Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best Movie I've Seen in 2012

Ok so I'm not doing a top ten by year's end.  I know it's lame, but if you've been reading this blog you know it shouldn't come as a surprise, but this isn't some last ditch effort to come from nowhere and produce said list.  However I did see something great today, at long last but before that. . .

I was browsing the forums on Mubi, as I often do when I noticed a thread asking the question whether Les Miserables or Lincoln would win best picture.  My first reaction was "oh god please don't tell me it's between those two".  I feel like we're back in election season and I have red or blue as my only options and people will just laugh at my longing for a third party like I'm some eccentric crackpot.

I'll be honest I haven't seen Les Miserables, or rather I haven't seen this version of it.  I vocally disliked The King's Speech so I can't say I'm all that excited about Mr. Hooper's follow up.  The fact that it's a remake of a remake of a play that was based on a book, etc. doesn't drum up much enthusiasm for me.  I've enjoyed some incarnations of the story but rarely have I said "I'd love to see this made today with an all star cast as a musical".  Well sorry if I start looking at this film like Rob Marshall's god awful film Nine, which was also based on a musical based on a film that was perfect to begin with.  I don't think a single person appeared in that film who hadn't won an Oscar, but no matter how great the cast and even crew you couldn't wipe the stale stench of horse shit from the screen.

When the Academy nominations are announced I'll probably see Les Miserables, because if it get's nominated I'll have to, you know this is a weakness of mine.  Until then, to hell with the film.

Now let's talk about Lincoln.  I didn't blog about it when I saw it, but let me tell you something, ugh.  Yeah that's my one word review of the film, "ugh".  Boring, overly long, and far too bloated with infuriating Spielberg cheese that seemed more infuriating than insulting.  I mean that random black soldier finishing the Gettysburg address?  I was lost by that moment and the film never got me back.  Perhaps a sweeping film of Lincoln's life would have been great, or just one focusing on the end of the war and the assassination, however the politics of an amendment passing might seem like an interesting special on the History channel but it doesn't make for a great movie no matter how many heavyweight actors you cast.

If I were to rate Lincoln, which I will on my next film journal I'd probably give it two stars (or 4/10).  I may just reduce this rating because to hell with this film.  There were things I liked, mainly Tommy Lee  Jones because that man should be on currency.  Other than that I could have done without the entire picture, I would have rather spent those 4 hours sleeping or watching another movie that deals with slavery in a much, much, much, much, much more badass way.



Yeah you read that right, Tarrantino is back and god damn is it satisfying.  He was having me worried, as much as Inglorious Basterds was a satisfying film I didn't think it was quite the redemptive masterpiece I needed after the boring talk fest known as Death Proof.  I was worried that the man who occasionally dabbled in nostalgic throwbacks might be inept at an outright period picture.  Well I was wrong.

See Tarantino knows a lot about violence.  I'm not saying he was a violent man, or he was beaten senseless throughout life, I'm saying he knows what violence works and how to use it to his advantage. He knows that Jews killing nazis in WWII is awesome, because everyone hates nazis, and who better to get some vengeance than the poster boys for his hate?  Well if there's anything people enjoy more than seeing Jews kill nazis its slaves kill white people down south.

This might seem a racial thing, a move designed for black people but oh no.  I did a report on Nat Turner not because I had to but because I thought he was a revolutionary bad ass.  Turns out Nat was a bit delusional and thought god spoke to him in a field and told him to kill those white people, so who knows about him, but he did kill a lot of white people.  Tarantino takes something of a Italian western archetype (Django is far more Leone than Ford), and makes him a former slave.  Rather than a runaway, he is given his freedom by a European, who takes him along in his business in killing.

Now I don't want to spoil all of the fun, but when Django performs his first job as a bounty hunter it is damn satisfying.  The script is damn brilliant, including an absolutely hilarious exchange about white hoods and eye holes.  Whereas I felt some of Tarantino's last two films might have felt like he was using his actors as a mouthpiece for himself, here everything seems natural, as it did in Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction.

