Nine Days

To escape the heat yesterday, Kim and I went to the movies. We saw “Nine Days” on a whim without any foreknowledge of the film. It is amazing. I give it my strongest possible recommendation. It’s thoughtful, beautiful, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

More like this, please! (Here’s a glowing review for the curious.)

The Best Films of the Past Five Years

While browsing elsewhere on the interwebs (reddit, perhaps?), I came across David Ehrlich’s picks for the best films of 2015. For the past five years, he’s compiled his annual list of favorites into a short (roughly ten-minute) videos that highlights why he loves these movies.

Because the Oscars will be announced today, I think it’d be fun to share all of Ehrlich’s picks for the past five years in one place. For a few of the movies, I’ve included my own comments.

More than anything, the following lists are a resource to help me find movies to watch. I hope you find them useful and interesting too.

So, here they are, the best movies from the past five years (from 2015 to 2011 in reverse chronological order). Titles in bold are films I’ve seen.

The Best Films of 2015

25. Girlhood
24. Tangerine
23. Mustang
22. Junun
21. The Forbidden Room
20. James White
19. The Mend
18. The Hateful Eight
17. Heaven Knows What
16. Black Coal, Thin Ice
15. Listen to Me Marlon
14. Anomalisa
13. Tokyo Tribe
12. Magic Mike XXL – So, Kim and I saw this in South Dakota. I was dreading it. I mean really dreading it. Turns out, I thought it was damn good, a celebration of female sexuality rather than something exploitive.
11. Clouds of Sils Maria
10. Mad Max: Fury Road – The reason I saw Magic Mike in South Dakota? This film. Everyone loves it, I know, but Kim and I thought it was awful. After I dragged her to see it (I’m a fan of the Mad Max series), she made me promise I’d see three chick flicks with her. Magic Mike was part of that payment. I’ve since re-watched Fury Road and I still don’t like it.
9. Mistress America
8. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
7. Eden
6. The Duke of Burgundy
5. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
4. The Look of Silence
3. Phoenix
2. World of Tomorrow
1. Carol

The Best Films of 2014

25. Lucy
24. We are the Best!
23. Timbuktu
22. Selma
21. Love is Strange
20. Listen Up Philip
19. Godzilla
18. Starred Up
17. Why Don’t You Play in Hell?
16. Mommy
15. The Babadook – Kim and I watched this on Halloween. Creepy.
14. Palo Alto
13. Ida
12. Goodbye to Language
11. Boyhood – Love all of Richard Linklater’s work, including this. So ambitious!
10. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
9. Force Majeure
8. God Help the Girl
7. The Double
6. Only Lovers Left Alive
5. Gone Girl – I like David Fincher’s stuff and this was okay, but hasn’t stuck with me.
4. Nymphomaniac
3. Under the Skin
2. Inherent Vice
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel – Stylish and fun, but best of the year?

The Best Films of 2013

25. Frances Ha
24. The World’s End
23. The Broken Circle Breakdown
22. The Bling Ring
21. Pain & Gain
20. The Great Beauty
19. Blue Jasmine
18. Nebraska – Another great film from Alexander Payne.
17. Beyond the Hills
16. The Great Gatsby – I liked elements of this but thought much of it was just too gaudy, but that’s surely intentional based on the source material.
15. Stoker
14. The Act of Killing
13. Laurence Anyways
12. The Wolf of Wall Street
11. Upstream Color
10. Post Tenebras Lux
9. Leviathan
8. A Touch of Sin
7. At Berkeley
6. Spring Breakers
5. The Grandmaster
4. 12 Years a Slave – This film wasn’t bad but I didn’t think it was great either.
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. The Wind Rises – Although I love Hayao Miyazaki’s work and own this film, I still haven’t seen it.
1. Before Midnight – This series — Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight — is amazing. This installment is heartbreaking. I can relate to it so much…

