Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Movie – Her (2013)

Like American Hustle, the film Her was also nominated in the Best Comedy or Musical category at the Golden Globes, and like American Hustle it’s mostly a drama.  There is a phone sex scene that is played for laughs, and there is the normal level of bantering in the relationship that produces some chuckles, but by and large it is a drama about an unusual love story.  How unusual?  Well, I never thought I would write this, but Her features a relationship as unlikely, yet still believably touching, as that in the 1971 film Harold and Maude.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Movie – Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Dallas Buyers Club is a story that combines a real life person with fictional characters in order to tell the tale of a straight man diagnosed with AIDS in Texas in the mid 1980s and how he came to be a proponent of alternative medications for treating the disease.  Both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto have been praised for their performances in this film.  They have already won the Golden Globes and SAG Awards for Best Actor (McConaughey) and Best Supporting Actor (Leto).  They are also the odds-on favorites to take home the Oscars.  In my opinion they are the main reason to see this film since the presentation itself has a couple of flaws in it.  It’s a film worth your time, especially if you are not old enough to remember when AIDS first started becoming huge news in the 1980s.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Movie – American Hustle (2013)

American Hustle won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical and is nominated for 10 Academy Awards.  I’ll be honest: if I had not known about the Globes win it would not have even occurred to me to think of this film as a comedy.  Yes, there are a few moments here and there that elicit a chuckle, but by and large this is a drama.  Among the Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street is much funnier than American Hustle.  Music plays a big part in American Hustle, up to and including one of the characters lip-syncing along to a song, so perhaps the combination of a little comedy and a lot of popular songs is what garnered it the Globes win.  Overall, this is a good movie, but you do have to have some patience.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Movie – 12 Years a Slave (2013)

The film 12 Years a Slave is based on the 1853 memoir of the same name written by Solomon Northup.  It’s been made into a film before, but not one on such a large scale as this one.  12 Years a Slave received nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay – four of the “big five”.  It also received nominations in the two supporting actor and actress categories.  Those three acting categories are for the three main characters in the film.  There are smaller appearances from a number of other familiar faces.  It probably wasn’t hard for director Steve McQueen to attract talent to such a high visibility production.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Movie – The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The film The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the book of the same name by Jordan Belfort.  He is the main character in the film and is played by Leonardo DiCaprio.  It details Belfort’s meteoric rise to riches in the late 1980s by running a brokerage company that sold, sold, sold, to naive customers who were looking to get rich quick themselves.  It also shows the excess that he and his employees enjoyed during their high flying run.  And in a movie about excess, this certainly has an excess of it, from dwarf tossing, to paying someone to shave their head, to prostitutes practically being employees of the company, to mounds of drugs, and to piles of money.  I’ve only seen four of the Best Picture nominees at this point, but so far this is the most entertaining one.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Movie – Captain Phillips (2013)

The film Captain Phillips is based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty.  Changes were made in the film’s plot to pump up the part Captain Phillips played and this has led to some backlash about “falsifying the story”.  I see it more as the filmmakers were simply trying to increase the tension and heroism in some scenes, much like the film Argo (2012) did last year.  The nomination it received is for “Best Adapted Screenplay”, not “Most Faithful to the Truth Screenplay”.  Despite this, if you are like me and remember the news story from 2009 then this is a pretty straightforward movie with no real surprises.  Don’t worry, though.  I will not be spoiling the ending for anyone who does not know what happens.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

2014 Oscar Nominations and Observations

The 2014 Oscar nominations were announced a few hours ago.  Going down through them I didn’t see any really huge surprises among the major nominees.  This is a big change from last year when the Best Director category had multiple WTFs in it.  In 2013 the nominations were announced before the Golden Globes were awarded, so I couldn’t do any observations there.  This year they once again came after the Globes, so I will be able to have some analysis on that.

Here are the nine Best Picture nominees:

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street

I will post reviews for as many of these movies as I can prior to the Oscar telecast on March 2nd.  At this point I have seen only a few of them.  I will also post my predictions in the days leading up to the ceremony.  And I will have another Oscar quiz like last year’s one on early films from Oscar winners.  This year’s quiz will be on the titles of Best Picture nominees.

