Lockdown Movies 193-202, reviewed and rated

Somehow, after all that, I achieved my goal of watching 202 movies in 2020 with a week to spare. A goal that emerged on the back of at least 50 per cent of my paid work hurling itself from a nosediving plane the very second we went into the first lockdown. Well done me. It was either this or facing reality, either this or months of peeking out over a growing wasteland and shooting flares into the grey sky (actually that might have been quite fun). Either this or taking a long moment to reassess the importance of my professional output (oh Christ, no).

Anyway, there’s a rundown of the full 202 to come in the not too distant future – ranked from best to worst, no less – but for now here’s the final ten in all their glory, assessed and scored accordingly on my handy Covid Rating – 1 being shit, 19 being THE shit.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – the kind of trippy madness Imax cinemas were probably invented for. An all-out assault on the senses, with the story – vignettes about monoliths – seemingly taking a backseat to putting on a good show. In that sense, it almost feels impossible to rate this as a film, it’s more a work of art… but one I wasn’t entirely sold on (and breathe). Truthfully, I found the shrieking monkeys almost unbearable, and much of it too hypnotic to be engrossing. But that’s all splitting hairs really, isn’t it? Because without it, no Star Wars, no Blade Runner, no Alien. It’d be like saying The Beatles were crap.

Covid Rating: 15

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) – I’m desperate to like John Cassavetes, he’s old school, muscular, all cigarettes, chest hair and glasses of scotch, troubled men hanging out with women with great tits. But it’s just not working out. He’s too intense, too indulgent – he builds tension then suffocates it with scenes that outstay their welcome. He sets a movie in a strip club, but one somehow stripped more of its energy than its clothes, leaving you with a sad circus of clowns occasionally flashing their norks to the sound of a single clap. There’s a line between gritty in-yer-face reality, and grit that’s got so gritty it’s turned itself into a beige mush. That said, this is my favourite of his so far, so there’s some progress.

Covid Rating: 13

Black Panther (2018) – the best Marvel movie I’ve seen, and I’ve seen the Thor one, two of The Avengers ones, and I almost saw the first Guardians of the Galaxy one (I fell asleep in the cinema, so the intention was there). The two leads are terrific – the late Chadwick Boseman, and the future great that is Michael B. Jordan – but these are still just soulless spectaculars, proof that the computers are winning. Probably excellent in the cinema.

Covid Rating: 11

Ikiru (1952) – a dying man re-evaluates his life as a corporate slave and decides to take a detour on his way to an early grave by embracing humanity over bureaucracy – essentially by building some kids a playground. Considered a Kurosawa classic, it lacks the subtlety of his countryman Ozu, with a more clanging approach to an existential crisis – to the point where the final act falls into pure exposition as our hero’s legacy is discussed at length by his colleagues. It’s a shame really, because the first hour or so is bloody lovely.

Covid Rating: 14

All that Jazz (1979) – if you’re into self-aggrandising biopics directed by the person they’re based on, you’ll love this. Here the legendary choreographer Bob Fosse (or a version thereof) is a flawed genius, happy to discuss his flaws and especially his genius at length whenever you like – or, actually, whenever he likes. Adored by everyone, irresistible to women. Not a bad film exactly, but just when you’re hoping for Saturday Night Fever it goes all Staying Alive.

Covid Rating: 12

Paris, Texas (1984) – lots of things all at once. A road movie, a Western, a doomed romance, a man desperately seeking redemption, some of the most beautiful shots of LA you’ll ever see, made by the famous German Wim Wenders so a little New Wavy too. It’s kind of like a loveable stray dog that somehow makes you feel both happy and sad, and sticks around for just the right amount of time before disappearing over a hill silhouetted by the sun. Hang on, did I just describe The Littlest Hobo?

Covid Rating: 15

Citizen Kane (1941) – the main problem here, lads, is that in many ways Citizen Kane is the opposite of everything I want in a film (at the moment). Movies tend to fork in one of two directions – towards finding humanity in greatness, or greatness in humanity. And what with us floundering beneath the sweaty bollocks of all manner of Trumps and Johnsons and Murdochs, I’ve come to mostly prefer Option B, celebrations of simple folk, microscopic greatness that mightn’t shake the world off its axis. Hence an all-time classic dedicated to understanding the man behind the myth didn’t completely toast my crumpets, despite the accompanying fanfare. Good though, very fucking good.

Covid Rating: 16

Sunset Boulevard (1950) – a struggling Hollywood screenwriter stumbles across a fallen idol – a bizarre Miss Havisham type (and surely the inspiration for the mum in Schitt’s Creek) who used to be a star of silent movies – and she bankrolls him, puts him up in her decadent gaff, and slowly destroys his life. With so much sneer directed at the film industry, and a ferocious dislike for pomp, it’s like a spectacular suicide note, a big FUCK YOU to his peers. Yet somehow Billy Wilder lived to fight many many more days. Pure punk.  

Covid Rating: 17

Black Narcissus (1947) – nuns going mad at altitude. All repressed sexuality and longing, and an ominous bell tower on a cliff edge that tolls DOOM the second you see it. Flawless suspense, incredible cinematography (that’s right, I said it), and a surprising unrequited love story lurking somewhere in the middle that isn’t a million miles away from the famous In the Mood for Love one. Did I mention the cinematography already? Oh I did.

Covid Rating: 16

8 ½ – my old bête noire rears its head again. I’m just not wired to deal with dream sequences. The Sopranos used to chuck the odd extended one in and I’d be lurching for the remote. My idea of Chinese Water Torture is to have a queue of people lining up to describe their dreams to me. This, Fellini’s hazy homage to getting writer’s block, sits somewhere on the Venn diagram linking Tarkovsky, Godard, and Kaufman, and at its best it’s probably better than all three. But it’s still someone’s dream, isn’t it?

Covid Rating: 15

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