Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Spring Forward: Year of Bests – 2015

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A couple of years back, I did not publish a year-end piece on those articles I most enjoyed reading for the period. Routinely, my online browsing turns up a number authors and write-ups that exceed whatever threshold I have in my head. I promised not to get caught flat-footed again. So, I rectified the issue by gathering them up and presenting each quarterly. This the first of such for the year.

Let’s thaw 2015 out of its doldrums, shall we?


LAC_127

Just no way I’d forget to start this year’s series without a look back at how it began. With the singular January 2nd review by my friend and colleague J.D. from his Radiator Heaven blog (which given the Winter some of you (ahem) enjoyed, sounds warmly comforting) of an all-time favorite neo-noir of mine:

L.A. Confidential

“Helgeland and Hanson’s screenplay does an excellent job of gradually building narrative momentum. It introduces the three main protagonists right off the bat with scenes that show their distinctive approaches to police work, which informs their character. Over the course of the film we learn more about them from how they act and what they do. The screenwriters also excel at raising the stakes the deeper Bud, Ed and Jack go into the Nite Owl case and the more they uncover. One gets a tangible sense of danger that these men are in, which makes the film’s climax that much more exciting.


Beatles_RS136_MonoVinyl_Press03-2-copy

The Music Collector’s Magazine, Goldmine, and staff writer Allison Johnelle Boron put their experienced glare on to another of the many Beatles-related books. This time, though, peering into Candy Leonard’s, “Beatleness: How The Beatles and Their Fans Remade The World,” and its Fab Four source, the fans, in an interesting interview:

Author seeks definition of ‘Beatleness’ from those who know it best: the fans

“A sociologist, Leonard looks at Beatlemania in a scientific way. Through the eyes of her subjects, she builds a three-dimensional, completely human tale, the likes of which has never before been tackled by a Beatles author, then backs it up with scientific data to discover why The Beatles became the phenomenon they were — and still are today.”


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Robin Edds writing for BuzzFeed made the case, “Prepare to love this show even more than you already did.”:

36 Times “Breaking Bad” Was The Cleverest Show On Television

“The coordinates of the spot that Walt buries the money are actually those of Q Studios in Albuquerque, N.M., where the show was filmed.”


dr strangelove credits - art of the title

The good folks over at The Art of the Title site provides another stellar look at one of the all-time best opening title sequences. “The title sequence to Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, featuring aircraft refueling mid-flight and the hand lettering of title designer Pablo Ferro, is an undeniable classic of the art form.”:

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

“The titles to Dr. Strangelove remain delightfully evocative to this day and have become one of Pablo Ferro’s most well-known works. The combination of aircraft footage, Johnson’s arrangement, and Ferro’s quirky lettering presents us with a number of tongue-in-cheek cues, and we are formally prepped for a comedy grounded in harsh technicalities but light as air.”


michael mann scores

Ask any Michael Mann fan and they will tell you one of the open secrets for this auteur’s cinematic presence is the music he frequently employs on his film soundtracks. Julia Alexander writing for the Movie Mezzanine site explored this detail beautifully in her piece from mid-January:

SETTLING THE SCORE: THE MUSIC OF MICHAEL MANN

Blackhat director Michael Mann’s use of eclectic scores over the past few decades has been discussed in length by critics with each new film that comes out. So much so that it’s difficult to figure out where to begin with a catalogue of films that stretches almost forty-seven years. With the release of Blackhat, we decided to revisit the original scores used in Mann’s films and recommend our top five choices.”


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In keeping for all things Michael Mann, something I’m all for, Nick Mastrangelo’s summary article again for  Movie Mezzanine featured a fine Michael Mann video of the day and several best of pieces for the noted filmmaker:

OPENING ACTS: MICHAEL MANN EDITION

“What makes Heat great isn’t the reality of it, but how Mann handled the material to express the loneliness of cops and criminals through their personal lives (or the lack of). Any man or woman dedicated to their job can and most probably will relate to this theme. Mann essentially brings that to life by bringing the best out of his working crew.”


