I have an ongoing friendly rivalry with two of my good friends (also ex-flatmates), to try to see who can watch the most films on IMDB’s Top 250 list. This started when we were living together, and one of them had a big head start as she was a bit of a film buff, whereas my list of “films I haven’t seen that everyone else has” was quite shocking. As the Top 250 list is always changing according to which films are rated the best according to IMDB users, I doubt we’ll ever actually complete it, but we still keep it up as a bit of a fun challenge. The three of us have mostly agreed on our opinions of the films we’ve seen as a result, with some (The Shawshank Redemption, which is #1) getting a full stamp of approval, and others (Lawrence of Arabia and Gandhi) feeling like an enormous waste of time. Anyway, in the last couple of months I’ve managed to watch almost entirely Top 250 films, so here’s my thoughts on them. Oh and if you’re interested, I’m currently at 100/250 – this only includes films I’m 100% sure I’ve seen, as there’s a few I think I might have, but rather than try to remember I’ve decided just to rewatch them.
Quentin Tarantino is probably my favourite director, and Samuel L. Jackson is definitely my favourite actor. So I was excited about this one coming out anyway, and then when I heard it was being screened complete with an overture and intermission, I decided to make an exception to my boycott on cinema. (“Boycott” is probably a bit dramatic, but it’s so expensive, and so loud, and sitting in a dark room looking at bright lights and listening to strangers make irritating noises, isn’t worth the bigger screen in my opinion. I’d rather just wait to watch it in the comfort of my own home on DVD or Netflix or whatever.) Unfortunately I had my wires crossed, and the 70mm version was only screened at a very select number of cinemas worldwide, and only one in the UK! Aside from that little disappointment though, I loved the film. Like Clouds of Sils Maria which I reviewed here, I loved that The Hateful Eight felt like a play, with only two sets and few characters. As well as Samuel L. Jackson, as always, I thought Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tim Roth were fantastic, and Kurt Russell was very funny and weirdly relatable. And the Ennio Morricone score is perfection of course!
These two are right up there at the top of the Top 250, #2 and 3, and because most of the others I’d already seen near the top are really good in my humble opinion, I had high hopes. If you somehow haven’t seen them either, The Godfather basically tells the story of Don Corleone, the ageing patriarch of a (Sicilian, New-York based) mafia family, preparing to hand over the reins to his son. Part II is both a flash forward, to the family once it’s in new hands, and back, to how Corleone ended up in the US and started out.
Now, here’s the deal. I really appreciated them both as masterful pieces of cinema, especially The Godfather and the flashback parts of Part II. The cinematography, the score, the timing, the story… spot on. Some of the acting too, I really liked both Vito Corleones (Marlon Brando as the elder version and Robert De Niro as the younger – I thought De Niro’s portrayal was really strikingly similar to Brando’s) and Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen. But for actual enjoyment… I didn’t get that much out of the films, especially Part II. For one thing, they’re really long, and although the pace felt quite balanced and measured in Part I, I felt like Part II was dragging a bit. I couldn’t stand any of the female characters, and Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) left me cold, which might have been intentional, but didn’t help me engage. And something that really kept bringing me out of it was the huge jumps in volume, from soaring music, to muttering in English, to loud gunfire, to shouting and gesticulating in Italian, to silence and meaningful looks, to the hubbub of a New York City street during a parade. It kept taking me right out of the moment, having to concentrate intently on what on earth they were muttering, and then be jolted by sudden loud noise.
Anyway, all that said, I can see why The Godfather is ranked so highly but I personally think Part II rides on its coat tails a little, and although I’m glad I watched them, I certainly won’t be putting them on regular re-watch rotation. And just to end on a controversial note, I think I enjoyed Part II less than any other mafia film I’ve seen: Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco and – wait for it – Bugsy Malone 😉
Eugenia “Skeeter” (Emma Stone) returns from college to 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. She is an aspiring writer, and realises her big break is right in front of her – the story of the black housemaids working quietly in the homes of her family and friends, while to the North, the Civil Rights Movement is starting to shake up the status quo. The only thing standing in Skeeter’s way is deep-rooted social convention, personified by queen bee Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard).
I read the novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett a few years ago and loved it, and I think the film is a great adaptation. It’s a good meaty subject but is approached via some lovely characters, who bring a lot of humour and personality to the story. It reminds me a bit of Mona Lisa Smile – female leads learning to show on the outside the strong person they are on the inside. I can’t think of any performance throughout the whole film that I didn’t enjoy, but it was especially fun seeing Jessica Chastain play a very blonde, very ditzy character after seeing her in more serious roles in Interstellar and The Martian. The ladies’ 60s dresses and hairstyles are gorgeous and the whole film is very vibrant. I really felt immersed, like I could feel the summer heat of the Deep South and the rapidly growing tension of the situation, both in the small community shown in the film and in the country as a whole.
So… thoughts on these two. The whole Liam Neeson / Himalayan subplot of Batman Begins didn’t really sit right with me. I get that something was needed to kick-start Batman, but Gotham, with its wealth of baddies and corruption and madness, feels to me like enough of a superhero-worthy foe in itself. The ending of The Dark Knight also felt a bit unnecessary – I’m sure if they’d thought hard enough they could have found another scapegoat. Otherwise – I’m a fan. Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Gary Oldman are good, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are great, and Heath Ledger is excellent. I also always love Cillian Murphy as a baddie, he’s deliciously sinister. The films have just the right amount of action and story, and I love Batman / Lucius’s tech – it’s just the right level of cool and functional, rather than OTT and ridiculous like James Bond / Q’s. Following on from my complaints about the sound in the Godfather films, the Batman films get it right – yes, the action is noisy, and the hero talks in a gravelly voice, but the transitions are so much less extreme, more balanced and smooth, and Christian Bale annunciates clearly so you can understand the growls. Finally, I like the chemistry between Bruce and Alfred – it’s one of my favourite aspects of Gotham (more here) and I think it helps humanise Batman, along with his excitement over gadgets!
Positive first: I really like Christoph Waltz. Otherwise… I’m so over the James Bond franchise. I was actually over this particular film long before it came out, because it had been talked about for such a long time – to the extent that when I heard on the news that Sam Smith was doing the theme song for Spectre, I laughed, thinking the newsreader had accidentally said the previous film’s title. I think I’ve just gradually become too much of a feminist for James Bond – and I’m not a shouty, burn-my-bra, men-are-evil feminist, just someone who believes in equality and treating people like human beings. And I miss Judi Dench.
I think it’s safe to say this one is never going to make it on to the Top 250 list, but I recommend it anyway. The loose historical context is that on VE Day, 1945, Princess Elizabeth (now the Queen) and her sister Margaret were allowed out into the city to celebrate. Apart from that basis, the story is all fictional, but it’s really cute and fun.
What have you been watching lately?
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