Monthly recap: What have I been watching in December?

The Hobbit (2012)
The Hobbit is an amazing trip back to Middle Earth, I was more impressed by the high-frame-rate technology and sfx, than the story, which was too close to Fellowship of the Ring (2001) for my taste. That huge battle scene near the end, with all those rope bridges, and with camera flying around, was remarkable filmmaking, especially witnessed on the big screen.
I prefer 24fps, but it was a fun experience to try the 48fps HFR in 3D, which looks almost like TV. It’s a format I thought worked for this type of blockbuster extravaganza, but I wouldn’t want them to try it out on low budget films.
If no Lord of the Ring trilogy existed, I would have rated The Hobbit higher. I was never bored, but lacked the freshness of Peter Jackson’s earlier films.
I have not watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy for about 10 years, so I think that helped me enjoy Hobbit more. As was also the case with Prometheus (2012)-it was entertaining mostly because I have not watched Alien films for ages.
Rating 7.5

The Color Wheel (2011)
Fun, quirky, with well-written dialogue. Overlooked independent film that deserves more love.
About a brother and sister, who go on a road trip.
Prior to its 2012 theatrical release, The Color Wheel was named the best undistributed film of 2011 by the Indiewire and Village Voice polls of film critics.
Rating 8.0

A Royal Affair (2012)
The language here and there is too modern, other than that, well-made mainstream period drama, which depicts a slice of European history. The running time of over two hours means you get to know and care about the main characters. The beautiful cinematography, set design and consumes transport you back to the 18th century. For history buffs a cinematic treat. The film is also effective in showing the blurring of personal and political ends. Word is it has a shot at an Oscar nom for foreign language film.
I quite liked it, even though period films are not my favorite, and I rarely watch them.
Rating 7.4

Life of Pi (2012)
Loved the special effects, especially the CGI tiger impressed me. You really believe Pi is out on the ocean. The story feels like an old-fashioned classic like Robinson Crusoe, which is unusual in modern storytelling. Even though Ang Lee’s film is a little predictable, it will probably be in my top 20 of 2012.
In terms of faith, it keeps its mind fully open to all possibilities, so in that way appeals to basically all viewers. Perhaps the story asks us to believe in what we want, as long as we pick something. The boy is told by his father that to believe in everything is essentially to believe in nothing.
For me, the journey at sea had little to do with his faith, but more to do with basic survival instincts.
Rating 7.5

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
I don’t think it’s a great film in terms of actual story, but having watched a bunch of Italian giallo films in 2012, it was fun to see how the sound effects are put together. Berberian Sound Studio is a film about filmmaking.
My favorite part of the film is the last 30 minutes, which becomes illogical and open to interpretation. I think it’s about how filmmakers can feel they are starring in a film, even though they are behind the camera. Perhaps rewatching the same sequences over and over, the filmmakers become lost in the creative process, start to imagine things, which are not even on camera. Each person involved in the production has their own unique perspective and experience, and we witness Gilderoy’s (Toby Jones). Perhaps it’s about alienation, Gilderoy becoming detached from the world around him, he speaks no Italian, and knows very little about horror movie productions.
The more I think about it, the more I like it. In my opinion, the film works better afterwards as a think piece, than as a movie.
The director has said: “Here, the film is out of view, and you only see the mechanics behind it"
Rating 7.2

Palme (2012) (documentary)
Documentary about former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, which is not another conspiracy theory film about his assassination in 1986, but instead about the man’s career and how he was/is perceived. He was a somewhat controversial politician, who still managed to achieve things along the way, and, if you believe what they say, with his heart in the right place. He neglected his children, because he had a busy working life, and this was perhaps his greatest failing.
Rating 7.5

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Nominated for 6 Oscars, and #103 on IMDb’s top 250, an old-fashioned courtroom drama based on an Agatha Christie short story. Nothing wrong with Billy Wilder’s film, good story, good acting, and a brilliant twist ending you will never guess.
I just personally found the whole thing a bit shallow, which can happen within the crime fiction genre. I still enjoyed it.
Rating 7.8

