Tuesday , September 22 2020

Films of 2019

Summary:
With my OLED TV, I now see many more films, mostly older ones.  Thus I’ve separated out the newer films.  Only a few of you will want to wade through my long list of older films that I watched this year.  I plan to see Star Wars at the theatre, when I have time. New films: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, aka Last Evenings on Earth (China) 4.0 First time in years that I’ve gotten excited about a new filmmaker. Try to see it in 3-D; it’s worth the effort. The director (Bi Gan) has obviously seen a lot of great films (Tarkovsky, Hitchcock, Wong Kar-Wai, David Lynch, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, etc.), but the way he combines previous styles feels quite original. Ash is the Purest White (China) 3.8 Another excellent film by Jia Zhangke. The Chinese name is something like “Sons and Daughter’s

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With my OLED TV, I now see many more films, mostly older ones.  Thus I’ve separated out the newer films.  Only a few of you will want to wade through my long list of older films that I watched this year.  I plan to see Star Wars at the theatre, when I have time.

New films:

Long Day’s Journey Into Night, aka Last Evenings on Earth (China) 4.0 First time in years that I’ve gotten excited about a new filmmaker. Try to see it in 3-D; it’s worth the effort. The director (Bi Gan) has obviously seen a lot of great films (Tarkovsky, Hitchcock, Wong Kar-Wai, David Lynch, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, etc.), but the way he combines previous styles feels quite original.

Ash is the Purest White (China) 3.8 Another excellent film by Jia Zhangke. The Chinese name is something like “Sons and Daughter’s of the Underground”. With the term underground being “jianghu”, which translated literally means “riverlake”. I always feel something is lost in Chinese to English translations. Tyler Cowen says the final portion of the film is a sort of hallucination.

Parasite (Korea) 3.8 This film is a blast, and will have much wider appeal than the other films at the top of my list. It’s a black comedy in the tradition of Kubrick and Lars von Trier, with Hitchcock’s ability to tell a story visually.

The Edge of Democracy (Brazil) 3.7 One of my favorite political documentaries. Yes, the film is marred by a pronounced left-wing slant—the right all wear black hats and the left wear white, or perhaps cream colored hats. But any intelligent viewer should be able to look past the bias and find plenty to appreciate. The visuals are often riveting, reminding me of “The Gate of Heavenly Peace”. Also note that the news since the film was produced tends to strengthen the filmmaker’s argument that the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff was political. (Of course I’m not denying that Rousseff was a really bad president.) The new administration has abandoned its anti-corruption drive now that the left has been removed from power. Just be sure to remember as you watch the film that in Brazil both the left and the right wear black hats. BTW, why does the American media pay almost no attention to the other huge country in the Western hemisphere?

Day and Night (Japan) 3.6 Has two of the characteristics that make Japanese films so appealing—strangeness and an impressive visual style.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. (US) 3.5 This is a difficult film to rate. For someone of my generation, the recreation of 1969 is pure bliss. As a film, it’s one of Tarantino’s weaker efforts. Still, I enjoyed this wallow in boomer nostalgia. He perfectly captured the feel of the era, from the streetscapes down to the tiniest details like ice cube trays. Brad Pitt is perfect. Judged as a work of cinema, however, it’s only so-so. All his films contain comedy, but this one is almost entirely comedy, and it’s just not that funny.

Cold War (Poland) 3.5 Attractive Polish émigrés in Paris in the 1950s, working in a jazz club and living in a cool attic apartment. Lots of glorious high contrast B&W cinematography. Nothing new, but what’s not to like?

The Irishman (US) 3.5 Lots of keenly observed details and well constructed scenes adding up to.3.5 hours of keenly observed details and well constructed scenes.

First Love (Japan) 3.5 Miike is the master of B-films. My only complaint is that the two heroes were sort of boring.

Little Forest (Korea) 3.5 Remake of a Japanese film, which might appeal to those who love TV shows about food. Slow paced, but quite rewarding.

I Am Another You (US) 3.5 A poor immigrant from China made this impressive documentary about a hobo from Utah who lives on the streets in Florida. The guy she follows around has a familiar face, but I can’t quite place it.

