March 2021 In Films

First and foremost, I did a lot of writing and podcast guesting in March. For Moviefone I wrote about women directors who should get Oscar nominations this year (spoiler alert: two of them did!!) and 7 Riot Grrrl films to check out. For my Moviefone column Female Filmmakers in Focus I wrote about Amy Poehler’s Moxie & Tanya Hamilton’s Night Catches Us, Natasha Kermani’s Lucky and interviewed its cinematographer Julia Swain, I interviewed Phobias directors Camilla Belle, Maritte Lee Go, and Jess Varley, and I interviewed Slaxx director Elza Kephart. I made my debut at Ebert Voices taking a look at how the landscape for films directed by women has changed since I embarked on my #AYearWithWomen project in 2015. For my debut at Nerdist I wrote about how Philip K. Dick influenced The Weeknd. For my debut at debut at Vulture I wrote about three of my favorite working actors: Tzi Ma, Shea Whigham, and Luis Guzmán. For my debut at Crooked Marquee I wrote about why I love (and miss) Meg Ryan (you’ll notice I watched A LOT of Meg Ryan movies this month). Podcast-wise I joined Ryan at The Matinee to talk Oscars (we’ve been doing this for a decade now!!), I joined Jen Johans on her podcast Watch With Jen to talk about the rebel girls of Daisies, Foxfire, and Skate Kitchen, and lastly I dropped the trailer for my new music podcast Prog Save America, which will be launching later this month. Can you believe even with all of that I still watched A LOT OF MOVIES. So as always, after the cut you’ll find everything I watched in March, a breakdown by decade, and I highlight some of my faves.

  1. Always Shine
  2. When I Get Home
  3. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
  4. Moxie
  5. Lucky (2021)
  6. The Mauritanian
  7. A Guide to Breathing Underwater
  8. Nettles
  9. Asa ga Kuru (True Mothers)
  10. Imitation Girl
  11. Me broni ba
  12. Drexciya
  13. Split Ends, I Feel Wonderful
  14. The Affairs of Martha
  15. Own The Room
  16. Barbarella
  17. Frontières (Borders)
  18. Western (2017)
  19. The Morning After
  20. The United States vs. Billie Holiday
  21. Fun with Dick and Jane (1977)
  22. The Father
  23. American Dream
  24. Slaxx
  25. Bombay Rose
  26. Phobias
  27. Función de noche
  28. La antena (The Aerial)
  29. When Tomorrow Comes
  30. D.O.A. (1988)
  31. Proof of Life
  32. The Women (2008)
  33. I.Q.
  34. Flesh and Bone (1993)
  35. Armed and Dangerous
  36. Against The Ropes
  37. Prelude To A Kiss
  38. Amityville 3-D
  39. Hurlyburly
  40. The Deal
  41. Promised Land (1987)
  42. My Mom’s New Boyfriend
  43. The Doors
  44. Fan Girl
  45. As Above, So Below (1973)
  46. Island in the Sun
  47. Skin Game
  48. Kirikou et la sorcière (Kirikou and the Sorceress)
  49. Posse
  50. The Chase (1966)
  51. Never Let Go
  52. Riot in Cell Block 11
  53. Godzilla vs. Kong

1880s: 0
1890s: 0
1900s: 0
1910s: 0
1920s: 0
1930s: 1
1940s: 1
1950s: 2
1960s: 3
1970s: 3
1980s: 6
1990s: 8
2000s: 7
2010s: 12
2020s: 10

Much like last month, I watched a lot of gems in March so I’ve decided to highlight twelve films again. I just refuse to choose. Many of these were on Criterion Channel, but I also found a service called Plex where I watched a lot of the Meg Ryan films I needed to finish off her filmography. You have to suffer through commercials, but I found some films that were only available there, so worth checking out if you’re looking for something rare from the 80s/90s/00s. Also, in terms of Meg Ryan, I had seen about 2/3 of her films and decided to just plow through the ones I hadn’t seen, as well as revisited several I hadn’t seen in awhile. This not only resulted in the above linked piece, but I also did a ranking of her films here. She is such a unique screen presence and I hope we get more from her again soon!

Which brings us to this month’s list of favorites. Quite a few of these either expired off of Criterion Channel or Netflix last month or were from rare one off screenings that I signed up for. UCLA in particular has been offering some great screenings for free lately. Apologies in advance if I pique your interest in something and then you can’t find it anywhere!

