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Everything posted by Christian

  1. Christian

    2018 Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury

    Thanks, Joel. I'm happy to participate, but my affiliation should be Patheos/Schaeffer's Ghost; Crosswalk cut loose all its freelance reviewers in January. The Washington Area Film Critics Association kept me on its books despite my dropoff in published reviews - at least for this year - so for now I have continued access to screeners, which have started to arrive.
  2. Christian

    A&F Site News -- Please Read

    I'm glad the site will live on under your guidance, Ken. Thank you for taking the initiative to preserve A&F. I still check the board frequently to read new posts.
  3. Christian

    Await Your Reply

    Hoo boy. Lemme check. Thanks for alerting me. Yes, wrong link. Try this one.
  4. Christian

    Await Your Reply

    Last week I found a hardback copy of "Await Your Reply" at a library used book sale and bought it. But the main reason I wanted to post here was to link to today's Chaon essay in the New York Times Travel section. It includes a few film references, FWIW: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/29/travel/elda-restaurant-biddeford-maine-review.html?action=click&contentCollection=travel&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront
  5. Christian

    Top 25 or 100 for 2018-19

    Yes, let's do away with weighted voting. I have a lot of posts here at A&F, but as my participation waned, then ceased, in recent years, I'd wondered if my votes carried more weight than they should relative to those who were more active on the board. (My highest-rated choices never seemed to place too high on the final lists, alleviating my concern somewhat.) I've enjoyed the Ecumenical Jury the past few years and hope it continues. Even if I were not to participate in the jury, I'd still value reading its results/awards.
  6. Christian

    Top 25 or 100 for 2018-19

    I'm on board but worry about the level of participation and how that might affect the results. What's our baseline participation goal for a new Top 100?
  7. At Alan's and Mark's behest, I'm launching the discussion of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but seeing as how I'm at work right now, I won't be posting anything of depth until later today, at the earliest. Please don't let that stop you from posting thoughts of your own.
  8. We have threads about fiction (for men) and about the decline in literary reading, but I couldn't find a good fit for a thread devoted to discussion of the novel -- specifically the American novel. Roger Kimball had an essay on the subject in last week's Weekly Standard. It was locked for subscribers, so I could read only the early portion of the essay (open to all site visitors) when the issue was initially posted. That got me thinking about the subject. Then the site made the entire article available. I've read through it but haven't really digested all that it offers. I thought, however, that it might be a topic of interest for A&F. Kimball's core argument: There was a moment, an extended moment that lasted many decades, in which some fiction consciously performed a patently moral role quite apart from its value as entertainment. I should stress that by “moral” I do not necessarily mean moralistic or even didactic. Some fiction was indeed patently didactic, but much of the best fiction was moral in a broader, more insinuating sense. Its designs upon the reader—and the reader’s designs upon it—were often laced with equivocation and ambiguity, but were no less imperative for that. It was in this context, perhaps, that we should understand James’s observation (in that same essay) that the novel was “the most immediate and .  .  . admirably treacherous picture of actual manners.” I feel sure that, could we but fully unpack the union of those words “admirably” and “treacherous” in James’s understanding, we would understand a great deal. If we understood also what he meant by “manners” we would be in very good shape indeed. My point here is to suggest that changes in our culture have precipitated changes in the novel or, more to the point, changes in the reception and spiritual significance of the novel. It was before my time, but not I think much before my time, that a cultivated person would await the publication of an important new novel with an anticipation whose motivation was as much existential as diversionary. This, I believe, is mostly not the case now, and the reasons have only partly to do with the character and quality of the novels on offer. At least as important is the character and quality of our culture. Kimball also believes that "much of the most beguiling fiction written today is genre fiction: mysteries, for example, or certain species of light comedy—frosting on the serious cake of life. (There are exceptions, of course, but they remain just that: exceptions.)" And he says he does "not deny that there are good novels written today. I think, for example, of the spare, deeply felt novels of Marilynne Robinson, especially Gilead, her quiet masterpiece from a few years back." But he suspects the culture is shifting away from great American novels, and that our conversation of great American novels will increasingly rely on older novels. (Seems like that's always been the case, no?) It's worth reading the whole thing. I'm curious to know who here agrees with Kimball's diagnosis. Also: What's the last Great American Novel you read? I'd go with Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Yeah, I know it's designed to be thought of as a "Great American novel" -- akin to the Oscar-bait movies released en masse in the fall of each year. But the book surprised me, it hit me hard and struck me as deeply insightful about the human condition. Maybe I'm just a sucker, or maybe I need to read more American novels.
  9. Christian

