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I think anything that sol passionately defends is probably worth watching
-- Antonius Block
you just like GOOD movies. With a slight outlandish twist, sure, now more than ever
Refined Top 120 Films (last updated January 6, 2017)
This is a refined list. I wouldn't regard these as the greatest films that I have ever seen, but instead the greatest films that I have seen during the past six years. My rationale for refining my top movies is to present a list that more accurately reflects my current tastes and dispositions as a filmgoer. For the list to be 'current', the films on it need to be ones that I seen recently enough to feel comfortable about their merits and complexities. The idea that I will need to periodically rewatch films for them to stay on the list is appealing, and knowing that a rewatch is necessary for some of my longtime favourites to appear will hopefully provide the extra motivation I need to keep revisiting and reassessing the films that I adore. It is, after all, always difficult to choose between watching an old favourite and attempting to discover something new and wonderful.
Note: the numbers after each title refer to the year-month that I last viewed them - a way of noting to myself which films are due for reevaluation.
1. Fanny och Alexander (1982, Ingmar Bergman) 12-1
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick) 15-1
3. The Conversation (1974, Francis Ford Coppola) 13-1
4. The Trial (1962, Orson Welles) 11-12
5. Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock) 15-1
6. A History of Violence (2005, David Cronenberg) 15-10
7. A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick) 17-1
8. After Hours (1985, Martin Scorsese) 11-10
9. Bigger Than Life (1956, Nicholas Ray) 11-10
10. The Cremator (1969, Juraj Herz) 11-10
11. Midnight Cowboy (1969, John Schlesinger) 16-7
12. Witness for the Prosecution (1957, Billy Wilder) 11-12
13. Metamorphosis (2002, Valeri Fokin) 11-8
14. In the Bedroom (2001, Todd Field) 15-9
15. The Iron Giant (1999, Brad Bird) 11-8
16. The Player (1992, Robert Altman) 13-7
17. The King of Comedy (1983, Martin Scorsese) 11-7
18. The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970, Kevin Billington) 15-4
19. The Lost Weekend (1945, Billy Wilder) 11-12
20. Seconds (1966, John Frankenheimer) 11-12
21. The Face of Another (1966, Hiroshi Teshigahara) 11-7
22. Videodrome (1983, David Cronenberg) 16-10
23. Fearless (1993, Peter Weir) 16-12
24. The Killing (1956, Stanley Kubrick) 14-1
25. The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover (1989, Peter Greenaway) 12-1
26. The Piano (1993, Jane Campion) 15-1
27. The Swimmer (1968, Frank Perry) 17-1
28. Solaris (1972, Andrei Tarkovsky) 15-7
29. Scream (1996, Wes Craven) 16-10
30. Harold and Maude (1971, Hal Ashby) 14-1
31. Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly) 15-12
32. Twelve Monkeys (1995, Terry Gilliam) 16-7
33. The Day of the Jackal (1973, Fred Zinnemann) 16-12
34. No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel & Ethan Coen) 16-12
35. Reversal of Fortune (1990, Barbet Schroeder) 16-9
36. Quiz Show (1994, Robert Redford) 14-1
37. Scream 2 (1997, Wes Craven) 16-10
38. Chicago (2002, Rob Marshall) 14-4
39. Working Girl (1988, Mike Nichols) 11-8
40. Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson) 15-9
41. The Ninth Configuration (1980, William Peter Blatty) 15-10
42. Road to Perdition (2002, Sam Mendes) 11-8
43. Mystic River (2003, Clint Eastwood) 15-1
44. The Untouchables (1987, Brian De Palma) 15-4
45. The Boys in Company C (1978, Sidney J. Furie) 12-1
46. The Others (2001, Alejandro Amenabar) 15-10
47. The Quiet American (2002, Phillip Noyce) 15-4
48. The Maltese Falcon (1941, John Huston) 14-6
49. Brazil (1985, Terry Gilliam) 15-1
50. Alien (1979, Ridley Scott) 15-10
51. Aliens (1986, James Cameron) 15-10
52. The Mosquito Coast (1986, Peter Weir) 16-1
53. The Name of the Rose (1986, Jean-Jacques Annaud) 16-1
54. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969, Peter R. Hunt) 15-5
55. Cabaret (1972, Bob Fosse) 16-8
56. Saturday Night Fever (1977, John Badham) 14-6
57. American Beauty (1999, Sam Mendes) 14-8
58. The Ghost Writer (2010, Roman Polanski) 14-12
59. American Psycho (2000, Mary Harron) 16-2
60. Morgiana (1973, Juraj Herz) 11-3
61. If.... (1968, Lindsay Anderson) 12-6
62. Demons (1985, Lamberto Bava) 11-3
