Tag Archives: The Thin Man

ebert

Top Ten: Roger Ebert’s Great Movies

Today would have been Roger Ebert’s 71st birthday had he not recently passed away. What better way to celebrate his life than to remember the films that he singled out for particular praise in his Great Movies series? Ebert did not rank these films; in fact, he added them only after he had a chance to reevaluate them and write about them, so there’s no hierarchy here at all. The ones he identified as Great Movies are likely only a fraction of what he would consider the Greatest Movies of All Time, and possibly not even the top fraction. But because the list of Great Movies is unranked by Ebert, it’s a perfect filter for Flickchart, letting us see how I personally and Flickchart users globally rank the conglomerate.

Flickchart is a movie ranking website that pits two random films against each other and asks you to choose which one is better, meanwhile building a list of your favorite films. I rank according to what I like the best, prioritizing personal preferences and emotional connections, so my Flickchart is in no way meant to be objective.

10 – The Thin Man (1934)

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many more times in the future – Nick and Nora Charles are my favorite on-screen married couple. They flirt and joke with each other, get through disagreements and have friendly competitions, are totally secure in each others’ love, and each is ready to take a bullet for the other if it becomes necessary. And oh, it does, because this is a murder mystery that crosses the Hammett-style detective story (Hammett actually wrote the novel the film is based on) with a touch of Agatha Christie, and a whole lot of ’30s-style witty comedy. The balance is perfect, and this is a film I can watch over and over and never get tired of.

9 – Vertigo (1958)

Alfred Hitchcock is my favorite director, and a whole bunch of his movies are in my Top 100, so it’s not surprising to find two on this list. First up, Vertigo, which is one of the first Hitchcock films I remember watching, when my cousin decided we should watch it when I was probably much too young for it. I liked it anyway, and I’ve only liked it better with every (frequent) rewatch. I love everything about this movie – the dark side of Jimmy Stewart, the lush and unrealistic colors, the slow burn, and perhaps especially the tragic Midge, who gave Scottie everything she had knowing he’d give her nothing in return. The fact that Midge’s story exists alongside and underneath the Scottie/Madeline/Judy story simply shows the breadth and nuance of Vertigo.

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le-cercle-rouge

Scorecard: November 2011

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn't like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

Even though I just finished recapping all the AFI films in their own posts, I went ahead and included them here as well, just because I like seeing how they all came out in relation to each other. All the capsule text is exactly the same as in the other posts, so if you read them in one of the AFI posts, don’t bother looking at them again here, but I figured, hey, nice to have them all in one place and be able to see they all compared in my overall rankings, plus if anyone happened to miss any of the previous posts, here you go. There are also a few non-AFI film capsules crossposted from the Movies We Watched series on Row Three. Hey, I’m just reusing and recycling, doing my part for the environment. You may notice I included my Flickchart rankings for each film this time – I’m going to start doing that for the monthly recap posts from now on, I think. Flickchart is a great site built around a deceptively simple premise – it presents you with two films and asks you to choose which one you like better. Do that enough (I’ve done it over 45,800 times as of this second) and it builds your list of films from favorites to least favorites. Take these with a grain of salt, though – I think these are roughly accurate, but my Flickchart changes every day.

What I Loved

Le cercle rouge

My one repertory screening of AFI Fest, thanks to Pedro Almodóvar programming a Jean-Pierre Melville film I’ve wanted to see for quite a while. And it was totally worth giving up a new movie to be able to see this one for the first time in a theatre with a full, appreciative audience. It’s a crime story, like most of Melville’s films, an intricately plotted combination of criminals on the run, police on the chase, the mob on the make, and a well-planned jewelry heist. All these elements get their due, with great characters in every part. It’s not quite fair to give a 40-year-old film my “best of fest” vote, but it was unquestionably my favorite. Full review on Row Three.
1970 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Alain Delon, Bourvil and Gian Maria Volonté.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 76 out of 2828

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Now here’s one that will DEFINITELY be on my top ten list this year – I was expecting a lot from this film based on the buzz from other festivals and advance screenings, and it delivered even more than I could’ve hoped. Almost a psychological horror film, delving into the disturbed psyche of a mom whose son seems to be a child of the devil. But whether the boy really is astoundingly fiendish or whether she’s an incapable mother (or more likely, somewhere between those two extremes, as they both bring out the worst in each other) is left ambiguous, as Lynne Ramsay builds a portrait of a woman who’s lost everything and vascillates between blaming everyone else and assuming blame herself. The film is structured with a series of flashbacks and flashforwards, keeping the audience in doubt as to the exact chain of events until a chronology starts building up to a terrible end – this structure, standout performances from everyone involved, and an enormously effective soundscape combine to make this one of the most terrifying pictures about parenthood ever made.
2011 UK. Director: Lynne Ramsay. Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly.
Seen November 9 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 78 out of 2828

Melancholia

It stands to reason that Lars von Trier would be a stellar director for a film with the end of the world as a metaphor for depression. It isn’t a particularly subtle film, but it’s nonetheless a perfect depiction of “melancholia” in both metaphorical and literal terms, as Kirsten Dunst gives an incredible performance as a woman struggling with depression, seemingly the only person who truly understands the import of the planet hurtling toward earth (dubbed “Melancholia”). Her sister, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, tries to help her through the depression, but when it becomes clear that Melancholia is not going to miss Earth as predicted, she falls apart – the shifting roles of the two sisters brings a dynamism to a film that can get downright stately (in a good way). No one but von Trier could make this film, but it is probably his most accessible in years.
2011 Denmark. Director: Lars von Trier. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgaard, Stellan Skarsgaard, Charlotte Rampling.
Seen November 6 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 223 out of 2828

Attenberg

My first foray into the new wave of Greek cinema emerging over the past couple of years was an unmitigated success, at least for me. I have yet to see either of Yanthos Lorgimos’s films (which I need to do, especially Dogtooth, as it’s a frontrunner in current Greek cinema), but I pretty much loved Attenberg, from his friend and collaborator Athina Rachel Tsangari, from start to finish. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what I got is something very similar to a Czech New Wave film, closely focused on a single twenty-something character and her struggle to come to terms with her father’s impending death and the way that’s all tied up her late-blooming sexuality. On the surface, not a whole lot happens here, but there’s a lot underneath, and that’s what I like to see. Right now this is in my top ten for the year. We’ll see if it can hang on through the final month of big-name releases. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Greece. Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari. Starring: Ariane Labed, Yorgos Lanthimos, Vangelis Mourikis, Evangelia Randou.
Seen November 9 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 246 out of 2828

Cafe de Flore

Parallel stories seemingly connected only by the importance of the title song in each take place in 1969 Paris and present-day Montreal. In 1969, a mother devotes herself to her Downs Syndrome son, their close bond threatened only when the boy becomes attached to a Downs girl he meets a school. In present-day, a DJ leaves his wife of many years for a young beauty. Both stories are concerned with multiple loves, lost love, new love, and letting go, and they may be connected even closer than that. This film will sneak up on you with how good it is, rising to an amazingly edited and scored crescendo. There currently isn’t US distribution for it that I’m aware of, and that’s a crying shame. This is one of the best films of the year.
2011 Canada. Director: Jean-Marc Vallée. Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Hélène Florent, Evelyne Brochu.
Seen November 6 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 326 out of 2828

