Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – 1961

Director – Blake Edwards

Starring – Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, and Mickey Rooney

I’ve heard for years about Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Nothing concrete mind you, nothing in-depth about the plot, the themes, the writing, or any of the lead or supporting actors.  Apparently, what I had been hearing about was Audrey Hepburn.  Her style, her grace, and most of all her fashion sense.  While by and large Audrey is most definitely deserving of all the acclaim she has garnered over the years, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is definitely it’s own beast, above and beyond such things.

For those, like me, who have only been privy to random rumblings about minor aspects of this film, here is a breakdown of the story.  Audrey Hepburn plays the young, beautiful, quirky, carefree, flakey, and wholly unreliable Holly Golightly, a character who wrote the book on what real-life actresses like Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, and Chloe Sevigny have built plenty of their roles on.  Her charm and magnetism carries her through life, drawing people to her both for good and ill.  She seems to live in a bubble protecting her from any real sort of responsibility, keeping her real thoughts and feelings at an arm’s-length from anyone who might try to get close to her.  Mind you that doesn’t stop anyone from trying, prospective suitors, friends, and even family, keep trying to reel her back into reality, and are forever willing to forgive her for struggling to keep them away.

Even the square-jawed, perfectly coiffed, understanding, new neighbor, Paul Varjack (played by a George Peppard with super Technicolor blue eyes), runs into the same brick wall that everyone else does.  Where everyone else eventually gets the hint, Paul maintains his pursuit of Holly despite her track record of flighty behavior, and gold-digger-esque tendencies.  Paul himself is a slave to what made him a success as well.  His claim to fame is a novel that he wrote with the support of his well-to-do mistress, without whom he would still be in dwelling in relative obscurity.

Assuming both Holly and Paul were able to maintain the same frame of mind, they would make a good couple, but Paul has grown tired of his shallow existance, and yearns for something else.  In the end, all of Holly’s qualities that attract Paul, end up keeping him at arm’s length.  The free-spirited, irresponsible behavior that seems so attractive at first, ends up actually being a bundle of paranoia and anxiety, unable to let go of a failed formula for love and success. That isn’t quite the glamorous image that is presented in the marketing of the film.

This film is much closer to the films of the seventies than it’s release date lets on.  It is more concerned with the exploration of the damaged side of the young miss Golightly, and mr. Varjack than it is with showing off the lush, lavish, fun lifestyle of the sixties.  It seeks to juxtapose the unfulfilled, unhappiness that both Paul and Holly are subject to, with the carefree party lifestyle that both are living (on the surface anyway).  In the end, non-stop drinking, lurid rendezvous’ with faceless strangers, and the absence of any sort of responsibility will only contribute to the feeling of worthlessness.  Holly’s telephone, locked away in her suitcase, is representative of her isolation from and fear of the actual relationships, commitments, and everything else encompassed by “the real world”.

On script writing duties is Truman Capote, a man who I know little about although I’m more curious than ever to read more of his work.

The director, Blake Edwards is no stranger to popular, well regarded movies.  Though this does seem to have a somewhat deeper subtext than a lot of his other movies, it does share a fair amount with some of his other films (I’m going from memory here, it’s been a while since I’ve seen anything.), most notably “The Party” from 1968.  The party scenes in both films share a certain voyeuristic quality as the audience simply observes the merriment and mayhem as it happens.  They don’t so much expound upon what we already know of our characters as much as they give us a inkling of the time and the place in which they live.  There is some humor there, but it is more descriptive than it seems on the surface.

I have to say I was surprised by how much I liked this film.  On paper, a film about two broken socialites doesn’t seem all that engaging to me.  I really like Audrey Hepburn, in everything I’ve seen her in, so it was a no-brainer that I’d like her here, but I can’t shake the image of George Peppard as Hannibal from the A-Team, so he was a bit of a harder sell at the outset.  It’s a good thing he didn’t smoke a cigar in this film or my suspension of disbelief would have been gone and it would have pulled me out of the film entirely.

Truthfully though, his character, Paul, was the real heart of the film.  While Holly, along with her sense of style, is the centerpiece of the film, Peppard does most of the heavy lifting in terms of character growth, exposition, and engagement with the audience.  Peppard is to Hepburn what Joseph Cotton is the Orson Welles in “The Third Man”.

The film’s one failing grace, and really it’s just a sign of the times in which it came out, was the overtly racist, and unflattering view of asian culture put forth in the form of Holly’s upstairs neighbor, Mr. Yunioshi played by the shitty Mickey Rooney.  Rooney’s portrayal serves no purpose except for getting cheap laughs at the expense of a people perceived as being simply ignorant, pajama-wearing, slow-witted, buffoons.  Luckily it doesn’t ruin the rest of the film, though it is unfortunate.

