As was the case last year, I’m keeping track of the films I watch. I’m not going to recordg what year they came out, although I will note the format.
For this group I added a sub-challenge: ten movies that have made me think and five films by African American directors.
Movie #1/ Movie That Made Me Think #1: Donnie Darko (DVD)
I haven’t seen it in a while, and remember being more impressed by the philosophical questions last time. It’s a bit pretentious, but I do appreciate how fully realized the people around Donnie Darko are. Darko is a bit of an exception, as he’s hard to figure out. When he does obnoxious stuff, is it because of side effects from medication, because his imaginary rabbit best friend tells him to do it, because of his mental health issues or because he feels like it? The answers may very well vary depending on the situation which makes for an inscrutable protagonist.
Movie #2/ Movie That Made Me Think #2: The Social Network (DVD)
Probably my favorite straightforward drama of the 21st Century. It’s simultaneously inspirational telling the story of someone making a fortune with a bold idea, and a cautionary tale about excess and having the wrong priorities. One of the things Fincher and Sorkin do very well is to have really loaded scenes with a lot going on at once. The soundtrack is also fantastic. Perhaps I should have accepted the message of not wasting so much time online much earlier in my life.
Movie #3/ Movie That Made Me Think #3: Daisies (Criterion DVD)
This surrealist farce makes me think in a different way, as I’m trying to figure out what’s going on, what the director is trying to say, the reasons for artistic choices (jump cuts, color filters) when not swept in by the mischief.
Movie #4/ New Movie #1: Remembering History- The Battle of Algiers (Criterion Blu-Ray)
This was historical context for The Battle of Algiers included as a supplement in The Battle of Algiers Criterion Blu-Ray. It’s a decent talking heads documentary from the people who participated in an international conflict, and have varying degrees of regret about what they did.
Movie #5/ New Movie #2: Gillo Pontecorvo: Dictatorship of Truth, Gillo Pontecorvo’s Return to Algiers, Marxist Poetry: The Making of Battle of Algiers (Criterion Blu-Ray)
I’m counting several documentaries ranging from 40 to 58 minutes included in The Battle of Algiers Criterion Edition as one film. They provide insights into the artistry of the film and what was going on behind the scenes, especially with the stories of how the cast was chosen. An episode of a French mini-series State of Arms is a highlight where a top official implies he may have killed someone and made it look like a suicide.
Movie #6/ Movie That Made Me Think #4: The Battle of Algiers (Criterion Blu-Ray)
A genius of the film is taking Italian neorealism to a new setting: the battle against (and I suppose, for) French colonialism in Algiers. There is a great sense of scale, and setting, along with a fantastic score by Morricone that seems to be an appropriate mix of folk music, military marching band and machinery. The extras on the Criterion Blu-Ray did help with the historical context.
Movie #7/ Movie That Made Me Think #5: 1984 (Criterion Blu-Ray)
I do appreciate how well-realized and lived in this version of Oceania is. The film conveys how broken everything is, and how defeated the people look. With all the talk about what is Orwellian, it is worth noting that the ultimate betrayal at the end reveals an even darker message and possibility than the majority of the film. John Hurt is really good at playing a cog in an alien environment, where it is difficult to articulate basic human needs and emotions, although Richard Burton may have the superior performance, with a tone that is just perfect for his role.
Movie #8/ Movie That Made Me Think #6: The Truman Show (Epix)
While the film has a lot to say about the media, and the reality we’re presented with, what I’ve thought about more is how much Truman was impacted by a college romance a decade earlier. It’s an excellent showcase for Jim Carrey, although Ed Harris is fantastic as the showrunner orchestrating every facet of Truman’s life while essentially loving him from afar. I do like the score; it reminds me a lot of Murray Gold’s Doctor Who work.
Movie #9/ Movie That Made Me Think #7: Town Bloody Hall (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s a Cinéma vérité about an interesting debate that does highlight differences between four strands of feminism (lesbian separatism, political activist, radical, old-fashioned academic) and has a lot of great moments. Norman Mailer is an interesting character as the male establishment punching bag although he focused way too much on his own neuroticism. It ends anticlimactically, which isn’t the fault of D.A. Pennebaker. It does have a really clever opening credits sequence, as a protester yells out everyone’s name.
Movie #10/ New Movie #3: The Current War Directors Cut (Showtime)
This is a type of movie I often really like (contest of ideas between intelligent people in American history), and it may be worth analyzing in greater detail for why it’s an okay film, but not great. It’s a standard Cumberbatch performance, and his Edison dominates everyone else, including the combined rivals. The conflict has good moments, but it just isn’t spectacular or meaningful for Edison, who loses something more important well before that.
Movie #11/ New Movie #4: Ham on Rye (Mubi)
This is a strange independent film about an odd ritual that isn’t much explained, which gives it an interesting tone, although it compromises narrative integrity. It starts with pleasant enough teen hijinks, but there is an unsettling undercurrent before we get to the one supernatural event. There is an emotional truth with the subsequent change in the narrative, as someone tries to figure out how things are suddenly so different. It’s not the most satisfying film, but every choice is deliberate.
Movie #12/ New Movie #5: Paradise Hills (Showtime)
This sci-fi film about young women being reeducated in a mysterious island setting seems to have a lot of elements inadequately cobbled together. The sets and costumes are nice, giving it a weird Alice in Wonderland/ The Fifth Element vibe. The central mistake may be the lack of attention to the dystopian world outside the events in this rehab center, which prevents the characters from being more than cliches. The acting, blocking and script are also rather weak.
