This is a continuation of notes on films I saw this year, following Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. I set myself a challenge of watching ten films per decade (counting the silent era as one decade) allowing for recent additions with additional goals of ten movies from 2016, seventeen from 2017, and eighteen from 2018. I picked some smaller challenges for this entry with five films from the same country (Germany this time), five films by the same director (Fritz Lang for the overlap), five films from the same genre (Noir- also overlaps with noir) and because there are some omissions in the films I’ve seen with female leads- five films with the same actress (Meryl Streep) and five films in which actresses won Academy Awards (here too is some overlap.) I decided to record which films I saw in theaters; God bless New York’s independent theaters and Moviepass.
Movie #91/ New Film #51/ 1940s Movie #7/ Best Actress Oscar #1: Johnny Belinda
This was once an acclaimed film that has fallen out of fashion, with nominations for Best Picture and every acting category. I was curious about it since Ronald Reagan’s ex-wife won an Academy Award in it (and I get that it’s potentially sexist to mention an accomplished woman in the context of her relationship with a man, but he was President.) This film’s about a doctor teaching a deaf woman how to understand the world in the context of a nasty small town, where she has a loving father and aunt who underestimate her. There are some big twists, some of which are going to be rightly seen as quite problematic due to major decisions made in which she has no agency, and some assumptions about a traumatic event that undercut the message about her intellect.
Movie #92/ New Movie #52/ 2000s Movie #7/ Meryl Streep Film #1/ Musical #6: Mamma Mia
The musical has its charms, and some decent musical set pieces, as well as a few that undercut the song. For what it’s worth, my mom seems to think it’s imminently rewatchable.
Movie #93/New Movie #53/ 1940s Movie #8/ Fritz Lang Film #1/ Noir #1: Scarlet Street
This was a film noir with a lot of weird twists and a strange style: the vamp says “jeepers” a lot quite unironically. It’s fun until everything goes to hell, in a way that might seem tonally off. Edward Robinson is great as a sap, who isn’t as pathetic or as innocent as he seems.
Movie #94/ New Movie #54/ 2016 Movie #6: Your Name
It’s a comedy with some stunning cartoon art that has a lot of fun with the central concept (teenagers in different part of Japan realize they’re waking up in one another’s body and fall in love the more they learn about one another.) There are some excellent twists and call-backs.
Movie #95/ 2000s Movie #8/ German Film #1: The Lives of Others
An excellent work about art and what it’s like to live in a totalitarian system. It deserves its reputation as one of the finest films of the 21st Century.
Movie #96/New Movie #55/ 1950s Movie #5/ Fritz Lang Film #2/ Noir #2: The Big Heat
A pretty nasty noir that seems to invent the things that are now cliches, and raises some interesting questions about how far the hero should go in his quest for justice.
Movie #97/ New Movie #56/ 1950s Movie #6/ Criterion Film #20/ Noir #3: In a Lonely Place
Excellent Bogart/ Graehme Hollywood romance that doesn’t go in the direction you expect when Bogie’s troubled writer is the top suspect in a murder. The takes on LA that were once bracing have been surpassed, but the cinematography is excellent, the central questions about character are compelling, and the ending is powerful.
Movie #98/Silent Movie #6/ Fritz Lang Film #3/ German Film #2: Metropolis
The first great science fiction movie works as an exploration of values, and a showcase for some of the most stunning sets in film history.
Movie #99/ 1960s Movie #10/ Theatrical Release #23: 2001- A Space Odyssey
I couldn’t resist the chance to see possibly the greatest science fiction film ever in the 70mm 50th anniversary rerelease. Stunning work of pure cinema in an epic that tackles man’s past and future, with a detour involving one of the great film villains- Hal, whose motives seem quite understandable in this viewing. The take on the future is prescient in some ways, and revealing in its mistakes, but very fully realized.
Movie #100/ New Movie #57/ 2000s Movie #9: Murnau, Borzage & Fox
Decent documentary on an underappreciated period in film history: when the producer William Fox made popular and critical smashes with German emigre Murnau and Borzage, a largely forgotten two-time Oscar winner.
