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Film Log For The First Half of 2009

July 1, 2009

Back in December, I decided to keep a running tally of how many new films I managed to watch in a year.  Initially,  this little experiment was a simple list of titles bu, before long, I started also noting down brief opinions of the films.  I found that not only did this justify the amount of time I spent watching films, but it also served as a handy mnemonic device should I return to write about a film later on.

So, for your amusement and delectation, here are the films I have managed to watch in the first half of 2009.  I was hoping to see 200 new films this year and evidently I am on course to make it :

JANUARY


1. Le Corbeau (1943)  : French film made during the occupation and dealing with a village whipped into a state of hysteria by a sudden epidemic of poison pen letters.  Socially quite intriguingly ambiguous as it suggests, on the one hand, that the French are a decadent bunch who would crack each others skulls open were it not for strong leadership but it also attacks the urge to report upon the doings of others… a clear reference not only to French pre-war officiousness and also the number of people who cooperated with Vichy and the Germans by reporting suspicious types.

2. Che – Part 1 (2008) [For Ruthless Culture]  : An interesting if rather distant biopic that said more about the Cuban revolution than it did about its main protagonist who comes across as supremely competent, supremely compassionate and supremely intelligent if a little glory-hungry.

3. The Three Musketeers (1973)  : Richard Lester version. Played almost completely straight this comedy has a rather weird atmosphere full of slapstick and strange lines of dialogue (“A cuddle to chase the scares away”) but also full of actors taking themselves very seriously.  Arguably the best adaptation I’ve ever seen though as the story itself is absurd and arguably satirical (in that the bad guys are the people who care about the state while the goodies are swaggering upper class bullies who decide to help out an enemy of the King).

4. Dead End (2003) : A cleverly made low budget thriller-horror film that went straight to DVD.  The twist in the tail is visible a mile off and some of the performances are quite substantially sub-par but it is watchable and inoffensive.

5. Wild Strawberries (1957)  : Took a while getting round to this but glad that I did.  Contains a great line about “all down the line is cold and death and loneliness” but despite the existential bleakness the film is actually very human and almost uplifting.

6. The Reader (2008)  : Fundamentally dishonest film.  The film lavishes screen time on Winslett’s character and encourages us to sympathise with her and to mull over how culpable she was given that she could not read.  But this is all smoke and mirrors.  The real meat of the film is in two scenes; a seminar half-way through the film and the lawyer’s meeting with the Auschwitz survivor.  The real point of the film is that the German people are collectively guilty for the Holocaust.  Whether a member of the SS, a soldier, a teacher during the regime or a child of someone who did not flee the country when they realised what was going on, the guilt is collective and universal even in Germans born after the war.  Each individual German has to come to terms with this guilt as the fact that the main protagonist has contact with people alive at the time or institutions that survived the war means that he is, to some extent, complicit.  Interesting idea but it’s a pity that so much of the film is devoted to largely irrelevant soft-core porn.  The whole point is that it does not matter whether or not Winslett’s character could read… she was complicit.

7Sanjuro (1962)   : I am not a huge Kurosawa fan but I quite enjoyed this, even more so than Yojimbo to which this is a sequel.  The film has a very strong current of individualism to it… the stiff-backed officials who defer to each other and complain about rudeness are played for laughs and ridiculed while Mifune is a complete Mary Sue despite his doing his “I’m really rude and slovenly… watch as I scratch myself, lounge about the place and refuse to bow to anyone” bit.

8. My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)  : They say that 3D is going to be the thing to get people back into cinemas but as it did little but give me headaches and make me feel mildly nauseous I don’t think I’ll be going to see anymore.  The film itself is a mess; no dialogue, filled with unsympathetic characters and no wit at all.  Quite well paced though.  Horrified by a) people constantly checking their mobiles for text messages in the seats in front of me and b) people talking throughout the film.  First time I’ve encountered that in a London cinema outside of a kids film.

9. The Four Musketeers (1974)  : More lavish set-pieces, more weird humour and a bizarrely down-beat ending that seems to confirm my suspicion that MacDonald Fraser realised that the Musketeers were ultimately scumbags.  Enjoyed it even more than the first.

10. Avant Que J’Oublie (2007) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Third part of an apparent trilogy by Jacques Nolot that began with the excellent Chatte a Deux Tetes.  A bleakly existential tale about an older homosexual; running out of money, his friends all dead and alienated, obsessed with psychotherapy and wills and doctors, the film ends with the old guy returning to a porn cinema in drag picking up on the fact that porn cinemas are (according to Nolot) a kind of breeding ground for gay men in that people who start with transvestites and threesomes before long end up gay.  I think the trilogy is a bleakly existential meditation upon the life-cycle of a gay man stripped of the narratives of self-acceptance and true love that infest much of gay cinema.

11. Slumdog Millionaire (2008) : To the extent that the film deals with life on the streets of India’s cities, it is interesting.  Brilliantly scored and easily carried by the three kids.  However, as the film goes on it becomes bogged down in a largely unconvincing and unengaging love story and some silliness about gangsters.  Not a bad film but hardly deserving of all the praise it is getting at the moment.  Also has ontological problems.  Surely you can’t spend half a film mired in gritty social realism and then have the second half be held together by wildly unlikely coincidences and dodgy genre trappings?  That’s just cheating!