63. Duel (1971, Steven Spielberg) 11-10
64. Body Heat (1981, Lawrence Kasdan) 14-1
65. The Loved One (1965, Tony Richardson) 13-7
66. American Hustle (2013, David O. Russell) 16-6
67. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, George Roy Hill) 15-8
68. The Sting (1973, George Roy Hill) 14-9
69. Goldfinger (1964, Guy Hamilton) 15-5
70. Dressed to Kill (1980, Brian De Palma) 11-5
71. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, Joel Coen; Ethan Coen) 16-12
72. Lord Love a Duck (1966, George Axelrod) 14-11
73. White Dog (1982, Samuel Fuller) 12-3
74. Surviving Life (2010, Jan Svankmajer) 11-7
75. Wait Until Dark (1967, Terence Young) 16-10
76. The Stepford Wives (1975, Bryan Forbes) 16-8
77. The Man Who Wasn't There (2001, Joel Coen; Ethan Coen) 16-12
78. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron) 16-7
79. The Terminator (1984, James Cameron) 16-7
80. The Fly (1986, David Cronenberg) 15-10
81. eXistenZ (1999, David Cronenberg) 16-10
82. Scream 4 (2011, Wes Craven) 16-10
83. River's Edge (1986, Tim Hunter) 14-4
84. Ladybug Ladybug (1963, Frank Perry) 13-5
85. The Dreamers (2003, Bernard Bertolucci) 14-5
86. Croupier (1998, Mike Hodges) 15-10
87. House of Sand and Fog (2003, Vadim Perelman) 14-6
88. Election (1999, Alexander Payne) 14-5
89. Alexandra's Project (2003, Rolf de Heer) 14-4
90. The Haunting (1963, Robert Wise) 16-10
91. Moonstruck (1987, Norman Jewison) 11-8
92. Midnight in Paris (2011, Woody Allen) 11-10
93. Marathon Man (1976, John Schlesinger) 16-12
94. The World of Henry Orient (1964, George Roy Hill) 14-6
95. Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967, George Roy Hill) 16-2
96. My Fair Lady (1964, George Cukor) 11-11
97. Dangerous Liaisons (1988, Stephen Frears) 11-8
98. Prince of the City (1981, Sidney Lumet) 11-11
99. The Wicker Man (1973, Robin Hardy) 15-10
100. Charade (1963, Stanley Donen) 11-9
101. Waking Life (2001, Richard Linklater) 14-3
102. The Science of Sleep (2006, Michel Gondry) 14-1
103. Silent Movie (1976, Mel Brooks) 15-4
104. Heathers (1988, Michael Lehmann) 14-1
105. Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis) 15-1
106. Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven) 14-12
107. The Honey Pot (1967, Joseph L. Mankiewicz) 16-7
108. Kinsey (2004, Bill Condon) 11-7
109. Sabrina (1954, Billy Wilder) 16-5
110. Stalag 17 (1953, Billy Wilder) 14-2
111. RoboCop (1987, Paul Verhoeven) 16-9
112. Rosemary's Baby (1968, Roman Polanski) 16-10
113. La Belle Captive (1983, Alain Robbe-Grillet) 11-3
114. Vampire's Kiss (1988, Robert Bierman) 16-10
115. Sexy Beast (2000, Jonathan Glazer) 12-1
116. Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini) 15-12
117. The Spiral Staircase (1945, Robert Siodmak) 11-12
118. The Brood (1979, David Cronenberg) 14-10
119. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean) 11-7
120. Badlands (1973, Terrence Malick) 16-9
Ongoing tally of my film collection
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Mystery Road (2013)
Going' Down the Road
Investigating the brutal murder of an Indigenous teenage girl in rural Australia, an Indigenous cop begins to question whether drugs, police corruption and other factors may have contributed in this thriller from 'Beneath Clouds' director Ivan Sen. As per 'Beneath Clouds', Sen litters his film is beautiful landscape shots. The twilight/dusk opening scene is especially striking with many moody colours blended in. The vast majority of 'Mystery Road' occurs in the daylight though with a few too many indoor shots. The film is very slow paced too with little sense of urgency or even danger as the protagonist probes deeper into the death. Interesting ideas abound as the detective begins to suspect that his own estranged teen daughter may have been mixed up with the murder victim and his scenes with her are among the most touching moments in the movie. 'Mystery Road' never makes up its mind though whether it wants to be an estranged father/daughter tale, a tale of an Indigenous cop overcoming prejudice, a tale of mistreatment of Indigenous youths or a tale of the corrupting influence of drugs. This in turn makes it difficult for the film to leave much of an impact. Lead actor Aaron Pedersen certainly tries his best to make the most of the material though - and he is helped out by a talented supporting cast - but one's mileage with the movie may well vary.
