Saturday, January 30, 2010

Of the Sword of Power

Easily one of my favorite opening title sequences of all-time, from John Boorman's Excalibur (1981). The Richard Wagner piece that also closes out the film is called, "The Funeral March from Gotterdammerung."

Of course, there's always the openings of A Clockwork Orange, Vertigo, North by Northwest, High Noon, The Wild Bunch and then...I'm drawing a blank. What are the other great title sequences/opening credits?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Review: 'Edge of Darkness' [B-]

Within five minutes of Martin Campbell's Edge of Darkness, I had completely forgotten about the anti-Semitic drunkard that had seemed to invade and permeate in the body and soul of Mel Gibson for the last five years.

I don't know if it's gone, (or if the man is any saner after returning to the screen in a big production for the first time since 2002's Signs) but his performance, full of rage and wrinkles, is good enough to elevate the film into a perfectly enjoyable (albeit rutted) thrill-ride which proves that the bad, in fact, do not sleep well.

Edge of Darkness is a pulsating, brooding, mad-as-a-hornet revenge-seeker by way of corporate conspiracy paranoia and dread - bare-knuckled and mean. As Gibson, with his big stubby hands, pries around in the wake of his daughter's seemingly unmotivated death, he unravels a mighty juicy plot of collusion and corporate greed. The violence is real and quantifiable (especially in the last fifteen minutes) and in my estimation, oddly earned.

The resulting body count is therefore almost immeasurable and the screen alive - palpitating with serious fear, instability lurking around every corner. Unfortunately, the screenwriters and director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) play their hand by revealing too much about the initially mysterious weapons manufacturing company called Northmoor. (Given a face by a clean-cut Danny Huston). By the end, you feel as if you could recite their company lines and quarterly profits.

This isn't necessarily a film that hearkens back to the good old days of 70's conspiracy and paranoia, but rather a 21st-century makeover - energetic opposed to hypnotic and implausible opposed to reasonable. It's got a few potholes and it's suffocatingly mawkish (let's just say Mel's daughter shows up from time-to-time), but upon review, I remember Edge of Darkness as a fairly smooth ride.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Frank Capra #6: 'Platinum Blonde' (1931)

Originally titled Gallagher and a vehicle solely for Loretta Young, the overwhelming popularity of co-star Jean Harlow forced Columbia and Harry Cohn to change the title and the marketing focus for this ultimately succesful Frank Capra film.

In the spirit of The Front Page (1931) or its subsequent offspring, His Girl Friday (1940), Platinum Blonde (1931) is a newsroom screwball comedy - furiously paced and expertly performed - though not quite as joyfully anarchic as the greats of the genre.

Nevertheless, it's easily one of Frank Capra's most purely enjoyable early sound films, centering around a reporter (Robert Williams) who falls for a glamorous, wealthy and radiantly blond heiress (Jean Harlow). This is bad news to the slinky, puppy-eyed Gallagher (Loretta Young), who secretly lusts for her adventurous journalist colleague.

Williams, who oddly resembles Jeremy Renner, shows a surprising range of bravado and comedic timing usually reserved for Cary Grant. In a film loaded with two of the finest actresses of the age, Williams provides a much-needed male presence and a desirable object perfectly capable of being fought over by two beautiful starlets. Tragically, the 34 year-old actor died of a ruptured appendix just four days after the film's premire, ending a career surely on the rise.

The Gekko

Why I am reminded of Sex and the City when I view this teaser trailer for Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (20th Century Fox, 04.23.10)? I think it's the numerous backdrops of New York City and the steel-chromed lettering.

Anyway, I think it looks okay. I'm really not okay with anything Shia LaBeouf is in anymore (the guy reminds me of a boyish, skinner version of Orlando Magic point guard Jason Williams) and the fact that he's currently dating soon-to-be Best Actress nominee and co-star Carey Mulligan totally kills it for me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Classic Rewind: 'The Stranger' (1946)

Orson Welles' The Stranger (1946) is perhaps the auteur's most unglamorous and unproblematic film. No stories of studio tampering, production troubles or financial losses - it was surprisingly and dissimilarly a success.

It's a taut, exceedingly and expectedly well-shot film noir about a pertinacious and rotund detective (Edward G. Robinson) who's hot on the trail of a suspected Nazi war criminal (Orson Welles) now under the guise of a university professor named Charles Rankin.

As his wife (Loretta Young) becomes more and more exposed to the idea of her husband as somebody potentially in hiding from authorities, it plays out like a killer-in-the-midst drama reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1944).

I love the autumnal small-town Northeastern setting (the tall, white clock tower always looming in the background ) proving once again that Orson's mis en scene and location shooting were unparalleled in the days of Hollywood's studio age.

As is the case with almost all of Welles' films after Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Stranger has a distinctive, identifiable quality - kooky, quirky and yet unmistakably effective. None of his films exhibited this quality of being simultaneously ludicrous and yet masterful more so than The Lady From Shanghai (1948) and Touch of Evil (1958).

The Stranger doesn't reach this level of greatness and it isn't one of the director's very best films, but I think it manages to be underrated - its lack of ebullience and zaniness mistaken for flaws. True, this is a different kind of Orson Welles film, but no less engaging or proficient.

Blu-News has just posted a brief overview of some notable catalog titles making their way to Blu-ray this year from Warner Home Video. Mainly, I'm interested in Forbidden Planet (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), The Maltese Falcon (1941) and of course, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Oh yeah, plus Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) - an inaccurate yet highly watchable and mostly stirring interpretation of the classic story of the mutiny of Captain Bligh.

The others, The Goonies, Three Kings, What's Up Doc? (and more) are mid-level interests to me - rentals at best. And although I haven't seen David O. Russell's Three Kings (1999) in a long time, I am a fan, just not enough to double-dip.

The Parallax New

I'm legitimately looking forward to Martin Campbell's Edge of Darkness, which of course, opens this Friday (Warner Bros., 1.29.10). Not because I'm on pins-and-needles awaiting Mel Gibson's return to the screen (I could care less), but because one, I'm hearing some good things about it and two, because it looks to be an adult-stream vigilante film in the vein of classic 70's paranoia and governmental conspiracy thrillers.

It's also refreshingly set in Bwah-ston and not in some Euro port with tiny cars and mysterious French guys with beards. I'm not expecting The Parallax View or Three Days of the Condor, but I am expecting something better than Taken.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Classic Rewind: 'The Lady From Shanghai' (1948)

Nobody was ever a greater victim of studio tampering than Orson Welles during his brief time and limited productivity as a filmmaker under the umbrella of the Hollywood system. Additionally, no film is more reflective of this notion - with the exception of RKO's butchering of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) - than The Lady From Shanghai (1948), distributed by Harry Cohn at Columbia under unusual circumstances.

