Movie of the Month: Peyton Place (1957)

Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before, and we discuss it afterwards. This month Britnee made Boomer, Brandon, and Alli watch Peyton Place (1957).

Britnee: I love drama. Soap operas like The Bold and the Beautiful and Days of Our Lives were the inspiration for “playing pretend” with my Barbie dolls when I was a wee one. Now, as a grown adult, I spend most of my time in the BravoSphere obsessing over everything Real Housewives (when I’m not watching movies, of course). Yes, I like my drama on the trashy side, so it’s no surprise that I fell in love with the classic melodrama Peyton Place

Peyton Place is adapted from Grace Metalious’s debut novel of the same name that shocked the world in 1956. It was regarded as smut by the public and banned in various cities and countries due to its racy subjects, including incest, rape, abortion, and adultery. Film producer Jerry Wald jumped on getting the rights to Peyton Place from Metalious less than a month after the novel was released. The result is definitely a sanitized version of the novel, but it’s still pretty scandalous considering that the film was released in 1957.

In the small New England town of Peyton Place, the gossip is hot and the secrets are plentiful. Michael Rossi (Lee Phillips) arrives for his new job as the high school principal along with his “liberal” education methods in tow. We soon find out that he is taking the position from Mrs. Thornton (Mildred Dunnock), who is a tenured English teacher more than fit for the job. There’s a plethora of sad moments throughout the film, but Mrs. Thornton’s heartbreak at that disappointment hits me so hard. We are then introduced to multiple families who have all sorts of juicy secrets, particularly the MacKenzies and the Crosses. Constance MacKenzie (Lana Turner) is a widow and shop owner, raising her only-child, Allison (Diane Varsi). Allison is best friends with Selena Cross (Hope Lange), who’s mother Nellie (Betty Fields), is Constance’s maid. Selena has an extremely rough life, especially compared to Allison’s. She lives in a shack with her mother, younger brother, and horrible alcoholic stepfather.

The judgmental and hypocritical society of Peyton Place causes irreparable damage to much of the community, particularly the youth. Allison is judged harshly by Constance for an innocent kiss, only to find out that she was the product of an affair. Selena is raped and impregnated by her stepfather, struggles to get an abortion, and miscarries due to an accident. Her mother, Nellie, then commits suicide at the MacKenzie residence. To make matters worse, she murders her stepfather in self-defense when he tries to attack her again and is put on trial. And that’s not even getting into Rodney & Betty’s struggles outside the main drama. There is never a dull moment in the film, since we are following so many different families and couples, which is one of the things I appreciate most about it. You can rewatch it multiple times and focus on a different character each time. It’s movie magic!

I’m dying to know what the rest of the crew thought of this movie. We’re there any characters y’all found more fascinating than others?

Brandon:  I loved this.  It’s the exact intersection of high and low art sensibilities where you’ll find most of cinema’s shiniest gems.  For whatever reputation Peyton Place might have as a trashy paperback, this adaptation treats it with the same wide Cinemascope vistas and sweeping orchestral overtures you’d expect in a David Lean adaptation of a literary classic.  A sprawling, gossipy epic of small-town scandal & melodrama, it’s essentially Douglas Sirk’s “Harper Valley PTA”, an exquisite rendering of sensationalist pulp.  The material at hand earns that treatment too.  No matter what prurient curiosity the novel may have held as the Fifty Shades of Grey of its time, it also functions as politically-minded sex education advocacy.  It argues that good, healthy sex habits should be openly discussed and even taught in schools, since the small-town sex shaming of all “dirty talk” is what causes heartbreak & tragedy in these doomed characters’ lives.  There’s something genuinely radical about its 50s-era sex positivity, especially when the proudly horny Allison explains to her male classmate “Girls want to do the same things as boys,” a truth that still hasn’t been fully absorbed in small-town American rhetoric.

Singling out individual characters is a smart way to discuss this film, since there are seemingly hundreds to choose from, each representing their own hot-button issue meant to inspire hushed watercooler & beauty salon chatter among anyone lucky enough to have visited Peyton Place.  I was also heartbroken by the professional disappointments Mrs. Thornton suffers in the first act; I found myself crying over her open-hearted kindness within seconds of meeting her, as her students pooled money together to buy a congratulatory gift for a promotion that never came.  She’s only a small part of the story, though, especially as her potentially pompous replacement proves himself to be just as noble & progressive in his approach to teen-years education.  What I was more hanging on the edge of my seat about was the character arc of Allison’s friend Norman Page (Russ Tamblyn). 

Throughout the film, Norman is portrayed as sexually timid & confused, to the point where he was an obvious representative of closeted (and maybe even oblivious) homosexuality.  What was unclear was how far the movie could possibly go in openly discussing his sexual orientation, beyond broad, Freudian characterizations of his overbearing mother and his self-hating nature as a “coward” and a “sissy.”  My fear was that Allison would be romantically paired with Norman as a narrative attempt to “cure” him, but thankfully they just remain good friends & co-conspirators.  Like many of the hot-button issues the movie collects like Pokémon, Norman’s status as a sexual outlier is never exactly challenged or resolved.  It’s more just plainly represented as a simple fact of life (as much as it could be in a time of intense sexual repression).  The difference with Norman’s sexual identity crisis, though, is that it’s never openly discussed like the affairs, suicides, rapes, and miscarriages playing out elsewhere in town.  Even for a movie that proudly tackles the most sensational topics of its day, Norman’s (ambiguous, unconfirmed) queerness is too controversial to be discussed in clear, honest terms, which is what makes him such a fascinating character to keep track of in the larger crowd.  There’s a tension to seeing just how far the movie is willing to go in his characterization in every scene he enters.

Boomer: It’s funny that Brandon should mention “Harper Valley PTA,” since that’s the only real exposure that I had to Peyton Place (other than its use as exactly the same epithet that Jeannie C. Riley used) prior to this viewing: “You think that as the mother I’m not fit / Well, this is just a little Peyton Place / And you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites.” That is to say, a Peyton Place is somewhere that there’s an awful lot of funny business going on, if you know what I mean. I don’t know how much of that was born out of the film itself and how much was the result of the various sequel soaps and other adaptations that were released in its wake, because in practice, there’s actually very little sex in the film, with what little there is being unspoken or deep in the back story, while the forefront is composed of so much suspicion and gossip. There’s one really frisky classmate of Allison and Selena who flirts with the former before devoting himself to his one real childhood sweetheart (to whom he seems faithful despite his raging hormones, especially in combination with his disdain for his father’s own implied adulteries), and then in the backstory Connie had an affair with a married man, of which Allison is the product. It’s barely salacious, even for the time period, and only the first of these is common knowledge, though it enters the town’s thriving marketplace of gossip attached to the incorrect players. Peyton Place’s prosperity comes in the form of its textile mill, but it runs just as much on the rumor mill, as very little information that gets passed around is accurate, and real secrets get covered over in the rush. Connie’s affair could have remained hidden forever, just like Lucas Cross’s crimes and sins, because town gossip was mostly concerned with fiction. 

