Thursday, January 1, 2015

December Movie Status

Note: this will be a regular month end post.  I will do a separate post looking back at 2014 and ahead at what I might do in 2015.

I watched 46 new movies in December, plus rewatched 1 movie.  (Hint: “om gotcha gowl gowl gowl”)

I continued to work on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They list.  I passed 950 of the 1,000 entries.  As of this writing I have 44 left to see.  I have now seen all the films in the Top 750 of the list.  I’ve got only 3 entries remaining in the Top 800, and 15 more from 801-900.  That leaves 26 in the 901-1000 grouping.

I once again worked on completing directors with at least four entries on the list.  In December I finished off the last of: 16 Godard, 16 Ford, 4 Weerasethakul, 6 Polanski, 10 Bresson, 7 Allen, 6 Kazan, 8 Welles, 4 Clair, and 4 De Sica.  I have 7 more directors like this to go (out of 77).  I still need to see 2 of Hou’s six, 3 of Lang’s eleven (all in the 900s), 2 of Ozu’s ten, 1 of Peckinpah’s four, 3 of Sirk’s six (all in the 900s), 3 of Truffaut’s eight, and 2 of Vidor’s five (both in the 900s).

If I applied myself I could finish off the TSPDT list by the end of January – just in time for the new 2015 list to come out in February.  I’m not sure yet if I’m going to try to do this or not.  We’ll see how I feel as the month goes along.  I also have six new films to see from the latest IMDB Year End Top 250 list.  I usually try to knock those off as soon as I can.  And the Oscar nominations will be announced in mid January and I will be trying to see all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscar telecast.  It might be too crowded a month to finish off the TSPDT list.

Here are the 46 new movies I saw in December.  Highlighted films are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.

TSPDT (39): Tout Va Bien (1972), The Headless Woman (2008), A Woman is a Woman (1961), The Sun Shines Bright (1953), 7 Women (1966), The Hart of London (1970), The Son (2002), Moonfleet (1955), Songs from the Second Floor (2000), Time of the Gypsies (1988), Yellow Earth (1984), Othello (1952), Titicut Follies (1967), The Last Bolshevik (1993), Orlando (1992), Gummo (1997), Zelig (1983), Syndromes and a Century (2006), Cul-de-sac (1966), Arrebato (1979), La Cienaga (2001), Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945), Four Nights of a Dreamer (1971), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Blue (1993), The Wild Child (1970), The Holy Mountain (1973), The River (1997), Branded to Kill (1967), Stardust Memories (1980), 7th Heaven (1927), East of Eden (1955), The Trial (1962), Under the Roofs of Paris (1930), Shoeshine (1946), Zorns Lemma (1970), People on Sunday (1930), Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003), The Long Day Closes (1992)

Other Movies (7): Walk of Shame (2014), Neighbors (2014), How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014), Maleficent (2014), The Wind Rises (2013), Bunraku (2010), The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Rewatches (1): Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Walk of Shame (2014) – Elizabeth Banks is a local newscaster who has to get home from a really bad part of town with no car or phone after her friends get her drunk after she loses out on a prime national job.  3 stars

Tout Va Bien (1972) – Godard made some good movies.  This isn’t one of them.  1 star

The Headless Woman (2008) – a film that’s supposed to be tense about whether a woman hit a dog or a child and then deliberately drove off without checking.  The problem is that the movie clearly shows that it’s a dog, so there is no suspense about whether this woman will get caught or not, and all her fright over this is for nothing.  Remove one ten second scene of her driving off with the dog on the road behind her and it would be a much better movie.  2 stars

A Woman is a Woman (1961) – I think Godard intended this to be a comedy.  If so, he doesn’t have the right people cast in the film.  1 star

The Sun Shines Bright (1953) – a John Ford semi-remake of the 1930s Will Rogers Judge Priest film. Despite Stepin Fetchit being a part of this one, too, his speaking lines are little enough to not bring down the rest of the film.  3 stars

