Announcement: My “31 Days of Cinema” Challenge

If you’ve been following this blog, both on its past Blogger incarnation and its current WordPress one, you’ve noticed that I at best post one review every other week. I aim to fix that; I want to turn this project into something. So in an effort to expand my artistic horizons and to write for my blog more earnestly, I am challenging myself to watch one film a day everyday this July, and post my initial reaction to each film right after viewing it.

All the films I’ll be watching this imminent month (in this transitional phase between college and work, which I indeed find an optimal time to do this) will be films I’ve never seen before, and most of them are films I’ve wanted to see for a while but that I’ve up to now regarded with trepidation, for whatever reason. Doing research on prospective films for this challenge really put into perspective how dwarfing the scope of world cinema is. I thought I was an expert on film; I am not. Just looking at the exhaustive list of films I was not able to include in this challenge is eye-opening. I could do another challenge, in another 31-day month further in the future, with 31 other films from the list, following the same rules I set out for myself below, and I doubt there would be any difference in the quality and diversity of cinematic narrative on display. There’s still a lot out there on which I can nourish my passion for film.

My plans are to watch these films early in the morning–that way, I have the rest of the day to apply for jobs, read books, write my own fiction, get outdoors, get exercise, etc.–and post my first impressions of them by sundown. These impressions likely won’t be longer than a paragraph; if some films provoke me to write more in-depth reviews, chances are I’ll do so after the whole challenge is wrapped up–which is to say, in August. My hopes are that I can get some of you, my readers, to watch some of these films with me, and to discuss them with me and others in the comments section of each page. Get a dialogue going, you know. (If it’s your first viewing, too, that’s even better!)

Here are the rules I followed in creating this list:

  • One film per country only. (As an exception, a second film is allowed if the production is an international effort.)
  • Each of the following regions must be represented by at least one film: North America, Central America, South America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Africa, Oceania.
  • Each decade from the 1930s onward must be represented by at least one film.
  • At least one film per week must have been directed by a woman.
  • To reiterate: I must be viewing all films for the first time.

And without further ado, here’s the calendar (subject to change, open to recommendations), with asides as to how and why each film was chosen:

July 1: The Rover (2013, David Michôd, Australia)
On this list on the virtue of Michôd’s earlier film Animal Kingdom alone. As it is, I’ve heard the opening scene is a doozy, and I want to begin the month with a bang.

July 2: The Asthenic Syndrome (1989, Kira Muratova, Russia)
A little known film. Its main claim to fame is that it was banned, astonishingly, in the Gorbachev-era Soviet Union.

July 3: Man of Marble (1977, Andrzej Wajda, Poland)
My best friend is Polish, so I’m making a point of educating myself on all things Polish, in particular the cinema. Last year, Martin Scorsese toured the nation with showings of twenty-one Polish film classics, of which one was Man of Iron, the sequel to this. A double feature would have been awesome, but rules are rules.

July 4: In Vanda’s Room (2000, Pedro Costa, Portugal)
A three-hour documentary-style ode to the slums of Lisbon.

July 5: The Krays (1990, Peter Medak, U.K.)
A biopic on the infamous twins that ruled the London mob world in the 1950s and ’60s. The upcoming Legend sees the great Tom Hardy channeling Jeremy Irons by playing both twins; the trailer looks good, and my hopes are that it won’t be a remake of this. I’ve heard that this film’s more focused on the twins’ relationship with their mother, played here by the late, great Beckett interpreter Billie Whitelaw.

July 6: Child’s Pose (2013, Calin Peter Netzer, Romania)
Arguably, no European nation has exploded into the film world in recent years quite like Romania, yet my only interaction with the Romanian New Wave has been its forefather, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. I wanted Aurora on the list, but it’s nowhere online, so it was between this and Beyond the Hills, and this has slightly better reviews. It won the Golden Bear at Berlin, and Luminita Gheorghiu is supposed to be superb in the lead.

July 7: In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong)
My first Kar-Wai. I’ve heard this is his masterpiece, though I could just as easily have picked Happy Together or 2046. This is only one of two films from the New Millennium in the Top 50 of Sight and Sound’s most recent poll, the other being Mulholland Drive (which I love).

July 8: Atlantic City (1981, Louis Malle, Canada/France)
I don’t know how long I’ve wanted to see this. Recall: it tied for the Golden Lion at Venice.

July 9: Marketa Lazarová (1967, Frantisek Vlácil, Czechoslovakia†)
I could not avoid this in my research of the Czech New Wave. It was between this and Vera Chytilová’s Daisies, which still intrigues me, but a near-three-hour, anti-chronological, über-experimental medieval dirge is pretty hard to beat.

July 10: Soldier of Orange (1977, Paul Verhoeven, Netherlands)
Before Verhoeven made waves in the States with Robocop and Total Recall–only to see his career crash and burn with Basic Instinct and Showgirls–he was the foremost Dutch film auteur. He resuscitated his career last decade by returning to his native Holland to make Black Book. This film’s a WWII-based ensemble drama.

July 11: A Woman Under the Influence (1974, John Cassavetes, U.S.)
My first Cassavetes! Film critic Robert Hamer has called Gena Rowlands in this the greatest film performance of all time.

