Films That I Saw is a self explanatory monthly column dedicated to cataloging each and every film I saw within that month. Each film will be given a grade and a mini review.
You can find previous catalogs here.
Random thoughts/mini review: The vast majority of the documentaries I watched this year, all dealt with artists. Kid show hosts, wannabe filmmakers, forgotten sculpters, egotistical auteurs, horror legends and exploitation directors but the most engrossing of the year, by far, was about a maverick fashion designer. It didn’t have a crazy twist like Three Identical Strangers or hit the emotional beats of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Minding the Gap. It didn’t have any razzle dazzle theatrics but it didn’t need them. It’s a meat and potatoes doc that sets out to examine the life and work of a genius. Nothing more, nothing less. McQueen’s art is easily the most interesting character of any doc this year.
Random thoughts/mini review: a thoroughly enjoyable kids movie that delivers exactly what it sets out to do. Fun fact: in the mid 90’s, Tim Burton was interested in making a Goosebumps movie but eventually passed in favor of Ed Wood (1994).
Film: The Night Eats the World
Random thoughts/mini review: Remember the scene in Home Alone (1990) where Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) tells his mother he wishes his entire family would disappear and the next day, it kind of happens? Well, this film is exactly like that but Kevin is teenager, his “family” is a party of hipsters and they don’t disappear so much as turn into zombies. There’s enough to sustain a 30 minute short but the longer it goes on, the less interesting it becomes. It also has Denis Lavant (Holy Motors) as a zombie but does nothing with him. Which should be a crime punishable by death.
Film: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Random thoughts/mini review: There’s a general rule of thumb that states that if a film has three great scenes, it’s automatically a great movie and if that is true, the Ballad of Buster Scruggs earns the title of great before the twenty minute mark. A western anthology comprising of six tales that all have hilariously bleak punchlines for endings, it’s the first segment that earns this film a spot on this list. As much as I loved Tom Waits‘ grumbling prospector and Liam Neesons‘ relationship with a armless, legless actor, it’s the singing cowboy played by Tim Blake Nelson, that makes this film a must watch. Playing with the Gene Autry archetype, the titular Buster Scruggs is an instantly lovable troubadour that is as good at killing as he is at singing. Watching him dispatch fellow outlaws feels like a bloody live action Looney Tune cartoon. The rest of the segments fluctuate between good and great but Buster Scruggs is the most consistently entertaining thing this year.
Film: Director’s Cut
Random thoughts/mini review: Eventually, someone is going to properly utilize this film’s premise and make a masterpiece. The idea behind the film is so unique, so original, it makes me hate this film even more for wasting it. For this film to work, the film-within-the-film the main character (Penn Jillette) steals and re-edits has to look like a real film. Rifkin is such a poor director, the film-within-the-film would’ve worked better narratively, if it was an episode of CSI Jillette edits into feature length. The fake film Director’s Cut is built on top of, is trying to be a David Fincher-esque thriller but it looks ridiculously cheap and not a single person alive would be obsessed with Missi Pyle. There’s an amazing concept here and a more talented director will eventually do something spectacular with it but it certainly wasn’t Rifkin.
Random thoughts/mini review: This is the kind of film that makes you feel guilty for picking on it. Much like an adorable puppy, all it wants is your love and attention and while it’s completely harmless, it doesn’t do any tricks to earn that love or attention. It doesn’t do anything new or original but it’s also inoffensive and wears its heart on it’s sleeve. It’s impossible to hate due to it’s sincerity but is hard to love because of its unoriginality. It’s nice to hear some new Dolly Parton songs, though.
Film: First Reformed
Random thoughts/mini review: Not since the Florida Project (2017) has a film’s ending damn near derailed the entire experience but unlike the Florida Project, First Reformed needs a great ending for it to work. The Florida Project just needed to end two minutes earlier and it would be perfect but First Reformed is slowly building to its logical conclusion but then drops the ball so hard, it kills the film dead. The Florida Project is like getting an amazing blowjob but right before you cum, she scrapes your dick with her teeth. Everything before the teeth was still good. First Reformed is like having a sexy woman slowly turn you on for two hours and right when she’s about to play with your dick, she evaporates into mist leaving you with the worst case of blue balls imaginable.
First Reformed is cinematic blue balls.
Random thoughts/mini review: In 1992, Sandi Tan (a film obsessed teenager), alongside friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique, as well as an older American film teacher Georges Cardona shot the independent film Shirkers. 20 years later, she decides to make a documentary about who the mysterious Cardona was and why he decided to steal her film. Shirkers is a love letter to do-it-yourself filmmaking and an intriguing look at ego run amok.
Film: Minding the Gap
Random thoughts/mini review: 2018 was the year of the coming-of-age skate movies. Skate Kitchen, Mid90s and Minding the Gap all told essentially the same story but Minding the Gap is the only one that deals with the transition into adulthood. It starts where every other skate movie ends–when responsibility begins. It’s a riveting look into skateboard culture, how the director and his friends each deal with the shift into manhood and the aftermath of the abuse they’ve all suffered.