In 1946, while directing a stage production (a musical) of Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days," Welles ran out of funding and desperately convinced Cohn to send him the extra dough to keep the show running. In exchange, Welles promised to star, write and direct a feature film for Columbia at no further cost - needless to say, Cohn accepted.

The Lady From Shanghai, in its mutilated 87-minute cut, is a blistering and convoluted film noir about an Irish sailor (Orson Welles) who meets the stunning wife (Rita Hayworth) of a rich, infamous lawyer (Everett Sloane) as they embark on a journey down the Atlantic coast. When a friend and minion of the powerful and mysterious Mr. Bannister brings a proposition to Mr. O'Hara (Welles), he becomes involved in an increasingly volatile murder plot, fighting to get to the truth.

The elaborate smoke-and-mirrors narrative is muddied even more by the fact that Harry Cohn and his editors at Columbia trimmed nearly an hour off of Orson's original cut, resulting in a film that is admittedly incomprehensible at times, yet the production, in its own strange way, seems to thrive off of it - as if convolution were one of its most endearing traits.

As he exhibited (and would exhibit) in all of his films, Welles proves to be a filmmaker of extreme technical mastery, creating indelible set-pieces and masterful camera movements that become as much a part of the story as the actors or the script. When two key characters arrange a secret meeting, it's at the Steinhart Aquarium in Golden Gate Park. For a shootout in the film's climax, a literal hall of mirrors becomes the battleground (easily the film's highlight).
At this time, Orson was married to co-star Rita Hayworth, but the two were estranged throughout the filming of The Lady of Shanghai, which began in 1946 before being released in June of 1948, an unusually lenghty period of post-production.

Even in a corrupted form, The Lady of Shanghai has more personality and more innovation than the majority of film noirs released by Hollywood throughout the 40's and 50's. It may not make a lick of sense, but just like Orson's ill-fitting Irish accent, it's just crazy enough to be some kind of masterpiece - messy and marvelous. I love the final lines:

"The only way to stay out of trouble is to grow old, so I guess I'll concentrate on that. Maybe I'll live so long that I'll forget her...maybe I'll die trying."

-A good portion of the film takes place on a luxurious yacht called the "Zaca." This was the personal yacht of actor Errol Flynn, who took the wheel in-between takes and has a brief appearance in the background of a shot.

Bogie in Blu

The African Queen Blu-ray which comes out on 03.23.10 should be another gorgeous transfer of a classic from Warner Home Video (whose North by Northwest, Gone With the Wind and Wizard of Oz high-def treatments are stunning restorations), but am I the only person in the world who simply doesn't care for this John Huston float-along World War II log ride?

I absolutely love the opening credits set to just the sounds of the African jungle, the plain white letters welcome in their simplicity, yet once the the film starts, I just don't care two licks about Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart's better-late-than-never romance or their hair-brain scheme to sink a German vessel.

I like my Bogart stone-faced and ashamedly heroic, not goofily drunk with his Babe Ruth hat. Plus, every time Hepburn says, "Hip, hip hooray!" I lose a part of my soul.

Of course I'm going to give it another chance with this new high-def transfer, (I've only seen the film twice on TCM) but I can't imagine myself ever loving it. I haven't liked one of the "Hollywood Goes to Africa" travelogues released in the 50's - King Solomon's Mines, Mogambo, The African Queen. I don't know why, but I just resist their charms.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Frank Capra #5: 'The Miracle Woman' (1931)

Frank Capra and Barbara Stanwyck teamed up for a second time in this murky and frothy religious sermon, The Miracle Woman (1931), about a false prophet named Helen (Stanwyck) who questions her motives when she falls in love with a blind ventriloquist (David Maners) whom she meets at one of her staged demonstrations.

The blind man, glum and suicidal, hears the voice of Stanwyck's phony religious awakener and rejuvenated and enlightened, seeks her out. But naturally, the one in need of a miracle is the one who least expects it.

In short, the film is a good old faith quandary with extra cheese. Stanwyck, as she so often does, makes the most out of it and proves to be a commanding presence and a believable actress even in the most unmistakably rote and force-fed of films. As with almost all of her screen roles, the actress plays a woman who is charming yet combative, strong yet loose, as she heads down a path of self-deceit and moral compromise until she finds a man who either knowingly or unknowingly set her on the straight and narrow path to redemption.

Based on a stage play titled "Bless You, Sister," and produced by Columbia honcho Harry Cohn, The Miracle Woman is mercifully short, given the fact that the film's opening titles pretty much sum up the proceeding events. Luckily Stanwyck, with her usual charm and sympathy, almost makes the journey a trip worth taking. But, as she sings, "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah" down the streets of an unnamed Southern rural town, the screen fading to black, this journey becomes hopelessly italicized.

Winds Changing?

It's a lazy Monday afternoon for me, but this story in response to the PGA's decision to award The Hurt Locker its top prize yesterday has me more than a little peppy, reinvigorated. Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeff Wells highlights the across-the-board skepticism being shown by numerous awards pundits in regards to Avatar as a shoe-in Best Picture winner.

With the PGA awarding it their film of the year, it is viable and completely rational to assume that some of the other guilds and voting bodies will embrace it as well, and The Wrap's Steve Pond agrees. Or maybe everyone is just grasping at straws, trying to stir the pot, wishful thinking, etc. After all, it's $600 million vs. $12 million.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sundance '10

I really haven't read or heard about one film that's played so far at the ongoing Sundance Film Festival that I'm entirely excited to see. There's the Australian crime film, David Michod's Animal Kingdom (given a whole-hearted endorsement from many) and Jake Scott's Welcome to the Riley's, starring James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart, but there's nothing I'm really dying to see.

John Wells' The Company Men sounds interesting, ditto Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's Catfish - but there hasn't been a must-see drama along the lines of Moon or An Education yet.

Weekend Box Office: Jan. 22-24, 2010

1. Avatar (20th Century Fox) $36 million
2. Legion (Screen Gems) $18.2 million
3. The Book of Eli (Warner Bros.) $17 million
4. The Tooth Fairy (Fox) $14.5 million
5. The Lovely Bones (Paramount/Dreamworks) $8.8 million
6. Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros.) $7.1 million
7. Extraordinary Measures (CBS Films) $7 million
8. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Squeakquel (Fox) $6.5 million
9. It's Complicated (Universal) $6.1 million
10. The Spy Next Door (Lionsgate) $4.7 million

Avatar passed $550 million this weekend and will inevitably pass Titanic sometime in the next two weeks, if not one. Fine, well-done Fox. Enjoy your martinis and your champagne and your Oscar, you took a hell of a risk and it somehow payed off.

