Tag Archives: Fritz Lang

GirlShy-feat

Favorite Older Films I Saw in 2012

Always an awkward post title, but I can never seem to manage to figure out a good way to sum up the kind of list I’m presenting here. My list of Top 2012 Films is included in the Row Three group post over here, and to be perfectly honest, this list of the pre-2012 films I enjoyed the most this year has already been posted on not only Row Three, but it’s also expanded from a similar list posted at Rupert Pupkin Speaks, where it joined a veritable gold mine of other such lists solicited from various bloggers – they’re all worth looking through, as there’s a ton of variety among what we each managed to catch up with and love last year.

Anyway, I figured I could post it here as well, now that it’s had time to run both the other places for a bit. I should stress that this is hardly an objective list, were such a thing even possible – it’s just what I liked the best and felt most desirous to share out of my first-time watches this year, excluding 2012 releases.

What older films did you love the best in 2012?

GIRL SHY (1924)
FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE (1926)
WHY WORRY (1923)

GirlShy

I’d seen Harold Lloyd’s best-known film Safety Last before, but I really consider 2012 my crash course in his comedy, with a trio of films I saw in close succession and really convinced me for sure that he belongs in the silent comedian pantheon. Girl Shy is, in fact, my favorite new-to-me film I’ve seen all year, and thanks to its sweet romance and breathtaking final chase scene, I actually liked it more than I do Safety Last. For Heaven’s Sake, with Lloyd as a millionaire bringing in street thugs and miscreants to fill up an inner-city mission’s pews to impress the preacher’s lovely daughter, is a ton of fun, too, full of insane gags and stunts. I liked Why Worry, with Lloyd as a hypochondriac who gets mixed up in the Mexican Civil War, the least of the three, but it’s still a solid film and a whole lot of fun. With these three under my belt, chalk me up a definite Lloyd fan.

THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960)

virginspring

Sometimes Ingmar Bergman films are a bit tough for me to get into – I can appreciate their austere humanism, but they often feel remote and uninvolving to me. The Virgin Spring grabbed me immediately and didn’t let me go until I collapsed at the end breathless, like the grieving father in the story. A young girl is violated by a group of men who later unknowingly seek shelter in her father’s home, whereupon he finds out what happened and exacts retribution. But nothing is so simple in Bergman’s world, and this is a deeply thoughtful and starkly beautiful film, questioning a God who allows tragedy to happen and yet also accepting that personal vengeance may not be the best way either.

THE DRIVER (1978)

The-Driver

Clearly a prototype for 2011′s Drive (a recent favorite of mine), The Driver stars Ryan O’Neal as a laconic getaway driver who’s being hunted by an arrogant cop (Bruce Dern) who wants to collar him simply because he’s never been caught. In between them are a gambling woman who may be playing both sides and a bunch of thugs who are no match for the Driver. It’s a mystery to me why this film isn’t always mentioned in the same breath with great car chase movies like Bullitt and The French Connection, because the chases here are every bit as good. Mix in the Le Samourai-esque lead character, and this film was made for me.

SOLARIS (1972)

Solaris

First of all, it took me several days to get through this meditative sci-fi film musing on love and loss. I’m not proud of that, but it can certainly be blamed on my pregnancy-related tiredness at the time rather than the film itself, although the film itself is definitely on the slow side. I actually liked the pacing and though it worked well for the kind of heady, evocative sci-fi this is. That said, because of the viewing conditions, I had difficulty holding it all in my head at once or feeling like I had a solid grasp of it by the end. I’m already looking forward to a rewatch, upon which time I think I will appreciate it even more.

THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928)

passion-of-joan-of-arc

Even Top Five placement is probably not high enough for this film, but I’m being honest, and that’s where it is at least on first viewing. The movie is an intriguing combination of austerity (sparse set design) and raw emotion (Marie Falconetti’s extraordinary face, usually seen in close-ups). I’ve seen a couple of other Dreyer films, and I generally find them a bit difficult to relate to stylistically, and I have to say I felt kind of the same tension here. I do think some rewatches will move it much higher on my list, though – it feels like the kind of film I will grow into. Also, the print on HuluPlus does not have a music track with it, and I don’t think that helped my experience.

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Anna-Karenina

Scorecard: November-December 2012

Usually November is a huge movie-watching month for me thanks to maxing out on AFI Fest (last year I think I saw upwards of 15-20 films at the festival), but I cut back significantly this year, skipping midnights and not planning more than two programs per day, which also included a number of shorts programs. So I only ended up with six features from the fest, which was a much more manageable number for me this year. I’ve largely used the same brief reviews I posted earlier on Row Three (some slightly condensed, but not much), but you can also read rundowns of the shorts programs over there if you’re so inclined. Then I was typically late getting all this together, and since I watched relatively few films in December as well, decided to throw those into the same post.

What I Loved

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I saw the 2D version, in 24fps, and I’m glad I did, so I wouldn’t be distracted/thinking about tech things instead of the story itself. I really enjoyed the film, at least as much if not more than the LOTR films. I was worried about the length, given the snappiness of the book, and they’re definitely giving it a more epic feeling than the novel, but it works. The added and adapted stuff from the LOTR appendices fits well, and ties the story closer to LOTR in nice ways, while still keeping some of the lighter, more humorous tone of The Hobbit. The pacing is much better than I expected, with only a bit of padding/repetitiveness toward the beginning causing me any doubts at all. (NOTE: We went back to see the 48fps version later, and I don’t want to get into here, but you can see my reaction specifically to the technical aspects on Letterboxd.)

2012 USA/New Zealand. Director: Peter Jackson. Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Stephen Fry, Hugo Weaving.
Seen December 15 at The Rave.

