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Staff Picks: Movies

My Favorite Films--Y

An ongoing series of 26 posts about movies...

(Y) Yi Yi (2006)

Described as a film about “everything and nothing”, Yi Yi is writer/director Edward Yang’s moving, slice of life portrait about the ups and downs, beginnings and endings, laments and celebrations of a middle-class Taiwanese family. Centered on N.J. and his family, Yang depicts the magical moments in life by juxtaposing them against a backdrop of the mundane. The film begins by showing us a wedding and then quickly cuts to our protagonist's mother-in-law’s failing health, stressing the overlapping and sometimes paradoxical nature of life’s imperfect unfolding. Yang expertly evokes the poetry of the everyday in all of its messy dynamics, showing us the beautiful interplay between humor, tragedy, romance and ritual from the perspective of the three primary characters, the father, teenage daughter and the eight year-old son. 

My Favorite Films--U

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

(U) Umberto D.

The cinematic movement called Italian Neorealism developed in the mid 1940’s through the mid 1950’s. The films were largely defined by their realist approach to engaging in more socially conscious subjects. These films often used non-professional actors, were shot on location and explored the complex social, economic and religious impact of world war two and Fascism upon both the rich and the poor. Some of the great films of this era include Roberto Rossellini’s Open City (1945), Paisan (1946), Europe ’51, and Journey to Italy, Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (1942), The Earth Trembles (1948), and Bellissima (1951). Vitorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948) is widely considered one the greatest films of all time. It's a portrait of a desperate man’s desire to find steady work in order to provide for his family. It’s an emotionally searing example of Neorealism’s penchant for depicting reality in unsentimental, unvarnished ways.

Di Sica’s 1952 film was Umberto D., a heart wrenching story about an elderly man and his beloved dog wandering the Roman streets without any kind of stable housing or employment opportunities. Too old to work, Umberto and his four legged companion seek the kindness of others as their hope for stability increasingly turns to despair.

My Favorite Films--O

As part of a series of 26 posts...

(O) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

It’s a slow burner of a film about a murder and the various men who venture into the dark of night tasked with locating the deceased’s body. The audience knows who did it, we view early on the murderer sitting between two police officers in the back of a car traversing the Turkish countryside. The murder isn't central to the film's plot but rather a catalyst for meditating upon the interior lives of its varied cast of characters. It’s a film about what goes unsaid, that which is often communicated in silence and the elapse of time. It’s a film about a single night and the complicated pasts of men living through a moment of everyday banality, when personal anguish simmers beneath the unshaven face. 

A Different Kind of Movie

Crumbs is different kind of movie that will be ingrained in your head for a long time. It is a mind tripping movie, if you are into that this is a good movie for you. It takes place in the future after earth has been at war. It has spectacular post-apocalyptic Ethiopian landscapes. It starts out with us seeing this little guy (Gagano) rummaging through things and finding a small artificial Christmas tree. While putting this treasure away he sees a figure in a uniform with a Nazi swastika on his arm, a helmet on his head and Mickey Mouse ears. Gagano is afraid and runs home to his abandoned bowling alley where a woman awaits him called Birdy. That night the bowling alley for some reason turns on and a bowling ball is returned through the chute. Gagano thinks that the space ship that is hovering above in the sky is starting up and causing magnetic disturbances so he first prays to the shrine they have built honoring Michael Jordan and then off he goes to find the witch. The witch tells him to follow the train tracks and look for Santa Clause, he pays her with a Michael Jackson vinyl record. They do some of that what is valuable now, after the war, in the future stuff. There is a scene where a Teenage Ninja Turtle plastic figurine is bartered over. Gagano follows the tracks, meets interesting people and sees interesting things. He eventually finds Santa Clause. You will have to watch it for yourself to see what happens. Here is a hint, Santa is not a jovial round old man with a beard, and Gagano wears a Super Man outfit. The movie is 68 minutes and well worth it. You should also watch the extras, they have some odd stories also. A gang approached the crew when they were entering an abandoned park and demanded money. The narrator says “They had guns, we had money, we gave them our money” Check it out at KPL

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--I

As part of an ongoing series of posts...

(I) Ida

Ida, which won for Best Foreign Language film in 2015, is an affecting work of direction, acting, writing, and cinematography (you won’t find a more beautifully lit and framed film). It’s a story that seamlessly weaves together the residue of historical tragedy into the contemporary lives of its two protagonists, echoing the truism that societies and individuals are held hostage by their ever present pasts. 

It’s 1962 and for the 18 year-old Anna (an orphan who grew up in a convent), the spectre of history will reveal itself in the form of an Aunt Wanda, a woman she was told to meet prior to taking her vows. Anna quickly discovers that her birth name was Ida and that she was born into a Jewish family. Wanda is a bitter, hard drinking, judge whose disenchanted life is filled with lost faith (both in religion and Communism), grief and the embrace of the kinds of materialist vices unknown to her pious niece. Plotted along a linear path that takes the form of an unfolding road trip, Ida and Wanda’s investigation into the death of their family members forces each woman to recognize internal contradictions about themselves (Wanda’s past may also include her complicity in wide spread death and imprisonment) as well as to shine a light on Poland’s conflicted history, where religious identity, communism, and the Holocaust intersect. Subtle in its storytelling, tender and humane in the depiction of complex characters, classical in its framing of images, Ida is a flawless film that will leave you mesmerized and wondering as to Ida's future.

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
Barton Fink
Mulholland Drive
Get Shorty

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. 

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.