Post #200: Musings & Problems / Directors List / Index

MUSINGS & PROBLEMS (SKIPPABLE)

Whatever this thing is, it’s been going for over a year now, and somewhat improbably with the schedule I’d loftily planned for it. I’ve never stuck with anything writing-related so long and strictly as this, so far as I can remember. I don’t feel totally happy with what’s been done to date but I do feel like I’ve, well, done lots of work! By this point, the process of writing about the movies we cover here has changed considerably, chiefly tied to the way I’m trying to be less stuffy and “professional” and more direct / conversational. It’s made the reviews somewhat easier to write, don’t know if it’s helped them become more readable — which I think is the main problem I’ve been having.

As for the viewing process, the list projects are going smoothly enough, though surprises have been rare: the biggest one was The Greatest Show on Earth, reputed to be the worst Best Picture winner, actually being a bombastic and obnoxious, immensely lovable popcorn movie. To be frank, none of the other Oscar films I’d previously avoided have gone far astray of the way I predicted I’d feel about them — but such is really the nature of awards cinema, one reason I’m looking forward to making my way through the Director winners quickly and then on to the Best Screenplay films, which promise to show me a bit more that’s previously been beyond my scope.

Having said that, a few films that were already familiar to me did end up providing me with unexpected pleasure. If there’s ever a been a film that changed my mind more from first viewing to second than West Side Story, I can’t think of it (since writing that sentence, it’s now happened again, but I won’t reveal with what movie yet; not a BP winner) — I deeply loathed the film when I first saw in 2006 and came dangerously close to the opposite reaction this time out. I still have a few problems with it, like the strange ballet-rape scene, but it’s a strong entertainment and a solid artistic achievement. Robert Wise’s follow-up The Sound of Music also found its way to my heart, at least its best moments (all in the first half), with my old adolescent distrust of it now faded. I can chalk my newfound adoration of Midnight Cowboy to just getting older; there’s no way I’d have understood its melancholy when I was 20. And the move of The French Connection from A- or so to A+ probably has to do with being able to follow the plot better on DVD than on a subpar TV transfer, helped along by having read the book in the intervening years. And okay, Rocky and In the Heat of the Night were not remotely so bad as I remembered them being. Meanwhile, on the AFI side, two leaps forward in my esteem came from Bonnie and Clyde — don’t know how I managed not to love it the first time — and The Philadelphia Story, which is still too wordy but rewarded closer attention. The Gold Rush was far better than I initially thought, but I sort of expected that to happen so I don’t know if it’s really a surprise.

But just like last time, most of the unexpected treasures came out of recommendations and peripheral interests rather than either of the list initiatives I’ve got running. Major among these surprises: A Midnight Clear, Keith Gordon’s second film, being as insightful and intelligent as his first, The Chocolate War, and yet still unavailable in its intended form in the U.S.; The Trial is so ahead of its time and brilliant it’s a bit hard to look at it, so breathtaking are its cinematic implications; Beasts of the Southern Wild being a truly great film that played at multiplexes — and is now is up for Oscars, and given his pleasure at just getting to make the film I can’t imagine what director Benh Zeitlin is feeling now; The Turin Horse is slow cinema that floored me with its meticulous dread and dark humor; Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg feels more “real” than almost any other movie, especially for a comedy, than I’ve ever seen; and The Master is a movie, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, that I loved (!).

On the other hand, my second (and last, let’s hope) run through the entire AFI list has brought it home that I’ve sometimes given classics more of a benefit of the doubt than was deserved. As I said before, I’m now confident that To Kill a Mockingbird stands in my pantheon as a Bad movie, Intolerance an overblown antique, An American in Paris a sexist, insulting mediocrity. And I love it and don’t find it worthy of disdain, but it’s time for me to add my name to the list of people who think it’s absurd when Some Like It Hot is billed as the best of all American comedies. We try not to exercise unchecked hatred here at SOC, but Oliver!, Shutter Island, The Deer Hunter, and Looper really got our goat these last few months. Looper is far superior to those other three but earns special disdain because we paid for a theater ticket to see it.

