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- Filmology: A Movie-a-Day Guide to the Movies You Need to Know
By Chris Barsanti. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in published reviews. In the darkness at the movies, where nothing is asked of us and we are left alone, the liberation from duty and constraint allows us to develop our own aesthetic responses.
This quotation is a fine way of saying that nobody needs to tell you how to feel about the movies. You like, love, despise, or feel ambivalent about a film based on what you were thinking and feeling while the images were flickering across your retinas.
That being said, how do you decide what to watch in the first place? According to the Motion Picture Association of America, roughly films were released in the United States inand more than the year before. Now, even if you followed part of director Richard Linklater's advice for learning how to become filmmaker watch three films a day, every dayit would take months just to catch up on that year's films. Since this doesn't leave much time to hold down a job, people have to be selective about what they watch.
That's where this book comes in. Think of it as a guide pointing the way to of the most thrilling, the most inventive, the most affecting, the most most films that have ever been made. The world of cinema is rich and varied almost beyond description, with an array of fascinating stories and settings not to mention continually innovating ways for visualizing them that stands up to the greatest works of world literature.
Just about every aspect of cinematic art is represented in these pages, from revolutionary avant-garde experiments to drop-dead-funny comedies to harrowing tales of bloody combat and stranger-than-fiction true stories that have to be seen to be believed and sometimes you won't believe them even then.
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For somebody who spends much of his time viewing and writing about films, it's exhausting to see the same great films hauled up for praise again and again in those Top 10 or Greatest lists that show up in so many magazines and television film tributes.
So I made a concerted effort to include films that might not always make those lists. Nothing against Michael Curtiz's wartime romance Casablanca it's included here but his twisted noir Mildred Pierce is every bit as good, if not better. Steven Spielberg's Jaws and E. There's not a film in here that doesn't deserve at least one viewing; love them or hate them — you won't easily forget them.
Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov's oddball, impressionist epic is pure sensation, cinematic poetry in its rawest form. Made just five years after the Cuban Revolution, as Soviet propaganda, I Am Cuba was buried in the Mosfilm archives for three decades after only a few screenings. The film includes four story lines stitched together by narration, forming a portrait of Cuba before and during Castro's revolution. In the third sequence, students riot in the streets, hurling Molotov cocktails and charging en masse at ranks of police.
In the final segment, war comes to a peasant family in the hills. Though the film is shot in black and white, you'll remember it in color.
The street-fighting action is so vivid and electrifying, the scenery so verdant and lush, that your mind paints in what it doesn't see. Kalatozov's dynamic camerawork creates some of the most thrilling and emotive moments ever witnessed onscreen, more than filling the spaces left by the sparse screenplay.
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In one justly celebrated, breathtaking scene, the viewer follows the camera's view as it climbs up a building and walks through a rooftop cigar factory before flying out into space over a passing funeral procession for a revolutionary. It's a showoff move, but astounding nonetheless, like the film as a whole. January 1,was the date of the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by Cuban revolutionaries, whose exploits are explored in I Am Cuba.
Dziga Vertov, the man identified in this dazzling film's credits as the author of the experiment, isn't innovating for its own sake. He's trying for a whole new kind of cinema, and it's nearly as groundbreaking now as it first seemed back in This richly imagined carnival of silent imagery tells story after small story, linked by little except the plucky figure of the cameraman, who trots through the film capturing everything he can.
Vertov's vision is a pulsating, spinning vortex of daily life in an industrial nation. In his raw openness to the randomness of existence, Vertov actually delivers a powerful rebuke to the totalitarian system he was working under. Some scenes of spewing smokestacks and grungy-faced laborers hint at the kind of broad-shouldered Soviet propaganda his fellow filmmakers were putting out.
Vertov's eye itself a repeated visual motif trains instead on smaller subplots: a woman getting dressed, commuters packed into the streets, buses flowing out of garages for the day's work, a mother giving birth.
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Vertov cuts back and forth across this action even showing his editor at work creating the film itselfbuilding tiny dramas linked by little except that they are all part of one thrilling day. It's a rich and chaotic tumult, and dazzling to behold. Though a visual treat, this silent film is definitely best viewed with audio.
Check out the release, which features a clanging, playful, Danny Elfman — esque score by silent-film specialists the Alloy Orchestra, following notes left by Vertov himself. Dziga Vertov's Soviet filmmaking comrade Sergei Eisenstein despised this film, calling it purposeless camera hooliganism.
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness, bind them. There had been rumors for years about a project to film J. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy, but it seemed doomed never to happen. Disney tried, but Tolkien born this day in was not a fan of the company given what they did later to his friend C.
Lewis's books, you can see why. John Boorman took a run and ended up doing Excalibur instead. Ralph Bakshi's rotoscope animated version was less than impressive. So when little-known Australian director Peter Jackson signed on, fans were excited but nervous.
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It turned out that they didn't have anything to worry about. As the clouds of war gather in the fantasy world of Middle-earth, the scattered societies of elves, humans, dwarves, and hobbits band together in an expedition to hurl a magic ring — the source of the Dark Lord Sauron's power — into the chasm of Mount Doom.
