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1. Apu Trilogy, India, 1955-59, Satyajit Ray
2. Au hasard Balthazar, France, 1966, Robert Bresson
3. Diary of a Country Priest, France, 1950, Robert Bresson
4. Ordet, Denmark, 1955, Carl Dreyer
5. Leolo, Canada, 1992, Jean-Claude Lauzon
6. Gospel According to St. Matthew, Italy, 1964, Pier Paolo Pasolini
7. My Dinner with Andre, US, 1981, Louis Malle
8. The Great Adventure, Sweden, 1953, Arne Sucksdorff
9. Fateless, Hungary, 2005, Lajos Koltai
10, Hiroshima Mon Amour, France, 1959, Alain Resnais
11. The Quince Tree Sun, Spain, 1992, Victor Erice
12. Wings of Desire, Germany, 1987, Wim Wenders
13. Broken Wings, Israel, 2002, Nir Bergman
14. Promises, US, 2001, B.Z. Goldberg
15. Smoke, US, 1995, Wayne Wang
16. I’m Not Scared, Italy, 2003, Gabriele Salvatores
17. Forbidden Games, France, 1952, Rene Clement
18. Searching for Bobby Fischer, US, 1993, Steven Zaillian
19. Unbearable Lightness of Being, US, 1988, Philip Kaufman
20. All About Lily Chou Chou, Japan, 2001, Shunji Iwai
21. A Place in the World (Un Lugar en el Mundo), Argentina, 1992, Adolfo Aristarain
22. Ordinary People, US, 1980, Robert Redford
23. La Promesse, Belgium, 1996, Jean & Luc Dardenne
24. Lamerica, Italy, 1994, Gianni Amelio
25. Stolen Children, Italy, 1992, Gianni Amelio
26. Therese, France, 1986, Alain Cavalier
27. The Man in the Moon, US, 1991, Robert Mulligan
28. Wild Reeds, France, 1994, Andre Techine
29. Scrooge (A Christmas Carol), UK, 1951, Brian Desmond Hurst
30. O Lucky Man, UK, 1973, Lindsay Anderson
31. Running on Empty, US, 1988, Sidney Lumet
32. Tokyo Story, Japan, 1953, Yasujiro Ozu
33. Boot Polish, India, 1954, Prakash Arora (Raj Kapoor)
34. Pixote, Brazil, 1981, Hector Babenco
35. The Search, US, 1948, Fred Zinneman
36. Ikiru, Japan, 1952, Akira Kurosawa
37. Black Orpheus, Brazil, 1959, Marcel Camus
38. The Red Balloon, France, 1956, Albert LaMorisse
39. Grand Canyon, US, 1991, Lawrence Kasdan
40. The Dreamlife of Angels, France, 1998, Eric Zorca
41. Z, France, 1969, Con. Costas-Garvas
42. Kes, UK, 1969, Ken Loach
43. Nobody’s Fool, US, 1994, Robert Benton
44. A Man Escaped, France, 1956, Robert Bresson
45. Dad (Oca), Slovenia, 2010, Vlado Skafar
46. The Cup (Phorpa), Bhutan, 1999, Khyentse Norbu
47. The Son (Le Fils), France, 2002, Jean & Luc Dardenne
48 Phoenix, Germany, 2014, Christian Petzold
49. Hero, US, 1992, Stephen Frears
50. Bus 174, Brazil, 2002, Jose Padhilla and Felipe Lacerda
51. Good Will Hunting, US, 1997, Gus Van Sant
52. Resurrection, US, 1980, Nicholas Petrie
53. Love Letter, Japan, 1995, Shunji Iwai
54. La Vie de Jesus, France, 1997, Bruno Dumont
55. The Spectacular Now, US, 2013, James Ponsoldt
56. Daniel, US, 1983, Sidney Lumet
57. Vertical Ray of the Sun, Vietnam, 2000, Tran Anh Hung
58. Barbara, Germany, 2012, Christian Petzold
59. A Bronx Tale, US, 1993, Robert De Niro
60. Ram Dass, Fierce Grace, US, 2001, Mickey Lemle
61. The Lives of Others, Germany, 2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
62. The Passenger, Italy, 1975, Michaelangelo Antonioni
63. Milagro Beanfield War, US, 1988, Robert Redford
64. Tricks (Stzucki), Poland, 2007, Andrzej Jakimowski
65. Deep Breath (Le Soufflé), France, 2001, Damian O'Doul
66. The American President, US, 1995, Rob Reiner
67. JFK, US, 1991, Oliver Stone
68. Dave, US, 1993, Ivan Reitman
69. Sundays and Cybele, France, 1962, Serge Bourgignon
70. Taste of Cherry, Iran, 1997, Abbas Kiarostami
71. The Wild Child, France, 1969, Francois Truffaut
72. Good Men, Good Women, Taiwan, 1995, Hou Hsiao-hsien
73. Chunhyang, South Korea, 2000, Kwon-Taek Im
74. Keys to the House, Italy, 2004, Gianni Amelio
75. Close-Up, Iran, 1990, Abbas Kiarostami
76. Intimate Grammar, Israel, 2010, Nir Bergman
77. Medium Cool, US, 1969, Haskell Wexler
78. Woman in the Dunes, Japan, 1964, H. Teshigahara
79. Raise the Red Lantern, China, 1991, Zhang Yimou
80. My Name is Ivan (Ivan’s Childhood), Russia, 1962, Andrei Tarkovsky
81. Dead Man, US, 1995, Jim Jarmusch
82. Umberto D, Italy, 1952, Vittorio de Sica
83. The Tree of Life, US, 2011, Terence Malick
84. Mon Oncle Antoine, Canada, 1971, Claude Jutra
85. How Green Was My Valley, US, 1941, John Ford
86. Days of Heaven, US, 1978, Terrence Malick
87. The Kid with a Bike, France, 2011, Jean & Luc Dardenne
88. Local Hero, UK, 1983, William Forsyth
89. Cyclo, Vietnam, 1995, Tran Anh Hung
90. La Jetee, France, 1962, Chris Marker
