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The 300 Week 40: THIS IS GAGA!

The 300 Week 40: THIS IS GAGA!

One of the best movies of the decade and the biggest projection screw-up of The 300

Why howdy, partner, and welcome back to The 300, a rootin’ tootin’ feature on my wild attempt to watch 300 movies in theaters in the year 2018. I’ll be watching new releases, classics, hidden gems, and festival films to experience the wide world of cinema in all its forms. With so much variety, I hope there’s something here for you to enjoy.

As always, there are three rules for The 300:

  • The movie must be at least 40 minutes long, meeting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ definition of a feature film.
  • I must watch the movie at a movie theater, screening room, or outdoor screening venue.
  • While I can watch movies I’ve seen before 2018, I cannot count repeated viewings of the same film in 2018 multiple times.

Another solid week of moviegoing, with two high-profile New York Film Festival movies, a major projection mistake, and the big Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga movie that I am a total humbug about. NYFF 56 is ending this weekend, so next week’s installment of the series will feature the final reviews from the fest.

While NYFF draws to a close, my attention turns to the 2018 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, which runs from October 11 to October 18. I will be catching a few films at BHFF 2018, and the first reviews will be up next week.

As of this writing, I have 34 movies left to go.

And so, onward.

261 of 300: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Liam Neeson
Country: USA
Seen at Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York, NY)
2018 New York Film Festival (NYFF 56)
Thursday, October 4th

“Gripes aside, I still enjoy the odd varmint that is Buster Scruggs for what it is. It works as a Netflix release, which is an odd thing to say about a Coen brothers movie. You can play at your leisure as you stream, and like an album, you can skip to the parts you like most.”

Read the full NYFF review of Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

262 of 300: Roma (2018)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira
Country: Mexico/USA
Seen at Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York, NY)
2018 New York Film Festival (NYFF 56)
Friday, October 5th

Roma is one of the most breathtaking movies I’ve seen in 2018. (And I’ve seen plenty.) Alfonso Cuaron has made another masterpiece. Not only is Roma my favorite movie of the year, it will likely be ranked as one of the best movies of the decade.”

Read the full NYFF review of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma

263 of 300: A Star Is Born (2018)

Director: Bradley Cooper
Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott
Country: USA
Seen at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 (New York, NY)
Saturday, October 6th

The latest version of A Star Is Born is a tale of better halfs in more ways than one. The first half of A Star Is Born is a charming (but painfully old-fashioned) meet-cute that turns into a fairy-tale ascent to pop stardom. The second half of A Star Is Born is full of antiquated ideas about artistic integrity that reek of paternalistic bulls**t. Sure, the performances were admirable, but I’m surprised by the initial raves the film received. Something about the movie felt like an uneven misfire. This all has to do with the story itself and what it’s saying.

Lady Gaga plays Ally, a talented nobody who rockets into the music industry when she’s discovered by Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), a self-destructive country-rock star. Jackson is a total anachronism. While set in the present day, Jackson is a throwback to the singer-songwriters of the 1970s, almost like Graham Parsons or Kris Kristofferson, the latter of whom starred in the 1976 version of A Star Is Born. He plays bland, sub-Mellencamp tunes, and has a few sloppy guitar solos thrown in among the boring Americana. He’s supposed to be on the skids as an artist, but Jackson is recognized on the street, and he can still pack outdoor arenas and afford private jets and fancy tour buses. He gives Ally everything, and then gets resentful.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the script were more about Ally, yet Ally’s rise is always secondary to Jackson’s descent into addiction and despair. She’s anchored to him and overshadowed by him at every step, even at the end of the film. We don’t get to know Ally beyond a few vague details. She has no life outside of Jackson. Worse, we barely get Ally’s opinions about music, which makes the second half such a one-sided discussion about the lives of artists. Ally sells out thanks to her manager, whose name was probably Snooty British NoSocks. Jackson, drunk but wise, keeps telling her to be authentic, to avoid covering up who she really is. Only the bland country-rock she writes alongside Jackson is given the heartfelt weight of authenticity in this film. Her pop tunes and her star persona are treated like affronts to integrity. Nevermind that real-life Lady Gaga has embraced artifice and popstar shapeshifting as her own form of personal artistic expression.

