Election Night 2016: A Playlist

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son

 

Jamila Woods – Blk Girl Soldier 

 

Muse – Uprising

 

Jidenna – Long Live the Chief

 

Jackson Browne – Which Side?

 

Anti-Flag – Underground Network

 

2Pac – Letter to the President

 

Ani DiFranco – Hello Birmingham

 

Sam Cooke – A Change is Gonna Come

 

Rage Against the Machine – Sleep Now in the Fire

 

John Lennon – Power to the People

 

John Lennon – Imagine

HBO’s The Night Of: This Ain’t No ‘Law & Order’

An extraordinary limited-run series recently concluded on HBO. The Night Of is a show about a murder and a trial, but it’s unlike any other crime drama on television in America for a multitude of reasons. This ain’t no Law & Order. It’s a show that exposes the utter darkness at the heart of America’s criminal justice system.

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The Night Of begins by introducing us to Nasir Khan, or Naz for short (Riz Ahmed), who is a college student in New York City, and a Muslim. We’re briefly introduced to his family, get a glimpse of his daily routine at school, and see that he’s a pretty typical young adult. He wants to fit in, he’s excited about being invited to a party, and he’s at the age where childhood has begun to transition into adulthood leading to an inevitable friction with his parents and their restrictions.

Naz’s friend, who was supposed to be his ride to the party, bails on him at the last minute. In a fateful decision, Naz takes his father’s taxicab without permission and heads off to the party anyway. He gets lost, and he doesn’t know how to turn off the cab’s “on duty” sign. When he pulls over to get his bearings a couple guys hop into the back seat thinking he’s a real cab driver. He kicks them out of the cab, but when a beautiful, mysterious young woman opens the door and sits down in the back seat he can’t bring himself to get rid of her as well.

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Naz is intrigued by Andrea, the mysterious passenger, and he soon forgets about the party he was trying to find. Instead, the two drive around for a while, stopping a few times before ending up back at her house. Andrea invites Naz inside. They do drugs, have sex, and a few hours later Naz wakes up and finds her stabbed to death in her bed. In a state of shock and panic he flees the scene, but is detained by police almost immediately afterward on suspicion of DUI, and is linked to the murder a few hours later.

What really makes The Night Of something special, what sets it apart from most other crime dramas and investigation shows, is the very deliberate pace it establishes from the outset, which allows for an in-depth look at the fine details of the American justice system that most other shows would casually gloss over or skip entirely. It takes its time, allowing the narrative to slowly unfold. If this were an episode of Law & Order, the first 45 minutes of Nasir Khan’s story presented in The Night Of would be condensed into a formulaic 90 second cold open, followed by practically omniscient, slick-talking detectives arriving on scene and immediately rushing into their routine as they go about solving the crime.

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The Night Of isn’t that sort of crime procedural, which are almost always told exclusively from the point of view of the police. It does explore a murder mystery, but it’s not really “about” solving the crime so much as it’s about the experience of being pushed through the legal system, told mostly from the perspective of the accused and his defense team as they face a seemingly hopeless battle. The Night Of is an in-depth analysis of the justice system in the United States, and the murder mystery is merely the device through which the show skewers the system.

As Naz passes through various stages of the legal system, Richard Price and Steve Zaillian, the creative force behind the series, linger on many seemingly unimportant things. We see how a police precinct is run in the middle of the night, and the boredom of suspects and witnesses waiting around to be questioned or booked. We see police officers who are already tired after pulling a double-shift being forced to work even later when all they want is to go home. We are shown in detail the process of an arrest. Not just the taking of fingerprints, but having your body inspected as an extension of the crime scene, being photographed head to toe, being questioned before legal representation has been arranged, waiting in holding cells, the process of being funneled straight to jail before you’re convicted of anything, the music being played in the cab of the prisoner transport vehicle which sounds muffled to the prisoners in the back, and the boredom of the prison bureaucracy as they ask their routine questions and stamp the same forms over and over without a second thought for the people being warehoused.

The dehumanizing process of being stripped of your dignity and tossed into a dark, cruel cage is shown in haunting detail. The fact that it’s depicted as just a matter of bureaucratic routine makes it all the more striking.

Most crime dramas, especially on television, focus almost exclusively on the investigators and prosecutors (in other words, the representatives of the state) who of course work earnestly to discover the truth and seek justice. The Night Of completely blows up this format in a variety of ways.

The vast majority of the show’s focus is on Naz’s experience as a suspect, prisoner, and defendant, as well on his lawyer’s efforts to uncover the truth about what happened on the night in question and to come up with a robust defense in a case that seems like a slam dunk for the prosecution. John Stone, the defense attorney who initially takes an interest in Naz and his case and fights for him until the end, is played by John Turturro, who turns in an instant classic performance. Amara Karan plays Chandra Kapoor, another young lawyer motivated by compassion for Naz.

Not only does The Night Of shift the focus away from the representatives of the state in a literal sense, in that the cops aren’t the protagonists, it also dares to break away from the ideological default in TV crime dramas, where the police and prosecution are shown to be well-meaning and genuinely interested in real justice. Rather, to the extent that the police and prosecution are featured, they are depicted as reflexively seeking a conviction, and doing whatever needs to be done to achieve that single-minded goal, rather than being primarily concerned with what is actually true and what is not. Naz is the only suspect considered by lead detective Sgt. Box and prosecutor Helen Weiss prior to the trial, simply because it seems like an easy win for the state, even though Naz’s lawyers are able to identify three other possible suspects through their own investigation (and a fourth is revealed later on).

The show also spends a great deal of time fleshing out Naz’s experience in prison, which is something that is almost always ignored on the average crime drama. Typically, the suspects are only shown in prison through the glass of the visitation room when the detectives need to ask them more questions. On The Night Of, however, the difficulties of adapting to life in prison are brought to the forefront.

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Because of the nature of the crime Naz is accused of, he quickly makes enemies behind bars and is subjected to a series of threats and attacks. It is likely he will be severely injured, and possible he will actually be killed unless he makes a deal with the devil, so to speak. The most powerful inmate in Naz’s cell block, Freddy (Michael Kenneth Williams), takes Naz under his wing and provides him with protection in exchange for helping to smuggle drugs into prison. In the process, Naz becomes addicted to drugs, gets several prison tattoos, and sinks deeper into the hopelessness of prison life in a variety of ways.

The show forces the audience to confront the harsh realities not only of prison, but of the criminal justice system as a whole. From the very beginning, even though defendants are supposed to have the presumption of innocence, it’s clear that the deck is heavily stacked against Naz in all sorts of ways. Virtually everyone involved assumes he is guilty, and simply having their son be accused of murder causes all sorts of harm to the Khan family. Naz’s father can’t get his cab back because the car is being held as evidence, and therefore can’t earn a living. His mother is fired from her job because her son is accused of murder. Naz’s parents have to sell their valuables and are forced to take low paying jobs in order to make ends meet. Because of this financial hardship inflicted upon them through no fault of their own, simply because their son is accused of a crime, they are unable to afford a lawyer.

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Even when a high-powered defense attorney agrees to take the case pro bono, she too assumes Naz is guilty and only tries to strike a plea bargain rather than actually defending her client to the best of her ability. When Naz insists on fighting the charges and maintains his innocence, she quits, and the Khan’s are forced to face financial ruin in order to pay for a defense for their son. It isn’t a coincidence that the most affordable option for the family would be for Naz to confess to the crime and beg for a lighter sentence. The system is fundamentally unfair to the poor, because having limited finances encourages defendants to strike plea deals strictly because it’s so expensive to go to trial with a competent defense team.

The idea that people are innocent until proven guilty is a nice concept in theory, but The Night Of reveals it to be an empty platitude. What good is the technical presumption of innocence if the practical reality for defendants and their families is the destruction of their lives regardless of the outcome of the legal process? It calls into question the very idea of freedom itself. Can a people truly be free if they live in a society where merely being accused of a crime is nearly as horrific and destructive as actually being convicted?

Most television crime dramas don’t invite this sort of contemplation. Most shows accept the system at face value, identify primarily with the perspective of the police, and the suspects are rarely well developed characters. Shows like Law & Order are primarily about the experience of the police and prosecutors rather than the experience of those who go through the system. The Night Of flips this dynamic on its head. It focuses on the details of the system in a way that allows for analysis and reflection on the kind of society we live in, it identifies primarily with the perspectives of the suspect and the defense, and it illuminates the experience of going through the legal system in a visceral, terrifying way.

Ultimately, the show articulates how the judicial system itself can actually create criminals. Even those who are acquitted don’t escape unscathed, as their lives can end up shattered almost as if they were convicted. The Night Of is a show about how the system grinds people up, and how everyone involved is just a cog in a massive machine, in a way that diffuses blame and accountability. Everyone just does their job, and no one in particular is at fault for the way the system chews people up and spits them out. In the end, we’re left with a profile of a truly horrific system, regardless of the outcome of Naz’s case.

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What makes Naz’s lawyer John Stone a hero, what distinguishes him from the other cogs in the machine, is that he makes a conscious decision to go to extraordinary lengths in pursuit of the truth on behalf of his client, to go beyond his established “place” in the system as a low rent lawyer. He refuses to settle and he doesn’t give up, even when others give up on him. Unlike everyone else, he doesn’t simply assume Naz is guilty from the start. In fact, he doesn’t even want to know if Naz is guilty or not. But he dedicates himself to the truth, investigates leads that the police ignored, puts himself into dangerous situations in pursuit of other suspects, even though it would have been easier to just let Nasir Khan get thrown to the wolves. No one would have blamed him.

In the age of mass incarceration in America, The Night Of is a profound achievement. Artistically it’s as good as anything on television. It perfects a visual aesthetic defined by slow, steady camera movement and an attention to detail through visual storytelling. But what makes the show so vitally important right now is its unflinching profile of a horrific and cruel criminal justice system, designed primarily to benefit those in power at the expense of those it oppresses, as well as at the expense of genuine justice existing in society.

Jesse Williams’ Speech at the 2016 BET Awards

On June 26, actor Jesse Williams took the stage at the 2016 BET Awards to accept BET’s Humanitarian Award. What followed was a bold and powerful speech which condemned the black oppression and exploitation the United States has thrived on since its inception. It was a brave act of defiance against the system in which he called on the oppressed and their allies to force an end to the oppression in this society, or to rise up and create a new society.

This is a courageous moment that deserves to be celebrated in its own right, but it is also important to view this speech in the context of the continued brutality faced by black people on a daily basis in America, the supposed “land of the free.” Just this week there have been two more high profile police murders of black people, and just 3 days prior to Williams’ speech the second cop tried for the murder of Freddie Gray was acquitted of all charges.

What is so powerful about Williams’ impassioned plea is that he doesn’t speak of a “broken system.” Rather, he recognizes that the system is functioning exactly as it was intended – that it was designed to oppress people of color for the benefit of a white elite – and he articulates the need to rise up against it. “A system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.”

