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 Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018 
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A "Christmas" or "Holiday" film nominated for any Oscar: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Watching the opening credits, my jaw just dropped at some of the names involved in this film. Rick Baker doing the make-up and effects. James Horner working the score.

So here's the thing: is this movie horrible as it's reputation would have you believe? Mmmm . . . . no. But is it a hot mess? Absolutely.

The heart of the film is the heart of the problem, as the effort to turn a 25 minutes short into a 2-hour feature involves crafting a backstory (no), turning the Whos into creatures who need to learn a lesson about Christmas (meh), and a slew of "jokes for the grown ups" (NO).

The real issue is that the film tries to hew to the spirit of the original while at the same time offering up a backstory that creates bizarre contradictions. On one hand, the film wants to suggest that the Grinch is inherently bad and different. He never likes Christmas, he prefers to eat garbage instead of cookies. But in the next breath the film wants us to believe that, wait, actually, he just hates Christmas because he's been bullied and all he needs is some love and positive attention. The message and plot arc of the film is totally confused and so it turns into a series of pratfalls that don't really have any stakes.

On the positive side, the film does benefit from Jim Carrey's physical humor (I still don't really want to look at him after the whole autism debacle). The dog (or dogs) playing Max is amazing. Taylor Momsen as Cindy Lou Who actually brings some personality and sincerity to her role.

Ultimately, though, this feels like a film made in bad faith. And never is this more apparent than in the "grown up jokes" that are scattered throughout. The Grinch faceplants into a woman's breasts (that's the joke!). In a flashback we see that some Whos are participating in a key party(!!!). A female Who is basically always dressed like a pin-up and blows into a very phallic "light cannon". There's nothing funny about any of it--it's just there.

The film deserves some kudos for its visuals, but they aren't amazing enough to justify actually sitting through its tortured and confused narrative.


Sun Dec 16, 2018 3:16 am
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A bit of an unintentional cheat from my part. Since the first one is primarily set in a cabin in the snow, I thought this one would be the same, but other than the title and the opening scene, there is hardly any snow. But, well, I thought there would be...

A film set in the snow, or featuring snow prominently:


Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead

Quote:
"Mysterious voodoo zombie stuff. I've never seen anything like this before. I've seen a thousand zombie movies, and this is not going anywhere. You have created a whole new genre here."


In 2009, director Tommy Wirkola released the film Dead Snow. Co-written with actor Stig Frode Henriksen, the film followed a group of young people terrorized by Nazi zombies. It was a concept ripe for use for horror enthusiasts, considering how both Nazis and zombies are seen, but that somehow had eluded the film route, with some obscure exceptions. Despite many flaws, Dead Snow became a somewhat popular cult film. Given that popularity, and the way the film ended, a sequel was the obvious next step.

Dead Snow 2 starts right at the end of the first film, with sole survivor Martin (Vegar Hoel) driving away from the Nazi zombies, led by Standartenführer Herzog (Ørjan Gamst). After an accident, he wakes up in a hospital, handcuffed and accused of the murder of his friends. To make matters worse, the doctors have unknowingly attached Herzog's arm to him, thinking it was his. This results on the "zombie arm" taking a life of its own, and killing more people, forcing Martin to flee. As Herzog and his men look for him, Martin teams up with a tourist guide (Henriksen), and contacts "The Zombie squad", an American group of "zombie hunters" led by Daniel (Martin Starr), not knowing that they are merely a trio of nerd friends.

This sequel follows the typical template of most sequels; everything is bigger, louder, and gorier. As a result, the film tends to feel a bit overlong and all over the place, with some subplots seemingly not going anywhere. Still, you can feel how more confident Wirkola is both with the camera and with the overall concept. I still think the film lacked a memorable, terrifying moment, whereas I think the first one had a couple. Still, performances are a bit more solid, with Hoel and Gamst improving noticeably from film to film. Starr is also a welcome presence as the nerdy-yet-confident "zombie hunter", and Henriksen has a few nice scene-stealing moments.

Like with the first one, don't come here expecting "high art" and Oscar-caliber performances. But if you're looking for a quirky and gory horror comedy about mysterious voodoo zombie stuff with Nazis ripping people's guts, then this might be for you; even if at times it feels like it's not going anywhere.

Grade: B-

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Sun Dec 16, 2018 11:09 am
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Thief wrote:
A bit of an unintentional cheat from my part.


Reported!

I've generally heard good stuff about the Dead Snow films, but weirdly have never really felt like watching one. These days zombies aren't really my thing.


Sun Dec 16, 2018 1:19 pm
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Takoma1 wrote:

Reported!

I've generally heard good stuff about the Dead Snow films, but weirdly have never really felt like watching one. These days zombies aren't really my thing.


They're mostly fun for the most part. The first one feels a bit more cheap-ish and uneven, but like I mentioned, has a couple of memorable moments for me. In the sequel, most of the things are better (performances, direction, etc.) but I felt it lacked a certain "oomph". I still chuckled a couple of times, and winced on others. They're ok, I guess.

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Sun Dec 16, 2018 10:53 pm
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Takoma1 wrote:
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" film nominated for any Oscar: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The heart of the film is the heart of the problem, as the effort to turn a 25 minutes short into a 2-hour feature involves crafting a backstory (no), turning the Whos into creatures who need to learn a lesson about Christmas (meh), and a slew of "jokes for the grown ups" (NO).

The real issue is that the film tries to hew to the spirit of the original while at the same time offering up a backstory that creates bizarre contradictions. On one hand, the film wants to suggest that the Grinch is inherently bad and different. He never likes Christmas, he prefers to eat garbage instead of cookies. But in the next breath the film wants us to believe that, wait, actually, he just hates Christmas because he's been bullied and all he needs is some love and positive attention. The message and plot arc of the film is totally confused and so it turns into a series of pratfalls that don't really have any stakes.

Ultimately, though, this feels like a film made in bad faith.

You have nailed it here. I can't add anything, other than that I hated it, because you covered it so well.


Mon Dec 17, 2018 7:19 am
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Hate? Yeah, that's a bit strong. But I'll agree with Takoma's take for the most part.