Minding the Gap is to skateboarding, what Hoop Dreams is to basketball.
Film: Three Identical Strangers
Random thoughts/mini review: There’s a multitude of different types of docs. There’s the concert film, the talking heads bio pic detailing people you already know, the ones that chronicle the lives of people you don’t and unbelievable events. Three Identical Strangersis a mixture of two of them. It starts off as typical bio pic about triplets that gained a bit of celebrity in the 80’s but then it starts to unravel the mystery behind their separation and it eventually turns into an unbelievable event. While not being the most entertaining doc, Three Identical Strangers nonetheless tells one of the best stories in any medium this year. Full stop.
Film: The Clovehitch Killer
Random thoughts/mini review: The “I think my next door neighbor might be a killer” sub genre started and peaked with the 1954 classic Rear Window. Every other film up to and including Summer of 84, does nothing the Hitchcock film didn’t do better and while The Clovehitch Killer is no where near as good, It’s the first one to do anything interesting with the premise. For about 30 minutes, the film is good, if a bit cliched but around the half way point, the film shifts perspectives and it’s this split in the narrative that separates it from every other film in the genre. This, along with Searching, are probably the best discoveries of 2018.
Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse
Random thoughts/mini review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse might be the greatest superhero movie ever made. In addition to having one of the most unique art styles in all of animation, a script that’s a fresh new take on the conventional origin story (both of Miles’ parents are alive), as well as being hilariously funny and a voice cast that’s uniformly fantastic, it’s the plotting that should get the most amount of recognition. This film somehow manages to stuff itself full of characters audiences have never seen or heard of before without ever feeling crowded. Every character has enough screen time to leave they’re mark and although some characters feel like they should’ve gotten more screen time than others, there’s no character you would eliminate to free up time either.
Film: Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji
Random thoughts/mini review: A blind buy; I bought this under the assumption it was an action movie. Hence the title. It’s not. It’s actually a character drama that has the same plot structure as a road movie. A samurai and his two servants are traveling to Edo and encounter interesting and nefarious characters on the way. It’s a solid little movie with an unexpectedly downbeat ending.
Random thoughts/mini review: So close to greatness, this one. A group of friends suffer a yachting accident and take refuge on a cruise drifting on the open sea, but quickly realize they aren’t alone. This is a film that’s hard to discuss without dipping into spoilers but I will say, the premise is solid. It’s the execution that stumbles. For a film that over explains everything in the last twenty minutes, it never gives a reason why the main character doesn’t contact the other group she encounters. Again, it’s a fun idea for a movie but it falls apart the second you think about it.
Random thoughts/mini review: You can read the Double Impact here.
Film: Tears of the Black Tiger
Random thoughts/mini review: An overly stylized melodrama that has some interesting shots and some cool action but the plodding story and unending blah blah blah turn the film into an endurance test.
Film: Out of the Blue
Random thoughts/mini review: Dennis Hopper was in dire straights after his film the Last Movie (1971). Regarded by many as incompetent, incoherent and indulgent, the Last Movie was Hopper’s attempt to recreate the magic of Easy Rider (1969) and he failed. Or more accurately–he crashed and burned. It was savaged by literally everyone that saw it and his career really suffered because of it. Nine years later, he was cast as the lead in the film “CeBe”, but eventually became the director after the original got shit canned. After some rewrites and a title change, Hopper created, what would eventually become, his masterpiece.
The film is about a young girl (Linda Manz) whose father is an ex-convict and whose mother is a junkie, finds it difficult to conform and tries to find comfort in punk music and Elvis. The cast is all great but Manz should’ve been a fucking star after this film came out. She’s exceptionally good as young punk rocker that desperately wants any life but her own. The first time Hopper directed, he accidentally change cinema for ever. The second time he directed, he got kicked out of Hollywood. The third time he directed, he made a masterpiece.
Film: Going in Style
Random thoughts/mini review: A charming film about three bored as fuck old men who decide to rob a bank. The performances are all great and the pace zips along so fast, I was afraid one of those old fucks was gonna break a hip.
Film: Eyes Without a Face
Random thoughts/mini review: Released the same year as Psycho and Peeping Tom (1960), only Hitchcock‘s film was immediately embraced by critics and audiences. The other two were dismissed as grotesque trash but eventually, they were both re-evaluated and deemed masterpieces. As they should be. Eyes Without a Face is missing a strong central performance and is a bit light on plot but other than that, it’s every bit their equal. It’s the best French horror film ever made.
Film: Repo Man
Random thoughts/mini review: Although I used to identify as a punk in my younger days, and still have very little use for “the man”, the older I get, the less patience I have with adolescent angst. Life sucks. Stop bitching. Get a job. What Alex Cox‘s magnum opus gets right about the punk movement, is that you can still be a punk with a job. Especially if that job is taking other people’s shit. Repo Man isn’t the definitive punk movie (that honor goes to Suburbia (1983)] but it’s a strong silver medal. Emilio Estevez has never been better, has Harry Dean Stanton at his most Harry Dean Stanton and there’s a dead alien fucking shit up. What else do you want?
