Make Way For Tomorrow – One of the most tear-inducing movies I’ve ever seen, extremely sad, but never depressing, if that’s a distinction that makes sense. The theme is essentially the same as Tokyo Story, apparently Ozu’s screenwriter, Kôgo Noda, was a fan of the film, though reportedly Ozu himself had not seen it. An elderly couple (the wonderful Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi) come to realize that their kids don’t want them around when they’re forced to move in with them after losing their house. They’re separated by circumstance (none of the kids have room for the both of them), and eventually by a continent. It’s never sentimental and never melodramatic, and Moore and Bondi break your heart as they accept their failures and warm it with the depth of the joy they find in each other. I don’t know if it’s better than the Ozu film, but it’s just as perfect. The #1 film of 1937, ahead of The Awful Truth, also directed by the great Leo McCarey.
Dear Zachary – A deeply unpleasant film to watch, for a variety of reasons. First, and most obviously is the plot, in which the filmmaker chronicles the tragic circumstances around his friend’s murder and the custody battle the murdered friend’s parents fought with the accused murderer. This part of the story is both depressing as hell and strains harder to pull your tears than anything I’ve seen in awhile. Second is the filmmaking style: much of the film is made up of home movies, and the original material isn’t much more interesting to look at, but that’s mostly OK. The editing and soundtrack are hyperactively cut together, constantly underlining and all capping every emotion the filmmaker wants you to feel (and those emotions are very black and white: everyone in the film is great except for the villain, who is the devil or the government, whose side of the story (whatever it is) remains untold). Finally, the film simply made me feel very uncomfortable, not so much because it’s “misery porn”, but because of the voyeurism of it all. It felt like an overdose of reality TV, or those tragic memoirs that get featured on Oprah or Dr. Phil or something. I find that kind of thing deeply unsettling, which perhaps makes me strange, but I don’t want to see strangers’ home movies and I don’t want to read their diaries. If the film was 15 minutes long, say a story on 60 Minutes or something, I probably wouldn’t have had that objection to it. Or if it was a fictional story, I certainly wouldn’t have. I don’t quite understand why that is. Perhaps it has to do with the specificity and intimacy of the storytelling preventing the kind of abstraction or generalization or distance that allows me to relate comfortably to the narrative. The #62 film of 2008.