My viewing habits definitely changed in the Netflix and streaming era. I began watching a lot more older movies and TV, finally catching many of the films mentioned in the last couple of posts or just revisiting them, that "holding up under questioning" process I mentioned. Not to mention, of course, anything prior to where this series of posts begins, 1974. The various viewing platforms of the 21st century opened up film noir and old westerns to me in a way the prior-to-21st-century-platforms never did.
So for the last part of this indulgent look back over a lifetime of moviewatching, I skipped the "Can You Believe I Haven't Seen" entries - there's too many of them - and tried to trim my honorable mentions to as few as possible. That seems the breeziest way to get through the last 17 years (16 really, since I'm skipping 2017.) I kept some of the categories and added others. Let's dive in.
Lots of favorites from this year, some with some crossover into critical acclaim (Requiem for a Dream, Memento), others with not so much of that (Bring It On - one of the best sports movies ever made - Psycho Beach Party, U-571 - Das Boot for those who ain't got the time for Das Boot - and Little Nicky.) But my absolute favorite is:
Directed by Kinji Fukusaku. Written by Kenta Fukasaku.
I've seen opinions of this one revised more than once since it came out - first it was the most shocking thing ever, then it wasn't all that, then it was the hipster's response to The Hunger Games, then the backlash against people saying that, etc. Wherever the conventional wisdom is at, my initial opinion has only deepened: it's a masterpiece, propelled by kinetic, satirical violence though it is more emotional than satirical. There's a lot of human sadness in this film, both macro and micro, but its conceit/ structure keeps you from getting bogged down in it. Amazing stuff.
Dog Star Oscar Party: Gladiator (not bad; the Scipio Africanus sequence is a personal fave), Chocolat (not bad but who's seen it since then? Anyone? There's always one Oscar contender that only exists for the two months around Oscar time. I'm not sure if Choclat is truly such a film, but you know what I mean), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (around the time all my favorite early 90s Hong Kong films were getting these sorts of lavish makeovers for wider audiences; nothing against this trend or this movie, just I prefer something like Swordsman 2 or the original Once Upon a Time in Chinas), Traffic (excellent flick. Soderbergh is probably underrepresented in these 4 posts; the guy knows how to tell a story with a camera better than just about anyone.)
Some memorable cinema this year: Black Hawk Down, Legally Blonde, Wet Hot American Summer, Waking Life - which wasn't to everyone's taste but I really enjoy it, still. My kind of abstract meditation on mortality. The same could be said for A.I., or Mulholland Drive, or hell, Zoolander, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (pretty much the only Kevin Smith project I still enjoy), and Human Nature. But in the spirit of honesty, my favorite is:
|Ghosts of Mars|
Directed by John Carpenter. Written by John Carpenter and Larry Skulkis.
Not the classiest choice arguably. (Well, fairly unarguably, I guess.) Why do I always want to watch this film? It has a lunacy to it that is hypnotic. Why this plot twist? Why that performance? Why emphasize these particular dynamics over here? POV changes within POV changes, failure to follow its own dubious but conspicuously stated rules - the list goes on. And yet, here we are. God I love this movie.
90s Indies That Should've Died with Y2K: The Anniversary Party, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing.
Right Around When So Many Horror Films Began To Resemble... Jeepers Creepers.
Worth a Mention: Enemy at the Gates. Not because it's a good movie (it isn't - and docking double points since it failed to adequately adapt its source material. I mean, it's non-fiction; why get the rights to something if you're just going to go your own way? Is the name that important?) but because of when I saw it in the theater. Picture it, Warwick RI, March of 2001. There were no couples or groups of friends standing in line for a ticket, only guys by themselves, like myself. Once inside, we spread throughout the fifth through fifteenth rows, mostly, no one taking the seat to the immediate side of any other. Except one guy who went all the way down to the first row, center, where you have to crane your neck up. About halfway through the movie, Bob Hoskins shows up as Khrushchev, but I missed almost every line he delivered, as the guy in the front row stood up and began to berate the screen in Russian for a couple of minutes, then stormed out, the Cyrillic harangue diminishing a la Doppler as he exited the theater.
Never understood what that was all about. I asked a Russian classmate of mine about it at the time, but he had no idea either.
Dog Star Oscar Party: A Beautiful Mind (not bad - only saw it with Dawn years after), Gosford Park (pretty good but only ever saw it once), In the Bedroom (meh), The Fellowship of the Ring (of the six Lord of the Rings films the only one I enjoy without reservations), Moulin Rouge! (fun stuff.)