Please take a moment to watch Jesse Williams’ powerful acceptance speech. The full transcript is below.

 

Full Transcript:

Peace peace. Thank you, Debra. Thank you, BET. Thank you Nate Parker, Harry and Debbie Allen for participating in that.

Before we get into it, I just want to say I brought my parents out tonight. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, and that they make sure I learn what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also thank my amazing wife for changing my life.

Now, this award – this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country – the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.

It’s kind of basic mathematics – the more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

Now, this is also in particular for the black women in particular who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function in ours.

Now… I got more y’all – yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday so I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on 12 year old playing alone in the park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better than it is to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Dorian Hunt.

Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money – that alone isn’t gonna stop this. Alright, now dedicating our lives, dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.

There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There is no tax they haven’t leveed against us – and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.

Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but you know what, though, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.

And let’s get a couple things straight, just a little sidenote – the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, alright – stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil – black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is though… the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.

Thank you.

The Corporate Driven Nostalgia of The Force Awakens

I’m a second generation Star Wars fan. The love for the series was passed down to me from my parents, and as a kid I wore out my VHS copies of the Original Trilogy. Literally. I watched them so much the picture became noticeably faded. In a very substantial way, George Lucas’s saga was my introduction to real film. In short, what I’m getting at is that Star Wars is very special to me.

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Along with millions of others, I was deeply disappointed by the Special Editions. Why tamper with something that worked so well and captured the hearts and imaginations of so many people? While some of the purely cosmetic changes might have been justified, most of the edits were just so awful that it’s mind-boggling how anyone, let alone a professional film-maker (especially one once considered a cinematic visionary), could have thought they were a good idea. Greedo shooting first was just one of many disastrous decisions.

And then came the Prequel Trilogy. Honestly, I really don’t have the words to describe how terrible those films were, but as Obi-Wan would say, it was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror. Seriously, they were that bad. Lucas took all the worst aspects of the Special Editions and amplified them ten fold, resulting in a series of films that bore almost no aesthetic resemblance to their predecessors. It’s as if, somehow, Lucas completely forgot everything that made the originals work so well. Gone was the story’s emotional heart, the interesting characters, the quality writing and acting, the groundbreaking special effects, the mythic quality of the story, and even the natural sense of humor that flowed organically throughout the originals. Instead, the Prequels were as flat and lifeless as cardboard. They had the most uninteresting characters imaginable, and a plot that was needlessly convoluted, which was especially bewildering given the cartoonish slapstick humor of the new series aimed at kids.

When it was announced that Lucas was selling Star Wars to Disney, despite having some reservations about giving over total control of the franchise to a mega-corporation, the most mainstream entertainment company possible, on some level I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that Lucas couldn’t do any further damage to the film saga I love. And in theory, I actually liked the game-plan Disney presented, alternating official  saga “Episodes” with stand-alone films that explore the Star Wars universe in a new way. Giving the keys to the kingdom to some fresh talent was perhaps exactly what the doctor ordered.

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But then, in what I first thought was a bad joke, it was rumored that J.J. Abrams would direct the first installment of the new franchise; the very same J.J. Abrams who had recently taken over the Star Trek franchise and churned out a pair of extremely calculated, nostalgia driven films. Prior to that, Abrams had been tapped to reinvigorate the Mission: Impossible franchise. While many Star Wars fans cheered the news of his hiring, I was instantly apprehensive. It struck me as safe, predictable, and generally uninspired to turn to Hollywood’s go-to hack for rebooting stale franchises.

When the first teaser trailer was released, the first thing that really jumped out at me was that there was clearly a deliberate effort to be anti-Prequel. So far so good. But as the release date drew nearer and the trailers started coming out, I started to worry. Not so much that the film would be bad in the way the Prequels were, but rather that they would go too far in the opposite direction. I knew Abrams was savvy enough to avoid a Jar-Jar Binks level disaster, but my fear was that he was such a super-fan of the Originals that he would simply rehash them for a new generation. In trailer after trailer I started to see evidence that this was the case. But obviously trailers don’t tell the whole story and their primary purpose is put butts in seats, and using nostalgia is a powerful emotional appeal to the real fans. So I held out hope that Abrams’ film would find a way to carry on the legacy of the Originals without pandering to the fans in a lazy, condescending way, or without totally rehashing the formula of the Original Trilogy. What I wanted was for The Force Awakens to feel like a Star Wars film, but to ultimately be great in its own right.

Well, here we are. The film has been unleashed upon the world and it’s clearly a huge success. As of now it’s tracking at a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which tabulates the reaction from critics, and it has an astounding 8.6 (out of 10) rating on IMDB, voted on by the general public. In just 10 days it’s made over $1 billion at the worldwide box office. Clearly, this movie is blowing up faster than the Death Star destroyed Alderaan. Most people seem to really like it, including most of the hardcore fans. But I feel a great disturbance in the Force.

After finally seeing The Force Awakens for myself I couldn’t shake the feeling that something just wasn’t quite right. However, before I get into how this film went to the Dark Side, first what it got right…

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The casting of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and Lupita Nyong’o was fantastic. All of these young actors fully inhabit their roles. They feel like real people and they’re well developed characters. And, like the characters we’re introduced to in the Original, we grow to care about their fates and can relate to them on an emotional level. This was something the Prequels really screwed up, and it was refreshing to finally have a new crop of three-dimensional characters operating in a story that has a some genuine emotion and substance.

Another key element of Star Wars is its sense of humor, and Abrams successfully reinstated the natural, organic humor that flows from the characters’ personalities, rather than resorting to a cartoonish slapstick humor.

The film also isn’t totally overloaded with bad CGI. Although of course a lot of CGI was used, for the most part it’s blended with old-school costumes, make-up, physical sets and real locations. Lucas had tried so hard to make the Prequels special effects extravaganzas that he neglected the story and characters, and the result was a total disaster where even the effects seemed totally out of place. So, at the very least, Abrams didn’t ruin the film by continuing down the path of putting visuals over narrative. A bit more on this later.

Abrams also gets some important details right. The language of the opening crawl sounds right and sets up the story in an easy to understand way, fitting right into place with the Original tradition. And the film’s pacing feels just right. After an initial rush we’re eased into the story and it’s allowed to develop naturally. We get to know our new heroes Finn and Rey by observing them in their current environments, just as we were first introduced to Luke Skywalker, rather than having the essence of their characters explicitly spelled out. And in general The Force Awakens does look and feel like a genuine Star Wars film. The cinematography style, the lighting, the music, and the transitional wipes all pass inspection. So then, why can’t I shake this feeling that something is horribly wrong?

Where things break down goes back to my initial fears of the franchise being sold to Disney and J.J. Abrams being tapped to oversee the project. Despite getting many of the details essentially right and establishing an aesthetic that looks and feels like it belongs in the tradition of the Originals, more than anything this film comes off as a product rather than as a piece of art. The Original series might have been wildly successful, but this was surprising to literally everyone involved, including Lucas himself.

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Star Wars wasn’t designed to be a massive cultural phenomenon, it was just a personal story, told with honesty and integrity, which just happened to strike a chord with millions of people. The Force Awakens, however, is a film specifically designed to make fans happy. Or, perhaps more accurately, to not piss off the fans. Disney paid a lot of money to have the opportunity to sell this product, and in order to get the most out of their investment they played it as safe as possible. Make a technically good movie that looks and feels right, but which doesn’t take any big risks or try anything new, and sit back and watch the money roll in from fans who just want to forget the Prequels exist. It’s all so calculated, and kind of evil, like a Sith master plan to trick us all into thinking we’re getting what we want (a real Star Wars film), while in reality Disney is just laughing its way to the bank after bottling up our nostalgia for our childhoods and selling it back to us.

The Force Awakens is a rehashed version of A New Hope that panders to our longing for something innocent and true and real from our past. But it’s not really real art or a genuine cultural phenomenon, like Star Wars was in 1977, it’s a manufactured product designed to tickle your nostalgia for the real thing. And as such it can never really be a great, worthwhile piece of art in its own right, because its goal is to make a profit while reminding you of your past, and tricking you into thinking you’re experiencing it again. But it’s a pale, ultimately empty reflection of something that was genuinely meaningful.

Disney and Abrams looked at the Original formula that captured the hearts of millions, and blatantly copied it in a way that is almost laughable. Of course Luke, Leia, and Han are back in cameo/supporting roles, and most of the new characters are designed to be obvious stand-ins for the old ones. Rey and Finn fill the roles of the original young trio, Kylo Ren is the new Darth Vader, Snoke is the new Emperor, BB-8 is the new R2D2, Poe is the new Wedge (with a bit more personality), and General Hux is the new Grand Moff Tarkin. There’s even a new Death Star, except the Starkiller Base is even bigger and badder, of course.

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The film is littered with little Easter eggs, winks, and nods to the Originals in a really insulting way; things like all the staffers on the Starkiller being British, Snoke only appearing in holograms just like the Emperor did, Finn stumbling across Obi-Wan’s floating Jedi training ball and the animated chess-like game in the Millennium Falcon. There’s a scene that closely resembles the famous Cantina sequence. There’s a scene where the heroes are running around inside the Starkiller trying to disable its shields. Sound familiar? Most blatantly, there’s even a trench the Resistance pilots have to fly through during their attempt to destroy the Starkiller Base. These things are all in The Force Awakens for no other reason than to remind you of the first film, and to reinforce the idea that Abrams is fan just like you, and that he gets it, and that his film isn’t like the Prequels. Cute, huh?

Abrams’ film is such a calculated nostalgia machine, rehashing the Original formula and winking at the audience so as to safely guarantee that the fans are satisfied, that it ultimately fails to be a worthwhile piece of art in its own right. It exists only as an imitation of something else, and as a refutation of the Prequels. Though, ironically, by trying so hard to be anti-Prequel, despite laying some decent narrative groundwork to build from and establishing some interesting characters, some strange common sense mistakes are made, just like in those despised movies.

For example, Rey is a interesting character, but her intentional use of the Force without any knowledge or training whatsoever makes no sense. How would she even know what a Jedi Mind Trick is, let alone how to do it? And also, simply learning that you’re strong with the force doesn’t automatically make you skilled in the art of the lightsaber. Likewise, Finn’s showdown with Kylo Ren is highly improbable, given that Kylo is a highly skilled user of the Dark Side and Finn is just an ex-Stormtrooper who used to work in sanitation. How Finn holds his own in the fight makes no sense. That might sound like geeky nitpicking, but the point is, Lucas didn’t make those kind basic logical mistakes in the Original trilogy. Abrams knew he needed a lightsaber fight in the film, so magically Finn and Rey know how to use a lightsaber.

