Tag Archives: Best Picture Oscar Winners

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

Director-David Lean

Starring-William Holden, Alec Guinness 

Scott’s Review #908

Reviewed June 11, 2019

Grade: A

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is a war film that serves as an example of character driven story-telling from the perspective of each person. Films of this genre frequently do not steer too far from the straight and narrow showcasing the war event perspective so that this often becomes larger than the humanity piece. A key is the American, British, and Japanese points of view hurling the grand epic experience into a more personal one. The film was awarded numerous Oscar nominations culminating with a Best Picture of the year victory.

The time is early 1943 amid the powerful and destructive World War II when a group of British prisoners of war (POW) arrive at a Japanese camp. Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) commands all prisoners regardless of rank to begin work on a railway bridge that will connect Bangkok with Rangoon. The British commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) refuses manual labor and a battle of wills erupts between the two men. Meanwhile, an American, Commander Shears (William Holden), also being held at the same camp, vows to destroy the bridge to avoid court martial.

The complexities of the relationships between the men are the main draw of the film and an aspect that can be discussed at length. Each possesses a firm motivation, but the emotions teeter back and forth as they face various conflicts. Each of the three principals are analytical juggernauts in the human spirit, ranging from courageous, cowardly, and even evil. We are supposed to root for Shears and supposed to not root for Saito but why is that not so cut and dry? Is Shears too revenge minded? We cheer Nicholson’s resilience but is he too stubborn for his own good?

The film’s whistling work theme nearly became famous when the film was originally released in 1957. Ominous and peppered with a macabre depression, the prisoners go about their work in a near ode to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cheerier “Whistle While You Work” anthem. As they dutifully continue to build the bridge the audience feels a sense of dread and a foreboding atmosphere. What will ultimately happen? When two prisoners are shot dead while attempting to escape the film takes a different turn.

Given that David Lean, responsible for such epic masterpieces as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and A Passage to India (1984), directs The Bridge on the River Kwai, should be telling as far as the sweeping exterior landscape treats in store for the viewer. The lavish Asian landscape, so picturesque and beautiful, is peaceful amid the chaos and vile way the prisoners are treated. This imbalance is wonderfully rich and poignant against the robust story telling.

The climax of the film is bombastic (literally!) and a nail-biting experience resulting in a stabbing, an explosion, and a heap of tension. A train carrying important dignitaries and soldiers is racing towards the newly constructed bridge as one man is intent on detonating a bomb and cause destruction as another races against time to prevent the bloodbath. The suspense, action, and cinematic skill is placed front and center during the final act.

Deserving of each one of the accolades reaped on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), the film is the thinking man’s war film. Layered with an underlying humanistic approach and little violence given the subject matter at hand, one can sink into empathy for each point of view presented instead of being force fed a one-dimensional message film. Fine acting and gorgeous cinematography make this film one to be forever remembered.

On the Waterfront-1954

On the Waterfront-1954

Director-Elia Kazan

Starring-Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint

Scott’s Review #876

Reviewed March 9, 2019

Grade: A

Led by one of the best acting performances of all time, On the Waterfront (1954) was an important and relevant film when made and is still powerful in the modern era. Director Elia Kazan and newly minted Hollywood star Marlon Brando join forces for a film spectacle that is as much a character study as a tale of morality and social injustice. The musical soundtrack score composed by Leonard Bernstein only enhances an already astounding picture that is deservedly referenced as a masterpiece.

Terry Malloy (Brando) is a washed-up former local boxer who now spends his days slaving away as a dockworker on the dingy waterfronts of Hoboken, New Jersey. Terry’s brother Charley (Rod Steiger) works for a vicious mob boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) who has complete control over the area. The police are aware of the ongoing corruption but are limited by the lack of evidence and witnesses to regular crimes. When a fellow dockworker is killed, Terry falls for the victim’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), leading him to rethink his priorities.

The positive aspects of On the Waterfront are enumerable. Enshrined in the rich story and flawless acting are marvelous cinematography and location sequences. The film was shot almost entirely on location in New York and New Jersey using real docks and outdoor sequences that give the film authenticity. The dingy and water-soaked locales are riddled with secrets and dark violence that reach new levels by using realism and grittiness.

Never looking more masculine or more handsome, though his portrayal of Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) is a close second, Marlon Brando achieves riches in the world of stellar acting. He is rugged and compassionate, macho yet tender, and pours his heart into the role of Terry, and one cannot help wondering if the self- professed method actor became Terry during filming. With both vulnerability and strength Brando embodies the character so well that he becomes my favorite of all the film roles he has undertaken.

The supporting players dutifully flesh out the resounding cast with gusto. Special mentions go to both Karl Malden as Father Barry and to Steiger as Charley. As Barry, Malden brings a warm character who is patient and benevolent in a world of crime and deceit. He attempts to console and mentor the folks in his world and is eventually beaten for his honesty and earnestness. Charley is a different story, selling his soul to the devil and accepting the cards he has been handed, making a choice to join with Friendly. At a crucial moment he makes another devastating choice that changes his life forever.

Few films can proudly boast a scene or dialogue that remains timeless and imprinted on cinematic history, but On the Waterfront contains a scene of this caliber. During a tremendously important moment in the film Terry has a conversation with Charley and makes an impassioned statement-“I coulda’ been somebody. I coulda’ been a contender”, laments Terry to his brother, “Instead of a bum, which is what I am – let’s face it.” This line is a historic piece of writing and true to the heart of the character.

The film reaches further in its power and truth because it is representative of Elia Kazan’s real-life plight. During the early 1950’s the director famously informed on suspected Communists before a government committee while many of his colleagues chose to go to prison rather than name names. Many Hollywood actors, directors, and screenwriters were blacklisted for decades to come. On the Waterfront is frequently deemed as an allegory to the director’s plight and therefore is a very personal story.

On the Waterfront (1954) is sometimes violent and all-times realistic, painting a portrait of one man’s struggle to overcome the lousy life that has been given to him to do the right thing. Thanks to gorgeous direction, an explosive lead performance by Brando, and all the pieces fitting perfectly in unison together, the film is one of the greats and hopefully will remain one that generations will come to discover.

From Here to Eternity-1953

From Here to Eternity-1953

Director-Fred Zinnemann

Starring-Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr

Scott’s Review #875

Reviewed March 7, 2019

Grade: A

Based on a popular novel of the same name, written by James Jones in 1952, From Here to Eternity (1953) tells a powerful story of romance and drama set against the gorgeous backdrop of Hawaii. The film is poignant and sentimental for its build-up to the World War II Pearl Harbor attacks, further enhancing the story-telling. With great acting and compelling story, the film is a bombastic Hollywood creation that conquers the test of time remaining timeless.

A trio of United States Army personnel are stationed on the sunny island of Oahu. First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster), Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), and Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) are the main principals and their life in the Schofield Army Barrack is chronicled. They are joined by respective love interests Alma Lorene (Donna Reed) and Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) and the triumphs and sorrows of each are explored in dramatic fashion prior to the devastating incident set to take place.

The perspective of the film is centered around the male characters which risks the film being classified as a “guy’s movie” but it really isn’t. There exists enough melodrama and romance to offset the testosterone and masculinity and as the characters weave in and out of each other’s lives a broader canvas is painted. This point is to the film’s credit as each character is rich with development, sympathy, or sometimes pure anger.

Many films have been told, and continue to be told throughout the decades, of the terrors and after-effects of World War II but From Here to Eternity remains towards the top of the heap. While not going full throttle with too much violence or grit, the film tells of the trials and tribulations of people effected by and soon to be affected by the war. The characters co-exist peacefully in their own little slice of the world though there is the occasional bullying or insubordination among the ranks, but the romance soon takes center stage followed by the dire attacks.