The Best Films of 2012

25. Sound of Noise
24. Cosmopolis
23. Policeman
22 The Avengers – This film combines two things I hate: Joss Whedon and over-the-top CGI. I didn’t like it.
21. Shut Up and Play the Hits
20. Moonrise Kingdom – I’m a fan of Wes Anderson, but I haven’t seen this yet.
19. Oslo, August 31st
17. The Deep Blue Sea
15. Cloud Atlas – One of my favorite books but I’m reluctant to see this.
14. The Cabin in the Woods – Did I mention I don’t like Joss Whedon? Kim and I started watching this on Halloween but didn’t finish.
13. Goodbye First Love
12. Wuthering Heights
11. Alps
10. Girl Walk All Day
9. Anna Karenina
8. The Comedy
7. Something in the Air
6. The Master
5. Django Unchained – I didn’t expect to like this nearly as much as I did.
4. Zero Dark Thirty
3. Amour – Kim and I watched this after it was on many “best of lists”. It was interesting but ultimately pretty forgettable.
2. Like Someone in Love
1. Holy Motors

The Best Films of 2011

25. The Descendants – Love Alexander Payne, and I love this movie.
24. Buddha Mountain
23. The Trip
22. The Time That Remains
21. Drive
19. Pina
19. We Need to Talk About Kevin
18. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
17. Shame
16. How to Die in Oregon
15. Footnote
14. The Interrupters
13. A Separation
12. The Turin Horse
11. The Adventures of Tintin – Are you kidding me? Look, I’ve loved Tintin since discovering him in the fourth grade. I’ve read all of his adventures and used to be a serious collector. This movie sucks. It’s a lousy adaptation that utterly fails to capture the spirit of the Tintin stories.
10. The Girls with the Dragon Tattoo – Excellent.
9. The Skin I Live In
8. Miss Bala
7. The Loneliest Planet
6. Hugo – A lot of fun.
5. Melancholia
4. The Arbor
3. Kill List
2. The Tree of Life – I enjoy Malick’s films and their thoughtful pacing, but I haven’t seen this yet.
1. This is Not a Film

As a footnote, my favorite movie from 2015 was Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s exploration of what it means to be human. Ostensibly, it’s science fiction. In reality, it’s more about psychology and philosophy. I really enjoyed it, and would love to see a sequel.

I liked the new Star Wars too, of course. How could I not? I’m a nerd, and this was a return to the vibe of the first movie, which wrapped me in its arms when I was but a wee lad…

True Grit

When I was a boy, VCRs did not exist. You couldn’t watch old movies in the comfort of your living room. (Well, you could, but to do so was prohibitively expensive.)

Instead, there was a thriving industry of second-run movie theaters. And not just second-run theaters (which still exist today), but theaters that only showed old movies. Old movies were a going concern.

I can remember my parents taking us to a handful of these theaters to watch old movies, such as The Wizard of Oz and The Incredible Shrinking Man (which may be the source of my brother Jeff’s fear of spiders, actually) — and westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and True Grit.

I don’t actually recall much about the John Wayne version of True Grit. I remember John Wayne with the patch over one eye, and I remember the girl who wouldn’t be bossed around, but that’s about it. The film was released in 1969, and I must have seen it in 1975 or 1976. Still, I have fond memories of the movie.

So, when it came time to decide which movie we were going to see this year on Christmas Day, there was no doubt in my mind: We were going to see the new version of True Grit.

Note: I’m not sure when Kris and I started our annual tradition of seeing movies on Thanksgiving and Christmas — Schindler’s List in 1993? — but it’s deeply entrenched now. Lately, Tiffany (Kris’ sister) and Paul have been joining us. And in the evening, we gorge ourselves on Chinese food at Sungari downtown. It’s a fine, fine day.

For those unfamiliar, True Grit was a 1968 novel from Charles Portis. It tells the story of Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl from Yell County, Arkansas. Her father has been shot down in cold blood by a farmhand named Tom Chaney, and Mattie wants revenge. She travels to nearby Forth Smith (on the edge of the Oklahoma Territory, which is Indian country) to settle her father’s affairs and to prod the law to bring Chaney to justice.

The law is reluctant to help. There are plenty of outlaws that need hanging, and Chaney is but one more. Mattie takes matters into her own hands, hiring a drunk and violent U.S. Marshal called Rooster Cogburn. Together — and with the help of a Texas Ranger — they pursue Chaney and the gang he’s fallen in with.

