This is a continuation of observations on films I’ve seen this year. I’m using a film challenge that I saw online for the month of June. Full disclosure: these were sometimes out of order. For the hell of it, I’m trying to go with sub-challenges as well, with five Batman movies and five Jimmy Stewart movies.
Movie #92/ 1990s Movie #6/ 30 Day Challenge Day 1: Aladdin
I know for sure that it was the first movie I remember seeing in theaters. It’s got good songs, good characters and perhaps the best G-rated sidekick ever in Robin Williams’ genie. One thing that it does really well is the small moments, like when lava is popping to the left and right of the characters.
Movie #93/ 1980s Movie #8/ 30 Day Challenge Day 2: Terminator
It‘s a very 1980s film, in terms of clothing, music, the special effects, and action movie catchphrases. But it’s also really good in showing a woman grappling with her destiny, against an enemy that is relentless.
Movie #94/ New Movie #53/ 1960s Movie #12/ Criterion Edition #20/ 30 Day Challenge Day 3: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
It has a dark convoluted plot involving all sorts of double-crosses, but everything is tied up very well in the end. Richard Burton is astounding as a spy hitting middle-age who is bored with it all.
Movie #95/ 1990s Movie #7/ 30 Day Challenge Day 4: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
It’s tremendously effective as a sequel, showing how Sarah Connor was affected by her experiences, and giving her son the arc she had in the previous film, as the kid becomes the type of guy who could save man. The decision to make Schwarzenegger’s Terminator a hero in this one pays off big, taking advantage of his action hero charm, and adding a wrinkle to the man vs machine narrative by focusing on a robot slowly becoming more human.
Movie #96/ New Movie #54/ 2010s Movie #5/ 30 Day Challenge Day 5: Trumbo
Looking at all the scenes of him writing a lot of screenplays in a short amount of time is great inspiration for writers who procrastinate way too much. The film itself is just okay. Cranston’s excellent, even if the movie doesn’t really explore Dalton Trumbo’s beliefs or talent in serious depth.
Movie #97/ 2000s Movie #5/ 30 Day Challenge Day 6: Up
I can’t be sure that it’s my favorite animated film (it could just as easily have been Fantasia, Pinocchio, Finding Nemo, Wall-E) but this was a movie that couldn’t be done any other way. I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall when the writers explained they needed a nine-figure budget for a movie about a widower who attached thousands of balloons to his house, and goes on a journey. Obviously, the execution was tremendous.
Movie #98/ 1980s Movie #9/ 30 Day Challenge Day 7/ Criterion Edition #21: The Princess Bride
Day 7 of the 30-Day film challenge was a bit tough since I don’t rewatch movies a lot. As previous entries here show, well over half the time I watch a film it’s something I’ve never seen before. I do waste time checking out specific clips on Youtube, but that’s not the same as seeing the entire film. That said, I can never get tired of the Princess Bride. It’s such a great script, from someone whose work is very different (Butch Cassady & the Sundance Kid, Misery.) But the MVPS are Mandy Patankin & Andre the Giant as two of the best supporting characters in film. I just love their transition from memorable henchmen (overshadowing the other bad guys to be honest) to allies. They both got robbed of Oscar nominations.
Movie #99/ 2010s Movie #6/ 30 Day Challenge Day 8: Tron: Legacy
It is one of the best scores I’ve ever heard, and something I’ve listened to a lot. However, I haven’t seen the film since it was in theaters. And it’s fine. It is imperfect, but it is about something, has some impressive sequences, and uses Jeff Bridges pretty well, as his tech CEO is more zen and laid back than in the 80s original.
Movie #100/ Silent Movie #7/ 30 Day Challenge Day 9: The Adventures of Prince Achmed
Day 9 of the 30-Day film challenge is tough, since there aren’t that many critically acclaimed films that I didn’t like. I went with The Adventures of Prince Achmed, although I get that an experimental silent animated film may not be popular enough to count as universally loved. It’s visually impressive, with silhouette animation over color tints, in a manner that resembles shadow puppets. So I did appreciate it more, this time around, even if I’m not sure it’s a great approach for a full-length narrative. It does require some patience, as it’s easy to drift off and lose track of the plot, in a story involving magical transformations and flashbacks, and a guy’s realization (not really expanded on) that a major character is his brother in law. The viewer doesn’t have vocals or anything akin to traditional close-ups as a foothold in a silent movie where we mainly see flat silhouettes, and that all makes it even harder.