Asako I & II (Japan) 3.4 The same director as the brilliant “Happy Hour”. Not as good, but still worth watching.

Shadow (China) 3.3 Cezanne once said, “Monet is nothing but an eye, but what an eye.” The same might be said of Zhang Yimou.

Rocketman (US) 3.3 I thought the first half was quite enjoyable. Then it it fell into Hollywood movie clichés about lonely drug-addled stars living in their mansion. Elton John was at the peak of his fame at exactly the point where I was most intensively listening to rock music. And yet for some reason he never made much of an impression on me. I thought his more energetic songs were pretty good (and still do), but I had fairly narrow interests at that time and overall his music seemed too superficial to me. Sort of really good bad music—the Renoir of pop music. At least I’ve broadened my interests to other genres over the years, beyond the blues-rock I listened to in the 1970s. I’m embarrassed by what a music snob I was back then, given how poor my taste in music was, and still is. (BTW, I wonder if Bernie Taupin said, “I’ll give you permission to use me in the film as long as you portray me as a saint.”)

Apollo 11 (US) 3.3 Engrossing documentary on the famous moon landing. Has it already been 50 years? Question: If humans are around in the year 3019, will the 1869-1969 period still seem like one of rapid change (horse and buggy to moon landing), or will there be so much progress by 3019 that 1869 and 1969 will each seem roughly equally primitive, as the years 869 and 969 now seem roughly equally primitive?

Triple Frontier (US) 3.2 Similar to the old WWII films about buddies in combat, but updated for the issues of the 21st century. Nothing really stands out, but satisfying entertainment.

The Crossing (China) 3.2 A film about a 16-year old girl who smuggles iPhones from HK (where she attends high school) to Shenzhen (where she lives.)

Meet Me in Minami (Japan/China/Korea) 3.1 No, that’s not a typo—Minami is an area in Osaka, which also happens to be where the Chinese-Malaysian director of the film lives. A pleasant film—nothing special.

Penguin Highway (Japan) 3.1 This got very positive reviews, but I was a bit disappointed. Not bad, but missing the magic seen in films produced by the Ghibli studio.

Whisper of the Heart (Japan) 3.0 This one was from the Ghibli studio, but a bit too bland.

Marriage Story (US) 3.0 This isn’t a bad movie, but I was disappointed given the positive reviews. Not particularly well directed, with acting, screenplay, etc., that were only OK. There was some humor, but it’s not all that funny. Too long at 2:15.

The Rolling Thunder Review (US) 3.0 This sort of film is not Scorcese’s forte. For Dylan fans only.

Ad Astra (US) 2.8 Apocalypse Now in space. Unfortunately, the director has no vision. It’s just hand-me-downs from much better films.

Legend of the Demon Cat (China) 2.7 Chen Kaige has certainly declined since the days of Farewell My Concubine. It does have lots of pretty colors, however. Also interesting in terms of what it tells us about Chinese dreams of a long lost utopia.

The Wandering Earth (China) 1.0 The worst sci-fi film I’ve ever seen. It’s the polar opposite of 2001, despite shamelessly plagiarizing that classic. Watching it was like being beaten with a rubber hose for two hours. Should be shown in film schools as a textbook example of how not to make a film.

Older films:

Memories of Murder (Korea, 2003) 3.9 I enjoyed this Bong Joon-Ho film even more on the second viewing. A Scorcese-like tragicomedy about lowlifes who in are in over their heads investigating a murder. But this underrated film is better than anything Scorcese ever directed. Some great cinematography in the night scenes—watch closely or you might miss something. Great performances, especially from the now legendary Song Kang-ho. When this film was made, no less than 5 great Korean directors were all near the peak of their careers. If the 1990s were the golden age of Iranian and Taiwanese films, the 2000s were the golden age of Korean films. The 2010s? I’m not quite sure.

In a bizarre coincidence, I googled the film title right after my wife and I watched it, and found that just two days earlier the Korean authorities had finally solved the murder case after 33 years. The killer was already serving a life sentence for a later rape/murder. Spoiler alert: Glad I didn’t know that before seeing the film, as the ambiguous ending is near perfect.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, US) 3.8 This may not be Wes Anderson’s “best” film, but it’s certainly my favorite. It really connects with me at a personal level, full of things that remind me of my past.

