Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Website that Went Up a Hill and, Ten Years Later, Came Down a Mountain



Updated, Dec. 30: And at long last... it's a wrap!

Original, Nov. 28: Wow. Even I didn't expect to be this productive.  When I decided a week ago to update the Favorites Countdown, a project that's been gestating on my site for literally ten years, I was responding to a few prompts. I've been pushing through one more essay for my job, having submitted three already in the last six months, and finding that my prose was getting more abstruse and congested. (Trust me, my editors agreed.) Writing more for the site usually coaches me back to less fussy, more avid self-expression.  I wanted more new content to show to anyone dropping in from my new gig at Film Comment, or from one I hope to start soon at Sight & Sound.  I was reluctant to show my face to Jonathan Storey, whom I'll finally meet this week, and who sent me a hand-written letter from the UK well over a year ago imploring me to wrap up this loose end. I couldn't even bear to show my face to myself if I actually let the project take more than a decade. Having written eight new entries inside of a week, I'm suddenly in striking distance of that goal.

Some time ago, I'd posted a version of the new entry on Junebug, hoping it might help me finish if I just wrote up the movies as I re-screened them, rather than honoring their order on the list. But that seemed confusing, and didn't work, anyway. Now that the revised entry is posted, the remaining 17 are all relative surprises, though I admit I'm curious: since several of you have been sweet enough to follow the site for years, how much of what's coming do you think you've deduced? I sometimes feel I talk about the same movies all the time, regardless of context, so I'm curious if I've tipped my hand more than I realize.

I'll also fess up that these last 17 films were all, at some point, in the endlessly shuffled Top 10, where any of them could still be plausible. The "ranking" aspect of this list is silly even by ranking standards, especially given the codicil that I'm omitting all the movies on my re-energized Top 100. (To keep from bewildering everybody, I'm going to pause on updates there while I finish the updates here.) There's no question that any list of my favorite-favorite movies would include The Piano, When Harry Met Sally..., Safe, Morvern Callar, Aliens, Harlan County USA, and several other movies you'll eventually find on that other roster, which pretends to disentangle aesthetic merit from personal bias.  So, probably none of the next and final 17 Favorites are the movies I name first when pressed at parties for my desert-island trove.  At the same time, I'd definitely want all of them on that desert island, #17 as much as #1.

The last thing to stipulate, given how long I've taken, is that I haven't altered the titles on the Favorites countdown to include any movies released after 2005, when I got going. A year or two into the saga, during the first Dormant Period, I shuffled a few out (still archived at the bottom of the sidebar scroll) and some new ones in, including Dave Chappelle's Block Party, Junebug, and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, all quite new at the time. There is one more Favorite of comparable vintage still to come, and one more fugitive from the former Top 100 list that moved over here when Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind migrated in the opposite direction. By all rights, several movies from my last decade of moviegoing should be here: Margaret, Prodigal Sons, Sleeping Beauty, Fish Tank, Deep Water, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and The Heat all spring to mind as likely contenders. But lest anyone wonder, I wanted to give you the feature you've been awaiting all this time, not some weird Blade Runner/New World amalgam of the original, the rough cut, and the changes I now wish I'd administered all along.

So, without further ado—but also with protracted, belabored surfeits of ado, which I thank you so much for indulging—here are the final 17 movies I hope you'll take to your hearts as I have to mine, if you haven't already... and I hope, too, that you'll keep sharing reactions and personal pets in the Comments!

1. Pola X (1999, dir. Leos Carax)
2. Velvet Goldmine (1998, dir. Todd Haynes)
3. The Way We Were (1973, dir. Sydney Pollack)
4. The Portrait of a Lady (1996, dir. Jane Campion)
5. Dog Day Afternoon (1975, dir. Sidney Lumet)
6. Frances (1982, dir. Graeme Clifford)
7. The Bridges of Madison County (1995, dir. Clint Eastwood)
8. 11'09"01 (2002, dirs. Miscellaneous)
9. Ocean's Eleven (2001, dir. Steven Soderbergh)
10. Grizzly Man (2005, dir. Werner Herzog)
11. Cape Fear (1991, dir. Martin Scorsese)
12. The China Syndrome (1979, dir. James Bridges)
13. Strange Days (1995, dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
14. Blackboards (2000, dir. Samira Makhmalbaf)
15. The Cell (2000, dir. Tarsem Singh)
16. You Can Count on Me (2000, dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
17. demonlover (2002, dir. Olivier Assayas)
18. Junebug (2005, dir. Phil Morrison)
19. Crash (1996, dir. David Cronenberg)
20. Walking and Talking (1996, dir. Nicole Holofcener)
21. Eyes Wide Shut (1999, dir. Stanley Kubrick)
22. Opening Night (1977, dir. John Cassavetes)
23. Blonde Venus (1932, dir. Josef von Sternberg)
24. Beau travail (1999, dir. Claire Denis)
25. Naked Lunch (1991, dir. David Cronenberg)

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39 Comments:

Blogger Colin Low said...

