Sunday, November 22, 2015

Nick's Flick Picks: The Force Awakens

What are those guys doing in Claire Denis's Beau travail? Has anyone ever figured that out?  My guess is that, after many years of assuming that my website would never get its act together, they have just found out there are long-postponed updates to the Top 100 listings, where I've recently celebrated Hiroshima mon amour, The Wages of Fear, and The Third Man, and to the Favorites countdown, where I've shared some of the backstory that led to my late-breaking ardor for Beau travail and Naked Lunch, both of which survived cool first impressions to become personal pets and central frames of reference for my book, The Desiring-Image.  (I've also, incidentally, re-programmed both features to ditch the cumbersome frames, streamline the html, and make for easier viewing on tablets as well as laptops. Hope that's all working on your end.)

I'm drafting another essay for work, and as usually happens when writing juices flow in one part of my life, they start moving in others as well. I've already written the next entries on both countdowns, so maybe I can keep some momentum going through the holidays. Some of you have been waiting on these for ten years!  Hope you'll share your thoughts about these posts and others soon to follow.

Subsequent entries added to Favorites: Crash, Walking and Talking, Eyes Wide Shut, Opening Night, Blonde Venus
Subsequent entries added to Top 100: Under the Sun of Satan

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Blogger N D said...

Truly delighted to see you adding to this list again. A giddy mixture of the recherché and the unexpectedly familiar, it's had quite an influence over the years on the films I've sought out. (I particularly remember chuckling at the inclusion of 'Home for the Holiday'; a childhood favourite of mine that I, naively, hadn't thought took up space in anyone else's imagination.)

I'd assumed the list was indefinitely paused, please do keep it going!

3:27 PM, November 22, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Truly delighted to hear this, N.D.! (To anyone else reading, I promise this is a different N.D., and I'm not just sending flowers to myself.) Would love to hear what else you've rented. Thanks so much for following along.

3:38 PM, November 22, 2015  
Blogger N D said...

Although my name is coincidentally similar to his, I also promise anyone reading that I’m not Nick Davis and am sending flowers of my own volition.

It’s actually quite hard to remember which reviews acted as direct prompts and which made for engrossing retrospection. The reviews I’ve most often returned to are probably the ones for Birth, the Solarises, The Hours, Kiss of the Spider Woman, the Woody Allen films, Irma Vep and – with the all deft paraphrasing how could I not? – I’m the One that I Want.

I love how the list interweaves memoir, academic theory and earnest fandom. I’m sometimes sceptical about the films themselves but rarely doubt the scrupulous detail you bring to describing why you find them so pleasurable, especially when the reasons are complex or elusive.

Oh, and the film I did a hairpin turn for and now consider a favourite: Velvet Goldmine. The TV guide suggested it was a mystery thriller/whodunit set in the 1980s. I needed a second viewing to understand why I should have been relieved they were only minimally correct.

11:33 AM, November 23, 2015  
Anonymous Arkaan said...

Haven't done an about face or anything, but I bought Velvet Goldmine because of Nick, so that means something, right?

7:54 PM, November 23, 2015  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Keep 'em coming! Blonde Venus has now raced to the top of my 'to-watch' list thanks to that amazing favourites entry!

As far as 'films checked out thanks to Nick', there are too many to name, but The Fall of the House of Usher (Watson/Webber), Pickup on South Street, The Docks of New York and Hyenas are ones that I probably wouldn't have encountered, and subsequently fallen in love with, without their placements on lists such as these.

3:46 AM, November 24, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@ND: What a lovely series of compliments. Thank you so much. I'm glad our tastes converge at so many points, and that you even like the entries where you feel skeptical of the film.

@Arkaan: Awwww. I hope you bought that spiffy Blu-ray that finally came out, after years of distributors and marketers treating Goldmine so badly!

@Jonathan: I wasn't kidding when I said the prospect of finally meeting you was one of the key prompts in finally defibrillating these lists. Nobody has been more encouraging of them. Thanks, as always! And I'm so impressed that you've dug up the relative obscurities.

7:18 AM, November 24, 2015  
Anonymous Peter said...

I'm so happy to see your adding to this list, especially since these recent additions are films that are mostly outside my radar. I'm a big Dietrich and Von Sternberg fan but I've never seen Blonde Venus, largely because Dietrich biographer Steve Bach flat out claimed it was the worst of the bunch. And despite my love for Denise I've yet to track down Beau Travail, though that has more to do with the fact that it's been hard to find. Also while I've heard of it, I've never actually met anyone who could tell me anything about Under the Sun of Satan, which sounds absolutely fascinating but unfortunately doesn't seem to be readily available either. To your write up of the Third Man I would add that the ending gets me every time.
Also because of Rowlands LONGE overdue honorary Oscar I've been watching highlights of her filmography and though I'd seen Opening Night, I really couldn't remember that much about it. While the Jury's out on Keaton's Oscar for Annie Hall, I find the rather mediocre ballot surrounding her bizarre when they had Rowlands, Minelli (New York, New York) and Duvall and Spacek (Three Women). Oh well, I guess that's typical. A Woman Under The Influence still holds pride of place, I think it's just one of the greatest performances of anything ever. Just awe inspiring.

