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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. Hiroshima Mon Amour, France, 1959, Alain Resnais
10. The Quince Tree Sun, Spain, 1992, Victor Erice
11. Smoke, US, 1995, Wayne Wang
12. I’m Not Scared, Italy, 2003, Gabriele Salvatores
13. Unbearable Lightness of Being, US, 1988, Philip Kaufman
14. Broken Wings, Israel, 2002, Nir Bergman
15, A Place in the World (Un Lugar en el Mundo), Argentina, 1992, Adolfo Aristarain
16. Forbidden Games, France, 1952, Rene Clement
17. Ordinary People, US, 1980, Robert Redford
18. Ikiru, Japan, 1952, Akira Kurosawa
19. La Promesse, Belgium, 1996, Jean & Luc Dardenne
20. Promises, US, 2001, B.Z. Goldberg
21. Lamerica, Italy, 1994, Gianni Amelio
22. Stolen Children, Italy, 1992, Gianni Amelio
23. Therese, France, 1986, Alain Cavalier
24. The Man in the Moon, US, 1991, Robert Mulligan
25. Wild Reeds, France, 1994, Andre Techine
26. Searching for Bobby Fischer, US, 1993, Steven Zaillian
27. O Lucky Man, UK, 1973, Lindsay Anderson
28. All About Lily Chou Chou, Japan, 2001, Shunji Iwai
29. Running on Empty, US, 1988, Sidney Lumet
30. Tokyo Story, Japan, 1953, Yasujiro Ozu
31. Boot Polish, India, 1954, Prakash Arora (Raj Kapoor)
32. Pixote, Brazil, 1981, Hector Babenco
33. The Search, US, 1948, Fred Zinneman
34. Vertical Ray of the Sun, Vietnam, 2000, Tran Anh Hung
35. Black Orpheus, Brazil, 1959, Marcel Camus
36. The Red Balloon, France, 1956, Albert LaMorisse
37. Grand Canyon, US, 1991, Lawrence Kasdan
38. The Dreamlife of Angels, France, 1998, Eric Zorca
39. Z, France, 1969, Con. Costas-Garvas
40. Kes, UK, 1969, Ken Loach
41. Nobody’s Fool, US, 1994, Robert Benton
42. A Man Escaped, France, 1956, Robert Bresson
43. Dad (Oca), Slovenia, 2010, Vlado Skafar
44. La Vie de Jesus, France, 1997, Bruno Dumont
45. The Cup (Phorpa), Bhutan, 1999, Khyentse Norbu
46. The Son (Le Fils), France, 2002, Jean & Luc Dardenne
47. Phoenix, Germany, 2014, Christian Petzold
48. Hero, US, 1992, Stephen Frears
49. Bus 174, Brazil, 2002, Jose Padhilla and Felipe Lacerda
50. Good Will Hunting, US, 1997, Gus Van Sant
51. Resurrection, US, 1980, Nicholas Petrie
52. Love Letter, Japan, 1995, Shunji Iwai
53. A Christmas Carol (Scrooge), UK, 1951, Brian Desmond Hurst
54. The Spectacular Now, US, 2013, James Ponsoldt
55. Daniel, US, 1983, Sidney Lumet
56. A Bronx Tale, US, 1993, Robert De Niro
57. Ram Dass, Fierce Grace, US, 2001, Mickey Lemle
58. The Lives of Others, Germany, 2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
59. The Passenger, Italy, 1975, Michaelangelo Antonioni
60. Milagro Beanfield War, US, 1988, Robert Redford
61. Tricks, Poland, 2007, Andrzej Jakimowski
62. Deep Breath (Le Soufflé), France, 2001, Damian O'Doul
63. The American President, US, 1995, Rob Reiner
64. JFK, US, 1991, Oliver Stone
65. Dave, US, 1993, Ivan Reitman
66. Sundays and Cybele, France, 1962, Serge Bourgignon
67. Taste of Cherry, Iran, 1997, Abbas Kiarostami
68. The Wild Child, France, 1969, Francois Truffaut
69. Good Men, Good Women, Taiwan, 1995, Hou Hsiao-hsien
70. Chunhyang, South Korea, 2000, Kwon-Taek Im
71. Keys to the House, Italy, 2004, Gianni Amelio
72. Close-Up, Iran, 1990, Abbas Kiarostami
73. Intimate Grammar, Israel, 2010, Nir Bergman
74. Medium Cool, US, 1969, Haskell Wexler
75. Wings of Desire, Germany, 1987, Wim Wenders
76. Woman in the Dunes, Japan, 1964, H. Teshigahara
77. Raise the Red Lantern, China, 1991, Zhang Yimou
78. The New World, US, 2005, Terrence Malick
79. My Name is Ivan (Ivan’s Childhood), Russia, 1962, Andrei Tarkovsky
80. The Jolson Story, US, 1946, Alfred Green
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. 8 1/2, Italy, 1963, Federico Fellini
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. From Here to Eternity, US, 1953, Fred Zinneman
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. Fateless, Hungary, 2005, Lajos Koltai
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. Donnie Darko, US, 2001, Richard Kelly
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. The Wizard of Oz, U.S., 1939, Victor Fleming
150. L’Enfance Nue (Naked Children), 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. A Few Good Men, U.S., 1992, Rob Reiner
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. Flight of the Navigator, U.S., 1986, Randal Kleiser
179. No Love for Johnnie, UK, 1961, Ralph Thomas
180. Couch in New York, US, 1996, Chantal Akerman
The Revenant (2015)
Expresses a fierce determination and strength of will
