Staff Picks: Movies

Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.

The Sight & Sound Poll

Fans of cinema will want to look over Sight & Sound’s most recent poll of 250 of the Greatest Films ever made. Compiled once a decade since 1962, this list is a great primer for anyone interested in watching the most talked and written about works, including silent films, movies from Hollywood’s golden era, contemporary art house flicks and foreign language masterpieces from the 1950’s and 60’s. Comedies, Drama, Westerns, Noir, Romance—it’s all there. Here are the top ten:

  1. Vertigo
  2. Citizen Kane
  3. Tokyo Story
  4. La regle du jeu
  5. Sunrise
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  7. The Searchers
  8. Man with a Movie Camera
  9. Passion of Joan of Arc
  10. 8 1/2

Movie

Passion of Joan of Arc
ICRPAS050D
RyanG

Best of Foreign Language Films

The history of cinema is a rich and varied one that can be enjoyed and understood by engaging in works that dot the historical timeline and cross geographic borders. If you’re a film buff who loves discovering classic films and pioneering directors like I am, you’ll certainly want to keep an eye on our collection of historically significant foreign language films. Many of the greatest films to reach the big screen came about in European, Asian and Latin American countries, where filmmaking represents a fundamental piece of their cultural identities. Below, you’ll find a brief list of foreign language films made from the mid 1950’s through today that are transformative works of art that are crucial touchstones in the development of world cinema. Many of these rule-breaking films are now available from the Criterion Collection.

Essential directors:

  • Jean-Luc Godard
  • Francois Truffaut
  • Carl Dreyer
  • Robert Bresson
  • Frederico Fellini
  • Ingmar Bergman
  • Wong Kar-wai
  • Ranier Werner Fassbinder
  • Werner Herzog
  • Wim Wenders
  • Akira Kurosawa
  • Michangelo Antonioni
  • Andrei Tarkovsky
  • Roberto Rossellini
  • Pedro Almodovar
  • Jean Renoir
  • Milos Forman
  • Fritz Lang
  • Krzysztof Kieslowski
  • Claude Chabrol
  • Louis Malle
  • Luis Bunuel
  • Bela Tarr
  • Agnes Varda

Essential Films:

  • Ashes and Diamonds
  • Werckmeister Harmonies
  • Aguirre, The Wrath of God
  • Umberto D
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • L'avventura
  • The Conformist
  • Breathless
  • Contempt
  • Vivre sa vie
  • Pierrot le fou
  • Tokyo Story
  • City of God
  • Amores Perros
  • El Topo
  • Cinema Paradiso
  • Breaking the Waves
  • Insomnia
  • My Life as a Dog
  • Fanny and Alexander
  • Battleship Potemkin
  • All About My Mother
  • Red, White and Blue Trilogy
  • Wild Strawberries
  • Persona
  • Wings of Desire

Movie

Masculin feminin
ICRMAS180D

 

RyanG

Yep, It's a Masterpiece

I don’t often use the superlative ‘masterpiece’ when describing movies but Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker warrants such a descriptor. This enigmatic allegory that routinely finds its way onto ‘Best Of’ lists was almost never made due to the careless corruption (it has been suggested that Soviet authorities were responsible for the film’s destruction) of the original film stock, which then forced its brilliant director to reshoot most of the film a second time even as his health declined.

Stalker, a parable film known for its long, beautifully developed scenes and cryptic plot, delves as deep as any film before or after into the murky, existentialist terrain that one finds in the cinematic work of masters Robert Bresson and Ingmar Bergman (Tarkovsky’s major influences). One of the most gorgeous films you will watch, Tarkovsky blends vibrant colors with sepia toned silver, with each shot meticulously filmed and edited to emphasize both nature’s beauty and its mysteries.

