I watched 62 movies in 2005, fifteen of them on film in theaters. Given that I’ve got a toddler, I think that the averages of more than one movie a week, and more than one in theaters a month are good; I doubt my ability to keep up those stats once I have two little ones to watch over, at least at first. But the discouraging percent is that I’d only highly recommend three of those movies I saw in theaters, and one was a revival–On the Waterfront at the Oak Street Cinema. That’s only 20%. Of the remaining dozen, there was only one–March of the Penguins–that I actively disliked. The other eleven ranged from good to very good, but not quite good enough to recommend highly. I’d like to have a greater percent of highly recommended films this year among those that I do manage to see in the theater.
Archive for the '2005 Movie Challenge' Category
I tallied up the movies I watched from 2005, and forgot to list two on the site: Shattered Glass (Peter Sarsgard is great; Hayden Christensen can act, in spite of what it seems from watching the Star Wars movies) and Bride and Prejudice, which was fun, but fluffy. The Bollywood aesthetic didn’t really move me. Also, while the girl playing the Lizzie role is beautiful, the guy playing the Darcy role was a terrible actor, and I much prefer Saveen Andrews in a dark, complicated role as on Lost rather than in the nicey-nice role of Mr. Bingham. The guy playing the Mr. Collins role was outstanding.
I must have messed up with the numbering somewhere along the line because I thought I was at 59, 61 with Shattered Glass and Bride and Prejudice , but this says 62. In any case, I beat my goal of 50 handily. Most of what I saw was at home, either on Tivo or on DVD rented from the library. Some of the films I saw in theater were disappointing. I hope to be able to get back in the habit of seeing good stuff in the theater, but I doubt that will be happening soon, with a newborn on the way.
I’ve starred those titles that I liked especially. Watching About Schmidt make me like Sideways less. With regard to other films from last year’s Academy Awards, I find Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hotel Rwanda and Collateral stood out over Million Dollar Baby, and far above Finding Neverland. George Clooney’s little-seen Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was not only entertaining but a skillfully made film. Crash had some breathtaking performances. It and Million Dollar Baby had me openly weeping in the theater. I really did not like March of the Penguins, and am still bitter about it.
I saw a lot of comedies. With the exception of The Big Lebowski, I found none of them outstanding, but rather merely good. Why is it so hard to make a comedy that is also a quality film?
Apologies (again) for no italics, or details on the films beyond their title. All are linked in the 50 Movie Challenge category to the right.
Key: *=highly recommended. F=saw it on film. D=saw it on DVD. T=saw it on Tivo.
1. (F) In Good Company
2. (F) Million Dollar Baby
3. (D) *The Long Goodbye
4. (F) *On the Waterfront
5. (T) Real Women Have Curves
6. (F) Sideways
7. (T) Punch Drunk Love
8. (T) Auto Focus
9. (T) *Tully
10. (T) Bad Santa
11. (T) *Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
12. (D) Mean Girls
13. (T) *Destry Rides Again
14. (T) Second Sight
15. (F) Sin City
16. (T) Second Sight 2
17. (T) About Schmidt
18. (D) *The Big Lebowski
19. (F) The Interpreter
20. (D) Army of Darkness
21. (T) Laurel Canyon
22. (D) *The Iron Giant
23. (D) *Night of the Hunter
24. (T) *Master and Commander
25. (T) Lost in La Mancha
26. (T) *Lone Star
27. (D) Closer
28. (D) 10 Things I Hate About You
29. (F) *Batman Begins
30. (D) Shattered Glass
31. (F) *Crash
32. (F) Mr. & Mrs. Smith
33. (D) The Bourne Supremacy
34. (F) Howl’s Moving Castle
35. (D) Bowling for Columbine
36. (D) Zoolander
37. (D) Starsky & Hutch
38. (D) *Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
39. (D) *Collateral
40. (F) The Man With the Screaming Brain
41. (T) *Key Largo
42. (D) Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
43. (T) The Thin Man
44. (T) *To Have and Have Not
45. (D) *Vanity Fair
46. (F) March of the Penguins
47. (D) Finding Neverland
48. (D) House of Flying Daggers
49. (D) I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead
50. (F) Serenity
51. (D) *Hotel Rwanda
52. (T) Speak
53. (D) American Splendor
54. (D) Shaun of the Dead
55. (D) Layer Cake
56. (D) *The Big Sleep
57. (D) Undertow
58. (D) I Capture the Castle
59. (F) A History of Violence
60. (F) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
61. (D) Planes, Trains and Automobiles
62. (D) Bride and Prejudice
#59 in my movie challenge for 2005 was Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, directed by John Hughes and starring Steve Martin and John Candy. Martin is a stuck-up ad guy trying to get home for Thanksgiving, and Candy is the hapless buddy he ends up with for the journey. The movie has a good heart, but felt stale and slow over its running time. I’d heard this recommended as one of the best holiday comedies, but I was disappointed.
