Movie Marathons

Chris Hemsworth in Michael Mann's Blackhat

This blog started as a place for me to fill in the gaps in my film knowledge through movie marathons. More recently, I've focused on writing reviews about recent movies and TV and essays about earlier films. This page covers all my past marathons from the first five years of the site.

When I chose the topics for each marathon, I tried to fill personal blind spots from film history. These could be specific directors or just an interesting genre. The sections below include all my previous marathons for this blog with links to the movies covered. When you check out these posts, leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Most Recent Marathons

Investigating Michael Mann
Films: Public Enemies, The Keep, Blackhat, Collateral, Miami Vice, Ali, Blackhat (revisited)
Michael Mann is one of my favorite directors, and the release of Blackhat in January 2015 offered the perfect opportunity to revisit his work. There are plenty on interesting themes to dig into in Mann's films, especially his later films like Public Enemies and Miami Vice. His use of digital photography was ahead of its time, and the plots have become less conventional with each offering. This was also my first exposure to the horror film The Keep, which is easily the most head-scratching part of his canon. I also returned to this marathon recently and looked at Blackhat through five pivotal shots.

Treasures from the Disney Vault
Films and TV: The Disneyland Story, Early Animated Shorts, The Reluctant Dragon, Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, The Vanishing Prairie
This marathon arose with the partnership between TCM and Disney. Part of their relationship is periodic "Treasures from the Disney Vault" nights that provide lesser-known films and TV episodes from Disney's extensive history. The first special evening happened in December 2014 and gave me the opportunity to dig further into Disney's background.

Blind Spots Series

Once Upon a Time in the West

2016 Series: Readers Choice II (continued)
Films: First Blood, The Host, The Great Dictator, Jailhouse Rock
After falling short on last year's Blind Spots series, I carried over nine films to this year's list. I added three other movies to fill out the 12 choices.

2015 Series: Readers Choice II
Films: Wait Until Dark, Man with a Movie Camera, Poltergeist
After the success of 2014's Blind Spots series, I enlisted the help of readers once again to choose my new slate of films. They voted on the 12 selections from a group of 50 choices, and the final picks were a diverse and interesting group. Sadly, I fell a little short in completing them.

2014 Series: Readers' Choice
Films: Crimes and MisdemeanorsYojimboThe Battle of AlgiersThe King of ComedyMoulin Rouge!Night of the Living DeadLes DiaboliquesThe Texas Chainsaw MassacreBrokeback MountainRosemary's BabyThe Wages of Fear
For the 2014 series, I enlisted the readers to choose the 12 films that I needed to watch first. I selected 50 movies that included classics from recent years and long ago, and the readers voted on the final list. There were no duds in their picks. In particular, The Battle of Algiers ranks among the most stunning depictions of war that I've witnessed.

2013 Series: Cult Films
Films: Code UnknownKing of New YorkThe FallRoad HouseMr. BrooksBattle RoyaleIrma VepBlack DynamiteMorvern CallarSeries 7: The ContendersGremlins 2: The New BatchMillennium Actress
After exploring some remarkable classics in 2012, I took a different approach in 2013. Using the New Cult Canon from Scott Tobias at the A.V. Club, I chose 12 cult films that don't fit the conventional definition of the term.

2012 Series: List of Shame (Continued)
Following the success of the List of Shame marathon, I decided to continue it as a monthly series. These posts corresponded with the “Blind Spots” projects going on at other movie blogs and appear on the last Tuesday of each month. I chose the films up front, which would force me not to avoid pictures that had escaped my attention.

Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles

Past Marathons

1980s Comedies
I grew up in the ‘80s, but there are still plenty of comedies that I missed. It’s clear that I spent too much time re-watching Star Wars and the James Bond films as a kid. The picks covered big names like John Hughes, Martin Scorsese, and John Landis. It was a great start for the blog and gave me the chance to figure out the format on lighter fare. I returned to this topic in 2012 since there were other seminal comedies to see.

