MOVIES WATCHED IN 2023: 76-100

Photo by Peter Geo on Unsplash

Films, they just keep on coming. The problem with watching them in bulk is that it becomes an inconquerable Everest, you’re stuck in an endless narrative that can go on ad infinitum until you just give up and tap out. In that sense it’s an endeavour that precisely echoes life itself. We’re in an endless loop of stories – some mundane, some not – with no guarantee of a satisfying conclusion. The hope lies in having more Powell and Pressburger moments along the way than, say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ones.

Anyway, my quest to watch loads of movies this year continues, and here’s the next batch ranked and rated in accordance with the Covid Rating – 1 being very very bad, 19 being very very good.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Starring: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr

Rumour has it that Winston Churchill attempted to shut down production, though the reasons for his outrage are a little murky. Some say it’s because he feared he was being lampooned by the main character Clive Wynne-Candy (played by the very likeable Welsh fellow Roger Livesey) while another school of thought is that he took umbrage with the sympathetic mid-war portrayal of a German officer (played by Anton Walbrook). But thankfully it was one battle that managed to stall the Churchill steamroller, leaving us to marvel 80 years later at a spectacular gem that burrows into the ridiculousness of English pomposity. Oh hang on was that his problem? That was probably his problem wasn’t it?
Covid Rating: 18

Life is Sweet (1990)

Directed by Mike Leigh
Starring: Alison Steadman, Jane Horrocks

Mike Leigh weaves his magic yet again, mining the mess that people make of their lives and peeling away the layers. Whether it’s Timothy Spall’s clumsy attempts to rocket fuel his appeal with a shambolic French restaurant, or particularly Jane Horrocks being devoured by an eating disorder, he always manages to find love, humanity and laughter in the chaos.
Covid Rating: 16

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Directed by John Schlesinger
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight

Lost souls in the big city, the big city being New York City and the time being the 1960s. Not the New York now with its mad gentrification and ironic moustaches, but porno New York with its hustlers and prostitutes and junkies, people with moustaches they really believed in. Two of those boxes are ticked by Hoffman’s hustler (exhibiting severe COVID-like symptoms) and Jon Voight’s big-hearted rent boy Joe Buck. History will tell you it got the Oscar for Best Picture that year beating off (stop it) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (seriously, stop it).
Covid Rating: 16

The Lion in Winter (1968)

Directed by Anthony Harvey
Starring: Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn

O’Toole and Hepburn (K) are a warring couple verbally jousting through an entire night oscillating between hatred and adoration, making it not unlike Burton and Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and frankly they don’t come any better than that. This was also the film that found a young Timothy Dalton impressing so much that he was offered, though politely rejected, the part of 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. More of which coming up.
Covid Rating: 16

The Long Riders (1980)

Directed by Walter Hill
Starring: David Carradine, Keith Carradine

Walter Hill went on to make the ultimate TV Western with Deadwood, and you can almost dot the dots from revisionist Westerns like Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs Miller, through this, and on to Deadwood – with the common denominator of all three being the presence of the great Keith Carradine, here joined by his brothers David (Kill Bill) and Robert (Revenge of the Nerds). They weren’t the only brothers in the movie either with the gimmick stretching to the Quaids (Randy and Dennis), the Guests (Christopher and Nicholas) and James and Stacy Keach. If you’re wondering (quite rightly) what happened to the Bridges (Beau and Jeff) in all of this, don’t worry. Apparently they were “unavailable”.
Covid Rating: 15

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Directed by Peter R. Hunt
Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg

It’s a bold statement, often seen as an act of contrarianism to say it, but this is the best Bond film. It’s the one with the doomed ending that somehow manages to elicit pure masculine emotion from the worst actor in the franchise. But perhaps that’s its alchemy, that Lazenby’s lack of chops is what makes it work. He’s not smug like Sean Connery nor ridiculous like Roger Moore. He’s wooden, handsome but almost featureless, and as such probably closer in kind to Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig. That this also looks incredible makes sense when you discover that the director also worked on The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
Covid Rating: 15

