Sunday, 6 January 2019

The Year in Movies – 2018

2018 was not an excellent year for this blog. Though I still saw many movies, and many brilliant movies, personal matters kept me from writing and posting reviews (which always takes longer than watching the movie itself). I underwent a handful of wondrous experiences, which I shared here, and a few more that I regret I was not able to share. I feel that I developed and learned more about the work of making movies and of discussing them, as well as about myself and how I view and appreciate them. I hope the chances will come for me to go further in detail in the coming year. A particular development for me personally was an increase in the number of television series I watched. I’ve hardly written anything about television at all, and before 2018 I generally found that work made for television did not meet my expectations of audiovisual artistic creation and revelation; however, my broadened horizons brought me to such wonders as Spike Lee’s miniseries remake of She’s Gotta Have It and Joe Swanberg’s miniseries Easy, which both expanded the form immensely in artistic consciousness and pure, joyous beauty. I look forward eagerly to finding more works like these and perhaps sharing them here with readers, together with the best cinematic works of each year.

Nobody reading this needs to be told that a selection of top movies is wholly subjective; a movie is good when you decide that it’s good, and the choice of the best movies out of any group is based entirely on your unique personal perceptions of each movie. Similarly, a movie becomes important not when it simply gets seen by many people, earns a lot of revenue, or is codified by a prestigious association, but when it makes a connection with the people who see it. The disappointment of the exclusion of Inxeba from the Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Language Film was quickly eclipsed by viewers’ strong appreciation of the work, and even the controversy surrounding it did not match the enthusiasm of the movie’s supporters.

Friday, 4 January 2019

What to See This Holiday: Three Netflix Picks

Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman)

Available on Netflix.

Lazing on Brooklyn’s beaches, trawling the borough for weed, snagging clandestine hook-ups, the protagonist of Eliza Hittman’s movie Beach Rats, Frankie (Harris Dickson), is an exemplary shirker. Beach Rats is a stunning work of aimlessness and languor; the heat of the summer sun, and the vape and marijuana smoke add a haze to Hittman’s already indolent and largely wordless images. Normally I’m annoyed by or resistant to art-house films in which characters offer many meaningful looks but share few of their feelings, ideas, queries, and concerns; it often seems evasive, disdainful, or unimaginative on the part of the filmmakers. But the lack of talk between Hittman’s characters is a striking artistic depiction of the state of their intellectual and emotional lives: they have no expressive outlets, no communicative means at all of expression; they suppress true emotions and any hint of vulnerability; they don’t indulge aspirations or plans for the future, reflect, dream, visualise, contemplate; the silencing of their inner lives is a deliberately enacted by them, and is memorably evoked by Hittman.

And Frankie encounters distinct difficulties from this silencing. Whatever troubles of identity the other guys are evading, Frankie faces the added dimension of sexual orientation and identity: He chats with men via sex webcam sites and starts to meet up with them to have sex with them, but, as he informs one of his prospective hook-ups, he doesn’t really think of himself as gay. He also unenthusiastically starts up a romantic relationship with a girl named Simone (Madeline Weinstein). He avoids the thought of anything gay altogether, just as he avoids thinking of himself at all, and avoids talking about anything substantial with his family or his smoking companions (he asserts more than once that they’re not his friends). Hittman deftly suggests Frankie’s sensitivity and empathy, as he apologises to Simone after insulting her, and tries to hide emotional pain when considering his family’s suffering (his father is very sick with cancer). But, when given any opportunity arises to deal with his problems, such as when his mother approaches him, Frankie hardens his heart and erects an impenetrable wall of invulnerability. Hittman’s images inhere intimacy, energy, and density where her characters elude these qualities; the tension tightens and relaxes with the unease of youthful anxieties, and she suggests some of the disastrous consequences that such unease may lead to.