Diner (1982), Barry Levinson

A wonderfully acted, thought-provoking movie, Barry Levinson’s 1982 Diner delves into the minds of young people and focus on the apparent dichotomy between the natural inclination towards rebellion and the necessity of conforming to a life of acceptance and responsibility.

diner-2The young characters in Levinson’s Diner are at the threshold of modern times. As the end of the 50s signals the twilight of innocence, the friends at the centre of this coming-of-age tale begin contemplating changes which will affect their lives in unparalleled ways. More remarkable still is the fact that not only those people and their world were at the cusp of a profoundly shift in contemporary mores, but the actors involved in the film were also at the dawn of their stardom. Continue reading

Happiness (1998), Todd Solondz

Awkwardly funny for some but definitively uncomfortable viewing for most, Todd Solondz’s 1998 Happiness – this haunting Freudian movie – deals with difficult subjects such as masturbation and paedophilia by cracking open American suburban angst in a non-judgemental way.

happiness-2The themes explored in Solondz’s Happiness are so extremely hard to swallow that these might distract viewers from an obvious thread permeating the entire movie: those seeking happiness will forget about living and thus end up miserable. All the main characters in the film seem to be going through emotional rollercoasters; all of them, deeply unhappy, even the ones faking some sort of normality. It is inevitable that at the core of these characters’ problems sits your typical family, for as Philip Larkin knew well, ‘they fuck you up, your mum and dad.’

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Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

A timeless classic and a love letter to the cinema, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s 1952 Singin’ in the Rain manages to be simultaneously hilarious and profound; a thought-provoking film that entertains and educates through wonderfully choreographed set-pieces.

singin-in-the-rain-2A little piece of film magic was created when in Singin’ in the Rain a soaked Gene Kelly dances under torrential rain, splashes on puddles and is spotted by a police officer – no other episode in the history of cinema is as iconic as it is idiosyncratic. Although as unforgettable as any edgy, suspenseful scene – perhaps the Russian roulette from The Deer Hunter (1978, Michael Cimino) or the coin toss from No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel & Ethan Coen) – taken out of context, the singing is utterly odd. Watched in isolation, we are entitled to ask: What is this guy blabbing about under such a downpour? Well… no reason is necessary for a demonstration of pure joy. Continue reading

Birdman (2014), Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu

Deliriously funny and poignant, Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu’s 2014 Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), gradually treats us with small doses of wisdom drugs as it reaches a crescendo of lucid madness, before administering a treatment for life’s meaninglessness.

birdman-2How does a man, on the threshold of madness, between his long gone, careless youth and his dreaded autumn years, solve a grave existential crisis caused by his own poor choices? Obviously, he turns against himself, as Birdman‘s Riggan Thomson does. But as he knows to be the only one capable of extracting himself from the black hole of self-contempt, our (literally!) hero also understands that redemption as the cure for his malaise can only work with the involvement of the people who hurt, and have been hurt by, Riggan. Thus, he embarks on an involuntarily last hurrah journey… Continue reading

The Apartment (1960), Billy Wilder

A poignant and profound study of loneliness and conformism, Billy Wilder’s 1960 The Apartment showcases two actors – who would eventually become stars – at the top of their games, with Lemmon as naïve and vulnerable as much as MacLaine is smart and luminous.

the-apartment-2The two leading actors in this Billy Wilder’s masterpiece – these two great performers and iconic stars – transform two common lives into case studies of uniqueness. C. C. Baxter and Fran Kubelik might be suckers for authority, deeply conformist and self-interested people, but they aren’t your regular guys. Lemmon and MacLaine manage to bring to the fore their characters’ idiosyncratic traits while maintaining the overall feeling that these people are like those office colleagues who annoy us for their unashamedly deference and blind submission. Continue reading

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Frank Capra

As the film negative of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Frank Capra’s 1946 It’s a Wonderful Life is a fantastical parable that goes straight to the core of the individualistic ethos and challenges everything that is dear to western societies and their ideas about self-realisation.

its-a-wonderful-life-2How does one reconcile the two contradictory aspects attached to this classic film, i.e. the long tradition of playing the movie as a Christmas staple with the fact that the story can be taken as a communist yarn? The whole tale of George Bailey and the obstacles he encounters in his pursuit of happiness could be summarised as the story of someone’s frustrated dreams. By the end, with a little help from an aural friend, he is convinced that his altruistic attitude has all been for the best. If such posture does not show America’s approval of the common good and the collective well-being, then I don’t know what does. Continue reading

Volver (2006), Pedro Almodóvar

A magical realist fable in the guise of a crime story, Pedro Almodóvar’s 2006 Volver packs three generations of resilient Spanish women – who happen to be vulnerable and delicate as well – in a poignant and mysterious tale of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption.

volver-2The melodramatic tone of Volver (which means to return) and the labyrinthine nature of the plot do not subtract from the impact the film leaves on the audience. This world populated almost exclusively by women, who while harming other women, also take comfort in the affection of other strong women, is rich in symbolism, metaphors and subtle meanings. Because the story is played out as a mystery tale, the full significance of things, hinted at the start, will be revealed only at its operatic end. Continue reading

The Decline of the American Empire (1986), Denys Arcand

Witty, hilarious and very much relevant, Denys Arcand’s 1986 The Decline of the American Empire, a fast-paced intellectual tennis match, is the ultimate critique of modern capitalism and its consequences and an important philosophical assessment of human flaw.

the-decline-of-the-american-empire-2One dismiss this masterpiece of philosophical cinema at their own peril… Argh! A bunch of upper middle class types, inside their narcissistic bubble, discussing sex and analysing senses and sentiments, which should be felt instead. Why should we listen to these somewhat provincial people, so self-centred in their perverted self-inflicted painful existence? Well, because what they have to say is what we do not want to hear. Simply because these Canadians, with their 80s haircuts and dubious fashion sense, speak of inescapable truths. Continue reading

The Graduate (1967), Mike Nichols

Told from the perspective of its bored and aimless anti-hero, Mike Nichols’ 1967 The Graduate juxtaposes a bleak view of suburban conformism and youth alienation to a background of green grass, white picket-fences and orange Californian sunshine.

the-graduate-2Despite Ben’s middle class background, anyone should be able to relate to his predicament – he has just finished studying hard and expectations are really high. Though now he can breathe a little, Benjamin feels like a pressure pan, ready to explode. Who has never felt like that? Who, at the outset of adulthood, never felt that the world was expecting too much from them? Though many viewers might find Ben too much of a spoilt brat, surely they still can feel for him and the typical troubles of a rebellious and confused young man. Continue reading

Sideways (2004), Alexander Payne

A road movie through the vineyards of California, Alexander Payne’s 2004 Sideways, focus on two disappointed middle-aged men, who find solace for their frustration and anxiety in alcohol and sex, before they exorcise their demons and finally find their inner peace.

sideways-2Who needs sympathetic characters when we have Miles, a flawed, insecure and egotistical man? Who needs heroic behaviour when we have the privilege of observing Miles stealing money from his own mother? If you, instead, insist on having a traditional leading man with noble intentions look no further than Jack, an actor who has peaked more than a decade ago. If you’re looking for idealism, Sideways will disappoint; for it can only offer the most caustic and painful, down to earth, real life. Continue reading