Films I’m Thankful For by Zephyr Ash Ostrowski

As the cold wind wraps around us in the Midwest, it’s that time of year where we’re supposed to reflect on our blessings and what we’re thankful for that happened this year. I won’t sugarcoat it; this year’s been trying for a lot of us. However, instead of another lengthy piece of dry and critical anger, I’ll keep things lighthearted and tell you the films that I’m glad to have seen. They all have a small personal anecdote, all of them experiences in their own right, but each one means different things to me.

The Room: There’s something to be said about this generation’s version of Plan 9 From Outer Space. So much of it goes so wrong and yet it’s enjoyable to watch. From the nonsensical dialogue to the inexplicably questionable character decisions, nothing adds up the way it should. It gives me great joy to introduce the film to different people and watching their reactions. I caught a limited engagement of The Room when The Disaster Artist was making the rounds for awards season and watching it with a crowd who appreciated the absurdity of the film elevated it to a new level, complete with the trappings of a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening: the chants, the laughs, the various remarks. It’s an experience best shared with friends.

The Straight Story: During the fall of my freshman year of college, my film club had us watch the pilot for Twin Peaks. I sat in the screening room alone, immersed by the surreal nature of it all. I then branched out and started developing my love for David Lynch. In my research, I discovered that he had only one G-rated film that was released by Disney. Luckily, I learned that my library had it in their collection as the sole David Lynch film in their catalog (Blue Velvet wouldn’t be added until years later), albeit on videotape. I didn’t care and what I got was a heartfelt meditative piece about what it means to make amends with family, no matter the odds. It’s one of the more forgotten films in Disney’s catalog, given their penchant for only re-releasing their most popular stuff and ignoring other things (but that’s an essay for another time), but it’s well worth the watch even if you’re not an avid David Lynch fan. Sometimes you need to take things slow and that’s perfectly fine.

Koyaanisqatsi: I was briefly aware of the Qatsi trilogy as my mother owned the soundtrack to the sequel that she would play from time to time. As a college sophomore, I found a bootleg upload of Koyaanisqatsi on Vimeo and gave it a watch, transfixed by the time-lapse photography and score by Philip Glass. Sitting down for a wordless message on how the way we’re going is nothing but a road to destruction is something that bears repeating in today’s world, especially when the planet is dying day by day. I’ve sat and thought about the film while waiting in traffic, imagining the famous Grid sequence as the frame rate increases into luminous chaos, streaking across the screen. And then, as the film winds down with a solemn dirge, you realize that life shouldn’t be this way. A viewing of it every now and then only emphasizes its importance.

La La Land: The start of 2017 was rough for a vast majority of people, myself included. Only a few months after being sent home from work to deal with a bizarre health problem, I was feeling as low as I possible could. But a few months into the new year, someone introduced me to a guy who would become my current partner. This movie was the first one we saw together. It wouldn’t be until a month later that we officially got together but this was one that has stayed with us. Sure, it’s by no means perfect, but when you walk through the door carrying donuts and Ryan Gosling singing “City of Stars” on your phone as a way to wake him up on your one-year anniversary, it’s special. Besides, it was a welcome moment of escapism.

Scanners: Considered the most accessible of David Cronenberg’s work, my youngest brother plucked this off my shelf one night and it’s one of the few films he’s really enjoyed. It’s got some great practical special effects (even if there’s a visible wire in a brief shot), early neurodiversity storylines, and one of several great Cronenberg films from that time period, it’s something that we’ve bonded over ever since that first viewing. We then watched it with our dad and he told us that he snuck into a screening of it when he was underage, something that astounded both of us. My brother has gone on to purchase his own copy of the film and is eager to show it to friends on his college campus. I don’t know if he’ll go on to watch some of the other stuff like Videodrome or Naked Lunch but I’m glad to have watched it with him.

Avengers: Infinity War: I’m by no means the most ardent Marvel fan; heck, I haven’t seen half of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, this particular film was special because it was a crossover for the ages. Not only did we see everyone come together on the big screen, it was also the first time I met Austin and Albert in person after knowing them online for three years. In turn, they got to see the man that I love and we all had an amazing time spending time in Little Rock and recording an episode for The Film Room. Yes, Infinity War is only halfway done and we still have to see what happens to Thanos but to me, some of the best parts of the film were beyond the screen.

Cloud Atlas: Easily my favorite Wachowski sisters’ film, it’s a cinematic masterpiece. Adapted from what was considered as an impossible-to-film novel, they take all six storylines and weave a tapestry from it. At the same time, it’s their first theatrical film since Lana revealed her transition and the themes about gender and identity are all present. In a film that best exemplifies that our actions are louder than words, you get to see how everything is connected over the course of centuries and hours. It’s a dense film that requires multiple viewings but it’s one that is on mind several times a week since I first saw it in spring 2014. And really, if a film can create that much of an impact on you, it has to be pretty special.

Dekalog: Back in college, I stumbled upon a small online film group that would review each entry of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die series. There was advance notice that someone picked this Polish television miniseries for review and, because it’s ten hours long, more time was needed to do a thorough review. I found the complete series on YouTube and settled in my small corner in the computer lab, marooned from home by the heavy snow, and slowly worked through it. It’s the perfect series to watch in the wintertime with a glass of milk by your side (milk is a recurring element in the show) and watch something incredibly masterful and poignant. For me to fully explain how incredible it is, that’s going to require two different entries at most. All I can say is that I strongly recommend Dekalog.

And so, as we look towards one more month of the year, it’s time to get festive. That means I get to bring the small tree out from the utility closet, break out the sweaters and gay apparel, and dig up my canon of Christmas films. My fingers are crossed that I get a chance to share some of them with friends and broaden their horizons for better or worse. It also creates some interesting problems that I’ll explain next month because there’s a subgenre of Christmas media that is baffling to me. For now, have a pleasant Thanksgiving and if there’s anyone that needs a loving heart, I’m here.

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