Set in 1823-24 in what is now South Dakota, Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Iñárritu's The Revenant is loosely based on the experience of American fur trapper Hugh Glass who miraculously survived a bear attack and sought revenge against a Texas mercenary who abandoned him and killed his son. Adapted from Michael Punke's book, "The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge," and winner of the Golden Globe for Best Picture, it is a story of the resilience and endurance of a man fighting for survival under extreme weather conditions. Shot with natural light in minus forty-degree temperatures in Alberta, Canada, the film is a testament not only to the skills of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski, but to Inarritu's commitment to the authenticity of his craft.
In the film, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a scout for trappers employed by the Rocky Mountain Trading Company. In the opening sequence, we learn that Glass was married to a Pawnee woman who was killed by soldiers. The scene then shifts to the trader's campsite where the men are attacked by warring Arikara Indians. The tribe, whose numbers had been decimated by a smallpox epidemic, was eager to trade pelts for horses and rifles but bore the scars of the white man's encroachment on their land. In the attack, the trappers suffer heavy casualties and only a few are left alive besides Glass: Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), Glass' half-Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), young hunter Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and frontiersman John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), all persuaded by Glass to attempt an overland route back to their Fort Kiowa headquarters.
Out hunting for food, Glass is viciously attacked by a bear and, though clinging to life, is buried alive by Fitzgerald who also kills his son. Though the bear is a CGI construction, the attack is stomach-churning in its gruesomeness and brings the viewer into the middle of an animal attack that has a startling feeling of reality. Amazingly regaining consciousness, Glass crawls through freezing snow and chilling waters to find Fitzgerald and revenge his son's murder. Surviving on scraps of animal carcasses, he is sustained by mystical messages of encouragement from his dead wife and the help of a Pawnee Indian who ends up being hung from a tree by the French with a sign around his neck saying "We are all savages."
The Revenant, though not as emotionally involving as it should be, meshes a powerful struggle for survival with elements of spiritual awareness. Unfortunately, however, its spiritual message does not include forgiveness and perpetuates the myth that wrongdoing can only be redeemed by superior force. It is nonetheless a physically stunning film whose natural beauty reminds us of the existence of a land with forests, rivers, and streams that has not yet been, as author Charles Eisenstein put it, "destroyed by development: cordoned off, no-trespassed, filled in, cut down, paved over, and built up." Though he has little dialogue, DiCaprio's performance is one of the best of his long career and worthy of an Oscar nomination, his eyes and body language expressing a fierce determination and strength of will. For Glass, there is only one way out of it and that's through it. It is a punishing test of endurance both for him and for the viewer.
Funny, surreal, and thought-provoking
Filmed in stop-motion animation, Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman's ("Synecdoche, New York") Anomalisa is a look at loneliness and its psychological effects. Filled with existential despair, it is also funny, surreal, and thought-provoking, a film that can touch you in ways you never thought possible. Nominated for Best Animated film at the 2016 Oscars and Golden Globes, it's subject is one Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis, "The Theory of Everything"), a middle-aged, disheveled-looking author and customer service advocate, who has come to Cincinnati from Los Angeles to deliver a talk at a conference on the subject "How May I Help You Help Them?"
We follow Michael as he arrives at the airport and takes a cab to the Hotel Fregoli (named after a paranoid psychological condition). Michael's world is a projection of what he has become, a slightly paranoid depressed man skimming along on the surface of life. We soon notice that everyone talks in the same voice whether male or female (the voice of Tom Noonan, "The House of the Devil"). Each "person" has the same facial characteristics, the same low energy, an effect of blandness and a robotic presence. During the ride to the hotel, Michael does his best to avoid conversing with the asthmatic cabdriver who attempts to make small talk about the weather and gives him suggestions about how wonderful the chili is in Cincinnati and that he must visit the zoo, two recommendations that seem to be of little interest to him.
