Tag Archives: 1001 movies

XL Popcorn – Black Panther

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 691/1007Title: Black Panther
Director: Ryan Coogler
Year: 2018
Country: USA

I don’t usually watch films for this list that are so recent because they tend to be eliminated with the next edition. However, it’s looking more and more like this film will receive a few nods come Oscar time – so it makes sense to watch this now.

As anyone reading this blog might have assumed – I am not really one for superhero movies. Considering just how huge the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise is, this is the fifth entry I’ve seen (the other three being The Incredible Hulk and the three Iron Mans)… which is my way of saying that I may not be the target audience.

Let’s start with the positives – the world and mythology that Black Panther was able to create was excellent. The city of Wakanda was stunning and they filled it with so many great little touches that made establishing shots a sight to behold. Similarly the sequences where T’Challa went to the other side to meet with the spirits of his ancestors were gorgeous, as were most of the appearances of the advanced Wakandan technology.

It’s also worth really praising so may of the supporting characters. Michael B. Jordan was perfectly cast in his role as Killmonger, I mean you could really tell that he was relishing the chance to play a villain. There were also some cool strong roles for women of colour, with Danai Gurira and Lupita N’yongo stealing pretty much every scene they were in.

Now here’s the kicker for me. The times where Black Panther was able to show off its unique selling points, that’s when it really excelled. However, for large swathes of time you were brought back to the reality that this is a Marvel popcorn movie – which resulted in me getting a bit bored as it became so damned predictable. Also, quite shockingly, some of the fights had some pretty poor CGI – especially for a 2018 movie.

Also, and this is my opinion, I didn’t really feel Chadwick Boseman in the role as T’Challa. This is a character who is a new king and a superhero, so you need some sort of presence on screen that oozes power and poise – he isn’t your guy for that. No matter who he was in a scene with, they just outshone him. But I seem to be alone in this thought.

I started this post by talking about how Black Panther might be gone by the time the list is refreshed in October. However, given the pop culture phenomenon this was and how unique it is in being a superhero film with almost no Caucasian actors that was a massive critical and commercial success – I would not be surprised that this sticks around the list for a while.

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XL Popcorn – Glengarry Glen Ross

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 690/1007Title: Glengarry Glen Ross
Director: James Foley
Year: 1992
Country: USA

After the spiritual journey of Journal Of A Country Priest I figured that my next film needed to be a bit of an antidote – so why not the film dubbed Death of a Fucking Salesman by its cast. And what an impressive cast it is – Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin and an excellent late career performance from Jack Lemmon.

As well as the amazing ensemble cast you an absolutely electric and expletive filled script from David Mamet. Much like Aaron Sorkin and Amy Sherman-Palladino, there is a very particular cadence to Mamet’s work. It’s quick-fire, darkly comic and has a lot of people talking over each other. Watching this made me realise just how much this will have influenced The Thick Of It – some of the speeches in the latter half could have been delivered by Malcolm Tucker.

One thing that I’m going to say as both a positive and a negative, is that it is super obvious that Glengarry Glen Ross started it’s life on stage. It’s dialogue heavy, with a limited number of characters and sets. With this being a Mamet play, you’re pretty much sold that the dialogue is going to be excellent and, thanks the excellent casting, you barely notice that you’re only seeing a small group of men. However, there are times where things can feel a little bit claustrophobic – but nowhere near as claustrophobic as in Fences or in Oleanna (an adaptation of another Mamet play).

I’ve spent a long time talking about Mamet when I really should be talking about the amazing and surprising standout performance by Jack Lemmon. Watching him here, I can really see where The Simpsons got their inspiration for the sad-sack Gil. However, that completely negates the power of Lemmon’s performance which is equal parts pathetic and snakelike. Watching his altercations with Kevin Spacey felt like a masterclass in acting.

Speaking of masterclasses, Alec Baldwin really made an impact in his short time on screen. Despite there being over an hour between the end of his appearance in the film and the end of the actual film, you still feel his presence overshadowing all the action and kinda miss him when he’s gone – a bit like Mahershala Ali in Moonlight

This really was a darkly comic treat, but I wonder how this would be changed if made nowadays. I mean I know this is all white men, but some more diversity and a few gender swaps would make for some interesting shifts in power dynamics.

XL Popcorn – Journal Of A Country Priest

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 689/1007Title: Journal d’un curé de campagne (Journal Of A Country Priest)
Director: Robert Bresson
Year: 1951
Country: France

A few years ago I saw L’argent where I got a bit annoyed at the pretence of someone committing a bank robbery out of desperation of being out of work for a week. I thought it felt a bit of a stretch and didn’t allow me to feel fully invested in the characters. This is not something that I can say for Journal Of A Country Priest. 