12. Milk (2008)  : As with Che, this is not so much a biopic as it is an examination of a political movement centred upon one particular individual.  Genuinely moving and carried along by a great central performance, I was still somewhat unimpressed by the shallowness of the subject matter.  There was little desire to really engage with the roots of homophobia and so anti-gay activists come across as either bigots or closet-cases.  Meanwhile Harvey Milk is still much of an enigma.  No attempt is made to look at his childhood or the details of his relationships.  I think this is undeniably a good and important film (it’s also timely, the script hammers home the word ‘hope’ more often than the Obama campaign) but I think there was room for it to be so much more than an earnest tragedy.  The only flash of brilliance is the scene where Milk is actually shot and the camera lingers on his face for what seems like an eternity before re-focusing to catch the reflection of the SF opera house where Tosca is being performed.

W Delta Z : Terrible.  Gave up on it halfway through.  A horrific attempt to do Se7en with science instead of theology (but without actually understanding the science).  Emblazoned with added touches of torture porn and some utterly witless gangsta stuff bulking up the crime elements of the plot.  Decent leads but uninteresting.

13. The Stranger (1946) [for Videovista]  :  A splendid, if occasionally politically startling Orson Welles post-war spy thriller in the mould of Thirty-Nine Steps.  Contains a genuinely fantastic speech.  Fucking love Orson Welles

14. Kokoro (1955) [for Videovista]  : 1950s Japanese social melodrama about alienation, guilt and repressed sexuality.  Very enjoyable but at one point the film simply treads water for half an hour as the director doesn’t want to deal with the fact that the film is all about homosexuality.

15. Frost/Nixon (2008)  : Genuinely enjoyable film.  Did a good job of presenting two ultimately flawed individuals (it’s far from hagiographic regarding Frost).  Also very good on Nixon.  The late night phone call evidently never happened, but it nicely reflects the fact that there were standing orders for military bases to ignore late-night phone calls from the President out of fear that Nixon would get loaded and order a nuclear strike on Russia.  Great performances too.



FEBRUARY



16. Boy Culture (2007)  : Had heard good things about this piece of gay cinema but while it has a little bit more to say about the gay lifestyle (particularly how treacherous and shallow the scene is) it’s the usual conciliatory bollocks in which hot guys take their shirts off and fall in love.   Like a 90 minute advert for the work of Jacques Nolot.

17. The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)  : Retread of The Good The Bad and The Ugly but transposed to 30s Manchuria.  Visually stylish with some genuinely impressive camera work, particularly on the huge and lavish set pieces but ultimately the film rests upon strong performances by the three central characters.  Insubstantial but a timely reminder of why Asian stylised action films proved so popular and revelatory in the 1990s.

18. Stuck (2007) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Stuart Gordon on fine form.  Brilliantly dark and uncompromising film that ultimately recoils from its own material in a rather unnecessary recourse to comedy at the end.  Technically superb, tight as a drum and with some great performances too.

19. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Finally found time to watch all of this in one sitting and glad that I did.  It’s actually far more disturbing than I remember when I gave up on it first time round.  The dream sequences are genuinely surreal (particularly the first one) and the shift from consciousness to sub-consciousness is handled with genuine technical genius (the recording of voices from across the room).  I suspect it’s old hat to call it a feminist film, but it’s that most interesting of feminist (or any -ist for that matter) works; the self-loathing one.  The whole film would have fallen apart had Rosemary not accepted the baby.

20. Henry V (1944)  : The Olivier version.  Simply hideous piece of war-time propaganda.  All the character building bits are stripped out and emphasis is placed on patriotic speeches and some genuinely unpleasant sections in which first the French and then the Irish are singled out as incompetents and cowards for refusing to fight.  The depiction of the Irish is really just generational but suggests some deep resentment at the time over Ireland’s refusal to join the war on Britain’s side.  What the fuck did they expect though?  Also has some physically grotesque scenery chewers playing comedy parts and an atmosphere of surreal and yet sinister farce hovers over the entire production.  The only really decent bit is at the beginning inside the Globe (where actors take bows at the beginning and end of scenes) but once the action transfers to France it all goes slightly sinister.

21. Blindness (2008) [For Ruthless Culture]  :  Interesting little film.  World loses its sight and falls apart but the film slaloms between all the different possible metaphorical meanings that one might have for a film about blindness.  Is it about our own failures to confront truth?  is it about ignorance?  is it about isolation and individualism?  is it about the need for a political leader with vision?  Not clear at all.  Has some genuinely horrible moments and some thoroughly lovely moments too.

22. Socket (2007) [For Videovista]  : Rubbish.  A gay indie film that suggests that it might be about something other than falling in love, coming out, sucking face and dancing but ultimately capitulates and turns out to be about sucking face taking drugs and dancing.  Blah.

23. Pure Race (1995) [For Videovista]  : Disappointing.  Quite nicely directed student film but it swings between gonzo action fest with neo-nazis wielding machine guns and intimate study of white racism.  The two extremes interfere with each other.  Dull.

24. The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) [For Videovista]  : Cute, but not really very much else.  Full of country-fried, corn-fed patriotism and gosh-darn-it Christian honesty.  Some nice ideas but not really worthy of its astonishing reputation though.