Things are winding down on the Best Picture list, of course. I just passed Titanic the other night (sounds like I’ve hit the key stage in a video game, eh?) and there are at this writing just three movies left that won the biggest of big movie statues that I have yet to see: A Beautiful Mind, Chicago, and The Artist. (I have recently seen Driving Miss Daisy and The English Patient for the first time or else they’d be included.) It should be mentioned that the other Oscar big-wins from ’98 to present I’ve seen recently enough that I’m confident my opinions of them are not destined to change, which means I have a pretty good idea that I’ll end up still considering Schindler’s List the last Great movie to take the Oscar, though I believe I will have a new choice for “worst Best Picture winner of all time.” But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

As you’ve likely gathered from this and the last milestone post, the reviews of these films are written usually quite far in advance of my posting them, and increasingly the films themselves are viewed a good while ahead of my actually writing full-length essays about them. That might sound counterproductive but I actually feel better about longer pieces when I’ve had a few weeks to digest whatever I’ve seen; anyone following me on Tumblr will have seen my nearly stream-of-consciousness immediate response to Lincoln and will know that I’m quite poor at organizing my thoughts that quickly. (See also the very, very early reviews posted at this blog when I hadn’t written full movie reviews on a regular basis in a few years.) I have more perspective about Driving Miss Daisy, which I hated with every fiber of my being, with ten or twelve days removed now than I did in extreme anger and frustration just afterward. What this procedure does necessitate, however, is making sure I have made notes or collected my general thoughts so that I don’t forget any important details when it becomes time to write a complete review of a film.

For this reason, I’ve started a Letterboxd account, which you can find here. This is proving invaluable with keeping immediate track of what I see and when and allowing me to jot down quick initial thoughts that will later be expanded into legitimate formal reviews. You can follow me there also to keep an eye on what I’m watching and thinking about in real-time, something that came to concern me when I realized that my actual reviews of Skyfall, Lincoln, and Flight wouldn’t be on the blog until some time after their theatrical runs ended. As such, Letterboxd will help me separate my need to be current and social from my more devoted and carefully constructed writing about movies. That site’s terribly addictive, though, I must warn you, and it’s gotten me into a tizzy of listmaking impulses, which are always at war with my need to verbally express myself. I recently, when I couldn’t sleep, put together a list of every film I’m aware of having seen in the theater; in case you’re wondering, I set a new record in 2012 with fifteen. As an outgrowth of this, I realized that I also have a record of everything I watched and on what date from ’04 to ’08 (for some reason) and could likely figure it out or approximate it for most other periods — but is there any reason for something like that to live on the internet or to be kept as a record even? That’s the kind of question that haunts me.

The blog is still blocked from search engines, but I do contend I feel a bit better about it — thanks to slightly more positive feedback — than I did six months ago, so maybe that will change.

Thanks to everyone who’s reading this for your support so far. The comments, on and off the blog, do mean a lot. I deeply enjoy writing all this and I’m glad it’s all going somewhere.

***

CAPSULE-ONLY REVIEWS
Another thing that’s going to gradually happen with this blog — by its initial design — is that fewer complete reviews will be written as time goes on and as we encounter more films that simply can’t warrant complete five-paragraph assessments and analyses. For the first few years, this will mean mostly films for which I feel a mild disinterested dislike or am completely neutral about — but eventually, it will even include movies I quite like (B/B+ or so) that don’t really merit a full and detailed dissertation. This time around, we only have one capsule; next time, there will be more. I’d hoped that at the end of the Best Picture project, I’d be able to say I had written a full in-depth review of every film that won the award. As you’re about to see, nothing doing.

ooa

Out of Africa (1985, Sydney Pollack) !! CAUTION !!
Languid, forcefully “exotic” romance is dead in the water thanks to the tiresome performances of its two cardboard leads, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep (a couple of lions in the last shot easily upstage them), who do with it exactly what you’d expect. The first hour contains some sweep, action, movement; the rest substitutes an enigmatic gaze for any relatable sense of life and/or love. The use of African locations is picturesque but marred by typical colonial condescension. Strange to consider a time when a major studio would fund something like this. Almost makes me glad for the Scorpion King era of cinema.

***

LIST: TOP DIRECTORS

1. Alfred Hitchcock
To the surprise of… no one, presumably? When I review one of his films for this blog it’s the only time I literally have to shut the door and turn the lights off and open a window and focus like I have never focused before. But yeah, Hitchcock still trumps everyone for me. Progressive, sensual, pushing against the limits of narrative cinema, everything. He’d probably rank #1 if his career ended when he left England… but his American career means that it seems silly almost even to bother putting him on a list like this, he so clearly eclipses everyone else. Masterpieces, chronologically: Blackmail, The 39 Steps, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho. Have not seen (indeed, cannot see): The Mountain Eagle.

