As I did last year, I figured I’d keep records of films I watch, along with some sub-goals for each entry. This time I’m making the entries longer, to have more ambitious sub-goals. With the Academy Awards coming out, it seems worthwhile to have goals inspired by that. So I opted for ten films which competed against one another for academy awards, five films that won best picture, five films that won best actor, five films that won for best actress. William Goldman passed away recently, so it’s a good chance to catch five William Goldman films. With Goldman and Oscars, five Dustin Hoffman films seem doable (there’s meant to be some overlap). Hugh Griffith was an actor who had been in a few best picture winners I hadn’t seen, so I figured on five films with him. I meant to do five Czech films last year. I’ve been considering the idea of the medieval as a category akin to the Western, so five films from that category. The ASC Top 100 was an interesting list, so I wanted five films from that series. And five films by Michael Curtiz, to get a sense of his filmography outside of Casablanca. I ended up watching five cold war films, and five theatrical adaptations.
As was the case last year I’ve got an annual goal of ten films per decade, with 18 films from last year, and 19 films from 2019.
Movie #1/ 1960s Movie #1/ New Movie #1/ Hugh Griffith Film #1: How to Steal a Million
This comedy got me down two rabbit holes: William Wyler—a director I’m not very familiar with who made three Best Picture winners—and Hugh Griffith, an Oscar winning actor who was in three Best Picture films, one by Wyler. It’s a charming comedy with Peter O’Toole as a gentleman thief and Audrey Hepburn as the daughter of an art forger who needs a statue stolen before it is discovered to be fake. It’s solid enough, and the mechanics of the theft are decent, although it is a bit generic.
Movie #2/ 1940s Movie #1/ New Movie #2/ Ealing Comedy Film #: Whisky Galore
This had a good hook for a comedy, as a Scottish town has gone dry due to war rationing just as a ship with thousands of crates of whisky is caught on their shore, and it’s realized pretty well. The characterizations are solid, and the efforts to evade the authorities are a lot of fun.
Movie #3/ 1980s Movie #1/ William Goldman Film #1/ Medieval Film #1/ Criterion Edition #1: The Princess Bride
This might just be Goldman’s masterpiece, one of the most fun movies ever. The casting in the small moments is exceptional. The story has some solid twists. And the bookends of Falk’s grandfather reading to a sick grandson are great. Very rewatchable.
Movie #4/ Infamous Criminals #1/ 1960s Movie #2: Bonnie and Clyde
The cast is astounding, earning the five Oscar nominations (This doesn’t count Gene Wilder’s amazing debut in a brief role as a hostage.) It’s a very New Hollywood take on criminals from the depression, exploring their neuroses, celebrating how they stand up to authority, and building to the realization that they may not have long to live. I’m a bit surprised this wasn’t in the American Society of Cinematographers Top 100, since Burnett Guffey had a well deserved Oscar. It’s a beautiful film, using the Western landscapes and Depression era imagery well.
Movie #5/ 1960s Movie #3/ William Goldman Film #2/ ASC Top 100 #1/ Competition #1A: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Goldman’s other masterpiece may be the best written of the outlaw films. Robert Redford and Paul Newman have legendary buddy chemistry; Elizabeth Ross is great as the girlfriend of one aware that she could have been happy with the other. The film has some astounding set pieces. The extended chase scene with the super posse, a group of the top law enforcement agents in the world, earns it a spot in the ASC Top 100, as cinematographer Conrad Hall adds gravitas to a group of five distant men. The little moments work, but the structure is great, starting with early adventures that lead the outlaws to realize they need to shake things up, and then having that all go to hell.
Movie #6/ 1950s Movie #1/ New Movie #3/ Best Actor Winner #1/ Best Picture Film #1/ Hugh Griffith Film #2/ Academy’s Favorite Directors #2/ ASC Top 100 #2: Ben-Hur
Due to the length and unusual structure, I don’t think this would be made as a film today. It would either be split, or it would be a big-budget HBO/ Netflix series. It works as an epic tale of revenge set in the background of one of the most important events of all time. The climactic chariot race is exceptional, but the film is interested in what revenge costs Charlton Heston’s Judah Ben Hur, devoting the last forty minutes to his quest for grace and meaning. It might be a better film now with modern tech, so that you could pick which elements to rewatch, depending on if you’re in the mood for the revenge quest or the coda.
