Thursday, July 31, 2014

At the Movies – August 2014 – Part 3: Most Anticipated Films

Must-See of the Month:

Guardians of the Galaxy – Action/Adventure Sci-Fi – Aug 1
Plot Summary: In deep space, an American pilot turned thief, Peter Quill, finds himself mixed up in a war for control of the galaxy. He steals a magical orb from Ronan the Accuser not knowing that the orb is a key element in Ronan’s plan to seize control. Now, Quill must join with a few other misfits to form the Guardians of the Galaxy to stop Ronan. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director James Gunn, producer Kevin Feige, and cinematographer Ben Davis. Actors Involved: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio Del Toro. Quality Potential: High. James Gunn, with past projects such as Slither and Super, is a great fit for Guardians of the Galaxy. He will bring the right mix of weird, action, and comedy to the film. And, he has a great working relationship with Marvel’s Cinematic Universe overseer Joss Whedon. Gunn has also assembled a great cast, especially for this film. Having already opened in the U.K., the film is playing to fantastic reactions from critics and fans alike. Marvel’s entire Phase II has been strong so far. There is every reason to believe that this film will follow suit. Many are comparing it to Star Wars in terms of it being a very entertaining sci-fi adventure. Trailer: Here.

Worth Checking Out:

Calvary – Drama – Aug 1
Plot Summary: Farther James Lavelle is an innocent priest in a small Irish town; however, one day he is threatened during confession – told that he will be killed at some point in the near future. Now, he must sort things out as the man or men who conspire against him close in. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director John Michael McDonagh and cinematographer Larry Smith. Actors Involved: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach De Bankole, M. Emmet Walsh, Marie-Josee Croze, and Domhnall Gleeson. Quality Potential: High. Calvary looks like a wickedly entertaining drama, with a sly dark comedy element. It has a phenomenal cast (of mostly Irish actors) and John Michael McDonagh is a great talent emerging out of Europe’s independent cinema. His first feature, The Guard, is quite good. I am very much looking forward to seeing this one. Trailer: Here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

At the Movies – August 2014 – Part 2: Hollywood Films


Get on Up – Biography/Music Drama – Aug 1
Plot Summary: This is story of musician James Brown – his rise from poverty to super stardom. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Tate Taylor and excellent composer Thomas Newman. Actors Involved: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Dan Aykroyd, and Craig Robinson. Quality Potential: Medium. Get on Up is a hard film to pin down exactly. Tate Taylor did a great job using his excellent cast in The Help, turning what easily could have been a nauseatingly clichéd, self-righteous, and preachy social drama (as so many tend to be in lesser hands) into something both entertaining and powerful (and only slightly clichéd, thanks to its typical Hollywood style narrative structure). Truly great social dramas are very difficult to make and require a very good cast and a deft directing hand. Get on Up has a decent cast and looks to be a simple biography style narrative, but is sure to have social and political themes as well. Taylor seems to be going for something dramatically ambitious, but there is just this voice in my head that is skeptical: why is this coming out in August; if it was good, really good it would be coming in the fall. This does not feel like a summer movie, and August is known for being the dumping ground for Hollywood’s lesser blockbusters/event films (Guardians of the Galaxy aside). All that said though, it does look like it could be quite good. Trailer: Here.