2. Stanley Kubrick
Of course he’s a personal hero but the thing that’s key about him is how infallible his sense of judgment was. Whereas Hitchcock knew just how to engineer his films for the maximum visceral reaction, Kubrick knows how to make them live in the mind forever, something that was only incidental to Hitchcock. Masterpieces, chronologically: The Killing, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut. Have not seen: Fear and Desire.

3. Orson Welles
Moved up a spot for me recently on the basis of The Trial alone. The boldest, most complex, most fearlessly cinematic of all major filmmakers. Masterpieces: Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, The Trial, F for Fake. Have not seen: Othello, Mr. Arkadin, Chimes at Midnight, The Immortal Story, Filming Othello.

4. Woody Allen
Allen just encompasses so many of my cinematic fetishes — lengthy takes and far shots especially — that his expertise with such a wide range of movie experiences seems almost incidental. Masterpieces: Bananas, Sleeper, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives, Bullets Over Broadway, Midnight in Paris. Have not seen: A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Everyone Says I Love You, Celebrity, Sweet and Lowdown, Small Time Crooks, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending, Anything Else.

5. Billy Wilder
So many achievements it’s overwhelming. They say he’s not a strong visual filmmaker — they’ve never seen The Apartment or Double Indemnity I guess. Masterpieces: Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd., The Apartment. Have not seen: The Major and the Minor, Five Graves to Cairo, The Emperor Waltz, A Foreign Affair, The Seven Year Itch, The Spirit of St. Louis, Love in the Afternoon, One Two Three, Irma la Douce, Kiss Me Stupid, The Fortune Cookie, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Avanti!, The Front Page, Fedora, Buddy Buddy.

6. Charles Chaplin
7. Michael Powell
8. Frank Capra
9. Ingmar Bergman
10. Roman Polanski

***

LIST: FAVORITE WORKING DIRECTORS

1. Sofia Coppola
2. Lars von Trier
3. Alfonso Cuarón
4. Todd Solondz
5. David Fincher
6. Wes Anderson
7. Noah Baumbach
8. Woody Allen
9. Steven Spielberg
10. Alexander Payne

