Best Feature Films 2021, Part 2 – The Best of the Rest

Here are the best of the rest of what I saw last year, 18 films in alphabetical order. I don’t claim that all of these are great films (though some of them are), but they all got my attention and engaged me in one way or another. Sometimes it’s just a performance, a feeling, more often it’s the whole package. You’ll also notice that with one exception, all of these films were written or co-written by their directors. I think this obviously makes a difference in the result.

With the exception of Parallel Mothers, all of these films are currently available for streaming from various services. I’ve tried to be as accurate as I can in listing sources, and apologize in advance for any mistakes or omissions.

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Belfast (Kenneth Branagh, director & writer)  Definitely a feel-good movie, but I think it earns the emotions it elicits. Kenneth Branagh has called this his most personal film, and it’s easy to see why. His own circumstances reflect those of the family in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the late 1960s during “The Troubles.” The cast is very strong. Jude Hill plays the 9-year-old son, Buddy. Jamie Dornan is his father Pa. The always excellent Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench are Buddy’s grandparents. My favorite in the cast is Caitriona Balfe as Buddy’s mother. I’d not seen her before and was very drawn in by her performance. Belfast opens with color shots of the city landscape, then shifts to crisp black and white for the movie proper.

Currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime at a $19.95 rental. This price is sure to drop at a later date.

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Bergman Island (Mia Hansen-Love, director & writer)

Here’s an edited version of what I wrote in a previous post after seeing this film at the New York Film Festival:

I’d especially liked Mia Hansen-Løve’s earlier film, Father of My Children (2009), so I was looking forward to this. Tony (Tim Roth) and Chris (Vicky Krieps) are a married couple who have come to the Swedish island of Fårö, where Ingmar Bergman lived and shot many of his films. Tony and Chris are filmmakers, each working on a screenplay. They are staying in one of Bergman’s homes and hope to be inspired by the location and the Bergman vibe that seems to be everywhere. Chris is having difficulties with her writing. At one point she begins describing the story of her script. As she does this, the story of her script begins to weave in and out of the film we’ve been watching. Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie play characters in Chris’ story. At times it seems like the film within a film is beginning to take over. After it ended, I wasn’t sure if the film worked, but it’s stayed with me, which is a good sign. One of the most interesting features of Bergman Island is that it was shot in Bergman’s actual homes on the island, and people are constantly talking about Bergman and his films. At those times, Bergman Island takes on a documentary aspect.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

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Copshop (Joe Carnahan, director & co-writer)  If I believed in the concept of Guilty Pleasures, which I don’t, this film would fit the bill. Copshop is an action thriller that takes its time setting the stage before blowing the doors off. The storyline shares some DNA with Rio Bravo and Assault on Precinct 13, but that shouldn’t get in the way. There’s a high body count and a lot of Tarantinoesque back and forth. Most importantly, the cast really sells it. Over the last few years, I’ve grown to like Gerard Butler, after initially dismissing him as too thuggish and unappealing. Frank Grillo stands out in all the supporting work he’s done. Here he’s more center stage. Toby Huss, who I’ve liked ever since seeing him the series Halt and Catch Fire, shows up as a very funny, very psycho gunman. For those who like this sort of thing, and we know who we are, Copshop is worth the ride. It does the job.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

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Dune (Denis Villeneuve, director & co-writer)

Here’s an edited version of what I wrote in a previous post after seeing this film at the New York Film Festival:

Denis Villeneuve is an excellent director, one of the best, and a favorite of mine. I love Sicario (2015), which I find endlessly repeatable. Blade Ruuner 2049 (2017) is also excellent and proved that Villeneuve could easily work on the large scale that Dune required. Frank Herbert’s Dune, published in 1965, became a science fiction classic with a cult following over the years. Many sequels and spinoff novels followed. The first attempt to film the novel was by David Lynch in 1984. The accepted wisdom is that it was a disaster. Having seen it, I concur. Villeneuve’s version is not; it’s excellent and really delivers. But it covers only the first half of the book, so in a sense it’s all setup and prologue. Audiences will have to wait for Part Two to see how it all plays out.

Dune is set far in the future (in a galaxy far, far away). The House of Atreides (yes, there’s a Game of Thrones vibe to all this) has been ordered by the Emperor to take over spice mining operations on the planet Arrakis, aka Dune. Spice is a priceless commodity, somehow essential to interplanetary travel. The cast is excellent. Timothée Chalamet plays Paul Atreides, the protagonist of the story. Oscar Isaac is his father, Duke Leto Atreides, the head of their clan. Rebecca Ferguson (especially excellent) is Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica. Others in the cast include Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, Josh Brolin, and Zendaya. My favorite is Jason Momoa, who plays Duncan Idaho. He brings warmth, humor, loyalty, and heroism to the role.

Dune was shot with IMAX cameras. Denis Villeneuve has said that Dune was “dreamed, designed, and shot for the IMAX experience.” At the NYFF I saw it at the Walter Reade theater. It was fine on that screen, but I’m when I later saw it in IMAX (twice), it was almost like seeing an exponentially different film. That said, if a story is solid, it should work in any format. I think Dune does.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

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The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (Will Sharpe, director & co-writer)  This film is quite wonderful. Benedict Cumberbatch, in another sharply drawn role, is endearing as the eccentric title character, who actually existed. I’d not heard of him, but it turns out I was familiar with his cats. In 1881, Louis becomes the primary breadwinner of his family. He supports his mother and five sisters as an illustrator for a London paper. Cats become his main subject. Within 10 years his cat pictures have become enormously popular. But since Wain failed to copyright his work, he gets no profit from the many reproductions than ensue. Louis Wain was a visionary artist, but ill-equipped to deal with the realities of his world. His life becomes both sad and tragic, but is finally triumphant.

The cat pictures below show that he anticipated a psychedelic way of seeing the world, though this probably reflected his mental state at the time.

Besides Benedict Cumberbatch, the cast includes Claire Foy as the governess who becomes Wain’s wife and Toby Jones as the editor of The Illustrated London News who initially employs Wain.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

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The Father (Florian Zeller, director & co-writer)  Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman are a powerhouse combination. I watched them in amazement in this film. Hopkins is the father of the title and Coleman is his daughter. He has dementia, which is depicted in a way I’d not seen before. As his reality shifts, it shifts for us, too. We see and hear what he sees and hears. It’s quite unusual. We’re taken inside this man and his confusions. The Father is tragic and very human.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu.

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The French Dispatch (Wes Anderson, director & co-writer)

Here’s an edited version of what I wrote in a previous post after seeing this film at the New York Film Festival:

To say that Wes Anderson brings a granular attention to detail in his films is putting it mildly. His films, and this one in particular, are like finely crafted dollhouses, symmetrical and highly detailed. It’s like his films are etched on the head of a pin, or impossibly intricate needlepoint tapestries. A friend of mine calls them “fussy,” which I think is correct without being perjorative. I may not get emotionally involved in his films, but I do marvel at them.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

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The Hand of God (Paolo Sorrentino, director & writer)  Beautiful coming of age story filled with memorable, eccentric characters and situations. Rich texture and detail. Naples has never looked more stunning.

Available for streaming on Netflix.

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Hive (Blerta Basholli, director & writer)  This is a powerful portrayal of resilience and human dignity, based on a true story. Last year it was the first film in Sundance Film Festival history to win all three top awards.

