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Updated: 2017-12-14T01:24:00-06:00


30 Minutes on: "As Good As it Gets"


"As Good As it Gets" was on cable TV tonight and I watched it all the way through while doing other things. I think that's how it was meant to be watched, like really good but not particularly ambitious television. It's about a millionaire writer with obsessive-compulsive disorder (Jack Nicholson) who falls for a coffee shop waitress (Helen Hunt) whose cute son has asthma and somehow ends up taking care of an adorable little dog that belongs to a gay painter (Greg Kinnear) after the painter gets savagely beaten. I remember being pretty tough on the film when it came out—I was in my late 20s and had only lived in New York for two years after emigrating from Texas, so maybe I was trying to seem more hardbitten and urban—but the first thought that came into my head during tonight's re-watch was, "I can't believe there was a time when a movie like this could make $314 million in North America." Written and directed by James L. Brooks ("Terms of Endearment," "Broadcast News," "Spanglish"), the movie is comprised mainly of scenes where people talk to each other. None of these characters are particularly striking individuals (except for Nicholson's Melvin Udall, who makes a vivid impression mainly because he's such a cranky a-hole at every waking moment), and while they all have their personal crosses to bear, none of them has a problem that you would call extraordinary. They live in something vaguely like reality (though the apartments are way bigger than people at these income levels could afford, except for Melvin—but when is that not true of New York movies?). Features like this don't find their way into theaters very often anymore unless they're funded by Netflix or Amazon and the theatrical release is a formality and a transparent bid at Oscar recognition, or if they're in French with English subtitles and play on four screens in three cities. Or if they're a television show. And increasingly, that's what stories like this have to be if they want to find funding and an audience: television shows. Somewhere during the last twenty years, the motion picture distributors and exhibitors successfully trained audiences not to want to leave their homes unless they're seeing a "Star Wars" or superhero movie, a film where giant robots or giant monsters wreck things, one one of those little horror movies or comedies (like "Don't Breathe" or "Get Out" or "Girls Trip") that somehow manages to connect with the zeitgeist anyway and make a bazillion dollars. I love television and write about it all the time, but I still think it's a shame that, by and large, people won't leave their homes for films like this anymore unless there's a wild-card genre element stirred into the mix. But if you have a really nice TV and don't want to pay for parking and/or a babysitter, I get it, believe me. "As Good as It Gets" is very likable despite being too long and misshapen. I know it's a standard knock on writer-director James L. Brooks to say that he makes excellent sitcoms for the big screen, but this one really does feel like five sitcom episodes smooshed together; each discrete section of the story runs about 30 minutes, and there's even a very special "road trip" episode that sends the three main characters to Baltimore when they barely know each other. There are epiphanies and revelations and moments where people come to terms with their demons, or think about doing so. Melvin and Carol are easily twenty years apart in age (during shooting, Hunt was 34, Nicholson 60) and physically she's way more attractive than he is. You believe that they might eventually end up together because Melvin is played by Jack Nicholson and the character is loaded and she desperately needs medical care for her son. And also because he abases himself near the end in a way that is rather appealing, though calculated and very much written. Sorry to be cynical about it, but there's not much going on at the chemistry and character levels between these two: you know why he likes her, but it's hard to say why she likes him when all he [...]

