What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen These Films from 1986?

After a couple of years ‘off’ (or, if you prefer, combined with Blindspot, because they’re essentially the same thing), “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” is back!

Now, it’s part of my All-New 100 Films in a Year Challenge (you may have heard about that — I feel like I bring it up enough) and has a slightly refined focus. Whereas before it featured great or significant movies I should’ve seen from across film history, now I’m giving it a specific theme each year. For the inaugural year of its new version, I’ve picked my birth year: the 12 films from 1986 that I’m most surprised I haven’t seen.

First, the films I’ve chosen. After, I’ll natter a little about how and why.


A Better Tomorrow

A Better Tomorrow

Cobra

Cobra

Flight of the Navigator

Flight of the Navigator

Hannah and Her Sisters

Hannah and Her Sisters

The Hitcher

The Hitcher

Howard the Duck

Howard the Duck

Manhunter

Manhunter

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

The Name of the Rose

The Name of the Rose

Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink

She’s Gotta Have It

She's Gotta Have It

The Transformers:
The Movie

The Transformers: The Movie


First, for the sake of context, here are all the feature films from 1986 that I have seen (taken from what I’ve logged on Letterboxd, which should be thorough at this point), in alphabetical order…

Iron Eagle
The Karate Kid Part II
Labyrinth
Laputa: Castle in the Sky
Little Shop of Horrors
The Money Pit
Never Too Young to Die
Platoon
Stand By Me
Top Gun
When the Wind Blows
.

Yes, Biggles. I loved the books as a kid, so I guess I had to see the film, even though it’s some weird-ass post-Back to the Future time-travel-based reimagining.

To select the list of films I needed to watch, I had a root around 1986’s highest-rated and most popular films (two different things) on both IMDb and Letterboxd, compiling a long-list of possibilities. That came to around about 30 titles, from which I selected the final 12 based purely on my own level of awareness — for example, Manhunter went straight into the final selection because, given the kinds of films I particularly like, it seems ludicrous I haven’t seen it yet. (It’s partly because I only own it on DVD. I never got round to importing the Shout BD, and now it looks to be out of print, with copies on sale for hundreds of dollars. Mad! And annoying.) I expect, if other people were presented with the same long-list, they might make slightly different selections. Such is life.

One in particular that I nearly included was Star Trek IV. It must be good, right, because it’s an even-numbered one. Also, everyone seems to know about “the one with the whales”, and it’s that one. But as I’m currently working my way through the Trek films anyway (albeit slowly: TMP was last February and Wrath of Khan last July), it seemed unnecessary, even futile, to include one here.

In conclusion, it wasn’t a particularly involved or technical selection process this time. At least that means this explanation is a lot shorter than my normal verbosity. In the unlikely event you’re missing that, there’s always my Blindspot post.

Blindspot 2022

There may be numerous changes around here for 2022 & onwards, but one thing that remains the same is the Blindspot challenge, which I’m undertaking for the tenth year running (though I called it “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” back at the start. Now, WDYMYHS is a whole additional thing — details of the 2022 version are here).

For those still unfamiliar with it, Blindspot’s premise is simple: choose 12 films you should have seen but haven’t, then watch one a month throughout the year. (Those 12 also contribute to my All-New 100 Films in a Year Challenge.) Below, I’ve listed my selection for this year, and afterwards I’ll talk a bit about how I chose them.

The films are listed alphabetically, using the titles they’ve most recently been released under in the UK. Some of those are different to those used by, say, the Criterion Collection (we don’t automatically translate titles into English over here, what with us being more sophisticated ‘n’ all), but if you have to Google them, hey, at least you’ll have learnt something new.


L’avventura

L'avventura

Come and See

Come and See

Les enfants du paradis

Les enfants du paradis

La grande illusion

La grande illusion

High and Low

High and Low

A Man Escaped

A Man Escaped

Mirror

Mirror

Los olvidados

Los olvidados

Paris, Texas

Paris, Texas

To Be or Not to Be

To Be or Not to Be

A Woman Under
the Influence

A Woman Under the Influence

Yi Yi

Yi Yi


Some people just pull their 12 films out of who-knows-where. Personally, I’ve largely taken a more ‘scientific’ approach, using lists of great and/or popular films to try to shape some or all of my choices each year. This year is no different. But although I’ve made the process fairly complex some years — with lots of different contributing lists, sometimes weighted in different ways, or with additional rules — this year, I’ve kept it pared back.

Just three lists were used: the IMDb Top 250 Movies (they’ve finally put “250” back in its official name, hurrah!); the Letterboxd equivalent, the Official Top 250 Narrative Feature Films; and the mother of all great movie lists, TSPDT’s The 1,000 Greatest Films. I limited the last one to its top 250, for equality. All lists were weighted equally, with a film gaining points inverse to its position on a list — i.e. #1 would get 250 points, #250 would get 1 point, etc. I also factored in how many different lists the films appeared on at iCheckMovies (10 points per list), and gave a little nudge (of 11 points) to anything I already owned. That last one didn’t actually have much impact, merely serving to change the final film that made the cut. Still, it means I already have copies of seven of the films, rather than only half of them.

In fact, ensuring I could reasonably get hold of the films was something I checked before finalising the list, especially as Los olvidados doesn’t have an English-language Blu-ray release (in fact, according to Blu-ray.com, it’s only been released on BD in Japan). The only other factor I implemented was my longstanding “no repeat directors” rule. That took out Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day (in favour of Yi Yi), as you can see in the list below. One previous rule I didn’t enforce this year was that, if I fail to watch a film one year, it’s locked out the next. I failed with Come and See in 2021, but it also topped the chart this year, so I’ve let it back in immediately. I won’t make the mistake of leaving it ’til December this time, though.