The worst part? It felt unnecessary. The "additions" to the story felt like padding and it didn't help when you're debating whether the townspeople secretly deserved this or not (in the short, definitely not).

Probably less into Momson's Cindy Lou Who than you were, Takoma. She was alright, but outside of the melting the small heart of the Grinch, not much more.

I'd rate it just OK myself.


Tue Dec 18, 2018 6:49 am
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Apex Predator wrote:
Hate? Yeah, that's a bit strong. But I'll agree with Takoma's take for the most part.

The worst part? It felt unnecessary. The "additions" to the story felt like padding and it didn't help when you're debating whether the townspeople secretly deserved this or not (in the short, definitely not).

Probably less into Momson's Cindy Lou Who than you were, Takoma. She was alright, but outside of the melting the small heart of the Grinch, not much more.

I'd rate it just OK myself.


The thing is: the redeeming elements were so mired in gimmicky, shrill "pop" kids movie tone that I can't imagine ever rewatching it.


Tue Dec 18, 2018 7:50 am
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My last film from the December list. Now on to November make-ups!

A "Christmas" or "Holiday" film based on a book or play: A Child’s Christmas in Wales

This is a mild, but sweet film based on the Dylan Thomas poem. In the film, a grandfather tells his grandson about the Christmases of his youth. The memories are told in rhymed verse (narrated by character actor Denhom Elliott) over flashbacks.

I liked this film, generally speaking. The one part I didn't appreciate was the "boys will be boys" treatment of certain behaviors like being cruel to the neighborhood cats. This is a very real, "on the ground" portrayal of Christmas through the eyes of a child.

There is one really standout moment to me, and it's actually a scary one. The boys go out caroling, and at one house they hear a whisper thin voice begin to sing along with them. The camera zooms in on the keyhole of the home as a quiet voice sings along with the boys.

This is a very different kind of film. I appreciated that it embraced the poetry of its source material and used the conversational interludes between grandfather and grandson to explain lines from the poem that might not make sense to a younger viewer.


Wed Dec 19, 2018 10:05 am
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Apex Predator wrote:
Hate? Yeah, that's a bit strong. But I'll agree with Takoma's take for the most part.

The worst part? It felt unnecessary. The "additions" to the story felt like padding and it didn't help when you're debating whether the townspeople secretly deserved this or not (in the short, definitely not).

Probably less into Momson's Cindy Lou Who than you were, Takoma. She was alright, but outside of the melting the small heart of the Grinch, not much more.

I'd rate it just OK myself.

I hated it.


Thu Dec 20, 2018 9:24 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

The thing is: the redeeming elements were so mired in gimmicky, shrill "pop" kids movie tone that I can't imagine ever rewatching it.


I know friends who make this a yearly tradition.

Um, OK?

I'll take the more low-rent but thoroughly enjoyable charms of Emmett Otter instead.


Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:12 am
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Out of the 10,000 plus movies I estimate I've probably seen, there is a short list of about maybe two dozen that I absolutely loathe to my core. Jim Carey's "The Grinch" is absolutely one of them.


Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:24 am
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crumbsroom wrote:
Out of the 10,000 plus movies I estimate I've probably seen, there is a short list of about maybe two dozen that I absolutely loathe to my core. Jim Carey's "The Grinch" is absolutely one of them.


Can I ask what you didn't like about a film that delivers a finger-wagging lesson about anti-materialism, whilst at the same time pandering to the most base, commercial elements of contemporary "kids" entertainment? (Sidenote: For several reasons I would never show this film to a child.)

It's a film without a soul. Mildly offensive on different fronts, but its primary characteristic is the fact that it is empty. At least most films that I dislike had a point of view.


Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:47 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

Can I ask what you didn't like about a film that delivers a finger-wagging lesson about anti-materialism, whilst at the same time pandering to the most base, commercial elements of contemporary "kids" entertainment? (Sidenote: For several reasons I would never show this film to a child.)

It's a film without a soul. Mildly offensive on different fronts, but its primary characteristic is the fact that it is empty. At least most films that I dislike had a point of view.


You've already pretty much covered everything I hate.

But beyond the particulars, the intense degree of my loathing has a lot do with the fact that the original Grinch cartoon (and book) is something I'm protective of, and this movie did everything so wrong that it almost taints the original. Almost. Or at least I tell myself it is only almost, until someone tells me they have a holiday tradition of watching this garbage heap every year. That they like it. It's cute. It's funny. Jim Carey is their favourite Grinch and that they don't understand why I've started frothing at the mouth.

And then I mourn and weep for humanity, and Christmas is ruined forever.


Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:56 am
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I generally try to keep an open mind about things, so I rarely declare that I'd "never" watch a film, but Howard's Grinch is on my short list of films that I refuse to subject myself to. (This list also includes Myers' Cat in the Hat incidentally)

The combo of Seuss, Karloff and Jones is practically my Holy Trinity so Ron Howard can bite me.

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Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:45 pm
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Captain Terror wrote:
I generally try to keep an open mind about things, so I rarely declare that I'd "never" watch a film, but Howard's Grinch is on my short list of films that I refuse to subject myself to. (This list also includes Myers' Cat in the Hat incidentally)

The combo of Seuss, Karloff and Jones is practically my Holy Trinity so Ron Howard can bite me.


I agree that closing one off from giving a movie a chance is a terrible thing.

But never watch this movie.


Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:49 pm
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This girl made me watch that in middle school. I was mad at her for like a week after.

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Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:58 pm
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crumbsroom wrote:
Out of the 10,000 plus movies I estimate I've probably seen, there is a short list of about maybe two dozen that I absolutely loathe to my core. Jim Carey's "The Grinch" is absolutely one of them.

I'm with you.


Fri Dec 21, 2018 2:54 am
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crumbsroom wrote:

Jim Carey is their favourite Grinch.


:shock:
Boris Karloff is The Grinch. Period. There is nothing Benedict Cumberbatch can do about it. (Honestly after watching the trailer, I have ZERO desire to see what he does with the character or what the diid with the perfect story).


