Every film you've watched in 2016

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Hard, Fast and Beautiful - Ida Lupino eviscerates parents who exploit the talent of their kids in a story of a mother who uses her daughter's tennis skills to live the high life. No Hollywood ending here, just a cutting bit of reap what you sow. 

The Deadly Companions - okay Western about a cowboy escorting a woman across dangerous territory after accidentally killing her son. Clearly Peckinpah, after getting his start in television, figuring out how to make a feature film. At the end, there's a glint of him getting in the rhythm.

Ride the High Country - Peckinpah took that glint and made a great film the very next year. Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott play aging cowboys in a movie that's as much about the end of their careers as it is about the changing face of the Western. There's white hats and black hats, but there's also shades of grey that anticipate the coming of the New Hollywood era. There's also aspects of Peckinpah as a filmmaker, such as nihilism (in the film's romance) and heightened violence (in the finale), that begin to reveal themselves here. A film that, almost a week later, I'm still seeing new things in it when I think about it.

Major Dundee - Charlton Heston plays a Union major who assembles a volunteer troop of soldiers, prisoners, thieves, and Confederates to pursue a Native American chief who massacred a town and abducted its boys. He continues the pursuit even after recovering the children, leading to the deaths of people under his command, a burned Mexican village, and the ire of the French in the name of revenge. If the shot of the dead child at the beginning doesn't announce Peckinpah has come into his own, the damning portrait of American Exceptionalism certainly does. Heston and Richard Harris, as the Confederate captain who cuts him down every chance he gets, are fantastic.

The Wild Bunch - Every film Peckinpah made up to this point was a warm-up to this. The opening and ending are two of the most violent, well edited openings and endings you'll ever see in a film. The recurring use of children to convey how violence is passed down and bleeds through society is still disturbing today. The middle of the film is a band of bounty hunters pursuing a band of outlaws, but there's no good vs. evil here; both groups are repugnant. The best person in each group ends up dead or resigning himself to the view that there's no point trying to do good. What appears to be a tried and true beat of redemption turns into a indescribable disregard for human life. That Warner Brothers put out a film this nihilistic is incredible. 

The Ballad of Cable Hogue - Peckinpah follows up one of the greatest films ever made with the lower key story of a man left for dead in the desert, who finds water and his able to make a living for himself by selling it. It's a story of a man who's just a man, with more humor than Peckinpah's previous films, while revisiting past themes such as the West and modernization. Fans of David Warner will want to check this out for his turn as an unscrupulous preacher who picks up women using religion. 

Films: 12

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The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh: Really, just a compilation of the Pooh featurettes that Disney had produced, still brings a smile to my face. Also, Rabbit is the real victim in all of this so why should I feel bad for Tigger?

The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Part of why this works and the sequels don't is that it remembers that Jack Sparrow is a supporting character, not the main character. Mind you, Will and Elizabeth are not all that interesting but Jack works best when he's not the center of every scene. Outside of that, the CGI is still great and I love the mixing of adventure and humor. If it weren't so long, would watch it more often.

Coraline: One of the best Stop Motion animated movies I have ever seen just for how well it uses the art form. It's a kids movie that is frghtening to anyone and I love the design on the Other Mother.

Films: 4

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Hitchcock's 1948 "Rope"

Brilliant! A not so much "locked room" murder mystery as we're shown the culprits in the very first scene. Wonderfully experimental film with an earnest early try at the "one-shot" style of film-making. Hitchcock goes for psychology and a normal man's mania more so than suspense, although there's plenty of that. The script is EXCELLENT, one of the tightest I've seen in years. Highly recommended.

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1989's Lean On Me starring Morgan Freeman

Based on a true story, if you've ever seen any "teacher comes to save the failing school" story, you've seen this one, but chances are you've never seen Morgan Freeman like this before. He is almost unrecognizable as a complete and unrelenting hardass. It's really awesome to see. Thankfully, there's less kid gang violence bullshit to obfuscate a more interesting story of a conservative black man's war against the inner city school system. Terrific performances from Robert Guillaume, Michael Beach, Lynne Thigpin (from the "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" game show), Karen Malina White and various others. The main reason to watch this is to see Freeman give no fucks and go HAM on everybody he sees throughout the movie. It's pretty awesome.

