Recent Viewing

I've made significant progress with my list of movies I need to see, so I figured I'd give an update on what I thought of what I've seen, and the chances of inclusion on my top 100 list.
  • Notorious: Hitchcock's wonderful spy thriller was a real joy, and ranks right up there with my favorite Hichcock films. Great performances, a tight story, and, of course, lots of tension. Hitchcock really outdid himself with some of the shots in this film, as I chronicled in a recent post. ***1/2 (out of 4)
    Top 100 potential: High, I really liked this movie.
  • Strangers on a Train: Another gem in Hitchcock's body of work, and it features one of the greatest villainous performances of all time by Robert Walker, as the diabolical Bruno Anthony. Hitchcock wastes no time with this thriller, thrusting the audience almost immediately into the rather clever concept of the story: Bruno meets tennis pro Guy Haines on a train, and engineers a clever scheme to get away with murder. "Lets swap Murders- your wife, my father," Bruno says, noting that each would have a solid alibi at the time of the crime, leaving no connection between the murderer and the victim. From this seeminly innocent conversation, which Guy laughs off as a joke, the story kicks into high gear when Bruno murders Guy's conniving wife, then demands that Guy "do his part." ***1/2
    Top 100 potential: High, I really liked this movie.
  • Network: Paddy Chayefsky wrote this scathing satire of the news business nearly 30 years ago. The idea was to make it as absurd as possible, but, to be honest, watching it today, it doesn't seem so absurd. Indeed, many of the stunts he described have actually happened, and I wouldn't put it past the news industry to commit most of the rest. As black comedies go, it's top notch, though I can't say as though I really enjoyed it. In today's climate, it's somewhat disturbing. Plus, there are some subplots that never really grabbed me. ***
    Top 100 potential: Medium, I have mixed feelings about this. If it ends up on the list, it will probably be ranked pretty low.
  • 12 Angry Men: Sidney Lumet's jury-room drama about a lone dissentor who convinces the rest of the jurors to reconsider the seeminly obvious guilt of the defendant. The case turns out to be less clear-cut than it seems. For a film that takes place mostly in a single room and consists of 12 people simply talking through the case, it's very compelling and it held my attention throughout. The way the information is gradually released to the viewer is slightly manipulative and some of the arguments were not that convincing, but I never got frustrated by it. ***
    Top 100 potential: Medium, I enjoyed this film, but I'm not sure if it will make my list.
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Taking a more lighthearted tone than his contemporaries (like Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah), director George Roy Hill and screenwriter William Goldman crafted a genuinely exciting and fun western that covers a whole lot of dramatic ground. Elements of comedy, romance, action, adventure and old-fashioned drama are peppered throughout, and make for an entertaining experience. Watching this, I was struck by several references in recent movies that I love. For instance, the real last names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Parker and Longbaugh, are the names of the two main characters in The Way of the Gun. Another: In Kevin Smith's Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob are chased by a mall security cop (who wears a white straw hat) named LaFours, an obvious reference to the harrowing sequence in Butch and Sundance when our heroes are chased by a seemingly unstoppable posse. And, of course, this film provides the template for countless "buddy" films. ***1/2
    Top 100 potential: Medium, I enjoyed this film a whole lot, but it may narrowly miss the top 100 mark...
  • All the President's Men: The infamous story of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who uncovered the details of the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon's resignation, is told with surprising restraint. You'd expect the film to play up the more sensational aspects of the story, but instead, screenwriter William Goldman hones in on the tedious minutiae of journalism. And somehow, director Alan J. Pakula manages to keep the pace brisk, no small feat for a story that focuses more on the tireless footwork of journalism than the results and glory of that hard work (which is, more or less, handled in the epiologue of this film). Indeed, for the majority of the film,Woodward and Bernstein are getting doors slammed in their faces, and the breaks they do get are small and almost always followed by denials and evasions. ***
    Top 100 potential: Medium, I enjoyed this film, but I'm not sure if it will make my list.
  • Bob Le Flambeur: This is one of those films that suffers from the curse of innovation - it has influenced so much that followed it that it's hard to watch this and not be a little underwhelmed. For me, it was particularly underwhelming as I'd already seen the 2002 remake, The Good Thief, which isn't a perfect film, but which follows the general structure of Bob le flambeur while adding a lot too it (some of the additions, such as the more complex heist plans, are more successful than the others, such as the heroin addiction of Bob). There are two wonderful elements to this film: First is the character of Bob - a hopeless gambler who nevertheless has such a strong sense of honor that everyone loves him (even the cops). You can see elements of the character of Bob in a lot of films, including Michael Mann's Heat, Steven Soderberg's Ocean films, and PTA's Hard Eight. The second element I love about this film is the ending, which Roger Ebert describes as involving "surprising developments that approach cosmic irony." I think the ending of the aforementioned remake is perhaps a little better (at the very least, a worthy reimagining), but only because it preserves the cosmic irony of the original. As a heist film, this has perhaps been surpassed by its imitators, but it's still a quality film. ***
    Top 100 potential: Low, I'm glad I've seen it, and it is an innovative film, but it probably won't end up on my list.
  • Vengeance Is Mine: This Japanese portrait of a killer who went on a rampage in the early '60s, evading police for 78 days, is odd and extremely disturbing. It's a slow film, disquieting in the banality with which the film's subject murders and schemes. It's not a film for everyone, but director Shohei Imamura has crafted a visually striking film that is at least interesting to watch, if not particularly enjoyable. I have to admit that I was thrown by the title. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I don't see much in the way of "Vengeance" in this film. I know you're not supposed to judge a film by its title, but I was expecting something different here. It's a quality film for fans of the serial killer genre, though I still don't think it's the best.***
    Top 100 potential: Low, it's well done, but not particularly pleasant or fulfilling (not that it has to be, but I didn't connect with it).
These were all good films, and I'm glad I watched them all, but I am again curious as to whether or not I'll really be able to connect with these films enough to include them on my top 100 list. The only ones that come close are the two Hitchcock films described above (which stand a good chance of inclusion). Perhaps, in time, some of these others will stick with me more. I'll continue working through my list of films I need to see, but I suspect that few of these will make it onto my top 100...