Notorious (1946)
A Hitchcockian post-war, psychological suspense/thriller. A threesome scenario, who is in love with who, this is part of the mystery. At the time featured the longest kiss in movie history.
Not as compelling as I had hoped it would be, a bit surprised by the praise everywhere, looks like I’m in the minority not loving it. It didn’t have me glued to the screen. Worth watching for the performance of Ingrid Bergman.
Rating 6.5

Floating Weeds (1959)
A remake of Ozu's own black-and-white silent film A Story of Floating Weeds (1934).
I could admire the trademark low-level camera position, colours and cinematography, but the story was uninteresting to me, and I struggled to get through this one.
I’m surprised 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die lists it as an essential Ozu.
The story feels quite messy, a group of guys want to bang some 20something girls, an older guy goes fishing with a young man, and the wife is jealous. The strongest story in my opinion is of the young couple in love. Similar reaction to Ozu’s Tokyo Twilight (1957), in that the last hour is more focused and memorable, than the first hour.
I prefer Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953) or, I was born, but… (1933)
Rating 6.5

Diary of a Country Priest (1951)
A Robert Bresson directed film. A young priest craves acknowledgement and a compassionate word, yet his elder says he should not try to be loved, and instead be respected and obeyed.
A lot happens, and a little tricky to follow, so I feel a second viewing is almost required to comprehend all that takes place.
About a young, frail priest, who looks like a young Johnny Cash. He’s told he has no common sense, and that his great schemes don’t hold water. He feels guilty for not praying, and struggles to please the townspeople. They question what he is doing and this makes the priest question himself.
I’m not too sure what the overall message is, I think there could be several relating to faith. It was pretty heavy-going and draining with all those subtitles, maybe some of that could have been cut out, but a unique film you should watch.
The story is based on the novel of the same name by Georges Bernanos, and maybe would be better to read at your own pace, who knows.
Favorite quotes: “She’s a fool and a coward. Never could stand up for her own happiness. “You’re not one of those who can speak and say nothing”
Rating 7.9

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
A cult classic, and goofy Christmas comedy. A bit uneven, but very funny in places, especially the dinner scenes cracked me up.
The third installment in National Lampoon's Vacation film series, written by John Hughes, and based on his short story in National Lampoon Magazine, Christmas ‘59.
Rating 7.4

Nosferatu (1979)
A remake and tribute to F.W. Murnau's classic silent Nosferatu (1922). I liked the way director Werner Herzog slowly builds the tension on the journey up to the mountain. I was also impressed how the wind outside created an eerie atmosphere, and how uneasy breathing at the castle keeps us on edge, and this was obviously thanks to the performance of Klaus Kinski.
My favorite Herzog film so far.
Rating 8.0

Double Indemnity (1944)
You care about the main narrator, even though he is up to no good, he is a cynic, but also a nice guy. Partly this could be due to we get inside his head with plenty of voice-over.
The film demands to be seen twice, so you can go back and listen to the voice-over sections in the first part of the story.
The film has no real weaknesses, great acting, cinematography, direction, suspenseful plot, you name it. The only small issue I had was that what is spoken could have been said with fewer words. I still loved it. A masterpiece of film noir, no doubt.
Rating 8.2

Field Of Dreams (1989)
Let me tell you, I love the 80s. I've read people praising Field Of Dreams as a classic. First off, I'm not a baseball fan at all, so that was an obstacle, and maybe why I’ve avoided it over the years. I'm surprised Field Of Dreams got a best picture nomination, the story feels very contrived and sugar-coated. I did like the James Horner score, which was also Oscar nominated. Perhaps if I had watched it when I was younger, it would have worked. Struggled to finish.
Rating 6.2

