So another year has come and gone on The Soul of the Plot. It’s hard to believe that I have been blogging for two years now! I would like to thank (and don’t worry, I’ll probably thank you all many more times throughout this post) those who followed the blog when I was just getting started and have stuck with me, as well as all the new followers who have liked and commented on posts over the past year.
Though my second year of blogging was no where near as productive as the first, I’m just happy to still be here considering how much busier my life has gotten. I am now officially a film student instead of being an aimless majorless person, which has significantly improved my life. It might not be the best field to go into, but there’s a certain amount of satisfaction that comes with doing what you love, so hopefully I’ll succeed at least enough to keep myself alive. I have also learned a lot through classes and have been able to apply it to reviews, and vice versa. One of my proudest moments was in one of my classes when I had seen Blowup when no one else had, and you know what? That was partially due to the blog, so I’m happy with what I’m doing and that includes blogging.
I have written 94 film reviews this year, and while that’s considerably down from the year before I’m still pretty pleased. I think my writing has improved considerably from the early days of the blog, when I tended to focus more on my emotional reaction and summarizing the plot rather than the filmmaking. Not to say I couldn’t analyze, but I think I’m better at analyzing the visuals than I used to be. I also tackled a few more TV reviews with True Detective and Top of the Lake. I need to get better at reviewing TV shows as I invested a considerable amount of time in both Lost and The West Wing and then failed to do posts on them, but when a series is so long it becomes hard for me to review, so I need to figure out a good strategy for that. Right now I’m in the middle of The Sopranos‘ fourth season, so the sooner I figure that out the better.
Obviously I still have a ways to go. I didn’t managed to finish anymore director filmographies in the blog’s second year which was one of my top goals, I have two more reviews for Kubrick but I have watched all of his films, and I only have three films to watch in Scorsese’s, but a lot more than that to review. I picked out my classes for next semester and I’m going to take one on PTA and Malick, and because I have about half of PTA’s left and he’s coming out with a new film this year, his filmography is top priority after Kubrick’s. I only have two Malick films left to review, so he and Scorsese will likely be finished up after Kubrick and PTA. Hopefully. Also I’ll have to revisit Fincher in light of his latest film, Gone Girl.
I continued the tradition of Best Picture month this year, which was not as extensive as my first year. I only managed to review ten more films, but hopefully next February that number will increase. The only other running feature I did was over the summer with Western Wednesday, which was a pretty great success. I now have a greater appreciation and knowledge of the western genre, which is obviously a good thing. I have nothing planned for next year yet, but just off the top of my head I would really like to explore more foreign films and also animated films. My friends always rag on me for not having seen enough of them. I’m sure I’ll have this figured out by the end of the year when I do my 2014 wrap up post….
But now that the sum up of my second year of blogging is done, I move on to my next tradition of reconsidering my top ten films. This years I was actually on top of things and expanded the list to a top 20! Yay! I started this about three months ago, so it took a long time and a lot of effort was put into it.
All time top ten from 2012: 1. The Right Stuff, 2. Star Wars, 3. Apocalypse Now, 4. O Brother, Where Art Thou?, 5. Mary Poppins, 6. The Third Man, 7. On the Waterfront, 8. Lawrence of Arabia, 9. Bonnie and Clyde, and 10. The Band Wagon.
All time top ten from 2013: 1. Lawrence of Arabia, 2. Vertigo, 3. The Band Wagon, 4. On the Waterfront, 5. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, 6. Mary Poppins, 7. Bonnie and Clyde, 8. Dr. Strangelove, 9. The Godfather, and 10. Pulp Fiction.
Coming in at number 20 is….
Carole Reed’s The Third Man (1949)
The Third Man used to be in my top ten, but I moved it off last year. Despite this, it still remains one of my favorite films. There are two main reasons for this, and one is, who doesn’t love dutch angles?, and two, the incredible disillusionment that weighs on our hero, played by Joseph Cotten, after he discovers that his best friend, played by Orson Welles, is a desperate criminal. Third place and honorable mention goes to the zither score. I rewatched it for the fourth or fifth time at the end of this summer and it definitely still holds up. The style of this movie remains unique to this day, and I continue to be drawn to it.
