Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of Year Six

My goal in terms of movies this year was to watch 400 different movies. As I write this, I have, in fact, watched 400 different movies this year, and since the day is still young, it’s likely that I’ll get one or two beyond that. I may not have reached all of my other goals this year, but I did hit that one.

Among all of those movies were 25 I watched because I was challenged to. Here’s how those broke down:

Picks from Chip

Chip Lary at Tips from Chip was supposed to give me 12 movies to watch. He cheated a little and gave me 13, because two of these movies are tied together and really needed to be done as a double feature. Hey, who am I to complain about an extra movie? Here’s how I rank Chip’s collection top to bottom:

1. Mary and Max (November)
A devastating dark comedy, Mary and Max is an exploration of love, friendship, and disappointment. It’s a fascinating film that is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and is more often funny only to prevent us from weeping.

2. The Man from Earth (September)
At a glance, this should be the dullest film that I have ever watched, since it is essentially a 90-minute conversation. In reality, it is a truly fascinating film, paced beautifully and never dull for a moment. I would have happily watched this if it had been double its length and would not have noticed it going that long. A remarkable film in every respect.

3. Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources (July)
Chip’s double feature really wasn’t a cheat, since the two films are necessary for the complete story. The first is the story of a man and the second is the story of his daughter. Of all the challenged films I watched this year, these two are far and away the most gorgeously filmed, and the story(ies) hold up to the beauty of the cinematography.

4. 3 Idiots (October)
3 Idiots had been on my NetFlix queue for years when Chip told me to watch it. This isn’t one necessarily easy to sit down, since it’s 3 hours long and mainly in Hindi. It runs through a number of emotions, and also uses a few urban legends of teaching in its telling, but it’s a hell of a fun story and has some truly memorable characters through its running time.

5. Death at a Funeral (March)
Exploring family tragedy, dark secrets, responsibility, homosexuality, drug use, and family issues should make this a dark and tragic film. Instead, this is screamingly funny and demonstrates just how much better the British are at comedy than Americans. Great writing and a plot just long enough to have the audience wishing for an extra 15 minutes makes this one of the funniest movies I saw this year.

6. Safety not Guaranteed (April)
This is a strange little movie exploring time travel…kind of. It’s also about trust and relationships. It’s darkly funny and has memorable characters and moments. If I could just get over my dislike of Aubrey Plaza, I’d probably end up liking this even more, and I liked it quite a bit. What sells this is that it could—and almost should—be entirely cynical, and it’s not at all.

7. Much Ado About Nothing (February)
I like Joss Whedon and I like the people he tends to work with. His version of Much Ado feels like a project he and his friends did over a couple of weekends as something of a lark. Because of that, it’s a lot of fun. I don’t love Shakespearean language in modern clothing all of the time, but I do like a lot of the choices he made here, including filming in black-and-white. It’s fun, and sometimes that’s enough.

8. POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (August)
Morgan Spurlock always comes across to me as the sort of guy who is fun to watch but who would really irritate me in real life. I love what he did with this film, and I think he makes his point, but sometimes Spurlock goes a little too far or too snarky, and the points he’s trying to make get lost in the drive for humor.

9. Once Were Warriors (January)
This is probably the position that Chip is the most disappointed in, since I know this is a film he likes a lot. Once Were Warriors is not a film I can claim to have enjoyed, but it is a film that is extremely well made. I watched it almost as a companion piece to Whale Rider. Of the two, I liked Whale Rider a lot more. It’s worth noting that had that not been on one of my Oscar lists, it’s the film Chip would have given me to watch.

10. Brick (December)
That problem I tend to have with Shakespearean language in modern clothing seems to transfer to film noir dialogue coming from the mouths of modern teens. While Chip may be the most disappointed in the placement of Once Were Warriors, the rest of my readership will probably be the most disappointed with this placement. I know it’s a modern cult classic, and it’s good. It’s just not something I’d call great.

11. And Then There Were None (May)
There’s a lot ot like with this early version of an Agatha Christie classic, but the Hays Code forced the filmmakers to punk the ending. The plot of the novel was to create a mystery that ends with 10 dead bodies on an island with no explanation. The movie gives us far less than this because of the need to cobble a happy ending out of the plot. Without that reality, this would move up several spots, because the first two acts are great.

12. Ong-bak (June)
Ong-bak has some of the greatest straight-up martial arts action I’ve seen in a long time (okay, except for The Raid). Unfortunately, this is in service of a really dumb plot and some very wooden acting. Tony Jaa is badass, no doubt. The real issue is that everything else about this movie seems to have come from 1980s action films despite this being made in the current century. Of all the movies Chip gave me to watch, this is the only one that didn’t cross the 3 stars/I like it Mendoza line on Letterboxd.

