Tuesday, April 24, 2012

365 Days...

365 Days...

It's hard to believe but I haven't watched a movie in like four days. Watching movies had become second nature to me but even after a full year I never really got the hang of writing about movies. Some days it would be a monumental struggle as I couldn't think of anything to say; other times I got inspired and wrote mini-essays. The past two months have been particularly tough on me because I played more poker than I ever had in my entire life. Sometimes there literally were not enough hours in the day to play poker, watch a movie and then write about it. I think I was averaging just 5 hours of sleep during this time. I had to cheat a little and watch a handful of movies I've already seen because I was just so burnt out. Anyways a more comprehensive write up will come later, but this will just be my breakdown of the past 65 days in movies.

As usual here are the stats:

By decade:
2010: 14
2000: 14
1990: 8
1980: 6
1970: 3
1960: 9
1950: 5
1940: 2
1930: 4

By Grade:
A    15
A-   12
B+  11
B    15
B-   6
C+  5
C    1
C-   0
D+  0
D    0
D-   0
F     0

Here are the movies I've given an A to:

Ace in the HoleAnchorman - The Legend of Ron Burgundy, BeginnersBraveheart, The Cabin in the Woods, Cinema Paradiso, Gone With the Wind, Moulin Rouge!, The Red BallonA Single Man, A Separation, Touching the Void, The Wild Bunch, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, 12 Angry Men

Several of these are personal favorites of mine so I'm already biased as to which ones I'd consider the best. But I honestly do believe Moulin Rouge is one of the best films to come out in the past decade. 12 Angry Men and The Wild Bunch would round up the top of the top.

Link to 300 days.

Link to 200 days.

Link to 100 days.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Day 365 - Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind (1939) directed by Victor Fleming

Wow. I can't believe I'm all done now. I actually did it, 365 movies in 365 days. I don't really know if I want to talk about my relief of being done or my excitement about this film. It's only fitting that the last movie of my journey would be Gone With the Wind, perhaps the greatest if not grandest epic ever. The two movies I feared the most during this challenge were Lawrence of Arabia and GWTW because of their fame, epic scope and mostly their daunting lengths. GWTW is almost four hours long! However the four hours breezed by relatively quickly because of how captivating the story is. It is the very definition of sweeping epic, complete with rich complicated characters, the Civil War, the changing south, romance, and tragedy.

I always shied away from GWTW because I assumed it would be some sappy soap opera melodrama. It is definitely soap opera-y but is far from sappy. I was shocked by just how cynical and nasty the film is. I thought the film would be about Scarlett's and Rhett's undying love for each other but the two characters spend most of the film absolutely despising each other. The theme of their romance is spite, hatred, and greed, stuff straight out of the soaps but nonetheless intriguing and invigorating. I loved it! Some of the stuff they say to each other is just plain mean and hurtful. I guess it's true that there is a thin line between love and hate. All this leads to what you think would be a moment of clarity when the two realize that they loved each other all along but the film avoids the traditional happy ending where they passionately kiss and the end credits roll. No, instead we are treated to one of the most famous quotes in movie history: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," when Rhett finally gives up on Scarlett. There really is a thin line between love and hate.

The film is notable for its great technical brilliance, but honestly it begins and ends with the performances and the sweeping story. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh provide powerhouse performances that carry the entire film. Rhett recognizes that they are perfect for each other immediately; both are stubborn, selfish and don't have the southern manners everyone else has. Yet these are also the reasons why they could never be together; they are just too hard headed. That and there's no way to tame the strong willed Scarlett. In many ways she is one of the first modern women in film, sexually aware, business savvy, fiercely proud and independent. She has three husbands that she marries for reasons other than love yet is not ashamed of it. She does what she has to do to get what she wants. Ain't nothing wrong with that. The only person who could possibly match her is someone equally brash and strong and that is Rhett. Despite the vitriol they hurl at each other there is an undeniable passion between them.

And of course there is the setting in which the story takes place. It takes place in the deep south around the time of the Civil War and captures this time period well. We can see the ravages of war and the aftermath of reconstruction. As the phases of the south changes so does Scarlett. She begins as a spoiled brat, becomes a determined survivor, and then finally turns into a successful business woman.

