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Films we're watching in 2020

Literary Snobs

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Jan 1, 10:39pm Top

Started off the new year with a gloomy Swedish science fiction film, "Aniara".

A colony ship en route to Mars is propelled off-course, destined for the empty reaches of space. What kind of society survives aboard a ship where everyone knows there's no hope of ever setting foot on solid land?

Not altogether effective but the film does not shy away from existential despair and for that--


Edited: Jan 3, 12:24am Top

>1 CliffBurns: "Hello, we noticed you are moving kind of slow recently - would you like to join us as...um... for dinner?" ;-)

:::explaining my attempt at wit - an anticipated conversation in the flick.::

Jan 2, 6:36pm Top

I note that Ian picked "Aniara" as his favorite film of 2019 and I can see why.

It's above and beyond the usual SF trash. The last few minutes are absolutely haunting. It's hard for us to imagine the true immensity of space, the time required to traverse even a relatively short distance (say, a couple of light years), let alone an entire galaxy.

And the vast majority of it is completely empty. A true void.

Terrifying to ponder.

Jan 2, 6:54pm Top

>3 CliffBurns: I have it on my list, when I can find it.....

Jan 2, 7:11pm Top

Watch it as a double bill with Claire Denis' "High Life".

It'll blow your mind like a dose of Owsley-era acid...

Jan 3, 2:19am Top

>3 CliffBurns: It's also Swedish :-)

>5 CliffBurns: I loved the first act of High Life, which reminded me a bit of video installations and the films of Ben Rivers. But then it went all clichéd and violent and I went off it.

Edited: Jan 3, 2:25am Top

"High Life" isn't perfect but I think you'll agree that in terms of SF cinema the bar is pretty fucking low.

"High Life" is, I assert, more original than most and therefore deserving of some credit.

Again, when you compare it to a waste of celluloid like "Ad Astra"...

Jan 3, 8:56am Top

>7 CliffBurns: Hollywood sf cinema, perhaps - *that* bar is low. And the Denis is hardly Hollywood. But the idea of putting a bunch of prisoners in a sealed spacecraft and watching them kill each other is as old as the genre itself, if not older. I also found the spacesuits really annoying because they clearly weren't airtight, but I'll admit that's just a quibble :-)

Jan 3, 11:52am Top

I think prolonged exposure to the void, especially when there's no hope of return, is enough to drive anyone to murder and mayhem--in that sense, there is some similarity between "High Life" and "Aniara".

Jan 3, 1:49pm Top

>9 CliffBurns: Point taken, although I think Aniara is driven by despair but High Life simply presents criminals as inherently violent and brutal.

I'm currently rewatching Ad Astra and I do actually think I like it. It has its flaws - bodies don't explode in a vacuum, not even baboons - and the lighting is too fierce of interplanetary space, but... I like its distant, unemotional tone. In fact, I despise movies that all about the "feels" - like the new Star Wars films - and much prefer ones that are cold. OTOH, why do all space movies seems to have some irredeemable flaw? Gravity could have been great, but the ending implied everything that had gone before was the consequence of hubris, like some bad Greek myth. I suspect Ad Astra is the same. The only space movie, and it was actually a made-for-TV mini-series, that is actually driven by a love of science that I can think of is this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Odyssey_(TV_series)

Jan 3, 2:01pm Top

i'm invariably disappointed when I watch contemporary SF cinema. Sometimes there are pleasant surprises, like "Cargo" a few years back, but that's mighty rare.

It's either a monster-in-space movie or utterly witless (lacking humor and intelligence, a la the recent offerings in the "Alien" franchise).

But what's really missing is, here I go again, that sensawunda. I'm not talking about eye-popping CGI, I mean a film that gives some hint of the vastness and scale of space that dwarfs our tiny, inconsequential human presence--there are 100 BILLION galaxies in the observable universe and our Milky Way is positively tiny compared to many others.

It is an awe-inspiring setting for a movie, yet few film-makers (Kubrick, Tarkovsky) grasp the spiritual and existential questions it engenders.

Jan 3, 2:13pm Top

>11 CliffBurns: Totally agree. I loved Cargo - thoroughly clichéd but lots of nice spins on the clichés. Alien is still the best film in the Alien franchise. But there's been some good stuff this century - like these https://iansales.com/2014/11/24/best-sf-films-since-2000/

Jan 3, 2:16pm Top

And, of course, don't get me started on TV sf, most of which is either shit or fascist or both. I love BSG because of the choices it was forced to make. I loathe The Expanse. Stargate Sg-1 is lots of fun. Andromeda is meh.

