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IsleofCinema and BoxingUweBoll have teamed up to bring you The TOP 20 CLOSING SCENES in film, as selected by our writers. We continue our countdown with part 3 – numbers 10-6:

10.) Jackie Brown (1997) – Quentin Tarantino

[by Louis Doerge]

Being that the foundation for Quentin Tarantino’s critical success certainly doesn’t stem from his ability to create great romances, it seems odd that the ending to Jackie Brown is (what I consider to be) one of the most romantic and bittersweet scenes in motion picture history. Throughout the film we’ve been subjected to scenes featuring flight-attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) and bail-bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) falling for each other while trying to pull a heist on gun-dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). The film’s final moments consist of these two middle-aged, would be companions performing brilliantly, managing to pine for one another and simultaneously recognize that theirs is a relationship that won’t work. They kiss briefly, only to be interrupted by a phone call. While Max struggles to feign interest in his business call, he watches Jackie leave out his front door, then promptly requests his client call him back in thirty minutes. Given how strong-willed, calm and collected he’s been for the entire film, there’s something to be said for Max suddenly needing a moment – even if it is just a half-hour. Tarantino’s closing shot features Jackie driving away, lip syncing the words to Bobby Womack‘s “Across 110th Street“. Like Forster, Grier’s sadness is incredibly tacit, exposing a soft side that Tarantino hasn’t expressed since.

09.) Being There (1979) – Hal Ashby

[by Sean Carnegie]

After fostering the meteoric rise of simple-minded Chance (Peter Sellers) amongst Washington DC’s political elite, banker and power-broker Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas) finally succumbs to his battle with anemia. As his coffin is carried to his crypt by his kingmaker friends, they discuss  in whispered tones the forthcoming presidential election and which candidate they should throw their support behind in hopes maintaining their political clout. The unanimous conclusion is Chance. Ever disinterested in their machinations – or the funeral itself for that matter – Chance wanders away through the forest. He comes upon a lake and, seeing something on the far side that strikes his fancy, miraculously walks toward it on the water’s surface. This parting shot beautifully captures the perfect, unadulterated innocence of a man who lives beyond the institutions of guile, malice or simple reason. He is, in every way, above the scheming and back room dealing that have become synonymous with American politics and, as such, unwittingly stumbled into the unlikely role of Idiot-Savant Messiah. As he walks across the calm waters you can’t help but feel a twinge of anxiety at the possibility of this sweet, nonthreatening man-child being swept up into a malicious and destructive world of which he has little to no understanding. The scene becomes even more bittersweet when you realize that this was Seller’s penultimate on-screen performance – and that he, like Chance, was walking steadily toward his destiny. Life is, indeed, a state of mind.

08.) Don’t Look Now (1973) – Nicolas Roeg

[by David Micevic]

Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now remains one of the most mesmerizing of all horror films because the majority of its terror emanates from within rather than manifesting as an external danger. It’s the story of a couple, John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), tortured by the accidental drowning of their daughter. As they travel through Venice, John encounters a mysterious figure in a red raincoat—the same red raincoat his daughter was wearing when she died. Meanwhile, a blind seer tells Laura that she has spoken with her daughter, and conveys her sense of peace and tranquility in the afterlife. As Laura begins to accept her daughter’s death, John hunts relentlessly for her ghostly apparition among a swirling backdrop of mounting eroticism and tension. All this boils over into the movie’s startling conclusion, in which John confronts what he believes to be his daughter’s ghost, cornering it in an abandoned structure. The moment when the figure turns to reveal its ghastly true form remains stunningly horrifying not because it embodies the tired old “gotcha” moment synonymous with horror films, but because it marks the inevitable end result to an impossible obsession. The monstrous figure John stares down could be just about anything, it need not be a tangible threat (although, from a narrative perspective, it most certainly is), but rather the sad realization that those who cannot let go of the past face nothing but hardship and disappointment… which unfortunately for John Baxter also includes death.

07.) Dr. Strangelove (1964) – Stanley Kubrick

[by David Micevic]

Has there ever been a more iconic movie image than Major Kong riding a plummeting atomic bomb as if it were a bucking bronco, appropriately waving his Stetson wildly in the air? This single act of destruction, colored in broad comic strokes, sets in motion the entire famous ending sequence to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; an ending that takes its bizarre fascination with mankind’s annihilation and subverts it with satirical, incisive humor that lessens what objectively should be viewed as an immensely dreadful occurrence. The scene is loaded with off-kilter jokes: Nazi-defector Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers in one of three roles) lays out a post-apocalyptic contingency plan involving subterranean dwellings and a ten-women-to-every-man breeding plan that appeals to the libidinous General Turgidson (George C. Scott); the Americans start planning in advance for another arms race with the Soviets even as the world crumbles around them. To top it all off, the whole thing ends with a throwaway gag in which the wheelchair-bound Strangelove rises to his feet and declares “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!” before the film launches into its legendary closing sequence of nuclear bombs detonating across the globe; all set to Vera Lynn’s soothing “We’ll Meet Again.” Often mimicked, rarely surpassed; given the lasting influence of this single scene and its morbid juxtaposition of destruction and comedy, it’s hard to imagine that initially Dr. Strangelove was intended to be a drama. Lucky for us, Kubrick knew better.

06.) Psycho (1960) –  Alfred Hitchcock

[by Nick Burd]

Heralded by some as the first psychoanalytic thriller, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho starts out as a simple tale of workplace embezzlement and turns into an analysis of a man who has lost his grip on reality to a degree that is both wildly dangerous and slightly comical. Even the few people out there who haven’t seen the film are familiar with the basics of the plot: a cross-dressing hotel manager keeps his mother’s dead body around the house and butchers one of his guests in the shower. While cultural familiarity and changing taboos may have forever lessened the film’s punch, many at the time labeled it an indulgent festival of gore and sex. Censors at the time were shocked by the opening scene which featured Janet Leigh in a bra, and the sound of Marion Crane, (Leigh’s tragic character) flushing the toilet caused quite a stir as well. So imagine how audiences felt at the end of the film when Marion’s sister Lila (played by Vera Miles) makes that grizzly discovery in Norman Bates’ basement. Now multiply that by a wild-eyed, dragged-up Anthony Perkins bursting in with a butcher knife. Needless to say, Psycho was unlike anything that came before it. But for all its campiness, the picture still manages to hold a firm, terrifying grip on the cultural consciousness. While its influence can be seen everywhere, from De Palma’s Dressed to Kill to Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs, there’s nothing quite as creepy Norman Bates thinking in his mother’s voice that he wouldn’t hurt a fly.

[admin. note: almost made it through an entire post without an ‘embedding disabled’ link. But alas, it was not meant to be.]

Hope you’ve enjoyed parts 12 and now 3. Be sure to tune in next week when we bring you the Finale to the Finales countdown post: part 4! And be sure to check out Boxing Uwe Boll for the countdown of the top 20 film openings!

