Melissa Leo is probably my favorite actress of the moment. If given the opportunity, I would follow Leo blindly into a foxhole. I would probably skip too. That is how much I adore her. Not only is she a great character actress but she is also ridiculously off-the-cuff. This past Oscar season proved just how wonderfully over-the-top Leo can get. (Admittedly, I like my actors and actresses a little crazy as long as they don’t enter Charlie Sheen territory.)
My favorite performance from Leo is in Frozen River. Ray Eddy is a hard-edged unintentionally feminist anti-hero. Leo owns this character. I can’t think of any other actress who could portray Ray with the same level of grittiness and to the same degree of success.
For more than a week, I have been trying to grasp exactly what I want to say about Meek’s Cutoff. My head has been swirling with many thoughts about the story, characters, performances, direction, and cinematography. What is it all working towards?
Fundamentally Meek’s Cutoff is a revisionist Western that centers on the lives of women as they cross the Oregon High Desert with their families. The group is led by guide Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) who may be leading them no where. Tensions mount as water becomes scarce and the two-week journey becomes more arduous. When the group encounters and captures a Native American (Ron Rondeaux), the film shifts from a story about survival to a story about gender differences and fears of an ethnic other.
The women, played by Michelle Williams, Shirley Henderson and Zoe Kazan, represent three very different types, visually marked by the contrasting colors of their dresses and bonnets. They differ in age, are in different stages of their marriages and have different levels of individual agency. They are given little authority to make decisions although their work – cooking, cleaning, minding the children – is no less important.
That fact that director Kelly Reichardt focuses the film on these women emphasizes that their presence is more important than their male counterparts. We never hear the conversations these men have about what to do with their wayward guide or the Indian. It is instead the women, their conversations, their solidarity with one another, and above all their morality, that drives the narrative.
Meek’s Cutoff is less about its characters and performances (Williams’ character is the only one with any depth). It is more about how this story is stylistically told through realist tendencies and a slow, methodical progression.
I can’t help but turn my attention to the other post-9/11 independent films that fascinate me and how Meek’s Cutoff relates. Like Reichardt’s 2008 film Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff explores notions of identity. Yet the historical context of Meek’s Cutoff causes this exploration of self to encompass many complex layers. Gender, class, and Americanism all play a part in how the settlers exist and define themselves. Most telling is how these white settlers pit themselves against the non-white other emphasizes the early foundations of a long-standing American fear of the other. Kazan’s character Millie is a hysterical woman convinced that the Indian will kill the group; her hysterics are matched by the actions of the men. In a way this is on par with Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River, which places the fear of an ethnic other in a contemporary setting, a setting that revolves around post-9/11 anxieties. Meek’s Cutoff seems to ever so slightly offer a commentary on current relations with immigrants and how we define ourselves against someone else.
This post is a part of my ongoing Thesis Redux project. More here on the films I will be watching and writing about.
As promised, here is the filmography for my Thesis Reduxblogging project. It is a bit abridged – there are more than 100 movies I could/should revisit – but these are the core ones I intend on watching in the coming weeks.
April 29 marks the one year anniversary of when I handed in my senior thesis at Mount Holyoke, ending a year-long research project on post-9/11 independent cinema. The entire thesis process was an emotionally, mentally, and even physically draining experience. I never wanted to hear the words “Neorealism,” “American Dream,” “immigrant,” or “identity” ever again.
Something has changed in the past few weeks. My post-college life hasn’t been exactly thrilling. As boredom continues to settle in, I find myself wanting to revisit my former academic life. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the conclusions I reached and because of that I find that my thesis is on my mind more than ever. How can I improve on it now? I am going to take this stage of my life as opportunity to fix what I was never content with.
One thing I never did while writing my thesis was blog about it. I always intended to in hopes of getting feedback from others about the films and theoretical concepts I was exploring. So that is what I am going to do now — really dive into this project in a way I was not afforded to before. Maybe it will help me get some real satisfaction from the project.
Since it is October 10, 2010, I feel inspired to write some sort of top ten list. About what though, I’m wasn’t quite sure at first. I could, as my friend Kim, write about the top ten worst sequels. But that would require me to have seen certain sequels. I even considered writing about movies that have something to do with numbers. Of course, that means I would have to include A Beautiful Mind, a film I detest so that list just was not happening.
Then it dawned on me. This past week, I began going through my first blog posts and editing them. I’ve noticed, among other things, that my writing skills were horrible, my proofreading skills were lacking, and every movie was one of my favorites. I had a severe inability to dislike or critique anything. Today things are different. At least I hope four years of college and a Film Studies degree have noticeably improved the quality of this blog.
In the over five years since I have been a blogger, I have never written a definitive top ten list of my favorite movies. I’ve posted and commented on plenty of other movie lists but never my own. I have my reasons. “Joanna, what are your ten favorite movies?” is a question I hate to answer because it puts me on the spot to think of something creative and insightful. On top of that, my cinematic interests and thus my list is are always changing. What I loved years ago, I could rewatch and hate today. With all of this in mind, here it is. My top ten favorite movies and why I love them. Continue reading “A Binary Day Top 10”