#58 in my movie challenge for the year, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, or Harry Potter 4, was directed by Mike Newell, whose best known film is probably the decade-old Four Weddings and a Funeral. This Harry Potter movie, like the books, is fun while it lasts, but doesn’t leave much impression beyond that. The special effects are first rate, and well suited to the dragons in particular. It’s enjoyable to see the teenage actors acting like teenagers. Their characters are much more foregrounded than in previous movies and the novels, while the adult teachers mostly inhabit the background. An interesting difference from the book is that the villain is foreshadowed better and earlier. Also valuable is the absence of some of the more trying subplots of the books, such as Hermione’s championing of house elves. Dobby, thankfully, does not appear at all. For anyone who, like me, found themselves itching to take an editor’s pen to Rowling’s overlong novel, this movie does an admirable job of cutting the crap. Unfortunately, what is left is merely a pretty piece of entertainment. For all its aspirations of depth and scariness, it falls strangely flat. I preferred the more palpable complexity of the previous movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
#58 in my movie challenge for the year, A History of Violence, with Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello, and directed by David Cronenberg, was a strong, provocative film. The performances were across-the-board great. The film was not rushed even though it had a short running time; the story unspooled deliberately and economically. Based on a graphic novel, it tells the story of a man whose life is interrupted by violence, and who may have had a violent past. It questions whether violence can remain in the past. It is an interesting film to consider alongside I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, a film I watched earlier this year. There were some interesting similarities and differences between the two.
#56 in my movie challenge for the year, Undertow, directed by David Gordon Green, was a mixed bag. I was not surprised to learn that Terence Malick, the reclusive director of the masterpieces Badlands and Days of Heaven, was a producer. The film was very Malick-y, with long, often uncomfortable shots of individuals. It was set in a messed-up, rural locale, and very bad things happened to the characters. This was a very physical film, both for the actors and of the locale, which featured prominently. Ultimately, though, I side more with those who call it pretentious than those who claim it is a masterpiece. I found Greene’s camera work distracted but did not add to the story, which was ultimately too unsettling and non-redemptive for all the suffering it detailed. The performances, though, by Jamie Bell, Dermot Mulroney, and Joshua Lucas, were frighteningly powerful.
“Is he as cute as you are?”
Bogey. Bacall. Sexy banter adapted by Faulkner from a Chandler novel. The Big Sleep was #55 in my movie challenge for the year, and the third Bogey/Bacall film of the year, following Key Largo and To Have and Have Not. The plot makes sense only if you think about it a lot, and doing so takes away some of the fun. This is a joy of a film noir, and the extras on the DVD are worth watching to learn why this film sat on the shelf for almost two years, and why letting it do might have saved Bacall’s career from an early death.
#54 in my movie challenge for the year, Layer Cake is a stylish, clever gangster flick. Why is it that the English excel at this type of movie (e.g., Get Carter, The Long, Good Friday)? What is the American equivalent? Is it the mob epic, as my husband G. Grod suggests? Layer Cake has a likeable main character who, as per the formula, struggles with issues of character. The ending twists, turns, and doubles back in a satisfying ending that moves so quickly it defies prediction. Like most gangster films, though, Layer Cake feels nihilistic and a little soul-less. This is an engaging movie, but not one that prompts a great deal of inner thought.
#53 in my movie challenge for the year, Shaun of the Dead was good, zombie fun. I think it’s good for a zombie movie not to take itself too seriously. The viewer shouldn’t be given a chance to wonder why it takes so long for military types to show up and mow down the mindless, slow-moving hordes. That’s why this movie was enjoyable. It was about the group of people involved, their dynamics, and the monsters were the background. It was funny and charming, AND it had zombies.