Into the Inferno (German, 2016) 3.8 Herzog is my favorite documentary filmmaker. This one combines his interests in Wagnerian sublime and the bizarre. In this film he works with a very appealing British vulcanologist named Clive Oppenheimer. There’s a Stone Age tribe in Vanuatu that worships an American GI named John Frum who they believe will return bringing them consumer goods. There’s a crazy Berkeley paleontologist and his brilliant Ethiopian bone spotter. There’s amazing footage of North Korean scenery, both natural and man-made. There’s Lake Toba in Indonesia, which is the remnant of an eruption that left as much as 20 feet of ash as far away as India. It’s the largest eruption in the past 25 million years. I particularly enjoyed reliving my experience in the 2010 Icelandic eruption, when I drove through the ash cloud.

The Shining (US, 1980) 3.8 It’s the third time I’ve seen this film, and it holds up extremely well. At first, I noticed that some of the technical innovations that seemed so audacious in 1980 no longer seem as impressive. But this really is a one-of-a-kind film, unlike anything else in its genre. While watching it, I noticed similarities to 2001 and Dr. Strangelove. All three involve paranoid characters with delusions that a conspiracy will undermine their mission, and in all three cases they cause great damage trying to stop this imagined conspiracy. I guess you could say that this is the central theme of Kubrick’s career. I suppose even Full Metal Jacket is loosely related to this theme, if you view the US government as a character, obsessed with international communism.

The Wind Will Carry US (Iran, 1999) 3.8 I first saw this Kiarostami masterpiece 20 years ago, and liked it even more on second viewing. On one level the film isn’t about anything. For two hours, the viewer is waiting for the story to begin. On another level it’s about birth and death, love and beauty, music and poetry, comedy and tragedy, the authentic and the artificial. Like many of the very greatest films, it’s also a comment on the process of filmmaking.

But please don’t watch this on my recommendation—nothing happens.

Peppermint Candy (Korea, 2000) 3.8 Perhaps not the best, but the most impressive film by Lee Chang-dong, and one of the most impressive in all of Korean cinema. The life story is told backwards, and yet somehow it all works. Indeed at the end you begin to wonder if all life stories should be told backwards. Start with the cynical, static, older years, and build toward the more idealistic, more dynamic, more revealing younger years. The “climax” in life comes early. That doesn’t seem right.

True Romance (US, 1993) 3.8 This is one of Tarantino’s best films, and he didn’t even direct it. (He was the screenwriter, Tony Scott directed.) Great supporting roles by Oldman, Hopper, Walken, etc. The film makes Tarantino’s more recent efforts seem a bit ponderous and dull. If only Tarantino had directed it and used someone other than Christian Slater, it might have surpassed even Pulp Fiction.

Wild Strawberries (Sweden 1957) 3.8 Classic Bergman film about an old professor looking back on his life. I saw this film on a weekday afternoon in an art house cinema in Santa Ana. There was one other guy in the audience, another pathetic 60-year old man. What’s wrong with me?

Daybreak (France, 1939) 3.8 This Marcel Carne film was made the same year as Rules of the Game, which makes it a very good year for French cinema. It made the first Sight and Sound top 10 film list, in 1952. A beautiful film.

No Country for Old Men (US, 2007) 3.8 This is a near perfect film, and also very enjoyable. And yet, while the Coen brothers are extremely talented filmmakers, their serious films always seem to be missing something. As with Tarantino, they are perhaps a bit too self-consciously stylish. More than their other films, this needs to be seen on the big screen.

The Big Heat (US, 1953) 3.8 Second time I’ve seen this and the acting is even better than I recall (Glenn Ford, Gloria Graham and Lee Marvin). Definitely an all-time top 10 noir. Fritz Lang directed.

