Artimidor's 111+ Movie Masterpieces, Reviews & Trailers

Welcome to my personal list of pictures of all time greatest cinematic accomplishments, including films or - in rare cases - film series made for TV which are worth watching for everyone interested in great film making. The list of movies below demonstrates my genuine appreciation of the picture in motion as an art form, which is why the given examples need to excel in multiple fields to be worth recommending. I also try to provide short introductions to every film with my reasons for selecting them, and hope to expand and refine this list as I go along in order to make this an indispensable reference guide for every movie aficionado's perusal. I hope you enjoy the selection and it makes you want to set out on your personal journey and explore some perhaps still uncharted waters in the realm of cinema. Here's a map.

Latest additions/review updates:
2016/03/14 ~ #100 - The Naked Island (Shindô, 1960)
2015/08/24 ~ #041 - Once Upon a Time in America (Leone, 1984) [Updated]
2015/08/17 ~ #105 - Drifting Clouds (Kaurismäki, 1996)
2015/04/15 ~ #104 - Tarnation (Caouette, 2003)
2014/12/24 ~ #013 - Seven Up! (Apted, 1964-2012) [Updated]

Reviews coming up:
My Life as a Dog (Hallström, 1985)

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Movie Ranks 1-100, 101-200

Webmaster of the Santharian Dream

P.S.: Feel free to make suggestions and recommendations or check out my other lists:

- Complete Film Ratings by Director
- Essential TV series
- Unforgettable Moments (cinema's finest scenes)
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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
Humanity finds a mysterious, obviously artificial object buried beneath the Lunar surface and, with the intelligent computer H.A.L. 9000, sets off on a quest. (149 mins.)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
“ One of the brightest shining stars in movie history
In hypothetical 2001 Stanley Kubrick takes you on a unique journey into the unknown, far out there in the vast reaches of our universe, where man is alone with himself - or is it? Paying close attention to scientific accuracy Kubrick's vision of the future feels so close to reality that it is still convincing many years after the year 2001 actually has passed, setting the benchmark way up for everyone else who should try to follow up with sci-fi approaches put to celluloid. But whoever might try their hands on a similar subject, the supreme beauty of what sprang from Kubrick's ingenuity will always be something to marvel at. Remember that the mother of all space operas was produced at a historic time shortly before man made his first step on the moon - and since then "2001" has remained the unparalleled sci-fi revelation not only due to its highly effective realism, but also its sophistication, depth and audio-visual magnificence, all rolled into one.

Yet undoubtedly "2001" is so much more than just a perfectly executed sci-fi picture. It's a voyage dealing not only with space exploration, but also with evolution, belief, artificial intelligence, alien life forms, metaphysics, philosophy, in short: man himself, his aspirations and challenges - and tries to point into what lies beyond. Or - if you want - one can still enjoy the picture just as the ultimate adventure. Take your pick! Feel free to draw your own conclusions, but there's a lot to get out of this multilayered film, providing you are ready to put your mind to it. "2001" is a movie for the ages, a sublime experience of transcendency, a film that represents the epitome of art in terms of film-making, best summarized with one single word: a masterpiece.

Watch trailer here: (Re-Release 2014) ” - Artimidor
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
After a car wreck on the winding Mulholland Drive renders a woman amnesiac, she and a perky Hollywood-hopeful search for clues and answers across Los Angeles in a twisting venture beyond dreams and reality. (147 mins.)
Director: David Lynch
“ A deep dive into a dream world - David Lynch at his very best
Hollywood, the city where dreams come true. Yet the realities of the dream world have the tendency to eventually turn into a nightmare, a nightmare which is too real to be lived in... Welcome to a David Lynch picture, where nothing is as it seems, and Lynchian logic reigns to leave you befuddled, mystified, mouth agape when the curtain falls and silence spreads. Mulholland Drive is a movie which engulfs the viewer in its intricate mystery plot like no other and leaves you with a load of memorable, haunting or outright shocking images you will never forget. You might be caught off guard by the true nature of the underlying mystery, and the denouement will keep you mesmerized for sure, making a re-watch essential, yet rewarding experience. As often with an excentric filmmaker's work, this is a movie to only get going in your head once it's already over, and if you're willing to get immersed in it.

Lynch's masterpiece invites to dig deeper, to uncover new layers, hidden references, multiple interpretations. The film is as psychologically profound as it is visually stunning and while it draws its fascination from what appears surreal at first glance, it is nevertheless firmly embedded in a reality that won't let us go, blood-curdling as it might turn out, a reality full of hopes, dreams, obsessions, fear, you name it. "Mulholland Drive" is packed with great imagery, dark humor, wonderful music and bizarre twists and turns and stars Naomi Watts in her most brilliant role. It's a blessing indeed that Mulholland Dr. as a TV series as Lynch original envisioned and pitched it, didn't happen and he had to rethink his ideas for a year - because that was when lightning struck. Pure movie magic. This one's a keeper.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
An innocent young man witnesses violence breaks out after an isolated village is inflamed by the arrival of a circus and its peculiar attractions, a giant whale and a mysterious man named "The Prince". (145 mins.)
“ An intense look into the eye of the storm
"Werckmeister Harmonies" tells a tale like no other in a way like no one else has ever done before. If you're ready for a very different kind of art, feel free to follow a humble paper boy with the sense for wonder on his rounds. He has a clear picture in mind of what makes the universe tick, a strong belief that everything follows its preordained order, is in eternal harmony, a concept the musicologist he's working for vehemently denies - or at least that man is capable to understand it. Signs and portents already make it clear that the times are achanging, and soon shadows engulf an unnamed town in the middle of nowhere, when a circus arrives with a monstrous fish to be exhibited. And thus the young János sets out to see a whale, but what he'll get is a glimpse of an alienating apocalyptical eclipse happening right before his eyes...

"Werckmeister Harmonies" is another highly politically, philosophically, existentially, even religiously charged work, depending which way you want to see it, made by the visionary Hungarian director Béla Tarr. Based on the novel "The Melancholy of Resistance" written by long-time collaborator László Krasznahorkai it is as uncompromising as the original text and Tarr's previous cinematic works, and will bring your attention span to its limits due to its extremely slow, yet sublimely otherworldly pace. As always when Krasznahorkai and Tarr set out on a new project, the action is of profound metaphysical relevance with cosmological principles at war, but nevertheless deeply rooted in social realism, in which one can read Hungarian disenchanted life before and/or after the fall of communism, references to wars and uprisings, to false prophets, fools and opportunists pulling the strings from behind the curtain. What is apparent from the get-go is that the film defies conventions. Stylistically it is nothing less than a revelation, even for Tarr adepts, provided you admit to the created mood. Photography is in striking black and white, all around aesthetically superb essays in motion - and above all perfectly timed, an essential key element in shots that last several minutes. Every scene forms a visual unit in itself, composed meticulously, executed flawlessly, enhanced either by absolute silence, precise sound or Mihály Vig's incomparable melancholic music on the soundtrack. "Werckmeister Harmonies" is much more than a movie, a unique work of art that delves deep and stirs profoundly. Essential viewing.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
A chronicle of the trial of Jeanne d'Arc on charges of heresy, and the efforts of her ecclesiastical jurists to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions. (110 mins.)
Director: Carl Th. Dreyer
“ Timeless mysticism founded in stark realism
The saint Maid of Orléans' legend has been filmed many times, but no version can hold a candle to Dreyer's groundbreaking silent take on the subject matter. What the ingenious Dane himself dubbed "psychological realism" and "realized mysticism" is a masterfully shot close-up feast generating an overwhelming flood of imagery, a lead that Dreyer called the "martyr's reincarnation herself" (the incomparable Renee Falconetti) and powerful re-enactment of original dialog transcribed at the trial in 1431. But it's also a forthright picture sans make-up, sound, not even a backstory is there, but all of it is lacking for a reason. "The Passion of Joan of Arc" is completely focused film-making, minimalism in its purest form, centering entirely on a core theme and thus radically eliminating all other elements that hinder the primary endeavor. Even the sets only seem to exist merely on the fringe of the spiritual drama and tragedy, which unfolds through the eyes of the actors via glimmers, flickers and stares. Confronted with piercing questions again and again circling like vultures above the torn state of mind of the famous maid, Joan's soul is revealed to us. Enlightened or a lunatic is not for the film-maker to decide. However, simplicity elevated to a film-making method makes our own observations a devastating and spellbinding journey at the same time, a journey into another world from where there is no escape. What we witness is indeed timeless mysticism founded in stark reality, and that's why it shakes us to the bone.

Dreyer preferred the picture to be shown in dead silence, which makes "Joan of Arc" work as a highly contemplative, almost tangible spiritual experience of the first rank. Nevertheless several composers have tried to provide a score to this masterpiece, giving the scenes a completely new spin - all very diverse attempts, ranging from piano accompaniment to very modern interpretations. The definitive one of these is Richard Einhorn's orchestral choir supported "Voices of Light" soundtrack (1995), a masterpiece in itself, but together with Dreyer's intimate rendering of Joan of Arc's devotion to her belief an entirely new sublime work of art emerges. Completely silent or with the Einhorn score: there's no way around Falconetti's soulful portrayal in one of the greatest films of all time.

Scene from Joan of Arc (Einhorn score): ” - Artimidor
Amélie (2001)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
Amélie is an innocent and naive girl in Paris with her own sense of justice. She decides to help those around her and, along the way, discovers love. (122 mins.)
“ Angels have names too: this one's called Amélie
Romantic comedies rarely make it to anyone's serious top ten list, as movies of that kind cater to specific expectations and do not attempt to be anything else. But of course there's the exception to the rule: Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "Amélie". It's the movie about the search for happiness, about small things, about dreams tucked neatly under the surface of reality which want out, also a training video for wanna-be mortal angels: "Amélie" is the ultimate reminder of carpe diem, to seize the day and play an active role in the fortune of others and one's self, providing instructions on how to glue together broken personalities. Recounted in voice-overs, embedded in fantastic music that is as French as it can be, the movie is filmed with an incredible love for detail and quirkiness a viewer can handle in two hours: Learn fascinating facts about nothing particularly important, appreciate how different things happen at the same time all around Paris, meet traveling garden-gnomes, horses riding in the Tour de France.

Audrey Tautou was born for the role of jaunty Amélie, and she would work again with Jeunet in "Un long dimanche de fiançailles" - however, you cannot copy the magic of the first film. Jeunet always takes risks with ideas, sometimes going too far in a direction the audience isn't ready to go with him. He should receive his merits for trying, though. Because every now and then idea, story, actors, combined with the incomparable image laden style Jeunet puts on the screen, come together, and the result is a film as breathtaking as "Amélie".

Watch trailers here: ” - Artimidor
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
In future Britain, Alex DeLarge, a charismatic and psycopath delinquent, who likes to practice crimes and ultra-violence with his gang, is jailed and volunteers for an experimental aversion therapy developed by the government in an effort to solve society's crime problem - but not all goes according to plan. (136 mins.)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
“ Controversial, essential, brilliantly scored, wonderfully shot - a must-see!
"A Clockwork Orange" is an ingenious film-makers's masterclass. It's a captivating high-speed ultra-horror tour de force, a raw, grisly plunge into violence, in-out sex, rape and murder, a fall into nothingness, there and back again, accompanied by doom a-knocking with the sound of the Funeral Marsh of Queen Mary. There's also lots of Ludwig van in between in a central role, making "A Clockwork Orange" one of the best scored pictures of all time. The topic at hand is a sci-fi tale about gruesome violence based on Anthony Burgess' book, which director Stanley Kubrick made too frighteningly real for some, sugared by the film's aestheticism of violence, critics say he thus embellished despicable acts. This forced Kubrick to retract his own movie in the UK in order to prevent copycats from imitating the film - a circumstance, which of course only contributed to its undisputed cult status. "A Clockwork Orange" was a risky undertaking, a film that stirred, shocked, repelled or was loved all for the wrong reasons, but there is no way around it any way you look at it.

From the first hundred percent orange screen in movie history, to Malcolm McDowell's first shot revealing him sitting in the Korova Milk Bar with his droogies, to Jesus statues dancing thanks to changing camera angles and quick cuts and "Singing in the Rain" - in every little moment of the movie there's no doubt that a master is at work.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
When an open-minded Jewish librarian and his son become victims of the Holocaust, he uses a perfect mixture of will, humor and imagination to protect his son from the dangers around their camp. (116 mins.)
Director: Roberto Benigni
“ Holocaust meets comedy and someone who can pull it off
Question: Is there any conceivable way at all to combine the holocaust with comedy and get laughs out of it? Well, not really I'd say, not without completely sacrificing the unspeakable horrors the concept of organized mass murder stands for. One shouldn't even try. If you look closer at Roberto Benigni's "Life is Beautiful" you will see that such an attempt isn't actually made either in this film. It's not about ridiculing Nazis, confronting them with their own absurdities or pretend to go along with their ideas to make the underlying idiocy apparent. This is just a means. Rather the film creates a parallel, carefree world alongside the horrific reality of the Nazis, which is upheld by the central character Guido (played by Benigni himself), a clown at heart. All this in order to keep up the illusion of a perfect world for his son Giosué in the face of impending doom. "Ah, the train ride was no good," the father admits to his son when they arrive at the concentration camp. "When we go back we take the bus. I'll tell them!" And when young Giosué wants to quit what Guido has convinced him to be just a game, his father is the first one to head out: "We're in the lead now, but well, we won't get the big prize then. Too bad." And suddenly Giosué reconsiders.

Roberto Benigni undoubtedly is a brilliant comedian. He's unforgettable e.g. in Jim Jarmusch's "Night on Earth" as a crazy cab driver to name just one example, but unfortunately his talent is often wasted in various light comedies. Great opportunities arise rarely for comedians, but Benigni grabbed this one and put all his heart into it, as director and actor. Contrasting his slapstick humor with the stark, painful reality of the Nazi's final solution to the Jew problem is daring, risky and extremely difficult to pull off. Thanks, Roberto Benigni, for giving the impossible a try. Highest recommendations!

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his children against prejudice. (129 mins.)
Director: Robert Mulligan
“ A masterpiece about childhood, racism, prejudice, integrity and love
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of the few examples where novel and movie for one really have something to say and where both versions are outstanding achievements in their own right. Harper Lee's bestseller won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and the movie - made with Lee's full support and produced with the same love for the material - received eight well deserved nominations for the Academy Award. The film won three, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck, a portrayal tailored so convincingly after Harper Lee's real life father that a lifelong friendship between actor and writer developed. Even Peck's granddaughter would bear the name "Harper", to appreciate the mutual appreciation. Family is also on the forefront of the film: Peck really epitomizes the role of the Southern lawyer Atticus Finch who is set to defend a black man accused of raping a while girl, convinced of his innocence. Finch has two children he needs to teach values of humanity, and these are based on compassion, courage and fighting for the right cause - against all odds. Actor and character shared these principles, and it shows.

What makes book and movie so special is that everything is seen through the eyes of the children rather than from a more objective perspective. That way the storytelling provides an unusual and fresh angle when we find ourselves stumbling into events more or less by accident and learn what's really at stake as the youngsters go along. Yet while Atticus' fight against prejudices may seem to be doomed, hope never dies - and it is a given that the viewer will walk away deeply moved by this picture. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a masterpiece about childhood, racism, prejudice, integrity and love, and it excels in dealing with all of the mentioned categories. Whether in form of the novel or the film, "To Kill a Mockingbird" should be integral part of anyone's education.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Dekalog (1989 Mini-Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.1/10 X  
Ten television drama films, each one based on one of the Ten Commandments. (572 mins.)
“ At the very heart of the matter of moral dilemmas
With "The Decalogue" former documentary filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski and writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz tried their hands on an innovative TV concept for Polish television with the main focus on addressing moral issues the individual is facing. The result is a seminal series of ten small films where the protagonists are confronted with various dilemmas, forced to make decisions with ramifications on their own lives and the lives of others. Each of these films is a little gem in itself, and the entire lot put together provides even more weight. The episodes don't necessarily represent each of the ten Christian commandments as the title of the series might suggest, but rather it's a healthy mixture of them all, of universal value and accessible to everyone. Made in Poland in the eighties, before the time Kieslowski became known to a broader audience, the films' strong point is to show the lives of ordinary people living in the same block of buildings, doing their everyday business. Add in a dramatic ingredient dished out by fate or caused by human nature - death, illness, tragedy, hope, love to name examples - and a person's life takes another turn, gets unhinged or shifts focus. Paths formerly unexplored need to be considered and taken, often by the individual alone.

One of the great things about these small films is that "The Decalogue" uses actors you'll probably never see anywhere else again (unless you explore Kieslowski's other works), a fact that makes all these stories look as if they are taken straight out of life, portrayed by and meant for actual living people. Also due to the more bleak East bloc environment where existence is at the forefront of people's concerns, the tales can actually focus on the people involved and their issues, they are down-to-earth, raw, gritty, sometimes quite simple, yet often deep and indefinitely thought-provoking. Thus "The Decalogue" contains everything that matters when it comes to moral decisions which Hollywood blockbusters with similar themes sorely lack.

Watch trailers here: ” - Artimidor
Tokyo Story (1953)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
An old couple visit their children and grandchildren in the city; but the children have little time for them. (136 mins.)
Director: Yasujirô Ozu
“ About things said and unsaid and everything in between - a story about life itself
Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story is a very simple narration where nothing really spectacular happens that couldn't happen in anyone else's life. What takes place in the film is just life itself. It's about the not uncommon difficulties of generations that have to deal with each other, where natural gaps arise after the children have moved away from their parents and each family member is living a different life now - all things we might have experienced ourselves in a similar fashion from the one or the other side, or even from both. Everybody tries his/her best in their own kind of way when it comes to a visit. One means well, stays polite, but the lives the family members lead are their own now. While the parents don't want to impose on their children, the children are fine when their parents are on their way again so that things take their regular course to which they are used to. But in between many things are left unsaid. "Tokyo Story" shows us in its realistic depiction of a Japanese family that only when something major happens which stirs the daily routines and challenges our outlook we become aware of what's important and where our allegiances really lie.

Ozu's unobtrusive direction is what makes this film so touching and powerful. He stays true to life and just shows us what's happening, doesn't judge, and typical of Ozu decides to refrain from camera movements altogether throughout the film which strengthens the impression that this is just how things happen out there. "Tokyo Story" is a quiet and contemplative work and the actors seem to be taken right from reality. That's why this simple story has such an impact and ranks as one of the greatest - it hits close to home, where it resonates deeply.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Come and See (1985)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
After finding an old rifle, a young boy joins the Soviet resistance movement against ruthless German forces and experiences the horrors of World War II. (142 mins.)
Director: E. Klimov
“ Come and see... the horsemen of the apocalypse
The horror first rears its ugly head only in the corner of an eye in Elem Klimov's shocking WW II masterpiece. Almost as if it isn't real, just an illusion, a dark thought, maybe an omen, but nothing more - how could years and years of family and village life be torn away in the maelstrom of one disturbing instance? This particular shot lasts only a moment, just one character observes the irrevocable truth and there are no words to describe it. By not talking about it maybe it will all be muted, made untrue forever - for that one person and for everyone. But the brutal war reality that strikes a young Belorussian boy and his girlfriend doesn't stop at that, it is merely beginning...

"Come and see", a passage from the "Book of Revelations", is indeed an apt title for a film that makes it clear that the end of the world as we know it has come upon us: Welcome to the theater of war, to the shocking and unremitting images of the horsemen of the apocalypse sweeping over Belarus as if there is no tomorrow. "If we show the brutal truth, people won't see the film," Klimov warned his writer Ales Adamovich, but got countered with: "This is something we must leave after us. As evidence of war, and as a plea for peace." Klimov himself didn't make another film after this one. He said it all here. Right. As this is not a film about soldiers fighting bravely and earning their medals, a tragic story with an optional melancholic undertone to it that makes you sigh and move on. This picture is about the innocent victims, the shameless atrocities committed to them, the dilemma of the few survivors who are forced to fight for their mere existence. This is the unvarnished documentation of a nightmare, shot in earthy tones between beautiful idyll and the grisly aesthetics of war. It is merciless, haunting, traumatizing, not to be forgotten. With non-professionals in the lead Klimov uses close-ups upon close-ups to get in their eyes, the mirrors of their souls, where unparalleled devastation lingers. Come and see the raw cataclysm of a doomed generation living not too long ago, back then when the unspeakable happened, still present in the corner of your eye. Be prepared.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Vertigo (1958)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
A San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend's wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her. (128 mins.)
“ A killer combination - Stewart, Novak, Herrmann, Hitchcock and the perfect script
"Vertigo" is one of those killer combinations where just about everything fits like a glove. For one there's the ingenious screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor based on the French novel "D'Entre les Morts"(usually translated as "From the Realm of the Dead"). It's a spellbinding narration of a retired San Francisco police detective who gets caught up in mysterious events with supernatural undertones, peppered by deception, betrayal, crime and obsession. Then there's the cast: John "Scottie" Ferguson is played in understated fashion by James Stewart, the epitome of the humble, humane gentleman and good friend who cannot deny a favor. Confronting him with mystifying blond sexbomb Kim Novak really gets things rolling and is electrifying to see. Every moment of the main characters' difficult relationship throughout the film is absolutely believable and their chemistry on screen evident and riveting. In the music department Bernard Herrmann once again outdoes himself with an engrossing score, which will make you hold your breath in anticipation of what lies ahead - or hit you right in the face whenever necessary, and that's a good thing. The cinematography? Pitch perfect. Locations like the Golden Gate Bridge shine in all their Technicolor glory as do striking camera shots like the one from the roof at the very beginning or those from the Old Mission San Juan Bautista bell tower.

