100 Films v 2016: Month of March

Tell me — do you watch films?

You will.


Barely Lethal#45 Chappie (2015)
#46 Blackhat (2015)
#47 The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
#48 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
#49 Barely Lethal (2015)
#50 The Book of Life (2014)
#51 Kill List (2011)
#52 Fast & Furious 7 (2015), aka Furious Seven
Lincoln#53 Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
#54 Office Space (1999)
#55 Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
#56 The Boxer from Shantung (1972), aka Ma Yong Zhen
#57 The Descendants (2011)
#58 One-Armed Swordsman (1967), aka Du bei dao
#59 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)
Batman v Superman#60 Bridge of Spies (2015)
#61 Scotland, Pa. (2001)
#62 Lincoln (2012)
#63 Brooklyn (2015)
#64 Turbo Kid (2015)
#65 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
#66 The Color Purple (1985)
#67 Grave of the Fireflies (1988), aka Hotaru no haka


  • After sitting out last month, I got back to WDYMYHS in March with IMDb voters’ 7th favourite war movie, 5th favourite ’80s movie, and 3rd favourite animated movie: Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies.
  • With Bridge of Spies coming out on Blu-ray, Lincoln premiering on TV, and The Color Purple being removed from Amazon Prime Instant Video, the last week of March turned into a bit of a Spielberg-athon for yours truly. I’m now just 3¼ films away from finally having seen all his features…
  • Value For Money Assessment, Part 4: adding 10 more films from Now TV to the 10 (plus the Oscars) from last month gives a final cost of £0.48 per film. I’d say that’s good value.


With 23 new films watched this month, March 2016 joins the elite pantheon of months to reach 20 films — it’s only the sixth ever, and the third this year. In the process, it became the 22nd consecutive month with a 10+ total; it leapt spryly over March’s previous best tally (2013’s 17); and it handed 2016 the record for earliest #50, on the 6th (besting last year’s 8th April). It raises the March average from 11 to 12.3, and nudges the 2016 average up a smidgen from 22 to 22.3.

And there I was thinking that 13 hours of Daredevil would knacker my film viewing. (As it is, I’m actually only 10 hours through Daredevil. It’s really good, though.)

I normally end this with a prediction for the rest of the year, but they feel increasingly meaningless. I mean, they’ve always been meaningless — they’re based on averages, which only hold true until they don’t — but I’m still intending to cut back on film viewing this year (at some point), so they’ll definitely go awry. That said, I’m also intending to maintain my 10-film-minimum for a second calendar year, meaning 2016’s final tally should be at least 157 films. And, frankly, I’m intending April and May to continue in a similar vein to these first three months; at least until I reach #100, anyway. Assuming I do get there in May (which will be a whole Thing that I’ll discuss at the time), 2016 will be looking towards 170+ films.

2015 has really recalibrated my notion of “a lighter year”…



This month: Bourne, Bond, and Ben Affleck twice.



The 10th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Although a couple of fun action movies turned my head this month, none of them were fun enough to detract from the sheer class of Steven Spielberg’s collaboration with Abraham-Lincoln-pretending-to-be-Daniel-Day-Lewis-pretending-to-be-Abraham-Lincoln (last time I make that joke, promise) in Lincoln.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
My memories of it have softened a little in the four weeks since I watched it, but as it remains the only film this month that I’ve got down for a 2-star rating, the loser is Michael Mann’s disappointing cyber thriller Blackhat.

Winner of Batman v Superman
Wonder Woman.

Loser of Batman v Superman
Film critics, apparently. Or not.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
This almost went to everyone’s favourite movie about a blind superhero*, but it was edged out by everyone’s second favourite filmed production of Shakespeare’s Scottish play starring an actor who’s also played Magneto** — Macbeth.

* It’s true! If you can find another one, I’ll retract that statement.
** OK, I’m certain some people prefer the Fassbender one to the old McKellen-and-Dench one, but acknowledging that fact would’ve ruined the mirroring structure of my sentence.


¾.

Lincoln (2012)

2016 #62
Steven Spielberg | 151 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA & India / English | 12 / PG-13

Oscar statue2013 Academy Awards
12 nominations — 2 wins

Winner: Best Actor, Best Production Design.
Nominated: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Score, Best Sound Mixing.


Daniel Day-Lewis allegedly stars in this account of the final months of President Abraham Lincoln’s life, which might more pertinently be called The 13th Amendment due to where its focus lies. I say “allegedly” because I’m not convinced they didn’t find a way to resurrect Lincoln to appear as himself, then just pretended it was Day-Lewis acting.

Although this project started life as a traditional biopic of the 16th President of the United States, as director-producer Steven Spielberg developed it over several years, it was eventually whittled down to what we have here. Most reviews and the like describe it as being about the final four months of Lincoln’s life, and in a literal sense that’s true because the last couple of months are covered at the tail-end of the movie. However, it’s really about one month: January 1865.

With the American Civil War not yet over, though clearly in its final stages, and an election recently reaffirming Lincoln’s presidency but bringing changes in the House of Representatives — changes that, importantly, don’t take effect for a few more weeks — the president decides now is the time to push through the unpopular 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which will abolish slavery. He wants it passed because it’s the right thing to do, though there is far from consensus on this point. However, the passing of the amendment would likely bring about the end of the war, which leads some to back it even though they don’t agree with the amendment in and of itself; and the forthcoming changes in the House mean there are a raft of senators soon to be looking for new jobs, whose votes might be bought with the promise of a cushty position in the near future.

