Movies

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I am not a movie buff, but, uh, here you go. I think I want to be a film person more than I currently am; I certainly have outgrown my television phase 1 but I don’t make a particularly strong habit of watching movies.

There is one exception to this, which is that almost every Sunday night for the past year my partner and I have watched a movie together. These come in phases — we had our Miyazaki phase, our pre-code screwball phase, and our Harry Potter phase — but it’s been a really nice tradition.

If you’re doing a similar thing with your movie reviews, please let me know! The only person I know of doing this is my friend Oliver 2 and I really don’t want to have to go through the whole process of creating a Letterboxd account. 3

(Also, be warned: my writeups will probably contain spoilers.)

Filter this:

I think this is what a low-stakes, low-investment romantic comedy should be! There are, I guess, suggestions of conflict and stakes — will Cameron Diaz’s character stay in England? will Kate Winslet break free of her manipulative boss? — but you know exactly how every plot line will unfold and resolve within the first ten minutes of the film. The moments of genuine surprise — Jude Law’s character having two children, Dustin Hoffman randomly being in a Blockbuster — are joyous. All this movie is is a vehicle to let some charming people bounce around each other’s orbit and to make you feel slightly warmer, and it does that very well.

I think the two quibbles I have are:

  1. It is one hundred and forty minutes! That is too long for an airy romantic comedy. Cut out thirty minutes of the fluff (though I suppose one would argue that it’s all fluff) and it’s a much leaner enterprise.
  2. The movie suggests at some clever meta-commentary on romantic comedies, between the WGA playing a role and the (fairly well-done!) non-diegetic movie trailer shenanigans. It could have leaned into this like three degrees more and still gotten some mileage, I think.
★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
Made in 2006

Exactly three entertaining things about this film:

  1. Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker absolutely chewing up the scenery and being legitimately entertaining.
  2. The visual gag of a witch using a vacuum cleaner as a broomstick.
  3. “Billy, the friendly zombie.”

Everything else is bad.

★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 1993
★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 2006

If there’s ever a movie that seems unfair to judge on its own terms its this one. Part 1 was tough to judge on its own terms because it existed purely as table-setting for this, but in many ways this entire movie is only legible to those who are well versed in the universe: and not just the universe of the movies, but the universe of the books. (This is one of those statements that seems impossible to contradict; I am sure there are people who have only seen the movies and they enjoyed this one, but I don’t know of any.)

So if the movie’s goal was to transmute a thrilling and satisfying ending to the books onto the screen, I think it did a really good job. The climactic battle was thrilling and wondrous; some of the manic set pieces, like the Gringotts’ heist, felt the appropriate mix of fun and dangerous. And, true to the book’s form, the epilogue sucked. It’s well acted, well directed, and well scored.

I don’t know what to say, then! It’s a movie you’ll enjoy if you’ll enjoy it. I had a good time.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 2011

My understanding was that this was the ur-romcom in a lot of ways, and it felt like that! The chemistry between the leads was great — and not great in a “great for its time” way. I thought the framing of the entire movie through the Greyhound bus was fun, and it’s hard not to see the threads of this movie (upstairs woman, downstairs rogue) show up in so many of its successors (His Girl Friday! Roman Holiday!) while having that basic structure not cheapen or dullen it in any way. I don’t think there’s anything, like, exclamatory about the film — I wouldn’t peg it for a five-Academy-Award winner — but it was good and fun and easy to recommend.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 1934

It’s interesting the extent to which this movie feels divorced from the ones preceding it “Hogwarts is the best and most important character” might be a stale take but it’s a true one, and while the cinematography of this film (the camp-outs are truly gorgeous!) tries to make up for the lack of turrets and parapets it feels impossible. Everyone is grimy and nobody is wearing robes: besides a few warm and entertaining scenes the film is straight up morose and Serious (which doesn’t bother me quite as much as the Order of the Phoenix’s lack of levity, because here at least it makes sense.)

