December 2017 Recap


(image via wookmark.com)

I am going to give up on writing out my hopes for this blog, because I always fail to live up to my expectations for myself. I will simply write when I can and hopefully that turns out to be more frequent than not, but if the first two weeks of this semester are any indication, I think the summer holidays are going to be the best bet for a more rigorous posting schedule. We shall see. As far as December goes, it was not a banner month for me. I had several exams and they all went well, but right as I was prepared to give myself a much-needed break and spend my free time writing and watching lots of movies, I got very sick. I initially woke up sick on Christmas Day, and proceeded to miss most of my shifts at the movie theater for the remainder of the week. Rather than spend that free time enjoying the holidays, I had to stay in bed and sleep—and when I was not asleep, I was too miserable to do anything fun or productive with my time. Then when I woke up on New Year’s Eve, the coughing started. As of this posting, I am finally feeling somewhat normal after a full three weeks of coughing and being miserable, although I still have to set my alarm 30 minutes ahead so I have time to talk myself into getting out of bed. It was quite the brutal illness and certainly not the best Christmas I have ever had. On the plus side—as always—even amidst the busyness and illness, I did watch some pretty great movies. At the beginning of the month I took a look at my DVR and found that I still had 30 or so TCM recordings dating back to 2016. Between deleting some that I was no longer interested in and watching a whole bunch of them, I brought this number down to 12, and I hope to finish the list by the end of January. Then later in the month, I had an epic Christmas marathon, re-watching many of my favorites and watching some Christmas classics that I had never seen before. The first-time watches did not go so well, unfortunately, but I enjoyed revisiting some of the great films I discovered last year. In particular, I really fell in love with Remember the Night this time around, and it may just be my favorite Christmas film of all time now. Then, I capped off the month, and the year, with a re-watch of one of my very favorite films, Good Will Hunting, just in time to write a last-minute post for the Inspirational Heroes blogathon.
So, without further ado, here is the list of what I saw this month, and a closer look at my 8 favorites.

First-Time Viewings:
34 Re-Watches: 7
  1. The Beguiled (2017)
  2. Prime Cut (1972)
  3. Ingrid Goes West (2017)
  4. My Bodyguard (1980)
  5. Local Hero (1983)
  6. Lilith (1964)
  7. Another Woman (1988)
  8. Unashamed (1932)
  9. The China Syndrome (1979)
  10. Downhill Racer (1969)
  11. The Stranger’s Return (1933)
  12. Stage Fright (1950)
  13. Scream and Scream Again (1970)
  14. Brigsby Bear (2017)
  15. In This Corner of the World (2017)
  16. The Old Maid (1939)
  17. Old Acquaintance (1943)
  18. The Girl From Missouri (1934)
  19. My Woman (1933)
  20. Lady Bird (2017)
  21. Re-Watch: Brigsby Bear (2017)
  22. Lady Snowblood (1973)
  23. Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (1974)
  24. Young and Innocent (1937)
  25. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
  26. Prancer (1989)
  27. Dead Man (1995)
  28. Re-Watch: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  29. The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
  30. Re-Watch: Gremlins (1984)
  31. Re-Watch: The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
  32. Re-Watch: Remember the Night (1940)
  33. Re-Watch: Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
  34. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
  35. In the Good Old Summertime (1949)
  36. The Cheaters (1945)
  37. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
  38. Pocketful of Miracles (1961)
  39. Gifted (2017)
  40. Arthur (1981)
  41. Re-Watch: Good Will Hunting (1997)
By Decade:

  • 20s: 0
  • 30s: 6
  • 40s: 9
  • 50s: 1
  • 60s: 4
  • 70s: 5
  • 80s: 7
  • 90s: 2
  • 2000s: 0
  • 2010s: 7

Another Woman (1988) (image via telegraph.co.uk)

