Tag Archives: Films

Movie-watching Habits in an On-demand World

On the blogs I always make time for is Mark Evanier’s “News from ME.” Today, he wrote something that felt in line with Wednesday’s post about Scorsese and the film industry and, well, it fits me more than it doesn’t.

People are always writing to ask me my opinion of the latest blockbuster movie release. I’ll save you the trouble: I probably haven’t seen it and might not for some time. Sometimes, that’s because nothing I know about the film attracts me to it. Sometimes, I’m just busy and going to see a movie is one of the few things I can postpone for a long time and then experience.

Mark Evanier

A big reason for this is an aspect of modern movie-watching he expands on. If I want to watch a movie, there is rarely a need to see it right now except for the worry of spoilers. For example, we planned to see Avengers: Endgame shortly after it opened. However, Kenneth Branagh’s take on Murder on the Orient Express? It was a couple years before we checked that out.

With so many events and activities having little-to-no flexibility, this relatively newfound flexibility in film-watching has been welcome… even though I adore seeing a film in a theater (it is, after all, how I grew up and how I came to love movies so much). It also cuts down on how many new films get folded into my Favorite Film rankings.

And, perhaps most disturbingly, the movies I want to see aren’t always available because the content owners are getting more into curating their vaults of content. “On demand” is being more defined by companies rather than consumers. (I’m sure in some board room, an executive has railed against the existence of DVDs and the ability of people to own them).

In the meantime however, I am seeing a lot of films (and a whole lot more TV) on streaming services. And I’ve got a big backlog. I mean, I haven’t even finished Breaking Bad yet! So when I say “I haven’t seen [film],” know that there’s a queue.

Scorsese Follows up Regarding Marvel

Last month, I wrote about how accomplished filmmaker Martin Scorsese termed the many, many Marvel films as “not cinema.” His colleague Francis Ford Coppola joined in, going further in calling the films “despicable.”

Superhero fandom has not been kind. (Thankfully, some superhero actors keep on being superheroic, so there’s that).

Martin Scorsese

On Monday, Martin Scorsese wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about the interview that kicked this all off — and where he was coming from in his comments.

I appreciate him taking the time to explain his viewpoint. He’s eloquent, passionate, and has an absolute love of film. If you’ve seen him in interviews and especially from some of his segments on Turner Classic Movies, this man loves cinema — all types of cinema — and I don’t think it’s at all controversial to opine that he’s contributed greatly to cinema through his films.

But while I agree with many of his observations, I don’t agree with the breadth of his conclusions.

Films are made more by committee these days. They are tested and –more likely than not– drained of anything that might be “controversial” as the studios continue to be risk averse in a way that really doesn’t avoid risk (see the box office disappointment of the latest Terminator film). Filmmakers who want to find a voice, tell a singular story, or otherwise be unexpected do find an uphill battle in the face of the studios near monolithic insistence on their vision. And I don’t doubt that the majority of filmmakers would love to make films for the sizable silver screen versus streaming.

But I feel Scorsese is conflating this studio stubbornness and corporate zeal to eliminate “art as risk” with its current method of promoting this blandness: superhero movies.

And there’s a lot of nuance in here, because he clearly understands and loves all sorts of movies. He identifies Hitchcock films as the thrill rides of his day, but I think he discounts the character, craft, and sheer enjoyment one finds in superhero movies. He’s entirely fine to say, as he does, that superhero movies are not to his taste — I just don’t think it’s fair to say superhero movies are in poor taste.

To give an example using the rough equivalent of the “superhero” film of his time growing up: imagine if Studios not only favored Westerns, but they insisted on franchises of Westerns and any new idea was met with, “But can it be a Western?” I can’t imagine Scorsese would enjoy this state of affairs any more than the state of affairs with superhero films — and he’d probably say some of the same things.

