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‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is the Number One Film on the IMDB Top 250

I recently made the rookie mistake of watching L’Avventura (1960) on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I had some downtime, was scrolling through the Criterion Channel, and saw the title show up in my feed. I never got around to it in graduate school, but always knew it was considered an important work of modern cinema. I figured watching it would be a productive way to fill a knowledge gap. By the end I wondered, at what cost?

It wasn’t until later that evening when I realized that I was in the mood to watch a movie but instead selected something that needed to be studied. As Michelangelo Antonioni’s images slowly moved across the screen, I felt nothing but boredom. When it was all over, I worried that I wasted an entire afternoon. For a while, I wondered what was wrong with me for not appreciating a classic so many others claim to be a masterpiece. …


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Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sociopath in Dan Gilroy’s ‘Nightcrawler’

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) just wants to make some money. In the opening scene of Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler (2014), he trespasses onto private property to cut a chain-link fence and is approached by a police officer. He assaults the officer, snatches his watch, and heads to a pawn shop to make a quick profit. There is a negotiation, and Lou admits that he is looking for a job. When he is denied, he offers to contribute free labor, known in the United States as an “internship,” but is shown out of the door.

We are led to believe that this is a routine night for Lou, an unemployed thief trying to survive in contemporary America. Since Nightcrawler is a film, however, something unexpected must happen to shake things up. …


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Michelle Yeoh takes control in ‘Police Story 3’

To appreciate action cinema is to admire the physicality of the performer. Great action films continue to be made today, but sadly many of them rely on computer-generated imagery, which overpowers the presence of movie stars.

When an action film really works, the star becomes the special effect, and everything else feels secondary. There’s no doubt that Michelle Yeoh is one of the most significant action stars in cinema history. She began her career in martial arts films, and it wasn’t long before she was at the center of Hong Kong’s so-called boom years in the early 1990s.

Yeoh isn’t as popular or prolific as her male counterpart, Jackie Chan, but like him, she’s known for combining action and slapstick comedy in ways that are reminiscent of silent screen legend Buster Keaton. Most impressively, Yeoh does her own stunts, which brings an added level of danger to her work. …


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‘Timbuktu’ shows how Muslims are often the first victims of Jihadism

“Where’s leniency? Where’s forgiveness? Where’s piety? Where’s exchange? Where is God in all this?” ~ ‘Timbuktu’

Cinema’s most virtuous aspect is its ability to shine a light on different communities. Whether documentary or narrative fiction, genre film or art-house experiment, movies take us to places we have never been, and introduce us to people we would likely never be able to meet without the camera.

This is the filmmaker’s privilege and burden. She has access to any location she desires, but when she chooses a particular location, she has an enormous responsibility to its people. Cinematic depictions matter because they shape the audience’s perceptions of the world’s many diverse cultures. …


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Nazi War Criminals are put on trial in ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’

“This trial has shown that under the stress of a national crisis, men — even able and extraordinary men — can delude themselves into the commission of crimes and atrocities so vast and heinous as to stagger the imagination. No one who has sat through this trial can ever forget. The sterilization of men because of their political beliefs, The murder of children, How easily that can happen! There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the ‘protection’ of the country. Of ‘survival.’ The answer to that is: Survival as what? A country isn’t a rock. And it isn’t an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world — let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what we stand for: Justice, truth, and the value of a single human being!” …


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La Nouvelle Vague icon Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Bande à part’

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with the movies. It was the first time I saw Anna Karina’s face in Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part (1964). Everything changed for me. I started reading Jean-Paul Sartre and spoke about May 1968 like it was my own memory. I made it my mission to date a French girl who smoked cigarettes, and when I did, it lasted only a few months because I couldn’t hide my disappointment that she wasn’t like the vision I saw on screen. …


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Hafsia Herzi gives a star-making performance in ‘The Secret of the Grain.’

“You know why he’s doing all this? It’s for you, for his children. It’s not for himself. He couldn’t care less. All that’s behind us now. We are old now. We try to hang on, bust it a little more for you. If it was only about us, a few olives and a hunk of bread would be plenty. But when we see you happy and all, that’s fantastic for us. We live again. You see? Solitude, exile, humiliation…all that’s behind us.” ‘The Secret of the Grain’

The Secret of the Grain (2007) forces us to rethink what a French film can be and what a French family can look like. …


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Aimless teens party like it’s the end of the world in Olivier Assayas’ ‘Cold Water’

“That’s life and you have to act like an adult.” ~ ‘Cold Water’

There’s a point at every party when the mood suddenly turns melancholy. The recognition that the party will end kicks in, and as much fun as you may be having, your pleasure in the moment is ruined by the inevitability of its passing. Each shared cigarette, each stimulating conversation about cinema, each exchanged flirtation with your new crush, is ephemeral.

No film captures this mood as well as Olivier Assayas’ Cold Water (1994). The prolific Cahiers du Cinéma critic turned filmmaker has churned out one acclaimed art-house hit after another since his debut Disorder (1986), including contemporary classics like Summer Hours (2008) and Something in the Air (2012).


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The mockumentary ‘Man Bites Dog’ depicts the day-to-day antics of a serial killer

“Pigeon, winged cloak of gray/in the city’s hellish maw/one glance and you fly away/your grace holds me in awe.” ~ ‘Man Bites Dog’

Since the camera’s invention, the question of complicity has been consistently asked but never conclusively answered: Where should we draw the line between spectator and participant, and what responsibility do creators and consumers have to the subjects being portrayed?

This question typically emerges with each new violent tragedy captured on camera. A famous example: The murder of Meredith Hunter in the Maysles Brothers’ Gimme Shelter (1970). Members of the Direct Cinema movement, the documentarians believed in capturing reality and representing it truthfully, without external editorial intervention. …


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Charlie Chaplin says sayonara to Vaudeville in ‘Limelight’

“Time is the best author. It always writes the perfect ending.” ~ ‘Limelight’

Charlie Chaplin’s success was the 20th century’s quintessential achievement of the American Dream. The talented performer escaped poverty in London to become Hollywood’s highest paid actor during the silent era. Early Essanay productions like The Tramp (1915) and The Bank (1915) made him a star, and later United Artists productions like The Gold Rush (1925) and City Lights (1931) made him an icon.

Chaplin’s ascension was about more than rags to riches. When he founded United Artists in 1919 with D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford, he became one of the first filmmakers to have complete creative control over his films. He took advantage of this unprecedented partnership and made films that brilliantly bridge the gap between art and commerce. He understood cinematic language better than anyone else, but he never forgot that films were meant to entertain. He cleverly incorporated his artistic statements into enjoyable silent comedies, with daring and sometimes dangerous slapstick routines at the center. This approach to cinema set the standard for contemporary filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and studios like Pixar to produce artistically astute films for a mass audience. …

About

Jon Alexander

Writer, moviegoer, marketer, NYC man. @jonalexandernyc

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