Because of all of this, I found the love story at the center of A Star Is Born more toxic than tragic. Here’s a man who can’t deal with the success of a woman he helped or the fact she now gets to do her own thing, so he tries to mold her in his image and remind her that everything she’s earned is only because of him. This is an abusive, manipulative relationship, yet for some reason it’s framed like true love. How inauthentic.

264 of 300: Trouble Every Day (2001)

Director: Claire Denis
Starring: Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vessey, Béatrice Dalle, Alex Descas
Country: France/Germany/Japan
Seen at Roxy Cinema Tribeca (New York, NY)
Saturday, October 6th

While underwhelmed by Claire Denis’ sci-fi film High Life (The 300 Week 39), I was eager to try out her pseudo-vampire movie Trouble Every Day. Vincent Gallo is a man honeymooning in Paris as his bloodlust grows, while Béatrice Dalle is a wandering killer who thirsts for men’s blood. They’re never called vampires in the film. They seem more like bizarre cannibals, or maybe they suffer from a Jekyll/Hyde disorder when aroused. Nothing is ever really stated outright, and a majority of the movie is just boring and meandering. We watch Gallo clunk around Paris looking for a doctor who maybe caused his affliction, while Dalle spends time confined in her room to keep others safe.

After seeing the movie and assuming it was a statement on the violence of male sexuality, I learned that the print I saw had a major problem. Discussing the movie with a friend online and then reading the synopsis, it appears that the most notorious scene from the movie was completely missing from the film. In fact, an entire reel of the movie may have been misplaced. During this scene, Dalle gorily seduces and kills two men who have broken into her home. The print I saw only had the aftermath of the moment, with a bloody Dalle wandering downstairs just as Gallo, defying the laws of time and space, suddenly jumps the fence outside the manor. The movie was so arch about everything that I assumed the omission of Dalle’s on-screen violence was intentional and artful.

I guess technically I did not see all of Trouble Every Day, but I’ll count it since this is another unfortunate fluke of going to the movies. Sometimes the theater or the projectionist messes up. I plan to check out the scene I missed online (which apparently caused mass walkouts at the Cannes Film Festival), but I will never watch this opaque movie again.

265 of 300: Shirkers (2018)

Director: Sandi Tan
Country: USA
Seen at Dolby Screening Room (New York, NY)
Monday, October 8th

It took me a little while to get into the headspace of Shirkers, but as the movie unfolded, it clicked and became quite moving. The film is impishly fragmented, like a creative memoir in the style of a DIY fanzine. There’s a collage aesthetic at play, with images and inside jokes gathering context over the course of the film. It’s a movie that requires a little patience, or maybe just an appreciation for what it’s like to grow up an artsy weirdo in a socially conservative place.

Shirkers is really about two Shirkers. Shirkers is the name of a movie that Sandi Tan made as a teenager in 1992 with two of her friends (also teenage girl film nerds). It was an experimental road movie about a teenage serial killer, which is the right sort of movie to make as a teen obsessed with Heathers and Jim Jarmusch. The trio was helped by a mysterious older man named Georges Cardona. The documentary Shirkers is a retrospective making-of and unmaking-of the teenage movie Shirkers. The doc is also a love letter to Tan’s two long-time friends who have created their own spaces in the film world as adults. Maybe the style is so fragmentary because the movie at the center of this documentary represents so many different things to Tan as an adult.

I don’t really want to say more since Shirkers goes in such strange and unexpected directions. It’s an enigmatic film that unravels a decades-old personal mystery and winds up celebrating creativity and the punk-rock teenage spirit of youth. Shirkers also provides incredible looks at lost places of Singapore’s past, which lends the film a nostalgic yet wistful feel. It really is a haunting and idiosyncratic film. I want to give this another watch when it comes to Netflix on October 26.

