Great Flicks
Our Publisher asked us for all the great movies that he'd missed over the last 20 years, so we found a fine list from the BBC which we used as our bellwether. It is commented on by one of our writers below. We also came up with a few other selections on our own. The first is from the RALPH regular, Dr. Phage:

  1. Not everyone is among the blithe spirits who appreciate the high art of animated cartoon movies. Nonetheless, this category includes some of my own favorite cinema. The recent Inside Out is among the very best, a brilliant and hilarious translation of metaphysics, epistemology, psychoanalysis, and neurobiology (no kidding!) into cartoon form. I am also tickled by the Madagascar series, above all the first of them; also by Finding Nemo, and the Wallace and Grommit films. A salute, as well, to the 1954 British Animal Farm, which was acclaimed as "an animated film for adults." Well, adults have to watch something at the multiplex nowadays, when so much of the non-animated category is now taken up by Seth Rogen films.
  2. Love At First Bite (1979): this is a very funny parody of the vampire genre, with George Hamilton having a lot of fun as Count Dracula in New York City. In the end, the vampire gets the girl, and they live battily ever after. They are last seen, as I recall, flying off together in the general direction of Canarsie and Rockaway Beach.

  3. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) a simple story of life among the Inuit or Eskimo people of northern Canada, spoken entirely in Inuktitut with illegible subtitles. I believe the film was shot in colors, all of which are white and grey, with non-professional Inuit actors. The dogs, however, were all capable professionals, and since they didn't wear heavy parkas, hoods, and kuspuks, the dogs at least can be told apart from one another.
  4. A somewhat similar production was Himalaya (1999), about the life of yak-herders of the Himalayan mountains. This one was made by a French director with local actors, actually Tibetan-speaking Nepalese, and the cinematography is utterly spectacular. The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957), a black-and-white Hammer production, has great cinematography too. It is the most literate of all the Hammer films, with a script something like Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Tale."

  5. The Mask of Zorro (1998). Imagine all the Zorro/Robin Hood/Three Musketeers kinds of movies we used to go to as kids in the 40s/50s, all skillfully compressed into a single film, done straight-faced but with considerable wit, and plus Catherine Zeta-Jones. In short, irresistable.
  6. Tous les Matins du Monde (1991) - - - a splendid period spectacle about the music written and played for the court of Louis XIV, with the music all realized by Jordi Savall. Sensational, of course, and the film isn't bad either.

  7. Titanic. RALPH's editor drove past the set for that production every day for years, didn't he? So aren't we all curious about how it was put to use? James Cameron, a conventional writer and a capable director, used it to shoot a thoroughly old-fashioned film, like the sort of thing William Wyler or George Stevens could have made: a BIG STORY, full of romance, spectacle, excitement, thrills, a dollop of tragedy, perfect predictability, and contemporary, sophomoric social criticism.
  8. Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear) is H.-G. Clouzot's great, existential thriller of 1953, about exiles in a flea-bitten Central American backwater taking desperate risks. The American director William Friedkin told the same story again in 1977 in Sorcerer, not as a remake but as an hommage to the Clouzot classic; Sorcerer is not as well known as the Clouzot original, but it is every bit as good, maybe even better.

  9. Jenseits der Stille (Beyond the Silence) - - - a beautiful, very human, character-driven film which revolves around the world of the deaf, but also has to do with music. In German and Sign. Incidentally, Nowhere In Africa, another fine film by the same director Caroline Link, is worth seeing too.
  10. Vozvrashcheniye (The Return) - - - a somewhat mysterious 2003 Russian film by Andrey Zvyagintsev. This is a deep, psychological study about fathers and sons, with a subtly mythic character. There is nothing overtly political in it, but there are resonances about how society molds character. More recently, Zvyagintsev made Leviathan, a fearfully bleak, realistic film about life in present-day Russia. Anyone who wants to be depressed for a week can achieve that by seeing this one.

  11. Utomlyonnye solntsem (Burnt by the Sun) - - - a very powerful historical film by the prolific and interesting Russian actor-director Nikita Mikhalkov. It begins as a relaxed, Chekhovian comedy-drama about a large, eccentric Soviet family, gathered in their dacha in the picturesque countryside. It is 1936, and gradually, almost imperceptibly, things darken as the events of the Great Terror impinge on the characters' lives. This concerns particularly the main character, Lieutenant-General Sergei Petrovich Kotov, an old Bolshevik and hero of the Civil War. Early in the film, the family group is joined by the dashing Mitya, an old acquaintance of Kotov and his wife, and who, we gradually discover, is now an NKVD agent. Mitya has really come to put Lt. General Kotov under arrest, which leads to a shattering denoument.
    Mikhalkov established his career as a Soviet artist, but couldn't make this film, which ranks with Grand Illusion, Citizen Kane, the Grapes of Wrath, etc. among the great cinematic representations of History, until a few years after the Soviet Union had dissolved.