The Giver – Sci-Fi Drama – Aug 15
Plot Summary: Jonas has grown up in a seemingly perfect community – one without war, pain, suffering, and differences, but also one without choice. He has now come of age and has, like all the others of his age, been assigned a job within the community. He is to work with The Giver, an elderly man who keeps the memories of the old world. As The Giver shares these memories with Jonas, his world becomes illuminated and he begins to question everything. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Phillip Noyce, producer Jeff Bridges, and production designer Ed Verreaux. Actors Involved: Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgard, Taylor Swift, Katie Holmes, Meryl Streep, Jeff Briidgers, and Odeya Rush. Quality Potential: Medium. The Giver was one of my favorite books as a teenager. The film version seems unrecognizable to me (though it has been many years since I read it). It looks a bit like The Giver has been positioned to fit The Hunger Games-like young adult blockbuster model, which is fine; I am just surprised how foreign the film feels/looks based on a book I loved (but honestly have mostly forgotten). Phillip Noyce has it within himself to make strong thrillers (he has done so in the past, notably Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger) and hopefully this will be one of his good ones (as he has made a few mediocre thrillers as well). Jeff Bridges should be great as The Giver and Meryl Streep is generally very good as well. I think this will likely be a decent film – good enough but unremarkable. Trailer: Here.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Action/Adventure – Aug 8
Plot Summary: Four mutant brothers (the title is pretty much self-explanatory) fight to save New York City from the evil Shredder. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Jonathan Liebesman, producer Michael Bay, composer Brian Tyler, and production designer Neil Spisak. Actors Involved: Megan Fox, Johnny Knoxville, Alan Ritchson, William Fichtner, Will Arnett, Noel Fisher, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Shalhoub, and Jeremy Howard. Quality Potential: Low. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles looks like a typical Michael Bay style action film – all entertainment with no substance (which is probably fine for the subject matter – the original films are not that amazing either, despite what my childhood memory may say). Jonathan Liebesman is a decent action director (I quite liked Battle: Los Angeles, but I do realize that I am in the minority, and I have only seen it that one time). The cast of actors and voice actors is reasonably okay. It will be a big dumb action film for kids (with probably more violence than is appropriate for its targeted audience) – did anyone really expect a brilliant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feature film to ever come out? That is what the TV series (both the 1987 and 2012 series) are for.  Trailer: Here.

Into the Storm – Action/Thriller – Aug 8
Plot Summary: A massive super storm destroys stuff and is filmed by people with cameras, some of whom are murdered by said storm for their trouble. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Steven Quale and composer Brian Tyler. Actors Involved: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Matt Walsh. Quality Potential: Very Low. Into the Storm looks like Twister only supersized and done in the found-footage style (but not quite as low budget looking). The trailer features a tornado that looks like it is the size of an entire town, completely obliterating an airport – so there is that to look forward to and other such moments of wanton malice. Director Steven Quale also directed the feature film Final Destination 5 so he comes in with strong credentials for making terrible throwaway action thrillers. To me it seems as if someone watched Twister and thought, “Yeah, this is cool and all, but what if the tornados were even bigger and there were like ten of them on-screen at the same time! No one has made a tornado film in a while. Who even remembers Twister! That was like twenty years ago. But wait, we do not have that much money to spend…Do it as a found footage movie! Genius. This is going to be great.” How far off can this really be? Who am I kidding; it is going to be great. Trailer: Here.

The Expendalbles 3 – Action – Aug 15
Plot Summary: Barney Ross and his team murder a bunch more people gleefully. Meanwhile, Conrad Stonebanks, one of the co-founders of the Expendables, has decided that he now hates them and wants to destroy them. They shoot guns at each other, they banter, and other stuff happens. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Patrick Hughes, writer Sylvester Stallone, and composer Brian Tyler (who is apparently scoring every action film this month). Actors Involved: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crewes, Kelsey Grammer, Robert Davi, and Randy Couture. Quality Potential: Low. If you have seen The Expendables and The Expendables 2 then you pretty much know what to expect from The Expendables 3, only slightly crummier. Patrick Hughes is step down from Simon West, who was a step down from Stallone. The Expendables 4 is already in the works. It will never end. Trailer: Here.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – Action Crime Thriller – Aug 22
Plot Summary: A few of Sin City’s heroes team up to take down a few of its villains. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Frank Miller and director-composer-cinematographer-editor Robert Rodriguez.  Actors Involved: Eva Green, Juno Temple, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin, Jaime King, Jamie Chung, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Lady Gaga, Marton Csokas, Jeremy Piven, Dennis Haysbert, Stacy Keach, and Powers Boothe. Quality Potential: Medium. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is Frank Miller’s third directorial feature project. His last, which he directed alone, was the awful yet visually ambitious The Spirit. For this film, however, he is again reteaming with Robert Rodriguez (the pair also made Sin City, which was well received). The film looks to exhibit the same dark pop art style, personifying a comic book on the screen. The cast is quite good and the actors should have some great characters to work with thanks to Miller’s hard-boiled writing. There are not too many good film noir films these days; this very well could be one if it can capture the same magic as its predecessor. Trailer: Here.


