A Year in Film: 2015
What follows are my OCD attempts to list and rate every movie I watch in any given year. (I've done the same for my year's reading in the book log.) Given that I watch some relatively obscure films, I've set it up so that the film title links to the IMDb page for the film so you can get more information easily.
Starting in 2009, I began assigning out star ratings (out of five stars) to films I've watched. Five stars is equivalent to an A, 4½ to an A-/B+, four to a B, and so on.
|The Princess Bride is one of those movies that so defined my childhood and adolescence that to this day, even with more than a decade since my last viewing, I still find myself able to recite most of it - the pauses, the comedic beats, the musical stings, the whole thing. But watching the movie with my children forces me to look at it in a whole different light, and wonder how much it's aged and how well it might hold up. And the wonderful answer is that it hasn't been hurt at all over the years; it's still funny, still wonderful, still charming, and still a blast. Sure, the score has some moments of 80's cheese (but not as many as you might dread; this isn't Ladyhawke, which is nearly ruined by its over-reliance on synthesizer score); sure, there are a couple of moments where the comedy beats are hit a little harder than they need to be (Billy Crystal's scene, unsurprisingly, might be the biggest offender). But none of that really matters, not when the whole thing has such a wonderful fairytale atmosphere and a keen sense of its own silliness and fun. Rob Reiner and writer William Goldman do a superb job blending the fairytale world with a modern sensibility, allowing the actors to bring the characters to life and create a real sense of warmth and affection that you need, and allowing the "present day" framework to comment on the action in a satisfying way that still works well (especially for an 8-year-old boy who hates the "kissy" parts, just like Fred Savage's character in the film). I doubt I can objectively rate The Princess Bride at this point in my life; it's too special to me and too much a part of my life. But it still warms my heart to watch, still makes me laugh, and still just charms me to no end. And watching my kids fall in love with it is even more wonderful for me to have happen.|
|A fantastically creepy horror film that works almost entirely without effects work or gore, Village of the Damned starts simply enough, with an entire village suddenly passing out in unison. It's a weirdly unsettling scene, and Village of the Damned plays it out beautifully, using silence and long camera shots to emphasize the unreality of what we're seeing. It makes the eventual awakening of the village almost a disappointment, as we fear that the rest of the movie can't quite live up to that strange opening, and to some degree, that's true. As the plot continues and the women in the town start turning up pregnant, the film in some ways goes in a more conventional fashion. And yet, that's never quite the case with Village of the Damned, which always feels slightly off and unreal, in an unsettling way. The strange children of the town are disturbing, but never terrifying; the acts they commit are menacing, and yet they remain somewhat sympathetic, in a bizarre way that's hard to place. All of that helps make the film work as well as it does, making it a horror film that's hard to pin down. Are the children the monsters they seem to be? Are they a predator, or simply a new creation defending itself? And what of that strange opening - is it an ominous omen of the danger to come, or simply a side effect of dealing with something we don't understand? Village of the Damned gets a lot of mileage out of its unease and its questions, and it makes for a gloriously strange and unsettling film that works thanks to its performances (especially George Saunders as one of the "fathers" of the town) and its low-key mood, not in spite of them. It's a great little horror gem, and one that works by being more complicated and interesting than I expected - to say nothing of being far moodier and unsettling than I expected at all.|
|One of the most famous short stories ever written gets its first - and still most well-regarded - adaptation in this fantastic little pre-Code thriller. It's a solid adaptation of the story, adding a few characters to help flesh out the dialogue and storytelling (the original story is mainly from the hero's perspective, so we get his running monologue) but still focusing on that killer hook: the survivor of a shipwreck washes onto an island, only to find himself hunted by a master hunter and struggling to fight back. Sure, the performances are a bit over the top, especially Leslie Banks as Zaroff, but it's all just enough to work, turning what could be campy into a nicely deranged performance. And while the movie takes a little too long to get to the hunt, the buildup is worth the wait, as every reversal and moment is played out to the utmost. Add to that some spectacular scenery and sets (especially Zaroff's wonderfully gothic mansion) and you've got a fun thriller that holds up nicely after all these years. And the short length works to the film's advantage, making it feel tighter and leaner than a lot of bloated short story adaptations I've seen; after all, when the story is this good, why add to it more than you need to? All in all, it's a great little thriller, one that does justice to its source material but still works well as a film on its own terms.|