In a tough, taut drama, the director Blerta Basholli explores the lives of women whose husbands went missing in the Kosovo War. (New York Times)

Like many women in Kosovo, Fahrije (played by Yllka Gashi) is hoping for news about her husband, who is still missing seven years after the war. Widows are not expected to work, but she has to provide for her family and joins forces with other widows to start a business producing ajvar (a hot pepper sauce). This is even though the community already condemns her for daring to drive. The film was inspired by the true story of Fahrije Hoti. (IMDb)

Click here for the complete New York Times review.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime and Kino Now.

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I’m Your Man (Maria Shrader, director & co-writer)  Maren Eggert plays Alma, an anthropologist at a museum in a near-future Berlin. In exchange for research funds, she agrees to have a humanoid robot, Tom, live with her for three weeks as part of a test to determine if such robots should be given rights as citizens and become more integrated into society. Tom is played by Dan Stevens (speaking fluent German). Can Tom be a perfect companion? Alma is very resistant to the whole idea, and initially rejects Tom at every turn. There have been many films and television shows that feature robots who are otherwise indistinguishable from real people, at least in appearance. They almost always raise the issue of what it means to be human. I liked this film a lot. It’s touching, funny, clever, quirky, and yes, human.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

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The Lost Daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal, director & writer)

Here’s an edited version of what I wrote in a previous post after seeing this film at the New York Film Festival:

based on the novel by Elena Ferrante. It was written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal for her feature film debut. The strong cast includes Olivia Colman (awesome as always), Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Peter Sarsgaard, and Ed Harris.

Colman plays Leda, a divorced college professor on a solo vacation on a Greek island. She becomes involved with a large family that she initially finds annoying. A child’s lost doll figures heavily in the narrative. The present is interwoven with the past and Leda’s memories of her younger self and her relationship with her two daughters. I wasn’t initially sure that the film worked for me, but, like Bergman Island, it’s stayed with me, which is always a good sign.

Available for streaming on Netflix.

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Nightmare Alley (Guillermo del Toro, director & co-writer)  This remake of the 1947 film starring Tyrone Power goes deeper into the material, but isn’t necessarily an improvement. It felt right to me when I first heard del Toro was doing this. I’ve been a big fan since seeing Cronos (1993), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), and The Shape of Water (2017). His attention to affection for weird, off-beat, disturbing detail seemed a good fit for this tale of carnival sideshow geeks, alcoholism, and phony spiritualists. Bradley Cooper is excellent in the Tyrone Power role. The rest of the cast is very strong. Especially good is David Strathairn, always completely authentic every time I see him. He doesn’t have a lot of screen time here, but he makes every second count. Del Toro has made a solid film, disturbing and engaging, with a rich period setting,  I only wish he’d taken it further.

Available for streaming on Hulu and HBO Max.

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No Time to Die (Cary Joji Fukunaga, director & co-writer)  Sean Connery was my first, so he’ll always be James Bond for me, but in five films Daniel Craig has more than made the role his own. Skyfall (2012) is the best of the Craig films for me, but No Time to Die is very good. At two hours forty-five minutes it’s also the longest Bond to date, and like the previous films, it’s a big, globe-trotting production. All the money spent is on the screen. Given the body count, which includes established characters from previous films, the title No Time to Die is rather ironic. This is Craig’s last time as Bond. There’s a sense of loss and of things coming to an end, for Bond as well as Craig. I was jolted by the ending. It will be interesting to see where they go from here, because there certainly will be more James Bond films.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

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Nobody (Ilya Naishuller, director)   This is the second Not-Guilty Pleasure on this list. It definitely comes out of the John Wick gene pool. This makes sense, since it was written by Derek Kolstad, who has also written the Wick films. The casting of Bob Odenkirk is what initially got my interest. He’s introduced as a seemingly ordinary guy who has a wife and two kids and a mundane office job working for his father-in-law. Then he’s revealed to be a former government assassin, a lethal killing machine forced out of a dreary retirement. This is a jolt because, after all, he’s played by Bob Odenkirk. He brings a quirky sensibility to the character. The film is a black comedy as much as anything else, and very violent, but in ways that don’t feel like what we’ve seen before. The lengthy and inventive fight on a city bus is an impressive centerpiece. And again, it’s Bob Odenkirk doing the ass kicking, so I’m along for that ride.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and Apple TV.

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Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodóvar, director & writer)

Here’s an edited version of what I wrote in a previous post after seeing this film at the New York Film Festival:

Almodóvar’s films are full of life and energy. I was really looking forward to Parallel Mothers, so I hate to say that I found it disappointing, especially after his previous film, Pain and Glory (2019), which I loved. Though it’s probably more accurate to say that I was disappointed, not that the film was disappointing. My expectations got in the way. Penélope Cruz is excellent, as is Rossy de Palma. They play Janis and Elena, two pregnant single women in the hospital at the same time to give birth. They become friends and develop a relationship after their children, both daughters, are born. This leads to a big twist that’s not much of a surprise when it comes. There’s a second story line concerning the killing of hundreds of civilians by the Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War. This is a powerful subject, which I think Almodóvar felt he had to address. Despite my ambivalence, I know this is an important film from a unique director.

Not yet available for streaming.

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Passing (Rebecca Hall, director & writer)

Here’s an edited version of what I wrote in a previous post after seeing this film at the New York Film Festival:

Based on a short novel written by Nella Larsen and published in 1929, Rebecca Hall’s Passing examines a powerful racial issue. The film is set in New York City in the same period. Irene (Tessa Thompson) lives in Harlem with her husband Brian (André Holland), a successful doctor. One day, in a posh hotel in Manhattan, Irene sees a childhood friend, Clare (Ruth Negga), in the hotel restaurant. They haven’t seen each other for many years. It turns out that Clare has been passing for white, married to a white man, John (Alexander Skarsgård). Told mostly from Irene’s point of view, the film looks at how her relationship with Clare develops, given the circumstances. Passing is shot in crisp black & white, and evokes the period with skill and economy. The excellent cast also includes Bill Camp, who I always like seeing.

Clare is passing for white, but is not white. At the outset, Irene is the only one in the film who knows. Clare’s husband John is a virulent racist. He has no idea that she is anything but white. At one point, he makes a “joke” that if Clare doesn’t stay out of the sun she’ll turn into an n-word. What must it cost Clare to hear this and know her husband hates Blacks? She says nothing, which to my mind makes her complicit. These are powerful story elements, but the film doesn’t question Clare’s tolerance of her racist husband, at least not directly. I find this disturbing, but maybe I’ve misread the film. Passing is too well made and well acted to ignore.

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A Son (Un fils) (Mehdi Barsaoui, director & writer)

Per IMDb: When driving home from southern Tunisia, Fares and Meriem’s car is hit by a stray bullet during an ambush by an armed group; their young son Aziz’s liver is punctured. At a local hospital, the need for a transplant uncovers a secret that risks Aziz’s life should a donor not be found in time. But this is only the beginning of the unexpected twists in a story so deftly crafted that it offers both a probing look at Tunisian society’s anchored social and legal realities, and an unshakable need to ask yourself what you would do in the same situation. As their world falls apart, the subtleties of the couple’s shifting emotions are handled masterfully.

