Slate Movie Club 2020 begins.

In the slate Annual movie club, film critic Dana Stevens emails other critics – this year Justin Chang, Odie Henderson and Alison Willmore – about the year in the cinema.

Dear Justin, Odie and Alison:

For several years now, I’ve launched The Movie Club, Slate’s annual review panel on the year of the movie, with an image of a post-apocalyptic thriller. reignites an oil barrel fire as the world around us descends into chaos. But at the end of 2020, which looked more like inside the barrel of oil while it was on fire, then the barrel of oil explodes – the convening of this annual gathering seems the complete opposite. The image that comes to mind is not of a shared sustenance in a harsh dystopian landscape, but of an abundance of vacations at the Phantom of Christmas level. We manage to talk! Nothing but movies! Whatever movies we want! For a whole week!

Once upon a time, critics were talking about movies all year round. Sometimes it only involved a few words exchanged as pens were capped and coats gathered after a screening. Most reviewers I know don’t like to share instant reactions to the movie they just saw – we’re still sorting out our response, let alone saving the right lines for the review. Instead, we would discuss other films: the one we hadn’t seen that week yet, or the one that just caused a sensation in Cannes, or the confusing one we came out of without scratching our heads the day before. Every once in a while there was a gathering, in a bar or at a guild meeting, for the express purpose of talking about movies. By the time awards season rolled around, it was easy to think of films that you had debated, defended, gushed about, or criticized in multiple locations around town. (Think about Joker Where Parasite Last year. And yes, these two came out last year. Brief pause to gaze into space.)

The future of theatrical screening is the conundrum of the Sphinx in film criticism right now, and I’m sure we’ll get to all of that this week. But what I’m talking about here is different from “where the cinemas?” »Question which has been amply and beautifully written this year. What I miss, besides the irreplaceable experience of seeing images on the big screen in the dark next to others, is how the fact of movie theaters gave structure and meaning to the film year. Even if you don’t go to festivals – maybe I have one every two years – hearing the movies people want to see and the ones they disgustedly leave whets your interest and shapes your understanding of the season. to come. And speculating about the online audience for a given movie, on a streaming platform that doesn’t publish its user numbers, just doesn’t have the “I have to see this” of walking past a line. cosplay superfans that wraps around the block.

Yes, Joker and Parasite both came out last year. Brief pause to watch space out.

The lack of a common space in which to not only watch but discuss movies has reduced us to talking about them on social media, which can be a good place to share bursts of excitement (read this review! Watch this movie) nice!) but is notoriously ill-suited to nuanced conversation (for god’s sake, don’t @ me). So let’s treat this year’s club like the club, a dimly lit hot spot with plush banquettes where we can order drinks, kibitz to our heart’s content and, every now and then, like the revelers of West London Lovers rock or Vietnamese veterans who dance disco Da 5 bloods– touch the ground and dance.

Odie: Your top 10 list has more movies that I haven’t seen than anyone else in the bunch, so I’ll start with you. How could I have missed your movie n ° 1, American Utopia, a film-concert directed by Spike Lee with David Byrne? Especially since his most obvious inspiration, that of Jonathan Demme Stop making sense, is my favorite concert movie of all time? Probably for the same reason that we all continued to miss films that were close to our hearts this year: I was always out of sync, I didn’t really know what was opening, where or why to press “play” on this. Instead of that. In any case, between American Utopia, Da 5 bloods (which made my list), and this devastatingly simple and beautiful 5-minute short film chronicling the empty monuments of New York City at the height of the Spring Pandemic Wave, Spike Lee had a year. On RogerEbert.com, where your list appears, you haven’t created individual blurbs for each movie, just a list of titles. So I would like you to carry on a little longer American Utopia and what it has done for you in this far from utopian period. The same goes for any other movie on your list that I haven’t seen yet, including the indie horror thriller. His home, the superhero movie directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood The old guard, and The truth, the first non-Japanese film by master Hirokazu Kore-eda.

And Alison: The first title on your top 10 list is Bacurau, a gory, defying expectations thriller about an impoverished remote town in Brazil that, for reasons we never fully understand, becomes the target of a team of white supremacist assassins in a sort of sadistic pleasure hunt. I also have Bacurau on my list, though, or more likely because, it’s a bit rough around the edges. It’s a film that jumps, and sometimes wavers, from one genre to another: political allegory, revenge thriller, debauchery comedy, frightening folk tale. It’s also refreshing without a protagonist, with at least half a dozen fascinating main characters, all of whom can die at any time, set against the backdrop of colorful neighborhood characters who each deserve a movie of their own. (Some interactions in the small main street of the village reminded me of the street scenes of Do the right thing, another story about a tight-knit community living under the constant threat of violence.) You call Bacurau a “wacky neo-westerner” and praises the “apocalyptic utopianism” that we see in the queer, multiracial population, endlessly quarrelsome but fiercely proud of the city. I’ve been thinking a lot this year about the future of utopia: when the world starts again (and it will be, as different as it may seem by then), why should we keep revisiting the same dystopias of boring sci-fi and more? Didn’t John Connor and the Avengers have enough chance to save the world? Bacurau is indebted, in themes if not in style, to Glauber Rocha, the Marxist filmmaker who pioneered the Cinema Novo movement at the height of Brazil’s military dictatorship (and who spent most of the rest of his life in exile for this reason) . Right now, as governments in this country and around the world lean towards autocracy, a film like Bacurau sounds like a hoarse cry for revolution. Perhaps this roughness that I mentioned is its greatest strength; it’s a dull, daring machete from a movie. Can you tell us more about why it was your favorite of the year?

Justin, you are the first, so I offer you a challenge: can you convince me that Charlie Kaufman I’m thinking of ending things, n ° 6 of your Top 10, does not collapse in the last trimester? I haven’t read the novel it’s based on, and although I’ve been confused and seduced by the film for an hour and a half or more, up to and including this crazy ballet sequence, I haven’t. couldn’t help but feel the funny and tragic side of Kaufman. , and often a brilliant script didn’t quite succeed on landing. At first, the movie seemed to be about a woman fearing that her identity might be eclipsed in a relationship, and then, as things got more and more epistemologically convoluted (who was speaking in voiceover? be sure?), the film began to overshadow him as well. I’m not sure, given the central vanity, that this was preventable, but Jessie Buckley was such a revelation as a protagonist who changed her identity and name that when she first started out. away from sight, I lost my emotional investment in the film and began to view it simply as a conceptual exercise. You have a silver tongue like any reviewer I know, can you convince me to review this one with a more open mind?

In the interest of starting our conversation, I’ll also link to my Top 10 of 2020 and list the headlines here, and ask all of you to do the same in your first few posts.

The assistant
Bacurau
Bean
Collective
Da 5 bloods
First cow
Let them all talk
Minari
Nomadic country
Holy maud

I doubt any of us will be doing a lot of the usual things for the holidays this year: no travel, no parties, no festive office meetings. So I hope you experience this week as a chance to go to a new place, don a sparkling (metaphorical) outfit, and talk about the movie of your choice next to a crackling fire. Even if the fire is not metaphorical and spreads quickly.

Pass the nog,

Dana

Read the next entry here.


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