Movie #101/ New Movie #58/ 1930s Movie #5/ Criterion Edition #21: Emperor Jones
Excellent showcase for the great Paul Robeson, possibly the best African-American actor in the first half of the 20th Century. There are some technical issues, as well as reflections of dated racial attitudes, but Robeson’s performance is still ahead of its time; an ambitious swindler who tricks his way into becoming ruler.
Movie #102/ New Movie #59/ 2018 Movie #11/ Theatrical Release #24: Deadpool 2
It’s a decent superhero comedy, although that part’s a bit tonally difficult due to the tragedy that occurs early in the film, as well as Cable’s motivations. The additions to the cast (Brolin’s hardass Cable, Zazie Beetz’s joyful Domino) are pretty decent and there are some nice swerves (the first mission of the X-Force, the post-credit sequence.)
Movie #103/ New Movie #60/ 1940s Movie #9/ Best Actress Oscar #2/ Hitchcock #6: Suspicion
Hitchcock/ Fontaine’s follow-up suffers in comparison to their Rebecca, as well as the other Hitchcock/ Grant collaborations. It’s a bit dull in the set-up to the heiress getting suspicious of her husband’s potential for murder, which robs the final act of its gravity.
Movie #104/ 1940s Movie #10/ Best Actress Oscar #3/ Film Noir #4: Gaslight
The film’s culture cache has increased since I first saw it thanks to the discussions about gaslighting as a phenomenon. The most striking part of it might remain the weirdness of a young Angela Lansbury as a tart maid. Ingrid Bergman is excellent as a young wife who begins to suspect her sanity, unaware of how she’s being manipulated as the victim in a complex theft.
Movie #105/1930s Movie #6/ Fritz Lang Film #4/ German Film #3/ Criterion Film #22: M
Creepy early sound film with a powerhouse performance by Peter Lorre as a criminal so nasty everyone in Berlin wants him dead. Tremendous cinematography and a dark exploration of difficult questions without any easy answers.
Movie #106/ 1970s Movie #6 / Meryl Streep Film #2: The Deer Hunter
A while back, I considered the ways artistic output could be measured: how often someone hits high marks, and their batting average. Michael Cimino is an odd act, because he didn’t succeed in either category: he wasn’t prolific, and he had a shit batting average. However, his first film was decent, and his second film was an acknowledged classic (a best picture winner everyone agrees deserved it.) He followed that up with a series of failures, legendary (Heaven’s Gate- even if it’s now reevaluated; Razzie winner Year of the Dragon) and ignored. Watching The Deer Hunter, it’s worth considering what the film industry might have been like if this guy had a few more hits. It remains an interesting film, slow and revealing, matching the best actor of his generation (De Niro) with the best actress (Streep) with a third guy stealing the show (Oscar winner Christopher Walken.)
Movie #107/ 1960s Movie #11/ Theatrical Release #25: The Witchfinder General
This was playing at the Metrograph, so I couldn’t resist. The first film on the list that doesn’t count for a category since I’ve seen ten from the 60s. It’s a film I like much more than it’s reputation might merit, aside from the five-star Empire review that brought the film to my attention. The unconventional British period piece about revenge and abuse of power shows has lovely cinematography and a surprisingly powerful performance by Vincent Price as the villain.
Movie #108/ New Movie #61/ 2018 Movie #12/ Theatrical Release #26: Solo- A Star Wars Story
Decent, but not great Star Wars. It’s probably the weakest film in the series since Attack of the Clones. The cast isn’t bad, but it might be missing something when it’s all about Han Solo, and there isn’t a Luke or Obi-Wan for him to play against. It plays with expectations nicely, especially with the introduction of Chewbacca.
Movie #109/ New Movie #62/ 2000s Movie #10/ Chinese Film #1: The Eye
It’s an excellent concept for a ghost story, as a blind woman regains her sight after a surgery, and slowly realizes that she can now see the dead. It has a great twist, as a photograph leads to a terrible epiphany. The climax is a bit weak, although it does serve as an exploration of further aspect of the lead’s power.
Movie #110/New Movie #63/ 1940s Movie #11/ Fritz Lang Film #5/ Noir #5: The Woman in the Window
The story of a middle aged man whose decision to spend an evening with a woman leads to an accidental murder may just be the definitive noir. There are (slightly) better ones, but nothing as noir to the core. It helps that Fritz Lang adds his incredible style to it. The ending was the result of Hays Code censorship, but it works quite well thematically, and as an explanation for some of the more ridiculous plot points.
