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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Holiday Season Film List

This is a list of several films I've seen in the past month or so. I figured I'd share them with you and list them in terms of favorites. I've included some thoughts on each of them

1 Hugo

My only disappointment while seeing this film was that I didn’t burst into tears when it finally ended. This is one of my favorite films of all time. Scorsese proves mastery over the craft of filmmaking. I should also mention I saw this in 3d and like my experience with Tangled I really enjoyed it.

2 It Happened One Night

Frank Capra, the great Frank Capra. This movie has some of the most incredible acting I’ve seen, ever. It’s a love story, a contemporary love story, made in 1934. Who would have known that filmmaker’s back then could make films as good as those today? You can’t take your eyes off Claudette Colbert, and I really can’t think of any actresses today giving a performance as intriguing as Colbert’s. Clark Gable plays the apathetic lover, less than gently courting the young rich girl as she escapes her father’s reign of control. This movie is astounding. Frank Capra is a genius when it comes to working with actors. All of his movies prove it.

3 Nashville

I saw this movie because of Robert Altman, and because PT Anderson mentioned this when talking about his favorite films. I thought the film was really good, and the acting incredible. It definitely is a lot different than I expected, and I can now see the influence in PTA’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Altman is a master with the camera, and can really pace a movie like no other director. I saw Gosford Park and 3 women before seeing this, and I have to say that Altman has a visual style that’s only as distinctive as maybe a Spielberg. This film kept making me think about how later generations will look at film and attempt to understand the world at that time through the actors and the subject matter and the visuals, much like we analyze Renaissance art today. I think Altman’s decision to highlight the music in Nashville so prominently was inspired. This film will last a long time.

4 East of Eden

I can’t applaud James Dean enough for his performance in this film. It was incredibly bold and brave, and something I didn’t at all expect from a guy who really isn’t remembered so much for his incredible acting talent. Elia Kazan proves that he’s a FILM director. I knew his background was in stage production, but his intuition with the camera was incredible. His tilted compositions, especially the one with James Dean and his father was brilliant. I wish they made more movies like this one. Like Frank Capra, Kazan seems to be one of the best actor’s-director. It seems he can get performances out of people that no one else can.

5 The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I purposely didn’t read the books or see the original film when I heard David Fincher was going to direct the American adaptation. I should say that I’ve been watching the Social Network on repeat because of this movie. David Fincher is my idle, and he did an incredible job with this material. I don’t think he really adapted this as far as he could have, but he definitely knows how to make a movie. This movie was absolutely beautiful and worth another couple dollars to see it again while it’s in theaters.

6 Shame

I saw Steve Mcqueen’s Hunger before break, and was really impressed with the film. I had heard mostly good reviews about Hunger, and I was excited to see this new film by him. I had been reading interviews with Mcqueen and Fassbender for some time, in anticipation for Shame, and I simply had to see it. Shame left me feeling much the same way afterwards as last years Black Swan. It was an incredibly taxing journey into this man’s world. I don’t think the story was as refined as it could have been, but Fassbender and Mulligan worked absolutely incredible together.

7 The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin utilizes the same technique of motion capture James Cameron used in Avatar, and Peter Jackson will use in The Hobbit. The only difference is that although Cameron used the technology to create great panoramas in Avatar, Spielberg used the technology as a storytelling device. There are action set pieces in this movie that are all one take, the camera flowing through the CG environment. Flashbacks are told with the zooming in and out of the camera on a singular element to draw attention away from the changing environment around it. No other filmmaker could pull off two movies as impressive as War Horse and Tintin in the same year. This is a really fun movie. Watch it.

8 War Horse

This is Spielberg, maybe not at his best, but certainly in good form, which means he’s better than 99.9% of other filmmakers today. War Horse was an incredible journey. It’s a movie that you cannot appreciate for innovation or creativity in story telling, but it’s certainly a masterwork.The most memorable shot in the this film is the final scene when the boy returns home, the frame tinted out in burnt orange, the figures silhouetted against the sky. This film is astounding and beautiful. Should win some Oscars.

9 Young Adult

Charlize Theron is an incredible actress. I’m convinced she can play any role out there. In Young Adult she brought an incredible amount of attitude and honesty to her performance. Oswalt was equally as impressive. It was refreshing to see two actors work really well together again. Diablo Cody’s script was also very well written.

10 The Darjeeling Limited

After seeing this movie on the shelf at a local video store I realized that I hadn’t seen any movies by Wes Anderson yet. So the next day, I went back and rented this movie. I seem to get Anderson mixed up with Spike Jonze a lot, although, Anderson definitely is the better filmmaker. Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited follows the ‘spiritual’ journey of three brothers (Schwarzmann, Wilson, and Brody) along an Indian railway. We find out later they are searching for their mother, who abandoned them some time ago. This movie was stunningly beautiful, and it’s apparent that Anderson takes pride in his compositions and sets. Great movie.