91. Devi, India, 1960, Satyajit Ray
92. The Weavers: Wasn’t That a Time?, US, 1982, Jim Brown II
93. Matewan, US, 1987, John Sayles
94. Trois Couluers Trilogy, France, 1993-4, Kristov Kieslowski
95. A Girl and a Tree, Slovenia, 2012, Vlado Skafar
96. The Wind Will Carry Us, Iran, 1999, Abbas Kiarostami
97. The River, France, US, India, 1951, Jean Renoir
98. L’enfant, France, 2005, Jean and Luc Dardenne
99. Rocket Science, US, 2007, Jeffrey Blitz
100. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, US, 1982, Steven Spielberg
101. Malcolm X, US, 1992, Spike Lee
102. East of Eden, US, 1955, Elia Kazan
103. Munyurangabo, Rwanda. U.S., 2007, Lee Isaac Chung
104. Lavventura, Italy, 1960, Michaelangelo Antonioni
105. Sweet Sixteen, UK, 2002, Ken Loach
106. The Natural, US, 1984, Barry Levinson
107. Letter to a Child, Slovenia, 2009, Vlado Skafar
108. The Long Day Closes, UK, 1992, Terence Davies
109. He Who Must Die, France , 1957, Jules Dassin
110. Miracle on 34th Street, U.S., 1947, George Seaton
111. Wonder Boys, US, 2000, Curtis Hanson
112. Hoosiers, US, 1986, David Anspaugh
113. L’Humanite, France, 1999, Bruno Dumont
114. It All Starts Today, France, 1999, Bernard Tavernier
115. The Warriors, US, 1979, Walter Hill
116. My Father's Glory/My Mother's Castle, France, 1990, Robert Yves
117. Wild Strawberries, Sweden, 1957, Ingmar Bergman
118. Viridiana, Spain, 1961, Luis Bunuel
119. Hud, US, 1963, Martin Ritt
120. The Jolson Story, US, 1946, Alfred Green
121. A Taste of Honey, UK, 1961, Tony Richardson
122. Where is the Friends Home, Iran 1987, Abbas Kiarostami
123. In This World, UK, 2002, Michael Winterbottom
124. Flowers of Shanghai, Taiwan, 1998, Hou Hsiao-Hsien
125. Tropical Malady, Thailand, 2004, Apichatpong Weerasethakul
126. Color of Paradise, Iran, 1999, Majid Majidi
127. All the Presidents Men, US, 1976, Alan J. Pakula
128. Nine Lives, US, 2005, Rodrigo Garcia
129. Vanya on 42nd Street, US 1994 Louis Malle
130. The Magic Flute, Sweden, 1975, Ingmar Bergman
131. Through The Olive Trees, Iran, 1994, Abbas Kiarostami
132. Moonlight Whispers, Japan, 1999, Yakihiko Shiota
133. Beijing Bicycle, China, 2001, Wang Xiaoshuia
134. A Midnight Clear, US, 1992, Keith Gordon
135. Two-Lane Blacktop, US, 1971, Monte Hellman
136. Beau Travail, France, 1999, Claire Denis
137. The New World, US, 2005, Terrence Malick
138. The Fugitive, U.S., 1993, Andrew Davis
139. The Green Ray, France, 1985, Erich Rohmer
140. Back to the Future, US, 1985, Robert Zemeckis
141. Home Before Dark, US, 1958, Mervyn LeRoy
142. Field of Dreams, US, 1989, Phil Robinson
143. Moonstruck, US, 1987, Norman Jewison
144. The White Diamond, Germany, 2004, Werner Herzog
145. Blow-Up, UK, 1966, Michaelangelo Antonioni
146. I’m Going Home, France 2001, Manoel de Olivera
147. Son of the Bride, Argentina, 2001, Juan Jose Campanella
148. Casablanca, U.S., 1942, Michael Curtiz
149. Sleeping Giant, Canada, 2015, Andrew Cividino
150. L’Enfance Nue (Naked Childhood), France, 1968, Maurice Pialat
151. Charly, France, 2007, Isild Le Besco
152. The Journey, US, 1959, Anatole Litvak
153. Quiz Show, US, 1994, Robert Redford
154. One Summer of Happiness, Sweden, 1951, Arne Mattson
155. Smiles of a Summer Night, Sweden, 1955, Ingmar Bergman
156. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, France, 2007, Eric Rohmer
157. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, UK, 1968, Peter Hall
158. Fireworks (Hana-Bi), Japan, 1997, Takeshi Kitano
159. Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going, Argentina, 1995, Eliseo Subiela
160. Butterfly, Spain, 1999, Jose Luis Cuerda
161. Elephant, U.S., 2003, Gus Van Sant
162. Blissfully Yours, Thailand, 2002, Apichatpong Weerasethakul
163. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, U.S., 2006, Martin Scorcese
164. Twelfth Night, US, 1996, Trevor Nunn
165. Groundhog Day, U.S., 1993, Harold Ramis
166. Shane, U.S., 1953, George Stevens
167. The Graduate, U.S., 1967, Mike Nichols
168. Kramer vs. Kramer, U.S, 1979, Robert Benton
169. Meet Joe Black, U.S., 1998, Martin Brest
170. Life on a String, China, 1991, Chen Kaige
171. Van Gogh, France, 1991, Maurice Pialat
172. The Turning Point, U.S., 1977, Herbert Ross
173. Grapes of Wrath, U.S., 1940, John Ford
174. Sleepless in Seattle, U.S., 1993, Nora Ephron
175. Ballad of a Soldier, Russia, 1959, Grigory Chukhraj
176. In Between Days, U.S., 2006, So Yong Kim
