Academic / Film Critic
|The Wizard of Oz
|The Philadelphia Story
|All about Eve
|Joseph L. Mankiewicz
|The English Patient
|La Nuit américaine
|My Beautiful Laundrette
|On the Waterfront
The Wizard of Oz
A note-perfect musical extravaganza. There's not a frame that's amiss or unnecessary here, instead it's moment after moment of earnest sincerity that truly epitomises the possibilities of movie-magic and it's arguably one of the films which best transcends all ages – as moving for children as it is for adults.
The Philadelphia Story
Best for Katharine Hepburn in what feels like her definitive performance, although there are so many other potentially 'definitive' performances from her. Other screwball comedies are more overt, more audacious, more flashy, but this film feels like the prototype of where the genre could go and it also manages to be one of the few comedies of the era that is as generous to the main lovers at the centre as it is to the bit players. Everyone who turns up in this film feels like they're worthy of our time. It is an ensemble film for the ages.
All about Eve
Mankiewicz makes it look easy, and I think that's the reason that so much of what's excellent here sometimes gets overlooked. This might be one of the sharpest screenplays in American cinema, matched with some of the best performances. But where Mankiewicz's work here is really essential is in the ways the camera is understated and subtle but still pushing, pushing through the the visual language in ways that don't always call attention to themselves. This is essential cinema.
A lot of this feels like a natural climax of Cuarón's gifts as a director and writer – formal and structural diligence, overwhelming waves of empathy, sharp ability to pull thoughtful performances from his actors and an overall awareness of motifs and allusions in shaping his work. Roma is a wondrous piece of cinema which excavates postcolonial malaise, indigenous concerns and maternal instincts while avoiding heavy signposting of its intentions, instead gently leading us to a climax marked by its emotional clarity.
The English Patient
At one moment in the film, a character's hand touches the window of a vehicle during a sand-storm as the frame dissolves to another character years later remembering the moment. In the split-second where the dissolve happens, it is as if the two timelines intersect and in it The English Patient announces its gentle thesis about the way the past and the present are intertwined. This is capital-R Romantic stuff – in it we see traces of Lean, Zinnemann, maybe even Kazan. But this is also Minghella, through and through: the kind of perverse approach to romance that marked his earlier films, a sharp literate interest in his adaptation, and a willingness to be radical in his sumptuousness. The period sensibilities and WWII setting give the illusion of something traditional,but this feels like a film that's very much its own thing, so much so that it feels unique among contemporaneous works of the 1990s.
Is this the best of Kiarostami? There are so many options to choose from, but I keep returning to this sly trick of a movie. It’s more a puzzle than a movie, but a puzzle that doesn’t want you to figure it out. It is a glorified philosophical discussion of the merits of the authentic versus the artificial. It is also a rumination on what it means to be married, and to be alone. It is a self-aware riff on the pointlessness of trying to figure out what’s real. It is all these things, while being a playful and tender piece of art that feels central to who this man is as a creator. Many will call it minor Kiarostami, especially as it feels more politically ambivalent than some of his other greats, but it also feels essential as a treatise on film as illusion. It is provocative, daring, risky and rewarding and feels like a virtuosic piece of cinema.
La Nuit américaine
No other artistic form is able to grapple with meta-textuality and self-reflexivity as irresistibly as film can, and I don't think any film has been able to reach the sweet spot of film meditating on film (on film) as ambitiously, gloriously and relaxedly as Truffaut does in Day For Night. For all the ambition of the 60s and 70s, Truffaut manages to match the sharp ambition of her contemporaries in a film that never feels hard or difficult or complicated even though each rewatch of this unearths so much that is complicated, and rewarding, and generous and thoughtful. The way it gently mocks the characters is never mean, its commitment to its ensemble as transient sets the stage for so many similar 'ensemble' films to come ,and its approach to observational comedy, matched with its technical excellence, makes it an indelible moment in French cinema.
My Beautiful Laundrette
Everything about this that's just slightly 'off' only works to make it feel more essentia – the greenness of Frears' direction, the fussy fade-ins and fade-outs, Kureishi's very literary-dependent screenplay; but this feels like such a glorious encapsulation of the possibility of independent British cinema. Its approach to race, gender, class, sexuality and power dynamics is so rich and textured. It does more in 90 minutes than movies, miniseries and television series have attempted in the more than 30 years since. Its messiness feels true for these characters and their worlds, and its open-hearted sincerity is wonderfully moving.
What stands out more than anything is the passion that keeps this epic going. Beatty is an empathetic filmmaker, perhaps even better as a director than he is as an actor (and he’s a great actor). For each character that appears on screen Beatty invites us to recognise them, to identify with them. When you expect hectoring, Reds gives us gentle understanding. It’s the warmth of it all that sticks out. Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography is a big part of this. Can film photography be tender? Because that’s what this is. Even in this film of despair and lost ideals, Beatty doggedly persists with a film that feels hopeful.
On the Waterfront
That Kazan makes this miraculous and moving piece out of the worst of real-life ruptures feels strange but also natural. Everything works, even when the underbelly of what made it happens feels so complicated.