July 12: Je, Tu, Il, Elle (1976, Chantal Akerman, Belgium)
Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman is such a great film, it inspired a YouTube-based cooking video contest some years ago, despite its highly anti-commercial formal rigors (long running time, pace to rival paint drying). Akerman is a feminist dynamo, and Dielman is well worth taking three and a half hours out of your day.

July 13: Open Your Eyes (1997, Alejandro Amenábar, Spain)
Amenábar’s upcoming Regression pairs Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson in a psych-thriller-horror. In anticipation of that, I’m watching this, which the States remade into Vanilla Sky.

July 14: Closeup (1990, Abbas Kiarostami, Iran)
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which I reviewed on this blog, has piqued my interest in the Iranian New Wave. This’ll be my first Kiarostami.

July 15: The Fast Runner (2002, Zacharias Kunuk, Canada)
I was dying to include a Xavier Dolan film to represent Canada (either his debut J’ai Tué Ma Mère or his epic trans biopic Laurence Anyways), but the uniqueness of this film cannot be ignored. A three-hour Inuit production, it is the first–and, safe to assume, only–film to be made entirely in the Inuktitut language, and I’ve heard it’s exhilarating.

July 16: Dogville (2004, Lars von Trier, Denmark)
I’m always down for a critic-divider. This’ll be my third von Trier (after Breaking the Waves and Nymphomaniac, the latter of which I had the pleasure of watching and reviewing in Denmark!), so I know to expect misogyny and mayhem.

July 17: Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog, Germany)
My second Herzog, after Rescue Dawn. I’ll be honest: I tried to watch Fitzcarraldo, and it near put me to sleep. Here’s hoping this’ll be better.

July 18: Lore (2012, Cate Shortland, Australia/Germany)
The last film I put on my list. Shortland’s debut Somersault has come up in my research on Asperger’s in cinema, but I already have The Rover representing Down Under.

July 19: The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939, Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan)
I confess: I’m a Japanese cinema novice. To date: two Kurosawas (the solid Seven Samurai and the obscenely overrated Ran), zero Ozus! I’ll work on that. In the meantime, this will be my first Mizoguchi and was picked over his better known Ugetsu to represent the ’30s.

July 20: Memories of Underdevelopment (1968, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Cuba)
Representing Central America. Castro-era Cuban cinema does intrigue me.

July 21: Nostalgia (1983, Andrei Tarkovsky, Russia/Italy)
In an earlier review, I cited the candle/pool scene from this, so now, I feel obligated to watch it. My second Tarkovsky, after the sublime Stalker.

July 22: Eternity and a Day (1998, Theo Angelopoulos, Greece)
The late Angelopoulos is a beast and a master of the long take, and I’m considering promoting his Landscape in the Mist to my all-time Top 10. This won the Golden Palm at Cannes (one of two on this menu to win that prize), hence all three of the great film festival prizes are represented herein.

July 23: In the Name of the Father (1993, Jim Sheridan, Ireland)
Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson and Pete Postlethwaite. Enough said.

July 24: Beau Travail (1999, Claire Denis, France)
I was hoping to get a French New Wave film on here (either a Godard or a Rohmer), but I needed a woman filmmaker, and France is pretty reliable for that. This one is an update of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd.

July 25: Autumn Sonata (1979, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden)
A Bergman selection is mandatory. This late-era effort is the one film he made with that other Ing*** Bergman.

July 26: Bicycle Thieves (1948, Vittorio De Sica, Italy)
Italian cinema is also not my forte. Antonioni! Visconti! Pasolini! I’m a total virgin with respect to all three. Alas, this film will represent the ’40s, and I’m guessing it needs no introduction.

July 27: Tsotsi (2005, Gavin Hood, South Africa)
It depresses me that as diverse and sprawling a continent as Africa is, its cinema is so underdeveloped (along with a thousand other things there) that I have to lump the whole region into one representative category. Granted, I’ve wanted to see this for a while, as the premise alone is fascinating: a gangster steals a car with a baby in the backseat.

July 28: Yi-Yi (2000, Edward Yang, Taiwan)
The late Yang is reportedly the master epic filmmaker of the Taiwanese New Wave. This film was his last, and–reportedly–his best.

July 29: La Cienaga (2001, Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)
Representing South America and women directors: a rare one-two punch.

July 30: Pather Panchali (1955, Satyajit Ray, India)
Indian cinema. Yikes. I hardly know where to begin with it. The number of films Bollywood turns out per year is staggering, not to mention the films are, from what I’ve seen, filled to the brim with so much passion and intensity that you kind of have to prepare yourself for it. (Indians are also better adapted to sit through three-hour films than most Americans I know.) All things considered, I went simple and selected this Bengali gem of independent cinema, which will be–you may have guessed–my first Ray. It’ll represent the ’50s.

July 31: Winter Sleep (2014, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
Last year’s Golden Palm winner. I want to end epically, and at three hours plus, this is the longest film I’ll be watching this month, and I don’t think I can get more epic than it. (Gone With the Wind was also in the cards, but it lost to Cassavetes.) Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was solid right up until its third act, which struck me as lazy when I first saw it but which has grown on me since, with its nifty little twist in the final scene. I’ve heard some critics say this film’s middle act is tepid. I’m praying it won’t be. Or maybe it will be, and then, it’ll grow on me. Who knows?

See you all on Wednesday with my reaction to The Rover!

(The photo is of Miranda July. Get the joke?)

3 thoughts on “Announcement: My “31 Days of Cinema” Challenge

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