Monday, 24 March 2014

A shining achievement - my top 200 favorite movies

Since I have received several requests to name my favorite films, and since I have by now reviewed close to 2600 films, I think it is about time to disclose my favorite list, movie or anime. It is entirely my subjective opinion, so arguing here is redundant for once. Naturally, I haven't seen every film ever made, so it can happen that this list might change as unknown classics are reviewed.

Naturally, there are many more great films, but if I had to draw the line, this is the list I choose. If your favorite film isn't there, well, what can i say? Maybe it really is great, but simply isn't close enough to my heart or taste to pass the threshold to be here.

There are some exceptions. "Daria", for instance, is a TV show, not a movie or an anime, but was so extraordinary it just had to be included. Today I'm also glad I've checked out some obscure, unknown titles. For instance, I've never, ever heard of "Maison Ikkoku" or "Legend of the Galactic Heroes" before I've seen them, and had there not been a recommendation that mentioned them, I wouldn't have bothered watching them. Turns out "Maison" is the greatest love story of the 20th century, while "Legend" is the greatest essay on political ploy and intruiges there is. A single recommendation assured their spot on the list, and there are definitely more gems that rarely someone heard off.

If we look at the statistics, the most number of movies or animes is from the 80s with a total of 44 films (22%), followed by the 90s with 37 films (18%). The 70s take the 3rd place with a total of 26 films on the list, and the 60s with 25 (13%), whereas the 30s have 16 films (8%). I was surprised myself when I did the math, I thought the 70s would take the cake. If we look the directors with the highest contributions of films, then S. Spielberg would take the top spot with seven films, followed by W. Allen and B. Wilder with five films, J. Carpenter, H. Miyazaki and B. Keaton with four films and A. Hitchcock, F. Capra, F. Lang, O. Welles with three films. By country (which is problematic, since some films were co-produced by two or more countries. I just went by the first country listed on IMDb to avoid two countries overlapping, though I am aware this can be challenged), the distribution goes like this: 120 are from the USA (60%), 16 from Japan (8%), 13 from France (6%), 9 from Russia (4.5%), 8 are from Italy and UK each (4%), 7 from Germany (4%), 6 from Yugoslavia (3%) etc. [updated in January 2017].

Top 200 favorite films:

1 9 1 0 s

Inferno / L'Inferno
Intolerance

1 9 2 0 s

The Battleship Potemkin / Bronenosec Potyomkin
Faust / Faust - eine deutsche Volkssage
The General
Help! / Au secours!
The Nibelungs: Siegfried / Die Nibelungen: Sigfried
Safety Last!
Sherlock, Jr.
Steamboat Bill, Jr.
One Week

1 9 3 0 s

All Quiet on the Western Front
Animal Crackers
City Lights
Duck Soup
Fury
Gulliver's Travels
It Happened One Night
King Kong
M
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Ninotchka
The Public Enemy
Scarface
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The Wizard of Oz

1 9 4 0 s

Casablanca
Citizen Kane
Fantasia
Gaslight
The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Dictator
His Girl Friday
The Magnificent Ambersons
Munchausen
Paisa
Shadow of a Doubt
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
To Be or Not to Be

1 9 5 0 s

All About Eve
Bad Day at Black Rock
The Cranes are Flying / Letyat zhuravli
H-8
The King and the Mockingbird / Le roi et le o'iseau
Love in the Afternoon
Nights of Cabiria / Le notti di Cabiria
On the Waterfront
Rear Window
The Road / La strada
Shane
The Subject / Der Untertan
Touch of Evil
The Wages of Fear / La salaire de la peur
Witness of the Prosecution

1 9 6 0 s

2001: A Space Odyssey
Alphaville
The Apartment
Au Hasard Balthazar
Daisies / Sedmikrasky
The Graduate
Happy End
The Hawks and the Sparrows / Uccellacci e uccellini
I Am Cuba / Soy Cuba
Lawrence of Arabia
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
My Night at Maud's / My nuit chez Maud
The Ninth Circle / Deveti krug
Once Upon a Time in the West
One, Two, Three
Persona
Psycho
Sayat Nova
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors / Tini zabutykh predkiv
Two or Three Things I Know About Her / 2 ou 3 choses que je sai d'elle
Ulysses
War and Peace / Voyna i mir
Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Yellow Submarine
Z