Coming in at number 19 is…
Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966)
The first time I saw Persona I absolutely hated it. It’s a difficult film, however, if you put the time into it a read a lot it can be very rewarding. There are so many themes to be mined from this film examining a friendship between two women. It questions the nature of art, motherhood, a relationship of the individual to world events, and whether an individual’s emotions are even real or relevant in any way. On the formal side of things, the film can be quite confusing as Bergman applies several techniques that are not quite self explanatory on a first viewing. The break in the film, the famous shot (pictured above) that merges Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman’s faces, the misty cinematography, and the legendary sledgehammering of the fourth wall at the end all make this film interesting from a technical standpoint. It may be more than a little pretentious, and it’s pretty horrific, so I don’t watch it often, but it’s still one of the most important films I’ve ever seen, and demands to be on this list.
Coming in at number 18 is…
Daren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010)
Black Swan has the distinction of being the most recent film on this list, and only one of two from the 21st century. It may not be the best film to come along in recent years, but it strongly affected me the first time I saw it and remains one of my favorites. The cinematography, the score, the special effects, and Natalie Portman’s incredible performance all make this film more than worth the watch. This film gets into the mindset of artistic obsession as well as any I’ve seen. It is the lesser of the two ballet movies on this list, but that in no way diminishes its greatness.
Coming in at number 17 is…
Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946)
Ah Notorious. What a classy film. This is a film with a love triangle, and Hitchcock gets a ton of suspense out of it. Love triangle plots can be tired and boring, but here the love triangle is done right, where each participant fails to see all sides of the story. It’s a case of frustrated misunderstanding, but a satisfying one nonetheless. Hitchcock characteristically plays everyone slightly against type, not enough to alienate the audience but enough to point to the darkness within us all. Grant is aloof and judgmental as the secret agent, and Bergman plays a courageous woman with a sordid past. Also, let us not forget the nice Nazi Claude Rains and his creepy mother. Hitchcock has a number of impressive shots here, included an incredible closeup on the key in Ingrid’s hand and an almost 360 degree camera rotation to show her hungover point of view and Grant threateningly enters the room. One of Hitchcock’s best films, and like The Third Man, one I can watch again and again.
Coming in at number 16 is…
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)
The Shining is a film that very well may move up on this list in subsequent years, because every time I watch this film it gets better. It would not surprise me if I eventually decide that this is Kubrick’s greatest film; the other contender is getting a boost mainly because of nostalgia at this point (and also because it’s equally great of course). The Shining is a film that invites analysis, but defies it at the same time. Any number of meanings can be derived from Jack Torrance’s madness, Wendy’s fear, and Danny’s physic abilities. I of course have a theory that I like, but there are any number of satisfying interpretations. Also, Kubrick’s famous steadicam shots. Gotta love ’em.
Coming in at number 15 is…
David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001)
Mulholland Drive is a film I’ve only seen once, but based on that one viewing, it rose into my top twenty. That’s how powerful this film is. Even if the specifics are getting a bit blurry, the emotions are still there. The film deals with rejection, self-delusion, and feelings of insecurity and inferiority extremely well through the medium of dreams. All of this is done is David Lynch’s highly individual and captivating surrealist style. Mulholland Drive is, as far as I can tell, the pinnacle of Lynch’s career. It depicts the discrepancy between idealized Americana (a more Hollywood-style film) and the inner darkness and perversion inside us all (European art film), better than just about anything else.
Coming in at number 14 is…
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948)
Powell and Pressburger will always be two of my favorite filmmakers, even if not all of their films are completely successful. Their films capture the magic of filmmaking better than any one else’s. When they start with that fantastic baseline, most of their films can’t help but be special. The Red Shoes, their most popular film, is undeniably a very special one. Much like the other ballet film on this list, Black Swan, it examines the nature of art and the obsession with perfection in that art, and how it destroys life. Particularly known for its central ballet sequence, an innovation in film stopping the story and running for twenty minutes, The Red Shoes is a beautifully enchanting piece of cinema.
Coming in at number 13 is….
Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is the quintessential Christmas movie, but that’s not necessarily why I put it on here. I didn’t have some obligatory Christmas movie slot to fill, but the nevertheless I still had the feeling that this film needed to be on this list. It’s less involved with the holiday than most, which earns major points with me. Also, it tricks into it’s philosophy by making the movie so emotionally satisfying you don’t realize the really dark existential crisis Jimmy Stewart is having here. Unquestionably this contains Jimmy Stewart’s most famous performance, and also one of his best. Rounded out with Donna Reed, some great old Hollywood character actors, and Capra’s signature warmth, It’s a Wonderful Life will always be one of my favorite films.
Coming in at number 12 is…
Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
I recently reviewed Dr. Strangelove, which is always useful because it and The Shining are always having a battle for the title of greatest Stanley Kubrick film in my mind. This one mostly wins it due to nostalgia, but nevertheless it’s a great film, and probably the greatest satire ever made. It focuses it’s satiric wrath on the cold war principle of deterrence, and it makes it look pretty silly. Containing brilliant performances by Sterling Hayden, George C Scott, and three from Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove is a film that’ll have you laughing at the demise of the human race.
Coming in at number 11 is…
Stanley Donan and Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Singin’ in the Rain is probably the most famous movie musical ever, and rightly so. It’s full of iconic moments, from Kelly splashing around in puddles, to Donald O’Conner clowning around, to the bit with the unsynchronized sound, to “I make more money than Calvin Coolidge, put together!”, to…. I could go on and on reciting this movie, but you get the point. It’s a humorous look at Hollywood’s transition to sound, and as such is very interesting from a film history standpoint. What’s more important though are the fantastic performances across the board, the witty dialogue, and the excellent direction from Stanley Donan.
Coming in at number 10 is….
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp Fiction holds strong at number ten for two years in a row. Pulp Fiction is a rare film that you see and are convinced of its greatness, even if you don’t know exactly why. Watching it even on the fourth of fifth time it’s still kind of hard to say what exactly it’s about, but then again, what does it even matter when you have characters this colorful and interesting? That’s right, it doesn’t. It’s more than enough to watch the characters do whatever they’re doing.
Coming in at number 9 is….
Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980)
You’ll seldom see a film that’s as powerfully wounding as Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. It’s strange that my favorite director only has one film on here, but I guess it’s because I’m more fond of his overall style than specific individual films. Still, I think Raging Bull rises above the pack. Though I’ve only seen it three times, it never fails to take my breath away. It’s incredibly tense throughout because of the explosiveness of Robert De Niro’s character. It also features some of the greatest cinematography ever, with the glamorous but bleak black and white, the expressive violence of the boxing matches contrasted with the realistic violence outside of the ring, and the unbelievably beautiful slow motion on Cathy Moriarty’s character; it’s just outstanding. It contains Robert De Niro’s greatest performance, without a doubt, and with an actor like that, that is certainly saying something. Said to have saved director Martin Scorsese’s life, it’s a film of such immense power the likes of which is rarely seen.
Coming in at number 8 is….
Francis Ford Copolla’s The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather may not be the best film out there, undoubtedly it’s very good technically but it exhibits a lot of wishful thinking. However, that’s why I love it. It’s super classic and over-idealizes gangsters, but it creates a feeling of family that’s incredibly effective. You can’t help but love these terrible, terrible people. I recently saw it on a bigger screen than usual (not a movie theater, but in class as opposed to my laptop) and I finally figured out how it does this. It’s the lighting. It’s always so warm and inviting on the people, but they are often shrouded in darkness. The people seem angelic, and their environment black and unjust. Your mind knows the Corleone’s are criminals, but the film does a very good job trying to convince you otherwise. Viscerally, you can’t help but agree with it.
Coming in at 7 is…
Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941)
Citizen Kane is also a new addition to the top ten, and I had been avoiding including it for the past two years because I was worried about seeming too pretentious. You know what, I’m done worrying about that, because it’s such a masterpiece of a film and I do legitimately love it. I was sitting outside someone’s film class on the first day of this semester and the prof was asking everyone’s favorite film and was like, “and don’t say Citizen Kane, because I know that’s not your favorite.” Well, that’s bullshit, because Citizen Kane should be someone’s favorite film. It peers into the depths of a man’s soul and fails to come away with answers. The mystery of human character is part of everyday life, both in a big way and a small way, and for a film to focus on this so effectively it deserves to be a favorite. The assembly of groundbreaking techniques for the time is also impressive, but what’s even more impressive is that this is still an incredibly watchable film, even now. When we’re forced to watch it in classes, people are always favorably surprised about this; they assume that because it’s so acclaimed it must be esoteric and boring. It’s not though, it’s riveting drama.