I, like Brandon, also thought of Douglas Sirk while watching this, but in my mind I titled it “Sirk’s Twin Peaks” because in both titular towns, the deepest and most harrowing crime is at the expense of a teenage girl and mostly concerns itself with her peers and the people of her parents’ generation who are supposed to be looking out for their children. (And they both have Russ Tamblyn!) It could just as easily have been Sirk’s Blue Velvet, however, given that it was the earlier of David Lynch’s works about an idyllic town with a monstrous underbelly of violent unchained id and a facade of perfect Americana with a maggoty core. (And they both have Hope Lange!) But the film is only Lynchian in its topic, not in its tone or its temperament, and in this mixture between the cheerful color of full-on Cinemascope melodrama and its seedy story of suspicion and vice that makes it feel at once both dated and timeless in the best possible way. 

Alli: I went into this movie, as I do with a lot of movies from this era, with my 1950s housewife lenses on. I like to imagine that I’m completely fresh and contemporary to an old movie. From that perspective, Peyton Place is positively lurid. Teenage sexuality? Class consciousness? Education reforms? Abortion? Absolutely shocking. Which is why I couldn’t stay in that frame of mind for long. It’s just too ahead of its time. I’m honestly astonished that it even got made. It’s not always an easy watch, but it is a worthwhile one, filled with drama, critiques of small town America, and necking. If this movie were made on this scale today, there are still people who would find it absolutely shocking and controversial. 

It starts off strong with Michael Rossi arriving in town observing the dilapidated shacks on the wrong side of the tracks, only to arrive on mainstreet in this idyllic New England hamlet, complete with beautiful green trees, gorgeous homes, and quaint local businesses. He has a conversation with a restaurant owner about the state of employment in Peyton Place where we find out that almost everyone works at a woolen mill and that business has a stranglehold over everything in town. Like any town where one industry dominates the entire economy, the business owners have a vested interest in making sure that education is undervalued and that the status quo is maintained. Rossi does manage to haggle for a better salary, even with the reluctance of the school board, probably because he is not the “older” woman Mrs. Thorton (“older” in scare quotes here because it’s later revealed that she’s in her mid to late 40s). This clash of capitalistic American values against an educator’s desire for fairness and equality for all students is riveting. When he’s demanding a salary and refusing to do the unpaid labor of coaching sports teams, I was elated. We need more movies where characters stick up for themselves in the faces of tycoons.

All these teens’ stories are so good. I love them sneaking around and indulging in horny teenage rebellion. I love Betty slutting it up. It’s extremely satisfying when Allison stands up for herself to her hypocrite mother. Norman suffering his Psycho-esque Norma Bates mother is just oedipal perfection. Selena’s story, however, is heartbreaking, and quite frankly, it was extremely difficult for me to watch. The abuse she suffers at the hands of her stepfather is presented so starkly and realistically. In a movie full of overblown drama, this plot line unfortunately feels the most realistic until the town rallies behind her (real life is rarely that hopeful). When she snaps and kills Lucas, it is weirdly satisfying, even with the thought that she may have just doomed herself by trying to save herself.

I’m so glad that I watched this soapy, melodramatic epic. It is going to stick in my mind for a long time.

Lagniappe

Alli: I was so focused on how great the narrative is, I forgot to mention it’s beautiful too! How about Mrs. Mackenzie in that red dress going to Rossis’ house for Christmas? The bright, saturated colors there are just wonderful.

Brandon: My only previous exposure to Peyton Place was the shot of Jayne Mansfield reading it during a self-indulgent bubble bath in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, a visual gag that’s much funnier now that I know of the novel’s sub-literary reputation.

Britnee: I find myself referencing Peyton Place more and more as I get older. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but it’s a reminder of how relevant the film still is. It should come as no surprise that a Peyton Place themed excursion to its Camden, Maine filming location is on my vacation wishlist. The Camden Public Library even put together a map of Peyton Place landmarks. The majority of the locations haven’t changed much since 1957. It’s the melodramatic time capsule of my dreams!

Boomer: I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see which actor I knew from their appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents or The Alfred Hitchcock Hour would appear next. I immediately recognized Mildred Dunnock (Mrs. Thornton) from her three appearances in the former program and her singular appearance in the latter, in the episodes “None Are So Blind,” “The West Warlock Time Capsule,” “Heart of Gold,” and “Beyond the Sea of Death.” Arthur Kennedy (Lucas Cross) appeared in the Hour episode “Change of Address,” Betty Field (Nellie Cross) was in the Presents episode “A Very Moral Theft” and “The Star Juror” episode of Hour, and Staats Cotsworth (Charles Partridge) had a role in Hour‘s “The Thirty-First of February.” Even Lorne Green, who will forever be the original Battlestar Galactica‘s Commander Adama to me, appeared in the Presents episode “Help Wanted.” Surprisingly, the big one was Robert H. Harris, who played Peyton Times editor Seth Bushwell: the was in no fewer than eight episodes of Presents (“Shopping for Death,” “The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby,” “The Hidden Thing,” “Toby,” “The Dangerous People,” “The Safe Place,” :Graduating Class,” and “The Greatest Monster of them All”) and an episode of Hour entitled “Consider Her Ways.”

Next month: Brandon presents Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)

-The Swampflix Crew

Swampflix’s Top 10 Films of 2022

1. Everything Everywhere All at Once Maybe we’re living in the worst possible timeline, but maybe we’re just living in the one where Michel Gondry directed The Matrix.  It’s nice here.  The absurdism, creativity, and all-out maximalism of Everything Everywhere has made it the most talked-about movie of the year, and with good reason.  Films about intergenerational trauma and poor parental relationships often come across as schmaltzy and reductive, but this one is complex in ways that you can’t predict or imagine.  You’ll even find yourself empathizing with a googly-eyed rock.

2. Marcel the Shell With Shoes OnIn the tradition of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the Borrowers books, and the half-remembered TV show The Littles, Marcel the Shell shrinks itself down to the level of a tiny being to view the world from their perspective.  Like the original stop-motion YouTube shorts, it’s a rapid-fire joke delivery system where every punchline is “So small!”  It also has a big heart, though, acting as an emotional defibrillator to shock us back into the great wide world of familial & communal joy after a few years of intense isolation. 

3. Mad GodBoth a for-its-own sake immersion in scatological mayhem and an oddly touching reflection on the creative process, the indifference of time, and the cruelty of everything.  Phil Tippet’s stop-motion descent into Hell is meticulously designed to either delight or irritate, so count us among the awed freaks who never wanted the nightmare to end.

