I’ve been updating my New Year’s movie-watching resolutions once a month. I’m up to the fifth update now, and quite a handful of these resolutions have stalled due to availability. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s allowed me to shift my focus a little bit towards some of the other, more neglected resolutions that I made.
American Classics (including films directed by Otto Preminger and Ernst Lubitsch)
I thought for sure that I would’ve watched one more film in the last month from both Preminger and Lubitsch. The top of both my Netflix and Facets queues include one from each, but neither are readily available. I’m at the mercy of both services, waiting for them to send the next one to me. I tackled a handful of classics, most of which I’ll discuss in the AFI 100 Laughs category. The only three non-100 Laughs classics that I saw in the last month: Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon (1957), Harold Lloyd’s short Haunted Spooks (1920), and a re-watch of John Huston’s legendary The African Queen (1951). I enjoyed all three to varying degrees. It was interesting to discover that apparently a LOT of people view Love in the Afternoon as disastrous Wilder. I thought it was sharply written and thoroughly enjoyable. It seems that one of the biggest knocks on the film is the unrealistic relationship between Audrey Hepburn’s character and Gary Cooper’s. I can understand the gripe but it doesn’t change my enjoyment level or appreciation for Wilder’s work. As for The African Queen, I hadn’t seen it since I was 12 years old. Having re-watched it, I can say with full confidence that it’s one of the very best American films ever made. Maybe it’s not a top 10 type of film but it’s easily top 50, possibly top 25. The Lloyd short was hilarious… other than the overt racism.
Wrapping up Steven Spielberg’s Films
I made a lot of headway here. In fact, I’ve completed the project. I watched War Horse, which was somewhat emotionally manipulative but still a pretty good film. I saw The Terminal, which is much-maligned. It had serious flaws, most notably the love story that was shoehorned into it, although I found it charming (and you know it’s true because I almost never use the word ‘charming’) and fine for a lesser Spielberg film. I watched Hook, which was also flawed and lesser Spielberg, but I think it works as a kids movie. Before I put this project away, I want to re-watch some other Spielberg movies that I haven’t seen in a long time. I’ve already seen Catch Me If You Can a second time, and I enjoyed it more the second time around. Up next: re-watches of A.I. and Amistad.
Watching more classic or non-new release films at theatres
My goal: 15 to 25 classic or non-new release films at theatres in 2012. Late April and most of May provided me with a lot of opportunities, and I squeezed in three. The most prominent was The Godfather (1972). To be blunt, it was the best movie I’ve ever seen in a theatre. Nothing else even comes close. I’ve loved The Godfather from the moment I first saw it 15 years ago, and I’ve seen and quoted it multiple times since. Seeing it on the big screen was a lot like the first time you go see a mall Santa when you’re a kid because it proves that he’s real. The other two non-new release films at theatres this month were Raising Arizona (1987) and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), which I tackled both in the same day. Seeing Raising Arizona with an audience was fantastic because the theatre-wide laughter added to the experience. Monty Python… well, it fell a little flat for me. I find that I consider about 5% of the stuff Python ever made to be some of the funniest stuff ever made. And the other 95% falls flat. I realize I’m going to touch a nerve with that, and I mean no disrespect to fans of Python. Humor is subjective and if you disagree with me, more power to you. I have no interest in telling people they’re laughing at the wrong times because there is no wrong time to laugh.
Attack the AFI 100 Years, 100 Laughs list
This list is almost completely done. I’ve finished everything but two films, and now I have to play the waiting game because they’re strangely difficult to find. The two left are The Heartbreak Kid and To Be or Not To Be. Last month’s jaunt through the list included The Court Jester (1956), She Done Him Wrong (1933), Father of the Bride (1950), and It’s a Gift (1934). My exposure to Mae West- starlet of She Done Him Wrong– and W.C. Fields- star of It’s a Gift- has been extremely limited. Fields was genuine fun. Mae West… well, her acting style made her look like she was in the middle of having a stroke. But I still enjoyed She Done Him Wrong because it features a very young Cary Grant. The Court Jester was ok, but I do have to point out that Danny Kaye’s performance was extremely impressive in that movie. The best of the lot, easily, was Father of the Bride, which includes a tremendous, surrealist dream sequence worthy of Buñuel. One of the biggest ancillary benefits of watching the AFI 100 Laughs list is that it’s made me a huge fan of Spencer Tracy.
Along the way, I also re-watched four 100 Laughs films that I hadn’t seen in ages- A Shot in the Dark (1964), Good Morning Vietnam (1987), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), and Sleeper (1973). Peter Sellers’ comic persona is really very special, something to behold. His Inspector Clousseau character has endured and it’s a testament to Sellers. The two 80s films were great to re-watch mostly for nostalgia since my initial viewings of both of those movies came when I was a kid in the 80s.
Challenge myself more
This category has gotten stronger and stronger as the months have gone by, and late April through May was no different. It starts with Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972). My first Tarkovsky film was Andrei Rublev (1966), a film I saw 5 years ago or so. It was nothing short of amazing, one of the very best films ever made. It was also mentally taxing in a way that made me apprehensive of going after more Tarkovsky. This month, I bit the bullet and watched Solaris. First of all, it wasn’t nearly as mentally taxing as Andrei Rublev. Second, it’s almost perfect in every way, carrying a Resnaisesque message about memory and living in the past. The visuals were stunning and the concept amazing (adapted from a novel of the same name). Since Russian cinema is something of a black hole for me, one of my next “challenge” films is Ivan the Terrible (parts one and two).
I also wiped out Tangled this month. It seems odd to think of it as a “challenge”. But if you know me, you know that I’m not normally drawn to Disney movies that work as homages to Disney princesses. Having said that, I thought Tangled was quite effective.
Last but not least, I can’t say enough good things about Experiments in Terror. It’s hardly much of a challenge for me- I love horror, and I usually appreciate avant-garde cinema- but it’s rare that the two things are combined. The collection of vignettes turned out to be one of the highlights of my movie month.