Saturday, February 02, 2019

NICE GOIN’, KID: DICK MILLER (1928-2019)




A lot of words have already been written this week, and hopefully a lot more will be written in the next few weeks, months and years, about the great and beloved character actor Dick Miller, who passed away Wednesday in Burbank at age 90.  A quick look at his bio page on IMDb will give you the basics about his early life— born in The Bronx, he served in the US Navy and, despite his diminutive stature, even won a prize title as a middleweight boxer. But that’s not why several generations of movie fans know him, love him, or get such a kick out of seeing him pop up, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere, in the over-180 films and TV episodes in which he appeared. 
Miller made his way out to Los Angeles from New York in the mid-50s and thus assured said multiple generations of movie fans of many hours of happiness by getting himself noticed by producer-director Roger Corman, who cast him in his first role, the Indian warrior Tall Tree, in Corman’s low-budget western Apache Woman (1955), starring Lloyd Bridges. Miller soon became one of Corman’s favored actors, appearing in some Corman’s most notable early pictures, including It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), The Undead (1957) and Sorority Girl (1957). After doing some TV work, it was Corman again who really put Miller on the map and cemented his place in movie history by casting him in the satirical horror comedy A Bucket of Blood (1959) as Walter Paisley, a shiftless busboy who finds acclaim in the art world when his dead cat gets dunked in plaster and is subsequently praised as a significant piece of sculpture. The sudden fame goes to Paisley’s head, bringing out his more sociopathic tendencies, and soon more ex-lifelike sculptures of decidedly more human subjects begin appearing as part of Paisley’s increasingly grotesque portfolio. Comedy and horror ensue.

Walter Paisley turned out to be such a memorable character, and so defined the benignly irascible persona that Miller would perfect over the 50+-year movie and TV career to follow, that even the name would be a hard one to shake, if the good-natured actor ever even had a mind to disregard his legacy in such a way. Director Joe Dante cast Miller in every one of his movies, beginning with Hollywood Boulevard, co-directed by Allan Arkush, in 1976, and in that movie he played an energetic, somewhat shady agent by the name of… Walter Paisley. He was Walter Paisley again for Dante in The Howling (perhaps one of Miller’s most memorable roles, as an occult librarian, also reportedly Miller’s favorite) and in the director’s episode from Twilight Zone—The Movie (1983). He also appeared under that name for other Corman vets, like Arkush (Shake, Rattle and Rock!; 1994) and Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall; 1986), and as recently as 2015 for writer-director Michael Schlesinger in the Biffle & Shooster short Schmo Boat. The way Walter Paisley followed Dick Miller around from picture to picture, for several different directors over several decades, has to be one of the most unique tributes to any actor in the history of movies.
Corman apparently offered Miller the lead in his follow-up to Bucket of Blood, another horror comedy you may have heard of called The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), but Miller demurred, believing the role of the nebbishy young man who nurtures a bloodthirsty plant by feeding it human meals was too close to that of Paisley. Miller settled instead for his customary supporting role in that picture, and in the doing, as the writer and critic Phillip Dyess-Nugent recently observed, forever denied us the spectacle of seeing the pointy-featured soon-to-be legend squatting on a dentist’s chair, yanking teeth out of the maw of yet another soon-to-be legend, a hysterically, erotically excited pain freak played by Jack Nicholson.
Dante cast Miller in every picture he made, yes, but not always as Walter Paisley, of course—he was Murray Futterman, the apoplectic Kingston Falls citizen haunted by holiday hellions in Gremlins, and then on vacation in New York with Mrs. Futterman in the brilliant hellzapoppin’ sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch. His scene in the first film, when he drunkenly emerges from the bar followed by a concerned Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, hops in his snowblower and warns about how “they” put gremlins in our cars, our radios, our TVs, may not have the subversive notoriety of Cates’ Santa monologue in that picture, but it’s a quiet, understated, memorable and very funny moment, nonetheless. One can imagine it being used if Miller had ever gotten the Oscar that some of us believe he deserved.
But whether he was Walter or Murray or someone else, Miller was always building on that persona, and in Dante’s terrific, criminally undervalued 1985 picture Explorers, in which the director and screenwriter Eric Luke undercut their own Spielbergian framework more subtly than in the dismantling, crash-bang cacophony of Gremlins, Miller got his chance to deepen that persona and tug a few heartstrings in the process. In Explorers, three young boys (Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix and Jason Presson) begin receiving mysterious encoded messages in their dreams which they soon realize are beings bent by alien beings who are providing them instructions for creating a method of space travel to be used for their very own interstellar close encounter. They finally get airborne, using a rusted Tilt-a-Whirl car as their ship (which floats inside an electromagnetic bubble that enables the actual flying), and buzz the town drive-in movie theater in an evocative, ecstatic and hilarious sequence which introduces Miller as Officer Charlie Drake, who, along with Meshach Taylor, gets on their tail in a sheriff’s department helicopter.


The two adults don’t know what to make of this weird ship, which zigs and zags across the gorgeous night sky with no adherence to conventional physics, but they get close enough for Drake to realize, with a mixture of panic and awe, that there’s someone or something inside after glimpsing Phoenix in one of the gas masks the kids are using to provide oxygen during their flight. It’s also an occasion for a great Dick Miller comic moment, the sort he did so well, when, after excitedly explaining to Taylor what he thinks he saw, he stops suddenly, gives a perturbed glance back in the direction of where the Tilt-a-Whirl has just disappeared, and says without looking back at his partner, “I swallowed my gum.”
The encounter sparks Drake to his own investigation of what exactly is going on, and as he inches closer to the truth about what the boys have constructed, and what they intend to do with it, Drake seems at first to emerge as yet another version of the pursuing adult who can’t or shouldn’t be trusted, someone for whom the only reasonable reaction, if you’re covertly building a spaceship in a creek bed out behind your backyard, is quick flight in the other direction. But instead, something has been stirred inside of Drake, and when he confesses to Taylor that he’s lately been dreaming about the ship, he also admits that the dreams remind him of ones he used to have as a kid. In one wonderful scene, Miller takes Drake from potentially unsympathetic cop giving chase to somewhere in the vicinity of Spielberg’s haunted Roy Neary from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, creating the bond of a kindred spirit who would probably like nothing more than to ride along with the kids on whatever adventure they undertake. The subtle shifts in the way Miller plays the moment, with a degree of erosion of the tough exterior he’s probably had to cultivate as an officer of the law, sensitize the viewer in an unexpected way, calling hairs on the back of the neck to attention.

