Saturday, March 30, 2013

My 365-Day Film Challenge - A Failed Experiment

"There are no failures - just experiences and your reactions to them."
                                                                                                                      ~ Tom Krause
I knew it would be a tough ask - 365 movies in 365 days. Despite being an avid film enthusiast, I average about four movies per week (a low number compared to most cinephiles). In order to expand my tastes and acquaint myself with the styles of certain directors, I decided I would try to watch one film per day in 2013. A list of 365 movies was compiled prior to the start of the year, and all titles were put through a random number generator to decide the viewing order. I thought I would do this to make things more exciting (and more challenging). Michael Haneke's The Seventh Continent drew January 1, and Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda was set for December 31. It should be noted that I conceived this challenge as little more than a personal endeavour. The only reward was an eclectic film education. I wasn't being paid to write about the films I saw; it was just something I did for fun, and for the love of the medium.

The first two months were fairly simple. Watching a film per day for 59 consecutive days wasn't too intensive. Things got slightly more difficult in early March, as university started for the year. Still, watching a daily film was doable. Then came a hurdle - an internship at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. For two weeks, I had to wake up at 6:00 AM and come home at around 6:45 PM. These days entailed a lot of walking, which meant I'd come home each night feeling drained of energy. I watched The Imposter (2012) on the first proper night of my internship, and I fell asleep in the process. When my mother woke me up, I resumed watching the film. "It has to be done," I thought. The following night marked the first time of the year I had to replace a designated daily film. I had Like Water for Chocolate set for March 22, but it was taking an age to download (yeah, yeah, piracy is bad, etc.), so I replaced it with the pleasant The Trip. The next night, I just stayed awake throughout Tony Maylam's The Burning. When I woke up on March 24, it dawned on me: "There is no way I can watch 'Saving Private Ryan' when I get home tonight." I had half-prepared myself to end my movie-watching streak, and thus the 365-Day Film Challenge, before I'd even left the house. When I got home that evening, I watched The Descent instead of Saving Private Ryan. Picking a shorter, less demanding film did not, however, prevent my eyelids from wearying. I was asleep after a mere 30 minutes. My mum woke me up, and instead of resuming the film, I accepted defeat and went to bed. It was over. I quit after 83 days. Before I went to bed, I tweeted the following:


For those interested in my ten favourite films I watched as part of the Challenge, they are:

10. Amores Perros (2000)
9. The Wicker Man (1973)
8. Amour (2012)
7. A Short Film About Love (1988)
6. The Seventh Continent (1989)
5. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
4. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
3. Trainspotting (1996)
2. Hunger (2008)
1. Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Although the Challenge ended rather prematurely, I am sort of glad it did. Watching films became an obligation rather than a leisure activity. Film, as with any art form, requires attention to detail. If you're not in the right headspace, a great film is simply a good filmFor me to fully enjoy a movie, I have to be relaxed both physically and emotionally. Extreme tiredness meant I didn't feel relaxed in either way.

The main reason I felt relieved after resigning from the Challenge is that it made me feel human. The idea to watch 365 movies in 365 days came to me during a time in my life where nothing exciting was happening. Watching films was my main state of being, and anything else that happened was a distraction. When my internship came along, I realised that it was okay to sacrifice the viewing of motion pictures to get a good night's sleep. In fact, I learnt it was necessary. I felt human because I made a logical decision, and movies were no longer the pinnacle of my existence.

As I type this, I only have three days to go with my internship. This makes me a bit sad, because I have enjoyed it so much. I love the people. I love the environment. I love the work. I am as happy as I've been in a long while, and it's because I've attained this level of contentment that movies have become secondary to me. Don't get me wrong - movies will always have a place in my heart, and I still identify as a "film buff". It's just that I haven't had many things to be happy about in recent years. Movies have virtually been my only source of solace. It feels good knowing I can now go a few days without a movie and not feel as though I'm missing out.

Perhaps film was never meant to be my main passion in life. It could be that the void needed to be filled somehow, and movies were a convenient way to fill it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

10 Monumental Film Monologues

There's a great difference between talking and communicating. In plenty of films, we see characters who speak their mind for more than a minute uninterrupted, and the dialogue might be good but it fails to move us.  The best monologues make us see the world in a way we've never seen it before, or touch on universal sentiments that we've always known but have never had the courage to voice. Here are ten of my all-time favourites. Oh, and THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING. Scroll carefully. 