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The Tragedy of Macbeth (Joel Coen, director & writer)  Written by Joel Coen (with some help from William Shakespeare), this the first film directed by Coen without the partnership of his brother Ethan. Shot in black & white, it has a very stylized look. The minimal settings are very sharp and angular. The shot below gives a sense of this.

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand are excellent as Lord and Lady Macbeth, frightening, ominous, and increasingly paranoid as the bodies pile up. But it’s Kathryn Hunter as the Witches (all three of them) who brings a sense of profound weirdness to the proceedings, as seen in the clip below.

My favorite film version of Macbeth to date is Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, but Joel Coen’s film is a fine addition to the catalog.

Available for streaming on Apple TV.

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That’s it for now. Next up will be my picks for the best documentary features of last year. In the meantime, for those of you in or near New York City, this past Friday Film Forum resumed offering concessions. For me, that means one thing: the best POPCORN in the known universe. Stay safe. – Ted Hicks

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What I Saw Last Year – Best Feature Films 2021 – Part 1

Movie theaters had been closed for a year due to the pandemic when they began reopening this past year. When I saw Tenet on the IMAX screen at AMC Lincoln Square on March 22, it was my first time in an actual theater since March 14, 2020. Since then I’ve been seeing a lot of films on theater screens, but have seen considerably more at home via streaming and video discs, mostly films I’ve seen before or others I’d been meaning to see. Per a tally I just did, in 2021 I saw a total of 353 films — 140 in theaters and 213 streaming or discs.

I’ve come up with 28 films that I think are the best of what I saw, or at least my favorites. My “Top 10” will be covered in this post and the remaining 18 in Part 2. Of these ten, three titles are my picks for the best films of the year: Drive My Car, Licorice Pizza, and The Power of the Dog. If I could only pick one, it would be Drive My Car.

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Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, director & co-writer)  The running time is three hours, but it never feels long. This is a great film.

New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/24/movies/drive-my-car-review.html?searchResultPosition=3

Not yet available for streaming.

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Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson, director & writer)

New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/25/movies/licorice-pizza-review.html?searchResultPosition=8

Not yet available for streaming.

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The Power of the Dog  (Jane Campion, director & writer)

Here’s what I wrote in a previous post after seeing this film at the New York Film Festival:

Set on a cattle ranch in Montana in 1925, this is an extremely powerful film. At times, the tone and look of it reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007), which was equally inscrutable and made you work to parse it out. I think The Power of the Dog gives us all the information, but nothing is spelled out. An enormous weight, both physically and emotionally, is conveyed. It’s also set in a time and place in a way that feels like I’ve never seen it before. There’s a granular detail to everything, the buildings, the location, clothing, behavior, all of it. The year is 1925, but there’s a cattle drive that evokes Red River. It’s the Twentieth Century, but it’s more like the Wild West. The excellent cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. The role is a definite departure for Cumberbatch as an angry, bitter, tightly wrapped rancher with an overload of testosterone. He’s a long way from Sherlock Holmes.

Available for streaming on Netflix.

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The remaining seven titles in alphabetical order;

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The Card Counter (Paul Schrader, director & writer)  Schrader frequently makes films about obsessive, tightly-wrapped men. This film is no exception, and it’s excellent. Oscar Isaac is  great, an incredibly controlled performance.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

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C’mon C’mon (Mike Mills, director& writer)

Here’s what I wrote in a previous post after seeing this film at the New York Film Festival:

I love this film. Joaquin Phoenix, in a performance of great warmth, plays Johnny, a radio documentary journalist who interviews kids around the country, asking them questions like, “When you think about the future, how do you imagine it will be?” During a break, he visits his estranged sister in Los Angeles, Viv (played by a terrific Gaby Hoffman, who was excellent on the Amazon Prime series Transparent). While there, Viv’s mentally ill ex-husband reaches out, and she has to suddenly travel to Oakland to help him. She asks Johnny to stay with her 9-year-old son, Jesse, while she’s gone. It develops that Viv has to be away longer than expected. Johnny has interview assignments he has to do, and he gets Viv’s permission to take Jesse along with him. This is a road movie that travels to Detroit, New York City, and New Orleans. Jesse is played by Woody Norman. It’s a cliché to say someone is a revelation, but that’s what he is. It’s a amazing performance, free of cute-kid mannerisms. The relationship that develops between Johnny and Jesse is another revelation. Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman feel totally authentic and real in ways that transcend performance. Based on two previous films I’d seen written and directed by Mike Mills, Beginners (2010) and 20th Century Women (2016), I anticipated something special with C’mon C’mon. I was not disappointed.

Currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime at a $19.95 rental. This price is sure to drop at a later date.

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Don’t Look Up (Adam McKay, director & writer)  I wasn’t sure the first time I saw this, but after the second I was totally on board. The thing is, though much of it plays like an over-the-top farce, it nevertheless feels weirdly accurate. I mean, given our previous presidential administration, nothing in this film seems unbelievable. The large cast is great, especially Jennifer Lawrence. Definitely stick around for the bonus scenes during the closing credits.

Available for streaming on Netflix.

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The Macaluso Sisters (Emma Dante, director)  A truly beautiful film that follows four sisters after a tragedy, a defining event that reverberates through several decades. Watch for the pigeons in the upper room!

New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/05/movies/the-macaluso-sisters-review.html

Not yet available for streaming.

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Riders of Justice (Anders Thomas Jensen, director & co-writer)  I love Mads Mikkelsen. He’s great in this.

New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/13/movies/riders-of-justice-review.html

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

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Wife of a Spy (Kyoshi Kurosawa, director & co-writer)  I’ve been a big fan of this director ever since seeing his earlier slow-burn paranormal creepshows, such as Pulse and Cure. His new film is a tightly constructed narrative that drew me in in the way of a good novel. It’s quite beautiful.

New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/16/movies/wife-of-a-spy-review-trust-or-fear-in-love-and-war.html

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

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The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier, director & co-writer)

Here’s what I included in a previous post after seeing this film at the New York Film Festival:

The following description, which I’ve adapted from the NYFF program, gives a good sense of the film: “As proven in such exacting stories of lives on the edge as Reprise and Oslo, August 31, Joachim Trier is singularly adept at giving an invigorating modern twist to classically constructed character portraits. Trier catapults the viewer into the world of his most spellbinding protagonist yet: Julie, played by Cannes Best Actress winner Renate Reinsve, who’s the magnetic center of nearly every scene. After dropping out of pre-med, Julie must find new professional and romantic avenues as she navigates her twenties, juggling emotionally heavy relationships with two very different men (Trier regular Anders Danielsen Lie and engaging newcomer Herbert Nordrum). Fluidly told in 12 discrete chapters, Trier’s film elegantly depicts the precarity of identity and the mutability of happiness in our runaway contemporary world.”

Not yet available for streaming.

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That’s all f0r this segment. Since I’m way behind my own schedule, I’ve kept my comments to a minimum and have relied on external reviews to do some of the work for me, more so than I would have liked. That aside, stay tuned for Part 2 in a couple of days (hopefully). In the meantime, stay safe. I’m also hoping for concessions to return soon to Film Forum – popcorn! – Ted Hicks

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Happy New Year 2022 – Bring It On!

