A Decade of Films, 2014

So 2014 was a great year for films, to the extent that I have 10 favorites and 44 honorable mentions. And of course a handful of films I haven’t seen.

And I’m still trying to catch up on 2019’s films. Three films over this past Friday-Saturday-Sunday, which means I’ve watched about 50 of last year’s films. I also did some OCD research last night to see how much I felt I should see before committing to my list of favorites- that would be 32 films still to see. I won’t get through them all, but I can try.
It’s not like the Oscar voters watched all of last year’s movies anyway.
In fact, I’ve probably seen more than Stephen King. (Why does he get to vote for Oscars anyway? He’s a writer. The one great film that was made from his work (The Shining) is one that he’s essentially disowned because it’s too far from his novel. And that’s because his writing sucks isn’t good.)
If you’re not sure why I’m picking on Stephen King, he’s said some questionable stuff about the Oscar nominees’ lack of diversity. And he hasn’t reflected very much on the issue, apparently.

OKAY, SO MY FAVORITES MOVING ON!

In no particular order:

  • John Wick: I’m not in love with the sequels, but the original film is an original concept executed electrically.  And sneakily deep for a film that explores how many deaths it takes to avenge a puppy (dude, if you’ve ever met/seen a puppy you know it’s A LOT).
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service: Again, not a huge fan of the sequel, and there are definitely some moments in this that give me serious pause, but on the whole it’s a great time.  Like, the kind of good time where you want to use the word “rollicking”.  An excellent secret agent film for a post-Bond world. With a sprinkle of class conflict examination.
  • Ex Machina: I’m a bit conflicted on this one because while I quite like Ex Machina, it does feel like it tries a bit too hard to be deep.  There’s a whole lot of navel-gazing going on.  But the performances are all excellent, Oscar Isaac’s dance scene is the most disturbing thing I could ever imagine, and the message is interesting.
  • Fury: It’s an excellent ensemble war film about the crew of a tank, focusing on the newest and youngest member.  Bloody, dramatic, and tragic.
  • Whiplash: I’m not the hugest fan of Damien Chazelle, but this is my favorite of his films so far (the others being La La Land and First Man).  But I’m always into stories of obsession and the clash of disturbed personalities, so there you go.
  • Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson, Ralph Fiennes, early Saoirse Ronan, and many more exciting faces, plus a pink hotel and Andersonian hijinks. I’ve been feeling a bit deflated about Anderson post-Isle of Dogs, but this was back in the good old days. And I watched it with my family over Thanksgiving break. Anderson has another film coming out next year, so maybe that will get me back on the train?
  • Nightcrawler: Brilliantly chilling thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who sells grisly camera footage to news outlets.  Rene Russo is also great and similarly distressing to watch.  Examines the ties between unethical journalism and consumer demand.
  • Big Hero 6: Completely different from the preceding film, Big Hero 6 has a very big heart and watching it is like receiving a very big hug.  I remember it was very popular when it came out but it doesn’t get talked about as much anymore, which is a shame.
  • Ernest & Celestine: A French animated film based on a children’s series, depicting the touching friendship between a big bear (Ernest) and a little mouse (Celestine).
  • The Book of Life: So I guess 2014 was a big year for animation, for me.  To save the love of his life, Manolo sacrifices himself and must journey through the Land of the Remembered, meeting his ancestors along the way. Stop comparing it to Coco. Do you know how many Christmas movies there are? We can have more than one film about the Day of the Dead and Mexican tradition. Thanks.

Honorable mentions: The Wind Rises, Gone Girl, Edge of Tomorrow (good film but if I see poor Emily Blunt do the sexy stretch one more time I’m going to break something), Imitation Game.

I have not seen: Boyhood, It Follows, Highway, or The Lunchbox.

A Decade of Films: 2013

This is a short list, in large part because I’ve missed a large number of films from 2013.

But I did enjoy…

  • From Up on Poppy Hill: It’s a cute anime!
  • Blackfish: A devastating documentary about what captivity does to orcas!
  • The Conjuring:  A great modern horror film that has since created an expanded universe of lesser modern horror films. Excepting Annabelle: Creation. That sh*! was nasty.
  • Her: Joaquin Phoenix falls for disembodied AI Scarlett Johansson. Relatable.

