Aloha, folks, and welcome back to The 300, a recurring feature on my doable-but-unwise quest to watch 300 movies in theaters in the year 2018. I’ll be watching new releases, classics, and hidden gems to experience the wide world of cinema in all its forms. There should be something each week that you can also 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.
MoviePass is alive this week, but I wonder for how long. The company said they have a $300 million line of credit, which should keep them afloat for about 17 months. But as Business Insider noted in an opinion column, MoviePass has other woes to consider. Parent company Helios and Matheson Analytics loses more than $20 million a month, and if their stock remains below $1, they could be kicked off NASDAQ before the end of 2018. So far, the MoviePass train remains on the track. Full steam ahead into certain peril, until tech CEOs become hobos.
Also, apropos of nothing, I’ve heard “More News from Nowhere” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds so many times in theaters before movies that I consider it the de facto theme song of The 300. (By “theaters” I obviously mean my go-to places, Metrograph and Quad Cinema, not multiplexes. Though could you imagine hearing Nick Cave at a Regal Cinema? Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.)
And so, onward.
136 of 300: Let the Sunshine In (2017)
(aka Un beau soleil intérieur)
Director: Claire Denis
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Nicolas Duvauchelle
Seen at IFC Center (New York, NY)
Thursday, May 10th
Stories about male midlife crises are so common, which is why female midlife crises can seem so refreshing. Rachel Cusk’s Outline and Transit are two of my favorite novels in recent years, and I enjoyed Tully for what it was (The 300 Week 16).
While I didn’t like Let the Sunshine In as much as the previously mentioned works, I admire a lot of it, particularly how multi-faceted and humane Binoche’s performance is throughout. She plays Isabelle, a divorced artist drifting through life without a plan, all the while dealing with loneliness and a lingering depression. The film opens with Isabelle having unfulfilling sex with a banker (she’s his mistress). Three passionless thrusts in, I noticed a face full of duty rather than pleasure. She can do better, and she knows it, and yet this is a pattern she knows all too well. The movie wanders with her as she tries to work through her problems. Denis is smart to avoid a trite resolution via romance, and just allows Isabelle to drift and land and drift again as part of the process of finding a bit of herself while remaining lost.
137 of 300: Sleepless Nights (1978)
Director: Becky Johnston
Starring: Maripol, John Lurie, Eric Mitchell, Rene Ricard
Seen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)
Friday, May 11th
Sleepless Nights is an oblique riff on Otto Preminger’s Laura. Think lo-fi, post-punk, art-film noir. Three men obsesses over a missing woman, as told in voiceover narration and direct addresses to the camera. Occasionally memories will be recreated with toys and Barbie dolls, other times in muddy, shadowy footage of a woman in the night. The film only exists as a video copy of an original film print, so the audio and imagery were pretty messy; a real museum-piece sort of movie, of anthropological interest to people fascinated in NYC scenesters of that era, particularly Lurie before he wound up in Jim Jarmusch films. Sleepless Nights played as a double feature with Vivienne Dick’s 1978 short She Had a Gun Already, which was inert and too Warhol-esque for my taste up until the final minutes, in which a woman tries to garrote her friend on the Coney Island Cyclone.
An evening of film programming like this is why I love MoviePass. I’m fascinated by late 1970s New York City as this post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by poor artists, though sometimes I find their art more interesting in concept than actually engaging. MoviePass lets me explore my curiosity with greater freedom, and supports places like BAM to continue curating such idiosyncratic work.
138 of 300: Ponyo (2008)
(aka 崖の上のポニョ; Gake no Ue no Ponyo)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring (English dub cast): Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Saturday, May 12th
I’d forgotten just how delightful Ponyo is until watching it again. It’s so colorful, imaginative, and surreal, and ultimately so kind as well. The movie works on a daring child’s logic of the world, free from adult complications and driven by a constant childlike joy. Also, that bizarre chicken-footed version of Ponyo is hilarious. This may be Miyazaki’s second most underrated movie just behind Kiki’s Delivery Service. While watching Ponyo, I thought of Masaaki Yuasa’s Lu Over the Wall (The 300 Week 8), and how that movie takes a similar conceit but goes in its own direction. I also thought about Mary and the Witch’s Flower (The 300 Week 3) and how that first Studio Ponoc film was competent but lacked the magical originality of a Ghibli Work.
139 of 300: The Rules of the Game (1939)
(aka La règle du jeu)
Director: Jean Renoir
Starring: Nora Gregor, Paulette Dubost, Marcel Dalio, Roland Toutain
Seen at Quad Cinema (New York, NY)
Sunday, May 13th
More than a decade ago, I used to wake up very early in the morning to watch Netflix DVDs before driving to an office job. One of those movies was The Rules of the Game, a comedy of manners set in a French villa on the eve of World War II. Seeing the movie at 4:00am on a Tuesday was not optimal. I think I slept through most of it because I couldn’t remember a thing going into this screening.
This time around, I was struck by the madcap love triangles and quadrilaterals, and the commentaries on class as the gentry and servants interacted and then segregated. The party sequence is such a wonderful work of tragicomic plate spinning, escalating in an absurd manner that’s fitting for a continent teetering again on the brink of chaos. It’s the slapstick cousin of the hunting sequence, in which the servants scare the rabbits and pheasants out for a sadistically pleasurable slaughter by the moneyed class. And yet in spite of the chaos, there’s always a certain decorum to maintain, and manners to mind in your social circle—those are the rules, and we don’t make them.
140 of 300: An Autumn Afternoon (1962)
(aka 秋刀魚の味; Sanma no aji)
Director: Yasujirō Ozu
Starring: Chishū Ryū, Shima Iwashita, Keiji Sada, Mariko Okada
Seen at Quad Cinema (New York, NY)
Monday, May 14th
Ozu’s final film is a masterfully composed farewell. An aging widower comes to term with getting older and considers marrying off his daughter. Nothing much happens—meals together, unexpected reunions, money troubles—but it means the world to the characters in the film. I watched entranced, delighted, and then finally haunted by its underlying lonely melancholy. What a fitting final shot to cap a career.
One of the joys of watching an Ozu movie is feasting on his perfectly arranged compositions. I sometimes wonder what a shot would look like without an element. What if there was no red bucket in the foreground, or if a yellow teapot in the background was orange instead? Would this ordered image suddenly look wrong? Similarly, I wonder what that final shot would mean to me without previous scenes that pleasantly linger. A naval march is a blue lamp, a little joke about dying is a spinning red-and-blue barber pole. Everything in its right place.
141 of 300: RBG (2018)
Directors: Betsy West and Julie Cohen
Seen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)
Tuesday, May 15th
RBG will win no converts to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but that’s not what it’s designed to do. This loving look at Ginsburg’s life and career is a celebration of her legacy and a reminder that the incremental fight for gender equality she started decades ago isn’t over yet. In chronicling Ginsburg as a spirited legal wonk turned meme, West and Cohen essentially provide an overview of the last 60 years of feminist jurisprudence, civil rights, and partisan political divides. The film also offers an example of how to be the best kind of supportive partner in its portrait of Ginsburg’s late husband, Martin. Scream “hagiography” all you want, I’ll offer a dissenting opinion because, hey, it’s Justice f**king Ginsburg we’re talking about.