This is a continuation of notes on films I’ve seen this year, following Parts 1 and Part 2. I set myself a challenge of watching ten films per decade (counting the silent era up until 1929 as one decade) while allowing for recent films with additional goals of ten films from 2016, seventeen from 2017, and eighteen from 2018. I picked new challenges for this entry with five films by the same director (Hitchcock), five films in the same genre (musical), five films from another country (Italy) and five films connected by a theme: in this case, five directorial debuts, because I’m interested in how people in film choose to do their first projects. At this point, I also aimed to be at least four films into each yearly category.
Movie #61/1930s Movie #4/ Criterion Edition #12/ Hitchcock Film #1: The 39 Steps
The early Hitchcock thriller suffers a bit from technical issues, and some plot-induced stupidity, but it does put the lead through some fun situations and has some decent twists. It has influenced some better movies in later decades (Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, the 1990s The Fugitive) but it’s still enjoyable.
Movie #62/ New Movie #34/ Silent Movie #3/ Directorial Debut #1/ Russian Film #2: Strike
Eisenstein’s debut has striking imagery and sequences, taking advantage of the resources (large groups of extras, interesting 1920s factories) to show major political developments, giving the revolution an epic scale.
Movie #63/ New Movie #35/ 1960s Movie #5/ Criterion Edition #13/ Directorial Debut #2/ Musical #1: Head
This is part of Criterion’s BBS Blu-Ray collection, and the first film from the studio that produced Easy River, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show. The Monkees film is a just a mess, seeming to be a combination of sketch comedy and modern museum video performance art project, which would be fine if any of it were good.
Movie #64/ New Movie #36/ 2017 Movie #15/ Directorial Debut #3: The Lego Batman Movie
Chris McKay’s solo film debut is an inventive take on the Batman and Robin story, providing a narrative spine about a loner learning to work together to inspired gags and sequences for a parody and celebration of the dark knight.
Movie #65/ New Movie #37/ 2017 Movie #16: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
It’s not terrible, as the effects and sets are decent, and there are solid action sequences, but it’s a weaker film than any of the original trilogy, with a villain that isn’t all that interesting, and little new for Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow. The male lead is generic, although Kaya Scodelario’s astronomy buff is better, even if she’s a bit generic in this type of film.
Movie #66/ New Movie #38/ 2018 Movie #5: Game Night
Decent comedy about sibling rivalry, and mistaken identity, as an ordinary game-obsessed couple comes into conflict with career criminals. Winning performances by Rachel McAdams, and Jason Bateman as the central couple, and Kyle Chandler, as the always one-upping brother whose story takes some decent twists.
Movie #67/ New Movie #39/ 2018 Movie #6: Chappaquidick
I can’t help but think this film would have been made forty years ago if it was about a Republican Senator. It is a decent character study of a man who screws up in a terrible way, and a procedural about the inevitable cover-up. Good performances, and it’s also an effective conversation starter.
Movie #68/ New Movie #40/ 2016 Movie #3/ Criterion Edition #14: Personal Shopper
It’s a weird film that might be trying to do a bit too much, although it has a terrific performance by Kristen Stewart as a woman dealing with a lot (she’s a professional psychic trying to get a sign from her deceased brother, something terrible happens to an employer, she starts getting voyeuristic texts.)
Movie #69/ 1960s Movie #6/ Criterion Edition #15/ Directorial Debut #4: Night of the Living Dead
Romero’s genre-inventing independent film holds up, introducing some of the most iconic monsters in film, while suggesting very ably that humans might be worse. The extras on the Criterion collection are quite illuminating on how he was able to get so much done with limited resources.
Movie #70/ New Movie #41/ 2018 Movie #7: The Endless
This is an interesting horror film that has some effective world-building, establishing a mystery with some decent payoffs, although the conflict of the characters (two brothers who left a cult as teenagers, and have been unable to find success in their adult lives) isn’t as well-developed and often tonally off.
Movie #71/ New Movie #42/ 2018 Movie #8: Isle of Dogs
Impressive stop-motion film that has solid animation, a witty script and astounding voice cast. Not Wes Anderson’s best, but a good reminder of his talents.
Movie #72/ Criterion Edition #16/ Silent Movie #4: The Passion of Joan of Arc
This might remain the best silent movie I’ve ever seen, a film that just isn’t like anything else, due to the focus on the the last moments in the life of Joan of Arc, as she faces her greatest struggle, the script largely based on the actual trial transcripts, and the artistic decisions Carl Theodore Dreyer that strip anything that isn’t essential tot he story, and focus as much as possible on the powerful performance of Maria Falconetti. It’s unclear that anyone has ever been better.
Movie #73/ 2000s Movie #7/ Musical #2: Chicago
The musical adaptation has great production values, songs, and cast (four Oscar nominated performances and it could easily have been five- poor Richard Gere) and a messed up take on celebrity culture.
Movie #74/1950s Movie #3/ Hitchcock Film #2: Rear Window
It might not even be Hitchcock’s top three, although I can’t think of any director who clearly has a better fourth best film. It’s a clever concept as a convalescing photographer recovering from his injuries notices a potential mystery in his building. That part’s executed really well, while there’s also Jimmy Stewart as the lead- likable but a bit flawed, Grace Kelly as the ice queen girlfriend who wants him to settle down, and the stories of everyone else in the apartments.
Movie #75/ New Film #43/ 1980s Movie #5/ Italian Film #1: Cinema Paradiso
A really-well made film about the power of cinema and fantasy that incorporates specific developments in Italy (censors forbidding the depiction of any kissing, classified information about war dead, a complex massive lottery system) while covering the great artist as a young boy (kind of a brat), young man falling in love with a girl outside his station, and legend returning home.