Fri Dec 21, 2018 2:56 am
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Captain Terror wrote:
The combo of Seuss, Karloff and Jones is practically my Holy Trinity so Ron Howard can bite me.

Let us not forget the great Thurl Ravenscroft (singing "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch").


Fri Dec 21, 2018 2:58 am
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I'd be curious if some of you have seen the animated feature film The Lorax. Do you think it shares the same problems as How the Grinch Stole Christmas?


Fri Dec 21, 2018 4:34 am
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Wooley wrote:
Thurl Ravenscroft

aka The Best Name in Showbiz

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Fri Dec 21, 2018 8:31 am
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A film about the Nativity, or featuring characters from it


The Nativity Story (2006, rewatch)

Quote:
"My father told me a long time ago that we are all given something. A gift. Your gift is what you carry inside."


Christmas is a time of giving! One of the trademarks of the holiday season is gift giving. The custom of giving presents to your friends, relatives, and loved ones. The gifts are traditionally meant to emulate the gifts that the Magi brought to Baby Jesus on his birth, but like the above quote says, the characters (and most Christians) also see the birth of Jesus itself to be a gift to his parents and humanity.

As is expected, The Nativity Story follows Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Joseph (Oscar Isaac) as they meet, are betrothed, and deal with her being pregnant with Jesus. Released a couple of years after The Passion of the Christ, it seems that the film follows a similar approach of realism and groundedness to the story, as opposed to other more fantastical or patronizing approaches.

I had seen the film before, about 10 years ago, but given this challenge, I thought about revisiting it (particularly to pay more attention to Isaac, who obviously has become a huge star since). The truth is that most of the performances are very low-key and subdued, and Isaac is no exception. His performance is not bad, but lacks any defining moment. Same applies to Castle-Hughes, who manages to convey the necessary mixture of the naivete of youth with the weariness of living in this place, but still lacks a certain something.

That same feeling of being okay-ish but not enough extends to the film itself. I can't really think of any particularly notable fault to hold against the film, other than its own unremarkability. Through most of its duration it feels inert and somewhat lifeless. The result is a mostly forgettable experience. What could be the climatic moment, which is the birth itself, is shot and directed decently, and it looks pretty, but it's not enough to improve the film.

It's interesting how a film based on what is supposed to be one of the most significant moments in Christian history ends up being so unremarkable. In all fairness, I don't regret seeing it, but I just wish it had more of a "gift" inside.

Grade: C or C+, if I'm generous.

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Fri Dec 21, 2018 10:48 am
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I can remember watching the Ron Howard Grinch on TV (recently I should add) and being so captivated but just how bizarre and (intentionally?) unpleasant it was that I sorta liked it (or at least wasn't immediately turned off) but in a very guilty way. like, it's not good, at all. and has way too much large-budget bloat to be charming the way bad movies can be. it was just so wrong I didn't want to stop watching. and can maybe be held up as an interesting time capsule of mainstream 2000's filmmaking for kids. or something. maybe that's true of The Cat in the Hat but I'm sure as shit not going to find out for myself.

forgive me crumbs, we Americans are a garbage people. everyone panning this movie is on the right side of history.


Fri Dec 21, 2018 11:07 pm
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I may get around to seeing the Seusses that are animated (The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who), but I'm gonna draw a line about the point of The Cat in the Hat.

I will not see it in anyone's house
I will not see it with a mouse
I will not see it, Sam-I-Am.

It looks like I'm taking a different tack from Takoma.

Monster Trucks (2017)
See a big budget bomb (November leftover)

Honestly, this wasn't terrible.

Don't get me wrong. All that money they spent on getting the creature to look like ET with tentacles wasn't great. And the film mixes between serious issues and kids issues (it was produced by Nickelodeon, apparently). One minute, the nominal lead (Lucas Till, X-Men/NuMacGyver) is having a serious discussion with his mother (Amy Ryan, why?) about the town and the oil company that runs it. The next, he's literally going Vroom Vroom while messing around with a truck he's working on. And the president/owner of the oil company (Rob Lowe) is pretty one note.

But there were things that worked. I appreciated that they didn't try to turn the biology tutor turned girlfriend (Jane Levy, Evil Dead/Suburgatory) into a man crazy idiot, instead allowing her to continue using her brain right down to the final moments. It allows for some breathing room for the lead's evolving relationship with his mom's new boyfriend (Barry Pepper). Also, kudos for not turning the scientist (Thomas Lennon) into a one-dimensional villain and in fact, allowing him to interact with the creatures in a scientific manner (although I could have done without the scene where he throws up later on).

Danny Glover shows up in a wheelchair as the owner of a warehouse/junkyard where the lead works on his cars, in case you're wonder what he's doing here. Oh, and Frank Whalley plays Lowe's minion who loves chasing things and driving his truck into things.

Perhaps, one can thank Chris Wedge (Ice Age) for keeping this one somewhat decent. Or that they didn't have 20 writers for it somehow.

I guess we can be grateful it wasn't bad? Like the creature (called Creech for some unknown reason), the movie does grow on you a bit as it goes.


Sat Dec 22, 2018 6:41 am
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Santa Quest (2014)
See a documentary about Christmas

John Dunsworth (Lahey on Trailer Park Boys) is about to conquer his greatest role to date: he's Canada's representative in the Santa Games in northern Sweden.

But before he heads to the games, he decides to travel to where the bones of Saint Nick is located in Italy, visits a Christmas market in Austria, and a Santa village in Finland. Meanwhile, he deals with trying to get into shape and find the Christmas spirit which he's lost years ago.

The competition is fierce (and mainly younger), but can Santa John prevail?

Mainly this documentary zips along as John combines reverence for Santa himself (right down to some test runs in Finland) with general irreverence in other areas (including himself). It almost feels like a Michael Moore or Larry Charles documentary in its breezy tone as John and company cover the gamut of Santa experiences. One hilarious sequence involving John getting locked out of his hotel while doing a Swedish sauna/snow experience.