25. Che – Part (2008)  : Ugh.  Over long and under-written jungle epic.  Has nothing to say about anything and blatantly rips of Herzog towards the end.  Has some interesting experimental takes on story-telling but really… REALLY dull.

26. Let the Right One In (2008) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Vampire + YA but despite this is possibly the most genuinely subversive fantasy film I have ever seen.  Doesn’t do very much with the vampire mythos and has some incredibly silly and cartoonish SFX scenes but the reinvention of the femme fatale as a 12 year old vampire is shocking (as is the flash of pre-pubescent gash that the BBFC will surely cut) and the ending, though cosmetically up-beat is horrific and full of sub-texts that touch of paedophilia and manipulation.  Possibly the best genre film of 2008.

27. City of God (2002)  : Finally got round to watching this and it didn’t disappoint.  Colourful, kinetically directed, innovative flash-back and flash-forward digressionary narrative modes and some great performances.  Understandably praised.  Further demonstrates quite how hackneyed and derivative Slumdog Millionaire was too.

28. Gun Crazy (1950) [For Ruthless Culture]  : At the BFI – Fantastic amour fou melodrama reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde (right down to the beret and raincoat combo) and Natural Born Killers.  Has some quite cheesy dialogue that is over-acted and the Hays codes make it almost surrealy chaste (particularly the scene where they stop off at a Justice of the Peace to get married).  Great femme fatale-driven film noir.

29. Gran Torino (2009)  : Not the most ambitious of films but works like clockwork.  Great performance by Clint who reprises his Heartbreak Ridge persona but channels it into a (largely unconvincing) multiculturalism.  Utterly predictable ending, but still an effective one as it manages to be quite moving.  However, what is it with Clint and Catholic Priests?  As in Million Dollar Baby he seems to enjoy playing these apparently faithless but deeply moral men who enjoy winding up catholic priests.



MARCH


30. Gonzo : The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S. Thompson (2008)  : Quite a decent biographical documentary.  The visual flourishes work quite well and it doesn’t feel all that cinematic an experience but the subject matter is inherently interesting even though the film never goes beyond acknowledging that Raoul Duke was a façade and a character.  Yes, but what lay behind?

31. Gone Baby Gone (2008)  : The first half is exceptional.  Hinges on this scene where one of the main characters says “I don’t want you to live with finding a little girl’s body in a dumpster” and from there the situation gets worse and worse and worse.  But then it turns into a police conspiracy thing with corrupt cops and a cop-out ending to an unsolveable moral quandary.  Enjoyed it though, Casey Afleck is very watchable indeed (if only for the slow-head-turning-tired/disgusted-eye-blink thing he does).

32. A Bout de Souffle (1960)  : Loved the film’s sense of humour, its references, its style, hated the chemistry between the two protagonists.  This made large swathes of the film incredibly dull.  Starts very strongly and finishes well.  Understandably a classic for its innovation, but I do not love it.

33. Touch of Evil (1958) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Some fantastic direction and a great performance by Orson, perhaps let down by the ‘blacked up’ Charlton Heston. I’m struck by how the film’s sub-plots serve to distract and overshadow the central conflict between Heston and Welles.  In the early scenes where they’re squabbling over jurisdiction the scenes are over-shadowed by Janet Leigh being dragged off by the Grandis and this returns again when Heston’s character starts to look into Welles’ character’s past.  The film is also lacking in any real psychological traction regarding the two central characters.  They have little time to bed in and take form before they’re thrown into a series of cross-talking dialogue-heavy scenes.  As a result, the central conflict feels lacking in any real emotional charge.  We’re told what we should be feeling but we never really feel it.

34. Doubt (2008)  : Hmm.  Very strong performances as you would expect from the central cast.  Director seems happy to let them do their stuff and the film is shot in a very theatrical manner, lots of people talking back and forth in small rooms.  Like Gone Baby Gone, the film presents a moral problem… given that a child is gay and benefit from male attention, is it best to keep an interested male away from the child even if it means making that child miserable and isolated?  this moral quandary is then presented as an epistemological quandary about belief in whether or not the priest has done anything wrong with regards to the child.  The problem is that the epistemological question is really not that interesting.  While the juxtaposition of religious faith and extreme cynicism is interesting the film never really goes into that juxtaposition, it just throws the words “doubt” and “certainty” around quite a bit.  Im also not too sure about what the point of the final scene is in which Close howls “I have such doubts!”.  Enjoyable none the less.

35. Les Diaboliques (1955)  : Did Clouzot ever make a bad film?  if so I have yet to see it.  Fantastically atmospheric and perfectly captures la vieille France.  The relationship between the two women is wonderfully weird and sexualised and the Husband is grotesque.  The ending is also genuinely creepy.  Excellent stuff.

36. Watchmen (2009) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Too close to the source material to be really interesting but a couple of scenes manage to render it watchable and cinematically interesting.

37. Night of the Hunter (1955)  : My God what a film.  The direction and cinematography are simply breath-taking.  Incredibly reminiscent of German Impressionism as fed back into pulp in Judex.  Amazing performances.  But most importantly it is a deeply moral film.  It deals with the battle of the sexes and religion but it does not limit itself to either of those things, instead it expresses this terrible sadness for human weakness and our willingness to betray ourselves for what we perceive as short term gain and how those betrayals lead to the betrayal of others and how this spreads out creating unhappiness.  Absolutely astonishing from beginning to end.  A masterpiece without a doubt.

