I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.
Title: The Unbelievable Truth
Release Date: May 15, 1989
Director: Hal Hartley
Production Company: Possible Films | Action Features
Audry Hugo (Adrienne Shelly) is a high school senior in the Long Island suburbs who has embraced a fatalistic viewpoint that the world will soon be destroyed by nuclear annihilation. Josh Hutton (Robert Burke) is a car mechanic (often mistaken for a priest) who returns to his home town after serving time in prison for manslaughter who finds work in the garage owned by Audry’s chauvinistic father Vic (Christopher Cooke). Can Audry and Josh find love?
That’s the putative plot of the movie, but director Hal Hartley seems less interested in plot and more in slice of life vignettes of everyday people in sometimes improbable situation. The world melodrama may sound like a dig, but the stiff acting and inconsistent characterization seem to be a feature rather than a bug of this movie. The style of this movie feels oddly like Twin Peaks without a supernatural element (but this came out before Twin Peaks, so maybe it’s like Blue Velvet without the gruesome violence?). At any rate, this is a fun, definitively 80s take on the art house flick.
I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life. The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously. If you have any suggestions for movies from the past 50 years, please drop them in the comments!
Top Grossing Movies in 2015:
Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners in 2015:
Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 2015:
World of Tomorrow
Release Date: November 20, 2015
Director: Todd Haynes
Production Company: Number 9 Films | Film4 Productions | Killer Films
Therese (Rooney Mara) is working as a clerk at New York City department store during the holiday season of 1952 who is drawn to a glamorous customer, Carol (Cate Blanchett), who is shopping for a gift for her daughter. They make a connection which eventually leads to a romantic relationship. Carol is divorcing her husband Herge (Kyle Chandler) and they are fighting for custody of their daughter. Herge uses Carol’s earlier lesbian relationship with her friend Abby (Sarah Paulson) and her relationship with Therese to invoke a “morality cause” to gain full custody.
The movie features strong, nuanced performances by Blanchett and Mara. It’s also gorgeously filmed with some memorable shots. It kind of feels like Edward Hopper paintings come to life. The movie also owes a debt to David Lean’s Brief Encounter. The Christmas theme is tied into the film’s color palette and surely the name Carol is kind of a pun? The examination of homosexuality in the repressive 1950s is well done, and I found it fascinating that the movie is a faithful adaptation of a book published in 1952, The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith.
I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.
Title: Miracle Mile
Release Date: May 19, 1989
Director:Steve De Jarnatt
Production Company: Miracle Mile Productions
Somewhere I’d been given the impression that Miracle Mile was a comedy of errors along the lines of After Hours. Instead, it is a tense-as-fuck grimdark story of societal collapse in the hour before a nuclear apocalypse. I won’t tell you how far I got into this movie before I cottoned on that there really weren’t any jokes.
Nevertheless, the movie begins with a meet-cute. Harry (Anthony Edwards) is a musician visiting Los Angeles who meets Julie (Mare Winningham) at the La Brea Tar Pits museum. They fall in love after spending the afternoon together and plan to meet up again when Julie’s shift at a coffee shop ends at midnight. Harry sleeps through his alarm and misses their date but goes to the coffee shop anyhow.
I won’t spoil things but through a series of unlikely events, Harry learns of an imminent nuclear missile strike on Los Angeles setting off an increasingly large scramble of people seeking safety. The bulk of the movie is Harry trying to find Julie and get to an evacuation point. The people he meet along the way include Landa (Denise Crosby), a business woman who confirms Harry’s information, and Wilson (Mykelti Williamson), a young man who Harry carjacks to get around L.A.
I’m not really into apocalyptic stories but I did find myself drawn into this tense drama. Although the movie is misanthropic in its depiction of an “everyone for themselves” collapse, there is also a scene for pretty much every named character where they want to go save someone. It kind of works with how the movie evolves from a romance to a thriller. Just be aware, for God’s sake, that this is NOT a comedy.
