Sunday, April 18, 2021
Quest Status: 738 / 1000
Tuesday, April 6, 2021
Quest Status: 737 / 1000
TSPDT Rank #774
His third birthday is notable, not only for his portentous fall, but for the present that he receives from his mother: a red and white tin drum. He carries it with him everywhere, and whenever some poor soul tries to take it away from him, he screams bloody murder--shattering everything from his teacher’s glasses to cathedral windows across the street. In this way, he soon learns that he can control the adults around him. As he grows older, everyone continues to treat him like a toddler, although he becomes more intelligent and aware of the world around him than he lets on.
But let’s not forget Oskar’s trademark tin drum, often seen as an instrument of protest against the rise of Fascism. Maybe this is the case when Oskar disrupts a Nazi rally by leading the band away from their rigid march into a swinging Blue Danube waltz, to the great distress of the Reich dignataries in attendance. But what about when Oskar joins a troupe of dwarfs in performing for the Nazi occupation forces in France, even looking on as the soldiers gun down a group of nuns collecting shellfish on the beach at Normandy? The film’s central allegory is clearly more complicated and ambiguous than it’s usually made out to be, although its unflinching view of fascism and innocence corrupted gets closer to the soul of Nazism than most films about the era have ever dared.
---265 films remaining---
Saturday, March 27, 2021
TSPDT Rank #674
Initial viewing: c. 2008"Only pain and suffering will make you realize who you are. Only when you're in extreme pain, do you realize your own mind."
Takashi Miike is widely known for his outrageous shock tactics and lack of subtlety, but his most famous film, Audition, is notable for its surprising serenity. Make no mistake, Audition is definitely worthy of its classification as a horror film. There are moments that may send the viewer flying out of their seats - many involving a large bag positioned conspicuously in the middle of a tiny, sparsely-lit apartment. But most of the time, it's a quiet and subdued film - a symphony of loneliness and painful memories laced with a dark undercurrent of creeping dread.
The film’s unassuming first act focuses on lonely widower Aoyama’s attempts to find a woman to marry who can live up to the high standard set by his late wife. Despite some subtly unsettling moments, Audition doesn’t really begin to show its hand until Aoyama is already head-over-heels with the girl of his dreams. But this isn’t to say that the film relies completely on the element of surprise. It begins with the death of Aoyama’s wife, whose memory continues to haunt him right up to the moment when he meets his new love, Asami, a young girl fixated on death.
From the moment Asami first shuffles quietly into the audition room, something sets her apart from the women desperately trying to promote themselves in the awkwardly comic montage that precedes her entrance. Aoyama is blind to her oddness, but his producer friend is the voice of reason: there’s just something about Asami that doesn’t feel right to him. She’s too quiet, too polite, too hard to pin down. For Aoyama, however, these are positive attributes, and he soon starts seeing Asami in private. Surprisingly enough, she doesn’t see anything strange about his sleazy method of seduction. To the contrary, she’s grateful for it, and insistently pleads with him to continue taking her out. Intermittent shots of her staring motionless at the telephone in her apartment are the only signs that something is seriously wrong with this picture.
At this point, Miike steers the story into detective territory, as Aoyama begins looking for assurances that Asami is the normal girl that he desperately hopes she is. She mentions a family in Chiba, a part-time job in a Ginza dive bar, and a record company agent, but Aoyama finds none of these. Instead, he finds a perverted old man in a dilapidated ballet studio and tales about a grisly murder involving Asami’s agent and her supposed employer. But by this point, Aoyama is already deep in the girl’s clutches, having pledged his eternal faithfulness after sleeping with her on an ill-advised weekend trip.
The film’s final act is a sweeping tour de force, beginning with an extended dream sequence in which all of the women in Aoyama’s life combine and merge into one. In an audacious subversion of narrative logic, Miike shows us a second version of Aoyama and Asami’s first dates. The scenery is the same, but the conversation is different. Asami describes brutal abuse in her earlier childhood, revealing the lies beneath her calm facade. Again and again, Miike sows subtle seeds of doubt in the viewer’s mind. Exactly how much of what happens is in Aoyama’s head, and which version of the story is the “real” one, is never explicitly drawn out - at least not until the film reaches its horrifying denouement, a proto-torture porn set piece that is both weirder and more concise than anything Eli Roth ever dreamed up. But as infamous as that denouement may be, it’s only one part of the masterfully structured psychological puzzle that is Audition.