38. City of Men (2005)  : A sequel to the TV series based upon City of God.  Lacks the stylistic direction to elevate a story that feels very similar to the original City of God.  Attempts to communicate some nonsense about parental responsibility but is otherwise surprisingly dull for a film set in such a vibrant place.  Bored of the Brazilian favelas now.

39. Escape from Sobibor (1987) [For Videovista]  : A so-so film about the holocaust and people escaping from a death camp.  It’s not shocking enough to function as an awareness raiser and the plotting and direction are too flat for it to work as a piece of POW-escape genre hokum.

40. Blood Brothers (2007) [For Videovista]  : Lavish sets and fantastic production design are not really enough to liven up this underwritten melodrama.

41. Hansel and Gretel (2007) [For Videovista]  : As with Blood Brothers, the production design for this South Korean Horror film is amazing.  Half tacky 50s kitsch and half gingerbread house.  Clearly inspired by del Toro’s recent gothic horrors.  Unfrotunately the second half is massively over-written and the film becomes bogged down in exposition instead of concentrating on mood.

42. Il Divo (2008)  : Amazing biopic of an Italian politician.  Incredible physical performance, amazing visuals (full of strange angles and people walking in and out of rooms in strange ways) and so deep in historical fact I found it quite an intellectual challenge to keep up and keep straight a) what was going on and b) who was who.  Amazing soundtrack too.

43. Martyrs (2008)  : Extraordinarily powerful.  Left me feeling quite jittery and unhappy, such is its relentless despair and brutality.  I would be genuinely surprised if someone else managed to top this film as it brings together not only the hot-as-fuck French Horror tradition but also the transgressive cinema tradition of de Van, Noe et al.  Amazing film.

44. The Warlords (2007) [For Videovista]  : Surprisingly decent Chinese historical epic.  Battle scenes are good, uncharacteristically strong performance by Jet Li and a central  drama that is very strong and thoughtful.  Great stuff.




APRIL


45. Repulsion (1962) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Fantastic psychological thriller by Roman Polanski.  Very impassive performance by Catherine Deneuve which is reminiscent of her performance in Belle de Jour.  Amazing cinematography, amazing scoring.  Very effective in its depiction of madness.  Rape scenes with weird sound reminiscent of the dream sequences in Rosemary’s Baby.

46. The Sting (1973)  : Never seen this before and frankly, I felt that it has been done better since.  Nice production design and the three act structure is strong but I felt too many of the performances were almost played for laugh and I didn’t care about any of the characters.

47. The Damned United (2009)  : Hmm.  I think the film is too predictable to be dramatic.  We know from the start of the film that the Leeds players were not going to accept him and so spelling out the reasons why they were not going to accept him felt prosaic rather than illuminating.  Disappointingly light-weight really.

48. Angel Heart (1987)  : Never got round to watching this before but frankly, I was not hugely impressed.  There are some nice ideas in it and the scene with the egg is justly famous but the rest of it feels too much like your standard US psychological thriller from that period.  Perhaps it has been too influential?  Did enjoy the sex scene that turns into a black mass and the fan visual motif.  Neat.

49. The Tenant (1976) [For Ruthless Culture]  : The second in my Roman Polanski season.  Watched it not long after reading the book and I was impressed by some of the cinematography and quite how close the film is to the book but I think that Polanski’s desire to be sinister overwhelms the rather more playful and surreal tone of the text.  There are flashes of brilliance (such as Polanski’s cooing at himself in the mirror and the fever dream is arguably even better than that in Repulsion or Rosemary’s Baby) but I think I prefer Repulsion.

50. Rear Window (1954)  : A genuinely extraordinary film.  Fantastic performances by the incredibly elegant Kelly and the grumpy Stewart but the film is also brilliantly paced, perfectly shot and has an incredible set and a real sense that the character is looking out onto a little world full of proper characters and real people.

51. The Class (2008)  : Was expecting this to be quite weak but I was genuinely surprised by how good it was.  Not only did it perfectly capture what French schools are like and what it can be like to be forced through school at that age, it  also presents a proper moral quandary with the main character completely assailed by white middle class guilt without the other side of the argument being parodied or ridiculed in any way.

52. The Legend of Hell House (1973)  : Despite being written by Matheson, I was surprised by how poorly written this was.  It’s clearly inspired by The Haunting/the Haunting of Hill House but it sucks out all of the emotional and psychological stuff and replaces it with genre tropes and techno-babble.  There are some nice scenes but by and large this is just silly.

53. Les 400 Coups (1959)  : A fantastic film.   You can really tell that Truffaut was delighted to get his hands on a camera and the love of cinema really comes across too.  Was interesting to see the differences between The Class and this as in this, children are treated as violent things needing to be controlled but in fact they have a lot of freedom.  In The Class, the children are treated as people with things to say but there is hardly any space at all between the world of school and the world of parents.

