September was a rough month. After a bit of travel, I came down with the latest variant of COVID, and it took me weeks to get back up to full strength. The silver lining was having lots of time to watch a lot of movies—twenty-seven in total—but not in theaters. Nearly everything in the list below I saw on video.
Most all of what I watched were back catalog movies, but I did see one recent release: Sam Pollard’s “The League,” a beautifully crafted documentary that widens the aperture on the history of Negro League baseball. This is a fascinating story about a much respected but under-examined chapter of sports lore, and it sheds genuinely new light on stories and figures that many of us thought we knew. Still, given my general lack of enthusiasm for the documentary form, I have to admit I admired it more than I enjoyed it, and to be totally honest, I would have preferred it as a New Yorker feature article rather than a movie.
I did get out of the house to go to the theater once, to catch a repertory screening of Michael Mann’s “Heat” in a 70mm projection at The Paris Theater in midtown Manhattan. The film of course looked great and continues to retain every ounce of its power, but I would be lying if I didn’t find the circumstances of its showing to be almost comedically ironic.
The Paris Theater is an historically notable moviehouse from the old days of single-theater cinemas that was bought by Netflix some years ago as a kind of trophy in the digital media wars. It occasionally shows revival screenings from the service’s streaming catalog but usually hosts limited theatrical runs for some of Netflix’s original movies. Basically the theater functions as a prestige showcase for what you can access more conveniently but less impressively on your smartphone. It’s similar to when an e-commerce business attains a grand enough level of success that it feels compelled to honor itself with a physical storefront, or when a digital-first content publisher decides to commemorate itself with its own analog publication. These kinds of retrograde gestures belie such a funny insecurity on the part of digital businesses, as if their tremendous success in effectively obsolescing physical things can only be truly validated by the rendering of physical things from that success. We live in strange times.
Here’s the full list of twenty-seven movies I watched in September.
“Confessions of a Police Captain” (1971) ★★★½ Very quirky, somewhat seedy Italian policier starring, oddly, the amazing but incurably American Martin Balsam.
“The Seven-Ups” (1973) ★★★½ A diverting but not memorable derivative of “Bullitt” and “The French Connection,” directed by the producer of both.
“The Maltese Falcon” (1941) ★★★★½ Rewatched. An entire world conjured up with just a bunch of tough talk delivered with incredible verve by indelible characters.
“The Hot Spot” (1990) ★★★★ Cracking neo-noir starring Don Johnson at the peak of his generally not particularly remarkable abilities.
“Duel” (1971) ★★★½ This early Steven Spielberg thriller is a thrasher pic on wheels, and an early career high that really could have led to a career in at least a half dozen different directions from the one Spielberg ultimately took.
“The Daytrippers” (1996) ★★★★ Rewatched. Impeccably structured 90s indie road movie posits that leaving Long Island for Manhattan means forgoing domestic bliss for purgatory.