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August 1, 2011   1 Comment

Instant Classics: Criterion on Netflix #126-150

I hate to start things off with an apology, but I feel it’s somewhat necessary. The past two weeks of my life have been assaulted by a trifecta of distractions in the form of new job responsibilities, the NBA playoffs (RIP CITY!) and the glorious onset of springtime in New York City. I don’t know about you but when the weather and people outside are so damn beautiful, keeping myself focused on obscure Czech films from half a century ago becomes somewhat of a chore. That being said, I have reviews for you! Enjoy! And hopefully next week I’ll be back with more.

-126-127. Ordet; Gertrude (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1955; 1964) [Unavailable]

Two films by Dreyer that portray the various and sundry ways a family can rip itself apart. Not exactly summer reading.

-128. Carl Th. Dreyer: My Metier (Torben Skjodt Jensen, 1995) [Unavailable]

A documentary on the life and times of one of the most unstreamed directors in Netflix’s catalogue.

-129. Le Trou (Jacques Becker, 1960) [Unavailable]

Fantastic jailbreak movie from one of the most overlooked directors in French cinema. If people such as Francois Truffaut and Jean Renoir like a guy’s films, it goes without saying that they are worth looking into.

-130. The Shop on Main Street (Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos, 1965) [Unavailable]

Is there such a thing as “too much” Nazi/Soviet-bashing? Probably not, but Czech New Wave Cinema definitely did it’s damnedest to find out and this film is no exception.

-131. Closely Watched Trains (Jiri Menzel, 1966)

Milos Hrma comes from a long line of malingerers who have been adept at one thing: profitably avoiding hard work. The family is proud and the neighbors are jealous when young Milos takes a position as an apprentice at a small railway station in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. While he excels at his mindlessly easy job, he has yet to succeed in the matters of love and thus his coworker takes it upon himself to tutor young Milos in the manly art of carousing.

The verdict is in (and it rhymes!): Czechs love sex. Seriously, a ton of the books and films coming out of soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia in the 60’s were transfixed by the freeing powers of some good, old copulatin’. This film, along with the rest of the Czech New Wave, is subtle, wry and subversive. The Germans are a clear stand-in for the Soviet oppressors of the time and the cast do their level best to constantly question and impede the efforts of the occupying force and it’s collaborators. When one takes into account the country’s political climate at the time, it’s rather amazing that Menzel, Milos Foreman or any of the other Czech directors were able to get away with this type of blatant, political jabbing but I’m nonetheless thankful that they did.

-132. The Ruling Class (Peter Medak, 1972)

When his father dies in an unfortunate autoerotic accident, Jack Gurney (Peter O’Toole) finds that he is now the 14th Earl of Gurney. Trouble is, he’s already got a job: being God. Mortified by Jack’s delusion that he is Jesus Christ, his conniving uncle decides he must marry Jack off so that he may produce an heir to the Earldom and be committed once and for all. All is going to plan until Jack’s doctor makes a shocking breakthrough at the last moment, and sanity seems to have been restored to the House of Gurney. Or has it?

Utterly scathing social commentary of the highest order. This film attacks every aspect of and preconceived notion held by the British aristocracy and religious establishment with gusto and razor sharp wit. O’Toole plays a strangely loony straight-man to the rest of the cast’s crumbling stiff upper lips. The dialog is so quick and dry, you may miss the delicately delivered punch-lines until a few beats after they’ve been spoken (and their full, satirical intent until even later).

-133. The Vanishing (George Sluizer, 1988) [Unavailable]

This film is a truly haunting experience. Too many “missing persons” movies turn to improbable terrorist/serial killer cliches (I’m looking at you, Liam Neeson’s Current Career Choices) to satisfy the audience’s need for a defeatable antagonist. This is probably much closer to the real thing. Really bummed it’s not streaming on Netflix but it IS online for $5 at Criterion.com.

-134. Häxan (Benjamin Christensen, 1922) [Unavailable]

This awesomely creepy witchcraft movie is right up there with Nosferatu as one of my favorite silent horror films.

-135-137. Rebecca; Spellbound; Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940; 1945; 1946) [Unavailable] target=”_blank”>


OK, I’m overreacting a little bit, but I mean, come on. I can stream The Lady Vanishes but none of these? What’s your GAME, Netflix?

-138. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)

This is, hands down, my absolute favorite Kurosawa film. While I love pretty much everything the legendary director brought to the table, this is one of those films where even the most uninitiated viewer can grasp just how revolutionary the man was. The film opens on three men seeking shelter from a downpour in the ruins of the titular city gate. Two of them have just come from a murder trial where they heard three wildly differing testimonies of the crime: one from the criminal (Toshiro Mifune) who is the chief suspect, one from the raped wife of the victim, and one from the ghost of the victim himself as related through a medium. The extraordinary thing is, each person takes the responsibility of the murder upon themselves. As the stories are told, it becomes clear that no one is telling the truth about the events and, as such, the truth may never be known.

Just in looking at the central storytelling method, you can tell that this is not your average movie. While Kurosawa did not come up with the multiple POV plot (the movie is based on a short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa), the way he perfectly captures the multiple, varying stories was something that had never been done before. He pioneered not only the concept of multiple shots to further increase the dynamism of his action pieces but also made use almost entirely of ambient, outdoor light. Not only do both of these concepts see heavy use in contemporary cinema to this day, but the multiple POV storytelling technique has been aped so many times in such films as Hero, Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects and a veritable litany of TV episodes, that it is now referred to as “The Rashomon Effect”.

-139. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

What’s this? A Bergman film? Streaming? On Netflix?! Such things are unheard of! Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjostrom, one of the founders of Swedish Cinema who had a profound influence on Bergman) is a crotchety old man who has severed most of his personal connections to the outside world. On the day he is to be awarded for his 50 years as a doctor and a scientist, he takes a long car ride from his isolated home accompanied by his daughter-in-law. Along the way he encounters several people and a series of dreams that make him reevaluate his choices that have made him and empty, lonely old man.

Chock full of beautiful imagery and camerawork, Wild Strawberries finds Bergman at his surrealist best. The dream sequences are both haunting and profound and the presence of one of Sweden’s cinematic luminaries in the lead role no doubt went a long way to making this film nigh on perfect. When I was first introduced to this filmmaker’s work, I was struck by his delicate yet powerful grasp of humanity’s fear of a meaningless life being bookended by a meaningless death. If anything, this film proves that Bergman should have had no such fears when his own time came.

-140. 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963)

Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is a famous director who is stricken with a crippling case of “director’s block” while filming his wildly ambitious and semi-autobiographical science fiction masterpiece. The root of his troubles seems to be the multiple demands and distractions placed upon him by his wife, mistress and producers but a series of flashbacks (dreams? alternate realities?) begin to unearth a different story.