Title: High Fidelity
Release Date: March 31, 2000
Director: Stephen Frears
Production Company: Touchstone Pictures | Working Title Films | Dogstar Films | New Crime Productions
High Fidelity is a movie I remember liking but revisiting it now I find it’s even better than I remember. Based on a book by Nick Hornby, the scene is shifted from London to Chicago with the characters more enmeshed in the alternative hipster culture of the late 90s/early 00s. I’ve read the book and I’ve got to say this is a rare case where the movie is better.
John Cusack stars as Rob Gordon, who narrates the story of his five worst breakups after his longtime girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) leaves him. He revisits his exes (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sara Gilbert, Lili Taylor, and Joelle Carter) to try to learn what he does wrong in relationships showing minimal growth with each experience. The packed cast also includes Lisa Bonet, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins and a cameo by Bruce Springsteen!
But the heart of this movie is the record store that Rob owns and runs with two music geeks, the acerbic Barry (Jack Black) and the shy Dick (Todd Louiso). The three actors each do a pitch perfect performance of a different kind of emotionally-stunted manchild who find achievement in collecting rare records and making Top 5 lists. Rob Gordon is frankly an insufferable person and it’s possible that the collective good will that Cusack has earned over the course of his career is the only reason he is sympathetic at all.
While the movie is ostensibly about Rob’s romantic woes, it is the everydayness of all these characters going about their lives that makes it feel real and great. Appropriate to it’s record store setting, the movie also has an excellent soundtrack of classic rock and soul tunes and contemporary alternative rock.
Author: Sarah Gailey
Title: Upright Women Wanted
Narrator: Romy Nordlinger
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2020)
This novella has a western vibe while actually set in a dystopian future in which the United States has crumbled under autocratic rule that discriminates against LGBTQ people (ok, maybe not so far in the future?). Esther hides in a wagon belonging to The Librarians after the execution of her lover Beatriz. The Librarians officially travel the southwest distributing “approved” reading material but in fact are gun-slinging lesbian women and enby people with ties to pockets of resistance. It seems like a very short story for all of its ambition, but has some great moments, and can be disarmingly sweet and hopeful.
Title: The Misfits
Release Date: John Huston
Director:February 1, 1961
Production Company: Seven Arts Productions
Directed by John Huston. Written by Arthur Miller. Starring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift. With all this star power, you’d think The Misfits would be a much bigger deal. Last week I went to The Brattle theater to find out for myself.
The Misfits is one of those movies that’s hard to separate from the circumstances behind its creation. Huston spent each night gambling away his paycheck. Monroe and Miller were going through a contentious divorce. Pretty much everyone was dealing with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Gable, 59, looks much older and would be dead shortly after filming. Monroe would die the next year and Clift not long after. All of this adds to heartbreaking fragility of the characters.
For a movie involving a lot of Golden Age of Hollywood talent, it feels a lot like a New Hollywood film from a decade later. Set in contemporary Nevada, the movie deconstructs the romance of the Western. It also confronts masculine ideals head on with all of the leads, Gable, Clift, and Eli Wallach failing utterly. Monroe, who is typically the best part of any movie I’ve seen her in, puts in a masterful performance here as the naive and compassionate Roslyn. She’s also surprisingly excellent at paddle ball. Gable is also putting in probably his best acting performance as Gay, which is saying something considering the length of his career.
I’m not sure what else to say about this movie other than it is heartbreaking. Utterly heartbreaking. But beautiful.
Title: West Beirut
Release Date: September 1, 1998
Director: Ziad Doueiri
Production Company: 3B Productions | ACCI | Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC) | Ciné Libre | Douri Films | Exposed Film Productions AS L’Agence de la Francophonie (ACCT) | La Sept-Arte | MEDIA Programme of the European Union | Ministère de la Culture de la Republique Française | Ministère des Affaires Étrangères | Norsk Rikskringkasting (NRK) | Radio Télévision Belge Francophone (RTBF)
Set in 1975, West Beirut depicts the early days of the Lebanese Civil War through the perspective of a mischievous teenager, Tarek (Rami Doueiri). At first the war is an opportunity for fun and adventure much like the children in Hope and Glory. Tarek and his best friend Omar (Mohamad Chamas) are delighted when their French-operated school is closed and they spend the day making Super 8 movies. The city is divided into the Christian East Beirut and the Muslim West Beirut, although the city is not so easily divided as Tarek befriends May (Rola Al-Amin), a Christian orphan living in his family’s apartment building in West Beirut.