This is Not a Film

This is not a film because Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been placed under house arrest and banned from filmmaking for 20 years by the Iranian government, because his films are seen as subversive and politically dangerous. This is not a film also because what he’s doing instead of making a film is having a friend record him telling his next screenplay, and a description of a screenplay is not a film. But this is a very real, very heartbreaking, very frustrating, and surprisingly very funny documentary about a man denied the ability to do what he does. It’s fantastic, and the knowledge that Panahi’s appeal was denied in the middle of October only makes it more poignant. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Iran. Directors: Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi. Starring: Jafar Panahi.
Seen November 4 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 342 out of 2828

Extraterrestrial

I’m a big fan of Nacho Vigalondo’s time travel film Timecrimes, so when I saw his new alien invasion film was coming to AFI Fest, it was an immediate must on my schedule. I’m not as big on alien invasion films as I am on time travel films, but that’s okay, because this is far from your typical alien invasion film, focusing on a quartet of characters left behind the evacuation when an alien ship appears. Their biggest fears, though, are the secrets they’re keeping from each other and the theories they hatch about each other. Great script and performances to match from the young cast make this a hugely fun time from start to finish. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Spain. Director: Nacho Vigalondo. Starring: Julián Villagrán, Michelle Jenner, Carlos Areces, Raúl Cimas.
Seen November 4 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 343 out of 2828

Kill List

Main character Jay has been out of work for eight months, a situation that he seems okay with, but his wife Shel most certainly is not. At first, it’s not clear what he does for work, but as the film wears on and a former colleague approaches him with a potential job, it becomes clear that he’s a hit man. As they take on the job, which consists of a list of people to be killed, the situations get weirder and weirder until the film takes a turn that switches it from slow burn to high-octane in almost a split second. That turn may not work for everybody, but it worked like gangbusters for me. Even the earlier kills have a bit of the old ultraviolence to them, and the twist at the end is horrible, but not necessarily unearned. At least, not in terms of the emotional and adrenal impact. I’m not sure the whole trajectory of the story makes logical sense in any way whatsoever, but by the time Jay and his cohort are being chased around in a set of dark, dank tunnels, it doesn’t really matter anymore. Terror takes over, and I have to say, this is one of the most terrifying films I’ve seen lately, even with a whole month of horror films just behind me in October. I loved it.
2011 UK. Director: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 612 out of 2828

Headhunters

A downright fun thriller with a heavy dose of dark comedy, as a mousy headhunter who uses his contacts as a way to find potential targets for his side business as an art thief ends up embroiled in a scheme way over his head and has to overcome his many character weaknesses just to survive. The plotting is intricate, but rarely confusing, and the cast (including Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, best known in the US for his villainous Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones) carries off all manner of ridiculous situations with believable aplomb.
2011 Norway. Director: Morten Tyldum. Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Aksel Hennie, Julie R. Ølgaard, Synnøve Macody Lund.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 617 out of 2828

What I Liked

Born to Kill

I hadn’t heard of this noir film until a friend of mine mentioned that he’d bought it and offered to lend it to me, and I ended up really liking it. But then, I like most noir, so that’s not really surprising. This one has a few intriguing twists on the genre, though, and two of the most watchably despicable characters I’ve seen for a while. Trevor’s next-door-neighbor gets killed by her jealous boyfriend (Tierney) when he catches her with another man (whom he also kills), but he escapes being noticed by Trevor, who discovers the bodies but then skips town rather than involve herself by, like, calling the police. She and Tierney end up on the same train, neither knowing who the other is, and their lives continue to be intertwined after that. Tierney is almost an homme fatale, the guy who simply won’t scram out of Trevor’s life and entrances her with his bravado and charisma, even though she knows he’s bad for her. But at the same time, she turns out to be hardly a straight-and-narrow kind of person herself, pulling double-cross after double-cross as she realizes who Tierney is (while Tierney interestingly stays pretty true to his admittedly amoral ideals). And of course, there’s the obligatory supporting turn from Elisha Cook, Jr., the staple of so many great noir films, and he’s just as great here as ever as Tierney’s mousy friend who has to do most of his dirty work. In fact, there’s great supporting work from everyone involved, especially Walter Slezak as a mostly kind but also kinda sleazy detective, and Esther Howard as a well-past-her-prime matron who doggedly pursues her friend’s killer – her performance and appearance may well bring new definition to the word “camp.”
1947 USA. Director: Robert Wise. Starring: Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, Walter Slezak, Phillip Terry, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook, Jr.
Seen November 25 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 684 out of 2828

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

This is one I went into with really no quality expectations whatsoever. I chose it because I’d never seen a Turkish film, and because I like slow burn procedural films – to a point. I was a bit concerned that this would go past that point, because it is very long and I was perfectly prepared to be bored stiff. But even though it is very slow, it is never boring, and I ended up liking the film a whole lot more than I thought I would. A caravan of police and army officers are escorting a pair of suspects in the middle of nowhere, trying to find a body that one suspect says is out there, but can’t remember exactly where. This odyssey takes all night, and along the way, different groupings of the police and suspects talk. The topics of conversation are as mundane as anything, but over time, this mundanity becomes the real focus, and takes on in importance even greater than the body they seek. It’s a narrative subversion that only works because of a really solid script and believable acting turns by the whole cast, and it’s a welcome one – by the end, you care more about these people’s individual lives than the mystery itself. There’s a lot more dry humor in it than I expected, too, which actually made the nearly three-hour runtime go by rather quickly.
2011 Turkey. Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Starring: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel.
Seen November 10 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 859 out of 2828

Snowtown

Everything I’ve heard from Australian bloggers and other festival-goers indicated that this film was a) really well-done and b) really hard to watch. That’s not far off, although I didn’t find it as difficult to watch as I thought I might. It’s based on the real-life John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer, but it’s far from a standard biopic. It filters its portrait through the character of Jamie, a teenage boy growing up in a single-parent, low income home. We spend a good bit of time with Jamie and his family before John shows up, suddenly Jamie’s mom’s new love interest. John is charismatic and heroic to Jamie and his younger brothers, someone who protects them from the pedophile next door but slowly brainwashes Jamie into his bigoted and violent worldview – but what at first seems to be just extreme vigilante justice against actual bad people soon turns into more and more self-serving kills. Some of these are very hard to watch, and I admit to closing my eyes a few times, but even more disturbing is how John brings Jamie into his group, and how he treats his “friends” at any provocation. It’s an extremely effective approach to Bunting, but probably not something I’d want to watch again.
2011 Australia. Director: Justin Kurzel. Starring: Lucas Pittaway, Bob Adriaens and Louise Harris.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 860 out of 2828

The Dish and the Spoon

Greta Gerwig is an indie goddess for a reason, and this little film proves why. Taking a simple story of a woman angry at her husband’s infidelity and throwing in some adventures with a young unmoored British man, Gerwig finds a character arc and runs with it, alternating funny, awkward, raw, and quirky as needed. The film is something of a collaboration between director, writer, and stars, and though things like this can get loose and uncontrolled very quickly, that doesn’t happen here, and the film remains charming and cohesive. Full review on Row Three.
2011 USA. Director: Alison Bagnall. Starring: Greta Gerwig, Olly Alexander.
Seen November 6 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 867 out of 2828

