Saturday, February 1, 2014

January Movie Status

I saw 53 new movies in the month of January, I re-watched 3 others, and I watched a season of a TV show.  A majority of these films were focused on Oscar nominees and other 2013 films for my eventual Top 10 of 2013 post.  I also did my annual check of IMDB’s year ending Top 250 list.  I’ve been doing it since 1998 and now have 16 years worth of lists, resulting in 552 unique movies.  (You can see it here.)  I had already completed all the films that have ever been on it, so it’s now just a matter of knocking off any new entries.  There were nine films on the latest year ending list that I had not yet seen.  I now have three left, so I expect to complete them in February.

Other than that I am 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, and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies.  Some of these overlap, but I am showing films under only one list’s count in the details below.  The 2014 Oscar nominations added another nine films to the overall total.  It now stands at 512, of which I have seen 454.  I did complete the top 400 films on the ranked TSPDT list, so that’s something.

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.

Here are the 53 new movies and 3 old ones I saw in January.  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.

IMDB (5): Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009), Incendies (2010), Memories of Murder (2003), The Hunt (2012), Rang De Basanti (2006)

Oscar Nominees (8): Little Women (1933), Captain Philips (2013), American Hustle (2013), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Dallas Buyers Club (2013), Her (2013), The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

101 Genre (2): Dillinger (1973), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

TSPDT (15): Salvatore Giuliano (1962), The Scarlet Empress (1934), The Flowers of St. Francis (1950), The Sacrifice (1986), Nostalghia (1983), Nouvelle Vague (1990), Scenes from a Marriage (1973), The Rise of Louis XIV (1966), The Blood of a Poet (1932), Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), Early Summer (1951), Fellini’s Casanova (1976), That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), Muriel (1963), Mother (1926)

Ebert (7): Seven Up! (1964), 7 Plus Seven (1970), 21 Up (1977), 28 Up (1984), 42: Forty-Two Up (1998), 49 Up (2005), 56 Up (2012)

Other Movies (16): Sherlock: The Empty Hearse (2014), Upstream Color (2013), Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius (1989), Take a Chance (1918), Young Mr. Jazz (1919), His Royal Slyness (1920), Sherlock: The Sign of Three (2014), Rid of Me (2011), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), Sherlock: His Last Vow (2014), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), The Family (2013), Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013), Mud (2013), Jobs (2013), The Kings of Summer (2013)

Re-watches (3): Kick-Ass 2 (2013), Safety Last! (1923), 35 Up (1991)

TV Series (1):  Archer Season 4

I saw a number of excellent films in January.  While no single film in the Up documentary series would merit 5 stars, the series as a whole more than earns that rating.  If you have never heard of it, in 1964 a bunch of British 7 year olds from different socio-economic backgrounds were interviewed on what they thought about their lives and what they thought the future would bring.  Director Michael Apted has gone back every seven years to re-interview them.  He most recently talked to them at age 56.  The result is a fascinating look into the changing times, mores, looks, attitudes, and most important, the lives of these people.  Imagine the changes that occur over nearly five decades in people’s lives.  We see them as awkward 14 year olds, confident 21 year olds, starting families (28), losing their parents (35), realizing not all of their hopes and dreams may happen (42), becoming grandparents and being more content (49), and dealing with aging (56). These are not the uber-exhibitionists that compete to be on TV “reality” shows now.  Some of these folks aren’t exactly thrilled to have millions of people think they can understand them by seeing 10 minutes of their lives every seven years, but they continue to participate because of how important so many people feel this series is.  Perhaps Roger Ebert said it best when he wrote that it is “an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium.”  I wrote more about this series in this post.  I suggest watching them in order to get the best experience from them.

A very good film I saw that didn’t quite merit a 5 star rating from me is Incendies (2010).  It showed up on the IMDB 2013 year end list.  In fact, with this film, Departures, The Hunt, and Rang De Basanti, most of the new foreign films on the list were very pleasant surprises.  Incendies is a powerful movie, wrapped within a family mystery that takes some serious unraveling. The only reason I didn't rate it 5 stars is that the writing is awkward on the reason for the mystery to unwind the way it does. In real life the movie would have been over in the first 10 minutes because the mother would have just told her kids about her life, but then there wouldn't have been a movie, of course.  This is a powerful drama, so if you only like to see feel good movies this is not the film for you.

Here are the other four star films I saw:

Rang De Basanti (2006) is an Indian film starring Aamir Khan (Lagaan, 3 Idiots) that starts out as a light drama with some goofy moments, but eventually becomes a deadly serious drama.  The transition is slow enough that it did not feel awkward at all.  There are some interesting comparisons and contrasts with the leads playing dual roles as modern Indian youths and early 20th century Indian rebels.

His Royal Slyness (1920) is a Harold Lloyd two-reeler about an American book salesman who agrees to impersonate the Prince of a tiny European nation – one that is ripe for revolt.  I didn’t even realize that it wasn’t Harold Lloyd playing both parts until the characters were standing in the same frame.  It turns out Harold’s brother Gaylord played one of the parts.

