And it only took me until Issue 3 to publish on time at the end of the quarter. Miracles do happen, people!
This quarter I saw a whopping fifteen films in the theater and thirty at home. I continued catching up on the critical darlings of 2015 and my 52 Films By Women project while also managing to rewatch the original Bourne trilogy. No summer blockbuster really delivered, but there were plenty of decent independent and foreign features to be found, especially once we got into September.
2016 Top Ten (to Date)
Les Innocentes (The Innocents)
Love & Friendship
Hell or High Water
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
The Light Between Oceans
Queen of Katwe
I’m not sure how many of these will stick around once Oscar season kicks in, but this is a pretty solid list of films so far. If I’m being honest, I switched in The Dressmaker here to replace other films I rated slightly higher on Letterboxd simply because I admire the ambition and look of it. Plus, it has really stayed with me.
Speaking of movies that stay with you, I finally made it through all the critical darlings from last year that I had put in my queue, but ended up with a Top Ten list mostly consisting of movies I watched some time ago. [Side note: Can we have a moratorium on the use of “girl” in book and film titles?]
2015 Top Ten (Final)
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Bande de filles (Girlhood)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
I caught up on my 52 Films By Women challenge this quarter, watching seventeen films that qualified: By the Sea (2015); Chocolat (1988); Coco avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel) (2009); The Dressmaker (2016); Je, tu, il, elle (I, You, He, She) (1974); Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1993); Learning to Drive (2015); Les Innocentes (2016); Love & Basketball (2000); Maggie’s Plan (2016); Que Horas Ela Volta? (The Second Mother) (2015); Queen of Katwe (2016); Slums of Beverly Hills (1998); Respire (2015); Tallulah (2016); 35 Rhums (35 Shots of Rum) (2009); White Material (2009). So I’m on track for completion of this project by the end of the year.
For a refreshing change, four of these films were actually seen in the theater. Many of them are French films, with three by Claire Denis, two by Anne Fontaine, and one by Chantal Akerman. These directors have all worked in the French system for some time, so I’m glad that this project has pushed me to see more of their films that I might otherwise have ignored.
Top Five #52FilmsByWomen
Les Innocentes (2016)
Maggie’s Plan (2016)
White Material (2009)
Queen of Katwe (2016)
You can follow my progress on this challenge at Letterboxd.
Much like with Star Wars last quarter, in anticipation of Jason Bourne, I rewatched the original Bourne trilogy (I saw no need to suffer through the Damon-less Bourne Legacy).
The Definitive Jason Bourne Ranking
The Bourne Identity
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Ultimatum
This really wasn’t much of a contest. The new Jason Bourne was really quite awful so that was easy to slot last. And the original is such a tight thriller—really, the only downfall to Identity is that the women are basically props (even though I love Franka Potente as Marie). Of course, if there wasn’t so much shaky cam in Supremacy and Ultimatum, these might be ranked very differently. For one, despite Marie’s early demise, the women in Supremacy are handled much better. And, while the whole identity thing becomes a bit tiresome in Ultimatum, I love how that film wraps around to the end of Supremacy. Genius.
In terms of my other movie watching this quarter, here are some favorite (and not-so-favorite) selections:
Best Classic Rewatch: The Usual Suspects (1995)
Damn if this movie doesn’t hold up even when you know how it ends. In fact, it may even get better.
Best New-to-Me Classic: Blazing Saddles (1974)
It’s far from being my favorite Mel Brooks (though Madeline Kahn’s “I’m Tired” goes a long way toward saving it for me), but I’m glad to have finally watched this. [Side note: My top three Brooks would be The Producers, Young Frankenstein, and High Anxiety.]
Best Math Greek Selection: Man Up (2015)
The Math Greek was sure I would like this romantic comedy starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell and I did. It came out just last year but I had never heard of it. The plot seems screwball-inspired though the style is very different. It’s a bit too hokey in the end, but I loved Pegg and Bell and also the depiction of the other older couples.
Best Movie Seen in the Theater: Les Innocentes (2016)
I pretty much felt I had seen my favorite film of the year on leaving the cinema after viewing Les Innocentes. I will be very surprised if this isn’t the French or Polish entry for the Academy Awards.
Best Theater Experience: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Blazing Saddles (1974) double feature
After Gene Wilder’s death, select AMC theatres showed this double feature on the weekend. The crowd was tremendously enthusiastic and emotional. It was my first time seeing Blazing Saddles but Willy Wonka is a long-time favorite that I hadn’t seen on the big screen since the 99-cent movie theater of my childhood. [Side note: As stated above, I’m not a huge fan of Blazing Saddles. My top three Wilders would be Willy Wonka, Silver Streak, and The Producers.]
