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Top 25: Discussion for Nominations on Growing Older

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On 1/30/2019 at 12:43 PM, kenmorefield said:

Of course I nominated King Lear. Can there be a list about age or aging that does not include Lear? In many respects, the pertinent question to me feels more like "which King Lear" rather than "why King Lear?"

I'll admit that the Ian Holm version is a personal favorite in large part due to Edgar and Cordelia. Their motivations seem clearer to me than they do on the blank page. There is a consciousness of family history here that I find missing in some performances. (I think, for example, of Jane Smiley's A THOUSAND ACRES, which projects Lear's abusive ways back to the past. That's defensible, but less sad and tragic than the Lear here that you realize engendered the love of Kent and Cordelia and *must* then have been something other.) Is it ever too late to grow, to learn, to love? Must experience, particularly suffering, always change us for the worst? If so, how do we change for the better?

Ran is a great Lear adaptation, too, and a top tier film by any measure. I'm reluctant to nominate it since it's on the Top 100 and very much belongs there, too.

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1 hour ago, Rob Z said:

So...individual films in trilogies can be nominated (of course) as well as trilogies/series that those might be part of, contra "guideline" #8? That makes sense to me. That way trilogies and constituent films can be voted on separately, and if I've seen a film but not the whole trilogy or series, I could still weigh in. The final list could be finessed by the moderator to make sure that, for instance, Before Sunset and the whole Before Trilogy aren't both on the list, perhaps?

 

Yes, that is where I am currently at unless anyone proposes a better idea. I think the most likely finesse would be if the individual film or series scored higher, it would be what makes the list. 

I guess for this list, the only thing I've so far thought of that might make more sense as a series rather than individual film is Six Moral Tales, but I am ambivalent about it.

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Looking at the first wave of nominations and seconds, I am not yet concerned but I do note the list seems to run a little male-heavy. Aside from Ladybird (which I don't really like) there are a few films about couples (Amour, Before Sunset). Maybe I'm missing something in some of the nominees I'm less familiar with. 

I think if votes shake out that way, I'm okay, but no harm in being a little intentional about at least trying to think of and include some nominees in our blind spots:

Lola Montes? Sunset Boulevard? The Earrings of Madame de? Last year's The Wife or Destroyer might be worth considering although I know some voters may be reluctant to consider films that recent. 

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I nominated Barbara Kopple's documentary profile of Mariel Hemmingway, Running From Crazy

The film obviously touches on one woman's transition to middle-age, but it also shows her reordering (or trying to) her world and raises questions about whether the past is a trap we can't escape. We see Mariel comparing her experience and processing of aging to that of her sister, which touches on America's youth and beauty obsession and the impact it has for women. Kopple is a master documentarian, and she has some amazing found footage which both supports and comments on Mariel's memories. It is an exceptional piece of filmmaking and I think it fits our theme in many ways. The only way I could fathom it not making our list is if not enough people see it.

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I nominated Things to Come, which had already been seconded by the time I realized this review excerpt from the Guardian should be in this thread. So I'm moving it here. From Henry Barnes' review: 

It’s a summer of revolution for Nathalie. The high school philosophy teacher has just found out her husband of 25 years is leaving her. In a few weeks her mother will be dead. Then she’ll know freedom for the first time. Suddenly, in her 60s, she’ll be alone and unmoored, with no more excuses for not putting the theories she’s been teaching for years into practice. The way is wide open, but the journey seems terrifying.

Mia Hansen-Løve has flicked from Eden – her drama about youthful uncertainty in the creative arts - to a pension-age version of the same. Nathalie, played by Isabelle Huppert, is no more certain of herself or her future than Paul, the restless, twenty-something house DJ at the centre of Hansen-Løve’s last film. The philosopher has intellectualised herself into a corner. Her cosy affluent existence - two grown-up kids, book-lined pad - has become less about living her philosophy than the escape into the study of it. ...

Mostly, Things to Come is a smart, earnest undertaking: an exploration of the insecurity that can hit any of us, at any age, when we start to question the life we’ve built.