7 Women (1966) – It’s actually 8 women trapped by bandits in Mongolia, but I guess the Mongolian woman doesn’t count, just the white ones.  Anne Bancroft plays a doctor who chain smokes, even while treating patients.   2.5 stars

Neighbors (2014) – Some good laughs, but not one of the funniest movies of the last few years like some of the hype surrounding it was saying.  3 stars

The Hart of London (1970) – 80 minutes of random shots of London.  1 star

The Son (2002) – A carpentry teacher realizes that a new teenage student is the boy who killed his son some years back.  What will he do?  This would have made a great 30 minute short, but unfortunately it got padded out to feature length and the slow moving filler overrides the good parts.  2 stars

Moonfleet (1955) – not science fiction, but an 18th century tale of smugglers in an English town of that name.  3 stars

Songs from the Second Floor (2000) – Some great imagery (especially the ending) in search of enough plot to sustain a movie.  The images alone are not quite enough for me to recommend this.   2.5 stars

Time of the Gypsies (1988) – a mix of genres from Emir Kusturica.  He was still trying to figure out how to make them all work together and has some ragged sections.  See his later film Black Cat, White Cat (1998) where he got everything to gel.   2.5 stars

Yellow Earth (1984) – sort of a Chinese communist twin to Songcatcher (2000).  Both are period films about people going to the countryside to record folks songs.  In this film the goal is to get happy songs to support the Communist agenda, but the man mostly finds songs about hardship and sorrow.  He also finds a young woman, who gets fired up both by him and his talk of the freedoms women have under Communism.  3 stars

Othello (1952) – Orson Welles adapting, directing, and starring in the Shakespeare play.  I liked it, but having seen multiple other versions of it before may have diluted my appreciation for it some.  3 stars

Titicut Follies (1967) – This is a documentary about mental patients in a hospital for the criminally insane.  I am not giving it a rating because that would mean at least partially going along with the filmmaker who committed a MASSIVE violation of the patients’ privacy to shoot his film – patients that had no capacity to consent to be shown.  Yes, it exposes the crappy way the doctors and guards treated the patients, but a sizable chunk of the movie is made up of just showing crazy people doing crazy things – no better than animal acts at a circus.  One man is shown completely naked and dancing around in his room – for several minutes – far longer than is needed to make any possible point and well into the realm of “look at the funny crazy person” territory.  And I don’t care that they committed crimes because of their mental illnesses; it’s still violating their privacy in just about the worst way possible.

The Last Bolshevik (1993) – a tribute to Soviet director Alexsandr Medvedkin, someone I knew nothing about before seeing this documentary.  3 stars

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) – sequel to the very popular film.  It expands the world of the first one.  It didn’t back off from showing that it’s not always all fun and adventures; sometimes there are consequences – something the first film’s conclusion illustrated brilliantly.   3.5 stars

Maleficent (2014) – great special effects, but one of the most anti-male films I have seen in a long time.  The men in the film aren’t evil because those individuals are that way; they are evil because it’s the inherent nature of men to lust for power and control, and to destroy those things they cannot control.  Or so this movie would have us believe.   2 stars

Orlando (1992) – great concept that gets poorly executed.  A 16th century man never ages or dies, and at one point transforms from a man to a woman.  There’s so much potential to explore here, but it seems to only lightly touch down on topics before moving on, much like the timeline in this film which quickly skips through the centuries.   2.5 stars

Gummo (1997) – a completely pointless movie….which is the point of the movie.   1 star

Zelig (1983) – there would be so many howls from offended people if this film were made today.  It’s a mockumentary about a “chameleon man” who changes physical appearance to blend in with those around him in order to be liked.  This includes transforming into other races.  Long before Forrest Gump did it, Woody Allen inserts himself into newsreel footage, including, believe it or not, some of Hitler.   3 stars

