Sunday, September 17, 2017

Best Movie Heroes

The next entry into the list-aganza being done by me and Clint at Guy with a Movie Blog (check out his list here).

A best heroes list is kinda tough, for me. It's well trod ground, heroes and villains. But, it's also an essential part of the fabric of cinema and of storytelling in general. There don't have to be heroes and villains in a story, but the truth is that the majority of stories do indeed have a hero and a villain in some respect. However, just being the protagonist of a story doesn't make you a hero. Heroes and Villains are not the same as Protagonists and Antagonists. I think the character needs to do heroic things within that story. And even the term "heroic things" means something different based on the story and the hero. So......

Anyway, there are some standard choices on my list, but hopefully some surprises as well.

10. Sister Helen Prejean - Dead Man Walking

The most unconventional choice on my list is this first one. I consider Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon) to be one of movie's great heroes because she does the very heroic thing of daring to love a terrible person unconditionally. Sean Penn's character was a murderer and rapist and eventually Sister Helen gets him to admit to and ask forgiveness for his sins. People look at Sister Helen like she's an alien when she goes to counsel this man. How could she do such a thing? Doesn't she know what he did? Yes, but she also knows that we all deserve love, no matter who we are or what we've done. And that's about as heroic a thing as you can stand for or do for another person. Not to save their life, but maybe to save their soul.

9. Indiana Jones
The very first character that popped into my head when Clint suggested a top 10 heroes list was Indiana Jones. As I look at it, Jones is indeed a hero, saving the kid, getting the girl, beating the Nazis, all that good stuff. He's got his weakness, snakes, just like the superheroes do. But he's also Dr. Indiana Jones. He's a smart guy. He's funny. He's all the stuff Harrison Ford's Han Solo was, except a little less self centered and more altruistic in his motivations (it's why Jones is the choice here, not Han Solo). He's pretty much the archetypal hero. He's gotta be on here.

8. William Wallace - Braveheart
Scottish Jesus had to be on the list, for me. He showed up with his great "They can take our lives but they'll never take our freedom!" speech in my top speeches list, but he also physically leads his men into battle. He backs up his words with his actions. He bleeds for his men just like they bleed for him. He inspires, he leads, he fights the bad guys, and eventually he sacrifices himself for the good of his country. Maybe sacrificing himself isn't the best role model for kids (oh, also all the killing), but it's still heroic in this context of doing anything and everything to secure the rights of freedom for his people.

7. Robin Hood
Okay, maybe it's not Indiana Jones but actually Robin Hood that is the archetypal hero. He robs from the rich to give to the poor. He shoots a badass bow and arrow. He has a sense of humor. He doesn't care about authority and openly opposes the ruling royal. In The Adventures of Robin Hood, the best Robin Hood movie by many miles, he has this great exchange as he bursts into the castle dining room full of offended nobles:

Noble: "You speak treason!"
Robin: "Fluently"

He just doesn't give a fuck, and he leads a revolt against an authoritarian abusing his power. He gets the girl, he beats the bad guy. He does all of the classic hero stuff as heroically as it can be done.

6. Ofelia - Pan's Labyrinth
The hero of her very own fairy tale, as dark as it is, Ofelia goes on two classic journeys at the same time: the hero's journey, and the coming-of-age journey. She stands up to the evil Captain Vidal. She doesn't get scared away from The Faun, or the dark adventures he sends her on. She escapes from The Pale Man, she defeats the Frog, she saves her infant brother. And she embraces her growing power as she is on the cusp of womanhood. Ofelia has the heart of the hero, and she ascends to her kingdom. As fairy tales go, few have been more heroic.

5. Belle and The Beast - Beauty and the Beast

At first I was going to put The Beast on the list, as he saves Belle from the wolves, he defeats Gaston, and he goes on the internal journey of growing into his kindness and love. But then I thought "well, Belle is really the hero. She sacrifices for her father. She stands up to The Beast's anger and imprisonment. She stands up to Gaston, and eventually saves The Beast from his own internal imprisonment in the beastly mask he's been given to live beneath." So I went back and forth for a bit as to who should be put on the list before realizing that the only option was to put both.

4. Wall-E and EVE
So now that I broke the rules and included two heroes in one entry...

Wall-E just wants love. He just wants companionship. He's never actually trying to be a hero, which is what makes him one. He takes care of EVE when she is shut down, he brings her everywhere with him and makes sure she's protected. And when EVE begins to care about him, he constantly helps her with her "directive". She eventually saves him too, as he'd taught her to open a part of herself she didn't even know was there. The scene where she rebuilds him at the end of the movie gives me chills to think about and tears welling up in my eyes when I watch it. They save the day for humanity, but they really save each other and find the love they both needed.

3. Luke Skywalker - Star Wars

"I'm here to rescue you!"

Has there ever been a more standard heroic line than Luke's iconic intro to Leia? Luke doesn't save the day alone, he has plenty of help, but he's the classic save-the-princess hero. Like Legend of Zelda's Link in the video game world, Luke might not be the most interesting character in the series. He might not be the lovable rogue that gets the girl. But he's the one who goes on the heroes journey. He fights the bad guys. He might be frightened, he might be haunted, he might be underprepared, but he does it anyway. And that's what puts him so high on this heroic list.

2. Wonder Woman

It was hard to pick between Batman and Superman to represent the heroic acts and characters from the world of superheroes. Really, this whole list could've been populated by Spiderman, Captain America, Wolverine or any number of other superheroes. But I knew it had to come down to the most iconic superhero (Superman) or my favorite superhero (Batman). And then I saw Wonder Woman, and the choice was made so much easier. The cinematic Wonder Woman isn't as complex as Batman, and she's not as overpoweringly superpowered as the boy scout that is Superman (being defeatable only by the most contrived of circumstances has always made Superman's heroic acts ring hollow to me, he's not really risking anything). But Diana has no tolerance for intolerance, she has no stomach for fear. She loves and loses loved ones. She fights the bad guy and saves the day. And she will gladly go into "No Man's Land" to take the fight to the villains, because she isn't a man. She's a hero.

