I was just reading this compilation of Roger Ebert’s reviews of Robert Altman films. Man, I have a lot of Altman movies to see, a lot of Altman movies to revisit. For one, I remember years ago renting Nashville, and just not getting it. I recall being bored. But that was so many years ago, and my sensibilities have changed — I know it will be a different experience the next time I see it. I recently watched McCabe & Mrs. Miller for the first time, and folks, if you have not seen this movie, or it’s been a very long time since you’ve seen it, I highly recommend checking it out. It is an astonishing film. And I don’t normally listen to the special feature commentary on DVDs, my God I just don’t have time to watch a movie and then watch it all over again with the commentary, but I’m really glad I did check it out on this DVD, because Altman’s comments are so engaging and inspiring. There is one point where he talks about shooting the film (the actual physical film) so that it has a grainy, darkened look — an effect that can be created later in the lab, but if it’s shot that way, the studio executives can’t force you to keep a sunnier, more colorful version, because the actual film is dark and washed out. This was very early in his career, before he hit the big time, and he’s making decisions like that. It explains why his body of work is so amazing. He had a vision for what he wanted to do, and he did it. Most people do not operate like that.
So, yes, check out the Altman films, but those are not actually the films I wanted to suggest that you put in your queue. Reading about Altman just got me thinking about three amazing films that have really stuck with me, and I thought I would share. These were smaller films (in terms of distribution and marketing), so there’s a chance you may never have even heard of them or didn’t quite get to the theater to see.
1) 5X2 — This is the story about a relationship told in five scenes going backwards, and it opens when the couple is officially signing their divorce papers. The four other scenes do not explain why the relationship ended in divorce. The divorce is just the end of the relationship. I don’t think anyone needs to be told that relationships between two people are complex, but this exploration of that complexity is fascinating.
2) The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada — This is a story about friendship, loss, and grief, and where the combination of the three might take you. It’s also about how resolution is not about definitive answers, but about feeling as if you know enough in your heart to begin to let go.
3) After Life — This movie more than any other has really stuck with me, as if I dreamed it or something. Sometimes my mind drifts and it just fall to a scene from this movie. I find it comforting and alarming at the same time. The question in the film is quite simple — what single memory would you take from this life into the afterlife for eternity? The answer is impossible. Or is it? Is it as simple as the question? I think why this movie comes back to me so often is because it makes me think about what in this life really makes me happy. Not what in this life do I really want — it is not about things or accomplishments or where I want to go next or what I hope to get done. It is about feeling a certain way. And then to take it further, of all the feelings I experience, what is the one, single moment that I could grab onto and say, yes, that is it, that is the ONE. I like that I have to keep thinking this one through, that it comes back to me in quiet moments. I like where the thoughts take me.