Lost in the Movies: October 2013

Western Countdown - Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

This review, my first in over six months (the longest gap since Lost in the Movies began in 2008), is an entry in the Wonders in the Dark western countdown, where the 1973 Sam Peckinpah picture was voted #30. The piece has been cross-posted on Wonders, and you can visit that site for more comments and discussion.

Movies are motifs and moments as well as stories - individual, isolated campfires flickering in the desert dusk and not just landscapes strung together by a stretch of lonesome road. Perhaps Westerns more than most other narrative films rely on this identification with details rather than plot development. Indeed, often the plots exist as clotheslines over which to string the details: the kids playing in the dirt staring up in awe at the outlaws riding nonchalantly through town, the bedroom sequence in which a lonely drifter becomes loquacious with a local whore, the banter over whisky at the bar (nobody drinks beer in saloons, it seems). Audiences go to Westerns - or went to Westerns when they were more popular - less to experience surprise twists and turns in a novelistic story than to gaze with affection and curiosity at a portrait of a time and place both familiar and foreign.

"Revisionist" directors like Sam Peckinpah may have upset and upturned conventions, but they also honored and expanded upon those conventions in the first place. Watching films like The Wild Bunch today, their once-groundbreaking violence no longer shocks; one is struck instead by the ways in which they feel nostalgic or old-fashioned. They exude a sense of affectionate camaraderie which one seldom finds outside of buddy comedies (albeit sans stoicism) in 2013. Perhaps no Western more acutely captures the passage from warm if rough camaraderie into brooding, suspicious isolation than Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973). Even stylistically, the film - particularly when comparing its various incarnations (three have been released over the years) - is torn between a sense of long, lingering (perhaps excessive) attention to detail and a relentless march toward an inevitable outcome.

#WatchlistScreenCaps, 10/4 - 10/27

Here are the last ten films I watched (except my classic cartoon marathon, which was gathered on its own page), with a screen-captured image and caption. This week, all titles were brought to my attention by Sam Juliano of Wonders in the Dark (years ago in some cases, but I'm only just catching up). Visit my #WatchlistScreenCaps archive for images from everything I've watched since February.

The rest of 90 Years of Cinema: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012

My picks for best supporting actor and actress, score, cinematography, screenplay, editing, and other miscellaneous categories year-by-year (plus honorable mentions, runners-up, and close calls) based on my choices in the Wonders in the Dark weekly poll

Read the introduction for background & further explanation

Part of the fun in voting each week was not just choosing the big dogs, but being reminded of a brief but classic supporting performance, finding ways to reward films that hadn't made any of the top categories (or inventing new categories yourself to do so), or even running down the massive list of honorable mentions and close calls. Below are all the remaining categories I voted in, some of which I made up just for fun and only stuck with for a couple decades (those I was most enthusiastic about). There's even a category I only used once, though the winner was certainly deserving.

Originally I planned to link every title that had been featured elsewhere on my blog, but it didn't look good and the task was extraordinarily tedious. I trust if a title interests you, you can find your way to my directory or movie timeline and discover what else I think about them. Images have been used more sparingly as well, one for each decade of the supporting picks, and then only above the categories from there down. Putting together this series of posts was stupefyingly complicated and laborious, so much so that I probably wouldn't have done it had I known what was in store. But I'm glad I didn't - aren't you?

Although I dithered, I eventually included some stats at the end of this post, basically noting which directors, actors, and genres I most favored. On the other hand, I did not follow through on the idea of linking to individual ballots in the Wonders poll so that readers could check out all my votes for a given year in one place, as well as reading my occasional comments on said choices (check out this category tag to track them down, if you must). However, I will link my 1973 ballot, by far my longest in which I wax rhapsodic about one of my favorite years in cinema history. After all the lists, stats, and classifications in the world, that's really what it comes back to.

This concludes a week in which I posted my top feature films, short films, actors, actresses, and directors for 1923 - 2012

From now on, all of my winners can be found on a single "90 Years of Cinema" page as well.

90 Years of Directors: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012

My picks for best feature year-by-year, based on my choices in the Wonders in the Dark weekly poll

Read the introduction for background & further explanation

Though their role lies at the center of filmmaking, my "Directors" list may comprise the most idiosyncratic category. Unlike the Academy and other award-bestowers, I mostly gave my "Picture" and "Director" honors to different films each year; in fact, less than a quarter of my selections match up. Why? Sometimes I misfired in the name of diversity, missing perfect opportunities to reward Vidor, Lean, Fellini, Melville, Bertolucci, Rohmer, and Jia among all-time personal favorites, not to mention the legendary Renoir, Bunuel, Rossellini, Truffaut, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Chaplin, or (gulp) Ford so that I could spread the riches among multiple films in a given year. None of these deserving auteurs ever won, while others (no less deserving, mind you) racked up two or three awards each (Bergman won only once, for one of his most obscure movies; I skipped numerous chances to reward both him and Ford, thinking they'd have plenty of other opportunities and then somehow they got lost in the shuffle). Doing it again, I'd probably impose a limitation on myself: let each director win only once. After all, the ranking is arbitrary to begin with; might as well maximize diversity. Ah well...too late now.