And you know what? He’d be right that the studios are too dismissive of anything done for art’s sake. He’d be right that many a Western is weighed down with hoary tropes and is more of a thrill ride that a film that engages you on all levels, but he would not be right that westerns are second-class films as a genre or type by virtue of being Westerns. Amid the slickly produced, forgettable ones, there’s early classics like “Stagecoach” and more meditative affairs like “High Noon,” character-driven action like “Winchester ’73,” and operatic takes like “Once Upon a Time in the West.”

Likewise, he’s missing all the character and nuance that you find in films like “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Black Panther.” Action sequences don’t take away from the tale of a man who dedicated his life to serve finding the institution he served has been betrayed from within. CGI armored rhinos don’t negate the nuance of a son coming to terms with things his father never told him as he tries to find a way to lead his people. I get that superhero films are thrill rides –the comics they’re based on have fight scenes and action sequences more often than not– but just like the Hitchcock films and Westerns of old, they’re not uniformly disposable trifles.

I suspect it’s hard not to conflate studio attitudes with superhero films because Scorsese is such a phenomenal, singular filmmaker. The studios are playing their superhero-franchise-over-everything-else card and that’s an impediment to precisely what Scorsese longs to do, (and what he’s done very well doing). He wants to make art. He understands that it’s show business, but he’s knows there’s art in the show and he’s presented with a bunch of drudges who feel showing art is bad.

And I bet if he was able to make all the films he pleased, he’d still be sad on behalf of the next generation of filmmakers.

For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art. And the act of simply writing those words fills me with terrible sadness.

~Martin Scorsese

Like I said above, this guy loves art. Think of his appearance as Van Gogh in Dreams: he’s a painter who wants you to paint. He implores you to paint for the sheer joy of painting. I think he’s just forgetting there’s other paintings that are artful, even when they’re paintings the studios are trying to mass produce.

“ars gratia artis” indeed.

I’m so looking forward to The Irishman, but I’m also looking forward to several superhero films. There will be art in both I’m sure (and I still find myself coming back to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s piece in response to Scorsese).

Everyone take it down a notch and enjoy some movies already.

Superheroics Outside the MCU

What with Marvel movies on the mind of late, just in case you didn’t see this make the rounds this past week, Chris Evans, aka the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America, does some amazing stuff off-camera.

What kind of stuff? How about giving back to his childhood theater?

And then there’s the whole personal anecdote about dealing with anxiety and depression.

Good casting, Marvel. Good casting.

Coppola Channels Daffy Duck, Finds MCU “Despicable”

Francis Ford Coppola has joined his colleague Martin Scorsese in dismissing superhero films in general and Marvel in particular, calling them “despicable.”

Rosy Cordero covers it in Entertainment Weekly and David Crow has a nice contextual take over at Den of Geek.

Sigh. Much like Bugs Bunny, superhero films might not be considered “high art,” but they’re not going away anytime soon. Besides which, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar already covered this: he’s not wrong, but he’s not right.

Toxic fans and risk-averse studios seem much better targets for umbrage — and finding ways to fund the types of films Coppola and Scorsese make without relying on the hell-bent-for-content motivation Netflix has? That just might be more worthwhile.

“Comic Book Movies” and “High Art”

Just last month I was musing about how, even in the face of “nerddom’s” ascension in all aspects of pop culture, people still feel the need to belittle or otherwise distance themselves and their work from science fiction as if the genre itself was wildly radioactive.

Now, in the face of a more meditative and gritty look at the origins of Joker –with more than a few homages to Martin Scorsese’s films– Scorsese himself felt the need to denigrate the Marvel film juggernaut as not “cinema.”

Now, on the one hand, that assertion is silly. It’s like saying a hamburger isn’t food because its preparation and presumed nutritional value isn’t on par with the fare from a three-star Michelin restaurant (and yes, you won’t surprise me if you produce examples of people asserting just that).