It always amazes me how good some of these older movies look. The colors in this film pop out and some of the scenes look like paintings. The sunsets are so majestic they border on cliche, but damn, they are nice to look at. There are a lot of great little scenes that show off the director's grand vision. One impressive one is a shot that we've grown familiar with in other films, countless dead bodies spread out seemingly as far as the eyes can see. Scarlett stands lost in the middle in a sea of bodies showing the horrors of war. There are even good action sequences such as when Scarlett and Rhett are fleeing from a burning Atlanta. At the time of filming this was the most expensive film ever and it's easy to see why. They spared no expenses on sets, props, costumes and the like. The production value, even by modern standards, are top notch.

Also, mad props to Victor Fleming who directed GWTW and Wizard of Oz which came out in the same year! Has any other director pull out two bonafide classics in the same year? I really enjoyed this film. It is the very definition of epic. Perhaps I am riding a little high on my project finally being over or maybe it's just the feeling you get after watching a great movie. It's hard to differentiate between the two now. Either way I'm glad I picked this one as my my last film. And just like that, I'm gone with the wind.

Grade: A

A final write up is coming, but I need some time to just take a break and gather my thoughts.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Day 364 - Anchorman - The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Anchorman - The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) directed by Adam McKay

There isn't a single guy around my age group that doesn't love Anchorman. This is the Animal House of our generation as far as cult comedies go and in my opinion may very well be the best slapstick comedy of all time. At least in my circle of the world, I don't think there's been a more quoted movie in the past ten years. It is pure comedic genius.

The film obviously begins and ends with Will Farrell who plays Ron Burgundy with such enthusiasm and charm that you can't help but like him no matter how ridiculous he may behave. What makes Farrell such a great comedic actor is his ability to say something completely absurd and make it sound hilarious. The way he delivers his lines never fails to crack me up even after the umpteenth time watching it. "I don't know how to put this, but I'm kind of a big deal." "Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means a whale's vagina." Haha, I could seriously go on just quoting him forever. "Milk was a bad choice!" I think if there is one scene that can sum up Will Farrell's comedic genius is the scene where he's in the telephone booth, or rather "a glass cage of emotion." The agony of his face matched with the ridiculousness of the situation can pretty much only be done by him. Farrell also has a great cast to surround him including stars in their own rights, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd. I've never been a huge fan of David Koechner's over the top douchery but even here he's really funny.

On a purely artistic level, this can't be a great movie because, well, it's a slapstick comedy meant to be a total farce. There is no great cinematography or an sweeping musical score. It's not an important movie meant to move audiences. In that way comedies are  always judged unfairly because while this film would never be nominated for any Oscars it is so much better than so many of those serious movies we see around awards time. As a comedy, it does exactly what it sets out to do and that is to make you laugh, and laugh hard. If you are one of the very best films of your genre you should be considered a great movie and Anchorman fits the bill. I recently heard about a sequel coming up and needless to say I am very very excited. Keep it classy, San Diego.

Grade: A

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Day 363 - Braveheart

Braveheart (1995) directed by Mel Gibson

What is the most times you've ever watched a movie? I'm not merely speaking in hyperbole when say I've seen Braveheart literally dozens (though probably not an exact multiple of twelve) of times. I first saw this film in a theatre in Texas when I was visiting my grandparents. (I remember me and my brother would get dropped off at the theatre and we'd movie-hop all day. If we timed it right, we could watch like five movies in one day.) Back in 1995 I was eleven years old so I'm pretty sure this was my very first sweeping epic that I saw and I remember crying uncontrollably when SPOILER ALERT Mel Gibson gets tortured and killed at the end. Fast forward a couple of years when we first got HBO and there was this stretch where Braveheart would play literally every single day and without fail I'd always watch it. I could even recite most of the lines and this is a three hour movie. Needless to say I was a little obsessed and since then I've always cited this film as my favorite movie of all time.

Well, over the years my fervor for the film has died down a bit as I've seen better movies but I'm pretty sure I've never loved a film as much as I loved Braveheart as a kid. I don't think it is even physically possible. I will say though that this film isn't nearly as great as I once remembered, but it is still awesome in my eyes. One of the things the film suffers from is overly manipulative sentimentality and cliches. But even in knowing that I still can't help but be moved by the powerful themes of freedom, love, loyalty and heroism. The one thing that can never ceases to move me, provided it isn't completely awful, are acts of self sacrificing heroism and the William Wallace mythos of this film is pretty much second to Jesus in that regard.

