CineScene's
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of Film
THE DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF
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Holiday (George Cukor, 1938).
A sparkling comedy about a wealthy, idealistic young woman (Katharine Hepburn) who finds herself enamored of the charming, independent-minded young man (Cary Grant) who is unfortunately engaged to her prosaic sister. This delicious concoction seems to get overlooked in favor of The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby. But that's a shame, because while those films are wonderful, this one holds its own very well - it's still just as fresh, romantic and funny after decades of viewing, and has the added virtue of Lew Ayres. Sigh. If only I could go back in time, track Ayres down, and have my way with him. Hasn't anyone invented a viable time machine yet?
-- Bonnie Lee Howard

Limite (Mario Peixoto, 1931).
A man and two women are drifting in a boat after a shipwreck. They tell each other the stories of their lives. This is the most mythical of Brazilian movies - thought lost for many years, then rediscovered in the 80s, it has many powerful images, exquisitie music, and the beautiful Olga Breno.
-- Paulo X

Nightmare Alley
(Edmund Goulding, 1947).
Tyrone Power, tired of being typecast in heroic pretty-boy roles, optioned William Lindsay Gresham's pitch black noir novel himself. His nasty, snapping performance as an amoral carnival grifter turned society mentalist and, eventually, high class spiritualist con man, is an extremely unsettling and atmospheric journey through the darkest of noir worlds, where the lowest conceivable human depths are represented by the sideshow geek, a rotgut drunk biting the heads of chickens for a bottle a day. Along the way the film manages to condemn psychiatry and showcase the talented Joan Blondell and Colleen Gray in sympathetic roles. Although Hollywood managed to add its requisite glimmer of hope at the end, that touch can't possibly diminish the cautionary bleakness of this tale - like a fatal car accident, it's horrifying, but you can't look away.
-- Mark Netter

Searching for Bobby Fischer (Steven Zaillian, 1993).
What's it like to be so intelligent, so gifted at something that it is impossible for others, even your family, to relate to you? This is the story of Josh Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc), whose gift at chess is as much of a curse as a blessing for him. His attempts to be a normal child are made very difficult by his father and chess instructor, who try to make him someone he isn't in order to fully develop his gift. The film benefits greatly from the sensitive treatment by first-time director Steven Zaillian, who isn't interested in child-prodigy clichés, and by the lovely Oscar-nominated cinematography of Conrad L. Hall.
-- Devin Rambo

I submit that this is one of the best sports movies ever made. Ah, you say, but it's about a board game! Chess is not athletic, and therefore not a sport. Perhaps, but as a film it features all the elements of the best sports stories: raw talent under development, enigmatic mentors, burnout. Pushy parents living vicariously through kids. Matches filled with palpable tension. Add a stellar cast (Joe Mantegna, Ben Kingsley, Laurence Fishburne) led by Max Pomeranc giving one of the best child performances since Mary Badham in To Kill a Mockingbird, and you have a film that never gets old for me. And I don't enjoy playing chess at all.
-- Greg Sorenson

The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979).
Concepts don't get much higher than the basic premise of Walter Hill's paean to New York City street life. A Coney Island gang is wrongly accused of murdering a beloved gang lord, and must fight their way across town to their home turf. But a routine plot synopsis doesn't do justice to the energy and style Hill and company bring to the film. The little touches, like the literal and figurative mouth of the radio DJ who delivers late-breaking updates between spinning the platters that comprise most of the film's wonderful soundtrack or the different styles of gang the heroes must go through (I'm a personal fan of the Baseball Furies), make The Warriors worthy of its cult status.
-- Ed Owens

The Man in the White Suit
(Alexander Mackendrick, 1951).
A mild-mannered chemist (Alec Guinness) invents a material that can never get dirty or wear out, and soon all the clothing manufacturers and labor unions are after him to destroy the formula that is threatening to put them out of business. Rarely do you find a satire so clever, so perfectly constructed, and yet so kind to its characters. Guinness is his usual marvelous self, and Joan Greenwood is on hand with her deep, inimitable purr.
-- Chris Dashiell

American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000).
Overlooked because of its source material, a notoriously violent novel by Bret Easton Ellis, this film took the best from the book and discarded the overkill. Christian Bale is perfect as the man without an inside, in a great poke at vapid, competitive corporate-class culture. The scenes wherein he expounds the "greatness" of Genesis and Huey Lewis and the News are side-splitting.
-- Michael Buck