If you’re interested, here are the movies I picked for Chip and his reviews of the same
Chips recap of my selections
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Auto Focus (2002)
The Changeling (1980)
Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)
Elevator to the Gallows (1958)
The History of Future Folk (2012)
I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay (2006)
Jesus Camp (2006)
My Favorite Year (1982)
The Orphanage (2007)
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
The Train (1964)

YourFace Picks Movies
Nick, Jason, and Nolahn each gave me a list of four movies to watch this year. Knowing that Nolahn and especially Jason swim in a very different end of the cinematic pool than I do meant that I was opening myself up to some very different experiences from them. But hey, this is all about the challenge and the entire point of this site in the first place was to give myself the chance to experience movies in a different way that I would have just be doing what made me comfortable. I considered ranking these 1-12, but decided I’d rather not have these guys arguing about who picked better films. So instead I’ve ranked them individually.

Jason’s Picks

1. The Signal (April)
This low-budget indie sci-fi/horror/thriller manages to do a lot with not much in the money department. The idea here is what sells the movie. Well, that and some committed performances from its cast. The Signal goes pretty dark, but also injects some humor into a strange tale. The real reason it works, though, is that the implications of the story are very dark and upsetting.

2. Three the Hard Way (January)
Like any genre or subgenre, there’s good and bad in Blaxploitation. Three the Hard Way is kind of both. It’s got a plot straight out of the “kill Whitey” playbook, but it has a great deal of fun getting there. Additionally, it has the two best character names I encountered this year: Jagger Daniels and Mister Keyes. Yeah, it’s kind of dumb, but it’s exactly the right kind of dumb to be a really fun time watching a movie.

3. Blood Feast (October)
I knew that this was going to be a terrible movie—and it is a terrible movie. But it’s also a really important movie for the progression of horror as a genre. I’m convinced that modern horror would not exist in its present state without the influence of Blood Feast. So, while this sits close to the bottom of Jason’s list (and would be in the bottom half if I ranked all of the YourFace selections in one group), it’s probably the most important of all of the challenged movies I got this year. You go, Jason.

4. Undefeatable (July)
Okay, this one I knew was crap going in, and it didn’t disappoint in that respect. If you love really bad movies, this one hits all the clichés it can for an ‘80s action movie with martial arts themes. I know Jason loves it, and I even get why he loves it. I just don’t love it.

Nolahn’s Picks

1. The World’s End (November)
The end of the Cornetto Trilogy (and whether or not you accept as an actual trilogy is up to you) is the weakest of the three. That doesn’t say a lot, though, because the first two films in that trilogy (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) are two of my favorites of this century. This ties up a lot of themes explored in the other two films, and while the story doesn’t work perfectly, it is a lot of fun where it goes. There has to be a drinking game for this, right?

The Time Machine (February)
I knew the story of this film, or the story it was based on, and I’m pretty sure I’d seen bits and pieces of this in the past but not the whole thing. What surprised me the most is how well it works without getting to the meat of the story until well past the mid-point. The set up should be boring here and it really isn’t. In fact watching the progression of time through the operation of the machine is in many ways the best part of the film.

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (August)
What do you say about a movie that features a giant flying radioactive turtle as one of the heroes? In this case, as the person being told to watch it, I think the proper thing to say is “Thank you.” A Japanese giant monster movie isn’t going to win a lot of awards, but holy crap was this the right combination of goofy, scary, and fun.

Deathstalker 2 (May)
Nolahn loves to proselytize this film to all and sundry, and it was my turn. Much like Jason’s pick of Undefeatable, I get why Nolahn loves this as much as he does, but it doesn’t work for me. It’s not that it’s campy, but that it’s forced camp, and it’s hard to get that balance right. As much as I wanted to love it, I simply don’t.

Nick’s Picks

1. Man on Wire (September)
This was a very strange documentary, one that offers an odd view of a very strange man. It’s simultaneously compelling because of the insanity of the stunt being performed, but mildly annoying because of the ego of the man performing the stunt. Ultimately, the fascination outweighs any issues I might have with the man himself. Definitely worth seeking out.

2. Tokyo Godfathers (December)
Nick recommended that I watch this last because it does have a Christmas/New Year’s connection even if it’s not really a traditional Christmas movie. It’s also not a kids’ movie despite looking like one. What sells it is not the story, which is filled with Dickensian coincidence piled on top of coincidence, but the characters, who are fantastic.

