1978: 3 movies

posted 2017 September 25

In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden
Writing, direction, production,
art direction, and cinematography
by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Production Design by Franz Vacek
Music by Peer Raben
Editing by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Juliane Lorenz
Makeup by Jo Braun
Starring Volker Spengler, Ingrid Caven,
and Elisabeth Trissenaar

   Slow and at times absurd, this beautiful and ground-breaking tale ushers us through the life of a married man who has fallen in love with someone other than his spouse. He has changed his sex for love but now is abandoned. In fact, he's been abandoned many times since then. That's what makes the story interesting: everything has happened already, and now the characters are only searching around for why, they try to recreate it, and they try to repair it. As down as this movie sounds, the gripping angles, the colors, art direction, and performances keep our eyes glued. Also, having a little knowledge of writer/director Fassbinder's personal tragedies gives this a sense of autobiographical importance and urgency.
   The title translates from Deutsch to "In a Year with 13 Moons".

Par desmit minutem vecaks
Written and directed by Herz Frank
Produced by Herz Frank and Pauls Pakalns
Cinematography by Juris Podnieks
Art Direction by Gunars Kondrats
Sound by Alfreds Visnevskis

   It's pretty amazing how interesting this movie is despite it's lack of story, one single shot, and no other subject other than a few toddlers watching a stage-show. There are no camera movements besides zooming in, zooming out, and panning. But what there is is nearly ten minutes of behavioral revelation. With nothing else to go on, we scan this child-audience for clues on what they are watching. When one of the children seems profoundly disturbed by the show, we might think about the morality of such a project. Is this wrong to subject a boy to something that can bring him to tears just for the sake of a movie? But as he moves so easily back to a calm and pleased state, we think this is not really cruelty but a matter of nature. People are simply emotional beings. Then the camera shifts to other children with less pronounced reactions and we wonder if there was something particular about the first boy, maybe we are not like him. The other children are cute as well, and we are grateful to the camera-operator for the way we are shown a variety of a children, but we are especially grateful when the camera pans back to the first boy, because somehow in such a short while we have already come to miss him, his dramatic shifts of mood, his impassioned features, the way his spirit spills out of his eyes, nose and mouth. 
   The music cleverly and amusingly dramatizes the shot, intriguing us by not moving parallel to the scene on the stage, but rather parallel to the reactions of the audience members. In the end, what we have learned is hard to put into a clever paragraph, it is more experiential, like staring into a mirror and playing with the limits of our own face and the way it relates to our mind. The title translates from the Latvian to "About ten minutes older".

Oh My Darling
Direction and music by Børge Ring 
Produced by Nico Crama
Sound Effects by Boy van Hattum

   No words or actors, only music, sound effects, and spell-binding animation. A simple tale of human generation, family, and the conflicting tugs of the heart. Story-telling great as a classic Greek ode.

1997: 6 movies

Bacheha-ye aseman
Written and directed by Majid Majidi
Produced by Amir Esfandiari and Mohammad Esfandiari
Cinematography by Parviz Malekzaade
Editing by Hassan Hassandoost
Music by Kayvan Jahanshahi
Starring Amir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi, 
and Mohammad Amir Naji

   A gem. One of the best movies of all time, because it is as real and pertinent as it is beautiful. A real slice of life in Iran. The performances are so good, they're unreal! It's focused on children, yes, but the movie isn't childish. It's almost overwhelmingly humanist, heart-breaking in its poetry, humorous with its surprising observations, and suspenseful in its cinematography, editing, and economic writing. The family and inter-personal dynamics are enlightening and strongly tear-inducing, and inspiring. The climax by the lake is a cinematic highlight. 
   The title translates from the Farsi to "Children from the heavens".