#52 in my movie challenge for the year is American Splendor, about indie comic author Harvey Pekar. I’ve never read Pekar’s comics, but many people recommended this film, including some who didn’t read comic books at all. Plus Pekar is appearing at the Twin Cities Book Fest this weekend where he will be interviewed by Mary Lucia, who happens to be one of my husband G. Grod’s fantasy girlfriends. (Even our toddler Drake knows her name. G. will get home from work, turn on The Current, and when Mary’s voice comes on, Drake will look up and say, “Mary!” I don’t blame them for being enamored. She is pretty cool.)
American Splendor is also the name of Pekar’s comic. He is a grumpy everyman writing about his anger and frustration with everyday life. The film is exceedingly well-crafted, with excellent performances by Paul Giamatti as Pekar and Hope Davis as Pekar’s wife. It intersperses their performances with taped clips of the real Pekar’s appearances on The Late Show, as well as with narration and appearances by the real Pekar, his wife and friends, and animated sequences and written narration. It is a fascinating biography that combines film, documentary and comic books. Slow moving at first, with an off-putting main character, both the film and its subjects won me over in the end.
#51 in my movie challenge for the year is a Lifetime television movie, something I would normally avoid. Speak is an adaptation of one of my favorite books, though, (NB: not simply one of my favorite young-adult books, but one of my favorite books, period) so I wanted to give it a chance. I wasn’t disappointed. It is a good and faithful adaptation of Laurie Halse Anderson’s excellent novel. Kristen Stewart does an admirable job of portraying Melinda Sordino’s struggle to tell her story, while the movie does a nice job both of unspooling the backstory a little at a time, showing how quickly something can turn from fun and romantic to ugly. Of necessity, the film is not as detailed or complex as the book, but the casting and performances are strong, and it is worth watching. I noticed at least a few echos of My So-Called Life, such as Melinda’s dyed red hair, and two shots of her running down a hall and out a door. Speak is a lot darker than MSCL ever was, though, and it manages its tough subject matter without sensationalizing or downplaying it.
#50 in my movie challenge for the year, Hotel Rwanda was not a film I was sure I wanted to watch. Oscar nominations do not confirm a film’s merit, merely its popularity. Hotel Rwanda, about a hotel manager who shelters refugees during a time of genocide, was well-reviewed and nominated. I was concerned it would be both depressing and overdetermined. I was pleasantly surprised, though. It handles its difficult subject matters deftly, and Don Cheadle’s performance as the hotel manager is suberb. The film cannot help but be depressing, but I also found it inspiring in a non-hokey way. It pricked my conscience, and reminded me to try and be a better person and to hold the petty annoyances of my own life less tightly because I lead a very fortunate existence.
#49 in my movie challenge for the year, Serenity, written and directed by Joss Whedon, was a movie that I got to see IN a movie theater and WITH my husband! A friend watched Drake while we went out to celebrate our anniversary with dinner and a movie. We were reminded that trying to squeeze in dinner and a movie is a challenge, and one that usually makes both events a little less enjoyable. This was true even before we had a child. The timing of movies is such that unless we can make an earlyish show and go to dinner afterward, we have to rush through dinner and off to the movie. Doing one or the other generally ensures that the experience can be savored at a more leisurely pace.
I was unable to make a reservation at my first choice of restaurant, and they had no walk-in tables or room at the bar when we arrived just after 6 p.m. We went across the street to the restaurant we used to frequent when we lived downtown, and were effusively greeted by our favorite waiter. We shared a savory wild mushroom and pistachio pate, served with cornichons, spicy mustard, cranberry chutney and toast. Then I had the sozai plate, a savory mixture of organic brown rice, natto miso, beans, steamed broccoli, arame sea vegetable, marinated tofu, daikon pickle, red cabbage salad and baked yams. G. Grod opted for the chicken with mole verde sauce and salad with prickly pear dressing. I hoped to try the cardamom and something rice pudding that I heard the server mention at an adjacent table, but in order to make our movie, we had to skip dessert.
But back to the movie. Serenity was good fun. It is both a continuation of Whedon’s cancelled television series Firefly, as well as a stand-alone ship-based sci-fi movie. Serenity is a sci-fi B movie at its zenith, with good effects, good production, and good writing. I think one would err, though, to consider it as an A movie, and that’s why I think some of the reviews have been middling. This is a movie that is too good for TV, but still solidly good enough for the movies, though it’s not high art. It’s swashbuckling entertainment, and worth seeing on the big screen.