54. The Naked Civil Servant (1975)  : I don’t think you could get away with making this type of film anymore.  I adore the slightly fantastical feel to the film, reminiscent of Breakfast on Pluto in so far as the concerns of the world do not really touch the protagonist… he just sails on regardless.  Great performance by Hurt.  Lots of memorable lines too.

55. The Consequences of Love (2004)  : I’m really getting into the work of Paolo Sorrentino.  A superb piece about isolation and the power of self-negation versus the power of strong emotions to define us.  Fantastic performances, brilliant direction, great music.  Excellent film.

56. In the Loop (2009) [For Ruthless Culture]  : I was concerned that The Thick of It’s formula might not survive the jump to a longer format and a wider international audience but not only does it work, it works superbly.  The swearing is as stunning as ever and the drama is spot on.  Incredibly well informed politically too.  There are few film-makers who understand contemporary politics as well as Iannucci.

57. The Bothersome Man (2006) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Very nice fantastical psychological piece about some people never being happy and how happiness can ultimately be quite a shallow experience in which we agree not to look too hard at things in return for a sense of well-being.  Also, you have to love the satirical idea of heaven being a world full of Ikea furniture and emotionally distant Scandinavian people.

58. Roman Polanski – Wanted and Desired (2008)  : Well put together piece about Polanski’s trial and exodus from America.  Interestingly enough, the film is incredibly sensitive to what is ultimately the story of a man who got a 13 year old drunk and high and then shagged her.  It obliquely examines his motivations but suggesting that he might well be psychologically scarred and distant from women as a result of the death of his mother and wife.  This is less convincing though I accept that it’s trying very hard not to apologise for him.  Where the film really works is when dealing with the frankly surreal details of the case.

59. Lakeview Terrace (2008) [For VideoVista]  : I am not the reatest fan of Neil LaBute and frankly this film did not really convince me to think otherwise.  It brings up interesting issues and either fails to address them or does address them in a way that feels a little too pat.  Nice set though and Samuel L. Jackson does well with what he has to work with (even if it is effectively Tenpenny from GTA : San Andreas)

60. Manhunt (2008) [For Videovista]  : An impressive if somewhat derivative debut for a young Norwegian who will do well once he gives up the idea that he should be writing his own films.

61. Watch Me When I Kill (1977) [For VideoVista]  : A very uneven Italian giallo.  Where the director puts in the effort it has some nice moments of weirdness but the rest of the film is dull and generic.  Content of film overshadowed by the ferocious branding of the DVD label.

62. The Family Friend (2006)  : More Sorrentino, more angular brilliance set to an addictively weird electro soundtrack.  Very much a pre-amble to Il Divo in that the film creates this odd little character who is, cerebrally, completely repulsive and yet emotionally quite compelling.  Superb.



MAY


63. Red Riding – 1974 (2009) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Initially not too sure about it as the foreground character is rather inconsistent and played by someone who simply lacks the talent to turn annoying inconsistency into compelling paradox.  However, the visuals tells a much more interesting story.

64. Red Riding – 1980 (2009) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Undeniably a better film than the first in the series.  Much more claustrophobic as well and deals with the urge to purify oneself of the taint of corruption.  Either by murdering the tainted, searching out the corrupt police or denying oneself what one needs in order to be happy.  Genuinely excellent and am still thinking about it.

65. Encounters at the End of the World (2007)  : Less coherent than Grizzly Man and a good deal more tongue in cheek but Herzog shows quite how vapid the likes of Attenborough are in that he shoots amazing footage of incredible ice caves and weird undersea creatures but instead of whispered awe, Herzog presents these things as terrible and inhospitable and what the world is really like once you move away from the self-deceptiove comforts of civilisation.

66. Star Trek (2009)  : Not only a solid rebooting of a venerable franchise but also one of the better film versions of Trek.  It’s character driven for the most part and visually stunning in an amphetamine disco-ball kind of a way.  Pay particular attention to the first space battle and the bit at the end when the ‘red matter’ breaks.

67. Lady Snowblood (1973)  : Really puts the Kill Bill trilogy into perspective as this covers almost exactly the same ground with less cheese, more charm, more emotion, more intellectual content and in half the time.  Adore the 70s stylings too.

68. Inside (2007)  : Wow.  Chock full of suspense, dark humour and gore that just about manages to stay the right side of Grand Guignol the film is as tight as a nun’s arse and very much within the tradition of Ils and Haute Tension.  This is probably one of the best Horror films I have ever seen.  It isn’t as disturbing as Martyrs but it packs much more of a visceral punch.  Stunning.

69. Sunset Boulevard (1950)  : Justifiably seen as a classic.  Was surprised not only at how creepy the film was but also how quick the dialogue was and how willing the film was to portray sexual relationships based upon self-interest and ambition.  I’ll have to check, it might be pre-code.

70. Cold Prey (2006) [For VideoVista]  : Utterly generic Norwegian horror.  Has a few nice touches but it takes AGES to get going.  40 minutes till the first murder is very much against the run of play in terms of fashions in Horror films.  All the pissing about would be okay if the characters were at least interesting.  They’re not.  Also has an incredibly literalist sound track “into the mountains” and “all my friends are dead!”.

