“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 81 to 90.
81. À bout de souffle [Breathless] (1960, J. Godard)
“Modern movies begin here,” said Roger Ebert about Breathless, one of the most influential films of all time. Breathless exploded film into the modern age with its radical use of jump-cut editing, a jazzy score, and its overall sensation of freedom. One of the early films of the French New Wave, it has a powerful sense of youth and was a conscious break from the traditional, more conservative method of film-making. It shattered the mold, broke all the rules, and became an inspiration to new film-makers for decades to come. The story is relatively simple, about a murder suspect, Michel, evading the law in Paris, seemingly without a care in the world, while hanging out with his American girlfriend, Patricia, who establishes herself as an interesting and powerful character in her own right. Michel seems more interested in getting laid than getting away, and at times is resigned to spending his life in jail. But in the end he wouldn’t go quietly, free until his last breath. The film has a constantly moving camera, which leaves the audience breathless as well, and cinema was forever changed.
In 1995, Richard Linklater released Before Sunrise, and every nine years since has released a sequel. While sharing certain characteristics, each film is unique and worthwhile in their own right, but taken as a whole, this trilogy is something truly special. Some say that they are the best films about love and romantic relationships ever made, and they just might be. The series follows Jesse and Celine through the years. Jesse is an American traveling through Europe when he meets a French girl on her way home. They get to talking and Linklater’s camera follows their conversation throughout the rest of that single day as the two fall in love. And every nine years, we revisit the couple at a different stage of life. Because of the time between the films we get the unique experience of watching two characters age, retaining the core of their personality, but taking on greater complexity as the years pass. The first film is about embracing the moment and forging a genuine human connection. The second film, Before Sunset, is about the regret of missed opportunities and the need to be true to yourself. The third film, Before Midnight, is about the consequences of actually getting what you want. Each film utilizes long takes which pull the audience deeply into the dialogue heavy narrative, and the fantastic performances by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy belie the fact that they’re actually acting. These magical films are not to be missed.
Frida is a bio-pic about the surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The film details her early artistic aspirations and the way she met her future husband, the famous painter Diego Rivera. We also witness the horrific accident that left Frida in pain for the rest of her life, and her development as a master artist while living in the shadow of her husband’s fame. The film is uniquely stylized, literally bringing her paintings to life on screen, allowing the audience to connect the narrative to the artwork. But the greatest thing about Frida is the way it handles the politics involved, both in terms of social relationships, as well as treating Kahlo and Rivera’s communist views with dignity and respect. The film doesn’t celebrate their art while condemning their radical politics, as it easily could have in the wrong hands. Rather, it’s a celebration of the relationship between the two. Frida is ultimately a film about how politics informs and flows through art. Salma Hayek gives a career defining performance as the radical painter, and Julie Taymor directs this wonderful film with a vision that takes the story to great heights.
While some may consider the comparison sacrilegious, The Social Network is essentially a modern version of Citizen Kane, and while it doesn’t have the same scale of Welles’ film, it’s almost as good (it even has its own version of Rosebud). It’s about the true story of Mark Zuckerberg, who became the youngest billionaire in history after founding Facebook. The film uses Zuckerberg’s life as a metaphor for the ironic isolating effect social networks have on individuals. He’s desperate for genuine human connection, but incapable of fitting into the world of the social elite, so he invents a virtual way to crash the party, which only isolates him even further from the society he wishes to be a part of, as well as the few real friends he started out with. It’s an excellent film about capitalism’s “expand or die” principle. Every time Zuckerberg hits a roadblock in his personal life, his answer is to expand the reach of the company in a futile quest to prove his worth. The Social Network features a haunting score by Trent Reznor; its dark tones establish a sinister atmosphere and prevent the perception that Zuckerberg’s attitude and achievements are something to celebrate, and Aaron Sorkin’s script weaves together multiple narrative threads in a seamless structure. David Fincher’s film should be remembered as one of the definitive films of its era.
The only “road movie” to make THE FEDREV 100, The Motorcycle Diaries is about the journey of a young Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his friend Alberto though South America. On the trip they are deeply impacted by the social and economic injustices they witness, and Che is transformed by the experience that would shape the rest of his life. It’s a film about poverty and exploitation, and it’s filled with a love for the poor and the masses of people. The film doesn’t get into how Che became a famous revolutionary, but rather focuses on his gradual political awakening as he comes to understand the nature of capitalism as a fundamentally oppressive system in which the wealthy benefit from the suffering of the poor. Everywhere Che and Alberto go, in town after town, country after country, that basic formula of oppression is consistent. Diaries stars Gael García Bernal as Che, and his expressive yet subtle performance keeps the audience engaged in the moment while also giving a hint of the future charismatic revolutionary.
