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Staff Picks: Movies

Best Sequels

From the November/December issue of Film Comment comes the magazine’s always provocative “Film Comment’s Trivial Top 20” list, curated by their contributors. What do you think? 

Best Sequels
1. The Godfather: Part II
2. Dawn of the Dead
3. The Empire Strikes Back
4. Before Sunset
5. The Bride of Frankenstein
6. For a Few Dollars More
7. Toy Story 2
8. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
9. Aliens
10. Evil Dead II
11. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
12. Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior
13. A Shot in the Dark
14. Mad Max: Fury Road
15. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
16. Sanjuro
17. From Russia with Love
18. Aparajito
19. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
20. French Connection II


Results is not your typical romantic comedy. Surely, there are elements of both romance and comedy but the film wisely resists the standard clichés of the genre by exploring the pitfalls of relationships with perfectly cast actors. It’s the spirited performances director Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess) draws from Guy Pearce, Cobie Smolders and Kevin Corrigan that breathes life into the humdrum of a plot. The humor is quirky, sly and subtle. Bujalski, known for his brand of idiosyncratic comedy, has made a film in Results that doesn’t reduce humor to the predictability of the ‘big joke’ or distracting, stylistic flourishes. It’s an observational, weirdly touching miniature that expresses an unassuming interest in questioning the perceptions we hold of ourselves and others.

The Last Man on Earth

There appears to be no plans on the part of the entertainment industry to reduce or diminish the presence of the Man-child (defined here as: a boorish, immature adult male without capacity for empathy or self-reflection) character. They are sadly, as ubiquitous as ever (we could blame Adam Sandler for this cultural scourge). That’s exactly what viewers get with the lead character of the comedic series The Last Man on Earth—a highly dysfunctional, selfish bozo in a man’s body. Former SNL actor/writer Will Forte lets it all hang out as earth’s final man, roaming the streets of Tucson, living day to day as though he were reverting back to an earlier, primordial period. And yet the best part of the show is the actress Kristen Schaal’s portrayal of the last woman on earth, the quirky but lovable grammar Nazi, Carol Pilbasian (one of my favorite actresses who stole scenes in Flight of the Conchords). The show has its moments, especially when the absurdity gives way to more tender scenes between Phil and Carol. It certainly has potential.

Howard Hawks

The great American director Howard Hawks was part of the Hollywood studio system for most of his career and yet he was still able to produce high-quality films that were both praised by critics and commercially successful. Like his contemporary Billy Wilder, Hawks was adept at moving seamlessly from genre to genre, directing westerns, crime dramas and screwball comedies. Hawks was a rebellious figure who worked within the conservative dictates of the Hollywood system in order to remain employable but at the same time his films often subverted social norms and expectations by countering dominant cultural narratives. Hawks worked with John Wayne in Rio LoboRed River and Rio Bravo, doing much to reconfigure Wayne's macho, heroic screen image. Considered by critics to be one of the most important American directors to have influenced the French New Wave and New American Cinema movement of the 1960’s, Hawks’ films have an edge and emotional complexity to them that distinguish them from the more formulaic pap of the era. Standouts include: Red River, Rio Bravo, His Girl Friday, Only Angels Have Wings, The Big Sleep, Bringing Up Baby and Scarface.

Liked This, Try That

And we come to another installment of Liked This, Try That…our imperfect but always enthusiastically crafted form of cinema advisory. 

Liked Jauja, try Meek's Cutoff 

Liked Harry and Tonto, try Next Stop, Greenwich Village

Liked The Imitation Game, try A Beautiful Mind

Liked Frances Ha, try Damsels in Distress

Liked The Fault in Our Stars, try Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

Liked Ida, try Au Hasard Balthazar

Liked Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, try Taste of Cherry

Liked The Lives of Others, try Goodbye Lenin

Liked The Third Man, try The Complete Mr. Arkadin a.k.a. Confidential Report


Top 5 Directors

Inspired by a recent filmspotting podcast (highly recommended for movie fans) episode where the two hosts asked their listeners to choose the five directors (and their films) they’d take with them to a deserted island, I thought I'd mull it over. Here’s who I would take with me, keeping in mind that this is not a list of my "favorite" directors but just those whose work I'd want access to while passing the time.

1. Wes Anderson—a great mixture of comedy and melancholia would keep my island dwelling emotional state evenly balanced.
2. Coen Brothers—the storytelling virtuoso of their genre films would fill in for an absence of books.
3. Martin Scorsese—For both the variety and quality of his oeuvre.
4. Ingmar Bergman—Bergman’s films have the excellence, the quantity and the kind of philosophical depth that would keep me ruminating on the big questions while stranded.
5. Stanley Kubrick—If he had only made Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick’s film making flair would be enough to keep my isolation bearable, but throw in The Killing, Paths of Glory, The Shining2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clock Work Orange, and Full Metal Jacket and you have more than enough masterworks to choose from. 

Honorable Mention Includes: Louis Malle, Jean-Luc Godard, Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Bresson and Terence Malick.

Napoleon does whatever the flip he wants

This is probably the best blog I've ever done. I spend like three hours on the shading of the first sentence.

One of my favorite movies of all time, the dialog takes me back to childhood thinking like never before. The one-liners are funny, weird, ridiculous, nostalgic. The plot is a delivery mechanism, nothing more. The person who wrote the script is brilliant and the actors execute perfectly. From uncle Ricco eating all the steaks, Kip chatting with babes all day (and besides, he's also training to be a cage fighter); to Pedro, who can grow a mustache in like a day or two; Grandma, who broke her coccyx at the dunes; the pet alpaca Tina who eats cassaroles; and of course Napoleon, who likes ligers (bred for the their skills in magic) and who does whatever the flip he wants!

If you are normal, don't watch this movie. You won't like it.

Dazed and Confused 22 Years On

Appropriately selected as part of the Criterion Collection, Richard Linklater's celebratory portrait of 1970's high school culture is one of his best films and the one that introduced the world to future stars Ben Affleck, Parker Posey and Matthew McConaughey. Much of the film centers around the stereotypical activities of rebellious and anxiety-ridden kids as school gets out for the summer. The freshman students worry about the hazing rituals they'll face and the seniors fret about their future while still taking time out to party to classic rock anthems. It's a loving and personal work about youthful dreaming as much as it a hilarious look at the absurd yet significant moments young people go through before adulthood kicks in.

Bottle Rocket

Today Wes Anderson is considered one of the most original and inventive directors working who is beloved by the critics while also commercially successful. So singular are his works that even the casual observer would likely recognize his stylistic flare, thematic tropes and continual collaboration with particular writers and actors (parodies of his films are commonplace). Like most first works, Bottle Rocket shows a great deal of promise but lacks some of the visual panache and flamboyant use of color and mise en scene that gives his later films such vitality and depth. Yet, it's still an accomplished work with lovable but flawed characters journeying through their need for love or family by way of a bumbled heist.

Summer Vacation Is for Laughs

Not satisfied with 2015 humor? Looking for some older films with vintage comedy? Look no further than these classic send up’s, satires, spoofs, and screwballs from the incomparable Criterion Collection. It’s just not a distributor of grim, art house movies. Some of the best films that sought to activate your funny bone have been cleaned up, remastered and re-released back into cultural circulation. Some of my favorites include:

Dazed and Confused

Frances Ha

Kicking and Screaming

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

This Is Spinal Tap


Sullivan's Travels

Harold and Maude