Movie #7/ 1970s Movie #1/ Czech Film #1/ Medieval Film #2/ Criterion Edition #2: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
The Czech avant-garde film is one of the weirdest I’ve seen, with a dream logic on a teenager’s experiences with monsters, evil clergy and a dark decision by her grandmother. It’s a brief (75 minutes) film that blends genres (fantasy, horror, medieval period, possibly soft-core porn) to tell a very subjective coming of age story.
Movie #8/ 1970s Movie #2 / New Movie #4/ Best Actor Winner #2: The Good-Bye Girl
Neil Simon’s romantic comedy is a clever take on the opposites attract trope, although they don’t hook up until about twenty minutes to go. Dreyfuss is excellent as a quirky actor, putting up with an unexpectedly weird home life and a director who has some terrible ideas for Richard III. Marsha Mason is a good counterbalance as a single mom who doesn’t have time for the BS. Quinn Cummings plays the cute kid well. It’s funny, and builds to a satisfying conclusion.
Movie #9/ 1970s Movie #3/ New Movie #5/ William Goldman Film #3/ Dustin Hoffman Film #1/ Competition #2A: Marathon Man
Dustin Hoffman is a great lead for this kind of thriller, adding desperation and realism to the wrong man role. Laurence Olivier is one of the great screen villains as a cautious Nazi coming to the US to get his hands on stolen diamonds. It doesn’t always gel together very well, but there is the dental interrogation as a highlight.
Movie #10/ 2018 Movie #1 / New Movie #6/ Competition #3A/ Seen In Theaters #1: Roma
From the reviews, I knew it would be beautiful and that it was worth seeing in theaters for the sound mixing alone (it is an astounding communal experience) but I was a bit worried that this neorealistic take on the year in the life of a maid would be boring at ties. It’s satisfying, with astounding and complex performances. At the center is a family and employees who love one another (with one glaring exception) but could often be better to one another. A highlight is an astounding set piece combines a childbirth with a 1970s army massacre, but it builds to it well, and deals with the aftermath impressively.
Movie #11/ New Movie #7/ 1930s Movie #1/ Michael Curtiz Film #1/ Competition #4A: Captain Blood
The early sound classic is decent but flawed. The structure is very episodic, so it takes a while to get going, with Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood upsetting the royal family, getting enslaved, and impressing someone powerful and wealthy before he’s able to escape, and we’re able to see his fortunes as a pirate, albeit a relatively tame one. It’s not a bad film by any means, just not the best of its type.
Movie #12/ New Movie #8/ 2019 Movie #1/ Theatrical Release #2: Split
This was an interesting mess. I’m probably more inclined to appreciate it as a wannabe writer who likes comic books, so even the parts that don’t work are pretty interesting.
Movie #13/ 1970s Movie #4/ William Goldman Film #4/ Dustin Hoffman Film #2/ ASC Top 100 #3/ Competition #2B: All the President’s Men
The most legendary film about reporters really comes across more as a buddy cop film, as two stylistically different rookies (Hoffman as the chain-smoking wild card, Redford as the by the book rookie) try to figure out a conspiracy. It’s beautifully shot in ways that convey their increasingly rational paranoia, and the scope of what it is they hope to accomplish.
Movie #14/ 1930s Movie #2/ Michael Curtiz Film #2: The Adventures of Robin Hood
Following the success of Captain Blood, Michael Curtiz came back with Errol Flynn as another nobleman who becomes an outlaw leader after an evil king usurps control of England, with Basil Rathbone again as a rival swordsman, and Olivia Haviland again as a love interest with relatives in power. This time it’s significantly better, so it’s worth looking at why. It might be a combination of the setting, and the consistent sense of fun.
