Films of the 4th quarter

I didn’t see many films at the theater this year, partly due to Covid, but partly due to the fact that I no longer have a convenient source of information about coming attractions. So I missed some. And I don’t subscribe to the channel that has the new Beatles documentary. La Flor was the best of the recent films I saw, followed by Our Time. (Both Latin American.) Then a couple Asian films (A Sun and Drive My Car), and the Sparks documentary. But nothing really stood out. My current interest is in films from the mid-20th century. I’ve been watching a lot of French films by people like Melville, Clouzot and Clement.

My favorite books were In Search of Lost Time, and a couple biographies (of Fernando Pessoa and Max Sebald.) It seems like a lot of great writers were mildly depressed, suffering from the misfortune of seeing reality too clearly.

2021:Q4 films

Newer Films:

Drive My Car (Japan) 3.7 Hamaguchi likes to make films that mix cinema and theatre. He’s at his best when the characters are interacting—not as effective when he attempts to create a (poetic) mood of alienation or despair.

The Velvet Underground (US) 3.6 I really enjoyed this documentary film, especially the historical footage of New York in the late 1960s. But if you don’t like the Velvet Underground and/or aren’t interested in Andy Warhol’s factory scene, then you will like it much less than I did. The Velvet Underground hold up better than most other 60s rock bands, including bands that were much better known at the time. Todd Haynes directed, and you can tell that he’s a fan.

The Alpinist (Canadian) 3.5 If I see a tiger leap at the screen in a movie, it doesn’t scare me. If the camera points straight down from a mountain or tall building, I get acrophobia. I’m not sure why, as in real life the tiger leaping at me would be more scary. I enjoy hiking in the mountains as long as it’s not too step. (I did Angel’s Landing at Zion this year, which is about my limit—don’t laugh.) In any case, this phobia limits my enjoyment of these sorts of “free solo” films. But otherwise, I’m kind of in awe of these people.

Reinhold Messner said that half of these daredevils end up dying from a fall. And yet I feel that the guy in this film had a much better life than me—much more total utility in a shorter period of time. Why don’t they ban this sort of mountain climbing? Perhaps because society considers it inspiring, whereas society doesn’t consider riding a motorcycle without a helmet to be inspiring. (Some motorcyclists may differ.)

Dune (US) 3.4 I had read Lord of the Rings before seeing the movie, and I thought it helped me to enjoy that film more than otherwise. Not because it made it easier to follow the plot, rather it made it possible to have a richer understanding of the importance of certain events, people, etc. The film had more “gravitas”. In contrast, I hadn’t read Dune so I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as those who did. I think I followed the plot, but the characters didn’t come to life for me as much as those in LOTR. The special effects were excellent, but not particularly creative or path-breaking. Indeed the director’s previous films (Blade Runner 2, Arrival) had more interesting special effects. The acting was fine. Overall, despite not having read the book I found the film to be enjoyable and fairly impressive, but a bit “heavy” or “ponderous” at times. Other epics like LOTR and Star Wars seemed more exciting (at the time), with more of a sense that life is a grand adventure. Maybe I’m just too old.

Oh, and I still think the giant worm in SpongeBob Squarepants was more impressive, and certainly more wiggily.

To Late to Die (UK) 3.2 This one is hard to rate. There’s a high level of craftsmanship and many scenes are very high quality—some of the best of any Bond film. And yet it has the same problem as other recent Bond films; it’s neither fish nor fowl. The actress with the low cut dress doing over-the-top fighting didn’t seem to be in the same film as Bond’s love interest. Recent Bond films have followed franchises like the Bourne Identity and Mission Impossible by becoming more “serious”. But they’ve also felt compelled to include a bit of the 1960s sexiness, humor, and gee wiz gadgets expected by viewers, which doesn’t really fit with the more modern elements. (Star Wars has the same problem, moving forward while still catering to audience nostalgia.) Still, I enjoyed it. The final scene seems directed at people overreacting to Covid.

Dave Chappelle: The Closer (3.0) Not as good as his previous film, perhaps because he’s doing more than trying to be funny. We live in a world where people see the difference between comedy and reality in different ways, which makes things complicated for Chappelle. I think he’s in a bit over his head on this one. Still, he’s very funny.

Shang-Chi (China) 2.7 There must be an audience for these endlessly extended scenes of CGI mayhem, but I can’t imagine what people enjoy about them. Sad to see a great actor like Tony Leung reduced to taking this sort of part. It’s too bad there are so many tiresome actions scenes, as the film does contain some nice moments when people aren’t fighting.

