Here are some two sentence reviews of the movies I watched in January.
- Movies watched – 13
- Movies that were new to me – 9
- Best picture movies worse than Inside Llewyn Davis – 4
- Monthly Masterpieces – Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Old Dark House
- American Hustle (2013) – I suppose it is fun enough (Lawrence is great, even Cooper’s unhinged cop works well enough), but there isn’t much of a story here–which is surprising considering all the plot machinations. It really seems to care more about putting its characters in silly wigs rather than paying attention to story and plot.
- Gravity (2013) – Sure, Bullock’s character’s back story might be laid on a little thick in places, but it hardly matters since this is really just a collection of superbly mounted (and spectacularly filmed) set pieces about the terrifying prospect of getting lost in the black void of space. I don’t think I’ve clenched my fists this much while watching a film since Wages of Fear.
- Her (2013) – Sure, the rather obvious commentary about how we are divorced from the real world by being glued to our technology is there, but this is thankfully about more than that. In fact, the nature of the relationship with the AI provides a lot of fertile ground to delve into all kinds of issues about love, loneliness and everything in between.
- Key Largo (1948) – Though it doesn’t have Bogart’s feral Duke Mantee, this at least improves on The Petrified Forest by getting rid of Leslie Howard’s poet character and offering twice the insight with half the philosophizing. I feel like the ending sequence loses a little steam, but it is still an undeniable classic.
- Dallas Buyers Club (2013) – I suppose Mcconaughey and Leto are good in this, but it is otherwise yet another Hollywood hero-making biopic, this time lionizing a straight dude who got aids and then went on to rule all the dying gay men around by charging exorbitant rates for cheap untested Mexican drugs. The message about how the FDA and drug testing is the ultimate evil is completely confused and routinely undercut throughout the film as well.
- Wives Under Suspicion (1938) – This late period Whale film unfortunately has little to recommend it. The plot is not only kind of silly, it is also a lot boring.
- Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) – Excellent study of what it is to be an artist and the futility of attempting to “make it” with one’s art. Or at least maybe that is what this one is about…it is just as enigmatic as A Serious Man, and just as brilliant as well.
- The Old Dark House (1932) – A triumph of creepy atmosphere with a nice darkly comic touch. Movies about old houses full of dark shadows and darker secrets have yet to equal this film.
- Sahara (2005) – It would be easy to write this one off as a wanna be Indiana Jones rip-off starring a bimbo-doofus. And, while, that may be an entirely accurate assessment of this film, that would vastly underplay just how entertaining the whole thing is anyway.
- The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975) – An at times overly obvious condemnation of the press’s ability to destroy lives, the direction and central performance make this really compelling stuff anyway. This feels much less precious than the more famous The Tin Drum.
- The Smiling Madame Beudet (1923) – Though the story is fairly risible, the extraordinarily creative direction more than makes up for it. I especially like the use of pure black that foregrounds the characters in so many shots.
- The Last Sunset (1961) – Excellent western with a top notch cast, some excellent cinematography, and plenty of bizarre melodrama. While the cattle drive sequences don’t quite match the immensity of Red River‘s sequences, there is still more than enough here to delight those who appreciate quality westerns.
- Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) – Classic Ealing black comedy that deals with murder in the most sophisticated and gentlemanly manner possible. Guinness is spectacular in 8 different roles, but I think the main character’s elegant sociopath is an equally impressive a performance.