 
 

When Drake discovers the hidden Tilt-a-Whirl in the creek bed and deduces what might be going on, he confronts Hawke’s character, Ben, who is understandably freaked out and not even slightly tuned in to the register of panic and desperation beneath Drake’s authoritarian demand for an explanation. Ben runs away, toward his rendezvous with the other two boys, who are at the ship preparing for the ultimate takeoff, but Drake sticks close to him, close enough to be there to see the Tilt-a-Whirl launch from amidst the underbrush and toward… who knows what. Dante completely hands the frame over to Miller here, and as he gazes up to the sky, first with frustration at having missed them, and then with admiration for what they’ve managed to do and wonder at what they’ll see, Drake says to himself, to Ben, “Nice goin’, kid.” It’s a beautiful moment and, watching it this week, knowing that Miller is gone, one for which tears are finally the only and best response. 
Yes, there will be many words written about Dick Miller, and there should be, and most of them will be far more eloquent than mine. (For words and pictures about the great man, you could hardly do any better than Elijah Drenner’s nifty and heartfelt documentary, That Guy Dick Miller, which will, in these days after his death, likely both cheer and sadden those of us who loved his work in equal measure. It’s available right now on Amazon Prime.) I’ve only seen what amounts to a handful of Miller’s appearances in movies—sometimes it feels like he’s been in more movies, numbers wise, than I’ve sat through in my 58 years. Yet it’s impossible to diminish the impact he’s had on me in terms of appreciating the consistent delight he always seemed to supply, stealing scenes left and right in almost every picture he ever appeared in, but also in the way he himself seemed to delight in owning his little corner of character actor posterity. The Bronx native was not a particularly versatile actor, nor was he, beyond Explorers and Bucket of Blood, ever given much of a chance to be. But one of the special pleasures of experiencing a Dick Miller performance is realizing that though he was always good, he didn’t have to be versatile. We loved him anyway, because he was always that guy, Dick Miller.
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Sunday, January 27, 2019

KNEEJERK REACTIONS TO THE 2018 OSCAR NOMINATIONS, or DOES THIS MEAN I HAVE TO SEE A STAR IS BORN NOW?


I knew it was coming, but now that it’s finally here, it feels a little weird to have to admit it. After almost 50 years of watching and following the Oscars (the first Academy Award ceremony I saw was for the movies released in 1969), I find myself feeling genuinely indifferent to the whole megillah. Each year it’s more difficult, even with the move toward acceptance of Netflix-available films like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Roma (which I saw in a theater), to see as much as I want to see, and this year Oscar was consistently good at favoring with nominations a passel of pictures I never really wanted to see in the first place,  stuff like The Wife, Vice  (I thought everyone disliked Vice!), Green Book and A Star is Born. So, this year I guess I’m feeling a touch of what the Academy and pundits like to buzz about when  addressing the decline in ratings for this once-dominant TV ratings juggernaut: Joe and Jane Public just don’t care about any of the movies nominated, so they’re tuning out. (Note: the Oscars broadcast really is still a worldwide ratings juggernaut, but any slight trend toward decline means less dollars, and boy, is that ever a call to panic in Hollywood, USA.)

Well, I’m trying to stay tuned. But honest to God, I find it really difficult, especially when the movies themselves are still outside my experience, to get all whipped up in an office pool frenzy about a potential face-off between Lady Gaga and Glenn Close for Best Actress, especially since A) I have almost 0% historical interest in any version of  A Star is Born (I made it through part of the Cukor version once, the only version that holds any intrigue for me); B) I have an almost categorical allergy to Glenn Close (for me, her finest hour on film comes in Mars Attacks!); and C) I spent the last three months convincing myself that Olivia Colman was a shoo-in, and now the unfailing wisdom of the Hollywood press is trying to convince me otherwise. On some level, I think I actually resent the intrusion into my fantasy that for once the person who I believe actually deserves the award (and the general recognition from an otherwise “Olivia Who?” sort of crowd) might actually win. Ah, who knows? Close or Gaga (we don’t ever call her Lady, do we, unless we know her well) might be really good in their respective roles, but they both seem like such obvious choices, and from a purely bread-and-circuses perspective, the positioning of either one as a favorite kinda makes me reflexively reach for the snooze button. And speaking of Bread and Circuses, Squirmy Public Spectacle Division, Close oughta be aware of the danger of being declared any sort of front-runner, based on either merit or “She’s been so good for so long” status. As a friend of mine who is much smarter than me on these things observed on Facebook recently, just ask how that sure-thing buzz worked out for Lauren Bacall, or Eddie Murphy, or Burt Reynolds, or most recently Sylvester Stallone.


The bottom line is, I just don’t have a whole lot of dogs in this particular hunt. If it were up to me, you’d be seeing a whole lot more of First Reformed and Leave No Trace and Buster Scruggs and Searching and Burning, and maybe even a cultural consciousness no-show like Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds on Oscar night, at the partial expense of all the pictures mentioned above, and even of the presumed all-around favorite, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, which far too many people who are inclined to abuse the word are declaring a masterpiece. (I admire the movie, but I never overcame Cuaron’s own prescribed remoteness—I kept waiting for the moment that the movie would sweep me away, and it never did.) And these articles I read immediately after the nominations were announced, the ones that kept trying to sell the idea that for once there was no recognizable front-runner, that for the first time in a long time, for whatever reason, the Oscar show might have a little suspense, well, the folks who wrote those pieces must have been looking at a different list of nominees than I was. In what world could a movie which garners nominations for Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography and  Best Foreign Film, one with considerable critical backing and unprecedented availability in homes equipped to stream Netflix, not be considered a competition-crushing front-runner? No movie nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Film has ever taken both awards, but Roma could do exactly that. For Christ’s sake, Cuaron himself personally stands to walk away with five Oscars next month. Between them, in their storied and influential careers Robert Altman and Alfred Hitchcock managed to snag exactly none.
And therein lies the danger of taking Oscar too seriously, the punishment for which is a consistent thwacking on the back on the head until the brain matter is reordered with some common sense. Posterity has nothing to do with it—Oscars, the nominations and the awards, have more to do with the reflection of a particular moment, whether that moment is, like our current one, inflected with adjustments courtesy of #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite, or trends in the past toward stodgy biblical epics and social problem pictures that haven’t done so well in the Standing the Test of Time Department. (One good thing about TCM’s otherwise humdrum 31 Days of Oscar platform, which will hijack the channel yet again for another month beginning this coming Friday, is that it gives the skeptical viewer a chance to see the same old roster of overplayed pictures yet again, as well as to quizzically observe, while trying to find something to record on the DVR, the nature of just what Oscar thought made the grade 60 years ago-- which I suppose in turn might at least inspire a little research to find out what movies got passed over during the same time period and to by God watch them instead.)  