Minority Report probably is the best American film made this year, though a chapeau to both Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Swimfan, unfairly remembered as only a tawdry pleasure. It's certainly that, but what an enjoyable evocation of its genre. My favorite, though:
|Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce.|
I walked into this at the Avon in Providence with no idea what the film was about and couldn't believe my luck. I'd been a fan of Britpop and Madchester for years but had no real idea of the background of the scene, so this film kicked off a few years of exploring it more in depth. Beyond a great biography of the period, though, it's a remarkably edited and performed film, and an intelligent and emotional paean to youth, music, rebellion, drugs, and sex. One of Steve Coogan's best performances.
Special shout-outs: Russian Ark (film in "one breath," i.e. a single tracking shot sweeping through the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, as well as hundreds of years of Russian history, The Kid Stays in the Picture, and Cinemania, which is equally disturbing and profound. And also - if you've ever wondered if maybe you watch or know too much about movies - somewhat reassuring.
Dog Star Oscar Party: Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist. (Meh to all of them. Some host, I know!)
My two favorites: Peter Weir's Master and Commander - the Far Side of the World (God, though - that title is as awkward as two of my my-that's-awkward go-tos, Ballistic! Ecks vs. Sever and Space Battleship Yamato: Be Forever Yamato) and Kevin Costner's Open Range.
|Just some old-fashioned moviemaking with a little 21st century know-how.|
They Also Served: Code 46, The Return, Capturing the Friedmans, House of a 1000 Corpses, Swimming Pool (remember what I said about Les Valseuses being my personal bar to clear for this sort of French sex/economic satire thing? This comes close), and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (I might even like it more than pt. 2.)
Right Around When So Many Horror Films Began To Resemble... Identity (i.e. a thousand plot twists at the end that make no sense at all, a dramatic escalation in the contempt for suspension of disbelief. Is it fair to place this on Identity? Probably not, but it's when I began to notice.)
Another 90s Indie That Didn't Get the Memo: Pieces of April. Oy vey.
Dog Star Oscar Party: Lost in Translation, Seabiscuit, (still haven't seen either), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Master and Commander, and Mystic River (good stuff, though I only ever saw it years later.)
Three films (Anchorman, Before Sunset, and Team America) probably vie for second place, but my favorite is:
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Written by John Logan.
One of Scorsese's best. An ambivalent love letter to Hollywood that explores via its subject (Howard Hughes) how obsession with purity, perfection, and contamination can become its own trap, and how power isolates.
They Also Served: Kung Fu Hustle, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Personally for me, I find most post-Rushmore Wes Anderson - and this very much includes The Royal Tenenbaums - to be rather tedious, but this one really holds together well for me), Welcome to Mooseport (I ended up really growing to like this one from seeing it come round on cable so many times), and Some Kind of Monster.
WTF You Assholes: The Stepford Wives, Jersey Girl, Spanglish. These films suck in different but equally exasperating amounts.
Dog Star Oscar Party: The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways. I liked Sideways - never saw the non-Aviator movies, though.
Honorable Mentions: Batman Begins and two from down under (The Proposition and The World's Fastest Indian) and two ties for the top spot:
|Kingdom of Heaven|
Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by William Monahan.
|The New World|
Written and directed by Terrence Malick.
Both are remarkable achievements just from a production standpoint, but they're also just such intense and well-unfolded stories. Kingdom of Heaven does about as good a job as you can do compartmentalizing the events around the fall of Crusader Jerusalem into a cinematic narrative. And those last few minutes of The New World should be uploaded to the Voyager probe as soon as we develop the technology to do so. I also appreciate the instruction at the beginning to crank the volume so the full acoustic blend of running water, birds, trees swaying, and Wagner can overwhelm the viewer with its beauty.
Dog Star Oscar Party: Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, and Munich. Crash is the sort of superficial race narrative narcissism that Hollywood should simply never indulge in, much less reward itself lavishly for, but what can you do. Never saw any of the others. Except Munich, which is unbelievably the last (non-Indy) film directed by Spielberg I've seen. I really need to catch up with that guy. Anyway, Munich is great.
|A Good Year|
Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Marc Klein.
For awhile this was my New Year's Day film, but I've fallen out of the habit the last few years. I used to have a pretty good system: Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore on Easter (long story), The Falcon and the Snowman on July 4th, Groundhog Day on Christmas Day, and A Good Year on New Year's. I can see how this wouldn't be for everyone, but it came along at exactly the right moment in my life and I love it.
