PANDEMIC YEAR IN REVIEW: THE MOVIES I WATCHED

Paul Mendoza

I’ve had a lot of time on my hands so I need up watching a lot of television. I watched some old favorites and I also had the chance to watch some films I’d never seen before. I don’t know if this is a complete list but it’s what I remember.

THE GUILTY PLEASURE – Disaster Films

I LOVE disaster films! Maybe because they’re filled with well known actors. Maybe because I love the suspense of who’s gonna die and how. Whatever it is, I just think they’re fun! Even the ones that aren’t that great.

THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) For my money, this is the best disaster film of all time! And the only one to be nominated for Best Picture! Directed by the master of the disaster film, Irwin Allen, it stars Paul Newman (my favorite actor) and Steve McQueen! William Holden, Faye Dunaway and The Juice! Fred Astaire received his only Oscar nomination for this one.

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) this is another Irwin Allen masterpiece. Gene Hackman is an unusual reverend who tries to lead 10 survivors of a capsized ship to the bottom in hope of rescue. Many die along the way! Shelly Winters will bring you to tears! I promise you!

ARMAGEDDON (1998) I now it’s ridiculous and dumb but I can’t help it. Whenever it’s on I have to watch.

2012 (2009) Disaster films usually love to destroy New York City. This one obliterates Los Angeles! It has John Cusack!

SAN ANDREAS (2015) California gets destroyed in this one and The Rock comes to the rescue! But when it comes right down to it, it also stars Alexandra Doddario. Need I say more?

THE ROMANTICS

I’m a big hopeless romantic. A great romance is not easy to make which is why you end up with a lot of mediocre rom-coms. These films are the cream of the crop!

CASABLANCA (1942) My favorite film of all time! Every line of dialogue is a classic quote. This film was the template for every romantic film that followed.

ANNIE HALL (1977) The film that changed Woody Allen’s career and brought him his first Oscars. This film became the template for every rom-com that followed.

MANHATTAN (1979) As much of a love letter to New York as a romantic comedy. Filmed in lush black and white, this film ends with Woody running to stop Mariel Hemingway from leaving for London. That last scene is both romantic and cynical and rang true on both counts for me.

CROSSING DELANCEY (1988) This is a sweet rom-com about following your heart even if it means you have to stop pretending to be who you think you wanted to be. Got it? Another great New York City movie with strong performances by Amy Irving and Peter Riegert.

THE COMEDIES

“Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” That is the truth! It’s not easy to make people laugh. Also, comedy is subjective just like any art. What makes me laugh may not be funny to others. The best comedy ever made? I have to say Tootsie.

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006) One of my all time favorites! Whenever this is on I will watch it. It’s a perfect comedy. And I am always upset at how Andie’s friends treat her. She had no reason to be ashamed of her job. That’s all.

THE NICE GUYS (2016) I just love this movie. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are a modern day Laurel and Hardy. This is a great homage to 70’s buddy pictures. It’s funny and action packed. And Angourie Rice who plays Gosling’s daughter more than holds her own and should be a star very soon!

AFTER HOURS (1985) Martin Scorsese’s absurd comedy is an homage to the dark underbelly of New York City with Griffin Dunne and an all star cast. He actually made this low budget comedy to prove he could deliver a commercial success in order to get his foot back in the door with the studios. He followed this up with The Color of Money with Paul Newman.

METROPOLITAN (1990) Whit Stillman has a certain style that isn’t for everyone. His films are very witty and mostly concerned with young white kids working through their complicated relationships. This was his first film about a group of rich kids during debutante season in Manhattan. It earned him and Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

MORNING GORY (2010) I love Rachel McAdams. She plays a struggling morning show producer who gets a chance to shine but has to deal with grumpy Harrison Ford and press from her boss Jeff Goldblum. She finds an ally in Diane Keaton and romance with Patrick Wilson so how in he hell was this not a hit? Well, it’s just not great. It should have been with this cast. It wants to be Broadcast News but it’s Broadcast News lite. Still fun because Rachel McAdams gives it her all and you rarely see Ford in a comedy.

STUBER (2019) a silly movie with Kumail Nanjiani as a hapless Uber driver who picks up a cop, Dave Bautista, who just had lassie surgery so cannot drive. They go on an adventure after drug dealers and double crosses and of course, become friends! Harmless enough and the odd couple produce some good laughs.

THE MUSICALS

I’m not a big musical fan. It all depends on the songs and who’s in it. I prefer Gene Kelly over Fred Astaire. My favorite musical is West Side Story.

ROCKET MAN (2019) this bio was blessed by elton John and features his songs in a fairly standard modern musical. Aaron Egerton is great as John. Great if you love Elton John!