2012 Catch-Up
Films: Being FlynnShut Up and Play the HitsRuby SparksSafety Not GuaranteedThe Amazing Spider-ManRed Lights
One of my busiest years was 2012, and I didn't make it to the theaters very often. By November, I decided it was definitely time to focus on that year. My choices focused on movies that had appeared earlier and were available for home viewing. They weren't all great films, but none were boring.

2014 Documentaries
Films: The Unknown KnownElaine Stritch: Shoot MeFinding Vivian MaierTo Be Takei
The next few marathons involved catching up with significant releases from 2014. The first step was looking at documentaries, and there were so many great options. They're also widely available on Netflix and other streaming services, so it made catching up with these films easy.

Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock

2014 Oscars
Films: Captain Phillips20 Feet from StardomGravityThe SquareNebraska
A lot happened on the home front in 2013. Our second girl was born, I finished grad school, and I started a new job. This led to fewer theater visits and put me behind on the awards contenders. This marathon helped to fix that gap, and there were many interesting options.

The AFI 100
Films: ShaneYankee Doodle DandyBen Hur
When I discovered that there were only eight movies that I hadn't seen on the AFI 100 list, I set up this marathon to close that gap. It ended up being a short one with only three films, but all were interesting. The highlight was Ben-Hur, which held my interest despite its epic length.

Billy Wilder
Films: Ace in the HoleStalag 17The Seven-Year ItchWitness for the Prosecution
Billy Wilder's known for classics like Sunset Boulevard and The Apartment, but there's a lot more to his career. I barely scratched the surface in this marathon, which tackled movies that are known but deserve more recognition. The standout was Ace in the Hole, a stunning look at a journalist who will do anything to get back in the game.

Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow

Films: The Amazing Spider-man 2Guardians of the GalaxyCaptain America: The Winter SoldierEdge of Tomorrow
I wasn't able to catch too many of the big summer movies in 2014, so this gave me a chance to catch up with them quickly. I enjoyed all of them except The Amazing Spider-man 2, which was a bloated mess with too many characters. The others each brought something interesting to the mix.

Cult Movies
The term “cult film” is used far too often, particularly for movies released within the past few years. These picks were not big hits in their initial release but were so original that they drew a passionate fan base. I was amazed at how much I enjoyed Repo Man, which was a huge discovery. It also was my first exposure to The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s ridiculous attempts to make a tragic melodrama.

Decaying Cities
FilmsThe Pruitt-Igoe MythThe InterruptersDetropia
My focus in this marathon was on films that explore the demise of the urban environment in the United States. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth was especially interesting because it covers a failed public housing project in my hometown of St. Louis. The Interrupters gives a fascinating look at dedicated individuals trying to stop gang violence on the streets of Chicago. I closed the marathon with Detropia, which provides an artistic perspective on the continued difficulties in a once-thriving city.

Der Fuhrers Face

Disney in the 1940s
Films: Saludos AmigosThe Three CaballerosThe Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. ToadFun and Fancy FreeDer Fuhrer's Face/Reason and EmotionEducation for Death
I'm a serious fan of Disney's theme parks, but I have a lot of blind spots in their film history. One notable area is the 1940s package films, so I set up this marathon to fill in the gaps. Some of the results were mixed, but it was intriguing to check out how they survived during World War II.

Dystopian Films
Films: ElysiumDreddSilent Running
I was surprised when researching dystopian films to discover that I'd seen a lot of them. Even so, I still found a gem in Dredd, which keeps its plot simple and is thrilling. Sadly, that wasn't true with Elysium, which took an interesting premise and turned it into a dumb movie. Sitting in the middle was the '70s environmental fable Silent Running, which includes one of Bruce Dern's more eccentric performances.

Early Spielberg
Films: DuelThe Sugarland Express1941Twilight Zone: The Movie
I've seen Spielberg's trademark films but hadn't checked out his early work. It was interesting to see his talent while recognizing that he was still learning the craft. The highlight was the TV movie Duel, which delivers great tension from a pretty simple premise. I had more issues with the painful 1941, which is probably his worst movie.

Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou

Films: ContemptAlphavillePierrot le Fou, Masculin Feminin
It's hard to go wrong with Godard, especially during his 1960s heyday. Prior to this marathon, I'd seen a limited number of his films. It was time to fill in some of the blind spots. The highlight was Pierrot le Fouwhich offered a fun divergence on the crime and romance genres. It's hard to even keep up with all of Godard's references to other films and the culture in general. His films offer so much, and I barely scratched the surface.

Here Come the Aliens!
There are so many ways to present an alien invasion. There’s the direct assault where they try to dominate our world. They also could take a subtle approach and slowly take over minds. We also can’t forget the entity that destroys anything in its path. I covered all the types in this marathon and had good fun watching helpless people struggle to stay afloat.

Films: Saving Mr. BanksThe Punk SingerSpringsteen & IThe Trials of Muhammed Ali
I'm generally not drawn to biopics, which end up sticking to the standard formula way too often. Documentaries are usually the way to go with chronicling the life of icons. When choosing the selections for this marathon, I made one exception and included Saving Mr. Banks because of my interest in Walt Disney. The other three documentaries each offered a unique take on interesting figures in music and sports. There were no duds in this marathon.

Natalie Portman in Black Swan

I'm So Confused!
Films: Black SwanJacob's LadderThe JacketPaprika
Our modern era is filled with uncertainty. The world economy is struggling all over the place, and violent conflicts still take place frequently. This chaotic atmosphere can lead to confusion about whether our reality is legitimate. People wonder if The Matrix is closer to the truth than we realize. This feeling has led to the rise of films that correlate to this unstable environment. This marathon tackled some intriguing films with lead characters that are constantly questioning whether their mind is presenting the truth.

I'm With the Band
Films: Not Fade AwayFrankWe Are the Best!God Help the GirlBegin Again
Rarely has a group of films included so many great choices. It's no surprise that three of these five films made my top 10 of 2014. The one exception was the slightly older film Not Fade Away, a nostalgic but uneven look at teenage life in the 1960s. The other four choices were engaging and conveyed a real love of music, especially in Begin Again and God Help the Girl. The true gem that's stuck with me is the charming We Are the Best!, which connects us with a trio of 13-year-old girls.

International Gangsters
This marathon was designed to knock out two acclaimed movies that I’d intended to see for a long time. A Prophet and Animal Kingdom were very good films, but they actually fell short of the next two entries.  Gomorrah’s realistic and gritty look at the Italian crime world made it one of my key discoveries of the year. On a completely different note, Johnnie To’s Exiled provided exhilarating action from start to finish.

Europa Report

Into the Unknown
Films: Europa Report, The EastSomething in the AirStalkerEscape from Tomorrow
This year began with films about characters venturing into mysterious environments. It could be a group of astronauts going to a moon of Jupiter, young revolutionaries trying to change the world, or a family overwhelmed by the craziness of Disney World. Not all of the films worked, but none of them were dull.

John Ford
FilmsYoung Mr. LincolnWagon MasterDrums Along the MohawkFort Apache
I've always been a big Ford fan, but I hadn't really seen that many of his films. I decided to dig further into his background, and the results were mixed. The standout film was Fort Apache, a stunning fictional take on Custer's "Last Stand." The final conflict between Henry Fonda and John Wayne makes up for a slow first hour. It's a vicious look at a military commander blinded by his arrogance who leads his men to slaughter.

Johnnie To
Films: ElectionTriad ElectionDrug War
One of my blind spots was the work of the great Hong Kong director Johnnie To, and seeing Exiled convinced me that I needed to see more of his work. Two years later, I finally caught up with three more films. The highlight was his most recent project Drug War. That police procedural appears straightforward but then dramatically shifts gears for a surprising and chaotic finale.

Chris Cooper in Amigo, John Sayles' film

The John Sayles Completist
Films: AmigoBaby It's You
One of my favorite directors is John Sayles, who's found a way to remain independent while still delivering remarkable movies. For this short marathon, I finally watched the last two Sayles movies that I hadn't seen. While they rank as some of his lesser works, they still were solid pictures. 

