The first month of a new year and the start of a new monthly prompt I want to do on my blog. Back in 2019 I briefly did a monthly post on films I had gotten to see new in the theater. Naturally in the following years going to the theater became less frequent. The idea came to me recently to resurrect the premise of this idea but to just round-up all the films I have seen during that particular month. These will not be long reviews, just a few sentences jotted down to sum up how I felt about it. I will still be doing long posts for single films and such but this is to simply serve as a month in review. So let’s get to it!
The Thin Man (1934)
The first outing in the much beloved Thin Man film series is what we ushered in the new year watching. It was fitting as the films have often been associated with the celebratory holiday due to the sparkling lifestyle of Nick and Nora. It is often easy to say that a first film in a series is always the best and The Thin Man is really no different. It is simply that sublime, and so seamlessly sets up Nick and Nora as characters you feel like you’ve known for ages even if its your first time watching. The banter is razor sharp and witty; the chemistry between Powell and Loy the most natural thing in the world (when I first saw the films on TCM as a child I honestly thought they were married for real).
After the Thin Man (1936)
One can hardly watch the first outing of Nick and Nora Charles without subsequently watching the sequel, After the Thin Man. They go together as well as an olive tossed in a cocktail and are equally as brilliant in my mind. When we meet back up with our beloved sleuths barely a few days have passed since the moment we left them in the first film. Naturally there is soon a new mystery to solve and the welcome additions of running gags involving Asta as well as a dark turn from everyone’s favorite good guy, Jimmy Stewart. We are now comfortably adjusted to the inner workings and can enjoy the episodic aspect of these films. There is no sophomore slump to be seen.
Golden Boy (1939)
Golden Boy is a small outing but memorable for many aspects that were born from the filming… That being the birth of William Holden as a soon to be great actor and a lifelong friendship between Holden and Barbara Stanwyck (who lovingly referred to him as the title of this very movie). This isn’t a flawless film by any means and isn’t one you will often hear of, it did premiere in 1939 after all which is notably a year for classic juggernauts. That is not to say it is bad as it has a humble charm to it. A quiet little story of a young musician who gets pulled into the bureaucratic and underhanded world of boxing. The lead performances from Holden and Stanwyck are the true highlights and they alone make it a reason to seek out.
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
There are some films that hit the perfect note in all categories that instantly make you fall in love. A Matter of Life and Death is one of those exact films. It is not unwarranted for me to say that it is beauty in motion. Every minute detail is pristine from the crisp jewel-tone color grading to the the fine detail put into every set-piece. Not to mention the acting which is top-notch, David Niven and Kim Hunter sell a tender love story for the ages. This is one I would most definitely want to write about more in-depth, but take it from me when I say it is a rich feast for the eyes.
Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978)
Devil Dog is not high art, but sometimes you just get an itching for laughable fun and cheese that only a 70’s tv movie can scratch. I find the whole landscape of made for television fare from this time to be fascinating. These tv movies are made often on a shoestring budget but have some pretty gnarly themes that are surprising given they aired on network television. This is a highly amusing yarn that ponders what would happen if the lovable family dog is in fact an agent of the underworld intent on wreaking havoc on Americana suburbia.
Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
More contemporary films should every now and then shoot in black and white. This is something I thought when watching this film. It just looks so crisp and almost calming. Good Night, and Good Luck is a masterwork in the newsroom potboiler. It is not in anyways ostentatious and keeps things close to the chest. All the fat is trimmed here, leaving behind a smooth and streamlined account of a very tense moment in American history as journalist Edward R. Murrow seeks to cut through the McCarthy hysteria.
