What excited me most about the column was that I would not know what I’d find from year to year—what thoughts would emerge, what connections could be made between films, and what all of this would end up revealing or implying about certain points in film history. I believe that all critical writing should be an exploration—a way of wrestling with a text in order to understand oneself and the world—rather than a dictatorial exercise in self-expression, or a means … Read More
A quirk of the process is that we’ve often seen a great number of what will become our favorite films of the year before the year’s even begun. For example, at this time last year I had already seen seven out of the ten films that would end up on my 2013 list, films that played at 2012 festivals I’d attended in either Toronto, London, or New York. And so it will be with my 2014 list, which will undoubtedly … Read More
By 1925, thirty years after the Lumière brothers first unveiled the Cinematographe in Paris, the Los Angeles studios were firmly established and the movies had gone from novelty to way of life. Yet many Hollywood movies of the year were still defined by the excitement of discovery; in them one can still feel the sense of filmmaking as an expedition.
With film chatter essentially a pissing contest, films perceived as milder—i.e., feminine—get left in the dust. I recall first becoming acutely aware of this phenomenon in 2005, when there were several expertly crafted, moving American films featuring women in leading roles and concerning such negligible things as human relationships; none of them were taken particularly seriously by the culture at large.
Some filmmakers working in 1930 weren’t in the least bit interested in the arrival of sound. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, they were aesthetically and philosophically opposed to sound to the point of ignoring its ascendance. The study of cinema as a burgeoning and autonomous art form was still in its infancy and thus a novelty to most, and those more rigorous, intellectually minded craftsmen were really just beginning to get a hold on the primacy and meaning of … Read More
On Golden Pond was a surprise blockbuster, making over a hundred million dollars in the U.S., and forever standing as a testament to the power and appeal of watching two icons trade barbs and tears in their twilight years. Safely peevish, Henry Fonda may have been the Grumpy Cat of 1981; his scowl set hearts aflutter. But he had competition: John Gielgud won the best supporting actor Oscar that year, at age seventy-six, for Arthur.
Documentaries are commonly tagged as the timeliest of films—both for the seeming urgency of their subject matter and their literal recording of the times in which they are made. Yet though it’s situated in its present moment, a documentary has the potential to be a temporally disorienting cinematic form. Take Nina Davenport’s metaphorical Iraq War film Operation Filmmaker, which was intended as a snapshot of its moment, and became both more and less than that.
The uncomfortably intimate, fly-on-the-wall documentary A Married Couple is singular, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Coming at the end of the first decade touched by the sexual liberation movement, Alan King’s film is implicitly investigatory about the concept of marriage itself. Other films released in 1969 also seemed to be making tentative gestures toward evaluating monogamy in the face of the ever-mainstreaming concepts of free love, swinging, and other sexual experimentation, including Mazursky’s Bob & Carol & Ted … Read More
Barely more than ten minutes into It’s a Wonderful Life I’m already a puddle. The film is still an hour and a half away from settling into its final act—a zigzag of wrenching despair and cathartic exuberance that has few equals in American cinema—yet it’s reached an emotional crescendo that most films would be hard-pressed to pull off at all.