One of the most significant and original British directors of the post-war era, Nicolas Roeg has carved out a unique and influential oeuvre, making radically inventive films that advanced the grammar of cinema. Narratively complex and often puzzling films that work like mosaics, his films tend to have very powerful images and enigmatic shifts in tone that work to foster unease and uncertainty. Known for innovations in plotting, sound effects and editing, Roeg’s most well-known movies are his finest beginning in 1970 with the beguiling Performance, starring Mick Jagger. Walkabout (1971), Don’t Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1975), Bad Timing (1980), and Insignificance (1985) have all been deemed by critics as significant contributions to movie making for their adventurous, envelope-pushing qualities. The Criterion Collection has recently released arguably his best and most commercially successful film, the psychological thriller Don’t Look Now, a film so full of misdirection and subtle ambiguities, viewers will want to return again and again to plumb its possible meanings. The film, ostensibly about a grieving couple working through their trauma takes on a more sinister tone when viewers are confronted early on in the film with the possibility that “nothing is what it seems.” An absolute masterpiece without categorization.
Civil War enthusiasts will be sorely disappointed if they watch the brilliant film Sherman’s March believing that the critically acclaimed, National Film Registry inclusion is about the 19th century war and the union general’s destructive rampage of the South. Ross McElwee’s autobiographical documentaries are poignant, self-deprecating and honest examinations of his life, notably his sometimes troubled relationship with family members, women and the South (he was born in Charlotte, NC). Noted for the humor and candor that he brings to his one-man, low production films about his angst-filled life, McElwee’s significant works are collected in The Ross McElwee DVD Collection. These are personal works that meditate on existential and universal themes: death, birth, love and family.
March is Women’s History Month and so in keeping with the theme of highlighting the achievements and contributions of women involved with movie-making, here’s a list of writers, directors and some of their groundbreaking works.
Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere, Selma)
Agnes Varda (Cleo from 5 to 7, Vagabond)
Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty)
Lena Dunham (Girls, Tiny Furniture)
Maya Deren (Maya Deren: Experimental Films)
Penny Marshall (A League of Their Own)
Allison Anders (Border Radio)
Claire Denis (White Material, Bastards)
Chantal Akerman (From the Other Side, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles)
Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher)
Ida Lupino (The Hitchhiker)
Elaine May (The Birdcage, A New Leaf)
If you're looking to supplement your Valentine's Day activities with some movie-watching, here are some standard and not-so standard (the quirky, the weird and the sad) romantic films from the KPL collection.
An Affair to Remember
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Fault in Our Stars
Never Let Me Go
When Harry Met Sally
Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Voyage In Italy
In the Mood for Love
Matter of Life and Death
The Age of Innocence
Out of Africa
The Way We Were
Harold and Maude
Writer, actor and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich once said that it was always the French who told us what was great about American filmmaking, in essence, that the French tended to be more enthusiastic about particular films and filmmakers that were under-appreciated by American audiences and Hollywood studios (examples would include: Orson Welles, Sam Fuller and Howard Hawkes). It was also the French who took the American crime thriller genre and elements of film noir and who with stylish flare re-modeled two decades worth of brilliant movies that depicted criminal protagonists and their anti-social activities (see: Rififi, Bob the Gambler, Les Doulos, Le Samourai, Shoot the Piano Player, and Breathless).
One of these outstanding films is Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954), starring a washed up, leading man (Jean Gabin) and an unknown actress who would become an international star in the coming years (Jeanne Moreau). Everything simply clicks in this Jacques Brecker directed film about an aging gangster who just wants to retire after a big heist. Gabin plays the affable Max, a man who is both loved and respected by the women and fellow mobsters in his life. When his beloved but bumbling side-kick Riton becomes embroiled in a messy dispute with another gangster, Max must choose between his money and his friendship. The title translates as Don’t Touch the Loot but fans of film noir should certainly get their hands on this classic.
The following were my favorite movies of the past year that are available from the KPL movie collection. Some are classics, many are foreign language, a few are funny, and on occasion, a masterpiece or two made the list. There were also the casual discoveries of pulling a movie from the shelf without knowing that much about it and being pleasantly surprised. Hopefully, there's something for everyone to enjoy. It was a good year to cross off a few from my ever-growing bucket list of movies to watch.
The Funny: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Bull Durham, The Big Chill, Bad Words, and The Trip to Italy
The Masterpieces and Classics: Safe, Rififi, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Vanishing, Persona, Double Indemnity, Eternity and a Day, Autumn Sonata, Pierre le Fou, Down By Law, Walkabout, Brute Force, The American Friend, Johnny Guitar, Ida, Hail Mary
The Surprises: Omar, Certified Copy, The Landlord, Black Orpheus, The Double, Still Walking, Secret Sunshine, Purple Noon, Gerry, Mystery Train, Happy Together, 2046, Captain Philips, Bronson
Documentaries: Black Fish, The Punk Singer, Beware Mr. Baker, Benjamin Smoke, The Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, These Birds Walk, Plimpton, The Armstrong Lie, Cousin Jules, Harry Dean Stanton.
One of my favorite films of the year comes from director/writer Jim Jarmusch, who has made a very charming movie (Only Lovers Left Alive) about...well...very cool vampires with excellent musical and literary tastes, hanging out in Detroit, lamenting the zombie-led destruction of all that which they consider civilized (vintage guitars, romantic poetry, art). The film feels a bit like a love letter to all of Jarmusch's influences and interests. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston play two bummed out, very 21st Century vampires in love who have lived a very long time on earth and who are feeling a bit blue about the future of not only the world's swing toward ruin but their own crisis of faith in continuing their tiresome slog through the centuries. Hey, it's tough out there for a vampire.
It’s that time of the year to look at some of the notable films that have been restored and re-released back into cultural circulation once more. The Criterion Collection once again represents the gold standard in terms of packaging and supplementing these culturally significant works from the past.
1. The Long Day Closes
2. The Vanishing
4. The Big Chill
5. La Vie de Boheme
6. Love Streams
7. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
8. Sundays and Cybele
After watching one of the last episodes of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, in which one of the characters performs a poignant rendition of the classic ballad La Vie En Rose with a Ukulele, I began thinking about the cinematic role of this Hawaiian instrument (one of my favorites). Several recent films came immediately to mind (Her and Blue Valentine) but after a Youtube search, I discovered a few others films that feature this little guitar’s power to pluck an audience’s heartstrings. For fans of the instrument, check out Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder’s album Ukulele Songs.
From the movie Her:
A compilation of movie scenes:
Recent internet buzz about a leaked trailer for the newest installment of the Star Wars series and the release of Christopher Nolan’s film Interstellar (in theaters now) got me thinking about the first, great science fiction film, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a beautiful enigma of a film that continues to stand up to the test of time given its enduring philosophical and scientific themes, not to mention its visual originality and marked refusal to conform to commercial and artistic conventions. It should be noted that it was not everyone’s cup of tea when it originally opened in movie theaters in 1968 and it’s glacial pacing, minimalist dialogue and conceptual approach to narrative won’t please many of today’s film viewers but for those willing to give into its pondering lyricism and subtle jabs at satire and social commentary, you will be rewarded.