Films Seen in 2020 Part 6

This is a continuation of observations on films I’ve seen this year. The sub-goals are 5 films with Michelle Williams, 5 films with Casey Affleck (I’ve been slacking with watching more recent work so picking these two seems like a way to catch up), 5 films in which three or more actors were nominated for Academy Awards, and 5 pairs of films that competed for Oscars. Manchester By the Sea counts in all categories.

Movie #151/ 1990s Film #11/ 3 Acting Nominations #1/ Casey Affleck Movie #1/ Pair #1A: Good Will Hunting
Too many of the characters in the film are world-class intellects, but this is otherwise a good story about conflicting views of how to help a man with tremendous potential, and some serious flaws. Robin (not Michelle) Williams is amazing as the wise psychiatrist. The film is legitimately inspirational, and quite rewatchable.

Movie #152/ New Movie #82/ 2010s Movie #20/ Michelle Williams Film #1: Venom
Thanks to recent Sony announcements, this is officially the worst MCU film, and probably the worst Spider-Man adjacent film. It’s not terrible, just bland, wasting actors like Tom Hardy and (Michelle) Williams on a generic superhero origin story.

Movie #153/ 2019 Movie #11: Knives Out
This is an immensely satisfying and entertaining mystery, simultaneously old-fashioned (a suspicious murder and a surprising reading of the will) and modern (dealing with immigration, race and social media in the 21sr Century.) The cast is extraordinary (the star turn for Ana De Armas is the highlight), and the script is clever.

Movie #154/ New Film #83/ 2020 Movie #8: The Hunt
The controversy here was way too overblown, especially since the whole plot about liberal elites hunting Trump supporter types was not going to make the left look good.

Movie #155/ New Film #84/ 1980s Movie #14: Clue
After watching Knives Out again, I figured I’d check out an obvious influence. It’s fine, with some standout sequences, especially when some of the suspects try to distract an officer from noticing the corpse in the room.

Movie #156/ New Movie #85/ 2019 Movie #12: Long Shot
Decent high concept for a political romantic comedy, as a shlub goes after the ultimate women way out of his league; a young Secretary of State/ Presidential candidate. Do I buy everything? Nope. Some of the satire is too obvious even with Trump in the White House. But it’s fun.

Movie #157/ New Movie #86/ 2019 Movie #13: Frozen 2
An interesting sequel that explores some dark themes, as the royal sisters learn about the flaws of their ancestors. Maybe it’s a difference between Pixar and Disney, but the songs do get on my nerves on this one.

Movie #158/ New Movie #87/ 2019 Movie #14: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
This is a decent buddy pic about a cynical reporter and the nicest man in the world. Tom Hanks is great at showing a Mr. Rogers who is a great guy, but who still has to work hard at it.

Movie #159/ 2010s Movie #21: The Martian
It solidifies Ridley Scott as one of the great science fiction directors, with this, Alien and Blade Runner among the best top three of any director in any medium. It’s a really enjoyable piece about one man’s survival, both from his perspective, and the forces of Earth, unable to fully help him when he’s literally on a different planet.

Movie #160/ New Movie #88/ 1940s Film #12/ Pair #2A: Wilson
The biopic of Woodrow Wilson is not a great example of the Golden Age of Hollywood. I could see why it flopped. It’s episodic, without much of a narrative, as the President of Princeton becomes President of the United States during World War One. Major moments are skipped, including his entire decision and rationale for running for President. They do also gloss over the racism and civil liberties violations.

Movie #161/ New Movie #89/ 2010s Film #22/ 3 Acting Nominations #2/ Casey Affleck Movie #2/ Michelle Williams Film #2/ Pair #3A: Manchester By the Sea
It’s not as draining as you would think, in a film about a damaged family, and a guy trying to do the right thing by his nephew after his brother dies (which is by no means the worst thing that has happened to the family.) It is a well made film about a truly troubled family.

Movie #162/ New Movie #90/ 1940s Film #13/ 3 Acting Nominations #3/ Pair #2B: Going My Way
This is a bit unusual in the 3+ performances category as one actor was nominated in two categories. It’s a pleasant film about two priests learning to get along (there are initial conflicts, but they’re not enemies), with an ending that is truly powerful and well-earned.

Movie #163/ 1960s Film #19/ 3+ Acting Nominations #4/ Pair #3B: Judgment at Nuremberg
Maximilian Schell won an Oscar for the best performance in a film with Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift, as a lawyer walking a very fine line between defending Germany after World War II, and suggesting that anyone else could be capable of that. It’s a terrific film about some serious ideas.

Movie #164/ 2010s Film #23/ Michelle Williams Film #3: The Greatest Showman
The musical about PT Barnum is historically inaccurate, but has some legitimately moving moments, and fantastic showtunes. I completely understand why it was such a hit, and wouldn’t mind a sequel introducing Bailey.

Movie #165/ 1960s Movie #20/ French Film #5/ Criterion Edition #31: Alphaville
Watching it again, this Godard curiosity remains aggressively weird. It’s very much a noir, with Eddie Constantine playing detective Lenny Caution, just as he has in many other films. Except this time it’s by Godard with Anna Karina as the love interest. And its a sci fi dystopia, with very little special effects. But the computer is kind of a fascist, controlling a world where no one is allowed to show emotion. It’s more interesting than great.

Movie #166/ 2000s Movie #11/ Michelle Williams Film #4: I’m Not There
It’s an odd avant-garde film, with multiple actors playing facets of Bob Dylan, that will include a lot of references that don’t make any sense to the people who aren’t familiar with his story. Even under those circumstances, it does remain quite accessible.

Movie #167/ New Movie #91/ 2010s Movie #24/ 3+ Academy Nominated Performances #5/ Pair #4A: Vice
This is an oddball biopic that has to cover a lot of territory since it’s about a man who was White House Chief of Staff, a member of Republican leadership in Congress, Secretary of Defense and a consequential Vice President. When watching it, I’ll quibble on timing before realizing that they just skipped a big moment (IE- a rather close presidential reelection.) It’s a decent take on a man pulling himself together, and a look at a major Washington power couple, although it doesn’t seem to recognize how Cheney could view his actions as correct, even if it understands that he does.

Movie #168/ New Movie #92/ 2010s Movie #25/ Casey Affleck Movie #4: A Ghost Story
It’s a decent quiet movie about what matters of a man’s life when he has become a ghost, and ends up part of the future and history of a location.

Movie #169/  1970s Movie #15: THX-1138
The vision of a dystopia is rather well-realized and often quite modern. It is somewhat disorienting to consider whether scenes work because the film worked, or because an A-List Director with unlimited resources could play around with it after the fact.

Movie #170/ New Movie #93/ 2010s Movie #26: Time Trap
I’m a sucker for time travel films, so this story about college students bumbling into a cave where time goes differently is right up my alley. And there are some decent twists as they realize the scale of the weirdness.

Movie #171/ New Film #94/ 2020 Movie #8: The Old Guard
It’s a decent concept about an immortal team of mercenaries that results in some solid action sequences, and good twists on the concept. The main villain isn’t that interesting, although they do seed a better one for the sequel

Movie #172/ New Movie #95/ 1930s Movie #12/ Criterion Edition #32/ Pair #5A: The Smiling Lieutenant
As far as I can tell, Ernst Lubitsch and Maurice Chevalier have a rare distinction as the only director/ lead actor duo to be responsible for multiple Best Picture nominations in the same year (Francis Ford Copolla and John Cazale did The Godfather Part 2 and The Conversation together in the same year, but Cazale wasn’t lead) which speaks to their success. The comedy about a lieutenant who pisses off royalty by accidental impertinence is perfectly fine, especially when he has to choose between love and responsibility, and the film doesn’t go for the cliched choice.