Sherlock: His Last Vow (2014) is the last of the three TV movies in Season 3 of the show Sherlock.  It is the best of them for the most recent year.  I can’t describe why I liked it so much without giving a massive spoiler so all I will say is that it caught me by surprise and that doesn’t happen that often anymore.

Mud (2013) is part of Matthew McConaughey’s triumphant year of acting.  He’s Oscar nominated for Dallas Buyers Club, and his scene in The Wolf of Wall Street has been much talked about, but for my money Mud is his best starring role in 2013.  He plays the title character, a mysterious man living on an island.  Two boys meet him while exploring and his stories captivate them.  They get caught up in helping him and that’s not a very safe thing to do as we get more and more hints of what Mud’s real story is.  This is simultaneously a mystery, a realistic look at love, and a coming of age for the two boys.

Finally, I recently did four star reviews of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and Her (2013).  You can read them by looking at my January posts.

I had a few one star films in January.  I’ll just mention The Sacrifice (aka Offret), a 1986 film from Tarkovsky.  It was his last.  I generally like his films, but this was a disappointment.  He is basically aping the style of Ingmar Bergman in this, or at least Bergman’s style from the late 60s (i.e. The Hour of the Wolf).  Unfortunately, instead of getting the best of Tarkovsky and Bergman we get the worst.  There are long stretches where not much of anything happens (Tarkovsky) and when characters do interact they don’t talk TO each other, they talk AT each other in artificial non-sequiturs (Bergman circa the late 60s).


  1. Agree Up Series is remarkable, although when watching them all back-to-back in 2-3 days,I noticed quite a bit of repetition of the early years. Hopefully 63 Up will be recorded in 2019! I like how the series encourages the viewer to think about our own life. Everybody watching can probably relate to someone in the group, and you want them to find happiness.
    It's interesting Linklater's Before series is following the same path(every 9 years). I also heard Linklater's Boyhood (2014) is a gradual film, where we see age changes.

    A little surprised you gave The Blood of a Poet (1932), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), & Scenes from a Marriage (1973) less than 3/5. You are quite stingy with your ratings :) I would give all three of those 4/5. I'm with you for 4.5/5 for Incendies-very powerful that one.

    1. "I like how the [Up] series encourages the viewer to think about our own life. Everybody watching can probably relate to someone in the group, and you want them to find happiness."

      Very well said.

      Sometimes not writing reviews for films I don't recommend can leave people hanging. Here's a bit on the three you mentioned.

      The Blood of the Poet - I'm not a big fan of surealism. I've liked some Bunuel films, but most surrealistic movies, especially the early ones like this, seem to be randomly weird for the sake of being randomly weird. This had some good imagery, but I need more than just images; I need a plot. Another film I didn't recommend was Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. It has many interesting images of Berlin before the Nazis took over, but ultimately it was nothing more than a slide show of images. It had no plot or story. Does it have historic value? Absolutely, but it's not something I would recommend to a friend. And it's how much I would recommend it, and whether or not I would, that determines my ratings.

      Assault on Precinct 13 - This is the closest I came to recommending, of the three. I gave it 2.5 stars ("it was okay"). Ultimately it suffered with me for having two bland leads. The killer seemed like an all around swell guy whose limit for being badass was asking for a cigarette. When I was young Carpenter's Escape from New York was a favorite of mine. Snake Plissken was THE MAN. Neither the cop or the criminal in Assault on Precinct 13 can hold a candle to him. Again, not a bad movie, but not quite good enough for me to recommend to others.

      Scenes from a Marriage - another limitation I acknowledge is that if I don't like the main character the odds of me liking the film are a lot worse. I don't mean like as in they have to be a good person. I mean they can't piss me off. In the case of this film I disliked both of the main characters. I started to resent the film running as long as it did because I just wanted it to be done so I didn't have to spend time with them anymore.

      To end on a more positive note, Incendies is really something isn't it? I knew nothing about it and it blew me away.

  2. I'll definitely refer to your IMDB lists. I have wondered how this list has changed over the years, so i appreciate you putting it together. I've seen all the top hundred except for Leon: The Professional, which has shown up some other lists as well. I guess I'll put that one down to watch soon.

    1. My sheet will definitely show you how the IMDB list has changed over the years. In addition to the consolidated sheets, I also have tabs for each of the 16 years. I also have the number of votes wherever possible. Wait until you see how much voting inflation there has been in the ratings for movies on IMDB.

      Leon: The Professional is one film that I, and others, feel should have definitely been on the 1,001 Movies list. It's far more than just an action movie. The relationship between Leon and Matilda adds a whole other level to it. Make sure you see the 133 minute "International Version", not the 20-25 minutes shorter one.

  3. From the looks of it, the TSPDT list is kind of a bust, with only one film being worth your time.

    I'm curious to see where you go when you finish these lists off.

    1. Well, it certainly was a bust this month. I might be giving a worse impression of the TSPDT list than it deserves, though.

      First, remember that I've already seen most of the "great movies" from my own curiosity and from having done other lists like 1001 Movies. That just leaves, not the dregs, but certainly less likely choices for being great.