The film’s three characters (the Stalker, the Writer, the Professor) journey into a mysterious, quarantined off area referred to as The Zone for different reasons. Rumors abound of a secretive room that exists at the heart of this depopulated area that Soviet authorities have surrounded and barred entrance. The room will allegedly grant you a wish of your making. The Stalker, who is paid by The Scientist and the Writer to sneak them past the Soviet guards into The Zone may or may not be who he says he is. With a famous ending that rewards the patience of the viewer, Stalker is like no other film you will experience.

Movie

Stalker
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RyanG

A Film Made from Inside

From time to time, a film buried long ago, unknown to most, emerges from its cult status to reclaim its proper place in the pantheon of great cinema. The 1956 documentary On the Bowery is one such film that can make that claim. Introduced by the legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who explains why he identifies with the film both on a personal and historical level (he grew up a few blocks away from where the film was shot), Lionel Rogosin’s On the Bowery takes the viewer to the famously impoverished New York City street known for housing the destitute and those suffering from alcohol abuse. While there is a very simplistic plot setup that frames the film’s three day course, most of the film captures the essence of the Bowery by employing a kind of impressionistic realism that gives the film its gritty, naturalistic look. Rogosin sought to portray his subjects sympathetically, simply showing their persoanl struggles without preaching or romanticizing their plight. The film was added to the prestigious National Film Registry in 2008 because of it groundbreaking stature.

Movie

On the bowery
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RyanG

We Used to Have to Work a Lot Harder to Watch Cat Videos

I should warn you that this blog post is not actually about cats, despite the titular tease of feline tomfoolery.  So if you were lured in with the promise of kitties doing adorable things, well then, you probably haven’t even bothered to read to the end of this sentence.   I only mention cat videos because they are, as we all know, The Reason the Internet Was Invented.  Who doesn’t love to watch cute, playful creatures getting themselves into all sorts of mischievous situations?  And it doesn’t stop with our solitary enjoyment; once we catch a kitty giving a dog a back massage or playing the keyboard or flushing the toilet ad infinitum, we have to make sure everyone else we know and love sees that video too.  We share it on Facebook, we Tweet about it, and we talk about it in our daily conversations.  The next thing you know, somebody’s puddy tat has been seen by millions of people virtually overnight.  Of course, these memes don’t have to be about cats.  They can be music videos, famous quotes, photographs, articles, or any other sort of thing that makes you laugh, think, dance or feel inspired.  My point (which I am somewhat habitually and infamously taking my sweet time to get to) is that—before the Internet gave us YouTube and other social media outlets—it used to be a lot harder to create “viral” pop culture sensations.

That’s right, kids.  As recently as the late 90s, someone would have to resort to compact discs or—gasp!—VHS cassettes to spread sound or video recordings to their friends.  Today, I can give hundreds of my Facebook friends the opportunity to laugh at Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video or the strategic ineptitudes of Leeroy Jenkins with just a few clicks of the mouse.  15 years ago I would have needed a VCR and some gas money to get them to just a few dozen.  Fortunately for us, there are two great documentaries that you can check out chronicling the Dark Ages of viral recordings with a couple of infamous examples that you may have missed.

The recently-released documentary Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure tells the story of two young guys named Eddie and Mitch who, in the late 80s, created a pop culture sensation after recording the nightly screaming matches coming from the apartment next door.  Their neighbors were an odd couple; a pair of older, anger-filled alcoholics who fought loudly and incessantly, and their profanity-laced, often nonsensical arguments were so jaw-droppingly shocking (and yet darkly hilarious) that Eddie and Mitch decided to record them lest no one believe the stories.  Those sound recordings would be passed from friend to friend until, years later, they would be the source of inspiration for comic books, movies, a play and other culturally-inspired art.

Another documentary—this one from 2010—is called Winnebago Man,and it’s about a former RV salesman named Jack Rebney who, in the 80s, became infamous when the outtakes of a commercial he was filming were passed around, catching him in some notably cantankerous and (again) profanity-filled behavior.  Still alive, Rebney is now a bit of a hermit but just as crotchety as ever, and the filmmakers’ interviews and Rebney’s subsequent confrontation with his cult popularity make for a wholly enjoyable look at an early viral phenomenon.