Although I'm not sure why they included some footage of the Trailer Park Boys Christmas tour (unless it's to establish who he is, it feels like padding to the brief runtime). And there are times, particularly at the beginning, where it feels like it crosses a line that might make this more problematic in 2018 (although to be fair, the people he does this with seem willing to play along).

I'll give this a marginal recommendation. It's on Prime for those who are interested/care.


Sun Dec 23, 2018 4:47 am
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Apex Predator wrote:
there are times, particularly at the beginning, where it feels like it crosses a line that might make this more problematic in 2018 (although to be fair, the people he does this with seem willing to play along)


Being vague here only serves to make this sound super creepy.


Sun Dec 23, 2018 4:50 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

Being vague here only serves to make this sound super creepy.


It's not quite that creepy, but we'll let you judge for yourself.

1. Early in the movie, John goes on a radio show promoting his announcement that he's competing in the Santa competition. Male and female co-hosts. The female asks to sit on his lap like Santa and John agrees. He has her to take a pledge that she'll do whatever he asks her to do in order to be Santa's little helper while her male co-host laughs. Then she asks whether she can have a pony. John says that he can let her ride a grey dappled pony to more laughs.

2. In preparation for the contest, John goes to a gym to work out with a personal trainer named Stefan. After the workout, John asks him to pretend to be a reindeer to prepare for a competition (one of them is a reindeer riding competition much like a mechanical bull). At one point, John proclaims that he's getting hard. Both are laughing.


I do want to emphasize though that there are more serious moments
(such as when John talks to his ailing mother)
and John takes great care not to sully Santa's good name or reputation in front of the children.


Mon Dec 24, 2018 7:01 am
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The Star (2017)
Watch a film centered around Nativity
Watch an animated Christmas/holiday film


There was some mild trepidation when I was picking this film for December. I heard this was the Nativity story so how much creative license would they take with it? Will it err on the side of a Sunday school lesson or will it err on the side of a bad Illumination film?

As it turns out, they found enough of a happy medium so that the story of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus gets told without coming across as a scold.

They focus on the animals with Bo the Donkey (Steven Yuen) who yearns for a greater life outside hanging around a grain mill. His best friend Dave (Keegan Michael-Key) is a dove who wants to join the royal caravan. They, along with Ruth (Aidy Bryant) the sheep with no sense of personal space, get involved in trying to save Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (Zachary Levi) from a voiceless hunter and two menacing dogs (Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias) sent out to kill the future king by King Herod (Christopher Plummer). Also, on their own quest is the three wise men and their camels (Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey).

Also along for the ride are other characters voiced by Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, Kristin Chenoweth, Anthony Anderson, and Kris Kristofferson.

Believe it or not, this was 20 years in the making following the success of Babe. A song for the film, Mariah Carey's The Star, was nominated for a Golden Globe (but unfortunately, not an Oscar).

Reasonably diverting and non-offensive, but at times lacks the entertainment value that would have carried it to a broader crowd. Nevertheless, it is suitable for the whole family to view.


Tue Dec 25, 2018 3:00 am
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Spotlight (2015)
See a film without any CGI

Excellent thriller about the reporters of a small Boston Globe spinoff who get tasked by new paper editor Baron (Liev Schrieber) to start investigating accusations of inappropriate behavior by Catholic priests. What they uncover proves to be much larger than they expected.

Great performances, gripping story, and memorable characters. It's one Oscar winner that holds its end up as Best Picture of the year.


Tue Dec 25, 2018 3:04 am
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Apex Predator wrote:
The Star (2017)
Watch a film centered around Nativity
Watch an animated Christmas/holiday film


There was some mild trepidation when I was picking this film for December. I heard this was the Nativity story so how much creative license would they take with it? Will it err on the side of a Sunday school lesson or will it err on the side of a bad Illumination film?

As it turns out, they found enough of a happy medium so that the story of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus gets told without coming across as a scold.

They focus on the animals with Bo the Donkey (Steven Yuen) who yearns for a greater life outside hanging around a grain mill. His best friend Dave (Keegan Michael-Key) is a dove who wants to join the royal caravan. They, along with Ruth (Aidy Bryant) the sheep with no sense of personal space, get involved in trying to save Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (Zachary Levi) from a voiceless hunter and two menacing dogs (Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias) sent out to kill the future king by King Herod (Christopher Plummer). Also, on their own quest is the three wise men and their camels (Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey).

Also along for the ride are other characters voiced by Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, Kristin Chenoweth, Anthony Anderson, and Kris Kristofferson.

Believe it or not, this was 20 years in the making following the success of Babe. A song for the film, Mariah Carey's The Star, was nominated for a Golden Globe (but unfortunately, not an Oscar).

Reasonably diverting and non-offensive, but at times lacks the entertainment value that would have carried it to a broader crowd. Nevertheless, it is suitable for the whole family to view.

I am almost agog as I read this. This really exists?


Tue Dec 25, 2018 3:56 am
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Just wanted to take the opportunity to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Hope you have a great day, whether you're with family, friends, or alone.

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Wed Dec 26, 2018 2:36 am
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Wooley wrote:
I am almost agog as I read this. This really exists?


Indeed it does. Came out in November of last year.

I'm sorry that my review was...awkward. I found it decent, but far from the good/great animation provided by the Pixar movies or Despicable Me 1/2.


Wed Dec 26, 2018 5:20 am
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And just because it's a holiday doesn't mean I can't continue to add to my tally...

Dead of Winter (2014)
Watch a film with the word Winter in the title
Watch a film where there's snow (can confirm there's plenty!)


It was an easy job for an ex-con. Just drive a bunch of geocachers all night in a schoolbus to a destination and wait for them to finish their game. Easy $200 bucks, right?

But when the first player ends up dead, this easy job turns out to be not so easy. A gut feeling confirmed when the bus explodes.

At its best, this proves to be a reasonably diverting (if occasionally gross) thriller/horror about who is behind the killings and whether it has to do with the first scene of the film. Movie moves quick enough that you don't have to worry about the plotholes.

But...

The third act turns out to be less than satisfactory with reveals coming out of the blue. The fat guy turns out to be an annoyance magnet with constant needling comments towards everyone...until towards the end.

Passable, but not much more.