Love this series so much. Love love love. In the past few years, I've spiralled into a materialism-induced funk about the value of movies and then clawed my way out, and now that I'm back on the other side again, projects like these just buoy me with their utter joy, their sheer belief in the pleasures that movies can offer. Thank you so much for it.

In any case, because guessing games are fun, I'll take a stab at what movies still await: I'm thinking Velvet Goldmine is the transfer from your Best 100. I wonder if you still have Bridges of Madison County as your beloved Meryl movie, especially since your estimation of it seemed to fall in a more recent go-through. For similar nostalgic reasons, I'm guessing The Way We Were might also have a shot at making your Fave 17. And it's too bad this list is a time-capsule of where you were circa 2005, or I'm sure A Star is Born would have made it near the very peak (although that Judy tribute you wrote is hard to top).

8:14 PM, November 28, 2015  
Anonymous BVR said...

You're write-up on Junebug is amazing. It encapsulates everything I originally loved about the movie. Every actor in it is so specific and sublime in it.

Can't wait to see the final countdown, and I peeked in to comment just so you know I'm watching, if only silently sometimes.

P.S. Fish Tank! Would love to see a lengthier writeup about that movie. Your twitter capsules always act like cliffhangers.

9:34 PM, November 28, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Colin: Music to my ears. Thank you so, so much. I'm so glad the joy is coming through, even as I realize I'm finding Favorites in some pretty hopeless places. (And please keep in touch and let me know what all you're up to!)

@BVR: Thanks for the kind words about the Junebug piece. I'm much happier with this version than the previous one. Do you revisit the film much, or is it at this point a fond memory? You're so right about every actor being specific and exquisite in it.

10:33 PM, November 28, 2015  
Blogger James T said...

Besides the love for movies and their connection to life that is evident in your writing, I'll never get tired of your reminding me of the beauty of language and its use for making specific what most of us keep in our minds as abstract appreciation. [/pretentious, barely coprehensible sentence]

I watched both Crash and Junebug movies because of you. I don't remember what I thought of Crash but I certainly didn't feel strongly about it. I think I was a bit disgusted but only image-wise without that making me think less or more of the film.

I liked Junebug but definitely didn't love it. I mostly remember a sigh of relief when I felt that George realized (or knew all along) that he wasn't as decent as he pretended to be and that a kind of cathartic process had started for him by the end of the movie. Perhaps I also felt some envy towards Davidtz's character in certain scenes but I would never admit that.

6:05 AM, November 29, 2015  
Anonymous Laika said...

I can't resist a guessing game, even though I'm terrible at them. I was waiting for Walking and Talking to show up, so I got one right so far, but the idiosyncrasy of the Favorites list is a large part of its appeal.

Movies I'd bet biggest on: Dog Day Afternoon and Borzage's 7th Heaven.

I have the nineties Cape Fear lodged in my brain as a significant favorite for you, but I can't remember where from or why or if it still rates. I'd have guessed The Bridges of Madison County, except it seemed to slip significantly last time you watched it, so... how faithful are you being to 2005? The Portrait of a Lady is Campion swinging for the fences as a follow up to The Piano, a film I think of as NFP's rosetta stone. Plus, peak Kidman and Hershey. I've been wondering if it would feature for a while, but I love it so much it might just be wild projection.

Give the absence (so far) of entires 97-99 on the 2008 Best list on the revised version, I wonder if Daughters of the Dust or Talk to Her might be the migrant?

Random thought bubbles: Searching for Bobby Fischer. The Stepford Wives. Gone with the Wind. Stage Door.

Cue your rousing rendition of 'Poker Face'.

As an aside, this revival seems like a great opportunity to thank you for your Bests and Favorites lists, both for the films they have led me to reassess (Van Sant's Psycho first among many others) and more importantly for the films they led me to in the first place: Marat/Sade, Morvern Callar, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Sherman's March, Peel, Female Perversions, Claudine, Vanya on 42nd Street, Cemetery Man and, of course, Home for the Holidays, now firmly established as a household tradition. I have a long list of films still to see drawn from these lists, with Georgia and Opening Night right at the top. So if I'm hoping for anything from the rest of the favorites, it's a film I don't yet know I love.

