Daily Archives: May 1, 2021

The Delmer Daves Problem

Written for my En movimiento column for the September 2013 issue of Caiman Cuadernos de Cine. Reseeing The Hanging Tree tonight, I was fascinated to discover how much McCabe and Mrs Miller was indebted to its prostitutes and its fires, and how often Daves could use a crane as if it were a musical instrument.— J.R.

“Many of Delmer Daves’s films are beloved, but to say that he remains a misunderstood and insufficiently appreciated figure in the history of American movies is a rank understatement.” This is how critic Kent Jones begins the second of his two essays accompanying the simultaneous Criterion releases on DVD and Blu-Ray of Jubal (1956) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957), the first two in a string of three Westerns that Daves made with Glenn Ford. (The third was Cowboy in 1958.)

I saw the two Blu-Rays, in reverse order, on the same day, and I agree entirely with Jones that 3:10 to Yuma (ignoring its reportedly lamentable recent remake) is a remarkable achievement — as much for Glenn Ford’s performance as a charismatic villain as it is for the diverse dramatic and visual nuances of Daves, working in black and white and widescreen. Speaking as someone for whom Glenn Ford’s heroism in my youth was as important as that of James Stewart or Cary Grant, I was also astonished by the unpredictable and multileveled killer-hipster and delicate gangleader-womanizer he creates here (and also grateful for a fascinating interview with his son and biographer Peter Ford, included as a bonus).… Read more »

Cinema versus TV News (2008)

This is the 8th bimonthly column I’ve published in Cahiers du Cinéma España; it ran in their September 2008 issue. — J.R.

Ever since I retired from my twenty-year stint as a film reviewer at the Chicago Reader, I’ve been reluctant to see new releases, either as a freelance reviewer or as an ordinary spectator. One reason for this attitude is a reaction to having been obliged for so long to see many hundreds of films I had no personal interest in, many of which I gratefully forgot about shortly after submitting my reviews. Another motivation is that I’m usually so happy seeing or reseeing older films, most often on DVD, that it’s hard to find many new films that are equally enticing.

Undoubtedly my age and physical laziness both play roles in this bias, but I honestly think that the diminishing quality of commercial releases also has a significant influence. I’m not saying that there’s been a decline in cinema more generally — apart from such factors as the eclipse of the Hollywood studios or (for example) the increasing censorship in Iran — because I think it’s arrogant to make such sweeping generalizations on the basis of the tiny fraction of what gets made that one has access to.… Read more »

Escaping the Numbers Racket (2008)

My sixth bimonthly column for Cahiers du Cinéma España, this ran in their April 2008 issue (No. 11). — J.R.

A personal highpoint for me at the 42nd annual voting session of the National Society of film Critics, held in early January, was successfully proposing two of the awards given that afternoon. One was for the best experimental film of 2007, which went to John Gianvito’s Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind — a beautiful 59-minute documentary about cemeteries and memorials in the U.S. commemorating political struggles, made by the writer-director of The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (2001), a dedicated independent who might be described as an “amateur” filmmaker in the very best sense of the word (much as Jean Cocteau could be described in the same fashion). The other prize, the “Film Heritage Award,” went jointly “to Ford at Fox, a 21-disc box set from Fox Home Video” and “to Ross Lipman of the UCLA Film and Television Archive for the restoration of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and other independent films”. I should add that only the first of these two awards was my own idea; for the Film Heritage Award, I was simply conveying and arguing on behalf of the proposal of an absent member of the National Society of Film Critics, Dave Kehr (a critic who writes the excellent weekly DVD column for the New York Times).… Read more »

National Society of Film Critics Awards (2016) & Two Comments (2017)

SPECIAL CITATION for a film awaiting American distribution: Sieranevada (Romania) Cristi Puiu

b083fe96fb621994c23e01

FILM HERITAGE AWARD: Kino Lorber’s 5-disc collection “Pioneers of African-American Cinema

pioneers

BEST ACTOR

*1. Casey Affleck (65) – Manchester by the Sea

2. Denzel Washington (21) – Fences

3. Adam Driver (20) – Paterson

Manchester-By-The-Sea-4-Casey-Affleck

BEST ACTRESS

*1. Isabelle Huppert (55) – Elle and Things to Come

2. Annette Bening (26) – 20th Century Women

2. Sandra Hüller (26) – Toni Erdmann [tied with Bening]

Elle-isabelle-huppert

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

*1. Mahershala Ali (72) – Moonlight

2. Jeff Bridges (18) – Hell or High Water

3. Michael Shannon (14) – Nocturnal Animals

mahershala-ali-moonlight-700x286

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

*1. Michelle Williams (58) – Manchester by the Sea

2. Lily Gladstone (45) – Certain Women

3. Naomie Harris (25) – Moonlight

Manchester-By-The-Sea-Trailer-Michelle-Williams-3

BEST SCREENPLAY

*1. Manchester by the Sea (61) – Kenneth Lonergan

2. Moonlight (39) – Barry Jenkins

3. Hell or High Water (16) – Taylor Sheridan

Manchester-By-The-Sea

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

*1. Moonlight (52) – James Laxton

2. La La Land (27) – Linus Sandgren

3. Silence (23) – Rodrigo Prieto

moonlight

BEST PICTURE

*1. Moonlight (54)

2. Manchester by the Sea (39)

3. La La Land (31)

Moonlight_mother

BEST DIRECTOR

*1. Barry Jenkins (53) – Moonlight

2.… Read more »

The End-of-Film-Criticism Industry (2009)

This was published as my ninth one-page column in  Cahiers du Cinéma España; it ran in their January 2009 issue (No. 19). — J.R.

It’s by no means unusual for a “retired” film scholar such as myself to find more work as a freelancer since my retirement late last February than I did for most of the previous two decades as a staff reviewer for the Chicago Reader. Two of my contemporaries, both former academics and both friends of mine — the slightly younger David Bordwell and the slightly older James Naremore — have told me that they’re busier nowadays than they were when they were teaching. But what seems more surprising, at least to me, is how much of my time recently has been consumed by my participation in panels and symposia, both in print and in person, about the alleged death of film criticism. The October issue of Sight and Sound is full of ruminations on this subject, under such headings as “Who needs critics?” and “critics on critics”; so is the Autumn issue of Cineaste, where the stated topic is “Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet: A Critical Symposium”. A week from now, I will be flying from Chicago to the New York Film Festival to speak on a panel called “Film Criticism in Crisis?”… Read more »