Those of you who have been reading this column for a while may want to sit down: I really like this film. I know that I have been highly critical and dismissive of Fellini’s other works and I still stand by those statements. Prior comments notwithstanding, Fellini crafted a gorgeous, hypnotic and highly metaphysical nesting doll of a movie here. Starting with the title, which is self-referential to this being his “8 1/2th” directorial effort, through to the film’s plot mirroring Fellini’s own life at that time, the layers of symbolism and allegory are piled on like an infinitely skinned onion. Just try to walk through this in your head: Fellini was suffering writer’s block and marital problems while working on a film, so he changed the script to reflect what was going on in his personal life and ended up with a film about a director who was suffering from writer’s block and marital issues while working on a film, so then THAT director starts making a film about *fizzle pop burn nosebleed*. On every level, this film is a revolutionary triumph of the art of cinema.

-141. Children of Paradise (Marcel Carne, 1945)

Set in the bustling theater district of early 19th century Paris, a beautiful young courtesan named Garance (Arletty) finds herself on the receiving end of four very different men’s very different ideas of love. An actor, a mime, a thief and an aristocrat all covet her affections but none of them want her to be as she is. On a more esoteric level, the film is using the trappings of theater’s past to tell the story of cinema’s present and future.While fighting for Garance’s attention, the four men are all drawn into the plot as players, writers and patrons.

I can’t really delve into the plot much deeper than those few sentences without giving away enough of the plot to spoil some really spectacular moments in the film. Suffice it to say, this film, at 3+ hours in length and spanning nearly a decade of storytelling, is epic in every way. All four of the men are based on real historical figures of the time and the set pieces have a fantastically accurate ramshackle quality about them that calls to mind The Gangs of New York. While it is a bit of chore to sit all the way through, Children of Paradise will reward the attentive viewer with a touching story of love, duplicity and the fine art of acting.

-142. The Last Wave (Peter Weir, 1977) [Unavailable]

OK so Peter Weir really shot himself in the foot with the whole Master and Commander debacle. Still and all, this movie is outstanding and can you really hate on a guy who managed to elicit genuinely target=”_blank”>watchable performances out of both Robin Williams AND Ethan Hawke?

-143. That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Buñuel, 1977)

As recounted to his fellow passengers on a Paris-bound train, Mathieu (frequent Buñuel collaborator Fernando Rey) falls in love with a beautiful young maid named Conchita (played by Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina. We’ll get to that later.). While Mathieu is obsessed with seducing the girl, Conchita holds his satisfaction tantalizingly out of reach. While her constant coquettishness keeps drives Mathieu away, it also has the power to keep luring him back to her, until he reaches what he thinks is the final straw.

Like many of Buñuel’s films, this is all about the destruction we wreak upon ourselves in the name of pursuing our desires. Mathieu comes from a privileged background and so feels secure in his right to possess what ever it is that he wants, in this case, Conchita. Conchita comes from an impoverished background in an oppressive country (Franco’s Spain) and so feels that she must fight off anything or anybody who would impede her absolute sense of freedom, in this case, Mathieu. While both of them love one another, their desire to behave just as they always have and never compromise ultimately trumps their desire for each other. Conchita is especially conflicted, and Buñuel uses his two actresses to further outline a single woman’s hot and cold tendencies in his typically surrealist fashion.

-144. Loves of a Blonde (Milos Forman, 1965)

After the communist government has forced a large number of women to relocate to a remote town in the Czech countryside and work in it’s shoe factory, the city officials and factory bosses notice that the number of women now greatly outweighs the number of men. This problem is affecting the women’s happiness and productivity, so the government relocates and army base to the town in the hopes of fixing the problem they have made. Andula, one of the women at the factory attends a state-sponsered mixer for the soldiers and factory workers and falls for Milda, the pianist at the event. The two end up spending the night together but when Milda returns to his home in Prague, Andula feels compelled to follow.

It’s hard to write a compelling synopsis of this film because its plot is so deceptively simple. Underneath the skin of the standard girl-meets-boy proceedings are many veiled jabs at the Soviet-backed government that was in power when Milos Forman directed this film. Andula and Milda find themselves in an artificial relationship because of the failed social engineering practices of their government, but one that is still as tender and real as any other, no matter how temporary it may be. Many films in Czech cinema’s New Wave championed the notion that sex was the one freedom that totalitarianism could never conquer, and this film is no different, conveying that notion with all the sentiment and vulnerability of a teenage crush.

-145. The Fireman’s Ball (Milos Forman, 1967) [Unavailable]

I watched this many years back and all I can remember about it is getting to the end and thinking, “Meh.” Then again, I used to like Fight Club back then, so it’s a bit of a toss-up.

-146. The Cranes Are Flying (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957) [Unavailable]

Art House film from Soviet Russia. Leave the Yakov Smirnoff jokes at the door, people.

[admin. note: pardon the interruption but I am compelled to let you know that Kalatozov’s 1964 film, I Am Cuba – a historic bit of Soviet propaganda and a fantastic example of film direction at it’s finest – is available on Netflix streaming, and is highly recommended. A review is pending]

-147. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000) [Unavailable]

This was JUST available on Netflix Instant and I’m mildly pissed that I didn’t get to it in time because, like everything else the man does, it’s unspeakably beautiful.

-148. Ballad of a Soldier (Grigori Chukhrai, 1959)

After a singular display of bravery on WWII’s Eastern Front a young soldier named Alexei is given six days of leave to go visit his mother. Along with several other discharged soldiers and a young woman, Alexei begins his tightly scheduled journey home. On the way, he finds his progressed blocked by obstacles both natural and manmade, but his spirit never wavers.

While the dynamic and rapid-fire camera work are call-backs to the work of Sergei Eisenstein, the storytelling is pure post-Stalin “New Soviet Cinema”. At a time when the French were aggressively slashing and burning as much entrenched cinematic dogma as they could get their hands on, their Russian counterparts were just beginning to explore the newfound freedoms available in the wake of one of the world’s worst despots. Where previous Russian war films had sought to glorify the achievements of the Soviet military at large, this film takes a closer look at the personal cost of the individuals.

-149. Juliet of the Spirits (Federico Fellini, 1965) [Unavailable]

I’d call this film “plodding” but that would infer a mistaken sense of forward thrust that is almost completely absent here.

-150. Bob Le Flambeur (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1956)

Bob (Roger Duchesne) is an aging gambler and ex-con who’s luck and money have almost run dry. Desperate for cash, Bob joins several other hoods in planning to rob a casino vault. Everything is going according to plan until Anne, the young woman that Bob is taking care of, accidently divulges the details of the heist to the wrong person and puts the whole operation at risk.

Awash in indecipherable French slang and atmospheric set pieces, Bob Le Flambeur is classic noir cinema to the bone, and yet still boasts a proto-New Wave pedigree. The seedy, neon-washed streets of Paris’ Montmartre district provide just as much atmosphere to the back-room plots and back-alley double crosses as LA ever did. In this film, not only did Melville betrays his passion for old-school American Crime dramas, but elevated the genre with the type of hand-held camerawork and a solitary jump cut that presaged the impending French film revolution by several years.

What an all around excellent selection of films! I seriously loved every single one that I saw. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some springtime to soak up.

