February 2012 in Films: Oscars, Leap Days and Cinema Galore
While I didn’t manage to quite make it to two new-to-me films a day in February, I did see a lot of great films this last month. I blame not making my goal on my roommate for forcing me to watch the first season (series?) of BBC’s Sherlock; although it was fantastic. That and I did a lot of re-watching of old favorites. I found in my mission to watch alllll the films last year, I missed re-watching films that were dear to me, so this year I am trying to balance my new-to-me watching with a handful of favorites each month. Along with many a-watching at home, I also saw thirteen films at the Castro Theatre (only two of which were films I’d seen before). I also saw a film at the San Francisco Film Society’s cinema for the first time ever and Wim Wender’s Pina in 3D. The Oscars were a few days ago; I didn’t write much about them leading up to the ceremony and I don’t intend to write much after it. I have been pretty disappointed by the whole race this year. I’m mostly just happy for Christopher Plummer and Woody Allen. 2011 was a great year for film, not so much for Awards Season. Here’s hoping this year is great, both for cinema and the awards. As always, after the cut is a list of the films I watched and five favorites.
- The Moderns
- My Wife’s Relations
- Kung Fu Panda
- Kung Fu Panda 2
- Under the Volcano
- Alexander’s Ragtime Band
- Look Back In Anger
- Day of the Evil Gun
- La città delle donne (City of Women)
- Garbo Talks
- Átame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!)
- Merrily We Go To Hell
- American Gigolo
- Your Good Friend
- I’m Gonna Git You Sucka
- Pootie Tang
- La double vie de Véronique
- The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
- Henry & June
- The Violent Men
- Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
- Ultimo tango a Parigi (Last Tango In Paris)
- The Common Law
- Dead In The Room
- Off Season
- Copie conforme (Certified Copy)
- Thirteen Women
- Margaret (2011)
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
- The Butcher Boy (1917)
- The Rough House (1917)
- Brand Upon the Brain! A Remembrance in 12 Chapters
- You Can’t Get Away With Murder
- Paths of Glory
- Le Technicien (The Technician)
- Mr. Stache
- The Man In Possession (1931)
- Rhapsody In Blue (1945)
- I soliti ignoti (aka Big Deal on Madonna Street)
- His Wedding Night
- Good Night, Nurse!
- Richard III (1995)
- So This Is College
- A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven)
- The Music Lovers
I just have to say before I get into the featured films this month that I saw SO MANY great films (and one certain 2011 Best Picture nominee that was not so great), that only writing about five seems like the biggest travesty OF ALL TIME. But, I also don’t feel I could do them all justice. So I guess what I’m saying is, WATCH ALL THE MOVIES. Also, I would have included Kubrick’s brilliant film Paths of Glory below, but since I wrote about it for YAM (click the link in the list above to read it), I decided not to do so.
American Gigolo, 1980 (dir. Paul Schrader)
This was a movie that I avoided watching for years and I think it was because I didn’t really know what it was about. I am so glad I finally saw it. At the time of its release it was given very mixed reviews and I’m not sure even now it’s really all that highly regarded. I think that’s a shame. It’s such a wonderful character study and a perfect update of Robert Bresson 1959 classic Pickpocket, which Schrader has long said inspired the film. I saw both films as a double feature at the Castro Theatre unaware of the films connection to each other. After the first one ended I was unsure why the other was with it, but about halfway through the American Gigolo, Gere’s character says a line that connects the two films thematically so perfectly that I audibly gasped. The end of this film is also highly inspired by the end of Bresson’s film. I think watching them back to back like I did really helped me understand and appreciate both more than I would have either on their own. This is truly a demonstration of the “Great Conversation” in action.
Copie Conforme (Certified Copy), 2011 (dir. Abbas Kiarostami)
This film is available on Instant Netflix (or was, it might be gone now), but when I saw that the Castro was going to show it I decided to wait and watch it for the first time on the big screen. I knew several people last year who were enamored with this film and I went in with very high expectations. They were not only matched, they were surpassed. Juliette Binoche never ceases to amaze me and she gives one of her greatest performances in this film. I could easily see this film in a triple feature with L’Année dernière à Marienbad and Before Sunset. These are characters you just love to watch talk. It changes gears halfway through the film without warning and leaves you at the end with more questions than it answers. I dig films that do that successfully.
Margaret, 2011 (dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
This is probably the only post-9/11 themed film that I’ve seen that handles the atmosphere respectfully. Maybe that is partially because the film isn’t about the incident, but rather is set in a New York City still shaken by it. This film was originally supposed to be released in 2007, but the director’s cut was close to three hours long and the studio insisted on a film no longer than 150 min. Lawsuits were had. Finally, with the help of Martin Scorsese and his trusty editor Thelma Schoonmaker, the film was finally down to a 150 min cut that Lonergan was okay with. That said, it was only in theaters for maybe two weeks (I swear that’s how long it played in San Francisco last fall for), so pretty much no one saw it. If I had seen it before the end of the year it would most definitely have made my end of the year list. Anna Paquin should have been this year’s frontrunner for Best Actress and I will stand by that statement. One can only hope maybe someday we’ll get to see the director’s 3-hour cut of this film. I also have to say how happy it makes me that the film’s title is a reference to one of my favorite poems, Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child.”
Pina, 2011 (dir. Wim Wenders)
This is the first film I’ve seen where I feel the term “non-narrative” is more appropriate than the term “documentary.” It’s also the first film I’ve seen in 3D where I felt the technology added to the film rather than detracted from it. I just want to live in this film. Wim Wenders is one of my favorite directors and his love and admiration for Pina Bausch and her life’s work shines through so beautifully in this film. He called it his “film for Pina” (it even says that on the poster), and you can just feel her energy throughout the film. Her impact on her company of dancers, in both their art and their lives, shines through as well. I have loved Pina’s work since I first saw it featured in Pedro Almodóvar’s 2002 film Hable con ella, and after seeing this I really wish I could have seen her dance in person. What a lady.
A Matter of Life and Death, 1946 (dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
As far as I am concerned, Powell and Pressburger can do no wrong. This film was the perfect combination of whimsy and romance and war and science fiction and philosophy I cannot even believe it. And David Niven, my word. I have always liked him, but after seeing his beautiful blue eyes on the giant screen at the Castro Theatre, I am pretty much smitten. I have to mention Jack Cardiff and his unbelievable cinematography. He was a genius for sure. Their choice to have the Earth scenes in glorious Technicolor and the heaven scenes in Technicolor mono-chrome” (which was a special process developed jointly by Jack Cardiff and Technicolor London) is just genius. When Marius Goring’s character, Conductor 71 (kind of an angel), comes to Earth he mentions how much he misses Technicolor. I love films that call attention to themselves like that. When it works, there’s nothing better. I can’t imagine anyone not liking this film, or if someone does not like it, they don’t exist in my world.
So that was my February. I hope you all had a great Leap Day and watched lots of great things. I have so many big plans for March – including seeing Kevin Brownlow’s epic restoration of Able Gance’s NAPOLEON at the glorious Paramount Theatre in Oakland – I think it is going to be a stupendous month of cinema!