Elsewhere, bravo to Screen Gems, who somehow managed to milk an $18.2 million weekend for the angelic horror film Legion on just 2,400 screens for a solid 7,351 per-screen average. I didn't see that coming at all. Another film with humanity in the balance and God very much on the mind, The Book of Eli held a decent 48% for a $17 million follow-up. That's $62 million after two weekends, good numbers for Warner Bros. The Book of Eli II: Revelations?

The Tooth Fairy opened with a disappointing $14.5 million, which is considerably less than The Rock's other family-friendly comedy, The Game Plan, which made over $22 million on its first weekend in 2007. Nothing else really of note besides the predictably murky and mawkish Extraordinary Measures (no I haven't seen it, I just know) which made $7 million in its first weekend, which I suppose is more than it would have made airing on Lifetime.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


We'll be reading countless articles about how Inglourious Basterds is now the dark horse Best Picture contender in the race after winning the top prize tonight, and how Crash won the SAG's Best Ensemble Award before taking the Oscar in 2005, and so on.

The unfortunate thing about all of this is the apparent death of Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, which came up empty at the Globes and now comes up empty at the SAG's. Although I still hold out hope that James Cameron's Avatar can be upset come Oscar time, it simply doesn't appear to be in the cards this year. There are far better films than Cameron's $300 million+ brainchild, but none of them made more headlines or more money.

Frank Capra #4: 'Dirigible' (1931)

Attempting to bust out of studio complacency, producer Harry Cohn and director Frank Capra went back into their aviation-love triangle well with Dirigible ('31), the most expensive movie Columbia Pictures had ever produced.

Capra made no mistake about attempting to match the success of his first talking action-picture Flight ('29), casting the same two leads Ralph Graves and Jack Holt to play pilots competing for the affections of a beautiful lady, this time played by Fay Wray just two years before her legendary turn in King Kong ('33).

Dirgible makes no bones about what it is - it's high-flying romantic escapism made to exploit the public's insatiable appetite for aviation films, as evidenced in William A. Wellman's Wings ('27) and Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels ('30) to name a few. Capra's second exploit in this crowded field of topical adventures traces two rival pilots - one a wild grand-stander (Graves) and the other a distinguished and honorable dirigible operator (Holt) - as they attempt to reach the South Pole.

Complicating matters is the wife of Ralph Graves' Friskie Pierce, Helen (Wray), who refuses so sit idle while her husband flies half-way around the world and then naively attempts to rebound with his best friend, Jack Bradon (Holt), when he's away. Instead of dumping one pilot for another (isn't this a lateral move?) she should be seeking a man with more inactive career choice more befitting for her cloying personality - perhaps a painter or a writer.

Although it shamelessly capitalizes on film's of its kind that came before it, Capra proves once again that he's a great entertainer and magician of aerial photography. Avoiding the technical pitfalls of Flight (a dirigible crash over the Atlantic and a rough Antarctic landing show leaps in technological progress) and taking advantage of a supportive and accommodating U.S. Navy who allowed Columbia Pictures to shoot famous air-suspended dirigibles like the USS Los Angeles, the film feels polished, if nothing else.

The problem lies in the film's rote and reductive screenplay (co-written by Capra regular Jo Swerling), which stresses predictable plot points and exploits the type-casted personas of its actors. Nevertheless, the film was a huge success for Columbia and was the first film from the studio to premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater, a fateful night on April 3rd, 1931.

It's too flimsy and familiar, and although technically evolved from Frank Capra's previous aviation epic Flight, Dirigible seems auspiciously grand, yet dramtically stale. It's a big, giant zeppelin of a film - a wonder of the skies, yet hollow, empty and inevitably, obsolete.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Astoundingly Touchable

Brian De Palma's The Untouchables ('87), which I watched today for the first time in a while, is a very odd film, but a decidedly insufficient one if you ask me. It has a really intriguing and half-brilliant Ennio Morricone score, plus one great set-piece on the steps of Chicago's Union Station, but other than that it's a doughy, feather-thin and tonally disorganized mess.

The film's frolicsome, jesting mood doesn't fit with the Peckinpah eruptions of violence and there's never any sense of scale or danger in the entire running-time even though a good majority of characters on screen are offed in gruesome, gleeful ways. Most of the time it seems as if Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and Jim Malone (Sean Connery) are the only cops in the city and they practically live next door from kingpin Al Capone (Robert De Niro).

I also have a big problem with almost every performance in the film. De Niro seems to be in self-parody mode, encapsulating every performance he's ever given, while Andy Garcia just sort of looks around at everybody with his slicked-back hair and fake-Italian bravado. Meanwhile, Sean Connery, who somehow won an Oscar for this, plays the aging, rough-and-tumble Irish cop Jim Malone with an unrelenting jocular-Grandpa sidekick vibe that echoes what he would later turn in as the father of Indiana Jones in The Last Crusdae ('89). (Harrison Ford was offered the role of Eliot Ness in The Untouchables but declined.)

And that brings us to Kevin Costner as the aforementioned Eliot Ness, who turns in one of the most boring, inadequate performances of his career, and in a movie stocked full of actors off their game, he makes his presence felt in the worst way. How this guy even got dressed in the morning, much less tracked down the most notorious gangster in our nation's history, is beyond me. His scenes with his wife (Patricia Clarkson in her screen debut) didn't work for me at all, either. This is a sometimes stylish and well-produced film, I'll give it that, but it's too jaunty, disproportionate and chimerical by a half.

Movie Weekend #3: January 22, 2010

Now this looks like a January weekend. These are the films that studios put out and then hold their collective breaths as they watch between their fingers. We have two movies both starring well-known actors with wings, plus two more films whose titles are so vague and non-descript that they could have swaped with eachother and it would have still made sense in the context of the movie. Needless to say, things look bad.


Whenever the title font for a film has gold pixie-dust surrounding it, you know it's a heartwarming true-life tearjerker. Harrison Ford stars as a scientist attempting to find a cure for Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell's children. The film's working title was apparently The Pursuit of Schmaltziness. 19% RT, 38 Metacritic.

LEGION (Screen Gems) [2,476]

Humanity is on the brink of destruction again, this time because God has sent a legion of angels to bring on the apocalypse, with only a group of strangers at a roadside diner and an archangel played by Paul Bettany standing in their way. This thing didn't even screen for critics - look out. (No reviews)

THE TOOTH FAIRY (Fox) [3,344]

In the spirit of The Game Plan, this very family-friendly comedy sees Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a hockey player (um....) who becomes a tooth fairy. 12% RT, 37 Metacritic.