Runners-Up: Idiocracy, The Prestige, Cocaine Cowboys, The Lives of Others.
|All remarkable, but The Prestige especially so.|
Honorable Mentions: The 300, Beerfest, Casino Royale, Children of Men, Inland Empire, A Scanner Darkly, Slither, A Prairie Home Companion, The Wicker Man (sure it's a crazy remake of a classic, but it has its singular charms), Let's Go to Prison, Rocky Balboa (surprising), and Pan's Labyrinth.
Dog Star Oscar Party: The Departed, Babel, The Queen, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine. I only saw The Departed, which I liked well enough. One of these days I really need to rank all the Scorsese movies. I don't think this one would be in my Top 5 but maybe my Top 10.
Directed by Danny Boyle. Written by Alex Garland.
Hands down favorite. Probably my vote for film of the century thus far. Such a remarkable and beautiful movie. Runners-up: Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World ("I don't believe a penguin might believe he or she is Napoleon Bonaparte, but could they just go crazy?") and Chasing Ghosts Beyond the Arcade.
They Also Served: Another good year for films - Enchanted, Grindhouse (at least the Planet Terror part of it, which I loved), Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie For Films, 28 Weeks Later, Eastern Promises, Los Cronocrimines, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, The Simpsons Movie, Gone Baby Gone, American Gangster, and The Mist.
Someone Stop These Maniacs: Bug (I guess in retrospect, Michael Shannon's and Ashley Judd's respective 2016 meltdowns were well forecast), Things We Lost in the Fire (needs Herzog's character from Julien Donkey Boy to be dousing it with a hose saying "Enough of your moody brooding..." If this came with that option, I'd be all about it), Joshua, and Inside, a French film that squanders a potentially interesting premise (a home invasion movie with the symbolic weight of the French Riots and all their underlying issues of French society they spoke to) with an Ally McBeal baby effect.
Right Around When So Many Horror Films Began To Resemble... P2 (Not sure if 2007 is when this began in earnest or not but this whole trend of the villain having a Bond lair/ improbable amounts of prep and surveillance as he pursues his stubbornly unmotivated path of tortureporn.)
Dog Star Oscar Party: No Country for Old Men, Juno, Atonement, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood. That last one is a classic for sure. Michael Clayton and No Country for Old Men were pretty good. Didn't see Atonement or Juno.
I was still seeing a good amount of new movies in 2008 (Role Models, Iron Man, Rambo, Tropic Thunder, The House Bunny) but more and more were slipping by, unseen. These last few years should go by fairly quickly. Favorites of '08:
|Stepbrothers (d: Adam McKay, w: Adam McKay, Will Ferrell) and Let the Right One In (d: Tomas Alfredson, w: John Ajvide Lindqvist.)|
Two pretty different films, for sure, but the same level of awesome and the same level of awesome-endings, specifically.
Dog Star Oscar Party: Didn't see any of 'em - Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Milk, The Reader.
|The Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call New Orleans|
Directed by Werner Herzog. Written by William M. Finkelstein.
Werner Herzog was the sort of director who releases arthouse films and documentaries, but luckily for all of us he began flirting with more mainstream material - albeit in his singularly unconventional fashion - over the past 10 or 15 years. Then this came along. Man, this movie. Awkward title for sure but don't let that stop you. Not at all what I expected.
Runners-Up: Moon and Observe and Report. Again, two quite different films but equally surprising and well done. If I was including direct-to-DVD releases, I'd mention the animated Wonder Woman that came out this year. Great cast, very well done.
They Also Served: The Hangover, Drag Me to Hell, Star Trek, Good Hair.
Sleeper: Deep in the Valley. On paper this romantic comedy about two guys going nowhere who step into a porn viewer machine and are whisked away to a magical dimension lorded over by legend of the biz Diamond Jim (i.e. Shooter McGavin) where everyone acts like they're in a porn film 24-7 shouldn't work at all. Not only that premise, but it also comes with Denise Richards and Kim Kardashian (only a cameo). It shouldn't add up to much, and yet, it's a hell of a lot of fun.
|Chalk it up to the considerable affability of the leads (Chris Pratt and Rachel Specter), a clever script, and spirited performances all around particularly from Scott Caan and Kate Albrecht.|
New Achievements in Tedium and Depravity: My Sister's Keeper, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.
Dog Star Oscar Party: The Hurt Locker (pretty good), Avatar and District 9 (ditto), The Inglourious Basterds, Blind Side, Up, An Education, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire (didn't see any of these), A Serious Man, (very good), Up in the Air (meh).
|The Other Guys|
Directed by Adam McKay. Written by Adam McKay and Chris Henchy.
"Cops still argue to this day why Danson and Highsmith jumped. Maybe it was just pride, having survived so many brushes with death. Maybe their egos pushed them off. I don't know. But that shit was crazy. Either way, there was a hole in New York City, and it needed to be filled."