Ben Hur

This was another film I wanted to see for some time. The visuals in this movie are stunning. It’s fun to see a movie that puts you back onto the big Hollywood Studio sets of the 50’s. The movie was really long, and it took a couple sittings to finish it, but overall I enjoyed it.

The English Patient

I had heard about the English Patient in interviews, and made a point to see it. Luckily it was on Netflix Instant and so I decided to finally watch it. I thought the story was pretty cool. The film was really well done, and in total homage to David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. The visuals were stunning, and the acting fantastic. Interestingly enough, I saw Fog City Mavericks as well over the break, and found it interesting that this film, the English Patient, wasn’t anticipated to be as big a hit as it was. Shows what studio guys know eh?

Jack Cardiff

I can’t remember how I came upon this film, but it was really cool to hear about a man who has quietly impacted the film industry for decades. Of course, he’s well known within the film community for his work with several British filmmakers (namely Powell and Pressburger). I saw a bit of his work on The Red Shoes and was impressed by the very contemporary look to his work. It’s always fun to hear filmmakers speak highly of others, especially Scorsese.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have seen this in theaters if Brad Bird weren’t directing. I wholly expected this film to be fun and entertaining. It was.


Jean Luc Godard’s Contempt I believe is his third movie. It was baffling to me that his original intentions weren’t to make this movie in cinemascope because of how well it was used. That adamant desire to not film in cinemascope might have had to do with formatting and how the actors fit in the screen. There are a lot of takes where the actors stand tall in the frame. Of course this movie was a movie about making a movie. It’s not something I haven’t seen before, nor do I think is that creative or original, but Godard’s definitely got a flavor to his films. I see Godard as a rebel, and this movie felt very contemporary and in opposition to what had been happening in Europe up to that time. I have to say that Brigitte Bardot really took over this film. I think she’s absolutely beautiful, as Godard intended to highlight, and she can act.

Two in the Wave

The documentary about filmmakers Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard is really insightful for someone who doesn’t really know much about the French New Wave. This film really covered the whole range of topics, from the directors thoughts on filmmaking in France before they began making films, how that informed their films, and especially the differences of opinion between the two men so often considered in the same light. I thought it was really interesting how the documentary went into the details about the decision making of the two directors, who their influences were, and their thoughts on early cinema. I believe Bernando Bertolucci’s film The Dreamers occurs in the same timeline that the two filmmakers were making movies in France. Really good stuff.

Fog City Mavericks

About the filmmakers from the San Francisco area, this film is a really interesting, quick listen. The majority of the film highlights probably the two most prominent filmmakers from the area, Frances Copolla and George Lucas, but also covers studios like Pixar and ILM.

Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese

I walked away from this movie feeling like I had just gone through a semester’s worth of film history. This was incredibly insightful and helpful to those trying to understand film history. Scorsese takes us through the silent era, to the invention of sound, to the small town dramas of the fifties. It’s incredible how deep Scorsese’s knowledge of film goes. It’s also very intimidating.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

This is the original version from the seventies. I thought this film was really fun to watch. The writing may have not been the best, and the plot, not the greatest, but it had everything you wanted out of a movie, suspense, drama, the hero, the bad guy. I thought the production design was fantastic, and made me jealous that I didn’t grow up in the seventies (so many good movies).


Steven Soderbergh, what can I say? This film is fantastic. It’s a little slow at times, but it really does a great job with the material. Scott Z. Burns, the screenwriter, can really write a great script, and Soderbergh’s technique is something else. Filmmakers like Soderbergh, PT Anderson, and Fincher give me hope that the seventies can be paralleled in terms of production design and art direction.


Not sure if it’s fair to include this in the list as I saw it early in December, but I’d like to talk about it. This is Mcqueen’s first movie. It follows the story of Bobby Sands played by Michael Fassbender, a man who became the face of the Irish people during their strife with Britian in the 70s. Fassbender’s range of emotion in this film is incredible, and the physicality of this role would scare any other actor away. This is incredibly powerful film. Mcqueen’s minimalist style is captivating and beautiful even though what’s happening on screen is anything but.


Though I didn’t like this film at all, I want to talk about it’s importance in the broader film market today. This is a ‘micro budget’ film, meaning it was made on an incredibly low budget. It was directed by actor Edward Burns, and made on a budget of around $125,000 (though much of the cost comes from post-production expenses). The amazing thing is that it cost only $9000 to shoot this film in New York. Now, I want to do a write-up later about why this is significant, but it tells me that there are many ways to make a film these days. If you can picture yourself as a young filmmaker in the silent era, on the edge of discovering a new artistic medium, then the possibilities would be endless in your mind. Micro budget is the future of filmmaking.

Certified Copy

Juliette Binoche is fantastic in this film by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. I wanted to see this movie back in 10 when it was showing in theaters not too far from my house, but I was unable to see it. Though the film isn’t necessarily a show boater, or something that will amaze you, the acting is more than solid, and the filmmaker extremely brave in his choices of shots. Many scenes are long, drawn out takes of the two main actors walking along the streets of an Italian city. The film is impressive looking back on it. There’s so much to learn from.

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