The past couple of years I’ve compiled a top movie list for each year, taking care to point out that my schedule doesn’t often allow me to stay up-to-date on the most recent films and that the list of movies I offered dealt less with new features and more with whatever worthy films I managed to see that time period. In 2010, it so happened that while I saw more new films than in previous years, I didn’t see enough I that felt I could to put out a definitive top movie list. So I decided to swing completely to the other side of the spectrum and make a list of older films I saw for the first time this past year - and older films only.
The "Hitchcock Blonde" is a cinematic icon. Cool, clever, capable and, well, blonde, Alfred Hitchcock's vision of the ideal woman, embodied by the likes of Tippi Hedren, Kim Novak and Grace Kelly, is easily identifiable and completely indelible. I love the Hitchcock Blonde, honestly, and think that, for all the twisted sexual psychology that seem to have lurked under Hitchcock's impulses in creating it, it's a complicated and worthwhile example of femininity in film.
But one of Hitchcock's talents was infusing even the bit players in his films with personality and identity, and for all the attention his heroines get, many of his supporting women are interesting and charming. More importantly, several of them are their own archetype, an often under-appreciated one in classic film - pretty girls in glasses.
In 1941's Citizen Kane, journalist Thompson is on a quest to discover what the last uttered word of recently deceased media magnate and American cultural giant Charles Foster Kane means in the context of Kane's entire life. That final word, as breathlessly reported by newspapers and newsreels, is "Rosebud." However, Thompson's own employer believes the word itself is meaningless unless they can report and understand to what it refers. So Thompson interviews all of Kane's living associates, combs through the diaries of those who are not living, and doggedly pursues the key that he believes will unlock the secret of Kane himself: who, or what, was Rosebud? At the end of the film, even though all of the film's characters are still and will remain in the dark, the audience is let in on the secret. Rosebud - spoiler alert! - is Kane's childhood sled.
Growing up in the wilds of northeastern Ohio (and I mean that only slightly tongue-in-cheek), my exposure to independent and art film during my teenage years was limited to IFC and the painfully small local library selection. So it was a fairly exciting thing for me to finally, in my early twenties, make it to my first Cleveland International Film Festival. Barring weather or family emergency, I've gone back every year since. And, every year, I sit down and make a list of the films I'm interested in beforehand.
I'm preempting the promised Brick edition of Noir Monday because I managed to get to the theater to see Scorsese's Shutter Island. Proper noir it may not be, but it uses enough classic noir elements - and deliberately so - that it's worth talking about. Also, it just happens to be a good film.
First off, let's get the spoiler alerts out of the way. There's a significant plot twist at the end of this film, and I'm not going to take pains to avoid it. If you're allergic that type of thing, read no further. But I'm not going to go much into covering the plot anyway, because I can't really be bothered. In case it isn't desperately clear by this point, I don't do formal film criticism, folks - it's just me tossing out some thoughts. You're welcome to toss yours back in return.
On one level, Shutter Island is a throwback B-movie thriller made with A-list talent. On another level, it's a throwback B-movie thriller made with A-list talent. Which is a convoluted way of saying you can enjoy it just as a stylish and skillfully-made thriller or as a cinematic love letter to the classic genre film. It's no towering epic or profound statement. It's a thriller, in the full, movie-definition sense of the word. It could have used a bit more editing and/or restraint in places. But, of course, had it been more edited and restrained, it, and the audience, wouldn't be able to revel in those B-movie indulgences that made it such a fun theater experience in the first place.
When I started this series, there were two films I knew I couldn't avoid and which I was slightly anxious about covering because of their ubiquity and notoriety - the very things that made them unavoidable. They were Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity. Both foundational staples of film noir, both with powerful statements to make about women's societal roles, and both with so many years of accumulated baggage it's hard to say anything original about them anymore. But also both such genuinely great, continually rewarding films that it's worth a try to do so.
Double Indemnity began life as a James M. Cain novel, and, in the way I generally rank Cain novels and their movie versions (The Postman Always Rings Twice makes a better novel than movie, and Mildred Pierce is a pretty much a draw), Double Indemnity is a much better film than book. For my money, I have no reservations casting this in large part to the screenwriter Raymond Chandler. But Chandler is probably my favorite writer, so there you are.
It's the triumphant (hopefully) return of Noir Monday! I intend to keep it going this time, ideally biweekly, but no promises. Feel free to suggest a future film.
The source material of In a Lonely Place is one of the most well-known pieces of hardboiled mid-century fiction written by a woman (Dorothy B. Hughes). I've never read it. I'm wary of doing so. I saw the film well before I was aware of the book, and it made such a profound, indelible impression on me that I wasn't ever sure I wanted to risk complicating it with other versions of the story.
As I explained last year when I did a similar list, this is not a "best films of the year" list. For all my film fascination, I don't make it to the theater for first-run features all that often. Blame the kid. But, in no particular order, here are my favorites from the films I did manage to see this past year, regardless of their particular release dates.
After a couple of chance encounters with local independent filmmakers and a production company recently, I decided that I could do more to support and spotlight independent film in central Ohio. With first run of the Cowtown Film Series happening tonight, it seemed like a good opportunity to make good on that intent. So I got a hold of Peter John Ross, filmmaker and one of the main forces behind the series, to talk about not only this event but the independent film scene in Columbus.