266 of 300: The Guilty (2018)
(aka Den skyldige)

Director: Gustav Möller
Starring: Jakob Cedergren
Country: Denmark
Seen at Dolby Screening Room (New York, NY)
Tuesday, October 9th

The Guilty is a creatively constrained thriller set entirely in a Danish police call center. We watch as Asger (Jakob Cedergren) takes a call about a kidnapping and becomes increasingly obsessed with rescuing the woman on the other end of the phone. What follows is a tense and inventive ticking-clock scenario, like a movie about a cop going rogue, except it’s just a guy at a desk who is also grappling with a major life event the next day.

I could see The Guilty playing in a double-feature with Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching (The 300 Week 36). While Searching is more visually inventive in the ways it plays with desktops, windows, and menus, The Guilty uses its two-room set-up to great effect. Director Gustav Möller wrings every ounce of tension possible from his extreme close-ups, changes in lighting, and pauses in action. The cleverness of execution reminds me of the best episodes from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the acclaimed anthology series that ran for a decade during the 1950s and 1960s.

The Guilty’s sound design is especially effective. Since our point of view is restricted to Asger at the call center, all the information we receive from the outside world is aural. The voice performances and the environmental effects during each call (rain, wind, the rumble of an engine) create an atmospheric theater of the mind. Like Asger, we are co-creating the unseen horror of the world in our heads, making the details that much more gruesome.

The 300: By the Numbers Breakdown

At the 40-week mark, let’s take a look at some numbers as we enter the final 12 weeks of this foolish idea. You can compare the progress made to the breakdowns from The 300 Week 30, The 300 Week 20, and The 300 Week 10.

Movies by Decade

2010s – 152
2000s – 15
1990s – 14
1980s – 23
1970s – 27
1960s – 13
1950s – 6
1940s – 5
1930s – 6
1920s – 5

Movies by Country

USA – 134
US co-productions – 3
Argentina – 2
Argentine co-productions – 4
Australia – 3
Australian co-productions – 1
Belarus – 1
Belgian co-productions – 3
Canada – 1
Chile – 1
Chilean co-productions – 1
China – 5
Chinese co-productions – 3
Denmark – 2
France – 12
French co-productions – 3
Georgian co-productions – 1
Germany – 3
German co-productions – 2
Hong Kong – 6
Hungary – 1
Indonesia – 1
Iran – 3
Iranian co-productions – 1
Israeli co-productions – 1
Italy – 1
Italian co-productions – 4
Jamaica – 1
Japan – 16
Japanese co-productions – 1
Mali – 1
Mexican co-productions – 1
Netherlands – 2
Philippines – 2
Polish co-productions – 2
Russia – 2
South Korea – 4
Spain – 1
Sweden – 1
Taiwan – 1
Taiwanese co-productions – 1
Thailand – 1
UK – 9
UK co-productions – 13
Yugoslavian co-productions – 1

Multiple Films by the Same Director(s)

Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio (The Salt Mines; The Transformation)
Chantal Akerman (Dis-Moi; Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles)
Robert Altman (Nashville; Brewster McCloud; McCabe & Mrs. Miller)
Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox; Isle of Dogs)
Chang Cheh (Five Deadly Venoms; Shaolin Temple)
Dorothy Davenport (The Red Kimona; Linda)
Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In; White Material; High Life; Trouble Every Day)
Terence Fisher (The Revenge of Frankenstein; The Devil Rides Out)
Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman; Disobedience)
Lucrecia Martel (The Holy Girl; The Headless Woman; La CienagaZama)
Hayao Miyazaki (PonyoNausicaä of the Valley of the Wind)
F.W. Murnau (Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans; Faust)
Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?; They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead)
Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon; 3 Faces)
Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin; Ratcatcher; Morvern Callar; You Were Never Really Here)
Hong Sang-soo (Hotel by the River; Grass)
Paul Schrader (First Reformed; Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters)
Steven Spielberg (The Post; Ready Player One; E.T.: The Extraterrestrial)
Jean Vigo (L’Atalante; Zero for Conduct)
Masaaki Yuasa (Lu Over the Wall; Mind Game; The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl)

I still hope to see at least one more Altman movie on the big screen before the year is up.

