Monthly recap: What have I been watching in January?

I've decided to postpone my best of 2012 list until January 2014! That's a long wait, I know. You can follow my progress here.
I’ll probably do this every year from now on, with a 13 month delay. Looking over the 20+ films I still want to see from 2012, in my mind, it doesn't seem right to post an incomplete top 10 list now. Especially as I'm going by IMDb year, and a number of festival films such as Frances Ha or the doc Stories We Tell are not out yet. Both films have a strong chance of making my top 10.
Compared to US cinemas, we sometimes don’t get new films in Europe until 4-5 months later, Cloud Atlas is an example of that. The DVD release obviously even later than that.
I've noticed several foreign-, indie-, and festival films tagged 2011 turning up on 2012 year-end lists, and that’s another reason why I want to be patient with a top 10 of 2012. I'm obviously in the minority in the blogosphere waiting that long! Kind of takes the pressure off watching loads of new films all at once during award season too. Also easier to judge whether worth seeing once the hype has died down, and reviews are out. As you can tell, I've given this some thought!

My ratings below are what I think the films should be rated on IMDb.
So on to the viewing, what have I been watching in January?

Tabu (2012)
Portuguese drama in two halves, firstly about an elderly woman in Portugal, and secondly an affair she had during her youth in Africa. Pretty captivating. I felt the urge to rewatch, because there are details that may be relevant in understanding past and present.
The soundtrack and visuals create an atmosphere that is quite unique. I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece, and I don't think it's as deep as it thinks it is, but definitely among the best new films I’ve seen, and I’m curious about the directors previous work.
Currently in 7th spot on my 2012 top 10 list.
Rating 7.7

Breathing (2011)
About an apathetic guy in a juvenile detention center. Bleak and unmemorable. There was one scene in the train I liked, when he drinks a beer with a girl.
The film was selected as Austria's submission to the 84th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, but it did not make the final shortlist.
Favorite quote: “You can’t not give a shit your whole life, and then wonder why it sucks”
Rating 6.2

Keyhole (2011)
Guy Maddin’s latest. Think of it as Holy Motors (2012) in black and white with plenty of bizarre moments.
Tough to assign Keyhole a rating. Dog shit or masterpiece? I haven't seen anything like it but didn't really enjoy it either.
I couldn’t describe what it’s about, story is very vague and has the logic of a poem. The twist ending was not particularly original.
Favorite quotes: “I may be chained to my bed, but no one knows how long the chain is” , My god, she is a complete stranger to me, and that was the day that I loved her the most”
Rating 6.4

Seven Psychopaths (2012)
It has some entertaining dialogue, and good performances, especially the first hour. For me, the film loses direction once they go to the desert.
Don’t expect much in terms of substance. I didn’t care who lived or died but it was an interesting screenplay experiment.
Rating 6.8

Django Unchained (2012)
A simple story, that easily could have been boring but in the hands of Tarantino it has an intensity that keeps you on edge, thanks to music, dialogue and performances.
I don’t think it’s as original as Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Somehow it’s too close to his other movies, especially Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds.
Christoph Waltz essentially repeats his well-spoken character, and I felt that was too soon to bring him back. Though his performance is again marvelous, Tarantino seems to bring out the best in Waltz!
A lot of stylized violence, blood, and use of the N-word. I suppose can be justified that it’s authentic of the era.
Perhaps it’s disrespectful to make slavery pop entertainment, I don’t know?
Django Unchained features some incredible one-liners which should assure the film will stay in people's memory.
Rating 7.6

Searching For Sugar Man (2012) (documentary)
Inspiring, uplifting, about an obscure singer-songwriter named Rodriguez, who put out two masterpiece albums in the 70s, which didn't sell. The doc should ensure him a wider audience, and listening to the songs certainly made me want to get hold of his albums. His story brought a tear to my eye, even though the unanimous praise of Rodriguez is very biased and one-sided. A pity we don't get to hear that much from the man himself, he mainly speaks through his lyrics, his enigmatic persona remains intact. I also at times wondered if this was simply an ad for Rodriguez' music. These were minor flaws in a moving, albeit slightly shallow documentary. The way they use his music together with beautiful cinematography is powerful. It pulls at your heart rather than your intellect.
Go into this film knowing as little as possible.
Closer to an 8 score than a 7.
Rating 7.5

The Imposter (2012) (documentary)
Centered on a young Frenchman who claims to a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who has been missing for 3 years. Brilliant, edge of your seat documentary. Had me glued to the screen right to the last frame. See it!
Rating 8.3