Oscar will reveal his decisions on February 24, and no doubt some smarmy jerk like me writing for his holographic blog or for Trailers from Hell in 2078, if the Academy and the Internet and civilization itself still exist at that point, will wonder why everyone in 2018 thought Roma or A Star is Born or Vice were such collective big deals, and that person will likely have no idea that many of us in the current moment were thinking the same thing. (And I’ll bet the movies which will be clogging SmarmyGuy2078’s Oscar wrap-up article will be just as perplexing in their acclaim.) But we march on, tossing our observations and predictions about Oscar around like so many ineffectual thoughts and prayers, in the hope that come Oscar Night some of it will somehow gel into something resembling sense, some entertainment value beyond gawking at gorgeous gowns and listening to a parade of strident speechifying (however well intended) and gushing about the four other nominees who didn’t get to make the long walk to the stage and how this really belongs to all of you! That’s not really very likely to happen, though I do think that proceeding without a host is a step in the right direction. For once, the Monday morning teeth-gnashing in all the entertainment press will have to focus on something else besides Kevin Hart’s painfully misguided sense of humor and the writers who couldn’t make him, or Seth MacFarlane, or Ellen Degeneres, or Jimmy Kimmel, look any better. Presenters of individual awards, good luck to you all. To everyone else, may your Oscar party be amusing, however tedious and predictable the outcome of the actual show may be. 

And since predictions are best left (at least by me) for my office pool Oscar ballot, here’s a list of what I’d save a checkmark for if I had a real Oscar ballot in my hands. Use the following picks to guide your own Oscar pool guesses at your own peril.


PICTURE
I’m still trying to figure out how Bohemian Rhapsody, a movie I liked, by the way— and one that apparently directed itself, if the lack of mention of a certain defamed director in the remarks of all its post-Golden Globe award recipients tell us anything—ended up with a Best Picture nod. That said, my vote would give the slight edge to BlacKKKlansman over Black Panther, with The Favorite coming in third. I can’t bear the thought of Spike Lee losing again to another picture about racial harmony arrived at inside a moving vehicle, but here’s where the appeal of the Oscars vis-à-vis possible public humiliation comes in again, I guess. Still haven’t seen: Green Book, A Star is Born, Vice.

ACTRESS
See above. Yalitza Aparicio and Melissa McCarthy are above reproach in Roma and Can You Ever Forgive Me? respectively, but my black heart belongs to Olivia Colman. (She had no chance, of course, but a perfect world would have made room for Leave No Trace’s Thomasin Harcourt Mackenzie, so natural and so compelling in Leave No Trace.)

ACTOR
My point of greatest embarrassment this year. I have seen exactly one of the nominated performances—Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody—so my vote reflexively goes to him. But he wouldn’t stand a chance in my eye if Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), or John Cho (Searching), or Joaquin Phoenix (Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot), or maybe even Brady Jandreau (The Rider), were up there instead of, say, Bradley Cooper, or Christian Bale, who will probably benefit from this year’s Gary Oldman Award for Real-Life Representation from Underneath a Shit-ton of Really Good Make-up and reign supreme. (See also Best Make-up.) 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Wherefore art thou, Elizabeth Debicki? Wherefore art thou, Michelle Yeoh? I walked out of Widows and Crazy Rich Asians convinced both were locks for a Supporting Actress nomination—they were the only things people with wildly variant views of the respective films could agree on, and they both outclassed their own movies. And Tyne Daly’s dyspeptic apoplexy in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was flat-out spectacular. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Yet these women get only crickets, while Marina de Tavira slides in on Roma’s overall goodwill and Amy Adams rides the coattails of the Academy’s mysterious love for the largely derided Vice. (There’s a joke in there, but I won’t make it.) I’m inclined to back Regina King simply because I’ve loved her since 227 (look it up, art house snobs!), but I have yet to see If Beale Street Could Talk—I was gonna catch it this afternoon, but instead I’m sitting at home writing this—so I’ll tilt toward Emma Stone.

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Sam Rockwell is clearly the beneficiary of having won here last year—my wife, who has seen Vice, assures me that his tiny role as George W. Bush wouldn’t warrant Oscar consideration even if it went beyond simple caricature. Mahershala Ali’s inclusion makes more sense, but again, he’s already got a statue—and, yes, he might get another one. Richard E. Grant does very well by a role that is, however based on real humanity, a bit of a Hollywood cliché. Adam Driver should’ve been nominated for Paterson. That leaves Sam Elliot, an actor I like—he should’ve been nominated for I’ll See You in My Dreams—nominated for a role I haven’t seen. My vote: Richard E. Grant, the beneficiary of a ton of goodwill stretching back to Withnail & I— now there’s an Oscar-worthy performance—but the whole category gets a shrug from me in the absence of folks like Ben Foster (Leave No Trace), Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther) and, God bless him, Jesse Plemons (Game Night).

DIRECTOR
Anyone who bets against Alfonso Cuaron, here and elsewhere, is filling out a fool’s office Oscar pool ballot. But among these five, Spike Lee deserves his moment on stage, for sheer conviction alone. That, and BlacKKKlansman is a hell of a movie.
ANIMATED FEATURE
I loved Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, but Isle of Dogs looked like a mutt too far for me. (Yeah, yeah, it’s on Amazon Prime—I’ll get to it.) And frankly, I was a touch disappointed by Incredibles 2, which was admittedly burdened by being a sequel to a film that was almost impossible to follow. So, admitting ignorance about Dogs, Mirai and Ralph Breaks the Internet, I’ll still confidently (if somewhat ignorantly) proclaim that no other animated feature colored outside the lines in such an innovative fashion as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse did. It’s not just the animated movie of the year; it comes damn close to being the movie of the year.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Caleb Deschanel, who should already have an Oscar for The Black Stallion, and maybe one for The Right Stuff too, is nominated for a German-language movie (Never Look Back) no one has seen. (Way to go, Caleb Deschanel!) Roma will win because, well, Cuaron, even though his ascent will deny self-inflated would-be insiders everywhere the chance to wax ecstatic about “Chivo.” (Cuaron has the right to call his longtime cinematographer and friend, Emmanuel Lubezki, by that nickname, and he undoubtedly will on Oscar night in his acceptance speech.) But if it were me, I’d give it to Old Fish Eyes, Robbie Ryan, for The Favourite.

