Wednesday, June 1, 2016

THE 2016 EDITION


There's a buzz among movie fans each year on the topic of which film will win at the upcoming Oscars. The anticipation towards this mounts as we go through the various film festivals such as Sundance, Cannes, etc. ultimately vying for good Oscar positioning. But since I've been doing this 1001 blog for so long, when I see the Oscar nominations come up, I don't think as much about who will win, as I think about which films will be in the next edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book! I guess I've become sort of brainwashed myself in that respect.

Before I look at the Oscar nominees for 2015, I want to briefly look at 2014. There were eight Best Picture nominees for that year. When you also throw in the Best Foreign Language winner and Best Documentary winner, seven out of these ten films made the new 1001 movie list.

These films were:
Birdman
Boyhood
Grand Budapest Hotel
Whiplash
The Theory of Everything
Citizenfour (Best Documentary)
Ida (Best Foreign Language Film)
(The nominees that didn't make it into the book were Selma, American Sniper and The Imitation Game.)


The only three other new entries last year for the new 1001 edition were Leviathan (a Best Foreign film nominee), Under the Skin (a cult sci-fi film) and Guardians of the Galaxy (a mega-hit comic book film).
So if the previous year is any indication, many of the following list of movies from the 2015 nominees (including Documentary, Foreign and Animated) will be in the new addition for 2016. I've listed them in order of the likelihood I think they'll be in the next book ed (I'm assuming there will be a 2016 edition, but even if there isn't-I'll play along anyway.).

 
Spotlight
1. Spotlight-The last fifteen or so Best Picture winners have all made it onto the 1001
book in at least one edition and I don't think Spotlight will be an exception. This is a riveting investigative drama which reminded me a lot of All the President's Men and also boasts a very strong ensemble cast. The subject matter of the film also has the weight that the 1001 movie book likes (as does the Academy). It did only win two Academy Awards, which isn't a big total for a Best Picture winner, but I think it makes the next edition easily.

The Big Short
2. The Big Short-Maybe my favorite of the Best Picture nominees...and who'd have thought a movie about Wall Street, financiers and the housing bubble could be so depressing, yet often tragically funny at the same time? And Adam McKay proves that directing a string of Will Ferrell comedies is apparently a great stepping stone to directing critically acclaimed Oscar nominated films.

The Revenant
3. The Revenant-The 1001 list likes Leonardo DiCaprio and director Alejandro G. Iñárritu (both Oscar winners for this) and I think they'll also like this brutal tale of survival in the wilderness. And I still can't get that freaking bear attack scene out of my head!
 

Son of Saul
4. Son of Saul-Best Foreign film winners sometimes make the list (Ida, A Separation, Amour) and sometimes they don't (The Secrets in Their Eyes, In a Better World). But this film about the Holocaust and a concentration camp occupant that tries to find a rabbi for a burial ritual amidst the chaos of a prisoner revolt seems to have what it takes to make the list.

The Martian

5. The Martian-Now the list begins to get a little harder to predict. Crowd pleasing commercial adaptation of Andy Weir's geeky technical novel that doesn't scrimp on the details of space and survival, but was still accessible enough to a mass audience to make it a hit. Might make the book, but I'm on the fence on this one 


Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Mad Max: Fury Road-Fury Road won more Academy awards than any other movie this past year (6). It is a non-stop chase explosion of special effects and was a tremendous commercial and critical success. I seem to be in the minority, but I could never really identify or care too much about the characters. I would put director George Miller's original Road Warrior in the book before Fury Road, but who knows? And what is the deal with that heavy metal guitar player again?

Room
7. Room-Popular book, intense story and Academy Award winning performance by Brie Larson puts this on the maybe list for the book. It has a similar feel of Gone Girl, which did not make the book.
 
Bridge of Spies
8. Bridge of Spies-I liked Steven Spielberg's Cold War drama featuring Tom Hanks and Academy Award winner Mark Rylance, but I would still be surprised if this film makes the book. My wife thinks it has a chance for inclusion due to the weighty topic, but we'll have to wait and see.


Brooklyn
9. Brooklyn-Old fashion love story and a nice little film with pleasant shots of the Irish
countryside and a likeable cast...but I don't see it making the book. Personal note: My wife still thought the Dodgers played in Brooklyn! She clearly doesn't keep up with the latest baseball news or maybe watches too many films set in the 1950's.


