Watched in 2022 – Week 2

Week two of the new year was much like week one for my film watching. I placed a heavy priority on making a dent in my personal Criterion collection that I have not yet watched. This will undoubtedly be an ongoing project as I have fallen quite behind on my watching. Additionally, with the final best of 2021 lists hitting this week, I spent supplemented my Criterion diet with a steady stream of 2021 films that the critics I follow suggested.

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959, Dir. Alain Resnais)

Review: 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' - Chicago Tribune

Alain Resnais’s French New Wave feature is an exploration of the things in which all is fair: love and war. Emmanuelle Riva plays an unnamed French woman in Hiroshima to act in a movie that is using the location to tell a story of piece. In the last days of her shoot she meets a Japanese man – played by Eiji Okada – and the two fall instantly in love. From that set up, the film follows the two around the city for 24 hours as they discuss what Hiroshima, and the bomb, means to them along with their experiences in love and their longing to stay together. The film relies heavily on passion, not just between the characters but the passion that each actor is able to impart upon the role. The “will they won’t they” push and pull between the two creates stellar drama and is only capable of doing so because the film is so well acted.

Wings of Desire (1987, Dir. Wim Wenders)

Five visual themes in Wings of Desire – Wim Wenders' immortal film about  watching | BFI

Wings of Desire is a wonderful meditation on humanity from German auteur Wim Wenders. The story of an angel Damiel (Bruno Ganz) who so loves the humans that he observes as part of his angelic purpose that he choses to forfeit his immortality and live as one of them. The fallen angel story may be what the film ultimately builds to, but it makes up relatively little of the actual runtime. Instead Wenders spends the first three quarters of the film in Damiel’s angelic shoes watching humans and hearing their inner thoughts through voice over. This cinematic decision to spend so much time from a voyeuristic works perfectly for the medium of film and can even be seen as a loving tribute to the cinematic experience.

Bitter Rice (1949, Dir. Giuseppe De Santis)

Bitter Rice (1949) | The Criterion Collection

Giuseppe De Santis made an Italian film that felt at home with the output of Hollywood in his 1949 feature Bitter Rice. Leaning heavily on the noir sensibilities that were prominent at the time the film tells the story of Francesca (Doris Dowling) a woman who upon committing a burglary with her partner Walter (Vittorio Gassman) finds cover by joining the annual rice harvest done exclusively by women. It is there that she meets Silvana (Silvana Mangano) and the three of their futures become entangled. The setting of a women only provides a uniqueness to the crime story. It centers the story around female friendships and is the better for it.

The World to Come (2021, Dir. Mona Fastvold)

The World to Come' Review - Variety

The lesbian period drama is undeniably cliched by this point, but when they are done well, they can still be moving. The World to Come is a lesbian period drama done well. Much of that is due to the aft directorial hands of Mona Fastvold.  She focuses on the intense longing between Abigail (Katherine Waterston) and Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) rather than any of the physicality they experience. This results in a passionate forbidden love story that titillates the senses without exposing a single breast. The World to Come is one of the most emotionally riveting films of the last year.

Swan Song (2021, Dir. Todd Stephens)

Movie legend Udo Kier is a hairdresser on a quest in the trailer for Swan  Song |

Watching Udo Kier dance to Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” is one of the most fun moments cinema in 2021 had to offer. In Swan Song, he plays Pat and aging, gay, retired hairdresser who is propositioned to come out of retirement for one last job doing a deceased woman’s hair for her funeral. This excuse to leave his nursing home sets Pat on a trip down memory lane as he regains his sense of self. Kier makes this movie as special as it is. In story and direction, the film may be unremarkable, but Kier’s performance elevates the film with his wonderful camp and charisma.

The Worst Person in the World (2021, Dir. Joachim Trier)

The Worst Person in the World

Julie – played miraculously by Renate Reinsve – is not the worst person in the world; in fact, she is no different than many 30-year-old millennials. She speaks out a little more than the older generations find comfortable, and she makes some questionable decisions. They just all come along with the uncertainty in life that this generation feels. Director Joachim Trier captures the listlessness of the quarterlife crises that has extended well past its appropriate end date. As the film progresses, it leans heavier on Reinsve. The emotions become stronger as her life becomes more complicated and Reinsve delivers at every moment.

