As the year winds to a close, the team at the New Beverly runs down the favorite movies they watched in 2017. And keeping with the spirit of the Bev, each list is an idiosyncratic window into the heart of a film fanatic, showcasing what we’ve been watching, what we can’t stop talking about, and what we think you need to see, both new releases and old favorites.
INGRID GOES WEST (2017) – This dark satire may be the most trenchant film yet about social media, wherein every user plays the victim, but also the perpetrator. Aubrey Plaza delightfully smolders as an obsessive imposter, stalking, or should I say friending, Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), the Instagram-famous paragon of shabby chic L.A. lifestyle. The selfie camera will turn on us all.
KURONEKO (1968) – One of the creepiest ghost stories ever, this poetic Japanese horror fable remains as shockingly urgent and deeply frightful fifty years after its release, along with sister film ONI-BABA. To experience these two masterpieces by Kaneto Shindo one after another under the New Bev’s darkness was an ecstatic, dread-filled experience.
BREAKING AWAY (1979) – This was the kind of heartbreak that didn’t make me cry but really made me reflect on where I came from. On some level, I’d been anticipating this story before I even knew it existed: four townie friends coming of age and breaking away in an Indiana industrial burg. As a dreamer, bike-riding son of the Midwest, this film felt like my birthright.
LUCKY (2017) – Raise a glass to Harry Dean Stanton’s illustrious career in front of the camera, entertaining and moving us all. And give him the Academy Award for this last koan-like performance, that once again proves we were the lucky ones for watching him. Fellow character actor John Carroll Lynch directs this worthy swan song. It takes one to know one.
THE 39 STEPS (1935) – I found myself going back to Hitchcock in a big way this year, thanks to a New Bev series and my roommate’s public domain box set of his early British films. The best gem yet: this quintessential early film, an ultimate wrong man scenario, and primal Hitch narrative. It floored me with its risky high wire energy and insanely propulsive plot.
WORLD ON A WIRE (1973) – Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s exploration of mindbending-simulation-sci-fi brings together big ideas of computation, consumerism, existentialism, and corporate conspiracy, tickling many cerebral fancies. You won’t know where this two-part film is going, and you might not know who you are by the end, either.
THE BAD BATCH (2017) – I had the pleasure of watching Ana Lily Amirpour’s trippy tale of desert mayhem and redemption at its LA premiere last year. Her sophomore feature has as much character as the outspoken director herself, projecting a wild eye into a kaleidoscopic prison colony, where muscled cannibals can be sensitive painters, grimy scavengers can be holy prophets, and the dream can transform into a nightmare — but only if you let it inside.
BLOOD & BLACK LACE (1964) – This proto-gialli from master Mario Bava has all the patent visual and story elements of the genre, revolving around grisly slayings at a fashion academy. But it has what almost no other gialli has: a coherent plot! The new Arrow Blu-Ray presents this stylish whodunit in all its chromatic glory. Argento, eat your heart out.
JEREMIAH JOHNSON (1972) – I was blown away by the emotional natural scope of this snowy western when we showed it at the New Bev this year. Robert Redford’s titular mountain man carves out a cold hard life in woods; and the rituals of survival and pain in this harsh, deliberative environment made this movie deeply affecting in a way I’m still working out. Time to go deep into the woods and think about this one.
I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE (2017) – What a surprise! This Netflix-produced dark comedy is an all-too-relatable revenge film about what happens when an everyday nurse and all-around doormat (an outstanding Melanie Lynskey) decides to finally stand up for herself after vandals rob her house. For fans of the Coen Brothers and when trolls get what’s coming to them.
GET OUT – The only thing I loved more than watching “Get Out” was telling people about it. It turns into an Abbot & Costello bit pretty quickly. It generally ending with people screaming, “NO! YOU GET OUT!” at me.
HOUNDS OF LOVE – A friend once pointed out that I always have at least one pick on my top 10 that assures that I will never have to babysit.
LADY BIRD – Finally! A movie for people that love their kids, but don’t like them!
I, TONYA – I have always felt that the world is the hardest on people that are unapologetic for who they are.
LOGAN – Oh, look! James Mangold made a documentary about me having a kid!
SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING – I like how Marvel is trying to use an MIB neuralyzer on us to pretend that Andrew Garfield never happened.
WIND RIVER – “This isn’t the land of waiting for back up. This is the land of you’re on your own.” Jeremy. Renner.
MOTHER – OK, so maybe I’ll have two this year.
MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI – A beautiful stop motion animation from France. How great is this film? Well, I am OK with you knowing that I essentially cried while watching puppets. Shout out to Ben at Amoeba Records for recommending this one!
THE FLORIDA PROJECT – The only way this film could have been better is if they cast my tiny violent daughter from Logan as the lead.
