Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer 2010 Concludes

The summer movie season came, and is essentially gone, and if it weren't for the heat Im not sure many would have noticed. This years summer movie season seemed as uneventful as i expected it would be. Im not trying to be too critical, I did have fun at the movies a few times this summer, but like last year Im leaving the summer season in hopes that the fall will provide some redemption. In a week we get “Get Low” where I live, and I'm excited for that, and the George Clooney film “The American” looks like it might have promise, but then it will officially be awards season and the stakes become high. Can movies like “Stone”, “Hereafter”, and “Red” save the year in film?

Here is my brief summer run down:

The best film of the summer had to be “Restrepo”, with “Inception” coming in at a dramatically close second. Restrepo got to me. This little known documentary takes us inside the thick of the most dangerous place on earth - a hostile valley in the heart of Taliban activity in Afghanistan. The film presents a striking and unbiased look into U.S. operations there, and features excellent and insightful interviews from some of the soldiers who survived the fighting there in 2007. Obviously Inception was also a gem, proving that Christopher Nolan is as good as we thought he was, and that DiCaprio is the best actor in the business right now.

The best family option this summer was “Toy Story 3”, despite the significantly darker tone from the first two films. Im elated to see that this is now the highest grossing animated film of all time, taking that crown from the decent but nowhere near as good “Shrek 2”.

The two most surprising films of the summer for me were “Iron Man 2” and “The Karate Kid”. Iron Man 2 was a surprise in the wrong direction for many who expected a comic masterpiece, but for me it was a pleasant surprise in that I didn't expect to like it much, and I did. The first Iron Man is a tad overrated in my opinion, and I actually find the second to be better. The Karate Kid was the true surprise to me however, as the film was already the butt of many jokes before people had even seen it. I was enthralled with it, and I still have it as one of the top ten films of the year to this point. It turned out to be great family fun and a solid retelling of a wonderful story for a new generation.

My biggest disappointments of the summer had to be, in order, “The Last Airbender”, “Grown Ups”, and “Prince of Persia”. Of the three, I guess I only expected the first to be any good, but I was hopeful for all three, and none truly delivered. The summer as a whole wasn't great, but these films stand out above the rest of the dunces as major misfires.

Overall, I give The summer a C+. What would your grade be?

Also, Im in on 10 more films for this month:


Leap Year


Bronco Billy

The Maltese Falcon (rewatch)

The Kids are All Right

Flags of our Fathers

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

The Expendables

Vivre Sa Vie

Monday, August 2, 2010

year update

January - 33films
February - 21 films
March - 21 films
April - 6 films
May - 10 films
June - 8 films
July - 19 films
august so far - 1 film

119 films for the year - off schedule

ended may with:
samurai x 2
robin hood
hard boiled

port of shadows
the wild bunch
shrek forever after
prince of persia
valentines day
toy story 3
the enforcer
war of the worlds

the last airbender
sudden impact
the dead pool
last holiday
robin hood
grande illusion
grown ups
karate kid
first strike (rewatch)
3 ninjas
they drive by night
le corbeau
dispicable me
according to spencer
days of heaven
the only son
sandlot 2

there was a father

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Summer Season is Here

So it’s been more than a month since my last post, but it’s time to get back to it. April was a slow month for me in regards to movie watching, and needless to say my year of Kurosawa isn’t going well. Thos of you that listen to the show know that even it has suffered a bit lately. For some reason, I’ve been in a season of extreme busyness, but I have seen a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s time to return to form.

So what’s coming up? Quite a bit. Next year looks great for film and 2012 looks even better, but I’m pretty excited about the coming months. Iron man 2 was a great start to the summer movie season, I thought it was even better than the original, and here are the dates of the next group of films I am excited to see and discuss on Film in Focus.