COSTUME DESIGN
I’d automatically default to Mary Zophres here for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs if it weren’t for the fact that Ruth Carter’s spectacular threads for Black Panther made that movie pop off the screen like it was in 3-D, even if you saw it without the free sunglasses. Carter deserves it, and she’ll get it.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Free Solo  wasn’t quite the feat that Jimmy Chin’s previous eye-and-mind-boggling mountain climbing doc Meru was, but it’s still grand. Of Fathers and Sons is easily the most unsettling movie I saw in 2018, and it’s a daring, unblinking piece of work. And to my shame, I have so far missed RBG, Hale County This Morning, This Evening and Minding the Gap. I’d vote for Of Fathers and Sons of the five. But the real story in this category is all the movies-- in a great year for documentaries, by the way-- that went unrepresented, titles like Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (okay, AMPAS ain’t coming near that one-- I get it), Fahrenheit 11/9 (the political outrage factor already covered, I guess, by Vice), John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, Amazing Grace and Three Identical Strangers. But the huge elephant (or the giant Donkey Hodie) in the room is, of course, the lack of recognition for Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a movie that may have been hurt by voters in the Academy documentary branch who may have felt the movie, a big hit and the rare documentary that might be almost as beloved as its subject, had already collected its reward. Mr. Rogers might forgive such an omission, but I cannot.
FILM EDITING
I’d like to think longtime Spike Lee cutter Barry Alexander Brown has a real shot at winning this-- he’d get my vote. But all five nominees also have representation in the Best Picture category, and Roma is not among them, so looks like anything could happen here. My vote: BlacKKKlansman. Prediction?... Um…. The Favourite? Green Book?


FOREIGN FILM
I think the prospect of a Roma  sweep, Best Supporting Actress excepted, is a real thing. That said, if Oscar wants to appear even-handed, Shoplifters has a good shot at one of the evening’s upsets.

MAKE-UP
Please. Vice. For Border and Mary Queen of Scots, really, it’s just an honor to be nominated. Really.

ORIGINAL SCORE
Another toss-up. Though I’ve often bristled at the way his music has been used by Lee, the veteran Terence Blanchard is well-represented for his work on BlacKKKlansman. I honestly don’t recall a note of the score for Black Panther. And if I voted for Mary Poppins Returns, it would be because Marc Shaiman should have won something for South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut  19 years ago. (Nineteen years ago…?) I’d vote for Blanchard. 


ORIGINAL SONG
My daughter’s vote would go to “All the Stars” from Black Panther, and I completely understand. It’s a good song. And there will be no denying Lady Gaga in this category, no matter what happens between her and Close (and Colman)—from what I’ve heard it’s even a good song too. But there’s no way I’d ever vote against “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” written by the great roots musicians David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Another strike against the Oscar show: I hear tell they’re not scheduling a performance of the tune, by Tim Blake Nelson or anyone else. Pan shot!

PRODUCTION DESIGN
Would anyone dare vote against Black Panther in this category? Not me.

SCREENPLAY (ADAPTED)
This one feels like Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott, Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz’s to lose. The quality of Can You Ever Forgive Me? was no forgery, thanks to Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty’s talents. And the shadow of James Baldwin seems not to have intimidated Beale’s Street’s Barry Jenkins. My own vote would go to the Coens, whose use of existing texts in one story (“Meal Ticket”) and a full-on adaptation of an existing short story ("The Girl Who Got Rattled") lands their otherwise original script for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs in the adapted category. They get my vote, but the Oscar will go to BlacKKKlansman, and that’s okay with me. (Just retroactively apply a little of that luster to Lee and Willmott’s previous collaboration, ChiRaq, while you’re at it, Oscar, if you don’t mind.)

SCREENPLAY (ORIGINAL)
I can’t tell you how nice it is to see Paul Schrader get an Oscar nomination, and for a Paul Schrader film too. His template may have been Winter Light, but Schrader is no more a Bergman copycat than De Palma is of Hitchcock, which is to say that he takes a familiar perspective and makes it his own; in First Reformed he’s made a true movie of the moment. I think the momentum behind Roma will be unstoppable here, but it’ll sure be nice to see Schrader in a tux.

SOUND EDITING

Black Panther may seem like the obvious choice, but a movie with sound as something more than subtext, like A Quiet Place, might be a better choice.

SOUND MIXING

Black Panther gets my vote and my prediction, but A Star is Born could sneak one in with this category.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Hard to imagine how a juggernaut like Black Panther managed to miss out on an obvious slot like this one, but it did. Ready Player One was frantic, but also kinda dingy-looking, and Solo: A Star Wars Story and Christopher Robin, while undoubtedly benefitting from feeling familiar, felt, well, too familiar. (I’d have tossed Solo and replaced it with the familiar but wildly enjoyable big monster antics of Rampage.) Of the nominees, Avengers: Infinity War seems like the best choice. But why no love for Annihilation, whose effects were genuinely special, and unsettling as hell to boot?

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And a post-year-end note by way of a mea culpa. I submitted my list of year-end favorites a couple of weeks ago, and I was forthcoming (to the point of embarrassment in some cases) about my blind spots. But thanks to my own poor record-keeping, I created a blind spot for myself where there was none by accidentally omitting Chloe Zhao’s The Rider from the upper echelon of my list of favorite movies of 2018. The story of The Rider, that of a young Native American cowboy (Brady Jandreau) who, after a devastating head injury, has to reevaluate his own life and his place in the world, was based very closely on Jandreau’s experience—he’s a real cowboy, not an actor, and the movie is populated with people from his own family and circle of friends. But what could have been simply a sincere, NPR-friendly character study becomes responsive, inquisitive, empathetic art in Zhao’s hands. With The Rider she’s made a startling original, a one-of-a-kind tribute to one man’s anger and confusion and resiliency that begs comparison to no other movie this year. And yet in a strange and lovely fulfillment of one of her premier influences, Zhao has also made the Terence Malick movie that Malick himself seems unwilling or unable to make anymore.

We who put these things together always say that the year-end list in question might look different if it were composed a day earlier or later, that it could change from moment to moment, and this is an instance when it really did. Here’s what my year-end list would look like if I’d been paying closer attention to my own notes:

FIRST REFORMED

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

LEAVE NO TRACE

THE RIDER

FAHRENHEIT 11/9

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

BLACKKKLANSMAN

BLACK PANTHER

SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD

(Sorry, Game Night. I still love you.)

