Monday, December 7, 2015

A baker’s dozen

Thirteen films I recommend with enthusiasm, more or less in the order of viewing:

Berlin Alexanderplatz (dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1980) The fifteen-and-a-half-hour-long story of the fall and fall of Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lambrecht), a Weimar everyman, by turns brutish and tender. His release from prison (the story’s beginning) is a reëntry into another prison. Fassbinder’s epilogue (“My Dream of the Dream of Franz Biberkopf by Alfred Döblin, An Epilogue”) is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a film.

*

Black Angel (dir. Roy William Neill, 1946). Amateur sleuths Catherine Bennett (June Vincent) and Martin Blair (Dan Duryea) attempt to clear Bennett’s husband of a murder charge before he is executed. With Peter Lorre as a sinister nightclub owner.

*

Der Anständige [The decent one] (dir. Vanessa Papa, 2014). A portrait of Heinrich Himmler that draws upon diaries, letters, memoranda, and photographs. Himmler’s letters to his wife sound like those of a husband traveling on business. But this husband is traveling to ghettos and death camps. In a conversation with the director, (included on the DVD), Errol Morris calls Der Anständige “one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen.”

*

Duke Ellington: Love You Madly (dir. Ralph J. Gleason, 1965). Ellington in public and in private — playing a club and a festival, visiting Grace Cathedral (the site for the first of his three Sacred Concerts), lying down in a bathrobe backstage, playing a tape of work in progress. With a glimpse of Ellington walking through a hotel lobby with a woman I’m almost certain is Beatrice Ellis (aka Evie Ellington), his many-years, rarely photographed partner.

*

For Your Consideration (dir. Christopher Guest, 2006). We saw it when it came out and were unimpressed. We gave it a second chance and loved it, perhaps because we now know a little more about “the business.” With Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, and other Guest players.

*

Love and Mercy (dir. Bill Pohlad, 2014). Paul Dano and John Cusack are persuasive Brian Wilsons. Elizabeth Banks is a compassionate and gentle Melinda Ledbetter (later Wilson). Paul Giamatti is a terrifying Eugene Landy. Not a bad film, as I feared it would be. An aside: given the YouTube clips of recent live shows, I think that love and mercy for Brian Wilson right now would mean an end to touring.

*

The Man Who Never Was (dir. Ronald Neame, 1956). What might be called a military procedural, tracing the development of Operation Mincemeat, whose goal was to mislead German forces about the Allied invasion of Sicily. Perhaps Clifton Webb’s finest 103 minutes.

*

The Mortal Storm (dir. Frank Borzage, 1940). Family ties and friendships dissolve in the aftermath of Hitler’s rise to power. With Frank Morgan, James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, Robert Young, and a memorable turn by Maria Ouspenskaya.

*

Possessed (dir. Curtis Bernhardt, 1947). Joan Crawford as an obsessive rejected lover. That is all ye need to know.

*

True Story (dir. Rupert Goold, 2015). The relationship between a journalist and a man accused of murder who (briefly) assumed the reporter’s identity. The relationship is a mutual exploitation society: a reporter in search of a great story and a defendant in search of — what? Based on a memoir by the former New York Times writer Michael Finkel, with Jonah Hill as Finkel and James Franco as Christian Longo.

*

Spotlight (dir. Thomas McCarthy, 2015). The effort of Boston Globe journalists to determine the full extent of priestly abuse and Church coverup is inspiring. This film reminded Elaine and me of The Wire : like that series, this film focuses on institutions and a small band of investigators. I think Spotlight is a good bet to win Best Picture.

*

Beyond the Mat (dir. Barry W. Blaustein, 1999). A documentary about professional wrestlers, in and out of the squared circle. Funny, grotesque, and often deeply moving. A reader named Frank recommended this film in a comment on a 2014 post about documentaries. I’m glad I watched. (And I will admit to having watched Andre the Giant, Pedro Morales, George “The Animal” Steele, Chief Jay Strongbow and all the rest on UHF television in my teenaged years. I loved it.)

*

The Daytrippers (dir. Greg Mottola, 1996). A woman finds what appears to be a love letter to her husband. She travels with her family from Long Island to Manhattan to ask him about it. With Hope Davis, Pat McNamara, Anne Meara, Parker Posey, Liev Schreiber, and Stanley Tucci. Great writing (by Mottola): “Would you like some Entenmann’s?” Yes, that’s the way we roll, or rolled. According to the New York Times review, this film was shot in sixteen days. It would appear to be a largely unknown treasure.

Reader, what have you found that’s worth watching?

A related post
A baker’s dozen, plus one

comments: 11

Fresca said...

Speaking of wrestling, have you seen the fabulous noir classic Night and the City (1950)?

Re Daytrippers --it just so happened that I was reading the metaphysical poets when I saw it, and I squealed at the love letter that quotes Andrew Marvell's poem, "The Definition of Love," which I later used in a Star Trek vid (exploration! navigation! geometry! rare love for strange high objects!).
Small world... or something.

I am way behind on my list of movie recommendations---this prompts me to get back to it (soon).
Aside from the excellent Spotlight, I haven't seen any movies lately, just TV shows.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, way small. And to make it smaller, yes, I love Night and the City . And on several occasions I’ve looked through all the movie titles beginning with Night  in my university’s library.

brownstudy said...

"Suffragette" was excellent. We're looking forward to the upcoming Michael Caine movie.

Since it's the season: recommend best "Christmas Carol" adaptation? We love the George C. Scott version, but I haven't seen the Alistair Sim version.

Michael Leddy said...

I haven’t seen Scott. I like Sim and Mister Magoo, but even better, the Campbell Playhouse radio version, produced by Orson Welles, starring Lionel Barrymore.

Michael Leddy said...

We missed the brief run of Suffragette and have to wait for the DVD. But we’re watching for the Michael Caine (and Harvey Keitel!).

Chris said...

I haven't seen any of these! The two films I enjoyed the most recently: Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali, newly restored, and Thomas Vinterberg's new version of Far from the Madding Crowd, starring Carey Mulligan, which I found much more convincing than the old Julie Christie / Alan Bates version, even if the actor who plays Sergeant Troy this time is so sleazy he's almost unbearable.

And last night we watched Henry Hathaway's Niagara for the umpteenth time.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the titles, Chris. I love Joseph Cotten, so now I’m wondering how it is that I’ve never seen Niagara .

Chris said...

Cotten has a really interesting role. And Marilyn Monroe is even tolerable. Well worth seeing.

Michael Leddy said...

If you like Cotten, have you seen Shadow of a Doubt ? Monroe is surprisingly good in The Asphalt Jungle .

Chris said...

I love Shadow of a Doubt. And of course The Third Man.

Michael Leddy said...

Two of my favorites. I now see that I’ve missed Journey into Fear , itself missing from Netflix.