Wed Dec 26, 2018 5:59 am
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A film that features Santa Claus as a character
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" film based on a book or play
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" film with a 90% or more RT score (100%)

March of the Wooden Soldiers aka Babes in Toyland (1934)

I've said earlier that I'm a huge fan of Laurel and Hardy, and this is the one major film I'd never seen. On the other hand my BFF, who doesn't like Laurel & Hardy (grrrrrr....), considers it one of her favorite holiday films. So it was inevitable that I'd get around to this one day and this is the year it finally happened.

This one has sort of a Wizard of Oz feel, albeit on a much lower budget. Lots of charming studio sets-
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and some fun fairy tale/fantasy characters (including Santa). Classic horror fans will get a kick out of the villain's lair and his Morlock-esque henchmen.
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Very enjoyable overall and I'll no doubt watch it again some time, but doesn't feel like the "event" that Oz was (which is hardly a fair standard to compare it to, I guess). Fans of vintage fantasy of this nature will enjoy it nevertheless.

(I've gotta mention a couple of creepy bits, like the 3 Little Pigs which are played by actors in pig masks. They're meant to be cute but are mildly disturbing.
And then there's the cat & mouse duo. The cat is again an actor in a terrifying animal suit, while the mouse is portrayed by a monkey with a Mickey Mouse mask covering its head. That probably sounds cute on paper but is sort of disconcerting to watch in action. :) )
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Wed Dec 26, 2018 6:46 am
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Keeping up with November leftovers...

A film about food


Delicatessen (1991)

Quote:
"Don't say that. No one is entirely evil. It's circumstance. Or they don't realize the wrong."


Many philosophers and scholars have debated about the nature of evil, and how "evil actions" can be born from people that aren't necessarily "evil", whether it's the "banality of evil" described by Hannah Arendt or the dire circumstances that might lead "good" people to turn "evil". There are examples of both in this 1991 French film directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Set in a dystopian future where food is in short supply, Delicatessen follows Louison (Dominique Pinon), an unemployed circus clown that takes a job as a handyman at a run-down building, not knowing that the landlord Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) uses the position to lure victims to murder and sell as cheap meat. To make matters worse, Louison also falls in love with Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac), the daughter of the butcher.

Despite the opening quote and my initial statement, Delicatessen doesn't seem to dwell much in the philosophical implications of the actions of its characters, at least not beyond the simplistic prism of good (Louison, Julie) vs. bad (Clapet). Instead, the focus of Caro and Jeunet seems to be more on establishing a unique style and view of this post-apocalyptic world, and in that, they succeed. Their unique use of sets, space, colors, sound, and overall directing and camera placement helps set this film apart from others, and it's a style that Jeunet has carried to his other films like Amélie, and even Alien Resurrection (which also stars Pinon). Plus, there are a couple of moments where music and sound are combined with the direction and the performances in very clever ways.

The performances aren't spectacular, but they fit the style. Dougnac and Pinon aren't particularly memorable, but she has that girl-next-door naivete needed for the role, and he has the athleticism and physicality required. The best of the bunch is Dreyfus, who has perhaps the "hammiest" role. As the landlord/butcher, he manages to convey that aura of a common man mixed with insanity. The rest of the supporting cast are colorful enough, but there are some subplots that seem to be there just to create moments, visual or comical, and not much else. Part of me wishes the film would've explored this world a bit further or deal with the conflicts between Julie and her father, or the neighbors that endorse the butcher's actions. These two issues are hinted at, but never fully delved into.

But that's not the film's purpose. If there's any reason to see Delicatessen is for its visuals. In that aspect, it is a feast for the eyes and ears, even if it goes a bit overboard in the last act. The fact that it also has a charming, albeit bland, love story on the side is just frosting. With that in mind, it's easier to savor the events, even though in the end, there really isn't much meat to the plot.

Grade: B

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Thu Dec 27, 2018 5:27 am
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Thief wrote:
Keeping up with November leftovers...

A film about food


Delicatessen (1991)

But that's not the film's purpose. If there's any reason to see Delicatessen is for its visuals. In that aspect, it is a feast for the eyes and ears, even if it goes a bit overboard in the last act. The fact that it also has a charming, albeit bland, love story on the side is just frosting. With that in mind, it's easier to savor the events, even though in the end, there really isn't much meat to the plot.

Grade: B


I feel like that's true about most of his films. City of Lost Children is probably my favorite, but the main communication in the film is visual splendor, not so much concrete narrative.


Thu Dec 27, 2018 6:52 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

I feel like that's true about most of his films. City of Lost Children is probably my favorite, but the main communication in the film is visual splendor, not so much concrete narrative.


I've only seen Amélie and Alien Resurrection and, although I liked it a bit more, I had a similar reaction with the former. AR has the same style leanings, but as far as narrative/story goes, it's a different thing what with all the franchise tie-ins.

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Thu Dec 27, 2018 8:23 am
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Thief wrote:

I've only seen Amélie and Alien Resurrection and, although I liked it a bit more, I had a similar reaction with the former. AR has the same style leanings, but as far as narrative/story goes, it's a different thing what with all the franchise tie-ins.


I would highly recommend City of Lost Children. I also enjoyed A Very Long Engagement. I know that I watched Mic Macs and had a generally favorable response, but I didn't find it all that memorable.


Thu Dec 27, 2018 8:35 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
I also enjoyed A Very Long Engagement.
I remember being kind of divided about Engagement when I watched it; the central love story was quite emotionally potent and moving, yes, but the overall effectiveness of it was ultimately diluted somewhat by some arbitrary tonal shifts between serious drama and forced, awkwardly whimsical "quirk", and an overabundance of unnecessary supplots that took valuable screentime away from the main relationship, which should've remained the focus. So, not an entirely successful film in the end, but still a very unique experience, and worth watching just so you can suss your own feelings out about it, and I do remember thinking Amélie was pretty lovely, though, so I'd definitely recommend that to Thief and anyone else reading this.

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Thu Dec 27, 2018 12:58 pm
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A film with the words "Christmas" or "Holiday" in the title
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" horror film



Christmas Presence (2018, a.k.a. Why Hide?)