Julie (director of operations)
THE SHAPE OF WATER (Arclight Hollywood) – The love story I have been waiting all 2017 to see. From the opening scene I knew I was watching a Guillermo Del Toro film, but also the feeling it was an awakening for him, which is not easy to say about a filmmaker with such a rich filmography as GDT. Thank you for this film.
I, TONYA (Press Screening)- I can’t figure out if Margot Robbie’s superimposed head on the skating double was intentionally bad, but even that distraction did not take away from what a fascinating film this was all around. Acting, character study, pacing, story, humor…I was thoroughly engrossed.
KONG: SKULL ISLAND (On Demand) – Biggest movie regret this year was not seeing KONG on the big screen. Spoiler Alert: I resisted because I didn’t want to see Kong mistreated or killed. Just the opposite, go Team Kong!
DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE (New Beverly Cinema) – The Sunday night screening at the New Beverly ranks among my favorite shows we have ever had. An intelligent audience (with many who’s who of the Los Angeles repertory scene) was in complete step with every frame of this Frank & Eleanor Perry gem. TINA!
GIRLS TRIP (Arclight Hollywood) – I have not laughed out loud so hard in a long time. Funny, raunchy, real, well-paced and great comedic timing.
OKJA (New Beverly Cinema) – This Boon Joon-Ho film works on so many levels, but it is the friendship between a young girl and her “super-pig” that most stayed with me. Thank you Netflix for striking a 35mm print for us and Director Bong for flying out to do Q&As.
SLEEPAWAY CAMP II & III (New Beverly Cinema) – I loved the first of the series, but let these two sit unopened on my DVD shelf. I’m glad I waited to see them on screen, as I had the best time watching these with so many of our regulars in the audience. There is nothing quite like the local Los Angles horror fans that frequent repertory screenings.
THE THIN MAN (New Beverly Cinema) – The audience had perfect chemistry with Nick and Nora the night I saw this. It played right before Thanksgiving and was the prefect start to the holiday season. Asta the terrier steals the show!
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (Arclight Hollywood) – The reboot franchise is so good!!!! I love how this one starts to tie into the POTA from my childhood. This is the fourth movie on my list with themes of man’s inhumanity to other creatures. When will we learn?
SAMMY THE WAY OUT SEAL (New Beverly Cinema) – I’m putting this little known Disney treasure from the early 60’s on my Top 10 list. A beautiful I.B. Tech print, with stars Michael McGreevey and Bill Mumy in attendance made for a memorable Saturday afternoon matinee. One of my favorite Disney films, it was wonderful to see it on the big screen with an audience. The laughter from the grocery store scene is one of my favorite New Beverly movie going memories.
Honorable Mentions: Train To Busan (Blu-ray), Shin Godzilla (Blu-ray), Wind River (Arclight Hollywood), Ministry Of Fear (Noir City: Hollywood at American Cinematheque) and Lady Bird (Hollywood Arclight)
My top ten of 2017 are split into two categories: 1) new releases and 2) films I saw or projected at the New Beverly this year.
1.) THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE
Aki Kaurismäki approaches cinematic sainthood with this poignant masterpiece. Easily the most consistently brilliant director working in Scandinavia today, Kaurismäki continues to explore his favorite theme: immigration. Overflowing with human empathy, this film takes up the same position as his 2010 feature Le Havre. If (or when) he makes a third, this work will forever be known as the Kaurismäki Immigrant Trilogy. The Other Side of Hope is the story of a Syrian refugee who stows away on a ship to Helsinki and forges an unlikely friendship with an aging Finnish shirt salesman who risks everything in a poker game. The complicity among characters contrasts starkly with the kafkaesque bureaucracy that threatens to tear them apart.
When I projected this film at the the Abel Gance Open Air Cinema at the Telluride Film festival, Alexander Payne paid me a visit and signed the wall of our projection booth (which is on wheels). This special treat was one of the year’s highlights for me. A wise friend once told me that dystopia is the only genre that can change the world. In creating his micro-universe of earth-conscious adventurers, Mr. Payne may have accomplished just that. Downsizing is so funny that one can easily forget the severity of the themes, which include climate change, politics, and human nature. Deceptively commercial in its appeal, this film may be the most subversive thing Hollywood has produced in recent years.
3.) NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Tom Ford’s transition from fashion to cinema is solidified by this magnum opus. Amy Adams delivers one of the greatest performances of her career as a regretful Los Angeles art mogul. The frame structure of the script, coupled with crystal clear flashbacks and an artful overlap of casting (with Jake Gyllenhaal playing two different characters) culminate in what amounts to a good story well-told. Michael Shannon (who is one of the lowest common denominators of my top 5) raises the bar as a dying Texas Detective with nothing left to lose. Hints of that True Detective brand of existentialism can be found peppered throughout this modern western.
