Did You See This?

Written in Neon

Teri Garr in Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart (1982)

On its opening day, Sundance launched nineteen films, and we look forward to spotlighting some of the standouts in the coming days. One of the most exciting bits of news this week comes from Visions du Réel, the documentary film festival held each April in Nyon, Switzerland. The guest of honor at the fifty-fifth edition will be Jia Zhangke, whose We Shall Be All is high on our list of the most-anticipated films of the year. “Since the outbreak of Covid-19, I haven’t left China for almost four years,” says Jia. “I feel like embracing the world again.”

The Berlinale, in the meantime, has set the lineups for its Forum and Forum Expanded programs as well as for Panorama and Generation—and announced that its seventy-fourth edition will open on February 15 with Tim Mielants’sSmall Things Like These. The film is based on the novella by Claire Keegan, who wrote “Foster,” the short story that writer and director Colm Bairéad turned into The Quiet Girl (2022).

Cillian Murphy, who worked with Mielants on the hit series Peaky Blinders, plays a coal merchant in a small Irish town who, in 1985, makes a gruesome discovery. The story draws from the history of the Magdalene laundries, asylums where tens of thousands of “fallen women” were forced to work under torturous conditions from the 1820s to the 1990s.

Murphy, of course, is now best known for playing the “father of the atomic bomb” in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, which topped Sunday night’s Critics Choice Awards and currently leads the nominations for the EE British Academy Film Awards, better known as the BAFTAs. Oppenheimer has scored thirteen nominations, and Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things is close behind with eleven, followed by Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon and Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, with nine each.

As awards season cranks up—the Oscar nominations will be out on Tuesday—the pace of critics’ rankings of their favorite films of 2023 has begun to relax. This week, though, has given us a few great lists, starting with Reverse Shot’s. May December tops this one, and editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert are pleased to see that “our beloved Todd Haynes, an inspiration for anyone who, like us, came of cinematic age in the 1990s, has snagged his first RS number one spot after years of almost making it (I’m Not There was #3 in 2007; Carol was #2 in 2015).”

Jessica Kiang’s thread of fifty films, complete with comments and links, is a long and raucously entertaining march to her #1, Radu Jude’s Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World. “Of all the silly movies, smart movies, angry, boring, funny, sad movies, sentimental, stirring, nutso, epic, intimate, direct, contorted, arch, sincere, sweet and salty movies this year, only this one is all of the above,” she writes. “Go ahead and try to expect too much from it. You can’t.” Long scrolls of more lists come from contributors to Cine-File and Talkhouse as well as from Senses of Cinema, whose new issue opens with its annual World Poll, where you’ll find more than 160 best-of-2023 lists sent in from around the globe.

This week’s highlights:

  • The day after our January Books roundup went up, the New York Review of Books published a new issue featuring Geoffrey O’Brien on crime fiction and a preview of the fifth title in the Decadent Editions series from Fireflies Press. Luchino Visconti, Joseph Losey, and Jean-Luc Godard all planned and then abandoned adaptations of Marcel Proust, and as Christine Smallwood suggests, if we had one or more of those films, “we might not have La captive, Chantal Akerman’s strange, hypnotic feature, released in 2000, which takes the Marcel–Albertine relationship and transplants it to contemporary Paris.” In her reimagining of The Prisoner, the fifth volume of In Search of Lost Time, Akerman “rejects the idea of lost time redeemed by art. Her work is, by necessity, un- or anti-Proustian: it posits that duration itself can be art.”

  • Next month, Film at Lincoln Center will present a three-day series, Lulu Wang’s Road to Expats, a selection of films Wang (The Farewell) has cited as influences on Expats, her new six-episode series set to premiere on Amazon Prime next Friday. Based on Janice Y. K. Lee’s 2016 novel The Expatriates and set in Hong Kong in 2014, the year of the Umbrella Revolution, Expats stars Nicole Kidman as a well-to-do American woman confronted by tragedy. For the Observer, Claire Armitstead talks with Wang about her childhood in Beijing, teaching herself filmmaking in the States, mentoring younger filmmakers with her partner, Barry Jenkins, and capturing, as Armitstead puts it, “the old Hong Kong that Expats depicts, in the romantic, neon-lit tradition of Wong Kar Wai.”

  • The New Yorker’s Richard Brody has given us two strong pieces this week. Newly restored, Dick Fontaine and Pat Hartley’s 1982 documentary I Heard It Through the Grapevine “stands out” in Film Forum’s ongoing series of films commemorating the centennial year of James Baldwin “for not being a portrait of Baldwin. Rather, it’s a sort of investigative film, of travels and encounters, in which Baldwin is a guide, an observer, an interlocutor, and a commentator. Grapevine is a work of political history about the civil-rights movement—and about the ongoing failure of the United States to make good on the promise of justice and equality for Black Americans.” One from the Heart: Reprise, Francis Ford Coppola’s reworking of his 1982 musical, begins its theatrical run today and features “some of the best work of his career,” writes Brody. “This was Coppola’s bid to take his place among the cinema’s image-masters, such as F. W. Murnau and King Vidor, who took bare-bones stories of an abstracted simplicity—at the edge of legend—and endowed them with overwhelming power through sheer visual impact.”

  • David Canfield’s piece for Vanity Fair on the barely kept secret of the relationship between Cary Grant and Randolph Scott is an ultimately moving portrait of a genuine love troubled by an asymmetry in their mutual attraction. Grant himself admitted that he had fallen harder than Scott ever did. “Unwittingly, perhaps,” writes Canfield, “it’s in the rigidly orchestrated publicity machine of ’30s show business that the story of Grant and Scott was told—hidden in plain sight.”

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