Fiction - Commercial - Corporate - Animation - Documentary

The Killers – 1964

This week, our recommended film is Don Siegel’s hard-as-nails Hemingway riff The Killers, starring Lee Marvin and Clu Ghalager on top form, and a surprisingly vicious Ronald Reagan. it’s great pulpy fun, lean and mean. For an even more complete experience, make it a double-bill with the earlier, more « respectable » Burt Lancaster version.

General Idi Amin Dada, A Self-Portrait – 1974

This week’s choice is strongly influenced by our recent travels. Barbet Schroeder’s suicidal documentary is basically a home movie of one of Africa’s strangest post-independence dictators, Idi Amin: half-clown, half-monster, this sub-Saharan Saddam with a towering ego somehow approved the project and gave the cameras unrestricted access, and the result is electrifying. Given how media-savvy people are today, it is unlikely any despot will commit the same mistake again. See it. It is as hilarious as it is terrifying.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind – 1984

We’ve got a thing for long titles this month, as well as strong female characters. Nausicaa, however, is far removed from Mad Max’s Furiosa or Alien’s Ripley. She is a thoughtful, luminous being, a celebration of humanity at its best, wrapped in what is, if not Miyazaki’s greatest masterpiece, then at the very least his first. It’s a beautiful, epic eco-fable, and the animation has not aged a day, let alone three decades.

Mad Max: Fury Road – 2015

George Miller’s return to his insane dystopia is exactly what it promised to be, no more, no less. And that is a very good thing. In an age of overlong, personality-free blockbusters that spoon-feed their audiences, Fury Road is a refreshing sight indeed. Throwing exposition to the wind, it plunges you headfirst into a hyperactive bleached hell full of grotesques, percussion and violence, a cinematic Dante’s Inferno, with Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Furiosa (not our protagonist, but definitely our hero) playing Virgil to Tom Hardy’s solid and understated Max. It might amount to little more than a sustained action scene, but if so, it’s the best one we’ve seen in a very long time, and the most fun we’ve had at the movies in a decade.

The Dance of Reality – 2013

Surrealist prodigy Alejandro Jodorowsky marks his long-awaited return to fiction filmmaking with this very loose autobiography, and delivers probably his best, certainly his most touching film. Like all his work, it’s delirious, hugely inventive, and largely unconcerned with subtlety or political correctness. Like his other films also, it is mostly a take on the mythical hero’s journey, one whose strangely poetic sights – a chorus of maimed soldiers, an opera-singing mother, and of course, countless clowns – coalesce into a truly unforgettable experience. We’ve missed you, Maestro. Please give us more.

The Naked Prey – 1966

Prepare yourself for an intense ride. The « guy’s worst day ever » sub-genre which graced us with such pearls as Falling Down and Apocalypto very likely traces its origins to this hard-boiled adventure flick. Beyond a primitive lack of political correctness that betrays its age, this is a lean, mean and terribly efficient little film, high-concept at its finest. Unlike its delirious descendant Apocalypto, it mixes a certain breadth and scope to the trill of the chase, so you don’t feel the exhaustion of a 90 minute sustained action sequence. All in all, something quite unique in the landscape of world cinema.

Conan The Barbarian – 1982

Not the Austrian cheese-fest you might expect, John Milius’ carefully crafted and structured savage fantasy film is that perfect mix of problem ingredients that shouldn’t work, but do. He takes a spaced-out script by Oliver Stone, a pre-anglophone Schwarzenegger and a plastic snake, and creates a legend, replete with animal cruelty. One that even offers to answer the question of what is truly good in life. Altogether now: « to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women! ». Well, if that doesn’t do it for you, there’s also a crucified Arnold killing a vulture with his teeth, and that’s something.

Zodiac – 2007

It’s easy to forget how little murder-mystery films tend to respect our intelligence. Along comes David Fincher, the most meticulous and unsentimental of current A-list Hollywood directors, with this hardest of nuts to crack: a fact-based story lacking any real resolution. We know this going in, and yet the suspense and thrill and frustration of the chase are unbearable. Finally, here is a detective story where you know as little as the detectives! And in true Fincher fashion, it is glorious to behold, even though it is closer to the steely precision of his work on Gone Baby or House of Cards than it is to the pyrotechnics of, say, Fight Club. The murder scenes themselves are a filmmaking masterclass, and never has watching two guys just waiting been so fascinating. Then again, said guys are Robert Downey Jr and Jake Gyllenhaal. If you haven’t seen this one yet, be sure to check it out.

Kinski Paganini – 1989

Sometimes, more IS more, subtlety be damned. This directorial debut from producer/start/writer/editor Klaus Kinski paints a vivid portrait of the titular composer by way of nepotistic casting and quasi-pornographic vignettes. If you ever thought sitting through a single one of Paganini’s works could be an intense experience, wait until you subject your senses to 90 minutes of a Kinski Remix. For bonus points you can watch it with the knowledge that Kinski had offered it as a joint-venture to Werner Herzog, who wisely refused, preferring a holiday in Bokassa’s Central African Republic. This might only make our must-see list because of today’s date, but we promise, we mean everything we just said.

Richard III – 1955

It is very much a product of its time, but do not let that deter you from discovering this masterpiece by Lawrence Olivier – cinema’s great Shakespearian scholar. Unlike many of the films we love, the beauty is not in the form, though the undeniable craftsmanship does eventually make an impression. The real achievement, as Shakespeare aficionados would have it, is in the text, and how expertly it has been edited, rearranged and supplemented (curtesy of preceding play « Henry VI » and later authors Cibber and Garrick). If that doesn’t inspire you – and it did us, as our films section will soon reveal – then Olivier’s Blackadder-inspiring turn as the protagonist should do the trick.