So, dear patrons, what are some of your favorite viral videos?  What is it about these kinds of videos that make you want to share them with your family and friends?  Curious minds want to know…

 

And now, a trailer for Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure… 

 

…and a trailer for Winnebago Man

 

 

…and for those who stuck around even after finding out I wasn’t writing about kitties, I’ll throw in a cat video just for you.

 

Movie

Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure
NVGSHUTUPD
DanHoag

Still a “righteous dude” after all these years

A classic is a work of art that can stand the test of time and remain relevant, fresh and engaging years after its creation. It possesses the internal mechanisms and universal themes to produce pleasure and awake interest in its audience year after year. Its appeal will carry on long after trends and fads dissolve into the dustbin of historical detritus. The films of John Hughes are unquestionably considered classics today by both the navel gazing critic and the new movie fan alike. Hughes worked mostly in the 1980’s, mostly concentrating his writing and directing on intelligently conceived teen comedies (The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful) that possessed depth, dimension and pathos, characteristics that were rare for youth-centered movies of the eighties. Hughes had a string of hits that he either wrote or directed beginning with Sixteen Candles (1984) thru Home Alone (1990).

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a hilarious romp that follows the afternoon adventures of a school skipping Ferris, his girlfriend Sloane and his best friend Cameron, launched the career of Matthew Broderick and also featured a cameo from a young Charlie Sheen. Arguably one of Hughes’ best “teen” films, it continues to feel unsullied by time, even today, twenty six years after it was released.

Movie

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
PAR031334D
RyanG

100 of My Favorite Movies

On a recent day, whilst in the midst of reflecting upon the great breadth of films we own at KPL and those I’ve watched, I challenged myself to list 100 of my favorite movies while acknowledging that such a list was neither full nor accurate (the problem of memory). I’m sure I’m missing some very obvious choices but here they are, in no particular order and with almost no employed criteria involved whatsoever. Later on this year, I'll add another 100 to the mix. 

Harold and Maude
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
There Will Be Blood
Goodfellas
My Left Foot
Dog Day Afternoon
Au Hasard Balthazar
Breathless
Petulia
Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
The Mission
The Elephant Man
The Breakfast Club
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Badlands
Tree of Life
Umberto D
Star Wars
Miller’s Crossing
Raising Arizona
Buffalo 66
The Apartment
The Professional
Cool Hand Luke
Ordinary People
Magnolia
All the President’s Men
The Graduate
Night of the Hunter
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Memento
Bulworth
Rebel Without a Cause
The Way We Were
Rushmore
The Royal Tenenbaum’s
Submarine
Amelie
Annie Hall
Manhattan
Wild Strawberries
A Few Good Men
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Adaptation
L.A. Confidential
Clueless
Coal Miner’s Daughter
Dead Man Walking
The Shawshank Redemption
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Drugstore Cowboy
My Own Private Idaho
Goodwill Hunting
Platoon
The Deer Hunter
Fargo
Giant
JFK
A Streetcar Named Desire
Full Metal Jacket
Anchor Man
Groundhog Day
Little Big Man
Kramer Vs Kramer
Heathers
The Hours
Uncle Buck
Sixteen Candles
The Last Picture Show
Paper Moon
Naked
Lone Star
Do the Right Thing
Frankie and Johnny
Taxi Driver
Metropolitan
My Life as a Dog
Norma Rae
Wings of Desire
Seven
Raging Bull
Rain Man
Silence of the Lambs
Tender Mercies
Thelma and Louise
This is Spinal Tap
Raiders of the Lost Ark
E.T.
When Harry Met Sally
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
The Age of Innocence
Short Cuts
The Big Lebowski
In the Mood for Love
Days of Heaven
Glengarry Glen Ross
American Beauty
Ice Storm
Jude
Schindler’s List

Movie

The professional [videorecording]
COL74749D
RyanG

Hey College Kids! We've Got Your Friend!

