Last Ten Films: From Blockbusters to Outliers

Tom At The Farm

Tom At The Farm


My last ten films seen in chronological order, between December 23, 2015 and January 8, 2016.

The Hateful Eight (Tarantino, 2015) 8/10
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015) 7/10
People Places Things (Strouse, 2015) 6/10
The Stanford Prison Experiment (Alvarez, 2015) 6/10
Tom at the Farm (Dolan, 2013) 8/10
Queen of Earth (Perry, 2015) 7/10
Joy (Russell, 2015) 5/10
Results (Bujalski, 2015) 9/10
The Fallen Idol (Reed, 1948) 7/10
La Sapienza (Green, 2014) 6/10

The two “blockbusters” leading off this sequence both surprised me. The first, inspired by 1970s New Hollywood, is the Tarantino film I’ve enjoyed most all the way through since, oh, Jackie Brown, partially because I adore the 70mm “roadshow” presentation but mostly because for all its ugliness/misoygny/voluminous bloodshed, the construction’s tighter than Inglorious Basterds and it adheres to a stronger, more plausible moral code than Django Unchained. The second, heavily inspired by, um, Star Wars: A New Hope works because it places character and plot way ahead of special effects and mythology. Sure, the Hans/Leia/Chewy stuff is a little cornball, but it sure as hell resonates as well as any fan (either fervent, or in my case, near-nonexistent) could want.

With the exception of Joy (third time decidely not the charm for Russell/Lawrence, though the latter gives better than she gets) and The Fallen Idol (Carol Reed and Graham Greene’s persecuor to The Third Man, and every bit the warm-up to that), the rest are Chlotrudis-eligible films (nominations are due this Friday) I’ve been busy catching up on at home. No real stinkers so far, but nothing revelatory either (apart from Results, which will likely secure a place in the year-end best of list I’ll be posting soon). Nearly all of them contain at least one recommendable facet: Elisabeth Moss’ fearless performance in Queen of Earth, La Sapienza’s striking cinematography and editing (the (purposely?) stitled acting in it threw me off a bit), a great sense of place and utilization of claustrophobia in the occasionally-fascinating-but-often-excruciating The Stanford Prison Experiment and Jemaine Clement’s winning underdog persona keeping People Places Things afloat.

Slighly better than most of them? The film Xavier Dolan made between Laurence Anyways and Mommy, a belated release here (and a minimal one at that, as it played for one week last summer in Salem, though luckily one can stream it on Amazon). Not as good as either of its bookends (or I Killed My Mother), this contained, Hitchcockian thriller (complete with anachronistic orchestral score) is intriguing as a peculiar, potential outlier in Dolan’s catalog—as is his character’s (purposely?) awful, shaggy, bleached hair.

Last Ten Films: Returns and First Reactions

The Forbidden Room

The Forbidden Room


My last ten films seen in chronological order, between November 29 and December 21, 2015.

Spotlight (McCarthy, 2015) 10/10
Heart Of A Dog (Anderson, 2015) 8/10
The Forbidden Room (Maddin/Johnson, 2015) 9/10
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (Hartley, 2014) 6/10
Iris (Maysles, 2014) 7/10
Tu Dors Nicole (Lafleur, 2014) 8/10
Trumbo (Roach, 2015) 7/10
The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years (Spheeris, 1988) 8/10
Meet Me In St. Louis (Minnelli, 1944) 7/10
Youth (Sorrentino, 2015) 6/10

Ten titles viewed for the first time—itself a first for this series. Actually, I watched Spotlight twice during this period. Fully living up to the hype it has received all season long, it’s a damn near perfect film, which is not to say the most innovative or stylistically dazzling or even lovable film of the year. But, between a solid ensemble cast (ranging from Mark Ruffalo’s effective and earned outbursts to Liev Schreiber’s poker-faced allure) and an intensely focused, start-to-finish gripping narrative, it’s still easily and deservedly a Best Picture front runner, unless the Academy opts for something more populist.