Let’s Be Cops – Action Comedy – Aug 15
Plot Summary: It is Halloween. Two friends must decide: dress as ghosts or cops. They choose cops; however, they quickly realize that in their cop costumes everyone seems to assume that they are actually cops. Having a great time, they decide to be fake cops full time. It all seems like fun and games until they get pulled into the real world of gangsters and dirty detectives. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Luke Greenfield and producer Simon Kinberg. Actors Involved: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr., Nina Dobrev, Andy Garcia, James D’Arcy, Rob Riggle, and Jonathan Lajoie. Quality Potential: Medium. Let’s Be Cops looks a lot like another action comedy that already came out this year 22 Jump Street, but I think it looks much funnier. New Girl castmates Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. have great chemistry and play off each other well. Luke Greenfield, as many may remember as the director of The Girl Next Door, directs his first feature screenplay which he co-wrote with Nicholas Thomas. This film, if it does turn out to be as fun as it looks, should play as a nice change of pace to the other Hollywood releases this month. I think it looks hysterically entertaining. Trailer: Here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

At the Movies – August 2014 – Part 1: Independent Films

Art-House Dramas:

Love Is Strange – Romantic Drama – Aug 22
Plot Summary: Ben and George finally get married; however, as an unintended consequence George is fired from his job (a music teaching post at a religious institution). Now, they must look for a cheaper place to live and sell theirs. In the meantime, they must individually stay with assorted friends and family members, creating strain on all involved. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Ira Sachs. Actors Involved: Alfred Molina, John Lithgow, and Marisa Tomei. Quality Potential: High. Love Is Strange has played to mostly applause from audiences during its advanced screening. It has, however, played to high praise from critics. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are both fantastic actors and give wonderfully rich performances in this film. It is probably worth checking out for those that enjoy lighter character dramas. Trailer: Here.

Art-House Comedies:

What If – Romantic Dramedy – Aug 1
Plot Summary: Wallace, a former medical student, has never had any luck in love. He has repeatedly been hurt. Chantry, an animator, lives happily with her boyfriend Ben. Wallace and Chantry meet and there is an instant spark. They become fast friends – best friends. There is, however, a nagging thought in both their minds – what if your best friend is really the love of your life? It is complicated. They do not want to ruin their friendship and Chantry is already in a good relationship, but again there is no denying their chemistry. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Michael Dowse. Actors Involved: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Mackenzie Davis, Adam Driver, Oona Chaplin, Megan Park, and Rafe Spall. Quality Potential: Medium. What If on paper sounds incredibly clichéd – the embodiment of the typical rom-com (which on average have been pretty bad recently) – but, it does have a great cast and looks very fun. I love romantic comedies (undeterred by the constant stream of poor films from the genre, as gems still come about from time to time like last year’s About Time). This is one I am excited to see (though, as a rental). The film’s director, Michael Dowse, has a talent for comedy, previously making the very funny sports comedy Goon (although, to be fair and balanced, he also made Take Me Home Tonight before that, which is unwatchable). Trailer: Here.

Frank – Mystery Dramedy – Aug 15
Plot Summary: Jon wants to be a musician. That is all he wants. So, like any other young aspiring star, he joins a band. There is just one strange thing about this eccentric pop group – it is led by the odd, mysterious, and enigmatic Frank (a man who constantly wears a paper-mache head; in fact, he never takes it off). Jon becomes fascinated by Frank, but at the same time things begin to get a bit out-of-hand and he starts to think that maybe he is in too deep. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Lenny Abrahamson. Actors Involved: Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Scoot McNairy. Quality Potential: Medium. Frank looks far too odd for any kind of mainstream success, but it also looks kind of fantastic. It has performed well critically in the UK (where it opened in May). Irish independent director Lenny Abraamson is on the verge of potentially becoming a star (following this with the highly anticipated indie film Room), and the film’s cast is top notch (Michael Fassbender in particular gives a phenomenal performance – one in which the viewer does not see his face). I am highly intrigued by the film – its great cast, director, and the incredibly bizarre energy it seems to possess. I want to see it. Trailer: Here.

The Trip to Italy – Road Comedy – Aug 15
Plot Summary:  Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon get together again this time to do a culinary road trip through Italy. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Michael Winterbottom. Actors Involved: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Quality Potential: High. The Trip to Italy is the follow up to The Trip by the collaborating group of Coogan, Brydon, and Winterbottom – it is their third (the three also made Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story; Coogan and Winterbottom also worked together on 24 Hour Party People). The Trip was hilarious and made me very envious of the food they got to eat. The Trip to Italy looks to be just as funny and feature food that looks even more delicious. I should take a culinary trip through Italy. Trailer: Here.

