This is a continuation of notes on films I’ve seen this year, following Part 1, Part 2 Part 3, and Part 4. I set myself a challenge of watching ten films per decade (counting the silent era as one decade) allowing for recent films with additional goals of ten films from 2016, seventeen from 2017, and eighteen from 2018. In this section, I aimed to close out the decades (I have plenty of time to catch up on films from the last three years), while adding some sub-challenges: Five films that have won the Academy Award for Best Actor (Since I did best actress before), Five films from the The A List: The National Society Of Film Critics’ 100 Essential Films, Five films from Empire’s Top 100 Foreign Language films, and Five more French films (there is admittedly overlap).
Movie #121/ New Movie #71/ 1940s Movie #12/ Criterion Edition #23/ The A-List #1: The Palm Beach Story
This was a charming Sturges comedy, although maybe not on the level of Miracle on Morgan’s Creek or Sullivan’s Travels. There are some great set pieces, especially when a group of rich maniacs on a quail and ail junket go nuts on a train, and the bookends. Rudy Vallee is the standout as an absentminded Rockefeller type who is clearly the basis for Tony Curtis’ pretend multimillionaire in Some Like It Hot.
Movie #122/New Movie #72/ Silent Movie #9/ Criterion Edition #24/ Best Actor Winner #1: The Last Command
The first “Best Actor” winner tells two stories in 85 minutes: a Russian general’s doomed romance, and a bookend about his experiences in Hollywood after he’s been humbled (this is pretty ahead of its time.) Sternberg delivers impressive visuals, while Emil Jannings brings some impressive silent era gravitas to the proceedings.
Movie #123/ New Movie #73/ 1990s Movie #6/ Empire Top 100 Films of World Cinema #1: Hard Boiled
I could accept that this is one of the best Hong Kong action movies ever, and that isn’t a knock against the genre. John Woo’s film combines twisted action sequences, and some cop movie cliches (guess what happens to the partner talking about retirement), with a story about undercover cops, bureaucracy and independence. Chow Yun Fat and Tony Cheung make an excellent duo.
Movie #124/ New Film #74/ 1970s Movie #8/ Russian Film #2/ Criterion Edition #25/ Science Fiction Film #: Stalker
This is a beautiful and strange film that seems to be part of a subgenre of science fiction exploring strange world that are pretty much similar to our own (Alphaville is another one.) It’s slow, but has some truly astounding sequences, and worldbuilding that turns abandoned Estonian power plants (that might have given everyone involved cancer) into something otherwordly.
Movie #125/New Movie #75/ Silent Movie #10: 7th Heaven
The first winner of the Best Director and Best Actress Academy awards has its charms, as well as its excesses in a sweet, sometimes over the top story of reluctant romance. Damien Chazelle has an interesting view of its ending.
Movie #126/ New Movie #76/ 1950s Movie #9 : Love in the Afternoon
I’ve enjoyed Billy Wilder, Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper, and Maurice Chevalier’s other work, so this seemed like an interesting combo; a story of mistaken identity as Hepburn plays a detective’s daughter in love with a playboy targeted by her father’s clients. It does have some funny bits, and something o say about growing up too quickly, although it is hurt by Cooper’s age, and the 1950s assumption that there’s only one way the story should end.
Movie #127/ New Movie #77/ 2018 Movie #13/ Theatrical Release #28: The Incredibles 2
The sequel to one of the best superhero films had high expectations given the wait, and it ends up being a decent film elevated by some inspired gags and sequences, which isn’t bad but it is a bit of a letdown from what had come before.
Movie #128/ New Movie #78/ 1980s Movie #8/ French Film #7/ / Empire Top 100 Films of World Cinema #2: Jean De Florette
These two films are a bit difficult to gauge because they were produced at the same time, adapted from the same novel, and are now generally viewed together, although wach of the two halves has a unique identity in focusing on a rivalry during different eras, even if the biggest moment in the films-and one of the best revelations ever in film-comes in the second, as a way to reevaluate tragedy in the first. For a movie about two flawed Frenchmen, of the Souberyan family, who drive a rival to ruin in an effort to get land cheap, it is quite beautiful and very watchable. Gerard Depardieu is a standout as the world’s most charming hunchback.
Movie #129/ New Movie #79/ 1980s Movie #9/ French Film #8/ / Empire Top 100 Films of World Cinema #3: Manon De Spring
The sequel/ second half brings a different energy to the proceedings through Emmanuelle Béart’s titular Manon, the grown-up version of a child from the first film, as she uncovers secrets and seeks revenge for a wrongdoing. The Souberyans have a strong arc, as the younger falls for her and goes too far in his love. There’s no war or gunfire, but this is one of the great cinematic family epics.