1 9 7 0 s

Annie Hall
The Apple Game / Hra o jablko
Assault on Precint 13
Avanti!
Being There
Breaking Away
The Castle of Cagliostro
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Dark Star
Decameron / Il Decameron
Dersu Uzala
Duel
The Godfather
Jaws
Klute
Lenny
The Marriage of Maria Braun / Die Ehe der Maria Braun
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Paper Moon
Providence
The Rose of Versailles / Versailles no Bara
The Rutles: All You Need is Cash
Stroszek
There Grows a Green Pine in the Woods / U gori raste zelen bor
They Call Me Trinity / Lo chiamavano Trinita

1 9 8 0 s

Aliens
An American Werewolf in London
Asterix Versus Caesar / Asterix et la surprise de Cesar
Back to the Future
Balkan Spy / Balkanski špijun
Barefoot Gen / Hadashi no Gen
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Blade Runner
Blood Simple
The Blues Brothers
The Brother from Another Planet
Castle in the Sky
A Chinese Ghost Story / Sien nui yau wan
Come and See / Idi i smotri
Conan the Barbarian
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Dark Eyes / Oci ciorne
Drowning by Numbers
The Elm-Chanted Forest / Čudesna šuma
Evil Dead II
Ghostbusters
Hannah and Her Sisters
Heaven Help Us
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Kiki's Delivery Service / Majo na Takkyubin
Kimagure Orange Road: I Want to Return to That Day / Kimagure Orange Road: Ano hi ni Kaeritai
The Land Before Time
The Last Temptation of Christ
Legend of the Galactic Heroes / Ginga Eiyu Densetsu
Maison Ikkoku
Manhunter
My Dinner with Andre
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind / Kaze no tani no Naushika
Queen Millennia / Shin taketori monogatori: Sen-nen joo
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise / Oritsu Uchugun: Oneamisu no Tsubasa
The Secret of the Sword
Terms of Endearment
They Live
Tootsie
Top Secret!
Witness
Who's That Singing Over There? / Ko to tamo peva
The World According to Garp
Zelig

1 9 9 0 s

Armitage III
Boogie Nights
Bram Stoker's Dracula
The Celebration / Festen
Chasing Amy
Cowboy Bebop
Dances with Wolves
Daria
Dead Man
Forrest Gump
Groundhog Day
Grosse Pointe Blank
JFK
Jerry Maguire
Jurassic Park
Love and Death on Long Island
Lovers of the Arctic Circle / Los amantes del circulo polar
Memoirs of an Invisible Man
Mighty Aphrodite 
Miller's Crossing
Neon Genesis Evangelion / Shin Seiki Evangelion
Only Yesterday / Omohide poro poro
Pepper Ann
Quick Change
Rushmore
Sailor Moon
Saving Private Ryan
Schindler's List
Singles
Taste of Cherry / Ta'm e guilass
The Thin Red Line
Three Colors: Red / Trois couleurs: Rouge
The Truman Show
Underground / Podzemlje
Unforgiven
We're No Angels / Mi nismo anđeli
The Wrong Trousers

2 0 0 0 s

(500) Days of Summer
Amelie
American Splendor
Death Note
Doel Belang
The Host / Gwoemul
The Laramie Project
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Millennium Actress / Sennen joyu
Persepolis
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring / Bom, yeoreum, gaeul, gyeoul...geurigo bom
Tropical Malady / Sud pralad
Voices of a Distant Star
Waltz with Bashir / Vals im Bashir
What Iva Recorded on October 21st, 2003 / Što je Iva snimila 21. listopada 2003.

2 0 1 0 s

Gravity

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Diva

Diva; crime thriller, France, 1981; D: Jean-Jacques Beineix, S: Frederic Andrei, Roland Bertin, Richard Bohringer, Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, Thuy An Luu

Jules, a young courier, is fascinated by the African-American opera singer Cynthia, and secretly (and illegally) records her singing during a concert. He soon finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy when a prostitute, Nadia, hides her tape in his moped before being murdered by criminals Cure and Antillais. When the thugs destroy his apartment, Jules hides in the home of a girl Alba, and her cool philosopher Gorodish. It soon turns out that the tape the thugs are looking for contains Nadia's recording where she explains that Chief Inspector Saporta is actually leading an illegal human trafficking ring of women from Africa who work as prostitutes. In the shootout, Cure, Antillais and Saporta are killed, while Jules survives and meets Cynthia.