The smoldering beach scene featuring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the ravaging shores of Halona Cove is as iconic as a cinematic moment ever existed. Rumors of the stars torrid love affair and need to run off to make love after shooting the scene could be pure myth but have never been dis-proven either. Reportedly the camera crew shot the scene quickly and left the duo to their desires. Regardless, the scene may very well cause the iciest of hearts to turn into a torrent of heart pounding flutters.

The film suddenly takes a dark turn as if realizing that it is a film about a devastating war. A major character dies and another character goes on the hunt for revenge. Despite these deaths not being at the hands of an enemy or a battle they are nonetheless powerful and dims the mood of the film. Finally, the attack on Pearl Harbor is upon us just as the audience no doubt will sense is coming and ends in a sad way with simple dialogue between the two main female characters.

Thanks to fine direction by novice director Fred Zinnemann, From Here to Eternity (1953) elicits a pure breadth of emotions and subject matters. At its core a cynical film, the picture is also rich with courage, integrity, and love of one’s country without suffering from any phony false patriotism. With a dash of romance and sexuality the film is utterly memorable and deserving of the hefty Academy Awards it achieved.

Green Book-2018

Green Book-2018

Director-Peter Farrelly

Starring-Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali

Scott’s Review #839

Reviewed December 10, 2018

Grade: A

To be candid, it was not originally on my radar to see Green Book (2018) despite the high regard and the bevy of award nominations reaped upon the film. From the trailers, and admittedly my own assumptions, the production looked somewhat of a Driving Miss Daisy (1989) role-reversal with the standard over-saturation and glossy view of racism. I confess to being wrong in my initial assessment as Green Book is a wonderful film with a multitude of worthy efforts, successfully crossing the drama and comedy barriers delivering an astounding message of compassion and benevolence.

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershali Ali show tremendous flair and exhibit fine chemistry as an Italian blue-collar driver and an astute African-American classical pianist, respectively. The men travel together in the Deep South circa 1962 on a concert tour requested by the renowned musician despite the dangers of southern racism and prejudice.

Mortensen’s Tony Lip is a struggling New York City bouncer who needs any gig for two months while the club he works for is closed for renovations. Ali plays a sophisticated musician who needs a driver with a measure of toughness, and Tony comes highly recommended. The two men initially are strangers but form a close-knit bond and a deep understanding for each other as they become better acquainted during their journey.

The first half of the film focuses on Tony. As the viewer we experience his Italian lifestyle. He possesses a strong family unit, a dedicated wife, Dolores, (Linda Cardellini), and loves to eat, winning a hot dog eating contest for $50 to pay the rent. He thinks nothing of beating an unsavory character to a bloody pulp if they are out of line and has more than one link to the mafia. Still, he is a decent man, with a salt of the earth mentality, and loves his family.

“Doc” Don Shirley (Ali) is the opposite of Tony. Raised as a highly gifted musical prodigy, he surrounds himself with high culture, well-versed in many languages, and of affluent means. Nonetheless, he is a wounded soul and drinks himself into oblivion each night, frequently deep in thought pondering life and its problems.  Despite being black he knows nothing about black culture.

Don is highly uncomfortable in his own skin while Tony is happy with who he is, a major point that the film hits home on as the men have conflict. Don feels Tony can do so much better to educate himself while Tony sees nothing wrong with being who he is. The men forge a middle ground as they come to respect each other. Ferrelli does a wonderful job in showing Tony as Don’s protector as he is accosted by rednecks or is caught with another man at the YMCA. In turn, Don helps Tony write warm love letters to Dolores.

Green Book is a film about friendship and how different backgrounds can result in a closeness and respect. The film is humanistic in its approach to an overall message and is the feel-good film of 2018 without the slightest thread of sappiness or any contrived situations. In fact, the film is best on two real-life men who remained friends until their deaths.

Director, Peter Farrelly, known mostly for silly films such as Dumb and Dumber (1994) finds breakthrough success with Green Book. The film is mainstream material, but of a sort that can be appreciated for the goodness is exudes. Don exhibits racism on more than one occasion- Birmingham and Mississippi specifically- but also experiences kindness from other folks.

Worth noting is that Don experiences discrimination and abuse not only from whites, but also from blacks. In this way Farrelly avoids the usual stereotypes or elicits humor from them as in the scene where Tony teaches Don to enjoy fried chicken, a food theretofore foreign to Don.

A key point to the film occurs early on when Dolores graciously invites two black workers to make a repair thinking nothing of treating the men to refreshing lemonade. Tony, witnessing the empty glasses in the sink throws them in the trash not wanting to drink from the same glasses. Is Tony along with his family, racist or uncomfortable with blacks? Regardless of the answer, at the films conclusion they think very differently which is monumental. The final sequence of Green Book is teary, heartfelt, and provides a feeling of incredible warmth.

In the tumultuous times of current American history, Green Book (2018) is sentimental and inspirational in a day where racism has once again reared its ugly head thanks to the chaotic political environment. The film is a lesson-learned in how far we have come as a society, but also how things have not changed so much and how much further we need to go creating equality for all. Farrelly creates a timely and wonderful film that everyone can appreciate.

It Happened One Night-1934

It Happened One Night-1934

Director-Frank Capra

Starring-Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert

Scott’s Review #824

Reviewed October 25, 2018

Grade: A-

Perhaps the film which best defines the early cinematic romantic comedy and certainly the one most modern genre films can take a lesson from, It Happened One Night (1934) is a lively, fun romp.  The film carted away the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress Academy awards, a rare feat, and defined what romantic tension and smart dialogue ought to be in a quality picture. All the elements sparkle into an excellent classic film watch.

Ellie Andrews (Colbert) is a pampered socialite who has recently disobeyed her overbearing and wealthy father, eloping with a blue-collar pilot who is feared to be after her money. Determined, Ellie escapes her father’s clutches and hops on a Greyhound bus headed from Florida to New York, where her husband is. When she crosses paths with an out of work journalist, Peter Warne (Gable), they each find an opportunity to use the other to their own advantage. The pairs adventures along the east coast lead to antics and schemes as they fall madly in love with one another.

It Happened One Night successfully mixes a good romance with some screwball comedy without ever becoming silly or trite. In fact, the film also serves as a good old-fashioned adventure story as Peter and Ellie face one hurdle after another on their trek north. Pleasing is the way that the duo slowly find romance, but first begin as irritants towards each other. The chemistry between the actors is superb and never seems forced or contrived.

Frank Capra, a famous director with successes throughout the 1930’s, culminating with the holiday favorite It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), had several Oscar winning films during the decade. It Happened One Night, though, seems to have inspired the most of them all, and the acting, farcical situations, dialogue and direction all successfully come together.

Shot in black and white and pre- Motion Picture Production Code, which heavily restricted details deemed too violent or sexual in nature, It Happened One Night was able to push the envelope quite a bit. This is to the film’s credit- who can forget the adorable yet provocative scene in which Ellie shows her shapely legs to enable the duo to catch a ride. The lovable scene, non-risque in today’s modern world, was anything but in 1934.

An interesting, and at that time unique, point, is that supporting characters are more layered than is typical in romantic comedies. Danker, who Peter and Ellie hitch a ride with is seemingly a decent man, but ultimately attempts to steal their luggage. Later, Ellie’s preposterous father turns out to be somewhat of a decent man, so the film contains a few character surprises too.

While not quite a pure masterpiece, It Happened One Night (1934) is nonetheless an inspired legendary film that can be viewed and enjoyed for the time-period in which it was made. The film is a standout among the similarly themed romantic comedies of the 1930’s and 1940’s and a teachable moment for all film makers delving into same genre territory.

All Quiet on the Western Front-1930

All Quiet on the Western Front-1930

Director-Lewis Milestone

Starring-Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim

Scott’s Review #820

Reviewed October 12, 2018

Grade: A

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is one of the oldest films that I have ever seen, and a masterpiece that resonates in present times just as much as the film did nearly one hundred years ago. The work of art presents an astounding anti-war message that is a timeless lesson in humanity, idealism, and ultimately, despair. Based on the banned novel by Erich Maria Remarque, much of the action takes place on the front lines during World War I.

