The good, the better and the best
In a year that has been all about films by women there have to be ten other films to make this post out of. I did notice that on average these films didn’t end up as high as the ones from last year or the year before, but that’s fine. I had other things to do. Since I already wrote many lengthy posts about the films by women I’m going to exclude those. For 99 mostly amazing films by women, please go here. I usually pick from all the films I give 9/10 and up, but I only got to find eight with that restriction this year. So I’ve chosen to add two random 8/10 films I felt like talking about – not necessarily the best two. I guess that makes up for two previous years where my top 10 consisted of 11 films, heh. I just can’t seem to get this simple thing right.
Nope, nope, nope
Oh yes, 2016 was a shitty year too at times. I’ve seen plenty-a-film I wouldn’t recommend to my in-laws if I had any of them. Just a few to scare you away should do. You’d better skip to the next section though because really there’s nothing worth seeing over here.
- 1995 – Pocahontas (Offensive, dumb)
- 2016 – The 5th Wave (Trainwrecks look better than this piece of nope)
- 1935 – A Night at the Opera (Nope, I just can’t stand those Marx Brothers)
- 1989 – Black Rain (The US one, plain offensive)
- 2012 – Holy Motors (Weird savage, talking cars, nope.)
- 2004 – Team America: World Police (Fuck nope)
I already know you
So like always I set the bar at “does this film qualify for the IMDb Top 250”, meaning it needs 25,000 votes or less. Or kind of at least. I still need ten films I feel are good enough to make the cut. I might get creative, or not. So this year most of my top ranked films are too well known (boo!) and it wasn’t easy to pick out ten others. Still, if you haven’t yet, give some of these a try, they’re really good.
- 1942 – Casablanca
- 1934 – It Happened One Night
- 2014 – Still Alice
- 1939 – Gone With the Wind
- 1985 – Ran
- 2015 – Room
- 1999 – Galaxy Quest
- 1951 – Roman Holiday
Sigh. You’re still not at the films section, but you have to run to catch a train. Well then this is your lucky day. Before we get into the films in a little more detail, here is the “I can’t be bothered to read all this” list of all films you will find in the post below. For the lazy or those with no time. It’s also just a convenient overview, because they are conveniently put in order of appearance. Nice!
|Late Spring:||(9.0 / 10)|
|I've Loved You So Long:||(8.9 / 10)|
|Our Little Sister:||(9.7 / 10)|
|The Young Girls of Rochefort:||(8.8 / 10)|
|Gilda:||(8.9 / 10)|
|A Story of Floating Weeds:||(8.9 / 10)|
|About Elly:||(9.5 / 10)|
|Hiroshima Mon Amour:||(8.8 / 10)|
|The Snake Pit:||(8.2 / 10)|
|Woman in the Moon:||(7.8 / 10)|
|Original title: Banshun|
|Directors: Yasujirô Ozu|
|Duration: 108 min.|
Our local art house theater ran some Ozu in the summer. It was the so called Noriko Trilogy (Early Summer and Tokyo Story complete it). I had already seen the other two out of order because I had no idea they were part of a group of films. As this one was new to me I went and watched it together with about a dozen other people. I could tell some of them were new to Ozu. Afterwards they were wondering how a film about nothing could have such an effect on them. And Late Spring really is the prime example of a film about nothing that still manages to move you to tears. To those who know Yasujirô Ozu’s films this one isn’t much different from the others in that it’s a quiet family drama.
It tells about Noriko (Setsuko Hara) who is single and still living with her father. Everyone wants her to get married – this is or was a pretty important thing in Japanese culture – but all she wants is to stay home. If you’ve seen the other two Noriko films, also with Setsuko Hara, you will know she always deals with relationship issues, but a different kind each time. Late Spring is my #2 of the three films. I liked Tokyo Story (see last year’s post) much more, but this one sets itself apart from Early Summer because of a phenomenal Chisû Ryû who plays Noriko’s father. There’s more Ozu below, but this trilogy is really something to look out for. You can easily watch them out of order, by the way, so look them up and give this Japanese director a try.
I’ve Loved You So Long
|Original title: Il y a longtemps que je t'aime|
|Directors: Philippe Claudel|
|Duration: 117 min.|
A woman, Kristin Scott Thomas, is released from prison and will stay with her sister for a while to sort out her new life in freedom. The sister has a husband, two adopted children and the husband’s mute father. You can see she has a lot of issues to sort out. She tries to be as normal as she can be, but the prison life damaged her. Throughout the course of the film we see what happens now, but also slowly learn what happened in the past that got her to where she is now.
