Michael C here. Now that Toronto has kicked the Fall movie season into high gear it’s useful to remember that for most of these films February’s impending Oscar ceremony is the beginning of the story, not the end. An Academy Award is a great leg up when it comes to securing a film’s legacy, even if it’s only as a footnote, but the real test of a film’s shelf life will be its ability to stand up to the gauntlet of repeat viewings. The test of time is much more accurate measure of a film’s worth than awards season's five month carnival of hype.
You only need to look back to recent movie history to see how the years can build up some films while grinding others down without mercy. I cannot recall the last time I’ve read a film lover reference a great scene from former big event films like Babel or The Queen. Yet the reputations of other less celebrated films from that time period like Eastern Promises or Let the Right One In grow with every passing year.
So this leads me to the question I’m curious to have answered:
Which recent films are coming alive on repeat viewings?
I’m not talking here about complicated films which reward repeat viewings. Yes, dense films like Gosford Park and LA Confidential play better with a foreknowledge of the story, but their quality was clear even when lost in the weeds of the initial viewing. No, I’m talking about films that hit us as average or even so-so the first time around but which linger in the memory and nag at us and then – BAM – sucker punch us with their previously unseen strength when revisited.
This happened to me recently when I was struck to realize that I had watched the Coen brother’s True Grit no less than half a dozen times. I had a positive, if somewhat underwhelmed, reaction to the western in theaters. It was the usual A+ stylistic Coen brothers job, but hit me as an unusually straightforward genre exercise from them. I wouldn’t have even bothered to picked up the DVD if not for the fact that my parents wanted to see it and the only way to get them to watch a movie is to personally interrupt an episode of NCIS with it.
Once I owned it I was surprised to find True Grit become my go-to feature. I now understand that the Coens did with True Grit what Tarantino did with Jackie Brown. Tarantino says he wanted Jackie Brown to be a hangout movie. The sort of film you watch first for the plot but return to for the downtime between the big moments, just to spend time with the characters. I realized that on repeat trips to Grit I wasn’t looking forward to the big set pieces as much as I was anticipating the odd little encounters like the unexpected run in with a bearskin clad backwoods doctor who wants to bargain for the teeth from a corpse Mattie cut down from a tree. Or the way the film's main heavy, Barry Pepper’s Lucky Ned, turns out to be unexpectedly reasonable when they finally catch up to him. (Admittedly it also helps to know in advance everything Bridges is saying) I suppose I should have known better than to trust my snap judgment when it came to the Coens, whose Big Lebowski is one of the great repeat viewing success stories of the last twenty years. I suppose it’s time I gave Burn After Reading another spin.
Have any of you had any recent repeat viewing discoveries? Do you see a consensus emerging around any titles that flew under the radar in theaters? Let me know in the comments.