Movies Watched in 2023: 26-50

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

It’s been the best part of four years since COVID-19 went mainstream, entered common vernacular, then around two and a half years since we finally stopped being locked down, but it’s effects can still be felt. There’s a residual element that’s remained. The way we work, mostly from home, that’s remained. The ongoing celebrity of someone like Joe Wicks, that’s remained. My own personal mission to watch lots and lots of films, that’s remained. And lest we forget it, COVID-19 has remained too. The disease is still at large, still doing the rounds, still occasionally biting you on the arse to let you know it’s not going anywhere. Then of course we’ll mention how we’d forgotten about it somehow, how it all seems like a distant dream. But it’s not a distant dream, it’s just become a reality, an everyday norm, like it mutates and adapts to us, we’ve mutated and adapted to it.

Anyway, back to those films. My aim this year is to sit through 150 of the fuckers and then to report back on them using my handy Covid Rating (1 being appalling, 19 being majestic). So here’s the next batch, written about and scored, and ranked from best to least best…

Annie Hall (1977)

Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

The film that spawned generations of modern romcoms, and still the Everest summit for the genre. It’s easy to forget after the maelstrom that’s pulverised his reputation that peak Woody Allen is about as good as comedy gets. Though it’s also worth pointing out that the real star of Annie Hall is Annie Hall herself, Diane Keaton. The template for everything that’s wonderful about the world.
Covid Rating: 18

Woodstock: 3 days of Peace and Music (1970)

Directed by Michael Wadleigh
Starring: Richie Havens, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix

What’s clear about the Woodstock documentary is that there’s a real sense of happening, of jarring generations extolling their own virtues, with frequent footage of bewildered older folk dumbfounded by the world developing around them – the loud music, the barefoot kids traipsing around high on psychedelic drugs, all seemingly in on the con. But then every so often one of the doddery yokels starts praising the liberation of this new crop, hailing the tectonic shift, applauding the changing of the guard despite looking like they should be ticking anticlockwise against counterculture. It’s heartening, there’s probably a lesson in there about not judging books by their covers. Anyway the whole shebang is famously sound-tracked by Joplin, Hendrix, Cocker (Joe, not Jarvis), Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Richie Havens, Crosby, Stills, Nash etc.  Some of whom even managed to stay with us.
Covid Rating: 18

The Mother and The Whore (1973)

Directed by Jean Eustache
Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Bernadette Lafont, Françoise Lebrun

Three and a half hours of a man desperately trying to have it all. Not working, disdainful of those who do, yet determined to enjoy the finer things in life, particularly in terms of women. The whore in the title is sexually liberated rather than turning tricks, while the mother is childless, which makes them purported archetypes rather than literal depictions, perhaps aspirations in some sense. The key protagonist, played by Truffaut favourite Jean-Pierre Léaud, is stricken with a deep sense of entitlement, convinced he should be allowed both comfort and chaos, stability and non-conformity, though both things are constantly eluding him. It’s an interesting study, one that’s seen as misogynistic by some, but you could equally argue that it’s depicting the absurdity of misogyny, the abject failure of what’s ultimately a babyish ideal anyway. Because if there is a conclusion here, which there actually mightn’t be, it’s that you can’t objectify something/someone that isn’t an inanimate object.
Covid Rating: 17

The French Connection (1971)

Directed by William Friedkin
Starring: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider

Lauded for its notorious car chase that finds Popeye Doyle pitting motor against locomotion. What’s lesser acknowledged is that director William Friedkin (two years from scaring the shit out of everyone with The Exorcist) was desperate to make his lead man anyone but Hackman, knocking on the doors of Newman, McQueen, Caan, Mitchum, even pleading with a couple of pug-faced non-actors to take the role. But in the end he got the man he definitely didn’t want, and together they played an absolute blinder.
Covid Rating: 17

Boogie Nights (1997)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds famously distanced himself from the final product, washed his hands of it, despite it being his career climax, his money shot. He wasn’t this good before or since (not even in Deliverance), yet off he trundled in a grump despite having just given you the boning of a lifetime. The rest of the cast is equally pulsating.
Covid Rating: 17

Lift to the Scaffold (1958)

Directed by Louis Malle
Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet

A murder plot hits the skids when a lift breaks down with the killer still in it. If you wanted a gripping elevator pitch, there it is. Then all you need is Jeanne Moreau, once correctly described by Orson Welles as “the world’s greatest actress”, the legendary French director Louis Malle (Atlantic City, My Dinner with Andre), and an entirely improvised soundtrack by Miles Davis.
Covid Rating: 16

Aftersun (2022)

Directed by Charlotte Wells
Starring: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio

A little burdened by the weight of expectation, but this matched the hype, managing to depict real human agony without ever being explicit. The ending is utterly devastating, and that it leaves you to fill in the blanks is a surprisingly refreshing move, particularly at a time when people often seem unable or unwilling to accept ambiguity.
Covid Rating: 16

The Killing (1956)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray

Early Kubrick from back when he was perfecting the art of making small movies that barely made a dent on your day – this, Paths of Glory, both brilliant and both under 90 minutes. In this one, there’s a racetrack heist going down and you’re in it all the way.
Covid Rating: 15

Shadows (1959)

Directed by John Cassavetes
Starring: Ben Carruthers, Leila Goldoni

It’s a strange marriage when you’re trying to insert muscularity into artistry and it doesn’t always land, but here it absolutely does, with my old bête noire John Cassavetes expertly tapping into a time, a place, and a vibe. That vibe mostly being emitted from jazz horns and trumpets.
Covid Rating: 14

Sid and Nancy (1986)

Directed by Alex Cox
Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb

A film of two halves. The first laying the foundation, the rise of punk legend Sid Vicious, the second shifting into gear when Sid’s holed up with Nancy – lost in a New York hotel unable to decipher what day it is, paying her conservative family a visit in scenes that could easily be from a Kenny Everett sketch. Yet somehow fame has never felt bleaker, and lives never more destined to crumble no matter how hard you’re kicking against the tide.
Covid Rating: 14

Smooth Talk (1985)

Directed by Joyce Chopra
Starring: Laura Dern, Treat Williams

This whole ‘nepo baby’ thing is hardly new, but like so many ‘discoveries’ unearthed by a new generation, there’s a reinvigorated sense of vitriol. Of outrage that famous people dare to open doors for their kids, grandkids, extended relatives. But really, why wouldn’t they? They know the nightmare involved in trying to be seen or trying to be heard, they understand the planets that need to align in unfathomable configurations just to pique someone’s curiosity, even for ten lousy minutes. They know, depressingly, that it’s not really about talent anyway. Loads of people have talent, talent is fucking everywhere, talent isn’t the mythical unexplainable force we all dress it up as. Talent is just being able to tap into humanity and translate it outwards somehow, whether that’s on a page or via a microscopic movement in your eyebrows. Being heard, being read, that’s the big brick wall you need to keep running through. But anyway, here’s Laura Dern, daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, proving that despite having doors flung open for her at every turn, she might be one of the few who’d have got there anyway.
Covid Rating: 14

The Passion of Anna (1969)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann

Ullmann, Andersson, Josephson, von Sydow. That’s the Bergman repertory company practically in full bloom in another head scrambler from the great Swede. Here lives change, motives shift, personalities develop in directions you weren’t expecting, and ultimately your job is to accept it and keep up.
Covid Rating: 14

Scum (1979)

Directed by Alan Clarke
Starring: Ray Winstone, Phil Daniels

A remake of a banned BBC version from a few years earlier, and featuring mostly the same cast too, which makes you wonder why they wanted to revisit such a bleak story, one which reveals borstal life to be, surprise surprise, fucking horrific. What’s even more surprising is that, just over midway through, main character Ray Winston’s story line essentially stops dead from nowhere. His ascent to the top is complete (as the “daddy”), done, so the focus shifts to the other end of the food chain, to where they can’t fight their way out with snooker balls in socks, and where human cruelty is continuous and gut-wrenching.
Covid Rating: 14

Amarcord (1973)

Directed by Federico Fellini
Starring: Bruno Zanin, Magali Noel

A bouncy semi-autobiographical tale about a lad coming of age in Fascist Italy. Even the title itself is a play on the Italian for “I remember”, so these are hazy memories from the director, mostly of the masturbatory variety, some figuratively, some literally. There’s definitely a skewering of the Catholic church in there too, a suggestion that its over-zealousness has trapped generations in a suspended state of adolescence, always ruminating on forbidden fruit of one kind or another. Mostly, it must be said, massive melons. Seems old Fellini there was quite the tits man.
Covid Rating: 14

Spring Breakers (2012)

Directed by Harmony Korine
Starring: James Franco, Selena Gomez

A non-story about bikini babes on the rampage, Korine insists he was more concerned about getting the vibe right than concentrating on something as pedestrian as the plot, and there are definitely vibes vibing. Particularly when James Franco’s character bleeds his heart into a Britney lament.
Covid Rating: 13

Rumble Fish (1983)