Jean-Jacques Beineix's directorial debut film, humorous crime "Diva" is not such a sensation as some would make you believe it, yet it is a refreshing and relaxed film that broke away from the French trend of realism and offered pure escapism, to such an extent that it it almost an anti-thriller at times. Instead of a gritty mood that would have prevailed if the movie was made in the 70s, this a 'light' and accessible crime flick, filled with a great photography and comical moments (the great, and humorous chase sequence where Jules is escaping a police officer by entering a train with a moped (!) and then driving across the subway stairs for several minutes), whereas one supporting character simply stand out, Gorodish, probably one of the coolest philosophers ever caught on film (and who has a great little gimmick used later in the film to make two rival criminals eliminate each other). The ending is brilliant, and it involves a funny little moment where, just as the bad guy is about to shoot the good guys, someone turns off the lights in a garage. Still, while the crime story works, the fan-idol story - revolving around Jules and his beloved opera singer Cynthia - is almost obscure and irrelevant to the main plot, and it is a pity to see such a 'thrid wheel' detract from the rest of the rather well made film. Also, the movie takes quite some time until it finally 'gets going'. Still, today it enjoys a cult reputation and it was nominated for a BAFTA for best foreign language film

Grade;++

Little Man Tate

Little Man Tate; drama, USA, 1991; D: Jodie Foster, S: Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodie Foster, Diane Wiest, Harry Connick, Jr., David Hyde Pierce

The seven year old Fred Tate exceeds intellectually as much as he fails socially: he could already read at the age of one, and quickly learned how to play a piano, paint, compose songs and study physics. His mother, waitress Dede, is very proud of him, but notices that he has no friends and is an outsider. Reluctantly, she allows psychologist Jane Grierson to enlist Fred in a school for child prodigies, where the environment would be far more fitting his talents. Fred thus meets other gifted children, like Damon, and adult student Eddie, who wants to have good relations with him, but not be his real friend. While appearing in a TV show about gifted children, Fred gets tired of everything and returns to his mother. Some time later, he celebrates his eight birthday.

Jodie Foster's directorial debut film, "Little Man Tate" is a "Rain Man" for kids, a quiet, calm, mostly measured, but not enough thought out drama to exploit all its rich potentials to the fullest. The movie belongs in the category of child prodigies who are intellectual geniuses, but who also suffer from that gift socially since the people around them do not understand them, and in that sense it is a well presented and proportionally honest story where the main actor, Adam Hann-Byrd, gives a good balance - he is neither too autistic, nor too 'sugary' like many kid actors in other movies. However, the simplified story stops there and does not go deeper into exploring all the possibilities with respect to a truly great pay-off for viewers. For all its noble messages and intentions, it is a movie that only superficially handles the power of intelligence, yet does not give a deeper glimpse into the human spirit. The movie has enough charm, though - despite its story that seems as if it is second act is missing - like the scene where Fred is filling out a job application form for his mother or when it is revealed that he could have already read at the age of one.

Grade;++

Friday, 21 March 2014

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; silent fantasy adventure, USA, 1916; D: Stuart Paton, S: Louis Alexander, Curtis Benton, Wallace Clarke

People are puzzled by reports of a mysterious sea creature destroying ships in the open sea. Professor Aronnax and his crew go on a ship to investigate the reports, but they experience the same fate. The sea creature, however, is a submarine, Nautilus, led by Captain Nemo, whose men save them. Nemo shows Aronnax and the others the wonders of underwater life. In the meantime, some people crash with a balloon on an island and discover a wild, abandoned girl. She is actually Nemo's long lost daughter, and they separated after a scheme by Charles Denver. After Nemo discovers Denver's ship and sinks it, his crew saves his daughter and he tells them how a long time ago, somewhere in the Middle East, Denver blamed Nemo for a rebellion and destroyed his life. Happy to have found his daughter, Nemo dies.