4. RRR An anti-colonialist epic about the power of friendship (and the power of bullets, and the power of wolves, and the power of grenades, and the power of dynamite, and the power of tigers, and the power of bears, oh my).  A real skull-cracker of a good time.

5. Neptune FrostA post-gender Afrofuturist musical that triangulates unlikely holy ground between Space is the Place, Black Orpheus, and Hackers.  This movie is gorgeous, even if it takes more than one viewing to piece together a thorough understanding of its plot, since it phrases its protests against colonialism & strip-mining in the language of dreams & poetry.

6. Men If it weren’t for the tabloidization of Don’t Worry Darling, this would easily be the most over-complained about movie of 2022.  The Discourse was not kind to Alex Garland’s shift from chilly sci-fi to atmospheric folk horror, but the spectacular MPreg climax & Rory Kinnear’s terrifying face will haunt us forever anyway.

7. Triangle of Sadness A delightfully cruel, unsettling comedy that invites you to laugh at the grotesquely rich as they slide around in their own piss, shit, and vomit on a swaying luxury cruise ship.  It’s incredibly satisfyingand maybe even Östlund’s bestas long as you prefer catharsis & entertainment over subtlety & nuance.

8. Funny Pages Proudly wears its 2000s indie nostalgia as a grimy badge of dishonor, questioning why Ghost World and The Safdies can’t share the same marquee.  You might wonder where its alt-comics slackerdom fits in the modern world, but any dipshit suburbanite poser who’s ever romanticized suffering an “authentic” life as a starving artist in The City should be able to relate.

9. Nope After examining the horror of suburbia and neoliberalism in Get Out (our #1 film of 2017) and the horror of self and manifest destiny in Us (our #7 film of 2019), Jordan Peele’s latest is an oddly laidback, immensely scaled sci-fi thriller about a brother & sister’s fight to understand, outsmart, document, and monetize an extraterrestrial being beyond our comprehension.  Consider it a Signs of the times. 

10. Hatching A great entry in the Puberty as Monstrous Transformation canon, alongside titles like Ginger Snaps, Jennifer’s Body, Teeth, and CarrieHatching stands out in that crowd by adding an extra layer about mothers living through their daughters in unhealthy ways. In fact, we recommend all mothers and daughters watch this twisted Finnish fairy tale together; it’s gross-out fun for the whole family.

Read Alli’s list here.
Read Boomer’s list here.
Read Brandon’s list here.
Read Britnee’s list here.
See Hanna’s list here.
Hear James’s list here.

-The Swampflix Crew

Britnee’s Top 15 Films of 2022

1. Barbarian This is the ultimate midnight movie of 2022, which is exactly what makes it the best movie of 2022. I tried my best to guess the next big plot twist over and over again, and I was wrong every single time. Nothing could have prepared me for what happens. It brought back the same feelings that I had when I first got into B-movies in my pre-teen years, but more importantly, it gave me faith that the art of trashy, ridiculous big-budget horror films is not dead. I rate this 5 full baby bottles.

2. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris I adore charming, feel-good British movies, so it’s no surprise that Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is ranked so high on my personal list. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, and I even screamed from pure joy. Mrs. Harris has become my role model, and I strive to be more like her every day.

3. After Blue (Dirty Paradise) Bertrand Mandico has a knack for creating some of the most beautiful atmospheres in modern film. More movies should be set in a sandy, post-apocalyptic paradise full of glitter, phallic plants, and hairy lesbians. I loved every second, even the 5,000+ times the characters said “Kate Bush”.

4. Hatching All mothers and daughters need to watch this twisted Finnish fairy tale. Its story is engaging, its body horror is haunting, and the practical puppeteering of the main monster completely blew me away. Everything about it is wonderfully unsettling.

5. The Northman Watching a bunch of tall, ripped Viking men commit brutal acts of violence for 2+ hours made me feel like such a pervert. Robert Eggers somehow managed to turn a Viking revenge film with a lot of heart and a couple of farts into a cinematic masterpiece.

6. Triangle of Sadness Rich people getting flung around a luxury cruise ship while covered in their own shit, piss, and vomit for a solid 20 minutes was the most satisfying thing I’ve seen all year.

7. The Eternal DaughterA wonderful Gothic ghost tale that I strangely connected with on a personal level. The film has a very small cast (half of it portrayed by Tilda Swinton) and takes place in a cozy, spooky English manor with not much going on, but it’s somehow riveting.

8. Mad God This is a pure nightmare that explores the depths of Hell within Hell through the best stop-motion animation I’ve ever seen. It’s so disturbing and even made me physically ill from time to time. How metal is that?

9. Fresh This starts off as a cute romcom but turns into something sinister while still maintaining its dark humor. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before, but I hope it starts a trend, because I really enjoyed it.

10. Resurrection Rebecca Hall gives the best performance that I’ve seen all year in a gut-wrenching monologue that’s about 10 minutes long. It’s also the best MPreg movie of 2022.

11. Aline This was such a goofy, heartfelt film that made me truly appreciate the legendary Celine Dion. I still don’t quite understand how or why it was made and got so much recognition, but I love that this weird little movie about a counterfeit “Celine Dion” made its way into my life.

12. Crimes of the Future The king of body horror does it again. I honestly was a little bored with the plot, but I was so mesmerized by all of the grotesque spectacle that I didn’t care.  

13. Men Rory Kinnear’s face will forever terrify me. This maintains an eerie atmosphere from beginning to end (very A24) that kept me engaged and creeped out throughout. Also, it’s the second best MPreg film of 2022.

14. Nope I’m not really a big fan of horror that crosses into the sci-fi realm, so I didn’t make watching Nope a priority. I’m ashamed I didn’t watch it sooner. This is such a badass movie that completely freaked me out in every way possible.

15. Deadstream I was not expecting this found footage horror to be equally terrifying and hilarious. It’s a blast, with loads of fun jump scares and unexpected turns.

-Britnee Lombas

Alli’s Top 5 Films of 2022

1. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

I have loved Marcel since my husband showed me the first stop-motion short on YouTube a decade ago. It sparked a love for Jenny Slate that makes me excited to watch anything she’s in. When this movie was first announced, I was squealing in excitement throughout my house, so I was pretty hyped up. Despite going in with extremely high expectations, I absolutely loved it. 

Marcel is as charming as ever, rolling around in his tennis ball “rover” and showing off his “breadroom”. Isabella Rossellini is amazing as Grandma Connie, dispensing tough love and working in her little garden with her little bug friends. All the wonderful tiny details are just beautiful. And that’s part of what this movie is about: appreciating the small day-to-day details and the processes we use to get through life, not taking anything for granted, and keeping your head up through the tough times. It’s also a look at what family and community truly mean. 

