Film Diary 2021 with Skepsis

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I hope this will serve as a good memory aid for me during a year where Iím already upping my movie-watching game quite significantly after a lengthy break. And hopefully also as a source of some good discussion for those who are interested! Itíll be very free-form, no expectations, but Iíll try to write a little something about everything I see.

Enjoy!

January

The Swimmer / Irrational Man / Magic in the Moonlight / The Favourite / Dial M for Murder / The Man Who Would Be King / Soul / Parasite / The Trial / Green for Danger / Playtime / Trouble in Paradise / The Lobster / Phantom Thread / Aliens / Citizen Kane / Citizen Kane - with Roger Ebert's commentary / Mank / Wild Strawberries / Autumn Sonata / Au Hasard Balthazar / The African Queen / Gaslight / Young Frankenstein / The Magnificent Ambersons / Stalker





The Swimmer
(Perry/Pollack, 1968)
+
What a wonderful performance from Lancaster to highlight a surreal and engrossing study of a man in crisis, holding us superbly in suspense between reality and hallucination. It hit me first as a tragic journey through the deterioration of Nedís carefully cultivated masculine image of physical fitness, material wealth, social status, virility, fatherhood, etc. Which of course feeds beautifully into the broader aim of deconstructing the false facade of consumerism and the American Dream. A gem and an excellent start to the year.

Irrational Man
(Allen, 2015)
-
Certainly mid-to-lower-tier Allen but still a sharp Hitchcock send-up held together by a couple of excellent lead performances, the philosophising grew pretty tiresome towards the end but it was saved by an otherwise witty script and a fun twist.

Magic in the Moonlight
(Allen, 2014)

Very slight, felt like it could have been a 45-minute episode of something dragged out to feature length. Lacked much wit or chemistry between Firth and Stone, this goes towards the bottom of my overall Allen ranking.

The Favourite
(Lanthimos, 2018)
+
Loved this, deliciously scheming, witty, b*tchy, weird, looks sensational, unbelievably good performances from a trio of actors at the very top of their game. I also loved Nicholas Hoult in this, who is fast turning into a really interesting performer (I'm also watching him in The Great, which is similar in some ways to this and written by the same guy, I recommend it). An excellent (if overdue) introduction to Lanthimosí work, canít wait to sink my teeth into more.

Dial M for Murder
(Hitchcock, 1954)

I watched the whole thing believing Iíd never seen it before, only to go to rate it on IMDb and find that I had. Thatís never happened to me before, I must be getting old. I canít think why none of it rang a bell to me because I apparently enjoyed it then and I did now. Not among Hitchís best for my money, but still an entertaining caper with the wonderful Milland/Kelly duo and a few excellent supporting players, only improved by the now infamous hilarious oversized comedy finger.



The Swimmer is one I want to watch as I'm a fan of Burt Lancaster and I think @Cobpyth is a big fan of the film.

I've got to admit though I didn't enjoy The Favourite and have struggled with Lanthimos so far. Dogtooth is the only other one I've seen. I've got Killing of a Sacred Deer recorded so I might give him another go sometime soon.

My assessment of Dial M for Murder is pretty much identical to yours, a very good film. I've got it at the same rating on IMDb although it must be over six years since I've seen it. I remember watching it with my mum and brother who both enjoyed it too. I need to have a rewatch of a lot of Hitch's filmography. I've seen his "big four" countless times but the others maybe only once or twice. Have you seen Foreign Correspondent? That's one of my favourite "lesser-known" films from him.
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The Swimmer is one I want to watch as I'm a fan of Burt Lancaster and I think @Cobpyth is a big fan of the film.
Yeah, I read some of the reviews from when it was in a hall of fame a few years ago, it's got quite a few fans around here. Definitely recommend it!

I've got to admit though I didn't enjoy The Favourite and have struggled with Lanthimos so far. Dogtooth is the only other one I've seen. I've got Killing of a Sacred Deer recorded so I might give him another go sometime soon.
Interesting, for some reason I thought it would be one you would be into. I'm going for The Lobster next I think which I've got high hopes for.

My assessment of Dial M for Murder is pretty much identical to yours, a very good film. I've got it at the same rating on IMDb although it must be over six years since I've seen it. I remember watching it with my mum and brother who both enjoyed it too. I need to have a rewatch of a lot of Hitch's filmography. I've seen his "big four" countless times but the others maybe only once or twice. Have you seen Foreign Correspondent? That's one of my favourite "lesser-known" films from him.
Yeah same here, I've seen all the major stuff but still have quite a few of his lesser-known films to see. I haven't seen Foreign Correspondent but it's on the list.