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Once more, my Irish colleague Darren writing at his the m0vie blog graces us with another in-depth review. This time in celebration of the approaching 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Specifically “…the most ambitious episode from the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise, and also the most controversial.” :

Star Trek: Enterprise – Dear Doctor (Review)

Dear Doctor is an episode that is deeply problematic. Indeed, it was a show that was so controversial and so divisive that UPN itself insisted on a change to the episode’s ending. It’s an episode that tends to provoke strong reactions, from both defenders and detractors. It inspires passion. It is not uncommon to find people who will rank the episode among the very best of Enterprise and the very worst of Enterprise.”


justified_fx_banner

Shouldn’t be a surprise I’d want to include an article by a frequent contributor to Ruth’s Flixchatter movie site (as well as this here blog), Kevin (aka Jack Deth). This time his highlight of a show, in its final season, I’ve championed on this series more than a few times over the years. FX’s JUSTIFIED:

Tube Watch: 5 Reasons Why FX’s ‘Justified’ Rocks Out Loud!

“Add an eye for minor details with Graham Yost (HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers’ and major Wild West meets Shakespeare cult class series, ‘Deadwood’). And you have the makings of grittily modernizing the “Old Gunslinger comes to town” premise. Add a few love interests. The odd family and home town feuds. Old school (Moonshine) and updated forms (Grass, Oxycotin and Heroin) of illegal recreational pharmacology. Bracing old friends and new snitches. Serving warrants and transporting prisoners. And you have a continuing tale and mixture that pays off in ways unimagined!”


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Relatively new to me, but who no doubt has a hearty following, Victoria Loomes (@miss_vicki) of GIRLS DO FILM initially graces the series with her contribution to the Contrary to Popular Opinion blogathon from January. This time on a subject that spoke to me, but maybe not others:

FEDERICO FELLINI: THE ARGUMENT AGAINST

“Criticising Federico Fellini feels like sacrilege. The heavyweight director has rave reviews, box-office figures and a long-lasting career that spanned more than forty years in his corner. On his office shelf (if indeed he had one, and it’s not difficult to imagine he would have) resides – amongst others – four Academy Awards (one honorary), a Palme d’Or and a BAFTA. His name is generally pre-fixed with lofty adjectives: ‘great’, ‘influential’, ‘visionary’, ‘flamboyant’… Well here’s one you hear less often: OVERRATED. And another: NARCISSTIC.”


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“EACH WEEK, THE DISSOLVE DESIGNATES A MOVIE OF THE WEEK FOR STAFFERS AND READERS TO WATCH AND DISCUSS TOGETHER. FEEL FREE TO PITCH IN OR SUGGEST YOUR OWN DISCUSSION POINTS.” Like another film, this Michael Mann film reaches the two-decade mark, and Chris Klimek discussed why it still registers:

The long warm-up to Heat

“But Heat, which will turn 20 in December, still feels like the Michael Mann-liest film its now-71-year-old writer/director ever made, or ever will. His subsequent pictures about violent-crime professionals—the Tom Cruise-starring hit-man thriller Collateral, the TV reboot Miami Vice, the John Dillinger biopic Public Enemies—all aspire to Heat’s weird cocktail of the hyperrealistic and the operatic. None are as indelible. ”


b-movies

Art of the Title came back with a follow-up to their ongoing B-Movie series care of Ben Radatz:

The Golden Age of the American B-Movie Title Sequence 
Part 3: Out With a Bang

“For its many flaws, the Production Code had the unintended effect of governing not only the substance of low-budget films but their production value; its rigid guidelines forced even the lowest-budget fare to maintain a baseline façade of professionalism. But, sex and violence being what they are, and with censorship of marginal concern, little plot or investment was needed to turn a profit, and so decorum fell by the wayside.”


Space Compilation

“A wonderful 6 minute compilation of visually stunning clips from 35 amazing films, from 1968 to 2014, including Star Trek, Star Wars, Aliens, Interstellar, Gravity and Guardians of the Galaxy.” by the Catch the Film site:

Star Trek, Star Wars (and more) Cinematic Space Compilation

“This short film by Russian Video Editor Max Shishkin features music by Hans Zimmer (“Mountains” from the Interstellar Soundtrack); Lyrics (“Do not go gentle into that good night”) by Dylan Thomas; and Voice by Anthony Hopkins.”


xfiles-home28

I know I’ve probably highlighted this before during this series, but damn it this deserves to be noted more than once. Likely the most-jawdropping episode of the entire X-Files television series. Still haunts to this day. Once again, Darren writing at his the m0vie blog captivates:

The X-Files – Home (Review)

“It is an episode that is frequently ranked among the best that the show ever produced. It is an episode that many viewers remember quite clearly, even if they only saw it once years earlier. It was the first episode of the show to receive a viewer discretion warning on initial broadcast and was famously never repeated on the Fox Network. “It had one airing and then it was banned,” writer Glen Morgan quipped“Jim and I don’t get rerun money for that.” It is also one of the rare episodes of The X-Files that is not explicitly paranormal in its subject matter, instead wandering into the macabre and the taboo.”