It’s worth saying that this fails utterly as a stand-alone movie. There is no true climax or denouement; it ends on a bummer and the entire thing feels like the prologue that it truly is. But it still isn’t bad!

★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2010

Okay, now this is what a fantasy movie should be. Absolutely gorgeous effects & cinematography (a marked improvement from the drab darkness and excessively cool tones of Order of the Phoenix), a script with a bunch of levity (the first and I think only Harry Potter movie that legitimately made me laugh more than once!), and a climax that, sure, is overwrought, but looks cool and seems important in the overall narrative.

★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2009

What a joyless two hours. Some notes:

  • An important test for a fiction is: does it imbue its villains and obstacles with any redeeming or interesting characteristics whatsoever? (The answer here, of course, is no.)
  • Helena Bonham Carter appears to be the only person in this movie who knows that it is a fantasy film and that it is okay to emote.
  • Nothing happens! There is so much angst and nothing interesting or useful happens that isn’t a death! Who gives a shit about the prophecy!
  • Okay, the final wizarding duel is pretty fun, and a marked step up from the tug-of-war climax of the fourth movie.
★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2007

A very good low-stakes rom-com. There were just a lot of things I liked:

  • The return of Tony Randall, who was delightful (and perfectly weaselly) in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and even more so here.
  • A very charming opening credits
  • Incredible early-sixties set design and costume design
  • A very fun and of-its-time framing device (I was completely unaware of the concept of a “party line”!)
  • A generally winsome and tweak-y script and direction which made up for the lack of chemistry between the two leads.

And the only thing I think I disliked is the complete lack of climax/denouement — the last ten minutes seemed to melt away without conflict or actual resolution besides “well, they’re together now!”

★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 1959

Just a really, really solid slapstick. Cary Grant is incredible (reading on Wikipedia this was the impetus for his launch into superstardom, which is totally earned); Irene Dunne, who is not my favorite, puts up a superlative back half (her scene as “Lola” is perhaps the best in the entire film.) The movie feels loose and improv-y in a way that few movies of its era do; there are a few bits that age it (my mind is drawn to the very cute and very advanced-for-its-time special effect with the cuckoo clock) but you could do a shot-for-shot remake of this and it’d be well-received.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 1937

You know, the conventional wisdom is that the Craig Bond movies have been in a tick-tock nature: Casino Royale is glorious, but Quantum is bad; Skyfall is glorious, and then Spectre suffers.

And this is true to an extent. Watching this for the first time, after having watched Casino Royale the night prior, highlighted its flaws in sharp relief. The cast is universally less interesting (with the exception of Fields, who I thought played her role superbly); the script is more muddled; the set pieces comically unrealistic.

But it also compared favorably in a few respects! The pacing of the film is, on the whole, better (it helps that it’s forty minutes leaner!); the climactic showdown in the erstwhile hotel, while grandoise in true Bond fashion, was dramatic in a way that I don’t think Casino Royale ever hit. And the general theme of the movie — Bond as an out-of-control widower — works having freshly seen the denoument of the previous film.

It’s not, like, a good film. But it is unfairly maligned, and fine by popcorn standards.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
Made in 2008

I rewatched this having watched it once a long time ago; I remembered liking it quite a bit, and I still do, though perhaps my patience/illusionment with Bond films has waned quite a bit. The cast is great and the setting & plot is superb, but I couldn’t help having two ornery thoughts, somewhat commingled:

  • How is this thing two and a half hours long?
  • Why do the action sequences need to be this long?

There’s probably a taut, superior version of this movie that clocks in at a hundred minutes. But it’s still the most vivid realization of what Bond movies are or can be (barring Skyfall’s slightly meta turn).

★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2006

I came in with high hopes: I like Allen’s ouevre and this was supposed to be one of his best.