May 14 – Robin Hood

May 21 – Shrek (I can’t wait to take my kids as they are fans of the series)

June 11 – The A Team

June 18 – Toy Story 3

June 25 – Grown Ups (Sandler films are a guilty pleasure of mine)

July 2 – The Last Airbender

July 9 – Predators

July 16 – Inception

July 23 – Salt

August 13 – The Expendables

Some of these will probably rate low, but I’m fairly excited to see how they are handled. I’m expecting quite a bit from The Last Airbender and Inception. The summer season isn’t my favorite season of movies as I’m much more into the awards contending films that we can expect to start hitting theatres in October, but this is a fun season of film none the less.

In April I saw only 6 films the entire month:

The Exodus Decoded

Who’s That Knocking at my Door?

A Prophet

Clash of the Titans

New York, New York

Did you hear about the Morgan’s?

In May so far I’ve hit up 7 films:

Dirty Harry

Magnum Force

Kick Ass

The White Sheik

The Bone Collector (rewatch)

Samurai X

Iron Man 2

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kurosawa turned 100

So Akira Kurosawa’s centennial came and went, and of course, few noticed. Just another sign of the sad state of the global awareness that American film fans have. All over the world cinephiles are more than aware of Kuro-san’s greatness, but here people were too busy wondering if the white powder all over Lindsay Lohan’s feet was baby powder used to counteract athlete’s foot, or if she tripped over a large bag of cocaine on her way out of a party.

I really enjoyed Kuro-san’s 100th birthday. I read some of Stephen Prince’s scholarly work on Kurosawa’s development of humanist themes, and then I watched the great Kurosawa classic “Throne of Blood”. Going through this semi-memorial exercise got me curious if other people have any film traditions. I know my co-host on our show, Jason Spencer, has a tradition that he watches Planes, Trains, and Automobiles every year on Thanksgiving. Obviously a lot of people have certain traditions with Christmas films. What about you? Any traditions?

Here are my films that close out March:

Samurai 1 (rewatch)

Samurai 2 (rewatch)

Samurai 3 (rewatch)

Miller’s Crossing (rewatch)

Cape Fear (rewatch)

Throne of Blood (rewatch)

Ghostbusters 2 (rewatch)


Monster Ark

How to train your dragon

A lot of rewatches this time through. 21 films in March, not bad.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Last week I saw an Irish film called “Hunger”. The film is based on a true story about the 1981 hunger strike carried out by IRA members that have been imprisoned for various crimes. The IRA was seeking a free and united Ireland, so they engaged in a political war with British officials for decades. The problem is that the British didn’t see the IRA as a legitimate political organization; they saw them as an organized crime ring. So when IRA members were arrested they weren’t treated as political prisoners, they were treated as criminals. The hunger strike was a protest to gain political status and treatment for their prisoners.

The film was devastating. Steve McQueen, a first time director, handled each scene with such intense realism that I felt as if I was in the prison, viewing the events as if I were a fly on the wall. Despite being an Irish film I felt that McQueen’s treatment of each side was incredibly fair. He did a great job of simply telling a story of events, and telling it well. The cinematography was particularly astounding, to the point where some critics have felt the need to criticize the camera work as being an overdone exercise in artistry rather than a story telling mechanism. I couldn’t disagree more. The true highlight of the film for me was one 17 minute long shot, the longest in any film of the modern era, where Bobby Sands consults with his priest on the strategy of the hunger strike. The film has very little dialogue apart from this one long take, and the scene explains the first half of the film while setting up the second half perfectly. The dialogue was masterfully written.

The film is graphic. Some may disapprove of the graphic nature, but for this film it is a must, and it works so well. We need to see what these men are going through, and we see it in this expertly crafted masterpiece of filmmaking. Watch it.