Movie #76/ 1960s Movie #7/ Criterion Edition #17/ Italian Film #2: La Dolce Vita
An excellent film on many levels. Structurally, it’s quite interesting, a largely episodic take on the life of an Italian reporter hobnobbing with the rich and powerful, in stories that vary in tone, from fun to pathetic to absolutely shocking. His famed night with Anita Ekberg’s flighty starlet is a smaller role than I remembered from the one time I saw the film, although it’s definitely memorable. I’ve never seen a film that is so effective at burying the character arc, so that it comes out in the intersection of the episodes. It holds up to deep study, but doesn’t require it.
Movie #77/1940s Movie #4/ Hitchcock Film #3: Rope
A decent thriller where the characters’ amorality is a bit extreme, but it often makes excellent use of the one-shot gimmick.
Movie #78/ New Film #44/ 1960s Movie #8/ Italian Film #3/ Directorial Debut #5: Black Sunday
Mario Bava’s debut is a creepy take on witches and haunted lineages. It’s very dark and moody, stark, overdramatic and fun. Technically, Bava had directed earlier films, developing a reputation for saving troubled projects after the original directors ran away.
Movie #79/ New Movie #45/ 2018 Movie #9: A Quiet Place
It’s a film that shows quite well the day to day life of a family in a messed up environment, with unusually excellent performances for the genre, and tough questions on meaning and purpose.
Movie #80/ 2016 Movie #4/ Musical #3: La La Land
The Hollywood romance has catchy songs, great costumes and design, winning central performances, and is about something, even if that topic (artistic independence) might come across as increasingly indulgent on a second viewing. Still pretty good, and the parts that are a bit annoying aren’t necessarily unrealistic.
Movie #81/1940s Movie #5/ Hitchcock Film #4: Saboteur
It’s definitely lesser Hitchcock (the great master admits as much in Hitchcock/ Truffaut) as the story of an innocent man on the run (a common theme Hitchcock typically does better) is combined with clumsy World War 2 era jingoism, which isn’t the best fit for a story about how the right thing to do is to ignore the authorities and help out the guy who seems nice.
Movie #82/ New Movie #46/ 2018 Movie #10: Avengers Infinity War
This is a weird film to consider because it can’t really be judged in the most basic way: as a standalone film. Instead, it’s essentially the first part of the conclusion to a decade-long saga spread out across 22 films, as well as the beginning of a decent adaptation of Jim Starlin’s cosmic Marvel comics. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but have a different context for it than most filmgoers. As the beginning of a movie equivalent of an event comic, it works pretty well giving most of the heroes decent moments, while keeping the focus on Thanos after years of build-up (and keeping it interesting- imagine the disappointment if he hadn’t been one of the best MCU villains.) Some of this clearly seeds moments in the sequel, although I appreciate how the generic Thanos henchmen serve as the equivalent of mini-bosses, so the heroes accomplish something in this film. And the big moment does deliver.
Movie #83/ 1940s Movie #6/ Hitchcock Film #5: Shadow of a Doubt
There are parts of the take on small town American life that seem over the top in unintended ways (everyone’s eager to hear a visitor from New York give a speech, dramatic revelations are made at inappropriate times, a sociopath with really strange views goes undetected) although the general story of a teen girl realizing her beloved uncle is a sociopath and trying to figure out how to communicate this to anyone is elevated by the combination of small-town life and noir sensibility, Hitchock’s use of tension, and the performances by Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotton.
Movie #84/ New Movie #47/ 1970s Movie #4/ Musical #4: Fiddler on the Roof
Exceptional musical, that works with the strength of the material, the cast, and the central story of a Jewish family adjusting to change in Czarist Russia.
Movie #85/ New Movie #48/ 2016 Movie #5/ Musical #5: Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping
Decent satire of the modern music industry elevated by the quality of Lonely Island’s absurd riffs (The Bin Laden song), and the payoff to some jokes (the quickchange disaster being a highlight.)
Movie #86/ 1950s Movie #4/ French Film #6/ Criterion Edition #18: Pickpocket
The story of a young man compelled to commit petty crimes is stylistically quite daring, and worth deeper examination in the complex decisions made by the characters. The mechanics of how the pickpockets operate is a highlight.
Movie #87/ New Movie #49/ Silent Movie Era #5/ Directorial Debut #6: Nanook of the North
The context is a bit weird, since it was essentially a prototype for two types of films: the documentary, as well as a sustained narrative starring amateur actors. It’s a fascinating spotlight of a very different culture (the Eskimo about a hundred years ago) with personality and strong visuals.
Movie #88/ 1960s Movie #9/ Criterion Edition #19/ Italian Film #4: 8 1/2
One of the best films ever about the creative process, as well as one of the best films ever about a person’s inner life (granted, you probably can’t have the former without the latter). An excellent cast, and some truly inspiring twists.
Movie #89/ New Film #50/ 1980s Movie #6: The Karate Kid
An excellent underdog sports movie, where the best part is the friendship between the kid (an Italian from New Jersey who has to go to California) and his mentor. Some of the moments seem kind of obvious, although that’s largely because of the impact of the film, and how it has permeated the culture (IE- the wax on/ wax off training.)
Movie #90/ 1970s Movie #5/ Italian Film #5: The Conformist
Beautifully shot film about a man who just wants to be ordinary, but who has the bad fortune to live in Fascist Italy.
Best Film I Hadn’t Seen Before: Cinema Paradiso
Best Film overall: The Passion of Joan of Arc
Most Disappointing Film: Head
Best Musical: La La Land
Best Italian Film: La Dolce Vita (they were all good)
Best Directorial Debut: Night of the Living Dead
Best Hitchcock: Rear Window