10:45 AM, November 29, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@James: Even by your standards, that is a lovely compliment. As Colin was saying above, I have my own moments of feeling like this much movie-obsession could only possibly come at the cost of attending to life (and let's be honest, in many ways it does), but I don't think that's the whole or even the primary truth, and I'm glad that comes through. I can't imagine what you specifically envied in Davidtz's life, and I'm sure it had nothing to do with air-mattress shenanigans.

@Laika: Another wonderful compliment! Love that list of movies. I know it would seem obvious that if people regularly read your site they might take some of your recommendations, but I somehow never think that way, and it's very gratifying to feel like a relay-point for movies that mean as much to me as all of those do. I somehow didn't get around to watching Home for the Holidays yet this season, but let's assume it'll happen. Especially excited to see the relative rarities in that list, like Sherman's March, Peel, and Female Perversions. As for your predictions, "Poker Face" indeed, but you're on several good tracks.

12:13 PM, November 29, 2015  
Anonymous Peter said...

Davidtz was cast one DAY before filming? As amazing as Adams is in that film (it actually remains my favorite performance of hers to this day) Davidtz IMO is the real anchor of that film. From her first glance across the room to the final motion of her hand in the car, each moment to moment beat is so clearly expressed and conveyed in such a legato un-showy fashion that I find her to be the most captivating person. My opinion of the her character changes in virtually every seen based on how she's playing off of her fellow actors. Remarkable really. It's obvious that Oscars tend not to go for that kind of performance, most reviewers just flat out ignored her. Her thunder was so totally stolen by Adams with regard to how to film was received that I unfairly held that against Adams for the longest time.

Also, can't wait to read about your 1977 ballot.

1:39 PM, November 29, 2015  
Anonymous Peter said...

Also want to add that the opening of Junebug through the credits is one of my favorite openings in any film.

And it really frustrates me how under loved Demonlover is. For such an unpleasant film it's actually very watchable and I've seen it so many times.

1:53 PM, November 29, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Peter: I completely, completely agree. Davidtz is so remarkable in the movie and was so under-recognized that I catch myself feeling very defensive on her behalf. The whole ensemble is flawless. I'm thrilled that critics, audiences, and awards voters bent over backwards to recognize the all-but-unknown Adams in such a tiny, peculiar little project, but having screened the film for her, how did they miss everyone else? (And in a year where all the awards groups, including the Oscars, were running at such a low tide for persuasive Best Actress contenders: hello!) Davidtz shares a great commentary track with Adams on the DVD, which makes them both seem marvelous and clearly besotted with the film; in the early going, she reveals that she was a last-minute replacement for some other Madeleine who abruptly dropped out, and had only a day to prepare her first scene. Only makes me respect her more.

So glad you like demonlover, too, especially because it makes me feel less nuts for harboring equal enthusiasm for such utterly different films!

3:55 PM, November 29, 2015  
Anonymous Peter said...

I continue to harbor special affection for Huffman in Transamerica, even if it's far from a perfect performance. But still 2005 has to maybe best the worst, or the least interesting (not the same thing IMO), best actress Ballot I've ever seen and Dench's nomination was a flat out joke. TBH I'm not really sure who would have taken up five slots in my ballot that year though, 2005 was really a year for the men I think.

4:04 PM, November 29, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Peter: I like Huffman, too, and am fond of Knightley. I agree completely that the problem in that Oscar roster is a lack of excitement. None of the performances are bad, but forchrissakes. At the time, my dream list was Davidtz, Allen in Upside of Anger, Natalie Press in My Summer of Love, Vera Farmiga in Down to the Bone, and the very well-used Jennifer Connelly in Dark Water, though by that point, I too might be stretching a point. Huffman would work just as well in that spot, as would Maria Bello in A History of Violence or Catherine Keener in The 40-Year-Old Virgin if we decided they were leads. I also considered Sasha Andres in a little-seen French film called She's One of Us that had its U.S. debut that year. Do you know that one?

Agreed, too, that sometimes the Oscars need a special-exception clause that allows for two lead performances in the same gender category to win a trophy and the other to go dark for the year. We need it again this year, but in the opposite direction. One of the sidebar juries at Cannes did this a few years back: two Best Actress awards and nothing for the guys. I thought about sending a thank-you note.

4:25 PM, November 29, 2015  
Anonymous Peter said...

Considering that I spent my Saturday afternoon seeing Carol twice in one day I couldn't agree with you more. Still may go again. Am dying to see 45 Years though, which I just missed. I tend to like Rampling more when she's front and center rather than a supporting role because she's rather a slow burn actress for me. If it's anywhere as good as Under the Sand or Lemming I'll be happy.