Undefeated (2011) (documentary)
High school American football team, who are struggling, and we follow what happens.
The coach deserves a lot of credit as a motivator. The first hour of the doc impressed me the most, maybe 90 minutes instead of 113 minutes would have been more appropriate, who knows. I did enjoy it despite that minor issue.
Favorite quotes: “You think football builds character? Which it does not. Football reveals character” “It’s not how you tackle your successes, it’s how you tackle your failures”
Rating 7.5

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) (documentary)
Looks at the trial of three teenage boys, who would be known as The Memphis Three. The case is quite disturbing, so not for the squeamish.
I didn’t know anything about it, so that probably made it more powerful. It questions the accused and also the court proceedings. The jury appear to give a verdict based on incomplete evidence. Is someone guilty of murder, if they believe in the occult? Difficult to say one way or the other if the three boys are guilty, which is what makes it an interesting court case. The documentary presents the case and we have to make up our own minds.
Favorite quote: They didn’t just kill my son, they killed a part of me, part of my wife”
First part of a trilogy of documentaries.
Rating 8.4

Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) (documentary)
About the support group who had watched the 1996 documentary, and didn’t think the Memphis Three were given a fair trial and verdict. A bite mark is discovered, which was not found previously during the case.
Also focuses on troubled Mark Byers, one of the parent’s who’s child was murdered. He is perceived as a suspect because his wife died a few years later, an undetermined death. Byers takes a lie detector test, though it is odd the three boys are not given the same opportunity? Odd the way Mark Byers behaves, and odd he is being paid by the documentary filmmakers to participate.
It is questioned whether the defense attorney of Damien were biased, because they were cooperating with filmmakers in 1996, who were trying to make a compelling documentary.
Rating 7.3

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011) (documentary)
A bit too much rehash in the opening 45 minutes, this is mostly recap from part 1 and 2. The last hour is the strongest segment.
The case is reexamined, the supposed false confession of Jessie Misskelley, which he gave after 12 hours of interrogation. DNA not available previously sheds light on the crime scene, a hair does not match the three boys, but someone with different DNA. This time Terry Hobbs is a suspect, he is one of the victim’s parents. Surprisingly he does not go through a lie detector test. Scratch marks are looked at again, and perceived differently.
New interviews of the Memphis Three. Damien gets married in jail, he got to know the woman through a letter correspondence.
New movie on way about the case directed by Atom Egoyan with Reese Witherspoon called Devil's Knot (2013). Listed on IMDb as completed.
Rating 7.5

The Passion of Anna (1969)
Not for everyone. Swedish Bergman drama. Has the lead actor (Max von Sydow) play a man alone in a house, and suddenly we have a scene of the real Max von Sydow talking about playing this character. This same thing happens with the three other main actors, and is quite interesting to get their interpretations. Bergman has admitted two of these out-of-character scenes were improvised, two were staged.
Bleak and melancholic, so by the end of the film I wanted to go and watch funny clips on youtube!
Don Druker of the Chicago Reader has said the story is “about the impossibility of consistency in a world where to live is to contradict yourself”
Favorite quote: “For me Eva is a woman who finally can’t bear the realization that she doesn’t belong anywhere. She’s no one – just what others make her to be”
Rating 7.5

Rio Bravo (1959)
Western. John Wayne as the sheriff. Certainly captures the mood of the old west. Rio Bravo is dialogue-oriented and innocent, and the opposite to Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, which has brutality and very little dialogue. I prefer Leone’s style, which I think has aged better.
I got a bit impatient with the non-stop dialogue at times, seemed could have been said with fewer words, and I felt there was a bit of an overuse of filler talk.
Rio Bravo was good and I’d recommend it if you enjoy the genre, but not quite the epic I was anticipating. In fact a good deal of the film takes place indoors.
Favorite dialogue: “I’m going to take a bath, I said I would." "Dude, I had no idea you wouldn’t, I was just wondering when." "He’ll keep talking till we get out of here."
Rating 7.4

El Topo (1970)
Difficult to define, surrealistic western arthouse film is the closest I got.
The first half of the film is about a man dressed in black on a black horse, who travels with his 7-year-old son. What follows is an attempt to locate savage killers wreaking havoc in the area, and later he has to track down the four masters of the desert. There is quite a lot of violence and torture, so not for everyone. The second half of the film feels like part 2 and is about people trapped in a cave.