Django Unchained

Any new Tarantino movie is automatically near the top of my anticipated list, and this one was no different. It didn’t disappoint. With Christoph Waltz in his meatiest role since, well, Inglourious Bastards, as a bounty hunter joining forces with freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) to take down some bounty targets and eventually get Django’s wife back, it’s a Southern-style spaghetti western revenge tale that was bound to tickle my fancy. Everyone is having gleeful fun with this, right down to Leonardo diCaprio’s slimy Southern aristocrat. Tarantino doesn’t shy away from the subject either, with some brutality is sometimes quite difficult to watch (though there’s plenty of the cool kind of violence as well), and just wait until you see what role he’s got for Samuel L. Jackson. The whole cast gives it their all, whether heroes or villains, and though there’s plenty of Tarantino’s signature dialogue and scene-making, it also moves rather faster and seems less self-indulgent on the script side than often is the case. I don’t think it’s the masterpiece that Inglourious Bastards is, but it’s a whole lot of fun, and there’s no arguing that.

2012 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo diCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson.
Seen December 26 at The Rave.

Wrong

I was a pretty big fan of Quentin Dupieux’s previous film Rubber, and I may have loved Wrong even more, with its full-blown absurdity bolstered by an ever-so-slightly more substantial story. Dolph Springer wakes up one morning to find his beloved dog missing, an event that sends his already spiraling life even more out of control. Other things he’s dealing with: his workplace is constantly raining (yes, inside the office), his coworkers seem very intent that he doesn’t belong there, his neighbor and seemingly only friend leaves suddenly on a driving trip to find himself or something, the girl at the pizza place seems to have developed an obsession with him, and what’s more, the palm tree in his backyard has mysteriously turned into a pine tree. “There shouldn’t be a pine tree here. It doesn’t make sense.” No, it doesn’t, and neither does anything else in the film – except, as true absurdity should, it sort of does, right down to the eventually-revealed reason for the dog’s disappearance. Everything in the film is wrong, from obvious things like it raining indoors and trees randomly changing types to the ways people interact with each other. It’s a perfect storm of the awkward and nonsensical, and thanks to the deadpan script and actors’ perfect timing throughout, it’s absolutely hilarious even as you feel bad for these people who can’t quite manage to get along in any way that even resembles normalcy. It’s definitely getting my vote for funniest film I’ve seen this year, and I think it’s safe to say that Dupieux is perfectly tapped into my sense of humor.

2012 France. Director: Quentin Dupieux. Starring: Jack Plotnick, Eric Judor, Alexis Dziena, Steve Little, William Fichtner, Regan Burns, Mark Burnham.
Seen November 2 at AFI Fest, Chinese Theatres.

Anna Karenina

I went into this knowing next to nothing about the story of Anna Karenina except that it’s about a scandalous affair in 19th century Russia, and Anna’s fate. I’ve never been particularly interested in the story before, as it sounded dreary and depressing (i.e., stereotypically Russian), but I’ve loved every Joe Wright film I’ve seen, and I’ve seen them all except The Soloist. I figured it would at least be a spectacle worth seeing, and I was sure right about that. Between the sets, costumes, score, and camerawork, I was mesmerized for the entire film. I have no idea how close it is to the novel – I hear people complaining that Wright left Tolstoy behind in making the film, but you know what? I don’t care. This is a gorgeous movie that manages to get across its points about a decadent society and its focus on appearances, the contrast between selfish and selfless love, and the gender inequality of the time while never failing to be visually sumptuous. I was worried about the conceit of having everything on a single set, but it worked completely for me – the long takes sometimes taking us from one place to a completely different place without ever cutting are virtuosic and when the film DOES take a break from the stage-bound set, it’s for good thematic reasons. To me, this is possibly Wright’s best adaptation, because it doesn’t feel so stiflingly bound to the book as Atonement, but rather takes flight with Wright’s imagination, and that’s what I want to see in an adaptation – the director’s vision of what the source material could be cinematically.

2012 UK. Director: Joe Wright. Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Domhnall Gleeson, Matthew Macfadyen, Alicia Vikander, Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson, Michelle Dockery.
Seen November 18 at Arclight Hollywood.

Les Miserables

I think I may be enough biased towards this story and music that it would’ve been hard for Tom Hooper to screw it up to the point where I wouldn’t like it. I mean, the version I’ve seen the most is the Royal Albert Hall concert version which isn’t even staged, and it still affects me greatly. But the good news is that Hooper didn’t actually screw it up at all. It’s easy to nitpick if you want (they cut out parts of songs and moved them around; they filmed in intense close-up and shallow focus most of the time; not all the singers are as good as the Broadway counterparts, etc etc etc.), but I’d rather not. Russell Crowe is the weak link voice-wise, and it’s noticeable on his two solos, but he’s actually quite good when interacting with the rest of the cast, even while singing. Amanda Seyfried managed to make me care more about Cosette than I ever have before. Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne ran off with the film, making the most of Hooper’s closeups to put pure raw emotion on screen. Samantha Barks brought the same humanity and expansiveness to Eponine that she did on Broadway. The shooting style is aggressively close-up, but intentionally so – it focuses in on the pain of these people, and their joys, and when a wide shot is needed, Hooper uses them. I was fully moved and taken with the story yet again, and I was quite satisfied.

2012 USA. Director: Tom Hooper. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter.
Seen December 29 at The Rave.

The Driver

I’d heard that Drive (one of my favorite films of 2011) called back to this film especially among its 1970s and 1980s influences, and that’s absolutely true. The character of The Driver is pretty similar – laconic guy who’s an amazing getaway driver but has to get his hands dirty when a job turns out to be a set-up – plus the opening sequence of Drive is clearly modeled on the opening sequence here. The Driver doesn’t have near the stylistic overload that Drive does, but that’s okay – the aesthetics of this film work for it. Most of the car chases (which are fantastic – it’s amazing to me this film isn’t always mentioned in the company of Bullitt, The French Connection, Ronin, etc., when talking about great car chase movies) are done without music, it’s got a pretty toned down visual style, and pretty straight-forward character dynamics. But yeah, it all works, does what it sets out to do, and is quite satisfying.