I’ve mentioned it on the podcast, but my grandma died this past year. We were far apart at the end of her life, but I was very close and lived with her off and on as a child. Watching Marcel’s relationship with Connie was really nice and beautiful. I cried so hard, but there’s so much hope and warmth to this movie that it doesn’t leave you sad. You keep your head up and appreciate what you’ve got, because the world can be a nice place.

2. Fire of Love

There was no world in which I wouldn’t love this documentary.

#1. I am absolutely fascinated with volcanoes! (Brandon and I actually met in a geology class that spent a good amount of time on volcanoes! He borrowed my notes! Look at us now!)

 #2. I love love, and this movie is absolutely a love story.

With captivating narration by Miranda July, this documentary tells the story of Katia and Maurice Krafft: two vulcanologists who fell in love, got married, and lived & died by the volcanoes they also loved. They filmed countless hours of footage of volcanoes and themselves studying them and not just in straightforward ways. The videos they made were purposeful, cinematic art. Their obsession with these destructive and creative forces is contagious, even as you learn that they lost their lives to it in to the eruption of Mount Unzen in 1991. They took risks, lived passionately, and loved each other, flaws and all.

Once again, I cried even knowing the ending was coming.

3. Everything Everywhere All at Once

The absurdism, the creativity, and the all-out maximalism of this movie blows my mind. Who hasn’t pondered in recent years the multiverse and whether we’re living in “the worst timeline?” (To me, the answer is no, but we’re not living in the best one either.) Where are the best or weirdest versions of ourselves? Maybe these questions aren’t directly answered in this film, but they’re seriously considered. 

Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan are both incredible. I also love Jamie Lee Curtis looking like a regular person! The choreography of the fight scenes is fantastic. Hot dog fingers! Googly eyes! EVERYTHING bagel! This movie has it all and a heart of gold.

4. Neptune Frost

A psychedelic, non-linear, romantic Afrofuturism musical that questions gender, colonialism, capitalism, technology, and the intersections thereof. This movie is a beautiful experience, and there’s nothing like it. Go in with an open mind and enjoy the ride.

5. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio 

I’m the #basiccinemabitch of Swampflix in that I pretty much love everything del Toro has ever done. I’m not fanatical enough to seek out something just because his name is on it, but everything I see with his name on it is something I at least appreciate. Despite that, I still went into this movie skeptical. There are Disney remakes and “live action” adaptations of Pinocchio coming out practically every hour, so did we really need another one? Well, when the moral of the story is to be yourself even if that means being an annoying agent of chaos, then yes, we did need another. 

Yes, this is del Toro, so of course there’s fascism afoot. No, not all of the songs are good. Yes, it has the familiar del Toro motives and goth sensibilities. No, you will not appreciate it if you never liked his shtick or are over it.

The stop-motion animation is absolutely gorgeous. Every character design is just so good. The story, despite being familiar, is also wonderful. I love that this movie manages to capture how hyper and wild kids can be, and that it celebrates those qualities. Plus, there’s biblically accurate angels, mockery of the crucifix, and a song about poop sung directly to Mussolini. Who cares about being a real boy? Become ungovernable. 

-Alli Hobbs

Podcast #177: The Top 27 Films of 2022

Welcome to Episode #177 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Brandon, James, Britnee, and Hanna discuss their favorite films of 2022.

00:00 Welcome

05:35 Resurrection
11:00 Strawberry Mansion
15:14 Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
21:00 Fresh
25:15 Pearl
31:35 Men
35:38 Deadstream
38:48 The Eternal Daughter
43:58 Funny Pages
50:07 Parallel Mothers
52:05 Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
1:00:52 Triangle of Sadness
1:06:16 The Northman
1:10:33 Hatching
1:14:30 Inu-Oh
1:16:53 Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

1:22:25 Please Baby Please
1:29:06 Jackass Forever
1:34:30 Vortex
1:44:47 Aftersun
1:54:23 After Blue (Dirty Paradise)
2:00:38 Everything Everywhere All at Once
2:08:05 RRR

2:13:25 Neptune Frost
2:19:10 Barbarian
2:27:22 The Banshees of Inisherin
2:36:15 Mad God

James’s Top 20 Films of 2022

  1. Mad God
  2. The Banshees of Inisherin
  3. RRR
  4. Everything Everywhere All at Once
  5. Vortex
  6. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
  7. Aftersun
  8. Pearl
  9. Men
  10. Jackass Forever
  11. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
  12. Funny Pages
  13. Triangle of Sadness
  14. The Northman
  15. Crimes of the Future
  16. On the Count of Three
  17. Hatching
  18. Fire of Love
  19. Bodies Bodies Bodies
  20. Emily the Criminal

You can stay up to date with our podcast by subscribing on SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

– The Podcast Crew

Boomer’s Top 15 Films of 2022

Hello, all; it’s that time of year again! As always, I must begin with my apologia and my explanations. First, as I’ve said before, I personally feel like any movie released during the last two weeks of December should technically be counted for the year following. I’m not a person who can be counted on to go and see something with a December 29th release date in time to compose my end of the year list (which I’m doing right now on only the second day of 2023); it’s an arbitrary rule, but it is mine. Some of you out there might think that I’m already laying the groundwork to include Hot Twink Spider-Man: Too Many Spider-Twinks on this list because of its December 27th, 2021 release date, but that leads me to my second introductory note for the year. Although this may surprise many long-term readers, there are no comic book movies on this list. To tell you the truth, the MCU ended for me a couple of years ago with Endgame. That movie served to conclude all of the things that I had come to care about within that franchise and put a nice little cap on it. I’ll still stick around for Spider-Men and occasionally check out one of the shows if it piques my interest (in this house we watch anything with Tatiana Maslany in it), but I can hardly work myself up to care about the big flicks anymore. I didn’t even see the new Thor, and the only MCU movie I did see was Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which was 95% because of Sam Raimi directing and 5% Patrick Stewart cameo, which leaves 0% in the tank for the ongoing Marvel long term plan. I did also see The Batman, which would have been a great crime thriller were it not for the fact that it’s a Batman movie, and also Morbius because I hate myself. Finally, although a year is a long time, it’s still not enough to see everything. Brandon’s list just went up and there were nearly a dozen movies on it that I had never even heard of, but the assignment is due and it’s time to turn in what I’ve got even if I didn’t finish all of the homework. For what it’s worth, based on synopsis and marketing material alone, I think the films most likely to appear on this list if only there were world enough and time were After Yang and Triangle of Sadness. 

