Category Archives: 2016 Movie Challenge

Challenge Week 2: My Cousin Vinny

How have I never seen this movie before?! I’ve heard of it for a long time, of course, because I used to be a huge Oscar history aficionado and I knew Marisa Tomei had won a Best Supporting Award for it, but I really knew absolutely nothing else about it. I think I assumed it was something to do with the mob, because Joe Pesci is always something to do with the mob, right?

Turns out it’s about a couple of college kids from New York road-tripping through Alabama; they stop in a convenience store, accidentally shoplift, then get arrested…for the murder of the convenience store clerk. In a panic, one of them (played by The Karate Kid), calls home and gets his Cousin Vinny (Pesci), a lawyer, to come down and help them out. Except Cousin Vinny is BARELY a lawyer, spent six years trying to pass the bar, and has never had a real case in court. What he does have, however, is a whole lot of attitude, which doesn’t always go down well with the very by-the-book judge (a wonderful turn from The Munsters‘ Fred Gwynne).


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Challenge Week 1: Stray Dog

I mentioned on my post about Babette’s Feast that I wasn’t inherently that excited about seeing it, though I ended up very glad I had. I was very excited about Stray Dog, and I wasn’t let down a bit. I typically have some trouble connecting with Japanese film, even Kurosawa, who’s generally considered to be among the most Western-accessible Japanese filmmakers. Though someday I’m going to have to stop saying that, as I’m getting more and more acclimated to Japanese filmmaking – the real test will be Tokyo Story, which is coming up later in the challenge.

Anyway, I was hoping Stray Dog would work well for me because it’s basically a noir, and noir is one of my favorite genres. And now I totally understand the thing about Kurosawa being more influenced by Western film than many other Japanese directors. It shows through much more clearly in this modern day detective drama than it does in, say, his samurai films, right down to the chorus girls that would fit in any 1940s American nightclub. Yet it still shares stylistic and thematic concerns found in other Kurosawa films, especially High and Low, also a modern-day crime film that I enjoyed quite a bit.


In Stray Dog, Toshiro Mifune is rookie policeman Murakami who gets his gun pickpocketed on the bus. Desperate to get it back, he infiltrates the underworld and gets some leads, but soon finds that it was used in a robbery and homicide. Wracked with guilt, he and veteran cop Sato (Takashi Shimura) team up to find the suspect. The detective work itself is a lot of fun to watch, but the whole thing has a depth due to Murakami’s guilt first over just losing his gun, then having it be used to kill.

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Challenge Week 1: Babette’s Feast

Despite having heard Babette’s Feast raved about by a lot of different people, I had never drummed up the motivation to see it myself. Here’s the description from HuluPlus: “Two devout and elderly sisters allow their cook, a French refugee, to prepare a feast in honor of their late father’s 100th birthday, despite their spiritual concerns over the sensuality and decadence of French cuisine.” It doesn’t exactly sound thrill-a-minute, does it? Of course, the best movies often aren’t high concept and defy quick and easy descriptions, and I knew that would likely be the case with this one.

And indeed it was. The religious aspects of the film were pretty fascinating, as I have a Protestant (but not pietistic) background myself. I have to admit I paused the film at one point just to look up who these folks were, as the subtitles kept calling them “puritan” but the actual Puritan movement is generally considered to be an English and American thing, not Danish. Anyway, that’s kind of beside the point, but I needed to locate this theology for my own understanding – they’re a pietistic sect, a group of believers not affiliated with a larger body, led by a charismatic spiritual leader.


The minister of this little group of Jutland pietists is already dead for most of the movie, but his influence continues to guide his two unmarried daughters, who rejected worldly suitors in order to serve his ministry and continue it after his death, to an aging and dwindling group of adherents. Then Babette arrives on their doorstep, with a letter from one of the sister’s former suitors, a Parisian opera singer – she’s a refugee from counterrevolutionary activity in Paris, and becomes their housekeeper and cook in exchange for safety. Flashforward fourteen years, and the sisters and their remaining congregants plan a celebration in honor of what would have been their minister’s 100th birthday. Babette begs one favor: to prepare a real French meal for the celebration instead of the plain, bland food that the sisters have had her cooking for fourteen years.

