In Slate’s annual Movie Club, film critic Dana Stevens emails fellow critics – this year, Bilge Ebiri, Karen Han and Alison Willmore – about the year at the movies.
Dear Bilge, Karen and Alison,
As the second decade of the first century of the new millennium draws to a close – how’s that for a grand opening? – the season of lists, prices and radical declarations of meaning is upon us. But thankfully, so is Movie Club, a place to share ideas both big and small (not to mention jokes, memes, crackpot theories and poems) about the current state and future horizons of the medium that we call cinema, which is… what else, now?
This question became freshly relevant, or at least annoyingly ubiquitous, this fall due to the extremely stupid brouhaha of Scorsese vs Superheroes. For weeks (if you were on Film Twitter, they felt like years), the cinematic legend was berated by fanboys (and fanboy directors!) for correctly noting in an interview that Marvel movies are products first and foremost. Scorsese and James Gunn have two very different jobs, as evidenced by The Irishman, a three-and-a-half-hour masterpiece that was itself the year’s best argument for indoor viewership value.
Even though most viewers digest the film at home on Netflix by manageable chunks, it’s still clearly meant to be projected onto a screen and seen with others. My most memorable screening of this year – I suspect Alison and Karen were both there, and I sat next to Bilge – was the New York Film Festival premiere of The Irishman, where a few hundred people lined up at 8 a.m. to sit, laugh, marvel, and hang out discussing the same movie. It was our Avengers: Endgame. And it’s because of movies like The Irishman as much as the blockbusters that cinema remains at least partly a public act, even if this aspect of the medium is perpetually threatened and in need of protection, the white rhinoceros of the cinematic experience.
I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the gasps and laughter in the theater like Parasite makes its winding way into all of our brains for the first time. And the pure and shared duration of long and sometimes exhausting films like The Irishman or Terrence Malick A hidden life—a film I know Bilge love, and which I hope he will write more about this week – is some of what I have left of it: both are films about the passage of time that require endurance and patience on the part of the public. But what about the new modes of viewing and sharing made possible by streaming and social networks? Is watching a movie on your laptop with an open window for an ongoing social media commentary degrading the viewing experience or opening up new possibilities within it? East manufacturing Marriage story memes just another way to hear those theatrical gasps and laughs, only on Twitter?
A general statement that I feel safe in is that it’s been a good year for big comebacks and big comebacks, even for filmmakers who were already doing well: Once upon a time… in Hollywood, Marriage Story, and The Irishman are just three of the most high-profile examples of long-established directors taking big swings on big pitches and connecting, both with material and with more audiences and critics than they’ve had in a while. time. It was also a year in which women making big Hollywood outings started to seem normal: there was Olivia Wilde with Library, Lulu Wang with The farewell, Lorene Scafaria with Hustlers, Greta Gerwig with Little woman (and that’s not counting the co-directors of major franchise films: Anna Boden with Captain Marvel and Jennifer Lee with Frozen 2).
In fact, in a year when the body politic and the planet were barely limping, the cinematic landscape felt oddly…healthy? Despite all the complaints from Martin Scorsese and others about the dominance of corporate franchises, it was even a relatively strong year for original stories, with films like We, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Hustlers, and Rocketman box office cleanup.
On that note of unexpected optimism, I’m calling Movie Club 2019 not in the spirit of Jimmy Hoffa calling Tony Pro to a meeting at The Irishman– you can wear shorts, and even be 10 minutes late, without me going crazy – but with the expansive curiosity of Benoit Blanc, the brilliant detective Daniel Craig starred in Knives out. I want to know your background, your motivations and your alibis; the secret joys the movies have brought you this year, and the moments of falsehood that made you want to vomit like Ana de Armas’ lie-allergic heroine in this movie.
Bilge, I will first address a request to you: that you plead, for me and for the readers, the film n° 1 on your top 10 list, by Gaspar Noé Climax. I admit that I haven’t seen any Noé film since 2002 Irreversible, the story of a rape told in reverse chronological order, which struck me as so brutal, nihilistic and homophobic in its content that I couldn’t appreciate anything in its form worth reading. be noticed. Ever since that movie, I’ve thought of Noah, perhaps unfairly, as a show-off edgelord with a sadistic streak. But 17 years is a long time to hold a grudge, and your description of Noah’s “techno-musical” short story as “a hellish landscape you can indulge in” piqued my curiosity – what more could you ask for, at this hellish time. of history, than a film that makes the viewer want to dance? Please tell me not only why I should give Noah another chance on this one, but if there are any filmmakers you’ve also sworn at, not as a conscious act of ‘cancellation’ , but simply because you couldn’t stand what they were handing out.
In the interest of getting our conversation started, I’ll also link to my top 10 of 2019 and list the titles here, and ask you all to do the same in your first posts.
Once upon a time… in Hollywood
Portrait of a lady on fire
Varda by Agnes
Thank you very much for being part of the Movie Club this year; you are three of my favorite critics, and I can’t wait to see what rabbit holes you get me down.
Read the next dispatch here.