True Grit is one of those remarkable novels featuring a clarity of voice and vision that makes every page a joy to read. Portis, of whom I’d never heard before last weekend, carves the characters through their speech and actions. And every little scene is a delight in some way.

I knew before we saw the new True Grit on Saturday that I would love it. And I did. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen in many years. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, you might rightly be concerned the film would be quirky and ironic. It’s not. Instead, as Kris said when the film was finished, it’s a good old-fashioned film, the sort they don’t make anymore.

Note: Before the movie, we sat through eight previews, each one stupider than the last. Transformers on the moon! Boxing robots! Johnny Depp as an animated lizard! Yet another Pirates of the Caribbean film! (Because the last two weren’t bad enough.) This menu of monstrosities is a clear example of how low Hollywood filmmaking has sunk. It’s all a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing. So, to then be treated to a good, old-fashioned movie like True Grit was a pleasant surprise.

I enjoyed the Coen’s True Grit that yesterday I watched the 1969 version. Much to my surprise, it holds up well. I prefer the modern version, but John Wayne and his cohorts do a great job of telling this wonderful story. In fact, I was so impressed, that I immediately downloaded the audio book. I listened to it for an hour before bed last night, and then again an hour this morning.

True Grit is a fantastic book.

Here’s the first paragraph. This alone should tell you whether the book would interest you, and should tell you immediately why the films are so good:

People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.

Why are both versions of the movie so good? Because the book is so good. Through the first quarter of the story (up until Mattie rolls Cogburn’s cigarette outside the courtroom), both films are remarkably true to the book. Both films pick and choose things to include or leave out, but neither takes gross liberties.

I’m dying to know now: Are there other overlooked books like this that I ought to know about? I’d especially like to discover books that served as the basis for well-respected films. I have Cool Hand Luke and To Kill a Mockingbird, and these are exactly the sorts of books I’m after. If you know of any, please let me know. I want to find other books with sand.

Beam Me Up, Scotty

The reviews for the new Star Trek film are glowing. They’re positively glowing. I’ve read every one so far, and they’re beginning to bring tears to my eyes. I’m not joking. I’ve waited so long for a Star Trek to make me rekindle my love for the franchise. Rumor has it, this is it. This is the one.

It’s only Tuesday afternoon, I know, but Rotten Tomatoes is showing 100% of 32 critics giving favorable reviews and an average score of 8/10. That’s pretty damn good. Meanwhile, Metacritic tallies a 94% rating on eight reviews. That, too, is pretty damn good.

I’ve told both Kris and Paul J. that I’ll see this with them. And I think it goes without saying that I want to see with Dave and Andrew (right, guys?). Plus I want to see it in IMAX. And on opening night. I don’t really care, to be honest. I’ll watch this over and over and over again.

But what I really hope is that this isn’t just a one-shot. I want for this to be the beginning of something grand and glorious, a brand new journey to brave new worlds. I want to see these folks boldy go where many have gone before.

p.s. Just for fun, here’s the original trailer for what is still the best Trek film, The Wrath of Khan.

p.p.s. I just checked Fandango. Have you seen how many screens this is playing on? With this wide distribution and the rave reviews, it has a chance to set a record for box-office opening…

Au Revoir, les Enfants

Kris and I have seen a lot of fine films together. Slowly over the course of our lives, we’ve been picking our way through various lists of great movies. (One of my goals is to see every film ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.)

On Wednesday, we watched Sunrise, a long film from 1927, the silent era. It was fascinating. Tonight we watched Au revoir, les enfants. It takes place at a boarding school in Nazi-occupied France. It doesn’t adhere to common tropes, though. It’s more about friendship and childhood than it is about the war.

I particularly liked the following scene, in which the main characters, Julien (a stand-in for writer/director Louis Malle, on whose life this is based) and Jean, play for the pretty young piano instructor.

“That was a great scene,” I said when it had finished. (I made the same remark about two other scenes later in the film.) Secretly I wondered if I could find it on YouTube. Turns out it’s the top search result.

Au Revoir, les Enfants is a great film. I’m glad we watched it. (Malle produced two other amazing films, as well: My Dinner with Andre and Vanya on 42nd Street.)