4.) THE RIDER
This tragic tale of South Dakota cowboys features some of the year’s finest cinematography and certainly some of the most adept direction. Working with non-actors, Chloé Zhao calls forth absolute transcendence on the screen. Winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, The Rider harkens back to Luchino Visconti’s Italian neo-realist masterpiece La Terra Trema. This film, which is a triumph for female directors everywhere, is breathtakingly beautiful. Right after I started the show for the North American Premiere of The Rider, Werner Herzog, who had introduced the film, walked up to me and whispered in my ear “this is a very fine film”. Yes Mr. Herzog, yes it is.
5.) THE SHAPE OF WATER
Guillermo del Toro. Octavia Spencer. Michael Shannon. Need I say more? One can almost see the paradigm of power shifting as Mexico’s dream team of directing talent delivers yet another enchanting film. Apparently Iñárritu, Cuarón, and del Toro really are best friends. Can you imagine the conversations that take place when they start talking movies? The Shape of Water has a simple thesis: love is not only blind, it’s also deaf-mute. This is such a gem for cinephiles everywhere. Sci-fi will never be the same.
Ok, shifting gears now to my New Bev favorites. First of all, it is such a pleasure to be surrounded by 35mm and 16mm prints of the world’s finest films everyday in the booth. Thank you to everyone at work for coming together to make this seemingly impossible project a reality. The following five films constitute my New Beverly favorites of 2017.
1.) RESERVOIR DOGS
It has been so much fun to project 25th anniversary screenings of Quentin’s obra prima at the New Beverly this year. I even had the honor of projecting the 35mm screening of the newly struck print for Sundance Next Fest at the Ace Hotel. This film has been captivating audiences from the iconic first scene all the way through “Put the Lime in the Coconut” for a quarter century now and that is cause for celebration. Congratulations, Boss!
2.) WORLD ON A WIRE
This largely forgotten sci-fi epic is one of my all-time favorite films. Although it was shot on 16mm, and originally destined for German television, we had a gorgeous, brand new 35mm print from Janus. The ideas contained within the film are best articulated by postmodern French thinker Jean Baudrillard in his influential book Simulation and Simulacra. This book also inspired films such as the matrix, and a whole host of novels and short stories. Having read it this year, along with Baudrillard’s brilliant travelogue America, World on a Wire was all the sweeter. If you haven’t seen this film, find it, and bask in the hyperreal. Fassbinder is calling.
This film made the list for the same philosophical reasons as World on a Wire (simulation and simulacra). A lot of people make the mistake of filing this film away as a hybrid of the genres western and science fiction. In reality, Westworld belongs to Michael Crichton’s proprietary genre of “theme parks gone wrong”. One has to wonder about what kind of Disneyland trauma he must have endured as a child. Yul Brynner’s character, with his unstoppable determination and unbreakable steel bones, allegedly inspired the Terminator series. Perhaps more importantly, the Delos company (which operates the cyborg cowboy theme park) became one of the first corporate antagonists. I’m glad that Jonathan Nolan resurrected the story for this year’s HBO series, which is actually a quite impressive re-imagining of the 1973 film.
4.) THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN
If you are still reading at this point, you have probably realized that I am a sucker for dystopias, and that I am fascinated by the work of Michael Crichton. Some fun facts about Crichton: He attended Harvard Medical School (from which he dropped out) and worked as a professor of Anthropology before becoming a writer. He was 6’9” tall and was exorcised in 1986. When writing, he would eat the same thing for lunch everyday (egg salad sandwiches in the case of Jurassic Park). I mean, who is this guy? The print of The Andromeda Strain looked so good on our screen. Perfect color, no scratches, crystal clear soundtrack. That is how film was meant to be seen.
5.) THE HATEFUL EIGHT
This movie changed my life in more ways than I can list here. It was shot in my hometown and I was lucky enough to land the job of dailies projectionist / PA. Seeing the film come together from the script to the glorious 70mm roadshow was one of the highlights of my life thus far. For this I am eternally grateful. The Hateful Eight will always have a special place in my heart, and on my list. And let’s be honest, it really is the best Christmas movie ever made.
CHATO’S LAND (1972) – New Beverly Cinema
This movie really surprised me. What I thought was going to be a standard Charles Bronson revenge flick turned out to be a very powerful, multi-layered drama with several characters and moments that will stick with me for quite some time. Early in the film you think it is clear who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, but when the unrelenting desert land brings the posse hunting Chato to the end of their rope, racism and machismo turn the group against one another and causes several characters to reveal sides of themselves that were not obvious from the start.
CUJO (1983) – American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre
The only movie on my list that I had seen prior to this year. I had seen it on VHS as a kid then revisited it on laserdisc as an adult and was surprised by how much I reacted to it. Seeing it in a theater for the first time was a great experience. The film is so effective, because it is so believable. The relationships between the characters are interesting and realistic and the terror endured by the mother and son is heightened by the fact that the monster they are dealing with is very real. I’m glad the supernatural elements from the book were dropped (Cujo was the reincarnation of a cop?!) making the film terrifying in a more relatable and gritty way.
GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (1988) – Gardena Cinema
I didn’t know that it was possible for a film to be so sad and yet so beautiful and uplifting at the same time. Parts of this animated film from Studio Ghibli are virtually soul-crushing, and knowing it is based on a true story, makes it that much more moving. Through delicate storytelling and beautiful animation the filmmakers were able to keep enough hope, beauty and humor alive within the film to keep the audience from being too depressed beyond repair, but rather engaged and hopeful.
GREEN ROOM (2015) – Gardena Cinema
Another thriller that is so effective, because it is all so believable and real. Several friends told me this was a must-see film when it first came out, but I missed it. I was lucky enough to attend a midnight screening this year and got to see it for my first time on the giant screen at Gardena Cinema. Throughout it is quite a calm and subtle film with strong, but understated performances. The brutal moments that juxtapose the subtlety of the film (some of which have images that I will not forget anytime soon) start a sense of terror and dread that just builds and builds. I can’t remember the last time I hugged myself so tightly for such a long period of time. In addition to the expertly built tension, the cast of villains brings a refreshing sense of diversity, in that each one has their own issues and handles the situation differently, instead of all being a faceless mob of skinheads who act the same and the audience can’t tell apart. When Macon Blair delivers the line “I want to go to jail,” I almost burst into tears.
HEROES SHED NO TEARS (1986) – New Beverly Cinema
I’m surprised this one isn’t talked about more since it has so many good elements, from the intense action and brutal hand to hand combat, to the sweet relationship between the main character and his young son caught in the middle of the horrors of war. Heck, even the gonzo stuff that was added after Woo completed filming is fun in its own right. Being a fan of Hong Kong action films from the 80s, I had been wanting to see this movie for quite some time and was very happy that the first time I got to see it was in a theater (having it paired with one of my favorites, EASTERN CONDORS, which I hadn’t seen in a theater, was also a big plus).
KUNG FU YOGA (2017) – Atlantic Times Square AMC (Monterey Park)
I will admit, this is not a great movie. It is a lot of fun with some solid humor and some decent fight sequences. While it does have many shortcomings, seeing this was a special experience for me. Getting to see a new Jackie Chan film in a theater on its initial release, that hasn’t been dubbed and edited for American audiences, just made me feel like I was watching something special. It’s a shame many of his Chinese movies no longer get distribution in the US, but seeing him return to his signature martial arts action comedy style, just the way he wanted it and not the way a distributor thought the US would want it, made me feel really good. I’m grateful that the AMC in Monterey Park shows Chinese films.
SCREAM FOR HELP (1984) – New Beverly Cinema
This oddity from Michael Winner and Tom Holland delivers on many different levels. What appears to be a mystery film for young adults takes some unexpected twists and turns and reveals itself to be a pretty sleazy exploitation thriller, with several great, “oh my god, they went there?!” moments. A great one to watch with an audience.
THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017) – Arclight Hollywood
At the time of writing, this is my favorite new movie that I’ve seen this year. A wonderful balance of beauty and ugliness, sadness and hope, love and hatred, all with a sharp sense of humor and style. It is a unique take on a story of two outsiders finding love, that won’t be palatable for all, but nobody can deny the strength of the acting in the film. Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg and Octavia Spencer all deliver very different, and very moving performances.
WESTWORLD (1973) – New Beverly Cinema
The film’s slightly goofy tone caught me off guard, but then I settled into it and had fun. For a while I was convinced that my preconceived notions of the film were way off base. When the tone suddenly shifts to what I was initially expecting, it is quite jarring and therefore much more effective. The sudden danger seems so urgent and real because it comes about so unexpectedly. The humor works and so does the terror.
WORLD OF TOMORROW (2015) and WORLD OF TOMORROW EPISODE TWO: THE BURDEN OF OTHER PEOPLE’S THOUGHTS (2017) – Gardena Cinema
Don Hertzfeldt’s transition from making simple, hand drawn animated shorts packed with absurd humor and some social commentary, to making very personal, dramatic (at times gut-wrenching) animated shorts, still in the same classic style and with a tinge of his signature humor, is something that I’ve reveled in observing. I was very excited to get to see his new short paired with its predecessor in a theater as part of this year’s Art House Theater Day. Using audio he recorded of his young niece while casually playing with her, Hertzfeldt created a two-part existential short celebrating individual’s thoughts, actions, memories and life itself, while also questioning their significance in the universe and impact on everyone and everything within it. If there is any. Hertzfeldt used to make me laugh. Now he makes me cry between the laughter. I appreciate him for that.