#48 in my movie challenge for the year, Mike Hodges’s I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is moody, noir and hard to classify. It’s a mystery, a character study, a slow thriller, and most, I suspect, an examination of whether people really can change, especially those who have had lives of violence. The cast is superb–Clive Owen, Charlotte Rampling, and Malcolm MacDowell, among others. I was engaged until then end, when a few things occurred that didn’t quite hold together. Owen and Hodges worked together on Croupier, a 1998 film recommended to me by my friend Rock Hack. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is worthwhile, but Croupier is the stronger of the two films.
#47 in my movie challenge, Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers has stunningly lovely visuals, intricately choreographed fight scenes, and a prohibitively slow pace. This film was another in the list of recent disappointments. We’d been waiting a long time in the electronic queue at the library, and I think the anticipation built over time. G. Grod was hoping that our friend Blogenheimer was wrong (no offense, B) and that it would be better than Yimou’s companion film, Hero. According to G. Grod, it is not, and he enjoyed neither of Yimou’s films more than he did Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Visually an achievement, but the pace was slow and the romance never felt genuine to me.
#46 in my movie challenge for the year, Finding Neverland was good, but not great. Johnny Depp did a wonderful job, and the movie had some lovely effects for the interplay between reality and imaginination. It did a valiant job avoiding sentimentality. Even so, there were times that it dipped, perhaps unavoidably given the subject matter, into preciousness. One other thing that nagged was that it has not been that long since I’ve read Peter Pan; the presentation of how Barrie viewed children in the movie does not mesh with my memory of the book. I recall that the book portrays children as selfish and rather cruel. It doesn’t paint Peter Pan in a romantic or likeable way. I will have to re-read my copy (which has lovely illustrations by the late Trina Schart Hyman, one of my favorite illustrators) to see if the disjunction lies in my memory or in the film.
#45 in my movie challenge for the year was a big disappointment. It is a rare occasion that I get out to see a movie in the theater. The movie I really wanted to see, Hustle and Flow, was showing in just a few theaters and at inconvenient times. March of the Penguins, though, was showing at the close theater with good popcorn at a convenient time, so even though it wasn’t high on my list, I decided to give it a shot. While beautifully filmed under difficult conditions, the story, which is meant to be shocking, actually rather bored me. Yes, the penguins were awfully cute, but more than once it glossed over penguin death. Once they said that penguins who lag behind just “fade away” and later they say that a penguin father who does not survive the storm will just “disappear.” Buried under snow? Eaten by other penguins? Picked off by predators? The movie doesn’t say. There are times that the movie does show some of the more difficult moments, as when a mother penguin gets eaten by a seal, a penguin couple loses their egg, and baby pengins get attacked by a gull. But the movie can’t seem to decide how real it should get. Even these potentially disturbing scenes were primly edited. Ultimately, I wanted to know about the exceptions: what happens to the penguins who don’t conceive, whose mother’s don’t come back, the mothers who come back to find a dead father or baby, how many survive, how many die? March of the Penguins was lovely to look at and did have an interesting story. But the story, no matter how skillfully narrated by Morgan Freeman, did not delve in complexity or sophistication beyond the level of basic television. There were two other true animal movies out this summer, and I think my time and money would have been better spent on either The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill or Grizzly Man.
#44 in my movie challenge for the year is Mira Nair’s Vanity Fair. This is a visually stunning interpretation of the classic book. Reese Witherspoon proves yet again that she’s not just a pretty face and has some serious talent. This bittersweet tale of poor, unconnected Becky Sharp, who gets by on her wits and talent, was both engaging and beautiful to look at.
#43 in my movie challenge for the year, To Have and Have Not is the second Bogey and Bacall movie of recent weeks, this is a lesser known charmer, and the first movie in which they worked together, and the one on which they fell in love. She is lovely to look at, entrancing to listen to, and the story is pretty good, too. Bogey is an outsider in France who is talked into helping someone from the resistance–sound familiar? This one has some great lines: “Just put your lips together and blow,” and “Have you ever been bit by a dead bee?” Perhaps it helps to have someone like William Faulkner working on the screenplay of a Hemingway novel. This movie is a great example of why it pays to keep an eye on what they’re showing on Turner Classic Movies.