And there were parts that I really liked: I thought Allen’s self-insert narrative was sort of silly and sweet, I thought the dynamic between the three sisters was vivid and real, and I thought the thesis of the film — the titular Hannah being the person to whom we’re afforded the least interiority despite her having a lion’s share of grief — was clever and interesting and, given a generous eye, an interesting inversion of the “model sitcom mom” trope so prevalent in the eighties. (Ah, and the music was good.)

But — and maybe it is unfair to say this, to view this film through a 2020 lens — parts of it were just gross! I can ignore the foreshadowing of Allen writing about a man who leaves his wife for a family member, sure, but everything Michael Caine touched in this movie felt despicable. I am okay with him portraying a flawed husband, but his chemistry with every single other character feels pained and alien, and his perspective affords no sympathy.

If I wanted a vaguely misogynist and beautiful film, I’d watch Midnight in Paris; if I wanted something sweet and a little mournful, I’d rewatch Radio Days. I have no desire to re-mine this movie.

Written by Woody Allen
★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 1986

Incredibly good if not revelatory. Heston and Welles (and even Leigh!) were all amazing. The script was great and the core plot was tight (even if the script wasn’t a world-beater.) The opening shot is just as great as all of the direction following it. My only complaint, such as it is, is that I think the best noirs have to leave you with a little bit of emptiness or melancholy: they have to shake your belief a bit. The ‘twist’ ending (Welles’ hunch was right!) was a bit of this, but…I dunno. Not quite enough.

★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 1958

I am maybe being too harsh on this movie with its rating: if I watched it divorced of context, I would surely raise it higher. But, viewed in light of the series, it feels so devoid of so many of the sources of its greatness: interplay between the cast (Jet and Faye are all but absent), a coherent and timeless soundtrack, well-tuned pacing.

There are unquestionably good bits here: the animation and direction are wonderful and unambiguously improved, the Moroccan aesthetic is lovely, and the story of Vincent & Elektra feel very much “in the vein” of the melancholy themes of the show. But elevating this story into a film feels unfair: it would have been better as a two-parter.

★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2001

It was…fine, bordering on solid! I definitely laughed at a handful of parts, and it was surprisingly meta/postmodern (I initially ascribed this to the fact that it was based on a play, but after reading more it sounds like this had absolutely nothing to do with the play itself.)

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
Made in 1957

I think my partner and I called this wholesome at least seven times over the course of the film. It was so good! I love Kiki; I love Jiji; I love the cast of characters whom are all universally warm and kind-hearted. I love flying as a motif, and even though the true arc of the movie (Kiki’s self-assuredness) came to a natural end I could have spent an entire series watching Kiki bop around this lovely world.

It’s tempting to compare this to Totoro, given that I watched it for the first time so recently as well. Totoro definitely hit me harder, and I think the purity and moral at the center of it is more potent; but unlike, say, the Pixar canon, it’s not that Kiki was a slightly lesser version — it had a completely different ambition and message.

★★★★★★★★★☆
Made in 1989

Gorgeous cinematography; really really lovely denouement; pretty fun and chill time overall.

And yet, feels regressive compared to, say, Bringing Up Baby (maybe I’m biased from having spent July watch Grant / Hepburn vehicles?) despite coming out fifteen years latter. Peck doesn’t play lighthearted well, and Hepburn is obviously luminous but there isn’t a tremendous amount of moment-to-moment chemistry (again, excepting those final scenes.)

★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 1953

Objectively a fun, good movie. (I don’t know about “best romantic comedy of all time” — When Harry Met Sally still holds that crown in my opinion — but it’s up there.) The Grant-Hepburn-Stewart trifecta was great, though I was surprised to learn that this was late in the Grant-Hepburn partnership (their chemistry felt off, especially having watched Bringing Up Baby so recently); Hepburn and Hussey were honestly the standout performances, and the script was just the right blend of screwball and sly.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 1940

In retrospect, almost a proto-Blade Runner 2049. I thought the acting and general plot was kinda milquetoast but the underlying setting was a hair above neat, and the depiction of an unevenly distributed future is probably one of the best realizations of science fiction I’ve ever seen on film.