Here’s what I wrote to introduce last year’s Happy New Year post:

“2020 has felt like the longest 10 years of my life. I sure won’t miss it. The new year has got to be better, right? A vaccine that will hopefully bring the pandemic under control and get us back into movie theaters and inside restaurants. A new president who probably won’t throw tantrums or rant nonstop on Twitter. Being able to see people’s entire faces once again and not having to experience everything virtually. I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of all this. If we’ve been in an alternative timeline this past year, some sort of bizarro world, I’m ready to be done with it.”

A year later and it doesn’t feel like that much has changed, has it?  Though it did for a while, things were getting better. I got my vaccination shots — all three of them — and was seeing movies in theaters once again and eating inside restaurants. Eventually concessions returned to movie theaters — Film Forum popcorn! And faces were returning! More and more you saw people on the streets without masks. It felt like things were getting back to something like normal, and then the variants came along. First Delta and now the more transmittable Omicron. Even the fully vaccinated are testing positive for COVID. Feels like a reboot of 2020. Movie theaters are still open, but concession stands are currently closed at Film Forum, the IFC Center, Film at Lincoln Center, and other venues (though not at AMC theaters, last I checked). Public events are being either cancelled or curtailed. I wrote last year that I was really tired of all this and ready to be done with it. I’m sure we all are. Cases are spiking, and until those figures come down to more manageable levels, there’s not much we can do except be as safe as possible. I can probably live without Film Forum popcorn a little longer.

Now on to the usual random assortment of images and clips to close out 2021.

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Courtesy of The Alligator People (1959), here’s a suggestion for New Year’s Eve attire that puts a humorous spin on  COVID-19 protection. I’m wearing mine now.

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Elisha Cook Jr. in a drum-solo freakout from Phantom Lady (1944). Perfect for New Year’s Eve. Stay with it until he gets rolling.

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The title track from Lindsay Anderson’s great film, O Lucky Man!. I love this movie and this song. It just makes me feel good. Can’t argue with that.

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Words of wisdom for the New Year from a lesser-known philosopher.

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And since I seem to favor apocalyptic imagery for these Happy New Year posts, check out this jaw-dropping clip from Deluge (1933) depicting the pretty much total destruction of New York City by some kind of super tidal wave. Remember, this was made in 1933!

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I can’t think of anything better to take us into the New Year than three versions of one of my favorite rock songs ever, “The Train Kept A-Rollin.'” It’s been recorded many times by many musicians. I first head this song on the album Having a Rave Up with the Yardbirds (1965). Okay, here you go.

Tiny Bradshaw, 1951. It’s the original version, from what I can find. More  relaxed than it became, but really great.

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Johnny Burnett’s version from 1956 is pretty definitive. Most interpretations have built on this one.

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A powerhouse performance by Metallica during their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, assisted  by Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, and Flea.

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That’s it for me. We’re in for a quiet New Year’s Eve, probably watching another UK cop show on BritBox or Acorn. Best wishes to all  for a great New Year, or at least a better one. Stay safe, and keep watching movies! — Ted Hicks

P.S. Stay tuned for my recaps of feature films, documentaries, and television from the past year

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Face Time – The Classics, Part 3

(Note: Sunday morning I found out that nearly all of the photos in parts one and two had somehow vanished. After several tedious hours I managed to restore them. Hopefully they won’t take another walk, but I’ll keep checking. So if they were gone when you first took a look, they’re back now if you want to see them.)

Here’s the final installment of this series. I’ve really enjoyed finding these great faces, and am well aware of all the ones I’ve left out. It would obviously be impossible to include everyone. I’ll try to correct the more obvious omissions if I do one of these again.

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Christopher Walken

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Alain Delon

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Audrey Hepburn

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Wes Studi

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Chief Dan George

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Anjelica Huston

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Jack Nicholson

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Dwight Frye

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Boris Karloff

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Christopher Lee

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Natalie Wood

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Robert Duvall

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Robert De Niro

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Omar Sharif

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Maggie Smith

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Humphrey Bogart

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Lauren Bacall

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Richard Farnsworth

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Jack Palance

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Jeanne Moreau

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Charlton Heston

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Rock Hudson

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Leonard Nimoy

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Michael Kenneth Williams

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Robert Ryan

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Agnes Morehead

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Maria Ouspenskaya

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Al Pacino

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Ernest Thesiger

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Angie Dickinson

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Josephine Baker

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John Casavettes

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Giulietta Masina

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Rosario Dawson

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James Earl Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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George Clooney

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That wraps up this series for now. I hope you’ve had a good time seeing these. Until next time, stay safe. Happy Thanksgiving! — Ted Hicks

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Face Time – The Classics, Part 2

Continuing with more shots of classic film actors. This keeps growing. I’ve realized it’s going to take a third part to wrap this up. Not that it will ever be finished, but I guess I have to stop somewhere. Also, I’m expanding the parameters somewhat to include actors both before the 1940s and after the 1960s.

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Marlon Brando

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Elizabeth Tayor

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Morgan Freeman

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Lucille Ball

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Cary Grant

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Jean Gabin

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Steve McQueen

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Alan Ladd

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Helen Mirren

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Gregory Peck

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Loretta Young

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Lon Chaney Jr.

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Kim Novak

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Bette Davis

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Joan Crawford

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Victor Mature

 

 

 

 

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Lee Marvin

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Sydney Poitier

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Tuesday Weld

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Christopher Plummer

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Thelma Ritter

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Paul Newman

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Harry Dean Stanton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Julie Christie

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Clint Eastwood

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Roy Rogers

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Tom Mix

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William S. Hart

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Buster Keaton

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More to come. Stay tuned for part three, which will end this series for now. Meanwhile, stay safe. — Ted Hicks

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Face Time – The Classics, Part 1

There’s no theme or organizing principle to this collection of photographs of actors, other than that they all have the Look, faces that hold the screen and our attention, then and now. These are nearly all from previous generations of actors who we know mainly from films of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. This will be in two parts. I’ve collected too many images to reasonably fit into one post, though this is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Robert Mitchum

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Kirk Douglas

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Burt Lancaster

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Tony Curtis

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Gary Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Clark Gable

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Marilyn Monroe

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Peter O’Toole

 

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Susan Hayward

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Montgomery Clift

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard Widmark

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Barbara Stanwyck

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Toshiro Mifune

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Tatsuya Nakadai

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Setsuko Hara

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Sterling Hayden

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Richard Burton

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ruby Dee

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James Dean

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Joel McCrae

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Randolph Scott

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James Coburn

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Myrna Loy

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Robert Redford

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Katharine Hepburn

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John Wayne

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Yul Brynner

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Catherine Deneuve

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Jean-Paul Belmondo

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Jean Seberg

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John Huston

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Orson Welles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stay tuned for part two of this random survey, which will appear in a day or so. In the meantime, stay safe. – Ted Hicks

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New York Film Festival 2021 – Supplemental + Dune in IMAX

For those who’d like a deeper dive, here are interviews and Q&As for films cited in the previous post. I realize that these may be of more value once you’ve seen the films, but I want to make them available. Pick and choose as per your interest.

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Dune

Since Dune was shot in IMAX, I knew I wanted to see it that way, even though I’d seen it in a smaller screen format at the Walter Reade Theater just three weeks earlier at the New York Film Festival. I went yesterday and was startled to see that it was an almost an entirely different film. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but that’s what it felt like. Relationships and events became clearer to me. The physical scale of the production had greater weight. I especially became more aware of the significance and power of Hans Zimmer’s majestic music score. Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), my favorite character in the film, registered more strongly than many of the others when I first saw Dune, and even more so in this format. There’s a clarity and dimension to the image and sound that wasn’t there before. It’s really something to see it play out on the full IMAX screen. Dune takes place on a desert planet. It was shot in the Wadi Rum valley of Jordon, the principle desert location for Lawrence of Arabia. This is probably why there are portents of the David Lean film in the closing scenes of Dune. Clearly I am besotted with the IMAX version.

