Once again this week the good have triumphed over the bad, the evil. Don’t worry we’re still talking about films here of course. I watched and re-watched a lot of good ones. Including once again the short films of Spike Jonze, like I’m Here (2010) and others that you can find on YouTube. Here’s every good film and a couple thoughts on them, if I’ve already reviewed them in the course of the week, just click the title and it will open up the link to the full-length review. Enjoy and don’t forget to let me know about your favorite films of the week. I’m always curious to hear what other people liked.
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
La Grande Bellezza (2013) – 8 (IMDb 7.5) – Drama, Comedy (Italy)
Cries & Whisphers (1972) – 8 (IMDb 7.9) – Drama, Criterion (Sweden)
Ingmar Bergman is easily starting to become one of my favorite filmmakers. His films are quite simple in terms of plot, but there is so much underneath the surface: symbolism, emotion, drama, passion, depth. It’s quite incredible. Cries & Whispers is considered one of his best and it’s about a wealthy woman on her deathbed and her sisters. You can definitely see how this film influenced someone like Woody Allen (especially when doing Interiors). I loved the performances, Bergman’s use of color (Sven Nykvist went on to shoot Fanny and Alexander and even work with Woody) and the drama, which was so intense. The film is thoroughly entertaining, even if that may not be the most accurate adjective to describe it, it’s very engaging and I could easily identify with the characters even if they’re from a much higher social strata than mine. I guess that when it comes to death we really are all equal.
The Bling Ring (2013) – 9 (IMDb 6) – Crime, Drama, Comedy (USA)
A Short Film About Killing (1988) – 8 (IMDb 8) – Crime, Drama (Poland)
In the same vein of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Love this is a short film that explores killing. Killing an innocent man and then death sentencing a guilty man. Both films are very short, yet so powerful, because they get straight to the point. As always with Kieslowski his films are gorgeous to look at, this is one of his most beautiful in my opinion. Sławomir Idziak went on to shoot The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors: Blue for Kieslowski, but in this one it’s a more subdued beauty, less showy, but fascinating nonetheless. I almost felt like Werner Herzog’s look of his On Death Row series was inspired by the look of this film, but I could be wrong. In any case: This is the story about a man who kills a cab driver for no reason and is then sentenced to death. Without any judgment this films just presents the story as it is and is able to inject a lot of humanity and emotion to the characters who feel completely believable and three-dimensional. It’s certainly the best film I’ve seen all week!
Once Upon A Time In America (1984) – 7.5 (IMDb 8.4) – Crime, Drama (USA)
This film has been on my “list of shame” for quite a while now and I just needed to watch it. I finally did and it was quite enjoyable. It’s an epic tale of this gangster’s life, I’m not even going to begin to explain it because it’s so grand and trying to encompass every single and possible aspect of human existence it’s just enormous. Sergio Leone’s direction does feel a bit heavy-handed in some points however, it’s very dramatic, but sometimes too much. The cast is absolutely incredible, but not all performances are subtle, although I was a big fan of Robert De Niro in this film, and he’s usually not my favorite actor, but perfectly cast here. My favorite part was the incredibly romantic score by Ennio Morricone, without the music this film wouldn’t be nearly as great as it is. I was surprised to see Jennifer Connelly as a kid, didn’t even recognize her, she wasn’t a good actress yet, but definitely better than her adult counterpart. If you’re a Giuseppe Tornatore fan or know his films you can definitely see how he was influenced by Leone; Nuovo Cinema Paradiso feels a lot like Once Upon A Time In America.
Viridiana (1961) – 7.5 (IMDb 8.1) – Drama, Criterion (Spain)
Great film by Luis Buñuel, great social commentary too. I was pleased to see Fernando Rey in this film, because I liked him a lot in That Obscure Object of Desire. Viridiana however follows a young woman who wants to become a nun, but then realizes that maybe that sort of lifestyle isn’t right for her. So she decides to open up a charity and help people who way, but if you know anything about human nature it’s that we’re all just a bunch of ungrateful bitches. The film’s climax is pretty great and incredibly poignant. The black & white cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and dreamy. Buñuel surprisingly holds back with the surreal elements in this film (or maybe I just didn’t catch them?). Although the ending could is maybe not to be taken “literally”, but again I could be wrong. Great performances all around, nice score and just a crisp, to the point film. Also, very ahead of its time with some of the thematic elements, in terms of censorship and what you’re allowed to show/imply. I always like it when filmmakers are able to defy the system and do whatever they what, not playing by the rules.