L’Eclisse (Italy, 1962) 3.7 The critics say this film is about alienation. To me it’s about streetlights at night, modern Italian architecture and Monica Vitti’s face. As I got older, I realized that nothing is actually “cool”. Once you understood something, it is no longer cool. But if ever there was anything cool, it was 1960s-era Italy. For me, one of the pleasures of seeing this film is that it reminded me of what it was like when I was young, and still believed that coolness was out there. The night scenes are amazing on a big OLED.

House of Games (US, 1987) 3.7 I’ve probably overrated this, but it’s my favorite David Mamet film; one of the best examples of mannerism in the world of film.

Black Widow (US, 1984) 3.7 In most respects this film is quite ordinary. But Theresa Russell’s performance is exceptional, my all-time favorite femme fatale. She’s so ridiculously good that she carries the film.

His Girl Friday (US, 1940) 3.7 Do people know what they want out of life? Apparently not. BTW, between 1938 and 1948 Howard Hawks directed Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, Ball of Fire, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and Red River. That’s crazy.

Daughter of the Nile (Taiwan, 1987) 3.6 A relatively minor early film by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, but still has some wonderful scenes.

Things Change (US, 1988) 3.6 Watching this Mamet film is pure bliss. One of my favorite parts is where a guy offers to sell his airline ticket from Tahoe to Chicago in exchange for a tank of gas, and the other guy agrees. Hard to believe that as recently as 1988 you could fly with another person’s airline ticket. The world we’ve lost. .

The Last Seduction (US, 1994) 3.6 Now even 1994 seems like the distant past. When I first saw this film I recall being mesmerized by the scene when they discovered information about people on the “internet”. Still no cell phones. Cars with “The Club” anti-theft device and air bags on the driver side only. Features Bill Pullman and a Lauren Bacall look-alike. One of John Dahl’s best film noirs, along with Red Rock West.

Atlantic City (US, 1980) 3.6 “The Atlantic Ocean was something then. You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.”

Ripley’s Game (US/Italy, 2002) 3.6. Not quite as good as Wender’s version (The American Friend), but John Malkovich is perfect as Tom Ripley.

Bad Timing (UK, 1980) 3.6 From 1970-80 Nickolas Roeg made Performance, Walkabout (my favorite), Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Bad Timing. He’s not a perfect director, but his films are consistently more interesting than almost anything coming out of commercial cinema today. Theresa Russell is wonderful, as usual, and Harvey Keitel is also great. The first half really captures the feel of the 1970s, which now seem like ancient history.

Trespassing Bergman (Swedish, 2013) 3.5 I saw another Bergman documentary last year, but this one was far better in almost all respects.

Glengarry Glen Ross (US, 1992) 3.5 The first time that Alec Baldwin played Trump.

Hard Eight (US, 1996) 3.5 Paul Anderson’s first film, already showing his mature style.

Okja (Korea, 2017) 3.5 Almost a flop, but Bong Joon-Ho is such a talented director that he makes an entertaining film out of a mishmash of components.

Rainy Dog (Japan/Taiwan, 1997) 3.5 One of Miike’s more than 100 films.

Mean Streets (US, 1973) 3.5 Where it all began.

Eyes on Me (Japan, 2015) 3.5 I don’t know how they do it (or why Hollywood is unable to) but Japanese films are able to express deeply felt sentiment without being overly sentimental. Americans would probably find the (May-September) romantic relationship to be “problematic”.

A Most Wanted Man (US, 2014) 3.5 The great Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s last role, in a film based on a Le Carre novel. The film doesn’t insult your intelligence, but might be better suited for watching at home than at the theatre.

Blue is the Warmest Color (France, 2013) 3.5 I see why this won at Cannes, as parts of it are extremely good—especially the conversations between the two stars. But at three hours the film drags, and ends up being a bit less than the sum of its parts. More like the average.

Intolerance (US, 1916) 3.5 This rating doesn’t mean much as it’s both a great film and a deeply flawed film. Today, 1916 seems like ancient history, and thus this historical epic has an additional layer of meaning for 2019 viewers, as compared to what people saw in 1916. On the other hand, the images are less astonishing than they would have appeared to 1916 audiences. That trade-off is sort of a microcosm of life. Has any other major director ever produced a very liberal film immediately after producing a very conservative film?