The cameras follow an anxious group of spirited young men as they sit in a classroom and listen to a passionate speech given by their professor. He is quite “pro war”, filling the boys with patriotism and the importance of serving the Army and their country. At his urging the group, led by Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) join the Second Company. Once enlisted, the youths are enlightened to the fact that war is not fun, and their romantic delusions are smashed to pieces.

Paul is clearly the hero of the film and events are told through his eyes, offering his perspective. Beginning as a young recruit, he ages quickly and sees friends and allies slaughtered senselessly. One recruit, frightened to death, is blinded by shrapnel and hysterically runs into machine-gun fire resulting in his death. Other scenes involving the soldiers forced to go without food only to finally be offered second helpings simply because there are so many dead, is heart-wrenching.

Paul is portrayed as a good man- conflicted by how he is “supposed” to feel towards the enemy and how he sees people as human beings. At the young age of nineteen he possesses an innocence towards the world. When he returns home on leave the townspeople have no inclination of the ravages of war. When Paul recounts the brutal situations on the front line, he is derided as a “coward”.

In an excruciating scene Paul is trapped overnight in a fox hole with a dying French soldier, whom Paul has stabbed in a cemetery. He desperately tries to save the man’s life, but to no avail. In this important scene Paul sees the enemy soldier as a human being rather than as someone to hate. He crumbles into tears for the dead soldier, begging him to speak. The scene is incredibly poignant and meaningful.

The final scene of All Quiet on the Western Front is lovely and memorable too. In fact, the scene is the most remembered from the film and firmly ensconced in cinematic history. As a wounded Paul lies in hiding from German soldiers, he spots a beautiful butterfly peacefully circling around. Paul smiles, enamored with the pretty creature amid all the ugliness. He desperately tries to reach for the gorgeous insect. What happens next is heartbreaking and fraught with the unfair ruining of life- the scene is of utmost importance.

The film is both sad and poignant as we are well into the twenty-first century while wars continue to wage on in present day. Have we learned nothing? Director, Lewis Milestone brazenly, and tragically, paints a portrait of the foolishness of war and the senseless loss of life that war results in. It is tough to think of an equivalent film that depicts this message in a clearer way.

Many European leaders and countries, Germany’s Adolf Hitler included, banned All Quiet on the Western Front throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s. The film has remained controversial in its blatant depiction of war since it was made.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is a groundbreaking film and ought to be viewed by everyone as a reminder of how precious life really is. The novel and film were both made as a result of World War I- how profound to think since this film was made wars such as World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, have occurred. Is war ever really the answer? Anyone who watches this terrific film will find the answer.

Crash-2005

Crash-2005

Director-Paul Haggis

Starring-Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Don Cheadle

Scott’s Review #799

Reviewed August 3, 2018

Grade: A-

A superior film that has unfortunately suffered greatly after controversy, Crash (2005) is a story of intersecting vignettes all interrelated. The controversy stems from the films very surprising win over the heavily favored Brokeback Mountain. Many thought the latter was a shoo-in, poised to set the LGBT genre ahead of the game. Sadly, now when Crash is discussed by film lovers, it’s usually in tandem with Brokeback, and usually on the heels of its having stolen the Oscar crown. On its own merits, the film excels as a social story exploring the many facets of race, racism, and bigotry.

The events in Crash take place within one thirty-six hour day in metropolitan Los Angeles. Featuring a slew of characters that would even impress Robert Altman, the audience witness situations involving many races and backgrounds. We meet Rick and Jean Cabot (Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock), a white affluent couple who are carjacked when driving home from dinner. The black men who carjack the couple then strike a Korean man and bring him to the hospital.

A racist police officer, John Ryan (Matt Dillon), cares for his troubled father who cannot afford insurance. A Persian father and daughter wish to buy a gun for protection, a Hispanic father (Michael Pena) worries about a rash of drive by shootings. The stories go on and on as a myriad of the characters come into situations involving other characters.

The interconnecting stories all cascade into overlapping situations of interest. The point of Haggis’s film is racism, but with a creative twist. The director points out and shows that those who are racist have good qualities too and those who are discriminated against in turn discriminate against others themselves.

The most interesting character is Dillon’s John Ryan. On the surface a racist, wise-ass, who in one scene embarrasses an affluent light-skinned black woman (Thandie Newton), simply because he carries a gun, then ends up saving her life in a horrific car accident. But is he redeemed? Does he see the world as black people are getting ahead and he is left behind? What about the Persian man, discriminated against, but then vowing revenge on a Hispanic man after a misunderstanding.

The black men who carjack the white couple then release a group of immigrants who will surely be sold, perhaps even for sex trafficking. Does this act make the men good? The point that Haggis makes it that each character is neither all good nor all bad, but rather complicated and nuanced with emotions based on past experiences and discrimination themselves.

Crash is highly similar to Traffic (2000) and Babel (2006) in terms of pace, style, and the way the stories align. The film is different, however, in that the location is strictly confined to Los Angeles, making the setting of monumental importance. How would events be different in a setting like Middle America? Or in a different country? These possibilities are worth contemplating based on the perception that Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. If racism occurs there it can occur anywhere.

Now more about that pesky Oscar controversy! In later years critics would largely be in agreement that the inferior film had won that year and Brokeback Mountain lost due to a level of homophobia on the part of the voting academy. Since the academy is filled with Hollywood liberals, albeit of an older generation, an alternative way of thinking is that perhaps Crash won because it was the “safer” film. Everyone seems to have forgotten the other three nominated films that year. Alas, Crash is permanently marred for winning Best Picture. It would undoubtedly have more supporters had it lost.

Ranked as one of the lowest scoring Best Picture winners, I still believe Crash has some worth- though I agree that it should not have won over Brokeback Mountain. Taken on its own merits the film is actually quite good. A message film with great atmosphere, it succeeds in making the viewer think and ponder perhaps their own discrimination, whether conscious or sub-conscious. The ensemble acting and character representations are all very good and worthy of a second watch.

Million Dollar Baby-2004

Million Dollar Baby-2004

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank

Scott’s Review #798

Reviewed August 2, 2018

Grade: A

Million Dollar Baby (2004) is arguably Clint Eastwood’s best directed film of his career. Rivaling Mystic River (2003) by a hair, the film has a raw emotional appeal, empathetic and richly carved characters, and mainstream sensibility. These combined elements resulted in huge box office success and Oscar wins for Picture, Director, Actress, and Supporting Actor in the year of its release.

Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a hardened boxing coach who owns a run-down Los Angeles gym. He works with his best friend and assistant, Eddie (Morgan Freeman). When aspiring female boxer, Maggie (Hilary Swank), arrives and begs Frankie to train her, he initially declines, but at Eddie’s urging, eventually relents and leads her to great success as a top female boxer. Frankie and Maggie forge a close-knit, father/daughter relationship, a substitute for the damaged one he has with his own daughter.

The final portion of Million Dollar Baby takes a very dark turn, as Maggie is illegally punched during a bout by a fellow boxer, causing her to become a quadriplegic. These events are what changes the tone of the film from a very good sports drama to a great tale in morality. Many emotions and debates transpired after this film was released and the common question of, “What would you have done?” engulfed viewers for months, all through awards season. The heartbreaking effects of the story events raises the film head and shoulders above most typical sports films.

Too often Eastwood creates films that are palpable, but in a way generic, and very Hollywood. Grand Torino (2008) and Invictus (2009) are good examples of this- especially Invictus given the sports drama element.  Some assumed that Million Dollar Baby was to be a female Rocky (1976) and the film was indeed marketed as such. For this reason some felt robbed or duped, but I celebrate this film as leaning a firm left of center with a refreshing, progressive approach.