Dune will be playing in IMAX at the AMC multiplex on 68th Street and Broadway for only a few more days. It has to make room for the next blockbuster, The Eternals.

NYFF Q&A with director Denis Villeneuve and composer Hans Zimmer. Run time is 23:42.

Director and cast interviews by Stephen Colbert. Run time is 17:22.

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The Velvet Underground

The following interview with director Todd Haynes wasn’t available when I posted Part One of my NYFF coverage, so I’m including it here. Run time is 15:01.

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C’mon  C’mon

NYFF interview with director Mike Mills, Joaquin Phoenix, and Molly Webster. Run time is 17:33.

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The French Dispatch

NYFF Q&A with director Wes Anderson and cast members. Run time is 24:09.

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Power of the Dog

NYFF Q&A with director Jane Campion and Benedict Cumberbatch (50:05)

NYFF interview with cinematographer Ari Wegner. Run time is 30:00.

Jane Campion interviewed by Sofia Coppola. Run time is just over an hour.

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Hit the Road

NYFF Q&A with director Panah Panahi. Run time is 1:00:49.

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Passing

Interview with director Rebecca Hall. Run time is 26:55.

Interview with Rebecca Hall, Ruth Nega, Tessa Thompson. Run time is 21:49.

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Parallel Mothers

NYFF Q&A with director and cast members. Run time is 46:38.

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That’s all for now. Happy Halloween! See you next time. — Ted Hicks

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New York Film Festival 2021 – Part 2, The Wrap Up

The 59th edition of the New York Film Festival concluded on Sunday, October 10. Based on the fourteen films I saw, it was a  very good year. I don’t know any actual figures, but from what I could tell there was a heavy turnout for screenings. After last year’s virtual festival, I think filmgoers were anxious to get back into theaters to see NYFF films on a big screen with an audience, plus Q&As with filmmakers. All of this feels so much different when you’re actually there, in the space. It’s a connection you simply don’t have with virtual screenings or via Zoom events. There was no social distancing, but masks had to be worn inside the venues and during screenings. Supporting a good slate of films, everything was extremely well run, which must have been more of a challenge this year than organizing a large festival normally would be. Below are notes on the rest of what I saw.

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Friday, October 1 — The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion, director & writer)  Set on a cattle ranch in Montana in 1925, this is an extremely powerful film. At times, the tone and look of it reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007), which was equally inscrutable and made you work to parse it out. I think The Power of the Dog gives us all the information, but nothing is spelled out. An enormous weight, both physically and emotionally, is conveyed. It’s also set in a time and place in a way that feels like I’ve never seen it before. There’s a granular detail to everything, the buildings, the location, clothing, behavior, all of it. The year is 1925, but there’s a cattle drive that evokes Red River. It’s the Twentieth Century, but it’s more like the Wild West. The excellent cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. The role is a definite departure for Cumberbatch as an angry, bitter, tightly wrapped rancher with an overload of testosterone. He’s a long way from Sherlock Holmes.

The Power of the Dog opens in theaters on November 17 and begins streaming on Netflix on December 1.

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Sunday, October 3 — The French Dispatch (Wes Anderson, director & co-writer)  I mentioned an attention to granular detail in The Power of the Dog. That’s putting it mildly with regard to Wes Anderson. His films, and this one in particular, are like finely crafted dollhouses, symmetrical and highly detailed. It’s like his films are etched on the head of a pin, or impossibly intricate needlepoint tapestries.

The French Dispatch opened in theaters on October 22. A streaming date has not yet been announced.

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Sunday, October 3 — Passing (Rebecca Hall, director & writer)  Based on a short novel written by Nella Larsen and published in 1929, Rebecca Hall’s Passing examines a powerful racial issue. The film is set in New York City in the same period. Irene (Tessa Thompson) lives in Harlem with her husband Brian (André Holland), a successful doctor. One day, in a posh hotel in Manhattan, Irene sees a childhood friend, Clare (Ruth Negga), in the hotel restaurant. They haven’t seen each other for many years. It turns out that Clare has been passing for white, married to a white man, John (Alexander Skarsgård). Told mostly from Irene’s point of view, the film looks at how her relationship with Clare develops, given the circumstances. Passing is shot in crisp black & white, and evokes the period with skill and economy. The excellent cast also includes Bill Camp, who I always like seeing.

My problem with Passing is this: At one point in the Q&A following the screening I attended, Ruth Negga says she “fell in love with Clare’s refusal to be anything but herself.” I found this to be an astonishing statement for her to make. Clare is passing for white, but is not white. At the outset, Irene is the only one in the film who knows. Clare’s husband John is a virulent racist. He has no idea that she is anything but white. At one point, he makes a “joke” that if Clare doesn’t stay out of the sun she’ll turn into an n-word. What must it cost Clare to hear this and know her husband hates Blacks? She says nothing, which to my mind makes her complicit. Maybe I’ve missed something, but I don’t see how this is being true to herself. These are powerful story elements, but the film doesn’t question Clare’s tolerance of her racist husband, at least not directly. I find this disturbing, and also the fact that it wasn’t addressed in the Q&A or in anything else I have read about Passing. Again, maybe I’ve misread the film. I’ve not read the short novel it’s based on. Passing is too well made and well acted to ignore, and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from seeing it.

Passing opened in theaters on October 27 and streams on Netflix beginning on November 10.

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Monday, October 4 — C’mon C’mon (Mike Mills, director & writer)  I love this film. Joaquin Phoenix, in a performance of great warmth, plays Johnny, a radio documentary journalist who interviews kids around the country, asking them questions like, “When you think about the future, how do you imagine it will be?” During a break, he visits his estranged sister in Los Angeles, Viv (played by a terrific Gaby Hoffman, who was excellent on the Amazon Prime series Transparent). While there, Viv’s mentally ill ex-husband reaches out, and she has to suddenly travel to Oakland to help him. She asks Johnny to stay with her 9-year-old son, Jesse, while she’s gone. It develops that Viv has to be away longer than expected. Johnny has interview assignments he has to do, and he gets Viv’s permission to take Jesse along with him. This is a road movie that travels to Detroit, New York City, and New Orleans. Jesse is played by Woody Norman. It’s a cliché to say someone is a revelation, but that’s what he is. It’s a amazing performance, free of cute-kid mannerisms. The relationship that develops between Johnny and Jesse is another revelation. Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman feel totally authentic and real in ways that transcend performance. Based on two previous films written and directed by Mike Mills, Beginners (2010) and 20th Century Women (2016), I anticipated something special with C’mon C’mon. I was not disappointed. And like Passing, it was shot in black & white, a detail I’d forgotten until starting to write this. Faulty memory aside, I know it looked great and wish more films would be shot that way (when appropriate).

C’mon C’mon opens in theaters on November 19. A streaming date has not yet been announced.

