November 2019 Watchlist

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November was an unexpectedly robust month for viewing. In addition to finishing up my Halloween sci-fi/fantasy/horror stragglers, watching a couple of the rare Thanksgiving-themed cartoon specials, and getting the jumpstart on the annual Christmas movie viewing, I was able to re-watch some favorites and catch a few “never-before-seens.” 
 
Below is the complete, 26-title list, with each entry accompanied by a capsule review, objective (to the best of my ability) rating, and flags for any questionable content when applicable:
 
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) – 9/10
 
A swashbuckling kid-flick with groundbreaking special effects by stop motion master Ray Harryhausen, Sinbad is as good it gets for fantasy adventure in the 1950s.
 
Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973) – 6/10
 
Not terrible, but lackluster and easily the weakest of the major Peanuts holiday specials.
 
Conan the Barbarian (1982) – 7/10
 
Though it suffers from ’80s pop sensibilities, it’s one of the best sword and sorcery pictures of the decade, and Schwarzenegger’s hulky-ness vs. James Earl Jones’s gravitas is an entertaining match. [Adult Content] 
 
Cool Hand Luke (1967) – 10/10
 
An engaging look at hard-labor prison life, with lessons to be learned on all sides.
 
Fiddler on the Roof (1971) – 9/10
 
A gorgeously shot and choreographed look at Jewish life in pre-Bolshevik Russia, though for me, it loses points for shying away from labeling the period’s growing unrest for what it was: the seeds of a violent Communist revolution.
 
Garfield’s Thanksgiving (1989) – 10/10
 
It might lack the ingenuity of the Halloween special and the heart of the Christmas outing, but it’s possibly the flat-out funniest of the fat feline’s holiday flicks.
 
The Godfather (1972) – 10/10
 
Long, but not overly so, dense, but not thick, and epic in every sense of the word, The Godfather is a masterpiece of filmmaking. [Language, Adult Content]
 
The Godfather, Part II (1974) – 10/10
 
Though Brando’s absence automatically precludes Part II from eclipsing its forebear, Coppola’s and Puzo’s script and Pacino’s performance bring the sequel almost, if not entirely, to equality with the original.
 
Home Alone (1990) – 6/10
 
Though it’s preposterous from top to bottom, and suffers from the worse side of writer John Hughes’s ’80s sensibilities, it’s a funny, family Christmas classic.
 
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) – 9/10
 
Don’t expect to be able to root for Oscar Isaac’s lead—or anybody, for that matter—but the story (mostly a showcase of “what not to do with your life”) and performances are fascinating. [Language]
 
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955) – 9/10
 
Playing like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone (before that show even existed), the psychological- and philosophical-heavy Body Snatchers is one of the best sci-fi/horror films ever, even if it occasionally suffers from logic holes in the plot.
 
The Invisible Man (1933) – 10/10
 
Lead Claude Rains’s unhinged performance is a sight to behold (or not behold, as the actor’s visage is hidden for almost the entire picture), making The Invisible Man one of Universal’s best horror movies.
 
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2015) (Limited Series) – 8/10
 
Though almost every element is slightly off from the book, and it fumbles mightily in its finale, this BBC adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s masterpiece is nevertheless smart, entertaining, and filled with stellar performances. 
 
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949) – 10/10
 
Narrated and sung by the incomparable Bing Crosby, this back half of Disney’s “double feature” film Ichabod and Mr. Toad is an amusing, charming, spooky, and underrated adaptation of the Washington Irving classic short story.
 
My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) – 4/10
 
An excruciatingly ’90s rom-com, seemingly written to make it frustratingly impossible to root for its lead—quite the feat considering its lead is the usually relatable Julia Roberts. [Language]
 
The Nutty Professor (1963) – 10/10
 
One of the greatest comedies of all time, The Nutty Professor proves Jerry Lewis’s genius as an actor, writer, director, comedian, and innovator.
 
The Phantom of the Opera (1943) – 8/10
 
A lush Technicolor production of the well-worn story, featuring a usual masterful performance from Claude Rains in the title role.
 
The Rare Breed (1966) – 10/10
 
An unusual romance/western/adventure that is sadly overlooked and underrated; Jimmy Stewart and Maureen O’Hara star.
 
Sky High (2005) – 8/10
 
Though the ending is a little too ludicrous, even for a spoof, Sky High is a fun, funny, family-friendly superhero send-up, well ahead of its time.
 
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) – 4/10
 
Beyond Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon, Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan, villainous Darth Maul, and that trio’s epic light saber duel, the film is a half-baked, CGI-fest that goes all-in on selling toys to the kiddies.
 
Star Wars: Episode II  Attack of the Clones (2002) – 5/10
 
It’s more mature, and overall better, than its immediate predecessor, but it’s still plagued by many of Episode I’s problems, as well as an ill-conceived and poorly executed romance plot, which is central to both the film and the Star Wars saga.
 
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) – 7/10
 
Though the best of the prequel trilogy by far, it’s overly-long and suffers from the same CGI-overkill that plagues its trilogy brethren.
 
Star Wars: Episode VII  The Force Awakens (2015) – 10/10
 
It parallels, amalgamates, and inverts the best plot points and characters from the original trilogy, creating something familiar yet fresh, effectively washing away the unpalatable flavor of the prequel saga and paving the way for an exciting new era in the galaxy far, far away.
 
Star Wars: Episode VIII  The Last Jedi (2017) – 6/10
 
Writer-director Rian Johnson tosses franchise tropes in favor of expectation-defying non sequiturs and sociopolitical commentary, all to the film’s (and saga’s) detriment.
 
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) – 2/10
 
Overly long CGI battle sequences, rudimentary dialog, juvenile humor, contrived, often preposterous plot—this ill-advised cinematic retool of the originally intended inaugural episodes of The Clone Wars TV series is every terrible thing about the prequels, wrapped tight in a mind-numbing hour and 40 minute package.
 
This Is America, Charlie Brown E1: “The Mayflower Adventure” (1988) – 8/10
 
An exceptional educational tool for teaching young viewers about the early founding of America.
 
Related: October 2019 Watchlist