Honorable Mentions

The House – The first two of the three segments that comprise this anthology are phenomenal, and either one of them could have ended up in the top three of this list if they were features. The third short, however, simply disrupted my viewing experience in a way that I’ve still not managed to get over. You see, the third short is too happy, or at the very least, too optimistic. The most important thing that a film can do is create an emotional rapport with you, and The House does this with the opening segment about a man whose obsession with a fine house draws him into a Faustian bargain that becomes a nightmare for his child, and that spirit of dread and discomfort plays out through the second segment, which is about a contractor who is unable to flip the house into which he has invested everything, and his inability to drive out parasites and pests. The third segment simply changes the feel of the movie in a way that moves it out of the top tier of consideration for me, as much as I like two initial vignettes.

Licorice Pizza – I loved this one, and it’s funny to me that I can’t technically put it on this list, since I saw it in theaters as late as March (a full two months after seeing 5cream at the drive-in). But it technically had its wide release in November of 2021, so I can’t even grandfather it in with my arbitrary two-week rule noted above. Everything about this movie felt like magic to me, like a story of a 1970s Pippi Longstocking who seems to be able to do just about anything he wants through the power of sheer gumption and never questioning himself, and the way that maturity looks differently on different people. 

Hatching – Leaving this one here because although I really did love it, I fought with myself about whether number 12 below should count as a movie or only be considered for Honorable Mention status, and the truth is that the experience that made it onto the list below just deserves it more. But if it weren’t for that, Hatching would have made it to the number 15 spot. 

Without further ado: 

15. Bros I can’t say much more about it than I already did; read my review here

14. Do Revenge Hitchcock by way of Heathers, a twisty bubblegum potboiler that’s more fun than it has any right to be. Read my review here

13. Don’t Worry Darling I’ve already done my apologia for why this one was better than anyone gave it credit for and was more than the sum of its inspirations, and I stand by them. Check it out here.

12. Everything is Terrible: Kidz Klub Everything is Terrible is one of the few social media outlets that is run by people you can truly respect. They create new films out of hundreds of old VHS tapes, and you can hear more about one of their earlier ventures on the Lagniappe episode found here, in which we discussed their film The Great Satan. Kidz Klub likewise cribs largely from propaganda distributed in churches as well as secular material, with this film being about a child asking “Goddad” about life, the universe, and everything. I know EIT content is normally more digestible for the public in web-hosted chunks, but this one is well worth tracking down if you don’t get headaches from their material. 

11. Neptune Frost An Afrofuturist fable about colonialism, strip-mining, and the concept of a unified people in the form of a musical, this movie is gorgeous, even if it will probably take more than one viewing to begin parsing together a thorough understanding of what its plot is. The message is clearer than the narrative, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Listen to us discuss it on the Lagniappe episode here.

10. 5cream aka Scream aka Scream 5 – The latest feature in my personal favorite horror series, this one suffers from too little Sidney Prescott, but it’s still worth watching. Read my review here

9. BarbarianIdentified by Alli as the Castle Freak of AirBnBs, Barbarian is about men and their barbarity, and all of the ways both subtle and obvious they walk through the world. A harrowing movie about the anxieties of existing as a person who is historically disenfranchised within a world controlled by others which also contains a scene in which Justin Long struggles hilariously with a tape measure. Read my review here.

8. Prey The colonial era Predator prequel that everyone’s dad probably thought was really cool until they went to their favorite YouTube channel that’s focused around The Discourse and learned that they were supposed to hate it because the main character is a Mary Sue and this new film is woke SJW bullshit. You know, unlike the first film in this series, which they somehow believe was an apolitical move about Vietnam. Listen to us discuss this one on the Lagniappe episode here

7. Glass OnionA worthy sequel to Knives Out. It’s absurd to call a film so tightly constructed “sloppy,” but there is something that’s a little less sharp and fine-tuned about this one than its predecessor, but some of the new zaniness therein helps balance this one out. Read my review here.

6. Fire Island It is a truth universally acknowledged that most romcoms derive the core basics of their plots from Jane Austen novels, even though they rarely wear their inspiration on their sleeve so openly and honestly as Fire Island does. Joel Kim Booster is our Elizabeth Bennett, who initially has friction with the seemingly humorous but ultimately passionate Will, who stands in for Mr. Darcy. It could just be recency bias that’s making me rank this one so high, but I watched the whole thing with rapt attention and a big smile on my face, and sometimes, that’s really all you need. Read my review here.

5. Men Possibly a spicy take here, but I loved Men when I saw it and even though I know that there was discourse, it passed me by completely and I still love this as much as I did when I first saw it. You can read Brandon’s review here

4. Three Thousand Years of Longing An absolute delight of a movie. A stodgy academic meets a handsome djinn and, determined to use her wish wisely, listens to the stories of the djinn’s life and the loves he has has lost along the way. A love story that crosses time and distance in a truly magnificent and magical way. You can read Brandon’s review here

3. Nope Another absolute home run for modern horror maestro Jordan Peele. After examining the horror of suburbia and neoliberalism in Get Out and the horror of the self and manifest destiny in Us, Nope is about a brother and sister whose experiences with extra terrestrial life require them to stop trying to outsmart the entity which has taken up residence near their ranch, but to realize that it’s impossible to reason with an intelligence so alien. Read my review here.

2. Everything Everywhere All At Once This has easily been the most talked-about movie of the year, so what more do you need to hear from me about it? I love Michelle Yeoh, and although she’s no stranger to the complex role, it was nice to get to see her play a character who considered themselves to be a good person but whose actions are often selfish at best. So often, a film that is about intergenerational trauma and poor parental relationships comes across as schmaltzy and reductive, but this one is complex in ways that you can’t predict or imagine. You’ll find yourself empathizing with a rock more than you ever have before. You can read Brandon’s review here

1. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On I fell in love with Marcel the moment I saw a trailer for this movie. I love anything that gets down to the eye level of a little being and sees the world from their perspective. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the Borrowers books, the half-remembered TV show The Littles, and even Ant-Man: it’s an immediate win for me. Marcel has more than that alone going for it, though, with an earnest depiction of a relationship between a child and his grandmother that found me where I live and pressed on my emotion button. I laughed and then I cried and then I laughed some more. Long live Marcel the Shell with Shoes on. 

You can read Brandon’s review here.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Quick Takes: 2022 FYC Leftovers

For the past couple months, my inboxes (both physical and virtual) have been overflowing with FYC Awards Screeners.  Within the two-hour span of pressing play on a movie and checking my phone during its end credits, two or three more titles would appear, fighting their way into my eyeballs.  It was an unrelenting flood of #prestigecontent presented in low-res, watermarked glory, and I crammed in as many titles I could before voting on the SEFCA’s Best of the Year list and publishing my own personal favs.  Now that the ritual is over and my backlog of screeners is cleared, I’m feeling a lot less pressure to properly review everything I watched during my FYC marathon.  For the past month, I’ve been regularly #prestigeposting about the movies I watched during that busy stretch, but I’m ready to move on to the much more exciting moviewatching ritual of January Dumping Season.  I’ve got to get these 2022 FYC leftovers out of the way before I review the most important cinematic release of 2023: the killer-doll gimmick horror M3GAN.