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And even though I praised the restrained use of CGI earlier, the original Star Wars was a film that broke new ground visually. Lucas was an artist who had a bold vision for how he wanted the film to look, and his effort to create a new kind of visual experience moved cinema forward by light-years. This new film looks “good,” but in a very safe, generic way. It really offers nothing new, and in terms of being an exciting visual experience, it doesn’t compare to any of the Original films. Also, its motion capture simply isn’t good enough and wastes the good performances of Lupita Nyong’o and Andy Serkis, and I was really hoping that Abrams would take advantage of this opportunity to do something really striking, like James Cameron did with Avatar. But Abrams simply doesn’t have Cameron’s talent.

Even though Abrams has made a film that may look and feel like a real Star Wars film, it’s ultimately fraudulent. Capturing the magic of Star Wars is about more than imitating the look, rehashing the formula of the original, and throwing in some cheap Easter eggs. A Star Wars film needs to be more than a corporation’s calculated attempt to please the most fans in the safest way possible by repackaging nostalgia in an insulting way. A real Star Wars film needs to be a personal, heartfelt piece of art. A real Star Wars film has to take some sort of a risk. It’s not The Avengers, it’s Star Wars. It’s special.

As bad as the Prequels were, at least Lucas knew better than to totally rehash what he had already done. The Force Awakens isn’t made by an artist trying to make a meaningful, personal film. It’s a product made by Hollywood’s most mainstream studio and the town’s most successful corporate hack.

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But of course, as a hopelessly devoted fan, I’ll be looking forward to Rogue One, and especially to Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII, which I hope has the emotional weight and cinematic integrity of The Empire Strikes Back, building on the good things Abrams established for The Force Awakens, but leaving behind all the condescending fan service and corporate driven nostalgia.

Mad Max: Fury Road – A Feminist Film for Right Here and Now

Every once in a while a film comes out that really touches a nerve. When Avatar came out in December of 2009, the heads of conservative pundits collectively exploded while they denounced the film’s various progressive themes. Those efforts were in vein as Avatar clearly struck a chord with the masses, and it went on to become the highest grossing film ever. It was the right film at the right time.

While it probably won’t end up making $2.7 billion at the box office, Mad Max: Fury Road also seems to have touched a nerve. George Miller’s new film appears to be a piece of art having a profound political impact on society, igniting a fierce debate about women’s equality. Like Avatar before it, perhaps Fury Road is the perfect film for this moment.

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Prior to Fury Road‘s release, “men’s rights” activist (or MRA) Aaron Clarey published a blog post on the website Return of Kings warning men not to be “duped” by the film which appears to be a “straight-up guy flick” but might actually be a “Trojan horse” designed to “force a lecture on feminism down your throat.” This post went viral on the internet and the topic was picked up by many mainstream news outlets. Since then, Mad Max: Fury Road has become almost impossible to see without considering the political subtext in some way. 

Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth Mad Max film George Miller has made, and the first since 1985′s Beyond Thunderdome. Fury Road is not exactly a direct continuation of the original series, nor is it quite a re-boot. Perhaps it could be called a “re-imagining” of the franchise, or simply a new stand-alone episode in Max’s life. But whatever it is, Fury Road is an immensely visceral and entertaining piece of cinema. However, while on the surface it appears to be a simple film, one that functions perfectly well as a straight forward action adventure, upon closer examination a very sophisticated piece of work is revealed. In fact, part of what makes it so entertaining, and so powerful, is that its momentum organically flows from a high-level understanding of the political terms involved in the struggle for women’s equality.

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Fury Road begins with Max alone in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Australia, surviving on his own, searching for a “righteous cause,” as the opening narration states, after failing to protect his family during the collapse of society. The film jumps straight into the action, and he’s quickly captured by scavengers belonging to a society ruled by a man known as Immortan Joe, a warlord who has established a patriarchal dictatorship centered around a worship of cars and the glorification death in combat. Immortan Joe hoards resources and puts a strict limit on how much food and water is distributed to the general population. It’s a cult-like society defined by masculine violence and the repression of women. With sickness and death rampant, Immortan Joe is trying to produce an heir to continue on after him, and so he keeps sex slaves who function as “breeders” imprisoned, separated from the rest of society.

By chance, at nearly the same moment Max is brought into the Citadel, a woman named Furiosa begins to carry out a plot to rescue Immortan Joe’s “Wives” by smuggling the five of them out under the false pretense of an assignment to acquire gas from a nearby town. Once Furiosa’s true intentions become apparent, a wild chase begins, which Max is forced into against his will. What unfolds is one of the most breathtaking and visually amazing action films in recent memory, in part because it’s so unlike most modern blockbusters. While films like The Avengers: Age of Ultron or The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 are basically soulless products of a corporate assembly line, Mad Max: Fury Road is obviously the result of a singular artistic vision. But as visually amazing as this film is, George Miller clearly had something more than simply creating an awesome thrill ride in mind.

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It’s a film about a world in which women have been stripped of their agency by a warlord who champions macho violence, and uses religion as a tool of manipulation. The Citadel’s women appear to be kept mostly out of sight. They are used as incubators to produce more “war boys” and literally milked like cattle for the benefit of the elites. And even Furiosa, who appears to have some level of rank and authority, was originally brought into Immortan Joe’s society as a result of post-apocalyptic human trafficking.

Misogynists like Aaron Clarey fantasize about a world like this becoming reality and claim that women being forced into servitude and becoming nothing more than objects who need the benevolent protection of men to survive is the “natural order” of biology. George Miller’s film seems designed explicitly as a polemic against this idea, and it makes its case in a radical way.

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While the first act of Fury Road reveals the horror of a reactionary’s fantasy world, the rest of the film is carefully crafted to show just how unnatural and fundamentally unjust that kind of society is. The film is loaded with nuance that undermines misogynistic ideology. For example, the kick-ass female lead character played by Charlize Theron is something idiotic men’s rights crybabies have bemoaned as “unrealistic,” but, in all honesty, there’s nothing new about a film with a strong female lead. But what is progressive here is the way that Miller refuses to sexualize Furiosa. Theron isn’t rehashing her Aeon Flux role here, she’s playing someone who is every bit as grounded in reality as Max, someone who is simply a strong human being who happens to be female, not a male-fantasy action vixen in skin tight leather.

In addition to having a strong female lead, Fury Road makes a point to emphasize things that are supposedly evidence of women’s weakness, and it turns those things into strengths. The Wives turn their pregnancy into a weapon, using their bodies as shields to protect Max and Furiosa. Later in the film the group is joined by a band of elderly female warriors. In the end, they form a cohesive team of pregnant, elderly, and disabled women, supposedly the weakest and most vulnerable members of society, yet they prove to be a force to be reckoned with. Max stands along side them side by side as an ally, and an equal.

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Also, in a powerful symbolic statement Miller underscores the importance of women in society. “Mother’s milk” is one of the only viable forms of nutrition in the wasteland. In a world of insane masculine violence, women become a life sustaining antidote to the madness. Their emancipation is the righteous cause Max was searching for, and together both sexes stand against a system of patriarchal oppression.

But even while Fury Road has an obvious feminist theme, acknowledged by both reactionaries and progressives, there are also people on both sides of that ideological divide who want to downplay or flat out deny the the film’s feminism. There is one moment in the film that is frequently pointed to as evidence that the film isn’t as feminist as it may appear. After the first major chase sequence, Furiosa’s rig is stopped in the middle of the desert. Max, who had been thrown from a vehicle, wakes up and stumbles over to the rig. As he walks around the large tanker truck, all five of the Wives are revealed on screen for the first time, bathing from a hose attached to the rig.

At first glance it might appear that Miller is guilty of objectifying the women on screen, sexualizing the moment, but upon further reflection this isn’t the case at all. These are women who have just escaped from sex slavery and spent a couple hours stowed away in a sweltering metal truck. They are still wearing the skimpy outfits they had on at the time of their rescue. Should Furiosa have packed them a change of clothes before sneaking them out of Immortan Joe’s compound? And what exactly are these women doing at that moment out there in the desert? They’re using bolt cutters to free each other from the chastity belts they’ve been forced to wear, which are then kicked angrily into the dirt. Plus, the first moment Max sees what’s going on, everyone freezes and time seems to stand still for a few seconds. It’s a split second of humor in a film that hardly gives you a second to breathe.

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Miller seems to have orchestrated this moment as if to deliberately mock the kind of exploitative film he didn’t make. In a lesser film, the camera would have lingered on the beautiful bodies on display, but Miller quickly subverts expectations by turning it into a fight scene, and there’s nothing very sexy about it. So, the moment that is frequently sited as proof of the film’s non-feminism is actually a scene where emancipated sex slaves are literally removing the chains of their bondage, and fighting to maintain their new-found freedom. 

Mad Max: Fury Road has a bold, clear aesthetic and an obvious style that distinguishes it from most major blockbuster films of this era. It takes artistic risks. There are times when the film is sped up, paying homage to the look of the original Mad Max series, and Miller also uses a couple long slow-motion shots. The characters fully inhabit this post-apocalyptic world, thanks mainly to Miller’s savvy direction. People speak in a dialect that is just the right balance between understandable and realistically detached from modern speech. Charlize Theron in particular steals the show as Furiosa, and her performance is likely what will be most remembered about this film. Tom Hardy gets the job done as Mel Gibson’s replacement, though the few times he has to speak come off as a bit unnatural, perhaps intentionally. All the supporting roles are filled out nicely. Nicholas Hoult is memorable as the deceptively well-developed character Nux, and all of the women who play the Wives and the Mothers add interesting individual flare to characters that could have been generic in the wrong hands.

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Of course Mad Max: Fury Road is an action film, and the majority of the film is an extended chase sequence without much exposition. It could almost function as a silent film since the narrative is propelled primarily by the action rather than dialogue. 2013′s Gravity was similar in this way, and director Alfonso Cuarón actually thought about doing that project as a silent film. But Fury Road is perhaps better compared to another 2013 film, Snowpiercer. It is also a thrilling action film populated by characters pursuing a simple objective, and like Fury Road its narrative is defined by a sense of forward momentum. But Bong Joon Ho’s film also functioned as a highly sophisticated microcosm of revolutionary theory and could practically be used as a guide on how to overthrow a system of oppression. Indeed, BuzzFeed contributor Laurie Penny similarly describes Fury Road as “a feminist playbook for surviving dystopia,” and she’s right on the money.

The chase in Fury Road makes for very entertaining cinema, but the film’s central conflict is also symbolic of something much greater. It’s the struggle for what kind of future we want to have; one where women are the possessions of men, objectified, defined by their sexuality, and used as incubators, or a future where women are fully equal human beings with free agency to determine the course of their own lives. That is really what the women of Fury Road are fighting for, along with their male allies, and the action takes on a sense of urgency because the stakes are so critically important, both in the fictional post-apocalyptic future, as well as right here and now. That is why the Aaron Clareys of the world are so thoroughly threatened by this film, because what could be scarier to misogynists than a world where women not only refuse to meekly accept their cages, but where they are strong enough to dictate their futures on their own terms?