TO SAVE A LIFE (Samuel Goldwyn)

Look, it's a high-school film about white jock-guilt. I'm not sure how many theaters it's opening at tomorrow, but it's playing near me. I'm not going. (No Reviews)

CREATION (Newmarket Films)

Paul Bettany's second movie of the weekend, this time his plays Charles Darwin in this biopic which takes place just before the English naturalist wrote "The Origin of Species." It opened the Toronto Film Festival and it's coming out in January without an iota of buzz. 49% RT.

Classic Rewind: 'Quiz Show' (1994)

Robert Redford's Quiz Show is a very good period-detailed look into corporate and political corruption during the heyday of 1950's television, specifically the true-life story of the federal jury investigations into the alleged 1956 rigging of the hit quiz show Twenty-One, in which a former contestant, Toby Stempel (John Torturro) accused NBC and producer Dan Enright of bribing him into taking a dive so as to "lose" to the more popular Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) and thus, boost "plateaued" ratings.

It's essentially a tragedy in a maze of guilt, greed and corruption in which nobody ends up sitting pretty by the time it's over. The most interesting aspect, which was admittedly dramatized by Redford among other things, was the investigation spearheaded by congressman Dick Goodman (Rob Morrow) who spends the majority of the film sniffing around desperately for clues until he loses himself and his direction in the end. ("I thought we were going to get television. The truth is, television's gonna get us.")

Sure, Quiz Show is a little on-the-nose at times (a game of poker as a metaphor for lying, brilliant! Chess, anyone?) and even if you have no historical context or background about the quiz show scandals of the late 50's (like me), you know where the thing is going after fifteen minutes and there very few surprises along the way.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was how little screen-time is actually spent watching the quiz show, Twenty-One. I would have liked to have seen more of that, which would have plugged in some drama and tension in places where it would prove beneficial. Hell, Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia ('99) had more game-show drama.

Still, the performances are top-notch, the period dressings and production design are good and predictably sepia-toned with poodle-skirt music and Rhinestone glasses. And while it sometimes drags along with its corporate greed tangents and truth-seeking riffs, the heart of the movie is Rob Morrow's Dick Goodman, who seems to resemble Zodiac's Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) with his doggedness, perserverance and his arc - coming from a supporting character to a lead.

He gets so far buried underneath his own digging that he can't see which way's out. The blow-back that his character endures over the last thirty or so minutes of the film is touched upon, but not in any resolute way. Quiz Show is a film that goes here and there and compels throughout without hitting anything out of the park - an investigation that's more interesting than riveting.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

MCN's Top Tens of 2009

For those who don't know, Movie City News does a great job every year of compiling all of the critics' Top Ten Lists into one massive, weighted, and highly detailed spreadsheet. As of January 13th, the chart sees The Hurt Locker (143 list mentions) as far and away the #1 critics film of the year. Up in the Air (91) comes in third, Inglourious Basterds (98) third and A Serious Man (88) fourth.

Oh, if only the Oscars went this way.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"True Grit" in 2010

The Coen Brothers' True Grit remake - with Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn - has been given a tentative release date of December 25, 2010. This news is most welcome, and easily shoots the film up to one of my most anticipated of the year, but it also means that Paramount is readying this thing as an Oscar vehicle for sure.

The film, which also stars Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, is slated to begin shooting in March and I can't wait to see what they do with the material. I know the Coen's are divisive and their worldview certainly not for everyone, but with No Country for Old Men and (especially) A Serious Man, they're easily two of the most interesting American directors working today.

Frank Capra Marathon #3: 'Rain or Shine' (1930)

RAIN OR SHINE (1930) Columbia Pictures, 90mins.

Reworking a 1928 Broadway hit for the screen, Frank Capra and writer Jo Swerling (who worked with the director of Ladies of Leisure) removed the musical numbers but kept in the major players from the stage play, specifically the loud, speed-talking wizard of a showman, Joe Cook, in his screen debut.

Beginning with an opening credits sequence set to an orchestral version of the oft-used song, made famous by Gene Kelly, Rain or Shine ('30) is simply a vaudevillian, clown-tempered comedy about a struggling circus that contains a few showcase sequences for the obviously talented Joe Cook, but little else. It attempts to heighten and expand upon a love triangle between the aforementioned Cook, the young circus owner (Joan Peers) and her boyfriend and stage-man (William Collier Jr.), but the formula doesn't pay off nearly as well here as it did in Capra's aviation epic, Flight ('29).

Shot on a miserably small set (the circus grounds), Capra does show off a mean camera at times, with one tracking shot following Joe Cook's character as he moves from the town to the entrance of the circus tents, a visual trick that Capra employed in his earlier sound films, but not nearly as well as he does here. In a near 10-minute sequence taking place during the actual circus show, Joe Cook puts on an impressive display of juggling and balance that's matched beat-for-beat by Capra's own showboating behind the camera.

The climax is a striking fire sequence that was quite literally burned down by Capra in one take with twelve cameras in order to ensure its thoroughness. But like the film, once it's doused, it's a charred, crisp pile of rubble (or rather rubbish).

Rain or Shine ends up being a miscalculated financial failure for Frank Capra and producer Harry Cohn at Columbia - a slight stand-up routine with so much manic physical comedy it nearly bops us upside the head. Capra appeared to have made the best of such a fruitless production with his economic shooting and orchestrations, but this one is a bit of a misstep after the sweeping Flight ('29) and the star-making Ladies of Leisure ('30).

Harry Knowles Loves "Dragons"

Harry Knowles of Aint it Cool News posted a quick review of Chris Sanders' How to Train Your Dragon (Paramount/Dreamworks, 03.26.10) yesterday after being treated to a screening in the morning and it's a full-on rave.

I don't particularly like the output that DreamWorks Animation puts out, but I will concede with a point that Harry makes about comparing this film to Kung Fu Panda, one of the few films of theirs that actually works for me.

That film was kid-friendly funny, beautiful to look at and refreshingly devoid of cheap, low-ball humor and pop-culture references. (I'm look at you, Monsters vs. Aliens). And I think that has to do with its period setting, which is the case here with How to Train Your Dragon, a story about a worthless, wanna-be Viking named Hiccup who captures and then befriends a dragon named Toothless. I love the foggy, misty Scottish-countryside look it, which apparently has influenced and consulted by Roger Deakins.

The trailer isn't anything impressive, and I'm not looking forward to the "dragons are misunderstood/anti-captivity angle," but Harry concedes as much in his review. Hey, it has to be better than Shrek Forever After, no?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Frank Capra Marathon #2: 'Ladies of Leisure' (1930)

LADIES OF LEISURE (1930) Columbia Pictures, 100mins.