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Should include more book reviews than I do here. With that, I recommend a good pairing of book and review with this entry. Specifically, Charlie Jane Anders’ io9 look at “The third volume in Mark Cushman’s essential These Are The Voyages series of books”:

The Truth About What Went Wrong With The Third Season Of Star Trek

“The original Star Trek was a revolutionary television show… that came to an ignominious end. The classic space opera saw a huge drop in quality in its final season, and then was cancelled. Legend has it the ratings were terrible, and the new producer, Fred Freiberger, ruined it. But the truth is a bit more complicated.”


the gunfighter

My friend and colleague Colin, writing for his Riding the High Country blog, is someone I’ve highlighted fairly regularly. His exploration of film noir and western film is something I can’t get enough of. Especially when his discerning eye analyzes another classic. Made me appreciate this Henry King film all the more on recent screening:

The Gunfighter

“There can be absolutely no doubt that the 1950s represented the coming of age of the western, the genre’s full flowering as a mature and thought-provoking art form. Under the circumstances, it’s highly appropriate that the decade should open with a prime example of this growing assurance, a film which confidently presents a drama of great subtlety and humanity, and also happens to be one of the best pieces of work its director and star ever achieved. I’ve heard The Gunfighter (1950) described as a film which broke new ground and took the western in a whole different direction. I’m not sure I’d completely agree with such a sweeping comment as I feel there’s ample evidence of this move already being underway as the 40s drew to a close. I think it’s more accurate to say the film stands as a significant milestone in that process of development.”


snape

Fan of Harry Potter? Then this is a must-see, by Dorkly:

Every Major Snape Scene – in Chronological Order – Tells a Totally New Story

“With the value of hindsight, we know the story of Severus Snape is one of tragic sacrifice and unrealized love. But so much of the usual Potions professor’s story was told in flashback after we’d gotten to know him as the sourpuss Potter-hater, we didn’t get to fully appreciate his character arc. But someone’s put together all of his major scenes in chronological order so that we can finally fully experience the tale of Severus Snape in its entirety – and it’s amazing.”


beatles-vu

The astute music fan, Rick Ouellette over at his Reel and Rock blog, had its first guest-written post back in February. Joe S. Harrington is the author of “Sonic Cool: The Life and Death of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and offered up something befitting another of those magical years of 60s Rock:

THE TWO SIDES OF 1967 BY JOE S. HARRINGTON

“What more could possibly be said about the Beatles? And for that matter, the Velvet Underground? The Beatles are like the “learner’s manual” of rock n’ roll—they covered every discernible style, and did it all first. The Velvets, on the other hand, represent the dark underbelly of rock, from whence emerged a Cause and a Way of Life. It’s just proof of something that’s been said a million times about the VU: their influence didn’t really take hold until years later. So even though they were contemporaries of the Beatles, what they were doing was so far ahead of its time that the influence of it wouldn’t be felt or years, or even decades. So while the Beatles were totally of the ‘60s, the Velvets transcended it, making them the “better” group, right? But maybe that’s because the influence of the Beatles is so profound and well-engrained that it doesn’t even need to be clarified—which is what I’ve been forced to reconsider, having read Ian McDonald’s epic Revolution in the Head, and hence actually listened to the Beatles, album-by-album, for the first time in decades.”


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Horrible reviews notwithstanding, I guess the latest by the Wachowski Siblings didn’t exactly have me panting, let alone waiting in line, to see it. Editor Anne Perry’s delightful review over at Hodderscape, though, had me second-guessing myself…maybe.

Review: Jupiter Ascending

“The day after I saw Jupiter Ascending, my husband asked me whether it was good or bad. I had to think about it a bit before answering.