Withnail and I (1987)

Directed by Bruce Robinson
Starring: Paul McGann, Richard E. Grant

The ultimate student film, though interestingly in the original (unpublished) manuscript Withnail, in a final act of suicidal hedonism, ends up drinking wine from a loaded gun and blowing his brains out – a conclusion that might’ve proved a little less popular with sensitive undergraduates.
Covid Rating: 15

The King of Comedy (1982)

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Sandra Bernhard

There appear to be three kinds of Scorsese films. The gangster epics that are most synonymous with the director (Goodfellas, The Irishman, Casino, The Departed blah blah), the earnest epics that people don’t often like (The Last Temptation of Christ, The Age of Innocence, Silence, Kundun), and then the misfits and misfires (Taxi Driver, New York, New York, After Hours). And this one fits with the latter category, sharpening the focus on the freaks and weirdos in 70s/80s New York – in this case the demented fans who obsess over TV celebrities. Like De Niro’s wannabe comic the movie bombed on release, which is a shame because it might be the second best movie the notorious pair made together (after Taxi Driver or Raging Bull depending where you stand).
Covid Rating: 14

Cape Fear (1962)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum

Originally undertaken by Alfred Hitchcock who mapped it all out, put together the story-boards, then pulled out of production at the last minute. But it still feels like a Hitchcock film, his fingerprints are all over it. Scorsese’s version from the early 90s similarly feels like a Hitchcock movie, but more in tips of the hat, and ultimately there’s little to choose between the two – though you could argue that Mitchum’s Max Cady is a considerably scarier prospect than De Niro’s, largely due to his monstrosity wearing a much thinner, and much less cartoonish, veil.
Covid Rating: 14

Millennium Actress (2001)

Directed by Satoshi Kon
Starring: Miyoko Shōji, Mami Koyama

They say this is based on the life of Ozu’s great muse Setsuko Hara, whose magnetic screen presence belied the reality, which was of an actress doing it not for the love but for the money – to the point where she jacked it all in after Yasujirō Ozu died in 1963, refusing to step in front of the camera again before her death in 2015. Anyway, this is an anime homage to a screen legend which also celebrates the endless journeys that unrequited love can take you on.
Covid Rating: 14

Le Mans (1971)

Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Starring: Steve McQueen, Elga Andersen

An odd film with barely a word uttered for the first half hour, and much of it made up of incredible footage of cars racing around a course. When it proceeded to flop Steve McQueen didn’t even bother going to the premiere, choosing instead to let his passion project die alone without him. But the twist is that it’s really good, very much worth a spot on the podium (whatever that means).
Covid Rating: 14

Effi Briest (1974)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Starring: Hanna Schygulla, Ulli Lommel

A black and white German costume drama dealing with the fallout from an extra-marital dalliance, lifting the curtain to reveal the cruel underbelly of so-called polite society. Equally rotten to the core was the relationship between Fassbinder and his leading lady Hanna Schygulla – the Monroe of New German Cinema – who fell out so badly during filming that they didn’t work together for another six years.
Covid Rating: 14

L’Une Chante, L’Autre pas (1977)

Directed by Agnès Varda
Starring: Valérie Mairesse, Thérèse Liotard

Where the first wave of feminism dealt with fundamentals like being allowed to vote, the second wave of the 60s and 70s was about pushing further towards genuine equality and finding loud female voices to be heard in the din. Whether the title of this movie – translating as One Sings, the Other Doesn’t – is alluding to that, je ne sais pas. But as an expression of female solidarity breaking free from the patriarchy it’s like a better, less corporate, version of Barbie.
Covid Rating: 13

The Outsiders (1983)

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon

The one that Francis Ford Coppola made back-to-back with the artsier Rumble Fish and it’s notable for two key reasons. Firstly because its source material was written by a schoolgirl. And secondly, because the cast is like a Who’s Who of mid-80s Hollywood with Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane, and of course, The Karate Kid.
Covid Rating: 13