Allen was originally my personal choice (she single handedly saves a pretty standard movie into being essential viewing) but I just watched Junebug again very recently and I'm thinking that Davidtz may take the prize in my fantasy ballot, I just can't get over how good she is. I could have Down to the Bone was 2004 but I could be wrong. I don't remember anything about My Summer of Love except I didn't care for the movie that much. And I don't remember thinking Connelly was Oscar worthy but if she has an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, she was may as well get one for Dark Water, which I definitely preferred her in. I tend to think of Bello as supporting but I could go for Keener as lead since I sort of think of her as the equivalent of Monroe in Some Like it Hot or Lange in Tootsie: taking a backseat to the leading man (or men) to a certain extent but definitely not a supporting arc in any way and in the end just as important.

And I've never heard of She's One of Us

5:16 PM, November 29, 2015  
Anonymous Mikadzuki said...

So great to see this project up and running again, and to get to read about so many of my own personal favorites in quick succession! Crash, Eyes Wide Shut and Demonlover are all treasured favorites of mine, and would make a great triple feature if you ever wanted to just gorge on chilly nocturnal dream-adventures where sex and death recombine endlessly (who wouldn't?).

As for the remaining entries, I'm guessing that either Portrait of a Lady or Dog Day Afternoon takes the top spot. Then... Unbearable Lightness? The Cell? Madison County?

5:45 PM, November 29, 2015  
Blogger James T said...

As with Junebag, You Can Count On Me is a film I saw (partly) because you love it, and I liked-not-loved it. Truth be told, I rarely love or hate a film. I did (and do) love Margaret, though. I remember appreciating the movie's lack of criticising Ruffalo's character. Another movie I like about siblings is (still, not a very original thought in the context of "small," indie and Linney-kind-of-related films) Margot at the Wedding. There was a reason I urged my mother to watch it. She did like it, I'm sure, partly, because she was eye-rollingly expecting a happy ending.
And, well, then there's Georgia.

9:09 AM, November 30, 2015  
Blogger N D said...

Ah, ‘demonlover’. Following on from your shrewd write-up, I wonder if it’s a film which triggers an anxiety about imitation and obsolescence when evaluating the film itself.

There’s a biographical bias to this inference. When I was a grad student I took a course in contemporary French cinema and was adamant I would write about the film, which I was already devoted to, even though my ideas for what I actually intended to say were as vague as this conviction was definite. In the end I bailed and picked two of Assayas’s tonally softer films for the essay, because I was daunted by Martine Beugnet’s analysis in ‘Cinema and Sensation’ and felt, weirdly, that although certain details were now visibly dated the film had nonetheless outpaced any theories I might have about it.

I’ve also realised that ‘You Can Count on Me’ is a film that I can definitely say I watched because of how you wrote about it. So thank you!

1:48 PM, November 30, 2015  
Anonymous BVR said...

Nick, I think I've seen "Junebug" about 3 or 4 times. It's one of those types of movies that gets better and better with each viewing, mostly because it's so nuanced that you pick up new bits and pieces every time. Also, I know you love Davidtz a lot in it (I do too), but I think Celia Weston is actually the best in that movie. And Adams feels like a lead to me, so I have her up there with Allen, Davidtz, Knightley, and Weisz.

Also, ditto on every word you wrote about Linney and Ruffalo in "You Can Count on Me." They are both tremendous in that. (How did Ruffalo get passed for that?! And it wasn't just the Academy because I didn't see him in any critic's year-end citation.) And Lonergan's writing is amazing. I just ordered "This Is Our Youth," a play he wrote, and which I think actually provided Ruffalo one of his first major roles on Broadway.

4:12 PM, November 30, 2015  
Blogger Murtada said...

I love You Can Count on Me so much. My favorite Linney performance and she's yet to best it. But Ruffalo's performance what sticks in memory, so good at playing someone who's bad at life.

11:05 PM, November 30, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Mikadzuki: Your words are prophetic! Or shortly will be, when I post today's entry... So glad you're still here!

@James T: I'm with Margot where you are with some of these others. I just can't totally Get There, though I rewatched the first hour a while back, circa While We're Young being in theaters, and I admired it more than I remembered. Georgia aside, JJL is often a sticking-point for me...

@ND: I'm so touched anyone would watch You Can Count on Me based on my recommendation. Thanks for that!

@BVR: Off-Broadway, I think, but yes! I like Lonergan's play The Waverley Gallery even better. I don't know where Ruffalo was in all those awards rosters, either, but I do know there was some of this perennial hogwash of promoting him as a Supporting Actor in some quarters. Insanity. Maybe he split his vote. But I hear you.