“I’m coping very well,” Nathalie tells a student, forgetting the assessment is not up to her. The more frank declaration comes from a priest, speaking about her – based on Nathalie’s instructions – at her mother’s funeral: “Doubt and questioning are built into faith. You have made them your life.”

Edited by Christian

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A bit about a couple of my nominations.

What They Had:

When I saw this it was the most authentic portrayal of early/mid dementia that I saw. This was my mother. But that is only one of the transitions (and the least important on, in my opinion). They key is that it was also very true to what children go through in becoming parents to their parents. The two siblings were at odds. One (the one who dealt with it day by day) was ready to move to a new level. The more distant was wanting to try smaller steps. Again, this was true to my experience with siblings. There is also the husband's desire to take care of his wife as he'd promised all those years ago, without a clear understaning it was beyond his ability. 3 key steps of getting older in one movie.

 

Toy Story 3

As above, I don't look at the obvious getting older of Andy going off to college, but rather at the collateral issues that it raises among the toys and how that moves them to a new level of understanding/wisdom in how they will face life in a world without Andy.

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If someone wants to make a case for Babette's Feast as a film about growing older, I'd really like to read one, because as I see it, it's a story whose two main acts take place many years apart, and a few of the characters reminisce about what might have been toward the end of the second act, but there's very little shown or discussed in the way of *growing* older.

Given the end of my nominee The Umbrellas of Cherbourg concludes similarly, I suppose someone could object to that for similar reasons, but I would say the difference is the entire main story is about the transition of leaving home, being forced to choose between love and security, being drafted, accepting disappointment, and then looking back on what might have been once your older, but the entire story is still about growing.

 

My most recent nominee Amelie, has a slightly more tenuous connection growing older, but it's unquestionably about falling upward as Amelie learns more about the world and to accept her own limitations for what she can and cannot change as well as what she should and shouldn't meddle in.

Edited by Evan C

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I've nominated All That Jazz after re-reading in the discussion thread on this topic this thought from Andrew, who interpreted our list as possibly encompassing: "Growing Older and (Hopefully) Wiser," the latter giving room for films that are illustrative of instances of aging poorly."

I don't know if that thought was ever pushed aside or otherwise deemed not relevant to our nominations. As long as we're thinking of nominees in that light, I believe the protagonist's physical and emotional deterioration in All About Jazz qualifies the film for our list.

Edited by Christian

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On 1/31/2019 at 7:28 PM, Rob Z said:

Ran is a great Lear adaptation, too, and a top tier film by any measure. I'm reluctant to nominate it since it's on the Top 100 and very much belongs there, too.

I understand your reservations Rob, but I did nominate Ran. First of all, despite its constant allusions to King Lear, it is always distinct from the Shakespeare play due to the transplanting of cultures. The Japanese context provides a very different perspective on growing older than the previously established British one. Secondly, Ran deals much more with the broader cultural implications of the king's aging than the more intimate King Lear does. Most importantly, in his essay on Ran, Roger Ebert went into great detail into the last half of Kurosawa's life to contend for the assertion that Ran was equally as inspired by Kurosawa's own experiences of growing older as it was on Shakespeare. For these reasons, I hope we can find room for both Eyre's King Lear and Kurosawa's Ran on this list.

Edited by EdB99

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I nominated On Golden Pond. The couple played by Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are a beautiful picture of aging gracefully because of the complementary nature of their marriage. He's obsessed with death, while she's obsessed with life. He wants everything in the world to be the way it used to be, while she's always looking for new adventures. Yet the characters are crafted in such a way that these distinctions are never opposites. The differences are the very things that make them work as a couple who can maintain their romantic and even sensual attachment to one another into their late years. We watch them grow older and wiser, and the wisdom each one gains is always because of the other spouse. 

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Hope Springs—an empty nester couple goes on a relationship counseling retreat to improve their joyless and sexless marriage. It shows the kind of growth that is hard but possible in older age. Thinking back on the film, I’m not sure the film quite earns the transformation in the couple we see by the end, but it works on the character level and the lead performances by Meryl Streep and especially Tommy Lee Jones are what make it convincing. It shows really well how difficult it can be to work past the hang-ups of a stable but stagnated middle age relationship.