***

INDEX OF POSTS SO FAR

[If you want this alphabetically, you can use the Movie Guide above; if you want it chronologically, you can use the categories at right.]
1. introductory post
2. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010, Banksy) [hr]
3. [not yet posted publicly]
4. Up in the Air (2009, Jason Reitman) [hr]
5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008, David Fincher) [r]
6. [not yet posted publicly]
7. Rango (2011, Gore Verbinski) [-]
8. Inception (2010, Christopher Nolan) [c]
9. [not yet posted publicly]
10. Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky) [r]
11. Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields (2010, Kerthy Fix & Gail O’Hara) [r]
12. Bridesmaids (2011, Paul Feig) [r]
13. [not yet posted publicly]
14. The King’s Speech (2010, Tom Hooper) [r]
15. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles) [A+]
16. Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Danny Boyle) [-]
17. The Tree of Life (2011, Terrence Malick) [NO]
18. Life During Wartime (2009, Todd Solondz) [hr]
19. Moon (2009, Duncan Jones) [r]
20. Let the Right One In (2008, Tomas Alfredson) [r]
21. The Hurt Locker (2008, Kathryn Bigelow) [r]
22. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010, Edgar Wright) [r]
23. Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
24. A Serious Man (2009, Joel & Ethan Coen) [hr]
25. Whatever Works (2009, Woody Allen) [r]
26. Certified Copy (2010, Abbas Kiarostami) [-]
27. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010, Woody Allen) [hr]
28. Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant) [hr]
29. The Informant! (2009, Steven Soderbergh) [r]
30. Melancholia (2011, Lars von Trier) [A+]
31. Frost/Nixon (2008, Ron Howard) [r]
32. 127 Hours (2010, Danny Boyle) [hr]
33. Hugo (2011, Martin Scorsese) [r]
34. The Kids Are All Right (2010, Lisa Cholodenko) [-]
35. Dead of Night (1945, Cavalcanti / Charles Crichton / Basil Dearden / Robert Hamer) [r]
36. The Illusionist (2010, Sylvain Chomet) [r]
37. Super 8 (2011, J.J. Abrams) [r]
38. Rachel Getting Married (2008, Jonathan Demme) [-]
39. Inside Job (2010, Charles Ferguson) [r]
40. Patterns (1956, Fielder Cook) [hr]
41. The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola) [-]
42. Wings (1927, William A. Wellman) [r]
43. The Broadway Melody (1929, Harry Beaumont) [-]
44. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930, Lewis Milestone) [A+]
45. Cimarron (1931, Wesley Ruggles) [c]
46. Grand Hotel (1932, Edmund Goulding) [r]
47. Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz) [A+]
48. Raging Bull (1980, Martin Scorsese) [c]
49. Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly) [A+]
50. Gone with the Wind (1939, Victor Fleming) [A+]
51. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean) [c]
52. Cavalcade (1933, Frank Lloyd) [c]
53. A Separation (2011, Asghar Farhadi) [hr]
54. It Happened One Night (1934, Frank Capra) [A+]
55. Mutiny on the Bounty (1936, Frank Lloyd) [r]
56. Drive (2011, Nicholas Winding Refn) [NO]
57. Meek’s Cutoff (2010, Kelly Reichardt) [r]
58. Antichrist (2009, Lars von Trier) [hr]
59. The Great Ziegfeld (1936, Robert Z. Leonard) [-]
60. Schindler’s List (1993, Steven Spielberg) [A+]
61. The Life of Emile Zola (1937, William Dieterle) [r]
62. You Can’t Take It with You (1938, Frank Capra) [r]
63. Rebecca (1940, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
64. How Green Was My Valley (1941, John Ford) [c]
65. Mrs. Miniver (1942, William Wyler) [hr]
66. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
67. The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming) [A+]
68. Going My Way (1944, Leo McCarey) [NO]
69. The Lost Weekend (1945, Billy Wilder) [r]
70. City Lights (1931, Charles Chaplin) [A+]
71. The Ghost Writer (2010, Roman Polanski) [r]
72. The Lavender Hill Mob (1951, Charles Crichton) [hr]
73. The Searchers (1956, John Ford) [hr]
74. Star Wars (1977, George Lucas) [c]
75. Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
76. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, William Wyler) [A+]
77. Footnote (2011, Joseph Cedar) [hr]
78. Winter’s Bone (2010, Debra Granik) [hr]
79. True Grit (2010, Joel & Ethan Coen)
80. Shortbus (2006, John Cameron Mitchell) [r]
81. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives 92010, Apichatpong Weerasethakul) [NO]
82. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947, Elia Kazan) [c]
83. Somewhere (2010, Sofia Coppola) [hr]
84. [not yet posted publicly]
85. Hamlet (1948, Laurence Olivier) [r]
86. Enter the Void (2009, Gaspar Noe)
87. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick) [A+]
88. Sunset Blvd. (1950, Billy Wilder) [A+]
89. The Graduate (1967, Mike Nichols) [A+]
90. The General (1926, Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman) [hr]
91. Carlos (2010, Olivier Assayas) [r]
92. On the Waterfront (1954, Elia Kazan) [-]
93. [not yet posted publicly]
94. Gods and Monsters (1998, Bill Condon) [r]
95. White Material (2009, Claire Denis) [hr]
96. All the King’s Men (1949, Robert Rossen) [-]
97. The Kid with a Bike (2011, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne) [r]
98. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra) [hr]
99. [not yet posted publicly]
100. [post 100 / shots list etc.]
