I once had a dream. A trilogy of blogs. The first would feature movies with numbers in their titles. The second – a movie for each day of the week. And finally, one with each month of the year in its name. I wrote the first two, and more insightful commentary you will not find. And then, I began the final post. I made it through January.
And then I came to February.
There just hasn’t been a worthy movie with February in the title. And I still had ten months to go. Even allowing for creative use of homophonic sleight of hand – I’m looking at you March of the Penguins – it became clear that I could not complete my intended trilogy.
So I used an old debating trick. I redefined my mission. And that is why you are now reading a brief tribute to the fabulous, the fatuous, and the fascinating movies which feature a season in their title.
Here, with no further introduction, is….
The Sublime – Banshun (Late Spring) Yasujiro Ozu, 1949
When one of the giants of world cinema routinely names his movies after seasons of the year, you would think writing a blog like this would be easy. But I discovered early on that this can be a curse as well as a blessing. Do I pick Banshun, an almost painfully sweet and heart-breaking portrait of life for Japanese women in the years following WWII, or Soshun (Early Spring), the movie Ozu made seven years later about the desperate search for passion by those who had made the “proper” choice after the war. I choose Banshun, but I will tolerate disagreement. Setsuko Hara was at her most poignant as Noriko, the unmarried daughter of a widower (Chishu Ryu), who feels compelled by cultural norms and familial pressure to enter into a marriage which promises nothing but passionless order. Ozu’s movies present an intimate portrait of how Japanese life and society changed from the 1930s to the 1960s, and Banshun occupies a central place in that record.
The Ridiculous – Cabin Fever 2 – Spring Fever Ti West, 2009
It pains me to say that West, director of last year’s marvelous modern Italian-style western In a Valley of Violence, was responsible for such a mess. But Eli Roth’s original Cabin Fever was an iffy proposition to begin with, and this direct-to-video sequel never seemed to figure out whether to go for horror or for camp. So it tries to do both. And fails.
The One with a Really Cool Story – Spring Fever Edward Sedgwick, 1927
No, this is not some recut of the Ti West movie. Despite the same title, this is about as far from bad camp horror as you can get. It came out at the end of the silent era – an affable romantic comedy starring one of the most interesting forgotten actors of Hollywood’s early years. The movie itself is a nice little diversion, featuring an early performance by the radiant Joan Crawford. But the lead actor, Billy Haines, could have a far more interesting movie made about his life. An openly gay man in an era which preferred to keep such things a secret, Haines walked away from his successful career at MGM when Louis B. Mayer insisted he keep his partner, Jimmie Shields, hidden away. Haines, with the help and support of close friends Crawford and Carole Lombard, would go on to become one of the leading interior designers in the country. It was a remarkable life lived by a remarkable man. A man who is still somewhat ahead of the times.
The Sublime – Summer with Monika Ingmar Bergman 1953
Ozu liked all the seasons. But Bergman had a thing for Summer. I could have easily chosen Smiles of a Summer Night or Summer Interlude, also by the Swedish master. But Summer with Monika, with its iconic depiction of sexual liberation in the person of Harriet Andersson, remains a cultural landmark. Andersson went naked for a few seconds and it set off explosions throughout the world of the art film. (Actually, Bergman liked all the seasons too. As you will soon see.)
The Ridiculous – I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer Stacey Edmonds 2009
I’m thinking you don’t need much more than that title to convince you, but just in case you do – this is a low budget amateurish camp horror about a disturbed young man seeking revenge on the cricket-playing bullies who tormented him twenty years earlier. There are actually some entertainingly gruesome murders using various cricket-related props, so if you’re into that kind of thing…
The One with a Really Cool Story – A Brighter Summer Day Edward Yang 1991
The Summer of 2007 was gut-wrenching for fans of world cinema. We lost Ingmar Bergman the same day we lost Michelangelo Antonioni. Earlier that Summer, Sebene Ousmane died. And in between, on June 29, 2007, we said good-bye to Edward Yang, among the most important filmmakers of Taiwan’s New Wave. Though better known for his Cannes-winning Yi Yi, A Bright Summer Day may be Yang’s masterwork. Unlike the portraits of contemporary life in Taiwan for which he was most known, BSD looks backward to the displacement felt by the early mainland refugees around 1960. A tragic crime story, a lively musical, a somber portrait of dislocation and loneliness, BSD, offers a wealth of insight and beauty. And a fair amount of Elvis Presley.