The Kid with a Bike

I’ve never seen a film from the Dardenne brothers before, but I know them by reputation, and they seem to often do stories that deal with unwanted or unwelcome children. In this case, the main character is an eleven-year-old kid whose dad puts him in an orphanage (“temporarily”) but then ends up abandoning him totally. A kind neighbor takes him in, despite a rather inauspicious meeting, but they’ve got several bumps in the road left to go, not least of them the kid’s temptation to fall in with a bad crowd. It’s a bit on the sweet side, but doesn’t stray too far into saccharine territory – really good turns from Doret and De France help a lot, making an unlikely relationship realistic and meaningful. There’s not enough in the film to really push it over the edge into “loved” territory for me, but it’s solid for what it is.
2011 Belgium. Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Starring: Thomas Doret, Cécile De France, Jérémie Renier.
Seen November 10 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 972 out of 2828

Buried

An extreme form of one-room film, with the whole thing set in a coffin buried somewhere underground. Ryan Reynolds carries the film admirably as an army contractor who gets taken hostage and buried alive with just a cell phone and a few other items, with the intention that he will get a sizeable ransom from the US government for his release. As we know, the US government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, leaving Reynolds hoping that the dispatched search and rescue team will find him before his air runs out. The film ratchets up tension admirably, keeping the audience engaged through 95 minutes of basically nothing happening except a man talking on a phone. There are nitpicks to be made, and I do wish there had been some better explanation for why he didn’t try to dig out through the obviously loose and relatively shallow dirt above him, but for the most part, it’s pretty effective as a tight-space thriller.
2010 USA. Director: Rodrigo Cortés. Starring: Ryan Reynolds.
Seen November 24 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 1113 out of 2828

The Day He Arrives

This one has been at the top of my must-see list for the festival since it was announced, since Hong Sang-soo’s film HaHaHa was my favorite film of last year’s AFIFest. And I did see it, but I’m disappointed to say that I was exhausted and zoning in and out throughout it. As such, I can’t really justify reviewing it fully, but here’s a few bits about it from my half-remembered daze. It’s got a lot less story than HaHaHa did, but similar to that film (and other Hong films, from what I’ve heard), a lot of it involves people conversing over drinks. In fact, that’s mostly what this film is, but Hong is so good at sussing out great little moments and character interactions in social situations like this that it remains enjoyable to watch, and I expect would be really good if I had been awake enough to catch more nuances. The main character is a filmmaker who arrives in a small town, intending to meet up with a friend, but he gets waylaid by a fan first, then a bunch of film students, then visits a former girlfriend (awesome awkward conversation there), then ends up killing some time with a friend of his friend, since his friend isn’t home. Eventually there are four of them, hanging out over drinks and chatting – this stuff is great, and seems to come really easily to Hong. This basically feels like a recharge film, a quickly produced affair maybe as he’s working on something more complicated. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There are some really interesting conversational tacks, all carried out with aplomb by the charismatic cast. There’s also some timey-wimey stuff going on – one section of the film is repeated almost verbatim twice, but with slight differences, and the end is basically the beginning, except his friend turns out to be home. I’m dying to see it again to connect that stuff up properly, but I can’t, having dozed off enough to make deciphering timey-wimey stuff impossible. The worst part is I have no idea when, if ever, I’ll get a chance to rewatch this – Hong’s stuff is not easy to find in the US.
2011 South Korea. Director: Hong Sang-soo. Starring: Jun-Sang Yu, Sang Jung Kim, Bo-kyung Kim, Seon-mi Song.
Seen November 8 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1252 out of 2828

Bonsái

An opening voiceover tells us that all we need to know about this story is that at the end, Emilia is dead, and Julio is not dead. “All the rest is fiction.” I love when stories play with storytelling itself, and that’s what this film does, giving us a multi-layered look at a relationship that may be real, or may be partly real, and certainly is partly fiction. Julio is a wanna-be writer who tries to get a job typing up the latest work of a famous novelist. When he fails to get the job, he tells his girlfriend about it anyway and starts making up the story based on the brief logline the novelist gave him, tying it back to a relationship he had nine years earlier with a girl in college. At some points he seems to be telling their story exactly, but other times it’s clear that filtered through both memory and fiction, it’s vastly different than what actually happened, if indeed, anything actually happened at all. The story owes a lot to Proust, whose opening lines in Remembrance of Things Past get repeated a few times (Julio and Emilia also met over them both pretending to have read Proust) – I won’t repeat them all here, but they have to do with the main character falling asleep reading and in a half-wakeful state imagining himself to have become part of the book he was reading. That’s very much what’s going on here, and I loved it. The love story (or stories, both the remembered one with Emilia and the current one with his girlfriend) is sweet and genuine, and though the film as a whole is pretty slight, it’s very enjoyable and made me want to read Proust myself. So there’s that.
2011 Chile. Director: Cristián Jiménez. Starring: Gabriela Arancibia, Cristóbal Briceño and Julio Carrasco.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1265 out of 2828

Pina

After thinking that Werner Herzog’s The Cave of Forgotten Dreams was the best use of 3D I’d seen so far, I figured I’d give Herzog’s countryman Wim Wenders a chance to challenge with his dance documentary/tribute to groundbreaking choreographer Pina Bausch, who died while working a film with Wenders. He abandoned the film upon her death, until her dance company convinced him to complete it as a tribute to her. The film itself is lovely, a collection of dance performances, some on stage, others in various urban and rural laces throughout Germany, intercut with brief interview excerpts from members of the company about Pina and her approach to dance. The 3D, though…something may be wrong with me, but I find it impossible to focus on movement in 3D, and dance is a LOT of movement. The still parts look pretty cool in 3D (including, surprisingly, the interview segments, which are done as a shot of the dancer not talking with their quotes given in voiceover – more effective than you might think), but as soon as the dancers move with any speed, it’s just a blur and trying to focus on it gave me a massive headache. I think I would prefer to watch this in 2D. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Germany. Director: Wim Wenders. Starring: Ensemble of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1267 out of 2828

Dementia, aka Daughter of Horror

What a bizarre and intriguing little curiosity of a film. Shot in 1953 completely silent, but released in 1955 with an added voiceover narration, the film screened at Cinefamily with live narration from a local comedian, who read the voiceover script when called for, but filled in the many non-voiced parts with MST3K-style joking around. So it’s not an experience that’s likely to be repeatable, but it was certainly memorable and hilarious to see it that way. The film itself is a nightmare-scape, with a woman waking in the middle of the night and taking a noirish odyssey through the dark streets of a city populated with winos, pimps, and scumbags. Is it really happening, or is she dreaming? Who knows? It’s rather surreal, and filled with memorable details like a midget newspaper seller, a graveyard flashback with images of fatherly abuse, a swinging jazz club, a gluttonous lech, and a crisscross of legs blocking a vital piece of evidence – all rendered in high contrast black and white with long shadows and striking angles. The pacing is often disjointed, and the acting often simply bad, but there’s something mesmerizing about the film that I think exists apart from the amusing commentary we got that both enhanced and diffused the film’s nightmarish impact. I enjoyed the experience greatly, but I hesitate to say the film would be unwatchable without it (as most MST3K films are). There’s more inherent interest in it than that.
1955 USA. Director: John Parker. Starring: Adrienne Barrett, Bruno VeSota, Ben Roseman.
Seen November 16 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1421 out of 2828