"Get Out" Named Best Film of 2017 by AAFCA


Jordan Peele's “Get Out” was named the Best Film of 2017 by the African American Film Critics Association ("AAFCA"). The satirical thriller-turned-phenomenon will take home five prizes including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Daniel Kaluuya) and Best Breakout Star (Lakeith Stanfield, honored for both “Get Out” and Best Independent Film winner “Crown Heights”). Dee Rees' Netflix-distributed epic, “Mudbound,” won the Best New Media prize, while Kathryn Bigelow's “Detroit” earned the Best Ensemble Award. In addition to the AAFCA awards ceremony scheduled for Wednesday, February 7th, at the Taglyan Complex in Hollywood, a Special Achievement luncheon will be held Saturday, February 3rd, in Marina del Rey, California. Honorees at the luncheon include Los Angeles Film Festival president Claudia Puig, this year's recipient of the Roger Ebert Award. Puig is a film critic for NPR's Film Week and The Wrap, and is also program director for the Mendocino Film Festival. For 18 years, she served as USA Today's chief film critic, and hosted the newspaper's video series, "The Screening Room." "Claudia embodies the hard-working integrity that personified Roger's work as a film critic," said AAFCA president Gil Robertson. "She uses her talents wisely and responsibly mirroring the legacy he left."  Joining Puig at the luncheon will be fellow honorees Jordan Peele; Channing Dungey, the first African-American President of ABC Entertainment Group; and Alcon Entertainment’s co-CEOs Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove. Here is the full list of winners... Best picture: “Get Out” Best director: Jordan Peele, “Get Out” Best actor: Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out” Best actress: Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” Best supporting actor: Laurence Fishburne, “Last Flag Flying” Best supporting actress: Tiffany Haddish, “Girls Trip” Best comedy: “Girls Trip” Best ensemble: “Detroit” Best independent film: “Crown Heights” Best animated film: “Coco” Best documentary: “Step” Best foreign film: “The Wound” Best screenplay: “Get Out” Best song: “It Ain’t Fair” from “Detroit,” The Roots ft. Bilal  Best new media: “Mudbound”  Best TV series (comedy): “black-ish” Best TV series (drama): “Queen Sugar” Breakout star: Lakeith Stanfield, “Crown Heights,” “Get Out”      AAFCA top 10 films of 2017 “Get Out”“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”“Coco”“Girls Trip”“Detroit”“Call Me by Your Name”“The Shape of Water”“Gook”“Crown Heights”“Marshall AAFCA top 10 TV shows of 2017 “Queen Sugar”“Underground”“Insecure”“Master of None”“black-ish”“The Handmaid’s Tale”“Dear White People”“She’s Gotta Have It”“The Defiant Ones”TIE: “Guerilla” and “Snowfall” [...]

"Step" to Inspire Young Filmmakers at DePaul on December 16th



One of the year's most acclaimed documentaries, Amanda Lipitz's "Step," will screen on Saturday, December 16th, at DePaul University's CDM Theatre in Chicago. The free screening will be co-hosted by the university and the Chicago Housing Authority ("CHA") in conjunction with publisher Chaz Ebert,  and entertainment attorney Brenda Robinson. Lipitz's film is sure to engage viewers of all ages with its uplifting portrait of a girls' step team striving to succeed at a Baltimore high school. Their pursuit of college, and a step championship, is one worth cheering for, and the dance scenes are thrilling to behold. 

"It really means so much to me that DePaul University's School of Cinematic Arts Program and the Chicago Housing Authority cared enough to oversee this event for the young ladies and their families to enjoy," said Ebert. "I also hope that the emerging filmmakers in the group are as inspired by 'Step' as I was when I took a film course at a community center when I was living in CHA public housing many years ago. Before then, I didn't differentiate between the director or screenwriter or cinematographer. Afterwards I looked at films in a new light. I hope this event can be a catalyst for some future filmmaker or future businesswoman sitting in our audience Saturday."

Among the guests of honor will be the graduates from the DePaul & CHA Documentary Film Camp, a five-week summer intensive where high school girls collaborate with award-winning filmmakers to produce four films on relevant social topics. Also in attendance are members of ICMC’s Global Girls, a remarkable film residency program for young women in shelters and detention centers. Over the course of fourteen weeks, the participants watch and discuss eighty films with an emphasis on diversity, create their own film, and go on to curate their own international film festival.

Doors open at 1:30pm for the screening, which begins at 2pm with a Q&A to follow. Complimentary drinks, popcorn, and cookies will be provided.

Click here to read Chaz Ebert's report on the CHA Program in Documentary Filmmaking. 

Registration for the event is closed. 

