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1. Seven Samurai
2. In the Mood for Love
3. All that Heaven Allows
4. The Godfather Part II
5. Rear Window
9. Letter from an Unknown Woman
10. Sunset Boulevard
Another Happy Day (2011)
Flawed but worthy film
I went to see this movie thinking that I was going to be rolling my eyes at the on screen histrionics (and there are LOTS of people screaming and crying in this movie). The critics seem to have been overly harsh with this film. While we have seen movies like this before and while the film doesn't always ring perfectly true, there are so many incredible scenes. Ellen Barkin's portrayal of a woman wounded by people's inability to hear her is heart-wrenching. There are some phenomenal scenes between her and Ellen Burstyn. The film really does dance along the line between comedy and the darker elements of human relationships. At several points, I found myself chuckling along with many people in the movie theater (I just saw this at Village East Cinemas in NYC). The family dynamics feel authentic for the most part. In a way I felt like the film thrives in the moments that feel cast away or in the natural, small moments of tenderness or banter among characters. There are wonderful moments like the two scenes in which Ellen Barkin performs her nighttime regimen as she talks with her husband. Other scenes perfectly captured what the interactions between cousins who don't see each other often are like. The passing comments people make as they move through a crowded house were spot-on. These calm, understated moments enrich the movie and the characters. The scenes that are meant to be dramatic show-stoppers often feel more awkward or heavy-handed. I would say it's worth checking out just for the versatility of the talented cast--young and old. Even Demi Moore has some incredible moments: her wedding toast is a phenomenal bit of awkward comedy.
A fantastic piece of imaginative work
While short and perhaps lacking in real pathos (for me), this is a great example of the sheer imaginative fun that movies rarely possess nowadays. From a horse-back sword fight in the sky to snow that turns into fruit, fantasy reigns supreme in this film. Catherine Hesslinger is captivating in the lead role (though she is even more remarkable in the less interesting "Charleston"). Seeing these silent shorts of Renoir's have helped me understand how he was capable of putting so many wonderful, unusual scenes into "The Rules of the Game"; I see how playful he was. Above all, one takes away Renoir's exuberant love for film in this movie. You can find it in the 7 film set released by Lion's Gate with remarks by Scorsese.
Valkoinen peura (1952)
Visually stunning horror
I recently got a chance to see this on the big screen and it is definitely a special film. Filmed in Lapland, nearly everyone moves about in this film on skis or reindeer-drawn toboggan. The lonely snow-covered landscapes lightly dotted with trees, humans, and curving herds of reindeer look beautiful in black and white. The film capitalizes on the mythic and mystic nature of the landscape and the land--The Land of the Midnight Sun. What a perfect setting for a film about love, loneliness, fears of abandonment, and, of course, vampires. The horror is a subtle one and even now barely verges on the campy (thanks to the uniqueness of its setting). The strange shots of the sun hovering on the horizon and of reindeer stampeding across the snow only enhance this bizarre tale. The main actress is quite stunning and plays the balance of her role well. A definite treat for fans of foreign or horror films.
Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
This has to be one of my all time favorite films. Ophuls is perhaps the most graceful and elegant film-maker ever. Here in Letter from an Unknown Woman, he is at his most romantic. Though the romance is only a fantasy (and so beautifully subverted by Ophuls graceful choreography and merciless sense of irony), passion is nevertheless king (or queen). I have never seen a film celebrate love in quite this way. It reminds me of one of the most beautiful lines in cinema from Altman's "Gosford Park" when Sophie Thompson says, "I believe in love. Not just getting it... giving it. I think as long as you can love somebody, whether or not they love you, then it's worth it." Ophuls' entire film plays with this very notion. Lise's fanatical love (and obsession) is requited not by Stefan but by Ophuls himself, and of course by weepy viewers like me and hopefully you too.
Stella Dallas (1937)
Not for the unsentimental
I love this movie and have seen it time and time again. This doesn't have the control and grace of a Douglas Sirk melodrama (and it is certainly earlier than Sirk), but this movie still has "stacks of style" as Stella herself would say. Extremely well set up story even if it is a bit far-fetched in places. Barbara Stanwyck is, well... pretty much unbeatable. She is one of the few actresses who can walk that tightrope between trashy and classy and make the two not feel mutually exclusive. As much as her character is overblown or enlarged from reality, this role is one that is a good deal more complex than most. Stanwyck was not an actress who felt she had to play everything for sympathy with the result that the moments when you feel bad for her hit you even harder than you expected. The birthday party scene is triumphantly painful and not to be missed. Anne Shirley ,who plays Laurel Dallas, Stella's daughter, I would bet will be overly sweet for a lot of viewers (myself included) but her manufactured sweetness only brings the complexity of Stella herself to the fore. This film never really misses a beat. It knows what it wants to do and it does it as unapologetically as Stella would.
Out of the Past (1947)
Surprisingly touching film noir
This is an extremely stylish film noir with a balanced, touching performance by Robert Mitchum. I was not expecting to be as moved by this film as I ultimately was. It has the snappy banter that one would expect of a film from the 40s, but the dialogue transcends mere wit and left me more than a little emotional. Mitchum is remarkably understated and cool, making his self-destructive behavior all the more entrancing. Kirk Douglas also adds a really light touch to his role, keeping his slick gangster more genuine than one might expect. I would have to say that while it is in many ways a typical film noir (and a fine example of the style), I have never seen anything quite like it. There are locations you would never expect to see in a film noir and a surprising bittersweet ending. Fantastic film.