11 films in for March now. The latest 3 are:

Alice in Wonderland


Trust the Man

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Watch Godard in the 60's

Earlier in the year I mentioned that I was going to revisit Kurosawa’s films this year, as well as read quite a bit on his life and career. This is still the plan, but it hasn’t really happened at this point. I started his autobiography, and then got stalled and haven’t picked it up in a few weeks. I will get back to it. Another thing I said I was going to do was revisit much of the French New Wave, which did happen, and I saw some really excellent films. I still want to watch a bit more Truffaut, but so far I have really enjoyed spending some extra time with French cinema. Watching Godard’s New Wave stuff got me on a bit of a Godard kick, and I’ve watched 14 of his films in the past two months.

I have to say that Godard’s early stuff has fared much better with me than his more recent stuff. Starting with Breathless in 1959 and ending with Pierrot Le Fou in 1969, the man directed some stunning films. By the time the 80’s hit, Godard seemed to be focusing so much on the art that he left his dialogue and storytelling powers behind. The films were still well crafted, but just not as much of a joy to watch. Overall, the man is clearly a great filmmaker. If you’re interested I recommend Alphaville, A Woman is a Woman, and Band of Outsiders. Breathless is also an important one to watch simply because it helped create an entire film movement that took France by storm for nearly a decade.

Add 6 more films to my list for the year:

Breathless (rewatch)

Notre Musique


The King of Comedy

Major League (for like the 20th time)

Brooklyn’s Finest

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Global perspective

The Oscar’s are upon us. Just a few more days. I’ve done a lot of thinking about the Oscar’s in the past couple of months, and I mentioned this on our show, but I really feel like the Oscar’s fall short in accomplishing a presentation of true greatness in film. In the United States, when a baseball team wins the World Series, Major League Baseball refers to them as the world champions. Are they really? Or are they just the United States champions?

Likewise, when the academy gives out awards for best picture, are these really the ten best pictures? In 2008 there is no question that “Revanche” was one of the best films of the year, but it was relegated to the foreign film category because it wasn’t American. I understand the Academy is designed to mostly celebrate Hollywood, but that means that the biggest night in movies is actually not about movies at all, it’s about American movies. Shouldn’t the biggest night in movies have a bit more of a global perspective?

Now I understand that if the Academy was designed to celebrate film on a more global level, people in the U.S. wouldn’t watch, because they don’t know jack about movies and are uncultured and shortsighted enough to believe that all movies are made in the U.S. This is disappointing. The Academy needs ratings, so it will just chug along on the current philosophy, but there is a bit of injustice here. Some people thought that something ridiculous like “The Hangover” deserved a best picture nom. Where is the outcry for the French film “A Prophet”?

Don’t get me wrong. I still love the Oscars. It’s one of the best nights of the year.

For the year, add seven more films.

Last of the Mohicans (yes again)

Oh Woe is Me


Umberto D.

Goodbye Solo

Crazy Heart


January – 33

February – 21

March so far – 2

56 total

Monday, February 22, 2010

Genres vs. Stories

The other day I had a chance to watch the BBC Films comedy “In the Loop”. The movie is flat out hilarious, but it got me thinking – It seems that writers and directors have choices to make about whether or not their film is going to be story driven or genre driven. In “In the Loop” for example, the film is a political satire that is clearly driven by its humor, meaning that the genre of comedy is what dictated how the dialogue was written and how the film was shot and progressed. If the film was more driven by a particular story and it simply used humor as a mechanism to further the story or make the story more interesting, it still would have fit the comedy genre, but I think it might have been written much differently. I’m not entirely sure which is better, but here is the issue in as simple of a question as I could think of – Is it better to write a good story and let the humor help tell the story, or is it better to write good jokes and humorous dialogue and write a story as a backdrop to the jokes? This question works with any genre. For horror – Is it better to write a story and fuse it with horrific elements to tell the story more effectively, or is it better to simply concentrate on scaring the crap out of people and write a story to serve as a backdrop to hold up the horror? For fantasy – Is it better to tell a good story and include fantasy elements for higher entertainment value, or is it better to just make up a wonderful world of awe inspiring characters and special effects and use the story as a secondary element that helps put your fantastical world on display (Avatar)? I haven’t put too much thought into this quite yet, but it’s intriguing to think about.