Jan 3, 3:27pm Top

Have you seen the re-booted "Lost in Space"?

The original Irwin Allen series from the 1960s was shite, shite, shite, but the new version has its moments. There's too much family drama (especially in the midst of crisis) but the acting is good and there have been some cool twists and turns. Love the robot in the new series too, it's shit scary.

Jan 3, 3:36pm Top

#12--I liked a number of the films you list--I wasn't a fan of "Under the Skin", I might substitute "Equilibrium" for that one.

Jan 3, 6:59pm Top

>10 iansales: The strange thing about 'Space Odyssey' (which I rate highly, too) is that it was actually made as a documentary: "This is what we think a future Solar System Grand Tour will look like". And yet the production team and the players got the spirit of exploration and discovery right, and the emotional landscape was really convincing.

Compare and contrast with the National Geographic's 'Mars', which didn't succeed on either front, in part precisely because the documentary they shoehorned in was "A Day in the Life of Elon Musk". Apart from anything else, it meant there was a great big discontinuity between the documentary and drama threads in the series, whereas the planetary science in 'Space Odyssey' was (and still is) seamlessly inserted, even though we know some of it has been overtaken by new discoveries since.

Jan 4, 4:03am Top

I already know 99% of the movies I'll be watching in 2020: Pre-70s, preferably b/w & with dire special effects, ones about alien robots, mysterious killer heat waves, invisible Earth-invaders, unearthed malevolent prehistoric creatures. A couple channels here show only oldies and some of those are bound to turn up on them. Also the occasional documentary film.

Jan 4, 4:49am Top

>14 CliffBurns: I've seen the first season but not the second. Yes, it had its moments and it was much better than the camp farce that was the original.

Jan 5, 11:09pm Top

Took advantage of a free introductory offer for streaming from Shudder TV and watched Issa Lopez's "Tigers Are Not Afraid".

Sherron and i were blown away.

Stunning film, realistic performances--imagine "Los Olivados" mixed with "City of God", with a supernatural angle thrown in.

Young girl in crime-ridden Mexico loses her mother and falls in with a street-smart gang of kids. They are being hunted by narco-killers but the ghosts around them guide and (sometimes) protect them.

Cannot praise this film highly enough.

Must see film.

Here's a good interview with the director:


Jan 7, 11:00am Top

Dipping into my week-long Shudder-TV membership, watched an old horror film shot in Canada in 1980.

I remembered "The Changeling" with fondness but...I was wrong.

The film does not date well--hard to believe it was directed by Peter Medak, the man responsible for "The Ruling Class".

"The Changeling" is dull, formulaic, very little to recommend it.

So I won't.

Jan 7, 6:37pm Top

Gord sent me this:

Hidden gems of cinema from the 2010s:


I'll second Alex Ross Perry's opinion on "Hard to be a God". A MONUMENTAL film, among the greatest ever.

Jan 8, 1:00am Top

A double feature on Shudder TV tonight (gotta watch as many films as I can before the trial subscription runs out).

The first was a real find, Xander Prince's "Are We Not Cats".

Unsettling, to say the least. Loser falls in with a gal who, like him, has a thing for eating human hair. Sounds too weird, right? But this small, indie film really captures the psyches of marginal figures, barely scraping by on the fringes of society. It's an accomplished effort, no amateurism and it will likely sneak on to my year's best list for 2020.

The second flick was one I'd seen before, James Whale's creaky "Old Dark House". Love Ernest Thesiger in this one. Stagy and dated, at 71 minutes it was just the right length.

Edited: Jan 8, 1:18am Top

Just finished Onibaba a 1964 film by Kaneto Shindo. This was kind of a surprise. It is always talked about as a horror classic but it is really more of a psychological thriller. Very few characters, very precise well developed conflict. And it is super sexy.


Edited: Jan 12, 2:30pm Top

>21 CliffBurns: & others. If you liked “Hard to be a God”, I don’t think I finished watching it, then the movie I watched last night will be orgasmic for you.

“Lighthouse”, is a black & white/washed out grey film slimed over with misery from head to foot. Admittedly an artistic journal of a trip to madness it is still a flick you will need a break from after watching. Some of the gay rape overtones made me uncomfortable {not romantic!}. Two people meeting for the first time are stranded in their jobs as lighthouse keepers by a huge storm. Two people with serious grooming issues.


Jan 13, 10:05pm Top

"The Lighthouse" is indeed on my list--should be arriving as an inter-library loan in a week or two.