Friday, March 12, 2021
Quest Status: 736 / 1000
TSPDT Rank #271
---265 films remaining---
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Quest Status: 735 / 1000
TSPDT Rank #294
Underground is a film full of history and chaos, combining the two liberally until they become virtually indistinguishable. It begins with a Felliniesque parade in the street, with two drunken gangsters riding on horseback in front of a brass band. The band will be one of the few constants throughout the story, following the characters through good times and bad. They don’t comment on the action, they just keep repeating the same song again and again--right up until the film’s fantastical Felliniesque ending. Much like the circus in Fellini’s films, the brass band here seems to provide a lifeline to a nostalgic idea of old Yugoslavia, a country that existed “once upon a time.”
While the first part of the film is a frenetic World War II adventure with some off-kilter twists, it’s this central part of the film where the weird factor really comes into play. The underground band of refugees believes that the war is still going on, convinced by Marko into producing weapons for the resistance while he lives a lavish life above ground as a high-ranking Communist official and sells the weapons on the black market. His grandfather is in on the scheme too, manipulating time in the cellar so that everyone believes they’ve only been down there for 15 years--not 20. The twisted treachery of this set-up packs a serious allegorical punch (even before a peripheral character muses that “communism is a cellar”), accusing the Communist leaders on top of profiting off of the lowly common folk down below--who even learn to love them for it and never suspect that they’re being taken advantage of.
Of course, things don’t end in the cellar. A monkey behind the controls of a tank is enough to set a new revolution in motion. But to what end? Kusturica makes it clear that there is none. In the film’s apocalyptic final section, the characters reconvene in a hellish vision of the 1992 Yugoslav wars. There’s not a building left standing, no one left alive who’s not wearing a uniform and carrying a gun. A flaming wheelchair revolves endlessly around an upside-down crucifix, suggesting endless chaos and evil. But those who remain still have their memories, giving them a glimmer of hope that what was lost can someday be regained. Despite its nightmarish finale, Underground is never a preachy or depressing film. It blows up the trajectory of modern Yugoslavian history into a surreal fantasy vision that promises a look at the elusive truth lying beneath it all--even if, as Marko suggests, it all turns out to be nothing but lies in the end.
---265 films remaining---
Monday, March 1, 2021
TSPDT Rank #43
Initial viewing: c. 2007
"Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves..."
Adding to the film’s mystique is the fact that it’s the only film ever to be directed by the great Charles Laughton. A hulking British expat who achieved Hollywood success with his towering performances in films such as The Private Life of Henry VIII, Mutiny on the Bounty and The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the 1930s, he was certainly an odd choice to direct a Southern Gothic thriller set on the banks of the Ohio River. But by all accounts, he oversaw the film with a perfectionism and clarity of vision usually only seen from seasoned directors at the peak of their talents. His extensive acting experience also allowed him to develop an usually close bond with his actors, drawing out raw and otherworldly performances that are highly unusual for their era.
Although The Night of the Hunter failed to achieve success upon its initial release, it soon achieved an unusually early cult following--thanks to its regular presence on late night television in the 1960s and ‘70s. Moving with the deliberate logic and uncanny precision of a dream, The Night of the Hunter is perhaps most effective on the young and unsuspecting, like the best horror movies. For those expecting a suspenseful thriller, it will likely seem too strange and tonally inconsistent. At one moment, we see Mitchum’s preacher threaten his two adopted children with a knife--with a casual aura of evil so convincing that we really fear for the children’s lives. But at the next moment, we see him slip on a fruit jar, lumber up the stairs in a parody of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, and howl like a wounded animal when the children narrowly escape into the river.
The film’s final act focuses on the children and their attempt to escape from the preacher, with the action taking on the aura of a fairy tale. The children float down the river across a background of twinkling stars and animals twice their size, as lullabies lull them to sleep. When the preacher does appear, he does so only as a silhouette in the distance--a symbol of evil beyond the children’s comprehension. The kindly old woman who comes to their rescue (played by silent era icon Lillian Gish) is just as inconceivably good as the preacher is inconceivably evil. And when the final showdown comes, it remains firmly in the realm of symbolism--with the old woman and the preacher singing competing versions of the same hymn just like they were drawing pistols in the street. Despite its disregard for realism and narrative conventions, The Night of the Hunter always retains its hypnotic pull and childlike urgency. Never before or since has the battle between good and evil felt so elemental.