I’m happy to report that The Forbidden Room is a return to form (and then some) for Guy Maddin (and co-director Evan Johnson) after the stillborn Keyhole. Rejuvenating his love of early-cinema ephemera, it plays like a Greatest Hits clip reel, only with all “new” material. Admittedly, its sheer scope overwhelms—I found myself stumbling to keep up after the 60-minute mark, but here that’s less a deterrent than encouragement to return to it again and again. At best, it could very well end up a visual equivalent to one of my favorite albums, The Avalanches’ Since I Left You, whose layers and density only clicked and gained meaning over time.

Heart of A Dog could also probably further benefit from another viewing. I would’ve appreciated Laurie Anderson’s artier tendencies more back when I was taking an avant-garde cinema class in grad school, but her ability to tell stories like no one else (primarily through content and perspective, but also her vocal cadences) keeps her from slipping into archness and solipsism. Unfortunately, those latter qualities nearly sunk Youth for me. It’s my first Paolo Sorrentino film, and while he’s unique and clever (and knows his way around a musical cue), he’s no Fellini and his pretensions feel stilted (comparatively, for me, Wes Anderson’s gradually connect and continually expand.) Michael Caine’s unforced, beatific presence ends up Youth’s greatest asset; the great, over-the-top Jane Fonda cameo is as exactly long as it needs to be.

A leftover from TIFF 2014, Tu Dors Nicole is almost a minor masterpiece: a languid, somewhat pokey, black-and-white coming-of-age tale set in a sleepy Montreal suburb, sweetly, lightly spiked with magic realism and naturalistic performances. Iris is a decent epitaph from the late Al Maysles (along with In Transit), its kindred spirit of a subject coming off like a genuinely wiser, better-adjusted “Little” Edie Beale. Trumbo is a good, old fashioned middlebrow biopic: fairly obvious (Helen Mirren’s Hedda Hopper is brilliantly acted and flimsily one-sided) and studiously surface-level, but painstakingly crafted and entertaining, with Bryan Cranston affably carrying the picture. Electric Boogaloo is even more of a blast, a valhalla of ‘80s B-cinema in all its shoddy glory, but it would benefit greatly from taking time to breathe as the relentless pace of the clips and talking heads interviews quickly becomes wearying, leaving little room to develop some much-needed context.

Only two older titles this time out, and they have little in common. Meet Me In St. Louis, a MGM musical I’ve always been meaning to see, is as grand an exhibit for Judy Garland’s greatness as The Wizard of Oz or A Star Is Born; predictably, it feels lacking when the focus isn’t entirely on her (which thankfully, isn’t too often). In a way, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years is also a musical, fully documenting a hyper-specific era that now seems as distant and foreign as the Minnelli film likely did in 1988. Certainly more fun than its punk-scene predecessor, it’s also far more revealing, quickly transcending its initial, real-life This Is Spinal Tap trappings, growing increasingly surreal in some respects (I’ve honestly never seen anything like Chris Holmes’ debauched pool interview before) but also remaining relatable as you can increasingly discern (but rarely belittle) the chasm between aspiration and reality (often self-acknowledged) for these poodle-haired rockers and their fans.

Last Ten Films: Playing The Part

The Duke Of Burgundy

The Duke Of Burgundy


My last ten films seen (in chronological order, between October 26 and November 26, 2015).

The Search For General Tso (Cheney, 2014) 7/10
Anomalisa (Kaufman/Johnson, 2015) 9/10
The Assassin (Hou, 2015) 7/10
The Decline of Western Civilization (Spheeris, 1981) 5/10
Room (Abrahamson, 2015) 8/10
The Duke Of Burgundy (Strickland, 2014) 10/10
Brooklyn (Crowley, 2015) 7/10
The Conversation* (Coppola, 1974) 10/10
Best In Show* (Guest, 2000) 9/10
White God (Mundruczó, 2014) 7/10

(*At least my second viewing)

Peter Strickland hasn’t made a safe follow-up to Berberian Sound Studio; if anything, The Duke of Burgundy is even further out there, paying intricate homage to not one, but two subterranean genres. It reprises the previous film’s Giallo fixation, and pours over it a soupcon of classy sexploitation as its two lead characters are involved in a lesbian love affair. Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a wealthy, middle-aged lepidopterist and Evelyne (Chiara D’Anna), her younger housemaid, initially appear to have a working relationship with master-and-servant undertones; within the first fifteen minutes, those undertones become explicitly sexual overtones.