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Sunday, January 06, 2019

OUT ON A WEB: THE MOVIES OF 2018



When is the best not the best? I think the answer to this non-rhetorical question that maybe nobody would ever ask in the first place has to be, when one hasn’t the breadth of experience to really answer with any certainty or credibility. Best cheeseburger in my neighborhood? Well, I haven’t sampled them all. But I know which ones I believe measure up to my standards, which ones transcend simple food, thoughtless product to be inserted with the singular purpose of quashing that gnawing feeling in my belly and, if the creation of a great cheeseburger, one in which the ingredients are complimentary, which integrate to inform the entirety of the experience of each bite can be so loftily considered, which ones approach art.

And so it is with the movies. Despite the protestations of every haughty, angry, insistent film critic (or anyone else, for that matter) whose language abandons the pretense of having not submitted to their own oft-repeated preconceptions, whose manner belies claims that theirs too are just opinions and reveals the judgment delivered upon those who would disagree with their choices for the Best Films of the Year, these sorts of endeavors are (surprise!) hugely subjective. And I have come to understand, after 15 or so years of putting my own thoughts out there for the public to indulge or ignore, that no such claims of “best” anything can really hold much water, simply because to hold forth as if they could would mean I was placing some sort of authority upon myself than I have no business trafficking in. Most intelligent writers and movieheads I know thankfully refrain from indulging in this sort of nonsense. But some continue to bash our heads with proclamations and tirades aimed to end the conversation, not further it. (“X and Y are brilliant. Z is a piece of shit. That is all.”) Those are the ones that I have concluded I can do without.  

The best any film critic can hope for at the end of the year is to try to express some measure of their own experiences with cinema, however far-ranging that experience might be. Of course, the ones who have a greater breadth of knowledge, who have seen more and can make connections between works and eras and sensibilities, are likely to be more interesting than the guy whose top-ten list is comprised entirely of all ten movies he saw in total for the year. These are the writers who can give you a rich snapshot of the film in question and something of their own story, however overtly or covertly, in the process. That’s why discovering Pauline Kael when I was a pup was such an important event in my intellectual and creative life, such as it was and is. She was a master of making writing about film both universal and sublimely personal, and I loved her for it, even if I often found myself at odds with her conclusions.
My own writing, I believe, lands somewhere squarely in the middle of those two poles of experience. One of the great lessons for me when I moved to Los Angeles from Oregon has been that, try as I might, it was impossible to see everything. And over 30 years later, with the accessibility granted by streaming and DVRs and labels like Criterion, Arrow, Warner Archives, Olive Films, TCM, Kino Lorber and an endless chain of other like-minded entities, there’s more available to see right now than there ever has been in my lifetime. And that’s an entirely separate conversation from the movies released in any given year. Therefore,  you won’t catch me trying to proclaim the best of anything any longer, whether we’re talking cheeseburgers or classics of contemporary film. There’s not enough time, literally. 

That said, what follow are the movies I responded to in 2018, with a nod toward all there is left for me to see, an exercise which may add even a little more perspective for any reader who actually cares-- “Well, if he thought so highly of X, maybe he should have seen Y, and it might have affected his thinking about both.” I have also, as become my tradition, included a list of movies made before 1980 that I saw for the first time in the calendar year past, which might also shed some light on what I was doing when I could have been making time for If Beale Street Could Talk or Hearts Beat Loud or Holmes and Watson. And of course, I was doing many other things besides watching movies in 2018, which might provide another sort of clue as to why I can’t be encyclopedically definitive when it comes to the best films of the year. Life will have its way, and as I approach 60 years on the planet I am more than ever okay with that idea. 

As a friend on Facebook pointed out recently, Once Upon a Time in the West, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rosemary’s Baby, Night of the Living Dead, The Producers, Planet of the Apes, If…, Greetings, they all turned 50 years old last year. Will we be talking about any of the movies on the following list 50 years from now? Stay tuned. 


Here, then, are my favorites, in descending order.


FIRST REFORMED (Paul Schrader)

 

Writer-director Paul Schrader has made a career out of writing (Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ) and directing (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Patty Hearst, Cat People) challenging movies. But with First Reformed I think he’s finally made one which could be accurately described as exquisite, and without betraying any of the rage and paranoia and unsettled psychological terrain that has earmarked both his finest and most flawed work. That word “exquisite” should in no way imply preciousness, as if anyone describing Schrader’s work could ever make room for that adjective. First Reformed is a tormented consideration of faith (and the lack thereof), the difficult possibility of transcendence, and the seemingly even more difficult act of holding ostensibly opposed impulses of hope and despair in balance without completely losing one's shit. Which, of course, makes it an almost perfect movie for our particular moment. It speaks to the faithful in terms of what even the faithless see directly in front of them. Ethan Hawke’s tortured pastor counsels the husband of a parishioner who is despondent over the dire implications of climate change, and the transference of that burden of responsibility from counseled to counsellor addresses one of the pastor’s central spiritual crises, a profound insecurity over whether God can forgive us for what we’ve done. Schrader has breathed life into a brilliantly sustained act of tension between the spiritual and the corporeal (and the influence of each on the other), building toward an act of desperate release, of a man trying to make a mark on the world, on his own soul. It seems like the fulfillment of a career’s-worth of concerns which, in movies like American Gigolo and Hardcore, have often felt chilly and academic rather than truly embodied, given flesh. Hawke’s pastor, exiled within his own doubt and overseeing a historically significant house of worship made into a sparsely attended tourist trap under the stewardship of a corporate-style megachurch, truly is God's lonely man. Over all of Schrader's most personal work, including Taxi Driver, with which this movie shares more than a few stylistic devices derived from transcendental filmmakers like Robert Bresson, as well as its suffocating sense of isolation, this film seems Schrader’s most piercing, the one that hurts the most, the one that offers the possibility of mortification and the bearable weight of an earthly yoke in equal measure as penance for divine deliverance.


THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (Joel and Ethan Coen)

 


A pitiless and awe-inspiring consideration of the myths embodied in our shared story-told history of the western, and perhaps the funniest, loveliest, most empathetic epic about the inevitability of death anyone’s ever attempted. Decorum and a respect for the surprises which lie within this six-tale omnibus, which ranges from the morbidly hilarious to the devastatingly somber to the startlingly elegiac, will keep anyone worth listening to as they wax enthusiastic about this film from giving away too much. But even when one can predict the trajectory of elements within its anthological structure (most apparently in the final chapter), there’s no diminishment in the story’s power because of the abundance of moments that can make you gasp out loud in the telling. You may also find yourself gasping throughout, as I did, in recognition of the audacity of the Coen Brothers, who in making their own way through the trials, beauties, and sundry absurdities of our western legends, reassert here their stature at the top tier of living American filmmakers. And a tip of the cap to Netflix, who gave this movie a theatrical release (however brief) concurrent with its availability streaming, making their contribution to great modern westerns, after last year’s stunning Godless from writer-director Scott Frank, an admirable two for two.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman)

 


When I was a kid, maybe 9 or 10, I was reading an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man with my usual zeal, and at one point in the action I felt like I just had to share it with someone. Since no one in my immediate family was much on comics (or movies, or monsters, or…), I decided my mom, who also happened to be nearest in the house, might be my most sympathetic victim. I brought the comic to her and opened it up to a particularly impressive section—a moment in a one-on-one fistfight between Spidey and the villain of the month (Kingpin? Green Gobln? Shocker?? I can’t say for sure). The action was divided into four panels, two tall, thin rectangles per page, so you could look at the whole spectacular conception just by laying it open, sitting back and, yes, marveling at the scope of the thing, the dynamism, the movie-ism of it all. She was unimpressed. But the folks who made Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse get it. My guess is that they’ve been “getting it” ever since they were as old as I was when I tried to share my own enthusiasm for what comics, and particular this comic and its hero, were capable of expressing. Their magnificent, eye-popping, multi-planed epic restores the “amazing” into the Amazing Spider-Man; it’s the first superhero movie of the Marvel era that varies from the tried-and-true template, that colors outside the lines—hell, that explodes the lines into various forms of grace and divisions of space and storytelling energy. There’s just no way of taking it all in in one sitting. It’s also the first superhero movie to successfully understand and relate how reading a really invigorating comic book story happens in the imagination of the reader. At the same time, it absolutely feels and moves and sounds like nothing else of this or any other year, providing an irrefutable lesson in how to make a visually innovative, naturally inclusive and genuinely multicultural movie (in all aspects of that familiar term) without trolling for recognition for having done so. And as Spider-Pig, one of the many wildly entertaining denizens of the Spider-verse might put it, yeah, it’s a cartoon. You got a problem with cartoons?  

LEAVE NO TRACE (Debra Granik)

 

A story of the familial ties between father and daughter that is a wrenching and rich as its title is intransient and prone to evaporation. A PTSD-afflicted war veteran (Ben Foster) has taken himself and his daughter Tom (newcomer Thomasin Harcourt Mackenzie) off the grid, making for them a quiet, if illegal, existence living off the land in a forested park within Portland, Oregon city limits. Once they’re reined in by social service agents and given a taste of being reintegrated back into society, the father bristles, but the daughter realizes that, though she wants nothing more than to be with her dad, a modest life among modest people carries its own allures. What’s genuinely marvelous about Granik’s approach, especially with Mackenzie, is the way director and actress make clear the dawning difference between parent and child without pressing home the metaphoric significance. Mackenzie’s Tom eases into a world of new experiences with a child’s natural curiosity—sea horses she reads about in books, flag dancers at a local church, 4-H kids raising rabbits, learning about the temperament and tendencies of hive bees—while her dad remains at a measured distance, his mind never far away from the clarion call of an isolated existence to which he longs to return. By the time Tom declares to Will that “the same thing that’s wrong with you isn’t wrong with me,” the movie has fulfilled its unhurried journey toward sublimity, with myriad opportunities for its audience to appreciate the nuanced, rarified air of a soul discovering itself, asserting independence, breathing in the world.


FAHRENHEIT 11/9 (Michael Moore)

 


A rousing piece of propaganda built precisely for these fearful times. Moore's work primarily addresses those who already accept his premise that the country is in a very, very bad place right now, and not just due to the slimy activities of the man who lost the popular vote yet was still elected president. His purpose it is not so much to confirm their (our) beliefs as to shake them (us) into action, because what’s at stake in Fahrenheit 11/9 is an understanding that Trump is not the end game, he's merely a symptom. Yet what’s perhaps most understandable about the way Fahrenheit 11/9 was perceived by the public, the choir as well as the unbelievers, before they ever saw the film can be found in the apocalyptic tone of its advertising, especially the TV ads showing the image of a newly-elected Trump projected onto the side of the Empire State Building, with Moore’s voiceover intoning ominously, “Ladies and gentlemen, the last president of the United States.” Moore has publicly, and certainly within the framework of this film, largely rejected hope as a fallback position in favor of insistence on activism, but that ad line crosses over into pessimism, and the director apparently recognized as much, because it’s nowhere to be heard in the film itself, pessimism and refusal to rest easy in hope being two quite different stances. Instead, Moore loads the film’s second half with cautious optimism as embodied the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashia Tlaib and Michael Hepburn, as well as citizens like Flint mother LeeAnn Walters, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who heads up the medical effort to address dangerous levels of lead in Flint children as a result of the water crisis, and whistle-blower April Cook-Hawkins, who refused to fudge reports of hazardous lead levels to make them appear to be within an “acceptable” range. If these people embody the incensed willingness to resist the nation’s tilting-toward-Fascism which Moore so effectively argues, then his giving over the film’s final section to the ignited activism of the survivors of the Parkland high school massacre, and their collective eloquence to power, marks the foundation of Moore’s true hope. That hope and the film’s urgency demand and audience. 


WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?  (Morgan Neville)

 

It's possible that society, especially American society, might have continued to undervalue the contribution of Fred Rogers to civil discourse and the general well-being. But Morgan Neville’s fascinating, unexpectedly (and overwhelmingly) emotional documentary is the best of all possible insurances against the man’s ever evaporating from our collective neighborhood. Prior experience with the PBS program which, from 1968 to 2001 provided an oasis for children from the crass relentlessness of most Saturday-morning kid-oriented fare, isn’t required to appreciate this rich overview of Fred Rogers’ achievements as the overseer of a singular corner of television influence. But one’s own memories of spending time in the Neighborhood is likely to make the tears come faster and with more force. And those unfamiliar with Rogers’ work as anything but a Saturday Night Live joke may find themselves surprised by the level to which this articulate advocate for the spirit of childhood (Rogers was an ordained minister whose specific religious views never overtly became part of the program’s content) used his genteel pulpit to help children of the ‘60s and ‘70s deal with some harsh realities, like racism, childhood disease and even political assassination.  Neville’s great achievement, apart from crafting a wonderful, surely enduring film, is to secure Rogers’ reputation as not only a children’s champion in guiding young ones through the process of discovering the world, but one for showing those kids who became adults a way of living in it once their own discoveries had been made.