Washington Square
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Written by Carol Doyle
Produced by Julie Bergman Sender and Roger Birnbaum
Cinematography by Jerzy Zielinski
Editing by David Siegel
Production design by Allan Starski
Art direction by Alan E. Muraoka
Set decor by William A. Cimino
Costume design by Anna B. Sheppard
Makeup Department
Hair-styling by Sherri Bramlett, Wayne Herndon,
and Aaron F. Quarles
Make-up by Barbara Lacy and Micheline Trépanier
Music by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Albert Finney

   One of the most perfect performances by an actor in a movie.Every movement, sound, look, every moment and part of Jennifer Jason Leigh's physique that is caught by the camera is perfectly in tune with the spirit of the movie, and the spirit of the movie is strong and multi-faceted. It is the story of a love between a father and daughter, also between two lovers, and between a woman and herself. It is a story of growth, of tremendous pain and loss, and it is a story about truth and true power. The camera moves in intimately and out imperceptibly. Its feminism begins with a fearful whisper and ends with a proud scream. 
   It is based on the Henry James' novella of the same name.

U Turn
Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by John Ridley
Produced by Dan Halsted and Clayton Townsend
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography by Robert Richardson
Editing by Hank Corwin and Thomas J. Nordberg
Casting by Mary Vernieu
Production design by Victor Kempster
Art direction by Dan Webster
Set decor by Merideth Boswell
Costumes by Beatrix Aruna Pasztor
Make-up by John Blake, Ken Diaz,
Rob Hinderstein, Mark Sanchez
an Natalie Wood
Hair-styling by Cydney Cornell, Dino Ganziano,
and Melissa Yonkey
 Starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez,
Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Voight,
Powers Boothe, Nick Nolte,
Joaquin Phoenix, and Claire Danes

   In look, editing, plot-twists and camera angles, this movie succeeds because it rejects the regular way that movies usually behave in. It's as if every shot is the director cursing in the face of what cinema has been, and a bold, punk-rock yell for something new. It's wild, unbridled, fun, and an ugly mirror on our capitalist culture. Story-wise, it's basically a bloody nightmare made with wit style and humor that also parallels the story of bottomless human greed. The editing is masterful, the way a secondary character can be talking, and then, for a second, we see that character through the eyes of the main character. It's an unsettling technique especially because it really gets us aligned with the main character even if we don't want to be. If you can make it through the violence and sexual abuse, it is a treat of a movie. A film noir "bonnie and clyde"-type movie for our over-the top, jaded times.

1996: 2 movies

Posted on 2017 February 17

Looking for Richard
Directed by Al Pacino 
Produced by Michael Hadge and Al Pacino
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography by Robert Leacock 
Editing by William A. Anderson, Ned Bastille,
Pasquale Buba, and Andre Ross Betz
Art Direction by Kevin Ritter 
Costumes by Yvonne Blake, Aude Bronson-Howard, 
and Deborah Lynn Scott
Starring Al Pacino, Frederic Kimball,
Penelope Allen, Alec Baldwin,
and Kevin Spacey

   Interesting in that it blends many genres and themes. It's not just a production of Shakespeare's play Richard III, but it's also a making of a theatrical production, the making of a movie. It's an explanation of a play. And it's something new: it's like a multi-media meditation on a 17th century play, its meaning, and its applications to today. Bravo, and some really great performances and most importantly, the brilliant editing which is monstrously good.

Breaking the Waves
Directed by Lars von Trier
Written by Lars von Trier and Peter Asmussen
Produced by Peter Aalbæk Jensen and Vibeke Windeløv
Cinematography by Robby Müller
Editing by Anders Refn
Costumes by Manon Rasmussen
Makeup by Sanne Gravfort, Morten Jacobsen,
and Jennifer Jorfaid
 Starring Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgård,
and Katrin Cartlidge

   It's a celebration and an homage to steadfast faith. And it explains that steadfast faith comes from an all-powerful love. Yes, not everything in the movie is exactly relatable, and a part or two might seem a tad exaggerated, but the parts that work, really work, and those parts are impassioned and ingenious. Some scenes are even shockingly good, especially the ones where Emily Watson's character is talking to God and as God. Those scenes make the ground quake as we are left to wonder if she is actually tapped into something or if she is psychotic. The divide and crux of the movie is right there! And really what is she doing wrong? Is it not the world that she lives in that is undeserving of her? In this sense, it's also a look at justice and where we are at this moment as a species.