Syndromes and a Century (2006) – very slow moving film partially inspired by how the director’s parents met.  We actually sort of see the story twice, with tweaks and changes, as if the director wasn’t sure which he wanted so he just did both.   2 stars

The Wind Rises (2013) – if this is to be Miyazaki’s last film then he certainly went out on top.  This is a wonderful, real world tale about creating and building, even if what you build gets used for ugly purposes.  The way the wind is shown in the film is beautifully done in the hand drawn animation.  Any time someone tries to tell you that hand drawn animation is too limiting and CGI is the only way to achieve a beautiful visual appearance then just show them this film.  4.5 stars

Cul-de-sac (1966) – interesting concept (husband and wife trapped on a tidal island by a criminal) that I’ve unfortunately seen versions of dozens of time before.  That’s not this film’s fault, but it kept me from getting too caught up in it.   2.5 stars

Arrebato (1979) - “art” film about people who do a lot of cocaine then make and watch “art” films.   1 star

La Cienaga (2001) – this is a typical slice of life film where the point isn’t to build to a climax, but just to show the everyday lives of the characters.  This one happens to come from Argentina.   2.5 stars

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945) – I just couldn’t buy the “horrible” fate of a man being tricked into falling for a cabaret dancer.  It’s not like she was a prostitute or even a stripper.  She simply danced on stage.  She trained to be a ballet dancer, and they perform on stage in far less clothing than she was wearing in the cabaret.   2 stars

Four Nights of a Dreamer (1971) – a man meets a woman who is about to kill herself.  He convinces her to meet again the next night and the next, and the next.  It’s not at the level of the men in Maleficent that I wrote about above, but women come off pretty poorly in this film.   2.5 stars

Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) – great final film from Guru Dutt (Pyaasa).  It’s about a once great director who is looking back on his life before his downfall into alcoholism and pariah status.  And it tragically became a case of life imitating art when this film failed at the box office and the studio basically cast Dutt out.  He never directed again and committed suicide five years after completing this film.   4 stars

Blue (1993) – interesting concept – nothing but a blank, blue screen for 80 minutes with a voiceover by writer/director Derek Jarman talking about various things in his life, including the fact that he was dying from AIDS.  Some of the stories were interesting – some in a morbid way – but ultimately it couldn’t sustain even the short running time.  Cut it in half and keep the best stories and it would have better.    2.5 stars

The Wild Child (1970) – based on the true story of a child found in the woods of France in the 1800s, apparently having been abandoned at 3-4 years old and that had somehow survived to his current age of about 12.  A doctor first tries to study him, then tries to actually get him to assimilate back into human company.   3 stars

The Holy Mountain (1973) - If you liked Jodorowsky's earlier film El Topo then you'll love this one. He apparently felt the earlier film was too subtle and understated so he went all out on this one.  It has more of everything. More religious iconography, more sex, more urine and feces, more naked boys, more mutilations. Just more.  All in all it comes across as someone really, really, really trying to be controversial and not realizing that he passed controversial and moved into becoming a joke somewhere around the scene with all the toads and lizards in uniforms on a sacrificial pyramid.   1 star

The River (1997) – unbeknownst to each other a father and son both like going to bathhouses to engage in anonymous gay sex in dark rooms.  It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what’s going to eventually happen.  It’s not that aspect that drives my rating, though.  It’s just that this is a very slow moving film with a ton of filler in it.  There’s maybe 15-20 minutes of scenes that matter in the 115 minute running time.   2 stars

Branded to Kill (1967) – has lots of action, quick cuts, violence, and plenty of weirdness.  I honestly couldn’t claim that I was able to keep track of who was who and why they were doing something to another.   2 stars

Stardust Memories (1980) – basically a big middle finger from Woody Allen to everyone who didn’t like the change he made away from making humorous films.  After the inevitable backlash he would claim that the character he played, who was a famous Jewish movie writer/director with lots of fans, who used to make funny movies, who was now trying to make “serious” films, was not remotely intended to represent himself.  The next two films he made were A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) and the mockumentary Zelig (1983), so it appears that he was trying to make up to his fans.   2 stars

