Films of 2022: Q4

There were some good films in 2022, but nothing that got me particularly enthused. As an aside, I was interviewed by Russell Hogg, mostly discussing Asian films. Here’s a link to the podcast.

2022:Q4 films

Newer Films:

Decision to Leave  (Korea)  3.7  The Koreans are really good at films that straddle the line between commercial and artistic.  (Recall Parasite.) Not ambitious enough to be a masterpiece, just consistently excellent filmmaking by Park (director of Oldboy). 

Tar  (US)  3.6   The first half of this highly intelligent film is quite entertaining, almost like a documentary on the world of orchestral music.  I have just enough knowledge of classical music to enjoy the dialogue, but not so much knowledge as to find it stilted or artificial. The second half is a standard psychological drama, and it is somewhat less convincing.  It’s a very good film, but with a more talented director this could have been a truly great film.

Vesper  (Lithuania/France)  3.6  Surprisingly well-crafted post apocalyptic vision.

Petite Maman  (France)  3.6   A nice little gem about childhood.

Guest of Honour  (Canada)  3.5  Another excellent film by Atom Egoyan, one of our most intelligent directors.

Goddamned Asura  (Taiwan)  3.4  It’s the acting that carries this film, especially the young actress Wang Yu-xuan.  She’s a name to watch. Otherwise, the film falls well short of its ambition.  But it’s nice to see some ambition!

Belle   (Japan)  3.2  For much of the film, the animation is rather uninspired.  And when it comes to Japanese anime, the visuals are 90% of the film.  (The design of the metaverse is probably inspired by the art of Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami, but seems rather derivative.) In the final few acts, however, there’s just enough oomph to make the film worth watching.

Neptune Frost  (Rwanda)  3.0  Somewhat uneven mix of sci-fi and African politics, but its best scenes were quite good. 

Babylon  (US)  1.5   At one point the Brad Pitt character asks Irving Thalberg if he was being asked to perform in a early sound film in order to bail out a shitty movie.  That might be a case of art imitating life.   Three hours of extremely dumb hysteria amped up to 11.  Really tiresome.

Older films:

Harakiri  (Japan, 1962, CC)  3.9  A classic in every sense of the term.  The trailer for the film doesn’t provide any sense of what it is like to experience the film itself.

Walkabout  (Australia, 1971, CC)  3.8  When I was young, certain films made a deep impression on me.  I still vividly recall seeing Antonioni films like Blow-Up and The Passenger as a teenager.  Walkabout was another such film.  At the time, I had no understanding of the concept “art film”, but I was impressed by both the film’s style and its story (and probably had a crush on the actress.)

Fifty years later, the style seems less impressive, but I still love the story and the lack of histrionics in the acting.  It’s great that Criterion Channel offers me the chance to see it once more, although I can never again see the Walkabout I watched at age 16.   Ironically, the film ends with a voiceover narration of a Housman poem, which captures that sadness:

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

Now when I watch this sort of film, I try to recall how I felt the first time around.

Walkabout was part of the Australian New Wave, which included Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave and Mad Max. (Perhaps these titles don’t mean much to younger viewers.) These were the films that made me fall in love with Australia’s outback, where I spent some time in 1991.

Kwaidan  (Japan, 1964, CC)  3.8  Guillermo del Toro loves this film about ghosts, and so do I.  The soundtrack by Toru Takemitsu is excellent but what I really liked was the art design.  The mid-century modern set backdrops would look schlocky if presented as a painting on canvas at a flea market, but somehow worked perfectly in this film.  It was Kobuyashi’s first color film, and it’s clearly a labor of love.  The print was recently restored to its full 183 minute length.

The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice  (Japan, 1952, CC)  3.8  Toward the end of this Ozu film the married couple experiences a sublimely satisfying late night snack.  It’s as if they are out on a first date.

The Earrings of Madame de . . .  (France, 1953, CC)  3.8  A classic in every sense of the word.  I never knew that Vittorio De Sica was also an actor, and a pretty good one.

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles  (Belgium, 1975, CC)  3.8  The most boring film ever made?  The greatest film ever made?  Why not both?  Lots of great directors use a very slow style, devoid of action and drama.  But people like Tarkovsky, Bela Tarr, and Hou Hsiao Hsien have a stronger visual style.  This film will appeal to people with a more intellectual approach to cinema.  Each scene is an idea.

Why did this film recently top the Sight and Sound critics poll?  I suspect it reflects the fact that an increasing number of film critics are women. Suppose that 40% of critics are women and 60% are men.  Also assume that 20% of female critics named this as the top film, while no film received more than 10% of the votes of male critics.  This would also explain why 2001: A Space Odyssey topped the director’s poll (and is my favorite), as there are far fewer female directors.  Jeanne Deilman is an impressive film, but not among my 100 favorites, as I prefer a less intellectual approach to the visual arts.

Daisies  (Czech, 1966, CC)  3.8  This film is probably rated too high in the top 100 Sight and Sound poll, but it’s anarchic energy wonderfully captures the spirit of 1966.   A reminder that 1966 was a much more innocent time.  We’ve lost so much . . .

At 28 in the S&S poll, it’s one behind Shoah.  Seriously, on what basis could you possibly compare those two films?

Sweet Smell of Success   (US, 1957, CC)  3.8  Like Touch of Evil (made a year later), this film is drenched in corruption.

The Postman Always Rings Twice  (US, 1946, CC)  3.7  The greatness of this noir is due to exactly two factors—a great story from James Cain and the face of Lana Turner.

Vive L’Amour   (Taiwan, 1994, CC)  3.7  The late 20th century was the golden age of Taiwanese films, and Tsai Ming-liang is probably the most difficult of Taiwan’s great directors.  His films are hard to pin down, seeming to meander around aimlessly with little or no drama.  On one level this is a sad story of loneliness.  On another, it’s a sly comedy.  There may be other levels that went right over my head.

Pépé le Moko  (France, 1937, CC)  3.7  This classic film almost perfectly defines the romantic gangster genre.  Wonderful character actors, which remind the viewer of the supporting cast in Casablanca.  Algiers’s Casbah is almost like another character.  Newly restore print.

Meshes of the Afternoon  (US, 1943, CC)  3.7  This was rated 16th in the Sight and Sound poll of the greatest films ever made, and it’s less than 15 minutes long.  It is certainly quite innovative, but it seems to me that directors like the Quay brothers do this sort of surrealism more effectively.  I suppose the rating would depend on how much weight one puts on getting there first.

The Hero  (India, 1966, CC)  3.7  Sanyajit Ray seems incapable of making anything other than excellent films.  This film’s one drawback is that it’s a bit in the shadow of 8½, a film that it clearly emulates.

Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life  (US/Iran, 1925, CC)  3.7  There was a tiny sliver of time when the old ways of living persisted in many temperate regions of the world, and yet cinema had already been developed.  The way of living depicted in this film had probably been around for centuries, if not millennia, and almost certainly disappeared soon after the film was made.  These sorts of films are precious documents of a vanished way of life.  It starts a bit slow, but the epic journey of the Bakhtiari tribe becomes increasingly jaw dropping in the second half of the film.  And you think that you have problems!

BTW, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of global geography, and even knew about the high mountain range north of Tehran.  But glaciers in southwestern Iran?  Who knew?

The Last Wave  (Australia, 1977, CC)  3.6  The supernatural elements hold up better than in most films of this period.  But it’s the acting that really stands out, particularly the aboriginal actors (including the star of Walkabout.)

Magnet of Doom   (France/US, 1963, CC)  3.6  Even less plot driven than usual for a Melville film.  It’s interesting to see America in 1962 through the eyes of a French director.

Peppermint Frappe  (Spain, 1967, CC)  3.6  Not directed by Bunuel, but somewhat in his style.

Beau Travail  (France, 1999, CC)  3.6  The film casts a spell from the very beginning, and holds it for the entire 90 minutes.  But it’s not my sort of film, as all its strengths are my weaknesses—appreciation of music, dance, colonial/native cultural differences, etc.  Most critics rate this way higher.