Chained together, a racist Caucasian man and a native African man gradually learn to get on after fleeing a crashed prison van in this emotionally charged drama that could be considered Zimbabwe's answer to 'The Defiant Ones'. As per 'The Defiant Ones', it is a predictable tale of overcoming racial prejudice, though some unusual subplots unexpectedly (and refreshingly) crop up. The Causasian prisoner is charged with murder, but it was a revenge killing for his wife and child's brutal slaying by a couple of African men, hence all the vitriol and hatred. The African prisoner, as it so happens, actually knows who killed his family and the pair team up as they try to exact their own form of justice. Not quite as successful as this subplot is the introduction of a female character who tags along the pair for reasons unknown, bringing a lot of romantic tension and little else. The film has some pacing issues too with a long time before they flee, and the decision to portray the African prisoner as far more rationale than the Caucasian one, just wanting "to be treated like a human being" makes this less dynamic than it might have been had both men been equally prejudiced. Whatever the case, the bond between the pair feels very real by the end of the movie and a scene near the end where the African man utters the title phrase (meaning "my friend") really lingers in the mind.
Project Nim (2011)
The Theory of Nim
This documentary from James Marsh - director of 'The Theory of Everything' - focuses on another curious chapter in twentieth century science as a baby chimpanzee was raised in a human household in the 1970s with the hope of it learning to communicate. Named Nim Chimpsky (after famed linguist Noam Chomsky), the chimp would go on to learn and use sign language, but as he grew older and scientists became wary of his dangerous strength, Nim would eventually end up abandoned and displaced. Focusing on the cruelty of removing Nim from his mother in the first few minutes, Marsh's agenda is obvious from early on as the film sets out to question ethical responsibilities in scientist research. This agenda becomes even more pronounced in the second half of the movie, however, there is nothing especially enlightening in terms of how inhumane scientific research can be. The first stretch of the film is utterly fascinating though as the scientists wax poetic about communicating with animals and as we see Nim's progress. Misguided as the scientists involved with Nim were, their ideas and goals are intriguing and as a documentary, 'Project Nim' might have played out better with their intentions in focus. Yes, the real story is with the horrors that Nim faced in post-experiment years, but it may have been interesting to learn more about those who were so cavalier with his life.
A Guerra da Beatriz (2013)
Separated from her husband for more than fifteen years after he is forcibly recruited into the army, a cynical woman grows concerned that the soldier who has returned to her is not her husband as he claims in this drama from East Timor. The first ever feature film produced by the pacific nation, 'Beatriz's War' spends a long time chronicling the history of East Timor and its turbulence during the late twentieth century as it went from being a Portuguese colony to Indonesian invasion before eventually declaring independence. Informative as this insight may be, such in-depth history leads to the story taking ages to warm up. It is over one hour in before the soldier who may or may not be her husband returns, and while the first half of the movie has its potent moments (her outrage when her missing-in-action husband is pronounced dead), the first hour could do with serious trimming. Fortunately, the second half of the film is engaging enough with all her internal dilemmas that the film ends solidly. There is a lot of interest in how only the missing man's wife and sister suspect that something is up and yet it is immediately chalked up to paranoia - "the war has changed us all". His cries that he is "flesh and bones" also resonate with it reaching the point that we come to sympathise with and warm to the soldier, regardless of whether he is an impostor or the real missing man.