After checking into the hotel, he mechanically tips the bellhop, orders room service (which he never appears to eat) and goes through the motions of calling his wife and his son whom he calls "Slugger," but there seems to be little emotional connection. Slugger wants a toy so dad picks up the first thing he sees in a sex toy shop, a supposedly rare model of a naked Japanese Geisha that is guaranteed to not be Sluggers' favorite toy. Out of loneliness, Michael calls Bella, the woman he deserted eleven years ago and they meet at the hotel for a drink but his inability to listen to her feelings and his fast move to invite her to his room swiftly ends the reunion.
Now unhinged by his fears, he desperately begins knocking on doors in the hotel hallway and soon meets Emily and Lisa, two fans who came in from Akron to attend his lecture. Though Emily is the more attractive and more available of the two women, Michael fixates on Lisa and, after a few drinks, invites her back to his room. It is immediately noticeable that Lisa (the voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh, "The Hateful Eight") is not like the others. Her voice is the only one with any individuality. Lacking self-esteem, her continual put-downs of her looks and her intelligence is heartbreaking but nothing can deter Michael from his purpose. In his world of static uniformity, Lisa is an anomaly, a word he expands to refer to her as his "anomalisa," which she loves.
Soon their experience of connection extends to a sensitively-handled sexual encounter, her singing the Cindy Lauper song "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," and his offer to leave his wife and have Lisa move back to L.A. with him. Before he wakes up in the morning, however, his delusions express themselves in a dream in which the hotel manager summons him to the office in the hotel basement and tells him that he must stay away from Lisa, reinforced by everyone else he meets. As he eats breakfast and rehearses his speech, his attitude towards Lisa changes as if he realized his mistake of getting too close to another person.
Although Michael has delivered the same speech hundreds of times, at the conference the words seem to have lost their meaning and the audience sits silently as the speaker loses his grip on reality, talking about his unhappy life before remembering to tell people to always smile at the customer. In the speech, Michael asks the questions: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to ache? (The second question seemingly answering the first).
For Michael, there is no one out there. It is all him in various aspects of his personality, a three-dimensional projection of his state of mind. It is only when he can look outside of himself and connect with another human being who aches as much as he does, that he can suspend his mechanical thinking and act in the moment out of the experience of who he really is, a moment that may be artificial, but whose substance is true and real and also unforgettable.
Learning to Drive (2014)
Puts us in touch with the beauty of sharing who we are with others
Based on a short story by Katha Pollit, a columnist for the Nation magazine, Learning to Drive is a small movie with a big heart. While the film is risk averse and will not be mistaken for a timeless work of art, its story of two middle-aged people of vastly different backgrounds assisting each other in a time of crisis will leave you with a warm glow. Directed by Isabel Coixtet ("Another Me") with a screenplay by Sarah Kernochan ("Sommersby"), Wendy (Patricia Clarkson, "Maze Runners: The Scorch Trials") Learning to Drive is about a writer and book critic whose 21-year marriage to Ted (Jake Weber, "White House Down") has just ended in a toxic confrontation in a taxicab and has to move outside of her comfort zone to regain her self-confidence.
Deeply distraught by the separation, Wendy wants to get away from New York City to visit her daughter Tasha (Grace Gummer, "The Homesman"), a college student who is working on a farm in Vermont, but doesn't know how to drive. The driver of the taxi, Darwan Singh Tur (Ben Kingsley, "The Walk"), a former college professor in India and now a part-time driving instructor was the unwitting witness to the marital breakup was. After he returns an envelope that Wendy left in his cab, Wendy hires him to provide driving lessons and soon discovers that he is a calming influence who has a lot to teach her other than how to put on the brakes.
Wendy's devotion to the written word has restricted her willingness to challenge the outside world. Darwan leads her through her fears with patience and charm and encourages her to keep pursuing her goal even after she fails her driving test. During the lessons, however, he has to handle her road rage and lack of self-confidence as well as cope with his own incidents of racism coming from other motorists and pedestrians, one who refers to him as "Osama" and rips the turban from his head. Darwan is about to be married in a union arranged by his family according to Sikh tradition and tells Wendy that his family best knows his needs and that such a crucial decision should not be left to random choice.
When his bride Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 2") arrives from India, however, she is bewildered by her new environment, remains in the apartment, fearful of meeting people and her fears are confirmed when Darwan seems troubled over her lack of education. It is a time of transition for both of them and it will call upon all their resources of patience, tolerance, and understanding to see it through. Learning to Drive is marked by outstanding performances by Clarkson and Kingsley who bring a special understanding to their roles and put us in touch with the beauty of sharing who we are with others, even when it is uncomfortable to do so.
