It feels absolutely surreal that another month has already passed by. The UK is seeing the bulk of its lockdown restriction being eased or lifted, and it seems as though we’re in the transition phase back into some semblance of normalcy. I have no idea when that will be, but I hope everybody is continuing to remain safe, particularly now that more and more people are growing complacent about the pandemic. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.
But it was another month and another slate of movies have graced my laptop and TV screens. Some good, some downright catastrophic, so for the sake of continuity, here are the films I watched this month.
First Time Watches – June 2020
- Chariots of Fire (1981) dir. David Puttnam
A misfire on most fronts, actually. The Vangelis score keeps it from being an absolute catastrophe, but the overblown runtime and horrendous pacing keeps what is already relatively inaccessible material from hitting home in any conceivable way. Chariots of Fire delivers all the implications of an exhilarating sprint, but quite early on settles into a sluggish jog and maintains that pace until the finish line. And you best believe I celebrate when this ended.
2. A Single Man (2009) dir. Tom Ford
Not nearly as evocative or impressive as Ford’s next feature Nocturnal Animals, but a debut to be proud of. Firth and Moore are good, I’m not sure they’re great though, and the score is absolutely excellent as expected from Korzeniowski. Wasn’t as totally invested in this as I thought I would be, but it looked beautiful.
3. Ordinary People (1980) dir. Robert Redford
Sometimes my Best Picture watches can give me Chariots of Fire, and sometimes they can give me Ordinary People. A delightful look at grief, guilt, and the tethers of family which is beautifully written and stunningly acted by everyone. Even though Hutton’s placement is the epitome of category fraud, he deserved an award for the performance. The end will really get you.
4. Reservoir Dogs (1992) dir. Quentin Tarantino
Another day, another Tarantino film that is vastly overrated. I think I summed it up best in my Letterboxd review, so I’m just going to leave that here:
“Not surprised that I didn’t care about this in any conceivable way because Tarantino rarely creates characters for an audience to connect to, rather to demonstrate a violent machismo that’s more of a showcase of how loud his actors can be and how much blood he can use rather than making an actual point. None of this is thought-provoking, the ‘twist’ is rather blatant if you’ve ever seen a movie before, and the script is so bloated it loses its spark halfway through every scene. Tarantino has a nice way of using and moving the camera, though, I’ll give him that. Michael Madsen really carried this film.“
Tarantino stans come at me because this is truly indefensible.
5. Crazy Heart (2009) dir. Scott Cooper
Didn’t overly care for this, but the great performance by Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal kept me invested the whole way through. The songs are ranging from ‘fine’ to ‘great’, the story is mostly derivative and that becomes tiresome after not that much time at all. Should this have been Bridges’ Oscar win? No, but honestly I’m just glad the man finally has one.
6. Good Will Hunting (1997) dir. Gus van Sant
So I’d seen this before, but not all the way through and all in one sitting, so I’m going to count it as a new watch. And what a film it is. The writing is sharp and insightful, the performances are deep and honest, and the story is beautifully captivating in every way. A lovely, lovely film.
7. Invictus (2009) dir. Clint Eastwood
Another Eastwood misfire, another overly long pseudo-inspirational biopic about sports and politics. It merely lays out its circumstances without going any deeper than that, missing the point entirely of the connections that sports can conjure, as well as the feelings of hope that Nelson Mandela gave to a nation. Damon and Freeman are fine, rarely great, but feels like a Wikipedia page with little style and nothing more to say than “Everyone stop hating things and watch sports for a second”.
8. The Last Station (2009) dir. Michael Hoffman
2009 in cinema was mostly a mistake, I’m sure of it. The Last Station is another slog, wasting some good performances with some truly uninteresting material and story moments. Plummer, Mirren, and McAvoy are good, but their performances never really say all that much, and honestly I was just bored to tears the entire way through. You couldn’t pay me to watch this movie again. Well, you could if you really wanted to, but it would have to be a substantial amount of money.
