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December 27, 2016

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M

you'll come around on THE NEON DEMON someday

Petey

Surprised you forgot to include Passengers, as I know it's clearly your favorite film of the year.

Plus, I can't believe you snubbed Melancholia for yet another year, Glenn. It's almost as if it's an annual tradition with you. Also, why do you hate A Tribe Called Quest?

Hi-yo! I'll let myself out now, after noting that this is, as usual, a fantastic list. You've always got my favorite end-of-the year thang. Glad you included the documentary note at the end, as it was surprising me as I read.

Raymio

I typed "Toni Erdmann" and "Patch Adams" into Google and got hits from a number of different reviews. I agree with you that the films are nothing alike, so, uh, yeah, odd.

MW

I'm pleased that I wasn't the only one to think of SILENCE as a major work. As an agnostic I found much of it extremely compelling. It raises so many questions about the world in a very profound and relentlessly self-interrogating way.

Phil Freeman

I thought I might see GREEN ROOM on this list. Worth it just for the scene where something very, very bad happens to Anton Yelchin's arm, which almost made me dive behind my couch. (Since my couch is flush up against the wall, this would have been some achievement.)

Andrew

I'm not a huge fan of Manchester by the Sea but I find Scott's racializing the story pretty unnecessary and in at least one case I'd say Scott's reading was probably wilfully duplicitous, or at least provably wrong. I refer to this excerpt from Scott's review:

"Cast out of this working man’s paradise, Lee is also exiled from the prerogatives of whiteness. He lives in a basement room, earning minimum wage, answering to an African-American boss and accepting a tip from a black tenant whose toilet he has cleaned and repaired. He doesn’t complain, but it is also clear that he has chosen these conditions as a form of self-abasement, as punishment for his sins."

So, Scott is obviously slanting this section of the film to imply the subtext here is that a large part of Lee's "punishment" is his subservience to blacks. What he conspicuously leaves out is the long scene in which Lee overhears that black (female) tenant telling her friend over the phone how attracted she is to Lee, and how easy it would be for him to be with her if it was what he wanted. The subtext in the subsequent scene in which the tenant tips him was, pretty obviously, “Why isn’t Lee asking this young woman out?” not “What indignity, Lee having to accept a tip from a BLACK person.” The scene serves the purpose of showing that Lee has decided to cut himself off from others, and there is absolutely no evidence besides the actors’ skin colours that the scene serves the double purpose Scott is projecting onto it. In fact, the only part from this stretch of the film that is really unambiguously about the indignity Lee suffers in his job is the scene where Lee is inappropriately blamed and chastised by a WHITE tenant.

Now, if I, a working class idiot who doesn’t live in New York or work for the New York Times, understand that this is what the scene was doing, then surely Scott would understand this, too. I can’t shake the suspicion that Scott gets a certain amount of cred from his (I would assume mostly white) liberal NY friends for taking stances like this on films that are not in any perceivable way about race at all. It’s ironic and annoying for a prodigiously compensated New York Times film critic to complain that the fictional working class characters in a more-or-less truthful movie aren’t poor enough, and it’s taking pretend-outrage to the extreme to complain that a fictional white character is getting better treatment from the fictional policemen than would a hypothetical fictional black character. And this excerpt from Scott’s review is just beyond the pale:

“In 21st-century American cinema […] the Bay State is where the myths of post-ethnic -class white identity have been forged. Nonwhite characters are as scarce as fully articulated r’s, and the uncomfortable racial history that has existed […] is easily ignored. There is no legacy of slavery or Jim Crow, and therefore an aura of innocence can be maintained amid the dysfunction and sentimentality and clannishness.”

The implication being that ANY fondness or nostalgia for ANY white culture is suspect, that the “innocence” of ANY white characters is not to be believed, and that there is some conscious or subconscious motivation by filmmakers to preserve and celebrate white “clannishness” (!!!) by setting their films in Boston/New England. Like, reducing EVERY subject and EVERY movie to the actors’ and characters’ races can be pretty racist too, but I think Scott only cares that everyone understands how evolved and virtuous he is. Anyway, I’m a huge fan, Mr. Kenny, but I’m surprised to see you endorsing this pointless and self-serving exploitation of identity politics. (PS. Not an Alt-Right sympathizer. Canadian liberal.)