On the other hand, the aspirations behind films (and food) can vary greatly. “The Remains of the Day” is going for something different than “Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-rama” — and anyone insisting “they’re the same” because “they’re both feature films” can and should be summarily mocked.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a piece in the Hollywood Reporter that tackles just this dichotomy tackling the elephant in the room that is the notion of “high art.” It’s well worth a read.

My 50 Favorite Films, 2018 Edition

It feels like it’s been too long, but really, it’s only been two years since my last 50 Favorite Films. This is my biennial tradition that, honestly, I’ve been doing offline for about 30 years, but now is available for online navel gazing. You can check out the 2012, 2014, and 2016 editions should you care to. For those who are interesting in how I sort films based on criteria of quality, watchability, and personal resonance, I have a post about that too.

This year I went through over 570 films in the sort, though importantly, I did not bother to do a detailed sort of all of the films, just what turned out to be about the top 100 or so. That saved tremendous time.

All the films sorted with the top 50 in the stack on the right.

Boy howdy was there a sea change in the ranking versus 2016. No less than 19 films in the Favorite 50 were not in the 2016 edition. Pretty much all of the “new” arrivals have been in the sort before and many have been in the top 50 before… and then there was the shakeup to the top 10 itself.

I always knew you’d come back one day…

Hush! I don’t want any spoilers. I do, however, have some ground rules: 

  1. These must be feature films (narrative or documentary). Short films aren’t included.
  2. Film series or franchises do not count as one entry. Each must fend for itself.
  3. TV movies can be included (I don’t think any are in the top 50)
  4. TV mini-series are not included.
  5. Regular TV series are right out.
  6. These are my favorite films, not a “best of.” If anyone else entirely agrees with my list, one of the two of us is an evil doppelganger/replicant/host.
  7. There is no rule # 7.

Not stated in the ground rules is the obvious note that this list, like all subjective lists, is incredibly well-reasoned. So, without further ado, counting down from 50:

50) Die Hard
49) A Few Good Men
48) The Namesake
47) Memento
46) Heat
45) Breaker Morant
44) The Godfather, Part II
43) The Bridge on the River Kwai
42) Aliens
41) The Incredibles
40) Big Fish
39) The Court Jester
38) Midnight Run
37) Never Cry Wolf
36) Galaxy Quest
35) The Count of Monte Cristo
34) Minority Report
33) Star Wars
32) Arrival
31) The Princess Bride
30) Citizen Kane
29) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
28) The Lives of Others
27) Sullivan’s Travels
26) Airplane!
25) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
24) To Kill a Mockingbird
23) Cinema Paradiso
22) Sense and Sensibility
21) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
20) Saving Private Ryan
19) North by Northwest
18) Rob Roy
17) Unforgiven
16) Children of Men
15) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
14) Das Boot
13) The Shawshank Redemption
12) Field of Dreams
11) Once Upon a Time in the West
10) 2010
9) The Empire Strikes Back
8) Singin’ in the Rain
7) Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
6) Black Hawk Down
5) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
4) Schindler’s List
3) Casablanca
2) Ran         
1) Raiders of the Lost Ark    

And, as before, here are some…

Basic Stats (note: genres overlap, based on IMDb genres)

  • Total Comedies: 7
  • Total Dramas: 23
  • Total Action-Adventure Films: 23
  • Total Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films: 18
  • Total Westerns: 2
  • Total War Movies: 17
  • Total Musicals: 2
  • Total Animated Films: 1
  • Total films with Liam Neeson: 2
  • Mean average year of the 50 films (rounded up): 1986
  • Decade with the most favorites: 1980s (15 films), followed closely by the 2000s (13 films)
  • The film at #51 which at least one reader will insist should rank higher: Edge of Tomorrow

Viscerally, it feels like a huge shake-up — and seeing it laid out makes me realize a few things…

It’s an altogether grimmer list
There are less comedies, less animated films, and less musicals. Yes, those last two categories aren’t always lighter fare, but the musicals and animated films that left the list definitely were. There’s more war films on the list — I even have two military courtroom dramas for crying out loud! (That’s A Few Good Men & Breaker Morant, for those keeping score at home.) Just about every film in the top 10 either has war either overtly throughout or peeking obtrusively around the corner. Well, except for…

Singin’ in the Rain
My #1 film since at least 2008. It had a good run. Maybe it’ll return, but when we got to that part of the sort, I just knew it wasn’t going to claim the top spot this year. Instead, that distinction went to a film that hasn’t claimed that spot since it was first in theaters in 1981.