Films by Women Directors

So in addition to The 300, I’m also doing 52 Films By Women, in which I try to see 52 feature films in theaters that were directed or co-directed by women.

Currently I have seen 65 films by women this year.

Daughters of the Dust (1991), dir. Julie Dash
Loving Vincent (2017), dir. Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
Soft Fiction (1979), dir. Chick Strand
Dis-moi (1980), dir. Chantal Akerman
The Ties That Bind (1985), dir. Su Friedrich
The Salt Mines (1990), dir. Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio
The Transformation (1995), dir. Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio
Strange Days (1995), dir. Kathryn Bigelow
The Party (2017), dir. Sally Potter
Oh Lucy! (2017), dir. Atsuko Hirayanagi
Scary Mother (2017), dir. Ana Urushadze
Ava (2017), dir. Sadaf Foroughi
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), dir. Lynne Ramsay
Ratcatcher (1999), dir. Lynne Ramsay
Morvern Callar (2002), dir. Lynne Ramsay
You Were Never Really Here (2017), dir. Lynne Ramsay
The Holy Girl (2004), dir. Lucrecia Martel
The Headless Woman (2008), dir. Lucrecia Martel
La Cienaga (2001), dir. Lucrecia Martel
Zama (2017), dir. Lucrecia Martel
Love, Gilda (2018), dir. Lisa D’Apolito
Nico, 1988 (2017), dir. Susanna Nicchiarelli
Island of the Hungry Ghosts (2018), dir. Gabrielle Brady
Cargo (2017), dir. Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke
O.G. (2018), dir. Madeleine Sackler
State Like Sleep (2018), dir. Meredith Danluck
All About Nina (2018), dir. Eva Vives
General Magic (2018), dir. Matt Maude and Sarah Kerruish
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018), dir. Desiree Akhavan
Roll Red Roll (2018), dir. Nancy Schwartzman
Time for Ilhan (2018), dir. Norah Shapiro
The Feeling of Being Watched (2018), dir. Assia Boundaoui
Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland (2018), dir. Kate Davis and David Heilbroner
Blockers (2018), dir. Kay Cannon
Angels Wear White (2017), dir. Vivian Qu
Let the Sunshine In (2017), dir. Claire Denis
Sleepless Nights (1978), dir. Becky Johnston
RBG (2018), dir. Betsy West and Julie Cohen
One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977), dir. Agnès Varda
Summer 1993 (2017), dir. Carla Simón
Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), dir. Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017), dir. Mouly Surya
Leave No Trace (2018), dir. Debra Granik
Smithereens (1982), dir. Susan Seidelman
On Happiness Road (2017), dir. Sung Hsin-Yin
White Material (2009), dir. Claire Denis
The Red Kimona (1925), dir. Walter Lang and Dorothy Davenport
Linda (1929), dir. Dorothy Davenport
Wanda (1970), dir. Barbara Loden
Tremble All You Want (2017), dir. Akiko Ohku
Cameraperson (2016), dir. Kirsten Johnson
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), dir. Chantal Akerman
The Wonders (2014), dir. Alice Rohrwacher
Madeline’s Madeline (2018), dir. Josephine Decker
Skate Kitchen (2018), dir. Crystal Moselle
The Hows of Us (2018), dir. Cathy Garcia-Molina
I Am Not a Witch (2017), dir. Rungano Nyoni
Kusama: Infinity (2018), dir. Heather Lenz
Too Late to Die Young (2018), dir. Dominga Sotomayor Castillo
Variety (1983), dir. Bette Gordon
Happy as Lazzaro (2018), dir. Alice Rohrwacher
Private Life (2018), dir. Tamara Jenkins
High Life (2018), dir. Claire Denis
Trouble Every Day (2001), dir. Claire Denis
Shirkers (2018), dir. Sandi Tan

Top 5 Theaters for The 300

Metrograph – 47
Quad Cinema – 24
BAM Rose Cinemas – 24
The Film Society of Lincoln Center – 20 (plus another 19 movies seen during 2018 New York Film Festival press screenings)
IFC Center – 13

* Cinépolis Chelsea – 26 (25 of these films were seen during 2018 Tribeca Film Festival press screenings)

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