For the final entry in the films watched in 2019 series, I’m having Scorsese inspired subchallenges, with at least five films by him and at least five films he really likes: those he selected for his list of best movies for Sight and Sound, for his Criterion “Best” list, or for his world cinema project. I’m also aiming at rewatching five films I’ve seen this year, checking out at least five 2019 Oscar contenders (which is obviously going to include The Irishman), continue with watching five films considered the best of a nation, checking out at least five Italian films (which is going to overlap with Scorsese’s favorites) and getting the total number of Criterion editions (or films available on the Criterion channel) to 52, partly to justify all the purchases whenever there’s been a sale on Criterion editions.
Movie #168/ New Movie #111/ 2000s Movie #14/ Scorsese Film #1/ Criterion (Channel) #40: Val Lewton- Man in the Shadows
The Scorsese narrated and produced Val Lewton profile is standard but worthwhile. It provides details on an interesting life, creative decisions, and studio difficulties, even with the unique problem of a reclusive lead, especially by Hollywood standards. It’s not exceptional, but it provides for a greater appreciation of some decent films.
Repeat Movie #1/ Scorsese Favorite #1/ Nation’s Best Round 2 #1: Memories of Underdevelopment
Watching it again, I have the sense that it is a truly special film. It’s a technically daring spotlight of a man who doesn’t really care about the revolution going on around him. Interesting on a lot of levels (a spotlight of Cuba during the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, an arrogant man who uses women getting surprised that there are consequences to that, developments in a failed marriage.)
Movie #169/ New Movie #112/ 2019 Movie #16/ Seen In Theaters #19/ Oscars Conversation #1: Jojo Rabbit
The controversy over whether this movie should be made in these divisive times is really overblown; this is the correct moment to explore the ridiculousness of Nazis and their supporters. Scarlett Johanson is excellent as a woman doing her part in the resistance whose son is a fanatic, with the third Reich setting shaking up the typical coming of age stuff. I get that a lot of stuff was edited out from the suddenness of the ending.
Movie #170/ New Movie #113/ 1990s Movie #14/ Scorsese Film #2: Casino
Scorsese’s take on the rise of the mob in Las Vegas repeats a lot of what we’ve seen in Goodfellas, complete with De Niro and Pesci, in a way that remains really entertaining, with some of the most fun infodumps I can remember. No one will rate this above Goodfellas but if that’s your absolute favorite film, this could be in the top ten.
Movie #171/ New Movie #114/ 2000s Film #15: Batman Beyond- Return of the Joker
This doubles as a finale to the 1990s Fox Batman adventures showing their greatest tragedy, as well as the greatest challenge of the Spider-Man-esque teen Batman of the future. The oddball sci-fi concepts don’t distract from a story about regret and loneliness.
Movie #172/ New Movie #115/ 1980s Movie #14/ Scorsese Film #3: After Hours
Not what you’d expect from a guy who was responsible for two dramatic masterpieces that are regulars on “Best of” lists before he went on to a comedy about a crazy night out in pre-Giuliani New York. The dated elements have their charm, although there’s a consequence that doesn’t really make sense with the tone of the film. It’s probably my least favorite Scorsese film, although it’s obviously not that bad.
Movie #173/ New Movie #116/ 1960s Movie #17/ Italian Film #1: Two Women
The Italian neorealist film that won Sophia Loren an Oscar for a foreign-language role in the 60s seems to have fallen out of favor. It is quite powerful, covering a widow’s efforts to protect her daughter in the chaos of the second world war, with memorable difficulties and reactions.
Movie #174/ New Movie #117/ 1980s Movie #15: War Games
Surprisingly slow for a thriller about potential apocalypse. I wonder if that’s because it’s dealing with computers in the early 80s, when the process of various things (getting plane tickets from Seattle to Colorado) just takes longer, or if they’re viewing it partially as a caper, where the process is part of the charm. Still fun.
Movie #175/ New Movie #118/ 2010s Movie #15: White Creek
This is a hard one to evaluate as a microbudget indie I picked up from the library because “feudalism sci-fi” sounded interesting as a concept. It’s hard to assess the actual craft.
Movie #176/ New Movie #119/ 1980s Movie #16: The Last Starfighter
I could see why it has a cult following, and why it didn’t make a lot of money in the box office. It’s a Star Wars knockoff where an American kid gets a chance to be Luke Skywalker, and go to space, but a lot of focus is on the Earth stuff, and the alien bad guys aren’t all that interesting.