The Sublime – Autumn Sonata Ingmar Bergman 1978
Remember what I said about Bergman and Summer? Well, he only made one “Autumn” movie. But it wasn’t too bad. It was his only movie with his unrelated namesake Ingrid Bergman – her final film. And it was among Bergman’s last films as well – the final one that was intended for theatrical release. The story pairs Ingrid with Ingmar’s long-time muse Liv Ullman, as estranged mother and daughter, and acting does not get better than this.
The Ridiculous – Autumn Steven Rumbelow 2009
To be fair, there are some good elements in this adaptation of David Moody’s vampire horror book of the same name. The acting, though uneven, is decent for a low budget horror. And the effects are pretty good too. But, unlike the earlier entries in this Ridiculous category, which struggled to balance horror and humor, Autumn is a little too serious for its own good. It is too long, and too somber, and that only makes some of the minor league production values come off as silly. Not enough gore for hardcore zombie-philes, and not enough craft for anyone wanting more.
The One with a Really Cool Story – Sugisball (Autumn Ball) Veiko Ounpuu 2007
Oh how I wanted to nudge the rules a bit a select Peter Greenaway’s epic mess The Falls in this slot. And I might have succumbed, had it not been for this debut from Estonian director Ounpuu. He was trained as a painter and his imagery – especially his visions of Talinn nights – is stunning. The story is downbeat, focusing on a patchwork of lonely youth, but for anyone who gets pissed off at the inanity of popular film, watching what Taavi Eelmaa does to a drunken director toward the end may sate your bloodlust.
The Sublime – Captain America: The Winter Soldier Anthony and Joe Russo 2014
This was the most difficult category. We had yet another Bergman contender – at his most devastatingly austere in Winter Light. We had the Cannes-winning emotional powerhouse from Turkey, Winter Sleep. We even had Jennifer Lawrence’s breakthrough, Winter’s Bone. But they all fall to the Captain. Sequels are rarely better than originals, but not only does The Winter Soldier surpass The First Avenger, it surpasses all other Marvel movies, offering kick-ass action with excellent characters and a downright meaningful story. You can pick the original Iron Man or the first Avengers if you must. They are worthy contenders. But I’ll take the Captain and Bucky against the entire MCU.
The Ridiculous – Winter Kill Gilbert Allan 2001
Not the Andy Griffith TV movie of the same name, or the Richard Condon JFK movie of the very similar name (Winter Kills), this, like the others mentioned above, is a low-budget horror. And to be fair, I have only seen clips of it. Perhaps if I watched the whole thing, I would look more kindly upon it. Or perhaps I would stab myself through the eyes. The clips I have seen suggest that this is the most amateurish of all the low-budgets previously mentioned, with rather poor acting, and home-movie caliber design. But what do you expect in a movie about a group of cheerleaders who are waylaid by group of cannibals?
The One with a Really Cool Story – Chilly Scenes of Winter Joan Micklin Silver 1982
It began its cinematic life as Head Over Heels, released in 1979. It tanked, but was fortunately resurrected. The original title of Ann Beattie’s novel was restored, and the sappy happy ending was excised. Then it developed a cult following for fans of deep portraits of modern loneliness, filled with smart dialogue and highly recognizable characters. John Heard and Mary Beth Hurt are the leads. Peter Riegert and the glorious Gloria Grahame have key supporting roles, while producers Mark Metcalf and Griffin Dunne (kind of the Mark and Jay Duplass of their day) make brief appearances.
Thus, the trilogy is complete. And if you don’t think it constitutes much of a trilogy, well, I don’t really see how Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River make up a trilogy either. But nobody complains when Taylor Sheridan does it, so please extend me the same courtesy. After all, I could have just picked Ki-duk Kim’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring, and have been done with it.
And if anyone has a good February movie…