All in all I would say the film paints an accurate picture of loneliness, and as a bonus it crafts a realistic and satisfying ending that allows the characters to grow beyond their selfish, opulent trappings.  Overall, I’d say it’s definitely well worth the time, and worth a watch.

(***Warning Spoilers***)

“Don’t worry.  The cat’s fine.” – Ashley

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West Side Story (1961)

West Side Story – 1961

Director(s) – Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise

Starring – Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, and George Chakiris

So if you’ve read this blog before, you may know just how surprised I was upon seeing Singin’ in the Rain. I mean it was a fantastically really well done movie, with an entertaining story, characters with a very tangible chemistry and, the surprising part, it was a musical! I know. I know. I thought that fact alone would guarantee it to be terrible too, but it didn’t.

Well based on the strength of that film, I approached this “classic” with a bit more spring in my step. I mean, this could actually be pretty fun. The story of Romeo and Juliet mixed with the raw energy and exuberance of Singin’ in the Rain. That sounds like a no lose situation…right? Enter the dance fighting. Exit all hope of this being good.

I’ll repeat that…a movie featuring a tragic love story, gang warfare, and dance fighting.  Not dance fighting like one might see in a movie like “Step Up” or “You Got Served”  where the dancing is the weapon.  No, these guys are fighting with knives, pipes, and broken bottles, they just dance around while they do it.  Removing all the power, intensity, and plausibility of fighting from the situation.

For those who’ve never heard of Romeo and Juliet, or its retarded cousin, West Side Story, here’s the scoop. There are two rival gangs who hate each other because they are trying to occupy the same territory, and because of the folly of youth, but mostly because they are so different that they are essentially the same.  Okay, so we’ve got tension.

Because of their unwillingness to look beyond these minor differences, they are completely unwilling to tolerate co-habitation.  Problems arise when a member of each group falls in love with the other.  Each gang is outraged and willing to go to great lengths to stop the fledgling romance.  There’s the story defining conflict!  This mixture of volatile elements is a recipe for disas…oh wait, no.  Dance-fighting destroys all conflict and tension just by nature of being fucking dance-fighting.  Story ruined.

So all bitterness aside, West Side Story took a rather common hackneyed concept and decided to do absolutely nothing new with it.  Adding mediocre songs to the mix, and half-heartedly choreographing some dancing doesn’t re-invigorate a story that everyone knows, especially when the “new” additions all seem tacked on and disingenuous.

So, you ask, does this spoil my impression of musicals again? Am I back to being a non-believer? Not yet, although it was touch and go there for a while. I can rationally understand that there are duds in every genre, no matter if they’re science fiction (The Core anyone), mystery (anything M. Night Shyamalan did post Sixth Sense), or even, gasp, action (Transformers, GI Joe, etc..).  Unlike what I previously thought, there will be good musicals, but there will be terrible ones too (so really I was half right).

As for the acting, there really seems to be no point in going into it for this film, I wasn’t impressed by any of it.  In general though, one of the actors in particular will manage to redeem himself in my eyes.  Russ Tamblyn, will go on to feature heavily in one of the best television series of all times, Twin Peaks, and will also play a host of memorable small roles in such works as, Drive, The Haunting, Quantum Leap, and The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.

So is this film worth seeing?  In my opinion, no.  Go see Romeo and Juliet instead (or better yet, go read it too), and save yourself the annoyance. Every once in a while this list of 1001 movies has some black holes of crap tossed in just because.  This is one of them.

“Giving musicals a bad name” – Ashley

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby – 1968

Director – Roman Polanski

Starring – Mia Farrow, John Cassavettes, Ruth Gordon, Sydney Blackmer, and Charles Grodin

It is relatively rare that all of a given director’s films (of the ones that I’ve seen, mind you) are of such a caliber that each defies the expectations put forth by the last. Even some directors of what I would consider the greatest films of all time have their bad ones. Coppola has The Rainmaker, Spielberg has the last 30 minutes of everything he’s made since Schindler’s List, and Scorsese has Bringing Out the Dead. My point is…it is extremely hard to make one great film, let alone multiple ones. It seems however that Roman Polanski is one of a select few directors who, through each of his films that I’ve seen, remains consistantly engaging, provocative, and inventive.