Personal Shopper (2016)
From Beyond the Grave
Haunted by a promise that her recently deceased twin brother made to contact her from beyond the grave, a young woman begins to wonder if her brother could be behind a series of intimidating text messages in this horror film with a difference. This is not a movie for all tastes with lots of repetitive shots of lead actress Kristen Stewart wandering around her brother's house at night, trying to work out if every echo and creek is his ghost. There are also endless scenes of her buying clothes for a celebrity who she works for in Paris. Much of this repetitiveness is thematically relevant though when one considers the grief and loss themes of the movie. Some have been quick to criticise the inconclusive ending, but it fits in well with the movie's portrait of a woman destined to wallow in grief forever since she will never be able to prove whether her brother truly is able to communicate with her from beyond. Her occupation is curious too, acting as a ghost-like twin for a busy celebrity, and the film has several intense moments. The best scene is a train ride in which she comes to suspect that the mysterious text sender may be watching her. This scene has all the intensity of 'Unfriended' with a jolt felt every time her phone vibrates/dings. Unfortunately, director Olivier Assayas seldom places her phone screen in focus, but then there is lots to like in how he simply lets Stewart react in increasingly unhinged ways to what she is receiving on it. Add in some inventive costumes and tasteful topless scenes and this is an easy film to recommend. One does need to proceed with some caution though because the slow pace, constant ambiguity and lack of overt scares will no doubt cause frustration for those expecting something else.
Pretty Woman (1990)
His Fair Lady
Hired by a rich businessman to be his date for a week, a prostitute has to work out if the businessman is serious about his romantic advances towards her in this romantic comedy that propelled Julia Roberts to fame. A popular movie when first released, 'Pretty Woman' has received some backlash over the years for its lack of realism and indeed one has to suspend disbelief at how kind-hearted both protagonists are. There is enough snappy dialogue though to keep things moving along; "we both screw people for money" Richard Gere comments at one point, while his observation that "stores are never nice to people... they're nice to credit cards" offers some unexpected social commentary for a lighthearted film like this is. The other big plus is the talented supporting cast. Hector Elizondo is delightful in a Golden Globe nominated role as a prim and proper hotel proprietor who gradually warms towards Roberts while Jason Alexander is a lot of fun as Gere's cunning lawyer. Realism aside, the biggest issue with the film is how little Roberts changes over the course of the film. This is no 'Pygmalion' or 'My Fair Lady' tale in which we see a noticeable difference in the protagonist as a result of her experiences. Still, it is a pleasant enough movie with some really funny moments (Roberts commenting on an opera) in between the clichés.
Loong Boonmee raleuk chat (2010)
Ghosts Attached to People
Joined by the ghost of his deceased wife and the spirit of his long-lost son, a terminally ill Thai man spends a quiet weekend with his sister-in-law at a rural property in this highly unusual movie from Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The film opens with a striking nighttime scene in which the protagonist recalls a former life as an ox, observed by a creature with glowing red eyes. Contrary to the title though, the vast majority of the film is not concerned with Boonmee recalling past lives but rather his contentment at spending his last few days with the wife and son he once cherished. The majority of the movie is also set in the daytime, which feels like a misstep given how atmospheric all the dusk, twilight and evening scenes are. The wife and son though are the oddest bits here and their inexplicable appearances as he approaches death never quite gels. The film feels like a comedy at times with the way one character jumps when the wife suddenly appears, only for a hardly phased Boonmee to offer her a drink moments later. It is also hard to know whether to laugh when the son announces that he has become a monkey ghost after mating with such a creature and both the son and subsequent monkey spirits are more enchanting when viewed at a distance. More could be said, but suffice to say that while the film has some beautiful images (the underwater moments are divine) and thought-provoking dialogue ("ghosts aren't attached to places but people"), this is such a quizzical movie with such an unclear narrative that its magic may get lost on those wishing to decipher it.
Live By Night
Finding a steady boyfriend proves challenging for a gay geography teacher in prejudiced 1970s London in this British drama starring Ken Robertson. The film was considered daring in its day with its suggestion that something is wrong with a society in which it is so hard for homosexual men to be themselves. Viewed nowadays though, the impact is not the same. There are some admirable techniques at hand, like the absence of audible dialogue for the first six minutes and a shot that gradually zooms into his nervous face at a gay bar, and some of the dialogue resonates (some believe "you're not even human" if you do not "like birds"). For all these positives though, there are many repetitive shots of men dancing for ages on end. A new teacher at Robertson's school also provides a too obvious outlet for him to ramble on about the difficulties of being gay and while a scene in which his prejudiced students grill him about their misconceptions of homosexuality is great, it comes too late in the piece. The film additionally shies over how its protagonist has so much spare time or can turn up to class two hours late without repercussion - but, for all its drawbacks, the film does at least have its heart in the right place.