Petey

@Andrew

"I can’t shake the suspicion that Scott gets a certain amount of cred from his (I would assume mostly white) liberal NY friends for taking stances like this on films that are not in any perceivable way about race at all."

I'm sure there are *some* film critics who approach things that way. But I suspect it's quite minimal. I suspect there are far more critics who let their perception of their audience/brand influence how they approach such topics.

But I've read and enjoyed Tony Scott for many years, and he REALLY doesn't strike me as the type. He's written plenty that goes directly against your suspicion. Given all that, I think the clear explanation is simply that you two just disagree on your reading of the film. It's generally a bad idea to introduce motives into disagreement with a critic, and a specifically bad idea here.

beamish13

Pretty terrific list. I'd put LOVE & FRIENDSHIP up way higher, and I wish you'd included some animated films (e.g. The Red Turtle, Miss Hokusai, My Life as a Zucchini and Kubo & the Two Strings). Love your inclusion of Skolimowski's 11 MINUTES, which the Onion AV Club clearly didn't "get".

beamish13

whoops! you did include a number of animated films. I stand corrected.

Andrew

Petey,

Well, I admit that I only "suspect" what I'm putting forth re: his motivation. Although I'm confident enough to say that I would bet my next paycheque that I'm right, given how prevalent this trend appears to be with liberal film critics. Anyway, it's Scott's projection of identity politics onto this specific film that I'm mostly objecting to. But have you seen "Manchester by the Sea"? If so, do you remember the scene with the black tenant? If so, what's your opinion on the legitimacy of Scott's take on that section of the film? My opinion is that it's literally indefensible, given the what actually happens in the scenes to which he refers.

Petey

"But have you seen "Manchester by the Sea"? If so, do you remember the scene with the black tenant?"

OK. Do you see where you are going wrong here yet? You are asking me if I agree with your reading of the scene. If I do, then you will take it as confirmation of your suspicion of Tony Scott's *motives* for reading the scene differently than we do.

As it happens, I have not seen the film, as I have minimal interest in it for reasons that Glenn touches upon. But even if we agreed in our readings, it would indicate absolutely nothing about Scott's *motivation*. It would just show we had a different reading than he did.

Again, if you want to make assertions about a critic's motivation for a certain reading, you need to be familiar enough with the critic's work to see some kind of pattern. In this case, I'm familiar enough with Tony Scott's work to disagree with you. Similarly, while I was an enormous fan of Roger Ebert's work, I was quite familiar with his great distaste for very powerful films with nihilistic messages. He had some kind of personal motivation to pan those films, something he would very rarely explicitly touch upon. For me, when I'd see a 0 or half star rating from him for a film where he seemed to have such objections, I would read the review as RAVE, and make sure I went out to see it, as I have little problem with highly effective films with nihilistic messages. But yet again, that only comes from knowing the critic's body of work.

In this case, you are conflating Tony Scott's reading and motivation with a stereotype of generic "liberal film critics", rather than his own actual body of work, which strikes me as deeply spurious reasoning.

Wilson

A great list as usual...until you hit upon Manchester By The Sea. I found your comments to be fairly different from my perspective on the film, and somewhat unfair to the film itself.

"well, maybe saying "uncinematic" is not fair, but you know as well as I do that the only reason Kenneth Lonergan directs his films is to keep his precious words intact."

It's disappointing to hear you lob such a lazy (and unfounded - unless you know something personal about KL that we don't) critique of the film. Particularly because you so eloquently dispensed with the "uncinematic" canard in a post about A Dangerous Method. From that piece:

"It seems as if every time a film is adapted from a stage play it gives unimaginative and unobservant critics an opportunity to not look at what's actually in front of them and to reflexively condemn the resultant work as being "closed off" or "closed in" or "not cinematic."

and, after noting the scene's blocking and framing:

"At this point I could be coy and say "If that isn't visual storytelling, I don't know what is," but screw it, that is visual storytelling, and the critic who can't see it is not a critic I'm inclined to trust. Please note that I said "can't see it," not "isn't impressed/moved by it" or "doesn't admire it." I can't tell another person what to think or how to feel about a film or a sequence in a film. But I can ask a person to look at what's in front of him or her before he or she presumes to assess it."

