Movies to See Right Now

Sally Hawkins in THE SHAPE OF WATER

It’s February, and here’s the good news: this is when you can binge the Oscar-nominated movies.  Here’s the bad news: this is when movie distributors hold their noses and slip the really bad new movies into theaters.   So binge away on the best of the year.  ( I’ve also written If I Picked the Oscars – before the nominations were announced.) The first two are, deservedly, the Oscar favorites:

  • The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s imaginative, operatic inter-species romance may become the most-remembered film of 2017.
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a powerful combination of raw emotion and dark hilarity with an acting tour de force from Frances McDormand and a slew of great actors.
  • Steven Spielberg’s docudrama on the Pentagon Papers, The Post, is both a riveting thriller and an astonishingly insightful portrait of Katharine Graham by Meryl Streep. It’s one of the best movies of the year – and one of the most important. Also see my notes on historical figures in The Post.
  • Pixar’s Coco is a moving and authentic dive into Mexican culture, and it’s visually spectacular.
  • Lady Bird , an entirely fresh coming of age comedy that explores the mother-daughter relationship – an impressive debut for Greta Gerwig as a writer and director.
  • I, Tonya is a marvelously entertaining movie, filled with wicked wit and sympathetic social comment.
  • Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is Paul Thomas Anderson’s rapturously beautiful story of a strong-willed man and two equally strong-willed women; unexpectedly witty.
  • The Florida Project is Sean Baker’s remarkably authentic and evocative glimpse into the lives of children in poverty, full of the exuberance of childhood.
  • Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman brings alive Winston Churchill in an overlooked historical moment – when it looked like Hitler was going to win WW II.
Frances McDormand and Peter Dinklage in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Here’s the rest of my Best Movies of 2017 – So Far. Most of the ones from earlier this year are available on video.  Other current choices:

  • The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s hilarious docucomedy about the making of one of the most unintentionally funny movies of all time.
  • The Final Year, a wistful inside documentary about the Obama Admistration’s foreign policy during his last year.
  • The ambitious satire The Square.
  • Call Me By Your Name is an extraordinarily beautiful story of sexual awakening set in a luscious Italian summer, but I didn’t buy the impossibly cool parents or the two pop ballad musical interludes.

My Stream of the Week is the riveting psychodrama Phoenix, with its superb performance by Nina Hoss and its WOWZER ending. Phoenix was one of my Best Movies of 2015. It is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon Video, YouTube and Google Play.

On February 13, Turner Classic Movies presents Babette’s Feast (1987), one of my Best Foodie Movies. Two aged 19th century Danish spinster sisters have taken in a French refugee as their housekeeper. The sisters carry on their father’s severe religious sect, which rejects earthly pleasures. After fourteen years, the housekeeper wins the lottery and, in gratitude, spends all her winnings on the ingredients for a banquet that she prepares for the sisters and their friends. As the dinner builds, the colors of the film become warmer and brighter, reflecting the sheer carnality of the repast. The smugly ascetic and humorless guests become less and less able to resist pleasure of the epicurean delights.The feast’s visual highlights are Caille en Sarcophage avec Sauce Perigourdine (quail in puff pastry shell with foie gras and truffle sauce) and Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glacée (rum sponge cake with figs and glacéed fruits). This was the first Danish film to win Best Foreign Language Oscar.

Babette’s Feast

Movies to See Right Now

Sally Hawkins in THE SHAPE OF WATER

The Oscar nominations are out, and I recommend some (not all) of the nominated films. I’ve also written If I Picked the Oscars – before the nominations were announced. The best movies of the year are in theaters right now, and here are the very best:

  • Steven Spielberg’s docudrama on the Pentagon Papers, The Post, is both a riveting thriller and an astonishingly insightful portrait of Katharine Graham by Meryl Streep. It’s one of the best movies of the year – and one of the most important. Also see my notes on historical figures in The Post.
  • Pixar’s Coco is a moving and authentic dive into Mexican culture, and it’s visually spectacular.
  • The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s imaginative, operatic inter-species romance may become the most-remembered film of 2017.
  • Lady Bird , an entirely fresh coming of age comedy that explores the mother-daughter relationship – an impressive debut for Greta Gerwig as a writer and director.
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a powerful combination of raw emotion and dark hilarity with an acting tour de force from Frances McDormand and a slew of great actors.
  • I, Tonya is a marvelously entertaining movie, filled with wicked wit and sympathetic social comment.
  • Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is Paul Thomas Anderson’s rapturously beautiful story of a strong-willed man and two equally strong-willed women; unexpectedly witty.
  • The Florida Project is Sean Baker’s remarkably authentic and evocative glimpse into the lives of children in poverty, full of the exuberance of childhood.
  • Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman brings alive Winston Churchill in an overlooked historical moment – when it looked like Hitler was going to win WW II.

