I’m continuing an analysis of the list of films I’ve seen this year. The goal in this batch is to finish the decade sub-goals (counting the silent era up until 1929 as one decade and 2018 and 2019 in separate categories), watch five movies that are longer than three hours each, as well as five movies from Christopher Nolan’s list of thirty favorite movies. “New Movie” simply means a film I hadn’t seen before.
Movie #81/ New Movie #50/ 1930s Era #8: The Union Pacific
As with many films on locomotive history, I watched this with my train buff dad. Apparently, this Cecil B Demille film shares some credit with Stagecoach for making the Western more prestigious. It’s an interesting concept covering the struggles with building the railroad, and a rivalry between two former soldiers, one who wants to protect the railroad and the other trying to sabotage it, a metaphor for the struggles of the country reuniting after the Civil War. It’s okay although structurally flawed, with multiple climaxes.
Movie #82/ New Movie #51/ Silent Movie #5/ German Film #2: Faust
Murnau’s take on the fable is quite lovely. The opening covers the territory you expect with the devil making an offer to an elderly scientist, and the ending is bleak. The middle drags covering a well-told if generic love affair, although it does set up the tragedy that follows pretty well.
Movie #83/ 1960s Movie #13/ French Film #1/ Criterion Film #18: Vivre Sa Vie
I wanted to catch this on Kanopy before my subscription expired. It’s exceptional, a formally interesting film (twelve vignettes in different styles) that tell a satisfying and complete story in 82 minutes, with a tremendous lead performance by Anna Karina as a disillusioned Parisian.
Movie #84/ New Movie #52/ 2019 Film #5: Spider-Man: Far From Home
It’s a decent set-up for a different kind of Spider-Man story, with Peter and his friends having fun on a road trip in Europe while he’s dragged into a superhero adventure. Jake Gyllenhal’s Mysterio is exceptional, a great fit for the actor, especially in the second half of the film. The main story repeats some major beats from Homecoming (A bad guy uses tech from earlier MCU films; Spider-Man tries to get the approval of an iconic MCU hero) and there’s a big difference between the stakes and what the character wants, but it gets better as the true narrative becomes apparent. And the ending is fantastic.
Movie #85/ 1970s Movie #10: Rocky
It’s a bit weird to watch this film in the wake of all the sequels in which Rocky Balboa is acknowledged as a legendary fighter. Here, he’s introduced as a “bum” (and it’s a bit odd to see him so young) who makes his living as an enforcer for loan sharks, and has never gotten an opportunity. It’s a different type of film. His arc is great, one of the best in any sports movie, and the rest of the cast is terrific, with Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith and Burt Young deserving their Oscar nods, and Carl Weathers getting robbed as the showman champion Apollo Creed.
Movie #86/ New Movie #53/ 1940s Movie #5/ Criterion Film #19: Thief of Bagdad
This Aladdin story has much to offer, with some great sets and sequences. It’s largely overshadowed by earlier and later work, with Douglas Fairbank’s silent film and the later Disney Aladdin surpassing it. The Criterion edition has a commentary by Scorcese and Copolla, which covers the craft and the impact it had on a particular generation of filmgoers for whom this was essentially Star Wars/ Lord of the Rings.
Movie #87/ New Movie #54/ 2010s Film #7: The Hitman’s Bodyguard
It’s not a terrible twisted buddy action comedy, with some decent set pieces and interplays between Samuel L Jackson and Ryan Reynolds. Some of the twists are predictable. It is elevated by Salma Hayek’s brief role as the hitman’s wife.
Movie #88/ New Movie #55/ 2019 Film #6: Toy Story 4
Pixar once again pulls off the hat trick of giving a sequel that continues logically from what came before, which also introducing some new concepts and variations on the larger themes. Here, it’s the lost toys, and the messed up Forky, a sentient arts and craft project that wants to die. There is an exploration of what children need that is quite moving, and the antagonist’s story is marvelous.
Movie #89/ New Movie #56/ 2018 Film #6: Hotel Artemis
A hospital from criminals in the near future is an interesting concept for a crime drama, with the time period allowing for new social movements and medical technology without radically changing too much else. Jodie Foster is terrific as the operator, even if they lean in to her agoraphobia too much, but the execution is bland.
Movie #90/ New Movie #57/ 1950s Movie #8: The Lavender Hill Club
It’s a solid brief comedy caper about some relatively inept thieves led by two middle-class intellectuals. Alec Guiness is excellent as a fastidious bank clerk who has been making a cultivated effort to be a less likely suspect for the inevitable robbery.