Phil (social media)
I watched a lot of movies this year but the best events were at the Bev. Here’s a baker’s dozen of my favorite viewings:
FRANK PERRY FILM FESTIVAL: The New Beverly’s retrospective of filmmakers Frank & Eleanor Perry was a revelation, shining a light on their too-long neglected work. While the whole series was of note, two of the titles topline my year-end best-of: the notoriously difficult to find character drama Last Summer (1969), shown from an incredibly rare 16mm print flown in from Australia, with an astute post-film Q&A with star Bruce Davison moderated by Ed Wood screenwriter Larry Karaszewski, and the savagely funny marital comedy Diary of a Mad Housewife, featuring Richard Benjamin, Carrie Snodgress and Frank Langella. Housewife was particularly palpable with a Bev filled to the brim with like-minded movie maniacs. The series also prompted two of the best articles I read this year, Kim Morgan’s pieces on Last Summer and Play It As It Lays.
MARCH MADNESS AT THE GRINDHOUSE:
I cherish every Tuesday at the Bev, not just because of the way-out brain-burners that get unearthed each week but because of the faithful film-going family that has grown out of 10+ years of the Grindhouse Film Festival. But even with a decade of skull-cracking jaw-droppers, nothing could have prepared me for the perfect onslaught of exploitation hits that tore through March 2017: an Austin Stoker double, with the icon in person, featuring a fantastic print of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 paired with the underseen Combat Cops, a Pigsploitation mind-melter featuring the Texas Chainsaw knockoff Slaughterhouse (with one of the largest cast & crew Q&As ever assembled at the theater!) followed by the ’70s drive-in masterpiece Pigs, a Terror Tuesday two-fer of Spanish shockers including The House That Screamed, screening from one of the most gorgeous prints I saw all year, plus the fan-favorite, you’ve just gotta see it fun-blast Pieces, and finally the Hong Kong meets Vietnam knockout of John Woo’s carnage-filled Heroes Shed No Tears with Sammo Hung’s awesome Eastern Condors.
THE COWBOYS (1972): the John Wayne western adventure featuring a truly devilish Bruce Dern brought down the house but a surprise appearance from director Mark Rydell was one for the ages, igniting a prolonged standing ovation unlike any I’ve seen anywhere.
ELVIS IN I.B. TECHNICOLOR: 2017 was the year that I fell in love with Elvis and his swinging spark & unmistakable magnetism on screen. While I plowed through his filmography at home, catching a double bill of Clambake (1967) and Fun in Acapulco (1963) in eye-popping I.B. Technicolor was a real treat. Hearing a captivated audience swoon and laugh really highlights the magic of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
SUMMER OF ’42 (1971) & CLASS OF ’44 (1973): a surprisingly poetic sex-comedy-cum-heartbreaking-romance, Summer of ’42 was a blockbuster upon release but seems sadly overlooked today. It has held up, if not improved with age, and the nearly-forgotten follow-up is far better than its reputation would lead you to believe. If anything, I wish there had been more sequels following these characters. Plus, New Bev friend Larry Karaszewski moderated an exemplary discussion with actor Jerry Houser, who made his debut in Summer.
TRACKDOWN (1976): a relentless action thriller following a Montana cattle rancher (James Mitchum, eldest son of Robert) on a rampage of revenge, kicking ass and taking names across the gang-infested streets & crime-ridden back alleys of Los Angeles. My biggest regret of the year is not going to see this twice on screen.
SAL MINEO FILM FESTIVAL: an excellent overview of bisexual screen icon Sal Mineo’s regrettably short career, featuring his legendary work with James Dean (his revolutionary turn in Rebel Without A Cause and his brief role in Giant) to some of his rarely-seen juvenile delinquent films (Dino, Crime in the Streets). But the best of the bunch was the unforgettable descent into sleazy mid-60s NYC in the staggering psycho-sexual thriller Who Killed Teddy Bear?, which features a charged Mineo at his fiery best.
SCREAM FOR HELP (1984) & THE STEPFATHER (1987) & LISA (1989): For my birthday I got to share a triple feature dedicated to bad dads and teen heroines, sleazy slasher thrills, strained family dynamics, after school special theatrics, and hard R sex & violence. The wildly unpredictable tonal shifts in Scream for Help went over gangbusters with an enthusiastic crowd, Terry O’Quinn shined in one of the creepiest performances of the ’80s in the truly great The Stepfather, and finally seeing one of my childhood faves, Gary Sherman’s Lisa, on the big screen – projected from an archive print that had never previously been run (!!!) – made it a night I’ll never forget.
YOUNGBLOOD (1978) & COOLEY HIGH (1975): an excellent pairing of films starring Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, best known as Freddie ‘Boom Boom’ Washington on Welcome Back, Kotter. The seldom seen street gang drama Youngblood, featuring excellent music from War, really made an impression but it was the legendary Cooley High that truly popped when seen with an audience. But the best part of the night was an extended, wide-ranging discussion with the star (moderated by Larry Karaszewski, making it a hat trick for him on my list!) covering everything from breaking into the movie industry to singing back-up for Rick James.