Spielberg might be terrified of saying "nigger" even in a film about the abolition of slavery, as if ignoring that word can make it go away, but Tarantino knows this is 1858 in the South, that's what people referred to all black people regardless of social status.  He perhaps rightfully was criticized for using the word so freely in Pulp Fiction, but here it fits, just as it did in Roots.  It also makes things so much sweeter when Django finally lets loose.

I can't really call this his "Western" because well it's not really a Western in the traditional sense.  Hence why Dr. Schultz says they'll refer to Django one day as "The fastest gun in the South".  It's specifically a southern film about a slave who is that "one in ten thousand".  The supporting cast is damn excellent as well and I can't imagine Leonardo DiCaprio ever having more fun with a role.

Point is see this movie, do yourself a favor.  If you like Tarantino you'll love it.  If you like westerns, it should suit you fine.  If you were disappointed with Lincoln, this will redeem it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Film Journal 2012 - November

Hooray we’re less than three weeks away from Christmas.  Ok maybe the excitement can die down a bit when you think of the horrible, horrible, agonizing torture that is Christmas music.  It appears my lack of a social life might not be as bad as expected.  Sure I’m still working 7 days a week but well I might not be there for 60-70 hours as originally feared.  A mere 50-56 hours a week, practically a vacation.  I have taken advantage of my extra time this week to get a few movies in, but that’s for next month.

As of today, December 5th I have 42 films left on my re-watch checklist.  This may or may not seem like a lot, but I happened to watch about 30 films from my list in the month of November, and considering I may have less time this month the outlook is somewhat grim.  Now on the plus side I’ve asked a few people to participate in doing their own top 100 so this gives everyone a little more time to do some research, but I hope to have my list done around the time They Shoot Pictures Don’t They updates their top 1000 (sometime around the third week of January). 

Some things are getting clearer.  A few films that I wondered whether they held up on a second (or third) viewing did just that.  A few others although still great perhaps didn’t wow me quite like they did the first time.  I had a few very pleasant surprises, most notably I may now think Life of Oharu is Mizoguchi’s best film, stay tuned to see if it make the top 100 cut.  You may also notice my quality was quite high this past month.  7/10 was the lowest rating for any film, which is why I’m going to avoid offering one of those above average films the distinction of worst film of the month. 

Other than Man With the Iron Fists, an enjoyable but far from perfect movie, I saw nothing in the theater.  Didn’t get to see Lincoln, Flight, or anything else that will be getting Oscar nominations.  Perhaps this week, maybe next, maybe never, who knows the way things are going.  So regardless of my progress on the top 100 list, I can almost guarantee I won’t be contributing a year-end top ten.  Sad as it might seem, I just simply haven’t seen enough movies, and perhaps more important haven’t seen enough good movies from this current year, and I’m not sure the next 26 days will change that.

I am going to break from protocol yet again and explain one of the other reasons besides procrastination and work for the late arrival of last month’s film journal.  Last night Kate and I watched Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed, and yes this was the last film on the National Society of Film Critics A-List.  We did it, it took about a year but we sat through every damn movie on that list whether they deserved to be on it or not.  I should also mention, I forgot to write about Les Vampires on the last blog, so I’ll pick up with that right about now.

Les Vampires (1915)

The incredibly convoluted and confusing epic serial from Louis Feuillade was something of a revelation when it was re-discovered some years ago.  Popular in his day, but hated by critics, his work was ripe for re-evaluation.  People started analyzing his staging, the plot twists, how he handled suspense, etc.  There are remnants of his work all throughout cinema, and for all intents and purposes this has been the de-facto masterpiece of his.  Mainly because for years it was the only one available on DVD, but well I think people just like it.  Now I’m more partial to Judex and might like Fantomas better (I’m no expert on his 20s work), but I appreciate a lot of moments in this series.  I didn’t give it my highest rating for one simple reason, it’s unbelievably confusing.  Even though this was the second time I saw it, and re-reading the plot synopsis of each episode online AFTER watching it for the second time, I still didn’t remember nearly everything that happened.  Part of this is the fact that they rarely had a script and with actors being called off to fight in WWI, and gaps between shooting, characters were shuffled, killed off, identities switched and the improvisational qualities of it make continuity a nightmare.  So don’t feel bad if you watch this and didn’t know what the hell was going on, neither did the filmmakers. 

