Thanksgiving is upon us and I have been reflecting on the things in my own life that I feel thankful for, including moments in films from this past year. So, in the spirit of the holiday, I have compiled my 10 cinematic moments to be thankful for in 2004.
10. Fight at The Film Forum! (Bright Leaves)
The Film Forum is my refuge, the one place I can always go and find something to watch. It’s home for me, where I reconnect with movies and New York City. Over the years, I have witnessed some extraordinary films there, and also some extraordinary ridiculousness from the patrons. A few years back, there was a verbal fight when someone stood up at a screening of The Lady Eve and shouted “Preston Sturges is the American Shakespeare!!!” There was also a great argument after a screening of The Trials of Henry Kissinger between someone who stood up to leave and got wrapped up in the credits and blocked the view of a fellow patron who literally began screaming like a small child, asking the man to sit down. While these are classic Film Forum moments in my life, nothing has topped the ridiculous seat saving fight that took place at a screening of Bright Leaves earlier this year.
As any fan of Seinfeld knows, saving a seat in a New York City movie theater is a Darwinain challenge, a test of human endurance and will comparable to a triathalon wrapped in a climb of Mt. Everest. It is a Herculean feat to save a seat while your friend gets some popcorn or uses the bathroom. This is not a task undertaken without great gravitas. The reality of the experience is perfectly captured in Cinemania, when Jack is being heckled by a man a few seats behind him for saving a seat for himself. That the scene takes place in the Film Forum is no surprise.
So, we’re in the Film Forum, at a screening of Bright Leaves that is 20% full. A man asks the guy sitting two seats over if he wouldn’t mind holding his seat while he goes to the restroom. The guy agrees. Enter older man who, in a theater 80% empty, crosses the entire theater and plops down in the supposed ‘saved’ seat. Guy tries politely to tell him the seat is saved. Older man ignores him. Now, the guy has no real investment in this seat and he was put in a terrible position by the man who went to the restroom, but seriously, the theater is 80% empty, so all should be well. He tries again, older man acts as if he has been startled by a ghost and almost dies of a heart attack, asks the guy to speak up, and he does, repeating that the seat is saved.
The older man’s reply?
A furiously dismissive wave of the hand followed by a “LIKE HELL IT IS!!!!” that sounds as if the guy had just challenged his fundamental understanding of the universe.
“HOW CAN THIS SEAT BE SAVED? THERE’S NOTHING HERE TO SAVE IT! FORGET IT!”
Guy tries to apologize when the restroom man walks in and tells the older man the seat he is occupying is saved. Older man goes absolutely batshit, guy is bright red, restroom man starts questioning the manners of the older man, who is beseeching God for a reason as to how, in the entire history of the universe, a seat could be saved without anything in it. Refusals to move are exchanged, like some Dr. Seuss book coming to life among curmuedgeonly maniacs, when the lights go down and the Film Forum trailer starts.
“GUESS YOU’D BETTER FIND A SEAT, ASSHOLE! I’M NOT MOVING”
“Fuck you! And fuck you too, for not saving my seat for me!”
“Fuck me? I tried but this man wouldn’t move!”
“FUCK YOU! I HAVE A RIGHT TO SIT IN AN EMPTY SEAT!”
“Will you please be quiet the film is–“
“Fuck you! I want my goddamn seat back!”
The theater remains 80% empty.
9. Before Sunset at The Brooklyn Academy of Music
When Julie Delpy’s Celine mimcs Nina Simone’s live performance in front of Ethan Hawke’s Jessie in her incredible Paris apartment, my fantasies of seduction are summarized in a single gesture and pucker of the lips. Delpy’s acting in this film is exceptional and this moment, along with her aborted attempt to comfort Jessie with a touch of her hand, said more about vulnerability than anything I saw all year.
8. Intimate Strangers, on a screener tape
Fabrice Luchini dancing to R&B in his underwear. This scene showed the interior life of his restrained character with a charm, humor, and tenderness that is one of the finest moments in a Patrice Leconte film.
7. The Magic Gloves at Film Comment Selects
I walked in with no expectations, and walked out having laughed at the absurdity of a society I knew virtually nothing about. the film still has no US distribution, but it was a really special comedy. Absurd and delightful.
6. It’s Easier For a Camel at The Lincoln Plaza Cinemas
Valeria Bruni-Tedesci’s film about the personal implications of wealth contained a wonderful moment when her character, Federica, and her lover stop their Mercedes in Paris traffic and launch into The Internationale. It’s a wonderful moment of class guilt and whimsy, an honest expression of political sympathy that embodies the struggle Federica is going through.
5. The World at The New York Film Festival
The opening shot of the The World, a long, backstage tracking shot that does more for the Band-Aid than a Johnson and Johnson ad could ever do.
4. Sideways at The New York Film Festival
There is a moment in the middle of Sideways, when Miles and Jack meet Maya and Stephanie for dinner for the first time, that is transcendent. A montage of dinner conversation, the drinking of wine, the passing of wine bottles, and a pivotal drunk dial that feels like a note perfect memory of every drunken meal you’ve ever been involved in. The movie is one of the best of the year in my book, and this montage is the heart of the film, the moment when the past and future collide in Miles and show him what is possible.
3. Napoleon Dynamite at The Sundance Film Festival
Watching Napoleon Dynamite in the Eccles Theater, I actually buckled over and headbutted the seat back in front of me. No American comedy in the past 5 years made me laugh so hard.
2. Kings and Queen at The Toronto International Film Festival
My favorite actor, Matthieu Almaric, perhaps the whitest man in the world, uses a group therapy session in a mental institution as the launching pad for one of the funniest, most heartfelt dance sequences in the history of movies. The dance says everything you need to know about Isma