Logically some things in the film do not compute. Why would Robert the Bruce himself be the one to personally guard the king and joust with Wallace in the battlefield? (Obviously to film the moment of shock on Wallace's face when he realizes he's been betrayed. I remember when I saw that scene as a kid and it broke my heart, but now I sort of think there's no way it would happen that way.) Isn't it a little too convient for the French princess to fall for Wallace? Maybe, but hey it is a movie after all. But even with these minor things creating some white noise, you still can't deny the epic scope and entertainment value of this film. The medieval battle scenes are still some of the best ever filmed. The cinematography is splendid and the costumes and set pieces all look authentic. It may take liberties with historical accuracy but that is hardly relavent. Much of what we know about the real William Wallace is based on myth and hearsay anyways, so this film just celebrates his myth. Plus, it still blows away just about every other period piece epic, especially the overrated Gladiator that for whatever reason Braveheart is always compared to. Seriously, eff Gladiator.

Grade: A

Monday, April 16, 2012

Day 362 - Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge! (2001) directed by Baz Luhrmann

With just a couple more movies to go I decided that I'd watch a couple of personal favorites. I think I've deserved it...

Whenever someone asks me what my favorite movie of all time is, I instinctively answer Braveheart but deep down inside Moulin Rouge might be the real answer. Yes, I realize that makes me sound like a girl but I don't care. I LOVE THIS MOVIE AND I'M NOT AFRAID TO ADMIT IT. I first saw Moulin Rouge back in high school without knowing a single thing about it going into the theatre. I left totally blown away for the first time realizing that movies weren't just made for entertainment but could also be considered a true art form. I had seen musicals before, but I had never seen one quite like this just as I've seen elaborate sets and costumes before but none as vibrant and colorful. I also noticed just how much input a director has in the vision of a film. No one else could have picked up a script and a camera and made this film quite like Baz Luhrmann. This was the first time I really fell in love with movies. I suppose everyone has a film that just moved them in this certain way and Moulin Rouge was it for me. To me this film has it all, epic romance, tragedy, comedy, interesting characters, great cinematography, editing, elaborate sets and costumes, and awesome soundtrack to boot. Seriously, what's not to like?

The first portion of the film is dizzying as Luhrmann cuts and edits with breakneck speed and frantic energy. The first dance and song number in the Moulin Rouge is Luhrmann's signature style (he began his career as a music video director) but honestly these scenes may be my least favorite even if they are engrossing. To me the film really begins when Christian (Ewan McGregor) and Satine (Nicole Kidman) meet each other for the first time in the Elephant Room. Satine is doing her hilarious sexy poses when Christian just busts out singing, "My gift is my song....." Satine then stops what she's doing and stares at him wide eyed just like the rest of the audience. I remember thinking to myself, "Wow." They end up in a dream-like fog filled rooftop with a singing moon and I was just hooked right in. I had never seen a movie quite like this one. This was the first time I've seen the film in a while and this scene put a smile on my face. Each scene, particularly the song and dance numbers, is a visual (and audio) treat.

Don't get me wrong, Moulin Rouge is a total chick flick, but even thugs fall in love too right? This is a great romance that is passionate, moving and tragic on a Shakespearean level. It also helps that I love both Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman who are personal favorites of mine because of this film. (I once saw Ewan McGregor perform Guys and Dolls live in London and loved it. He really can sing.) I'm not going to say that I cried at the end, but I was pretty bummed out. Love can be so heartbreaking sometimes but "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return." I'll probably be flamed to the high heavens for this, but honestly this is one of the best films to come out in the past decade. Seriously. I know I sound like a total girl, but whatever. I'm nearing the end of this challenge and I'm losing my mind! Haha.

