One of the many things millennials have been labeled with is an obsessive romanticization of the retro, analog, past. And as true as that is for broad strokes like thrift stores and the would-be reemergence of cassette tapes, we don't always go much beyond the surface of what we remember from childhood, or have been hearing about since birth.
This is a list of films that most of us probably haven't seen, but that totally uphold what John and I are calling "tenets of millennialism," and so you''d probably love them, if you ever get to watch them. Also, some spoilers, but like, these old-ass movies so you'll deal.
A note on accessibility:
With movie streaming services like Filmstruck (the new online home of TCM and the Criterion Collection) and Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Amazon Direct, Vimeo OnDemand, all the dudes (preferences not implied), you no longer have to live in a major city to uncover that rare Truffaut from a performing arts library, or a private French Institute (FIAF for NY). Nor would you have to travel through Japan to find that rare Kurosawa film (though the pilgrimage is not “not” recommended). In general at least.
The world of cinematic accessibility at our fingertips is a great cultural accomplishment, we'll do our best to point you towards the easiest way to find these films.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of traits, but these are certainly pillars of the generation at large that we're drawing from.
-Predisposition towards professional or semi-professional art & self-expression.
-Individual rights/experience above most else.
-Both romanticization and general knowledge of past artistic and social movements.
-Hyper Awareness of social standing (within varying and antithetical social strata).
-Hyper Sensitivity to Social Justice and perceived slights against it. (gentrification, lgbtq rights, and gender equality, are all hot right now)
-Nervous awareness of work/life balance.
-Greater political engagement.
-Coming to the beginnings of the fading of our youth.
-Optimism bred in the face of Post 9/11 mania and the Global Recession.
-Greater sense of the wider world and cultures other than our own.
-Common predisposition to black and white perception of social issues.
And now without further ado...another movie list.
“Stolen Kisses.” Francois Truffaut. 1968.
Any list of movies catered to a millennials worth its megabites would have to start with the works of Francois Truffaut. Although the Antoine Doinel series should be required viewing in and of itself, “Stolen Kisses” (The third of 5 that follow Doinel from age 12 throughout adulthood) is our Truffaut of choice.
Juggling through jobs and the modern dating scene (circa Paris in 1968), we see Antoine Doinel navigate his way through the glitter and the gutter of Parisian society. Having been dishonorably discharged from the military, Doinel dons the hat of door man, private investigator, tv repair man, all the while trying to regain the affection of his raison d’etre (though having better luck with her parents).
This is the first act of Doinel's adult life and he is caught at the cross roads of the freedom of a literally transient youth and the aspirations of adulthood. Jean-Pierre Leaud grew up before the world as Doinel, but in a time of great social upheaveal, technological and political advancement, and the would be tail end of imperialism. Sound familiar? Imagine Richard Linklater's "Boyhood", but spread over multiple films and many more than 12 years. Also French.
Doinel's attempt to find himself through art, work, love, and rebellion is something that has made him relatable to just about everyone ever (at some point or another). He is the greatest invention of one of the greatest mind's of the movies.
Check it out here. Maybe, things come and go on filmstruck without too much external logic. They're new. But great. If all else fails, Amazon streams more than you'd expect. Also, I guess, iTunes.
Every young person’s worst fear is now Giovanni’s reality: His best years are behind him. From the very first scene, where Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) and his wife Lidia (Jeanne Moreau) watch their best friend fade away in a hospital bed, the characters in Antonioni’s "La Notte" struggle to come to grips with their spent youth.
“I no longer have ideas, only memories” says Giovanni. With no other prospects for the evening, Giovani and Lidia drive out to the luxurious Gehardini’s residence, where a lavish party awaits them.
At the party, Valentina (Antonioni’s real life muse: Monica Vitti), the beautiful and brooding daughter of Mr. Gehardini, catches Giovanni’s attention with her carefree spirit and sexual melancholy.
For all their pretension, their lavish parties, and book deals, the sun comes up over an exhausted Giovanni and Lidia, who are faced with themselves: worn, tired, and no longer equipped with the flame of youth that we so deeply idolize.