1. Harry Potter

The reluctant hero. Harry was thrust into the role of hero due to the choices of others coming up against his own inner principals and values. He chose to be a hero because others chose to be villains, and somebody has to stand up to the bullies and villains of the world. But Harry also never did it alone, he surrounded himself with friends, loyal friends, real friends. It didn't hurt that Hermione was the most brilliant witch of her generation either, Harry definitely benefitted from that. He also benefitted from always having his best friend Ron next to him. Ron, who gave Harry a sense of belonging in the world, his first sense of family and his first real friend. Harry wasn't alone, but he was the one with the most courage, the deepest convictions, the most deep seated wounds caused by being bullied. He was the conscience of the group. And he was the reason they did the heroic things that they did and saved the world.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Top 15 of the 1960's

15. Eyes Without a Face (1962) directed by Georges Franju

One of the least seen great horror movies ever made is this disturbing little poetic horror movie from France. The story is that of Christiane, who was in a horrible car accident that left her face scarred and disfigured. Her father, whose fault the crash was, Dr. Genessier and his assistant kidnap young women who have similar features to Christiane. The doctor then tries to take off their faces and graft them onto Christiane's so that his daughter can be beautiful again, which would absolve him of his guilt over the crash. Meanwhile, Christiane wears a nearly featureless mask that ended up being the inspiration for Halloween's Michael Myers. Seeing just the pain, loneliness, and oncoming madness through her eyes in the mask, the movie engenders a lot of complex emotions in us. We sympathize with the doctor and his guilt, as well as Christiane and her impenetrable sadness. The face grafting scene can still be disturbing for many audiences, and is not for the faint of heart, but that's to the movie's credit.

14. The Silence (1962) directed by Ingmar Bergman

Bergman's The Silence is the story of two sisters, one dying and one resentfully caring for her and her son. While on a train home through Europe, they decide to stop in at the fictional town of Timoka, a place on the brink of war, and stay for a bit. The son seems to make a sort of friend in the kind elderly hotel porter, though the country speaks in an unintelligible language. There are long, fascinating shots of the boy exploring the hotel, running into the porter and meeting some of the other inhabitants. This is contrasted to the battle of wills between the sisters, as the sick one gets closer to dying and the other acts out with some of the locals.

Intended as the final entry into Bergman's "Faith Trilogy", starting with 1961's Through a Glass Darkly, and continued with 1963's Winter Light, The Silence evokes its title in many ways. Of course, if an artist refers to something as a "Faith Trilogy" and there's an entry called "The Silence", you can bet that the silence of God will be an issue in that piece. But Bergman always dealt with heavy issues like that in his work. On a much simpler level, The Silence is a very low key movie, with not a ton of dialog. The thing I actually came out remembering most was all of those great shots in and out of the hallway as the young boy searches through the hotel. It felt like an expansive journey of a movie, I was surprised to find out that it is only an hour and a half long. It feels longer, in a weirdly good way.

13. Masque of the Red Death (1964) directed by Roger Corman

One of Edgar Allan Poe's best stories becomes this terrific movie that really caught me by surprise. With the campy b-movie king Roger Corman directing one of the legends of the campy b-movie, Vincent Price, I guess I wasn't expecting a movie this dark and sinister and not at all campy. It's the story of a plague sweeping through a region in medieval England, where Price's Satan worshiping Prince Prospero holds court in his castle for many noblemen and women, while the countryside dies horrible deaths from the plague. But we see that things are not even safe inside the castle, as danger seems to lurk around every corner. It's a dark story, made even darker by writers Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell's inclusion of a sub-plot taken from Poe's Hop-Frog, about a murderous dwarf seeking revenge on the nobles that treated him badly.

Vincent Price is simply phenomenal here, oozing danger and evil while still having his trademark sense of humor, which in this case makes him and that smile all the more frightening. It's opulently made, or at least appears so, as Corman was able to reuse sets from the previous year's Peter O'Toole/Richard Burton-starring medieval film Becket. Also the movie is gorgeously shot, by the legendary Nicolas Roeg. That, coupled with Corman not turning away from or cheapening the darkness of Poe's original material, really helps elevate this movie into something special. Although usually known as a purveyor of cheap exploitation films most often not worth your time, Corman was actually a very smart man who launched the careers of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, and James Cameron. With Masque of the Red Death he proved himself a tremendous filmmaker in his own right.

12. The Pawnbroker (1964) directed by Sidney Lumet

If looking at the synopsis of The Pawnbroker, one might get the sense that it's one of those "IMPORTANT" movies that make a statement and must be watched because they are of importance to society. The Pawnbroker should simply be watched because it's a brilliant movie, one containing one of the great performances, Rod Steiger's Sol Nazerman. The Pawnbroker was the first American movie to explicitly deal with the Holocaust, as well as Nazerman's pain at losing his wife and children and his own survivor's guilt. It was also a landmark movie in the abolishment of the Production Code of the time, as it has nudity in it that was given an approval because of its "importance", setting a precedent that would see the abolishment of the code within just a few years. With a terrific score by Quincy Jones, gritty New York City location cinematography from the brilliant Boris Kaufman, and direction from the legendary Sidney Lumet, The Pawnbroker is a terrific film that unfortunately isn't seen by enough people these days.

11. A Hard Day's Night (1964) directed by Richard Lester

Ah, The Beatles. The greatest band ever create one of the most fun movies ever. A romp through life at the height of Beatlemania, the movie was initially just supposed to be another product to sell. Just more money to be made. But as The Beatles often did, they took what could've been a soulless product and made it special. How many musical vanity projects get nominated for multiple Oscars? Its style influenced nearly every subsequent musical documentary and movie, leading director Richard Lester to even be called the father of MTV (Lester joking asked for a paternity test). But mostly, the lads are just a fun group to spend some time with. Their music is so good, even though A Hard Day's Night as an album might not even be in the band's top 3 records, it's so enjoyable and poppy and catchy. And the lads are all their charming selves that we would come to know and love more than just about any other celebrities. A Hard Day's Night is as infectiously fun, light hearted, put-a-smile-on-your-face time at the movies as you can hope to have.

10. High and Low (1962) directed by Akira Kurosawa

No secret by now that I'm a huge fan of Akira Kurosawa's work. There's something about his movies that really speak to me. I knew I was going to love this movie simply from its premise. Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is a shoe company executive who becomes the target of extortionists planning to kidnap his son and hold him for ransom. But as he's getting ready to pay the ransom, Kingo finds out that it's not his son, but his drivers, who was kidnapped. Kurosawa uses this as a jumping off point for a police procedural with some philosophical questions wrapped around it. Is the drivers son worth any less than the bosses? If you were the boss would you use the money you'd saved up in your dream of finally taking control of your company, or would you spare the life of a boy you don't even know?