The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, 1944).
Underappreciated stars Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey play a brother and sister who decide to buy a house on the English coast. Wonder why it was so cheap? Uh oh, things go creak in the night. The mystery isn't hard to figure out, but getting there is thrilling and stylish, and the cast is top-notch.
-- Bonnie Lee Howard

Champagne for Caesar
(Richard Whorf, 1950).
This surprising, little-known comedy concerns one Beauregard Bottomley (Ronald Colman), a man who seemingly knows everything, and his quarrel with a rather surreal corporate entity, the Milady Soap company. Milady Soap runs a quiz show called "Masquerade for Money," and Beauregard decides to try to win enough money to bankrupt the company and its owner (played with delightful looniness by Vincent Price). Quiz show host played by Art Linkletter, just the man for the job!
-- George Davis

Dodsworth (William Wyler, 1936).
Extremely intelligent adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel about a well-to-do Midwestern couple (Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton) traveling in Europe, and how their different attitudes towards aging split them apart. This is the picture of which Sam Goldwyn allegedly said, "It was a great picture, but nobody wanted to see it. In droves," but I wish it weren't so. This is a film that you'd never see get the green light today, as it concerns the emotional lives of middle-aged people. Sterling performances from Huston, the restless retired mogul; Chatterton, his shallow, terrified-to-grow-old wife; and most of all, Mary Astor, as the kind of woman I would like to grow up to be someday.
-- Nancy Loe

Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984).
A moody and enigmatic story about a drifter (Harry Dean Stanton) who has disappeared for four years, then suddenly returns to recover and complete his past with his brother, his son, and his wife. Enhanced by Ry Cooder's melancholy score, this is a beautiful and subtle work of art that captures the emptiness of the American southwest in a way few films have. Stanton's character is a disturbing, and ultimately unresolvable enigma.
-- Howard Schumann

Written by L.M. Kit Carson and Sam Shepard, Paris, Texas posits amnesia as the natural extension of American alienation. Wenders continues his fascination with the mysteries of the road, and Harry Dean Stanton gives a rare leading man performance as a man in search of his identity as well as the reason why he lost it. The estrangement climaxes literally behind glass, with Stanton and Nastassja Kinski doing perhaps the best work of their careers.
-- Mark Netter

The Big Clock (John Farrow, 1948).
One sign of a really good suspense movie is that I'm willing to watch it more than twice. This clever little crime film doesn't get mentioned much, what with all the great film noir being made during that period, but it holds my attention every step of the way. A woman has been murdered, and a witness has a description of a suspect leaving her apartment. A magazine editor (Ray Milland) knows that he is the man that the witness saw - but he's innocent, and he must investigate the crime and pretend to search for the suspect. He only has an hour to nail his boss, the real killer (Charles Laughton), before being identified himself. Maureen O'Sullivan (Mrs. Farrow) helps him out, George Macready is Laughton's evil sidekick, and Elsa Lanchester turns up in a brief, but funny and marvelous bit part. Milland is at his most appealing. Laughton is great as a detestable villain. Watching the movie is like reading a stylish page-turner - smooth in style, but with plenty of tension, it clips along at a fine pace, and winding up with an inspired "poetic justice" type ending. Pure entertainment.
-- Chris Dashiell

The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987).
A deadly parasitic alien craves violence, fast cars, and loud rock. What's not to love? A knowing homage to 50s sci-fi along the lines of Tremors. As an alien FBI agent on the killer's trail, Kyle McLachlan previews Twin Peaks' Agent Cooper, who was surely not of this earth either.
-- Greg Sorenson

An alien creature inhabits people and moves on, but you never know where it's hiding. A fabulously grotesque horror movie that too many people haven't seen.
-- Sasha Stone

Withnail and I
(Bruce Robinson, 1987).
An absolutely hilarious, dry British comedy, set in 1969, in which two unemployed actors, the narrator (Paul McGann) and his dissolute friend Withnail (Richard E. Grant) head for the countryside for some peace and quiet, but find it to be just as bad in its own way as the city. Grant is perfect, and there is beautiful work from Richard Griffiths, playing one of the most unforgettable characters I've ever seen on film. Robinson's script is full of witty dialogue, but it's also right on the dot when it comes to the tragic aspects of Withnail's life and personality.
-- Mariana Cirne

Captures the time in which it's set with uncanny accuracy - those last days of the 60s when we knew we had to become grownups but resisted it with all our might.
-- Bonnie Lee Howard