So, as promised a moment ago, here are the final 13 films with their points tallies…

  • Come and See — 777 points
  • High and Low — 573 points
  • Yi Yi — 571 points
  • A Brighter Summer Day — 566 points
  • To Be or Not to Be — 533 points
  • Mirror — 524 points
  • Les enfants du paradis — 509 points
  • La grande illusion — 509 points
  • A Man Escaped — 491 points
  • A Woman Under the Influence — 488 points
  • Los olvidados — 450 points
  • L’avventura — 444 points
  • Paris, Texas — 423 points

    Finally, a couple more stats about the films. Last year, many of the films were exceptionally long — the average running time came out at 2 hours 36 minutes, with only three of the films running under 2 hours; but with the shortest being just 1 hour 10 minutes and the longest 7 hours 19 minutes, there was quite a range. Compared to that, 2022’s extremes don’t seem so, well, extreme: the shortest film is Los olvidados at 1 hour 21 minutes, while the longest is Les enfants du paradis at 3 hours 9 minutes, and five films (almost half) are under 2 hours… although there is a half-hour jump between the longest film under 2 hours (La grande illusion, 1 hour 53 minutes) and the shortest over 2 hours (a three-way tie between L’avventura, Come and See, and High and Low, each running 2 hours 23 minutes). Nonetheless, the average is down from last year, to a slightly more reasonable 2 hours 13 minutes.

    Although it wasn’t a conscious decision, the films are quite well spread around this year, both temporally and geographically. For the former, there’s one from the 1930s, two each from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, and then one from the 2000s. For the latter, France comes out on top with three titles, followed by two each for Russia and the USA, and one apiece rom Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and Taiwan. In the latter case, I’m taking (what I believe to be) the primary country of production — several of the films can lay claim to multiples.

    Finally, half of the films are by directors whose work I’ve never seen before. They are Michelangelo Antonioni, Luis Buñuel, Marcel Carné, Elem Klimov, Wim Wenders, and Edward Yang. And with the other films’ directors including the likes of Robert Bresson, John Cassavetes, Akira Kurosawa, Ernst Lubitsch, Jean Renoir, and Andrei Tarkovsky — a real mix of artists whose work that I’ve seen has either struck me as fantastic or… well… — it should be an interesting year.

  • The All-New 100 Films in a Year Challenge

    As I said in my introduction to the blog’s new era, reports of 100 Films in a Year’s death may have been grossly exaggerated — because while 100 Films in a Year as it was is no more, in its place I have…

    The All-New 100 Films in a Year Challenge!

    Just like its title, this new version is similar but different. My original challenge was wholly straightforward: watch 100 films I’d never seen before every year. The only thing approaching complexity or contention was whether alternate cuts (e.g. director’s cuts) counted as a “film I’d never seen before” or not. But this brand-new version of the challenge… well, it’s going to require some explaining.

    Before I do, let’s recap why this came about. As regular readers are likely aware by now, I’ve been thinking about modifying my eponymous goal for a few years, primarily because simply “watching 100 new films in a year” stopped being an actual challenge and became my de facto state. It’s almost a decade since I failed in that goal, and over the last few years my average has been closer to 200 films in a year. So, why not just double the target? Or pick another number? Maybe I would’ve just done that, were it not for a few slip-ups (i.e. months where I fell short of my minimum target) and lifestyle changes in recent years. Obviously a challenge should be challenging, not a guaranteed walk in the park, but “just watch more films” didn’t seem the right way to push myself.

    That’s what ultimately led to this new challenge — or, you might argue, array of challenges. You see, rather than just watching any old 100 films, now there are a selection of categories, and films will need to fulfil criteria to qualify. Whereas the old challenge merely motivated me to watch more films, this new version is designed to encourage me to watch certain kinds of films. Plus, with some additional rules for each category, it will spread that viewing throughout the year, rather than seeing me engage in a headlong rush to #100 as quickly as I can (which has happened the past few years).

    So, you could argue this is eight separate challenges that together add up to 100 films, rather than a ‘true’ 100 films challenge — whatever that might mean. And you can argue that, if you want — I don’t care. This is a personal project, not some athletic endeavour subject to outside scrutiny, and this is how I’m choosing to do it. Of course, if for some reason you wanted to join in, you’re more than welcome. Feel free to use my rules. Feel free to tweak them to suit your own goals. Feel free to ignore them entirely and come up with your own criteria. Feel free to think “you know what, I really need to play more video games” and set yourself 100 Games in a Year as a challenge. Heck, that’s how this all began: I ‘ripped off’ the Read 50 Books in a Year challenge.