Older Films:

The Grand Budapest Hotel (US, 2014) 3.9 In some ways this is Wes Anderson’s best film. I say “some ways” because his films work on multiple levels, and deserve repeat viewings. The visuals here looked spectacular on a big OLED TV, and the screenplay was often wonderful, especially in little throwaway lines. There are all sorts of historical references to people who died in their 20s, from John Keats to Egon Schiele, and more broadly to the whole sad history of Eastern Europe in the first half of the 20th century.

Le Deuxième Soufflé, aka Second Wind (France, 1966, CC) 3.8 Of all the Melville films I’ve seen, this one might be my favorite. It runs 2 ½ hours, and it’s engrossing from beginning to end.

Equinox Flower (Japan, 1958, CC) 3.8 Ozu can make the glimpse of blue green bathroom tiles look like the detail in a painting by Vermeer.

Cleo From 5 to 7 (France, 1962, CC) 3.8 First time I’d seen this classic French New Wave film. A great example of how French films often have a wonderful lightness that is missing from Hollywood films. More than any other film that I can recall it gave me the feeling of what it would be like to be a young woman. Brilliantly photographed.

My Dinner With Andre (US, 1981, CC) 3.8 I expected to be disappointed, but instead was even more impressed than the first time I saw it. This is the sort of “philosophical” film that Woody Allen would like to make, but it took Louis Malle to do it. Seeing it again after 40 years, I noticed that it’s not just a screenplay, it’s a very visual film. Great acting, great camerawork, and yes, a great screenplay.

Cure (Japan, 1997, CC) 3.8 Outstanding Japanese horror film. Relies on mystery, not on cheap shocks.

Purple Noon (France, 1960, CC) 3.8 I was surprised to find that I enjoyed this version of The Talented Mr. Ripley just as much as I did the Jude Law/Matt Damon version. The plot is as good as it gets, one of the greatest plots in film history. Credit Patricia Highsmith. Rene Clement is less well known that the famous “New Wave” French directors, but I think I enjoyed this more than many of the more famous films from that era. Interestingly, the guy playing Greenleaf looked sort of like Jude Law (who starred in the remake). In contrast, Ripley was played by arguably the most handsome actor in the history of cinema (the young Alain Delon) whereas Matt Damon is, well . . . not the most handsome actor in film history. The gay subtext is less visible than in the later version, but according to the accompanying Criterion documentary, gay viewers understood what the film was actually about.

Diabolique (France, 1955, CC) 3.8 After 66 years, it’s clear that this is one of the most influential films ever made. Dozens of directors have stolen ideas from this and other Clouzot films such as Wages of Fear.

The Housemaid (Korea, 1960, CC) 3.8 Like many Korean films, the drama is racheted up to an almost hysterical level. Parts have been beautifully restored, while other parts are in bad shape. From a visual perspective the filmmaking is superb, done in a sort of Hitchcock style (and same year as Psycho) The screenplay is either ridiculous or a canny satire on Korean society, depending on your perspective. The ending seems tacked on, perhaps to satisfy the censors? One thing is clear, the over-the-top style we associate with people like Park Chan-wook and Kim Ki-duk have deep roots in Korean culture.

Cluny Brown (UK, 1946, CC) 3.8 Even in his final film, Lubitsch hadn’t lost his touch.

Viridiana (Spain, 1961, CC) 3.7 A Bunuel classic from the golden age of European film. It hasn’t lost much of its edge. I liked the first half much better.

The Trouble With Harry (US, 1955, CC) 3.7 Made at a time when Hitchcock was at his creative peak, this delightful comedy is underrated by critics.

Creepy (Japan, 2016, CC) 3.7 Another excellent horror film from the director of Cure. Some really nice images.

Closely Watched Trains (Czech, 1966, CC) 3.7 Delightful. The visual style reminds me of Wes Anderson’s films. I wonder if he was influenced by this film.

Devi (India, 1960, CC) 3.7 Sanyajit Ray’s films are consistently excellent.

After Life (Japan, 1998, CC) 3.7 I found this Koreeda film to be quite interesting from a philosophical perspective. I suspect that if God showed me the happiest moment in my life, it would be a moment that I no longer even recall. Perhaps something at age 3 or 4.

The Chess Players (India, 1977, CC) 3.7 Ray is one of the most intelligent directors out there. At first this film seems insubstantial, but after a while it becomes both funny and sad. Based on an Indian story, but also seems very similar to the plot of a story by Fernando Pessoa.

