Monthly Archives: June 2020

The Best Films of 2020 So Far

I believe the most monumental work of art released in 2020 so far — and the one that best speaks to our turbulent times — is Bob Dylan’s astonishing new album Rough and Rowdy Ways. A work of seemingly bottomless depth, it creates a haunting liminal space where past, present and future overlap (it’s no coincidence that the first line of the first song is “Today and tomorrow and yesterday too”). If you haven’t yet listened to it, I would advise spinning it a few times and giving it your full attention — as you would if reading a book or watching a movie. You can listen to the whole thing for free on YouTube here.

Having said all that, I think it’s been a pretty damn good year for cinema so far too (in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic). Below are a list of favorite films that either first screened theatrically in Chicago in the first half of 2020 or that first became available to watch via various “virtual cinemas.” I’ve linked to my original reviews where applicable and added some thoughts on other films that I haven’t yet written about elsewhere. Enjoy.

10. Queen of Lapa (Collatos/Monnerat, Brazil)

Queen_of_Lapa_-_Still_1“…a tone of quiet authenticity that can only be achieved when an unusually high degree of mutual trust is established between filmmaker and subject. It’s a compassionate and non-sensationalistic look at the inside of a subculture that most viewers will be unfamiliar with.” Read my Cine-File Chicago review here.

9. Fourteen (Sallitt, USA)

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“…impressively conveys a sense of the ebb and flow of life as it is actually lived, felt and remembered — and provides a devastating reminder of how time gets away from us all.” Read my Cine-File Chicago review here.

8. Joan of Arc
(Dumont, France)

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Most Joan of Arc movies, including Carl Dreyer’s celebrated silent film, feature actresses that are too old for the lead role. Otto Preminger remedied that by casting the “age appropriate” Jean Seberg when he made Saint Joan in 1957. But only Bruno Dumont would cast an actress who is far too young for the part (the great 10-year-old Lise Prudhomme), a wacky decision that pays off by conveying a sense of Joan’s “saintliness” in a way that no post-adolescent actress, no matter how talented, ever could.

7. Shakedown
(Weinraub, USA)

44096851_2160705053981437_6478280789543878656_n“…confronts viewers with an exhilarating montage of footage that frequently takes on a rude, hallucinatory beauty, punctuated by a wealth of still photographs and promotional flyers characterized by a cheesy-but-amazing early-2000s Photoshop aesthetic.” Read my full Cine-File Chicago review here.

6. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Hittman, USA)

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This urgent abortion-rights drama features the same slightly moody/dreamy vibe of Eliza Hittman’s previous films but marries it to a much improved narrative sense. Both lead actresses are amazing.

5. I Wish I Knew (Jia, China)

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“…the whole of this documentary, a deceptively simple accumulation of personal ‘oral histories’ not unlike a filmic version of Studs Terkel’s interview books about Chicago, ends up being greater than the sum of its parts. Read my full Cine-File Chicago review here.

4. Zombi Child (Bonello, France)

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“The way these two stories dovetail in the film’s climax adds up to a critique of racism, ‘othering’ and the commodification of culture that is at once subtle, subversive and devilishly clever.” Read my full Time Out Chicago review here.

3. Bacurau (Dornelles/Mendonca, Brazil)

bacurauI feel like this crazy-ass genre mash-up cum anti-capitalist allegory was made just for me.

2. Tommaso (Ferrara, Italy/USA)

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Abel Ferrara’s most personal movie, Willem Dafoe’s finest performance.

1. (tie) Hill of FreedomYourself and Yours (Hong, S. Korea)

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yourselfandyours-superJumboJean-Luc Godard famously said that all you need to make a film is “a girl and a gun.” Hong Sang-soo might amend that to “a man, a woman and a bottle of soju.” These two delightful features (which originally premiered in 2014 and 2016, respectively) just belatedly turned up in the U.S. thanks to Cinema Guild and Grasshopper Films and they make for one hell of a double feature: They represent Hong at his most narratively ambitious and formally playful. Watch ’em with someone you love.

Honorable mention for short films: Spike Lee’s New York New York and 3 Brothers (both of which I preferred to Da 5 Bloods), Eric Marsh’s brilliant video essay TELEPHONE FOR LIEUTENANT COLUMBO and Jean-Marie Straub’s France Against Robots.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Sabrina* (Pollack) – C-
2. The Heiress* (Wyler) – A+
3. The Connection* (Clarke) – B-
4. Polyester* (Waters) – B
5. Rocky (Avildsen) – B+
6. The Barefoot Contessa (Mankiewicz) – A
7. M* (Losey) – B
8. Hill of Freedom* (Hong) – A-
9. Never Rarely Sometimes Always* (Hittman) – B+
10. Yourself and Yours* (Hong) – A-

*First-time watch


Theodore Collatos and Carolina Monnerat’s QUEEN OF LAPA

I reviewed Theodore Collatos and Carolina Monnerat’s Queen of Lapa for this week’s Cinefile Chicago list.