I don't mean to suggest that Lonergan is as formally adept as Cronenberg, but what you wrote is snide and dismissive, a lazy swipe at the film just because it didn't connect with you. Which is exactly what you defended A Dangerous Method against in that previous piece.

Glenn Kenny

In answer to Wilson, no, I don't have any anecdotal dirt on "Kenny" Lonergan, but if you really want to talk craft we can go over the egregious jumps across the 180 line in the hospital scenes, which are not nearly as purposeful as the violations of John Ford or Yasujiro Ozu but rather suggest an indolence bordering on arrogance. Once I get some kind of screener of the movie, I'll try to make the time to do a shot by shot.

As for the ongoing controversy relative to A.O. Scott's review and my citation of it, I think my friend's read on the business with the African-American woman IS an arguable stretch, but not one you need to be Plastic Man to make. I'm from a working-class background, I've got "people" in Boston and Greenfield, and as Jake La Motta says in "Raging Bull," "I heard things." And that's all I'm gonna say about that, except that to call Mr. Scott "prodigiously compensated" is also a bit of a stretch. As a colleague I'll say "well compensated" is right, and it's as he (and I) should be, because we both work our asses off.

Wilson

I look forward to reading any shot-by-shot piece further explicating your thoughts.

Petey

"except that to call Mr. Scott "prodigiously compensated" is also a bit of a stretch. As a colleague I'll say "well compensated" is right, and it's as he (and I) should be, because we both work our asses off."

Hmmm... But think of a home health care aide, working her (Black Caribbean) ass off cleaning bed pans. And she's getting paid 12 bucks an hour if she's lucky. Doesn't even pay the doctors, boi.

I now question your "working-class background" cred, Glenn, and think your *motivation* for expressing such sentiments is purely to appeal to your white liberal NY friends.

(Very slightly more seriously, given my utter lack of interest in Manchester By The Sea even before its release, and reinforced the reaction by critics I tend to trust upon its release, I think it's gotta be an absolute lock for Best Picture Oscar® based on past experience.)

Farran Nehme

Dear Glenn, long time no comment. I am so happy to see that we share a high opinion of The Love Witch. I believe its gorgeous retro visuals are making it hard for some to see how wonderfully, authentically original and weird it is. I can't wait to see what Biller does next. Things to Come was so good that I wanted to watch it again as soon as the screener finished, and I hardly ever have the impulse. I loved Love and Friendship and Hell or High Water (my top 2 of the year) more than you did but we both had some regard for them, hooray; ditto La La Land, which one of my closest friends hate-hate-HATED. For me, Moonlight had the devastating emotional impact that Manchester promised, but did not deliver.

I have been trying to go easy on MBTS on social media, because it's a movie that speaks to a lot of people about grief in their own life; we both know how that goes. And my favorite scene in the movie was one that brought home how something mundane -- like being unable to get the goddamn chicken packages to stay in the freezer -- can trigger an onslaught of crushing pain. Since I'm not likely to write a real essay on it, I'll leave a few thoughts about your thoughts here. One, I agree, it seems obvious to me that Lonergan has trouble slimming things down, otherwise we would have just one lousy-garage-band scene, and one teenage coitus interruptus, instead of two of each. Two, the 180-rule violation in the hospital also puzzled the shit out of me. It's a big visual statement and didn't seem rooted in what was actually going on.

[SPOILERS HERE!!! Courtesy warning, do not read further if you care about spoilers]


But I've also wanted to ask about the responsibility issue. Is it the fact that Lee was drunk when he left the fire unscreened what makes you see him as culpable? I had major problems with Affleck's character (as written) and performance, but I see Lee as not so much criminal so much as tragically unlucky. I do think that's how Lonergan sees him too, otherwise he would not have Michelle Williams abjectly apologizing in that one "big" scene.