      Second, as you may remember I'm somewhat cynical when it comes to some films that critics choose. Sometimes it feels like critics praise a film simply to show how much of a cinephile they are because it's so obscure, not because it's actually a good movie. And the TSPDT list is absolutely the most "critics' choice" movie list ever made. One entry is nothing but 7 minutes of a black screen that every now and then flashes white, accompanied by white noise. How many of the 15 I saw this month have you even heard of before? For me it was only a handful.

      Third, with seeing the newest Oscar nominees, the new IMDB entries, and the Up series I watched more really good films than normal this month and the ones from the TSPDT list probably suffered in comparison.

      Fourth, this month happened to be mostly trying to finish off the unwatched ones I had left in the Top 400, most of which I had little interest in seeing, which is why they were the ones left. I checked the three prior months (since I've been actively reporting the films I've seen from the list) and I recommended 14 of 33, 4 of 12, and 4 of 9. That's still not even half, but it's much better than the 1 of 15 for this month. And at least 5 of those 15 were "it was okay" 2.5 star ratings for me, meaning they just missed being recommended.

      "I'm curious to see where you go when you finish these lists off."

      There are always other lists. And several years ago I used to do searches on IMDB for films by how many people had rated them and I would watch the ones with the most number of ratings that I had not yet seen. This exposed me to more popular movies and some cult movies that I might not otherwise have watched. At one point I had only four films unseen of more than 1,000 that had received at least 20,000 ratings. This was before the massive amount of voting inflation occurred on the site, though. Now there would probably be more than 1,000 films with at least 50,000 votes and who knows how many thousands with at least 20,000. Of course, many of those that I had not seen would be the horror movie of the month films that I wouldn't have much interest in seeing, but I could pick and choose whatever sounded interesting. (I just checked - there are 3,443 movies now with at least 20,000 votes. There are 1,781 with at least 50,000. There are 870 with at least 100,000 votes. That's crazy.)

  4. I'd love to know what you think of Upstream Colour. It's one of the strangest, but oddly beautiful films I've ever seen. It's certainly had its fair share of criticism though.

    1. Well, as you can see above I didn't recommend it. I watched it because it showed up in three bloggers' Top 10 of 2013 lists. I was going to watch it sometime anyway because I liked his prior film Primer; these just prompted me to watch it sooner. In hindsight those Top 10s probably raised my expectations for it too much. After that I was really looking forward to seeing it.

      I went back and re-read them after seeing this and it seemed that the fact that they couldn't really tell for sure what was going on in the movie was one of the big positives for them. They were looking forward to seeing it again in hopes they would be able to figure more of it out. I'm the opposite. If the director has a point, but makes it so obscure that it is lost on most everyone who sees his film, then that's not a positive for me. Some people love to pick apart a movie and try to guess what the director REALLY meant by something. I prefer to see movies as a whole, not a sum of their parts.

      The opening had me interested and curious. Where it started to lose me is when, in my opinion, it turned into just another indie relationship drama. It just took a far stranger than normal course to getting the boy and girl to their "meet cute". Yes, I get that there is more going on than the relationship and I actually wish the director had either concentrated more on his wilder points, or on the relationship. Trying to do both felt like they didn't really fit together for me. I can certainly see why the film has attracted a number of very positive comments, though. Unfortunately, it just didn't work well enough for me to recommend it to others.

  5. I loved the Up series, though I haven't caught up with the most recent iteration yet. I think I love the surprises the most. Neal's story has been endlessly fascinating to me and some of the other lives have had trajectories I never would have predicted.

    I noticed you didn't care for The Scarlet Empress. I don't know that I would recommend to anyone without caveats but I find it weirdly wonderful.

    This year may be the first ever when I will not have seen a single Oscar nominee in time for the ceremony. Last year I made a special point of seeing several. I don't know what happened. I may have temporarily moved to the 1930's.

    1. Yes, seeing Neil's arc is really something.

      The Scarlett Empress was another of my 2.5 stars that just missed being recommendable (if you read my replies to the earlier comments). Dietrich trying to act like an innocent teenager by widening her eyes in every single shot made me chuckle after a little while. I'm so used to seeing her as the strong, confident woman that I don't think I was able to adjust to seeing her as a wide-eyed innocent. It would sort of be like seeing Bruce Willis acting like a milquetoast in a film. I don't know if I could fully buy into it.

      Some years at least one of the Best Picture nominees comes out earlier in the year so that it's already available on DVD by the time the nominations are made (i.e. The Tree of Life, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Toy Story 3), but not this year. I think Gravity is the earliest release and that was just a few months ago.

  6. Chip, that's a pretty amazing number of movies. I watched 14 during January, and I feel like it was a great month of viewings. I'm glad you were able to catch up with Mud, and I'm right with you on the greatness of the McConaughey performance. I also see that you caught up with Captain Phillips. I saw that last week and really enjoyed it.

  7. My number of movies seen per month is probably going to drop considerably since I've started a new job. I took advantage of delays in the start during January to watch a bunch of movies towards the end of the month.