 

Another Year, another empty nester slice of life. I thought it a better written and directed film than Hope Springs, and it's less melodramatic, but I saw these films with my wife close together and I liked this one, and its characters, less. It depicts less growth, too, and I lean toward emphasizing the “growing” part of our theme, though this isn’t really an exercise in lack of growth either. This was on the Top 25 Films about Marriage.

 

One of the first films that came to my mind with the “growing older” theme was Sunset Boulevard. When Ken mentioned it, I thought I’d nominate it, since the list wouldn’t be complete without at least considering this one (though I’m not really attached to including it on the final list). It’s obviously a classic, and I’m not the best one to sing its praises. Among other things it does a great job of depicting how youthful fame impedes aging gracefully.

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Any thoughts about Unforgiven? It's been a couple years since I watched it last....

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Unforgiven could work, especially as it serves as a meta-commentary on Eastwood and the Western genre as well, how both have grown older and changed in that aging process.

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On 2/2/2019 at 8:49 AM, Evan C said:

Given the end of my nominee The Umbrellas of Cherbourg concludes similarly, I suppose someone could object to that for similar reasons, but I would say the difference is the entire main story is about the transition of leaving home, being forced to choose between love and security, being drafted, accepting disappointment, and then looking back on what might have been once your older, but the entire story is still about growing.

Having just re-watched The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (it was on TCM this weekend), I endorse Evan's analysis that the story is about growing older--and wiser.

Edited by BethR

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I nominated An Education. It received somewhat mixed reviews here back in 2009/10, but a few of us liked it very much. I think as coming-of-age/growing older/wise movies go, Lady Bird may be better, but I still think An Education is worthy of consideration as a story of a young woman who has to lose almost everything before she can see what is at stake.

I noticed that the link to Ken Morefield's CT review in the A&F discussion is broken. I believe Ken was one of those who had a positive review, so if that review is archived elsewhere, maybe he can share it again? Thanks.

Edited by BethR

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On 2/3/2019 at 10:13 PM, kenmorefield said:

Any thoughts about Unforgiven? It's been a couple years since I watched it last....

It's been a while for me to, but there is one thing about the film that always stays in my memory that I believes adds to the insightful comments Joel made above to warrant the inclusion of the movie on this list. We hear the beautiful section of the score called "Claudia's Theme" whenever Bill is in contemplation about his wife. There are moments when the score communicates his enduring love for her and the relationship between that love and his conscience. It seems to me that what Eastwood did here is responsible for starting a new sub-genre of romantic films dealing with how the romance continues after the death of a spouse: Up and Eastwood's own Gran Torino are a couple examples of how this sub-genre has built off of what Eastwood started with Unforgiven. So, since the loss of a spouse is a transformational aspect of getting older and because of the unique way in which that is communicated in Unforgiven, I believe it would be an excellent choice here.

Edited by Ed Bertram

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7 minutes ago, BethR said:

I nominated An Education. It received somewhat mixed reviews here back in 2009/10, but a few of us liked it very much. I think as coming-of-age/growing older/wise movies go, Lady Bird may be better, but I still think An Education is worthy of consideration as a story of a young woman who has to lose almost everything before she can see what is at stake.

I noticed that the link to Ken Morefield's CT review in the A&F discussion is broken. I believe Ken was one of those who had a positive review, so if that review is archived elsewhere, maybe he can share it again? Thanks.

I guess I am one of the few who thought An Education a much better movie than Ladybird. That's okay; it's why Baskin-Robbins makes thirty-one flavors.

My slight concern is that it may fit better for "Coming of Age" than "Growing Older." My thoughts on trying to untangle the two:
I tend to think of "Coming of Age" as being more often a film about how a specific event (usually a trauma) prompts an enlightenment. So, more a traditional bildungsroman. I more often think of Growing Older as I've been advocating for to be about either an accumulation of experiences or a natural progression from one Life Stage to another...not necessarily about the specific move from one stage to another (or from life to awarenss of mortality) nor the event(s) that prompt it but about the inevitableness of such changes, the ongoing transformation wrought by time rather than experience.

