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Darren H

Five-Star Movies (You know, the REALLY good ones)

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I ordered the Jean Vigo, Jacques Demy, and Rossellini/Bergman Blu-ray boxsets during the recent Criterion sale, and at the same time I'm rewatching all of Claire Denis's films for a writing project, which means I'm basking in a couple dozen of my all-time favorite films right now. In just the last two nights I've rewatched The Young Girls of Rochefort and Beau Travail; the latter is usually the film I name when I'm forced to choose a single favorite movie, and the former would probably land in my top 10.

 

And you know what? Watching great films is so much better* than watching bad, mediocre, and good films. It makes me wonder why I don't do it more often. In fact, I've decided that, if at the end of the month I haven't watched a five-star film, I'm going to pull one out and use it to recalibrate my critical bearings.

 

So, consider this a friendly reminder: Don't forget to watch the best movies!

 

* By "better" I mean affirming, challenging, joyous, soul-restoring, pleasurable, beautiful, human, transcendent, and worthy.

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You said it, brother.

 

Watching great films is so much better* than watching bad, mediocre, and good films. It makes me wonder why I don't do it more often. 

 

The same thought's been dogging me lately. Looking back at my recent Letterboxd activity, I'm amazed at how few "great" films I've seen over the past several months. Granted, I have a persnickety, privately worked out rating system that makes things look more desperate on the page than they actually are, but there's still no excuse. I probably shouldn't have seen Supergirl when I've got major Antonioni to catch up with, or suffer through Phantoms when I could have revisited The Phantom Carriage. Don't ask me why I thought borrowing Orca, the Killer Whale and Lake Placid from the library seemed like a good idea. The truth is, I can be awfully capricious when it comes to movie watching. Plus, I've got a lovely wife who will watch early Chabrol with me, but on some nights would rather rent How to Train Your Dragon or Footloose. What's a loving husband to do?

 

I have several checklists I'm working with. The foremost one consists of the Sight & Sound Top 250, minus the ones I've already seen. I have 35 to go. I have resolved to watch at least one every week, just to stay on top of things. This leaves room for capriciousness without lapsing into sheer laziness. 

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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I sometimes need encouragement to make discovering and revisiting truly great films a priority (I say that as someone who just agreed to go see Guardians of the Galaxy a second time tomorrow night). My watchlist  has plenty of great films, but they often get skipped over for simpler, more entertaining fare.

 

Looking over my Letterboxd diary, only a few from the past three months fall in that category (my rating system defines **** as "great" and ***** as a "sublime masterpiece"). The films that qualify are Point Blank (****), White Hunter Black Heart (****), Faust (*****)The Long Goodbye (****), and Casualties of War (****). It's when I watch those films that I remember why I love film. There's nothing else like a profoundly great movie.

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It's a five-star film week here at the Glen Workshop, as filmmaker Scott Teems and author Gareth Higgins have introduced the film seminar attendees to Kieslowski's Blue, Wang's Smoke, and Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry... with two more films to come tomorrow and Saturday.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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IIt's my pleasure to announce that I recently revisited a bona fide five star movie, Alphaville, in a setting wholly worthy of it (L.A.'s New Beverly Cinema). Godard's masterpiece is a study in contradictions: a a cerebral film about the human spirit (or, to put it another way, a cold film about warmth), a futuristic s-f constructed from the stuff of modern life, and an hommage/parody/critique of pulp fiction allure--all rendered in deep, inky blacks and glaring whites. I didn't "get" the film when I saw it, oh, about a dozen years ago. I don't claim to fully comprehend it now after a second viewing (Alpha 60's speeches are impenetrable), but I'm a lot closer to understanding the mind that made it. 

 

It made the second half of the double feature, Band of Outsiders, look positively lightweight by comparison.

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

Twitter     Letterboxd

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This morning, I screened Ordet for my students. That's two five-star movies within a relatively short span. Huzzah! 