The Ninth Day (Der Neunte Tag) (2004)
The main character looks creepy (see above image), you get used to it, though. A German Holocaust film about a priest facing adversity in Luxenbourg. Thought-provoking questions are addressed about WW2.
An ambiguity is that Jesus was a Jew, yet the Nazis were against Jews, but wanted the support of the church.
Also, about whether the church is supporting the Nazis. According to the film, the Pope congratulated Hitler on his birthday, and addressed him as "Most respectable Mr. Hitler", but maybe this was before the Pope knew the cruel intentions of Hitler. I don't know how close to the facts this film was, the story was quite unsettling, particularly the scenes from the concentration camp.
It wasn't that clear to me what the director was attempting to convey. This approach could have been intentional, because the priest is confused why the Nazis need him. Still, an ambitious think-piece with a heart.
Favorite quote: "How can people believe in God, and in Christ, his just Son, and at the same time do what you do?"
Rating 7.0

Mean Streets (1973)
Martin Scorsese drama that I had never watched before. Love the opening voice-overs: "You don't make up for your sins in the church, you do it in the streets, you do it at home, the rest is bullshit, and you know it" (...) "Pain in hell has two sides, the kind you can touch with your hand, the kind you can feel in your heart"
The rest of the movie is about the kind of uneducated gangster characters I find cliché, but it does have a certain realism, and the soundtrack and visuals are powerful. The acting is solid, especially Robert de Niro. Explores male camaraderie and street violence in a humorous, spontaneous, and nonjudgmental way.
Rating 7.4

Thief (1981)
The name on the screenshot above amused me (: Crime thriller directed by Michael Mann, and starring James Cann. The soundtrack by Tangarine Dream opened me up to a new band to explore.
Thief was likely an atmospheric precursor to Drive, as Josh at The Cinematic Spectacle talked about in his review.
Gangster films were never my favorite, and violent, swearing, uneducated people who build their self-worth from possessions usually turn me off, so I was skeptical I would enjoy it once it got going.
The film has an ambiguity where it's tough to say who the good guys or the bad guys are, still there is something about Theif, that kept me from loving it.
A little overlong, and you have to wait 1 hour 15 minutes until we get a heist. The last 10 minutes worked the best for me, and were the most thrilling. I prefer Mann's other films like Heat or Collateral. I wasn't blown away by Manhunter either, also directed by Mann in the 80s. I think he was still learning his trade back then. If you like gangster movies, worth seeing. This film needed more action sequences or car chases in my opinion, maybe the budget wasn't able to provide that.
Rating 7.0

Hell in the Pacific (1968)
Kind of like Cast Away (2000), only set during WW2. Two guys fighting for survival, but also fighting each other. You can tell the Jap and the American on the island will not remain deadly enemies for the entire film, but that predictable story development didn't stop me from finding it enjoyable. Almost a silent film, surprisingly no subtitles for the Japanese bits? Was this a comedy? Sure did feel that way a lot of the time.
Rating 7.5

Sling Blade (1996)
Atmospheric story of a simple-minded man (Billy Bob Thornton in an amazing unrecognizable performance) who is released from a mental institution.
It won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay, and Thornton was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Rating 7.8

House (1977)
Showcases highly inventive visual tricks and bright colours. A group of girls go and visit an old aunt, and her house offers a few surprises. Has the atmosphere of a dream. The last half hour becomes faster and faster, and I wished it would just slow down a bit. I would call it the Asian Suspiria, unique and mind-blowing. See it for the spectacular visual style, don't expect that much in terms of story. Included in the Criterion Collection.
Rating 7.6

Revolutionary Road (2008)
Great acting, and beautiful cinematography from Roger Deakins, but didn’t care about the characters. Lacked memorable scenes, I barely remember much about it. Not bad, just not as powerful as American Beauty, also directed by Sam Mendes.
Rating 6.5

Agree? Disagree? Have you seen any of the above? What are the best films you saw during the month of December?