Movie #173/ New Movie #96/ 1930s Movie #13/ Criterion Edition #33/ Pair #5B: One Hour With You
The other Lubitsch/ Chevalier film to earn a Best Picture nomination at the fifth Academy Awards. The songs are better, and the basic concept of a loving couple stumbling into adultery is a fun example of Pre-Code Hollywood, but there’s too much of a contrast between the light touch and the topic.

Movie #174/ New Movie #97/ 2010s Movie #27/ Pair #5B: First Reformed
This is an interesting film, worthy of deeper study that doesn’t require any familiarity with the influences, although I’m a little bit worried about its success among critics. I’m curious what happens if someone who isn’t especially politically engaged watches the movie with the understanding that critics think that Ethan Hawke’s minister has an attitude that makes sense.

Movie #175/  New Movie #98/ 1970s Movie #16: Frenzy
This is what happens when Hitchcock gets an R rating. The rape and gags involving naked corpses suggest that he worked better when restrained. It is kinda funny to see British actors I know exclusively from one TV performance decades later (Bernard Cribbins from Doctor Who, Clive Swift from Keeping up Appearances) in a radically different mystery.

Movie #176/ New Movie #99/ 2000s Movie #12/ Michelle Williams Movie #5: Meek’s Cutoff
There’s much about the film I don’t care for, but it is very deliberate in showing a version of what the west was like: indecisive miserable people on a dangerous journey where much was unknown.

Movie #177/ 1990s Film #14/ Pair #1B: L.A. Confidential
It’s a fun take on police during the Golden Age of Hollywood, with Spacey, Crowe and Pearce having a decent dynamic as different types of cops involved in a major conspiracy that doesn’t reach the depths of Chinatown, but remains kinda fun. Kim Basinger is a standout as a woman who represents the seedy side of Los Angeles.

Movie #178/ New Movie #100/ 2010s Movie #28/ Competition #1A/ / Pair #4B: Fences
This is an excellent domestic drama, with Denzel Washington’s Troy Maxson fully realized in his flaws and disappointments, and Viola Davis shining as the long-suffering wife wondering when it’s her turn.

Movie #179/ New Movie #101/ 2010s Movie #29/ Casey Affleck Movie #4: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
The story about a woman who screwed up and the lover who takes the fall makes for a decent crime drama. I will admit this is the point where the subcategories made it less fun to watch the damn movie, especially with Halloween coming up and new sub-challenges. It’s fine and it’s interesting.

Movie #180/ New Movie #102/ 2000s Movie #13/ Casey Affleck Movie #5: The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
It should not surprise anyone that a film with Roger Deakins is well-shot. Casey Affleck had well-deserved credit for his Robert Ford, a more complex figure than you may assume, although this film also has strong performances from Brad Pitt as the titular Jesse James, and Sam Rockwell as Ford’s brother. I may be a sucker for films that captures the mythos of America (My Darling Clementine, The New World, Bonnie and Clyde, Lincoln, Selma) but this is a competent example, and one I highly recommend.

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When Late Assignments Aren’t Penalized

San Diego is overhauling their system of grading in order to fight racism. Among the changes, students will no longer be penalized for handing in late work.

“This is part of our honest reckoning as a school district,” says SDUSD Vice President Richard Barrera. “If we’re actually going to be an anti-racist school district, we have to confront practices like this that have gone on for years and years.”

According to data presented by the district, under the old grading system, teachers fail minority students more than White students – a lot more.

During the first semester of last year, 30% of all D or F grades were given to English learners. One in four, 25%, of failing marks went to students with disabilities.

By ethnicity, 23% went to Native Americans. Another 23% of failing grades went to Hispanics. And 20% of D or F grades went to Black students.

By comparison, just 7% of failing marks went to White students.

In an effort to change that racial imbalance, the school board voted unanimously this week to make several big changes to its grading system.

Academic grades will now focus on mastery of the material, not a yearly average, which board members say penalizes students who get a slow start, or who struggle at points throughout the year.

Another big change, teachers can no longer consider non-material factors when grading. Things like turning work in on time and classroom behavior will now instead count towards a student’s citizenship grade, not their academic grade.

One major reason I think this is dumb is that it creates some misaligned incentives for the students. When there are no penalties for handing in late work, fewer students will complete it on time, and they’ll have a tougher time catching up, especially since many classes build on earlier material. History classes tend to be in sequential order, as what happens in the Civil War is relevant in understanding Reconstrution. If you’re reading a novel in English class, it helps to have read the earlier chapters. Math and Science build on earlier concepts. This could very well end up hurting students of color by making it tougher for them to get the mastery of subject matter they need in order to pass their classes.

I can understand behavior not being part of the academic grade, although that primarily works when there are significant penalties for poor behavior. Many school districts are doing away with suspensions and detention, which reduce the incentives for students to not disrupt their classmates.

It is also important to teach students the significance of deadlines. In the real world, we’re all dependent on other people completing their work on time. If a chef isn’t ready in time for dinner, that restaurant is going to fail. Maybe it’s because she was incompetent, or because a supplier didn’t get things in on time, or because someone else failed to clean the kitchen on time. Likewise, the courts require people completing their work when they’re supposed to.

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How Voting For Joe Biden Helps Republicans

Joe Biden's friendship with Republicans.

Joe Biden has consistently led in polls of the 2020 presidential election, since his entrance into the race. One reason for that is that he’s got some support among Republican voters, as well he should.

This is a rare opportunity to vote for a major-party presidential candidate who legitimately likes members of the other party. Trump doesn’t like anyone, Democrat or Republican, who is not on his side. And most of the Democrats who might run in the future don’t care about Trump in the sense that they would be doing the exact same thing if Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Mitt Romney or Nikki Haley were President.

It may also be better for the Republicans in the long-term if Biden wins. If Trump wins reelection, history suggests the next few elections will go poorly for Republicans. To see what the 2022 midterms are like, take a look at what 2006, 2010, 2014, or 2018 was for the president’s party. Someone to Biden’s left will probably win the White House in 2024, and because it’s rare for a party to get kicked out after one term (Trump seems to be accomplishing this because he’s a terrible President) the Democrat will probably win reelection in 2028. Republicans would be unlikely to take over until 2033 when Clarence Thomas will be 84, John Roberts will be 77, and Alito will be 82.

With Biden, we’ll probably have a President who won’t seek reelection, due to his age. It is easier to win an open election (full disclosure, it may also be easier for Democrats to win in 2028 with Kamala Harris running for reelection if she’s able to get elected in 2024 than it would be if it were an open seat.) We’ll either have a competent one-term President (good for the country) or a flawed one-term Democratic President (good for the Republican party.) There is no way in hell the first woman elected to national office, and the first woman of color selected as a running mate, will not be the next Democratic nominee barring a major scandal. So Republicans will get to run against a person who dropped out of the primary because she ran out of money, and who won her first race for statewide office by a single point in California.

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The Oscars and Half-Hearted Diversity Quotas

Last week, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences released new standards for what is necessary for a film to qualify for a nomination for Best Picture. This led to some predictable criticism and celebration. The basic rule is that in order to be considered for Best Picture, a film must meet two of four standards:

1. There should be significant representation of disadvantaged ethnic or racial groups in the cast, or the subject matter of the film should deal with underrepresented groups, including the disabled and women.

2. There should be significant representation of people from protected classes in the crew of the film.

3. There should be internship and training opportunities for people who aren’t able-bodied cis straight white men.

4. There should be people working in marketing and publicity who aren’t able-bodied cis white men.

The announcement led to a lot of misunderstandings, as some people thought that this meant that there would be changes to the subject matter of Oscarbait films, or something like Parasite wouldn’t be eligible because its cast and crew were largely Korean, and not actually diverse. The standards don’t require a film to be diverse, as any film that exceeds the minimum in terms of representation would certainly meet the quotas. The spreadsheet is complicated to allow any major studio to meet the standards with ease. That seems intentional.