Frank Capra nearly passed on the then 23 year-old Brooklyn-born actress Barbara Stanwyck in the early production stages of Ladies of Leisure. However, it was a committed husband (Frank Fay) who convinced Capra to take a look at her screen test performed by Alexander Korda of all people, that ended up being the clincher.

Her performance - body and soul - is the stabilizing force in this early sound-era film about Depression-era class structure that fits nicely into Frank Capra's canon of optimistically depicting the life and times of contemporary America. It's very funny and playful when it wants to be, and yet strangely and wrongly overwrought at times.

It's the story of a flirty, dallying gold-digger named Kay Arnold (Stanwyck) hired for $2/day to pose for a portrait hypothetically rendered by a tall, slicked-back and wealthy idealist (Ralph Graves) who is an impeccable judge of character. He wipes away her excessive lipstick with a napkin and implore her to take a similar approach to her character. ("I want to see the real you.") Needless to say, these opposites are bound to attract and our heroine ripe to reform.

Ladies of Leisure works mostly because of Barbara Stanwyck's dynamic expression of emotion throughout. There's a stunning breakfast scene halfway through the film in which Ms. Stanwyck (after an overnight stint at his Manhattan flat) cooks an egg for her sharp-jawed artiste and then can barely contain herself to watch him eat it. Wholeheartedly and unmistakably, she makes us buy into the romance, even when her co-star doesn't.

Weekend Box-Office 2: Jan. 15-17

(Numbers are strictly for Friday-Sunday, excluding the holiday. Provided by Box Office Mojo)

1. Avatar (20th Century Fox) - $41.3 million
2. The Book of Eli (Warner Bros.) - $31.6 million
3. The Lovely Bones (Paramount/Dreamworks) - $17 million
4. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (Fox) - $11.5 million
5. Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros.) - $9.8 million
6. The Spy Next Door (Lionsgate) - $9.7 million
7. It's Complicated (Universal) - $7.6 million
8. Leap Year (Universal) - $5.8 million
9. The Blind Side (Warner Bros.) - $5.5 million
10. Up in the Air (Paramount) - $5.4 million

Well Avatar is making a lot of money, blah, blah, blah. It's over $491 million domestically as of today - so now James Cameron can eat. The silly but reverential and stylish apocalyptic action-sermon The Book of Eli opened well for Warner Bros., but after beating Avatar on Friday, it was left in the dust throughout the weekend - should be interesting to see how it holds up.

Surprisingly, The Lovely Bones opened up to modest returns in its long-delayed wide release, considering the film is all-but-dead in terms of buzz and opened in NY and LA ages ago (or so it seems). Still, Paramount screwed this up. This was supposed to be their heavy-hitter (which is why they moved Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island back to February) and it didn't deliver. They're not going to make much off of it - if anything - and it failed to catch on with anybody, really.

The Squeakquel ($192 domestic) and Sherlock Holmes ($180 domestic) contine to hang in there a little, while Lionsgate's vampire-squealer Daybreakers dropped a dramatic 67% this weekend and didn't even crack the top ten - whoops. Things are worse for Youth in Revolt, another blunder for the Weinstein's. Poor guys.

And oh yeah, The Spy Next Door - you know the Jackie Chan babysitter-Billy Ray Cyrus soul-patch action/kids movie - pulled in $9.7 million worth of awful parents whose kids will now misbehave in an attempt to match the hysterics and Spy Kids flourishes of the movie.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: 'The Book of Eli' [B-]

By Chase Kahn

A stoic, shadowed and resourceful figure wanders the bleak, sun-worn digitized landscapes in the Hughes Brothers' clumsy, yet strangely spiritual and flashy apocalyptic sermon, The Book of Eli. Aside from carrying a wickedly sharp blade on his back and about thirty pounds more than a diet of stray cats would lead you to believe, this figure has a less than ordinary book in his possession. Everybody wants it, but nobody can lay their hands on it - at least not if our sacred nomad (a grizzly, soft-spoken Denzel Washington) has anything to say about it.

And so this hyper-stylized, ultra-reverent off-shoot of the ever-popular genre of post-civilized existence begins with a comic-book swagger and a coolness that occasionally matches the film's 21st century prophecies and mythicizing.

Roaming the desert like a celestial savior and harbinger of pain upon filthy sinners, the film is essentially a variation on John Hillcoat's The Road - albeit delivered in a far more literal sense, with the "fire" being a more distinct and saintly, virtuous quality, and the film being one bible verse away from a straight actioner.

As in any Sergio Leone or Clint Eastwood western, the characters here all wear the evidence of their travels and their filth, gawking and picking fights and grinning through their rotten teeth, usually in the direction of our seemingly misplaced bearer of purity (though never has the hero in question been this mysterious, this seemingly blessed.)

The skies, which traditionally stretch out like an endless body of water in classic dust-ups like Once Upon a Time in the West, here resemble an ever-moving stream of thick, eternal clouds, the sky now an immovable gray. The unidentified makeshift town which our shaded hero stumbles upon (run by a scarred, literate Gary Oldman) even resembles a classic western port with its straight and narrow main strip stacked with rows of congested buildings faced squarely towards one another.

It is here where our book-carrier is mistakenly sold-out by an overanxious and naive daughter to a blind servant (Mila Kunis) and now finds himself on the run from Carnegie (Oldman) and his droogs who want his most cherished possession. "It's not a book, it's a weapon!" Carnegie howls.

At times, you have to take pause over the sheer inanity of the whole thing - but if you ask me, it's the film's unwavering stoicism and self-confidence (not to mention the brilliant and heavenly tones in Atticus Ross' musical score) that keeps things together. It may be silly religious claptrap, but it's delivered with such potent assurance and brimming seriousness that I bought it - or at least bought the idea of it.

The Book of Eli can simply be disregarded as afore mentioned philosophical hokum, but there is an ethereal admiration and aplomb that hangs over the production and carries it through - no matter how narrowly - to its conclusion.

Classic Rewind: 'Bardelys the Magnificent' (1926)

A silent film long-thought to be lost, a print of King Vidor's Bardelys the Magnificent ('26) was recently found in an archive in France in 2006, restored and now available for all to see in a tremendous transfer from Flicker Alley.

Bardelys the Magnificent stars John Gilbert, who after teaming with King Vidor on the World War I epic The Big Parade ('25), was a massive star. Bardelys never lived up to the enormous expectations following their previous collaboration, but it was a success nonetheless, and can now be enjoyed by generations to come.