For all of our lives we were the new kids on the block (some of you can even remember New Kids on the Block) but now, there's Generation Z, whoever the hell they are. But they do things now, they go to marches and out right wing commentators.
Millennial youth has had its heyday, and though that's something that has happened to everybody. Ever. It's happening to us right now. So check out La Notte and hope to whoever your god is you can do it better than Mastroianni.
Contrary to popular belief, mimes in movies didn’t end with Chaplin in the 30’s. Made in 67, Jacques Tati’s “Playtime” was one of many films centering around Tati’s recurring character Mr. Hulot. “Playtime” in particular brings the clash between old world ways and the concrete jungle of gizmos and gadgets of today to life, while lightheartedly longing for the simpler age. (Before the apple watch was ever in production mind you).
The world changed around us while we were a bit too young to understand the change, but not too young to notice. More than a few social theorist would tell you that the sudden advent of the internet, and everything more advanced than a motorola Razr, has led us right to our current state of denim clad vinyl collecting, and they might be right. Also, they could totally not be. Point is, Hulot's caught just as much in a newly automated world as our pre-school selves were a newly digital one. And it's a bit of an adjustment.
Hulot’s not the typical classic leading man, glowing in neither youth, nor tinder matchable looks, he is an earnest everyman, one we can’t help but love to relate to.
Whenever Tarantino hears ‘California Dreamin’ by the Mamas and the Papas, he is reminded of Kar-wai’s “Chunking Express.” We should all be lucky enough to have the same association (to both the song and film’s credit).
Kar-wai’s film is an unconventional neon lit love story filled with quirk, brooding, and missed connections centering around a downtown Hong Kong restaurant called the“Midnight Express”. Made in 1994, “Chunking Express” contains many nods to the French New Wave along with Kar-wai’s unique use of music and color schemes to tell multiple weaving stories over the backdrop of Hong Kong’s westernization.
The central romance breaks most conventions Hollywood's gotten us comfortable with to create a far more unique and nuanced romance for the beginnings of the 21st century. (It is our only film later than the 80's. We were avoiding the 90's but made an exception as Kar-wai's generally dope.)
The old dog who runs “Midnight Express” is a calm, wise, and easygoing contrast to the many colorful characters that frequent his restaurant. (Think East Village Dollar Pizza on a Friday). Other characters range from a drug dealer chasing down a lost package, to young cop coping with a bad breakup on April Fool’s Day, to another cop acquainted with the mile high club, to a quirky spontaneous and enigmatic Faye (played by Faye Wong) who’s breakthrough performance is not to be missed.
It's, in part, her whimsical movement between the world of her dead end fast-food job and the magic of her utterly unique individuality that we thought would make this so deeply relatable.
Can you believe we almost didn't have a Godard? But you can't really talk about a youth culture of any era without his...idiosyncrasies. The film follows Anna Karina's Angéla, a stripper who really wants to have a kid with her lover Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy). He's not so wild about it though. She wants that kid all the same, so there's a love triangle with Angéla's best friend Alfred (an always sexy as hell Jean-Paul Belmondo).
There's some romping through the seedier corners of 60's Paris that really make the picture, but in the end, Émile's tryst really shows Émile, both in the sticking it too him sense, and in proving to him how important having a child is to her, sense.
He gives in, and they give it a go. She knows what she wants, no one's gonna stand in her way, no one's gonna judge her job, she's hot, she's smart, she's bad, she's got this. Classic Karina.
What struck me most about this film is the ease with which Godard handles what, even today, are considered unconventional, if honest parts of romance. And there's no way anyone whose even just downloaded Tinder wouldn't see something relatable in the confused, earnest, stupid, downright illogical way these characters deal with each other.
And any co-habitators out there will find a lot of familiarity in the way Angéla and Émile flirt in and fight in and redecorate their small flat.
It's worth noting that it was Godard's first film in color, and that it's the year he and Karina got married. And that it's kinda a musical comedy. Using songs from the American musical cannon as well as new bits inspired by Cole Porter or the Gershwins it breaks most of the rules of conventional cinema at the time.