I have not yet seen (but do intend to see): Room 237, In the House, The Hunt, Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis, 12 Years a Slave, Oldboy, and The Past.

On the Oscars

I’ve seen a lot of takes mentioning how this is the second year in a row that no women have been nominated for best director, as though this were the exception and not the rule, as though this has been a troubling new trend and not the actual modus operandi of the academy. Because yes, while Greta Gerwig was nominated two years ago for Lady Bird, you have to go back to 2010 to see another female director nominated (Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”). The Oscars have existed for 92 years, and in that time only 7 women have been nominated (and 6 black people, all men).

The Oscar nominees this year are overwhelmingly white and male, despite a number of excellent films featuring/created by women and POC.

It goes without saying that women and POC face challenges breaking into The film industry (and many many other industries) that aren’t present for white men. And even beyond that, the work of these creators is then judged against a conception of art established by the work of an overwhelmingly white and male canon of classics and an overwhelmingly white and male body of critics. So we call it great art when Scorsese does the same thing as usual but for 40 minutes longer (ditto for Tarantino) but struggle to apply the term to the story of a Chinese-American who returns to China with her family to visit her dying (but unaware of it) grandmother (Lulu Wang, “The Farewell”).

I recently watched a review of Little Women in which the reviewer said that he most enjoyed the parts featuring Timothée Chalamet (sad boy extraordinaire) and Tracy Letts, because, having not had sisters, he couldn’t identify with the rest of the film. I’ve never had a sister. And while Little Women maybe ostensibly, on the most superficial of levels, be about sisters, the film itself is about so much more. It’s hard to understand how anyone could fail to see this. How anyone who can readily identify with a race car driver, a hitman, or a superhero would draw the line at ‘sisters’.
I wish it were only a lack of imagination, because the more sinister (and also more likely) option, is that there are a lot of people who (whether consciously or subconsciously) who don’t want to identify with women or POC, who don’t want to put in the effort to interest themselves in their stories.
So is it lack of practice? You can learn empathy. It’s frightening to think of people with more power not wanting to recognize themselves in people “below them”, not wanting to confront evidence of the humanity of people relatively lacking in that power.

Another reviewer called the inciting incident in Queen & Slim (which, full disclosure, I haven’t seen yet, it’s not out here), in which a black couple on a first date are pulled over by a cop (for no discernable reason) and face the threat of police brutality a “contrivance”. That, with The Hate U Give coming out a year before, Queen & Slim was “redundant”. Police brutality, something that threatens the lives of African Americans every single day, a contrivance. A trope. I clearly have a lot of words, but none can describe how this makes me feel. A black story told more than once is more than enough. A white story told more than once is a classic. Forget that there are people fearing for their lives, people dying. If telling these stories isn’t at least part of what art is for, then what good is our art?

So I know I’m not a critic, and I know no one cares, but I’m rooting for Bong Joon-Ho and Parasite. But neither of those are bets I would place. Todd Phillips shouldn’t have been nominated, Lupita Nyong’o being passed over for her dual role in Us is a disappointment, but they would have just kicked out Cynthia Erivo (the only black best actress nominee, “Harriet”). I would have liked to see Eddie Murphy nominated, and would have been happy with another Best Director nomination for Gerwig, although my personal choice would have been Céline Sciamma (“Portrait de la jeune fille en feu/Portrait of a Lady on Fire”).

By all means do some research or do a quick Google, but here’s a short list of films directed by women that I think should have gathered Oscar consideration, that I enjoyed, that told different stories, and/or that I’m hoping to see:
Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Farewell, Hustlers, Little Women, (and the following which I haven’t seen) Atlantics, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Birds of Passage, Honey Boy, Little Woods, Queen & Slim, The Souvenir, Tigers are Not Afraid.
And I’m sure I’m leaving some off.

The logistics of searching for directors based on race is harder, but the main additions to those listed above are Parasite and Us, as well as a number of the international films. Partial credit to Dolemite is my Name for telling a black story with a lot of input from Eddie Murphy, even with a largely white team.

I understand that focusing on this in a world shared by bushfires in Australia, political assassination in the Middle East, earthquakes in Puerto Rico, late capitalism, etc. is… questionable, but despite my ongoing efforts to educate myself, I still feel more qualified to talk about films than retaliatory violence against student protestors in India (for now). I also feel that if the work of women and POC continues to get less praise and make less money (in any sphere), the fewer opportunities these people will get. People will be less willing to support their work when it does get made. And back to the beginning, ad infinitum.