9. Good Night And Good Luck. (2005) dir. George Clooney
Now we’re talking! A brilliantly-written film about the intersection of media and politics. It’s presented very matter-of-factly which works for the style and tones it’s delivering, topped off by a great performance from David Strathairn and a strong supporting cast. Wouldn’t mind watching this one again.
10. War Machine (2017) dir. David Michôd
I honestly couldn’t tell you a single thing about this movie. I was paying attention, I just found to be utterly incomprehensible and a frightening deluge of contradictory tones that were not handled well at all. Pitt is at least entertaining, but his character is so flat that it made it tiring to watch him on screen.
11. Rocky (1976) dir. John G. Avildsen
For a film to beat Taxi Driver and Network, two of the greatest films of all time, to the Best Picture Oscar, it had to be good. Thankfully, Rocky is very good. Not better than the two aforementioned films, but good enough that I don’t begrudge it a victory that much. Stallone is great, the supporting players all turn in great work, and the typical sports-movie formula is perfected to drive home a really great ending.
12. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1976) dir. Milos Forman
Honestly I was expecting a great deal more from this. I still greatly enjoyed it and thought it was pretty brilliant, but it’s not the masterpiece I was expecting. Nicholson, Fletcher, and Dourif are fantastic, but the writing has a tone problem and can’t decide whether to go for broke with its edgy comedy, or to paint a moving portrait of mental illness stigma and the oppression of the hospital. Either one in a movie would have been phenomenal, but the mixture of the two just didn’t work for me enough to call it one of the greats.
13. Body and Soul (1947) dir. Robert Rossen
Beautifully crafted with a knockout performance by John Garfield, Body and Soul manages to take some very surface themes and ideas and make a great movie, which is a testament to the gorgeous cinematography and editing. Feels ahead of its time, for sure.
14. The Messenger (2009) dir. Oren Moverman
2009 is partially forgiven due to this stoic depiction of PTSD and how people receive the worst news possible. Foster and Harrelson are brilliant and the writing is sharp, compact, and fitting to the tone and pacing of the film. One I can feel myself going back to in the future for sure.
15. The Godfather: Part II (1974) dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Perhaps not quite as good as its predecessor, but still an absolute knockout of a film. The timelines are merged brilliantly, emotional editing at its finest. The cast are indescribably brilliant, and Coppola handles the sequel with as much care and respect as the first, and the mammoth runtime is justified by how much story and character Coppola packs into it. It never feels as long as it is because there’s always something brilliant happening.
16. The Lovely Bones (2009) dir. Peter Jackson
I really liked some parts of this, but others not so much. Everything with Saoirse is brilliant, Stanley Tucci is magnetic, but the Wahlberg/Weisz moments don’t seem to translate very well, I just don’t think it was very entertaining in terms of keeping my interest. The different plains worked well together, especially the more surreal moments with Saoirse, but it’s quite disjointed and not, I imagine, what Jackson had in mind when conceptualising it.
17. The Truman Show (1998) dir. Peter Weir
How had I never seen this before? Startlingly original, smart and witty almost to a fault, and has some really great things to say about the media and how it interacts with our normal lives. Carrey, Harris, and Linney are excellent. Definitely want to revisit this one in the future.
18. Cold Mountain (2003) dir. Anthony Minghella
Typical Oscar-bait nonsense for the most part, bolstered by some strong performances by reliable actors and a really nice score. Didn’t take much from this as an experience, but the craft was nice enough to distract from how empty it felt.
19. In The Loop (2009) dir. Armando Ianucci
Flat-out hilarious in pretty much every scene, performed expertly by the whole cast, but Peter Capaldi is a clear stand-out, delivering his hilariously-written lines with a vulgarity that’s hard to match. Political satire is becoming a favourite genre of mine, especially when it’s helmed by Ianucci’s safe, witty hands.
20. Da 5 Bloods (2020) dir. Spike Lee
The script may be a little messy in places, but Lee’s confident direction and great casting pulls this one through, a war story that feels fresh, depicting something in the genre I feel like I haven’t seen before. Delroy Lindo turns in a masterful performance, and Jonathan Majors continues his brilliant career trajectory with another great role and he really delivers too. Some really, really good sequences in this one that I’ll remember.
