Why waste time? Hot off the heels of completing my 2020 Blindspots, it’s time to move on to a brand new list of twelve movies for 2021. Normally, I would have posted this at the beginning of the year and watched one a month, but I’m sure I can double up a few times before December, especially once I graduate.
As with past years, I attempted to select a varied collection of films I’ve been meaning to see, including a war classic, a Best Picture winner, an anime, a musical, a psychological horror, a sci-fi actioner, and a couple popular comedies. Here’s hoping that 2021’s Blindspot series will expose me to some new favorites!
Despite all of my guilt and apologies about being late with my 2020 Blindspots, I realized that I actually did manage to see them all in a year’s time. I didn’t review my first until last April, so I guess I did fulfill the challenge in a way.
Anyway, I do always enjoy these Blindspot series, which expose me to a bunch of films I’ve kept on the back burner for too long. As for 2020’s collection, I must admit I was a bit disappointed with at least half of them, in contrast to past years, and only my #1 actually managed to snag a List-Worthy rating. Nevertheless, I am glad to have finally seen them all, and I hope to do the same with other Blindspots as we get further into 2021.
Here then is my ranking of the Blindspots from the past year:
If actors in movies are merely fakes, How do you manage to up the stakes? How do you take the viewers’ slump And get their blood to truly pump? How do you take a film’s façade And prove it’s more than just a fraud?
Reality! I’ve said it here; It’s not enough to fake a tear, To cry on cue, to feign a scream, To cheapen what should be extreme. I want a shark that really bites, Real zombie hordes with appetites, A true disaster caught on tape From which the cast may not escape.
Alas, such things we can’t get at, With contracts, laws, and things like that, But if real danger should appear Why not record the drama, fear, Reality?! No thought for taste, Let no disaster go to waste. _______________________
MPA Rating: Not Rated (probably R for bloody violence and F words in the subtitles, though there’s clear fakery to the gore)
At long last, I have reached the end of my 2020 Blindspot list, and once more I tap the trite but apt phrase “better late than never.” I didn’t intend to wrap up the list with this Japanese zombie film; it just happened to fall to last place, which only makes it even more surprising that it turned out to be my favorite of all the Blindspots from last year. In case there is doubt, I am typically averse to extreme violence in movies, so zombie flicks are far from my cup of tea. Yet I did love Train to Busan, and the 100% Rotten Tomatoes score for One Cut of the Dead gave me hope that this one might be something special. It is.
For starters, One Cut of the Dead is gleefully meta, being a film about the making of a film about people making a zombie film when real zombies appear. It is also the kind of film that is hard to talk about without giving too much away, but I’ll try to avoid spoilers. Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) is trying to wring emotion out of his actors as they shoot an ultra-low-budget zombie flick in an abandoned factory. While the cast and crew grow weary of his demands, actual zombies suddenly appear, and he seizes the life-and-death situation to bring realism to his film, insisting on keeping the camera rolling as the undead move in.
That synopsis alone probably doesn’t seem particularly innovative, but let’s just say there’s more to it. The film’s most impressive achievement is that the first 37 minutes are all one long tracking shot with no cuts (a favorite technique of mine), following the characters from zombie chases to Higurashi’s sabotaging of their escape attempts. As impressive as this is, the film’s low-budget status is evident from the awkward pauses, stilted dialogue, and schlocky violence that largely stays off-screen, building into increasingly funny absurdity. Yet the rest of the movie adds so much more to the initial film within a film, providing context of what happened beforehand and what happened off-camera, making the proceedings even more hilarious, quirky, and (as strange as it may sound) heartwarming.
Modern comedies rarely hold a candle to the older classics, in my opinion, but I’ll admit that One Cut of the Dead had me grinning much more than I expected going in. What seems at first like a groan-worthy wannabe horror turns into a celebration of film and the enormous effort put into it, and I loved how even seemingly insignificant details were given amusing explanations as the story unfolded. Even the director’s name had me wondering if it was an oblique reference to the classic Higurashi horror series.
