As the Hitchcock 9 proves, even a director as storied and studied as Alfred Hitchcock can have films still virtually unseen by a wider audience. Seeing a "new" work by a legendary director—the Northwest Chicago Film Society's recent screening of the long-lost John Ford film Upstream, for example—is an exciting prospect. People often erroneously assume that film history is set in stone, that we've learned all there is to learn and seen all there is to see. Not only is that untrue on a pandemic level—recent retrospectives of Werner Schroeter and Aleksei German show there's always more to learn about cinema's past—but on a personal level, one can always discover new films or, in some cases, rediscover films one's already seen. My top five this week is dedicated to films I was forced to reevaluate after multiple viewings revealed aspects I'd previously missed. You can catch them after the jump.
5. The Cable Guy (Ben Stiller, 1996, USA) This strange dark comedy has only grown in stature since it bewildered audiences back in 1996, which is when I suppose I saw it for the first time. But it's a film I "rediscover" every time I watch it, thanks to the remarkable way it shifts tones and reveals multiple layers of characterization. The film is a mix of satire and sadism that in some places seems to anticipate the "bromance" comedies of one of its producers, Judd Apatow—albeit sardonically, like some sort of bitter, prescient parody of I Love You, Man, Superbad, and the like.
4. Déjà Vu (Tony Scott, 2006, USA) Really, I could put any of Scott's films here, as it wasn't a particular film that led me back to his work so much as the realization that he'd been steadily making some of the most radically stylized mainstream movies of his era. Déjà Vu, with its metaphysical accents and impressionistic formal design, seems a prime choice, but films like Unstoppable and Domino are also worthy because of the way they contextualize Scott's entire filmography.
3. Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984, USA) I loved this movie as a kid for all the reasons one is supposed to love this movie as a kid. It's silly, thrilling, and simple enough to follow. I still appreciate these aspects today, but now I marvel at the film's self-reflexive and self-critical qualities. Dante layers the imagery with multiple themes, meanings, and symbols, all while keeping the tone light and cartoonish, a truly remarkable accomplishment. The Snow White scene remains one of my favorite moments in all of cinema.
2. Singin' in the Rain (Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly, 1952, USA) I first saw Singin' in the Rain in high school during an intro to film studies class, where my teacher described it as "the most important piece of entertainment in history." That statement left me dubious, and I was skeptical of musicals to begin with. Needless to say, I never gave it a chance. I now see the film as the masterpiece it is—perhaps not "the most important piece of entertainment in history," but without doubt an essential piece of American cinema.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968, USA) Like many Chicago moviegoers, I jumped at the chance to see Kubrick's SF epic during the Music Box's 70mm Film Festival. The opportunity to see the work in its ideal form was intriguing, and I was hoping to find something in the film I hadn't previously. Without question, seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm is a far different experience than seeing it on a TV—or worse, a laptop or iPad screen. It's still not one of my favorite Kubrick films, but witnessing the full extent of its vision led to a deeper appreciation. I didn't see anything new, per se, but I certainly felt much, much more.