1995: 4 movies

Posted on 2016 December 20

Party Girl
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Written by Harry Birckmayer, Sheila Gaffney,
and Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Produced by Harry Birckmayer and Stephanie Koules
Music by Anton Sanko and Bill Coleman
Cinematography by Michael Slovis 
Editing by Cara Silverman 
Production design by Kevin Thompson 
Set decor by Jennifer Baime
Costume design by Michael Clancy 
Make-up by Angela Johnson
Hair-styles by Barri Scinto
Starring Parker Posey, Guillermo Díaz,
Omar Townsend, and Sasha von Scherler

   A simple story told in such a novel way that it cannot be ignored. The lead actor is extremely magnetic because of her range, her unpredictability, and charm. The editing, sets, costumes, and photography create a dizzying whirlpool of sex, music, and drugs to convey the rush of the party-lifestyle. In the end, it's about a young woman's search for self-sufficiency and for her true self, a ride which is uniquely and humorously enjoyable. A liberated production, and one proud of its liberty.

12 Monkeys
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples
Produced by Charles Roven
Music by Paul Buckmaster
Cinematography by Roger Pratt
Editing by Mick Audsley
Production design by Jeffrey Beecroft
Art direction by William Ladd Skinner
Set decor by Crispian Sallis
Costume design by Julie Weiss
Make-up by Allen Weisinger, Christina Bartolucci,
and Christine Beveridge ... hair designer / makeup designer 
Hair-styles by Peggy Nicholson, William A. Kohout,
and Christine Beveridge
Starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe,
and Brad Pitt 

   It's a new shift in screen-writing. It knocks us off-track from the usual patterns, and introduces us to a new type of movie experience, one where there is no wrong to right, and no goal to reach. The goal is simply to know, as in: to live and to experience. And the visuals and performances add 100% to the production, direction, and writing. They create a feeling sharply direct and visceral. 
   The fact that time is fluid in this story makes it possible for the viewer to turn on any scene and get a sense of the whole. It's action-packed, funny, suspenseful, and often makes us doubt our own readings. And through it all, there is a deep mourning about time, mortality, and the irretrievable past.         
   The attention to detail just adds to this masterpiece's deliciousness.

A Streetcar Named Desire
Directed by Glenn Jordan
Produced by Glenn Jordan
Music by David Mansfield
Cinematography by Ralf D. Bode
Editing by David A. Simmons
Production design by Fred Harpman
Art direction by Janet Stokes
Set decor by Tom Pedigo
Costume design by Theoni V. Aldredge
Makeup by Alan Friedman
Hair styles by Susan Mills and Linda De Andrea
Starring Jessica Lange, Alec Baldwin,
Diane Lane, and John Goodman

   At this time of this writing, the most famous version of this Tennessee Williams play is the 1951 movie with Marlon Brando. But after seeing this more recent version, I ask why the former is so well-regarded. Is it because it's older, because it's in black & white, because Marlon Brando is in it, or because so many people have seen it? None of these reasons is a fit justification for art. This 1995 version, on the other hand, has a more realistic Blanche. It's more realistic all-around. When the lines are spoken, I feel like this is the right way they should be spoken. I never really understood Vivien Leigh's Blanche. But Jessica Lange is amazing to watch, so is Diane Lane, John Goodman. And Alec Baldwin seems so new and fresh and real, and yet somehow a little Brando sneaks in so that we won't miss his performance. Best of all, it feels unbearably painful to watch because of the emotions and reality of the situation. The other looked so good, I just liked the look and sounds. It was like a pop song, but this is the true symphony. There is no reason to look elsewhere in cinema, this is the definitive version of this play about men and women, sisters and bros, fantasy versus realism, art versus matter, and elite versus common. It's tragic the way it should be, meaning it leaves you feeling like something is all wrong. It's not cute and beautiful. It's messy, real, and an accurate depiction of society's cruel rape and murder of beauty and imagination.