As much as I enjoyed the film, I wasn’t quite sure if it warranted placement on my list; then I found that there was actually a follow-up sequel of sorts from last year called One Cut of the Dead: Remote Mission, in which the same cast made a short film from their homes during COVID lockdown. Just revisiting the characters and their quirks made me smile all over again and confirmed to me that One Cut of the Dead should be List-Worthy. As a comedy masquerading as horror, its inventive plot, endearing characters, and brilliant execution make it an instant classic in my book.
Best line: (Higurashi’s wife) “Pom!” (You’ll get it when you see it.)
The patchwork quilt of others’ lives That covers us and those we meet Can swaddle us or smother us Depending on the way we treat The people in our sphere.
If those you knew or cared to love Could see your thoughts, your worst mistake, The way you act in panic’s vice, I wonder what façade would break And where you’d go from here. _______________________
MPA rating: R (strong R for language and nudity)
Oh, look it’s March. Might be a good time to, I don’t know, finally get back to reviewing my Blindspots from last year! I can’t wait for school to be done later this year, but I’ll probably just shorten my reviews so the blog doesn’t go dead for another month.
Anyway, there are few things as disappointing as a movie you feel you ought to like but just don’t. Robert Altman’s Short Cuts is very much my style of movie. I love watching how individual lives intersect, how chance encounters can influence the bigger picture. It’s one of the many reasons I loved Lost and admire films like Ink, Cloud Atlas, and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. With some reservations, 2019’s Blindspot Twenty Bucks fulfilled the expectations I had for Short Cuts in 2020, which sadly failed to satisfy by enjoyment of cosmic connections this time around.
Ultimately, every film needs to have a story worth telling and characters worth watching, and no amount of admirable filmmaking or even a star-studded cast can fill that need. A lot happens in Short Cuts but also not nearly enough. Based on the short stories and poems of Raymond Carver, the story is an expansive snapshot of numerous lives throughout the Los Angeles area, played by a who’s who of recognizable ’90s faces. There’s Robert Downey, Jr., as a smarmy makeup artist, Lily Tomlin as an exasperated waitress, Andie MacDowell as a young mother, Matthew Modine as a doctor, Julianne Moore as his artistic wife, Frances McDormand as Peter Gallagher’s philandering wife, Tim Robbins as her cop lover, Jack Lemmon as Bruce Davison’s estranged father, and many more, including Tom Waits, Anne Archer, Lori Singer, Chris Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Fred Ward, and Lili Taylor. In light of the passing of Alex Trebek (whom I still grieve, as a lifelong Jeopardy fan), I was also delighted to see him in a brief cameo.
It truly is an astounding cast, all of whom are wholly believable in their roles. It’s just a shame that most of them play crude, vindictive jerks with the morals of cats. In the world of this film, infidelity is more common than marriage, and empathy is rare, all of which carries enough realism to lower one’s opinion of society in general. Beyond this, Altman’s film seems queasily enamored of sex and female nudity, from Leigh’s graphic phone sex calls to an admittedly well-acted lovers’ quarrel which would have been less distracting had Julianne Moore been wearing more than just a top. Of the 22 main characters, I’d say there are only two that remain sympathetic throughout, meaning most of the 3-hour film focuses on the others, and I believe that several of the side stories could have been trimmed to reduce the excessive runtime.
All that is not to say Short Cuts is without merit. I was actually impressed with how balanced the treatment of the characters was, switching between them often enough to give almost everyone in the expansive ensemble a memorable moment or two. Yet the jumping around between stories also doesn’t get overly confusing, and the artful direction weaves the stories together with subtle but identifiable connections, which is an impressive feat. However, the film ultimately falls into the “That’s It?” category, with the credits rolling before most of the intersecting storylines get even a semblance of closure. After over 3 hours with people I would not care to know personally, the bathetic conclusion settles for its status as a collage of experiences rather than offering any clear point. I realize everyday vignettes can be very compelling and endearing and don’t necessarily need an overarching purpose, but I suppose my distaste for much of the film’s content has soured my opinion of its storytelling as well. Unless the plot warrants ambiguity, I like my stories to have endings, not vague implications.