All the brilliance is carefully constructed and well held together by master director Alfred Hitchcock himself, who knows how to pull one into the film, how to get into the characters, how to make one dizzy (with style!) - and how to zoom in while at the same time physically pulling the camera back, the astonishing trademark shot of "Vertigo". A film to be watched again and again, practically flawless and all the way masterfully executed.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Seven Up! (1964 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A group of seven-year-old British children from widely ranging backgrounds are interviewed about a range of subjects... (39 mins.)
Director: Paul Almond
“ Groundbreaking ongoing one of a kind documentary about life as it happens
In 1964 Michael Apted filmed a documentary on a couple of seven year olds for a British television studio from various backgrounds. The idea was to see what the generation heading into the next millennium looked like at that early age, what their hopes were, their dreams, their aspirations. It was an interesting snap-shot for sure back in these days, but then again, who knew what would really become of those kids? Well, someone clever got the idea to revisit them at age 14 - and thus made another documentary. Seven years later they did it again, and more and more things began to shape and what at this time could be seen as an experiment became really extraordinarily interesting.

So it went on, a documentary on the lives of people like you and me. Today, a couple of dozen years later, we've got several more installments and have gained insight on what has really become of those children of the sixties. The series as a whole is simply the most outstanding and longest running reality documentary ever filmed, it's all about life as close as it can get, and due to its unique circumstances the feat is impossible to copy. There are twists and turns in the lives that we are allowed to follow, sometimes of course also influenced by the fact that they are shown on screen, in a positive or a negative way. However, in general we get a good portion of real life experience handed out via the Seven Up! series in a way we never would be able to experience otherwise, apart from our own lives. Groundbreaking indeed, must see. Should be compulsory viewing for anyone in the process of growing up...

Additional notes: The Seven Up! series has sparked various imitators all over the world, ranging from similar approaches made in the USSR, Germany, Australia and South Africa, thus honoring the original. All these attempts put together provide a kaleidoscope of developing lives around the planet in different times and places. They have their own merits, but owe much to Apted's pioneering spirit. Even Robert Linklater's "Boyhood" (2014), where a young actor is being followed playing a fictional character over twelve years while he's growing up, apparently was heavily inspired by the "Seven Up!" series. Linklater's hybrid film that tries to merge fiction and documentary however ultimately falls somewhat flat, as it is neither the one nor the other. Better stick with the real thing, and it all started here.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
A mysterious stranger with a harmonica joins forces with a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad. (175 mins.)
Director: Sergio Leone
“ Cinematic paradise, made for the history books
"Here's looking at you" might be Humphrey Bogart's trademark slogan, but eyes in a Leone Spaghetti Western reveal much more emotions and even plot than Bogey ever could convey with his. Sergio Leone made extreme close-ups the dominant shots to explain character - and a look into Frank's eyes (played by Henry Fonda), who was deliberately cast against his usual character in "Once Upon a Time in the Wild West", makes it perfectly clear why. There's no need for lengthy dialog if a capable director can do so much more with style alone. And of all around brilliant visuals in Leone's Westerns there is no shortage, no doubt about that. If the widescreen scenery is as grand, deep and epic a director can even deliberately allow the weight of silence to descend on the viewer and let the image speak for itself.

Once sound effects are added to compositions like these they become more than nice enhancements or mere fillers, they turn into characters themselves of a total work of art. An art that reaches even higher levels if you take Ennio Morricone's melancholic score into account which rounds off this rare masterpiece. Morricone delves deep into the souls of characters, makes whole landscapes tangible, even develops plot of the powerful story. Add to that a flawless cast (aside from Fonda Jason Robards, Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson and others star) and every lover of the moving picture is likely to be seriously moved. Or blown away if you haven't seen anything like this before. There are so many memorable shots in "Once Upon a Time in the Wild West" that one can stop counting them early on and take the whole thing as the ultimate template on how a great film should look like. Films like these are cinematic paradise, made for the history books, and every moment of it should be savored. Definitely one of the greatest.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Sunrise (1927)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
An allegorical tale about a man fighting the good and evil within him. Both sides are made flesh - one a sophisticated woman he is attracted to and the other his wife. (94 mins.)
Director: F.W. Murnau
“ A chock-full treasure-trove for film aficionados
Without question F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise" is a solid milestone in cinema history. Made in 1927 it is the epitome of technical and creative ingenuity, unsurpassed at its time and still mesmerizing when seen today. Coming from German expressionism à la "Nosferatu" Murnau went several steps beyond his roots and thus brings silent film making to perfection. Silent film making? Well, here we already have an asset, which isn't even Murnau's merit: Hugo Riesenfeld's score is fully synchronized with the action on the silver screen thanks to the Movietone sound-on-film method, used for the very first time here. The score thus forms a wonderfully dynamic symphony that lasts the whole length of the movie and never lets up in its intensity. Breathtaking as the music is there's also additional effective sound, e.g. church bells tolling and the like, all in masterful combination with top-drawer imagery photographed mainly by Karl Struss.

But let's dig deeper in the treasure chest - you might be surprised what a 1927 movie has to offer! For instance Murnau taught the camera to move freely and seemingly without effort, he uses multiple exposures and super impositions in his montages, optical effects which are all done in camera. There are forced perspective shots with miniatures, even with midgets to give the street scenes on the backlot more depth. How about deep focus and compositions inspired by the beauty of 18th century paintings, high angles to express confined space, dream sequences with effective fades and overlays - like the one where the protagonist literally drowns in guilt? Apropos drowning: Ever seen a title card drown or emerge with the sunrise? And as far as intertitles are concerned: They are intentionally kept at an absolute minimum in "Sunrise", even the characters remain unnamed. Murnau doesn't make just a story, but a universal one. Oh, I forgot the plot: Well, it's about a man, his wife and a seductress and dark clouds brewing over the horizon. Sounds conventional? Definitely not in the Murnau version. There's no better picture that could have earned the Academy's "best unique and artistic picture" award, which would never be awarded again. The silent era was over, and there was that one picture that rose and shone in all its silent glory. You now know its name.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Tree of Life (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
The story of a family in Waco, Texas in 1956. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence and struggles with his parents' conflicting teachings. (139 mins.)
Director: Terrence Malick
“ Picture in search of a viewer - are you the one?
Terrence Malick never made it easy for anyone when shooting a film - not for himself, not for his investors, and rarely for the viewers of his work. "The Tree of Life", which Malick also wrote, is his most personal and uncompromising picture to date, his grand oeuvre, with key elements of his biography woven into the plot (his brother e.g. committed suicide at the age of 19). Malick doesn't shun from re-discovering cinema as an art form, go for a meditative slow pace, deal with universe deep issues centering around spirituality and put a popular actor like Brad Pitt in it - with predictable results. Audiences are either alienated by the result or call it pretentious, yet for the group that remains a movie like this is a true gift. Count me in the latter category: "The Tree of Life" is an all time classic, and will have a long life on the shelves of cinephiles.

The film is about a Texan family who has to cope with the loss of a family member, and the questions why and how to deal with it. From there we zoom out from the microcosm of rural family life to the birth of the universe and back again to change perspectives and put things in relation. At the heart of it all is the conflict between grace, the life of love and acceptance and the way of nature which only pleases itself. In that sense Malick's work as a whole is desperately in search of a viewer who joins him on the journey to find identity and meaning, just like the characters themselves.

Back in the days, in 1968 to be precise, when someone else tried a philosophical approach in a movie, it was not received well at all, resulting in walkouts and complaints about a lacking narrative structure and no entertainment value whatsoever. That movie was "2001" - now considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. Douglas Trumbull once was mastermind of the visual effects that made "2001" an unforgettable experience, and in 2011 he joined Malick's endeavor. Well, the beauty of these shots shows. And as far as I'm concerned, history may as well repeat itself.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Satantango (1994)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
Plotting on a payment they are about to receive, residents of a collapsing collective farm see their plans turn into desolation when they discover that Irimiás, a former co-worker who they thought was dead, is coming back to the village. (450 mins.)
Director: Béla Tarr
“ Unconventional, unique, devastating, beautiful - an enthralling dance with the devil
The dance with the devil based on novelist László Krasznahorkai's novel about the aftermath of the fall of communism for sure has to rank very high up when it gets to unconventional motion pictures. Filmed in beautiful black and white by Hungarian director Béla Tarr in the early Nineties, the movie consists of twelve parts and lasts seven and a half hours with single tracking shots up to ten minutes, often with very little or only repetitive action on screen. And it rains and rains and rains. Make no mistake: Despite its length Satantango is not an epic narration, but rather achieves long lasting impressions by pointing the camera on banalities inspired by the bleakness of the scenery, perfectly enhanced by the director's choices what to show and how to show it in order to induce a trance-like reaction in the viewer. And while doing so Satantango mesmerizes, shocks, devastates, enthralls.

The time line is a bit unclear and episodes overlap or could have happened the same way at another time. Yet there is a main thread of story about a con-man in the messiah's disguise, a seemingly eternally lasting dance in the very middle, and an essential episode about a little girl representing the core of the film - a symbol of the disillusionment and victim of betrayal, desperately searching for ways to exert some power herself in her forlorn reality. Not that much is happening in Satantango, and some things remain vague, but reality is also transcended at key points adding to the allegorical impact. The aesthetics of the experience and its ultimate conclusion will remain with those who are open for it.

Watch excerpt here: ” - Artimidor
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
A screenwriter is hired to rework a faded silent film star's script only to find himself developing a dangerous relationship. (110 mins.)
Director: Billy Wilder
“ An audacious look into Hollywood film making and its victims
"Sunset Blvd." is a film about obsession, opportunism and the rise and fall of stars and writers as cogs in the remorseless movie making machine of the Hollywood dream factory. The great Billy Wilder as the director, William Holden, Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim as the principal actors, get their point across so brilliantly in a movie about movie making that it hurts. One of the reasons why it works so well is that "Sunset Blvd." is fiction placed in the real Hollywood, where references are explicitly sought, not hidden: Star director Cecil B. DeMille plays himself, "movie zombies" of times past like Buster Keaton, H.B. Warner and Anna Q. Nilsson have roles equivalent to their importance as movie stars at the time the film was shot, even former celebrated actor/director Erich von Stroheim pretty much plays himself. This lends the film authenticity and weight, sometimes a comedic or an unabashedly cynical touch, but more often revealing shockingly tragic insights in an all too common parallel universe celebrities use to live in - insights that have not lost any relevance to this day: Once caught in a dream world it's difficult to see through the haze of glory and notice that impending doom is just a step away...

It was an audacious concept of Billy Wilder to target the film industry within its own medium, right there at those very sound stages where usually the blockbusters were made to rake in the big money and produce celebrities on conveyor belts. The direct assault that "Sunset Blvd." represents for sure did NOT get Wilder the Oscar for Best Picture of 1951. Well, this one has survived them all nevertheless and turned into a timeless classic. It's a film that transcended the Hollywood machinery - well informed, impeccably written by Charles Brackett and Wilder himself, full of verve, innuendo and dark humor, directed with technical proficiency and sense of great storytelling. An ultimate film-experience in the literal sense.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
A filmmaker recalls his childhood, when he fell in love with the movies at his village's theater and formed a deep friendship with the theater's projectionist. (155 mins.)
“ Paradisiacal cinema? - Tornatore did it!
If you love movies you owe it yourself to see "Cinema Paradiso" made by the Sicilian director Giuseppe Tornatore. It contains about everything that the cinema is about (or maybe better: once was), and more. Tornatore also wrote the screenplay for this film and it can be felt throughout that the material comes from his heart, drawing from own experiences and those related to him - the director even has a cameo appearance as a projectionist in the final minutes. "Cinema Paradiso" is as powerful as it is not only because of its topic, the direction and the screenplay, but also because of its scope - spanning the whole lifetime of the main character -, its memorable imagery, Ennio Morricone's brilliant score and of course the carefully chosen cast headed by Philippe Noiret. By the way: Even grandmaster Fellini might have made it into the movie, intended for the role of the mentioned projectionist at the very end. But he replied to the director's request: "At such an important part of the movie putting a face so bulky like mine could be distracting to the audience. I suggest an unknown person instead: Let Tornatore do it!" Well, so we've still got a master of cinema up there at least - the one who made "Cinema Paradiso".

To sum it up: Here we have not just any film about the cinema, it's the definitive one - and in the 50 minutes longer director's cut an already great experience becomes perfect. If you are reading reviews like this and still haven't seen it, you better finish this sentence and then be off to get it. Quick!

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Stalker (1979)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A guide leads two men through an area known as the Zone to find a room that grants wishes. (163 mins.)
“ Approach with care... don't forget your bolts!
Tarkovsky's second science fiction entry after "Solaris" needs to be approached with a good deal of caution - just like the protagonist navigating the zone with his metal bolts in order to reach his goal, that fabled room which grants your innermost wish. There's danger lurking everywhere, but in the zone's inner sanctum there is bliss waiting - or not, depending on what you want to get out of it. For sure "Stalker" is not the regular sci-fi tale, even though it was inspired by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's novel "Roadside Picnic", who also co-wrote the film's script. Yet Tarkovsky made something entirely different out of the material: a slow, contemplative, philosophical excursion of almost religious proportions consisting of extremely long takes. "Stalker" is a mood piece as if it had descended from another world, the zone we enter is shot in lush colors, life outside in drab black and white. In this spellbinding composition an enigma is wrapped which has prevailed until this very day...

So what exactly is "Stalker" all about? Some might say: Clearly an allegory about life in the USSR. An interpretation which Tarkovsky vehemently denied, even though there's strong subtext one can hardly ignore. On the other hand the zone of "Roadside Picnic" was inspired by the nuclear disaster in Chelyabinsk of 1957 - and after Chernobyl Tarkovsky's 1979 film feels like a foreshadowing and a déjà vu at the same time. And due to its unique place between history and fiction "Stalker" sparkles with a rare kind of magic. Aside from references to nuclear catastrophes there are also numerous religious allusions put in the film, most dominant being the repeated hints at the stalker's messianic role, even though he's just a human like everyone else, who refuses to walk the path. Discussions between the main characters circle around belief and hope, freedom and purpose in life, and poetry and metaphysics wait just around the corner to knock on your door and haunt or enlighten your dreams. Well, say, what do you believe in? Approach with care... and don't forget your bolts!

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The World of Apu (1959)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
This final installment in Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy follows Apu's life as an orphaned adult aspiring to be a writer. (105 mins.)
Director: Satyajit Ray
“ Roads go ever, ever on
Bringing the lessons learned from Italian neo-realism to Indian filmmaking, Satyajit Ray's first project was part one of what would become the famous "Apu" trilogy, "Pather Panchali" ("Song of the Little Road", 1955). Undoubtedly it laid the foundation of Ray's status as a cultural Indian icon. In neo-realistic fashion the three films were made on actual locations using an amateur cast, shot as close to reality as possible, and due to this approach they show all the unvarnished truths but also the charms found only on the street, addressing life itself. Direct, plain and simple the contained episodes shed light on poverty, anguish, loss and the unending struggle of man to justify his very own existence, the trials and tribulations to transcend one's self and the world one was born in. Central to the continuing story of all films is Apu, a coming of age Bengali boy with the bleakest imaginable prospects. His long journey takes him to many different places, nowhere he is truly at home except in books, and yet despite all that he's contended with the simplest things. But in all the ordeals he has to suffer from there's always a glimpse of hope, an impulse to go on. Until he reaches a dead end...

Years after "Pather Panchali" and part two "Aparajito" ("The Unvanquished") Ray's conclusion of the series via "Apur Sansar" ("The World of Apu") is emotionally the strongest of the three installments. It already starts off with the weight of the first two films on the protagonist's shoulders, lets the now mature Apu question everything he has come to believe in and steers inevitably towards his destiny. Ray has also perfected his directorial techniques in the meantime, and the choices of actors to play an older and finally adult Apu are spot on. Rarely before has poetical realism been so devastatingly beautiful than in this jewel of Indian filmmaking, the pictures often speak for themselves. Like the recurring symbolic image of a train that accompanies us throughout the trilogy: first as something magical, then adventurous, even deadly. And it's there in the very last scene as well - as a reminder that roads go ever, ever on. And all a road requires is a first step.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
A criminal pleads insanity after getting into trouble again and once in the mental institution rebels against the oppressive nurse and rallies up the scared patients. (133 mins.)
Director: Milos Forman
“ Rebel with a cause - McMurphy vs. Nurse Ratched
Very few great films are just simple and straightforward, require no brain-twisting abilities from the viewer, can be enjoyed by practically anyone and have an inevitable impact that resonates deeply. Also one rarely finds films that are entertaining, dramatic, humorous, tragic and poetic all at the same time and on top of that have something to say which doesn't sound moralising. If you're looking for a picture which meets all those requirements "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" fits the bill.

Awarded in 1975 with the magic five oscars covering all main categories (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay) it is one of the most effective antiestablishment parables which takes place in a mental hospital, where sane but rebellious Jack Nicholson as R.P. McMurphy fights Nurse Ratched's (Louise Fletcher) authoritarian regime. The two main characters play so well off each other that one almost forgets the rest of the brilliant cast, among them Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito or the young Brad Dourif, but also not to forget the Native American Will Sampson. All of these inmates work well, because the actors were cast to play roles cut out for them. A flawless screenplay guarantees to be instantly drawn into the world created by Czech born director Milos Forman, and our sympathies soon lie with these characters, especially free spirit McMurphy. Yet sometimes the fight for the right thing is a lost cause from the get-go. We might even be aware of it. However, we learn from characters like McMurphy that - flawed as we are - we can have the heart at the right place, even against the odds. And that there's hope in every failure.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Le Samouraï (1967)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
After Professional hitman Jef Costello is seen by witnesses his efforts to provide himself an alibi drive him further in a corner. (105 mins.)
“ The samurai - the way of Alain Delon
Who is he? It doesn't matter. What does he want? To kill someone. Enough said. A man, a mission, few words. That's the way of the samurai. One downside only: There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai. Unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle. Perhaps. - Scenes and impressions from a piece of film history that spells cool, en français. The part of the eponymous "Samourai" is played by Alain Delon, born with stoicism in his blood, directed and written by Jean-Pierre Melville, who sucked in American film noir to live and breathe it as a person and to be creative with it as a true auteur. He shot noirs in color in French that made the archetype look old. A loner, a man with a mission, a samurai in a way.

One could describe "Le Samourai", a 1967 picture, perhaps as the exact antithesis of the films we are used to see from video generation directors that emerged in full in the late eighties. What you won't experience here is adrenaline pumping fast pace, flashy quick cuts, slow motion sequences, car chases, spectacular stunts, explosions, yes, even blood is rather scarce in a film about a hitman. Frankly, all of that is superfluous if the filmmaker knows his craft on how to get the viewer involved in his picture. Contrary to the constant pay-offs as part of a kaleidoscopic spectacle of action that dominate the screens at the latest from the nineties, the secrets of "Le Samourai" are simple, but effective: Delon's iconic screen presence, a uniquely created mood based on existential fatalism, a lot of build-up and perfect timing to release tension. In short: What we have here is an epitome of minimalistic suspense cinema. The assassin himself, Jef Costello, despite the fact that Delon plays him straight and stone-faced is no invulnerable killer machine, quite the opposite. And that's also where the story lies - that something goes terribly wrong, but somehow someone helps. Quite unexpectedly actually. On the other hand: There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai...

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Brazil (1985)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A bureaucrat in a retro-future world tries to correct an administrative error and himself becomes an enemy of the state. (132 mins.)
Director: Terry Gilliam
“ Dystopic retro-future with a message: Tomorrow was another day
Despite shot in 1985 this is definitely a 1984 film. But you probably know that already. Actually - to be precise - it's quite a timeless movie well worth watching a century later as well, as it aims to mix things from past, present and future, or you might even call it an alternate reality piece - as according to the first shot this film takes place "somewhere in the 20th century"... And thus it might be closer to reality than you initially thought!

Be it as it may: The look of the strange retro-future world we're allowed to discover in "Brazil" is truly something else. Gilliam's dystopic vision combines dead serious elements from Orwell and Kafka and lets it all clash with a heavy dose of Monty Python humor, sometimes satirical, sometimes anarchically absurd, deep black or just outright laugh out loud slapstick. The story at times might surprise you, irritate you, make you laugh, dream, root for Sam Lowry, then again it also does shock and terrify, it lets you think and re-think. "Brazil" has depth, is allegorical and complex, and could therefore have too much of an impact on first viewing for its own good - or it perhaps touches you not at all if you're not into cerebral stuff. If you like a challenge, this one's a treat - just make sure to watch the Director's cut and not the butchered version released for syndicated television, which is a travesty of the movie's original intent.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
A theatre director struggles with his work, and the women in his life, as he creates a life-size replica of New York City inside a warehouse as part of his new play. (124 mins.)
Director: Charlie Kaufman
“ Trapped in the simulacrum between life and death
One thing right ahead: Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut is an extremely uncomfortable film. It is likely not to make much sense the first time around, that you are too busy taking it all in and your efforts to understand it get derailed. Many will end up repelled by the experience and don't feel the desire to return to it. Subsequent viewings however should help to value the gargantuan task Kaufman has undertaken and to look forward to further visits to that strange place called "Synecdoche". Make no mistake: This is no love story, much less a happy one, not a tale about someone succeeding or get rewarded by any kind of redemption. There are images which seem too trivial to be part of a cinematic masterpiece, and you'll wonder about the surreality of some scenes and the layers upon layers that stack up. But getting into the film and getting out of it again only can be accomplished with difficulty. And that's a good thing.