My Top 5:

1.) Double Indemnity (1944) (8.2)
2.) The Color Wheel (2011) (8.0)
3.) Nosferatu (1979) (8.0)
4.) Diary of a Country Priest (1951) (7.9)
5.) Witness for the Prosecution (1957) (7.8)

6.) Sling Blade (1996) (7.8)
7.) House (1977) (7.6)
8.) The Hobbit (2012) (7.5)
9.) Life of Pi (2012) (7.5)
10.) Palme (2012) (documentary) (7.5)
11.) Hell in the Pacific (1968) (7.5)
12.) National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)(7.4)
13.) A Royal Affair (2012) (7.4)
14.) Mean Streets (1973) (7.4)


  1. Great list, and I see several I want to add to my list. I love Sling Blade -- one of my favorites.

    About the Nazis and the Catholic Church, I have no idea what the pope knew when he congratulated Hitler on his birthday. However, I think the church's silence during the Holoicaust is inconscionable. Individual priests, on the other hand, showed tremendous heroism throughout the war and the Holocaust. Have you seen Au Revoir Les Enfants?

    Just my two cents. :-)

    1. @Quirky BookandFilmBuff: Sling Blade, a unique atmosphere, and the Bill Bob Thornton character stayed with me.

      I agree the church's silence during the Holocaust is unacceptable, but on the other hand understandable, bearing in mind the fear of being killed by the Nazis. The film is about the struggle of an individual priest.

      I've heard of Au Revoir Les Enfants, never did see it. I'll consider adding it to my watchlist, thanks.

  2. I totally agree about Field of Dreams! Didn't really like it at all. I saw Hobbit and Life of Pi and liked them both (a bit) more than you did. Glad to see Life of Pi will make your top 20 though!

    1. @Pete: Field of Dreams, with a danger of generalizing, the people who admire it seem to be mostly American bloggers. Though it does have mainstream appeal, I suppose.

      I enjoyed Life of Pi & The Hobbit, and glad you did too. Happy I saw them on the big screen!

  3. Very solid list Chris!

    It seems you enjoyed Life of Pi a bit less than I did. I think I found more meaning in the story of survival than other people did. Even then, I was bothered by the set-up implying it could be a life-changing type of story, which was not.
    If Field of Dreams is a classic, then Moneyball, the best baseball related film I've seen, is a flawless masterpiece (which was not). I truly don't understand what the big fuzz is about. Like you said, Field of Dreams is very sugar-coated and a bit silly in general. Kevin Costner is not nearly as memorable as he was in JFK for example.

    1. @niels85: Life of Pi is open to interpretation, so I'm not surprised your experience was different to mine. I'm sure the book adds a bit more psychology of the journey at sea, than the film did, but I haven't read it.

      I didn't even finish Moneyball, I guess baseball is just not my thing. I also prefer other Kevin Costner movies, JFK, or Robin Hood. Costner's best recent film for me is Mr Brooks.

  4. Agreed on The Hobbit, only I didn't see it in 48FPS/3D. Walking out of the cinema, I really enjoyed it. A few days later, the comparisons to Fellowship were popping up in my head and I couldn't ignore them. Jackson's still crafted a fantastic fantasy film, just has a lot to live up to.

    It's been a while since I saw Revolutionary Road. Think I had a bit of trouble watching it, but the ending gave me some sense of satisfaction that gave me some enjoyment out of it. A tough watch, especially with, like you said, some pretty unlikeable characters.

    1. @Jaina: The comparisons to Fellowship definitely are there. Still , it was fun to revisit Middle Earth, and I enjoyed myself, all things considered. I agree The Hobbit had a lot to live up to.

      Revolutionary Road is alright, I didn't hate it. Just didn't think it stood out among the 20 films I saw last month.

  5. Sorry you didn't like revolutionary Road more, I really love this one and I think it's Dicaprio's finest work to date.

    1. @Sati: I agree it's a very good performance by Dicaprio. My favorite scenes were those when Michael Shannon character spoke his mind :)

  6. I love these monthly round up pieces. Nice work.

    Okay, to comment on the movies I have seen:

    Double Indemnity: I've been quoting Edgar G. Robinson's speech about his "little man" for years. Definitely a classic, and holds up to multiple viewings. On a side note: This is one of the movies they make you analyze scene by scene in film school.

    I must have watched Thief about the same time as you did: I think I liked it more (it's in 8 territory for me). Totally understand about being confused on the point of who to root for. Caan is playing an anti-hero...and I wasn't sure how much I cared about him in the end.