The Ten Best Films of 2017


As the world grew more divisive in everyday life than it has in generations, people went to the movies in 2017 to escape, and found different ways to do so throughout the year. From all types of filmmaking, there were stories worth celebrating. The arthouse circuit delivered the kind of movies that set social media buzzing while even the blockbuster films of 2017 felt smarter and more accomplished, from “Wonder Woman” to “Dunkirk” to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” There was a sense this year that film’s power to unite different types of people was more essential and more accomplished than usual, helped in part by two debut films from clearly prodigious talents, or maybe it was just a greater need to believe that's true. Our joint top ten list reflects the range of filmmaking of 2017, including both unforgettable debuts and the works of masters like Paul Thomas Anderson and Terence Davies. It’s reflective of the unpredictable array of voices in film and at this site, and a beautiful snapshot of the year in cinema.   About the rankings: We asked our ten regular film critics and two assistant editors to submit top ten lists from this great year, and then consolidated them with a traditional points system—10 points for #1, 9 points for #2, etc.—resulting in the list below, with a new entry for each awarded film. We’ll publish all of our individual lists, along with many more by our regular contributors and some with detailed entries, tomorrow. 10. “A Ghost Story” David Lowery's supernatural drama, if that's indeed the best thing to call it, feels like something that was dreamt up and then hastily written down moments after awakening before the details faded. A man (Casey Affleck) dies suddenly, leaving his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) bereft; he lingers in the house in non-corporeal form, observing her grief but incapable of consoling her. This is more or less the starting point of Jerry Zucker's "Ghost," but "A Ghost Story" immediately goes in its own strange direction by visualizing the hero not as a transparent person or one surrounded by shimmering animated effects, but as a guy in a plain bedsheet with little eyeholes cut out, like a trick-or-treating child. It's an inherently comical image, but the movie plays it straight, and somehow this one-joke premise doesn't feel like a joke, or even as especially funny. The obstruction standing between us and the hero's face has a Kabuki-like effect, reducing him to a series of gestures plus whatever props and setting happen to be around. We quickly learn that not only do ghosts perceive time differently than we do—as in, barely at all: a day to us might feel like a second to one of them—they seem to have unfettered access to time. And they can communicate with other ghosts seemingly through telepathy (though their conversations are indicated in subtitles). It sounds like I'm making up every single detail of this exceptionally odd film, and that's a big part of what makes it so special: the sense that one of the oldest stories in the world has been stripped down to its essence and imagined all over again. The peculiar script combines with Lowery's earnest deadpan direction, thoughtful framing, and aggressively unnerving use of sound and music to create the very inexpensive indie-movie equivalent of a visionary spectacle. The result belongs on a short list, along with "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Koyaanisqatsi," of movies that change the way you see everything. (Matt Zoller Seitz) 9. “A Quiet Passion” "A Quiet Passion," British filmmaker Terence Davies' intimate, masterfully stylized biography of the life and career of poet Emily Dickinson, is exhilarating, in part, because it is hyper-stylized. The film is nothing if not mannered, from its declamatory dialogue to its atmospheric cinematography. True, Davies also selectively uses natural lighting, and long takes in order to give us the impression that we[...]

A New Frontier: Bill Pullman and Jared Moshe on "The Ballad of Lefty Brown"


