Tag: lists

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.

Top 100 Films (2013 Edition): Part 1 of 5

Enough talk, let’s get to the list. I’ll still return to the topical discussion idea later on, when the mood strikes me, and I’ll pull from this list to do so, but let’s cut the crap and get into the mud to dig around and see what we find.

100. An American Werewolf in London

Have you tried talking to a corpse? It’s boring.

A kind of crazy romance, buddy movie with intense make-up and scares. It’s zany and messy and I love that about it.

99. The Devil’s Backbone

Like an insect trapped in amber. A ghost is me.

You’ll notice a lot of horror and horror-tinged movies on this list. I like the scares and the atmosphere. Guillermo del Toro is a master at both of these elements, and this, his second Spanish-language film clearly announces him as a filmmaker to whom attention must be paid. A combination of civil war ravaged Spain and gothic horror, The Devil’s Backbone delivers the creeps and the feels that make for a top 100 movie.

98. Contact

I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision… of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious we all are!

Here’s a movie about something that really appeals to my interests. Space has always fascinated me, and the question of our existence as the sole life-supporting planet in the universe is endlessly interesting. Contact also treads in the time tested tracks of the religion vs. science debate, ending up on the side of experience vs. faith. Of course, nothing is that easy, and the the thematic and emotional complexities are what elevates this film onto my list.

97. The Man Who Wasn’t There

Because our minds… our minds get in the way. Looking at something changes it. They call it the “Uncertainty Principle”. Sure, it sounds screwy, but even Einstein says the guy’s on to something.

Leave it to the Coen brothers to turn quantum mechanics into a crazy film noir. The Man Who Wasn’t There not only looks great and feels like one of those tough-nosed crime movies of the 30s and 40s, it turns a quiet man into a kind of lightning rod that attracts all kinds of things, from the FBI to aliens. It’s dedicated weirdness, and that’ll always work for me.

96. The Fountain

Death is the road to awe.

A deeply interesting triple story follows two people throughout and beyond time. Always one is dying and the other trying to save her. Darren Aronofsky creates beautiful imagery to supplement the beautiful ideas that motivate the film. As a lot of my movies prove, if the feelings are there and the ideas thoroughly explored, I’ll be very inclined to like the film. The Fountain isn’t Aronofsky’s best, but it does capture something wonderful on film, even if that wonderful thing is death.

95. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Absence is a funny thing. I feel like Guy left years ago. I look at this photo, and I forget what he really looks like. When I think of him, it’s this photo that I see.

Here’s a bit of a curveball. Yes, I like horror films, but the (sometimes bitter) sweet romances can just as easily get to me. Here is a French musical about young love. It’s all fine and dandy for the majority of the film. Although economically depressed, 1964 France is a pleasant place to spend time. It’s the last scene, though, that turns this into a top 100 film, twisting what we know about these two characters into something true and heartbreaking. And they sing nice, too.

94. Hot Fuzz

You’re not seriously gonna believe this man, are you? Are you? HE ISN’T EVEN FROM ‘ROUND HERE!

Dense is the word I like to use for Edgar Wright movies. Densely plotted, dense action, a million jokes a minute. It’s that density plus the really great character work that turns a an action comedy into a really great whole film. The relationships here sell all the silliness, and the action is just as great as the comedy, when it finally arrives at the end.

93. Modern Times

Observe our counter-shaft, double-knee-action corn feeder, with its synchro-mesh transmission, which enables you to shift from high to low gear by the mere tip of the tongue.

This year I watched my first Chaplin movie and was floored at how great some of the bits were. This was a time when actors were directors were set designers (the blind rollerskating scene is a marvel) were stuntmen. They did it all, and Chaplin’s Tramp is a really great character to bumble through his Modern Times.

92. In the Loop

I can’t stand to see a woman bleed from the mouth. It reminds me of that Country and Western music which I cannot abide.

I am not a cynical person. I do, however, enjoy putting on a cynical hat for 90 minutes to romp around in a land where actions always have the worst consequences. In the Loop is one of those highly verbal, highly intelligent cynical comedies that just gets under my skin. The presence of the newly crowned Doctor Who (Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker) swearing up a storm certainly helps, too.