177. Linda, Linda, Linda, Japan, 2005, Nobuhiro Yamashita
178. Point of Order, U.S., 1964, Emile de Antonio
179. In the City of Sylvia, France, 2007, Jose Luis Guerin
180. Couch in New York, US, 1996, Chantal Akerman
181. The Way Home (Jibeuro), South Korea, 2002, Jeong-hyang Lee
182. Living is Easy with Eyes Closed, Spain, 2013, David Trueba
Love Actually (2003)
Heartwarming and endearing
Not being a huge fan of romantic comedies, I felt somewhat dubious about watching Love Actually, but I was enrolled almost immediately after the film began. With all the hatred going on in the world today, it was gratifying to see a film that is all about love - falling in love, being in love, and falling out of love. Written and directed by Richard Curtis, the film is not only about the ecstasy of young love but about love in all forms, between brothers and sisters, parents and children, and even best friends. Performed by a great ensemble cast that includes Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Rowan Atkinson, Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Marlene McCutcheon, and others, It is often silly and over-the-top but its British laid back humor keeps it from being sappy and the film has a freshness and vitality that makes you think (at least for a moment) about going out and seeking to find or renew the experience one more time.
Of course, Love Actually is primarily a comedy but it has enough moments of genuine heartfelt emotion in which tears are not inappropriate. The story takes place in the weeks before Christmas which is a season where love and peace are supposed to be more than just New Age clichés. While there are a lot of characters to keep track of, several relationships stand out. There's the love between the widowed Daniel (Neeson) and his 11-year-old stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster) who provides advice to the boy who has "fallen in love" with a girl at school who does not even know that Sam is on the planet. We also look in on the life of Britain's new Prime Minister (Grant) who bears a strong resemblance to Tony Blair. Grant plays the PM in the suave sophisticated British manner of another Grant Cary, as he pursues his secretary Natalie with some significant reservation.
In another, the PMs sister, Karen (Thompson) is afraid her husband Harry (Rickman) will leave her for an attractive coworker, Mia (Heike Makatsch). The office also knows that two of their coworkers, Sarah (Laura Linney) and Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) are in love but are too inhibited to let the other know. One of the best realized segments is about Billy Mack (Nighy), a washed-up rock singer who is trying to save his career by promoting what he acknowledges to be an awful pop-song remodeled for Christmas. Yes, there is more, perhaps too much more, but for me it was so heartwarming and endearing that it could have kept going until it covered all the romances in the world. Can I say that I loved it? Yes - actually.
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Skewers the Nazi cause as effectively as Casablanca
In celebrating the 75th anniversary of the release of Casablanca, it is easy to overlook another anti-Nazi film, Ernst Lubitsch's "screwball" comedy To Be or Not To Be, a film that skewered the Nazi cause with equal effectiveness. While not as dramatic or filled with memorable lines and patriotic songs, To Be or Not To Be, like Casablanca, the film features two main Hollywood stars, Carole Lombard and Jack Benny and a love triangle in which romance must be subordinate to a greater cause. Set in Poland just before the German invasion of September 1, 1939, the film opens as a mustachioed man bearing a close resemblance to German Chancellor Adolf Hitler is seen walking alone in the streets of Warsaw.
This Hitler, however, turns out to be the actor Bronski (Tom Dugan), a bit-player impersonating the Fuhrer in a play being put on by a Polish theatrical group. Is Hitler "by any chance interested in Mr. Maslowski's delicatessen?" teases the narrator in the opening segment. "That's impossiblehe's a vegetarian!" Responding to all the "Heil Hitler" salutes, Bronski asserts "Heil myself" as he walks through an open door. Bronski is playing a secondary role to the famous Polish actor Josef Tura, played by Jack Benny, then a radio star whose trademark straight face and deadpan humor marks the film.