Now granted, I certainly haven’t seen everything he’s made, but so far he’s off to a great start. But even with his talent’s as a filmmaker resolutely confirmed, there was an awful lot of lot of hype surrounding Rosemary’s Baby. Does it stand the test of time, like “The Godfather” has? Or does it suffer the same aging and loss of context as something like “The Graduate”? The news is good, it easily stands the test of time, and remains a throuroughly suspenseful, intellegent, and effective film.

The story is fairly straight forward, a young couple, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, move into a new apartment building that has a history of tragedy, and misfortune. The neighbors are strange, and manage to barge their way into the lives of the Woodhouses, pushing their homemade remedies, and decorating ideas off on the young couple, and all the while Guy is busy with work leaving Rosemary alone in the big, empty apartment a lot. Though an initial friendship is struck with their neighbors, the Castevets, they seem to surround and smother the still wary Rosemary. Guy seems to take to them more and more as they make themselves even more at home once Rosemary becomes pregnant.

The Castevet’s start seeming stranger and stranger, eventually leading Rosemary to question whether or not they have alterior motives. The suspense builds and builds, relentlessly pushing Rosemary closer and closer to the edge of sanity.

Firstly, it should be said that Polanski seems to have a real curiosity with the relationship between lonliness and ones world view. Each of his films deals with the struggle to maintain the latter while dealing with the former. Also, in each of his films there seems to be two main characters (one inanimate and the other human), the human character (often played by a waif-like, attractive, young woman), and the apartment in which the main character is living. Oh sure there are other characters that play into the story, but none of them leave the same indelible impression on the story that these two characters do.

The apartment in Rosemary’s Baby serves as a launching pad for the film’s paranoia and mistrust. It is depicted as huge, yet it always seems cramped. The ceilings are vaulted, but the apartment itself is so deep and maze-like we feel as if our characters, and the audience as well, will never escape. This place is a prison, and Rosemary is it’s prisoner.

As the film starts, Rosemary is bright and cheerful. Her relationship is strong, and she has a wide network of friends, but as the film progresses, she is consistently more and more cut off from the outside world. The apartment is equal parts sanctuary and menace. As if the neighbors and history of the apartment weren’t enough she has been getting more and more ill during her pregnancy, resulting in her staying locked away inside, under the watchful eye of her husband and their neighbors.

It is this balance which is most delicate in the film. If the strange-ness of the setting or situation was heaped on too quickly, or if it wasn’t strange enough, the crux of the conflict would have been ruined, but Polanski gets it absolutely right. He let’s us dwell just long enough to send our minds racing right towards the edge, right after Rosemary. She and the audience are together in our suspicions, not sure of what is real and what is simply paranoia.

As well as being superbly constructed, Rosemary’s Baby is also expertly cast. Sidney , and Ruth Gordon are pitch perfect as the intrusive and possibly evil Castevets. The always great, John Cassavettes is equal parts caring, strong, and yet still completely suspect at the same time as Guy Woodhouse, however the performance most central and most integral to the success of the film is Mia Farrow, Rosemary.

Farrow doesn’t play the role as the victim. Rosemary isn’t so much helpless as much as she is facing insurmountable odds. Despite the fact that she is the focus of the conspiracy (or is she?), she is actually the strongest character, not to mention the most interesting of the story.  It is a testament to Farrow’s skill as an actor, and to Polanski’s as a director that this delicate balance wasn’t lost in the shuffle.  Instead, Rosemary’s Baby was, and remains a powerful example of what can be achieved through the medium of film.

So the long and short of it is that, if you haven’t already, you should see this film. It really stands up to the test of time, and truly deserves it’s place on this list!

“Mia Farrow has a cute haircut!” – Ashley

The Hustler (1961)

The Hustler – 1961

Director – Robert Rossen

Starring – Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, and George C. Scott

Heading into this movie, I realize now, I had a lot of pre-conceptions.  Not so much about the quality of the film, whether it would be good or bad, but more about the content of the film.  Thanks to countless posters in the various seedy billiards rooms that I frequent, I just assumed that there would be more pool than there was.  Also, I apparently wrongly assumed just who the hustler mentioned in the title of the film was.

For those, like me apparently, who aren’t too familiar with the story, The Hustler follows the driven ambition of “Fast” Eddie Felson.  Felson, played famously by Paul Newman is a small time hustler looking to beat the best in the billiards game, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), and claim the crown of the best pool player around.  Fats along with his shifty gambling buddy played by George C. Scott, seeing Felson’s reckless ambition for what it is, work to exploit, and take advantage of him.