Amy
10. Amy-Recent Academy documentary winners with a popular music theme (Twenty-Feet from Stardom, Searching for Sugar Man) haven't made the book and I don't think this documentary about the life and career of Amy Winehouse makes it either. I did like the film and it made me appreciate a performer that I knew very little about before I watched this.


Inside Out

11. Inside Out-Undeniably clever film about (literally) the inner emotions of a young girl, but Best Animated Feature Film winners never seem to get into the book. I liked this year's Zootopia even more and I hope that one beats the odds and lands in the 2017 edition.


I have a feeling the next edition won't include as many 2015 Oscar nominees/winners as the 2014 nominees in the previous edition, but who knows? I would personally like to see them go off the list a little more, but who knows? I would personally like to see them make a few less predictable choices this time out.



Saturday, May 28, 2016

PROJECT A (1983), PROJECT A, PART II (1987, HONG KONG), MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981, AUSTRALIA), THE KILLER (1989, HONG KONG), DIE HARD (1988)

The 1001 Movie Guide does have some action movies in its arsenal. Here are some takeaways from some of those films...
Project A
Ten takeaways from Project A I and II
1. It's really impossible not to be impressed with the whirling dervish know as Jackie Chan.
2. I'm not sure how Jackie Chan lived through all those bizarre stunts.
3. I really missed Fat Boy in Project A II
4. The plot sort of made sense, but don't ask me to recount it.
5. Okay, it involved pirates and policeman and I think they were looking for the Holy Grail or something.
6. The tower clock stunt was pretty cool.
7. Chan falling through the awning was so good they showed it twice!
8. Watched these two movies back to back. Memory fading as to what happened in what movie.
9. If the action scenes of this movie had taken place in the real world, the characters would be dead many times over.
10. Only Project A Part II is in the 1001 book. Not sure why it is considered superior.

Project A Part II
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Ten Takeaways from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
1. I can't believe I've never seen The Road Warrior before! (And thanks to my wife for putting it on my 1001 supplementary list).
2.  Interesting that the original Mad Max made the 1001 list, but The Road Warrior didn't-though many consider the latter film as superior.
3. It made me appreciate Mad Max: Fury Road more in that it was more of an update than a remake.
4. I did appreciate the stunts more in The Road Warrior than in Fury Road, though some in the latter film were admittedly spectactular.
5. The Road Warrior gets a star taken off because the dog dies.
6. If the action scenes of this movie had taken place in the real world, the characters would be dead many times over.
7. The Road Warrior (the movie) gets credit for inspiring the nickname for one of the scariest tag teams in wrestling history.  The character of Lord Humongous also inspired several wrestling incarnations with that name and image. What is it about this movie that was such an inspiration to professional wrestling? I don't think there ever was a professional wrestler that took on the character of the gyro captain that I know of.
8. And I also appreciate that it was original Mad Max/Road Warrior director George Miller that brought Mad Max:Fury Road back to the screen all those years later.
9. And budget isn't everything when it comes to making an action movie if you are creative and have some real fearless stuntmen.
10. "I thought Mel Gibson was so sexy and hot. Too bad he turned out to be such a wacko in real life!" (Last entry courtesy of my wife.)

The Killer

Ten takeaways from John Woo's The Killer
 1. John Woo knows how to direct action sequences.
2. He is definitely a fan of Western crime films past.
3. Chow Yun-Fat is a solid leading man...
4. . ..though probably more so in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
5. The plot of the two adversaries gaining mutual respect as the film progresses is interesting.
6. If the action scenes of this movie had taken place in the real world, the characters would be dead many times over.
7. The additional plot of the killer helping out the girl he blinded works pretty well.
8. Might be fun to watch this movie and just do a dead body count. It would keep you busy, anyway.
9. The Killer is at least more plausible than Face-Off.
10. The Killer made be want to see Die Hard.