    As I said, there are now eight groups making up my 100-film challenge. I’ll outline them in a moment, but first there’s one general rule: a film can only count once. Sounds kinda obvious, I guess, but my categories are not so niche as to be mutually exclusive — I could watch a Blindspot pick from the 1970s on DVD and technically it could count across three categories. But if I did that, well, the final tally wouldn’t actually get to 100, which would be self defeating. When a film fulfils the criteria for multiple groups (as some surely will, especially early on), it’s up to me to allocate which category it counts towards — although there are some sub-rules that will help dictate that. (My challenge is watching films, but yours may be trying to understand why I make these things so unnecessarily complicated…)

    Without further ado, the categories are…

    New Films

    Well, that immediately requires clarification, doesn’t it? Because in the old challenge all 100 films were “new”, as in “new to me”. Now, however, I mean “new” as in “new (to the UK)”. And the UK clarification is needed because we so often get foreign films ‘late’, especially awards-y films that play US dates the year before but aren’t released here until January, February, March… even as late as June or July sometimes. So, this category is 12 films that were released in the UK for the first time during 2022. To some people that might seem like no challenge whatsoever — and it’s not that much of a challenge to me, to be honest, because I normally far exceed it. But, on the whole, my viewing skews older (when there’s the whole of film history to explore, why just watch brand-new stuff?), so I feel it’s a worthwhile category to include. Plus, part of the point of this is to spread the challenge throughout the year. To ensure that, this category is limited to one qualifying film per month — so even if I watched two (or more) new films in a single month, only the first would count towards the challenge. However, it can rollover if necessary — for example, if I watched no new films in January, I could count two in February. That might seem to undermine the concept of spreading these throughout the year, but, without it, it would be possible for me to fail the entire year on January 31st, which would suck.

    Rewatches

    In arguably the biggest change of all, rewatches now count… but only 12 of them. Mirroring the “new films” requirement, this is also limited to one per month. I’m not intending to run my Rewatchathon anymore, primarily because of this, but I’d like to think I’ll still rewatch more than 12 films a year. We’ll see — maybe I’ll end up bringing it back.

    Blindspot

    This continues as-is: 12 specific films, chosen ‘scientifically’ from best-of lists and the like, designed to be paced one per month. Because they’re specific films, if I did decide to get ahead of myself then they could count ‘early’, but I don’t think I’ve ever done that and I don’t intend to start now. As usual, there’ll be a dedicated post sometime soon with my 12 picks.

    What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?

    After a couple of years ‘off’ (or, if you prefer, combined with Blindspot, because they’re essentially the same thing), WDYMYHS is back. The change is, whereas Blindspot is made up of “great movies” (according to other people), WDYMYHS will revolve around a theme of some kind. This year that link will be my birth year: 12 specific films from 1986 that I’m surprised I haven’t seen. Again, my 12 picks will be named in a dedicated post soon.

    Decades

    At least one film from every decade that feature films have existed, i.e. since the 1910s. That makes it another group of 12 — what are the odds?! It’s almost like I’m doing this deliberately… I can watch as many of these as I like within any given month, so we’ll see how long it takes me to tick them all off — recent decades will come quickly and easily, but some of the older ones might require a specific effort.

    DVDs

    I’ve spent years lamenting the fact that I don’t watch enough of my DVDs. Thanks to a couple of decades spent collecting, I own over 1,000 of the things, many never played, and they don’t often make it into my viewing nowadays, largely because they’re not HD. (I suspect that, statistically, I’m more likely to spend money upgrading a DVD to Blu-ray than I am to actually watch a DVD.) So, to force me to dig into that particular back catalogue, I’m making it a goal to watch at least one per month, as per the “new films” rules. And no ‘cheating’: if I don’t want to watch something from my DVD copy (because I want to get it in HD, or even UHD), that’s absolutely fine… but I can’t get it in HD and then still count that towards the DVD goal. I have to actually watch the DVD for it to count.

    Genre

    Like WDYMYHS, here I’m going to pick a specific genre or movement (preferably one that’s either highly specific or that I’m less au fait with, not something broad or well-worn like, say, “action”) and aim for at least one per month, i.e. 12 more films. However, this is a free-for-all: whereas WDYMYHS is 12 pre-chosen titles, this can be anything that falls within the genre; and I won’t limit myself to counting just one per month. Maybe I’ll have a marathon and complete it in one go! Maybe I’ll still spread it thin! At least having the choice provides an opportunity for some variety, right? This year’s genre will be that old favourite, film noir. I’ve had noir ‘viewing projects’ before, but there are plenty of key texts that still elude me, so maybe 2022 will right that. Or maybe I’ll just end up getting all 12 from Indicator’s 24-film Columbia Noir series. Frankly, either is good by me.

    Series Progression

    That’s perhaps the vaguest title of all, but let me explain (that’s the whole point of this post, after all). I have multiple different film series on the go at any one time — so many that, a couple of years ago, I started keeping a list, the Letterboxd version of which is here. Some of those series I continue to merrily work my way through; some I half-forget I have underway. So, the point of this category is to compel me to continue, across another 12 films. I could watch 12 from one series; I could watch one each from 12 different series. I could marathon them all across a weekend; I could watch them one a month throughout the year. Whatever — just so long as I keep going with series I’ve already started. (If I start a new series, either by accident or choice, the first film can’t count, but any future films can.)

    I know I said there were eight categories, but if you’ve been doing the maths so far you’ll have realised we’re only at 96 films. So there must be a ninth category, right? Well, yes and no. Let me introduce you to…

    Wildcards

    The final four films are ‘wildcards’ that I can attach to any of the eight categories. They still have a couple of rules, though. Firstly, wildcards can only be used once the category’s own requirements are met. What that means is, I could use a wildcard to (for example) count a second new film in January, but I couldn’t use one for a DVD viewing until I’ve watched 12 DVDs. Lastly, only one wildcard per category — so I couldn’t (for example) watch five new films in January and count them all. Make sense? If not, let me remind you that you don’t really need to worry about any of this — it’s only me who has to work it out.


    I’ll be tracking my progress with the Challenge in my monthly review posts, and possibly on a dedicated page too.

    Also, while it’s no longer the ‘official’ goal of the blog, I suspect I’ll end up still counting my overall viewing, and likely post year-end stats and whatnot about it next January. I’ve been doing that count for almost my entire adult life, so it’s a well-established habit at this point. Not to mention that, actually, I enjoy it — but now primarily for my own interest, rather than as the raison d’être of this blog.