BLACKKKLANSMAN (Spike Lee)

 


One does not come to Spike Lee for subtleties. One comes for the expression of indignation, outrage and, yes, the sort of movie experience which couldn’t be further removed from the ones green-lit in executive suites where Hollywood money is doled out, where influence and control are mandated and maintained. The enduring director, once an upstart and now approaching grandmaster status among American filmmakers, thankfully wasn’t discouraged by the level of indifference which greeted the wild high’s and howls of pain of 2016’s Chi-raq, nor has he been much interested in resting on whatever few official laurels he’s received in his 30-plus-year career. If he were, there’d be no BlackKKKlansman, and we’d be the poorer for it. Lee channels a lifetime’s worth of fury into his latest movie, chronicling the tale (based on actual events) of a black detective in the early ‘70s and his infiltration into the Ku Klux Klan by way of a partnership with a white detective, who provides the face which can defuse suspicion and credibly match the black detective’s phone-only persona. Furious, yes, but the director also taps into his movie’s potential for comedy, however cringe-inducing or otherwise wrenching. The result is a blunt, multifaceted movie that manifests its internal conflicts stylistically, juggling the articulation of black rage and disbelief with the racist poison of white supremacy in dramatic and comic terms that manage a startling degree of balance between the warring impulses of caricature and dimensionally fulfilled political commentary, while simultaneously feeling very much of a piece with the pleasures of some of the ‘70s blaxploitation classics he name-checks along the way. By the time Lee leaps 40-some years into the future, the audience is ready to follow the connections which confirm that BlackKKKlansman isn’t just a bell-bottom-and-Afro period piece made to appease the audience’s self-congratulatory impulses. Like Chi-raq, it’s a dispatch from the front lines, and you leave the theater shaken. 


BLACK PANTHER (Ryan Coogler)

 


Upon walking out of seeing Black Panther on its opening weekend, my daughter proclaimed it “the sexiest movie ever made,” a comment that is itself perhaps one of the more unlikely assessments of a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie ever made. Which doesn’t cast doubt upon the veracity of the claim in the slightest. (See Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan and Danai Gurira if you insist on not believing either me or my daughter.) But it’s also the movie, along with the first two Captain America sagas, that best encapsulates the pleasures of the superhero genre when all the metaphorical pistons are firing, the template-respecting counterpart to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse that shows just what can be done by staying within but amplifying and enriching the formula. And any “formula” that can posit a hero and a villain as two poles of an intellectual divide within black experience, the Martin Luther King and Malcolm X of the MCU as it were, while never taking its eyes off its obligation to entertain its massive audience in the manner expected, well, that formula bodes well for richness yet untapped, particularly if the talented writer-director Coogler remains involved. Wakanda forever? Why not?


SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD (Matt Tyrnauer) 

 

If one of the qualities of a very good documentary can be said to be its ability to turn the viewer’s head around on a topic he or she felt reasonably assured in before, then for a certain nostalgically entrenched audience Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood may qualify as one of the greatest documentaries ever made. I don’t think it ranks quite that high, but I will say that ever since seeing it, and since dipping liberally into the book on which it was based-- written by self-crafted Hollywood legend Scotty Bowers, for 50-plus years an unparalleled procurer of sexual encounters to the stars, and often a participant in those encounters himself-- I have not been able to watch Turner Classic Movies with quite the same air of an era’s and an industry’s presumed “innocence” as once I was able. Bowers, still going strong at age 95, proves to be as amiable a host down some of Hollywood’s tawdrier paths as one could ever hope for, yet what’s disarming is the guilelessness with which he approaches both his own exploits and the secrets of the stars he for so long played a part in keeping under wraps, stars whose reputations he believes are safe in death. His sunny, jocular disposition isn’t at odds with what we see and hear, it informs it. And the revelations about the secret lives of the stars carry a surprising degree of credibility—Scotty tells a titillating story, and we visit with plenty of people who happily corroborate everything he tells us, about them, about your favorite Hollywood personality (and no one’s favorite is likely to go untouched here), and of course himself. Gasp-inducing, funny, sweet and sorrowful, Scotty Bowers’ secrets speak to the sublimation of personality and appetites in old, closet-bound Hollywood, which ends up extending our sympathies not only to our host but to all those movie stars who seemed to have it all but still had to operate at a subterranean level when it came to their deepest, and sometimes most frivolous desires. 


GAME NIGHT (John Frances Daley, Jonathan Goldstein)

 

As high concept a comedy as they come—a group of very competitive friends who participate in a weekly game night together find themselves entangled in a kidnapping-smuggling-murder situation which they initially believe is part of an elaborate role-playing extension of their usual easygoing, harmless suburban fun. It’s easy to imagine how in any other hands this could have been just a crass, cookie-cutter Hollywood comedy where style and timing are mere afterthoughts, if they’re thought of at all. But in Game Night every joke, every perfectly timed side glance, is rooted in character, and the movie uses its considerable stylistic confidence to amplify its ideas, which only makes the laughs richer, and harder on your aching sides. A great cast headed  by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams and others who may be less familiar, like Billy Magnussen, Kylie Bunbury, Lamorne Harris, is ultimately topped by Jesse Plemons, next-level committed and hilarious as the preternaturally even-keeled but obviously disturbed, freshly divorced next-door neighbor, who keeps angling, in his ominous way, for an invitation to game night and ends up taking things into his own hands. It's a brilliant comic performance within a movie which qualifies, along with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, as the year’s biggest surprise.



Eleven others I thought quite highly of (again, in descending order): 



THE FAVOURITE, THOROUGHBREDS (a great Women Behaving Badly one-two punch if there ever was one), JOHN McENROE—IN THE REALM OF PERFECTION, SEARCHING, ANNIHILATION, BURNING, OF FATHERS AND SONS, BLOCKERS , HEREDITARY, RAMPAGE and LOVE, SIMON.



I Liked These A Lot More Than Y’all Did:



BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, VENOM, RAMPAGE, I FEEL PRETTY, HOTEL ARTEMIS, DON’T WORRY—HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT



Y’all Liked These A Lot More Than I Did:



ROMA, INCREDIBLES 2, CRAZY RICH ASIANS, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, WIDOWS, THE HAPPY PRINCE, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, READY PLAYER ONE, ASSASSINATION NATION, MADELINE’S MADELINE




Director(s): Joel and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs



Male Performance (Lead): Ethan Hawke, First Reformed



Female Performance (Lead): Olivia Colman, The Favourite



Female Performance (Supporting): Elizabeth Debicki, Widows



Male Performance (Supporting): Jesse Plemons, Game Night



Screenplay: Paul Schrader, First Reformed



Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs



Editing: Robert Fisher, Jr., Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse



The Year’s Most Welcome Revival:



2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

Movie I Most Regret Missing in 2018:



AMAZING GRACE

Silliest but Seemingly Inevitable Development of the Year



The self-righteous reduction in stature of National Lampoon's Animal House from beloved comedy to cultural crime.  