Along the way, Fast Eddie meets Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie), a woman so defeated by life, that she takes his interest as a sort of cruel taunt.  In reality, he feels as though he can fully be himself around her, without apology for his shortcomings.  The attention re-awakens her hope for a normal life.  Life for the couple starts to feel more and more normal, until that is, the real hustler, George C. Scott’s Bert, convinces Fast Eddie to go out on the road, running hustles and making money for him.  This drives a wedge in their relationship and threatens to ruin everything they’ve built.

As far as the movies that feature the character Fast Eddie Felson, I prefer Martin Scorsese’s take with The Color of Money, although the Hustler is certainly a good, if not great movie.  It may be due to my mood going into watching it, but I was really hoping for more action than drama, more suspense than revelation.

I wanted the cocky Felson to be a bit tougher, a little less pathetic throughout the film.  He is far more of a victim than he is a hustler.  It is certainly viable to create a story that ends unhappily, this film just made me sad.  For a guy who is clearly looking for acceptance, he sure gives away the acceptance he gets from Sarah without a thought about her or even himself.  The only thing that seems to matter to him is being the best in the eyes of those who are laughing at him and using him for their own gain.  As a result I was left more than a little wanting, and felt rather downcast after finishing it.  Despite their best efforts to craft a noir-ish character and setting, the movie seemed to be missing something.  Even the cinematography and music seemed somewhat forgettable to me.

I don’t mean to treat this movie harshly, clearly it had an impact on me, just not the one I was looking for going into it.  The image I have of the character is what I was left with from The Color of Money, a man who despite defeat, doesn’t give up.  Despite, humiliation, has a certain self-awareness, and despite conventional relationships, has carved out a little place for himself in the world.

Truth be told, I’ve had a certain blossoming of respect for this film just in writing down my feelings about it, although I think it says more for Martin Scorsese re-visit of the characters than it does for anything else.

I would say that despite the fact that I liked it, I definitely didn’t like it enough to include it on the list of 1001 movies.  There was an element missing either in the movie or what I wanted from it i’m not sure, but it’s missing just the same.  Either way, it doesn’t matter, it didn’t quite work for me.

“They play pool and stuff” – Ashley

Le Boucher (AKA: The Butcher)(1969)

 

Le Boucher (AKA: The Butcher) – 1969

Director – Claude Chabrol

Starring – Stephane Audran, Jean Yanne, and Anthony Pass

The thriller, or mystery as it is sometimes called, is a fantastic genre allowing director, actors, and audiences to give themselves over to the story and let it pilot them where it pleases.  Layers of the story pile up, confusing the regular flow of logic, and often need to be reverse engineered to discover the truth.  The crime or crimes, central to the story can be simple or horrific, but almost always reveal the uncomfortable, jealous, angry, or violent side of humanity that everyone is capable of, even if only a little.  Often times, the genre is so captivating, that the story outshines it’s director or stars…unless of course you make a shitty mystery, like this one.

Le Boucher or The Butcher is the story of an idyllic little town in France where bodies start turning up, staining the picturesque countryside with fear, accusations, and paranoia.  As we watch, we begin to suspect the town’s local butcher of being the killer (more than a little because of this film’s clever title). 

***SPOILERS***

If mysteries have taught me anything, it’s that the killer is never who you most suspect, and always who you least suspect, right?  Apparently, Mr. Chabrol never got that memo.  Just as it seems more and more like the butcher is the killer, he turns out to be…the fucking killer.  It’s not even a dramatic reveal.  It’s just sort of said.

***END SPOILERS***

We never really learn anything about any of the characters, nothing of real value anyhow.  It hasn’t even been that long since I finished the movie, but I can’t recall either of the main character’s names, and I’m not willing to waste the time to look them up.

Cinema of the late 60’s and on throughout the whole of the 70’s, was a revolutionary time in terms of craftsmanship, storytelling, and editing, but it did give birth to some rather annoying elements of film as well.  The heavy reliance on zooming while filming is one of the worst.  Camera’s got lighter, and improvements in single lens reflex systems provided opportunities to create lenses capable of achieving great variances in focal length.  Unfortunately this meant that long zooms were readily accepted into the visual storytelling language, and this movie uses the technique to death.  It is distracting and provides no guidance for what the audience is supposed to be looking at.

The acting is fine by the standards of the French New Wave, that is, non-actors employed to give the story a more realistic quality.  This film lacks the immediacy, and growth, and emotional heft of the New Wave movement, however, and manages only to drag on and disappoint.