The Swimmer is one I want to watch as I'm a fan of Burt Lancaster and I think @Cobpyth is a big fan of the film.

I've got to admit though I didn't enjoy The Favourite and have struggled with Lanthimos so far. Dogtooth is the only other one I've seen. I've got Killing of a Sacred Deer recorded so I might give him another go sometime soon.

My assessment of Dial M for Murder is pretty much identical to yours, a very good film. I've got it at the same rating on IMDb although it must be over six years since I've seen it. I remember watching it with my mum and brother who both enjoyed it too. I need to have a rewatch of a lot of Hitch's filmography. I've seen his "big four" countless times but the others maybe only once or twice. Have you seen Foreign Correspondent? That's one of my favourite "lesser-known" films from him.
Foreign Correspondent is such an underrated Hitch for me, completely agree!



The Swimmer and The Favourite are two extraordinary films. I nominated the former for a hall of fame a few years ago. I'm glad I was able to introduce this great picture to quite a few people here. The latter I saw at the theater when it came out. Such a fantastic experience.
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Cobpyth's Movie Log ~ 2019



The Swimmer and The Favourite are two extraordinary films. I nominated the former for a hall of fame a few years ago. I'm glad I was able to introduce this great picture to quite a few people here. The latter I saw at the theater when it came out. Such a fantastic experience.
I watched The Swimmer partly off the back of those discussions.

Have you seen the Allen films? I'd be interested to know what you thought, I know you are (or at least were) a big fan.




The Man Who Would Be King
(Huston, 1975)

Over the years before finally getting his long time-pet-project Kipling adaptation made, John Huston considered several big-name duos for the title roles of Daniel Dravit and Peachy Carnehan. Gable and Bogart were first in the fifties, followed by Lancaster and Douglas, then Burton and OíToole, and finally Robert Redford and Paul Newman, the latter of whom pointed Huston in the direction of Connery and Caine.

With most of those combos (save maybe the last) I could see the film playing out how most reviewers have seen it, as a spectacle in the vein of Lawrence of Arabia led by two swashbuckling adventurers. And you can see from the poster that this was the intention. But watching this ragtag pairing of a Scot and a cockney become gods in a faraway land, plus how the duo choose to play them, gives The Man Who Would Be King an eccentricity that doesnít give it another level so much as catapults it into an entirely new absurd dimension. It hit me as a sort of cross-breed of a satirical comedy and parable, a farce of the arrogance of imperialism, and a very funny one at that.

Some other observations:



Soul
(Docter/Powers, 2020)
-
I really enjoyed this. You can count on Pixar (usually Pete Docter, more specifically) to deliver that potent mix of intelligent (and genuinely laugh-out-loud, here) comedy, visual awe, originality and simple yet quietly profound messaging. And I just loved the eclectic soundtrack.

Parasite
(Bong, 2019)
+
Supremely entertaining, scathing upstairs/downstairs social commentary for the modern age. The many hard-right turns in takes in tone and narrative are seamless, surprising and frequently inspired.

The Trial
(Welles, 1962)
Iím not sure how to go about rating this. I was very impressed by the visuals, by this point Welles had long since honed his craft to the point of mastery of mise en scene, particularly lighting in this film. Itís so effective at creating this cold, illogical, frustrating world that I found myself less drawn into the story and more and more frustrated at the absurdity of it all. Which means, obviously, that the film is a complete success, but while I was impressed, I canít say that I particularly enjoyed my time spent in its company.

Objective rating:
+
ďEnjoymentĒ rating (which is what I usually go by):



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
Following his death I've had a bit of a Sean Connery binge, including Man Who Would Be King. Took me a while to get into it but it eventually drew me in, largely thanks to Connery. I'm not a fan of Michael Caine and found him a bit too hammy. Really interesting story and has some astonishing scenery and locations as its sets. Interested to watch it again to see if it can grab me for the whole runtime

Soul I liked but it was more that I admired it rather than loved it; didn't really have an emotional connection with it. Really enjoyed the little flashbacks to 22's interactions with her past mentors. And huge fan of Parasite. Thought it was excellent. Think I had it as my 3rd favourite film of 2019.