    Blindspot 2021: What do you mean you haven’t seen…?

    Now that all my “looking back at 2020” posts are done, it’s time to start the first full week of 2021 wi— sorry, what? Second week? Where did the first one go?! Alright, well, it’ll have to do. So, dragging myself belatedly into the same year as everyone else, it’s time to present my Blindspot picks for 2021.

    The Blindspot challenge (for the benefit of those still unfamiliar with it) involves choosing 12 films you should have seen but haven’t, then watching one a month throughout the year. I started doing this eight years ago, calling it “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” (WDYMYHS for short), but then someone else came up with the same idea independently and gave it a much snappier moniker, and that caught on.

    My 12 films for this year are below in alphabetical order. After that there’s a few stats, and then I’ll explain how and why I chose them.


    Aguirre,
    Wrath of God
    Aguirre, Wrath of God


    The Birth of a Nation
    The Birth of a Nation


    Cinema Paradiso
    Cinema Paradiso


    Come and See
    Come and See


    La Dolce Vita
    La Dolce Vita


    Frankenstein
    Frankenstein


    La Haine
    La Haine


    The Life and Death
    of Colonel Blimp
    The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp


    Pather Panchali
    Pather Panchali


    Rain Man
    Rain Man


    Sansho Dayu
    Sansho Dayu


    Sátántangó
    Sátántangó

    Here’s a few stats about this year’s list…

  • The average running time of the films is 2 hours 36 minutes. Yes, that’s the average. While the shortest film, Frankenstein, runs a measly 1 hour 10 minutes, there are only two others below the two-hour mark, and four that run over 2½ hours. And the longest, Sátántangó, is a whopping 7 hours 19 minutes — that’s longer than six Frankensteins.
  • There’s a spread of exactly 80 years between the oldest film (1915’s The Birth of a Nation) and the newest (1995’s La Haine). Of course, that means the most recent film here is over a quarter of a century old…
  • Exactly eight decades are represented, too. The most prolific is, amusingly enough, the ’80s, with three films. The ’50s and ’90s have two each, and there’s one apiece from the 1910s, ’30s, ’40s, ’60s, and ’70s.
  • The films come from nine countries: three from the USA, two from Italy, with the rest being from France, Germany, Hungary, India, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the UK.
  • There are eight different main languages spoken, plus one silent film. English is the most common with three films, two are in Italian, and the rest encompass Bengali, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, and Russian.
  • Six of the films are from directors who I’ve never seen a feature from before. They are D.W. Griffith, Werner Herzog, Elem Klimov, Satyajit Ray, Béla Tarr, and Giuseppe Tornatore. (I have seen a short by Griffith before, but this is his first feature for me.)

    I tend to mix up my method for choosing films each year, but for 2021 I’ve retained one thing from last year — itself a legacy of the couple of years where I did two 12-film lists — and that’s to have six films ‘chosen for me’ via a consensus ranking of various “greatest movie” lists, and then to choose the other six myself from my massive unwatched disc pile. Inevitably, the latter seems to get influenced by films that piqued my interest in the former, but, eh, why not? (If you fancy a challenge, feel free to guess which six films belong to which selection process. Answers coming up.)

    The lists that contribute to the “poll of polls” selection can only be varied so much. I mean, there are probably thousands of such lists out there, but there are only a handful that are well known and respected (to one degree or another), and so I tend to use a lot of the same ones every year. You might think that makes which films appear a foregone conclusion — surely they’re the ones that narrowly missed out last year? — but things do change on some of these lists. For example, when I chose last year’s selection, Come and See was ranked 7th on Letterboxd; this year, it’s 2nd. That’s not an insignificant change: when I’m combining multiple lists, a jump like that at the top of a list could be the difference between inclusion and not quite making it. Besides, I do vary my lists and how I count them every year, precisely so as to keep things slightly unknowable.

    This year’s contributing lists were:

  • Letterboxd’s Official Top 250 Narrative Feature Films
  • IMDb’s Top Rated Movies (aka the IMDb Top 250)
  • the Reddit Top 250
  • Empire’s The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time (aka the Empire 500)
  • Empire’s The 100 Best Films of World Cinema
  • Sight & Sound’s 2012 poll, using the 250-film version listed on Letterboxd (the official list only goes to 100)

    A notable absentee this year is They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?’s The 1,000 Greatest Films, itself a “poll of polls” that is therefore one of, if not the, definitive lists of greatest movies. That’s why I normally include it, and that normality is why I didn’t this year: it’s gone just for the sake of a change. In its place (sort of) is the Empire World Cinema list. It’s shorter than the others, so under my scoring system (which I’ll explain in a moment) it contributed somewhat less than the other lists. That means it served to tweak which foreign films got in, rather than acting to wipe out US/UK films — although, as it turns out, no US films made it through that way.

    So, each poll was scored out of 250 (250 points for 1st place, 249 for 2nd, etc), except the Empire World Cinema one, which was out of 100. Any film beyond 251st place on the Empire 500 earnt one point; and there were 10 additional points for each list a film appeared on (i.e. every film got 10 bonus points, because every film had to be on one list; but if it was on two it got 20, etc.) The full chart ended up including 230 films — that’s everything I hadn’t seen from the Letterboxd, IMDb, Reddit, and Empire World Cinema lists, plus those from the top 150 on Sight & Sound and the Empire 500 (by the time I got to those, I figured any films further down that weren’t on another list didn’t stand a chance; of course, I did include their rankings for all films that were on another list). Further to the plain scores, I also applied other rules — “no repeat directors” is the main one. I used to limit myself to films I already own, but not anymore; and I try to ensure variety in the kinds of films included, to get a spread of ages, countries, genres, etc.