Some have argued this will mean there’s going to be less of a particular type of film, which they see as a good thing, with one message board poster thinking we’ll see less of Oscarbait films like Little Women and The Favourite. This gets quite messy, since those stories would qualify as meeting the diversity standards due to the emphasis on women. That’s probably a good thing as there aren’t necessarily that many period pieces about the internal lives of multiple women. Green Book would also count in the first category, as a story with racial themes, and as a film with an African-American actor in a key supporting role.

The standards wouldn’t really affect the prestige films criticized for tone-deaf depictions of race as these tend to include significant minority performances and/ or significant numbers of minority actors in the cast, and even if the crew is mostly white straight men, there will likely be some members of racial and ethnic minority groups in the promotional department, just to have black and brown people on staff explaining why the film isn’t racist. It can also be a problem to suggest that something that was quite acclaimed should not exist. We can have Little Women and Green Book at the same time the industry is making Roma, Widows, and If Beale Street Can Talk.

There were defenses of the standards that were a little flawed. One response is that this is only going to apply to the small group of films that might reasonably expect to be nominated for Best Picture. I’m guessing it would very quickly be part of the campaign against another nomination that it’s part of a film that doesn’t meet a particular diversity quota.

Critic Frank Harris suggested that part of the point is an indication of what it takes to be in good standing in Hollywood.

The one good film that doesn’t meet the standard will probably become a political lighting rod, in a way that will be deeply unpleasant to the people involved. Progressive theater actors probably don’t want to be defended by divisive figures (especially in Hollywood) like Joe Rogan and Ben Shapiro. But another outcome is that some smaller films will not get made if the lack of a budget for internships/ publicity means it’ll fail to meet diversity quotas, which will guarantee bad publicity and potentially taint everyone involved.

Another point is that the Oscars do have major biases, so this is just one more example. While the Oscars have biases, against animated films, foreign language films, genre films, and more, it is different to set explicit standards about what qualifies for the industry’s most prestigious awards, especially if these standards can be politically controversial.

There was the belief that this could change the predictable Oscar races when often nominated white actors win in work by white directors who have been nominated many times before, like Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Daniel-Day Lewis in Lincoln, or Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. However, you feel about those wins, the new rules aren’t necessarily going to fix that. The studio with white director with multiple nominations teaming up with white actors with multiple nominations is going to be able to afford the bare minimum for compliance. The stereotype also isn’t all that common, considering the number of first time nominations, or nominated performances in movies directed by women or people of color.

When it comes to nominations, it can take a long time for policies to pay dividends, and the results might not even occur in the same field. Five of the last seven Academy Awards for Best Director were won by three men who worked together in the Mexican television industry in the 90s, so fixes to Hollywood aren’t the entirety of the pipeline, since American films have so much international talent, and draw from other markets (theater, television, etc.) 

One accurate point is that the overwhelming majority of studio films would meet these standards already. A studio making a prestige picture in a setting where you would expect most of the characters to be straight white males (European prisoner of war camp, upper echelon of a bigoted industry, three Irish-American brothers on a road trip, police officers in Wyoming, etc.) would be able to afford the internship programs, and marketing consultants to meet standards 3 and 4, if they don’t meet the other two. A potential complication is that the emphasis on meeting diversity quotas will place a premium on crew from underrepresented groups, but that’s not a problem for A-list projects.

The main people who might be in trouble are the cast and crew of certain independent films that do not have the budgets to comply with additional regulations.

An additional problem with the checklists is determining what qualifies. Are White Hispanics Latinx or White? What counts as a cognitive disability?

One point is that this won’t affect the art side.  If it doesn’t affect the art side, how can we declare that something that doesn’t meet these standards is ineligible for Best Picture? But there may also be potential effects on quality if less talented or experienced individuals are given key jobs, or the narrative is shaped in a particular way, in order to meet the quotas.

In the immediate future, the only projects that might be effected are a handful of independent films. Either it does nothing, so it’s useless that way, or it’s an additional complication for indie filmmakers who need to establish their good standing in Hollywood. This also leads to the question of why we should stop here. When the precedent is set to have this requirement, why not require clear environmental standards? Why not dictate labor practices? Why shouldn’t conservatives and Christians say that the AMPAS’s clear lack of action shows they don’t care about Middle America?

There are two trends this fits. The first is a cultural disregard for certain types of white people. There are unambiguously certain subgroups of white men who are overrepresented in Hollywood relative to their share of the population (Obama voters, graduates of top-tier universities) and they’ll continue to be overrepresented in the future. The second trend is a carelessness or progressives about small business, since big business can comply, and has no problems with an industry body coming up with new regulations that multi-million dollar projects likely meet already. But it’ll be interesting to see where this goes, or if it’s abandoned as quickly as the “Best Popular Film” category.

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Karen Bass

In the last few weeks, Karen Bass has gotten attention as a serious contender for Vice President. Bass has suggested that she would not be interested in running for President later, which would allow a Biden presidency to be transitional, all about paving the way for a new generation, allowing primary voters to choose who the next candidate is, without setting a Vice President as a clear favorite for the next race.

Some supporters of Kamala Harris see this as sexist, a view of ambition as a negative in women in a way that doesn’t apply to men. It is worth noting that when John Kerry selected John Edwards as a running mate, he wanted a promise that Edwards wouldn’t run against him in 2008.

Josh Barro sees the ambition criticism as nonsense, something that people will stop arguing about once the Democratic ticket is established.

This is such a nonsense take. Suppose Biden picks Susan Rice. And then people say “You passed over Kamala for being ‘too ambitious’!” Is the implication that Susan Rice is not ambitious? Whoever gets put on the ticket will be an ambitious woman.

Nobody will remember this controversy in a month.

It’s a lot easier for Harris’ camp to take umbrage at Kamala Harris being passed over for Woman To Be Named Later than to explain why the specific woman named as the VP candidate is a worse exemplar of women’s empowerment (and very likely first woman president) than Harris is.

and that’s why nobody will remember the controversy in a month — either Harris will be on the ticket, or another woman liked by Democrats will be, and the focus will be on who is the candidate, not who isn’t the candidate.

Jamelle Bouie thinks ambitious people will govern better.

i continue to think this is total beltway politics brain, divorced completely from the question of governing. whoever biden chooses should a) be prepared to be president and b) should want to be president

reversing the ship of state after trump will be an all hands task and the vice president should be chosen with that in mind, especially since the choice will have almost no weight on voting in november.

if biden wins and keels over a month later the vice president should not only be able to quickly take over the job but should have a vision of what she wants to do with the office.

It seems to be a bit of a moot point, as we’ve since learned all sorts of weird stuff about her once her profile increased. When Fidel Castro died, she said ” “The passing of the Comandante en Jefe is a great loss to the people of Cuba.” She gave a speech at a Scientology center.

Jonathan Chait notes that the scientology flap reveals a downside to picking politicians who aren’t all that ambitious.

One reason you want an ambitious VP is that they’ll organize their career to avoid things like this that would look bad on the national stage

ie Harris has been looking to move up all along, and has avoided these land mines. Bass hasn’t.

She also made sure to add a eulogy to Oneil Marion Cannon, former USA Communist Party leader, to the congressional record.

There’s other stuff in their background.

Tablet Magazine last week revealed that Bass belonged to an organization called the Venceremos Brigade, founded in the 1970s by pro-Cuba leftists. She was described as a leader of the group in a 1975 communist publication, but her office denied she had that role. An anti-communist writer in the conservative Epoch Times on Sunday dug into her past — including comments she once made about how “I grew up with a lot of red diaper babies” — and asked in a headline “Karen Bass: Will Joe Biden Choose a Pro-Communist Running Mate?”

I wonder how much of this is the shortcomings of one notable politician (former leader of a California state legislative body, current chairwoman of a prominent Congressional group) and how much of it is just the lack of scrutiny people get when they’re not seen as contenders for national office. Clearly, the media has failed to give a prominent Democrat the kind of scrutiny given to prominent Republicans.

