Category Archives: Films

2018 Oscar Animated Shorts

I’ve spent the last couple days ruminating on my long-time movie-going habits, the ways the changes in my life inform my cinematic practices and vice versa. You could chart the ebb and flow of it all in my annual movie lists, if you knew what to look for. In some ways, my spreadsheet of film titles is as telling a diary as any other I may keep.

And so it goes with the Oscar-nominated animated film shorts. Another tradition that started in 2010, two years after I had first met a former co-worker, right around the same time we transitioned into friends. She introduced me to the short films, and it eventually became a February ritual for us.

Now I enjoy the animated shorts every year for how frequently delightful and unexpected they are, but I also love how I associate them with a person who has become one of my closest friends. We saw the 2018 batch this morning, and I want to share my reactions while they’re fresh in mind.

Overarching Thoughts for 2018

  • Why did they stop including the running time on the title card for each short? If a “short” is going to last almost half an hour, I need to mentally prepare myself for that.
  • Is this the first year they used additional animated “Petite Interludes” between the nominated films? I feel like they didn’t always do that, but I can’t remember if they did it last year, too. If you remember, let me know in the comments. Regardless, I don’t care for it. Title cards only, please.
  • Along with the five nominated films, they always include in the package 2-3 additional “highly commended” films. Inevitably, I fall in love with one of these and question how it didn’t get the official nod. That said, I generally find the whole concept of the Oscars utter bullshit. I don’t watch the Oscars, I typically don’t like the kinds of films that win Oscars, and I don’t know why I’m surprised that I’m not on the same page as members of the Academy when it comes to these short films. For that matter, I don’t know why I abandon my Oscar contempt when it comes to this one category. It’s literally the only one I care about.

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The Movies of 2017

I started tracking the movies I see in 2004, and I set my record for most films seen in a year in 2006 (41). That record stood for a decade. Until now, baby!

FortyNine

New record!!! Woot!!!

Two things aided my victory. First, throughout 2017, I perpetually felt in need of cheering up. So I was already going to the theater perhaps an excessive amount. And then halfway through the year I discovered MoviePass, and the flood gates really opened. I started seeing anything and everything that looked even moderately interesting. Which is how I came to see Lego Ninjago (which I didn’t especially enjoy, but it did have at least one laugh-out-loud joke).

Amazingly, even though I saw a lot more, my enjoyment levels stayed relatively high. I did not like only four movies all year. And even most of those ones had sufficient merit to where I debated giving them an asterisk. But no matter how much I admire the spirit behind efforts like The Little Hours and The Disaster Artist, I’d be lying if I said I really enjoyed watching them.

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The Movies of 2016

So apparently I completely forgot to post my annual viewing list last year. Just never got around to it. Whoops.

Reflecting back on that year with this unusual level of hindsight, I think this might have been when my taste in movies started to change a little. I still primarily enjoy genre fare, but I started paying money to see films like Denial. Ten years ago that never would have happened.

Plus, think about it. 2016 brought us Batman v. Superman, Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad, Finding Dory, and just seemingly endless supply of major tent pole releases that disappointed me to no end. Meanwhile, I did find stuff like Denial and The Big Short kind of interesting after all.

Of course, my favorite theatrical releases that year were (in order): Deadpool, The Conjuring 2, and The Accountant. So obviously I didn’t change that much.

But my true favorite 2016 viewing experience didn’t come in a theater at all. My love for Stranger Things eclipsed everything else that year, and that had never happened before.

The System:
* Good enough; worth watching once
** I genuinely liked it
X I hated it
+ Number of repeat viewings at the theater

Theatrical List (30 titles):

The Big Short **
The Hateful Eight X
Oscar Animated Shorts 2016 **
Deadpool ** +1
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot **
Zootopia **
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice *
Captain America: Civil War
The Nice Guys **
X-men: Apocalypse *
Alice: Through the Looking Glass
The Conjuring 2 **
Finding Dory *
The Legend of Tarzan **
Ghostbusters (2016) *
The Secret Life of Pets **
Suicide Squad *
Bad Moms **
Kubo and the Two Strings **
Blair Witch
Storks *
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children *
The Magnificent Seven **
The Accountant **
Denial **
Doctor Strange **
Arrival **
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story **
Assassin’s Creed
Passengers **