We live during a time in which the powerful would like the oppressed classes of the world to believe that the battle is over and that they have achieved victory. They point to Obama in the White House or female CEOs in the business world as proof that things have changed. But these are illusions that belie the continued brutality and discrimination women face because the system that perpetuates inequality and oppression is still in place, and the desperate struggle to achieve genuine equality is still ongoing.

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This is why films like Avatar and Mad Max: Fury Road are able to provoke such vile reactions from those who benefit from the oppression of others. These are films about the destruction of their reactionary ideology after the oppressed dare to stand up and say, “no more!” This message strikes a chord with society because the struggle is right now. Both Avatar and Fury Road feature a man and a women standing together as equals to resist oppression. The battles fought by Jake Sully and Neytiri and by Max and Furiosa reflect the very real battles being waged on the streets around the world right now, because they recognize not only the need not only to escape oppression, but but also the importance of defeating the system that perpetuates it. Films like Mad Max: Fury Road should be celebrated for infusing the complicated terms of radical struggle into their stories in such an easily accessible way, allowing them to resonate so profoundly with the masses through the power of pure entertainment.

[EDIT] Soon after publishing this piece I realized that I left out something very important I had planned on saying. Sometimes I get too close to my writing and forget to take a step back to make sure all the proper bases are covered, so I hope to correct that here, below.

There are people out there who have seen this film and think it’s awesome, but deny that it’s feminist. They want to enjoy the action without acknowledging that the film is putting forward an ideology they can’t stand, and so they make excuses and rationalize things. They say that it’s “just” an action film and that any feminism is a mostly accidental byproduct. Well, unfortunately for those people, that simply isn’t the case.

George Miller knew he was making a film with heavy feminist themes, and he wanted to make sure he got it right. So, to help him through the project he called in Eve Ensler, the feminist playwright and activist, to be a consultant on set. Miller wanted Ensler to speak to the cast and crew about the violence women continue to face around the world, especially in war zones. A Time Magazine interview with Ensler can be read here.

Miller also wanted the film to have a feminine touch in post production, and so he asked his wife Margaret Sixel to edit the film, even though she had never worked on an action film, or a film as large in scope. When asked why, Miller said, “Because if a guy did it, it would look like every other action movie.” Clearly he was after something different than the standard action film, and it’s fair to say that was achieved. An article about Sixel’s experience on Fury Road can be read here.

The Political Battleground of the 2015 Academy Awards

In 1978, Vanessa Redgrave won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the film Julia, about a woman who is murdered by the Nazis for her anti-fascist activism. That same year, Redgrave also produced and narrated a documentary called The Palestinian about the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). In protest of her nomination, the Jewish Defense League picketed the Academy Awards and burned effigies of the actress. When Redgrave took the stage to accept her Oscar, she used the opportunity to take a political stand.

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She thanked her co-star Jane Fonda and Julia‘s director Fred Zinnemann, and then went on to express gratitude to the millions who sacrificed in the struggle against fascism and the Nazis. Redgrave then thanked the Academy for resisting intimidation from “Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression.” But she didn’t stop there. She continued, “I salute all of you for having stood firm and dealt a final blow against that period when [Richard] Nixon and [Joseph] McCarthy launched a worldwide witch-hunt against those who tried to express in their lives and their work the truth that they believe in. I salute you and I thank you and I pledge to you that I will continue to fight against antisemitism and fascism.”

Two hours later during that Academy Awards ceremony in 1978, Paddy Chayefsky took the stage to present the awards for Best Writing, and he fired back at Redgrave, “I would like to say, personal opinion, of course, that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda. I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.”

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The Oscars in 1978 provided a clear example of how conflicting political attitudes and ideologies compete on stage in front of millions. Under the surface, the Academy Awards always reflect the prevailing politics of Hollywood at a given moment in time, but sometimes these ideological struggles bubble over for all to see when participants in the ceremony seize the opportunity to speak out, or to condemn those who do.

Like the Oscars in 1978, last night’s 87th Academy Awards were also defined by politics, starting long before the ceremony even took place. Immediately following the announcement of the nominees on January 15th, a Twitter hashtag was created (#OscarsSoWhite) to mock and protest the Academy for failing to consider a single non-white actor or actress in any of the four acting categories. All 20 nominees were white for the first time since 1995. Many were also outraged that Ava DuVernay, the black, female director of Selma was also not nominated in the Best Director category. After the diverse Oscar ceremony from the previous year, it was clear the Academy was taking a step backwards, and controversy swirled leading up to the Awards, amplified by the context of recent events in Ferguson, MO and the social awakening in the wake of a rash of cases of police brutality.

When the Academy Awards broadcast began last night, race was an obvious elephant in the room. In an apparent attempt to compensate for the lack of black nominees, host Neil Patrick Harris conspicuously incorporated black people into the show, as if to say, “See, we’re not racist!” He enlisted Oscar winner Octavia Spencer to participate in a gag that ran throughout the broadcast, and she was also an award presenter. Harris also interviewed David Oyelowo from his seat in the crowd, and later on, when Oyelowo and Jennifer Aniston appeared on stage to present an award, Harris announced them as people “who absolutely deserve to be here,” in a not so subtle reference to their snubs by Oscar.

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But despite a drastically less diverse field of nominees this year, several of the winners rose to the occasion and spoke out on relevant and important progressive political issues, just like Vanessa Redgrave did in 1978. Patricia Arquette made the first bold statement of the night. On the issue of women’s equality she said, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” she demanded from the stage, which got the audience fired up. Most notably, Meryl Streep jumped out of her seat, cheering and pointing at the stage in approval. Arquette won Best Supporting Actress for the film Boyhood, which depicts a single-mother struggling to raise two children over the course of 12 years, while suffering from a pattern of domestic abuse and financial difficulties.

The ceremony was also marked by a pointed political conflict in the style of Redgrave and Chayefsky, with a progressive speaking out on an issue, followed by the voice of the establishment responding. Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour won for Best Documentary Feature, a film about how she and Glenn Greenwald worked with Edward Snowden when he came forward to leak classified documents about the NSA spying program. During her acceptance speech she said, “The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy, but to our democracy itself. When the most important decisions being made that affect all of us are being made in secrecy, we lose our ability to check the powers in control. Thank you to Edward Snowden for his courage, and for the many other whistle-blowers. I share this with Glenn Greenwald and the other journalists who are exposing truth. Thank you.”

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Immediately following Poitras’ speech, cameras cut back to host Neil Patrick Harris, who right before a commercial break said, “The subject of Citizenfour couldn’t be here for some treason.” The pun was not funny and the crowd did not laugh. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room, perceptible even on TV, for a few moments before ABC faded out for commercials. The “joke” was reprehensible, especially after the meaningful speech by Poitras to raise awareness about the crimes of the government and the vital importance of both whistle-blowers and independent journalists. Even if Harris’ rebuttal was simply a poor attempt to improvise a joke while under the enormous pressure of live TV being watched by millions (which is giving him a tremendous benefit of the doubt), there can be no doubt that what he did, in a single sentence, was defend the establishment and mock the bravery of people like Edward Snowden while endangering future whistle-blowers by publicly floating the idea that what they’re doing amounts to treason, which is one of the most serious charges that one can have leveled against them.

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Later on, Graham Moore took the stage to accept the Best Adapted Screenplay award for The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing, a gay man who helped develop methods to crack Nazi codes during World War 2. Turing was later prosecuted for “Homosexual Acts” which were illegal in the UK at the time. He was chemically castrated, and not long afterward in what was a possible suicide Turing died from cyanide poisoning. Graham Moore used his moment in the spotlight as an opportunity to speak about those who are made to feel different in society being driven to suicide. “I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.”

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However, given the controversy surrounding the all white slate of acting nominees, perhaps the most cathartic moment of the night came during the performance of “Glory” by John Legend and Common, the nominated song from Selma. The crowd was flooded by an emotional release in which many in attendance were reduced to tears, culminating in a standing ovation. Shortly following the performance, “Glory” won the award for Best Original Song. During his acceptance speech Legend said, “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now! Because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the voting rights that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised in this country today.” He continued, “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were in slavery in 1850.”

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Of course the ceremony also had its negative moments, such as when Sean Penn yelled “Who gave this SOB his green card?” before announcing Alejandro G. Iñárritu the winner of the Best Director award, but at least in that instance Iñárritu had the opportunity to get the last word, using his time on stage to shine a light on immigration policy. First, in direct response to Penn’s “joke”, Iñárritu said, “Maybe next year the government will inflict some immigration rules to the Academy. Two Mexicans in a row, that’s suspicious, I guess.” He was referring to Alfonso Cuarón winning Best Director the year before for Gravity. He then concluded by saying, “Finally, I just want to, I want to take one second, I just want to take the opportunity, I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and build this incredible immigrant nation. Thank you very much.”

The 87th Academy Awards will be remembered for the way winner after winner used the stage to bravely take a progressive stand on one of many important political issues. There will likely be detractors who come forward to denounce this type of acceptance speech activism. They’ll say things like Paddy Chayefsky said in 1978, the essence of which is that people shouldn’t “abuse the platform” to drag whatever their “pet political cause” may be into the spotlight; that they shouldn’t “bring politics into it.” But when detractors make arguments like this, what they’re really saying is that they don’t want progressive politics brought up, because of course the dominant ideology in this society is the reactionary default of the ruling elite class, and that default isn’t considered “political” by the same standard. So, given this, that’s actually all the more reason why it’s important for progressive people to step forward and make their voices heard, both through their art, as well as on stage at the Academy Awards.

THE FEDREV 100: A Progressive Exploration of Film (41-50)

“The FedRev 100” is a personal top 100 films list from a progressive perspective, and articles will be published revealing 10 films from the list at a time. Once all 100 titles have been revealed, the entire “FedRev 100″ will be published in list form with links back to the write-up articles so readers will be able to scan the overall list, and then click on individual titles to read up on why each was selected. An in-depth explanation of the list’s criteria will be given when the entire list is revealed, but to briefly explain, the list is comprised of great films that uphold a progressive view of the world. The list is a blend of personal favorites with celebrated classics, as well as a few obscure gems that deserve greater exposure. Here is the The FedRev 100: films 41 to 50.

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41. Cidade de Deus [City of God] (2002, F. Meirelles) 

Director Fernando Meirelles burst onto the scene with City of God, a true tour de force of film making. The film is propelled by a furious energy as it tells the history of gang violence in the poverty stricken slums of Rio de Janeiro from the point of view of the youth growing up under severe economic oppression. The story is a memoir, told chronologically though flashback, and it employs a host of techniques that in the wrong hands often come off as cheesy, such as freeze-frames, spinning cameras, and the names of characters popping up on screen as they’re introduced. Under Meirelles’ guidance these techniques are elevated to the divine, woven into the fabric of a masterfully crafted film. City of God is the story of one kid growing up, but through that lens we are exposed to a world of segregated poverty, hidden beyond the sight of the tourist resorts and upper class neighborhoods. Revealed here is the struggle of the poor and oppressed in the underbelly of capitalist society.