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Films Seen in 2020 Part 5

This is a continuation of observations on films I’ve seen this year. The sub-goals for this section are five films by Czech director Jiri Menzel, five films involving trains, five films from the Shudder streaming service (I ultimately went with ten), and five comic book documentaries (I found a few online, so it seemed like a worthwhile subgenre to explore.) I’m also trying to close out the decade subgoals, where I had aimed for ten movies per decade.

Movie #122/ New Movie# 57/ 2010s Movie #10/ Comic Book Documentary #1: Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts
This is a decent analysis of his work and impact on comics, with some friendly interviews that get to why he’s such an absurd and interesting character, even beyond his actual work. I’m not sure it succeeds for someone who isn’t familiar with his record, and some of the reproductions of his ideas come across like cosplay, but it gets into what makes this particular writer tic. I should note I watched this one before the allegations came out, so I wasn’t considering that context.

Movie #123/ New Movie #58/ 2010s Movie #11/ Comic Book Documentary #2: Grant Morrison- Talking With Gods
The Grant Morrison spotlight is slightly less interesting to me, even if his stories are more outrageous, perhaps because I’m familiar with most of it before. If Warner Brothers is looking at the success of Joker and considering R-rated properties, a Grant Morrison biopic could make sense because he is such a unique man, with some crazy stories involving his DC comics influence. His version of Saving Mr. Banks would be bonkers.

Movie #124/ 1940s Movie #11/ Criterion Edition #25/ Trains #1: Palm Beach Story
A pleasant comedy of divorce and remarriage, that deals with some serious themes (during the Great Depression, a young wife tries to leave her husband to find a wealthy man to pay for his ambitions) while featuring some great absurd asides and sequences, especially with the ale & quail hunting club, and Rudy Vallee as the type of rich guy Tony Curtis would pretend to be in Some Like It Hot.

Movie #125/ New Movie# 59/ 1960s Movie #16/ Criterion Edition #26/ Czech Film #3/ Jiri Menzel Film #1: Pearls of the Deep
A portmanteau with some of the leading figures in the Czech New Wave movement adapting short stories by the same writers. The results are consistently interesting. Menzel depicted a strange conversation between motorycle afficianados heading to a race. Němec had a great take on two old men looking back at their accomplishments, with a twist. Chytilová showed surreal events in a diner. Jireš depicted the beginnings of a young romance from people with very different backgrounds. Schorm highlighted a very strange artist. It was all interesting and enjoyable.

Movie #126/ New Movie# 60/ 1960s Movie #17/ Criterion Edition #27/ Czech Film #4/ Jiri Menzel Film #2: Capricious Summer
This movie about three middle aged guy trying to impress a travelling magician’s beautiful assistant is funny, but doesn’t sell the idea that she would be interested in any of them.

Movie #127/ New Movie #62/ 2010s Movie #12/ Comic Book Documentary #3: Rude Dude- The Steve Rude Story
This is a contrast from the other comic book documentaries in getting to some serious stuff, including mental illness and the effect all this has on the artist’s family.

Movie #128/ New Movie #63/ 1950s Movie #12/ Trains Movie #2: The Titfield Thunderbolt
It was an okay Ealing comedy, in which a small British town is way too emotionally invested in the local railroad, stakes that are never quite explained. My train buff dad appreciated the contrast between trains of different eras, which became relevant to the plot.

Movie #129/ New Movie #64/ 2020 Movie #6: Hamilton
Hamilton the musical is potentially the best artistic work of the 21st century, so it’s tremendous to have a great recording of it. I’ve listened to the soundtrack a lot, but the filmed version provides an appreciation for character arcs: Angelica’s unrequited love, Eliza as potentially the true hero, Burr’s ethos of waiting for the right moment, and Hamilton as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s spirit animal. I don’t think I’ve been this affected by anything in years.

Movie #130/ New Movie #65/ Silent Movie #9/ Trains Movie #3: The Wrecker
My train buff dad did appreciate the decent set pieces involving the British Southern Rail, in a silent mystery about the hunt for someone intentionally causing train derailments.

Movie #131 / New Movie #66/ 2020 Movie #7: Palm Springs
Fun take on Groundhog Day exploring what it would mean for two people to be stuck in a loop together, what happens when there are consequences to all of this, and differing approaches to being in a fantastic situation.

Movie #132 / 1970s Movie #13/ Shudder Film #1: Texas Chainsaw Massacre
One of the most iconic horror movies ever made. It’s sent up so well in A Cabin in the Woods that it seems like part of a shared universe, but it still holds up pretty well.

Movie #133 / New Movie #67/ 1980s Movie #10/ Shudder Film #2: The House By the Cemetery
This story of a family in a haunted cabin gets pretty weird. The revelation about the bad guy is unsatisfying, but there are some interesting twists at the end.

Movie #134 / New Movie #68/ 2010s Film #13: Sgt. Stubby An American Hero
The story of a decorated war dog during World War 1 is a change of pace in between horror films. It’s a very pleasant movie worth sharing with the older or younger generation. And the film’s social media account likes what I said about them on twitter.

Movie #135 / New Movie #69/ 2010s Movie #14/ Shudder Film #3/ German Film #1: Hagazussa
A bit like The Witch in its depiction of a young woman who turns to paganism, it has some strong moments and eerie moments, but it’s often dull and meaningless.

Movie #136 / New Movie #70/ 2010s Movie #15/ Shudder Film #4/ Finnish Film #4: Lake Bodom
It opens with an interesting idea with one teen kinda tricking others into going to the site of a notorious unsolved murder in order to test a theory about it. When the inevitable bad stuff happens, there are some really weird reactions to a murder somewhat mitigated by a twist into the motivations of the character, although it is often hard to find someone to root for.

Movie #137 / New Movie #71/ 2010s Movie #16/ Shudder Film #5: The Taking of Deborah Logan
It combines a decent concept (a woman who may have been involved in demonic stuff decades ago suffers Alzheimers) with found footage horror, in a generally satisfying way. A highlight is the departure of one of the leads just as things go to hell.

Movie #138/ New Movie #72/ 1980s Movie #11/ Shudder Film #6: Tenebrae
A kinda-meta Argento where the lead is an author facing criticism of his work similar to the kind Argento faces. Elevated by some really nice shots, a decent soundtrack and a few bold twists.

Movie #139/ New Movie #73/ 1980s Movie #12/ Shudder Film #7: The Beyond
More of an excuse for creative practical effects than any kind of satisfying narrative, but the practical effects are a lot of fun. The idea of seven gateways to hell seems like something worth exploring in a TV show.

Movie #140/ New Movie #74/ 1980s Movie #13/ Shudder Film #8: Phantasm
This is an oddball independent film with a lot of weird concepts and practical effects. It certainly has its own style.

Movie #141/ New Movie #75/ 1970s Movie #14/ Shudder Film #9: Cat O’Nine Tales
Karl Malden’s blind former reporter is a pretty likable co-lead for a slasher, and makes for some interesting complications in the otherwise completely competent giallo.

Movie #142/ 1960s Movie #18/ Criterion Edition #27/ Czech Film #5/ Jiri Menzel Film #3/ Trains Movie #4: Closely Watched Trains
What works so well about the film is the contrast between the setting (Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia) and the concerns of the lead, an unambitious man who got a steady job and wants to satisfy his girlfriend, stumbling into a moment of historical impact. The combination of satire, sex comedy, and resistance makes this the definitive film of the Czech New Wave.

Movie #143/ New Movie #76/ 2010s Movie #17/ Shudder Film #10/ Trains Movie #5/ South Korean Movie #2: Train to Busan
Solid zombie film with decent social commentary, and an interesting concept executed well with a zombie outbreak on a train, resulting in clever threats and solutions to challenges.