Spiritual elements pop up here and there, and the main character appears to see himself as some kind of savior. The movie reminds me of folklore or myth, the mood and symbolism seem to be more important than the story.
It can be viewed as an allegory of man’s search for enlightenment. The film has no ambition of being historically accurate, what we witness is a world from the mind of Jodorowsky, who directed, wrote, produced, starred in, and even did the music.
A cult film of the 70s but ultimately didn’t do much for me, and I wouldn’t recommend it. The film feels very slow and self-indulgent, and too odd to connect with emotionally.
Q and A with the director: “I’m not making a comedy, tragedy, political thing, religious thing. I am making everything. Like a cake, you chose the part you like. My pictures are a whole, a totally. That I think is art”
Rating 7.1

The Defiant Ones (1958)
Reminiscent of The Fugitive (1993) with Harrison Ford. Instead of one escaped convict, in The Defiant Ones we have two in chains.
The two convicts are both racist towards each other, and want to be separated. This could be an allegory of American history, that is the impossibility of blacks and whites to live apart. The closeness means they see something besides the stereotype, as they get to known each other on the journey.
Rating 7.8

The Haunting (1963)
Based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House. The disturbance at the house is not generated by CGI effects, instead it’s the unknown we are supposed to be afraid of.
There was a lot of chat, and not many scares by today’s standards.
A different kind of slow-paced horror film. Not bad, just don’t think it has as much bite as it once did, too tame. Thought it would be better, considering a remake was made in 1999.
Liked the sound design and the set design. The voice-overs and acting are effective. I enjoyed the intro and ending the most. Overall, I found it a bit overlong.
Favorite quote: What are you afraid of? Knowing what I really want”
Rating 6.5

Boyz in the Hood (1991)
John Singleton’s successful autobiographical film would pave the way for a wave of films about black America in the 90s.
The situations and language feel authentic, even if the decision making of the characters can be tough to comprehend.
Despite not really being interesting in gang wars, the story is well-told and held my interest throughout.
If you are interested in hip-hop, the soundtrack is worth a look.
Favorite quote: “Never respect anybody who doesn’t respect you back”
Rating 7.8

M.A.S.H. (1970)
MASH=Mobile Army Surgical Hospital
A comedy set during the Korean War.
The Oscar-winning screenplay is pretty snappy and keeps things flowing nicely. Although aside from the black capsule scenes, I didn’t really find it funny. The wide range of characters behave like college boys, even though they are older. It’s less to do with the war, and mostly about who beds who. Good performances, though. The Robert Duvall character even says they are “godless buffoons”. You can defend the story by calling it realistic, and the audacity the filmmakers had to portray the army (even though I’ve read in Josh’s review, that much of the original script was scrapped).
MASH may have been more groundbreaking at the time of release, because audiences were not so familiar with director Robert Altman’s style of multiple character stories with chaotic, overlapping dialogue. Altman captured the actors improvisations by filming them from a distance.
The films critical approach to the Vietnam war was a reflection of what was going on in the anti-war movement, who saw the war almost as a black comedy as well.
According to 1001 Movies, Altman convinced the studio he was making a patriotic movie. The studio were considering scraping it all together, until test screenings revealed positive reactions.
Altman’s film is perhaps most famous for being the inspiration for the long-running tv-series of the same name, which aired in the 1970s.
Rating 6.8

The Fire Within (1963)
A classic of the French new wave, directed by Louis Malle. About a man with depression, anxiety, and an alcohol problem.
My favorite scene was when he goes to see his married friend, the conversations between the two old pals I found meaningful. This particular scene is also recreated in Oslo August 31st (2011), a Norwegian film that is a modern retelling of the story.
Favorite quote: "Your superb energy? Yes, I'm older, the hopes are gone, but I have certainties now. I left my youth for another life. You turn your back. You reject adulthood. You're stuck in adolescence. Hence your anxiety"
Rating 7.7

Brokeback Mountain (2005)
One of the first gay westerns which appealed to a wide mainstream audience. The story takes place at a time when gay relationships were forbidden.
I was kind of late getting to this film. In real life it probably would be very dull to sit around all day and look after sheep in the wilderness. The story of friendship gives the situation meaning, and shows the importance of shared adventures, no matter if you are gay, straight, or whatever.
The cowboy talk can be difficult to follow, subtitles are advised.
Rating 8.0

In Bruges (2008)
I didn’t connect with it as much as other bloggers have, but it certainly has a unique atmosphere and unique humor. (gangster films I usually struggle with in general). For me, the most impressive part of the film was the beautiful city Bruges. We get to live through the characters who are tourists there.
I liked In Bruges a bit more than Martin McDonagh's other film, Seven Psychopaths. Both are fairly "cartoonish", is that the right word?
Rating 7.4