Movie #111/ New Movie #64/ 1980s Movie #7/ Meryl Streep Film #3: Out of Africa
This best picture winner is a beautiful film, but slow. Streep and Redford have solid chemistry, although some of the other relationships are quite underdeveloped, especially when it comes to the African servants, and Klaus Maria Brandauer’s flawed husband (I could see why he was nominated but he might have won if the script were better.)
Movie #112/ Silent Movie #7/ German Film #4: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Since it came out before the 1920s, it is conceivable that the early horror film was for a few years the best movie ever made. The expressionistic sets are a wonder, and it uses intertitles in surprisingly clever ways. It’s the definitive expressionistic film, and silent horror.
Movie #113/ 1950s Movie #7: Witness for the Prosecution
A witty legal drama with an excellent performance by Charles Laughton, as a legendary lawyer recuperating from a medical emergency, convinced to take on a murder case. There are excellent twists involving Marlene Dietrich as the wife of the accused, a cold fish who is more than she appears.
Movie #114/ New Movie #65/ Silent Movie Era #8: Underworld
Probably the most notable of the silent crime films, this film has a surprisingly compelling love triangle at its center, and impressive visuals, while depicting a subculture of the time rather well.
Movie #115/ New Movie #66/ 1950s Movie #8: Gigi
This musical about a young woman educated to be the mistress of a powerful man is a bit different than I expected (for some reason, I thought there would be more disagreement about matrimony) but it’s quite lovely in the depiction of French high society and has some good songs. The Blu-Ray includes a cut of the 1940s French film, which could use significant restoration but does highlight the faithfulness of the adaptation.
Movie #116/ New Movie #67/ 2000s Movie #11/ Best Actress Oscar #4/ Meryl Streep Film #4: The Hours
The reputation is a bit mixed. There is much that’s good in the connected arcs of three people facing crises decades apart, and there is power to the final connections, although it is sometimes a bit pretentious and bleak. Nicole Kidman’s transformation is especially impressive.
Movie #117/ New Movie #68/ 2010s Movie #11/ Meryl Streep Film #5/ Best Actress Oscar #5: The Iron Lady
This is an excellent showcase for Meryl Streep who depicts Margaret Thatcher as a rising politician, world leader, and later in her dotage. The result is generally satisfying, even if sometimes a bit incongruous (although that does seem to be the point with the contrast between her place when her life ended and where she was once was in the world.)
Movie #118/ 1970s Movie #7/ German Film #5: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Looking at German films, I’m noticing a trend of powerhouse lead performances that don’t get a lot of screentime, and feature protagonists willing to let others lead the action for a while. Klaus Kinski’s Aguirre is one such man, remaining second in command following a coup. It’s a fascinating take on the arrogance of the early explorers in the Americas.
Movie #119/New Movie #70/ 1930s Movie #7/ Musical #7: Shall We Dance?
On the one hand, it’s a bit of a trudge, a narrative where the logical ending just keeps getting delayed, and it’s all based on a divide between ballet and Broadway that is utterly alien to modern audiences. On the other hand, it’s Astaire and Rogers. It’s got some great set pieces. And one of the all-time classic movie songs (Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off!)
Movie #120/ 1930s Movie #8/ Theatrical Release #27: The Old Dark House
Last year, I saw the unrestored version VIA a streaming service, and enjoyed it. I was able to catch a restoration at an independent theater, and it was quite impressive, highlighting the effectiveness of the sets and the skillfullness with which James Whale creates a sense of mood, in a film that has a good sense of character and humor. It peters out a bit at the end, when the bad guy shows up, but is a lot of fun.
While looking for images for this entry, I did find a nice photo of The Woman in the Window, that seems to not be from the film. It seems to come from a film noir homage by the artist David Lee Guss.
Best Film I Hadn’t Seen Before: In a Lonely Place
Best Film: 2001, a Space Odyssey
Best film with lead actress Oscar: Gaslight
Best German film: The Lives of Others
Best Fritz Lang film: M
Best Noir: Gaslight
Best Meryl Streep film: The Deer Hunter
Oddly enough, I’ve done two of these entries without touching the 90s.