We all have them in the back of our minds; those moments that make us think "man, this is what the movies are all about". We relive those moments in our mind's eye, remembering them and dissecting them and adoring them. They come in all shapes and sizes, from all types of films, and yet they all share one very important aspect; they define why we love the movies. It could be the way that the moment is cut; the way it's edited together. It could be the way the moment uses it's actors to evoke a powerful emotion from us. It could be the way that music floods the scene and draws us even closer to the moment in question. It could be a grand climax, a breathtaking introduction or a simple interchange. It could be any and all things, because for every film lover, the list is different.
At first I thought I'd start by skipping the most famous, obvious examples—the opening of Citizen Kane, for instance—but then I found so many well-received movies in my own list that I couldn't resist including them. I'm also going to go ahead and mention these scene descriptions almost always contain spoilers—there's just no way around it. I'll vaguely sort them from more subtle to more bold.
A Most Wanted Man at the Little, August 3: Jenn and I went to see this last film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. I found it fascinating how, despite Hoffman's central character, the social and political views of all parties involved was respectfully maintained. It's basically the story of a man who methodically hunts down terrorists. And, of course, the bleakly lonely existence he has because of it.
25th Hour at the Dryden, August 6: Neither Jenn nor I had so much as heard of this film by Spike Lee. Per the introduction, it's because it was released about a year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—and (unlike other films of that era) the World Trade Center site is centrally and prominently displayed. Jenn didn't like it as much as I did right away, and I'm finding I like the film more after I let it sit. In some ways it felt like a cobbled-together plot, but in retrospect, it really did exude raw emotion. It's about a man's last days before beginning a long prison sentence, so it's understandably a mishmash of dissonant emotions. Plus, with 9/11 as a lightning rod, it's kind of about the raw emotion felt in those years shortly after the attacks. And in the end, I theorize that it kind of gives a big hug to all that is the positives and negatives of New York City—kind of Spike Lee's answer to Woody Allen's Manhattan.
Oldeuboi (Oldboy) at the Dryden, August 8: I had heard about this film for a while and finally got a chance to see it. The plot is relatively simple: a drunk is imprisoned for no apparent reason, only to be released 15 years later with equally no reason, giving him the fuel for an undying wish for vengeance. It's a violent and bizarre film about trust and perception. Overall I think it's quite excellent, if equally disturbing.
Ivory Tower at the Little, August 12: I was curious about this film about how the cost of college has inordinately increased since about 1978. Although it seems to paint a complete picture of college—visiting everything from Harvard to the tiny Deep Springs all-male college in California—it misses two huge points. First is that the mantra of the film—whether college is any longer a "good investment" in dollar-terms—is solely the work of Reagan-era free-market capitalism since that was the watershed moment when everything began to have a dollar value, including former-intangibles like a good education. While it does make a hint at the influence of Reagan (who considered education a "private improvement" which therefore should not be provided through public funds) it fails to address the sweeping changes to socioeconomic conditions ushered in by that administration. The second, and more egregious, is that it never looks outside the United States for guidance or suggestions. Rather, it essentially concludes that nothing can be done. The discussion group was extraordinarily not insightful, consisting of D&C higher-education staff-writer James Goodman (who had apparently never used a microphone before), UofR Assistant Dean of Diversity and Outreach Joe Latimer (who spent most of his time defending UofR's exorbitant spending habits), and a young man named Jerome who is personally struggling with how to pay back over $50,000 in debt working a social-service job (who was as helpful as any of the other audience members.)
The Day the Earth Stood Still at the Dryden, August 14: Jenn and I went to see this classic. Boy what a great film. Despite its 1951 vintage, the effects and alien design don't seem stupid. Plus, the frankness of Klaatu's message—be peaceful … or else—was so brilliantly and realistically played against humanity's resistance to that idea that I can't help but think of this as one of the best movies ever. Perhaps telling of its vintage, though, was the lack of interaction with anybody but white people (which one could contrive as a strength, given the subject matter). But there is also a hilarious interaction of doctors sharing a smoke …
Boyhood at the Little, September 1: Jenn and I went to see this Richard Linklater film that's basically about a boy growing up with his sister through divorced parents, following him as he begins college. The unique aspect is Linklater used the same actors over a 12-year period, so they actually really age. It's such an incredible piece of cinema that I liken it to Jacques Tati's Playtime as a film so perfect that there's really no need to watch any more movies … even though I will.
Surf Nazis Must Die at the Little, September 12: For Strange Disc Records' premiere album, they released the soundtrack of this long-forgotten film—as a record no-less. The film itself is really quite bad. I kept nodding off at the incredibly slow and rambling pace. I can't really say much redeeming about it … well, except the soundtrack which is really good.
David Bowie Is Happening Now at the Little, September 23: Jenn, Sarah, Karen, and I went to see this together. The film is basically a document of a traveling art show with works by David Bowie, collected and created throughout his life. It's also, in a way, a commercial for that show, so it has a bit of a tarnished luster. That said, it's also a rather complete biography of David Bowie and leads the viewer to understand that a superstar like him was born and lived like any of us—except that he ended up exceptional through hard work, an internal drive, and seizing opportunity as it came.
The Zero Theorem at the Little, September 25: Jenn backed out at the last minute, haunted by the specter of a low Rotten Tomatoes rating. Terry Gilliam created this film and, like one could expect from his work, it's about a dystopian future with one man who makes a difference. I don't know … it was okay, I guess. It succeeds in being a more described world that Brazil, but it fails in that more explanation is not what Brazil needed. Knowing what exactly the toil, or how advertising works just makes it look cheesy and fake. Leaving the detail to our imagination really is the only way to go.
Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago at the Dryden, September 27: I went mostly because my friend Jeff Stanin was to speak about his own experience with it. I was surprised that he is now married and took the journey with his soon-to-be wife Elizabeth to determine if the relationship would work. Anyway, the film is about the Camino de Santiago which starts just over the border in France and runs some 800 kilometers (500 miles) to Santiago, then through to the Atlantic Ocean. It originated as a religious pilgrimage—often as penance—but has grown to be a modern challenge. As a documentary, it was pretty good … letting us watch a half-dozen or so people try to make it, interspersed with the stupefyingly beautiful vistas along the way.
This Last Lonely Place at the Little, October 1: Steve Anderson created this low-budget narrative in Los Angeles. He's a former Rochesterarian who came back a few years ago to screen The Big Empty, a film I also liked (although this time we were spared the Curse of the Little and the film ran fine.) Anyway, the film is about a guy who tries to do good but gets mixed up in a complicated caper. I was surprised at one character's motives since I had expectations built up by the film until then, but aside from that, it's a clever story and an interesting film to seek out.
In Jim Healy's introduction to Playtime at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.), he could not have impressed any stronger that he truly loved it. And he was right. It's a masterpiece. (At least from what I've seen of Jacques Tati's films so far.)
The film follows Tati's charmingly bumbling Monsieur Hulot — sort-of. Hulot is only one of the characters in this film shot from the perspective of an omniscient and loving city — if a cold and dehumanizing one as well. The camera watches the trials of humans as they attempt to navigate the brutally unnatural surroundings of the city and its buildings. But as it goes (and as in Tati's other films) humanity prevails.
What was so remarkable was that every single moment of Playtime is richly and deliberately created. Even the most innocuous scene is a fractal part of the central theme.
But what I found most unusual was that when I was leaving the screening, I was struck with an uncanny sense that I had witnessed the completion of all cinema. It was as if I had walked out of every movie ever made — and felt no particular need to see another film. (And although tenacious, the feeling faded over several days, so I just might watch more movies.)