Best Movies of the Decade, 2012

2012 was a much better year in terms of movies than the one that came before.

My favorites as follows, in no particular order:

  • The Secret World of Arrietty: An excellent Studio Ghibli animated film based on the book The Borrowers. A good watch if you, like me, are someone who likes imagining what you would do if you were very very tiny. I blame a childhood spent watching George Shrinks.
  • 21 Jump Street: I don’t usually enjoy modern comedies, but this is one of the few exceptions.  Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are great together, the premise is good, and performances are good all around.
  • Moonrise Kingdom: Moonrise Kingdom was my first Wes Anderson movie and one of the first movies where I really realized how amazing the theater experience can be.  It’s an aesthetically beautiful movie, a musically beautiful movie, and my enjoyment of it was certainly aided by the freshness of never before having seen Anderson’s particular style of quirk.  That all said, it’s one of his best and is probably one of the more important films in my movie-viewing history.
  • Rise of the Guardians: This is an underseen, under-rated animated Christmas film that takes place around Easter.  Long story short, a group of magical mythical heroes (The Tooth Fairy, Santa, the Easter Bunny, Sandman, and Jack Frost) must team up to protect the children and the hopes and the dreams from Pitch Black/The Bogeyman.  The Easter Bunny is Hugh Jackman.  Santa/North looks like a very Daddy version of Auguste Rodin. Jack Frost is also hot. Wholesome content.
  • Skyfall: I very much like Daniel Craig James Bond and this is one of his better ones (Second to Casino Royale).
  • Django Unchained: I used to think I couldn’t stand Quentin Tarantino but have come to a change of opinion, largely through Inglourious Bastards and Django Unchained.  I was thinking recently about how some of Tarantino’s movies seem to show a desire to retcon history, to take injustices and rewrite them.  I like him best when he plays in this sandbox.

I didn’t see: Monsieur Lazhar, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Magic Mike, Samsara, The Master, Looper, A Late Quartet, or Amour.

Favorite Films of the Decade, Part One: 2010

My favorite thing to do is start out a fairly obvious list with its own list of special disclosures that make everything much more complicated than it needs to be.
As 2019 and the 2010s draw to a close, I’m starting to think about favorites, namely my favorite films of 2019.  While I’ve seen a lot of movies this year (probably more new releases than any other year), there are still exactly 19 movies that I have not seen (many because they have not yet been released in France).  In order to buy myself more time to catch up, and to get myself in the movie-list-making mood, I’ve decided to do a quick look at the past decade, starting with 2010.
Disclosure: I know that technically decades go 1-10, 11-20, etc.  But that’s because some idiot who didn’t understand math/had never used a ruler decided to call the first year Year One, as opposed to Year Zero, as he should have.  That’s like saying your newborn baby is already a year old. Let’s stop with the nonsense. My decade is 10-19.
Disclosure: I haven’t seen all of the films from 2010.
This list is in no particular order.
Some films I saw too long ago to make a good call about. I’ll mention those after.

  • Black Swan: Black Swan was a big one for me, given my love of Natalie Portman and ballet.  And the depiction of destructive magical thinking really resonated with my little OCD heart.  The ending is a bit on the nose in terms of hammering home the ‘theme’, but I don’t mind.
  • The Secret of Kells: This is a brilliant and brilliantly strange animation by the same group that did Song of the Sea.  It’s beautiful, it’s intricate, and it’s magical. I do like Song of the Sea better but that may just be because it involves the ocean.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: I’ve enjoyed the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy right through to the end, and Hiccup (Harold, if you’re in France) has had a great arc over the course of the saga. I would still say the first film is the best.
  • Toy Story 3: It was a good year for animation.  Toy Story 3 was the first film I saw in the series as a more or less adult, and it carried some pretty dark themes.  It hit me pretty hard and I loved every minute of it.  I do think this was the natural end for the franchise, and while Toy Story 4 this year was nice enough, I found it largely uncalled for and, in the end, unearned.
  • Inception: Inception is one of those that I expect will go down as a modern classic.  It’s still very much appreciated and talked about, and I would say rightfully so.
  • Mao’s Last Dancer: While Inception is as much a people’s favorite as it is my favorite, this one is a bit more niche, what with the ballet and the politics.  It’s excellent.
  • Undertow: This I saw the most recently, which is to say only about a year ago.  It’s a foreign film about sexual identity, secrets, intolerance, and the fallout.  Would make a good triple feature with The Talented Mr. Ripley and Call Me By Your Name.
  • True Grit: Back when I didn’t have any idea who the Coen brothers were.  It’s a great cast and a great Western, a remake of a John Wayne film (which no, I have not yet seen). Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges. and I believe also Matt Damon?
  • The Social Network: Facebook’s just gotten more and more shady as time’s gone on, hasn’t it?