The movie is split almost in half, with the first dealing with the kidnapping, and the second dealing with the search for the kidnappers. It's to Kurosawa's credit that even though Mifune is one of the most charismatic and watchable leading men the movies have ever known, when the cop characters take over the second half of the film, the quality never dips. It's a tremendous movie, and one whose reputation (rightfully) grows year after year.

9. The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) directed by Wojciech Jerzy Has

A 3 hour surrealist shifting narrative journey brought to us from the supposedly unfilmable book of the same name, written piecemeal by Jan Potocki between 1805-1815 before being left unfinished at the author's death. It stars "The Polish James Dean" Zbigniew Cybulski, just two years before his death. The movie is framed as two soldiers come upon a book while fighting in the Spanish town of Saragossa in the Napoleonic Wars. We then see in flashback a soldier's journey through many crazy adventures, both supernatural and otherwise.

We spend the majority of the second half of the movie listening to the stories of a gypsy who arrives at a castle, all seen in flashbacks. This is where the movie switches from surreal, dream-like storytelling, to puzzle box, Russian doll kinda storytelling. At one point we are watching a story within a story within a story within a story within a story within a story within a story (I think that's how deep it went, if I counted right). Lead character Alphonse himself even expresses his deliriousness in trying to keep up, saying "it's enough to make you crazy."

Crazy, maybe, but happily so. Wojciech Jerzy Has's direction is so superb that we are invested in every story within a story, and he keeps them moving so fast that even if you aren't, this one won't last long and there's another coming up that's different. It reminded me a lot of the grandfather's description of the story in The Princess Bride. Here we have demons, ghosts, sultans, battles, sword fights, gorgeous women who aren't always totally clothed, dreams, nightmares, and I haven't even mentioned that the movie has quite a few laughs in it as well. Also, Has's camera movement and control is some of the best I've ever seen from a filmmaker, often switching from long static shots to sudden huge camera movements around, in, or through a building. It's absolutely first class filmmaking and I can see why it was such a favorite of Martin Scorsese's, who has obviously been greatly influenced by Has's camera work.

This is one of the great epics of world cinema, one that's sadly underseen, despite having a great DVD from the Criterion Collection.

8. La Jetee (1962) directed by Chris Marker

French filmmaker Chris Marker's sci-fi masterpiece La Jetee is a short film, only 28 minutes long, told almost entirely through still photographs pieced together with narration. It tells the story of a post-WWIII time traveler who is sent back and forth through time in an attempt to find help for the current time as a small group were able to hide underground in Paris from the nuclear annihilation. Terry Gilliam would later use the movie as the basis of his film 12 Monkeys, but La Jetee is truly unique and special. It's harrowing in the psychological stress put onto our unnamed protagonist (portrayed in the photos by Davos Hanich, but the narration by Jean Negroni). But the man finds a woman he remembers from his past. It's taxing to be thrown throughout time, and the man ends up searching for answers to his own life as much as he looks for answers to his post-apocalyptic present. The mystery of the movie is wonderful, the ability to get us to feel like we've traveled through time with this man is palpable, and the ending is simply perfect. I've never seen another film made like this, with the photos and narration, Marker himself apparently didn't even refer to it as a film, but as a photo novel. Either way, it thoroughly deserves its place high on this list.

7. The Haunting (1963) directed by Robert Wise

THE great haunted house movie, and probably what I would consider my favorite "horror" movie. Sadly, many people only know the title The Haunting from the reprehensible 1999 remake with Liam Neeson, Owen Wilson, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. That version is an unabashed piece of shit. Robert Wise's original is of the great old school variety where they actually created characters, used suspense, and made us believe that we're in a haunted house, instead of just throwing special effects at us.

It's not complicated. A team of people goes to investigate the alleged haunting of Hill House. Two men, Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) and Luke (Russ Tamblyn), two women, Eleanor (Julie Harris) and Theo (Claire Bloom). Finding simple things in the house like unexplainable cold spots, the tension ratchets up until we have things like "HELP ELEANOR COME HOME" scrawled on the walls and (naturally) Eleanor, who seemed initially to have the least connection to the project, starts to unravel. The movie has some great set pieces, like the door bending and bowing into the room where the girls sit frightened on the bed, but the SFX are always in service of the story, and Wise never forgets that this is the story of these people, Eleanor in particular, not the SFX. Made between his huge successes of 1961's West Side Story and 1965's The Sound of Music, you wouldn't think this was made by the same filmmaker, but that's what makes Wise one of the underappreciated great directors of all time.

6. Psycho (1960) directed by Alfred Hitchcock

One of the most famous, talked about, written about movies ever made, Hitchcock's low budget masterpiece Psycho deserves every bit of attention it's had. Knowing in advance the twists and turns of the story, it's to Hitch's credit that I was engrossed from the first frame of film. Anthony Perkins delivered the performance of a lifetime as Norman Bates, a truly extraordinary character we've never seen before. Janet Leigh is terrific as well, as the woman on the run who checks into the wrong hotel. It's not quite as quick moving as some of the other greats from the master, I don't think the search storyline is anywhere near as interesting as the Norman/Marion piece, but it's still good so it's a minor quibble in an otherwise tremendous movie.

On a side note, the controversial "shot-by-shot" remake that Gus Van Sant made in 1998 is one of the most fascinating pieces of experimental cinema I've seen. When asked why he did it, he said "so no one else would have to." He was trying to see if recreating a magical movie like Psycho shot-by-shot would retain all of the cinematic greatness, or if there's something deeper and unexplainable that makes a certain movie special. Sadly, it's obvious from seeing his version that the movie doesn't work, and there is indeed something deeper and unexplainable going on here. But since so much vitriol has been spit at Van Sant over the years for this project, I actually wanted to voice my support of his artistic balls, even if I think he failed to make a good movie.