  12. Goodbye Lenin! (2003): an ironic, slightly wistful, and very funny comedy about life in what had been the GDR (East Germany) during the year following its collapse. Although low-key and comical in tone, this is another winner in the History on film category.

  13. Fantasia 2000 - - - a not-so-well known Disney successor to the legendary 1940 fusion of animated cartoons and serious music. It has some really good stuff in it. The animation, in the year 2000, is not quite as startlingly original as that of the 1940 version, but it is nonetheless witty and/or sumptuous. To music of Beethoven, Respighi, Gershwin, St. Saens, Elgar, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky. The film unfortunately lacks Leopold Stokowski, but attempts to make up for this deficiency by bringing back Mickey Mouse from the 1940 original.
--- Dr. Phage

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Interesting list of films [from the BBC] - - - some I've seen (White Ribbon) but many not. I watch a movie DVD from the library at least 5 nights a week and mostly they are foreign films.

I am getting pretty critical in my dotage and find most American films contrived and shallow. There are plenty of silly European ones too - - - even the Danish crime films that a lot of people like suffer from the same slap-dash, unrealistic writing. But fact is, I'm getting too serious and I like the slow, mysterious study of character and culture that I find in foreign films.

Remember how Bergman blew our minds in the 60s? I will send you some names of films but for now, I can recommend Abbas Kierostami, Iranian filmmaker - - - Taste of Cherries for example but he has many other good ones, or Before the Rain - from Macedonia.

You might love this one, Fifi Howls from Happiness. There's a Turkish Director I really like - - - an all-time favorite The Edge of Heaven by Fatih Akin: Turkish/German production. All his are good. And I watched a pretty good Albanian one the other night, The Sworn Virgin.

For some reason, I am really interested in films from the Balkans and there are quite a few good ones. Usually rooted in the ancient patriarchal and what-seems cruel rural cultures. Oh, here's a good one: Japan's Longest Day.

Someone asked me the other day "What's your favorite thing about living in Seattle?" My instant answer, "the Seattle Public Library!" I go online, look for books and films, put a hold on them and then they send them to my local branch and send me a notice that they can be picked up. Then another notice when they are 5 days from Due. They have a great collection of films - - - recently got The Manchurian Candidate which I had never seen and Blade Runner which I remembered differently. Also, Seattle International film Festival is the largest festival in the US and tons of foreign films. I just ordered my 12 tickets for the festival next Spring.

This summer, following other classes I've taken recently, I fell into studying the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages. Slogging through an overly-detailed but 'authoritative' book on the world after Rome, I decided to look up Constantine on Wikipedia. Somehow stumbled into a YouTube lecture course from Yale on the Middle Ages. No frills, just this amusing, slightly nerdy professor in front of a class, his notes in his hand, talking to what must be freshmen, from 400-1000 CE in 22 lectures. He supplies a perfect overview - - - the forest for the trees in the too-much detail book. Today I'll watch the lecture on Monasticism and pretty soon we will arrive at Charlemagne. Whoopee.

I'm taking a class now on Virgil's Aenied and he writes so vividly I can't understand why they haven't made a movie of it. I said that in class and the teacher said "Well, they made a film of the Odyssey some years back with Kirk Douglas and it was awful.

- - - N. K.

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Granted, we have different tastes, but you may like some of these
  • The New World - Terrance Mallick

  • 20 Feet from Stardom (doc on back-up singers)

  • Winged Migration

  • The Dreamers - Bertolucci

  • Touch of Evil -- Orson Welles/Marlene Dietrich

  • Moulin Rouge - 2001

  • Slumdog Millionaire

  • Monsoon Wedding

    any of werner herzog's films, i especially liked his fairly recent one about Antarctica -- End of the Earth (i think it was called).

    anything by les blank or bertolucci.

    Mississippi Masala -- directed by Mira Nair -- whose new film, Queen of Katwe, is about a young ugandan girl who became a chess champion, true story; and

    dig it -- now streaming on netflix

- - - D.C.
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