Because studios apparently think that Oscar voters have the shortest of short-term memories, this week and next will see the release of literally dozens of movies that qualify as “must-sees” … or at the very least a dozen. This Friday, the Twin Cities gets three movies that are all in the conversation for best picture nominations. In descending order of artistic importance, they are: the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, David O. Russell’s American Hustle, and Satan’s Saving Mr. Banks. If you have gobs of free time, see at least two of those. Otherwise, here are the five best bets for local-and-limited screenings this week to keep you busy, almost all of which are probably preferable to seeing Emma Thompson open a can of whup-can on Tom Hanks:
Monday, Dec. 16 & Tuesday, Dec. 17: Bastards (Trylon Microcinema)
As I noted last week, Take-Up Productions knocked it out of the park with their “Trylon Premieres” December series. (Well, three out of four, in any case.) And this week’s entry is very likely my favorite of the bunch. Legendary French director Claire Denis (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum) gets down and dirty in this grim, elliptical tale of two families torn apart at the seams by a secret they share. This being Denis at her most abstruse (think The Intruder, only the version that has to be smuggled home in a brown paper sack), the exact nature of that secret isn’t actually made explicit. But the horrible truth doesn’t even need to be spoken, as Denis masterfully orchestrates an atmosphere of sexual guilt and nihilistic resignation with Agnès Godard muted images and the Tindersticks’ dour musical score. An omniscient film about obsessive desires, Bastards is an adult nightmare with one of the bleakest endings in recent memory.
Monday, Dec. 16 through Thursday, Dec. 19: Vertigo (Parkway Theater)
Speaking of obsessive desires … Vertigo is, whether you agree or not, officially the best film ever made. It just is (dealwithit.gif). You might argue that some of his films are more entertaining (North By Northwest), more culturally significant (Psycho), more seamless in their presentation of theme (Rear Window), or even more obsessive (Notorious, in its own way). But no other Alfred Hitchcock movie plunges quite so far into the abyss of its own subjectivity. It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s such a pretty picture! If you haven’t yet seen this on a big screen, you owe it to yourself to do so at least once in your life.
The Walker Art Center is currently in the thick of its annual and phenomenally popular presentation of the British Arrow Award-winning advertisements. So while you’re already there, why not also check out the two movie installments that are still running through the end of the month. For those with a taste for the highly visual (and that should include many of those already on the hook for those British ads), check out the four films from Hans Richter, an avant-garde contemporary of Man Ray, Fernand Leger and Marcel Duchamp. Rhythm 21, Filmstudie, Ghosts Before Breakfast, and Two Pence Magic Zweigroschenzauber are all screening in the Lecture Room. Meanwhile, over in the Best Buy Film/Video Bay, you can see projections of two essay films by former University of Minnesota instructor Allen Downs, chronicling his respective immersions in Mexico and China. Both programs are only available up through the end of the month.
Friday, Dec. 20 through Sunday, Dec. 22: Barry Lyndon (Trylon Microcinema)
If Vertigo is officially the best movie ever made, I know people who could make a case that Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon is the actual best movie ever made. In fact, one of my fellow critics very convincingly just did so, so I yield to him. (He’s right, you know.)
Friday, Dec. 20 & Saturday, Dec. 21: Home Alone (Uptown Theater)
As a child, I remember being somewhat crestfallen that I had to sit through a whole movie to get to the Looney Tunes violence at the climax of the 1990 monster hit Home Alone. It was the first time I was aware of how a movie could be sold in TV ads and how that image could actually differ from what actually showed up on the screen. So whereas the commercials showed only the Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, debasing themselves to the amusement of millions of bloodthirsty rugrats) getting positively torn apart by little Macauley Culkin’s booby traps, the movie itself was one big long hard-sell on the importance of cherishing your family. Chris Columbus is no great stylist, but he did, after all, write the screenplay for Gremlins. In that sense, Home Alone feels like the transitional film, with equal doses of saccharine homily and holy hell. “Keep the change, ya filthy animal.”