In that context, I think Jenny's transformation has less to do with the reveal than with the contrast between the two ways of life presented by her love and parents/teachers. Given that the film is based on a memoir, it also seems to me that it is a reflection of the older Lynn about her youth rather than just a story about the younger. (Though, I admit this is complicated by the fact that Barber''s memoir is filtered through Hornby's writing, so the film loses a little of that quality, as much as I love Hornby's writing...hmmm....I wonder if I should nominate High Fidelity?)

Beth, it looks like my CT review was part of postcards from TIFF and is now behind subscription or paywall for CT...here is the excerpt that I wrote (I'll try to put it on my blog since it is no longer accessible through CT):

Quote

 

If you like films with an indie feeling, character driven films, or comedies, you should check out: An Education.

Women, particularly young women, are more often adornments of films rather than the focus of them, so Lone Scherfig’s adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir (with a screenplay by Nick Hornby) comes as a refreshing change of pace. As much a period piece as a bildungsroman—Hornby said he was fascinated by the idea of the moment where the first reverberations of the tumultuous 60s were being felt but had not yet exploded into the public consciousness—the film deftly presents an image of a world in transition and interweaves that presentation with the story of a family in the midst of it.

The thing I liked the most about An Education is that it takes the questions it raises seriously. And they are big questions. Because the film is willing to broach large subjects within the context of a comedy, we have a lot invested in the resolution. Nowhere is this more evident than in a scene between Jenny (beautifully played by Carey Mulligan) and her headmistress (played by the impeccable Emma Thompson) where Jenny questions the necessity of getting an education or bettering herself if marriage and motherhood will still be the only end to which that training and education can be put.

This discussion and others like it aren’t so much an attempt to make a sociopolitical argument as to show how a sociopolitical environment comes to bear on one person, prompts an existential crisis in her, and forces her to make some painful and important decisions about the sort of life she wants to live and the sort of person she wants to be.

Oh yeah, and it’s really, really, funny. I had a conversation one morning in Toronto with an independent theater owner who was screening films to decide what to book in his theater. An Education was the film he was most confident would be a commercial success at his theater. So don’t take my word for it. The guy whose income depends on knowing what audiences will like says this is the film that can’t miss. That’s the chalk of the chalk.


 

 

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Hey everyone, I need a little help/insight from someone who has been through a Top 25 before...

what exactly is the voting? A yea/no on whether a film is on the list? A Likert scale (1-5) with the Top 25 scores? One round (with the rank determined by score) or two (with one to determine which films and another to do their order)? How long is the voting open once nominations close? Are nominations mailed or is there a link that is posted?  Given that I'm against weighing votes by post count, who is/should be eligible to vote? Anyone with A&F account? Anyone with a minimum of "x" posts? Anyone who participated in the nominations process? Has this been the same in each voting or has it varied?

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28 minutes ago, kenmorefield said:

Hey everyone, I need a little help/insight from someone who has been through a Top 25 before...

what exactly is the voting? A yea/no on whether a film is on the list? A Likert scale (1-5) with the Top 25 scores? One round (with the rank determined by score) or two (with one to determine which films and another to do their order)? How long is the voting open once nominations close? Are nominations mailed or is there a link that is posted?  Given that I'm against weighing votes by post count, who is/should be eligible to vote? Anyone with A&F account? Anyone with a minimum of "x" posts? Anyone who participated in the nominations process? Has this been the same in each voting or has it varied?

Voting was a scale of 1-5 (like the Ecumenical Jury) with 5 being strongly agree and 1 being strongly disagree.

We only did one round before. From tallying the votes last time, I think enough people saw all the winners that order wouldn't shift much on a second vote.

I don't remember how long a period there was to vote.

The voting was posted as a link before and anyone could create an account and vote, but that's the reason there was weighted voting, to prevent any trolls or bots from skewing the results. I'd say email links to any A&F members who ask, and we could make sure to mention it to people who have not been posting here.