Quote:
"Oh, grief is a funny old thing. Affects people in different ways. Some not so much, and then others..."


The loss of loved ones is something that's hard to deal with, particularly when special dates and holidays come around. The Holiday season in particular is seen as one of remembering, and sometimes of closure; one that many people use to either cope with grief and face the reality of those that are gone, or to shake up old skeletons that were buried years ago. That's the background of this film exclusively released via Shudder.

Directed and written by newcomer James Edward Cook, Christmas Presence (listed as Why Hide? in some places) follows a group of friends that meet on a remote lodge to spend Christmas. The meeting was organized by McKenzie (Charlotte Atkinson), who might've had other motives for it other than spending time with friends. On the surface, the friends are as diverse as they can be: there's a bi-racial couple, a lesbian couple, and a gay man. But if there's one thing they all have in common is that they are all annoying at varying degrees. I can understand having a varied group where all are carrying their own baggage, but Cook could've given us something to grasp at, other than dull and boring characters.

Not only that, but the way the plot and the tone unfolds is mostly a mess. Early on, as the group arrives, one of them gives each of the attendees a present, a sample of an underwear line he is designing dubbed "Why Hide?", which leads to an impromptu "red carpet" of sorts, as they all let loose and get drunk. The moment feels forced and seems more like an excuse to have our characters dancing in their undies, instead of a well-thought narrative decision. In addition, some of the interactions between the characters end up feeling awkward, instead of tense. Cook tries to maintain a balance between humor and horror, but he's not very good at either. The film is never that scary, and never that funny, despite some scattered moments of creepy atmosphere and effective visuals.

In the end, the film is pretty much a mess on different levels. Most of the performances are weak, the direction is uneven, the tone is all over the place never finding a proper niche, the script is not clear about what to be or what to do, and the overall result is amateurish, at best. As I write this, I'm checking out some reviews calling the film "a Christmas present for horror fans" and "one of the year's best films"?? It seems that horror and quality, like grief, affects people in different ways. Now as the year ends, I have to cope with the reality of having seen this.

Grade: D+

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Fri Dec 28, 2018 2:27 am
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A film that features Santa Claus as a character
A film with the words "Christmas" or "Holiday" in the title
A film set in the snow, or featuring snow prominently
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" horror film



A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

Quote:
"What the hell is it about Christmas in Bailey Downs? Are we cursed or something? Why does this season of love and peace and goodwill keep ending in blood and death and horror?"


Christmas occurs once in a year. However, tragedies and death can strike anytime. No place of the world and no time of the year is exempt from "blood and death and horror"; not even good ole' Bailey Downs, the fictional city from this little VOD film, which according to local DJ Dangerous Dan (William Shatner) seems to be "cursed", or having a case of "tragic" Christmases. It all started a year prior, when two teenagers were brutally murdered in the basement of the local high school, thus sparking most of the events of the film.

A Christmas Horror Story follows four separate, but intertwined stories set on Christmas. First, we have the cop that investigated the above murder, and had to take a leave of absence because of the trauma. As Christmas approaches, he convinces his wife and son to trespass a property so they can chop down a Christmas tree. Second, we have a trio of high school friends that are making a sort of documentary/project about the murders. To get a closer look to what happened, they sneak into the school basement where the bodies were found. Third, the girlfriend of one of the teenagers from the second story can't be with them because her family is forcing her to visit a distant aunt, but on the road, they start being hunted by Krampus. Finally, Santa Claus (George Buza) is getting ready for a busy Christmas, but as the night arrives, he has to deal with his elves turning into zombies.

The film was co-directed by Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, and Brett Sullivan, and co-written by five other people, which kinda shows in the overall quality of each segment. Of the four stories, only two manage to be memorable (the cop and his family, and the Santa Claus one), while another is okay/good, but formulaic (the high school one), and the last one is pretty weak. Fortunately, the two most memorable ones are at the beginning and the end of the film, which kinda serves to round up everything in a decent way. Those two stories have the most interesting and effective visuals, and perhaps the best performances. The high school one also has some solid jump scares and a few gory visuals, but it really brings nothing new to the table. Finally, the Krampus one has easily the weakest story, the weakest performances, and the weakest script/dialogue.

Overall, despite the uneven quality of each segment, I can say I really enjoyed the film as a whole. I thought it was inventive and creative for the most part, with competent direction and acting, and a nice little twist at the end that I didn't see coming. So if any of you are looking for a good dose of Christmas spirit, mixed with "blood and death and horror", this might be a good choice for you.

Grade: B

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Sat Dec 29, 2018 2:28 am
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Just finished From Here to Eternity (50's Best Picture winner) and with that, I'm done with all my regular categories for the year. Fell behind a bit with the "Holiday" themed ones, but I still think I did pretty good. I really doubt I'll get a chance to see anything tomorrow, but we'll see if I can sneak in one more film.

I already have something in mind for next year. A bit similar, but I won't be able to post anything until Wednesday. I'll keep you all updated in case anyone wants to join in.

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Mon Dec 31, 2018 1:05 pm
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Thief wrote:
Just finished From Here to Eternity (50's Best Picture winner) and with that, I'm done with all my regular categories for the year. Fell behind a bit with the "Holiday" themed ones, but I still think I did pretty good. I really doubt I'll get a chance to see anything tomorrow, but we'll see if I can sneak in one more film.

I already have something in mind for next year. A bit similar, but I won't be able to post anything until Wednesday. I'll keep you all updated in case anyone wants to join in.

Wait, are you gonna have something to say about FHtE? Cause that's a movie I need to get a read on.


Mon Dec 31, 2018 3:25 pm
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Grandmother's House (2001)
See a Christmas/Holiday horror film (debateable)
See a foreign Christmas/Holiday film (check)


From the Philippines, we are presented with a hybrid family melodrama/ghost story movie.