Life After Beth – Horror Romantic Comedy – Aug 15
Plot Summary: Beth dies. Her boyfriend Zach grieves her death, but then begins to suspect that her parents are keeping a secret from him. He investigates to find something very surprising: Beth has mysteriously returned from the dead. At first, Zach is elated to have Beth back, but he then comes to realize something: she is a zombie and not the girl he loved. Key Filmmakers Involved: Writer-director Jeff Baena. Actors Involved: Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Alia Shawkat, John C. Reilly, Cheryl Hines, Molly Shannon, and Paul Reiser. Quality Potential: Medium. Life After Beth performed well at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, garnering audience and critical praise. It looks very fun, blending the typical rom-com with zombie horror (in a way, it sort of reminds me of the Community Halloween special from season two:  Epidemiology – or of course My Boyfriend’s Back). Jeff Baena makes his directorial debut (he previously wrote I Heart Huckabees – which seems to have the same sort of slightly insane energy) and has put together a great comedic cast. I am looking forward to seeing it. Trailer: Here.  

The One I Love – Mystery Romance Dramedy – Aug 15
Plot Summary: Ethan and Sophie are struggling with marriage. Their couples’ counsellor suggests that they take a vacation to beautiful house that has worked for past patients. The two embark on a weekend to find their better selves, only to make a startling discovery. The house has some sort of magical property. Now, everything about the weekend starts to become a bit mad cap, but maybe they will find their way through the madness. Key Filmmakers Involved: Director Charlie McDowell and executive producers Jay and Mark Duplass. Actors Involved: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, and Ted Danson. Quality Potential: Medium. The One I Love has played well for critics during its advanced screening. It looks, like a couple of the indie films this month, a bit insane. Duplass claims that it is best to approach this film not really knowing anything about it. I definitely want to see it (I am also a big fan of Elisabeth Moss’s work). Trailer: Here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Movie of the Week – Foreign Correspondent

This week’s movie: Foreign Correspondent (1940)

As WWII approaches in Europe, a young American reporter on his first assignment overseas tries to expose enemy spies in London.

Director Alfred Hitchcock made Foreign Correspondent between Rebecca and Suspicion. It was his second American film – he was loaned out by David O. Selznick to Walter Wanger to make the film. He worked with his frequent early-career writing partner Charles Bennett, as well as composer Alfred Newman (a nine time Oscar winner), cinematographer Rudolph Mate (who also shot one of the most brilliant films of all-time: The Passion of Joan of Arc), and art director Alexander Golitzen – an impressive group.

The film stars Joel McCrea and Laraine Day, and features Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, and Albert Bassermann in support.

Foreign Correspondent is an interesting film for multiple reasons. Chiefly, it is a propaganda film (even more so than The Lady Vanishes, which can be read as a propaganda film to some extent as well, especially the end sequence), clearly aimed at winning over American audiences, rallying them to the support of England and their struggle against the Nazis. And yet, Hitchcock was not allowed to reference the villains as Germans or have them speak German by the Production Code, even though it is clear that they are Germans. The film is very effective, with Joel McCrea’s rousing call to arms at the end hitting all the right notes (although, today one might argue that it is a bit heavy handed – but in the context of the time, America really did need to be awoken from its stupor). Even though this is a propaganda film, Hitchcock does not let that stop him from making something that is aesthetically and artistically quite compelling. The plane crash scene is incredibly inventive for example. It is a must for Hitchcock fans (a few other deep cuts worth seeing include: The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, The Trouble with Harry, Marnie, Torn Curtain, and especially Frenzy).

