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

Rashomon (1950), Akira Kurosawa

Philosophically profound as well as thematically challenging, Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 Rashomon touches not only on cinematic history and the confluence of Eastern and Western traditions, but also on the age-old and important matter of the nature of truth and its elusiveness.

rashomon-2Forget for a moment that this film revealed to the world one of the greatest masters of cinema, or that its title became a common term to describe contradictory interpretations of a single event. For now, just give a passing thought about truth, its nature and how elusive it really is. Kurosawa’s choice to tell lies reinforced by images that suggest the truth already elevates the movie to a different level of philosophical depth. Rashomon [Rashômon] is indeed a true masterpiece. Continue reading

Paths of Glory (1957), Stanley Kubrick

A cynical perspective on military motivations, Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 Paths of Glory, with its themes of moral corruption, undisguised hypocrisy and absurd vanity, astonishes and outrages in equal measure, for its outstanding storytelling and unbearable injustice.

paths-of-glory-2Usually understood as an anti-war film, Paths of Glory seems unduly reduced to a moralistic and doctrinaire tale. Colonel Dax, the audience’s alter ego, is indeed an honourable and dignified man, who nevertheless remains a military man to the very end. He even becomes outraged when his superior suggests that his quest for justice is in reality an artifice to get a promotion. However, as dignified as he may be, Dax never questions the bureaucratic structure or the raison d’être of his organization. The movie fights through some very dense philosophical issues. Continue reading

Pickpocket (1959), Robert Bresson

A masterpiece that distils Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and Camus into its fascinating protagonist, Robert Bresson’s 1959 Pickpocket inhabits the nihilist universe of a man, whose lack of feelings goes beyond the pathological and for whom punishment seems futile as it is desirable.

pickpocket-2In the films of Robert Bresson, where emotions are hard to be found, facial expressions are nonexistent and the approach to acting is stripped to a minimum, the eyes of the characters become our dramatic guides. Thus, actions have to be taken at face value (!!) As the contrast between speech and body language is partially nullified, viewers ought to search inside themselves for further confirmations of what is being presented to them. Who could be better then, than a Russian master to guide the tale of the pickpocket? Continue reading

Sunset Blvd. (1950), Billy Wilder

Simultaneously dark, caustic and humorous, and yet all too real, Billy Wilder’s 1950 Sunset Boulevard, one the greatest of its director’s many masterpieces and arguably the finest film noir of all time, remains fresh as a portrait of desperation, delusion and dependence.

sunset-boulevard-2Sunset Boulevard is not only one of the finest film noirs of all time but also, arguably, the greatest and darkest movie about Hollywood to ever appear on the silver screen – a master class by a filmmaker who has made an incredible number of great films. But despite the movie’s focus on the film industry, the story of Sunset Blvd. deals with universal themes and the human condition. In every corner of every city in the world there’s always an aspiring (and yet needy) artist ready to sell his soul to the first devil who offers enough choices to change his life. Continue reading

Pather Panchali (1955), Satyajit Ray

The first movie of his magnificent Apu Trilogy (and also his debut as a director), Satyajit Ray’s 1955 Pather Panchali – arguably the most poignant and naturalistic film about childhood – seems melodramatic in tone and unfocused at times, but it knows exactly what is doing.

pather-panchali-2When Akira Kurosawa, a giant of world cinema, bows down in admiration over a filmmaker, one has to pay attention. For to be deprived of the sun and the moon means having no light or direction, day and night. The fact is that one does not really need the endorsement of a genius to recognise another genius. Satyajit Ray’s films are slow like learning curves; apparently simple, but definitively not simple-minded; fully humanistic. His films are like life itself: hard to pinpoint its meaning. Continue reading

12 Angry Men (1957), Sidney Lumet

One of the best debut films in the history of cinema, Sidney Lumet’s 1957 12 Angry Men, a hymn to the voice of reason amidst a cacophony of furious prejudice, questions the very nature of the American judicial system in its pursuit of justice and its relation to the truth.

twelve-angry-men2On a sweltering, Summer day, the twelve members of a jury retire to deliberate on a murder case. What at first seems irrefutable to nearly all of them, i.e. the defendant’s guilt, soon dissipates into thin air. Rain starts to fall, cooling the day, as juror # 8, slowly convinces the others of the possible reasonable doubt in the case. As ambiguous as it can be, we never find out the truth of the matter. We are left with the not guilty verdict and we’re not sure it is the best one. Continue reading

A Place in the Sun (1951), George Stevens

Released during the postwar economic boom years, George Stevens’ 1951 A Place in the Sun, an unapologetic moralist tale, deals with the usually problematic issue of love between people of different social classes, and has an anti-hero that is as Shakespearean as he is modern.

a-place-in-the-sun-2If, as Heraclitus has said, a man’s character is his fate, then at the end of A Place in the Sun, George deservedly gets his comeuppance. Though he did not commit the crime which condemns him to die, his selfishness and callous mindset make him morally responsible for Alice’s death. We know that he is innocent of her death but also suspect that somehow he feels guilty of far graver crimes in his conscience. Continue reading

Tokyo Story (1953), Yasujirô Ozu

One of the most poignant films ever made, Yasujirô Ozu’s 1953 Tokyo Story, a melancholy meditation on parent-child relations, showcases an understated indictment of conflicting intergenerational perspectives in post-war Japanese society through a deceptively simple narrative.

tokyo-story-2The many layers and contrasting perspectives – parents versus children, old against young, town or city – make this masterpiece one of the greatest films ever made. At its most superficial level, Tokyo Story [Tôkyô monogatari] is about the self-importance middle class families attach to their lives. But the film is far more thought-provoking than that.

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