@Murtada: "So good at playing someone who's bad at life" nails it, and yet there's a lot I admire about Terry, too.

1:14 AM, December 01, 2015  
Blogger Tim said...

You've pointed me to a lot of films over the years, but Blackboards is one of two that I completely flipped for (the other is My Neighor, My Killer) that would never, ever have crossed my path if not for your recommendation. I have nothing else to say about that, really, but reading your beautiful write-up reminded me of that fact and I wanted to say thank you.

5:35 AM, December 03, 2015  
Blogger Colin Low said...

Already I can spot the ironies in my immediate, thorough embrace of your Strange Days write-up, especially since my first two thoughts were "I understand that feeling so well" and "I need to watch this movie soon," as though my need to watch the movie were somehow the important impulse to take away. So even if love means never having to say you're sorry, it also sometimes means you should, because of how that love can be so manifestly inadequate to what the world needs from me and you, and from all of us. Still: love love love (especially a love this complicated, self-knowing, and self-questioning). Thanks again, and I promise to get in touch soon!

6:11 PM, December 03, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim: You're one of three dear friends in my life who've given me credit for introducing them to Blackboards, and I'm so thrilled every time. Too bad the film is out of print on DVD and not available on Amazon. Limits the opportunities for evangelizing.

@Colin: What an amazing comment. And yes, "Sorry" is sometimes called for! You sound like you read exactly the piece I tried to write. Very gratifying. x

11:08 AM, December 04, 2015  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Oh go on, you've twisted my arm!

The below are my top ten 'favourite' films, as opposed to the ones I consider 'best'. While some of these would definitely hold a candle to those films I consider 'best', for most, my love for them far outweighs their aesthetic or formal merits. As you'd expect, it skews modern, though I'm surprised that there are as many as four films not in English. Without further ado, in alphabetical order (as I couldn't even dream of ranking these):

Le amiche (Antonioni, 1955)
The most watchable Antonioni? It's certainly my most rewatched. Antonioni-lite? Sort of, but that's not a bad thing at all. This amazing film about the virtues and warts of female friendship always manages to surprise me each time I watch it. Funny, harrowing, brave, and featuring great performances (especially Valentina Cortese), I find it strange how more people haven't heard of it.

Best in Show (Guest, 2000)
Nick's already said so much about this, so I'll just add that it features my favourite Starbucks joke ever. I showed it for the first time to my brother last year (who had strangely never seen it despite loving Spinal Tap and that this film was constantly watched by my parents and I growing up, and he was amazed that a joke so prescient was made in 1999/2000. Also busy bee!

Bridget Jones' Diary (Maguire, 2001)
It's my mum's favourite film (along with The Deer Hunter), so it got plenty of rotation in the house growing up, but there were many times that I watched by myself just so I could revel in the glorious awkwardness of everyone involved (making me feel less self-conscious in the process!)! "Come the fuck on, Bridget!" is probably the film quote I use most often in every day life (mostly under my breath to slow commuters on the train)!

The Cat Returns (Morita, 2002)
Often considered one of the lesser Ghibli films, this modern quasi-riff on Alice in Wonderland is by far the studio's funniest, and has such a winning energy that its comparatively 'worse' animation is not something I ever think about when watching. It's also the rare anime to have a great dub, with the Japanese and English voice casts bringing out really different facets of the same characters and settings.

Golden Eighties (Akerman, 1986)
The only film on this list that I've seen once (out of necessity), it's also the film that I believe most deserves a Criterion restoration (along with A Brighter Summer Day and Merrily We Go To Hell). A Chantal Akerman musical about an underground Belgian shopping centre with Delphine Seyrig playing a character named Jeanne, it's exactly as amazing as that sounds. Great music, fabulous cinematography abound.

2:19 PM, December 07, 2015  
Blogger Jonathan said...

(There's a character limit on blog entries!? Part 2 below:)

Husbands and Wives (Allen, 1992)
Possibly the most depressing film on this list, it's the Allen film I return to time and time again for reasons I don't fully comprehend. Again, Nick has said most that needs to be said, but Judy Davis setting the screen ablaze Jacki Weaver-style is a definite highlight. It's also reallllllllly funny despite the horror story going on in everyone's lives, especially in its hyperactive editing.

I ♥ Huckabees (Russell, 2004)
For transcending space and time. For Jon Brion. For the ball thing... sorry, "pure being". For Shania and chicken salad. For Jean Smart and Richard Jenkins taking a Sudanese refugee into their house! For "You're a bitch. How many kids do you have, bitch?" For the blanket thing. For everything being the same, even if it's different. For Jude Law's best performance? How am I not myself? For Fuckabees.