Movie #177/ New Movie #120/ 1960s Movie #18/ Swedish Film #1/ Criterion Edition #41: I am Curious Yellow
For a generation, this was the highest-grossing foreign language film in the box office, mainly due to interest in the sex scenes, something that had a high enough profile to get into even Spider-Man comics. It might be imitation Godard in how it’s about being cinema, but there is some compelling material in spotlight an activist’s struggles, that address her concerns and why people see her as ridiculous, and then a fake behind the scenes at the making of the film as a lead actress dating an older director falls for the male lead that plays with the artificiality.
Movie #178/ New Movie #121/ 1950s Movie #14/ Italian Film #2/ Criterion Edition #42: The Flowers of St. Francis
A decent film about some of the adventures of a great and generous man trying to do right in a society that doesn’t quite respect him. Rossellini captures the medieval era well, showing what is ridiculous about how St Francis lived and what was so glorious about it.
Repeat Movie #2: Vox Lux
This remains a really interesting film, tackling some big questions in contemporary society: what do we expect of artists? does art influence terror? with an exceptional soundtrack (both the catchy songs by Sia that double as commentary on music and satisfying in their own way, and the instrumentals by Scott Walker.)
Movie #179/ New Movie #122/ 2019 Movie #17/ Seen In Theaters #19/ Oscars Conversation #2: Parasite
Bong Joon-ho takes a clever concept with a lower class family lying their way into jobs with an upper-class family, and adds some crazy twists to it, along with decent commentary in a story that has a uniquely Korean flavor but remains relevant elsewhere, even if I’m not as sympathetic to the have-nots as many of the viewers. But that speaks to a depth of characterization, that there is enough material to come to different conclusions.
Movie #180/ New Movie #123/ 1960s Movie #19/ Scorsese Film #1/ Criterion Edition #43: I am Curious Blue
I could see why this companion piece to I am Curious Yellow wasn’t as successful. It’s more of a reedit than a continuation. The new material is solid, dealing with her search for a lost mother, and a liberal activist’s take on the prison complex, but it’s not on the same level as what we saw before.
Repeat Movie #3: Return of the Prodigal Son
I picked up Criterion’s Pearls of the Czech New Wave on a sale. I’m definitely checking out the rest last year, but this remains an interesting take on a disillusioned man in a weird society (the communist-ruled Czechoslovakia) and an example of why this era of film is so interesting: the films of a communist society with greater artistic freedom than is the norm. Kinda like The Graduate, although this awkward, young man has a wife and kid, and his family has their own struggles.
Movie #181/ New Movie #124/ 1960s Movie #20/ Italian Film #2/ Criterion Edition #44/ Scorsese Favorite #2: Salvator Giuliano
An unconventional biopic in which the lead mainly disappears, and we see the stories of some of the people affected by an Italian rebel . Early on it seems more like vignettes, but it connects together pretty nicely.
Movie #182/ New Movie #125/ 2019 Movie #18/ Seen In Theaters #19/ Oscars Conversation #3: Knives Out
This modern mystery is quite satisfying with an excellent cast, nice twists (both in terms of what happens and how the viewer finds out about it) as well as a terrific cast.
Repeat Movie #4: Faust
Possibly Murnau’s most beautiful film, and a unique take on an old story, focusing more on the temptations of love to a lonely man who suddenly has the power to transform himself, and how everything goes tragically wrong. There are some major tonal shifts, so it’s an interesting experience to watch it again, knowing what’s coming.
Movie #183/ New Movie #126/ 2018 Movie #13: A Simple Favor
This mystery does have some big similarities to Gone Girl, playing with different cultures and media landscapes (the fashion industry, mommy blogs, California parents associations) with decent performances by Anna Kendrick as a young widow realizing she might be manipulated, and Blake Lively as the trainwreck missing friend with more secrets than people know. A taboo topic comes up pretty quickly in the story, and becomes a major part of the text and subtext.
Movie #184/ New Movie #127/ 1960s Movie #21/ Italian Film #4/ Criterion Edition #45/ Scorsese Favorite #3: The Leopard
Beautiful film about the end of an era as an Italian aristocrat deals with the changes of the Risorgimento era with dignity, but perhaps not always the best responses, even if he seems eager to get out of the way. Burt Lancaster is tremendous in a role in a language he doesn’t speak for an ethnicity he doesn’t quite share. And all the various little dramas (love triangles, social climbing, mysterious mostly unseen matriarchs) are interesting.