1978 USA. Director: Walter Hill. Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Isabelle Adjani, Bruce Dern.
Seen December 9 at home.

In Another Country

The last three AFI Fests have all included films from South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, and it’s a trend I certainly hope continues, because though he’s virtually unknown here aside from avid festival-goers, his films are consistently delightful and refreshing. In Another Country has a framing device of a young Korean girl writing three versions of a story, each involving a Frenchwoman (Isabelle Huppert) visiting the same Korean seaside town; each time she’s a slightly different character in different circumstances, but with many similar experiences. Hong’s previous film The Day He Arrives was also interested in repetition with variation, but In Another Country feels more finished and polished than that film did. It’s also more broadly funny, with Hong exploiting the language barrier for all its worth (all the characters speak English with each other, as neither French nor Korean is a shared language), but never cheaply or meanly. It’s an utterly charming film that uses character interactions and conversations to drive its ever-so-slight plot (or plots), and Hong’s mastery of conversation-driven scripting is second-to-none. Also, having Huppert on board is never a bad thing. She brings a slight melancholy to her three characters, each of whom is in Korea for a different but not necessarily happy reason, and inquiring curiosity about the folk around her. Even though we’re only with each one of her characters for about twenty minutes, it’s impossible not to be drawn right into her story each time. Meanwhile, the Korean actor who plays the lifeguard matches her in charisma, his upbeat cheerfulness and interest in her overcoming the linguistic and cultural barriers between them. Not a whole lot happens in the film beyond a lot of eating, drinking, and conversation, but it’s never less than enthralling.

2012 South Korea. Director: Hong Sang-Soo. Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Kwon Hye Hyo, Jung Yu Mi, So-ri Moon, Moon Sung Keun.
Seen November 4 at AFI Fest, Chinese Theatres.

Rewatches

One Week (1920; rewatched December 25) – Popped this one in to check the transfer on the Buster Keaton Blu-ray set my wonderful husband gave me for Christmas, and it looks gorgeous. Also, the film is hilarious, with Keaton and his new bride trying to set up a proto-Ikea do-it-yourself house.
Shadow of a Doubt (1942; rewatched December 31) – Of all the films in the Hitchcock Blu-ray set, this is the one I most wanted Jonathan to watch, so we did on the last night of the year. Still great, and the crisp B&W fairly pops out of the screen on Blu-ray.
A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992; rewatched December 25) – One of my all-time favorite Christmas movies, and I haven’t had the chance to watch it in a few years, so we made sure to make time for it this Christmas.

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roundup

The Roundup: April 9th

Featured Links

Remaking Metropolis by David Kalat at Movie Morlocks

Once again, David Kalat blows me away with one of his wide-ranging and highly informative posts. This time, he approaches the Complete Metropolis with some trepidation – not because the restored version of the film isn’t amazing (it is, and he agrees), but because the push to market it as the full version of what we’d only known in part before downgrades the earlier cuts unfairly. After all, that shorter cut is what most people have known and fallen in love with for the past 75 years. On his way to this argument, though, he also details the production and troubled distribution of the film, discussing in detail how the cuts got made in the first place and why, and the seemingly subtle but actually quite significant changes to the story that resulted from them. Probably the best post I read all week.

A Meditation on Mad Men by The Lady Eve at The Lady Eve’s Reel Life

The Lady Eve has been hosting a whole series of excellent posts about Mad Men on her blog (most of which seem to be relatively spoiler-free, discussing the overall aesthetics and appeal of the show rather than specific plot details – which is good for me, since I’m still back in S3 somewhere), and this collection of thoughts from the Lady Eve herself captures a lot of the major themes of the show – the sense of nostalgia that calls us to a show about the ’60s even as Don Draper uses it to hearken to an even earlier time in his ad campaigns, the search for identity that haunts Don and his family and to some degree the ’60s as a whole, and of course, the exquisite detail of the production design and scripts that seem to bring not just the look of the ’60s, but the hopes and fears of that era into startling reality.

The Psychology of Betty Draper Francis by Terry Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts

Yes, another Mad Men-related post. What are you gonna do about it? Just please don’t take this opportunity to spoil me on what was apparently a brilliant episode last night, because I am a season and a half behind. This post pulls some stuff from season 4, I think, but not enough to bother me. Betty is pretty much a shoo-in for least-liked character on the show, and Canote certainly doesn’t whitewash any of her frankly horrible behavior throughout the show, but he does take the opportunity to psychoanalyze her a little bit, in terms of her family background, life with Don, and the social atmosphere of the ’60s. I don’t always agree with psychoanalytical approaches, but this one manages to discuss an awful lot about the show in general, and the way the writers have set Betty up to be the person she is.

Memories of Midnight Movies by Will McKinley at The Cinementals

A simply delightful post, relating Will’s experience with midnight movies on Long Island in the ’70s and ’80s. He discusses the midnight movie phenomenon in general, even though he was too young at the time to really be a part of it, and the first time his dad took him to a midnight movie – not Rocky Horror Picture Show or Eraserhead, though those were two of the films to popularize the concept in the late ’70s – but a midnight screening of classic Three Stooges movies. I guess we know why Will’s a Cinemental!