On the surface "Synecdoche" is about theater director Caden Cotard (understatedly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose life more and more slips out of his hands and literally rushes by in the film's narrative. An unexpected award gives him the chance to attempt something big, and so he builds a simulacrum, a life-size replica of New York, casting people to play roles in it in order to replace the persons of his life. But the simulacrum is not enough, and while he tries everything and then some in his struggle to find a sure footing, a proof of his existence between life and death, he turns out to be nothing else than the ultimate victim of his limitations. Caden's story is about the loss of himself in the imitations he created, yet miraculously this sad life eventually becomes part of something larger by just fading away. For watchers will notice a deliberately designed circular structure of the film... One could even argue that Caden might just be a character in a film, and longing for a life outside. Up to you! Make sure to watch "Synecdoche" more than once. And maybe at some point you'll learn to smile along with this postmodern masterpiece.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Don't Look Now (1973)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
A married couple grieving the recent death of their young daughter are in Venice when they encounter two elderly sisters, one of whom is psychic and brings a warning from beyond. (110 mins.)
Director: Nicolas Roeg
“ Brilliant horror from left field
With "Don't Look Now", the filmed version of Daphne Du Maurier's short story, Nicolas Roeg delivers a horror movie of the very different kind. It's also one of the very best, even though or maybe exactly because Roeg stirred quite a controversy with his approach to tell the tale. What you get for sure is not the typical horror genre piece. Roeg weaves in supernatural elements, psychological drama, a crime/detective story, a famous love making scene and above all lots of realism and mood he draws directly from shooting on location. In all that a masterful play with expectations of characters as well as the viewers takes place, letting essential and unrelated random elements of the story stand side by side, adding more and more to the escalating confusion. Strange premonitions, painful memories, eerie visions and a multitude of sub-plots - all are packed into an actually highly cross-referencing movie with dominant psychological overtones. With all those threads going on at the same time the viewer is likely to get lost, just like John Baxter (Donald Sutherland), the film's protagonist. Noteable assets are also a carefully plotted colors scheme, intelligent cinematography and groundbreaking scenes that show what exemplary editing and cutting can do to elevate a film way above its competitors.

"Don't Look Now" leads up to one of the most shocking climaxes in horror film history and will catch you most likely coming from left field. And if it does, the director has done his job. At any rate, the dark haunting alleys and mysterious canals of Venice are the perfect environment for a bone-chilling tale which keeps its suspense ominously simmering until the inevitable happens. Recommendable for those who like their mysteries slow, enjoy to (re-)discover how the mind works and still know why horror films of the olden days are the better choice.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Night on Earth (1991)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
An anthology of 5 different cab drivers in 5 American and European cities and their remarkable fares on the same eventful night. (129 mins.)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
“ Episodic glimpses at lives uncovered by the night...
The nights in the big cities have their very own mysterious and incomparable aura. Only the cab drivers who are circling the blocks after midnight and pick up ever changing passengers really have a sense of such a feeling, that strange kind of reality that engulfs them when everyone else is sleeping. You get a glimpse of the dark side of the aura if you follow De Niro's Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver", and for the rest feel free to join independent film-maker Jim Jarmusch on five rides through L.A., New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki and see what the night has to offer.

Writer/director Jarmusch celebrates the synchrony of events happening in various cabs all over the globe, where drama, fun and tragedy all take place at the same time while the earth takes another turn around its axis. All shot on location of the actual cities this episodic masterpiece was photographed excellently, there are some wonderful performances, lots of poignant moments and hilarious laugh-out-loud comedy. Armin Müller-Stahl for example as German ex-clown "Helmet" going to "Brookland" clashing with NY culture is side-splittingly funny right from his greeting "Hello! How are YOU?" Then of course there is Roberto Benigni's wild confessional ride through Rome with a padre on the back seat, which has become an instant classic. Incredibly touching is also the final chapter in Helsinki with some drunkards exchanging tragic stories only to arrive at sunrise to catch some sleep. Or the one with the black cabbie, who learns to respect a blind woman and makes one wonder: Who's really the blind one? Ok, ok, with all those overwhelmingly brilliant snapshots there's one obvious downside - which is the first tale, starring Wyona Rider as a small, but tough cookie: "I want to become a mechanic!" But after all taxi driving wasn't for her and she did eventually become an actress, didn't she?

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Apocalypse Now (1979)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe. (153 mins.)
Director: Francis Coppola
“ Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen between animal and god
With "Apocalypse Now" Francis Ford Coppola transfers Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" tale into the 20th century and makes it part of the horrors of the Vietnam war. The result is a beautifully shot, highly suspenseful and entertaining movie, which can be labelled THE war movie with all bells and whistles in a scope rarely seen before in similar productions. Staggering cinematography, an excellent script, a crisp and vivid tapestry of sound and musical ambience, the perfect use of location and of course the cast - with bit players like Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne or Harrison Ford -, all contribute to a cinematic event of the grand scale.

Most remarkable of course are the performances of the two main characters - for one protagonist Martin Sheen (who plays Captain Willard) and the one he's searching for deep in the Cambodian jungles, the decorated US commander gone mad, Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando). The build-up to the encounter alone already keeps the viewer on the edge of the seat, and the pay-off is condensed in the intense and unnerving final minutes of the film. While we get there more and more questions are raised about the nature of the war that is being fought, as madness isn't only waiting on that other end of the journey, but becomes a principle in itself on the way - thus questioning the mission, the causes and the means: Man's position between animal and god is uncertain, but as self-assigned master over life and death his decline into madness only seems like a natural reaction...

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Paths of Glory (1957)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
After refusing to attack an enemy position, a general accuses the soldiers of cowardice and their commanding officer must defend them. (88 mins.)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
“ A pearl washed ashore by the tide of war
There are lots of so-called anti-war films out there, which focus on showing the inhumanity of war by pointing the camera at soldiers who are shot, blown up, mutilated, that sort of thing. Often these movies lack the necessary reflection related to the shown violence, and assume that this already takes care of itself, and this is a really sad story. The result may lead the phenomenon that some people enjoy such movies because of what they see, not what the film is meant to be about. And thus it might be safer to call such movies "war films" rather than "anti-war". Well, "Paths of Glory" is different. It focuses on the individuals, the executors in the command chain, on those, who are forced to make decisions about life and death, those, who have to survive or make achievements against all odds, who therefore use others to save face.

Kubrick's film is short, but very intense and poignant and goes far beyond the regular motion picture which just happens to be about war. It forces the main dilemmas of a stone-cold war machinery to the surface, where everyone has to play their role and humanity has no place in it, where absurdity is method. "Path of Glory" is a benchmark as far as anti-war movies are concerned, and this also has to be said about one of the most touching final scenes ever. In it Kubrick immortalized his later wife, whose performance gets under one's skin and suggests to us that there are also humans fighting on the other side, caught in the very same inhuman war machinery. There are films that last more than three hours and fail to make a point about war - Kubrick only needs his German wife and three minutes to make this point.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
La Strada (1954)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A care-free girl is sold to a traveling entertainer, consequently enduring physical and emotional pain along the way. (108 mins.)
“ Delves deep into paths of human existence
"La Strada" is one of the films Fellini made in his neo-realistic period, and it's an absolute highlight at that. The picture depicts the complex relationship between Gelsomina, a naive girl, and Zampanò, a traveling entertainer, to whom she is sold by her own mother. When Gelsomina is just about to discover the wonders of the big wide world, she finds out that she's only used as a mere tool by her companion, but there's more to it than that. "La Strada" is a movie with a soul. It's a realistically portrayed, highly emotional journey, which constantly oscillates from Gelsomina's good-hearted innocence to her master's brute force, and in between there seems to be no compromise. To Zampanò the road just goes on and on, aimlessly, as if that's all there is to life, it's reduced to his own basic needs, and everyone else just fills out a replaceable role. There couldn't exist a stronger contrast to his strong masculine presence than Gelsomina and her innocuous self, smiling in the face of insults and persistent hardship, devoid of any prospects, but her joy lies in the very moment - or the next, as she easily forgets. The unlikely pair however in a way needs each other, even gives their lives meaning, though realization of this fact might happen too late...

Plot, screen play, black/white photography, Nino Rota's score and the main cast of this touching human story are all top-notch. Anthony Quinn plays the stone-hearted Zampanò to the T and Giulietta Masina, Fellini's highly talented wife, makes a supremely memorable impression as the simple-minded, but endlessly endearing Gelsomina. "La Strada", which one might translate with "The Street", or maybe more poetically and philosophically inspired with "The Path". It's the road that the two characters walk, everyone for himself or both together, and by accompanying these characters the picture delves deep into human existence, holding the viewer tight in its grip. A prime example of film-making at its very best..

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Rashomon (1950)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
A heinous crime and its aftermath are recalled from differing points of view. (88 mins.)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
“ What is truth?
Rainy day? Need something to ponder upon? Then take a seat at one of the stairs of the Rashomon gate and listen to a particularly strange murder mystery. But be aware upfront that this is not about the culprit, as you'll hear several confessions, but all won't match. Who's lying? Why? Is it all intentional? Or due to different perceptions? Are people cheating on themselves as well? For their own good, for the sake of accepting reality, or because they are adhering to a principle they consider superior? What is real? What is true? Is it possible at all to understand? Thus are the questions posed under the Rashomon. But that we cannot grasp it is exactly the point.

Kurosawa's version of Akutagawa's tale "In a Bomboo Grove" doesn't shun from irritating the audience by presenting various accounts of the same story without providing a satisfying resolution. With the abandoning of the conventional, objective narrative form he opened the door to distortions of reality shown on screen, broadening the horizons of what a camera can convey, adding another level of sophistication to the medium. Dismissed by the studio he was working for as incomprehensible, Kurosawa's "Rashomon" however hit the western film world like a bomb. With the prizes it won it would become the gateway that opened Japanese cinema to the rest of the world and establish Kurosawa as a director to reckon with. Yet it is not only the fresh idea that makes "Rashomon" different - music and sound undoubtedly are highly effective, but the exceptionally strong point of the film is that it offers flawless cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa, who would later also shoot Mizogushi's appraised pearls "Sansho the Bailiff" and "Ugetsu". And of course "Rashomon" already has Kurosawa's future key player Toshiro Mifune as the bandit, who borrows with his extreme expressions from the silent era, and this intensity of acting makes a film about reality in question even more stirring. Good cinema should ask questions, and rarely it is done as masterful as here.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Nights of Cabiria (1957)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A waifish prostitute wanders the streets of Rome looking for true love but finds only heartbreak. (110 mins.)
“ A prostitute that gets under your skin...
In a way "Nights of Cabiria" is the companion piece to "La Strada", both directed by Federico Fellini, both starring his wife and muse Giulietta Masina and both dealing with a woman and her struggle with life. And yet the movies conclude quite differently. Cabiria is one of those characters that really get under your skin in the progression of the film - it's a woman who seems difficult to understand at the beginning when she's saved from drowning, yet doesn't even have a word of thanks for her saviours and heads off ranting. What follows is grand character development. Episode by episode we get deeper in Cabiria's heart and mind, her hopes and dreams, see her praying for a miracle, but again and again she fails, is used, ridiculed, ignored. Cabiria is not just a naive girl stumbling into her doom, she rather seeks salvation in simplicity and belief when everything else shatters to pieces. She's actually quite a complex character - emotional, earthy and proud in her own way, yet vulnerable and always on the brink. And we are swept away with her when eventually that turn in her fate is actually happening, the change for which we've all been rooting by then.

It all leads up to one of the most striking final scenes in cinema history - Fellini's camera work and Masina's performance invoke pure movie magic: Never before is a greeting from a total stranger as heart-warming as here, never again will a well-timed nod into the camera be so electrifying as Cabiria's. Maybe you already know what I mean. In any case I conclude with: Buona sera!

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Ikiru (1952)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
A bureaucrat tries to find a meaning in his life after he discovers he has terminal cancer. (143 mins.)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
“ Live - for there will be no tomorrow...
Akira Kurosawa's "Ikiru" ("to live") is a film - you might have guessed it - about life, or more precisely: about the absence of life. It's about that hole that suddenly emerges when our time inevitably draws to an end, that hole that we couldn't fill with meaning. For the old civil servant Kanji Watanabe (played by one of Kurosawa's favorites, Takashi Shimura) it's a pretty big hole. He moved papers around for years and years in his stuffy office, got awards for the monotony he got used to, never questioned what he did and why, was satisfied with what he was and never got the idea to change. But he is ultimately alone when he understands that he will die soon. And as moments of his past flash before his eyes, the value of life hits Watanabe, and he needs to make a decision what to do with the little time he still got left...

"Ikiru" shows us a struggle to escape the ways we are used to and to make the difference. Sounds familiar, right? But if it is kept real and is shot with less sentimental bombast than western productions unashamedly throw at us, then a downtrodden bureaucrat with a sudden fate inspired verve to make something happen turns into a hero. For Kurosawa this film was also a plead for individualism, especially when seen in the face of the Japanese society he lived in, where everybody played his role and life of the single man and woman became just inconveniences. Watanabe represents that flickering of hope, nothing more, but also nothing less, and his key moment occurs when he walks off with a plan, while teenagers celebrate one of their own with singing "Happy Birthday" in the background. But well, a single man won't change the world, and to fully appreciate life one needs to be almost dead. One can get a slight advantage by watching "Ikiru" though...

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Woman in the Dunes (1964)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
An entomologist on vacation is trapped by local villagers into living with a woman whose life task is shoveling sand for them. (123 mins.)
“ With and against the sands of time
Early on in Hiroshi Teshigahara's "Woman in the Dunes" we see entomologist Niki Jumpei lying in a broken boat which is entirely covered by sand. He looks forlorn there in the desert, lost on his search for new specimens of beetles that would bring him forward in life, or so he hopes. But what's for sure is only that he'll miss the last bus home. Niki looks stranded, physically and metaphorically. And yet, among the dunes, he has visions of the past - of a woman, of a relationship that went awry, now covered by the sands of time. Maybe nobody tried to uncover what has always been there between these two, maybe it's in the nature of things that everything will eventually be covered by dust and just has to be accepted the way it is. Later in the film we would see Niki dream of the sea, symbol of his freedom, of escape, of leaving the dunes behind forever. Ah, how he would long for the sea! But will he ever reach it? Because the time has come for a haunting reevaluation of life and the relationship with a woman - in a prison made of sand...

Teshigahara's film, based on Kôbô Abe's novel and screenplay, is a realistic story, however parable and philosophical exposition of the human condition at the same time. It's rare that a picture can be read multiple ways without losing its power when seen from different angles, but Teshigahara's film meets this criterion with ease. As minimalistic as its basic idea might sound, it literally entraps its viewer in its claustrophobic environment, consisting of just two people, and sand, sand, sand, the puzzle of human existence buried with it, hopelessness written all over it. In his philosophical essay "Le Mythe de Sisyphe" existentialist Albert Camus concludes that one must imagine Sisyphus to be happy. Sisyphus, the man condemned by the Gods to roll up a rock on top of a mountain, watch it roll down again and start over, again and again. Sisyphus, a happy man? A contradiction? Not really. Man needs to find reasons to justify his own existence in the absurdity that surrounds him, Camus would argue. One of the reasons might be found in Teshigahara's masterpiece: There's someone who shares Sisyphus' predicament: the one suffering on his side, also known as "The Woman in the Dunes".

Watch excerpt here: ” - Artimidor
I Am Cuba (1964)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
Four vignettes about the lives of the Cuban people set during the pre-revolutionary era. (108 mins.)
“ The sublime beauty of propaganda
The critic's dilemma with propaganda films lies in the controversial subject matter and the fact that they are generally made by the crème de la crème of directors - a blessing and a curse. All these films are supposed to convey is a certain political mind-set, the glorification of a person, revolution or regime - in impressive imagery that is, the rest is artistic license. The latter is why directors are carefully chosen for these projects in the first place - their unique style should warrant the film's success. This was the case with Eisenstein's and Dovzhenko's masterpieces in the 1920s/1930s or Riefenstahl's infamous "Triumph of the Will" aestheticising Nazis, and it also applies to Mikhail Kalatozov's "I am Cuba" retracing the Cuban revolution. Interestingly however Kalatozov, whose breathtaking "Cranes are Flying" took the Cannes Grand Prize in 1958, failed in the eyes of the Cubans and the Soviets, who didn't consider it revolutionary enough, too naïve, too stereotypical. Its rediscovery however is well deserved, and it's due to its sublime beauty.

More than half a century on much more has remained from "I Am Cuba" than just a historic document tinged by communistic propaganda. Above all it is a poetic portrayal with incredible visuals, a riveting collage of very different lives on the same soil, connected by their love for their country. "I Am Cuba" is a feeling. It comprises the Cuban homeland and a time of upheaval, strong emotions that have bottled up for years and years to finally come to the forefront leading up to inevitable confrontations. The film's perspective still comes across as powerful and relevant, story-wise and camera-wise. Kalatozov films in long takes which are often choreographed with absolute precision, uses stylized high contrast black and white cinematography, extraordinary crane and tracking shots, tilted camera angles and seemingly even moves freely through Havana in one of the most famous continuous camera shots in film history. With his superb technical and cinematic artistry Kalatozov transcends the moment and while his approach wasn't appreciated back in the days, his rediscovery in the 1990s prompted an array of quotes from this work. Indicator enough that Cuba is worth a visit, at least on the silver screen.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Thin Red Line (1998)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
Terrence Malick's adaptation of James Jones' autobiographical 1962 novel, focusing on the conflict at Guadalcanal during the second World War. (170 mins.)
Director: Terrence Malick
“ A breathtaking, different kind of war movie
Released in 1998, the same year as blockbuster "Saving Private Ryan", "The Thin Red Line" was doomed from the get-go. If you're looking for the bigger names, be it actors or director, or want to see fast paced action, or even just the plain old high budget Hollywood war movie, this is not it. Everyone else is welcomed into this different kind of film, which some say isn't even a proper war movie. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is true that "The Thin Red Line" approaches the topic from an entirely different angle, or from multiple angles to be precise. Malick highlights lives, struggles, hopes and dreams of various people, helps us look through their eyes of what transpires on the battlefield and how it reflects on them and their relationships to those who share their unreal experiences.

But it's not just the soldiers who play major roles in what transpires on screen, it's nature itself which is there and prominently so, it is always there, regardless of what gruesome deeds man decides to commit in its very heart. Sky, clouds, winds, grasses, animals, plants, man, the latter is just one of those things, a part of it, a necessity or a burden, judge yourself. Maybe there is even a subtle point somewhere as well when we see big names like Travolta and Clooney cast yet appearing only for one or two minutes or so. They are not important. But this film is.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Forbidden Games (1952)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A young French girl orphaned in a Nazi air attack is befriended by the son of a poor farmer, and together they try to come to terms with the realities of death. (86 mins.)
Director: René Clément
“ Pet cemetery en français
René Clément's "Jeux Interdits" is one of those movies which are as profound as they are simple, and it couldn't work any other way. It is also one of the few films which don't shun away from letting children be children in traumatic circumstances, and their innocence determines their actions - thus bringing a shocking realization home to us. Attacked initially for all the wrong reasons and rehabilitated by now as a masterpiece, "Jeux Interdits" is a small, albeit unmissable film about the lives of small people in World War II France, searching for a thing to cling to that gives their lives meaning - and be it only the celebration of death. But how could adults even begin to understand what goes through their little heads when kids start to bury a mole, a cockroach, even the odd worm, always on the lookout for a few more extra crucifixes? Clément's portrayal of war reality is close to social realism, tragedy and even humor are all part of the film's tapestry, but the picture doesn't set out to be a sentimental tear-jerker. However, the luminous five year old Brigitte Fossey combined with Narciso Yepes' low key piano score and the deep existential themes that permeate the film make it impossible not to be affected by the pet cemetery undertaking. It's a story that owes itself to a horror premise, but it's not a Stephen King fantasy -the stakes are borrowed from a reality. Many a war film has shown us the casualties, but never in this unique form, and that's just one of the many reasons why it gets under your skin.

To be avoided: The "extended" version meant for TV which embeds the happenings in a sugar sweet fairy tale frame. Luckily the alternate version remains a footnote only as the new releases respect what has been buried there in that curious French pet cemetery.

Watch impressions here: ” - Artimidor
The Battle of Algiers (1966)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
In the 1950s, fear and violence escalate as the people of Algiers fight for independence from the French government. (121 mins.)
“ The price of freedom
"The Battle of Algiers" undoubtedly ranks among the most unique, innovative and essential war films to date. Especially because it comes entirely without the pathos, glorification, special effects and artificially created drama that crowds want to see to get some entertainment out of war. Instead the viewer gets a fresh historical scenario - the 1956/57 Algerian insurrection of the National Liberation Front (FLN) against the French colonists. Following the events laid out in the "Souvenirs de la Bataille d'Alger", a book written in prison by of one of the former FLN leaders, Yacef Saadi, it is an unvarnished account of a brutal reality that emerged as a natural consequence of colonial oppression. To add to the realism Yacef Saadi - now an Algerian senator - even plays a key part in the production.