Movie #144/ 2000s Movie #9/ Criterion Edition #28: The New World (First Cut)
This version remains an impressive take on people whose actions will be relevant for centuries figuring out their own lives during a historically significant time, although I do think I prefer the shorter theatrical cut, or the longer extended edition. The cinematography is breathtaking, and it is one of the great film culture clashes, a surprisingly mature and complex romance.

Movie #145/ 1990s Movie #11/ New Film #6/ Czech Film #6/ Jiri Menzel Film #4: Larks on a String
Technically, this was made in the 60s, but wasn’t released until the early 90s. It starts as a whimsical take of life at a reeducation camp (a highlight being an absurd wedding by proxy), but things get darker when the lead starts wondering where his friends have gone and asking too many questions of the authorities.

Movie #146/ New Movie# 77/ 2010s Movie #18/ Comic Book Documentary #4: Future Shock- The Story of 2000 AD
It’s an accessible documentary about the impact of a British comics anthology on pop culture and American comics, and the feedback loop as the company has to adjust to all these changes. It’s a good primer on a period in comics that I’m not all that familiar with, and has some great stories. My main complaints are that some of the events seem convenient (The current publisher and creative teams are all an improvement over a dark period in the 90s) and some of the rationale isn’t always explained (Are concerns about censors due to British law, the market, or some mix of the two?)

Movie #147/ New Movie #78/ 2000s Movie #10/ New Film #6/ Czech Film #7/ Jiri Menzel Film #: I Served the King of England
It’s satisfying to see Menzel back at it thirty years after the Czech New Wave came to a cruel end. It’s a fun story of a flawed ambitious man, exploring themes and eras from Menzel’s earlier work.

Movie #148/ New Film #79 Silent Era Movie #10/ Criterion Edition #29: Master of the House
A theatrical adaptation set in one house is probably not the best material for a silent movie, but this is a worthwhile look of a patriarch getting humbled by the women around him, after spending the first half of the film earning their ire.

Movie #149/ New Film #80/ 2010s Movie #19: Dragon Ball Super: Broly
It’s a solid movie-length adventure for iconic characters, having some fun with the clashes between Goku and Vegeta, while setting up a worthwhile threat, and introducing decent side characters with some modern touches, like the assistants of the big bad guy having their own character arcs.

Movie #150/ New Movie #81/ 1990s Movie #12/ Criterion Edition #30/ Comic Book Documentary #5: Crumb
Probably the most famous comic book documentary, it’s a great take on a writer/ artist who provides excellent material. Robert Crumb’s upbringing, unusual style and some of the well-earned controversies about his work are all explored, in a portrait of a man who seems guileless but reveals a more twisted personality. It comes across as what it is; a talented director telling the story of a complex friend involved in a visually interesting medium. The commentary tracks are particularly useful, given how well Zwigoff knows the subject.
10 /10

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Films Seen In 2020 Part 4


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.

Terminator 2

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.

Matter Life Death

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.

Marnie Hitchcock cameo

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.

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Films Seen in 2020 Part 3


This is a continuation of observations on movies I’ve watched. My goal for the year is to see ten movies from every decade (counting the Silent Era and 1920s as one decade.) And I’ve added a few mini-goals to this batch. I wanted 15 films from the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They Top 1,000, five films with Jack Nicholson (partly because I wanted to check out more of the Criterion BBS box set), five films by Howard Hawks, five more films by John Ford, five films with John Wayne (there will be overlap with the last two), five films with performances that won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, five films about World War 2, and five directorial debuts. I ended up pulling this off in May.

Movie #61/ New Movie #35/ 1990s Movie #5/ Best Supporting Actor Winner #1: City Slickers
Jack Palanche is excellent as the last of the old breed, a contrast with Billy Crystal’s city guy. The “one thing” lesson may not be great advice, but it’s an iconic moment. It was a fun film about the midlife crisis of a man who hasn’t gotten to be the hero in a western.

Movie #62/ New Movie #36/ 1980s Movie #3/ TSPDT List #1: Zelig
Woody Allen’s mockumentary of a human chameleon is stylistically different from his usual work, but there are some great gags and absurd twists.

Movie #63/ 1930s Movie #9/ John Ford Film #7/ John Wayne Film #1/ Criterion Edition #9/ TSPDT List #2/ Best Supporting Actor Winner #2: Stagecoach
Thomas Mitchell is decent in his Oscar-winning turn as a drunkard doctor forced to show his mettle. John Wayne is a movie star from his introduction 18 minutes in, so we don’t mind the second climax to give his story a resolution after the stagecoach reaches its destination. It’s an easy concept for a great movie, with a group of unlikely companions travelling together through dangerous territory, but executed very well.

Movie #64/ New Movie #37/ 1970s Movie #7/ Directorial Debut #1/ Jack Nicholson Film #0/ Criterion Edition #10: Drive, He Said
Jack Nicholson’s directorial debut provides an interesting capsule of the 1960s college atmosphere. The main story about a young athlete wondering what to do going forward is okay, although overshadowed by the complete breakdown of his best friend, a guy trying to avoid the draft by taking as many pills as possible.


Movie #65/ New Film #38/ 1960s Movie #7/ Czech Film #2/ Criterion Edition #11/ TSPDT List #3: Daisies
The highest ranked Czech film on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1,000 and BBC’s sixth best movie directed by a woman is a strange, experimental cartoon with mostly real people. A brief read of any article about it shows that the critique of culture and consumption is well-thought out, but it isn’t some impenetrable avant-garde nonsense; it’s also weird and fun nonsense.

Movie #66/ New Movie #39/ 1980s Movie #4/ Criterion Edition #12/ Finnish Film #3: Ariel
Aki Kaurismäki’s crime drama ends up being more cheerful than Match Factory Girl, which was ostensible a comedy. He has a weird approach of putting droll blue-collar Finns into films we’ve otherwise seen before, which does have satisfying results.

Movie #67/ 2000s Movie #4/ Directorial Debut #2: Primer
In this film, we can see both the low budget and the amount of thought writer/ director Shane Carruth put into his work. There are some compromises (a largely offscreen car chase, a pivotal event that occurs off-camera) that make a movie that already has a convoluted time-travel plot tougher to understand, but it is also satisfying in the depiction of ordinary people coming up a discovery with tremendous potential and risk. It works both because of their relationship, and the sense that this is how scientists stumbling on to something major would act.

Movie #68/ New Film #40/ 1960s Movie #8/ TSPDT List #4/ World War 2 Film #1/ French Film #4/ Criterion Edition #13: Army of Shadows
This movie wasn’t released in the United States until 2006 because French critics had trashed it for depicting De Gaulle in a positive light, which is an absurd criticism for a film about the struggles and shortcomings of the French resistance. It’s an excellent, powerful take about the reality of Nazi-occupied France.


Movie #69/ New Movie #41/ 1950s Movie #5/ Howard Hawks Film #1/ TSPDT List #5: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Marilyn Monroe at her loveliest, Jane Russell as her loyal but different-minded best friend, iconic musical numbers, and a script that isn’t quite on the level of the best of Wilder, Lubitsch and Sturges, but close enough.

Movie #70/ New Movie #42/ 1980s Movie #5: Wild Style
I checked this out because it played a part in Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree. It’s worth seeing more as a time capsule of the hip hop scene before it became a dominant cultural force, than for the story. There are some shortcomings for production values and performances, which makes it tough to appreciate the films’ internal logic. Lead Lee Quiñones is authentic when talking about what the art means for him (since he was a top graffiti artist), and the musical performances are excellent.

Movie #71/ 1940s Movie #4/ Howard Hawks Film #2/ TSPDT List #6: The Big Sleep
A depiction of the life the New Yorkers of City Slickers wanted to live for a little while. It’s an atypical western that earns the conflict between John Wayne’s tough as nails cattle boss and Montgomery Clift as his adopted son.