Fountainhead   (Japan, 1956, CC)  3.5   The 1950s were the golden age of Japanese film, with Ozu, Kurozawa, Mizoguchi and Naruse producing one masterpiece after another.  But there were other excellent filmmakers as well, including Masaki Kobayashi.  There’s lots to enjoy in this romantic story, including a rendezvous at what seems to be Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel (since demolished in an almost unbelievable act of architectural vandalism.)  Ineko Arima’s enigmatic smile hides an intriguing and complex character.  As with many Japanese classics, there are lots of lovely visual images.

The Headless Woman  (Argentina, 2008, CC)  3.5  Many will find this too slow and lacking a strong narrative; but if you get into the rhythm of the film it’s fairly engrossing.  Recommended to fans of Jeanne Dielman.

Performance  (UK, 1970, CC)  3.5   Nicholas Roeg’s stylistic experiments are hit and miss, but there are enough positives to make this an enjoyable film.  It also helps that the underlying premise is pretty interesting.  Mick Jagger plays a rock star that is past his prime.  But the film was made in 1970, when Jagger was right at his peak.  He gives a fine performance (as do the other actors.)  And the film has the most Borges references I’ve ever seen in a movie.

I Love You Again  (US, 1940, CC)  3.4  Another good romantic comedy with William Powell and Myrna Loy.  This one is right up there with the Thin Man films. 

Forty Guns  (US, 1957, CC)  3.4  This over-the-top Sam Fuller film celebrates “the woman with a whip” (Barbara Stanwyck.)  I can only imagine how much fun the writers and director had imagining how much they’d be able to slip past the censors.

Songs for Drella   (US, 1990, CC)  3.4   Lou Reed and John Cale sing songs about Andy Warhol.  Worth checking out of you like the music.

The Blue Dahlia  (US, 1946, CC)  3.3  The pluses include the Raymond Chandler story (and witty dialogue) as well as the tandem of Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd.  Otherwise it’s a rather conventional, uninspired noir.

This Gun’s for Hire  (US, 1942, CC)  3.3  The dialogue is not as good as in the Blue Dahlia, but the visuals and drama are better.

By the Time It Gets Dark  (Thailand, 2016, CC)  3.3  This one is very hard to rate.  In a technical sense, the film is excellent.  But I didn’t really understand the plot, perhaps due to my unfamiliarity with Thai culture.  Most people would rate this either much higher or much lower.

Whiplash   (US,  1935, CC)  3.3   A hybrid crime film and romantic comedy featuring Myrna Loy and a young Spencer Tracy.  Most of it was just OK, but it ended strongly.

Manhattan Melodrama  (US, 1934, CC)  3.3  If your name is John Dillinger, you may want to miss this movie.  He was gunned down by the police while leaving a theatre showing this film in Chicago.  “Other than that Mr. Dillinger . . . “  For the rest of us, there’s Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy.  This “melodrama” is a bit more intelligent than it appears at first glance.  And as is often the case, Gable is irresistible.

The Glass Key  (US, 1942, CC) 3.3  A Dashiell Hammett noir starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.  The two stars are sort of weird in a hard to define way, despite being conventionally attractive.  Watch their eyes and smiles.

The Ring  (UK, 1927, CC)  3.3   In the first half of this early Hitchcock film the director already shows a knack for visual storytelling, but the second half is a rather predicable melodrama.

Dr. No.  (UK, 1962)  3.3  I now believe the first two Bond films were the best, partly because “less is more”, and partly because they starred a younger Sean Connery (who was the Clark Gable of the 1960s).  The climactic fight with Dr. No is mercifully brief, not one of those tiresomely extenuated fight scenes you get in the later Bonds.

The House on Telegraph Hill  (US, 1951, CC)  3.2  A fairly entertaining gothic noir.

Shopping For Fangs  (US, 1997, CC)  3.1    Maybe I’m grading on a scale, but I found this low budget Asian-American film to be surprisingly amusing.

Hail the Conquering Hero (US, 1943, CC)  3.1  Why did the quality of Hollywood films decline so much during WWII?  Does the patriotic spirit somehow inhibit great art?  In any case, this is a subpar film by the standards of Preston Sturges.

August 32nd on Earth  (Canada, 1998, CC)  3.0  Philippe Villeneuve’s debut film.  As usual, he gets good performances from his actors, but doesn’t seem to have a distinctive style.

Les Enfants terrible  (France, 1950, CC)  3.0  I just can’t warm up to films that focus relentlessly on unintelligent, spoiled, obnoxious characters.  Melville directed, so it does have its moments.

Deep Cover  (US, 1992, CC)  3.0  If you ignore the silly screenplay, it’s a fairly entertaining look at America at the peak of the crack cocaine hysteria.

Sunflower  (Italy, 1970, CC) 3.0 Given that the film is directed by De Sica and stars Sophia Loren, I’d call this a disappointment.  Much of the clumsy middle portion of the film takes place in Russia, and Soviet authorities probably interfered with the production.   Mastroianni was miscast as a weak intellectual.

Call Northside 777  (US, 1948, CC)  3.0  The thing I most dislike about Europe is the lack of drinking fountains.  I like to use them frequently, although toward the end of my career at Bentley I noticed that hardly anyone else used them.  It was weird seeing Jimmy Stewart taking a drink from what I grew up calling a “bubbler” (in Wisconsin).  I don’t ever recall seeing that in a film—perhaps because it doesn’t look as cool as sipping a cocktail or smoking a cigarette. 

Anyway, this film is pretty clunky, and only really comes alive during scenes with female characters.  Watching the scene with the lie detector gave me the feeling that the machine was new to film audiences, and needed to be explained in detail.  Even these mediocre noirs are interesting from a sociological perspective.  My understanding of the feel of ordinary working class life in America in the decades before 1960 comes from Hollywood films, mostly noirs.

Fallen Angel  (US, 1945, CC)  2.9  This film sort of wanders around aimlessly.  That’s not always a problem, but in this case the direction and acting is not good enough to overcome a meandering plot.

Better Luck Tomorrow  (US, 2003, CC)  2.9  Justin Lin failed to fulfill the promise shown in his first film (Shopping for Fangs.)  He needed a better screenplay.

Along for the Ride   (US, 2016, CC)  2.8  Dennis Hopper is an extremely interesting character.  Unfortunately, this documentary spends more time with his assistant, who’s an extremely uninteresting character.

Glorious   (Canada, 2008, CC)  2.8  This short Guy Madden film self-consciously tries too hard to be dreamlike, which paradoxically makes it feel less dreamlike.

Wanda   (US, 1970, CC)  2.7  Sight and Sound rates this among the top 50 films ever made, but it’s not even a good film—in any way that I can see.   

The Ghost of Peter Sellers  (US, 2018, CC)  2.7   The director (Peter Medak) is still depressed about the failure of a minor film he directed in the 1970s (starring Peter Sellers), but most viewers simply won’t care.

The Knack . . . And How To Get It  (UK, 1965, CC)  2.5  Movies that rely on novelty tend not to age well.  This Richard Lester film is now politically incorrect, but that’s the least of its problems.  Indeed it ends with an extended running joke on false accusations of rape, which ends up being the most lively part of the film.

The Keep  (US, 1983, CC)  2.5  The screenplay, acting and special effects are not quite bad enough to become a camp classic—just a mediocre Michael Mann movie.

Thirst/Fascination  (Korea (2013) and France (1979), CC)  2.4  I started watching Thirst because I’d seen Park’s new film at the theatre.  It was quite skillfully made, but there were so many repulsive images I give up after an hour and 20 minutes.  Then I switched to an old French vampire film.  It was much less skillfully directed, but not unpleasant to look at.  Unfortunately, Fascination is one of those 1970s soft-core “erotic” vampire films aimed at teenage boys.  (Although God knows what teenage boys watch now, in the age of the internet.)

Prisoner  (US, 2013)  1.5  This Denis Villeneuve film is a big disappointment—mean spirited, bigoted, cliché-ridden, dishonest, poorly acted.  After watching, I felt like I needed to take a shower.  It’s films like this that lead to helicopter parenting.


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52 Responses to “Films of 2022: Q4”

  1. Gravatar of John S John S
    4. January 2023 at 14:25

    Hmm, I really wish I knew more about the Sight & Sound voting system. (First past the post? Borda count? Something else?) The only thing I could find out from the BFI site is that each critic was asked to submit a top ten list.