Don’t forget what is sure to be one of the best Bay Area cinema experiences of 2018 – the Noir City festival of film noir in San Francisco. Don’t miss out on Noir City’s bang up final weekend, with The Man Who Cheated Himself, Roadblock, The Big Heat and wickedly trashy Beverly Michaels in Wicked Woman.

Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford in THE BIG HEAT

Here’s the rest of my Best Movies of 2017 – So Far. Most of the ones from earlier this year are available on video.

Other current choices:

  • The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s hilarious docucomedy about the making of one of the most unintentionally funny movies of all time.
  • Diane Kruger’s award-wining performance in the German thriller In the Fade.
  • The Final Year, a wistful inside documentary about the Obama Admistration’s foreign policy during his last year.
  • The ambitious satire The Square.
  • Call Me By Your Name is an extraordinarily beautiful story of sexual awakening set in a luscious Italian summer, but I didn’t buy the impossibly cool parents or the two pop ballad musical interludes.

In a tribute to Noir City, my DVD of the Week is I Wake Up Screaming, an early noir with a groundbreaking performance by the tragic Laird Cregar. I Wake Up Screaming plays occasionally on Turner Classic Movies. The DVD is available with a Netflix subscription, or you can buy it from Amazon. I Wake Up Screaming is on my list of Overlooked Noir.

On February 5, Turner Classic Movies airs one of the greatest political movies of all time – The Times of Harvey Milk, the documentary Oscar winner from 1984. It’s the real story behind the 2008 Sean Penn narrative Milk – and with the original witnesses. If you pay attention, The Times of Harvey Milk can teach you everything from how to win a local campaign to how to build a societal movement. One of the best political movies ever. And watch for the dog poop scene!

THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK
THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK

DVD of the Week: I WAKE UP SCREAMING – framed by a stalker

Betty Grable, Carol Landis and Laird Cregar in I WAKE UP SCREAMING
Betty Grable, Carol Landis and Laird Cregar in I WAKE UP SCREAMING

As a tribute to the Noir City festival of film noir in San Francisco, my DVD of the Week was just featured at Noir City.  In I Wake Up Screaming, the promoter Frankie (Victor Mature) discovers the hardscrabble beauty Vicky (Carole Landis), and seeks to turn her into a star. She gets her Hollywood contract, but leaves Frankie behind with a pile of nightclub tabs and furrier bills. Vicky turns up murdered, and the cops, led by the menacing Cornwell (Laird Cregar) try to pin the crime on Frankie. Frankie and Vicky’s sister Jill (Betty Grable in a rare dramatic role) try to find the Real Killer. They discover that Frankie isn’t just a convenient suspect, he is being framed – and the stakes get higher as they race the cops to solve the crime.

As befits a noir, we see gritty diners, top end nightclubs, the police interrogation room and an all-night theater. When the light goes on in the den of a stalker, set up as a shrine to his victim, it’s a jaw-dropping moment. I Wake Up Screaming is on my list of Overlooked Noir.

This is Laird Cregar’s movie. Cregar’s hulking and insolent Cornwell dominates every scene that he’s in, and several times he makes us literally jump. Cregar understood how to use his size and looks to intimidate. Cornwell is almost buoyant as he explains to Frankie how he intends to ruin Frankie’s life. But when Cornwell doesn’t know that he’s being watched, he drops his chin and lapses into an open-mouthed stare at Landis. This is a very early and groundbreaking portrayal of a stalker. There are early hints to his unhealthy obsession, but nothing prepares the audience for the revelation of just how unhealthy it turns out to be.

Cregar was an immense acting talent. A closeted gay man and overweight, he was uncomfortable in his own skin. Sadly, aspiring to become a leading man, he died suddenly from damage caused by a quackish, extreme diet. (At the time, no one could foresee Raymond Burr’s path – playing film noir heavies and later becoming a huge star on TV.)