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Friday, July 25, 2014

Top 100 Films of the 20th Century – Part 19: 15-11

Rank: 15
Release Year: 1954
Genre: Samurai
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Plot Summary: A poor village is under constant attack by bandits, so they hire seven unemployed samurai to defend the community.
What Makes It Special: It is easy to call Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai the greatest samurai film of all-time or the director’s most impressive masterpiece. The film is on one hand an epic action film that slowly builds to its brilliant and entertaining climax and on the other hand it is a beautiful piece about humanity. Kurosawa always played with richly textured characters, even when making what could be called a grand action film rather than a character drama; but Kurosawa balances it so well that it plays as both (when appropriate).
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 14
Title: Persona
Release Year: 1966
Genre: Thriller
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Plot Summary: Alma is a nurse put in charge of famous movie star Elisabet Vogler who is on the verge of a complete mental breakdown. At present, Vogler cannot even speak (this condition befalling her in the middle of her latest movie role). As Alma cares for her, she finds that her persona and Volger’s begin to blend, making it difficult to tell them apart.
What Makes It Special: Persona is a visually striking film – one that is also very unnerving and creepy. It is maybe the scariest film that was not made to be scary in the classical sense. Ingmar Bergman uses surreal and dreamlike imagery to both seduce and unhinge the viewer. Reality and illusion become indistinguishable. The film is raw, intimate, and unforgettable.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 13
Title: Tokyo Story
Release Year: 1953
Genre: Drama
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Plot Summary: An elderly couple decides to take a trip to the city to visit their children and grandchildren but find that the children are all too wrapped up in their own lives to take the time to be with them.
What Makes It Special: With Tokyo Story Yasujiro Ozu makes a film examines the post-WWII middle-class Japanese family dynamic. It is wholly compelling, as generational and personal barriers are put up and excuses made to limit true interaction between people, even those most beloved, all in the name of self-importance above all else (our own lives always feel more important than anything else to us). Ozu’s rigid directional style only exaggerates the space between characters. 1950s Japan was culturally very reserved, but Ozu is able to create a film that is still very powerful dramatically by really getting at the heart of what his characters feel and experience. Tokyo Story should feel foreign and yet its emotions, characters, and family dynamic resonate just as strongly today. Ozu addresses universal human truths that cross generations and cultures.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 12
Release Year: 1974
Genre: Gangster
Plot Summary: Michael Corleone takes tighter control of his family (crime syndicate); while back in the 1920s New York Michael’s father Vito gets his start as a gangster.
What Makes It Special: The Godfather: Part II is generally the film that comes to mind when critics discuss the best sequel of all-time – many even putting it ahead of The Godfather (although, I might retort that The Godfather: Part II’s narrative is dependent on The Godfather’s and thus is subservient to it). It is an astonishing character drama, as the audience seeing Michael transformation juxtaposed to his father’s. The film is also a stellar gangster genre piece, Francis Ford Coppola creating many iconic sequences and moments. It is magnificent aesthetically as well.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 11
Title: Taxi Driver
Release Year: 1976
Genre: Crime Drama
Director: Martin Scorsese
Plot Summary: Travis Bickle is a mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran who finds himself in New York working the night-shift as a taxi driver. The decaying city that Bickle perceives weighs heavily upon his subconscious driving him to violence. He also becomes infatuated with a young prostitute named Iris; thinking of himself as the hero, he wants to save her from her life on the streets.
What Makes It Special: Taxi Driver is a hypnotic film that plays in the darkness. The cinematography, score, writing, Martin Scorsese’s directing, and Robert De Niro’s performance are all stunning. Scorsese presents New York City as a cesspool (a common perception of the time period), creating feelings of extreme loneliness, anger, and paranoia in Travis Bickle’s mind. His isolation has a duality – it both makes him a sympathetic character for the audience to follow and maybe even root for and it drives Bickle mad and to violence as a means of push back against the oppressiveness of the city that seems to bleakly strangle him with its perceived corrupting filth. Bickle is sympathetic but also volatile and dangerous. Scorsese has created a hero who is also the villain with Bickle. Taxi Driver is a grim, unsettling look at humanity stripped of basic compassion, and it is electric.  
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Top 100 Films of the 20th Century – Part 18: 20-16

