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Staff Picks: Movies

Liked That/Try This

And another installment of Liked That, Try This

Liked The Lives of Others, try Barbara
Liked Mad Max: Fury Road, try The Rover
Liked Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, try Dope
Liked Selma, try In the Name of the Father
Liked M.A.S.H. try Bulworth
Liked Wonder Boys, try The Extra Man
Liked All That Heaven Allows, try Far from Heaven

Fuzzy Memories

Memory loss, amnesia and the human tendency to construct images and establish narratives in the service of making sense of the past has long fascinated filmmakers, writers and artists. The ‘unreliable narrator’ has been employed by many a director and writer to create a world of uncertainty and suspense within the mind of the viewer. I enjoy films that explore the discontinuity and fallibility of our memories in the service of depicting the unstable character of our perception toward others, including our own limitations of understanding of the self. This depiction of the cruelty of unpredictability has found its way inside the DNA of countless films that have dealt with the subject in varied ways, some through the vehicle of a character’s mind and others through a narrative approach.

Hiroshima Mon Amour
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Away from Her
Total Recall
Before I Go to Sleep
The Vow
Last Year at Marienbad
The Bourne Trilogy
Dark City
The Long Kiss Goodnight

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

Wings of Desire

I haven’t watched Wings of Desire in quite some time but it’s a film that crossed my mind this afternoon after reading a news article about the singer Nick Cave (he makes a cameo late in the film). It’s a wonderful film directed by the German Wim Wenders and starring a fantastic Bruno Ganz, the American actor Peter Falk and Otto Sander. Hailed by critics upon its release in 1987, it’s a story about two angels (Damiel and Cassiel) stuck inside of a kind of purgatorial state, neither heaven nor hell, where angels are continuously present but without the benefit of the senses. The two of them wander the streets and drift about the West Berlin citizenry, unseen by everyone but children. They provide solace to the suffering and observe the human condition in all of its messy beauty, cruelty and chance. Ganz’s Damiel grows increasingly frustrated with this kind of aloof, calcified perfection. His wanting to know and to feel the emotional rawness of the human experience positions him in opposition to his duties. The desire to love and be loved, to taste both joy and pain begins to out weight the promise of an immortal yet detached life (one born before there were humans) of angelic service. Wenders has constructed a poetic fable about the embrace of life without the trappings of sentimentality.

Too Much of the Same

Young people will fall madly in love. War is hell. You could fill a football stadium with the number of books and films that have taught us these truths and so I cannot recommend Testament of Youth based in large part upon its frustrating resistance to provide viewers with something original. The dream crushing effect of war on the young people who wage it and those who must carry on afterward are dutifully, if not numbingly so, depicted with one tragic scene after another. Based upon the popular World War I memoir by Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth’s actors try their best (the actor Alicia Vikander is destined for stardom) to work with a lethargic screenplay that simply doesn’t allow viewers to feel anything but deadening sorrow.

White God

The 2015 Hungarian film White God is part R-rated fairy tale, part coming of age narrative, part allegory, and part revenge thriller. If this sounds tonally uneven, you’d be spot on in your analysis. These seemingly disparate constituents do by the end, congeal to form an interesting if not imperfect film. Set in a city that has banned mixed dog breeds, a young girl hopelessly searches for her pet after her father abandons the dog along the side of the road. Needless to say, the abused and demonized dogs in this town aren't going to take it sitting down and thus the element of getting even courses throughout. The film on the level of directing and dog training certainly deserves the acclaim it has received given the amazing results without the use of CGI.

One of the Best of 2015

Coming soon, our staff curated best-of round up will be posted for library users but in the meantime, here is one of my favorite movies released in 2015 that will make my list. 

Ex Machina is one of this year’s best films. Led by strong performances by actors Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander, director/writer Alex Garland’s debut doesn’t attempt to reinvent the clever, ideas-filled sci-fi movie that many have described it as being but it definitely doesn’t shy away from immersing the viewer in an original and intense examination of philosophical, scientific and moral investigations that feel both pertinent and cinematically fresh. Surely, it is a work that explores what so many science fiction films before it have tried to grapple with, the question of what makes us human in an age where artificial intelligence not only exists in the conceptual realm but in the everyday as well. What drives Ex Machina to stand out as a great film are the subtleties that the actors and the director bring to the weighty subject matter that should result in some abundant, late night conversations about the film’s themes, ambiguities and symbolism.

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.