7 Men From Now (US, 1956, CC) 3.7 It’s the amazing Lee Marvin that puts this film above the other Budd Boetticher westerns. He might be among the top 10 American actors ever. I like how Boetticher’s films don’t mess around, coming in at under 80 minutes. This film probably influenced Sergio Leone.

Frenzy (UK, 1972, CC) 3.7 Made the same year as A Clockwork Orange, this is the only Hitchcock film that reflects the decadence of the 1970s. (As with the Kubrick film, there are uncomfortable scenes of the abuse of women.) But there is a lot to like here, especially the very funny interaction between the police inspector and his wife. Unfortunately, the whole is a bit less than the sum of the parts.

Major Barbara (UK, 1941, CC) 3.7 This film marked the debut of Deborah Kerr as an actress and David Lean as a director (although most of the direction was done by others, and Kerr had just a small role.) The wonderful Wendy Hiller is what makes the film worth watching, along with Shaw’s dialogue. Best of all, the film ends in a sort of art deco utopia, which gives the viewer a powerful sense of nostalgia for the future (Past futures seem so much more appealing than the actual future that we are entering.)

Metropolitan (US, 1990, CC) 3.6 Growing up, I never knew a single person who went to a private school. I don’t think I knew any rich people. So the society depicted in this film seems quite foreign to me. While in many ways it is comparable to a Woody Allen film, I value Whit Stillman films more highly because they are so much rarer, even if they are not superior in an artistic sense.

The Raven (France, 1943, CC) 3.6 Clouzot has been compared to Hitchcock, and in this film you can see why. Holds up very well after nearly 80 years. Made in Vichy-era France, the politics were widely misunderstood until well after the war. Love the final shot, where the receding figure looks like a raven.

Gertrud (Denmark, 1964, CC) 3.6 Carl Dreyer’s final film is one of those stories of a woman destroyed by love (but not really). It’s his distinctive style that makes the film worth watching.

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (France, 1945, CC) 3.6 Bresson directed, but it’s not really in the style associated with his later films. The actresses are great.

24 City (China, 2008, CC) 3.6 I enjoyed this Jia Zhangke film, but was a bit disappointed to discover that it was partly fiction.

To the Ends of the Earth (Japan/Uzbekistan, 2019, CC) 3.6 The first half often seemed rather slow and aimless, but the payoff was a very moving second half.

Crazed Fruit (Japan, 1956, CC) 3.6 I found the accompanying documentary by Donald Richie to be more interesting than the film itself. He pointed out that for Japan the film was a breakthrough in terms of both style (French) and content (rebellious youth). If I were to rate the version of the film with voiceover analysis by Richie, I’d give it 3.8, not 3.6.

The Man Who Would Be King (UK, 1975, CC) 3.5 John Huston is extremely good at choosing interesting plots, finding good actors, and telling them what to do. On the other hand, he doesn’t excel at the visual side of moviemaking, and the epic sweep of this film falls a bit flat. He’s no David Lean. Still, it’s well worth watching—I hadn’t seen it since 1975. As with so many other films, this one stars Michael Caine.

Heaven Can Wait (US, 1943, CC) 3.5 It’s interesting that this Lubitsch film is better known that Cluny Brown, as it doesn’t hold up nearly as well.

Rocco and His Brothers (Italy, 1960, CC) 3.5 This film is sort of a model for what Coppola and Scorcese were trying to do with their Italian-American family dramas during the 1970s. Despite its flaws, a must see film for fans of that genre.

Marnie (US, 1964, CC) 3.5 The pop psychology doesn’t really work, and even back in 1964 wouldn’t have been very persuasive (a time when pop psych was very much in vogue.) Tippi Hedren is all wrong for the part, and although Sean Connery is enjoyable to watch, he’s also miscast. (A younger Jimmy Stewart would have been better.) Nonetheless, Hitchcock mixes bits of Vertigo, Psycho and The Birds together and produces a tasty cinematic stew. The film is consistently watchable.

Bright Future (Japan, 2003, CC) 3.4 I enjoyed this Kiyoshi Kurosawa film, but you need to get on the same wavelength as the director (who also directed Cure.) He has a very good eye.

Any Number Can Play (France, 1963, CC) 3.4 Mid-century modern French casino heist film with jazzy score learn more now, starring Jean Gabin and Alain Delon. At first it was just average, but I really enjoyed the final 15 minutes of the film.

The Petrified Forest (Japan, 1973, CC) 3.4 Satisfying Japanese crime story with a fairly interesting plot.

