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The Deer Hunter (1978)
A major work
Michael Ciminos masterful movie remains to this day a disturbing and truly compelling story about the experience of war and the importance of friendship. Without doubt a milestone in American cinema and perhaps among the ten best films of the 1970's! The cast alone is exploding: De Niro is fascinating to watch as the sensitive but ultimately strong Michael, who manages to hold the remains together, but Meryl Streep, John Gazale and particularly Christopher Walken are equally great! Perhaps to a lesser extent a movie about the anatomy of war (maybe "Apocalypse Now" is a greater film in that specific regard?!) and to the greatest extent a story about the necessity of being loyal to your friends despite the obstacles from an outside power. Maybe Cimino try a bit to much for pathos in the epic moments, whereas he succeeds to the fullest in the passages of describing the strong bond between the men, especially between De Niro and Savage's off course. In any event, it is a remarkable movie that does not show its age. I think the movie will remain as fresh as it is today for another 30 years! At least!
American Beauty (1999)
This could very well be one of the most profound movies ever to come out of Hollywood in the last 10 years or so. I remember that I did not have any expectations when it came out, but was I surprised! Kevin Spacey is great, Bening is alright, but the mood and pace of the film is the real star. It possesses a rare meditative quality that is far from being self indulgent as many films of this kind tends to be. It is a remarkable work and it manages to reestablish some hope in a time where hope seems to have abandoned the world. It is an honest movie and that is what we need to see today on the screen! Not reality but real emotions and real thoughts conveyed in a fictitious frame.
The Apartment (1960)
Billy Wilders acid-like satire on the double side of American middle-class morality is great stuff even after almost 50 years of wear. Jack Lemmon, in perhaps his best part, is fantastic as the quiet paper-pusher Baxter who is exploited to the maximum by his cynical employees, while he is left with nothing (career-wise and any other...wise), except for his honest intentions, being the only one in the firm with some sense of dignity and respect for human values. Fred MacMurray, in my opinion, never had a better part as the spineless boss. And Jack Kruschen gets everything out of the doctor next door! A total delight from start to finish, and despite of the comedy theme never neglecting the important one: remember to be decent! Make note of the amazing pacing and dialog that sets new standards even for a Wilder-film!
And Then There Were None (1945)
Murder on a remote island
Who-done-it No. 1. This could easily be the subtitle for this great "suspenser" based on Agatha Christies novel. Masterfully directed by french René Clair and with an amazing cast including such movie greats as Walter Huston, Judith Anderson, Louis Hayward, Barry Fitzgerald and Roland Young. Maybe not the most likely of story lines ever put on film, but who cares? Even if you do not find it very remarkable, you have to acknowledge the superb use of location and photography. The music is another plus and adds to the suspense. One of the best detective-films (without the detective!) ever made it will satisfy any real connoisseur of the genre.
Fellini's nostalgic account on his early years is a tremendously touching and fascinating time capsule that never lets up! More fiction of course that actual history lesson (this is after all Fellini!), although the period seems real enough. One unforgettable scene after another! No one did ever capture sentiment, poetry and drama the way Fellini did, in a way that made the clichés digestible and with real feeling and not emotional swamp. AMARCORD could be his best work alongside LA DOLCE VITA. Some of the best scenes includes the voluptuous big mama in the little town that could make Anita Ekberg green with envy and the old grandpa that still has a great appetite for the opposite sex. Classic movie-making of the highest order!
All the President's Men (1976)
Breathlessly entertaining movie!
This could very well be the best political thriller ever made - in any event it is certainly the best of 1976! The account follows the painstakingly search for the truth behind the Watergate-scandal and the two relentless journalists Bernstein and Woodwards efforts to uncover the mystery. It is top-excitement from the first to the last frame, and it is my opinion that both Hoffmann and Redford do their very best work in this movie! The supporting cast is exceptionally good, including such solid actors as Martin Balsam, Jason Robards (he is fantastic!) and Jack Warden. The film is without any doubt the best work ever from acclaimed director Alan J. Pakula! You can watch this fabulous film again and again. It does not seem to date a bit!
La dolce vita (1960)
The taste of bittersweet
Alongside AMARCORD this movie is my absolute favorite among all Fellinis films. It is a dark and tragic look at the modern age he depicts here, but also with some hope for the future, magnificently captured in the beautiful closing scene. Maybe the film is a bit too long, but in fact that is quite compelling and matches the theme of the film in a strange way: the fast and pointless city life where the attention can't find a target and no one sees each other. Perhaps this film is Fellinis most profound work, it is certainly his darkest. And yet dark does not hit the mark, because his film is so full of life and hope. He is one of the few (and true) humanist filmmakers that ever lived. Maybe incoherent and sometimes self indulgent, but always with a strong believe in humanism. And that is not such a bad thing these days.
All About Eve (1950)
Behind the scenes
Along with "Sunset Boulevard" and "The bad and the beautiful" this is the best film about Hollywood behind the masks and all the glamor of theater and film. Extremely stagy, but Bette Davis was never better, and George Sanders is as always deliciously slimy and arrogant to the max; only Baxter is not quite convincing as the star to be. But it does not really matter because the direction is great, and the dialog is amazing all the way. A real roller-coaster of a movie that contains both bundles of laughter, and some truly terrifying moments as well. Davis has the line of a lifetime that expresses the essence of the film: "Fasten your seat belts! It's gonna be a bumpy night!"
