Friday, January 5, 2018

ReReading Maigret


I've been on a big Simenon kick for the last couple of years. It started out with his noirs like THE WIDOWER, DIRTY SNOW, and ACT OF PASSION, but it eventually led me back to his Maigret novels. The result of all this reading is a new series over at Criminal Element where I'm going to be rereading the best Maigret novels. You can check out the first installment of the series, Georges Simenon and the Top 6 Maigret Novels here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My 2017 At The Movies


In 2017, I saw 125 movies on the big screen. That breaks down to a movie every 2.9 days. This is, I am quite certain, the most times I've ever gone to the movies in the course of the year. I'm pretty happy about that.

Of course, in the real world, 2017 has been a horrific year. God help us all, it's been the year of Trump, a year of daily outrages both petty (the bizarre spectacle of the White House spokesman transparently lying about inauguration size) and monumental (the travel ban, the stolen seat on the Supreme Court, the plutocratic tax bill, Charlottesville). And, under it all, there has been the steadily building of pressure of the Russia investigation.

So it's been a good year to seek solace at the movies, not just because the world has given us so many reasons to seek solace, but because it's been a great year for the movies themselves.

There's a prevailing notion that the movies themselves are in dire trouble--that the act of going to a theater to see a film is something that won't last much longer. The most oft-cited reasons for this decline are changing viewing patterns among younger moviegoers, the rise of ticket prices, the popularity of streaming, and the ever increasing consolidation of the industry itself. As someone who loves going to the movies, I worry about these things, too, but I take a lot of comfort in the robust nature of filmgoing that I witnessed over the last 12 months.

The most emotionally explosive movie I saw this year came early, Raoul Peck's I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, the James Baldwin essay film that went into wide release in February. The film has the power of a great Baldwin essay, fierce and honest and brilliant. You could feel an electrical current ripple through the screening I attended. In terms of sheer impact, I'm sure I didn't see a better film this year.

At the other end of the spectrum, when I saw Patty Jenkins's WONDER WOMAN, I got to ride along on a wave of pure joy. The film is, of all things, old fashioned--an epic, romantic, funny, exciting adventure yarn. It was the best popcorn movie I saw this year.

I got to see other films where the crowds were brimming with excitement. I thought IT was okay, but I can tell you that the crowd of mostly teenage moviegoers I saw it with had a blast. GET OUT, which is one part serious social commentary and one part pure popcorn flick, was another film that blew the roof off the theater where I saw it.

Smaller films had a fantastic year. When people saw that movies are going downhill, that they don't make 'em like they used to, I have to respond that I just don't see it that way. I see a lot good movies. I saw A LOT of great movies this year, and small productions by serious filmmakers are as good as they've ever been. 

THE FLORIDA PROJECT, from director Sean Baker, is a masterpiece about a young girl living in poverty on the outskirts of the Disney's sunshine state empire. It is a hilarious and heartbreaking film, a work of cinematic art. A very different film-- though a film cut from something of the same cloth--is the thriller GOOD TIME from Benny and Josh Safdie. This was the best crime film of the year, pure exhilarating neo-noir filmmaking.




Of course, a huge part of my filmgoing life is consumed by classic film retrospectives. Chicago is rich with venues for the classic film geek: the Music Box Theater, the Gene Siskel Film Center, Doc Films and the Chicago Film Society showings at NEIU. I've had nothing less than an extraordinary year at the movies. I've gotten to enjoy old favorites like WRITTEN ON THE WIND, UGETSU, BLOOD SIMPLE, DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, A PLACE IN THE SUN and so many others. Even more exciting, though, are the new discoveries I've made. A classic film geek's job is never done, so I got to catch up with some films that I'd either never seen before or films that I hadn't seen in decades. These films included PANIQUE, LEON MORIN - PRIEST, WHEN YOU GET THIS LETTER, GIRLFRIENDS, TIME TO DIE, and CANYON PASSAGE. This was the year I got to see one of my favorite films (1979's neo-noir HARDCORE) on the big screen for the first time, and it's the year I discovered an old film (the 1946 melodrama TO EACH HIS OWN) that instantly became one of my favorites. 

I could go on, but the point is already clear: it was great year at the movies.

I'll close with a couple of lists. My top movie experiences new and retro.

New Releases
1. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (technically 2016)
1. THE FLORIDA PROJECT
2. GOOD TIME
3. LADY BIRD
4. NOVITIATE
5. WONDER WOMAN
6. ATOMIC BLONDE
7. BLADE RUNNER 2049
8. THE DISASTER ARTIST
9. GET OUT
10. THE SHAPE OF WATER        

Retrospective and Classic Films 
(This is not a ranking of how "great" these films are--in other words I could just put CHINATOWN down as the best movie I saw all year and be done with it--but rather this is a ranking of my experiences at the movies. This is a list of the great experiences I had at the movies this year.)
1. TO EACH HIS OWN (1946) Chicago Film Society showing at NEIU
2. OPEN SECRET (1948) Gene Siskel Film Center
3. WORKING GIRLS (1931) CFS showing at NEIU
4. HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) Music Box Theater
5. IXCANUL (2015) GSFS
6. DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD (1954) Noir City Chicago at MBT
7. A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951) Doc Films
8. COOL HAND LUKE (1968) MBT
9. LEON MORIN, PRIEST (1961) GSFC
10. WENDY AND LUCY (2008) DF
And the honorary mentions would include the collections of Buster Keaton Shorts (1918-1921) I saw at a boisterous showing at the Music Box, and the packed showing of LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997) at Noir City Chicago (hosted by Eddie Muller and James Ellroy), just shortly before the Kevin Spacey scandal broke, making me one of the last people to see that movie in a state of relative innocence.

All in all, 2017 was a great year at the pictures. Here's to 2018.