A poignant meditation on youth and aging
Filled with dream and fantasy sequences in the tradition of the great Italian director Federico Fellini, Paolo Sorrentino's ("The Great Beauty") film Youth is a poignant meditation on youth and aging, loss and regret, love and loneliness, a gorgeous film that could easily be called "The Great Beauty, Part 2." Featuring seventy-something actors Michael Caine ("Kingsman: The Secret Service") and Harvey Keitel ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") in their best performances in many years, the film takes place in an upscale spa in the Swiss Alps where two old friends reflect on their life and loves. Caine is Fred Ballinger, a retired composer and conductor who, by his own admission, is very apathetic and seems to have lost his zest for life.
When asked by a representative of Queen Elizabeth (Alex Macqueen, "Cinderella") to conduct his work "Simple Songs" before the Queen, he adamantly refuses but refuses to say why, other than for "personal reasons." His friend Mick Boyle (Keitel) is a film director traveling with a group of actors at work on his final film, "Life's Last Day" in which they all work feverishly on trying to find the best last line before the final credits roll. Fred and Mick talk about their life but conversation does not revolve around the eternal issues - the wonders and terrors of death, who we really are, why we are here. Rather they schmooze about the girls they regret not having sex with, the state of their prostate gland, and what they can and cannot remember about their high school sweethearts.
The film is also dotted with other interesting (and some bizarre) characters who are at the spa including the current Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea, "Dom Hemingway") who reveals the seductive power of her youthful body in a memorable swimming pool scene with Fred and Mick. To prove that she is more than her looks, she engages in an ironic conversation with Hollywood actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano, "Love and Mercy"), whose most famous role was as a robot named Mr. Q. When Tree asks condescendingly whether she ever watches anything other than reality TV, she retorts "I appreciate irony but not when it comes filled with poison." When he asks why, she tells him, "Because it reveals personal frustration... do you like what you do? I love being Miss Universe."
Also present is an obese former soccer player (Roly Serrano, "Le ciel du centaure") who carries around an oxygen tank with him, a young masseuse (Luna Zimic Mijovic, "Traumland") who does unusual dance routines in her room, and a monk (Dorji Wangchuk) who meditates on the hotel grounds and is reportedly able to levitate. While the film mostly consists of unrelated vignettes, there are several dramatic high points. In one, Fred's daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz, "The Lobster") is brought to tears when her husband, Mick's son Julian (Ed Stoppard, "Angelica"), leaves her for a young woman named Paloma Faith. When Mick presses him for the reason he left his wife, all he can say is that Paloma is "good in bed."
Another is where an aging actress Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda, "This is Where I Leave You")who Mick hired to play the lead role in his film, tells him that she will not do the film, choosing instead to act in a TV series. Her confrontation with Mick goes quickly from amiable to toxic in a few minutes that suggests the underlying shallowness of the Hollywood mentality. There is also a powerful monologue by Lena excoriating her father for being obsessed with his music, his philandering, and for never being there for her when she was growing up.
While the script of Youth is mundane and offers no profound message, its profundity does not come from words but from the silences between words, the beauty of the surrounding mountains and forests as shot by Luca Bigazzi, and from the sublimity of the music of David Lang including the Simple Song #3 performed by Sumi Jo, and the tender lyrics of Mark Kozelek's "Ceiling Gazing." Like the playful antics of Ballinger conducting the cows in a symphony of clanging bells, or the hefty soccer player kicking a tennis ball high in the air, Sorrentino lets us know that there are no age limits for a youthful spirit.
The Big Short (2015)
A fast-paced ride filled with fascinating personalities
When everything in your life is looking rosy, there is always someone who will tell you that your happiness is on shaky ground. Though most of the time these nay-sayers will not profit from your misfortune, such is not the case in The Big Short, Adam McKay's ("Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues") hard-hitting comedy/drama about the collapse of the housing market in 2008. Based on the book "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine" (2010) by Michael Lewis with a screenplay by McKay and Charles Randolph ("Love and Other Drugs"), the film centers on a group of Wall Street functionaries who, despite the industry, government, and media telling them otherwise, discover that the market for bonds based on subprime mortgages is on shaky grounds and is doomed to collapse.