Random thoughts/mini review: The hit man with a bum ticker taking care of the prostitute with a heart of gold is a story that’s been around for so long, it had whiskers in the 50’s; so a film in 2018 using such an outdated story is fucking bizarre. It gets points for trying to subvert cliches but that subversion ends up costing the film a point. It’s not a revenge film, it’s not a redemption story and nothing is ultimately solved. The only highlight being the performances but even they aren’t good enough to save it from mediocrity.
Film: Being There
Random thoughts/mini review: Man, what would cinema look like if Peter Sellers wasn’t an asshole? Much like Guns N’ Roses frontman Axel Rose, Sellers just couldn’t stop burning every bridge and fucking up his career at every turn. Which is a goddamn shame considering he’s the Daniel Day-Lewis of comedy. He could do anything and there’s no better example of this than Being There. Like a better Forrest Gump (1994), Being There is about a dumbass that somehow manages to keep failing upwards until he’s damn near the president. It’s a fantastic dramedy anchored with an exceptional performance by Sellers.
Film: Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski
Random thoughts/mini review: This is the story of a brilliant artist and the complexity of human nature. How it transforms over time or if exposed to different events. Szukalski is no doubt a great artist (don’t worry, he’ll let you know) but first and foremost, he was a human beinh. A human with different viewpoints and sins than most of us but the film argues “if a man completely changes his entire world view for the better, should he still be judged for the sins of his past?” Although it meanders a bit and is about ten minutes too long, it’s still a very solid documentary.
Film: The Death of Stalin
Random thoughts/mini review: There’s a scene in the film Igby Goes Down(2002) where the main character tells a joke and someone says “that’s funny”, to which the main character replies “Instead of saying someone or something is funny, why don’t you just laugh?” I barely laughed during the Death of Stalin but kept thinking to myself “Damn, that’s funny.” The jokes are constructed in such a way, that by the time you process them, they’re already on to the next joke. There is no laugh track or sign pointing to the punchline. It’s a smartly written comedy by the smartest person in the room but the smartest person in the room isn’t the class clown for a reason.
Random thoughts/mini review: There’s a reason this film’s title is the Spanish word for love spelled backwards. Loosely based on Cuarón‘s own childhood, Roma is a film all about love. His love of his family, his city but most importantly–the family servant he grew up with. Chronicling a year in the life of Cleo (newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), the film is half love letter and half apology note. He clearly has nothing but affection for this character but he also makes it a point that as much as he and his family had appreciation for her, none of them knew anything about her. They took her for granted and this film is his atonement/celebration of her accomplishments, however fictional they might be. Joyous and heartbreaking in equal measure, Roma is the finest drama of the year. It’s also the best directed film of the year.
Film: True Stories
Random thoughts/mini review: David Byrne is weird as shit. True Stories is an anthology film about a small Texas town, filled with strange and musical characters, celebrates its sesquicentennial and converge on a local parade and talent show. Some of the segments involve John Goodman looking for love, Spalding Gray teaching his kids about capitalism and Swoosie Kurtz being so rich, she never has to leave the bed. This is a cult film that’s beloved by many. I’m not one of them.
Film: Faces Places
Random thoughts/mini review: Director Agnes Varda and photographer/muralist J.R. journey through rural France and form an unlikely friendship. It’s a fascinating look at how two artists look at the world and a beautiful love letter to all different people they find on their journey. Plus, the ending made me hate Godard even more, which I didn’t think was possible.
Film: Love Actually
Random thoughts/mini review: A holiday classic that needs a bit of editing (the douchebag going to America to get laid is pointless and the constant fat jokes haven’t aged well) but it’s sincerity and charm more than make up for its shortcomings.
Film: Nutcracker Fantasy
Random thoughts/mini review: Not a single adaptation of the nutcracker suite (and there’s been a lot of them) has ever been good and while this one doesn’t break its apparent shit curse, it is, by far, the craziest. Nothing makes sense, weird shit constantly happens and it starts with a scene that’s as traumatic to children as the infamous Satan segment from the Adventures of Mark Twain (1985).
Film: Table 19
Random thoughts/mini review: Eloise (Anna Kendrick), having been relieved of maid of honor duties after being unceremoniously dumped by the best man via text, decides to attend the wedding anyway, only to find herself seated with five fellow unwanted guests at the dreaded Table 19. Amazingly, I didn’t hate this movie. There was just enough comedy to keep my interest.
Film: After Hours
Random thoughts/mini review: For about five minutes, the 80’s had a hard on for making the “one crazy night” movie a genre. The directors of After Hours (1985), Into the Night (1985), Adventures of Babysitting (1987), and Blind Date (1987) all milked the same cow but Scorsese was the only one that was smart enough to add some strawberry to that shit. After Hours is a pitch black comedy that never stops being entertaining, even at it’s most bleak.