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Staff Picks: Movies

The Graduate

The groundbreaking 1967 film The Graduate has recently been re-released as part of the Criterion Collection. With additional commentary and interviews with both those in front of and behind the camera, admirers of the film or those who have only heard about this celebrated masterwork will find a lot to enjoy. A fabulous film, rich with layers of social commentary, satire and taboo-probing humor, The Graduate gave life to Dustin Hoffman’s career as a leading man and cemented Anne Bancroft’s character (Mrs. Robinson) as an iconic, pop cultural reference point.

Only director Mike Nichols’ second feature film, The Graduate is a sharp and stylish examination of the generational fault lines and collapsing social mores between the counter-cultural baby boomers and their "plastic", establishment-friendly parents. It’s also a film that tonally jumps back and forth from zany to poignant in ways that were unique for a mid-1960’s film. The now-famous usage of Simon and Garfunkel’s music as a score employed to shift audience emotion and narrative movement is common place now but in 1967 it was a fresh way of supplementing the story and its images.


My Favorite Films--X

A continuing series of 26 posts about movies...

(X) Xanadu

Ok, well maybe not one of my “favorite” films, Xanadu (1980) perfectly embodies its cultural moment—a bizarre, train wreck of a science fiction meets musical fever dream that features a fair amount of roller skating and dancing, the cameo of a golden era Hollywood star (Gene Kelly), the girl from Grease, a great soundtrack featuring ELO, and all the weirdness that you’d expect from such an assortment of poorly conceived and executed concepts. Available to stream via Hoopla.


My Favorite Films--Q

As part of an ongoing series of 26 posts...

(Q) Quadrophenia

The 1979 cult classic Quadrophenia is both a coming of age portrait of angsty, misunderstood British youth during the middle years of the 1960’s and a celebratory nod to Mod and scooter culture. Adapted to the big screen from the rock and roll opera written by the band The Who, the film follows the Vespa obsessed kids who bicker with the establishment (i.e. parents and bosses), just want to take drugs, dance to soul music, and battle their rivals, the leather clad Rockers (those who ride motorcycles). The film’s story is a rather hum drum one but it ultimately succeeds in capturing the style, energy and essence of growing up within a particular subculture. 


My Favorite Films--P

Part of an ongoing series of 26 posts about movies...

(P) Petulia

I discovered the little known 1968 film Petulia starring Julie Christie and George C. Scott working at the Denver Public Library many moons ago and it still remains today as rich and beguiling for me as when I first delved into its fragmented plotting and unconventional “love story”. Directed by Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night) and shot by Nicolas Roeg (Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth), the film’s bouncy narrative from present to past to future and back again, echoes the influence of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour and Muriel, two films whose styles presented reality as a confusing matrix of memory and perception. Petulia’s aim was not as philosophically grounded as Resnais’ was but its unconventional storytelling fits perfectly with its charming confrontation with the substance and surface of relationships between individuals. Lester’s film mixes comedic absurdity and occasional satire with a teasing plot centered around two married people drawn to one another but who know little of themselves or the other for that matter. Throw in a beautiful score by the great film composer John Barry, a sort-of kidnapped boy from Mexico, a cameo from The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, and Roeg’s cinematography and you have a real gem of a movie that sadly, hasn’t received the attention it deserves.  


My Favorite Films--N

Part of an ongoing series of 26 posts...

(N) Night of the Hunter

Directed in 1955 by British actor Charles Laughton (his only directed film) and written by James Agee (novelist, journalist, critic, screenwriter) Night of the Hunter is a thrilling classic full of mayhem, murder and chase sequences that are beautifully rendered with a gorgeous, expressionist style. Starring the brilliant, anti-Hollywood actor Robert Mitchum (memorably tattooed with “love” and “hate” on his knuckles) as a traveling (and frequently singing) preacher whose motive for marrying a young, emotionally fragile widow is uncovered by her two children, the film works as an ominous fairy tale of the Grimm Brothers kind with the occasional humor to lighten the movie’s dark atmosphere. 


My Favorite Films--K

Part of an ongoing series of posts...

(K) The Killing

The Killing is one of director Stanley Kubrick’s early films (1956) and while it may not receive the critical attention that his later masterpieces secure (Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining), it holds up as a thrilling, tautly-paced, narratively complex (The great pulp writer Jim Thompson wrote the script) robbery film with an amazing ensemble cast led by Sterling Hayden. What makes The Killing such a noir classic is how the plot cleverly snakes about the amazing dialogue and strong performances, leaving audiences on the ends of their seat all the way to the final scene. Also available to stream through Hoopla.


My Favorite Films--J

(J) La Jetee

It’s less than 30 minutes long and comprised of still photographs, and yet Chris Marker’s 1963 La Jetee is an oddly moving work about the power of memory that continues to beguile audiences. Marker himself was an aloof and enigmatic character (his name being a pseudonym) whose work today is largely unknown. The film’s plot is of a man sent back in time to ostensibly thwart the causes of a war that has killed millions of people and left survivors to live underground. The British director Terry Gilliam was so fancied by Marker’s film that he made 12 Monkeys, a movie with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt that expanded upon the original's austere plot by fleshing out a more substantive science fiction thriller full of twists and turns.


My Favorite Films--H

Part of an ongoing series of posts...

(H) Hiroshima Mon Amour and Harold and Maude

If I had to name my two favorite films, they would be Alain Resnais’ touching and form-shifting meditation on memory and psychic trauma brought about from WWII, Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Harold and Maude, a clever satire released in 1971 that fused together counter-cultural verve with a tradition-breaking love story between an eccentric 80 year-old woman (the brilliant Ruth Gordon) and a troubled, young man seeking to free himself from the spirit-killing, bourgeoisie life he lives (Bud Cort). Both films are centered on two individuals that come together in spite of their age and cultural differences in order to free themselves from the emotional baggage driving them to despair. Harold and Maude initially flopped at the box office upon its release but over time became a beloved, cult classic recognized today for its mixture of hippy idealism and irreverent mocking of authority, war and conformity. There’s also the amazing Cat Stevens penned soundtrack that seamlessly slithers throughout the film, adding levity to the movie's dark humor. 

Harold and Maude-Criterion's 3 Reasons

 


Movies Within Movies

The newest Coen Brothers film Hail, Caesar! is out now in theaters which got me thinking about other films (and they are numerous) that are essentially films within a film or in some cases films about filmmaking, the industry of Hollywood or that meditate upon the artistic process. Here is a small list of seminal meta-movies that situate the subject of cinema as their primary focus.

Sunset Boulevard
Day for Night
8 ½
Singin’ in the Rain
The Artist
Bowfinger
Barton Fink
Close-Up
Contempt
Mulholland Drive
Get Shorty
Adaptation


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.