August 2020 Film Round-Up

Another month, another load of films watched.

Also, how on EARTH are we at the end of August?

2020 really is playing with the rules of time – I guess it saw Tenet.

So, as usual, here’s everything that I watched in August 2020, and a little of what I thought about them. I bet you’re glad I’m done with the Best Picture Winners, I know I am!

First Time Watches – August 2020

  1. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) dir. Mark Dindal

Somehow this had completed escaped my viewing and I regret every day of my life that had previously gone by without having seen this. That might sound dramatic, but this movie is absolutely hilarious – everyone knows that of course and I’m inordinately late to the party, but I’m just saying! I’m going to watch this many, many times over the course of my life.

2. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) dir. Sidney Lumet

Another film that I had been highly anticipating and another that I will regret not having seen before August. Led by a fiercely committed performance by Al Pacino and the talents of the ensemble cast, Dog Day Afternoon will endure the test of time for sure and I have vowed to watch this at least once a year for the rest of my life…it’s that good!

3. Opening Night (1977) dir. John Cassavetes

My first Rowlands/Cassavetes collaboration and I was not prepared for how good this was going to be. It tapped in everything in love: powerhouse female leads, theatre, and the unmistakable euphoria of witnessing some killer dialogue being delivered by great actors. I cannot wait to see more from those two and this will also be rewatched somewhere down the line.

4. Host (2020) dir. Rob Savage

For something that came onto my radar so quickly and with little warning, the expectation was high. Host is a perfectly serviceable Zoom horror, but has little else going for it to keep it afloat when some of the scares and writing gets predictable. The characters are barely present in any engaging ways, but there’s enough freshness to it that it allows for a good experience. Plus it’s 56 minutes. Who doesn’t love that?

5. Spy (2015) dir. Paul Feig

Being a big Paul Feig fan, I was disappointed in myself that I hadn’t seen this yet. I very, very much enjoyed it. The entire cast was great, shout-out to my main girl Rose Byrne for once again making me worship her for the entire time that she’s on screen. I’m not sure it has the innate rewatchability of Bridesmaids or even A Simple Favour for me, but it’s a great comedic experience that appeals to what I enjoy watching: Jude Law in tight suits.

6. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) dir. Clint Eastwood

Having only witnessed a few Eastwood films so far that I’ve actually liked, I was pleasantly surprised with how much Letters does to show a side we haven’t seen before, especially from a filmmaker with such Americanised sensibilities. A companion piece to Flags of our Fathers, it manages to showcase and subvert expectations of othering in a way that greatly impresses; it’s engaging and interesting without being overly cloying and I think it works very well.

7. United 93 (2006) dir. Paul Greengrass

Greengrass’ skills as a director of high-pressure, real-life situations is almost unparalleled. United 93 unfolds in something close to real time, and the cross-cutting evokes so much tension in an event you already know the results of that it’s shocking that this film works at all. He creates emotional attachments easily, the portrayal is supposedly as realistic as he could have made it, down to what each passenger would have been wearing, what they would’ve smelled like, those little details that make a film feel lived-in. It’s a bleak experience, but probably the best instance of storytelling that the tragedy of 9/11 will ever get.

8. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2003) dir. Kim Ki-Duk

I was not prepared for how beautiful this film was going to be. Gorgeously photographed, written, and directed, Spring, Summer… takes you on a visceral journey of the life of a budding monk, and what happens when he faces obstacles that disrupt the blissful life he has made for himself. There are life lessons imparted, realistic characterisation, and some of the most evocative cinematography I’ve seen in quite a long time. I’m not sure how this will fare upon a rewatch, but it’s safe to say it works as a true piece of art.

9. The Last King of Scotland (2006) dir. Kevin MacDonald

Came for the Whitaker performance, stayed for the Whitaker performance. Although not in it as much as I would’ve liked, because of the film tends to fall flat when he’s not on screen, The Last King of Scotland works as a quasi-biopic that blends fact with fiction but fails to concentrate its efforts on the most interesting parts of the story, undoubtedly Whitaker’s chilling portrayal of Idi Amin, a performance that will definitely go down as one of the great real-life depictions.

10. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) dir. Mike Nichols

And Mike Nichols has done the damn thing, yet again. Casted to absolute perfection, Nichols assembled the perfect team for this movie, including a powerhouse performance by Elizabeth Taylor in one of the best screen performances I’ve ever seen, a deftly intelligent turn by Richard Burton, who is equally as impressive, an engrossing Sandy Dennis, and a charming, boyish George Segal (hello sir) who all deliver this gargantuan dialogue with relative ease, creating humour, tension, friction, and fleshed-out human experiences and conflicts like little else I’ve seen. This will go down as an all-time favourite.

11. Blood Diamond (2006) dir. Edward Zwick

You know what won’t go down as an all-time favourite? Blood Diamond. Boasting a ridiculously undeserved runtime, a mediocre lead performance from DiCaprio, and a weirdly white-centric lens, Blood Diamond barely holds itself together, and we have the wonderful performance of Djimon Hounsou to thank for that. That performance belonged in a movie worthy of his talents. This was not it.

12. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991) dir. Fax Bahr, Eleanor Coppola, and George Hickenlooper

Watched a few days after revisiting Apocalypse Now and boy was this whole shoot an absolute nightmare? A thrilling documentary that serves to contextualise how the iconic moments of the film came to be and just how much everyone risked and struggled to make art. It’s an important treatise on the limits that have to be set to not endanger a cast and crew on a shoot. Somehow, everyone made it out alive and okay and created something that has a long-reaching legacy.