91. Exit Through the Gift Shop

It was at that point that I realized that maybe Thierry wasn’t actually a film maker, and he was maybe just someone with mental problems who happened to have a camera.

A pseudodocumentary, we’re never quite sure whether what we’re seeing is the truth. Who is Mr. Brainwash? How is he related to notorious street artist Banksy? And what is truth, anyways? If this movie is wholly fictional, it’s still a marvel, reminding us that docs often lie, and that art can be anything. It’s out there, that’s for sure.

90. Sherlock Jr.

Say Mr. Detective, before you clean up any mysteries, clean up this theater!

Is there anybody better than Buster Keaton? Inventive both in front of the camera and behind it, he pulls off death-defying stunts with ease and marvels with clever editing and filmic tricks. Basically a showcase for his large skillset, Sherlock Jr. doesn’t have very much in the pathos category, unless holding my breath and gripping the armrests of my chair count as feelings. And it’s so funny!

89. Invasion of the Body Snatchers

There’s nothing to be afraid of. They were right. It’s painless. It’s good. Come. Sleep. Matthew.

The ultimate in social paranoia movies. Invasion of the Body Snatchers takes the ideas of it’s 50s predecessor and modernizes them (for the 70s) into a kind of global terror. Everybody is conforming! The Body Snatchers story has translated across decades quite well, but the imagery and ideas here make this the best version.

88. Holy Motors

Take my hand. Let’s walk. Most likely we’ll never see each other again.

There are a few movies on this list that I don’t really fully understand. Holy Motors is certainly one of those movies. A series of vignettes following an actor around a city as he performs various roles, this movie is a celebration of cinema and a crazy ride. There’s motion capture sex, a deathbed visit, and a monkey, among other things. Craziness.

87. Melancholia

Life is only on Earth. And not for long.

A kind of counterpoint to Contact, Melancholia is also not really in alignment with my worldview. As second film in Lars von Trier’s Depression Trilogy, it posits that we are all living a meaningless and thus empty life, and that a mirror planet could be hiding on the other side of the sun but could come into our orbit and crash into the Earth, destroying all life. Not exactly my sunny outlook, but the artistry and emotions are quite evident and expressive. A beautiful, sad film.

86. A Streetcar Named Desire

I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action.

Three people are trapped in a small apartment (that seems to be getting smaller and hotter as the night goes on). They argue and get angry and sad and hysterical. It’s a Tennessee Williams adaptation, alright. The first of several plays-turned-films on my list, this one heightens the drama with superb direction and set design. Oh, and those actors are ok, too.

85. Anna Karenina

There can be no peace for us, only misery, and the greatest happiness.

And this one might as well be one of those play adaptations. Director Joe Wright takes an experimental approach to this classic work of literature, setting some of the action on a stage, with the other actors in the audience watching and gossiping as they do. It is a fantastically designed and directed movie, one which also gets at least some of the ideas of the book on the screen and does some justice to those marvelous characters.

84. The Fall

It was the natural order of things… all things must die.

The Fall is one of many films on my list that is about the power of stories. An injured and depressed stuntman convinces a young girl to do tasks for him by telling her stories which include elements from their depression-era hospital. What starts out nice and pleasant turns dark as the stuntman turns for the worse. The melodrama of the story is matched by the visuals which are often brightly colorful and painterly thanks to Tarsem Singh’s eye for real world locations that feel like giant sets.

83. The Godfather

My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.

You won’t find many organized crime movies on my list (there are only two others, one of which barely qualifies). It is a world full of dummies who don’t value their lives or any others, and I don’t enjoy most stories about them. Still, there’s something about The Godfather that forces me to love it. A large part is that Michael doesn’t want to be a part of it all until he is forced into it. Another part is the impeccable craft of it all. And the cast is pretty brilliant, as well. An undeniable classic.

82. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Why a fox? Why not a horse, or a beetle, or a bald eagle? I’m saying this more as, like, existentialism, you know? Who am I? And how can a fox ever be happy without, you’ll forgive the expression, a chicken in its teeth?