5. Red Beard (1965) directed by Akira Kurosawa

One of the most human epics the movies have ever given us, Red Beard is one of the handful of movies I would ever describe as being "novelic". It was a hellish shoot, taking over two years, and the stress it caused meant it was subsequently the last of 16 movies Kurosawa made with Toshiro Mifune.

The movie is the journey of arrogant young doctor Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama), who for his post-graduate job is sent to work for the enigmatic Akahige, or "Red Beard", Dr. Niide (Mifune). Brash and uppity about his fancy Dutch medical training, Yasumoto believes he has nothing to learn from the small hospital Niide runs, and certainly not from the man himself. Over the course of the movie, though, Yasumoto's guard comes down and Niide forces him to grow up and realize that there's much more to medicine than the latest technological training. Sometimes you simply need to bear witness to the life of someone you can't save, and sometimes you have to work harder than you thought possible to save someone who doesn't think they can be saved.

Red Beard is probably Mifune's triumph as an actor. Gruff, no-nonsense, intimidating, but caring, philosophical, and strong and smart in every possible way, he's a fascinating character, expertly underplayed by the sometimes over-the-top Mifune. Sadly, it was allegedly the reservations of one of the writers saying that Mifune's performance was "all wrong" that led Kurosawa to question his leading man and ultimately never work with him again. While it was the financial stress put on Mifune by having to wear a natural beard and be available for sporadic shooting for more than two years, ultimately losing out on upwards of 10 movie roles in the process that caused Mifune to not want to work with Kurosawa again. Sad though it was that this was their swansong, it's a remarkable movie and a satisfying finale to the greatest actor/director combo in all of cinema.

4. Blow Up (1966) directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

The first English language movie from Michelangelo Antonioni, Blowup is a hell of a good time at the movies. The Hitchcockian tale of a photographer who may or may not have accidentally photographed a murder, and the ensuing 24 or so hours after he did it. Antonioni doesn't give us any easy answers, and never answers the question of what "really" happened. But he doesn't need to, because that's not what he's after.

I think he's after a couple of things. 1.) He shows his main character, Thomas, bored with the mundanity of his fashion shoots and longing to be artistically motivated again. Antonioni had not really been going through a dry spell as an artist, but I think all artists feel bored and feel a need to reconnect or rechallenge themselves again. But to what end? Thomas almost becomes stuck in his project, not sure of how to get out (or if he even wants to) 2.) Antonioni is commenting on the nature of reality and perception. The famous ending scene with the mimes playing tennis as Thomas watches is a perfect distillation of Antonioni's asking of the question "what is reality? How is it different from perception? IS it different?" Few thrillers have ever challenged us to ask such deep questions before.

3. Persona (1966) directed by Ingmar Bergman

Bergman's Persona is truly one of the most exciting movies ever made. It's a minimalist almost surrealist film about an actress named Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) who stops speaking onstage one night, and Alma (Bibi Andersson) the nurse assigned to be her caretaker while Elisabet goes to a small cottage to recover. Alma talks almost constantly, initially good naturedly, to Elisabet about all manner of things, from reading a letter Elisabet's husband sends, to relating the story of a sexual encounter at the beach. Alma slowly begins to resent Elisabet and when she acts out by leaving a piece of broken glass for Elisabet to step on, Elisabet's eyes meet Alma's and the film famously burns up before Bergman reassembles it and we get on with the story.

The story then gets more odd and abstract, as we later see a monologue delivered once with the camera completely on Liv Ullmann's face, and then cut to Bibi Andersson's as the monologue is redelivered. After this comes the famous scene where Bergman takes half of Ullman's face and half of Andersson's and mashes them together to show a truly frightening image of one face. Despite the bone chilling feeling of watching these two come together, my interpretation of the movie has always been that Alma and Elisabet are simply the same person, with Alma breaking off into her own character as Elisabet refuses to speak out loud.

Interpretations of movies like this are fun, but nothing compares to the visceral feeling of actually watching it. The moment when the two faces of these absolutely gorgeous women come together to make this monstrous looking face is a chilling psychological horror feeling I've not ever felt from another movie. I almost had to turn it off it was so disturbing to me. So great is Bergman that a simple act like this (something Bergman superfan Woody Allen later used in his comedy Love and Death) could have such an impact. Less than an hour and a half long, it's the epitome of the movie that you may not quite be sure what each piece means upon your viewing, but you're sure that you've seen greatness that must be dissected and examined.

2. The Apartment (1960) directed by Billy Wilder

One of the loneliest movies ever made would not seem the place to inject a healthy amount of comedy, but Billy Wilder's triumph does exactly that with a grace and wit rarely seen. Jack Lemmon does his greatest work creating C.C. Baxter, the lonely corporate ladder climber who lets his bosses use his apartment for their affairs because it's cheaper than a hotel room (and doesn't come with any paperwork). He has never realized just how alone he feels until he falls for Shirley MacLaine's Fran Kubelik, and the moment late in the movie when he voices this is one of Lemmon's greatest scenes. Fred MacMurray plays Lemmon's boss, who MacLaine's character is having an affair with.

The description of the plot doesn't sound like there's much room for comedy either, but you must remember that this was the creative team just coming off of the great Some Like It Hot the previous year. Lemmon, Wilder, and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond were all at the top of their games and crafted one of the most complex, interesting movies to ever win a Best Picture Oscar, a fitting cap on the unabashed greatness that's permeates this masterpiece.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) directed by Stanley Kubrick

Another movie that must be talked about and examined in detail is the best movie of the 1960's, Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Disappointed that there were no great sci-fi movies, in his mind, Kubrick set out to collaborate with one of sci-fi's great minds, British author Arthur C. Clarke. They came up with the general outline together, and Kubrick went off the write the script and make the movie while Clarke wrote the book, that way both had artistic freedom in their fields, while also having worked together at the project's inception. What we got from Kubrick (I've strangely never read the book, despite being a huge Clarke fan) is sci-fi's great intellectual work, taking a long hard look at technology and how it affects us.

The movie really is driven by concept of technology and how we grow from it. The apes in the opening sequence discovering the use of bones as tools/weapons really being the first discovery of a form of technology. We jump ahead to spaceships and all this crazy cool tech stuff that has become so commonplace it's boring to the characters. Next, the most conventional (and entertaining) section, with the HAL9000 and its crew on their dangerous mission to Jupiter. And the final section where our technology is irrelevant, but our evolution keeps going. A fascinating look on every level, with all the questions it raises stimulating our minds, while the still nearly flawless SFX holding our eyes, 2001 is really an amazing achievement on every level.

