Sunday, December 25, 2022

X Más

This has been a difficult year in a lot of respects. Over the past couple of months, I’ve had a hard time getting here, thanks to a lot of other things going on. Work has been a bit of a crusher, too—I’ve had three different managers in 2022, so it feels like constant upheaval and chaos. I’m hoping for some more normalcy in 2023. Lord, 2023—when I was a kid I never really though I would make it to a year with this number on it. It wasn’t that I thought I would die before I hit this age. It was more that a year with this number was just inconceivable. Anyway, it’s a tradition that I suggest 10 movies for the 1001 Movies list every year. I could say that since there was no new book this year I could skip it, but sometimes one tradition needs to keep going.

1. Scrooge/A Christmas Carol (1951)

A Christmas Carol is a story that has been made and remade again and again. While The Muppet Christmas Carol is a favorite (and it ranks second for me), the 1951version will always be the go-to. Alastair Sim is a great Scrooge—mean, vicious, angry, and then craven and obsequious. But it is Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley that sells the movie. As one of my brothers likes to say, this is the best screaming Marley to ever play the role. I grew up on this version, and I love just how efficient it is—it goes through the whole story in about 86 minutes. It’s the premier version of the story on film, playing the entire thing perfectly.

2. Pleasantville (1998)

I don’t know how I’ve gone this many years without putting Pleasantville on this list, but it is probably here because I rewatched it earlier this year. It’s still a dandy film, and even if the allegory is about as subtle as a punch to the solar plexus, the story works because it’s so easy to read and understand. The transition from black-and-white into color works perfectly as well, and the visual side of the movie hasn’t lost a step in the 20+ years since its release. There’s something wonderful and charming about the world we’re shown…and something ugly beneath it that gets exposed. Yeah, it’s heavy-handed, but it works.

3. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)

There’s something in me that loves not just horror movies, but documentaries about horror movies. Horror Noire is about the relationship between Black people and the horror industry. It’s said at one point in the film that, essentially, Black people love horror, but horror hasn’t always loved them back. As a white cis/het male, I’ve long felt that horror movies are better, darker, more personal, and more meaningful coming from more marginalized people. I love Black horror as much as I do horror from women writers and directors, and this was a good reminder to me to keep seeking it out and promoting it.

4. Scarlet Street (1945)

When you look at films noir that made the style what it is, the natural go-tos are films like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity. Scarlet Street should be on that list as well. It’s as good a noir as you’re going to find, and it hits all of the requirements of the style as good or better than just about any other film in the style you’ll find. It helps that it has a tremendous cast starting with Edward G. Robinson, but including Joan Bennett and a never-better Dan Duryea. Before I watched this, it was the biggest hole in my viewing history, and I should have watched it years ago.

5. 8 Mile (1988)

You know that standard sports movie where the downtrodden player/team works hard under terrible circumstances only to come out triumphant at the end? The sort of film that has been made for decades and perfected in large part in Rocky? Well, switch the backdrop to rap music and you’ve got 8 Mile. There are no surprises in the plot of 8 Mile; the big surprise is that Eminem can actually act, albeit as a fictionalized version of himself. The final 20 minutes or so of this are what you expect from this kind of movie and it doesn’t matter—it’s a great sequence of scenes and battle raps.

6. My Favorite Year (1982)

My Favorite Year is probably the least-appreciated of Peter O’Toole’s many Oscar nominations, but in a lot of ways it is absolutely my favorite. A fictionalized version of the backstage of the old Sid Caesar show, this puts O’Toole in the role of Alan Swann, an Errol Flynn version down on his luck, drinking too much, and desperate to stave off the tax man. Show writer Benji (Mark Linn-Baker) is a Swann fan and is tasked with keeping him sober and on task, all while trying to woo the girl of his dreams. It’s silly and ridiculous and riotously funny, and all of the humor really holds up. It’s not life changing, but it’s sweet.

7. The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

The List is horribly underserved in animation, documentaries, and horror movies. The Girl with All the Gifts is one I probably like more than it deserves, but after multiple watches, I am still really impressed with it. It’s a smart movie that, in a saturated market, can do something new and interesting with zombie horror. Almost everything in this movie is different from the expectations of the genre, and all of it works. It’s also a stand-out performance from Sennia Nanua as the titular girl. Everything rides on her performance and she carries it beautifully. Her exchange at the end with Glenn Close is one of the most memorable scenes of the last 10 years.