The Loneliest Planet

I’m not entirely sure what to say about this film, even after having had a few weeks to think about it. It’s an extremely slowly-paced film, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that – unless it’s 10pm the last day of an exhausting festival, which, oh wait, it was. It was difficult to stay awake in the film, but again, that’s not the film’s fault, and though I struggled while watching it, thinking back about it has made me appreciate a lot of what it was doing more. Hani Furstenberg and Gael Garcia Bernal play a couple about to be married who are vacationing in the mountains of Georgia (the country, not the state), backpacking and camping along with a mountain guide. A lot of the film is just them walking around, maybe taking a few minutes to wander around an abandoned house or interacting with village locals before heading out into the wilds. They converse some, trying to learn about their guide (who is actually played by one of the premier mountaineers in the world) and practicing bits of Spanish, but a lot of it is also wordless. Somewhere in the middle a traumatizing event causes Furstenberg’s character to start distrusting Bernal’s, which leads to some darker places in the rest of the film. A lot of this is pretty subtle, and I was frankly too sleepy to catch all the acting nuances all the time, but the Q&A and thinking over the film in the subsequent days has definitely made me want a rewatch at some point.
2011 Germany/USA. Director: Julia Loktev. Starring: Hani Furstenberg, Gael García Bernal, Bidzina Gujabidze.
Seen November 10 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1753 out of 2828

The Last Command

I’m consciously trying to watch more Josef von Sternberg films, just because he’s got a healthy reputation among early Hollywood film directors – especially for his work with Marlene Dietrich, but also for late silents like Underworld and The Docks of New York, and this film, which is especially notable for being one of two films to bring Emil Jannings the very first Best Actor Academy Award ever. (They gave awards based on all films an actor appeared in that year; in this case, the other is The Way of All Flesh, which exists now only in fragments.) But I don’t quite get the von Sternberg thing. All three films of his I’ve seen, including this one, are fine, but I haven’t loved any of them, and none of them seem that distinctive to me. In this one, I liked the framing narrative that puts Jannings as a Hollywood extra who claims to have once been a general for the Czar – most everyone laughs him off, but the majority of the film is a flashback showing him leading the Czar’s army in 1917 and how he escaped Russia penniless during the Revolution. Jannings is really strong, especially in the current-time period (the flashback gets a little long and dull), and it’s fun seeing a really young William Powell as the revolutionary-turned-director who recognizes him in Hollywood. The ending goes for emotional resonance over logic, which didn’t quite work for me, either. But back to von Sternberg. I liked how he shot Brent as the lone female character, clearly gearing up for his work with Dietrich, but aside from that and Jannings’ performance, the film is honestly pretty flat. I guess I need to see more von Sternberg to get the hoopla.
1927 USA. Director: Josef von Sternberg. Starring: Emil Jannings, Evelyn Brent, William Powell.
Seen November 2 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 2447 out of 2828

What I Thought Was All Right

Beyond the Black Rainbow

I had no expectations at all of this, other than a recommendation from one friend who likes weird genre stuff and random Internet reviews that hated it. The trailer’s pretty trippy, so I was expecting that. Turns out there is a sci-fi story of sorts involving a happiness clinic, a girl held there against her will, a creepy psychologist-type guy, a bunch of androids or something, and…other stuff. The best part is the almost fully abstract flashback that sort of (but not really) explains the girl’s background; the parts that try to be story-led are just kind of off putting.
2010 USA. Director: Panos Cosmatos. Starring: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands.
Seen November 2 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 2461 out of 2828

Coriolanus

This adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays boasts a strong cast including Ralph Fiennes (who also makes his directing debut), Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, and James Nesbit. But there’s a reason that Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays. It’s frankly not that interesting, even transposing its story of a military hero double-crossed and banished into a modern setting. The acting veers from classical overblown Shakespearean antics to more minimalist approaches, giving the film a very uneven feel – only Redgrave and Cox seem to know how to navigate switching between these two as the material calls for it. Chastain is really underused. There are some great moments, particularly Redgrave’s tour-de-force scenes as Coriolanus’ mother, but the whole thing is unwieldy and uneven. Full review on Row Three.
2011 UK. Director: Ralph Fiennes. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain.
Seen November 7 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese.
Flickchart ranking: 2462 out of 2828

Faust

I quite liked Alexander Sukorov’s one-shot odyssey through Russian history in Russian Ark, but this film is nothing like that. It does have the framework of the Faust story, but a whole lot of the film is taken up by angsty philosophy (“where does the soul reside”) that might’ve intrigued me a little more if I knew more German and Russian philosophy, and a bunch of random running around as the devil and Faust hang out, crash parties full of women, wander through a city and the woods, etc. There’s some pretty cool imagery here and there, and after Faust actually signs his soul away, the rest of the film is good. But everything up to that (which is a LONG TIME) is really dull. Really.
2011 Russia. Director: Alexander Sukorov. Starring: Johannes Zeiler, Anton Adasinsky, Isolda Dychauk.
Seen November 4 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 2463 out of 2828

What I Didn’t Like

Target

I so wanted this to be good – a Russian sci-fi film about a group of people who seek out this target-shaped area in Thailand with a well at the center of it that supposedly grants eternal youth. Seems like a good deal, but all is bound to go wrong. That much I figured, but it goes wrong in really offputting, cruel, and pointless ways. By the end of its two and a half hour runtime, I didn’t care about any of the characters and just wanted it to end. There are some great visuals spread throughout, and it’s shot and acted quite well, but it’s just…punishing to watch.
2011 Russia. Director: Alexander Zeldovich. Starring: Vitaly Kishchenko, Danila Kozlovskiy, Nina Loshchinina.
Seen November 7 at AFI Fest, Grauman’s Chinese.
Flickchart ranking: 2643 out of 2828

Rewatches – Love

The Thin Man

As you can see by my Flickchart ranking below, this is one of my favorite films of all time, and I’ve been really excited to show it to Jonathan for quite a while, so I was glad he picked it out of my collection to watch. It’s a decent little mystery that keeps you guessing all the way up until the Agatha-Christie-spoofing “gather all the suspects for dinner” finale, but the real joy is watching William Powell and Myrna Loy play off each other as Nick and Nora Charles. I’ve said many times, and I hold it to be absolute truth, that the Charleses are the best example of a married couple in all of cinema history. They have a depth of knowledge about each other and trust of each other that doesn’t even need to be verbalized – you can see it right there on the screen in the way she responds to his story about another girl being his long-lost love child, and the way he teases her about how she spends her money. They’re helped, of course, by some of the most sparkling dialogue in any movie ever (by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich), and a wide range of excellent supporting characters right down to the gangster and his moll who have about five lines of dialogue each but are utterly unforgettable. Thirties movies excelled at using character actors to good effect, and The Thin Man is right up there with the best of them. I could gush forever about this film, but I won’t.
1934 USA. Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan.
Seen November 25 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 21 out of 2828

Totals

Films seen for the first time: 25
Rewatches: 1
Films seen in theatres: 23
List of Shame films: 0
2011 films: 19
2010 films: 2
1970s films: 1
1950s films: 1
1940s films: 1
1930s films: 1 (1 rewatch)
1920s films: 1
American films: 8 (1 rewatch)
British films: 3
Canadian films: 1
French films: 1
Belgian films: 1
Danish films: 1
Norwegian films: 1
Spanish films: 1
German films: 1
Russian films: 2
Greek films: 1
Iranian films: 1
Turkish films: 1
South Korean films: 1
Australian films: 1
Chilean films: 1

The-Thin-Man

50DMC #34: Favorite Series

The 50 Day Movie Challenge asks one question every day, to be answered by a few paragraphs and a clip, if possible. Click here for the full list of questions.

Today’s prompt: What’s your favorite movie series?