Characters talk to the camera, seem to know and then forget that they are characters in a film. He cuts quickly and sometimes awkwardly, place space and time invert and everyone's super duper witty.
But that just makes it all the more exciting. Definitely my favorite of his films, it has all the youth, wit, sacrilege, and vigor of anything we'd make today. Tons more than our most recent musical mega-hit if ya know what ah mean.
What millennial doesn’t yearn for a simpler time and place on the outskirts of society? I mean I guess you're out there, but generally... Based on a story by Guy De Maupassant, Jean Renoir (son of the painter) began filming the romantic short about a Parisian family’s trip to a countryside inn during the summer of 1936.
Although technically incomplete, (production was interrupted by Renoir’s involvement in the larger budget feature “The Lower Depths,” then subsequently the onset of WWII), “A Day in the Countryside” remains one of the most cherished of Renoir’s works.
In it, Renoir definitely does his father justice with a keen ability in making his characters glow. The young Henriette (Sylvia Bataille seen above) radiates with excitement and youth at the family picnic when the idea of going for a boat ride is offered by charming labor men of the inn.
Though perhaps a universal desire, we probably have a more detailed romanticization of our collective past since for us, their is a tangible difference. Physical media, be it vinyl or laser disk or great-grandpa's letters from the front. Generally we don't have pieces of our past to literally hold onto.
Renoir's characters face a not dissimilar issue, stay in their idyllic place, rife with all the imaginings and romance they could want, or return to a world they know and thus cannot love quite as easily. Romance is necessary, but too much of it will drown ya.
It's probably worth noting that "The Landlord" is the only American made narrative feature on our list. Whether that's because you're more likely to have seen American films, John and I aren't watching enough of them, or European youth culture got it while Hollywood of the past pandered to tropes and sexuality, whose to say? "The Landlord" is the most 'millennial' movie I've seen in a long, long time. Not just in topic or the things we'd love about it, but the things we should learn from it.
Beau Bridges is a rich kid from Long Island who, rather than go into some corner of the family business, takes a bit of daddy's money and tries to flip a Bed-Sty brownstone instead. In 1970. I didn't even know modern gentrification had hit that particularly overlooked corner of Brooklyn until about a year ago when some indie-rockers I know had a house/listening party.
Yet here we are, 47 years ago tackling it head on. And yet, this isn't our typical "save the brown people but also there's no where cheaper oh god my student loans," faux moral conundrum we all walked through for the thousandth time at brunch two weeks ago.
Bridges' character 'Elgar' isn't exactly taking advantage of these people and we can see why a bit a gentrification might be good for the hood. We don't always say it, but sometimes, a few hundred Columbia grad students is exactly what a neighborhood needs to help it out. Rising tides and the like.
Then there's the romance. For all our talk of wanting diversity in our pictures it's still rare to see interracial romance and even rarer to see the children of such a coupling. Ashby's got you covered. There's not one, but two mixed couples and two characters who are the product of such miscegenation (do we have any taboo's against that phase right now?)
Elgar's primary love interest is a young woman he mistakes for a white girl, she quickly corrects him revealing her mixed race heritage and giving us one of the most accurate and least self-pitying monologues about that experience I've encountered.
It's kinda an NSA thing to begin with so he does have a one night stand with a black tenant whose activist husband is in jail for the weekend. It should have ended there, but about 40 minutes later Elgar has a mixed race kid all his own.
The activist husband, who oscillates between being some version of a Black Panther and a semi-mindless militant Native American rights crusader, should serve as a cautionary tale to more than a few corners of our modern progressive movement.
More than anything, it's hilarious, relatable and uniquely thought provoking in ways we claim we want out movies to be, and whenever anything comes close we raise it up as an example of an increasingly liberal or "woke" cinema, that the patriarchy never allowed to exist before. Well these guys did it nearly half a century ago so where are all he buzzfeed op-eds on that?