10. "Who cares about this stupid election?" (Election - Alexander Payne, 1999)

This monologue from Jessica Campbell may lack the profundity of some other entries on this list, but its inclusion is warranted by its accuracy. Tammy Metzler's words will resonate with anyone who's been through high school. In your final two years before graduation, you begin to realise the internal politics of school administration. You understand that some teachers play favourites, and that some hold secret grudges. You also know that many students pass their days in quiet desperation, hoping to secure a spot on the student body under the false belief it will automatically open up opportunities in their adult lives. In this sharp satire, Tammy runs for student body president against her older brother Paul and over-achiever Tracy Flick. Tammy only decided to enter the race after she found out her "girlfriend" is actually heterosexual and seeing Paul. Tammy knows she isn't popular, and she doesn't even want to win. She sees this election as an opportunity to launch a tirade against student politics, and she delivers a speech which earns a round of applause. She labels the election process as a "pathetic charade" that only benefits the winner, and virtually pushes for an anarchistic school. Unfortunately, Tammy is suspended for voicing her sentiments. There is a certain kind of movie scene that depicts something you wish you saw happen in your lifetime but probably never will. This is one of them, and it is absolutely fantastic.

9. "Top five things I miss about Laura" (High Fidelity - Stephen Frears, 2000)

Nick Hornby's High Fidelity is my favourite book of all time, and Stephen Frears' film adaptation does so much justice to it. This monologue works for so many reasons that I could probably write an essay about this scene alone. Alas, I'll try and keep everything to a paragraph here. First of all, it's the way the scene comes from nowhere. Nothing in the previous scene suggests that this reflection will occur. We're just hit with it, and we welcome its impact. I also love the way John Cusack breaks the fourth wall to make his words very personable. He wants us to know what this woman meant to him; why he can't shake the remnants of her from his mind. We sincerely feel for him, and, in a way, feel like we have also lost Laura. The scene peaks at number 3 in Rob's list, when he tells us he misses Laura's smell and taste, and remarks "Some people, as far as your senses are concerned, just...feel like...home." It's one of the most beautiful sentiments from any film, and Rob is too emotional to even enunciate the number 4, so he has to hold up four fingers. Number 5 on Rob's list is subtly humorous and it reminds us of that one trivial thing we secretly adore about the person we love, whether that love is reciprocated or not. It's a nice touch that Rob refrains from giving us a top 5 list of the things Laura does that drive him crazy. It would have played out as unnecessary negativity and robbed the scene of its melancholic tone.  

8. "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!" (Network - Sidney Lumet, 1976)

It's a shame this monologue has lost some of its impact due to incessant parody and imitation, but the truth behind the words still rings true. Network hasn't aged a day since it was released in 1976. Peter Finch plays Howard Beale, a news anchor who is told he'll be fired because of low ratings. During a live broadcast, Beale announces he will commit suicide during next week's news telecast. He is immediately fired for these comments, but is given one more chance to have a dignified farewell. He uses this airtime to say that life is bullshit, and this results in a ratings spike for the network, so he is reinstated in his position. Then comes this timeless speech. If you watch the news regularly, you'll notice that most stories are negative in nature. There are nights when the most positive thing reported is a dog successfully catching waves on a surfboard. As viewers, we might sigh and wish for a better state of affairs, but that doesn't change the reality of what is happening. Bad things happen every day. The world is a shit place. We're desensitised to hearing about things such as murder, rape and hooliganism, and instead of asking why that is, we just retreat to our cocoons of apathy. This monologue highlights the universal truth that no one will care unless you speak up. The people sticking their heads out of windows and calling for change are not revolutionising society, but they are making their voices heard, and that has plenty of symbolic value. Peter Finch is only one of two actors to posthumously receive an Academy Award in an acting category. The other was of course Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight. It's a shame Finch wasn't alive to receive his award. He thoroughly deserved it and he deserved to feel happy about it. I also recommend Ned Beatty's "The world is a business" monologue, also from Network.

7. "It's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world." (American Beauty - Sam Mendes, 1999)

You were warned about spoilers, and I'm going to give you a major one here: Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) dies at the end of American Beauty. I just assume that everyone has seen this masterpiece by now. This scene simultaneously fills me with joy and sadness. We mourn Lester's death because we grew to love him throughout the film. At the same time, Lester's "spirit" is so calm and only remembers the fond moments from his relatively short lifetime. Music and sound are so important here. Thomas Newman's Any Other Name sets the tranquil mood. The recurring gunshot shakes us each time, even though we're prepared for it. The rustling of the leaves on the maple tree, the pouring rain, Frank Fitts' heavy breathing and Carolyn's wailing all heighten the immediacy of the scene. Memories are in black and white, while reaction shots from Lester's loved ones are in colour. I think this is how we interpret our own reality. The past is never completely satisfying because memories can only provide so much solace. Spacey's delivery adds so much to this monologue. He speaks in a tone that suggests he knows something we don't. I love that the film ends on the line "But don't will someday." It's an excellent example of how ambiguity should be used, and it adds to the mystique of Lester Burnham. I also love the way Lester recalls his memories: boy scout camp, yellow leaves, his grandmother's hands, the Firebird, Jane and Carolyn. We all have these things we hold dear to us, but when we get down to our final moments, which of these things will stand out? 