1994: 5 movies

posted 2016 December 9

Il Postino
Directed by Michael Radford
Written by Furio Scarpelli, Giacomo Scarpelli,
Anna Pavignano, Michael Radford,
and  Massimo Troisi
Produced by Mario Cecchi Gori, Vittorio Cecchi Gori,
and Gaetano Daniele
Music by Luis Bacalov
Cinematography by Franco Di Giacomo
Editing by Roberto Perpignani
Production Design by Lorenzo Baraldi
Costume Design by Gianna Gissi
Starring Massimo Troisi, Philippe Noiret,
and Maria Grazia Cucinotta

   It relies so heavily on Troisi's performance that you feel like his performance is the star, like it's the glue, the backbone, like it's the landing after a gymnastic flying leap. The whole story about the worldly poet and the poor village-dweller is fascinating and well-written. 
   The struggle inherent in this movie is to consider whether Troisi's character would have been better off not meeting Neruda or whether Neruda gave his life meaning and made him a hero. The title translates from the Italian to "The mail-carrier."

Ed Wood
Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
Produced by Tim Burton and Denise Di Novi
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography by Stefan Czapsky
Editing by Chris Lebenzon
Production design by Tom Duffield
Art direction by Okowita
Set decor by Cricket Rowland
Costume design by Colleen Atwood and Stephanie Colin
Makeup by Carrie Angland, Rick Baker,
Jim Leonard, James McLoughlin,
Ve Neill, and Matt Rose
Hair styles by Bridget Cook, Lucia Mace,
and Yolanda Toussieng
Starring Johnny Depp, Martin Landau,
and Patricia Arquette

   Making a good movie about a man who made bad movies is a complicated affair. It involves understanding the very nature of good and bad in cinema. It involves respecting personal vision, integrity, and perseverance, and it also involves plenty of humor. Somehow, Tim Burton's team was able to find the pitch perfect balance between humor and respect, inspiration, and pity. There is very little mockery, if any. Instead, the movie takes an admiring, amused tone, and that's what makes it good. So does Depp's sincerity, and the breath-taking, classic-Hollywood-styled lighting and cinematography. 
   There's something punk-rock about the movie, the way it laughs in the face of big budget, big money, and instead honors friendship and practicality. This movie makes us wonder what cinema would look like if it was more about having a good time and creating something true rather than seeking a perfect form with no substance.

Una pura formalità
Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Written by Giuseppe Tornatore and Pascal Quignard
Produced by Mario Cecchi Gori and Vittorio Cecchi Gori
Music written and conducted by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography by Blasco Giurato
Editing by Giuseppe Tornatore
Production design by Andrea Crisanti
Set decor by Vincenzo De Camillis and Mauro Passi
Costume design by Beatrice Bordone
Hair-styling by Vitaliana Patacca
Makeup by Maurizio Trani
Starring Gérard Depardieu and Roman Polanski

   Spooky as heck, a beautifully woven exploration into the human psyche. The editing is flawless, the writing a dream. The acting sublime. It's an amazing feat of art when something makes you think about the definition of life. It's also a rare treat when a movie so intelligent and psycological is able to come across as suspenseful to the point where the audience bites their finger-nails!
   The title translates from the Italian to "A pure formality".