101. All About Eve (1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz) [A+]
102. An American in Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli) [-]
103. Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski) [A+]
104. Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder) [hr]
105. The Grapes of Wrath (1940, John Ford) [-]
106. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982, Steven Spielberg) [-]
107. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952, Cecil B. DeMille) [r]
108. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, Robert Mulligan) [c]
109. Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson) [hr]
110. From Here to Eternity (1953, Fred Zinnemann) [r]
111. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011, Tomas Alfredson) [hr]
112. Marty (1955, Delbert Mann) [r]
113. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939, Frank Capra) [hr]
114. High Noon (1952, Fred Zinnemann) [c]
115. Around the World in Eighty Days (1956, Michael Anderson) [NO]
116. Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder) [A+]
117. A Midnight Clear (1992, Keith Gordon) [hr]
118. Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola) [r]
119. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, David Lean) [hr]
120. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012, Benh Zeitlin) [A+]
121. Gigi (1958, Vincente Minnelli) [NO]
122. The Skin I Live In (2011, Pedro Almodovar) [r]
123. Ben-Hur (1959, William Wyler) [r]
124. The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder) [A+]
125. To Rome with Love (2012, Woody Allen) [r]
126. The Maltese Falcon (1941, John Huston) [hr]
127. The Trial (1962, Orson Welles) [A+]
128. The Godfather Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola) [r]
129. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, Milos Forman) [-]
130. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937, David Hand) [A+]
131. Annie Hall (1977, Woody Allen) [A+]
132. Purple Rain (1984, Albert Magnoli) [-]
133. West Side Story (1961, Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins) [r]
134. Tom Jones (1963, Tony Richardson) [-]
135. The Turin Horse (2011, Bela Tarr) [hr]
136. Mother Night (1996, Keith Gordon) [r]
137. My Fair Lady (1964, George Cukor) [NO]
138. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, John Huston) [A+]
139. Shutter Island (2010, Martin Scorsese) [NO]
140. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, Stanley Kubrick) [A+]
141. The Sound of Music (1965, Robert Wise) [r]
142. King Kong (1933, Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack) [hr]
143. Another Earth (2011, Mike Cahill) [hr]
144. Shadows (1959, John Cassavetes) [-]
145. A Man for All Seasons (1966, Fred Zinnemann) [r]
146. In the Heat of the Night (1967, Norman Jewison) [-]
147. Oliver! (1968, Carol Reed) [NO]
148. Greenberg (2010, Noah Baumbach) [hr]
149. Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Arthur Penn) [hr]
150. Midnight Cowboy (1969, John Schlesinger) [hr]
151. Jesus Camp (2006, Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady) [-]
152. The Philadelphia Story (1940, George Cukor) [r]
153. Le Havre (2011, Aki Kaurismaki) [c]
154. Patton (1970, Franklin J. Schaffner) [-]
155. The French Connection (1971, William Friedkin) [A+]
156. Tess (1979, Roman Polanski) [-]
157. Shane (1953, George Stevens) [r]
158. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, Elia Kazan) [r]
159. The Sting (1973, George Roy Hill) [r]
160. Rocky (1976, John G. Avildsen) [c]
161. Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
162. Mysteries of Lisbon (2010, Raoul Ruiz) [r]
163. The Deer Hunter (1978, Michael Cimino) [NO]
164. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979, Robert Benton) [r]
165. Ordinary People (1980, Robert Redford) [c]
166. A Dangerous Method (2011, David Cronenberg) [-]
167. The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson) [hr]
168. Another Year (2010, Mike Leigh) [r]
169. Frankenweenie (2012, Tim Burton) [hr]
170. Intolerance (1916, D.W. Griffith) [-]
171. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001, Peter Jackson) [c]
172. Margaret (2011, Kenneth Lonergan) [hr]
173. Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese) [c]
174. Looper (2012, Rian Johnson) [c]
175. Chariots of Fire (1981, Hugh Hudson) [-]
176. Gandhi (1982, Richard Attenborough) [r]
177. Terms of Endearment (1983, James L. Brooks) [hr]
178. [not yet publicly posted]
179. MASH (1970, Robert Altman) [-]
180. Argo (2012, Ben Affleck) [hr]
181. North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
182. Amadeus (1984, Milos Forman) [hr]
183. [not yet publicly posted]
184. [not yet publicly posted]
185. Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg) [A+]
186. [not yet publicly posted]
187. The Gold Rush (1925, Charles Chaplin)
188. [not yet publicly posted]
189. [not yet publicly posted]
190. [forthcoming: Nashville]
191. [not yet publicly posted]
192. [not yet publicly posted]
193. [not yet publicly posted]
194. [not yet publicly posted]
195. [forthcoming: Duck Soup]
196. [forthcoming: Sullivan’s Travels]
197. [not yet publicly posted]
198. [not yet publicly posted]
199. [fortchoming: American Graffiti]

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