6. "We think too much and feel too little." (The Great Dictator - Charles Chaplin, 1940)

The Great Dictator was Chaplin's first proper 'talkie', having established himself in silent films such as Modern Times and City Lights. It was his most commercially successful film, but also the one that attracted the most controversy. Chaplin's likeness to Adolf Hitler (complete with toothbrush moustache) is no accident. He wanted to make a mockery of the man, even if it politicised the film too much. But it is Chaplin's six-minute monologue towards the end of the film that has inspired the most criticism. The dictator of Tomainia, Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin), is expected to give a victory speech to the masses, but a Jewish barber (also played by Chaplin) who bears a striking resemblance to Hynkel impersonates him. The barber delivers a humanistic speech that calls for a society governed by science and progress, where empathy eradicates selfishness. Some people have called it the greatest speech of all time, but plenty of people think it is awkward and uncalled for, as Chaplin breaks the fourth wall and espouses his personal politics. I am a fan of the speech, but I can certainly see why many object to it. Despite the fact this was Chaplin's most commercially successful film, it is also the one most associated with his decline. After The Great Dictator, some audiences could not separate Chaplin the comic from Chaplin the orator. In 1952, Chaplin would direct Limelight, a film about an ex-music hall star faced with dwindling popularity. This was clearly autobiographical and Chaplin's exile from the United States came within the same year.

5. "It is the duty of all human beings to think God out of existence." (Bad Boy Bubby - Rolf de Heer, 1993)

If listening to this monologue depresses you, maybe you should consider why so many people around the world cling to religion for comfort. Human existence is, by nature, unfair. We're born into a world without our consent, where we spend the majority of our lives working before we grow old and die. Yes, life holds many brilliant moments as well, but only if we choose to create them. As the scientist explains, "We're all just complicated arrangements of atoms and subatomic particles—we don't live." Living is a human construct, designed to fill our time on Earth with purpose. Is this scene preachy? It's preachy in the sense that only one perspective is offered, but all I see is truth. What about people who, as sponge-brained children, are forced to accept that a higher power exists and that life must be lived in accordance to the dogma of a specific faith? As far as I'm concerned, that is far more preachy. When you assume the existence of something, the burden of proof falls on you. If you tell someone there is no God, you don't need to supply evidence. Of course, I write this as an atheist and I understand not all readers are on my side. I digress. Bubby is such an enigmatic character. He is 35 years old and has never set foot outside his mother's squalid apartment. Imagine that: 35 years in one miserable building, told that the outside air is poisonous. His mother, a Christian fundamentalist, is very possessive. She often beats Bubby and has intercourse with him. Bubby thinks nothing of this. He has no idea what incest is, let alone that the word exists. As you can deduce from this scene, Bubby does escape from the four walls of that apartment, and he discovers the real world to be a fascinating though terrifying place. That's why this monologue packs a huge blow. Bubby is having his ideas challenged for the first time ever. It is compelling and deeply rewarding to see him digest this knowledge. I highly recommend you watch this film. It's one of the greatest Australian films ever made, and the story is extremely original.  

4. "Coffee's for closers only." (Glengarry Glen Ross - James Foley, 1992)

Although this monologue comes in at number 4, it would come in at number 1 if I were ranking the monologues by delivery alone. From the moment he opens his mouth, Alec Baldwin dominates. I have only seen the film once, but sometimes I watch this monologue for pure enjoyment, and every time I am scared by Baldwin's ferocity. I feel as though I am in the room being berated along with the other men. Remarkably, this is Baldwin's only scene in the film, and it was written specifically for him by David Mamet. Baldwin plays Blake, a man who is sent to motivate four real estate salesmen to sell houses, or "close on leads". He entices the salesmen with promising leads from Glengarry Highlands. The first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. The second prize is a set of steak knives. The third prize is "You're fired." What's fascinating about Baldwin's character is that he seems as though he's in two minds. In one sense, he doesn't enjoy being in this room with four incompetent schmucks. He has other places to be, and he's only giving this talk as part of a favour. On the other hand, Blake is relishing every single moment of his rousing speech. He enjoys belittling the Ed Harris character: "You see this watch? That watch cost more than your car." And he thoroughly gets off on telling Jack Lemmon to put down his coffee. It is ultimately Blake's lack of empathy that makes him memorable. "Nice guy? I don't give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here - close!" Because the scene comes early in the film, we're positioned to view the real estate industry as a dog-eat-dog pursuit. We know this film isn't going to consist of boring scenes involving nothing but paperwork. 