Every summer, several of my friends and I travel up north for the annual Traverse City Film Festival.  Founded by Michigan native Michael Moore and co-chaired by Hollywood folk like Curb Your Enthusiasm star Jeff Garlin and Borat director Larry Charles, this cinema-stuffed week gives us a chance to soak in all the indie and foreign films, incisive documentaries and beloved classics that our increasingly sore posteriors can handle.  (We also find time to relax and simply enjoy the beautiful T.C. area when we’re not staring at the silver screen.)  One of our most beloved rituals is getting the whole gang together for a midnight movie of choice; these usually consist of foreign or indie horror films that will never see a wide release in the United States.  Several of the ones we have screened have gone on to achieve cult-classic status:  brilliant Swedish vampire hit Let the Right One In; Norwegian Nazi-zombie gore-fest Dead Snow; South Korean rampaging-monster movie The Host.  In the summer of 2010, we had the opportunity to screen another such instant gem—one that, until recently, had bafflingly avoided a distribution deal:  the top-notch horror-comedy Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.

T&DvE is the kind of tongue-in-cheek splatter flick that offers as much joy from satire and humor as it does from excessive carnage.  The story follows the two titular hapless hillbillies as they set off for their dilapidated vacation home out in the woods.  On their way, they have an unfortunate run-in with a gaggle of snobby college kids who mistake their curiosity for threatening redneck menace.  Tensions mount when one of the girls, Allison, has a swimming accident and winds up in the care of a love-struck Dale and an inconvenienced Tucker.  The guys try to let the kids know they’ve rescued Allison, but their methods—which include shouting through the woods, “Hey college kids!  We’ve got your friend!”—lead the suspicious youth to believe she’s been kidnapped.  The college kids mount an assault on Tucker and Dale, but a series of very unfortunate and very bloody accidents (let’s just say bees and chainsaws don’t mix, nor do wood chippers and lunging) result in a body count that only reinforces Tucker’s and Dale’s images as crazed murderous lunatics, while convincing them that the college kids have some sort of suicide pact.

Credit for the success of this film certainly belongs, in part, to first-time feature director and co-writer Eli Craig.  But the lead cast for this film cannot be more perfect:  30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden gets to expand her comedy chops as Allison; Dale is played by Tyler Labine, best known for TV’s short-lived Reaper and the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  But best of all is Firefly/Serenity MVP Alan Tudyk, a talented movie and TV actor whose comedic timing is unparalleled in Hollywood.  He’s simply one of the funniest guys working today.

So if you are in the mood for a great horror-comedy in the tradition of the Evil Dead franchise or Shaun of the Dead, check out Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.  And then, maybe, rethink that backwoods camping trip you were planning for next summer, and come spend your late-July inside a movie theater in Traverse City with me.

Movie

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
MGP10431D
DanHoag

Extras in Their Own Movie: Cars 2

For many Pixar fans, the original Cars was the least interesting addition to the studio's impeccable feature film canon on its initial release. At over two hours, its length may be a factor in viewers’ disdain, but I’d also guess that prejudices against NASCAR and Larry the Cable Guy play a part. Circle racing’s not for everyone (though neither is French cuisine cooked up by rats – the overwhelming praise for Ratatouille still perplexes me).

No circle racing in Cars’ sequel – it’s been ditched for the fictional World Grand Prix road race, moving the action to some of the world's great cities and their frantic pace, and away from Radiator Springs and most of its inhabitants (and the small-town ideals of the original film’s storyline). The main Cars characters found here – race car sensation Lightning McQueen and his trusty, rusty sidekick Mater – get tangled up in an international espionage plot worthy of the James Bond franchise (Mater’s mistaken for a spy, which causes trouble on and off the track between him and Lightning, until… well, like Bond films, do the plot details really matter?).