Not necessarily easy to get through, I turned it off just a few minutes after the opening "Dawn of Man" sequence was over during my first attempt to watch it. But I went back time and time again and am glad that I did, as seeing it as a whole let me see what Kubrick was going for. Really the only complaint I have about this movie (which is in my all-time top 10, so you know the complaint is minor) is the "Beyond the Infinite" sequence, where Dave goes through the wormhole into universes and planets and surfaces we could never imagine and can't really even process in our minds (this subject was the focus of a section in Clarke's earlier masterpiece Childhood's End). The sequence goes on long after the point has been made, but even though it becomes monotonous after a bit, that makes the eventual sudden cut to Dave's face all the more shocking and effective. Kubrick's greatest movie, and the best movie of the 60's, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Top 10 Movie Speeches

Newest list in my continued collaboration with Clint over at Guy with a Movie Blog.

Speeches. One of the most powerful tools in the hands of the best storytellers is the speech, the monologue. They can be used for any number of effects on the characters and story of a movie, and here are some of my favorites. I can bet that I've missed quite a few great speeches, probably even some that I love and just forgot about as I was making this list, please feel free to tell me about them in the comments. Something I'd like to share my immediate disappointment about, though, is the lack of great female speeches. In my thinking on this list, I came up with very few iconic or memorable speeches from women. Phoebe Cates's speech about why she hates Christmas, because that's when her father died, in Gremlins nearly made the list, but even it wasn't of the caliber of the ones that did make the list.

The greatest speech, I think, is the most famous. "To be, or not to be..." from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Yet there have been too many adaptations of Hamlet to be able to pick just one performance of this most famous of speeches. Mel Gibson is the actor who most embodied Hamlet's anger and confusion. David Tennant also tapped into that most central driving emotion of the character. Kenneth Branagh probably has the best command of the material and the most engaging performance of the speech (as well as the best cinematic version of the play). Unfortunately there are others that have butchered it on screen. Niccol Williamson's isn't awful, but it isn't good. Laurence Olivier says the words, but there's nothing behind them, and his staging of the speech is laughable (again, Branagh's is the standard there). So this is a catch-all entry to honor the many Hamlet's and the many wonderful performances of this amazing speech.

10. Alec Baldwin - Glengarry Glen Ross

One of the most famous speeches in the movies is this "Always be closing" speech from Alec Baldwin to the desperate real estate salesmen in James Foley's movie version of David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize winning play Glengarry Glen Ross. Now, I've never seen the play, but apparently Baldwin's speech isn't in it. It was written specifically for Baldwin, specifically for the movie. Strange that it wasn't in the play, because it's in the opening of the movie and Baldwin's presence lingers over the entire film. "First prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is, you're fired." Baldwin's barely contained anger, condescension, and disbelief at the men to whom he's giving the speech make it memorable. His command of Mamet's language is mesmerizing. The contents of the speech are kind of like the "fuck you" version of a "let's go get 'em!" type of speech you'd see from a coach in a sports movie. It's pretty depressing if you really look at it. These guys are not great salesmen, they mostly don't know it, but Baldwin does and he has no patience for them. He even closes with the not so rah-rah line of "I came here because Mitch and Murray asked me to, they asked me for a favor. I said, the real favor, follow my advice and fire your fucking ass because a loser is a loser."

9. Mel Gibson - Braveheart

The culmination of a terrific performance from Mel Gibson, the sort of rah-rah speech that Baldwin's is not, as Scotsman William Wallace leads his men into battle against the English. A classic big epic like Braveheart can live or die depending on the successful execution of the lead role by the star actor, and the capturing of spectacle on the part of the filmmaker. Though he'd only directed the small character drama The Man Without a Face before Braveheart, Gibson proves himself to be a better filmmaker than he was already a considerably talented actor. The combination of those two traits, along with the leadership, sacrifice, and power of the story make this a really tremendous speech that is still regularly talked about by movie lovers and regular joes even 20+ years later.

8. Robert Shaw - Jaws, USS Indianapolis

Robert Shaw's great work in Jaws is too often overlooked when talking about the great performances, but his work in one of Jaws's most famous scenes can't be overlooked. The famous USS Indianapolis speech where Shaw's character recounts the time sharks took more away from him than WWII itself seemed to. "the thing about a shark is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’… ’til he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then… ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’" it's a powerful speech. The other characters quiet down for the few minutes that Shaw is speaking. The movie itself almost stops, but really that's when the movie turns and becomes what it is. We understand what it means to have a killer shark loose so close to the shore and attacking people. It becomes real, it becomes terrifying, and it become narratively gripping. Shaw's speech is what lifts the movie up into real greatness.

7. Sam Jackson - Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction is full of great dialog, even a couple of great monologues. Christopher Walken's story of the gold watch could've easily been on this list. We've even heard Sam Jackson's Jules Winfield give part of this speech before, when he and John Travolta's Vincent kill Brett in the opening chapter of the movie. But it's the way Jackson delivers the Ezekiel 25:17 speech to Tim Roth's Pumpkin in the diner at the end of the movie that really brings the whole thing to a close. Tarantino himself has even said that he didn't write the movie in the order it's told, but when Jackson auditioned, he said to himself "wow, now that's the end of the movie." It's Jules's realization that he's given that speech so many times, always in the name of death and destruction, but that he's trying to be a better man now. The same words can take on a new meaning. He's trying real hard to be the shepherd now. It's great symbiotic work from Jackson and Tarantino.

6. Billy Bob Thornton - Sling Blade

This piece is so long it didn't immediately come to me as even qualifying as a "speech". It's an entire story, with pain and murder and regret and so much more. Billy Bob Thornton said the speech just came to him, almost flowed out complete from his unconscious as he looked in the mirror one day. He made a short film based around the speech, called Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade, and eventually made his directorial debut and made his mark in Hollywood using it as essentially the opening of his movie Sling Blade. It's our introduction to his character, lets us know why we're in an asylum, gives us Karl's backstory as well as his direction in the future. "I don't reckon I got no reason to kill nobody." It's powerful stuff, delivered by one of the least appreciated talents in cinema, I think.