Those Sorts of Movies

After watching Michael Clayton and re-watching Casino Royale for the fourth time, I told Kris I “like those sorts of movies”, though I couldn’t really put my finger on what “those sorts of movies” were. I decided that the Bourne films probably fit the bill, so I put them on the our Netflix queue.

I waited patiently for The Bourne Identity to crawl to the top of the list. Kris was in the midst of her Foyle’s War obsession, so it took a couple of months. Eventually, however, Netflix shipped my movie.

The other night we sat down to watch Matt Damon in an action role. We grabbed some dinner, plopped in the disc, and sat down on the futon. The disc didn’t work. “Crap,” I said, pulling the disc from the player. It was damaged. We sent the disc back and waited for a replacement.

In the meantime, I joined Paul J. for a trip to the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace. As you’ll recall, I recently watched all 22 previous Bond films back-to-back-to-back, and thought the previous film (the afore-mentioned Casino Royale) was the best Bond film to date. It effectively reset the films’ continuity, starting from day one. The new film picks up immediately where that one left off: it’s as if its part two to the story, and this story exists in a parallel universe to the other 21 Bond films.

The problem is that while the new movie has the same writers as Casino Royale, it has a different director. I don’t like him. And for the first half hour, I didn’t like Quantum of Solace. It was a flurry of quick-cut chases that were impossible to follow. No, I’m serious. They were impossible to follow. With cuts twice every second, the film becomes disorienting, and that’s not fun. Toss in bad acting and terrible dialogue, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, the film eventually changes tempo. It never truly becomes good, but it does become enjoyable in its own way, with one truly great chase scene (in airplanes!).

Anyhow — a couple of days later, the replacement Bourne Identity disc arrived in our mailbox. On Saturday night, we watched the film. It was okay — almost good. I have trouble buying Matt Damon in this role, but that’s a personal problem. The story was interesting. I like “this sort of movie”.

As the film was ending, I said to Kris, “You know, I think we own this DVD.”

“What?” she said, dumb-founded. I stood up, dug in the stack of DVDs on the TV, and sure enough: there was a copy of The Bourne Identity.

“When did you buy that?” Kris asked.

“I didn’t,” I said. “I got it in a white elephant gift exchange last year or the year before. I forgot about it until just now. See? It’s still in the wrapper.”

All she could do was shake her head, and I don’t blame her. I was shaking my head, too.

Star Trek Trailer

I have such mixed emotions about the upcoming Star Trek prequel film:

Yes, it looks exciting, but it doesn’t look like Star Trek. Yes, I like J.J. Abrams sometimes, but the man cannot end things, and he’s on record as not liking Star Trek in the first place. (I think I read somewhere that he took this gig because he though it would be foolish to pass it up.) Of course I’ll go see it. But I’m not expecting it to be any good.

Movie Meme

It’s been a while since I did one of those silly internet games, yes? Well, Frykitty recently posted a movie meme, and I’m going to join in. This list is apparently based on Entertainment Weekly‘s 100 classic movies of the past 25 years. I’m going to break from the ongoing list method (“bold everything you’ve seen”? uh, no…) and use the following format:

  • If I haven’t seen it, the film is listed in red.
  • If I saw it but would never watch it again, the film is listed in strikethru.
  • If I saw it and loved it, the film is listed in bold. (I own many of these on DVD.)
  • If I saw it but have no strong reaction, the film is listed in normal type.

And here’s the list:

1. Pulp Fiction (1994) — I have never understood the lovefest for Quentin Tarantino

2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03) — we all know my love-hate relationship with these films

