780. My Own Private Idaho (1991) Dir. Gus Van Sant, 104 mins.
Hated by some but deemed unique and important by others, Van Sant’s unsettling tone poem follows two friends, troubled rent boy Mike (River Phoenix) and the object of his affections Scott (Keanu Reeves), as they embark on a journey of personal discovery that takes them to Mike’s hometown in Idaho and then to Italy in a quest to find Mike’s mother. It’s an audacious attempt with an artful direct style that is hard to ignore.
779. Nightcrawler (2014) Dir. Dan Gilroy, 117 mins.
Gilroy’s neo-noir morality tale stars Jake Gyllenhaal as loner Lou Bloom, who struggling to find work turns to recording violent events late at night in Los Angeles, and selling the footage to a local television news station. Questioning the ethics surrounding modern media’s penchant for lurid news stories, the film is gripping at times and made uncomfortably watchable by Gyllenhaal’s creepy performance.
778. Reds (1981) Dir. Warren Beatty, 194 mins.
Beatty’s sprawling and ambitious epic follows the life and career of John Reed (played by Beatty), the journalist and writer who chronicled the Russian Revolution in his book ‘Ten Days that Shook the World.’ It focuses greatly on Reed’s relationship with left-wing activist, Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) and also shows her romantic entanglement with a booze embittered playwright Eugene O’Neill portrayed by Jack Nicholson, whose scene stealing performance is probably the best thing in the often ponderous film. However, Reds does have its moments, enhanced by acclaimed cinematographer Vittorio Storao (The Conformist, Apocalypse Now), and Beatty did walk away with an Oscar for Best Direction.
777. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) Dir. Benh Zeitlin, 91 mins.
A pulsating and atmospheric fable set in a forgotten but defiant bayou community, cut off from the rest of the world by the sprawling Louisiana levee, that follows a big hearted six-year-old girl (the enchanting Quvenzhane Wallis) and her relationship with her no-nonsense father (Dwight Henry). Buoyed by her childish optimism and extraordinary imagination, she believes that the natural world is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm changes her reality. First time director Benh Zeitlin delivers an impressive and visually engaging mix of magical fantasy and biting realism despite a small budget.
776. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) Dir. Wes Anderson, 87 mins.
Anderson’s first full length animation, using stop-motion effects, is about a fox (voiced by George Clooney) who steals food each night from three mean and wealthy farmers, despite promising his wife (Meryl Streep) he’ll stop his chicken thievery. The farmers have become so fed up with Mr. Fox’s theft that they try to kill him, digging their way into the foxes’ home, but the animals are able to outwit the farmers and live underground. While the American accents don’t seem right for an adaptation of Roald Dahl and the female characters are under used, Anderson’s amusing tale successfully channels the writer’s darkly comic humour.
775. Waltz With Bashir (2008) Dir. Ari Folman, 90 mins.
It depicts filmmaker Ari Folman in search of his lost memories of his experience with the Israel Defence Force in the 1982 Lebanon War, where he witnessed the aftermath of a massacre of Palestinians in refugee camps by a Christian militia. A surreal and harrowing vision that uses a mix of interviews with his former comrades and animation to show how the atrocity and the role of the Israeli Army in it, left Folman and others suffering with guilt and post traumatic stress.
774. Mystic River (2003) Dir. Clint Eastwood, 137 mins.
This murder mystery drama was something of a return to form for Clint Eastwood. The story revolves around reformed convict Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn) and his devoted wife Annabeth (Laura Linney) who have their lives torn apart when their teenage daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum) is beaten and killed. The film is competently directed, ambitious and features great performances, but perhaps just falls short of Eastwood’s best work due to great individual scenes failing to come together to create a truly convincing whole.
773. White Nights (1957) Dir. Luchino Visconti, 97 mins.
Based on a story by Dostoyevsky, the dreamlike tale follows a meek and lonely clerk (a terrific performance by Marcello Mastroianni) and his attempts to win the love of a woman (Maria Schell) who visits a bridge every night awaiting the return of her lover, a long absent sailor. A moving fantasy, shot on artificial sets that’s more in tune with Fellini than something you’d expect from neo-realist Visconti.
772. Only Angels Have Wings (1939) Dir. Howard Hawks, 121 mins.
Hawks’s adventure film takes place in the Peruvian Andes where Cary Grant heads a ramshackle civil airline flying mail and freight, in the most perilous of weather conditions, to the most treacherous of destinations. Facing death on a near-hourly basis, Grant and his flyers have adopted a casual attitude towards mortality. Released in an extremely strong year for cinema, the film was initially underappreciated and dismissed as nothing more than an exciting actioner, but is now recognised for its strong storytelling and for its mature insight into how the pilots could operate in such a pressured environment.
771. The Green Mile (1999) Dir. Frank Darabont, 188 mins.
It’s another prison drama adaptation of Stephen King from Darabont following on from the The Shawshank Redemption. The film, told in flashback, tells the story of Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) a death row corrections officer in Louisiana during the U.S. Great Depression, and the supernatural events he witnesses at work. Some will find the fantastical elements too much and it is at times overly sentimental, but it’s likely fans of the filmmaker’s earlier work will find it a compelling and uplifting tale.