5. Morgan Freeman - The Shawshank Redemption

I almost picked Freeman's speech to the parole board, which is equally brilliant, I think, but instead went with the closing speech delivered in Frank Darabont's great movie The Shawshank Redemption. It's such a universally beloved movie that I think its greatness actually gets undervalued. This speech essentially sums up the movie, as Red had earlier spoken against the concept of hope. He told Andy and the other prisoners that hope would ruin them. It's only once he experiences being free again that he realizes how right Andy was to defend that most hard to tamp down emotion.

4. Marlon Brando - On the Waterfront

Serving as the crowing achievement on the greatest performance I've ever seen in a movie, this speech has reached such pop cultural awareness that it has lost most of its significance. Really, as you'll see in the text I quote below, it's the story of a little brother treated wrong by the older brother who wasn't on his brother's side like he should've been. Marlon Brando's towering performance shows that Terry isn't the brightest guy, but he knows what life he could have had if just a couple things had gone differently. And it's not the "I coulda been a contender" part of the speech that even affects me so much, it's the brotherly "You shoulda looked out for me, Charlie. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit." that gets me so much.

3. Peter O'Toole - Ratatouille

You might not think about having great speeches in an animated kids movie, but Ratatouille is not your average kids movie. In this great speech, Peter O'Toole, as food critic Anton Ego, delivers these tremendous words with such care and delicacy of emotion and insight. He should've won every award in sight for this speech, as should've the screenwriters. It's a brilliant comment on the nature of the relationship between artists and critics, as well as fitting so beautifully into the context of the movie.

2. Charlie Chaplin - The Great Dictator

One of the longer speeches on the list, maybe the longest, I didn't look, is Charlie Chaplin's famous speech from his movie The Great Dictator. I am not a huge Chaplin fan, and The Great Dictator is not a beloved movie for me, though it continues to be one of Chaplin's most enduring works, and I think in great part because of this speech. Made during the second World War, while Hitler was still alive and powerful and running roughshod across Europe, this little man with the same mustache made a movie parodying Hitler, making him look foolish. But there's nothing funny about this famous speech. It's a rallying cry to humanity, to brotherhood, to love and happiness. It's a diatribe against hatred and tyranny. It's a powerful bit of writing, and even more powerful acting on the part of Chaplin.

1. Robin Williams speech in Good Will Hunting
Not only the best movie speech based on words, but Robin Williams' performance of the text is just next level amazing. This is what deservedly won him an Oscar. This speech. It gets better with time, with age. I understand it more. It hit harder, deeper, truer. It's easily my pick as the greatest movie speech ever given.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Top 15 of the 1950's

Top 15 of the 1950's:

15. The Red Balloon (1956) directed by Albert Lamorisse

I remember as a child being fascinated by silent passages in movies. I am still to this day intrigued by completely visual film making. I think this all started with French director Albert Lamorisse's sweet 1956 masterpiece The Red Balloon. It was shown throughout American elementary schools from the 60's to the early 90's (and should still be shown to kids today, if you ask me), and I was one of the many children that the movie made a huge impression on. It's the story of a young kid, who finds a balloon caught on a light post on his walk to school. He frees it and soon finds out the balloon has a mind of its own, which it uses to follow him to school and play games with him and be the friend that he so desperately needs.

Of course, one of the calling cards of the movie is its script. It won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, despite having lines of dialog in the single digits. It's nearly silent (and could've been completely had Lamorisse wanted to do so), and is all the more magical for it. It's a simple movie, but one that plays to our recollections of childhood and the feelings of finding a new friend. The Red Balloon is one of the great gifts of cinema. Its magic realism and understated brilliance has kept me coming back to it over and over again through the years. It gives me that wonderful fuzzy feeling inside that you just get from so few movies. Or, as critic Owen Gleiberman so wonderfully put it, "More than any other children's film, The Red Balloon turns me into a kid again whenever I see see The Red Balloon is to laugh, and cry, at the impossible joy of being a child again."

14. The Searchers (1956) directed by John Ford

Usually thought of as THE western and one of the greatest movies ever made, The Searchers only comes in at #14 on the list because the older I get the more I dislike the unsuccessful comic relief as well as the B-story of Martin and his bride and all that. Those are the things that Roger Ebert said "This second strand is without interest, and those who value The Searchers filter it out, patiently waiting for a return to the main story line." But the more I watch the movie the harder it is to filter that stuff out because it simply doesn't work, and is put in contrast to the main storyline, which is the greatest and most iconic in western history. The movie contains John Wayne's best performance, as the racist Ethan Edwards. He's powerful and mysterious and unlikeable. A great character and great work to prove that Wayne was a terrific actor when in the right circumstances. It's also John Ford's most beautiful movie, utilizing Utah's Monument Valley in gorgeous color. So, its A story is the best western ever made, but the B story brings it down overall as just my #14 of the 1950's.

13. Elevator to the Gallows (1958) directed by Louis Malle

The debut of future legend Louis Malle, it stars Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet as Florence and Julien, secret lovers planning the murder of her powerful husband (his boss), only to have their perfect plan slowly unravel over the course of the movie's 91 powerfully tense minutes. A haunting, lonely score improvised by Miles Davis sets the backdrop of inevitable tragedy in the lives of our characters. Moreau, who didn't do anything for me in Truffaut's Jules and Jim, here uses her strangely attractive features in a wonderful performance of a woman hoping and searching and afraid for the safety and whereabouts of the lover she can't find, almost going mad with worry. Because, after the murder of her husband, Julien spends the night trapped in the elevator of the building in which he'd just committed the crime.

Gorgeously shot, tautly directed (by just a 24-year-old Malle), expertly acted and painfully tragic, it has all the hallmarks of the great noirs of years past and deserves to be remembered alongside them, above most.

12. Strangers on a Train (1951) directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock’s most underappreciated masterpiece, Strangers on a Train (adapted from the debut novel by Patricia Highsmith, future writer of “The Talented Mr. Ripley”) features one of the great villains of all time in Robert Walker’s Bruno Anthony. Bruno meets famous tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) on a train one day and the two begin talking. Knowing that Guy is going through a messy divorce, and eager to get his own father out of the way, Bruno proposes an idea to Guy. Since neither man knew the other before meeting on the train, so neither can be tied to the other by the police, why don’t they trade murders? Bruno will take out Guy’s wife, and Guy will murder Bruno’s father. Guy uneasily laughs off Bruno’s offer, but when Bruno comes through with his end of the agreement, he expects Guy to hold up his end, whether Guy agreed to it or not.