Movie #185/ New Movie #128/ 1980s Movie #17/ Nation’s Best Round 2 #2: A Better Tomorrow
Sometimes the most popular Hong Kong film ever. It’s a conflict between two brothers, where Chow Yun Fat steals the show essentially as the sidekick. The violence is over the top, but it’s a solid exploration of the consequences of some career criminals’ actions a few years later.
Repeat Movie #5/ Nation’s Best Round 2 #3: The Mirror
It remains strange and dreamlike, moving around with a stream of consciousness logic, but does demonstrate, along with Andrei Rublev and Stalker that Tarkovsky is a giant cinema, even if he didn’t make all that many movies.
Movie #186/ New Movie #129/ 2019 Movie #19/ Seen In Theaters #19/ Oscars Conversation #4: Star Wars- The Rise of Skywalker
The finale to the Skywalker saga isn’t terrible but it isn’t great. It’s the worst of the new trilogy, the worst of the finales, and might be worse than any single MCU film. It’s a cliche to say this, but it probably should have been split into two films, one to set up the Emperor’s return and one to feature his defeat. It seemed to try too many things, but couldn’t do it particularly well, even if I did like Babu Frick.
Movie #187/ New Movie #130/ 1940s Movie #17/ Scorsese Favorite #4/ Italian Film #5/ Criterion Edition #46: Paisan
Rossellini made a bold film to tell six stories about the interactions between Americans and Italians in the final days of the war, each told by a different writer with a different cast, but maintaining a satisfying sense of cinematic continuity. The best are highlights of Italian film; the worst aren’t too bad.
Movie #188/ 1970s Movie #17/ Japanese Film #5/ Criterion Edition #47: Lone Wolf and Cub- Sword of Vengeance
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the adaptation, but my brothers got me this box set for Christmas last year and these aren’t bad, if B movie takes on a much better manga. It is quite faithful, in its depiction of an uncompromising moral world, with some impressive visuals and action sequences defined by unusual weapons. The main problem is that I don’t quite buy the main actor as Ogami Itto, except for the scenes where he’s supposed to be underestimated. It’s like if Jonah Hill played Batman. It’s obviously a tremendous influence on Kill Bill, beyond being explicitly referenced in those films.
Movie #189/ 1970s Movie #18/ Japanese Film #6/ Criterion Edition #48: Lone Wolf and Cub- Baby Cart at the River Styx
The sequel is an improvement with better set pieces and some interesting moral questions. The story isn’t as faithful to the manga but it adapts the spirit quite well, with greater challenges and tougher antagonists with elite hitmen who seem to have earned their reputation.
Movie #190/ New Movie #131/ 2000s Movie #16/ Nation’s Best Round 2 #4: The Black Book
Verhoeven’s return to dutch film seems like it could be a disaster; this is a very R-rated love story between a Jewish spy and a Nazi. But it works, due to characters responding appropriately to tremendous stakes, and exceptional leads in Carice van Houten and Sebastian Koch.
Movie #191/ 1960s Movie #22/ Criterion Edition #49: Monterey Pop
This remains my favorite concert movie ever, just in terms of the quality of the music (Hendrix!) and how well it captures the era.
Movie #192/ New Movie #132/ 2019 Movie #20/ Seen In Theaters #20/ Oscars Conversation #5: Richard Jewell
Eastwood’s tale of a slightly strange guy who finds himself under investigation by the FBI and the media comes at a useful time; all the conversations about why this film shouldn’t be told speak to its necessity. There’s a solid cast, and a good sense of a decent man who has always respected authority realizing that he’s being treated poorly by them.
Movie #193/ New Movie #133/ 2019 Movie #21/ Oscars Conversation #6: The Two Popes
I fully get the historical inaccuracies and the subtext of how conservatives should get out of the way of the liberal future, but this remains a very well-made film about ideas, and conflicting visions of the future. Hopkins captures Benedict’s intellect and aloofness, while Pryce captures the future Pope Francis’ ambivalence about power and the conflict between respect for tradition and the need to modernize.
Movie #194/ 1990s Movie #15/ Criterion Edition #50: The War Room
Because my brothers know me so well, this year for my birthday they got me some Criterion Blu Rays, including the Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates, Michael Radford’s 1984 and this intimate look at the behind the scenes of a successful underdog presidential campaign. It’s definitely worthwhile for political junkies and those who remember minor scandals. Carville is a great character, and there are some interesting forgotten moments (Bill Clinton’s sore voice after a major win; a Brazillian printing scandal.) It’s interesting to see how quickly the campaign went from petty concerns (stolen signs in primaries) to big-scale to petty general election campaigning. It is satisfying to see Democrats arguing for reasonable spending. There is some odd pacing.