    With all that considered, I think this is the first year I’ve simply accepted the films at the top of the chart without having to eliminate any. The only film to appear on all six lists was Come and See, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it came first with 810 points. Mind you, only one film appeared on five lists (Paris, Texas) and that came 17th, so being on fewer lists with higher ranks could beat merely appearing on many lists. In second place was La Dolce Vita with 647 points; third was Cinema Paradiso with 510; fourth was Pather Panchali with 502; fifth was Sátántangó with 461; and in sixth, just behind it with 460, was The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Regular readers (or those who’ve clicked and read some of the links in this article) may remember that Come and See and Sátántangó both qualified for the 2020 list, but were removed because new restorations were on the way. Those have now materialised: Come and See on a Criterion disc that I imported, and Sátántangó on very different UK and US discs (it’s also available to rent digitally, which is how I intend to view it).

    As for my ‘free choice’ films, three have a spot on that consensus ranking. They were La Haine (13th, 413 points), Sansho Dayu (16th, 398 points), and Aguirre, Wrath of God (38th, 262 points). You’ll note that none of those films are American, and so my only three picks that are not on the consensus ranking (The Birth of a Nation, Frankenstein, and Rain Man) are also my only three US films. Make of that what you will.

    I’ve spent most of 2021 so far working towards one self-imposed deadline after another, to get all of these end of year/new year posts done, so now I’m looking forward to catching up on other blogs — and actually watching some films!

  • Memories of Murder (2003)

    aka Salinui chueok

    2019 #15
    Bong Joon Ho | 131 mins | download (HD) | 1.85:1 | South Korea / Korean | 15

    Memories of Murder

    South Korean director Bong Joon Ho has gradually risen in prominence over the past few years, culminating in Parasite’s history-making success at this year’s Oscars (yes, that was only earlier this year). Memories of Murder wasn’t his debut work, but it was what initially garnered him some attention outside Korea. It’s been surprisingly hard to come by for a while now, but a new 4K restoration is released in the UK via Curzon today (it’s coming to US cinemas for a limited run in October, and new Blu-ray releases (including one from Criterion) will follow).

    In 1986, two women are raped and murdered in provincial South Korea. The local detective, Park Doo-man (Bong regular Song Kang-ho), has never dealt with a case of this magnitude and relies on old-fashioned methods — his main one being to have his partner, Cho (Kim Roi-ha), beat confessions out of suspects. After a modern-minded big-city ‘tec, Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung), volunteers to help, the old and the new clash. As more crimes are committed, more clues are gathered, and more suspects are apprehended, but then cleared. Can the police ever get close to their man?

    Loosely based on the true story of Korea’s first serial murders, and taking a procedural approach to the crime thriller genre, Memories of Murder invites comparison to David Fincher’s Zodiac for its methodical, realistic narrative style and plot that follows obsessed investigators chasing unsolved murders in the past. Zodiac is one of my favourite films (it placed 3rd in 100 Favourites II), so it’s a tall order to be pitched against it. Fortunately, Memories of Murder is strong enough to withstand the comparison.

    Investigators

    A lot of praise that applies to Zodiac could be copy-and-pasted here. In addition to the facets I’ve already mentioned, there are several fine performances (not least from Song, who’s clearly become a Bong regular for a reason); several striking set piece crimes and/or discoveries without indulging in glorification of real crimes; and a commentary on the methods and obsessions of investigators that goes beyond ‘doing the job’. It does none of this in the same way as Fincher would a couple of years later, but it’s a different perspective within the same genre headspace.

    Memories of Murder is already a well-regarded film (on top of a 91% Tomatometer score, it’s on the IMDb Top 250 and in the top 100 of Letterboxd’s version ) but, having been out of widespread circulation for a few years, and with renewed interest in Bong’s back catalogue, it’s ripe for wider (re)discovery.

    5 out of 5

    Memories of Murder is available to rent on Curzon Home Cinema from today.

    It placed 5th on my list of The Best Films I Saw in 2019, after being viewed as part of What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2019.

    The Elephant Man (1980)

    2018 #187
    David Lynch | 124 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA & UK / English | PG / PG

    The Elephant Man

    This biopic of Joseph Merrick — better known as ‘the Elephant Man’, a Victorian circus sideshow ‘freak’ who became a star of London society during his stay at the London Hospital — is noteworthy not only for its documentation of a key figure in Victorian life, who perhaps transformed people’s views of what it meant to be human, but also because it’s a film directed by David Lynch.

    The Elephant Man is sometimes placed alongside Dune and The Straight Story as anomalies in Lynch’s filmography, which is more often characterised for its horror-inducing oddness and sometimes-incomprehensible plotting. Of course, upon proper examination, all three of these movies exhibit Lynchian touches, perhaps none more so than The Elephant Man. It’s there in the avant-garde opening; the dream sequence; the sound design, for which he’s co-credited; the focus on industrial machinery. The film can certainly be read as a Victorian melodrama, but in execution it’s far from a Merchant Ivory movie.

    It’s also a very human and humane film, perhaps more so than you might expect from Lynch. But then again, look to The Straight Story, which in my review I described as “understatedly human and kind of heartwarming”; or Fire Walk with Me, which is about exposing the tragic injustices inflicted upon Laura Palmer. He may not come at it from the most obvious angles, but I think Lynch is consistently a compassionate filmmaker. Indeed, some critics even accused the film of “excessive sentiment”, probably due to being partly based on the memoirs of Merrick’s friend and physician, Frederick Treves. I disagree because, even if it is pretty sentimental, I think it hits the sweet spot — the point is that we should care.