The Fabelmans (2022)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Gabriel LaBelle, Paul Dano

It’s a funny one. Spielberg would no doubt insist that this is his most personal film yet, and when someone is literally mining their own life for material it’s hard to argue otherwise. But then again, in the same way that the history books are skewed toward the accounts of the victors, aren’t our own versions of our lives similarly warped with self-serving portraits of events? Memories self-consciously curated by an unreliable narrator. It’s probably easier to argue that, actually, Spielberg’s most revealing films are the ones that hid behind someone else’s story? The daddy and abandonment issues that are so palpable in E.T or Close Encounters, isn’t that where the true autobiography lives? Anyway, in terms of great directors excavating their lives, this can’t quite reach the heights of Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, or Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, or Fellini’s Amacord, or Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, or even his old pal George Lucas’ American Graffiti. But as a simple ode to cinema, it’s lovely.
Covid Rating: 13

Valley Girl (1983)

Directed by Martha Coolidge
Starring: Deborah Foreman, Nicolas Cage

Romance between a Valley Girl and a punk, which puts it somewhere in the vicinity of a reverse Pretty in Pink (Pretty in Punk?). As teen romantic comedies go it’s Nicolas Cage’s second best after Peggy Sue Got Married, and as dramatic prom night violence goes it can’t catch Carrie. But let’s give it a solid B for beffort. 
Covid Rating: 12

Run Lola Run (1998)

Directed by Tom Tykwer
Starring: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu

A time-loop thriller that plays the same events over and over again until Lola gets it right. Clocking in at under 90 minutes it’s a popular choice for film-watchers experiencing a similar sense of urgency.
Covid Rating: 12

Rendez-vous in Paris (1995)

Directed by Eric Rohmer
Starring: Clara Bellar, Antoine Basler

We’re not talking peak Rohmer here – it all feels rather thrown together between the Summer and Winter installments of his Tales of the Four Seasons. But as with all Rohmer films, it’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon stretched out on the sofa.
Covid Rating: 12

Her Way (2021)

Directed by Cécile Ducrocq
Starring: Laure Calamy, Nissim Renard

And by “her way”, they mean that Laure Calamy extols the virtue of really taking ownership of your ass, getting her son through the best cookery school in France by going on the game. With mixed results.
Covid Rating: 11

Titanic (1997)

Directed by James Cameron
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

So embedded in modern culture that it’s essentially Casablanca for a new generation, the great love story that never had a chance to bloom. Yet thanks to new-fangled technology like the internet it’s also been completely ruined, because no matter how many times you watch it you can’t ignore the fact that poor Jack might’ve made it if his new girlfriend had just budged up a bit.
Covid Rating: 11

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan

Ambitious, impressive, but when a film sets its stall out as an existential exploration, you need more of a conclusion than “be kind” – that’s just Bill and Ted telling you to “be excellent to each other” all over again. It’s lovely to catch Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan (Short Round) on the way up, though.
Covid Rating: 11

Asteroid City (2023)

Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson

Everything is surface, but perhaps that’s the point? Loneliness is just a condition that people find themselves in and there’s no need to examine it, but again perhaps that’s the point? To some Wes Anderson is pure self-indulgence while to others he’s the gift that keeps on giving. It’s hard to know who’s right.
Covid Rating: 10

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery

Problem here is that everyone roundly hated Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, deeming it too dark, too bleak, too violent, so this was intended as a triumphant recapturing of the bottled boy’s own lightening from Raiders of the Lost Ark – replacing the ark with the grail and the professional rival with the absent father. But there’s something missing. You get the sense that when you’re attempting to resuscitate a franchise, the real Holy Grail is in rediscovering its soul.  
Covid Rating: 10

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023)

Directed by Jeff Rowe
Starring: Ice Cube, Seth Rogen

Looks fantastic, but commits the heinous crime of becoming dull. Painting by numbers.
Covid Rating: 9

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic
Starring: Chris Pratt, Charlie Day

Nokie dokie.
Covid Rating: 2

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