Rouge (Hong Kong, 1987) 3.5 At one level this is a fairly ordinary film about a courtesan from the 1930s who suddenly appears in 1980s Hong Kong. While it’s just a poor man’s Wong Kar Wai film, Anita Mui’s haunting performance (in both senses of “haunting”) makes it all worthwhile. Her face has the same sort of charisma as Gong Li. Hanging over this film about death at a young age is the fact that the two leads both died young, both in 2003. (Leslie Cheung was the male lead.)

Get Out (US, 2017) 3.5 A horror film for the 2010s.

Oasis (Korea, 2002) 3.5 A very depressing perspective on the human race, directed by Lee Chang-dong. Perhaps its bleakness leads me to underrate the film.

Lake Boat (US, 2000) 3.5 I really enjoyed this film. No plot to speak of, script written by David Mamet, lots of good characters, and a big ore boat on the Great Lakes. What’s not to like?

Update: Robert Forster died the day after I saw him in this film. There’s a haunting scene in the film where he talks about his attempt at suicide. An underrated actor.

Love and Lost (China, 2015) 3.4 A so-so film about a Chinese father searching for his abducted son. Much better than it should be due to some amazing cinematography by Mark Lee. Some of the most beautiful night scenes ever put on film.

Tokyo Decadence (Japan, 1992) 3.4 This rating doesn’t really mean anything, as the version I saw on Amazon was cut by over 20 minutes. So I never saw the complete film. The film was directed by Ryu Murakami (who also wrote a book of the same name, with a different plot), and the artist Yoyoi Kusama played a small role

Secretary (US, 2002) 3.4 This film is more enjoyable than you’d expect, almost entirely due to the acting of James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Dangerous Liaisons (China, 2012) 3.3. The third version that I’ve seen, and the least interesting. Still, it’s hard to go wrong with this plot, and the acting and cinematography are often quite good.

Luxury Car (China, 2006) 3.3 There are a lot of films in this genre, but I never get tired of seeing them. In a few years China will have changed so much that this sort of film will no longer seem believable.

The Last Emperor (Italian/Chinese) 3.3 While it’s certainly a good film, it’s also disappointedly stilted, too much like a history lesson. The actual history of his life (at least the version in Wikipedia) is even more interesting. More films will certainly be made of his life, and those around him.

Radiance (Japan, 2017) 3.3 Less than the sum of its parts, but it has some very lovely parts.

The Drummer (Hong Kong, 2007) 3.3 I didn’t expect much but it’s a well-crafted and entertaining film. Scene by scene it’s often quite well done, but the director didn’t seem to have a coherent vision for what sort of film he wanted to make.

The Matrix (US, 1999) 3.3 Am I the last person on Earth to have seen this film? I probably would have enjoyed it more it when it first came out. Today, there’s not much appeal to the plot, acting, dialogue, etc., but it has a certain undeniable style that influenced our culture—so it remains a landmark film. Maybe in 20 years I’ll get around to Game of Thrones.

The Black Pirate (US, 1926) 3.3 A very early Technicolor film starring Douglas Fairbanks. I find this sort of film to be enjoyable mostly as way of looking back in history. A look at how people in 1926 envisioned pirates. I saw the film in Santa Ana with live musical accompaniment from a 6-piece ensemble.

Samsara (US, 2011) 3.3 A deeply flawed film that still rates pretty high due to some astounding images.

Dearest (China) 2014 3.3 Another somewhat uneven film about parents searching for a child that has been abducted. (Based on the same true story as Love and Lost.) The high points are powerful enough to carry the film, which is almost a textbook on modern Chinese society.

The Last Waltz (US, 1978) 3.3 Back in the 1960s and 1970s, rock stars were not much seen on TV or film, and were sort of larger than life. Putting The Band on film cuts them down to size, and I found this film to be a bit depressing, despite its undeniably high quality. (Scorcese directed.) They no longer seem as cool. The performances by Muddy Waters and Van Morrison seemed the most engaging.