3. "And why the fuck are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie?" (Adaptation. - Spike Jonze, 2002)

First of all, let me just say that Brian Cox is one of the most underrated Hollywood actors. He has been for some time. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE REWARD THIS MAN!? This scene is excellent because Robert McKee (Cox) begins answering Charlie Kaufman's question in a reasonably calm manner. Slowly, his words become more intense. The tone escalates, and before we know it, McKee is verbally abusing Kaufman. It happens so quickly, and we don't know how to react. We are just as gobsmacked as Kaufman. Nicolas Cage is outstanding at selling his vulnerability to the audience. The poor guy just stands there and takes it, and even says "Thanks" at the end. This scene allowed me to view the world in a way I'd never considered it before. Like Charlie, I once equated the "real world" to unremarkable stories from day-to-day life. I saw so many things as unrealistic or exaggerated, merely because I'd never seen them personally. But McKee is right. Every single day, people die in horrible ways. People suffer immense heartbreak and family tragedies. We often forget about this and believe in two extremes: the real world (working a 9 to 5 job) and the realm of fantasy (you know, wizards and stuff). We discard the idea of a world that is neither mundane or fantastical, but downright ugly. Just for the record, I still think Adaptation. is the best of Charlie Kaufman's scripts. 

2. "You're just a kid." (Good Will Hunting - Gus Van Sant, 1997)

For a long time, this was my favourite movie scene, period. It's just so economical. So much is conveyed using two skilled actors, a profound script, and a park bench. The scene highlights so much about the difference between quantifiable knowledge (book smarts) and emotional intelligence. Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is gifted with savant-like knowledge. Despite this, he chooses to work as a janitor at MIT. During sessions with psychologist Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), he learns more about himself and, in this scene, is taught an important lesson: NEVER ASSUME. Prior to this scene, Will saw a painting in Dr. Maguire's office that Sean had painted himself. Will assumed it was inspired by Maguire's wife cheating on him, and Sean reacted violently to this by choking Will. We later find out that Sean's wife died of cancer. That's why Will's assumption pissed him off so much. So here we have Sean lecturing Will, telling him that all of his knowledge counts for nothing if he cannot grasp basic human decency. Sean also highlights that Will hasn't even been out of Boston, and so his life experience is very minimal. The scene is about those tiny remarks, often said in jest, that are more insidious than we expect. It's also about pseudo-intellectualism and the difficulty of defining "knowledge". But most importantly, as I mentioned above, its main message is that assumptions are dangerous. You can't live your life thinking everyone and everything is a stereotype.   

1. "I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I'm never gonna get." (Hannah and Her Sisters - Woody Allen, 1986)

Here is my favourite movie scene of all time. It doesn't matter how distraught I am. I can listen to these words and feel that everything is going to be just fine. For those who don't know, I am scared of dying. Whenever I think about death or the idea of eternal unconsciousness, a chill runs through my entire body. It almost physically sickens me. This scene doesn't change my views on what happens after we die (we are deprived of all sensory experience and we stay that way forever), but it does comfort me because it reminds me that life can be very enjoyable. There comes a point where you just accept it: "Yep, I'm going to die one day." Everyone knows it and there's no point in dwelling on it because it cannot be changed. So, the only option left is to just fucking have fun. Of course, that's made a little difficult by the fact we are expected to make a living while we're here. But it's all about the little things. In this scene, Mickey (Woody Allen) is watching Duck Soup as though it's an antidepressant. You know how people have comfort foods? People also have comfort films, comfort music, comfort literature, comfort sex, comfort anything. If we find enough things to comfort us and revisit them quite regularly, we can live satisfying lives. A common theme in Allen's films is what one can get away with in a godless universe. He explores this idea most prominently in Crimes and Misdemeanors, where a character gets away with murder. In Hannah and Her Sisters, the idea of a godless universe is repulsive to Mickey. Having to live an entire lifetime without a reward at the end just doesn't sound right. It is only when he retreats to his comfort zone, the cinema, that he rationalises his reasons for staying alive. It's simple: life is way more fun than death could ever be. I have written more about the search for meaning in my life (with reference to Woody Allen) here.