My first gut reaction to this question was the Thin Man series, and so I’m going to stick with that. Even though after the third or fourth entry they went downhill FAST, I still find them enjoyable. William Powell and Myrna Loy retain their marvelous chemistry regardless of the quality of the script they’re working with, and that chemistry is a huge part of why The Thin Man is so much fun. Of course, the first two films match them in the story department, and are genuinely among the best films ever made.

Here’s a tribute video to Nick and Nora, pulling from I think all the films in the series.

Film on TV: February 1-7

lawrence1.jpg
Lawrence of Arabia, playing Monday at 11pm on TCM

This is February, which means Oscars are coming up, which means TCM has launched into their annual 31 Days of Oscar lineup, meaning every film they play in the month of February has been at least nominated for an Academy Award. Now, that could mean it was nominated for Best Costume Design in 1937, but hey. Generally it means a fairly high overall quality of programming, and a number of films they don’t play very often the rest of the year.

Monday, February 1

8:55am – Sundance – Metropolitan
If Jane Austen made a movie in 1990 and set it among entitled Manhattan socialites, this would be it. The film follows a group of such entitled teens from party to party, focusing especially on the one outsider, a boy from the blue-collar class who has to rent a tux and pretend he likes to walk to avoid letting his new friends know he has to take the bus home. Though they find out soon enough, they keep him around because his intellectual nattering amuses them. In fact, it’s quite amazing that this film is interesting at all, given the amount of pseudo-intellectual nattering that goes on, from all the characters. But from start to finish, it’s both entertaining and an incisive look at the American class structure.
1990 USA. Director: Whit Stillman. Starring: Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman, Carolyn Farina, Taylor Nichols, Dylan Hundley.
(repeats at 3:40pm and 10:30pm, and 5:45pm on the 6th)

8:00pm – TCM – Funny Girl
Barbra Streisand tied Katharine Hepburn, no less, to win an Oscar for her role as Ziegfeld comedienne Fanny Brice. I’m neither a big Brice fan nor a big Streisand fan, so I haven’t seen it, but maybe I’ll get around to it one day.
1968 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif, Kay Medford, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon.

11:00pm – TCM – Lawrence of Arabia
Most epics are over-determined and so focused on spectacle that they end up being superficial – all big sets and sweeping music with no depth. The brilliance of Lawrence of Arabia is that it looks like an epic with all the big sets and sweeping music and widescreen vistas, but at its center is an enigmatic character study of a man who lives bigger-than-life, but is as personally conflicted as any intimate drama has ever portrayed.
1962 UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Jose Ferrer.
Must See
Newly Featured!

Tuesday, February 2

5:30am – TCM – Great Expectations
David Lean’s definitive version of one of Charles Dickens’ most well-known books, about the boy Pip and his rise to fortune through the aid of a mysterious benefactor. I’ve avoided this because of my distaste for Dickens, but hey. The movie can’t have time to ramble on like Dickens does, so maybe I’d like it.
1946 UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: John Mills, Tony Wager, Valerie Hobson, Jean Simmons, Bernard Miles, Martita Hunt.
Newly Featured!

8:05am – IFC – The New World
Terrence Malick may not make many films, but the ones he does make, wow. Superficially the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, The New World is really something that transcends mere narrative – this is poetry on film. Every scene, every shot has a rhythm and an ethereal that belies the familiarity of the story we know. I expected to dislike this film when I saw it, quite honestly. It ended up moving me in ways I didn’t know cinema could.
2005 USA. Director: Terrence Malick. Starring: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer.
Must See
(repeats at 1:35pm)

8:00pm – TCM – The Thin Man
If there’s such a genre as “sophisticated comedy-mystery,” The Thin Man is the apex of it. William Powell and Myrna Loy starred in thirteen films together, but never did their chemistry sparkle quite so much as here, in their first of six outings as husband-and-wife detectives Nick and Nora Charles. In between cocktails and marital moments, they investigate the disappearance of the titular thin man (later in the series, “thin man” erroneously became associated with Nick). There’s so much to love about this film – the great dialogue, hilarious supporting characters (only a few of which go too far over the top), and honestly, most of all, the amazing portrayal of a solid, loving marriage in the midst of so much chaos.
1934 USA. Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan.
Must See

10:00pm – TCM – The Best Years of Our Lives
One of the first films to deal with the aftermath of WWII, as servicemen return home to find both themselves and their homes changed by the long years of war. Director William Wyler and a solid ensemble cast do a great job of balancing drama and realism without delving too much into sentimentality.
1946 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Herbert Russell, Cathy O’Donnell.
Newly Featured!

3:15am (3rd) – TCM – Sergeant York
Gary Cooper won his first Oscar for his portrayal of WWI hero Sgt. Alvin York, a pacifist who somehow decided that the fastest way to stop the killing was to join up and kill as many Germans as he could to end the war.
1941 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Margaret Wycherly, Ward Bond.
Newly Featured!

Wednesday, February 3

6:00am – IFC – Garden State
First-time director Braff brings his quirky personality and taste in indie music to this story of a young man who returns to his home town for the first time in years for his mother’s funeral. While there, he meets a girl who teaches him how to feel for the first time since his father started prescribing meds to him as a child. It’s become a popular pastime to hate on Garden State and its self-conscious quirk, but I refuse. I loved it when I first saw it, and I love it now.
2004 USA. Director: Zach Braff. Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard.
(repeats at 11:15am and 4:35pm)

7:15am – TCM – The Champ
Wallace Beery earned an Oscar for his role as a has-been prizefighter, living hand to mouth with his adoring son. But then the boy has a chance to go live with his mother, long-divorced from Beery and now married to a well-to-do man. This is a great example of a high-end Warner Bros. programmer from the early 1930s – it’s very lean, nothing extra in it, but it’s got a heart that I didn’t expect.
1931 USA. Director: King Vidor. Starring: Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper, Irene Rich, Roscoe Ates.

7:45am – IFC – Hannah and Her Sisters
Though I love Manhattan and Annie Hall to bits, I throw my vote for best Woody Allen movie ever to Hannah and Her Sisters. It has all the elements Allen is known for – neurotic characters, infidelity, a tendency to philosophize randomly, New York City, dysfunctional family dynamics, acerbic wit – and blends them together much more cogently and evenly than most of his films do.
1986 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Barbara Hershey, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest, Woody Allen.
Must See
(repeats at 1:00pm, and 4:35am on the 4th)

10:45am – TCM – The Public Enemy
Famous for the scene where James Cagney smashes a grapefruit into Mae Clarke’s face, this is one of the gold standards of early gangster films, along with Little Caesar and Howard Hawks’s Scarface.
1931 USA. Director: William A. Wellman. Starring: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Mae Clarke.

12:15pm – TCM – Yankee Doodle Dandy
James Cagney won an Oscar putting on his dancing shoes to play song-and-dance man and Broadway composer George M. Cohan in this biopic. Though it seems strange to think of gangster picture regular Cagney in a musical, he actually got his start in show business as a hoofer, and returned to musicals many times throughout his career, though this remains the most notable example.
1942 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: James Cagney, Joan Leslie.

Thursday, February 4

7:30am – IFC – Manhattan
In one of Woody Allen’s best films, he’s a neurotic intellectual New Yorker (surprise!) caught between his ex-wife Meryl Streep, his teenage mistress Mariel Hemingway, and Diane Keaton, who just might be his match. Black and white cinematography, a great script, and a Gershwin soundtrack combine to create near perfection.
1979 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemingway, Alan Alda.
Must See
(repeats at 11:30am and 4:30pm)

7:15am – TCM – Captain Blood
This was Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland’s first of eight films together, and it’s one of the best. Flynn is the eponymous captain, a dentist named Blood who gets captured by pirates and ends up escaping and taking over the pirate ship himself. Full of swashbuckling and derring-do.
1935 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone, Guy Kibbee.