After her kid Aurora is saved from a school fire (according to her daughter, it was a nice old lady that only she can see), Lola has a big row with younger sister/nanny Joey and she leaves in a huff. Lola talks to successful older sister Patricia who decides that a nice old fashioned Christmas at her deceased mother's estate in the country is just the thing to raise family spirits/reunion of the sisters. Because she feels bad that her assistant Frank is going to spend the holidays alone, she decides to invite him along.

But once there, the sisters resume their fighting (although it feels like Joey and Frank are bonding for some reason). Patricia's four siblings are more busy with their activities and can't pay attention to Aurora when she treks outside in the middle of a fog. And we have various "spooky" goings on.

The film kind of plays like a cross between a Tyler Perry melodrama without Medea, Poltergeist, and a pale remake of The Woman in Black. It's not really scary, although a scene where Frank is able to find a signal in the woods does bring forth the laughs.

Not really spooky, not really good, this trip to Grandmother's House can be safely skipped.


Tue Jan 01, 2019 6:39 am
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Probably ending things up with either White Christmas or The Christmas Chronicles.

The former has some Irving Berlin music even though I've already heard of one infamous scene; the latter has Kurt Russell as Kris Kringle, although it's playing more like All I Want for Christmas (not a good thing from my neck of the woods).


Tue Jan 01, 2019 6:41 am
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Wooley wrote:
Wait, are you gonna have something to say about FHtE? Cause that's a movie I need to get a read on.


Yeah, I'm trying to catch up on all the reviews I have pending from December. But maybe later I'll post some quick take.

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Tue Jan 01, 2019 6:45 am
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Thief wrote:

Yeah, I'm trying to catch up on all the reviews I have pending from December. But maybe later I'll post some quick take.

No, it's cool, I just wasn't sure if you maybe just were gonna skip it.


Wed Jan 02, 2019 2:44 am
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Wooley wrote:
No, it's cool, I just wasn't sure if you maybe just were gonna skip it.


Quick take, it was very different to what I was expecting (a sappy melodrama) considering all I knew about it was that iconic scene on the beach. Even the title, taken out of context, sounds like something from a romantic drama, until you realize it's a quote about British soldiers being "damned from here to eternity". Long story short, I found it to be a bit heavier than I was expecting, in a good way. I wish the Army and the Code hadn't interfered that much into the plot cause it would've been interesting to see what the filmmakers could've done unfiltered. I still had some issues with some of the behavior of the lead soldiers as they relate to their respective lovers, but I still thought the three male leads (Lancaster, Clift, Sinatra) were pretty good. Deborah Kerr was also great. I found the last act and specifically the ending, a bit anti-climatic and disjointed, but overall, I enjoyed it. I'll try to post a more thorough review later.

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Wed Jan 02, 2019 9:29 am
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So this is how December, and the year, ended...

A film that features Santa Claus as a character: Bob's Broken Sleigh
A film with the word "winter" in the title: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
A film with the words "Christmas" or "Holiday" in the title: Christmas Presence
A film set in the snow, or featuring snow prominently: Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead
A foreign "Holiday" film: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
A film about the Nativity, or featuring characters from it (Jesus, Mary, the Magi): The Nativity Story
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" film released before 1930: (suggestions) The Insects' Christmas
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" horror film: A Christmas Horror Story
A documentary about "Christmas", the holidays, or something related: (suggestions) I Am Santa Claus
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" animated film: Bob's Broken Sleigh
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" film with a minority lead cast:
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" film based on a book or play:
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" film with a 90% or more RT score:
Any adaptation of A Christmas Carol (there are anywhere from 15 to 30): Scrooge (1951)
A "Christmas" or "Holiday" film nominated for any Oscar:

And these are my leftovers from the past month...

A Best Picture winner from the 1950s: From Here to Eternity
A film about food: Delicatessen
A film with no CGI or special effects: Revenge of the Nerds
A film based on a play: Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)
A film from Sweden: Persona

Freebie short film: Mortal Kombat: Rebirth

Very satisfied because I got to see 16 films (and a freebie short film), which is above my 15-films-per-month goal, and because I manage to complete all my categories. Didn't complete the Holiday-themed ones, but that's ok.

Not counting rewatches, I think my favorite of the month was Scrooge, or maybe Persona, which I'm still mulling over.

Least favorite? Christmas Presence (a.k.a. Why Hide?)

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Wed Jan 02, 2019 11:07 pm
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To sum it all up, I saw a total of 186 feature and short films, which is good considering I saw 96 in 2017 (although that year I also had to deal with 3 months with no power because of Hurricane María)

For anyone interested, here is an alphabetical list of everything I saw with its corresponding category/criteria... (rewatches in blue)