Seven more movies in for the year:

Sandlot (rewatch for the 20th time)

Julie and Julia

Shutter Island

An education


The wolfman

In the loop

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Year of Kurosawa begins

So I finally began the year of Kurosawa, a month late. I started by reading his autobiography (at least the first few chapters) and I am pleasantly surprised by how very…normal…he is. In the book he admits that he is presenting himself in a more favorable light than is accurate, and yet he has some honest things to say about the flaws in his character. I will probably spend the next week or so slowly reading through this work so that I can get to know the man better (I don’t just want to speed through for simple information). After that my plan is to cover all biographical information from each of the other books I have about his life and career before moving onto the information about his films and career. As I study each film, I will be watching the movie I’m studying about a few times through to more purely analyze the film from the perspective of Kurosawa’s biographers and critics.

Also, I fully intended to slow down on my movie watching, and then I got sick. While in bed I did nothing but watch movies for two days, so now I’m still on a crazy pace. Nine more, now I’m at 42 for the year.

Nights of Cabiria

Hot Fuzz (rewatch)

First Name Carmen

The Freshman

Last of the Mohicans (rewatch)


State of Play


Easy Virtue

Monday, February 1, 2010

Trendy Criticism

I recently read a review of a small independent film that criticized the film for being too trendy. Is that really a valid criticism?

Think about it, you’re criticizing a film for what’s happened around it, not for the film itself. This particular film was criticized because it had trendy music by a small but popular band, it was inexpensively made and focused on acting and characters rather than larger scale gimmicks, and because the only truly worthwhile thing about the film was its charm. We’ve had too many of those, says the critic. If the film is made well, is that a bad thing?

Let me call out my own hypocrisy for a second. I consistently slam romantic comedies and horror films for being too formulaic, and I slammed on Avatar a bit for being the EXACT same story we’ve seen in countless other movies, but I think this is different.

When I slam on rom com’s, horror films, or Avatar, I’m slamming the reproduction of the SAME movie, with the same story, same gore and porn, same banging of pots and pans, same jokes, and same characters over and over again. The critic mentioned above was ambiguously slamming an independent film for being…independent. Is it the fault of the director that he had to make a movie with a small budget, therefore relying on charm because there was no money to do anything else with his material? Isn’t this really why most independent films feel the same, because they all have to make due with what they have, and what they all have is good ideas and no money?

Now don’t get me wrong, the popularization of these independents has made them a bit too trendy. It’s become popular for indie bands to play the soundtrack for small films starring huge stars who want to make something “real” rather than the crap they normally make. Ben Stiller might be jumping on that bandwagon a few months too late with “Greenberg”, because people really are growing tired of this trend. But just because it’s a trend, does that mean that we have to discount ALL of the films that fall into the trend. Does something being trendy make it bad?

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Stranger than Fiction”, “Dreamgirls”, “Napoleon Dynamite”, “Little Miss Sunshine”, “Margot at the Wedding”, “Juno”, “500 Days of Summer”, the list goes on. Jim Carrey, Will Farrell, Steve Carrell, Jack Black, Jennifer Garner, Eddie Murphy, the list goes on. Overwhelming maybe, but look at the list. There are some excellent movies here.

Could it be that criticizing trendy films is just as trendy as the films they criticize?

By the way, I finished January at 33 movies. More than one per day. I am going to slow down a bit this month so that I can find more time to read. Also, We’re a month into the year and I haven’t even started the “year of Kurosawa”. It starts now. Here are my last 6 films for the month.

Elevator to the Gallows
Whatever Works
Is Anybody There?
Jules and Jim
A New World
5 great films and one horrific film (Whatever Works).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Recent update

4 more in. 27 for the year.

La Strada
Masculine feminine
2 or 3 things I know about her
Ugetsu (re-watch)

The way I see it, ill keep posting my progress, but every other post or so will actually be a blog about something, like my film club post or new wave post.