Tura's wife Maria, also a popular Polish actress, is played by Carole Lombard who was to meet a shocking death in a plane crash in January, 1942 shortly after the film was completed. In the film, Maria is two-timing her actor husband by romancing a young flyer Lt. Sobinski (Robert Stack) who falls "head over heels" for the actress. The running gag in the film is that whenever Josef is playing Hamlet and delivers the line, "to be or not to be," it is a signal for Sobinski to get up from his seat in the theater and go backstage to meet Maria in her dressing room. It appears that Tura is more upset about his speech being interrupted than what happens behind the curtain.
The sudden Nazi invasion, however, puts all romantic trysts on the back burner and the mood shifts to solemn. The plot now becomes more involved with espionage and patriotism than acting when Sobinski, now a pilot for the Royal Air Force, discovers that respected Polish professor Siletski (Stanley Ridges) is a double-agent working for the Nazis. When the Lieutenant returns to Warsaw to eliminate the traitorous professor, Maria and Josef team up to help by launching an elaborate charade to trick the unsuspecting Nazis. While the film takes its name from the famous line in Hamlet, Shylock's monologue from the Merchant of Venice, spoken in front of Nazi swastikas, is recited by Jewish actor Felix Bressart, "Have we not eyes? Have we not hands, organs, senses, dimensions, attachments, passions?" he asks the Nazis, "If you poison us, do we not die?"
It is a noteworthy plea for tolerance in the days of rabid anti-Semitism even though the line "Hath not a Jew eyes?" is not spoken. According to Thomas Doherty writing in Tablet magazine, "the word "Jew" was seldom heard on the Hollywood screen, even in war-minded scenarios where the topic of anti-Semitism was front and center." He also quotes film historian Lester D. Friedman saying that "The studio bosses were alwayseven at this pointafraid of thrusting Jews into the spotlight." Whatever the reason, To Be or Not to Be is marked with the genius of one man, the great Jewish director Ernst Lubitsch who said, "What I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology," and that the tone and temper of the film "cannot leave any doubt in the spectator's mind what my point of view and attitude are toward these acts of horror."
While the film is a broad and biting satire, from the beginning of production in November 1941 to its completion on December 24th, however, events made sure that To Be or Not to Be, as well as Charles Chaplin's The Great Dictator, was no longer a laughing matter.
Kimi no na wa. (2016)
Deeply moving story of teenage love
"Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along" Rumi.
To the surprise of many, Your Name, a Japanese anime directed by Makato Shinkai (Children Who Chase Lost Voices) has become not only the top box-office hit of 2016 in Japan, but the highest-grossing animated feature of all time, surpassing Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Its popularity should not be a surprise to anyone who has seen it, however. It is a physically gorgeous and spiritually alive comedy/drama with stunning music by Radwimps and a deeply moving story of teenage love. Oh yes, it also has time travel and sci-fi elements that give the film an enchanting otherworldly feeling even if the plot does get a bit convoluted. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to follow it, but it might help.
In any event, the story is the least important part of this highly entertaining and, dare I say, inspiring film. Based on Shinkai's own novel of the same name, the film takes place in a fictional Japanese small town called Itomori where teenager Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) lives with her grandmother (Estuko Ichihara) and younger sister (Kanon Tani). Her father (Masaki Terasoma), who left religion after the death of his wife, is now the mayor of the city. When Mitsuha complains about small town life and exclaims to whoever is listening, "Please make me a handsome Tokyo boy in my next life!" her wish is granted the next day, when she wakes up in the body of Taki (voice of Ryûnosuke Kamiki), a real-life handsome boy who is in high school in Tokyo. Mitsuha must now must adjust to a new life which involves completing Taki's studies and working at an Italian restaurant.
Yes, the body switching happens on both ends. Taki is now a teenage girl in Itomori and must struggle to fit into small town life and to accept that he has breasts which he takes pleasure in fondling. The swap lasts for a day, and afterwards, neither party can remember what happened. Body swapping begins to take place on a regular basis, however, and the two (who do not know each other) must learn to adjust to radically different lives than they are accustomed to, with Mitsuha making a somewhat better adjustment. The two learn the meaning of empathy and are now able to help each other by leaving memos on each other's smartphone. Each makes the other's life better in some way, and there's a lingering feeling that they should meet.
Back in his own body, Taki travels to Itomori but finds that she died three years ago when a comet hit Itomori and decimated the city, killing one-third of its inhabitants, a reminder of the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake. Now with the help of a magic drink, he travels back three years to help Mitsuha confront her intransigent father and warn the town of the impending disaster. Your Name is grounded in the Sufi concept of Musubi. As told to Mitsuha by her grandmother, "Musubi is the old way of calling the local guardian God. This world has profound meaning. Tying thread is Musubi. Connecting people is Musubi. The flow of time is Musubi. These are all the God's power.
So the braided cords that we make are the God's art and represent the flow of time itself. They converge and take shape. They twist, tangle, sometimes unravel, break, then connect again. Musubi knotting. That is time." It is also about impermanence. Like a dream, memories of Taki's and Mitsuha's life in the other's body fade and are quickly forgotten. As Buddhism declares, in this world nothing is fixed and permanent. Existence is a flux and always becoming. What persists, however, are the braided cords that tie one to another and the love that transcends the artificial boundaries of space and time. Shinkai has been compared to the great Miyazaki, but this wondrous film is his and his alone.