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

Top 5

1.) Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) (documentary) (8.4)
2.) The Imposter (2012) (documentary) (8.3)
3.) Brokeback Mountain (2005) (8.0)
4.) The Defiant Ones (1958) (7.8)
5.) Boyz in the Hood (1991) (7.8)

6.) Tabu (2012) (7.7)
7.) The Fire Within (1963) (7.7)
8.) Django Unchained (2012) (7.6)
9.) Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011) (documentary) (7.5)
10.) Searching For Sugar Man (2012) (documentary) (7.5)
11.) The Passion of Anna (1969) (7.5)
12.) Undefeated (2011) (documentary) (7.5)
13.) In Bruges (2008) (7.4)
14.) Rio Bravo (1959) (7.4)


  1. What a great month, So many documentaries and classics I need to see on here. I'm still waiting to see Paradise Lost 3 and The Imposter particularly. Rio Bravo has also been on my must-see list forever! Glad you liked Brokeback and Boyz. I love Boyz (that sounds strange), must be my fave on this list. Still haven't seen Django either. The Impossible was probably the best film I watched this month.

    1. @Pete Turner: Paradise Lost documentaries are on youtube, if you can't find the dvds in your area.
      The Imposter is gripping, see it!
      Rio Bravo wasn't as great as I had imagined, still quite good.
      Boyz in the Hood and Brokeback moved into my top 10 of those years, can't believe I waited so long to catch them!
      Haven't seen the Impossible yet.

  2. Wow, it's been such a long time since I've been on your blog... you really had a great month!
    I think it's a good idea to postpone your best of 2012 until next year, I think I'll release an updated list around that time too.
    That Tabu film sounds intriguing, and the poster is really beautiful. Might check it out.
    My thoughts about Django are the same as yours - not that original, but nevertheless very entertaining and very Tarantino. Definitely too long though.
    Also good to see you've been seeing Brokeback Mountain. It's a film I related to a lot, despite the couple being gay.

    1. @Mette: Tabu is a different kind of film, which bonjour tristesse pointed me towards on his best foreign films list. Don't expect it to be about crocodiles :)
      Django is a bit log, that seems to be the trend of many movies during awards season.
      I agree, I'm not gay either, and yet the acting and story in Brokeback Mountain made me care deeply for the two guys, on a human level I guess.

  3. Lots of interesting stuff in this! I hadn't even heard of Tabu, but it sounds like something I should check out. I'm a big fan of Django and The Imposter, so glad to hear you enjoyed them as well. I'm also going to have to bump up The Fire Within -- really want to see that after loving Oslo, August 31st so much.

    1. @Eric: Thanks, Tabu is definitely an under the radar film of 2012, and worth a look.
      The Fire Within is quite similar to Oslo August 31st, not sure which I prefer of the two films. The older one is also powerful.

  4. Interesting list here Chris! I definitely have to see Searching For Sugar Man and Imposter soon.

    1. @Ruth: Thank you, Searching For Sugar Man and Imposter are two docs I'd recommend.

    2. Oh I'm curious about Undefeated too, that looks really good even though I'm generally not a big sports movie fan.

    3. @Ruth: For me, Undefeated was an enjoyable documentary, even though I don't follow American football. It's about group mentality, among other things.

  5. As usual, a great range of films you've watched, Chris. I think it's understandable that you postpone your 2012 list. I might do it too, but I think the furthest I would post would be in the middle of the year. I have late releases too, sometimes they don't even release it here. I was quite entertained by Django Unchained. And a bit curious with Seven Psychopaths.
    I don't have much urge to watch new releases now, while it's Oscar season. Odd, haha.
    Have a great month ahead, Chris.

    1. @Andina: Look forward to your 2012 list middle of the year then. I just want those recommendations of 2012 films, which turn up on year-end lists in December 2013. Not many other bloggers want to wait that long!
      I'm not surprised you want to take a break, it can be overwhelming, and expense, that all the awards movies are out now.

  6. You've had an excellent film viewing month, and I love the eclectic diversity of films you watched. I liked In Bruges a lot better than you did, but I agree -- it's worth seeing just for the shots of the city. :-) I liked Brokeback Mountain too, and like you, I wasn't overly impressed with Seven Psychopaths.

    1. @Quirky BookandFilmBuff: Thanks for saying so! In Bruges I prefer over Seven Psychopaths, but I think both movies are stronger the first hour.
      Bruges is a beautiful city, and the movie must have boosted tourism to that destination, at least you'd think so.

