I’m trying again this year to keep track of the movies I watch with the annual goal of ten movies per decade (counting the silent era up until 1929 as one full decade. Since I might’ve overlooked films from the early 2010s, I’m also counting from 2016, 2017 and 2018 in different categories, with additional goals of ten films from 2016, seventeen from 2017, and eighteen from 2018. I set up a sub-goal for this entry of ten movies from 2017 (thanks to all the prestige pictures in films this time of year), five movies with the same writer (Aaron Sorkin), five films in the same language (French), five films with the same actress (Julianne Moore) and five films with the same actor (Tom Cruise). I didn’t end up touching French film.
When I describe a movie as new, it just means I haven’t seen it before.
Movie #1/ New Movie #2/ 1970s Movie #1: Shampoo
I’ve had a bit of a The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon with this film, hearing about it in different ways: as a breakout for star Warren Beatty, as a comedy set during a presidential election, as a standout for director Hal Ashby, as a showcase for an Oscar winning performance by Lee Grant, and as the debut of Carrie Fisher. It’s a solid kinda dry comedy about a lunk who is irresistible to women, elevated by a hell of a supporting cast (Goldie Hawn and Julie Christie are two of his girlfriends; Jack Warden got an Oscar nomination as a philandering cuckold) which initially meanders around, but does have some payoff at the end as he faces a reckoning.
Movie #2/ New Movie #2/ 2017 Movie #1: I, Tonya
It’s a darkly funny film that looks at a typical triumphant sports biopic that gets derailed just as the flawed heroine is about to do her comeback. Margot Robbie and Alison Janney are sensational as the daughter and mother. I do like how the film acknowledges the unreliable narrators, and the media criticism. There are some striking omissions (a supporting character gets a job as a bodyguard for Harding in between scenes, she has four older half-siblings who are never mentioned, encounters with Nancy Kerrigan are referred to but never shown, etc.)
Movie #3/ New Movie #3/ 2017 Movie #2/ Aaron Sorkin Movie #1: Molly’s Game
It’s not a shocker that Sorkin’s directorial debut has a very witty script, as he tells a labyrinthine tale of a woman’s rise and fall in an unconventional business, building effectively to realizations about her past that have affected her behavior going forward. Strong central performance by Jessica Chastain.
Movie #4/ New Movie #4/ 1980s Movie #1: Working Girl
Decent comedy about a secretary who pretends to be someone at the top of her company, even if some of the Oscar nominations are undeserved (Joan Cusack is a good example of someone who is good in a film, but definitely not one of the five best of the year.)
Movie #5/ New Movie #5/ 1970s Movie #2: A Touch of Class
This movie has the second of Glenda Jackson’s Academy Award winning performances (out of four nominations) and I hadn’t seen any of her work, which shows how much of a blind spot this cinematic period is for me (English film during the New Hollywood era.) It’s a decent comedy about two likable people who find an affair isn’t as simple as they assumed; first because of various complications, handled in hilarious fashion, and then because of what it means. Ebert suggested the ending wasn’t earned, but it was definitely set-up.
Movie #6/ 2010s Movie #1: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The first Captain America sequel might just be the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film and the top competitors are the others in the series. It’s a compelling spy drama, elevating supporting characters from earlier films, with new additions who have some tremendous staying power. Looking at it again, I really like the twists and turns with Robert Redford’s character (the casting being a nod to 1970s thrillers, which showcases the MCU’s strength) and the plan of the bad guys, which is a scarily logical way to rule the world.
Movie #7/ New Movie #6/ 2017 Movie #3/ Julianne Moore Movie #1: Kingsmen- The Golden Circle
This Kingmen sequel goes on a bit long, and kills off characters in ways that aren’t quite earned, although I do like the set-up to the Statesmen and the return of Colin Firth’s Galahad, which makes for some decent complications. It’s a step down from the original, but still fun.
Movie #8/ 2000s Movie #1/ Julianne Moore Movie #2: Children of Men
This is a sci-fi film that has held up well, with excellent worldbuilding and cinematography, establishing a hopeless new world and then introducing something to shake it up. The two long takes are spectacular, and the script has some nice surprises.
Movie #9/ New Movie #7/ 2017 Movie #4: The Greatest Showman
It’s a flawed but decent musical. The songs are catchy, and often quite moving (the opening montage is a highlight, and “Never Enough” is powerful on several levels). It does sometimes feel like several different films put together (Hugh Jackman’s ambitious showman realizing the importance of family, an interracial love story pre-Civil War, “freaks” coming to acceptance) sometimes in a messy manner.
Movie #10/ 2010s Movie #2: Star Wars- The Force Awakens
Watching it again, I get a sense of just how well it combined excellent new characters with a very traditional Star Wars story, simultaneously showing what’s great about the series, and saying something new about the legacy, especially with the villain being a Darth Vader fanboy.