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42. Gojira [Godzilla] (1954, I. Honda) 

Made less than a decade after the end of World War II, with nuclear annihilation still fresh in the Japanese consciousness after the U.S. dropped two atom bombs on the already defeated nation, Godzilla brought to life a horrific monster as a metaphor for nuclear destruction. The film was inspired by a real-life “accident” in which a Japanese fishing boat was irradiated by American nuclear testing in the Pacific, and the resulting film was pointedly anti-American and a powerful condemnation of nuclear weapons. Over the years, nearly 30 Japanese Godzilla sequels have been produced, as well as 2 Hollywood remakes, making the franchise one of the most enduring and prolific in film history. While many of the sequels don’t take themselves very seriously, there can be no denying the impact the original film has had on society. It is a terrifying and highly entertaining film whose politics are integral to the plot, and its anti-nuclear stance resonated with millions of people around the world, making Godzilla one of the most beloved characters in cinema.

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43. Cradle Will Rock (1999, T. Robbins) 

Written and directed by Tim Robbins, Cradle Will Rock is a love letter to the theater and the role of art in society as a tool for resisting oppression. Set during the 1930s in New York City, the film centers around the production of the musical “The Cradle Will Rock,” directed by Orson Welles and written by Marc Blitzstein, through the Federal Theater Project. Robbins’ film is an ensemble which weaves together many characters and issues of the time, including the saga of John Rockefeller hiring Diego Rivera to paint a mural for him, only to have it destroyed because of its leftist themes. Cradle Will Rock also addresses the rise of fascism in Europe and the growing anti-communist climate in America, depicting the House Committee on Un-American Activities as unjustly persecuting artists. Cradle Will Rock is filled with fantastic performances from many recognizable stars in small parts, and was clearly a labor of love for all involved, resulting in a film that joyously celebrates art while mourning the death of the Federal Theater Project and condemning the oppression of the poor by the ruling class.

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44. Brokeback Mountain (2005, A. Lee) 

Brokeback Mountain beat the odds to become a worldwide hit, and then became one of the most honored and acclaimed films of all time, cementing its legacy as one of the most powerful and important success stories in film history. It’s the story of two men, played brilliantly by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, who take summer jobs herding sheep in the mountains of Wyoming, where they fall in love. Living in a deeply homophobic society, they are forced to lock away their feelings and live closeted lives, each marrying a woman and having children. As the years pass they rekindle their love on occasional fishing trips, but are prevented from sharing their lives together as both of their marriages deteriorate. Brokeback Mountain is a heartbreaking love story that punches you in the gut, and it’s masterfully crafted by Ang Lee, who never rushes a single moment. Lee’s film faced a gauntlet of bigotry and conservative criticism in a risk adverse industry, and yet, because of the quality of the film making and the universally human appeal of the narrative, Brokeback Mountain was accepted by the mainstream the world over.

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45. Do the Right Thing (1989, S. Lee) 

Set on an extremely hot day in Brooklyn, Do the Right Thing is a powerful exploration of race relations in America. The film, which feels a lot like a stage play, introduces a large cast of characters who inhabit the neighborhood. Mookie, played by Spike Lee himself, plays a delivery man for an Italian-American owned pizza shop, which has a “wall of fame” of famous Italian celebrities, but no black people, despite being located in a predominantly black neighborhood. This angers Mookie’s friend, who demands that Sal, the shop’s owner, include black people on the wall. Symbolized by the rising temperature of the summer day, racial tension which had been bubbling just under the surface begins to boil over, resulting in a fight involving much of the neighborhood’s residents and the police, who murder one of the black protesters with a choke-hold. Do the Right Thing is a fantastic piece of political art that forces the audience to think about where they stand on the issue of race by raising the question of nonviolence versus violent self-defense in the face of oppression.

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46. The Shawshank Redemption (1994, F. Daramont) 

A prime example of a film that forged a reputation as a classic on home video, The Shawshank Redemption, adapted from a Stephen King novella, is a powerful film about a banker wrongfully convicted of killing his wife. Andy Dufresne is sent to Shawshank prison where he struggles to adapt to the harsh conditions. While incarcerated he is befriended by Red, the inmate who “knows how to get things.” What follows is a fantastic story of friendship, survival, and yes, redemption in the face of a cruel prison industrial complex. The inmates are portrayed as human beings trapped in a brutal, cruel circumstance, while the judicial system, warden, and guards, the official establishment of law and order, is the villain. The Shawshank Redemption is a film that takes us to the depths of despair while exposing the corruption of the powerful, but it’s punctuated by so many poignant moments. Ultimately the film is a masterpiece that puts forward one of the most hopeful and emotionally satisfying endings ever.

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47. Cloud Atlas (2012, T. Tykwer / L. Wachowski / A. Wachowski) 

One of the most ambitious mainstream films in recent years, Cloud Atlas is a genre-bending epic complete with incredible special effects and a star-studded cast of actors who all play multiple characters, but what really makes it noteworthy is its unflinching revolutionary stance. The narrative weaves together several stories which take place over hundreds of years, and the theme of directly resisting injustice is carried like a baton through each vignette, openly embracing revolution as the solution to human exploitation and oppression across the ages. It’s a film about how human beings are inextricably linked, how our actions and choices ripple through time and impact others beyond ourselves, and the need to collectively find the strength to resist injustice and break free of all forms of slavery. Cloud Atlas is a film that puts forward the idea that things do not have to be as they are, that we can birth a better future for everyone by taking the necessary steps today, and this anti-establishment message is executed with the highest regard for artistic quality, including brilliant cinematography and acting, as well as a remarkable musical score.

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48. The Constant Gardener (2005, F. Meirelles) 

Fernando Meirelles followed up his universally acclaimed masterpiece City of God with The Constant Gardener. While a more traditionally structured film than its predecessor, and one that is more measured and somber than a brutal force of nature, it’s no less beautiful, poignant, and powerful. It’s the story of a British diplomat who at great personal risk takes up his wife’s activism after she is murdered in retaliation for trying to expose corruption and murder within the pharmaceutical industry. The film is a powerful indictment of Big Pharma’s exploitation of the third world, as well as the way capitalist-imperialist governments actually work in conjunction with private industry to aid and cover up these crimes. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz give fantastic, nuanced performances, and the film takes us on a journey of intrigue and mystery through several countries. The Constant Gardener is a film that affirms the human dignity of the oppressed in the third world, while telling a powerful story of self-sacrifice in the service of a greater good.

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49. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, A. Dominick) 

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is about Jesse James, the legendary outlaw, and Robert Ford, a young man who idolizes the criminal and his exploits. Ford wants desperately to impress James, to show his abilities as a sidekick despite a lack of criminal experience. Ford’s older brother has been involved in the James gang, but despite the family connection, Robert’s knowledge of Jesse is based mostly on tall tales and comic book stories. James has become a legend in his own time, and the film is a slow burning meditation on the nature of celebrity in America. Ford worships the idea of James, the mass produced pop-culture reflection of the criminal, but learns the real man is disappointing. He’s a lonely, paranoid murderer; a shell of a human being, hollowed out by his own fame, and after realizing this Ford recruits his brother to help him collect the reward money being offered for James, dead or alive. The film is beautiful to take in, shot by the master cinematographer Roger Deakins, and those images are accompanied by a haunting score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Jesse James is a masterpiece that explores the dark side of fame in modern society.

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50. Days of Heaven (1978, T. Malick) 

Often listed among the most beautiful films ever made, Days of Heaven is the genius Terrence Malick’s second feature. It’s the story of Bill, who after killing his boss at a factory in Chicago flees to northern Texas with his girlfriend Abby and younger sister Linda, where they all sign on as seasonal workers at a rich man’s farm. The Farmer is a young man with a terminal illness, and Bill and Abby pretend to be siblings, hatching a plan to have Abby seduce and marry the farmer so they can inherit his fortune when he dies. A love triangle develops, and of course things don’t go according to plan. Set in the sparse landscape of the Texas Panhandle, the film explores the nature of love and jealousy, as well as the desperation of the poor. The tragic ending is an outcome of the values promoted in capitalist society, which condition people to see each other as property, exploiting each other as a means to attain wealth. Days of Heaven is told primarily from the perspective of Linda, who narrates the film in signature Malick style, and Ennio Morricone’s Academy Award nominated score helps the lay the emotional foundation for the narrative. Unfortunately, after directing this masterpiece Malick didn’t make another film for 20 years.

- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 51-60)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 61-70)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 71-80)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 81-90)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 91-100)

THE FEDREV 100: A Progressive Exploration of Film (51-60)

“The FedRev 100” is a personal top 100 films list from a progressive perspective, and articles will be published revealing 10 films from the list at a time. Once all 100 titles have been revealed, the entire “FedRev 100″ will be published in list form with links back to the write-up articles, so readers will be able to scan the overall list, and then click on individual titles to read up on why each was selected. An in-depth explanation of the list’s criteria will be given when the entire list is revealed, but to briefly explain, the list is comprised of great films that uphold a progressive view of the world. The list is a blend of personal favorites with celebrated classics, as well as a few obscure gems that deserve greater exposure. Here is the The FedRev 100: films 51 to 60.

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51. Trilogy: The Lord of the Rings (2001 / 2002 / 2003, P. Jackson) 

If “The FedRev 100″ were judged purely on technical and artistic achievement, without factoring in political orientation, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy would probably be in the top 10. It is truly one of the greatest achievements in the history of cinema, especially when considering that it easily could have gone very wrong. From the very beginning, Jackson devoted himself to a series that would both honor J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material and work well as a film, and he succeeded with flying colors, bringing Middle Earth to life in spectacular fashion. The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy story of good versus evil, and while its depiction of this conflict might be too black and white, what it has to say about the ability of the least likely heroes to overcome seemingly impossible odds does have value. Of course its outmoded focus on kingdoms and royal bloodlines is not something to celebrate, but it does speak to the seductive nature of power and the need to humble one’s self in the service of a greater good. Of all the technical accomplishments of the trilogy, perhaps the greatest achievement is the way Jackson handled the narrative, gradually expanding the scope of the story as the central characters splinter off into their own threads, and yet maintaining the sense that we’re watching one cohesive film. The Lord of the Rings, when taken as a whole, is a truly extraordinary cinematic experience.

