"There were various cultural events this year that seized our collective attention for brief passages of time," writes Ryu Spaeth for the New Republic, "but they were ultimately crowded out by the biggest, gaudiest entertainment of them all. Trump was simply always there, in your Twitter feed, his orange avatar popping up between a quip from your colleague and a Vine of J.R. Smith. To call it reality television doesn’t even come close to doing the election justice. Reality television bears no genuine resemblance to reality, whereas President Donald J. Trump is becoming a reality before our very eyes, akin to a movie monster stepping out from the silver screen."
Sarah Kendzior has emerged as on of the most vital analysts of our incredible moment, drawing lessons from her studies of authoritarian regimes and tweeting them forward. She can be severe, undoubtedly for good reason, but the other night found her in a slightly more light-hearted mood as she connected the dots between the here and now and a beloved Christmas movie from the 80s, Die Hard.
And if you're up for it, Sean Penn chimes in at the Daily Beast with "less an article from a defeated liberal’s view of American politics, pollsters, premonitions, or the decline of journalism, than it is a musing on the state of our country’s mental health."
In a "paean to noir seductress nonpareil Gloria Grahame" and, specifically, to her performance in Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place (1950), Melissa Anderson, writing for Criterion, argues that "the most devastating device in the actress’s arsenal is her right eyebrow, her most versatile, irrepressible anatomical feature."
"It took 80 films for Myrna Loy to become an overnight star," writes Steven Mears for Film Comment. "The hardworking dancer-turned-actress weathered typecasting of one kind or another for years before sashaying into screen immortality, martini in hand, as Nora Charles in The Thin Man ." And "what’s most remarkable about the Thin Man series, at least until parenthood and the Hays Code thrust responsibility onto Nick and Nora, is how it depicts a long-standing marriage as neither a stifling domestic prison nor a fusty fortress of security, but as a madcap perpetual adventure, spiked with booze and banter and the occasional murder mystery to keep the magic alive. Simply put, William Powell and Myrna Loy were the first screen couple (and one might argue the last) to make marriage look like fun."
Ray Pride for Newcity Film on Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946): "Is it the bleakest, so-despairing, yet possibly greatest Christmas movie? It blows away the entire history of its protagonist, erasing him from map and memory, all in order to show the meaning of community, the cruelty of capital and the tender tickle of love…. The enshrinement of this movie, the greatest Twilight Zone episode made before there was a Twilight Zone, as a yuppie icon and feel-good weepie overlooks the stern fact that it’s actually one of the most horrifying, most self-abasing stories ever told in Hollywood."
Writing for the Library of America, Amor Towles suggests that, while George Cukor's Dinner at Eight (1933), adapted from the play by George Kaufman and Edna Ferber, "initially showcases the quick repartee and exaggerated facial expressions of the era’s comedies, it quickly becomes a complex social satire which concerns itself with an array of human frailties—and which remains strikingly of the moment."
At Silent London, the Lumière Sisters, a Chiseler collective: "By their very nature, the early silents not-so-silently mocked established norms with archetypes whose ascendancy heralded an irreversible paradigm shift in consciousness—the enforcers of the status quo were soon depicted as bumbling, truncheon wielding extras."
Noting that it "belongs to several categories of film maudit all at once," David Cairns watches Abel Gance's Austerlitz (1960), hardly the "the experimental masterpiece Napoleon  is." Also in the Notebook, Gianluca Pulsoni argues that "something is definitely on the move with animation in Italy."
Anna Biller's The Love Witch "is the story of Elaine (Samantha Robinson, in a breakthrough performance), a white witch who has had bad luck with men in more ways than one," writes Michael Sicinski for Cinema Scope. "Biller’s brilliance here is that witchcraft, front and centre as the subject matter, is of course an allegorical tool. It’s cinema that Elaine/Biller controls without authorization, that empowers her. And perhaps more radical still, they do this not by adopting the outward trappings of masculine power, but by fully embodying the performative place of the femme."
Justine Smith for Movie Mezzanine on Jon Nguyen's David Lynch: The Art Life: "His art and his voice come to dominate the film’s visual and emotional texture, embracing the off-the-cuff cadence of Lynch’s storytelling with its abrupt confessions matched with tangential anecdotes and vivid evocations of hauntings visions."
