Thursday, July 25, 2013

Top 100 Films of the 20th Century – Part 5: 85-81

Rank: 85
Release Year: 1993
Genre: Holocaust Drama
Director: Steven Spielberg
Plot Summary: Initially a war profiteer, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce in Poland after witnessing the horrors they face at the hands of the Nazis. He changes his focus from profit to saving as many as he can.
What Makes It Special: Holocaust dramas are almost all incredibly powerful and personal (particularly for their filmmakers). With Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg (a darling of Hollywood) was able to convey the pain of a generation to filmgoers worldwide by using his polished style to create a prestige blockbuster. Shot in black and white, Spielberg utilizes color in one very specific scene to iconic and haunting affect. The film stays with its audience, resonating deeply.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Streaming

Rank: 84
Release Year: 1939
Genre: Epic/Romance Drama/War Drama
Director: Victor Fleming
Plot Summary: Scarlett O’Hara is a strong-minded southern belle who always gets what she wants. However, with the outbreak of the Civil War, she must make sacrifices to survive – including engaging in an affair with Rhett Butler, a blockade runner who normally would be an outcast in polite society (but he can is useful to O’Hara during the war as he greatly profits personally from it). But she is spiteful and cruel, leading their relationship down a tumultuous path.
What Makes It Special: Gone with the Wind is one of the great epics of American cinema and the highest grossing film of all-time (if you adjust for inflation). It is beloved by many as a grand romantic tale, filled with great characters, beautiful aesthetics, and iconic moments. All that said, however, the film also has blemished reputation (especially as today’s society becomes more cognizant and unforgiving of subtle racism and other discriminatory aspects of culture). It paints the South as a majestic place ruined by the North’s vicious war – as it is taken from the South’s perspective – propagating the myth (to some extent) that slavery was really not all that bad for those enslaved (especially for those unfamiliar with America’s history – which includes most Americans). It is undoubtedly a great film, a classic, but must be taken in its historical context.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Streaming

Rank: 83
Release Year: 1971
Genre: Crime Drama/Psychological
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Plot Summary: In future Britain, criminal and delinquent Alex DeLarge is put in jail. While there, he is chosen for an experimental aversion therapy developed by the government (to cure criminals of their devious tendencies and thereby solve society’s crime problem). Alex is a good pupil, but not everything goes as planned.
What Makes It Special: A Clockwork Orange examines British society under the guise of being a satire set “the near future”, and it is harsh in its assessment. Stanley Kubrick warps the look of everything (to almost a dystopian degree). The idea of the government brainwashing criminals to always choose the good, in an effort to address their prison overpopulation problem, speaks to the great concern that government (or any other kind of authority figure) wants to control every aspect of the populace’s life, taking away the individual’s humanity. What makes this film so compelling is that Kubrick presents our protagonist as someone wholly unlikable but charismatic. His actions and perversity are disgusting, and yet seeing his humanity taken away (or at least attempted to be taken away) creates a sense of compassion in the viewer – for a man who certainly does not deserve it. And then, now that Kubrick has taken the audience from a place of hate to compassion, he reveals that Alex has not changed at all; he is still just as rotten as ever. His rehabilitation is one big joke – the government and audience have been lured into feeling a sense of compassion only to be laughed at, because really the world is just a wicked place that we just like to pretend is good and ordered – making this film the ultimate satire.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Streaming

Rank: 82
Title: Kes
Release Year: 1969
Genre: Character Drama
Director: Ken Loach
Plot Summary: Billy is a young working-class English boy who has a hard life (both at home and at school). However, he finds something to be passionate about for the first time when he spends his free time caring for and training his pet falcon.
What Makes It Special: Kes is at its heart a very beautiful and touching story, while at the same time a bleak look at the typical life of those living in a Yorkshire mining town in the 1960s. Billy is essentially a boy with no hope (and no escape) who finds something wondrous and meaningful in his life, if only for a moment. Kes also feels extremely authentic, as if Ken Loach were merely filming the real lives of the characters in the film. Loach appeals to many emotions, as the narrative elicits feelings of joy, anger, horror, and sadness, yet it never feels like Loach is pulling the strings for dramatic effect – again speaking to the film’s realistic feel. It is one of cinema’s finest and most intimate character dramas.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray

Rank: 81
Release Year: 1998
Genre: War Drama/Philosophical
Director: Terrence Malick
Plot Summary: U.S. soldiers face a very entrenched Japanese army during the battle at Guadalcanal during WWII.
What Makes It Special: Most WWII films focus on the bravery and the accomplishments of the men involved, or the major turning points of the battle(s), but Terrence Malick did something completely different with The Thin Red Line (and during the same year that saw the release of Saving Private Ryan, a much more popular WWII film, though not as critically heralded today by comparison). The viewer does not really ever get a sense of how the battle is going or what the main objectives are or what the status of the battle is at any point. Rather, Malick focuses completely on the psychological make-up of the soldiers: how they are affected by the conflict; their dreams of home; their dreams of escape; their fear; and yes their heroism as well. Malick creates a mixture of the stunning beauty of nature and the devastating violence that man brings to it with his visuals, playing into the poetic resonance of the extensive voiceover narration throughout from the perspective of multiple characters. There may never be a more visually impressive or thoughtful film made about the horrors of war.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Streaming

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