Supported by an outstanding ensemble cast that includes triple A-rated performers like Brad Pitt ("By the Sea") Christian Bale ("Knight of Cups"), Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher"), and Ryan Gosling ("Only God Forgives"), McKay takes highly complex material and molds it into an involving narrative that follows three sets of characters, each running on parallel paths, all intent with cashing in on the system at the expense of the average citizen. The film is narrated by Ryan Gosling who explains at the beginning that our picture of bankers as stolid and conservative citizens no longer fits the reality. They have gone, he says, "from the country club to the strip club." Like Michael Burry (Bale), they even go barefoot, sport a glass eye, listen to heavy metal music and are not the least concerned with what passes for social graces. Burry examines thousands of individual mortgages and realizes that a large number of subprime housing mortgages are "junk" and will collapse sooner rather than later. With no purpose in mind other than to benefit financially from the expected bursting of the housing bubble, Burry puts over a billion dollars of his company's money into what are known as "credit default swaps," an agreement insuring the buyer in the event of a loan default, in essence, betting against not only the housing market but the American economy.
These investments, disparaged by the banks, come to the attention of Jared Vennett (Gosling), a subprime mortgage bond manager who goes into business with hedge-fund manager Mark Baum (Carell). Baum, still mourning the recent suicide of his brother is, in many ways, the film's most interesting character - abrasive and bullying, yet honest with a fine-tuned BS detector. The business also proves interesting to young investors Charles Geller (John Magaro, "Carol") and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock, "The Submarine Kid"), who recruit the knowledgeable ex-banker Ben Rickert (Pitt) to use his connections to help them work directly with the banks.
At one point, Baum's team investigate a housing subdivision in Florida where they find out that many homes are in foreclosure, that mortgages were bought using the name of the family dog, and a stripper owns five homes with variable rate mortgages. Baum shudders when some young brokers tell him how they have made millions by selling subprime mortgages to the poor and to unsuspecting immigrants. To add more spice to proceedings, McKay uses celebrities talking directly to the camera in order to explain the complicated terminology used by bankers to make sure the average person has no idea what's going on.
Provocatively sitting in a bubble bath and drinking champagne, actress Margot Robbie ("The Wolf of Wall Street") explains the ins-and-outs of mortgage-backed securities, while TV food personality Anthony Bourdain compares an unappetizing seafood stew with banks who market bad mortgages as a triple-A rated financial product. There is also a clever demonstration at a casino gambling table using actress Selena Gomez ("Behaving Badly") to show how Credit Default Obligations (CDOs), the bundling of bad mortgages, can lead to layers and layers of speculation. The three groups of characters cross paths at the American Securities Forum in Las Vegas where it soon becomes evident that the housing market is built on fraud and the banks are massively concealing the worthlessness of their holdings.
The Big Short is one of the best films of the year, a fast-paced ride filled with fascinating personalities that entertains even when it infuriates. The mood only turns dark when you realize that the stakes are bigger than winning a game of Monopoly, bigger than who was right and who was wrong. When the market collapses in 2008 sending the economy into a tailspin, it is Rickert who points out to anyone left who still cares that the consequences for real people are not the loss of stocks but the loss of their homes, their livelihood, and, in some cases, their lives. Not to worry, though, it's not personal, just business.
Every Thing Will Be Fine (2015)
Film's message of forgiveness and reconciliation stands out
According to German director Wim Wenders, "Landscape is never only landscape. It's also a state of mind it has soul and then it evokes and reflects who we are." That state of mind is revealed in the chilly winter portraits of rural Quebec in Wenders' latest film Everything Will Be Fine, his first fictional feature in almost ten years. Shot in 3-D by Belgian cinematographer Benoît Debie, the film stars James Franco as Tomas Eldan, a successful novelist who is fairly comfortable but whose relationships are not nurturing, especially that with his girlfriend Sara (Rachel McAdams).
Tomas' life is permanently changed, however, when an auto accident on a snowy road causes the death of a young boy and leaves the boy's brother Christopher (Jack Fulton and Philippe Vanasse-Paquet as a twelve-year-old) emotionally scarred and unable to give and receive love. suppressing outward expressions of grief, neither Tomas, Christopher, nor Kate (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Chris' mother, are able to achieve any release, especially Tomas who carries his unexpressed guilt around with him wherever he goes, like a chain around his neck.
Though Kate, an accomplished illustrator, is forgiving, telling him repeatedly that the accident was not his fault, he internalizes his guilt and makes a half-hearted suicide attempt much to the consternation of his overbearing father (Patrick Bauchau). Franco delivers a sensitive performance as the conflicted author who is able to channel his suppressed emotions into his writing which become stronger and lead to long-awaited public recognition.
As Tomas' career blossoms, he marries Ann (Marie-Josée Croze), a woman with a young daughter, allowing him to become a father for the first time. As told in a series of flash-forwards, Tomas develops a close friendship with Kate but his relationships with Sara and Christopher (Thomas Naylor as an adolescent) build towards a series of confrontations in which long held resentments explode. Written by Bjorn Olaf Johannessen and enhanced by the strong original score by Alexandre Desplatt, Every Thing Will Be Fine, though very slow and ponderous at times, is a humane, poetic and physically beautiful film.