Betty Grable, Carol Landis and Victor Mature in I WAKE UP SCREAMING
Betty Grable, Carol Landis and Victor Mature in I WAKE UP SCREAMING

In her brief career, Carole Landis was usually cast based on her impressive, top-heavy figure. Here, she brings some nuance to the role of Vicky, for whom there is more going on than apparent. She’s far more than the Eliza Doolittle that Frankie thinks she is. It’s later revealed that she can get what she wants from a slew of men and that she can make a canny and ruthless business deal. She cheerfully cuts Frankie out of his Return On Investment with an “it’s just business” attitude. Landis was only 23 years old when she made I Wake Up Screaming. After four stormy marriages, she committed suicide at age 29 – right after boyfriend Rex Harrison refused to leave his wife for her.

The hunky Mature went on to spend an entire decade shirt-free in sword-and-sandal movies. Of course, Grable would soon become the favorite pin-up girl for the US military in WW II. The most unintentionally funny part of I Wake Up Screaming is when the two decide to top off a date with a late-night swim at a NYC indoor pool. It is easy to visualize the studio brass ordering the poor screenwriters to somehow get Grable and Mature into their swimsuits.

Before getting stuck in beefcake roles like Samson, Horemheb the Egyptian and Demetrius the Gladiator, Mature proved himself to be a pretty fair noir hero, especially in 1947’s Kiss of Death. He’s good here. So is Grable, without any singing or dancing (although she did have a song in a deleted scene on the DVD). Film noir favorite Elisha Cook, Jr. has a role that seems small but juicy, until it becomes pivotal.

Scholars place 1940’s Stranger on the Third Floor as the very first film noir. Released in 1941, I Wake Up Screaming is a very early noir, along with The Maltese Falcon, Johnny Eager, Suspicion, High Sierra and The Shanghai Gesture. Director H. Bruce Humberstone and cinematographer Edward Cronjager did not become giants of noir, or even notable noir artists, but their lighting was impressive. Cregar often lurks in the shadows, and when he doesn’t, we usually see his shadow, often dwarfing another character. Cregar also gets the horizontal shadows of Venetian blinds across his face. At least three times, characters turn on the light to find that another character has slipped into their apartment – yikes!

The exposition in I Wake Up Screaming is pretty muck by-the-numbers. The primary appeals of the film is the proto-noir style, the matter-of-fact sexiness of Landis, the easy-to-root-for pair of Grable and Mature, and the amazing performance of Laird Cregar. Incongruously, the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow keeps showing up in this dark and oft creepy movie. I don’t understand how or why, but it is an effective choice.

I Wake Up Screaming plays occasionally on Turner Classic Movies. The DVD is available with a Netflix subscription, or you can buy it from Amazon. I Wake Up Screaming was featured at the Noir City 2018.

Betty Grable and Laird Cregar in I WAKE UP SCREAMING
Laird Cregar in I WAKE UP SCREAMING

NOIR CITY 2018 is here

The Noir City film fest, always one of the best Bay Area cinema experiences, is underway in San Francisco this week. Noir City is the annual festival of the Film Noir Foundation, spearheaded by its founder and president Eddie Muller. The Foundation preserves movies from the traditional noir period that would otherwise be lost. Noir City often plays newly restored films and movies not available on DVD or streaming. And we get to watch them in a vintage movie palace (San Francisco’s Castro Theatre) with a thousand other film fans.

Eddie Muller, who you should recognize as host of  Turner Classic Movie’s Noir Alley series, has programmed this year’s version as “Film Noir from A to B”.  Back in the classic noir period of thw 1940s and early 1950s, filmgoers expected a double feaure – an “A” movie with big stars, followed by a shorter and less expensively-made “B” picture.  Each evening of Noir City will feature A and B movies from the same year, starting with 1941 and ending with 1953.  Trench coats and fedoras are not required (and no smoking, please), but, other than that, you’ll get the full retro experience in the period-appropriate Castro.

Noir City runs through next Sunday, February 4. To see the this year’s Noir City program and buy tickets, go here.

Many of the films in this year’s program are VERY difficult to find.  The Man Who Cheated Himself, Destiny, Jealousy, The Threat and Quiet Please, MurderThe Man Who Cheated Himself has just been restored by the Film Noir Foundation.

