With today’s onslaught of viewing options from Netflix to digital rentals, and downloadable purchases of media, it makes me stop and miss the once fashionable art of walking into a video rental store exploring the plethora of options. It’s great we have the internet and all but the simple act of holding an actual dvd in hand or going to the actual movies among an audience will always feel more gratifying. As a culture, society has adopted the notion of movie going as a universal language that will never die out because we love being entertained. I believe in some small way we can always find ways to relate or explain something through movies as its the simplest act of storytelling that connects us.
Personally, I believe the act of movie going is like going to church. There’s a reverence in sitting down quietly to introspect, enjoy, and fully submerge myself in the art form of film. Essentially, the theater is like a holy place and I’ll never forget a film instructor from college many, many, many years ago writing in his syllabus about respecting the holy place. I do recall in something to the effect of:
One shall not talk during the film,
thou shall not eat or drink in the holy place,
nor thou shall not play with any electronic devices in the holy place.
It’s the basic principle of eliminating all distractions and that always stuck with me. Some might say that’s a bit extreme or snobby but I don’t care. Perhaps it’s the very principle that shaped me into the cinephile I am today because I love tackling films, and creating thorough think pieces about my experiences while simultaneously attempting to create some kind of sense of yesterday and today’s films with my own personal touch. I’ve developed into a connoisseur of movies and cinema being an integral part of our culture, it demonstrates a need to understand what our humanity is, what’s infiltrating it, and inspiring it to be an affective communicating connection to our questions or perhaps the simple need of escapism while our reality sometimes tends to hinder certain freedoms. We can always go to the cinema to dream, and partially partake in feeding our psyches into something that may or may not blossom into motivation, inspiration, and introspection in how we relate or even change as a result of it. Ah the power of cinema. C’est la vie!
Being a cinephile living in Los Angeles is a dream, almost like dying and going to cinema heaven. I am very grateful for the people who make such programming accessible and alive with so many theaters it establishes a sense of community making it less lonely in a city so in love with itself. It celebrates itself every single chance it can get. Anything from a restoration to an ultimate classic, to experimental, to foreign, or brand spanking new I will go to the actual movies to experience it. I believe this was the biggest year for me in the sense of actually going to the movies. Each experience was unique and I’m incredibly grateful for being able to attend as many showings as I could. My most favorite and memorable experience was being able to watch VIVA with Anna Biller doing a Q&A in person after the screening at Mount Loyola Marymount University. I love when filmmakers are there in person to discuss their work. It makes it feel more intimate and I cherish that sentiment. So, without further ado ( and in no particular order) I am sharing my most favorite cinematic experiences of 2018. Most of these were not released in 2018, albeit that will be in another list to follow sometime in the future.
La Coquille et le Clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman)
UCLA Billy Wilder Theater
Provocative imagery, subversive, a fragmented visual style. Dulac was a disrupter far beyond her years. When you watch the opening sequence it just blows my mind away that this was shot in the late 1920s. The caliber of her visual style surpassed the ideals at a time when it wouldn’t probably be deem inappropriate. She questions politics, religion, and sexuality all captured in this vivid dream that melds into some impressive optical illusions.
Tommy Haines, Andrew Sherburne, 2017
Santa Monica Lamelle
An absorbing documentary of Michael Zah’s quest to save a rare film collection and the struggle in keeping history alive. An absolute must see if you’re a nerd for film preservation, historian, and lover of lost films. I came very close to meeting this man in person. If anything this film really sealed the deal in my personal fascination for preserving, archiving, film. The lengths to which Zah goes to keep this history alive is admirable and when he shares it with his communities and communities abroad it’s true magic. He’s like a traveling curator, knowledgeable in multiple facets, with his on the go museum. Profound, heartwarming, and uplifting.