Grade: A

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Day 361 - The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2012) directed by Drew Goddard

I saw the title of the film and I immediately had no interest. A horror movie that takes place in a cabin in the woods? How lame and unoriginal. That is until my friend told me I simply had to watch it and that it is nothing like I've ever seen before. So I took him at his word and was totally taken aback by this ridiculous horror parody that does such a good job at poking fun of the genre that it becomes something else all together. I am reminded of the original Scream, a slasher flick that was so aware of its own upbringing that it relished in its own cliches. The Cabin in the Woods borrows from a bunch of different genres, horror, science fiction, conspiracy and comedy and mashes them all together creating one of the most original titles I've seen in years.

I'll try not to spoil anything about the movie other than the basics. A group of five college kids go out on a trip to a cousin's remote cabin in the woods. It is a premise that is so familiar that the film is purposely titled as such as a jab to people like me who'd think "Oh great. What an original idea." But what really interests the viewer isn't this standard horror film premise but what is going on behind the scenes. Something devious is going on in a giant laboratory pulling all the strings and we get the sense of something much bigger going on, but we can't yet understand what. Other than the purposely cryptic behind the scenes laboratory stuff the film begins as typical horror films do. There are a couple genuine scares and suspense, but that really isn't the point of the film. Once we realize what is actually going on in the film, you can't help but shake your head at the sheer ridiculousness yet genius of it all. The grand finale of the film is just so absurd and awesome that I dare not spoil it. I don't think I could even if I wanted to.

I know I'm being purposely vague and ambiguous in describing this movie but like many horror films it is best that I not spoil the any of the fun. Just believe me when I say that you think you know how this will go but you really have no idea. It is one of the most original and audacious ideas for a film I've seen in a while. There is some more in depth stuff I could talk about, like how this movie is so aware of its cliches it smashes them all together or how the writers/directors of the film are like the lab guys behind the scenes putting on a show for our entertainment, but this film doesn't need that type of nitpicking to be enjoyed. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Grade: A

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Day 360 - Shall We Dance?

Shall We Dance? (1996) directed by Masayuki Suo

"If you can walk you can dance. If you can talk you can sing."
- Zimbabwean proverb

Like 90% of all people, I am an awful at dancing, but like 90% of all people that doesn't mean I don't enjoy it when I do. We were all born to dance even though most of us don't realize it. We're often too far removed from our natural instincts and caught up in the every day routines of life. It is fitting that Shall We Dance? is set in Japan, a socially conservative society so focused on manners and etiquette that even standing on a dance floor can be a huge challenge. In the opening scene the narration states that even holding hands in public or spouses saying "I love you" is uncommon, so how can two people ever dance with each other? But this just isn't a Japanese phenomenon, it is universal. We've all been there before, standing on the sidelines watching others let loose, wondering why you can't do it yourself, too nervous or embarrassed to really enjoy life.

The main character is Mr. Sugiyama, married with a kid with a new house and a good job. He is living the life that he assumed he always wanted, yet he feels an emptiness deep inside. One night while riding the the train home he glances out the window and sees a beautiful woman standing alone at a window. She looks distinctly sad, lost in thought. The next night he sees her again at the same window with the same sad and lonely expression. It is an achingly beautiful scene of longing. Sugiyama decides to investigate further and finds out that the building is a dance studio that teaches ballroom dancing. Intrigued by the woman who is a teacher there he enters and before he knows it has signed up for classes. If he weren't already married this would be a good premise for a romantic comedy, a dance teacher and an uptight man who learns to let loose, but this film surprises by not really going that direction. But of course Sugiyama only signs up for lessons because of her, but he quickly realizes his place when a friendly offer of dinner is refused. The instructor, Mai, sternly warns him that she takes dance very seriously and if he's there only for her he should just quit. Embarrassed and determined to prove to her that isn't why, he begins to take dance seriously and finds out that he really enjoys it. But why is Mai so sad? Why does she hardly ever smile? What is her story? These are all questions that we slowly figure out, but it turns out that it is teaching Sugiyama that she begins to enjoy herself again as well.

Shall We Dance? is a warm and enchanting film about, well, a man learning to dance, but is deceptively more rich than its light hearted tone. This film could have very well been titled Shall We Paint? or Shall We Cook? Dancing is just the vehicle for Sugiyama to find an outlet for himself. The two lead characters are an intriguing pair because they are both looking to fill a void in their lives. This film could have been despairingly somber or over the top cheesy but thankfully it finds a nice medium. It is both sad and thoughtful and humorous and fun. A really good movie.

Grade: A-