Runners-Up: Youth in Revolt, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Machete. Each great, but YIR in particular is very underrated - great flick.
I Will Never Understand Why Affleck Can't Do a Boston Accent: The Town.
Special Review by Butthead from Beavis and Butthead: Red White and Blue. "So like this girl has, like AIDS, and she like hates everyone, and herself, and was like abused and stuff. So she bangs a bunch of dudes every night so she can, like, give everybody AIDS. Until some of the guys she gives AIDS to, like, kill her, and then like, her boyfriend, who's a CIA killer in Iraq and stuff, hunts them down and like tortures them to death, then he goes back in the army. It's, like, about America and stuff." Only one other film on this countdown gets more disdain from me. (Still to come!)
Dog Star Oscar Party: All great - Inception, Black Swan, The Social Network. Not bad- 127 Hours, The Fighter. Didn't see - The King's Speech, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3. I Fell Asleep and My Wife Still Refuses To Tell Me What Happened - True Grit, Winter's Bone.
|Tie: Midnight in Paris (Written and Directed by Woody Allen) and The Artist (written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius.)|
A late-innings home run from Woody (here's hoping he's got another one of these left in him) and a charming silent film from the crew who produced the OSS 17 movies.
I Fell Asleep and My Wife Still Refuses To Tell Me What Happened: Silent House.
Dog Star Oscar Party: Already mentioned - Midnight in Paris, The Artist, The Tree of Life. Didn't see - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Hugo, War Horse. Not bad - The Help, Moneyball, The Descendants.
|Cabin in the Woods|
Directed by Drew Goddard. Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard.
What an awesome flick. I give a lot of crap to horror films of the 21st century, but stuff like this makes up for a lot of Rogue Rivers. (Incidentally, 2012's Right Around When So Many Horror Films Began To Resemble... entry).
Runner-Up: Spring Breakers. Harmony Korine took a break from his usual fare to deliver this caustic exploration of that perennial South Florida rumspringen. People seemed divided whether or not it was exploitation masquerading as social commentary or what; I'm on the "this is all brilliant if very unsettling satire" side of that one.
They Also Served: The Master, Argo.
WTF You Assholes: The Paperboy. Oh my God, this movie. I know he didn't write it, but I basically swore never to see anything by Lee Daniels ever again because of this. Words fail me - just a whole stew of baffling decisions bubbling over and making a huge mess.
Dog Star Oscar Party: Last one of these I'll throw, I guess, since of the next few years, the only Academy Award Nominee for Best Films are Argo, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Mad Max Fury Road. I didn't care for Wolf of Wall Street too much, but the other two were fine.
My elder daughter was born in 2013, and boy you can tell from the very few films that were released this year that I've seen (Before Midnight, Frozen, The Canyons.) I see Frozen just about every day these days, but my pick for best of these is:
Directed by Richard Linklater. Written by Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy.
Such a lovely trilogy of films (and that one little cameo in Waking Life.) I hope the pattern holds and we see the next installment of Jesse and Celine's saga in 2022.
Of the handful of new films I saw (Guardians of the Galaxy, Gone Girl, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) the best was probably what, Gone Girl? Guardians and Winter Soldier were both perfectly enjoyable.
I saw five films that came out in 2015 and liked all of them, except The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which really blew. The Force Awakens was a perfectly acceptable retread of A New Hope, with all of Abrams usual corner-cuttings that drive me nuts, but it was fine. The Witch was okay but kind of pointless to me - horror films aren't just supposed to create a mood of despair and then sit in it. Then again, maybe they are, or maybe that's fine. Either way I was in the mood for a different ending than the one we got - didn't wrap it up properly for me personally. Fury Road I already mentioned. The best of the ones I saw:
Written and Directed by Alex Garland.
Brilliant flick. Alex Garland is really on a tear. Looking forward to Annihilation. And finally:
Of the four I saw one was a little disappointing (Star Trek Beyond, though it was an improvement over Into Darkness), two I watch with the kids (Finding Dory and Trolls, with the former being more to my liking than the latter, though both are perfectly fine), and this one which Dawn and I caught over the weekend:
|Everybody Wants Some|
Written and directed by Richard Linklater
Linklater has got such a knack for this stuff. The spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused (and to Boyhood somewhat, according to its director - I haven't seen it yet) and hits all the same heights as that one. Great performances, great period piece, great soundtrack, script, characters, realism, all of it.
~Well, then! Thanks for reading and playing along, friends and neighbors. Now back to regularly scheduled programming...