January 2023: Sundance, John Garfield, and Movie Overload
Monthly Roundup Post
Welcome to my newsletter! Every month you’ll receive this update featuring all of my writing, and my favorite film and television watches.
New year, new newsletter! This one is filled with a bunch of Sundance coverage, my first in-person—like many—since January 2020. Being back was incredible. Especially since this time I got to attend with Marya, with both us covering for RogerEbert.com and The Playlist (you can find her newsletter, here). While the festival took up the bulk of my time, there were other things I wrote about like the Oscars, my usual action streaming column, and an interview with the director of Saint Omer. You can find all of those goodies below:
Aum: The Cult at the End of the World, Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV, The Stroll capsule
Because of Sundance, I did something that should’ve broken my brain: Last month I watched 161 films (45 of which were shorts, with my favorite titles outlined in this Sundance recap piece). Here are some of my other favorite watches from January:
A Little Prayer - David Strathairn is the best actor of his generation. Full stop. He proves as much in this modestly intimate story about a Southern business owner parsing whether he failed as a father as he watches his grown children making morally questionable decisions.
Call Northside 777 - I was surprised how liberal this movie is, especially because it began with such conservative politics. Based on a true story, Jimmy Stewart plays an incredulous reporter who slowly begins to believe that a man on death row might well be innocent.
The Fallen Sparrow - I spent much of the month on a John Garfield kick, and this one, concerning a former POW investigating the death of his friend in the face of his own PTSD is simply among his best performances.
Fremont - This was the last film I saw in-person at Sundance, and man, it’s a winner. Shot in gorgeous black and white, done with a carefree simplicity yet with a keen interest in the quotidian, this smart film tracks a former Afghan translator trying to rediscover her passion for life as she works in a fortune cookie factory in the Bay Area.
Humoresque - The ending beach scene is so heartbreaking and indelible (I wonder if Park Chan -wook drew on it for Decision to Leave). But most of all, Joan Crawford exist on another level in this aching melodrama.
Jerry Maguire - It’s been nearly a decade since I watched this Tom Cruise classic; and what most stuck out to me in this rewatch is how good Cuba Gooding Jr and Regina King are. Gooding deserved that Oscar, and King deserved not to wait 20 years to get the choice roles required to earn her golden statue.
Kokomo City - The NEXT competition at Sundance was brimming with so many good titles, it’s difficult to pick one (the Appalachian documentary King Coal, for instance, is tremendous). But I can’t get D Smith’s Kokomo City — a black and white shot film following a group of Black transgender women as they share their experiences as sex workers with raunchy humor and endearing grace — out of my head.
Magnolia - I love Michael Caine, but he has Tom Cruise’s Oscar on his mantle. In a picture with many moving parts, Cruise might be the most moving as an incel with daddy issues in what remains PTA’s magna opus to the pernicious ills of show business.
Past Lives - Next to Raven Jackson’s All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, Celine Song’s ruminative Past Lives — a film concerning difficult assimilation, transcendent love, and the road not traveled — is damn-near perfect in its writing and visual form. “See you then” will soon be three of the most heartbreaking words in the English language.
The Royal Tenenbaums - I first watched this Wes Anderson classic when I was 12-years old. I hated it. But I knew I was way too young for it. For years I meant to rewatch what might be Anderson’s best film, and it finally happened on my return flight from Sundance. And yes - 12-year old me was dumb. Because this visually sumptuous and comedically perfect film, and Gene Hackman (in maybe the most spry role of his career), rips.