    Treves and Merrick

    A significant boost to our emotional connection is the absolutely superb performances from Anthony Hopkins as Treves and John Hurt as Merrick. The latter earnt a BAFTA win and an Oscar nomination (losing to Robert De Niro in Raging Bull) in what became a truly iconic performance, but it’s a wonder Hopkins wasn’t similarly recognised. One of the themes the film tackles is the dichotomy of Treves being Merrick’s friend but also, to an extent, exploiting him to further his career, and finding the truth in that balance is down to Hopkins. They also both contribute enormously to the graceful beauty found throughout the film, not least in close-ups where a single tear can convey so much complex emotion, or the understated but moving final scene.

    So too the gorgeous black-and-white photography by Freddie Francis. As Tom Huddleston writes in his essay accompanying the film’s StudioCanal Blu-ray releases, “imagine the film in colour, how fleshy and grotesque the makeup would have appeared, how gaudy and nauseating the carnival sequences.” It doesn’t bear thinking about. Instead, the monochrome visuals mix “gothic horror with documentary realism, lush drawing-room drama with mist-shrouded flights of fantasy”, to create a film that feels realist and historical, but also timeless and fantastical.

    5 out of 5

    The Elephant Man is on BBC One tonight at 10:30pm (11pm in Scotland).

    It was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2018 project.

    Blindspot 2020: What do you mean you haven’t seen…?

    The Blindspot challenge (for the benefit of those still unfamiliar with it) is where you pick 12 films you feel you should’ve seen but haven’t, then watch one a month throughout the year. I started doing this in 2013, calling it “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” (WDYMYHS for short), but then someone else came up with the same notion independently and gave it a much snappier moniker, and that caught on.

    My fortunes with the Blindspot / WDYMYHS challenge have been up and down over the years. I’ll spare you a full potted history, but last year I set myself two lists of 12 films each and didn’t complete either — although between them I did watch 17 movies. I braved 24 films because for two years before that I’d done 22 and completed it with relative ease. So maybe I should aim for 24 again this year…

    …but I’m not going to. In the same way that the second half of 2019 was a bit unpredictable (leading to my failures), I’m not wholly sure what the future holds, so I’m going to rein it back to the original 12 and see how it goes. And besides, if I find 12 unchallenging then I’ve got the seven remaining films from last year I could move on to; plus one from 2015 that I never got round to. That’s a pretty big ‘buffer’ to work on.

    Now, I’ll jump ahead to the main event: the 12 films I must watch, in alphabetical order. Afterwards, I’ll explain how they were chosen.


    8½


    All Quiet on
    the Western Front
    All Quiet on the Western Front


    An American Werewolf
    in London
    An American Werewolf in London


    Andrei Rublev
    Andrei Rublev


    The Battle of Algiers
    The Battle of Algiers


    Do the Right Thing
    Do the Right Thing


    Fanny and Alexander
    Fanny and Alexander


    The French Connection
    The French Connection


    In the Mood for Love
    In the Mood for Love


    Ordet
    Ordet


    Ugetsu Monogatari
    Ugetsu Monogatari


    Under the Skin
    Under the Skin

    So, some people just pick their 12 films. When I did two lists, that’s what I did for one of them. But the rest of the time I’ve let consensus decide, by compiling “great film” lists in various different combinations to suggest the films other people feel I should’ve seen. I quite like both methods, so for 2020 I’ve picked six with one and half-a-dozen with the other. That said, my ‘free choice’ six were influenced by some of the films that didn’t quite make it into the ‘preselected’ six. (Feel free to guess which films belong in which six. Fun and games! Answers in a mo.)

    This year, the selection process involved the following lists:

  • Letterboxd’s Official Top 250 Narrative Feature Films
  • IMDb’s Top Rated Movies (aka the IMDb Top 250)
  • The 1,000 Greatest Films by They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? (aka TSPDT)
  • the Reddit Top 250
  • Empire’s The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time (aka the Empire 500)
  • Sight & Sound’s The 100 Greatest Films of All Time (2012 edition)

    Because TSPDT takes Sight & Sound’s voter ballots as its foundation, I counted the Letterboxd scores twice as a way of evening it out a bit and not letting S&S be too dominant. It only worked up to a point. For example, Harakiri is ranked 4th on the Letterboxd list and 33rd on IMDb, but it’s a lowly 647th on TSPDT and nowhere on the other lists. So as I started adding the lists together (in the order I’ve credited them above), Harakiri was right at the top, then gradually fell right back. But that’s kinda the point of counting multiple lists: it’s getting a consensus of consensuses. Letterboxd users clearly think Harakiri is one of the very greatest films of all time; IMDb voters aren’t quite as enthusiastic, but it’s up there; everyone else… not so much.

    But it’s not just about the raw numbers of which films top the list: I have some rules. Chief among them, I’ve previously only selected films I already own on DVD/Blu-ray or have access to on Netflix/Prime/etc. This year, I let the door open to anything, though I did first make sure I could reasonably source a copy. So, top of the list was Andrei Rublev, followed by Federico Fellini’s . Next, in a somewhat ironic turn of events, my new “open door” policy actually led to some high-scoring films being eliminated. While sourcing copies of Come and See and Sátántangó, I discovered that both have recently been restored and are expected to get Blu-ray releases in 2020. You might think that’s perfect timing, but what if one or both slipped to 2021, or were insanely overpriced? So I decided to adopt a “wait and see” approach. Maybe they’ll be on 2021’s list.