The opening scenes of “The Ballad of Lefty Brown” will no doubt seem familiar and comfortable to any viewer with even the slightest working knowledge of the Western film genre. In them, we see legendary lawman Eddie Johnson (Peter Fonda) dispensing his own brand of justice to yet another outlaw. With him is Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman), his longtime friend and sidekick, and while the 65-year-old Lefty isn’t much good at most things, Eddie is nevertheless loyal to him, even going so far as to considering leaving his ranch in Lefty’s care while he goes off to Washington to serve as the newly elected Senator from the state on Montana. This is a decision that Eddie’s wife (Kathy Baker) does not approve of at all, fearing that Lefty, good-natured as he may be, is not cut out for such a responsibility and will run the entire thing into the ground. Like I said, you have seen this kind of setup before in any number of Westerns populated with larger-than-life heroic types like John Wayne and cantankerous goofballs like Walter Brennan or Gabby Hayes alongside him—but all of that ends just a few minutes into the movie when putative hero Eddie is shot dead and Lefty determines that he will assume the heroic role and bring his friend’s killer to justice, no matter how ill-equipped he may be for that duty. Written and directed by Jared Moshe, who also helmed the 2012 Western “Dead Man’s Burden,” “The Ballad of Lefty Brown” is a solidly entertaining film that starts off as a sort of intriguing commentary on the beloved genre tropes (what would happen, after all, if Gabby Hayes was forced to take center stage instead of remaining in the margins throughout?). As Lefty gradually transforms from sidekick to hero, the movie transforms itself into a straightforward example of the Western genre that hasn’t been seen in a while—exciting, funny, sincere, and beautifully filmed in the great outdoors of Montana on 35mm. Moshe's film is also filled with nifty performances from a supporting cast that also includes Jim Caviezel and Tommy Flanagan as former colleagues of Lefty who want to track him down before he gets into too much trouble and Diego Josef as the young man who eventually steps into the role of Lefty’s own sidekick. Best of all, however, is Bill Pullman, whose performance as Lefty is right up there alongside his work in the cult favorite “Zero Effect” as one of the very best of his entire career. He may be a goof but you can instantly understand what a man like Eddie would see in him and when Lefty is forced by circumstances to finally grow up and assert himself, his transformation is both endearing and absolutely convincing.  While visiting Chicago in order to present “The Ballad of Lefty Brown,” at the Chicago International Film Festival, Pullman and Moshe sat down with me to talk about the film, playing with genre conventions and the elements that go into making a great Western sidekick. I have noticed that for the most part, Western movies tend to fall under one of two particular approaches. For a long time, you had the classic take in which the stories were told in a straightforward and direct manner—something like “Stagecoach,” for example. In recent years, on the other hand, you have had Westerns that are oftentimes films that are about Westerns and are as much about genre commentary as they are with telling a story—things like the various Westerns by Leone and Peckinpah or “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” or the recent excursions by Quentin Tarantino. One of the fascinating things about “The Ballad of Lefty Brown” is that it manages to embrace both of those approaches. At first, it seems like an example of a revisionist take with the whole conceit of taking the standard grizzled and oftentimes wacky sidekick to the hero and putting him front and center due to unforeseen circumstances. As the movie progresses, however, and Lefty fin[...]

Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name Win Big For the Chicago Film Critics Association


"Lady Bird," Greta Gerwig’s delightful semi-autobiographical look at the relationship between an equally headstrong mother and daughter set over the course of the latter’s senior year in high school, was named the winner of the Chicago Film Critics Association’s award for the Best Picture of 2017 in a ceremony held tonight. The film, which went into the ceremony with six nominations, was the big winner of the evening with four awards in total, including Best Actress for Saoirse Ronan and Best Supporting Actress for Laurie Metcalf, as well as Gerwig herself for Most Promising Filmmaker. Coming in second in the award count was "Call Me By Your Name," Luca Guadagnino’s acclaimed adaptation of Andre Aciman’s novel centered on the unexpected relationship that develops between a 17-year-old and the 24-year-old grad student who comes to live with his family at their villa in Northern Italy during the summer of 1983. Acclaimed filmmaker James Ivory received the award for Adapted Screenplay and Timothée Chalamet was named both Best Actor and Most Promising Performer of 2017. The only other film to win multiple awards was Denis Villeneuve’s "Blade Runner 2049," the long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic, which won two prizes: Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. Christopher Nolan was named Best Director for his WWII epic "Dunkirk," Willem Dafoe was named Best Supporting Actor for his turn as a harried motel manager in "The Florida Project," Jordan Peele won the Original Screenplay prize for his audacious horror-social satire hybrid "Get Out," Best Original Score went to Johnny Greenwood for his music for "Phantom Thread," and Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss won Best Editing for their work on the kinetic action thriller "Baby Driver." "The Square," Ruben Östlund’s outrageous satire centered on the world of modern art, was named Best Foreign Film; Pixar’s "Coco" won the prize for Animated Feature; and "Jane," Brett Morgen’s film focusing on the life and work of primatology scientist Jane Goodall, won the Best Documentary award. THE 2017 CHICAGO FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION AWARDS BEST PICTURE: Lady Bird BEST DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk BEST ACTOR: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name BEST ACTRESS: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Jordan Peele, Get Out BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: The Square BEST DOCUMENTARY: Jane BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Coco BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049 BEST EDITING: Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, Baby Driver BEST ART DIRECTION: Blade Runner 2049 BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Johnny Greenwood, Phantom Thread  MOST PROMISING PERFORMER: Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name MOST PROMISING FILMMAKER: Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird BY THE NUMBERS 4 Awards—Lady Bird 3 Awards—Call Me By Your Name 2 Awards—Blade Runner 2049 1 Award—Baby Driver, Coco, Dunkirk, The Florida Project, Get Out, Jane, Phantom Thread, The Square [...]

Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Writer/director Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a sprawling, incident- and character-packed extravaganza that picks up at the end of “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens” and guides the series into unfamiliar territory. It’s everything a fan could want from a “Star Wars” film and then some. Even the sorts of viewers who spend the entire running time of movies anticipating every plot twist and crowing “called it!” when they get one right are likely to come up short here. But the surprises usually don’t violate the (admittedly loose) internal logic of the universe George Lucas invented, and when they seem to, it’s because the movie has expanded the mythology in a small but significant way, or imported a sliver of something from another variant of Lucas’ creation (Genddy Tartakovsky’s magnificent TV series “Clone Wars” seems to have influenced the last act).   The first part of “The Last Jedi” cross-cuts between the remnants of our heroes’ ragtag fleet (led by the late Carrie Fisher’s Leia) running away from the First Order, aka the next-generation version of the Empire; and Rey (Daisy Ridley) on the aquatic planet Ahch-To (gesundheit!) trying to convince the self-exiled Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, whose sandblasted face becomes truly iconic in close-ups) to overcome his grief at failing a group of young Jedi trainees and rejoin the Resistance. The New Order's Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis plus CGI) has grand plans for both Rey and his Darth Vader-obsessed apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The leathery old coot may not be a great bad guy—he’s too much of a standard-issue deep-voiced sadist, in a Marvel mode—but he is quite the chess player, and so is Johnson.   I’m being vague here on purpose. Suffice to say that, despite being comprised of variations on things we’ve been experiencing directly (in “Star Wars” films) and indirectly (in “Star Wars”-inspired entertainment) since 1977, “The Last Jedi” still manages to maneuver in unexpected ways, starting with the decision to build a whole film around a retreat where the goal is not to win but to avoid being wiped out. Along that narrative backbone “The Last Jedi” strings what amount to several tight, often hastily devised mini-missions, each of which either moves the heroes (or villains) closer to their goals or blows up in their faces. The story resolves in lengthy, consecutive climaxes which, refreshingly, don’t play like a cynical attempt to pad things out. Old business is resolved, new business introduced. And from scene to scene, Johnson gives veteran characters (Chewbacca and R2-D2 especially) and those who debuted in “The Force Awakens” enough screen time to showcase them at their best while also introducing compelling new faces (including a heroic maintenance worker, Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico; a serene and tough vice admiral in the Resistance, played by Laura Dern; a sort of “safecracker” character played by Benicio Del Toro).  “Jedi” does a better job than most sequels of giving the audience both what it wants and what it didn’t know it wanted. The movie leans hard into sentiment, most of it planted in the previous installment, some related to the unexpected passing of one of its leads (Fisher—thank goodness they gave her a lot of screen time here, and thrilling things to do). But whenever it allows a character to cry (or invites us to) the catharsis feels earned. It happens rather often—this being a film preoccupied with grieving for the past and transcending it, populated by hounded and broken people who are afraid hope will be snuffed out.  Rey’s anguish at not knowing who her parents are and Kylo Ren’s trauma at killing his own father to advance toward his "destiny" liter[...]

