I planned on seeing 4-6 movies at this year’s virtual edition of IFF Boston; I ended up watching 13, enough for a separate post about the festival, I guess. Regardless, even with slim pickings due to the crazy year we’ve just had, I saw some gems. My favorite was Strawberry Mansion, a deeply surreal but charmingly handmade film where dreams and reality overlap and coalesce but with a sustained gentleness that sets it apart from the work of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry. It led me to co-directors Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney’s previous film, Sylvio, a similarly unique study of viral fame and audience perceptions.
Other festival picks: The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet, an Argentinian tale which rivals Strawberry Mansion in its unique approach to narrative; I Was A Simple Man, a Hawaiian film about mortality that’s soothing and unsettling in equal measure; Luzzu, Maltese neorealism about adapting to and reconciling a changing world; and Holler, which attempts to do for industrial small town Ohio what Winter’s Bone did for the Ozarks and has fine performances from Jessica Barden and Becky Ann Baker (more ferocious than you’d ever expect from her work on Freaks and Geeks and Girls.)
I had to ramp up my Preston Sturges re-watch because all his films left Criterion Channel at the end of the month. While The Lady Eve (see my April 2021 entry) is still his peak, The Palm Beach Story, with its madcap travails and characters nicknamed “Captain McGlue” and “The Weinie King” is not too far behind. Sullivan’s Travels remains an interesting experiment more than a realized apotheosis; the later Eddie Bracken films aren’t perfect, but their wartime reverie connects more than the internal fantasies of Unfaithfully Yours (still better than I was expecting, thanks to a perfectly-cast Rex Harrison.)
The rest is typically all over the place: a new Roy Andersson film that, while pleasant, continues the diminishing returns of his last few features; The In-Laws, whose late scenes with Richard Libertini as a deranged dictator made me laugh harder than anything else I’ve seen during this goddamned pandemic; and Francis Ford Coppola’s cult passion project, which feels quaint in a “Let’s look back at the 40s in the 80s” way but gets by on Vittorio Storaro’s streamlined, transcendent camerawork.
It was a treat to see both Tom Noonan’s Sundance-winning, one-of-a-kind first date film What Happened Was… and Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H again after twenty-odd years. The former resonates far more deeply with me now (my own dating experience back then was pretty scant); the latter, while not on the level of McCabe & Ms. Miller or The Long Goodbye nonetheless feels almost casually miraculous a half-century on, not so much tapping into the zeitgeist as corralling it and formulating a new way to see and partake in it.
Films viewed in May in chronological order, with director, year of release and my rating (out of 10); starred titles are re-watches. Titles with a ^ are selections from IFF Boston 2021.)
Dolemite Is My Name (Craig Brewer, 2019) 7
The In-Laws (Arthur Hiller, 1979) 8
The Heart of The World (Guy Maddin, 2000)* 10
About Endlessness (Roy Andersson, 2019) 7
Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)* 8
High Society (Charles Walters, 1956) 5
What Happened Was… (Tom Noonan, 1994)* 9
Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)* 10
The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet (Ana Katz, 2021)^ 8
A Reckoning In Boston (James Rutenbeck, 2021)^ 6
Holler (Nicole Riegel, 2020)^ 7
Thunder Force (Ben Falcone, 2021) 3
I Was a Simple Man (Christopher Makoto Yogi, 2021)^ 8
We’re All Going To The World’s Fair (Jane Schoenbrun, 2021)^ 5
The Palm Beach Story (Sturges, 1942)* 9
Dream Horse (Euros Lyn, 2020)^ 6
M*A*S*H (Robert Altman, 1970)* 8
Strawberry Mansion (Kentucker Audley, Albert Birney, 2021)^ 9
Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche (Paul Sng, Celeste Bell, 2021)^ 6
Luzzu (Alex Camilleri, 2021)^ 8
Marvelous and The Black Hole (Kate Tsang, 2021)^ 6
Last Night in Rozzie (Sean Gannet, 2021)^ 6
The Woman In The Window (Joe Wright, 2021) 5
Weed & Wine (Rebecca Richman Cohen, 2020)^ 7
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Sturges, 1943)* 7
How It Ends (Zoe Lister-Jones, Daryl Wein, 2021)^ 4
Chinese Portrait (Wang Xiaoshuai, 2018) 7
Love Is Colder Than Death (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1969) 6
The Fall (Jonathan Glazer, 2019) 7
Fantastic Planet (Rene Laloux, 1973) 8
Hail The Conquering Hero (Sturges, 1944) 8
Sylvio (Audley, Birney, 2017) 8
Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai, 1994)* 9
Unfaithfully Yours (Sturges, 1948) 7
The County (Grímur Hákonarson, 2019) 6
Tucker: The Man and His Dream (Francis Ford Coppola, 1988) 7
The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1967)* 8
So glad you liked What Happened Was… so much. Big role for Karen Sillas, who I adored in Hal Hartley films, especially Simple Men!
I completely forgot about Karen Sillas until I rewatched it (haven’t seen anything by Hartley in awhile, either.) I first saw WHW… in a BU class where Noonan was invited to speak to us in person afterward! I remember it being a little awkward, given just seeing him in the film.
If you check out Simple Men again sometime, that’s the one Karen Sillas stars in.