The second movie adaptation of Jules Verne's eponymous novel, Stuart Paton's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" is not among the classics of the silent era due to its old-fashioned, sometimes even dated depiction of the story, yet it has that silent era charm that manages to make it pass. The first film with underwater footage, "Under the Sea" has a few good shots of the Nautilus submarine on the surface of the water, and a solid set design, yet the underwater sequences are curiously stiff and unexciting, and not even a brief, 60 second scene of an octopus sitting on the bottom of the sea, attacking a crew member, helps to lift the movie, because it is unconvincing (the octopus puppet doesn't move, it just stand still while a crew member is encircled by his tentacle and then released). A few lingering scenes also bring it down (as if the director got carried away with too many scenes of fishes swimming across the ocean), but a certain flair radiates from such an early vision of the story that was there first, regardless that it could have been better. Also, as Chris Edwards already neatly observed in his review of the film, the final flashback set in the Middle East, on land, is ironically far more opulent and engaging than the main setting under water.

Grade;++

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; western-drama, USA, 2007; D: Andrew Dominik, S: Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Sam Shepard, Jeremy Renner, Mary-Louise Parker, Zooey Deschanel

In 1881, the 19-year old Bob Ford feels lucky when he gets the chance to meet Jesse James, the outlaw he always idolized, and join his gang in their last robbery of a train, before the group is disbanded. Jesse, idolized by naive people who mistake his robberies for armed resistance of the defeated Confederate states, enjoys the company of Bob, but his mood swings and ridicule alienate Bob. Jesse also hunts down and kills former gang member, thinking they may be planing to double-cross him. Hoping to get famous, in 1882 Bob accepts the taks of the police to apprehend the outlaw. Jesse indeed picks up Bob and his brother Charley and brings them to his house, where he lives with his wife and two kids. On the 3 April, Bob shoots Jesse. For a brief moment, Bob becomes famous, but is then labelled a coward. In 1892, Bob is himself assassinated.

As numerous critics already neatly observed, Andrew Dominik's art-western "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is a very rafined and symbolic essay about the modern phenomenon of celebrities and stalkers (the idolized outlaw Jesse James and his "fan", the 19-year old Bob Ford), yet it does not just stop there: it is also a sly essay on the modern Herostratus and people who cannot find their place in the world but always stay rejected by the society, no matter what they do. The cinematography is very good (a fantastic moment of the train stopping in the forest at night while Jesse's robbers are extremely illuminated by lights and shadows "passing by") even though the visual style is overall actually conventional, the storyline is a tiny bit overlong and here and there a few bizarre scenes show up (the unnecessary scene of Jesse chopping up the head of a snake), yet the movie justifies its existence by giving a very strong exploration of the above mentioned three themes. The last hour of the film is the real highlight: not only is the tension between Bob and Charley, who feel trapped by the paranoid Jesse in his house, very palpable and causes the suspense to slowly rise, but it is also interesting what happens next after the event "spoiled" already in the title: the last 20 minutes of the film follow Bob Ford as a man who lost his aim in life, a person who wanted to meet his idol, but was then disappointed by him; a person who wanted to become famous, but was just branded by the stigma as the coward who is recognized and despized by everyone; a person who wanted to do something right and gain recognition, but just got cold looks from the people. It is a very expressionistic ending, and causes the viewers to think. Also, Brad Pitt (who probably himself felt "trapped" by his own fame just like Jesse who never had his own quiet peace) and Casey Affleck truly give great and untypical performances and help support the film.

Grade;+++

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Harvest of Despair: The 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine

Harvest of Despair; documentary, Canada, 1984; D: Slavko Nowytski, Yurij Luhovy, S: Metria Dutka, Malcolm Muggeridge, Ivan Majstrenko, Myroslava Utka

After World War I, Ukraine found itself in the infamous Soviet Union. While Lenin at first tolerated the Ukrainian patriotism, his successor Stalin was angered, among others because Russian was not taught in Ukrainian schools as a primary language. In order to suppress the Ukrainian nationalism and subjugate it in the USSR, Stalin ordered a decree sealing off the borders of that Republic and raising the quotas of crops Ukrainian farmers had to give to for the collectivization. Their harvest was sold to the foreign market in order to finance the Western know how for USSRs industrialization. However, that triggered Holodomor, one of the worst famines in human history, causing a mass death in Ukraine and weakening it.

