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Joys Here and There

Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Before he passed away last Saturday at the age of ninety, British director Mike Hodges delighted in the revived interest in his work stirred by a retrospective the BFI staged in May. The centerpiece was a new restoration of his first feature, Get Carter (1971), starring Michael Caine as a ruthless gangster scouring Newcastle in his search for his brother’s killer. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called Get Carter “a violent kitchen-sink pulp with the observational brilliance and dour working-class realism of something by Ken Loach.”

Hodges liked that, and in an appreciative letter to the paper, he explained that the two years he spent in the late 1950s on a Royal Navy minesweeper docking in impoverished fishing towns in northern England had awakened his political conscience. “I went into the navy as a newly qualified chartered accountant and complacent young Tory,” he wrote, “and came out an angry, radical young man.”

Stanley Kubrick thought Hodges’s The Terminal Man (1974) was “terrific,” and Terrence Malick sent the director a fan letter: “Your images make me understand what an image is.” Writing for the BFI, David Parkinson calls Flash Gordon (1980) “a Queen-scored slice of kitschy comic-strip sci-fi that [Hodges] viewed as a realpolitik parable about a naive American lunk (Sam Jones) blundering into a situation he didn’t understand.” And for the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, Croupier (1998), starring Clive Owen, is a “mesmerizingly slinky” film that “could almost be Get Carter’s estranged half-sibling, or illegitimate child.”

The best-of-2022 listing, in the meantime, carries on. In a five-minute video, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody notes that he enjoys reading and making lists. “They don’t take the place of film criticism,” he says. “They’re a supplement to film criticism.” His #1 film of the year: Terence Davies’s Benediction. TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde lines up five double features culminating in his two favorite films of the year, S. S. Rajamouli’s RRR and the Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Luís Azevedo has put together a nifty video to accompany the list of thirty films from the writers and editors at Little White Lies. Their #1: Jordan Peele’s Nope. The staff at the Film Stage counts off fifty films all the way up to Aftersun, which is also the #1 film of the year at the Guardian, where Catherine Shoard interviews Charlotte Wells.

Variety’s critics have made a daring stab in the shadow of the recent Sight and Sound poll, compiling their own list of the hundred best movies of all time. #1: Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Variety has also invited a few filmmakers to comment on a film from the list, giving us Audrey Diwan on Agnès Varda’s Vagabond (1985), Todd Field on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Ethan Hawke on Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993).

On to a few holiday reads:

  • This is the season for revisiting Fanny and Alexander (1982), the swan song Ingmar Bergman called “the sum total of my life as a filmmaker.” It’s a work bookended with celebrations among members of the well-to-do Ekdahl family and their friends but with frigid passages at its center. Writing for the Crooked Marquee, Sean Burns finds it “hard not to read the bishop’s cold quarters and the Ekdahls’ happy home as two sides of Bergman’s soul vying for custody of his alter-ego, Alexander.” In the London Review of Books, Michael Wood notes that at one point, Helena, Fanny and Alexander’s grandmother, “says she was very happy at Christmas last year, but now all she wants to do is cry—because she feels old, or has started to feel old. And, more broadly, because she has begun to distrust joy. Here she speaks for the whole movie, I think, but her distrust doesn’t prevent her from finding new joys here and there.”

  • Starting today, New York’s Metrograph is presenting a series of Taipei Stories—films by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang, Tsai Ming-liang, Chinlin Hsieh, and Ang Lee—to accompany the release of a new 4K restoration of Hou’s Millennium Mambo (2001). Starring Shu Qi as a bar hostess in a neon-singed disco and shot by cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bin (In the Mood for Love), the film is “not only the most pop movie the great Taiwanese filmmaker has ever made but, intermittently, among the most astonishingly beautiful,” writes J. Hoberman in the New York Times. Metrograph Journal is running an interview with Hou conducted by Michel Ciment and Hubert Niogret for the November 2001 issue of Positif.

  • Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, set in Hollywood at the tail end of the silent era and starring Margot Robbie as a Clara Bow-like It Girl and Brad Pitt as a handsome rascal à la Douglas Fairbanks, opens today. For the NYT’s Manohla Dargis, it’s “a bloated folly,” and Time’s Stephanie Zacharek calls it “a manic sprawl that only pretends to celebrate cinema. It’s really about prurience, dumb sensation, self-congratulation, and willful ignorance of history.” Toward the end, Chazelle flashes a montage of clips “meant to remind us of the ‘magic of cinema,’ to assure us of the imperiled art form’s immortality,” writes Melissa Anderson at 4Columns. “Babylon can only hasten its demise.” But at the Ringer, Adam Nayman mounts a sort of half-defense, suggesting that “the mix of exuberance, insolence, and white-hot melancholic guilt at its core makes it just as hard to hate as to love. Gold-plated, fur-lined, and spattered with precious bodily fluids of every kind, Chazelle’s film somehow aims high while also going low. It’s a hymn to its own filthy ambivalence.”

  • In Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living (1933), two friends, the painter George (Gary Cooper) and the playwright Tom (Fredric March), fall for Gilda (Miriam Hopkins), a commercial artist. She’ll have to choose between them. Or will she, asks Fran Hoepfner in the latest Bright Wall/Dark Room. “For Lubitsch,” writes Hoepfner, “it’s not necessarily that these relationships onscreen are do or die; it’s just love, that’s all, and whatever comes with it. Confusion, frustration, bafflement, contractual obligations to finish art projects before being allowed to have sex—it’s all fair game. In weaker, lesser, dumber hands, Design for Living is a movie about three horny morons; in Lubitsch’s, all three characters spark and sparkle, an abundance of wit powering them through reckless indecision.”

  • On view at the Barbican in London through January 8, the exhibition Carolee Schneemann: Body Politics presents paintings, sculptural assemblages, and films. Writing for the New Left Review, Caitlín Doherty addresses “the controversies within feminist art theory and criticism that Schneemann animated and within which her work was embroiled. To claim, as I have, that hers was a practice of narcissism is not to demean her oeuvre as pond-gazing self-indulgence, but to take seriously her claim to embody the impossible double position occupied by the woman artist: to be image and image maker at once.”

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