My personal favorites on the program:

  • I Wake Up Screaming (sorry – last Friday night):  A very early noir with a stalker theme and a creepy performance by the tragic Laird Cregar.
  • Shadow of a Doubt (sorry – last night): Set in Santa Rosa back when you could drive through it quickly, the ultra-sympathetic Theresa Wright starts connecting the dots that link her very favorite Cool Uncle (Joesph Cotten) to serial murders.
  • Roadblock: I love the growly noir icon Charles McGraw as a mean heavie or a relentless copper.  Here he plays against type as a super-straight sap turned to the dark side by the dame he falls for.
  • The Blue Dahlia:  The only original screenplay by the master of the hardboiled, Raymong Chandler.  Alan Ladd returns from wartime service to find an especially disloyal wife.  When she is murdered, the cops suspect him, and the mob is after him, but he does find Veronica Lake. (Digression: Were Ladd and Lake the shortest pair of romantic leads ever?)

To see the this year’s Noir City program and buy tickets, go here. Don’t miss out on Noir City’s bang up final weekend, with The Man Who Cheated Himself and Roadblock, The Big Heat and wickedly trashy Beverly Michaels in Wicked Woman.

Laird Cregar in I WAKE UP SCREAMING

Movies to See Right Now

Woody Harrelson and Frances McDormand in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

The Oscar nominations are out, and I recommend some (not all) of the nominated films. I’ve also written If I Picked the Oscars – before the nominations were announced. The best movies of the year are in theaters right now, and here are the very best:

  • Steven Spielberg’s docudrama on the Pentagon Papers, The Post, is both a riveting thriller and an astonishingly insightful portrait of Katharine Graham by Meryl Streep. It’s one of the best movies of the year – and one of the most important. Also see my notes on historical figures in The Post.
  • Pixar’s Coco is a moving and authentic dive into Mexican culture, and it’s visually spectacular.
  • The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s imaginative, operatic inter-species romance may become the most-remembered film of 2017.
  • Lady Bird , an entirely fresh coming of age comedy that explores the mother-daughter relationship – an impressive debut for Greta Gerwig as a writer and director.
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a powerful combination of raw emotion and dark hilarity with an acting tour de force from Frances McDormand and a slew of great actors.
  • I, Tonya is a marvelously entertaining movie, filled with wicked wit and sympathetic social comment.
  • Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is Paul Thomas Anderson’s rapturously beautiful story of a strong-willed man and two equally strong-willed women; unexpectedly witty.
  • The Florida Project is Sean Baker’s remarkably authentic and evocative glimpse into the lives of children in poverty, full of the exuberance of childhood.
  • Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman brings alive Winston Churchill in an overlooked historical moment – when it looked like Hitler was going to win WW II.

Don’t forget what is sure to be one of the best Bay Area cinema experiences of 2018 – the Noir City festival of film noir in San Francisco.

Here’s the rest of my Best Movies of 2017 – So Far. Most of the ones from earlier this year are available on video.

Other current choices:

  • The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s hilarious docucomedy about the making of one of the most unintentionally funny movies of all time.
  • Diane Kruger’s award-wining performance in the German thriller In the Fade.
  • The Final Year, a wistful inside documentary about the Obama Admistration’s foreign policy during his last year.
  • The ambitious satire The Square.
  • Call Me By Your Name is an extraordinarily beautiful story of sexual awakening set in a luscious Italian summer, but I didn’t buy the impossibly cool parents or the two pop ballad musical interludes.
  • Murder on the Orient Express is a moderately entertaining lark.
  • Novitiate, the tediously grim story of a seeker looking for spiritual love and sacrifice, with a sadistic abbess delivering too much of the latter.

My DVD/Stream of the Week are recent Oscar winners for Best Documentary: Amy, Searching for Sugar Man and Undefeated. Follow the link for their availability on DVD and streaming platforms.

On January 28, Turner Classic Movies presents All the King’s Men, one of the best political movies of all time, from the novel based on the saga of Huey Long. Broderick Crawford stars as Willie Stark, the fictionalized Kingfish. Watch for the brilliant, Oscar-winning supporting performance by Mercedes McCambridge. (Note: this is the 1949 version, NOT the lousy 2006 Sean Penn remake.)