I Love You, Man (Hamburg, 2009)
At first I hated this film. In my second year of uni I lived with a group of irritating guys who would quote its in-jokes just as often as they took a breath. "Slap that bass" became nails on a chalkboard. Divorced of its toxic introduction to me, however, I now love the relationship between Paul Rudd and Rashida Jones, Jason Segel's low-key but winning energy, and even the random non-sequiturs from Simmons, Sandberg and Ferrigno!

Mean Girls (Waters, 2004)
Because, like nearly anyone else my age, I can pretty much quote it in its entirety.

Wild Tales (Szifron, 2014)
By far the best festival experience that I've encountered (an ovation after the end of every segment, with a rapturously received and generous Q&A by Szifron afterwards), I've fallen in love with this film with a general cinema audience, on TV, on an airplane, and even without subtitles. My favourite episode changes each time. I understand the critiques that some elements may be a bit glib, but when its this scabrous, I just don't care!

2:19 PM, December 07, 2015  
Blogger Den Z said...

Thank you Nick for providing this list of such scrumptious and in-depth analysis of your favourite films. I might not agree with all the points in each of your essay but nonetheless great, singular writing! Love a lot of your choices and so glad that The China Syndrome is high up on your list. Will read them all slowly and steadily. Thanks once again for this tremendous effort !!!

12:23 PM, December 08, 2015  
Anonymous John said...

I am savoring these entries and can't thank you enough for being so candid and insightful in relaying these films and personal connections in such a welcoming manner. A personal favorites series sounds hopelessly narcissistic, but yours is the exact opposite. The Grizzly Man piece is truly fantastic, and so moving; can't wait to watch the film again immediately. Thank you.

9:57 PM, December 08, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Jonathan: Thanks so much for taking me up on the invitation! *Love* reading these, especially since you bothered to fill in what they mean to you, and it's such a fun mix of the well-known and the obscure.

@Den Z: Such a nice compliment, and I'm so glad you're enjoying the installments. Great to hear more love for The China Syndrome. Next one coming up tomorrow or Wednesday.

@John: Another phenomenal compliment. Thanks so much for taking the time to write. I'm glad the exercise overcomes its innate narcissism -- believe me, I've wondered about that! And I especially appreciate the kind words about the Grizzly Man piece.

3:50 PM, December 14, 2015  
Anonymous BVR said...

The "Bridges of Madison County" write-up is so great. Poignant, open, and frank. Thank you, Nick. It felt like I was reading a #1 favorite, so I cannot wait how much more personal the last movies get. At their finest, movies truly are personal, intimate, and influential experiences.

9:15 PM, December 21, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@BVR: I'm so glad you liked it. Someone earlier mentioned how easily this whole series could slide into narcissism and I worried about that especially with the Bridges piece. While writing it, I also wondered if it was too low! I hope you'll like the subsequent entries as much. They've actually gotten harder to write not only because I feel so close to the films but because, in a few cases, it's hard even for me to say why. At least with the Bridges piece there was no doubt in my mind as to why.

10:02 PM, December 21, 2015  
Blogger N D said...

What a lovely review. It’s not a film I’ve ever felt any particular desire to see, despite plenty of opportunity, but I’m now quite tempted although I’m not sure it could have as potent an effect on me as it did on you. If only I’d seen it when I was a teenager and in such an electric context! At that point in my life I actually had watched Letter from an Unknown Woman, which was probably a risky age to encounter – and weep for – Lisa Berndle’s relentless yearning. I found it quite a purgative experience then, in a way I wouldn't now, but Bridges sounds like it might have been a gentler, more pragmatic alternative. I guess this a very small road not taken, a might-have-been of youthful film watching and identification.

5:06 AM, December 22, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@ND: Once again, I really appreciate your kind words. I hope you do watch Bridges, later if not sooner. I like Letter from an Unknown Woman a lot and taught it for the first time last year in a course of 165 students. It was fascinating, especially among such a diverse group, to see who responded or didn't, and why, and to what degree.

3:47 PM, December 22, 2015  
Anonymous Peter said...

Just wanted to say that your write up of Portrait totally sums up my feeling about a movie that no one seems to like for reasons that totally are a mystery to me. Totally in synch with the novel IMO even if it isn't a word for word adaptation. Hershey is one of my all time favorite supporting nominees and the actressexual in me treasures any film and director that can manage to find of place for shelley Duvall and somehow fit her into a period piece.