Friday, March 1, 2013

February 2013 Film Wrap-Up

Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009) = 1/5

There is something repulsive about this film, and it is not the genital mutilation scene (OK, that's vile, but not my biggest qualm). The repulsiveness stems from the film's insistence on being weird for the sake of it. I have seen five other von Trier films and they were all weird or depressing (often both), but there were rewarding aspects of those films that really made me love them. The talents of Dafoe and Gainsbourg are wasted here. I didn't care an ounce for their characters, and it felt like I was watching a marriage counselling session gone awry. There's an eerie atmosphere and some nice cinematography that plays well here, but you're gonna need more than that to redeem a horribly sloppy and pretentious narrative. Seriously, when the fox said "Chaos reigns", I just lost it. It was so hilariously misplaced. Oh, and "Dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky"? Fuck off.

Sleeper (Woody Allen, 1973) = 4/5

Not to be confused with Barry Levinson's Sleepers (1996), this is one of Woody's "early, funny ones." This is a great vehicle for Allen to showcase his knack for physical comedy. If you don't think he has it in him, just watch this film. As is characteristic of Allen's films from this period, the plot is zany and merely acts as a conduit for the jokes, but boy are the jokes good! You should also appreciate the film if you're a sci-fi enthusiast. Personally, I am not, but I still had a great time!

The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982) = 3.5/5

If John Carpenter had cared about his characters as much as he cared about the special effects in The Thing, I would have loved it so much more. As it stands, I did like The Thing, but I fail to see why this film is held in acclaim. The special effects are great and comically grotesque. When it wants to be, The Thing is very suspenseful, but there are times where the tension doesn't amount to much. But it's those two-dimensional characters that are the biggest let-down. A frustrating film. 

Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008) = 5/5

This film, coupled with Shame, proves that Steve McQueen is one of the great artists of the 21st century. Not a single shot in Hunger goes to waste. The film sinks its claws into you as soon as it starts, and only starts to relinquish its grasp as the end credits roll. There are some images here that are difficult to shake from your memory, and indeed, Hunger packs a visceral blow. Inside this Irish prison, everything feels so real, and the use of sound in this film is incredibly effective. Take, for example, a scene where a guard mops a vacant corridor floor which is covered in urine. This sounds disgusting, but the rhythm of the mop reminds us that this is all part of prison life and it has to be done. Fassbender deserves endless praise for his demanding performance, and it hurts to look at him during the later scenes. What this film is best remembered for is an unbroken 17-minute shot wherein Bobby Sands (Fassbender) speaks to a priest (Liam Cunningham) about the prospect of a hunger strike. Goodness knows how difficult this must have been to perfect, and it's a credit to both actors that they pulled it off, and to McQueen for risking the scene in the first place. 

48 Shades (Daniel Lapaine, 2006) = 3.5/5

Now here's a film that will charm your socks off! For a film about unrequited love, it's not at all brooding or negative. I think it reinforces the idea that some things, like the weather, just are, and we have to be prepared to move on if we don't successfully pursue the person of our affection. This Australian film was filmed in Brisbane, and the colours are very vibrant. You'll be surprised how much happier this makes you while watching. I really cared for the characters, especially protagonist Dan, played by Richard Wilson. I really wish this was more widely available on home video.

The Bad Seed (Mervyn LeRoy, 1956) = 3/5

The performances in this film are very solid, especially by the precocious Patty McCormack (pictured above). It's just a shame that this hasn't aged well at all. The concept of an "evil child" would have been almost taboo in the 50s, but these days, a lot of horror movies are made about children who seem to summon evil wherever they go. As a result, this movie came across as very tame. The film is based on a play by Maxwell Anderson, and it felt like I was watching a stage production at times. It would have benefited from fewer stagy moments. 

The World According to Garp (George Roy Hill, 1982) = 4/5

The World According to Garp is a textbook example of a 'bad good film'. Or maybe it's a 'good bad film'. I dunno. It's certainly not arty, but it manages to be so...different, so enigmatic, that you can't help but be intrigued. When the film was over, I had no idea why someone would want to adapt John Irving's novel for the big screen. It's not the type of story that needs to be filmed. There's a certain coldness to it which made me wonder "Who is this Garp fellow and why should I care about him?" In saying that, I enjoyed the film for the most part, even though it was strange and overlong. John Lithgow and Glenn Close give memorable performances. 