Outstanding feature of the film is that director Gillo Pontecorvo opts for a breathtakingly dramatized documentary style, a genre where he came from and clearly feels at home. The result is very close to newsreel footage, which makes it look like no other comparable war picture: Executions, demonstrations, strikes, bombings, interrogations, the house-to-house guerilla warfare look so real that Pontecorvo had to point out explicitly that not a single frame of actual documentary or news footage was used in the film. Furthermore the film stays as unbiased as possible and portrays both sides of the conflict: the rebels with the few, risky and desperate means they are capable of organizing to hurt the enemy, and the French paratroopers under Col. Mathieu striking back with unrelenting force in order to crush the FLN's backbone. The picture hasn't lost any of its relevance since the day it was made, as an uncomfortable question on both sides of a conflict arises again and again: Do the ends justify the means?

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
12 Angry Men (1957)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
A jury holdout attempts to prevent a miscarriage of justice by forcing his colleagues to reconsider the evidence. (96 mins.)
Director: Sidney Lumet
“ Fonda casts a contagious shadow of a doubt
One room, twelve men and talk, talk, talk. Ninety minutes of film. Sounds like a bore, but turns out to be quite the opposite. The back room of a courthouse where a jury of ordinary men has to decide upon life and death becomes the place of first rate drama, where a seemingly insignificant shadow of a doubt makes people talk at least once more about what at first appeared to be a clear cut case. Henry Fonda with his understated play is in the lead of the doubters, supported by strong character actors like Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden or Martin Balsam.

The reluctant, some even clearly prejudiced members of the motley jury all look at the case from very different angles, but they are made real by distinguished acting and screenwriter Reginald Rose's crispy dialog, which never misses the mark. Also remarkable is the fact that the battle of the jurors is embedded in a highly believable environment - a hot day, people sweating, emotions getting the better of them, then a downpour outside, there are casual conversations about what's on people's minds in the breaks, restroom scenes which serve further character elaboration. Director Sidney Lumet on his part focuses on making the film as claustrophobic as he possibly can. He uses subtle camera tricks to gradually make the confined space even seem closer to the actors as the film progresses to add to the mounting intensity and the final shots are made from below eye level to reflect the change that has taken place. "12 Angry Men" above all is a captivating character study. It is not about solving a crime, but characters confronted with decision making and how they approach it. Exceptional film-making.

Side note: "12 Angry Men" was remade in 1997 with another outstanding ensemble cast headed by Jack Lemmon. A decent film, but no reason to miss the original.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Planet of the Apes (1968)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
An astronaut crew crash-lands on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved. (112 mins.)
“ A one of a kind sci-fi masterpiece, creative and ingenious
It was Rod Serling of "Twilight Zone" fame, who initially penned the screen version of Pierre Boulle's not particularly successful novel "La planète des singes" and was responsible for preparing it to eventually become a cult movie. While rewritten several times later on it was the genius of Serling who was attracted by the potential of the material, laying out timeline and rules already in a first draft. These guidelines would also be followed in the four sequels of the Ape films of the seventies to eventually form a whole cohesive unit. The initial movie of course is the great one, the one with the most powerful impact, the shocker, the one that irritates, disturbs and asks all the questions. The rest of the movies in the series for sure is inferior and more pedestrian than revolutionary, yet they are all part of one great sci-fi idea and therefore should be treated as such.

As for the first "Planet of the Apes": The picture has all good science fiction needs and more - it deals with the consequences of evolution, mankind reaching its final frontier, the ultimate philosophical questions about existence and becoming. The scenery is great and believable, Charlton Heston and recurring ape performers Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter are standouts, Jerry Goldsmith hits the right chords with his avant-garde compositional techniques producing an innovative off-beat score and the make-up achievement was phenomenal for its time. At the bottom of it all lie the thoughts of creative minds, and we should be thankful that "Planet of the Apes" made it on screen pretty much unharmed in its ingenuity.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
A former Prohibition-era Jewish gangster returns to the Lower East Side of Manhattan over thirty years later, where he once again must confront the ghosts and regrets of his old life. (229 mins.)
Director: Sergio Leone
“ Once upon a time there was Sergio Leone
Sergio Leone's life-long struggle to make the perfect picture would eventually culminate in a crime fairy-tale on Jewish mobsters, aptly titled "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984). And it would hold its ground despite heavy competition of Coppola's well received "Godfather" films and the critically acclaimed Scorsese's gangster epics. Made 13 years after his previous picture, Leone's interlude as a producer didn't take away his passion to get the "America" project that was in the pipeline finally going. Eventually it bore fruit and would also turn out to be his ultimate one, and maybe his best. In it the former master of spaghetti westerns takes the time to tell a multifaceted story and crams several whole gangster lives into a nearly four hour long epic, still complaining about essential 45 minutes that he was forced to cut. Well, that's Leone for you...

At any rate the result is an operatic classic based on the quasi-autobiography of a gangster turned informant, packed with period details of the 1910s, 30s and 60s. It's a nostalgic trip through half a century with time as the key player that washes over the viewer like a mesmerizing, beautiful dream in an opium den, however at the same time feels like a violent nightmare commenting on themes of past vs. present, memory vs. dream, love vs. desire and above all betrayal vs. friendship. Add to the extensive script that was honed for years an array of beautifully photographed scenes, breathtaking Technicolor cinematography and a truly numinous score, and you've got yourself a masterpiece. For it all is married with such a tremendous amount of meticulousness for details that one can't help but get lost in the gangster world of Lower East Side of Manhattan. Aside from Leone's superb visuals, the accompanying music that links times and suggests themes needs special mention as it single-handedly raises the aesthetic level of the whole production by another notch. Created by Ennio Morricone, the famous memories evoking melancholic pan pipes not only fit the film's emotional ride through passing time, but also help to transcend it.

The flashback story, with bits and pieces falling into place like in a jigsaw puzzle, is what makes the films so overwhelming, so emotionally intense. This time around a Leone picture however is not so much about landscape and close-ups, but about characters and their environment, the area they live in and their history. De Niro, James Woods, Joe Pesci, Danny Aiello let it all come alive. And at the side of the young Jennifer Connelly the 13 year old unknown Scott Schutzman Tiler plays the young version of the protagonist Noodles and nearly steals the older one's thunder, which is no other than De Niro. On the one hand the street urchin's light-heartedness shines in the character's youth while the veteran actor immerses himself so completely in the aging gangster that the weight of his past becomes almost palpable.

Sergio Leone not only made Henry Grey - the man on which the story is loosely based - a larger-than-life monument, but also himself as a grand narrator of adult fairy-tales. Actually, "Once Upon a Time in America" is two movies in one, and the overarching flashback structure makes it an unforgettable experience. All that of course was butchered on US release that sank the picture - even more reason to re-discover it as it was intended to be seen, in all its nostalgic glory.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Psycho (1960)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer's client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother. (109 mins.)
“ "Psycho" spells the ABC of horror
The face of Anthony Perkins aka Norman Bates as the psycho has burned itself deep into the mindset of moviegoers since Hitchcock's horror thriller hit the silver screens in 1960. It's essential for a whole genre, as iconic and unmistakable as Boris Karloff's Frankenstein monster in Jack Pierce's make-up and will be for many more generations to come. As far as horror movies go it can't get any better than this. Anthony Perkins remains stuck in your mind due to his nervously shy performance throughout most of the film, likeable and odd at the same time, and the ice cold twist at the end makes perfect sense.

But the film is much more than Perkins. It's Robert Bloch's excellent script, Bernard Herrmann outstanding score, and then there's the director. Hitch shows his handwriting as the master of suspense in every detail. The black and white cinematography of course is crucial and used to perfection in "Psycho", the shadows and tilted angles contribute to an unnerving atmosphere. And who else would get rid of someone introduced as the protagonist after a third of the film? Or take the famous shower scene, where the master demonstrates his cutting edge editing abilities, literally. It's reduced to the necessary minimum, artistically composed for maximum effect. And the mise en scène of the final revelation, the secret that awaits in the basement? Heart-stopping. In short: "Psycho" spells the ABC of horror, and rightfully so.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Double Indemnity (1944)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
An insurance representative lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator's suspicions. (107 mins.)
Director: Billy Wilder
“ Classic touchstone of film noir experience
In order to begin a story with the ending and still maintain suspense throughout the movie a film-maker needs to be quite sure of his skills to capture the attention of his audience. Director/writer Billy Wilder, assisted by established novelist Raymond Chandler with the screenplay, knows how to do it. He presents his film noir entirely in flashbacks, narrated in atmospheric voice-overs leading eventually to what we've already seen in the introduction. And despite the fact that we know where it's all heading we're still glued to our seats. New at the time and often copied ever since, but rarely done that well.

Central point is the mutual plan of an insurance rep and the wife of a rich husband to commit the perfect crime and literally get away with murder. Said salesman Walter Neff (Fred McMurray) not only commits the crime, but is also supposed to investigate it along with insurance inspector and friend Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). Reluctantly but inevitably he stumbles into his own demise, which he is unfortunate to experience from either side of the law. What makes this dark existential dilemma so exciting is not so much what happens but how it is presented to the viewer and how the components fit together to form a supreme whole. Thanks primarily to an amazing script and aided by Wilder's flawless direction that leaves nothing to desire for a film noir devotee the film indeed lives up to the expectations of its promise and has since become an invaluable reference. Aside from McMurray and the terrific Robinson there's also Barbara Stanwyck playing the ensnaring femme fatale, and all of them deliver sharp dialog. Add to that high-contrast black and white cinematography, effective lighting, multiple oscars winner Miklós Rózsa's score - all the best ingredients for a touchstone of film noir experience, complete with fatality drive. Classic.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
You, the Living (2007)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
You, the Living is a film about humankind, its greatness and its baseness, joy and sorrow, its self-confidence and anxiety, its desire to love and be loved. (95 mins.)
Director: Roy Andersson
“ Something about us, the living
Ah yes, Roy Andersson. That humble, down-to-earth guy, famous creator of oodles of award winning commercials with a Scandinavian sense of super dry dead-pan humor peppered with a touch of surrealism and the absurd. He's also undisputed champ of static shots and builder of pitch-perfect studio sets, a director who prefers vignettes over a consistent story to make a picture, and quite an essential (post-)modern film-maker. Located somewhere between Bergman, Fellini, Buñuel, some say even Monty Python, he draws from all of them in a way, and yet is entirely unique by doing his own thing - filming losers, life, people caught in the clutches of capitalism, haunted by guilt, with death, destruction and the dark cloud of the apocalypse always hanging over life, the universe and everything. "Songs from the Second Floor" (2000) marks part one of his still unfinished trilogy. "Songs" is bleak, depressing, revealing, thought-provoking with dark comedy mixed in it, and, naturally, a must-see.

"You, the Living" (2007) returns to the same world in a comedic way, sort of. "Sort of" because among other things there's of course that streetcar named "Lethe", the name of one of the rivers of death in ancient Greek myth, and people stream out into their lives from it, zombie-like blocking its path... Fitting to the river of forgetfulness a bartender regularly reminds us again and again: "Last drink!" Other people have little to remember, but dream their lives away, in romantic fashion far removed from reality, feel nightmarish bombers looming or embarrass themselves by trying to impress others, and get the death penalty before they wake up. At least they finally provided entertainment that way, as popcorn is handed out at the electric chair. Between dreams, hopes and impending doom life has to be lived, and it's full with its little quirks, pumped up by Andersson to the point of hilarious grotesqueness however presented realistically. Or the other way round. By marrying these apparent extremes without focusing on a central story in a painterly style we enter a state of mind that helps us to evaluate, appreciate and apprehend the fun way: you know, learn more about those guys addressed by the movie that are just mirrored on screen, supposedly known as "the living". Because we shouldn't be surprised that while we hold our heads high towards heaven our life as we know it will be extinguished at the end. That bombshell of a bummer would be the point when we - as the living - should have figured it all out, or at least have an inkling what all that Dixieland jazz is actually about...

Watch trailers here: ” - Artimidor
The Mirror (1975)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A dying man in his forties remembers his past. His childhood, his mother, the war, personal moments and things that tell of the recent history of all the Russian nation. (108 mins.)
“ Russian memories are made of this
Tarkovsky's one of a kind stream of consciousness picture, his unique masterclass in visual and poetic film-making, "The Mirror", is a mesmerizing and entrancing mixture of dreams, images and memories. The latter are personal and collective ones and guide us deep into the soul of the auteur as well as of his motherland Russia. "Mirror" contains reflections from and back to events in the dying protagonist's life, reflections, whose presence are still strong and are actively occupying his mind, fragmentary as they might be, labyrinthine as their paths may be connected. The seemingly disjointed journey nevertheless is rife with deep emotions, has visionary, dreamy, sometimes even nightmarish qualities of a strange beauty rarely put on celluloid. Tarkovsky establishes links between people of multiple generations and of people with objects and landscapes in order to transcend it all towards something that cannot be easily labeled. In essence "Mirror" is all about the wealth that lies in a life lived and how the past bleeds through into the present and the other way round, forming and re-forming existences that live and once lived. Tarkovsky himself described the art of directing as "sculpting in time" and realizes the idea in this masterpiece formally and content-wise: There's no story and clear cut scenario as such at first glance, the film's focus is constantly blurring, actors play multiple roles over various generations, and no morale is being preached and served to be taken home. And yet it's all there if you not only want to look at things, but to see.

"Mirror" invites to be immersed in the pure beauty of the imagery, enhanced by expressive lyrics by Arseniy Tarkovsky and the subtle but effective soundtrack, all tied together to form an essay about life itself, to simply marvel at it, suffer and rejoice. You might let the film wash over you or analyze it to bits, reconstructing a person out of its fragments, it's the viewer's choice. Understanding and connecting references becomes easier at repeated viewings however, and revisiting "The Mirror" definitely is a must to fully appreciate it, whether you want to see it as an emotional journey or as a sophisticated puzzle, or both - the film at any rate will open up a new horizon of perception. The picture feels like the boy it all starts off with, who is plagued by a stammering condition. In order to help him to articulate himself a healer hypnotizes him and finally succeeds in making her subject talk. Tarkovsky directs in the same vein one might say - by means of hypnosis. And just like the stuttering boy who is observed only via TV by someone else, the narrator and the path he takes are observed by the viewer of the film. There's more however the picture requires than piecing together fragments in order to understand an unseen person on screen, after all a person is more than the sum of its parts. Something to remember when looking into a "Mirror".

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Ballad of a Soldier (1959)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Young Russian soldier Alyosha earns a medal, but asks to visit his mother instead. His journey recounts various kinds of love during wartime. (88 mins.)
“ Against all odds a great war movie out of the Soviet Union
Grigori Chukhray's film "Ballad of a Soldier", shot in 1959 in the Soviet Union, somehow miraculously happened against all odds. The board which had to decide whether the film should be made called its script shallow and a thing about a boy, a girl and a leaking roof that isn't worth to be made in the Soviet Union. Chukhray, who referred to it as the film of his lifetime, also insisted on changing the leads to unknown actors, there was an accident on the first day of shooting, then the director himself turned ill when they restarted, finally a mutiny cost him half of the crew - and once the film was finished it was recommended not to show it in larger cities of the Soviet Union. It won in Cannes, though.

Well, "Ballad of a Soldier" was worth all the trouble. It's not about the Soviet Union, the Nazis, battle scenes, violence or death. It's about a young WW II soldier lucky enough to have a heroic moment and get permission to return home for a few days. You might call him the unknown soldier. In this road movie of the different kind you learn a lot about life far away from the front lines, it's about people and their varying struggles during the times of war. The voyage to what seems to be the other end of the world results in one of the most compassionate, humanistic, even poetically beautiful war-related movies. Plus the restored print is as perfect as it can be, making this one a shining gem in every movie-lover's collection.

Additional Note: If you've acquired a taste for emotional war drama between the front and back home, there's of course that other Soviet key film you shouldn't miss either. Mikhail Kalatozov's "The Cranes are Flying" focuses on a couple torn apart by the woes of war, features powerful imagery on an emotional roller coaster ride and is as universally tangible as Chukhray's film.

Watch "Ballad of a Soldier" trailer here:

Watch "The Cranes are Flying" trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
In post-war Italy, a working-class man's bicycle is stolen. He and his son set out to find it. (89 mins.)
“ "Bicycle Thieves" - the powerful impact of reality
In the post-war era when neo-realism was en vogue, Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) was considered by some to be the greatest movie of all time. True, it lost ground in the following years, but only to bounce back recently thanks to film critics who try to unearth the defining moments in 20th century cinema. This undoubtedly is one of them.

Together with writer Cesare Zavattini De Sica made many fine movies, among them the no less famous "Umberto D". "Umberto D" is sort of a twin brother to "Bicycles Thieves", as it represents a variation of themes introduced in the earlier film in many aspects, but both of them are social realism at their very best. Low on budget but with a lot to say these pictures simply show realities and omit the overblown pathos film productions tend to often put before the first line of a plot is even written. The impact on viewers interested in seeing reality is thus much stronger. The neo-realistic roots not only show in the way the scenes are filmed or dialog is spoken, also the actors in "Bicycle Thieves" were throughout non-professionals. The main character, Lamberto Maggiorani, a simple workman of Breda, left his own work for two months to be in the film. Enzo Staiola, who plays his son, was a poor child, a son of refugees himself, clearly aware of the suffering lower class people went through after the war. Their performances are magnificent, and De Sica has a simple explanation for that: They are not playing roles, but themselves. Maggiorani tried to stay in the film industry, but would never surpass his portrayal of Antonio and forever remain one of the great faces of neo-realism - the face of a simple worker, be it from Rome or Breda, in life or in fiction.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
An insane general triggers a path to nuclear holocaust that a war room full of politicians and generals frantically try to stop. (95 mins.)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
“ "Dmitri, we have a little problem..."
If you intend on learning to love the bomb, meet the Generals Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) and 'Buck' Turgidson (George C. "Patton" Scott), then add Peter Sellers multiplied by three - and of course Stanley Kubrick. The year is 1964, and the war out there is pretty cold: Welcome to the end of the world! Let's jump right in and go for condition red, that's a jolly good idea for a start, don't you think? Make yourself at home in the war room, where a poster makes it perfectly clear that "peace is our profession"! Here, take some gum!

You might have guessed it already: If you want your humor black and apocalyptic, you've found the right movie. The doomsday machine is waiting for its cue, as some madmen got something up their sleeve. Well, admittedly, there's a wee bit of inconvenience with that whole affair, because somehow the legendary red button actually already got pushed, and it's only a matter of time until... But don't you worry - the two presidents are talking it out! However, should the world - against all odds - still stand after everything is said and done someone might get in trouble with the Coca-Cola company. Alternatively, look in your survival kit to find three lipsticks and some pairs of nylon stockings. That should help!

Apparently there's no genre Kubrick couldn't do. Be it sci-fi, horror, war movie, epic, historical drama or political satire with this one - Kubrick's perfectionism leaves no doubt that he's master of his domain. And in the case of "Dr. Strangelove" he was also on the pulse of his time, or quite ahead of it if you will. As even decades later it's still ok to get goosebumps when Vera Miles' gets to finally sing "We'll meet again"...

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Vampyr (1932)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A drifter obsessed with the supernatural stumbles upon an inn where a severely ill adolescent girl is slowly becoming a vampire. (83 mins.)
Director: Carl Th. Dreyer
“ Dreyer pioneers in filming the perfect nightmare
While anyone even remotely interested in horror pictures will be able to tell you about the classic Universal shockers made in 1931, "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" (starring icons like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi), you won't have that much luck if you ask for a certain "Vampyr" film or Nicolas Louis Alexandre de Gunzburg's only picture he starred in. Only recently getting the attention it really deserves, "Vampyr", made in 1932, was the Danish director's Carl Theodor Dreyer's answer to these big US monster movies. It failed miserably on the box office and nearly cost him his career. Maybe because one of the reasons was that the picture was way ahead of its time and made for the entirely wrong audience, as a form of art rather than a typical mass audience monster movie. But to admirers of refined horror and cinematic art, this movie from teh film history vaults is nothing less than a revelation.

Dreyer's take on horror was very European, with a good deal of German pre-war expressionism in the mix, featuring lots of shadows, weird angles, dream-like picture distortion throughout the film, fascinating camera movements, a difficult to follow, intentionally fragmented narrative, and hauntingly surreal imagery. Certain shots were done for the very first time, and later rarely as effective as here, among them the famous in-coffin camera, or dancing silhouettes of people, which get separated from their bodies, only to return to them again. Dreyer got the respect he deserved later for his other dramatic works, like "Gertrud" or "Ordet", that established him as an undisputed master of his craft, but he was a pioneer in the horror field as well, filming the perfect nightmare. Time to make that clear.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Magnolia (1999)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
An epic mosaic of interrelated characters in search of love, forgiveness, and meaning in the San Fernando Valley. (188 mins.)
“ And when it rains, it pours...
Here's a film to be enjoyed on multiple levels, and the good thing is: It's entirely up to you what you want to make of it. "Magnolia" is an entry in the nowadays growing category of "hypertext movies" with no single protagonist, a film where all plots are somehow connected, interlinked and one action has an impact on another story, subtle or major, and vice versa, and so it goes with every single one of them. The result is a mosaic-like puzzle where everything forms a strange whole, patched together by the almighty power of coincidence. That is, if you want to see it that way. If you're a believer in fate you might get a very different view, or even start wondering whether it might even make sense to consider these two principles to be synonymous.