  7. Great month of films! Dying to see Tabu. Also, I've had Keyhole on my watchlist for a while, and I should be seeing Searching for Sugar Man, The Imposter, and Undefeated this month.

    Glad you liked The Passion of Anna, Rio Bravo, and The Defiant Ones. Sorry you didn't like M*A*S*H as much as I did, but I can see why some love it and others don't.

    Thanks for the link by the way! :)

    1. @Josh: I hope you get to see those soon! Perhaps you'll have more luck with Keyhole than I did, especially since you loved Holy Motors.

      Probably M*A*S*H had a greater impact in 1970, a multiple character story with chaotic, overlapping dialogue is not quite as groundbreaking today. Robert Altman repeated this in subsequent movies, so we got used to it.

  8. I love the way you think; it makes perfect sense to hold off on a "best of" list if you haven't had a chance to see a lot of the movies due to differing release schedules.

    Fascinating list for January; a real mix. I've only seen 4 of these movies - The Haunting (which, I agree, doesn't really pack much of a punch nowadays), Brokeback Mountain, M*A*S*H, and In Bruges - the last two which I don't really yearn to see again but were good the first time around. Brokeback Mountain, however, grabbed me emotionally when I saw it a couple years ago and some scenes still pop into my head at random times (is that weird?).

    Interesting that you struggle with gangster films; I have the same issue and can't really say I've enjoyed too many of them. I tend to think of In Bruges more as a character piece, which is how I got around my mental block :)

    1. @Erin @ Riffs and Reviews: I prefer to take my time with a yearly list, don't see the need to rush, just because everyone else are posting best of lists.

      Thanks for saying so! I agree about Brokeback Mountain. That's not weird, it really does stay with you. Maybe Heath Ledger will be our generations James Dean, who knows!

      Maybe In Bruges is more of a character piece, you could be right. My issue with gangster films is they tend to have a lot of profanity+violence, and make the same psychological points that gangsters are cold-hearted, selfish, and will kill to protect their own interests.
      Not saying I hate the Godfathers, they are good, just don't love them as much as many cinephiles do. Ghost Dog or The Sting are gangster films I do love, I admire them mostly for the witty dialogue and atmosphere.

  9. An impressive month of films it seems. Some I really want to see. I didn't know about Undefeated before reading about it here so thanks for the recommendation as I'm a sucker for American Football movies.

    As for In Bruges...I think I liked it a little more than you. I thought it was terrifically original, manic and like you say - cartoon-ish in its violence.

    1. @Dan: If you are into American Football movies, definitely seek out the documentary Undefeated

      I lot of bloggers have been telling me they liked In Bruges a little more than I did! It's a good film. As impressive as the script is, maybe it was the profanity count that I found a bit excessive.

  10. Very interesting set of films.
    Certainly a lot more diverse than my own. I almost watched Seven Psychopaths yesterday but I decided in favor of The Impossible instead. I really enjoyed In Bruges. In fact, it is one of those films I started to appreciate more a few days after watching it. There are certain elements that just stick, a memorable experience for me.
    I keep saying I need to catch up on some Bergman, though I feel his style might not resonate with me as much. So far I've only seen The Seventh Seal.
    I can't wait to watch The Imposter either, I'll probably be getting to it today or tomorrow.
    PS. I totally relate to you when it comes to best of year lists. I posted mine for 2011 in October of 2012 after I felt I had covered enough films.
    Great post and great month of film watching.

    1. @niels85: Just to clear up your commenting issue, nobody else has told me they have trouble commenting. I received both your comments for monthly recap, so there isn't a problem my end. You just have to wait for me to publish your comment, it doesn't appear immediately. I do this comment moderating on blog dashboard because I'm filtering out spam messages.

      In Bruges is indeed quite memorable and unique, I didn't dislike it. 7.4 means I liked it, didn't love it.
      I have been watching a bit of Bergman, and honestly I find many of them difficult to love, because melancholic and cold-more on that in my next monthly recap.
      The year end list, it makes sense to wait, in order to include everything you want to see from a particular year. But if you want to participate in LAMBs 4 Lions Best of 2012 poll in feb, then waiting is a no no. Maybe an unfinished list will have to suffice then :)
      and finally, thank you!

  11. I completely agree with your reasons for Seven Psychopaths. Some great films you watched!

  12. @Lights Camera Reaction: Seven Psychopaths had it's moments,I just found it a bit too uneven overall. Thanks for reading!


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