Last Ten Films: An Introduction

Infinitely Polar Bear

Infinitely Polar Bear

 

In 2013, I tried to write about every new film that I saw (and mostly succeeded!); consequently, in 2014 I was burned out on movie reviews and shifted my attention towards 1000+ word essays on each of my 100 favorite albums (I’m currently a third of the way through this ambitious project). Naturally, I’m left with little time to write about cinema. Although I no longer see over 100 film in theaters/per year as I did a decade ago, I remain an above-average moviegoer–usually at least one, maybe two theatrical screenings per week (my home viewing is more sporadic, thanks to TV, which only the staunchest film snob would deny is as important an artistic medium today.)

Going forward, I’ll be tracking/writing about every ten films I’ve seen, probably around 500 words (or more, if so moved). In each post, I’ll list the ten films in chronological order of viewing, along with the director, year and a rating out of 10. Titles for which this is at least my second viewing will have a star after them. First up: films seen between June 25 and July 24.

Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957) 7/10
The Wolfpack (Moselle, 2015) 4/10
Vertigo* (Hitchcock, 1958) 10/10
Spy (Feig, 2015) 6/10
Amy (Kapadia, 2015) 8/10
California Split* (Altman, 1974) 9/10
The Birds* (Hitchcock, 1963) 10/10
Infinitely Polar Bear (Forbes, 2014) 7/10
Speed* (de Bont, 1994) 6/10
3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets (Silver, 2015) 8/10

I suspect the selection here is typical of every ten consecutive films I’ll see: a straight-down-the-middle split of new and old titles, the former mostly indies, documentaries and foreign language films with the occasional mainstream outlier (one sentence review of Spy: good enough that McCarthy should continue working with Feig despite diminishing returns following Bridesmaids and The Heat.)

Summer tends to be a fallow time for new indies; nothing yet has really broken out like Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and Blue Jasmine (2013). Frankly, I don’t see potential for much on the horizon (I’ve already pondered whether people will come to see The End Of The Tour, which has grown on me since it opened IFF Boston in April). Despite being difficult to watch at times, Amy is the closest thing we have right now to a “big” doc and its innovative structure (culled from home video footage and audio commentary with no talking head interviews whatsoever) is as notable as Winehouse’s predictable-but-still-astonishing career trajectory. The more traditional doc 3 ½ Minutes… is just as hard to watch: its account of a black Florida teen murdered for playing music too loud in a gas station parking lot won’t receive a fraction of Amy’s audience, but its coverage of racial profiling and “stand your ground” laws is just as probing as Amy’s observation of strength necessary for celebrity, and obviously more relevant.

Infinitely Polar Bear, finally in general release after premiering at Sundance in 2014, is more typical a summer indie: pleasant if slight alternative programming against the seasonal blockbusters with a big-name in the lead. Mark Ruffalo probably doesn’t stand a chance of an Oscar nod, but he pulls off portraying a bipolar Boston Brahmin-turned hippie dad with the same ease as he did his Foxcatcher wrestler, which did secure him one. As for this summer’s other buzzed-about indie doc The Wolfpack, I’ll give it this—it has a unique, entertaining story for sure, but one I didn’t wholly buy. So clumsily told that I was left distracted by the seething gaps in its narrative, this was more a turn-off than any speculation of staged scenes or misleading information.

After spending a long time on a short list of classics I really should’ve seen by now, I finally made it to Wild Strawberries, and it confirmed how overrated I find what I’ve seen of Bergman’s pre-Persona oeuvre (though naturally, it looked superb on the Brattle’s big screen). As for the re-watches, apart from The Birds (a thrill to view outdoors on the Greenway), I hadn’t seen any of them in over a decade. I doubt Vertigo’s appeal will ever diminish for me; California Split isn’t quite up there with The Long Goodbye re: 70s Altman California sleaze, although it gives an exceptionally vivid idea of how people and places really looked at the time, and Gould/Segal remains so rich a pairing I wish they’d done more together. As for Speed, its neat premise is undercut by what would become an unfortunate trend in Hollywood action flicks—to find a natural resolution, then introduce an outlandish twist that extends things for another half-hour because bigger is better, right? Didn’t Hitchcock arguably master that ploy (and seem comparatively subtle about it) way back in Vertigo?

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