Billy Elliot (2000)
Dancer in the Light
Passionate about dance, a teenage boy secretly attends ballet classes and has deal with his father discovering his secret in this British drama starring Jamie Bell. The film may only have the most obvious of messages to offer in terms of the virtues of individualism and the hurtfulness of gender stereotypes, but it still leaves quite an impact with Bell in strong form. Bell has his own prejudices that he learns to deal with, fighting his own preconceptions that all other boys who do ballet are "bent" and Bell gives us a multi-dimensional character with a love for dance that resonates but also much internal anger. Julie Walters is equally as impressive as his spunky ballet teacher and they really carry the film. The less said about Bell's father, the better though. His father changes so quickly from being against ballet to in favour of it that the progression never rings true. The film has some crafty moments though in which the father's difficulties with work and participation in demonstrations are edited against Bell dancing. More could have probably been made of Bell emerging from such working class origins, but the film has plenty to like as it is with its celebration of dance as something that boys and girls can both succeed at.
Looks and Stares
Romance blossoms between a wealthy, middle aged woman and an open-minded younger woman in this lusciously filmed drama set during the 1950s. While both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are effective in their respective roles, the most interesting aspect of 'Carol' is the near ignorance of everyone else to the possibility of the pair being in love. More than half an hour passes before Blanchett's husband questions how Mara knows her and director Todd Haynes does wonders keeping the mutual attraction between the pair subtle. Much is communicated simply through looks and stares without the need for explicit romantic moments or obvious dialogue. This subdued approach in turns makes Blanchett's more emotional moments in the second half of the film more powerful as she comes against a "morality clause" in her impending divorce proceedings. Certain aspects of both female protagonists are left uncomfortably murky - most notably, the suggestion that Blanchett might have a history of seducing younger women. Both characters are generally well fleshed out though as they are torn between the hearts' desires and being what everyone else expects them to be. Carter Burwell provides an enchanting music score that perfectly complements the proceedings and the memorable final scene is a testament to the ability of images to convey more than words.
Kiss of Death (1947)
When his wife commits suicide and his children are placed in foster care, an imprisoned robber turns informer in exchange for early parole; things turn sour though when a man he squealed on is acquitted and comes after him. As one might expect from such a plot summary, this noir entry deals well with the dilemma faced by a criminal torn between his personal ethics (not ratting on his partners) and his desire for the best for his kids -- and with two lovely young actresses playing his doting daughters, it is a heartfelt dilemma, all the more potent since he only turned to crime in desperation, unable to find an honest job to support his family. Victor Mature does not, however, make for all that interesting a protagonist. He always seems a little too warm and gentle for hardened criminal and a romance with his children's babysitter blossoms so quickly after his wife's death that it never feels right. The standout feature of the film though is Richard Widmark as the taunting, constantly laughing acquitted criminal who comes after Mature. There is an excellent shot in which his face is only barely visible in the sliver of a curtain gap and yet his menacing nature still resonates. The film has a powerful ending too.
Inner Sanctum (1948)
Bored and restless on a lengthy train trip, a young woman listens to a mysterious passenger tell a tale of a murderer forced to hide out in the town where he committed the crime in this low budget film noir entry. The film features an alluring femme fatale, some great hard-boiled dialogue ("you're very pretty when your lips aren't moving") and some excellent tracking shots throughout various gardens at night. The movie has, however, attained a mixed reputation over the years and it is easy to see why. The tone is inconsistent with several borderline comedic scenes that subtract from the desperation and paranoia of a murderer on the run. Dale Belding is also awful as the sole witness to the murder: a teenager who lives at the bed and breakfast place where the murderer is forced to hide out. Between his silly trusting of strangers, shrill high pitched voice and constant yapping on about his overprotective mother, it actually reaches the point where one hopes that the protagonist succeeds in his plan to permanently silence the boy! Belding aside though, this is a fairly decent watch. The initially incongruous prologue actually fits in very well and the film concludes with surprising food for thought.