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The 2016 Movie Challenge: A Preview

Because I can’t leave well enough alone, here’s a brief rundown of (some of) what I’ll be watching in 2016 for this crazy challenge. I currently have 50 people signed up to recommend me movies, and all but a handful have already chosen their picks, so this thing is scheduled and locked in through September, with plenty of time for everyone else to decide what they want me to watch. So I’ll have a few more weeks worth of recommendations coming in, but here’s what I’ve got so far, with some upfront confessions on what I’m looking forward to and what I’m…not. :)

Really Excited to See


Several of these have been on my own to-see lists for quite a while and I’ve never gotten around to them. I’m really glad to get some external motivation to finally see them. Others have only recently come to my attention but sound so much up my alley that I can’t wait to get to them. In either case, these have the weight of expectations riding on them, which can be a double-edged sword.

The Abyss (1989)
Army of Darkness (1992)
Before Midnight (2013)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Fail Safe (1964)
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Harakiri (1962)
Heat (1995)
I Confess (1953)
The Last Five Years (2014)
The Last Waltz (1978)
Mr. Nobody (2009)
My Best Girl (1927)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Paris, Texas (1984)
The Punk Singer (2013)
Stray Dog (1949)
Tokyo Story (1953)
Whiplash (2014)
Why Don’t You Play In Hell (2013)

Continue reading The 2016 Movie Challenge: A Preview

The 2016 Movie Watching Challenge

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine did an amazing movie-watching challenge, where she solicited recommendations from fifty-two of her friends; they each gave her five movies to watch per week. Yeah, crazy right? Well, she ended up completing the challenge with only a brief delay, which was amazing and inspiring. Last year a bunch of other friends picked up the idea with varying numbers of movies per week, and now it’s my turn. I’ve been planning to do it for months, but I wanted to wait until January 2016 to start with a clean slate.

So here’s what I want you to do.

First, let me know you’re interested in participating. I’ve started a group on Facebook to keep track of all the weeks and recommendations. Let me know here, or on Facebook, or Twitter that you’re in, and I’ll invite you to the group (or I think you can request an invite from the link above, but if not, let me know).

Second, once you’re in the group, you’ll be assigned a week pretty much on a first-come, first-serve basis. That’s the week I’ll watch and write about the films you assign me. If you’re not on Facebook or don’t want to be in the group, that’s fine! Just let me know what you’d like me to watch, and I’ll let you know when it slots into the schedule. I’ll still be posting updates here as well.

Third, recommend me TWO films you think I should watch. Now, how you decide what films is up to you. It can be great films I’ve missed, it can be your personal favorites you want to share, it can be new films, old films, good films, bad films, well-known films, obscure films. It DOES NOT MATTER. This is not about filling blind spots, although you can certainly choose to do that if you want, it’s about seeing a wide variety of films I might not otherwise seek out, or haven’t gotten to as quickly as I should.


I’ll be writing about the films I see here on my blog, and sharing the posts to Facebook/Twitter. They won’t be “reviews” since I don’t even do those, but they’ll be my honest reactions and thoughts on the film. I’ll also be ranking each film on my Flickchart, and keeping track of who has the highest-ranked recommendations. There’s no prize except kudos, but stats are fun.

Here are a few links that might be helpful in figuring out what to recommend to me:

  • List of every film I’ve ever seen – If you’re thinking of something specific, you can check here to see if I’ve seen it already; I also have general ratings listed on whether I liked it or not (this page is long, it may take a while to load)
  • Top Ten lists on the left side of my blog – Toward the bottom of the left nav bar is a list of links to my Top Ten-ish lists for each year; a good quick look at my faves by year
  • My Flickchart – This is a ranked list of every film I’ve ever seen; I’m in the process of reranking it for greater accuracy, but in broad strokes, it’s a decent snapshot of my taste. I rank according to what I flat-out like the most, not what I think are the best/greatest films, whatever that means
  • My Unseen Films – My unseen film list on Flickchart, which is ranked according to Flickchart’s global rankings; a good quick look at major films I haven’t seen
  • Letterboxd Films to See – You’re welcome to look at my self-identifed lists of things I’d like to see on Letterboxd, but I encourage you to go outside of things I already want to see and surprise me with things I don’t know about or wouldn’t have chosen to see myself (but I realize I’m pretty inclusive with my “want to see” lists and it may be easier to go that route)
  • There are a very few films I will veto. If you suggest one of them to me, I will politely ask you to choose something else. As an example, Salo is one of them. You might want to generally stay away from sadistic films, torture-porn, hardcore exploitation and stuff along those lines.

As I said, I plan to start in January 2016, so I’d love to have a solid group of recommendations a couple of weeks before that so I can start sourcing the films. I have Netflix Instant and DVDs, Amazon, HuluPlus, and a great library system, so I should be able to get most things unless they’re very difficult to find, and I’ll let you know if I have trouble sourcing something so you can choose something else.

Here’s to a great and varied year of moviewatching and discussion!