"Much like Park Chan-wook’s earlier films Oldboy (2003), Lady Vengeance (2005), and Thirst (2009), The Handmaiden exploits the presumption of innocence in others, cannily redistributing knowledge and guilt throughout the film’s cascade of kinks and crimes," writes Marta Figlerowicz for the Los Angeles Review of Books. "This cognitive switch from presumed innocence to knowing complicity is paradigmatic for Park, and he stages it ever more deftly with each film he makes."
Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960), Wednesday at Cinefamily
"Nearly three decades after making his international breakthrough with City on Fire—the 1987 cult-fave cops-and-robbers opus that Quentin Tarantino brazenly referenced in Reservoir Dogs—Hong Kong auteur Ringo Lam returns to his roots with Sky on Fire, a similarly titled non-sequel that, at its infrequent best, plays like a highlight reel culled from the greatest hits of a bygone era," writes Joe Leydon for Variety. "Specifically, this new film recalls that brief but shining heyday when Lam, John Woo, Tsui Hark, and other Hong Kong directors more or less remade action cinema as an exhilarating mashup of operatic passions, automatic weapons, and blow-’em-up, smack-’em-down mayhem."
"For many," writes Rowan Righelato for the Guardian, "Abel Ferrara will forever be the master provocateur, synonymous with drugs, booze, and tortured Catholicism, obsessed with documenting man’s existential bad faith and tortured quest for redemption, a la Bad Lieutenant. For certain film scholars however, Ferrara is a kind of Van Gogh, a truly visionary artist whose genius is destined to be ignored in his own lifetime. To understand the esteem in which he is held, we should begin at the beginning. Helpfully, this month Arrow Films presents a rerelease DVD package of The Driller Killer, complete with a newly recorded audio commentary by Ferrara, an in-depth interview conducted by Brad Stevens (author of Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision), and a visual essay on Ferrara by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Cultographies: Ms. 45."
Wes Anderson's made a film for H&M, Come Together, with Adrien Brody
"Tyler Hubby's documentary Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present, which sets out to make sense of this multidisciplinary artist and largely succeeds, also serves as an obituary," writes John De Fore in the Hollywood Reporter. "Conrad died in April, in the midst of a late-career comeback Hubby witnessed first-hand over twentysomething years. An editor on dozens of docs, including the excellent The Great Invisible and The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Hubby makes his directing debut here with a film that should both please longtime Conrad admirers and explain to newbies what people see in him."
"The immersive quality of cinema lets the audience sink into the narrative," writes Sofie Steenhaut at photogénie. "Does the incorporation of Skype footage or pop-up texts on screen necessarily yank us out this illusion of realism? I would argue the opposite."
"I hate Trump," Tim Roth tells Rory Carroll in the Guardian. "I hate everything that he stands for. He should never be forgotten or forgiven for anything he said on the road to the White House. There should be no concession to him. No ‘Let’s give him a chance.’ None of it." Further in, Roth reveals that his grandfather abused both him and his father. "That’s why I made The War Zone ."
Reverse Shot has posted an interview with Agnès Varda that Genevieve Yue conducted in 2009 following the release of The Beaches of Agnès: "[S]prawling, spry, and ever curious, like the filmmaker herself, it revisits a life that, for over 50 years, has been inextricably linked to the cinema that shaped it."
For Newsweek, Tufayel Ahmed asks Ken Loach whether he'd consider meeting British Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss the hurdles to accessing government assistance as depicted in I, Daniel Blake: "I think we’d need a lot of persuading to go. She knows what she’s doing. There’s no convincing them. We’ve just got to beat them. We have to defeat them, not talk to them."
For more interviews, see yesterday's roundup.
With awards season now underway, Damien Chazelle's La La Land is faring pretty well so far. The New York Film Critics Circle has named it best film of the year, while the Los Angeles Film Critics Association has allotted it the runner-up slots in both the best picture and director categories. Now the Atlanta Film Critics Society chimes in, awarding it best film, director, cinematography (Linus Sandgren) and editing (Tom Cross). "I wanted to make a movie about how life feels when you're in love and full of dreams in the big city," Chazelle writes in the Los Angeles Times. "I was inspired by dozens of movies," but he writes here about "just a handful," including Rouben Mamoulian's Love Me Tonight (1932), Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon (1953) and Djibril Diop Mambéty's Touki Bouki (1973).
IndieWire's Eric Kohn has written up a list of his favorite 16 films of 2016. The top four: Barry Jenkins's Moonlight, Pablo Larraín's Jackie, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's Weiner and Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!!
Neil Young—the critic, not the musician—is working away on five separate lists, all of them fluid works in progress.