There's more than just events that are linked in a 24 hours time span. One of them is the great music to be enjoyed by Aimee Mann, setting the mood, creating the links, enhancing the outstanding photography. The single stories are all worth telling, they are quirky, funny, emotional, touching, well acted and adequately paced, and make the three hours of the film's length fly by in no time. You will also find an apparent theme about parents and children, about the past that isn't through with us, even though we'd like to get rid of it, and how it all seems to come together in a storm of metaphysical epiphany, or absurdity - up to you. Heed the trailer that "warns" us, though: And when it rains, it pours... "Magnolia" has the potential to morph in front of the viewer's eye with each viewing, enriching the experience, as there are enough different aspects that demand new attention. Recommendation for first time watchers: Don't look for the big message. Just expect the unexpected.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Metropolis (1927)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences. (153 mins.)
Director: Fritz Lang
“ Finally definitive, and still pointing ahead
For many years the initially flopped and consequently butchered "Metropolis" Fritz Lang made in the mid twenties of the past century could be appreciated at least for its qualities as the indispensable science-fiction trailblazer in motion picture history. What was severely lacking from the plot however finally emerged on screen again after the famous Buenos Aires reel find which brought a quarter of what was missing from the film back from the dead. With the new painstaking 2010 restoration effort also came a grandiose symphony orchestra studio recording of the original Gottfried Huppertz score - and the results make movie buffs prone to be blown away, and this time for real.

The technical brilliance and visual lavishness of Fritz Lang's oeuvre was always undisputed already at its time and only matched by fellow German Murnau's ingenious approaches on film-making. There's so much and dense imagery that generations of future filmmakers would draw from this newly emerging archetype. Among the unforgettable scenes are the giant heart machine which turns into a moloch in one of the hero's visions, the Babel tower teeming with utopian life, the enormous sets, elevators and masses and masses of enslaved and rebellious people, the staggering creation of the first robot, all set against the dominant dichotomy between - literally - those living above and those dying below. There are echoes of communism here, of nazi ideology, of the dangers and abysses of industrialization, technology, and there are also glimpses of humanity. Not perfect in all its components, the film nevertheless has everything pioneering in it - and more. Fritz Lang, while having some reservations himself referred to the picture as a "signpost for new destinations", and that's exactly what it became now that we can look at the great sci-fi pictures of the past century. In them and through them "Metropolis" still lives, and once we revisit the original again we might yet be surprised that it, miraculously, still points ahead.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Caché (2005)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
A married couple is terrorized by a series of surveillance videotapes left on their front porch. (117 mins.)
Director: Michael Haneke
“ Hidden within the eye of the beholder
Michael Haneke's "Caché" bears all the hallmarks of a first rate mystery thriller. It tells the suspenseful story of a couple (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche in superb realistic performances) being observed by a candid camera, a couple, who finds these tapes on their doorstep, and as the narrative progresses the terror gets cranked up notch by notch. It's a story of suspicion, confrontation, a cruel walk down memory lane, the unnerving search for a hidden key that unlocks the source of the mystery - a culprit has to be delivered. But if you don't know the artist Haneke you better be prepared for something else than the common superficial whodunit. In the background lingers anything but a mystery thriller with a common payoff, and this gap between expectations and delivery has divided the audience ever since. Crafted with an immense care for detail, "Caché" is challenging and requires the viewer to participate, but if you're up for it, what unfolds will get under your skin for sure.

Especially "Caché's" final shot is a fervently discussed one, deliberately breaking with conventions. It actually looks like one of the most unspectacular endings in film history, but on the other hand it might give you the notion that you've missed something. Yet it makes a point and stays true to what the title promised all along. Or would you see the two characters hidden in that scene if you aren't actually looking for them? Strange how the obvious can so easily be ignored. And still there's another pair of eyes in that very scene, a pair of eyes one has taken for granted until this point. It's the pair of eyes one easily overlooks and yet it's always there, responsible for a point of view that merges reality with fiction, and as we learn it's the focus of the film: It's all about the eye of the beholder. Watching a film.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Inland Empire (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
As an actress starts to adopt the persona of her character in a film, her world starts to become nightmarish and surreal. (180 mins.)
Director: David Lynch
“ The dark side of the rabbit hole
"Inland Empire" is dangerous stuff. If you decide to continue watching after the first weird minutes (where you see among other things rabbits ironing and talking nonsense), you'll get three full hours of Lynchian strangeness, you might even say absurdities, framed by or being at the heart of a story about identity, more precisely a woman in trouble. What happens exactly in such a long running time is quite unclear and there are lots of opportunities to give up on this one. On the other hand you might come across people who claim to be able to dissect and explain the movie for you from beginning to end - which will take more than three hours though, I fear. And even considering that it's a Lynch picture you might find you constantly asking yourself when you read theories about it: Seriously?

"Inland Empire" is difficult to rave about on first viewing. But it has its moments, leaves a very strong impression. It stays in your head, even if it only leaves you disturbed and unsure with a plethora of unanswered questions, all let loose on you. Asking yourself if Lynch has finally lost it is absolutely valid at this point. Yet - who knows? - he might have wanted it exactly the way it came out. Or it is a combination of both. Be it as it may: "Inland Empire" is a vivid play with associations, references, a trip into hell and back, which demands a lot from its viewers. Try to analyse it to death or let it wash over you with its ambiguities kept intact, receiving it only on an emotional level to get to the things behind. On the screen there's Laura Dern's stellar performance. And behind? Well, there might be a rabbit hole for those who look closely...

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
A Moment of Innocence (1996)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A semi-autobiographical account of Makmahlbaf's experience as a teenager when, as a 17-year-old, he stabbed a policeman at a protest rally. Two decades later, he tracks down the policeman he injured in an attempt to make amends. (78 mins.)
“ Freeze framed for eternity
As if fellow Iranian director Kiarostami's exemplary intertwining of fact and fiction of a Makhmalbaf real-life story in "Close-Up" weren't enough, Makhmalbaf himself ups the ante of creative filmmaking a few years later: Focus is a moment in his young idealistic life where he stabbed a guard during the Iranian revolution, resulting in several years of jail time for him before he eventually emerged as one of the leading Iranian filmmakers. But it's not just an autobiographical detail he wants to shed light on, Makhmalbaf films a documentary on top of a pseudo-documentary (or is it the other way round?), it's a heavily symbolic re-interpretation of what happened, why and how, a look into an aspect of reality. In the process a transcendence of the actual situation ensues with an almost mythical truth buried in the film's final scene. Makhmalbaf accomplishes the feat by re-enacting said moment with no other than the actual stabbed guard (now out of money), who coaches a young actor to play himself - while the former guard is being filmed by the director doing so. Simultaneously to that Makhmalbaf casts actors meant to portray his own perspective of the events, not without revealing insights, and the whole effort culminates in the filming of that crucial stabbing scene: Welcome to a film in a film, a reality in a reality, a blending of fact and fiction in a most fruitful and enlightening way, social, historical and political commentary included. How much of what ended up on screen was actually planned, is for the viewer to decide, but if you're looking for creative minds Makhmalbaf's use of the medium will keep you enthralled throughout.

"Excuse me, what time is it?" we hear Makhmalbaf's accomplice ask the guard at the end of the film, the air pregnant with suspenseful anticipation of what is going to happen. So, what time is it? It's two decades after the original incident and an Iranian filmmaker has just delivered his masterpiece. And when the moment arrives the picture freezes, saving a moment in time for eternity that could only happen on film. But in a way, it's all real.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Thin Blue Line (1988 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A film that successfully argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County, Texas. (103 mins.)
Director: Errol Morris
“ Ever heard of the proverbial scapegoat?
A car thief. A juvenile. Someone hitching a ride. Police on patrol, a routine check. A dead officer, brutally shot - instant murder, on sight. There's bragging about a killing. And a memory gap. A search for a killer. Five witnesses. An unanimous verdict. No doubts whatsoever. A death sentence. Finally: an execution. - These at least are some facts of the case involving Randall Adams and David Harris, who met by chance at a Thanksgiving weekend on their way to Dallas. Components to form a larger picture, a picture that documentary filmmaker Errol Morris chose to redraw when he stumbled upon the case and grew more and more puzzled with its alarmingly unchallenged outcome before court. How does it all fit together, as the stories of the suspects obviously don't match? A private investigator himself at the time, Morris poses the right questions to everyone involved - Adams himself, Harris, the guy he hitched a ride from, the police, various detectives, witnesses, the attorneys. He also illustrates their versions on how the killing happened with contradicting re-enactments, usually a clear no-go for documentaries. Morris didn't know better what was expected of him at the time, but presenting the material cinematically - with close-ups, slow-motion and a haunting score by Phillip Glass - leaves a huge impact. However, except from his editing process, Morris lets the impressions stand as they are before the viewer without commenting himself. The result is intense and involving, spine-tingling, gripping and grizzly, and the last images will leave you shell-shocked and speechless. Criminals always lie, you know. Innocents usually tell the truth. Police should have an inkling in this regard.

The riveting story of Randall Adams and David Harris doesn't end with the film. However, your trust in the Texan judiciary system might have reached its limits once you've seen Errol Morris' filmed investigation in the case. Now what about that thin blue line? Between good and evil, citizens and perpetrators? Where is it? Who draws it? Who blurs it? Are the interests of such people the same as yours, the citizen's? It all comes down to the question: Do you feel safe and protected by the law? Think again.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Citizen Kane (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance. (119 mins.)
Director: Orson Welles
“ "Rosebud" leaves its indelible traces
When RKO Radio Pictures gave young radio celebrity Orson Welles the opportunity to work on two pictures of his own little did they know that these two projects nearly would cause the company to go bankrupt. "Citizen Kane" was one of those films where the then 25 year old director and star Orson Welles pulled every possible trick from the books to make an impression, yet - while immediately critically acclaimed - nobody wanted to see the result. By now however the movie's profound influence in American film making is undisputed. And there's a lot one should know about it.

For one as far as the technical side is concerned: Welles shot in deep focus (front and back are both in focus at the same time), used subtle optical illusions, framed his scenes brilliantly, pioneered with invisible wipes, worked with models combined with sets and matte drawings, cleverly placed cameras to force strange angles, even moved furniture there and back again while in a scene, played with mirrors, shots that emphasized size and grandeur or dwarfed a person - the list goes on and on. "Citizen Kane" however is also all about acting, as there's no moment when the viewer doesn't buy Kane's age whenever he is seen - be it in is early twenties or on his deathbed decades later. The character's body language and mannerisms are believable throughout, and when we get to the final reel and finally learn the secret we feel that we really have the key to understand that person. Ah yes, speaking about "rosebud"... That's the third point that needs mentioning: The depth of the story. It's core was inspired by tycoon Randolph Hearst, whose media outlets promptly boycotted the film in reaction, Hearst even wanted to buy the film in order to destroy it... Ah, Welles apparently was on to something! But there's of course a lot of fiction as well in "Citizen Kane" thanks to screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, and so "rosebud" leaves its indelible traces in everyone who ever tried to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
A Man Escaped (1956)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
Captured French Resistance fighter Lieutenant Fontaine awaits a certain death sentence for espionage in a stark Nazi prison... (99 mins.)
Director: Robert Bresson
“ A man escaped movie making conventions
Robert Bresson's works are productions which don't intend to satisfy expectations of the audience, they are primarily arthouse projects. Bresson's films thus are non-commercial, he only uses non-professional actors, rarely integrates music, besides his shots are realistic, lack action and instead focus on the essential, there are no embellishments to sell a scene. What you see on the screen is understated, minimalistic, carefully planned efficiency - less is more.

All these things apply to "A Man Escaped", based on a true story, and the title already tells you the whole plot. It's as basic as that, and miraculously this does the trick: In between the daily prison routines we get to know how our protagonist works on a plan to make the impossible happen, piece by piece he progresses, and the longer his efforts last the more we identify with the endeavor and root for him. Bresson's direction is restrained, unobtrusive, the pace is slow, dictated by prison life regularity, yet the film turns out to be extremely suspenseful in its simplicity, despite or maybe because it doesn't shun to return to the same images and camera perspectives again and again. Sound plays a key role and of course the recitative voice-over, which holds it all together. I guess it's safe to say that a man indeed escaped movie making conventions with this one and succeeded - chapeau bas à Robert Bresson.

Additional note: The other film on par with Bresson's mastery as far as prison escape films are concerned is of course Jacques Becker's seminal "Le Trou" (1960). Realism dominates that one as well, though "Le Trou" has more psychological drama thanks to the group dynamics involved. Despite the somewhat different angle "Le Trou" is as riveting, intense and suspenseful throughout as Bresson's take on the subject. The players are mainly non-actors in this one as well, the emotions are palpable, all sounds in the film are diegetic (always occurring on screen) etc., you see the parallels. To sum it up: Edge-of-the-seat cinema without distracting gimmicks. Two Frenchmen who knew how to do it!

Watch trailer here:

Le Trou: ” - Artimidor
The 400 Blows (1959)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Moving story of a young boy who, left without attention, delves into a life of petty crime. (99 mins.)
“ A picture about flight - but where to?
"Les Quatre-Cent Coups" is arguably the French filmmaker Truffaut's most personal film, borrowing a great deal from own experiences and people around him or circumstances Truffaut could identify with. The English translation of the title unfortunately doesn't reflect the ambiguity which is prevalent in French, where the idiom "quatre cents coups (du diable)" refers to "impish pranks" or "pieces of mischief" and beatings at the same time. The emphasis does not lie on the latter in the original intention, thus setting the picture in a better context. Be it as it may: Being the first feature of Truffaut after having started out as a film critic, he knows exactly what he wants to do with the material, and it shows as he embraces realism in Paris of the 50s and 60s - real life, everyday people, situations as they happen, right until the minuscule details.

What you get with "Les Quatre-Cent Coups" is not a big epic story, it's small things put together. It's a progression, a chain of consequences where cause is followed by effect, with pieces here and there adding to the downward spiral that draws Antoine Doinel more and more into it. He is a boy with hopes and dreams, trying to cope with his life the best as he can given the cards dealt to him on his spinning ride, reacting in a young adolescent's way to counter them, making mistakes, yet also attempting to correct them, nevertheless ending up running, running, running - where to? Truffault just poses the question in intense imagery, unusually long, slow and poetic scenes, with wide children's eyes starring back at the viewer, photographed in splendid black and white. An emotional journey not to be missed.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Ran (1985)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
In Medieval Japan, an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new-found power will corrupt them and cause them to turn on each other...and him. (162 mins.)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
“ Shakespeare, Kurosawa - a classic spectacle
In Ran, one of Akira Kurosawa's last pictures, the legendary director once again returns to themes he has dealt with before in such impressive pictures as "Throne of Blood" or "Yojimbo", and these are: power struggle, arrogance, selfishness, greed, betrayal, suspicion, revenge, blackmail, battle upon battle, madness, death and tragedy. To sum it all up means to spell the title of this epic: "Ran", which stands for "Chaos", and this is exactly what you can expect when things get out of hand in a once thriving land. The film is a loose rendition of Shakespeare's "King Lear" and begins with what an old warlord thinks to be a good idea: to abdicate and make room for younger blood. But his three sons have their own agendas and soon clash to decide upon the right of succession until everything that reminds of the once glory days is irretrievably gone.

"Ran" lasts nearly three hours, has beautifully choreographed battle scenes, sharp dialog and is packed with lots of strong main characters: aspiring and falling warlords, conniving wives, a faithful, wise jester, a symbolic blind man on the edge of a cliff, to name just a few... Unlike the mentioned Samurai movies, "Ran" was shot beautifully in color and features hundreds of extras, making the film one of Kurosawa's most visually stunning movies. If you like it monumental, you can't get past this one.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
In a strange and isolated chateau, a man becomes acquainted with a woman and insists that they have met before. (94 mins.)
Director: Alain Resnais
“ Labyrinthine, elusive, puzzling, elliptical - welcome to Marienbad!
This is one of grand ones. "Last Year at Marienbad" is that famous enigmatic French Novelle Vague picture that keeps audiences talking and contradicting each other in their attempts to process what they thought to have seen on screen, and it might as well haunt viewers for quite a while and make them return spellbound to it in order to uncover further sides of a film that is as elusive as water running through your fingers. As in fact "Marienbad" consists only of sketches of plot, loosely connected threads, circling around the basic question of a relationship, however it's a festival of perspectives without ever directly suggesting any satisfying objective interpretation. That's the beauty of it, as the picture is only completed by the subjective perception of the viewer and what his or her imagination brings to it.

It helps to know that this fascinating one of a kind cinematic jewel was made due to a principal understanding of director Alain Resnais and writer Alain Robbe-Grillet to deconstruct film, to experiment with narration, style, images, music, motifs, to bring a "nouveau roman" to the big screen - and that basically meant to break with all kinds of traditional forms of narration. While shot precisely after Robbe-Grillet's meticulous screenplay, something very different came out nevertheless eventually as the writer said himself, due to the fact that in its genesis the film apparently is already a visual re-interpretation of what was committed to paper. This adds even another layer of complexity and intricacy to the already enigmatic affair that demands to be ordered and reordered, and eventually savored by a receptive mind. "Marienbad" is beautiful, labyrinthine, puzzling, feels trance-like. It's a seemingly eternal loop of sorts dealing with the same things but viewed through varying filters of time, thought and character, a dance through endless corridors around petrified figures, again and again, involving love, obsession, rejection, jealousy, memories, perhaps open lust, rape, liberation and murder - but how much of it is currently happening, is a memory, a dream or merely imagination remains a mystery. The film carefully hands us out more and more elements to build something more definite in our, the viewer's, mind. You need to be ready for an experience like "Marienbad". However, if you're willing to immerse yourself into something you run a risk of not being able to grasp, then you could as well try a trip to Marienbad. After all the key to the mystery is in your mind, the answer to that puzzle of what really happened - last year at... Marienbad.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Great Expectations (1946)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A humble orphan suddenly becomes a gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor. (118 mins.)
Director: David Lean
“ Charles Dickens and David Lean - expect something great!
Fancy watching an exceptionally great narration? Something which holds you in its grip from the very first moment, where you can smell the air of the atmosphere and are anxious to see how the story unfolds? Well, then take a great epic 19th century story spanning several decades with well worked out characters and various twists and turns by a respected writer like Charles Dickens. Add a director like David Lean, who is known for his excellent storytelling abilities with the camera, and you're in for a real treat on the big screen.

Enriched with highly impressive sets and costumes, a wonderful cast, shot in striking black and white cinematography the book comes to life as only few film adaptations of works of literature do. The depth of the characters and themes involved can be seen and felt in every detail, and this despite the fact that not everything of Dickens' characters, their relationships or the original ending made it into the movie. If you're that good with storytelling this doesn't matter that much. With "Great Expectations" you can expect no less than a true classic.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A French actress filming an anti-war film in Hiroshima has an affair with a married Japanese architect as they share their differing perspectives on war. (90 mins.)
Director: Alain Resnais
“ Hiroshima, Nevers and the pledge to remember
"Hiroshima, mon Amour" is a film about memory, about bliss and happiness of long ago buried in the rubble of trauma and the fear to forget what was before. As forgetting means the threat to eradicate everything that once constituted individual or collective meaning of life, to let a dream that transcended sorrows, the hope, elation and joy sink back into oblivion, to make the past and thus existence built on it irrelevant. Director Alain Resnais and writer Marguerite Duras set out on a remarkable poetic journey to express these mentioned thoughts and hauntingly succeeded. The viewer becomes witness of the portrayal of intimate insights in the soul of a French actress who has a brief affair with a Japanese, but the sincere love combined with the horror of the historic place the couple finds itself in is reason enough to awaken an own personal story of innocence that once resulted in tragedy. The Japanese city of Hiroshima and the French Nevers become symbols of lives where history casts a long shadow and drowns the light. Unless one finds a way to penetrate the darkness, and in this rare case two people do.

"Hiroshima, mon Amour" is a true piece of art with an emphasis on Duras' literary approach on the subject matter, enhanced by Resnais Nouvelle Vage inspired cinematography and editing techniques. The film conveys a deeply melancholic tone through images, camera movements, restrained music and monotone talk. Resnais adds quick cuts and cross cuts to capture how thoughts and emotions travel from one city to another, from present to past, from trauma to what preceded it, circling again and again around the protagonist's hidden secret in order to unearth it, share it, finally give it back its importance. In the end it is all about Hiroshima, who helps to remember Nevers, and Nevers to remember Hiroshima. "Hiroshima, mon Amour" is probably not a film to instantly grab you, but it is a lasting one. One to... remember.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Artist (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A silent movie star meets a young dancer, but the arrival of talking pictures sends their careers in opposite directions. (100 mins.)
“ The magical sound of a silent
Starting off with visual quotes from ancient films like "Metropolis" and "Frankenstein" Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist" shouts its message right in your face: "I won't talk!" In intertitles, that is. Yep, the protagonist means it. And he'll also stay in black and white. And in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. There you have it. Next stop: The silent era! And once we've arrived all of a sudden the period is alive and kicking like Frankenstein's monster, except that it will be sending jolts of joy through your body. What we have here is a magnificently unique idea, charming direction, a grandiose soundtrack, perfect costume design and Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo as the leads who must have time traveled to 2011 to be able to portray the 1930s and onwards so convincingly, as even without words their faces and gestures speak volumes.

