of Maine

Five Slow, Beautiful, Slow Movies

Over at of Maine’s home base last night, we were supposed to watch Old Joy, Kelly Reichardt’s awesome 2006 film co-starring  Will Oldham. We were too tired though, so in lieu of lengthy comments, welcome to of Maine’s first listicle.

Sometimes when I say a movie put me to sleep, I mean it as a compliment. There’s a certain type of slow, elegant langour that simultaneously makes me feel totally engaged and completely relaxed. There are a couple of films on this list I have literally never stayed awake through. Regardless, I cherish them like few others.

1. Gerry (2002, Gus Van Sant)
In Van Sant’s anti-comeback film (after that strange foray into Good Will Hunting/Finding Forrester territory), it could be argued that every important plot point is relayed through cinematography rather than dialogue. Full of minutes-long shots of great depth (the faces stars Matt Damon and Casey Affleck as they walk next to each other, slowly passing each other; a car moving through a desert highway), Gerry is opague to the max (the characters both call each other “Gerry” and speak in a nearly impenetrable slang, which heightens your sense of their friendship) but taps into some primal and deeply modern idea of man’s survival instincts in the wild. Also: Paranoid Park, Van Sant’s latest movie which ought to be out on DVD October 7, is just as good.

2. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominik)
Another Casey Affleck joint. If this one hadn’t been released by a major studio, I probably wouldn’t include it on the list (or think as highly of it as I do), but you can’t deny how awesome it is that Dominik was able to finance the gorgeous, 2 1/2 hour death march of Jesse James simply because Brad Pitt agreed to star in it. The photography’s as good as any Terrence Malick film, Nick Cave’s score makes the whole film feel like a sad bedtime fable, Affleck is both pathetic and smoldering. I didn’t even bother discerning the supporting cast until the third time I watched it, so entranced by the tone of the thing.

3. Friday Night (2002, Claire Denis)
Woman preparing to move out of her apartment gets stuck in a traffic jam in Paris on the way to a party. Sitting, waiting, a man knocks on her window and charms her into dinner. They have sex in a hotel and presumably never see each other again, but are changed by one another. The sex feels extremely explicit but you never see full body-shots, just a heavily edited series of extreme close-ups of skin that give a sublime sense to the act. The whole film carries the same heightened, bewitching sense of magic.

4. Old Joy (2006, Kelly Reichardt)
Two old friends reunite for a trip to the Oregon wilderness. They’ve grown apart and get along awkwardly. They listen to anti-Bush Air America screeds on the radio in the car. They visit an abandoned bathhouse deep in the woods. They separate and go back to their respective lives, and you’re left deeply uncertain about what they’ll do next. For every moment where Old Joy feels like a growing-into-adulthood indie flick, there are two or three where it transcends that sentiment, so non-judgmental and quiet is Reichardt’s treatment. (Talk of Reichardt’s next film, Wendy and Lucy, is all over the New York Times fall arts preview from Sunday.)

5. Two-Lane Blacktop (1971, Monte Hellman)
The two share little in common but unspoken emotions and a reverence for Americana, but it’s hard to imagine Gerry existing without Two-Lane Blacktop‘s example. James Taylor (yes, that one) stars as a sullen guy and Dennis Wilson (also that one) is his more upbeat friend as the two drag race a yuppie (Warren Oates) across the country. The sound of engine noise is more expressive than the protagonists, and the undiscussed love of the open road leads to a seminal end of an era/end of cinema moment.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Love this round-up. But you know how I feel about Gerry—-it continues to throw me that it makes it onto your list…..

Comment by isa

To rip off Tracy Morgan: I want to take Gerry out back behind the middle school and get it pregnant.

Comment by ofmaine

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