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May 3, 2011   No Comments

Instant Classics: Criterion on Netflix #51-75

Round 3 of Instant Classics is here! This project is indeed quite an undertaking. After last week’s monster load of films, I’m curious, albeit a little fearful, of what Netflix has in store for me this time. Well, no time like the present I suppose…

-51. Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985) [Unavailable]

Damnation! The exclusion of Gilliam’s masterpiece from Instant Watch bodes rather ill for this week’s roundup.

-52. Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961)

When a classic film goes on to directly influence another classic film, does that make it doubly classic? Whether it does or not, this is one of those movies that only comes along once every 25 years or so. When traveling Ronin Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) wanders into a village split between two warring gangs, he realizes that he can turn a profit by playing both sides against the middle. Soon the money is rolling in and the streets are running with blood, but the chaos he has stirred up threatens to sweep away not just the gangs, but Sanjuro along with them.

In addition to the usually impeccable acting and directing, Yojimbo’s soundtrack is especially awesome. It’s a strange mix of Eastern and Western themes complete with pattering drums, soaring brass and thundering piano that presages the work of the masterful Ennio Morricone. Watching this film is like watching two thoroughbred race horses tying the Kentucky Derby. Both Kurosawa and Mifune are at the peak of their careers as well as their artistic capabilities. Sure they would go on to turn in fantastic pieces of work, both with and without each other’s company, but this film, to me at least, stands as one of the most blindingly bright points in two unparalleled careers.

-53. Sanjuro (Akira Kurosawa, 1962)

Following the success of Yojimbo, Kurosawa turned right around and released this film the following year with Toshiro Mifune reprising his role as the titular Sanjuro, the opportunistic, hard-drinking ronin with a heart of gold. The movie opens with Sanjuro overhearing a group of well meaning but wet-behind-the-ears samurai plotting to weed out the corruption that is crippling their prefecture. Sanjuro informs them that their plan, while noble, is playing right into the hands of the corrupt Prefecture Superintendent. He offers them his help for the right price and, of course, all the sake he can get his hands on.

While often overshadowed by it’s predecessor, this film is no less worthy than any other Kurosawa/Mifune collaboration. Mifune’s acting is still top notch, Kurosawa’s camerawork is still inventive and intriguing, and the story is still compelling swords and Samurai fare, peppered with Mifune’s wry witticisms. The only fault I can find with the film is that it doesn’t really break any new ground from Kurosawa’s last entry; hardly a hanging offense. Be sure to stick through to the end for the notorious “blood explosion” (!) scene.

-54. For All Mankind (Al Reinart, 1980) [Unavailable]

A documentary on the men behind the Apollo moon missions. Never seen it.

-55. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Philip Kaufman, 1988)

This is one of those rare occurrences when an “unfilmable” book meets the perfect director and the result is a true work of art. Set in the Prague Spring and the years that followed it, the film follows a womanizing young surgeon named Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis), his constant lover Sabina (Lena Olin), and his wide-eyed innocent wife, Tereza (Juliet Binoche). Just as Tomas’ constant philandering threatens to wreck his marriage, Soviet Russia stages a brutal crackdown on the recently liberalized Czechoslovakia, forcing the trio to escape to Switzerland.

It’s nearly impossible to write a coherent synopsis of this film as it faithfully follows Milan Kundera’s sprawling novel that touches on nearly everything about human life. What do I mean by everything? Sex, marriage, love, fear, strength, weakness, joy, sorrow, friendship, betrayal, freedom, oppression, and inevitably, death are all woven into a beautiful tapestry of bitter-sweetness that is sentimental without being sappy. Kaufman frequently shoots his actors through semi-translucent glass and fabrics and through reflections that are symbolic of how opaque we can be to our own selves while being transparent to those that are closest to us. One of the few romances I’ve come across that examines human bonds at their roots as well as their surfaces, which is even more odd when you consider that Kaufman is best known for writing Raiders of the Lost Ark.

-56. The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock, 1935)

First off, there are at least four film versions of John Buchan’s novel and please believe me, this is the only one worth watching. Yes, the remakes all have their merits (well, the 2008 BBC TV version, not so much) but this film is vintage Alfred Hitchcock all the way to the bank. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is vacationing in England when he finds himself violently thrust into the middle of an international conspiracy revolving around something called “The 39 Steps”. On the run for a murder he didn’t commit, he is eventually arrested by agents of the conspiracy who are posing as policemen and finds himself handcuffed to the beautiful but obstinate Pamela (Madeleine Carroll). Still chained together, the two make their escape, but the enemy has friends everywhere, time is running short and it seems not a single person in the whole UK knows what the hell “The 39 Steps” are.

Probably the best film from his British period of filmmaking, The 39 Steps experienced wide international success that greatly helped the director’s jump into the Hollywood movie industry. Not his best films by any means, it is still plenty watchable, with an ending that you are highly unlikely to guess at before it is revealed. Also has the dubious honor of being one of the very first film to utilize the “Macguffin” plot device, which would go on to form the major plot element of every half-assed spy novel and movie that has been made since.

-57 Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963) [Unavailable]

Have not seen this film but considering it stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, and was filmed in Paris in the mid-sixties by the director of Singing in the Rain, I’m gonna guess it’s pretty damn charming.

-58. Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)

A delightfully nasty piece of work that serves not only as a Freudian psychological thriller, but as a strange kind of commentary on film directing as well. Mark (Carl Boehm) is aspiring filmmaker who has a nasty habit of killing people on camera. His traumatized childhood has left him with an unhealthy fixation on the nature of fear, which he is compelled to document as he murders young women. His project is nearing completion when he is befriended by his downstairs neighbor, Helen (Anna Massey), whose unconditional kindness towards him throws doubt on his life’s work and his ability not to include her in it. The film’s self-obsessed fixation on cameras and the people that work them inspired Martin Scorsese to say that this, in addition to Fellini’s 8 1/2, contained everything that can be said about directing.

While Boehm effectively gives Peter Lorre a run for his money in the role of a twitchy, perverted killer, it’s Maxine Audley who steals the show as Helen’s blind, Johnnie Walker-swilling mother. Her character instinctively knows something is dangerously amiss with Mark and at one point she gets to deliver a truly dynamic monologue to him on the power of that instinct. While it was reviled upon release, it rapidly gained cult status and has now been widely considered a classic, but not before heavily damaging director Michael Powell’s career. Ironically enough, Alfred Hitchcock’s infamous Psycho would be released a mere three months later and go on to change the way people thought about horror movies forever.

-59. The Night Porter (Liliana Cavani, 1973) [Unavailable]

Of all the films in this roundup that I’ve never seen, this is probably the least excusable. I’ll have to remedy that sometime in the near future.

-60. Autumn Sonata (Ingmar Bergman, 1978) [Unavailable]

Too bad. This beautiful late-career film had twice the Bergman power, with Ingrid Bergman’s only collaboration with the director with whom she shared a surname.