However, the film is not just a kinky parade of verbal abuse, face-sitting, being tied and locked up and other unmentionables alluded to behind closed doors; it’s also a profound, intriguing, complicated love story. While Cynthia plays the master role, it’s increasingly apparent that Evelyne is the person leading the whole pas de deux, dictating much of the action, feeding Cynthia many of her lines. Meanwhile, Cynthia feels less and less comfortable in her role as she falls deeper in love. Strickland parses this dynamic carefully via interactions between the two women that often ask what it means for a lover to play or even live up to her role. The slightest shift, the smallest change in routine or crack in a façade can bring a significant, occasionally devastating result.

The Duke of Burgundy is a both an extreme visual and aural feast, from its deliberately lovingly retro opening credits (greatly enhanced, like the rest of the film, by a beguiling psych-folk score from the band Cat’s Eye) to its stunning lighting and cinematography (watch out for Evelyne’s eyes as she repeatedly looks into the microscope) to its overall period design, which heavily suggests late ‘60s/early ‘70s without ever definitively pinpointing it. I could also go on about the Stan Brakhage-like editing, the rich butterfly motifs, the many scenes where the narrative seems to pause and temporarily fade away as if dangerously entering a dream state. Knudsen is also flat-out brilliant in expressing the wide chasm between Cynthia’s assumed role and her actual self. Although not for everyone, Strickland has made a daring, stimulating, one-of-a-kind, as filling as a seven-layer-cake confection that affects the senses in a way only film as an medium can—that he did it with an all-female cast (when’s the last time you saw a film that had one?) is the extra icing on top.




I’ll write about Anomalisa in more depth once it’s released nationally in January (and I have a chance to see it again), but I suspect cineaste buzz regarding Charlie Kaufman’s foray into stop-motion animation (co-directed with Duke Johnson) will be off the charts come then—it’s as very much its own thing as Synecdoche, New York (or for that matter, Her) was, and I can’t imagine how Paramount will market it. As for other new titles, Room excels mostly because of Brie Larson’s performance, which will surely nab her the Oscar nomination she deserved two years ago for Short Term 12. I’d tighten up the second half and nix Jacob Tremblay’s so-occasional-it’s-pointless annoying voiceover, but this might be the most challenging film (subject matter-wise) to win the audience award at Toronto. Brooklyn also benefits from a solid, film-carrying lead performance; I hadn’t really noticed Saoirse Ronan in anything since Atonement (never saw Hanna), and here she renders what could’ve been another middle-of-the-road prestige indie quite watchable (Emory Cohen also comes into his own as her affable beau.)

If I were rating The Assassin on technique and style alone, it would get a higher mark. The narrative begins and ends strongly but sags in the middle—a problem I’ve often had with Hou’s work (in particular, his historical epics). But if you have a chance to see it on a big screen, by all means go. On that note, I think I might’ve gotten a little more out of White God had I seen it in a theatre, especially for the film’s already-famous wide shots of dogs running through Budapest’s streets. Sort of a gloss on The Birds but told from both perspectives, it’s interesting in how it shows/contrasts processes of learned behavior for both canines and humans. However, I can only recommend it with the caveat that it does contain many scenes of animal cruelty—all humanely staged, as the credits take great pains to point out, but I couldn’t sit through them again. Although far from the best new doc I’ve seen this year, I have no qualms recommending The Search For General Tso, a thoughtful, fizzy think-piece on Chinese-American food and the secret history behind the titular, seemingly omnipresent take-out staple.

As for older titles: Best In Show remains the funniest Guest-related mockumentary, though not the one with the most heart (or the one with the most soul)… The Decline of Western Civilization has value as a cultural artifact, a decent record of Los Angeles punk circa-1980, but the scene itself simply isn’t as intriguing or as good as its New York/London progenitors. I have higher expectations for the sequel (AKA The Metal Years), currently sitting in my DVR queue… I have yet to watch The Godfather Part II (someday, I promise), but I’ll bet The Conversation is Coppola’s best work, made at a smaller scale he’s tried to recapture in recent years and probably never will post-Apocalypse Now. A big name star (Gene Hackman) playing a rather prudish (but brilliant) character, a crisis of conscience, intricate sound design and camera work, a plot twist that remains startling 15+ years since the last time I saw it: is there, or could there possibly be any modern analogue to all of this?