Coming in at number 6 is…
Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Bonnie and Clyde is one of the four films that has been in my top ten three times in a row. It keeps changing positions slightly but it’s not so much that I like it more or less than I did in previous years, it’s more that my opinion of a bunch of other films has been changing around it. This movie never gets old for me. I love it’s sense of adventure that then works against you and turns to tragedy. I love Clyde’s anti-authority rebelliousness and Bonnie’s boredom. It’s French New Wave influence is particularly evident in its editing, which is the opposite of Hollywood’s normally invisible style. One of the many film that silenced the production code forever, its daring can still be felt today.
Coming in at number 5 is…
Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (1954)
On the Waterfront has a lot of unsavory political baggage, but at its heart is really about doing what one thinks is right despite the consequences. I don’t usually pick my movies based on their morals, but I really like On the Waterfront‘s (and no, I don’t necessarily want everyone to turn in their coworkers as communists). The last time I watched it was about a year ago now, for a philosophy paper. I feel like I say this every year, but this year I definitely plan on reviewing it for best picture month. It’s a film with an incredible amount of conviction, and I appreciate that. It’s definitely a contender.
Coming in at number 4 is….
Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp has moved up a slot from last year, and I want that to be understood as such and not that On the Waterfront moved a slot down. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp can almost be thought of the British Citizen Kane, a film of epic scope that focuses on one man’s life. Colonel Blimp is a propaganda film that transcends its origins considerably; it barely feels like a propaganda film now and almost certainly didn’t during WWII, considering Churchill tried to suppress it. Advocating for a tougher stance against evil, it shows how outmoded chivalry has become in modern warfare. Featuring a beautiful use of three strip technicolor, great performances from Roger Livesey, Anton Walbrook, and Deborah Kerr, a witty and perceptive script from Emeric Pressburger, and delightful direction by Michael Powell, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a truly remarkable film, and one of the few that comes the closest to capturing a man’s life.
Coming in at number 3 is….
Vincente Minnelli’s The Band Wagon (1953)
The Band Wagon is another film that’s been on all three lists, and is especially important because it’s the most nostalgic choice out of all of these films, and yet doesn’t feel like it at all. I’ve seen this film millions of times, but I never grow tired of it and it never gives me a reason to. In my opinion, it’s the best movie musical ever made, perfectly capturing the weariness of the theater and the fear of failure. I like one hundred percent of the songs in this movie, which always helps, and every musical number is just perfect. This movie may be from my childhood, but it’s more impressive, now that I’m discovering more and more films, that I haven’t taken it off yet.
Coming in at number 2 is…
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)
Vertigo is also a repeat from last year, and having rewatched it over the summer I can still safely say that it belongs here. While it may be wearing a bit in the suspense department, it still never fails to involve me emotionally. Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart are just fantastic here, and it may be Hitchcock’s most personal film. The themes about identity and relationships are always fascinating, and even though the film isn’t as technically and logically perfect as some of Hitchcock’s other films, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that makes you care more.
Coming in at number 1 is…
David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
I have not rewatched Lawrence of Arabia since I saw it on the big screen last summer, and there’s one main reason for that. I don’t want to be let down by the tiny laptop version, I really don’t. I have never seen anything more majestic than this movie on the big screen, ever in my entire life. Without a doubt that is my favorite movie going experience of all time. Lawrence is another film that focuses on one man’s life (do you see a pattern developing here?), and particularly deals with the existentialist idea of bad faith. Lawrence is playing a role in everything he does, for himself, the English, and the Arabs, and is devastated when he is stripped of this role. He goes from being a quirky lovable guy, to a raging egomaniac, to a broken human being. All of these is intertwined with fascinating political background in the region and interesting military history. Perhaps most amazing of all, Freddie Young’s cinematography makes the desert look impossibly beautiful.
So to end that fantastic list of film, I again say thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has followed me over the years, or commented on or liked a post. It means a lot. Here’s to another great year!