By the way Dave, I gave “drag me to hell” 3 ½ stars. Atypical in most ways except a few major ones, like the banging of pots and pans and crashing tea cups. Mostly a creative film that I enjoyed.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Still Going Strong

23 films in now - im surprised. Here are the next 5.

the brothers bloom
drag me to hell
the sweetest thing
broken embraces

Broken Embraces is simply brilliant by the way. Contempt is also very strong, and then they go down from there until you hit The Sweetest Thing - one of the worst films ever made.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Film Club

Right now I’m reading a book called “Film Club”. It’s a true story written by a man who let his 16 year old son drop out of school as long as he promises to watch 3 movies with him each week. The dad gets to choose the movies. The 16 year old kid, Jesse, likes movies alright, but is no film scholar and hasn’t really seen most of the classic and important films in history. Essentially, the father has a clean slate to work with and can choose anything. His choices are interesting, films like; The 400 Blows, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Shining, Notorious, Last Tango in Paris, On the Waterfront, and many more.

This got me thinking, if that was me, what would I choose? It’s a more difficult question to answer than I thought it would be, and then I decided to narrow it to ten, and the decisions became even more difficult. Would I choose ten films that teach about life? Maybe ten that reveal film from various eras’ or various countries from around the world? Then I just sat down and thought about it without a real criterion, and ten films just came to me. To be clear, these ten films are NOT my ten favorite films of all time. In fact, only two of these films make my personal top ten. But when it came time to pick ten films I would show someone wanting to know more about great films, these are the ten I came up with.

1) Casablanca
The ultimate film. Solid performances by an iconic cast, great dialogue, and the best romance ever put onto film. Bogart and Bergman were larger than life and ever supporting cast member delivers perfectly. This is a great example of how to make a war film without showing a battle or even taking place in a country where the war was being fought. As far as America goes, there is no more important film ever made. Directed by Michael Curtiz.

2) Seven Samurai
The greatest action film ever made, without question. Seven samurai battle 40 bandits to save a village that none of them live in, and they aren’t even being paid well. The 3 ½ hour running time isn’t a problem for this film that simply flies by. Each time I watch it I love it more, which is why every time a new transfer of the film is released I buy it, even if it’s expensive. I don’t mind owning multiple copies of this film at all. Shimura and Mifune get a lot of praise for their performances, but the entire cast is perfect and Kurosawa directs this film way ahead of its time. This film has been remade many times, and no one has come close to duplicating it.

3) Roshomon
The second Kurosawa film in a row, and its well deserved. This is the first film to introduce an important plot style to serious audiences. The film is about a murder being told from various perspectives, so we see the same murder scene multiple times from each person’s perspective but everyone’s story is different. Who is telling the truth? Mifune is excellent in the lead role, playing a villain, and the layout of the story is simply brilliant. Philosophies play an important role in the start and end of the film.

4) The Godfather
This is an obvious choice, but for me, the reasons are different than most. Coppola’s direction is flawless as we move from scene to scene getting into the midst of a powerful mafia family. Many people love this film for its gritty crime story and shocking violence, I love this film for its beautiful and haunting cinematography, equally haunting musical score, and superb acting from everyone but especially Brando. Perfect movie making.

5) Le Doulos
Melville made much more popular films, but I think this is his best. Jean-Paul Belmondo has probably never been better than in this crime drama where one moment you think he’s our hero, the next our villain, and then back and forth through the film until we finally get the real story. The thing is, in the end, I’m not sure if I would have cared whether or not he was our antagonist or protagonist, I just loved the ride to find out. In this film, the script is the standout. Simply brilliant.