Last Ten Films: What Happened, Movies?

What Happened, Miss Simone?

What Happened, Miss Simone?

My last ten films seen (in chronological order, between August 24 and October 23, 2015):

My Winnipeg* (Maddin, 2007) 10/10
Phoenix (Petzold, 2014) 7/10
Harold and Maude* (Ashby, 1971) 10/10
Sicario (Villenueve, 2015) 8/10
Freeheld (Sollett, 2015) 5/10
The Master* (Anderson, 2012) 9/10
What Happened, Miss Simone? (Garbus, 2015) 8/10
Portrait of Jason (Clarke, 1967) 6/10
Back to the Future* (Zemeckis, 1985) 9/10
Steve Jobs (Boyle, 2015) 7/10

(*At least my second viewing)

I do not normally take sixty days to watch ten films; I could blame this drop in moviegoing on a deficit of interesting new titles (also, I already saw Grandma at PIFF and 99 Homes at TIFF), family commitments, and, of course, television. Can any recent indieplex title match Mr. Robot for style, originality and occasional batshit insanity? If David Simon’s six-hour HBO miniseries Show Me A Hero was released theatricality, it would place in my top ten films of the year. So, in all of September, I only saw Harold and Maude—one of my all-time favorites. This was my first viewing on a big screen with a large audience, whose reactions only further enhanced my appreciation of this singular cult romantic comedy.

Fortunately, as the weather worsens and Oscar season kicks in, I have more reasons to spend a few hours indoors in front of a movie screen. While Sicario is probably too violent and relentlessly bleak to gain much awards traction, it’s a near-great film featuring two very good performances that end up in a yin/yang symbiosis before the credits roll, with supposed lead Emily Blunt simply becoming less and less integral to the story which Benicio del Toro increasingly, effectively dominates. Still too bleak for me to want to sit through again, it’s the rare issue film that excels at establishing and sticking to its thesis until a logical, if harrowing conclusion.

Steve Jobs is the most guilelessly entertaining new film on this list; chalk up its rating to a trio of good, sure-to-be-feted performances: Michael Fassbender, steely and charismatic as Jobs; Seth Rogen, his near-tragic, Fozzie-bear-like Steve Wozniak a role he was born to play, and Kate Winslet, mesmerizing (although submerged in wigs and accents) as Jobs’ longtime marketing executive Joanna Hoffman. As someone repeatedly disappointed by Boyle’s post-Trainspotting oeurve, this is one of his better efforts; the tension between his cinematic flourishes and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s talky interludes is even sublime at times. Still, it loses points for being an emphatic crowd pleaser (read: more than a little corny and calculated).

Phoenix is an equally accomplished film with a different problem. Painstakingly constructed and beautifully written, this novel adaptation and post-World War II German gloss on Vertigo is Petzold’s solid follow-up to Barbara, with the song standard “Speak Low” cannily providing running commentary. However, it all hinges upon what you make of a rather implausible plot point. I enjoyed the film despite it, even if I couldn’t believe it. Still, it’s not implausible as to why Phoenix was made; I can’t say the same for Freeheld, a dramatization of an 2007 Academy Award-winning documentary short. Detailing the fight of a dying police detective to leave her pension to her female romantic partner, the short was timely and sobering; this film, on the other hand, seems little more than an excuse to give a few talented actors juicy parts. Julianne Moore, Ellen Page and Michael Shannon (as Moore’s professional partner) are all terrific, but you’d expect them to be, and what surrounds them is superfluous if not stale, regrettably never fully coming to life.