So, here are a few quick mini-reviews of the 2022 awards contenders I watched for Best of the Year consideration, but never found the time to write about before those lists were carved in stone.

Corsage (2022)

The playfully anachronistic costume drama Corsage was the biggest no-brainer selection from my screener pile, since I’m generally a huge fan of subversive works that shake up the genre with modern flippancy & vulgarity: Marie Antoinette, Emma., The Favourite, The Great, etc.  Only, I’m not sure that director Marie Kreutzer shares my love for those defiantly lewd period pieces.  Corsage modernizes Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s final years by framing her as a feminist icon, wagging her tongue & middle finger in mockery of The Patriarchy while orchestral arrangements of pop songs like “A Tears Go By” lilt on the soundtrack.  However, Kreutzer pursues a much more restrained, melancholy approach to the pop-music costume drama than you’ll find in Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, aiming more for deep exhaustion with the world than transgressive, bratty sass. Corsage evokes the awkward, sad, oppressive atmosphere of films like Spencer or Jackie instead, with even the modern pop soundtrack from French chanteuse Camile striking a haunted, spooky tone instead of an out-of-time party atmosphere.

That muted, somber tone limits how surprising & transgressive Corsage feels from scene to scene, so it’s most commendable as a Vicky Krieps acting showcase, the scale of which hasn’t been seen since Phantom Thread.  Elisabeth died in her forties, obsessed with maintaining her youthful beauty as a source of political power but frustrated to be living a royal life where “your only duty is having your hair braided.”  The movie skips over the more dramatic Wikipedia bullet points of her biography—including her assassination—and instead makes a meal out of watching Krieps squeeze into increasingly tight corsets, smoke countless cigarettes, and seethe on windowsills.  Its boldest risks are taken in her costuming, outfitting her with striking black veils, sea captain tattoos, costume shop mustaches, and other novelty adornments that would’ve been a shock to 19th Century onlookers.  In a lot of ways, it feels stuck between flippancy & solemnity, never finding a satisfying balance between those two impulses, but it’s still worth a look for Krieps’s costumes & performance.

The Whale (2022)

I can at least get behind Best Acting nominations for Krieps in Corsage more than I can support them for Brendan Fraser in The Whale.  His casting is just about the only thing that works in Darren Aronofsky’s latest allegorical feel-badder, in which Fraser plays a 600-pound gay man on a culinary suicide mission.  Fraser has kind, sympathetic eyes, which beam blinding, unearned pathos from under his cumbersome prosthetic fat suit.  The only problem is that every choice outside that casting is cruel, miserable, disposable nonsense.  Everything about this stilted stage play adaptation rings hollow & artificial, directly in opposition to the real-world authenticity of the last time Aronofsky told its father-seeking-redemption-before-suicide story in The Wrestler.  Worse, it gawks at Fraser’s synthetic fat body as an alien grotesquerie, cranking up the sounds of his eating, gasping, and wheezing on the soundtrack so you never forget to be disgusted by what he’s done to himself.  You’re supposed to feel immense sympathy when bullies enter the dying man’s apartment to hurl insults at the poor, obese creature, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the movie itself shares their villainous disgust.

I love a volatile auteur who consistently swings for the fences, but sometimes that means they follow up one of their career-best films with their absolutely worst.  mother! felt like an exciting direction for Aronofsky’s absurdly literal allegories, lashing out in broad, expressionist strokes instead of tethering himself to the grim restrictions of reality.  In that context, The Whale is a regressive act, confining all of its allegorical value in conversational references to Moby Dick & The Book of Jonah while Fraser’s pathetic junk-food suicide plays out onscreen in grounded, morbidly realistic terms (until its idiotic concluding seconds, at least).  For some reason, Sarah Polley’s emotionally devastating Women Talking is getting a lot of pushback this awards season for being stagebound & visually ugly, while this phony misery piece is shot in even duller greys, browns, and yellows in a cheap-o digi 4:3 Zoom window frame.  It’s incredible that it was adapted from a stage play and not written in a rush to produce something COVID-filmable, since most of its faux-philosophical dialogue reads as [insert something profound here] placeholders.

We’re all happy to see Fraser back onscreen, and he really does have effectively pathetic puppy dog eyes, but his presence is totally wasted here, not to mention physically obscured.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

In contrast, I despised Martin McDonagh’s last film—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—but adored his latest darkly comic awards seeker.  The Banshees of Inisherin is similar to The Whale in its stage-play approach to dialogue, its pronounced adherence to allegory, and its morbid fascination with destruction of the human body. It’s just more successful by every metric.  I was even heartened that the SEFCA poll for the Best Movies of 2022—the reason I received these screeners in the first place—honored Colin Farrell’s performance in Banshees over Fraser’s in The Whale, demoting that Oscar front-runner to Farrell’s runner-up.  Fraser may have sympathetic eyes, but Farrell has the world’s most flexible, expressive eyebrows, and they’re put to incredible use in his latest collaboration with McDonagh.

The Banshees of Inisherin isn’t an especially impressive looking movie; its relatively low-stakes story about an adult friendship on the rocks is rarely emotionally devastating; its metaphorical echoes of the Irish Civil War are spelled out as plainly & flatly as anything in The Whale.  Truth be told, it’s my favorite movie on this list simply because it is very, very funny.  Colin Farrell’s performance as a nice, milquetoast man who is devastated to discover that his lifelong bestie (Brendan Gleeson) finds him to be a bore and wants nothing more to do with him is consistently hilarious & endearing.  As Gleason holds himself hostage, mutilating his fiddle-playing hand every time Farrell crosses the treaty line to bore him with more small talk, Farrell’s sweetheart himbo confusion with why they’re spatting in the first place reaches some sublimely funny character work.  I’m going to assume it’s a distinctly Irish sense of humor, too, since McDonagh’s dialogue hits the exact same joke-telling cadence as the recently concluded sitcom Derry Girls, just now with more allegorey. 

Banshees did not register among my favorite movies of the year, but it consistently made me laugh, while Corsage occasionally had me checking my watch and The Whale made me roll my eyes so hard they’re still stuck at the top of my skull.

-Brandon Ledet

Brandon’s Top 20 Films of 2022

1. Neptune Frost A post-gender Afrofuturist musical that triangulates unlikely holy ground between Black Orpheus, Bacurau, and Hackers.  At its best, cinema is honest artifice.  At its best, cinema is openly provocative & political; it’s a shared dream; it’s poetry.  This is cinema at its best.

2. Inu-Oh An anime fable about the glories & follies of rock n’ roll fame, illustrating how it can only elevate the marginalized so high before fascists at the top take notice and shut them down.  Personally, it’s the best genderfucked feudal Japan glam rock opera I’ve ever seen, but I can’t speak for everyone.