71. Vicky, Christina, Barcelona (2009)  : Hmm.  Not convinced by this. Felt that the subject matter of the film itself was desperately pedestrian as it throws European artistic shagging, up-tight neurotic intellectualism and vapid pseudo-intellectual self-indulgence into a pot and shakes it all up.  I did like the even handedness of it all.  All three approaches to life and love are portrayed as self-deceptive, hurtful and imperfect and the film ends with nothing really changing suggesting that there IS no perfect love.  Just varying degrees of fucked-up.

72. Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers! (2007)  [For VideoVista]  : A mesmerising Japanese drama that works despite the manga-centric retreat from social realism.  Very soapy.  Very Misanthropic.  Occasionally quite funny.  Also features some fantastic performances.

73. Synecdoche, New York (2008)  : Having watched it, I was convinced that I had seen a film that was not only hugely clever but also hugely important.  It’s effectively a postmodern novel transposed onto the big screen with a budget to cope.  At a basic level, the film is about the illusion of personal and dramatic truth.  No matter how deeply you dig, no matter how lavishly you stage things you cannot express pure truth because the truth changes in the delving and in the staging.  Because of this, the film acquires meta-layers.  So the director casts himself and then directs the actos as he directs another layer of actors further down.  However, no truth is ever found here.  In fact, the truth is in the staging and in the delving… by asking these question you define yourself as there is no true self at the bottom of the pile.  It’s just turtles all the way down.  I think Kauffman very nearly manages to pull his ambitious project off but the film somehow flounders.  The need to impose some kind of narrative and to describe proper characters and relationships sit uncomfortably with the film’s postmodern ethos and while Kauffman has tried to make these things different enough that they blend into the background (Caden’s bizarre family life, his bizarre relationship with Hazel and his bizarre health problems) they come across as odd rather than compelling or even interesting.  The film feels about an hour longer than it is.  However, when Kauffman gets it right he gets it very right indeed and so I think that this is an important and great film even if it is a deeply flawed one.  Such is the price of experimentation I guess.

74. Red Riding – 1983 (2009) [For Ruthless Culture]  : I am still thinking about this one.  On the one hand, I really dislike the fact that the bulk of the film is spent filling in the gaps in the first two films.  I also don’t like the fact that the film loses its background and focuses a lot more upon the more human element.  I don’t like the need for salvation and I think moving from the almost mythical John Dawson to a bunch of paedos in a shed is frankly rubbish.  However, the film does try hard by having a nicely interwoven narrative with flashbacks that aren’t distinguished from the main timeline.  Hmmm.

75. Barry Lyndon (1975)  : Really enjoyed this film.  I love the fact that the film has three distinct tones.  There’s the fact that the actors play the film almost completely straight and in some ways the Picaresque structure makes this straight-facedness seem like some kind of tragedy.  However, upon that you have the rather tongue in cheek unreliable narrator but then you also have the absurdities of the period.  Fantastic sets, costumes and use of music too but it’s the tone that I adored.

76. Double Idemnity (1944) :  Not convinced by this.  Edward G. Robinson is superb and has all of these great speeches and the dialogue is easily a match for Sunset Boulevard but I think the film ultimately falls down on the central pairing.  The male lead is a bit of a cold fish and the female lead is a bit generic.  Had the script included more character development or the actors put in more individuality then the film would have worked but I never believed them as a couple and so the passions and dark forces that throw them together feel rather artificial.

77. Cold Prey Resurrection (2008) [For Videovista]  : What a difference a sequel and a change of director make!  Not only are the kills memorable and well directed but the 40 minutes or so before the film gets started actually has some sense to it as rather than being filled with generic young person angst, the film has real characters with real problems, flaws and tensions.  I also love the fact that they Ripleyed the first film’s final girl.  It gets progressively more exciting too.  So exciting in fact that even the rubbish nu-metal at the end felt right.  Good job!

78. Frontiere(s) (2007)  : Ridiculous French Horror film.  Grand Guignol involving inbreeding, nazis, cannibalism, lesbians and buckets of gore but all played pretty much straight.  Ugh.  Very reminiscent of Shaitan actually.

79. Un Flic (1972)  : Melville’s last film prior to his death.  Has a completely ludicrous James Bond-style heist sequence in the middle but the film’s real themes of loneliness, friendship and integrity are down-played leaving only a rather thread-bare and slow-moving plot.  Still incredibly stylish though.  Opens with some fantastic modernist architecture.

80. The Seventh Veil (1945) [For VideoVista]  : Not bad.  I liked the use of psychoanalysis but I felt that the plot was rather predictable and dull because the characters were such empty suits.  Supposed to be a classic, I’m not too sure.

81. Drag Me To Hell (2009) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Hideously over-written, racist and lumbered with completely over-the-top CGI that looks silly.  The film is poorly paced, self-indulgently plotted and not in the least bit frightening, making it a complete technical failure.  Some funny moments though.  I liked the talking goat.

82. The Servant (1963)  : Quite an astonishingly literary film.  The characters are beautifully drawn, the acting is restrained.  The plot is largely suggested rather than spelled out as the servant begins to manipulate his master, forcing out the girlfriend and taking liberties but all the whole making himself indispensable.  Towards the end the film sees a complete reversal of power position as the employer becomes the butler’s friend and then eventually becomes his servant as the butler keeps him submissive using booze and drugs.  Fantastically creepy.



