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Time Marches On

I’m a few days late on declaring the summer over, as the transition has been an unusual one for me. My mind was on other things. This post will probably be ridiculously long because I watched a lot of good films this summer. That was thanks in part to my 1,000th movie celebration perhaps, but mostly I just stumbled across fantastic stuff. I’m surprised to note that no less than three movies I saw theatrically this summer made the big cut, up two from last summer. Anyway, with so many Honorable Mentions to discuss, it’s time to launch right into it. The top ten movies of my summer, in no particular order:

Sunshine

Son of Rambow

Brick

The Dark Knight

The Killing

City Lights

Notorious

Winter Light

WALL•E

Lawrence of Arabia

Some of these I’ve already reviewed, of course: Son of Rambow (thoroughly charming, saw it twice), The Dark Knight (an amazing thrill ride, likewise twice), WALL•E (still my favorite of the year so far, three times going on four). I also mentioned the profound experience of Winter Light in passing, and discussed Lawrence of Arabia as the Ultimate Movie.

Sunshine blew me away. I am not aware of a better cerebral sci-fi experience since 1997’s grossly underrated Gattaca. It is a marvelous revisiting of the themes and ambiance of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but with a good deal more action and suspense to help you stay awake. And speaking of Kubrick, he’s represented on this list. I finally had a chance to see his great mid-50s heist movie, The Killing. Sterling Hayden is awesome, and the storytelling is just very tight and very gripping.

Along similar hard-boiled lines, there is Brick. Made in 2005, this is a throwback to really gritty 1940s film noir set in a modern-day high school. It doesn’t sound likely to work, but it does, squeaking by on a bare minimum of melodrama. Ranging back into the region of established masterpieces, I’ve rounded out the list with Charlie Chaplin’s thoroughly disarming City Lights, and another great romance: Hitchcock’s Notorious. I hadn’t seen it in years before I rewatched it last month, and I fell in love with it all over again. It is truly among his very finest films.

Honorable Mention:

The Fall

An heartbroken stuntman and an immigrant girl with a broken arm wind up in the same hospital in the early days of moviemaking. She is bored, and he needs an unwitting accomplice to steal him some pills, so he spins her an epic tale of adventure and romance populated with people she knows in exchange for her cooperation. Some aspects of this film might not feel quite right to the viewer, but this is truly a cinematic experience that should not be missed. The cinematography, locations, costumes . . . in short, the total visual package undoubtedly rates with the best that I have ever seen.

Things We Lost in the Fire

After Audrey (Halle Berry) loses her husband (David Duchovny), she gets his childhood friend Jerry (Benicio del Toro), a former alcoholic that she never approved of, to move in with the family. Sparks fly and many tears are shed as everyone attempts to put the pieces of their shattered lives back together.

Barton Fink

This early ’90s masterpiece from the Coen Brothers has the title character, a critically-acclaimed playwright played by John Turturro, accept a screenwriting job in 1940s Hollywood. Once there, he is assigned to a wrestling picture and runs up against the most nightmarish case of writer’s block in the history of fiction. The result is simultaneously hilarious, horrifying, and (of course) more than a little ambiguous.

The Visitor

Richard Jenkins is a lonely economics professor whose life is transformed by a chance encounter with a pair of illegal immigrants. The result is a film full of both joy and sorrow, and a hard-hitting statement about the current state of immigration in America.

Great World of Sound

Two regular guys face a moral crisis when they discover that their new job as traveling record producers, signing undiscovered musical talent, is actually just a shallow scam. Thanks to a fantastic performance by the leads and some genuine amateur local talent, this striking independent film feels incredibly real. Powerfully drawing the slight comedy out of the larger tragedy, the result will certainly stick in the memory.

Salesman

Someone filmed a documentary involving traveling Bible salesmen in the late 1960s, and I’d never heard about it? Must watch. Salesman does not disappoint, chronicling a profession that forms an important piece of early and mid-century American culture, particularly in the South. Four characters, the Badger, the Gipper, the Rabbit, and the Bull (named for their styles of salesmanship) criss-cross the country pushing the Word of God to make a living.

In Bruges

Two hit-men (Colin Farrell & Brendan Gleeson) are instructed by their bad-tempered boss (Ralph Fiennes) to hole up in Bruges, a medieval Belgian city. While the heat dies down after their last job in England, they sight-see, fight off boredom, and encounter a host of weird characters and situations. You are unlikely to have ever seen a story quite like this, and Bruges just jumped pretty high on my places-to-visit-in-Europe list.

Primary Colors

John Travolta and Emma Thompson electrify the screen as thinly-disguised portraits of Bill and Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail in 1992. Primary Colors is an election-year epic that captures all of the scandals, the insanity, and the unexplainable magnetism of the candidates and the process in a side-splittingly funny way. I couldn’t get enough . . . too short at 143 minutes.

Downfall

Hitler’s final days in a bunker in Berlin, a subject that is normally a mere footnote in history texts, gets the two-and-a-half hour treatment here from a talented cast and director. Based on the experiences of Traudl Junge, Hitler’s last personal secretary, Downfall provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse at the death of the 3rd Reich.

The Lady Vanishes

By far Hitchcock’s best British film, The Lady Vanishes is a masterful balance of romantic comedy and spy thriller, replete with fun and eccentric characters and situations and held together by a crackerjack plot. A young woman named Iris, traveling across Europe by train, befriends an elderly governess named Miss Froy (played by the inimitable Dame May Whitty). But, when her friend disappears without a trace somewhere along the way, and the other passengers claim never to have seen the older woman, Iris sets out to get to the bottom of things.

Shadow of a Doubt

Perhaps not as well-known as his later American films, Hitchcock always referred to Shadow of a Doubt as his favorite. One can see why. Charlie Newton (Teresa Wright) is thrilled by a surprise visit from her favorite Uncle Charlie. However, the delight soon turns sour when she begins to suspect that the beloved relative may in fact be the Merry Widow Murderer, and that he will stop at nothing to protect that secret, even if it means offing his namesake. Another delightful blend of comedy and suspense (watch for Charlie’s father and his friend, who spend their evenings coming up with ingenious ways to murder one another) from the master.

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~ by Jared on August 29, 2008.

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