For one thing, this film has an incredibly impressive debut performance by Claude Laydu as the titular country priest. In fact, this film does remarkable work from a group of mostly unknowns – but this completely belongs to Laydu. His character of the idealistic and particular priest who is rejected by his parish is… remarkably tragic.

Seriously, this film is just this slow burn of sadness as you watch this young nameless priest being ostracised and basically destroyed. I mean, one of the first things you learn about him is about his poor constitution (i.e. his stomach only being able to take dry bread) and this becomes a ticking time bomb.

The big thing that Bresson and Laydu are able to do with Journal Of A Country Priest is make you feel. So many of the priest’s interactions with his parishioners just make you feel so incredibly angry (especially Chantal… seriously she can rot for everything that she did) and it feels like none of this was warranted. Sure, he’s pernickety and very by the book – but he’s a priest after all.

I am getting so close to 700 films that I can almost taste it, especially since I am currently making my way through Dekalog as part of the 1001 TV Shows list. More on that soon, I guess, but I suppose it’ll be worth my picking out a pretty big film for this next landmark and we’ll see what the other films that’ll make up this mini-countdown.

XL Popcorn – Our Hospitality

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 688/1007Title: Our Hospitality
Director: Buster Keaton
Year: 1923
Country: USA

I am honestly quite glad that Our Hospitality was the last Buster Keaton left for me to watch from the 1001 list. Whilst I may never get to the point of listing him as among my favourite actors or directors, I am now definitely able to appreciate just how ahead of the curve he was. In terms of film making Buster Keaton was a marvel and an absolutely fearless one at that.

Our Hospitality may not feature some of Keaton’s more breathtaking stunts (although, there is a lot that he does with heights which did startle me) or some of the more massive set pieces that you find in his later films – this is my favourite of his works. I guess that, since he didn’t have to start one-upping himself so much, this films feels like a purer comedic work.

It also featured, what has now become, one of my favourite sequences from a silent film: the train ride. These are scenes that went onto bigger and more death-defying extremes in The Generalbut in Our Hospitality it feels like the film takes an extended break as we watch a series of sketches poking fun at the old train system. This includes some bespoke tunnels, incredibly bumpy track and that this train could be outrun by a dog when running at medium pelt.

The story of Our Hospitality is an interesting parody of the blood feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families. It’s not something I know too much about, but I get the reference. As a McKay, Keaton spends most of the film trying to not be killed by the bloodthirsty Canfields – the title coming from Keaton’s character making sure to prolong his visit to the Canfield estate for they cannot kill him as long as he is subject to their hospitality.

It’s an interesting story, but the key parts are all the in-between sections where Keaton does his tricks and shows off the skills that made him a vaudeville hit. I only have one silent comedy (and just over 10 silent films in general) left to watch, which feels like getting through a section of the list that is still one of the most alien. It’ll be a weird to say a proper goodbye to the silent 1001 films, but that’s when I’ll start taking deeper dives into the works of people like Abel Gance and Fritz Lang.

XL Popcorn – Top Hat

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 687/1007Title: Top Hat
Director: Mark Sandrich
Year: 1935
Country: USA

I was thinking about how long it has been since I did a film from the 1930s… and then I watched Top Hat, which is my final film from 1935. This is probably my taste in movies shining through here, but it sucks how I have nearly stripped this decade bare. Still, there are some cool films left on this list from the 1930s – like Ninotchka, Stella Dallas and Mr Deeds Goes to Town – so I shouldn’t be too sad.

Anyway, today I decided to watch the second of the two Rogers-Astaire films on the 1001 list. The inspiration: an episode of Unspooled where they watched and talked about Swing Time, which is the other Rogers-Astaire film from the list. I still cannot believe that it has been four and a half years since I watched that… and weirdly enough it was one of the first films that I watched post-teaching breakdown.

If you want to watch a film for a coherent plot then Top Hat probably isn’t the one for you. However, if you want proof behind the enduring star power of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire – then this really is essential viewing. As I was watching this, I was really taken aback by the level of sheer talent possessed by both of these triple threats. Sure, the plot runs out of steam by the time we reach the final act – but damn it if these two didn’t sell the hell out of it.

I guess what I’m saying is that Top Hat is a musical confection that is elevated to classic status by the charisma of the two leads. Going into this, I forgot just how excellent an actress Ginger Rogers and just how mesmerising it was to watch her dance with Fred Astaire. Also, I don’t care what people say – but she was bang on the money when she fought to keep that ostrich feather dress as her outfit for ‘Cheek to Cheek’. She looks stunning in it and the way it moves as she dances makes her look like she’s dancing in Matrix bullet time.

Did I think this was better than Swing Time? In some ways yes, as the plot at least makes some sense (in a screwball comedy kind of way) and I think the songs themselves are better. Also, whilst it doesn’t have a sequence that has the sheer wow factor of ‘Never Gonna Dance’, it does come close with ‘Cheek to Cheek’. Also, ‘The Piccolino’ is a cute sequence.

