30 Day Film Challenge Days 1-6

The 30 Day Film Challenge is a fun little project that I started doing over at The Reelists website. That website is shutting down so I’ll be continuing it here. The idea is to pick a movie based on certain criteria for each day of the month. First up are the 6 movies already posted there. I’ll just put them here for completion’s sake. Later today I’ll post Day 7.
Day 1: Your Favorite Film
If there’s one thing that Paul Thomas Anderson is good at it’s examining the way broken people deal with the broken world they live in. There Will Be Blood is the epitome of that idea. Daniel Plainview (played perfectly by Daniel Day-Lewis) will tell you that he is an oil man and you will have to agree. The problem is that he is single minded in his quest for oil. His nemesis Eli Sunday (Paul Dano’s performance has been maligned but I think he does a good job of being the sniveling opposite of Day-Lewis’s towering inferno of a show) is similarly broken, leaning on religion as a way to exploit the small town people he purports to lead. The movie is deeply serious on first viewing but after multiple exposures the dark comedy comes to the fore. It’s a great example of what movies can do and the technical craft is second-to-none.
Day 2: Your Least Favorite Film
Aliens (1986, Cameron)
How can I hate Aliens, you might ask. Let me count the ways. It’s a sequel that completely changes the tone and world of the original film (which is a masterpiece, by the way). Instead of a smart and scary thriller we get a dumb and explosion-y action film with nothing horrifying in the 137 minute run time. Remember the characters in Alien? They had depth and a purpose. The sequel gave us people that spout one-liners like they were going out of style and lacked anything resembling nuance. And then the creatures. One alien was enough to kill the entire crew of the Nostromo but a hundred aliens left three survivors (thankfully killed in the superior third film)? The increase in numbers did not lead to an increase in scariness. And there’s a boss fight! A freaking boss fight. Aliens, you did what every other sequel does but for some reason people love you and condemn the rest. Not I! Boo, Aliens, Boo.
Day 3: A Film You Watch to Feel Good
Sure, Jurassic Park has a few people dying in it. And it’s not exactly a carefree romp or anything. But it is super fun and fulfills the promise of cinema to the fullest extent. The great thing about movies is that you can see and hear things that don’t exist. It’s limited only by imagination and the craftiness of the artists behind the scenes. In the case of Jurassic Park the imagination is great and the craftiness greater. Like most young boys I was fascinated by dinosaurs. They were so big and there were so many kinds. And thanks to Steven Spielberg and Stan Winston I could finally see real live (or real clever use of CGI and giant puppets) dinosaurs. And that’ll make me happy any day of the week.
Day 4: A Film You Watch to Feel Down
The great thing about Hoop Dreams is that it’s a documentary about two kids that are chasing a dream. The terrible thing about Hoop Dreams is that they fail. It’s a 3 hour movie about people struggling against the system and themselves and losing. Not exactly what I would call uplifting. The two kids aspire to go to a good basketball school and transition into the NBA. While not the easiest goal to meet it certainly seems doable to young William Gates and Arthur Agee. But when one pushes his schooling to the side and the other’s body starts to fail him already the dreams begin to disappear. There are moments of joy sprinkled in there – Arthur’s mother getting her nursing assistant certificate made me cry – but most of it is utterly depressing. It is on my list of 100 greatest movies but I’d never watch it unless I wanted to be super sad.
Day 5: A Film That Reminds You of Someone
Liliom (1930, Borzage)
Those of you that know me might be surprised that this is the first Frank Borzage film from me. Many of you might not have seen a film from Mr. Borzage. Allow me to explain. My final semester in college I took a film class that focused solely on the films of Frank Borzage. He’s an old Hollywood director that nobody else seems to care about. But my professor, Bob Smith, really loved him. His appreciation was infectious and by the end of my time in his class I, too, had become a huge Borzage fan. Liliom is not a typical Borzage movie. It’s got a lot of flaws (mostly in the whole spousal abuse element and some of the acting choices) but those flaws serve only to highlight the spectacular look and feel of the film. To quote another Borzage film, “Everywhere… in every town, in every street… we pass unknowingly, human souls made great by love and adversity.” I’d like to thank Bob Smith for introducing me to Frank Borzage and for being the best teacher I’ve ever had.
Day 6: A Film That Reminds You of Somewhere.
How can a movie remind me of a place that doesn’t exist? It’s just that good at the world-building aspect of film. Peter Jackson took J.R.R. Tolkien’s base novels and planted them firmly in the already otherworldly land of New Zealand. The combination leads to a place that doesn’t really exist outside of the frame of the film but within that frame it’s as real as anywhere. It takes a special film to make me nostalgic for a place I’ve only experienced through books and movies. The Fellowship of the Ring is that movie. I would live in a hobbit hole in a second and even listening to that flute piece that plays seemingly throughout the time spent in the Shire is enough to bring me back to that place I’ve never been and will never go to.
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