1993: 6 movies

posted 2016 August 25

Trois coleurs: Bleu
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Produced by Marin Karmitz
Music by Zbigniew Preisner
Cinematography by Slawomir Idziak
Editing by Jacques Witta
Production design by Claude Lenoir
Set decor by Lionel Acat, Christian Aubenque,
Jean-Pierre Delettre, Julien Poitou-Weber,
and Marie-Claire Quin 
Hair and make-up by Jean-Pierre Caminade and Valérie Tranier
Costumes by Naima Lagrange and Virginie Viard
Starring Juliette Binoche

   This movie is so intricate and precisely-made that it feels good to watch as soon as it starts playing. It's the color, the silence, the rare perspectives that draw us in, and then, wham! The story and music pound harder than anything we've witnessed. The movie uses color saturation, brightness, darkness, silence, and Preisner's stunning score to bring to life Kieslowski's melancholy tale of loss and rebirth. It feels like a break into a new era of film-making. Poetry and technology, spirit, joy, and pain. Binoche's performance smolders with silent pain, and gives us the 
   The title translates from French to "Three Colors: Blue", a reference to the trilogy the movie is a part of, Blue, White, and Red, representing the colors of the French flag. Blue also refers to a feeling of melancholy.

Latcho drom
Written and directed by Tony Gatlif
Produced by Michèle Ray-Gavras
Cinematography by Eric Guichard
Editing by Nicole Berckmans
Art direction by Denis Mercier

   It's a new kind of musical. The story is more subtle, loose, but the music and dancing is intense, fiery and stirring. It's about a race of people scattered, wandering, and oppressed who somehow triumph in their unity and their culture of music, dance, color, and family. The cinematography catches the details that the curious eye craves, and the editing ties them together with poetic meaning. 
   The mind swoons at how this was all put together through all the countries, landscapes, times of day, languages, and customs. The title translates from Romani as "Safe journey".

Nirvana - MTV Unplugged in New York
Directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller
Series created by Jim Burns and Robert Small
Produced by Alex Coletti
Music by Kurt Cobain
Editing by Jon Vesey
Art direction by Robert Fisher
Starring Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic,
Dave Grohl, Pat Smear,
Lori Goldston, Cris Kirkwood,
and Curt Kirkwood

   So tasteful, so emotional, so beautifully staged. Could this really be a concert of a hard rock band? Every song is beautiful, and it showcases one of the truest artists of our lifetime.

1992: 2 movies

posted on 2016 March 30

Jamón Jamón
Directed by Bigas Luna
Written by Cuca Canals, Bigas Luna,
and Quim Monzó
Produced by Andrés Vicente Gómez
Music by Nicola Piovani
Cinematography by José Luis Alcaine
Editing by Teresa Font
Casting by Consol Tura
Production design by Gloria Martí-Palanqués and Pep Oliver
Art direction by Noemí Campano and Chu Uroz
Set decor by Julio Esteban and Pedro Gaspar
Costumes by Neus Olivella and Belen Lemaitre
Special Effects by Reyes Abades
Starring Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem,
Stefania Sandrelli,  and Jordi Mollà

   A dirty mess of a movie, but it's proud of its dirtiness. Incest, nudity, violence, animal abuse, adultery, prostitution, and garlic breath, all of this is depicted, and yet it doesn't glorify any of it. Instead it's a poem about human dreams, human weakness, and the way humans have made everything so complicated. The all-star cast helps keep it all afloat as do the talents of the crew. It may not be pretty but it's certainly a picture that stays with you and holds tons of truth.
   The title translates from Spanish to "Ham Ham"

Wayne's World
Directed by Penelope Spheeris
Written by Mike Myers, Bonnie Turner,
and Terry Turner
Produced by Lorne Michaels
Music by J. Peter Robinson
Cinematography by Theo van de Sande
Editing by Malcolm Campbell
Casting by Glenn Daniels
Production design by Gregg Fonseca
Art direction by Bruce Alan Miller
Set decor by Jay Hart
Costumes by Pat Tonnema, Kimberly Guenther Durkin,
and Janet Sobel
Make-up by Mel Berns Jr. and Courtney Carell
Hair-styling by Kathrine Gordon, Barbara Lorenz,
and Carol Meikle
Music by David Campbell and Maureen Crowe
Starring Mike Myers, Dana Carvey,
Tia Carrere, and Rob Lowe