King of New York (US, 1990, CC) 3.4 Lots of style, with Christopher Walken’s performance being especially notable. Unfortunately there’s not much of a plot, and it gradually runs out of ideas. But for a while it’s a very entertaining ride.

Thief (US, 1981, CC) 3.4 Films like Thief and The French Connection seemed more impressive when they first came out, as they pushed the envelope. But this Michael Mann film is still pretty good.

The Tall T (US, 1957, CC) 3.4 Basic no-nonsense entertainment from Budd Boetticher. With Randolph Scott and his Mt. Rushmore face.

The Murderer Lives at Number 21 (France, 1942, CC) 3.4 Clouzot’s first film is a delightful thriller, light and fluffy.

A Woman is a Woman (France, 1961, CC) 3.3 I’m not much of a fan of musicals, but this Godard film shakes up the genre. Anna Karina is what makes it worth watching.

The Mystery of Picasso (France, 1957, CC) 3.3 I have trouble connecting with his later period—but this is Picasso after all. The final third is an especially revealing look at the creative process.

Red Dust (US, 1932, CC) 3.2 Pretty decent pre-code film carried by Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. Takes place in Vietnam, and contains a pretty insulting portrayal of Asians (Vietnamese and Chinese).

Platform (China, 2000, CC) 3.2 If I’d seen this film when it first came out, I would have been more impressed. Now I feel like I’ve seen this sort of thing before, and without much plot the 2.5 hour length seems a bit much.

Walk Cheerfully (Japan, 1930, CC) 3.2 One of the few silent Ozu films that was preserved. Most were lost. This print was in really bad shape—I hope these can be restored at some point.

Across the Pacific (US, 1942, CC) 3.2 This John Huston film came out a year after The Maltese Falcon, and brought back most of the cast. It starts well, but fizzles out toward the end. They changed the plot half way through because of Pearl Harbor, and made the film even more insultingly anti-Asian than before. It basically provides a defense of putting Japanese-Americans into concentration camps, which makes it a low point in Huston’s career, at least from an ethical standpoint. (The same year he made another film where he attempted to portray African-Americans in a more positive fashion than was typically the case back then.)

Never Look Away (Germany, 2018) 3.1 Overlong and tedious in spots, but the film (about an artist similar to Gerhard Richter) does have its moments. Same director that did The Lives of Others.

Europa 51 (Italy, 1952, CC) 3.1 Ingrid Bergman does her long-suffering saint role here, but the only good reason to watch the film is that it presents the tail end of an interesting period of history. The late 1950s was the very end of an era—the last few years where you could make credible art about white people suffering from extreme poverty. Many years from now, the century before 1955 will seem especially left-wing. Lots of extreme poverty, and yet enough affluent people where the poverty didn’t seem inevitable. Unfair!

Before 1850, a world without poverty seemed a pipe dream, and after the mid-1950s the working class did well enough so that they gradually lost interest in left wing parties. In the early 1950s, there were still a few American film noirs based on desperate poor white men. Not much after that. By the 1970s, the problems were psychological (i.e. Taxi Driver, Deer Hunter, etc.) We’d become too rich to make romanticized poverty seem plausible.

Mishima: A Story in Four Acts (Japan/US, 1985, CC) 3.1 Paul Schrader directed this stylized documentary on the famous Japanese novelist. A lot of interesting visuals in a sort of baroque style. But in the end that’s pretty much all the film offered.

World on a Wire (Germany, 1973, CC) 3.1 Imagine Fassbinder making a 3 ½ hour version of The Matrix back in 1973. It lacks the special effects, but makes up for it in other ways. I liked it almost as much as the 1999 version, but it’s not for everyone.

The Big Sleep (UK, 1978, CC) 3.1 Not the (much better) Humphrey Bogart version; this one stars Robert Mitchum and a whole bunch of other well know actors and actresses. To me, the late 1970s are the absolute peak of freedom in all of human history, and while this movie is a bit bland, it’s always nice to be reminded of that golden time. The way things are going, we’ll never again regain that sort of freedom.

Monte Carlo (US, 1930, CC) 3.1 It’s been almost a century since the 1930s, and yet it still seems to be the case that films from the early 1930s look far more “dated” than those from the late 1930s. It seems to me that the best romantic comedies of the late 1930s and early 1940s remain the best romantic comedies of all time. This Lubitsch musical was just OK.

Ride Lonesome (US, 1959, CC) 3.0 Another Budd Boetticher western.

Suture (US, 1993, CC) 3.0 An interesting experimental film based on a clever idea and containing some nice B&W visuals. But it really needs a director like David Lynch, and the actual two directors just aren’t up to the task. An essay on this film would probably be more interesting than the film itself.

