Friday, January 12, 2024

At the Movies in 2024


A running list of what I've seen on the big screen this year:

1. House of Psychotic Women (1973)-Music Box Theater

2. The Giant Behemoth (1959)- Doc Films

3. Psycho (1960)- Doc Films

4. All That Jazz (1979)- Doc Films

5. Closed Circuit (1978)- Music Box

6. American Fiction (1923)- AMC NewCity 14

7. Blow Out (1981)- Music Box

8. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023)- Regal City North

9. Night of the Living Dead (1990)- Thalia Hall

10. Night of the Creeps (1986)- Thalia Hall

11. The Strangler (1970)- Music Box

12. The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971)- Music Box

13. My Bloody Valentine (1981)- Hollywood Blvd (Woodridge, IL)

14. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)- Facets

15. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)- Facets

16. Belle de Jour (1967)- Gene Siskel Film Center

17. Blacula (1972)- Facets

18. Messiah of Evil (1974)- Music Box Theater

19. Jeanne Dielman… (1975)- Gene Siskel Film Center

20. Dream Scenario (2023)- Facets

21. Dune 2 (2024)- Music Box Theater

22. Drive-Away Dolls (2024)- AMC NewCity 14

23. Love Lies Bleeding (2024)- Landmark Century Cinema

24. The Untouchables (1987)- Music Box

25. Problemista (2024)- Alamo Drafthouse 

26. Days of Heaven (1978)- Music Box

27. Beetlejuice (1988)- Music Box

28. Seconds (1966)- Music Box

29. The Wizard of Oz (1939)- Pickwick Theater 

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

2023 at the Movies - In Review

I haven't really been on the blog this year because I've been busy with various projects. This blog itself, of course, is a relic of an older age, not just for me but for the culture at large. Online movie and book discourse loooong ago gravitated to places like Goodreads and Letterboxd, and personal blogging is more likely to be found on popular sites like Substack. Maybe I'll make it to those places one day. (I put the 'late' in late adoption.) For now, this blog is little more than a place where I track my moviegoing (again, yes, I know about Letterboxd). 

I'm not tracking my movie *watching* which would require a whole other list. This is all about seeing movies at the theater, in person, with an audience of (mostly) strangers. After the long drought of the pandemic, I've nearly bounced back to pre-Covid levels of moviegoing. My peak was 2018, when I saw 126 movies at the theater. During lockdown, of course, that shrank to next to nothing, and then slowly crawled back as theaters reopened and Hollywood started production back up. In 2022, I saw 85 films. 

In 2023, I saw 108 movies. That's a lot. That's more than two movies a week.

As always, it's a spread of classics and new stuff, art house and megaplex.

I saw 54 films at Music Box Theater, one of the best movie theaters in the country and the crown jewel of Chicago's robust cinephile community. I saw 14 films at Facets, Chicago's charmingly quirky hole-in-the-wall cinema/video rental collective. Through a work schedule fluke this year, I spent a lot of time in Skokie and ended up doing a lot of my new movie viewing at the AMC Village Crossing. I saw 11 films there. In Park Ridge there's an excellent classic film series at the historic Park Ridge Theater, and I saw 7 films there. The rest of my moviegoing was spread out among different theaters: Regal City North (6 films), the Davis Theater (4), Siskel Film Center (3), the Logan Theater (3), Regal Webster Place (2), Doc Films (2), NEIU-Chicago Film Society (1),  and Landmark Century Cinema (1). 

As is always the case with me, I saw more old movies than new releases, but I did see a lot of new releases this year. I saw 27 films released in 2023 (as well as 3 films released in 2022).

The other films I saw were spread across the decades. (The only decades unrepresented were the 1910s--which doesn't surprise me--and the 1930s--which shocks me. How did I not see a film from the 1930s this year? Odd.) Here's the breakdown decade by decade: 1920s (3), 1940s (14), 1950s (11), 1960s (9), 1970s (10), 1980s (13), 1990s (10), 2000s (3), 2010s (4), 2020s (4), 2023 (27). 

In terms of repertory, this might well have been one of the greatest years I've ever had as a moviegoer. It was great year for Orson Welles movies: I saw THE TRIAL three times, and I saw CITIZEN KANE, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, and FALSTAFF. I got to see HIGH NOON, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, PAPER MOON, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS and VERTIGO. I saw a lot of noirs at Noir City Chicago (including RAW DEAL and CRY OF THE CITY). Through the influence of my horror-fan wife, I've seen a steady increase of horror movies the last few years, and this year included highlights like RE-ANIMATOR, BLACK CHRISTMAS, and CURTAINS. 

As for new releases, with the caveat that there are still things I want to see (like THE IRON CLAW and ALL OF US STRANGERS), I do not think 2023 was a great year for movies. Certainly, I didn't see a lot of new releases that I'm convinced will stand the test of time. There are some big exceptions: POOR THINGS was the best film I saw this year, a fierce, hilarious moving work of art. I don't how Yorgos Lanthimos or Emma Stone will ever top it. (Or Mark Ruffalo, for that matter.) THE HOLDOVERS was the other big highlight of the year, a film that's perfectly balanced between humor and pathos, between wit and humanity with a trifecta of excellent performances by Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, Da'Vine Joy Randolph. I think it's Alexander Payne's best movie since ABOUT SCHMIDT. 

I loved KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, and I really enjoyed both OPPENHEIMER and BARBIE. One largely unheralded film I loved was the touching (but unsentimental) French drama LES ENFANTS DES AUTRES. And I really adored the cynical Jennifer Lawrence romcom NO HARD FEELINGS. I liked and almost instantly forgot THE CREATOR, enjoyed the uneven NAPOLEON, had a lot of fun watching the grisly THANKSGIVING on Thanksgiving, was delighted by the charming THEATER CAMP, and really liked the Willem Dafoe performance in INSIDE. 

That's not a bad run of movies. But the disappointments were many, especially on the blockbuster side. The new MISSION IMPOSSIBLE was the weakest entry in the series, which is a bummer for a big M:I fan like me. INDIANA JONES had a depressingly lackluster final chapter (after the *previous* lackluster final chapter; there's a series that should have gracefully bowed out in 1989 when they stuck the perfect landing with LAST CRUSADE). The superhero movie is out of gas, and I'm pretty much done with John Wick at this point (I felt my interest flip off, like a switch, about halfway through CHAPTER 3, and nothing that happened in CHAPTER 4 regained it. At this point you can more or less predict the action beats in those movies before you even see them.) While auteurs like Lanthimos, Payne, and Scorsese all had a triumphant year, elsewhere things were rougher for the big name directors. Ari Aster's BEAU IS AFRAID had a fantastic first act, a muddled second act, and a root canal of a third act. Paul Schrader wrapped up his Man In A Room trilogy (following his career-best FIRST REFORMED and the excellent THE CARD COUNTER) on a low note with the lifeless MASTER GARDNER. David Fincher's THE KILLER, a film I hustled to the theater to see during its ultra-brief theatrical, was hardly worth the trip.

Add all of that together, though, and it adds up to a hell of a year at the movies. Here's hoping 2024 is even better.