Proud to be a dinosaur Top 10 list

It’s that special time of year at Northwest Film Forum when our staff shares with you their “Top 10 Lists” from the past sun-round.  Some are styled on the more traditional “top-10 best films” list we see regularly in the media. And some push the boundaries of the top ten format. Let us know what you think in the comments below!


Still courtesy of New Yorker Films

Still from 'Celine and Julie Go Boating.'

As I grow older, I try to avoid any tinge of crankiness about change happening in the world. But one abiding source of complaint, for me, is the slow death of cinema-going in movie theaters. Hot tip: you can always put your money on an old-school film purist zealously proselytizing about 1) seeing films on celluloid and 2) on the big screen whenever possible.

As we look ahead to the cold, hard future of DCP and device-based viewing (neither of these are always a bad thing), I’m feeling a little adamant at the end of 2012 about our abiding reasons for seeking out a communal film experience in the movie theater.

Here are my top 10 film viewing experiences from 2012 that reminded me of great reasons why I should see film art on its original canvas.

10. Mastery deserves a screen as big as your appreciation for its excellence: Grand Illusion

I hadn’t see Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion in more than a decade, but Rialto Pictures’ new 35mm re-issue this year was a total revelation.  Was I sleeping all those years ago? Why would I ever think my computer screen was the appropriate venue for all of the humanity, perfectly composed frames and effortless narrative flow of this film?

9. Even familiar films, when writ large, can completely change your awareness of their importance: The Birds

Like many film nerds I often divide an auteur’s body of work, in my head, into “greater” and “lesser” parts of the canon.  That kind of arrogance is rightly dismissed when viewing something like The Birds on 35mm. My father’s favorite scary movie from his childhood, I had put The Birds in a box of “Hitchcock goes Hollywood” in my memory and forgotten about it. Seeing the slow build of ominous, cramped mise-en-scene in that film, a visual foreshadowing of the trapped terror to come….it’s pitched just perfectly. Clearly the visual storytelling didn’t stand out to me on VHS.

8. Challenging films deserve a full chance to work (or not work): The Master

It’s too easy to queue up a film on Netflix, watch 20 minutes and then convince yourself it’s not worth continuing. I love slow-moving, poetically inclined filmmaking, but sometimes I’m loath to give films a shot for their full duration.  Seeing Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film unfold in the cinema, I was dubious about its potential an hour in, but having committed to viewing it, I went ahead and finished.  I thought it was an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful work. But I was glad I took the full screening to make up my mind…it had lots of great film-going moments (like the outstanding character acting) along the way.

Tie for 6 & 7. Color saturation is visual pleasure and should be soaked up: Celine and Julie Go Boating and Gerhard Richter Painting

Film is visual art in a time-based context – others might argue that viewing static images on a gallery wall is the best method to arrange drowning-by-color, but dip my eyes in a paint bucket and paint me red: I have to disagree.  Gerhard Richter smooths his paint roller over the wall, and the camera sweeps over his larger-than-life abstract work at a larger-than-life scale. Paris shows its magic face in dusky reds, candy purples, rich greens and blues as Celine and Julie continue their adventures. If there’s more pure pleasure in movie-going than the hues and textures of film stock, I don’t know what it is.

5. Black and white is the furthest thing from flat: The Color Wheel

The focus on light, shadow and texture that shooting in black and white celluloid stock brings to the foreground can be an amazing tool for film tone and mood. The visuals happening on screen can play against the story in really interesting ways.  Everyday scenes can feel mythic. Messy emotions can feel stark and clear. Under a slick, forward-moving drive you can suddenly feel deepening undercurrents. This is not the dreaded flattening of visual field that digital cinema offers up – it’s something alive and breathing.

4. Michael Glawogger doesn’t come to my house: Workingman’s Death

Films are not private spaces for artistic contemplation. Well, they are, both psychologically speaking and as we more and more watch them home alone, but films are made by artists and craftspeople, and you only get a chance to come face-to-face with them and ask questions at a public screening. After the emotional wallop of Michael Glawogger’s documentary on living conditions for working people around the world, I needed to hear some whys and wherefores. The artist delivered a highly entertaining Q&A and I left with my experience of the film enriched.

3. There’s a reason why blockbusters are still with us: Jaws

A big shark in big 35mm in a big movie – the birth of the blockbuster and birth of modern American movie-going culture as we know it. Watching Jaws is like watching an origin myth for our popular culture.  The only way this might have been improved as a film experience is if we were all issued personal wading pools to sit and watch in.

2. Durational cinema changes from “eating your peas” to “samsara”: Two Years At Sea

I don’t often take the time, at my laptop screen, to feel the ebb and flow of time as sculpted by a filmmaker. Durational cinematic experience is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for many people, but Ben Rivers’ hand-crafted wilderness-loving epic reminded me why I should go forth and view.  I also really enjoy sitting silently absorbed in a quiet film with other people; there’s a quality to watching a durational film in a communal setting that buzzes with intense concentration and a sense of shared meditation – hard to replicate in a home venue.

1. Movies are the original shock and awe sideshow: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Do I really need to explain this one? My nostalgia for 70s/80s/90s sci-fi notwithstanding…..this film on the big screen is just awe-some.  Although everyone’s inspirations are different, one of the great things about the movies (and about art in general) is being completely overwhelmed by someone else’s creative vision. My general rule is that if it’s aliens, it belongs in a cinema.

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