Films in 2016: March

As I said in last month’s wrap-up post, I slowed my movie-watching a little for March, though not by too much. I finally saw some new releases this month as I took three trips to the theater, including one that’s bound to be one of my favorite films of 2016 by the end of the year. The real highlight of the month for me though was TCM’s Star of the Month spotlight on Merle Oberon, and I ended up watching eight of her films as a result. As many people probably have, I first saw her in Wuthering Heights, but I didn’t get around to seeing more of her work until last year, and in February I became more interested in her after seeing Lydia and That Uncertain Feeling. So TCM’s timing was pretty perfect, and I’m glad I got around to seeing a good number of her films, she had a really magnetic screen presence. Anyway, I’ll talk more about a couple of her films further down the post, so let’s look at what I watched in March.

New-to-Me: 34

Re-Watched: 6

New-to-Me Films by Decade:

  • 1920s – 0
  • 1930s – 7
  • 1940s – 4
  • 1950s – 5
  • 1960s – 3
  • 1970s – 4
  • 1980s – 3
  • 1990s – 1
  • 2000s – 2
  • 2010s – 5

List of New-to-Me Films:

  1. A Soldier’s Story (1984)
  2. Lili (1953)
  3. Diner (1982)
  4. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
  5. The Informer (1935)
  6. Zootopia (2016)
  7. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
  8. The Story of Temple Drake (1933)
  9. These Three (1936)
  10. The Dark Angel (1935)
  11. Julia (1977)
  12. Moulin Rouge (1952)
  13. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
  14. Frida (2002)
  15. The Lodger (1944)
  16. The Divorce of Lady X (1934)
  17. The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
  18. Monster (2003)
  19. The Ten Commandments (1956)
  20. Wings of the Navy (1939)
  21. Never on Sunday (1960)
  22. Phoenix (2014)
  23. Sleuth (1972)
  24. First Comes Courage (1943)
  25. A Song to Remember (1945)
  26. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
  27. The Prince of Tides (1991)
  28. The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
  29. Watership Down (1978)
  30. Superman (1978)
  31. Superman II (1980)
  32. The Woman on the Beach (1947)
  33. Deep in My Heart (1954)
  34. Victim (1961)

A Few Favorite Discoveries:

Zootopia (2016)

Zootopia (2016), directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore

Though the trailers were a little misleading, I knew I’d enjoy Zootopia as I usually enjoy anything Walt Disney Animation Studios puts out. But the whole movie really exceeded my expectations, and I’m glad the trailers didn’t reveal too much about the story. It’s a brilliant blend of mystery and comedy, with touches of noir and some fun pop culture references. What’s really great about this movie though is the way it executed its more mature themes on social issues, and how they were able to incorporate it into a world filled with animals. And speaking of the movie’s setting, the world-building (and the animation of it) is fantastic, I was awestruck by all of it. On top of all that, the voice work by the cast is well done. Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman are excellent as Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde; some other ones I loved (from a truly stellar cast) are Idris Elba as Chief Bogo and Jenny Slate as Bellwether. It’s easily my favorite of what they’ve put out this decade so far, and right now I have it ranked at #15 of Disney’s 55 films (you can check out my list on Letterboxd here).

These Three (1936)

These Three (1936), directed by William Wyler

This is a film adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play The Children’s Hour, but since the Hays Code was in full force by the time the film was made, the play’s lesbian themes had to be dropped in place of a heterosexual love triangle. Despite the changes, the movie still works, as the main focus of the story is really how cruel gossip can affect the lives of others. It helps that Hellman ended up adapting her own play to the screen, so most of her intentions are still displayed. The three characters in question are played wonderfully by Merle Oberon, Miriam Hopkins, and Joel McCrea, and the friendship between their three characters is truly felt. The movie’s standout performance comes from Bonita Granville as a manipulative child hellbent on getting her way, often resorting to spreading vicious lies. Granville was just 13 years old when she made the film, but her work here earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. William Wyler, the film’s director, ended up adapting the play again in 1961 with Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner taking on the roles and was able to stay true to the original story that time around.

Julia (1977)

Julia (1977), directed by Fred Zinnemann

I ended up following up These Three with another Merle Oberon movie called The Dark Angel (for which she was nominated for her only Oscar) and noticed that both screenplays were written by Lillian Hellman, which led me to read up a bit on her. This then led me to watch Julia, which I had been meaning to watch for the longest time, and I’m so glad I got around to finally watching it on Netflix. The film is based on Hellman’s memoirs, though the story in which the film is based may or may not be true as it centers on Hellman smuggling money into Germany for an anti-Nazi cause. Regardless, it makes for an interesting movie that chronicles Hellman’s life, especially her lifelong friendship with the title character Julia. It also looks at Hellman struggling to write her first play The Children’s Hour and her relationship with famed author Dashiell Hammett. What really elevates this movie is Jane Fonda’s central performance as Hellman, and her interactions with Vanessa Redgrave’s Julia and Jason Robards’ Hammett, both of whom do great work as well. The scenes which feature the enigmatic Julia are especially moving, and Fonda and Redgrave do an excellent job in portraying how important their friendship was to both characters.

The Divorce of Lady X (1938)

The Divorce of Lady X (1938), directed by Tim Whelan

Another Merle Oberon movie made it into my favorites of the month. Unlike the one I mentioned before, this one is much lighter and was really a delight to watch. Released a year before Wuthering Heights, Oberon and Laurence Oliver first shared the screen in a British romantic comedy about a divorce lawyer who falls in love with a woman he believes is the wife of his latest client. It’s a familiar plot of mistaken identity, but it works well thanks to the chemistry between Oberon and Olivier. It’s especially fun seeing Olivier play a little against type, as he often played more serious, refined characters. He’s still a sophisticated type here but with comedic effect, as his character is more of a bumbling fool hopelessly in love with the mischievous Oberon.

Phoenix (2014)

Phoenix (2014), directed by Christian Petzold

A while back in the midst of Noirvember, I was recommended a few titles from Christian Petzold as his films are imbued with noir elements. With a nice push from Criterion (as they’ll be releasing the film later this month), I finally got around to watching Phoenix and was very impressed with it. There’s definitely some inspiration from older films to be found here, but the plot is especially reminiscent of Vertigo as a man attempts to transform a woman into his late wife. The twist though is that the woman is in actuality his wife, he just doesn’t quite recognize her after coming out of the concentration camps. The film builds slowly but is constantly engaging, as you wonder when the husband will realize that the woman he is grooming is really his wife. It all concludes with an unexpected climax, but one that is wholly satisfying. I won’t say anything more, just that this film is worth your time, and it’s available to stream on Netflix.

The Ten Commandments (1956)

The Ten Commandments (1956), directed by Cecil B. DeMille

I posted my monthly entry for the 2016 Blind Spots series a few days ago on The Ten Commandments, another great film I watched this month, and was fortunate enough to see on the big screen. My thoughts on the film can be found here.

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