6) Tokyo Story
Roger Ebert once said that all true fans of film eventually end up at Ozu, and this is his best film. Ozu is that rare director who can make essentially the same film many times over, and have each and every one of them be simply brilliant. Not all of his films are alike, Tokyo Twilight, Ohayo, and Floating Weeds for example are fairly unique, but Tokyo Story is actually very similar to a few of his other films, its just better than the rest of those which are already very good films. Ozu is a master at family drama, drawing in emotion that films rarely accomplish. Despite the fact that Ozu is the most “Japanese” of all great Japanese directors, I still feel myself completely resonating with his characters from all the way across the globe.

7) The Seventh Seal
Ingmar Bergman can get a little tedious to watch at times because his pacing and temperament doesn’t change much from film to film, but this is by far his most intriguing and unique film, and also his most profound. The film gives us some iconic images, greatest of which is our knight played brilliantly by Max Von Sydow playing chess with the Grim Reaper (yes the one copied in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey). The film is about Death chasing down a knight to end his life, and the knight attempting to keep himself alive. The dialogue is brilliant despite being a bit too chatty at times, and the philosophical questions that arise as a result of close evaluation of the dialogue make the film worth many viewings.

8) 8 ½
I have an up and down relationship with Fellini’s films, but lately I have been nothing but up on this film. The film is shot beautifully despite being in black and white, and like Anotnioni’s “L’ Avventura” the film has so many perfect shots that they can be frozen and placed on postcards. The film seems semi-autobiographical, although Fellini has denied that to some degree, in that it is a film about a movie director making a film, but doesn’t know what he wants to make. He has no real script, no real vision, and is simply throwing things together as he goes in order to appease his producers. Many have speculated that Fellini made this film because he needed to make another movie, and was out of ideas himself, so why not make a movie about a director making a movie who is out of ideas? Whether this is true or not, the result is wonderful. Guido, our main character, takes us on a ride through his relationships with various women (who are no doubt autobiographical to some degree), as well as taking us through dream sequences and visions of his past as they are blended in with reality. The first time I saw this film I was a bit confused, the second time I was awestruck.

9) The Third Man
This British film Noir is my favorite example of a truly excellent style of film. A crime story starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, the film centers around a man (Cotton) trying to figure out how and why his friend Harry (Welles) died. He’s been told the death was an accident, but he knows better. He gets a little too close to the truth, and the realities he uncovers are truly shocking if you haven’t already had them spoiled for you through the various pop culture references to the film over the past 50 years. Carol Reed directs the film beautifully, capturing haunting images through a perfect use of lighting. The sewer scene at the end is one of my favorite scenes in film history.

10) Raiders of the Lost Ark
What else can be said – Its Indiana Jones. This film seems to endure better with each passing year, and despite a strong misstep from the fourth film in the series, this film remains one of my favorite action-adventure films of all time. The way the journey is paced in accordance with the music just sounds off as adventurous, and the story and execution of the story are absolutely perfect. Probably the best film in the careers of two brilliant men, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A film per day

Add 6 more films to the list for this year. I’m on a staggering pace, but oddly, I don’t feel that I've neglected my other more important responsibilities. The secret is in finding clever times to fit a film in really. Like getting up earlier in the morning or staying up slightly later than normal. Maybe fitting in a flick when you would normally watch T.V. or play a video game. So far it’s going well. Here are the next six.

8 ½ (a re-watch)
Au hazard Balthazar
Green lantern: first flight
Made in USA
Pierrot le fou
The book of Eli

18 days in and 18 films down. Ill have to slow down at some point I know.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Godard and the French New Wave

Two weeks in and things are going well. Add three more to the tally to make twelve.

All About Steve
A Woman is a Woman
Band of Outsiders

Six per week is a blistering pace, and I’m sure I won’t keep it up.

Something I am doing right now is going through the films of the great French director Jean-Luc Godard. Godard is one of the pioneers of the French New Wave film movement that began in the late 50’s and ran through the middle of the 60’s. The French New Wave was very influenced by Italian neo-realism which was a movement in Italian cinema about a decade earlier where films were more “real” and a little less literary and polished. Old Hollywood also influenced this movement quite a bit, especially directors like John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock.