The performances are amazing all around, even by Eastwood- never known for his acting talent. The characters are written as character driven, but not caricatures. Wounded, grizzled, and flawed, in his senior years Frankie is seeing his life having passed him by, having achieved nothing. Never has Eastwood portrayed a character as complex and reserved as Frankie.

Swank deserved her second Oscar (1999’s Boys Don’t Cry was her first) for simply becoming a boxer- her pre-filming prep schedule reportedly was insane. More than the muscle and toning she achieved, is the raw acting talent and wounded emotions she possesses. The character is written as pained and vulnerable, but also very strong. She has achieved little in her life- working as a waitress in Missouri and stealing scraps of leftovers to survive. Her family is trash through and through, only wanting her eventual riches for themselves. The character is inevitably championed as we empathize with her plight in an emotional way.

Finally, Freeman deserves recognition for being the ultimate supporting actor. As Eddie Dupris, a former fighter blind in one eye, he is the center point of the story and frequently narrates the actions of others, oftentimes offering a glimpse into the psyche of individuals. The voice of reason, he is observant and analytical, almost knowing Freddie better than Freddie knows himself. They quarrel and disagree, but are forever friends and loyal to a fault. Freeman possesses quite reserve as the audience becomes curious of his past life.

In my opinion Million Dollar Baby (2004) is Eastwood’s best film- Mystic River comes a close second, however. A seemingly formulaic story and genre are weaved into a web of humanism, emotions, and power. The film is about the characters, which makes it succeed. Eastwood has not been able to quite surpass this beautiful story, but thankfully received dripping praise and accolades for a film not soon forgotten.

Slumdog Millionaire-2008

Slumdog Millionaire-2008

Director-Danny Boyle

Starring-Dev Patel, Freida Pinto

Scott’s Review #786

Reviewed July 11, 2018

Grade: A-

Winner of the 2008 Best Picture Oscar (as well as seven other Academy Awards), Slumdog Millionaire (2008) arguably was the “feel good” film of the year. While I am not sure if all of those awards are ultimately deserved, the film is nonetheless very good, offering a mixture of good culture, a young man overcoming enormous odds, and a love story. Fans of the universal game show hit, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, will be pleased.

Young Dev Patel (critically acclaimed for 2016’s Lion) stars as a poor young Indian man, Jamal Malik. He is detained after being a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, after he comes one question away from winning the million dollars. The producers go to a commercial break and Jamal is whisked away to custody as suspicions are aroused and the young man is accused of cheating. Since he is a “slumdog” and poorly educated, it is assumed there is no way possible he could know all the answers. Jamal recounts, via flashbacks, through experience, how he came to know all of the correct answers.

Director, Danny Boyle does a fantastic job directing the film. Slumdog Millionaire is edited in fast-paced fashion and the camera angles are quick and stylized, making for an excellent flow. The soundtrack to the film is very effective and enhances the plot. For example, the music is extremely diverse and features genres such as traditional Indian classical music, European house music, and America style hip hop. This is an ingenious way for Boyle to incorporate multiple cultures and he therefore creates a rousing crowd- pleasing experience.

Another successful aspect to the film is its use of knowledge and intelligence to tell a story. As we experience Jamal’s difficult life beginning as a five-year-old orphan, the unlikely success story and his adventures on the streets are engulfed in both life lessons and education. In this way, the audience is learning important details about the world while Jamal simultaneously is.

The romantic, love-story featured in Slumdog Millionaire is also a highlight and extremely well-crafted. In heartbreaking manner, Jamal, his older brother Salim, and the lovely Latika (later played by the gorgeous Freida Pinto), are on the run when Latika vanishes. Her disappearance and later reappearance are vital aspects to the heart of the film and Patel and Pinto make a handsome and highly likable couple. Their reconciliation is heartfelt and beautiful and gives the film a nice emotional investment.

The incorporation of a relevant and acclaimed game show into the story is wonderful, though hopefully as the years go by, the film does not suffer from a dated feel if and when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is long forgotten, but alas this is a risk and only time will tell. The glossy set and for American audiences, the Indian style version of the game show is great fun as are the Indian locales, which visually dazzle.

A slight detraction of Slumdog Millionaire is the film is unquestionably uplifting and light feeling. Even though the characters face peril and dangerous experiences, the film just “feels” safe. So much so that qualities such as slick and mainstream resound. Don’t get me wrong, the film is genuine and has heart and soul, but just slightly too cheery. Of course, since the film is made well and the story and the acting great, this can easily be overlooked.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) is a wonderful piece of work and is quite simply a film that lots of people will champion.  All of the elements are perfectly in place, which is a main selling point and a prime reason for the film’s many accolades. The romance and adventure pieces are the best parts- with a quick flow and lots of fun, educational tools utilized. The film is a nice pleasure to experience.

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.

The Shape of Water-2017

The Shape of Water-2017

Director-Guillermo del Toro

Starring-Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon

Scott’s Review #705

Reviewed December 16, 2017

Grade: A

Director Guillermo del Toro creates a lovely Beauty and the Beast style film that is as gorgeous to look at as the story is intelligent and sweet to experience. Thanks to a talented cast led by Sally Hawkins, the film is part drama, part science fiction, even part thriller, but touching to ones heart and a lesson in true love regardless of outward appearances. The story was co-written by Vanessa Taylor giving it a needed female perspective to perfectly balance the traditional male machinations.

The setting is Baltimore, Maryland during the early 1960’s. Ongoing is the Cold War pitting the United States and the Soviet Union against each other- both mistrustful of the other side. Kindly and mute, Elisa Esposito (Hawkins) is a curious and whimsical young woman, who works as a cleaning lady at an Aerospace Research Center. When she stumbles upon a mysterious “shape” being held prisoner for experimentation purposes, she slowly communicates with and befriends the creature, eventually falling madly in love with him. The “asset” as the scientists like to call him is an amphibian/humanoid needing salt water to survive. Elisa sees an opportunity to help her love escape captivity and off she goes.

Hawkins exudes warmth and fills Elisa with courage and a determination that is astounding. Not to utter a word is a tough feat for an actor to challenge, but instead of words, Hawkins successfully provides a vast array of emotions to reveal how Elisa feels. Despite her “handicap” she is a strong woman and speaks her mind on more than one occasion using sign language to offer her frustration. Hawkins gives a fantastic and believable performance.

Cast in wonderful and important supporting roles are Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s friend and neighbor, Giles, a closeted gay man who works as a commercial artist. Jenkins fills this character with intelligence, heart, and empathy as he struggles with his own issues of alcoholism and loneliness- unable to be accepted for who he is. Octavia Spencer shines as witty and stubborn Zelda Fuller, Elisa’s best friend and co-worker. Zelda has her own domestic problems, but is forever there for her friend, and Spencer gives her character zest, humor, and energy. Finally, Michael Shannon plays the dastardly and menacing Colonel Richard Strickland, the man who found the “asset” in the rivers of South America and has a nice family. Each of these characters is written exceptionally well and each has their own story-line rather than simply supporting Hawkins character.

The audience becomes involved in the private lives of Giles, Zelda, and Strickland and we get to know and care for them- or hate them as the case may be. Giles, harboring a crush on a handsome pie-shop owner, is afraid to make his feelings known. Zelda, with a lazy husband, dutifully takes care for her man though she is as sassy as they come. And Strickland lives an all-american family life with a pretty wife and two kids, totally unaware of his shenanigans.

The film is really a gorgeous and lovely experience and by this I mean the film has a magical element. The opening and closing sequences, shot underwater, resound in beauty as objects float along in a dreamy way, the narrator (Jenkins) taking us on a journey to explain the events of the story. At its core, The Shape of Water is a romantic love story and my favorite scenes- those of Hawkins and the “asset” are to be treasured. Yes, the two do make love, which may be too much for some, but the scenes are tasteful and important to show the depth of the characters love for one another.

Cherishing is  the way that Elisa uses both music and hard-boiled eggs to communicate with the “asset”. When Elisa imagines the two characters dancing, the sequence is an enchanting experience reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. Other underwater scenes involving Elisa and the “asset” are tender, graceful, and filled with loveliness.

A key part of the film involves a story of intrigue between the Americans and the Soviets, and while both are portrayed in a negative fashion, the Americans are arguably written as more unsympathetic than the Soviets. Thanks to Strickland- abusive and vicious, and his uncaring superior, General Holt, we do not root for the government officials at all, but rather, the ordinary folks like Elisa, Zelda, and Giles, who are outcasts. Interestingly, Dmitri (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Soviet spy who is a scientist, is the only character working at the center who wants to keep the “asset” alive and is written in a sympathetic way.

My overall assessment of The Shape of Water is that it is a film to be enjoyed on many levels and by particular varied tastes- the film will cater to those seeking an old-style romance, complete with some tasty French music. Then again, the film can be lumped into a political espionage thriller, with a cat-and-mouse chase and other nail-biting efforts. Overall, the film has heart and truth and will appeal to vast audiences seeking an excellent film.

Unforgiven-1992

Unforgiven-1992

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman

Scott’s Review #596

Reviewed January 9, 2017

Grade: A-

Winning the 1992 Best Picture Academy Award, Unforgiven is a beautifully shot, well crafted Western film, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. The film differs from that of classic westerns in that it questions the meaning of violence and is of a moral fiber. Eastwood was clearly influenced by director Sergio Leone.

Eastwood also stars in the film as William Munny, a former cold blooded murderer, is now retired and living as a farmer, a widower due to violence against his deceased wife. He is talked out of retirement to help kill some shady cowboys.

Unforgiven is a dark film and definitely character driven- certainly centering mostly on Eastwood’s character. Why does Munny really come out of retirement? Is he lusting after blood or enjoy the satisfaction of revenge?

The cinematography is second to none with gorgeous western United States locales and beautiful landscapes.

The film admittedly drags a bit at times, but is rich in character development and questions the motives of its central characters, which in itself is much deeper than most western, shoot ’em up style of films.

Moonlight-2016

Moonlight-2016

Director-Barry Jenkins

Starring-Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland

Scott’s Review #512

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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.

Terms of Endearment-1983

Terms of Endearment-1983

Director-James L. Brooks

Starring-Shirley MacLane, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson

Scott’s Review #368

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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.

Forrest Gump-1994

Forrest Gump-1994

Director-Robert Zemeckis

Starring-Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise

Top 100 Films-#94

Scott’s Review #362

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Awarded a bevy of Academy Awards in the year 1994, Forrest Gump is a film that is engrained in many people’s memories since the film was a monster hit in the mid 1990’s. Some complained that the unrealistic nature of the film was silly, and the story too saccharine, but the film is an innocent, sweet piece about a simple-minded man’s journey through life and the insurmountable success that he achieves. I adore the film largely from a sentimental standpoint and the memories that watching the film years later, conjures up. I find the film to be a comfort.

Zemeckis, certainly a feel-good film director (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), carves a whimsical tale of a fellow, Forrest Gump (played brilliantly by Tom Hanks), slow-witted, but a gentle soul, from Alabama, and his decades long journey through life. His lifelong love is Jenny (played by Robin Wright), who is a troubled girl and relies on Forrest over the course of their friendship-spanning decades. Forrest is always in the right place at the right time and influences the events of history in his own innocent way.

Forrest Gump is unique in its clever use of editing to incorporate Forrest into real-life historical events, which is a big part of the appeal of the film. In one instance, Forrest meets with Richard Nixon and reveals the Watergate scandal. He also meets President John F. Kennedy after winning a football scholarship. And who can possibly ever forget the numerous lines made famous from the film- “Stupid is as stupid does”, and “Life is a like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.”, to name just two.

What I love most about the film is that it has heart and the relationships that Forrest shares with the central characters in his life are rich. Forrest’s haggard, but kind mother (Sally Field) loves her son and they share a tender, emotional relationship.  When Forrest enlists in the Army during the Vietnam war, his grizzled commanding officer, Lt. Dan Taylor (an Oscar winning performance by Gary Sinise), surprisingly becomes one of Forrest’s closest friends. The film takes a darker turn when we begin to see a more human side to Taylor after a horrible accident, which leaves him without legs. To counterbalance this tragedy, Forrest is comically wounded in the buttocks.

I am not sure if I love or loathe the character of Jenny. Wright is perfect at giving her some vulnerability and her terrible upbringing can excuse some of her actions and taking advantage of Forrest for arguably her own gain. Still she has Forrest’s heart so she cannot be all that bad.

A favorite scene occurs in Washington as Forrest speaks at an anti-war rally. Jenny, in the crowd, recognizes Forrest and their reunion is sweet. Jenny, now a hippee and expelled from school, returns to Forrest’s life.

The fate of both Jenny and Mrs. Gump are scenes that will undoubtedly require tissues to get through as they are tender and emotional as can possibly be. Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump has emotion, sweetness, and heart, and those are nice qualities for a film to have. It is not too sappy or overwrought or manipulative, instead providing an honest story.

Lawrence of Arabia-1962

Lawrence of Arabia-1962

Director-David Lean

Starring-Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif 

Top 100 Films-#82

Scott’s Review #355

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Lawrence of Arabia is quite a grand film and one that must be seen on the large screen in order to fully appreciate the enormous scale of the production. Numerous shots of objects appearing in the distance are featured and the small screen dulls the experience. A wonderful film from top to bottom and groundbreaking at the time by the scope and vast proportions of the production, Lawrence of Arabia achieves its place in the annals of cinema history, and is a treat to revisit from time to time. The film is divided into two parts divided by an intermission as was the case with epics nearly four hours in length.

Peter O’Toole stars as T.E. Lawrence, a bored British Army Lieutenant, who talks his way into a transfer to the Arabian desert. As the film opens, it is 1935, and Lawrence has just been killed in a motorcycle accident. This concept of revealing the ending of the story and working backwards, common in current films, was a novel experience in 1962, when the film was made.

While in Arabia, Lawrence successfully bands together bitter rival tribes to work together in order to unite against Turkish oppression during World War I. While there he meets two young guides, and other central characters such as Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) and Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif). Much of the film features the many battles that occur between the rival tribes and the peace that Lawrence to achieve. Also, a multitude of location sequences of Lawrence and company traveling across the miles and miles of hot desert are featured.

Some complain that Lawrence of Arabia is too slow moving a film, but to me that is its selling point. I find the scenes of the group languishing across the desert incredibly lush and rich in meaning. The intense heat and the beating sun are fantastic in their cinematic grandeur. The film is meant to take its time- exactly how the experience in the Arabian desert would really be like and the mountainous sand dunes and swirling winds are brilliantly filmed. David Lean is the king of the sprawling epic and Lawrence of Arabia is his crown achievement.

The character of Lawrence is written well and he is a layered and complex individual- he is not easy to describe or to understand and that is also to the films credit. The sheer weight loss that O’Toole went through over the course of the two years that it took to Film Lawrence of Arabia is impressive enough, but he is also a tortured soul emotionally.

An epic film of the grandest proportions, Lawrence of Arabia required a half day of dedicated viewing, but is worth each and every minute. For a reminder of what a true, breathtaking film really looks like- sans the oversaturated CGI and quick edits, one should take a deep breath and appreciate this work of art for its majestic look.

Rebecca-1940

Rebecca-1940

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine

Top 100 Films-#63

Scott’s Review #345

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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.

The French Connection-1971

The French Connection-1971

Director-William Friedkin

Starring-Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider

Top 100 Films-#69

Scott’s Review #342

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

The French Connection had the notable distinction of being the first R-rated film to win the coveted Best Picture Oscar back in 1971. This praise, similar to The Silence of the Lambs being the first horror film to win Best Picture in 1991, is well worth pointing out and is quite honorary. The film succeeds, both for myself and other critics, because of the unique style of the camerawork, shot documentary style and using quick edits. It is much more intricate in every way than the traditional crime thriller.

Gene Hackman stars as the feisty detective, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, who along with his partner, Buddy “Cloudy” Russo, (Sheider) are determined to crack the case of a huge heroin smuggling syndicate from France. The narcotics are flowing into New York City and the duo are determined to get to the bottom of the drug ring, figuring out who is the mastermind and defeating their foe. The primary culprit is a suave French drug lord named Alain Charnier, brilliantly played by Fernando Rey. Throughout the course of the film the action is non-stop, traversing throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, via subway, and car, as Popeye becomes more and more obsessed with the case.

Director William Friedkin, who also directed the legendary 1973 film, The Exorcist, deserves a heap of praise for creating a film of this caliber. The French Connection can be enjoyed by all and is well beyond the limitations of a “guy film”- it is much more than that. The editing and frenetic pacing works wonders for the film, all the while not ruining the experience or overshadowing the good plot. Quite simply, the film is a chase across New York City. Friedkin distinguishes the boroughs by making Manhattan seem sophisticated and stylish, and Brooklyn dirty, grizzled, and drug laden. The settings are perfect.

The best scene in the film is the well known car chase throughout New York City. Popeye is determined not to lose his man, the man riding in a subway on an elevated platform. Popeye steals a car and proceeds to chase the subway narrowly missing pedestrians, including a woman with a baby carriage, as he recklessly weaves in and out of traffic at a high speed, to keep pace with the train. This is a phenomenal scene as the excitement and tension continue to build.

The conclusion of the film and the final scene in fact, is cynical and also leaves the audience perplexed and unsure what has transpired. In this way The French Connection is open to good discussion and even interpretation, a novel aspect of the action film.

Providing a tremendous glimpse into 1970’s Manhattan and Brooklyn, The French Connection is an exciting film that oozes with thrills, car chases, and good story. The film is unique in style and still holds up incredibly well- one of my favorites of the action genre.

Titanic-1997

Titanic-1997

Director-James Cameron

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Top 100 Films-#49

Scott’s Review #327

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Reviewed January 6, 2016

Grade: A

1997’s Titanic is a sweeping, gorgeous epic, directed by James Cameron, that is perfection at every level. This film has it all: romance, disaster, gorgeous art direction, and flawless attention to detail. The film will make you laugh, cry, and fall in love with the characters, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. The film is based on the real-life sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 after the ship tragically collided with an iceberg. I have witnessed this film be derided for being a “chick flick” or too “sappy”, but I vehemently disagree, and feel it is a classic for the ages. Titanic successfully re-invented the Hollywood epic.

Jack Dawkins (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a penniless artist who meets high class socialite Rose DeWitt (Kate Winslet) aboard the luxurious Titanic, headed from the coast of England to the United States in its maiden voyage. Rose is engaged to cagey Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). Depressed, Rose contemplates diving overboard to her death, but Jack saves her and convinces her otherwise. They spend time together and he draws her portrait. As their romance blossoms, Cal catches on and plots revenge. In the mix are Rose’s snobbish mother, Ruth, played by Frances Fisher. A main theme of the film is social class and the difference that separate the haves from the have nots.

James Cameron desired perfection from this film and he sure got what he wanted. Every detail of Titanic is flawless and historically accurate, from the dining room silverware to the costumes to the set pieces barely visible in the background. Cameron even had a replica of the original Titanic built for filming purposes- certainly with limitations, but what a vast undertaking this must have been. That, along with the smoldering romance between Jack and Rose, are what makes Titanic one of my favorite films.

Two fantastic scenes are when Jack is taken under the wing of Molly Brown, played by Kathy Bates. Molly is not the snob that many of the other upper class is, and lends Jack a tuxedo so that he will look dapper for Rose. She also tenderly teaches him the appropriate way to use silverware. Tragically, the other scene is more melancholy- a gorgeous classical piece plays in the background as the vast ship is engulfed in water and slowly sinks, causing many deaths.

At well over three hours in length, the conclusion of the film is quite sprawling- and one has the feeling of being aboard the ship. By this time I was invested in the characters, both lead and supporting and the tragedy that ensues is both a marvel and heart-wrenching. Titanic is a film that simply must be viewed on the big screen for full effect, and is a timeless masterpiece that has aged perfectly.

The Silence of the Lambs-1991

The Silence of the Lambs-1991

Director-Jonathan Demme

Starring-Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster

Top 100 Films-#31     Top 20 Horror Films-#9

Scott’s Review #320

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Reviewed January 3, 2016

Grade: A

The Silence of the Lambs has the honorary achievement of being one of only three films to win the top five Oscar statuettes, having been awarded Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathan Demme), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins) and Best Actress (Jodie Foster) at the 1991 Oscar ceremonies. This is no small feat, especially considering the film was released in March (not an Oscar happy month) and is a horror film. These elements speak volumes for the level of mastery that is The Silence of the Lambs and the film holds up incredibly well as the years go by. The film was a sleeper hit at the time of release and gradually built momentum throughout the year, becoming a phenomenon and forever a classic.

The film is adapted from the novel of the same name- written by Thomas Harris and, despite being a horror film, contains little gore. The film stars Foster as Clarice Starling, and FBI trainee, sent by her superiors to interview the infamous Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal, “The Cannibal”, is a highly intelligent former psychiatrist who has been banished to a maximum security insane asylum after having been found guilty of killing and eating his victims. The FBI hopes that Hannibal will aid them in a current case involving “Buffalo Bill”, a serial killer who skins his female victims.

Hannibal and Clarice embark on an intense and strange relationship in which he gets under her skin and questions her unhappy childhood in exchange for information about “Buffalo Bill”. This relationship leaves Clarice vulnerable, though the pair develop a strong connection. As Hannibal makes more and more demands in exchange for information, he eventually escapes form custody and a chilling and bizarre escape.

The psychological elements and the intense relationship between Hannibal and Clarice are of monumental importance and Hopkins and Foster share amazing chemistry. Hopkins gives a top notch and downright creepy performance as the cannibalistic killer. His mannerisms stiff and calculating, his tone of voice monotone, he simply embodies his character, making him a legendary and recognizable presence in film history. Two memorable lines that he utters are, “I do wish we could chat longer, but I am having an old friend for dinner.”, and “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”.

The character of “Buffalo Bill” is as terrifying as Hannibal Lecter. Portrayed by Ted Levine, the character is maniacal, sexually confused, and otherwise downtrodden. A tailor, he aspires to make a full “woman suit” costume out of his victims skin. His current hostage, a Senator’s daughter, is kept confined in an old well and terrorized by Bill’s antics. His famous line, “It puts the lotion on or it gets the hose again” still terrifies.

Highly influential, mimicked for years to come, and containing multiple lines and characters permanently etched in film history, The Silence of The Lambs is a classic not soon forgotten. The film was followed by multiple sequels, none of which comes close to the power and psychological complexities of the original.

Spotlight-2015

Spotlight-2015

Director-Thomas McCarthy

Starring-Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo

Scott’s Review #294

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Reviewed December 9, 2015

Grade: B+

Spotlight is a film with an important story to tell. A telling of true events that occurred within the Catholic Archdiocese for ages, Spotlight’s focus is specifically on the Boston scandals, as a team of reporters working for the Boston Globe uncover and expose a multitude of child molestation cases committed by priests, subsequently covered up, and leaving victims paid off to keep quiet. The number of proven cases in Boston alone is staggering.

Starring are a plethora of talents including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams, who lead the pack. They make up the “Spotlight” team at the newspaper,  an investigative unit who work on special stories as they arise.  As their new boss, Marty Baron (ironically a Jewish man), played compellingly by Liev Schrieber, takes over as head of the department, he quizzically asks why the story is not already a priority. Suddenly it is a hot-burner issue and the film delves into an investigation to uncover the facts.

Spotlight is a minimalist film done very well. There is nothing cinematically unique or razzle dazzle about it, but somehow that is okay. In some aspects the film reminds me of the 1975 thriller All The Presidents Men, starring Dustin Hoffman. For instance the bleak, bare news rooms-sterile in their look, are similar- cubicle after cubicle,  harsh lighting and generic conference rooms. Clearly this is the filmmakers intent. Also, the fast, energetic pacing, successfully emitting the tight deadlines newspaper folks are faced with, transfers perfectly on film.

The sexual abuse scandal is a cold, harsh reality and the film introduces several victims, who, now as adults, are forever scarred. Some attend support groups, some take drugs, one is sadly not “all there”. Another, now a gay man, was singled out by a priest during a vulnerable period in the, then young boy’s, life. It is a heartbreaking reality that many victims in the film are based on real cases.

Let’s focus on Schrieber’s character for a minute.  He gives such an understated yet compelling performance that my fear is it will wind up being an overlooked one. He calmly, yet passionately initiates the case. It is not a showy performance, in fact rather subdued, but a compelling one if enough attention is paid to it. He is a standout.

Unfortunately, the film does not delve much into the defense (if any) of the Catholic church. Did they do anything but deny the allegations? Why were the victims paid off? Not much is noted from the church’s point of view. In real life the Catholic church did, in fact, hide the abuse that transpired- for decades in fact.

A slight negative is that the film does not delve into the characters personal lives very much. Michael Keaton’s character, Robby Robinson, is arguably the lead character, spearheading the case,  though very little is known about him. Is he married? happily? Yes, he is a workaholic, but what else? Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes is separated from his wife, but little is known as to the reasons. Finally, McAdam’s Sacha is probably the most fleshed out- she is happily married and close with her religious grandmother, who is effected by the scandal. But we do not know her in depth either. I found myself wanting to know more about these people.

All in all, Spotlight is a very good film that is deserving of the recognition it is receiving. Intense, gritty and filled with honesty, it is a story that needed to be told and has been told well.

The Greatest Show on Earth-1952

The Greatest Show on Earth-1952

Director-Cecil B. DeMille

Starring-Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, James Stewart

Scott’s Review #204

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Reviewed December 14, 2014

Grade: B+

Considered by some critics to be one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time, The Greatest Show on Earth is quite an impressive Hollywood spectacle and tells the story of the world’s largest railroad circus as they launch a tour and travel throughout the United States, with plenty of drama to experience throughout the film. The film stars Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, and James Stewart as general manager, acrobat, and clown of the show, respectively.

The film used over 1400 real Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s people in the production as well as hundreds of animals giving it an authentic circus feel. Unfortunately, the film also has a schmaltzy quality to it and not the best acting, which surprisingly does not bother me and, strangely enough, sort of works in a melodramatic way. Various characters have affairs with each other or fall in and out of love rather quickly- it makes for good drama anyway. The main appeal is the extravagant show, of course. While the drama sometimes takes center stage, the lavish production and real circus events shine through.

My favorite, and arguably, only interesting character with any depth in The Greatest Show on Earth is Buttons the clown, played by James Stewart. Buttons wears his clown costume complete with full makeup at all times. He is kindly and mysterious. We learn that he “mercy killed” his dying wife and has joined the circus for protection from the police. A wonderful human being, he was once a Doctor, and tends to anyone in the circus troupe who needs assistance. Later in the film, he plays a very important role after a tragic accident occurs. His heartbreaking, tender conversation with his elderly mother, whom he only sees secretly once a year for seconds as she tearfully and discreetly visits him in the audience, is painfully sad to watch and is such a sweet scene.

The Greatest Show on Earth’s best scene by far though, which still impresses today, is the massive train wreck, close to the conclusion of the film. Made in 1952, the special effects and direction of Cecil B. DeMille are brilliant. The way that the train derails on a dark night is just perfect- highly effective in its enormity, crashing into an approaching train and derailing. The scene does not look silly. The way that all of the drama comes together in this scene- Harry, the crooked midway concessionaire and the vicious elephant trainer, Klaus, responsible for the accident, Buttons true identity being revealed, and a major character in peril, make this scene top notch and a satisfying conclusion to the film.

The films stories involving Brad, Holly, Sebastian, and Angel are soapy and melodramatic and the weakest point of the film- as a viewer I couldn’t care less which character lusted after which or who wound up in bed together, but the film itself is a spectacle and that is my main enjoyment of it. The brightness, the revelry, and the circus performances are all wonderful.

Oliver!-1968

Oliver!-1968

Director-Carol Reed

Starring-Mark Lester, Oliver Reed

Top 100 Films-#55

Scott’s Review #203

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Reviewed December 10, 2014

Grade: A

Oliver, a 1968 film based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, which was then adapted into a successful stage musical, the film surprisingly won the Academy award for Best Picture that year. Surprising, not because Oliver is poor, in fact it is magnificent, but it was not predicted to take home the honor. Telling the tale of woeful orphan Oliver, the film wonderfully comes across as a dark musical with a wholesome happy ending feel, largely due to the musical compositions which inevitably make for a cheerier tone.
When the film begins, Oliver lives in a despicable orphanage outside of London. A drawing of straws forces meek Oliver to ask for more gruel. After being deemed a problem child he is sold for cheap to an undertaker where he is bullied. Defeated, Oliver makes his way towards the big city in hopes of finding his fortunes. He then meets sinister characters such as Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and Bill Sykes, as well as the sympathetic Nancy and Mr. Brownlow.

I absolutely love the musical numbers of the film and for me it is the strongest aspect of Oliver. The film would have certainly been much darker had it not been for the musical that it was. Numbers such as “Consider Yourself”, “Food, Glorious Food”, and “As Long As He Needs Me” stick with audiences for miles. The entertaining songs lighten the somber moments- as noted earlier when meek Oliver dares to ask for more gruel, the enchanting “Food Glorious Food” cannot help but be hummed along to, which lightens the mood of the scene. I also enjoy how the film contains the long ago popular trend of containing two acts with an intermission in between- very grand and classy and an aspect of film I wish would return in today’s movies. The London art direction is magnificent, revealing a cold, industrial feel, mixed in with a warm, sunny atmosphere when Oliver stays at the palatial estate of Mr. Brownlow. The bright and enchanting musical number of “Who Will Buy?” is the perfect backdrop for this setting and my personal favorite number.

Nancy is one of the most complex characters- a prostitute, she happily sings, in denial about her life, in “It’s a Fine Life”, secretly wishing her life was better than it is. Later, conflicted over helping Oliver or standing by her man she sings a melancholy number, “As Long As He Needs Me”, which cements her role as a tragic, sad character. However, as she leads a drunken bar room in a dance of “Oom-Pah-Pah”, the drama is thick as she is striving to help Oliver at the risk of putting her own life in severe jeopardy. Shani Wallis fills the character with heart and feeling.

Oliver is a much darker film than one might imagine. Curiously rated G, the film should have at least been rated PG. The films heart is of that of a children’s movie- to me personally a turn-off, but the film is much bolder than that. Certainly, some subject matters are toned down from Dickens novel, but not completely toned down. Examples- the novel made clear overtones of child abuse by the thieves by Fagin, yet there is none of that in the film. Contrasting this, the film blatantly shows the beating death of Nancy- albeit out of camera range, but the audience gets enough of a glimpse to ascertain what is happening. The shooting and swinging death of Bill Sykes borders on brutal.

A glaring flaw of the film is that the voice of Oliver is dubbed by a female singer and not voiced by actor Mark Lester. To me, this seems quite obvious that the voice is not male. The character of Bill Sykes is convincingly played by Oliver Reed, nephew of director Carol Reed.

Perfect around holiday time, Oliver is a terrific musical drama, to be enjoyed for eons to come.

Gone With The Wind-1939

Gone With The Wind-1939

Director-Victor Fleming

Starring-Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh

Top 100 Films-#15

Scott’s Review #201

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Reviewed December 4, 2014

Grade: A

Gone with the Wind is the grand masterpiece of the sweeping epic drama. The film is based on Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel. Set in the south (Georgia) during the Civil War era, it centers on the life of Scarlett O’Hara, southern belle of cotton plantation Tara, and how she must struggle to keep her plantation alive after the south loses the war. Initially, Scarlett cares little about war, instead enjoying her spoiled, narcissistic lifestyle, and romances with many men in the town, all vying for her attentions. She revels in one sunny picnic and ball after another with all eyes on her. As war decimates the south, however, Scarlett must take over the plantation and survive the ravages of war. Mixed in with the war theme is a romance between Scarlett and Rhett, one of cinema’s most recognized and enduring couples. Having gone through three directors (Victor Fleming, George Cukor, and Sam Wood), the film is as extravagant and precise in its style, attention to detail, and set design as films come.

At close to four hours in length, Gone with the Wind is a lavish production that can take an entire afternoon or evening to watch and is divided into two halves- interestingly the first half directed by Cukor, and the second primarily directed by Fleming. It is a film that can be viewed and analyzed over and over again and the set pieces and flawless perfectionism alone, marveled at. The first half is superior to the second, but that is like comparing prime rib to filet mignon- it’s a preference of goodies. The first half is brighter, cheery, and fantastic. The wonderful Tara and neighboring plantation Twin Oaks host southern balls and parties and are filled with romance, gossip and beautiful costumes. War is coming, but it is a delightful time of merriment. The Southerners embrace going to war- they assume it will last for two weeks and they will be victorious. They party and they celebrate.

The second half has a much darker tone. By the beginning of the second half Atlanta has burned, thousands of men have died, and Tara is decimated, Scarlett’s mother dead and father gone batty. The rebuilding of the south is explored, the troubled Rhett and Scarlett marriage commences, their daughter dies, and the world famous line uttered by Rhett to Scarlett, “Frankly my dear…. I don’t give a damn”. Having been now directed by a different person (Fleming), the first and second halves almost seem like two separate films.

Vivien Leigh plays a wonderful role. In 1939 women were rarely strong characters in film, so for that reason Gone with the Wind is groundbreaking for female characters. Scarlett is selfish, yes, but she rises above, is strong, saving her plantation and succeeding as a successful businesswoman- almost unheard of in cinema for 1939. Her undying love for Ashley Wilkes, but unable to obtain him (he is married to his cousin Melanie) gives her a sympathetic vulnerability.

Clark Gable, already a huge star and the people’s choice to play Rhett, is charismatic and handsome. The fact that he and Leigh did not get along make their fights and sexual tension electric. They love each other, but also hate each other and this is transmitted on screen. Rhett is his own man- he defines himself as not a northerner, but not a southerner either. He is a vagabond and spends many nights at the local brothel in the company of Belle Watling. The character of Rhett is independent and strong.

The supporting characters are colorful, lively, and humorous. Aunt Pittypat with her dramatic worrying and smelling salts and Prissy with her insistence on expert child-birthing when in reality she knows nothing, are moments meant to lighten the mood. Mammie, a mother-figure to Scarlett, is a moral, kind, yet tough character. Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) is an even sweeter character in her caring and selflessness. Lesser characters such as Dr. Meade, Suellen, Carreen, India, and Frank Kennedy all serve their purpose and are not throwaway characters.

Bothersome is that over the years Gone with the Wind has been unfairly “feminized” once it began airing as an alternative to the annual Super Bowl, the assumption being that only women would enjoy it, is silly. I do not find this film to be a female film and frankly, some of the battle scenes are quite masculine, with epic fires and guns galore. Is Gone with the Wind now considered a racist film? Perhaps so, and time has made the political incorrectness much more glaring- this point can be debated endlessly. Ashley participates in a hooded Klan organization and is a hero of the film! Certainly the slaves are portrayed as happy, kindly, and comfortable with their place in life all throughout the film, vastly different from what surely transpired. However, Hattie McDaniel (Mammie) won the first ever Oscar for a black actress so that was monumental progress and influence. Using seemingly thousands of extras, the war torn Atlanta scene where the camera rises up and up and up panning down on hundreds of wounded and dead Union soldiers as Scarlett defeatedly walks among them is still heartbreaking to watch and is a reminder of the power and destruction that war is.

Gone with the Wind is an epic masterpiece from long ago that still holds up amazingly well. The sets, the rich characters, and the costumes can be admired and still inspire today.

The Godfather: Part II-1974

The Godfather: Part II-1974

Director-Frances Ford Coppola

Starring-Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro

Top 100 Films-#3

Scott’s Review #197

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Reviewed: November 25, 2014

Grade: A

Frances Ford Coppola’s sequel (and technically also a prequel) to the highly regarded and successful The Godfather is one of the rare sequels to equal and even surpass the original in its greatness, creativity and structure. The Godfather Part II feels deeper, more complex, and ultimately richer than The Godfather- and that film itself is a masterpiece. Part II is much darker in tone. Ford Coppola had complete freedom to write and direct as he saw fit with no studio interference. The results are immeasurable in creating a film masterpiece.

The film is sectioned into two parts, which is a highly interesting and effective decision. The story alternates between the early twentieth century following Don Corleone’s life, now played by Robert DeNiro, as his story is explained- left without a family and on the run from a crime lord, Don escapes to the United States as a young boy and struggles to survive in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City. He obtains a modest job as a grocery stock boy and finally celebrates his eventual rise to power in the mafia. The other part of the film is set in 1958 as Michael Corleone is faced with a crumbling empire, through both rivals and the FBI- investigating him and holding Senate committee hearings in Washington D.C., and a failing marriage to Kay (Diane Keaton). Betrayal is a common theme of the film from Michael’s wife, brother, and mobster allies revealed to be cagey enemies. Michael grows uncertain and mistrustful of almost everyone surrounding him. Is Kay a friend or foe? Is Fredo plotting against him? He even begins lashing out at Tom Hagen on occasion.
What makes The Godfather Part II so brilliant, and in my opinion richer than The Godfather, is that it is tougher to watch- and that is to its credit. Now, instead of being a warm, respected member of a powerful family, Michael is questioned, analyzed, and betrayed. New, interesting characters are introduced- Hyman Roth, played by Lee Strasburg, a former ally of Don’s, and Frankie Pentangeli, played by Michael V. Gazzo are intriguing characters and their allegiances are unknown throughout most of the film- are they loyal to the Corleone’s or deadly enemies?

The character of Michael goes from conflicted to all-out revenge minded, including revenge sought on members of his own family. Michael is now a dark, angry character- gone is the nice, decorated war hero with his whole life ahead of him. He is much older and a changed man. Similar to the original Godfather, the opening scene is a large celebration- this time of Anthony Corleone’s first communion celebration. Also in comparison, the finale of the film involves major character deaths one after the other.

Unique to this film are the multiple location scenes- New York, Nevada, Italy, Florida, and Cuba are all featured making for an enjoyable segue throughout and a bigger budget. The blow-up confrontation between Michael and Kay is devastating and shocking in its climax. When Michael punches Kay in a sudden rage, the audience also feels punched. The wonderful scene at the end of the film with the entire family gathered around for Don’s fiftieth birthday in 1942 is a special treat for viewers; familiar faces make cameo appearances. I love these aspects of the film.

The rich history of Don is the greatest aspect of The Godfather Part II as simply known as “Godfather” and patriarch of the family, his life as a boy and young father are explained so we see how he became one of the most powerful men in the crime world. I love how he remains a decent man and helps the poor and the victims of ruthless Don Fanucci, his predecessor. He loves his wife and children, but also loves his neighbors, and helps them, believing in fairness. Ultimately, the characters of Don and Michael are worlds apart.

The Godfather Part II is one of the most complex and well-written films in movie history- studied in film school, discussed, imitated, and championed. It remains vital and should be viewed and analyzed again and again and again.