Movie #72/ 1980s Movie #6/ Jack Nicholson Film #1/: Batman
This is a strangely paced superhero film, largely introducing Batman from the perspective of two reporters, so that it’s not actually confirmed that Bruce Wayne is Batman until about halfway through. The production design is amazing, Keaton is affable, and Nicholson’s Joker is a lot of fun, but the movie is a bit of a mess with some strange internal logic at times.

Movie #73/ 1940s Movie #5/ Howard Hawks Film #3/ John Wayne Film #2/ TSPDT List #7/ Criterion Edition #14: Red River
A depiction of the life the New Yorkers of City Slickers wanted to live for a little while. It’s an atypical western that earns the conflict between John Wayne’s tough as nails cattle boss and Montgomery Clift as his adopted son.


Movie #74/ New Film #43/ 1970s Movie #8/ Jack Nicholson Film #2/ Criterion Edition #15: The King of Marvin Gardens
This isn’t the first BBS film saved by its depiction of a particular location at an interesting time (Atlantic City between its boardwalk heyday and the advent of legal gambling.) There are some solid performances from a subdued Nicholson, an unhinged Ellen Burstyn, and Bruce Dern’s manic con artist. It doesn’t always work, but it is often powerful.

Movie #75/ New Movie #44/ John Ford Film #8/ Silent Movie #5: Four Sons
I’ve thought that early Ford did the kind of movies that Capra would do better, but upon further reflection, this is also the kind of material that Ford will do better (How Green is My Valley, The Quiet Man.) This is a flawed but enjoyable film about the immigrant experience in the early 20th Century United States, and the losses in World War One.

Movie #76/ New Film #45/ 1960s Movie #9/ TSPDT List #8: Shadows of our Forgotten Ancestors
Sergei Parajanov had a primitive take on young love in a Ukranian Hutsul village, which fit the setting, with an exploration of what happens after an intense young man loses the love of his life, and tries to go on living.

Movie #77/ 1980s Movie #7/ Jack Nicholson Film #3/ Best Supporting Actor Winner #3/ Directorial Debut #3: Terms of Endearment
James Brooks’ confident debut as a director has a smart script about an intense but messy mother/ daughter relationship over the course of a pivotal decade, with terrific performances, netting two well-deserved acting Oscars, and two further acting nominations. He takes stories that could be in a melodrama (a housewife feeling underappreciated, affairs, the turn at the end) but adds goofiness and joy.

Movie #78/ New Movie #46/ John Wayne Film #3/ World War 2 Film #2/ 1940s Movie #6: Sands of Iwo Jima
This was the film that got John Wayne his sole Oscar nomination from his first thirty years of stardom, and I can see why it went over so well. His performance as a tough sergeant is the highlight, and there is some complexity to it beyond the standard cliches. He is strict, and we certainly get a sense of a nice guy underneath, but he is also flawed and self-aware. The rest of the film isn’t bad; a World War Two movie with more grit than you would anticipate from the late 1940s.

Movie #79/ 1930s Movie #10/ Howard Hawks Film #4/ Criterion Edition #16/ TSPDT List #9: Only Angels Have Wings
I bought this film a few years back based on a critic’s argument that it was the best Hollywood film of 1939. I still wouldn’t go that far, but it is an exceptional drama of the people involved in a dangerous profession.

Movie #80/ New Movie #47/ John Ford Film #9/ World War 2 Film #3/ 1950s Movie #6: When Willie Comes Marching Home
There’s a tonal inconsistency to this World War 2 comedy about a likable guy who wants to go to war, but can’t earn the respect of his neighbors because he’s stuck in town, training the real soldiers. The central conflict is a bit hard to accept, and doesn’t really gel when he’s finally offered a dangerous mission in Europe. There’s a lot of charm, but the stakes are often just too low.

Movie #81/ New Movie #48/ John Ford Film #10/ 1940s Movie #7: Tobacco Road
Fox thought this comedy about a poor family would be a bigger hit than The Grapes of Wrath. While it compromised on the source material, it is rare how this movie depicts the truly poor, often at their most pathetic and selfish. Even if it toned down the play it is based on, it is daring in the depiction of the grotesques.


Movie #82/ New Film #49/ 1960s Movie #10/ Directorial Debut #4/ World War 2 Film #4: It Happened Here
I had been familiar with Kevin Brownlow as a film preservationist (he was largely responsible for restoring Abel Gance’s Napoleon to its five-hour length) so it was a little weird to discover that he had been responsible for an alternate history independent film Mark Kermode had recommended. It does convey the sense of an ordinary person trying to live a normal life in an England occupied by the Nazis, a powerful concept handled matter of factly.

Movie #83/ 1970s Movie #9/ Criterion Edition #17/ TSPDT List #10/ Best Supporting Actor Winner #4: The Last Picture Show
This is connected to a lot of films I’ve seen this month. It’s a BBS film, and I’m seeing plenty of those as part of the box set. There’s a plot point about characters in the film watching Red River. There are some similarities between Curly and Sam the Lion (actors from Westerns in previous generations playing a mentor figure who seems to be from a different dying era, with a key scene where they recall a lost love and end up winning Oscars.) It’s one of the highlights of the new Hollywood of the 1970s, depicting the end of an earlier era, with one hell of a cast showing the stories of teenagers becoming adults.

Movie #84/ New Movie #50/ 2019 Film #9/ World War 2 Film #5: Ashes in the Snow
It’s  a bit distracting that this film is in English. I get that a lot of films about events in Europe in modern memory are in English (Schindler’s List as the ultimate example) but those have the advantage of an all-star cast which isn’t the case here. It’s not all that different from Holocaust dramas, although it depicts a different form of mass murder, with mass deportations of the Baltic nations, an event that is significant to me as it is something that happened to some of my ancestors. There was an anecdote about Crazy Rich Asians that might apply here. A white filmgoer said that it was derivative of romantic comedies, and Asian-American viewers yelled back that they wanted to see themselves in these stories. And there is something about seeing the stories of our ancestors, even if the actual execution of it is just okay.

Movie #85/ 1960s Movie #11/ Jack Nicholson Film #4/ Criterion Edition #18/ TSPDT List #11/ Directorial Debut #5: Easy Rider
When this film came out, it was daring by speaking to the concerns and interests of a younger generation. It’s impossible to convey that to a modern audience, although what it loses by all the imitations it gains by its effectiveness as a time capsule, covering two young dopes, travelling the United States, sometimes finding friendly faces and sometimes facing opposition. The situations may occasionally be extreme, but it’s not always what you expect.

Movie #86/ New Movie #51/ Silent Movie #6/ TSPDT List #12: Spies
Fritz Lang’s silent espionage saga is sometimes slow and convoluted, but often quite clever with some astounding silent action sequences, and some decent twists in a clash between a spy network and the authorites.

Movie #87/ 1970s Movie #10/ Jack Nicholson Film #5/ Criterion Edition #19/ TSPDT List #13: Five Easy Pieces
As with Easy Rider, it’s difficult to appreciate the impact of Nicholson’s Robert Dupea on younger audiences in the early 70s who saw themselves represented on film. This is still quite satisfying as the depiction of a truly alienated man. I’m not sure Nicholson’s ever been more sensitive (while still deeply flawed), although the film is more than just a showcase for him, given the variety of kooks he interacts with.

Wayne Horse

Movie #88/ New Movie #52/ 1950s Movie #7/ John Ford Film #11/ John Wayne Film #4: Horse Soldiers
The sole Ford/ Wayne collaboration in a ten film John Wayne DVD set isn’t one of their better efforts. Wayne’s tough Civil War colonel seems derivative of a few of his other performances, without the nuance of Sands of Iwo Jima or the fire of Red River. It’s Ford, so there are some great sequences, but it’s also Golden Age of Hollywood, so the South is given more credit than they deserve.

