Great Films I’m Watching For The First Time: January

As mentioned in my New Year’s post, I’ve compiled a list of 53 classic or well-regarded films I’ve never seen before, which I intend to watch this year in no particular order. So, here’s the first five!

Metropolis (1927)

This German silent film takes place in the futuristic city of Metropolis, where the working class are forced to live underground and toil long hours, maintaining the machines which provide power for the privileged classes living in the city above. After learning that a young woman named Maria is trying to inspire the workers and bring equality to the system, the leader of Metropolis hatches a plan to quash rebellion by replacing Maria with a robotic double.

The effort put into the visuals of this film make it unique to watch, from the dizzying shots of the massive Metropolis towers, to the way it uses crowds of people. We see large numbers of workers heading to their underground homes in a depressed synchronised shuffle, and operating the machines with regular mechanical movements, emphasising how downtrodden and controlled they are. There are a few surreal sequences, like when one character watches the workers at their labours, and imagines them marching into the mouth of Hell. When it comes to individual performances, there’s quite a bit of overacting, but Brigitte Helm – who plays both Maria and the robot impersonating her – is brilliant to watch in the latter role. She plays the robot with a strange twitch in one eye, an almost constant smirk, and manic bird-like movements; watching her when she’s convincing the workers to take up arms against their masters, you can practically hear her shouts. The film is let down a little by a slow-paced story and a weak ending, but with its historical value, it’s still worth a watch for any film fan. Rating: 4/5.

Snatch (2000)

Set in London’s criminal underworld, Snatch follows a range of rough and unpleasant characters as they try to do business and take possession of a recently stolen diamond. Not really knowing anything about this film beforehand, the biggest surprise was that Brad Pitt was in it – and playing an Irish traveller, which isn’t the kind of role you necessarily expect from him. But his character, Mickey O’Neil, is definitely the highlight, both for what he gets up to and for how good Pitt’s performance is. Snatch has a tight script, with the different characters’ subplots intertwining smoothly at a fast pace, and lots of dark comedy as their crimes keep going wrong. I couldn’t get properly invested with the characters, who were generally one-note and not exactly designed to be likeable, but it was still entertaining. Rating: 4/5.

The Departed (2006)

One of my first thoughts while watching The Departed was, “Hey, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg are actually in the same movie?” Fortunately, there’s no confusion as they’re given different hairstyles and have very little shared screen-time. Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, a Boston police investigator who works as a mole for gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson); meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a member of Costello’s gang who is actually working undercover for the police.

I haven’t watched many Martin Scorsese films, though a number of his works are on my pre-determined list of films to watch this year. As it began, with Costello recruiting a young Sullivan to work for him, I was wondering how similar it was going to be to Goodfellas. Some things about the style, like the fast editing, did remind me of Goodfellas, but the story certainly isn’t generic. It uses its setup – with two characters infiltrating different sides – really well. With Sullivan and Costigan both being instructed to find the mole in their apparent teams, all while searching hard for the one in their actual teams, there are plenty of tense moments, such as a scene where Costigan tries to follow Sullivan (without being able to see his face) after seeing him talking to Costello. As the two characters are forced to take good looks at themselves and how other people perceive them, things escalate fascinatingly into a gripping and painful climax. I’m looking forward to seeing what the other Scorsese films on my list are like. Rating: 4.5/5.

Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

Former prostitute Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) arrives in the Old West town of Flagstone to join her new husband and his family on their homestead, only to find they have recently been murdered. Jill takes over the homestead herself, but soon encounters three men (Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda and Jason Robards) who seem interested in the land – and each other.

Years ago, we were shown the introductory scene in GCSE Drama, where three men arrive on a train station and spend several minutes standing around with practically no dialogue, waiting for their target to arrive. The point was to show how well the scene sets up tension, and that’s definitely one of the film’s strengths, similar to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. There are a few more scenes after this, all leading up to gun-based action of some description, where the tension gets really thick. Apart from that, however, I struggled to get into this film. The story and the characters weren’t especially compelling, though I did like the final scenes where we finally learn the background of Charles Bronson’s secretive character. Pretty good, but I’ve seen more enjoyable Westerns. Rating: 3.5/5.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Directed by Wes Anderson, this comedy starts with a girl visiting an author’s grave. Then we flash back to that author (Tom Wilkinson), relating how he came to write about the Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional country of Zubrowka. Then we flash back to him (now played by Jude Law) on that trip, talking to the hotel’s owner Zero Moustafa (F Murray Abraham). And then we go into Moustafa’s story, about when he was a lobby boy (Tony Revolori) and helped the then concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) in a plot involving a deceased guest, a stolen painting, and Gustave being framed for murder.

The last of these “layers” is where we spend almost all of the film, but the fact that the beginning is designed this way gives an idea of how this film is: just a little bit crazy. The humorous situations that take place are ‘out there’, while still being somewhat grounded in reality and not overly cartoonish. As well as this, much of the humour is built around casual, quick deliveries and equally quick editing, and I liked it very much. There’s a timeless and charming style to the film, into which Ralph Fiennes’s Gustave fits particularly well: he’s very prim and proper, and a bit effeminate, but not afraid to casually swear every now and then. Besides Gustave, there’s a large cast of diverse characters, played by a range of well-known actors – including Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and Edward Norton – who each bring something different to the table. And everything about this particular table is absolutely lovely. Rating: 5/5!

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About velociraptor256

Hi, my name's Richard. I created this blog to talk about my interests - and I have quite a few of those. I love zoology in general, herpetology in particular (especially snakes!), writing (have won National Novel Writing Month seven times so far, plus three Camp Nanowrimos), reading, astronomy, palaeontology, and travel. Thank you for coming to my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you here!
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