"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

Twitter     Letterboxd

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I suppose I ought to echo Darren's sentiment.  Over the last couple months I have been focusing on the films of Ingmar Bergman, both to see many of them which I had not yet seen and to get a feel for his work as a whole.  Simply put, there is a unique and compelling power in his films that most other films do not have.  Some of the acting performances he elicited from Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman, Harriet Andersson and others are some of the greatest acting I think I've ever seen.  What's funny is I have this list of 2013 and 2014 films that I've been meaning to see for a while now.  I even expect some five-star films to emerge from this list.  But Bergman has been distracting me and proving himself to be a worthwhile and enchanting distraction.

 

After spending time with a master artist, it feels strange to sit through hours of mediocrity.  I've seen things this year like The Winter Soldier, Maleficent and Jack Ryan.  I mention these particularly only because they are examples of films that I didn't have any specific objections to.  They were each creative in their own way.  I think they each had some good to them.  But they were all formulaic and were not particularly memorable.  Sometimes it is difficult to sit through something that you know in advance will be middling, sub-standard and easily forgettable.  It makes you ask yourself why you're even spending the time - especially when you realize how much time you have been spending.  Bergman's films, on the other hand, are somehow incredibly memorable.  I watch something like Sawdust and Tinsel or Through a Glass Darkly, and the ideas and imagery and sheer intensity of different scenes in those films keep coming back to me months afterward.  This is the sort of thing that changes the way that I think of film.  It may have to change the way that I write about it too.

 

Then, to make matters more challenging, over the last two weeks I just watched La Promesse, Rosetta, The Son, L'enfant, Lorna's Silence and The Kid with a Bike.  (I had only seen The Son before, and I didn't like it the first time I saw it.)  I cannot begin to describe how refreshing and how moving watching all six of these Dardenne films in a row was.  It literally gave me more energy during the week and it seemed to stimulate my moral sense of things.  It actually made me treat other people around me during the day with more kindness.  It made me stop and notice them, and to wonder what moral issues they were wrestling with instead of thinking about how they were bothering me, to ignore what I might otherwise have seen as offenses or annoyances.  I've been around A&F long enough to know better, but sometimes I still forget (in my rush to see recent releases and compile sufficient lists and rankings) what happens when I take the time to pursue great films I have not seen before (or have not learned to appreciate before).  The fact that there are so many films and directors I have not seen before who are considered greats, and my own experience with what has happened when I take the time to do the hard work it takes to learn what there is to appreciate about them, is making me rearrange my priorities.

 

So ... there are films that change the way you look at both the world and at other people.  There are works of art around here that will refresh you and challenge you.  Be sure to make the effort to see one of these once in a while.  The effort is worth it.

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This is so good.

 

Then, to make matters more challenging, over the last two weeks I just watched La Promesse, Rosetta, The Son, L'enfant, Lorna's Silence and The Kid with a Bike.  (I had only seen The Son before, and I didn't like it the first time I saw it.)  I cannot begin to describe how refreshing and how moving watching all six of these Dardenne films in a row was.  It literally gave me more energy during the week and it seemed to stimulate my moral sense of things.  It actually made me treat other people around me during the day with more kindness.  It made me stop and notice them, and to wonder what moral issues they were wrestling with instead of thinking about how they were bothering me, to ignore what I might otherwise have seen as offenses or annoyances.  I've been around A&F long enough to know better, but sometimes I still forget (in my rush to see recent releases and compile sufficient lists and rankings) what happens when I take the time to pursue great films I have not seen before (or have not learned to appreciate before).  The fact that there are so many films and directors I have not seen before who are considered greats, and my own experience with what has happened when I take the time to do the hard work it takes to learn what there is to appreciate about them, is making me rearrange my priorities.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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In 2015, I watched five five-star movies: Out of the Past, Under the Sun of Satan, Vampyr, Rocco and His Brothers, and The Hidden Fortress. Rather, I re-watched these films, because revisiting a great film is vivifying and puts things into perspective.

And yet five isn't nearly enough. I'm aiming for at least one per month this year. It would be nice to discover a five-star film I've never seen before; perhaps a Mizoguchi or a Godard or a Lelouch. I certainly don't expect to encounter one in first-run theaters. Then again, miracles do happen.


"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

Twitter     Letterboxd

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