It's a dope film and an incredible debut by one of the most actually vibrant and overlooked filmmakers of the 70's New Hollywood movement. I could say a hell of a lot more about it, but actually did, last week, right here. It's the kinda movie we deserve, but probably won't get much of if we continue telling ourselves it's never been allowed to happen before.
The Landlord, some how, doesn't seem to be online anywhere, which is absurd and I guess entirely the point. How'd we lose that one? You can buy it on Amazon.
“Orphee.” Jean Cocteau. 1950.
Cigarettes and coffee over some notepad musings and intellectual banter in an artsy café sounds like the hip old thing to do on a Friday evening. It’s also the start to Jean Cocteau’s ‘Orpheus’ which took the Greek classic from stage to screen in 1950. A leader in the avant-garde movement, Cocteau’s revolutionary use of practical effects to transition between the literal world and netherworld are still highly regarded (and missed) today.
Among the niche of artists who frequent “Café des Poetes,” Orpheus is recognizably the most trending poet at this time, albeit a little more classy than an Instagram hashtag, (but not by much), his struggle is in finding balance between obsession for his craft, and his love for Eurydice.
She of course dies and he must venture to the land of the dead to rescue her. Cocteau's blending of myth, the romance of artistry, and Parisian post-war café society are elements pretty much every corner of any round of youth culture can get behind. Though with our predisposition towards artistic culture and sensitivity to the heirarchies within them, Orphee's world won't seem so very distant.
Also, Cocteau's practical effects fire on ever cylinder, retro, genius, magical, and exotic. No matter what the press release for Star Wars 8 would have you believe, practical effects are something that are heart achingly lacking from our modern cinema.
We could do a whole piece on that, but actually, cult-film favorite Charles Busch did it pretty well in our podcast with him last month, so if that's what you're here for, check that out instead.
It's my favorite of the Maestro's pictures and the one that sold me, personally, on him as a complete baller. And it's a pretty good way into an oeuvre that isn't exactly the most accessible. Cabiria is a post-war prostitute who lives in a shack by the sea.
She moves through a series of boyfriends who string her along, rob her, and leave her, but she always keeps that classic heart of gold. We move through a surreal underworld mirror of Rome that never stops being, if not necessarily charming, always affective and unforgettable. There's magic and hypnotists and hope. Always hope.
No matter how often she's robbed or wronged Cabiria picks her chin up, imagines the day she'll finally find her happiness and dances a bit. It's this resilience that puts her on our list.
For a group of people told from childhood that they "don't know how good they have it" while coming of age in a 'war-on-terror-' obsessed planet wide recession, ya'll still manage to invent and innovate and empathize with people that, only a few decades ago our parents would likely never think about. The larger the world gets, in a lot of ways, the scarier it gets too. But that's the new world that's all we've ever known.
In the film's final moments Cabiria has been left on the edge of a cliff by the man she thought she would marry. He's hit her and mocked her and stolen all of the money she has (she'd just sold her shack and all she owned for a dowry.)
She cries, quietly, on the edge of the sea, she could just tip over the edge. And then, remarkably, she stands and turns back to the road. Crying still, but moving ahead. And then, in purest Fellini fashion, a group of young partygoers and musicians appear behind and around her, materializing from the woods. Their joy and music and life keep her tears coming, but this time with that hope, and more than a little joy for the life she still knows she'll find in the future.
Cabiria is brought to life by Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife and life-long muse. What we would call feminist imagery abounds, though I bet they were just trying to make a movie about a bad-ass human. Cabiria takes everything any corner of society throws at her without breaking stride for a moment with her individuality.
She dances when she should cry, falls in love when she should hide from the world. She's the embodiment of possibility. And I doubt Fellini choose a woman on the outskirts of society for this by accident. Magic in his worlds always comes from the places we are warned against going.
Whole doctoral papers have been written on this one and it's a hell of a lotta fun so I'll end with this. You actually have seen a version of it I bet, in America it became the Broadway smash Sweet Charity, remounted most recently off-broadway by The New Group with Sutton Foster as Cabiria's counterpart. And technially, it's a spin-off of Fellini's first solo-directorial effort, "The White Sheik," in which Masina appears as Cabiria for only a few scenes.