When I Get Home (Director’s Cut), 2019 (dir. Solange Knowles)

The companion film to one of my favorite albums of 2019, Solange’s When I Get Home, I somehow missed this when it was first released. Thankfully Criterion Channel has the director’s cut streaming currently and it was well worth the wait. Solange collaborated with Alan Ferguson, Terence Nance, Jacolby Satterwhite, Ray Tintori, Autumn Knight and Robert Pruitt on the edit and the visual conception of the piece. Set in her hometown of Huston, the film was in part inspired by the devastation done by Hurricane Harvey, and also an homage to the Black community of the area. In the genre-defying film, we see everything from Black rodeos to Afro-futurism to Solange just really killing it with her dance moves. One of my favorite sequences is a montage of Solange that appears to have been shot using her laptop camera. It’s intimate and revealing. Don’t sleep on Solange as a unique and powerful force in contemporary art.

Nettles, 2018 (dir. Raven Jackson)

I hadn’t heard of Raven Jackson until Criterion Channel added a few of her short films. This one in particular I love as it is a series of shorts that she combined into acts. Each short shows a pivotal moment in a girl or woman’s life. The title – nettles – refers to the way in which these moments in women’s lives sting and borrow their way into our psyche forever. They’re shocking and sometimes horrible, but they don’t kill us. We keep going, our skin a little bit tougher after.

Asa ga Kuru (True Mothers), 2020 (dir. Naomi Kawase)

This was Japan’s selection for the Best International Film at the Oscars this year and although it made the shortlist, it did not receive the nomination. Naomi Kawase has been making films for over 30 years but somehow this was my fist time watching one of her films. It’s so epic in scope and yet intimate in its details. Based on a novel by Mizuki Tsujimura and told in a nonlinear fashion, the film follows a married couple who decide to adopt a child and the teenage girl who had given him up years earlier. I’ve seen few films with as much empathy for every single character on screen as this film conveys. The very final shot? I cried.

Frontières (Borders), 2017 (dir. Appoline Traoré)

I hadn’t heard of this film until I saw a free screen opportunity arise from the Alliance Française d’Atlanta. Thankfully because it was a virtual screening I was able to watch it despite no longer living in Atlanta. The film follows a handful of women as they make their way to Lagos on the Bamako-Ouagadougou-Cotonou bus route. Director Appoline Traoré is from Burkina Faso, and the film was shot in Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, and Senegal. Most of the dialogue is in French, though some other languages are also spoken. I love a film that shows the strength when have when they stick together and this film delivered that in spades. But it doesn’t Hollywood-ize life either. Some truly horrible things happen to these women. The film is smart enough to know that even when you stick together, this world is hard place for women and terrible things happen no matter what. I’m not sure if this film is available on home video or not, but I hope it gets a proper release stateside at some point.

American Dream, 1990 (dir. Barbara Kopple)

Barbara Kopple is such a master filmmaker. I saw her talk about the San Francisco International Film Festival a few years ago and she was as insightful as you’d imagine given the kinds of documentaries she makes. This film follows the unsuccessful 1985–86 Hormel strike. It is a searing indictment of Reagan’s America. Often when we think of the 1980s we focus on the excess of yuppies and forget that that excess came from the stripping of the working and middle classes. We’re in the midst of some major union busting now and films like this remind us just how important they are – but that even the unions can be corrupt and complicit in our demise.

La antena (The Aerial), 2007 (dir. Esteban Sapir)

I feel so bad finally getting to this film. I found it on Netflix a few years ago and added it to my queue and promptly forgot about it. And then a few weeks ago I got a message that it was expiring at the end of the month. A quick Google search led me to discover that it is not available on DVD and not streaming anywhere else! So of course I finally watched and of course I loved it and now of course I cannot help any of you to actually watch it! Writer-director Esteban Sapir wrote a sixty-page script and storyboarded over 3,000 shots before he began filming. And you can feel it. This is a very directed film. Each shot is meticulously constructed. You can feel homages to the films of everyone from Maya Deren to Fritz Lang to Charlie Chaplin. The film is black and white and mostly silent, telling an allegorical story about a land whose voices have been stolen by an evil industrialist and one family’s adventure to save the day. It’s not a subtle film in any way, but it’s gorgeous and thought-provoking and clearly a labor of love.