[END SPOILERS]

Anyway, it's always a pleasure to read and think about your year-end lists, Mr. Kenny.

titch

A typically great and diverse list. Was Anomalisa omitted because it was released in the States in 2015?

Pinko Punko

Thanks for the list- and your love of film this year- I know that it is your job, but you do it well and are appreciated

partisan

Some comments:

(1) I really did like GIRLHOOD, which I wouldn't have seen if you hadn't put it in your top 10 last year.

(2) Four years ago you forgot to include THE DEEP BLUE SEA. This year there's no SUNSET SONG. I preferred THE DEEP BLUE SEA, but I thought SUNSET SONG was good.

(3) I had a much higher opinion of KNIGHT OF CUPS than you did. Looking back at the review, I think the comparison with Rod Stewart is a subtle way of begging the question. After all Stewart was clearly squandering his talent for money. Clearly Malick wasn't doing that. The main criticism critics made was that Malick wasn't doing anything new. I don't think that's true (the narrative is much more complex than in his previous movies) and even if it was true, it wouldn't necessarily be as damning as one might think, since many great directors return to well developed themes. Returning to your review I don't agree that Bale's character is an example of male privilege. Relationships fail for many reasons, and I don't think we can assume the cause is Bale's selfishness. (And as for the dig at "The Pilgrim's Progress," well clearly it's not to everyone's taste. But Vanity Fair, as a metaphor, abides.)

(4) Nor did I have a high opinion of HAIL CAESAR! One problem is that although gay panic is a theme throughout the movie, Channing Tatum's character is both a Communist agent and the star of a flagrantly gay pastiche of ANCHORS AWEIGH. Why? It's certainly not the director's fault, since he is both married and has knocked up Scarlett Johannson's character.

titch

I had already forgotten that I put Hail, Caesar! down at the bottom of the barrel with the Coen brothers' remake of The Ladykillers as their least funny comedy. It had a couple of great musical numbers and a hilarious scene of Francis McDormand getting strangled by film. I'm baffled as to why the critics loved it. A comedy that doesn't raise even a chuckle for the first twenty minutes and also has to resort to voice over like Blade Runner to explain what's going on, is running on empty.

Oliver_C

Didn't see many movies this year but thoroughly enjoyed 'The Nice Guys', not least on account of Russell Crowe's middle-age metamorphosis into John Goodman.

Cliff

Count me as another regular reader who can't fathom your response to Manchester by the Sea. There's so much shit being projected that you're basically not even talking about the movie any more.

A racial dimension? This coming from the guy who picked The Descendants as the best movie of its year? What does race have to do with the movie and why is it the movie's responsibility? And why is it being held responsible for its supposed strategic elisions when at the same time you're so readily willing to let Everybody Wants Some!! off the hook for its own?

And to look at a story about a broken human being and just see a story about a self-centered alcoholic is to frankly deny one of the chief functions of drama, not to mention cast doubt on some of the greatest works of fiction written over the last 100 years. While you're at it, why not take Moonlight to task for being yet another story about a drug-dealing hoodlum?

And don't get me started on "uncinematic." Good grief. That's a word that people use when they can't find real words to explain why they were bored by something.

Chris L.

Well *actually*, Cliff, he put The Descendants third that year. And....Margaret was seventh!

http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/some_came_running/2011/12/years-best.html

I've yet to see Manchester despite being primed to love it since the Sundance hosannas showered in. On reflection, part of my excitement at that time was in seeing that Lonergan had even survived the punishing saga of the previous decade to make another film and receive those ovations. But maybe the stage is his rightful home after all.

As for Scott's argument, I saw a tweet from one respected critic suggesting that the body of the review was from an initial festival viewing, and the last couple of paragraphs were shoehorned in following the election. That's as much arrant speculation as a lot of this comment thread, but it read that way to the person in question. All I know is that we seem to have reached a point in some progressive film conversations where instant demerits are assessed according to the relative whiteness of the cast. Or, as in certain reactions to Scorsese's film, a "savior" narrative is imposed and railed against, when the film may in fact be subverting that very notion.