Certain Women (2016)
Honest portrayal of real people
As depicted in "Wendy and Lucy" (2008) and "Meek's Cutoff" (2010), Kelly Reichardt's characters are lost without a significant guidepost to hold on to, adrift in a society in which they struggle to fit in. Based on short stories from the 2009 collection "Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It" by American writer Maile Meloy, Reichardt's latest feature, Certain Women, displays the struggle for connection of three women whose loneliness mirrors the economic and spiritual malaise gripping a part of 21st century America. Set in the rural West, the film features an impressive cast that includes Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, and newcomer Lily Gladstone All are complex and resilient characters, yet individuals who resist any outward expression of their inner feelings.
In the first section, Laura (Laura Dern, "The Founder") is a personal injury lawyer distracted by a mid-day affair with the married Ryan (James Le Gros, "Point Break"). When Fuller (Jared Harris, "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."), an emotionally distraught client refuses to accept the fact that he has no cause of action against an employer for an injury suffered on the job, Laura must balance her innate feelings of empathy with her fears that he may become violent. When he takes a night watchman hostage, the police turn to Laura to confront him, an acknowledgment of her personal strength.
In this segment, the open spaces of the West so beautifully depicted in "Meek's Cutoff" are transformed into the spiritually empty local mall with its Starbucks and chain stores, seemingly mocked by a contingent of Native Americans dancing for the customers. In the second story, Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams, "Manchester by the Sea") is in an unhappy relationship with husband Ryan (Le Gros), who appeared in the opening segment as Laura's secret lover. As they plan on building a home in the area, the family's emotional state is reflected in the attitude of her teenage daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier), who makes little effort to hide her resentment towards her parents, causing her dad to implore her to be nice to her mother.
In their visit to Albert, an elderly neighbor (Rene Auberjonois, "This is Happening") husband and wife attempt to convince the old man to sell them a pile of sandstone that has been in the front of his house for years, property to which he has an emotional attachment. Marital strain is evident in the conversation in which Gina takes the lead, however, but the focus is on her needs rather than Albert's feelings and when Gina waves to him from her car when she is leaving, he simply stares blankly at her through his window.
In the longest and most powerful of the three stories, lawyer Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart, "Personal Shopper") has to drive four hours each way to teach an evening class on Education Law. One of the attendees, Jamie (Lily Gladstone, "Subterranea") is a lonely rancher who shows up each week to the class even though she is not registered. Apparently physically attracted to the instructor, they meet after each class at the local diner, but the conversation about Beth's awful drive to and from work is less important than the poignant expressions on Jamie's face, looks that longingly search for clues that her attachment to Beth might be mutual.
Though not overtly sexual, their ride on Jamie's horse back to her car is as subtle and as lovely an erotic expression as I've seen on film and Gladstone's rich and heartfelt performance deserves to be remembered at Oscar time. Like other Reichardt's films, Certain Women moves very slowly without the aid of any background music to cue our emotions and can be challenging for those uncomfortable without thrill-a-minute action. Viewers who appreciate grounded stories about resilient and intelligent characters, however, will be moved by the film's honest portrayal of real people. It is one of Reichardt's best.
Like "a drowning man trying to wave at an ocean liner," he's "a good swimmer"
In Israeli-American director Joseph Cedar's masterful film Norman, The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, a ridiculously expensive pair of shoes given as a gift leads to a friendship between rising Israeli politician Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi, "Encirclements") and Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere, "Time Out of Mind"), an American businessman, consultant and, in the Yiddish expression, "gonif," defined as a disreputable but not entirely crooked individual. Like Eliezer Shkolnik, the aging Talmudic scholar and philologist in Cedar's 2011 film "Footnote," Norman is persistent in his longing for prestige and recognition by his peers.
According to Cedar, "The tragic weakness of Norman and his ilk is that for them money acts as a substitute for intimacy; money is identified with power and influence his only way to connect is to lie, and people know that." Norman, brilliantly played by Richard Gere in one of his best performances, is a lonely man in his sixties living in New York but very much a cipher and we know nothing of his background other than his claim to being a widower with a college-age daughter. Given his tendency toward exaggeration and outright lies, however, its veracity is undetermined. Alex (Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Independence Day: Resurgence"), a government worker who he meets on an Amtrak trip tells him "Everyone knows who you are, but no one knows anything about you." Always looking for connection, Norman makes contact with little-known but charismatic Israeli politician Micha Eshel, currently deputy minister of Industry, Trade and Labor who is visiting New York. Trying hard to endear himself to Eshel, Norman persuades him to browse in an upper crust shoe boutique and ends up buying him the most expensive shoes in the store. The fixer seems to have hit pay dirt when he learns three years later that Eshel has been elected Prime Minister of Israel, but the relationship turns out to be a mixed blessing. Not knowing whether or not Micha will even remember him, Norman waits in a greeting line to shake his hand at a victory party and is ecstatic when Eshel not only remembers him but gives him an effusive hug.