She was so great Fellini was able to use that as proof she could carry his next picture "La Strada," the first film to win the Best Foreign Language Oscar. That's a whole other thing, but if you're into the expanded Cabiria-verse check out our piece AHCU: The Overlooked Cinematic Universes of the Art House.
Can you actually push progressive ideas on social media without addressing your “ass-backwards” right wing uncle who’s pretty much just doing the same? The personal impact of political division is nearly as true now as it was in the days of “Gates of the Night.”
“Les Portes de la Nuit” depicts a divided Paris at the tail end of WWII. It sticks a French Resistance fighter at a table with a Nazi collaborator, and an honest working man next to a seedy mobster. All the while a homeless man, named Destiny (baller move Carné), manipulates the threads of their unwinding tale.
Immortalized by its original song “Les Feuilles Mortes” (Autumn Leaves) and poetic undertones, (both penned by Jacques Prevert). The mobster bad guy isn’t killed by our hero, and the collaborationist, riddled with guilt takes his own life.
There may be few times in history as confused and dangerous as Paris under, and right after, the Nazis. You’d think that if ever there was a time for black and white morality it would be the second a Nazi showed up. But if our recent dealings with Richard Spencer tell us anything, that may not always be the case.
Carne’s a master of pretty much everything he ever touched, but this look at how we should deal with perceived wrongs, versus how we want to, feels newly relevant. You can’t jump every accused collaborator and you probably shouldn’t unfriend every questionable cousin from Cleveland. Gotta get them deets first.
We debated whether or not to have a documentary on this list, but in the end decided, why not. It's all cinema. "What Sex Am I?" is a film, from 1985, the follows a few trans individuals through their daily lives, at ever social strata of 80's America. The remarkable thing about this film is that, with the exception of maybe one or two phrases that are no longer en vogue, this picture could have been made today.
It aligns with pretty much every way modern progressives view and discuss the issue, it is heartbreakingly sympathetic without a moment of pander, and that's important for us to recognize. It is dangerously simple and terrifyingly common to believe that the bulk of our modern progressive sensibilities were given life with the era of Facebook groups and Barack Obama.
But that's not the case, it's rarely ever the case. These things were issues long before Becky and her open minded hair got that associates in gender studies, and it only does us harm to rewrite our history for the sole purpose of making our time the battleground that matters. This battle's been raging for a long, long time, and there were heroes in it long before we got around to giving a damn.
In fact, "What Sex Am I?" breaks another of our favorite modern psuedo-myths, women directors. This film was directed by Oscar-Winning actress Lee Grant, whose time in "The Landlord" makes up many of the film's highest points, as well winning her an Oscar nomination for Best-Supporting actress. Nominated for her first acting Oscar at 24 shortly before being blacklisted by Joe Mccarthy's HUAC for 12 years, she is one of the few performers to have a career after the blacklist.
Still though, 12 years for an actress in Hollywood is a long time, and though she stretched her ingenue years out remarkably, instead of retiring decided she might as well start making her own films. That was in the mid-70's. Since then her works as director and producer have won the Emmy, the Peabody, she's the first woman to win a Director's Guild award and in 1987, the film she made immediately after "What Sex Am I?" won HBO it's first Academy Award, for the Documentary feature "Down and Out in America."
"What Sex Am I?" is a film we should all see because it reminds us that this fight is much older and much larger than us. The more we treat the fight for equality on any front be it feminism, trans rights, any version of gender equality, as something perfected by the internet age the more we undercut the legacy of all those who came before.
We should tell you that "What Sex Am I?" is a Karmic Release, but what can we say, the dudes who were running this place before us clearly knew what the hell was up.
Highpoint of the film, the moment the father of a lesbian who has transitioned to male and become the husband of her former lover, declares his joy that the two are "...normal now! Hell they're not gay anymore!"
"What Sex Am I," is available On Demand, and should be available to stream shortly. Also, if it's your kind of picture, check out "Paris Is Burning," though you've probably crossed paths with that one before.