    This seems way too short for making such a subjective list from tens (perhaps hundreds?) of thousands of candidates. (For comparison, MLB MVP voters choose 10 candidates from abt 1,000 active players, and NBA voters choose 5 from 400-500 players; obv, the criteria for sports MVPs are much more objective than those of “great films”).

    My gut says they should have used a two-stage process: approval voting (say each critic chooses 20 films, ranked equally) to get the final 100 candidates (the films appearing on the most ballots) and some type of ranked voting system to order the final list.

  2. Gravatar of John S John S
    4. January 2023 at 16:43

    After reading the individual film profiles, it appears that the S&S poll orders the list based on approval voting, which “lets each voter indicate support for one or more candidates. Final tallies show how many votes each candidate received, and the winner is the candidate with the most support.” (Wikipedia)

    So for example, in 2012 Vertigo won with 191 out of a possible 846 votes (22.6%), while in 2022 its share fell to 12.7% (208 of 1,639). (I couldn’t get the vote tally for Jeanne Dielman in 2022; in 2012, it got 34/846 votes, about 4%.)

    Like I said above, I think approval voting is fine for narrowing down the finalists, but I would prefer top 10 or 20 ranked-choice voting for the final ordering (or Ranked Choice Including Pairwise Elimination, if the BFI really wanted to nerd out).

    https://electowiki.org/wiki/Ranked_Choice_Including_Pairwise_Elimination

  3. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    4. January 2023 at 18:14

    You sure do watch a lot of T.V.

    I’ve read about 47 books over the least three months.
    Have you even read two? Three?

    This might be why your policy proposals are a bit wacky, and why you failed to see the vaccine hysteria while watching your beloved T.V. movies) and why you were absolutely hysterical about January 6th and Canadian Truckers despite the fact that the people were unarmed blue collar workers. Your time spent watching t.v. may also contribute to your belief that christians, and conservatives, and supreme court justices, and the constitution are all built upon “racism” and that it should be torn down and replaced with some incoherent philosophy predicated upon the “common good.”

    Hell, t.v. watching might lead one to say things like: you love marxist groups (BLM) or you love the idea of “packing the court” or removing the electoral college, simply because you didn’t get your way.

    Either you are philosophically illiterate, or you have an agenda.

    At first, I thought it was the latter. Now I think it’s the former: that is, your breadth of knowledge is not up to par…

    In your case I suggest fewer movies and more books.

  4. Gravatar of Philippe Bélanger Philippe Bélanger
    4. January 2023 at 18:44

    I recently watched Aftersun, which I found captivating. I think people who agree with Scott’s takes on movies will also like it.

  5. Gravatar of JMCSF JMCSF
    4. January 2023 at 20:33

    Did you see Glass Onion?

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. January 2023 at 22:51

    John, Well, I don’t take these polls very seriously.

    Edward, You said:

    “I’ve read about 47 books over the least three months.”

    Had they been colored yet?

    Philippe, Thanks for the tip.

    JMCSF, No.

  7. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    5. January 2023 at 05:00

    Scott,

    Walkabout and Beau Travail, yep, 2 of my all-time favourites.

    What you say about Beau Travail applies to Walkabout too though, magic over a background of incomprehension between cultures, and people. Walkabout especially was painfully emotional to me when I saw it as a teenager. When I re-watched it was still painful, though differently. And agreed on the poem. I actually wrote it down after seeing the film as a late teen, it felt so painful. For me it wasn’t about the impossible return to the spirit of youth but the impossible return to physical places I had lived at… ah well.

  8. Gravatar of Fcyde Fcyde
    5. January 2023 at 09:15

    For anyone on Letterboxd:

    https://letterboxd.com/fcyde/list/themoneyillusion-films-scott-sumner/

  9. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. January 2023 at 09:29

    mbka, For some reason I connected more with Walkabout–not sure why. I admired Beau Travail, but I loved Walkabout.

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. January 2023 at 09:29

    Thanks Fcyde. I appreciate it.

  11. Gravatar of Jonathan Miller Jonathan Miller
    5. January 2023 at 10:13

    The best thing I have watched in several years is a TV show, Andor.

  12. Gravatar of joe camel joe camel
    5. January 2023 at 17:31

    the real philistine sumner can’t see the merit of wanda. maybe he needs vermeer’s perspective box.

  13. Gravatar of Sid Sid
    5. January 2023 at 19:16

    It’s interesting to compare the Sight & Sound best films as rated by critics with best films as rated by directors. I much prefer the list made by the directors, and my litmus test is how they rank Tarkovsky (who, imho, is clearly the greatest of all time). You can see that critics rank Tarkovsky films much lower than directors do. And I think the reason is because directors understand how ridiculously difficult it is to achieve the kind of seeming aesthetic effortlessness that Tarkovsky exhibits. It is just utterly wild to me that Tarkovsky still remains underrated.

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. January 2023 at 22:42

    Sid, Yeah, Tarkovsky is a good litmus test of whether someone’s a serious film buff. Geoff Dyer said:

    “it’s not enough to say that Stalker is a great film – it is the reason cinema was invented.”

    And I agree the director’s poll is better, or at least closer to my view.

  15. Gravatar of Sid Sid
    5. January 2023 at 23:06

    I like that Geoff Dyer quote. On the topic of directors appreciating Tarkovsky more than most, one of my favorites is what Bergman said about Tarkovsky:

    “My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle.

    Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease.

    I felt encouraged and stimulated: someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how.

    Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”

  16. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    6. January 2023 at 03:45

    I am not a big movies watcher——-which is odd, since many mind says it “likes movies”. And I do. My youngest daughter lives in Brooklyn, and for some reason she enjoys seeing movies with me. (A normal father perhaps should be suspicious).

    In any event, we did see Decision to Leave about a month ago.. We like these small theaters that seat 50-100 people——and serve food and drinks with ridiculously comfortable seating. We did not blink our eyes at all (so to speak) till the end——when we looked at each other and said “what was that about”? Of course it was a love story —-that much was obvious. And she watches a good number of Korean movies——-and I am okay at following details. In the end we liked it—-because we invented various motivations of the characters, few of which we felt were on target.

    We will watch more of these Korean films.

    Edward says he reads about a book every 2 days. I guess that plausible. But he does not mention what kind of books—-novels? Books like “A Drunkard’s Walk”? And that matters.

    For example, I have read, over the years , 95% +of the novels written by Elmore Leonard, John Sandford, John Connolly, Michael Connolly, Nelson DeMille, Lee Child, John MacDonald, Donald Westlake. Charlie Huston, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Sport’s biographies, Lawrence Block, Dean Koontz, Kurt Vonnegut, Dostoyevsky, and many more. But I am getting tired of novels——-so I have started to move along to other things.

    What I have noticed is how fast one can read novels if one is familiar with the author. Really fast. That’s because you are not technically “reading” but projecting——sometimes you need to back. I read everything in bed. Maybe 3 -4 hours a night.

    Still, 47 books is quite a bit ——so I tend to be suspicious of that number. In fact, if true, I would love to have him name 10.

  17. Gravatar of Sonam Sharma Sonam Sharma
    6. January 2023 at 04:26

    This is really awesome!

  18. Gravatar of John S John S
    6. January 2023 at 08:30

    One big problem with the S&S “critics” poll is that many of its voters aren’t critics — according to the BFI site, the 2022 voters included “1,639 participating critics, programmers, curators, archivists and academics.”

    I have no idea what the criteria are for selecting voters; A.O. Scott, one of the two critics at the NY Times, has never been asked to vote, while his colleague, Mahnola Dargis, voted in the 2012 poll. Now I know next to nothing about AO Scott, I rarely read his reviews, and when I do I often disagree. But I do know that he co-authored a guide to the 1,000 most important films (w/Dargis), and as much as everyone likes to shit on the NYT, it’s still the freaking NY Times, so how can someone with Scott’s background justifiably be excluded?

    Also, the voting system is completely screwy; one appearance on a ballot = one vote, and the list is ordered by total votes. So in 2012, the cutoff for making the top 100 was 17 votes, or just 2% of the voters. Casablanca barely made the cut (19 votes, 84th place), but if the mix of voters had been slightly different, it would have fallen off. (And by this system’s logic, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller — 2 votes each — are clearly greater cinematic achievements than Das Boot or The Bridge on the River Kwai with 1 vote each.)

