Movies Watched, July 2023

Movies Watched, July 2023

Like many people I joined in on the Barbenheimer fun last month and saw both films—not quite the same day, but back to back over a weekend. Neither film is perfect though of the two, I think Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” comes closer to fulfilling its own ambitions. It’s generally great fun, especially when romping through the eye-popping absurdity of the “Barbieland” that Gerwig crams with hilarious details. As for the question of whether it really squares the circle when it comes to reconciling its feminist, “destroy the patriarchy” lip service with the fact that, at the end of the day, it’s going to net Mattel hundreds of millions of dollars and displace zero patriarchs? Well, the movie is a lot of fun!

Oppenheimer” is less fun, though of course by intention. Like many of director Christopher Nolan’s films, you could call it self-important and overwrought, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But that’s not even what I found dissatisfying about it, as Nolan’s bombast has rarely bothered me in the past (I even thought that “Tenet” was a masterpiece!). Rather, I found “Oppenheimer” surprisingly inelegant, even clumsy, and susceptible to the worst traps of the biopic form. For the first third of its three-hour plus runtime, it’s like an object lesson in how not to write naturalistic dialog; characters show up on screen like robots programmed to utter incredibly momentous declarations that barely rise above mechanical exposition, then get deactivated unceremoniously. Like many biopics, nearly every moment is intended to make important points about its subject, and so it never quite manages to feel like anything more than a history lesson, where I had expected an artistic statement. In the end though, it’s still incredible that Nolan managed to get this film made at all—and to turn it into a hit that somehow became regarded as the perfect companion to “Barbie.” The world is a strange place.

Here are all twenty-four movies I saw in July.

  1. Cattle Annie and Little Britches” (1981) ★★
    The great Burt Lancaster is failed by this would-be revisionist Western that passes on every opportunity to dig deeper below the surface.
  2. Asteroid City” (2023) ★★½
    Rewatched. Fairly tiresome. See my previously published thoughts on this and other Wes Anderson films
  3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Heretically, it’s my opinion that this sequel is actually better than the first one.
  4. Green for Danger” (1946) ★★★½
    A bitter whodunnit mashed together it’s a dishy, wartime hospital drama, starring the terrific Trevor Howard. Great fun.
  5. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” (2023) ★★★½
    Not perfect but fairly irresistible as a full-on riot of filmmaking ambition.
  6. Yield to the Night” (1956) ★★★★
    Cerebral, uncompromising noir with a riveting, deglamorized performance from Diana Dors, “The British Marilyn Monroe.”
  7. Elemental” (2023) ★
    A true low point for Pixar.
  8. Tokyo Sonata” (2008) ★★★½
    Achingly rendered, Ozu-like chronicle of family downfall precipitated by a father’s job loss.
  9. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” (2023) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Enjoyed it even more on its second viewing, when I got to appreciate not just the complexity but also the humor and grace of the many elaborate action pieces.
  10. Master Gardener” (2022) ★★★½
    Classic Paul Schrader: mesmerizing even if a bit rote.
  11. American Gigolo” (1980) ★★★★½
    A gorgeous, stylistic triumph.
  12. Command Z” (2023) ★★★
    A loosey-goosey, really chatty excursion into sitcom-like sci-fi absurdity from Steven Soderbergh.
  13. Pale Flower” (1964) ★★★½
    Antonioni-esque ennui set in a yakuza underworld of small time hoods.
  14. It Always Rains on Sunday” (1947) ★★★★
    Superb slice-of-life British noir set in a post-War East End of London where the rain never seems to let up for long and everyone seems to have a grudge against everyone else. Superb.
  15. The Night Porter” (1974) ★★
    A trashy, faux-artsy manifestation of an unhealthy fixation on Nazi depravity.
  16. Oppenheimer” (2023) ★★
    Brutally inelegant, sadly.
  17. Barbie” (2023) ★★★
    Patchy and inconsistent, and better at comic absurdity than emotional resonance, but still undeniably fun.
  18. Hell Drivers” (1957) ★★★★
    This blue collar British noir about the worst trucking outfit ever is a brilliant, remorseless nail-biter about an ex-con whom everyone treats like dirt.
  19. The Small Back Room” (1949) ★★★
    A quirky, psychologically overwrought examination of a small cadre of scientists who worked on the war effort in the 1940s.
  20. Pool of London” (1951) ★★★★
    Another excellent British noir, this one about merchant marines on shore leave who get in way over their heads. Surprisingly humanity affirming while still emotionally authentic.
  21. Wham!” (2023) ★★
    Typically rudimentary rockumentary fluff, except for the undeniable, over-the-top charm of its two principal characters.
  22. Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game” (2022) ★★½
    An inescapably low-budget, not super-cohesive, yet still kind of likable story of a footnote to history.
  23. Stan Lee” (2023) ★★
    A fairly superficial but not necessarily uninteresting documentary about the life of the man who brought Marvel to life.
  24. Obsession” (1949) ★★★★
    Rewatched. This unrepentantly English “perfect crime” thriller with no real protagonist, just a deliciously cruel, unfailingly polite antagonist.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, in 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.