Following his death I've had a bit of a Sean Connery binge, including Man Who Would Be King. Took me a while to get into it but it eventually drew me in, largely thanks to Connery. I'm not a fan of Michael Caine and found him a bit too hammy. Really interesting story and has some astonishing scenery and locations as its sets. Interested to watch it again to see if it can grab me for the whole runtime
Yeah, I really liked it but maybe not fully in the way it was intended. Caine did ham it up a bit but for me that played really well into my reading of the film.

BTW, I just had a look over your top 100 (and 8) after seeing the link in your signature, man what a great time capsule Reading some of my old comments really made me realise how much my taste has developed and how much cinema I've explored in the 10 years since. Curious to know if you feel the same way or if your list would look similar today as it did then.



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
BTW, I just had a look over your top 100 (and 8) after seeing the link in your signature, man what a great time capsule Reading some of my old comments really made me realise how much my taste has developed and how much cinema I've explored in the 10 years since. Curious to know if you feel the same way or if your list would look similar today as it did then.
Holy crap. 10 years!!! That's genuinely scary lol My list would I think look quite different.

Also I have to admit that with the list I jumped in way too early on a number of films, watching them not long before making the list and putting them on on the strength of just one viewing, and partly as an attempt to impress people. Now I just don't give a sh*t! A few years back I was doing a very serious attempt at a new list and on revisiting them loads of films would be cut. The list also included a lot I hadn't seen in a long while and again on revisiting them no longer love. At least not to a level worthy of making the list. So just looking at that first page alone I can see about 10 films that wouldn't make it.

My taste however has not changed really. So it wouldn't know include a lot of French films or films from the 40s for example. To be honest it's quite rare I see a film these days that I love to a top 100 extent. Most of the films I truly love come from my teenage years which I think is when things, whether it be movies or music or whatever, really have their strongest influence on you. When you're a teenager and you love something you truly LOVE it

Life and mental health struggles have completely derailed my attempts at a new list, especially as my goal was to make it the most epic list of all time, complete with my epic, rambling write-ups of nearly every film lol One day I shall possibly return to it





Green for Danger
(Sidney Gilliat, 1946)

Stanley Donenís Charade is often cited as the best Hitchcock film not directed by the great man (and I love that film), but the dark humour and intricate mystery of this almost painfully British whodunit would also make this a great contender for the ultimate Hitch-lite. Directed by Sidney Gilliat (who co-wrote Hitchcockís The Lady Vanishes with Frank Launder) and featuring the great Trevor Howard, it takes place at a rural hospital in the shadow of World War II, where a postman dies on the surgeonís table. It really comes to life when we meet the sardonic Inspector Cockrill, who comes to investigate when the nurse who claims the postmanís death was not an accident is murdered. Brilliantly realised by Alastair Sim, Cockrill has all the wit, flamboyance, arrogance and facetiousness of a kind of cross between Sherlock Holmes and M*A*S*Hís Hawkeye Pierce. Heís so much fun to watch that he would be the making of the film on his own, but the unpredictable plot and ending nobody will see coming just adds to the enjoyment.

Playtime
(Jacques Tati, 1967)
+
The sets, the intricacy of the staging and performances, the density of the gags (of which Iím positive I missed as many as I picked up on), its commentary on the coldness of capitalism and technological advance, the completely unique look and sound Ė all incredibly impressive on some level or another but it wasnít enough to make me love it. The style felt cold to me, and the lack of any emotional component really kept me at armís length throughout. Like nothing Iíve ever seen before, and Iím glad Iíve seen it, but nothing I would be scrambling to revisit.

Trouble In Paradise
(Ernst Lubitsch, 1932)

What a disarmingly funny, charming comedy. Perfectly formed with not a minute wasted, itís heartfelt, witty, and an example of how brilliantly bawdy pre-Code Hollywood comedies could be. The three leads are sublime, especially Herbert Marshall and the absurdly smooth gentleman thief, and I loved Edward Horton and Charlie Ruggles too as the duo of hopeful (or hopeless) suitors. Not much more to say other than this feels like an instant favourite.



Life and mental health struggles have completely derailed my attempts at a new list, especially as my goal was to make it the most epic list of all time, complete with my epic, rambling write-ups of nearly every film lol One day I shall possibly return to it
I think lots of people here would agree that we'd love to see a new list from you, in whatever form you have the desire/energy to release it in. Just as a 10-year comparison it really is fascinating and a real insight like you alluded to not just in terms of how our taste has changed or our relationship with certain films, but also how our attitude to picking favourites and how we choose to (or choose not to) present them to others has changed, too.



