Movies Watched, October 2020

Movies Watched, October 2020

My wife and I had tickets to go see “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” back in March. We’d booked them several days in advance and leading up to that Friday we debated endlessly whether it was something we should even be doing. The pandemic was starting to tighten its grip around New York, and the wisdom of a subway ride and a movie theater outing was starting to seem dodgy.

Ultimately we opted not to go, which in retrospect was the right decision. But how I wish we’d been able to see this big, gorgeous, astoundingly well made arthouse film on a large screen, because it very much is a work of art. Nearly every frame of writer and director Céline Sciamma’s romance about painting is composed like an Andrew Wyeth canvas, though imbued with an otherworldly warmth that Sciamma and cinematographer Claire Mathon crank up with precise care.

At times, the pristine visual craftsmanship is almost a distraction—several shots of a a raging, preternaturally blue ocean practically shout above the acting. On the whole though, the dramatic tension more than justifies the aesthetic conceit: the movie’s characters are effectively stranded on an island with few expectations, and yet they’re able to realize immense beauty from their circumstances. This seamless joining of form and content is rare—and stunning.

Of the sixteen other movies I watched last month, it’s worth noting that the ones that debuted on streaming channels—the atrocious “Enola Holmes,” the diverting “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” and the flavorless “Rebecca” all support my running theory that the Netflix-age of original releases is one of underwhelming, slapdash quality. These movies are very rarely more than “fine,” and while it’s amusing to get easy, immediate access to them, the repeatedly empty calories-like sensation of disappointment is also getting really tiring. I can’t wait for this pandemic to be over.

  1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019) ★★★★½
    So astoundingly well made it’s almost distracting.
  2. Lost in America” (1985) ★★½
    Albert Brooks was ahead of his time, but not by much.
  3. Con Air” (1997) ★★
    Rewatched. Holds its audience in starkly low regard.
  4. Stop Making Sense” (1984) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Piercingly clear document of a band at a point where they finally figured out how to align their bizarre impulses with widespread accessibility.
  5. Only Angels Have Wings” (1939) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. An intoxicatingly grubby little story of people lost at the edge of the world.
  6. The Good Dinosaur” (2015) ★★½
    Technology in search of a problem.
  7. Enola Holmes” (2020) ★½
    I was totally signed up for this thriller about Sherlock Holmes’s super smart little sister, but it turned out to be not very smart at all.
  8. The Trial of the Chicago 7” (2020) ★★½
    Sorkin’s gotta Sorkin.
  9. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (2020) ★★★
    Not a great movie, but a pretty great time.
  10. Death on the Nile” (1978) ★★★
    Pure formula, but satisfying.
  11. A Few Good Men” (1992) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Not a masterpiece but for a movie where not a lot really happens on screen aside from some shouting, it’s remarkably entertaining.
  12. Black and Blue” (2019) ★★★
    Pretty creaky policier, but there are still some vital ideas at work here.
  13. Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) ★★½
    Rewatched. For every smart narrative decision it makes, it follows up with a really dumb one.
  14. Phantom Lady” (1944) ★
    Paper-thin noir peddling psychobabble as verisimilitude.
  15. Rebecca” (2020) ★★
    Not terrible except for the fact that it invites direct comparison with Hitchcock’s classic.
  16. Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice” (1972) ★★
    Toxic masculinity in samurai-era Japan.
  17. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) ★★★
    Rewatched. Cynical in its sentimentality.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I watched in September, in August, in July, in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, and a full list of everything I watched in 2019, in 2018, in 2017 and in 2016. And, if you’re really interested, you can follow along with my movie diary at