JUNE


83. Key Largo (1948)  : One of those films that was hugely influential and even iconic in its day and so watching it produces groans of “Ohhh… so THAT’s what they were going on about!”.  Edward G. Robinson is superb as ever in proper “Wah!You ain’t heard the last of Rocco seeeee”-mode.  The Baccal/Bogey partnership is as strong as in any of their other many of their films.  Baccall just smoulders with loveliness in a way that you just don’t get anymore.  The camera truly loved her.  Good film too, all about courage and the price you’re willing to pay to make the world a better place.  However, I have the sneaking suspicion that a draft of the script had Bogey dying from a gunshot wound while professing his love for Lauren over the radio.

84. Demonlover (2002) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Didn’t know exactly what to expect out of this film.  Looked into it on the grounds that it’s considered a part of the French New Extremity but aside from lots of clips from hentai and porn films, it’s mainly a drama about the role played in our civilisation by savagery and brutality and how, no matter how sophisticated, artificial and detached our civilisation becomes, that savagery is still there.

85. Anything for Her (2008) [For Ruthless Culture]  : At the heart of this film is a decently made thriller.  Unfortunately, this thriller is placed in the middle of a baggy and under-written drama that deals in only the most generic of human emotions and motivations.  A pity.

86. Rosenkrantz and Gildenstern are Dead (1990)  : Beautifully weird film that might have been more tightly directed.  There’s lots of wandering about without saying anything and, as a result, the film feels rather padded.  However, aside from those types of problems, the film is full of lovely ideas about Hamlet (particularly the “paragon of animals” speech reimagined as a battle of wits) and some interesting attempts to make Hamlet’s ontological footing even more tenuous by providing plays within plays within plays within plays.  I think I would probably rather see it performed live, but it’s still a very impressive work.  Dreyfuss is superb.

87. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)  : Brilliant.  Funny, beautifully made, beautifully written and all about what makes up freedom.  I was struck by the similarities with 400 Blows and I’m not sure which one I prefer but it would be interesting to see if there was any cross-polination of ideas there.

88. Spartacus (1960)  : Great stuff.  Though I’m not sure that the ending works.  I get the impression that the film wants to be far more left wing and revolutionary than it actually is.  I loved the idea that Rome is some kind of upper-class city on the hill and that the working class don’t want that city on the hill, they just want the freedom to live their own lives.  I also loved the performances by Laughton and Ustinov.  The ending is something of a mess though.  Really.

89. Bringing Up Baby (1938)  : Light and frothy romantic comedy by Howard Hawks with a number of nice moments in it including Hepburn’s outfits and a comedy leopard.  I didn’t adore it but I did laugh out loud 3 or 4 times.

90. The Virgin Spring (1960) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Superb.  I had no idea that this is the film that Last House on the Left was based upon.  This is proper Bergman too… slow, deliberate, filed with melancholy but also incredibly powerful and memorable.

91. The Apartment (1960)  : Another vintage romantic comedy this time by Billy Wilder.  I think this is probably the weakest of Wilder’s films I have seen to date.  Lemmon is great in so far as he is playing the same amusing character he always plays but Shirley MacLaine is rather forgettable and I don’t think the film ever completely engages with the comedy potential of a guy who essentially loans out his flat so that senior managers can conduct affairs.  Yes it’s misanthropic, but Lemmon’s character is seen as too much of a nice guy right from the start and he’s presented as someone who is completely powerless, but what about blackmailing the bosses?  There was potential here but I don’t think the film ever completely attained it.

92. Nosferatu (1979) [For Ruthless Culture]  : I’ll need to see the original version in order to formulate a complete opinion but I love the way in which Dracula is a) resented as nothing short of death and b) how absolutely pathetic and lonely he is.  Far from being a terrifying demon, he’s a pitiful creature living in the ruins of a once great castle, now reduced to begging for blood.

93. Eyes without a Face (1960)  : I’m still trying to make up my mind about this and Franju’s work in general.  As with Judex, I’m struck be how emotionally flat the film is.  It’s supposed to be a horror film but it has almost no affect.  There’s tension, there’s mystery, there’s transgression but I’m not really sure of what to make of the film beyond this.  The DVD extra doesn’t help as he keeps going on about how mysterious it is to shoot a carpark and have the car drive into it rather than simply shooting the car driving into the carpark.  I can see what he means but surely this is a debased and idiosyncratic definition of ‘mystery’?

94. Spirits of the Dead (1968)  :  Interesting taking a second crack at this immediately after the Franju.  I think there’s a degree of similarity here in that both films are less about affect and more about the uncanny.  The films themselves get progressively better.  The initial one is a terrible excuse for Brigitte Bardot to strut around in sexy outfits, the second one is all about doppelgangers and the third one is a completely mental slice of creepy Fellini.  On the whole I enjoyed it and I’m glad I stuck with it.

95. Nosferatu (1922)  :  Understandably a classic.  I genuinely think that Murnau’s version of the Dracula story is better than Stoker’s one.  He cuts out the extraneous secondary characters such as Lucy and her suitors and makes the arrival of the vampire a far more apocalyptic event which goes some way to explaining why his home is ravaged and the local population live in fear.  The plague motif is very powerful too.  But I think that I prefer Herzog’s embellishments.