Once you get past the fact that everyone in this adaptation of Rafael Sabatini's novel of French royalty under the reign of King Louis XIII looks like the Burger King mascot, it's a very enjoyable film, featuring a rousing escape sequence from the gallows near the end and a beautiful Mont Alto Orchestra score based on period photoplay music.

Included below is a lovely second-half boat ride making great use of an over-hanging tree, Eleanor Boardman as Roxalanne de Lavedan and John Gilbert as the titular Bardelys. (Note: this is not the Mont Alto score that accompanied the print I saw on TCM, but rather an alternate piano score included with the Flicker Alley DVD).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Criterion April Releases

Criterion announced their April titles this morning with Blu-ray releases of:

Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre Sa Vie (1962)
Ang Lee's Ride With the Devil (1999)
Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours (2009)

Plus, a DVD release of Sidney Lumet's The Fugitive Kind (1959), starring Marlon Brando in a Tennesse Williams play/screenplay.

Ang Lee's civil war epic Ride With the Devil is a restored director's cut, adding over 20 minutes of footage in an attempt to restore the film to Lee's original vision. Otherwise, I'm a little let down - most of these with the exception of Vivre Sa Vie are readily available on DVD. Although in terms of artwork, Summer Hours and Ride With the Devil are stunning.


Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass (Lionsgate, 04.16.10) could be a gleefully smart and silly action-comedy a la Zombieland, or it could be a wreck. I haven't decided yet, but I'm kind of starting to warm up to it while remaining skeptical.

I know Harry Knowles loved it for what that's worth, but isn't everybody getting sick of Christopher Mintz-Plasse? This guy will be the next Anthony Michael Hall, you'll read about him in fifteen years in an article titled, "Where Are They Now?"

Frank Capra Marathon #1: 'Flight' (1929)

FLIGHT (1929) Columbia Pictures, 112 min

In 1929, the U.S. Marines were involved in an intervention in Nicaragua, fighting rebel forces under the leadership of revolutionary figure Augusto Sandino. Capra's whole-hearted political support of U.S. involvement led to significant cooperation between Columbia Pictures and the U.S. Marines for this aviation epic billed as the first "100% all talkie of the air."

And it was certainly one of Capra's first talkies, regarded at the very least as his most successful and fluid of the early sound era. The story for Flight ('29) was ripped right from one of Capra's more successful silent films under Harry Cohn at Columbia, the underwater actioner, Submarine ('28).

It returned stars Jack Holt and Ralph Graves as Marines combating both rebels in Nicaragua and themselves, for the affections of the on-station nurse played by Lila Lee. It's a classic love-triangle that Capra had used before and would use again. (We'll get to that later in the marathon.)

This is a straight-forward, easygoing bit of crowd-pleasing formula, drawing on the current fad of the day (aviation films) and putting it into a funny, dangerous, and technologically-driven production that can still hold an audiences interest today.

Flight is a film that certainly shows its age - spotty, inaudible dialogue, poor sound mixing - while still hinting at what was to come with the advent of sound. (At the time, it was considered a monumental achievement for its exploration in that area.) Some of the aerial maneuvers can take your breath away with their realism, while crashes and landings and take-offs are done with cheap models, taking you out of it completely.

Nevertheless, it's a grand production (Capra shot over 100,000 feet of film compared to the final cut of just 10,000) and it deserves to be considered an historical film on account of its exploration and implementation of what can be accomplished in the field of sound.

This is a perfect starting point for the films of Frank Capra, bearing most (if not all) of his future trademarks - the comedy and the romance, the blending of current events and U.S. politics into the story, and the director's unabashed reputation for escapism and "fantasies of goodwill." Flight is a film that's as candid as its title - proving that formula (even Depression-era formula) can still entertain.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Frank Capra Marathon

By Chase Kahn

TCM featured the films of Frank Capra all of last month, and I strategically recorded the films of the studio age director that I haven't seen. I want to feature a director and roll through a selected filmography more often on here so I, and hopefully you the reader, can learn more about them and appreciate their entire body of work.

Here are the films that I will be watching and discussing (in chronological order) over the next few weeks, beginning with his earliest works in the sound age. There are 15 films in all, plus two (It Happened One Night and Arsenic and Old Lace) that I've already seen that will recieve write-ups as well.

They are:

Flight (1929), Ladies of Leisure (1930), Rain or Shine (1930), Dirigible (1931), The Miracle Woman (1931), Platinum Blonde (1931), Forbidden (1932), American Madness (1932), The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933), Broadway Bill (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Lost Horizon (1937), You Can't Take it With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and Meet John Doe (1941)
The marathon kicks off tomorrow with the aviation epic, Flight (1929)!

Movie Weekend 2: January 15th, 2010

By Chase Kahn

Well, we have two new releases this week plus a big expansion of an Oscar-casualty and a Cannes favorite finally being run in a very limited release, here we go.

THE BOOK OF ELI (Warner Bros.) [3,111]

Post-apocalyptic prophecies and lopped arms rule the day, but are people getting tired of grayscale wide-angle shots of rubble and carnage? Reviews are mixed, slightly better than I was expecting. 50% Rotten Tomatoes, 50 Metacritic.

THE SPY NEXT DOOR (Lionsgate) [2,924]

Oh dear. Even if this wasn't a direct rip-off of The Pacifier, it looks awful. Billy Ray Cyrus as a CIA operative? 0% Rotten Tomatoes, 31 Metacritic.

THE LOVELY BONES (Paramount) [2,563]

Finally limping into theaters with bad reviews and poor limited runs in New York and Los Angeles, Peter Jackson's adaptation of Alice Sebold's beloved novel is already dead in the water before most people even get a chance to see it. 36% Rotten Tomatoes, 42 Metacritic.

FISH TANK (IFC Films) [2]

Andrea Arnold's follow-up to Red Road was a critical favorite at the Cannes Film Festival and the stark coming-of-age drama opens in extremely limited release on just two screens. Looks great, can't wait to see it. 85% Rotten Tomatoes, 75 Metacritic.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


By Chase Kahn

This French Red Band trailer for Pierre Morel's From Paris With Love (Lionsgate, 2.05.10) makes me wanna see this buddy-spy actioner even less. Partly because I despised Morel's surprise hit of last year, the revenge-thriller Taken, but mostly because I absolutely hated John Travolta's performance in Tony Scott's The Taking of Pelham 123 and what he's doing here looks to be a variation on that.

The bald head, the goatee, the earring, the sarcastic smiling and laughing and overcussing - no thanks! I mean, I'll still see it, but I'm not looking forward to it.

Summer Hours on Criterion

By Chase Kahn

Criterion hasn't announced their April releases yet, but I received their January 2010 newsletter in my inbox today with the following trivia question:

"Do you know which upcoming Criterion release was just named the best foreign-language film of 2009 by the National Society of Film Critics, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the New York Film Critics Circle, as well as the number-one movie of the year in an indieWIRE poll of more than one hundred critics?"