Movie #15/ New Movie #8/ 2018 Movie #2/ Polish Film #1/ Competition #4B/ Seen In Theaters #2/ Cold War Film #1: Cold War
The nomination for Best Foreign Language film was a forgone conclusion, but the nomination for Best Director was a pleasant surprise. The cinematography is gorgeous, and it’s great take on love in an inhospitable environment (communist Poland) for two people who would have struggled in the best of circumstances.
Movie #16/ New Movie# 9/ 1960s Movie #4/ Czech Film #2/ Cold War Film #2: Fireman’s Ball
Milos Forman’s farce about everything going wrong at a small celebration in the Soviet-Era Czech Republic works as a condemnation of its time, and as an expose of the pettiness of small-time public servants. My mom stopped watching the film halfway through since it reminded her too much of Soviet Estonia.
Movie #17/ Silent Film #1/ New Movie #10/ African-American Director #1: Within Our Gates
This is worth checking out as an artifact of the types of stories an African-American director wanted to tell in the silent era, generations before the modern civil rights movement. The film has struggles, as the quality of some surviving footage is quite questionable, the narrative takes some odd turns (it’s quite episodic with key characters dropped and new plot threads suddenly introduced) and the cheap production is obvious at times. Beyond the historical significance, is legitimately powerful at times, especially in the depiction of a lynching.
Movie #18/ 1960s Movie #5/ New Movie #11/ Hugh Griffith Film #3/ Best Picture Film #2/ Theatrical Adaptation #1: Oliver!
Hugh Griffith’s role is a brief few minutes as a magistrate in one scene, which is an odd choice for an Oscar winner. This take on Oliver Twist has some legitimately great songs, and solid performances, particularly Ron Moody’s sympathetic Fagin, and Carol Reed’s hoodlum.
Movie #19/ 1970s Movie #6/ New Movie #12/ Hugh Griffith Film #4/ Theatrical Adaptation #2: Luther
This is part of the American Film Theater’s adaptation of thirteen major plays from the mid-twentieth century. Stacy Keach gets across the intensity and northern-ness of this particular version of Martin Luther, in a story that is fair to the three sides: Luther and the protestants noting the hypocrisy of the church, the Catholics arguing for the hierarchy, and the peasants who think more extreme measures are necessary to fix their earthly problems.
Movie #20/ New Movie# 13/ Criterion Collection #3/ 1960s Movie #6/ Czech Film #3/ Cold War Film #3: Return of the Prodigal Son
An interesting work from the Czech new wave, collected in Criterion’s Eclipse series, this drama takes a look at post-World War 2 alienation and difficulty understanding one another, kinda like The Graduate in the slightly madder than usual setting of Eastern Bloc era Czechoslovakia.
Movie #21/ New Film #14/ 1950s Movie #2/ Criterion Edition #4/ Theatrical Adaptation #3: Othello (1952)
The extras on the Criterion Edition are worth checking out, and could elevate this to an 8/10. Otherwise, Welles’ version of Othello is an interesting mess, often beautifully shot (For God’s sake, it’s Welles) but put together rather weirdly. His lack of care about ADR dubbing shows and is distracting.
Movie #22/ New Film #15/ 1960s Movie #7/ Best Actress Oscar #1/ Theatrical Adaptation #4:: The Miracle Worker
The confrontations between Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan are more violent than I expected, but it gets across the multiple difficulties of communicating with someone who is crafty but handicapped, especially when her family just wants the child to be more compliant.
Movie #23/ 1990s Movie #1/ William Goldman Film #5/ Best Actress Winner #2: Misery
Kathy Bates makes the most of the role of crazed fan Annie Wilkes in a masterpiece of escalation.
Movie #24/ Silent Movie #2/ The ASC Top 100 #4: Sunrise
This might be the most beautiful American silent film, depicting the differences between city life and the country. The characters are broad, but the emotions seem real, in a piece that starts out one way (a cheating husband is convinced by his mistress to kill his wife for insurance money) but goes in a different direction when he can’t go through with it.