Broderick Crawford, John Ireland and Mercedes McCambridge in ALL THE KING’S MEN
Broderick Crawford in ALL THE KING’S MEN

And on January 31, Turner Classic Movies plays Angel Face, the 1953 film noir from director Otto Preminger, This movie has it all, the droopy-eyed magnetism of Robert Mitchum, the fragile beauty of Jean Simmons, and (along with They Won’t Believe Me) the most shocking ending in film noir.

Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum in ANGEL FACE

Movies to See Right Now

TONI ERDMANN
TONI ERDMANN

This week’s absolute MUST SEE is the wholly original German comedy Toni Erdmann.

You’ll also enjoy these four movies:

  • La La Land: the extraordinarily vivid romantic musical staring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
  • Lion: an emotionally affecting family drama that makes the audience weep (in a good way).
  • The Founder: the enjoyably addictive story of how a the money-grubbing visionary Ray Kroc built the McDonald’s food service empire.
  • Hidden Figures: a true life story from the 1960s space program – a triumph of human spirit and brainpower over sexism and racism; the audience applauded.

I also recommend I Am Not Your Negro, the documentary about the American public intellectual James Baldwin. It’s a searing examination of race in America as analyzed through Baldwin’s eyes and as expressed through his elegant words.

Other top recommendations:

  • Manchester by the Sea: MUST SEE. Don’t miss Casey Affleck’s career-topping performance in the emotionally authentic drama .
  • Elle: MUST SEE (but increasingly hard to find in theaters). A perverse wowzer with the year’s top performance by Isabelle Huppert. Manchester by the Sea is #2 and Elle is #4 on my Best Movies of 2016.
  • Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s gently funny portrait of a poet’s inner life. Starring Adam Driver.
  • The Salesman is another searing and authentic psychological family thriller from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past).
  • The Eagle Huntress: This documentary is a Feel Good movie for the whole family, blending the genres of girl power, sports competition and cultural tourism.

Also in theaters:

  • Arrival with Amy Adams, is real thinking person’s sci-fi. Every viewer will be transfixed by the first 80% of Arrival. How you feel about the finale depends on whether you buy into the disconnected-from-linear-time aspect or you just get confused, like I did.
  • The remarkably sensitive and realistic indie drama Moonlight is at once a coming of age tale, an exploration of addicted parenting and a story of gay awakening. It’s almost universally praised, but I thought that the last act petered out.
  • Skip the dreary and somnolent Jackie – Natalie Portman’s exceptional impersonation isn’t enough.

This week’s DVD/Stream of the Week is the Argentine neo-noir The Aura.  Featured last week at San Francisco’s Noir City film fest, The Aura is available to rent on  DVD from Netflix and to stream on Amazon Instant.

On February 6, Turner Classic Movies brings us two INTENSE movies. First, there’s The Deer Hunter from 1978. This was director Michael Cimino’s three hour masterpiece. Cimino chose to spend the first hour setting up the characters and their hometown life – just so we can later measure the personal cost of the Vietnam War. When we are plunged into the War, it is terrifying. Then Cimino’s third act – also with some suspenseful moments unmatched in cinema – explores the personal aftermath. After I saw this in a theater for the first time in 1979, I settled myself with a whisky.

And then we have another classic just as INTENSE: Deliverance from 1972. It’s one of my all-time favorites – still gripping today – with a famous scene that still shocks. Jon Voigt, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox form an impressive ensemble cast. Beautifully and dramatically shot by the late great cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond.

DELIVERANCE
DELIVERANCE

DVD/Stream of the Week: THE AURA – smart enough to plan the perfect crime, but is that enough?

Ricardo Darin in THE AURA
Ricardo Darin in THE AURA

The Aura is a brilliant 2005 neo-noir from Argentina that I wasn’t familiar with until the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller programmed into the 2017 Noir City film festival.

The Aura is about a taxidermist who leads a boring life, but fantasizes about the Perfect Crime. He is perpetually cranky because he is so dissatisfied, but he resists getting out of his life rut. It’s not easy to be his friend (nor, apparently, his wife). Unexpectedly, he finally finds himself in position to participate in a major heist.

He is epileptic (the movie’s title is from the sensation just before a seizure); he and we never know if and when he will pass out from an episode, a particularly dangerous wild card in a thriller. He also has a photographic memory, and that can help him if he has the nerve to go through with the crime.