"Who is the best working actress in the world today?" David Ehrlich asks in the latest IndieWire Critics Survey.
I'm not going to point to every best books of the year list out there, but this one's from Laura Miller at Slate.
From the AV Club, "Our favorite podcasts of 2016."
And then there's yesterday's roundup of lists, too.
IN OTHER NEWS
The National Film Preservation Foundation has just put 47 films from its DVD collection, Treasures from American Film Archives, online. "Originally released in 2000 and hailed by Roger Ebert as 'a treasure trove of old, obscure, forgotten, rediscovered, and fascinating footage from the first century of film,' Treasures marked the first time that America’s archives had joined forces to share their films with home video audiences and showcase the amazing range of American films. It received an award from the National Society of Film Critics and was called the 'best set of the year' by the New York Times."
"Jimmy Kimmel has been tapped to host the 2017 Academy Awards," reports Lawrence Yee for Variety.
New York. "The interaction of art and cinema throughout the 20th and 21st centuries progresses fitfully across Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016, an ambitious sprawl of an exhibition that has taken over the Whitney Museum of American Art’s vast fifth floor—a space whose flexibility is once more impressively demonstrated," writes Roberta Smith in the New York Times. Through February 5.
Los Angeles. Betzy Bromberg presents her third experimental feature, Glide of Transparency, tonight at REDCAT.
Francis Ford Coppola on Solitude
Berlin. The Arsenal's presenting a Frank Capra retrospective from Thursday through January 20.
IN THE WORKS
"Bruno Dumont will next be exploring musical drama with Jeanette and fantasy comedy with Coin coin les z’inhumains," reports Variety's Elsa Keslassy. Jeanette is based on Charles Péguy's 1910 play, Le Mystère de la charité de Jeanne d'Arc, "charts the childhood of Joan of Arc from the age of 8 to 12," and Dumont has "tapped Gautier Serre (aka Igorrr) to compose a rock and techno score and Philippe Decoufle (New Order: Substance) to create the choreography." With that one wrapped, "Dumont will next direct Coin coin les z’inhumains, the sequel to Li’l Quinquin."
For more on recently announced projects in the works, see Saturday's entry.
At DC's, Violeta Salvatierra remembers Philippe Cote, a filmmaker known for his work with Super 8. "He curated experimental films programs and was on the selection commitee of the Festival International des Cinemas Differents et Experimentaux in Paris…. A filmmaker with a sensitive and radical vision, his earlier works focused on the themes of the body, matter, light and color with techniques that range from cameraless filmmaking to painting on celluloid. After 2005, he moved towards a poetic and contemplative approach to documentaries and travel films."
"Andrew Sachs, the actor best known for playing Manuel the bemused Spanish waiter abused by John Cleese’s bullying hotelier in the BBC comedy series Fawlty Towers, has died aged 86," reports Matthew Weaver for the Guardian. "Cleese led tributes to his co-star, describing him as a 'brilliant farceur' and a 'sweet, sweet man.'"
"Fritz Weaver—the esteemed character actor who passed away Saturday at age 90—told me a lovely story about Ingrid Bergman when I had the pleasure to interview several years ago in New York." And Joe Leydon kindly passes it along to us.
"Al Brodax, a television producer who delivered an enduring psychedelic classic when he turned the Beatles song Yellow Submarine into an animated film in 1968, died on Thursday," reports William Grimes in the New York Times. "He was 90."
"Alice Drummond, a prolific character actress nominated for a Best Featured Actress Tony in 1970 and known for appearances in films like Awakenings, Synecdoche, New York, and Ghostbusters among many others died on November 30," reports Ross A. Lincoln for Deadline. "She was 88."
"Billy Chapin, who as a child actor held his own against Robert Mitchum’s murderous preacher in Charles Laughton’s brilliant The Night of the Hunter , died Friday following a lengthy illness," reports Greg Evans for Deadline. Chapin, who was 72, also "starred in The Kid from Left Field and Tension at Table Rock, among many other films. His many TV credits include Leave It to Beaver and The Millionaire."
On the latest Director's Cut, the podcast from the Directors Guild of America, James Gray talks with Jeff Nichols about Loving (34'36"). Via the Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth.
Dana Carvey is Marc Maron's guest on the WTF Podcast (107'57").
More listening? See Saturday's roundup.
At MSP Blade Runner, David MacGowan is recreating Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, shot by shot, using only Microsoft Paint. Via Colin Marshall at Open Culture.