An Adventure for the Ages
I mean, Raiders has been a favorite since ’81 (along with many other great films from the year. Seriously, check out some of the top-grossing ones that were in theaters in 1981). It was a good year. It could be that I’m busy writing adventure stories myself and it could be it scratches that itch many of us are feeling of late to see Nazis punched, but regardless, it’s a rattlin’ good yarn.

I noted a few other trends or tendencies. While the top 50 remained at the average year of 1986, the top 100 averages to 1989. I’m pretty sure my favorites are getting newer overall.

I’m thinking that many a film is played out for me. This isn’t unprecedented as I noticed that with music ages ago. Some films may still be just as objectively good, but I’m not getting as much as I once did on repeated viewings. It’s also the best reason I have for Rogue One thundering in ahead of the original Star Wars. (The next highest film new to the sort was Spotlight, which came in at #55). Franchise films also did not fare as dismally as they did in 2016, though I noted the Marvel films did not do well (Guardians of the Galaxy did the best at #61).

So, there it is. A fun list… that hopefully has a couple titles you’ll want to watch or re-watch. For 2020, I’m probably going to see which of IMDb’s “top 250” I haven’t seen or haven’t rewatched in a while as well as whatever else filmmaker friends recommend. Happy Boxing Day! Hope you’re spending some of the next week in a cinema watching a damn fine film or two.

What does the fox say? Die Hard is a Christmas movie

I mean, yes, they’re biased, but 20th Century Fox knows their back catalog of movies and they know Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Behold!

Admit it, you’ll watch this before you break open the myrrh. 

Sorry Cinema Scrooges: Die Hard is a Christmas Movie

Now I have a Christmas ornament: ho, ho, ho…

It has come to my attention that some people out there on the Interwebs still cling to the notion that Die Hard, the celebrated action film starring Bruce Willis, is not a Christmas movie.

Look, Gremlins counts as a Christmas movie, Edward Scissorhands counts as a Christmas movie, and  –Lord help us all– Santa Claus Conquers the Martians counts as a Christmas movie. So yes, “the Christmas episode” of action movies does indeed count as a Christmas movie.

Consider the following:

  • The protagonist is there because he’s trying to re-unite with his estranged wife at Christmastime.
  • The antagonists are specifically there at the Christmas party because the Christmas party helps their plans.
  • “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (aka “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) is recited with alternate verses.
  • Halls, people, and pretty much everything gets decked.
  • Santa hats are used for great comedic effect.
  • The end of the film reunites the protagonist with his family, whom he now values more than ever, and they spend Christmas together.

Friends, there are many pressing questions about the holiday season from what the deal is with the Feast of Seven Fishes to the order to light Advent candles. Die Hard‘s place in the Christmas movie canon should not be one of them. Watch it with Yuletide joy… perhaps after the younger ones are in bed (there are some violent bits, after all). Twinkies are appropriate.

Yippee ki yay to all and to all a good night!

But, you know, maybe make sure to wear some shoes. Trust us on this.

My 50 Favorite Films: Prep for the 2018 Edition

The holiday season is upon us and, since it’s an even year, it’s almost time for the biennial ranking of my 50 Favorite Films.

For those of you obsessed with processes or those of you waiting for an appointment and have exhausted old magazines in a waiting room, read on!