MICHAEL PARKS TRIBUTE: the New Beverly’s extensive tribute to treasured actor, iconoclast & frequent Quentin Tarantino collaborator Michael Parks was jam-packed with thrilling film surprises! From the powerhouse drama of Wild Seed (1965) to the Southern shocks of The Evictors (1979) to the ’90s thrills of Wicked (1998) and Niagara, Niagara (1997), the screen was electrified whenever Parks appeared – no matter the film, whether in a high profile starring role or a brief appearance in a small drive-in flick. A plethora of special guests also highlighted the man and his career. (Larry Cohen telling the behind the scenes stories from The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover was a hoot!)
ALL-NIGHT MARATHONS: the only thing better than watching one movie is watching a FULL MARATHON of movies! And this year the New Beverly had some great overnight endurance tests – from January’s deep dive into the depraved mind of Dario Argento to a top notch top secret lineup at October’s annual All-Night Horror Show. But the best may have been at Arnold All Night, a 70th birthday celebration for muscled action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger – when the opening credits for the first film of the night – Predator – hit the screen, the audience lost their minds and never recovered.
WICKED, WICKED (1973): an off-kilter ‘70s slasher flick that’s gotta be seen to be believed, Wicked, Wicked is a feature-length split-screen gimmick that works best on the big screen. I had read about Wicked, Wicked for years and am glad my first viewing was with a crowd of fellow midnight movie fanatics.
DER FAN (1982) & CHRISTIANE F. (1981): At the time of publication, this downbeat double bill has not yet happened but I can already guarantee that this is one night that’s absolutely not to be missed! Cult fave Der Fan is making it’s first-ever Los Angeles appearance in 35mm, screening from a one-of-a-kind print flown in from overseas, and the pairing of moody, slow-burn German destroyers seems like the only appropriate ending for such a tumultuous year.
SEAN K (projectionist)
KEDI – Ceyda Torun (2016): hundreds of thousands of cats live freely in the streets of Istanbul, interacting with humans if, or when, it suits them, as they have for many centuries. In this documentary, frequently shot with kitty-cam POV, we get to know seven of these wonderful felines. To (nearly) paraphrase bingo caller-extraordinaire / attorney-at-law James McGill / Saul Goodman: “Kitty cat notebooks (and/or KEDI blu-rays) for everybody” this holiday season.
HYPERNORMALIZATION – Adam Curtis (2016): employing nearly three hours of archival footage, British documentarian Curtis lays down some heavy discourse about how a “carefully constructed Fake World” has come into being over the last 45 years, thanks in no small part to Western political elites abdicating their leadership responsibilities in the face of religious, military and economic complexities, as well as their typical proclivities towards self-enrichment and corporate servility. But according to Curtis, it’s not just “The Man” to blame here; even artists have been complicit by accepting this false reality by retreating into hedonistic individualism at the expense of collective action and activism. An exhaustive, but not exhausting, examination of why “nothing ever changes”, even as the planet teeters on the brink of destruction year after year.
LOVE WITCH — Anna Biller (2016): equal and frequently superior to much of the witchy 70s exploitation cinema that Biller is obviously conversant with, the shot-on-film LOVE WITCH boasts an impressively original script, solid characters, top notch cinematography and an inimitable production design. From what I have heard, some men in the horror fandom have been so distraught over Biller’s portrayals of female agency and her inversion of genre conventions, that they have slobbered vast puddles of online vitriol over the idea that women have a place in exploitation and horror film (outside of being naked, scared and objectified that is). And the problem isn’t just with the fans; Biller has been open about the fact that certain crew members were anything but cooperative in the making of LOVE WITCH.
D’EST (aka FROM THE EAST) – Chantal Akerman (1993): 16mm travelogue shot while Akerman was journeying through the former Eastern Bloc, shortly after the collapse of the USSR. Unidentified people and landscapes materialize and develop in long takes without accompanying identification, narration or dialogue. Static camera set-ups alternate with long tracking shots, day photography with available-light night photography. Lush with details such as communist-era red neon signage pumping an otherworldly glow through the bleak, blurry snow-scapes of Moscow after dark.
NO NO: A DOCKUMENTARY – Jeff Radice (2014): Dock Ellis, known as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitcher who achieved the distinction of throwing a no-hitter while tripping on acid, first appeared in James Blagden’s 2009 animated short DOCK ELLIS AND THE LSD NO-NO. This feature-length doc(k) expands upon that seminal episode in baseball lore, while managing to give us a larger, more nuanced portrait of Dock Ellis the All-Star athlete and Dock Ellis the person. Of particular interest are his outspoken, fearless clubhouse demeanor and his experiences around addiction, which informed his post-MLB sobriety, as well as his work as a drug and alcohol counselor. Dock was full of surprises: he also had a role in the 1986 Ron Howard film, GUNG HO!
ROTE SONNE – Rudolph Thome (1970) — taglines promoting this lesser-known “Neuer Deutscher Film” translate into English as “Free, Wild, Cool and Deadly” and “Let us Kill the Men”. While describing ROTE SONNE as deliberately feminist would be mischaracterization, it should be noted that the carousing, debauched patriarchs on screen rarely enjoy favorable outcomes when mingling with Munich’s homebrewed S.C.U.M. equivalent.