My impression of this film probably wasn’t helped by the fact that the first disk I got from Netflix skipped so badly that it was unwatchable, as a result, I had to request a second disk and watched the other half a good week after I saw the first.  None the less, I don’t think this film could have been saved.  Chalk this one up in the “avoid” column, do yourself a favor, and watch something like Seven, The Third Man, Memento, or L.A. Confidential.  You’ll be happy you did.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Cool Hand Luke – 1967

Director – Stuart Rosenberg

Starring – Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Harry Dean Stanton, and Strother Martin

Combining religious imagery, southern drawl, male bonding, and a healthy dash of exuberance, Stuart Rosenberg’s Cool Hand Luke has become more than the small story of a man’s stint in the clink, it has transcended its reach and become a meditation on the importance (or the lack of) of authority for authority’s sake.  Paul Newman, arguably one of the most iconic actors of his time, perfectly personifies independence, and the idea of anti-establishment.

The story deals with capture and incarceration of the titular, Luke, and his relationships with his fellow inmates, the guards that drive them, and with the bureaucratic warden who oversees everything in the prison.  In the first 5 minutes of the film, we see Luke cutting the heads off of parking meters, being caught, and sentenced to 2 years in prison.  While he is doing something technically wrong, the 2 year sentence seems a bit of an over-reaction to the weight of the crime.

Once in prison, Luke spends his time testing the boundaries set by both the inmates as well as those set by the guards.  Eventually bonds begin to form, and a precident is set as the other inmates begin looking up to Luke.  It is in this part of the film that the main relationship, that of Luke and George Kennedy’s Dragline, is solidified.  The two men start off as rivals; Luke is simply pushing buttons, a behavior that Dragline sees as threatening to his authority among the other inmates.  Over time, the men become friends, Dragline eventually becoming Luke’s biggest advocate.

There are many different theories on the internet about what the different factions represented in this movie represent.  There is quite a bit of religious iconography that appears in the composition of the film, and while that is a perfectly valid interpretation, I fell more in line with the societal similarities.  To start with, Luke.  He gets his own group because he is really a free radical.  He doesn’t follow any one set of guidelines despite what anyone else tries to force him to do.  Luke disrupts the set in stone flow established by the system (the Warden), and maintained by the guards.  He inspires change, and therefore straddles the line between respected and feared. 

Next we have the prisoners.  These men represent society, everyday people with faults and flaws.  Each has a place, a role in the story, and each seems to run on a set path (ones that eventually get thrown off by the arrival of Luke).  Despite the fact that each these men are convicted prisoners, all of them are relatable, and the majority of them are downright familiar, almost good.  They represent all mankind.  The guards are an obvious stand in for the law, specifically the police.  These men keep the peace, and enforce the will of the bureaucracy, often utilizing fear, threat of violence and force (most personified by the anonymous and imposing “man with no eyes”). 

Finally, we have the warden.  In the story, the warden is one man, yet he represents a system of rule, or government that is infinitely larger than one man.  Since this system is most disrupted by the arrival of Luke, the warden is the most afraid of him.   What Luke represents is dependant upon which group you are from.

Despite it’s rather serious themes, Cool Hand Luke remains a rather jovial film, thanks in no small part to Newman’s performance as the eminently likable, Luke.  Newman and George Kennedy were both nominated for Oscars for their performances, with Kennedy taking home the statue for Best Supporting Actor.  Balancing out the weight and likability of the main characters is Strother Martin as the warden.  His measured performance never travels too far into the cartoon villain territory, yet it’s just strong enough to get the proper reaction.  Cool Hand Luke is another film that is populated with famous faces before they were famous, including Harry Dean Stanton, and Dennis Hopper. 

The film looks like a sweltering hot summer feels, sticky sweaty clothes and all.  The era, and the setting of the film are perfectly evoked in the cinematography, with sunbleached days and hot, dark nights. 

I am coming more and more to believe that Paul Newman was one of the industry’s best actors that never got the full recognition he deserved.  I am writing this (in part) to commemorate his birthday (01/27/2010).  So belated happy birthday to the late Mr. Newman!  What we have here, is a failure to communicate!  Well…I hope that’s not the case, anyway.

More From the Vault

Every so often I’ve updated the list of films that I have already seen with brief reviews.  Call it the complete-ist in me, but when I’m done with reviewing each of the films in the book, I’d like to have reviewed every single film in the book.

Anyhow, here’s another batch for you to read.

Enjoy!

Shichinin No Samurai AKA Seven Samurai (1954)

The Seven Samurai is the first movie that I had the pleasure of seeing from the master director Akira Kurosawa, and it is also one of his most praised works. Without a wasted frame, the story takes place over the course of almost 3 hours. Kurosawa, as he does in each of his movies, explores more than just the action and injustice featured in the plot. He is a humanist first and foremost, training his lens on the interpersonal relationships of the characters, tracking growth across this epic. As good as this film is, I would have to say that Kurosawa has numerous films that are even better, check out Stray Dog, Rashomon, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and my personal favorite High and Low.