Rank: 20
Release Year: 1948
Genre: Romance/Drama/Ballet
Plot Summary: Victoria Page is a young ballerina who is discovered by ballet impresario Boris Lermontov, who asks for nothing less than her full devotion to her art. He has devised a new ballet just for her – The Red Shoes; however, during production, she falls in love with the equally up-and-coming composer Julian Craster (who is composing the score for the ballet). She is torn between the two. Lermontov will make her a superstar, but asks everything, while Craster is the man that she loves. Her art or Her heart?
What Makes It Special: The Red Shoes is one of the most beautiful films ever created. Powell & Pressburger are masters of cinema, especially their Technicolor films (always working with wonderful collaborators). This is their finest. The ballet scenes alone are breathtaking. The drama is all consuming as it engages its viewers on a deeply emotional level. The Red Shoes is a flawless film of aesthetic beauty, technical craftsmanship, and dramatic power. The score is also among cinema’s very best.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 19
Release Year: 1956
Genre: Western
Director: John Ford
Plot Summary: Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards sets off on a harrowing journey to rescue his niece from a Comanche tribe that has taken her prisoner during a raid, accompanied by his nephew Martin (who is 1/8th Indian himself). What first seems like an act of heroism turns dark when Edwards’s hatred for the Indians begins to boil over. As their search begins to take over a year, a question starts to form in Martin’s mind – is Edwards searching for his niece, who has certainly been assimilated by the Indians, to bring her home or kill her.
What Makes It Special: The Searchers is in many ways the quintessential Western, made by the genre’s most iconic team: John Ford and John Wayne. What makes it interesting, however, is that Ford takes the classic cowboys and Indians dynamic (the cowboys being heroes and the Indians villains) and starts to dig deeper into it, revealing something much darker and warped. The film also speaks to the true darkness within man (as Edwards gets a special pleasure from killing Indians), even one whose motives may at first appear heroic and even moral. All this is set against the stunning visuals of Arizona’s Monument Valley, producing a film that is both aesthetically and dramatically striking.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 18
Release Year: 1959
Genre: Drama
Plot Summary: Antoine Doinel just cannot find his place. He does not like school and is mostly ignored at home. In an effort to find something new and meaningful, he runs away from home, turning to a life of petty crime to get by.
What Makes It Special: The 400 Blows launched the French New Wave movement with Francois Truffaut as its primary architect. Simply, this is a story about growing up and finding oneself (one’s liberty in an oppressive world), but Truffaut took French cinema and completely revolutionized it with this simple story. He made a film that feels vital, vibrant, and visceral. It feels real. Truffaut shot the film in the streets of Paris using real people and real life situations. It is refreshingly brand new, influencing independent cinema and future filmmakers across the world.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 17
Release Year: 1928
Genre: Drama
Plot Summary: After Jeanne d’Arc was captured, she was put on trial for heresy in 15th Century France. This film chronicles the trial as her ecclesiastical jurists try to force her to recant her claims of holy visions.
What Makes It Special: The Passion of Joan of Arc from Danish auteur Carl Theodor Dreyer is possibly the most emotionally powerful and overwhelming film ever made, many calling Maria Falconetti’s performance the greatest in film history (in all earnestness, she is not an actress playing a role, but the embodiment of Jeanne – scared, alone, and filled with an unyielding sorrow for what has befallen her). The title is a play on the trial of Jesus Crist leading to his death. Similarly, Jeanne d’Arc is abused, tortured, and humiliated all before being burned at the stake. The film is devastating, profound, and extraordinary. Dreyer showcases the power of the close-up, utilizing it to its most compelling effect, changing cinema’s narrative language forever. He also used distorted camera angles to create emotional reactions in viewers – a whole atmosphere of the utmost sincerity juxtaposed by the cruelty of man. The film is a plea to humanity to turn away from the bitter hubris that seems to rule (something that allows man to judge, hate, persecute, and even murder those that are perceived different than themselves, often in the name of God – these prejudices and hatred shame and scar us all).
Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD

Rank: 16
Release Year: 1948
Genre: Drama
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Plot Summary: Living in Italy’s economic post-war depression, Antonio Ricci finally gets a job (which means everything to the survival of his family); however, a thief steals his bicycle – vital to his job. Now, he and his son must search the city for his bicycle or watch as his job goes to someone else and his family back into destituteness.
What Makes It Special: Bicycles Thieves (or sometimes called The Bicycle Thief) looks at post-WWII Italy – the national shame and economic depression that had overtaken the country. It is a poignant story of desperation in the face of overwhelming poverty. Vittorio De Sica wanted to tell stories about the average Italian, giving birth to Italian Neoralism, focusing on the poor and working class. He filmed on location with non-professional actors, striving to give a voice to the changing Italian psyche and to expose the conditions of their everyday lives. The film is incredibly touching and powerful, and ultimately effective both narratively and emotionally.
Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD and Video On-Demand