You have no idea how many bad films I’ve seen. So, so many…

I’m a lifelong movie buff and have watched literally thousands of movies. Not all of them are good. Some of the good films are, nonetheless, not my favorite films. As I discuss elsewhere, I rank the films by the criteria of quality, watchability, and resonance.

Ideally, I’d see all the “must-see” films of a given year that year. By “must-see,” I’d include the blockbusters and awards bait films that capture some pop culture consciousness — along with my personal druthers (I generally catch most sci-fi flicks and anything with a submarine, because come on! Submarines!).

Unlike one of my brothers, who is a fellow cinemaniac, I am not able to catch every film out in the theater — or even when it’s first out on video (e.g. DVD, BluRay, streaming). So that means I may go a couple years before seeing all of the a “year’s best.”

Some of these films will, under no circumstances, crack my top 50. They are Gallipoli-like machine-gun fodder for the sort.

But, he said we were going over the top into the sort…

It’s about as cruel to abstract concepts as you can be, but if you think this ain’t fair, you should see some of the films. All get their chance, but some are going to fall to the bottom. As you may recall, to save time on the sort, I don’t actually sort all the films in the bottom half because after 150 or so, the rankings really lose all meaning unless I were to include every film I’ve ever seen –or at at least a disproportionate number of them. For both my and my family’s sanity, that won’t happen. Still, adding new films with every sort, including films I know I don’t love, helps get the sort going as they contrast well with films I do love.

Here are the films that came out or I’m just first watching or I’m first adding to the sorting list:

The Adjustment Bureau
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
American Gangster
An American Werewolf in London
Ant-Man
Apollo 13
Avengers: Infinity War
Bait
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Beetlejuice
Bend it Like Beckham
The BFG
Big Hero 6
Black Panther
Blade Runner 2049
Bridge of Spies
Captain America: Civil War
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Coco
Conspiracy (2001)
Deadpool
Doctor Strange
Downfall
Dunkirk
Extinction
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Fiddler on the Roof
Finding Dory
The Finest Hours
Fury
Ghostbusters (2016)
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
The Girl on the Train
Godzilla (2014)
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
The Good Dinosaur
Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2
Hail, Caesar!
Hidden Figures
Incredibles 2
Infini
Innerspace
Ip Man
Ip Man 2: Sadly Not Wing Chun Boogaloo
Jason Bourne
John Wick
John Wick: Chapter Two
Kung Fu Panda 3
The LEGO Batman Movie
The LEGO Ninjago Movie (can you tell I have kids?)
Logan
London Has Fallen
Looney Tunes: Back in Action
Meet the Robinsons
Millenium
Moana
The Monuments Men
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Northern Limit Line
Outlaw King
No Escape
Paddington
Pete’s Dragon (2016)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Shooter
The Siege of Jadotsville
Sing
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Spotlight
Spectral
Spectre
Spy
Star Trek Beyond
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
Thor: Ragnarok
Train to Busan
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
The Wave
The Wolverine
Wonder Woman
X-Men: Apocalypse
Zorba the Greek

You can safely assume some of these are the aforementioned canon fodder films. They’re never going to be my favorite films, but can serve as a comparison for how much I like a particular film. For example, I have seen every cut there is to see of Apocalypse Now, usually in theaters with nice prints. It’s critically acclaimed and technically masterful in many respects.

It’s never going to be one of my favorite films.

So if I don’t like a film better than Apocalypse Now, how much do I like it, really?

On that note, and as I mentioned for the 2016 list, I’m dropping some films from the sort because they’re just not going to rank highly. That includes The Exorcist.

So are there some films I absolutely, positively must fit into the next two weeks? Let me know in the comments.

An Infinite Number of Shark Films

Since it’s “Shark Week” here on my blog, I thought it would only be appropriate to share this wonderful retrospective from Aja Romano over on Vox about our ongoing love affair with all manner of shark movies.

I mean, you may recall that I love creature features and shared an excellent resource with which to follow up on them. Therefore, I offer this article as a targeted way to catch up on your movies with killer sharks.