Movie #13/ Movie That Made Me Think #8: Contempt (Criterion DVD)
The conflicts on the set of the movie get into some interesting arguments about art VS commerce, but the more interesting conflict is the collapse of the marriage, and the effort to pinpoint when and how it occurred. Jack Palanche’s obnoxious American producer is a false note (he should have been playing an American actor controlling a production), although there is some fun with mistranslations.
Movie #14/ New Movie #6: The Story of Temple Drake (Criterion DVD)
At one point, this film was so shocking that it disappeared from circulation for decades, and led to the creation of the Hayes Code. Now it’s a somewhat dated and weirdly paced crime movie, although it is beautifully shot. The first half is weaker, with Miriam Hopkins as a hedonist by the standards of 1930s Hollywood, although the second half is more interesting, as she finds herself stuck in terrible situations.
Movie #15/ New Movie #7: Brian’s Song (Epix)
This TV movie featured the breakout performances of James Caan and Billie Dee Williams as two very different NFL teammates from the beginning of their friendship to a final illness. It’s very quick, carried by the likability of the leads.
Movie #16/ Movie That Made Me Think #9: The Imitation Game (Roku Channel)
The story of a genius who accomplishes great things in World War 2 gets into some interesting questions about the right way to approach complex problems, the necessity of even geniuses building interpersonal relationships, the tragedy of how a great man was wronged, and the dilemma of figuring out what to do after they accomplish their great task. Cumberbatch’s Turing starts out a bit obvious, but reveals layers, which elevates some weaknesses in the film. It deserved the Oscar nominations it got.
Movie #17/ New Movie #8: Spontaneous (Epix)
I was a bit surprised that I hadn’t heard about a dark high school comedy that came out last year, and was at 98% at Rotten Tomatoes. The story of the reactions of a town to spontaneous explosions is weirdly prescient in showing the reaction and panic to an unpredictable medical event. There’s a major tonal shift, although it does work in a story about senseless mayhem and its aftermath.
Movie #18/ New Movie #9: The King and the Mockingbird (Mubi)
It’s a beautiful and strange animated film that has its own voice, separate from what we’re used to from Disney, Looney Tunes or the geniuses of anime. It’s a hodgepodge of a lot of ideas, but they generally blend together pretty well, creating a sense of a world where anything can happen.
Movie #19/ Movie That Made Me Think #10: I Am Not Your Negro (Netflix)
The transformation of an early draft of a never-completed James Baldwin memoir is a clever and thought-provoking take on race and storytelling, and the question of how much has changed since his time. When Bobby Kennedy made his prescient statement in the 1960s that there may be an African-American president in forty years, Baldwin was arguing that it was possible, but that it wouldn’t be enough.
Movie #20/ New Movie #10: Lone Wolf and Cub- Baby Cart in Peril (Criterion Blu-Ray)
This entry into the Lone Wolf saga combines multiple stories. The tattooed assassin story was one of my favorites in the manga, but this adaptation is just okay. The direction seems a bit boring. The film crystalizes what works and doesn’t about Tomisaburo Wakayama’s take on Ogami Itto. He can never be the instantly imposing swordsman from the manga, but it does make sense that he’s always underestimated.
Movie #21/ New Movie #11: Robin Hood Men in Tights (Blu-Ray)
It’s not on the level of Mel Brooks’ best parodies, but it is fun and certainly an improvement over Prince of Thieves, a film it riffs a lot. It makes me wish Cary Elwes had more lead roles after The Princess Bride.
Movie #22/ New Movie #12: The Vast of Night (Amazon Prime)
It’s a decent take on a story that’s been done before (alien abductions in a small southwest town) elevated by the story of how the leads figure out something weird is going on, and the hints of a larger mystery as they face something incomprehensible. There are some bold storytelling choices, most of which (extended sequence of a character using 1950s technology to communicate, a lengthy conversation with a caller to a radio show, an unbroken long shot through the entire town) work pretty well.
Movie #23/ New Movie #13: Croupier (Showtime)
I had never heard about the movie until I looked up old National Board of Review top tens. It had an interesting hook (British neonoir about a casino employee/ struggling writer who gets dragged into a robbery by a dangerous woman) and it was on Showtime. There’s a good sense of atmosphere, and it captures what these second-tier casinos are like. Clive Owen’s protagonist has a detached view of everything that fits pretty well, although the plot he gets into is rather vague, which makes the twists somewhat hollow.
Movie #24: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Showtime)
It reminds me of Michael Curtz’s early two-color technicolor films, which weren’t that good either. I can see why the director was so hyped and then never did anything again despite working on a major studio film with a top-tier cast. The actors seem bored with what’s going on, and there’s a twist with the villain that explains why he’s played by Laurence Olivier (who had been dead for 17 years by the time the movie comes out) but that means we don’t have much of an antagonist for the generic aviator and girl reporter.
Movie #25/ New Movie #14: Martin Eden (Mubi)
There’s a weird anachronistic approach to this film, which transplants Jack London’s 1909 American novel Martin Eden to an Italy that is hard to place (everyone has TVs but the country gets involved in war, the debates on socialism seem to come from the early 20th century but the fashion and transportation comes later) which makes it hard to get a context for the struggling writer. Luca Marinelli is good at depicting the writer’s passion and individualism, as well as his transformation from a striver to a disillusioned “success.”
An aim for February will be to watch the five episodes of Small Axe, five more movies by black directors, and five films with Viola Davis.