Hollywood Chinese (US, 2007, CC) 3.0 So-so documentary on the role of Chinese people in the US film industry. The problem here is that they just don’t have a lot to work with. Late in the film, you see images of Chinese from overseas who came to Hollywood to do a film, and are reminded of how the talent pool over there is just so much deeper than for American-born Chinese. (Not surprisingly, given the population disparity.) On the plus side, the tendency of Hollywood to use western actors for Chinese parts was discussed without a lot of hysterics and pearl clutching.

Drums Along the Mohawk (US, 1939, CC) 2.9 Yes, this John Ford film is somewhat racist and sexist, at least by modern standards. But it was perfectly acceptable by 1939 standards. The bigger problem is its boring plot—I just couldn’t get interested. And Claudette Colbert is miscast. It does have some very nice Technicolor photography, however, right up there with Gone With the Wind.

After the Wedding (Denmark, 2007, CC) 2.8 One of those northern European films full repressed anger. There are way too many close-ups of eyeballs (human and animal).

The Last Movie (US, 1971, CC) 2.6 Dennis Hopper tried to direct an avant-garde film, but it doesn’t really work. Still, there were a few moments that I found quite amusing.

Klute (US, 1971, CC) 2.6 This thriller was probably considered edgy when it first came out, but now seems dated. History is merciless at exposing mediocre directors. Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland seem miscast and the musical soundtrack is quite annoying.

Dodes’ka-den (Japan, 1970, CC) 2.5 I’m not sure what Kurosawa was trying to do here, but he did not succeed.

The Grass is Greener (UK, 1960, CC) 2.5 One of the weaker efforts by Stanley Donen and Cary Grant.

The Anderson Tapes (US, 1971, CC) 2.5 I saw this 50 years ago when it first came out and was impressed, at a time when I was kind of stupid. Today, the film seems pretty stupid. (I’m probably still stupid, but less so.) Just a year or two later this sort of film was already obsolete (due to The French Connection, The Godfather, Mean Streets, etc.) The only thing that caught my eye was the very young Christopher Walken, already an interesting actor.

Office Killer (US, 1997, CC) 2.5 You’d think that Michael Jordan would have been a pretty good baseball player, but he wasn’t able to succeed in the major leagues. Similarly, graphic artists often have trouble crossing over to a related field such as filmmaking. This film was directed by Cindy Sherman, but it’s disappointingly conventional. I expected more. Seeing this gives me a greater appreciation for filmmakers like David Lynch.

Permanent Vacation (US, 1980, CC) 2.4 I’d never heard of this early Jim Jarmusch film, and now I know why. He didn’t hit his stride until his second film (Strangers in Paradise).



35 Responses to “Films of the 4th quarter”

  1. Gravatar of Andy Andy
    2. January 2022 at 19:14

    I made a spreadsheet that pulls together all the “Films of XXX” posts I could find on your blog –

    It should be world readable (with comments open in case I missed anything). Thanks for posting these over the years.

  2. Gravatar of Rinat Rinat
    3. January 2022 at 04:49

    According to that spreadsheet you have watched 906 movies.

    Now imagine if that was 906 books….

    Someday, you will learn that informed people are avid readers, not movie watchers.

    This does explain why you are so obstuse, especially when it comes to identifying what is and is not propaganda.

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. January 2022 at 09:02

    Andy, That’s amazing. Thanks.

  4. Gravatar of foosion foosion
    3. January 2022 at 15:37

    Scott, you really should read Dune. I’ll confess my fondness may be based on having first read it as a teenager, but it’s one of my favorite books.

    You have read Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, haven’t you?

  5. Gravatar of Tuesday assorted links – Marginal REVOLUTION Tuesday assorted links - Marginal REVOLUTION
    4. January 2022 at 08:28

    […] More Scott Sumner movie reviews.  And here is an essential concordance: “Films of […]

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. January 2022 at 08:56

    Foosion, I read Foundation as a teen, but honestly don’t remember the book at all. I’m not much of a sci-fi fan, but do occasionally enjoy reading them. My favorite was The Book of the New Sun. A Deepness in the Sky was also pretty good, as was The Three Body Problem.

  7. Gravatar of genezip genezip
    4. January 2022 at 10:58

    Monte Carlo isn’t very good, but some of the pre-Code stuff is as sophisticated as you’ll get from classic Hollywood. I’d put Trouble in Paradise and The Scarlett Empress against anything from the 40s/50s.