Home Viewing List (24 titles):

The Propaganda Game *
Fifty Shades of Grey
MST3K: Swamp Diamonds *
MST3K: Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders **
MST3K: Viking Women Vs. The Sea Serpent
Kingsman: The Secret Service *
MST3K: Tormented **
Our Brand is Crisis *
Dolphin Tale *
MST3K: Red Zone Cuba *
MST3K: The Pumaman **
Stranger Things Sn. 1 **
Bojack Horseman Sn. 3 *
Get Hard *
Patton Oswalt: Talking for Clapping **
Keanu *
Ali Wong: Baby Cobra *
The Last Witch Hunter **
MST3K: The Undead **
It Follows **
Under the Sun *
ARQ *
Rifftrax: The House on Haunted Hill
Rifftrax: The Guy from Harlem *

Oh, and I was really into It Follows. If you like horror, definitely check that one out. But Bojack Horseman was already starting to get a little too dark for me.

Happy Halloweekend 2017

Disney has re-released The Nightmare Before Christmas for a limited engagement at Regal Cinemas just for this weekend through Halloween. Even though I consider it really more of a Christmas movie, I still decided to make this my primary Halloween celebration this year. Below are some random thoughts:

Jack Skellington in repose in a cemetery

Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie

  • There are much more memorable tunes and visuals throughout the film, but what I love about “Poor Jack” is that you almost think that Jack will actually learn something from putting everyone through this massive ordeal, but NOPE! As the lyrics continue, you realize he’s learned NOTHING, and it’s amazing.
  • I’ve watched it on television a thousand times, but it took re-visiting it on the big screen to realize that Zero’s glowing nose is actually a light-up jack-o-lantern. Huh. Neat.
  • The whole Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo and just all of that recent business really casts a new light on Sally’s relationship with Dr. Finkelstein.
Dr. Finkelstein holds Sally's arm in front of her

Yikes.

  • A few years ago I went to Disneyland in October, and I felt chagrined to discover that the Haunted Mansion ride had been given a Nightmare Before Christmas makeover. Make no mistake:  If this movie had its own ride, I’d be the first in line. But the whole point of the trip was to get drenched in nostalgia, so I felt bitterly disappointed that I couldn’t experience the Haunted Mansion of my childhood.
  • Only one sobbing, terrified child at my screening. I had estimated there would be about three.

Aside

Over the weekend, I walked up to the Georgetown theater to see Denial. I sat near an old married couple, near enough to hear him quietly give her his one-word opinion on each trailer. Skip or see. He’s apparently a tough critic because everything got a skip, but she contradicted him on Loving and Collateral Beauty. And the way she said “see” made me think that he is definitely going to have to sit through those two movies.

Despite the highly emotional nature of the controversy at its heart, Denial is a cerebral pleasure. To watch it is to view an inflammatory topic as an invisible member of a highly skilled legal team, dispassionately and strategically. I enjoyed it, but probably will not revisit.

Quick Comparison

Jurassic World Poster

Franchise: Jurassic Park
Years since previous installment: 14
My opinion of previous installment: Utter bullshit.
Reaction to new sequel: Mind-blowingly excited. Can! Not! Wait!

Terminator Genisys Poster

Franchise: Terminator
Years since previous installment: 6
My opinion of previous installment: Solidly entertaining.
Reaction to new sequel: Exhausted. Bored.

I  make zero sense.

The Movies of 2014

Whoops. Totally forgot about this back in January. Also, totally forgot about updating this blog for, like, six months or so.