Movie #25/ 2018 Movie #3 / New Movie #16: Vox Lux
This take on school shootings, terrorism, celebrity pop culture, teen pregnancy, and a host of other issues disappeared from theaters/ Oscar consideration without much notice, but is clever enough in terms of topics addressed, and twisting revelations that it could be a cult hit.
Movie #26/ New Film #17/ 1960s Movie #8/ Hugh Griffith Film #5/ Criterion Edition #6/ Best Picture Film #3: Tom Jones
A fun adaptation of a literary classic about a young man, raised well but of poor birth, who just finds women falling in love with him. Albert Finney might be the best passive lead of any film. It has four acting nominations, and even one that isn’t entirely deserved (Diana Silento’s raunchier girlfriend is probably not one of the five best of the year) could have gone to another (Joan Greenwood as the main love interest.)
Movie #27/ New Film #18/ 2000s Movie #1/ Documentary #1/ Finnish Film #1/ Seen In Theaters #3: Helsinki Forever
This was shown in the Anthology Film archive as part of a series of city symphonies, which I checked out due to Estonia’s connections to Finland. It’s quite good as a look at the different areas of the city, and how that has been depicted in its pop culture. It’s a well-made video essay that keeps it up for 70+ minutes.
Movie #28/ New Movie# 19/ 1960s Movie #9/ Czech Film #4/ Medieval Films #3: Valley of the Bees
I am convinced that the people involved with Game of Thrones have seen František Vláčil’s films and that Medieval Czechoslovakia is essentially the North. It’s a simpler version of themes from Marketa Lazarova, but worthwhile in its own right as an exploration of religious meaning, and the questions of loyalty and compromise.
Movie #29/ 1930s Movie #3/ Criterion Edition #7/ Best Picture Winner #4/ Best Actor Winner #3/ Best Actress Winner #3: It Happened One Night
This is just one of the most satisfying films ever. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert have astounding chemistry in a film that has an excellent take on its era, and some of the best screwball sequences ever. This time around, I had an appreciation for all the side characters.
Movie #30/ New Movie #20/ 2019 Movie #2/ Seen In Theaters #4: Battle Angel Alita
This sci-fi film is an interesting mess. The world is well-built, and they establish the mysteries pretty well. The central romance takes some interesting turns. The bad guys are a bit unsatisfying, especially since much of it is setting up a sequel. But it’s solid.
Movie #31/ New Movie# 21/ Criterion Collection #8/ 1960s Movie #10/ Czech Film #5/ Cold War Film #4: Loves of a Blonde
An interesting companion to Fireman’s Ball, with much of the same cast, and some similar themes about bureaucrats trying and failing in their efforts to bring joy to the public, while focusing on a young woman’s poorly conceived reunion with a former boyfriend.
Movie #32/ New Movie #22/ 1930s Movie #4/ Michael Curtiz Film #3: Doctor X
This is a strange artifact of a particular time in film, as sound is a few years in its infancy, the dark house horror is giving way to something else, and they’re trying a new form of coloring; the two-color technicolor, which didn’t last very long but contributes to a creepy dream-like mood.
Movie #33/ 1950s Movie #3/ Japanese Film #1/ Criterion Edition #9/ ASC Top 100 #5/ Medieval Film #4: The Seven Samurai
This may just be the most perfect concept for a movie ever; a story that has much to say about Japan’s feudal era, but that can be (and has been) translated into other genres. Seven warriors of disparate abilities and attitudes band together to protect a town of peasants from bandits. This opens up the possibility for all types of conflicts and secrets, and that’s just what Kurosawa provides, along with beautiful cinematography. Toshiro Mifune is a standout as the group’s wild-card, but all the samurai have their moments, as do the villagers. According to Watchmojo, it counts as a medieval film.
Movie #34/ 2010s Movie #1: Dunkirk
Watching it again, I am convinced that it was the best movie of the last five years, and that it was an injustice that The Shape of Water beat it for Best Picture. It is also likely Nolan’s masterpiece, and one of the great recent accomplishments in film editing.
Movie #35/ New Movie #23/ 2018 Movie #4: Black Mirror- Bandersnatch
This was an interesting experiment, and something that can only be done in streaming video, an exploration of the different ways a character can go, although a bit hindered by story branches that change the past in ways that don’t seem to play fair. The connection between the young programmer’s work and the viewer’s choices makes for satisfying commentary.