Movie #11/ New Movie #8/ 2017 Movie #5: Coco
In some ways, it hits familiar beats from Pixar movies, but it develops the Day of the Dead visual schema quite well, and builds very effectively to some big revelations about the young lead’s family. A particular standout is how they’re able to use several variations of the central song “Remember Me” with a reprise so moving it makes the first time seem like a parody in comparison.
Movie #12/ New Movie #9/ 2017 Movie #6: The Shape of Water
Unconventional matter for a film with so many Academy Award nominations. It tells the fairy tale story pretty well, with some excellent period touches and key moments that are quite successful. It knows what it’s about and gets the message across quite well. The cast is quite good, especially Hawkins imbuing her mute lead with personality, Richard Jenkins’ frustrated artist realizing what matters, and Doug Jones providing a take on The Creature from the Black Lagoon as romantic lead.
Movie #13/ 1990s Movie #1/ Aaron Sorkin Movie #2/ Tom Cruise Movie #1: A Few Good Men
A smart legal drama that made Sorkin’s name. Cruise is perfect as a cocky young lawyer forced to take some risks, while Nicholson’s corrupt general is an imposing antagonist whose perspective and actions are given their due. The events leading to the cover-up are believable, as are the actions everyone takes after.
Movie #14/ 1990s Movie #2/ New Movie #10: Cruel Intentions
I largely ended up watching it due to a mash-up of a key scene, and a Trump speech. The world of the film is a moral vacuum, and almost irredeemably so. There’s wit, but not enough to make up for the ridiculousness.
Movie #15/ 2010s Movie #3/ Aaron Sorkin Movie #3: Moneyball
It’s a film about sports that might not be as interesting to people who care about sports, as a General Manager and a statistician work on getting a baseball team of undervalued players. It’s a smart clash between tradition and new methods.
Movie #16/ 2010s Movie #4 / Julianne Moore Film #3: Crazy Stupid Love
It’s interesting to watch a film that is essentially a spec for a hit show (This is Us.) It’s a witty script with an excellent cast that takes some interesting twists, especially in the second act finale when all the threads come together.
Movie #17/ 2010s Movie #5/ Aaron Sorkin Movie #4: The Social Network
This might remain my favorite movie of the current decade, perhaps because it hits so many sweet spots (young geniuses change the world under everyone else’s radar and then a lot of it falls apart.) The performances by Eisenberg, Timberlake, Garfield and Hammer as the men fighting for early Facebook, with different motives and shifting allegiances, are excellent. The script is well-structured and memorable; Trent Reznor’s score is brilliant. I’d be very eager to see a sequel dealing with its current Fake News crisis.
Movie #18/ New Movie #11/ 2010s Movie #6/ Estonian Movie #1: Tangerines/ To Kill a Man
A few years back when I saw early reports about this film, I asked my mom (who is from Estonia) if she’s familiar with the actor Lembit Ulfsak. She got depressed, and asked if he had died. I said no; by all accounts, he had made his masterpiece. It’s probably the best anti-war film I’ve seen in the 21st Century, as an Estonian farmer in Georgia helps two soldiers from different sides of a conflict recover from the injuries, while also making sure they don’t kill one anothr.
Movie #19/ 2010s Movie #7/ Aaron Sorkin Movie #5: Steve Jobs
It’s a very interestingly structured film about Steve Jobs, and the people around him, built around three product launches, telling the story of a flawed genius, which doesn’t skimp in either category. We see the ways he unnecessarily alienates family and coworkers, and the big ideas: some of which may be wrong, and some of which have the potential to be world-changing. We see his volatilty. Excellent cast headed by Fassbender and Winslet.
Movie #20/ New Movie #12/ 2017 Movie #8/ Documentary #1: Get Me Roger Stone
The filmmakers had the good fortune to capture their subject at a fascinating time, just as Roger Stone’s buddy was running for President. It’s a decent look at the moral code and history of a political fixer who has been active in politics since the Nixon administration, and a story about behind the scenes maneuvering during the 2000 Reform Party nomination might make the best case I’ve seen for Donald Trump as someone who has been an underappreciated political figure until he ran for President.
Movie #21/ New Movie #13/ 2017 Movie #8: Baby Driver
The music is pretty awesome, so those Oscar nominations (sound editing, sound mixing) are well deserved. This Edgar Wright vehicle about an unconventional getaway driver has a witty script, great sense of design, and some fantastic car chases, taking some interesting turns on the ethos of the career criminals involved.
Movie #22/ 2017 Movie #9: Star Wars- The Last Jedi
Watching it again, I remain impressed at how well it works to give better adventures for some of the new cast introduced in Force Awakens (an underappreciated element in the success of this trilogy), while adding new characters who take some unpredictable turns, and providing Luke and Leia excellent character arcs. It makes some decisions that could piss off Star Wars fans, and I do understand that, even if I largely agree with those decisions, which result in some excellent twists that build nicely on what’s been established. It may also have the best visuals of any Star Wars film to date.