A Composer For All Seasons: On the Range of John Williams


Now that we're thick into the holiday shopping season, we know for sure that we'll soon be getting that greatest of gifts, a new score by John Williams. On December 15th, the behemoth release that is “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” opens, and with Williams' predictably great work on “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens” leaving us expecting nothing less than a masterpiece it's undoubtedly the most-anticipated soundtrack of the year. But occasionally you seem to hear people espousing the claims that this is all Williams does, that he is a one-trick pony of bombast and adventure. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. But don't be hasty, there's plenty of factual evidence to back this up from throughout Williams' career, of which there are many highlights that have nothing to do with Wookies, superheroes, or aliens. Jazz has been of a particular interest in Williams' life—he was born in 1932 to mother Esther and father Johnny Williams, a jazz musician who not only played in bands for folk like Benny Goodman but also on scores such as George Duning's “From Here To Eternity” and Leonard Bernstein's only film score, the classic "On The Waterfront."  Williams Jr. called himself "Johnny" in his earlier years, and after a stint in the USAF attended Julliard in New York City, where he freelanced as a jazz pianist before finding himself in LA playing for Henry Mancini on television show “Peter Gunn” (that famous riff everybody knows was played by Williams). Williams' early composing was often for ‘60s comedies such as “Not With My Wife, You Don't!” and “How To Steal A Million.” As his stature grew after Oscar nominations for “Valley of the Dolls” and “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” he found himself working on much more interesting fare on which he could lay his jazz influence. Deadpan detective yarn “The Long Goodbye” was one of two collaborations between Williams and director Robert Altman, and, like the film itself, the music was a delightful metatextual commentary on the film noir gumshoe drama. The title song appeared multiple times across the film in varying arrangements to interact with the characters, even at one point appearing as supermarket muzak. The 1970s saw Williams collaborating for the first time with Steven Spielberg for “The Sugarland Express” (1974), in which Williams gave a large role to iconic jazz harmonica player Toots Thielemans. In the following year, alongside his breakout score for the next Spielberg epic, “Jaws,” Williams composed a fine jazz-infused score for the Clint Eastwood thriller “The Eiger Sanction,” Eastwood himself a noted fan of jazz. In the same period, he was also scoring Westerns such as the John Wayne picture “The Cowboys,” Burt Reynolds vehicle “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing,” and Arthur Penn's “The Missouri Breaks,” as well as winning his first Oscar for adapting Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's songs and score for “Fiddler On The Roof.”  It was around this time that he also began to show his aptitude for horror scoring. Obviously, this would come to an explosive head with the aforementioned “Jaws,” but one of his earlier scary scores was for the second of his Altman collaborations, 1972's “Images.” A psychological thriller starring Susannah York may not sound like obvious territory for the composer, but he wrote a brilliant avant-garde score that is still harrowing to this day, to the point where Spielberg originally used it as temp-track music for his shark picture until Williams convinced him he needed a different direction. The end of the decade saw Williams create some wonderfully distinctive music for horror movies; another crack at the fin came with “Jaws 2,” which is arguably as strong a score as the first, while he brought a romantic flourish to a[...]