Pioneers of the Corman Film School by Alex Withrow at And So It Begins

Alex reminds us that without Roger Corman, we’d be unlikely to have the many of the most talented directors of the past few decades, and New Hollywood itself probably would’ve been a very different time. Known for his low budget, quickly shot B movies, Corman used his studio AIP to give young directors a shot at making films the same way he did – quick and dirty. But by giving them the freedom they needed, he ended up launching careers for people like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, and more. Alex runs through a bunch of these directors, talking a bit about the films they made for AIP and what they went on to do later. Thank you, Mr. Corman, for your contribution to American cinema.

Playing by Different Rules: Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray by Marilyn Ferdinand at Ferdy on Films

Classic Hollywood loved to pair the same actors together over and over again, with many costarring teams becoming almost inextricably linked – Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, William Powell and Myrna Loy, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Marilyn Ferdinand points out that Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray costarred no fewer than three times together (not quite as often as those other teams, granted, but still a decent amount), and yet all their films are so decidedly different that it’s tough to consider them a “team” in the same way as some of the others. She takes a look at these three films and at Stanwyck and MacMurray’s performances in them.

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Cool Trailers, Videos, and More

Noteworthy News

  • Nicole Kidman will play Grace Kelly in an upcoming film from Olivier Dahan (La vie en rose) – if you don’t believe that’s great casting, just watch her in The Others and get back to me
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt won’t be in Django Unchained after all; he has a scheduling conflict due to his directorial debut. That’s a good reason, I think, but still.
  • Apparently Greta Gerwig is a director now, with a surprise film headed for festivals this fall
  • David Michôd’s debut Animal Kingdom turned a lot of heads, including in Hollywood, but he’s following it up with another small Australian film – good for him, and I’ll be there to watch it
  • Vincenzo Natali is set to follow the underrated Splice with backwards ghost story Haunters, with Abigail Breslin in the lead
roundup

The Roundup: March 16, 2012

This post was mostly ready last week, but life (and hackers) intervened and delayed me. I spruced it up with some links from this week, but I also had to do a lot of skim reading this week and utilize the dreaded “mark as read” function in GReader, so I’m sure I missed some great posts from people I was following. I’m sorry, I’m really trying to do better. The more I do this, the more I get invested in reading people’s blogs – which is great, but time-consuming. In any case, all these links are well worth your time, even if they are a week or two old at this point.

Featured Links

Past/Not Past: A Tale of Two Cinemas by Adam Cook at The Auteur’s Notebook

It’s difficulty to avoid comparing the two 2011 films that owe a great debt to silent cinema (and cleaned up at the Oscars), but they actually take very different approaches. Hugo is a film ABOUT silent cinema, but set after the silent era, as two kids become acquainted with one of the first motion picture giants, Georges Méliès, and his films. The Artist imitates silent cinema, setting its story in Hollywood in the late 1920s and depicting the transition into sound. I liked both films, but probably enjoyed The Artist a little more – that said, Adam Cook makes a REALLY strong case for why Hugo is actually much more celebratory of silent cinema than The Artist, which subtly undercuts its own nostalgia (probably unintentionally). Really good and thought-provoking piece that made me want to rewatch and re-evaluate both films soon. See also Glenn Kenny discussing Singin’ in the Rain‘s attitude toward silent cinema, in light of the frequent comparisons between it and The Artist.

An Introduction to the Flickchart World of Ranking Films by Emil at A Swede Talks Movies

The movie-ranking website Flickchart has been around for a while, and yet it still seems to fall under the radar a lot of the time. I know a lot of passionate users (disclaimer: I know the founder and a lot of the contributors and once in a while contribute to the Flickchart blog), but I know just as many people who either haven’t heard of it or just checked it out a couple of years ago when it launched and then forgot about it. But they’ve continued innovating, and as of now, I’d say it’s ones of the most useful movie websites I frequent. Fellow Flickcharter Emil has written up a wonderful introduction to it, and though I intend to do a write-up over at Row Three soon (there are a ton of new features since the last time I wrote about the site), I have to defer to Emil for one of the best posts I’ve seen explaining how the site works and what value it has.

John Ford and the Citizen Kane Assumption by Kristen Thompson at Observations on Film Art

Interestingly enough, I just got finished defending How Green Was My Valley‘s Oscar win a week or so ago in my Oscars Rank ‘Em post, and here’s Kristen Thompson doing the same thing, only far more eloquently and in greater detail. She suggests, and I think it’s true, that the film is usually denigrated SOLELY because it beat the apparently untouchable Citizen Kane out for the Oscar. Not only does she point out how unfair that is, but she goes on to discuss exactly why How Green deserved to win the Oscar, and delves a bit into why Citizen Kane gets all the praise and study instead. It’s a really great article on a lot of fronts.

Gone Too Soon Blogathon at Comet Over Hollywood

Comet Over Hollywood hosted a blogathon last weekend devoted to remembering the many classic Hollywood celebrities who passed away far too young. Obvious names like Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe came up of course, but there are literally dozens of people memoired here, from huge stars to starlets who barely got the chance to make an impression. I haven’t had time to read them all yet, but the ones I have are great. I’d especially point out True Classic’s post on the tragic short adulthood of child star Bobby Driscoll and a two-part piece on Thelma Todd, whose death remains mysterious, from My Love of Old Hollywood.

Travelling Through the Movies by Jessica at The Velvet Cafe

All of Jessica’s posts are simply delightful; basically, if you love film and delightful people and you’re NOT following The Velvet Cafe, you’re doing it wrong. I actually had another one of her posts set for up here (the one on Swedish cinema which is now linked below under “more links”), but this one hit one of my favorite things of all time – traveling. And rather than just do a list of films where people take trips, which would still have come up with a good lot of excellent films, Jessica bases her list around films that explore different aspects of traveling. Everything from road trips to journeys of self to being stuck in airports to feeling lost in an unknown country. It’s a great set of films, and a unique way of looking at them.