    My Brother's Wedding

    I've been looking for a Charles Burnett-related thread to post this, but can't find an existing thread that seems appropriate. This film deserves its own thread. Rather than describe the plot, I'll link to Doug C.'s excellent post on the film. I saw the movie last night. I recommend it strongly to everyone on this board, and want to encourage consideration of this cut of the film for consideration on year-end Top 10 lists. I haven't orgazined a top 10 list yet -- not even in my head -- but am confident that this film will be sitting right near the top of it, maybe at Number 1. It is, in a word, fantastic, and certainly worthy of consideration as a "spiritual film," although I don't know that the film is primarily about faith. (Burnett attended the screening and suggested that spirituality/church is just one aspect of the film, although much more present here than in Killer of Sheep, FWIW). This film was originally released in 1983, in a much longer cut, but only now is it in the director's intended form (surprisingly trimmed -- significantly -- rather than expanded). I wasn't going to bother making the case for this film as a 2007 release because I didn't think it was getting a theatrical run, but A.O. Scott says otherwise in a Sept. 14 article. However, your best chance to see the film is on DVD, as Scott notes: His early films in particular also testify to the vitality of a neorealist impulse that has never quite taken root in American cinema.
  10. Christian

    My Brother's Wedding (1983) - dir. Charles Burnett

    It's from more than a decade ago, but we do have a thread on the film. I'd love to hear Jeffrey's and others' thoughts on My Brother's Wedding.
  11. Christian