Movie #91/ 1940s Movie #6/ Criterion Film #20: Notorious
Definitely a top ten Hitchcock and probably a top five (Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest, Rear Window- yeah, top five checks out.) I’m not sure Grant, Bergman or Claude Rains have ever been better than in this suspense drama essentially about a whirlwind romance where a power play leads to a young woman risking her life against former Nazis.
Movie #92/ New Movie #58/ 1990s Movie #5/ Criterion Edition (Seriously) #21: The Rock
It’s Michael Bay so it’s often over the top and has some serious flaws, but the concept is solid, Sean Connery is excellent as essentially a James Bond who has been imprisoned for decades as a political embarrassment, and the bad guy is relatively nuanced, making some good use of Ed Harris. Nicholas Cage’s slightly zany and inexperienced chemical specialist makes a decent partner for Connery.
Movie #93/ New Movie #59/ Silent Movie #6/ Russian Movie #1: Aelita: Queen of Mars
It’s a relatively generic silent melodrama about a man suspicious of his wife, elevated by fantasy sequences about life on Mars. The constructivist sets and costumes are probably the highlight of the film, which lags when it tackles other issues, although the narrative strands come together well enough. Still I could see why director Yakov Protazanov doesn’t have the reputation of Eisenstein, Vertov or Dovzhenko.
Movie #94/ New Movie #60/ 2018 Film #7: Bohemian Rhapsody
I could definitely see why it has so many negative reviews. The other bandmates of Queen are kinda generic, some of the beats of the character arc aren’t quite earned (especially when you’re aware of the film’s notable inaccuracies) and the conflicts are often repetitive (the band wants to do something new; the suits say no; the band persists and succeeds) but it also fun. Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury is exceptional.
Movie #95/ New Movie #61 1980s Film #6: Starman
Enjoyable take on a truly alien extraterrestrial ably played by Jeff Bridges tying to understand humanity. Works very well as a road movie romance, just with one character who has the power of life and death.
Movie #96/ New Movie #62/ 2018 Film #8: A Star is Born
Consistently enjoyable story about a new singer’s rise to fame and her romance with her alcoholic mentor. The best performance might be Sam Shepherd as his brother/ mentor pissed off at wasting his life on someone so flawed. It’s not a shocker that Lady Gaga sings exceptionally, but she handles the other facets of the character quite well.
Movie #97/ New Movie #63/ 1930s Movie #9/ Criterion Film #21: The Awful Truth
Enjoyable on its own merits or as a bit of a historical artifact, as a Depression era comedy of remarriage which may have also marked Cary Grant’s first fully formed performance.
Movie #98/ New Movie #64/ 1940s Movie #7/ Criterion Film #22: Moonrise
An acclaimed later work by Frank Borzage, best known for his silent work (he won the first Best Director Oscar). It’s a noir but a different type, covering efforts to redeem a young murderer. Beautiful film thanks to Borzage and Psycho cinematographer John L Russel.
Movie #99/ New Movie #65/ 1980s Movie #7/ Nolan’s Favorite Films #1/ Longer Film #1: The Right Stuff
This is an excellent epic about the early days of the space race, balancing Sam Shepherd’s Chuck Yeager, the last of the World War 2 flyboys, with the Mercury Seven, including star turns by Ed Harris and Dennis Quaid.
Movie #100/ New Movie #66/ 2018 Movie #9/ Nolan’s Favorite Films #2: First Man
An excellent take on one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments, and the man who pulled it off. It covers the inner strength and struggles of the famously taciturn Neil Armstrong, a man likely to be remembered a thousand years from now.
Movie #101/ 1940s Movie #8/ Nolan’s Favorite Films #3: Foreign Correspondent
The World War 2 thriller is a rather generic Hitchcock. There are some impressive set pieces, and decent propaganda.
Movie #102/ New Movie #67/ 1940s Movie #9: Cabin in the Sky
Clips of this film have been used to add diversity to montages of musicals and dance sequences. It’s probably one of the best showcases for African American musical talent for the era, although it starts out a bit stiff, a reminder that it’s Vincent Minnelli’s debut as film director. A story of devils and angels fighting for the soul of a flawed man does have some interesting twists.
Movie #103/ 1980s Movie #8/ German Film #3/ Longer Film #2: Das Boot (Director’s Cut)
Wolfgang Peterson makes a lengthy film about Nazis in a largely enclosed environment compelling, showing the everyday struggles of people on the losing end of one of the worst causes in human history.
Movie #104/ 1990s Movie #6: The Blair Witch Project
I first saw it as a teenager and was kinda bored. Now, I appreciate how they capture the sense of inept grad students making a documentary that goes very very bad. The finale is still a let-down.
Movie #105/ New Movie #68/ 2018 Movie #10: The Favourite
Weird contest of wills between a queen, her best friend and a newcomer. The cinematography and main performances are exceptional.
