I spent the first week of 2018 holed up at home. It was negative a bazillion degrees outside in Chicago (still is, honestly), and working from home means I can basically hibernate for days on end if I want to. (Which I do more often than I care to admit.)
All that time at home was filled with just over twenty new-to-me films, and because I like to write about movies (and need content to fill this little corner of the internet of mine), I thought I’d share with you what I watch and how it all went.
January’s films included some of the best cinema of 2017…and some of the less good, too. I saw three movies on the big screen (Phantom Thread, Call Me By Your Name and All the Money in the World); there were 11 documentaries in there, and films from Mexico, France, Sweden and Brazil.
The Very Good
The best thing I saw in January was a 70mm presentation of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. From the presentation (if you’ve never seen a movie on 70mm, please do yourself a favor and seek it out. It’s epic.) to the narrative, I soaked up every moment of what’s supposed to be Daniel Day-Lewis’s last film. It’s lush and intriguing and smart and odd and wonderful.
I also carved out time to take myself to see Call Me By Your Name, probably my most anticipated film of 2017 (that, yes, I saw in 2018. Whatevs.). And I’m happy to report it more than lived up to expectations. Timothée Chalamet is a revelation, delivering a performance that is gut-wrenching and vulnerable and so wonderful.
Back in 2016, the Chicago Int’l Film Festival featured Raw as one of their midnight movie selections; predictably, I did not go see the movie about a young vegetarian vet student who develops a taste for raw meet after an intense hazing ritual. But you know what? Even though I had to watch some scene through my fingers as I covered my eyes in disgust, I enjoyed the heck out of that movie. It’s a smart, unpredictable script that keeps you captivated even as you want to look away. It’s now streaming on Netflix, and perfect for a night in. But maybe after dinner, not before.
I keep telling everyone to see Mudbound, and this month I got around to checking out Dee Rees’s earlier film, Pariah. Though it’s streaming on Netflix, I actually snagged it from the library when I saw it hanging out on a “recently returned” shelf. The story of a young black girl coming to terms with her sexuality and the reverberations through her family and community, it’s an impressive feature debut from a woman who’s quickly becoming one of the strongest voices in contemporary American cinema.
The Less Good
I’m not a fan of completely ripping on films (listen, they made a film. Who am I to tear it down?) but I will admit that not everything I watch in a month is stellar moviemaking. One slow afternoon, I queued up Match on Netflix; starring Patrick Stewart, it’s a drama about a ballet professor interviewed by a couple drafting a thesis on modern dance. Of course, that’s not exactly the whole truth, and the interview quickly turns into a confrontation. Match premiered at Tribeca in 2014, so I thought there must be something worth seeing in it. Turns out, like so many adaptations of successful plays, it falls short.
Other highlights this month? I finally watched Chasing Coral on Netflix; it premiered in early 2017 and was shortlisted for an Oscar (though it didn’t nab a nomination), and it’s a vital documentation of the impact of elevated temperatures on our planet. I watched that one right after checking out An Inconvenient Sequel, the follow-up to Al Gore’s impactful An Inconvenient Truth, so I’m now super well-versed on all the shit we’re doing to ruin the Earth. Awesome.
I also started a self-guided tour through Frederick Wiseman’s work; he’s in his 80s now and like a more refined, less creepy Woody Allen, he’s been making a documentary a year for decades. Observational in their structure and epic in their runtimes (each is at least three hours long), he takes a deep-dive into his subjects in such a way that you feel a part of the world he’s exploring. I only got In Jackson Heights viewed in January (and its transfixing), but I plan to knock several more out in the months to come.
While I do totally track all the films I watch in a spreadsheet (nerd alert!), I also keep a running list on Letterboxd. Give me a follow if you want to play along each month!