Anyways, I hope you keep on adding.

7:05 PM, November 24, 2015  
Anonymous Evan said...

I am one of your fans who has been waiting to see these entries for ten years! As I've told you before, like many cinephiles I love top 100 lists, especially those made by critics/filmmakers I respect. It's particularly great to see so many new films that I never knew were favorites of yours. I'll be checking the blog in hopes that you find some time over the holiday season to update more. It is still a goal of mine to see every movie on your 100 favorites and bests lists.

8:12 PM, November 24, 2015  
Blogger James T said...

So glad you're working on the Best and Favorites again! I've seen Blonde Venus, Opening Night and Beau travail. I liked Venus but barely remember it even if it's only been two years at most since I saw it. I also liked Opening Night for its (perceived by me) emotional brutality and electrified atmosphere. No idea what I think of Beau travail. Like, yeah that guy was hot and the final few seconds are cool but I'm too shallow (or left-hemisphere-oriented or not-educated-enough) to grasp and, perhaps, appreciate things like framing, rythme, style and whatever is there that could give a certain feeling to a (in some sense) more advanced viewer. I hate it, though, when people just discard films like that just because they think they're just weird.
Gratitude and love.

1:39 AM, November 25, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Awwwww, thanks so much everybody. I'm really grateful for all this enthusiasm.

@Peter: My 1977 Best Actress ballot would look a lot like yours, as will only become more clear as we move up these lists. Very shortly, in fact.

@Evan: You, like Jonathan, deserve a bronze nameplate somewhere on these features. I so appreciate your avidity for these posts, and the e-mail you sent long ago during one big push up these mountains remains one of my favorite things I've ever received through the site. So glad you're still here and following along. Hope you're well!

@James T: "Emotional brutality and electrified atmosphere" is exactly right. So glad you're a fan... and glad, too, that we can admit to liking movies that are all but impenetrable the first time around, without just faling for the old trick that "if I don't understand it, it must be great."

Thanks again, and happy Thanksgiving, everybody! Writing the next Favorites entry now, having rewatched all the movies up through #15...

10:43 AM, November 26, 2015  
Anonymous Laika said...

You wait years for a feature to be updated, and then it hits you with an avalanche of personal favorites. Eyes Wide Shut, Blonde Venus, Walking and Talking, Crash, Naked Lunch... I speak this language! Clearly, based on the company it's keeping, I need to catch up with Opening Night, although I've always suspected we'd get along.

Love these write-ups, each and every one. Is it a function of approaching the top of the list or the gap between the last entries and these more recent ones that reflections on your academic career seem to be moving center stage?

And now the favorites list is almost done - the top of the mountain is in view! After the best actress triple-decathlon of a few years back, we know you can make it!

10:03 AM, November 28, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Laika: I've been realizing that, too, about the notable career-orientation of several of these films. I think it's kind of chicken/egg: I probably can't help thinking more in those terms now, ten years after starting this list (!!!), then I would have when I started, but I also wound up pulling a lot of these films into my research projects and teaching because I found them so intellectually and artistically stirring. I'm so glad I wrote a dissertation and a book about things I actually love! The former chair of the department where I did my Ph.D. told us point blank once that she makes it a policy to only write about texts she hates, and everybody should march to their own drummer, but that would get me way, way down. Looking ahead to the movies that are coming, I'd say about a third or maybe a half connect in meaningful ways to my teaching experiences and academic work. So you'll hear a little more in that vein, but also about pet movies that have never come near a syllabus.

Thanks so much for chiming in, and so glad you're already a convert to so many of these films. It's a "Favorites" countdown of a whole other kind when all my favorite, endlessly patient commenters turn back up to cheer me on. Great to hear from you! I'm going to go revise #18 now, though the cat's been out of the bag on that one for a while...

10:28 AM, November 28, 2015  
Blogger N D said...

I’ve loved all the recent write-ups, particularly for ‘Walking and Talking’. It sounds exactly like the film I’ve wanted Holofcener’s later work to be.

If I had to pick a film that I find oddly comforting, it would probably be Patrice Chéreau’s ‘Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train’. Chéreau isn’t exactly noted for his optimism about people’s relationships with one another, amorous or otherwise, but this has some of my favourite moments of camaraderie on film. Not that the ensemble cast miss an opportunity to be rebarbative while journeying - by train, as per the title - to the funeral of a minor artist whose favour they all anxiously pursued during his lifetime, often to one another’s detriment. Most of the characters are wrapped up in their own griefs, paranoias and resentments but while Chéreau is characteristically beady about how people trip each other up, his attitude here is patient and equanimous. I’m pretty sure it’s his only film where characters genuinely delight in being among friends.