Woody Allen is very hit-or-miss for me. Several of his films are among my favorites of all time, but there is also a good chunk of his films, especially his more recent work, that does not appeal to me at all. So I never know quite what I am in for when I sit down to watch one of his movies, but I am happy to say that Another Woman falls into the former category, and is probably my favorite film that I watched all month. This film is widely recognized as Allen’s version of Wild Strawberries, but unlike some of his other homages to classic cinema, I found that this film had a unique identity that actually spoke to me more than Wild Strawberries did, even as much as I enjoyed that film. I was really struck by Gena Rowland’s portrayal of an aging academic, and I saw a lot of myself in her character—or, more accurately, I saw the kind of person I might become in the future, including the pitfalls I will probably be vulnerable to just as she is. As is characteristic of Rowlands, she puts in a complex and fascinating performance, and the film gave me a lot of food for thought in considering where I want to be when I reach the same stage of life that she portrays. This is one of Allen’s under-seen masterpieces, and I highly recommend it.

The Stranger's Return (1933) (image via TCM)

Like most people, my favorite thing about the Pre-Code era is how daring the films were. I love the risqué situations and morally grey characters; this brief period in Hollywood history really is a moment unto itself, different from all of the movements and eras that would follow it in just how brazenly it defies the social norms that existed in the early 1930s. However, in exploring this era, once in awhile you will come across a great film that does not fit the “Pre-Code” mold; it could have come out after the Code was enforced with few changes. The Stranger’s Return is one of these, and while its story and characters may not be as trailblazing as most of the Pre-Code films I champion, it is a truly great film nonetheless. Following Miriam Hopkins character as she retreats to the family farm after a divorce, we see her collide with the conservative values of her new neighbors while simultaneously forming a strong bond with her grandfather, played by Lionel Barrymore, and the farm itself. It is a simple, pastoral-inclined tale of finding your place in the world, and one that is sure to appeal to fans of Yasujirō Ozu, who was apparently quite the fan of this film. 

Scream and Scream Again (1970) (image via teleport-city.com)

As we all know, sometimes a movie does not have to be good to be memorable and enjoyable. Such is the case for Scream and Scream Again, a film I really cannot explain my fondness for. It is really three films combined into one, and none of them are properly explored; worse, it commits the unforgivable sin of slapping a bunch of big names onto its poster when in reality, their roles are glorified cameos. I guess it must be time for me to admit that I am a diehard Vincent Price fan and even 10 minutes of screen-time from cinema’s greatest horror actor—and greatest ham—can make a movie worthwhile in my eyes. As well, the storyline of this film that actually qualifies as horror, brief though it may be, is legitimately quite shocking and did manage to make me squirm. That has to count for something! Chances are you will not enjoy Scream and Scream Again, but if you just so happen to be a fellow overly-forgiving Vincent Price fanatic, it just might be worth a shot.

Brigsby Bear (2017) (image via nomoreworkhorse.com)

After watching Brigsby Bear, I could not help drawing comparisons to the more mainstream feel-good film of the year, Wonder. Both films follow characters who do not fit into mainstream society, and the human connections they form as they try, and sometimes fail, to find their place in the world. I enjoyed both films, yet they both suffer from the same problem: this kind of emotionally-driven, simplified filmmaking can never reach the same heights that can be achieved by films willing to be more difficult and divisive. Ironically, the overly-optimistic nature of these films is exactly what keeps them from mining the emotional potential of their premises in the same way that a more cynical, complex film might. Even still, Brigsby Bear has really stuck with me, even demanding a re-watch, because even though I do not think the story is fully satisfying in its current form, what we do have is still pretty great. I love the throwbacks to children’s television shows of the past, and the restorative joy of film-making that is depicted later in the film. While not perfect, Brigsby Bear is still the most thoughtful, interesting “feel-good” film you will see this year, and is worth seeking out.