With those mea culpas pronounced, there are also some good reasons for the frequent mismatches between picture and director. For one, while I voted for best feature (or short) based mostly on personal passion - I judged the directing category more coolly. I'd hesitate to employ that bugaboo "objectivity" but I did generally choose films with pronounced styles, directed with bold and often highly controlled formal choices - films where I could assess in concrete terms what the director had done, while admiring his or her discipline (even if that discipline was shot through with improvisation). Occasionally these films are far from being favorites, but I respect their vision nonetheless. To put it in an elusive phrase, I voted based on "mise en scene." To me that means four essential elements: composition, camera movement, movement within the frame, and editing (less in terms of dodging mistakes and trimming fat than planning and shaping a rhythm). Yes, many directors oversee all elements and details of a production but it is in these areas they earn the right to sign their name. Performances are essential too, of course (though one never quite knows where the director ends and the actor begins) but for my purposes here I was more concerned with how they were shaped into a larger pattern than the elicitation of individual moments.

The results are surprisingly different from my own sensibility, which favors spontaneity and visceral, kinetic energy to meticulous precision and execution (well, maybe I favor the latter when it comes to blogging if not filmmaking or film appreciation), but then we're often drawn to our opposites, aren't we?

As with the actors and actresses, I've included the director's lifespan so you can glean their age. I've also noted the winner of a given year, so you can see where my choices for film and director part ways. And of course I've illustrated every selection; in this case, choosing images of the director from that particular time - in most cases, on the set of that particular movie (surprisingly available in most cases). By the way, did you know that Terrence Malick's face doesn't appear once in the 1-hour documentary on The New World disc? Interesting...

So far this week I've posted my top feature films, short films, actors, and actresses for 1923 - 2012

90 Years of Actresses: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012

My picks for best actresses year-by-year, based on my choices in the Wonders in the Dark weekly poll

Read the introduction for background & further explanation

It has always been a convention of awards-givers to divvy up the acting categories by gender, although this makes little sense in terms of actual craft (one wonders had more female directors made it into the industry, would the directing category would be split in two as well?). Are actors and actresses apples and oranges or two slightly varying strands of the same fruit? Regardless, doubling the category doubles the fun of picking winners and opens up interesting questions about how viewers and filmmakers approach the two sexes. As with the actors yesterday, I tend to favor actresses with emotionally ambitious approaches and with an energetic, larger-than-life quality. These performances vary between a touching fragility and a hard-edged dynamism, much like the men, although manifested in different ways (although in early years, there's a lot more comedy, and in later years a lot more emotionally intense drama).

Alongside the names of actresses and films, I've included lifespans (to roughly determine the age), character names, and directors of the film in question. I followed Allan's categorizations in most cases, but had to protest his characterization of Ana Torrent's performance in Cria Cuervos as "supporting" - she's a lead if there was one, despite her age. Below the full lineup, I've listed another series of links - these lead to other posts on this blog covering the films these actresses appeared in.

So far this week I've posted my top feature films, short films, and actors for 1923 - 2012

90 Years of Actors: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012

My picks for best actors year-by-year, based on my choices in the Wonders in the Dark weekly poll

Read the introduction for background & further explanation

From Severin Mars, who died before this lineup even opens (my ballot's only posthumous award) to Ryan Gosling, born the same decade as me this list runs the gamut of acting eras and styles. I think of myself as someone who prefers a "naturalistic" style of performance, but scrolling through these characters I notice that many are over-the-top and larger-than-life. Clearly I enjoy an actor who's willing to chew scenery with gusto - but along with colorfulness, I appreciate intensity. There are quiet types below as well, but they tend to simmer beneath the surface. These actors skew younger than I expected and to my surprise I see that none are over sixty. I also left out some notable names (Jack Nicholson, in particular, is a grievous absence) while rewarding others numerous times but some of those absences can at least be found on the upcoming supporting list, a small consolation perhaps but a great performance is a great performance regardless of size.

Allan was the one who determined what counted as a lead vs. supporting performance, and I think in some cases he departed from the Academy's criterion. I followed suit. In addition to the actor's name, film's title, and accompanying image (I tried to find pictures isolating or at least focusing on the person in question), I also included the director(s) who worked with the performer, the name of the character portrayed, and the actor's lifespan so you can roughly glean their age at the time. Below the full lineup, I've listed another series of links - these lead to other posts on this blog covering the films these actors appeared in.