"Swept Away." Lina Wertmuller. 1974.
I guess it's really not possible to talk about the history of Women in Film without Lina Wertmuller, the German director of Italian cinema who became the first woman to be nominated for the best Director Oscar in 1977, an honor Kathryn Bigelow would finally win 33 years later. Unfortunantly we do far too often.
"Swept Away" just had a revival as part of the Quad Cinema's re-opening retrospective of Wertmuller and I'd say yeah, run down and check it. It's the most recent addition to New York's Independent Movie House rennaissance and it's a cool ass joint, the bar's not open till the end of the month but w/e. John covered that a while ago with this.
This one bills itself as a reimagining of "The Taming of the Shrew." It's not. There's no bet, or younger sister, or quirky mishaps. It's, I guess, a comedy about two people that hate each other, and then fall in love.
Other than that, not a ton in common with Shakespeare's "Ten Things I Hate About You" source material. And perhaps falls less in the category of films millennials would love and more that millennials should see before we # womeninfilm, or feminism, or misogny, or healthcare, classwar, any more this week. I only saw it for the first time Sunday night, but I knew it had to be here.
It's the story of a wealthy Italian woman, Raffaela (Mariangela Melato), on a boat holiday through the Mediterranean. She, her husband, and their friends swim, sunbath, debate the finer points of liberal politics. Its tension with conservative Italian tradition, the recent legalization of abortion and divorce, even whether or not to universalize healthcare. And it's 1974.
Despite their wit and education their beliefs seem little more than the latest party line. And yet, for all of Raffaela's generally socially liberal jargin, she torments the help they've hired to run the boat, and none more so than the dark skinned and ruggedly handsome Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini).
She spits venom at him every chance she gets, or invents, and he is forced to endure it 'cause the pay's too good. She seems cruel and catty and not at all the way we'd like to see our women portrayed. And he seems more than a bit of a sexist, lamenting that women of the upper class do not know their place. But then, the two are shipwrecked alone together on a little island.
She can't fend for herself and the power slides to him. A new mini-society begins to develop in which he hunts and builds while she cleans and is subservient to his whims. By this point the young woman across the aisle from me nearly walked out, but, to her credit, she didn't.
Things get darker and more at odds with our modern sensibilities until Gennarino is about to rape Raffaela, yelling about the evils of capitalism and hypocrisy of industrial Italy. And then, Raffaela gives in and this stops him. Not because it was the violence of the thing that turns him on, but because he wants to seduce her, he wants her to want him, and knew that this was the best way to set that in motion.
Now, is that an idea that makes you comfortable? No. Is it something that holds tight to 4th wave feminism, certainly not. Is it something 2nd wave feminism could get down with? Well yeah, probably. His plan works and she falls for him, giving up all power or any real individual agency. They are not equals, he is physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive, and it only gets her hotter.
Is that creepy AF? I guess so. Is it misogynist? Maybe not if it works for them. And this is where it most notably diverges from our modern sense of the issue. 2nd wave feminists of the 70's and 80's were often all for empowerment through whatever worked. Sex-positivity, sex-work positivity, kink-positivity, the whole nine. That's the sort of openness that I'm afraid our current current lacks a lot of.
We'd label her broken or backwards and him manipulative, cruel. And maybe that's true, but if that's who they are can we really condemn them? And without our outside force, our society to enforce those sensibilities, what's it matter at all? And that's where the films power really comes home.
The final test of their love is whether or not it can survive back in the world, away from their "twisted" Eden. SPOILER ALERT: It can't. Now is that because she can't resist the trappings of her wealth, because he shouldn't abandon his wife and family? Or is it because the world created the worst parts of us and only away from it all, on a desert island, can we really be ourselves?
Who knows. Movie's powerful as all hell though. And forces the viewer through some of the most uncomfortable moral quandries a movie's ever pushed me through. But in the end, I'm sure we'd all come out truly the better for it. This one made the list because it's going to force us to reevaluate or reinforce our stances on a hell of a lot of things. Something we don't do near enough over the course of lives lived in multi-colored gif infused echo chambers.