Movie #36/ New Movie #24/ 2019 Movie #3/ Seen In Theaters #5: Captain Marvel
This is probably one of the weaker Marvel Cinematic Universe films, which highlights the overall strength of the series. The narrative is a bit overly complicated, with planted memories and a lot of tonal shifts. High points for supporting performances by Annette Benning and Ben Mendelsohn, who initially starts out as the generic villain but then becomes something more.
Movie #37/ New Film #25/ 1970s Movie #7/ Dustin Hoffman Film #3/ Best Actor Winner #4/ Best Picture Winner #5: Kramer VS Kramer
Very solid family drama that toes a delicate line when tackling a difficult issue of the breakdown of a family, elevated by Meryl Streep giving tremendous depth to the ex-wife in what may her best performance ever, and one of the best supporting performances ever.
Movie #38/ New Film #26/ 1940s Movie #2/ Competition #5A: Spellbound
Might be the most notable Hitchcock film I hadn’t seen before. A curiosity on multiple levels, dealing with the topics of psychoanalysis (not as respected now) and the difficulties of a woman’s professional life in the 1940s, with performances by Ingrid Bergman at her peak, Gregory Peck at his peck (four Academy Award nominations in five years, and a lead role in a Best Picture winner; still weird to see him when he’s young), the sole Academy Award nomination of the legendary Russian actor Michael Chekhov (nephew of Anton) and dream sequences designed by Salvador Dali.
Movie #39/ New Film #27/ 1940s Movie #3/ Best Actress Oscar #4/ Michael Curtiz Film #4/ Competition #5B: Mildred Pierce
An interesting companion with Spellbound due to the focus on the difficulty women have in establishing professional lives. Much has been written about how this is the perfect Joan Crawford role, as her family life collapses while she gains professional success. Excellent noir framing by Michael Curtiz.
Movie #40/ 1950s Movie #4/ Criterion Collection #10/ Competition #1B: Some Like It Hot
It remains one of the funniest movies ever. This time around I was focusing on Jack Lemmon’s initial lusting after Marilyn Monroe (for obvious reasons) and the shift to helping out Tony Curtis/ romancing a wealthy Floridian, and how the poor guy may have just cracked under the strain.
Movie #41/ New Movie# 28/ 1980s Movie #2/ Medieval Films #5: The Name of the Rose
This murder mystery in a medieval library allows for a different type of detective with Sean Connery’s academic priest, and Christian Slater’s novice makes for a solid audience surrogate, as they uncover a conspiracy and the corruption in a monastery. Beautiful sets (especially the library’s labyrinth) and some interesting explorations of theology and truth, although compromised.
Movie #42/ New Movie #29/ 1930s Movie #5/ Michael Curtiz Film #5: The Mystery of the Wax Museum
Superior to Curtiz’s other two-color Technicolor horror (and demonstrating a pattern of his work being better the second time he tries something) with the wax museum as a compelling location, and the villain interesting enough to justify remakes.
Movie #43/ New Movie #30/ 1940s Movie #4/ Criterion Collection #11: Detour
The Criterion restoration of the B-movie highlights a noir that is in some ways so typical of the genre as to be generic (a man in a car with a fedora and a femme fatale, fog-filled streets, stormy nights, the illusions of Hollywood) but made unique with a lead who is more of a sad-sack than most (his top competition might be Scarlet Street’s Edmund G Robinson) and a femme fatale who is bitter, desperate and not making the best decisions. It slides from generic to defining at times.
Movie #44/ New Movie #31/ 1930s Movie #6/ German Film #1/ Seen In Theaters #6: The Steel Animal
I caught this in the Anthology Film Archives with my train buff father, and it wasn’t what I anticipated. I expected some kind of Man with a Movie Camera style-documentary on a famed German train line, although it’s more of a straight narrative, one seemingly influenced by Soviet realism. It’s often visually striking, but weird to figure out; an educated engineer quickly accepted by the workmen he’s paired with as he tells the stories of the tragedies that led to the success of locomotives (the individual stories aren’t the best-told). The director was locked up in an asylum by Goebbels allegedly for failing to be triumphant enough, but the way it’s almost a love story between the lead and one of the workmen could’ve been a factor in that as well.