3:18 PM, December 24, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Peter: Music to my ears! And agreed on all points. Both Shelleys in the same film, particularly one of this type, is almost too much to believe. Have you seen the extended making-of documentary? Shelley Winters was ...not easy to direct.

4:15 PM, December 24, 2015  
Anonymous Peter said...

I have seen it and yes I think it's, perhaps inadvertently, a hilarious documentary. And I'm pretty sure winters was difficult for most of her career so no surprise there. She's quite good in the movie though.

4:52 PM, December 24, 2015  
Anonymous Laika said...

Oh gosh - an NFP write-up of "The Portrait of a Lady" dedicated to me? I doubt I'll get a lovelier, more wildly surprising Christmas present this year, or any year. Is this what nomination morning feels like? Can I put this on my CV? Can I tattoo it on my chest?

And what a beautiful way you've found to think about both the film and its commercial failure - as analogous to Isabel herself, always making things difficult for herself for the best of reasons. Does that make all those odious millions who didn't buy tickets Gilbert? I hope so. Malkoviches, the lot of 'em. Of course, I didn't buy a ticket either, and I'm not sure being 12 at the time is a good enough excuse.

I'm more optimistic that this film's hour will come round at last, if only because it took such a long slow road to the center of my heart. The first time I saw it, on television as a young teenager, I was repelled by what I experienced as its coldness and aridity; my older cousin, a fan of the novel, was scathing, and we switched channels after the first few scenes. My second viewing was many years later. I was fascinated, but I couldn't process so much of it, not least the opening - so nineties! So antipodean Lilith Fair! Now it felt teeming rather than arid, but still cold, as though I were watching it through frosted glass. Why wouldn't it let me get close to it, like Scorsese's shimmering 'Age of Innocence'? But so much of it stayed with me, from the first canted angle as Kidman flees Grant's proposal to her face in that final, indelible moment. I thought about it more often than anything I actually liked. Isabel and Merle and Ralph (and specifically the movie's Isabel and Merle and Ralph) began to feel like people I'd once met rather than characters in a movie I hadn't quite cared for. And so I came back to it, and watched it a third time, and really saw it. So, as a born again believer, I'm doomed to hope for a revival.

This is the movie that taught me revulsion and irritation can be the first stirrings of interest and affection. This is the movie that proved to me that just because a movie adopts a certain distance from its characters that doesn't make it unaffecting or chilly, no matter how many times critics might repeat the assertion as self-evident. This is also the movie that showed me that surreal inserts and metafilmic framing devices can not only serve the proper and respectable Brechtian distanciation but also facilitate more complex emotional and affective experiences and insights. This is a movie that makes me feel good not just about movies, but about being sentient.

So, if you'll forgive a little solipsism at the end of a long year, talk about a bespoke gift. All this, and 'Dog Day Afternoon' too. God bless us, every one!

2:22 AM, December 25, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Laika: I'm so happy you were happy, and so grateful for this delicious testimonial. I was gripped more quickly but had the experience twice of dragging fellow English majors to see it, feeling sorry for their quiet struggles to tell me as tactfully as possible that they couldn't remotely share my enthusiasm, and then having them later admit that the images and performances had really stayed with them... mostly if not exclusively for the better. So I agree with you that it can be a slow build. Thank you for all of this, including your optimism. And indeed, happy holidays! I always have a huge smile on my face when I see that you have commented.

4:11 PM, December 28, 2015  
Blogger Evan said...

It has been so great to read all of these reviews of your "Favorites". It was a very fun and enlightening way to end the year. I was anticipating seeing a lot of these, however, your number one definitely took me by surprise. I've been following your site for a long time and have always gravitated to your lists in particular. Before you even had a "Favorites" list I remember that in the introduction to your "Best" list you made a distinction between best and favorites where you noted that no list of your favorite movies would be complete without Walking and Talking and Cape Fear, but that they didn't quite qualify as films you thought were among the 100 "best" of all time. Conversely, in the introduction you mentioned that Pickpocket was a "great" film that you didn't love quite enough to put onto your "Best" list. You were making the point that this list of your 100 "Best" films was somewhere in between an objective greatest films list and a list of your favorites. So it was fun for me to see all three of those movies you mentioned make it onto your "Favorites" list. I also really enjoyed seeing movies that used to be on your "Best" list (some of them from a very long time ago) make a reappearance on your "Favorites" list like 3 Women, Dog Day Afternoon, Velvet Goldmine, Boyz in the Hood, The Cell, The China Syndrome (which I certainly saw and loved because of you), demonlover, The Fly, Eyes Wide Shut, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Naked Lunch and These Hands. I think Sherman's March (which I also saw and loved because of you), Streetcar Named Desire and Vanya on 42nd Street may all have been on your "Best" list at one time too. And if I'm not mistaken I remember your original list also had Jaws, Written on the Wind and The Thin Man too. I wonder if they would still qualify as favorites for you. It's interesting how movies come in and out of our lives. We see some that are undeniably great, but don't love and some that are undeniably not great that we can't help but love. It's easy for both of us to explain why "Citizen Kane" is amongst our top ten films of all time, but not quite as easy to explain why "Home for the Holidays" for you and the original "Bad News Bears" for me is a movie we will watch again and again. Sometimes movies just click with you whatever their artistic merits and this list is a wonderful tribute to that idea. I think that your "Favorites" list probably says even more about you as a cinephile than your "Best" list does and I appreciate you taking us on that journey through your favorites with you. Thank you Nick and happy new year!