The second worst genocide in Europe's history after the Holocaust, Holodomor was an example of the bottom of human degeneration that caused the death of at least 2,7 million people in the Ukraine - and cast a long shadow of the history record of the ethics of Moscow's politicians - yet it was a rare topic in cinema, with only a handful of films covering the event in the 20th century. One of them is "Harvest of Despair" by joint directors Nowytski and Luhovy who collected a dozen of valuable testimonies of survivals who recollected chilling stories of the 1932-33 famine. Despite a very emotional theme, this documentary avoids turning into an anti-Russian propaganda or a vehicle to ignite hate, instead just presenting the facts to the audience of the world to see and draw its own conclusions, just like any professional documentary should do.

The stories are enough to conjure up an era of the loss of humanity, nonetheless, with a couple of graphic details: for instance, cannibalism (a neighbor eating three children) or instances of feeding animals (employees had to feed horses only at night, to avoid starving people stealing horse food, since they needed these animals to collect corpses on the streets). The movie explores alternative explanations for the event, such that it was a natural disaster, but gives good points otherwise (the harvest for 1932 was enough to feed Ukraine for two years; the Soviet soldiers were guarding silos full of grain they took away from the farmers themselves) in order to make a better picture of the event. One significant complaint could be aimed at the movie's running time of only an hour, which gives an impression that the theme could have been elaborated more - as a footnote for comparison, Lanzmann's similar documentary "Shoah" lasts 10 hours. Overall though, "Harvest" is a good testament of the event and a timeless tragic story of the big taking advantage of the weak.

Grade;++

Friday, 14 March 2014

The Public Enemy

The Public Enemy; crime, USA, 1931; D: William A. Wellman, S: James Cagney, Edward Woods, Jean Harlow, Donald Cook

Tom Powers was mischivious ever since childhood, despite his father who would beat him to try to instill some decency into him. As grown ups, Tom and his friends Matt and Larry already established themselves as small time thieves, when gangster Putty Nose hires them to rob a warehouse. However, the robbery goes awfully wrong and Larry is killed by the police, while Putty Nose left them without any back up. Years later, Tom and Matt join forces with gangster Paddy to start a bootleg racket, forcing all the pubs in the town to buy their beer exclusively, thereby causing a conflict with a rival gang that wants to sell their own beer. Tom gains a fortune and a girlfriend with it, Gwen, yet all the time calms him mother by pretending to have a respectable job. When Matt is killed in an ambush, Tom kills the leaders of the rival gang, but lands in hospital. The gangsters kidnap them from there and leave his corpse in front of his mother's house.

A masterpiece of 'good old school' Hollywood, "The Public Enemy" is one of those classic films where every little scene has a purpose and the authors know exactly what they want to do and how they want to tell the story, which made this, and "Little Caesar", the prototype of the modern gangster film. Just like most early films, "Enemy" does not use violence or shock but intelligence for a narrative in order to tell a point, yet even though all the blood is off screen, the characters' gestures are so strong the tension is felt in almost every frame. James Cagney is briliant as Tom Powers, a person who does not distinguish what is right or wrong, but only what gives him personal gain, a very unlikable character who is simply a born criminal and does not know to live a civilized, quiet life, and to whom circumventing the law is an addiction.

Set during the Prohibition era, the film has strong, highly electrifying sequences: in one, Tom brings a keg of beer to his mother's home for dinner, but his brother, Mike, refuses to drink it, knowing how it is used in business. When Tom insisits he drinks a glass, Mike "explodes", gives a speech about "blood and beer" in the keg and then throws it on a table, smashing it. In another, Tom and Matt visit their chilhood traitor, gangster Putty Nose, in his apartment. The sequence where he is begging them to spare his life, and even starts playing a song on the piano from their childhood, while Tom sneaks behind him and shoots him, is truly a bitter and powerful moment, even though the murder plays entirerly off screen. The combination of realism (vigorous behavior; depiction of poverty) and stylistic additions (elevated dialogues; a moral ending) give a fine balance of a not very popular topic - even better than "Goodfellas", "Enemy" influenced a lot of gangster films, from "The Godfather" up to "Miller's Crossing".