Unforgettable Scenes: It’s Still Not Over by Tyler at Southern Vision

I’ve only recently discovered this blog, but I can already tell it’s going to be one of my favorites. Here Tyler takes a scene from Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies (which is probably his most accessible film, from what I can gather – it’s the one everyone told me to try when I failed to make it through his 7.5-hour Satantango) and describes his love for it with great eloquence. Like him, I’m not entirely sure I could say why I found Werckmeister Harmonies magical, but I did, and this scene is definitely the part of it that I found the most memorable.

The Woman in the Window by the Self-Styled Siren

Almost every time I’ve mentioned Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window since I saw it last year, I’ve said some combination of “it’s a wonderful little film noir, but the ending is a total cop out.” I’m not alone in thinking that, but the Self-Styled Siren disagrees. She defends the ending as intentional, fitting, and more subversive than it seems on first viewing. I’m not sure I’m totally convinced, but she’s definitely given me second thoughts, and I’ll definitely have her thoughts in the back of my head next time I watch the film.

How John Carter Succeeds Where the Star Wars Prequels Failed by Jack Giroux at Film School Rejects

See, see, I’m not only featuring articles about classic films! This one’s only been out, like, ONE WEEK. I haven’t seen it myself, to be honest, though I am curious based on the source novel, Andrew Stanton’s involvement, and the fact that I like big adventure films. But Film School Rejects is going one step farther and acclaiming the film quite highly (most critics are reservedly favorable at best, from what I’ve read). I found this particular article especially interesting, as Giroux runs down what John Carter does right that George Lucas did wrong with the prequels – that’s not necessarily a high bar for praise, but it’s a really solid article. See also Neil Miller’s 7 Reasons to Go See John Carter.

More Links!

Trailers of Interest (or Not)

Headhunters Trailer – this movie is AWESOME
ParaNorman Trailer – one of the more intriguing animated films of the year
Dark Shadows Trailer – the comedy tone threw me a bit; back to Beetlejuice for Burton?
On the Road Trailer – curious to see what Walter Salles does with this material
Ice Age 3: Continental Drift Trailer – pretty sure these are supposed to make me laugh; didn’t work
Men in Black 3 Trailer 2 – this looks ridiculous; of course, I thought that about the first one

Cool Videos

Short film: The Love Connection – very adorable, plus has music by The Pauses, one of whom is a friend
The History of Television – a few omissions, but by and large, this is AWESOME
Creepy, weird, and kind of awesome video for Florence and the Machine’s “Never Let Me Go”
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah splatter paint all over the place in this video for “Hysterical”

Noteworthy News

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My 2011 in Film: Favorite Non-2011 Films

My Favorite Films of 2011 are posted here, but like any good film buff, I also watched a whole lot of non-2011 films. Here are some of my favorites of those first-time watches in loosely descending order (more favorites at the top). I didn’t limit this to a specific number. If I feel like it’s worth mentioning and I want to write a few words about it, it’s on here.

Le cercle rouge (1967)

I had a feeling I was going to like this film, just based on how much I’ve liked Jean-Pierre Melville’s other films, especially Le samourai, which, if I recall correctly, topped my favorites list in 2010. I had no idea I’d like it as much as I did. Melville weaves several plotlines together, involving a criminal just out of prison, the mob he steals money from, a detective chasing a different escaped con, a former sharpshooter cop who’s now an alcoholic, and more. Each of them has their own narrative rise and fall, and each character has their own arc, but they all interplay in an incredibly intricate way, as different ones join up on a heist (one of the best heist sequences in cinema) and others try to track them down for their own reasons. It’s hard to explain, but very easy and clear to watch. Brilliant work on all levels.

Blue Valentine (2010)

This film just missed my 2010 best of list (I saw it mere days after last year’s posts were made), but it would’ve ended up about #4 on that list. It might be even higher now. The film parallels the beginning and end of a single romance, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams (both in career-best performances), juxtaposing the courtship and the break-up of this couple to incredible emotional effect. Despite the temporal contrivance, the film is incredibly raw and realistic, with no easy answers for what causes a couple who seem so perfect for each other to hit the skids so badly. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Why in the world did it take me this long to watch this movie? That phrase actually applies to the next two as well, but the prestige of those two be darned, this is the one that I can’t get out of my head. The tales surrounding it are as legendary as the film itself, playing on the long-standing bitter rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who here play two aging showbiz sisters who have a long-standing bitter rivalry. It may be high camp, but this is quite possibly Bette Davis’s best performance – it’s mean and grotesque and pitiful and naive. And the movie itself is quite possibly the best example of Hollywood gothic, yes, even giving Sunset Boulevard a run for its money.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

There is a reason I’d been avoiding watching this classic must-see. I’m not a big Brando fan. I’d seen On the Waterfront, Sayonara, The Godfather, and more, and I just didn’t really get the whole Brando thing. But I finally sat down with this one and suddenly GOT IT. He’s utterly magnetic here, and the film is far more stylistically interesting than I’d expected. It wears its stage origins on its sleeve, but in a heightened way that works, and the clash of Leigh’s old-school Hollywood acting with Brando’s muttering animalism is palpable. Now I want to go rewatch all those other Brando films – I bet I’ll like them more.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

And the reason I’d been avoiding this one was simply that I figured it’d be depressing and Important Movie-esque. (Also I dislike Steinbeck based on “The Red Pony” traumatizing me as a child.) Wrong on both counts. It’s certainly not a happy peppy movie, and a ton of bad things happen to this Dust Bowl family, but I wasn’t prepared for how gorgeously this is shot (Gregg Toland, should’ve known) and how intense it can be, sharing in this family’s troubles and little joys, as well as dealing with the subplot of Tom Joad’s fugitive status. His final speech is justly praised, but the whole thing is pretty great.