Movie #101/ 2000s Movie #6/ 30 Day Challenge Day 10/ Batman Movie #1: The Dark Knight
Picking The Dark Knight as a favorite superhero film is certainly not a surprising choice, but it’s obvious for a reason. It’s really, really good. Heath Ledger’s Joker is one of the best film villains ever, and he pushes everybody in an all-star cast to make successively difficult choices in a movie that has so many incredible action sequences and moments.
Movie #102/ 2000s Movie #7/ 30 Day Challenge Day 11: Cloverfield
Picking a movie I like in a genre I don’t is a bit tough, since I can appreciate films in most genres. I wasn’t particularly fond of monster movies, disaster films, and found footage, so I went with Cloverfield. It works pretty well. I haven’t seen it since it was in theaters, so it was a little odd to recognize some actors who have since gone on to bigger stuff (Lizzy Caplan, T.J. Miller) while the once obscure director has gone on to Planet of the Apes sequels and the new Batman. Miller’s cameraman annoys the hell out of me, although it does sell the idea that this idiot would record everything. There are some great sequences, and twists, and they use the limited understanding of the characters pretty well.
Movie #103/ 1990s Movie #8/ 30 Day Challenge Day 12/ Batman Movie #2: Batman Returns
I guess superhero movies have to be my favorite genre, just given my interest in comics, and I really didn’t care for Batman Returns, although others died, since it’s at 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, strange for such an oddball blockbuster. I get why some people like it, but not a supermajority of critics. The production design, and small moments are good. But the whole story is built on flawed premises. I get that it’s a superhero film, but some of it is just too silly. Selina Kyle has a bad fall, and gains powers. This take on the Penguin was literally raised by penguins. And it’s hard to buy the ugly duckling phase of Michelle Pfeiffer’s character arc, because it was Michelle Pfeiffer. Tim Burton did obviously get to make the movie he wanted, and the box office shows it resonated with audiences.
Movie #104/ 2010s Movie #7/ 30 Day Challenge Day 13: Best of Enemies
For Day 13, I spent a lot of time thinking about movies that made me think. There are a few, but even when I appreciate a movie on an intellectual level, it doesn’t always put me in deep thoughts. This documentary Best of Enemies, about the 1968 debates between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr, does qualify. While it doesn’t delve seriously into the policy arguments, it does get into some big process arguments, which I’ve always been interested in. How do we determine the winner of an argument? Should someone be defined by one weak moment? Is an argument about an issue, or the underlying subtext, like which way of life is better? What’s fair in an intellectual argument? You can watch the film and think that this kind of rigorous extensive debate is missing in modern television. But it also led to much of modern television/ podcast commentary, and the idea of politics as entertainment. There are some questions I’d have liked to see interrogated a little more, like whether Gore Vidal was really the best choice to represent the left, given his opposition to Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey. Questions about the choices made lead me to think about the movie more.
Movie #105/ 1960s Movie #13/ Criterion Edition #22/ Swedish Film#1/ 30 Day Challenge Day 14: Winter Light
I went with this one party because there’s a documentary on the making of it that I’ve been meaning to watch. This was a bleak film, with a minister dealing with a crisis of faith and meaning in rural Sweden during the winter, at a time when very few bother to go to church. It’s made darker by his constant refusal to accept something good into his life. A cliched answer to questions of meaning (as seen in the Day 15 film) is that love is what matters most, so this minister is a widower, who knew love and has not recovered from its absence. And he doesn’t even realize how much he’s hurting the people around him. It’s especially true when he fails one of his congregants, and we’re not clear if he understands how an analysis of Christ and his apostles might just relate to him. This is a brilliant film, but it is depressing, and that isn’t alleviated by thinking about it rationally.