Grade;++++

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Se7en

Se7en; crime thriller, USA, 1995; D: David Fincher, S: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, R. Lee Ermey

A week before his retirement, Detective Somerset gets a new partner, the young Mills, who wanted to move to his dirty, dark city. They are informed about an obese man killed in his apartment, where they discover the word "Gluttony" written on the floor. When a corrupt lawyer and a child molester are also found killed and the words "Greed" and "Sloth" are written in their rooms, Somerset concludes that the serial killer is killing following the pattern of seven deadly sins. After more murders, the killer, John, arrives to the police station and gives himself in. Insisting he is just doing a Divine punishment, he asks Somerset and Mills to accompany him to a remote meadow. There, a delivery van delivers John's package, the head of Mills' wife. In rage, Mills kills John, completing his punishment because he himself felt envy, the last sin.

After his disappointing directorial debut film "Alien 3", director David Fincher made a huge quantum leap in his career with the excellent crime film "Seven", establishing the right amount of dark mood and style that thematically suits the story. It is dark and pessimistic, yet very clever presentation of a simple story about two Detectives searching for a serial killer: not a single scene seems superfluous, the film is suspenseful from start to finish and has almost an 'inner directing' skill of transforming a story into an engaging experience where the viewers are glued to it naturally and do not even think about editing, acting, cinematography or anything else about the means of a film. Unlike many other serial killer films, where a story goes back and forth between the good guys and the bad guy, "Seven" is presented almost exclusively from the perspective of the two Detectives, and we never get a glimpse of the killer, his motivation or plans until the last 20 minutes of the film where he gives himself in voluntarily (!), but not without a dark twist. Also, it is interesting to note that not a single murder is depicted on screen - except one at the end. The film is also a subtle character study about the pessimistic Somerset and the world that made him like that, a world where the unfair rules: even religion is here used only as a motive for the killer to massacre victims who performed the seven deadly sins, and thus the hero's long monologue to Mills in the bar is a defining moment: "Apathy is the solution. I mean, it's easier to lose yourself in drugs than it is to cope with life. It's easier to steal what you want than it is to earn it. It's easier to beat a child than to love it." Such a negative, bleak view on life alienated a part of the audience, yet it cannot be denied that Fincher made a strong job with the film.

Grade;+++

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show; drama, USA, 1971; D: Peter Bogdanovich, S: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, Randy Quaid

Anarene is a small town in southern Texas slowly fading away. People are bored, while high school seniors Sonny and Duane are in love in the same girl, the blond Jacy. However, she just wanted to lose her virginity fast, and subsequently breaks up with Duane. She aims for a rich boy, Bobby, but he marries another girl. Sonny, in the meantime, has an affair with Mrs Popper, who wants to take revenge on her husband who is cheating on her. When Sam 'the Lion' dies, the owner of the only local cinema, the town starts falling apart even faster. Sonny marries Jacy, but their parents take her away. Duane is sent to the Korean War, while a good friend, the clumsy Billy, dies in an accident. All alone in the town, Sonny returns to Mrs Popper for comfort.

Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show" was met with almost universal critical acclaim, and some even went so far to call it the best directorial debut since Welles' "Citizen Kane", even though it was Bogdanovich's third film. Even though such acclaim is a little bit exaggerated, "The Last..." is a sad and elegiac coming-of-age drama that shows a realistic depiction of people living in such an insignificant place, time and flow of events that with time turns into a ticking clock. As such, Ben Johnson plays the crucial, albeit very brief role of Sam 'the Lion', the man who is the last symbol of some structure, some meaning in that small Texas town, and his death causes a chain reaction and a collapse of that small microcosmos: his cinema is closed, signalling the end of an era. By the end, the hero Sonny is left as almost the only teenager in town, feeling almost claustrophobic in the deserted town that becomes his trap, a home where nothing happens. The film is surprisingly rich with erotic scenes for a black and white picture - probably the most memorable sequence is the one where Jacy arrives at a nude pool party and has to take her clothes off as well. When a little kid swims out of the water, she humorously throws her panties right into his face - yet even they somehow give feeling of a tragedy and sadness, as if even sex in such a small town is less important than in some other place. The movie needed better dialogues - the closest to a good quote was Sam 'the Lion's' monologue about "being crazy about a woman like her is always the right thing to do" - and a better point, since it is slightly empty, monotone and uneventful itself - Bogdanovich's next film "Paper Moon" is much smoother than this - yet the fine characters and the performance by Jeff Bridges as Duane manage to lift it up a notch.