List of Shame
This marathon helped me to catch up with popular titles that most people love. These choices were so iconic that I knew most of the big scenes, but there were still plenty of surprises. Even though I had some issues with Gone with the Wind, it was definitely worth seeing. 

Modern Black and White
FilmsMuch Ado About NothingFrances HaComputer Chess
Although some viewers still hold to the stigma that black and white equals old, there's a growing trend against that fact. Films like Much Ado About Nothing and Frances Ha have a classic style but feel as fresh as anything that I saw in 2013. This was a really enjoyable marathon, and it was great to re-visit Good Night and Good Luck.

John Carter

My Year of Flops
FilmsJohn CarterHoward the DuckGigli, Battlefield Earth
Inspired by Nathan Rabin's book of the same name, this marathon sent me to the less glamorous end of the spectrum. The surprisingly enjoyable John Carter started things off on the right track, but each successive choice lowered the bar. The worst experience was seeing Gigli, which was just painful in every regard.

Niche Culture
Films: Rewind This!Special When LitIndie Game - The Movie
A side effect of the Internet age is realizing how many different niches there are beyond the obvious groups. Filmmakers interested in these topics have material that seems perfect for a documentary. There are over-the-top characters, great drama, and stakes that sometimes go beyond what you'd expect. The best example is Indie Game - The Movie, where developers risk their sanity to finish their projects.

Once Upon a Time
I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy games on my Commodore 64, so I have an affinity for this genre. While preparing this marathon, I was surprised by how few choices I hadn’t already watched. This wasn’t the strongest group of movies, but there were two cheesy ‘80s films in the middle to add to the fun.

Oslo, August 31st

Films: Oslo, August 31stThe Perks of Being a WallflowerThis Is Not a FilmHesher
This marathon included two of the best movies that I saw in 2013. Oslo, August 31st provides an intriguing look at a man struggling to make sense of the world. The other gem is The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which provides an entertaining and emotional perspective on teenage life. I was hooked right from the start and never lost interest in the troubled characters.

Politics on Film
It’s tricky to depict the political system believably without reverting to clich├ęs. While I wouldn’t call some of these movies realistic, none are dull. The standout pick was The Candidate, which is one of the best dramas about politics. The documentaries Primary and A Perfect Candidate also provided a compelling inside look at the process.

The Post Disney Renaissance
Films: HerculesMulanTarzan
If you follow this blog, it's no surprise that I'm a huge fan of the Disney theme parks. I've seen most of the classic animated films from their heyday and the Disney Renaissance in the '90s, but I missed a trio from the end of that decade. I watched them with my daughter, which was fun despite her short attention span. The surprise was Tarzan, which had an engaging story and far surpassed my modest expectations.

Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott

Readers’ Choice
After 13 marathons, it was time for a different approach. I threw out a call to readers for movie recommendations. The result was an intriguing group of movies that stand alongside my favorite marathons. The double feature of Devils on the Doorstep and Grave of the Fireflies showed much different ways to depict the horrors of war.

Sight & Sound Poll
Another pursuit has been knocking out the classics that any self-respecting film fan should see. All three of these choices were excellent and showed why they deserve to be included on the Sight & Sound list. The highlight was Sunrise, which revealed the remarkable possibilities of the silent film in the right hands.

Sophomore Efforts
Films: Upstream ColorThe Elephant ManA Woman is a WomanPoetic Justice
Few collections of movies have less in common than this group. I compiled films that I'd intended to see for a long time that were all second features by a director. Along with the 2013 release from Shane Carruth, I looked back at early work from David Lynch, Jean-Luc Godard, and John Singleton. That's an impressive group, though not all of the choices were great.

Evan Rachel Wood in Across the Universe

Start the Music!
Films: IdlewildAcross the UniverseHedwig and the Angry Inch
One of my blind-spot genres is musicals, particularly when you go beyond classics like Singin' in the Rain and West Side Story. For this marathon, I went a different route and checked out three recent musicals that looked interesting. While the Outkast vehicle Idlewild was pretty messy, the other two choices were great fun. The highlight for me was Julie Taymor's Across the Universea daring attempt to bring the songs of The Beatles to the screen. I was blown away by the imagination and creativity on display during this movie.

