that you never doubt his intrinsic need to stay. Furthermore, you feel his pain each and every time he is rebuked by the people he spent years of his life keeping safe from harm. The narrative's parallels to the Hollywood Blacklist does not hinder its impact, relegating it to a bygone era, but rather makes it even more emotionally poignant. This is a classic Western with a strong ideological and emotional core, and one that is a must-see for anyone who loves film.

The In-Laws (1979) (image via Criterion)

For some reason I cannot fully explain, I have spent the last few years getting The Odd Couple and The In-Laws mixed up. In particular, I would often think it was the former film that has a place in the Criterion collection, when it is in fact the latter. This month, I decided to finally end my confusion by actually watching both films for the first time, and the evening I spent with these two classic comedies had me laughing more than I have in a long, long time. In choosing which one to talk about in this post, I have again--as with my Audrey Hepburn selection last month--chosen the one that is more obscure. In this case, the film is not critically maligned--I cannot imagine anyone actually disliking this film--and instead, most people have simply not seen it. This is unfortunate, because this is absolutely one of the funniest and most accomplished comedies I have had the pleasure of viewing. What struck me most about the film is how it cleverly subverts the classic straight man/funny man juxtaposition: Alan Arkin plays a straight-laced dentist who, upon meeting the father of his daughter's fiancee, is plunged into an international CIA conspiracy. Alan Arkin is seemingly the straight man to Peter Falk's zany CIA operative, but as anyone familiar with Falk--particularly from his role in Columbo--knows, his comedic style is markedly dry and understated. As a result, much of the comedy actually arises from Arkin's mania as Falk remains calm through the most ludicrous situations that he himself is responsible for, and the subverting of the trope just makes the film that much funnier.

Isle of Dogs (2018) (image via Den of Geek)
Way back in 2014 when I was first fostering an interest in movies, I watched all of Wes Anderson's films in a row, from Bottle Rocket straight through to The Grand Budapest Hotel. Not all of them became favorites, but those that did remain among my favorite films of all time. It has been a long wait to see a new film by this quirky director, but Isle of Dogs did not disappoint, and it reminded me of all of the reasons why I love Anderson's style of filmmaking. In particular, I was stunned by the level of detail in this film: this is the first of his films that I have seen in theaters, and the big-screen format really allows you to see every tiny detail in his immaculately crafted compositions. Some have said recently that Anderson's style was always meant for stop-motion, and I fully agree; even his characters seem better suited to this medium than live-action, with the awkward, sometimes stilted dialogue and characterization fitting perfectly with the equally awkward and stilted movements and designs of stop-motion puppets. There have been some complaints about the film's treatment of Japanese culture, and while I acknowledge that Anderson could have done a better job in this regard, I must admit that ultimately, this did not impact my enjoyment at all; from the opening exposition scene that is exquisitely told through woodblock printings, I accepted this film as a celebration of Japanese culture through the lens of an American filmmaker. His lens may be imperfect, but it is a celebration nonetheless, one which portrays Japan's rich cultural heritage with all of the care and precision viewers have come to expect from Anderson, and the result is sure to remain one of the most finely-crafted films of the year.

Yoyo (1965) (image via Criterion)

Sometimes the very best films are the ones you have never even heard of. I watched my first Tati this month, Mr. Hulot's Holiday, and while it was a fun film, it was not a new favorite of mine. I went into Yoyo expecting more of the same--the director, Pierre Étaix, is closely associated with Tati both in his real life and in the style of his films. Granted, the Tati film I watched is not considered to be his very best work, however I have difficulty believing even his masterpiece could surpass the genius I witnessed in Yoyo, one of the smartest, funniest, and most emotionally poignant films I have had the pleasure of viewing. The first segment models the style of silent cinema as it tells the story of a lonely millionaire who eventually loses his fortune and runs away to join the circus; the second segment introduces sound as we meet the man's son and are introduced to his dream of re-acquiring his father's villa and restoring it to its original brilliance; and the third segment introduces the tensions of television as the son realizes his dream, but soon finds himself plagued by the unhappiness of his father at the start of the film. Throughout these segments, humor is constantly juxtaposed with a sense of melancholy; this film, ostensibly about clowns, explores the clown as both a comedic and a tragic figure, and both edges of the emotional spectrum are traversed with ease. As the film ended, I was left breathless by the mastery of what I had just witnessed; this is the kind of film that demands re-watches in order to hone in on every little nuance and cinematic homage that is present, and even then it may prove difficult to catch all of them. With this one film, Étaix proves himself to be one of the all-time great film directors--and film actors, for that matter--and while his body of work is small, I aim to savor every minute of it once I purchase Criterion's box-set of his films.

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