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Wednesday, October 6 — Hit the Road (Panah Panahi, director & writer)  Panah Panahi is the son of the great Iranian director, Jafar Panahi, who was sentenced in 2010 to a 20 year ban on making films by the Iranian government. Since then he’s made nine films off the grid which were smuggled out of the country. So much for the ban. Hit the Road is his son’s first feature and definitely shares his DNA. We’re with four people in a car on a road in what looks like a desert. Mom is driving, Dad is in the back seat with a cast on his leg while Little Brother raises hell. Big Brother is in the front passenger seat, not saying a word. The film reveals itself very slowly and even then not entirely. We eventually learn that they’ve sold their house and car (this one is either borrowed or a rental) to finance getting Big Brother across the border. You get the sense he’s in trouble with the authorities and needs to leave the country, though this is never spelled out. Little Brother is played by Rayan Sarlak. Like Woody Norman’s character in C’mon C’mon, he’s a real live wire, though maybe not quite as endearing. If you’ve liked the work of other Iranian directors such as Abbas Kiarostami and Asghar Farhadi, this is a film to see.

Hit the Road is currently playing the international film festival circuit. Theatrical release dates have not yet been announced.

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Thursday, October 7 — Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, director & writer — 1976) This was John Carpenter’s second feature, after Dark Star (1974) and before he got everyone’s attention with Halloween in 1978. This film was part of the NYFF’s Revivals category. The premise is simple. Police and prisoners in a Los Angeles precinct that’s in the process of being shut down are under siege by gang members with superior  numbers and firepower. We’ve seen this before in Rio Bravo (1959) and most recently in Copshop (2021), as well as a remake of Assault on Precinct 13 in 2005 with Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburn. I was somewhat surprised to realize I’d not seen Carpenter’s film before. I didn’t like it very much, but can see why it got attention in ’76. Typical of many exploitation films of the period it’s blunt, brutal, and single minded. It’s not everyday you see a little girl gunned down on camera, which is probably the most original thing about it, though I don’t think many would see that as a recommendation.

Assault on Precinct 13 is available for streaming from Amazon Prime.

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Friday, October 8 — Dune (Denis Villeneuve, director & co-writer)  I was surprised to see this on the NYFF schedule, but I’m glad it was. Denis Villeneuve is an excellent director, one of the best, and a favorite of mine. I love Sicario (2015), and find it endlessly repeatable. Blade Ruuner 2049 (2017) is also excellent and proved that Villeneuve could easily work on the large scale that Dune required. Frank Herbert’s Dune, published in 1965, became a science fiction classic with a cult following over the years. Many sequels and spinoff novels followed. The first attempt to make a film of Dune was in 1984, directed by David Lynch, his third feature after Eraserhead (1977) and The Elephant Man (1980) and before the wonder that is Blue Velvet (1986). The consensus is that it was a disaster, a judgement shared by Lynch. Aside from a few scenes and details that exhibit the Lynch weirdness, it is, indeed, pretty bad. Villeneuve’s version is not; it’s excellent and really delivers. But it covers only the first half of the book, so in a sense it’s all setup and prologue. Audiences will have to wait for Part Two to see how it all plays out.

Dune is set far in the future (in a galaxy far, far away). The House of Atreides (yes, there’s a Game of Thrones vibe to all this) has been ordered by the Emperor to take over spice mining operations on the planet Arrakis, aka Dune. Spice is a priceless commodity, somehow essential to interplanetary travel. The cast is excellent. Timothée Chalamet plays Paul Atreides, the protagonist of the story. Oscar Isaac is his father, Duke Leto Atreides, the head of their clan. Rebecca Ferguson is Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica. Others in the cast include Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, Josh Brolin, and Zendaya. My favorite is Jason Momoa, who plays Duncan Idaho. Though how a person 20,000 years in the future in a different galaxy would come to have a name like Duncan Idaho is beyond me. But it’s a great name and Momoa is great. He brings warmth, humor, loyalty, and heroism to the role.

Dune was shot with IMAX cameras. Denis Villeneuve has said that Dune was “dreamed, designed, and shot for the IMAX experience.” At the NYFF, Dune was shown on screens at Alice Tully Hall and the Walter Reade Theater. I saw it at the latter venue. It was fine on that screen, but I’m also going to see it tomorrow in IMAX at AMC Lincoln Square on 68th Street. How could I not? Dune was released last Friday, October 22, in theaters and on HBO Max. Seeing this film on a TV screen, no matter how big, will be a diminished experience, though probably better than not seeing it at all.

It was announced a day or so ago that Warner Bros. had given the go-ahead for Dune: Part Two, which should be released sometime in 2023.

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Friday, October 8 — Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodóvar, director & writer)  This was the last film we saw at this year’s festival. I was really looking forward to a new Almodóvar film. His films are so full of life and energy. I remember the first time I saw him in person, which was at the New York Film Festival. Not sure of the year, but it was probably when The Flower of My Secret was shown in 1995. He came from backstage to introduce the film wearing a brightly colored jump suit and practically turning somersaults. So I hate to say that I found Parallel Mothers disappointing. Though it’s more accurate to say that I was disappointed, not that the film was disappointing. It might have been my mood and attention span, after over two and a half hours seeing Dune just before. Penélope Cruz is excellent, as is Rossy de Palma. They play Janis and Elena, two pregnant single women in the hospital at the same time to give birth. They become friends and develop a relationship after their children, both daughters, are born. This leads to a big twist that’s not much of a surprise when it comes. There’s a second storyline concerning the killing of hundreds of civilians by the Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War. This is a powerful subject, but I’m not sure how it all fits together. Also, though the film is always entertaining, at time it didn’t feel like an Almodóvar film. I didn’t see his identity in it. For me, it doesn’t compare to his last film, Pain and Glory (2019), which I thought was great. I need to see Parallel Mothers again, just like I need to see Passing again, and will do so.

Parallel Mothers opens on December 24 in New York City and Los Angeles. Streaming has yet to be announced, but will probably be early next year.

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That wraps it up for me. Of the fourteen films I saw, my top picks are Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World and Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, with Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch a close third. Most of these are either available now or will be soon. Supplemental material for the films discussed will be posted in a couple of days. See you at the movies. Stay safe. — Ted

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New York Film Festival 2021 – What I’ve Seen So Far, Part 1

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I skipped last year’s New York Film Festival entirely because I couldn’t get my head around seeing the films virtually, which might seem odd since I’d been watching everything — new and old movies — on my computer screen since the previous March when theaters shut down. I didn’t even bother to check the lineup (head in the sand approach). Last year there were no in-theater screenings, and consequently no in-theater filmmaker introductions or Q&As after. I wanted to be present for all this, in the same space, which I think makes a difference.

This year there are no virtual screenings; everything is being seen in one of the four venues at Lincoln Center. Of course, things aren’t totally back to normal. Theaters can be filled to capacity, but wearing a mask throughout is required. From what I’ve observed, everyone is cooperating with that restriction. Though two nights ago, before the film began I mentioned to a woman sitting two seats away that her mask needed to cover her nose, which it did not. She looked at me as though I’d just sprouted a second head. I decided to leave it at that.