Allan Stewart Konigsberg alias Woody Allen is one of the most prolific and consistently interesting filmmakers. I can’t praise him enough. He’s one of my favorite filmmakers and he continues to surprise audiences, by putting out a new film every year since the 1970s. Even if critics don’t always like his efforts, he consistently makes the films he wants to make. Lately he proved that he still got it with Midnight in Paris and now it looks like his newest film, Blue Jasmine is getting mostly positive reviews as well, which makes me happy.
To celebrate the release of his new drama, coming out in theaters this very friday, I wanted to recommend my five favorite Woody Allen films. This list can be especially helpful if you’re looking to get into his sizable filmography. Since I am so in love with all of his films, and wouldn’t say he’s made one that I dislike, it’s hard for me to pick one over the other, but I’ll try my best.
5. Annie Hall (1977)
It’s Woody’s smash hit. This catapulted him into international stardom, and rightfully so. This is a great picture, it won Best Picture, again: Deservedly so. The film is a romantic comedy starring Woody Allen himself and his first muse Diane Keaton. It’s about Woody’s character trying to figure out why his relationship with Annie Hall didn’t work out. Some very innovating filming techniques and narrative styles. Woody breaks the “fourth wall” several times, speaking directly to the camera. How could you not like this film?
4. Interiors (1978)
A rather depressing film for a director known for his comedic chops, but I love Interiors. It’s as close as Woody will ever get to Michelangelo Antonioni, in fact he uses the same cinematographer that worked on Red Desert, but of course there’s a bit of an Ingmar Bergman feel too. The film is about three sisters dealing with the separation of their parents. This is Allen’s first foray into drama and I would say it’s his best “serious” film. Great nuanced performances by all the actors involved and I especially like Diane Keaton in this one.
3. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Aside from comedy, Woody has always had a passion for fantasy as well, but not that dragons and wizards shit. It’s always something grounded in “reality”. In The Purple Rose of Cairo Mia Farrow’s character falls in love with a movie character that literally comes out of the movie. Set in New York in the 1930s this is a nostalgic and romantic film, with a bittersweet ending. It’s one of my favorite films, because it comments on film as a storytelling medium and as a cultural phenomenon. It’s also one of the best instances of Woody mixing melancholic and comedic tones.
2. Whatever Works (2009)
I know I should be picking one of his classics, but I have to be honest here and I think this is one of his most underrated films. It looks as though the script is something he re-hashed, but I like it nonetheless. It’s not one of his best, but certainly one of Woody’s funniest and probably most ‘expositive’ of his “life philosophy” which is basically the title of the film itself. On a personal level this film reminded me a little bit of Lolita, and maybe he didn’t even intend to reference it. Larry David is good in this, but my favorite part is Evan Rachel Wood, she is just to die for and a good actress of course.
1. Midnight in Paris (2011)
I know I always talk about this one, but it’s probably my favorite of his at this point and the Woody Allen film that got me to watch almost all of his movies. I should however revisit his classics, because now that I know and understand his style better I’m sure I’ll appreciate them even more. Midnight in Paris is about a writer (Owen Wilson) who wants his work to be more respected. He is on holiday in Paris with his fiancé he finds a spot where every night at midnight a car stops by and he is transported to the 1920s, where he meets all of his literary heroes. Almost like an Alice in Wonderland, he is able to work out his real life problems in the fantasy world. Won best original screenplay, well deserved and certainly one I’ll keep re-watching.
If you want to know more about Woody Allen I also recommend the excellent Woody Allen: A Documentary. A documentary on Woody as a person and an artist. In conclusion: What are your favorite Woody Allen films?
Here’s a list of the best movies I watched this year so far. My major discovery was South Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk, but I also got to see Krzysztof Kieslowski’s incredible Three Colors trilogy, explore some of Fellini’s lesser known works and further dwell into the fantastic filmography of Swedish national treasure Ingmar Bergman. Ranking them was a difficult task, not my forte, but I can honestly recommend every single one of them.
1) 3-Iron (2004, Kim Ki-duk)
2) Three Colors: Red (1994, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
3) Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring (2003, Kim Ki-duk)
4) Il Bidone (1955, Federico Fellini)
5) Time (2006, Kim Ki-duk)
* Word of advice: Before watching Arirang make sure you’ve seen at least Kim Ki-duk’s most important films, it will get you a greater appreciation for it.