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke

Coppola’s attempt to make an arthouse film for kids. Not an impossible dream, if you look at most of what’s materialised from Studio Ghibli over the years, but this doesn’t quite nail it. It’s too pretentious (even for this guy, points at face, face is smoking a French cigarette). Problem is, in Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper and Matt Dillon, you’ve got three guys who, at some point, genuinely thought they might be the next Brando, making it a simple case of too many Brandos over-Brandoing the Brando.
Covid Rating: 13

Light Sleeper (1992)

Directed by Paul Schrader
Starring: Willem Defoe, Susan Sarandon

Willem Defoe is a drugs delivery boy with problems getting to sleep. As with all Paul Schrader films (Taxi Driver, American Gigolo) there’s a curious singularity about the character, like they’re a conduit into a strange world, a societal underbelly that you wouldn’t otherwise know about. Schrader’s often talked up his love of Robert Bresson’s languid intensity, and you can really see it here.
Covid Rating: 13

Hussy (1980)

Directed by Matthew Chapman
Starring: Helen Mirren, John Shea

On the poster, Helen Mirren smoulders beneath the tagline “how much sex is enough…”, which suggests this was probably intended for the same demographic that’d lapped up late-70s sex dramas like The Bitch and The Stud (both starring the great Joan Collins). Yet, somehow, defying everything you thought you knew, it’s actually quite good. Mirren getting her groove on will steam up plenty of specs, while the fella (latterly from Smallville) trying to emancipate her from a prostitute’s life is channeling peak era Pacino and not always unconvincingly.
Covid Rating: 13

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Directed by Sergei Eisenstein
Starring: Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barksy

An act of mass refusal to eat rotten meat mushrooms into chaotic violence and iconic cinematic moments, not least a pram hurtling down some steps, which was later ‘borrowed’ by De Palma in The Untouchables.  A masterpiece of its time – that time being Soviet Russia in 1925.
Covid Rating: 12

The Business (2005)

Directed by Nick Love
Starring: Danny Dyer, Tamer Hassan

Geezers out in Spain living it up. You know what you’re getting when there’s a Danny Dyer voiceover, it’s a lads’ mag interpretation of sucking the marrow out of life. They’re going to ape Tony Montana in Sergio Tacchini and have a rollicking good time with it. But actually, the real point of interest here is Dyer’s piece of crumpet, played by the future Mrs Harvey Weinstein, Georgina Chapman. You wonder which role might’ve been the more challenging one.
Covid Rating: 12

Class (1983)

Directed by Lewis John Carlino
Starring: Andrew McCarthy, Jacqueline Bisset

Andrew McCarthy rogers Rob Lowe’s mum in what sounds like another round of vacuous Brat Pack shenanigans, yet it’s much better than it should be. There’s a surprisingly believable male friendship at its core, McCarthy’s mum-shagger is in constant conflict, and Jacqueline Bisset nails it (no pun) as the Mrs Robinson. Granted it’s rather let down by mansplaining her infidelity away by having her sectioned, putting it all down to a moment of middle-aged insanity, shrew-like behaviour of some sort, but apart from that, surprising.
Covid Rating: 12

Fear City (1984)

Directed by Abel Ferrara
Starring: Tom Berenger, Melanie Griffith

A serial killer is targeting exotic dancers, one of whom could yet be Melanie Griffith who’s hot as hell (and soon to be of Working Girl), so it falls to Tom Berenger (soon to be of Platoon), a retired boxer turned heavy, to bring the murderous muthafucker to street justice.   
Covid Rating: 12

Weird Science (1985)

Directed by John Hughes
Starring: Anthony Michael Hall, Kelly LeBrock

Shaming, all kinds of shaming, slut shaming, nerd shaming, woman shaming, man shaming, hot women snogging underage boys, possibly having sex with them too, a little bit of broad-stroke racism for good measure. Yet, somehow, this has aged quite well.
Covid Rating: 12

Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Directed by Gregory Jacobs
Starring: Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello

Hollywood legend Sly Stallone has made a career out of boiling movie franchises down to their bare bones, to the point where they’re little more than elaborate muscle montages, and the Magic Mike franchise appears to be following suit. The first one had a gritty story line playing in the background. But this, the second installment, just has more dudes, and more stripping. It definitely knows which side its buttocks are buttered on.
Covid Rating: 9

Flash Gordon (1980)

Directed by Mike Hodges
Starring: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson

Written by the guy who wrote The Paralax View and Three Days of the Condor, directed by Mike Hodges who made Get Carter. The villain’s played by a Bergman regular, you’ve got Mariangela Melato who starred in the original Swept Away, big time thesps like Brian Blessed and Timothy Dalton, the astonishingly hot Ornella Muti. Yet it’s appalling. Wonderfully, brilliantly shit. One of the greatest bad films ever made, possibly even the absolute best/worst.
Covid Rating: 9

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