-61. Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979) [Unavailable]

Hands down the best thing to ever come out of the Monty Python troupe. Damn, how many more of these films in a row are going to be unavailable?

-62. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Th. Dryer, 1928) [Unavailable]

At least one more it seems. Starting to see a pattern here. The only movies that aren’t streaming are either films that I really, really love and films that I’ve never seen but have been meaning to. Thanks, Netflix!

-63. Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

Herk Harvey and his uncomfortable sounding first name directs this exploration of that age old topic: is the gateway to hell really in Utah? Mary (Candace Hillgoss) narrowly survives a deadly car accident and, in a fit of what can only be described as PTSD, subsequently accepts a job as a church organist in Salt Lake City. As she drives there, she becomes strangely captivated by the baroque silhouette of an abandoned carnival pavilion she sees off in the distance. While she peers at it the ghoulish face of a man (Mr. Herk himself)  appears where her reflection should be in car’s darkened window. The face and the pavilion continue to haunt dreams and eventually start to bleed into her waking life as she struggles to understand what is happening to her.

A delightful black and white 60’s horror with much the same tone and production value as Night of the Living Dead, Carnival has gone on to achieve legendary cult film status. I love how old school directors could wring such a decent amount of horror out of some weird-looking dude in white greasepaint and raccoon eyes while filming in broad daylight. While the film piles the symbolism on just a little thick, the hauntingly disjointed organ-driven soundtrack and trippy visuals keep it from ever really becoming the finger-wagging cautionary tale that it feels like it was intended to be.

-64. The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)

This classic noir film penned by the legendary novelist, Graham Greene, opens in a postwar Vienna, where newly arrived American pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) is trying to connect with his old friend Harry Lime. Upon reaching his house, his informed by the building’s porter that Harry had been hit and killed by a car the day earlier. Devastated by the loss of his friend, Holly attends Harry’s funeral, where he meets the British military police Maj. Calloway (Trevor Howard), who informs him that his friend Harry was deeply involved in the dangerous Viennese black market. Holly, is disbelieving at first and vows to launch his own investigation into the death of his friend. Along the way he encounters a whole rogues gallery of shifty racketeers, Harry’s alluring former girlfriend, and a sneaking suspicion that nothing and no one are what they seem.

True to form, Greene’s script is absolutely chock full of witty barbs and a distinct aversion to Yanks who meddle in foreign (particularly European) affairs to which they are utterly unfamiliar. Vienna is shot in beautiful film noir fashion, with shadowy alleys and doorways that harbor watchful eyes sharing screen time with bombed out buildings and strangely untouched cathedrals that stand silent testimony to the wave of violence that had so recently washed over the city. There is also an astounding amount of quality work put in by extras culled from the local populace, whose faces are etched with the unmistakable sorrow of a recently conquered people but also shot through with veins of impotent rage at the multitude of outsiders who have carved up their country (and more importantly, their city) amongst themselves. I can’t really delve any deeper into the plot without spilling some major spoilers, but I will say that the target=”_blank”>great Orson Welles makes an appearance, and delivers the best monologues about cookoo clocks in all of film history.

-65. Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998) [Unavailable]

Pardon me while I take a moment to break something down for the Netflix executives who are no doubt following this column with a near-religious fervor: It’s a safe assumption that Instant Watch is used primarily by people who are more internet savvy than tech savvy, who in turn are more likely to buy Mac products, who in turn are more likely to be hipsters, who in turn almost universally love Wes Anderson. Just sayin’.

-66-69. The Orphic Trilogy: The Blood of a Poet (1930), Orpheus (1949), Testament of Orpheus (1959, all by Jean Cocteau) [All Unavailable]

The collected and singly available titles of Cocteau’s experimental trilogy. I’ve only ever seen Orpheus, which was yet another visually arresting display of filmmaking from a director who specialized in pushing the limits of cinematography.

-70. The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)

No matter how much of a mixed bag his last couple of films may have been, Martin Scorsese will always be one of my favorite directors simply for being the genius behind this film. Easily one of the most controversial films ever made, The Last Temptation of Christ is adapted from Nikos Kazantzakis’ equally-divisive novel about the final days of Jesus Christ. The basic story is the one everyone in the Western world is familiar with: Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, eats the last supper, is betrayed by Judas and ends up on the business end of a whole lot of sharp objects. The twist here is instead of just dying, Jesus sees a vision of an angel telling him that his work is done, he is not really the son of god and he can come down off the cross and spend the rest of his life making babies with Mary Magdalene. Jesus gives some serious thought to the matter, but all may not be as it seems.

As someone who grew up in a repressive religious background, this movie had a profound impact on not only on my taste is cinema, but on my entire worldview as well. Willem Dafoe’s Jesus is the most conflicted – the most human – depiction of Jesus to ever grace the screen. Up till that point in time, Jesus had been depicted as beatific cypher with a bovine-like range of facial expressions, who was more of a watercolored religious icon than a flesh and blood savior. Here, Scorsese shows a Jesus who wrestles with both everyday struggles and extraordinarily trying circumstances with all the troubled emotions you would expect from a man, yet manages to rise above them with the strength and will of a god. Harvey Keitel also brings a level of pathos and conflict of purpose to Judas Iscariot that heretofore had been distinctly absent.

Naturally, upon release, the film was subjected to a massive wave of outrage and protest from Christians around the world. At one point, a French movie theater that was screening the film fell victim to a molotov cocktail attack from a fundamentalist group. It was banned in multiple countries and remains so to this day in the Philippines and Singapore.The gist of people’s anger stemmed from (SPOILER ALERT! Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, SKIP TO THE NEXT REVIEW or go watch it right now and come back.) the fact that during his final temptation, he goes off and marries Mary Magdalene and has kids and leads a normal life. While this is indeed totally outside the realm of biblical canon, the fact remains that a) he was hallucinating that entire scene because that was the point of a temptation: to make him not want to be nailed to a cross and save humanity; and b) no matter how soul-wrenching the choices were for him, at the end of the day, he still made all the right decisions. The point wasn’t to be sacrilegious, but rather to illuminate the duality that would be inherent in someone who is both God and man. Regardless of what personal beliefs you may hold, this is utterly powerful, thought provoking cinema at it’s absolute finest and as such has a permanent place on my top 10 list.

-71. The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975) [Unavailable]

Curious Netflix User: “Hey, um, so I took this film appreciation class once and the instructor repeatedly cited Ingmar Bergman as one of the finest, most influential filmmakers to ever sit in a directors chair. Thing of it is, I’m easily distracted and would really like to be able to have instant access to his works so I can watch them when I’m in the mood for deep, brooding dramas instead of getting it on DVD, having it linger around the house for a couple weeks, and sending it back unwatched because the eighteenth HD Special Edition of Avatar is next up in my queue. Is that possible?”

Netflix: “…Now available on Netflix Instant Watch; The Spy Next Door! Starring Jackie Chan!!!”

-72. Le Million (Rene Clair, 1931) [Unavailable]

Unfamiliar with this film, which is apparently an early musical, so I will probably continue on being unfamiliar with it.