21. Tropic Thunder (2008) dir. Ben Stiller
I know a comedy is just bad/not my thing when I didn’t laugh/smile once the entire time. And I’m not exaggerating, absolutely stoic the entire duration. I can say that the cast were trying, but the material was so weak that nothing came off. Everything felt out of place somehow, definitely just not my thing.
22. The Visitor (2008) dir. Tom McCarthy
Richard Jenkins’ quietly stunning performance leads this film into greatness, but a deft script and a sensitive directorial effort help make this one really good. Went to some unexpected places which I’m still unsure about, but on the whole I enjoyed it.
23. The Green Goddess (1930) dir. Alfred E. Green
The new leader for the earliest film I’ve watched, and I think that’s why it feels so inaccessible. A strange little film that I wouldn’t watch again but also still don’t quite understand.
24. The Sting (1973) dir. George Roy Hill
Feels like a blueprint in the genre, hence why it feels ahead of its time. Newman and Redford are both great in it, and the script is tight and impressive. Loved the title cards and the editing a lot, but the ending felt sort of underwhelming, I think I was just expecting more from the resulting twists after some really great build-up but it ends sort of abruptly.
25. The French Connection (1971) dir. William Friedkin
Some absolutely great chase scenes and a brilliant Gene Hackman performance make this one worth a watch, but it always felt like it could have been doing more than what it was, despite being well directed and interestingly shot with some really great sound design.
26. The Wrestler (2008) dir. Darren Aronofsky
Don’t think it’s quite Aronofsky’s best considering some very familiar beats, but the raw performances and style come through brilliantly. Rourke, Tomei, and Wood are excellent and do their best to combat a worn script.
27. Patton (1970) dir. Franklin J. Schaffner
Can’t explain how disappointed I was with this. First of all, it’s about 100 hours long, and second of all (apart from one scene) it doesn’t begin to go far enough into Patton’s psyche for me. Considering how controversial he was, I came away feeling like I didn’t really know/understand him. George C. Scott was great though.
28. Frozen River (2008) dir. Courtney Hunt
Melissa Leo and Misty Upham are very good, but this felt very surface-level emotionally and could have gone further with the themes, but I was never distracted and had a good time watching it.
29. Artemis Fowl (2020) dir. Kenneth Branagh
Somebody tell Kenneth Branagh to stop making movies, please.
30. Do The Right Thing (1989) dir. Spike Lee
Timeless and timely in its themes, Lee packs so much of a punch in this third act with a great script and some committed actors. Basically just insert that Lady Gaga meme where she lists off every positive adjective she can think of. That’s my thoughts on this film.
31. Shirley (2020) dir. Josephine Decker
After her last film, I was interested to see what Decker would do with this. Her idiosyncrasy is still alive and well she mines some great performances from the cast, particularly Moss and Young, the whole thing doesn’t quite work for me, but I respect the ambition and her storytelling capabilities.
32. Rachel Getting Married (2008) dir. Jonathan Demme
Probably one of the most awkward films I’ve ever seen, but it so works. Hathaway and DeWitt are stunning, and Demme’s camera placement is so so good here that it makes up for some of the stranger moment in the script.
33. Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) dir. Mike Leigh
Mike Leigh just understands humans in a way that not many other writers and directors do. Sally Hawkins’ infectious energy and performance just make this so great. Occasionally, I felt like some things just resolved fairly quickly, but that’s more of a nitpick of this great, great film.
34. Oliver! (1968) dir. Carol Reed
Has some great choreography, but is a bit overlong and some parts are fairly uninteresting. I love a good musical, but Oliver was never one of my favourites, so that would explain why this didn’t sit with me so well.
35. In The Heat of the Night (1967) dir. Norman Jewison
Has a really rich atmosphere and some great performances (Poitier > Steiger, but that’s just my opinion) that bolster an already impressive script with some great thematic work. Not much to say about this one apart from that it’s really solid.
36. Synecdoche, New York (2008) dir. Charlie Kaufman
If I think about this for too long, I start to panic, so I’ll just that say Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the greatest actors we had and I miss him greatly.