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Quest Status: 734 / 1000
TSPDT Rank #943
---266 films remaining---
Saturday, February 20, 2021
--Originally written 5/19/2020--
Current TSPDT Rank (2021 Edition): #399
[2020 Edition: N/A]
Under the Skin is a film about aliens, but it’s not exactly the sci-fi thriller you might expect from that description. Jonathan Glazer (whose other films include Sexy Beast and Birth) created a uniquely minimalist alien world for Under the Skin, daring the viewer to piece together the details of the plot from visual hints such as men sinking into a gooey black ether as soon as they try to approach a disrobing Scarlett Johannson. Johannson’s acting is intentionally robotic; she hardly utters a word of dialogue unless she’s trying to pick up a Scottish bloke off the street. In these street scenes, she’s like a psychoanalysis app powered by Siri, bluntly asking personal questions which suggest a desire for intimacy to her male prey but in reality serve only to establish whether the man is lonely and unattached.
But what about her reason for picking up these horny men and luring them to their doom? None of this is explained to the viewer. Even the idea that Johannson and her superior (Jeremy McWilliams) are aliens is only an inference to be drawn from 2001-esque lights and a robotic voice reciting English words in the opening sequence. The two characters don’t exchange a single word of dialogue in the entire film. What happens to the men after they’re captured by Johannson isn’t revealed until over 30 minutes into the film, and even then is only conveyed in the form of an abstract series of nightmare images.
Glazer ostensibly intended to show viewers how aliens might realistically act if they touched down on Earth to suck out the insides of the locals. They probably wouldn’t speak in any human language unless they needed to interact with people directly. They probably wouldn’t show any kind of recognizable emotion. And however they chose to devour their humans, you can bet that it wouldn’t be with a fork and knife. (So how would they do it then? Well, in one ominous scene, we see a man’s body instantaneously collapse into a filmy membrane, followed by a shot of juicy guts rolling down a conveyor belt to be transformed into a bright red beam of light. From there on, it’s anyone’s guess.)
Mica Levi’s dissonant score plays a key role in creating an atmosphere of weirdness and alien loneliness. We feel dread for the fate of the anonymous men before they even start to sink, and moments of silence are given all the more ominous weight by the squirm-inducing punctuation from Levi’s viola. The absence of music in the street scenes, as Johannson talks to passersby (many amateurs who initially didn’t know they were being filmed), creates a cinéma vérité mood that makes the music all the more effective when it does come in, while also echoing the emptiness of the lives of the men that Johannson preys on.
This is especially pronounced in the film’s pivotal scene, in which Johannson picks up a man with a horribly deformed face (Adam Pearson) on his way to the supermarket at night. In this scene, her exploitation of his loneliness and longing for human connection feels unbearably cruel--a feeling which also registers with her for the first time when she is unable to go through with her nightly ritual and, in doing so, resigns herself to a human life of loneliness . It’s this quality, the delicate balance of realism and otherworldly discomfort which gives the film’s weirdness weight. Under the Skin doesn’t give the viewer any answers or explanation, instead merely posing the question “What would it be like to be an alien among everyday humans?”
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Quest Status: 733 / 1000
TSPDT Rank #809
"If it should happen that I don't see you again, it's been very nice knowing you, Miss Breckenridge."
---267 films remaining---
Monday, February 1, 2021
Thankfully, the new list update also gave me a slight push forward. Of the 25 new films added to this list this year, I've seen already seen a whopping 15. (I'll be posting a retrospective review of at least one of those within the next week or two.) Of course, I always lose some as well, but I still scored a net gain of 4 films, putting my current total at 732/1000. Almost 3/4 of the way there!