The taxidermist is played by one of my favorite actors, Ricardo Darin (Nine Queens, The Secret in their Eyes, Carancho, Wild Tales) . I like to think of Darin as the Argentine Joe Mantegna. Darin can expertly play a slightly twisted Every Man, and he excels at neo-noir.

The rest of the cast is excellent, especially Walter Reyno as The Real Thing criminal, Alejandro Awada as the taxidermist’s long suffering only friend and Dolores Fonzi as the intriguing woman in the woods.

Ricardo Darin THE AURA
Ricardo Darin THE AURA

Sadly, writer-director Fabián Bielinsky died at 47 after making only two features – the wonderful con artist film Nine Queens (also starring Darin) and The Aura. Those two films indicate that he was a special talent.

Darin’s taxidermist is smart enough to plan a Perfect Crime, but professional criminals have that sociopathic lack of empathy needed to carry out crimes. Does he? Does he get the money? Does he get the girl? Does he even escape with his life? It’s a neo-noir, so you’ll have to watch it to find out.

By the way, the dog in this movie is important. Watch for the dog at the very end.

The Aura is available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream on Amazon Instant.

Dolores Fonzi in THE AURA
Dolores Fonzi in THE AURA

Movies to See Right Now

TONI ERDMANN
TONI ERDMANN

I love the wholly original German comedy Toni Erdmann, and today it opens widely throughout the Bay Area. It’s a Must See.

You’ll also enjoy these four movies:

  • La La Land: the extraordinarily vivid romantic musical staring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
  • Lion: an emotionally affecting family drama that makes the audience weep (in a good way).
  • The Founder:  the enjoyably addictive story of how a the money-grubbing visionary Ray Kroc built the McDonald’s food service empire.
  • Hidden Figures: a true life story from the 1960s space program – a triumph of human spirit and brainpower over sexism and racism; the audience applauded.

I also recommend Noir City, the world’s best festival of film noir, running through Sunday in San Francisco. This year’s festival theme is the Heist Film, and they’ve got some bang up choices from classic film noir, international noir and neo-noir.

Other top recommendations:

  • Manchester by the Sea: MUST SEE. Don’t miss Casey Affleck’s career-topping performance in the emotionally authentic drama .
  • Elle: MUST SEE (but increasingly hard to find in theaters). A perverse wowzer with the year’s top performance by Isabelle Huppert. Manchester by the Sea is #2 and Elle is #4 on my Best Movies of 2016.
  • Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s gently funny portrait of a poet’s inner life. Starring Adam Driver.
  • The Salesman is another searing and authentic psychological family thriller from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past).
  • The Eagle Huntress: This documentary is a Feel Good movie for the whole family, blending the genres of girl power, sports competition and cultural tourism.

Also in theaters:

  • Arrival with Amy Adams, is real thinking person’s sci-fi. Every viewer will be transfixed by the first 80% of Arrival. How you feel about the finale depends on whether you buy into the disconnected-from-linear-time aspect or you just get confused, like I did.
  • The remarkably sensitive and realistic indie drama Moonlight is at once a coming of age tale, an exploration of addicted parenting and a story of gay awakening. It’s almost universally praised, but I thought that the last act petered out.
  • Skip the dreary and somnolent Jackie – Natalie Portman’s exceptional impersonation isn’t enough.

This is Imogen Poots Week at The Movie Gourmet, and my Stream of the Week is A Country Called HomeA Country Called Home can be streamed from Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play. And last week’s pick was the TOTALLY OVERLOOKED neo-noir romance Frank & Lola, available to stream on the very same streaming services.  After seeing it at the San Francisco International Film Festival, I put Frank & Lola on my Best Movies of 2016.

On January 28, Turner Classic Movies will play Robert Altman’s superb 1992 satire of Hollywood, The Player. Wickedly funny, it features a stellar cast: Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Lyle Lovett, Dean Stockwell, Whoopi Goldberg, Richard E. Grant, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Gallagher, Sydney Pollack and Dina Merrill.

Ricardo Darin in THE AURA at Noir City
Ricardo Darin in THE AURA at Noir City

NOIR CITY 2017: a bang up final weekend

Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD
Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD

I’ve been recommending  the Noir City film fest, underway in San Francisco and running through Sunday. Noir City is the annual festival of the Film Noir Foundation, spearheaded by its founder and president Eddie Muller. The Foundation preserves movies from the traditional noir period that would otherwise be lost. Noir City often plays newly restored films and movies not available on DVD. And we get to watch them in vintage movie palace (San Francisco’s Castro Theatre) with a thousand other film fans.

