I set a challenge for myself on a message board this year to watch at least 100 movies. And as a way to encourage myself to watch older movies, I went with a sub-challenge of picking ten films per decade (counting the silent era up until 1929 as one full decade.) The message board thread died down, so I’m posting the first 25 films here.
I’m cheating a bit by counting variants of films as distinct films. This would include commentary tracks. I decided to keep track of various aspects of films more for my own benefit than anything else (IE- How many films are about a particular genre/ theme?)
Movie #1/ 2010s Movie #1/ Sci-Fi Movie #1) Max Max: Fury Road Black & Chrome Edition
This is my second time watching the film, and the time it cemented its reputation as possibly the best of the last few years. It is often spectacular in black and white, but in any format, the world-building, action sequences and storytelling would be astounding.
Movie #2/ New Movie #1/ 1980s Movie #1/ Sci Fi Movie #2) They Live
A fun sci-fi movie with a very clear sense of its identity, and clever conceits (the subliminal messages, and the secret invasion) even if the behavior of the bad guys isn’t always quite sensible.
Movie #3/ New Movie #2/ 1970s Movie #1/ Movie About Politics #1) Being There
There’s an excellent sustained performance by Peter Sellers as a simpleton who only knows the world through TV, and stumbles into high society when he’s kicked out of a townhouse he has inhabited for decades. Some of the subtleties may be a little dated, and a few subplots aren’t fully cooked, but the cast is quite good, and it’s consistently clever.
Movie #4/ 1930s Movie #1/ New Movie #3/ French Movie #1/ Criterion Collection #1) L’Atalante:
It’s an okay story of two newlyweds drifting apart, elevated into a great movie by the unique setting (a French barge) and various interesting episodes/ supporting characters.
10/10 (A Grade I’d give the entire Criterion Jean Vigo collection)
Movie #5/ New Movie #4/ Silent Era Movie #1/ Movie About Politics #2) Birth of a Nation
This has to be viewed as a historical artifact more than anything else, both in terms of the evolution of the cinema, and the astoundingly racist historical revisionism of a film that ends with the KKK as the good guys.
No Grade (I just can’t grade this after one viewing, due to questions of how to assess the technical aspects and the bonkers racism of the second half.)
Movie #6/ 1950s Movie #1/ New Movie #5/ Theatrical Adaptation #1) Separate Tables
A well-made ensemble piece about lonely people in a hotel, affected by two scandals that you might not expect to see in a 1950s film (a middle-aged military man is on probation following a sexual assault, Burt Lancaster’s character spent several years in prison for beating his wife and she comes to look him up.)
Movie #7/ 1930s Movie #2) L’Atalante Commentary
I rewatched L’Atalante with the Criterion collection’s commentary track, as Michael Temple, the author of the book on the director gives an overview of Vigo’s career, and some interesting stuff on the making of the film. The backstory is quite fascinating.
Movie #8/ 2010s Movie #2/ New Movie #6) Brooklyn
Lovely period piece about a young Irish girl’s struggles in New York, and a conflict when she has to return home. Smart script with solid performances from the lead and the supporting cast in Ireland and New York. The lack of antagonists (for the most part- the film is bookended with her bitch of a boss) is refreshing, but there is still effective conflict.
Movie #9/ New Movie #7/ 2010s Movie #3/ Animated Movie #1: Sausage Party
Messed up take on Pixar’s what if inanimate objects had personalities theme. Funny and earns the R rating. Not better than you’d expect, but not bad either.
Movie #10/ New Movie #8/ 1950s Movie #2/ Theatrical Adaptation #2/ Movie About Politics #3: Born Yesterday
The Pygmalion style comedy takes a while to get going. Holden’s lead is a bit underdeveloped, a Capra-esque incorruptible reporter, but Judy Holiday’s story is remarkable, playing a ditz who gets wiser to what’s going on.
Movie #11/ New Movie #9/ 1960s Movie #1/ Western #1: The Great Silence
I sought this one out on its reputation as the best spaghetti western not by Sergio Leone (it’s by another Sergio; Sergio Corbucci; a list of the best spaghetti westerns also cited Sergio Solima so the name has a weird dominance.) It seemed to have a big impact on Tarantino, with a story about bounty hunters and a blizzard. The cast was terrific with excellent performances by Klaus Kinski as the villain, Jean-Louis Trintignant as the hero, and Vonetta McGee as the love interest. The villain’s nasty, the lead is well-developed even if in a particular heroic mold, there’s some interesting social commentary, and a stunning ending.
9/10 (possibly 10/10)
Movie #12/ New Movie #10/ 1940s Movie #1: Letter to Three Wives
Solid domestic drama exploring what happens to three flawed marriages when the wives get a letter saying that one of their husbands is running away. Smart script and decent cast. It’s a well-made classic Hollywood film.