We were, at the time, sharing a sea salt carmel and banana cream doughnut from Crosstown Doughnuts; it was a giant, gooey disaster, a banana cream-stuffed chocolate doughnut iced in banana frosting and topped with a generous helping of crumbled brownie and gooey carmel. The lovely gentleman who sold it to us assured us that the banana cream was made up of between two and three bananas per doughnut. Per doughnut. Given the amount of banana cream that I had to try to wipe off myself after eating the doughnut, I believe him.”


fifty-shades-of-grey-jamie-dornan

As if I didn’t have another inkling to dismiss something on celluloid digital screens, it was the translation of this bestseller. Then mettelray chimed in on her blog with this to leave me pondering:

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (2015)

“The general word for describing Fifty Shades of Grey seems to be awful and yet, I’m going to destroy my credibility as a self-started movie blogger by saying, it was still better than the source material. Was it still cheesy? Incredibly! Was it badly written? Hell yes! Was there a lack of chemistry? Between every person on screen! Did Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) look like a chinless boy trying to act manly? As much as it pains me to say, yes! Were there too many lady parts and too little male parts showing on screen? Absolutely yes! Was it as bad as the book? Not so much.”


KeyeLuke-Graumanns

Anyone my age knew the extraordinary character actor Keye Luke on sight by our teens. Not only for his Number One son Lee Chan portrayal in the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan series, but as the chief mentor of Kwai Chang Caine on the Kung Fu series on 70s TV. Master Po. But the Metzinger Sisters spotlighted his other true talent on their Silver Scene blog:

The Art of Keye Luke

“He attended the Chouinard Institute, studying under Richard Munsell and Carl Beetz, and while in his early twenties became a commercial artist, receiving a large commission from Graumann’s Chinese Theatre. It was Keye Luke who painted the fairy tale gardens and the massive ceiling mural inside the legendary Hollywood theatre.”


obviouschild_badseduction

When Joe wrote he “…spent three and a half years in the projection booth at a local theater and while I’m no longer an employed projectionist, the experience changed the way I look at film.”, I instantly connected with him. Fine reviewer, too, on his Thoughts From The Booth blog, as his look at this film intrigued me:

Film Review : Obvious Child (2014)

“I had a few laugh of loud moments while watching this. Slate, who appears regularly on comedy central shows such as The Kroll Show, has a natural sense of comedic timing which really helped me connect with her character. She just seemed like a person who is struggling to make an impact at 26 years old just like everybody else who is 26 is.”


Justified - Burned

Okay, I’ve made the case more than once that the series JUSTIFIED is something you should have been watching from the beginning, especially as it’s coming to a close soon. Kyle Fowle writing for Entertainment Weekly keyed in on why that is in a keen episode review from a short while back:

‘Burned’

““Burned” understands that the best episodes of Justified are the ones that use Harlan and its people to make a larger point about social and economic issues in America. Sure, the show is also a darkly comic noir and a slow-burning Western, but at its heart, it’s a critique of the American Dream. More specifically, the show is often a critique of the political and economic systems that relegate access to the American Dream to a select few people.”


milo

You can’t have a “Year of Bests” article without a good ‘list’ of some kind. Familiar, but one that expanded and highlighted something (or someone) you weren’t already aware of. So here it comes for those of you who had realized that. Care of Den of Geek! and Tim George:

The top 25 underrated screen villains

“20. Milo, The Last Boy Scout (Tony Scott, 1991)

An unlikely reposte to Bruce Willis’s brand of blue collar machismo, the sadly departed Taylor Negron lends the villain of this Joel Silver production an effete, well-tailored precision that makes Milo the most effective antagonist Willis has faced since Alan Rickman in Die Hard. In an age of hard bodied heroes and villains, Milo stands out like a sore thumb.”


john wick

Might as well add an illustrative infographic while we’ll at it. Say, for one of the best action flicks of the past year. By Ben Pearson, for geektyrant:

Infographic: JOHN WICK Kills Broken Down by Into Accuracy, Location, and More

“If you’re an action movie junkie and you haven’t seen John Wick yet, you’re living a lie. Writer/directors Chad Stehelski and David Leitch pulled off some excellent action sequences, and Keanu Reeves brought a level of humanity to a character that is one step away from a superhero. Simply put, it rocks.”


first and last shots

Cheryl Eddy for io9 went and highlighted someone who made it on to this series just last quarter. Jacob T. Swinney. Again, he’s pieced something special together from a wonderful set of movies. The short film is simple as it is awesome:

This Fascinating Short Contrasts The First And Last Shots Of 55 Films

“In just over five minutes, Jacob T. Swinney’s film contrasts the opening and closing shots of 55 films, from The Tree of Life to The Usual Suspects. Some are quite abstract. But the number you will be able to ID (especially if you’ve watched a lot of indie/art-house movies in recent years) may surprise you.”