Based on a Roald Dahl book, Fantastic Mr. Fox indulges in all the things Wes Anderson likes to indulge in. There’re old-timey songs and a lot of knitted things and animals having existential crises. It is too much fun, tinged, of course, with Anderson’s melancholy, and stop motion animated!

81. A Fish Called Wanda

My father was in the Secret Service, Mr. Manfredjinsinjin, and I know perfectly well that you don’t keep the general public informed when you are “debriefing KGB defectors in a safe house.”

A bunch of idiots try to steal some stuff. This is another of those cynical comedies, though it has more cynicism for its characters than it does for the world at large. A whip-smart blend of British and American humor, and there are plenty of laughs to be had at the clothes and hair, if the words don’t work for you.

Tune in again soon for the next installment of this year’s list.

Rebooting my top 100 movies list

It’s been a few years since I first made my top 100 movies list. Since then each yearly iteration has felt like just that, an iteration. Some new movies appear and there’s some shifting in the numbering but mostly it’s all the same stuff. So this year, with the help of Letterboxd‘s clever Seen It and Lists features, I’m making a new one. In the spirit of The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s time for a reboot. I’m sure there’ll be 50 or so similar films, if not more. That’s not really the point. The idea here is to attack the list with new eyes, eyes of a guy that has seen 2311 movies over the course of his 25 years instead of probably around half that when I made my first list those years ago.

Letterboxd came into my life only recently, with its nifty design and clever social-networking twist on the movie database website. I started by just chronicling the new movies I’d seen. Maybe writing a brief review; a line or two. And then I started going back through the years and clicking the little eye on every movie I could remember seeing. I started in 2013 and went backwards towards the dawn of cinema. It was, in part, a trip through my childhood. As I approached the middle of the 2000’s I noticed that I was clicking fewer and fewer films for any given year. It seems that 2006 or 2005 was the start of my real love affair with film, though even through 1999 I had gone back and seen a lot of the big films. After ’99, though, it was mostly a wasteland of horrible kiddy movies and some of the tent-pole blockbusters of my youth. Godzilla‘s poor attempt at taking over the US, the intense stupidity of Kazaam, that other dinosaur movie from 1993, We’re Back. None of these have a shot at my top 100, unfortunately. And then the 80’s came along and I clicked even fewer of those little eyes, since I was only a kid for two of those years and I probably wasn’t watching any movies at the time. Even if I was, I certainly wasn’t going to remember them. So the 80’s contain some of the bigger films from the era, but it’s a bit more slim pickins. About 1/3 of the movies I’ve seen come from the last ten years. The first 80 or so years of cinema, up through 1979, account for less than half of the movies I’ve seen. Basically all of this is to say, don’t judge me, I’m still new at this.

I’ve seen a lot of the classics, though. I just crossed off Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Cabaret, and Aguirre: The Wrath of God in the past few months. I’ve got to start delving into the kind of second-tier movies from the 70’s back. Looking at the movies I love from these past few years, it’s often those smaller movies that I latch on to and begin to have a shot at my top 100 list. You’ll also probably notice a lot of movies from three directors of the golden age of Hollywood’s studio system: Howard Hawks, John Ford, and Frank Borzage. When I was at the University of Connecticut I took one class four times, each semester focusing on a different director or genre. Each of those directors was the focus for a semester, with the last being a general comedy class. So I got to see between 12 and 15 movies from each of them, mostly great ones. You’ll notice at least two from each on my previous top 100 list. Everybody knows Hawks and Ford but fewer know the wondrous Borzage. I urge anybody reading this to seek out his films. They may be hard to find but if you give them a chance you’ll likely fall in love with his romantic and passionate style. He’s the best.

So here’s how it’ll work. After checking off every movie I can remember seeing, I went through and added any movie I though might be top 100 material to a list. There are 205 movies on that list at this moment, though there may be another by the end of tonight (I’m going to complete the Before trilogy with the Midnight entry after work). From that list I’ll pick out the movies that are must haves. Magnolia, my number one last year, will certainly be making a return appearance. I watched it again very recently and was only reminded of just how great it is. Blade Runner, obviously. Jurassic Park, assuredly. But the rest, you never know. That’s why it will be so much fun. Stay tuned for either further updates or the beginning of The List posts. And be my friend on Letterboxd.