By my count, there are fifty-one feature films in the Main Slate, Spotlight, and revival categories this year. And that’s not all. I’m seeing fourteen features, ten with my wife and four on my own. That leaves thirty-seven films I’m not seeing, but I’ll live. I’m happy with what we selected. There are others I wish we could have fit in, such as two new films by the great (and prolific) South Korean director Hong Sangsoo, but I’m confident these will be released at some point. In the 1980s and into the ’90s, Alice Tully Hall was the only venue and the lineup was such that if a person was crazy enough to want to see all the films, it was possible. Not that I’m complaining. With additional screening spaces, sidebar programs and revivals, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

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The opening night film was The Tragedy of Macbeth, directed and written by Joel Coen (with an assist from William Shakespeare). We weren’t able to get tickets (even though they ended up having eight separate screenings over the course of that night, with a ninth screening added for Saturday, October 9). So I haven’t  seen it yet, but wanted to mention it here anyway. Reviews I’ve seen have been excellent. Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Lord and Lady Macbeth seem like a dream team. And speaking of teams, this is the first time Joel Coen has made a film without his brother, Ethan. It will be interesting to see if that makes any difference. The black and white photography and squarish screen format are also interesting, from what we can tell from the trailer. I’d like to see more films shot in black and white, and that’s not just nostalgia for the old days. In any event, I very much look forward to seeing this film.

Here is a press conference with Joel Coen, Frances McDormand, Denzel Washington, and others, moderated by Dennis Lim. It runs approximately 43 minutes.

The Tragedy of Macbeth opens in theaters on December 25 (counter-programming for Christmas) and streams on Apple TV+ on January 14.

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Our NYFF59 viewing offically began last Saturday with Bergman Island, directed and written by Mia Hansen-Løve. I’d especially liked her earlier film, Father of My Children (2009), so I was looking forward to this. Tony (Tim Roth) and Chris (Vicky Krieps) are a married couple who have come to the Swedish island of Fårö, where Ingmar Bergman lived and shot many of his films. Tony and Chris are filmmakers, each working on a screenplay. They are staying in one of Bergman’s homes and hope to be inspired by the location and the Bergman vibe that seems to be everywhere. Chris is having difficulties with her writing. At one point she begins describing the story of her script. As she does this, the film we’ve been watching begins to weave in an out of her script. Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie play characters in Chris’ story. At times it seems like the film within a film is beginning to take over. After it was over, I wasn’t sure if the film worked, but it’s stayed with me, which is a good sign. One of the most interesting things about Bergman Island is that it was shot in Bergman’s actual homes on the island, and people are constantly talking about Bergman and his films, which lends a kind of documentary aspect.

The trailer is followed by a Q&A with the director and stars, which runs approximately 18 minutes.

Bergman Island opens at the IFC Center in Manhattan on October 14 as part of a series called “Fårö and Other Edens: Films by Ingmar Bergman and Mia Hansen-Løve.”

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The next film, which we saw back to back with Bergman Island, was The Worst Person in the World, a Norwegian film directed by Joachim Trier. We loved it. Here’s a description I’ve adapted from the NYFF program, which gives a good sense of the film: “As proven in such exacting stories of lives on the edge as Reprise and Oslo, August 31, Joachim Trier is singularly adept at giving an invigorating modern twist to classically constructed character portraits. Trier catapults the viewer into the world of his most spellbinding protagonist yet: Julie, played by Cannes Best Actress winner Renate Reinsve, who’s the magnetic center of nearly every scene. After dropping out of pre-med, Julie must find new professional and romantic avenues as she navigates her twenties, juggling emotionally heavy relationships with two very different men (Trier regular Anders Danielsen Lie and engaging newcomer Herbert Nordrum). Fluidly told in 12 discrete chapters, Trier’s film elegantly depicts the precarity of identity and the mutability of happiness in our runaway contemporary world.”

Renate Reinsve truly earned her Best Actress award at Cannes. She gives an extremely engaging performance. Anders Danielsen Lie was also in Bergman Island, so we saw him in consecutive films. Along with Herbert Nordrum, it’s a very strong cast.

The following trailer presents the film as something of a rom-com, which I guess it is, but it’s also more than that. After the trailer is a Q&A with Joachim Trier, Renate Reinsve, and Anders Danielsen Lie. It runs approximately 20 minutes.

A release date has not yet been announced.

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We had one film last Sunday afternoon, Paul Verhoeven’s latest provocation, Benedetta. As we were waiting to enter Alice Tully Hall, we were treated to a vociferous protest against the film by a Catholic organization, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property. They felt that a film about lesbian nuns in a 17th Century convent in Italy has to be blasphemous. I suppose from their point of view, it is, even though Benedetta is based on fact. This “protest” seemed silly and ineffectual to me.

Verhoeven has always pushed the envelope in terms of sex and violence. Robocop, Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and Elle come to mind. I like his films partly because he’s not afraid to go over the line, in fact, he’s eager to do so. Though the inclusion of a wooden figure of the Virgin Mary modified to serve as a dildo might have been a bit much.

The trailer is followed by an interview with Verhoeven by Film at Lincoln Center’s Dennis Lim, which runs approximately 41 minutes.

Benedetta will be released theatrically at the IFC Center and Film at Lincoln Center on December 3, and will also be available for streaming.

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On Wednesday afternoon I saw Titane, a French film directed and co-written by Julia Ducournau. Having now seen Titane, I’m at a loss to understand how it received the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year, the prestigious Palme d’Or. I hadn’t read anything specific about the film, but this seemed like a good sign. I also hadn’t realized that Ducournau had previously made Raw (2016), a film about a vegetarian young woman in her freshman year at a veterinary school who becomes a cannibal. I’d wanted to walk out on that one many times, but I hate to do that, so I stuck it out. Titane is no different in the reaction it provoked in me. The film is aggressive and assaultive in ways I found very ugly and unpleasant. David Cronenberg, whose films I love, is much better at the kind of body horror on display here. I suspect I’m in the wrong demographic for this one. Though it does feature Vincent Lindon, one of my favorite French actors.

I’ve resisted attempting a synopsis. It would require one spoiler alert after another, and I just don’t feel up to the challenge. But this is only my opinion. Sometimes you get on the ride and sometimes you don’t.

The trailer below is followed by a Q&A at the festival with Julia Ducournau, Vincent Lindon, and lead actor Agathe Rouselle. It runs approximately 23 minutes.

Titane opened in theaters today, October 1.

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Wednesday evening we saw The Lost Daughter, based on the novel by Elena Ferrante. It was written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal for her feature film debut. The strong cast, many of whom were onstage at Alice Tully both before and after the film, includes Olivia Colman (awesome as always), Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescak, Dagmara Dominxzyk, Ed Harris, and  writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Colman plays Leda, a divorced college professor on a solo vacation on a Greek island. She becomes involved with a large family that she initially finds annoying. A child’s lost doll figures heavily in the narrative. The present is interwoven with the past and Leda’s memories of her younger self and her relationship with her two daughters. I wasn’t initially sure that the film worked for me, but, like Bergman Island, it’s stayed with me, which is always a good sign.

Here is the Q&A that took place following the screening we saw. I wish Gyllenhaal had been asked about her visual approach and the cinematography, which employs a lot of tight closeups on faces. The Q&A runs approximately 24 minutes.