3. Mad God Both a for-its-own-sake immersion in scatological mayhem & an oddly touching reflection on the creative process, the indifference of time, and the cruelty of everything.  It’s meticulously designed to either delight or irritate, so count me among the awed freaks who never wanted this stop-motion nightmare to end.

4. Everything Everywhere All at Once We have apparently slipped into an alternate timeline where Michel Gondry directed The Matrix.  It’s nice here (as long as you don’t engage with the fanatics).

5. RRR An anti-colonialist action epic about the power of friendship (and the power of bullets, and the power of wolves, and the power of grenades, and the power of tigers, and the power of dynamite, and the power of bears, oh my).  A real skull-cracker of a good time.

6. Jackass Forever Rewatching the first Jackass movie recently had me thinking about the series as a Reality TV update to Pink Flamingos, but I don’t know that Pink Flamingos ever reached this wide or otherwise unadventurous of an audience.  I also don’t know that I’ve ever found a John Waters film to be this heartfelt & sentimental.  For all of the Jackass series’ boneheaded commitment to gross-out gags, it’s also now a beautiful decades-long story about friendship (a friendship that just happens to be illustrated with feces & genital mutilation).

7. Deadstream A found footage horror comedy about an obnoxious social media influencer getting his cosmic comeuppance while livestreaming his overnight tour of a haunted house.  It’s a constantly surprising delight, getting huge laughs out of supernaturally torturing a YouTuber smartass with a sub-Ryan Reynolds sense of humor.  It effectively does for The Blair Witch Project what Host did for Unfriended, borrowing its basic outline to stage a chaotic assemblage of over-the-top, technically impressive scare gags.

8. Please Baby PleasePonders the question “What is a man, anyway?” through lofty academic discussions of how masculinity is socially engineered and through kinky 1950s kitsch.  Andrea Riseborough gives THE performance of the year, approximating what it would be like if an especially rabid Jerri Blank had a Marlon Brando drag-king impersonation act.  Queer menace, artifice, and excellence on a community theatre budget.

9. After Blue (Dirty Paradise) –  A sci-fi acid Western that languidly fills the frame with the most mesmerizing, glitter-slathered nightmare imagery I saw all year. Its lesbian orgy planet that cowers in fear of a demonic, almighty Kate Bush reads like someone fed “James Bidgood’s Dune movie” into one of those AI art generators, and the results are intoxicating.

10. Strawberry Mansion Look, I grew up in a time when Michel Gondry was a golden god to artsy teens everywhere and not a aughts-era fad everyone seems embarrassed to admit they were super into.  So, of course I’m happy to see his arts & crafts aesthetic is back in vogue and prominently represented in this twee fantasy epic about dream-hopping lovers dodging pop-up ads in a near-future dystopia.  Maybe I should be rolling my eyes at its analog whimsy but I’m happy to swoon instead.

11. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On Expected to enjoy this no matter what, since I’m in the exact Millennial target demographic that would be nostalgic for the titular stop-motion cutie’s original YouTube clips.  Even so, I was super impressed by it, both as a rapidfire joke delivery system (where every punchline is “so small!”) and as an emotional defibrillator, shocking me back into the great wide world of communal joy after a few years of intense isolation.

12. Funny Pages Proudly wears its 2000s indie nostalgia as a grimy badge of dishonor, questioning why Ghost World and The Safdies can’t share the same marquee.  You might want to question where its alt-comics slackerdom fits in the modern world, but you also can’t deny that it’s nice to see Real People on the screen again.  I say that with full sincerity and full awareness that it makes me sound like the exact kind of dipshit suburbanite poser the movie is brutally satirizing.

13. Flux Gourmet Cronenberg wasn’t the only fetishist director who reconfigured his early works into a new fantasy world overrun by grotesque performance art last year.  Crimes of the Future found an unlikely sister film in Peter Strickland’s latest, which brings the vague outline of Berberian Sound Studio up to speed with the more free-flowing absurdism the pervert auteur has achieved in the years since.  The result is not quite as silly as In Fabric nor as sensual as The Duke of Burgundy, but it hits a nice sweet spot in-between.

14. Lux ÆternaIn which Gaspar Noé deploys the same disorienting split screen technique he plays with in the much more subdued Vortex to actively attempt to melt his audience’s minds.  The most authentically “psychotronic” movie I’ve seen in a while, one that balances out its seething hatred of backstage film set squabbling with a love for witchcraft, strobe lights, leather jackets, and wearing sunglasses indoors.  A truly stunning experience; consult your doctor before subjecting your brain.

15. Belle Pretends to be a sci-fi anime update of Beauty and the Beast, but it’s more a virtual reality teen fantasy drama about the merits & limitations of seeking community online.  Weird coincidence that both this & Inu-oh happen to feature whale-themed light shows in their stadium concert fantasy sequences, as if they’re both anime illustrations of The Decemberists performing “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”. 

16. We Met in Virtual RealityBilled as “the first feature-length documentary filmed entirely in VR,” this is basically Belle except for “real” and without all those pesky trips back to the physical world.  Most remarkable as a bizarre descent into the niche nerd-culture subdungeons that the internet was built for but rarely makes room for anymore.  Happy to see that documented before the Metaverse turns it all into a digital Target.

17. EO Jerzy Skolimowski’s noble donkey tale only occasionally plays like a colorized TV edit of Au Hasard Balthasar.  More often, it takes wild detours into an energetic, dreamlike approximation of what it might look like if Gaspar Noé directed Homeward Bound.  It’s incredible that a film this vibrant & playful was made by a long-respected octogenarian, not a fresh-outta-film-school prankster with something to prove.

18. You Won’t Be Alone A post-VVitch coming-of-age folktale about shapeshifting, bodyhopping witchcraft.  If it’s to be dealt with as a horror film, it’s Imposter Syndrome Horror (or maybe just a nightmare scenario where Freddy Krueger is your adoptive mother).  Mostly, though, it’s a supernatural drama about all the various ways life can be miserable unless you luck into a well-nurtured youth.

19. Hatching A great entry in the Puberty as Monstrous Transformation canon, along with titles like Ginger Snaps, Jennifer’s Body, Teeth, and Carrie.  Stands out in that crowd by adding an extra layer about mothers living vicariously through their daughters in unhealthy ways.  Also achieves a lot on what appears to be a limited budget, leaning into its cheapness to create the kind of plastic world you’d expect to find in a music box.

20. Men There’s been a lot of pushback against the idea that A24 has a house style, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve guessed the studio that produced this before I would’ve guessed the director.  Alex Garland is usually reliable for chilly sci-fi, not atmospheric folk horror with a blatant 1:1 metaphor driving all of its grotesque imagery.  Kind of a useless distinction, though, since I’m a fan of both.  If it weren’t for the tabloidification of Don’t Worry Darling, this would easily be the most over-complained about movie of 2022.