Ultimately, Cars 2’s returning characters suffer the same fate as the Beatles in Help! – they end up as extras in their own movie. The similarities between the films is striking – the goofy protagonist (Ringo, Mater) works and plays with friends in exotic locales (the Beatles’ proto-video performances, Lightning and Mater’s racing set-pieces) while unwittingly being pursued by a variety of good and bad guys led by award-winning actors (Leo McKern, Michael Caine). The results are similar as well – anyone not having seen the previous film (A Hard Day’s Night, Cars) may have no emotional attachment to the characters on-screen.

Cars 2 isn’t really a bad film – animation is top-notch as always, and if you’re really into spy flicks loaded with action, you may enjoy it without ever having watched the original. Still, since strong emotional attachment to characters in Pixar films is a primary source of those films’ greatness, Cars 2’s inability to sustain that attachment makes it the least of the studio’s feature film efforts to date.

Movie

Cars 2
DIS106709D
KarlK_1

Timeless Classics for Any Year

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been compiling my Best of 2011 list, an annual ritual of sorts, comprised of my favorite books, movies and music published throughout the year. But what about all of the great movies and music from years gone by that I’ve recently embraced and enjoyed? Well, here is a list of films that I’ve recently viewed, some of which are well known classics and others that are gems just waiting to be discovered and checked out. Compared to recently released films, they hold up quite well.

All That Heaven Allows: The great director Douglas Sirk’s classic tale of domestic and social conflict between a restless widow (Jane Wyman) and a close minded society that refuses to accept her love for a younger man played by Rock Hudson. The vibrant Technicolor and use of innovative filming techniques makes this seemingly conventional melodrama an influential touchstone for contemporary directors like Todd Haynes (his great movie Far From Heaven is a reworked homage to Sirk’s classic) and Ranier Fassbinder.

A Streetcar Named Desire: A stunning movie when you consider the time period in which it was made. Everything you’ve read about Marlon Brando’s visceral performance is accurate. His explosive screen presence set the stage for younger method actors to take more expressive approaches to acting. What I didn't know was how mesmerizing Vivian Leigh was going to be as the doomed Blanche DuBois.

Night of the Hunter: A perfectly rendered performance by Robert Mitchum as the creepy murderer posing as a preacher (famously adorned with the words hate and love tattooed on his knuckles) makes Night of the Hunter one of the 1950's most influential films. Mitchum’s deranged killer faces off against two children and an ornery grandmother as he tries to secure a large sum of stolen money. The famous ditty sung by Mitchum throughout the film was referenced by the Joel and Ethan Coen in their 2010 film True Grit during the closing credits.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: One of the director Martin Scorsese’s lesser known films from the 1970’s but a strong, poignant film nonetheless. Driven by the award-winning, tour de force performance of Ellen Burstyn, Alice tells the story of a young mother in search of a career as a torch singer. Unsuccessful in love and singing, Alice ends up in the American Southwest working as a waitress at Mel’s Diner (later to be spun off as a television sitcom). Kris Kristofferson plays a man who shows an interest in Alice and her son. Will Alice settle down and marry or will she head off to California to strike it big as a singer? Her quirky, talkative son provides the movie’s comedic and lighthearted touches. Cameos by future stars include a very young Jodie Foster and Scorsese regular Harvey Keitel.

The Big Sleep: A lively if often convoluted whodunit, this first adaptation of the Raymond Chandler classic, was a major success at the box offices when it was released in 1946. Starring Hollywood’s hottest couple at the time, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, this Phillip Marlowe-centered, detective thriller is one of the few book adaptations that translates well to the big screen in large part to the great chemistry between the two stars and the crackling dialogue, filled with gritty innuendo.

Movie

Alice Doesn't Live here Anymore
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RyanG