Cinema has gone through a lot in the past decades that gradually sucked art out of the medium: The breakthrough of the blockbuster in the seventies and the building of multiplexes in order to expand reaching and streamlining audiences, the growth of sensationalism for profit's sake, the inflationary distortions of reality spurred by ever present effects and increasing noise, the disappearance of the story in convoluted plots in order to be able to harbor some final surprises... Well, after all that a breath of fresh air is a blessing to anyone with a sincere love for cinema. "The Artist" goes against the flow and restores some of the art without appearing artificial. Time for some pure back to the roots entertainment of the grand scale and with its simple yet poignant story the film doesn't strive to be anything but. While back in the days black and white was dictated by the medium's limitations, it also signified a filter, a style, which now again - brought back via a postmodern lens - helps to see things differently than we are used to in real life. Music, not words, floats through the air and the picture prefers to conclude with a tap dance rather than a twist for a twist's sake. In all that "The Artist" serves as a reminder, a reminder of what we gain by taking a step back, by opening our eyes and ears to experience the beauty and the magic that reverberates in the sound of a perfect silent.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Eraserhead (1977)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Henry Spencer tries to survive his industrial environment, his angry girlfriend, and the unbearable screams of his newly born mutant child. (89 mins.)
Director: David Lynch
“ A world between Bunuel and Kafka - surreal, depressing and inescapable
"Eraserhead" was David Lynch's first feature film. It was made in 1977 on a shoestring budget and it is a strange, weird, confusing, twisted, yes, a bizarre and surreal film, experimental some might say, nightmarish others, a paranoid experience perhaps, abhorrent, nasty, disgusting, shocking, horrific. Don't watch it! Worst movie, ever! And there are those who call it pure cinematic genius and a must see. But beware: Even if you know Lynch's later work, which is rarely straightforward either, "Eraserhead" poses its very own challenge by trying a balancing act between a surreal world à la Bunuel and a depressing, inescapable one like Kafka's at the same time. It is Lynch's most radical and raw work, an art movie for sure, so expect the unexpected.

Yes, "Eraserhead" needs to be seen if you care for movies. And I'd say the main themes are not that difficult to grasp if you know a few biographical details on its creator, have a bit of an imagination and enjoy thinking about what got through to you by disturbing you. You might put a label on this or that to get to the bottom of the various symbols used in the film - this helps, but the sum of the picture is more than its parts. Most of all it shows the genesis of a filmmaker who would still be talked about decades after he made that incomprehensible thing called "Eraserhead".

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery. (161 mins.)
Director: Sergio Leone
“ Leone, Morricone, Eastwood, Wallach, Van Cleef - the Western at its peak
Watching a Sergio Leone Western is like sitting down for dinner Italian style the way Leone enjoyed it: You've got the whole family there, its slow but keeps coming and coming and the whole affair eventually lasts for hours - but you savor every minute of it.

Part of the family are: Clint Eastwood ("the Good") of course in his third and final installment in a Leone movie, Lee Van Cleef ("the Bad") and Eli Wallach ("the Ugly"). Viewers familiar with the Dollar movies need no introduction to Eastwood's Blondie character, the gunslinger who spells cool, but his two adversaries/companions on the bounty hunt are on par in this one. Especially Eli Wallach steals the show with his twisted opportunistic, rough, down-to-earth, yet also outright funny performance, and Cleef's angel eyes never looked better and deadlier than in a Leone close-up underpinned by Ennio Morricone's extravagant, almost surreal soundtrack. The latter is a given considering Leone's previous collaborations with the master composer, but just as Leone's understanding on filming, Morricone's music reaches a new level in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". As for Leone: You've got it all here: The long shots over deserted lands, battlefields, hundreds upon hundreds of graves, counterbalanced by the extreme close-ups of characters digging deep into their minds and souls, plus there's the deliberate time the director takes to tell his story about greed, full of twists and turns, spiced up with irony. Unmissable.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Apartment (1960)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
A man tries to rise in his company by letting its executives use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue. (125 mins.)
Director: Billy Wilder
“ Dramatic comedy or comic drama - at any rate a must-see, Wilder-wise
Jack Lemmon is always a sight to behold on screen. Paired with a congenial partner he regularly strikes gold. As is the case in comedies he did with Walter Matthau. And if you're looking for the perfect female counterpart, let's submit Shirley MacLaine - a combination that worked so well that they'd be put together again in another of Billy Wilder's big hits three years later, "Irma la Douce". Everyman Lemmon and sweet MacLaine play so well off each other that it is impossible not to root for them as a couple. But boy does it take a while until the cards are dealt right...

As for other assets: "The Apartment" is comedy, but not a light one - it has rather dramatic points to make and does so effectively. Just like Wilder's "Lost Weekend" is a very serious drama about a drunk, yet there's enough room for comedy, even horror in that one as well, and there's always a lot of irony and satire. Wilder, who also co-wrote "The Apartment", has the rare gift of telling a great story on the typewriter and with the camera, for one by injecting a good portion of realism and on the other hand successfully transcending genres, thus endowing his characters with more depth and believability than they would if they'd play it only for laughs. This strong dramatic aspect is reinforced by the use of black and white cinematography, widescreen shots framing mass scenes with individuality completely drowning in it, and of course the plot with its questionable morality where extra-marital affairs and a suicide attempt add the necessary weight. Now balance all that with a charming and lovable main character, and the gorgeous soulful girl on the brink, who needs to come to a realization, and you've got much more than just a romance with a lot of pathos. "The Apartment" is first rate, director-wise, and a film to be thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end, entertainment-wise.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Blade Runner (1982)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A blade runner must pursue and try to terminate four replicants who stole a ship in space and have returned to Earth to find their creator. (117 mins.)
Director: Ridley Scott
“ Do androids dream of electric sheep?
In 1968 science fiction writer legend Philip K. Dick posed a legitimate question, asking: Do androids dream of electric sheep? Well, do they? If the thought hasn't crossed your mind yet, feel free to give it a shot... And/or try the movie version of Dick's novel, where Ridley Scott tries as well to shed some light on the matter and force us to think. And rethink again. As "Blade Runner" is indeed existential science-fiction in its purest form. Not mass audience compatible on its release, the film became cult nevertheless and Scott continued to make his own alterations, so the fifth cut was eventually labeled the final one. Voice-over, romance and additional side plots are either subdued in the current version or a thing of the past, while the central philosophical theme is now strongly emphasized, and the experience thus gets much more intense. "Blade Runner" takes place in a "retrofitted" future, in a society that has evolved, but where the intentions of the big corporations contrast with the squalor in the overcrowded streets of the megalopolis. This beautiful anti-future where man creates replicants in his own image in order to send them to dangerous, menial or leisure work on off-world colonies makes the perfect setting for the art form of neo-noir. Especially when some replicants are running wild. Time to make clear that their existence is limited.

"Blade Runner's" cultural influence has been enormous. Its visual style constituted a model for many retro-future flics to come, the underlying themes proved fascinating and have held sci-fi fans in their grip until this day - plus there's that decisive extra where Scott begs to differ from Dick's novel. The movie version for sure brings us closer to answering Philip K. Dick's initial question: Do androids dream of electric sheep? After watching we might conclude: Yes, quite likely. But at the same time there's that new question that arises, which is: What's a replicant?

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Three Colors: Blue (1993)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A woman struggles to find a way to live her life after the death of her husband and child. (98 mins.)
“ Liberation, your name is Juliette Binoche
"Trois Couleurs: Bleu" often ranks only second in Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy dealing with liberty, equality and friendship. True, the picture doesn't have the emotions on the forefront like "Rouge" does, but in its coldness, estrangement and portrayal of unspeakable desperation, its painful observation of someone who just cannot go on anymore lies its strength. Juliette Binoche plays a woman who epitomizes loss: her husband is dead, so is her daughter, all in an instant. Gone is what she was used to call her life, her passion for everything she ever cared for, the money has lost its importance, even her demented mother doesn't know anymore who she is, and it doesn't end there. Staggering on the brink of the abyss there is no will anymore to leap over the cliff, but even with the decision to retreat from everything the lives of others are affected...

"Bleu" is the perfect combination of a visually oriented director, great script and editing (e.g. with inventive fade to blacks) - and an actress who perfectly understands how to play a grieving, inaccessible widow and at the same time the fragile being who could shatter any minute. Oh, and we shouldn't forget the importance of music in this movie, as this is what it's all about: To bring back music in someone's life in order to liberate the self from, well, let's say: being blue. It works so well that it hurts - but that's the purpose.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Solaris (1972)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A psychologist is sent to a station orbiting a distant planet in order to discover what has caused the crew to go insane. (167 mins.)
“ The self, the unknown and a step beyond
Outstanding movies should point to something that lies beyond, wherever that may be. To a horizon, clearly right in front of you, but which you cannot grasp, not even try to. Or beyond your own self, to something trusted, something so deep inside that it fails all description, eludes you, yet teases to understand it - after all, it has always been there. Few movies manage to point at both, like "Solaris". This is a picture that operates on the borderline between the self and the unknown, between what is alien and what makes us what we are, and even more so: "Solaris'" theme is in fact about understanding: ourselves, the unknown, the bridge between these extremes... all wrapped in one of the most powerful science fiction stories of the 20th century, written by Stanislaw Lem.

Lem's book focuses on the futile communication attempts between entirely different beings, humans on the one hand and an intelligent ocean-like form of existence on the other, a life-form which covers a whole planet while producing fascinating phenomena to the visitors from afar. The ocean communicates by materializing physical human imitations, persons created from the memory of the humans - blessing or curse, attack or welcome gesture, who can know? According to Lem mankind thus has to understand that it is merely a "speck of dust" and irrelevant in the general order or chaos of things, however Tarkovsky subverts this view in his own interpretation and intentionally digs deeper into the human psyche. His adaptation adds its very own spiritual twist to the source material and puts man himself back on center stage. Admittedly he opens up more doors than he gives concrete answers in the process, but in doing so he addresses profound philosophical issues in the scope they deserve. After all, it's man's perspective through which we see the universe, and while we undoubtedly fail to see the bigger picture, we learn more about us in every confrontation, especially when they're as profound as in "Solaris". Don't look for special effects or action here, be prepared for an extremely slow trance-like experience that sucks you in and will stay with you.

Soderbergh by the way remade "Solaris" in 2002. It is a Hollywood product, has George Clooney, is more accessible and basically a bland sci-fi romance, devoid of Tarkovsky's depth. Take your pick.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
Mabel, a wife and mother, is loved by her husband Nick but her madness proves to be a problem in the marriage. The film transpires to a positive role of madness in the family, challenging conventional representations of madness in cinema. (155 mins.)
Director: John Cassavetes
“ A masterpiece of realism to stand up for
"A Woman Under the Influence" - like other Cassavetes films - is a difficult one to put into any specific drawer. Which is a good thing as it is able to push different buttons for different people and keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat and actively involved throughout. Not in the Hollywood kind of way, mind you, full with overblown drama, enhanced with musical cues and a heart-warming love story at the core, but rather in a way that makes you care, feel that it matters, that gets under your skin as a person, not just as a movie consumer. The main reasons why the film is so engaging and absorbing lies in the fact that it draws from convincingly portrayed lives rooted in a Seventies reality, the lives of a blue collar husband and a housewife with two kids. It's a familiar constellation with the ordinary domestic mayhem between troubles, challenges and duties, the need to show emotions and to suppress them at the same time, and there's always the urge to escape. It all comes down to a life on the edge, where people as partners in marriage are trapped in the confines of their everyday existence.

On the surface "A Woman Under the Influence" is about a woman going mad and people in her environment having to deal with it. But thanks to the characterisations of Gena Rowlands (Cassavete's wife in the part of Mabel Longhetti) and Peter Falk (as her husband Nick) a rather simple story like this gets complex and multi-layered. Cassavetes delivers cinéma vérité the way it is meant to be. The film shamelessly shows us our fears, the emotional abysses between people, confronts us with the resulting traumas, all based on the influences we have on each other. It makes us suffer with both protagonists and their efforts, their eventual helplessness to deal with the situation, to find the common ground of the relationship. And in a struggle things go overboard. "Will you please stand up for me?" Mabel asks in one crucial scene, and if we don't judge first but listen, we might also hear what she's trying to say.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
In the falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world. (118 mins.)
“ A visual feast for the eye and food for thought
Weaving a fairy tale into a harsh war environment, combining historical drama, fantasy elements and horror and make everything work when it is played against each other is not an easy task. "Pan's Labyrinth" works. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro tells a little girl's story in fascist Spain of 1944, and it is full with mythology, symbols, lush colors, jaw dropping scenery, dreamlike music and lots of imagination. Coming from his heart, conceived years before he finally could commit it to celluloid, del Toro knows what strings to pull in the film which he also authored. As a director he prefers real sets, miniature shots and actors over CGI, and while the latter has its part as well, it is more a supportive role in order to tell the tale. Said tale is far more than the traditional good versus evil, it's about contrasts and the collision of worlds for sure, but also about choices within and outside realities if you will, about convictions and truths only found in one's self.

In a way "Pan's Labyrinth" has a lot to do with Terry Gilliam's absurd fantasy retro-sci-fi film "Brazil" or even "Tideland", though it differs distinctly in style from these examples. And like Gilliam's pictures "Pan's Labyrinth" is like a breath of fresh air for those who want to get out more of fantasy than the common orc bashing. "Pan's Labyrinth" is a fairy tale and tragic reality at the same time, a visual feast for the eye and food for thought, filmed poetry to be enjoyed and appreciated more with every viewing. If you like intelligent fantasy, this is your thing.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed. (130 mins.)
Director: Frank Capra
“ When a man isn't around he leaves an awful hole, isn't he?
Voted as the "Most Powerful Movie of All Time" by the American Film Institute in 2006, Capra's masterpiece now seems redeemed once and for all after it had been considered a major disappointment at the box office back when it was released. Due to a clerical error (or should we better choose to say, divine intervention?) the film even went into public domain, and well, now that it can be shown by every station on the planet it has turned into the ultimate Christmas classic, all ages aboard. The picture might look a tad dated in parts, but on the other hand this is exactly what embeds this fantastic journey even better between fairy-tale and harsh reality. And thus it hits home when it is holiday season again, the Christmas tree is being decorated and the smell of ginger bread hangs in the air.

"It's a Wonderful Life" is about standing up for the community, for principles, for family and friends, for those things that are important in life. Now that all might sound commonplace, but every now and then we need a serious reminder, so it might as well be in the Christmas season. The movie builds up magnificently to its final third, when everything goes downhill at the same time, and America's most favorite son-in-law James Stewart as George Bailey finally loses it. At this moment an already great character-driven movie turns magical when all threads come together and lead up to a breathtaking finale one isn't likely to get tired of. The climax is engaging, uplifting, heart-warming, and the all around great photography further enhances the effect. I can't say if Jimmy Stewart got his wings with this one, and he's probably already immortal anyway for many a reason. For sure he got his place in the audience's hearts with the film, and someone up there gave us the chance to revisit his struggle every year and teach us that after all one's better off being alive. Just remember: When a man isn't around he leaves an awful hole, isn't he?

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Elephant Man (1980)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A Victorian surgeon rescues a heavily disfigured man who is mistreated while scraping a living as a side-show freak. Behind his monstrous facade, there is revealed a person of intelligence and sensitivity. (124 mins.)
Director: David Lynch
“ About monsters and someone with a human soul
"The Elephant Man" is not your typical excentric brainy David Lynch flick, but it was the one that really launched his career as one of the most important filmmakers of today. It is also one of Lynch's most accessible films - realism and story go first. This highly commendable effort results in a very unusual biopic, following the true story of John (originally Joseph) Merrick, who lived in Victorian England of the 19th century, severely deformed from birth on. The picture steers a highly emotional course. For one it shows Merrick's life as a human curiosity, exhibited and exploited for his abhorrent looks, with his abnormality being celebrated, his helplessness greeted with violence to make the caged animal obey. Degraded to a mere creature, the abuse is physical and mental. But we also get to learn about a person named John, his other side, as one among others, who earns our respect as every human being does, regardless of race, belief, deformity, or any other prejudices. As with similar films where the horror is not merely a fantasy of its creators (take for instance Tod Browning's "Freaks"), "The Elephant Man" is serious material one cannot recommend enough to watch, as it will undoubtedly leave an impression. The way the soul of John Merrick is carefully unwrapped is just heartbreakingly executed, helped tremendously of course by the endearing performance of John Hurt. Anthony Hopkins as the doctor who harbors the unfortunate Merrick, fully delivers, as do Hannah Gordon, Sir John Gielgud and Anne Bancroft, who complete the supporting cast. There are very few movies out there which can offer you life altering experiences. "The Elephant Man" might be one of them.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
Two parallel stories about two identical women; one living in Poland, the other in France. They don't know each other, but their lives are nevertheless profoundly connected. (98 mins.)
“ Reflections from the looking glass
Here's a kind of movie that helps you think outside the proverbial box: Meet Véronique, the French protagonist who chances upon a most unusual face - en passant, in a fleeting moment, like a reminder from another life. The face of the person she sees is her own. Somewhere on a Polish plaza, to briefly surface and drown again in the crowd. "La Double vie de Véronique" teaches you to appreciate escaping the comfort zone of trusted logic, recognize its pitfalls and see a strange, maybe even absurd fantastic premise in an otherwise realistic picture as a chance to discover something that cannot be named. Sure, Kieslowski pictures are always a combination of beautiful images, evocative music and a strong cerebral component, but "La double vie de Véronique" is his most enigmatic, thought provoking work. Various threads are spun by writer and director which appeal to the viewer's imagination, so that they may be connected or respected just the way they are. Or perhaps seen as a whole in the eye of the beholder in front of the screen: Two different lives, one face, strings attached or mere coincidence? Is there fate? Does the demiurge work as puppeteer or are our actions influencing others in a way we would never anticipate? There are no metaphors in my work, Kiesloswki once said. Sounds challenging? Feel free to connect your own dots in this magical adventure of parallelism seen through the looking glass!

Just one thing: The purpose of art is not to provide answers and be prescriptive in its implications, be they moral, social, historic or otherwise, but rather to open up new pathways and perspectives and question what we've been used to take for granted. In this respect Kieslowski succeeds indubitably and delivers a dazzling work of art to be looked at. Again and again.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
During a rural summer picnic, a few students and a teacher from an Australian girls' school vanish without a trace. Their absence frustrates and haunts the people left behind. (115 mins.)
Director: Peter Weir
“ What we see and what we seem are but a dream - a dream within a dream
Above all Peter Weir does two key things in "Picnic at Hanging Rock": Setting up a huge mystery and, well, dealing with it in a very unique way devoid of any sensational or commercial interest, an approach, which has divided audiences ever since. If you take the trip, be prepared for something different - you might be claimed by the mountain, and whether that's a good or a bad thing, well you be the judge of that. But whatever you get out of it, it will defy categorization.

The film at any rate is true to Joan Lindsay's novel, and compared to the book has the advantage of a beautifully haunting score composed by Bruce Smeaton, mostly performed by pan flute player Gheorghe Zamfir - melodies which become recurring players when the events unfold. With this enchanting and eerie music Weir underlays the lush dream-like imagery he photographs, thus creating an alien, otherworldly, even ethereal atmosphere, somehow outside of time and space, a breath of eternity. You might get chills, goosebumps or both at the same time in this weir(d) mix of beauty and horror out there at that Australian college, where Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) holds a tight rein over her girls. "Picnic at Hanging Rock" can be and has been interpreted in numerous, very different ways, and there was even an "insightful" chapter of Lindsay's novel released posthumously. But frankly, all what's fascinating is in the book. And in the film. If you've seen it and enjoyed it you'll also know why.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Persona (1966)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A nurse is put in charge of a mute actress and finds that their personas are melding together. (85 mins.)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
“ A woman in trouble mystifies, irritates and shocks...
Bergman films often have - and this is partly due to the director's history as a playwright - a very stagy look to them with talky characters and little action, even though one can be assured that what happens on screen is meticulously constructed and technically brilliantly executed. The drama that unfolds however has more to offer than what is apparent on the surface. Frequently it constitutes an introspection made explicit with the elements shown to the viewer catering effectively in support of this basic idea. This approach might make Bergman's film less accessible and look dated to modern audiences despite an interesting theme at the core, regardless of the obviously commendable cinematography, the exquisite lightening and direction. But as so often with a master of his craft, it pays off to dig deeper and look closer, especially at a multilayered work like "Persona".