Movie #130/ New Film #80/ 1990s Movie #7/ Best Actor Winner #2: Shine
Geoffrey Rush’s starmaking turn as a musician struggling with mental illness is excellent: he captures the struggles as well as the joy. The film is sometimes overwrought, and there are some artistic decisions that are difficult to defend (the erasure of his first wife and their four children in a movie that relies on truth for its power is quite dishonest.)
Movie #131/ New Movie #81/ 1970s Movie #9/ The A-List #2: Enter the Dragon
The story’s a bit of a mishmash of martial arts and James Bond, as a former Shaolin fighting monk calls for a tournament on the secret island where he runs his drug cartel and fends off British intelligence. That part’s handled well enough, but the material is elevated by Bruce Lee, demonstrating why he’s so legendary in the fight scenes, as well as solid sidekicks in John Saxon and Jim Kelly, who add charisma to the film’s token white and black guys.
Movie #132/ New Movie #82/ 2018 Movie #14/ Theatrical Release #29: Inheritance
This horror film works on a few levels. It’s pretty compelling in its take on a dysfunctional family on a downward spiral after the death of an unpleasant matriarch. It’s a creepy film about the supernatural that builds its mythology slowly and nicely. Toni Colette is excellent as a frayed mother trying to deny her mental health issues. There are some nice creepy touches that make it even better. It’s not always enjoyable, although it is true to the characters, who are reserved in ways that aren’t sympathetic. The film is hard to predict, especially with one powerful sequence coming in the son’s story.
Movie #133/ 1980s Movie #10/ Theatrical Release #30: Tootsie
I was lucky enough to catch this on the big screen with a group that had never seen it before, and the responses were quite positive. It’s a film that’s able to outrun the ways it might initially appear dated (IE- In the assumption that a man should tell women how to gain respect) partly because of how specific Dustin Hoffman’s performance is, both as Tootsie and as a struggling actor who has pissed off everyone in New York. The film has a lot of fun with the gender-swapping, and strong side performances from the people hurt and sometimes just bewildered by Michael Dorsey’s single-minded pursuit of ACTING. It remains one of the funniest movies ever made.
Movie #134/ New Movie #83/ 2018 Movie #15/ Theatrical Release #31: Antman and the Wasp
It’s an average MCU film (given the quality of Homecoming, Black Panther and Infinity War, this might now be below-average) which means it’s quite enjoyable, combining sci-fi (and a little bit of 50s monsters) with capers. The earlier cast is solid as ever, and the additions work pretty well, with Walton Goggins’ gentleman crime boss, and Michelle Pfeiffer as the founding Avenger Wasp as standouts, while mostly building nicely on earlier relationships and the chaos of Antman’s last appearance in one of the big crossover films.
Movie #135/ 1970s Movie #10/ Theatrical Release #32/ / Empire Top 100 Films of World Cinema #4: Suspiria
Argento’s masterpiece has a terrific sense of design, and an iconic soundtrack, with a great sense of atmosphere and mystery before we find out exactly what’s going on in the Tanz Dance Academy.
Movie #136/ 1950s Movie #10/ The A-List #3: All About Eve
The theatrical backstabbing comes with an exceptional cast (one won an Oscar; four others were nominated and all deserved it) and possibly wit than any film ever. There might not be a better film about the well-trod territory of the making of art, or of social-climbing and the conflicts with the people you meet on the way up and down. Bette Davis’ diva is just one of the best lead roles of any film ever, a mix of nastiness, vulnerability and wills.
Movie #137/ New Movie #84/ 1960s Movie #12/ Criterion Edition #26/ French Movie #9: A Woman is a Woman
Visually clever Godard film that remains worthwhile largely for the natural radiance of Anna Karina, and some interesting cinematic tricks.
Movie #138/ New Film #85/ 1990s Movie #8: White Hunter, Black Heart
This Hollywood Roman a clef, ostensibly on the making of The African Queen, started out a bit dull, with the adventures of white people in Africa wasting their time, a bit like a less visually interesting version of Out of Africa. But it did set up a gutpunch of an ending that shows that Eastwood and company understand the problems with how the characters are acting.
Movie #139/ New Movie #86/ 1960s Movie #13/ Criterion Edition #27/ French Movie #10: Alphaville
A sci-fi noir in a similar subgenre of Stalker, where an A-list director tells a story about a futuristic world without changing the visual frames of references. It largely moves with dreamlike logic, although it’s interesting rather than truly compelling in its own right.
Movie #140/ New Movie #87/ 1990s Movie #9/ French Movie #11: A Single Girl
This 1990s French art-house film is very well-made, and stylistically ahead of its time, telling the story of a major moments in a French teenager’s life (her first hour working in a hotel, telling her boyfriend she’s pregnant) mostly in real-time, though all the conversations and meanderings that typical films would skip are compelling in their own right, in terms of what they reveal about character, and move the lead to the decisions she still has to make.
