revisiting the 9s/film fatales: winter's bone (debra granik, 2010)

[This is the twentieth in a series that will probably be VERY intermittent, if I remember to post at all. I've long known that while I have given my share of 10-out-of-10 ratings for movies over the years, in almost every case, those movies are fairly old. So I got this idea to go back and revisit movies of relatively recent vintage that I gave a rating of 9, to see if time and perspective convinced me to bump that rating up to 10.]

In 2012, I wrote about Winter's Bone:

I think it’s the best fiction film I’ve seen from 2010, and I thought Jennifer Lawrence should have won the Best Actress Oscar over Natalie Portman for Black Swan. Lawrence was a revelation when I first saw the film. I knew nothing about her. Things have changed in just two years: as the star of The Hunger Games, Lawrence is poised to become one of the top stars of her day, and she’s only 21 years old. Thankfully, she doesn’t seem to have reached such a pinnacle at an early age for the usual reasons (great-looking, panders to young males), but because she is giving excellent performances. It doesn’t hurt that she’s great-looking, of course, but Winter’s Bone buries her traditional good looks in grit and mounds of cold-weather gear, allowing her to be a special kind of beautiful, strong and centered. Perhaps Portman gives us a peek at what Lawrence might have in store: three movies in the Star Wars franchise, lots of indie films, the lead role in an action picture, and ultimately an Oscar.

It's interesting to look back after watching Lawrence's career over the past decade-plus. She did indeed end up in franchise films, playing Mystique in X-Men movies four times, and, of course, starring as Katniss Everdeen in four Hunger Games movies. In 2015 and 2016 she was the highest-paid actress in the world. But she has also featured in non-franchise films, including some indie projects (she formed her own production company ... the first release was the fine Causeway starring Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry). She has been nominated for four Oscars, winning Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook. It's a very successful career, and she's still only 33.

But what about "The 9s"? Did I underrate Winter's Bone because it was too new? I've seen it at least three times now ... clearly I like it. I taught it in tandem with the novel on which it was based when I was teaching. Perhaps most important for this purpose, in 2021, for a user poll at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They, I listed Winter's Bone among the 25 best movies of all time. 5, 945 films received votes ... I was the only person who voted for Winter's Bone. I have it at #7 on my list of the top films of the 2010s.

So yeah, I think it's time to give it the cherished 10/10.

film fatales #203: the beguiled (sofia coppola, 2017)

This is the twenty-ninth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 29 is called "'We Come to This Place for Magic' Week":

We come to LSC Theaters to laugh, to cry, to care. Because we need that, all of us. That indescribable feeling we get when the lights begin to dim, and we go somewhere we've never been before. Not just entertained, but somehow reborn, together. Dazzling images on a huge silver screen, sound that I can feel. Somehow, heartbreak feels good in a place like this. Our heroes feel like the best parts of us, and stories feel perfect and powerful. Because here, they are. LSC Theaters: We Make Movies Better.

This week's challenge is to watch a film either starring Nicole Kidman or set in a movie theater.

For those of you who don't go to AMC Theaters, here is the inspiration for this week's challenge:

Sofia Coppola makes some interesting decisions when making her version of The Beguiled. She returned to the original novel, stating her movie was not a direct remake of the 1971 version with Clint Eastwood (a movie I apparently saw and didn't like ... according to the IMDB, I rated it 5/10 but I have no memory of this and as far as I can tell I have never written about it). There is a slave in the novel and '71 film that is the only person of color in either ... I'm not certain I understand her reasoning, but Coppola removed this character from the story ("(y)oung girls watch my films and this was not the depiction of an African American character I would want to show them."). Coppola and cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd opted for a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, slightly different from today's standards, to make the movie look claustrophobic. Perhaps most important, Coppola chose to tell this story of a wounded soldier during the Civil War who ends up at a girls school in Virginia from the point of view of the women.