9:45am – IFC – Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Lawrence Sterne’s 1769 proto-postmodern novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy has long been considered unfilmable. So what does director Michael Winterbottom do? He makes a film about the difficulty of filming Tristram Shandy. Winterbottom’s film is something of an experiment, but it’s a delightful one, showing the behind-the-scenes antics of production as well as highlighting the circularity and self-defeating narrative of Sterne’s novel in the film-within-the-film.
2005 UK. Director: Michael Winterbottom. Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Keeley Hawes, Shirley Henderson, Jeremy Northam.
(repeats at 2:50pm)

8:00pm – TCM – The Uninvited (1944)
Not to be confused with the 2009 film The Uninvited, which is actually a remake of Korea’s A Tale of Two Sisters, this unrelated ghost story film is a lovely example of a certain style of 1940s horror – quiet, understated, atmospheric, and yet chilling and haunting.
1944 USA. Director: Lewis Allen. Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – Sundance – Adaptation.
Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s follow-up to Being John Malkovich is slightly less bizarre, but still pretty out there – just in a more subtle way. Nicolas Cage plays a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman who’s stuck in his attempt to adapt a bestseller; it doesn’t help when his successful brother (also played by Cage) shows up. The end feels like it’s going off the rails, but that’s all part of the genius.
2002 USA. Director: Spike Jonze. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Chris Cooper.

12:00M – TCM – The Adventures of Robin Hood
I will state almost categorically that this is the greatest adventure film ever made. Maybe it’s a dead heat between this one and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Errol Flynn is Robin Hood, Olivia de Havilland is Maid Marion, a whole raft of fantastic character actors fill out the rest of the cast, and it’s all done in gorgeous Technicolor (it’s one of the earliest Technicolor films).
1938 USA. Directors: William Keighley & Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale, Patric Knowles, Una O’Connor.
Must See

4:15am (5th) – TCM – Little Women (1933)
This first sound version of Little Women has a young Katharine Hepburn in the lead, along with a roll-call of great 1930s starlets and character actors. It’s a bit wooden compared to the 1994 version, but it’s got a lot of charm nonetheless.
1933 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas, Edna May Oliver, Jean Parker, Frances Dee.

Friday, February 5

7:45am – Sundance – Paris je t’aime
I have a huge soft spot for Paris – basically any movie set there I will like to at least some degree. So an anthology film with eighteen internationally-renowned directors giving their take on Paris with eighteen short films all mashed together? Yeah, instant love. Obviously some sections are far stronger than others – the Coens, Gus van Sant, Alexander Payne, Isabel Coixet, Tom Tykwer, and Wes Craven turn in my favorites.
2006 France. Director: various. Starring: many.
(repeats at 3:00pm)

10:45am – TCM – Gold Diggers of 1933
The story’s nothing to get excited about (and in fact, the subplot that takes over the main plot wears out its welcome fairly quickly), but the strong Depression-era songs, kaleidoscopic choreography from Busby Berkeley, and spunky supporting work from Ginger Rogers pretty much make up for it.
1933 USA. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Starring: Joan Blondell, Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Aline MacMahon, Ginger Rogers, Guy Kibbee.

8:00pm – TCM – True Grit
John Wayne had a career full of iconic western roles before he won an Oscar for this one, as tough old U.S. Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn, recruited by a young woman to help her avenge her father’s death, a quest that takes them deep into Indian territory.
1969 USA. Director: Henry Hathaway. Starring: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper.
Newly Featured!

2:30am (6th) – TCM – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Interracial marriage may not be quite the hot topic now that it was in 1967 (although if you check some parts of the American South, you might be surprised), but at the time, Katharine Houghton bringing home Sidney Poitier to meet her parents Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (in his last film) was the height of socially conscious filmmaking.
1967 USA. Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton, Cecil Kellaway.
Newly Featured!

Saturday, February 6

12:30pm – TCM – The Magnificent Seven
Homage comes full circle as American John Sturges remakes Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai as a western – Kurosawa’s film itself was a western transposed into a Japanese setting. Sturges ain’t no Kurosawa, but the story of a group of outcast cowboys banding together to protect an oppressed village is still a good one, plus there’s a young Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the cast.
1960 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson.

5:00pm – TCM – The Great Escape
I expected to mildly enjoy or at least get through this POW escape film. What happened was I was completely enthralled with every second of it, from failed escape attempts to planning the ultimate escape to the dangers of carrying it out. It’s like a heist film in reverse, and extremely enjoyable in pretty much every way.
1963 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, James Donald.
Must See
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – Sundance – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Luis Bu˜uel made a career out of making surrealist anti-bourgeois films, and this is one of the most surreal, most anti-bourgeois, and best films he ever made, about a dinner party that just can’t quite get started due to completely absurd interruptions.
1972 France. Director: Luis Buñuel. Starring: Fernando Rey, Paul Fankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Cassel.
(repeats at 4:00am on the 7th)

12:00M – TCM – Bonnie and Clyde
This is a perfect film. If you have not seen it, see it. If you have seen it, see it again. In either case, rather than write again how much I love it, I will just refer you here.
1967 USA. Director: Arthur Penn. Starring: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons.
Must See

2:00am – Sundance – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
This unflinching Romanian film remains one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in the last several years. Set in the mid-1980s, it builds a thriller-like story of a woman trying to help her friend obtain a dangerous illegal abortion – yet it’s a thriller so deliberate that its very slowness and lack of movement becomes a major source of tension. When the camera does move, it has an almost physical force. I can hardly describe how blown away I am by this film…tough to watch, but incredibly worth it.
2007 Romania. Director: Cristian Mungiu. Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean.
Must See

Sunday, February 7

1:45pm – TCM – Rebecca
Hitchcock’s first American film, based on Daphne du Maurier’s romantic novel. Rebecca is actually the previous wife of our mousy narrator’s new husband – her greatest fear is that he still loves Rebecca too much to care for her, but the truth may be more sinister than that. A lot of people really love this film, but I personally dislike the Hollywoodized ending enough that I’m not a huge fan.
1940 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, George Sanders.

4:00pm – TCM – Wuthering Heights
William Wyler’s moody 1939 version of Emily Bronte’s moody gothic novel, with Laurence Olivier as the moody Heathcliff. It’s moody. Get it? It’s also probably the best film version of the story up till now.
1939 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, Geraldine Fitzgerald, David Niven, Flora Robson.

6:00pm – TCM – The Pink Panther
Most people would agree that A Shot in the Dark is the best of the Pink Panther series, but the first entry is still well worth watching. Peter Sellers is perfect as bumbling detective Jacques Clouseau, trying to recover a stolen diamond for David Niven.
1963 UK/USA. Director: Blake Edwards. Starring: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Robert Wagner, Capucine.

8:00pm – TCM – 8 1/2
Federico Fellini translates his creative block in making his next film into a film about a director with a creative block – and in so doing, makes one of the most elusively brilliant and creative films of all time.
1963 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée.
Must See

10:30pm – TCM – Juliet of the Spirits
I’ve seen this Fellini film, but darned if I could tell you anything about it except Guilietta Masina has crazy weird surrealist visions. It’s gorgeous looking, at any rate, and would be worth a rewatch on my part, for sure.
1965 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Giulietta Masina, Sandro Milo, Mario Pisu, Valentine Cortese.
Newly Featured!