“Fuck yes!” – Ashley

The Ladykillers (1955)

Existing as a special combination of dark humor, and slapstick farce, The Ladykillers is exceptionally funny and unsettling. Alec Guinness stars as the leader of a group of criminals staying at the home of a hardy, vivacious older lady under the guise of being musicians. The plan is simple, rob a bank, and utilizing the trusting nature of the kindly old lady, and the remoteness of her home to their advantage, get away with it. Easily my favorite of Alec Guinness’ films (thanks in part to the Star Wars prequels that is), The Ladykillers features a solid cast of great actors, including a very young Peter Sellers.

Bob Le Flambeur AKA Bob the Gambler (1955)

My introduction to the fantastic Jean-Pierre Melville, I was captivated immediately by the cool as ice gangster come gambler Bob. This film is filled with signature Melville-isms. Glorious post war street scenes in Paris. Trench-coats. Honor among thieves. And who could forget the caper. To talk too much about this film is to give too much away, and to do that is to ruin it for those who haven’t seen it. Other classics by Melville: Le Cercle Rouge, Le Samourai, and the recently released in the U.S. Army of Shadows. All are fantastic, and deserve to be in this book! Incidentally, Bob le Flambeur was recently re-made into The Good Thief starring Nick Nolte and directed by Neil Jordan, and while I’m not generally a fan of re-makes, I really, really liked this film. Not quite as good as the original, but it was one of my favorite films of 2002.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

The ultimate in hardboiled private eye crime stories, Kiss Me Deadly is a full on assault on decency. Kiss Me Deadly proudly presents itself as a grimy PI story, littered with bodies and intrigue. If you even have a passing interest in film noir, this should be your first stop. Violent, misogynist, brutish, and glorious, Kiss Me Deadly begs to be watched and dares you to look away. I myself, loved it!

The Ten Commandments (1956)

Apparently based on a book, The Ten Commandments is an epic in every sense of the word. Colored in bright explosive candy hues, and featuring huge sets, as well as a cast that number in the thousands, The Ten Commandments is more spectacle than great movie. Certainly not a waste of time, but not my first choice when choosing something light to throw in.

Det Sjunde Inseglet AKA The Seventh Seal (1957)

A classic, and well-loved film by Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal stars an extremely young Max von Sydow as a knight who faces Death at a game of chess to decide his fate. This film is filled with themes that find their way into each of Bergman’s works, ranging from courage in the face of death, religion, and humanity. The Seventh Seal still holds up to this day, with luminous black and white photography that, thanks to Criterion’s Blu-ray edition, has never looked better.

Note: Don’t be fooled by the similarly themed, but much worse, “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”

Kumonosu Jo AKA Throne of Blood (1957)

Kurosawa’s retelling of Macbeth set in feudal Japan. Shakespeare has never looked better as it does in the stark black and white, twisting shadows and swirling mists as seen through Kurosawa’s camera. Toshiro Mifune doesn’t disappoint in the lead role, but the real stand out is Isuzu Yamada in the as Mifune’s opportunistic, poisonous wife. The plotting and scheming starts right from the get go, all the way up till the frenzied end of the film.

“The Scottish play set in Japan.” – Ashley

Touch of Evil (1958)

One of the many trouble spots on Orson Welles’ resume due to studio interference, and financing issues, still Touch of Evil remains as possibly the best B-Movie ever made. Iconic (and sometimes hilarious) performances by Janet Leigh, Charlton Heston (as a Mexican) and Welles himself as the crooked cop willing to do almost anything to ensure justice prevails (just so long as it’s his justice). The movie is almost as famous for its long tracking shot opening as it is for any of the performances, featuring a nearly 4 minute shot done in one take which travels around cars, actors, and buildings. The film The Player, payed homage to it by mentioning it a few times during a similarly complex shot in that film.

Vertigo (1958)

Flopping on its initial release, Vertigo didn’t gain the acclaim it deserved until much later after it was released on video. Vertigo visits themes present in each of Hitchcock’s other works, including the obsession with blondes, innocence tainted with corruption, and the schlub who gets in over his head. Jimmy Stewart plays the schlub, Kim Novak plays the blonde, and gloriously technicolored San Francisco plays the innocence and the corruption. Vertigo has a twisty convoluted story with elements of surrealism, an interesting watch.

