Tag: Before Sunrise

Back Catalog Review: Breathless

Breathless

The Back Catalog is a series following my quest to watch all the movies I own. Check out the index, or follow the Back Catalog tag to see what I’ve watched and what I’ve thought of the films. 

I missed a step. Somehow, in the space between going to a lot of movies in my childhood to today when I own what some would call too many Criterion and other movies, I missed the French New Wave. I knew of it, of course, but my first-hand experience with it was almost entirely lacking. I could see in movies like Submarine and Reservoir Dogs a kind of shared reference point and I could figure out what that reference point was by seeing what those kinds of movies had in common. However, when that actual reference point would come up in conversation, I’d just nod and smile. I started fixing this last year with The 400 Blows, which I absolutely loved. I picked up Breathless and Hiroshima Mon Amour recently thanks to that movie and we’ll see how it works out for me.

Breathless is one of those movies where it feels like you’ve seen it even when you’ve missed it for 29 years of your life. The details are intriguing and pulled me along when things felt a little rote. For example, the plot is such a straightforward genre type that when the movie focuses on that part it feels like almost any other crime thriller. The bits in between those standard plot beats are what make Breathless a movie to pay attention to, even though I didn’t end up loving it. There is a part of the film that ends up being almost a third of its 90 minute length which might have been five or ten minutes in another movie. It’s the seduction scene that takes place almost entirely in one room and features both Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo at the height of their strange mix of chemistry and philosophical musings. In what amounts to a short film on the topics of purpose, meaning, and desire, the two of them dance around each other wonderfully. Here are the beginnings of the Before Trilogy except I don’t particularly care if the two end up together or not. But then there’s 20 minutes of “necessary” cat and mouse policing and kind of standard moral conundrums that make the genre what it is and I start to disengage.

Jean Seberg in Jean-Luc Godard's BREATHLESS (1960). Courtesy Ria

The ending is really great, though, especially after Seberg’s Patricia decides to turn her lover in for his murderous past. The consequences of this play out in two long shots that first map the dissolution of their relationship and then his bloody (almost comically dragged-out) end. Here Godard breaks from what has become the film’s most important feature–the jump-cuts that almost accidentally revolutionized filmmaking–and because the rest of the movie is full of moments spliced together which unmoor the audience to some degree, the long takes that close the movie brings everything crashing back down to earth. It’s a great effect and it’s these shots that I’ll remember from this movie, along with that audacious seduction scene. I’m not sure I’ll revisit this lovingly in the future, but I’m glad I watched it (and own the disc which features a lot of great supplements that I will seek out as I continue to learn more about how movies work. I’m glad I’m finally filling in this hole in my movie knowledge, and I’m excited to check out Hiroshima Mon Amour to see if Resnais can bring the power of Night and Fog to a feature film.

B

Top 27 Movie Discoveries in 2013 Part 1: 27-14

The first list of 2013 will be those movies that I discovered for the first time in 2013 but which were not released in that year. There are quite a few movies listed as 2012 or even 2011 movies on Letterboxd but which will count as 2013 movies for my own purposes (You’re Next, The Act of Killing, so on and so forth) so even more arbitraryness will ensue. Before we begin, a note on how I compiled this list. I looked at all the movies I reviewed on Letterboxd from 2011 and beyond and then eliminated anything with under 4 stars. So these are the 4, 4.5, and 5 star films I watched in 2013 that were not made in 2013. Each title is a link to my full Letterboxd review if available, or a blog post in the rare cases when I wrote a whole thing about it.

27. Twins of Evil (1971)

I watched a fair bit of Hammer horror movies this year and this was the best of those. Peter Cushing continued to be wonderful even at a less-than-youthful age and the two girls at the center of the film play the insane script admirably. Plus the bad guy looks like a Jimmy Fallon character.

26. Angst (1983)

This is not a movie you just pop in to have a good time with. It’s a remarkably ugly and unsettling film which uses interesting camera work and near-constant narration to get the audience inside the head of a psychopath. It’s very effective at something that isn’t often attempted.

25. Millions (2004)

This was one of the last Danny Boyle films I had to catch up with (Shallow Grave is still on the docket). It’s a heartwarming story about giving and learning to let go with some of Boyle’s expected kinetic style to keep everything moving. I also really appreciate a movie that lets itself be strange.

24. Sound of My Voice (2011)

Though not as straightforward as this year’s The East, Sound of My Voice shares some elements with its younger sibling. We’ve got charismatic leaders doing potentially dangerous things and inspiring cult-like devotion in their wakes. This one is a weird one but compelling nonetheless. It’s got a fantastic performance from Brit Marling and the ending will leave you thinking.

23. Ghostwatch (1992)

This is probably not quite correctly classified as a movie, but it’s on Letterboxd so it’s here. What starts off as a live broadcast of a tv special which is investigating a haunted house in real-time turns into a really scary early example of the found footage genre, technically. The final 10 minutes or so are really spectacular and a close rewatch will reveal things and sights you might have missed the first time around. It’s so good it inspired War of the Worlds type panic in England when it first aired thanks to some famous tv personalities of the day playing themselves. It doesn’t have that impact now but it’s still a really fun watch.

22. Charade (1963)

It’s difficult to screw up a movie starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn and Walter Matthau. Director Stanley Donen doesn’t and there’s plenty of identity flipping going on to keep me interested throughout. Are we who we are or are we who we pretend to be? And why was 1963 so darn colorful?

21. Eden Lake (2008)

Maybe the toughest watch on this list (and when a list includes Angst that’s an accomplishment) because it has not a single happy moment after things start going to hell. That’s fine and it’s so well done that you just have to sit back and admire it after you recover from the emotional wringer it sends you through. At least Michael Fassbender is there!

20. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

It takes some confidence to end your first film with a half-hour long scene during which people mostly just sit around and talk. John Huston obviously went on to have a fantastic career and his beginning is indicative of just how good he can be. Plus Bogart in a film noir.

19. Before Sunrise (1995)

This is my least favorite of the three movies in the trilogy which follows Jesse and Celine as they age and fall in and around love. And yet, it’s still on this list! That’s because it’s so darn good. It’s the least complicated of the three films, focusing mostly on semi-philosophical musings and the act of infatuation, but it’s no less satisfying for that. A truly great start for a truly great series of films.

18. The Circus (1928)

While The Circus isn’t quite as funny as another film that will show up later on this list, it’s still a really fun time at the movies. There are, as always in a Chaplin film, a few impressively hilarious scenes (the clown one this time around is a standout) and a nice little romance to go with them.

17. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)

Klaus Kinski is some kind of supernatural monster of acting. He feels less like a human than a physical embodiment of the kinds of things Werner Herzog likes to make movies about: the destructive power of nature and the hubris of mankind trying to stand in its way. Late in the film there’s an invading species and Kinski’s reactions to the animals are hilarious and insane.

16. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Here’s the first musical on my list and it’s one I enjoyed quite a bit, despite my general lack of interest in glam rock or transsexual issues. Director and lead actor John Cameron Mitchell does well to make what could be an alienating character in a wacky story real and human so that anybody coming in with an open mind will likely exit with an appreciation for Hedwig and the ups and downs in the film. The music is often strong as well.

15. Another Year (2010)

I’ve always liked Jim Broadbent and it was really nice to see him play a normal older guy. He does over the top quite well often but his role here as one half of the “normal” couple in this film is fantastic. It’s a mellow kind of film which gets by on the strength of the characters and acting more than impressive filmmaking. Maybe that’s more impressive than the flash and bang that some directors like to work with.

14. The Apartment (1960)

If I hadn’t just watched this at the end of September it’d be near the top of my list for a Christmas watch this year. All the best Christmas movies have a certain air of melancholy about them and this is no different. It’s a movie about damaged people trying to put on a happy face but can only truly connect once those masks come off. It’s wonderful.

That’s all for part one, check out part two in a few days.

The Ten: Best Actresses of All Time

I’m the fifth person to take up this task. I’m batting post-clean up. I’m the Center on this basketball team. I’m Billy Preston. Here are my progenitors:

I suppose I should tell you what the heck I’m talking about. This is a running list of sorts. A relay race with each blogger removing one actress from a list of the ten best of all time and adding in their own selection. So far Jessica has removed Marilyn Monroe and added Liv Ullmann, Martin Teller has removed Natalie Portman and added Barbara Stanwyck, and Bondo has removed Tilda Swinton and added Emma Thompson. So now I will present the list as I received it and then tell you who I’ll bump and add. Bondo predicted I’ll add a Frank Borzage girl. WILL HE BE RIGHT!?!?! Probably, yes.

The List

Cate Blanchett

Julie Delpy

Katharine Hepburn

Frances McDormand

Julianne Moore

Barbara Stanwyck

Meryl Streep

Emma Thompson

Liv Ullmann

Kate Winslet

Removal

To whom should I bid farewell? I’ve never seen a movie starring Liv Ullmann (I know, I’ll get to Scenes from a Marriage and Persona and all of them at some point), but I can’t kick her out from ignorance. That wouldn’t be fair, I don’t think. So, the others. I’d count Blanchett and Streep and Hepburn among my personal favorites, so they’re safe. Winslet’s performance on Extras (eerily foreshadowing her Oscar win for The Reader) is genius. Emma Thompson has the same last name as me. Stanwyck is in The Lady Eve which is amazing. Julianne Moore is in my current Best Movie Of All Time, Magnolia, and is phenomenal in it. Frances McDormand gives one of the best performances of all time in Fargo, I can’t kick her off knowing that. This leaves us one Julie Delpy. I’ve seen two of her films, but probably not the ones that “count” for things like this. If you’re expecting any of the Three Colors trilogy or Before Sunrise or Before Sunset you will be sadly disappointed. No, I’ve only seen The Three Musketeers and An American Werewolf in Paris. Of those two, I only remember her in the latter. She’s very good, but not good enough to remain on this list. I’m sure I’ll regret this decision once I catch up with those five films, but I’m fine with the decision at the moment. Now, the fun part!

Addition

I could pick a Borzage woman here. There are two supremely awesome actresses that worked with him several times: Janet Gaynor and Margaret Sullavan. Each would rank up with Blanchett and Streep and Hepburn. They’re very capable doing whatever he asks of them. There is, however a problem. Between the two of them I’ve only seen one movie not directed by Borzage. That movie, Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner starring Margaret Sullavan, is also fantastic, but I feel I should know more of the actress I pick for such a coveted spot. So I reflected back on who was on the list so far. Is there somebody that matches up to the likes of Streep (I don’t foresee her getting the boot any time soon)? And then I remembered my favorite Streep film and one of my favorite films of all time in terms of acting and emotion. That film is Doubt, and there’s one scene in that film that gets to me every time I even think of it because of how powerful it is. The scene is the conversation between Streep’s nun character and the mother of the child who was possibly abused, played by Viola Davis. This scene is about eight minutes long and it is just awesome. Davis is fearless, leaving nothing behind and letting it all hang out there. It’s vulnerable, it’s intense, it’s enough to get her on this list. But she doesn’t stop there! The Help is a movie that got more flack than it deserved and Davis gives a great performance in it, ending up on my year end best list. And she’s given some good supporting performances, too, in films like State of Play and Solaris and Antwone Fisher. She’s good, really good, and I’m fully confident in her spot on this list.

 

Up next is Steve Kimes at Just Another Movie Blog. Good luck! Be our James Harden!