Edited by Evan C

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I would definitely like to see a second round, even if it is optional, to rank finalists. I could see myself giving multiple films a "5" but having a strong opinion about which should rank higher.

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On 2/4/2019 at 8:53 AM, kenmorefield said:

I guess I am one of the few who thought An Education a much better movie than Ladybird. That's okay; it's why Baskin-Robbins makes thirty-one flavors.

My slight concern is that it may fit better for "Coming of Age" than "Growing Older." My thoughts on trying to untangle the two:
I tend to think of "Coming of Age" as being more often a film about how a specific event (usually a trauma) prompts an enlightenment. So, more a traditional bildungsroman. I more often think of Growing Older as I've been advocating for to be about either an accumulation of experiences or a natural progression from one Life Stage to another...not necessarily about the specific move from one stage to another (or from life to awarenss of mortality) nor the event(s) that prompt it but about the inevitableness of such changes, the ongoing transformation wrought by time rather than experience.

Great point. Both these films (I’ve only seen Ladybird) seem like much better fits in the “coming of age” category, but I see “coming of age” as a subset of “growing older.” They’re not mutually exclusive, and I really like the distinction of this list focusing on “the ongoing transformation wrought by time rather than experience,” or at least accumulation of experiences (or traumas) rather than overcoming something or going on a hero’s quest. Another telos for the bildungsroman is the marriage of the protagonist, or the integration of the individual into society in some form. I’d really love for the list to focus on the growth of those who are already integrated into society, or couples who are already married. But I don’t mean “focus” to be exclusive. Films that are peripheral to this focus but still anticipate the kind of accumulation and “growing wiser” we’ve talked about would add value and scope to the list, and that could include some coming of age films. But I think it’s too broad to have the list just be on transitions from any life stage to another. And I’m not sure Ladybird really fits the bill.

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I'd vote for An Education, in the sense that it leaves Jenny not just changed, but notably wiser. Having read the relevant parts of Lynn Barber's book, I think it's fair to say that Hornby's voice shines through. It's interesting to me that for a writer known for his books about male culture and aging (Fever PitchHigh FidelityAbout a Boy), his two screenplays for An Education and Brooklyn do such delicate work with their female protagonists.

Ken, if you don't nominate High Fidelity, I will. I think it's a perfect example that "Growing Older" is different from "Coming of Age" but not just about "grey hairs."

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On 2/4/2019 at 8:34 AM, Ed Bertram said:

It's been a while for me to, but there is one thing about the film that always stays in my memory that I believes adds to the insightful comments Joel made above to warrant the inclusion of the movie on this list. We hear the beautiful section of the score called "Claudia's Theme" whenever Bill is in contemplation about his wife. There are moments when the score communicates his enduring love for her and the relationship between that love and his conscience. It seems to me that what Eastwood did here is responsible for starting a new sub-genre of romantic films dealing with how the romance continues after the death of a spouse: Up and Eastwood's own Gran Torino are a couple examples of how this sub-genre has built off of what Eastwood started with Unforgiven. So, since the loss of a spouse is a transformational aspect of getting older and since Unforgiven and because of the unique way in which that is communicated, I believe Unforgiven would be an excellent choice here.

These are good points, but I question the extent to which Unforgiven is really about growing older, even if the main character is older and reflects on his past, etc. There are other cantankerous old man Eastwood characters processing their pasts, but Gran Torino seems to me easily to be the most appropriate for this list. Are there earlier instances of this deceased wife/spouse dynamic?

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4 hours ago, Anders said:

 

Ken, if you don't nominate High Fidelity, I will. I think it's a perfect example that "Growing Older" is different from "Coming of Age" but not just about "grey hairs."

 

I'm still debating whether I think Fever Pitch (the Colin Firth one) is a better fit. Rob strikes me as a bit more of an adolescent growing into adulthood while Paul (in Fever Pitch) more of a biological adult who hasn't grown up. And I actually think Fever Pitch is more existentially and spiritually rooted while HF is more simply about emotional maturation. That's a part of aging, for sure, but I think the spiritual significance of Paul's struggle is more central to his story while its more seasoning in HF. But either would be a good choice.

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