13. Venus (2006) dir. Roger Michell

So you’ve got future Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker in her first film role, Peter O’Toole securing his final Oscar nomination, and a whole lot of weird touching. This film is a cacophony of things that feel like they should not be happening on screen, but they somehow are. O’Toole is dependably great, Whittaker shows a great deal of spirit, and whole thing is tied together by how great they are. It’s honestly no more and less than the value of their performances.

14. Christine (2016) dir. Antonio Campos

I’d been waiting years to witness this Rebecca Hall performance and it was truly worth every second of the time spent waiting. She is absolutely magnificent in the title role, but she’s in a film that doesn’t seem to rise to her level. It’s engaging and has some nice things to say, but it doesn’t feel daring enough considering how much of a firecracker Christine was, it feels surprisingly safe in its filmmaking. It definitely wouldn’t have worked half as well without Hall, who delivers a career-best performance easily.

15. Chemical Hearts (2020) dir. Richard Tanne

Came for Lili Reinhart, stayed for Lili Reinhart. She’s easily the best thing about this film, because she actually has some character work to bite into. The same cannot be said for Austin Abrams, whose character is surprisingly one-note for a protagonist. It barely functions as a coming-of-age teen drama and as a film, but it’s worth seeing to prove that the actors of Riverdale are actually talented with some good material!

16. Volver (2006) dir. Pedro Almodóvar

I really wanted to love this more. Penélope Cruz is fantastic and the set-up brings a lot of potential to the table. But then it swings way too far into melodrama than I would have liked. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some melodrama, but not for this particular movie. Still worth watching for how great Cruz is, though!

17. Starfish (2018) dir. A.T. White

I greatly appreciated the emotional ambition with this film, something that didn’t let up in face of the toweringly complex premise, which is a testament to both the performance of Virginia Gardner and the directorial talent of A.T. White. This fascinating film explores grief, surrealism, and the end of the world through a truly fresh lens and I cannot wait to see what White does next.

18. Tenet (2020) dir. Christopher Nolan

Yeah, just go read my review. I think I said it all there. I have yet to revisit, but I will say that it’s not looking good for how I feel about it. The more I think, the more I’ve disliked over the past few days unfortunately. But go see Tenet if you feel comfortable doing so, it’s a rewarding cinematic experience if nothing else.

19. Little Children (2006) dir. Todd Field

As soon as I knew that Todd Field had directed this, I knew that I was going to adore it. And that I did. Features some great performances from Winslet, Wilson, and Haley, and tackles plenty of meaty and complex issues throughout its engaging runtime. The ideal of the family unit is so interesting here with several different storylines all overlapping to create a portrait of many perspectives. I’m dying for Todd Field to make another film, I really am.

20. The Exterminating Angel (1962) dir. Luis Buñuel

A beguiling film that will take more rewatches to fully unpack, but I greatly admire Buñuel’s unflinching vision when it comes to tackling a theme. There’s not much more I can say about it until I revisit, but the first of my three Buñuel films has certainly set a precedent.

21. That Obscure Object of Desire (2006) dir. Luis Buñuel

I love the style that’s on show here, especially the decision to cast two completely opposite actresses in the lead role, showing how ever-changing people can be when they fall in love, and the fluctuating temperament of a strong connection. I definitely didn’t love the ending, even though it fit thematically, but Buñuel is doing enough to keep my interest.

22. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) dir. Luis Buñuel

Unsurprising in its conceit after watching the other Buñuel films that I did, but its nonetheless exciting to watch things unfold. Again, I’ll need a another watch or two to truly appreciate the machinations at play, but Buñuel’s idiosyncrasies are playing at optimum level with never anything less than exciting to witness.

22 new films isn’t my usual standard, but I’ve found some timeless masterpieces and some new potential all-time favourites from August. Shout-out to you, August!

Favourite First Time Watch: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Films I Rewatched This Month

  • Gone Girl (2014) dir. David Fincher
  • Jurassic Park (1993) dir. Steven Spielberg
  • The Room (2003) dir. Tommy Wiseau
  • The Disaster Artist (2017) dir. James Franco
  • The Hate U Give (2018) dir. George Tillman Jr.
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) dir. Marielle Heller
  • Venom (2018) dir. Ruben Fleischer
  • Burning (2018) dir. Lee Chang-dong
  • Twilight (2008) dir. Catherine Hardwicke
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) dir. Céline Sciamma
  • Love, Simon (2018) dir. Greg Berlanti
  • Set it Up (2018) dir. Claire Scanlon
  • The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) dir. Chris Weitz
  • Apocalypse Now (1979) dir. Francis Ford Coppola
  • Shazam! dir. David F. Sandberg
  • Us (2019) dir. Jordan Peele
  • Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019) dir. Quentin Tarantino
  • First Reformed (2018) dir. Paul Schrader
  • Dreamgirls (2006) dir. Bill Condon
  • A Star is Born (2018) dir. Bradley Cooper
  • Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) dir. Guillermo del Toro

43 films watched in total this month. Honestly, I thought I would be lower but quite happy with everything I watched (sans certain messy films of course).

Honestly, still just thinking about Elizabeth Taylor.

Anyway, I guarantee that I will have barely watched anything come to the end of September, but I’ll try my best.

Until then!

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