Top 100 Films of the 20th Century – Part 17: 25-21

Rank: 25
Title: City Lights
Release Year: 1931
Genre: Comedy
Director: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, and Harry Myers
Plot Summary: The Tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl, trying his very best to help her.
What Makes It Special: In addition to being a beautiful love story and very funny, City Lights is just a plain wonderful cinematic experience. Charles Chaplin’s The Tramp character is at his very best, most touching, and most hysterically funny in what is possibly the auteur’s greatest achievement (although, as you will see, I do have Modern Times ranked slightly higher). The film transcends the limitations of silent film (or perceived limitations, as some of cinema’s most artistically compelling films were made during the silent era) resonating on a deeply emotional level. It is an incredibly charming piece that pulls its audience in and never lets them go all the way through its utterly brilliant ending. City Lights is the gateway by which all other fantastic silent film comedies can be accessed and appreciated. It is almost impossible not to be consumed, changed, and illuminated by the film.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 24
Title: Psycho
Release Year: 1960
Genre: Horror/Mystery
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Plot Summary: Marion Crane just wants to escape her life in Phoenix. She steals $40,000 from her place of work and goes on the run, checking into a small motel along the road. The motel is operated by Norman Bates, a man who appears to be dominated by his overbearing mother. Marion is almost home free until Norman takes a special interest in her.
What Makes It Special: Psycho is iconic for so many reasons and forever changed horror cinema. Its score from composer Bernard Herrmann alone is universally known today in addition to many of its famous scenes. It is funny then that auteur Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous and successful film was also one of his hardest to get made. The studios would not touch it, even after he had just made the very successful North by Northwest. Hitchcock had to fund the film himself and to save money he shot it on Universal’s backlot with his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television crew. The lack of money and time seems to have invigorated Hitchcock, as it is one of his most innovative and aesthetically interesting films of his later career (something true too of Frenzy).
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 23
Title: Modern Times
Release Year: 1936
Genre: Comedy
Director: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin and Paulette Goddard
Plot Summary: The Tramp desperately tries to survive the oppression of modern industrial society. His only salvation comes in the form of a young homeless woman he meets.
What Makes It Special: Just above I called City Lights Charles Chaplin’s (possibly) greatest achievement, so then why is Modern Times ranked slightly higher? Well, Modern Times is equally as powerful emotionally as City Lights; it is just as funny; and, the love story is touching as well. What Modern Times has over all other Chaplin films are two things. First, it features Chaplin’s most engaging comedy bits. Everything in the factory is brilliant and I particularly love his scene on roller skates in the department store. Second, Modern Times has a powerful social and political message, coming out right in the middle of America’s Great Depression essentially as a plead for help for the poor and unfortunate consumed, crushed, and spit out by the industrial age. Chaplin was never one to shy away from making a social and/or political statement – just look at films like The Great Dictator or the ending of Monsieur Verdoux (something that eventually led to him, in part, being deported from the United States – J. Edgar Hoover just plain did not like him, thought he was a communist, and went out of his way to tarnish and destroy him). Modern Times is eternally hopefully in the face of the crippling economic depression and oppression – that is its most American quality, to find hope and optimism for the future even when by all rights there should not be any.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 22
Release Year: 1966
Genre: War Drama
Director: Gillo Pontecorvo
Plot Summary: The people of Algeria (and more specifically the people of its capitol city Algiers) fight for their independence from the French government.
What Makes It Special: With The Battle of Algiers Gillo Pontecorvo has made a narrative film that feels like a historical documentary (though no documentary footage is used in the film). It is so visceral, vibrant, and authentic that the actors feel real; the violence feels horrifying; and, the call for independence is palpable. Even more impressive is that the film does not take political sides. The camera merely observes instead putting the burden of conviction on the viewer. It is a one-of-a-kind film that has never been equaled in terms of filmmakers recreating true events.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 21
Release Year: 1929
Genre: Montage
Director: Dziga Vertov
Plot Summary: A cameraman travels around the city documenting urban life.
What Makes It Special: Man with a Movie Camera is the most abstract of the films on this list. It is not really a narrative film as there is no real story; rather, the film is an exploration of life in the Soviet Union and the creative possibilities of the movie camera. Dziga Vertov mostly made documentaries, but with this film he wanted to probe the narrative power of montage, yielding a film that is quite striking and profound. It is an art film way ahead of its time.
Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD and Video On-Demand