So far this week I've posted my top feature films and top short films for 1923 - 2012

90 Years of Shorts: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012

My picks for best shorts year-by-year, based on my choices in the Wonders in the Dark weekly poll

Read the introduction for background & further explanation

Though this category tends to get overlooked, it's the one I'm most excited about for several reasons. First, precisely because short films are often ignored, this lineup is full of surprises, hidden gems of cinema history. Second, I get to focus more on animation and the avant-garde, areas usually drowned out in the more crowded and narrative-heavy feature field. Finally, after 1960 shorts were organized by me in the weekly poll, so I discovered many of the following films in the process of voting. Even so, this category feels incomplete because many weeks I could only see a handful of nominees (and I also missed some votes in the early years, as you'll see). Yet I'm satisfied with most every choice below, and I hope you'll watch these films too (most are available online) - maybe one a day for the next few months? Share your thoughts below!

To qualify as a short on Allan's ballot, the film must be less than 40 minutes. Same as yesterday, titles are accompanied by a single producing country, director or occasionally producer for some cartoons, and a genre (I focus on only one dominant characteristic so that something like a Quay brothers film - at once animation, music video, and avant-garde - is just tagged as "animation"). Beneath the full lineup, I've listed another series of links - these lead to other posts on this blog covering the film in question.

Yesterday I posted my top feature films for 1923 - 2012

90 Years of Features: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012

My picks for best feature year-by-year, based on my choices in the Wonders in the Dark weekly poll

Read the introduction for background & further explanation

This category is at once the most subjective and the least erratic - I would probably stand by most (though not all!) of these choices today, which is more than I can say for some of my other selections. Going with my gut, I treated the category more as a "favorite" than a "best" - that is to say, I gave enthusiasm the edge over admiration. The results reveal an eclectic taste, I guess - everything from animation to documentary to experimental, across four continents - but also a consistent sensibility. I like visceral cinema, movies that grab ahold of you via bold and inventive choices in camera, theme, character, and construction. As Sam Fuller says in Pierrot le fou (not featured below, though the quote will appear again elsewhere): "Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word: emotion." That's true whether you're a psychologically tormented cross-dressing saint, a hardbitten yet sweetly naive streetwalker, a wittily wry and deeply pained playwright...or a brave little toaster.

Every title is accompanied by a single producing country (I chose one in the case of co-productions), the director (unless another participant has greater claim as auteur), and a genre assignation, debatable at best but included just for fun. And then there's the image, usually a screen-cap - for this category I chose pictures to represent the wide range of cinematic expression: from close-up to wide shot, distilling the luminosity of a face or the sweep of an evocative landscape.

Do you know these films? If so, share your own thoughts below. If not, check out the links below, which lead to any relevant posts (be they essays, visual tributes, or video clips) featured on this very blog. Get ready to explore, but with fair warning: there be dragons...

Introducing 90 Years of Cinema: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012

My personal picks for the best of each year from 1923 to 2012
Six illustrated lists will follow each day this week, beginning tomorrow

Updte: view "90 Years of Cinema" on a single page

In January 2012, Allan Fish introduced a new weekly series on Wonders in the Dark: an "alternate Oscars" series in which voters on the site offered their picks (20/20 hindsight & all) for the best feature, short, director, actor, and actress of every year since 1921. I missed the first few weeks but began voting in 1923 and kept it up all the way through 2012, which concluded this past weekend.

Providing ballots based on his encyclopedic knowledge of film history, Allan eventually expanded the categories to include supporting actor and actress, cinematography, and score. Many of us, overcome by enthusiasm, added further categories just for our fun (since they wouldn't be tabulated). From my fifth ballot on, I voted for screenplay and editing, and in years when the competition was tight I added more playful groupings like "best line," "best ensemble," "best scene," and "best use of music."

Last of the List: #iPodAlbumPlaylist, pt. VI

I've just completed another playlist of twenty-five albums. This represented the final piece of a longer album playlist I made back in May - from now on these lists will be compiled closer to when I actually listen to them. As usual, the iPod was placed on album shuffle so the order is arbitrary. Some are familiar favorites, others new discoveries for me. You can also follow my listenings on Twitter, scan my last playlist or look at all previous round-ups on this blog.

A Saturday of Classic Cartoons: 90 images from my animation viewing marathon, 10/5

What day better than Saturday for a classic cartoon marathon? This past weekend, I got up while it was still dark out and, in an effort that would've made my 10-year-old self proud, extended a Saturday morning tradition well into the evening. I've been on a vacation from work this past week (it had been over a year since I'd taken more than four days off) and using the opportunity to catch up with many discs I've owned - in some cases for years - but never watched (as in never never - many were blind buys). Among these were four cartoon DVDs: Mickey Mouse in color & black-and-white, a Looney Tunes collection, and a cheapo anthology of 100 cartoons.

Since July I've been steadily making my way through these (see "100 Cartoons in 100 Images" from August) but I figured now was the time to finally plough through and finish 'em. So I did. There were some familiar favorites (including selections I hadn't seen since VHS tape in the late 80s - what an uncanny sensation to rewatch those!), several duds or weak efforts (I confirmed that I really tend to prefer 30s & 40s cartoons to those from the 50s & 60s), some fascinating oddities (including that cartoon with human lips Tarantino sampled in Pulp Fiction), and really revealing historical contexts.

In the latter category there was a slew of offensive racial imagery which I ended up not screen-capping even as an example (the Disney disc features Leonard Maltin nervously providing context before certain shorts - though the Warners and Fleischers cartoons I saw had more extensive stereotyping). Highlighting these is a worthy effort, but it didn't fit the tone of this lineup; perhaps in another post. On a more upbeat note, I also found these cartoons more culturally on-the-nose than many live-action features produced around the same time; somehow that vibrant, bouncy swingin' 30s & 40s energies is communicated more readily via animation.

Below are 90 screen-caps, including 3 from TV show (these appear smaller than the others and will not be included in the official #WatchlistScreenCaps directory). I've included a caption for each, usually a joke, alliterative description, or bad pun (though often, the opportunities for those were already taken by the toon's title) - although occasionally they express personal admiration especially for the dazzling accomplishments of Robert Clampett (the only linked title leads to a clip from my favorite film of his).

If you've seen any of these, or have any questions or comments, leave 'em below. Here we go...

Generations Linked by Video: The iHistory WW2 Project & Interview with Jeffrey Worthington

 The iHistory WW2 Video Competition
"The iHistory WW2 video competition is proud to connect teenagers with WWII veterans, giving students the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of history. The students will film an interview with a WWII veteran that will be submitted to the Library of Congress. Then the students will use editing resources provided on our website to make a mini-documentary which they will submit to the competition on YouTube." - from "About the iHistory WW2 Contest"

There's a moment near the start of The Century (a documentary miniseries from 1999) that I've always found magical. The program begins unexpectedly in small-town New Jersey around '96 or '97, peeking into the corners of the familiar present to notice unexpected hints of the past. While there are many revealing places (including a car garage that was once a stable, back when "horsepower" meant just that), the most powerful and poignant reminders are the people who inhabit these places. It's their voices that carry us into the past, a miraculous dissolve from a moonlit sky to archival footage of dancing soldiers and parading movie stars and moonwalking astronauts...never has history seemed so alive.

That's the power of human memory, and the power of modern technology to capture and deliver these memories to a new generation. And that is why I was so intrigued to find out about the iHistory World War 2 project, a contest (sponsored by the nonprofit Worthington Foundation) encouraging young students to record interviews with World War 2 veterans; students will then be given the opportunity to craft polished documentary projects. This idea perfectly captures ability modern media's ability to bring history to life. Furthermore the time is now, because the youngest WW2 vets are now in their late eighties, and they aren't getting any younger.

I heard about the contest via email; I receive many such notifications and usually can't follow up even with the interesting ones. Yet I was fascinated by this project - its historical relevance, its cross-generational connections, its ability to open up filmmaking for young people who many never have considered themselves filmmakers before - and so I scheduled an interview with Jeffrey Worthington, founder and CEO of the Worthington Foundation. At the appointed time, Jeffrey was dealing with an unforeseen emergency, but he was kind enough to respond to my questions anyway, and the results are below. For more information, you can visit the iHistory WW2 contest website. The full interview follows the jump.

#WatchlistScreenCaps, 10/2 - 10/4 (live-action short films edition)

Here are the last ten films I watched (all of which happen to be live-action shorts - variously comedic, musical, documentary, and avant-garde), with a screen-captured image and epigram on the subject. Visit my #WatchlistScreenCaps archive for more arresting images.

#WatchlistScreenCaps, 9/21 - 10/2

Here are the last ten films I watched, with a screen-captured image and quick sentence on the subject (excepting my documentary marathon, which was gathered on its own page). Visit my #WatchlistScreenCaps archive for more arresting images. Links lead to any previous posts on the film in question.

Images from the Documentary Marathon, 10/1

Yesterday (October 1), I held a viewing marathon in which I watched ten documentaries. Here they are, with a screen-captured image and personal epigram. Visit my #WatchlistScreenCaps archive for more arresting images.

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