Monthly Archives: December 2016

My favorite end-of-the-year poll (again, 2016)

Written for — J.R.

Top Five (alphabetical order):


  1. American Masters: Mike Nichols (Elaine May). The only film on my list by an old master — hence the only one not concerned to some degree with the morality of solipsism — this TV documentary, like May’s four previous fiction features, shows an exquisite balance between personal appreciation and criticism, which is another way of saying that her films are populated exclusively by monsters whom she adores. (Note: This was erroneously listed here as Becoming Mike Nichols until Adrian Martin alerted me to the error. My apologies to everyone!)
  2. Becoming_Mike_Nichols_2016_7757025
  3. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater). If that second exclamation point seems immoderate, this is Linklater’s very Texan way of informing us that immoderation is something to be celebrated, even from a moderate point of view.
  4. Fire at Sea/Fuocoammare (Gianfranco Rosi). Like La La Land, I caught up with this too late to have included it on my end-of-the-year lists for Film Comment, Indiewire, and Sight and Sound, which also suggests I’m still in the process of sizing it up. The coexistence of everydayness and disaster on a Sicilian island is what makes this Italian documentary seem most contemporary.                                          fire_at_sea
  5. John From (João Nicolao).
  6. Read more »

My Lists for Indiewire, 2016

My lists for Indiewire, submitted before I saw La La Land, Fire at Sea, 20th Century Women, and Passengers (among others). — J.R.


Best Film:

1. Paterson
2. Cemetery of Splendour
3. Everybody Wants Some!!
4. Moonlight
5. Arrival
6. The Love Witch
7. Indignation
8. Hell or High Water
9. Certain Women
10. Miles Ahead

Best Director:

1. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
2. Richard Linklater, Everybody Wants Some!!
3. Jim Jarmusch, Paterson
4. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Cemetery of Splendour
5. Anna Biller, The Love Witch


Best Actress:

1. Isabelle Huppert, Elle


Best Actor:

1. Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water


Best Documentary:

1. Becoming Mike Nichols
2. I Am Not Your Negro
3. OJ: Made in America
4. The Thoughts That We Once Had
5. Cameraperson


Best undistributed film:

1. The Death of Louis XIV
2. Scarred Hearts
3. John From


Best first feature:

1. Indignation (also best screenplay)


 … Read more »

The Potent Manic-Depressiveness of LA LA LAND


I was too late in catching up with La La Land to have included it in my best-of-the-year lists for Sight and Sound and Film Comment, where it likely would have figured in both cases. But one telling aspect of the movie that I find missing from the reviews that I’ve read is just how desperate its euphoria turns out to be — which is not an argument against this euphoria but a statement of what gives rise to it and what makes it so poignant. Of course this is a fact about many of the greatest musicals (and greatest post-musicals, such as those of Jacques Demy that Damien Chazelle is so obviously emulating) that characteristically gets overlooked, which is how much the elation of song and dance is only half of a dialectic that also highlights failure, hopelessness, and defeat. The most salient thing about the musical numbers here is how they figure as interruptions to misery and diverse irritations and frustrations — interruptions that are typically interrupted in turn by the hell of a freeway traffic jam or the anguish of a failed audition.  


This is what makes the singing and dancing seem absolutely necessary, not merely a simple flight from unpleasantness.… Read more »


Written for Lola no. 7,  posted in November 2016. — J.R.

Suspense on Ice


An ice-skating noir musical? More or less, with Belita serving as Monogram’s answer to Sonja Henie, and a few A-picture production numbers (such as the Daliesque one glimpsed above, climaxing with the heroine diving through a wheel ringed by long, sharp daggers pointed towards the center). Not quite a two-dollar movie (the Warners Archive DVD is pricier), but an intriguing curiosity. Philip Yordan’s original script is so pro forma that one can almost imagine him writing it in his sleep, In its early stretches, it suggests a lazy rip-off of Gilda, with different sexual inflections (no homoerotic undertones, no heterosexual love-hatred, and this time the hero and villain are the same character, played by Barry Sullivan), Yet most of it was shot at the same time as Gilda, in late 1945.

Most curious of all is the almost total lack of motivation whereby Sullivan, a thuggish tramp, gets accorded a free white coat and shave by the owner of The Ice Parade so that he can sell peanuts to the customers, and then, after dreaming up the wheel-of-dagger stunt, which Belita accepts without hesitation, gets asked by her husband-boss (Albert Dekker) to take over his position when he leaves on a trip, allowing Sullivan more of a chance to romance his beloved spouse and star.… Read more »