Movie #23/ New Movie #14/ 1980s Movie #2/ Tom Cruise Movie #2: Rain Man
The oddest thing about the film might be the things that would not apply to modern culture (educated characters with limited awareness of what autism means.) The road trip film features a satisfying transformation for Cruise’s Lamborghini dealer (nicely specific touch rather than making him a general car salesman), as he learns some family secrets (the highlight being his realization about an imaginary friend) and grows to appreciate a new brother. Hoffman gives a terrific performance as the autistic savant, as a man who can’t change to the same degree and can’t articulate what’s meaningful to him.
Movie #24/ New Movie #15/ 2010s Movie #8 / Julianne Moore Film #4: Game Change
This take on Palin’s stint as Republican Vice-Presidential nominee operated as a kind of disaster movie, where the disaster no one quite sees coming is her complete lack of policy understanding, as well as her failure to adapt to the campaign. It’s a decent film about political ideas, as well as the difficulties of the media environment, and the compromises that may be necessary, and the questions that will later be asked.
Movie #25/ New Movie #16/ 2017 Movie #10: Call Me By Your Name
It’s a tender beautifully shot film about a young man’s early love in an idyllic setting. It’s paced interestingly, taking time to get to the consummation. I’m sure there are some viewers (especially intellectual gay men who like Europe) for whom this film will speak as much as The Social Network (the other great Armie Hammer performance) spoke to me.
Movie #26/ New Movie #17/ 1990s Movie #3/ Tom Cruise Movie #3/ Julianne Moore Movie #5: Magnolia
It’s a well-made film about a variety of sad people in Los Angeles, interconnected in strange ways. I appreciate the storytelling, the way things keep getting propelled forward, and the crazed characters. There are some strange artistic choices, especially in the final deluge, and some of the stories do peter out a bit. But when it works (Cruise’s men’s rights activist giving a lecture twenty years early, Moore’s trophy wife falling apart) it’s really remarkable.
Movie #27/ 2000s Movie #2/ Tom Cruise Movie #4: Tropic Thunder
It’s a decent Hollywood satire, with a strong cast and a story that takes some interesting turns, while setting up the crucial misunderstanding pretty well. It’s a bit of an idiot plot, but that works because they’re idiots.
Movie #28/ New Movie #18/ 2018 Movie #1: Black Panther
Now this might be the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film ever, with the main competition being the Captain America trilogy. It may also be the biggest pop culture decades from now, as the defining example of Afrofuturism in film. Coogler and company give a sense of grappling with the subject matter for decades before adapting it in a way that introduces the concepts quite well, but also addresses some of the big questions about what’s suggested. The biggest flaw is that the lead might be the fourth most interesting person in the film, behind Michael B Jordan’s Kilmonger (easily one of the best comic book villains), and the main women who support T’Challa: Lupita Nyongo’o’s Nakia— Wakandan who has seen the outside world and wants to change it—and Letita Wright’s Shuri—combination of princess and mad scientist.
Movie #29/ New Movie #19/ 2000s Movie #3/ Criterion Edition #1: The New World (Extended Edition)
This isn’t a shocker with Emmanuel Lubezki on cinematography, but this is a beautiful film. It’s probably my favorite of Malick’s, due to the beauty and the way that some of the ponderousness is earned, in a story about people who are changing world history. It captures the sense quite well of the story behind the myth, even if it ends up taking significant liberties as well. Excellent cast, with some unexpected turns.
Movie #30/ New Movie #20/ 2000s Movie #4/ Tom Cruise Movie #5: Collateral
Jamie Foxx’s best supporting actor nomination in category fraud, since he’s clearly the lead, although he is quite good as a cab driver keeping things bottled up who finds himself to keep up with Tom Cruise’s hitman.
Bonus Movie #1/ New Movie #11/ 2010s Movie #8A/ Documentary #1A/ Estonian Movie #1A: The Master Plan
I saw this documentary (a joint project by Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian arts councils) at an event, and it’s fascinating, but it’s less than an hour long, so I don’t want to count it. It looks at Russian propaganda efforts in the Baltics, with some rather scary examples (a Latvian elected official who is largely a shill for Russia on RT and other media outlets, BS organizations that are used to give credentials for Russian stooges to meet with elected officials and to opine in media appearances about what’s going on in the world.)
Best Movie of the Batch: The Social Network
With all the Oscarbait films, this list was heavily biased towards newer movies, especially when combined with the sub-challenges I picked for myself, it meant I had incentives to select actors and writers who have been productive recently.
I’m not sure the extent to which the films I saw in various categories are representaitve of anything, but 2017 was a decent year in film. Aaron Sorkin’s a hell of a writer who is pretty idea of tackling ideas and questions of morality and purpose, especially in a modern context. Tom Cruise is pretty good at playing assholes. Julianne Moore plays intense very well.