Miracle Mile (Steve DeJarnatt, 1989).
What begins as a light romantic comedy turns into a nail-biting paranoia thriller as Anthony Edwards, trying to find his date after oversleeping their meeting, takes a pay phone call and is told that nuclear missles will be hitting L.A. in just over an hour. It would be unfair to say more except that I've never seen a film quite like this. Funny, odd, sad, and touching, and it has stayed with me over the years despite having seen it only once when it came out. -- Devin Rambo

The director views the proceedings with an eye for more than a simple apocalyptic fable. The very conventions that have led some to dismiss the film as dated or cliché are cleverly subverted through DeJarnatt's awareness of the medium and its methods (the foregrounding of time and and pace, the narrative presentation of evolution and de-evolution, the evocation of notions of underlying cultural paradigms). Whether watching the film for the first time or revisiting it after a long absence, watch closely, for God is truly in the details.
-- Ed Owens

L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934).
A barge captain (Jean Dasté) brings his new bride (Dita Parlo) on board, but she longs for the excitement of Paris. The only full-length feature from Vigo, who died prior to the film's release, this is one of the most simple, poetic, and romantic films ever made. Michel Simon, as the strange ship's mate, gives one of the great character performances of all time, and the famous dream sequence is damn near perfect.
-- Paul B. Clark

Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles, 1971).
In the middle of watching this movie, nearly two decades after its release, the elderly white woman in the next seat turned to me and whispered, "This movie is dangerous!" Melvin Van Peebles self-financed (with some help from Bill Cosby), starred in, wrote and directed the first completely unrestrained African American cinematic utterance, and it still shocks all these years later with raw sexual and violent imagery, and an incendiary point of view. In Sweetback's world, rich white folks come up to Harlem to watch black folks fornicate, and our racist state condemns any truly virile black man to life on the run, if at all. It's even more of a racial Rorschach Test than Do the Right Thing, but the next great wave of African American filmmakers - including Spike Lee, The Hughes Brothers, and even Melvin's son Mario Van Peebles - owe a world of debt to the pioneer filmmaker and film that broke all the rules.
-- Mark Netter

Diabolique (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955).
Many have drawn comparisons between Clouzot and Hitchcock, but unmistakably, Clouzot is a master of suspense in his own right. Here he tells the story of a sadistic private school headmaster (Paul Meurisse) whose wife and mistress (Véra Clouzot and Simone Signoret) plot together to murder him. Clouzot slowly turns the screws on us, leading to one of the most visually unsettling climaxes the genre has ever seen. Often imitated but rarely equalled, Diabolique is a must-see thriller for the discriminating viewer fed up with the watered-down shocks of today's suspense wannabes.
-- Devin Rambo

Beyond the clever plot mechanics, what's different about Diabolique is that Clouzot has a real sense of evil - not abstract evil or comic book evil or evil that somehow has nothing to do with us - but actual evil.
-- Chris Dashiell

Bedazzled (Stanley Donen, 1967).
Dudley Moore plays short order cook Stanley Moon, smitten with Margaret the waitress (Eleanor Bron). Peter Cook plays Mr. Spigot, who just happens to be the devil himself. Stanley wants Margaret enough to sell his soul, but Spigot is full of tricks. This 1960s take on the Faust legend is still one of the funniest films around.
-- George Davis

The Honeymoon Killers
(Leonard Kastle, 1969).
An ugly black and white film about two ugly, cold blooded murderers (played by Shirley Stoler and Tony LoBianco). Utterly honest and relentless, and based on a true story.
-- Les Phillips

Beautifully filmed, weird, wild, horrifying, and even a little funny.
-- Sasha Stone

Celine and Julie Go Boating
(Jacques Rivette, 1974).
The cinematic equivalent of metafiction. Two women (Dominique Labourier and Juliet Berto) meet, play tricks on each other, exchange identities, and go on to explore the mysteries of a haunted house. Rivette explodes our expectations in order to allow full play to an inter-feminine realm of fantasy and insight that gradually demolishes the narrative of patriarchy.
-- Chris Dashiell

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001).
All but ignored by critics and moviegoers alike during its brief theatrical run, Richard Kelly's ode to teen angst has undergone a slow but substantial rebirth on home video. The plot, which involves schizophrenia and time travel, is best left unstated, but the film abounds in references and cross-references that go beyond the merely clever. Jake Gyllenhall's touching portrayal of the tortured teen, coupled with Kelly's grand vision and keen understanding of what it means to be an adolescent, makes for a surprisingly moving and thought-provoking film.
-- Ed Owens


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