Movie #141/ New Movie #88/ 2018 Movie #16/ Theatrical Release #33: Sorry to Bother You
The parody of modern corporate culture probably has too much on its plate, covering radical artists, reality TV, the power of a black man with a white voice, growing inequality resulting in slavery, and a freaky twist about genetic engineering. The cast is okay, but the story goes all over the place, as evident by the multiple endings.
Movie #142/ 1930s Movie #13/ French Film #12/ The A-List #4/ Criterion Edition #28: L’Atalante
What makes Vigo’s only feature-length film so satisfying isn’t the story since those beats have been done before (although it is quite good in the “boy loses girl, wins her back” genre) but in the characters, and the little moments of wonder (a seasoned seaman’s collection of curiosities) and disappointment (a skipper’s wife realizing she won’t get to see Paris during a journey.)
Movie #143/ New Film #89/ 1940s Movie #13/ Italian Film #6/ Empire Top 100 Foreign Films #5/ The A-List #4/ Criterion Edition #29: Rome Open City
This take on Rome during the Nazi occupation feels real, urgent and powerful. Part of it may be the story behind the film with Rosselini and company working on it immediately after Rome gained its independence, but while the rest of Italy was still occupied. That leads to a documentary style that fits the material very well. The performances are tremendous, particularly the star turn by Anna Magini as a pregnant widow whose fiancee is involved in the resistance, and Albo Fabrizi as a priest doing his part. People do some stupid, irrational things during the chaos, but it’s all believable.
Movie #144/ New Film #90/ 1990s Movie #10/ Italian Film #7/ Best Actor Winner #3: Life is Beautiful
This film has some major tonal shifts, with Roberto Benigni depicting someone out of a classic Hollywood comedy in 1940s Italy, transporting the guy to a concentration camp where he has to keep his son safe. Sometimes the film veers into bad taste (a scene where he argues with the son about whether the kid should take a shower) but it is often powerful in how he has to use wits that served him in one way under much darker circumstances.
Movie #145/ New Film #91/ 1940s Movie #14/ Best Actor Winner #4: Sergeant York
This war film by a director and actor who have done better work elsewhere isn’t bad, but it does show the value of editing when compared to more recent profiles of war heroes (Hacksaw Ridge, American Sniper) which are better film. It spends a majority of the time on Alvin York before he joined the army, which may be relevant given his religious salvation, but it does mean the heroism (and the first time he was outside his state) gets short shrift, even if there is some impressive payoff.
Movie #146/ New Movie #92/ Silent Movie Era #11/ The A-List #5: Thief of Bagdad
This silent take on the Arabian nights is a lovely fantasy epic and a great centerpiece for Douglas Fairbanks, the biggest action star of the silent era.
Movie #147/ New Film #93/ 1940s Movie #15/ Criterion Edition #30: Waiting for Mr. Jordan
Probably the best version of a story that’s been retold several times (by Warren Beatty as Heaven Can Wait, and Chris Rock as Down to Earth) with a surprising amount of worldbuilding on the rules of heaven as a boxer finds his soul has been placed in a different body. It leads to some inspired comedy, as he tries to convince his loved ones of what has happened, while accidentally interfering with a murder.
Movie #148/ New Film #94/ 1980s Movie #11: Moscow Elegy
This documentary about Tarkoysky’s last years has some interesting material on the great director, although it suffers from a lack of context with the film clips. I get that the audience in 1988 might be expected to know his work and get the references to what was going on at the Soviet Union at the time, although there are other weaknesses (IE- the clips of unrestored versions of his work have less power in the modern era.) At times, it seems to have homages to Tarkovsky, but it comes across as pretentious rather than meaningful.
Movie #149/ 1960s Movie #14/ Best Actor Winner #5: My Fair Lady
One of the highlights of the 50s/ 60s musicals, with great performances by Harrison, Hepburn and Stanley Hollaway. It’s not clearly better than Pygmalion, though it feels different with the addition of great tunes and some lovely color sets. The focus on what happens after Higgins and Dolittle complete their challenge is quite satisfying, and built up nicely.
Movie #150/ 1990s Movie #11: Stargate
It is worth respecting the relatively slow burn in this Roland Emmerich sci-fi action film, as it takes a while for the heroes to get to the new world beyond the stargate, and to encounter the villain. There’s promise, but it is often just too silly, lacking the wit and cleverness of decent sci-fi.
And the round-up…
Best Film: All About Eve
Best Film I Hadn’t Seen Before: Thief of Bagdad
Best French Film: L’Atalante
Best Movie I Saw In Theaters: Tootsie
Best “Best Actor” Winner: Life is Beautiful (“My Fair Lady” is probably a slightly better film.)
Best A-List film: Thief of Bagdad
Best Empire Top 100 Foreign Movies Film: Open City
Worst Film: Moscow Elegy