   I found this movie entertaining, whimsical, and yet relevant, with an under-lying revisionist conceit that belied the film's emotional attachments to the subject matter. Hahaha! That's what the characters say during the ending credits about how they hope the movie is accepted.
   In other words, this movie doesn't suck. It subverts all the tropes of big-studio movie-making to tell a story of two down-on-their-luck but sincere guys who dream of love, rock and roll, and a tv-show. They venture into a risky deal with big money, striving to remain true, and encapsulating the spirit of the time.
   The casting is perfect, from all the leads to all the supporting cast, and the tone of humor trumps everything, making us root for Wayne and Garth as heroes. The loose structure, the cultural references, and the way the heroes talk to the camera calls to mind past works of comic brilliance like those of the Marx Brothers, while somehow still coming across as fresh.
   Whether it's realistic or fairy-tale doesn't really matter, as the movie proves with its three endings. What matters here is that we understand the sincerity of the leads and their intentions, as they are comic cheerleaders in the fight for the spot-light on the underdog-class. In short, all is well when Wayne and Garth are on the screen.

1991: 2 movies

posted on 2016 March 25

Les amants du Pont-Neuf
Written and directed by Leos Carax
Produced by Christian Fechner
Cinematography by Jean-Yves Escoffier
Editing by Nelly Quettier
Production Design by Michel Vandestien
Art direction by Franck Schwarz
Set decor by Irène Galitzine
Costumes by Robert Nardone
Hair-styling by Nathalie Champigny
Make-up by Isabelle Legay and Valérie Tranier
Special Effects by Philippe Hubin
Pyrotechnics by Isabelle Tillou
Starring Juliette Binoche, Denis Lavant,
and Klaus-Michael Grüber

   Messy, brutal, possessive love meets the grim, smelly lives of street-dwellers. Both are examined thoroughly, unflinchingly, and both are given the room for growth and transformation, or to stay immobile, to stagnate and die. The real treat here is the epic cinematography, the wild, poetic editing, and the amazing special effects and stunts. The actors' performances and the soundtrack all rock, as well. Somehow, it all ties together in a balancing act that maintains strong qualities of adventure, compassion, romance, philosophy, the search for self-love, and formal beauty. It's truly an unpredictable ride!
   The title translates from French to "The lovers of New Bridge", in reference to the Parisian structure, Pont Neuf.

La double vie de Véronique
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Produced by Leonardo De La Fuente
Music by Zbigniew Preisner
Cinematography by Slawomir Idziak
Editing by Jacques Witta
Production design by Patrice Mercier
Costumes by Laurence Brignon, Claudia Fellous,
Elzbieta Radke
Starring Irène Jacob