All Light, Everywhere (2021, Dir. Theo Anthony)

All Light, Everywhere movie review (2021) | Roger Ebert

All Light, Everywhere is the new documentary by Theo Anthony examining human bias and blind spots specifically through the lens of police body cameras. The imperfections of the police body cameras are clearly stated by the film: the cameras are “watching what happened to them [the police officers] but not what they did”. This imperfection in the visual prophet obscures facts about events in ways that stack the deck for the police officers. The film waxes on philosophically about the nature of vision and captured image in between the moments more directly related to police observation, but the connection is at times nebulous, and the film comes across as rather naval gazey.

A Woman Under the Influence (1974, Dir. John Cassavetes)

Find Cassavetes Confusing? Start Here - The New York Times

Mable (Gena Rowlands) is under many influences. These start superficially with her drunken escapades, but eventually the influences become more nebulous. Her roles as a mother and wife weigh down on her as does some good old fashioned mental illness. Rowlands plays this overwhelming break on her psyche over the top, but the performance never feels of camp. Instead, her performance feels like the only appropriate way to play her character’s ailment. It comes across as both exaggerated and grounded at the same time. The actions she is making may be extreme, but the emotion and fear behind them strike as true.

Mon Oncle (1958, Dir. Jacques Tati)

Mon Oncle (1958) directed by Jacques Tati • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd

I am going to be honest, I do not really get the Monsieur Hulot films. They have their moments, and Mon Oncle is no different, but they just feel like low energy Charlie Chaplin films. Hulot as a protagonist is so passive that when funny things happen around him, they are often shrugged off with out really playing into the absurdity. This leads to a film that surely arouses some chuckles but never any uproarious laughter.

The Last Duel (2021, Dir. Ridley Scott)

The Last Duel' Ending, Explained - Was Marguerite Telling The Truth? | DMT

The first of two Ridley Scott films in 2021 tells the graphic story of two friends turned enemies who are set on a course to battle each other to the death in 14th century France. The film is told through the Rashômon trope of telling the same story through different viewpoints. That being of the two rivals, Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) and Carrouges’s wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer). The Rashômon style adds a flare that the otherwise cut and dry period drama would be lacking and keeps the film’s pace up despite the two and a half hour runtime. It’s always a risk to directly compare your film to a classic, but it worked well for Scott in The Last Duel.

Watched in 2022 – Week 1

While in 2021 I attempted to, and succeeded in for half a year, watch and write about one film a day, I know that I’m not quite in the place to do that this year, so instead I’m going to attempt to watch one film a day but just write up a weekly report on what I watched. After a mad dash to watch as many 2021 films as I could in December, I decided that January would be something very different. There are dozens of Criterion films that I own but have not watched, and this month I am going to make a dent in that number. Though, while my 2021 movie binge for my year end list may be over, I make it a priority each year to see every film nominated for an Oscar, so I will be sneaking some newish releases in with my Criterion binge.

Léon Morin, Priest (1961, Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville)

Léon Morin, Priest (1961) | MUBI

Set in WWII occupied France, Léon Morin, Priest stars Emmanuelle Riva as Barny, an atheist woman who becomes ennamored with the local Catholic priest Léon Morin played by Jean-Paul Belmondo. The film includes some light slice of life moments for Barny as she works and raises her daughter, but once she meets Morin the film focuses almost entirely on the evening meetups between the two and the transformative effect it has on Barny. While religion plays a major role in the film and Morin quotes scripture at time, Léon Morin, Priest never feels preachy towards its audience. Rather than attempt to spread the gospel outwards, director Jean-Pierre Melville focuses on the relationship between the two leads.

Rosetta (1999, Dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

Rosetta (1999) - IMDb

The Palme winning Rosetta from brother directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is a masterclass in narrative cinéma vérité. The film follows Rosetta portrayed masterfully by Émilie Dequenne as she jumps from working class job to job in search of one that will keep her. Shot entirely handheld, the camera spends the entire runtime fixated on Rosetta. This shaky style imparts a level of urgency on the story as Rosetta struggles to find a lasting job to secure her housing. The Dardenne’s frequently focus their films on the trials of the working class, and their depiction of it has never seemed as desperate as it does in Rosetta.