    Now one could say that the list doesn’t matter, and I certainly have never based any viewing decision on the S&S poll. But at the same time I think there’s some value in creating a representative canon for future cinephiles to allow them to widely sample the best films without having to wade through the 700,000+ films on Letterboxd.

    Some might say that the order doesn’t matter, and anyway Vertigo and Citizen Kane are right near the top. But if that’s the case, why order the list at all? It gives it a false sense of authority, as if it were compiled like the bible through church councils, when in reality it’s a crapshoot based on who has connections to the BFI.

    I wonder if the voting for other prestigious honors (Nobels, Pulitzers, Fields, etc) is just as haphazard and illogical. My priors have certainly shifted toward “yes”.

  19. Gravatar of Friday assorted links – Marginal REVOLUTION Friday assorted links - Marginal REVOLUTION
    6. January 2023 at 08:58

    […] 1. More Scott Sumner movie reviews. […]

  20. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. January 2023 at 09:52

    Sid, Nice story.

    Micheal, LOL, just look at Edward’s idiotic comments. What sort of books do you think a man like that would read?

    John, You asked:

    “I wonder if the voting for other prestigious honors (Nobels, Pulitzers, Fields, etc) is just as haphazard and illogical.”

    Look at who did (and didn’t) win the Literature Prize during the 20th century. That will answer your question. The Peace Prize was often just as bad.

  21. Gravatar of Nadav M Nadav M
    6. January 2023 at 14:23

    In my opinion, Dr. No is too scruffy to be a Top 2 Bond film: too many missed opportunities for the screenplay to build authentic suspense, too many scenes in which the actors emphasize the wrong words or speak too fast, too many gratuitous assassination attempts on Bond…

    That said, you’re right that “less is more” (it’s amazing what production designer Ken Adam was able to create on a shoestring budget), and you’re right to point out what you’re not supposed to point out: that Sean Connery kind of sort of ruined everything by allowing himself to get so out of shape in just five years (from Dr. No to You Only Live Twice).

    FWIW I think the conventional wisdom is correct: Goldfinger is the best Bond film, followed by From Russia with Love (BTW I’m surprised you don’t like Goldfinger more given that it takes place in your favorite country, Switzerland).

  22. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    6. January 2023 at 14:34

    I watched Jeanne Dielman earlier this week. “Day Night Day Night” managed to be a good movie while also being boring, but Dielman is just boring. I watched the critically derided Bardo right after it, and the contrast with Dielman made the latter seem better by comparison (though it’s still too long). The Headless Woman is easily better than Dielman, there is at least an inciting incident! I plan on watching Beau Travail next week, and perhaps my lower opinion of Dielman predicts I’ll like that more than you 🙂

    For someone who watches as many movies as you, I’m a little surprised Thirst could be too much. But then I suppose horror is less up your alley. I watched that alongside two other adaptations of Therese Raquin, so the vampirism added something to make it stand out (aside from also having a different setting).

  23. Gravatar of Lrg Lrg
    6. January 2023 at 15:44

    My favorite film of the year, and one that happened to jump into my favorite films of all time was Banshees of Inesherin. Beautiful framing and use of light. A compelling evolution of character, top notch acting, and, one of the keys for me, it’s been impossible to stop thinking about. Very much not for everyone, on my first watch I thought it was generally just a dark and depressing movie, the second watch I softened a lot on several characters and found a lot more humor. My only complaint was the (brief) scenes of gore.

  24. Gravatar of AyAyRon AyAyRon
    6. January 2023 at 15:54

    Is it possible Jean Dielman and Wanda is all part of this new cultural push to recognize (or boost) Women/POC/Marginalized Group/etc. in these kinds of polls? Vs. Just being more women voters as part of S&S? Regardless, I’d rather watch the majesty of the Discovery One or the genius shooting effects of Orson Welles over 3 hours of watching wifey do house chores.

  25. Gravatar of John S John S
    6. January 2023 at 17:00

    While I’m sure there have been many egregious winners and snubs, I always try to focus on the process rather than the results. And from some quick googling, it doesn’t look very good for the Nobel selection process.

    For example, for the econ prize, the entire nomination process is managed by the 6-person Econ Prize Committee, who are nearly always Swedes and don’t have to be economists (the 2018 committee included a philosopher). A group of 250-350 initial candidates are winnowed down to a final candidate list which is discussed at just two meetings of the Econ section of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences before the final decision is made by Royal Academy of Sciences through a one round majority vote.

    Considering that this is a **world-renowned** prize, does it make sense to give this much control to a tiny group in a fairly small European country? (Perhaps unsurprisingly, 15% of Lit winners have been Scandinavian.) And how much can we trust the results? There’s no transparency; the nomination documents are sealed for 50 years. And selecting a single winner out of 300 candidates over a wide range of research seems like a dicey proposition. (Even in the NBA, with only abt 10 legit candidates/year and far more objective criteria, egregious mistakes still happen, e.g. Derrick Rose over Lebron and Dwight.)

    In spite of all this, there’s this unspoken rule that we’re supposed to speak in hushed tones about **Nobel Prize-winning** so-and-so, as if they’re demigods who occasionally bestow their wisdom upon the benighted mass of humanity. It’s quite comical.

    Re: the peace prize — I always thought this was a silly category, but for goodness’ sake, if it must exist, would they at least not base it on current events? I’m surprised they didn’t award a joint prize to Stalin and Hitler for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

    Some interesting tidbits I learned:

    – The Nobel prize money (abt 950,000) dwarfs the Pulitzer and Fields prizes (abt $15,000 each).

    – The prize for the Abel Prize (a yearly math award) is about $750,000. Interesting that I never heard of it until today.

  26. Gravatar of Sandman Sandman
    6. January 2023 at 17:03

    Always enjoy your comments on film. I watched Jeanne Dielman a couple weeks back to see what the fuss was about. I found it to be entrancing, the tedium and repetition becoming hypnotic, although the abrupt ending broke the spell for me (which was the point, I know). JD most reminded me of Peter Jackson’s Get Back, with its unhurried eavesdropping on the mundanity of genius. And the ending of Get Back, in contrast, was ecstatic.
    Just got Decalog in the mail today so I’ve got ten hours of fun upcoming.

  27. Gravatar of steve steve
    6. January 2023 at 18:48

    Have you ever done or would consider rating TV movies? I think some of them are surprisingly good, but maybe that surprises me since most are mediocre.

    Steve

  28. Gravatar of Bartq Bartq
    6. January 2023 at 21:30

    Thanks! I’ve heard Tar rewards a second viewing: more details come together (like characters’ names are anagrams). I plan to rewatch Decision to Leave too, cause I was drowsy and misssed some details people mention.

    I’ve stumbled on a podcast with a guy who voted for S&S list (called Extended Clip for some reason). Hosts admit that voting pool was extended this time, and voters wanted indeed to update the Canon bringing more female authors etc. Nobody wanted to vote for guys like Polansky, Tarantino or D.W. Griffith. Spanish language movies didn’t get much represantation too, because there’s no push in that direction.

  29. Gravatar of Tom M Tom M
    7. January 2023 at 04:57

    Scott, I listened to the interview, and am pleased that you got to viewing Hara-kiri. I have often referred to it, and Dryer’s Ordet, as “perfect films”. As in not a wrong note, not a moment better left out. Kwaidan is loads of fun also, and yes, the sound design! I seem to recall hearing that Kobayashi was a painter before becoming a director, and that he himself painted the sets for Kwaidan. Both Vive L’Amour and Beau Travail have memorable closing scenes: the sobbing woman in the former, and in the latter a dancing man.

  30. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. January 2023 at 08:59

    Nadav, From Russia With Love is my favorite; Goldfinger gets a bit too over-the-top in the final segments.

    TGGP, Dielman is certainly boring. Whether it is “just boring” is a tougher question.

    Lrg, Thanks for the tip.

    Sandman, Decalog is great–even better than Dielman.

    Steve, I love Twin Peaks. However I find most of “quality TV” to be a bit overrated. But Never Call Saul did have its moments. It seems like most quality TV is made by skilled craftsmen, not artists.

    Bartq, Alas, everything is becoming woke.

    Tom, You said:

    “Both Vive L’Amour and Beau Travail have memorable closing scenes”

    I may have underrated both. I have my blind spots. Tsai Ming-liang is a bit more difficult for me to understand than the other two great Taiwanese directors.

