Call it the Ryderssance. Winona Ryder, beloved It Girl of the ’80s and ’90s, has spent the past three years churning out some of her best work yet, including small screen offerings like “Show Me a Hero” and the Netflix breakout “Stranger Things.” Soon, she’ll return to the big screen with her frequent co-star Keanu Reeves, thanks to the upcoming rom-com “Destination Wedding.” But before that, Ryder will be the subject of a decades-spanning career retrospective at New York’s Quad Cinema, featuring over a dozen of her films, with more to be announced in the coming weeks.
When it comes to putting together his retrospectives, Quad Cinema programmer C. Mason Wells told IndieWire that he tends to look for “someone who hasn’t been highlighted before in this way, and also someone who doesn’t conventionally get that sort of feting. Unfortunately, those type of people who fall into that category are often women, and they are often actresses, especially contemporary ones.” (Previous retrospective subjects at the Quad include Goldie Hawn.) Wells believes that such programs encourage the celebration of such stars, “not necessarily in an academic context, but we should be taking [their careers] more seriously than we are.”
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The Ryder retrospective leans heavily on films from the ’80s and ’90s, the heyday of her career. “Certain actors tap into a zeitgeist and represent something so deeply for an entire generation,” Wells said. “Her energy is so unique, and nobody can quite replicate it.” When IndieWire spoke with Wells, it was just minutes after A24 launched its first trailer for Jonah Hill’s directorial debut “Mid90s,” and he pointed at the timing as proof that audiences are continuing to fondly look back at some of the eras in which Ryder first captured acclaim. “The world could not be more obsessed with or thinking seriously about a lot of culture from that period,” he said. “I think it’s a perfect time to revisit some of those films.”
The curator picked three films that stand out as emblematic of both Ryder’s work and the retrospective itself. Check out his top picks from the series, plus the rest of the lineup (with more picks to be added soon), below. The Quad’s “Utterly Winona” retrospective will run August 17 – 23.
“1969” (Ernest Thompson, 1988)
Thompson’s debut film, a look at small-town America after the Vietnam War, was not widely screened and wound up a box office bust (it reportedly cost $37 million, and didn’t even clear $7 million in total tickets), but it shows Ryder on the cusp of major fame. It hit theaters just two years after her debut in “Lucas” and only a few months after she broke out in “Beetlejuice” (her next big hit, “Heathers,” was only a few months off on the release calendar). Ryder holds her own against an impressive cast that includes Bruce Dern, Robert Downey Jr., and Kiefer Sutherland. As Wells explained, it’s an optimum choice for fans wanting to “get a sense of her pre-’90s, and the roots of what she was doing.”
“The House of the Spirits” (Bille August, 1993)
For a “mid-period Winona” pick, Wells advised that movie-goers check out “The House of the Spirits.” “It’s a really fascinating movie with a ridiculous stacked cast, too,” he said. The Bille August film, an adaptation of Isabel Allende’s novel of the same name, also stars Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Antonio Banderas, and Vanessa Redgrave. The generation-spanning family drama follows members of the Trueba family during times of great change (and often great strife) in Chile. As Blanca Trueba, it’s Ryder who tells the family’s story, acting as Allende’s own narrative avatar.
The film allows viewers to “see how she operates in that sort of prestige movie setting, because that’s not really the world that she was often operating in. There were a lot more contemporary stories or genre pieces or comedies” that Ryder was starring in at the time.
“Girl, Interrupted,” James Mangold, 1999, U.S./Germany, 127m, 35mm
The retrospective also includes films that Ryder helped craft from behind the camera. “She was helping to get female directors hired, produce female-written books, these projects that were actually very near and dear to her,” Wells said. “Now, I think it’s a little more common for actresses to have production companies or to have a devoted effort to working with female filmmakers or female-specific stories, and she was doing that from a position of power in the ’90s.”
One prime example: Mangold’s “Girl, Interrupted,” a passion project based on Susanna Kaysen’s 1993 memoir of the same name. Ryder spent nearly a decade trying to get the film made, and it’s still the only feature she holds a producing credit on. “I think that it’s a real culmination for her,” Wells said. “That was a great white whale for her. She was trying to make that book into a film for a long time. … You can see where her career led her.”
Check out the retrospective’s current lineup below. Additional titles will be announced soon.
“Beetlejuice,” Tim Burton, 1988, U.S., 92m, 35mm
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” Francis Ford Coppola, 1992, U.S., 128m, DCP
“The Crucible,” Nicholas Hytner, 1996, U.S., 124m, 35mm
“Edward Scissorhands,” Tim Burton, 1990, U.S., 105m, 35mm
“Great Balls of Fire!,” Jim McBride, 1989, U.S., 108m, 35mm
“Heathers,” Michael Lehmann, 1989, U.S., 103m, 35mm
New World Pictures
“Little Women,” Gillian Armstrong, 1994, U.S./Canada, 116m, 35mm
“How to Make an American Quilt,” Jocelyn Moorhouse, 1995, U.S., 117m, 35mm
“Lucas,” David Seltzer, 1986, U.S., 100m, 35mm
“Night on Earth,” Jim Jarmusch, 1991, France/UK/Germany/U.S./Japan, 129m, 35mm
“Reality Bites,” Ben Stiller, 1994, U.S., 99m, DCP