Jane B. by Agnès V. (1988, Dir. Agnès Varda)

Jane B. par Agnes V.': Film Review – The Hollywood Reporter

Agnès Varda was one of the most unique documentarians to ever touch the medium and in Jane B. by Agnès V. she tackled the cinematic portrait for actress Jane Birkin. While most cinematic portraits are created largely in the editing room by borrowing from previous interviews and cinematic works, Varda decided to shoot everything new. This meant not only new interviews but shooting scenes from fake movies to fill the time. This distinctive choice blends well with the trademark of Varda’s documentaries: how she inserts herself as a character. In all her documentaries, Varda plays the audience surrogate seeking out knew knowledge with an eager disposition. This self-insertion would become more pronounced in her later documentaries, but it still shines through her.

All About Eve (1950, Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

All About Eve is a perfect feminist film – how did the play get it so  wrong? | Drama films | The Guardian

The best picture winner at the 1951 Academy Awards, All About Eve is filled with amazing performances – it received five acting Oscar nominations – but it is the man behind the scenes who deserves most of the credit. Joseph L. Mankiewicz penned one of the all-time great screenplays in addition to directing it masterfully. The character of Eve (Anne Baxter) is wonderfully duplicitous as she connives her way to fame all with a demure smile upon her face, and while Baxter does an amazing job, it’s Mankiewicz’s prose that truly elevates the film. All About Eve is a wonderful piece of classic Hollywood delivered by one of the most renowned writers.

The Gold Rush (1925, Dir. Charles Chaplin)

On This Day | The Jethro Tull Forum

One of the classic Charlie Chaplin films, The Gold Rush delivers some of the best physical comedy that the acclaimed actor director would ever produce.While not the most culturally relevant film Chaplin would make The Gold Rush is arguably one of the funniest films that he would. Moments like Chaplin and Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain) eating away at Chaplin’s shoe (and Chaplin’s character going without a right shoe the rest of the film because of it) or the two of them trying desperately not to fall out of the house which has found itself precariously perched over a mountain bring plenty of laughs.

Veronika Voss (1982, Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

Veronika Voss in Vancouver | Current | The Criterion Collection

Part of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy exploring post war Germany, Veronika Voss does so more by allegory than anything direct. Rosel Zech plays the titular Veronika, a movie star who had a thriving career during the war years but has since fallen on hard times. Fassbinder’s direction compares Voss’s struggles to that of the German people. Her struggles with addiction as Dr Katz (Annemarie Düringer) takes advantage of her reflects how the German people who were not guilty of war crimes must have felt during that period. Outside of the Allegory, Veronika Voss works as an effective noir film with Robert (Hilmar Thate) as sports journalist playing the detective role. The mystery of Voss’s predicament and the way in which it quickly accelerates makes for riveting filmmaking.

Being the Ricardos (2021, Dir. Aaron Sorkin)

Being the Ricardos' examines why we love Lucille Ball (and Nicole Kidman) |  Star Tribune

In the new offering by Aaron Sorkin, he uses the week of I Love Lucy rehearsals after Lucille Ball was interviewed under suspicion of being a communist to tell the story of the acclaimed actor’s life. Nicole Kidman plays Ball in a performance that is the clear highlight of the film. Kidman is transformative in her portrayal of the 50s icon. This acting performance is held back by a rare weak screenplay from the Oscar winner. The non-linear aspects to the story and the intercuts to older versions of characters explaining what the film just or would show causes the flow of the film to come to an abrupt halt at multiple times.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 270

I don’t know what to say, but mental health is really hard. The way that my depression shows itself is by making me unable to participate in the things that I love. And I love film. Today I set out to start getting back in the habit by sitting down and forcing myself to watch something. It felt like more of a chore than I would have liked but getting back in the habit is worth it.