The Netflix-only What Happened, Miss Simone? surely would’ve received some theatrical distribution in another time. Opening with footage from a scintillating 1976 concert (later released as Nina Simone, Love Sorceress), it then proceeds like your standard (if impassioned) film biography, but what a story (and what archival footage)! Garbus gives meaning to all of Simone’s contradictions and quirks and also emphasizes how underappreciated a talent she was in her lifetime. I wonder what Simone would’ve made of Jason Holliday, the gay, black prostitute/aspiring nightclub performer who is sole subject of Shirley Clarke’s long-hard-to-find avant garde classic. Simply placing the camera on him for a few hours and plying him with endless cocktails, Clarke certainly anticipated the “look-at-me-and-I’ll-(hopefully)-show-you-what-you-don’t-expect” notion that drives a lot of today’s reality TV; however, while intermittently fascinating, I found Portrait of Jason overall to be a slog—perhaps seeing it within a theater’s confines (as opposed to home DVR) would’ve made for a more effective setting.

As for the three rewatches here (not counting Harold and Maude), Maddin’s “docu-fantasia” holds up the best and is perhaps his most successful effort to gradually, beguilingly draw the viewer into his strange world (seeing it also stoked my anticipation for The Forbidden Room). Maybe The Master is not the game-changer I remember it being (certainly not on the level of There Will Be Blood), but I can imagine returning to it every few years without boredom. Back To The Future was seen in a theater on October 21, of course; influence of childhood nostalgia aside, it’s still the best blockbuster of its era, and now looks like one of the more audacious ones, too—would the oedipal stuff between Marty and his mother even be thinkable in a studio film today?

Last Ten Films: Unknown Pleasures

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The Diary of a Teenage Girl


My last ten films seen between July 27 and August 23, 2015, with number ratings out of 10.

Tangerine (Baker, 2015) 9/10
Boogie Nights* (Anderson, 1997) 9/10
Irrational Man (Allen, 2015) 5/10
Brazil* (Gilliam, 1985) 10/10
The End Of The Tour* (Ponsoldt, 2015) 8/10
The Trip To Italy* (Winterbottom, 2014) 7/10
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (Pennebaker, 1973) 6/10
Best of Enemies (Gordon/Neville, 2015) 6/10
Mistress America (Baumbach, 2015) 7/10
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Heller, 2015) 10/10

*indicates that this was at least a second viewing

Two exceptional new indies bookend this list; both may very well end up in my year-end top ten.

I’ve seen enough coming-of-age films to contribute to a Chlotrudis poll about them, but I’ve seen nothing quite like The Diary of a Teenage Girl: funny, intense and sexually graphic in equal measures, it’s also a period piece, set in 1976 San Francisco. And, it kicks off with a whopper of a revelation: 15-year-old protagonist Minnie (Bel Powley) has just lost her virginity to Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), who is not only twenty years older but also her mother’s (Kristin Wiig) boyfriend.  Divulging this news via a diary recorded in her bedroom on cassette tapes, Minnie’s not ashamed of what happened, but clearly transformed: you sense the thousands of hormonally charged emotions rushing through her as she both carefully considers while also allowing herself to be swept away by the newness and immensity of it all.

In adapting Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel, first-time director Marielle Heller fluidly and inventively incorporates animation into Minnie’s world. An aspiring comic book artist, Minnie’s drawings often leap off the page and onto the screen, creatively depicting the realms of her imagination and how it co-exists with her reality. Which gets complicated as she continues her clandestine affair with Monroe, for her emotional maturity hasn’t yet caught up with her recent sexual liberation. Exacerbated by an unstable, overly permissive environment (Monroe, her mother and assorted friends often hang out at home drinking, dancing and snorting lines of cocaine), Minnie wants to be bold and free, but is she ready to take responsibility for her actions? Heller lets this all play out refreshingly without judgement or moralizing, allowing Minnie to reach a place of catharsis that’s not without consequences. However, the resulting wisdom she gains from her experiences is genuinely powerful.

Skarsgård is ideally cast as a slacker/loser who is nonetheless nice to and fully aware of his desire for Minnie (however misguided it is) while trying, not always successfully, not to exploit or take advantage of her. Although somewhat overshadowed by her co-stars, Wiig steps into the fun mom role with ease, while Christopher Meloni has a few good, acidic moments as her intellectual, withholding ex-husband. Still, this is rightfully British actress Powley’s film. Both charismatic and convincing, she manages to make Minnie a believable American teen (she was 21-22 during filming) and has a winning enough persona to create a distinct young heroine for the ages (think of Thora Birch in Ghost World, or even Ellen Page in Juno). Although exceptionally raunchy and raw at times, this uncommonly perceptive coming-of-age tale is highly recommended for anyone going or having once gone through puberty, regardless of gender, sexuality or era.




