The numbers are up from last year. Indulge me for a moment my “stats guy” proclivities. In 2019, I watched 242 movies (+37), of which 125 I had never seen before (+34) and 14 I saw in the theatre (+2). All this theatre attendance is still pretty new to me. I spoke last year about the new theatre that opened basically across the street from me and the fact that I’d walk that far to see even remotely interesting movies so I’m not surprised that number is up.
I guess, for me, the big story of 2019 was 1969. The first half of the year was spent in anticipation of the summer release of Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood. Set in ’69, Tarantino’s underappreciated masterpiece is a love letter to Hollywood and 1969. This lead me to explore what films were released during that year 50 years ago and watch the ones that interested me, 9 in total. Tarantino’s film itself I went to the theatre four times to see which is a record for me; I think I went to see Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ (1992) three times. OUATIH is something of a departure for Tarantino and I think I can understand people not liking it; I soon stopped recommending it to friends but I loved it. Partly because during the summer I read Vincent Bugliosi’s riveting book Helter Skelter about the Manson murders so I had Sharon Tate – who features in OUATIH – on the brain.
Same as last year, I watched four movies multiple times; during Elvis Week in January, I watched one of my favourite King Movies, 1968’s Live a Little, Love a Little…6 times. While under the radar as a King Movie, it is near and dear to me and one of the first Elvis movies I ever owned. In addition to having all the things that make Presley’s movies enjoyable, this one has an intangible for me that probably stems from the film’s location shoot and its depiction of late ’60’s Los Angeles. Elvis looks great, his co-stars are attractive and the soundtrack – song for song – may be one of his best. My DVD has one of those menu screens that, after a time, will start the movie playing again; I couldn’t bring myself to stop it. I watched Palm Springs Weekend (1963) and Tony Rome (1967) twice and, as mentioned, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood 4 times.
Here are some highlights and lowlights of the films I saw for the first time in 2019.
Green Book (2018) — Starring Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali and pretty Linda Cardellini from Mad Men, this is an excellent period piece that recreated the 1960’s well. I had some background going into this film via the Florida Historical Society’s podcast that told me about the “green books” that were published at this time; books directing African American travellers where it was safe to eat and sleep, books particularly helpful when travelling through the volatile South. The two principals gave compelling performances and I was hanging on every scene waiting for the breakthrough when they would become friends.
The Girl Next Door (1953) — Here is one of those films that I’ve owned for a long time but never felt compelled to watch. I think mostly because I am not terribly familiar with the lead actors. I was pleasantly surprised by this charming musical, though, and by its stars, June Haver and Dan Dailey. I was captivated by the storyline that had star Haver moving next door to widowed cartoonist Dailey and his young son. I was interested to learn that, after this film, Haver packed Hollywood in and spent the rest of her days living a low-key life as the wife of Fred MacMurray. I laugh when this happens to me; here’s a movie that sat on my shelf for, literally, 10 years. When I finally watch it, I find it’s delightful. Sitting there all this time.
The Stepford Wives (1975) — This came in the summer during a run that saw me watching movies from the ’70’s that started with “S”, a run that included Serpico and Shaft’s Big Score. I was interested to watch The Stepford Wives mainly because I made a point to not read anything about it beforehand; even the back of the DVD box. I re-watch favourite movies so often that it’s novel to have a movie unfold for me while I have no idea what’s going to happen. This film was fascinating. Pretty Katharine Ross being in it helped as I’ve always loved her in The Graduate. Nice to see Paula Prentiss and Tina Louise, as well. I was clenched right up during the last quarter of the film and you who’ve seen it know what I’m talking about. It left an impression, for sure. This DVD, actually, was a pretty good find in the wild as it’s usually the remake you stumble on.
Other highlights include: Hail, Caesar! (Clooney and the ’50’s are a great match), The Thief was one of my surprising film noir finds I discovered while traversing the Public Domain, Pendulum from my “Cinema ’69” series, No Way Out (1987), a fantastic neo-noir/political thriller, Twelve O’Clock High marked the first time I really enjoyed Gregory Peck, Winning and Strangers When We Meet were wonderful films that I reported on for my readers and Joker, The Irishman and Knives Out were some of the best films I’ve seen in awhile making for great trips to the theatre.
Midway (2019) — I saw this remake in the theatre on Remembrance/Veteran’s Day – I felt good about that – but the film was disappointing. The combat scenes were amazing – as they should be nowadays – but it took me awhile to figure out what was wrong. It was the dialogue. Simply put; the things that people were saying. Bush league. Common, hackneyed, second rate. Just all the tropes and things you’ve heard people say in war movies for years. No resonance or depth. Too bad.
The Tunnel of Love (1958) — I finished a Doris Day box set after she passed away by watching this film she made with Richard Widmark. The plot involves a married couple hoping to adopt but is so cavalier about infidelity that it was uncomfortable to watch. Widmark actually thinks he impregnated the woman from the adoption agency?! And Gene Kelly directed.
Grace of My Heart (1996) — I finally found, bought and watched this film that is basically a fictional version of the career of Carole King. It was pretty good but I still can’t decide if it was too clichéd or not. John Turturro was obviously Phil Spector, Matt Dillon was Brian Wilson and Denise’s landmark album – Grace of My Heart – is obviously Tapestry. But am I OK with all that? I’ll need to watch it again.
Other lowlights include: The Great Outdoors (Aykroyd and Candy almost wrecked my vacation), Nightmare in Wax, The Illustrated Man (both these from “Cinema ’69”), One More Time, the Sammy Davis-Peter Lawford sequel to Salt and Pepper was so goofy it was painful. I felt violated by AIP’s Suicide Battalion (1958) but I shouldn’t have been surprised. And it did lead me to The Viking (1931).
Films from 1920’s – 1940’s — 44 (+9)
1950’s — 30 (+13)
1960’s — 62 (+26)
1970’s — 22 (+11)
1980’s — 28 (-2)
1990’s – present — 55 (-3)