Movies in Review, Part 2: Earlier Films I Watched, Including Some Classics

Welcome back! So aside from catching a lot of new 2022 releases last year (see that post here), I got caught up with some 2021 movies, especially before the Oscars. I decided not to "pick a winner" here either. Honestly, if I labeled them as a "favorite" then it's a winner for me, and each is unique in how they gave me movie-watching joy.

2021 Films, Favorites (In order of viewing):

CODA - Sweet and tender story of a girl growing up as the only hearing member of an otherwise deaf family. This one deserved all the accolades it received.

PIG - Go Nicolas Cage! His best film, by a lot. Don't get me wrong, he's in a lot of movies I liked (and some not so much), bit this story of a recluse forced to confront his past to rescue his pet pig is emotional, funny, beautifully acted and scripted. Such a great flick.

THE DIG - Had this Netflix original in list "List" for ages, knowing somehow, I'd like it, and it did not disappoint. Sweet, beautifully shot, touching in so many ways, it moved along at a leisurely pace, but pointed in a consistent, sometimes surprising direction.

RESPECT - This Aretha Franklin biopic was unapologetic and honest, with a stand-out - I mean stand-out - performance by Jennifer Hudson who was, interestingly enough, hand-picked by Franklin herself to play her. Her vocals and acting chops have never been better. 

In the PRE-2021 category, my stand-out favorites were (In order of viewing):

(1997) - Sad, sad film starring Ian Holm and at the same time so beautiful, in the shooting and music.

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003) - This movie no one saw when it came out is absolutely fantastic, with exceptional performances by Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany.

SILENCE (2016) - Sometimes difficult to watch in its honest portrayal of early Japan rejecting Christian missionaries, this Scorsese passion project (no pun intended) is one of the finest, touching films of the bunch.

THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD (2017) - This ended up being as funny as I thought it would be. Jackson and Reynolds with perfect chemistry. Violent, and hilarious.

BABETTE'S FEAST (1987) - easily, this was one of my favorites overall, this minimalist, Swedish (I think) film won Best Foreign Film that year and held me captive in every frame. Gorgously simple film.

MALCOLM X (1992) - Three hours, this is one of the few incentives I gave myself for getting on the treadmill every morning. Took me a couple of weeks, but oh, what an honest, large scope view of a man I honestly knew very little about growing up 9for obvious, middle class white boy reasons)/

THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE (2018) - I've been waiting to watch this for years, and writer/director Terry Gilliam waiting decades to finally give it to us. Adam driver is everywhere these days but between Gilliam's dreamlike touches, and Driver's and Pryce's acting, a wonderful adventure. I also learned where the name of the ship from The Expanse series of novels came from.

THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK (1984) - this Oscar-winning documentary about activist and politician Harvey Milk has been on my to-watch list for, no joking - thirty-five years, ever since I got the Mark Isham soundtrack album FILM MUSIC from my cousin Stephen. He was murdered, and they tell us that in the first few minutes of the film. Then we are brought through his life and times becomes a game changer in the San Francisco political scene. When the film catches up to his murder, I was literally crying as I watched, because they made me love the man. Very strong contender for best documentary, and even best film, I've seen. Ever.

I also got to enjoy, finally, some "Classic" Films (Pre-1980). The best:

GASLIGHT (1944) - I was mesmerized by Ingrid Bergman in this suspenseful (and at times frustrating, in a good way) tale. The naive innocence she projected was so believable, it was aching how much of a dirty, rotten scoundrel Charles Boyer's character was. Loved this, including a twisty (even to the end was she in cahoots with the husband or not) performance by a very young Angela Lansbury.

BEN HUR (1959) - I'd seen the 2016 remake and enjoyed it, aside from the terrible ending (a studio exec got his/her hands into it), but had heard this original (well, it's a remake of an earlier silent film but let's not quibble) was excellent. It was magificent. How some of the effects and sets were done, sixty-two years later, I honestly can't say. The scope was beyond what I'd expected, with no slow parts to slog through (did someone say THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956)?). Every actor, top notch, and the final act with the crucifixion of Jesus and what happened around that was dark and downright frightening. Amazing film.

CAT PEOPLE (1942) - I still haven't seen the 70's remake, which made a splash in my youth (though it's on my TBW list), but this short original was wonderful. Simone Simon was this innocent gem with a hint of otherness she carried well through the movie. Very good, interesting little horror film.