I know Glenn isn't doing any of these things here, but his coming around to this view on Manchester did somehow elicit from me a rueful sigh in the wake of the above. More happily, I second Partisan's endorsement of Sunset Song. And I believe Glenn has seen and admired Davies' next film, A Quiet Passion, which looms as a potential highlight of 2017. So to one and all, may the new year somehow begin to make better what this one has wrought.

Petey

Well, *actually*, Chris L., Glenn commented to say he found Scott's read "IS an arguable stretch", which I think is best interpreted to say it was NOT Glenn's initial reading, but that he didn't find Scott's read to be absurd.

Given that I haven't seen the film, my only real point in this entire aspect of the thread has been that I think it's kinda important to not question a critic's motivations for a particular reading, unless you see some kind of pattern in that critic's body of work that leads you there. On political topics specifically, it's some weird place the Twitter outrage machine has brought many of us to.

I don't see the kind of pattern you discuss in Scott's work, so it seems incredibly odd to me to ascribe that kind of motivation to him for his reading, whether his reading accords with yours or not. Now if a specific clickbait Salon-esque critic has a pattern of such readings, then fine. Go wild with ascribing political motivations to their readings. But it seems as if we are eager to such motivations to critics without such a pattern, rather than just saying, "I think X's reading is wrong here." Folks can vehemently disagree with a good critic's read quite easily without insisting upon an invalid motivation behind the critic's read.

Chris L.

Petey, I believe it was Andrew (along with those in the Twitter thread I mentioned, which I acknowledged was sheer conjecture) who more explicitly asserted motivations, patterns, and so forth w/r/t A.O. Scott. I've been a fan of his since he joined the Times, loved his co-hosting on At the Movies, and have his book on my Amazon wish list. No ill will or axe to grind there, even if the odd review now and then (like Shutter Island and, yes, Margaret) indeed conflicted with my experience of the work.

If there was a point to my comment, maybe it was just that it's been that kind of year - with many film lovers taking shots and subtweets at each other by way of working out larger frustrations we mostly share.

This, by the way, is the Twitter exchange I meant:

https://twitter.com/unbuttonmyeyes/status/803407575991648257

Petey

Chris L., all fair enough. (With the exception that Andrew didn't seem to be asserting patterns in Scott personally, but patterns in a generic grouping of "liberal film critics" that he somehow just tossed Scott into indiscriminately.)

But I don't think we disagree fundamentally. And it's worth noting that in the twit thread you sent me to, I find Violet Lucca's assertion absurd, unless she knows something to somehow support it. That's the PRECISE form of motivation assignation I most strongly object to. (Disclaimer: I'm not familiar with Violet Lucca work, she may well be otherwise wonderful, and teh twits often force folks into a shorthand that isn't fully intellectual defensible.)

As to your stated point, sure! I just wish that we all stuck to taking shots and subtweets without questioning motivations, unless we've got a good reason to do so beyond mere strong disagreement on how a particular scene plays.

Cliff

"Well *actually*, Cliff, he put The Descendants third that year. And....Margaret was seventh!"

***

Heh. I'd say third place is still a strong enough endorsement to make my point, but fair enough. I should have double checked my work.

And Margaret doesn't really enter into it, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not suggesting that Glenn has it out for Lonergan, after all, just that his objections to Manchester by the Sea are spurious and/or poorly expressed. To my mind, it seems like he's jumping through hoops to make it appear as though his distaste for the film is intellectual rather than instinctual.

Clayton Sutherland

MILD "MANCHESTER BY THE SEA" SPOILERS

I didn't absolutely love "Manchester", but my feelings w/r/t Lee not wanting to take guardianship of the kid were simply that he felt completely dead inside, and thought his other siblings would be better role models, and provide a more structured, healthy environment.

I also thought the generally morose tone of the film was offset fairly well by a fair amount of unexpected dry humour.

But it's not a movie I'm all that inclined to go to bat for, particularly given how few films I've seen in 2016, relative to previous years.

Glenn Kenny

Oh gosh.