3:15am (7th) – TCM – On the Beach
After nuclear war, most of humanity is destroyed; a small outpost in Australia survives, but not for long. See David’s longer take here.
1959 USA. Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire.
Newly Featured!

Film on TV: December 28-January 3rd

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Renaissance, playing Monday at 8:25am on IFC

Not too many new ones this week, but still plenty of great films to round out the year, including a marathon of Hitchcock’s best films on TCM on New Year’s Eve, followed by the entire Thin Man series overnight.

Monday, December 28

6:15am – Sundance – Adaptation.
Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s follow-up to Being John Malkovich is slightly less bizarre, but still pretty out there – just in a more subtle way. Nicolas Cage plays a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman who’s stuck in his attempt to adapt a bestseller; it doesn’t help when his successful brother (also played by Cage) shows up. The end feels like it’s going off the rails, but that’s all part of the genius.
2002 USA. Director: Spike Jonze. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Chris Cooper.

8:25am – IFC – Renaissance
In near-future Paris, a brilliant young scientist is kidnapped; her employer Avalon (a highly influential company that sells youth and beauty itself) wants her found, but her importance to them may be more sinister than first meets the eye. The story’s not handled perfectly here, but it’s worth watching for the beautifully stark black and white animation.
2006 France. Director: Christian Volckman. Starring (English version): Daniel Craig, Romola Garai, Ian Holm, Catherine McCormack, Jonathan Pryce.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 2:05pm)

10:45am – IFC – Before Sunrise
Before Sunrise may be little more than an extended conversation between two people (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train in Europe and decide to spend all night talking and walking the streets of Vienna, I fell in love with it at first sight. Linklater has a way of making movies where nothing happens seem vibrant and fascinating, and call me a romantic if you wish, but this is my favorite of everything he’s done.
1995 USA. Director: Richard Linklater. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy.
Must See
(repeats at 4:00pm, and 5:05am on the 29th)

Tuesday, December 29

6:50am – IFC – Howl’s Moving Castle
Hayao Miyazaki has been a leader in the world of kid-friendly anime films for several years now, and while many would point to Spirited Away as his best film, I actually enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle the most of all his films. Japanese animation takes some getting used to, but Miyazaki’s films are well worth it, and serve as a wonderful antidote to the current stagnation going on in American animation (always excepting Pixar).
2004 Japan. Director: Hayao Miyazaki. Starring (dubbed voices): Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall
(repeats at 3:45pm)

8:45am – TCM – 42nd Street
By 1933 when 42nd Street came out, the Hollywood musical had already died. So excited by the musical possibilities that sound brought in 1927, Hollywood pumped out terrible musical after terrible musical until everyone was sick of them. 42nd Street almost single-handedly turned the tide and remains one of the all-time classic backstage musicals. It may look a little creaky by later standards, but there’s a vitality and freshness to it that can’t be beat.
1932 USA. Director: Lloyd Bacon. Starring: Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, George Brent, Bebe Daniels, Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Una Merkel.

12:00N – TCM – The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
Preston Sturges’ zaniest and most irreverent comedy gives Betty Hutton her best role as Trudy Kockenlocker, who goes out for a night on the town with a group of soldiers about to ship out. A few months later, she finds out she’s pregnant and can only vaguely remember an impromptu wedding ceremony with a soldier who may or may not be named Ratskiwatski. I’m always impressed that Sturges got away with as much as he did in this film in 1944.
1944 USA. Director: Preston Sturges. Starring: Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, William Demarest.

8:00pm – TCM – On the Waterfront
Marlon Brando’s performance as a former boxer pulled into a labor dispute among dock workers goes down as one of the greatest in cinematic history. I’m not even a huge fan of Brando, but this film wins me over.
1954 USA. Director: Elia Kazan. Starring: Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint.
Must See

12:00M – IFC – Secretary
Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader – making sado-masochism fun since 2002! But seriously, this was Maggie’s breakout role, and it’s still probably her best, as a damaged young woman whose only outlet is pain. And despite the subject, Secretary is somehow one of the sweetest and most tender romances of recent years.
2002 USA. Director: Steven Shainberg. Starring:James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Wednesday, December 30

9:15am – TCM – In a Lonely Place
Simply a brilliant film from director Nicholas Ray – Humphrey Bogart gives probably his best performance as washed-up screenwriter Dixon Steele, who’s trying to make a comeback with a new adaptation. When a coatcheck girl gets murdered after he was the last to see her, he naturally comes under suspicion, but his neighbor Laurel (Gloria Grahame) gives him an alibi and soon the two begin a relationship which just might save Dix from more than a murder charge – or might not. There’s a raw intensity here that few films have ever matched.
1951 USA. Director: Nicholas Ray. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame.
Must See

8:00pm – IFC – Kill Bill, Vol. 1
A lot of people would point to Pulp Fiction as Tarantino’s best film, and I think Inglourious Basterds is right up there, too, but I vote Kill Bill Vol. 1 for sheer amount of fun. He homages spaghetti westerns, Hong Kong fighting flicks, and revenge-sploitation, and ties it all together with incredible style.
2003 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine.
Must See
(repeats at 2:05am on the 31st)

10:00pm – IFC – Kill Bill, Vol. 2
On the one hand, Kill Bill Vol 1 isn’t quite complete without Kill Bill Vol 2. And there are a lot of good parts in here – the film noirish opening as the Bride catches us up on what’s going on, the fight with Daryl Hannah in the trailer, training with the kung fu master, her getting out of the coffin, etc. But the ending lags a little too much for me to truly say I enjoy watching it as much as Vol. 1.
2004 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen.
(repeats at 3:55am on the 31st)

1:30am (31st) – TCM – The Caine Mutiny
Humphrey Bogart’s Captain Queeg is a piece of work, and by that I mean some of the best work Bogart has on film. He’s neurotic, paranoid, and generally mentally unstable. Or is he? That’s the question after first officer Van Johnson relieves him of duty as being unfit to serve and faces charges of mutiny.
1954 USA. Director: Edward Dmytryk. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, Jose Ferrer.

Thursday, December 31

7:00am – TCM – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Hitchcock’s second version of this story (the first was 1934) has Doris Day and James Stewart as a couple who discover an assassination plot and have their son kidnapped to try to keep them quiet. It’s a well-done film and worth watching, though not quite up to many of Hitchcock’s other classics.
1956 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: James Stewart, Doris Day, Bernard Miles, Brenda De Banzie.

9:00am – IFC – Annie Hall
Often considered Woody Allen’s transition film from “funny Woody” to “serious Woody,” Annie Hall is both funny, thoughtful, and fantastic. One of the best scripts ever written, a lot of warmth as well as paranoid cynicism, and a career-making role for Diane Keaton (not to mention fashion-making).
1977 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane.
Must See
(repeats at 4:35pm)

9:15am – TCM – Marnie
Marnie gets something of a bad rap, I think, because it comes right after Hitchcock’s amazing Vertigo-North by Northwest-Psycho-The Birds streak of genius, but I think it’s one of Hitchcock’s most underrated films, despite a few somewhat obvious plot devices and the fact that ‘Tippi’ Hedren can’t act. In some ways, the imperfections in this one are what makes it interesting.
1964 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: ‘Tippi’ Hedren, Sean Connery.