-73. Cleo From 5 to 7 (Agnes Varda, 1962)

A fantastic example of French New Wave Cinema from it’s highly regarded Rive Gauche contingent. Cleo (Corrine Marchand) is a beautiful young singer who is awaiting the results of a cancer biopsy. As the title indicates, the story follows her from the hours of 5pm to 7pm beginning with a less than encouraging tarot card reading which pulls double duty as the opening credits. Distraught, she seeks solace in her friends and loved ones, only to find that it is an absolute stranger who may be able to bring her the most comfort of all.

Shot on the streets of Paris, this film is awash in all the romantic notions that The City of Lights embodied at that time. Sidewalk cafes and crooning music emanating from radios and quiet parks and bustling street life all meld together to create an idyllic backdrop against which the characters quietly muse about friendship, despair and a variety of existential quandaries.

(Side Note: While this film is currently available on Netflix Instant, it is also available to stream at Criterion.com for $5.00, along with many other films, which will then be credited towards your purchase of any available DVD or Blu-ray edition of that film. I’d also be willing to bet that the picture quality from Criterion’s own website is a better than Netflix’s by a country mile.

-74. Vagabond (Agnes Varda, 1985) [Unavailable]

More from Agnes Varda, continuing here theme of women with existential crises wandering around France

-75 Chasing Amy (Kevin Smith, 1997) [Unavailable]

Due to the lack of any means of coherently translating the sound of a big, wet fart into words, I will only say that a fan of Kevin Smith I am not.

Well that was an easy week! The Orphic Trilogy’s exclusion really took a load off my viewing schedule. Hell, for the first time in weeks, I even got to watch a movie that isn’t on the Criterion Collection! Downside: that movie was Ong Bak 3. Oh well. They can’t all be gems, I suppose.

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March 21, 2011   No Comments

Instant Classics: Criterion on Netflix #26-50

Welcome back to Instant Classics, my continuing mission to watch and review every sing Criterion Collection film that is currently streaming on Netflix Instant Watch. Last week we discovered only a paltry 10 out of the first 25 films released through Criterion are available for streaming. This week is looking much better, with 16 of the next 25 up and running. Let’s get this show on the road.

-26. The Long Good Friday (John Mackenzie, 1980)

What a hell of a way to start off the week! John Mackenzie’s early 80’s British gangster flick comes screaming off the screen like it just ate Guy Ritchie for breakfast. Bob Hoskins is brilliant as bull-headed crime boss Harold Shand who is making one last attempt to go legit buy having a hand in the redevelopment of the London waterfront. When a series of bomb attacks and assassinations directed at his empire threaten to derail his plans, Harold must take action the only way he knows how: tearing a Harold sized hole through the London underground.

Hoskins imbues every second he is onscreen with a vein-popping, thinly controlled cockney rage the likes of which the world would not see again until Steven Soderbergh unleashed The Limey nearly two decades later. He wraps the film up with one of the most deliciously vicious anti-American rants ever committed to celluloid. Helen Mirren kills it (as usual) in the role of Harold’s wife, Victoria, providing the brainy counterbalance to Harold’s brawny ravings that might just be the key to getting him through this mess he’s found himself in. The entire proceedings are soundtracked by a punchy synth score that has just enough thematic callbacks to the swinging 60’s to remind you where this film’s roots are. Keep an eye out for a ton of future stars in bit roles, including P.H. Moriarty, Alan Ford and an extremely young Pierce Brosnan.

-27. Flesh for Frankenstein (Paul Morrissey & Antonio Margheriti, 1973)

Shlock and awe. This Paul Morrissey directed take on the classic Frankenstein story is all blood, breasts and bizarre performances. Udo Kier brings the role of Baron von Frankenstein to crazed, glistening life while surrounded by a multicultural cast who spray improvised-sounding dialog through a dazzling array of clashing accents. The Baron wishes to make a race of super-Serbians(?!) who will not only begin a new race but answer solely to him. In his endeavor to finish the male counterpart of his monstrous Adam and Eve, he settles on the head of a local farmhand who was rather attached to it. Later on, the farmhand’s friend (Joe Dallesandro) recognizes the fact that the farmhand’s head is not where it ought to be and a whole cavalcade of intestine spilling, spine-cracking mayhem ensues.

Mawkish gore and neo-eugenisist sensibilities jockey with full frontal nudity and anachronistic set pieces for screen time. If I had to pick one line to sum up this movie in it’s entirety, it would be Frankenstein’s words to his assistant (Arno Juerging, looking like the love child of Tim Robbins and Martin Freeman), immediately after he has dry humped the corpse of one of his creations: “To know death, Otto, you must fuck life…in zee gall bladder!” Priceless.

(Side Note: Screenwriter Tonino Guerra also penned Fellini’s Amacord. Talk about range.)

-28. Blood for Dracula (Paul Morrissey, 1974)

When Flesh for Frankenstein wrapped under budget and schedule, the ever-thrifty Paul Morrisey decided to craft this mostly improvised companion piece out of the same cast, crew and set pieces. Even the roles are recycled: Udo Kier is still hamming it up in the title role, Arno Juerging is still a sleazy little lackey and Joe Dallesandro is still sexing all the ladies while dropping his “New Yawk” accent into a film full of Europeans. Aside from the basic storyline and a couple new faces (including a cameo from Roman Polanski), the only notable differences between the two films is less gore and more nudity, as well as a shift in tone from vaguely fascist to overtly Marxist. If there was ever a doubt that Morrisey was the king of camp, this film puts that debate to rest.

-29. Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975)

Jeez, if there’s one thing Australian cinema has imparted to us, it’s to not go screwing around in the outback. Based on the best selling book of the same name, the story is deceptively simple: a group of Victorian-era schoolgirls who go missing while on a class outing and are never heard from again. When the investigation into the vanishings prove increasingly more fruitless, the ensuing sense of panic creates far reaching shockwaves that throw the lives of anyone even remotely involved into utter turmoil.

Like Walkabout before it, Picnic explores the popular Aussie theme of “cultured” Europeans finding themselves at odds with their newly claimed environment and/or native peoples. Peter Weir utilizes soft focus camerawork and a haunting, pan pipe-driven score to give the story an extra haze of dreaminess and delirium that is so contagious, you might want to notify a friend of your whereabouts before attempting to view this film for yourself.

-30. M (Fritz Lang, 1931)

One of the best films ever made from one of the greatest directors in history, Fritz Lang broke so much ground here, you’d think he was building a skyscraper. Jason Voorhees, Michael Meyers and especially Freddy Kruger all owe their very existence to this portrayal of the world’s first on-screen serial killer. The basic story is that of a major German city gripped by the fear of a rampaging child killer (Peter Lorre). The police are clueless, the population is frenzied and only the city’s criminal underground seems to be making any headway in hunting the murderer down before another innocent child meet their grisly fate.