One other thing worth noting is the amazing sets used for the second half of the film where they are meant to be in Venice. Every now and then you see a set onscreen where you want to go there and walk around (like the Egyptian set in Intolerance or a lot of those used in Metropolis and The Scarlet Empress), but this is some Disney theme park magic.

XL Popcorn – Wild Strawberries

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 686/1007Title: Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Year: 1957
Country: Sweden

It has been too long since I last saw my last Bergman film (Persona). Now that I’ve seen  Wild Strawberries I think it is fair to say that I have watched the last of the top tier Bergman films, although there are still some big ones left (such as Through A Glass Darkly). I have yet to watch an Ingmar Bergman film that I didn’t enjoy watching or left me thinking afterwards – and that run still continues.

Due to my own issues, I usually do not respond well to films like Wild Strawberries. At the centre is an older man called Isak who is being honoured for a lifetime of service as a doctor, however he is also someone who is seen as cold and aloof by those closest to him. The course of the film we get to know Isak through flashbacks and dreams, with him becoming warmer and on the road to reformed by the end.

Leave it to Bergman to find a way to make this story that appeals to someone as jaded as I am. I mean this was one part A Christmas Carol and another part Seventh Seal. The weirdly symbolic dreams and the well-executed flashbacks (which were done warts and all, rather than turned into something overly saccharin) give us two very different sides of Isak’s psychology. In fact, psychology is a very good watch word for this film as a whole.

It’s also worth commending Bergman’s script, which is able to deliver comedic moments, surreal moments and sequences that offer an extreme amount of pathos. A lot of praise also needs to be heaped on the three stars who help to accurately portray the changing relationships between Isak and the others. Bibi Andersson pulls off an excellent double duty as Sara (as modern day hitchhiker and as Isak’s former fiance from the past).

There is a lot of interesting things to unpack after watching Wild Strawberries. How much of the memories are true versus those filtered through his own experience? For how long will these relationships between Isak and those closest to him improve? What will happen to his son and daughter-in-law after the camera stops rolling? Does the ending signify something other than him reflecting on a beautiful memory and accepting his past?

The more I reflect on Wild Strawberries the more I realise just how good this film was. It’s a common thing with Bergman films – so it’s good to know that this isn’t an exception. This might be my favourite of his films, or that might still be Autumn Sonata. I guess I’ll need some time to think on that.

 

XL Popcorn – Bull Durham

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 685/1007Title: Bull Durham
Director: Ron Shelton
Year: 1988
Country: USA

After being grossly disappointed by Field of Dreams and Top Gun I have had my faith in 1980s mainstream American films really shaken. I mean, both of those are incredibly well known and loved films from this era that bored me. So, I thought I would try my luck with another contemporary film, albeit one that I had never heard of before starting this list.

So here we are with another 1980s baseball film starring Kevin Costner – so my hopes started off low. And then came the beginning narration from Susan Sarandon who, even in a bad film, gives an excellent performance; so my prospects of enjoying this film rose until, very quickly, I actually began to enjoy this film.

We begin the film listening to Annie (Sarandon) talk about her love of baseball, where we she elevates it to the point of religion, and how she takes on a new lover from her local team (a minor league outfit from North Carolina) and acts as their mentor. This year, her chosen lover is a talented catcher who goes by the nickname ‘Nuke’ (played by Tim Robbins… and yes this is the film where he and Sarandon became an item), who is being mentored by minor league veteran ‘Crash’ (Costner).

There’s a bit of a love triangle and some mentor-mentee relations going on, which had us following the growing fortunes of ‘Nuke’ as he gets promoted to the major leagues. It’s a pretty well done feel good film that is elevated to great by the chemistry between Sarandon, Costner and Robbins and by a really tight and funny script from Ron Shelton.

I went in expecting another baseball comedy that would leave me cold, but I left with my heart warmed and my faith restored in Kevin Costner and sports comedies. Sure, neither of these things work for me 100% of the time, but they can both hit the mark when the conditions are correct.

XL Popcorn – Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 684/1007Title: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
Director: Aditya Chopra
Year: 1995
Country: India

Whilst this is far from being my first Indian film, it is my first proper Bollywood musical. At three hours long with many breaks for large lip-syncing numbers (because, of course, no one in the film actually sings the songs – as is the style) this is a film I have been putting off watching for years in the vain hope that it would be bumped off the 1001 list in a future update. But that hasn’t happened in the last 10 years, so let’s just watch it.

As far as I can see, there are two main reasons for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’s placement on the list. Firstly it is one of the most successful films in Hindi and Indian cinema, which includes the record for the longest continuous cinema run (which, I guess, makes it the Hindi Titanic). Also, I have seen it said in a number of places online that Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge may be the perfect film to introduce a Westerner to Bollywood. On that second one, I might have to agree with them.