Yes, that is 9 films, not 10. We’re leaving a space open for whatever film I haven’t seen/saw to long ago. Like the guy you leave a seat for at passover.
(Can you tell I’m not religious?)

I have NOT seen Never Let Me Go, Grizzly Man, Restrepo, The Fighter, and many others.

Things I saw a long time ago: The Runaways, Easy A, Ondine, and The King’s Speech. I have mixed feelings about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Shrek Forever After does not make the list.

Mid-week Links

call-by-monet

It seems like every time I’ve been posting recently it’s been prefaced by an apology about my lack of consistency.  I’m here again and again with another excuse- you would think being homebound with a bad ankle would lead to more posting rather than less, but instead I’ve just generally been very off my game for the last week.  Thankfully I’m starting to shape up and am more or less ready to rejoin the land of the living/productive, which is good because we’ve got some family trips lined up which I would never for the life of me be missing.
But that does also mean I’m unlikely to be posting consistently for another week and a half.  The boondocks of PA doesn’t even have phone connection, much less WiFi.
See you on the other side!

In the meantime, I’ve amassed a hideous army of motley links from around the interwebs.

Why so many posts about Instagram?

Peace and Acceptance:

On Films:

  • The trouble with Hollywood’s gender flips: “These reboots require women to relive men’s stories instead of fashioning their own. And they’re subtly expected to fix these old films, to neutralize their sexism and infuse them with feminism, to rebuild them into good movies with good politics, too. They have to do everything the men did, except backwards and with ideals.”
  • The Pop Culture Detective strikes again! The topic: Abduction as Romance.
  • The Hate U Give. This looks pretty great.
  • What is Cinemascore?

Miscellaneous:

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The Trailer for Tim Burton’s Dumbo is Heresy

I feel like the internet at large has turned into a howling/stomping ground of enraged fans (or maybe it’s just what you run into once you start getting into following film news)- and I hate to be the one to add to that mess.  But I get so few chances to be an angry neckbeard (given that I’m pretty flush with estrogen) I figured that this was my moment.

That, and the fact that this trailer is blasphemous.

Why? You ask?

I’m no big fan of the original Dumbo. Actually, if you’ve read this blog for any period of time you might be aware that I can’t heard the song Baby Mine without sobbing.  And that’s not the only seen of the movie that drives me to tears.  Add to that the not-so-subtle racism with the jazzy crows and laborer roustabouts, and I can’t really say that the film is vindicated by excellent songs such as ‘Casey Junior’ (the train song), ‘Song of the Roustabouts’ (kind of hardcore for the House of Mouse), and ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’ (in which Dumbo gets drunk and hallucinates). No lie, I like all these songs.

But this film promises to one-up (one-down?) my feelings about the original Dumbo with a response of disgusted and mildly enraged ennui.

  • Disney needs to stop making live action remakes. I haven’t liked any of them (maybe you have, if so, sorry) because they’re such bare-faced and obnoxious cash grabs that lose any sincerity of the originals in favor of extensive CGI and poor writing.
  • Where is TIMOTHY MOUSE?!
  • What the fuck is Colin Firth doing in here?
  • Why are these humans… sympathetic? The human world of Dumbo is supposed to be harsh and foreign.
  • Get rid of these simpering children.
  • What on earth is this 50 Shades of Grey-esque cover of Baby Mine?
  • This is a teaser trailer and it’s full trailer length.
  • Ugh, it looks so Tim Burton. The only thing that would make it more Tim Burton is Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp.

Guys, I’m not going to go see it. I only made it through Beauty and the Beast because I was on a plane. I failed to make it through The Jungle Book and Cinderella. Haven’t seen Maleficent.