Movie #195/ New Movie #134/ 2019 Movie #22/ Seen In Theaters #21/ Oscars Conversation #7: Uncut Gems
I saw this one by accident; I meant to catch Bombshell with my brother but it was rescheduled. It is a decent version of the film I expected with Adam Sandler in a very intense performance as an unlikable guy hanging out with celebrities chasing a big score who owes shady people a lot of money.
Movie #196/ New Movie #135/ 2019 Movie #23/ Scorsese Film #/ Oscar Conversation #8: The Irishman
The compliment and potential complaint of this film is that when fans of the new Hollywood of the 70s say they don’t make these kinds of movies again, they are specifically referring to this kind of movie. This is Scorsese’s Unforgiven, the mob film from the perspective of someone at the end of the era, although it may also be the best Godfather imitation in film as well. Tremendous.
Movie #197/ New Movie #136/ 1960s Movie #23/ Scorsese Favorite #5/ French Language Film #/ Criterion Edition #51: Contempt
It’s Godard so it plays around with style, although the boldest move may be a pivotal half-hour conversation between a troubled married couple. It captures well the compromises of an artist in the film industry, and the unraveling of a marriage of two people who don’t quite understand one another.
Movie #198/ New Movie #137/ 1980s Movie #18/ Scorsese Film #5: King of Comedy
An interesting riff on celebrity culture, with a very different performance by Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis quite believable as a late night host. This goes beyond cringe humor, with De Niro’s Rupert Pumpkins more pathetically lacking in self-awareness than pretty much any character ever.
Movie #199/ Silent Movie #11/ Nation’s Best Round 2 #5/ Criterion Edition #52: Phantom Carriage
This Swedish silent film seems very appropriate for New Years. Includes some truly iconic imagery, and a powerful story of sacrifice and redemption. The visuals are stunning, and this is probably one of the most chronologically complex silent films. It gets to some difficult questions and truths. It’s a movie that’s satisfying if you believe that the world is better if every one can be as self-sacrificing as Sister Edit, or if you believe that while some people aren’t beyond redemption, the effort and costs are too high. God damn, the Swedes are dark.
Movie #200/ New Movie #138/ 2019 Movie #24/ Seen In Theaters #22/ Oscars Conversation #3: 1917
Mendes adds to the single shot corpus with an excellent story about a particularly dangerous British mission during the first World War. The long unbroken take technique is used well to convey the sheer difficulty moment by moment, with some clever sequences and twists (IE- something big happening when the camera is on one of the leads.)
- Favorite 2019 Oscar Contender: The Irishman
- Favorite Italian Film: (Tough One) The Leopard
- Favorite Repeat: Memories of Underdevelopment
- Favorite Scorsese: The Irishman
- Favorite Criterion: The Leopard
- Favorite Nations’ Best: Memories of Underdevelopment
- Favorite Movie I Had Never Seen Before: The Leopard
- Favorite Movie Overall: Memories of Underdevelopment
- Favorite Silent Film: The Gold Rush
- Favorite New Silent Film: Napoleon
- Favorite 1930s Film: The Adventures of Robin Hood
- Favorite New 1930s Film: All Quiet on the Western Front
- Favorite 1940s Film: Paisan
- Favorite New 1940s Film: Paisan
- Favorite 1950s Film: Some Like It Hot
- Favorite New 1950s Film: Ben-Hur
- Favorite 1960s Film: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
- Favorite New 1960s Film: The Leopard
- Favorite 1970s Film: Rocky
- Favorite New 1970s Film: Kramer VS Kramer
- Favorite 1980s Film: Platoon
- Favorite New 1980s Film: All the Right Stuff
- Favorite 1990s Film: Pulp Fiction
- Favorite New 1990s Film: Barcelona
- Favorite 2000s Film: Lord of the Rings- Fellowship of the Ring
- Favorite New 2000s Film: Batman Beyond- Return of the Joker
- Favorite 2010s Film: Tree of Life
- Favorite New 2010s Film: Never Look Away
- Favorite 2019 Film: The Irishman
- Top Ten Films I’ve Never Seen Before: Paisan, The Irishman, Avengers Endgame, Salvatore Giuliano, The Leopard, Napoleon, Roma, Never Look Away, All the Right Stuff, Ben-Hur
- Favorite Overall Film: Some Like It Hot (although legitimately, it could have been Seven Samurai- another 50s film)