It is absolutely impossible to understate to impact this movie had on the filmic world. Lorre’s character is the archetype for every sweaty, bug-eyed pervert who would follow in his creepy wake. The storyline was one of the first to be ripped from the headlines, as it is based on the then-recent events surrounding the “Dusseldorf Vampire”. Lorre’s whistling of In the Hall of the Mountain King not only popularized the use of leitmotif in cinema, but cemented Edvard Grieg’s classic tune as one of the most ominous pieces of music ever written. On top of it all you have Lang at his finest, using silence to balance sound in the same way a tattoo artist uses negative space to create depth and texture. Worth watching if only for the ultra-rare sight of a genre being both invented and perfected all in one fell swoop.

(Side Note: It’s not part of the Collection but Fritz Lang’s other magnum opus, Metropolis, is available on Instant Watch in it’s complete, restored format and original orchestral score. Well worth checking out.)

-31-32. Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946) and Oliver Twist (David Lean, 1948)

Representing the early stages of work for director David Lean as well as for the great Alec Guinness, I can’t really dig on these films for the sole fact that I hate Charles Dickens from the bottom of my black little heart. While Guinness is fantastic in both of these films, Lean really shines insomuch as he manages to boil Dickens’ sprawling prattle down to a couple hours of screen time. So there you have it, great director, great acting, some moments of really beautiful camerawork… and Charles Dickens. If for some reason you happen to like Dickens, then these are two of the best adaptations of any of his works. If you, like me, think Dickens and Tolstoy are two of the most over-celebrated hacks of the literary world, then you can still catch that Lean/Guinness magic by watching The Bridge Over the River Kwai. Just not on Netflix Instant Watch, of course.

-33. Nanook of the North (Robert J. Flaherty, 1922) [Unavailable]

Pretty ambivalent about this one. While it has the distinction of being one of the first documentaries ever filmed, it also has a notorious reputation for being shamelessly staged and anglicized at every turn. If nothing else, the film is an interesting time capsule of Western attitudes toward “primitives”.

-34.Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966) [Unavailable]

Was really looking forward to this, as I’m trying to expand my exposure to Russian cinema. Oh, well. Guess I’ll have to stick it in the old-fashioned queue.

-35. Diabolique (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955)

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s follow up to the powerful The Wages of Fear cemented his legacy as one of the masters of the thriller genre. Diabolique is the story of Christina (Clouzot’s wife, Vera, easily one of the most beautiful women to have ever lived), her chauvinistic husband Michel (Paul Meurisse) who openly cavorts with his mistress, Nicole (Simone Signoret). The two women, instead of being antagonistic, bond over their mutual hatred of Michel’s behavior. Nicole eventually convinces a hesitant Christina that they should kill Michel and be done with his lechery once and for all. Once decided, they hatch a scheme in which they sedate Michel, drown him in a bathtub and chuck his body into a swimming pool to make it look like an accident. The perfectly laid plan unravels however, when Michel’s body never resurfaces in the pool and, in fact, disappears altogether.

A fantastic study of loyalty and betrayal, wrapped in an intriguing blend of murder mystery, film noir, and gothic horror. Clouzot is at the top of his game here, proving that a well placed light in a room full of shadows and ominous set pieces can be more terrifying than all the “gotcha”-style musical cheap shots that are stock and trade of the modern horror genre.

(Side Note: The message at the end of the film is possibly the first-ever anti-spoiler warning, in which the filmmaker implores the audience not to be diaboliques [devils] by giving away the twist at the end of the film.)

-36. The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953)

If one wanted to back up the claim that they just don’t make movies like they used to, this would be a powerful piece of corroborating evidence. Henri-Georges Clouzot’s thriller follows four European drifters who are down and out in an anonymous South American Country; the charming yet contemptible Mario, boisterous Luigi (weird, right?), unflappable Bimba and the sleazy and conniving Jo. When an American-owned oil well explodes, the company hires these four men to drive trucks full of nitroglycerin that will be used to put out the fire. The catch is, it’s 1953 and neither road maintenance nor suspension technology had progressed to the point of being even remotely safe.

Clocking in at a hefty 131 minutes, the first hour is all getting-to-know-you and set-up. Enjoy that, because the next hour and half is going to be non-stop, tooth-grinding tension. As someone who once drove a large truck though a narrow mountain road, this film dredges up all kinds of unpleasant flashbacks. Every bump, every rock, every twitch carries enough toe-curling power to put Alfred Hitchcock to shame (which he actually did when he beat Hitch to buying the film rights for Diabolique). The camera pairs agonizingly long shots of crucial minutiae such as wheels slowly spinning out in muck and taught wires pulled to their breaking point with the tightly framed faces of men who’s nerves and minds are fraying beyond all hope of repair. This film is one ordeal you should be proud to put yourself through.

-37. Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam, 1981)

Ah, Terry Gilliam, you crazy bastard. Unfolding like a children’s fairy tale as told by a PCP-smoking Brother’s Grimm, Time Bandits is the story of a neglected young boy named Kevin who discovers one night that his closet has become a space-time portal. The next night, six dwarves pop out of it. They are in possession of a map that they stole from the Supreme Being, that shows every hole in the space-time continuum which they have been using to travel through the continuum stealing treasures from various historical figures. Kevin gets accidently carried off into the portal with them as they bounce through history, encountering the likes of Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood and Agamemnon (Sean Connery). Throughout their journey’s they are pursued not only by the disembodied, Gilliam-illustrated head of the Supreme Being, but also by the mysterious Evil, played to bone dry perfection by David Warner and the gnarliest prosthetic fingernails I have ever seen.

No one else, living or dead, can unfurl a pure sense of childlike wonder with a winking snap of droll Brit humor into a (mostly) coherent feature length film like Gilliam. While his stories sometimes struggle to connect with their own characters, Gilliam’s visual style is always impeccable, if perhaps not entirely historically accurate. It must be said, however, that anyone quibbling over historic inaccuracies in a movie the features six time traveling dwarven thieves, is probably not up to the task of appreciating any of Gilliam’s work anyways.

-38. Branded to Kill (Seijun Suzuki, 1967)

An absolute classic yakuza flick from one of my all time favorite directors, Seijun Suzuki. Hanada (Joe Shishido) is the third highest ranked hitman in all of Japan. He kills his way through the underworld at the behest of his boss until he botches a contract from a beautiful woman and finds himself the target of the Number One assassin.

Talk about going against the grain, this film is so wonderfully weird and psychotic that it got Suzuki blacklisted from Japanese cinema for an entire decade. He took what was supposed to be a stock B-movie yakuza script and infused it with jumbled timelines, hallucinatory animations and the sexual fetishization of steamed rice, all while battling the Nikkatsu film studio for creative control. The film bombed upon release but has since been recognized as the masterpiece of absurdist cinema that it is, and has gone on to inspire the styles of such luminaries as Jim Jarmusch, Park Chan-Wook and Quentin Tarantino.

Seijun Suzuki’s masterpiece – and one of my favorite films of all time – was previously reviewed on the IOC here -admin.