The System (only for theatrical viewings):
* Good enough to justify the ticket price
** I genuinely liked it
X I hated it
+ Number of repeat viewings at the theater

Theatrical List:

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Midnight Revival Show: Legend **
The LEGO Movie **
About Last Night *
2014 Oscar Shorts: Animated **
Frozen **
Divergent *
Captain America: The Winter Soldier **
Only Lovers Left Alive *
Screening Event: The Room *
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Godzilla *
X-Men: Days of Future Past *
Maleficent * + 1
Edge of Tommorrow **
Mel Brooks Film Festival: Blazing Saddles *
Lucy
Guardians of the Galaxy **
The Giver *
Chef **
This is Where I Leave You *
The Boxtrolls *
The Book of Life **
John Wick **
Nightcrawler *
Interstellar *
Big Hero 6 **

Home Viewing List:

Elysium
MST3K: Future War
Prince of Darkness
MST3K: Horrors of Spider Island
MST3K: Warrior of the Lost World
MST3K: The Phantom Planet
MST3K: Night of the Blood Beast
Pacific Rim
Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain
Europa Report
The Way, Way Back
Justice League: War
Rapture-palooza
Hell Baby
MST3K: Werewolf
MST3K: Beginning of the End
MST3K: The Starfighters
Arthur (2011)
The Conjuring
Dune
Scarface (1932)
Let’s Go to Prison
MST3K: Final Justice
Goon
Tales of the Night
Batman: Assault on Arkham
MST3K: Hercules and the Captive Women
BoJack Horseman (series)
MST3K: Gamera vs. Guiron
Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics
R.I.P.D
MST3K: Gamera vs. Barugon
Marvel’s Iron Man & Captain America: Heroes United
MST3K: NInja Master 1
Insidious
22 Jump Street
Oculus
Coherence
Jack Reacher
Insidious Chapter 2

On John Wick

John Wick surprised me. Not in its content. What you see in the commercials is what you get in the theater. Instead, it startled me with how much I enjoyed it.*

John Wick is what it is and nothing more, but it’s a masterful example of what it is: a straightforward action flick that would’ve starred Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal back in the day. If that interests you, then you’ve probably seen before everything John Wick has to offer. I know I’ve lost track of all those retired bad-asses drawn back into the game by the need for revenge. I’ve also seen mentor and mentee assassins, and I’ve known plenty other Russian mafiosos with callow sons. **

But despite the retro plot elements, the movie achieves its own unique, modern vibe. Had John Wick been filmed in the 80s, it would have been as loud and ugly as it was dumb and violent. Instead,  first-time director Chad Stahelski has created something a little bit dumb and entirely violent, but also smooth and stylish.

It’s frankly amazing how posh this genre has become. John Wick stops short of the Sin City-level of stylized, but it has a toe slightly over the line. So many sleek, powerful cars. So many natty suits. Keanu Reeves looks as much like a Prada model as ever. Such a civilized and urbane veneer disguising the underbelly of the beast.

A key to the movie’s success is that it’s as much about the shadowy criminal society Wick navigates as it is about Wick’s quest to kill the man who killed his dog. It’s a world where you trade one solid gold coin for each dead body you need professionally adios-ed. And that’s just one of many delightfully weird moments that transpire in a wholly matter-of-fact fashion.

Speaking of dead bodies, I admit I entered the theater with an attitude about the basic premise. To my mind, no dog – no matter how cuddly and lovable – is worth taking 60+ human lives (at least). They’re conveyed as meaningless henchmen deaths, but if we don’t care about them, why do we care about Wick exactly? He once was what they are currently, and if he can redeem himself, why can’t they? But I gradually came to understand that the puppy isn’t the point.

Yes, a puppy is clubbed to death (off-screen, with far more discretion than is afforded to several humans receiving bullets to the face). But that isn’t really why Wick goes on a killing spree. I don’t even really buy into the rationale that it’s the metaphorical meaning that Wick attaches to the puppy. I personally see this as a movie about widower working his way through the anger phase of his grief cycle in a hail of bullets. You either get on board with that or you don’t.

The well-staged fight choreography will help with that. The action looks and feels real and brutal. Elegant as it is, it also seems satisfyingly difficult. Action movies always seem to have at least one scene in which a bad-ass breaks someone’s neck with just a swift, little twist. This usually looks like it takes less effort than twisting off a bottle cap. Not here. Wick does overpower many of his enemies within seconds, but it always still manages to look like a job of work.

 

* Particularly because a convenient matinee time factored more heavily into my decision to buy a ticket than any real desire to see it.

** My first recorded sighting: 1997 in The Saint.