    Sling Blade is a movie I watch every time it's on cable. It's a bleak, bleak, bleak movie...but also very tender and unforgettable.

    Man, I would love to some of the other movies on the list. (House has been on my radar for years).

    1. @Dusty McGowan: Thanks for reading my posts

      I definitely want to revisit Double Indemnity at some stage.

      Thief was a bit too slow for me to love it. That type of movie I want a few more action sequences to mix it up a bit. I did love the soundtrack, though.

      Sling Blade, indeed unforgettable. I noticed that it's based on a short film, that I might try and track down.

      Hope you get to see House (1977) soon, a visual treat.

  7. The Hobbit - I still haven't seen it, your review told me that I shouldn't expect it to be the next TLOTR trilogy.

    Life of Pi - Agree with the CGI part, I still can't believe the tiger is a CGI creation.

    Notorious - I love the triangle relations, also the ending, which is the least studied Hitchcock scene.

    Floating Weeds - I agree with the book, it's essential Ozu. The story is not one of his best, but the cinematography especially the colors is amazing.

    House - Interesting you call it the Asian Suspiria, it's more fun!

    1. @David: If you are considering watching The Hobbit, I'd recommend the High-frame-rate 48fps experience, if you have the opportunity. It really is a movie for the big screen.

      Life of Pi - It's okay if you disagree with my interpretation. I think the film can mean different things to different viewers. Plus we each bring different baggage to the experience.

      Floating Weeds - Looks like we agree on the visual aspects.
      There probably is some depth to the story, that I didn't grasp.

      House - That movie is still fresh

  8. Glad to see those Billy Wilder films in your top 5! Sorry you didn't like Notorious and Thief more, but I'm glad you liked them enough to recommend them.

    Looking forward to The Color Wheel, A Royal Affair, and Berberian Sound Studio.

    1. @Josh: I enjoyed those two Wilder films. Now I need to see Stalag 17. I also have People on Sunday (1930) on my list, which Wilder co-wrote.

      I try and find the positives in all the films I watch. In the case of Notorious and Thief, I didn't love either, but I know others have(you for example)

  9. "Perhaps the story asks us to believe in what we want, as long as we pick something." So true, Chris. I think the non-spiritual people might not like this one. I know what you mean about this movie is about survival instinct. But from what his father taught him when he was a kid, he should've been dead with Richard Parker beside him. But instead, he was a friend though did not appear as one.
    You know I watched Life of Pi twice, and loved it. Perhaps it was a bit predictable from the start.

    1. @Andina: I don't think the message of Life of Pi is obvious, what I wrote is just my opinion. That's part of the beauty of the story, enough space for us to interpret whatever we want.

      That's true, it's a good message that someone can be a friend even though they at first don't appear so. Although I'm not going to start playing with tigers :) Maybe start with a cat :) The cutest moment in the movie for me was the mix up with the names thirsty and Richard Parker.
      I'm glad you loved it!

  10. Great variety as always! Nice to see you digging deeper into Wilder's catalog. Double Indemnity is fantastic. Still need to see Witness for the Prosecution myself.

    Bummed you didn't get into Notorious that much though. I was hooked from the beginning, and I wouldn't hesitate to rank it as one of my favorites from Hitchcock now.

    1. @Eric: Thanks! Billy Wilder, so it's not for nothing the director of The Artist said in his oscar speech: "I want to thank Billy Wilder, I want to thank Billy Wilder, and I want to thank Billy Wilder" :)

      I liked the beginning of Notorious, but I wasn't drawn to the film as much as I hoped I would be. Can't love all the classics.

  11. I felt the same about The Hobbit. Not bad but not as good as the original LOTR trilogy. I was hoping for more having been away from Middle Earth for so long.

    I really want to see Life of PI.

    I remember watching bits of Hell in the Pacific with my dad when I was younger. I'll have to watch the whole thing at some point.

    1. @Robert: The Hobbit has a lot to live up to! Though I must admit I was blown away by several of the action/special effects scenes.

      Hell in the Pacific (1968) is pretty good, especially if you like that type of story


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