Whose name did I draw from the hat?

Last week, I invited readers of Looking Closer to tell us which movie best captures the character of their home territory. This was inspired by Cinematic States, Gareth Higgins’ thought-provoking tour of the U.S.A., exploring each state’s history and character by considering the films that, in his view as an inquisitive North Irishman, show us that state’s heart.

cinematic statesPeople wrote in and… well… I confess that I’m not actually using a hat. I’m wearing a hat, but it’s tricky in a coffee shop to come up with equal-sized ballots, fill a hat with them, and draw one, without making a scene.

So, here I am working on a laptop. How can I have a fair “drawing”?

Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll number the entries in the contest. Then I’ll find an album in my iTunes that has the right number of tracks. I’ll set iTunes to shuffle the tracks from that album, and hit “Play.” The track number that pops up first will be the number of the contest entry that wins.

Sound fair? Let’s give it a whirl…

First, let me tell you about the latest film to capture something of the world that I call home. I came across it on Netflix, and some high praise from accomplished film reviewers persuaded me to watch it while folding some laundry on a Saturday afternoon. It was such a pleasant surprise, I kept forgetting to fold the laundry.


Lucky Them, by Megan Griffiths, captures not only the melancholy gray of Seattle life, but also the tension of an arts scene in transition.

What was once a wonderland of grunge rock and alternative-music ‘zines is now a city of art journalists scrambling to find any kind of paying work and struggling to assert the importance of independent art in an increasingly corporate world. The film is also a character sketch of a journalist — Ellie Klug (Tni Collette) — whose life was transformed by a musician, then smashed by that musician’s death (or disappearance?), and then paralyzed by unanswered questions.

As Ellie zigzags in and out of ill-advised romances and relationships, the film becomes increasingly intriguing in its evasions of conventions and clichés.The last act has a big surprise for moviegoers who haven’t read reviews ahead of time. And the lead actors — Toni Collette and Thomas Haden Church — give such endearing, nuanced performances that even the film’s less-inspired tangents become interesting and worthwhile.

Okay, now let’s review the entries that you sent in…

(I gathered what came in on Facebook, in email, and in comments here. If I missed yours, I offer my sincerest apologies. It’s been an overwhelming week on social media — difficult to keep up with everything.)




“Silver City by John Sayles perfectly captures most of the issues Colorado is still working through–the history of mining and the current problems mining has caused, racism and the poverty/enslavement of migrant workers, drugs and alcoholism, the population explosion of the single and nouveau fit in the Front Range, the squishy line between politics and land development, the commoditization of the land and natural beauty, the clash between die-hard liberals in the city and die-hard conservatives in the mountains… All couched in a great tale of the danger of powerful self-interest, the search for meaning and truth, and how the promise of self-actualization and fulfillment that Colorado offers to the rest of the nation gets twisted by those trying to take it all for themselves. It has a fantastic ensemble cast and it was filmed on location — a rarity for movies set in Colorado. Most people who have seen it have disliked it, but as a 4th generation Denverite, I love it and Roger Ebert’s review is right on the money.”




I grew up in southern California, about an hour north of Los Angeles. And as southern Californians tend to do, I’ve ranged over the Greater Los Angeles Area… There are two movies that, storyline aside, really capture the aesthetic of the LA area: Chinatown (1974) and Nightcrawler (2014). Chinatown not only features the architecture and spirit of LA in the 1950s (architecture that we see this day), but also the desert and agricultural expanses of the surrounding valley. Nightcrawler, both in story and in visuals, is intimately tied to LAs roads and freeways, another prominent feature of LA life (one only need to see the SNL parody “The Californians” to see that So Cal residents define themselves by their freeways). Street signs and lights, underpasses, lower class neighborhoods, wealthy mansions, the corner cigarette shop, Venice Beach — all the landmarks that I grew up with in southern California and know so well.




Get Low (2009) starring Robert Duvall and Lucas Black surprised me with the way it captured life in the South. I don’t remember it being set in Georgia although some scenes were filmed there, but it did depict life in the 1930s as my father, a Georgia native, described it. There were several characters that I “recognized” as family members and friends.