2:19 PM, December 31, 2015  
Anonymous Arkaan said...

Rampant, ceaseless applause, sir.

3:31 PM, December 31, 2015  
Blogger James T said...

Thank you so much for this and, once again, for everything that you share. Your account of good karma is off the charts!

It's amazing how much I've adapted to your writing since, I think, 2008. It's not a foreign language within a foreign language to me as much as it used to be :p

1) Madison County: I've only seen it once and loved it, though I'm not too eager to revisit it. Not sure why.

2) Frances: Similar feeling to yours re: the movie and THE performance. Risking sounding arrogant, I have identified with Farmer in a way that can be summarized in "I don’t want to be what you want to make me: dull, average, normal."
I've never been *that* kind of mentally ill but I have shown my share of intellectual charisma paired with oversized dysfunction in my interaction with people throughout my life. News for everyone: Average but centered people are more likely to be successful, and, extremely more importantly, happy. [/oversimplifying]

3) Dog Day Afternoon: Maaan, that was a sad movie and I do. not. want to see it again as great as it is. I think I was almost crying at the "Attica" moment, having no pre-movie knowledge of the situation.

4)The Way We Were: I was quite surprised at how political Babs's character showed herself to be right from the beginning of the movie. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the movie but I enjoyed it and Barbra was, indeed, great in it. The moment that stayed with me is when Hubbell was sleeping and, um, I don't really recall but something with Barbra touching him sadly. OK, *vaguely* stayed with me.

5) Velvet Goldmine: I would defend that movie against anyone just because you love it so much even if I only liked it.

5) Pola X: I totally knew you would..surprise us..haha. No, really, of course I did not expect that. I saw it (as with many movies-repeating myself for the Nth time) because I knew you liked it and because I wanted to prepare myself before watching Holy Motors (I think..not sure I rememember correctly). I liked it, remember almost nothing from it. I did not even recall that the sex was unsimulated (imagine that!). I mostly remember those factory scenes, watching which gave me weird pleasure. I think I like industrial decadence. I might be bold enough to think of the possibility the movie is your no1 on this list because it, perhaps mystically, has to do with your connection to yourself instead of your relationship with people, situations etc in the same way an inexplicable dream might be the most profound depiction of our subconscious's content. Or maybe you just like weird shit - who knows? :p

Re: my own favorites, I'm afraid that in the idiosyncratic choices, I have no idea how to back them up, explain them or even be strong enough to hear what they may say about me. Notes on a Scandal has been a favorite of mine until my most recent revisit that made me understand I've partly outgrown the version of myself that fell in love with it.
The Talented Mr Ripley has definitely become a favorite but, although I've only watched it once and perhaps I'll never watch it again, I want to mention Swoon, which hardly anyone does as far as I know, because I think it deserves the attention and I fell masochistically in love with it at first sight.


Thank you again for the aggressively non-lazy writing, for your trusting your readers with glimpses of your heart and for keeping us guessing. If only you had managed to make a Sophie's Choice reference in the Madison piece, allude to The Way We Were title song and remind us of another ambitious Melville film adaptation along with all the other things you achieved.

Happy New Year, Nick!

5:54 PM, December 31, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

You guys! Thanks so much for these comments. You're all the sorts of folks who make it fun to maintain this site. Thanks for always checking in whenever I go sentient. Evan, your long-ago email was itself another inspiration to finish this project. Arkaan, I respect your taste so much and always appreciate your comments. James, I cannot believe how closely you read and retain, and it really makes me happy and humble that you take such care with things I write, even/especially when we react differently to the same movies. Thanks, all, and happy new year!

8:35 PM, December 31, 2015  

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