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Staff Picks: Movies

My Favorite Movies--G

As part of an ongoing series...

(G) Glengarry Glenross (1992)

With a star studded ensemble comprised of some of the best stage and screen actors (Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Keven Spacey, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris) of their eras, the film adaptation of playwright David Mamet’s foul-mouthed (and Pulitzer-winning) play about a group of real estate salesman vying for the all-important Glengarry leads takes audiences into a claustrophobic office space where desperate men, fueled by suspicion, disdain and competition trade in verbal insults and hard hitting accusations. It’s a testosterone-fueled film comprised mostly of a collection of speeches delivered by alpha men of various stages in their life and careers, all of whom have motivation for stealing the leads and surviving the threat of being fired. 


My Favorite Movies--F

As part of an ongoing series of 26 of my favorite films...

(F) Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Fanny and Alexander was intended to be Ingmar Bergman’s final film in his long and accomplished career. It’s an intimate, semi-autobiographical portrait of a loving but all together imperfect Swedish family set around the turn of the 19th Century. There are the highs, as in the joyous depiction of a family fully indulging in the holiday season and there are the lows, as when Fanny and Alexander must face the cruel fate of their stepfather's brutish, religious conservatism. At times, it’s Bergman at his most convivial, celebratory and wistful and yet at other moments, the austere, melancholic Bergman emerges to plumb the sadness he likely felt as a young, confused boy struggling to understand the disappointments of the adult world. 


Brooklyn Nine-Nine

I can not believe that I'm admitting to enjoying some piece of popular culture that features actor Andy Samberg. I never found him particularly funny while he was a cast member on Saturday Night Live. His brand of humor simply hasn't connected with my brain. But here I am, ready to state for the record that I've been enjoying season one of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a well-written sitcom with an excellent ensemble cast. Yes, it's silly and it's sort of riffing on 1970's cop shows (Barney Miller comes to mind as a referent), but honestly, there's not much out there for those looking for a clever, network show that tickles the funny bone ever since The Office, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock closed up shop.


My Favorite Movies--E

(E) The Elephant Man (1980)

David Lynch’s films are known for their surrealist, unsettling depictions of the intersection where the sinisterly bizarre and the ‘aw shucks’ banal collide, the television series Twin Peaks being the most representational of his singular vision. One of his most commercially successful films, accessible to a wider audience than much of his work, is the 1980 film The Elephant Man, a dreamy, black and white sketch of John Merrick and his infamous deformities. Starring Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt and Anne Bancroft, The Elephant Man certainly has ‘Lynchian’ qualities but it also registers on an emotional level, with audiences coming to sympathize with Merrick’s proud defiance in the face of prejudice and violence.  

 


My Favorite Movies--D

(D) The Double Life of Veronique

Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski’s mysteriously elegant film The Double Life of Veronique explores the supernatural tale of two women, played by the same actress, who never literally meet one another. The two look exactly the same with both feeling the presence of the other. Set in both France and Kieslowski’s native Poland, Irene Jacob stars as both Veronique and Weronika, two women living parallel lives, both of whom sense that they are both ‘here’ and ‘somewhere’ else at the same time. Following Weronika’s death while singing on stage in Poland, Veronique seeks answers to her strange feelings while beginning to stitch together an explanation for the odd events that have begun to culminate around her, increasing both her unease and her curiosity. Kieslowski’s masterful films from Blind Chance (1981) onward brilliantly meditate on the role of chance and choice in determining one’s fate.


My Favorite Films--C

(C) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

The systems of mendacity that we negotiate with both privately and publicly, the lies that we tell ourselves, the illusions and myths that we employ to whitewash and sweep under the rug uncomfortable truths—these are the core ideas and themes that writer Tennessee Williams was grappling with when he wrote the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a classic domestic drama that provides memorable scenes and captivating performances by lead actors Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Burl Ives. Several of Williams’ plays were successfully converted into appreciated films including A Streetcar Named Desire, A Fugitive Kind and Suddenly, Last Summer. The film’s adaptation was in many ways a heavily sanitized and redacted version so as to secure the blessing of Hollywood and its censors. References to homosexuality in the conservative 1950’s was a major no-no. Even so, the film crackles with sharp-tongued dialogue and an amazing ensemble cast that fully embodies the family discord that Williams’ plays so fiercely examined.


My Favorite Films--B

As part of an ongoing series of 26 of my favorite films...

(B) Bulworth

Bulworth, released in 1998, remains one of the most piercing political parodies of its era. Lead actor and director Warren Beatty puts in a tour de force performance as a suicidal, liberal politician whose disillusionment with the corruption of politics and his passive complicity in the system guides him to hire an unknown assassin to put him out of his misery. After a night of partying with a young woman (Halle Berry) and uttering unfiltered statements that he’d never express as a slick politician, Bulworth changes course and decides that he does indeed want to live. Woopsie, now what? Such an absurd premise connects Bulworth to a cinematic tradition of spoof and farce akin to classics like Network, Wag the Dog, In the Loop, Bob Roberts and Dr. Strangelove.


Tu Dors Nicole

Tu Dors Nicole is a furtive, dreamy, less self-conscious take on post-graduation ennui than The Graduate, Frances Ha, or Ghost World, though all three of these older films contain bits and pieces of material that one locates in this small yet accomplished film set in a suburban Montreal neighborhood. The tone of the film is one of gentle melancholy, a perfectly realized depiction of the awkward transition from blithe privilege to the emotional pangs of adulthood.


My Favorite Movies: A-Z

For this post, the first of 25 to follow, I will be recommending a favorite film from each letter of the alphabet. 

(A) The Assassin (2015)

The winner of last year's Cannes Film Festival's award for best director, The Assassin is a visual feast of expertly composed images, poetically rendered to evoke the immense beauty of China and its complex political history. The plot's obtuse delivery left me in a state of confusion throughout the viewing, which for some, might understandably be a deal breaker. However, fans of slowly drawn out portraits of morally conflicted, trained killers can ignore the clunker of a story line while still appreciating the magnificent imagery.


Queen of Earth

Nobody would ever want to be stuck on a train with a character from an Alex Ross Perry film and yet there’s something jabbing and arresting about his work. They’re pitilessly narcissistic, emotionally impaired individuals who are so lacking in self-awareness and empathy, that audiences are likely to want to leap through the screen so as to shake them from their self-absorption. They also function as absurdist vessels for sly, hilariously dark humor. His newest film, Queen of Earth, is a stylistic and tonal leap from his previous film Listen Up Philip. While Perry is certainly charting his own discrete path in an age of Hollywood re-treads, blockbuster franchises, book adaptations, and sanitized biopics, his newest work feels in many ways like the child of two previously made psycho-dramas, Ingmar Bergman’s beguiling Persona (1966) and Roman Polanski’s unsettling Repulsion (1965).

Elizabeth Moss gives an electric performance as a woman slowly descending toward a psychic breakdown over the course of several days while vacationing at a friend’s lake house. The strained relationship between Moss’ Katherine and her friend Virginia leads to questions which may or may not have answers connected to events during the previous summer. One vicious, verbal battle after another between the two antagonistic women and the peripheral men in their lives drives the film’s plot forward with Moss' character growing increasingly erratic.

With a throw-back score, overwrought but necessarily so, that sounds as though it was taken straight from a 1980’s horror film pulsating throughout the film, Perry juxtaposes the film’s bucolic setting with a murky, sinister tone that works to discomfit viewers and their narrative bearings, throwing them off the trail of what kind of movie they’re watching. Is it a horror film or a comedy or something in between? These are the sort of questions I hope Perry continues to ask of his audiences.