Written by Rian Johnson
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2012
★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2020
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 1938

This movie was exactly what we expected: kind of clever, utterly predictable, very pleasant. I will probably not think about it other again but I recommend it!

★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 2020

There were a few particularly memorable bits to Connery’s performance — his scene peeling and eating an orange, and his absurd over-the-top double entendres — and there is of course a comfort that a Merely Good Heist Movie bestows, but that’s all this was: merely good. It was two hours that were entertaining and utterly predictable and that’s not a bad thing!

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
Made in 1978

My hot take is that this was wholly better than Your Name; the supernatural elements were more interesting, the romance was sweeter, and the auxiliary characters more vivid and profound.

Written by Makoto Shinkai
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2019

1935-era production is rough, mechanically speaking, but the core plot is fun and the climax is Peak Welles.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 1935

Delightful! Felt like a spiritual predecessor to Knives Out. (The age difference between Grant and Hepburn did not age well.)

★★★★★★★★★☆
Made in 1963

A perfect movie about warmth and innocence and what it means to be childlike (and what it means to be adult).

★★★★★★★★★★
Made in 1988

Watched in honor of the late Fred Willard. Pleasant and funny but never quite as, uh, ROFL-tier as I hoped.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
Made in 1997

Great acting by Robbie and Ronan; inconsistent tonal bits and a lack of cinematic urgency; I can’t hold it against the film, but boy does Queen Mary frustrate me.

★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2018

Noticeably worse in every way than its predecessor save a delightful Jimmy Stewart against-type performance.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 1936

inspired by my recent acquisition of nick and nora glasses: this was just….delightful? a noir with the sensibility of a light-hearted soderbergh movie and i will be appropriately binging all of the non-dashiell hammett sequels

★★★★★★★★★☆
Made in 1934

this was so fun. i am reminded of walter scott’s description of austen as a flemish painter: “[the] subjects are not often elegant and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader”

★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 2020

wonderful, wistful depiction of the conversations we have with our former selves (and beautifully animated.) unfortunately, though, ridley and patel are very bad voice actors

★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 1991

Haunting Welles performance, incredible lighting & camerawork, and a perfect ending scene. I can’t think of a single flaw.

★★★★★★★★★☆

It is a very cute bear, Hugh Grant was terrific, and the scene of the cute bear showing his old bear aunt a pop-up version of London pulled me to tears.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

Lead performance was bad; everything else (in particular the cinematography of a very different side of China) was great.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Worth the hype.

★★★★★★★★★☆

Great and honest performances that honor a great and honest script.

★★★★★★★★★☆
★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
Made in 2019
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2006
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 1993
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 1950
★★★★★★★★★★
Made in 2018
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2019
★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2019
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2019
★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 1988
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2006
★★★★★★★★★☆
Made in 2011
★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2004
★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 2019
★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
Made in 1987
★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2018
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2009
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2014
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 1954
★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 2019
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2018
★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2019
★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
Made in 2010
★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2019
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 1987
★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2018
★★★★★★★★★☆
Made in 2012
★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
Made in 2019
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2019
★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2004
★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
Made in 2015
★★★★★★★★★☆
Made in 2018
★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
Made in 2017
★★★★★★★★☆☆
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Made in 2019
★★★★★★★★★☆
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Written by Woody Allen
★★★★★★★★★☆
Made in 2011
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★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Made in 1997
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Made in 2001
  1. You could find me in the 2012 A.V. Club comment section, vigorously debating the finer points of Mad Men. 

  2. Though at the time of writing this, he has only reviewed one movie. Come on, Oliver! 

  3. This isn’t meant to denigrate Letterboxd, which frankly strikes me as the best “content cataloging” service that I’ve ever seen. I just don’t want yet another account inevitably designed to the dustbin of history.