Marvin’s Room. Central Florida — the mix of young and old (and very, very old). There’s so much here beyond the theme parks (thank God).

Also, Cross Creek. I know it’s old, but honestly, those places really still are here, near Gainesville and the University of Florida.




Elizabethtown. There’s a stretch of KY highway with a very familiar tunnel I’ve traveled many a time to visit relatives in Jeffersontown.


you can count on me


Filmed about an hour south of the Mohawk River Valley where I grew up, Kenneth Lonergan’s 2000 directoral debut, You Can Count On Me, perfectly captured life in lower-middle-class, small town upstate New York. Sammy (Laura Linney) and Terry (Mark Ruffalo) Prescott are siblings whose parents died in a car crash years before. Sammy is raising her son Rudy alone. Terry shows up on his sister’s doorstep in their hometown after being away for some years. He’s broke and irresponsible but ultimately bonds with his young nephew as he tries the best he knows how to shape a life of meaning after much bumbling.

The characters and setting are reminiscent of Richard Russo’s best upstate novels, where decent working  people — complex, idiosyncratic, frustrating — move through a tough and changing world, often a little carelessly but not without heart. They try, and fail (and sometimes fail better), to take care of themselves and their families and friends while straddling the blue- and white-collar worlds, the past and the present. As a native upstate New Yorker, it is always heartening to see good artistic explorations of what it means to hail from those other parts of a very large state which is known primarily in film only through its largest (downstate) city.




While I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area now, I’m originally from Southeast Texas, and there are two films that remind me of that area. 

The first is Hellion, the recent indie drama starring Aaron Paul. It was actually shot in my hometown of Port Neches, and a few of the shots in the movie are literally blocks from my parents’ house. It was really eerie to see my hometown on the big screen. It shows a football game at my former high school, the refineries where so many of the locals are employed, and the beach cabins that were ravaged by Hurricane Ike. While it’s pretty good movie (not quite a great one), it will always have a special place in my heart for capturing the specific area in which I grew up. 

The film that most closely depicts the culture of East Texas is Richard Linklater’s Bernie. I spent so much time laughing during that movie because I felt like I knew everyone in it. The small-town gossip and religious culture are perfectly depicted, and Sonny Carl Davis’ description of the “5 parts of Texas” is pretty spot-on. 

Anyway, thanks for letting me share. I love your film writing, and I look forward to reading more in the future. Take care!




A movie that resonated with me personally in a deep way was Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life. I grew up in Woburn, Massachusetts, which is pretty far from Waco, Texas, but the childhood scenes seemed to recreate my upbringing, even down to the running in the smoke of the bug exterminating truck. I loved this movie from start to finish. Thanks for the book review, will check it out. Love your commentary on film through the years.




My dad sits in front of his barn and looks at Mt Currahee every day.  It’s basically in his back yard.  Currahee and Toccoa got “put on the map” when the Band of Brothers miniseries came out.  The paratroopers who came in on early morning D-Day trained here.  We have a nice museum downtown and each fall Toccoa celebrates what the military did back then.  I go to the top of Curahee about 3-4 times a year (not running, like they did, but on my motorcycle) and think about those brave men and whether I could do anything close to what they did.

One even mentioned a film that hasn’t been released yet:




On 11/28, The Overnighters opens in Phoenix, AZ — it’s a documentary about a pastor set in my formerly small hometown of Williston, ND. So I guess I won’t meet your deadline, but I expect the movie will be amazing.

Time to choose a winner…

Okay… I’ve chosen Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band’s album Landmarks, which has ten tracks. Ten tracks for ten contest entries.

I’m opening the album in iTunes and choosing “Shuffle Songs.”

The songs are loading.

And the first track is…

#4 – “Ark.La.Tex.”

Thus, the winner is…

The fourth contest entry in this post is one from Peggy Richelieu Harris! 

Congratulations, Peggy! Send me your mailing address (via Facebook or email) and I’ll send you an autographed copy of Gareth Higgins’ Cinematic States!

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