Tangerine, Sean Baker’s so-microbudget-that-it-was-shot-on-an-iPhone (though it looks good enough that you’d never guess) feature appears to be a throwback to indie film’s golden age (‘80s Jarmusch, but also New Queer Cinema) in that it seems like it came from out of nowhere to saturate the festival and arthouse circuits (it has quietly grossed $600K in six weeks). It’s far more modern than that—innovative, actually, in how naturally it presents its two male-to-female transgender leads, Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. Some may balk that they’re both playing prostitutes (respectively named Alexandra and, ahem, Sin-Dee), and at first, the film can barely keep up with this motor-mouthed duo as they seem to invite drama and create chaos wherever they go.

Happily, within 10-15 minutes, Baker and his leads establish an identifiable, endearing rhythm as they traverse L.A.’s seedy sidewalks and parking lots and the corner donut shop which serves as the film’s home base. The story centers on a single day-into-night search for the girl rumored to be sleeping with Sin-Dee’s pimp/boyfriend Chester (James Ransome). Then, Baker introduces a parallel narrative involving Armenian cabbie Razmik (Karren Karagulian) whose path intersects with the leads intermittently until both strands eventually, fully align with an extended screwball exchange back at that donut shop.

The film succeeds largely in part of Baker’s direction of his cast. From the start, you pick up on Taylor’s and Rodriguez’s chemistry; both are also strong enough to carry scenes individually–especially Taylor, whose karaoke performance is a highlight (she could easily achieve Laverne Cox-level fame with a higher-profile role). Karaguilan maintains his protagonist status even as the film reveals increasingly less savory facets of his character. Ransome’s Chester is like an older and slightly (but really not much) wiser iteration of the actor’s best-known role, fuck-up Ziggy from season 2 of The Wire. For all its zesty trash-talk and colorful situations, Tangerine is more or less about friendship—how you’ll put up with a friend, remain loyal to them, or just simply be there for them in good times and bad. Remarkably, Baker emphasizes these points in the final two scenes not with cloying sentimentality but via a lived-in bond between Alexandra and Sin-Dee that feels honest and earned.


As for other new titles: preferable to While We’re Young but certainly no Frances Ha, Mistress America is as scattered as Greta Gerwig’s more ambitious-than-talented New Yorker, although it’s at least pleasantly fizzy, like that Whit Stillman film she starred in a few years back. Based on her droll turn here, I’d bet on Lola Kirke maintaining a more interesting career than her older sister Jemima (currently saddled with the worst-written character on Girls). Best of Enemies is indeed best when showing clips from the Buckley vs. Gore debates but occasionally fumbles when it tries placing them in a meaningful context. The End of The Tour mostly held up to a second viewing, but this time Segel’s Wallace seemed a little more novel than real; I’m not really aching for a third viewing. Despite Joaquin Phoenix’s and Parker Posey’s decent effort to fit into the Woodyverse, Irrational Man is a lukewarm Hitchcock pastiche that doesn’t catch fire until the final climactic scene (and even then, not worth sitting all the way through for).

Two of the older titles I hadn’t seen since the late ‘90s: Brazil has aged as well as one could hope—one of the key films of the ‘80s, really, and seeing it on the big screen definitely heightened its impact. Boogie Nights is also still a blast, but it loses some steam in its second half (though not in the brilliant, startling “Sister Christian”/Alfred Molina sequence); I think I now prefer Paul Thomas Anderson’s last three films to his first four, (which does not prevent me from wanting to see all of them again and again). The Trip to Italy, re-watched more for the scenery than the Coogan/Brydon banter remains solid entertainment for those who like that sort of thing; Ziggy Stardust succeeds less as a piece of filmmaking than as a document of David Bowie at his delirious peak, as fabulous as Liza Minnelli the previous year and as influential and original as David Byrne would prove a decade on in the cinematically superior Stop Making Sense.