The Night of the Hunter (1955, Dir. Charles Laughton)

The Night of the Hunter | The Film Noir Report

I return to this project by checking off a huge blind spot. While The Night of the Hunter may not have been released to immediate critical acclaim – the film received zero Oscar nominations – in the 65 years that have followed Charles Laughton’s only directorial outing has become revered as one of cinema’s all-time greats. The morbid story of two children whose parents are both killed over a large sum of money and the crazed priest who stocks had a lasting impact. The tension that was built is all encompassing.

Much of that tension comes from the performance of Robert Mitchum as the priest and former convict Harry Powell. He builds a convincing argument as a stable preacher who can be trusted with the raising of two children. The second he is alone with the kids he turns his performance into a man to be feared. This dual faced performance is the clear highlight of the film, and his hymnal singing in the middle of the night is a lasting, haunting moment.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 245

It was difficult to choose a film to watch today that would work with the soundtrack from yesterday’s film still ringing in my ears. While I couldn’t think of anything to watch that would match the eccentricity of Annette, one film did stick out in my mind as an apt follow up for different reasons. After two and a half hours highlighted by some of Marion Cotillard’s singing, I decided to visit the acting, and singing, performance for which she has her Oscar.

La Vie En Rose (2007, Dir. Olivier Dahan)

La Vie en Rose (2007) directed by Olivier Dahan • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd

I am going to be honest; I do not have much to say about this movie. I have spent many of these daily entries talking about the pitfalls of the standard Biopic. La Vie En Rose falls for each and every one of them. By attempting to tell the entire life story of Édith Piaf, the film is an unwieldy 140 minutes, yet no part of the signer’s life is given adequate screen time. The film is left feeling both bloated and slight at the same time. Jumping back and forth between eras doesn’t do the film any benefits and leads to more confusion. This is a technique that can work well for Biopics that choose to focus on exactly two times in the character’s life, but since La Vien En Rose is all encompassing, this technique just muddles plot points, especially as the age difference between Ediths diminishes.

For all my misgivings about La Vie En Rose, I can not begrudge it the Oscars that it won. Marion Cotillard is brilliant in the lead performance, and her voice carries the film through its many musical moments. Similarly, the makeup department winning makes a lot of sense. Cotillard plays Piaf from the young age of 19 (Cotillard was 32 at the time) to age 47 where Piaf suffering from serious liver damage looked twice as old. The makeup department was responsible for this range to be possible.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 244

Sorry for missing a few days again. I had to deal with a personal emergency of which the details I will keep to myself. I’m doing my best to distract myself by returning to normal with these reviews, but I may miss a day or two when the pain is stronger. Sad news aside, today I returned to 2021 releases for one of the films that I’ve been looking forward to the most.

Annette (2021, Dir. Leos Carax)

Annette: New Trailer Reveals Release Date for Upcoming Musical

9 years after creating the masterpiece Holy Motors, Leos Carax returns to the world of cinema to create Annette, a similarly ambitious film that’s slightly more grounded in plot with significantly more singing. Carax once again leans much more into spectacle than substance, and while that made for a masterpiece in his prior film, the slightly more conventional Annette gets occasionally lost in the outrageous style.

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star as Henry and Ann two highly successful artists working in very different mediums – Henry a comedian and Ann an opera singer – who are in love. They eventually marry and give birth to Annette, a very peculiar child. Not long after, disaster strikes, and Annette is bestowed a gift/curse. The plot of Annette is rather basic and not deserving of the 140-minute runtime, but the plot is not really the point. Annette lives and dies by its near constant musical pieces written by the Sparks brothers. These pieces fill in the holes in the film’s plot and create a cohesive whole worthy of the extended length.

It is easy to get lost in the simplicity of the story being told in Annette but doing so would be a disservice to the film. The Sparks brothers’ musical talents are on full display throughout the film starting with ‘So May We Start’ the opening song which also happens to be the film’s catchiest. While no other song lives up to that first number, the music is appropriate considering the rest of the film and still appealing enough to put the soundtrack on repeat for this reviewer.

In addition to the musical elements, Carax creates a unique viewing experience through creative editing, heightened production design, and uncompromised vision. The film has an almost enchanting quality to it as one is easily sucked up into the world that Carax is spinning. It leaves a viewer with a haunting afterglow that lasts well into the next day.