When he asks him to serve as intermediary between Israel and the New York-based wealthy Jewish community, it is Norman's moment of triumph over those who have marginalized him over the years and opens doors that were previously closed to him, even though Duby (Yehuda Almagor, "Intimate Grammar"), Eshel's aide, wants to keep Norman as far away from the Prime Minister as is humanly possible. Now wielding the power that has always eluded him, Norman tries to use Eshel's name in negotiating transactions with Norman's nephew Philip Cohen (Michael Sheen, "Nocturnal Animals") who needs a rabbi to preside over his wedding to a Korean convert, and Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi, "Horace and Pete," TV series) who needs to find a donor who will contribute to the synagogue.
Norman's dubious wheeling and dealing, however, catches up with him and he finds himself in deep personal and legal trouble. Never one to lose self-confidence, when he is told that he's like "a drowning man trying to wave at an ocean liner," he responds, "but I'm a good swimmer." The problems, however, have serious international repercussions and recall many instances of the exchange of money and gifts have led to the downfall of many prominent American and Israeli.
Though Norman is an archetype and, in some ways, resembles the stereotyped "court Jew," often used as an anti-Semitic reference, we can relate to, if not admire him as a flawed human being who, like many of us, wants very much to be loved and respected. We empathize with him for no reason other than that we share a common humanity and we may know from experience that there is often a thin line dividing the upright from the outcast.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Treats its characters as human beings who deserve our respect and admiration
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson are not household names. In fact, they were not even on the radar until Theodore Melfi's film Hidden Figures told their story. Based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures is about three African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s who broke through barriers of race and gender to become essential contributors to the U.S. space program and without which, famous astronauts such as John Glenn and Allan Shepard would probably have never flown. All three were employed by NASA but only as "computers," people who worked for the engineering and flight sections performing manual calculations.
As the space program pushed through boundaries to match the Russian man in space program, barriers had to be broken on the ground as well to complete a successful mission. Though it was 1961 and the civil rights movement had already begun under the leadership of Martin Luther King, restaurant lunch counters, water fountains in public parks, libraries, and bathrooms were still segregated. In the film which was nominated for Best Picture at the 2017 Oscars, the three women, Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) have to deal with humiliating incidents of racial prejudice they repeatedly encounter on the job though they were as brainy and qualified as their male counterparts.
What they lacked was the title of engineer and mathematician and the respect of equal pay for equal work. Dorothy is denied the title of supervisor by her boss Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) even though she is already doing supervisor's work. Mary wants to become an engineer and work in the engineering section, but she requires college courses which can only be taken at a school that denies entry to people of color. Katherine, a mathematics genius, works on a Special Task Force for Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), but her main job is to check the calculations of her white male co-workers, including that of the coldly disdainful Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons). They all feel the pressure to do their jobs without complaining unless they are labeled as troublemakers.
This means the indignity of Katherine putting up with having to walk a half mile to go to the nearest "colored" rest room, Mary having to go to court just to be able to take night classes at the local high school, and Dorothy having to plead her case to her boss to be given the title of Supervisor. Hidden Figures is more than an entertaining feel-good movie, though it is that. It is a long overdue recognition of what life was like for African-Americans under segregation and the special burden that women had to face. While the film is a hard-edged depiction of racial prejudice, it is not preachy or one-dimensional but treats its protagonists as human beings who deserve our respect and admiration.
Melfi cares for his characters, showing Katherine's courtship by Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali) and the women's family and church life with warmth and humor. Granted the film is not notable for its depth of characterization or its subtlety and Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson were not saints, yet the truth is that saints are not necessarily those who perform miracles, but are also those who stand up for human dignity. In that respect, the three women deserve the title.
Song to Song (2017)
Examines our disconnection from the sacred
Observing, feeling, thinking, day dreaming, or simply throwing up your hands in exasperation. You may be engaged in all or none of the above when watching Terence Malick's ("Knight of Cups") Song to Song, a dreamlike exploration of love and betrayal. Whatever does come up for you, however, and whether or not you have any idea where the film is going, the ride is never less than fascinating. Malick's films will never be to everyone's liking, yet like other directors whose work shattered boundaries and were not fully appreciated until after their death, the totality of his work may take time to fully assess.
Similar to Malick's recent films "To the Wonder" and "Knight of Cups," Song to Song is a film of mood, memories, and impressions that examines our disconnection from the sacred in our quest for sex, power, and money. Set in Malick's old stomping grounds of Austin, Texas, the film opens as budding musicians, singer Faye (Rooney Mara, "Lion") and songwriter BV (Ryan Gosling, "La La Land") meet at a party thrown by high-living record producer Cook (Michael Fassbender, "The Light Between Oceans"), a man of considerable power in the industry who they look to for a foothold.
Faye and BV begin a relationship that is playfully erotic, and, in typical Malickian fashion, replete with voice-overs, whispering, introspection, and philosophizing. "I was desperate to feel something real. I wanted to be free the way he was," Faye says and "Any experience was better than no experience," a dubious proposition at best. BV teases her with such pronouncements as "Just tell me a complete lie. You can say anything you want to me. That's the fun about me." Seeking something "real," she shows houses for a living - suburban homes and high rise apartments in Austin that become the background set for her romantic trysts.
Since Faye admits that she feels nothing and is open to various kinds of pleasures, she becomes involved with both BV and Cook, (a reality that takes BV a long time to discover) as well as taking part, albeit halfheartedly, in a Lesbian affair with French artist Zoey (Bérénice Marlohe, "Skyfall"). When he learns about Faye's "betrayal", he fends off his ex-wife Lykke's (Lykke Li) overtures and hooks up with the older Amanda (Cate Blanchett), who may remind him of his overbearing mother Judy (Linda Emond, "Indignation").
