Once Upon A Time In America (1984)

Directed by: Sergio Leone

Cinematography: Tonino Delli Colli

Starring: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Larry Rapp, also Jennifer Connelly

Runtime: 3h 49m

Genre: Crime, Drama

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

 

When I picked up Once Upon a Time in America I had no idea what it was about and certainly no idea how long it was.  I put off starting the film for a few days and then settled in.  The film is set between the 1920’s to the 1960’s and follows the life of David “Noodles” Aaronson, a Jewish gangster who grew up during prohibition, played by De Niro.  Noodles reluctantly returns to his childhood neighborhood and reflects on a life of excitement, passion, and betrayal.  Sergio Leone’s final film features a well-crafted and driving story line, masterfully executed suspense sequences, and elegant editing and camera work.

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Man With a Movie Camera (Человек с кино-аппаратом) (1929)

Directed by: Dziga Vertov

Cinematography: Mikhail Kaufman and Gleb Troyanski

Starring: Mikhail Kaufman

Runtime: 1h 8m

Genre: Silent, Documentary, Avant-garde

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera captures a day in the life of the Russian proletariat in 1920’s Soviet Union.  The quick sequences and endless jump cuts depict several soviet union cities, including: Odessa, Kharkov and Kiev.1  The structure is experimental for its time by incorporating a wide range of shots and avant-garde film techniques as well as veering from the standard ‘stage’ plot.  Man With a Movie Camera simultaneously shows a broad day in the life of the proletariat while providing a glimpse behind the scenes of the making of the film.  At times the film even stops to show the editor, his wife Elizaveta Svilova, and begins again once she has completed her edit.  This film was aimed to expand and challenge the contemporary structure of film that was driven by staging, plot, and intertitles.  Man With a Movie Camera is the culmination of Vertov’s kinok movement to expand the artistic bounds of film.2  This legendary film stands the test of time with its creativity, juxtaposition, and challenge to the contemporary norm.
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Babel (2006)

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Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto

Starring: Brad PittCate BlanchettGael García BernalAdriana BarrazaRinko Kikuchi

Runtime: 2h 23m

Genre: Drama

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

 

“I’m not bad I just did something stupid.”

 

Babel‘s immersive story sends us on a trip to Morocco, Japan, Mexico, and The United States.  The plot follows four main story lines that are all linked by a .270 Winchester M70 rifle.  A husband and wife, played by Pitt and Blanchett, on vacation in Morocco, a small family in the Moroccan desert, two children and their nanny in San Diego and Mexico, and a young deaf woman in Japan.  The screenplay is seamlessly spliced between these story arcs and tracks a non-linear timeline.  Through times of violence and regret, each character is learning how to grow from their mistakes.

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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Nocturnal Animals Art Gallery Naked

Directed by: Tom Ford

Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey

Starring: Amy AdamsJake GyllenhaalMichael ShannonAaron Taylor-Johnson

Runtime: 1h 56m

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

 

Life and love are crafted through choices and sacrifices.  Tom Ford’s adaptation of Susan and Tony, by Austin Wright, clearly shows how choice and sacrifice have an unequivocal role in determining one’s path in life.  Merriam-Webster defines sacrifice as “an act of offering to a deity something precious; especially :  the killing of a victim on an altar.” The choice and sacrifice made on the part of Susan Morrow, played by Amy Adams, meets these criteria and dictates both her life and that of Edward Sheffield, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

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The Wrestler (2008)

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Cinematography: Maryse Alberti

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Todd Barry

Runtime: 1h 49m

Genre: Drama

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

Darren Aronofsky is a craftsman when it comes to engaging and immersive experiences.  There is a realism that his projects embody that is consistent through and through.  Everything from the script and story, the shots, the editing flow, and casting all come together to bring a unique experience for the viewer.  The Wrestler is no exception if this masterful approach to film. Continue reading “The Wrestler (2008)”

Black Swan (2010)

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

Starring: Natalie PortmanMila KunisVincent CasselBarbara HersheyWinona Ryder

Runtime: 1h 48m

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Psychological

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

 

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a fresh interpretation of the 19th century ballet, Swan Lake.  The film follows Nina, played by Natalie Portman, as she trains for the part of the white/black swan.  A role that requires her to metamorphose from her pure and immaculate persona into an untamed embodiment of raw sexuality. Nina’s agonizing drive for perfection takes her on an odyssey into madness.  Aronofsky’s creative style and vision emphasizes the psychosis in this psychological thriller. Continue reading “Black Swan (2010)”

Manchester By The Sea (2016)

Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan

Cinematography: Jody Lee Lipes

Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler

Runtime: 2h 17m

Genre: Drama

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

This movie is without a doubt the most emotionally intense story of the year.  Lonergan is not afraid to spearhead the topic of death in Manchester by the Sea.  Death percolates throughout his entire original screenplay about Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) as the mourning brother trying to handle the affairs of his dead brother.  Every cast member pulls their weight to create an emotionally powerful film.  In the end the viewer is left barely hanging on. Continue reading “Manchester By The Sea (2016)”

La La Land (2016)

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Cinematography: Linus Sandgren

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Runtime: 2h 8m

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

 

In general, I am not especially attracted to the musical genre.  This could be due in part to a lack of film musicals being released in recent years.  However, it is more likely that I simply struggle to get into the atmosphere of musicals.  The spontaneous dive into a choreographed number seems to pull me away from the plot instead of reinforcing it.  Chazelle has created a musical drama that pays homage to traditional musicals, but does not stick to their format in his new film, La La Land. Continue reading “La La Land (2016)”

Moonlight (2016)

Directed by: Barry Jenkins

Cinematography: James Laxton

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Alex R. Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes

Runtime: 1h 51m

Genre: Drama

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

 

This film was captivating from the first scene to the last.  Barry Jenkins’ shooting style goes beyond merely engaging and fully submerges the viewer into the story.  Jenkins’ style is so personal to the point of being unnerving at times.  We find ourselves losing our footing with frenzied arc shots that track actors with multiple rotations.  The viewer is unavoidably engaged in empathy and compassion with a series of extreme closeup shots that are so close to the action you can’t help but feel right there in the moment.  These shots compliment the story and the performances exceptionally. Continue reading “Moonlight (2016)”

Nice Guys, The (2016)

Directed by: Shane Black

Cinematography: Philippe Rousselot

Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice

Runtime: 1h 56m

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

 

Shane Black’s, The Nice Guys, is one of the best, if not The best, comedy of 2016.  The death of a porn star in the late 70’s sparks an investigation in late 70’s Los Angeles. The story follows Jackson Healy, Crowe, the muscle for hire and Holland March, Gosling, a private eye as they solve the msytery.   Continue reading “Nice Guys, The (2016)”