As I say, these are interesting decisions. But in the end, I didn't care for the movie despite those decisions. There's nothing I can put my finger on, but neither could I figure out why this story was being told. It is entirely possible that it's all on me; there is nothing "wrong" with The Beguiled.

black girl (ousmane sembène, 1966)

This is the twenty-eighth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 28 is called "World Cinema Project Week":

Martin Scorsese founded the World Cinema project in 2007 with the goal of preserving and restoring films from around the globe that otherwise would become neglected. They focus on films that do not get a lot of exposure in the West and that are at risk of becoming lost because of the lack of resources some countries have to preserve their own films. They continue to work on this endeavor to this day, so far ensuring that 54 films from 30 different countries have been preserved and accessible to a global audience through screenings, Criterion boxsets with 24 of the films on DVD and Blu-ray, and through streaming on the Criterion Channel.

Whether you’re Marching Around the World this month or not, let’s all enjoy one of the films preserved by the World Cinema Project and remember how inaccessible the voices and perspective of people around the world can be for even the most avid moviegoer. Michael Hutchins maintains an up-to-date list here.

Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project is one of the great gifts the celebrated director has given the film world. I've seen a handful of the films on the above list and most of them have been very good, with one classic-to-me, Buñuel's Los Olvidados. Black Girl is a perfect example of the treasures to be uncovered in the project. Ousmane Sembène was an esteemed writer from Senegal who wanted to expand his audience by making films. After two shorts, he wrote and directed Black Girl, which became known as the first Sub-Saharan African film to get attention worldwide. It tells the story of a Senegalese woman, Diouana, who gets a job with a white French couple, who later take her with them to France. Sembène uses a complex narrative structure that bounces between the present and Diouana's past life back in Senegal.

The essential examination in Black Girl is of colonialism and race, but Sembène draws a sensitive performance from first-time actor Mbissine Thérèse Diop as Diouana that personalizes the story even as it points to how colonialism affects its victims. The film is short, but the story of Diouana feels extensive, and ultimately heartbreaking. Sembène pulls no punches. #272 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

geezer cinema: the train (john frankenheimer, 1964)

John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, but also The Island of Dr. Moreau) had a long and varied career, with a few real highlights. The Train, like Seven Days in May, is very entertaining, with enough subtext to add depth without distracting too much from the basic intention to offer an intelligent action picture. I looked forward to seeing this movie, which seemed to have a decent reputation but which isn't talked about as much as Seven Days in May (much less Manchurian Candidate). And that reputation is deserved .... The Train isn't special, yet that gives it a retrograde enjoyment, as in the cliche of "they don't make them like that any more". Of course, they do still make big action movies, but in line with the retrograde feel, The Train is in black-and-white (reputedly the last big B&W movie), and Burt Lancaster is always good for the nostalgic angle.

Frankenheimer makes excellent use of Lancaster, who does all of his own stunts (on an off-day, Lancaster injured a leg playing golf, so Frankenheimer wrote a scene where Burt's character gets shot in the leg to explain his limp). They also used real trains throughout, no models ... when you see big trains crashing, often into each other, it's the real thing. It's perhaps especially impressive in the CGI era, when such extravagances are unnecessary.

The plot, based on a true story, is about French art treasures the Nazis have stolen. They are trying to get the masterpieces to Germany. Lancaster is a French railway inspector and Resistance fighter (as evidence of his star status, Lancaster does not use a French accent ... he's pretty much the only person in the movie who sounds like an American). The film is a combination of clever manipulations by the French to forestall the transfer of the art works and occasional action set pieces that usually involve one or more trains blowing up. The entire film is a bit long, but it holds its entertainment value throughout. The brutality of the Nazis is there but as a supplement, not the core of the film, and the general question of whether art matters more than the lives of humans is at least deep enough to make The Train a bit better than the standard war picture. Lancaster is at his action best, Paul Scofield as the main Nazi antagonist has a German accent, and Jeanne Moreau is wasted (her part is apparently Woman with a Few Scenes So We Can Say There's a Woman in the Film). #9 on my Letterboxd list of the best movies of 1964.

film fatales #202: trouble every day (claire denis, 2001)

Claire Denis (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum) is a favorite director of mine, and I looked forward to Trouble Every Day, but I was aware that it is not as acclaimed as her other movies (it has the lowest Metascore, 40, of any film she has directed). I think that low Metascore is understandable, and Trouble Every Day isn't up to her best. But it's an interesting attempt to make an arty erotic horror movie ... I'm thinking of Park Chan-wook's Thirst, which is a better movie than Trouble Every Day but has a similar blend of sex and gore shown with arty excellence.