I tend to like movies that others find nihilistic or incomprehensible or intolerable.

"Eraserhead' is a top ten all-time movie for me.

Not too many people ask for my film recommendations. They've learned better over the years...

Jan 14, 12:10am Top

>25 CliffBurns: I may have mentioned this before but when Eraserhead first came out it was all a friend of mine would talk about for a week - kindred soul ? ;-)

Jan 14, 12:56am Top

Once you experience "Eraserhead", you're never the same.

I saw what some consider the Japanese equivalent, "Tetsuo", not long ago.

Didn't hold a candle to Lynch's masterpiece.

Edited: Jan 17, 1:20am Top

Jordan Peele's "Us" last night.

There were some good jolts but I found the final explanation for the strange events taking place throughout the movie unconvincing. I thought there was a similar issue with his first effort "Get Out".

I think if Peele isn't careful he'll devolve into another M. Night Shyamalan--great premises but the films become increasingly ridiculous as they progress.

Jan 15, 11:54pm Top

"Attack the Block", directed by Jon Cornish.

Savage aliens invade inner city London neighborhood and fun and mayhem result.

Actually quite fun, though brainless as a Trump supporter.

Jan 16, 12:03pm Top

Check out Chris Morris's latest film, "The Day Shall Come":


This really is must-see cinema.

Jan 17, 1:19am Top

"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", directed by Quentin Tarantino.

No spoilers...but the last 20 minutes suck like a freshly formed black hole.

I know Tarantino feels it his right to change history to his convenience but this is ridiculous. I hated "Inglorious Bastards" except for a few gripping scenes. "Once Upon a Time..." is actually a brilliant evocation of a bygone era...until the last bit, where it falls apart like cheap jeans.

My wife was more forgiving but I was wild with rage. The "Tate-Lobianca" killings traumatized the entire city of Los Angeles, but in Tarantino's version the horror is trivialized and somehow made right.

Over the years, I've read a lot of material on Manson and that made Tarantino's aesthetic crimes all the more grievous in my eyes.

It's rare that I've seen movie that falls so completely apart as it reaches its climax.


Jan 17, 7:42am Top

"1917" was worth the trip to the theatre, and I was taken by surprise with how full an audience we had. The gimmick to is that the camera stays with the characters the whole time, no cut scenes or cutaways, as they traverse the WW1 trenches and no-man's-land, etc. Funny thing, the next morning I discovered I could replay the whole thing scene for scene in my mind, because of its being filmed that way. I've generally no memory for doing that.

Jan 17, 1:24pm Top

...and as a companion piece to my takedown of "Once Upon a Time...", here's a NEW YORKER style look at other alternate histories Tarantino might explore:


(Hats off to Gord for sending me this one.)

Jan 17, 2:35pm Top

>32 Cecrow: The first single-take film was Sokurov's Russian Ark in 2002. The next successful one was probably Victoria, the 2015 German film. Of course, Hitchcock tried to mimic one back in 1948 with Rope.

Jan 17, 4:23pm Top

Welles used that great long, continuous take at the beginning of "Touch of Evil". And Robert Altman's famous tracking shot from "The Player". A good one in Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Birdman" too.

Hard to carry off, especially when modern movies are edited in short, snappy takes of a few seconds. Audiences, as a result, have a hard time dealing with filmmakers like Tarkovsky, Mizoguchi, Sokurov, etc. Their minds can't process the more leisurely pace of such efforts.

Edited: Jan 20, 7:48am Top

>34 iansales: i found the crowd scenes in 'Russian Ark' highly immersive, as much because they are filmed at eye level as for the single take, together with the snatches of conversation overheard as the p.o.v. character is jostled in the throng. (I have just enough Russian to pick out the odd word, and after ninety minutes of subtitles I was certainly beginning to feel part of the whole. Indeed, it's been about six weeks since I watched it, and just pausing for a moment and thinking, I found I could recollect quite large stretches of the film in a comparatively unbroken way.)

Jan 19, 8:49pm Top

La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz. A day in the life of three working class friends in the Paris suburbs during the race riots of the 1990's. Sometimes it feels like it's aiming for hipness, sometimes it smells of liberal condescension. A good movie though. Two of the three main actors are really good.

Jan 21, 12:55pm Top

Jan 22, 1:47pm Top

Here's a sweet short film my wife sent me this morning:


Jan 25, 11:47am Top

"Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search for a Cool Place", documenting the bizarre trip across America taken by Kesey and the Merry Pranksters back in 1964. The footage is rough, the sound worse, but there's still a lot of worthwhile material, including footage of Neal Cassady speed-rapping and Jack Kerouac, looking drunken, sullen and washed up.

