Todd Haynes Films Ranked

Even before I started reading Vulture’s list ranking Todd Haynes’s films I knew I would disagree with it. It’s probably fairly accurate judging by the strength of the filmmaking, but it fails to account for what I’m actually looking for from a Todd Haynes’s film, which is something more than strong filmmaking. Todd Haynes is my favorite director because he makes really queer films. His major in college was semiotics, and I swear, it shows. What follows is a list of his films based on how much I love them, which says more about the kind of things I love than how good any of the films are. But my list is still better than Vulture’s.

  1. Carol

Maybe this makes me a bad lesbian, but I don’t care — Carol is a boring movie. It’s very pretty, and I’m happy it exists, and that lots of straight people went and saw a film about happy lesbians, and all the memes are great. But it’s a kind of boring movie.

  1. Far From Heaven

There’s something restrained about this film which is a problem for me. It reaches towards all these things, but never quite touches them. It’s such a prestige movie — a well done prestige movie and everything, about issues, a period piece with accent design. But it doesn’t do anything surprising or exciting. It’s just well done, without making me care enough.

  1. Posion

I need to see this again, because I watched it before my Genet kick, and Haynes films are more fun when you recognize what he’s poking at. This was his first feature film, and it’s three different things braided together, and it’s super intriguing, but also baffling? I don’t know how well it works, or how enjoyable it is, but it’s thought provoking, and an important statement in queer cinema.

  1. Wonderstruck

I just saw this, and I’m probably going to try to write about it more soon, but it was a very sweet movie, and inspired me to listen to “Space Oddity” on repeat for weeks. It’s kind of precious, and there sure are a lot of tidy coincidences, but it’s a kids movie, and I don’t care. I don’t think it always succeeds, but at least it’s trying to do something special and odd.

  1. Safe

Objectively, Todd Haynes’s best movie? I’ve only seen it once, and I want to see it again. It’s very smart, and very cool, and Julianne Moore does this breathy little voice, and is so fantastic. (How good Julianne Moore is in so many Todd Haynes movies is another discussion, but just: wow, I love her.) The problem with this film is that it’s too a bit close to things that I worry actually worry about.

  1. I’m Not There

I lied. This is my favorite Todd Haynes film. But I couldn’t bring myself to rank it any higher, because on some level it isn’t very good? But I love it. It’s about Bob Dylan, and the many masks he’s worn. It’s very fragmented, and I have no idea how much sense it makes if you aren’t a huge Dylan nerd (which I am). But it has Cate Blanchett playing a version of Bob Dylan, and that alone is transcendently amazing. I’ve watched it more times than any other film on the list, and really, find it endlessly rewatchable, probably because the plot is really tenuous while the soundtrack is great. Which is actually a weakness, but whatever, it works for me.

  1. Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story

This is a biopic shot with Barbie Dolls, and it’s brilliant. It’s just, so good? And so weird? And its legend is enhanced by its status as a cult object, circulating on VHS copies before the web, because he couldn’t get music clearance for a real release. Do yourself a favor and watch it right now.

  1. Velvet Goldmine

A feature length film of David Bowie/Iggy Pop fan fiction. How could I love anything more than this? The soundtrack is so good, the world is so bright and shiny. I honestly can’t believe this film exists, and the fact that it does, and is such a wild trip, makes me have faith in the universe. The reason why I love Todd Haynes is because he makes films I want to see that I can’t imagine anyone else making. Lots of people can make nice prestige films, but I can’t imagine anyone else making this, and that’s why I love it.

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Poison

What a really fucking weird movie. I dug it. There are few things I’m more into than weird gay movies. Really it’s more like three weird gay movies braided together.

There’s the part about Genet, the part about this kid who disappeared, and part that’s like an old paranoid 1950s horror movie. The Genet bit is hard to follow, but it had some great cinematic moments. I’m reading The Thief’s Journal, and this thread of the film really does manage to evoke the feel of the book. It’s definitely the strangest part, the one that feels like an art film, while the other two are playing off more conventional genres.

The story of this kid who disappeared is presented like true crime, the sort of sensationalized thing that winds up on television. The general take away is about family, and the way things might not be the way that they seem, the things we keep secret. Within the film a young boy who isn’t understood by his parents clearly connects to being gay.

And then there’s an old horror film, which is about deformity and transformation and sickness. It’s black and white, and the effects are very low-fi creepy. It feels like a paranoid old horror film, but while they were worried about the Soviets and nuclear fallout, this is in the shadow of AIDS.

The whole film is, and when we put it in context, coming out in 1991, one of the first features of New Queer Cinema, we can really start to take it apart. Which isn’t something I’m going to try to do today, because it’s a really weird interesting film that has a lot to say. I’ve been trying to figure out what I wanted to write about it since April, and I’m not any closer to having an answer. I’m glad I saw it, I think about it sometimes, I’m going to rewatch it someday. It’s a great weird movie.

 

Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story

This was just amazing and inspiring and the coolest thing ever.

I’ve been a fan of Todd Haynes for a while — I loved Velvet Goldmine and I’m Not There and listening to him talk in The Celluloid Closet, but I finally got around to listening to the episode of WTF where he gets interviewed, and decided to really explore his back catalogue, starting at the beginning.

This thing is just so cool. It’s a forty minute story about Karen Carpenter with the majority of the action taking place using Barbie dolls instead of actors. It’s phenomenal.

At some point you forget you’re watching Barbies. It doesn’t matter that they’re dolls, you’re invested in the story that’s being told. It’s really emotional. I’m not huge into the Carpenters, and was only vaguely familiar with the story, but this really made me care. It’s great storytelling.

Everything is so well shot and lit, which is even more impressive when you remember the scale he’s working on. There’s a scene where they talk with the record executive in his office, and light is coming in through some blinds in a really ominous way, and it’s super effective, a great image. And then you remember that somehow he managed to get that effect while working with Barbie dolls.

Part of my appreciation comes from the fact that I love Barbies, and I know their limitations. There’s a scene where Karen is recording a song, and her hand comes up to her face, which is a very natural movement for a human being. But to get that shot he must be using two Barbies, or maybe one doll and an extra arm, because they don’t bend that way. Yet the movement is absolutely convincing, that she’s singing and bringing her arm up to her face. It’s well planned and executed flawlessly.

This is the sort of weird shit that is so appealing to my sensibilities. It’s honestly inspiring. I still have a lot of my childhood Barbies, and actually just bought a new one. She’s curvy and has blue hair, and I couldn’t resist her at Target. Now I want to make a movie about all of her adventures.

It isn’t only Barbies though. There are talking head interviews, and establishing shots, and some stock footage mixed in. The Barbies are used to carry the central narrative, but there’s a lot more going on.

This isn’t just a movie about Karen Carpenter, it’s also about how anorexia is linked to the policing of women’s bodies. It’s beautiful feminist art. I loved it.

It was so weird, and so smart, and so ridiculous. I love that I live in a world where this exists. It makes me feel better about the universe as a whole. It’s on youtube, go experience this masterpiece for yourself.