Trouble Every Day seems like it is going to be a vampire movie, but it turns into something different, which allows for subtexts that don't necessarily match those of vampire pictures. Denis shows a connection between erotic attraction and cannibalism that is unexpected. It's thought-provoking, but I'm not convinced it goes deeper than the basic connection. Once you get what Denis is doing, there's not much else to say about that connection, leaving an arty horror movie that isn't all that great.

The acting is variable. Béatrice Dalle (Betty Blue) brings her idiosyncratic presence to her scenes, but Vincent Gallo is too low-key ... he struggles with what he has become, but his struggle isn't moving because Gallo is inert. There is also a big plot hole at the beginning (not that horror doesn't often have plot holes): Gallo plays a recently-married man who, we assume, has become intimate with his new wife, but given what we learn of him in the movie, it's impossible for his wife not to have noticed long before. It's hard to suspend disbelief in this case.

Despite that Metascore, the film is #793 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time, #103 on the 21st century list.

ride lonesome (budd boetticher, 1959)

Low-key B-Western, one of a series Budd Boetticher made with Randolph Scott in the 50s. You can read a lot into Scott's character and how he plays him ... like a precursor to The Man With No Name only he has a conscience. Boetticher is concise ... there aren't a lot of frills in Ride Lonesome. I understand why it is highly regarded by some, but compared to Rio Bravo, which came out the same year, this is just a bottom half of a double bill. With Karen Steele, Pernell Roberts, Lee Van Cleef, and in his film debut, James Coburn.

geezer cinema/film fatales #201: love lies bleeding (rose glass, 2024)

Love Lies Bleeding isn't exactly different ... it happily borrows from several genres. But things get a bit loony ... the genres aren't ones you think will match. The hype promises sex, violence, action, and lesbians, and the movie delivers. Writer/director Rose Glass (Saint Maud, which was the 100th Geezer Movie) and co-writer Weronika Tofilska don't play it safe, and the movie is the better for it.

The movie is a mess ... a likable mess, but a mess. I expected wall-to-wall action, which isn't Glass's fault ... my expectations were based on the trailer and word of mouth. I thought it took its time getting to cranked-up speed, and there's nothing wrong with that, once I adjusted to it. It delivered on the hype from the start, it's just that the lesbians and sex came first. Once the action begins, though ... whoa! The IMDB Parent's Guide puts it all on the table, with notes like "People are shot with bloody detail, grotesque wounds and disturbing sound effects" and "A woman beats a man and slams his head repeatedly against a tabletop". That latter doesn't even get it, but I'm avoiding spoilers. I'll just say that the make-up people and/or the CGI folks did some impressive work.

The relationship between Lou (Kristen Stewart), who works in a gym, and Jackie (Katy O'Brian), a bodybuilder, is intense and honest. Glass and the actors take that relationship in complex directions ... Lou's past stifles her, and Jackie turns into something scary when she begins shooting up steroids. The entire movie plays like a twisted blend of Thelma and Louise and the Wachowskis' Bound . Even when Lou and Jackie hit a rough spot, we root for them. It helps that Stewart and O'Brian have great chemistry. The supporting cast is also eclectic ... Ed Harris is the bad guy with a ridiculous long-hair wig, and there's Jena Malone (who is in everything, it seems) and Baryshnikov's daughter Anna (shoutout again to the make-up crew ... Anna's teeth must be seen to be believed, even though once you see them, you never want to see them again).

I never got the feeling Glass was out of control ... what makes Love Lies Bleeding a mess is partly the ambition Glass shows. She takes us to surprising places, and what happens to Jackie at the end is a perfect visual representation of female empowerment. (And Glass prepares us for that final scenario, even though we aren't aware of it at the time.)

Reading the above, I feel like the person who wrote it loved the movie, while I actually liked-not-loved it. I prefer Saint Maud for people wanting to check out Rose Glass. At the least, my words here tell me I liked it a lot.

the scar (krzysztof kieślowski, 1976)

This is the twenty-seventh film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 27 is called "Morally Anxious Week":

The Cinema of Moral Anxiety Movement was a brief period in Polish film history. Films from this movement portrayed the moral anxiety felt during the Communist regime in Poland. It was abruptly stopped by the introduction of martial law in 1981, although bans and censorship delayed the release of some films made during the period, like Blind Chance or Interrogation, until the late '80s.