The acting in I’ve Loved You So Long is top notch. Especially Kristin Scott Thomas is entirely believable as someone who was in prison for a long time. It’s beautiful to see her slowly integrate back into the normal world, even though the things that happened will always retain the mark they made. This is European art house at its best, at least in terms of story and acting. You’re not spoon fed the story. It is told by omission. By purposefully not saying things it creates a great richness of character because you fill in the blanks yourself. I love it when a film gives me these vague sort of characters and gets the balance right between being mysterious but having enough to go on. This film nails it.
Our Little Sister
|Original title: Umimachi Diary|
|Directors: Hirokazu Koreeda|
|Duration: 128 min.|
In a blind buy I bought a Japanese film early this year. It was by a director I had seen nothing from and I heard nothing about the film itself, but all I needed was to read it was heartwarming with a touch of Ozu. Our Little Sister, which (whut) is based on a manga, ended up being my favourite film of the year. It’s not as heavy on the drama as an Ozu film but you can clearly draw the parallel between his family oriented films and this one by director Hirokazu Koreeda.
In Our Little Sister three sisters who live together go to bury their estranged father. At the funeral they learn that he had a fourth child with another woman. This young girl, Suzu, is taken in by the three girls and they go about living their lives with their struggles and hardships and beautiful moments, very much like an Ozu film but a tad lighter. Every time I talk about this film I have to think about a quote from a review I read about this film. This is from the Guardian (UK) and I think it perfectly captures the essence of Our Little Sister: Watching this film is a vitamin boost for the soul.
The Young Girls of Rochefort
|Original title: Les Demoiselles de Rochefort|
|Directors: Jacques Demy|
|Duration: 120 min.|
|Genre: Musical, Romance, Drama, Comedy|
This may just be the first and last time a musical makes it to one of these end-of-the-year posts. Generally speaking I do not like them and I don’t know if I ever will. Over in a film group I’m part of this musical had been getting a lot of attention. Just before that happened I watched The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and ended up kind of liking it, so I gave Les Demoiselles a try too. It is so different from any other musical I have seen, mostly American ones. Those are always so overproduced – in my opinion – and I always feel like punching the permanent plastic smiles off their character’s faces. It is remarkable how refreshing and different The Young Girls of Rochefort made me feel.
The story is deep and profound, but also very whimsical and silly. Choreography is sometimes out of sync or a little messy and I love it. It makes it seem more real than to have someone burst into some perfectly executed slick song. The story about perfect love is heart warming and every character in this film is charming in their own way. For those who are into old Hollywood musicals, this film has some nice scenes with Gene Kelly (Singin’ in the Rain) too. In the film group I mentioned earlier I don’t think anyone who ended up watching it disliked it. The love was almost unanimous with only a few who merely liked it. So all I can say is give this a try, it’ll be worth your while.
|Original title: Gilda|
|Directors: Charles Vidor|
|Duration: 110 min.|
|Genre: Film Noir, Drama, Romance|
#Noirvember brought a lot of goodies this year. I have a few of the great films noirs saved up to watch the coming few years. 2016 meant Touch of Evil and Gilda. The former wasn’t as big a success as I hoped it would be, but Gilda made up for that by exceeding my expectations. People usually have one major complaint about it but that didn’t really bother me. I can see where they’re coming from though. I guess that made no sense if you haven’t seen the film, but once you have you will.
Gilda, played by Rita Hayworth, might be the most iconic femme fatale in noir history, only rivalled by Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity and maybe one or two others. She oozes with sex appeal in every second of screen time she gets but from the start you know that she spells trouble. But like in every other great noir out there the male protagonist, Glenn Ford in Gilda, has never learned how to spell so he just falls for the charm and goes with it. I mean sure he resists but we all know it’s inevitable that he caves in eventually, right?
A Story of Floating Weeds
|Original title: Ukikusa monogatari|
|Directors: Yasujirô Ozu|
|Duration: 86 min.|
Back in 1927 when The Jazz Singer wow-ed audiences all over the world, back in Japan director Yasujirô Ozu would have none of it. He made his last silent film in 1936 before finally accepting the talkie. That was five years after the first Japanese sound film was released in 1931. In his silent days he made a lot of comedies and gangster films, but A Story of Floating Weeds is an early sign of what we now know him for: impactful quiet family oriented dramas. It’s a bit strange loading up a 1934 film and realising it is a silent film, but luckily that’s easy to get over.
