Happy New Year’s Eve everybody! As per tradition on The Soul of the Plot, here’s my year-end wrap-up post on this past year, featuring reflections on the year and a top ten list “new to me” films I saw this year. I hope everyone had a good year and as always, thank you to everyone who read or commented on a post of mine this year.
2016 sure has been a weird year. I graduated from college (a surprise to us all ha ha ha) and I wasn’t sure exactly how that would affect the blog, but it’s been going pretty well in the later months of 2016 anyway. It’s even harder to find film jobs in New England in the winter (or so I’ve been told) so I’ll probably be writing on the blog for the next couple of months anyway.
From Film Review #357 (Creed) to Film Review #407 (Mon Oncle Antoine) I’ve reviewed 51 films this year. That averages to about a film review a week, though of course I wasn’t as consistent as that! I also posted a lot more than that, with some TV show reviews of Star Trek: The Original Series and The X-Files. Of those 51 film reviews, 3 of them were for Noirvember, 5 of them were AFI Top 1o0 Discussions, and 6 were Blindspot posts. Not too bad!
My top ten list of 2016 film will be coming at the end of January, because as usual there a bunch of 2016 films I haven’t caught up with yet. For now though, I’ve watched 87 “new to me” films this year, which is more than last year! I’m still only gonna do a top ten though; 87 is still not really enough for a top twenty.
Coming in at number ten is….
Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky III (1982)
Is this movie goofy? Yes. Should it be on this top ten list? Probably not, but it’s there anyway because I enjoyed this film. I haven’t seen Rocky IV or V, which I hear get even sillier, but for now I really enjoyed Rocky III. Is this just because it’s where Rocky and Apollo become friends? Yeah… let’s be real. That’s why. (3/4 stars)
Coming in at number nine is…
Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)
My final Blindspot entry for the year was a bit of a surprise in how much I was able to appreciate it the longer I thought about it. Jutra does an amazing job in this film conveying one boy’s complex reactions to life’s realities. His first encounter with the death of a boy of a similar age to him is shot so powerfully that it could carry the whole film, but it doesn’t have to. The detailed depiction of a unique setting and the wonderful sense of community help this film stand out. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number eight is…
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
This New German Cinema re-imagining of Douglas Sirk’s All that Heaven Allows turns out to be a powerful story of how we act the parts that are expected of us. Telling the story of a young Moroccan immigrant and an older German woman’s unlikely romance, it demands the viewer to consider how societal pressures affect nonconformists for the worse. With Fassbinder’s bold theatrical style and the considered performances of Brigitte Mira and El Hadi Salem, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is a cinematic classic that very much resonates today. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number seven is…
Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991)
JFK might not be the film I should put ahead of some of the other titles on this list, but with my love for conspiracy thrillers I kind of had to do it. It’s also a pretty amazing film, in that it really shouldn’t work as well as it does. Paranoid monologues should get wearing, but Stone and the cast are able to sustain their energy far longer than I would have thought possible before seeing the film. And, ya know, I love the paranoid excitement generated by the film. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number six is….
Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude (1971)
This is a movie we watched in my Altman and Contemporaries class, and one among many that I loved but shamefully did not get to review. It might not be as accomplished as some of the other films on this list, but I loved the morbidity and black humor of Harold, contrasted with the uplifting sunniness of Maude. I’m still not sure exactly what Ashby was getting at with this film, but I really loved the experience of watching it. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number five is….
Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975)
Nashville was another film I saw in the Altman class, this one not falling in the “and Contemporaries” part, and another one I didn’t get a review in for. Because of the class, this was the year I really started to appreciate Altman’s films. Chief among these is Nashville, Altman’s epic depiction of the turmoil of the 1970s. We weave in and out through a giant ensemble cast, including a heartbreaking performance by Lily Tomlin, ending with a tragedy that knocks the audience to its knees. As we’ll see later in this list, it’s really a shame I didn’t get to review more of the films I saw for that class, but with Nashville I’m thinking it’s better I let it sit a bit anyway. (3.5 or 4/4 stars, I really can’t decide)
Coming in at number four is…
The Coen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
The films of the Coens have always been a bit difficult for me to get a handle on. Like Wes Anderson, what I like about them is their excessively stylized comedies, but in liking them, I have a hard time deriving meaning out what I’m watching. So I keep giving them 3.5 stars even though I love them with a force much higher than that. The Hudsucker Proxy is a great example. The Coens throw themselves into their own brand of a 1930s screwball comedy with a Frank Capra-ish bent with such gleeful abandon that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. Is it anything more than an exercise of style? I don’t know, but the considerable charms of this movie don’t make me care that much. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number three is…
Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939)
This film has the (quite meaningless in the grand scheme) distinction as being my favorite film from both of my Blindspot series. Jean Renoir’s depiction of love and self-delusion across the classes manages to be both funny and ultimately a bit terrifying. Renoir’s direction and performance are quite masterful; his direction weaves in and out through various characters without losing sight of the whole, while his own performance brings life to a lovable character. I can’t wait to revisit this one. (4/4 stars)
Coming in at number two is…
Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka (1939)
Ninotchka is what all romantic comedies should be. Lubitsch builds his on a foundation of Soviet satire and expands it to include a lovely romance. Greta Garbo is luminous in the title role, bringing humanity to a seemingly cold and efficient Soviet envoy even before she falls in love with Meylvn Douglas (and who can forget the three Russian musketeers, Iranoff, Buljanoff, and Kopalski). There’s not a film that brought more smiles to my face this year. (4/4 stars)
Coming in at number one is…
Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973)
Though Ninotchka may be a more enjoyable affair, another Robert Altman film takes the top spot for me this year. The Long Goodbye I also didn’t review because I wrote a paper on it, but I hope I do get around to writing a review on it at some point because it quickly became one of my favorites. Altman works with a slightly less expansive, but no less talented, cast to bring to life an existentialist neonoir tale as only he can. Starring Elliot Gould as the befuddled PI Philip Marlowe, the film details his confusion at being an old soul in a modern, uncaring world. Altman reteams with his McCabe & Mrs. Miller cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and uses a similar style to achieve a different effect; the haze created by the risky flashing technique on the film combined with constant zooms and dollies drop the viewer into just as a confusing environment as Marlowe is. A truly masterful film. (4/4 stars)
There you have it, some of my favorite films from the past that I watched this year for the first time. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of these. Once again, I would like to thank everyone who has stuck with the blog through the past year, even though I continue to be a pretty inconsistent blogger. It means a lot! Here’s to another great year and keep an eye out for BP month in February as well as the start of Oscar season!