January 2018 Recap

(image via cinemaclock.com)

I thought January was going to be a return to normal, or at least as normal as you could call the past few months, but yet again I was in for a surprise. I started taking my first university-level English classes this semester, one focused on literature and the other on academic writing, and they have proven to be much more work than any of the classes I took in the fall. I am definitely learning a lot, but the clear drawback is yet another reduction in my free time. I watched a lot less movies than is typical for me, less than 1 a day, and I often found myself missing my routine of winding down to a movie at the end of each day. Despite the reduction, I did still find the time to watch some great stuff: I continued to work my way through those DVR recordings from 2016, which resulted in watching 3 films each from two of my favorite classic actors, Norma Shearer and Charles Laughton; I watched the silent film Where Are My Children? from 1916, which now stands as the oldest feature-length film I have seen so far; a friend from work and I started a tradition of going to the movies every week, resulting in some slightly embarrassing viewings that were nonetheless a lot of fun to see with her on the big screen; and I saw some really interesting films in my Intro to Foreign Film class. Overall, I would call this month a success. Read on to see the full breakdown of my viewings and a selection of my 5 favorites--now narrowed down from 8 for the foreseeable future to make these posts less cumbersome to write!

First-Time Viewings:
Re-Watches: 2
  1. Written on the Wind (1956)
  2. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
  3. The Cat and the Canary (1939)
  4. The Lure (2015)
  5. Sabrina (1995)
  6. The Greatest Showman (2017)
  7. The Love Parade (1929)
  8. Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)
  9. The Battle of Algiers (1966)
  10. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
  11. Smilin' Through (1932)
  12. The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)
  13. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
  14. Insidious: The Last Key (2018)
  15. District 9 (2009)
  16. Logan Lucky (2017)
  17. Re-Watch: Happy Death Day (2017)
  18. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
  19. Riptide (1934)
  20. The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)
  21. Nostalgia for the Light (2010)
  22. Re-Watch: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
  23. The Night of the Iguana (1964)
  24. Where Are My Children? (1916)
  25. Raining Stones (1993)
By Decade:
  • 10s: 1
  • 20s: 1
  • 30s: 6
  • 40s: 2
  • 50s: 1
  • 60s: 2
  • 70s: 0
  • 80s: 0
  • 90s: 2
  • 2000s: 1
  • 2010s: 9

The Lure (2015) (image via thelastthingisee.com)

When I go through stressful times, I have a habit of latching onto a particular movie, usually one I have seen recently. When I feel overwhelmed, I think back to my favorite scenes in the film to help cheer me up. Throughout January, The Lure was this film for me. A delightfully offbeat, strange, even somewhat off-putting film about a pair of siren sisters who come ashore and join a sleazy nightclub act--and I just loved every minute of it. The musical numbers especially are wonderful, and the melodies of them have been stuck in my head for a whole month now, even though I do not speak a word of Polish. While the story and characters are fairly flat and underdeveloped, the film makes up for it with an immensely confident and unique visual style; it almost reminded me of House in its gleeful rejection of what cinema "should" look like. This film is a directorial debut, and I cannot wait to see what Agnieszka SmoczyƄska does next. If she can team up with a script-writer who can pair her visual flair with a more meaty story and characters, I believe the sky is the limit for her.

The Love Parade (1929) (image via laurasmiscmusings.blogspot.com)

Watching a new Lubitsch is like panning for gold. You may not always find something, but when you do, you wind up with a treasure trove of riches--and this time I struck gold with The Love Parade. This film is significant both for being Lubitsch's first sound film, and for--arguably--being the original Hollywood musical to which every subsequent Hollywood musical owes its gratitude for laying the foundation of what the genre should look like. While I am not sure I would quite go that far, this is indeed a great, trailblazing film that has Lubitsch in top form, pairing Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier together for the first time in a plot that is both clever and incredibly funny.  Lubitsch is the rare studio-era filmmaker who was already at the top of his game when he started making talkies, and this film remains a classic because of it.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) (image via TCM)

I am a pretty big animation buff, and one of my very favorite animated films of all time is Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Because of my adoration for that film, I have always been hesitant to watch these earlier, live-action adaptations of the story--when you love a film that much, it becomes difficult for any other version of the same story to measure up. While Disney's adaptation does remain my favorite, it really just comes down to my love for the original musical numbers in that one, because this 1939 version is truly a magnificent film. Maureen O'Hara is radiant as Esmeralda, and Charles Laughton makes for a heartbreaking Quasimodo, his emotions still palpable even behind all of that makeup. Combined with a great supporting cast and some absolutely incredible sets that replicate Notre Dame, this is one of the greatest epics I have seen from the studio era. I was particularly impressed by just how dark the story got at times; despite the limitations imposed by the Production Code, this is a fairly faithful adaptation that stays true to all of the emotional agony of the original story. Even the ending, while slightly less bleak than the novel, still ends on a heart-wrenching note I will not soon forget.

Logan Lucky (2017) (image via businessinsider.com)

This movie only played at my theater for a week, and unfortunately I missed out on it. Since then my hype for it has been steadily building, and lucky for me, Logan Lucky did not disappoint at all, despite being entirely different from what I expected. Adam Driver is one of my favorite actors working today, and he adds another great role to his resume here, playing a war vet with a prosthetic arm. His character is on the understated side, but he does a lot with a little and plays the most quietly memorable role in the cast. Playing alongside him are Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig, the latter of whom plays the most hilariously eccentric character that will make you forget he was ever James Bond. Add in an atypical heist storyline from the master of all heist movies Steven Soderbergh, and the result is one of the funniest, most unexpectedly warmhearted films of the year that I am so happy I finally got the chance to see.

The Night of the Iguana (1964) (image via filmforum.org)

As much as I loved The Lure, the prize for my favorite discovery of the month has to go to The Night of the Iguana. John Huston's The Misfits was one of my favorite discoveries in all of 2017, and this film has all of the same elements in it that I loved in that film: the washed out black-and-white, the tortured characters, the top-notch cast, the emotionally rich writing and dialogue. Deborah Kerr was my favorite of the bunch as a wise and soulful, yet repressed middle-aged woman who brings Richard Burton back from the brink; with every film I see from Kerr, I become more appreciative of her talent. However, Burton, Ava Gardner, and Sue Lyon are all excellent as well in this steamy, agonizing story of a man on the verge of a mental breakdown and the series of women who either help him or push him closer to edge of the cliff. One of my favorite Hollywood "movements" is those films from the late 50s and early 60s that have the sensibilities of studio-era Hollywood fare, yet they have all of the rage and angst of the approaching New Wave bubbling just under the surface, and not only is this film a shining example of this atypical moment in Hollywood history, but it is one of my new favorites and one that I am sure will linger in my thoughts for a long time to come, just like The Misfits.

Amazingly, we are almost halfway into February now. January was a good month for movies, but a pretty rough month overall. While February started out about the same way, I am now enjoying my well-deserved spring break. While I have to start studying for midterms pretty soon, I am enjoying this time off to relax and catch up on my movie-watching. I have already seen some fantastic films that I am sure will end up on my next recap post, and hopefully there is a lot more great stuff to come. Until then, keep watching great movies--and happy Valentines Day!


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