A major part of the movie involves Tarek accidentally finding his way into an infamous brothel and then trying to return there with Omar and May. I feel that the movie spins its wheels here a bit and would’ve been more interested in seeing more of Tarek’s relationships with his friends developed more. But overall this is a sweet and comic movie about how young people deal with troubled times and ultimately with heartbreaking tragedy.
Release Date: 23 September 2018
Director: Wanuri Kahiu
Production Company: Big World Cinema | MPM Film | Schortcut Films
Kena (Samantha Mugatsia), a young woman in Nairobi, helps out at her father’s store, hangs out with her male friends, and hopes to get good enough grades to pursue nursing studies. When she meets Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), there’s an immediate attraction, and the two women soon begin dating. Not only do they run a risk of prejudice and legal repercussions (homosexuality is illegal in Kenya) but their fathers are opponents in an upcoming election.
The romance in this film is very sweet and gentle. The cinematography captures lots of bright colors that seem to reflect the joy of young love. But most of the shots are also really close-up in a way that emphasizes how confining life is for Kena and Ziki. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it should not be a surprise that love does not conquer all, and Kena and Ziki suffer from the prejudices of their community. But this movie is not without hope.
Title: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Release Date: November 21, 2014
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Production Company:Logan Pictures | SpectreVision
A girl walks home alone at night, but she’s a vampire on a skateboard so she’s quite alright (and looks so very cool!). Described as “The first Iranian vampire Western,” the movie is set in an industrial region of Iran known as “Bad City.” The movie was actually filmed in California so it gets past the Iranian censors and can depict romance and sexuality as well as drug abuse, prostitution, and other unsavory activities.
The Girl (Sheila Vand) appears to be a feminist figure as she seems to only feast on bad men, including Bad City’s pimp/drug dealer, and warns a young boy to behave. But this is more than a revenge fantasy, and is a movie of how two people can form a connection despite dealing with their past and facets of their identity they don’t want to acknowledge. The Girl forms a bond with Arash (Arash Marandi) a young man struggling with his father Hossein’s (Marshall Manesh) heroin addiction and the general malaise of living in a dead end town.
There’s also a cat (Masuka). The cat is very important. The highly-stylized movie draws on German Expression and spaghetti western influences, with a little French New Wave thrown in. The movie is visually striking and conveys a lot of emotion with very little dialogue. The soundtrack which mixes Western indie rock with Iranian artists is also quite good.
Title: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
Release Date: February 1944
Director: Preston Sturges
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
During the Second World War, the town of Morgan’s Creek becomes home to several military bases. Local teenager Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton) finds it to be her patriotic duty to attend dances for the servicemen before they leave to go overseas. One night Trudy loses her memory after a head injury and when she comes to she realizes that she’s married one of the soldiers (and become pregnant!) but can’t remember who it is. Trudy’s nebbish and 4-F childhood friend Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken) has always been in love with her and agrees to marry her, but Trudy is fearful of being charged with bigamy.
The old-fashioned moral values and gender essentialism are laid on thick in this film, but it took me a while to realize that the excess is in fact a satire of those social mores. In fact, many of the complex plot points are simply due to having to dance around the Hays code. Because this movie is both subversive and utterly bonkers, I wanted to like it more than I did. But the repeated gags of Norval and then Trudy stuttering and the repeated pratfalls were more irritating than funny. Diana Lynn is hilarious as Trudy’s wisecracking younger sister while William Demarest plays their cranky father, Constable Lockenlocker.
This is the third Preston Sturges film I’ve watched and I do want to watch more! The long tracking shots of characters walking through the streets are quite impressive.