KoyanisB015.page52. Koyaanisquatsi (1982, G. Reggio) 

Koyaanisquatsi is a highly political documentary, and like its predecessor Man with a Movie Camera, it’s perhaps better described as a video essay or tone poem. Though while Man with a Movie Camera highlights the virtues of socialist society, Koyaanisquatsi performs the opposite function, critiquing the waste, chaos, exploitation, and dysfunction under capitalism, juxtaposed against the serenity of nature. “Koyaanisquatsi” is a word from the Hopi language, defined during the closing credits as “crazy life,” “life in turmoil,” “life disintegrating,” and “a state of life that calls for another way of living.” The film sets about making the point, without any dialogue or narration, that contemporary capitalist society is not the way human beings should be living, and it uses slow-motion and time-lapse photography impeccably, forcing the viewer to see familiar things in a new way. Philip Glass’ haunting musical score provides a backdrop for the staggering scale of the production, becoming a character in the film in and of itself. Koyaanisquatsi is a film that illustrates the ability of artists to observe the world around them, recognize something wrong, and translate that feeling into an artistic creation that effectively communicates that message to a mass audience. This film, without uttering a single word, calls upon us to forge another way of living.

la-haine_21085653. La haine (1995, M. Kassovitz) 

La haine is a searing drama set in an impoverished suburb of Paris about three young friends from immigrant families; Vinz, Saïd, and Hubert. They are undesirables isolated from the rest of French society, and they’re routinely harassed by police. A riot is sparked by the police beating one of the trio’s friends, putting him into a coma, and in the chaos a policeman loses his gun. Vinz finds the gun and he plans to use it to kill a cop if their friend dies. The film follows the three friends, one white, one black, and one middle-eastern, throughout one full day. With no jobs and little prospect for a better future, they wander around aimlessly in an attempt to entertain themselves, under the constant threat of the police. La haine, which translates to Hate, is shot in a beautiful black & white creating a contrast that underscores the socioeconomic and race-related division of society, and the film brilliantly depicts the lose-lose situation of the oppressed under capitalism. If they accept their place as the scum of the Earth, they lose, and if they resist they face brutal crackdowns. Perhaps the only major strike against this film is the lack of a female presence, but nonetheless, La haine is a powerful film about the hatred that flourishes in societies segregated by class.

Shadow_Doubt-stairs54. Shadow of a Doubt (1943, A. Hitchcock) 

Compared to Hitchcock’s better known classics, Shadow of a Doubt might get somewhat overlooked, but it nonetheless stands as one of his greatest achievements, and it was also the prolific director’s personal favorite among his own films. With Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock crafted an intimate portrait of small-town American life, contrasting its hidden dark side with its polished, cheerful exterior. The film centers around Uncle Charlie, a murderer on the run from the law, and his niece, also named Charlie, who gradually pieces together her uncle’s mystery as she realizes that he, like middle-class life, isn’t what he appears to be on the outside. Beyond the surface level drama, which is entertaining in its own right, Shadow of a Doubt goes much deeper, analyzing the social make-up of small town America as a garden from which fascism can grow. Uncle Charlie has a misogynist outlook, a serial killer who targets old women he perceives as a drain on society, wasting wealth that he thinks ought to belong to him, and young Charlie must overcome her own impulse to idealize her uncle in order to see him for what he really is. Besides being socially complex and nuanced, Shadow of a Doubt is also beautiful to watch, with camerawork that was ahead of its time and strikingly dynamic. Joseph Cotton turns in a fantastic and terrifying performance as Uncle Charlie, as does Teresa Wright as a young “innocent” whose struggle to defeat her uncle is a unique kind of “coming of age” tale that gets to the heart of the evil just below the surface of American society..

dvd_strange55. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963, S. Kubrick) 

Dr. Strangelove is a film that is both hilarious and deadly serious. Given the apocalyptic consequences of nuclear war, perhaps comedy and satire were the best tools to question the insanity of the Cold War. A deranged U.S. general orders a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union, having become obsessed with an imagined Soviet threat against the American people’s “precious bodily fluids,” and the film follows the efforts of the utterly inept government and military officials to prevent nuclear war. The film is a powerful attack on the U.S.’s paranoid Cold War ideology and its willingness to risk the fate of the entire world in an imperialist power struggle. It also shows how easily fail-safes can be circumvented by bureaucracies. In perhaps its boldest stroke, the film depicts U.S. collaboration with a former Nazi, the title character Dr. Strangelove, implying that perhaps the two nations who had recently been at war actually have similar ideologies at their core. The film is a wild, hilarious ride, and perhaps because of its satirical criticism it was able to get away with a rather bleak, thought provoking ending.

site_28_rand_1758118753_ali_maxed156. Ali (2001, M. Mann) 

A fantastic bio-pic, Michael Mann’s film Ali is about the boxer Cassius Clay’s decade long journey from winning the heavyweight title and being re-named Muhammad Ali by the Nation of Islam, to having his title unjustly stripped from him after refusing induction into the U.S. Army, and his struggle to reclaim his crown. Ali was an active professional fighter from 1960 through 1981, and there are many stories that could make great films within those years, but by focusing on the decade between 1964 and 1974 Mann was able to tell a powerful tale of redemption packed with political implications. The film begins with an electric 10 minute opening montage showing Ali training, inter-cut with a Sam Cooke concert. It sets the stage and the terms for the story to come, perfectly capturing the look and feel of the turbulent 1960s. The film is highly stylized, shot by perhaps the greatest living cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, and Will Smith turns in a fantastic performance as Ali, resisting the temptation to resort to an exact impression, and instead embodying Ali in a way that is emotionally authentic. Smith channels Ali’s charisma and persona without coming off as a parody, delivering instead a three-dimensional character. The film is primarily about Ali’s righteous stand against the Vietnam War, and the ramifications that stance had on his career, as well as the impact it had around the world.

435457. L’armée du crime [Army of Crime] (2009, R. Guédiguian) 

Released in the same year as Inglourious Basterds, Robert Guédiguian’s Army of Crime is also set in France during WWII. But while Tarantino’s film is an escapist revenge fantasy that takes great liberties with history, allowing the audience to revel in an unnatural catharsis, Army of Crime is firmly grounded in reality, showing the nuts and bolts of the French Resistance. It’s a bold, uncompromising film that forces the audience to confront reality. It’s explicit about the vital role communists played in organizing and leading the Resistance, as well as the collaboration with Nazis on the part of French authorities and police officers. Indeed, the underground opposition fighters are primarily pursued and betrayed by their own countrymen, who brutally torture and murder suspects on behalf of the occupying Germans. Army of Crime is edited in a classic, straightforward manner, and the actors authentically portray those who faced a choice between self-preservation and self-sacrifice. It’s a great film that challenges the audience, perfectly capturing the political terms and the stakes involved in carrying out a resistance movement against fascism.

dinner-with-andre158. My Dinner With Andre (1981, L. Malle) 

The brainchild of actors Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, and directed by Louis Malle, My Dinner with Andre is a film that is so simple in concept that it gently lulls the audience into its embrace. It’s a film that is literally a conversation between two people; one, who tells of the varied and rich experiences in his life after leaving mainstream society and traveling the world, and the other, who listens attentively but ultimately argues for a more pragmatic, conventional (first world) way of life. The film sets up an ideological struggle between the two men, and throughout the conversation the “realistic” character is forced to examine society and his place in it, as what he perceives as normal and real is actually artificially contrived, and what he perceives as fantasy is actually real. While a film about two people having a conversation could easy become dull and monotonous, Malle keeps it cinematically interesting and visually dynamic in a way that reinforces the dialogue; the image and the word working hand in hand to challenge the way the audience sees the world.

fullsizephoto35317959. Gwoemul [The Host] (2006, Bong J.) 

The Host belongs in the conversation for the greatest monster film ever made. Bong’s genre masterpiece is about a family who owns a snack shop along the Han River, and primarily about Gang-doo, the adult son of the shop’s aging owner, Hie-bong. One day a mysterious amphibious creature is seen hanging off a nearby bridge before it drops into the water and terrorizes the people on the riverbank. After trying to fight off the monster and help those in need, Gang-doo’s daughter is kidnapped by the creature and taken away to its hidden lair in the city’s sewer system. Hie-bong’s other two adult children join Gang-doo, re-uniting to try to rescue his daughter. The film, which is highly entertaining on a surface level, also has strong political undertones, specifically targeting American imperialism, carrying on the tradition established by Godzilla in 1954. The monster is a result of genetic mutation after an American doctor violated safety protocols and ordered a Korean subordinate dump a large amount of toxic formaldehyde down the drain. And throughout the film we see signs of political unrest stemming from the American military presence and the quarantine imposed by the American government, which is based on lies. The climax of the film comes to a head during a political rally in which activists are protesting the U.S.’s planned use of a chemical called Agent Yellow against the creature. The Host is an entertaining and moving film infused with a powerful anti-imperialist message.

hero_EB19971021REVIEWS08401010361AR60. Sweet Smell of Success (1957, A. Mackendrick) 

Sweet Smell of Success is a highly stylized film noir that takes us inside the seedy underworld of entertainment columnists and press agents in New York City. It’s a world where self-interest rules, and everyone is trying to get ahead, or merely survive, in harsh dog-eat-dog conditions. Ethics are a non-existent consideration in a setting where corruption and extortion are necessary tools for success, and everyone is fair game to manipulate and exploit. Burt Lancaster plays J.J. Hunsecker, a powerful columnist who rules over the fates of the aspiring with an iron fist, turning in an iconic villainous performance. And Tony Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a down-on-his-luck press agent desperate to get his clients mentioned in Hunsecker’s column so he can pay his rent. Hunsecker exploits Falco’s desperation to manipulate his sister’s relationship with a Jazz musician he doesn’t approve of. It’s a film that shows how power structures work under capitalism. Those who have exploit those who don’t to achieve even greater power and influence, no matter who must be trampled or destroyed in the process. Sweet Smell of Success has a sizzling script and an immersive visual aesthetic that transports you directly into a corrupt world of exploitation and greed.

- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 41-50)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 61-70)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 71-80)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 81-90)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 91-100)

THE FEDREV 100: A Progressive Exploration of Film (61-70)

“The FedRev 100” is a personal top 100 films list from a progressive perspective, and on a weekly basis articles will be published revealing 10 films from the list at a time. Once all 100 titles have been revealed, the entire “FedRev 100″ will be published in list form with links back to the write-up articles, so readers will be able to scan the overall list, and then click on individual titles to read up on why each was selected. An in-depth explanation of the list’s criteria will be given when the entire list is revealed, but to briefly explain, the list is comprised of great films that uphold a progressive view of the world. The list is a blend of personal favorites with celebrated classics, as well as a few obscure gems that deserve greater exposure. Here is the The FedRev 100: films 61 to 70.

Vertov man with a movie camera

61. Chelovek s kino-apparatom [Man with a Movie Camera] (1929, D. Vertov) 

It’s often goes without question that life in the Soviet Union was dull, miserable, and oppressive. Man with a Movie Camera almost single-handedly dispels this notion. It’s a wildly inventive documentary of Soviet life a mere 12 years following the 1917 revolution. The film focuses on urban life in several Soviet cities and ultimately illustrates that film can go anywhere and do anything. Vertov utilized double exposure, fast and slow motion, split screens, jump cuts, freeze frames, hidden cameras, and rapid editing to capture the excitement of socialist society. He also shows the film itself being shot by another cameraman, as well as the film’s own editing process. We even see shots of an audience watching footage from the film in an acknowledgement that the people of society are were part of the film-making process. Man with a Movie Camera is a radical film that strove to show the progress being made under socialism to bring a new world into being, and the avant-garde film itself is evidence of the artistry that was possible during that time. Man with a Movie Camera is thrilling 85 years later, both because of the sheer daring of its vision, and because it’s a window we can still look through to glimpse a new and better future.

hero_EB20040620REVIEWS08406200301AR62. Jules et Jim [Jules and Jim] (1962, F. Truffaut) 

Jules and Jim is one of the definitive films of the French New Wave. It focuses on a relationship between two male friends who each fall in love with the same woman, Catherine, who is impulsive and charismatic, sexy and sophisticated, emotional and intelligent. The film takes place over many years before and after World War I, which has a major impact on the trio because Jules is Austrian and Jim is French, causing them to fight on opposite sides of the war, each hoping not to kill the other. The film puts forward a very progressive view of romantic relationships. While both Jules and Jim love Catherine, neither feels like they own her, and certainly neither could control her even if they wanted to. Catherine is an independent woman. She knows herself and she does what she wants, whether that be dressing up like a man for fun, or jumping off a ledge into a river to get the attention of the Jules and Jim. Though there are complications, the three friends handle them with respect for each other and with unselfish consideration of the others’ happiness. Their entire saga is a subtle subversion of the dominant ideology governing romantic relationships, and even when their situation leads to despair or heartache, it’s handled on their own terms. This includes the tragic ending, which, without giving too much away, was a statement of protest; a refusal to allow the rise of fascism to determine their fate.

v463. V for Vendetta (2005, J. McTeigue) 

Directed by Wachowski disciple James McTeigue, V for Vendetta is definitive proof that radical films can be viable in the mainstream, having made $130 million worldwide. But more important than its box office success is the influence its had inspiring progressives of various stripes to mobilize against reactionary policies in the real world. V is the embodiment of an idea, a symbol of struggle against oppression, modeled after Guy Fawkes but capable of being taken up by anyone. The story centers around V, a masked vigilante who encourages the masses to rise up against the oppressive fascist regime ruling the UK, and Evey, a woman V takes under his wing and convinces to help him overthrow the government. The film hits all the right notes. The police are the real criminals, religious leaders are hypocritical child molesters, the surveillance state is depicted as an enemy of the people, the mainstream media helps spread lies, and the government uses torture and intentionally propagates fear of terrorism to legitimize their totalitarian regime. V for Vendetta is wildly entertaining, and it entertains while wearing its leftist politics on its sleeve, making it extremely socially significant.

5-club-de-los-poetas-muertos_galeriaBig64. Dead Poets Society (1989, P. Weir) 

Featuring perhaps Robin Williams’ best dramatic performance, Dead Poets Society is a film that celebrates the role of art in society, while also encouraging a rebellious attitude against convention and authority. The film centers around Todd Anderson, a student starting his first year at a conservative prep school. Todd is shy and insecure, but he quickly joins a group of friends after they invite him to be part of their study group. They then encounter Mr. Keating, the school’s new English teacher. Keating is charismatic and inspires his students to “seize the day.” He ignites in the boys a love for poetry and encourages them to see the world from new perspectives. Todd and the rest of his new group take Keating to heart and re-form the school’s underground “Dead Poets Society,” sneaking out late at night to read together in a cave off campus. Dead Poets Society is a near perfect film; a coming of age tale, but with a purposely limited scope, focusing on the importance of this particular moment in the boy’s lives. They can either follow the conservative path they’re supposed to, or follow Keating’s plea to “make your lives extraordinary.”

children-of-men-baby165. Children of Men (2006, A. Cuarón) 

Despite failing to capture a wide audience upon its release, Children of Men will likely be remembered as one of the definitive films of the last decade. Not only is it a monumental technical and artistic achievement, featuring the brilliant cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, it also touches on a variety of social issues which blend into the fabric of the film. Children of Men takes place in the near future after humanity has ceased to be able to reproduce, and with no new generations to raise society has fallen into chaos with the knowledge that mankind will soon go extinct. A Nazi-like government clings to power with brutal crackdowns on illegal immigrants, and society has degenerated into an outright police state. Like The Battle of Algiers, the film utilizes a documentary/newsreel aesthetic, which allows for a subtle, yet powerful visual exposition, rather than a heavy-handed approach though dialogue. The audience becomes enveloped in the action as Theo, a civil servant, is convinced to help evacuate a woman who is inexplicably pregnant to a mythical safe-haven called the Human Project. While envisioning a bleak dystopian future, Children of Men ultimately has a positive view of the human spirit and shows a glimmer of hope for the future.

RevolutionaryRoad66. Revolutionary Road (2008, S. Mendes) 

Based on the novel by Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road is a gut-punching story about the emptiness of contemporary society and the way people are conditioned to slowly give up on their dreams by being pressured into ever more comfortable circumstances. It’s a story about marriage and appearance vs. reality. On the outside, Frank and April Wheeler are the perfect American couple, but as the story unfolds the depths of their unhappiness is revealed. Frank takes the train to his corporate job in the city every day, and April is a housewife who stays home with the kids. Neither are happy with their repetitive suburban life and they form a plan to leave the U.S. to live in Paris as a last ditch effort to reclaim their lives and save their marriage. In addition to a powerful portrayal of women’s oppression, the film depicts the pressure of society to conform; when they tell their friends of their plan to leave they are met with disbelief and skepticism, illustrating the way conformity in society works. Their friends can’t tolerate the idea that they would take the initiative to seek a new way of life. Other factors also emerge to keep them trapped when Frank is offered a promotion and April discovers she’s pregnant. Revolutionary Road re-unites Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet who had previously starred together in Titanic, and the film is skillfully directed Sam Mendes, who adds a strong visual aesthetic to the blistering critique of society.

32093_Invasion-of-the-body-Snatchers-267. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, D. Siegel) 

A brilliant atmospheric horror film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been the subject of analysis and interpretation for decades. It’s clear that this story about humans being replaced by alien “pod people” is saying something, but what? Some say that it’s an anti-communist allegory in which the slow, unnoticed takeover of pods represents the Red Scare. But while it does seem clear that McCarthyism is a central theme and that the film reflects the paranoia of the time, to say that the film is anti-communist is jumping to a simplistic, surface level conclusion. A more nuanced and thoughtful analysis suggests that what the film is really attacking is the social conformity to McCarthyism itself; a truly terrifying ideology in which those who refuse to conform to the dominant ideology are isolated and persecuted. Body Snatchers points a finger at those who conform and stand by as this kind of persecution takes place, denouncing it as an ultimate loss of humanity. The film is dark and suspenseful, following Dr. Miles Bennell as he and his girlfriend Becky try to avoid being discovered by the pods, as well as trying not to fall asleep, which triggers the transformation. The loss of consciousness is a perfect metaphor for the kind of mindless conformity to an oppressive ideology, because it takes a conscious effort to stand against a rising tide of fascism.

titanic-3d-hd-movie-captures-10-titanic-best-or-worst-film-of-all-time68. Titanic (1997, J. Cameron) 

After the unprecedented worldwide success of Titanic it became fashionable to bash the film and belittle those who love it, but the reality is that it remains one of the most cherished Hollywood films of all-time. Titanic is an epic in which the most famous shipwreck in history serves as the backdrop for a story of forbidden love through which themes of class division are explored. Set in 1912, the ship is divided into separate areas for each class. Jack, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is in 3rd class, and Rose, played by Kate Winslet, is trapped in 1st. The narrative takes us all around the ship, allowing the audience to get familiar with several passengers in both the 1st and 3rd classes (the middle class doesn’t factor much in the story) before the fateful iceberg dooms the voyage across the Atlantic. The film celebrates the life and passion of the poor, and denounces the stifling attitude of the elite. For Rose, the story becomes not only one of survival, but one of escape, and Jack is her salvation. Titanic is also a visual marvel with such an emphasis on technical merit that it’s amazing the narrative was handled so well. James Cameron’s film is an example of Hollywood at its best.

Gosford Park69. Gosford Park (2001, R. Altman) 

Heavily influenced by Renoir’s classic The Rules of the Game, Altman’s Gosford Park is a modern take on the upstairs/downstairs narrative device, following an array of characters on both sides of a severe economic divide between the bourgeois elite and their servants. The film is set at an English country house where a group of aristocrats have gathered, along with their servants, for a hunting party. The film becomes a whodunit following a murder inside the house, and the mystery is explored from the points of view of both the wealthy guests and the servants. Gosford Park examines (and is highly critical of) the aristocracy’s exploitative dependency on a underclass. The film employs Altman’s signature free-flowing dialogue style in which characters speak over each other as people naturally do, and the camera glides smoothly around the huge manor. Unlike his later television series, Downton Abbey, which can perhaps be seen as an apology to the ruling class for Gosford Park, writer Julian Fellowes’ script spares no expense in its critique of the class structure. The house guests are portrayed as petty, cruel, oblivious, out of touch, and abusive of power, and the servants are depicted as victims with little hope of a better life under the aristocracy. By weaving together several narrative threads and cinematic devices, Altman created a masterpiece that is at once a dark comedy mocking the elite and a serious drama about the struggle of the working class under an oppressive system.

Jane Fonda y Vanessa Redgrave en JULIA70. Julia (1977, F. Zinnemann) 

Julia is a story of friendship and courage between two women whose relationship is tested by the rise of fascism prior to World War II. The story centers around Lillian who is a struggling writer working on a play as she recalls memories of her childhood friend, Julia, who rebelled against her wealthy family to become a progressive radical. Over the years, as Julia became politically active, the friends see a lot less of each other. Lillian always keeps Julia in her thoughts, and they meet when they can, but the rise of fascism pulls them apart, but also brings them closer together. Lillian never fully understands Julia’s political ideology or why she risks so much to fight for her ideals, but when she is called to aid in an effort to resist the Nazis by smuggling funds into Germany on Julia’s behalf, she rises to the challenge. Julia is a charismatic figure, and despite only appearing on screen for a few minutes, Vanessa Redgrave’s performance is inspiring, making us want to see more of her, just as Lillian wishes to. Jane Fonda plays Lillian in this beautifully crafted film by Fred Zinnemann about the power of friendship to help us rise above our fears and to do more than we think we are capable in the face of great danger.

- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 41-50)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 51-60)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 71-80)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 81-90)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 91-100)

THE FEDREV 100: A Progressive Exploration of Film (71-80)

“The FedRev 100” is a personal top 100 films list from a progressive perspective, and on a weekly basis articles will be published revealing 10 films from the list at a time. Once all 100 titles have been revealed, the entire “FedRev 100″ will be published in list form with links back to the write-up articles, so readers will be able to scan the overall list, and then click on individual titles to read up on why each was selected. An in-depth explanation of the list’s criteria will be given when the entire list is revealed, but to briefly explain, the list is comprised of great films that uphold a progressive view of the world. The list is a blend of personal favorites with celebrated classics, as well as a few obscure gems that deserve greater exposure. Here is the The FedRev 100: films 71 to 80.