The film is seemingly easy to summarize: "Persona" follows the nurse and her patient, and the viewer accompanies them as they try to get to the bottom of the woman in trouble. Which is not to say that we can easily penetrate to the source of it all, assess the consequences deriving from our observations and come to an eventual clear resolution in this mystifying work of art. The film undoubtedly is a highly psychological study, irritating, disturbing in parts, even right from the start confronting us with shocking images, constantly occupying the mind. It is a mix of reality, fantasy, dreamlike and surreal moments - and of course there are those question marks... While the picture is open for different interpretations, it falls never short of generating a strange fascination and suggests new angles on repeated viewings. As such "Persona" constitutes a challenge and intellectual enjoyment - and if you're willing to go that path it doesn't look dated at all.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Close-Up (1990)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
The true story of Hussein Sabzian that impersonated the director Mohsen Makhmalbaf to convince a family they would star in his so-called new film. (98 mins.)
“ Ready for your close-up, Mr. Sabzian?
Once upon a time in Tehran an unemployed, divorced, out-of-luck father of two is reading a book on his way home in the bus. Asked by the woman next to him about it, he boldly declares that he actually wrote it as well, a statement that leads to further questions, as this would make him Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the famous Iranian filmmaker... And so it all begins, the story of the impostor, Ali Sabzian, who is invited to said woman's home, suggests to make a film with her son in a prominent role in it, and what not. Well, it all ends with a trial against the impersonator, who - according to the members of this well-to-do family - must have been up to no good, planning to spy on them and eventually rob the house, or he was clearly mad and megalomaniac, but this idiosyncratic little fellow has his very own explanation...

The recounted events really happened. The film "Close-Up" re-enacts them as close to reality as possible and was made by Iran's most proficient director Abbas Kiarostami using not only Ali Sabzian in the lead, but also the family involved in their respective parts. With these given parameters it is clear that we're dealing with much more than a semi-documentary, as in the tradition of other works of the New Iranian Wave we become witness of a powerful blending of film and social reality, and in this case completely at the heart of the subject matter. The book at the source of the whole ruckus was Makhmalbaf's script of "The Cyclist", dealing with a man who like Sisyphus is forced to ride a bicycle continuously for a week to help out his sick wife. What others perceive as a crook sees himself as "the traveler", a reference to one of Kiarostami's very own films - and he has a dream, a very unique Iranian one. It's a film with multiple layers and magic that shines from within like no other. Don't expect technical brilliance, dazzling sights and sounds or overblown melodrama. This one is real. Groundbreakingly so.

Watch scene here: ” - Artimidor
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A former child star torments her paraplegic sister in their decaying Hollywood mansion. (134 mins.)
Director: Robert Aldrich
“ A true happening - Davis vs. Crawford
Teaming up caliber actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford - or better: unleashing them against each other - clearly was a struck of genius. It is more than a rumor that the grand dames didn't particularly like each other, and in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" they made the very best out of that, teaching each other lessons on how to deliver memorable performances. It's really impossible to tell which one was the more convincing player, Bette "Baby Jane" Davis with her acid portrayal of the villainous sister or Crawford as the crippled wheel-chair bound, helpless, more and more despairing Blanche. But this shouldn't be the viewer's loss. The juicier part with the more memorable scenes (and there are aplenty!) undoubtedly goes to Davis in her role as the inventively insidious sister, but the film as a whole wouldn't work as well without Crawford's fragile soul shattering little by little in the face of the open hatred she's confronted with.

Aldrich's thriller about this sibling rivalry of the different kind is dark and macabre, an exemplary black comedy with shocking images, twists and turns, all the way nail-bitingly suspenseful - in short: an instant classic. "Baby Jane" is also one of those films that are impossible to imagine in color as the black and white cinematography for one is part of the story, which stretches over decades, and furthermore it adds considerably to the absorbing mood that is being created, to that other side of the coin of Hollywood fame long gone by, detached from reality. What remains is an entirely surreal world ex-celebrities are living in, complete with the crazed downward spiral we're invited to witness. What happens in or around the limelight when egos clash ever so often is based on false hopes, envy, lies and deceit - but the good thing about it: You can grab a seat and watch the showdown!

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Persepolis (2007)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A precocious and outspoken Iranian girl grows up during the Islamic Revolution. (96 mins.)
“ To be or not to be from Iran
If you want to see light at the horizon of the adult cartoon world, Iranian born Marjane Satrapi's animated autobiographical feature "Persepolis" should be one of your first stops. The daughter of a wealthy progressive family in Tehran, expatriate Satrapi recounts her coming-of-age tale, beginning with her childhood days growing up under the western orientated Shah, then witnessing revolution, the subsequent repression of the totalitarian regime, war, followed by her on-and-off escape from her homeland. Satrapi doesn't tell you what to think of her story, she just relays her confusing impressions as a young girl and the outlook on life that goes with it, all brought to the screen via the perfect medium for such a purpose: animation. The fascinating, primarily monochrome look adds realism and weight to the portrayed subject matter, counterbalanced with a lot of charm and humor working splendidly against the dire circumstances that abound. The animation approach also helps to maintain a strong bond with the protagonist through all the stages of the young developing life, formed partly by experiences caused by political turmoil, partly by disorientation as a human being - and due to the intense personal take on the events it stays believable, especially as Satrapi mainly shows aspects in her life to which Westerners can relate. "Persepolis" oscillates between a young kid's floating on clouds in admiration for idols like Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson, the harsh socio-political reality on the ground and the consequential estrangement from life, the universe and everything. And still, remarkably, this girl made her way.

Satrapi would follow up her adventure into the movie world with "Chicken with Plums", this time using real actors and focusing on a side of Satrapi that "Persepolis" neglected: the artist. While that story stands on its own, the disenchantment of the protagonist nevertheless connects thematically strongly with "Persepolis". To those interested this very quirky romantic picture is warmly recommended as well. It looks stupendously French, but is all about that beautiful girl of back then, the one who bears the name Irâne.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Baraka (1992 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
A collection of expertly photographed scenes of human life and religion. (96 mins.)
Director: Ron Fricke
“ Listen to the heartbeat of existence...
"Baraka" is not a picture in the ordinary sense. Not a word is spoken, there's no plot, not even a clear main thread throughout its one and a half hour duration. However, in the Sufi language "Baraka" means "the thread that weaves life together", and that's as close to an introduction, summary or even meaning as you might get. What you experience when watching suggests a view on the human condition as a whole, seen through the lens of spirituality, but you be the judge of that. There might be more or even something entirely different for you to discover in the flood of impressions. Objectively the film is a collection of breathtaking images, of landscapes, natural phenomena, of people, cultures, performed rites all over the world, branching off to rush hour mayhem filmed in time lapse, South American sweatshops with thousands of workers putting cigarettes together, sorting chicken, you'll see children begging on the streets, prostitutes waiting for customers, right down to sights of the holocaust and the killing fields of Cambodia.

The material was shot on six continents and 24 countries and while of course filtered and selected through the process of editing, representing no more than a subjective approach, the picture undoubtedly invites to reflect and meditate, also thanks to the ethereal music and sound effects. Some scenes leave deep impressions: Like an Indonesian monk tolling a bell intercut with an African youth jumping in imitation of a gazelle as part of a ritual - to name just one example. It's almost as if there's a hidden heartbeat somewhere in all of existence, and here's someone who at least made it possible to get a glimpse of it.

Postscript: Fricke released another breathtaking documentary in the vein of "Baraka" in 2012, "Samsara" (a Buddhist term signifying "continuous flow"). If you enjoyed "Baraka", this one of course is a must as well.

Watch "Baraka" trailer here:

Watch "Samsara" trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Brief Encounter (1945)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Meeting a stranger in a railway station, a woman is tempted to cheat on her husband. (86 mins.)
Director: David Lean
“ Exquisite actors, masterful direction, top shelf romantic gem
David Lean, one of the greatest British film directors, made "Brief Encounter" (1945) long before he became world famous for celebrated epics like "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), "Doctor Zhivago" (1965) or "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957). Does the mastery of these later works show in this early flic already? You bet! And what's even more impressive is that a romance as we experience it here is far removed from Lean's later works, and it nevertheless succeeds in its own right. Sure, in comparison to the later monumental films "Brief Encounter" might look like a small, rather unimpressive black and white affair at first glance - well, at least that's the impression you might have before you've actually seen it. To put the record straight: "Brief Encounter" is a gem, a true classic. Despite the plot appears to be based on a cliché taken from a dime novel. For dealing with a fleeting relationship against all norms has rarely been shown in such a deeply moving way that can tackle walking the fine line between tear-jerking sentimentality and heartfelt sincerity. Time and characters might be dated, the film's impact clearly is not.

The tale of "Brief Encounter" is simple: A middle aged housewife who is securely married with children makes the acquaintance of a doctor, whose situation isn't much different. It's perfectly clear from the beginning that whatever might develop between these two cannot succeed under the restraints of the society they're living in. So how can the liaison continue? Where can it lead? Well, to a brilliant psychological study and a breathtaking film. David Lean explores this forbidden relationship in such a suspenseful and gripping way that his inventive cinematography succeeds in making one feel dizzy when reality finally begins to tilt... Of course it's primarily David Lean who knows how to tell a story (see e.g. also his Dickens adaptations "Oliver Twist" or "Great Expectations"), but the two leads, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, play so well off each other that they completely make the film their own. And by the way: It's refreshing to see someone like Celia Johnson in the lead, an actress that lacks the otherwise common great looks for a change and thus alongside her talent helps to make the film work. High recommendation!

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Stroszek (1977)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
In Berlin, an alcoholic man, recently released from prison, joins his elderly friend and a prostitute in a determined dream to leave Germany and seek a better life in Wisconsin. (115 mins.)
Director: Werner Herzog
“ The finest hour of actor Bruno S. - stranded like flotsam on a Nurnberg market place
One of the idiosyncrasies of German writer/producer/director Werner Herzog is to use strange characters in almost any movies he makes. He's most famous for his love/hate relationship with madman Klaus Kinski of course, but he doesn't shun to use difficult actors and lots of amateurs in general in order to go for an entirely new angle. Such actors lend his films a very grounded look and feel, at the same time such films feature unsettling or even absurd undertones which eventually tend to break out in full. All that quite a distance away from anything you might associate with Hollywood. "Stroszek" is the movie of one such character, written just for him: Bruno S., playing the part of... Bruno.

Herzog used Bruno S. already in "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser" to play the role of that famous youth who appeared in Nurnberg in 1828 and was kept the whole life in a dungeon, barely able to speak or walk. In many ways the character reflects the actor Bruno S.: An unwanted child of a prostitute, beaten severely at early age, having spent 23 years in mental institutions. Herzog also admits that he was extremely difficult to work with, but Bruno represented exactly what Herzog was looking for to get the perfect "Kaspar Hauser". With "Stroszek" Herzog made a film tailored even more around Bruno S. Teamed up with another of the director's favorite amateur actors, Clemens Scheitz, Bruno S. plays himself and his naive struggle with the world around him. Stroszek escapes from Germany to America, but things aren't any better over there as he eventually finds out. The tides of life leave him stranded all alone like flotsam, mirroring a shot of Kaspar Hauser on the market place of Nurnberg. As an actor, this is Bruno S. finest hour and one of Herzog's most remarkable entries.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Dead Man (1995)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
On the run after murdering a man, accountant William Blake encounters a strange North American man named Nobody who prepares him for his journey into the spiritual world. (121 mins.)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
“ You were a poet and a painter, William Blake. But now, you're a killer of white men.
Before the time when Johnny Depp made high-budget movies with mass appeal and decided to follow every step of Tim Burton's descent into mediocrity, his talent really showed. 1995 independent film-maker Jim Jarmusch put him into what could best be described as an existential Western with lots of typical ingredients of the genre, yet the film refreshingly defies conventions and brings us closer to Native Americans than most traditional entries put together. Accountant William Blake (Depp) is sought for murder with a bullet stuck in his chest and finds himself on the side of the Indian "Nobody" (Gary Farmer), an outsider himself. The latter claims to recognize him, and it is the Indian's belief that determines the path they take together, uniting them in their spiritual journey...

The differences to traditional Westerns don't end with the unique plot. The action is limited, the movie is slow, philosophical issues abound, there's poetry - filmed and literal - and symbols to interpret by the viewer are aplenty. As so often Jarmusch prefers black and white cinematography, a perfect choice for the matter at hand, and Neil Young's rather modern sounding guitar riffs provide an eerie dramatic contrast to standard Westerns, even to Ennio Morricone's music in Leone flics. Dismissed by famous critic Roger Ebert pretty much as drivel where he has no clue what Jarmusch wants, "Dead Man" has nevertheless found loads of moviegoers who can connect with it on a personal level and thus elevated the film to a cult classic. No surprise there, really.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Three Colors: Red (1994)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A model discovers her neighbor is keen on invading people's privacy. (99 mins.)
“ A homage to the person you've probably never met
"Rouge", the conclusion of Kieslowski's and screenwriter Piesecwicz's "Three Colors Trilogy", is a peculiar take on fraternity and friendship. As always with Kieslowski's works this one is about getting to know and respect the motivations of characters, learn to see the humanity in them, the hopes and aspirations they have or had and made them to what they are. It's about moral decisions and how what is presented on screen reflects our own lives and makes us reconsider once we've left the cinema.

The film portrays the unlikely relationship between a young Swiss model living in Geneva (Irene Jacob) and a grumpy, cynical retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who don't seem to have much in common. After all his only enjoyment seems to be eavesdropping on his neighbors' telephone conversations, while she's got her own problems with a boyfriend, who doesn't care as much about her as she does for him. Through a struck of fate the judge and the model are brought together and while keeping a certain distance they learn to understand each other in a unique sort of way. Alas, they've missed each other romantically by a generation, as the judge suggests himself, but then again there's a second story paralleling the main one, and fate is pulling the strings... - or is it?

"Rouge" is definitely the most accessible of Kieslowski's trilogy, as it is a love story, even though of the very different kind, and thus appeals to a larger audience than the no less brilliant "Bleu" and "Blanc". Seeing the trilogy in order is not necessary, but rewarding once you get to "Rouge" as one will discover that all these characters actually live in the same universe. Which poses the question: And you?

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Fountain (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
As a modern-day scientist, Tommy is struggling with mortality, desperately searching for the medical breakthrough that will save the life of his cancer-stricken wife, Izzi. (96 mins.)
“ Romantic fantasy/sci-fi Rubik cube for those who like it different
Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain" might be called all kinds of things: enigmatic, mystifying, intense, mind-bending, transcendental, and a lot of not exactly favorable attributes as common opinion suggests. Or a "Rubik cube" as the director/writer himself puts it. Well, it's really not all that complicated actually, as the film revolves around a rather simple central story carrying the basic idea. However, the picture is put together and presented in a most unusual and unique way, and that's where the whole beauty and challenge lies. Aronofsky takes no prisoners, constantly references, quotes and hints at, but leaves it to the viewer to connect the dots and literally make the story whole. In short: If you expect a bit more from a film than a run-of-the-mill action-adventure drama/thriller with CGI participation you might as well get into the fascinating world that is "The Fountain". While framed by medieval romantically inspired fantasy and imaginative poetic sci-fi, the film is actually about none of these things and has its heart and soul elsewhere: in the present, deeply buried in the human condition searching for meaning in death, and life. Thus the film might seem like a weird incongruent and at the same time strangely familiar and intimate experience on the one hand, all of which reflects in its different timelines and its jumbled representation of events. On the other hand it is held together by familiar faces, playing similar characters, themes reverberate, intertwine, all for a reason - a concept leading up through labyrinthine paths to a deeply affecting denouement when everything comes together in the viewer's mind. Your turn! Keep it simple or add your own preferred twist - the material offers ample options.

Undoubtedly "The Fountain" is Aronofsky's most visually stunning piece aiming for grand scope that boldly follows no ready-made formulas of successful film-making - consequently it flopped at the box office. The picture found audiences strongly divided ever since, which is often the case at masterpieces. An indicator? Spirituality, enlightenment, a path of grace à la Malick/Tarkovsky meeting conquistadors and spacemen in biospheres? For your consideration. Or as Rod Serling might have said: Submitted for your perusal, a tale about two dreamers - two dreamers and an observer, with all involved imaginations being tested. Somewhere far out there... in the cinematic twilight zone.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A woman assists her friend in arranging an illegal abortion in 1980s Romania. (113 mins.)
Director: Cristian Mungiu
“ Countdown towards inevitability
The title of Romanian director Cristian Mungiu's film already reads like a countdown, and intentionally so. A countdown to end a life at the brink of its genesis - exactly 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days after its conception. The reality is harsh, brutal, unforgiving, and human emotions well up between clinical technicalities, financial troubles and bone chilling deals unveiling existential fears of hopelessness in a world that has forgotten about individuality. The subject matter of this bleak and realistic film is abortion, the place is Romania. It's the 1980s when suffering under Nicolae Ceausescu's ruthless regime disguised as communism is at its peak. Abortion is illegal. But there are no other options left for a young woman, who is caught up in a life that is getting off the rails, her plight haunting her like a never-ending nightmare. Mungiu's direction and the carefully timed, precise yet unobtrusive camera work make sure that the viewer doesn't get lost in melodrama, sentimentalities or that the story relies on shock and awe moments. Rather Mungiu simply observes carefully, puts us close to the protagonists' lives on their dark, grizzly road, completely oblivious to everything you'd usually get in stylized dramas that beg you to be moved to tears. Across comes a strong bond with the characters, we get gripped and uncomfortable, dragged into the visceral pain of two girls' inevitable hardship, are submerged in the hopelessness of their situation, witness the shattering of their lives. With every step comes the realization for Otilia and Gabita that they have to pretend to the world and themselves that nothing happened. But everything has changed.

"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" is much more than a film about abortion, or about Romania in its most troubled days, or about abortion in Romania. Neither is it pro- or anti-choice. All decision-making is left to those in front of the screen. But with the clever setup of the movie we see all sides of the matter, are allowed to peek into what's behind a facade - an existential abyss. What we are left with eventually is a girl looking back at us. - And her silent question: What do you have to say?

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A bus crash in a small town brings a lawyer to the town to defend the families, but he discovers that everything is not what it seems. (112 mins.)
Director: Atom Egoyan
“ Moving on or: Walking the fine line between innocence and guilt
A single horrific accident that reaps away dozens of children jolts a small town out of its reverie. The damage done is irreparable, and it's up to the lawyers to find a culprit, because after all someone has to be made responsible, big time... - Atom Egoyan's "The Sweet Hereafter", based on Russell Banks' novel bearing the same title, is a writer's/filmmaker's take on events that actually took place in Alton, Texas, in 1989 where the disaster involving dozens of fatalities led to an array of lawsuits to reach settlements as compensation for the deaths of the children. In the process people who shared the same trauma and grief became even further estranged from each other, despite or especially because of the reparations that were paid. Maybe the price tags put on the children were varying, but it was only a symptom - things could never be the same again. Whole futures perished with the lives lost in an instance, and the animosities the lawsuits brought with them made it even harder to move on for everyone involved.

Canadian filmmaker Egoyan does not tell that particular story, but a fictional version of it, thereby even upstaging Banks' source material e.g. by adding a recurring spot-on poetical reference that is prone to send shivers down your spine. Also in focus of the film: The tight-knit community and a lawyer trying to help people make a case, resulting in a stirring slice-of-life portrayal of loss and how to cope with it seen from different angles. Tragic figures abound, nobody is spared, among them the lawyer himself (the outstanding Ian Holm), who has to deal with his own unrelated personal loss, or the paralyzed 14-year old survivor of the incident (touchingly played by Sarah Polley) who has to make a serious decision that will affect the whole community. The theme of estrangement, melancholy and helplessness permeates every action, always dominated by the question: How could one possibly get over a tragedy like that? But while the film comes across as sincere and real through the subtle way it was shot, its bittersweet visual poetry will haunt you, and the picture is also bold enough to go for a very powerful, unexpected final statement. "The Sweet Hereafter" is a deeply involving, mature and a thought-provoking piece of cinema and along with "Exotica" among Egoyan's very best.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Amour (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
Georges and Anne are an octogenarian couple. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, also a musician, lives in Britain with her family. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple's bond of love is severely tested. (127 mins.)
Director: Michael Haneke
“ Until death do us part
Finally, a film about love. That is, a film that isn't about romancing, sex, relationship troubles of the humorous or tear-jerking kind and combinations thereof resulting in sappy sentimentalities all around. All that you easily get delivered in the typical entertainment film package where a breathtaking beauty plays the unnoticed girl next door searching for eternal love, enhanced by an overblown soundtrack to get you emotionally involved. None of that, not even a glimpse of any of that, can be found in Haneke's tour de force that is "Amour", a demanding and brutally honest look at the consequences of a relationship that is being lived to the fullest.