3. Titanic (1997)

4. Blue Velvet (1986)

5. Toy Story (1995) — though I haven’t seen it, I’ve heard it twice, and think it’s very loud

6. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

7. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

8. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

9. Die Hard (1988)

10. Moulin Rouge (2001) — the first half hour of this is amazing

11. This Is Spinal Tap (1984) — Kris and I love this film

12. The Matrix (1999)

13. GoodFellas (1990)

14. Crumb (1995) — almost a cross-off; interesting, but not redeeming

15. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

16. Boogie Nights (1997)

17. Jerry Maguire (1996)

18. Do the Right Thing (1989)

19. Casino Royale (2006) — my favorite Bond film; can’t wait for this fall…

20. The Lion King (1994)

21. Schindler’s List (1993)

22. Rushmore (1998) — I love this movie so much I paid like $80 for the Criterion version…

23. Memento (2001)

24. A Room With a View (1986)

25. Shrek (2001)

26. Hoop Dreams (1994)

27. Aliens (1986) — I know everyone loves Aliens, but the first film is one of my favorite movies of all time

28. Wings of Desire (1987)

29. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

30. When Harry Met Sally… (1989) — hilarious; havne’t watched it in a while

31. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

32. Fight Club (1999)

33. The Breakfast Club (1985)

34. Fargo (1996)

35. The Incredibles (2004)

36. Spider-Man 2 (2004) — one of my favorite superhero movies

37. Pretty Woman (1990)

38. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) — meh

39. The Sixth Sense (1999) — I was surprised by this movie TWICE! (I couldn’t remember the ending the second time around)

40. Speed (1994)

41. Dazed and Confused (1993)

42. Clueless (1995)

43. Gladiator (2000)t-e-d-i-o-u-s

44. The Player (1992)

45. Rain Man (1988)

46. Children of Men (2006) — an underrated film; loved it

47. Men in Black (1997)

48. Scarface (1983)

49. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) — one of my favorite movies

50. The Piano (1993) — ugh, I hated this movie

51. There Will Be Blood (2007) — sitting on our DVD player, though (and has been since April)

52. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988)

53. The Truman Show (1998)

54. Fatal Attraction (1987)

55. Risky Business (1983)

56. The Lives of Others (2006)

57. There’s Something About Mary (1998)

58. Ghostbusters (1984)

59. L.A. Confidential (1997) — at one time, I loved this film; haven’t seen it in a while

60. Scream (1996)

61. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

62. sex, lies and videotape (1989)

63. Big (1988)

64. No Country For Old Men (2007)

65. Dirty Dancing (1987)

66. Natural Born Killers (1994)

67. Donnie Brasco (1997)

68. Witness (1985)

69. All About My Mother (1999)

70. Broadcast News (1987)

71. Unforgiven (1992) — a great film

72. Thelma & Louise (1991)

73. Office Space (1999)

74. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

75. Out of Africa (1985)

76. The Departed (2006) — how this won Best Picture (even in a weak field) is baffling

77. Sid and Nancy (1986) — no desire to see it

78. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

79. Waiting for Guffman (1996)

80. Michael Clayton (2007)

81. Moonstruck (1987) — saw this on a “date” with Kristin, if I remember right!

82. Lost in Translation (2003)

83. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)

84. Sideways (2004)

85. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)

86. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002)

87. Swingers (1996)

88. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

89. Breaking the Waves (1996)

90. Napoleon Dynamite (2004) — “do the chickens have large talons?”

91. Back to the Future (1985)

92. Menace II Society (1993)

93. Ed Wood (1994) — this movie was awful

94. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

95. In the Mood for Love (2001) — a gorgeous film

96. Far From Heaven (2002) — a typical example of type of film (like “The Piano”) I hate

97. Glory (1989)

98. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

99. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

100. South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999)

I used to watch a lot of movies, but my pace has really slowed over the past eighteen months. (And we all know why, right?) I’m sure I’ll watch many more in the future, however. (Kris told me to remind you all about her list of classic films. After seeing that list and knowing how much work she put into it, I’m going to find a way to port it to Get Rich Slowly…)

Watchmen Trailer

I’ve been sorely disappointed by a lot of comic book movies. That’s a tough thing for a life-long comics geek like me. There’s a bare handful of comic films I like: Spiderman 2, Iron Man, Batman Begins. (And I hear The Dark Knight, the new Batman film, is pretty good.)

When I first heard that Watchmen was being adapted into a film, I was nonplused. How could anyone possibly do it justice. This is one of the best comic book series of all time (from one of the greatest comic book writers). Early production stills didn’t do anything to bolster my enthusiasm.

But this? This is the trailer. And by god, they might actually pull it off:

At the very least, this trailer has ruined my plans for the afternoon. Forget writing. I’m sitting down to read the graphic novel.

Note: I’ve replaced the pulled version with a new one. It works!