Wednesday, 14 December 2011

I'm baaaaack!!

So, I've been away for over a year, busy. I keep meaning to come back to musing on filmic viewings, but it just hasn't happened. I will really try to get going again now 2012 is almost here. I've been watching a fair few films this year, some very, very ace. After a particular viewing (Don't Look Now) I seem to have stepped up a gear in my appreciation of films and have a new excitement for seeing more and more movies. Mark Cousins' Story of Film: An Odyssey also helped to whet my appetite further with about a million film clips of flicks I've not yet seen.

To help me get started for film viewing next year I've decided to make a list, in the next blog post, of areas/genres that I want to explore and some starter films in those areas. I list them just so I don't write a list that I will inevitably lose down the back of the sofa/recycling box. But first I'm going to make a rough (because my memory really isn't that good) list of some fave films (with very minimal review/comments) viewed in 2011. Here goes (the ones with asterisks were particularly good):

The Shooting Party (1985) - er, my memory is faltering at the first hurdle. Very staid look at class division (with a few nods to Regle du Jeu). A bit like Downton Abbey, but with better acting, scenes longer than 2 minutes and nowhere near as many insurance ads.

Eastern Promises (2007) - my love for Cronenberg skyrocketed after A History of Violence so this was a must. It's like Dickensian story told with ultra-violence and male nudity. So, quite similar then. The feeling of menace and threat is tangible throughout but like a Dickens story, does have a fairytale happy(ish) ending.

Oliver Twist (1948) - proper Dickens this time! Made by David Lean, this is by far the best adaptation ever made, with Robert Newton transforming Bill Sykes from the comedy villain seen in many other versions into a truly terrifying and disturbing baddie. Nancy's murder scene is one of the most originally done. No blood or actual violence seen, no need when you've got a scared to death Bullseye scrabbling at the door. And if the final chase scenes through a DARK and grubby slummy London don't get you, you ain't human.

The Third Man (1949) - after Oliver Twist, more chiaroscuro laden images here. Good Joseph Cotten and BAAAAD Orson Welles wrestle with post-war, black-market morality in the sewers of Vienna.  

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) - one of the highlights of the year for me.  Perfectly paced with the tension ratcheted up constantly, this tale of anti-Communist paranoia is pretty much flawless. The message is  hammered home again and again - if you don't conform now, you will eventually and lose your soul in the process. Actually very terrifying.

Day of the Jackal (1973) - another well paced thriller and if you like European set, assassin dramas with a strict deadline then this one's for you.  Edward Fox is so bloody cold in this he borders on (actually he jumps headfirst into it) psychopathy.  If you want to see how the later Bonds, Bournes, Ronins and Americans etc. were influenced, watch this.

From Here to Eternity (1953) - story of the days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbour, as seen through  the eyes of the residents of an army barracks, including feisty soldiers with "issues", cool as a cucumber Burt Lancaster and frustrated captain's wife Deborah Kerr all working out their personal problems before they all gain a little perspective after the attack. I expected this to be melodramatic and overwrought but it was edgy and serious in all the right places.  The scene of the Japanese attack is done really well and the kiss on the beach is, well..., it does its job.

La Bete Humaine (1938) - another highlight. Jean Renoir proves a master of fast action filming - the scenes of Jean Gabin as a train driver hurtling through the suburbs at the beginning are amazing.  The story, of a femme fatale getting more than she bargains for from lover Gabin, is sordid and almost biblical. Renoir's characterisation and morality are as complex as in his Le Regle du Jeu.  Absolutely brilliant.

Five Easy Pieces (1970) - a classic from the golden age of New American Cinema.  This is a deceptively simple tale about piano prodigy turned deadbeat oil field worker Jack Nicholson thinking about his life and working out stuff.  There are so many great reasons to watch (and re-watch) this film but among them are the relationship between Jack and his girlfriend slowly disintegrating under the weight of neediness and ambivalence; Jack's relationship with his Dad and what I think is one of the best endings to any film I've ever seen. Totally ace.

Certified Copy (2010) - this film has really grown on me since first watching it.  Before watching, I was concerned as the director is Iranian and someone once told me Iranian films were like Chinese films (long and dull).  I was very pleasantly surprised. I loved what seemed like a meandering, vague tale that was actually quite incisive about memory and married/long term relationships. Actually quite brilliant.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) - I'd seen this film a couple of times on DVD and once at the flicks but this cinema viewing was the best yet. It was the director's cut, so the pace and rhythm felt absolutely perfect.  It also made me go back and photograph some key scenes just for the compositions.

The Great White Silence (1924) - this is a newly restored version of Herbert G. Ponting's documentary of Captain Scott's ill-fated trip to the Antarctic. There is some really stunning photography that somehow always surprises me that it survived the conditions.  The emptiness of the narration-less, ambient soundtrack and the stark scenery echoes the final section of the party's journey, which ends badly, as we all know.

*** Don't Look Now (1973) - this one has changed my film viewing. Wow, big claim. I don't know if it would have happened with any next film I had watched (thinking it's a number thing, you reach your 10,000th film and it all suddenly clicks into place) but after watching Don't Look Now I feel my film appreciation has really altered. My eyes seemed to be open to everything that Roeg threw at me - colour (RED!!!), editing, photography, storytelling and the perfection of a location and pacing.  It doesn't seem to fit into any category, or even to court an audience. Don't Look Now, for me, is film-making as duty. There is no way Roeg could not have made it.

I also saw these films but don't have the time to go through in detail and I'm already behind my 2012 viewing!

King of Marvin Gardens
Band Wagon
Last Year at Marienbad
Days of Heaven
Blue Valentine
Of Gods and Men
**My Voyage to Italy: Martin Scorcese
**2001: A Space Odyssey
Winter's Bone
*All that Heaven Allows
**An American in Paris
On the Town
**Pierrot le Fou

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