Watchlist Standouts- October 2020

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

I have been watching a lot of movies as of late. Of course, watching movies is an easy feat compared to writing about them. And I am often lazy. But today, I have found reason to offer some of my thoughts on new and old releases. For your recommendation pleasure, I have picked three highlights from my recent watches that I feel strongly about.

Minari (2020)

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

As it stands, this is the best movie of the year. I was lucky enough to be able to view it on a limited time virtual screener from Middleburg Film Festival- I’m sure it will be available elsewhere in the next couple months- but I have full confidence that its soul cannot be replicated.

Based loosely off of Chung’s childhood experience growing up on a farm in Arkansas in the 1980s, this film masterfully braids the tale of an immigrant family assimilating themselves to a new normal in middle America. Steven Yeun (one of my new favorites since his captivating performance in 2018’s Burning) plays Jacob, a tenacious chicken sexer who has his eyes set on the American Dream: a farm to run, and acres of land to expand upon. Much to the chagrin of his wife, Monica, who prefers the safety of the suburbs, Jacob uproots his two children from California to rural Arkansas where he has purchased a mobile home on the expanse of thirty acres. Jacob’s seven-year-old son David, director Chung’s respective embodiment (played with deep earnestness by newcomer Alan Kim) is suffering from a heart defect, and their eldest daughter Anne has few ways to find friends. Jacob persists, pushing the family out of their comfort zone and into the life that he imagines in the land of opportunity.

In some ways, this movie is a new take on man vs. nature. The most tranquil and uproarious segments of the film are direct results of the weather taking on the farm, the house, and the exhausted couple. In other ways, the climate is a reverberation of the obstinance of Jacob and likewise the mischievous David, who is the true protagonist at the helm of this movie. Of course, complications arise when Monica’s grandmother arrives at the home, when it becomes clear that the major themes arise in family, culture, and faith. One of the more telling scenes takes place at the local church, when Anne and David are encouraged to make friends with the other children. This goes just as well as you might imagine.

“Can you stop me when I say a word in your language?”

“Why is your face so squished in?”

The naivety of these local kids is not necessarily presented as aggressive- they don’t have many Korean immigrants in their town- but it is a moment in which the viewer suddenly bears the weight of being an outsider, and one of particular curiosity. From that moment on, the lens of a second-generation child is fully cemented. One may speak the language perfectly and observe many Americanisms, but that does not serve as a disguise. The lifestyle clashes, the marital tensions, and the lack of control that people have over nature and each other provide the substance for an otherwise to-the-point reflection on the sacrifices made by parents to give their children, as they deem, a better life.

Broadcast News (1987)

Director: James L. Brooks

I love the newsroom. I love the momentum, the constant stream of ideas, the quick assessment of damage that requires a speedy solution. I love that something is always happening, and for that information, the newsroom is the portal. I love that the occupation of journalist will never grow obsolete.

I also love engaging characters. I love seeing my personality, lovely traits and flaws alike, put to dialogue. I love being swept up in the drama, taking sides on the conflict, reveling in the reveals when they make themselves known. I love that I can always find some part of these humans to love.

This movie has BOTH. It’s a brilliant energy, taking the audience on the journey of the personal and professional ups and downs, convincing you of their capacity in their field and still openly admitting that they are susceptible to poor judgement. Holly Hunter’s hyper-focused, romantically inept Jane is one of my new all time favorite relatable characters. Her sincere performance provides the moral compass that solidifies the film's timelessness, especially given that the major plot quandary relies on her sticking to her predetermined set of beliefs about her career.

That is not to say, however, that I did not greatly appreciate the alternative ending (available on the Criterion edition with director commentary) for its surrender to sensitivity and romance, contrasting William Hurt’s charming everyman with Albert Brooks’ worldly erudite. Both endings are, on their own terms, evocative of nostalgia, although it is up to the viewer to decide which kind of passion they would prefer their protagonist to ascribe to.

It is my greatest pleasure to recommend this movie. It made me all the more motivated to keep pursuing writing, and to stick to ethics in trying times. Doing good requires integrity.

Repo Man (1984)

Director: Alex Cox

Before there was Sid & Nancy and Walker, there was Repo Man. How best to describe this movie? I struggle to find the correct combination of adjectives to properly sum up the dexterous combination of cars, punks, and aliens. But I shall try.

Here we see a pre-Breakfast Club Emilio Estevez as young delinquent Otto Maddox. One day, Otto finds himself with the opportunity to leave his mundane day job and motley teenage shenanigans to join a crew of *always intense* Repo Men- scheming vehicle repossessors who do their best work in the early hours of the morning under the influence of speed. This is an off-kilter world they’re living in, where the sustenance is crudely labeled as “food” and “drink” and Otto’s parents are glued to the couch in their home watching a reverend’s all-week telethon on TV. Is this a premonition for a stilted future? It might be. Because there’s also a man driving around with a body-incinerating alien corpse in his trunk. And guess what? He hasn’t made his car payment.

Fanatical ravings from a repo man who can’t drive. a love interest who works at a thinly veiled alien investigation center (acronym UFO), and punk thieves having a mid-adolescent crisis. I’m sure I’m forgetting something else, because Cox pulls out all the stops to make this cyber-tech western sit in your memory for hours later, making you wonder if it’s smarter than it’s really on. I DID see the plate of shrimp on the first go. Maybe that was my future self reminding me to pay attention to the past.

The score by Iggy Pop balls like no other and Robby Muller's cinematography gives this film a whole lot of character beyond punk favorite. It is a good time. Enjoy it with existential friends.