   This movie is made specifically for re-watching. The movie's opening scene, of the world through the eyes of a loved child, is as beautiful as it is epic. The scene introduces us to our protagonist, and it also serves as a beautiful way for Kieslowski to tell us how he thinks we should enter into this movie: full of child-like wonderment. During the opening credits, we are shown a couple of shots of a tv screen showing us a silent depiction of our protagonist at an older age. The screen shows us a couple of moments during her ordinary life. But at this stage, since we are more interested in the fact that we are not looking at the shots directly but as shown through a tv screen in some shadowy place that sees intimate moments and has the space to think about them. The fact that this technique was used previously in the first episode of Kieslowki's Dekalog mini-series allows us to see that he has perfected the technique here, and that he is a director who has grown.
   As his name approaches in the writing and directing slots, we begin to thrill, and we realize that this is partly because we have experienced the greatness of his work before, and we are excited to see what he's cooked up this time. Partly due to the beauty of the preceding scenes, and partly due to the awesome music, which again relates back to the movie because later in the movie, the composer Zbigniew Preisner comes up as a Classical composer known as Van Den Budenmayer, though he is not shown and only mentioned as a truly historical figure. It's an extremely smart and coyly funny gag that appears in several of Kieslowski's movies. We smile at the gag behind the music, but we smile at the music itself even more, because it is so good. What is it exactly? New music, or an attempt to recreate fresh classical? We can't decipher what it is or when it's from. That's when we ought to realize that Preisner is one of the greats. There's Ennio Morricone. There's Bo Harwood, Edward Herrmann, Zbigniew Preisner, and a few others. Later would come: Angelo Badalamenti, James Horner, and some others. Certainly he is among the top 10 composers of movie-soundtracks. And we are greatful to Kieslowski for introducing us to him.
   Then Kieslowski's name appears in the credits in a gold font, and we are immediately filled with honor to live in a world that Kieslowski lived in, and to receive this gift from him that is presently unravelling. And that's when we prepare to get into the movie: We get our child-of-wonderment on, and we focus on the mood of the music. It's glorious! It's celebratory! It's grandiose! That's when the credits end and the scene opens onto a girl's choir, focusing in on our protagonist. We are startled to realize that this music is the same that was playing during the credits. It's not an old recording, it's not a studio session. This is part of the movie, and we've been watching it and loving it even before we were ready to jump in. This makes us feel as if we have never left the spirit of wonderment.
   We focus in on the young woman, believing that she has kept her sense of wonderment, just as we are in wonderment at the music, the cinematography, and the brilliant writing and production. The woman sings with such innocent joy, such sincerity and completely devoid of self-conscious censoring that we are startled. We rarely see such an honest performance, and we begin to wonder about the actor who plays her, Irene Jacob. We have to agree that she is as beautiful as she is good at her job. A rain begins to fall and the rest of the choir runs back for cover, leaving only Jacob and her character. They bring the song to completion even as they become soaking wet and isolated on the stage. Still her joy is intact, in fact, it is expanded with the wetness, and we admire her simple appreciation of singing in the rain. When the song is over, completed to perfection, and the rain shifts into total downpour, we see the glinting drops into a shower of heavenly praise, and we see the character and star, unified and radiating her modest glory out at us. What an introduction of a star, and a character! We are grateful to Kieslowski for introducing her to us, and we are in awe of  life itself, because Kieslowski has taught us that this is the best way to experience life, with simple appreciation and spiritual wonderment. All of this occurs within the first five minutes. That's how great this movie is! Did I mention the fact that this movie changes the way we think? It broadens our minds. This seems to be the greatest purpose of cinema, and Kieslowski has found it here! This is why this movie is one of the all-time greats. It is a milestone. 
   On top of all that, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak insures that every shot is a gem. The title translates from French to "The double life of Veronique".

1990: 2 movies

posted on 2016 March 8

Conte de printemps
Written and directed by Éric Rohmer
Produced by Margaret Ménégoz
Cinematography by Luc Pagès
Editing by María Luisa García
Starring Anne Teyssèdre and Florence Darel

   It plays like a mystery. "Who took the necklace?" We are curious to find out, but the way the movie unfolds is the real gem. It's got a lot of dialogue, but during every new discussion, the characters move to a deliciously decorated new room, or onto a quaint street, or through a bustling party, or to a verdant country cottage. It's really a simple story but it's spread out in a way that makes it feel epic, and in the end we feel as if a journey has been travelled, a truth learned, and we wonder if the protagonist has made the right decisions or passed up on the correct opportunities. And so, we are treated to the ambiguity of life, and to the fact that the sweet surroundings are the real treasures.
   That sense of satisfaction we feel is the cinematic equivalent of a great painting, symphony, or novel. Its taste lingers long and subtly long after the viewing, and by "its taste", I refer to the thoughts and emotions that it conjures. The title translates from French to "Spring Story".