CARMEN JONES (1954) I had never seen this but knew a lot about it. Dorothy Dandridge broke new ground and won an Oscar nomination. Her career was unfortunately pretty rocky afterwards. This all black cast includes Harry Belafonte and was directed by Otto Preminger. Preminger and Dandridge, who had begun an affair, teamed up 5 years later for Porgy and Bess.

IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER (1955) One of my all time favorite musicals with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. Three friends return from the war and vow to meet in 10 years. They’ve changed and have to relearn how important their friendship is to each other.

THE BAND WAGON (1953) Fred Astaire teams up with Cyd Charisse in this enjoyable musical about a fading star (Astaire) who falls for an up and coming dancer (Charisse) while working on a broadway show he hopes will revive his career.

THE DOOMSDAY FILM

I love end of the world movies. I love it when the last remaining survivors rummage through empty houses and apartments looking for food or anything that could be useful. That looks like it would be fun for awhile. Am I weird? My favorite doomsday film? Planet of The Apes!

CONTAGION (2011) this was the first film I watched once this whole business started. A world wide virus spreads around the world leaving millions dead and scientists struggling for a vaccine. Sound familiar? It’s a great film and scary as hell. It also has an all star cast including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and on and on. It could even go under the ‘disaster film’ category.

12 MONKEYS (1996) Another great film about a virus that wipes out civilization! Bruce Willis is sent from the future to the past, before the virus begins, to investigate if he can find how it stated so a cure can be developed. Terry Gilliam directed so it’s very clever and imaginative and has lots of humor.

THE OMEGA MAN (1971) Chuck Heston is a scientist who creates a vaccine when a deadly virus wipes out civilization. (You see the pattern here?) He injects himself with the vaccine making his blood a syrum. He thinks he is the only man left in the world except for some crazy infected, half dead people until he meets a group of kids. It scared me when I was a kid and it’s still pretty creepy. It was remade recently as I Am Legend with Will Smith.

ZOMBIELAND (2009) This is a funny look at the end of the world and you know, when the world is ending you really need to keep your sense of humor. This is a great comedy with a great cast and perhaps the greatest cameo ever when Bill Murray shows up. The sequel which came out in 2019 was surprisingly just as good!

THE 70s

The 70s was a great decade for film. The director was given a lot of power and autonomy to make the kind of films they wanted without interference from the studios. Directors like John Cassavetes, Sam Peckinpah, Woody Allen, Hal Ashby, Alan J. Pakula, Peter Bogdanavich, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian DePalma, Sidney Lumet, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Altman, Warner Herzog and on and on. Things changed when Jaws and Star Wars came out and studios got greedy.

NETWORK (1976) One of my favorite films. Directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Paddy Chayefsky (Oscar winner), Network is a dark comedy about how news was turning into entertainment, about how Everything was becoming entertainment. Ratings are the only thing that matters and the crazier you are the better the ratings. Peter Finch won posthumous Oscar as the prophet of the airwaves who becomes a star by saying “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”. William Holden is his friend and old school news producer who starts an affair with Faye Dunaway (Oscar winner) the young ambitious TV executive who takes over the news division. Its filled with great performances by Robert Duvall, Ned Baetty, Beatrice Straight (Oscar winner).

THE HOSPITAL (1972) This is another dark comedy written by Paddy Chayefsky (Oscar winner). This time he takes on the health industry. George C. Scott is a doctor who struggles to keep his hospital from falling apart even as he becomes more and more suicidal. It is an outrageous film. You’re not sure whether to laugh or be disgusted. And the issues it brings up about our health care system are still with us today.

ALL THAT JAZZ (1979) There was no one like Bob Fosse. He was outlandish and daring. This is an autobiographical film about a choreographer/film director who works himself to death. This is what eventually happened to Fosse. The surprise casting of Roy Scheider (Jaws) to play Fosse works out beautifully and earned him an Oscar nomination. It’s an amazing film from it’s opening open audition played out to the song On Broadway to the big musical finale. A young Jessica Lange played the Angel of Death and Anne Reinking basically played herself as Scheider’s young mistress. “It’s Showtime!”

A BRIDGE TOO FAR (1977) An all star cast! Literally, every big star of the 1970s is in this movie including Robert Redford! Its about Operation Market Garden, the failed World War II invasion of the Netherlands to capture a group of bridges which would trap the Germans in their retreat. It’s partially successful and mostly a series of mishaps. The film plays out like a series of vignettes with your favorite actors getting their time to shine. Some bits are better than others. I love these all star war movies. It was not well received at the time but I think it’s now considered a solid entertaining WWII film.

PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK (1971) This is a gritty film about a bunch of junkies who barely manage to survive on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne and Prodced by Dominick Dunne. The film that brought Al Pacino his first big notices.

THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971) Director Peter Bogdonavich was 32 when he made this masterpiece about the people that live in a dying Texas town. It won 8 Oscar nominations and won two for Best Supporting Actor (Ben Johnson) and best Supporting Actress (Cloris Leachman). Jeff Bridges earned his first Oscar nomination for his first film.

THE HOT ROCK (1972) a cool, funny heist film with Robert Redford, George Segal and a jazzy Quincey Jones score. Redford is very good in vinegars but he made so few of them. The character he plays in this film could very well be the younger version of  his thief in Sneakers (1990).

 

ROLLERBALL (1975) a dark futuristic film with James Caan as a superstar athlete of a hyper violent roller derby game. The powers that be want him to retire but he won’t so they start removing the rules from the game which turn it into a deadly gladiator bloodsport. Strange, weird film that I find fascinating. It doesn’t make much sense but perhaps I’m attracted to the nihilistic aspect of it.

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1,2,3 (1974) solid thriller and great New York movie. Robert Shaw hijacks a subway train for ransom and Walter Matthau must outsmart him. Also has Jerry Stiller and Martin Balsam.

LIKE THE 70s

These films written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck feel like 70s films. They are low budget, well written and directed character studies. Mississippi Grind feels like an homage to Robert Altman’s 1974 great California Split. Half Nelson won Gosling an Oscar nomination and big time notice. They did not make much money and hardly anyone has seen them but you should because they are excellent films.

HALF NELSON (2006)
MISSISSIPPI GRIND (2015)

SOME OLD FAVORITES AND SOME NEVER SEEN BEFORE

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) One of my favorites since childhood! I never tire of watching it. Errol Flynn is dashing and Olivia DeHaviland is radiant!

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) before cable and video the only time you could watch this was once a year around Easter. I looked forward to watching this more than getting a basket full of chocolate!

TO HAVE OR HAVE NOT (1944) Bogart met Bacall on this film based on Hemingway’s novel. It’s not a film of great consequence otherwise but it’s immensely fun. “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? Just put your lips together and blow”

OUT OF THE PAST (1947) this is my favorite film noir of all time. The writing is amazing! Filled with classic noir lines said to perfection by Robert Mitchum.

THE PRIZE (1964) Paul Newman is my favorite actor and this little seen gem is one of his rare ‘Hitchcockian’ thrillers. It also has Edward G. Robinson and Elke Sommers!

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (1982) I must have watched this 4 or 5 times in the last 8 months. It’s a classic! “Sell it to the Air Force, Mayo!” Richard Gere and Debra Winger hated each other but when the cameras rolled they did some pretty good acting. She was nominated for an Oscar.  He was not.  Louis Gusset Jr. won won!

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) I had never seen it! So I figured I might as well. Fun, over the top, ridiculous. But I love Kurt Russell.

SEXY BEAST (2001) A great modern noir with Ben Kingsley delivering a scorching hot performance. Great film!

PEARL HARBOR (2001) I had never seen it! It’s so long! And its another ridiculously plotted film. But filled with good actors and Kate Beckinsale is easy on the eyes.

TOO BIG TO FAIL (2011) this excellent HBO film based on Aaron Ross Sorkin’s novel really explains the housing bubble bust and economic crisis of 2008. Watch this and The Big Short and you get a really good understanding how everything went wrong and was never fixed.

WAR DOGS (2016) Based on a true story! Two young guys get into the arms dealing business. And it gets ugly. Jonah Hill is downright scary. Bradley Cooper is good in a small but important part.

ROMAN J ESQUIRE (2017) I had never seen it! Denzel Washington was nominated for an Oscar as an old radical lawyer who decides it’s time to get some for himself. But it backfires on him. Actually more film noir than court room drama.

BOY ERASED (2018) I had never seen it! Written and directed by actor Joel Egerton (Great Gatsby) it deals with parents Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman who send their son Lucas hedges to a gay conversion clinic run by Egerton. Good performances, heartbreaking subject matter.

PEPPERMINT (2018) I had never seen this! I love these cheap vigilante movies, stories of revenge. Jennifer Garner goes all Alias on everyone she feels was responsible for the death of her husband and daughter. The daughter is played by Cailey Fleming who plays RicK Grimes’s daughter (really Shane’s) Judith on The Walking Dead.

CREED 2 (2018) I hadn’t seen the sequel and it follows the Rocky formula and again delivers. I hear that Michael P. Jordan is directing Creed 3.

THE KITCHEN (2019) First time seeing this one, too. I love all the actors and they’re good but it feels like a pale imitation of Widows (Viola Davis) which came out earlier that year.

THE LONG SHOT (2019) Another one I watched for the first time. A rom-com with Seth Rogen and……Charlize Theron? Yes, you heard right. And it actually works and is funny.