"Amour" focuses on a couple of music teachers in their eighties who have known each other for a lifetime. Step by step we are invited to explore that painful process of letting go when the person you've gotten used to and learned to love turns out to be terminally ill, transforms into someone else before your eyes. The realization eventually strikes that death is on the doorstep. One partner feels worthless, a burden and the desire to end it grows, the other tries to provide support and compassion every way possible - and both feel that way because they respect and love each other. Haneke's portrayal of dying and accompanying this death is a harrowing, visceral close to borderline experience that goes far beyond a cinematic achievement and has to be valued as such. Undoubtedly it leaves ourselves with existential repercussions, poses hard questions, initiates dialog. Above all "Amour" feels very real, due to the typical hallmarks of Haneke's mise en scène countering everything else that contributes to what Haneke labels the "dis-empowerment of the spectator": The film lives from its simplicity, the camera is merely observing, supporting music is entirely lacking, emotions and suspense build naturally. To pull such a difficult picture off full dedication of both principal actors is necessary, and veterans Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva fit the bill to perfection, conveying tenderness, warmth and dignity - if we are in fact looking for what is so often buried in day to day business. It's rare for filmmakers to unflinchingly address an issue a broad audience has no intention of seeing at all, and even rarer to make no compromise whatsoever when filming it. Here's a brilliant example.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
On the Waterfront (1954)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
An ex-prize fighter turned longshoreman struggles to stand up to his corrupt union bosses. (108 mins.)
Director: Elia Kazan
“ He really was somebody... - big time!
"On the Waterfront" was made for all the wrong reasons: With it Elia Kazan's wanted to justify taking part in the HUAC witch-hunts where he ratted out fellow directors as communist sympathizers. Well, the film raked in eight Oscars, undoubtedly because - maybe among other things - the film is an absolute stand-out and has deservedly earned its classic status in its own right. But all the controversy aside, one thing is for sure: It's Marlon Brando's great hour. While Karl Malden's as a priest, Rod Steiger as his brother and Eva Marie Saint playing his girlfriend all deliver remarkable performances, Brando is heart and soul of the complex protagonist, longshoreman Terry Malloy. The former prize fighter gets caught up in the schemes of corrupt union bosses, he's involved in the murder of the brother of the girl he falls in love with and the harsher his reality gets the more his inner struggle tears him apart.

Most famous of course are the confrontation scene in the taxi with Rod Steiger or his casual improvised playing with a glove while delivering pitch-perfect character dialog. Always on the edge balancing between a strong macho image and his soft side Brando pulls out all the stops and is captivating in every moment he has, whether he plays the unsure, vulnerable guy or the protective, the fearless, the avenger. "I could have been somebody..." he says in the film, in a way sealing the fate of another man with his implicit accusation. Well, as an actor he made his own fate. He really was somebody. Big time.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Network (1976)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A television network cynically exploits a deranged former anchor's ravings and revelations about the news media for its own profit. (121 mins.)
Director: Sidney Lumet
“ What does it need until you can't take it anymore?
In this day and age collateral damage of mass media productions seems to be taken for granted. While condemned, the fallout is eventually silently accepted, and the circle of criticizing and continuing the same way as before just confirms the tragic truth behind commercialism. Ratings are paramount, entertainment at all costs, sensationalism is what the masses lust for, and individuals, who die due to exhaustion in Survivor shows or are publicly humiliated by prank calls and driven to suicide, are part of the system. All that and more was already anticipated in the brutally outspoken 1976 satire "Network" written brilliantly by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by grandmaster Sidney Lumet. Was the picture visionary back in the days? Actually it was a reflection on the on air suicide of an anchorwoman suffering under depression. Nothing has changed. It's still all about ratings and money. Are you fine with that?

"Network" with its startling performances (Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, William Holden, Faye "television incarnate" Dunaway), the shockingly dark and cynical script and splendid all around direction is as relevant today as ever, and it's the ultimate film about the amorality that permeates TV business. It is not to be missed, as it will teach you a lesson. It grabs you by the throat, no doubt, it chokes you, doesn't let you go, long after you've seen it. Alas, it's just a movie. If a film like "Network" despite its head-on collision course against the system cannot bring a change, maybe it at least contributes to help you consider altering your own viewing habits. No need to get "mad as hell" like the film's principal character Howard Beale, but a decisive "I'm not gonna take this anymore" will do to confront a mass media machinery with your individualism. To end with the last blood-curdling words of Christine Chubbuck: "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in 'blood and guts', and in living color, you are going to see another first — attempted suicide." The film's Howard Beale insisted to be a real person. Christine Chubbuck in whose honor the film was written was one. May she rest in peace.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Hustler (1961)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
An up-and-coming pool player plays a long-time champion in a single high-stakes match. (134 mins.)
Director: Robert Rossen
“ Character vs. talent - a showdown
Among the best character studies you can see on screen undoubtedly has to rank Robert Rossen's "The Hustler". The pool played in the film is fascinating, however secondary, as actually it's all about three characters you get to know up close: the title figure Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) who has his own self-imposed agenda, which is no less than reaching for the stars, then we have the alcoholic off kilter Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie) the anti-hero spends his days and nights with and the sleazy cutthroat manager Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), who's determined to squeeze every dime out of Eddie whatever it takes. And last but not least there's the big fish Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) who has to be brought to his knees - but that's just one side of the story. All of these main characters have exemplary screen presence, weight and intensity, so that the stakes are felt and leave their emotional traces in the viewer. Paul Newman at the time was just hungry to proof himself, and he did, Scott in one of his first films already steals a couple of scenes and would continue to do so constantly in "Patton" and "Dr. Strangelove", and Laurie is anything else but the sweet love interest. And Jackie Gleason? Can a comedian in such a dramatic role work? You bet!

Shot in black and white the language of the film is social realism which indeed comes across very strongly. Even the central pool hall is not just a set, but the real thing, the bit parts are played by genuine characters themselves, among them the real ex-fighter and later bartender Jake LaMotta (see Robert DeNiro's characterization in "Raging Bull"). All these details help to get us into the milieu, the thrill of the game, and we become part of the onlookers - it's almost as if one can smell the smoke-filled room and is tempted to make a bet. And there, in this arena it takes place: the fight between the clashing egos, where we also finally learn about the decisive difference between character and mere talent: Who will win and who will lose? And what is the price?

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
City of God (2002)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
Two boys growing up in a violent neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro take different paths: one becomes a photographer, the other a drug dealer. (130 mins.)
“ I smoke, I snort. I've killed and robbed. I'm a man.
Films about violence there are aplenty. Many of them are purely fictional and are glamorized bloodbaths made for special audiences. Necessary are only a few. For your consideration: Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles' "Cidade de Deus" dealing with the eponymous "City of God". Initially the name of a housing project created by the Brazilian government in the 1960s, the result was abandoned by the authorities after its creation and turned out to be anything but what its name suggests. Taken over by drug lords crime is the way to get by in these favelas. Killings are everyday business, and they happen on the side of the police, on the side of the drug dealers, or among the people in the slums themselves by exchanging their arguments with weapons. Since its creation, children growing up in these areas have learned to be part of the violence - they are on the receiving end and they practice it without questioning. They live to survive.

Meirelles's film is basically a documentary cloaked as film, based on Paulo Lins' real life accounts of what he witnessed himself, shot with actors who were picked from the slums. Unashamedly it covers full 20 years and shows all facets of violence that advance the spiral of death and destruction in the favelas. Meirelles uses state of the art cinematography combined with intentionally changing directorial styles in order to follow the various stages of despair and hopelessness. From the days of petty delinquents starting out where anything goes to gangs who commit mass murders, but are inevitably trapped in their doomed existence, Meirelles portrays the vicious circle with brutal honesty. "City of God" is best appreciated in conjunction with the documentary "News from a Personal War" (Lund/Salles) on the subject showing 10 year olds carrying AK-47s and police men who admit that they work in a war zone. Lots of funerals on both sides, no hope in between.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Long Goodbye (1973)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
Detective Philip Marlowe tries to help a friend who is accused of murdering his wife. (112 mins.)
Director: Robert Altman
“ Much more than just all right with me
Private investigator Philip Marlowe has a major shortcoming - he is easy to push around. Even his cat has his ways with him and sends Marlowe off in the middle of the night to get some cat food. But when he fails miserably, the cat smells a rat, well, sort of. And now that we've set the tone: How about a favor for a friend? That's ok with our hero as well, no need to ask too many questions. Well, big mistake, boy!

When getting into "The Long Goodbye" it helps to know that the version of a Philip Marlowe as Eliott Gould portrays him in Robert Altman's film is far removed from the original character created by Raymond Chandler in his novel series. It's a "Rip Van Marlowe" as Altman himself referred to it, a character from the fifties who wakes up in the seventies. Only to tumble into a strange kind of film noir. In color of course. With a coolness bordering on lethargy exhibited by the protagonist, exquisite deadpan humor with dozens of sharp-tongued one-liners and a serious dosage of Altman approach. The latter translates to nothing less than a bold re-invention of a whole genre. The plot is negligible, quite complicated actually to untangle, be it on first or subsequent viewings, but it's not what this flic is about. All the ingredients of a Chandler noir are still there, but Altman wouldn't be Altman if he hadn't some own ideas up his sleeve. He satirizes conventions, plays with them, lets Gould improvise and eventually opts for a different ending which sets everything that happened before in perspective. Also a nice touch: Throughout the movie the film's title theme - with or without lyrics - is repeated over and over again in variations, making perfectly clear where it's heading... To conclude: If you love film noir and are appreciative of a fresh take on it I'm sure you'll welcome the often seriously underrated "The Long Goodbye" with open arms.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Gone with the Wind (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A manipulative Southern belle carries on a turbulent affair with a blockade runner during the American Civil War. (238 mins.)
Director: Victor Fleming
“ The wind might be gone, but it still steals the thunder
They don't make pictures like this anymore. There, I've said it. And it's not necessarily a bad thing. The artistic techniques to put a four hour seminal epic like "Gone with the Wind" on screen were quite different and limited back in the days, however the inventiveness to tell a great story and choose the right means was disproportionately higher - and it shows.

The brainchild of powerful producer David O. Selznick, the filmed version of Margaret Mitchell's best seller does nothing that hasn't been done before, but everything with utmost perfection and teems with high production values every way you look at it. The list of what "Gone with the Wind" lifts high above other films just goes on and on: There's of course that great story of the Old South dealing with a generation entangled in the throes of the American Civil War. This however is only the backdrop of one of the greatest romances of all time, which is not presented as sugar-coated, tear-jerking escapism, but as a wild clash of sexes through strong personalities, driven by egotism and vanity, mirroring the downfall of a whole civilization. The narration is shown in lush Technicolor cinematography, at key points composite storybook images are used with layers upon layers of painted images added to the shots in order to exude the required sense of drama and give it a fairy-tale, almost dreamlike quality. Hundreds of costumed extras fight and litter the street of dying men the heroine Scarlett walks through to give just one shining example, Max Steiner's score is grand and epic, and the cast headed by Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable is legendary as their sensual tension is deep and intensely felt by the viewer. In short: "Gone with the Wind" is a marvel of cinematic brilliance, and more. And to everyone who thinks otherwise: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Mirror (1997)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
When a young girl becomes lost in the hustle and bustle of Tehran, her journey turns into a dazzling exercise on the nature of film itself... (95 mins.)
Director: Jafar Panahi
“ Reflections out of Iran
This is a film about a girl going home. Apparently her mother failed to pick our little heroine up, and the feisty second grader sets out to find her way through the asphalt jungle all by herself. Well, there's more to it of course. It's the asphalt jungle of Tehran and the film was directed by Jafar Panahi, one of the innovative film makers of the Iranian New Wave. Not that his latest works are allowed to be shown in his home country, mind you. Sentenced to a six-year jail term in 2010 and banned from directing he nevertheless defiantly made an iPhone production called "This Is Not a Film" about his situation and managed to smuggle it out of Iran and tell the world.

The Iranian situation as such is already portrayed firsthand in Panahi's early 1997 film. A representative of the next generation, a child, in the center, we witness its abandonment by the adults. We eavesdrop on them complaining, but not really listening, observe the gender segregation on public transport (albeit through an innocent perspective in between as the missing link), but in a sea of scarves, uniform looks and the all encompassing everyday turmoil one can barely get a glimpse of something one could call "individuality"... In the words of Panahi: Everyone is wearing a mask, plays a role. Thanks to the stark realism present in Iranian movies we become part of the life and the hustle and bustle therein, get sucked in by following the odyssey through a child's eye. And we'll reach a point in the film where a clever twist cranks it all even up a notch. Thus a very real situation turns even more real and it results in a powerful reflection with a double meaning, within the film and outside of it. As in his preceding picture "The White Balloon", also centering on a cast of children, the tone in Panahi's "The Mirror" is light, and the film is entertaining throughout, yet layered and thought-provoking. There's someone who stands up to find a way, lost, but determined, wandering around in need for directions. But there's a fundamental difference between directions and direction, as the viewer might notice. No coincidence either that this someone we're talking about is a girl, the focus of some of Panahi's other works. Or let's say it that way: This is not a film... about a girl going home.

Watch French trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A poor Midwest family is forced off of their land. They travel to California, suffering the misfortunes of the homeless in the Great Depression. (129 mins.)
Director: John Ford
“ Just a taste of Steinbeck - flawed, but great enough
John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" undoubtedly ranks among the greatest works of American realist literature. It stands as a testament of the Great Depression era where tenant farmers of the dust bowls suffer under drought, then are brutally dispossessed and driven from their Oklahoma homes, forced to find their luck elsewhere. In the end all they have is themselves, as the trip to find the blessed land California demands a heavy toll, is accompanied by tragedies and setbacks and the outlook is bleak in the face of the greed that exploits honest workers to make a buck. John Ford tries the impossible - to go for an authentic rendition of the multilayered, detail packed, all around magnificently written Steinbeck material, and definitely succeeds in delivering an indispensable heart-wrenching film portraying the never ending struggle of the Joads. Any direct comparison between book and film however is moot, enjoy both for what they are. On board in this road movie of the existential kind are Henry Fonda as an ex-convict, John Carradine as a disillusioned preacher and the Oscar winning Jane Darwell as Ma Joad, all first-rate acting with strong support of an array of bit players who help the crude reality take shape. Highly recommendable!

There are downsides, though. For one the two hours of screen time can barely correspond to the epic proportions of the novel. However, the entry is still much more complete than Kazan's adaption of Steinbeck's other epic drama "East of Eden", starring Jimmy Dean, which only shows a fraction of the story. The one real liability however is the diluted ending which was tucked on as a concession to the mass audience while Steinbeck's epic hits you with full force. Well, if you want the real thing, read the book. With the film you get a pretty good taste of it.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
A Separation (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
A married couple are faced with a difficult decision - to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimer's disease. (123 mins.)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
“ Fatherland or motherland - a decision
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation" is a truly remarkable film. It's more than a picture about two people who want to leave each other, rather it deals with many things that divide people, which isn't necessarily a bad thing per se - but what divides entails ramifications for either side. On the forefront of course there's the titular dispute between Nader and Simin, two Iranians. Undoubtedly they love each other, but are filing for divorce - Simin intends to leave the country with her daughter Termeh for the sake of Termeh's future, but Nader wants to stay in Iran taking care of his father, who suffers from Alzheimer. While his father doesn't recognize him, his son still does. But is the illness of the father only a pretext for Nader?

Thus the moral conflict between the prospects the west offers and - literally - the fatherland, becomes a central theme from the get-go, yes, but it lingers only in the background until the decision between past and future cannot be avoided. The main part of the film features more dividing situations, tense confrontations and a dramatic incident, all of which highlight fractures in Iranian society: fundamentalist and moderate religion clash, middle class and lower class are played against each other, there's the constant fight between modernity vs. tradition, and pride often gets in the way. The film is full of nuances that can be picked up by attentive viewers which relate directly to Iranian life, but nevertheless the picture as a whole is more than just the sum of its parts and succeeds in resonating universally. Shot with handheld camera Farhadi's film looks and feels real, provides intimate insights on both sides of whatever argument you're looking at and puts the problem right in your hand. What more can you ask from a movie?

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
Sansho the Bailiff (1954)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
In medieval Japan, a compassionate governor is sent into exile. His wife and children try to join him, but are separated, and the children grow up amid suffering and oppression. (124 mins.)
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
“ Little birds, if you are living still: Fly, fly far away!
Kenji Mizoguchi's adaptation of Mori Ogai's narration "Sansho Dayu" is a real treat for any film lover with a weakness for Eastern cinema and the renditions of Japanese historical drama tales. In the center of the fictitious story however is not the eponymous cruel Sansho the Bailiff, but two children who suffer under the reign of said slavemaster and have to find their passage through adolescence all by themselves, bereft of the guidance of their parents. In a way it's a coming of age movie, a fable of course as well, extremely strong on the emotional front, morally charged, full of tragedy, pathos, resolve and the power of the human spirit, which reminds us that there's always the glimmer of hope even though one may be surrounded by the bleakest darkness.

Mizoguchi's films often appear simple and straightforward, more realistic than fancy on first glance, but they also leave a natural and elegant impression at the same time. What appears to be a contradiction in fact adds an innate mythical quality to these pictures (see also e.g. "Ugetsu Monogatari"), wonderfully brought to light here by Kazuo Miyagawa's inspired cinematography of "Rashomon" fame. Miyagawa manages to perfectly frame the action and to capture and express the sentiments and the intentions of the characters by simple camera movements or pans, so that with minimalistic means the film achieves the most evocative emotional result. This becomes especially apparent in luminously poetical scenes like the ending, which is on various levels absorbing and engaging, or that famous scene where we become witness of a self-sacrifice - an exquisite visual highlight, where the the text of the original cannot keep up with. In general the script - while staying close to Ogai's narration - enhances the narration even more at key points, so that the viewer can't help but feel utter sympathy with the protagonists, and the resolution becomes heartfelt to say the least. In short: Alongside Ozu's and Kurosawa's masterpieces Mizoguchi's "Sansho the Bailiff" is one of the classic Japanese films one definitely should check out.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The General (1926)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
When Union spies steal an engineer's beloved locomotive, he pursues it single-handedly and straight through enemy lines. (67 mins.)
“ Stone-face Keaton - generally great
Generally speaking, guys like Buster Keaton don't exist anymore - and that's a sad thing. Nowadays comedies mostly rely on in-your-face humor and/or are satisfied with representing an unoriginal copy of what worked somewhere else or when someone else did it. Sit-coms repeat the same formula again and again until even the fans doubt why they are still tuning in. Back in the 1930s however Keaton was one of a kind: Director, writer, actor, stunt man, comedian in personal union, Keaton's masterpiece is "The General". A box office disaster, this silent epic was nevertheless his favorite, and deserves the respect it now gets.

Buster Keaton's forte is that he plays his characters understated, subtle, as everyday men, who are determined however to pursue a personal goal. And of course our hero engineer Johnny Gray and his locomotive get more and more dragged into a maelstrom of events, where the actions he feels he has to do for his own good resonate far and wide, playing a major role in the American Civil War. "The General" is a slapstick feast, its scenes perfectly timed, all the way action packed, sometimes dangerously so - e.g. when Keaton is famously sitting on one of the coupling rods with the train moving, or when he ingeniously gets rid of obstacles in front of the track while moving towards them. The master of course does his own stunts, even doubled for other characters. Well, Keaton sure doesn't talk much, but as far as comedy is concerned this little stone-face guy is truly king.

Watch trailer here: ” - Artimidor
The Naked Island (1960)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
A family of four are the sole inhabitants of a small island, where they struggle each day to irrigate their crops. (94 mins.)
Director: Kaneto Shindô
“ Finding beauty in the plight we call life
Kaneto Shindô's heart-rending minimalist gem "The Naked Island" (1960) indeed strips moviemaking to its very naked basics: imposing black and white pictures, sparsely used sounds and a musical theme to die for turn a film with a simplistic story into a major cinematic event. Dialog there is none. Which is more than an experiment, rather it's an artistic statement. Indeed, as the film shows: Conversations are not required in order to tell a tale that focuses on the burdens of life weighing on its characters, a life that is monotonous, repetitive, bland, but which is lived with dignity and perseverance. And if you are willing to let yourself be guided by images alone, you'll soon forget any ambitions of plot and will find yourself captured by the daily routines of people struggling to grow crops on a tiny rugged island where water is as precious as the sun merciless. There's drama as well, but only as a natural extension of the circumstances.

The cinematography is unobtrusive, doesn't draw attention to itself, yet at the same time every single image is so carefully framed, that it could stand on its own like a painting. Shindô however paints in moving pictures, and the impact is thus even stronger. As an audience we are simply observing the contradictory sublime beauty of the triteness through a gorgeous black and white filter, and while what we see feels like a documentary in content, it is wrapped in visual poetry rarely seen in such condensed intensity. The documentary feel and the poetic approach might be comparable to Flaherty's famous "Man of Aran" (1934). Both pictures focus on people living on an island and fighting the forces of nature, however, while "Aran" is an action spectacle dealing with a torrential confrontation culminating in musical crescendos on the sound track, Shindô's "Naked Island" is anything but a thrilling ride. Because of that it feels even more realistic and less staged, maybe the perfect counterpoint to the Flaherty picture. Still, both have their own merit on different sides of the spectrum.

In "The Naked Island" the melancholic, restrained music sets the pace, reflecting the inescapable daily chores, the circle of life for crops and men, and we are inevitably drawn into the film's meditative life-affirming mood against the harsh backdrop that permeates all. The depiction of these few lives we follow might seem like a slow, tedious journey against all odds that has little value for viewers, especially when we see the same things again and again. But at some point the arduous task of carrying water buckets up a mountain slope feels more like a dance and it's as if the sparkling of the rocking water only affirms how treasured and precious, how life-giving it is. - In short: If you want to leave your own perhaps hectic and stressful existence behind for an hour and a half, here's something that is likely to touch you in a very profound way: an isle of tranquility and contemplation to return to in the pandemonium of modern everyday life.

Watch excerpt here: ” - Artimidor