The point of French New Wave was to make excellent films about real people on small budgets. Dialogue is huge in this movement, as well as doing wonderful things with simple cameras and being very creative in the editing room. Godard specifically did what was called a “jump cut” where he would cut a scene seemingly in the middle of it and jump to the next scene, but without compromising the script in anyway. He did this a lot in his film “Breathless” which was a New Wave pioneer film from 1959. Godard also did some really creative if not risky things with music in his films where he would stop a song right in the middle of it for effect, then pick the song back up again, almost as if a record skipped, but its obviously intentional.
Francois Truffaut was another director that was very influential in New Wave cinema, especially with his first feature film, “The 400 Blows”. After I watch my way through Godard’s films, I’m going to watch more Truffaut, and I'll write about my experiences with both as I go. I’m excited about diving more into this movement.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Solid start to 2010's movie journey

So far the first part of week two on my mission for 2010 has gone well. Here is a recap of the films I've seen in the past few days.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Road
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Il Postino

Nine films in for the year and none are films of 2010. 6 of them are from 2009, and my movie watching for 2009 films is almost finished. No 5 star films, one 4 ½ star film (Nine), five 4 star films (The International, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Road, Precious, and Il Postino), one 3 star film (Brothers), one 1 star film (Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), and one ½ star film (In the Name of the King). When 6 of 9 films are 4 stars or higher, it’s the beginnings of a good year.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Journey in 2010

After a long break, I’m back to blogging for the New Year.

This year in film watching is exciting to me. I can’t wait to navigate through the plan I have in place. Every year I watch almost exactly 200 new films, which works out to about 4 films per week. In 2009 I saw 218 of them, and I rewatched another 20 or so films that I had already seen in years past. Usually how it breaks down is as follows; I try to watch around 50 new releases in theater’s, meaning about one per week, and then about 150 films from across various previous years. Of these films, I try to make at least 50 of them films that were made outside of my own country here in the U.S.

This year, I have a large list of films I'm anticipating to watch as they hit theaters, and my netflix queue for older films is at 219 films. My goal: get through them all. That means upping my film intake to about 250 or so. It might not happen, but we’ll see.

I also plan to make 2010 the year of Kurosawa. I know, I know, according to Jason EVERY year is the year of Kurosawa for me. Well this year I plan on going more over the top than ever before. I plan on rewatching all 30 of his films at least once each, as well as read his autobiography and at least 10 other books written about his life and career. I will be writing about this adventure here on the blog as I go, and may even create a schedule for navigating all of this and post the schedule here. Ill also update the blog with each of the films I watch in this calendar year. So far I have a late start – Only two films the first week –
The Friends of Eddie Coyle
The International

What do you plan on doing this year with film?

My journey begins.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Disappointing year

So far 2009 has been a pretty terrible year for film. 2006 and 2007 were both amazing years in an otherwise weak decade, but 2008 and now 2009 have been pretty bad. At the start of the year I set a top 10 most anticipated films of the year, and now with just 5 weeks to go I have seen 8 of those 10 films. Only 1 of those 8 is in my top 10 films for this year, and that’s the Coen Bros. film “A Serious Man”.

When I look at my top 10, thankfully there are some surprises I wasn’t expecting. I’m not going to give them away because we are going to reveal those picks in an upcoming episode of FilminFocus. When I look at the end of the year, there are still 20 films I really want to see, so there is great chance for redemption as the year closes.

Here are the films I am most looking forward to as we close out the year:

Everybody’s Fine
The Princess and the Frog
The Road
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Red Cliff

What films are you most looking forward to that will be released before the end of the year?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What is a film buff?