Last Ten Films: An Introduction

Infinitely Polar Bear

Infinitely Polar Bear


In 2013, I tried to write about every new film that I saw (and mostly succeeded!); consequently, in 2014 I was burned out on movie reviews and shifted my attention towards 1000+ word essays on each of my 100 favorite albums (I’m currently a third of the way through this ambitious project). Naturally, I’m left with little time to write about cinema. Although I no longer see over 100 film in theaters/per year as I did a decade ago, I remain an above-average moviegoer–usually at least one, maybe two theatrical screenings per week (my home viewing is more sporadic, thanks to TV, which only the staunchest film snob would deny is as important an artistic medium today.)

Going forward, I’ll be tracking/writing about every ten films I’ve seen, probably around 500 words (or more, if so moved). In each post, I’ll list the ten films in chronological order of viewing, along with the director, year and a rating out of 10. Titles for which this is at least my second viewing will have a star after them. First up: films seen between June 25 and July 24.

Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957) 7/10
The Wolfpack (Moselle, 2015) 4/10
Vertigo* (Hitchcock, 1958) 10/10
Spy (Feig, 2015) 6/10
Amy (Kapadia, 2015) 8/10
California Split* (Altman, 1974) 9/10
The Birds* (Hitchcock, 1963) 10/10
Infinitely Polar Bear (Forbes, 2014) 7/10
Speed* (de Bont, 1994) 6/10
3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets (Silver, 2015) 8/10

I suspect the selection here is typical of every ten consecutive films I’ll see: a straight-down-the-middle split of new and old titles, the former mostly indies, documentaries and foreign language films with the occasional mainstream outlier (one sentence review of Spy: good enough that McCarthy should continue working with Feig despite diminishing returns following Bridesmaids and The Heat.)

Summer tends to be a fallow time for new indies; nothing yet has really broken out like Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and Blue Jasmine (2013). Frankly, I don’t see potential for much on the horizon (I’ve already pondered whether people will come to see The End Of The Tour, which has grown on me since it opened IFF Boston in April). Despite being difficult to watch at times, Amy is the closest thing we have right now to a “big” doc and its innovative structure (culled from home video footage and audio commentary with no talking head interviews whatsoever) is as notable as Winehouse’s predictable-but-still-astonishing career trajectory. The more traditional doc 3 ½ Minutes… is just as hard to watch: its account of a black Florida teen murdered for playing music too loud in a gas station parking lot won’t receive a fraction of Amy’s audience, but its coverage of racial profiling and “stand your ground” laws is just as probing as Amy’s observation of strength necessary for celebrity, and obviously more relevant.

Infinitely Polar Bear, finally in general release after premiering at Sundance in 2014, is more typical a summer indie: pleasant if slight alternative programming against the seasonal blockbusters with a big-name in the lead. Mark Ruffalo probably doesn’t stand a chance of an Oscar nod, but he pulls off portraying a bipolar Boston Brahmin-turned hippie dad with the same ease as he did his Foxcatcher wrestler, which did secure him one. As for this summer’s other buzzed-about indie doc The Wolfpack, I’ll give it this—it has a unique, entertaining story for sure, but one I didn’t wholly buy. So clumsily told that I was left distracted by the seething gaps in its narrative, this was more a turn-off than any speculation of staged scenes or misleading information.

After spending a long time on a short list of classics I really should’ve seen by now, I finally made it to Wild Strawberries, and it confirmed how overrated I find what I’ve seen of Bergman’s pre-Persona oeuvre (though naturally, it looked superb on the Brattle’s big screen). As for the re-watches, apart from The Birds (a thrill to view outdoors on the Greenway), I hadn’t seen any of them in over a decade. I doubt Vertigo’s appeal will ever diminish for me; California Split isn’t quite up there with The Long Goodbye re: 70s Altman California sleaze, although it gives an exceptionally vivid idea of how people and places really looked at the time, and Gould/Segal remains so rich a pairing I wish they’d done more together. As for Speed, its neat premise is undercut by what would become an unfortunate trend in Hollywood action flicks—to find a natural resolution, then introduce an outlandish twist that extends things for another half-hour because bigger is better, right? Didn’t Hitchcock arguably master that ploy (and seem comparatively subtle about it) way back in Vertigo?