Introduction to the SOC Movie Guide & Blog
Welcome to Slices of Cake, a functional, ever-evolving and hopefully passionate document of my slow but sure journey through cinema past and present (but mostly past). My name’s Nathan Phillips and I’ve written professionally and otherwise about pop music but movies are an equally keen interest. I love movies but I also have a lifelong fixation with lists, organization and data in select, blessedly compartmentalized parts of my life (I’m otherwise ridiculously ordinary), and this is a good outlet for both impulses. As you’ll see, my method here is to hop, skip, jump through various film canons and lists from numerous sources and review the titles therein as honestly and incisively as I can. Each month I’ll be posting a roundup of the new experiences or revisits from the past several weeks in the form of capsule reviews (and if you’d prefer to follow that in real time, you can find me at Letterboxd, usually with bonus overly personal, diary-like asides); on occasion, generally around 2-5 times a month, a film will sufficiently set me off enough that I feel a need to go on about it long enough to write a complete semi-formal essay, modestly illustrated and posted here at the blog.
Here you will also find my Movie Guide, a prolonged exercise in love and anger that began its genesis in 2005 and gathers capsule reviews for every film I can consciously recall having an opinion about from my childhood in the 1980s to late last night. The letters linked across the top of this blog will lead you, with any luck, to a collection of short capsules for movies corresponding to whichever letter you clicked on. The alphabetization method is borrowed from Leonard Maltin’s book; we use a given film’s exact onscreen title (or, in the rare case like Apocalypse Now when that’s debatable, what the title is generally understood to be) and go letter by letter, ignoring spaces and punctuation of any kind. English language titles are used unless a film is significantly better known under its original name in another language — so Breathless instead of À bout de souffle and Wings of Desire instead of Der Himmel über Berlin, but L’age d’Or instead of The Age of Gold and Das Boot instead of The Boat (and as much as it may boil your blood, those last two are under “L” and “D” respectively). Simple enough. If you need further details before diving in, though, read on.
The capsules are meant to be pithy, occasionally flippant, and not always entirely serious but almost always a delve into what I felt to be the essence of my reaction to a movie. This is not a comprehensive guide, but it is designed as the beginnings of one. One thing for certain: it will never be finished. There will always be more, contemporary and otherwise, to add. At the moment, the total number of movies summarized here is 2,220. Of those, 545 have full-length reviews at this blog (25%, if you’re into that sort of thing). That’s a bit short of the 10,000+ claimed by Roger Ebert, so we have a long way to go. If there is a major canonical hole, it’s simply because I haven’t seen everything yet. I’m working on that. You can now see a nifty visual rundown of all of the movies included here with (grumble) star ratings here. An exploration of what, if anything, is missing from this list is found here.
Although this blog will eventually contain some coverage of short films, made-for-television and direct-to-video movies and miniseries, and some very brief notes on television series (most of my detailed TV-related writing will end up being at my personal blog), the Guide here only covers theatrically released feature films. However, we’re a little bit flexible on what that means. The standard is pretty much: it must be at least forty minutes and at some point, it had to be screened in a commercial or festival theatrical setting with an audience. This means that we include Spielberg’s Duel, a film made for TV that was later released to theaters by Universal, and Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, a miniseries recut for commercial release, but not Woody Allen’s Don’t Drink the Water, a TV film that’s never been formatted or prepared for theatrical release.
You’re looking at the third complete revision of this behemoth; some unnecessary notes on what sorts of changes I made on the most recent overhaul in spring 2015 are at the bottom of this page. But there’s one big one that I think will help a little in your navigation. Throughout the Guide you’ll find some capsules preceded by an asterisk (*). This indicates that I haven’t seen the film in question since before I graduated high school in mid-2002, and thus there’s some chance the given impression and/or my recollection of it is full of shit and prime for revision and possible reversal. Not all of these titles will ever be revisited (I don’t see myself sitting down for the Ernest series again) but some will, and in the interest of disclosure it’s important to lay out the potential prejudices and inefficiencies that come from judging something in the eyes of a kid or a teenager. (This seemed less necessary when I first put all this together a decade ago, at which point I was only a few years removed from being one of those things.)
If a full review / essay / analysis of a given film exists here on the blog, the title of the capsule will link directly to it. Indeed the best way to explore this blog, unless you have a major interest in one of the current or previous viewing projects herein undertaken, is to find a film in the alphabetical listing and continue through to the longer piece if you’re interested. Not all films will get complete, multi-paragraph reviews; in fact, I’m increasingly selective about what leads me to expend that level of time and energy. (Because I’m naturally wordy, it’s sometimes just as much of a challenge for me to write a good, concise four-line take on a film as it is to “go deep” on a thoughtful deconstruction, so I swear I’m not just being lazy. Though that’s part of it.) That said: prior to 2011 when I started preparing this blog, any writing I did about movies was sporadic and far less organized, but I did put together long essays on occasion, and all or nearly all of those eventually will be revised, updated and posted here.
Lastly, why me? Why should anyone care about my opinion over that of anyone else’s? Frankly, I don’t think you should — as a white able-bodied straight cis American man in my thirties, the perspective of my “kind” is vastly overrepresented as it is, and I’m doing this strictly and completely because I enjoy it and I want to and no one else is under any obligation to care. I think it would be great if everyone set up a website and movie guide like this, but not everyone gets their kicks that way. I think there is some very good work here, some not so good; without money or an editor, that’s the best I can do. The idea is that I’m discovering these movies at my own pace and responding accordingly, and hopefully it can be fun or interesting to read along.
In regard to the ratings system: if I could’ve done this without any kind of quantified rating attached to the reviews, I would’ve, but in particular with short reviews, it’s very difficult not to do something of the kind. The solution is to simplify a little as follows:
[A+] = A+
[hr] = highly recommended, equivalent to an A or A-
[r] = recommended, roughly equivalent to a B+ or B
[-] = neither “good” nor “bad”; something like a B- or C+ — alternatively, a film I find impossible to judge and grade because of a bias or other problem
[c] = caution; a C or C-
[NO] = avoid; there’s no point in distinguishing, I feel, below a C-, so this is D+ or below
Do you like Slices of Cake? If you enjoy this blog and wish to toss me some help on acquiring hard-to-find titles and funding my movie habit, I certainly wouldn’t object if you felt like donating something, though needless to say I don’t expect it. If you do feel like throwing me a tip, please accept my gratitude in advance and know that your hard-earned dollars will go toward further goopiness and cynicism for years to come.
Boring revision notes:
For this third version of the Guide (the second in this space), hundreds of typos were fixed, dozens of bad jokes deleted, thousands of extraneous sentences compressed or dispensed, millions of words cut. Well, maybe not millions. The major change beyond the new asterisk system noted above (which may eventually be extended to indicate all caps that predated this blog if this thing survives another decade, which I wager it will) is that an attempt was made to disallow any capsule from exceeding about five lines of text. This has hopefully made things slightly more uniform.