7th Heaven (1927) – A sewer worker is determined to rise up in society and his first goal is to become a street cleaner.  He meets and saves a young woman whose sister abuses her.  He takes her in and they have to pretend to be husband and wife.  Naturally they start to really fall in love, but then WWI intervenes and he has to go off to war.  In some ways this reminded me of The Big Parade (1925).   3.5 stars

East of Eden (1955) – James Dean’s first film.  At the start he plays a pretty unsympathetic character, but once you see more of the family dynamics at work (father is a bible thumper, brother sucks up to dad, mother is a madam who ran out on them when they were babies) he might be the most well-adjusted of them all.   3.5 stars

The Trial (1962) – Orson Welles adapting a story from Franz Kafka.  Do not expect anything remotely resembling coherence in this movie.  A man is accused of a crime, but cannot get anyone to tell him what it is.  1 star

Bunraku (2010) - This is one of those movies that people will either love or hate. I'm in the first group.  This film combines several different genres, from martial arts to westerns, to sci-fi, to film noir, to MGM musicals, to animation (both U.S. and Japanese), to, well, you get the idea.  The sets are either intentionally "stagey" like a 40s/50s musical, or they are virtual like in Sin City. There are no musical numbers, but the fight choreography in places is just half a notch closer to dance than fighting. The score and songs are big band jazz...structured for a post-apocalyptic world.  There are animated sequences made to look like pop-up books - something that also features briefly in the film. There is even an animated montage sequence right out of the opening credits of a James Bond film.  The imagery in the movie is very stylized. My favorite bit might be when a character enters a club in a chamber that moves like a bullet in a gun rotating into place. When subtitles are needed they appear in rectangles as if in a comic book. Even the sound effects come from video games and superhero shows.  All of this might sound like it's a bit much, and it may be for some people. I think those are the ones that fall into the "hate" camp. On the other hand, if you can go with it and just let the experience in then you will be in for one hell of a ride.   4 stars

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) – Unfortunately, this is the least of the three Hobbit films. It's still worth seeing, especially if you've invested time in the first two, but don't have your expectations too high for it.  I’ll have a full review later since it will probably be nominated for at least one Oscar like the prior two films were.   3 stars

Under the Roofs of Paris (1930) – This is a strange mix of sound and silent film.  I’m guessing that it might have been shot as a silent, but then some sound pieces were filmed and inserted into it.  A big chunk of the sound are a couple of songs being sung – over and over and over.  It’s sort of like nowadays when directors put stuff being thrown at the screen for no reason because of 3D.  In this case things happen in the film, like a window breaking, just to be able to put the sound in.  2.5 stars

Shoeshine (1946) – two shoeshine boys dream of buying a horse in barely post-WWII Italy.  They get caught up in a swindle and get sent to juvenile detention where they are separated and start to turn on each other.   2.5 stars

Zorns Lemma (1970) - An "art" film that consists of a short poem, then 45 minutes of pictures of street signs whose single words are in repeating alphabetical order, followed by 10-12 minutes of several people speaking a single word at a time while a man, woman, and dog walk in the distance. The End.  In case you're wondering, the title is a reference to a mathematical theorem that may or may not be getting demonstrated in the pattern of the street signs.   1 star

People on Sunday (1930) – a German film with a script from Billy Wilder that uses five “non-actors” and shows what they do on their days off.  In reality they are still acting their parts; they are simply not professional actors.  The story itself is what I found interesting.   3 stars

Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003) – very slow moving film about the last night of a Chinese movie cinema.  It is showing the 1960s film Dragon Inn, hence the title.  There are only a few people in the audience, including a young man who spends almost the entire movie trying to have sex with the few other men in the theater.  Breaking up this “excitement” are many scenes of a woman who works there cleaning the toilets.  There is a good scene at the end when you discover who two of the men in the audience are, but it’s not enough to save the film.   2 stars

The Long Day Closes (1992) – more a set of a dozen or so somewhat connected music videos than a movie.  Not the kind of film to watch late at night when you are tired.  2 stars


  1. You've really been busy! I liked Cul-de-sac and The Trial a little more than you did. I watched Touch of Evil for the first time in years last night. A great film.

