For this year, I’m setting a goal of seeing the films that have popped up on various best of lists that I just haven’t gotten to yet. I’ve seen most of those types of movies, but there are about a hundred or so I’ve got left, so this will close off a big chunk of my watchlist. These are films listed in the book The A-List, in the AFI Top 100, the Sight & Sound Top 100 (Critics & Directors), Filmsite’s Top 100, the IMDB Top 250 and assorted other greatest films lists. Early in the year, I do have a Regal Unlimited pass, and many of the Oscarbait films are out, as well as some interesting horror-adjacent choices, so I may be contributing to their bankruptcy by taking advantage of the offers.
Movie #1/ New Movie #1: The Fabelmans (Movie Theater)
It’s a well made film with a decent cast giving top performances. There are some touches that Steven Spielberg is one of the best directors alive, like the ways he has Seth Rogan’s Bennie suddenly intrude on family events, or how we get a sense of how a teenager would respond to Judd Hirsch’s Boris. I appreciate how deeply weird the family is, and how Sammy’s talents are recognized which makes his home movies more interesting. It’s certainly indulgent, but fun.
Movie #2/ New Movie #2: John Wick (HBO Max)
The trailers for the fourth one make me want to check out the whole series. It’s a good introduction to Keanu Reeve’s badass hitman, and does a decent job of worldbuilding. It’s a bit bland, like a competent version of things I’ve already seen in other films and especially R-rated comic books.
Movie #3: Avatar: The Way of Water (Movie Theater)
Seeing it a second time, I get an appreciation for how well it continues the saga while being completely different thanks to the focus on the next generation. It’s pretty good at capturing the turmoil of adolescence, and the effects are astounding, potentially the best of any movie.
Movie #4/ New Movie #3: The Woman King (Movie Theater)
It’s great to see Viola Davis as a warrior action hero like Braveheart or Henry V. The film has a good sense of the culture it depicts, although the personal drama is much more interesting than the conflict with relatively bland bad guys.
Movie #5: Friday the 13th (Movie Theater)
The Regal chain decided to show this on Friday the 13th, which was a welcome use of my Unlimited Pass. It’s pretty good at capturing a specific atmosphere of an empty campground in New Jersey, and establishes some suspense as characters realize what’s going on one at a time. The Psycho influence is pretty damn obvious. I didn’t really care for the final act when the bad guy was revealed, although the last twist elevated this above most horror movies.
Movie #6/ New Movie #4: The Child (Blu-Ray)
This was an odd regional horror, with a creepy sense of atmosphere before the big reveal (although that’s kind of spoiled by many of the loglines.) Like many of the other films in Arrow’s American Horror Project, it’s interesting and the extras provide some context, but it’s not quite great.
Movie #7/ New Movie #5: Mothra VS Godzilla (Blu-Ray)
The Godzilla crossover is charming but slight. I do like the fairies and the resolution.
Short Movie #1: The Black Tower (Mubi)
This is an interesting example of the power of film, a shorter piece with one narrator mainly speaking over a series of photographs, mostly about architecture that manages a tell a story is compelling, unsettling and suited for the format.
Movie #8/ New Movie #6: The Whale (Movie Theater)
I appreciated this film. Brendan Fraser is excellent at capturing someone grotesque and nuanced. The crammed house is appropriately claustrophobic. The rest of the cast is pretty good. Some of the criticism seems misguided. This is not about gawking at a morbidly obese guy, but a self-destructive man’s search for meaning. It’s not about the audience thinking we’re better than the lead, but recognizing that we may be capable of falling so low.
Movie #9/ New Movie #7/ Listed #1: 42nd Street (HBO Max)
This pre-code backstage musical is perfectly fine. It’s got some decent lines, and excellent set pieces which do lead to some layered performances, as we often have actors playing someone else performing a role. It captures a few specifics pretty well like the division between juvenile and adult actors. Given how she steals the show in a small role, I’m not shocked that Ginger Rogers would go on to be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
Movie #10/ New Movie #8: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (Movie Theater)
It’s an excellent all-ages film, much better than I expected- best in this film universe since Shrek, and possibly even better. It gives the comic relief hero a decent arc, with a really good mix of villains (even if a twist with the wolf was spoiled by all the memes.)
Movie #11/ New Movie #9/ Listed #2: Genevieve (Amazon Rental)
It’s a fun specific family-friendly comedy about a silly rivalry between two vintage automobile enthusiasts that drags their significant others into it. It’s charming and funny, with mostly low-stakes set pieces, though the references may be lost now that the contemporary cars in the film are much older than the titular Genevieve was when this film came out.
Movie #12/ New Movie #10: Women Talking (Movie Theater)
It’s a compelling drama about people who have discovered a terrible betrayal who have a limited amount of time to make a difficult decision. There are a solid performances from a mix of largely unknown actresses who convey the humility of the characters, and three of the best of their generation highlighting different sides of a messed up situation. Some of the comments by illiterate Mennonites do seem a bit anachronistic, but that’s a minor quibble.
Movie #13/ New Movie #11: Skinamarink (Movie Theater)
This is a very strange film. The style makes it hard to make sense of the narrative, but it has a nightmare logic to it. It may be appreciated with more concentration than I could provide on the Saturday night I saw it.
Short Movie #2: Train Again (Mubi)
It’s an odd film to try to grade. I watched it my train buff dad, who appreciated what he could recognize. It’s very impressionistic, going with the experience of being on a train or seeing early film.
Movie #14: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Blu-Ray)
This film may do something that ten percent of films ever made tried to do, and it may have done it better than any of them, in the focus on an ordinary man who receives a great calling. It’s a sci-fi story where the drama comes from a family’s breakdown after the father saw something that overwhelmed him. Visually, it’s fantastic, feeling like a golden age of Hollywood alien story with better effects, and better emotional realism.
Movie #15: Total Recall (HBO Max)
It’s not a perfect film, but it is interesting in contrast to 21st Century CGI stuff in the use of practical effects, and just a different sensibility. And they have some fun with the question of whether it’s all in his head.
Movie #16: Mars Attacks (HBO Max)
It is a very weird and esoteric film that was released as an attempt at a blockbuster in the mid-90s. I can see why it flopped, but as someone who appreciates weird films, I did ultimately like it. Quite a few of the set pieces are excellent.
Movie #17/ New Movie #12: Turn Every Page (Movie Theater)
There’s something generic about this documentary. It’s well-made but has a similar vibe to PBS style projects that interview an accomplished legend and show clips of him when he was younger. The stories are interesting, and it covers a partnership between two people who are at the peak of their industries (editing and political non-fiction) with some differences (Caro is methodical; Gottlieb is prolific) but it’s a good look at how to achieve excellence.
Movie #18/ New Movie #13: A Knock at the Cabin (Movie Theater)
This is a creepy home-invasion story that lives up to the premise. It’s not perfect in setting up an absurdly difficult choice for the young family, although the questions about why they’re targeted work. The performances are also decent, with this as potentially the best on-screen version of Batista’s reluctant gentle giant persona.
Movie #19/ New Movie #14: Megan (Movie Theater)
This Frankenstein story has some fun with the visuals of a living doll, and something to say about modern parenting and business. It’s not as slight as you would think, and it’s fun.
Movie #20: Titanic (Movie Theater)
Man am I glad I saw this film again in theaters. It’s just better than I remember, and I was blown away when I first saw it. This time I saw it twice. There are little things that make it endlessly rewatchable, and it sells the idea that these made-up people are the main characters in a much covered tragedy. It’s the definitive film romance of my lifetime.
Movie #21/ New Movie #15: Antman and the Wasp Quantamania(Movie Theater)
I really don’t get the negative reviews. Is it a backlash to the dominance of the MCU? Is it about cancelling Evangeline Lilly and Bill Murray? Is it that people were expecting a caper like the first two? Is it too obviously a set-up for sequels?
It’s fine. Jonathan Majors is impressive as the big villain. The family drama is okay, and the interactions are fun. The CGI is generic, and while Kang’s okay here, we don’t get a sense that he’s an Avengers-level threat.
Movie #22/ New Movie #16: Dune 1984 Fan Edit (Download)
The version I saw is a fan-edit (The Alternative Edition V2 by SpiderDiver) so some of the weirdness of watching the film may be due to the inherent difficulty of making a special version of the film that there has disavowed, with extras assembled by other people. One takeaway is that the Denis Villeneuve version (which covers two-thirds of this) is much better. This is more of an interesting mess than anything else, although there is much to recommend in set designs, and oddball 1980s visuals.
Movie #23/ New Movie #17: Crazy Rich Asians (HBO Max)
It’s a well-made romantic comedy that tackles familiar tropes (woman realizes her boyfriend’s family is rich and sees her as an outsider) elevated by strong performances from Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh, and the specificity with which it handles the culture clash between Asian-Americans and the Singapore upper class.
Short Movie #3/ Listed #3: Meshes of the Afternoon (Vimeo)
This is kooky and interesting, possibly the best short avant-garde film. It’s a puzzle but an enjoyable one, with some truly amazing sequences. It’s staggering that it was made 80 years ago.
Movie #24/ New Movie #18: Burial (Mubi)
This was an odd project, an avant-garde tone poem about the decommissioning of a Lithuanian power plant. The sequences are often amazing, although I’d honestly prefer a more straightforward narrative, given all the questions that are raised with the difficulty of shutting down a functioning nuclear power plant.
Short Movie #4: Short Films of the Daniels (Vimeo)
This is a catch-all for shorter films and musical videos the Daniels put on their Vimeo channel. The two gentlemen are interesting and weird, but really good at what they do. These shorter pieces show their range, from a father singing to his infant kid to visually stunning silliness.
Movie #25/ New Movie #19: All Quiet on the Western Front (Movie Theater)
The cinematography is stunning and definitely worth seeing on the big screen. It’s a beautiful film about the horrors of war, especially for the poor suckers on the losing side.
It’s the last best picture nominee I’ve seen from this batch, and an example of how it’s a strong category this year.
Movie #26: Top Gun Maverick (Movie Theater)
Movie #27: Everything, Everywhere All at Once (Movie Theater)
It’s my favorite Best Picture winner since Return of the King. I get why it did so well in the acting Oscars, giving performers opportunities to show their range, as well as character growth in quite a few of the universes.
Movie #28: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Movie Theater)
Man, this was exceptional. It’s a lovely story of the clash between love an duty in the guise of a martial arts drama. It was great to see it in theaters.
Movie #29: Green Book (DVD)
I got inspired to watch it again after Youtube recommended more clips. It’s still a fantastic two-hander, and I think some of the detractors are still out of their minds to not want something this entertaining to exist, especially since this may be able to persuade people to be better, rather than just preaching to the converted.
Short Movie #5: Interesting Ball (Vimeo)
This is the longest video the Daniels put on their Vimeo channel, and it gives more than a few hints about their interests in Everything Everywhere All At Once, with a man on a bad date considering the implications of the multiverse.
Movie #30/ New Movie #20: Cocaine Bear (Movie Theater)
This is a movie that knows exactly what it is: a 1980s-infused horror comedy about a bear doing cocaine. Some decent and not-so-decent people die in vicious ways. A bit of a Sam Raimi pastiche, but that’s part of the charm.