The Cat and the Canary (1927)

Often cited as one of the prime examples of the haunted house mystery comedy, a genre that was apparently prominent in the silent era, and rightly so. Simply a ton of fun from start to finish, as a group of people gather in a long-deserted mansion to read the will of their crotchety old relative. There are threats of insanity, a murderer running rampant, an asylum escapee on the loose, plus various positive and negative interpersonal interactions among the varied potential heirs. Moody cinematography counterbalances the humor in the plot.

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

I watched the Man with No Name trilogy all out of order (I’d already seen the other two…yeah, backwards), but Jonathan wasn’t about to let me get away with not having seen this one, which is his favorite. I still like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly more, but there’s a lot I did like about this one, especially the way the story really follows Lee Van Cleef instead of Clint Eastwood – that was an interesting touch. Also, the bank robbery segment is just awesome. Next up – watching all three of these actually in order. :)

The Godless Girl (1929)

I always enjoy Cinefamily’s Silent Treatment nights because I get to see films that are rarely if ever screened and aren’t on DVD, plus learn a bunch about silent cinema and 1920s Hollywood and chat with film archivists. I’m always appreciative of the films I see, but to be honest, a lot of times, they’re mostly of historical significance. This is an exception, because this film is gangbusters fun. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, it’s the story of a clashing set of teenagers – one the leader of a group of young Christians, the other the leader of a group of Atheists. After the groups get in a riotous fight, they’re carted off to reform school, where they get to know each other. Frankly, there are like five or six sections of story (and tones!). But they’re all crazy and fun, and it ends with a massive escape/chase sequence followed by a climactic fire.

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

Seems like every year a film I’ve never heard of wins Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, upsetting one I either wanted to win or thought was a shoo-in. And then every year when I get around to seeing the actual winner, I’m blown away. This is an extremely solid mystery/character study of a detective flashing back to that one case, you know that one he never quite managed to solve. It’s tough to find the balance between mystery and character in films, but this one does it wonderfully, and with a lot of style to boot – just wait for the seemingly one-take stadium shot. It’s incredible.

The Naked Island (1960)

I happened to be volunteering on a night when Cinefamily screened this film, which I’d never heard of and knew nothing about – I hadn’t even read the blurb on the Cinefamily schedule. I stuck around to watch it anyway, and I’m certainly glad I did. An almost silent picture, depicting the day-to-day lives of a family struggling to maintain their farm on an unwelcoming island. Much of the film is just watching them cart water from the mainland, carry it up a treacherous hill, and water their crops one at a time. Sounds boring, but it isn’t, and when larger events do happen, they hit you like a ton of bricks.

The Illusionist (2010)

A sweet and simple ode to the entertainments of the past, the pleasures that progress has robbed us of in search of bigger, faster, louder thrills. The main character, once a popular vaudeville magician, finds himself less and less wanted as rock bands and television replace his craft – all except for one little girl, entranced by his magic. Like Sylvain Chomet’s previous film The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist is almost silent – as befits its origin as an unproduced script from Jacques Tati. Charming, simple, warm, and wistful.

Love in the Afternoon (1972)

Also known as Chloe in the Afternoon, this is one of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales films, and so far, I think it’s my favorite. Each of these films presents some sort of moral dilemma, but not in a didactic way – in this case a happily married man daydreams about other women, with no intention of taking action – until his friend Chloe decides to seduce him. Like most French New Wave films, it’s emotionally aloof in such a way that you actually end up supplying the emotions yourself, and this one presents its characters without judgement, but with a great deal of fairness and empathy. I love New Wave noncommital-ness, and this is right in my ballpark.

Night Train to Munich (1940)

I already knew director Carol Reed was more than just The Third Man, from having seen The Fallen Idol, but this would’ve clenched it – Night Train to Munich is a WWII spy story with double agents, concentration camps, undercover espionage, and daring mountaintop chases, all of which it does with a wit and panache that set it apart from most other spy films. It’s classy and silly and genuinely thrilling. Also, and this is not unimportant, it knows when to stop and doesn’t clutter everything up with needless denoument and codas.

The Man With the Golden Arm (1955)

Frank Sinatra may have already won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for From Here to Eternity two years earlier, but with this film he really cemented his standing as an actor. Pushing the envelope of the Production Code, the film tells of Frankie Machine, a card dealer and drug addict who just wants to get clean and play the drums, but he can’t get out of the gambling game – tied in by debts and drugs and a shrew of a wife. It’s not always easy to watch, and it does have an old-school realist melodrama angle, but when it’s on, boy is it on. The withdrawal scene gave ME the DTs.

The Descent (2005)

Director Neil Marshall continually impresses me with his genre films, and this one was no different – a group of girlfriends tries to reconnect after one of them experiences tragedy by going spelunking. But in an unknown cave, anything can happen, and everything does. This film is great on every level, with the dangers of the cave itself creating enough intensity, but the film is hardly content to stop with that. The pacing, the use of sound design, and the thematic content all raise this film above your standard horror thriller.

My Winnipeg (2007)

Easily the most accessible Guy Maddin film I’ve seen so far, and thus my favorite, at least until I get more accustomed to his extremely unique style of filmmaking – this time he takes us on an idiosyncratic tour of his hometown of Winnipeg, a surreal blending of his childhood, his attempts at recreating his childhood to deal with past trauma, and legends and stories of the town itself. It’s associative, bizarre, dreamlike, and definitely an experience.