This week's challenge is to watch a film from the Cinema of Moral Anxiety Movement. This list is a helpful reference.

Another example of the joys of the Challenge, which exposes you to things you would never have seen otherwise. Before this, I hadn't watched a single movie from the Cinema of Moral Anxiety Movement. Let's be honest, I never heard of the Movement. I had seen films by Krzysztof Kieślowski (this was my fifth ... I usually like them, but haven't found any to be classics). The Scar was Kieślowski's first "theatrical" feature, which means he had directed a feature for television, and had also created numerous documentaries.

The Scar has the look of a documentary, and its subject matter is realist. The Communist Party has decided to build a chemical factory. Conflict arises because the townspeople feel left out of the decision-making process, and while long-term progress seems possible, the people suffer from relocation and other problems associated with "progress". The personal angle comes with a focus on Stefan Bednarz, a former resident who is put in charge of the work. He has something of a conscience, and he has a wife who refuses to return to the town. It's all interesting in a low-key way. Once again, watching a Kieślowski film, I like it but I don't love it.

film fatales #200: bergman island (marie nyreröd, 2006)

A bit of an oddity, and a real pleasure for Bergman fans, Bergman Island is an edit of three television interviews Marie Nyreröd conducted with Ingmar Bergman at his home on the isolated island of Fårö. Bergman was in his 80s, and Nyreröd is a congenial and astute interviewers. The film is good for what it is, as we watch and listen to one of cinema's greats. Nonetheless, it's not overwhelming as a film ... Nyreröd has cut the original three interviews down by approximately half, and while the two walk around the island and inside Bergman's house, essentially this is two talking heads. Interesting because of the subject matter, worth a look, but otherwise nothing special.

film fatales #199: twilight (catherine hardwicke, 2008)

This is the twenty-sixth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 26 is called "Carter Burwell Week":

A movie’s score can have an incredible impact on the success of the film, contributing to the tone and atmosphere of a scene, while also connecting to an audience in such a visceral way that can elevate a viewer’s feelings of a story or a character and overall enjoyment of the film altogether. Carter Burwell is one of the top film composers of our time, scoring every Coen Brothers movie except one, all of Martin McDonagh’s films, three of Spike Jonze’s films, three of Todd Hayne’s films and many, many more. Although he has written many memorable and intoxicating scores and been nominated for three Oscars, he has yet to win the golden statue.

This week let’s honor a composer that has not been honored with a win by many of the most prestigious film awards and watch a movie featuring a score composed by Carter Burwell. Working with so many fantastic filmmakers, there’s no shortage of great films to choose from.

Before this challenge, I couldn't have told you who Carter Burwell was, but it turns out I've seen like 3 dozen of his movies, including favorites like Fargo and Three Kings. I didn't really notice the score in Twilight, which isn't necessarily a bad thing ... it wasn't intrusive.

Catherine Hardwicke directed the interesting Thirteen, which she co-wrote with Nikki Reed (who appears in Twilight as one of the vampires). There is some suggestion that the people involved in the movie didn't know if it would be a success (Kristen Stewart said later, "If you'd told me we were going to make five Twilights when we did the first? I would not have believed you.") The Twilight series of novels by Stephenie Meyer were enormously successful, and I'd think a big audience for the films would be guaranteed. And, in fact, Twilight hit over $400 million worldwide at the box office, leading to four sequels.

Kristen Stewart is usually the best thing in her movies, but I haven't found any of them to be great films, and she was awful in Spencer. Same with Robert Pattinson: he's usually good, his movies are usually OK (but The Lighthouse was awful). They make a good team here, but once again, Twilight isn't a great movie. I am not the audience for it, though, and clearly it connects with a lot of people. The romance between human Bella and vampire Edward is like a scene out of In the Mood for Love ... they are in love, but they can't do anything about it. Hardwicke pours on the smoldering intensity:

I'm glad I finally caught up with this phenomenon, although I'm not inspired to watch the rest of the series. The best I can say for Twilight is that it wasn't awful.