Okay, after witnessing this week’s remarkable episode of JUSTIFIED, one that featured a totally unexpected act that resulted in an extraordinary blood bath, we’ll close this session with two enthusiastic explanations why my wife and I will be going into serious series withdrawal by mid-April. First, Matt Zoller Seitz’s Vulture piece:

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Justified’s Unexpected Social Commentary Propels the Show to TV’s Elite Ranks

“With just a few episodes to go, Justified seems poised to join the elite ranks of dramas that went out on a high note; like a handful of other memorable crime dramas, including The Shield and Breaking Bad, it has spent its final season (its sixth) honing its themes and deepening the main characters, bringing back supporting players (including a dead one who appeared as a ghost) for on-point cameos, and casting a retroactive light over the whole saga. And yet it’s doing all this without sacrificing the no-fuss quality that made the show’s literary forefather, the late Elmore Leonard, such a joy to read. It has every right to be full of itself, but it never is. Like its hero, Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), it moves with a sense of purpose even when it’s moseying along.”

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Finally, on the last day of the month and quarter, for Entertainment Weekly, James Hibberd’s marvelous list of what the show has become so known for… its stellar confrontations of words and actions:

Justified: Watch Raylan’s 10 all-time best showdowns

“FX’s Justified is the modern-day master of the neo-Western stand-off—taking the classic setup of a lawman and a bad guy facing off, with pistols at the ready, then adding snappy Elmore Leonard-inspired dialogue and clever story twists. As the show heads into its final hours, here we exclusively present 10 of the show’s finest stand-off moments featuring Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and the rest of the cast.”


The entire series can be found here.

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19 Responses to “Spring Forward: Year of Bests – 2015”

  1. Arlee Bird

    I’m a big Fellini fan, but rarely find anyone who shares my passion let alone watch his films with me. The more I watch and rewatch his films the better I like them–rather than “overrated” I think he’s misunderstood and sadly neglected by the average film-viewer, but considering the garbage that most are watching, I can understand their avoidance of Fellini’s films.

    “NARCISSTIC”? I don’t think he is any more so that other directors or film personalities. His films come across to me as honest and often self-denigrating. He writes and films what he knows–his inner self and his life experience. I can’t fault him for that. At least he’s not focused on silly super-heroes and sparkly vampires. When watching a Fellini film you need to look beyond the film offered and look down into the layers. So many stories to consider in each film. I still think he’s one of the greatest directors.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      Well said, Lee. Love your passion toward the subject. Almost convinces me to give another of Fellini’s a go. Thanks so much for adding to the discussion, my friend.

      Like

      Reply
  2. Paul S

    Great linkage. J.D.’s review of Prelude to a Kiss over at Radiator Heaven was one of my favourite reads of last year.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. jackdeth72

    Excellent recap and dissertation, Michael and Colin!

    ‘L.A. Confidential’ is so layered with cast, mood atmosphere and slowly revealed plot that it never really gets enough spotlight or ink!

    Still think the Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul’ is their best pre recreational pharmacology offering. Not a bad cut to be found. Also think their, “I Just Met A Girl’ is a criminally neglected tribute to UK’s pre rock, “Skiffle”.

    The opening credits of “Dr. Strangelove’ rock for their efficiency, budget and subtle sexualism. Would also add Spielberg’s ‘Catch Me If You Can’ for retro, 1960s thumb nailing of plot during its opening animated credits. While easily dwarfing AMC’s ‘Mad Men’.

    Michael Mann is still one of America’s best contemporary directors! Granted, ‘Public Enemies’ could have stood some extra work and trimming here and there. ‘Thief’, ‘Heat’ and ‘The Insider’ will live on forever the director’s genesis and pedigree!

    And thanks very much for linking my critique of ‘Justified’!

    I was correct when I posted that Peter Weller had not been called in to direct episodes. Though he was called in to ride herd on the series; first episode of its final season. Very good work, as well.

    Also predicted that Markham (Sam Elliot) would try to form an alliance with Loretta weeks ago, And it panned out on Tuesday night’s foray. Also looking forward to Boon being dropped by Raylan next week.

    DoG’s ’25 Underrated Villans’ is an absolute hoot. And well worth a perusal!

    Great work, all around!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      Glad you’ve joined in on this, Kevin. We’re all looking forward to have Raylan shut Markham’s strongman Boone’s mouth next week. God, I’m going to miss this series! Really enjoyed your spotlight on the program, my friend. Many thanks, as always. 🙂

      Like

      Reply

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