I think a film like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge works as a good Western crossover for one big reason – the romantic lead characters are third culture kids (in this instance: born and raised in Britain by parents who moved over from India). This means that the leads are able to appeal to both Indian and Western viewers that are able to see bits of themselves in the leads. Similarly, the first half is set in Europe which helps to phase in the more culturally alien ideas (to Western viewers) before we spend the second half in Punjab.

Another thing that probably helps is that this is a storyline that many will have seen and read a number of times before. It starts off with the standard Pride & Prejudice style courtship of both characters disliking each other before falling in love a few songs later – then, when we get to India, we get the twist of trying to stop an arranged marriage.

Despite knowing nearly every beat of the storyline (aside from some random set pieces, including a rope trap and some impressive tiger mimicry) this was one of those films where it was fun to be along for the ride. Once you get used to the more Bollywood elements and view this more as a mini-series than a film to be watched in one go, I had a really good time.

Hands up, I misjudged this film. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I loved it or that this is a fantastically original film, but I will say that I really enjoyed it. Going forward, I think I really should be giving Bollywood films more of a chance and not be as dismissive of them as I have been previously. After all, what’s wrong with a film that can take a dance break every now and then, as long as the story around it is engaging enough and you can forget that the guy playing a teenager is clearly in his early thirties.

XL Popcorn – Top Gun

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 683/1007Title: Top Gun
Director: Tony Scott
Year: 1986
Country: USA

There are films where, as you watch it, you feel like you’ve seen it all before because of how it has been assimilated into pop culture. I mean who hasn’t seen pastiches of the beach volleyball scene, gotten the feels after listening to ‘Take My Breath Away’ or used many of the one-liners without knowing the origins.

All this is a prelude to say that Top Gun is a film that completely underwhelmed me. Then again, what was I really expecting from a marginally homoerotic blockbuster about hot shot pilots? Maybe something more along the lines of The Right Stuff rather than something  a bit more puffy.

I guess that my real issue was just how 1980s this was with it’s ultra-glossy production and similarly glossy torsos. Everything was just so steeped in cliché that it became hard to take the characters seriously to the point where I was left unaffected by, what was meant to be, the gut wrenching moment about half way through.

As a whole it was some intelligence and a knowing wink away from being a Rockstar video game about hot shot pilots. In fact, if there had been a Top Gun-style expansion to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City I bet it could have been a huge success.

I guess my biggest problem was Tom Cruise’s Maverick. This may be a personal thing about being one to follow rules (especially when lives are on the line), but it got a bit much with everyone fawning over him all the time. Honestly, I think this film might have been better for me if more time was given to Val Kilmer’s Iceman (and not just because he was smoking hot at the time). It would have been interesting to witness more of the contrast between Iceman and Maverick, rather than it just be the Tom Cruise lovefest.

Like Field of Dreams, Top Gun is another one of those big crowd pleasing films from the 1980s that just did not do anything for me. Honestly, when I think of how many people complain about modern day blockbusters versus the likes of Top Gun it’s really going to be difficult to take their point seriously. Sure the plane stunts looked cool, but tha

XL Popcorn – Le Mépris

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 682/1007Title: Le Mépris (Comtempt)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Year: 1963
Country: France

Here we are again with Jean-Luc Godard and I am left feeling a philistine for, once again, feeling no real interest in what I just watched. With all of his films that I’ve previously watched, I always end up feeling like this was time wasted on something that feels so incredibly shallow – and Le Mépris isn’t an exception.

Okay, so that’s a bit over the top. I had huge hopes for this in the first half an hour. I thought that Le Mépris might turn out to be Godard doing a sharp take on film making and, in the beginning, it felt like that. Fritz Lang (playing himself) has such a presence in the opening scenes, where he’s screening the dailies of his latest film, that I thought this could be something interesting.

Then came all the relationship drama between Camille (Bridget Bardot) and Paul (Michel Piccoli) which completely let the air out of the film. We just spend the rest of the film in a circular argument where Camille keeps baiting her husband how today is the day that she fell out of love with him and she refuses to tell him why.

We’re never able to leave this topic for nearly an hour and it just turns this film into a beautiful set of moving images. I mean, just look at the cinematography – so many individual shots in this film are works of art. But therein lies the problem, at least for me, a film that is pretty to look at and without much lying underneath the surface just doesn’t interest me.

There are still three more Godard films to watch and, by the looks of it, I am left with some of the lesser acclaimed ones to appear on the 1001 list. With all lists like this there is the chance of you finding things you dislike, however the films of Godard are at the point now where I am making myself watch this for the sake of list completion rather than the idea that I might end up enjoying them. Who knows, I might be turned around later – but for now I think I need more than 6 months before I put myself through another one of these.