In this week's Indy Film Talk, Matthew Socey, the host of WFYI’s Film Soceyology, talks with Sam about the summer’s best films.
Sam Watermeier: To me, the best film of the summer was one about a movie lover like us — Life Itself, the documentary portrait of beloved film critic Roger Ebert. This film is a rich, poignant journey, following Ebert from his start at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he found his voice — to his battle with thyroid cancer that stilled that voice. It's painful to see such a larger-than-life spirit shrunken by sickness.
Although much of the doc focuses on his personal life, director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) shows how Ebert’s journey was largely fueled by his love of cinema, leading him to connect more deeply with people in the world outside of it.
Ebert said cinema is “like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”
Now, I ask you, Matt: which journeys shared on the silver screen were you most grateful for this summer?
Matthew Socey: I have been very grateful that it has been a strong summer for the multiplex titles and the art house favorites. Life Itself is my favorite film of the year so far. Like you wrote, it shows an entire life of a man, warts and all, who helped change how many look and think about cinema. To see what he went through in his final years and how productive he was online was inspiring. I watched the film twice in two weeks, something I don’t normally do. I never thought director Steve James would ever come close to matching his masterpiece Hoop Dreams, but I think he has.
Life Itself, Boyhood, Jodorowsky’s Dune and Locke (Tom Hardy’s best work since Bronson) are my favorites of the summer’s smaller films. Guardians of the Galaxy, Godzilla and The Fault in Our Stars are my favorites of the big titles. A fun, rollicking action comedy, a mature monster movie that gets tone right and a weepy young adult film that you don’t need to feed diabetics if they go into shock (Looking at your work, Mr. Sparks).
What were your top three multiplex films?
Sam: Guardians of the Galaxy is the first one that springs to mind. Those Marvel comic-book space pirates were totally foreign to me, but they proved to be charming company with which to tag along. And the film’s warmth and sense of wonder reminded me of ’70s-era Steven Spielberg and George Lucas films.
Speaking of engaging bands of misfits, I also enjoyed X-Men: Days of Future Past, which has the same sort of nostalgic power as Guardians. (Wolverine waking up next to a lava lamp in the ’70s was one of the summer’s best cinematic moments for me.)
While I’m thinking of a third, what were some of your favorite moments from this summer’s films?
Matthew: Good call on that moment from X-Men, but I must mention that it uses a song by Jim Croce better than any other film. Speaking of another summer film that also had good use of crap rock for a busy world...
“I am Groot,” said the humanoid tree creature voiced by Vin Diesel in Guardians of the Galaxy. Groot is Diesel’s best film work since Find Me Guilty, and it’s a good companion piece to his work in The Iron Giant.
I have posted “I am Groot” on Facebook and Twitter over 100 times. It’s even better when people respond with “We are Groot.” My biggest laugh of the year also appears in Guardians. For those who have seen the film, all you have to do is say the name Jackson Pollock. That single line alone, if it hasn't happened already, will boost more awareness of Mr. Pollock’s artwork, and the world will be a better place because of it. And I still chuckle at the line reading by Dave Bautista in that film, a character who takes everything literally and has no filter. The funniest being, “This green whore is my friend,” looking at Zoe Saldana.
Other favorite moments for me include seeing the next life chapter of the kids in Boyhood, knowing in my mind “we have jumped to another year later.” The lovely manic energy of Alejandro Jodorowsky in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune as he talks about a film he didn’t even get to make with the same passion as his completed films. Then there’s watching Tom Hardy’s life falling apart as he drives and only drives in Locke. Plus seeing the outtakes of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel verbally going at each other while trying to film a TV promo in Life Itself.
OK, I gave you three moments in one film and four other moments. Got a third multiplex favorite yet?
Sam: First, I'm glad you mentioned Boyhood because it has so many indelible scenes. The power of that film lies in how it makes you feel like you're eavesdropping on intimate moments. It has a you-are-there immediacy, and it fills you with a moment-to-moment sense of discovery.
Now, back to your question: It’s a bit of a stretch to list this as one of my favorite multiplex selections since this was one of the smaller films, but it’s a wholesome, breezy comedy well-suited for summer — Chef. Writer-director Jon Favreau, who is now largely known for summer blockbuster spectacles like Iron Man and Cowboys & Aliens, manages to enchant us here simply with scenes of a father and son chatting over a hot stove, discovering the secret ingredient of love that makes everything taste better.
In addition to intimate, tender moments, it offers insight into America’s gravitation toward food as the kind of empathy-generating machine Ebert discussed. Millions of people tune in to Top Chef and Kitchen Nightmares out of hunger for human drama.
Matthew: Full disclosure: I have not seen Chef (I know, I know...), but I did see The Hundred Foot Journey, so I'm batting .500 in the culinary films. That moment you mentioned from Chef reminds me of the wonderful final shot in Big Night where it’s the night after a huge fight between two brothers. These two meet in the kitchen, make breakfast, sit next to each other, eat, put their arms around one another and forgive each other. By the way, not a word is spoken and it’s all done in one single shot. One of my favorites.
Food is one thing everybody has in common. Everyone has to eat. People who like or want to eat better can use the food-creating moments in Chef, The Hundred Foot Journey, and Big Night as hopeful inspiration. If you can wrap a good story around the so-called “food porn” moments, that’s even better. I liked The Hundred Foot Journey because the film knows it’s a pretty picture book of a fairy tale that is also, story-wise, comfort food. You know how it will end and it goes down easy.
See? I do more than just chat with beautiful chefs on Film Soceyology. I actually pay attention to what they’re doing in the kitchen.
For more of Socey's thoughts on film, tune in to 90.1 FM HD2 Fridays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 4.