All posts by pbuscone

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

The holiday season is filled with food, family, presents, and, of course, movies. Most of the movies people routinely watch during the holiday season include such classics as Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Santa Clause, and even Elf. These Christmas movies are exactly that: novelty movies made just for the 25 days leading up to the holiday. Hardly any of these movies hold any weight as great films outside of the holiday season. However, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life does what these other movies could not by transcending the Christmas movie genre and becoming a classic film in its own right.

The 1946 movie, which is based on the 1943 short story “The Greatest Gift”, tells the story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) which takes place in the form of flashbacks at the beginning of the film so that his guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers) can understand the man he has been called on to help. It is clear from the beginning that the only thing that outweighs George’s lofty ambitions is his true care for everyone around him. At a young age, he saves his younger brother Harry from drowning and keeps his boss, pharmacist Mr. Gower — who is distraught after receiving news that his son had died in World War I — from accidentally delivering poison pills.

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American History X (1998)

Director Tony Kaye has certainly not been afraid of being too graphic in his limited body of work. In his 1998 movie American History X, starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong, Kaye doesn’t shy away from explicit detail in showing both the past and present of Derek Vinyard (Norton), a young founder of the white supremacist group D.O.C. and his influence on his younger brother (Furlong). The graphic depiction in this movie, despite making it difficult to watch at times, is what makes it so great, along with the performances by Norton and Furlong. Through these two important aspects of the film, the viewer gets a real look at racism in this country; but more than that, the viewer is confronted with the immense influence — either positive or negative — that either a father or an older brother can have on a young boy.

The movie takes place between two time periods. The present day spans a mere 24 hours with flashbacks to the past that show several years. Each of the flashbacks is presented in black and white, a nice directorial touch to not only make it evident that what is occurring is in fact the past but also to show the ignorance and narrow-mindedness in Derek’s views. Once Derek is released from prison, marking the present day, the scene shifts from black and white to color. At that moment, we find that Derek no longer sees the world in black and white. During his time in prison, due to the help of his unlikely friend Lamont (Guy Torry) and former teacher Dr. Sweeney, as well as a falling out with the Aryan Brotherhood in jail (which culminates in a graphic rape scene), Derek is able to see the world in all its colors and look beyond race and bigotry.

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21 Grams (2003)

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu began his uplifting “Trilogy of Death” with his directorial debut of Amores Perros. Just three years later, he and writer of the entire trilogy Guillermo Arriaga completed the second installment of the trilogy: 21 Grams. In many ways, 21 Grams tries to emulate Amores Perros both in style and content. The strategy seems well-guided, for Amores Perros was a true masterpiece in the way it employed non-linear story-telling, showed important themes such as companionship, and brought seemingly unrelated stories together. Additionally, the action in the different stories constantly kept the viewer intrigued. In other words, the movie never dragged. Unfortunately, despite its clear attempts, 21 Grams fails to live up to Amores Perros in many aspects, most notably in overall intrigue and pace. It’s still impressive in its directing, non-linear nature and convergence of unrelated stories, though, and even surpasses Perros in acting, particularly of main characters Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro, and Sean Penn.

Iñárritu is one of the few directors who dares to completely throw linear storytelling out the window while, at the same time, juggling different storylines. 21 Grams follows the stories of Jack Jordan (Del Toro), an ex-con, born-again Christian; Paul Rivers (Sean Penn), a man with a heart condition and one month to live; and Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts), a happy wife and mother of two. All three of their lives are brought together by Jack accidentally running over Christina’s husband and two daughters. The use of a car accident to bring the stories together is a not-so-subtle relation to Amores Perros and the downward spiral each character faces following the accident is comparable as well. Jack turns himself in to the police, attempts suicide in prison, and never can reconnect with his family or God following the accident while Cristina struggles to deal with her crippling loss and falls back into alcohol and drugs. Paul is the only one who benefits, receiving Cristina’s husband’s heart which prompts him to forge a relationship with Cristina.

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The Intouchables (2011)

Netflix has beefed up their foreign language film offerings lately, adding within the past few months a new cache of hundreds of popular films from around the globe. One such movie is The Intouchables (no, not the French re-make of The Untouchables starring a French Kevin Costner) a 2011 French film directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. In fact, by sheer numbers The Intouchables is the Mona Lisa of foreign language films, grossing $281 million worldwide, more than any other non-English movie in history.

The movie’s worldwide success raises the question: how did this film about the true story of wealthy quadriplegic Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his underqualified, rough around the edges, ex-con caretaker Abdel Sellou shine above the rest? For starters, the original story itself is fascinating. An old wealthy man taking a chance on a young criminal as the man responsible for his own wellbeing is intriguing, but, in most cases, would seem too far-fetched. In the case of The Intouchables, the story is practically completely true, even when it seems overblown.

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Amores Perros (2000)

Alejandro González Iñárritu wasted no time in putting his ambitions—in the form of non-linear, multidimensional storytelling—on the big screen with his first full-length feature film Amores Perros. The title can be translated two different ways. The literal translation is “Dog Love”, but for those who think that means it is the Spanish version of Must Love Dogs, you will be in for quite a surprise. The second, less literal translation, “Love’s a Bitch”, more aptly captures the essence of the movie, and likely will scare off those hoping for a feel good movie about dogs and John Cusack.

In fact, there are hardly any “feel good” moments in Amores Perros. Rather, the movie focuses on important themes such as the value of companionship, whether it be from family or dogs, and the corruption of this value. Iñárritu achieves the promotion of said themes in an unorthodox but extremely effective manner that involves three seemingly distinct stories told in a fragmented and, at times, non-linear manner. And just to make things even more interesting, Iñárritu opens the film en media res; to be specific, en media of the most important res: the moment that brings the three main stories together.

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American Beauty (1999)

Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: Sam Mendes’ directorial debut, American Beauty, is one of the most psychologically engrossing and, admittedly, strange films of all-time. Let’s get another thing out of the way too: Sam Mendes’ directorial debut, American Beauty, is one of history’s greatest films, and is one of the best directorial debuts in recent memory.

Sure, it doesn’t take a movie genius to call American Beauty a great movie. In 1999, the critically acclaimed film collected five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Cinematography. On the surface, though, the film’s success seems far-fetched. The plot consists of a creepy middle-aged man fantasizing about his teenage daughter’s best friend, while he struggles with his rather extreme mid-life crisis. That doesn’t exactly sound like the winning formula for a movie. But the beauty of the film lies in its tagline—“look closer”—as both the audience and the characters are encouraged to do as the film progresses.

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