Grade;+++

The Descendants

The Descendants; tragicomedy, USA, 2011; D: Alexander Payne, S: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster

Matt King is a lawyer living in Hawaii. When his estranged wife Elizabeth has a boat accident and is left in a coma, Matt has to take care of his two daughters Alex (17) and Scottie (10) and renew his contact with them. He is shocked, however, when he finds out from Alex that Elizabeth was cheating on him with a certain Brian. Together with Alex' friend Sid, Matt and Scottie go to meet Brian. Since Elizabeth will not wake up from coma, her own wish legally binds the doctors to terminate the machines keeping her alive. Matt, who wanted to sell a piece of land he inherited from his Hawaiian great grandparents, decides to keep it.

Tired of glamorous and perfect actors and lives shown on the big screens, director Alexander Payne stayed faithful to his vision of 'honesty' in his movies revolving around losers or outsiders, where life is never a fairy tale but a bitter, weird, yet also humorous experience. "The Descendants" starts out like a typical Payne film, where George Clooney's character Matt gives a cynical narration about his life in Hawaii: "My friends on mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation. We're all just here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they honestly think our families are less screwed up, our cancers less fatal, our grief less devastating?" The movie has a good, yet conventional storyline, which unfortunately overlaps with Payne's similar film "About Schmidt", where the protagonist also discovers his wife cheated on him after she died (here she is "only" in coma). Clooney is great in the leading role, as well as other actors, especially Shailene Woodley as his daughter Alex who gives a highlight in the first half of the film in the pool scene where she for the first time hears that her mother will die, and then submerges in the water to release a cry under water. Unfortunately, the movie runs out of highlights in the second half, leaving it almost empty, turning into a good, emotional, yet standard family drama.

Grade;++

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Last Laugh

Der letzte Mann; silent drama, Germany, 1924; D: F. W. Murnau, S: Emil Jannings, Maly Delschaft, Max Hiller

An old man works as the doorman in the prestigious hotel Atlantic. Due to his uniform, the neighbors, in a poor suburb, treat him with respect. One morning, the man is shocked to find a new doorman at the hotel, while the manager informs him that he was given a new position - the bathroom attendant. Feeling this a personal shame, he tries to hide the fact by sneaking out of the hotel with his old uniform so that the neighbors could see him. However, once the truth spreads, his neighbors laugh at him. Still, a rich man dies in his hand, so the old man inherits all his fortune and is back on top.

One of F. W. Murnau's most famous films, "The Last Laugh" is a simple, yet clever allegory about the status in society and its effects on people who fall a notch lower than before. Abandoning any intertitles (except one that explains the 'plot twist' at the end), "The Last Laugh" is often complimented for establishing the film as a distinctive medium since it told the entire story only thanks to images and visualization of events and gestures: in the opening act, the nameless protagonist is shown as a man who is proud of his job as a hotel doorman and wears his uniform even while returning back to his apartment, since his neighbors treat him with respect in such an appearance. Murnau even has a few clever metafilm touches here, since the camera is placed slightly lower compared to the protagonist during that first part of the film, to symbolize his pride.

Once the hero is 'demoted' to a bathroom attendant, the film shows his psychological stages of shame and inability to live with such an position (he borrows his old uniform from the closet and runs away from the hotel to put it on as soon as he is behind the corner, because he wants his neighbors to believe he still has the same job ), though the film is slightly overstretched and melodramatic at times, even with a few unintentionally comical scenes (his wife screams and runs away when she sees him in the bathroom for the first time). The camera has a few good frames (the opening of the camera descending in an elevator down to the street in front of the hotel; the hero imagining that a building is falling down on him...), yet it never reaches the heights of the visual style of Murnau's other films like "Faust" and "Nosferatu". A strong, albeit conventional essay about the relationship between appearance and self-esteem.

Grade;+++

A Trip to Mars

A Trip to Mars; silent science-fiction short, USA, 1910; D: Ashley Miller

A scientist discovers antigravity and makes a few experiments: all the things he applies his invention on, fly away from the table. Finally, he tries his invention on himself, and flies away to Mars. There he meets a strange forest and a giant elf. Finally, the scientist returns back to Earth.