8. The Wife (2018)

It's a Glenn Close two-fer this year, with what I think is her strongest performance since Dangerous Liaisons. The Wife is a movie that looks dead boring on the surface—a man (Jonathan Pryce) is accepting a Nobel Prize for literature. A journalist (Christian Slater) looks to write the story, and we discover a number of interesting truths and secrets about the author and his wife, played by Close. It’s a performance for the ages, one that shows the true depths of her skill as an actress. There are lines here that are read from years of lived experience. Close was robbed of this Oscar, and this movie is far too underknown.

9. Pumping Iron (1977)

Until the making of Hoop Dreams, the best sports documentary around was Pumping Iron about the world of professional bodybuilding. The film covers the 1975 Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions and introduced the world to a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, who at the time was possessed of what was probably the world’s greatest physique—and that probably hasn’t been topped. It’s a fascinating look into that world, both on the professional level and on the amateur level, and it’s a huge miss for The List.

10. Knives Out (2019)

You can usually tell when an actor is having a really good time with a role. That’s Daniel Craig and the role of Benoit Blanc. He’s having a hell of a time with this character, and while I haven’t seen the new one (I’ve heard only good), based on this first film, I can hope this character goes on for years and years. This starts and ends with a solid mystery that makes sense but isn’t easy to figure out. It also features one hell of a good cast from stem to stern. I appreciate when movies are not just smart themselves, but assume that I am smart, too. Knives Out isn’t going to change anyone’s life, but it’s fun, and sometimes that’s all you need. It doesn’t hurt that, even being a mystery with twists, it remains rewatchable.


  1. Merry Christmas to you too, Steve. May 2023 be a better year on all accounts.

  2. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you. Let's hope 2023 is a better year as yes, this year SUCKED.

    1. Yeah. Who'd've thought that 2020 would have a worse cousin?

  3. I'd seen a comment on Facebook or Twitter or somewhere along the lines of "2022 is pronounced '2020 Two' and that should've been a good indicator of things", and indeed going by that wordplay, we've got seven more years of 2020s to get through. :)

    This year's been hard on me, too, including movie watching & reviewing; I've been getting more inklings of wanting to get back into it in the past couple months or so, but haven't really fully pulled the trigger yet, and it's all still kinda an unknown, amorphous entity to me as to why not or how to try and get past it. It is, still, always a treat to see when people like you & TSorensen & KimWilson have a new post up & to read it, though, so thanks for keeping up with it even to whatever small degree you've been able to lately. And yeah, not getting a new edition of the 1001 book was a little bit of a letdown, but hopefully they're gearing up for a big revision this year for the 10th edition/20th anniversary; that'll be a nice delight if that ends up dropping in the second half of the year.

  4. I'm really hoping to start 2023 fresh. Actually, I'm hoping to end the year with a couple and come out of the gate hard next week. I want to get back to this, but the motivation has been lacking.

    Oddly, I've been diving into a lot of television lately, and that seems strange for me.

  5. The last year was not a good one for me either and I haven’t been checking in as often as I’d like. The result is that I’m many posts behind, but I have to say there are some great suggestions here.

    Of all your suggestions Scarlet Street to me is the real gem. I love its inky black heart and the amazing work by the three leads, all of whom inexplicably never garnered an Oscar nomination between them. Joan and EGR would have been my winners this year.

    I like this version of A Christmas Carol (and I’m a fan of the Muppet one too) but my favorite take is the 80’s TV George C. Scott film, a perfect meeting of actor and role plus he’s surrounded by a phenomenal supporting cast.

    Pleasantville is wonderful in so many ways. I suppose the cinematography is the most obvious with its blending of color and B&W but if that was all it had it would just be a novelty to watch once and forget. The cast (and to a lesser extent the direction) is what makes it memorable. Joan Allen is particularly good and Don Knotts forever!!

    While I think Peter O’Toole should have won his prize for Lion in Winter his work in My Favorite Year is probably my favorite of his performances. He’s absolutely irresistible and Alan Swann uses every bit of his magnetism and charm while allowing him to show so much of the variety he could bring to a part. The film is an enchanting reverie but without O’Toole it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good.

    Daniel Craig is indeed having a good ol’ time in Knives Out. I just watched Glass Onion and while it was fun, I definitely enjoyed the first one more.

    Of the others I liked The Wife but like My Favorite Year it was its leading performance that made it special. Pumping Iron was interesting, but one view was enough. 8 Mile wasn’t for me and I haven’t seen the other film.

    1. I know you're not a horror fan, but as a movie fan, you might find somthing interesting in Horror Noire. I would have been more than happy for that to be twice as long as it was.

      The Girl with All the Gifts is not your style at all. You might appreciate some aspects of it--I think you would like a lot of the character work that happens in it, but the horror aspects really aren't your style. I'm not kidding about the scene at the end of it--there is a paradigm-shifting moment that has stayed with me since the first time I saw it.