Me, Myself & Irene (2000)
Him, Himself & Her
Diagnosed with a split personality disorder, problems arise for a milquetoast cop when he forgets his medication while escorting a state witness in this road trip comedy from the Farrelly Brothers. As others have pointed out, the film is a little like 'Dumb & Dumber' but with Jim Carrey playing off himself (his other personality) rather than Jeff Daniels, and fans of the Golden Globe winning actor are likely to enjoy him strutting his stuff here. For the general film-goer though, this is a movie to approach with some caution. The film throws around some interesting ideas regarding assertiveness and expressing one's feelings, but with an overload of exposition and such childish gags like uncontrolled urination and a chicken stuck where the sun does not shine, this is very much a mixed bag of a movie. The antagonists in the tale are not particularly menacing or memorable either, though as usual, the Farrellys get several memorable turns from the rest of their supporting cast. Michael Bowman shines in particular as a social misfit albino man who befriends Carrey. In a unique and interesting touch, the end credits also include stills of all bit players in the cast with arrows to identifying actors they are.
Teased throughout his childhood after his father is executed for a murder, an angry young man goes on the run after killing one of his peers in self-defense in this melodrama with noir elements from Frank Borzage. The film opens well with atmospheric high camera angle nighttime shots as the main character is bullied and teased as a boy. There is also some great nightmarish imagery as his childhood memories every so often haunt him as an adult. Excellent as 'Moonrise' might look though, it is not an easy film to get through. Always moody and morose, Dane Clark is never actually likable as the emotionally distraught protagonist. The love triangle that he gets into never quite gels either since we are given little insight as to what his love interest sees in him. This in turn makes it a little hard to care what happens to the characters, which is a shame because the film taps into some intriguing psychological territory - guilt over the sin's of his father, forced to live in a community where being a killer is thought to be hereditary and then unsure of what to do when he actually kills a man, albeit by accident. It is all too easy to understand his decision to flee and his conflict about leaving his girl behind.
Growing up in a rough, disadvantaged neighbourhood proves tough for a gay African American boy in this independent drama set across three stages in his life. Described by some as a film in which nothing happens, 'Moonlight' certainly is not for all tastes; it is more of a mood piece than a narrative and given how introverted the protagonist is, the film is more focused on what is left unsaid in each scene. It is an approach that takes a bit of getting used to, but which generally works. Effective casting is a big plus with all three actors playing the protagonist feeling like one and the same despite changing from one stage of his life to the next. Alex R. Hibbert, who plays the protagonist as a boy, is especially well cast with deep and haunting eyes. He also makes a terrific contrast to the actor who plays him as an adult as the film causes us to ponder how we are all essentially the same person at various stages of our lives with our experiences merely shaping us in different ways. Add in intimate camera-work that intrudes on the characters' personal space, an unusual yet potent music score and accentuated audio effects and this is an oddly compelling movie. The somewhat inconclusive ending initially seems a misstep, but it is hard to think of a more fitting end to this probe into a young man's development in a world where he is a minority no matter how he looks at it.
I, Daniel Isaacson
After his worried sister suffers a nervous breakdown, a graduate student tries to investigate whether his parents were really guilty of being Soviet spies in this solemn drama from Sidney Lumet. The film is loosely based on an actual married couple who were executed in the 1950s with their young children forced to grow up without them. The film shares some striking similarities with Lumet's latter 'Running on Empty' as it spins a tale of two youths trying to live their own lives separate from their parents' political actions. Not nearly as well-known or acclaimed, 'Daniel' is beset by an unhelpful, overly complex narrative structure that jumps randomly between time periods. Some of the supporting performances are also overwrought. The film does well though depicting Daniel and his sister's difficulties as children removed from their parents. The harsh times they experience in a state run institution are especially potent and the bond between the pair is heartfelt. Timothy Hutton is also perfectly cast in a passionate performance as the adult title character and his on/off narration of how the electric chair works is effectively eerie. Speaking of which, the eventual execution scenes are handled very well. On one hand, 'Daniel' is a bit of a mess with its time period leaps and inconsistent performances, but its portrait of a young man haunted by his parents' fate truly resonates.
Let's Go Bowling
Strapped for cash, an injured former bowling champion hatches a cunning plan to coach a talented young man to lucrative tournament success in this lively comedy from the Farrelly Brothers. As per Farrelly norm, the film is littered with crude humour and childish gross-out gags. Also, as per the Farrellys' earlier 'Dumb & Dumber', there are one too many gags at the expense of a main character's naivety. 'Kingpin' is frequently funny throughout though with even some of the cruder puns ("we have a bull") working well. Much of the film's success is due to how likable and empathetic Woody Harrelson is as the bowling champ whose life has gone downhill ever since his arm was severed. It is a character that could have easily been written as pathetic, but on the contrary, he is passionate and imaginative, going to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying the rent and to convince the talented young man (an Amish farmer) to take him on as coach. The film also benefits from Bill Murray at his funniest, some fun movie references ('The Graduate'; 'Indecent Proposal') and the way the story defies generic expectations and ends with loose ends as the fates of certain characters are not actually germane to the plot. And it is quite a warm tale that the film spins beneath its obscenities: a story of not giving up and the belief that all people can change.