Not much was going on during the early cinema, as is shown in Ashley Miller's 5 minute short "A Trip to Mars" that did not exploit all the film possibilities - editing, style, camera - except for a few neat special effects, or the narrative possibilities, obvious in the very brief and fragmented story, making this a not very memorable achievement. The storyline seems to be inspired by Melies' better thought out "A Trip to the Moon", and follows the naive repertoire of the latter (a scientist flies away to the Mars; the hero is seen on the palm of the hand of a giant Martian "elf"), yet it is easily watchable and is the first movie depicting the human trip to Mars.

Grade;++

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Bucket List

The Bucket List; tragicomedy, USA, 2007; D: Rob Reiner, S: Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, Sean hayes, Beverly Todd, Rob Morrow

Mechanic Carter and rich hospital owner Edward Cole are both diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer and have only a couple of months to live. Since they share the same hospital room, they get the idea of making a 'bucket list', i.e. all the things they always wanted to do before they die. Thanks to Edward's wealth, they travel across the globe and see the pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the warm Mediterranean, the African wildlife...In the end, Carter decides to stop the trip and return to spend his last days with his wife and family. When he dies, Edward complies with his last wish - to search for his own estranged daughter and make up with her before his own death.

"The Bucket List" is, similarly like the French film "Intouchables", a film that presents a very depressive and dark theme in a very cheerful and happy manner, a story about dying that ends up as a celebration of life. In doing so, it turns slightly too simplistic in its depiction of two terminally-ill cancer patients, yet its goal was an entirely different point, which can be forgiven. Jack Nicholson again cannot resist not to add a few of his mannerisms and typical 'domination' in scenes, yet overall he gave a surprisingly touching and underrated performance as the rich Edward Cole, and even turned out humble in the ending where he gave the best quote in the entire film ("The last three months of his life were the best three months of my life"). Morgan Freeman is great as always, this time as Carter, who learns to let go and enjoy his life. The story could have been more inventive - in certain moments, it seems Edward and Carter just 'pass by' certain landmarks in the journey across the world - yet the movie never allows that its emotions turn sentimental, and has a few good meant pearls of wisdom along the way.

Grade;++

2012

2012; disaster movie, USA, 2009; D: Roland Emmerich, S: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Liam James, Danny Glover, Morgan Lily, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Zlatko Burić, Woody Harrelson

A scientist discovers that the increasing Sun's activity caused a massive neutrino wave that is making the Earth's core overheat. As a consequence, Dr. Helmsley predicts that in three years this will cause massive earthquakes and tsunamis. Indeed, in 2012, massive plate tectonic destroys the California coast and numerous other places around the globe, but thanks to a 'crazy' conspiracy theorist, limousine driver Jackson is able to obtain a map of four arks that will save a fraction of the world's population. Using a plane, Jackson, his ex-wife Kate, their two kids and a Russian billionaire Yuri, head to the Himalayas where the arks are constructed. A tsunami floods the construction site, but Jackson, Kate and the kids are aboard and are able to get saved. The Earth calms down and the arks travel to the Africa.

One of those past futuristic films, disaster film "2012" exploited the by now defunct 2012 doomsday phenomenon, yet, just like most films by Roland Emmerich, it is more interested in pompous special effects and mass explosions than the neglected characters, which, combined with the overlong running time, turns dire, stiff and monotone. For instance, this is one of the rare movies where the charismatic John Cusack actually delivered a bland, forgettable performance as Jackson, since his role is so underwritten it was not possible to make it more colorful. Some sequences are expressionistic, though, and bring back memories from Emmerich's better films, such as the moment where Jackson is driving his family in a limousine while all around them the L.A. neighborhoods, streets and whole buildings are swallowed little by little by a gigantic earthquake, and Arnold Schwarzenegger has a quietly hilarious cameo as himself, trying to calm down people on TV as the Governor. The basic plot is not subversive enough, though. True, it is very satirical of capitalism (only super rich people will be saved in the arks by paying a billion $ for a place, while all the 'little' people who helped build the arks and helped them get there are treated as 'excess' luggage that is left to die), but missed a lot of golden opportunities. For instance, in one scene, the Queen of England is seen boarding the ark with her two dogs. A truly subversive film would have gone even a step further and showed that the Queen, let's say, paid a billion $ for each of her dogs to be on board.

Grade;+