Jackson pulls together the motley heroes with charm and grace, cutting out swaths of the book without lessening its mythic drama. A twinkle-eyed Ian McKellen stands out as the grumbling wizard Gandalf, while the sidelines are packed with great supporting players, from an ethereal Cate Blanchett as the Elven queen Galadriel to Viggo Mortensen as the scruffy but kingly warrior Aragorn.
Although Jackson's penchant for massive battle scenes lost its vigor in the increasingly long-winded series, his ability to turn great fantasy writing into thrilling fantasy film is at its peak here.
The extended cut of The Fellowship of the Ring adds about a half-hour of material and stands as a rare example of a director's cut that seems more necessary than self-indulgent. It's difficult to think of Walt Disney's first full-length film as revolutionary, but that's what it was. The idea of taking animation, then best suited to the shorts played before the real movie, and hauling it out to feature length could have been the folly that sank a visionary upstart like Walt.
That clearly didn't happen. The Snow White tale is a curious one to launch such a gamble. As many a comedian has noted: naive princess lives in a house with seven small bachelors? If you stop to think about what's happening, then like any fantasy, it all falls apart. But, like the best fantasies, the story is gripping and elemental enough that most viewers rarely bother with such considerations. Snow White herself is a lovely vision, her alabaster skin unearthly pale against the dark forest background.
The dwarves are a curious bunch — seven kinds of comic relief. While they have the film's attention with all their marching and music, it's the witch who grabs your eye.
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Her deep and inexplicable malevolence is what powers the film. While the film was a great international hit, and helped pay for Disney's new animation studio in Burbank, it didn't pave the way for more of the same. Disney thereafter stuck mostly to fairy-tale sources that could be more easily scrubbed up.
No more poisoned apples for him. Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki had been garnering accolades in his home country for years. When he came up with this dazzling work of fantasy, Western audiences realized what they had been missing. The film is set during Japan's Muromachi era, around the fifteenth century, a time when the country was starting to creep into modernization and in Miyazaki's vision, at least the gods of the wilderness were being killed off.
In Miyazaki's world, the gods aren't ephemeral spirits but living, breathing creatures who might have unworldly powers but can still be killed. The smoggy, industrial city of Iron Town, ruled by the greedy Lady Eboshi, is clearing forests for fuel to power its smelting furnaces. This causes conflict with the creatures of the forest. Among them is a human girl, San, raised by wolves and eager to take revenge on Eboshi. Somewhere between the factions is Prince Ashitaka, on a quest to figure out why a demonic boar tried to destroy his village.
Miyazaki builds slowly to the great confrontation between humankind and nature with a patient sense of timing.
One of his most adult-oriented films, this is also his biggest, with a fantasy universe rivaling the greatest of literature. The most expensive anime yet made, all the money is on the screen in gorgeous, multilayered compositions and characters drawn with the scrupulous care and vivid drama that the story demands.
Miramax Films hired American stars to handle Princess Mononoke's dubbed English dialogue, and fantasy author Neil Gaiman retooled the translated dialogue. Don't you just take the past, and put it in a room in the basement, and lock the door and never go in there? A chance encounter based on a lie gets him an introduction to shipping magnate Herbert Greenleaf James Rebhorn. Greenleaf soon offers a proposal to Tom: Go to Italy, where the lazy, unambitious heir to the Greenleaf fortune, Dickie Jude Lawis whiling away his days with girlfriend Meredith Gwyneth Paltrowand convince Dickie to return to New York and his familial duties.
Tom, who pretended to know Dickie from Princeton, agrees. He's a blank without a past, uncomfortable in his own skin, and eager to take on a role. In Italy, Tom sticks out, nervous and pale. A convivial liar, he worms into Dickie and Meredith's confidence.
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Finding out that Dickie has no desire to return, Tom sets about becoming his new best friend and living the high life of hot jazz and sharp clothes. The friendship turns quickly into Tom's stealthy romantic obsession, one that uncoils into sociopathic violence. A psychological horror film done up like a nostalgic travelogue, this chilly and precise adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's cult novel has more astounding performances than it knows what to do with.
You'll also hear a lush score by Gabriel Yared, and feel the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock wafting through each murderously tense scene. Author Patricia Highsmith was particularly enamored of Tom Ripley, making him the star of five of her novels.
Filmology: A Movie-a-Day Guide to the Movies You Need to Know
Brian De Palma's masterpiece starts at the end, with would-be retired gangster Carlito Brigante Al Pacino getting shot in the gut and hauled away on a stretcher.
As he slides along to his death, he thinks back, daring us to get sucked into it enough to forget about the film's foregone conclusion. We meet Carlito as he's getting released from prison on a technicality wrangled by his lawyer, David Kleinfeld a wonderfully snakelike Sean Penn. It's the s in New York and Carlito, a Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx who rose high in the underworld before being sent away, is determined to go straight.
At first it looks possible. He hooks back up with his old girlfriend, Gail Penelope Ann Millerand gets a legal job running a nightclub.