  8. Gravatar of JC JC
    4. January 2022 at 12:02

    The movies are rated out of 4? Or 5 being the highest score?

  9. Gravatar of Joy Joy
    4. January 2022 at 13:11

    The giant worm Sponge Bob episode is great! Love the connection haha.

  10. Gravatar of Andy Andy
    4. January 2022 at 13:57

    Scott, really happy to hear you like it.

    One other thought I had is that having them all in one place makes it possible for people to suggest movies that are missing.

    Given the other Bong Joon Ho movies, it seems like you must have seen – if not, that one is definitely worth seeing. It’s probably my favorite movie of his, although I’m still missing some.

    Another random one, given the 2001 4.0 score, would be

  11. Gravatar of John T John T
    4. January 2022 at 14:06

    If you’re on a kick of Kurosawa horror, check out pulse/kairo. It has one classic horror scene in the middle (I won’t spoil). As you said ‘no cheap shocks’. The scene is completely slow with simple camera work yet great horror

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. January 2022 at 14:13

    Genezip, Yes, Trouble in Paradise is great.

    JC, Out of 4.0.

    Joy. We have similar taste.

    Andy, Yes, Mother is excellent. Did I forget to include it on my list?

    Thanks for the tip John.

  13. Gravatar of Owen Owen
    4. January 2022 at 15:42

    Why not Leon Morin Priest as the best Melville film?

  14. Gravatar of Andy Andy
    4. January 2022 at 16:13

    > Andy, Yes, Mother is excellent. Did I forget to include it on my list?

    So just now I did a search for “mother” and the only relevant hit I could find was – this does mention it but does not review/rate it beyond putting it under “Ten best films of the decade (no particular order)”

    The methodology from before was to go through all search results for “film” and save links to the ones that had film reviews in them. These were fed into some python code that looked for things that matched a pretty hacky regex, so it makes sense that it missed the mention. required a special parser, so it is definitely possible I missed a few other non-standard ones too… if you (or anyone else) notice any others, leave a comment on the spreadsheet as that sends me an email and I might not notice comments here.

    BTW happy to transfer spreadsheet ownership to you if you’d like. Otherwise I’ll try to keep it updated when new posts like this come out.

  15. Gravatar of Peter Peter
    4. January 2022 at 18:35

    Thanks for the spreadsheet Andy. It’s awesome

  16. Gravatar of Tom Mannell Tom Mannell
    5. January 2022 at 02:37

    Always a pleasure to see your take on the new and the old. I haven’t yet gotten to Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, but will when I’m in the right place for one of his films. The Velvet Underground is a distinctly Todd Haynes film. It’s uncanny how many interesting rock musicians name the Velvets as their greatest influence. Haynes’ Safe from 1995 is highly recommended if you haven’t seen it. I feel he is one of America’s great directors.
    Several nights ago I watched Jacques Becker’s Touchez Pas au Grisbi (Hands Off the Loot), starring a wonderful, doughy-faced Jean Gabin. Becker’s Casque d’Or is highly recommended by Richard Brody, and I’ve put it in my queau as well. I will watch the Melville that you recommended, and A Sun also. Our Time is indeed a fine film (I will watch anything by Reygadas), but as I recall, the critics were not enthralled. You mentioned several Kurosawa Kyoshi films. He’s a wonderful journeyman director, in the vein of Steven Soderbergh. I enjoyed his recent Wife of a Spy. Yes, The King of New York is a romp, directed by the much-hated Abel Ferrara. I will watch any of his films. I loved his gangster film The Funeral, with a wonderful ensemble of stars and character actors. Ferrara’s Zeros and Ones is also in my queau, perhaps after the Hamaguchi. (Could Hamaguchi possibly be a fan?) Yes, all things Bunuel. His Mexican Bus Ride is a hoot. You can guess what it’s about. I’m surprised by your modest rating for Paul Schrader’s Mishima, I have enjoyed it over several viewings. Schrader is spotty, but I think his last two films, First Reformed and The Card Counter, are first-rate. I will watch Frenzy again, thanks for the reminder. As I recall, it features a bit of partial nudity, perhaps a first and only for Hitchcock.

  17. Gravatar of Tom Mannell Tom Mannell
    5. January 2022 at 02:41

    Oh, and Lean On Pete (2018). Yes, it’s a film about a kid and a horse! And I loved it.

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. January 2022 at 12:14

    Owen, I’ll have to check that one out.

    Andy, Thanks again, and feel free to keep it if you wish. I saw that Tyler linked to it.

    The Naughty and Nice post was my first. After that I did a post every year, and then every quarter for the past couple years.