Exam (Stuart Hazeldine, 2009) = 4/5

Some films don't feel like films at all—they feel like games, instead. Exam is one of those films. I had a lot of fun toying with it. I don't want to give away too much about it, but I'll give you the basic premise. Eight job candidates enter a room with eight desks and eight exam papers. A representative from the company lays down the rules of the exam. Each candidate has 80 minutes to answer one question. They must not talk to the Invigilator or the armed guard, must not spoil their paper, and must not leave the room. Failure to abide by the rules results in instant disqualification. Does that sound like a fun movie? I'll answer that question for you: yes, yes it does.

The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940) = 4.5/5

My first Chaplin film was a very good one. Speaking of firsts, this was Chaplin's first proper 'talkie', having established himself in silent films such as Modern Times and City Lights. It was his most commercially successful film, but also the one that attracted the most controversy. Chaplin's likeness to Adolf Hitler (complete with toothbrush moustache) is no accident. He wanted to make a mockery of the man, even if it politicised the film too much. But it is Chaplin's six-minute monologue towards the end of the film that has inspired the most criticism. It is a humanistic speech that calls for a society governed by science and progress, where empathy eradicates selfishness. Some people have called it the greatest speech of all time, but plenty of people think it is awkward and uncalled for, as Chaplin breaks the fourth wall and espouses his personal politics. I am a fan of the speech, but I can certainly see why many object to it.

Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) = 4/5

I first saw Casablanca back in 2011 at my university. I thought it was okay, but nothing grand. I decided to rewatch it this year as I feared my initial thoughts may have been influenced by the fact I was tired during the morning screening. Well, I was able to appreciate it a little bit more this time, but I still think it's nothing spectacular. The most memorable thing about it is the dialogue. There are so many quotable lines and I'm sure you've heard 'em all before. The performances are solid, especially by the sardonic Bogart and charismatic Claude Rains. My main criticism of this film is that the parts are more effective than the whole. There are so many iconic scenes here that allow the film to stand the test of time, but I try to visualise the small moments between those big scenes and I draw blanks. There is so much talking in this film, and I felt it needed to take a breather or two.

Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1955) = 5/5

Note: This film is not part of the 365-Day Film Challenge.

I don't watch that many short films, and when I do, they are usually less than ten minutes. Night and Fog is a 32-minute short about the Holocaust, and each minute is terrifying. I think it overtakes The Exorcist as the scariest film I've ever seen. This is what every documentary should aspire to be. The execution is very simple, and the factual details are prioritised. In saying that, if every documentary were this realistic, cinema would lose its distinction as a medium for providing an escape. It goes without saying that this is very grim viewing, so only watch if you've mentally prepared yourself. More than anything, this film made me feel incredibly privileged to be born at the time I was, in the place I was.


WALL·E (Andrew Stanton, 2008) = 3/5

This film is beautifully animated with amusing sight gags, but I just didn't care for the plot. The first act is a familiarisation period where we start to identify with WALL-E. It is slow and leisurely, but everything sinks in. As soon as the film changes its setting from Earth to space, everything moves so frenetically and this creates an uneasy juxtaposition with the first act that I just couldn't adapt to. There is also a lot of jargon in the dialogue which will probably be incomprehensible to the target audience. Heck, even I got lost in it (there's a reason I'm not really into sci-fi). Another thing that annoyed me is the heavy emphasis placed on WALL-E's 'cuteness'. Hey, we get it: this little guy is cute, but after a while I grew tired of his robotic squeaks and puppy dog eyes. Because of this, most of the sentiment felt manufactured. The film's messages are very blatant but I won't be too hard on this aspect because, after all, the film does have to appeal to children.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Nicholas Stoller, 2008) = 3.5/5

Despite being a little overlong, I was fairly impressed by this offbeat comedy. It was a lot more emotionally complex than I expected. The ambiguity of the characters is very refreshing. Every character has their flaws, and sometimes it's tough deciding who to root for. If the title doesn't make it evident, the film is about the challenge of getting over a past lover, and I was surprised at how strongly I empathised with this theme despite never having been in a relationship myself. I don't think this film would have worked in any setting but Hawaii.   