It is a real shame that Airport is not as good or even as fun as a it should be. Thankfully later outings in the 1970s genre of epic disaster flicks would prove more entertaining. This film though is much too tangled up in exposition and bureaucracy than it is in thrills and entertainment. You don’t really get to the action till the final half hour of the film and many of the actors feel as if they would rather be anywhere else but on this set. A film like this needs cast members who are game and thankfully a few are such as Helen Hayes and George Kennedy who realize this is just for popcorn fun. I wish I liked it more than I did.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Speaking of disaster movies we have a more environmental disaster with, The Day After Tomorrow. These types of movies are never intended to be art but they can be good when they embrace what they are at heart and that is a spectacle. Roland Emmerich is a master of this genre and some may rag on the niche he has made for himself, but he knows what he does and he does it well (for the most part that is, *cough* Godzilla (1998) *cough*. Emmerich in his own way is an artist, except his medium is disaster and his tools are destruction. Thankfully you can almost always be guaranteed to be sitting on the edge of your seat.
Strange Bedfellows (1965)
January was met with the passing of Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida. To honor the passing one film I picked this month was one of the two Lollobrigida outings with Rock Hudson. Strange Bedfellows was a new to me film and as a fan of 1960’s sex comedies I found it fairly enjoyable. It is a very saucy outing with cheeky barbs exchanged between Lollobrigida and Hudson. They have nice chemistry together and the best aspects of the film can be found with them. My one quibble is their is an awkward and uninteresting love triangle which I found unappealing. But other than that a fun romp.
Robert Redford seems to have had a perchance for heist and heist adjacent films that are all solid and endlessly entertaining from The Sting (1973) to the highly underrated The Hot Rock (1972). I have to say that Sneakers is just as good as those two and equally as enjoyable. These are the types of films that are an experience to watch and keep you hooked as to know what may occur next. Besides Redford, this film also benefits from a top-notch ensemble rounding out the cast. This one kept me hooked up until the very end.
There are so many exceptional Hitchcock films that many stunning films of his fall through the cracks and therefore become “underrated”. I find Spellbound to be such a film. People don’t talk about it nearly as much as they do the gold standard classics, its a shame because it is a very unique and dare I say “spellbinding” watch? Forgive me the pun but I enjoy this film so very much. In the land of dreams and memories long locked away we follow Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck as they seek to uncover secrets from the past in a race against the clock. One must also mention the spectacular dreamscapes supplied by the wonderfully twisty mind of artist, Salvador Dalí.
River of No Return (1954)
This is a film that is an unfortunate mismatch and may have worked as two separate films instead of the one in which we got. Either a western of a father and son getting reacquainted or that of a showgirl using her grit to pull herself up from the bootstraps. It possibly could’ve worked if our leads in Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum had better chemistry. They are both superb talents but just don’t exude romance when thrusted together. The film also suffers from some unappealing direction from Otto Preminger. It lacks a certain dynamism and thrill that could’ve help especially given the amount of time Preminger makes us spend on that log raft.
This was probably my big surprise of the month. I had seen it around the Criterion Channel and was curious to watch as it looked sweet and charming. A little part of me though was dubious thinking it might just end up feeling a bit stale like some of the animal centric films from Disney. Fortunately though it turned out to be a real delight and quickly became a new favorite. Rhubarb is all about a cat who ends up charming an elderly millionaire and subsequently inheriting his baseball team. Ray Milland is deemed the cat’s guardian and after charming the team they must ward off attempts to disinherit the poor creature. A laugh a minute treat, try to watch before it leaves the Criterion Channel at the end of February.
House of Gucci (2021)
This was a deeply unfortunate viewing experience. I really wanted to like House of Gucci and long held out hope despite many people having unfavorable things to say. But alas it was not meant to be an I must agree it is a misfire all around. As far as the cast goes Adam Driver and Al Pacino give the best performances within a sea of bloated and clownish acting. A film that goes on far too long and could’ve easily done with a rigorous edit. If you are in the market for a Ridley Scott film from 2021 I would steer you towards The Last Duel which is a much more exhilarating experience and should’ve got the attention this one got instead.
January 2023 Final Tally
Below are my top three favorite first-time watches of the month. Films I have not seen before yet quickly charmed me and became new favorites.