Sunday, November 10, 2019


As we inch toward end-of-the-year awards and ten-best lists, I feel like it’s already game over in terms of picking what will end up at the top of my own rankings. I haven't seen too many movies for which I would even entertain the descriptive "perfect"... but I'm entertaining that word as I continue to think, after two viewings now, about just how perfectly modulated a social satire on class resentment Parasite is, not to mention how thrillingly entertaining and moment-to-moment unpredictable. It also has, in the work of actors like Boon Joon Ho veterans Song Kang-ho (The Host) and Lee Jong-un (Okja), as well as Jo Yeo-jeong, Jang Hye-in, and especially Park So-dam, the highest caliber ensemble performance by any cast this year. Do yourself a favor-- keep yourself in the dark about the details and rush to see this on the big screen as soon as you can. Bong Joon Ho (Mother, Memories of Murder) has made an exquisitely controlled, fiercely alive movie that ought to make just about every other director out there sick with envy and at the same time excited again for the possibilities when a great movie is realized. And this is most definitely a great movie.

The only movie I think even comes close to Parasite in 2019, at least as far as I’ve seen, couldn’t feel any more different than Bong’s masterful suspense comedy. It’s called Diane, and chances are good you’ve never heard of it. Mary Kay Place, as the sincere, and sincerely beleaguered title character, is in every scene, and no better news about movies in 2019 could be delivered. I came away from Diane wondering where I had to go to sign the Mary Kay Place Deserves an Oscar petition. She will be a revelation to those who haven’t known or loved her work for 40-some years, but it’s no surprise to me that she is as magnificent as she is in this, a movie that finally gives her a chance to shine in a great, still-waters-run-deep sort of role. And she’s surrounded by actresses like Dierdre O’Connell, Andrea Martin, Estelle Parsons, Joyce Van Patten, Glynnis O’Connor and Phyliss Somerville who match her every lived-in move with grace and humor. The movie itself is a masterful piece of unforced, beautifully modulated, formally engaging storytelling without an ounce of fat, written and directed by documentarian and former film critic Kent Jones, whose tone and confidence is so assured you’d think he had five or six narrative features under his belt already. (He directed the marvelous documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut from 2015.)
As a friend said to me before I saw this, there’s really no way to speak about what Diane is up to, it’s themes of social and familial responsibility, mortality, identity and inescapable guilt, without making it sound hopelessly depressing, or a chore of well-intentioned, kitchen-sink humanism. But if you’re like me, the movie will energize you instead of bring you down simply because it is such a rare example of unostentatious, yet intelligent style married to a whole raft of great acting, headed up by Place, of course. Such occasions are, as my friend also said, thrilling, and not a reason in themselves to adopt the despair and frustrations of the characters in the film’s purview. Try to see Diane, like Parasite, as I did, knowing as little as possible, and see if you don’t settle pleasurably into its beautifully rendered, sharply observed world of actual people and familiar textures with eyes that feel wide awake and open, your empathy sharpened and your sensibility heightened by actors and filmmakers at the top of their game.
(Diane is currently streaming on Hulu.)

If you’ve ever marveled at the way a movie looks—hell, if you’ve ever seen a movie—then the sublime and fascinating documentary Image Makers: The Adventures of America’s Pioneer Cinematographers, now screening on Turner Classic Movies, ought to be a must-see. Directed by Daniel Raim (Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story) and written by the esteemed film critic Michael Sragow, the movie deftly chronicles the literally visionary work of men like Billy Bitzer (The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance), Roland Totheroh (City Lights), Charles Rosher and Karl Struss (Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans), William Daniels (Anna Christie, Grand Hotel), Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane, The Best Years of Our Lives) and James Wong Howe (The Thin Man, Hud), as they create poetic imagery, forge new paths in technique and technology, and virtually define the possibilities of American and world cinema going forward from its earliest forms. It’s the sort of nuanced, intelligent documentary that ought to, if there’s to be any real education in film history perpetuated for future filmmaking generations, become an essential text. You’ll find it at various times throughout the month on TCM. Consult their monthly schedule to find out just when.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If anyone figures out where I can get this documentary, I would be very interested!