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Theodore Collatos and Carolina Monnerat’s QUEEN OF LAPA (Brazil/Documentary)

Available for rent from various “virtual cinemas” via Factory 25 here

Brooklyn-based filmmaker Theodore Collatos is best known for directing the impressive micro-budget narrative features DIPSO (2012) and TORMENTING THE HEN (2017), the latter of which stars his wife, the gifted Brazilian actress Carolina Monnerat. QUEEN OF LAPA is a cinema verité documentary in which Monnerat teams up with Collatos behind the camera to ostensibly chronicle the legendary Brazilian transgender prostitute-turned-activist Luana Muniz. The film’s title is somewhat misleading, however, as this doc is as much about the group of younger trans sex workers that Muniz has taken under her wing, and who reside in a hostel she runs in Rio de Janeiro’s Lapa neighborhood, as it is about the colorful matriarch Muniz herself. Unlike most movies (fiction and non-fiction alike) that take prostitution as their subject, QUEEN OF LAPA seems to studiously avoid depicting interactions between sex workers and johns, the latter of whom are virtually nowhere to be seen, and focuses instead almost exclusively on the sisterhood of these vibrant young women who live and work together under the same roof. One memorable scene shows a conversation between two friendly rivals about whether or not it’s ethical to enjoy sex when one is being paid for it. Another features a prostitute, standing alone by a window, taking a flat iron to her wig while simultaneously recalling stories about the earliest clients she had when she was still a child. What these remarkable scenes, and others like them, have in common is a tone of quiet authenticity that can only be achieved when an unusually high degree of mutual trust is established between filmmaker and subject. It’s a compassionate and non-sensationalistic look at the inside of a subculture that most viewers will be unfamiliar with. So much of QUEEN OF LAPA takes place inside the House of Muniz, in fact, that it ends up becoming a fascinating portrait of an interior world whose denizens have established their own rules; or as Muniz herself poetically puts it, it’s “one of the last communities where humans can dream.” This self-enclosed, self-created world is thrown into stark relief whenever Collatos and Monnerat’s camera does venture out into the streets or into a nearby cabaret nightclub where the larger-than-life Muniz performs an awesome slow-motion dance number to a karaoke version of an Elton John song. All of which is to say, this is perfect Pride-month viewing. (2019, 83 min) MGS


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Anatomy of a Murder (Preminger) – A+
2. Stuffed* (Derham) – C+
3. Queen of Lapa* (Collatos) – B+
4. Da 5 Bloods* (Lee) – B-
5. Shirley* (Decker) – C+
6. Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean* (Altman) – B+
7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Hooper) – A-
8. The Long Gray Line (Ford) – A+
9. Gosford Park (Altman) – A
10. Tommaso* (Ferrara) – A-

* First-time watch


Spike Lee’s 3 BROTHERS

I reviewed Spike Lee’s 95-second short film 3 Brothers for this week’s Cine-file Chicago list.

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Spike Lee’s 3 BROTHERS (American)
Available to watch on Spike Lee’s Twitter account here

Spike Lee’s first quarantine short film, the coronavirus-themed NEW YORK NEW YORK, was a joyous love letter to the director’s hometown in which he depicted iconic NYC locations mostly absent of people, set to Frank Sinatra’s famous 1979 recording of the song by the same name. His second, 3 BROTHERS, arriving just weeks later, is a simple but devastating 95-second piece of agitprop: Lee intercuts the climactic scene of his 1989 masterpiece DO THE RIGHT THING – the murder of Radio Raheem at the hands of the police – with cell-phone footage captured by witnesses to the similar real-life murders of Eric Garner in 2014 and George Floyd in 2020. Clips from all three films are linked by image (matching cuts of the cops placing their victims in illegal chokeholds) as well as sound (the refrain “I can’t breathe!” spoken by both Garner and Floyd). 3 BROTHERS ends by juxtaposing shots of each victim’s lifeless body while a bystander in the video of Floyd’s murder can be heard admonishing the cops, “You just really killed that man, bro!” The only onscreen text is a rhetorical question, “When Will History Stop Repeating Itself?,” that appears in crimson letters over a black screen at the film’s beginning. DO THE RIGHT THING, which ended with Samuel L. Jackson’s disc-jockey character reminding his radio station’s listeners (and, by extension, the movie’s viewers) to vote in an upcoming election, should not have remained this relevant 31 fucking years after its initial release. Watching this brief, gut-wrenching snuff film of a coda ought to infuriate anyone with a heart and a brain, and serves as a similar call to action. (2020, 2 min) MGS

 


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. The Big Heat (Lang) – A+
2. Easy Money (Signorelli) – B+
3. Midsommar* (Aster) – C-
4. Tales From the Crypt* (Francis) – B
5. Summer of 84* (Simard/Whissell/Whissell) – D+
6. Fly Away Home* (Ballard) – B
7. The Cool World* (Clarke) – B+
8. Human Desire* (Lang) – A
9. Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice* (Mazursky) – B
10. Model Shop* (Demy) – A-

* First-time watch


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