Mulholland Falls (1996)
Investigating the suspicious death of an attractive young woman, four LAPD detectives uncover a conspiracy involving atomic energy in this mystery thriller set in the 1950s during the peak of the Cold War. Luciously shot by the legendary Haskell Wexler and accompanied by an appropriately moody music score, the movie succeeds in creating an experience that is part film noir homage and part 70s paranoia thriller homage. The performances are also uniformly excellent. The film bites off a little more than it can chew though. The origin of the title, for instance, is revealed very early on as we see how shady the detectives are, resorting to letting some criminals (who they cannot legally touch) dive off the edge of Mulholland Drive. For the vast majority of the film though, they are shown as far less corrupt, which is a shame because morally ambiguous policemen are always far more interesting. A subplot involving the lead detective's neglected wife does not quite gel with the story-line either and mostly feels like a distraction from the Cold War conspiracy that the detectives eventually unfold. Generally speaking though, this is a fairly enticing affair. Released after the end of the Cold War, the film benefits in particular from speculating over what may have been in terms of government whitewashes and corruption during this heightened period of international tension.
The Music Man (1962)
The Con is On
Pretending to be an esteemed music professor, a fast-talking conman plans to swindle the residents of the small Iowa town by forming a band that requires expensive costumes and instruments in this big screen version of Meredith Wilson's hit Broadway play. While there are some memorable songs and well choreographed dance routines ("Shipoopi" stands out in particular), the film is mostly carried by the energy that Robert Preston brings to the lead role. He also manages to make his somewhat despicable character likable despite his flaws. In fact, one of the film's best elements is how he unexpectedly brings hope and joy to the lives of so many youngsters when all that drives him (at least initially) is the con. Co-lead Shirley Jones is less effective, though much of that has to do with how the character is written. Described as an "old maid" and pitched as love interest for Preston (who looks old enough to be her father!), it feels like a part written for a much older actress. The way Jones quickly flips from being scrupulous of Preston to falling in love with him never quite feels right either and the pair lack romantic chemistry together. Fortunately, much of the film focuses instead on Preston inadvertently changing the town for the better and between the detailed costumes and catchy music, this remains a pleasant enough musical experience.
Goodbye Charlie (1964)
Switch before Switch
Perhaps best known nowadays as the film that inspired Blake Edwards to write and direct the amusing 'Switch' with Ellen Barkin, this earlier comedy features the same idea of a shameless philanderer reincarnated in the body of a woman. Clocking in at close to two hours, 'Goodbye Charlie' takes an incredibly long time to warm up with over 25 minutes elapsing before the comedy really kicks in since the philanderer (in the woman's body) has amnesia at first. Once the film gets into the swing of things though, it is a decent ride. Debbie Reynolds does well acting tough and manly, casually ogling other women and so on. It is not as dynamic a performance as Barkin in 'Switch' (who nailed the mannerisms of her male self) as we never actually see much of Charlie before he is killed, but Reynolds is still dynamite. There are also several fascinating moments as he/she gets more used to being a woman, even allowing him/herself to be seduced. Additionally, in a daring move, he/she even tries to seduce his/her best friend, played by Tony Curtis. Speaking of which, Curtis does well with a tricky role here. At times, it seems like he is also about to fall for his macho best friend in a lady's body. The experience is let down by a tacked-on cop-out ending that fails to capitalise on all this sexual tension, but the film pokes enough at gender identity issues to remain interesting.
Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)
A reporter who is not just here to report
Sent to Bosnia to report on the war in the early 1990s, a British journalist finds it hard to stay neutral in the conflict in this war drama from Michael Winterbottom. The film is based on the true story of a journalist who adopted a girl orphaned in the war. "We're not here to help; we're here to report" he is reminded early on, but can he just stand by and watch so many children devastated by war? 'Welcome to Sarajevo' is a noble attempt to shed light on a sad chapter in history seldom portrayed on screen, but it is also admittedly a bit of a mess. The story is very unfocused as it tries to cram so much war horror into the plot. The protagonist does not even meet and think about adopting the girl until nearly halfway in and even then there are few scenes of them bonding. His affection for her is never well conveyed and we barely get a sense of her desire to leave the country. Winterbottom's inexplicable choice to only subtitle certain portions of Bosnian dialogue is awkward too and the blaring music soundtrack never quite feels right. Stephen Dillane makes for a decent lead and the film provides an admirable snapshot of 1990s Bosnia, but the overall film unfortunately leaves a bit to be desired.
Money Train (1995)
Employed as transit cops and unappreciated by their moody boss, two foster brothers contemplate hijacking a revenue train in this action comedy starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson. The chemistry between the leads is great as they share excellent banter as well as heartfelt moments together and one truly gets the sense of the pair having grown up with one another despite (of course) looking very different. The rest of the film though is far less remarkable. Chris Cooper has an excellent turn as a malevolent pyromaniac who constantly eludes the brothers, but he is oddly relegated to a mere subplot with the second half of the film powered by the ongoing question or whether they will or will not attempt to rob the train. A love triangle that develops with Jennifer Lopez as fellow cop does not really work either, though there is a curiously edited sequence that needs to be seen for itself in which one brother making love to her is cut against the other being beat up. If a mixed bag overall, 'Money Train' is at least an entertaining film while it lasts. The majority of action scenes are very well filmed and the two brothers remain very likable throughout, flaws and all.
Life of Brian (1979)
Mistaken for the messiah, a hapless a young man from Nazareth tries to avoid crucifixion in this controversial comedy that was banned in several countries upon initial release due to its religious irreverence. Written by the six members of the Monty Python troupe (who collectively play forty roles), the humour is hit-and-miss as per the troupe's norm. There is nothing especially funny about Terry Jones in drag, the lisping of Michael Palin as Pontius Pilate goes on for far too long and other parts are simply silly (mentally handicapped jailer). The jokes that do work are admittedly excellent though. A lesson on how to haggle is a particular highlight, same goes for a stoning scene in which all participants are actually women in disguise, plus the politics of the various rebel factions in Judea are great. The second half of the movie also works better than the buildup to it as the title character finds himself unable to rid himself of followers mistaking him for their saviour and no matter what he says, he cannot get them to change their view. The film is also topped off with the most memorable ending of all four Monty Python movies with its celebration of optimism in the face of adversity.
The Apostle (1997)
After assaulting his wife's lover in a fit of rage, an evangelical preacher flees his state, changes his name and starts a new church in this drama written by, directed by and starring Robert Duvall. There is something appealing in the way he manages to start life anew with a new chance to make a difference and Duvall saddles himself with a complex character who knows that running away is not right and yet who cannot help but preserve his own freedom. Duvall also does well making his rants and raves feel like they come from the heart, including scenes with his hands in the air, passionately asking Jesus for guidance. Duvall is not, however, very convincing as a man in hiding. The film might have benefited from some scenes with him paranoid and nervous, but what really feels odd is his choice to become a radio preacher in his new state, allowing his distinctive voice on the airwaves to be heard by anyone wanting to find him. The film also runs a little long with far too many subplots (e.g. Billy Bob Thornton and his bulldozer) for its own good. Duvall is divine in the lead role though and as writer-director, he does a magnificent job drumming up sympathy for his deeply flawed but well-meaning character.
Living with his two unmarried sisters in the family mansion, a cloth designer struggles to maintain a romance against the objections of his younger sister who is a little too worried in this unusual noir entry from Robert Siodmak. The narrative has several interesting dynamics with ambiguity as to whether the sister is more concerned about possibly losing the family home or simply jealous of their intimate relationship. Unanswered questions also abound in terms of how and why the brother has come to be so subservient, letting his sisters dominate his life. With so much left up in the air, the first hour of the film is an uneven ride, but the final twenty minutes are utterly gripping with a series of thought-provoking twists thrown into the mix. The very last twist admittedly does not quite work (apparently it was forced on by the censors), but the character dynamics are otherwise excellent in this final stretch of the movie. With good performances all round, this is an easy film to recommend for the bits and pieces that do work. The script may not be airtight, but this is still a solid portrait of guilt, rivalry and tension between grown siblings who are still as petty as children at times.