11:30am – TCM – Shadow of a Doubt
Somewhat lesser-known Hitchcock film that ought to be top-tier. Small-town girl Teresa Wright idolizes her uncle Charlie, but we know that he’s an infamous murderer on the run. Hitchcock once made a distinction between mystery and suspense: mystery is when there’s tension because the audience doesn’t know whodunit, suspense is when there’s tension because the audience does. This film is a perfect example of suspense, and Hitchcock’s preference for telling the audience whodunit very early in the film and letting them squirm.
1942 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten.

12:45pm – IFC – Manhattan
In one of Woody Allen’s best films, he’s a neurotic intellectual New Yorker (surprise!) caught between his ex-wife Meryl Streep, his teenage mistress Mariel Hemingway, and Diane Keaton, who just might be his match. Black and white cinematography, a great script, and a Gershwin soundtrack combine to create near perfection.
1979 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemingway, Alan Alda.
Must See

1:30pm – TCM – Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock built the foundation for all future psycho-killer movies with his classic. It’s not as terrifying as it once was, but that doesn’t at all diminish its greatness.
1960 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam.
Must See

3:30pm – TCM – Vertigo
James Stewart is a detective recovering from a vertigo-inducing fall who’s asked by an old friend to help his wife, who has developed strange behavior. Hitchcock plays with doubling, fate, and obsession, all the while creating one of his moodiest and most mesmerizing films. And watch for a great supporting turn by Barbara Bel Geddes as Stewart’s long-suffering best friend.
1958 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes.
Must See

6:00pm – TCM – Rear Window
Hitchcock, Stewart, and Kelly mix equal parts suspense thriller, murder mystery, romance, voyeristic expose, ethical drama, caustic comedy and cinematographic experiment to create one of the greatest films of all time.
1954 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr.
Must See

8:00pm – TCM – The Thin Man
If there’s such a genre as “sophisticated comedy-mystery,” The Thin Man is the apex of it. William Powell and Myrna Loy starred in thirteen films together, but never did their chemistry sparkle quite so much as here, in their first of six outings as husband-and-wife detectives Nick and Nora Charles. In between cocktails and marital moments, they investigate the disappearance of the titular thin man (later in the series, “thin man” erroneously became associated with Nick). There’s so much to love about this film – the great dialogue, hilarious supporting characters (only a few of which go too far over the top), and honestly, most of all, the amazing portrayal of a solid, loving marriage in the midst of so much chaos.
1934 USA. Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan.
Must See

9:45pm – TCM – After the Thin Man
TCM is playing all of the Thin Man movies today, so keep watching if you’re enjoying them, but this one (second in the series), is the only other one that’s actually worth seeking out. Returning to Nora’s home for a visit, she and Nick find a hubbub surrounding a killed fiance and are pressed into service to find the killer. A young Jimmy Stewart’s on hand, as well.
1936 USA. Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Stewart, Elissa Landi.
Newly Featured!

12:30pm (1st) – Sundance – INLAND EMPIRE
David Lynch’s latest magnum opus, which pretty much can’t be understood by any use of normal narrative logic. However, it works thematically and emotionally as well as any movie I’ve seen ever. Stories weave in and out of each other, characters merge and separate, the plot you thought you had a hold of becomes elusive and it’s essentially impossible to tell what’s real. But if you let yourself go to it, you’re in for a special treat. You know those 3D images that you can only see by throwing your eyes out of focus? Do that with your mind in order to “see” INLAND EMPIRE.
2006 USA. Director: David Lynch. Starring: Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Jeremy Irons, Jan Hencz, Karolina Gruszka, Grace Zabriski
Must See

Friday, January 1

8:30am – TCM – Anatomy of a Murder
One of the best courtroom dramas ever made – James Stewart vs. George C. Scott as lawyers on a murder/rape trial that may not be quite what it seems. And that’s aside from the top-notch jazz score by Duke Ellington, which is in itself reason enough to see the film.
1959 USA. Director: Otto Preminger. Starring: James Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick.
Must See

9:00am – IFC – Maria Full of Grace
Once in a while a film comes out of nowhere and floors me – this quiet little film about a group of South American women who agree to smuggle drugs into the United States by swallowing packets of cocaine did just that. Everything in the film is perfectly balanced, no element overwhelms anything else, and it all comes together with great empathy, but without sentimentality.
2004 USA. Director: Joshua Marston. Starring: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Virginia Ariza, Yenny Paola Vega.
(repeats at 4:30pm)

1:15pm – TCM – The Man From Laramie
One of several westerns that James Stewart and Anthony Mann made together, and this one is one of the most solid; in this one, Stewart is a wagon train leader who gets pulled into a territorial feud against his will when one side torches his wagons. These westerns begin to show the dark side of the west, where the hero is only a hero because it’s expedient for him, or because he has some personal gain to get out of it.
1955 USA. Director: Anthony Mann. Starring: James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp, Cathy O’Donnell.

3:00pm – TCM – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Three of the greatest names in westerns – John Ford, John Wayne, and James Stewart – teamed up to make this film just as the classical western was fading out of popularity. Perhaps fittingly, then, it’s a film about western myth and the transition from outlaw gunslingers to government rule, a transition aided in one town at least by the man who shot outlaw Liberty Valance.
1962 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien.

10:00pm – TCM – Fahrenheit 451
François Truffaut’s first foray in English-language film was this adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel, following fireman (that is, book-burner) Montag as he comes into contact with a group of fugitives intent on preserving the knowledge in books even as the government tries to destroy them, and he begins to wonder if perhaps they are right. It’s a great book, and a pretty good film, with Julie Christie in an interestingly-cast double role.
1966 UK. Director: François Truffaut. Starring: Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack.
Newly Featured!

12:00M – IFC – Pulp Fiction
Tarantino’s enormously influential and entertaining film pretty much needs no introduction from me. Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta give the performances of their careers, Tarantino’s dialogue is spot-on in its pop-culture-infused wit, and the chronology-shifting, story-hopping editing style has inspired a host of imitators, most nowhere near as good.
1994 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Tim Roth, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames.
Must See

Saturday, January 2

10:20am – IFC – Crimes and Misdemeanors
When Martin Landau’s long-time mistress threatens to expose their affair unless he marries her, he’s faced with the decision to let her ruin his life and career or have her murdered. In a tangentially and thematically-related story, Woody Allen is a documentary filmmaker forced into making a profile of a successful TV producer rather than the socially-conscious films he wants to make. One of Allen’s most thoughtful and philosophically astute films – there are few answers here, but the questions will stay in your mind forever.
1989 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Martin Landau, Anjelica Huston, Claire Bloom, Joanna Gleason.
Must See
(repeats at 3:15pm, and 5:40am on the 3rd)

6:30pm – TCM – Old Yeller
One of the great tear-jerker family films, about a family in the old west who adopt a stray dog, growing to love and depend on the animal in the absence of their father (away on a cattle drive). Ah, yes, the good old days, when kids movies weren’t all happy-peppy all the time.
1957 USA. Director: Robert Stevenson. Starring: Dorothy Maguire, Fess Parker, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran.

Sunday, January 3

11:00pm – IFC – A Fish Called Wanda
It’s not a Monty Python picture, but with John Cleese and Michael Palin on board as participants in a zany crime story, along with ambiguous-relationshiped Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, it has some of the same absurd charm.
1988 USA/UK. Director: Charles Crichton. Starring: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Maria Aitken, Tom Georgeson.
(repeats at 4:35am on the 4th)