The River (Taiwan, 1997) 3.3 Tsai Ming-Liang has a flair for deriving humor from odd situations. This film has some amusing moments, but is a bit too serious for my taste. Some of the scenes reminded me of paintings by Caravaggio. The 3.3 rating is sort of a compromise, as parts of the film were excellent and others were boring.

December (Korea, 2013) 3.3 I found the scenes in the convenience store to be quite amusing, in a low key way.

Antiporno (Japan, 2016) 3.3 Films about making films have been done many times before, but never so colorfully. Imagine Las Von Trier directing a film about the making of a Japanese “pink” film.

Cold Bloom (Japan, 2012) 3.3 The lead actress doesn’t seem right for the part, but otherwise it’s a fine film. A very simple story, but timeless.

Shun Li and the Poet (Italy, 2011) 3.2 A very slight story about a Chinese worker in Italy who becomes friends with a Yugoslavian fisherman, also living in Italy. The central event in the film is never really explained (or perhaps I missed it.)

Comfort (US, 2015) 3.2 A film about a guy who aspires to serve comfort food from a truck. Comfort is the film equivalent of comfort food.

From Russia With Love (UK, 1963) 3.1 Fifty years later there’s not much left to appreciate, other than nostalgia for the 1960s and Sean Connery’s amazing star power. None of the other Bonds had even half his charisma. Connery knows how to deliver his lines:

You’re one of the most beautiful girls I’ve seen.
Thank you, but I think my mouth is too big.
No, it’s the right size.
For me, that is.

Hammett (US, 1982) 3.0 Supposedly directed by Wim Wenders, but there are rumors that Coppola directed much of the picture. The pacing seems wrong, and it’s not really clear to me what the director was trying to do here. But the sets are superb, the most accurate depiction of the physical look of the 1920s that I’ve ever seen. It had enough good moments to be worth watching.

Bonjour Tristesse (US/France, 1958) 3.0 A film made in the late 1950s that symbolically portrays the death of the 1950s and the birth of the 1960s, with all the pluses and minuses of each decade. It was interesting for me to see a film that would have been viewed as quite hip when I was very young, but now seems really dated.

Our Love Story (Korean, 2016) 3.0 I hope the Korean title was better. A woman gradually falls in love with the man who accidentally killed her husband. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this film, but I’ve seen so many similar ones that it didn’t really hold my interest.

Wonder Wheel (US, 2017) 3.0 The actors seemed a bit like puppets, there to illustrate Woody Allen’s ideas about theatre. Unfortunately the strings were often pretty obvious. The film has a striking visual style, with highly saturated colors.

The Act of Killing (US/Indonesia, 2013) 3.0 This documentary was widely praised, but I was somewhat disappointed. Once the “banality of evil” theme was established, the film seemed quite repetitive (and long). It was supposed to be some sort of revelation, but since everything was being faked it’s hard to see what was actually being revealed. Is this a documentary, or a film pretending to be a documentary?

The Love Witch (US, 2016) 2.8 A look back 50 years at the aesthetics of 1966. The visuals are kind of fun at first and there’s something for fans of camp. But 2 hours is too much. Perhaps a group of millennials smoking pot would enjoy the film more than I did.

The Big Combo (US, 1951) 2.8 The dialog and acting are very bad. But American film noir as a genre is so good that it’s still fairly engrossing, and an interesting look at American culture and attitudes in 1951.

Belladonna of Sadness (Japan, 1973) 2.8 Hard to know what to make of this film, which is animated with a series of watercolor paintings. Not nearly good enough to be a good film, but too many interesting visual images to be a bad film. Ends up somewhere in the middle.

Tokyo! (Japan, 2008) 2.8 Collections of short films generally end up being somewhat disappointing. I’m not sure why.

Edmond (US, 2005) 2.8 William Macy stars in this film based on a David Mamet screenplay. Sounds promising, but the director doesn’t seem to know what to do with the material. The distasteful subject matter calls for a more subversive director like Stanley Kubrick or Lars von Trier, and Stanley Gordon isn’t quite up to the task. I wonder if it will eventually be seen as a sort of black comedy, or an exercise in camp. The character’s name is Edmond Burke, which is certainly.interesting.