    1. Touch of Evil is great. I've heard it referred to as the greatest B movie ever made.

  2. I'm impressed! Looks like your impression of Goddard might be similar to mine. There are a couple of absolute classics and some of the others are almost painful to sit through.

    1. I often refer to professional critics as "director groupies". That is nowhere near as well illustrated as when it comes to European directors from the 60s and 70s. Once they made a couple of truly good films they could then do no wrong to critics, no matter how bad the concept of what they put on screen.

      The TSPDT list has 16 Godard films on it, and there were some on the 1001 Movies list that were different, so I have seen around 20 films he has done. I probably wouldn't recommend half of them, except to people looking to study his work.

  3. You've been busy! The Son (2002) to me is among the Dardenne's best, and had me glued to the screen for the duration, I've only seen it once though, and I'm not sure others hold it in as high regard as I do.
    Songs from the Second Floor is in my top 100, I love the tragicomic humor, I think it's hilarious, but maybe because I'm from Scandinavia.
    Orlando (1992) probably has a better idea than execution, but I think it's interesting and the imagery is cinematic. It's also the film where I first took notice of Tilda Swinton.
    I too was impressed by The Wind Rises
    The Long Day Closes does recreate the era of UK in 1950s. Has its own atmosphere of childhood, and bringing back memories for me of head lice at school. A non-narrative story of random scenes, that to me ultimately feels like a pretentious version of Cinema Paradiso (1988). Filming a piece of carpet for close to a minute? Really? I prefer Terence Davies’ recent effort The Deep Blue Sea (2011).

    Since you mention it, do you happen to know which are the new entries in IMDB Year End Top 250 list?

    1. The visit to the lumberyard in The Son had me on the edge of my seat, but we had to sit through innumerable scenes of the teacher in his apartment fixing food, getting dressed/undressed, driving, etc. Keeping the ending, along with enough setup to convey what is happening, would make a terrific short, in my opinion.

      I admit I didn't get much humor from Songs from the Second Floor. It was the imagery that stood out for me, but I rarely, if ever, have recommended a film purely on the basis of the images in it and nothing else.

      Orlando is also where I first heard of Tilda Swinton. For quite a while when this first came to video I was going to rent it and watch it because I had heard good things about it, but for whatever reason I never got around to seeing it until this last month.

      I saw another film by Davies that I'm drawing a blank on (not The Deep Blue Sea). It think it was part of a loose "trilogy" with The Long Day Closes because it had a similar feel with a lot of singing and set in a time period a few decades back. That one didn't really work for me, either, so it may just be this director's style that doesn't resonate with me.

      Off the top of my head the 12 films new to the consolidated IMDB list this year were: Swades, Dil Chahti Hai, The Gangs of Wasseypur, Interstellar, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood, Guardians of the Galaxy, Gone Girl, The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave, Paris Texas, and one other I am drawing a blank on. If you click on the link I had above for the consolidated list, go down to the bottom of the Weighted tab where all the films to have appeared on only a single list are, then look in the 2014 column and where you find a ranking those are the 12 new ones for 2014.

    2. Thanks for providing me with those new entries. I followed your instructions, and the film you drew a blank on I presume is X-Men: Days of Future Past

    3. Yes, that was the one I couldn't think of. Have you done the IMDB Top 250 yourself and were therefore looking to watch the new entries?

    4. I've seen all the new 2014 entries, but have not much interest in the Indian additions. I'm not a "completist". I've watched most of the iconic films from the top 250, but have not, like you, systematically gone through all the films that fell off the list over the years.
      I made this list to remind myself which films I still have left: