Category Archives: Favorite Film of the Year

Schindler’s List-1993

Schindler’s List-1993

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes

Scott’s Review #775

Reviewed June 19, 2018

Grade: A

Schindler’s List (1993) is a film that is arguably Steven Spielberg’s finest directorial work and Liam Neeson’s finest acting performance. The film is as disturbing as it is awe inspiring as many emotions will undoubtedly envelope any viewer- most of them dark and dire. Spielberg’s most personal story centers on the devastating Holocaust of World War II that will grip and tear audiences to pieces. The work deservedly secured the Oscar award for Best Picture and Best Director as well as numerous other accolades.

Oskar Schindler (Neeson) is a powerful German businessman who arrives in Krakow, Poland during the antics of World War II, presumably to make his fortune. Handsome and respected, he is charismatic and feared by the German army, who have forced most of the Polish Jews into the overcrowded ghettos where they await their fates. Schindler himself is a Nazi, but becomes more humanistic than most and ultimately against the Holocaust killings. He establishes a factory and hires a Jewish accountant (Ben Kingsley) to assist.

As he is tremendously affected by the inhumanity he sees all throughout the city, he makes arrangements to hire and thus save the lives of over a thousand Polish refugees. He does so by allowing them to safely work and be productive in his factory. The story is reportedly true and was a rare instance of humanity in a cold and ugly chapter in world history.

To be clear, Schindler does not start off as a hero and is admittedly rather an unlikely one. The man is a businessman, greedy, and undoubtedly flawed. He plans to use the Jews because they are cheap labor and can be used to his advantage. Because of the very lengthy running time of the film (over three hours) Spielberg slowly depicts Schindler’s complex character growth and eventual determination to save these poor people from the Auschwitz gas chambers.

Spielberg shoots Schindler’s List entirely in black and white with tremendous results. The camera works adds such ambiance and style to the 1990’s film- so much so that throughout the film I felt as if I were watching a documentary from the 1940’s. The film is epic and choreographed with precision and timeliness- some of the best camera work in cinema history as far as successfully creating the perfect solemn and dreary mood.

Supporting turns by Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes must be noted. In vastly different types of roles, both shine. As the understandably nervous, Jewish accountant for Schindler’s factory, Itzhak Stern is most notable for creating the famous “list”. This contains the names of those who would be transferred to the factory and thus have their lives spared. Kingsley, a brilliant actor, fills the character with empathy and heart.

Conversely, Fiennes plays a dastardly character in that of Amon Goth, a commander at the concentration camp. Evil and known for taking glee from killings, he is the man instrumental in deciding to exterminate all of the people in the ghetto. A pivotal character, Goth is important because he is the man who makes Schindler realize how sickening and inhumane the treatment is. Fiennes carves the character with so much hate that he is believable in the part.

One of the most beautiful scenes is aptly named “the girl in red” and is highly symbolic and worthy of analysis. Oskar watches as prisoners are escorted, presumably to their executions. He notices a three-year-old girl walking by herself- she is clad in a bright red coat. The coat is Spielberg’s only use of color throughout the entire film. The scene is incredibly important as the girl stands out, proving that all the Nazi commanders are accepting of her death. In tragic form, Oskar later sees her dead body draped in her red coat. The scene is sad and powerfully distressing.

Schindler’s List (1993) is an outstanding film that elicits such raw emotion from anyone who view’s the masterpiece. Certainly by no means an easy watch and most assuredly “a heavy”, the film depicts the true struggles and catastrophic events occurring not all too long ago. A film for the ages that simply must be seen by all to appreciate the terror and inhumanity that occurs throughout the world.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial-1982

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial-1982

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace

Scott’s Review #756

Reviewed May 10, 2018

Grade: A

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) is a wonderful, magical film that will succeed in melting the hearts of anyone with even a tad of cynicism. The film is otherworldly (quite literally) and contains a message of acceptance and appreciation of other beings. Mixing many humorous moments with tender drama and tears, the film becomes part fantasy, science-fiction, and humanistic story. The film still feels fresh and relevant today with a bevy of forever remembered scenes and references- a wonderful story of friendship.

The audience is immediately introduced to a pack of alien botanists, arriving in a California forest from their far away planet to study plants one night. When government agents interrupt the peaceful moment, the “extraterrestrials” are forced to depart leaving one creature behind. When ten year old Elliott (Henry Thomas) discovers and begins to communicate with what will come to be known as “E.T.”, the duo forge a wonderful, lasting friendship as they attempt to return E.T. to his homeland.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is crowd pleasing in every way offering a bit of everything for all of its lucky viewers. Director Steven Spielberg reportedly made this film as a result of his desire to share a childhood imaginary friend with the world so the charm really shines through in this very personal story. The film contains an overall innocence that is pure benevolence- E.T. teaches Elliott as much as Elliott teaches E.T. Who can ever forget the pairs initial interaction as the use of Reese’s Pieces candy became a huge cultural phenomenon? The lovely quote of “E.T. phone home!” is still as poignant and teary eyed as it was in 1982.

Enjoyable and recognizable is E.T. himself becoming a cult figure. Odd looking, wide-eyed, and yet of a lovable nature, even cute, the film makers were careful not to make him too frightening. Using real actors and distorted voices E.T. became famous, appearing on lunch boxes, tee-shirts, notebooks, and binders throughout the early 1980’s.

The film, released in the “modern age” of 1982, provides a genuine portrayal of suburban life at that time. From the sunny sub-division style neighborhood that Elliott and his family live in, the absent father figure (so common in many 1980’s films), the single-mom/divorced parents phenomenon takes hold and makes families like this common place. If made in the 1960’s Elliott would for sure have had two happy parents and a white picket fence. Dee Wallace as Elliott’s mother Mary, received several mom roles throughout the decade, portraying them with a wholesome middle-America quality.

Henry Thomas, as Elliott, is crucial to the success of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and sadly the actor never did much beyond this great film. While tough to create chemistry with a creature from outer space, the young actor does just that as we buy the two as connected friends. The duo especially shine during the emotional “death” scene and the farewell scene finale.

The other supporting characters rounding out Elliott’s family are well cast and appropriate at relaying what a typical suburban family looks like. Michael (Robert MacNaughton) is slightly surly yet protective as the older brother and Gertie, played by a very young Drew Barrymore (soon to experience super stardom throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s) is cute, bubbly, and teeters on stealing the show as the precocious five year old.

At its core and what makes E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial so appealing is its heart- a sympathetic creatures desire to return home and be with his loved ones is the main focus. In this way, only slightly reversed is a comparison to the 1939 masterpiece The Wizard of Oz. As Dorothy yearns to return to her home amid of an exotic, unknown, and sometimes scary world, the same can this be said for E.T. and this makes both films similar and equally appealing.

Rich with elegance, intelligence, and creativity, Spielberg creates a tale that is both primed for mass consumption and rife for mainstream appeal. Rather than weave a contrived or cliched story, he spins a magical and long-lasting, good story that will appeal to the kid in all of us. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) reaped many Oscar nominations, but lost out on the big prize to the epic Ghandi that year.

Do the Right Thing-1989

Do the Right Thing-1989

Director-Spike Lee

Starring-Danny Aiello, Spike Lee

Scott’s Review #746

Reviewed April 21, 2018

Grade: A

Do the Right Thing is one of the few great films to come out of the year 1989, not remembered as a fantastic year in cinema, when most mainstream films were as glossy as tin foil- and barren on quality substance. Here we have a small, independent gem that made people have discussions about current race relations in the United States and also became a monumental, influential film. Film maker (and star) Spike Lee carves a controversial story of racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighborhood one hot summer day.

Beginning rather light and comedic, then turning violent and dark, the action is set in a largely black neighborhood, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where twenty-five year old, Mookie (Spike Lee) works delivering pizzas at an Italian pizzeria owned by Sal (Danny Aiello). With a toddler at home and a nagging girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez) always in his face, Mookie is unmotivated yet still a decent guy and loyal friend.  Sal has two sons who work at the pizza place- Pino (John Turturro), who is angry and racist and nice guy Vito, who is a friend of Mookie’s. When conflicts erupt over whether Sal’s restaurant should celebrate black celebrities as well as white on a wall in the dining room, tensions reach their breaking point as the intense heat wave makes matters much worse.

What makes Do the Right Thing a marvel are both the overall tone of the film and the atmosphere relayed by Spike Lee, who does an incredible job of writing, producing, and starring in the film. The elements having little to do with the actual story immediately impress as big, bright colors, in comic book style scream at the big screen in bold fashion, eliciting both a warm, inviting feeling and an angry, contemptuous vibe. The loud rap and hip hop beats are exceptionally instrumental at portraying a certain feeling and emotion to the film. Made independently, with little budget, the film feels raw and intense from the get go.

Brooklyn, and New York City in particular, is the perfect setting as Sal and his family are white folks living in a predominantly black neighborhood, so in turn are the minorities in the story. Additionally, the viewer sees the friendly neighborhood and feels a sense of belonging regardless of race- the humorous drunk, the kindly, grandmotherly type people watching from her stoop, and the boombox music kid all form a sense of community and togetherness. This point is tremendously important to the overall plot of the film.

The relationship between Mookie and Sal and his sons is very important and the centerpiece to the entire film, which I found quite interesting as a character study. Clearly open minded, Sal is a decent man and fine with the diversity in his neighborhood- yet still true to his Italian roots. Aiello does a fantastic job of portraying this complex, conflicted character. His two sons could not be more different from each other- Vito, who is a close friend of Mookie’s, is sympathetic and sweet- with nary a racist bone in his body. Pino, on the other hand, is angry and resentful of the black community taking over what he feels is his territory. Finally, Mookie, while lazy, is also a sympathetic character as he is conflicted once tension reach their boiling point. These diverse characters make the film so dynamic.

Revered director Spike Lee carves out a story and brings it to the big screen telling of an important topic that is as vital in modern times as it was when Do the Right Thing was released in 1989. The film is intelligent and timely without being condescending to either black or white races, nor preachy- instead telling a poignant story that is angry and sometimes painful to watch, but more importantly is empathetic and real.

No Country for Old Men-2007

No Country for Old Men-2007

Director-Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring-Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #745

Reviewed April 19, 2018

Grade: A

No Country for Old Men, made in 2007,  is arguably Joel and Ethan Coen’s greatest work save for the amazing Fargo (1996). Achieving the Best Picture Academy Award and appearing on numerous Top Ten lists for its year of release, the film is clearly one of their most celebrated. Containing dark humor, offbeat characters, and fantastic storytelling, adding in some of the most gorgeous cinematography in film history, No Country for Old Men is one of the decades great films.

The time is 1980 and the setting western Texas as we follow dangerous hitman, Anton Chigurh, played wonderfully by Javier Bardem. He escapes jail by strangling a deputy and is subsequently hired to find Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a hunter who has accidentally stumbled onto two million dollars in a suitcase that Mexican smugglers are desperate to find. In the mix is Sheriff Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who is pursuing both men. Moss’s wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) in turn becomes an important character as she is instrumental in the web of deceit the chain of events creates. The film subsequently turns into an exciting cat and mouse chase with a dramatic climax.

The crux of the story and its plethora of possibilities is what make the events so exciting to watch. As characters are in constant pursuit of each other the viewer wonders who will catch up to whom and when.  One quality that makes the film unique with an identity all its own is that the three principal characters (Moss, Bell, and Chigurh) almost never appear in the same scene adding a layer of mystery and intrigue. The hero and most well liked of all the characters is, of course, Sheriff Bell- a proponent of honesty and truth while the other two characters are less than  savory types, especially the despicable Chigurh.

My personal favorite character in the story is Chigurh as he is the most interesting and Bardem plays him to the hilt with a calm malevolence- anger just bubbling under the surface. One wonders when he will strike next or if he will spare a life- as he intimidates his prey by offering to play a game of chance- the toss of a coin to determine life or death- he is one of cinema’s most vicious villains. With his bob cut hairstyle and his sunken brown eyes, he is a force to be reckoned with by looks alone.

True to many other Ethan and Joel Coen films the supporting or even the glorified extras are perfectly cast and filled with interesting quirkiness. Examples of this are the kindly gas station owner who successfully guesses a coin toss correctly and is spared his life. My favorite is the matter of fact woman at the hotel front desk, with her permed hair, she gives as good as she gets, and her monotone voice is great. It is these smaller intricacies that truly make No Country for Old Men shine and are a staple of Coen Brother films in general.

Many similarities abound between Fargo and No Country for Old Men, not the least of which is the main protagonist being an older and wiser police chief (Marge Gunderson and Tom Bell, respectively). Add to this a series of brutal murders and the protagonist being from elsewhere and stumbling upon a small, bleak town. Of course, the extreme violence depicted in both must be mentioned as a comparable.

Having shamefully only seen this epic thriller two times, No Country for Old Men is a dynamic film, reminiscent of the best of Sam Peckinpah classics such as The Getaway or The Wild Bunch. The Coen brothers cross film genres to include thriller, western, and suspense that would rival the greatest in Hitchcock films. I cannot wait to see it again.

Milk-2008

Milk-2008

Director-Gus Van Sant

Starring-Sean Penn, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #744

Reviewed April 18, 2018

Grade: A

Milk is a 2008 film that successfully teaches its viewers both a valuable history lesson about the introduction of gay rights into the United States culture, as well as to the prolific leader associated with this , Harvey Milk. The film really belongs to Sean Penn, who portrays Milk, but is also a fantastic biopic and learned experience  appreciating his wonderful journey through the 1970’s- mainly in San Francisco and New York City. Moreover, Milk portrays a gay character not played for laughs as many films do, but portrayed as a hero.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person ever to be elected to any political office, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. The film however, opens in 1978, after a stunning announcement of Harvey Milk’s assassination along with the Mayor of the city, which was met with much heartbreak. The film then returns to 1970 as we meet Penn as Milk and follow his decade long battles and prosperity of changing the gay culture.

Having seen actual footage of Harvey Milk, Penn perfects the mannerisms and the speech patterns  of Milk giving him an immediate passionate and likable persona. The political figure had such a whimsical and innocent style all his own that Penn perfectly captures. His determination for honesty and fairness is admirable and inspiring and Milk seems like he was an innately good person.

Particularly heartbreaking is Penn’s facial reactions during his assassination scene-a scene that director Gus Van Sant brilliantly shoots as a follow-up to a joyous scene when Proposition 6 is defeated.  As troubled colleague, Dan White (Brolin), (rumored to be himself closeted and struggling with self identity), fires several shots into Harvey at City Hall, the scene is filmed in slow motion for additional dramatic effect and poignancy. The look of pain and sadness on Milk’s face will undoubtedly bring tears to even the most hard-hearted viewer.

The film shows the many close relationships which Milk formed throughout the 1970’s, including his steady lover Scott Smith, played by James Franco. The two actors share a solid chemistry together as they are both fun-loving and driven in what they hope to achieve. Sadly, Milk’s drive eventually outweighs Smith’s as they ultimately drift apart, but retain a special bond. Emile Hirsch is nearly unrecognizable as Cleve Jones, a young man who Harvey inspires and mentor throughout the pivotal decade.

A minute criticism noticed while watching Milk is that, with the exception of Penn, many of the supporting characters (Hirsch, Franco, and especially Alison Pill) seem to be “dressed up” in the 1970’s costumes, giving a forced rather than authentic feel. The costume designers seem intent on making them look so realistic that it backfires and looks more like actors made up to look like they are from the 1970’s. Penn, however, looks and acts spot on and stands out from the rest of the cast by miles.

An inspired biography of a legendary political figure, Harvey Milk, led by a fine lead actor (Penn), deserving of the Best Actor Oscar he was awarded, Milk is an astounding story of both triumph and tragedy. The film successfully portrays a time when a class of people were not treated fairly and equal rights were barely a possibility, and the uprising that occurred in large part due to one man and his followers. Milk is a wonderful testament to a time gone by and the accomplishments achieved since then- a truly inspiring and tragic message.

Black Swan-2010

Black Swan-2010

Director- Darren Aronofsky

Starring-Natalie Portman, Barbara Hershey

Scott’s Review #735

Reviewed March 22, 2018

Grade: A

Darren Aronofsky, the director famous for the psychological and bizarre, most notably 2000’s Requiem for a Dream, 20008’s The Wrestler, and 2017’s mother!, can easily add 2010’s Black Swan to this category as he weaves an unsettling tale involving the world of ballet centered around the Tchaikovsky work Swan Lake. The film is dark, eerie, perverse, and utterly mind-blowing in its creativity- in short, Black Swan is a masterpiece. The film reaped several Academy Award nominations including a win for Natalie Portman as Best Actress.

In the competitive New York City ballet company, art director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), is preparing to open the season with the compelling and difficult, Swan Lake. Deemed “too old”, star ballerina Beth McIntyre (Winona Ryder) is forced into retirement, much to her chagrin, allowing others to audition for the coveted lead role. Aspiring talent, Nina Sayers (Portman) gives a flawless audition as the White Swan, but lacks the depth to succeed as the Black Swan. Despite this point, Nina wins the role and slowly becomes psychotic as she begins to embody the Black Swan in her quest for perfection.

Certainly center stage, Portman embodies her character with mystique as we never know if she is living her dual role or if someone is messing with her. As strange events begin to occur, Nina is insecure and on edge throughout- as she desperately wants to give testament to White Swan/Black Swan she does not feel confident in the skin of Black Swan and she eventually teeters toward the edge of insanity. Deserving the Oscar statuette she won, Portman delivers the best role of her career.

Black Swan would not have been the success that it was without the talents of the three most prominent supporting characters- Cassel, Mila Kunis (at the time unknown), as Lily/Black Swan, and legendary talent Barbara Hershey as Nina’s supportive yet haggard mother, Erica. Just as Nina grows both suspicious of and distrustful of each of these characters motivations, so does the audience. Is Lily a trusted friend? What does Nina really know of her? Is Cassel’s Thomas manipulating Nina for a great performance or does he have sexual designs on her? Is Erica a loyal confidante or a jealous bitch, vengeful about her stalled career?

The final scene of the film is a masterpiece in itself and perfectly wraps up the film in perplexing, grotesque style. As the big night finally arrives and doubt is cast on whether or not Nina will perform successfully, the entire scene is a riveting, climactic experience. One will never forget the final shot of Nina, gushing with blood, and a grimace caked in stage makeup, as she professes a perfect performance to her musical director and cast mates. With this scene we are left wondering whether she will ever recover from this performance.

The fabulous musical score is haunting and effective and each piece is perfectly placed within the appropriate scene. The heavy use of violins gives the soundtrack a frightening, almost horrific screeching quality, and the Chemical Brothers electronic songs, importantly used during Nina and Lily’s wild night out clubbing, is tremendously effective.

The 1948 masterpiece The Red Shoes, directed by the controversial Michael Powell, simply must have been an influence to Aronofsky. Both containing similar subject matters of ballet and dancing on the edge of sanity, I can hardly think of two better films to serve as companion pieces, watched in tandem, then these two timeless greats.

Darren Aronofsky, along with a perfectly cast company with stellar, bombastic actors, and a classical music score by the great Tchaikovsky, with electronic elements mixed in delivers a piece that works in spades. 2010’s chilling Black Swan is a modern day classic that will be discussed as much as it is remembered as an incredibly important film.

A Separation-2011

A Separation-2011

Director-Asghar Farhadi

Starring-Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi

Scott’s Review #734

Reviewed March 21, 2018

Grade: A

A Separation is a 2011 Iranian film that was awarded the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award statuette, the first Iranian film to achieve the honor. The film is a family drama that is wonderfully complex, and weaves typical family issues (divorce and school issues) with more complicated and cultural leanings, and keeps going and going with story nuances. A Separation is directed by the acclaimed Asghar Farhadi, who is also responsible for the brilliant screenplay- this is a top notch film.

Presumably set in Tehran, or a more progressive (by Iranian standards) city in Iran, husband and wife Nader and Simin  reside with their teenage daughter, Termeh, and Nader’s elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Frustrated by her husbands refusal to leave the country for a better life, Simin files for divorce, but her wish is rejected by male judges. When she leaves her family anyway, Nader is forced to hire a pregnant caregiver, Razieh, to tend to his ailing father. After a controversial tragedy ensues, causing Razieh to suffer a miscarriage, the film shifts directions and adds an entirely new layer to the  already fascinating story.

Farhadi is very keen with his delivery of a good story- he traditionally mixes themes of culture and social class together in an interesting way as his future, 2017, work, The Salesman, would also do. Thanks to Farhadi’s innovative storytelling, more notice is taken to Iran and Iranian culture, thereby humanizing its citizen more within the craft of film. We see Iranian people just like ourselves and not the radical or dangerous individuals we are programmed to see.

With A Separation, there are no clear cut protagonists or antagonists, and viewers allegiances may shift throughout the run of the film. Do we champion Simin for desiring a better life for herself and for Termeh or scold her for refusing to live with her family? A progressive woman for sure, she is a layered character in her ambitions and her autonomy.

Nader is also a complex character- heroic for desiring the best of care for his father, he is also fraught with anger and bad temperament, which is the main reason for the second half of the film, and leads to Razieh’s predicament. Viewers will not be certain whether Nader is a good man or a villain, or perhaps a hybrid of the two. Subsequently, this is the meat of the entire story, and makes for an enthralling experience in character development.

As if the brilliant screenplay was not enough to demand a good watch, the acting across the board is wonderful. A cast including seasoned Iranian actors, Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi as Simin and Nader, these are my favorites, and are quite adept at carrying along the nail-biting tension in masterful form.

Shades of Alfred Hitchcock are evident throughout the film as the tension unfolds to a crescendo and the action builds and builds and builds in layers upon layers of good stuff. The quick editing and unique camera angles mirror some classic works of the famous director.

The success of A Separation is the films fast-paced, nicely edited construction, in a way that, at over two hours in length, the film speeds along rather quickly, and causes those who experience it to ponder, wonder, think, and ascertain. Asghar Farhadi has quickly become a prominent director, met with obstacles from his native country, and yet surpassing these hurdles to construct great film. I look forward to many more of his works.

Phantom Thread-2017

Phantom Thread-2017

Director-Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring-Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

Scott’s Review #722

Reviewed January 31, 2018

Grade: A

Phantom Thread is a 2017 gem of a film that ideally will be studied in film schools and remembered for decades to come, or at the very minimum be discussed and dissected among those fortunate enough to see it currently. Set in England during the 1950’s and centering on the dress-making industry, the film mixes romance with a bizarre psychological element that leave the viewer breathless as the final act comes to a dramatic and startling conclusion.

Daniel Day-Lewis once again does brilliant work as Reynolds Woodcock, an esteemed and famous dressmaker living and working in London during the 1950’s. He creates lavish dresses for the members of high society, including the wedding gown for the famous Belgian princess. Masterful at his work, he is also controlling and demanding, requiring plenty of support and attention from his equally controlling sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville). When he meets Alma Elson, a waitress from a countryside resort, the pair fall into a relationship, as she acts as his assistant, muse, and lover. Complexities develop between Reynolds, Alma, and Cyril as the plot progresses in cerebral and nail-biting fashion.

The film itself is ravishing to look at and a feast for the eyes if only for the classic costumes alone.  Each dress that Reynolds creates is exceptional and at the height of glamour. His domineering nature only makes this realistic as perfection is his modus operandi and his dresses are evidence of this. In one particularly fantastic sequence, Reynolds begrudgingly creates a dress for the boozy Barbara Rose, a rich and mature woman, who promptly falls asleep drunk at her own wedding, soiling the garment. A livid Reynolds, along with Alma, strip Barbara of the dress, rather than see her sleep in and tarnish it.

The main draw to the film, however, is the wonderful, intricate main plot involving Reynolds, Cryil, and Alma. This weaving of personalities and their nuances must be attributed to the fabulous direction of Paul Thomas Anderson,  known for edgy, dark films such as 1997’s Boogie Nights and 1999’s Magnolia. He comes up with a masterpiece in Phantom Thread. The three principle characters are quite unlikable and viewer allegiances may change throughout the tale. Appearing to be the innocent, debutante character of the film, the character of Alma will surprise- especially in the films final act.

A successful nuance to the film is the multitude of scenes involving characters breaking bread with others as events unfold over danishes, omelettes, and crisp asparagus-in fact, sometimes the banter involves discussions and debates about the preparation of the food. This characteristic is a dream for any foodie, and the meals actually aid in the progression of the plot.  Earlier in the film, Alma is scolded by a maid for nearly picking poisonous mushrooms which later becomes a major clue and part of the films conclusion. During a  pivotal scene between Reynolds and Alma, she prepares a delicious mushroom omelette for her love as motivations, secrets, and desires come to the surface.

The grand twist that Anderson reveals at the end of the film will only leave the viewer open-mouthed and quickly reviewing the events and circumstances of the entire film.

The close-up scenes that Anderson uses are magical and each actor allowed to be very expressive- the camerawork over several breakfast scenes- Alma and Cyril gazing at each other revealing emotions that border between hatred and mutual respect, are effectively done. Manville in particular does so much with her blue eyes as she sips coffee, peering over her cup with venomous indignation at her foe. How splendid is the comparison of Cyril to the famous Hitchcock villainous Mrs. Danvers from the classic 1940 film in her cold and creepy mannerisms.

My hope is that Phantom Thread will eventually be appreciated and analyzed as a cinematic work of art. Deservedly honored with a 2017 Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Costume Academy Award nomination, the film also is a lesson in great writing, bizarre angles, and important effects. Let’s wish for this film to be recognized as the great work that it is.

Howards End-1992

Howards End-1992

Director-James Ivory

Starring-Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter

Scott’s Review #702

Reviewed December 1, 2017

Grade: A-

Howards End is my favorite film in the collection of E.M. Forster adapted novels turned into films during the 1980’s and 1990’s (1985’s A Room with a View and 1987’s Maurice are the other two quality works). The novels were written during the early 1900’s and set during the same period, focusing on class relations  during 20th-century England. The film is lovely, picturesque, and carves an interesting story about romance and drama between the haves and the have-nots during this time period. The film was a success and received heaps of Academy Award nominations in 1993.

Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), an upper-middle class intellectual , part of London’s bourgeoisie, befriends wealthy and sophisticated, yet shockingly conservative Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave). The two women strike up a powerful friendship, which results in her beloved country home being left to Margaret when an ailing Mrs. Wilcox dies. To complicate matters, Margaret falls in love with businessman (and husband of Ruth), Henry (Anthony Hopkins), while Margaret’s sister Helen, briefly becomes engaged to Paul Wilcox, Henry’s son. The two families lives further intersect when they wind up as neighbors in London and the true ownership of the beloved “Howards End” is questioned. Added in the mix are several other characters of various social backgrounds, having connections to the families.

The writing in Howards End is rich and emotional as each character is perfectly fleshed out- and this includes the supporting as well as the lead characters. Thompson and Hopkins, both sensational actors, have tremendous chemistry together, and unsurprising was Thompson’s win for Best Actress during this competitive year. She carries the film seamlessly with her upper middle class ideals- not conservative rich, but far from working class- she epitomizes poise and grace and empathy for those less fortunate than she. Hopkins, on the other hand, is calculating and confident, yet charismatic and sexy as a old-school, controlling businessman. Somehow, these two characters compliment each other exceptionally well despite their varied backgrounds

The role of Helen may very well be Helena Bonham Carter’s finest. Not being an enormous fan of the actress-overrated and too brooding in my opinion-she enjoys portraying an interesting character in Helen. Lovelorn and earnest, yet somewhat oblivious, she develops a delicious romance with young clerk, Leonard Bast, my favorite character in the film. Living with Jacky, a woman of dubious origins, he is the ultimate nice guy, and sadly winds up down on his luck after heeding terrible business advice. Bast, thanks in large part to actor Samuel West, who instills an innocent, good guy quality to his character, deserves major props.

The cinematography featured in Howards End is just beautiful with extravagant outdoor scenes- the lavish gardens of Howards End- just ravishing and wonderful. Kudos too to the art direction, set design, and costume department for making the film look so enchanting. There is something so appealing about the look of this film and director, James Ivory, undoubtedly deserves praise for pulling it all together into a suave picture. Whether the scene call for sun or rain, tranquil or bustling, each and every scene looks great.

If I were to knock any points from this fine film it would be at two hours and twenty two minutes, Howards End does drag ever so slightly, and many scenes involve the characters merely having chats with each other, without much action, but this criticism is small potatoes when compared to the exceptional writing and well-nuanced character development displayed throughout the piece.

Admittedly, and perhaps shamefully, I have not read any of the Forster novels, but Howards End appears to be the film that is most successfully adapted, gleaming with textured finesse, grace, and style. With films finest actors along for the experience, and intricate, fine story-telling, Howards End is a film well worth watching.

Django Unchained-2012

Django Unchained-2012

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz

Scott’s Review #699

Reviewed November 26, 2017

Grade: A

Quentin Tarantino, the brilliant film-maker, can do very little wrong in my opinion, and he releases yet another masterpiece with 2012’s Django Unchained, a western story centering around the delicate subject matter of slavery. As with several other of the talented director’s stories, the main focal point here is a revenge driven tale with plenty of bloody scenes and stylistic ferociousness, making Django Unchained yet another masterpiece in the Tarantino collection. Certainly not for the faint of heart, the film will please fans of film creativity and artistic achievement.

As with many Tarantino films a stellar cast is used and each actor cast to perfection- it seems almost every actor in Hollywood is dying to appear in the director’s films- this time Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson are the lucky ones, all featured in prominent roles- not surprisingly the acting is top-notch. An interesting facet to note is that whomever appears in a Tarantino film seems to be having the time of their lives- what creative freedom and interesting material to experience. A comparable director to Tarantino- as far as recruiting fine actors- is Robert Altman- also tremendously popular with talent.

The saga begins with clear western flair as Django Freeman (Foxx) is led through the scorching heat of Texas with a group of other black slaves, presumably to be sold by their abusive white captors- the time is 1858 and abolition of slavery has not yet occurred, in fact the Civil War is still two years away. Doctor King Schultz (Waltz) , a former dentist and current bounty hunter, is on a mission to find and kill the Brittle brothers and realizes that Django can help him find the men. To complicate matters, Django has been separated from his wife Broomhilda (Washington) and vows to find her and avenge her abductors. As circumstances lead Schultz and Django to a vast Tennessee estate, the duo become business partners and friends. The race to rescue Broomhilda takes the pair to sunny (and equally hot) Mississippi- the home of vicious Calvin Candie (DiCaprio) and his dreaded “Candyland”.

The crackling heat and the atmospheric nature of Django Unchained combined with the revenge theme make the film an immeasurable success. An ode to spaghetti westerns of yesteryear, the film incorporates similar music and grit so that the end result is a modernized version of those films, with lots more blood and violence. Certainly, slavery is a tough subject matter to tackle, especially when members of the Ku Klux Klan are featured, but Tarantino does so effortlessly, and as Django gains revenge on his tormentors, there is major audience satisfaction to be enjoyed. The indignities and downright abuse that several black characters suffer can be quite tough to sit through.

The climactic dinner scene in Mississippi is splendid and the best sequence of the film. Schultz and Django dine with Calvin at his spectacular mansion. Calvin’s sinister and loyal house slave (Jackson) suspects a devious plan is about to be hatched and a vicious shoot-out erupts between the parties involved. The ingenious and long sequence is a cat-and-mouse affair with all of the characters carefully tiptoeing around the others in fear of being revealed or discovered as fakes. The scene is exceptional in its craft as we watch the characters dine on delectable food and drink, all the while motivations bubble under the surface.

Django Unchained is not for film-goers seeking either a linear story or a mainstream piece of blockbuster movie-making-Tarantino is not a typical Hollywood guy. The film is exceptionally carved and constructed in a way that challenges the viewer to endure what some of the characters (specifically Django and Broomhilda) are made to go through. This discomfort and horror makes the inevitable revenge all the more sweet and satisfying.

Quentin Tarantino has created masterpiece after masterpiece throughout his filmography of work. Proudly, I can herald 2012’s  Django Unchained as one of the unique directors very finest and will be sure to be remembered decades and decades in the future as being able to challenge, provoke thought, and satisfy legions of his fans.

Black Narcissus-1947

Black Narcissus-1947

Director-Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring-Deborah Kerr

Scott’s Review #688

Reviewed October 5, 2017

Grade: A

A British film made in 1947 that is way ahead of its time, Black Narcissus is a brilliant foray into the mysterious entity of nuns and the bitterness, both from humanity and from the elements, a group of nuns must face as they attempt to establish a new school atop the hills of the Himalayas. The look of the film is as fantastic as the story itself, with incredible cinematography, and a foreboding eerie quality to it. Black Narcissus is one of the great treasures of classic cinema.

Based on the 1939 novel written by Rumer Godden, Black Narcissus tells the story of revolving jealousy, rage, lust, and tension, amid a convent of nuns living in isolation. Deborah Kerr, wonderful in the lead role of Clodaugh, Sister Superior, and leader of the group, faces the temptations and anger of men, while dealing with an unbalanced nun, Sister Ruth, played terrifically by Kathleen Byron.

The cinematography and the art direction first and foremost must be praised as the lavish sets are just that- sets. However, the average viewer will be whisked away on a magical experience where it seems the sets are real locales- high atop the Himalayan mountains. Scenes contain howling wind, mist, and fog that are believable- all of the sets are built and structured and Black Narcissus was filmed entirely on a set. This tidbit is unbelievable given the realism that is the end result, especially since the film was made in 1947.

The lighting in the film is unique, specifically the vibrant colors of the pink flowers, and later, the closeups of Sister Ruth. A fantastic example of this is her decent into madness during the final act as her face, maniacal, yet lovely, is heavily featured. Her face appears bright and hypnotic.

The main event, though, belongs to the tales that the film tells, which are quite edgy for the year the film was made. The subject matter of religion is always a risky matter, and the treatment of the nuns as real human beings with true emotions, even lustful ones, is brazen. Specifically, Clodagh (Kerr),  is an interesting study as the character teeters on a romance with charismatic, handsome, local British agent, Mr. Dean (David Farrar) while attempting to forget a failed romance during her youth in Ireland. Meanwhile, Sister Ruth spirals out of control leading to a dire climax involving a enormous church bell atop the restored structure.

A slight misstep the film makes is casting mostly white actors with heavy makeup in the Indian roles instead of actors with authentic ethnicity. This detail is glaring because the makeup used is not overly convincing and especially guilty is the casting of the gorgeous Jean Simmons as Kanchi, a lower class dancing girl, who the Prince becomes infatuated with in a sub-plot. Still, this pales in comparison to the fantastic story and look of the film.

Black Narcissus is a classic film that contains a bit of everything- drama, thrills, intrigue, gorgeous sets, lavish design, even a bit of forbidden passion- and executes all aspects of the film in brilliant fashion. A film admired by critics and directors through the ages, specifically championed by Martin Scorsese, the film has the unique quality of getting better and better with each viewing.

High Noon-1952

High Noon-1952

Director-Fred Zinneman

Starring-Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly

Scott’s Review #638

Reviewed April 28, 2017

Grade: A

Billed as a standard western, but much more complex a film as a traditional, basic western, High Noon accomplished what no other western did in 1952- adding complexities from other genres , such as suspense and drama, to a film form. Additionally, High Noon challenged typical western themes such as male driven fights and chases, in favor of a moral and emotional approach, and oh is the film ever character driven.

The end results are astounding and the film ought to be studied in film school to understand and appreciate all of the elements going on. High Noon breaks the mold in a hearty way, being released at a time when the mainstream western was quite popular in film adding enormous risk-the results paid off in spades.

Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just wed his beloved bride, Amy (Grace Kelly), in a small ceremony in a tiny town in New Mexico. He plans to turn over his badge and retire to the prairie land with his new wife. Suddenly, the town receives word that a dastardly villain, Frank Miller, who was once sent away by Kane, has been released from a Texas prison, and plans to exact revenge on Kane. Miller is to arrive on the noon train as his three accomplices await his arrival, much to the chagrin of the rest of the town, who become panicked with each passing moment. The film begins at approximately ten thirty in the morning and ends shortly after noon.

High Noon has subtle yet prominent political themes and the messages taken from the film are clear examples of McCarthyism, though this is disputed by some. McCarthyism was a campaign launched by Senator Joseph McCarthy, which ended up blacklisting many artists suspected of communism. The main theme is how a group of people become frightened and blame and attack one another as a result of this fear. Our main protagonist (Kane) is faced with the dire feat of facing four angry gunmen, with revenge on their minds, alone, as a town full of people choose not to get involved.

Brilliant is that High Noon more or less takes place in real time. The inclusion of clocks in the film, and specifically of pendulums swaying back and forth creates a defined level of tension as character after character nervously glances at the time, knowing full well that with each passing minute they inch closer and closer to a fantastic and deadly showdown- much blood will be shed.

Cooper, old enough to be Kelly’s grandfather, is noticeable if one chooses to be nit picky, but the couple really do work well together and I bought the happily wedded couple as genuine.

I adore the character of Helen Ramirez, played by actress Katy Jurado. A Mexican character, Ramirez is a prominent business woman in the small town, owning a saloon. She is empowered, and confident, a character to admire regardless of one’s gender. A strong female character of Mexican heritage in film in 1952 was quite uncommon, also keeping in mind the film is set in the wild west.

Equally impressive and completely backwards for the time, the events of Amy coming to the rescue of Kane, instead of the standard, gender specific, “man rescues woman”, challenge the norm. Further groundbreaking is that Amy is written as a Quaker woman, not the traditional Christian woman, nor is she skittish or silly. Western stereotypes are completely turned upside down in the film which is arguably way ahead of its time.

Eerie, yet highly effective, is the use of a “theme song” either being sung or in another form (musical score or background music) throughout the film- the song is “Do Not Foresake Me, My Darling”, which became a hit forTex Ritter. Worth mentioning is that the success of this added “theme song” encouraged subsequent westerns to add similar songs to their films.

Challenging the standard in many ways, High Noon sets the bar very high in its thoughtfulness, its message, and its personal conflict. The film is an example of persons taking the film world and turning it upside down, the results being fantastic and inspiring.

Bonnie and Clyde-1967

Bonnie and Clyde-1967

Director-Arthur Penn

Starring-Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway

Scott’s Review #628

Reviewed March 25, 2017

Grade: A

Bonnie and Clyde is an excellent 1967 crime drama that is not only a great film, but successfully, and surprisingly wound up influencing an entire generation, becoming somewhat of a rallying cry for the youth generation of the time. Released in a tumultuous period in history (the Vietnam war, the Sexual Revolution, and Civil Rights), the film fits the times and also was groundbreaking in its use of violence, blood, and sex. The film holds up tremendously well to this day and is beloved by intelligent film lovers everywhere.

The film begins with snapshots of the real Bonnie and Clyde- a duo of bank robbers who rampaged the southwest during the Great Depression.  Set in steamy Texas, circa 1930’s, the film tells their story. Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) meets Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) when he tries to steal her mother’s car one hot day. Instantly infatuated with each other, the steamy duo team up and become partners in crime. Over time they enlist the help of others and become more successful bank robbers with the stakes rising with each heist. Rounding out the crew of criminals are gas-station attendant, C.W. Moss, and Clyde’s older brother Buck, played by Gene Hackman, along with his wife, Blanche (Estelle Parsons), an innocent-minded, and sometimes hysterical, preacher’s wife.

Bonnie and Clyde is a unique film in many different ways- the quick-cut editing style influenced Sam Peckinpah in his films to come, and the film uses a fast paced rat-a- tat-tat style that symbolizes gunfire-a major element of the film. Blood spurts from victims bodies in a style never before seen on the big screen and led to many film makers comfort with using increased violence. You could say that Bonnie and Clyde took away the innocence of Hollywood films and shook all of the traditional elements inside out.

The conclusion of the film is one of the greatest in cinematic history. Far from an idyllic, happy ending, traditional with films in those days, the law finally catches up with Bonnie and Clyde with grim results for the pair, and their demise is gruesome, but true to form. We have fallen in love with the characters so their hasty exit from this world is tough to stomach and as they writhe and twitch with each gunshot wound, the bullets pummeling the bodies, the scene is a difficult one to watch.

The love story between Bonnie and Clyde is intense, yet sweet, and the casting of Beatty and Dunaway is spot on. Smoldering with sexuality- as Bonnie fondles Clyde’s gun who does not see this as a phallic symbol- their personal relationship is fraught with stamina and emotional energy. The two actors feed off of each other and fill the scenes with gusto. Their chemistry is part of what makes the film so great.

One of the best scenes is the shoot ’em up showdown at a ranch where the group of robbers is hiding out- the scene laden with intensity and violence. As Buck is mortally wounded, Blanche is blinded and captured, soon to make a grave mistake in revealing one of the others identities. Bonnie, Clyde, and C.W. barely escape with their lives and their antics from this point become bloodier and bloodier. The cat and mouse play during this scene make it the most suspenseful of them all.

Amid all of the violence, a wonderful scene exists when Bonnie and Clyde meet up at a secret location with Bonnie’s mother. A local townswoman and non-actress was cast in the pivotal role of Bonnie’s mother and the scene is an emotional experience. The woman’s kindness and sensibility and the sheer “regular person” she encompasses humanizes Bonnie and Clyde, and in ominous fashion, their downfall is soon to occur.

A heavily influential film, Bonnie and Clyde is a film that is still quite relevant, especially for those who appreciate good film, and rich, intelligently written characters, who are flawed, yet humanistic, layered with complexities. This is what director, Penn, carves out, and the film is an all time Hollywood classic.

Inglourious Basterds-2009

Inglourious Basterds-2009

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz

Scott’s Review #589

Reviewed January 7, 2017

Grade: A

Inglorious Basterds is simply a great movie. Blending many film genres together, it is hard to categorize, but that is because it is a Quentin Tarantino film and that says it all. The film as a whole contains excellent acting, is wonderfully shot, and extremely detail oriented, plus it has the familiar “Tarantino” style of music and sound, the chapter breakdown, and the heavy violence.

Set mainly in German occupied France during the early 1940’s, clearly during World War II, the action centers around two stories- Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), a teenage girl whose entire family is killed after being discovered hidden by a dairy farmer who is a Jewish sympathizer, barely escapes with her life when a SS Colonel, brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz, interrogates the man. Three years later, now living in Paris and owning a cinema, she plots her revenge. The other story is also of a revenge plot by a group of Jewish-American soldiers to kill as many Nazi’s as possible. Both stories eventually intersect with a grand finale inside a cinema.

The story itself is richly nuanced and unlike many generic films of today. The fantastic set design and the perfection to every last set piece is amazing. Long scenes play out slowly, but bristle with authenticity and good dialogue. Take the first scene for example- as the SS Colonel, aptly nicknamed the “Jew Hunter” plays cat and mouse with the dairy farmer, politely asking for two glasses of milk, the audience knows the pay off will be huge, but the conversation crackles with good dialogue.

What strikes me most about the film is the intelligent writing. The many scenes of conversations between characters- a chat over strudel and cream, a trivia game at a bar, and the aforementioned scene at the farmhouse, bristle with unique, clever written dialogue so that the scenes are far from merely filler. Of course, this is also a characteristic of Tarantino.

At over two and a half hours Inglourious Basterds is long, but satisfying. My only criticism is of Brad Pitt. I didn’t buy him as a Tarantino guy and found his character the only weak point of the film. His southern drawl just did not draw me in like I thought it might. He was touted as the main character (perhaps because he was the biggest star), but he really plays a supporting role.

Bambi-1942

Bambi-1942

Director-David Hand

Starring-Various voices

Top 100 Films-#88

Scott’s Review #556

Reviewed December 22, 2016

Grade: A

Simply lovely, endearing, and a heartbreaking tale, Bambi is one of my favorite classic Disney animated features of all time. Gorgeous and flawless, the film sends a definite message of animals longing for peace in a world filled with hunters attempting to disturb and kill the graceful deer. After all of these years, this message still resonates loud and clear, in sad, heartbreaking fashion. All deer hunters should watch this film and then have the audacity to hunt. Bambi was released among the Golden Age of Disney films, led by Snow White, Dumbo, Pinocchio, to name but a few.

We first meet baby Bambi as his dear mother nurtures and nestles him, fawning over him with pride and teaching him the joys of the forest.  Bambi’s father is the Great Prince of the Forest- protector of all the creatures of the land. Bambi’s mother (unnamed) warns an exuberant Bambi to be cautious of the gorgeous, yet dangerous, meadows, where the deer are vulnerable and unprotected.

During the film’s famous gut-wrenching scene, tragedy occurs, and violence disrupts the peaceful forest, leaving Bambi alone, lost, and devastated, forced into a cruel world of tragedy, realism, and responsibility. The scene gets to me every time as we see the pain and the harshness of what life is like for the sweet deer, to say nothing of the other animals in the forest- namely, Thumper (a rabbit), and Flower (a young Skunk). These characters are Bambi’s best friends. The dripping teardrop that oozes from Bambi’s eye is unable to be forgotten.

To counterbalance the dark tone of the film, Disney successfully adds cheerful scenes of the animals dancing and co-mingling with each other- as one community. This is nice as it shows the power and the bond between the creatures- they are united as a family and take care of one another. I love this message, especially as young people will watch the film for the first time.  There is also a sweet romance offered between Bambi and Faline.

To watch the film and listen to the musical score is to experience sheer beauty. The music makes the film powerful- its classical and operatic elements are gorgeous and will elicit emotions for sure. Visually, each frame is a drawing set against a still and is magical to watch and marvel at the amount of work that undoubtedly went into this preparation.

In the end, the circle of life takes place. Bambi becomes the Great Prince of the Forest, replacing his father as the protector. Now  all grown up with two tiny babies of his own, he must protect his family and friends. Life goes on. A sad yet realistic message. How brave of Disney to create a piece as wonderful as Bambi.

A personal satisfaction for me is observing my beloved female feline friend, Thora, become mesmerized and attentive to the film each time I watch it.

Disney’s Bambi is a wonderful, cherished treasure that evokes emotion and teaches a valuable, though painful message. It is a timeless masterpiece to be enjoyed for generations to come. One will not escape the film with dry eyes, which is a testament to the marvelous film making involved.

Moonlight-2016

Moonlight-2016

Director-Barry Jenkins

Starring-Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland

Scott’s Review #512

80121348

Reviewed November 6, 2016

Grade: A

Moonlight is a wonderful film, rich with character and grit, that tells the story of one man’s life- from childhood, to teenage years, to adulthood, sharing the bonds he forms, and the demons he wrestles. The acting all around is fantastic and the story poignant and truthful. The film is not preachy, but rather tells a story and leaves the audience to sit and observe- quietly formulating their own opinions. Moonlight is a mixture of beauty and heartbreak and is told very well.

The film is divided into three chapters- in chronological order of the central characters life. Chiron is a shy, docile, young boy of six or seven living in a drug-filled world of Miami, Florida in the 1980’s. He is bullied for being “different” though he knows not why he is shunned. Chiron is introverted and distrusting.  A kind hearted drug dealer named Juan (Mahersala Ali), takes a shine to Chiron, whose own mother becomes more and more absent and emotionally abusive to her son. Naomie Harris plays Paula, mother to Chiron and herself a drug addict. Juan and his girlfriend Theresa (Janelle Monae) become surrogate parents to Chiron and share their home with him as needed.

Chapter two focuses on Chiron as a teenager- still bullied and coming to terms with his sexuality and feelings of insecurity. By this time his mother has spiraled out of control and his life is a sad one. He is filled with emotions such as rage, despair, and confusion. He has an experience with his best friend Kevin that changes the direction of his life. Kevin is his saving grace and a decent person amidst his troubled life.

In chapter three, we are re-introduced to Chiron as an adult- having completely reinvented himself and become a changed man, but is he changed for better or for worse? People from his past resurface at this time and Chiron must face various demons and emotions, and come to terms with himself and others surrounding him. Will his story have a sad or a happy ending is the question we are left wondering.

The aspect that left me impressed the most is the storytelling and the ground that is broken with this film. From an LGBT perspective, by this time (2016), we have experienced numerous offerings on the subject, but the fact that Moonlight is not only a character study, but a love story between two black men has not been done to this degree yet in cinema, or arguably at all, especially in mainstream fare. Happily Moonlight is receiving critical praise. The fact that Chiron lives in a macho, male driven society, makes his self acceptance all the more challenging for him.

The direction in Moonlight is impressive and director Barry Jenkins deserves much praise. Quiete scenes of Chiron as a boy asking Juan and Theresa why the bullies call him a certain name are heartbreaking. Another scene, muted and in slow motion, reveal an abusive Paula calling Chiron a degrading name leaving him confused and hurt. Otherwise, tender scenes between Chiron and Kevin are sweet and passionate and told on such a humanistic level.

Moonlight delves into such territory as loneliness and self identity and  is an interesting film to view for anyone who has struggled with these issues or anyone who is empathetic to those who have.  Moonlight breaks stereotypes and molds a film that is subtle and low-key, but speaks volumes.

The Seventh Seal-1957

The Seventh Seal-1957

Director-Ingmar Bergman

Starring-Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand

Scott’s Review #497

70127971

Reviewed October 23, 2016

Grade: A

The Seventh Seal is an Ingmar Bergman Swedish masterpiece that, after three mere viewings, I am just beginning to fully appreciate, and fall in love with. It is not that I did not “get” the dark, artsy theme to begin with- I did, but The Seventh Seal is a savory dish meant for repeated offerings and with each, I have loved it even more. The subject matter of the plague and of the Black Death are very heavy. It is a quiet,yet powerful, dark, art film about death.

The film is shot in black and white, which does nothing but enhance the cold, stark concepts of the film. Color would have certainly made the film more cheery or bright- if that can be said given the subject matter. Instead, the filming is cold, yet illuminating, and the whites seem very white- the blacks- very dark, which is symbolic of the films concepts.

In the story, a disillusioned medieval knight-Antonius Block (Max von Sydow)  returns home from war disenchanted with life. He has fought in the Crusades and has returned home to Sweden to find it plagued by the Black Death. He begins to play a game of chess-alone- and is visited by Death- a hideous pale creature shrouded in black. Antonius challenges Death to a game of chess- his fate left up in the air so long as the game continues. Throughout the film, Antonius is the only character who can see Death- the other characters cannot, making the film open to interpretations.

The other characters in the story are a troupe of actors that Antonius meets along the way to his castle and a young, fresh-faced girl who has been branded a witch and is fated to be burned at the stake is featured. Since she is close to death, Antonius takes particular fascination with her.

Throughout the film and the trials and tribulations of the characters, Death is continuously lurking around, watching these characters, which is a fascinating part of the film. They, obviously, cannot see him, so we can only assume their time in this world is limited.

What makes The Seventh Seal so powerful is its honesty- harsh as it is. The knowledge that death is coming for these people is fascinating and many of the characters discuss god in length, pray, as religion is an enormous aspect of the film. It almost contains a good vs. evil, god vs. devil component, and again, important to stress, is highly open to interpretation. Great art films are.

Numerous scenes reverberate and are major iconic moments in film history decades later. The scene of Antonius and Death playing chess on the beach is chilling and ghost-like. Death- his pale face and black cloak would frighten anyone. This scene has been referenced numerous times over the years.

The inevitable final shot- my favorite- is a long shot of peasants being led to their fate by Death as they are pulled begrudgingly by a rope held by Death is reminiscent of the Pied Piper and is entitled “dance of death”. The individuals are dressed in black and are atop a hill surrounded by sky, making the morbid scene highly effective. The Last Supper scene is also powerful as a last meal is enjoyed by the group- unsure of what fate has in store for them the next day.

I anticipate more viewings of this brilliant piece of film making.

Terms of Endearment-1983

Terms of Endearment-1983

Director-James L. Brooks

Starring-Shirley MacLane, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson

Scott’s Review #368

60004508

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Terms of Endearment is a sentimental favorite of mine, and while I am slightly embarrassed to include this chick-flick to end all chick-flicks on my favorites list, it is also a damned good sentimental film and makes me a bit weepy each time I see it.  It is pure Hollywood mainstream formula, but somehow Terms of Endearment works for me (romantic films are not usually at the forefront) and even won the coveted Best Picture Oscar for 1983. That must say something.

So if it is so sappy what makes it so great? For starters, it has some exceptional acting all around, especially by  leads Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, and Debra Winger. How can you go wrong with talent of that caliber?  In the film, MacLaine and Winger play Aurora and Emma Greenway, a mother and daughter, (the father is deceased) who share a lifelong love/hate relationship, living in the mid-west in present times. Nicholson plays Garrett, a retired astronaut (and womanizer) and the object of Aurora’s affections. The chemistry among all three is apparent- I sinfully find it delicious that Winger and MacLaine apparently despised each other throughout filming, adding a layer of curiosity and intrigue to the film, and during their scenes.

Director James L. Brooks wisely balances the heavy drama with comedy so the film does not become too overwrought. For example, Garrett and Aurora  have a courtship that is humorous, constantly bickering or misunderstanding each other- he a womanizing playboy type and she a domineering, insecure woman- they end up needing each other, nonetheless. Unforgettable is the hilarious drive along the beach scene that the two share.  Even though the duo are tenuous and difficult,  I love them all the same.

The tear-jerker scenes are emotional and especially the death-bed scene at the end of the film. There is so much raw emotion going on at once and, a rarity in film, the child-actors involved  are real, believable, and flawless. The film really feels like watching a true, real-life, drama play out. The heartache feels real and the film as a whole feels very genuine.

Also interesting is Emma’s failing marriage to Flap (Jeff Daniels) and her subsequent affair with kind-hearted Sam (John Lithgow) as well as her departure from her mother’s hometown, the constant phone-calls, and being in one another’s life, just like a real mother and daughter relationship is oftentimes like.

Terms of Endearment has all of the elements that make a good, old-fashioned, dramatic tear-jerker, and I find myself a sucker for it each time that I watch it.

Fargo-1996

Fargo-1996

Director-Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Starring-Frances McDormand, William H. Macy

Top 100 Films-#79

Scott’s Review #366

493387

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Fargo, the film, is a treasure as far as I am concerned and the role that deservedly propelled Frances McDormand to the forefront of film audience’s minds- not to mention a gold statue for Best Actress. The film epitomizes dark humor, zany freshness, during a time in film when originality was emerging, and independent films were growing in popularity. Fargo led the pack.

The film suffers from some derision by locals in and around the upper mid-west for its depiction of accents- perhaps overdone, but hysterical all the same. Mixed with the snowy and icy locales, the film perfectly presents a harsh and small-town feeling. The introduction of a crime- initially done in an innocent manner, escalates out of control. Fargo is part caper, part thriller, and part adventure and is a layered, cool film. The fact that the time period is 1987 is great. The cars, the Oldsmobile dealership, all work in a fantastic way.

McDormand plays a local Police Chief- Marge Gunderson, very pregnant, who stumbles upon the crime and slowly unravels the mystery. All the while, the character keeps her cool, cracks jokes, and emits witty one-liner after another, presenting a slightly dim-witted image, but really brilliantly deducing the aspects of the crime.

William H. Macy, in 1996 largely unknown, is perfectly cast as car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard. Nervous, shaky, yet with a down home respectability, he hatches a plot to have his wife kidnapped, the ransom to be paid by her wealthy father, enabling Jerry to pay off an enormous embezzling debt, and splitting the money with the kidnappers. Predictably, things go awry and spiral out of control.

I love how this film crosses genres and is tough to label- is it a crime drama, a thriller, a comedy? A bit of each which is the brilliance of it. Fargo is an odd, little piece of art, and remembered as one of the best films of the 1990’s, making a star out of Frances McDormand.

Dancer in the Dark-2000

Dancer in the Dark-2000

Director-Lars von Trier

Starring-Bjork, Catherine Deneuve

Top 100 Films-#95

Scott’s Review #365

60002276

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Dancer in the Dark is in my opinion one of the most important, inventive films of the 2000’s and proudly is one of my favorites of all time. However, the film is not pleasant to watch, and really quite painful and depressing, if truth be told. But the relevance and sheer emotion the film elicits is more than enough reason to be exposed to it- if only, but perhaps, once.

Director, Lars von Trier, is a master at creative and disturbing, dream-like films that are either odd, non-linear, or otherwise open to interpretation in some way. He has directed such gems as 2011’s Melancholia and 1996’s Breaking the Waves, to name but two. With Dancer in the Dark he uses hand held cameras which add much grit to the film so it almost feels documentary style, and a grainy, shaky look. The addition of musical numbers mostly written and performed by star, Bjork, is a wonderful touch.

Speaking of Bjork, words cannot express what a brilliant performance she gives in the film, and the raw emotion she expresses in her starring role is awe inspiring. So much was the stress of filming Dancer in the Dark, that she, to my knowledge, has never made another film. She was shamefully overlooked in the Best Actress Oscar category- an omission that is one of the biggest fails in Oscar history.

Tensions were reportedly high on the set of Dancer in the Dark, as Bjork reportedly despised her director, never missing a chance to tell him so, disappeared from the set for days on end, and spat in his face. Co-star Deneuve, a former French mega-film star, reportedly did not get along well with Bjork. Despite all the drama, the stars managed to pull together a masterpiece.

Bjork plays Selma, a Czech immigrant, living in Seattle with her young son. The year is 1964. Selma is poor, struggling to survive by working in a clothing factory along with her best friend Cvalda (Deneuve). Selma and Cvalda escape their dull lives by watching classic musical films at their local cinema. To make matters worse, Selma is suffering from a degenerative eye disease causing her to gradually lose her sight. She struggles to save enough for a surgery for her son, who is sure to suffer the same fate without it. Selma frequently imagines musical numbers in her day to day life involving friends and co-workers. When a tragic turn of events occurs and Selma is accused of a crime, the film goes in a very dark direction.

The conclusion of the film will always require handkerchiefs as it is powerful as it is gloomy.  The aspect I love most about Dancer in the Dark is that it smashes barriers about what film art is and throws all of the rules out the window. Lars von Triers is certainly famous for this and creates a dreamy, independent hybrid musical and drama, a dynamic, tragic, emotional experience all rolled up into one great film.

The Color Purple-1985

The Color Purple-1985

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey

Scott’s Review #358

60026621

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Steven Spielberg, admittedly a director who focuses more on sentimentality, mixes heartbreak with courage to blend a recipe that makes for a perfect, mainstream film from 1985. It is a different direction for him- far extreme from the summer blockbusters he was known for until this time. Exceptional acting and cinematography lends itself to The Color Purple, a film based on the much darker novel by Alice Walker. Certainly, one of the best films of the 1980’s. Relative unknown when the film was made, Whoopi Goldberg gives an astounding performance in the lead role.

The film spans approximately forty years in the early twentieth century and is set is rural Georgia. Celie Harris (Goldberg) is an oppressed black woman, her sister and best friend Nettie sent away, leaving Celie a virtual prisoner with a man, Albert Johnson (Danny Glover), she is forced to marry and care for- in addition to his children. Raped and beaten, Celie is left with little self worth until two women, rotund, feisty, Sophia (Oprah Winfrey), and Shug (Margaret Avery) inspire her to be something better.

The Color Purple is a very sentimental film filled with inspiration to anyone beaten down or otherwise abused by people or by society. The depiction of southern life for blacks, especially black women is depicted well, though softened I have no doubt. Liberties must be taken for the sake of film as black men, in particular, are not portrayed well- surely there must have been some decent black men in this time? But, despite Spielberg being a male, The Color Purple is told from a definite female perspective.

Her role of Celie is Goldberg’s finest and hers is a case of the Academy getting it all wrong; she should have won an Oscar for this performance instead of a conciliation win a few years later for her secondary (and unremarkable) role in Ghost. Goldberg never achieved any roles as great as Celie. Her expressions and mannerisms spoke volumes and her occasional wide, beaming smile would melt the coldest heart. Winfrey, equally brilliant as Sophia (and also robbed at Oscar time), is a completely different character. Angry, abrasive, and outspoken, she fills Sophia with life and energy, which makes her big scene heartbreaking to watch. Defying a white man she is beaten and arrested and reduced to living out her days as a limping maid to a white woman- who she swore she would never serve.

The cinematography and direction of The Color Purple are grand. Spielberg does a believable job of depicting the time period in an accurate way. The costumes worn by the cast and the lighting in general are bright and colorful, and I think this gives the film a flavor that is nice to watch. Again, Walker’s novel and the real life experience were undoubtedly much darker, but for film sake, this adaptation (numerous stage versions preceded and followed) makes for a wonderful film.

The Night of the Hunter-1955

The Night of the Hunter-1955

Director-Charles Laughton

Starring-Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters

Top 100 Films-#66

Scott’s Review #351

804679

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

The way that I would classify The Night of the Hunter is by describing it as a fairy tale for adults. In fact, I categorized it as a thriller, but it certainly teeters on the edge of being a horror film. In addition to being a well-written film, it also contains breathtaking cinematography. Made in 1955, it is shot in black and white, and tells the tale of good versus evil in a small town. The film is a masterpiece and one of my all time favorites.

The film is creepy, but in a highly intelligent way, and director Charles Laughton is responsible for the immeasurable success of the film, though the film was not a success upon release. It has only been as the years passed that is has finally received its due admiration. The film is way ahead of its time. It is based on the 1953 novel by Davis Grubb.

The time is the 1930’s in rural West Virginia, and the action takes place along the Ohio river. Ben Harper, a local family man, robs a bank and hides the stolen money inside his daughter’s doll. His son and daughter (John and Pearl) are central characters in the story. Caught, Ben is out of the picture leaving his wife, Wilma (Winters), vulnerable and alone. A serial killer, Reverend Harry Powell (Mitchum), a misogynist, is on the loose disguised as a preacher. In prison with Ben, he knows the money is hidden and is determined to find out where. He has designs on wooing Wilma. When dire events occur, John and Pearl are left on the run along the river to seek refuge with a kindly older woman, Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish).

The film is a combination of majestic, haunting, and artistic. Each scene seemingly glows as the dark black and the white colors mix in a gorgeous way, making the film tranquil, despite the dark tone of the films subject matter.

The Night of the Hunter also has a visual dream-like quality. During one pivotal scene, we see a dead body, submerged at the bottom of the river. Obviously, it is horrific with the bulging eyes and the bloating beginning to set in, but the scene is so creatively beautiful as well. The flowing hair of the victim, the posture, is a mesmerizing scene and sticks with you for some time.

Poetic, and a sense of good versus evil, clearly laid out as Powell has two words imprinted on the knuckles of each hand- “L-O-V-E” and “H-A-T-E”.  These words create the basis of the film as both words can be applied to the actions of the characters.

My personal favorite scene is when John and Pearl travel along the Ohio river in flight from their rival. The shapes of the trees mirrored with the flowing river is just incredible to see and I can watch this scene over and over again.

A thriller, written intelligently well, with creativity for miles, is a recipe for pure delight. Director, Laughton, only directed this one film, and encouraged creative collaboration and participation from his actors, and it shows in the resulting masterpiece. The Night of the Hunter has influenced countless directors.

Goodfellas-1990

Goodfellas-1990

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring-Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Top 100 Films-#89

Scott’s Review #349

70002022

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Director Martin Scorsese adapts Goodfellas, a crime-mob film, from the 1986 non-fiction book written by Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi helped Scorsese write the screenplay. The film is a more matter-of-fact telling than the purely dramatic The Godfather, with more wit and humor thrown in and great editing. Featuring powerful acting by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci, it is a classic mob film that is memorable and can be enjoyed via repeated viewings.  Largely ad-libbed, the film is rich in good dialogue and holds the distinction of containing one of the highest totals of curse words in film history.

The film is told from the first person narrative of the lead character, Henry Hill. Henry, now in the Witness Protection Program, recounts his years affiliated with the mob, spanning the years 1955-1980. We meet Henry as a youngster in Brooklyn, New York, half-Italian, half-Sicilian, he idolizes the “wise guys” on the streets and has every intention of one day joining their ranks. From there, the film describes the trials and tribulations of Henry’s group of miscreants. Henry meets and falls in love with Karen (Lorraine Bracco) and their tumultuous love story is explored, through tender moments and affairs.

What I love most about Goodfellas is the love of the characters and the sense that you are part of the action. The film is really a highly stylized family drama- gritty nonetheless, but the viewer feels like they are part of things and a member of the family- milestones are celebrated and meals are shared. We see Henry grow from a teenaged gullible boy- idolizing the neighborhood men, to actually being part of the group. The other characters, such as vicious and volatile Tommy DeVito (Pesci) and Jimmy “The Gent” Conway (De Niro), age and mature.

Bracco’s character is an interesting one- she, unlike most of the female characters in The Godfather films, is not content to merely sit on the sidelines and look past her husbands shenanigans and torrid affairs with floozies. She is a more modern, determined woman and Bracco plays her with intelligent and a calm demeanor. She wants to be Henry’s equal instead of just some trophy wife.

Pesci, who deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role, is brutal and filthy, but so mesmerizing a character. During a memorable scene, his character of Tommy jokingly teases Henry, but when Henry responds in a way that displeases Tommy, the scene grows tense and Tommy becomes increasingly disturbing. His famous line “What am I a clown- do I amuse you?” is both clever and haunting in its repercussions.

I adore the soundtrack that Scorsese chooses for the film- spanning decades, he chooses songs true to the times such as “Layla” (1970) or “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” (1964) are just perfect. Worth noting is when a scene plays, sometimes the song is mixed in with the narrative so that it actually enhances the scene altogether- becoming a part of it rather than simply background music.

If one is looking for the perfect mob film, that contains music, wit, charm, and fantastic writing, Goodfellas is among the best that there is. My preference is for The Godfather and The Godfather II, but while Goodfellas has similarities to these films it is also completely different and stands on its own merits.

Rebecca-1940

Rebecca-1940

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine

Top 100 Films-#63

Scott’s Review #345

895272

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

The only Alfred Hitchcock film to win the coveted Best Picture Oscar trophy, Rebecca is a very early offering in the famous director’s repertoire. His heyday being well ahead of this film (the 1950’s and 1960’s saw his best works), Rebecca is a blueprint of fine things to come and on its own merits is a great film. Shot in black and white, the film is a descent into mystery, intrigue, and madness, with a gothic look to it.

Laurence Olivier stars as rich widower Maxim de Winter, whose first wife, title character Rebecca, has died some time before the story begins. In a clever twist, the character of Rebecca is never seen, but takes on a life of her own through the tellings of the rest of the cast. Joan Fontaine plays a nameless, naïve young woman who meets the sophisticated Maxim and marries him, becoming the new Mrs. de Winter. This development is met with disdain by the servants who work in the grand de Winter mansion, named Manderley, a character in its own right.

Housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) in particular, is cold and distant from Maxim’s new wife, and begins to reveal an obsession with the deceased Rebecca, creating jealousy and intimidation for Fontaine’s character- so much so, that, she begins to doubt her sanity and decision making capabilities.

Rebecca is a fantastic, old style film, that provides layers of mystery and wonderment thanks to Hitchcock’s direction. The mansion that is Manderley is central to the story as is the obsession that creepy Mrs. Danvers has with Rebecca. She keeps the dead woman’s bedroom neat and tidy, a sort of shrine to her memory, so much so that, despite the time the film is made, 1940, a lesbian element is crystal clear to attention paying audiences. This aspect may have not been noticed at the time, but in more recent times, this is quite obvious.

The film is also a ghost story of sorts since the central character, Rebecca, is never seen. Could she be haunting the mansion? Is she actually dead or is this a red herring, created to throw the audience off the track? Is the new Mrs. de Winter spiraling out of control? Is she imagining the servants menacing actions? Is Maxim in on the torment or simply seeking a replacement wife to his true love? The pertinent questions not only are asked of the character, but of the audience themselves as they watch with bated breath.

The climax and finale to Rebecca is fantastic. As the arguably haunted mansion is engulfed in flames and the sinister Mrs. Danvers can be seen lurking near the raging drapes, the truth comes to the surface leaving a memorable haunting feeling to audiences watching. Rebecca is a true classic.

Escape from New York-1981

Escape from New York-1981

Director-John Carpenter

Starring-Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau

Top 100 Films-#76

Scott’s Review #344

60002839

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Escape from New York epitomizes a great action film to me. Too often, action films are filled with run of the mill characters, are plot driven, and are mediocre stories that lack creativity. I adore Escape from New York, however. The creativity and amazing direction by John Carpenter allow the film to soar high above what is typical for this genre. The unique premise sets things off immediately as we follow the mission of ex-con Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to save an important figure in peril.

In futuristic 1997, we learn that due to skyrocketing crime throughout the United States, New York City has been fenced off and turned into a maximum security prison. All of the most hardened and demonic criminals have been isolated on Manhattan island to fend for themselves- free to kill or be killed as they like. The rest of the country is presumably crime free- though we never see the rest of the country. The President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) is taken hostage when Air Force One crashes on Manhattan island. Snake is injected with a poison that will kill him in twenty-four hours unless he successfully rescues the president and returns him alive and well.

I love this film because it is strictly Carpenter’s vision. Due to the success of 1978’s Halloween, he was given creative freedom and a big budget to film in St. Louis (doubling for New York). The film contains eerie synthesizer music (reminiscent of Halloween and Halloween II) which sets the tone exceptionally well. The dark and abandoned sets are wonderful and capture a futuristic world oh so well.

The audience will undoubtedly become enraptured as Snake’s mission is literally do or die- if he does not save the president he dies. As Snake arrives atop the World Trade Center via glider, now post 9/11, this scene takes on a haunting quality. Snake then immerses himself into the gloomy world of Manhattan facing all sorts of dangers along the way. Punk rock looking creatures scurry around the city- many insane, and Snake meets odd character after odd character in his quest to save the president. His main ally is Cabbie, played by Ernest Borgnine.

The villain of the story is Duke, not well cast nor well developed in my opinion, but this can be overlooked because of his super rad Cadillac and his two fascinating accomplices- Maggie (Barbeau) and Brain (Harry Dean Stanton). The lavish sets include the New York Public Library and Grand Central Station- I love that there are so many iconic New York City locales featured- the fact that they are not actually shot in the genuine areas does not bother me. The art direction is done so well that I was fooled.

Escapism fare to be sure, but a unique entry in the action genre. Thanks to fantastic direction and a likable star, escape from New York succeeds.