If you aren’t among the crowd who watch the Golden Globes last night and thought to yourself, “Hey, I should probably get around to finally seeing Argo” — that is to say, if you’re fully caught up with the movies that are dominating the discussion leading up to next month’s Oscars — you are probably wondering how you’re ever going to get through what is generally thought of as the leanest few months of the movie year.
Well, first off, I love January, February and March. Every boilerplate-looking B-movie offers the chance to be delightfully surprised. Second, broaden your scope to explore some of this week’s indie and repertory choices.
Monday, Jan. 14: The Piano Teacher (Trylon Microcinema)
So Michael Haneke — the guy who once directed a movie about a sociopathic teenage boy who invites a girl up to his room and then sets up a video camera to record him murdering her with a stunbolt gun he earlier used to film the slaughter of a pig — is now officially ensconced alongside Jan Troell, Ingmar Bergman, Claude Lelouch and Pedro Almodovar as a multiple Golden Globe winner for best foreign film. Given the films to earn him the distinction aren’t Benny’s Video and Funny Games but rather The White Ribbon and, now, Amour, I guess I don’t have to screw my head back on just yet. He has noted in recent interviews his own move away from Brechtian antics and toward Chekhovian gestures, and The Piano Teacher (a Von Trier-like showcase for Isabelle Huppert) is arguably one of the movies that stand somewhere at the crossroads of that transition. Grouped together with Code Unknown and Time of the Wolf, it represents the most rewarding phase in his career, the punk pupa emerging from his misanthropic chrysalis and releasing a lot of excess slime.
Monday, Jan. 14: The Iron Giant (Heights Theatre)
Before Brad Bird directed two of the best-reviewed movies from Pixar’s peak (The Incredibles and Ratatouille), and before he out of nowhere reignited Tom Cruise’s most rewarding vanity project (Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol), Brad Bird made his feature film debut with the animated wonder The Iron Giant, maybe the closest thing to a bona fide cult classic as any PG-rated mass market cartoon has ever reached. With shades of E.T., Frankenstein and Godzilla, Iron Giant is an incredibly big-hearted sendup of Cold War paranoia and corn-fed Americana. It earns its happy ending.
Wednesday, Jan. 16: The Defenders: Ian Rans (Trylon Microcinema)
I have no idea what movie Ian Rans is going to pick for Take-Up Productions’ either ingenious or infuriatingly opaque “The Defenders” series, in which local notables hand-pick a personal favorite film and present it unannounced to their captive audience, who are then urged like members of some secret society to never reveal the movie they were subjected to. I only just want to know what the “Drinking with Ian” host is going to pack in his flask.
Thursday, Jan. 17: The Third Man (Walker Art Center)
“In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” Over the course of an entire year, WAC interns embarked on Still Dots, a project to pore over The Third Man with a fine-tooth comb, writing in-depth essays based around single frames taken from the film at 62 second intervals. (Here’s an article wherein they talk about their process.) To celebrate the completion of their project, Matt Levine and Jeremy Meckler will be presenting a free screening of Carol Reed’s Dutch angle-saturated thriller. Get ready to have that zither tune bouncing around in your head for weeks to come.
For three weeks, the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul is presenting their series “Frozen Docs,” a motely bunch of non-fiction movies that, according to their programming department, “creatively deal with beauty, temporality, nostalgia, and the harsh imperfections of our modern world.” Whether they are to be taken as a cohesive series or not, there’s more than enough to chew on. This weekend’s offerings include Eugene Jarecki’s Oscar-shortlisted (but, alas, not nominated) The House I Live In, an uncompromising look into the aims and effects of America’s long-lived war on drugs, and Tchoupitoulas, Bill and Turner Ross’s follow-up to their brilliant 45365. In their new film, the Rosses step as far back as they can to present slice-of-life style the experiences of three Louisiana brothers who venture out on their own for a taste of illicit freedom.