-39. Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki, 1966)

Yet another dizzying journey into the gritty world of the Tokyo yakuza from master director Seijun Suzuki. The story follows Phoenix Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari), a yakuza thug who finds himself suddenly unemployed when his gang boss gives up the yakuza lifestyle to go straight. He refuses a job offer from a rival gang and fearing for his safety, takes his former boss’ advice and leaves town. It soon becomes apparent that his old boss may not have Tetsu’s best interests in mind and Tetsu is forced to choose between his loyalty and his life.

Where Branded to Kill was shot in sullen, yet spastic black and white, Tokyo Drifter color codes it’s characters and their moral orientations vividly. While not as unstrung as Branded, this movie is still an excellent example of Suzuki’s manic storytelling and intoxicating shooting style.

-40. Armageddon (Michael Bay, 1998) [Unavailable]

Over the last ten films, we’ve seen excellent installments from such heavyweights as Lang, Lean, Gilliam and Suzuki so it only makes sense that the next film Criterion featured would be from… wait, what the hell? I will be eternally befuddled as to why this cinematic abortion was included in the Collection. Easily one of my least favorite films of all time. At least it’s not streaming.

-41. Henry V (Laurence Olivier, 1944)

A film adapted from one of worlds greatest playwrights, by one of the worlds greatest actors who, incidentally, is also the director. Can you guess what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to do when it was released? That’s right, they snubbed it! Nominated it for four awards and gave it none. Well, Laurence Olivier did get an honorary award for starring, directing and producing the film as well as for having more talent in his fingernail clippings than all the other winners combined. Upon receiving the “award” Olivier (who would later go on to be Knighted, Baroned, respected as the finest actor of his and many other generations, buried in the same graveyard as British kings and in a cruel twist, resurrected to appear in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) reportedly shrugged, knocked back a liter of cognac and gave it to his chauffeur as a tip.

Oh, incidentally, the movie is pretty damn good, too.

-42. Fishing With John (John Lurie, 1992) [Unavailable]

Nooooooo! I love this criminally under-appreciated and short-lived TV show almost as much as I hate Armageddon. This show was the very definition of dry satire, featuring the crazed genius of Tom Waits, Willem Defoe, and Dennis Hopper.

-43. Lord of the Flies (Peter Brook, 1963)

I hardly think I’m fit to even comment on this film adaptation of William Golding’s seminal novel about practically every animalistic instinct that manifests in humanity. In it’s most literal sense, it’s the story of a group of young boys who are stranded on an island that are in dire need of adult supervision. At first they band together to build a signal fire to alert any passing ships of their presence, but when the specter of a possible monster is discovered, they quickly devolve into a vicious, tribal mentality. On a metaphorical or philosophical level, however, the story delves themes are much, much deeper, such as relationships of command and the conflicts between church and state, none of which I have the room to delve into here.

While Peter Brook’s film diverges somewhat from the novel, it manages to retain the brutal thrust of Golding’s words with the added punch of being able to physically see the children going feral. From the gritty opening montage to the precociously admirable acting job of it’s young cast, this film stands testament to the fact that good writing will always shine through, but if you go the extra mile with the film production, you’ll end up with a classic on your hands.

-44. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948)

My disinterest in ballet is so strong that it almost caused me to miss out on the schizophrenic genius that is Black Swan. Because of that same disinterest, I actually waited until I had seen all the other films on this list before watching this and then fell asleep in the middle of it. Twice.
The basic story is that of Vicky (Moira Shearer), a young ballet dancer that joins the dance troupe of the demanding yet inspired Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). Boris pushes Vicky to be his new prima ballerina but a love interest in the form of the new musical composer might get in the way of her passion for ballet. Roughly three dance pieces later, I was out like a light. Twice.

This is not saying the film is necessarily bad, mind you, just that if failed to appeal to me on a storyline level. The cinematography is sumptuous in a way only early Technicolor could be, the sets are beautifully crafted and there are some delightfully campy performances, all of which were constantly being interrupted by big ballet numbers. This is the same reason I dislike musicals: whenever the music starts, the story stops. But hey, Marty Scorsese loved it and Darren Aronofsky clearly lifted some thematic elements in making Black Swan, so maybe I’m just some barbarian who falls asleep in movies. Twice.

-45. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997) [Unavailable]

One of only two Iranian films in the Collection. Sadly, I know nothing about it.

-46. The Most Dangerous Game (Irving Pichel & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1932) [Unavailable]

Haven’t seen it, but from what I understand it inspired the AMC daytime bellwether Surviving the Game, starring Ice-T, Rutger Hauer and Gary Busey. So there’s that.

-47. Insomnia (Erik Skjoldbjærg, 1997) [Unavailable]

Not to be confused with the remake staring post-”hooah” Al Pacino. This Norwegian thriller is and arrhythmic rollercoaster ride through one man’s rapidly devolving psyche.

-48. Black Orpheus (Marcel Camus, 1959)

Marcel Camus’ vivid re-imagining of the ancient Greek myth was shot in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro with all the sights and sounds that he could cram onto film. The opening shot literally explodes into the midst of the Brazilian Carnivale, where newly arrived Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) finds herself lost and confused in the chaos until she climbs aboard a trolley driven by Orfeu (Breno Mello). Even though Orfeu is already engaged to the overbearing Mira, the connection between them rapidly becomes undeniable. It is soon revealed that Eurydice is on the run from a sinister masked man, who is none other than the coolest looking depiction of Death this side of The Seventh Seal. In the midst of Mira’s mounting suspicions and Carnivale’s increasing fever pitch, Death succeeds in his mission and Eurydice is accidentally killed by Orfeu’s own hand. Grief-stricken, Orfeu embarks on a journey to reclaim the soul of his beloved.

Where the song and dance routine cluttered up the narrative of The Red Shoes, here they weave seamlessly into the very fabric of the Favelas in which they were shot and enhance the strikingly beautiful and increasingly hallucinogenic visual style that is this film’s calling card. While Portuguese is not one of those languages where I can tell if the performances are good or bad, it really doesn’t matter either way since pretty much every frame is so packed to the gills with symbolism that you could watch this one with the subtitles off and still perfectly understand what’s going down.

(Side Note: Netflix’s refusal to stream the Criterion films in HD is obnoxious under most circumstances. In the case of Black Orpheus, it’s practically criminal.)

-49/50. Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 1957) and And The Ship Sails On (Federico Fellini, 1983) [Unavailable]

Two more Fellini movies, neither of which I’ve seen. Might be good, might not; I’ll probably never know ‘cause they aren’t streaming and I’m not a Fellini fan.

Well, it looks like I won’t be making any fans in the coveted Fellini-watching, Dickens-reading, ballet dancer demographic. Also people who are named Michael Bay probably wouldn’t care for this column but studies show that a shocking 9 out of 10 Michael Bays are illiterate. Sad. Give the teachers their collective bargaining, y’all. See you next week.

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March 7, 2011   4 Comments

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