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
I think lots of people here would agree that we'd love to see a new list from you, in whatever form you have the desire/energy to release it in. Just as a 10-year comparison it really is fascinating and a real insight like you alluded to not just in terms of how our taste has changed or our relationship with certain films, but also how our attitude to picking favourites and how we choose to (or choose not to) present them to others has changed, too.
Well thank you. Maybe one day. Actually got so much stuff that never saw the light of day. Was doing a big Bond project where I reviewed every film in the series. I even had a thread title picked out (Licence to Review - JayDee does Bond) And I've got dozens and dozens of reviews that never saw the light of day

Not seen any of that trio but as a Hithcock fan Green for Danger sounds interesting



We did a MoFo podcast a few years back for The Man Who Would Be King.

https://www.movieforums.com/communit...ad.php?t=51030
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"Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone. It bosses the enzymes, directs the pineal gland, plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to Film is more Film." - Frank Capra





The Lobster
(Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)
-
I was totally engrossed by this eccentric tale about a near-future society in which any deviance from traditional coupledom is punished by being turned into an animal of your choosing. The performances are brilliant, and the whole thing, I would say, wonderfully absurdist but not absurd because it speaks so much to the state of modern life. And I love the way it gradually turns its own themes on their head.

Phantom Thread
(Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)

Immersive portrait of a tumultuous relationship between two deeply complex, well-drawn characters. This is both Anderson and Day-Lewis at perhaps the most understated Iíve seen them. This film looks and sounds fantastic, so in tune with the details of its mise-en-scene, and the chemistry in the Day-Lewis Ė Krieps Ė Manville trio is great to watch. I was particularly blown away by the scene in the cafť near the start of the film, the first meeting between Reynolds and Alma. The camera just lingers on Day-Lewis as he orders lunch, yet I got an immediate and powerful insight into that initial attraction, a moment of bliss before the tumult of the rest of the relationship.

Aliens
(James Cameron, 1986)

There was quite a lot I didnít like about this: itís somewhat predictable, Bill Paxton hams it up in the most gratingly shrill and obvious way, and great chunks of the dialogue and performances struck me as incredibly corny. Alien is so much more subtle and restrained and it took me a while to warm to the experience of this universe in a gung-ho, cheesy 80s action flick style. But warm to it I did and I ended up having a lot of fun with it. It really shines in its tight plotting and direction, delivering some great individual moments and building suspense beautifully right up to the exhilarating final act.





Citizen Kane
(Rewatch, Orson Welles, 1941)

Itís fascinating and endlessly rewatchable but I donít think I ever see it becoming a film I love on a visceral level like I do my absolute favourites. Wellesí film still hits me more as a technical achievement and as a revolutionary piece of Hollywood and cinema history, which is why this next part was such a rewarding experienceÖ

Citizen Kane Ė with Roger Ebertís commentary

Brilliant, a great way to watch this film and I felt like my appreciation of it subtle inventiveness and innovation and its wide-ranging impact was improved massively by Ebertís insight. In his hands this is a study of the ground-breaking things that can be done with limited resources by people of creative genius.

Mank
(David Fincher, 2020)

Works as a stylish window into Old Hollywood, as a showcase for some excellent performances and zippy dialogue (which I thought got a little too verbose for its own good at times, however), and the best bunch of stars-playing-stars since The Aviator. I wasnít crazy about the depiction of Wellesí involvement in the writing of the script, which seems to me to stray beyond simply dramatisation and far enough from the truth as to be bordering on disingenuous. As a work of fiction though, if you can put aside the inaccuracies, itís very enjoyable.



Just mopping up the rest of my January viewings as I'm starting to collect a backlog. Might write a bit more about these later on.



Wild Strawberries
(Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
+
Bergman at his most hopeful, playing with elements of nostalgia for youth, missed opportunities, and ultimately bittersweet acceptance of life and death.

Autumn Sonata
(Ingmar Bergman, 1978)

Austere, powerfully acted take on intergenerational neglect.

Au Hasard Balthazar
(Robert Bresson, 1966)
-
Sh*t happens, life sucks? Religious themes donít often resonate with me much, and this was no exception. But on a more basic level Bressonís film seems to tell us that we cannot stop life relentlessly ďhappeningĒ to us, randomly (the English translation of the title is apt, then), for want of a better way of putting it. We grow old, we lose our childhood innocence, we grow less and less capable of love, we are given hope and means of happiness only to have it stripped from us, by our own means or othersí. We are stripped, beaten and raped and the perpetrators suffer no consequences. The cruelty, greed, corruption and randomness of existence put on screen with stark honesty and simplicity. Iím surprised I wasnít more moved by it.