    Stan Brakhage

    I don't post here much, but wanted to jump back in to say that, five and half years after buying this set, I think I may have, at last, stumbled on to a way to approach the material. I've mentioned over the years both that I easily fall asleep when viewing feature films at home, and it's happened multiple times while trying to watch the Brakhage disc(s). I've also said that I've had revelatory experiences with certain films while at the gym, on the treadmill. (This happened with Scorsese's New York, New York and, at home on the treadmill, with Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.) This morning, for my run, I had no audiobook to listen to and couldn't get my OTA antenna to work (I figured I'd just put on the local news - something I never do - just to have something to stare at while I ran on the treadmill). So, searching for a DVD that wouldn't require me to read subtitles or captions - I have trouble with those from the distance my treadmill is from the TV, but also because the slight bouncing in my stride makes it hard to lock in the text) - I decided to put the Brakhage Disc 1 on. I don't know if it's the endorphins or some sort of chemical response from the exercise, but the films played as new to me, and as extraordinary. I think I'm only on the third one, Dog Star Man, but some of the imagery was unfamiliar to me and, having to pull the disc out quickly once my workout was over so I could get ready for the day, couldn't confirm from the chapter listing that I was actually watching DSM (yes, I felt stupid; googling it before posting this morning didn't provide the visual confirmation I was hoping for). Still, whichever film I was watching was just beautifully strange, and now I feel like maybe, just maybe, I'm ready for more Brakhage. Another 2018 movie resolution, maybe?
  12. Thanks, Joel, for sending out the ballot. I filled mine out and am only now scanning the list of nominated films that didn't get a second. I can roll with titles being left off - not all of us see everything, and we don't all feel strongly about the same films - but I was still quite surprised to see Loveless not seconded. That film has haunted me since seeing it, and it deals with moral issues in profound ways. Its view of faith may be negative - something that I've said makes me hesitant when considering eligible films for this list. So I can see why someone might not want to "endorse" Loveless with a jury nomination. But the other part of me is picturing jury member finally catching up with Loveless, which I choose to believe they simply must not have seen (right??), and kicking themselves for leaving it off our list. My imagined life - the one where everyone realizes how correct I am - is my best life. Happy new year, all!
  13. Second The Shape of Water. For this list, I shy away from religious characters/characterizations that are primarily negative in nature, and Shannon fits that description. But Eliza's statement about being evaluated not by what you lack struck me as a picture of grace. I've been reluctant to champion that angle because it might equate God to, ya know, a fish-man (who's described as "a god"), but I was genuinely moved along those lines both times I watched the film.
  14. Second "On the Beach at Night Alone." I'd love to nominate Hong's 2017 film "The Day After," which I preferred to "Beach," but it looks as though "Day" doesn't have an official opening date in the U.S. this calendar year.
  15. The Post is superb, but I hadn't thought to nominate it for this list. Nevertheless, I'm happy to second Peter's nomination.
  16. Ah, the ending! Yes, I suppose there's something to that for our list. OK, I second The Trip to Italy.
  17. My main concern about including Twin Peaks is the implied obligation, if it's nominated, to become a Showtime subscriber in order to access it. I'm sure the program will be worthwhile - I've been wanting to watch it for months - but I don't have Showtime, would have to sign up (maybe jam the entire series into a 7-Day trial, is that's still a current offering) or become a paid Showtime subscriber to watch the film within our screening/voting window. At least with the multi-hour O.J. documentary I was sent a screener and could work in the episodes where I could. Also: Is Showtime pushing this program for Oscar consideration the way ESPN pushed the O.J. documentary? I don't want to dampen others' enthusiasm for nominating the program, but I also don't want to hurt the film's chances if I'm unable to watch an entire TV series amid the many other features and documentaries that compete for my time during awards season - although skipping a nominee during voting doesn't actively hurt the film the way, say, a vote of "0" or "1" would (or whatever the low end of our scale is), right?
  18. !!! I loved this movie but hadn't even thought to consider it for this list. Persuade me? (I may have left this one off my running best-of list for the year. If so, gotta go in and fix that.)
  19. I'll nominate Mudbound, which I just saw last night. Like Lady Bird, I have some issues with the film, but here the faith elements are so strong and beautifully integrated into much of the story that I think it's an obvious candidate for our list. Oh, and since I may not have restated it this year and feel like I should: I confess that my tendency for nominating films to this list is to focus on films (not exclusively, but mostly) that explicitly reference faith or a life of devotion to God - or even when far from orthodox, at least acknowledge that this life might not be all there is (see Personal Shopper) or that show characters exhibiting Christian virtues such as forgiveness (The Glass Castle). I see many films each year that are excellent and that go high on my personal Top 20 lists that don't do those things, but I like this list because I can highlight particular films for those particular reasons. I know others don't use the same nominating criteria. We've hashed this out over the years and don't need to do so again. But I wanted to put this out there as we start in on this year's nominations.