Movie #106/ 1940s Movie #10/ Criterion Edition #23/ 30 Day Challenge Day 15: A Matter of Life and Death
It might have an auspicious start for a film that makes me happy, as it kicks off with David Niven as a pilot jumping out of a burning aircraft without a parachute. And then it deals with the ramifications of his survival, as he falls in love and protests when representatives from heaven explain that his survival was a big misunderstanding. Even with the serious themes of the meaning of life, and a few tragic deaths, it’s a beautiful film about people being pleasant to one another. It’s quite similar to It’s a Wonderful Life, which is one of my favorite movies ever.
Movie #107/ New Movie #55/ 1970s Movie #12/ Criterion Edition #24/ 30 Day Challenge Day 16: 1984
From what I remember of George Orwell’s novella, it is a faithful and well-done adaptation. I wonder if it would be accessible to someone who hasn’t read the book, although the imagery of Big Brother is iconic and widespread enough that the internal struggles of a character who can not articulate what he truly thinks can remain comprehensible. John Hurt is excellent the minor propaganda functionary, showing the miserableness and the small amount of spirit in a story that looks at just what it takes to crush that spirit.
Movie #108/ 2000s Movie #8/ 30 Day Challenge Day 17: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Extended Edition)
I definitely watched this one a bit out of order, because the four-hour extended edition is a monster for one weekday. It’s not perfect, but it is brilliant, likely the best adaptation of the fantasy genre to the screen. Gollum and Gandalf were the series MVPs, but the finale gives Aragorn and Samwise a chance to shine, mixing the epic and the small. In this story, there are some truly impressive battle sequences, but it’s also a world in which a death-trap takes hours to spring and someone can be framed for the theft of some bread. And it all works.
Movie #109/ 1950s Movie #8/ 30 Day Challenge Day 18/ Jimmy Stewart Film #1: Winchester ’73
Jimmy Stewart is probably my favorite actor. The first of his five collaborations with director Anthony Mann is a relatively brief western that ties some touchstones (the reaction to Custer’s last stand, Wyatt Earp) with a revenge saga.
Movie #110/ New Movie #56/ 1960s Movie #14/ 30 Day Challenge Day 19: Marnie
This was the highest ranked Hitchcock film I hadn’t seen yet according to the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1,000. It was weird. There are intermittent moments of genius, but there are also some slow stretches, and the leads are often unlikable. Tippi Hedrin plays a compulsive thief, and Sean Connery essentially plays a sexual blackmailer. And the final revelations are really dark. It’s more interesting for the WTF moments than as a work of art. At this point, Frenzy is probably the biggest Hitchcock film I’ve never said. I’ll probably enjoy that one more.
Movie #111/ Silent Movie #8/ Criterion Edition #25/ 30 Day Challenge Day 20: The Passion of Joan of Arc
I’m not sure that there’s any film that has seriously changed the direction of my life. Marketa Lazerova got me on a kick on watching films from the Czech New Wave, or that rated as a country’s best. It’s a Wonderful Life was one of my favorite movies ever for some time, until I saw The Godfather. Some films have had an impact on the world, and it’s possible that there’s something in Reagan’s filmography that I haven’t seen but that did in some lead to him becoming President. The Passion of Joan of Arc has increased my awareness of the potential of the medium, and the possibilities with older film. It may also have the best performance ever. Maria Falconetti is stunning as a world-historic figure pushed to the limit. And it’s a silent film largely in close-up, so she doesn’t have the advantage of being able to rely on her voice or body language. And it’s not clear that anyone’s ever been better. Watching it again, it’s an astounding high stakes story of one woman’s determination to stick to her principles even if it means death, and a martyr slowly realizing that God isn’t going to be able to save her.
Movie #112/ 1930s Movie #11/ Criterion Edition #26/ 30 Day Challenge Day 21: Limite
I have fallen asleep watching Limite, an experimental silent film with long stretches of soothing music in which very little happens, and what does happen often occurs very slowly. The visuals are often lovely and evocative. But it is so easy to lose focus in a narrative that isn’t the easiest to follow to begin with.
