The Cat's Meow is set in 1924, but it might be Peter Bogdanovich's most personal film: a glamorous but melancholy look at the destructive lusts and quests for glory that prove irresistible in the land of Hollywood. The characters we see here are larger than life, but their dramas are painfully human: to behold the unrequited loves and power struggles enacted here is to witness gods and goddesses fall to earth.
Most American movies about motherhood seem obligated to portray it as a blissful, transcendent experience: your life as a woman doesn't truly begin, these movies seem to imply, until you've had a child. While that may ring true for some mothers, it ignores the vast number of women for whom parenthood is an ambivalent, anxiety-ridden, life-defining ordeal, or who felt pressured (by their partners, by society) to have children in the first place. Mainstream comedies like Knocked Up and Waitress, ostensibly about unwanted pregnancy and the pressures facing first-time mothers, inevitably end with the realization that parenthood is what these characters wanted all along, the ultimate vocation that will give their life meaning. Even something like Bad Moms (not surprisingly) avoids commenting seriously on the trials of motherhood in favor of a generic, "let loose and live a little" vibe, in which the stresses of nine-to-five jobs, indifferent husbands, and upper-crust PTA boards can always be solved by finding a sitter and indulging in a night of debauchery.
Pom Poko is part of "my canon," a totally arbitrary and subjective list of my 100 favorite movies. For reviews of other movies on this list, look for the Top 100 category on the right sidebar.
It’s hard to think of a more ceaselessly inventive, invigorating, lovely, and complex film than Pom Poko, Isao Takahata’s 1994 gem released by Studio Ghibli. That this masterwork comes in the form of a narrative about a gang of shapeshifting raccoons who rise up against the human developers that threaten to demolish their land makes the movie’s success even more astounding: silly on the surface but complicated at heart, Pom Poko is a seemingly inexhaustible nugget of riches and delights, visual and otherwise.
Though the Japanese director Sion Sono has released 30 features to date (with four more in the can already), I have to admit I have only seen one: 2008’s Love Exposure, a four-hour mindfuck involving upskirt photography, religious cults, kidnapping, crucifixion, and other perversions. It also happens to be one of the best movies of the 21st century, a jam-packed blitzkrieg on how faith, sex, love, and media intersect in the modern age. Needless to say, I was eager to see Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, a bloodstained ode to cinema that has been bouncing around film festivals’ midnight programs for the last year and a half. While it doesn't have the same audacious insanity of Love Exposure (what does?), his latest offering is a deliriously entertaining movie about the allure of movies: perpetually cranked up to 11, reveling in its own outrageousness, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is the perfect film for those who think Tarantino is too mild-mannered.
Ever since his debut Amores perros (2000) seemed to herald the arrival of the next Scorsese, the career of Alejandro González Iñárritu has infuriated some and invigorated others. Indeed, the rift between Iñárritu’s fans and detractors is indicative of differing cinematic outlooks: those who like their movies with Big Themes and grandiose dramatic moments, and those who like their movies a little spontaneous, unpredictable, about more than character and theme. The visceral intensity of Amores perros makes it easy to forget that its characters are empty archetypes and its story overindulgent in tragic melodrama. Same with his subsequent films 21 Grams (2003), Babel (2006), and Biutiful (2010), all of which have the same central problem (especially horrendous in 21 Grams): they’re so worried about appearing serious and meaningful that they lose grasp of anything human or alive. They’re weighty dramas about the human condition that seem to know very little about it.
There’s more wisdom to be found inside a fortune cookie than in all of Hector and the Search for Happiness, which (inadvertently, you would hope) winds up as a tribute to the woe-is-me entitlement of the privileged western world. The titular Hector (Simon Pegg) is a well-to-do psychiatrist in London; he has a posh apartment overlooking the Thames and a gorgeous girlfriend (Rosamund Pike) named Clara who dotingly prepares his morning breakfast, ties his bowties, neatens his sock drawer, and generally does everything a man’s juvenile fantasy of saintly mother-sister-lover is expected to do. And yet, Hector feels that something is missing, which becomes clear when he starts freaking out at his patients during psychiatric sessions, ridiculing their petty problems. (The irony is apparently lost on him that he’s undergoing the same bourgeois-blasé crisis.) What is a neurotic man-child to do? Why, abandon his girlfriend and jet around the world in an ostentatious quest for “happiness,” of course. (The audience should take note: if you want to pursue a similar search for happiness, all you need is hundreds of thousands of dollars and friends in at least three different continents.)
Down by Law is part of "my canon," a totally arbitrary and subjective list of my 100 favorite movies. For reviews of other movies on this list, look for the Top 100 category on the right sidebar.
Down by Law is not only Jim Jarmusch’s finest film; it’s also one of the greatest American comedies ever made, not to mention one of the most American movies released over the last half-century. That last designation might seem somewhat meaningless—by what criteria do we deem something more or less American, considering the attributes of national cinemas always point towards generalization and simplification? When we think of distinctly American movies, big-budget Hollywood products or hard-boiled post-World War II film noir might come to mind. But Down by Law, in deceptively complex ways, is about American culture and communication: the natural landscape that’s both desolate and majestic, the simultaneous exploitation and celebration of immigrant populations, the cocky sense of entitlement that masks an all-consuming drive for success and happiness. Jarmusch’s poetic minimalism conceals one of the more remarkable expressions of "Americanness" ever exuded on film.
Most Western-movie heroes are stoic loners, wandering through a desolate desert landscape that threatens to overwhelm them. “Friendless,” Buster Keaton’s stone-faced character in the 1925 Western lampoon Go West, is no different, but this time Friendless’ solitude isn’t exactly by choice. A diminutive but resilient New Yorker who hops a train out West (following Horace Greeley’s aphoristic advice) and becomes an unlikely cowboy on a cattle ranch, Friendless is—like many Keaton heroes—oblivious in the face of danger. He triumphs by sheer luck and determination, taking to the cattle-rustling business in the same unassuming way that Johnnie Gray, Buster’s character in The General, assumes the cavalier role of Confederate spy.
Even those who bristle at romantic comedies may find themselves wooed by Roman Holiday: shot entirely in Rome, featuring Audrey Hepburn in her debut performance, and directed by one of the finest storytellers in the Golden Age of Hollywood, there’s simply no resisting the most romantic movie ever made. The effervescent joys of Roman Holiday are even more surprising considering the quiet, lingering tone of the film—with lengthy stretches devoted not to plot progression, but to character development—and the lack of a happy ending (or, at least, the happy ending we might have expected). There’s no question the movie is about love, but it’s also about the raw deal that fate or happenstance seems to offer us much of the time: “Life isn’t always what one likes,” says one character, but Roman Holiday is still hopeful that it can occasionally provide us with euphoric splendors.
Whenever I try to explain my undying love for Barbara Stanwyck, two images come to mind: her effortless seduction of “Pottsy” (Henry Fonda) in The Lady Eve (1941), achieved by nothing more than the removal of her gloves (both the simplest and sexiest striptease in the history of movies); and her clobbering of a lecherous creep with a beer bottle (shortly after she takes a swig from it) in the inimitable Baby Face. Stanwyck’s allure—part steely, part sultry—meshes perfectly with Baby Face, which disguises its bitter cynicism beneath the glittering veneer of a comedic star vehicle. Made during the lowest depths of the Great Depression, the film finds something admirable in one woman’s spirited exploitation of a corrupt, chauvinistic American economy.