  20. More! Though I have reservations about it, I think Lady Bird is worth nominating: Lady Bird If the name Saoirse Ronan isn’t familiar to you yet, it soon will be. In Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Ronan plays Christine, or “Lady Bird” as she prefers to be called—a Catholic high school senior desperate to flee her home state of California. Hoping to gain admittance to an East Coast college, she conspires with her father against the wishes of her mother to apply to out-of-state schools as she searches for an identity to embrace. There are pleasures along the way for viewers, but there are also familiar tropes: a gay character struggling with when to come out, and one horrible abortion joke that is so facile I was embarrassed for the audience members who laughed at it. But the ending of Lady Bird won me back to the film, suggesting that the few cheap barbs along the way may—may—be part of Christine’s journey to a more meaningful life. I'll also add two nominations from that running list that I can now access. The first falls into the "not well reviewed but suitable, I think, for this list" - I always nominate one or two such movies, although they rarely make the cut: The Glass Castle: Feels familiar at times in prompting a heroine to confront her parents' failings, but The Glass Castle also acknowledges an uncomfortable, unshakeable truth: even the most troubled parents "have their moments," and reconciliation brings closure and healing. A Ghost Story: More a story about grief than about the afterlife, and not orthodox in its view of what follows death. But while it goes in directions I didn't completely track (I need to see it again), the film has stayed with me, even - wait for it - haunted me since seeing it. I know others have (legitimate) issues with it. I was on the fence about bringing it up for the jury's consideratioin, but I've tipped into the "nominate it" camp.
  21. I second all of these, including mother! I don't second The Beguiled but only because I haven't yet seen it.
  22. Reasons for my nominations above (taken from capsule reviews I wrote of the films): Loveless The best film I saw at Middleburg, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s drama of marital dissolution and systemic corruption uses the story of a missing boy and his divorcing parents to demonstrate the different forms a lack of love takes. From its hard-to-shake reveal of a young boy overhearing his parents tear into each other to a conclusion that offers little comfort, Loveless is pointed about the things that nourish us and give us life (pregnancy is a major story element) and those that destroy it (abortion and suspected abduction). In a bleak, loveless world, a man described as a fundamentalist Christian seems close to joyful, relatively speaking, if only in a Ned Flanders sort of way. Zvagintsev may not see answers in faith—he’s more attuned to hypocrisies in that realm—but in diagnosing the fraying of family life and cultural norms, he’s made something simultaneously slow and gripping, driven by mysteries with no easy solutions. Novitiate A fine religious drama about a young woman’s search for spiritual significance, Novitiate stars Margaret Qualley (HBO’s The Leftovers) as Sister Cathleen, a postulant under the care of a Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo) who wrestles with how or whether to implement the changes resulting from Vatican II. “We were women in love,” Sister Cathleen says of the nuns’ devotion to Christ, but they struggle under the Reverend Mother’s rigorous forms of religious discipline. Qualley’s sensitive portrayal of Sister Cathleen and the honest way in which the nuns express concerns, even doubts, about the life they believe they’re called to provide a connection even for non-Catholics to appreciate the nuns’ struggles. This is honest, brave storytelling that doesn’t celebrate doubt but allows its characters to genuinely seek the truth. Hostiles In the late 1880s, under orders of the U.S. government, Army captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) must escort the dying Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to his home in Montana, where he can die in peace. Blocker has seen too much bloodshed at the hands of Native Americans to want the “honor” of such an assignment, but when his pension is threatened, Blocker reluctantly agrees to the journey. Dangers from hostile natives will draw Blocker and Yellow Hawk together as they take on a common adversary. The story is violent at times and not without some pacing problems, but director Scott Cooper has made a worthy addition to the canon of revisionist Westerns with Hostiles, which includes scenes of men reading Scripture, singing spirituals and sharing heartfelt expressions of faith.
  23. The timeline is fine. I keep a running list of films I've seen each year, but I keep it on my laptop and don't have access to it while I'm here at work. I keep forgetting to post it in an accessible place. So for now, I'll add a few nominees from memory. I will probably add more later, but if so, I'll create a new post so that the new nominees will be visible to those looking at new posts. If Joel prefers I update this post with additional nominees, I can do that, but then others have to actively be looking at this post, with no notification that it's been updated, right? That seems to disadvantage future nominees, but if that's the way we're supposed to supplement an initial batch of nominees, I'll abide by that. I nominate the following, all seen at festivals and not opening until late in the year (except for Novitiate, which opened in NY/LA this past weekend): Loveless (opens in December) Hostiles (opens in December) Novitiate I second: Personal Shopper (my #1 film of the year so far, so I hope it'll be deemed eligible for the 2017 Jury awards) The Florida Project Columbus The Son of Joseph