Cook meets and eventually marries Rhonda (Natalie Portman, "Jackie") a waitress in a local coffee shop, but it doesn't turn out well as Cook turns to prostitutes to maintain his freedom from the captivity of marriage. The film meanders from theme to theme and song to song in which Malick embraces the music scene in Austin in an eclectic soundtrack. Featured are the music of Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley as well as classical composers Maurice Ravel, Gustav Mahler, and Arvo Part. While the characters realize that their lives have been inauthentic, there is still little joy.
Malick depicts relationships in terms of fleeting moments that constantly move in and out of our consciousness, never quite tangible enough to grasp or provide satisfaction. Continually seeking their heart's desire, the characters only slowly realize the emptiness of the promise. Underneath their search for connection, there is a spiritual longing that can be sensed but not understood. One character says that something is out there that is trying to find us, but the "something" remains obscure. While passion does exist in Malick's visions of nature captured by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki ("Birdman"), and the film exudes grace in the Leonardo drawing of the Virgin Mary and the painting of the Madonna on a building wall, Song to Song brings us close to the edges of spirituality without fully trusting us to come to grips with something larger than ourselves.
The Zookeeper's Wife (2017)
Lacks the emotional impact the subject matter demands
Many reports from the aftermath of World War II describe the indifference and, in some cases, outright hostility that the general population in Europe felt towards the Jews, with even lifelong neighbors and friends turning them in to the Nazis. The minority who risked their lives to protect Jews and save them from certain death in the Holocaust are remembered at Yad Vashem in Israel as those "Righteous Among the Nations." Among the honored are those who took Jews into their homes or properties, provided them with false documents, helped them to escape from ghettos and prisons, found food and shelter for children who became separated from their parents, or hid Jews in places such as attics, cemeteries, sewers, and even animal cages in a zoo.
Based on the non-fiction book by Diane Ackerman with a screenplay by Angela Workman, the story of two such "righteous" individuals who rescued 300 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto is told in Niki Caro's ("Whale Rider") film, The Zookeeper's Wife starring Jessica Chastain ("Crimson Peak"). Set in Poland immediately before the September 1939 invasion by German forces that launched World War II, Chastain is Antonina Zabinski, wife of the keeper of the Warsaw Zoo, Dr. Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh, "The Broken Circle Breakdown"). Assisted by her young son Ryszard (Timothy Radford as a young boy and Val Maloku as the older Rhys), Antonina is seen as the film opens gently tending to her hippos, tigers, lion cubs, and rescuing a newborn elephant in danger of suffocating.
At a party, Antonina socializes with Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl, "Captain America: Civil War"), director of the Berlin Zoo and Germany's leading zoologist who plays a major role in the film. Soon after the party, tragedy strikes as the Warsaw Zoo is bombed by the German Air Force, killing most of the animals in their cages and leaving others to wander the surrounding streets. When the Zabinskis allow Heck take some of their highly prized animals back to Berlin for medical experiments, he agrees in return to their offer to start a pig farm at the zoo using garbage collected from the ghettos to provide food for the German soldiers. Unfortunately, this does not prevent Germans from returning to the zoo to kill any remaining animals.
Under the pretense of helping the Nazis, Jan begins working for the resistance, smuggling Jews in their truck under piles of garbage collected from the Ghetto. Amazingly, a member of the German Labor Committee who sympathizes with the Jews provides a special pass for Jan to bring Jews to the zoo where they are hidden in empty animal pens. Among these are sculptor Magda Gross (Efrat Dor, "Mermaids" TV series), lawyer Maurycy Fraenkel (Iddo Goldberg, "Last Passenger"), and Urszula (Shira Hass, "A Tale of Love and Darkness"), a young woman who was raped and beaten by the German soldiers before Jan took her out of the Ghetto in his truck. Though danger is always present, the drama seems to lose its focus when it concentrates on whether or not Heck's attempt to seduce Antonina will be successful.
The Zabinski's story is an important and moving one that should be told, yet The Zookeeper's Wife is a surprisingly bland film that lacks the emotional impact the subject matter demands. Jessica Chastain projects warmth and vulnerability as Antonina, yet her Polish accent seems forced and only distracts us from our involvement with the story. While there are some compelling and heartfelt moments in the film, especially when fear spreads among the animals as they sense the German planes approaching the zoo, the overall execution is often manipulative and mawkish.
There is a scene in which the ashes from the burning ghetto are shown in an overly aestheticized manner, enough to prompt a child to say with wonder that "It's snowing." It is a misfire that serves only to trivialize the suffering. While the Zabinski's courage during the Holocaust will never be forgotten, The Zookeeper's Wife unfortunately begins to fade from the memory almost immediately after the final credits.