Movie #113/ 2010s Movie #8/ 30 Day Challenge Day 22: 12 Years A Slave
When selecting a movie that made me angry, I decided to go with something that was well-made, rather than something that pissed me off because of serious mistakes. This is a powerful take on the horrors of slavery in the United States, and the fundamental unfairness of the situation that Solomon Northup found himself in, and that so many people were unable to escape. Every aspect of it works. The cast, and production are excellent. The Shakespearean approach to dialogue creates a sense of timelessness, while appropriate to the setting. The one artistic decision I’ll disagree with involves Brad Pitt’s role. He plays someone Solomon trusted with his story. He should have played the other guy.
Movie #114/ 1990s Movie #9/ 30 Day Challenge Day 23/ Batman Movie #4: Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero
Selected a film made by a director who passed away was a pretty easy challenge for me, as I probably meet it with a good chunk of the films I see. Director Boyd Kirkland sadly passed away in 2011. It comes across as a decent two-parter of the show, padded to 65 minutes. It’s not great, but it does provide a conclusion to “Heart of Ice” so that’s always worthwhile.
Movie #115/ 1950s Movie #9/ 30 Day Challenge Day 24/ Jimmy Stewart Film #2: Vertigo
I wanted to catch Vertigo, when it was playing for a night in one of New York’s independent theaters a few years back, but it got sold out. It’s really good, although I’m a bit perplexed by its insane popularity with film critics and professionals. I completely get placing it on a Top 100. But best of all time, according to Sight & Sound? It’s easy to describe what happens, but not necessarily why it works as well as it does, a slow burn with a truly satisfying payoff and amazing visuals.
Movie #116/ 1960s Movie #15/ 30 Day Challenge Day 25/ Jimmy Stewart Film #3: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
It’s an excellent western, exploring some themes that are commonplace (the transition from one era to another, the bringing of law and order to a land of violence) but never quite this well, with all-time greats Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and Lee Marvin on different sides. This is a story with some sympathy for the loser in the transition, and perhaps the greatest twist of any western.
Movie #117/ 1950s Movie #10/ 30 Day Challenge Day 26/ Jimmy Stewart Movie #4: Harvey
It’s just a lot of fun. Harvey exemplifies Stewart’s screen persona, as someone who chooses to be pleasant, even if there is some weirdness around. Josephine Hull is a standout as the sister, driven to the edge of her brother’s peculiarities, although her character arc is quite satisfying.
Movie #118/ 1990s Movie #10/ 30 Day Challenge Day 27: Visions of Light
Because this look at the history of cinematography essentially serves as a “Best Of” for the medium, it is pound for pound, one of the most visually impressive films ever. It’s a decent look at how cinematographers do their job, and how they adapt to technological change.
Movie #119/ 2019 Movie #10/ Batman Film #5/ 30 Day Challenge Day 28: Joker
It’s uncomfortable on every level, with appropriate cringe moments for the inept lead, and some tough questions about mental illness and the particular value or whether it should be enjoyed. Second time watching it, I’m definitely on the side defending its artistic merit. It’s well-made, with a fantastic score and cinematography, as well as a powerful lead performance from Joaquin Phoenix as a pathetic man who finds meaning by doing some truly reprehensible things.
Movie #120/ 1950s Movie #111/ 30 Day Challenge Day 29/ Jimmy Stewart Film #5: Rear Window
It’s a fantastic thriller, and looking at this and Vertigo, I’m getting an appreciation for Hitchcock’s skill at the slow burn, so that we start caring about the characters when the movie shifts to life and death stakes. The romantic arc is a little annoying, with Stewart’s injured photographer eclipsed by his perfect girlfriend. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Grace Kelly?
Movie #121/ 2010s Movie #9/ 30 Day Challenge Day 30/ Batman Movie #5: The Dark Knight Rises
It was an excellent ending to the best superhero adaptation. Because Ledger’s Joker was so good, Hardy’s Bane is somewhat overshadowed, but he is one of the great film villains. DKR builds nicely on the consequences of the lies from The Dark Knight, with some big questions that remain very timely. The cast is astounding, and the collapse of Gotham City sets up a great final challenge for the Batman.
One thing that could be an interesting variation of the #30DayFilmChallenge is a version where you can’t choose any movie directed by a white guy. Some of that could be tough. I legitimately don’t know what the first movie I’ve seen not directed by a white man would be. Granted, I could see people being nervous about admitting when they’ve dozed off during a movie directed by a woman or person of color.