TWO WOMEN AND A MAN – Roee Rosen (2005) — experimental “documentary” short dealing with the previously unknown “historical figure” of Jewish Belgian painter / author Justine Frank, who, according to Rosen, lived and worked beyond the boundaries of Art prescribed and policed by Andre Breton and the male-dominated Surrealist movement. Rosen’s involvement in championing Frank is not insignificant; his own work is so deeply enmeshed with Frank’s life and oeuvre that it should invite skepticism, causing us to interrogate both his motivations for “discovering” her, as well as forcing a reappraisal of how gender and mental health issues may have played out historical (or even contemporary) avant-gardes. In a related vein, an essential companion piece is “her” pornographic novel SWEET SWEAT.
LANCASTER COUNTY, 2020 — Mary Haverstock and Michele Mercure (1991): NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION meets WITNESS meets SILENT RUNNING meets CHINA SYNDROME? Imagine a sub-Griswoldian family of tackily-clad, idiot tourists mucking about Pennsylvania Dutch Country trying to spot one of the last remaining 21 Amish people (all of whom have been displaced by large indoor GMO-food complexes and suburbanization), and you have a starting point for this astute 16mm science fiction satire. As real-life Lancaster County is just down river from real-life, post-meltdown Three Mile Island, relevant details include a daily “harmful radiation index”; holographic cows producing synthetic milk; and the most fantastic pair of sunglasses I’ve ever seen on screen, or for that matter, off. As it happens, the satire is not so far from reality, with farmland rapidly succumbing to development and some Lancaster County residents protesting the seizure of their farms through eminent domain for the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline which will pump fracked fuels through the mid-state. Also quite delightful: the Michele Mercure synth soundtrack, which offers up sounds nearly as beguiling as her highly prized, 1985 minimal synth LP “Eye Chant” (released under the name Michele Musser). Available on Vimeo.
COUNTER IMAGES: GDR UNDERGROUND FILMS 1983 – 1989, THE NON CONFORMIST SUPER-8 SCENE — This disc, released by the DEFA Film Library out of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, collects Cornelia Klauß’s definitve 1997 documentary overview of the era, THE SUBVERSIVE CINEMA, with ten original, super-8 artist films made under the nose of the Stasi-surveilled German Democratic Republic. Apparently government officials were requesting duplicate copies of these films from the lab when they were processed, a fact that many artists suspected, but could not confirm until the Stasi archives became open to the public in later years. Personal favorites, along with the documentary: DRAPED IN WHITE – Cornelia Schleime (1983) and HELLO, BERLIN – Thomas Werner (1987).
PHANTOM CARRIAGE – Victor Sjöström (1921) — I first saw this creepy Swedish masterpiece several years ago when it was programmed by fellow film archivists Brandee Cox and Steven Hill of The Silent Treatment, the long-running (silent film) series at The Silent Movie Theatre (aka Cinefamily). The recent Criterion transfer provides two different musical accompaniments to this mesmerizing black and white, color-tinted ghost story, which is set on the cusp of New Year’s Eve turning over to New Year’s Day (and should be watched then for maximum impact!) Unfortunately overlooked in the recent LA Weekly article about the female film programming in Los Angeles, The Silent Treatment has resumed activities at The Autry’s Wells Fargo Theatre this January 27th with the 1923 film THE COVERED WAGON will be back for 2018 and beyond.
10. STEP (dir. Amanda Lipitz, 2017)
I never knew I could care so deeply about the girls on a step team at a random charter school in Baltimore. As their mentors empower them to reach their educational goals, these young women use their art as a civic opportunity to empower a community that has been upturned by the riots following the killing of Eric Garner. Whether or not I attempted to reenact their final performance on the way back to my car shall remain a mystery.
9. DINA (dirs. Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini, 2017)
A tactful and truly endearing portrait of two developmentally disabled adults in love. Dina has this almost fearless nature that lends her an uncanny ability to express herself without inhibition, and a tandem curiosity and admiration for the world around her. The relationship with her lovable, Walmart-vested fiancé is riddled with doubts and concerns, but as they work together to overcome Dina’s past trauma and Scott’s naïveté, it becomes clear that their love is rooted in trust and affirmation.
8. WIND RIVER (dir. Taylor Sheridan, 2017)
2017 has been an excellent year for films examining social issues, and Wind River was a unique entry that shed light on the lack of statistics for missing Native American women. This neo-Western thriller is as chilling as the title suggests, its characters futilely seeking justice for a murdered woman by essentially staring directly into a blizzard. Featuring Native American actors in emphatically non-tokenistic roles, and an impressively restrained performance by Jon Bernthal, Wind River is a film I will most remember for its humanity in response to unimaginable horror.