    Next in the running was In the Mood for Love, followed by Ordet. Then my only still-standing regular rule came into play: one film per director. That meant the next film — La Dolce Vita, which shares Fellini with — was cut. After that is actually where Sátántangó was ranked (keeping up? I don’t blame you if you’re not), followed by Mirror — but Mirror is directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, the same as Andrei Rublev, so out it went too. But now we do finally reach the end: the next two high-scorers were Fanny and Alexander and The Battle of Algiers, which (as you’ll know from their inclusion in the list above) were fine.

    And with those six settled upon, I turned to picking six more from my DVD/Blu-ray collection. There’s less to say about these: I made a long-list of 127 ‘maybe’s; narrowed it down to 38 ‘very possibly’s; and then picked six, based on a mix of intuition about what I ‘should’ have seen and things I’ve personally been wanting to see for a while. I did also try to keep some variety in terms of the films’ ages, genres, countries, and languages… but almost all the ones that made my short-list were in English, so, er, oops. It meant Ugetsu Monogatari was an easy choice, anyway; and I was sure to include some British films (or British co-productions, at least); and Do the Right Thing may be American, but it’s also the only one of the 12 from a black filmmaker. (No female directors, though, which is an unfortunate oversight.) Still, on balance there are more films not in English (seven vs five), and the B&W/colour split is exactly 50/50.

    Four of my six ‘free choices’ do appear further down the rankings I’d compiled. That’s coincidence rather than design, although I suppose seeing them on the list might’ve helped push them to the forefront of my mind. Those four were Do the Right Thing (18th), Ugetsu Monogatari (23rd), An American Werewolf in London (127th), and The French Connection (162nd). I don’t know about you, but I was a little surprised All Quiet on the Western Front didn’t make it. Well, of the lists I’ve used this year the only one it’s on is TSPDT, at a lowly 742nd. (I’m not surprised Under the Skin wasn’t on any, what with it being so recent. For one thing, it hadn’t even been released when the Empire and Sight & Sound polls were conducted.)

    And that’s all that thoroughly over-explained.

    (Did anyone read all this?) (Hello future-me, who surely will re-read all this at some point, sad egocentric that I am.)

    Finally, if I manage those 12 and want more, the eight left outstanding from 2015 and 2019 are…

  • All About Eve
  • All the President’s Men
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Ikiru
  • The Ipcress File
  • The Royal Tenenbaums
  • The Thin Red Line
  • To Kill a Mockingbird

    This is hardly a chore — there are some great-looking movies there — so hopefully I’ll find time for all 20. It would only be fitting, given the year…

  • Stalker (1979)

    aka Сталкер

    2018 #100
    Andrei Tarkovsky | 162 mins | Blu-ray | 1.37:1 | Soviet Union / Russian | PG

    Stalker

    Described by the blurb on its Criterion Collection Blu-ray release as “a metaphysical journey through an enigmatic post-apocalyptic landscape”, Stalker is… probably that… I guess…?

    Adapted from the novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (which, according to critic Mark Le Fanu in Criterion’s booklet, is more hardboiled pulp than artistic thinkpiece), it follows a professional ‘Stalker’ (Alexander Kaidanovsky) — someone who can enter and navigate a mysterious restricted area known only as the Zone — as he guides two latest clients, a depressed writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and an inquisitive professor (Nikolai Grinko), into the Zone and to the attraction at its heart: the Room, a place which is rumoured to grant a person’s innermost desires.

    That’s the plot, anyway. Considering it’s over two-and-a-half hours long and I just summarised most of the story, you know it’s About more than that. But suffice to say I didn’t get it. It’s just some blokes wandering around, being depressed, occasionally philosophising about bugger all; then the ‘stalker’ chap is depressed even more by his clients’ attitude at the end, for some reason; and then we see his kid has telepathic powers because… um… People think director Andrei Tarkovsky’s previous sci-fi film Solaris is slow and obtuse, but it’s pacy and its meaning is crystal-clear compared to Stalker. Indeed, watching this just made me want to watch Solaris again — that was a slow Soviet sci-fi I actually found thought-provoking and interesting. One inspired thought I will credit it with is the notion of what “innermost desire” actually means. We might think we know, but do we? If the Room grants, not what we choose to ask it for, but our true innermost desire, then it reveals the truth of our self to us… and we might not like what we find.

    Some blokes being depressed

    The film “resists definitive interpretation” says Geoff Dyer in a featurette on Criterion’s Blu-ray. It’s “a religious allegory, a reflection of contemporaneous political anxieties, a meditation on film itself […it] envelops the viewer by opening up a multitude of possible meanings,” adds the blurb. Oy. So is it profound or just pretentious? I think the lack of clarity — the lack of definitive interpretation — can be used as evidence for both sides. Its acclaim would suggest most think it profound, so I’m the one missing something. That’s always possible. Also, I’m always wary of calling something “pretentious” — that’s become too much of a catch-all criticism for people who don’t understand an artwork and want to blame the work itself rather than their own intellectual capabilities. So we’ll have to settle on me just not understanding it.

    Some of it does look good, at least… which is handy when long stretches of it are just staring at things in unbroken takes (there’s something like 142 shots, which is about one cut every 88 seconds). Whatever the film is or isn’t trying to say, I feel fairly certain it didn’t need to take so much time to say it.