Prelude To A Kiss, 1992 (dir. Norman René)

Based on the play of the same name by Craig Lucas, this film follows uptight publisher Peter (Alec Baldwin) as he falls in love with bohemian socialist Rita (Meg Ryan). At their wedding a strange old man named Julius (Sydney Walker) wanders in and asks to give the bride a kiss. The next thing you know we’ve got a body swap on our hands! Ryan is particularly wonderful as she is given the task of tackling Rita, as well as Julius as Rita. Also, she wears hands down my favorite wedding dress I’ve ever seen in a movie. A beautiful meditation on the longing for maturity, the pining for our youth, and the great unknown that is planning a life with someone.

Promised Land, 1997 (dir. Michael Hoffman)

The first film funded by the Sundance Film Festival, Michael Hoffman’s stirring drama is another critique of Reagan’s America. In this case, we see a film that starts with two promising young men attending a high school basketball game; one playing, the other watching. David (Jason Gedrick) is set to go to college on a basketball scholarship. Danny (Kiefer Sutherland) is nicknamed Senator, his academic gusto leading everyone to believe in his bright future. David loses his scholarship, moving home and joining the police force. Through a series of unfortunate events Danny has been to jail and is now a drifter. Both men have found nothing but anger and disappointment after high school, rather than the titular promised land. Their lives intersect again one fateful Christmas. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the film, but I do want to mention how wonderful Meg Ryan is in this. She sports pink hair and at one point bites a man who tries to hit on her in a casino! She’s full of spunk and vigor. I loved seeing her this wild and untamed before stardom began to shape her film choices.

As Above, So Below, 1973 (dir. Larry Clark)

Larry Clark was part of the LA Rebellion school of filmmakers. UCLA showed this as a free screening, followed by a great Q&A with Clark. He spoke about how the art house films of the 1960s including Z and Medium Cool inspired him to make a film unlike how he’d typically seen the Black experience represented. This was his thesis film, which was supposed to be a 20 minute short; he made a 55 minute film instead. Politically charged, Clark shows the post-Watts rebellion organizers on the ground working for a better life in a country that has done little for them. Powerful stuff.

Kirikou et la sorcière (Kirikou and the Sorceress), 1998 (dir. Michel Ocelot)

I had never heard of this film until I saw it on the expiring list on Criterion Channel and boy I was not disappointed. Inspired by West African folk tales, it follows the titular Kirikou as he is births himself out of his mother’s womb and then helps save his tribe from the evil witch Karaba. I don’t really want to tell you anything else because you just need to experience this film for yourself. It is a delight!

Posse, 1993 (dir. Mario Van Peebles)

Okay, so Posse has a lot going on. Mario Van Peebles stacks this cast with literally everyone you could imagine. You have scenes set in the Spanish-American War in Cuba and in a casino in New Orleans and in the Old West (maybe the Dakotas??). He wants to turn the idea that the Old West was lily white – there’s a title card that state there were more than 6,000 black cowboys after the Civil War, but you wouldn’t know it from Hollywood. Peebles does his best Man With No Name. Blair Underwood has sideburns and his charming af. The film is bookended with scenes featuring Woody Strode, and footage of him from Once Upon A Time In The West (as well as other classic westerns with Black cast members) plays over the credits. But what I want to draw the most attention to is that Billy Zane loses his eye, dons an eyepatch, and delivers one of his most gloriously committed and bonkers performances (and that’s saying a lot) as the film’s big bad. Delicious.

Never Let Go, 1960 (dir. John Guillermin)

There are so many jazzy, seedy little films from early 1960s England. This is a great example of that genre. Playing against type, Peter Sellers is a ruthless garage owner named Lionel Meadows who also happens to run a chop-shop side business. One of his cronies stole a car from neighborhood resident John Cummings (Richard Todd), who is on the brink of losing his job as a perfume salesman. He really needs his car back. Cummings becomes so obsessed with getting his car back and taking down Meadows that his entire life begins to fall apart. Sellers is truly evil in this (at one point he crushed a small pet turtle with his boot!!!) and Richard Todd’s descent into desperation is masterfully done. My only gripe with the film is the very last shot. I know where I would have ended the film and unfortunately that’s about a beat sooner than it actually does.

So that was my completely stacked month of March. It’s April, which means it’s National Poetry Month! Get your poetry books out! Watch Bright Star! Let it wash over you. Until next month à bientôt and happy viewing!

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on April 1, 2021, in 2021 in Films and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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