Movie #106/ Silent Movie #7/ Criterion Edition #23: The Gold Rush
Technically, I saw the 1942 director’s cut, which removed the intertitles for Charlie Chaplins’ narration. The approach worked pretty well, and I’m surprised that it wasn’t done more, although it might work better with comedies. And this might be the funniest movie of the silent era, with some all-time great sequences and a suitably desperate setting for the Tramp.
Movie #107/ 1950s Movie #9/ Nolan’s Favorite Films #4/ Criterion Edition #24: 12 Angry Men
Lumet keeps an argument between twelve unnamed men in a jury room fascinating. It’s relevant now as a defense of the need to have rational arguments and to follow the rules of society.
Movie #108/ Silent Movie #8/ Criterion Edition #25: Safety Last
Harold Lloyd’s salesman being in a position where he’s forced to climb a skyscraper may be the funniest set piece in any silent movie ever made. This a tremendous comedy and showcase for a talent who has lost his standing relative to Keaton and Chaplin for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of his work (Lloyd demanded a lot of money for anyone who wanted to show his films during his lifetime) or the absence of a great screen persona.
Movie #109/ New Movie #69/ German Movie #4/ 2018 Film #11/ Longer Film #3: Never Look Away
A three-hour plus film about a German artist’s path to self-discovery is quite watchable. Part of it is the change in settings. Sebastian Koch might honestly be the decade’s greatest villain in film; a eugenicist doctor who is able to prosper in multiple societies despite his monstrous deeds.
Movie #110/ 1990s Movie #7: Quiz Show
It’s a solid story of investigation and the changes in value in a new era. Some of the arguments about honesty in quiz shows will be quaint, but it’s interesting to see a period in which these questions are new and tackled seriously in ways that are more complex than even the investigator appreciates.
Movie #111/ New Movie #70/ 1990s Movie #8/ Criterion Edition #26: The Last Days of Disco
Whit Stilman’s take on the experiences of two roommates in the disco scene of the early 80s has wit, and a self-aware take on people who intellectualize everything.
Movie #112/ New Movie #71/ Silent Movie #9/ German Movie #5: Diary of a Lost Girl
This is a tremendous showcase for Louise Brooks as an initially naive pharmacist’s daughter who deals with scandal and limited opportunity in a frank manner.
Movie #113/ 2010s Film #8: Veronica Mars
I watched this again after seeing how much the mini-series dealt with the ramifications of events here. This works pretty well as a coda to one of my favorite TV shows and as a satisfying enough mystery about the worst high school reunion ever.
Movie #114/ New Movie #72/ 2010s Film #9: Valerian and the City of 1,000 Planets
It’s sometimes visually quite interesting, but I can completely understand why it’s flopped. It’s one of the films worth analyzing for all the reasons it didn’t work in terms of world-building and setting up consistently compelling stakes.
Movie #115/ New Movie #73/ 2010s Film #10: Prisoners
It’s a decent concept (desperate father kidnaps a man suspected of abducting his daughter) executed pretty well, with more nuance than expected and tremendous performances from all involved.
Movie #116/ New Movie #74/ 1990s Movie #9/ Criterion Edition #27: Barcelona
A Whit Stilman film about two upper-class cousins in Barcelona works pretty well, given the clash of personalities and the shift from light-hearted conflict to actual stakes when a WASP’s sarcastic comments are taken as evidence that he is an American spy, attracting the wrong kind of attention.
Movie #117/ New Movie #75/ 2019 Film #7: Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
Tarantino’s take on Hollywood in the late 60s as the golden age gives way to a more independent New Hollywood, has resulted in a lot of think pieces and is worth analyzing in terms of what he’s trying to say and whether he’s aware of the shortcomings of the characters. DeCaprio and Pitt make for great film buddies as a struggling actor and his handyman/ former stuntman. It is a fun take on the buildup to a massacre, unsettling in an interesting way.
Movie #118/ New Movie #76/ 2019 Film #8: Yesterday
It’s a good concept executed in a generally fun way as a struggling musician suddenly finds himself the only person aware of the music of the Beatles, and gets to pretend he invented all of it. The central love story is kinda generic, although Himesh Patel (doing well in his film debut) and Lily James have decent chemistry. I really don’t buy the guy’s final decision and why he ends up making it, especially in a world where many performers don’t write their own music.
Movie #119/ New Movie #77/ 1970s Movie #11/ Longer Film #4: Woodstock (Director’s Cut)
The lengthy documentary features tremendous performances and a fun take on the people affected by a chaotic cultural event (those who went there and those who live in the nearby town). The quality of the performances captured here may not be what the filmgoers experienced but this is a great concert film that did define Woodstock for the vast majority of Americans who didn’t go to a music event in Upstate New York.