    It’s like with painting. I get color and light better than drawing.

  31. Gravatar of jack simpson jack simpson
    7. January 2023 at 16:48

    Any one knows of and mentions the name “Bela Tarr” has my admiration 🙂

  32. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    7. January 2023 at 18:39

    Better Call Saul was the last TV show I looked forward to watching. I regard Vince Gilligan more highly than plenty of lauded “auteur” directors (particularly as he also directed the pilot for Breaking Bad and established the style that would be used)… but on the other hand, he never gave Kerry Condon anything worthwhile to do on that show nor did he write dialogue as good as what’s in Banshees. On the other other hand, Martin McDonagh also made Seven Psychopaths 🙂

  33. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. January 2023 at 20:07

    Jack, What serious movie buff hasn’t heard of Bela Tarr?

    TGGF, It started out as a pretty good black comedy, but then started to take itself a bit too seriously. But it’s certainly better than 98% of what’s on TV.

  34. Gravatar of Steve Sailer Steve Sailer
    7. January 2023 at 22:08

    “Why did the quality of Hollywood films decline so much during WWII? Does the patriotic spirit somehow inhibit great art?”

    In her famous / infamous essay on “Citizen Kane” offering more praise to screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz than to director Orson Welles, Pauline Kael complained at length about WWII screenwriting relative to 1930s writing by the likes of Mank. She blamed the Popular Front giving Communists too much influence (although that seems unlikely to apply to Preston Sturges).

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1971/02/20/raising-kane-i

  35. Gravatar of John S John S
    8. January 2023 at 05:36

    TGGP,

    Agree that Condon was wasted. (Not sure why she took the role; maybe she wanted to practice her US accent?)

    Vince says that Peter Gould deserves as much writing/directing credit as he does for Saul, and I would extend that to the whole writing team (Schnauz et al). While the dialogue might not be A+, it still has some great touches (Lalo saying Crazy Eight’s name in Spanish during poker; Kim asking for Ferris Bueller and Jimmy seamlessly replying “Speaking…”).

    The real genius of the writing was surmounting the highest degree of difficulty a TV series has ever faced: how to write a story within the constraints of the “history” of Breaking Bad while maintaining tension, even though the audience knows the fates of most of the characters. And in this respect, it surpassed all expectations.

    If you watched it week to week as it aired, you may want to try a rewatch sometime; it works very well as a binge. While rewatching, I realized some amazing details in Seasons 4 & 6 that made my head explode in awe at the skill of the writing.

    Scott,

    I know it’s just your opinion, but I think it’s a bit unfair to say that BCS took itself too seriously. I’d say one has to judge it based on its creators’ intentions. When the show was first announced, most critics and fans had no idea how a supporting character like Saul could carry a show and many predicted that it would indeed be a short-lived comedy.

    But the creators have stated since that it was always their intention to tell the story of how Saul came to be such a detestable, immoral character in Breaking Bad, and I don’t see how that could have been done credibly without the darker turn of BCS Seasons 4-6. Those events elevate what would have been an amusing spin-off into, in conjunction with Breaking Bad, what I think is the best dramatic TV series ever. (To be fair, I haven’t seen Twin Peaks Season 3; I don’t enjoy gore, and from what I read, it’s Lynch at his bleakest.)

    Also, you said in the BCS thread on EconLog that you didn’t pay much attention to the character of Kim. Fair enough, but I found deciphering Kim’s motives to be one the great pleasures of the show. Her actions are often unexpected, but they always make sense in the context of what the show has given us; the writers are very careful not to play any underhanded tricks. For example, although it wasn’t yet fully formed, I’d say the seeds of Kim’s arc were evident in her first scene with Jimmy when she cleans up his garbage can mess. Rhea Seahorn says she immediately intuited that Kim was raised by an addict or alcoholic (Seahorn’s own father died of alcoholism when she was a teenager.)

    Also, I think the “Something Stupid” split-screen montage in Season 4 and the opening sequence of Season 6 (with the “Wine and Roses” musical tie-in) were as lovely and artistic as anything you’d find in 99% of films.

  36. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. January 2023 at 08:58

    John, This is obviously very subjective, but I didn’t find Jimmy and Kim to be at all convincing as real people. They seemed to go through total personality transplants every few episodes. That’s fine for a black comedy, which is why I liked the early seasons best.

    I do understand that the later seasons were more ambitious in an artistic sense, and they were made by highly skilled directors. But I could never take it seriously as drama, at least for more than short stretches of time.

    Again, I’m certainly not criticizing the show; it’s better than 98% of TV, and I did get through all 6 seasons.

    BTW, I’m probably one of the few viewers that has not seen Breaking Bad, so I had no preconceptions about how things would play out.

  37. Gravatar of John S John S
    8. January 2023 at 09:38

    “I didn’t find Jimmy and Kim to be at all convincing as real people.”

    I get it, people will often have very different gut reactions to various foods, music, films. Personally I completely bought into both characters because I recognized many of their traits and desires in myself and people I know (in far more muted forms, of course).

    I’d say Kim’s basic drive is what she stated in her first S&C interview (“more”), while Jimmy has internalized the Prisoner’s Dilemma so deeply that he spends all his effort trying, yet often failing, to avoid the Sucker’s Payoff (it’s a nice touch that his piece of shit car is a Suzuki “Esteem”). To me they’re not so different from Ripley or Barry.

    Check out this quick video analysis of an episode from Season 4. Regardless of what you think about the dramatic elements of the show, I think you’ll agree that there’s a ton of interesting stuff going on under the hood. (Lots of stuff about color that I think you’ll enjoy.)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttG4aahdN4k

  38. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. January 2023 at 15:05

    John, Interesting video. All I can say is that I’ve never met anyone at all like Jimmy and Kim. I’ve met people who act they way they act in this or that episode, but not anyone who changes so dramatically from one period to the next. (Which is fine for an entertaining TV series, I just don’t take it seriously as drama.)

    No need to worry about Twin Peaks being gory, I’d say it’s less gory than NCS.

  39. Gravatar of John S John S
    10. January 2023 at 08:25

    Ok, this is really getting into the weeds, but I never saw either character have anything close to a “personality transplant.” Yes, both sometimes make choices that seem perplexing, but upon reflection they don’t contradict the characters’ core motivations or the events the audience has been shown.

    (**SPOILER ALERT** for those who haven’t seen Better Call Saul)

    Perhaps you’re thinking of something like when Jimmy hears Howard’s “confession” that he caused Chuck to commit suicide by pushing him out of the firm (due to Chuck’s insurance rates having gone up). Jimmy pauses for a moment and tells Howard, “Well, that’s your cross to bear.” He then gets up, feeds his fish, and asks if anyone wants coffee.

    At first, this sudden mood change might seem like a cheap attempt at black humor. However, the writers are too careful to cheat in such a lazy way.

    We have to consider what happened that last time Chuck and Jimmy met: after Kim’s car crash, Jimmy realized that, like it or not, Chuck is the only family he has left and that he can’t go on hating him forever. So he makes a good faith attempt to apologize for what he’s done and promise not to relapse into Slipping Jimmy.

    This is the “last exit” for Jimmy to get back on the straight and narrow. But Chuck rebuffs this offer in two ways:

    1. He tells Jimmy that he can’t change; better to embrace his inner scumbag.
    2. He also says that Jimmy never mattered to him, in effect disowning their entire relationship as brothers.

    Both charges are hurtful. The first goes back to Season 1, when Jimmy tries his level, albeit imperfect, best to play it straight (passing the bar, building the Sandpiper case) only to have Chuck go behind his back twice to sabotage his chances to join HHM.

    But the second charge hurts more. Even when the brothers were retaliating like Spy vs. Spy (or Laurel & Hardy’s “Big Business”), Jimmy couldn’t ever fully disown Chuck (notice how he says “You’ll destroy our family over this?” while he breaks the secret tape recording in Season 2). Jimmy is truly stunned, and he walks out without a word.

    Fast forward to the aftermath of the house fire. The cause of the fire is unknown, but Jimmy suspects it was related in some way to a relapse of Chuck’s electrophobia. He doesn’t know how to process it; he doesn’t cry, he just remains in a daze until the funeral.