The Sessions (Ben Lewin, 2012) = 4/5

Mark O'Brien was an American poet who contracted polio in his childhood, rendering him paralysed from the neck down and dependent on an iron lung. The Sessions is about O'Brien's quest to lose his virginity with a sex surrogate at the age of 38. That sex surrogate, Cheryl, is played by Helen Hunt, in a role that earned an Oscar nomination. How John Hawkes wasn't nominated for Best Actor astounds me. This film could have fallen to pieces in other hands, but Lewin's treatment of the material is sensitive and mature. The sexual contact between Mark and Cheryl isn't erotic. It is gentle—just one woman doing her job and in the process making a man feel good about himself. I'm sure many people will watch this solely for Hunt's full-frontal nudity, but I hope they'll take something from it other than how supple her bosom is. Recommended reading: On Seeing a Sex Surrogate, Mark O'Brien's article that was used as the film's source material. 

Less Than Zero (Marek Kanievska, 1987) = 1.5/5

This film is a reminder to not get too sentimental about the 80s. Yeah, John Hughes made some great movies for young adults, but every now and then, a film like Less Than Zero came along and it sucked. I think the title refers to the amount of effort devoted to making us care for the characters. Look, I haven't read Bret Easton Ellis' novel on which this is based, but I'm less inclined to after watching this. It is so damn dated, brimming with all the excesses that characterise bad 80s films. Oh, and have I mentioned how boring it is? Watching these rich kids prance around LA is just plain uninteresting. 

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (Martin Scorsese, 1974) = 4.5/5

This is Scorsese's forgotten gem. Ellen Burstyn is terrific, and so is Alfred Lutter as her precocious son. A young, androgynous Jodie Foster is also a pleasure to watch. The whole film is imbued with a cinéma vérité feel, which made me get so involved in it. The use of popular music is great here, and I knew I was in for a treat when I heard Mott the Hoople's All the Way from Memphis and Elton John's Daniel within the first 30 minutes of the film. It's one of the quintessential films of the 70s.

Ms. 45 (Abel Ferrara, 1981) = 2.5/5

A mute seamstress is raped twice in one day, goes insane, and begins killing men throughout New York City using a .45 caliber gun. That is the plot of Ms. 45, one of the most popular exploitation films of all time. As an exploitation film, it delivers quite well, but it never transcends its provocative sensibilities. It's always intent on shocking the audience, and I question whether Ferrara wanted to make a film with a message, or if he just wanted to give viewers something that packs a punch. I must give credit to the late Zoë Lund on her voiceless performance as the eponymous character. 

Super Troopers (Jay Chandrasekhar, 2001) = 4/5

Don't let the generic title or poster fool you. Super Troopers is a very funny movie. I was pleasantly surprised by how often and how hard it made me laugh. The best thing about the movie is that it realises how silly it is and doesn't try to emit an intellectual vibe. The humour is clever, but the plot is fairly run-of-the-mill. I envy everyone who worked on this film. It must have been so much fun to make.

Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012) = 4.5/5

While it may not be the most entertaining film, it has a subtle emotional power that creeps up on you when you least expect it. Amour is a great film about the ravages of age and the things we do for love, which confirms Haneke's status as one of the most original and daring filmmakers working today. Trintignant and Riva are fantastic as husband and wife, and it often feels like you're watching a real-life couple go about their daily lives.

Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977) = 3.5/5

I had never seen a John Cassavetes film before this one. I'd heard a lot about his style and how it polarises audiences. Well, I neither loved or hated it. As for the movie itself, I liked it in parts, but it just went on for too long, and I didn't really care for the characters. The performances, however, are brilliant. Gena Rowlands is terrific as a stage actress who is mentally shaken by an incident whereby a young fan dies trying to see her, and descends into alcoholism as a result. Cassavetes regular Ben Gazzara is solid as usual. Cassavetes himself is wonderful as Rowlands' co-star in the play.

What's Up, Tiger Lily? (Woody Allen & Senkichi Taniguchi, 1966) = 2.5/5

In a way, this is Woody Allen's directorial debut. In another way, it isn't. You see, Allen obtained the rights to a cheesy Japanese spy film, International Secret Police: Key of Keys. He stripped the film of its entire vocal track, and re-dubbed it in English as a comedy about the search for the world's best egg salad recipe. Hilarious concept, right? Well, I really enjoyed the first 30 or so minutes, but the novelty soon began to wear thin. The movie reinforces the importance of character development and dialogue. The former is missing, which makes for a less engaging picture. The latter has been re-dubbed, illustrating how the screenplay is the crux of a film. Worth seeing for sheer originality alone. 