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Constantine: There are a million reasons why this film shouldn't work (making John American, making John  Keanu, Shia LaBeuof being a thing, Etc.


It so works! Great cast, fun story, totally underrated. 

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Sensually Liberated Female: another from Exploitation.TV (Netflix of sleaze). A white-coater (a provocative documentary housed in the costume of an education film, often with a doctor in a white coat who comes out and talks about stuff) of a how-to for the frigid American Woman at the birth of the sexual revolution. It's actually pretty hilariously awkward. Many of these women are wearing wigs and I have to wonder if they thought that would be enough to ensure that people wouldn't recognize them. 

Features: 12

Shorts: 1

Documentaries: 1

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Looper - Good movie. Great performances from everybody. I'll echo everyone else and question the prostethics on JGL's face, which was distracting. Really liked the action. If I have a gripe, it's that the telekinesis bit hardly gets any mention until it figures into the plot, at which point I had forgotten about it. But that could just be me.

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Victoria - One of the one-take films we're getting in the wake of Birdman. It's good, but if you've seen a few bank robbery movies, the beats aren't going to surprise you. The one-take conceit does give it an additional level of verisimilitude (that gets broken a couple times) , and there are some standout scenes, including the post-heist celebration and one near the end. The lead actress, Laia Costa, will probably end up with one of my favorite performances of last year. She goes from having fun with the gang she meets to emotionally opening up to trying to stay calm in a dangerous situation to losing it to one of the rawest acting moments I've seen in a long time.

The Martian - All Is Lost was one of my favorite films of 2013, but I have even more respect for it now; J. C. Chandor made someone lost at sea seem in greater danger than Ridley Scott's movie about someone stranded on Mars. It's not a bad movie, but it's so thin. I don't know how the book is, but it feels like Drew Goddard wrote it using a Screenwriting 101 template. Here's the scene where there's hope, here's the scene (right after a character LITERALLY says he hopes they don't) where things get worse, here's the scene where everyone's united, here's the scene where Matt Damon cries. The beats are so clear that there's no energy to it. By that same token, there are character beats, but not much in the way of characters. It has a ridiculously talented cast, and the movie keeps going by their sheer talent.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - As a forum legend once said many times...it's okay, but nothing special. I'm honestly shocked that people have seen this four or five times in the theater. I thought that, for being unknown and almost-unknown actors, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were great. A few stiff line readings here and there aside, Ridley nailed the intensity of Rey; likewise, Boyega's charisma always shone through. I've been hot and cold on Adam Driver, but he also did a good job; Kylo Ren should have an interesting arc. And after flailing for who knows how many years, Harrison Ford showed up to act, and he really gave the movie life. So on the acting front, I can't disagree. Storywise..."convenient for the plot" is a catchphrase around here, and this movie is full of it. After a good build-up at the beginning with Finn and Rey, they zip through events so quick that there's no weight to anything. The attack on Starkiller Base felt especially tossed off. Was anyone in suspense about whether or not it was going to blow up?  I've seen people write stuff like that and the avalanche of callbacks off as being in the spirit of the prequel trilogy, but apart from a few instances (in the prequels and this one), what point did they ultimately serve? I also think they fumbled the new characters a bit. The inciting incident for Finn's character is contradicted five minutes later, and while I don't agree with Max Landis, there were a few times where they went too far with Rey. They did take pains in the movie to mitigate that criticism, so credit to them for that. As far as the dialogue, it's functional, but there's nothing particularly memorable about it. Oh, and the last shot is terrible; completely out of place on a filmmaking level, and far less dramatic than the shots before it. It's a decent movie, but I think the rapturous praise is an overcorrection in response to the prequels. 

Films: 15

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