In This Corner of the World (2017) (image via theplaylist.net)

This film can be simply and accurately summed up as Grave of the Fireflies meets Only Yesterday, yet that does not quite capture its unique beauty. This is a film about a clumsy, frustratingly imperfect teenage girl who finds herself married and living in a new city, far away from her family, as WWII reaches its peak. As she navigates the expectations her new family has for her—her mother-in-law is sickly and needs her to do most of the chores around the house—her one comfort is her art, a pastime that leads to many of the most beautiful sequences in the film as her expressionistic drawings merge with reality. This is a film that explores a viewpoint of WWII that people living in North America are rarely exposed to, and serves as a great counterpoint to films such as The Best Years of Our Lives and Since You Went Away that examine the Western home-front. This is a quietly devastating and deeply human film, and definitely a must-watch among the 2017 releases I have seen so far.

Lady Bird (2017) (image via filmlinc.org)

This list is overly dominated by 2017 releases, but it has truly been a great year for cinema and these films deserve the spotlight. I was shocked, but also ecstatic, when I found out my theater had decided to play Lady Bird, and immediately made plans to go see it. Sadly, my city was not as enthusiastic and only a handful of people were present at each showing, so the film only played for a week. Still, I did manage to see it, and I was even able to bring my mom with me, which is truly the best way to experience this film if you happen to be a woman with a good relationship with your mother. While I did not love this film as much as the hype suggested I would, and I definitely would not rank this as the best film of the year—maybe not even in the top 5—I still enjoyed Lady Bird greatly, and I am so excited to see what Greta Gerwig does next. Her voice in this film is so strong, and combined with a characteristically pitch-perfect performance by Saoirse Ronan, this is a coming-of-age film that is well-deserving of entrance into the teen film canon.

Dead Man (1995) (image via IMDB)

Now for a director who I am decidedly not hit-or-miss with: Jim Jarmusch. I have only seen 4 of his films so far, yet every time I delve into a new one I know I am in for something special, and try to save first-viewings of his films for the perfect moment. This is how Dead Man managed to sit on my DVR for a full year, but I decided it was finally time to take the plunge. The wait was worth it, because this revisionist Western really is everything I could have hoped for—and I say that as someone who typically does not enjoy Westerns. Jarmusch has so much fun with the tropes here and creates something that is legitimately fresh and new, and full of wonderful--and sometimes gruesome--surprises, including scene-stealing cameos from Crispin Glover and Robert Mitchum. I loved the black-and-white cinematography, the off-beat score, and the at-times-mystifying performances by Gary Farmer and Johnny Depp. This is a strange film, one that is increasingly difficult to understand as it goes along, yet I could not take my eyes off the screen as I watched this bizarre journey unfold. This is not a film for everyone, but if it is in your wheelhouse, it is certainly an unforgettable viewing experience.

Arthur (1981) (image via decider.com)

There are a lot of deep, difficult films on this list, so I am going to end my last recap for 2017 with something fun. Arthur is a film I have been aware of for a very long time, yet never saw until this month. That was a mistake, because this is the rare mainstream comedy that really is hilarious and holds up well even now, almost 40 years after its original release. Dudley Moore is wonderful as a drunken playboy who starts to question if there might be more to life than simply being really, really rich, and Liza Minnelli is perfect as the woman who gives him a new perspective on life. As noted, this is not a particularly complex or thought-provoking film, but it is very funny and was the perfect conclusion to my first-time watches of the year. If you want to follow my lead and give this charming comedy a spin, just make sure to avoid the old DVD release; I was dismayed to put it in my player and discover it was pan-and-scan. I watched it anyway, but a re-watch in the proper aspect ratio is inevitable because I still feel dirty from watching a butchered film in this day and age!

So that was December. Some good movies, some not-so-good sick days, and some okay holidays. While my month was not the best, I hope yours fared a lot better, and that, whatever you celebrate at this time of the year, that you had a good time. Best wishes as we trudge into 2018, and hopefully we all keep finding great movies to keep us entertained in the meantime.

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