Anna Biller, 2007
Loyola Mount Marymount University
Little did I know during the screening, I was sitting next to two actors from THE LOVE WITCH, which Anna Biller had to point out during her Q&A after the showing. I was a deer in headlights. VIVA delivers a refined look into the sexual revolution from a homemaker’s perspective and through her experience delivers a personal revelation. Highlighted in blatant colors of the 70s, humor, and campy fun full of retro liberation for the eyes. Biller stars, writes, and directs this magnificent triumph. All hail this cinematic goddess.
Człowiek z Marmuru (Man of Marble)
Andrzej Wajda, 1977
Armer Theater, Cal State Northridge University
The opening sequence had so much gumption, and the music really gives it an extra kick. Andrzej Wajda’s storytelling of a bricklayer in Poland while simultaneously a documentarian’s perseverance to tell his story has a very delightful meta feel to it. Historical 70’s in Poland, instability, an uprising but also the perseverance of a filmmaker’s spirit to tell a story, to find all the pieces and to make something of it for it to all collapse before it even had a chance to be something. Filmmaking is a risky trade
Luca Guadagnino, 2018
AMC Century City
My favorite horror film of 2018. The most harrowing aesthetic is its subversive tone and sound design going beyond the confines of what the original story had done. It has depth, ingenuity, and it’s bloody. Perhaps too pretentious for some but it’s power resides in risk and originality which highlights it’s uncompromising nature utilizing witches, 1970s elements, and grotesque horror to build it’s momentum in allowing it’s audience to feel the emotions of disgust, to dread, to terror, and some offbeat moments of amazement.
Spike Lee, 2018
Realizing the day I watched this film was the one-year anniversary of Heather Heyer’s tragic death in the Charlottesville attack to which the film is dedicated to. It’s a polarizing, yet formidable look into the destructive American facade unraveling its relentless history attributing certain pieces of cinema from the past baring witness to its own atrocities. I hope this films receives some recognition because it really does feel like a punch to face in the last five minutes where Spike Lee really delivers one hell of a message.
The Other Side of the Wind
Orson Welles, 2018
North Hollywood Laemmle
Felt like ZABRISKIE POINT meets Shakespeare opening a time capsule of the tumultuous 70s era while dissecting the complex business of filmmaking. It’s bumpy and challenging to follow at times but John Huston’s performance is compelling and Oja Kodar is simply electric. In many ways her beauty is it’s own aesthetic in the film. It’s fleeting, it’s gritty, it’s artsy and I feel like this would have been Welles’ magnum opus and those who resurrected and took this film to the finish line, thank you!
Alfonso Cuarón, 2018
North Hollywood Laemmle
Difficult at times, demanding your patience but also the black and white is a contrast to a vivid childhood memory film. Personal and heartbreaking and beloved who share sentiments to such a past. Something about it reminds me of a stark painting that makes you confront something you may not necessarily want to.
2001: A Space Odyssey
I’ve been waiting my whole cinephile life to witness this with my mind, body, and soul. And in 70mm print. Historic gold. It’s one of the best films to experience in theaters because the level of imagination to bring this magnum opus to fruition is downright impressive and inspiring to how far you can push the filmmaking barrier of creativity. I love stories about space and the exploration of the universe hindered with existential questions.
Ari Aster, 2018
North Hollywood Laemmle
Decadent slice of horror bordering with the clash of hilarity and nervous bewilderment. Sinister hell fire, perhaps a cult classic for decades to come. I thoroughly enjoy dissecting horror films and this was a treat with varying tricks up it’s sleeve.
And an honorable mention:
I was fortunate enough to attend the AMIA conference in Portland this year which is where film archivists share and celebrate their finds. Being a baby in this arena it opened my eyes to a bigger world of possibility. Pearl Bowser, an African American cinema pioneer had a peculiar style but I enjoyed learning about her work.
I’m excited for the upcoming year as I will be searching for more, obscure, marvelous, challenging films in 2019. It’s always a surprising, sometimes luck-of-the-draw kind of journey when stumbling across more films while trying to keep an open mind.
Marissa the Cinephile