Robert Walker is truly fantastic as the spoiled, but dangerous Bruno, who is surprised when Guy isn’t happy that his wife has been murdered. And Farley Granger gives off the aura of a kind of weak willed everyman who is in way over his head, making us not sure whether he’s going to prevail. Strangers on a Train is required viewing for any Hitchcock fan, and is one of the great suspense movies of all time.

11. Some Like it Hot (1959) directed by Billy Wilder

Two broke musicians are witness to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and must go on the run as mobsters chase them through Prohibition-era Chicago, all the way down to Miami. Doesn't exactly sound like the premise of one of the great comedies of all time, but it is. Everyone knows by now that the musicians are played by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, who disguise themselves in drag, meet Marilyn Monroe, and hijinks ensue.

Curtis and Monroe are both pretty and charismatic enough that their story is engaging (Monroe in particular, no matter what problems there were getting her to this performance), but it's Jack Lemmon who makes this movie really shine. His flawless comic timing and fearless work opposite pervy Joe E. Brown that takes things over the edge. The absolutely perfect ending "Well, nobody's perfect", despite knowing that that was the ending line, had me rolling on the floor laughing (not figuratively) at this Billy Wilder masterpiece.

10. Ashes and Diamonds (1958) directed by Andrzej Wajda

Andrzej Wajda's 1958 masterpiece Ashes and Diamonds was a really terrific time at the movies. It stars "The James Dean of Poland" Zbigniew Cybulski as Maciek, an assassin at the end of WWII tasked with taking out communist leaders in Poland, alongside his friend/mentor/superior officer Andrzej (Adam Pawlikowski). However, Maciek soon falls for the sexy barmaid Krystyna (Ewa Krzyżewska) at the hotel in which they are staying. The man they're supposed to kill is staying there too, and there are a lot of close calls as Maciek and Andrzej try to figure out how to assassinate this man, or if with all the killing done in the war if it is even worth it (in this way it's very much a precursor to Spielberg's brilliant Munich).

Shot like the noir films that had lost their popularity at the time, but with a realism in acting and setting that really grounds everything as much as possible. It's a beautiful movie to look at, one that Martin Scorsese has listed as one of his 10 favorites ever made. I would and will watch this masterpiece again over the years, as there really isn't a single weakness in it. It's a pretty perfect movie.

9. Ikiru (1952) directed by Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa's first movie on the 1950's list (though not his last), Ikiru is one of those movies that just hits you in the gut. A man finds out he's dying and is inspired to try and do something worthwhile in his life before he dies. He tries to connect with people, including his children, but not many are interested in connection. We all want to connect and we all hope our memory lives on long after us, and this is the movie that really explores a man reaching for meaning at the end of a life wasted. Powerful stuff, brilliantly made by Kurosawa. This is one of the movies that proves he made much more than just samurai movies.

8. Night of the Hunter (1955) directed by Charles Laughton

This beautiful nightmare of a movie was sadly the only directorial effort from the great actor Charles Laughton. Expressionistic, strange even today, and containing Robert Mitchum's greatest role as the villainous Preacher Harry Powell. Sadly a critical and commercial flop upon its release, its reputation grows with each passing year. Legendary French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma in 2008 put it only behind Citizen Kane as the greatest movie ever made.

7. On the Waterfront (1954) directed by Elia Kazan

Occasionally pieces of cinema become such parts of pop culture that people forget even where it came from or the piece loses its power from repetition. Upon first viewing On the Waterfront, I expected the climactic "I coulda been a contenda" speech to be one of those for me. Instead, I found myself weeping at the loss and disappointment Terry Malloy felt in himself and in his brother Charlie. "I coulda been a contenda" isn't even the important part of the speech, it's when Terry says "You was my brother, Charlie, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money." It's a devastating scene, and delivered by Marlon Brando in what I believe is the greatest screen performance ever given.

6. Rio Bravo (1959) directed by Howard Hawks

This is one of the most entertaining movies I've ever seen. Howard Hawks' famous quote about what makes a great film was "3 good scenes, no bad scenes" and he was a master at putting that into practice. I don't know that I could single out what the best scene in the movie is, but I can sure as hell tell you there's nothing in the 141 minutes I'd cut out.

John Wayne is terrific here, even if his juicier role in The Searchers is his best work as an actor. He feels like he really would be the sheriff of this small town about to be under siege. Dean Martin should've had a Supporting Actor Oscar for his work as the drunken deputy Dude. Walter Brennan adds some wonderful comic relief, and even Ricky Nelson is wonderful as the quick shooting Colorado. When he and the boys have a little musical interlude before the carnage of the finale, it doesn't feel shoehorned in because Nelson was a teen idol at the time and Martin a legendary singer, it works for these characters. It's simply terrific all around and one of those movies I'd gladly watch any time anywhere.

5. Rififi (1955) directed by Jules Dassin

The fifth of seven non-English language movies on my 50's list, the blue print for all subsequent heist movies came from Blacklisted American Jules Dassin, directing in France because that's the only job he could get. It's a story you've seen many times since, but never as well, with a terrific lead performance from Jean Servais, and my favorite role in the movie, that of the Italian safecracker, played by Dassin himself. The calling card of the movie is the 30+ minute silent heist itself, a brilliant piece of filmmaking that none of its imitators can match. It's simply a genius movie.

4. Seven Samurai (1954) directed by Akira Kurosawa

Generally considered Akira Kurosawa's greatest triumph, again the 1950's show their strength that it's only #4 on this list. Endlessly mimicked and ripped off, Kurosawa's tale of a small group of heroes protecting a village from bandits was the biggest movie ever in Japan upon its release, and a huge success worldwide as well, despite its 3 1/2 hour runtime. Having written about it multiple times before, I won't belabor the point here, just safe to say that its reputation is well deserved, even if it's only my personal #2 from the Japanese master.