    Equal parts Annihilation but without the exciting stuff, privileged white male angst, and flicking through a photo album of deserted urban environments at someone else’s too-slow pace — with strange dashes of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and X-Men Origins: Jean Grey for good measure — Stalker is… definitely something.

    2 out of 5

    Stalker was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2018 project.

    Blindspot 2019

    I already waffled on a lot at the start of my 2019 WDYMYHS list, so if you’ve not read that then do check it out for a full introduction to what this is all about.

    The relevant part, though, is that this is a list of 12 films I should’ve seen but haven’t that I must watch this year — and, because I’m doing both WDYMYHS and Blindspot, that’s 24 films I must watch. Whereas the WDYMYHS selection contains 12 films chosen by consulting lists of great movies to find what the consensus feels I should’ve seen, these Blindspot choices are simply personally selected from my DVD/Blu-ray collection. Nonetheless, I do try to add a bit of variety to the mix, with different countries, genres, and eras represented.

    Anyway, here’s what I picked out this year, in alphabetical order…


    All the President’s Men
    All the President's Men


    The Breakfast Club
    The Breakfast Club


    Les diaboliques
    Les diaboliques


    Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler
    Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler


    Dracula
    Dracula


    The Ipcress File
    The Ipcress File


    The Killer
    The Killer


    The Player
    The Player


    Rififi
    Rififi


    Rope
    Rope


    Scott Pilgrim
    vs. the World
    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


    Starship Troopers
    Starship Troopers

    Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler is actually a two-part film (why so many online sources insist on listing it only as one movie when it seems to have been originally released as two, I don’t know), so you could argue I’ve given myself 25 films to watch for these challenges this year. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Only time will tell…

    What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2019

    A new year, a new challenge… or, rather, an old challenge with new components.

    Yes, for a seventh year I’m setting myself the goal of watching 12 specific films I really should have seen but haven’t.

    And, because I’m a crazy madman, I’m doing it twice — i.e. 24 films.

    I’ve been doing two of these lists since 2017 (separated as “Blindspot”, which you may’ve seen on other blogs, and my own version, “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” (aka WDYMYHS), which is the same thing by a different name), but previously only put ten films on the second list. Well, I got into such a rhythm of watching these films during 2018 that it felt weird in November and December after the WDYMYHS list had run out. So, I thought for 2019 I’d go all-in and do two full lists of 12.

    “Why do you have two lists of 12 rather than one list of 24?”, you may ask. Fortunately for you (or unfortunately, if you don’t care), I’m happy to answer. I started doing WDYMYHS as a 12-film challenge before Blindspot came along, but for my 10th anniversary in 2017 I decided to do ‘both’ — the regular 12-film challenge, plus a ten-film one, marking my blog’s 10th anniversary by selecting one film I really should’ve seen from each of the previous ten years. That went well, so I repeated it in 2018; and that went well too, so I’m making it that little bit trickier this year (9.09% trickier, to be precise).

    The exact difference between the lists is that Blindspot is a ‘free choice’ of 12 films I personally feel I should’ve seen, whereas WDYMYHS is selected by analysing lists of great and/or popular movies to try to determine a consensus view of what I’m a fool to have missed. I vary which lists I consult, and how much value I put in them, year by year (to some extent, anyway). This year, the formula to calculate these picks was based on the three Top 250 lists that are tracked on iCheckMovies — the ones from IMDb, Reddit, and FOK! — plus They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?’s 1,000 Greatest Films. These lists were factored with various weightings to give the films a score. Then I applied a couple of rules: films had to appear on at least two of those lists, including at least one out of IMDb and TSPDT; I had to already have access to them (either on DVD, Blu-ray, or if they’re currently streaming on Netflix/Amazon/etc); and, as usual, no repeat directors. That led to a load of high-scoring films being passed over (I had to go as far down as #32 for my 12th pick).

    After all that, this is what I ended up with, in the order they finally scored (from highest to lowest)…


    Ikiru
    Ikiru


    Untouchable
    Untouchable


    The Gold Rush
    The Gold Rush


    Life is Beautiful
    Life is Beautiful


    All About Eve
    All About Eve


    Sherlock, Jr.
    Sherlock, Jr.


    The Thin Red Line
    The Thin Red Line


    Eyes Wide Shut
    Eyes Wide Shut


    The Red Shoes
    The Red Shoes


    Cool Hand Luke
    Cool Hand Luke


    The Royal Tenenbaums
    The Royal Tenenbaums


    Memories of Murder
    Memories of Murder

    Some noteworthy exclusions…

    • To Kill a Mockingbird actually made the list (in 6th), but it was on my list in 2015. I once had the rule that a film only had to sit out one year before being available for reinclusion, but, I dunno, I like mixing it up. But if I don’t watch it anyway during 2019, I might let it back in for 2020.
    • If I hadn’t ruled out films I don’t own, the “true top 12” (i.e. based on score alone) would’ve included In the Mood for Love, , Cinema Paradiso, Andrei Rublev, Come and See, and A Separation.
    • If I didn’t rule out repeat directors, Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid would’ve been in 8th place.
    • If I’d kept the “must own/have access to it” rule but allowed films that were only on one list, it would’ve included Dangal, Taare Zameen Par, Ordet, Ugetsu Monogatari, and Fanny & Alexander.
    • Finally, if I’d had to own it and have it on multiple lists, but it didn’t have to be on IMDb’s or TSPDT’s, then Scott Pilgrim vs. the World would’ve been the 12th film.

    Of course, just because something got cut out of my WDYMYHS, doesn’t mean I couldn’t choose to include it in my Blindspot picks…