As always, thanks to Bill Georgaris for putting this amazing list together. Check out the details of its creation and the latest update here: http://theyshootpictures.com/gf1000.htm
And you can keep detailed tabs on my viewing activity here: https://letterboxd.com/Wisejake237/
686. Chelsea Girls (1966, Andy Warhol)
687. That Obscure Object of Desire (1977, Luis Buñuel)
688. Los Olvidados (1950, Luis Buñuel)
689. Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974, Jacques Rivette)
690. The Piano (1993, Jane Campion)
691. Local Hero (1983, Bill Forsyth)
692. The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926, Lotte Reiniger)
693. If... (1968, Lindsay Anderson)
694. O Lucky Man! (1973, Lindsay Anderson)
695. Voyage to Italy (1953, Roberto Rossellini)
696. Day of Wrath (1943, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
697. Ordet (1955, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
698. Gertrud (1966, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
699. Triumph of the Will (1935, Leni Riefenstahl)
700. Shoah (1985, Claude Lanzmann)
701. JFK (1991, Oliver Stone)
702. W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971, Dusan Makevejev)
703. Orlando (1992, Sally Potter)
704. Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Kenji Mizoguchi)
705. The Life of Oharu (1952, Kenji Mizoguchi)
706. Orpheus (1950, Jean Cocteau)
707. Vivre sa vie (1962, Jean-Luc Godard)
708. Hana-bi (1998, Takeshi Kitano)
709. Dekalog (1988, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
710. The Last Laugh (1924, F.W. Murnau)
711. Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922, Fritz Lang)
712. Naked (1993, Mike Leigh)
713. The Sacrifice (1986, Andrei Tarkovsky)
714. A Separation (2011, Asghar Farhadi)
715. The Saragossa Manuscript (1965, Wojciech Has)
716. Sátántangó (1994, Béla Tarr)
717. Van Gogh (1991, Maurice Pialat)
718. Tropical Malady (2004, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
719. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
720. Miller's Crossing (1990, Joel & Ethan Coen)
721. The Servant (1963, Joseph Losey)
722. The Piano Teacher (2001, Michael Haneke)
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Quest Status: 728 / 1000
TSPDT Rank #233
-- 272 films remaining---
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Quest Status: 727 / 1000
TSPDT Rank #809
What a film to start the new year with... It's hard to think of a movie more unpleasant than Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. From the opening scene, Greenaway seems to be doing his utmost to disgust and upset the viewer. After a graceful tracking shot that works its way up from a basement where mangy dogs chew on bloody bones to a loading dock awash in neon blue, we watch the titular thief, a criminal boss and restaurant owner, subjects a naked client to a sickening humiliation involving dog excrement, presumably as punishment for being late on his payments. This scene seems strategically positioned to weed out any potential viewers who might not have the stomach to stick around for the rest of the film, as nearly every scene that follows is uncomfortable to watch in one way or another - even if it's just the tension felt watching two lovers make love in a restaurant's holding room for dead poultry.
Most of the film takes place in said restaurant, where all four characters listed in the title congregate nightly over the course of about a week. The aforementioned thief is a degenerate named Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) who fancies himself a restaurateur, despite his lack of obvious lack of knowledge about food or anything having to do with polite culture. He ridicules and abuses everyone in sight, including the long-suffering cook Richard (Richard Bohringer), who is the embodiment of the refined gourmet culture that he despises and simultaneously tries to emulate. Albert's wife Georgina (Helen Mirren) - he calls her "Georgie" - shoulders the brunt of his abuse. He openly gropes her at the dinner table, humiliates her in front of his thugs, and mocks her sophisticated taste in food, but becomes murderously jealous when she starts an illicit affair with a fellow diner, a soft-spoken librarian named Michael (Alan Howard).
Regardless of how you choose to read the film's barrage of disgusting imagery and indiscriminate cruelty, trying to place the film within a neat allegorical framework is a fool's errand. But it would be just as foolish to disregard Greenaway's bizarro stylistic innovations, which are ultimately more important than the film's allegorical implications. Set in a world where criminals dress in garish costumes that match the Baroque painting hanging on the wall behind them and change depending on the color scheme of a given room, The Cook... always remains firmly outside of the real world. While Greenaway's style had always been painterly, and here that instinct is taken to the utmost extreme, The Cook... is equally theatrical. The dialogue almost sounds like Shakespeare at times - rambling, gaudy and dramatic - with every character other than the four leads acting as mere ciphers for the main characters to play off of. The sets explode with garish colors and form a self-contained world which we are hardly ever allowed to leave.