We are Los Angeles people by history and heritage, so we care about movies and about seeing them on the big screen. The next closest movie place turned out to be in Steveston, about a half-hour drive in the direction of the Vancouver airport. And we went there for a few years, but they definitely didn’t have a $4 night, and by the end of our attendance, it was more like an $11 or $12 night, even for seniors like us. But it wasn’t the price that dissuaded me. It was the environment. That theater has about 18 screens, and an entry hall that is like a concentrated Disney ride. In the actual film rooms, the screens were huge, the sound was enormous, the seating was steeply banked, and the whole experience was—instead of the loss of self in the movie world—more like an attack on the self by the movie world. The current vogue for endless quick cuts up close on a huge screen with loud sound seems like punishment, not entertainment. And to pay for punishment is just masochistic. So we gave up seeing movies in theaters.
Fortunately, Netflix arrived about the same time to rescue us and I have adjusted to a smaller screen, welcomed less volume, and reveled in the excellence of my couch as a proper place to sit while watching. It’s not the Orpheum in downtown L.A., I know, but it’s okay; I’m prepared to settle. On the other hand, new movies are not all that great, but Netflix has most of the old ones that I want to see (why not The African Queen???), and I don’t mind waiting a few months to see the rare new one that has me anticipating a fine movie experience.
It turns out that almost half of the movies I most liked last year were made several decades ago, and that I first saw them when they were new. I don’t know quite why it is that we often re-read favorite books, and we listen to CDs over and over, but re-watching a movie is a rare event. “Oh, I already saw that,” one hears, as if the previous viewing was so perfectly engraved in one’s memory that it could be called up with no need for the original source. Lots of movies are worth seeing lots of times. And in that spirit, here’s the list of the Ten Best Movies I Saw Last Year, all on DVD:
- Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Even on a small screen, gorgeous.
- The Ruling Class (1972). Peter O’Toole again, and a classic 60’s British film from the early 70’s. A much darker version of the Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night.
- Oblomov (1979). I loved re-reading the book, and the movie is equally fine. Russian.
- Withnail and I (1987). Another fine (British) comedy; in some ways, it’s The Ruling Class but re-conceptualized with fifteen years more perspective. What were we thinking of???
- My Kid Could Paint That. A documentary about the work and the marketing of a very young child artist. The film raises unanswerable but extremely interesting questions about how we understand art, creativity, and commerce.
- Manufactured Landscapes. Another documentary about art and about the nature of seeing. (Canadian)
- Taxi to the Dark Side. A documentary on how the U.S. got involved in torture. What have we been doing these past seven years? And how will we ever live with our knowledge of it?
- Persepolis. An animated/graphic film about a girl growing up in Iran under the Shah and also after the revolution. A coming-of-age film, of a sort.
- Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days. The most compelling film I’ve ever seen about abortion, with an ending that stays. Romanian.
- The Wire. It’s not a film, it’s a TV series, but it’s great and there are five seasons of it, and they are all great and funny and provocative and heart-breaking. It’s not even possible to say exactly what this series is about in the way that you could say what The Sopranos was about. It’s about drugs, and the police, and the projects, and the schools, and politics, and journalism, and kids and business and unions and modern urban life and people and their dilemmas, all infused with the kind of knowledgeable detail that we usually are encouraged to do without. At the heart of the mid-section of the series is a legal drug zone in Baltimore named ‘Hamsterdam’ (by the kids who do the selling) which is set up by a police commander who needs to establish some control over the drug problem. It’s beyond inspired. Just see it.