Click “Read more” for a complete list of the nominees, what got the most nominations, and some other things of interest.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Tribute to Bill Knight and The Way We Get By

Chances are pretty good that unless you’ve seen the 2009 film The Way We Get By you’ve never heard of Bill Knight.  He was a Maine Troop Greeter.  And chances are pretty good that if you’re not from Maine or you didn’t serve in the U.S. military in the Middle East that you’ve never heard of the Maine Troop Greeters.  They are based in Bangor, Maine.  And chances are pretty good that if you’ve even heard of Bangor, Maine it’s only because Stephen King lives there.  So why should you care at all about a man you’ve never heard of, that’s part of an organization you’ve never heard of, in a place you’ve never heard of?  Because it’s a profoundly moving story.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Movie – Oklahoma! (1955)

Okay, all together now: “Ooooooooooooooooh-klahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain!”  There, now that that’s out of our systems let’s talk about this film.

Oklahoma! is among the biggest and most popular of musicals.  When it opened on Broadway in 1943 it ended up setting what was then a record with more than 2,200 performances.  Both the Broadway cast album and this film’s soundtrack album were immensely popular, spending years on the Best Seller charts.  There are a number of songs that even today many people will recognize.  But this isn’t your standard nice, innocent, happy musical.  If you stop to actually listen to the lyrics you find that they go to some dark places.  And some of the more suggestive lyrics from the stage musical had to be censored to make it past the Production Code requirements for films.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Movie – Human Desire (1954)

In 1953 Fritz Lang directed Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame in the noir film The Big Heat.  The very next year the three joined forces again for Human Desire.  And just like with The Big Heat, for some reason Grahame was not the first choice for the female lead.  Lang wanted Rita Hayworth, but couldn’t get her. 

The film is officially based on the 1890 Emile Zola novel La Bete Humaine, but beyond the big plot points it’s not a very faithful adaptation.  Jean Renoir’s 1938 movie La Bete Humaine starring Jean Gabin and Simone Simon stuck more closely to the way the characters were originally presented, including making the train itself almost a character in the film. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Movie – The Big Heat (1953)

In my parent post for this set of Gloria Grahame movies I mentioned that she had been twice nominated for Oscars, winning once, but that I felt she should have been nominated two other times.  One of those I discussed in my review of In a Lonely Place.  The Big Heat is the other.  I was surprised when I found out she wasn’t the first choice to play the part she did.  The producers wanted Marilyn Monroe, but she would have cost too much, so they “settled” for Grahame.  I can’t imagine Monroe in Grahame’s role in this film, especially with the grit that is needed for it.  The Big Heat is not a nice film.  The bad guys are really bad, and even the good guy, driven by revenge, does things that are not much better.  The title of the film is very fitting.

Friday, January 3, 2014

2013 – A Look Back at a Year in Movies

Note: This post is not specifically about the films that were released in 2013, but rather the ones I watched during the year.  I will do my annual Top 10 of the prior year list towards late February/early March when the Oscars are over and I have had a chance to see most of the acclaimed 2013 films.  I haven’t seen many of the potential Oscar nominees yet.

2013 Movie Milestones:

·        In January I joined Letterboxd and rated over 5,000 of the films I had seen.  I had to add hundreds they didn’t have.  Other than the 1990s, I never have gone back and tried to do a thorough check for the movies I missed.
·        In February I completed watching the new films that had appeared on the IMDB Top 250 list for Year end 2012.  I had seen the 500+ other films from the 1998-2011 year end lists, so this was just “re-completing” the whole.
·        In May I completed the Entertainment Weekly Top 100 Films of All Time list.
·        In July I completed the entire 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.
·        In October I completed the 49 new September 2013 additions to the 1,001 Movies list.  I also completed the Time Magazine All-Time Top 100 Films list and the Sight & Sound Directors’ Top 100 list.
·        In December I completed the Sight & Sound Critics’ Top 250 list.