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

It might seem odd that one of the very first films I watched during my initial cinema obsession would be damn near the last film we watched for this list.  The reason has more to do with Lawrence’s incredibly long running time than any personal knock on the picture.  Pretty much since I first saw it in 1999 this film has been residing in my personal top ten.  I had something of an obsession with David Lean’s films for awhile, and at one point made a top 100 list with 6 of his films on it (that number has since come down a bit), but it’s hard not to appreciate his work especially here.  A master of several styles I would say no one has combined the big budget epic with the art film quite like Lean.  Even William Wyler’s impressive (and personal favorite of mine) Ben-Hur lacks some of the compositional strengths of this film.  It is as rich a character study as you’re likely to find.  The only valid complaint I can think of is Hollywood’s typical assumption that everyone must be played by white people, and adopt accents.  Kate wondered aloud why everyone knows English, even the lowliest Arab soldier, and I just said that’s how they made movies back then.  A product of it’s time in some respects it’s a forgivable sin for a movie this fantastic.

Greed (1924)

As far as I can tell this film has never been released on DVD anywhere.  Looking it up on Amazon the only import DVD’s seem unavailable and the VHS is pretty damn expensive.  I recorded it off of TCM many years ago and was a bit put off by the reconstruction strategy of showing production stills.  It’s not substitute for the real thing but what survives of the film itself is remarkable.  Erich Von Stroheim was legendary in his extravagance and as long as his films made money (and some of them did) his producers put up with his ridiculous demands.  Irving Thalberg and Von Stroheim however couldn’t resolve their differences with this, and the producer chopped several hours off of Von Stroheim’s obscenely long 9 ½ hour original cut.  Today this would be released as a trilogy to milk the profits, but in 1924 no one anywhere would sit through a 9 ½ hour movie, no matter how much they liked the book.  I’ll admit even in it’s four hour cut the film gets repetitive and a bit redundant at parts, but as a filmmaker I wonder if Von Stroheim was ever better (The Wedding March a possible exception).  He was moving his camera around before the Germans, he was staging in depth long before Citizen Kane, or even Renoir, and although he didn’t invent location shooting, it was quite remarkable for a studio film of the time.  The butchering of this film is perhaps travesty in the history of cinema, perhaps topping the studio edit of The Magnificent Ambersons, but what survives is still a masterpiece.  Perhaps someday they can figure out who has the rights to this and put the damn thing out on Blu-Ray. 

Take that Orson Welles

And that’s all folks, see you next month.

Red River (1948) 9/10
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) 10/10

The Man With the Iron Fists (2012) 7/10
Planet Terror (2007) 10/10

Fires on the Plain (1958) 10/10
A New Leaf (1971) 8/10
The Cranes are Flying (1957) 10/10

The Lady Eve (1941) 10/10

Napoleon (1927) 10/10
Winchester ‘73 (1950) 9/10

Variety (1925) 10/10
Odd Obsession (1959) 8/10
The Days of Wine and Roses (1962) 10/10

The Passenger (1975) 10/10
Flowers of Shanghai (1998) 10/10

Jules and Jim (1962) 10/10

The Deer Hunter (1978) 10/10
Battleship Potemkin (1925) 10/10

Zvenigora (1928) 10/10

Landscape in the Mist (1988) 10/10

The General Line/Old and New (1929) 10/10

The Wild Bunch (1969) 10/10

Storm Over Asia (1928) 8/10
Earth (1930) 10/10
Vivre sa vie (1962) 7/10

8 ½ (1963) 10/10

Floating Clouds (1955) 10/10
Les Vampires (1915) 9/10

The Lady Vanishes (1938) 8/10
LA Confidential (1997) 10/10

Los Olvidados (1950) 10/10

Life of Oharu (1952) 10/10

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) 10/10

Best film of the Month - Lawrence of Arabia
Worst Film of the Month - none (Merry Christmas everyone)
Best New (Re)Discovery - Life of Oharu