Adventure of the lovers
Michelangelo Antonioni is one of the greatest directors ever from Italy, but contrary to fellow colleagues such as Fellini and De Sica he is not so easily digested. As a consequence his films had a hard time finding their audience, but eventually his very unique style has become more and more interesting, although probably not for a mainstream audience. This major work are innovative in many ways: it is a movie that breaks free of the traditional narrative and in doing so becomes very confusing at first, but for those who are patient will emerge as quite fascinating and profound. The movie is considered the first in a trilogy - the others being "La Notte" and "L'Eclisse".
À nous la liberté (1931)
René Clair was first!
An exquisitely executed comedy about a simple man who suddenly wins a big amount of money in a lottery and the consequences for his modest way of living. A real treat of a movie, very funny and also in many ways quite profound. Maybe the first musical in the history of movies, the film is quite often being compared to Chaplins "Modern times" and apparently there was a feud between Clair and Chaplin because of the similarity in storyline. However, Clairs film is in fact very different and the two movies are both great on their respective terms. And both men should be equally praised for their depiction of the industrial developments impact on the individual human being.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
One of the few movie greats!
Extremely complex and not very accessible SF adventure that ever since its premiere in 1968 has been the study of film students and buffs alike. Even if you have seen the movie several times it remains one of the most fascinating and fresh films of all time, and you can always find new details, that you did not see the first time around. I really don't consider it a real movie as such; it's lacking a genuine narrative and the story get's lost in the overall message of man and machine in space and so on and so forth. But it's a voyage in a sort of conciseness that transcends the story (and the genre!) and culminating in that strangest of endings ever in a SF-movie. A unique film, no doubt one of the most important Kubrick ever made.
Mamma Roma (1962)
Strong and tragic movie with an amazing Anna Magnani as the broken-down woman who fight for a dignified life in the slum of Rome. Uncompromising social realism and no one could like Pasolini use music as a consequent commentary to the themes in the film. In his movies the music is not isolated to the specific scene, but always to the film as a hole. He does this in a way so that the viewer is being compelled into the movie and becomes an "active" participant in the action. It is characteristic for Italian movies in general, but Pasolini achieved this in the most painfully and hypnotic way. Maybe with a tendency towards the rhetorical but that does not weaken the film. It is a masterpiece!
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Classic adventure-movie based on the immortal novel by Jules Verne. Amazing special effects, considering that this is 1954! The film is extremely well made with impressive set-designs and a sparkling cast that convinces all over. Kirk Douglas is somewhat out of place as constantly playing and singing Ned Land, not at all the strong and willfully man that we are presented for in the book. Paul Lukas is somewhat stiff, but James Mason owns the film as Nemo. One of his best performances ever he practically steals every scene he appears in and provides the movies backbone. And then there is Peter Lorre who off course provides the laughs. A movie for the entire family!
12 Angry Men (1957)
Classic study of the psychology of a jury in a murder trial. Exciting movie with a great cast, including Henry Fonda who also produced the film, Lee J. Cobb (perhaps his best performance ever?) and Martin Balsam as the weak but earnest chairman. But they are all great. John Fiedler as a perplexed juror, E.G.Marshall as the somewhat reserved man with the glasses, Ed Begley who plays the bigot and off course Jack Warden as the working class guy who just want to get it over with so he can go and watch a baseball game. Although the characters in some cases are somewhat on the brink of being caricatures, the movie is so nerve-racking and you get so involved ín the drama and tension of the questions involving right or wrong, good or bad, true or false, that you are just compelled to the max with this film. There is simply no better way to make a movie about a murder trial!
Les quatre cents coups (1959)
This is an excellent movie in any which way you look at it. There is no "fat" on it, it is very tight in its narrative and it is also quite well composed. A poetic but also very sad tale of a young boy and his troubled life. It is a classic movie! However, I don't think it is Truffaut's best film as I am aware of many do believe. Truffaut (1932-1984) was perhaps THE director in the entire history of motion pictures that was able of, truly and profoundly, conveying love as an idea or an emotion on the silver screen. I know that he was not the only one who achieved making great love stories, but perhaps only he knew how to do it the best way. And that brings me to my reason for not regarding this as his best film: I think it lacks that kind of true emotion and sentiment that shines so bright in his later films. But hey: it's his first movie! You can't expect the innovation to explode right of the bat.
Les parapluies de Cherbourg (1964)
It's raining on the heart
To my knowledge the only musical in film history that is based solely on song and music. It takes a while adjusting to this highly unusual way of making a film, but after a while you get quite compelled by this. It is a surprising work of art, this movie, extremely aesthetic but also very complex and very profound too, as is the case with most of Jacques Demy's (1931-1990) films. Regardless of what one might think about this film, it must be acknowledged as a great piece of work from a thematic as well as an aesthetic point of view. A beautiful but also heartbreaking experience, Michel Legrand's score is simply unforgettable. I think that it is a film that transcends the genre of musicals. It is much more than just song and dance.
Doubt of the soul
That Robert Bresson's (1907-1999) films is somewhat hard to digest must be the understatement of the century. But for those who feel entangled in the most profound questions of the human existence, this movie must seem like a harrowing thriller! All others will probably be more or less indifferent to the escapades of a young priest in a small french village. Bresson's movies are among the most unique in the history of motion pictures; they are like nothing else I have ever seen and the themes are somewhat innovative. That is, the storyline are simple, but in all his films he deals with tormented people and the main theme seems to be the search for freedom and the futile battle against the human conditions. In a sense he is the most pessimistic of all directors, not only the french, but in a strange way he is perhaps the one that is closest to the truth and to life itself.