Movie #89/ 1940s Film #8/ Supporting Actor Winner #5/ TSPDT List #14: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
This Huston/ Bogart collaboration feels more like a noir than a Golden Age of Hollywood adventure. Honestly, Bogart is darker and more despicable here than he is in any  noir, in a story of down on their luck prospectors who very quickly get comfortable with the idea of killing strangers in order to maintain their wealth.

Movie #90/ New Movie #52/ 1970s Movie #11/ John Wayne Film #5: The Shootist
Wayne took this role after many others had turned it down, which seems a bit surprising, since no one else could have played this particular version of the story so well. He sells the performance of a dying legendary gunslinger in a movie that conveys the changes in the old west quite well; the West has gotten more crowded, and been changed with the arrival of modern amenities. It’s Don Siegel, so it’s not subtle, although there are great supporting performances by Jimmy Stewart (who sells the idea of a deep shared history), Lauren Bacall and Ron Howard, as a slightly older version of the kid in Shane. The villains aren’t great, but they’re okay. I don’t necessarily buy the reaction of the town.

Movie #91/ 1940s Movie #9/ Howard Hawks Film #5/ TSPDT List #15: His Girl Friday
This might have the fastest dialogue of any movie ever. It’s a great showcase for Hawks and one of the definitive Cary Grant performances as a charming but manipulative newspaper man trying to get his ex-wife/ best reporter back.

One common thread in the directorial debuts, and films from New Hollywood and the Czech New Wave, is the importance of new stories. The five Howard Hawks films showed his range, although there are some commonalities, including the material he gets from the specifics from a character’s job, be they cattle rustlers, gold prospectors, or gold diggers, typically facing intense life and death consequences. John Wayne didn’t have tremendous range, but I’m not sure anyone else has been better as the ultimate alpha male.

You could make a case that World War 2 is the best setting for film, an international conflict largely between good and evil, that has room for jingoistic stories, films about being on the wrong side, nuanced material about good people questioning whether they or those around them are going too far, and the stories of ordinary people affected by the consequences.

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If the Attorney General Were Elected, Reconsidered

I wrote about this idea years ago, but it takes a different valence post-Trump.

Imagine if the justice department were not controlled by an appointee of the President, but by someone who wins a national election for US Attorney General. We have elected state attorney generals, district attorneys, etc. Under this scenario, the attorney general would be elected in the midterm elections.

2018 would have been an opportunity for Democratic former prosecutors to build a national campaign. I’m not sure Harris would be able to run as a second-year Senator (although she could have skipped the Senate to run for this office.) It could also be Klobuchar, although there would also be the question of how her abusiveness to her staff could be problematic.

We probably would have a different Trump administration if he knew that the Attorney General wasn’t his man (although we might not have a President Trump if Christie had dodged Bridgegate by running for US Attorney General in 2014 rather than for a second term as Governor.) We would also have a sense of how vulnerable an incumbent is on the electoral college math. If the 2018 Democratic nominee for attorney general won the major swing states, Democrats could be rather confident. If a Republican nominee lost the popular vote, but kept Wisconsin and Florida, it would be a different story.

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Films Seen in 2020 Part 2


This is a continuation of notes on films I’ve watched this year. There’s ample opportunity with the strong recommendation to stay indoors. I went with a few mini-goals: ten films from Roger Ebert’s selection of great movies, five films by John Ford, film films with Henry Fonda, five Westerns, five films from 1939: Hollywood’s greatest year (there will be some overlap), five French films and five plague films (to make it a bigger challenge, zombie movies are exempt.)

Movie #31/ New Movie #18/ John Ford Film #2/ Henry Fonda Film #1/ “Greatest Year” Film #1/ 1930s Movie #3: Drums Along the Mohawk
I had seen one John Ford film earlier in the year with Steamboat ‘Round the Bend, but I do aim to get some more use out of the massive Ford at Fox box set I’ve had for years. This is probably one of the least-remembered Ford/ Fonda collaborations. It was just bad luck to have a star-studded drama about newlyweds dealing with pivotal moments in American history come out in the same year as Gone With the Wind. This is an okay drama about the revolutionary war, which gets better with the arrival of Edna May Oliver’s tough as nails widow, a curmudgeonly boss and ally. It’s John Ford’s third best film from an year with Young Mr Lincoln and Stagecoach, but it’s alright.

Movie #32/ New Film #19/ John Ford Film #3/  1930s Movie #4: Doctor Bull
The first collaboration between John Ford and Will Rogers suffers from some technical limitations that make it difficult to recommend (it was an early sound film so the quality isn’t great even before considering the need for a more complex restoration.) This is the kind of story of one man standing up for old-fashioned small-town values that Capra would handle a lot better, although it is a decent showcase for one of the biggest movie stars of his day.

Movie #33/ 2010s Movie #3/ Plague Movie #1: Contagion
This medical procedural has gotten much more relevant lately, as the situation is no longer a weird hypothetical but similar to something we’re dealing with now. It’s exceptional at showing the potential effects of a new pandemic, intersected with smaller stories.

Movie #34/ New Movie #20/ 1970s Movie #5/ Plague Movie #2: The Crazies
George Romero’s non-zombie movie about a plague that makes people go crazy is certainly not subtle, but it’s interesting to see a contagion film where the main civilian characters get into fatal encounters with the army. This is a story where there are no bad guys, and everyone’s out for themselves. It shows the potential chaos of a crisis.

Movie #35/ 2000s Movie #2: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy continues to hold up. Peter Jackson & company avoid the problems of an overstuffed middle film, by setting up some of the most extraordinary battles in fantasy films, and showcasing Andy Serkis’ Gollum, a different type of monster: pathetic and tragic, but still dangerous.


Movie #36/ John Ford Film #4/ Henry Fonda Film #2/ “Greatest Year” Film #2/ 1930s Movie #5/ Criterion Edition #3: Young Mr Lincoln
Only three Criterion editions so far this year? I’ve been slacking. The Criterion Disc 1 is curiously in the Ford at Fox DVD set, but not Disc 2. This is an interesting period legal drama, illustrating some of the legends about young Abraham Lincoln. Henry Fonda doesn’t exactly disappear into the role, but it does fit his stoic but friendly demeanor.

Movie #37/ John Ford Film #5/ Henry Fonda Film #3/ 1940s Film #1/ Ebert Favorite #1/ Western #1: My Darling Clementine
Watching this, I’m almost convinced that no Western could be better. There are so many beats that are standard for westerns, but they work here because it’s so mythic, depicting events that will be etched in the nation’s memory. The rivalry between Henry Fonda’s Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature’s dying Doc Holiday does take some different turns, overshadowing the cattle thieves who are the ostensible villains, although they get their moments.

Movie #38/ New Movie #21/ 1980s Movie #1/ Plague Movie #3: Flesh & Blood
The final collaboration between Paul Verhoeven & Rutger Hauer certainly shows the horrors of medieval Europe, in a way Game of Thrones fans might appreciate. It’s pretty nasty, with betrayal, rape, and the plague, although there is substance to it, in the stories of survival at any cost during changing times.

Movie #39/ Ebert Favorite #2/ Henry Fonda Film #4/ 1940s Movie #2: The Lady Eve
It’s Preston Sturges at his wittiest, Henry Fonda as an occasionally goofball straight man, and Barbara Stanwyck as the con artist who falls for him. Very funny and very charming.

Movie #40/ New Film#22/ “Greatest Year” Film #3/ 1930s Movie #6: Gunga Din
Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr make for a fun trio in an adventure movie, although it seems kinda slow after all the pastiches of the era (Spielberg’s Indiana Jones, Joe Johnston’s Captain America.)

Movie #41/ New Film#23/ 1990s Movie #5: The Snapper
This is a solid dramedy by Stephen Frears about a large tight-knit Irish family that has to adjust when the oldest daughter is pregnant and won’t say who the father is. It’s elevated by little touches that highlight the family and the culture.