Royal Tailor (Korea, 2014) 2.5 Lots of pretty colors, but otherwise not very interesting.

Young Adult (US, 2011) 2.0 It’s the last time I’ll take a movie recommendation from the NYT.

You Only Live Twice (UK, 1967) 1.7 I liked this 50 years ago when I first saw it, but it’s actually a pretty bad film. Just 4 years after From Russia with Love, and Sean Connery already seemed to have lost his edge. Movies that rely solely on special effects don’t hold up well. This film was probably my first exposure to “Asian culture”, which is an indication of just how invisible Asia was (to the West) back in the 1960s.

The Eye of Silence (French/Chinese, 2016) 1.5 Not sure what the director was trying to do here, but it certainly did not work.

TV shows:

Trapped (Iceland, 2016) 3.7 This is an engrossing 10-part TV series of Nordic noir. Well acted, but it’s the location and weather conditions that puts it over the top. The first half is best, especially the third episode—not sure it’s worth watching the final 5 episodes (unless you foolishly insist on knowing “whodunit”.) It’s amazing how much David Lynch’s first Twin Peaks series has influenced TV—there are echoes all over the place in this series. Later I saw the second season, which was almost as good.

The A B C Murders (UK) 3.5 The 4k HDR cinematography here blew me away. The most intense colors I’ve ever seen on a film or TV show. And there’s John Malkovich, playing Inspector Poirot.

White Dragon (Hong Kong) 3.3 Although this takes place in Hong Kong, it’s basically a western TV series. Glorious 4k images and lots of unlikable characters. The daughter who is supposed to be half-western looks Asian, while her father is supposed to be 100% Chinese, but is played by a half-western actor. It helps not to think about the preposterous plot, where a meek UK academic suddenly turns into James Bond.

Wallander (UK) 3.2 More Nordic noir, this time in Sweden. Most of the episodes are fairly engrossing and reasonably well acted. But this has many of the weaknesses of middlebrow quality TV drama. Too much straining to be politically hip, which makes the plots unbelievable. Trying too hard to be “serious” by having the characters mope around all the time. The characters show no sense of humor, and don’t seem to exist as actual flesh and blood human beings. Too many dramatic clichés.

Mamon (Czech) 2.9 I only lasted half way through this Czech remake of a Norwegian thriller, as I could see where the story was going and didn’t find it to be all that plausible or interesting.

And lots of TV documentaries. I especially liked the ones about art and science.  For instance, Rococo: Before Bedtime (UK) is a three part documentary on the pleasures of rococo art. Then I saw a whole bunch of other art documentaries by the same narrator. His analysis can be superficial at times, but he’s always entertaining, and the pictures of art look wonderful on a 77-inch OLED. I’d actually prefer to see the Sistine Chapel this way, rather than in real life.

Ten best films of the decade (no particular order):

Uncle Boomee Can Recall His Past Lives
Happy Hour
Long Days Journey Into Night
Winter Sleep/Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (you choose)
Poetry/Burning
The Wailing
Parasite/Mother
Melancholia
Mountains May Depart/Ash is the Purest White
Twin Peaks (TV series)

Books I read in 2019:

The Dawn Watch, Maya Jasanoff
Balcony in the Forest, Julien Gracq
Chekhov’s Short Stories
The Mind in the Cave, David Lewis-Williams
Bob Dylan: Chronicles
Living Carelessly In Tokyo and Elsewhere, John Nathan
The Dairies of Emilio Renzi (Vol. I and II)
Invisible Planets, (Chinese sci-fi)
Love in the New Millennium, Can Xue
The Sound of Waves, Yukio Mishima
The Moon and the Bonfires, Cesare Pavese
On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House, Peter Handke
Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler
Kafka’s Short Stories
The Wild Places, Robert MacFarlane
V., Thomas Pynchon
The Nocilla Trilogy, Agustin Fernandez Mallo
So Much Longing In So Little Space, Karl Knausgaard
The Museum of Eterna’s Novel, Macedonio Fernandez
Hajid Murat, Tolstoy
The Shadow of the Torturer, Gene Wolfe

Art: Matthew Wong, RIP.


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Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment".

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