Wayne’s World (1992)

I totally did not expect to enjoy this film as much as I did – I had it mentally lumped in with a bunch of other early ’90s comedies that just struck me as stupid and juvenile, but Jonathan convinced me to watch it, and yeah. This one is much smarter than it seems on the surface, with a lot of clever writing and meta humor that worked like gangbusters for me. Jonathan already quoted this one a bunch (leaving me shrugging my shoulders in ignorance), but now we’re quoting it together ALL THE TIME. See our “He Says, She Says” post.

Changing Husbands (1924)

Another hit from the Silent Treatment folks at Cinefamily, this one has Leatrice Joy (no, I’d never heard of her) in a double role as a bored rich housewife who wants to be an actress and a poor browbeated actress who just wants some peace and rest. Yep, you guessed it, they run into each other and decide to switch places for a bit, since the rich woman’s husband is out of town anyway. Surprise, he comes back and wants to take his “wife” on holiday. More mix-ups ensue, with a lot of sly innuendo and some great comic timing from all involved. It’s frothy, but great fun, and one of my favorite new-to-me silents of the year.

Batman: The Movie (1966)

I hesitate to put this movie (a big-screen film to go along with the campy ’60s TV show) into the “so bad it’s good” category, because I think the people who made it knew exactly what they were making, and did it all – the cheesy line readings, the over-abundance of villains, the ridiculous plot elements – totally on purpose. There’s no way they didn’t, there are too many self-referential jokes (“some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”). If you go into this with the same kind of pure enjoyment of ridiculousity that they did, you’ll have fun. I sure did.

Woman in the Window (1944) / Scarlet Street (1945)

I’m lumping these two together because it’s hard not to. In 1944, Fritz Lang got together with Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea, and made a quiet little noir film about a middle-aged man who falls for a younger woman and gets drawn into a crime because of her. It worked out so well. They all got together and did the same thing the next year. The details of the plot are different of course, but that trajectory is the same. Both films are solid noirs; it’s hard to rank them against each other, though, because WotW has a better and more interesting plot overall, but has a serious cop-out ending, while SS follows through on the ending beautifully, but has a less interesting/believable plot throughout. Both worthwhile, though, especially for noir fans.

Loves of a Blonde (1965)

Cinefamily did a series on the Czech New Wave a couple of years ago, but either they didn’t play this Milos Forman entry, or I missed that night. But seeing a few of those definitely gave me a taste for them, and I went into Loves of a Blonde with high hopes – which were not misplaced. With definite French New Wave influences, the film basically follows a young girl in a rural factory town in Czechoslovakia, who eschews the middle-aged men who remain in the town after most young men have been conscripted in favor of a pianist from Prague. But the story is less important than the individual scenes, vignettes like three leches macking on girls at a factory-sponsored dance, the girl getting lectured on propriety back at her hostel, and the encounter with the boy’s parents when she arrives unannounced on his doorstep. Take the focus on the youthtful and mundane from the Nouvelle Vague and add in a specifically Czech-under-communism austerity, and that’s this film.

49 Up (2005)

This can kind of stand in for the entire Up series of documentaries – it’s difficult to judge them separately, and this is the most recent one (though if they stay on schedule, 56 Up would be out this year). The premise of the series is that in 1964, a TV production team got a group of fourteen British 7-year-olds from different regions and class backgrounds and interviewed them on various topics. Every seven years they’ve gone back and interviewed the same people (though not all of them have agreed to be in every episode). It’s fascinating, both in the ways it upholds the original premise that a child’s future is set by the age of seven, in terms of societal status, and the ways it subverts those expectations – not to mention how it delves into the nature of documentary filmmaking itself. I don’t like documentaries that much, and this one is largely talking heads, but it is absolutely entrancing.

Vagabond (1985)

After being a huge fan of Agnès Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 last year, I wanted more Varda, but I put off seeing this one for a good while, largely because it just looked freaking depressing. And yeah, it kind of is. It’s about a twenty-something girl who roams the roads, hitchhiking, sleeping wherever she can, working for a while or living with people as she’s able. But the film opens with her dead in a ditch, then backtracks to how she got there, so you know it isn’t going to romanticize the life of the open road. Even though this was made long after the New Wave’s heyday, it does have that same kind of non-committal sympathy that works so well for me – Varda isn’t going to manipulate you into feeling sorry for the girl, she’s just going to show you want happened and allow your feelings to grow naturally. She’s not always an attractive character – often being rude or dismissive to those who would help her, until it’s too late – yet Varda’s technique works. It’s a really powerful, often hard to watch, but very rewarding film.

Robin Hood (1922)

I couldn’t pass up a chance to see a bunch of Douglas Fairbanks silents at Cinefamily earlier this year, and I think this was my favorite of the lot – it tells a good bit of the backstory to Robin Hood, depicting Robin of Locksley’s friendship with King Richard and his falling for Maid Marion before Richard ever went off to the Crusades, allowing Prince John to oppress the people and create the need for Robin Hood. Some of that gets a little long, but it’s a nice setup that most versions of Robin Hood skip over. After that, it’s really pretty similar to the Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood, but Fairbanks is even more athletic and exuberant than Flynn.

Zazie dans le metro (1960)

I still don’t quite know what to make of this early Louis Malle film, but I know I enjoyed watching it, and will likely enjoy it even more on future rewatches. Taken from a Raymond Queneau book (he was a prominent literary experimenter), the film is delightfully absurd, with basically no plot stringing along its series of nonsensical vignettes. It’s definitely got that New Wave sensibility that appeals to me so much, but I’m sure there are also satirical elements that slipped by me entirely. Even so, it was a whole lot of fun.