In 2013 I saw a total of 666 films that were new to me.  Really.  I wasn’t even trying to hit that number, so what are the odds?  I actually double checked my math to be sure.  There are a dozen or so shorts in the big total.  I also re-watched 22 movies in 2013.  I had a high of 106 films (and 5 shorts) in March and a low of 5 films in August.  Of those 666 films I had 2 I rated five stars, 7 I rated four and a half stars, and 48 I rated four stars.

Here are those 57 movies I saw in 2013 that I rated at least 4 stars.  Among them are 13 non-English language films, 3 animated films, 7 documentaries (plus 3 more “mockumentaries”), and 4 silent films.  The four star films are not presented in any kind of ranking within the star rating, but simply the order in which I saw them.  You will perhaps note that three of them had exclamation points in their titles.  This did not in any way affect my ratings of them.  Probably.  J

Five stars (ranked):

1.  3 Idiots (2009) – a comedy/drama from India all wrapped within the mystery of a classmate that disappeared.

2.  Gimme Shelter (1970) – a contemporary documentary on the Rolling Stones’ 1969 U.S. tour which ended with the killing at Altamont.

Four and a half stars (ranked):

3.  Departures (2008) – Japanese film with poignancy, unexpected humor, and great beauty.

4.  POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011) – documentary from Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) on product placement in films…that was entirely paid for by product placements in the film.

5.  Django Unchained (2012) – Tarantino’s most recent film.

6.  The Last Command (1928) – Emil Jannings’ crowning achievement, and that’s saying something considering his acting career.

7.  The Other Dream Team (2012) – documentary on the battle the lesser known Lithuanian Olympic basketball team went through to make the 1992 Olympics against the celebrated Americans.

8.  Wreck-It Ralph (2012) – a fantastic journey down memory lane for anyone old enough to have played arcade games as a kid, as well a genuinely entertaining story.

9.  Thor: The Dark World (2013) – a worthy successor to The Avengers and much better than the first Thor film.  It takes its place alongside the first Iron Man film as the best of the individual Avengers movies.

Four stars (not ranked):

Elmer Gantry (1960)
Life of Pi (2012)
She Gets What She Wants (aka Slap Her, She’s French) (2002)
Ruby Sparks (2012)
Argo (2012)
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Bernie (2012)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Side By Side (2012)
Friends (with Benefits) (2009)
The Nines (2007)
Man Bites Dog (1992)
The Story of a Cheat (1936)
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
The Intouchables (2011)
Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell (2012)
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
Johnny Belinda (1948)
Shaft (1971)
The Secret World of Arietty (2010)
Too Big to Fail (2011)
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Day for Night (1973)
Sayonara (1957)
Tonight You’re Mine (2011)
Whisky Galore! (1949)
Real Life (1979)
In a Lonely Place (1950)
Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
Hysteria (2012)
Turn Me On, Dammit! (2012)
The Great White Silence (1924)
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)
F for Fake (1973)
Now You See Me (2013)
Delicacy (2011)
Castaway on the Moon (2009)
Placido (1961)
Your Sister’s Sister (2011)
Jack Reacher (2012)
Much Ado About Nothing (2013)
Les Miserables (1935)
One Hour With You (1932)
Souls for Sale (1923) 
Micmacs (2009)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Gravity (2013)

The longest films among these are 3 Idiots (170 minutes), Django Unchained (165 minutes), and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (161 minutes).  The shortest are The Adventures of Prince Achmed (65 minutes), One Hour With You (80 minutes), and Tonight You’re Mine (also 80 minutes).

In addition to the lists I completed during the year I am actively working on several others.  Here are my year end statuses for them.

Film List
How Much Complete
Oscar Best Picture Nominees:
445 of 503
101 [Genre] Films You Must See Before You Die:
456 of 607
They Shoot Pictures Don’t They – Current list:
801 of 1,000
They Shoot Pictures Don’t They – Complete list:
966 of 1,395
Empire Top 100 World Films:
95 of 105
Empire Top 500 Films of All Time:
465 of 500
Roger Ebert’s Great Films:
321 of 374
Consolidated Top British Films:
108 of 178

And two other major lists I have that are mostly dormant for now:

New York Times Top 1,000 Films list:
681 of 1,002
U.S. National Film Registry:
358 of 600