3-D is used sparingly but scenes such as children riding on a Ferris wheel at an amusement park and dust particles dancing in the sun create a lovely tone. Though not in the top echelon of Wenders' oeuvre, the film's message of forgiveness and reconciliation stands out, sharply contrasting with the all too prevalent cultural mindset of violence and revenge.
A simple and authentic story
We know, in that achingly familiar phrase, that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" but we sometimes forget that our memories will remain only in our experience and cannot be recreated in time. It is a hard lesson to be learned and one that Eilis Lacey (pronounced Ailish) (Saoirse Ronan, "Atonement"), a young Irish Catholic girl who has left Ireland to seek a better life in America has to grapple with. Based on the novel by Colm Tóibín with a screenplay by Nick Hornby ("Wild") and set in 1951, John Crowley's ("Boy A") Brooklyn is an old-fashioned romantic film that tells a simple and authentic story that has a beginning, a middle and an end and makes us long for simpler times.
Leaving her elderly mother (Jane Brennan) and adored sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) in the small Irish town of Enniscorthy in Ireland, Ellis arrives in New York bewildered but hopeful after a journey marred by seasickness. It is only after she begins a job as a salesperson in a ritzy department store in Brooklyn where her leering supervisor Miss Fortini (Jessica Paré) trains her to deal with their upscale customers that homesickness begins to set in and she longs for her mother and sister. The job, a room in a boarding house with other Irish immigrants, and night classes in accounting at Brooklyn College are all provided by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent, "Paddington"), a reminder of the contribution that caring priests with integrity can provide, one that most immigrants do not have.
Thomas Wolfe's in his novel "You Can't Go Home Again" described Brooklyn as being "a completely triumphant Standard Concentrated Blot upon the Face of the Earth" with "no size, no shape, no heart and no anything." The Brooklyn that Ellis finds is a welcoming place, however, far removed from the horror described by Wolfe. Because she is so eager to learn and adjust to her new life, she overcomes her feelings of being a stranger in a strange land and finds people who support her, especially the irrepressible Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters), the boarding house owner, who acts as a buffer between her and catty boarders Diana (Eve Macklin) and Patty (Emily Bett Rickards).
No matter how hard she tries to forget, Ellis is reminded of home when she hears Irish singer Iarla Ó Lionáird singing the Irish ballad "Casadh an Tsúgáin" (Horses and Ploughs) at a Christmas charity dinner for the homeless where she volunteers. At an Irish dance, she meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen ("The Place Beyond the Pines"), a young somewhat stereotypical Italian man who goes to these dances because he is attracted to Irish girls. Tony, an avid Dodger fan who works as a plumber, sounds like a cross between Vito Corleone and Rocky Balboa but is sweet and full of charm and, if nothing else, very persistent.
Their relationship grows when Tony invites Ellis to his home to meet his family, a scene stolen by Tony's brash and funny eight-year-old brother Frankie (James DiGiacomo) who lets everyone know right away that "the Italians hate the Irish." Their relationship is put on temporary hold, however, when unforeseen circumstances force Ellis to return to Ireland. Happy to see her mother again and to be back in familiar surroundings, she is also reminded of the small-town mindset as personified by the gossipy mean-spirited Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan, "Shadow Dancer"), Eilis's one-time employer.
Her stay extended to attend a friend's wedding, Ellis is offered work at an accounting office and is courted by an old friend Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson, "Ex Machina"), a circumstance that confronts her with choices that will affect the rest of her life. Featuring a remarkable breakout performance by Saoirse Ronan and strong support by Emory Cohen and Julie Walters, Brooklyn provides the setting for a young woman to grow in strength, not through trauma or crisis, but through the discovery of her own personal power, a rare experience in today's entertainment culture that panders to the lowest common denominator.
Bridge of Spies (2015)
A film about values
The height of the Cold War, the late 1950s, was a time of anti-Communist hysteria fueled by Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist crusade and only four years after Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted and executed for providing atomic secrets to the Russians. While it may seem anachronistic to make a film about the Cold War, the points made in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies are just as relevant today. Like Spielberg's Lincoln, it is a film about values, about standing up for what you know to be right instead of succumbing to your fears, not an examination of the rights and wrongs of international intrigue or the merits or demerits of the Cold War.
Co-written by the Coen Brothers and Matt Charman, insurance lawyer James Donovan, (Tom Hanks), is called upon by his boss (Alan Alda) to defend Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a defense that would thwart a public opinion calling for his summary execution. In attempting to mount a defense, Donovan discovers that the government only wants him to go through the motions of due process, not to actually mount a strong case for his acquittal. Not even Donovan's family wants him to defend Abel, especially after they receive death threats and rocks are thrown through the windows.