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957) - so many classic film montages showed the final act, or so I thought, but this 900 hour (ok about 3) tale of British forced to build a bridge in a Japanese internment camp, and the psychological warfare between the commanders of the camp (Sessue Hayakawa) and the prisoners (Sir Alec Guiness) was surprisingly riveting, with a buil dup to the finale that had me (and my 8 year old son Elias) out of our seats yelling at the actors on the screen. Any movie that can do that deserves accolades.

THE DICTATOR (1940) - just caught this at the end of the year when I stumbled on my 31-year-old son Andrew watching it while he recuperated from the flu. I'd never seen a film where Charlie Chaplin spoke (and directed and wrote) but this farsical tale (and ominous warning) around Hitler's Nazi regime was very well done, equally funny, touching, and frightening.

Other Movies I enjoyed (let's call them HONORABLE MENTIONS):

SING 2 - a worthy sequel to the stellar animated SING (2016), not quite at its level but close, and an enjoyable romp with the family. BEING THE RICARDOS (2021) - having grown up with the Ricardos (in syndication), this was a fascinating and well-done peek behind the curtain. Bardem and Kidman were Ricky and Lucy, without having to do any weird makeup, just acting. NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021) - Not at all what I expected, a modern Noir (or a modern remake of a 1940's noir film), it was surprising, and a bit add as it went along. Ended a wee bit flat but with a great final scene that I, at least, thought made up for it. KING RICHARD (2021) - this bio pic of the of tennis dad who coached his daughters to international fame was powerful, a bit staggered as many biopics get when they're trying to be too accurate, but with Will Smith at the top of his game. BELFAST (2021) - it would have helped greatly to have studied about the "troubles" in Northern Ireland last century before watching, but this black and white tale of an Irish family dealing with the insanity of that time and place was spot on. DRIVE MY CAR (2021) - I think this won the best foreign film Oscar? Went around a lot of different (mis)directions, but it was an enjoyable, and tender, ride. Pun intended. SAVE YOURSELVES! (2021) - This Hulu original, low budget science fiction comedy was very, very funny in parts, a modern movie skewering its own generation, and at the same time all of those end of the world fliks that came about late.

And Others that I also enjoyed to varying degrees, in order of enjoyment (the top almost made it to my favorites, aka HONORABLE MENTIONS):

AKIRA (pleasantly surprised and not what I expected) (1988); FAST COLOR (2018); RAT RACE (2001); THE GENTLEMEN (2019); NEWMAN (2015); THE OLD GUARD (2020); MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004); JAGGED (2021) (documentary about making of the album Jagged Little Pill); SING (2016); HITMAN (2007); LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL (1994); FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT TIME TRAVEL (2009); JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL (1973) (I adore the soundtrack, and finally got around to seeing the film which was very loyal to the book, another of my favorite things in the world, but one that the translation to film, beautiful as it was, could at times be a little repetitious); THE FRENCH DISPATCH (2020); IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2019); NEXT (2007); ROAD TO PERDITION (mostly for Hanks' acting) (2002); SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018); THE HISTORY OF FUTURE FOLK (2012); MULTIVERSE (2019); THAT SUGAR FILM (2014); CLOSED FOR STORM (2020)

Finally, there were some films that I simply did not enjoy very much, in order of hate:

THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021) - What the heck... this movie was a surreal mess. Sorry, Dev. VAMPYR (1932) - this "classic" B&W film (I can't remember if it was silent), might have had a couple of interesting parts, but overall it was really, really boring. Well, it was. Your mileage may vary but.... THE LAST DUEL (2021) - a high concept medieval tale of a husband demanding satisfaction for a wrong done to his wife, supposedly told RASHAMON-style with telling the same story in flashback from three perspectives - the scoundrel, the husband, and the wife. Odd thing is, the stories, not once, contradicted each other. So, I honestly don't understand the point of making me watch this three hour, mostly dull film. Sorry, Ridley. ETERNALS (2021) - Too much. Too much. And too long. And I don't know. Undid almost everything in the MCU in a lot of ways. But it was ambitious and had some good parts; MATRIX RESURRECTION (2021) - we made it through about half and just stopped. People seemed tired. Even the young folks taking the reins. TERMINATOR DARK FATE (2019) wasn't too bad, at least most of it was a decent action film. Not sure how the Terminator can age like that, but overall, not terrible (not like TERMINATOR 3); Finally, I didn't hate MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981), as much as, well, it was kind of like being at a decent party with a good beer listening to some eccentric rich guy talk about the nutty things his New Age guru was leading him through that year. Interesting in a cultural sense, but overall nonsense and gibberish.


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