Film Journal: May 2020

High and Low

Cinemas remain closed, but there’s no shortage of new movies available to stream online, whether through Netflix or Hulu or your local indie theatre’s website (like this one.) I saw a number of titles this way that might’ve had a traditional theatrical release, pre-pandemic. The best included Driveways, an earnest but whip-smart coming-of-age film featuring Brian Dennehy’s last performance (start the posthumous Oscar campaign now—it’s a superb farewell); Straight Up, which puts a novel, modern, undeniably queer spin on the screwball rom-com; and The Painter and The Thief, a documentary about an unlikely friendship, assembled like a gradually completed puzzle.

As for the rest of the new: cult French auteur/techno musician Quentin Dupieux returns with Deerskin, another transgressive weird-o-rama, but it has an ace in the hole with lead Jean Dujardin fully committing to such absurdity; On A Magical Night (a much different French film) is somehow simultaneously enchanting and irritating whenever it’s not boring. Alan Yang’s Tigertail is half a great picture (specifically, the flashbacks) with cinematography I would’ve liked to have seen in a theatre (these days, wouldn’t we all?) but less dull than docs that are well-intended (A Secret Love) or entertaining if wildly misshapen (This One’s For The Ladies.)

Two masterworks viewed for the first time: High and Low, an Akira Kurosawa kidnapping thriller that cannily spends its first hour in a single setting, then gradually expands both its physical and emotional spheres until it culminates in one of the most exciting extended sequences I’ve ever seen (even more so than the admirable, silent, thirty-minute heist in Rififi); and The Best Years Of Our Lives, as much a film about the year it was made as you’re ever likely to find in classic Hollywood, and made immortal by non-professional actor Harold Russell’s genuine, endearing performance.

Other great discoveries: It’s Always Fair Weather, which deserves to be as well-known as On The Town (if not Singin’ In The Rain); Taipei Story, an earlier film from the director of Yi Yi and a rare acting showcase for fellow Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien; and Targets, Peter Bogdanovich’s first feature and startling in how ahead of its time it was, and also in how perfectly it captured it.

As for re-watches, Images holds up about as well as Mauvais Sang, both of ‘em benefiting from their leads; slightly better than either is Orlando, which might still be the quintessential Tilda Swinton vehicle. As for Moonrise Kingdom, it remains Wes Anderson’s best of the past decade-and-a-half (we’ll see how The French Dispatch measures up, hopefully this October.)

Films viewed in May in chronological order, with director, year of release and my rating (out of 10); starred titles are re-watches.

The Out-of-Towners (Arthur Hiller, 1970)* 7
A Secret Love (Chris Bolan, 2020) 6
Tigertail (Alan Yang, 2020) 7
Targets (Peter Bogdanovich, 1968) 9
This One’s For The Ladies (Gene Graham, 2018) 5
Taipei Story (Edward Yang, 1985) 8
Tomboy (Celine Sciamma, 2011) 9
49th Parallel (Michael Powell, 1941) 8
Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)* 9
Deerskin (Quentin Dupieux, 2019) 7
It’s Always Fair Weather (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1955) 9
Private Life (Tamara Jenkins, 2018) 8
Orlando (Sally Potter, 1992)* 8
High and Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963) 10
Straight Up (James Sweeney, 2019) 8
It Felt Like Love (Eliza Hittman, 2013) 6
Driveways (Andrew Ahn, 2019) 8
Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955) 7
Stolen Kisses (Francois Truffaut, 1968) 7
Images (Robert Altman, 1972)* 7
On A Magical Night (Christophe Honore, 2019) 6
Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins, 1982) 8
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)* 10
Waiting For Guffman (Christopher Guest, 1996)* 9
Mauvais Sang (Leos Carax, 1986)* 7
The Painter and The Thief (Benjamin Ree, 2020) 8
The Best Years Of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946) 10
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean, 2017) 7

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