Die Hard

Ten takeaways from  Die Hard
1. There's only one Die Hard
2. Actually there's several, but only one original classic Die Hard.
3. Die Hard established action cinema for a generation of films to come.
4. Die Hard ruined cinema in general for a generation to come.
5. Lots of little plot devices that make the film tick. Should we credit the screenplay or the original book?
6. If the action scenes of this movie had taken place in the real world, the characters would be dead many times over.
7. Few villains have ever been better than Alan Rickman.
8. Some action films are so far-fetched they lose me, but Die Hard didn't.
9. I think after viewing all these high octane films, I'm about ready for a little My Dinner With Andre action!
10. If you haven't seen the very funny You Tube clip where Bruce Willis fights Stephen Colbert and says, "Yippee Kay Yee, William Faulkner!," I recommend it.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928, FRANCE), DOCKS OF NEW YORK (1928), THE CROWD (1928), STORM OVER ASIA (1928, RUSSIA)

1928

"It is a painful irony that silent movies were driven out of existence just as they were reaching a kind of glorious summit of creativity and imagination, so that some of the best silent movies were also some of the last ones."-Bill Bryson, One Summer: America, 1927

I was looking at some original film critiques from the  New York Times Film Reviews and thought I would share some of the original thoughts on some films from 1928 from that source.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

 "In The Passion of Joan of Arc, M. Carl Dreyer has produced a singularly arresting and original film, which will certainly be much discussed. He presents the heroine in the new realistic manner as an inspired peasant girl, without the gaudy trappings of legend, and the figure he makes of her is no unworthy companion to the stage picture drawn by Bernard Shaw."-W. L. Middleton, New York Times Film Reviews, August 12, 1928.

The Docks of New York
"Nine-tenths of the persons seeing the Paramount's offering this week will like it. Perhaps the most serious objections the other tenth will have are that The Docks of New York is a little too long and that it has an anti-climax. The picture as a whole is good, however, with able acting and occasional bits of exceptional directing."-Mordaunt Hall, New York Times Film Reviews, September 17, 1928.
Storm Over Asia
"Excellent photography and sterling work by the eminently suitable cast are the conspicuous assets of Vsevolod Pudovkin's silent cinematic contribution, Storm Over Asia...There is, however, much that is compelling in this production in the early scenes, but in the closing episodes it becomes hysterical and absurd events occur, including a man, who through injuries, is hardly able to move around, suddenly becoming a veritable Samson."-Mordaunt Hall, New York Times Film Reviews, September 28, 1930.

The Crowd
"The Crowd is on the whole, a powerful analysis of a young couple's struggle for existence in this city. Throughout this subject, Mr. Vidor shrewdly avoids the stereotyped conception of setting forth scenes and in more than one case he uses the camera in an inspired fashion."-Mordaunt Hall, New York Times Film Reviews, February 20, 1928.

 "The last full year of Hollywood's silent era, 1928, produced some of its greatest masterpieces,"-Martin Ruben, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

"I do wish silent films had endured as an art form alongside the "talkies." But let us enjoy the ones that still survive."-Chris Cox, 1001: A Film Odyssey

Saturday, May 14, 2016

SUMMER WITH MONIKA (1952, SWEDEN), AUTUMN SONATA (1978, SWEDEN)


Summer With Monika
Ah, Ingmar Bergman. The man who brought us a series of Nordic, nihilistic, philosophical films from the 50's to the 80's that many (me included) consider some of the greatest works of art that cinema has ever produced. I had finished watching all the 1001 listings when the earlier Bergman film Summer With Monika popped up one of the updated editions. This story of young love and how youthful adventures can so often be stymied by the realities of the real world is a worthwhile viewing experience for Bergman fans, but I wouldn't put it in the category of his best. I'd start with The Seventh Seal or Winter Light and work my way back. You may even want to start with his uncharacteristically upbeat Smiles of a Summer Night. You probably don't want to start with Persona, though that one wouldn't  isn't a bad place to finish.

I also decided to see Autumn Sonata, one of the later Bergman films and not one that made the 1001 book. It is an emotional masterpiece that has at its center the relationship between a complicated daughter and an even more complicated mother. This story gives no easy answers to who you should sympathize with and that is to the films credit.

From the DVD extras, it's interesting to listen to the director talk about how difficult it was for Bergman (Ingmar) to get the performance out of Bergman (Ingrid) that he wanted. But the end result is as good as you could hope for and I can hardly imagine her ever being better. But let us not forget Liv Ullman as the daughter. Liv and Ingrid are great in their scenes together and this film is highly recommended if you are a fan of complicated family dynamics in your drama.

Autumn Sonata