The story is really the stories of two travelling actors, a man and a girl, who end up visiting a town in which the man has a son with a local. The son doesn’t know this, and neither does the girl. Come some drama and a beautiful silent film is the result. What really did it for me personally was the ending. When the final scene played – which of course I did not know – I was really hoping it would be the end, and then it was. Perfect! But apparently not to Ozu, who ended up remaking it as a sound film in 1959. Together with Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, 1956) it is the only film I know the same director directed twice. I have not seen the 1959 version though so I do not know if it was an improvement or not. If it is, I’m in for a treat.
|Original title: Darbareye Elly|
|Directors: Asghar Farhadi|
|Duration: 119 min.|
|Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller|
After seeing The Past and A Separation last year and the year before I set out to watch my third Farhadi film in 2016. I keep a ranked list of films over on a site called Flickchart and at the moment of adding About Elly all three Farhadi films were in my top 100. This year I also managed to catch The Salesman at the local art house cinema, but that currently “only” ranks 299, which is still in the 85th percentile of all films I’ve ever seen. I think it’s safe to say I’m a fan. I’ve hunted down Fireworks Wednesday which is probably his next film I’ll watch. Who knows it might end up on the top 10 for 2017, heh.
Anyway, About Elly is the story of Elly, even though she hardly appears in it. A bunch of friends, Elly included, have rented a house at the beach to have a good time. Elly is being a bit weird about things but it is dismissed, but then in the morning Elly has gone missing. A search party is set up to scour the beaches and the ocean, but there’s no trace of her. In the meanwhile the friends slowly reveal information or talk about how they knew Elly or how they interacted with her during the trip. About Elly is a very captivating mystery film. It’s my #2 of the year, closely after Our Little Sister.
Hiroshima Mon Amour
|Original title: Hiroshima mon amour|
|Directors: Alain Resnais|
|Duration: 90 min.|
|Genre: Drama, Romance|
Horrifying images of the aftermath of the bomb, lengthy discussions about life, the beginning of the French New Wave and director Alain Resnais’ transition from making only documentaries into also making feature films. Resnais was known for making short documentaries at the time, like Night and Fog. The opening of Hiroshima Mon Amour is like a documentary, but supposedly this is where Resnais paused because he didn’t want to make another Night and Fog. With help of screenwriter Marguerite Duras he turned it into a sort of regular film that became known as one of the first New Wave films.
Elle (Emmanuelle Riva, Amour) and Lui (Eiji Okada, Woman in the Dunes) play the leads in this story of love between two married people. Elle is a French actress shooting a film in Japan. She spends time with the Japanese Lui while discussing the events from the war from a French and a Japanese perspective. You can feel Resnais the documentary maker is still in there trying to teach us something. But on the surface this film also presents a more straight forward love story between a married man and woman.
The Snake Pit
|Original title: The Snake Pit|
|Directors: Anatole Litvak|
|Duration: 108 min.|
|Genre: Drama, Mystery|
2016 was a bad year for celebrities on the whole, but a few good things happened. The only living cast member of 1939’s Gone With the Wind, Olivia de Havilland, celebrated her 100th birthday (as did Kirk Douglas, by the way). GWTW is much too well known for this blog but I really wanted to include a de Havilland film, so I went with The Snake Pit over The Heiress, both new-to-me’s this year, because I think that even though she won a Best Actress Oscar for The Heiress, her acting is much better or at least more important in The Snake Pit. She carries the film to great heights.
The Snake Pit is about a woman who wakes up in a mental institution with no memory of how she got there. She thinks nothing is wrong with her, but she’s in there and the doctors seem to think she should be, so what happened? So maybe by today’s standards this isn’t a very credible film and the psychology stuff is outdated, but if you can put yourself into a 1948 mode of thinking the dread comes splashing off the screen as de Havilland loses her mind, if she hasn’t done so already.
Woman in the Moon
|Original title: Frau im Mond|
|Directors: Fritz Lang|
|Duration: 170 min.|
|Genre: Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi|
Firtz Lang is known for his massive epic silent films. Frau im Mond is his final silent epic before making the transition to sound with M. Woman in the Moon does not feature a huge cast of extra’s, like his tow-part Die Nibelungen, nor does it feature the grand sets of Metropolis. This one is very different and perhaps not as good as some of his other work. The almost three hour runtime makes it somewhat epic, but it’s really more in the “how” that you start to appreciate what Lang was going for with this film. Frau im Mond tells about a plan to go to the moon to mine for gold. Along come your regular astronauts, but also a somewhat hostile figure and a woman.
Some of the things this film gave to the world besides three nice hours of early space adventure is that it is the first science fiction film to take a purely scientific route. At least as far as the advancements made in 1929 allowed Lang and his crew to go. Man wouldn’t set foot on the moon for decades to come, so they made a lot of assumptions. But it’s striking how much they got right, or even made right. What I mean is that this film influenced the real world in many ways. It brings us the first recorded instance of a countdown clock used for launching a rocket. We still use that to this day. The rocket built in this film was so realistic that Hitler banned the film and tried to have all copies of it destroyed. Someone might have gotten ideas from the design of the multi-staged rocket built for Frau im Mond.