Well, the answer is Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours, a very good French-language film about loss, family and generational divide. I had a hunch since IFC announced their deal with Criterion in the fall to release their films of DVD & Blu-ray. I'm personally hoping for an Everlasting Moments or an Antichrist Blu-ray.

Review: 'Youth in Revolt' [C-]

By Chase Kahn

Miguel Arteta's crude and cutesy Youth in Revolt is the story of two young people destined to end up together, no matter how wacky or improbable a road it takes to get there - it's like Pickpocket or Breathless for the raunchy teen-comedy crowd.

If there is one interesting aspect to the film, er...well, make that two, its that a) it's so over-the-top and surprisingly crass that it manages to catch you off guard at times and b) Michael Cera truly is enjoyable, I mean that. As his rebellious and stone-faced alter ego Francois Dillinger, Cera is playing the kind of character (albeit in a heightened, exaggerated sense) that we typically don't associate with the dweeby, skinny poster-child for teenage geekiness. Unfortunately, the movie is about Nick Twisp.

The problem with Youth in Revolt is that, at heart, its still the same old exercise in virginal awkwardness and sexual discovery - bad drug experiences, sneaking into girls rooms, running around in your underwear, etc, etc. We even get a claymation opening credits sequence, how cute!

And the girl in question, Sheeni Saunders (played by newcomer Portia Doubleday) is certainly adorable, but why do I kind of hate her? She has Jean-Paul Belmondo plastered on her walls, she obsesses about French culture, wears cute sun dresses and knows the difference between Ozu and Mizoguchi, yet at times, I kinda wanted to strangle that bitch.

Youth in Revolt is a strange, unfunny, love-on-the-run mishmash - a comedy that mistakes vulgarity for laughs and teenage blundering for character building. It's not a good sign when the funniest moment is an unintentional homage to Charlotte Gainsbourg's slow-motion shower scene from Antichrist. Now there's a film that gets relationships right!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"How do you do it, man?"

By Chase Kahn

Easily the best scene from The Hurt Locker, out today on DVD and Blu-ray. The whole film is working towards this naked, emotional conversation between Jeremy's Renner's Sgt. James and Anthony Mackie's Sgt. Sanborn - phenomenal acting.

With Great Power Comes Great Confusion

By Chase Kahn

I had to chime in on the whole Sony/Columbia Spider-Man story that's been floating around the past couple of days, with Sam Raimi leaving the production altogether as a result of his apparent disdain towards the script, which has been through so many hands the ink's probably blurred. (James Vanderbilt started it and most recently, Gary Ross was brought in to touch it up).

So given the facts, Sony Pictures has scrapped the project altogether and will instead go in a different direction with the franchise. They will begin production on a whole new line of Spider-Man films and that means Tobey Maguire has played Peter Parker for the last time.

This article by Brad Brevet at Rope of Silicon touches on the entire series of events if you want an in-depth look, but apparently Sony is looking to go darker with this thing (a la Batman Begins) - a trend that is being welcomed by audiences across the board, and will happen again with 20th Century Fox's upcoming reboot of The Fantastic Four.

Honestly, I thought Spider-Man 2 was brilliant and I don't think that a "grittier" or "scruffier" set of Spider-Man films would match it nor do I think that its necessary. It's not like Raimi's films were pure camp or anything. (Well, at least the first two weren't, I know that much.)

Of course this all goes back to Disney acquiring Marvel in the early fall. Now these properties that didn't go over in the deal are having to be rushed into production to avoid the pitfall where inactivity would result in said property going back over to Marvel (i.e. Disney). Although there is no evidence that Disney is even interested in releasing tent-pole superhero films - maybe they just wanted to beef up their theme parks.

Paramount Sequels

By Chase Kahn

The Star Trek sequel has been booked by Paramount for a June 29, 2012 release. J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are all back, three years apart seems about right, and releasing it for the 4th of July weekend is brilliant - should be huge.

Elsewhere, now grab onto something, G.I. Joe will be back (!!) for another tour of duty, with (possibly) Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick writing the script. I'm glad for these guys, I really am, but a Deadpool spin-off and now G.I. Joe? Welcome to the big leagues.

There's no tentative release date set for the Joe-quel, but 2012 is a safe bet. Get excited!

Classic Rewind: 'In Old Chicago' (1937)

By Chase Kahn

After the merger of Fox Film Corporation and 20th Century Studios in 1935, which placed Darryl F. Zanuck as President of the new 20th Century Fox, the biggest film of the studio's brief existence (and the most expensive film at the time) was Henry King's In Old Chicago ('37).

Starring up-and-coming studio mainstays Tyrone Power and Don Ameche, the film chronicles the O'Leary family's parallel rise in 19th century Chicago, climaxing with the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Written by Sonya Levien and Lamar Trotti, the film takes great liberties in its highly fictionalized and mawkishly convenient plotting, which is somehow crammed into just 96 minutes.

Tyrone Power plays a manipulative, cowardly and black-hearted saloon owner and brother to the mayor, played by Don Ameche. Preventing his sibling from carrying out his proposed plan of rebuilding "the patch," a section of the city which looks to be a great fire hazard, the great disaster - shown in extravagant detail during the final act - proves to be symbolic of the O'Leary's internal struggles and selfishness, and presumably and inevitably, an act of healing.

In Old Chicago is a perfect companion film to W.S. Van Dyke's San Francisco ('36) if you're looking for a highly fictionalized disaster-film double header. In that film, Clark Gable plays a rough saloon owner who jeopardizes his friendship with a lifelong pal and priest (Spencer Tracy) with his cruel, self-serving ways. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, depicted in similar fashion, also serves as a kick-starter on the road of redemption for its protaganist.

Even with its severely rushed narrative and ham-fisted plotting, In Old Chicago is the better film. When, at the end of San Francisco, we have Clark Gable and a rag-tag group of survivors hand-in-hand singing "Hallelujah" past the rubble and wreckage, not even Zanuck's film is that mawkish and on-the-nose.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Favorite Films

Since starting this blog in August, I realized I haven't written or compiled any sort of "My Favorite Films of All-Time" list, so I've been working it out over the past week or so and have finally come up with my top 50.

Of course, if you'd have asked me a month ago, it would've looked differently than it does today. I'm always discovering new films and re-thinking and re-ordering old ones. But for now anyways, here they are. Enjoy:

(Stanley Kubrick; 1968; United States)

Its production design and groundbreaking use of make-up and special effects came nearly ten years before Star Wars, but it's Kubrick's balletic space compositions and his grand vision of human evolution (or devolution) that has stood the test of time in the eyes of many cinephiles, including this one.