-Brandon Ledet

The Eternal Children

One of the most common themes among established big-name directors this awards season is the memoir film, with directors like James Gray (Armageddon Time), Sam Mendes (Empire of Light), and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Bardo) aiming to make career-defining magnum opuses out of dramatic reenactments & distortions of personal memories.  Only Steven Spielberg appears to have emerged from that 2022 memoir scrum victorious.  The Fabelmans makes a fable out of Spielberg’s youth, tracking his fascination with The Power of Cinema from his first trip to the theater (to see the circus-themed studio epic The Greatest Show on Earth) to his teenage use of filmmaking as a therapy tool throughout his parents’ divorce.  It’s being heralded as one of the best movies of the year, if not the best of Spielberg’s career . . . and I don’t understand that praise in the slightest.  If anything, I’m terrified to contract whatever subvariant of Film Twitter Brain Rot makes critics believe The Fabelmans is “late-style” Movie Magic but Cinema Paradiso is cornball schmaltz.  To his credit, Spielberg ensures that his memoir movie isn’t entirely comprised of shots of projectors flickering behind awed audiences modeling period costumes (although there is plenty of that ready-made imagery to go around); the movie is densely packed with detailed personal memories and messy interpersonal conflicts that are supposed to distinguish it from the more unembarrassed schmaltz of Parasiso.  And yet, the whole thing rings generic & phony, barely a step above the “aww shucks” Boomer nostalgia of A Christmas Story – if you’re not as reverent of Spielberg’s prominence in the cinema canon as the director is himself.  And it turns out plenty of people are, as evidenced by the film’s success over its fellow movie memoirs.

The most frustrating thing about The Fabelmans is there is a genuinely compelling, emotionally thorny drama at its core.  Through his geeky onscreen avatar Sammy Fabelman, Spielberg time travels back to a pivotal moment in his relationship with his mother (played by Michelle Williams in Judy Garland meltdown mode, sporting a lime cat haircut).  Beyond the broad caricatures of his mother as a right-brained free spirit—explaining the magic & poetry of movies to him after that fateful Greatest Show on Earth screening—and his father as a practical left-brained engineer—explaining the mechanics of movies as a technological illusion—the movie pinpoints their separation as a painful, epiphanic moment when Spielberg first saw his parents as real, flawed people, not just faceless pillars of authority & love.  It’s too bad that brain-breaking, cinema-rattling epiphany is buried under so much self-mythology about Spielberg’s early stirrings as an amateur filmmaker.  Instead of digging into the discomfort & detail of his changing relationship with his parents, the movie runs itself ragged trying to collect as many origin stories for the greatest hits of Spielberg Tropes as it can in 151 minutes.  We see the kids-on-bikes nostalgia of his early career-defining genre films foretold by his afternoon rides with his childhood boy scout troupe; we see a D.I.Y. trial run for his prestigious war epic Saving Private Ryan met with rapturous applause as the greatest backyard movie of all time; and, in the godawful concluding scene, we see him take direct inspiration from his boyhood hero John Ford, for no reason in particular.  The emotional core that supposedly separates The Fabelmans from sentimental schmaltz like Cinema Paradiso (a film I far prefer, at least for its clarity in intent) is buried under so much phony self-mythology that it has no room to resonate with any heft.

I was much more impressed with the smaller, more intimate memoir distortions of The Eternal Daughter that joined this year’s “autofiction” pile-up, if not only for being more direct & streamlined in its mother-child drama of discomforts.  Joanna Hogg’s latest is much less ostentatious than Spielberg’s by default, filmed on an independent budget under COVID-19 lockdowns instead of working with the kind of extravagant studio funds that are afforded to the world’s most famous director.  Hogg finds plenty of room for layered artifice in her small-cast drama, though, even while never losing sight of the mother-daughter tension at its core.  The Eternal Daughter is a slippery little supernatural mystery film that defies the tidiest boxes you want to file it away in.  It’s a ghost story about memory, not ghosts.  It’s directly connected to Hogg’s autobiographical Souvenir saga, but it works perfectly fine on its own, like a long-running series’ standalone, spooky Christmas special.  Tilda Swinton plays a mother-daughter duo in a dual role, but neither of performance is overly affected, and the back-and-forth bickering between them is more subtly devastating than cute.  In The Souvenir Parts I & II, Swinton’s real-life daughter (and Hogg’s real-life goddaughter) Honor Swinton Byrne played Hogg’s Sammy Fabelman avatar, while Swinton played her fictional mother onscreen.  In The Eternal Daughter, Swinton plays both roles, aged decades into the future, as they share an especially dour vacation in an empty hotel on the ghostly moors of Wales.  None of that Russian nesting-doll artifice really matters, though.  Neither does the ghost story framing of its drama.  All that matters is the way Hogg wrestles with the passive aggressive tensions of her mostly healthy relationship with her mother, and how a child seeing their parent’s personality & behavior reflected in themselves can be both wonderful & horrific, often simultaneously.

In the emotional climax of The Eternal Daughter, both versions of Swinton bicker about what time they should eat a celebratory birthday dinner.  That sounds like a minor frustration, but it’s far more hilarious and heartbreaking than any of the life-altering divorce drama from Spielberg’s actual relived childhood in The Fabelmans.  Listening to a mother-daughter duo volley “What do you think?” & “I’m not going to eat if you don’t” back and forth in an endless shot, reverse-shot nightmare feels painfully, relatably true to how passive aggressive, self-conflicted parental relationships play out in real life – even though you’re watching two Tilda Swintons bicker in a haunted hotel.  Somehow, Spielberg is staging dramatic reenactments of complex parental & marital betrayals that actually did happen in real life, and it all feels thuddingly false, inauthentic.  As a pair, both The Fabelmans and The Eternal Daughter find their filmmakers looking back on personal, familial memories and struggling with how the good feelings of the past are jumbled with the bad.  From there, your appreciation of either is almost a question of genre.  Are you more interested in the Raised By The Movies nostalgia trips of mainstream directors mythologizing their own childhoods as historical turning points in the artform, or are you more interested in the atmospheric tensions of a haunted-hotel ghost story that plays out under the eerie mood lighting of green & blue gels?  I found Hogg’s film more thematically direct & concise than Spielberg’s, which feels like a simultaneous one-for-them-one-for-me compromise that dilutes what he’s trying to work out onscreen.  My assumption is that his is the best of the recent crop of movie memoirs from Hollywood filmmaking giants, since the people who are more interested in that kind of thing have been singling it out as something special, a cut above.  I’ll likely never find out for myself, since there’s no promise of ghosts nor Tilda Swinton casting stunts to lure me in.

-Brandon Ledet