Raising Arizona (1987)
You can laugh and cry at the same time
A 23-year-old Nicholas Cage plays Dorkman, alias H.I. McDonnough, in the Coen Brothers wild 1983 farce Raising Arizona. No, they didn't raise the state, although that might be a good idea, but that's getting ahead of ourselves. Anyway, H.I. seems to be fond of the local jail in Tempe, Arizona, since he's always hankering to go back and become the champion recidivist (or something). Let out on parole by some kindhearted officers (read unthinking), H.I. abuses their trust three times by holding up the same convenience store. Thinking ahead, he's careful not to have any bullets in his gun so he will receive a light sentence but still knows a good deal when he sees one and his holdups become habit forming.
Having been photographed in prison more than the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, the only thing left to do is fall in love with the picture-taking jailer, a woman called Edwina, Ed for short (Holly Hunter) whom he proceeds to marry. Of course, Ed makes H.I. go straight so they can have a baby and raise a family. Good luck with that. When they discover that Ed is unable to bear children, however, they become Robin Hood, robbing a kid from the rich furniture dealer Nathan Arizona, Sr. (Trey Wilson) whose wife just gave birth to quintuplets, and giving to the poor (he and Ed). Little Nathan, Jr. is cute as all get out and is different than other babies in the world because he never cries, come hell or high water.
Things change and not for the better when two of H.I.'s prison buddies, brothers Gale (John Goodman) and Evelle (William Forsythe), rise from the muck and escape from prison (Gale says that the institution no longer served his best interests), then park themselves in H.I's trailer. Things go from worse to much worse, however, when Leonard Smalls, a heavily armed, grotesquely-bearded biker (Randall "Tex" Cobb), looking like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse all rolled into one, is hired by Nathan to track down his baby.
If you like shootings with lots of dead bodies, ridiculous car chases, surreal bank robberies, and more mayhem than the Trump White House, Raising Arizona is the film for you. By the way, it is one of the most hilarious comedies I've ever seen and even has a very touching message where you can both laugh and cry at the same time.
Get Out (2017)
A roller-coaster ride of dizzying proportions
When Donald Trump asked blacks during the campaign, 'What do you have to lose?' he didn't exactly have in mind the circumstances envisioned in Jordan Peele's highly original breakout film Get Out. If you think that the story of a white girl bringing her young black boyfriend home to meet her parents in an idyllic rural setting is going to be a romantic comedy, think again. Influenced by such horror films as Rosemary's Baby and Stepford Wives, Get Out has some romance in it and some comedy but they are all wrapped in a twilight zone basket of social satire, horror, and science fiction that adds up to a roller-coaster ride of dizzying proportions.
Peele, a former comedy star whose show Key and Peele was an Emmy Award-winning series on Comedy Central, has said that he would consider his film to be a "social thriller," a genre he describes as one in which "the horror is embedded in the way people interact, the way people think, the way people categorize." More directly, he has fashioned a look at the unconscious racism that may lie beneath the outward appearance of polite society. The film opens with a black man (Lakeith Stanfield) walking alone on a suburban street in a white neighborhood who is assaulted and thrown into the trunk of a car by a masked assailant, a reminder of the recent murder of Trayvon Martin.
The scene then shifts to New York where Chris Washington, a young African-American photographer superbly performed by British actor Daniel Kaluuya, is planning to travel with his white girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) to upstate New York to meet Rose's parents. Though Rose admits that she has not told her parents that Chris is black, she reassures him that they are open-minded and supporters of President Barack Obama who would vote again for him if he could run. Chris and Rose have terrific chemistry together and appear to be on the same wavelength in their outlook on life.
Their trip proceeds without incident until it is interrupted when they hit a deer crossing the road and have an encounter with a police. In what looks like racial profiling, the officer asks to see Chris' ID even though he wasn't the driver but Rose forcefully intervenes in his behalf, a shadowy portent of later events. Chris feels welcome in the home of Rose's parents, bearded physician Dean (Bradley Whitford) and psychiatrist and hypnotist Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener) who both say the right things even though somewhat awkwardly. Dean tells Chris about his father losing an Olympic qualifying race to Jesse Owens and Missy invites Chris to let her cure his smoking habit with hypnotism but he senses that all is not right.
His antennas go up further when Rose's brother, a martial arts enthusiast (Caleb Landry Jones), returns home and immediately challenges Chris to a jujitsu contest. Things take an even more strange turn when he encounters the Armitage's zombie-like black groundskeeper, Walter (Marcus Henderson), and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel). When elderly friends of the grandparents arrive at the Armitage's for an afternoon garden party, all white except for an older Japanese man and a younger black man (Stanfield), Chris is taken aback by embarrassing comments about Chris' physique and sexual powers and the only black guest suddenly becomes aggressive and threatening.
Feeling stressed by the unfolding situation, Chris calls his best friend Rod (LilRel Howery), a TSA officer who offers some needed humor but also has an unerring insight into what is taking place at the Armitages. The reveal in the last part of the film is too delicious to give away but it is recommended that you fasten your seat belts for a wild ride. Get Out is a highly entertaining thriller that will keep you enthralled right up until the last minute. While it does have some social implications that is up to each viewer to sort out, according to Peele, "the film isn't meant to alienate white viewers so much as let them see this experience that we've (black people) been living through." Although perhaps the rich white liberals in the film are an easy target and depicted as caricatures, Peele says that he "wanted the movie to reflect the racism that exists in all of us." This reflection is also a mirror of the fears that exist in the hearts of black people who must carefully navigate the racial divide every single day of their lives.