Biggest Theater Disappointment: Jason Bourne (2016)
I was so looking forward to this film after not having much interest in most summer blockbusters, but this doesn’t even come close to the original trilogy. And don’t even get me started on Nicky.
Most Overrated: The Witch (2016)
This is one of those films that teeters on a fine line between success and failure. For me, it ultimately ended up on the failure side of line. I think it needed to take more time and really establish the creep factor for me to fully buy in to the final scenes.
Most Underrated: The Light Between Oceans (2016)
Is it perfect? No, but I don’t understand why this didn’t review better. (I kid, I know it’s probably because it focuses on the trauma of the two women involved and not the man and his manly war service.) I thought the direction was masterful.
Best Documentary: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
I watched this as a double feature with Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade. While I think Chasing Ghosts provides a better overall explanation of arcade game culture, The King of Kong gives you a real sense of the crazy rivalries at play.
Best Western: Hell or High Water (2016)
A contemporary western to be sure, but great performances and just the right amount of humor. Though I was disappointed it was filmed in New Mexico and not Texas, I thought it used setting to great effect to reinforce its message.
Best Western (runner-up): The Dressmaker (2016)
This film had huge problems in maintaining a consistent tone. If it had leaned more in the direction of the revenge western that seemed to pop up from time to time, I think this film would have been more successful.
Best Sports Movie: Queen of Katwe (2016)
This movie is everything you might think a Disney sports movie directed by Mira Nair would be. Delightful. Heartwarming. Colorful. There were solid performances by Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo, but Madina Nalwanga, the young lead, really carried the film.
The Rupert Giles Award (aka Mathiest): Maggie’s Plan (2016)
Most Existential Ennui (aka Frenchiest): Je, tu, il, elle (1974)
Most Sherlockian: Denial (2016)
This is a fairly standard courtroom drama, but it was rather disconcerting to see both Mycroft and Moriarty on the side of the righteous.
Best Knitwear: The Light Between Oceans (2016)
Even, or perhaps especially, if you have no interest in seeing The Light Between Oceans, you need to read this write-up of its gorgeous knitwear.
Best Use of a Hot Water Bottle: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Can Taika Waititi do no wrong? Only time, and Thor: Ragnarok, will tell.
Least Faithful Adaption: In a Lonely Place (1950)
This is a very good film, but it deviates so far from the original novel (which I read earlier this year) that I can’t help but wonder what a proper adaptation would look like.
Scariest Rabbits (tie): Watership Down (1978), The Witch (2016)
Five Films I Can’t Recommend
Jason Bourne (2016)
Je, tu, il, elle (1974)
Little Big Man (1970)
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
The Witch (2016)
Best Opening Line: The Dressmaker (2016)
I am back, you bastards.
Best Closing Shot: Respire (2015)
I finish watching most films very much in editor-mode, thinking about tweaks I would have made here and there. However, I can’t think of one frame I would have changed in Mélanie Laurent’s astonishing first feature as a director, including the end, which was just perfect. This tale of a high school friendship is extreme to say the least, and yet it rings very true.
Best Closing Shot (runner-up): 45 Years (2015)
Most people have raved about the final shot in this film. It is only a runner-up here because for me it confirmed a growing sensation I had during the latter half of the movie that we were supposed to be sympathizing only with the wife of this couple, who I found to be supremely unsympathetic and self-centered in the face of the trauma suffered by her husband. I even read the short story to see how the narrative was presented there (differently). Otherwise I was fascinated by this examination of the advantages, expectations, and pitfalls of a long-term relationship.
Tune in next quarter when I tackle classic horror, assess my year with female directors, and choose my favorite films of 2016!
*The movies I saw or rewatched this quarter include:
2016: Denial; Don’t Think Twice, The Dressmaker, Florence Foster Jenkins, Hell or High Water, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Jason Bourne, Les Innocentes (The Innocents), The Light Between Oceans, Maggie’s Plan, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Queen of Katwe, Sausage Party, Sing Street, Tallulah, The Witch
2015: By the Sea; Chi-Raq; 45 Years; The Gift; Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter; Learning to Drive; Man Up; Que Horas Ela Volta? (The Second Mother); Respire (Breathe)
Released prior to 2015: Blazing Saddles, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade, Chocolat, Coco avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel), In a Lonely Place, Je tu il elle (I You He She), Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Little Big Man, Love & Basketball, Slums of Beverly Hills, 35 Rhums (35 Shots of Rum), The Usual Suspects, Victory, Watership Down, White Material, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Note: These posts are in no way affiliated with the Film Quarterly journal published by the University of California Press.