“Hey. Don’t I know you from somewhere?” – Ashley

Mon Oncle AKA My Uncle (1958)

My favorite of Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot films, Mon Oncle was also the first of them that I had seen. Tati, playing Hulot, is a master of visual comedy, and not in the same way as the Three Stooges, or even Buster Keaton. Tati is an artist whose work is appreciated the longer you watch. The plot of the movie is not so much important to the film as it is simply a guide to get our characters into interesting situations so we can watch them get out. If you liked this film, check out other films featuring the bumbling Mr. Hulot, including Trafic, Playtime, and Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot.

Les Quatre Cents Coups AKA The 400 Blows (1959)

My personal favorite of the French new wave movement was this small-scale film, personal piece from Francois Truffaut. Featuring the director’s alter ego, Antoine Doinel, The 400 Blows is the first in a series of movies, each about a different stage of life and the challenges that go along with them. The period from childhood to young adult is covered heart-breakingly here, following Antoine through the rough waters of his home life and his interaction with the outside world. Later chapters deal with finding love, getting married, having children, and growing old, but Les Quatres Cent Coups remains the directors most personal and his best.

North by Northwest (1959)

One of Hitchcock’s best, North by Northwest features Cary Grant, suave as ever, being mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies. Just like in Hitchcock’s most famous works (of which this is one), the witty one-liners, suspense, and drama are heaped on generously. I can’t help but feel sad that a similarly themed, but better film featuring Cary Grant was left off this 1001 list. Charade, also featuring Audrey Hepburn, James Coburn, and Walter Matthau, is one of my favorite movies ever! Check out both Charade AND North by Northwest as a double feature! You won’t be sorry.

Some Like it Hot (1959)

Now this is an example of a classic, well-loved film, with actors that I really love (Jack Lemmon I’m looking at you), a premise that is more than suitable, yet the finished product never really caught me. It’s sort of like Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. I never really saw what all the hype was about. That being said, I didn’t hate it either. It never made fun of me when I had braces, or turned me down for a date, my affections and this film have just always been mutually exclusive. Perhaps it deserves another watch…then again maybe I should just watch The Last Boyscout again.

“Monroe, and drag queens, together at last!” – Ashley

A Bout De Souffle AKA Breathless (1959)

Jean-Luc Godard is nothing if not a sacred cow of French cinema, and while I have loved some of his other films (Le Mepris, Bande A Part, and Masculin Femenine), Breathless or A Bout De Souffle never really did it for me. I can still rationalize why it was so revolutionary (use of jump cuts, editing, non-actors, and subscription to the aesthetic of the French new wave style), and see it’s importance, but I prefer other examples of New Wave cinema. If you are interested in seeing a Godard film, try Masculin Feminine, it is just as revolutionary and a bit more accessible.

Psycho (1960)

A prime example of Hitchcock in his prime. Psycho was so good, and so affecting that some of its actors were type cast just on the strength of this one film (Anthony Perkins, and Janet Leigh), so much so that without a little research it’s hard to think of what other films either of them has been in. Psycho may not be as visually shocking and gory as horror films of today, but it still manages to hold up over time and be just as unsettling as it was back in its day. Hitchcock has always excelled at making the comfortable un-comfortable (motels, birds, tea, dreams, the list goes on…), and the subtle touches in this film work perfectly. Consider for a moment that Perkin’s Bates is an amateur taxidermist of birds, and then that Janet Leigh’s name is Marion Crane a type of bird, or the fact before the crime Marion is wearing a white bra and a white purse, while after it she is wearing a black bra and purse. His attention to detail, and knack for foreshadowing is demonstrated in full force in Psycho and remains one of his best films. Despite all the uproar over the Gus Van Sant remake, I thought it actually did some justice to the original film and if nothing else brought it a little more deserved attention.

Note: This film also has the distinction of being the first American film to ever show a toilet flushing on-screen.

“Someone’s a mama’s boy!” – Ashley

Peeping Tom (1960)

Released the same year as Psycho, and dealing with similar subject matter, Peeping Tom wasn’t received with the same acclaim and attention that the former was. On the contrary, Peeping Tom was seen as subversive, perverted, and generally too shocking. The story revolves more around the killer than the victim in this one, whereas Psycho is presented more from the victim’s point of view. Either way, Peeping Tom is a fine film, one worth watching, however it is so similar to Psycho that I’m not sure it needs to be on the list of 1001 films.

The Apartment (1960)

As far as light-hearted, touching movies about someone recovering from a bout of depression, this one is my favorite. Billy Wilder directs Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in a sweet touching comedy without losing any of his trademark cynicism or the pointedness of his dialogue. The Apartment is another chance for me to champion the somewhat maligned talents of Mr. Fred MacMurray as Lemmon’s boss. MacMurray plays a fantastic creep who really defines the term “heel”.