Carrie (1976)

Finally got around to this horror classic this October, after meaning to for the past two Octobers and failing. Despite knowing all about the bullying and the prom scene already, this film was a LOT different than I was expecting. The crazy mother, for one thing, and then the whole ending that went on much past the prom scene and complicates it a lot. In some ways, I didn’t like where the ending went, but I am highly intrigued by it and wish people would talk about it more, rather than just accepting the film as a pro-feminist revenge-on-bullies story. In any case, the film is really effective at putting us on Carrie’s side through Spacek’s wide-eyed performance and the agonizing yet lovely leadup to the climax at the prom, even if DePalma does overdo the visual flamboyance when he doesn’t really need to.

A Man Escaped (1956)

I have a love-hate relationship with Robert Bresson. I love Pickpocket, but really dislike Lancelot du Lac and felt pretty ambivalent towards Diary of a Country Priest. This one seemed more on the Pickpocket wavelength, and sure enough, it joins the “love” side of Bresson’s filmography for me. The film takes its time, as the main character is member of the French resistance imprisoned by Nazi forces, who works carefully and patiently to plan and execute an escape. Despite the slow pace, though (something Bresson is known for generally), this film maintains tension perfectly, and doesn’t get dull at all.

Back to the Future II (1989)

When Jonathan found out I had only seen the first Back to the Future film and that I hardly remembered any of that, he sat me down with the whole trilogy almost immediately. Not only did I enjoy the first one a lot more than I initially had, but Part II instantly joined the ranks of sequels that are better than the originals. The way that II coils back on I with amazing intricacy is great, but I was also really taken by the future world (which is NOW, by the way, if you work the dates out…I’d say we failed to progress in certain areas quite as much as expected, but maybe we’re better off in other ways). Of course, being the history nut that I am, I also really enjoyed Part III, but not quite enough for it to make this list. It’s hovering right below it.

Bigger Than Life (1956)

Long before David Lynch (Blue Velvet) or Sam Mendes (American Beauty) satirized the underbelly of American suburbia, Nicholas Ray brought this scathing attack against suburban values – or the veneer that suburbia tries to uphold to hide the darker things lying beneath. Here James Mason secretly works two jobs to support his family, but a malicious disease takes its toll on him, the only thing that helps being large doses of painkillers – which he becomes addicted to. He eventually devolves into madness, and yes, there’s quite a bit of melodrama in the film, but if you go along with its excesses, you’ll find one of the darkest films about the ’50s ever made.

Born to Kill (1947)

I’d never heard of this noir film until a friend lent it to me, but hey, Robert Wise usually makes good pictures, right? Right. The always-impressive Claire Trevor leaves town after she finds a friend murdered, not wanting to get involved, but unbeknownst to her, the murderer (her friend’s jealous boyfriend) is insinuating himself into her life, ALSO not knowing that she knew the victim. It’s a crazy mess of fate, mutual attraction and repulsion, double-crosses, and both a femme fatale AND an homme fatale. Plus, Elisha Cook Jr. in a meaty supporting role. A lesser-known noir this may be, but that’s a mistake – it’s definitely one of the more interesting ones I’ve seen.

Taking Off (1971)

After making a splash with the Czech New Wave (see Loves of a Blonde, above), Milos Forman made his way to Hollywood success with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. But first he did this little-known film, his first in the United States, about a teenage girl who runs away to be part of a group of hippies, and her parents trying to find her. It’s got its ridiculous parts (which have a strange tendency to turn sublime, like the scene where all the parents learn how to smoke a joint to try to understand their children better), but it’s ultimately a quite moving and wistful portrait of two generations, and the longing of both to find meaning and connection.

The Constant Nymph (1943)

Long kept out of circulation due to rights issues, TCM finally got it worked out to show this Oscar-nominated Joan Fontaine film at the TCM Film Festival this year, and it was pretty great to see it with a whole crowd of people who’ve been waiting for it for a very long time. It’s a bit of an unusual film, though, with Fontaine a spright of a girl who breathlessly falls in love with a family friend who still thinks of her as a child. It’s chockfull of melodrama, but Fontaine plays it all with such eager naivete that it’s impossible not to like her, despite the underlying ick factor their ages make kind of hard to ignore.

This is the Night (1932)

Hyped up at the TCM Festival for being Cary Grant’s debut feature, there’s a lot more than that here to like. Basically playing second lead to Roland Young’s hapless gentleman, Grant is an athlete whose wife Thelma Todd is stepping out with Young (no, it’s not believable, just go with it), but in order to keep Grant from finding out, Young hires an actress to pretend to be his wife. It’s convoluted, but thanks to a stellar lead and supporting cast and a solid script, it’s as witty and charming as any 1930s movie – it’s unfortunate that it’s so little known. Definitely deserves a look.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

Silly and nonsensical story? Check. Ridiculous line readings? Check. Cheesy stop-motion effects? Check. Actually, the special effects are kind of awesome, I love watching stop-motion animation. It’s not believable, but it has a tactile charm that CGI loses along the way. The story here is basic fantasy adventure stuff with sorcerers and princesses and giant monsters, but it’s all in good fun, and I had a great time watching it.

Good Morning (1959)

I’ve tried to watch Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (generally touted as his best/most important film) at least two or three times and always failed, getting bogged down in my lack of knowledge of Japanese culture and the film’s deliberate pacing. A friend suggested I start with Good Morning instead to get into Ozu, and that was an excellent suggestion. This is a sunny, funny film, the loose plot centered on a pair of kids who want a television more than anything, but with plenty of time given to other vignettes around their apartment area. Charming and breezy.

Gremlins (1984)

I mostly snuck this one in here just because I was shocked at how much fun this film is – I thought it was just gonna be a horror film (and I knew the basic “don’t feed them after midnight” premise), but it’s REALLY goofy, and that’s what I liked about it. I loved all the inventions, I loved the gremlins having fun at the movies, I thought all that stuff was great – even more so because I had no idea it existed.