"Murder by Decree", a 1970s Sherlock Holmes mystery starring Christopher Plummer and James Mason. Not great but not terrible either. The film is choppy in places and Holmes doesn't seem as brilliant as he should be. Not bad for a Canadian film of that era--haven't seen it for 30 years so it was a bit of a trip down memory lane.

Jan 25, 4:08pm Top

>40 CliffBurns: "Murder by Decree": is that part of the "Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper" sub-genre?

Jan 25, 6:08pm Top

Righto...with an intriguing subplot involving Freemasons.

Jan 25, 7:42pm Top

Saw it on late-night tv here sometime in the early 1980s and have been trying to track it down ever since. More usually, we get to see the 1965 excursion along these lines, 'A Study in Terror'.

Jan 26, 11:15am Top

"The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" was another oddball offering in the Holmes canon. I love Robert Stephens but the film, as I recall, was something of a misfire.

Jan 26, 11:27am Top

"The Two Popes"--basically a two-hander, featuring Anthony Hopkins at Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as his reform-minded successor. Well-acted but not entirely convincing. Have the two men become as close as the movie indicates? A recent controversy at the Vatican seems to dispute that.

"Son of Saul" Award-winning film with the grimmest possible subject matter. The "Sonderkommando", composed of Jewish prisoners, were given the most harrowing, despicable tasks in the death camps. At Auschwitz, a revolt is brewing, but Saul just wants to find a rabbi to perform kaddish for a boy murdered by the Nazis.

I recall Stanley Kubrick's contention that to show what it was really like inside the camps would be tantamount to pornography and I see his point. A good deal of the scenes in "Saul" are out of focus, as the bodies are dragged out of the gas chambers and disposed of. I wonder if that was done for commercial or aesthetic reasons. It's horrific to show in all its detail but...isn't that the point? Not allowing us to avert our eyes from the cruelest form of genocide?

Jan 29, 8:13pm Top

Can anyone recommend a good All-Regions BluRay/DVD player? One not ridiculously priced.

I've spotted a number of films of late that are only playable in Region 2 machines. Grrrr.

Jan 29, 10:05pm Top

>46 CliffBurns:

Most DVD players can be converted to zone 0. Until recently the Blue Ray would only allow 5 changes of region ever. Watch out for that. Recently I spotted one for about $A150.

I don't thust that so if I were to buy that, I would bring in 2 different region Blu Ray diskis and ask to see it play 6 times :-)

Jan 29, 11:31pm Top

Points noted.

My cinematic tastes are mighty obscure and i want to have the option of viewing a film, wherever it might come from.

Jan 30, 2:38am Top

In the UK, most DVD players are multi-region but Blu-ray players are locked to Region B. I found a place that multi-region Blu-ray players - mrmdvd.com - but I don't know if they ship to Canada. I brought my Blu-ray player with me to Sweden.

Feb 4, 11:03am Top

Monte Hellman's "The Shooting" last night. First time I've seen it in several decades.

Not as likable as "Ride in the Whirlwind" but a solid western, with a smashing performance by the always reliable Warren Oates.

Feb 4, 10:38pm Top

Just got back from seeing Guy Ritchie's latest, "The Gentlemen".

It's loads of fun, full of the usual twists and turns Ritchie likes to throw at you. Not as great as "Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels" or "Snatch" but well-acted, especially Hugh Grant in a surprisingly sleazy role.

Feb 11, 10:41am Top

"Blackthorn" last night, a western starring Sam Shepard.

Butch Cassidy escaped death in Bolivia and dreams of returning home to America 20 years later.

Not terrible but ponderously paced and lacking real punch.

Feb 11, 11:34am Top

Interview with Issa Lopez, director of the best film of 2019, "Tigers Are Not Afraid":


Feb 14, 11:13am Top

Last night it was "Far From Men", a movie set during the Algerian war of independence. Based on a short story by Albert Camus that I read a few years back.

I thought the film makers perfectly captured the essence and tone of Camus and the movie, while slow-paced, was never boring. Excellent use of setting, as well.


Today, 11:19pm Top

Roger Michel's "Venus" tonight, one of Peter O'Toole's last films.

I was worried it would be too saccharine but "Venus" surprised me. There was some edge to it, some uncomfortable moments, O'Toole by turns pathetic and disturbingly lecherous. A brave performance by a gifted, dazzling talent.

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