“MacLaine, proving she’s a better actor than her brother.” – Ashley

Spartacus (1960)

Containing almost none of the trademark elements that make up a Stanley Kubrick movie as we know it (Kubrick apparently dis-owned the film before it’s release), Spartacus remains an interesting movie that isn’t great. It is, however, another example of a film that enabled an up and coming filmmaker to gain his voice, and define himself later on in his career. If only for that reason, Spartacus is a great film, but luckily for the studio, it has some other things going for it. Kirk Douglas plays the title role of Spartacus, and despite all the lavish set production, and concentration on spectacle, brings some heart to the slave who defied Rome.

Jules Et Jim AKA Jules and Jim (1962)

One of director, Francois Truffaut’s most well thought of films, Jules and Jim may be the Lost In Translation, or Juno of its time. Viewed from a certain angle, the plot is a completely moving and emotional story that you believe, so much so, that you can see yourself and those around you in the roles that these characters embody. Viewed from another perspective, it can seem a little precious or purposefully manipulative. Depending on what is happening in your life (I’m mostly thinking about whether or not you are in a relationship, and if you are happy), this movie can preach the glory of love and the pain of rejection. On the flipside, if you have shaken free the angsty, teenager-esque feelings everyone has had in their youth, you may feel like you’re being talked down to.

“I remember it being really boring.” – Ashley

Cleo De 5 A 7 AKA Cleo from 5 to 7

Taking place, as the title suggests, from 5 to 7, we get a slice of the life of Cleo played out before us. Sometimes we, along with Cleo herself, are a voyeurs into the lives of people around her, and other times we are focused on her as she roams around Paris. By and large Cleo lives a carefree, spoiled life, yet we still sympathize with her when times are hard, and cheer for her when they are good. This is a small film in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t impacting and beautiful.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

I have to admit.  I didn’t like Lawrence of Arabia that much.  Perhaps I was too young to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of Lean’s desert panorama camerawork, or just maybe it was the epic length that decided it for me.  One way or another, I didn’t appreciate it as much as everyone else seems to think I should.

“Really long.” – Ashley

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Overly reliant on gimmicks and quick editing techniques, The Manchurian Candidate doesn’t flesh out the story nearly…wait, no that was the terrible re-make that came out in 2004.  The original 1962 version, is just as taught, and well executed today as it was at its release.  While the story between the two versions remained virtually the same, the consistent building of tension and anxiety, combined with the pitch perfect acting of Lawrence Harvey, Frank Sinatra (yes…Frank Sinatra), and the devilish turn of Angela Lansbury as the Queen of Hearts, makes for a fantastic film.

Lolita (1962)

It took me forever to finally see Lolita.  I have known the basic story (older man, younger girl) but had just never gotten around to seeing it.  And while I’ve been told that the book is much better, I thought the film was pretty good.  Not great, mind you, but definitely solid.  The shocking and controversial nature of the relationship was toned down a bit for the screen, and maybe as a result doesn’t seem all that shocking in today’s day and age.  Memorable turns by Peter Sellers, and Shelley Winters, not to mention it’s an early film of Stanley Kubrick.

The Birds (1963)

Despite being one of Hitchcock’s most popular, I actually think that The Birds is one of his most over-rated.  I think I owe it to myself to give this one another look someday, but right now I feel that it was too heavily based on the gimmick that had to rely on special effects.  Though it is not necessarily the fault of the movie, but the special effects seemed particularly dated and old fashioned.  Worth a watch, but not my favorite by a long shot.

8 1/2 (1963)

Federico Fellini is, by most accounts, a master of cinema.  One, that I have always had a little trouble getting fired up over.  It’s not that I don’t like his films once I’ve seen them, the problem comes in when it comes to motivating myself to see them.  I couldn’t tell you why, but his films consistently get pushed off when they come up on my Netflix Queue or when I see the one or two I have on my shelf.  I shouldn’t feel this way, considering I really loved the moving poetry, and soul baring passion in 8 1/2, yet it still happens.  One very definite reason to watch this film is the man-crushable Marcello Mastroianni, swaggering through as the alter-ego of Fellini himself.  Dealing with all the reservations with women, making movies, childhood, and the future that the director very famously dealt with himself, Mastroianni embodies a certain cool, yet believable character that begs to be watched.  Combined with imagery that leaves the audience wanting more, 8 1/2 is a fantastic film.

Well, that’s it for this time.  Thanks for reading!