Movie #42/ 1970s Movie #6/ Plague Movie #4: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
With the Coronavirus, I can identify a lot more with the scenes where the main characters are worried about whether strangers will be able to pass on their condition. This is an effective invasion film, showing the arrival of something truly alien, and a slow building of paranoia.

Movie #43/ 1940s Movie #3/ Ebert Favorite #3: Laura
The noir classic of an investigator who falls in love with the woman whose murder he is trying to solve is elevated by Clifton Webb’s toxic broadcaster, and some classic twists that really change the story.

Movie #44/ Silent Movie #2/ Ebert Favorite #4: Phantom of the Opera (Kino Restoration)
The Kino restoration is fantastic, showcasing the fantastic set design, as well as innovative uses of tinting/ color. Lon Chaney’s Phantom remains one of the great silent villains; sympathetic but also quite mad.


Movie #45/ New Movie #24/ French Movie #1/ Silent Movie #3/ Ebert Favorite #5: The Fall of the House of Usher
This adaptation of several Edgar Allan Poe stories is short, but dreamlike. The sense of atmosphere and the visuals are extraordinary.

Movie #46/ “Greatest Year” Film #4/ 1930s Movie #7: Ninotchka
It might not be that surprising that a collaboration between Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder results in one of the wittiest scripts ever, a clash of cultures of the freedom and decadence of France versus the coldness and efficiency of the Soviet Union, as exemplified in a romance between Greta Garbo’s initially cold Soviet envoy and Melvin Douglas’s debonair playboy.

Movie #47/ New Film #25/ 1990s Movie #6/ Ebert Favorite #6/ Finnish Film #2/ Criterion Edition #4: The Match Factory Girl
Aki Kaurismäki tells a story of a melodramatic situation, with a character who is barely expressive. There’s a scene where she writes a letter, and seems to talk more and with greater emotion than in the rest of the film combined. The style is fantastic, and there are some really great touches that establish the reasons for her simple but extraordinary revenge.

Movie #48/ New Film #26/ 1950s Movie #2/ French Film #3/ Criterion Edition #5: The Lovers
Louis Malle’s French New Wave drama provides an unconventional resolution to a love triangle as a house-wife deals with a stiff husband insisting the blowhard boyfriend come for a visit. Then her car breaks down, and a third option emerges.

Movie #49/ New Film #27/ 2010s Movie #4: Byzantium
This is an odd vampire film by Neil Jordan. The concept of an immortal mother and daughter seemingly close in age has a lot of potential. The scenes largely cover their origins in Britain during the Napoleonic wars and the modern era, with nothing in between, so this is a film I didn’t like that much, but could imagine as a TV show. It unravels pretty easily if you pull some threads apart, and the final showdown seems artificial, but there’s some good to it.


Movie #50/ 1960s Movie #3/ Henry Fonda Film #5/ Western #2: Once Upon a Time in the West
Seeing it after binging a few Henry Fonda films does highlight the boldness and effectiveness of the decision to cast him as the villain. There is a greater maturity to this than in the Dollars trilogy, exploring some common western themes (the changing of an era, a gunslinger seeking revenge on behalf of a loved one) with Leone’s signature aesthetic and a tremendous score by Ennio Morricone.

Movie #51/ New Movie #28/ 1980s Movie #2/ Plague Movie #5: The Navigator A Medieval Odyssey
This is an interesting film in terms of perspective, as medieval villagers travel to a strange land: 1980s New Zealand. There’s some fun with the culture clash, decent stakes due to a kid’s prophecy, and some final twists that address some potential problems with the rules of the narrative.

Movie #52/ New Film #29/ John Ford Film #5/  Silent Movie #4/ Western #3: 3 Bad Men
This John Ford silent western is fun, as three likable scoundrels take it upon themselves to protect a young woman. But it’s also quite busy, dumping a lot of characters into a historically volatile time. Still, the payoff is fantastic with the final stand of the antiheroes.

Movie #53/ 2000s Film #3/ French Film #3: Amelie
A quirky and fun film about a strange woman who decides to be an agent of good after changing one person’s life for the better, elevated by all the details about the people in her life, the elaborateness of her plans to change everyone else, and her own struggles to accept the risks of seeking happiness for herself.

Movie #54/ 1930s Movie #8/ Greatest Year #5/ Western #4: Destry Ride Again
Jimmy Stewart is pretty good as a man with modern (at least during 1939) sensibilities trying to change a nightmarish section of the American west. The film doesn’t quite live up to the courage of its convictions, with a competent but generic conclusion. Marlene Dietrich is great as a flawed woman inspired to do good.

Movie #55/ New Film #30/ 1960s Movie #4/ Ebert Favorite #7/ French Film #4/ Criterion Edition #6: Battle of Algiers
Some parts of the film do benefit from an understanding of a generations old struggle, although the Criterion collection has a lot of extras if you’re unclear about which group was responsible for which attack. The neorealist take on the conflicts between Algerian rebels and the French military highlights the shortcomings of both sides in a relatively nuanced way. This film has been used as an instruction manual by some groups, although that’s more about their problems than the movie’s.

A Safe Place

Movie #56/ New Movie #31/ 1960s Movie #5/ Criterion Edition #7: A Safe Place
This was in a box set of BBS films, showcasing a production company that was really important in the early days of the New Hollywood. It’s one of the lesser known films, although noteworthy for brief appearances by Orson Welles as a magician and Jack Nicholson as the type of jerk he plays so well in the 70s. It’s a convoluted narrative, jumping around in time, dealing with a main character who doesn’t have the tightest grip on reality. Despite the flaws, there is a tremendous understanding of character.

Movie #56/ 1950s Movie #3/ Ebert Favorite #8/ Western #5: Shane
This is a western with more green than I’m used to, taking a standard but certainly well-told story of a gunslinger getting involved in a clash between locals and ruthless criminals to another level with the relationship between the man and a boy he meets. Other great features include Jack Palanche’s man in the black hat, the main bad guy’s understandable motives, and the question of whether Alan Ladd’s generally likable Shane can fit in modern society. This is a film that understands that change comes with winners and losers, with the mastermind of the criminals trying to protect his way of life, albeit one that harmed others.

Movie #57/ New Movie #32/ 1990s Movie #4/ Ebert Favorite #7: Contact
This is almost a sci-fi procedural, taking us through first contact step by step, emphasizing the political drama (including seamless insertions of actual Bill Clinton footage), character focus and moral questions more than the stuff about aliens and terrorists. It’s slow at times, and a bit obvious in some of the arguments about faith VS science, but it goes in some interesting directions, and does have a believable vision of what it would be like to meet visitors from another planet.

Movie #58/ New Movie #33/ 1960s Movie #6/ Czech Film #9/ Criterion Edition #8: A Report on the Party and the Guests
I’ll admit I picked this as the shortest film in Criterion’s “Pearls of the Czech New Wave” box set. It’s a solid but brief fable of parkgoers encountering strange bureaucrats who invite them to a party, and slowly strip away their sense that they have rights worth protecting.

Movie #60/ New Film #34/ 1950s Movie #4/ Ebert Favorite #10/ French Film #5: A Man Escaped
This is an astounding minimalist film that reminds me a lot of The Passion of Joan of Arc, a film Bresson essentially remade but didn’t like. Usually, films where the style is supposed to be stripped of artifice are bleak and pessimistic, but this one takes it in a different direction. There is great power in the story of someone overcoming the terrible circumstances depicted so effectively and unambiguously. Yes, a man is a prisoner of the Nazis, with limited understandings of his environment, but that makes it all the more impressive when he determines a potential escape.

My French films did include a silent movie, and an Italian-Algerian production that was heavily in the French language and starred a French actor. At the moment, I could certainly accept the argument that Henry Fonda may have been John Ford’s best collaborator, although that’ll probably change after I see a few John Ford/ John Wayne films.

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