Movie #13/ New Movie #11/ 2000s Movie #1/ Spanish Movie #1: Bad Education
I got a slightly censored R rated version from the library. This is a messed up film that plays around with structure in some interesting ways, while handling a very serious topic (sex abuse in the Catholic church, and the ramifications) in rather messed up ways.
Movie #14/ New Movie #12/ 1940s Movie #2/ Criterion Edition #2: Ministry of Fear
Fritz Lang’s direction is frequently interesting, although the story sometimes goes overboard with some sudden disruptions/ twists crammed into just under 90 minutes.
Movie #15/ New Movie #13/ 1990s Movie #1/ Movie About Films #1: Barton Fink
I wouldn’t have expected to take so long to get to a film from the 90s. It’s a decent Hollywood satire about a socialist playwright totally lacking in self-awareness that takes some messed up turns. Excellent cast.
Movie #16/ New Movie #14/ 2010s Movie #4/ Science Fiction Movie #3: Star Trek Beyond
This sequel continues with the solid cast dynamics of the Abrams Star Treks with some fantastic action set pieces, even if it covers territory we’ve seen before (the villain’s kinda like Khan, Kirk & Spock are trying to figure out what they’re doing with their lives.)
Movie #17/ New Movie #15/ Silent Era Movie #2/ Swedish Movie #1: The Phantom Carriage
A Christmas Carol type story that’s even bleaker. The myth of the phantom carriage, driven by the last man to die on New Years Eve, makes for some stunning visuals. It shows quite well the destructiveness of a screw-up of a man (an alcoholic willing to endanger his own children), even if the ending is a bit too pat. It takes some truly dark turns, and has some interesting connections between the folks involved.
Movie #18/ New Movie #16/ 1960s Movie #2/ Estonian Film #1/ Movie About Politics #4: Madness
Since the version of the film I found on youtube is in Estonian, and lacks subtitles, it’s not that many people are likely to be appreciate. I hope they make a release of this for international audiences in some forms, because this is quite good. It’s a moody piece with multiple opportunities for the various actors playing lunatics in an Asylum during World War 2, as a Nazi Commander investigates rumors of a British spy. It goes into expected territory (the Nazi Commander starts going a bit mad himself) in a well-executed way, with a few allusions to the flaws of government that make it understandable how the Soviets quickly banned this film.
My mom came from Estonia, and never saw this film, despite the impressive cast (lead Jüri Järvet arguably has the reputation as the best Estonian actor, and the rest was recognized from other work). When it came out she was a teenager, and it was quickly shelved due to Soviet pressure. She had moved to the United States before Estonia gained its independence, and the film was rereleased there.
Movie #19/ New Movie #17/ 1970s Movie #2/ Movie About Politics #5: The Man
A political drama written by Rod Serling with James Earl Jones and Burgess Meredith? I was immediately intrigued. It’s a bit dated and the production values are low, but it shows interesting reactions to a man becoming the first Black President (in 1972) by fluke, and an international controversy about an assassination attempt in South Africa takes a few surprising turns that keep the story from being simplistic, and that modern writers might not have the balls to do today.
Movie #20/ New Movie #18/ 1970s Movie #3/ Documentary #1/ Criterion Edition #3: Grey Gardens
The famed documentary about the nutcase elderly mother and middle-aged daughter (cousin and aunt of Jackie Kennedy) living in a crumbling Long Island mansion. The documentarians give them a noose, and they do their best to hang themselves.
Movie #21/ New Movie #19/ Japanese Movie #1/ Criterion Edition #4/ 1970s Movie #4: Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance
It’s interesting to watch some of the big moments from my favorite manga adapted into what is clearly a B-movie. The performance quality varies, but there are flashes of powerful imagery, although it is often kinda dated.
Movie #22/ New Movie #20/ 1980s Movie #2/ Science Fiction Movie #4: Time Bandits
It’s a fun time travel caper, with some Monty Python weirdness.
Movie #23/ New Movie #21/ 2010s Movie #5/ Movie About Films #2: La La Land
Worth seeing in theaters due to all the sets and choreographed numbers. Decent music and central performances in a film about aspiring young people in LA that balances the beauty of dreams and the pitfalls quite well. It plays with expectations very well, and has some moments that are truly magical. I didn’t feel too bad about the Oscars it got, although Moonlight was better.
9/10 (possibly 10/10)
Movie #24/ New Movie #22/ 1990s Movie #2: The Spanish Prisoner
A mystery film with some flat performances (not the first Mamet film to do this, so it is often intentional) but some interesting twists. A Hitchcock pastiche in the hands of a writer/ director with a clear personality.
Movie #25/ New Movie #23/ Swedish Movie #2/ Criterion Edition #5/ 1970s Movie #5: Cries and Whispers
It’s kind of weird to see what is very recognizably an Ingmar Bergman film in color, although he uses it extraordinary well to capture particular moods. This is an effective depiction of class and family and raw honesty (soon denied by the characters) as three sisters and their maid prepare for one’s death.
I’ve seen a few more films this year, but I’m cutting the first entry off at 25.