The Proposition is a Western that takes place in the Australian outback in the 1880s. It is brutal, violent, and uncompromising, but also beautiful and thought provoking. It primarily examines the impulse among imperialists to “civilize” the lands they occupy through violence. The film’s narrative flows through a “proposition” made by a local sheriff to a captured criminal. He must track down his outlaw older brother and kill him, or else his younger brother, who was also captured, will be executed. Interestingly, this proposition is essentially a sub-plot in a larger story about one civilization attempting to impose itself upon another, and the brutal oppression required to do that. The film perfectly illustrates this with the image of a perfectly manicured upper-class British home, surrounded by harsh desert populated by an indigenous Aboriginal people. The Proposition is an experience of pure cinema, fully utilizing image, sound, and music to achieve an artistic vision that can only be film.
One of the best examples of Film Noir, Double Indemnity is a stylistic crime drama about an insurance salesman who is convinced to take part in a murder/fraud scheme by a beautiful woman. A great film to watch late at night, it’s a claustrophobic masterpiece, told from the point of view of the criminals in an utterly dark and irredeemable environment. It has a razor sharp script and exquisite use of light and shadow, both of which came to define the Noir genre. While the film has no virtuous characters, not even the murder victim or the investigators looking into the crime, the film stands as a document on lust, corruption, and greed in a world where profit and self-preservation are primary values. Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in Billy Wilder’s enduring, genre defining crime thriller.
Born on the Fourth of July is Oliver Stone’s film about a U.S. soldier’s journey from war supporter, to Vietnam combat veteran, to anti-war activist. The film is based on the true story of Ron Kovic, who enthusiastically bought into the militaristic propaganda peddled by Army recruiters, and enlisted in the military to serve his country in Vietnam. Once there he kills a fellow soldier in a friendly fire incident following the murder of Vietnamese civilians, and then he himself is almost killed in the firefight. The film takes us through his recovery process, both physically and ideologically, as Kovic suffers through the bureaucratic failings of the VA healthcare system, and begins to see that he was fooled, starting early in life, into supporting a criminal imperialistic nation. It’s a powerful film about discovering the truth hidden behind propaganda and the political awakening that results when you stop living in denial and follow the truth to its logical conclusions. Born on the Fourth of July is Stone at his most effective, balancing his bold artistic sensibilities with a well crafted narrative, and Tom Cruise turns in one of his career’s best performances in a role that showed why he is a major acting talent as well as Hollywood’s biggest star.
An all-time classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a scathing indictment of the American political establishment. It’s about Jefferson Smith who is an all-American “Boy Scout” who fully believes in the Constitution and all the myths of American democracy. He’s chosen to replace a U.S. Senator who has died, and because of his spotless reputation in the community and inexperience in politics, the Governor, controlled by capitalist interests, chooses to name him Senator thinking they could easily manipulate him. Once he arrives in the Senate, he quickly discovers that his idealistic (and naive) belief in the American system to reflect the will of the people does match up with reality. He’s smeared by the corporate media (the Washington Press Club denounced the film as un-American after the world premiere) and his efforts to pass a bill to establish a local camp are sabotaged by the corporate political machine because it interferes with plans to build a dam on the same land. Seeing Smith as a liability, the corporate state goes into full character assassination mode, while Smith embarks on a filibuster in the Senate with the goal of exposing the corruption of the system. The brilliance of the film is that it shows how capitalist interests own and control the political system (a system that is set up as a distraction from that fact), and yet it doesn’t allow Smith to be completely triumphant, which would have reinforced his idealism and proven the system can “work” if only good people are elected. The ending is left ambiguous and somewhat bleak as Smith proves his point but nothing is fundamentally changed. Jimmy Stewart gives a fantastic performance as Smith in this classic by Frank Capra.
One of the “little films that could” of The FEDREV 100, Gattaca didn’t even finish in top 100 highest grossing films of 1997, yet over the years it has forged a reputation as a minor classic. It’s now often listed among the greatest Sci-Fi films of the 90s. It’s a story that takes place in the near future where genetic engineering of fertilized eggs allows the parents who can afford it to produce genetically optimal offspring. Children born in this way are considered “Valid” while those who aren’t are labeled “Invalid” and are forced into a permanent underclass. Gattaca is about an Invalid who dreams of becoming an astronaut, yet has no legitimate means of achieving this goal no matter how hard he works or how qualified he becomes. All that matters is his DNA, and so he has to find a way to circumvent the system. Gattaca is surviving the test of time because of how well its message resonates. It’s clear that the class system depicted is unjust, and despite the fact that it’s a story of someone who wants “in” (to the system) rather than “out,” what it has to say about the power of the human spirit to overcome great odds, as well as how artificial class divisions actually are even when (or perhaps especially when) based on genetic “superiority,” more than justifies the film’s limited scope and perspective.