Steven Soderbergh
Few directors have shown the ability to move between mainstream and indie realms like Steven Soderbergh. He burst onto the scene with small films but found success with big-budget pictures. I was stunned to discover how much I loved the two Che films, especially the first one. They deserve more attention and are truly underrated. 

The St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF)
Although it wasn’t an official marathon, one of my favorite experiences of 2011 was attending the St. Louis International Film Festival in November. All of these choices were interesting, and there were so many other great options that I missed. The highlight was the Norwegian thriller Headhunters, which was one of my favorite movies of 2011. 

Cruel Gun Story

Take the Money and Run
I’ve seen a lot of heist films, so this marathon allowed me to see lesser-known films like the brutal Cruel Gun Story and the wonderfully understated Charley Varrick. The variety of these choices reminded me of how many different ways you can alter a standard formula. Even mundane heists can provide great drama when money is involved.

That Crazy Nicolas Cage
One of the most divisive actors currently working is the outlandish Nicolas Cage, who can chew scenery like no one else. This marathon included both classic and awful movies, but none were boring due to Cage. The craziest performances were easily Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and Wild at Heart.

That Was a Rockin' Show!
FilmsThe White Stripes Under Great Northern LightsMonterey Pop1991 - The Year Punk BrokeThis Is ItMidnight Oil - Black Rain FallsWattstaxBruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live in New York City
I've seen hundreds of concerts over the years, though I don't make as many lately with two young kids at home. Capturing a show on film isn't always easy; there's no way to truly duplicate the feeling of being in the crowd at an amazing performance. This marathon includes a mix of classic festivals like Monterey Pop and Wattstax alongside individual shows by The White Stripes and Bruce Springsteen. The surprise was This Is It, which reminded me of Michael Jackson's greatness and didn't feel exploitative. 

Tom Cruise in Oblivion

We’re All Dead! 
One of my favorite genres is the post-apocalyptic film, which can provide interesting commentary on our society. The stand-out choice was The Postman, Kevin Costner’s messy epic that is ridiculous yet very enjoyable. Two years after my original marathon, I decided it was time to check out more films from the post-apocalytpic genre. The results were mixed, but I finally got the chance to check out the George Romero classic Dawn of the Dead

When Am I?
Another favorite genre is time-travel movies, which can provide great drama and mind-bending plot twists. The surprise gem was Chris Smith’s Triangle, which presents a chaotic time loop that’s never clearly explained. I also enjoyed the cheesiness of the original adaptation of The Time Machine, which included a wonderful mini version of the device.

Women in 2013
Films: Miss RepresentationSun Don't ShineIn a World...Stories We TellThe Bling Ring
Back in 2013, one area where I talked a good game but didn't follow through was female directors. I'd written about very few movies directed by women, and it was time to start rectifying that issue. This marathon is mostly comprised of 2013 releases, but there are a few exceptions. Miss Representation started the group out perfectly and reminded me that our society isn't as forward-thinking as we claim to be.

2046 by Wong Kar Wai

Wong Kar-Wai
I caught up with Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love earlier this year and was blown away. This experience spurred me to explore his back catalog in one of my favorite marathons. There were no bad films in this group, and all had remarkable scenes. The big surprise was Fallen Angels, which is a gorgeous movie and a true hidden gem. 

The Year 1984
After exploring specific genres, I tried something different and watched movies from a specific year. The selections included Best Picture nominees and silly musicals like Purple Rain. There were a few mediocre choices, but the variety was refreshing. 

Young Filmmakers
Films: Shotgun Stories, The Double, Fruitvale Station
This quick marathon takes a look at three filmmakers that have a lot of potential to make an impact on the industry. All have already made a dent with a limited number of films. Jeff Nichols, Richard Ayoade, and Ryan Coogler are delivering interesting films that step outside of our expectations.