    Then Howard provides the information that the insurance rate increase caused a showdown at HHM which Howard won, causing Chuck to leave the firm. We can see Jimmy instantly do the math; Chuck did commit suicide, and logically Jimmy must realize that he is at least partially responsible for Chuck’s death (since he divulged Chuck’s in-court breakdown to the insurance company).

    Here Jimmy faces a choice. The first is to accept that responsibility.

    Well we as the audience already know that Jimmy doesn’t have nearly enough emotional maturity to do that.

    So that leaves a second option, which Howard is waving in front of Jimmy like a juicy steak in front of a coyote. Jimmy has a golden opportunity pin the blame on Howard and suppress his own guilt (which he can also justify by telling himself that Chuck deserved what he got for rejecting Jimmy’s attempted reconciliation).

    This is a pretty clear choice for Slipping Jimmy.

    However, this is where the writers display their genius. (Despite watching the series **three times**, I didn’t catch the following until seeing a comment on YouTube.) Twice in Season 4 (once while impersonating the Cajun preacher and the other time during the opening ceremony for Chuck’s reading room), Jimmy improvises stories about people being rescued from a fire by someone jumping through the flames.

    Jimmy’s subconscious is telling us that, despite his outward indifference, he truly wishes he had been able to save Chuck. Jimmy finally resolves this tension and accepts his guilt for Chuck’s death during his confession in the series finale.

    Anyway, that’s how I see it. What other scenes in particular made you feel like you witnessed a “personality transplant”?

    Re: Twin Peaks 3 — good to know, I may watch it in the future. Lately I’ve been more into books and podcasts than visual media.

    Did you ever watch the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror? I thought it was the best of the series (it’s basically a short film). It’s hard for me to think of another screenplay which didn’t seem to have even one word of excess dialogue.

  40. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    10. January 2023 at 09:10

    John, I don’t recall the names of the Black Mirror episodes I watched.

    To me, Jimmy and Kim seem sincerely concerned about other people at certain times, and at other times act like sociopaths whose only goal in life is to gleefully scam others for their personal benefit. There are too many examples to write them off as a fluke.

    I’m not sure how the screenwriters wanted us to view Chuck, but I hope to God we were not supposed to assume that Chuck was the cause of Jimmy’s problems. The show presents Jimmy as someone almost hardwired to be a con man. He would have been a disaster in HHM. A ticking time bomb. Yes, Chuck is an arrogant prick who handled things poorly, but he wasn’t the core problem in Jimmy’s life. Jimmy’s problem was Jimmy.

  41. Gravatar of John S John S
    11. January 2023 at 06:13

    “I’m not sure how the screenwriters wanted us to view Chuck, but I hope to God we were not supposed to assume that Chuck was the cause of Jimmy’s problems.”

    I feel like this is narrowing the scope of the show to an uninteresting degree. The writers wanted us to view Chuck as a complex, flawed, and tragic character. (Ditto for Jimmy and Kim.) The great virtue of the show is that it gives no simple or definitive answers.

    What makes Jimmy do what he does? What makes anyone do the things they do? Taking the political and economic systems in which one lives as being given, I can think of 3 broad categories:

    1. One’s genetic predispositions
    2. One’s experiences
    3. One’s philosophy of life

    You mentioned in your EconLog post that Jimmy needs a better philosophy (rules utilitarianism instead of crude utilitarianism). That’s true. But I would argue that people like you — those who explicitly refine their life philosophy through reading and thinking and who strive to live according to a set of abstract principles — are quite rare. Most people passively absorb the dominant values of society (e.g. “be kind to others”) which either stick or don’t stick based on one’s predispositions (naturally nice people do this easily; bullies, on the playground or in the workplace, do not).

    Further changes in one’s philosophy of life seem to arise in an ad hoc manner based on reactions to one’s experiences. In some cases, this can take the form of self-reflection, but I think usually it works as a kind of operant conditioning: this makes me feel good, this doesn’t; I went skiing and it was great, so I’ll go again next year; I bullied the wrong kid and he beat the crap out of me, so I’ll choose a weaker victim next time (or perhaps, bullying isn’t a good default mode of interaction, so let’s try fairness). In either case, most people never take a more systematic approach to modifying their philosophy of life.

    Since one’s innate tendencies are very difficult, if not impossible, to change, and since most people do not engage in systematic reflection, the show focuses on experiences and reactions to experiences as the key drivers of changes in the characters’ behavior and philosophical outlooks. (Naturally, these also play the best on-screen.) However, the show also features an interesting interplay between experiences and innate tendencies.

    So the question “Who’s bad, Jimmy or Chuck?” doesn’t really interest me. Clearly, Jimmy is bad, and the Saul Goodman of Breaking Bad (who casually suggests prison shanking as a catch-all solution) is much worse. What I do find interesting is tracing, step by step, what leads him (and Kim) down this journey.

    What is your reaction to the above? I think that would greatly clarify the differences between our opinions of the show.

  42. Gravatar of John S John S
    12. January 2023 at 10:10

    Some other thoughts:

    “He would have been a disaster in HHM. A ticking time bomb.”

    Definitely, I wasn’t suggesting otherwise. I was only trying to explain how Jimmy’s actions are consistent with his character as portrayed.

    Let’s look at Jimmy at the beginning, before the skateboard twins, the Hamlin billboard, and any of the other scams. He has turned his life around for the previous 5-10 years, working hard in the mailroom and staying straight (Kim doesn’t learn about his scamming until Season 2). He’s even put himself through law school, passed the bar, and in spite of (what he thinks is Hamlin’s) rejection at HHM, he’s scraping by as a public defender.

    On top of this, he has taken care of his brother for the previous year, getting his groceries, ice, gas, and even his favorite newspaper (the FT). He’s done everything he possibly could to fulfill Chuck’s stipulation that he stay out of trouble since Chuck got him out of jail in Chicago.

    At this point, however, Chuck does something very bad. He asks Jimmy to remove his own name “McGill” from the matchbooks Jimmy has had printed up to advertise his services. (Chuck blames this on Howard, but based on what we later learn, we can assume that Chuck is deeply ashamed to be associated with Jimmy.) It’s a small betrayal, but given how much Jimmy has done, that makes it all the more infuriating.

    [Wow, typing this out, I finally get it: matchbook, as in “a single match can start a forest fire.” Oh my god, this show keeps yielding small treasures.]

    Jimmy must now be wondering if it will ever be possible to regain Chuck’s trust. Must he atone for the rest of his life? So, like a recovering drunk, he starts dipping back into the bottle. (A recurring theme is portraying scamming as an addiction.)

    A quick detour on Jimmy’s motivations. Crude utilitarianism is important, as you noted, but I think it’s tertiary. More important is the high Jimmy gets from scamming. But his most fatal flaw is his compulsion to see every interaction through the lens of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

    Think about Jimmy’s “origin story”, shown in flashback: he’s about 12 working in his parents’ store. A man comes in with a sob story about needing money to buy gas for his family; Jimmy’s dad, always too trusting, lends the money, which is promptly spent on cigarettes. Then Jimmy hears the grifter’s speech on “wolves and sheep”, after which Jimmy decides to steal cash from the till.

    From this point until he goes to jail the first time, Jimmy’s philosophy of life is to avoid being the sheep (sheep die, like his father did after going bankrupt), and if someone ever gets the best of you, pay them back with interest. (Even Better Call Saul’s “original sin” — the infamous Chicago sunroof — was done to even the score with someone who slept with his then-wife.) We can see this in Jimmy’s payback for the matchbook incident, where he literally puts his response on a billboard.

    Back to Season 1, in which Jimmy weighs two dueling philosophies of life: “wolves and sheep” vs going straight. Experience has taught him that wolves and sheep lands you in jail, but his biggest “straight” win — the Sandpiper case — only results in the deepest betrayal of his life. The straight life isn’t panning out as he expected, but now that he’s got knowledge of the law on his side, maybe he can go back to being a wolf….

    (Of course, a reasonable man would forget the matchbook incident and go on with his life. But Jimmy isn’t a reasonable man, and if he was, there wouldn’t be a show.)

    Another note on the Prisoner’s Dilemma — in Axelrod’s original tournament, the winner was Tit-for-Tat (kindness for kindness, slight for slight). But it turns out that there’s an even better strategy: Tit-for-Tat with forgiveness, which stops the endless cycles of retribution that pure Tit-for-Tat can generate.

