At this point in the year there was a long period of not writing things down. I can’t remember what I was doing instead. But I’m sure I had many more interesting thoughts about these excellent films:
Lily and Jim – Hertzfeldt being Hertzfeldt. Perfect, as always. See for yourself:
Daisies – Beautiful Czech anarchy
Bimbo’s Initiation – Betty Boop cartoon from 1931. Bizarre, playful and a bit wrong. Exactly what animation should be.
The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall – “A runabout. I’ll steal it! NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW!” Maybe the funniest of the Merrie Melodies even without any of the famous characters. It takes silliness to extremes. See for yourself:
The Big Snit – A nice little canadian short. Both dark and lovely.
Fires Were Started – Surprisingly captivating. The fire scene in particular. This BFI Humphrey Jennings Blu Ray presents it all beautifully worn and scratched up, which only adds to it.
All is Lost – I had already seen J. C. Chandor’s subsequent film A Most Violent Year, but was in two minds about it: the dialogue felt scenes felt artificial and clumsy but the action was magnificent. But this did excite me for All is Lost, being all action and no dialogue. Just Robert Redford alone on a boat. It was indeed good.
Arnulf Rainer – A short experimental film made up entirely of flashing balck/white frames. The audio is intermittent static. Didn’t sound too promising. But I think it hypnotised me. Like the best abstract art it hacks its medium, and our brains, with the simplest of tools. Kubelka knows how to work the viewer, never quite giving us what we want, frustrating us, keeping us in the palm of his hand. That he’s done so virtually without any content at all astonishes me. I ended up craving the sequence of fast flashes, like it activated some sort of pleasure centre in my brain. Braingasm.
Shame & 12 Years A Slave – I was well behind everyone else with these two from Steve McQueen, but finally caught up. Both were excellent, though 12 Years did have the slight taint of feeling a bit ‘worthy’. I suppose this was unavoidable. Shame was my favourite of the two and hard to fault. Extremely well judged from a filmmaking perspective. Carey Mulligan singing New York, New York is captivating.
They Came Together – A bit of a surprise. I supremely silly SNL film in the Wayne’s World mould. Also supremely funny. If I had written some notes about this at the time then I would have some quotes for you. But I didn’t so I don’t. You’ll just have to trust me.
Buried – Another surprise. I watched this on a friend’s recommendation and wasn’t disappointed. A proper little B-movie with a killer ending. Set entirely in a coffin, the way they change up the look and atmosphere with different sources of light is an essential touch. It never gets boring. My main criticism is of the sound, or at least how it is integrated. The voices on the phone sound pre-recorded. Obviously they were, but we’re not supposed to be able to tell. It’s fairly common fault in movies but when it’s such a major part of the story and texture as it is here, they could have done better.
May also saw the release of Mad Max: Fury Road. Now, I’m taking this list of films to write about from the films I favourited on icheckmovies.com (essentially an uber-movie-list, and I’m addicted). I debated whether to favourite Fury Road at the time and didn’t, for some reason or other. I do question that decision now. Am I just being influenced by all the post-critical hype? Or perhaps I was just resisting the critical consensus at the time? I think maybe I just need to watch it again, because it’s certainly one of the best films I saw in the cinema last year. I had many thoughts about it:
Apparently some people didn’t like the glammed-up, vehicle-strapped, flamed-spewing guitarist. It seems to me that those people didn’t really get the film. Yes, it’s ridiculous, stupid, ludicrous. That’s the point. That’s the joy of it. It’s mad. If people are taking the film seriously enough to hate this one bizarre detail among many then they have really misjudged what they are watching. But frankly given the quality of most contemporary Hollywood actioners, I’m not surprised. It’s the result of the diminished expectations from being fed crap for so long. Most action films do operate on similar levels of camp and awfulness but without any of Fury Road’s playful self-awareness.That’s what I loved about it. Rarely have I gained so much pleasure from awful green-screening – specifically at the beginning with Tom Hardy’s escape attempt, trying to jump onto a giant hook, framed like a side-scrolling platformer, the action and environments are rendered as so transparently fake as to transcend the action to become a nightmare vision. It reminded me of the late, great period of the silent era where films were at their expressionistic peak. But then it brilliantly shifts gears with mainly (insane) practical effects for most of the car scenes. Which is virtually the whole film. Taken seriously, this could have been awful, but George Miller has made something too utterly mad to be taken seriously. The result is what you might get if Terry Gilliam made a pumped-up post-apocalyptic remake of Ice Cold in Alex.
The rare feeling of knowing I’ve just watched one of my favourite films for the first time. The terror that it might not make me feel the same way the next time I watch it. Miracle in Milan took me unawares. I knew little about the film except that it was by Bicycle Theives‘ De Sica, one of the fathers of Neorealism. But Miracle in Milan delves immediately into magical realism (neo-surrealism?) with stunning results. The imagery it conjures from the start is bizarre, witty, charming. It’s also a very sweet film – at times it risks becoming too sweet, but somehow it works. The quality does sag slightly midway under the weight of the protagonist’s sheer good-heartedness but just when it begins the creek, it cranks up the magic for a breathtaking finale. It’s not a particularly sad film yet it is a film that feels so heartbreakingly human. And it’s full of wonderful imagery that I’ll never forget: The homeless community gathered round quietly to watch the raffle winner eat his prize – a whole chicken. The rush to stop an old man from floating away with too many helium balloons by putting things in his pockets and feeding him bread. The homeless people dashing frantically to stand under the one ray of sunshine on the field, bobbing up and down, pushing and shoving. A fugitive joining the young boy behind his grandmother’s coffin cart to hide from the police. “Two fried eggs. Three fried eggs!” I’m in love. This is what cinema is about. This is everything. I’m scared to watch it again. I may have a new favourite film.
I only watched Moonstruck because it pops up on several lists, including Ebert’s Great Movies. I was sceptical. A romantic comedy with Cher? Yuck! I was wrong. I really did like it a lot. Even though it is corny sometimes, well most of the time. It just struck a certain tone that worked. A sort of world-weary but deeply, humanly flawed tone. It may not be a world I know (Italian-American) but it has the ring of truth. Cher is fantastic, which is perhaps the most the surprising thing to me. But then she did win an oscar for it, and I can see why. She makes the character completely human and idiosyncratic and somehow beautiful even before the ‘makeover’ (which is a bit much, really). And the rest of the cast aren’t far behind her. Even Nick Cage, who a lot of people find overbearing. I think you need to be able to bear some of the comic exaggeration to be able to like this film but for me it works, more or less. And even when it doesn’t, the film has enough charm and warmth to make up for it. I particularly liked the restaurant scenes with Fraiser’s dad (let’s look up his name, I always forget… John Mahoney. Interestingly enough he seems to have made a habit of supporting roles in surprisingly excellent mainstream features – I feel the same way about Say Anything.) Really it’s the acting and characterisation that make Moonstruck work. The same script in other hands could have been awful (all the references to the moon do get quite tedious). Romantic music is a little overused but actually they do dial back on this where it matters, infusing the best scenes with a quiet, aching tension. I loved the quality of the sound in these scenes, the sound of the voices, the quiet, ambient hum around them. It felt warm and natural, and romantic without going over the top with it. I think that’s the film’s strength in general: it’s unromantic romanticness.
The other months of the year will follow with ever increasing swiftness, as they did in real life.