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Last night I saw a film I’d been anxious to see since reading about it earlier this year, The Velvet Underground, a documentary directed by Todd Haynes. The Velvet Underground is a group that has meant a lot to me over the years, both for the music and the personnel, specifically Lou Reed and John Cale. I’d seen the band play at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco in 1968. The one thing I remember from that concert is when someone in the audience called out for “Heroin,” Lou Reed said, “We don’t play that anymore.” Of course, this signature song continued to be performed by the band and later, during Reed’s solo career. After I moved to New York City in 1977, I saw Lou Reed frequently at The Bottom Line and John Cale almost as many times. Their music has been a part of my life for years. Haynes’ film is startling in many ways, both in the often radical way it’s structured and in the depth of the material presented. I learned a lot I hadn’t known about the backgrounds of the people who came to form the Velvet Underground. The cultural scene in New York in the Sixties provided a unique and fertile landscape that expressed itself through film, art, photography, and music. Everything fed into everything else. The importance of Andy Warhol to all this is examined in the film. The amount of material amassed is almost overwhelming. The editing is excellent. The source attributions listed in the lengthy closing credits seem to go on forever. Along with all the archival footage, interviews conducted for the film are interwoven throughout. Haynes said during the Q&A after the screening that they limited new interviews only to people who were there at the time, in that scene. John Cale is especially great to hear. Maureen Tucker, too.

The Velvet Underground always comes back to the music. I’d forgotten how experimental their sound was, especially during the early years. I think there’s stuff on the first two albums that we still haven’t caught up to yet. Seeing this film reminded me of that. I was quite moved at the end.

The Velvet Underground opens here in New York City on October 13 at Film Forum and Film at Lincoln Center. It begins streaming on Apple TV+ on October 15, though I recommend seeing it on a theater screen played as loud as possible through a good sound system.

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Still to come, Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers, and more. In the meantime, stay safe. – Ted Hicks

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Posted in Books, Documentaries, Feature films, Film posters, Home Video, Streaming, TV & Cable | 1 Comment

Bigger Than Life – A Movie Marquee Gallery

Movie theater marquees aren’t what they used to be, that’s for sure. In the last twenty years or so, they’ve become less distinctive and less dramatic. Multiplexes here in Manhattan do without traditional marquees entirely, though smaller theaters, such as Film Forum and the IFC Center, still have them. Most of the examples in this post are of theaters  from the 1940s through the ’70s, with some before and some after. More than a few of them are of theaters in New York City. My interest here is in what these photos can add to our sense of film history and the excitement and anticipation that could be felt just by seeing these marquees.

I grew up in Iowa in the 1950s, where movie-going options were limited to usually one theater each in nearby small towns. My favorite by far was the Vista Theater in Storm Lake, which was about twelve miles north of our farm. My mother loved movies, and we saw a lot together, usually at the Vista. I was probably carried into my first movies, which I’m sure is still imprinted in my database. The photo of the Vista below dates back to 1938, but this is exactly how I remember the theater when I was going there. I love “News & Popeye” at the front of the marquee.

Sometime after I moved to New York in 1977 the Vista expanded, adding smaller theaters adjacent to the main one. Below is a shot of what the theater looks like today. The marquee has been removed entirely, but when I was back for a visit, I was very happy to find that the main auditorium had not been changed. It was exactly as I’d remembered it.

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When I started college at the University of Iowa in Iowa City in the Fall of 1962, I was excited that there were four downtown theaters. The one with the best marquee was the Englert, which showed first-run films.

The Iowa Theater, just around the block from the Englert, showed foreign films as well as classics. It was the local art house. I saw Chaplin’s Modern Times there (on a first date!), and had my first exposure to movie nudity with a Swedish film whose title I’ve forgotten. The Iowa was also directly across the street from Donnelly’s, my all-time favorite bar. When I came back to college after getting out of the Air Force in 1970, I was a ticket-taker and usher at both the Iowa and the Astro Theater, across the street from the Englert. A friend of mine was a projectionist at the Englert, and I would often hang out with him in the booth. I also took tickets for a time at the University Film Society theater in the student union. Lots of movies. Show biz.

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Before coming back to Iowa City, I was stationed for a year and a half at an air base outside of Marysville, California. The State Theater there had a memorable facade and marquee. That’s where I saw Bonnie and Clyde for the first time in 1967. The photo below dates from 1954.

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Another Iowa theater I have to include is the Rialto. I was back from New York running down family tree info. I knew that the courthouse in Pocohantes, 40 miles from where I grew up, had some family records. I drove there to check that out. While in town I noticed the Rialto with its beautiful Art Deco design. Here it is.

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There were even more movie theaters in Minneapolis, where I lived from September 1973 to early January ’77. The shot below was taken on my 30th birthday in 1974 across the street from the State Theater, which was typical of the older theaters in the city. I saw Chinatown in that theater three times the weekend it opened. Had to.

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I moved to New York in January 1977 and have been here on the Upper West Side ever since in the same apartment at 92nd and West End Avenue. I really lucked out with the location, because the Thalia theater was just three blocks north on 95th. Their programming was a never-ending film festival of classic repertory, the great and the misbegotten. Everything from Plan 9 from Outer Space to Kiss Me Deadly, Ozu and Mizoguchi, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. It was great while it lasted. It was always a kick to turn the corner and see the marquee with the large “Thalia” letters atop the marquee jutting out on the block.

At the same time, a few blocks down Broadway was the New Yorker theater on 89th Street. Opened in 1914 as the Adelphi Theater, later called the Yorktown, it was taken over by Dan Talbot as the New Yorker in 1960. Talbot is in the shot below with Alfred Hitchcock.

A few blocks further up Broadway was the Metro Theater, between 99th and 100th Streets. It opened as the Midtown in 1933, showing first-run films until the 1950s. In the 50s and 60s it showed films by Jean-Luc Godard, Luis Bunuel, and Roman Polanski. Then in the 70s and 80s it turned a corner and became a porno theater. The photo below dates from 1933.

In 1982, Dan Talbot took over and ran it as a repertory theater. I remember when it reopened. The theater, with its Deco facade, had been refurbished. It looked great. The programming was excellent. Lots of series, such as film noir, Buster Keaton, samurai films, etc. It closed for good in 2005 and has sat empty since then. The interior has been completely gutted, but landmark status preserves the exterior.

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Super-sized Department. Here is a selection of theaters where the advertising has gone beyond the marquees, in some cases with huge banners above the marquee, wrapping around the building itself. Kind of a “Go big or go home” approach.

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Times Square theaters. The Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver years before Disneyfication. I know it was tattered and sleazy, but I kind of miss it. One theater after another, on and on, like a surreal dream.

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The Paris Theater, on West 58th Street in Manhattan by the Plaza Hotel, opened on September 13, 1948. Marlene Dietrich cut the ribbon while the U.S. Ambassador to France stood by. With the closing of the Ziegfeld Theater in 2016, the Paris is now the last remaining single-screen theater in Manhattan. In August 2019, a closure notice was posted. The thought of the Paris being no more was not fun to contemplate. It reopened that November with Netflix taking over operation. That takes a little getting used to, but the Paris is still with us.

Below, the U.S. premiere of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet in 1968. Beneath that, The Artist, which we saw there on Thanksgiving Day, 2011. The interior of the theater has been refurbished over the years, but basically has not changed since 1948 (to the best of my knowledge).

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Drive-In Theaters

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Other marquees of note.

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I know this shot isn’t strictly speaking showing a marquee, but I think it fits the bill anyway.

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That’s probably more than enough for now. Until next time, stay safe. – Ted Hicks

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Posted in Feature films, Film, History | 5 Comments