Ladybug Ladybug (1963) This could have been good. Started out as a twist on a 60s nuclear apocalypse story by taking the perspective of schoolteachers and the kids in a rural school where communications aren’t very good and showed the kinds of confusion that could result. That only lasted half an hour or so and things deteriorated into the standard dreary “end of the world” 60s flick. The highlights were seeing young versions of William Daniels, Estelle Parsons, and Nancy Marchand.
Cool Hand Luke (1967) One of those movies that gets better every time I see it. It operates on multiple levels and works on all of them. George Kennedy richly deserved his Oscar for supporting actor, and Paul Newman would have won Best Actor in most other years; he lost to Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night. Full of iconic scenes that hold together just as well in another century, there are elements here that might be even more worthy of attention today than fifty years ago.
L.A. Confidential (1997) Another movie that gets better every time I see it. I can damn near recite the whole thing now, which leaves me free to notice little things. I’ve written about it before and I’m sure I will again. Without doubt one of the five greatest crime films ever made.
The Imitation Game (2014) Yet another one of those. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the man who led the team that broke the German Enigma machine codes and shortened the war by as much as two years according to British MI6. The film moves between Turing’s work at Bletchley Park, his days in boarding school, and his arrest for homosexuality in 1951. It’s inspiring to watch Turing struggle to complete his machine, heartbreaking to watch him lose his only friend at school, and depressing to see how all his contributions to the war effort meant nothing in the face of his homosexuality. It’s not just a blight on British history, but a condemnation everyone needs to find a way to get past.
Get Shorty (1995) One of my favorite comfort movies. There’s no way I feel anything but chipper by the time it runs its course.
L.A. Confidential (1997) Yes, I watched it again. It’s sorely underrated as a Christmas movie and I had a rough couple of months. Sue me.
The Big Lebowski (1998) The annual New Year’s Eve viewing. See Get Shorty above for the review.
Godless (2017) Not a movie, but the kind of thing movies wish they could do. Most of the promotional attention is paid to the city of women—which is well enough done to merit the praise—but there’s a lot more going on. Jeff Daniels plays against type as one of the meanest SOBs ever on the screen, though he has his own moral code. Sam Waterston plays a US marshal, but I didn’t recognize anyone else. Didn’t matter. All the actors inhabited their roles to make Godless a uniquely successful project. Scott Frank, better known (to me at least) for his successful adaptations of Elmore Leonard novels, wrote and directed all the episodes, which should move him into the realm of those who can be trusted with anything. I have nothing bad to say about this show.
Roadside Prophets (1992) Easy Rider for the punk set. An entertaining film that has the prime virtue of not trying to be more than it is, and what it is is time well spent. The humor is offbeat and fresh, the cameo appearances by Arlo Guthrie, John Cusack, Bill Cobbs, Timothy Leary, Don Cheadle, David Carradine, and Stephen Tobolowsky are great fun, and—best of all—it doesn’t talk down to its presumed audience. A nice choice if you’re looking for something off the beaten path.
True Grit (2010) Fun no matter when I watch it, but even more so less than a week after seeing The Big Lebowski, to realize that’s The Dude pulling all this Rooster Cogburn shit. Superior to the original film in many ways, not the least of which it its closer adherence to Charles Portis’s wonderful novel. Bridges is better than John Wayne (though I admit it’s one of The Duke’s better performances), Matt Damon is far better than Glen Campbell, and Hailee Steinfeld is perfect as Mattie Ross. The Coen Brothers’ do well in keeping their idiosyncrasies subordinate to the quirkiness of the novel. The end result is a movie worthy of one of my favorite books I’ll happily watch again.
Wheelman (2017) Turns out this isn’t based on Duane Swierczynski’s excellent novel. Jeremy Rush's use of the title is a non-stop action movie made for people who like more than non-stop action in their non-stop action movies. There are more things done well here can I can mention: the lighting, the spot-on performance by Frank Grillo as the title character, the use of his cutesy cell phone ring tone in the tensest moments, and the fascinating concept of telling pretty much the whole story from the point of view of the cars. Eighty-two of the most entertaining minutes I’ve spent in a long time, and an outstanding surprise.
L.A. Confidential (1997). Uh-huh. Again. For my birthday. And I’m still finding things to appreciate.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) Outstanding Western until its leisurely pacing outlives its welcome and you end up resenting its length and wish it would just end, already. The acting is outstanding, the story is an interesting take on a legend, and the production values are first-rate. At 2:39 it’s just way too damn long for what it is.