3. Aladdin (June)
I know this is a formative film for Nick and I enjoyed it. I would have probably liked it a lot more if I had seen it as a kid instead of the age I am, but I fully understand why people love it. Robin Williams is the real reason to see this. The biggest issue is that the characters aren’t fully fleshed out, or really fleshed out at all. Great songs, though.

4. The Castle of Cagliostro (March)
The Castle of Cagliostro suffers from being a part of a larger series and from not being the first film in the series. It happens to be Hayao Miyazaki’s early work, though, which makes it notable. I think if I’d seen the previous films I’d have liked this one a lot more. That’s not really Nick’s fault or the film’s fault. It’s just true.

So what comes next? Well, with YourFace stopping, I won’t be getting 12 more movies from them. However, Chip and I are continuing this series for another year (second Mondays of the month, just like in 2015). Here are the movies we’ve chosen for each other:

My picks for Chip
The Collector (1965)
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002)
Nighthawks (1981)
Quadrophenia (1979)
Rollerball (1975)
Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)
Stake Land (2010)
Testament (1983)
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)
Went the Day Well? (1942)

Chip’s picks for me:
Another Earth (2011)
Departures (2008)
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
Incendies (2010)
Iron Sky (2012)
Ondine (2009)
The One I Love (2014)
Ruby Sparks (2012)
Scotland, PA (2001)
Stoker (2013)
The Way We Get By (2009)
Widow’s Peak (1994)

EDIT: Nick Jobe, though no longer blogging (Come back, Shane!), wanted to force me to give me another list this year. It's only fair since I think I've still made him watch more than he's made me watch. Here are Nick's 12 movies, which I'll watch on the third Monday of the month:
The Battery
Easy A
Hanson: Strong Enough to Break
I Saw the Devil
Kiki's Delivery Service
Killer Joe
No Holds Barred
Party Monster
Perfect Blue
Short Term 12


  1. I will take that ranking! In fact, I probably would have been surprised had it been any other way.

    I'll miss challenging you, though! I love challenging people!

    1. Hey, no one said you couldn't challenge me again. I didn't know how involved you'd be in the blogging community, though, so I didn't ask.

  2. So happy to see how much you thought of Mary & Max. That has quickly become one of my favorite movies of all time. Every part of it works for me. Lots of other great stuff, here, too. Also lots I still need to see myself.

    Happy New Year!!!

    1. Of the 25 I watched, I'd recommend 22 or 23 of them. That's a pretty good average.

  3. Happy new year, Steve.
    I love the idea of getting to see movies you wouldnot have picked yourself and actually find gems among them. Great fun.
    All the best for the new year, I will keep an eye on your posts.

    1. It's interesting because you never really know what you're going to step into. Some of them from this year were good, but some will end up being films that I tell others to watch in earnest.

  4. Actually, I'm more happy seeing The Man from Earth as high as it is (I thought you gave it a lower rating than some others initially) than I am disappointed with the placement of Once Were Warriors. I completely understand that it's a hard watch, and it was the personal impact it had on me and my hypocritical attitudes towards screen violence that really raised it to being a top notch film, in my opinion.

    Of the ones Nick picked for you in 2016, I've seen Chef, Easy A, Kiki's Delivery Service, Killer Joe, and Tangled. Easy A was in my Top 10 for the year it came out and was on my list of possible picks for you. It might push some of your buttons, though, so I'll be curious to see your review of it. My first thought on Tangled was "isn't that on Steve's list of Animated nominees" but when I checked it's nom was for Song, not Film. I liked it, too. Kiki's Delivery Service is another charmer from Miyazaki. Chef is an interesting film in the parallels it has with star Jon Favreau's own career. And Killer Joe is controversial because of some of its content.

    1. Oh, and big congratulations on reaching your goal of 400 films seen in 2015!

    2. I scraped through on hitting 400. The last one I watched (The Ledge from 2011) was pretty weak.

      My issues with Once Were Warriors is that it simply tries to do too much. There are too many stories (Nig's and Boogie's stories especially) that are mainly forgotten and deserved a lot more space in the narrative. It's ambitious, but it doesn't capitalize on everything it wants to do. I gave The Man from Earth 4 1/2 on Letterboxd; it's a hell of a good film and I'm always happy to see Tony Todd getting work, especially when his deep basso rumble is given such great things to say.

      Looking forward to this year's challenges.

  5. Looking forward to your reviews of Kiki's Delivery Service (charming is absolutely the right word for this) and Iron Sky which is full of all kinds of cheese but which I really enjoyed.

    1. I'm really trying to decide if I should watch Iron Sky right away or if I should save it for when I need a little cheese in my life.