    Tom, Casque d’Or is in my queue right now.

    I may have rated the Mishima too low. Somehow I just didn’t connect with it.

    I’ll check out The Card Counter

  19. Gravatar of foosion foosion
    5. January 2022 at 12:37

    Scott, FWIW, Krugman has frequently said the Foundation trilogy inspired him to become an economist. He wrote an introduction to an edition of the books.

  20. Gravatar of Dzhaughn Dzhaughn
    5. January 2022 at 23:21

    Always look forward to these.

    I was totally disappointed by Mishima. The subject is interesting, Schrader is interesting, the concept is interesting, the movie (well, video) was meh, for me.

    I like Wes Anderson, I liked Grand Budapest Hotel, but 3.9 (same as Persona) is inflationary. Hopefully transitory. With that spreadsheet, we’ll be able to do ratings level targeting.

    I just lurve Rinat’s equivalence of 906 movies and 906 books. Two and half hours per book, sure thing. Conversely, for each blog post you have written, I suppose you could have made a movie instead!

  21. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. January 2022 at 10:38

    Foosion, Yes, I recall that. I’m just not much of a fan of sci-fi. Life is short, and there’s lots of great books I have yet to read. Shouldn’t I do War and Peace before I read Foundation a second time?

    Dzhaughn, LOL, Rinat somehow thinks he knows how many books I read.

    And the average film is less than 2 hours. Only Tyler reads that fast!

  22. Gravatar of foosion foosion
    7. January 2022 at 06:20

    Scott, of course you should read War and Peace. You’re a bit late getting to it. 🙂

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. January 2022 at 10:29

    Foosion, Well, I didn’t get around to In Search of Lost Time until age 66!

  24. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    7. January 2022 at 14:10

    That spreadsheet was a great idea.

    Maybe a not so great idea (but I thought it was fun) is to then combine the Sumner grades with the Scaruffi ( scores. Here’s the top ten:

    1. NXNW 4.08
    2. Touch of Evil 4.05
    3. Persona 4.0
    4. Otto e Mezzo 3.98
    Stalker 3.98
    6. Psycho 3.95
    2001 3.95
    8. Late Spring 3.94
    Mulholland Drive 3.94
    10. Yi Yi 3.93


    Since Scaruffi goes 0 – 10 and only has three films rated at 9.0, I translated Scaruffi’s scores into 0-4 grades using the assumptions of (1) linearity, and (2) a Sumner 4.0 = Scaruffi 8.6 and a Sumner 3.7 = Scaruffi 7.0.

    I didn’t put a lot of thought into it, but tweaking it to make it better might not change the rankings at the top much.

    And of course these are just films where there is both a Sumner grade and a Scaruffi score.

    Maybe one of these days another SoCal film-scorer will show up in Tyler C’s links – who knows?

  25. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    7. January 2022 at 14:27

    Maybe I should also note that what I mean by “combine” is actually *average*. (This may not be obvious).

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. January 2022 at 15:22

    Anon/portly, Just to be clear, there are lots of films that are not on my list. I’d rate Tokyo Story above Late Spring, for instance. Coppola’s films from the 1970s would rate very high, etc., etc.

  27. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    8. January 2022 at 10:39

    “Just to be clear, there are lots of films that are not on my list.”

    Yeah, I said it was just “where there is both a Sumner grade and a Scaruffi score” but I should have pointed out that there are a lot more of the latter than the former.

    Also, as I said, kind of a goofy idea, probably appealing only to me.

    As someone who is incapable himself of offering film grades (haven’t seen enough films, often need to see them at least three times before I know what I think, and just not that sharp about film in general – I miss a lot), I do like combining grades from two such obviously thoughtful and insightful sources.

  28. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    8. January 2022 at 11:15

    While creating my own spreadsheet, I was reading many of the comments to find the director. A couple stood out to me in particular, because over Xmas I was reading James Agee’s “The Nation” film columns from the 1940’s.

    Rome: Open City

    Sumner comment:

    “This would have seemed even more impressive in 1946, when it’s realism would have shocked audiences. Even today it’s a powerful film. It might almost be viewed as the first modern film (in terms of content, not style).”

    At the beginning of his column on 3/23/46 he mentions the film and says:

    “For the moment I can say only that I am at once extremely respectful and rather suspicious of it, and that I recommend it very highly with a warning, however, to those who are particularly sensitive to scenes of torture.”