770. A. I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) Dir. Steven Spielberg, 146 mins.
A sci-fi fable developed by Stanley Kubrick and taken on by Spielberg. It’s a bleak and ambitious film that takes the tale of Pinocchio into a future where humanity’s best efforts to maintain civilisation have led to the creation of new robots known as mechas including David (a fine performance from Haley Joel Osmant), a child-like mecha programmed with the unique ability to love. His quest to become a ‘real boy’ takes him from abandonment by a human mother, whose loving acceptance he craves, into a dangerous futuristic world (brought to live by brilliant effects) where his only guidance comes from Jude Law’s mecha gigolo. Some will find the tale disturbing but it’s perhaps Spielberg’s most intriguing effort to date.
769. The Red Balloon (1956) Dir. Albert Lamorisse, 34 mins.
A thirty-five-minute short, which follows the adventures of a young lonely boy who one day finds a sentient, mute, red balloon. Notable at the very least for being the first film without dialogue since the silent era to be Oscar nominated for best screenplay, it’s also an enchanting journey that sees the balloon following the wonderfully responsive Pascal Lamorisse (son of director Albert) across Paris towards an uplifting finale.
768. Nanook of the North (1922) Dir. Robert J. Flaherty, 79 mins.
Operating on the border between fiction and documentary, the film captures the struggles of an Inuk man named Nanook and his family in the Canadian Arctic. Seen at the time as a masterful depiction of a vanishing way of life, the director Flaherty was actually guilty of romanticisation and adapting the tale for the western audience. He had the Inuits dressed in traditional costumes they no longer used to reenact events they no longer practiced. These people were certainly not the naive primitives he depicted as mystified by a simple record player as they actually fixed his camera, developed his film and actively participated in the film making process. Ultimately, Flaherty was more interested in the spirit of the Inuits rather than just recording what he witnessed and the film remains a landmark production for its part in the development of documentary cinema.
767. Nazarin (1959) Dir. Luis Bunuel, 94 mins.
The first of two adaptations of the novels of Spanish writer Galdos (Bunuel had known him in his youth), the film follows a priest (a haunting performance from Francisco Rabal) who is defrocked for championing a prostitute and an outcast and takes to the road with the two women, living out his ideals in rural Mexico until they are smashed by the brutish reality of the world. Somewhat ambiguous but taken by most as an attack on religion.
766. In Cold Blood (1967) Dir. Richard Brooks, 134 mins.
An adaptation of Truman Capote’s bestseller, the film follows the trail of real life murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock who went to rob the home of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, and ended up killing all four members of the family who were present. They then went on the run before being caught by the police, tried for the murders, and eventually executed. Brooks delivers a remarkably faithful adaptation given the source material had been deemed unfilmable. Holding onto a relentlessly grim mood throughout, the film has some harrowing moments enhanced by a strong cast.
765. Black God, White Devil (1964) Dir. Glauber Rocha, 120 mins.
Set in 1940s Brazil during a drought in the wilderness of the north east, the film is a densely metaphorical story of a peasant couple. The husband, a ranch hand named Manuel, is fed up with his situation and when his boss tries to cheat him of his earnings, he kills him and flees with his wife, Rosa. Now an outlaw, Manuel becomes involved with the ‘Black God’ a messianic religious leader and then the ‘White Devil’ a bandit. Displaying a range of cinematic influences including long takes and montage sequences, Rocha’s western depicts the dangers for the uneducated peasantry in going up against unsympathetic landowners when they don’t know where to place their allegiance.
764. The Cloud-Capped Star (1960) Dir. Ritwik Ghatak, 126 mins.
The first of an audacious and politically charged trilogy based in Calcutta that controversially addressed the condition of refugees, The Cloud-Capped Star is a devastating tale that centres on a working woman (Supriya Choudhury) who sacrifices her freedom and eventually her life to provide for her uncaring siblings. A basic and at times starkly realist narrative is enhanced by Ritwik Ghatak’s inventive direction and an overlaying mythic reference to a Bengali legend, about the Goddess Durga, that defines the actual means by which women are oppressed.
763. Kin-Dza-Dza (1986) Dir. Georgiy Daneliya, 135 mins.
A dystopian comic satire that follows two Russians, a gruff construction worker and a Georgian student, who find themselves transported to an alien landscape after pushing the wrong button on a strange device. They’ve ended up on a planet named Pluke, a barren desert world that’s home to an oppressive bureaucratic society and where the humanoid inhabitants are telepathic. An imaginative cult sci-fi that parodies Russian society with the sort of absurdist humour that could be classed as Pythonesque.
762. Shame (1968) Dir. Ingmar Bergman, 103 mins.
The film explores shame, moral decline, self-loathing and violence through a politically uninvolved couple, concert pianists Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, who are attempting to flee a civil war-ravaged European nation. They take refuge on a remote island but find no escape when large numbers of soldiers arrive. Bergman provides a chillingly real vision of a world in tatters where love and trust have fallen by the wayside.
761. Where is the Friend’s Home? (1987) Dir. Abbas Kiarostami, 87 mins.
The first part of Kiarostami’s friendship trilogy, the film was made under the auspices of Iran’s Institute for the intellectual development of children and young adults and tells a deceptively simple account of a conscientious 8 year old schoolboy’s quest to the neighbouring village to return his friend’s notebook, that he took in error, as should his friend fail to hand it in the next day, it is likely he will get expelled. An often realistic and touching tale of loyalty and compassion that helped launch Kiarostami onto the world stage.