Starter for 10 (Tom Vaughan, 2006) = 4/5

I'm calling it. This is one of the most intelligent and perceptive romantic comedies I've ever seen. It just radiates charm. This is essential viewing for any trivia nerds, and, if I may be shallow for a moment, it features one of the most physically attractive ensemble casts I've seen in a while. Benedict Cumberbatch is so funny here. 

Once (John Carney, 2006) = 3/5

Can someone tell me why this film receives so much acclaim? It's a musical, and the music is lovely, but as an entire film, this is frustrating. The jumpy camera is so annoying and not much happens except for the making of music. I didn't buy the intimacy between the two leads. It almost felt as though I was watching the special features of a concert on DVD, and this was under "Behind the Scenes". It's such a strange film. In fact, I feel funny just calling it a "film". Once almost defies classification. 

The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) = 4.5/5

This film is deliciously weird and subtly horrifying. Just reading the IMDb plot summary gives me chills: "A police sergeant is sent to a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl whom the townsfolk claim never existed. Stranger still are the rites that take place there." It's one of the best British films I've ever seen, and maybe even one of the best horrors I've seen. The final scene will haunt you forever. 

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) = 3/5

I felt so shitty with myself after watching this film. Kubrick is one of my favourite directors of all time, and this is one of the most acclaimed films of all time, and yet I didn't like it that much. I felt like a simpleton, thinking I didn't "get it", or that the satire was above my level of comprehension. I thought the characters were interesting, but the plot completely lost me. I think it's because I approached this film expecting laugh-a-minute material, and underestimated its ability to have an actual plot. The film was very much ahead of its time, as was a lot of Kubrick's work. The best part of Dr. Strangelove was Peter Sellers. Comic genius. 

Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948) = 5/5

The doggedness of the human spirit is a powerful thing. The setting is post-World War II Rome. A man's bicycle is stolen, and this really complicates matters as he needs the bicycle for his job, and he of course needs the job to support his family. So, along with his son, the man searches all over the city. Do they find the bike? That's something I'll leave you to find out. The film reminds us that life is often unfair, but there are silver linings to be found, however small. It is timeless and has universal appeal, but will especially resonate with those who know what it's like to go without.

The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006) = 4/5

I'm not a major crime enthusiast, but I've developed an admiration for the films of Scorsese, so felt compelled to check out this Best Picture Oscar winner. I thought it overstayed its welcome and was often confusing (especially towards the end), but that confusion may be due to the fact I don't watch many crime films. It's still a very good film with all the usual Scorsese touches, and it's quite accessible for those not too familiar with the veteran's work. Jack Nicholson's performance is outstanding. Oh, I've gotta ask: Did anyone else get confused between DiCaprio and Damon? It got to a point where I found it difficult to tell them apart. *Sigh* Silly me!

Take the Money and Run (Woody Allen, 1969) = 3.5/5

If we remove the experimental What's Up, Tiger Lily? from Woody Allen's filmography, this is the film that stands as his directorial debut. It is a whole lot of farcical fun. Allen's brand of comedy here is almost surreal, such as when he attempts to rob a bank by asking written permission. It is not Allen's greatest film, but it is undoubtedly one of his funniest.

Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder, 2004) = 0.5/5

I fucking despise this movie. I'm not calling it a film because that might trick some people into thinking it has an ounce of artistic merit. This was my second time watching it. I first saw it when I was 11 or 12, and don't remember liking it. However, I decided to give it one more go. Being older and more knowledgeable about movies, I thought I might be able to appreciate it this time. I was also curious to rewatch it because I had since learnt that this remake garnered critical acclaim and has a large cult following. I wanted to know what the hype is over. Well, I had already lost interest after 20 minutes, and began checking Twitter which was a lot more entertaining. I didn't completely zone out, though. The problem is that I TRIED to get into it, but just couldn't. Ask me to describe the plot and the best I can do is "Uhh, zombies?" The camera was moving so fast, it made Transformers 2 look like a Béla Tarr film. Seriously, how do people watch this and process a narrative in their mind? I think its main goal was to recreate frame 313 of the Zapruder film, over and over again. Oh, and one last thing. I'm sick of this notion that zombie horror is a sacred niche, as though all zombie films are "cool" or "fucking awesome" merely because, well, they contain zombies. What's so great about a zombie? I would guess than 90% of the fans of Dawn of the Dead are teenage males who fantasise about zombie apocalypses and wish the Saw franchise was still kicking because "ZOMG gore!". I don't know what I'm saying anymore, and I'm probably being too snarky here. The last thing I'll say about this movie is that it's one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and you can quote me on that. 

Final thought: My February was bookended by two awful films. I hope this never happens again.