The Great Movie List: A Theory of Everything

Top 71-80 Double Features

  1. Shinto Bewitchery: Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008)
  2. Rivers of Blood and Nonsense: Mangrove (2020), The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), 3 Brothers (2020)
    In a year marked by an 8 minute 46 second snuff film extracted out of the routine of daily life by venal and absurd law enforcers, what’s more relevant and painful and, thankfully, cathartic than Mangrove? The opening of a Black-owned business, West Indian Londoners celebrating in the street… our first corrupt white cop about 8 minutes in. The intro of our grousing antagonist announces the diagrammatic conflict at hand. Will this all be historically accurate but simplistic, earnest and conventional? No! McQueen moves pretty swiftly through the predictable spasms of racial hatred that follow to get to the real point—a rousing British courtroom drama. Yes, it’s prototypical, in many ways, in its dramatic structure and tropes, but also, firstly, beautifully constructed. The Old Bailey setting, a wood-paneled, vertiginous, archaic space with an oppressive symmetry, is ruled by ridiculous customs against which our counter-culture protagonists stand out. This section of the film opens with an unnerving aerial shot accompanied by ominous rising strings and something like loose castanets that remind of rattling bones. A haunted place. The scenes that follow are often composed and edited like a foggy dream; hand held, floating focus, blown out lighting, aggressive cropping, tilted framing. The period-correct ska and reggae seem anachronistic only because of the setting. McQueen inserts quick shots of historical photos, an animated collage, a reference to Hamlet’s ghost, all very subtly. Because the actual events happened over three months, a solid, controlled rhythm to the scenes is also important. McQueen balances bits of disturbance with a timeless quality which helps us grasp the defendants’ fraying nerves, their growing sense of injustice. All this bravura film-making is just a setup for incendiary cross-examinations or speeches of resistance to the status quo performed with absolute magnificence by Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby and Rochenda Sandall, topped off by a continuous four minute shot of a heated showdown between Wright and Parkes. Letitia Wright, man.

    When the real world is tipped out of balance by corrupt forces, cinema can actually time travel back to events that provide working strategies for defiant response. And for mental health. Cinema’s super powers are a gift.

    The Trial of the Chicago 7 performs the same trick, responding to the intentional confusion of today’s very real acts of police brutality and white supremacy with historical lessons from fifty years ago. Another courtroom drama where the production design drops us into a seemingly perfect reconstruction, and the inherent rules of conduct force those on different sides of a culture war to clash. What do we learn? Oppressive systems require concerted efforts of alliance, strategic thinking, and wit to defeat, if even momentarily. We need the Abbie Hoffmans as much as we need the Bobby Seales. Dave Chappelle and AOC. A team-up of fools and warriors.

    Watchmen (Damon Lindelof, 2019) is still very present and relevant. Its re-contextualized source material added Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Cal Abar and Regina King’s resolute Sister Night, made the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 a new kind of Krypton. Watchmen pushed that subsumed atrocity back into the public consciousness, in seeming provocation of the on-going attempts by the Conservative Right to ignore and even side with the current violence enacted on communities of color. In 2020, Lovecraft Country picked up that blue baton. It elevated its rote pulp material with the horrific spectacle of Jim Crow America and filled its soundtrack with critical examples of the poetry of resistance—Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon”, Sonia Sanchez’s “Catch the Fire”, Sun-Ra’s “Space is the Place”. It also dealt straight up with its namesake H.P. Lovecraft’s virulent racism. Daring authorial choices infused some otherwise brainless entertainment with thought enhancers, lessons in just dealing. It felt shamanistic, not least due to a very trippy vision called Beyond C’est and, maybe not unrelated, a lot of cathartic “lemonading” with baseball bats. Jurnee Smollett’s Leti Lewis took out our collective rage on 2020.

    The storytelling shorthand of drama should be exhausted by now, right? Monsters and/or racists on one side, law-abiding working folk on the other. The diagrammatic construction of diametric opposition. Fantasies like The Mandalorian and Watchmen continue to rely on the same setup as always, just as classics like Do the Right Thing do, where the dispossessed clash with an evil Empire, an Order of the Cyclops, or just someone of the other skin trying to maintain their dominant status quo. Sadly we’re a long way from replacing the comic book narratives of conflict. We still need Star Wars and Marvel to help us fight our coming fights, at least emotionally. What’s the great 2020 lesson? Notions of bigotry and xenophobia previously understood to be evil are now accepted as normal. Politicians and police take notes from Hydra, Thanos and Darth Vader and we need to know how to fight them. An expanding police state makes it harder for everyone to live freely and fairly and increases the likelihood of dying for nothing. With his enraged snippet 3 Brothers, Spike Lee asked one question: “Will history stop repeating itself?” The answer seems decidedly no.

  3. Stardom, Desire, Jealousy: All About My Mother (1999), All About Eve (1950)
  4. Collapse: Weekend (1967), The Road Warrior (1981), Sorcerer (1977)
  5. Colonial Rot: Apocalypse Now (1979), The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), A Passage to India (1984), Hearts of Darkness (1991)
  6. Hedonism & Fascism: Valmont (1989), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), The Conformist (1970)
  7. Hero Deconstruction: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Casablanca (1942), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), The Wages of Fear (1953)
  8. The 400 Blows (1959), Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)
  9. Independence Day: Born in Flames (1983), Stranger Than Paradise (1984), She’s Gotta Have It (1986), sex, lies and videotape (1989)
  10. Bullshit Jobs: Office Space (1999), Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967), The Incredibles (2004), Clerks (1994), Fight Club (1999)

    The advanced capitalism of modern life, Godard proposes, has turned us all into prostitutes, and advertising is capitalism’s pimp. ~ Jacqueline Levitin, One or Two Points About Two or Three Things I Know About Her

    “If you feel your job is bulls—, it probably is.” ~ You’re Not Just Imagining It. Your Job Is Absolute BS