The African Queen
(John Huston, 1951)
+
After The Man Who Would Be King I was keen to see more Huston and this didnít disappoint. I wasnít blown away or anything, but itís thrilling, entertaining and adventurous and also thought-provoking, pitting civilisation against the savagery of nature. It also boasts two illustrious Hollywood icons, with fantastic chemistry, at the top of their game.

Gaslight
(George Cukor, 1944)

Enjoyable noir-ish thriller laced with paranoia and a handful of excellent performances.

Young Frankenstein
(Mel Brooks, 1974)

A few funny moments but not really my sense of humour Ė I havenít gelled too well with Brooksí films from what Iíve seen Ė apart from Blazing Saddles, strangely, which I love.

The Magnificent Ambersons
(Orson Welles, 1942)

Didnít love this, although I think I need to rewatch it soon as it was a somewhat distracted viewing.





Stalker

Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979

Possible spoilers ahead

I saw Mirror quite a few years ago now and it was so impenetrable to me that it took a long time to rediscover the desire to give Tarkovsky another whirl. When I saw first Andrei Rublev and then later Stalker pop up on our top 100 list I knew it was about time. And what a densely challenging, frustrating, thought-provoking, otherworldly, rewarding experience it ended up being.

Itís clear that Tarkovsky intended this film to be an intensely personal experience for each individual that takes the leap into this almost 3-hour long spiritual journey, whose modest plot follows three men as they venture into the mysterious Zone, in search of a Room which supposedly has the power to grant a personís innermost desire. I feel itís pointless to try to discern any concrete ďpointĒ Tarkovsky was trying to make; itís so densely packed with ideas that each viewer will draw a different conclusion. The fact that you can find masses of wildly varying interpretations of this film around the web is proof of that. At any rate, I canít pretend to completely understand even my own feelings about it after one viewing.

Purely as a piece of visual art, itís beautiful and full of unforgettable images. Itís not a beautiful world they inhabit, certainly not, at least, in the pre- and post- Zone sequences (emphasised by the murky sepia-toned cinematography, contrasting the escape into the expectant colour of the Zone). But the way it is photographed (along with the sparse soundtrack) gives it a distinctive magical-realist quality for which I struggle to find a comparison. The languid flow of the camerawork, allowing us to absorb each shot, the lingering close-ups of the wonderfully expressive performances of Kaydanovskiy and Solonitsyn particularly, suck you almost into a trance at times.

Iím sure itís possible to let all of this good stuff simply wash over you and enjoy the imagery without even trying to dissect the filmís many themes too much. But thereís so much there that it seems a shame not to at least try to pick apart what it all means to you.

For me, the journey of the Stalker, the Writer and the Professor is a metaphor for life itself, and the three men each represent the vastly different approaches we can take to finding happiness within it Ė led by God, by art, by science. In reality we are of course complicated beings more than likely dominated by a combination of these things, in conflict with one another, just as the three men butt heads Ė like the writer mocking the Stalker with his crown of thorns, and the latter, near the end of the film, decrying lack of faith and the spread of cynicism. Their snaking, illogical route through the Zone is the similarly snaking one our lives take, stumbling around in the darkness in search of meaning and an ideal of desire fulfilment and contentment. The nature of the journey changes as our philosophy and mindset does, just as the Zone becomes crueller as the writer infects the group with his increasing agitation and scepticism. The journey, and the destination, is about so much less than giving us what we want, as much as revealing to us our deepest truths, things we wouldnít admit even to ourselves. The ďmeat grinderĒ has this effect on the writer, who admits that his profession is a torment to him, and at the precipice of the Room we learn that a previous Stalker, ďPorcupine,Ē learnt this same reality in the harshest of ways.

Be careful what you wish for, then. Whether it is indeed a real, magical place, or Ė more likely Ė a product of the imagination, the Room is a dangerous proposition, revealing not what we tell ourselves and others we desire, but what our true nature dictates we do. In this way, beyond the superficial (like the visual transition to colour), the comparisons to The Wizard of Oz are apt. The men ultimately find that what they seek is a facade, but not in the ďyou had it in you all alongĒ kind of happy way of Flemingís film. The men are ultimately shown the unattainability of what they set out to obtain.

Itís been a long time since Iíve seen something that has felt so mysteriously resonant, made me think so much. I canít pretend to have a theory about all of it, and maybe mine is the shallowest of possible interpretations. But it has made me keen to revisit and dig deeper into the mystery.