Have you ever had this conversation before? You’re talking to someone about movies and they declare themselves to be a major film buff, so you start talking flicks. In the process of the conversation you mention a film, say Lawrence of Arabia. They look at you with sort of a puzzled look so you can tell they have no idea what you’re talking about. So you say, “You know, Lawrence of Arabia. The David lean film starring Peter O’Toole?” They’re lost. “I’ve never heard of that movie” they say. You say, “It’s only considered by most to be one of the greatest films in history.” They respond, “When did it come out?” You then say, “1962”. Then they say, almost with relief, “Well of course I haven’t heard of that, it came out like 15 years before I was born.” My response is always the same. “Have you ever heard of George Washington?” I say. They say “Well of course”; then I say “Interesting, he died WAY before you were born.”

There are those that innocently have yet to explore films outside of those noticed by popular culture. While I get this to some degree, it’s hard to say you’re a film buff when you haven’t seen most of the truly great films in history. There are others, like my wife, who actually refuses to watch anything made in a different language than her own or anything before 1980. Now for my wife, she escapes my mockery because she doesn’t call herself a film buff even though she watches a lot of movies. She likes what she likes and she’s cool with that. But I can’t count the amount of times I've had the above conversation with self proclaimed film buffs who haven’t seen the majority of important works. I don’t mean this to sound self righteous, but it works with all manners of discipline. It’s hard to proclaim yourself a football buff if you’ve never heard of Johnny Unitas, or a music buff if you’ve never listened to Robert Johnson, a man declared by many great musicians to be the most influential musician of the past 100 years.

Again, I’m not attempting some form of snobbish elitism. I actually hate that kind of thinking. But this is a matter of importance to me because its sad to see so many great films, that are so accessible through DVD, go so unnoticed even by people who think they really “know” film. If you don’t want to explore the great treasures of film than that’s your choice and I have no problem with that, but just be honest about the extent of your fandom and know that to be a film buff means to broaden yourself out through the scope of film both historical and international.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Genres and formulas

I really love to view films through the lens of genres. I have certain genres that I love more than others, and there are usually reasons other than simply taste that I rank genres the way I do. Taste certainly plays a factor, but one of the things about film that I pay close attention to is formula. Not all formula’s are bad, for instance the standard “3 act” formula that many films follow usually works quite well (although its not always necessary). This formula can be misused, as in “Australia” where the 3 acts felt more like 3 different movies, bust most films use this formula so effectively that most people don’t even notice that the formula is in play (which is often proof that it’s being used effectively).

However, some formulas are very much damaging to a film when they are used too often in other films released within a few years of it. And this plays in with genres because some genres are guiltier of rehashing formulas over and over again than other genres are. For example, the horror genre is terribly guilty of using the “gore/porn” formula far too much over the past ten years. What this has done is that it has made the entire genre too predictable and watered down, meaning most horror films released in the past ten years are unwatchable, and when a horror film is released that doesn’t follow the “gore/porn” formula it is probably praised and welcomed more than it should be simply because it is refreshingly different in this era than most films of its genre.

Romantic comedy (although more of a sub genre) is also very guilty of formula abuse. Think about it: guy meets girl, guy and girl don’t like each other much, circumstances put guy and girl in unrealistic awkward situations where they have to get to know each other, guy and girl almost let love escape them, guy and girl realize their love for each other and pull it together in the end (Recently think “The Proposal” and “The Ugly Truth”). Romantic comedies are even guilty of more than one formula being used all too often. Then when a romantic comedy comes along like “500 Days of Summer” it’s easy to love because it’s different.

The list goes on. How many recent disaster flicks have used the whole “normal guy evades natural disaster to save his family…and accidentally saves the world at the same time” formula? How many sports films have used the “underdog beats the odds to take down a team fifty times more talented then them to win the title” formula?

Some people don’t mind these formulas, but for me, I’ve found that when I rank genres from favorite to least favorite that the genres that are the guiltiest of an overuse of formula are also the genres that end up at the bottom of my list. I guess, like many people, I just get tired of the same old thing.

Maybe sometime soon we will do a show on Film in Focus where we rank our favorite genres and sub genres. What are yours?