Movie #45/ 1970s Movie #8/ New Movie #32/ Dustin Hoffman Film #4/ Theatrical Adaptation #5: Lenny
It’s weird to see Dustin Hoffman in a black and white movie. The Lenny Bruce biopic captures the different sides of the man; the innovative comedian trying to get past the constraints of his trade, the loving family man, the guy who gives into his worst impulses- cheating on his wife with a nurse he meets after a serious car accident, and a strident crusader whose financial ills are largely his own damn fault.
Movie #46/ New Movie #33/ 2019 Movie #4/ Seen in Theaters #7: Us
This works pretty well as a straightforward horror film with a dual performance by Lupita Nyongo, and a largely new mythology. There is also tremendous metaphorical depth in the enemies of the film- “The Tethered” that makes this a movie worth discussing, and analyzing for what it’s saying about privilege, and the nature of reality.
Movie #47/ 2010s Movie #1/ Best Actress Winner #5: Silver Linings Playbook
It has the structure of an old-fashioned romantic comedy, but is built on 21st Century understandings of mental health and medication. Jennifer Lawrence elevates the role of the woman inexplicably in love with the male lead, selling her outrage at his hypocrisy and self-regard. The rest of the cast is excellent, with De Niro’s flawed and troubled father as a highlight.
Movie #48/ 1980s Movie #3/ New Movie #34/ Dustin Hoffman Film #5/ Cold War Film #5: Ishtar
I came into this aware of the film’s reputation as both being one of the most notorious flops of all time, and developing a more nuanced reputation later. For a movie so expensive the big set pieces seem uncinematic, even when there’s a gun fight with helicopters. It isn’t great, but there are some funny scenes, especially in the music of the inept songwriting duo.
Movie #49/ 2010s Movie #1/ Cold War Film #6: The Death of Stalin
I’m enjoying this film even more the second time around. It might be one of the best of the decade. The cast is uniformly excellent, selling a variety of roles: Buscemi’s scheming Khrushchev, Jason Issac’s ultra alpha male Field Marshall Zhukov, Michael Palin’s floundering and hesitant Molotov, Andrea Riseborough’s logically hysterical Svetlana Stalin, Olga Kurylenko’s noble music legend, and Jeffrey Tambor’s incompetent Malenkov. It works as a dark comedy, a power struggle, and an examination of ideas.
Movie #50/ New Movie #35/ 1930s Movie #7/ Best Actor Winner #5/ Competition #5B: The Informer
John Ford’s first of four best directing wins is for a beautifully shot expressionistic drama about a momentous night in the life of an IRA lunkhead, driven by poverty to inform on his best friend. There’s a lot of mid-30s overacting, and the metaphors aren’t exactly subtle, but Victor McLaglen works as the desperate and quick to anger antihero.
And the round-up
Best Best Picture winner… It Happened One Night
Best 1960s film…Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (I suppose I rank it higher than Bonnie and Clyde)
Best theatrical adaptation: The Miracle Worker
Best Dustin Hoffman film: Kramer VS. Kramer
Best ASC Top 100: The Seven Samurai
Best Hugh Griffin film: Ben-Hur
Best Michael Curtiz film: The Adventures of Robin Hood
Best Czech film: Fireman’s Ball
Best William Goldman film: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Best “Medieval”…. The Seven Samurai
Best Best Actor Winner…It Happened One Night
Best Best Actress Winner…It Happened One Night
Best Cold War Film…The Death of Stalin
Best Film I Haven’t Seen Before…Kramer VS Kramer
Best Overall film…Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidBest Best Actress Winner…It Happened One Night
Best Film I Haven’t Seen Before…Kramer VS Kramer
Best Overall film…It Happened One Night (although I could very easily pick Seven Samurai, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or Dunkirk)