The Bottom of My Barrel (from bad to worst)




MADELINE’S MADELINE (Josephine Decker) 
Is it possible to strangle an entire movie?

THE MEG (Jon Turtletaub)
Winner, Most Egregious Failure to Fulfill the Promise of a Nifty Trailer


LOVING PABLO (Fernando León de Aranoa) As long excuses for averting one’s eyes from bad behavior and taking no responsibility for it go, this is the one of the longest.


DEATH OF A NATION (Dinesh D’Souza) 
With the thoughts you'd be thinkin'/You could be another Lincoln/If you only had a brain


A WRINKLE IN TIME (Ava DuVernay)
The titanically condescending intro which accompanied this disaster theatrically, in which Ava DuVernay set the table for proper consumption of her grand achievement by making sure you understood just how much work went into making it and how it should most properly approached, that alone might qualify A Wrinkle in Time for worst of the year status. But then there’s the practically somnolent, garishly-CGI’d movie itself, as thorough a flattening of beloved source material as I have ever witnessed. It’s enough to make one wonder if Madeleine L’Engle’s novel is, after all these years and now two woeful attempts, essentially unadaptable, its simplicity essentially too modest for the ambitions of filmmakers so bent on inflating every aspect of a tale into a grandiose primer on empowerment that they forget, in their self-important reveries, to wake up and make an actual movie.

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As if to prove my point about my film consumption shortcomings, these are the movies I’m actually interested in that I have yet to catch up to from 2018, in no particular order (and you will, of course, inform me of any I should see that I may have left out):

 
 

PADDINGTON 2, THE 15:17 TO PARIS, DOUBLE LOVER, EARLY MAN, RED SPARROW, FOXTROT, ISLE OF DOGS, CHAPPAQUIDDICK, LEAN ON PETE, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, TULLY, RBG, FILMWORKER, HEARTS BEAT LOUD, THE FIRST PURGE, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, EIGHTH GRADE, THE EQUALIZER 2, BLINDSPOTTING, PUZZLE, JULIET, NAKED, SUPPORT THE GIRLS, I AM NOT A WITCH, A SIMPLE FAVOR, LIZZIE, MANDY, THE SISTERS BROTHERS, TEA WITH THE DAMES, THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN, A STAR IS BORN, THE HATE U GIVE, BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE, FIRST MAN, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?, WILDLIFE, SUSPIRIA, BOY ERASED, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB, OVERLORD, AT ETERNITY’S GATE, GREEN BOOK, CREED II, RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET, SHOPLIFTERS, BEN IS BACK, THE MULE, CAPERNAUM, THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, MARY POPPINS RETURNS, AQUAMAN, BUMBLEBEE, BIRD BOX, COLD WAR, HOLMES AND WATSON, VICE, DESTROYER, STAN AND OLLIE

And finally, with a nod to my recliner, my DVR, and the upcoming 10th annual Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, here’s a long list of films made before 1980 that I saw for the first time in 2018:




ANGEL FACE (1953)

BLESSED EVENT (1932)

THE BOWERY BOYS MEET THE MONSTERS (1954)

BOXCAR BERTHA (1972)

BRAINSTORM (1965)

CAUSE FOR ALARM! (1951)

CLEOPATRA JONES (1973)

COLT .45 (1950)

THE CURSE OF QUON GWON (1916)

DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON (1931)

DEAD MEN WALK (1943)

DIAMONDS OF THE NIGHT (1964)

DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965)

DISHONORED (1931)

FINISHING SCHOOL (1934)

THE FROZEN DEAD (1966)

THE GHOST SHIP (1943)

THE GORILLA (1939)

THE HAUNTED CASTLE (1921)
HAVING A WILD WEEKEND (1965)

HAVING WONDERFUL CRIME (1945)

HOMICIDAL (1961)

I MARRIED A WITCH (1942)

I SHOT JESSE JAMES (1949)

THE ICEMAN COMETH (1973)

INTRUDER IN THE DUST (1940)

INVISIBLE STRIPES (1939)

ISLAND OF DOOMED MEN (1940)

KILL THE UMPIRE (1950)

LA CHIENNE (1931)

LADIES’ DAY (1943)

LE BONHEUR (1965)

LEO THE LAST (1970)

LIMELIGHT (1952)

THE LOST CONTINENT (1968)

M (1951)
MACON COUNTY LINE (1974)

MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE (1964)

MEXICAN SPITFIRE (1940)

MEXICAN SPITFIRE SEES A GHOST (1942)

MIKEY AND NICKY (1976)

MILLIE (1931)

THE MOONSHINE WAR (1970)

THE MUMMY’S SHROUD (1967)

MURDER IN THE CLOUDS (1934)

MYSTERY STREET (1950)

THE NAKED PREY (1966)

THE NEW CENTURIONS (1972)

THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN (1970)

OUT OF THE FOG (1941)

PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (1962)

THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936)

PILLOW TALK (1959)

PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1967)

A RAISIN IN THE SUN (1961)

RECORD OF A TENEMENT GENTLEMAN (1947)
RETURN OF THE BAD MEN (1948)

THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES (1940)

ROUGHSHOD (1949)

THE SEA WOLF (1941)

SCENES FROM A  MARRIAGE (full version) (1973)

STRAIGHT TIME (1978)

THE STRANGER (1946)

THERE GOES MY HEART (1938)

THEY ALL COME OUT (1939)

TISH (1942)

TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN (The Ghost of Yotsuya) (1959)

TRAIL STREET (1947)

TROUBLE MAN (1972)
TWO ON A GUILLOTINE (1965)

THE UNSUSPECTED (1947)

UNTAMED (1955)

WAGON MASTER (1950)

WANDA (1970)

WARLOCK (1959)

WATERMELON  MAN (1970)

WHEN YOU READ THIS LETTER (1953)

YIELD TO THE NIGHT (1956)

ZABRISKIE POINT (1970)

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That’s it. Here’s to more good movies in the coming year. And as for the next 12 months, I can only leave you with this thought:

Good luck.
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