In the film's opening sequence, Abel is seen painting a self-portrait in a room filled with receivers and transmitters when he is interrupted by a phone call. Leaving his building, he is pursued by federal agents in a frantic chase through streets and subways tracked by cinematographer Janusz Kaminsky. When captured in his home by the feds, the taciturn Abel in a breakout performance by Shakespearean actor Rylance maintains his calm and denies that he is a spy. All he can say is to ask that the agent to please fetch his teeth from the bathroom. Un-Communist spy-like, Abel is also given to dry humor.
When asked why he is so calm in the face of possible execution, he replies, "Would it help?" a response that is humorous and appropriate but repeated once too often in the film to maintain its edge. Though aware of the strong evidence of his client's guilt, Donovan establishes a good relationship with Abel whom he calls a man of integrity who is only serving his country. The first part of the film depicts the court proceedings, the sentencing, and Donovan's appeal to the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds, an appeal that he lost on a 5-4 decision.
The bulk of the film, however, takes place in Berlin where it turns into an international spy thriller, and a good one at that. The film shows the CIA's secret U2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) flying at 70,000 feet en route to Russia to photograph military installations when it is shot down over Russian air space. When Powers disobeys instructions from his superiors to go down with the plane and is captured by the Russians where he is imprisoned and tortured, the event torpedoes the summit meeting between Khrushchev and Eisenhower, dashing the world's hopes for peace. Spielberg does not hold back from showing the techniques that Powers is forced to undergo, perhaps a reference to the CIA's use of water-boarding during the Iraq War.
Called upon to negotiate a prisoner exchange between the Soviets and the East Germans of Powers and captured American student Frederic L. Pryor (Will Rogers) for Abel, Donovan is mugged by East German punks and stripped of his overcoat in the freezing snow, suggesting the addition of "The Spy Who Got a Cold" to the film's title. Anyway, coat or no coat, Donovan must maintain the ruse that he is an independent party, not an official government representative and the back and forth intrigue and chess match of opposing wills ratchets up the tension until its dramatic conclusion. Bridge of Spies strives for and achieves a refreshing balance, not gratingly pro-American or excessively anti-Soviet but a film that demonstrates the sordid nature of espionage on both sides.
I could complain about the unnecessary role played by Amy Ryan as Donovan's devoted wife, the ending that goes on past the film's logical dramatic stopping point, or the overwrought score by Thomas Newman, but would it help? The film is best when it makes clear what American values are supposed to be about. Donovan's argument to the Supreme Court expresses this well. "Abel is an alien charged with the capital offense of Soviet espionage," he said. "It may seem anomalous that our Constitutional guarantees protect such a man.
Yet our principles are engraved in the history and the law of the land. If the free world is not faithful to its own moral code, there remains no society for which others may hunger." Amen, brother!
Reminds us of what investigative journalism used to be
Except for unrelenting bulldogs like Seymour Hersh (who had to publish his latest article outside of the U.S.), true investigative journalism seems to have become as obsolete as the 8-Track Tape. Tom McCarthy's ("The Cobbler") Spotlight, however, reminds us of what it was and what it still could be. Set in Boston, the film is named after the Pulitzer Prize winning investigative unit of The Boston Globe which, in the years following 9/11, investigated the abuse of children by parish priests and the link of silence that existed between the Catholic Church and the Boston political and business community. It was a silence that allowed offending priests off the hook for their crimes, being transferred from parish to parish where they often re-offended.
In the film which follows the journalistic procedural style of such classics as "All the President's Men," Michael Keaton ("Birdman") is Globe Unit Editor Walter "Robby" Robinson. When the story circulates about the church's kid gloves treatment of molester Father John Goeghan, the paper's editor-in-chief Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber, "Pawn Sacrifice"), newly arrived from The Miami Herald and not bound by local "traditions" or religious loyalties, assigns the Spotlight unit to dig into the story. Robby and his team that consists of reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo, "Foxcatcher"), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams, "Southpaw") and Marty Campbell (Brian d'Arcy James, "Time Out of Mind"), overseen by deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery, "Ant-Man") set about the nitty-gritty work of tracking down the offending clerics.
Baron, however, wants to expose the systemic corruption in the church, not just individual priests and guns for top church officials such as Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou, "Prisoners"). While the case is being built step-by-step, the film shows how some leads go nowhere while others uncover a wider net than imagined. Coming up against the church's stonewalling, documents that have been made unavailable or have strangely disappeared, and a sleazy attorney in the D.A's office (Billy Crudup, "The Stanford Prison Experiment"), the team reaches out to Phil Saviano (Neal Huff, "The Grand Budapest Hotel") who heads an organization dedicated to supporting abuse victims as well as attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1") who represents victims that are suing the church in a class-action lawsuit and is an important source of information.