  43. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. January 2023 at 10:36

    John, Unfortunately, I don’t have much to say that you would find useful. Whether someone feels a character in fiction is plausible is highly subjective, based on each person’s life experience.

    I understand that people can change due to circumstance, but I didn’t find the way that Jimmy changed to be very plausible. And Kim seemed even less plausible to me. I’ve never met anyone like Kim, perhaps that’s my problem. I’ve known people who spent a lot of time helping the poor, and I’ve known scammers. But I’ve never known anyone who did both at the same time.

  44. Gravatar of John S John S
    12. January 2023 at 14:24

    Actually, I found your critiques of the show to be very useful in that they gave me an excuse to think through the show again and extract some new insights (and I never would have picked up on the matchbook reference otherwise, for which I am very grateful).

    I also enjoyed thinking about what factors motivate people to act as they do. I realize I’m not breaking any new ground here, but I had only seen it categorized as nature vs. nurture. While “philosophy of life” could technically be lumped under experiences, I think there’s a meaningful distinction between learning from hard knocks and more systematic reflection.

    This is kind of a weird realization. If we really are just the sum of our genetics and our experiences (which are largely random or very influenced by genetics — nerds gravitating to chess, jocks to sports, extroverts to drama), and relatively few people actively construct their own philosophy, then are moral judgements just pronouncements on how well people adhere to their inchoate, hand-me-down philosophies?

    Side note on BCS: the show just got completely snubbed at the Golden Globes, making it something like 0-50 at major award shows (Globes, SAG, Emmys). Just another example of how much of a joke award voting is. (On the bright side, Kevin Costner did win Best Actor for Yellowstone, so chalk one up for Slipping Jimmy.)

  45. Gravatar of John S John S
    12. January 2023 at 14:39

    Thoughts on Kim (I know they won’t change your mind, but I think they’re interesting):

    I agree that Kim’s arc was not done quite as well as Jimmy’s. This was likely due to the fact that the writers had to get the story to its destination (the intersection of the cartel and Saul storylines), and Kim’s development had to fit with that. However, I think the writers laid the stepping stones as well as they could have, and I don’t feel like they cheated.

    Kim’s first scam with Jimmy is on the douchebro stockbroker in the bar (this is a cameo by “Ken Wins” from Breaking Bad, so the fans were happy to see him get his comeuppance). We can see on her face how uncomfortable she is when Jimmy starts his schtick, but she trusts Jimmy and she’s really curious about what the hell he’s up to. Jimmy puts her on the spot by introducing her as his sister; she’s taken aback, but she steps up to the plate with “Giselle St. Claire.” She at least wants to see where this is going.

    During the evening, Kim realizes that she actually enjoys this kind of deception (this is like Lee Remick realizing she has a taste for alcohol in Wine and Roses). She’s never had as intense an experience as this, which we can vividly see on her face as they run away, and this causes Kim and Jimmy’s relationship to change from friendly to sexual.

    I don’t think this scam contradicts with Kim’s desire to help people because Kim, like her hero Atticus Finch, consistently focuses on helping the downtrodden (such as Huell, who is facing harsher charges than she feels are warranted, and Acker, who’s being kicked off his land). She’s happy to stiff a rich jerk like Ken for a few hundred bucks. (She does the same to another slimeball in a restaurant who kisses his wife goodbye and then immediately hits on Kim; Jimmy and Kim don’t actually hurt him, they just get him to write a check for a fake company which they don’t cash.)

    The most interesting scam Kim pulls is on one of her own PD clients, a young man with a wife and child facing a robbery charge. She wants him to take a deal for 6 months, while he wants to risk going to trial (and probably getting years in prison). She ultimately tricks him into taking the deal by hinting that there is new evidence, but she doesn’t feel good about it afterwards, even though it actually was the best thing for him.

    Kim’s fatal flaw is wanting “more” (as she stated in the Schweikart and Cokely interview). In Season 4 she seems to have it all: being head of banking at S&C while also being free to devote lots of time and resources to PD cases. The Mesa Verde expansion is also proceeding rapidly. Yet Kim doesn’t feel nearly as fulfilled as she expected. What’s missing?

    Excitement. Since Jimmy is serving his suspension, they don’t dare engage in anything shady (though they do go out once to fantasize about it). But without the high of scamming, she and Jimmy drift apart into a monotonous routine as shown in the Something Stupid montage. (There’s also a strong hint that Kim’s attraction to scamming is inherited from her mother, who is shown to live an irresponsible, thrill-seeking life that Kim has spent her whole life guarding against.)

    Which leads to the Huell letter writing scam near the end of Season 4 (I won’t bore you with the details, but the writers did a great job of planting the seeds for why she did it). After she’s seen it go through, the sexual spark with Jimmy is reignited, and now she feels like she really does have it all.

    What follows next is what I think is Kim’s only scam which is done mostly for pure excitement (not to take someone down a peg, not to help someone): the bank blueprint switch. However, I don’t think this one is out of character either because 1) She’s doing it to prolong the high she’s on; 2) It’s also a way to solidify her relationship with Jimmy (which had been on the rocks after the S&C party); and 3) Nobody gets hurt (it’s done to get around a technicality).

    Even the Howard scam is plausibly set up in my opinion because she’s had multiple run-ins with him, and her ultimate goal is to speed up the Sandpiper settlement so she can use the money to set up a high-quality pro bono office to help the defendants on the PD overflow list.

    So like I said earlier, I understand that people have different reactions to how realistic a character feels. I actually felt a bit like you during my first viewing; it was difficult to understand why Kim was making certain decisions. But after watching it more and thinking, those parts made more sense, and that was honestly the most enjoyable aspect of the show for me (it felt like Legos snapping in place in my mind as I put it together).

    As the saying goes: YMMV.

  46. Gravatar of John S John S
    12. January 2023 at 15:18

    Another quick thought (I genuinely don’t mean for this to come off in an “I’m right/you’re wrong” type of way, I just thought it was interesting):

    I don’t think Kim is ever portrayed as a sociopath (due to the details laid out above), but your comment wondering about compassionate and sociopathic tendencies being contained in the same person got me thinking.

    The first person who came to mind (perhaps surprisingly) is Michael Jordan. Jordan, as all celebrities do, engages in a lot of charity work, much of which is done for publicity. However, in the 90s book Hang Time by Chicago journalist Bob Greene, Michael is shown to visit the same street corner, about once a month, to check in with the same group of kids and see how they’re doing. He says he never brings any reporters (except Greene during the book) or cameras, he just genuinely likes seeing them. (I believe it; I don’t think this is an elaborate con job to make people like MJ.) I even think Jordan really enjoys his charity work.

    However, there are so many bad stories about Jordan acting out in public that I think it’s highly likely that he acts in tyrannical, perhaps psychopathic, ways in other areas of his life: berating blackjack dealers, flipping out at people for wearing Reeboks at his charity events, truly disgusting behavior in VIP sections at nightclubs.

    A petty detail, confirmed by his personal staff: Jordan loves Westerns (since his father James also loved them). So on his private plane Jordan commandeers the main screen and audio system to watch the same Westerns over and over, while his staff use Ambien or their own headphones and laptops to get through the flight. Yes, it’s his plane, and his employees can quit, but wow what an incredible boor. I can only surmise that his fame and wealth have made it impossible for anyone to say no to him, which has allowed him to develop this way.

    The only other example I can think of is Ellen DeGeneres, who was outed for pretty terrible staff abuse a couple of years ago but was heavily involved in charity work (and seemed to really enjoy it, but who knows). Anyway, some people might be able to compartmentalize more than we can imagine.

  47. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. January 2023 at 08:39

    John, The awards shows have always been a joke—it’s a mistake to take them seriously. How many foreign language films have won best picture at the Academy Awards?

    Not buying the MJ comparison. Sure, he’s a mixture of good and bad, like all of us. But AFAIK nothing in his life is close to Kim giving up her lucrative career to help the poor.

    These things cannot be put into words, at least by me. I’m told that Hamlet is an uncannily human character, but I don’t have enough grasp of great literature to know exactly why. No doubt the effect is achieved through some very subtle means. I take it on faith that better minds see things about Hamlet that are beyond my comprehension. Perhaps I miss something about Kim and Jimmy, or maybe I see revealing flaws that others don’t care about. I don’t know. One’s sixth sense about a person is hard to put into words.