If that all sounds very political, it is. I wouldn’t be the first to observe that Lincoln plays like a period version of The West Wing, but it bears repeating because it’s true. If the idea of men standing (and sitting) in rooms debating political manoeuvres — who might be persuaded to vote which way, and how they might be persuaded, and what they will want in return, and what deals need to be struck, and so on and so forth — sounds like it might make for an engrossing movie, then there’s a fair chance Lincoln will be your cup of tea. A not-insignificant proportion of viewers protest that it is boring, however, and while I in no way agree with them, your mileage may vary.

From a filmmaking perspective, this is first-class work. Spielberg shows a more restrained side to his proclivities than in the similarly-themed Amistad, but exhibits perhaps a little more flair than in his next film, Bridge of Spies. Much like that latter movie, his sentimental streak only really manifests itself in one short scene right near the end… though historians who contest the commonly-taught history of Lincoln as an upstanding man (a view this film clearly maintains) may argue the whole film gives in to this aspect of the director’s work. Either way, the film is a visual triumph, its production design award well-earned. Even more so, however, is the work of Spielberg’s regular DP, Janusz Kaminski, whose candle-and-gaslight photography of interiors is breathtakingly good. The whole picture exhibits a richness and a sharpness that, perhaps for the first time, made me wonder if 4K might be a really worthwhile idea after all.

The real meat of the film comes in the performances — not the actual political debate, because we all know how that should go, but the men performing said debate. Of course the title performance dominates the movie, but Day-Lewis does not. As I alluded to at the start, it’s hard to see the actor’s presence in the role — it’s not a performer, it is Abraham Lincoln. Not to do anyone else in the film — or, indeed, any other performance in any film ever — a disservice, but Day-Lewis embodies the President in a way few other actors have ever embodied a role. It’s quite remarkable.

It’s a real testament to the rest of the cast, then, that in the face of this powerhouse performance they all do such sterling work. Sally Field tackles a complex, potentially thankless role with aplomb. The movie is about the titular man, so her scenes are really about illuminating the President’s psyche and so creating the biopic side of the movie (i.e. the reason why it isn’t actually called The 13th Amendment), but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t make Molly a believable human being in her own right. Tommy Lee Jones also stands out as hardline abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens doesn’t get on with Lincoln and thinks the 13th Amendment doesn’t go far enough, but will he concede it’s better than nothing in a social climate where many think the opposite? And then there’s James Spader as behind-the-scenes political persuader W.N. Bilbo (yes, like the Hobbit). When he first tumbles onto the screen he looks like a misplaced comedy creation, and he does bring some much needed levity to the film, but in a measured way that doesn’t tip the scales too far. It makes the whole better because of it.

They’re still the tip of the iceberg, however, because in the film’s expansive two-and-a-half-hour running time there’s space for accomplished performances from David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Peter McRobbie, David Oyelowo, Adam Driver… I’m just naming them in the order they are in the cast listing. Some of them are only in one scene. I still think I’ve missed some people.

For me, there are few black marks (unfortunate choice of phrase…) to be held against Lincoln. Does it give in to Spielberg’s sentimentality? Yeah, a little — but it’s a long, long way from the worst case of that, and I think you’d be nitpicky (or have a different opinion on history, which, you know, is a matter of opinion) to criticise the film too harshly for that. As to whether it’s boring, that’s entirely a matter of preference. If you think The West Wing is boring, people who write lists of “the greatest TV shows ever” will disagree with you, and you also likely won’t like Lincoln. I like The West Wing, though.

Lincoln is going to be remembered for Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance, and in many respects that’s fine, because (as I’ve said a couple of times now) it is an astonishing piece of acting. Fortunately for the viewer seeking out that performance, there’s an awful lot more to Spielberg’s polished political drama.

5 out of 5

The UK network TV premiere of Lincoln is on Film4 tomorrow at 9pm.

It placed 13th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.

The Conspirator (2010)

2014 #54
Robert Redford | 117 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

The ConspiratorAlthough John Wilkes Booth is famous as the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, he was merely the person who pulled the trigger: eight people were tried for conspiracy to kill America’s 16th President; this is the story of what happened to the only woman among them.

Or, rather, it’s the story of the young lawyer who is forced to represent her. Rather than cave to pressure and more-or-less let the prosecution have their way, he fights her corner against a ludicrously biased system that would execute her without trial if only they could. The sheer weight of this bias — and the fact the story is from history, rather than a created-for-the-movies tale (with all the idealism that would bring) — means there’s a sort of crushing sense of inevitability about how it plays out. Some have criticised the film for lacking tension, a complaint that I think is to some degree misplaced — especially as, not knowing what happened, I felt it was fairly tense towards the end.

As the lawyer, James McAvoy has to lead the film against a few experienced names, but he can hold his own (which I suppose shouldn’t be a surprise at this point) and is easily the best thing in the movie. OK, so he’s saddled with a well-worn “lawyer so dedicated to the case he sacrifices his personal life” character arc, but that doesn’t mean he plays it so half-heartedly. The only acting weak link is Alexis Bledel, who somehow seems far too modern; Co-conspirators?or rather, like an actress versed in playing modern characters struggling gamely with a period one, and coming up short.

The Conspirator takes a footnote from history and turns it into an engrossing legal drama. What it lacks in originality is made up for through compelling performances and the exposure of little-known facts and incidents surrounding one of American history’s most famous events.

4 out of 5