37. In Bruges (2008) dir. Martin McDonagh
Have a sneaking suspicion that I would adore McDonagh’s stage work, but I don’t love his screen work. Farrell is great and Fiennes has some scene-stealing moments, but the whole thing just feels stagnant and a little forced. Some of the back-and-forths are funny, but most grow tiresome for me. I know everyone loves this, just not for me.
38. A Man For All Seasons (1966) dir. Fred Zinnemann
Often tedious to the point of inactivity, Zinnemann’s film is only really bolstered by Paul Scofield’s great performance and a really good ending. Everything else just left me feeling a bit flat.
39. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) dir. Julian Schnabel
This film is so brilliant, and Schnabel’s direction is masterful. The first half is so so engaging and excellent, even if the second does lose me a bit. Max von Sydow has a scene-stealing moment towards the end that reduced me to tears. Absolutely adored this.
40. The Big Lebowski (1998) dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
Yes this was my first time. Yes I thought it was hilarious. We don’t deserve John Goodman. Anything else I could say about it would just be repeating everything you’ve heard 100 times before. Hilarious stuff.
41. He’s Just Not That Into You (2009) dir. Ken Kwapis
The 2000’s loved these big mosaic ensemble pieces, but this one just didn’t really work. Some of the sections were fine, but most felt bland and repetitive. Really like Jennifer Aniston in it though.
42. In The Valley of Elah (2007) dir. Paul Haggis
I watched this literally four days ago and I can’t remember a thing. I know that Tommy Lee Jones was fine, but nothing outstanding. Paul Haggis…well, the less I say about that man, the better.
43. Eastern Promises (2007) dir. David Cronenberg
Cronenberg’s storytelling is great, but I thought it was going to go darker. Mortensen’s performance didn’t impress me too much, but I think I’ve had enough of the strong, silent, stoic male performances that garner attention yet have little depth to them.
44. Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) dir. Shekhar Kapur
Shocking how dull something can be even when Cate Blanchett is dominating the screen. One of my least favourite scripts.
45. Babyteeth (2020) dir. Shannon Murphy
I knew that when Eliza Scanlen got a well-written leading role that she would excel. Absolutely loved her performance, Ben Mendelsohn and Essie Davis were great as always.
46. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020) dir. David Dobkin
Further proof that Rachel McAdams is too good for this world. ‘Husavik‘ should be an Oscar nominee for original song, there I said it. It slaps.
47. 365 Days (2020) dir. Barbara Białowas & Tomasz Mandes
Just no. Stay far away from this movie.
48. My Fair Lady (1964) dir. George Cukor
Harrison and Hepburn are great in this, but I don’t love it. Much, much too long that it distracts from the great musical numbers, the amazing costume work and the comedic moments that work very well.
Favourite First-Time Watch: The Godfather: Part II
Honourable Mention: Synecdoche, New York
Films I Rewatched This Month
- Moonlight (2016) dir. Barry Jenkins
- The Way, Way Back (2013) dir. Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
- Waves (2019) dir. Trey Edward Shults
- Little Women (2019) dir. Greta Gerwig
- Chicago (2002) dir. Rob Marshall
- A Serious Man (2009) dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
- Bad Times At The El Royale (2018) dir. Drew Goddard
- Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) dir. Ol Parker
- Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) dir. Dan Gilroy
- Donnie Darko (2001) dir. Richard Kelly
- Wildlife (2018) dir. Paul Dano
- Long Shot (2019) dir. Jonathan Levine
- Brokeback Mountain (2005) dir. Ang Lee
- Pretty Woman (1990) dir. Garry Marshall
- Beautiful Boy (2018) dir. Felix van Groenigen
- Brooklyn (2015) dir. John Crowley
- Parasite (2019) dir. Bong Joon-ho
- Ad Astra (2019) dir. James Gray
- Luce (2019) dir. Julius Onah
- Private Life (2018) dir. Tamara Jenkins
68 films…even more than May! I really should calm down at some point, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.
How many films did you all watch this month? What were your favourites? Let me know!