    During the first season, I really enjoyed the black comedy with characters like the baseball card collecting drug dealer and the wholesome family that extorted money from the state. But these were obviously not real people, they were cartoonish figures. Then when the series started getting less funny and seemed to take itself seriously, I really didn’t know what to make of it. Surely we aren’t supposed to view these as real people? Well, they were more real than the clowns in the opening season, but not real enough for serious drama. At least that was my view.
    When the family of embezzlers came back late in the series, they were no longer very funny.

    There was still enough humor and fancy camera tricks to keep me watching, but it seemed less inspired.

    I think the series can be defended as the film equivalent of mannerist painting. The mannerists (mid-1500s) were not trying to be realistic, they distorted aspects of reality to create strange and unsettling effects. Similarly, BCS often distorts reality to create an interesting effect. BTW, I’d also consider Twin Peaks to be in the mannerist style. But BCS doesn’t go all in, it straddles the line between mannerist masterpiece and “quality TV drama”. As if it’s not sure what it’s trying to be.

    BTW, another good thing about BCS is its behind the scenes look at the legal profession. Even fiction has an element of truth.

  48. Gravatar of John S John S
    15. January 2023 at 08:45

    “it’s a mistake to take [award shows] seriously”

    Oh I don’t; entertainment awards have been a punchline forever (cf. the Seinfeld episode on The English Patient), and I’ve viscerally opposed all forms of “credentialism” since reading Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society.

    Still, these awards lead to real-world benefits, so seeing the hard work of the BCS cast and crew go completely unrecognized feels like a new low. (On a more serious note, I now feel that the Nobel Prizes are not only flawed but actually pernicious to the conduct of science. Awards can be fun, but they should all be taken less seriously, in my view.)

    https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/10/the-absurdity-of-the-nobel-prizes-in-science/541863/

  49. Gravatar of John S John S
    15. January 2023 at 08:50

    Re: BCS — I find it fascinating that we could both watch the same show and have such radically different takeaways. (But as Jimmy would say, “Who are we to question life’s rich tapestry?”) I always saw the comedy as the appetizer and seasoning, while you seem to feel that it’s the best part of the meal.

    The mannerist comparison is an interesting one (I wasn’t even aware of the movement). Certainly, BCS uses caricature for comedic effect, but to me this doesn’t preclude the show from delivering dramatic tension and characters with whom we can empathize. The Kettlemans and Price (baseball card guy) are simply ways to move the plot along, so why not have fun with them? But they didn’t distract me from focusing on what I saw as the main themes: Jimmy’s conflict with Chuck and his inner struggle to decide which path to take (ultimately, these are the same) and Kim’s similar struggle to figure out what she wants.

    I think humor (even the absurd kind) can sharpen drama. Consider The Gold Rush; although a comedy (Chaplin’s best, imo), it clearly has dramatic elements. Eating the boot, while hilarious, highlights just how imminent starvation is, and there’s real relief when they shoot the bear. When the Tramp grabs a rope to hold up his pants and leads a dog onto the dance floor, it’s a great gag, but it also makes his isolation and loneliness in the town all the more acute.

    Ultimately I felt that the humor in BCS served the drama more than the other way around. The funniest moment in the entire series is when Chuck leaves his house to get the newspaper. The shaky cam, strobe lights, and buzzing make us feel like Chuck is girding himself for Omaha beach, but the cut to the neighbor’s view amplifies how far he’s fallen from HHM. (For me a similar laugh-out-loud moment is when Jimmy gets his fancy German car only to glance ruefully at the sunroof.)

    I guess my default assumption is that all film & TV characters are abstractions from real life, and it’s the creators’ job to use writing, cinematography, and scoring to get me to invest in a character’s fate. The presence or absence of comedic or absurdist aspects doesn’t seem to affect that process. (In other words, if I can empathize with an abstraction like the Tramp, it’s pretty easy to do the same with a caricature like Jimmy/Saul.) Another modern example would be Parasite; although there’s plenty of ridiculousness (the basement, the “North Korean missile” sequence), most viewers really want the Kims to succeed and are emotionally devastated when the radiant dream sequence fades to the bleak reality of the basement.

    [Note: Empathy isn’t necessary for me to enjoy a film. I never empathize with Barry Lyndon or Tom in Plein Soleil; while I applaud the creative gamble to try to humanize Matt Damon’s Tom, this aspect of the film didn’t work for me.]

  50. Gravatar of John S John S
    15. January 2023 at 09:01

    One thing that I **think** you will agree with is that this show is SMART. As I wrote earlier, it keeps delivering more treasures than I have any right to expect. Even a dope like me realized from the nail salon office shots that the theme color of the show is yellow (just as Breaking Bad’s theme color was green), but I had to have the warm colors = crime, blue = legitimacy connection spelled out to me in the video breakdown series that I linked to above. (In fairness, I did notice Nacho’s red shirts.)

    Insights like these lend a new cast to so many of the scenes I enjoyed previously. This first time I saw Saul drink his own piss in the desert I laughed because I could see the Davis & Main logo on the bottle (a callback to the no-flushing gag). But now that I understand the color scheme, I can see that, in order to accept his fate as a “friend of the cartel” (and work on behalf of a known killer, something worse than anything he’s done before), he literally has to force this golden-brown filth into his body (choking and coughing at first, but later getting used to it).

    This kind of rich symbolism is enjoyable on its own, but I also appreciate it as a mark of the creators’ efforts to make the best show possible. The fact that they packed this much detail into a show that aired weekly with ads on a minor cable channel (AMC) just astounds me. (It reminds me of the filler song “You’re Going to Lose that Girl” on the Beatles’ Help album. I loved the song immediately, but it took me about 10 listens to realize that there’s a subtle bongo track underneath the main drums. Strictly speaking, the bongos aren’t necessary, but what a wonderful flourish!)

    Ultimately, I think we’ll have to “agree to disagree”, but I still believe that BCS is the best TV drama that **I’ve** ever seen. The consensus Mt. Rushmore of “prestige TV” probably consists of The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. (Let’s add Tyler Cowen’s favorite, The Americans.) I’ve seen every episode of the first three, and to me BCS is a half step above each. I could only slog through one season of Mad Men, so it doesn’t make my cut. I’m two seasons into The Americans, and while it’s a much more “serious” drama than BCS, I feel like the writing is clearly inferior, and I don’t even feel all that connected to the two main characters.

    As for Twin Peaks, I don’t have enough info to make a judgement; I can’t remember much from the first two seasons, and I haven’t seen the third. Let’s just say for argument’s sake that it’s better than BCS. My reaction is, “So what?” While ranking is fun (I just did it above), I also acknowledge that it’s kind of silly. That’s what kind of pisses me off about the S&S poll (I know you don’t care about it, but many people do regard it highly). I much prefer Ebert’s unranked Great Movies list since each person will react to a certain film/series differently (as we did). Personally, I can’t get into Mad Men, but I can see why other people like it, and I think its place on the prestige TV Mt. Rushmore is justified due to its influence.

    (Btw, I think Twin Peaks is the progenitor of modern prestige TV. The X-Files, which it clearly influenced, is like a half-man/half-ape link between ___ of the week serials and the prestige TV wave of the early 2000s.)

  51. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. January 2023 at 10:10

    I agree about Barry Lyndon and Plein Soleil. I don’t recall emphasizing much with almost any character in a Kubrick film (with a few exceptions like the wife in The Shining), and he’s about my favorite director.

    I think I have a different sense of humor. I found the police interaction with Price in his home to be even funnier than Chuck stumbling around outside (which admittedly was very funny). Indeed for me, Price was the highlight of the entire series. Remember when he asked the thugs if they needed to use the bathroom before heading out for the drug deal? I’ve never seen that in a crime movie.

    Yes, the series is very smart, perhaps smarter that Twin Peaks

    I’ve only seen the first few episodes of Breaking Bad and The Wire (and none of The Sopranos and Mad Men), so I can’t comment.

  52. Gravatar of John S John S
    17. January 2023 at 13:06

    Yeah, Price is a scene-stealer. The story of how they cast the part is interesting, too; apparently the BCS team found some videos of the actor playing pranks on local morning TV shows.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dj9VF7LyffU

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