96. OSS 117 Rio Ne Repond Plus (2009)  :  Pleasant enough sequel.  A couple of good laughs but I think the jokes about French Colonialism are wearing rather thin and this time it was occasionally over the line into just out and out racism.  Very funny bit with the Crocodile though.

97. High Art (1995) [For Videovista]  : Interestingly, I think this film means two completely different things to two audiences.  To GLBT audiences, it seems to be a story of a young woman who falls for an older junkie and then tries to lure her out of retirement only for her to slink back into the mire of addiction.  But to me, the film looks a lot like a story about someone passing themselves off as gay (or at least bi) in order to trick a retired photographer into doing one last photo shoots regardless of how much it fucks up said photographer’s life.  Good film though.

98. This Man Must Die (1969) [For Ruthless Culture]  : Fantastic film right up until the ending which did not completely satisfy me.  Clearly, the big idea was about a man infiltrating the family of the man who killed his child only to find that the family hate the killer as much as he does but I don’t actually think that Chabrol really manages to resolve the story in a satisfactory manner.  Though, to be fair, this could be due to the source material.

99. Lynch (One) (2007)  [For Videovista]  : Nice to look at, some quite nice behind-the-scenes moments but it ultimately feels like quite a lightweight film.  You can’t just say “it’s art” over and over again… you do have to offer some insight.

100. 20th Century Boys (2008) [for VideoVista]  : Lavishly produced mash-up of whimsical drama and genre film.  Monstrously over-long and quite dull all things considered.  Also has the single worse set of DVD extras I have ever seen.

101. When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1970)  : I tracked this down because it was based on a treatment by J. G. Ballard.  In truth, the final film had very little to do with Ballard’s comedic treatment but there were some interesting ideas.  I like the lack of language, I like the dinosaur scenes.  Reasonable film.

Surviving Evil (2008)  : Walked out after half an hour.  formulaic monster film shot on an island and drawing on Filipino mythology.  Dull. Nearly two years old and still no release?  I see DVDs in this film’s future.

The Reeds (2009)  : British Horror film due to be released later in the year.  Quite stylishly directed with good visuals by former TV director Nick Cohen, let down by weak acting but will check it out once it is released as I only saw the last hour or so.

102. Salvage (2009) : A slightly schizophrenic British Horror film.  Starts off quite strongly with some kitchen sink family drama stuff and then introduces an even that drives people insane with fear.  Soldiers running about.  Blood spattered here and there.  Talk of Al Qaeda.  However, it then introduces some quite rubbish fantastical elements and the entire thing devolves into a by-the-numbers monster film.  Disappointing but watchable.

103. Barbarian Princess (2009)  : Period drama about the annexation of Hawaii by the USA and how it affects one of the junior members of their royal family wh, after spending a more or less miserable time growing up in Victorian England, then oversees the transition of her nation from sovereign state to being part of the USA.  Stars Q’Orianka Kilcher from Mallick’s The New World (with lots of cribbing from that particular film… her on beach, her walking through English gardens…) and she’s on fine form and does a good job of carrying the film. The film is slightly unsteady when dealing with her personal life (there’s a romance sub-plot that is under-written and sunk by a limp love interest) but more than makes up for this when dealing with colonial racism, US empire-building and the travails of being a head of state.  Not only entertaining but also quite moving.

4 Comments
  1. July 2, 2009 9:23 am

    Insightful post (and boy, that’s a lot of films). I know you’d rather elaborate on any of these at length, but I see a lot of value in a wall of notes where so many impressions are in close proximity. And as much as I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire, I’m pleased to see I wasn’t the only one on the planet to immediately chalk it up as a lightweight City of God— which I still think of as one of the most content-packed cinematic stories of the 2000s, and possibly one of the best.

    Like

  2. Patrick H permalink
    July 2, 2009 10:22 am

    One of the reasons I keep up with your site, Jonathan, is for the obscure movie gems to add to my Love Film list. So, thanks for this!

    P

    Like

  3. July 2, 2009 10:49 am

    Interesting list. I agreed more than disagreed. Biggest shock to me was that Double Indeminity failed to deliver (my favourite noir). Glad you weren’t sucked in by The Reader. Books that shouldn’t be made into films there.

    Let me know when you’ve seen ‘Public Enemies’. Very curious to read your thoughts. Mine are up at The Drift now.

    Like

  4. July 2, 2009 3:13 pm

    Hi all, thanks for the comments. Glad you enjoyed the list.

    Nick — Lightweight City of God really does sum up Slumdog Millionaire.

    City of God is not only intensely complex visually, it also does a much better job of describing life in the favellas than SM does of describing life in the Indian slums. Plus there’s a much larger and more complicatedly interwoven cast of character. CoG is incredibly information dense.

    Richard — I need to get back into watching Noir actually. I kind of got side-tracked into Billy Wilder’s films but I’ve definitely seen enough screwball comedies for a while. I shall check out ‘Public Enemies’.

    Double Indemnity did leave me cold but largely because I struggled with the main couple. I didn’t buy into the instant animal attraction between them despite much of the film focusing on the subtle shifts in their relationship. Because I didn’t buy the couple, I didn’t buy the film. I might give it a second chance one of these days but I definitely struggled with it.

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