Movie #120/ New Movie #78/ 1930s Movie #10/ Nolan’s Favorite Films #5: All Quiet on the Western Front
This early Best Picture winner about German soldiers in World War One is a tremendous take on the disillusionment of soldiers on the wrong side of a largely unnecessary war. There are some technical issues in the early Sound film, but it remains quite striking.
Movie #121/ New Movie #79/ French Film #2/ Silent Movie #10/ Longer Film #5: Napoleon
Abel Gance’s five hour epic about the rise of Napoleon is tremendous, with action sequences matching the ambition of the subject. It’s awe-inspiring, but often entertaining, from schoolboy fights to monumental moments in history (the first performance of the Marseillaise, the French Revolution, the Conquest of Italy.) The BFI restoration concludes one of the great efforts of cinematic recovery.
Movie #122/ New Movie #80/ 1980s Movie #9: To Be Or Not To Be
Mel Brooks’ take on Lubitsch’s 1942 Nazi satire is solid but largely unnecessary, with the exception of James Haake’s Sasha, who addresses the plight of gay people under the Nazis.
Movie #123/ New Movie #81/ 1980s Movie #10: The Dead
John Huston’s final film is a tremendous adaptation of a short story that has earned a reputation as one of the best ever. He pulls off the big and small moments in an Irish dinner party where he conveys the warmth, but it all leads to a devastating intimate revelation contrasting nicely with the questions of Irish identity and the changing of the times.
Movie #124/ New Movie #82/ 1980s Movie #11: The Goonies
I’m aware of the film as a cultural milestone, but was largely unaware of what type of story it was (I was expecting something like the Gremlins with weird alien creatures). Instead, it’s kids following a treasure map chased by felons. It’s old-fashioned with 1980s kids and class warfare. It’s fun but largely surpassed by other work of the era and about the era (Stranger Things, Super 8.)
Movie #125/ 1990s Movie #10: The Matrix
Watching the film for the first time in years, it really holds up. It does a great job setting up its own world with some interesting philosophical questions spliced with kickass fight scenes and a compelling team dynamic. It has taken on a power in new ways with the theme of real identities having a different meaning when the Wachowski brothers credited with the film have subsequently discovered they were trans women, and with the heroes’ perspective on the willingness to kill civilians potentially inspiring violence in the real world.
Movie #126/ New Movie #83/ 2019 Film #9: Shazam
The second best of the DCCU films has some fun with a classic concept (kid transforms into a superhero) while there’s solid heart in the travails of kids in a foster family, and a decent turn by Mark Strong as the bitter villain.
Movie #127/ New Movie #84/ 2019 Film #10: Detective Pikachu
The live action debut of the Pokemon world generally does a decent job translating that world to a different type of narrative. There’s some tonal inconsistency, although the central narrative of a young man trying to learn what happened to his absent father works pretty well.
Movie #128/ New Movie #85/ 1940s Film #10: God is my Co-Pilot
This relatively short patriotic war drama about the education of Mayor Robert Lee Scott was a favorite of my dad’s, so I watched it with him. It’s pretty straightforward, with a framing sequence that takes away the suspense from a section where the lead is presumed dead (although as his memoir was a best-seller, audiences at the time probably knew how things would turn out for him.) It does highlight the camaraderie of a famed Air Force unit The Flying Tigers, and features some decent aerial combat scenes.
Movie #129/ New Movie #85/ 1930s Era #11: Lady For a Day
I was interested in this one after reading about it in Capra’s memoirs. It’s definitely Capra-esque, having fun with a decent premise as an alcoholic apple lady pretends to be a woman of high society for her daughter’s visit with the help of criminals who realize there is joy in working tohether to help a stranger succeed. May Robson is tremendous, capturing the different facets of a character with multiple facades (the gentle peddler, the high class woman of society she pretends to be) as well as the priorities underneath.
Movie #130/ New Movie #86/ 1950s Movie #10/ Japanese Film #4/ Criterion Edition #28: Godzilla
Although that part is satisfying, the film isn’t just about Godzilla stomping through Tokyo, as he is smartly kept as a largely off-camera presence. The start is a bit generic as it takes a while for the main characters’ story to get interesting. The film picks up in the latter half by treating the consequences of a monster attack seriously (traumatized hospital survivors) and with the moral question of the final weapon unleashed against the monster.
And the rundown for this batch of films…
- Best film I hadn’t seen before: Napoleon (this was a good month.)
- Best longer film: Napoleon.
- Best film from Nolan’s list: 12 Angry Men.
- Best film overall: The Gold Rush