And just for the sake of completeness, here are the movie lists I finished before 2013:

IMDB Top 250 15 Year Consolidated and Weighted list:  535 of 535
Consolidated AFI Best Films list: 412 of 412

Note: the 2013 Year End IMDB Top 250 list has yielded 8 films that I have not yet seen, so I will be working on knocking those off as soon as I can.  The new 16 year Consolidated and Weighted IMDB Top 250 list now has 552 films on it.  It can be seen/downloaded here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

December Movie Status

I saw 33 new movies in the month of December, plus I re-watched 3 others.  Last month I mentioned I had found myself working on several different movie lists and as a consequence had some films that I simply could not locate.  Please see my prior post for big news on that.

Because I had only one film left to complete the Sight and Sound Critics’ Top 250 list, and because it was one of the movies I was able to finally obtain in December, I finished off this list by watching the nine hour documentary Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (2003).

Where that leaves me is actively working on the following lists: Oscar Best Picture Nominees, the six 101 [Genre] Films You Must See Before You Die lists, They Shoot Pictures Don’t They, Empire’s lists of the Top 100 World Films and Top 500 Films, Roger Ebert’s Great Movies, and three different lists of the Top 100 British films of all time.  Many of these overlap, but I am showing films under only one list’s count in the details below.

All of these different lists can be seen by clicking on the names of them.  They link to my Lists from Chip posts on them.

Although not complete, I did pass 800 entries seen of the 1,000 on the current TSPDT list.  I’m also approaching 1,000 seen of the entire 1,395 entries that have ever been on the list, although passing this milestone could be further off.

Here are the 33 new movies and 3 old ones I saw in December.  Highlighted movies are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.  I will single out the four and five star films, as well as the worst films, in the paragraphs below the lists.

Oscar Nominees (2): The Love Parade (1929), Alibi (1929)

101 Genre (6): I Spit on Your Grave (1978), Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978), Frankenhooker (1990), The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960), City Streets (1931), Battle of Britain (1969)

SSC (1): Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (2003)

TSPDT (9): The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (1971), Empire (1964), Liebelei (1933), Under the Bridges (1946), Anatahan (1953), Minimata: The Victims and Their World (1971), Variete (1925), The Italian Straw Hat (1928), The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

Ebert (1): Departures (2008)

British (0):

Empire World (0):

Empire Top 500 (0):

Other Movies (14): Wedlock House: An Intercourse (1959), DesistFilm (1954), The Heat (2013), The Big Empty (2003), The King’s Skeleton: Richard III Revealed (2013), Frozen (2013), The Guilt Trip (2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), 30 for 30: Youngstown Boys (2013), Gravity (2013), Orgasm, Inc. (2009), Computer Chess (2013), Red Dawn (2012), Daydream Nation (2010)

Re-watches (3): It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Jack Reacher (2012), POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2012)

TV Series (0)

I had no five star movies in December, although one came close.  Here are the four star films I saw:

I avoided Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner Departures (2008) for some time thinking it would be depressing.  Instead I found a film that is poignant in places, surprisingly humorous in others, and above all a work of great beauty.  I gave it 4.5 stars on Letterboxd and when I watch it again it might move to five stars.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) is definitely better than the first Hobbit film in that it is a lot less silly.  Radagast the Brown and his bunny-drawn sled are barely to be seen.  Book purists may be bothered because a majority of what appears onscreen in this film comes from the imagination of the screenwriters, not Tolkien.

Gravity (2013) definitely has a lot going for it, especially the visuals and Sandra Bullock’s performance.  I think it’s a lock for her to get another Oscar nomination.  There are some unfortunate errors during a couple critical moments of the film that harmed the impact of it for me, but if you do not know much about physics you won’t even notice them.

I had several one star films in December.  Empire (1964) probably takes the cake because it is nothing but an 8 hour 5 minute 13 second long static shot of the Empire State Building.  That’s from Warhol.  Brakhage brings us The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes (1971), which is nothing but 30 minutes of real human autopsies.  Thanks TSPDT for this one-two punch. 

(Please see my next post for my look back at 2013 as a whole.  Last year I tried to combine both in a single post and it was too unwieldy.)