My affection for the film is tied to the memory that as a teenager it was one of the first films in which I saw gay men dealing with life’s ordinary adult ambivalences rather than either anguishing over coming out or seeking their perfect mate. Pascal Greggory’s measured, droll pragmatism in the lead role became, for a time, a personal touchstone of mature confidence, although I came to realise the performance was both chillier and more vulnerable than I had originally realised.

Even though I sometimes find the emotional pitch a bit grating, I’m always deeply impressed by how affirming ‘Those Who Love Me…’ feels in its portrayal of life carrying on and people going their separate ways after a brief, intense convergence. Great soundtrack, too.

4:00 PM, November 28, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@ND: What a rich and welcome recommendation. Thank you. I've owned that DVD forever but have never actually watched it, and this glorious, detailed comment is perfect incentive. I have a bit of a weakness for Charles Berling, too, which ought to help. Once again, I really appreciate you piping up with such energizing commentary during this feature. And I especially value the way you convey what you love about the film and also how it's made different impressions on you at different times you've returned to it. That used to freak me out about favorite movies - the sense that I'd misremembered or misunderstood them, or internalized a perspective that didn't quite match the evidence before me - but now I think it's my favorite part of the experience.

4:22 PM, November 28, 2015  
Anonymous Arkaan said...

My “hey reader” responses
a) Savoring the unsavory: Okay, 1960s Japanese Cinema is positively batshit insane. And one of the most unexpectedly batshit insane entrants was Thirst for Love. I’ve only seen it once, but it has this raging lust that has seared itself in my mind. It’s so melodramatic. I will also say that the recent television version of Hannibal speaks to me in ways that I’d rather not explore.

b) The Lady Vanishes is probably my favourite Hitchcock and it’s a perfect movie to get the spirits lifted. It’s just so spritely.

c) Okay, Eyes Wide Shut….. I got into classic films in my preteens and when a local theatre started screening old films, I went fairly frequently. My parents would often accompany me (being 12-3) and we saw The Bridge on the River Kwai, Singin’ in the Rain and many others that way. Anyway, that’s where I saw A Clockwork Orange….as a 14 year old…with my mother. She was seriously freaked out and grounded me from going to the movies without her (and really, in general).

Anyway, that’s the preamble. I’m now 15 and I’m visiting my two uncles in Washington DC. And I’m super stoked about Eyes Wide Shut. The trailer was so titillating. The score was so weird and confusing. I really wanted to see it. But it was rated-R and not in a “they’ll-let-you-in-anyway” R either. So I got one of my uncles to take me. But here’s the “I’m a teenage asshole” twist. My uncle was a newly arrived immigrant from East Africa who didn’t speak a lot of English (my other uncle, of course, would know better and would totally rat me out). After this strange, alluring, fascinating film, his first words were “don’t tell your mom.” I’m pretty sure he felt guilty for that for about a decade before he finally told my mom, who laughed and said that she blamed me entirely for that.

d) Joseph Losey made many stronger films, but I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Time Without Pity. It’s refreshingly adult (something that can describe all his films). Along with Basil Drearden and Dirk Bogarde, they basically

e) favorite serious-ludicrous Hollywood classic? Definitely Lost Horizon. It takes forever to get to its main story line. It’s silly and ornate and …. I’ve seen it over a dozen times.

1:21 PM, November 29, 2015  
Blogger N D said...

My pleasure, glad to return to the favour! I agree that one of the best aspects of film fandom is how, over time, cherished movies begin to 'read' you.

Also re: Charles Berling, he's paired in the film with Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi. I'm not sure why they aren't cast together more often, they're such a convincingly sad-eyed couple. (Then again, perhaps that's the reason.)

3:58 PM, November 29, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Arkaan: You've outdone yourself! Thanks so much for these responses, especially the great Eyes Wide Shut story. When I was a teenager on an Army base in Germany, I had a habit of acquiring "aunts" and "uncles" and "family friends" in line at the movie theater to see R-rated films that I otherwise had no prayer of getting into. I could tell the box-office guy resented these myths, especially after I'd summoned them so many times, with so much different company, but he mostly seethed and let it happen. Only later did I find out this guy was a soldier in the battalion my father commanded, who must have thought I was consciously exploiting the prerogative of the commander's son, and getting away with murder because I knew he had little choice. This is mortifying in retrospect, as I truly had no idea, but I'm glad my conscience wasn't quite that embattled in line for Madonna: Truth or Dare or Misery or I might have done the same but felt worse about myself. Anyway, love the story... and I've still never seen Lost Horizon, or almost any Losey, except the transfixingly bonkers Secret Ceremony and one or two others. So these are genuine recommendations I won't forget. Cheers!

4:36 PM, November 29, 2015  

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