3. Singin in the Rain (1952) directed by Stanley Donnen and Gene Kelly

I don't love musicals. but when it comes to Singin' in the Rain, what's not to love? Gene Kelly is as charming as he can be, Donald O'Connor is like a walking cartoon, Debbie Reynolds is as plucky as anyone has ever been, Jean Hagen is hilarious and hissable, the script is light hearted and fun, it's gorgeously made, and the songs are pretty good too. As usual, the only negative was the big dance number Kelly threw in at the end of the movie, killing the narrative momentum and unnecessarily padding the runtime. Still, when Debbie Reynolds tries running away and Gene Kelly shouts to the audience "stop that girl, that girl running up the aisle. Stop her! That's the girl whose voice you heard and loved tonight. She's the real star of the picture. Kathy Selden!" the way it's staged and filmed is simply as perfect a moment in movie history as has ever existed.

2. Throne of Blood (1957) directed by Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa loved Shakespeare, even if he thought he was "too wordy", and the master's adaptation of MacBeth into a feudal Japan set samurai movie is one of the great mood pieces of the movies. It's foggy and dark and has that great supernatural sense of doom that the Bard's play has. It also has one of the great finale's in movies.

1. Vertigo (1958) directed by Alfred Hitchcock

One of the most beautiful movies ever made, containing two performances that both ended up in my top 10 leading performances lists, Hitchcock's masterpiece was voted in the 2012 Sight and Sound poll as the greatest movie ever made, unseating Citizen Kane, which had held the spot since 1962, just a few years after Vertigo came out. I don't have it as my #1 movie of all time, but it's in my top 5 and definitely the best movie of the 1950's.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Talk to Her

A bit of a re-write/expansion from a previous thing I'd written on this movie, expanded for my column Hidden Gems.

Life. There is so much LIFE in this movie. Pedro Almodovar’s 2002 capital-M Masterpiece Talk to Her is the kind of movie that reminds us how perfunctory and utilitarian most movie characters are. They say things only that advance the plot or maybe because they sound cool, but those characters aren't real. They don’t say or do things that matter or affect us. They don't exist even in our imaginations. They exist on screen and then disappear immediately once the credits roll. Their actions are, ultimately, boring and inconsequential. And if it is full of characters you don’t care about, a movie isn’t going to work as a whole either. This movie makes other movies look bad, because this movie is filled to the brim with the energy of life. There is a plot, sure. There's also high drama, sensuality, pain, love, beauty, romance, plus dick and poop jokes.

Marco (Dario Grandinetti) is a journalist who comes across the famous bullfighter Lydia González (Rosario Flores) and decides to write a piece on her. They meet, become friends, and then lovers. But one day, Lydia is gored by a bull and goes into a coma. She is transferred to a care facility and Marco visits her often. While at the hospital, he meets Benigno (Javier Camara), a kindly male nurse who is exclusively taking care of Alicia (Leonor Watling), a ballet dancer who is in a coma as well. Benigno jabbers away to Alicia as though she were alive and engaging in the conversation. He pours his heart out to her, loves her, and is devoted to her care. Marco and Lydia are just a few months into a relationship, both coming off of previous long term loves, and his relating to the newly comatose Lydia is difficult for him.

These four people are wonderfully drawn contrasts of each other. Alicia is a ballet dancer, Lydia a bullfighter. They’re both strong, athletic, emotional. But where Alicia is delicate and elegant, Lydia is bold and brash. Alicia is the embodiment of one of the most feminine images in the world, a ballerina. Lydia is strong, confident, and successful in the very manly world of bullfighting. Benigno, even outside of being a man in the predominantly female world of nursing, is caring, loving, also a bit doughy and possibly gay. Marco is more world weary, masculine in look, and seems cynical. But we’ve also seen him cry multiple times and know that there’s a wealth of emotion in there if he could just let it out.

Benigno is a perfect caretaker of Alicia. Marco is unsure of what to do when he visits. But the men bond over the care of the women (yet another gender role switch by Almodovar), which mostly consists of Benigno trying to get Marco to do more than just physically show up. That's where the title comes from, as Benigno tries to get Marco to further his connection with Lydia, even if she can't respond to him. I won't go into what happens plot wise beyond this point, but it was unexpected yet never hit a false note. I will add, though, that this has the greatest movie-within-a-movie in the history of cinema. A sexy laugh riot of ridiculousness that takes on much greater significance when you realize what it may mean and how it may be paralleling what is happening when the movie is being recounted from one character to another.

Pedro Almodovar was always known for his bold colors, and even bolder choices in characters and themes (pregnant nuns, transsexuals, junkies, kidnappers, multiple NC-17 rated movies). He was also accused of being melodramatic and not caring about his characters, or not creating characters that feel real. His early movies like 1990’s Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down put both he and star Antonio Banderas on the international movie map, but it wasn’t until his astounding 1999 movie All About My Mother, which won him a Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars, that he really stepped up into his full potential. He far surpassed it with Talk to Her, his follow-up film.

When I first saw it, this was the third movie I'd seen from Almodovar, and while I liked the previous two a lot (2006's Volver and 2009's Broken Embraces, both starring Penelope Cruz) this one is truly, deeply special. Made in 2002 after the international success of All About my Mother, Almodovar won another Oscar, this one for Best Original Screenplay, for Talk to Her and he thoroughly deserved it. As I said in the intro, he’s written so much life into this movie. It’s not just the terrific acting and extreme story circumstances that make this world seem so full. It's sharply drawn in its writing. Funny, moving, unexpected in both dialog and story structure. Add onto that Almodovar's impeccable camera movement and framing, his genius unfolding of the story, his famous boldly colored cinematography, and especially the perfect performances he elicits from his actors. It’s all deeply moving and extraordinary at every level. Many consider this Almodovar's high point and I'll not only agree, but say that this is the best Spanish language movie I’ve ever seen.

Sadly, foreign language movies aren’t always the easiest sell to American audiences. But Talk to Her is funny, I laughed out loud many times. If you watch him in interviews, Almodovar himself is very funny, in English or Spanish. Most of all, I think, this movie is empathetic. We come to know these people, care about them, want them to succeed and also to connect with each other the way we’ve connected in the audience. It’s a gorgeous movie to look at, and when the plot thickens, as plots do, you realize how much you’ve come to care for these characters in ways that are unusual for even the best works of art. I really can’t recommend it enough. I love love love this movie.