Screen shot 2012-06-16 at 7.36.21 PM

71. The Set-Up (1949, R. Wise) 

Just as there are anti-War films, The Set-Up is a powerful anti-Sports film; a Sports cousin to Paths of Glory. Though moderate in length it’s exquisitely paced. It’s a Film Noir that takes place in near real time, and the effect transports the audience straight into an authentic 1940s band-box boxing arena. The cigar smoke clouds the air and the gamblers shout at the fighters while clutching the sports section of the newspaper. The Set-Up focuses on a worn out boxer, Stoker, who’s in the twilight of his career, hoping to muster one last shot at a title. Unbeknownst to him, his manager has fixed his fight with a gambler, but because Stoker has been losing so much anyway the manager didn’t feel the need to tell the boxer he was supposed to take a dive. Prior to the fight his wife begs him to quit, but he pridefully ignores her plea, walking blindly into a situation over his head. The Set-Up is dark, gritty, and paints an utterly unforgiving landscape of corruption, greed, and exploitation in which athletes are merely lambs sacrificed for entertainment, and for profit.

Screen-Shot-2012-09-10-at-13.29.4172. WALL·E (2008, A. Stanton) 

WALL·E is a digitally animated film about the last functioning robot on Earth tasked with cleaning up the planet after mankind destroyed the environment and was drowned by consumerism. With garbage piling up and no where else to go, humanity abandoned the planet and programmed small robots to clean up the mess. In his isolation, WALL·E has developed a unique personality. He cleans up garbage by day and watches musicals on an old TV by night. Then everything changes when EVE arrives, another robot sent to scan for life on Earth in the hope that humanity can return to the planet they ruined. The film is an entertaining children’s movie, but it’s also overtly political with a strong critique not only of the wastefulness of consumerism, but also the self-destructive nature of capitalism itself. The fictitious corporation Buy-N-Large is featured throughout the film, and it’s the only company shown in an obvious satire of the way corporations expand to destroy their competition (and the rest of the world in the process). WALL·E is filled with heart and ultimately hope, and it demonstrates the power of cinema to say something important without losing sight of entertainment.

tumblr_mlxq49IiHG1qan0mao2_128073. The Dreamers (2003, B. Bertolucci) 

Set against the backdrop of the 1968 student riots in Paris, The Dreamers is a film of political and sexual awakening during a time when a spirit of revolution was in the air. Matthew is an American exchange student who meets two siblings, Theo and Isabelle, shortly after arriving in Paris. The trio bonds over a shared love for cinema, and the film is laced with numerous references to film classics and the French New Wave, making it in some ways a film about film. But it’s also a film about revolution and breaking established social boundaries. Living in a large house while the sibling’s parents are away, the three central characters engage in ideological struggle that reflects the social turmoil going on outside. Theo is a Maoist who supports the student’s radical demonstrations while Matthew believes their efforts are futile. Simultaneously Matthew and Isabelle develop a sexual relationship that Theo must come to terms with. In the end, the varying ideologies of the characters come to a head and they are each forced to make a choice about the direction of their lives. The film is passionate and alive with a revolutionary spirit, and at the decisive moment, it upholds a radical approach. Michael Pitt, Eva Green, and Louis Garrel each turn in exceptional and brave performances in this film that is directed with subtly and nuance by Bernardo Bertolucci.

hero_EB20100804REVIEWS08100809996AR74. Lost in Translation (2003, S. Coppola) 

There are times when the nature of a film demands that it be deeply analyzed and examined for thematic meaning, and then there are times when a film simply is what it is. Lost in Translation is a beautiful example of the latter. It’s about people who are lost, lonely, misunderstood, and isolated in society who long for a genuine human connection. It’s a silent critique of the kind of society we live in, which has a way of crushing people’s spirits by emphasizing values that push us away from other people and into ourselves, and Sofia Coppola’s film sets about reversing that impulse. Bill Murray plays Bob, a famous actor who’s lost touch with his sense of purpose and become aware with how ridiculous a lot of the entertainment industry is, and Charlotte, a young woman who is left alone and made to feel like baggage on her husband’s business trip in Tokyo. The two meet, begin a friendship, and ultimately forge a connection. Despite being in very different stages of life, they find themselves together in Tokyo, and they re-connect with humanity in the process.

tokyo-story-5439_375. Tôkyô monogatari [Tokyo Story] (1953, Y. Ozu) 

Tokyo Story is a film that is at once simple and complex. It’s an intimate family drama, but it also has an epic quality. It appears larger than it is, and its story takes on a wider scope than is literally presented on screen. It’s a film about family in the context of a rapidly changing society, the relationship between generations, and the bonds forged over lifetimes that hold people together. The story takes place in post-war Japan as an aging married couple decide to leave their small town to visit their adult children in Tokyo. Once they get there, their kids barely have time for them and struggle to keep them occupied as they juggle their professional lives, daily routines, and their own children. It’s a film about the cycle of life and changing perspectives. It’s about the future and the past, hope and regret. And it’s ultimately a film about our mortality as human beings and the importance of the time we have. Tokyo Story is a beautiful film, shot using Ozu’s signature low, motionless camera angles that lull the audience into the slow rhythm of the film. This is the definition of a timeless classic, as the themes presented in this masterpiece will remain relevant generation after generation.

fforrester0676. Finding Forrester (2000, G. Van Sant) 

A great film about writing, Finding Forrester centers around a young black writing and basketball prodigy from the Bronx who meets a reclusive classic writer by chance. Jamal is a high school student at a pivotal time in his life, and William is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist reaching the end of his life. The two spend time writing together in William’s apartment and they develop a friendship. While William takes on the role of mentor and Jamal the apprentice, they each help the other to see the world in a new light and to overcome personal and social obstacles. Finding Forrester is a film that is about social, economic, and racial divides. It’s about institutionalized prejudice and exploitation, and the power of the written word, and friendship, as tools to combat those forces. This is an example of a relatively straight forward drama that is surprisingly nuanced, and it features great performances by Sean Connery, Rob Brown, and F. Murray Abraham.

hero_EB20041010REVIEWS08410100301AR77. La battaglia di Algeri [The Battle of Algiers] (1966, G. Pontecorvo) 

The Battle of Algiers is a controversial film about the struggle of Algerian rebels to throw off French occupation. The film depicts the guerrilla tactics of the Algerian insurgency as well as the French counter-insurgency designed to contain and squash the rebellion. Shot in a documentary/newsreel style, the film follows several narrative threads, and takes us inside the command structures on both sides of the conflict. The film ironically points out that the French commander was part of the resistance against the Nazis, and now he’s in the role of the occupier, using his knowledge of resistance against those struggling for freedom. Though The Battle of Algiers has a natural back and forth rhythm, showing attacks by one side and then counter attacks by the other, in the end the film’s conscience sides with the Algerians struggling for independence and against colonialism. Even though both sides are shown committing acts of violence against civilians, leading some to believe the film is being objective and neutral, the film gives a clear sense of purpose to the Algerians and celebrates their ultimate victory, even though they lose the battle portrayed in the film. As a result The Battle of Algiers was banned in France for 5 years, and the film stands as a powerful depiction of revolutionary struggle against foreign occupation, as well as the lengths colonial powers will go to in order to maintain their empires.

nightmare before christmas jack skellington 1680x1179 wallpaper_www.wall321.com_4878. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, H. Selick) 

The Nightmare Before Christmas is simply pure movie magic. Its stop-motion animation entertains with a seemingly effortless ease, though quite a lot of painstaking artistry was required to bring the world of Jack Skellington to life. It’s the story of Jack, the “Pumpkin King,” who is essentially the physical embodiment of the spirit of Halloween. After yet another successful Halloween, Jack wanders away from town with his dog Zero, tired of the holiday he has mastered and seeking a new sense of purpose. He stumbles into “Christmas Town” and decides to give the people of Halloween Town a new project. Though not overtly political, Nightmare has a progressive quality, both in terms of the daring vision it brings to the screen and in its themes. It’s a film about struggling against the boundaries of your environment and pressing for change. And even though Jack’s attempt to usurp Christmas is misguided and ultimately unsuccessful, he’s not wrong to seek new possibilities, and he emerges from the experience a changed skeleton. He’s revived and renewed, and with the help of Sally, who loves Jack for who he is, he realizes his ambition was driven by selfishness. In the end, he’s wiser, having learned to play his own role well without descending into isolation. After setting things right, Jack is better able to listen to, collaborate with, and connect with others for the benefit of everyone.

Wilkinson_&_Spacek79. In the Bedroom (2001, T. Field) 

In the Bedroom is one of the most subtle and understated films on this list, but it’s also one of the most haunting and powerful. Though it’s difficult to summarize without giving too much away, it takes place in a small town in New England and is about two murders, and central to the heart of those murders is an idealized concept of the “traditional” family unit. The first occurs because a jealous man can’t stand the idea of someone else becoming involved with his ex-lover and mother of his children. The idea of a non-traditional family taking the place of a traditional one, as well as the perceived loss of property, meaning his ex and children, was too much for the murderer to bear. The second murder is revenge for the first, but it’s not quite that simple. It happens because of a need for the second murderer to prove the legitimacy of their grief to a spouse after their family had been shattered. In the Bedroom is an examination of the concept of family in America, a meditation on how the garden from which fascism grows can be hidden just beneath the surface of a picturesque neighborhood. Evil can lie at the heart of everything we’ve been conditioned to see as normal and good and the film warns against the way the “traditional” family teaches people to see each other as property under the current system that governs the society we live in.

8-y-medio-f1

80. 8 ½ (1963, F. Fellini) 

Fellini’s 8 ½ is about as close as you can get to making a musical without the characters actually breaking out into song, which is perhaps why it was so easily adapted into an actual musical, Nine. It’s musical score by Nino Rota guides us through the protagonist’s fantasies and memories as they blur into reality. The film centers around a famous film director, Guido, who is suffering from “director’s block.” With time ticking away before production must begin on his latest film, he is faced with a cast and crew pressing him to make decisions that he isn’t prepared for. As a reality he is increasingly losing control over suffocates and swirls around him, he retreats into his memories and fantasies, as well as his habit of womanizing. As Guido attempts to balance and control the female influences on his life, the film takes on a frantic pace, until he eventually realizes that he’s in over his head and must surrender. It’s a brilliant film about the creative process, but more importantly it’s a film about human relationships. Guido is a misogynist, and the film mocks his attempt to control the women in his life, keeping them each in there own little box. The film makes it clear this is a harmful ideology with tongue-in-cheek dream sequences and also shows how womanizing has genuine human consequences in reality. 8 ½ is ultimately a film about a man who is accustomed to having all the power recognizing that he is lost and learning that he must give up control, and the film depicts this with absolute beauty at the highest level of artistic achievement.

- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 41-50)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 51-60)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 61-70)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 81-90)
THE FEDREV 100 (Films 91-100)