Bright Wall/Dark Room: "Home is Where the Hurt Is" by Asher Gelzer-Govatos


We are pleased to offer an except from the latest by online magazine Bright Wall/Dark Room, which now publishes content weekly but with a monthly theme. Their theme for December is "Home." In addition to this essay on "Little Women," they also have essays on "Moonstruck," "Beginners," "A Ghost Story," "The Ice Storm," "Home Alone 2," "Grave Decisions," "Thelma," "Risky Business," "The Other Side of Hope," an interview with filmmaker Sophia Bohdanowicz, and a look at autobiography in the films of Guy Maddin. You can read previous excerpts from the magazine by clicking here. To subscribe to Bright Wall/Dark Room, or purchase a copy of their current issue, click here. Mine was not a film family—we were a book family, a classical music family. I owe my cinephilia to a film buff uncle who introduced me to the Marx Brothers (among others). The films we did watch as a family followed a certain type: Disney films (both animated and the strange subset of live action films from the ‘60s, inevitably starring Dean Jones), classic musicals, and of course adaptations of literary favorites. I have a friend who almost never rewatches movies, or rereads books, as a matter of principle, but I’ve never been able to fathom that viewpoint. Many films I love yield more, not less, on subsequent viewings. But I’d be lying if I said I only revisited canonical films, because somewhere near the top of my most rewatched list is a film that few would call a classic: the 1994 adaptation of Little Women, directed by Australian filmmaker Gillian Armstrong and starring a then-ascendant Winona Ryder. I wish I could point to some definitive memory that explains my love for Little Women; some special viewing that could be evoked every time I start the DVD. I wish I could say it was the movie I turned to for comfort the night I heard those dreaded words that explained my mother’s years of pain: cancer. I can’t—the night my dad broke the news to my sister and I, he rented The Mighty Ducks (I remember liking the part where they stick some money into a bag of poop to lure greedy passers-by into reaching inside). I wish I could say it was the movie I watched with my mom when we knew the end was near, but whatever that film was, I have no memory of it. I can’t even say it was the film I put on in shock the afternoon she died (waiting, considerately, for me to return from school before she went). That afternoon required something entirely discordant, so I put on some old favorite episodes of Jeeves & Wooster. Funnily enough, for as often as we watched it growing up, I don’t think I even liked Little Women at that age, having just entered my dreaded Monty Python and the Holy Grail phase. Nor does the film fulfill some buried wish for a more perfect past. I don’t feel a strong connection to 19thcentury New England; I remember, on my family’s grand tour of the Northeast (we were, naturally, a family that took vacations that were historically informative) loving Bunker Hill (war!), liking Plimoth Plantation (quill pens!) and being bored in Amherst and Concord (ponds and shut-ins!). And, much as there is to admire about the Transcendentalist ethic, there’s a lot to dislike as well; not to mention that the way of life championed by Emerson and company feels hopelessly disconnected from present reality. I can make a credible case for Little Women as a good movie, but hardly a great one, yet I return to it over and over because, for me, it signifies—instantly and intuitively—home. For me, the film invokes a conception of home as a way of life—that close openness that allows for the reality of pain while guarding the possibility of warmth and love. I return again and again to remind myself that the deep joy of home has made the pai[...]

#317 December 12, 2017


Matt writes: As Oscar season continues to heat up, the writers at are revealing their picks for the best films of 2017 this week. What makes the upcoming awards ceremonies all the more exciting is the number of female contenders in the mix. In a recent article, our site's publisher, Chaz Ebert, discussed how this season could turn out to be a historical one. “2018 is already shaping up to potentially be a history-making year when we finally see more than one woman nominated in the category of Best Director at the Oscars,” she wrote. “This victory will not come as a result of political sentiment fueled by the sexual harassment scandals committed against females in the industry, though it will be most welcome in light of it. How wonderful would it be to see multiple women nominated in the Best Director category in the same year that saw the highest-grossing female-directed blockbuster of all time, Patty Jenkins' ‘Wonder Woman’?” Trailers Wormwood (2017). Directed by Errol Morris. Written by Kieran Fitzgerald, Steven Hathaway and Molly Rokosz. Starring Peter Sarsgaard, Jack O'Connell, Tim Blake Nelson. Synopsis: A family story of one man's sixty-year quest to identify the circumstances of his father's mysterious death. Debuts on Netflix on December 15th, 2017. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Mary Magdalene (2018). Directed by Garth Davis. Written by Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett. Starring Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Synopsis: The story of Mary Magdalene. Opens in US theaters on March 30th, 2018. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> All the Money in the World (2017). Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by David Scarpa (based on the book by John Pearson). Starring Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer. Synopsis: The story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom. Opens in US theaters on December 25th, 2017. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Flower (2018). Directed by Max Winkler. Written by Alex McAulay, Matt Spicer and Max Winkler. Starring Zoey Deutch, Kathryn Hahn, Adam Scott. Synopsis: A sexually curious teen forms an unorthodox kinship with her mentally unstable stepbrother. US release date is TBA. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Alita: Battle Angel (2018). Directed by Robert Rodriguez. Written by James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis and Robert Rodriguez (based on the graphic novel by Yukito Kishiro). Starring Jennifer Connelly, Eiza González, Rosa Salazar. Synopsis: An action-packed story of one young woman's journey to discover the truth of who she is and her fight to change the world. Opens in US theaters on July 20th, 2018. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> 7 Days in Entebbe (2018). Directed by José Padilha. Written by Gregory Burke. Starring Rosamund Pike, Dani[...]