A Bomb Was Stolen - A film set in Eastern Europe
A Christmas Horror Story - A "Christmas" or "Holiday" horror film
A Ghost Story - A horror film made for under $5,000,000 made after 1990
A Separation - An Iranian film
A Tale of Two Sisters - A horror film with a child protagonist
Abre los Ojos - A Spanish language film
Agnivarsha - A Bollywood film
All the President's Men - A film from the 1970s
An American in Paris - A film in a country you've never visited
Annihilation - A film from the current year
Arrival - A film from a Canadian filmmaker
Badlands - A road trip film
Barabbas - A Biblical film
Battle Royale - A Japanese language film
Before Sunrise - A romantic film
Belladonna of Sadness - A hand-drawn animated film
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls - An NC-17-rated film
BlacKkKlansman - A film written by an African-American
Blade Runner - A film from the IMDb Top 250
Blazing Saddles - A comedy film
Blood Simple - The first film from a director you like
Blue Ruin - A film made for under $5,000,000 made after 1990
Bob's Broken Sleigh - A film that features Santa Claus as a character
Bob's Broken Sleigh - A "Christmas" or "Holiday" animated film
Boyhood - A coming-of-age story
Cabin in the Sky - A film written by a novelist or playwright
Caddyshack - A film starring an SNL regular (past or present)
Candyman - A horror film with a character's name as the title
Captain America: The Winter Soldier - A film with the word "winter" in the title
Christmas Presence (a.k.a Why Hide?) - A film with the words "Christmas" or "Holiday" in the title
Citizen X - A television movie
Clash of the Titans (1981) - A film based on a myth or legend
Coco - A film made for children
Come and See - A Russian film
Coriolanus - A film based on a Shakespeare play
Creature from the Black Lagoon - A horror film with a color in the title
Crush the Skull - A horror comedy film
Cube - A horror science-fiction film
Cyrano de Bergerac - A film based on a play
Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari - A silent film
Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead - A film set in the snow, or featuring snow prominently
Deep Red - An Italian language film
Delicatessen - A film about food
Detroit - A film with a primarily minority cast
Die Welle - A German language film
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - A PG-rated film
Dracula (1931) - A horror film based on a book
Dumbo - A G-rated film
Escape from New York - A science-fiction film
Fantastic Mr. Fox - A film featuring a non-human lead character
Frankenstein (1910) - A horror film featuring a non-human lead character
Friday the 13th, Part 2 - A sequel
Friday the 13th, Part III - A film with a female protagonist
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter - A horror film with a number in its title
From Here to Eternity - A Best Picture winner from the 1950s
Generation Kill - A film or mini-series over 240 minutes long
Gentleman's Agreement - A Best Picture winner from before 1970
Geostorm - A film that was a box-office bomb
Green Room - A film with a color in the title
Hallelujah - A musical
Harakiri - A film by Kobayashi Masaki
Häxan - A documentary about horror or horror films
House on Haunted Hill (1959) - A horror film famous for its twist/ending
I Am Santa Claus - A documentary about "Christmas", the holidays, or something related
I, Tonya - A sports film
In the Loop - A British film or British comedy
Ink - A fantasy film
Into the Wild - A film about man versus nature
It Comes at Night - A film with less than five major characters
Jaws 3-D - A film you remember from your childhood
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle - An adventure/fantasy film
Jurassic Park - A film based on a book
Killer's Kiss - A drama film
Lady Bird - A film directed by a woman
Lawrence of Arabia - A film everyone has seen but you
Les Diaboliques - A classic you've never seen
Les Quatre Cents Coups - A French language film
Life - A film with a one word title
L'Inferno - A silent film from a foreign country
Lolita - A film with a character's name as the title
M - A film featured in the Criterion Collection
Manos: The Hands of Fate - A film considered one of the worst ever made
Marathon Man - A thriller or suspenseful film
Martyrs (2008) - A horror film in a foreign language
Meet Me in St. Louis - A film made for less than $5,000,000
Meshes of the Afternoon - An experimental film
Miami Connection - A B-movie
Monty Python and the Holy Grail - An oft-quoted film
Moonlight - A film about homosexuality or alternate lifestyles
Mr. Mom - A film about parenthood
My Fair Lady - A film that takes place in Britain
Ninja Scroll - An animated film
Now You See Me - A film about a heist
On Her Majesty's Secret Service - A British film
Once Upon a Time in America - A film starring someone you dislike
Once Upon a Time in the West - A western film
Paths of Glory - A war film
Persona - A film from Sweden
Phantom Thread - A film with a face on the poster
Piranha - A film about an animal
Polytechnique - A docu-drama
Precious - An NAACP Image Award winner for Best Picture
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale - A foreign "Holiday" film
Rashomon - A film by Akira Kurosawa
Revenge of the Nerds - A film with no CGI or special effects
Saboteur - An Alfred Hitchcock film
Scarecrows - A horror film with less than five major characters
Scrooge (1951) - Any adaptation of A Christmas Carol
Shadow of the Vampire - A film about filmmaking
Silver Linings Playbook - A generic romantic comedy
Six Degrees of Separation - A film with a number in its title
Smiles of a Summer Night - A film by Ingmar Bergman
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - A film from the 1930s
Source Code - A film set in a place you've been to
Spellbound - A film from the 1940s
Spirited Away - A feature-length anime
Spring Breakers - A film with a season in the title
Strangler of the Swamp - A film recommended by a reliable person
Sunset Boulevard - A film from the 1950s
Suspiria (1977) - A horror film
The Apartment - A comedy made before 1970
The Avengers - A film that won a Best Picture MTV Award
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - A documentary
The Beguiled - A period drama film
The Bridge on the River Kwai - A film that won Best Cinematography award (pre-1990)
The Broadway Melody - A film from the 1920s
The 'Burbs - A dark/black comedy
The Day of the Triffids - A film from the 1960s
The Elephant Man - A film that's in B&W
The Ghoul (1933) - A film under 90 minutes long
The Ghoul (1933) - A horror film under 90 minutes long
The Great Train Robbery - A film from the 1900s
The Haunting (1963) - A classic horror film you've never seen
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) - A horror cult classic film
The Host - A horror film in a foreign language
The Human Centipede 3 - An exploitation film
The Insects' Christmas - A "Christmas" or "Holiday" film released before 1930
The Killers - A film noir
The Last House on the Left (1972) - A horror exploitation or B-movie
The Man from Nowhere - An action film
The Martian - A film nominated for Best Picture that didn’t win
The Nativity Story - A film about the Nativity, or featuring characters from it (Jesus, Mary, the Magi)
The Post - A political film
The Right Stuff - A film over 170 minutes long
The Shape of Water - A Best Picture nominee
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - A cult classic film
The Thing (1982) - A film set in the snow, or featuring snow prominently
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre - A Best Screenplay winner made before 1990
The Tree of Life - A Palm D'Or winner
The Wizard of Oz - A film with a child protagonist
The Wolf Man - A horror film about an animal
Thief - A film from the 1980s
Train to Busan - A Korean language film
Twelve O'Clock High - A non-Best Picture winner from the 1940s
Unbreakable - A film famous for its twist/ending
Unforgiven - A film with a Rotten Tomatoes score above 95%
Universal Soldier: Regeneration - A film that was released direct-to-DVD
Upstream Color - A film shot on digital video
War for the Planet of the Apes - A film from the 2010s
What We Do in the Shadows - A film with a title that's a sentence or sentence fragment
X-Men: The Last Stand - A film you swore you'd never watch
Yankee Doodle Dandy - A film about a musician
You Only Live Twice - A James Bond movie

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Thu Jan 03, 2019 12:22 am
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