7. SONG TO SONG (dir. Terrence Malick, 2017)
Whether or not you find yourself hooked into the given storyline, it’s impossible to deny that what we are presented with is anything less than a poetic quilt of visual splendor that Malick tenderly threads together.
6. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017)
From stunning first shot to extraordinary conclusion, I found myself with very little time to catch my breath during this film. Barry Keoghan gives a terrifying performance as the obsessive Martin that leads me to reconsider the consequences of my own mistakes.
5. PHANTOM THREAD (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)
Me during hour one of Phantom Thread: “What on Earth is happening?”
Me during hour two of Phantom Thread: “WHAT on EARTH is HAPPENING!!!”
A visually indulgent period piece whose commanding performances and melancholy score elevate this film to sit amongst the best that PTA has to offer. Just when I thought I’d understood the characters and their motivations, Anderson flips the narrative with such skill that my shock dissolves into nothing short of admiration in mere seconds.
4. THE FLORIDA PROJECT (dir. Sean Baker, 2017)
Sean Baker has an incredible penchant to make outcasts’ stories accessible, which has been the through-line over his career. The Florida Project manages to cast a pastel glow onto the uncharmed lives of the “Magic Castle” residents while unfettered in its portrayal of poverty and the hidden homeless of Orlando. The final sequence left me hoping that fairytale endings are not just reserved for Disney characters.
3. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (dir. Martin McDonagh, 2017)
I see this story as a rivalry of suffering. Whose suffering is most painful, whose is most intimate? Whose is more urgent, and whose will be remembered? Sam Rockwell gives one of the year’s best performances amongst what is perhaps 2017’s most outstanding ensemble.
2. A GHOST STORY (dir. David Lowery, 2017)
This is a film I have thought about every day since seeing it. David Lowery proves himself to be a master of mood in this somber expression of love and loss that explores whether we can be haunted – not just by people – by places, memories, and time itself.
1. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (dir. Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
There is a strong possibility that I’m still crying over this film (before I go on, please just give Timothée Chalamet all the awards). CMBYN brought me back to the best summer of my life, traveling through Europe, dancing in Belgian nightclubs, climbing through Swiss mountains, and finding the most incredible friendships in the most fleeting of circumstances. I resonate so strongly with Elio & Oliver’s simultaneous hesitation and excitement to pursue something new with their fear of wasting time. I think back to the last time I saw each of the friends I made that summer, and can’t help but wish there had been a Sufjan Stevens track or two written precisely for those lonely train rides.
ENDLESS POETRY – Alejandro Jodorowsky, at age 88, has lost none of the spark that he possessed as a young man, this time exploring his own autobiographical experiences from within the art world. Like so many young ambitious artists, Jodorwosky once put himself on the path of artistic purity and revolution. Unlike so many young ambitious artists, he succeeded.
LADY MACBETH – Florence Pugh, in one of the year’s best performances, plays a young woman in the early 19th century who marries into the most miserable family of dour misogynists one can imagine. Her only recourse is to lash out in a series of increasingly defiant sexual dalliances. This movie is punk rock.
GET OUT – A horror movie to directly address the racial politics right outside our door, and a terrifying look into the casual racism of even the most liberal of white families, Get Out is the most timely film of the year.
LOGAN – A superhero deconstructionst western that finally provides the genre with something it’s never had before: An ending. In a world infected by superhero flicks, here is a film that finally recognizes that a life devoted to violence tatters the soul.
THE FLORIDA PROJECT – Living in the shadow of a famous theme park, a young girl finds laughter and survival in a low-cost apartment complex. Her mother makes several bad decisions, and their lives are torn asunder. Natural, emotionally harrowing, amusing, and honest.
LUCKY – Harry Dean Stanton led a life that was well-deserved. His final lead performance see him as a man who has earned every last bit of his angry defiance, every last one of his drinks, every one of his bad jokes. He is a creature of the desert, and he fits so well into the landscape, he appears to have risen up out of it.
mother! – A Biblical freakout, a virtuosic cinematic dance, an exploration of endemic misogyny in religious texts, an over-ambitious student film, a horror of horrors, a nightmare that contains every human anxiety. None will leave this film without being marked.
VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS – Handily one of the most gorgeous sci-fi films ever made, bursting with color and visual innovation that your average blockbuster doesn’t even try for. Its notorious financial failure is only a signal that audiences no longer crave infinite innovation.
LADY BIRD – Teens think cynicism is the same thing as wisdom, and that being an asshole is the same as being interesting. Lady Bird has a few hard, and very real, lessons to learn. She’s a jerk, but we love her, and we admire her ambition to leave her home town.
THE SQUARE – Artists frequently talk about confronting audiences with their art, when, in fact, neither the audiences nor the artists themselves are very good at actual confrontation. In a scene worthy of Bunuel, The Square features a scene wherein a performance artists behaves like an insane caveman at a fancy dress dinner party. He takes things too far. These bourgeoisie jerks don’t know what hit them.