To see the this year’s Noir City program and buy tickets, go here.  Here are the highlights of Noir City’s bang up final weekend:

  • Charley Varrick: the shamefully underrated American neo-noir from the 1970s with Walter Mathau.  To survive, he’s got to outsmart the mob all by himself.
  • The Aura: A completely overlooked 2005 neo-noir from Argentina about an epileptic taxidermist.  He’s smart enough to plan the Perfect Crime, but does he have the sociopathic ruthlessness?
  • Before the Devil Know You’re Dead: A masterpiece from the then 84-year-old director Sidney Lumet, it features one of the best performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Then there’s Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and Michael Shannon – but Albert Finney steals the movie at the end.
  • Victoria: A 2015 European thrill ride filmed in a single 138-minute shot.
Ricardo Darin in THE AURA at Noir City
Ricardo Darin in THE AURA at Noir City

Movies to See Right Now

Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots in my DVD/Stream of the Week RANK & LOLA
Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots in my DVD/Stream of the Week RANK & LOLA

I love the wholly original German comedy Toni Erdmann, and it opens this weekend in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area next weekend.  It’s a Must See.  I’m sure that you’ll also enjoy these three movies:

  • La La Land: the extraordinarily vivid romantic musical staring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
  • Lion: an emotionally affecting family drama that makes the audience weep (in a good way).
  • Hidden Figures: a true life story from the 1960s space program – a triumph of human spirit and brainpower over sexism and racism; the audience applauded.

I also recommend Noir City, the world’s best festival of film noir, opening today in San Francisco and running through January 29. This year’s festival theme is the Heist Film, and they’ve got some bang up choices from classic film noir, international noir and neo-noir.

Other top recommendations:

  • Manchester by the Sea: MUST SEE. Don’t miss Casey Affleck’s career-topping performance in the emotionally authentic drama .
  • Elle: MUST SEE (but increasingly hard to find in theaters). A perverse wowzer with the year’s top performance by Isabelle Huppert. Manchester by the Sea is #2 and Elle is #4 on my Best Movies of 2016.
  • Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s gently funny portrait of a poet’s inner life.  Starring Adam Driver.
  • The Eagle Huntress: This documentary is a Feel Good movie for the whole family, blending the genres of girl power, sports competition and cultural tourism.

Also in theaters:

  • Arrival with Amy Adams, is real thinking person’s sci-fi. Every viewer will be transfixed by the first 80% of Arrival. How you feel about the finale depends on whether you buy into the disconnected-from-linear-time aspect or you just get confused, like I did.
  • The remarkably sensitive and realistic indie drama Moonlight is at once a coming of age tale, an exploration of addicted parenting and a story of gay awakening. It’s almost universally praised, but I thought that the last act petered out.
  • Skip the dreary and somnolent Jackie – Natalie Portman’s exceptional impersonation isn’t enough.

My Stream of the Week is the TOTALLY OVERLOOKED neo-noir romance Frank & Lola. After a brief and tiny theatrical release in December which did not reach the Bay Area, Frank & Lola is now available to stream on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play. After seeing it at the San Francisco International Film Festival, I put it on my Best Movies of 2016.

On January 21, Turner Classic Movies brings us Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, another film noir from the great Fritz Lang: seeking to discredit capital punishment, a reporter (Dana Andrews) gets himself charged with and CONVICTED of a murder – but then the evidence of his innocence suddenly disappears! Crackerjack (and deeply noir) surprise ending.

Then, on January 25, TCM presents Sam Peckinpah’s very underrated neo-noir crime drama The Getaway (1972) starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. McQueen and MacGraw are delightful to watch as they move between violent clashes and double- and triple-crosses. There’s a still-shocking but funny plot thread involving a sadistic villain (Al Lettieri – Sollozzo the Turk in The Godfather), a trashy bimbo (Sally Struthers) and her poor hubbie (Jack Dodson – Howard Sprague in The Andy Griffith Show). The wonderful cast is rounded out with Peckinpah regulars: Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson, Dub Taylor, Richard Bright and Bo Hopkins.

Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw in THE GETAWAY
Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw in THE GETAWAY