    As he has promised, on 4/13/46 he spends his entire column on it. (By then some bits of the torture scenes had been recut). Here’s one sentence:

    “Even these failures in depth and complexity are sacrifices to virtues just as great: you will seldom see as pure freshness and vitality in a film, or as little unreality and affectation among the players; one feels that everything was done too fast and with too fierce a sincerity to run the risk of bogging down in mere artistry or meditativeness–far less the WPA-mural sentimentality and utter inability to know, love and honor people to which American leftists are capable.”

    He discusses not only the film itself but the (“shoestring”) circumstances and method of its creation vis-a-vis Soviet films after the revolution and Hollywood films of the current time….

  29. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    8. January 2022 at 11:35

    Day of Wrath

    Sumner comment:

    “I wonder how people interpreted this film in 1943? With whom did they sympathize? How about today? Do we still view witches as evil?”

    Agee spends his entire column of 5/22/48 on this film (apparently its first US release). Most of the review concerns the film’s reception (highly polarized reviews) and Dreyer’s style, and I don’t know if Agee’s review even begins to answer the questions given above. But here’s a sentence from his review:

    “I particularly respect the film’s interest in the deeply entangled interproductiveness of good and evil among several people and within single people; its steep, Lutheran kind of probity–that is, its absolute recognition of the responsibility of the individual, regardless of extenuating or compulsive circumstances; it’s compassion; and its detachment.”

  30. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    8. January 2022 at 11:50

    This doesn’t concern Agee, but in the “Empire of the Senses” comment we get this:

    “Just as the pedophilia blinds people to another great love story – Lolita.”

    This comment is extremely something. Edgy? Cynical? Idiosyncratic?

    Maybe I’m even more naive than I thought I was.

  31. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. January 2022 at 13:29

    Anon/portly, Let’s not forget that Juliet was also underage. Was she 14 or 15?

    I am distinguishing between being “moral” and being a “great love story”. No apology for doing so.

    Nabokov believed that a great love required great barriers. In Lolita, the transgressive nature of the romance increased the intensity. Sure, his behavior is highly unethical, but that doesn’t mean the emotions aren’t powerful.

    As an analogy, consider a film noir where we root for the criminal to succeed in the jewel heist. Why do we root for them? Not because we favor theft in the real world.

  32. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    16. January 2022 at 20:04

    A couple of years ago I decided to re-read Lolita, and only got halfway through it – at the time, I just found it too depressing.

    My paperback copy, on the inside front cover, has a lengthy excerpt from Lionel Trilling’s review (from Encounter, 1958 – you can find it online). Here’s the first part of it.

    “In recent fiction, no lover has thought of his beloved with so much tenderness, no woman has been so charmingly evoked, in such grace and delicacy, as Lolita; it is one of the few examples of rapture in modern writing….”

    I’m sure when I read it years ago, I missed a lot of the nuance, and even now, having just in the past few days gone back and finished it, I’m still missing a lot of it, but I can certainly see what you and Lionel are on to. Certainly as Trilling says (three times!) in the excerpt mentioned above, it is “about love.”

  33. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    16. January 2022 at 20:12

    “Let’s not forget that Juliet was also underage.”

    I’m not sure what the point of this is – Romeo’s love is not unrequited, as Humbert’s is. That’s why, when reading it before, I was finding it so depressing – the narrative does not obscure her feelings toward him. (Later, I think we learn that Humbert wants to make this clear).

  34. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    16. January 2022 at 20:42

    “As an analogy, consider a film noir where we root for the criminal to succeed in the jewel heist. Why do we root for them? Not because we favor theft in the real world.”

    But Humbert himself, by the end, isn’t “rooting” for himself, so I don’t think this analogy really works.

    I think a better analogy might be a character like Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West. He’s still a villain, but when he shows up at the end to shoot it out with Harmonica, while we don’t root for him, we do have some appreciation of how he’s been caught up in something larger than himself, and maybe has a glimmer of his proper role in the story.

    (Okay, that might not be a better analogy, or even a particularly coherent one, for that matter).

    But if Lolita were a film, what type of film would it be? Somewhere some time ago, I had gotten ahold of the idea that Lolita and Goodfellas were strongly parallel – “the narrator, HH, is a villain, but in telling his story attempts to exculpate himself.” (This is the sort of facile thing that always appeals to me).

  35. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    22. January 2022 at 12:46

    No doubt this is another dumb comment, but thinking on this some more….

    “Just as the pedophilia blinds people to another great love story – Lolita.”

    It might be the pedophilia that blinds some, but to me the difficulty in thinking of Lolita as a “great love story” is that Lolita is treated so badly, so shabbily, by Humbert.

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