5 Movies I Didn’t See in 2011 (But Saw This Week)

I love movies. I love how a great director and great actors can take a script, which is just the skeleton of a story, and flesh it out with sets and sounds and camera movements and jump cuts to make emotions. Turning it into the warm body of a film, with strength and heart. When I was young I attended the Academy of Art in San Francisco, and worked on a degree in Screenwriting (with a minor in Cinematography), wrote a few films (and saw them produced), and learned a lot about the film-making process. Though I figured out that screenwriting was basically organizing thoughts and notes to create an outline for someone else to finish – and therefore not enough to keep me interested – I still use some of what I learned then in my writing now.

When I went to UPenn I studied mainly Art History – which is one of the best degrees for a writer in terms of teaching you about art, culture, history, and how to think – but I also got a chance to take a couple of film criticism classes. I loved them! I’ve done classes on Japanese film, both pre-WW2 and post, noir films, and adaptations, and those four classes together showed me most of what is being put back into (recycled, adapted, homage’d) modern movies. Over the years I have learned to write screenplays, see a script cinematically, and think critically about film. But the biggest thing that informs my view of film is that I have watched so many of them. I’ve even worked in movie theaters in order to have access to all the celluloid I want. This has led me to watch a lot less “Hollywood” blockbusters, because I can see the predecessors in the work. Which is to say that I’ve watched enough classic, indie, and foreign films to know all the myriad ways that Hollywood is ripping them off. Why pay to see what’s already been done, and often done better, by someone else?

I ended up only seeing one movie in theaters in all of 2011, my all time low. I saw Contagion, which was wonderful, and that was it. This had, honestly, more to do with my year than with what was available, and so I started off 2012 by renting a handful of “hit” movies that I actually had wanted to see. In the last three days I have watched the final Harry Potter film, Super 8, Captain America, Thor, and Fright Night. What did I think?

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5 (or 6) Smartly Written Films I Think You Should Watch

I do watch a lot of movies. Much more than television shows, because of a combination of not having cable and not being a big fan of American television. Since I live in America, this limits my options. Besides, I don’t have time to watch both TV and movies too, what with the having a medium-sized child, a burgeoning writing career, my own (nascent and very much needing my attention) publishing company, and a pressing need to sleep once in a while. Though I sometimes enjoy some mindless fun, I prefer movies with great writing to those with great big explosions. I love documentaries! I like British movies and indie movies and old movies where the dialogue was what carried the film along. I like movies which are quotable and memorable and evocative and witty. In no particular order, the five* most well-written movies I can think of at the moment:

1. Network –

Network is a 1976 American satirical film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer about a fictional television network, Union Broadcasting System (UBS), and its struggle with poor ratings. The film was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet. It stars Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall and features Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty, and Beatrice Straight. – From Wikipedia

I first saw this when I was teenager, and I loved the dialogue. The conversations were intelligent, dry, yet still funny in many places, and I remember thinking that this is what grown-ups should sound like when they talk. Sadly, I grew up to find that not everyone was so quick with the witty reply, but it still stuck with me. It also made me look critically at every aspect of television,  and was the first point where I remember that I realized that even the news was a product, for sale:

Nelson Chaney: All I know is that this violates every canon of respectable broadcasting.

Frank Hackett: We’re not a respectable network. We’re a whorehouse network, and we have to take whatever we can get.

Nelson Chaney: Well, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t fancy myself the president of a whorehouse.

Frank Hackett: That’s very commendable of you, Nelson. Now sit down. Your indignation is duly noted; you can always resign tomorrow.

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