(Carol Reed; 1949; United Kingdom)

For me, this is quintessential film noir - heightened by Reed's tilted angles and extravagant lighting, Graham Greene's perfectly balanced script about loyalty and friendship and that unforgettable zither score by Anton Karas. It's one of those perfect movie miracles where everything just clicks, including the historic supporting performance of the mysterious Orson Welles.

(Fred Zinneman; 1952; United States)

Criticized by John Wayne for its liberal, "anti-American" allegory to the blacklisting fiasco in Hollywood at the time, Wayne shamefully ran screenwriter Carl Foreman out of town in the late 50's before answering with a more "conservative response" in 1959 with Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo. Different strokes for different folks, but Zinneman's film, with it gritty, black-and-white Tex Ritter sweat and blood, kicks the ass of Wayne and his Ricky Nelson sing-a-long from "California to the New York Island."

(Akira Kurosawa; 1963; Japan)

From the characterizations of Seven Samurai to the heart-warming humanism of Ikiru, I think Kurosawa's greatest two-and-a-half hours were with this contemporary kidnapping-turned-procedural yarn brimming with class structure and moral subtext. A masterclass of frame composition.

(Alain Resnais; 1961; France)

French New Wave meets David Lynch in this hypnotic, lingering and almost numbingly abstract tale of recollection. With the exception of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, it's the most majestic work on this list - inspiring awe in any willing viewer.

(Jean-Pierre Melville; 1967; France)

Alain Delon stars in this stoic, pitch-perfect gangster film chronicling a hitman who lives by a strict code of honor and solitude. It beats even the best crime dramas churned out by Hollywood during the 70's. Melville injects minimalism and coolness in this perfectly-captured lone-warrior journey through the underworld.

(Stanley Kubrick; 1971; USA/United Kingdom)

This ultra-stylized, ultra-violent adaptation of the excellent Anthony Burgess novel was divisive in its day and negatively influential on the youth, but Kubrick's vision and commentary on freedom of choice is undeniably eccentric and hauntingly sadistic - not for everyone. Malcolm McDowell turns in the role of a lifetime complimented by some of the most economical and ingenous location-shooting of his career. The greatest opening shot of all-time.

(Stanley Kubrick; 1975; United Kingdom)

Kubrick's follow-up to A Clockwork Orange was comparatively restrained and glacial in its story of a selfish, exploitative Englishman played by Ryan O'Neal and his rise and fall in 18th century England. Quietly and elegantly, its as visually stimulating as any of the auteur's previous and later works. John Alcott's naturally-lit, washed-out cinematography remains some of the most revered and revolutionary in the history of cinema.

(Martin Scorsese; 1980; United States)

Scorsese's portrait of a madman, real-life boxer Jake La Motto (the abusive and self-abusive Robert De Niro), is an unflinching, stirring, sympathetic and heartbreaking train-wreck of a character study. It's not so much about La Motta's life inside the ring, but rather the one outside of it. Although the former scenes, which faintly resemble any form of the sport we recognize (preferring to capture the feeling of boxing rather than the realities of it), are the best ever committed to the screen.

(Ernst Lubitsch; 1932; United States)

It's time to lighten up, and Ernst Lubitsch's heavenly comedy about a confused, love-torn con-artist/jewel thief is a pure delight. Lubtisch's Hollywood comedies during the 1930's are always characterized as having the "Lubitsch Touch," and this was his first film to carry that distinction for me and kick-start his career of first-rate, sophisticated comedy and romance. It was once described as "pure caviar, only tastier" - that works for me.

11. THE LADY VANISHES (Alfred Hitchcock; 1938)
12. VERTIGO (Alfred Hitchcock; 1958)
13. THE THIN MAN (W.S. Van Dyke; 1934)
14. SAWDUST AND TINSEL (Ingmar Bergman; 1953)
(More appropriately and with more beauty, it renders everything Mike Nichols has ever said redundant.)
15. CITIZEN KANE (Orson Welles; 1941)
16. SOME LIKE IT HOT (Billy Wilder; 1959)
17. NOTORIOUS (Alfred Hitchcock; 1946)
(Ingrid Bergman's very best performance.)
18. THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (Ernst Lubitsch; 1940)
19. SEVEN SAMURAI (Akira Kurosawa; 1954)
(Kurosawa writes some of the most believable and interesting characters.)
20. REBECCA (Alfred Hitchcock; 1940)
21. TOUCH OF EVIL (Orson Welles; 1958)
22. BEAT THE DEVIL (John Huston; 1954)
(One of my favorite scripts - written by Truman Capote).
23. ANDREI RUBLEV (Andrei Tarkovsky; 1966)
24. IKIRU (Akira Kurosawa; 1952)
25. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (Sergio Leone; 1968)
26. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (Orson Welles; 1942)
(Orson's studio-compromised masterwork still retains its framework.)
27. FITZCARRALDO (Werner Herzog; 1982)
28. JULES AND JIM (Francois Truffaut; 1961)
29. TAXI DRIVER (Martin Scorsese; 1976)
30. ROSEMARY'S BABY (Roman Polanski; 1968)
(A testament to the power of the maternal instinct.)
31. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson; 2007)
32. KLUTE (Alan J. Pakula; 1971)
33. THE GETAWAY (Sam Peckinpah; 1972)
34. STALKER (Andrei Tarkovsky; 1979)
36. DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST (Robert Bresson; 1951)
37. REAR WINDOW (Alfred Hitchcock; 1954)
38. PATHS OF GLORY (Stanley Kubrick; 1957)
(The greatest anti-war movie ever made.)
39. MRS. MINIVER (William Wyler; 1942)
40. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen; 1952)
(Manic, high-wire MGM musical at its best. Jean Hagen is amazing.)
41. THE WAGES OF FEAR (Henri Georges-Cluzout; 19)
42. JEZEBEL (William Wyler; 1938)
(Its on this list for Bette Davis' career-best performance.)
43. CASABLANCA (Michael Curtiz; 1942)
44. THE VIRGIN SPRING (Ingmar Bergman; 1960)
45. ONE-EYED JACKS (Marlon Brando; 1961)
46. PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE (Michael Curtiz; 1944)
47. CONTEMPT (Jean-Luc Godard; 19)
48. THE FRENCH CONNECTION (William Friedkin; 1971)
49. VIRGINIA CITY (Michael Curtiz; 1940)
(One of Curtiz's most adamant examples of the enduring spirit of patriotism.)
50. THE ELEPHANT MAN (David Lynch; 1980)