It is the interviews with the victims arranged by Garabedian that constitute some of the film's most moving moments. Especially touching is the story of Joe, beautifully performed by Michael Cyril Creighton ("Sleeping With Other People"), an openly gay man who looked up to the priest as the representative of God and felt flattered by the cleric's attention and the realization that it was okay to be gay but only later realized the priest's culpable behavior.
One of the film's best lines is when Garabedian, speaking of the agreement within the church to maintain their silence, says, "If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one." Another impactful scene delves into the mindset of one of the offenders. In Pfeiffer's interview of ex-priest Father Ronald Paquin (Richard O'Rourke, "Ghost Town"), he admits to "fooling around" with the boys but says he never derived any pleasure from it.
Undoubtedly the boys did not derive much pleasure either. One psychologist claims the priests have remained emotional preadolescence, but this over-generalized speculation does not add much clarity to the debate. As the head of an outstanding ensemble cast, Michael Keaton performance has depth and sensitivity, Ruffalo brilliantly captures the almost obsessively focused dedication of Rezendes, and McAdams is able to astutely demonstrate empathy, allowing the subjects of her interviews to feel safe in expressing their feelings.
McCarthy delivers the story with restraint and a balanced approach, showing the indifference of Globe reporters who sat on pertinent information they had about the scandal many years ago. While Spotlight does not have much style and can drag, the strength of its performances and the clear presentation of its subject matter has a strong impact, allowing us to feel the pain of the children who still suffer the effects of abuse and reminds us that, as Kahlil Gibran put it, "Safeguarding the rights of others is the most noble and beautiful end of a human being."
A masterful coming-of-age film
Most recently used as the filming location for The Martian, the Wadi Rum (pronounced Ramm) desert in Jordan was described by actor Matt Damon as, "one of the most spectacular and beautiful places I have ever seen, and like nothing I've ever seen anywhere else on Earth." It is this awe-inspiring background shot by cinematographer Wolfgang Thaler ("Paradise: Hope") that is the location for first-time director Naji Abu Nowar's masterful coming-of-age film Theeb, one that has been described as an "Arabic Western." Co-written by Nowar and Bassel Gandhour, it is the story of a young Bedouin boy who must fight for survival against unknown enemies in the stark, unforgiving desert where "the strong eat the weak." Theeb is set in the Arabian Hejaz Province during World War I just prior to the Arab Revolt for independence from the Ottoman Empire. It is the time when British soldier and archaeologist T.E. Lawrence fought for Britain against the Turks and championed the cause of Arab independence. Theeb ("Wolf" in Arabic), an expressive boy about ten remarkably performed by Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, is the youngest son of the late chief of a Bedouin tribe somewhere on the Arabian Peninsula. Unlike David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia which favored the cause of Arab nationalism, Theeb appears to support the traditional cultures that have lasted for thousands of years.
The film begins as Theeb's older brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) teaches him to shoot a rifle and kill a goat. In the background, a voice-over delivers another type of lesson: "In questions of brotherhood never refuse a guest," the narrator tells us. "Be the right hand of the right when men make their stand. And if the wolves offer friendship, do not count on success. They will not stand beside you when you are facing death." When two travelers, British officer Edward (Jack Fox, "Blood Moon") and his Arabian guide Marji (Marji Audeh), come to their father's home, Hussein follows the teachings of hospitality to strangers and agrees to guide them on an undisclosed mission to the "Roman Well," located along the old pilgrimage route to Mecca.
Shot from the boy's perspective, the mischievous Theeb secretly follows them but tension erupts quickly when he receives a stern warning from the Englishmen after playing with the small mysterious wooden box he is carrying. When the travelers discover that the well is red with the blood of the men the English soldier was supposed to meet, they know they are being watched and must prepare for a shootout with deadly consequences. Left alone after he is separated from his companions, Theeb is at the mercy of a wounded Turk (Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh) known only as "The Stranger," and is uncertain whether the Turk is friend or enemy.
In an interview, the director described the moral dilemma and asks the question, "What would happen if you were stranded with your worst enemy but needed their help to stay alive? Surprising plot twists and deepening adventure lead us to the answer. Winner of the Venice Horizons Award for Best Director and Jordan's submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Oscars, Theeb is not only a coming-of-age story but a film with a powerful message about a traditional society on the cusp of change and, for the Bedouin pilgrim guides, a lament for the loss of a way of life. The loss is palpable as the trains they call "The Iron Donkeys," invade the great silence of the desert and, with their thick black smoke, like a veil of tears, hide the ineffable beauty of the night sky.