I Hired a Contract Killer
Written, directed, edited, and produced
by Aki Kaurismäki
Story by Aki Kaurismäki and Peter von Bagh
Cinematography by Timo Salminen
Production design by John Ebden
Art direction by Mark Lavis
Costumes by Simon Murray
Music and supporting role by Joe Strummer
Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud

   Maybe this time, we come to a Kaurismäki-movie not really excited to see another stylized drama, with the same stilted, freeze-frame acting. But this one catches us off guard. It starts out as a silent, with Jean-Pierre Léaud in a deep comic mode, an amalgamation of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. It's a great beginning as Léaud shines supremely amidst the bleak subject matter.
   Léaud brings to our minds the many French movies he's starred in, and then, when the English-language dialogue begins, we have almost completely forgotten whose movie we are watching. That it's the work of Finnish director Kaurismäki is surprising, and keeps us focused wholly on the unpredictable story-line, the bleak visuals and cartoon-like characters, rather than on deciding where this one falls in the spectrum of the director's filmography. The movie is a treat, and Leaud's tremendous talent seems right at home within Kaurismaki's funny world.
   One thing that is usual with Kaurismäki-movies, a shockingly good soundtrack, is also the case with this one, with the bonus that this one also includes a live Joe Strummer performance or two.

1989: 6 movies

posted on 2016 February 29

Majo no takkyûbin
Written, directed, and produced
by Hayao Miyazaki
Music by Joe Hisaishi
Cinematography by Shigeo Sugimura
Editing by Takeshi Seyama
Production design by Hinoshi Ono
Art direction by Hiroshi Ohno
Color design by Yuriko Katayama and Michiyo Yasuda
Voice acting by Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma,
Kirsten Dunst, and Phil Hartman

   It's rare for an animated movie, or any other, to have no antagonist, no bad guys, but this movie is one of those rarities. It manages to keep riveted interest from the audience even as it focuses on a world rooted in goodness and opportunity. That it can do this in a way that is humorous, colorful, and with a spirit of adventure and magic secures this movie as one of the best on this list. It is uplifting and endlessly enjoyable.
   It is most admirable for the way that every location is drawn with such a spirit of joyful detail that I am tempted to watch the whole movie in slow motion so I can fully appreciate every nook and cranny, every adorable shop window, every tree and flower, every panoramic vista, every gentle face in the crowd.
   The title translates from Japanese to "Witch's Delivery Service".

Impresiones en la alta atmosfera
Directed, edited, and painted by José Antonio Sistiaga

   Camera-less. Starts off simply as an interesting experiment. A movie with zero photography, each still a painting etched in small. That is the premise, but by the end, we are hypnotized by the sequencing which overwhelms the senses and raises our consciousness. All through color, shape, and movement! It's a true feat, and its conception and production are evidence of the health and vibrancy of cinema.
   The title translates from Spanish to "Impressions in the upper atmosphere".

Life Lessons
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Richard Price
Produced by Barbara De Fina and Robert Greenhut
Cinematography by Néstor Almendros
Editing by Thelma Schoonmaker
Production design by Kristi Zea
Art direction by W. Steven Graham
Set decor by Nina Ramsey
Hair styling by Milton Buras
Makeup by Allen Weisinger
Principal painting by Chuck Connelly
Paulette's paintings by Susan Hambleton
 Costumes by John A. Dunn, Robert Dean Jackson,
and Ursula Schrader
Starring Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette

   Part of a compilation of three movies by different different directors. This one far surpasses the other two, and is possibly director Scorsese's best work. The camera placement, direction, editing, and synchronized soundtrack serves to peak our interest and get us within the psyche of the main character. The movie attains an even greater level of greatness when we discover that the tones of comedy, tragedy, and love-story that begin the movie are all pushed aside by the end, leaving us alone with the character-study of a artist who has an uneasy but cyclical relationship with love. The lead performances are fiery and palpable.