There's a lot to recommend the ZOOM Family Film Festival this weekend, December 3-6, at the Wexner Center, and the fact that you're encouraged to show up Saturday morning in your pajamas for cartoons and cereal is the least of it. Well, you're encouraged if you're a kid. If you're not, you can still show up thus uniformed, but the results might not be as cute.
For years now I've been searching for a print of this rumored short film written and directed by Vincent D'Onofrio about the conception of Orson Welles's most famous line in the film The Third Man. It only screened on the festival circuit and wasn't available on DVD, so I had resigned myself to having missed this one for good. This morning, however, I finally stumbled across it online:
Two of this blog's favorite topics - film and design - get to dance around merrily together with the news that director Gary Hustwit, of Helvetica fame, is coming to Columbus to introduce his documentary on industrial design this Friday, May 15, at 7 PM & 9 PM, plus again on Saturday, May 16 at 7 PM, at the Wexner Center. I will be there, naturally. Look for a report on the film and director's comments early next week.
So since I'm kind of already a Cleveland International Film Festival cheerleader, I decided to make it official and become a titled Film Ambassador. And in my new "official" capacity, I would like to invite you to the Columbus preview party on March 6 at the Wexner Center. Here's the details:
We invite you and your friends to get a sneak peek of the 33rd Cleveland International Film Festival at the Official Columbus Preview Party.
Join Amy Juravich, Linda Taylor, and Clay Lowe of WOSU's “Open Line Weekend” along with guests from the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) and the Wexner Center for a special reception and screening of The Secret of the Grain. Tickets for the screening are $7 ($5 for Wexner Center members, students & senior citizens).
Friday, March 6th
Free reception begins at 6pm. Stay for the screening at 7pm the Wexner Center, 1871 North High Street
Enjoy free food, cash bar, chances to win cool prizes including CIFF All-Access passes and an overnight hotel stay, previews of this year’s films, and take home your very own CIFF program guide hot off the presses!
And a very special thanks to our Columbus partners: Wexner Center for the Arts, WOSU, The Other Paper, The Capital Magazine, and Whole Foods Market.
To RSVP, please e-mail Michele Mooney at email@example.com.
This is not exactly the type of list you might think it is. Most people, when writing about their top films of a certain year, reasonably confine themselves to writing about films that actually premiered in that year. But I possess a noisy, squirmy toddler, which makes theater-going almost impossible on a regular basis, and limits my film watching to not-quite-new films. So, here's a random list of the best movies I managed to see in 2008.
John Cusack does comedy tinged with tragedy (or perhaps vice versa) really well. Generally, he seems to go for romantic tragedy rather than any other kind, but whenever he gets close to tongue-in-cheek noir, it seems, to me, to be a perfect fit.
Zombies and girls (and zombie girls, and girl zombies, presumably) are in the film news lately - as well they should be.
I haven't even seen this documentary, Zombie Girl, yet, but already its star, Emily Hagins, is my new heroine. How could she not be? She's twelve years old, and she's directed her own full-length feature zombie movie. Check it out:
Also, io9's Annalee Newitz just produced an excellent piece on zombie feminism:
Along with other recent indie horror fare like Zombie Strippers, Deadgirl turns zombies into figures for militant social outcasts — preyed-upon women who return to wreak vengeance. Call it zombie feminism. It's a subgenre that goes back to the 1980s, and every time it dies, it just comes back stronger than ever.
The new film she's referring to is Deadgirl, which looks like a great arty horror film. (The trailer is at the io9 link - it's not overly explicit, but still might not be everyone's cup of tea.)
Question for discussion: is it a coincidence that as torture porn and its misogynistic appeal fades from the horror movie scene, there's a revival of female-centered revenge film?
Every Thursday for the next few weeks, hte Cowtown Film Series is featuring Ohio-grown independent films. $3 a show, or $10 for all of them, at the Screens at the Continent. Here's the trailer for tomorrow nights, Micky Fisher's Summer Nuts:
In another critical update to a film I've been dreading, although this one not so favorable, the reviews of The Women are out. And Chris Wisniewski's is priceless:
For English, The Women is undoubtedly (and mysteriously) a labor of love, but for Warner Brothers, its 2000-screen rollout is a cynical calculation that the same female audiences who turned out for The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City—starved of decent movies actually made for them—will choose to waste their hard-earned money on this dull and pedestrian bit of moviemaking instead of, say, contributing it to Hillary Clinton’s debt relief. This is the same brand of cynicism that landed everyone’s favorite hockey mom on the national Republican ticket: women will be so happy to see themselves finally represented, on the stump or onscreen, that they won’t really care about the substance of what they’re seeing—the candidate doesn’t have to be worthy; the movie doesn’t have to be good; they simply have to be.
I don't really argue with the linked article's argument - in fact, it's exactly right. But there's a missing piece to this discussion, and it's that taking stock of newspaper writing, especially newspaper cinema writing, is hardly taking an accurate picture of the present and and future of film criticism. The landscape isn't quite so bleak if you take into account the women writing about film on the web. Let's face it: for good or bad, newspapers are in a steady and probably irreversible decline. The web is where it's at. It's also where writers like Anne Thompson, Karina Longworth, Alison Willmore, and Dana Stevens are. It's also where I happen to be, a woman writing about film. For once, I'm going to put aside the righteous indignation and focus on optimism instead. It's not great that so few women critics are featured in today's newspapers. But it's not the end of the world, either.