The way I figure it, if I begin a paragraph by stating "Fuck 'Manchester by the Sea,'" maybe I figure it's understood that what's coming next is not going to be wholly rational. I probably shouldn't have even brought it up, and I don't like being pushed into this particular corner, but fuck it: Yeah, as an alcoholic in recovery this movie pissed me off the more I thought about it. So forgive me my jumping through hoops, Cliff, and may God be with you. But I'm not going to genuflect at the moral cowardice that Lonergan gives a tacit pass to, for reasons that I'm sure satisfy him. As for whether or not I'm being disingenuous, well, this is a blog. I literally AM doing this out of spite, because with the exception of a tip now and then from a generous reader (thanks and you know who you are), it doesn't pay.

(IncidentallyI just got a text from my brother saying he saw "Manchester" and observing, "As Dad said, 'Very Irish'." Which made me laugh.)

Asher Steinberg

First of all, give me a break about Glenn's "uncinematic" being lazy. If you could watch those hospital scenes, any scene in the movie involving a car and a person in it, or about half of the rest of the movie and not feel that Lonergan's camera placement, cutting, and blocking were a joke, I don't know what to say. The only reason the second half of the movie is even watchable is that he's left with essentially two characters (plus those very necessary scenes between the kid and his girlfriends, the climactic Affleck-Williams blowup shot like a lover's quarrel in Annie Hall, etc.) and he's much less puzzled about how to shoot two people than he is about shooting groups. Movies this incompetently shot, cut, and as Glenn alludes to, scored, are really rare.

Re: race and Boston, Scott may well have a point, I'm inclined to think he does although he hasn't worked his point out very well, but mostly I'd just like to declare a moratorium on Boston movies unless they're made by people who have something to really say about the place (so not the case here). Is it really necessary to put out movie after movie where capable actors are distracted from their performances by attempting to imitate that accent? Why is it that no one in a Boston movie ever has a light accent? When a Bostonian's friend gets their head bashed in in a bar fight and they have to send the friend's surrogate kid out of the house, do they really screech "I sent him out to get some BUHHHHHH-gahs"? All that accent seems to dominate over scene-specific modulations of line readings. Why do Boston movies even need Boston accents at all? I recently watched THE LAST HURRAH and thought it was the worst Ford I'd ever encountered, which is to say, a perfectly good movie that never is on the verge of blossoming into a masterpiece, but one sensible choice he makes is not having Spencer Tracy or Basil Rathbone or Jeffrey Hunter attempt Boston accents, while having the bit players do a kind of vague American Irish. Of course, that movie doesn't ever announce it's set in Boston (people who live in a place have a way of not repetitively stating where they are like they do in MANCHESTER), but it absolutely and clearly is, whereas in this movie, I don't think I'd have any idea where it was set if not for the accents and the kid shouting " aren't you going back to BAHSTON/Quincey" at Affleck every 5 minutes. And I guess I'd know from all those misjudged God's eye shots of the boat where you can't even see anyone's faces and that cutesy flashback dialogue early in the movie about shahks that we were somewhere coastal.

Speaking of dialogue, if you're going to invent teenage slang like "basement business," maybe make it sound like something a teenager has ever said. Or if you want a dumb scene in your movie about a guy negotiating funeral expenses in front of the dead man's son, just tell the son and his extraneous girlfriend character to look pained instead of needlessly underlining the point by giving the girlfriend lines about the situation that no one in her position would ever be rude enough to say, like "that's where his head is at in a time like this?". It's a movie, Lonergan, things can be expressed non-verbally (which doesn't necessarily mean musically-operatically, or with super-slow-motion). I feel like a lot of the pitfalls in this thing could be avoided by simply watching movies and copying what capable directors do with the medium.

(Spoiler)

Re: moral responsibility, yeah, not only was he drunk and probably high on cocaine ("Theah was cocaine," he passively says - and the police never ask if he was on it!), which just as a general matter seems a bad idea when at home with one's small children, not only was he going out to get drunker, but he says he remembered he might have left the screen off but didn't turn around because he had beer to get or it was cold or something. Re: legal responsibility, I was fairly shocked he hadn't spent time for manslaughter. And a little worried that "it's not a crime to forget to put the screen on" is the message that people without central heating will take from this movie.

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