Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Favorite Cinematic Memories of 2011

I realize that we're well into 2012 now, but I wanted to recount a few of my memorable film-related highlights of 2011. 2011 was a great year in terms of the opportunities I had to see some wonderful things, particularly on the big screen in 35mm - the way I wish everything could be shown. Here are the five best experiences I had at the movies in 2011.

Nevermore Film Fest 2011

This was by no means the first time I've devoted an entire weekend to movie watching, but having the chance to do it in a festival setting with an enthusiastic audience made it that much more fun. How awesome is it to get a chance to see some really great independently-produced features and shorts, interact with the directors, and catch some great revivals? I'm one-hundred percent sold on the small fest experience, and can't wait for Nevermore 2012.

Jan Svankmajer's Alice, presented by China Mieville

I caught this show while in Boston for a work-related conference, and it almost seemed too good to be true. Mieville has been one of my favorite authors for a long time now, and he was in town promoting his new book Embassytown. The signing took place at the Brattle Theater in  Harvard Square, which gave him a chance to present one of his favorite films - the disturbing stop-motion animated version of Alice in Wonderland by Jan Svankmajer. While not a direct influence on his new novel, Svankmajer's bizarre junk-drawer take on Lewis Carroll's classic tale no doubt inspired the sinister edge that magic often has in Mieville's novels. While looking as if it takes place largely in the mundane world, it nonetheless captures how wrong magic would look if it were to actually occur. (Embassytown turned out to be a great book as well.)

Finally watching some beloved old series from beginning to end

There are some movies I've seen so long ago that my memories of them are hazy, fragmented, and in most cases reduced down to a few images and a general feel. Nonetheless, these have stuck with me for years, sometimes decades, and the strongest ones are from childhood. Saturday mornings were a blast in the early 90s, and the after the obligatory cartoons were over, the networks would air feature after lurid feature: horror, martial arts, action, monster movies. Nothing seemed out of bounds back then, at least to my young and impressionable mind.

The Nightmare on Elm Street series was a staple of the early-afternoon horror series. While I'd seen bits from the franchise here and there since then, I'd never watched the entire series in sequence. This October gave me a chance to do that, and I had a blast rediscovering what made these movies so much fun. The quality wastes no time dropping to the bottom of the barrel, but still, the fun that Robert Englund brings to the role of Freddy carries them through the low points, even if there is a little too much comedy in the later installments. The quirks and warts somehow make them endure a little more (as all ANoES 2 fans know)... except for maybe Freddy's Dead. Although now I finally have a movie to attach to the image of Freddy killing a guy with a two-foot long Q-tip! I'd been trying to remember that one for years.

Lone Wolf and Cub, on the other hand, is a series that has only improved with age. It was known to me initially as Shogun Assassin, and remembered mostly for the bloody swordfighting. Revisiting this one gave me a chance to really appreciate how beautifully filmed it is. And what's even better is that the battles are no less awesome than I remember them.

The one-day Actionfest experience

I headed out to Asheville with some friends on more or less a whim last April. I heard about ActionFest far too late to make any plans to spend the weekend there, but decided that even if a day trip was all that was feasible, it'd still be worth it. I was right - what a great and unlikely place for a film fest of this caliber. Not only did I get to catch 13 Assassins, and Hobo with a Shotgun, but also live stunts, a couple of hours exploring the fringes of the Blue Ridge parkway, and awesome food in downtown Asheville. I also ended up taking a chance on Bellflower, which I can't reminisce too fondly about, but meeting the director and seeing the Medusa made it somewhat more enlightening. I'm looking forward to planning ahead for the full Actionfest 3 experience.

Learning to love Deep Red

Deep Red was the second Argento film I ever watched - years ago, on the uncut Blue Underground DVD, in my apartment with the lights on, the volume at a reasonable level so as not to disturb the neighbors, with frequent breaks for food and probably more than a little wine. I hated it. It took until this year (and lots more Argento to put it in context) for me to discover that the problem wasn't the film, but the way I watched it. Fast forward to this October, when it played at the first half of a double feature, in beautifully worn 35mm, with the volume so high it almost hurt at times... The difference was incredible. I love this film now. Nearly everything about it shows how meticulous Argento used to be with his crafting: from the gothic story underlying the modern-day mystery, to the incredible framing and surreal kill sequences. And the Goblin soundtrack - how did I miss that the first time around? This jumped orders of magnitude toward the top in my opinion, and I'm so glad I had the chance to re-evaluate it by seeing it the way it's meant to be seen: in a completely immersive theatrical setting.

Here's to lots of fruitful filmgoing in 2012!

1 comment:

  1. The soundtrack to Deep Red really is what makes the movie so great. I'd love to see (and hear) it in the theater, but for now I just blast the music in the car