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.

Godzilla-1954

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.

Tim Robbins And Morgan Freeman In 'The Shawshank Redemption'

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)

THE FEDREV 100: A Progressive Exploration of Film (81-90)

“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.

breathless

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.

before82. Trilogy: Before Sunrise / Before Sunset / Before Midnight (1995/2004/2013, R. Linklater) 

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.

426+Frida+1483. Frida (2002, J. Taymor) 

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.

the_social_network_1284. The Social Network (2010, D. Fincher) 

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.

diaries85. Diarios de motocicleta [The Motorcycle Diaries] (2004, W. Salles) 

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.

proposition86. The Proposition (2005, J. Hillcoat) 

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.

Double-Indemnity-487. Double Indemnity (1944, B. Wilder) 

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.

Fall2012OliverStone1288. Born on the Fourth of July (1989, O. Stone) 

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.

mrsmith.389. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939, F. Capra) 

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.

cap07gattaca90. Gattaca (1997, A. Niccol) 

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.

- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 41-50)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 51-60)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 61-70)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 71-80)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 91-100)

THE FEDREV 100: A Progressive Exploration of Film (91-100)

FedRev.net is happy to announce “The FedRev 100.” It’s a personal top 100 films list from a progressive perspective, and over the next several weeks 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. So, to get started, here is the The FedRev 100: films 91 to 100. munich fin 91. Munich (2005, S. Spielberg) 

Munich is Steven Spielberg’s fantastic drama about Israel’s secret revenge program “Operation Wrath of God” in the wake of the 1972 Olympic Games massacre in Munich, Germany. While I believe Spielberg approached the subject with what he believed was a balanced and sympathetic perspective toward both the Israeli and Palestinian points of view, Munich is a film that powerfully shows the moral vacuum entered into when an oppressive government decides to inflict even more destructive terrorism on the people they’re already oppressing. The leader of Israel’s strike team, Avner, ends up looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life, knowing that he’s created more terrorists than he’s killed, and left wondering what he’s actually achieved. Pro-Israelis and Zionists were outraged by the film and called for boycotts, and many reviewers blasted the film for insinuating that Israel’s actions were actually worse than the terrorism they were responding to. One scene even allows a Palestinian militant to make a powerful argument for their cause, and the film ultimately makes the viewer question the kind of “eye for an eye” policies that exacerbate conflict rather than end it. Spielberg’s film is expertly directed and the performances are excellent throughout. The Wind that Shakes the Barley92. The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006, K. Loach) 

The Wind that Shakes the Barley is a politically sophisticated war film set during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War between the years of 1919 and 1923. The film has a very authentic sensibility and depicts the war between the Irish Republican Army and the occupying British force. The British harass, intimidate, and murder the locals in their attempt to squash the rebellion, and the Irish utilize guerrilla tactics to ward off their occupiers. The film centers around two brothers who fight together for the IRA, and then later against each other on opposite sides of the Civil War after a compromise had been reached with the British. Barley examines two ideologies: one, the principle that people should fight to completely free themselves of oppression and imperialist occupation, and two, that the occupied should resist just enough to force concessions from the imperialists. The second faction turns on the first when they continue to fight for complete independence even after the Irish government signs a treaty with the British. While Loach’s film portrays both factions in the Civil War with generally equal time, it’s clear his film sides with the Republicans who didn’t compromise their principles and continued to fight for freedom and true independence, and rightfully so. Cuckoo's Nest 193. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, M. Forman) 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the most beloved classics of all-time and features Jack Nicholson as McMurphy, a man who’s been ordered by a court to undergo psychiatric evaluation at a mental hospital. McMurphy doesn’t show signs of mental illness, but he does have a strong anti-authoritarian impulse, and he establishes himself as a leader among the inmates shortly after his arrival. He’s an obvious wild card in an otherwise stable population of patients who are tightly controlled by Nurse Ratched, played to chilling perfection by Louise Fletcher. Ratched employs a host of manipulative suppression techniques to keep the patients under her thumb, and McMurphy becomes her nemesis, attempting to subvert her authority wherever possible. The film, which swept the Academy Awards, on a surface level is about the personal struggle between the ideologies of the two major characters, but it can also be viewed as a metaphor for the culture wars of the 60s and 70s. The film also powerfully illuminates the oppression of the mentally ill under a system incapable of treating them with dignity, as they are stripped of their humanity and kept out of sight from society. snowpiercer-2-hp94. Snowpiercer (2013, Bong J.) 

The most recently released film to make “The FedRev 100,” Snowpiercer is an adaptation of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, which is a post-apocalyptic story that takes place following a man-made environmental disaster which caused the entire globe to freeze. The film is set on a continually moving train which houses the last remnants of mankind. A strict class system is imposed on the train’s passengers, and the poorest people are relegated to the tail section where they plot to overthrow the existing authority. The film is loaded with exhilarating action and beautiful cinematography, but what’s truly great about Snowpiercer is its highly sophisticated understanding of revolution. I have written at greater length about the film here. SVOD-L-Cry-Freedom95. Cry Freedom (1987, R. Attenborough) 

Cry Freedom is a film about the political awakening of white South African journalist Donald Woods after meeting black activist Stephen Biko during Apartheid in the mid-1970s. The film was produced prior to the end of Apartheid in 1994 and was based on the experiences of Woods who fled South Africa following the murder of Biko in order to publish books about the activist. Cry Freedom, along with the song “Biko” by Peter Gabriel, played a role in making Steve Biko a more widely known figure around the world, and also helped make a star of Denzel Washington, who received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Biko. The film is sometimes criticized as a “white savior” movie since it’s primarily about Woods rather than Biko himself, but the political transformation depicted in the film is significant in its own right. Woods pursues the truth and is eventually convinced by Biko’s radical argument, and as a result faced potentially severe consequences himself. Cry Freedom deserves credit for showing how systems of oppression operate, as well as for depicting the lengths people must go to in order to oppose such regimes. fortress96. Brestskaya krepost [Fortress of War] (2010, A. Kott) 

Fortress of War is a powerful war film that illustrates in microcosm the sacrifice made by the Soviet people in defeating the Nazis. Set in the Soviet outpost in Brest, Belarus, it’s an exhilarating film that takes place during the Nazi invasion in June of 1941. Vastly outnumbered, the Soviets bravely repel wave after wave of invading Nazi soldiers until they are eventually overrun. The film primarily follows Sasha Akimov, who at only 15 years of age was able to move around the fortress assisting many separated pockets of Soviet soldiers. While many believe the United States is responsible for defeating Hitler and the Nazis, in reality it was the Soviets who played the biggest role, and Fortress of War provides an excellent history lesson in that regard, as well as being an exquisitely made film. The Fever97. The Fever (2004, C. Nero) 

Adapted from Wallace Shawn’s play, The Fever is one of the more obscure titles on this list. It was made as an HBO film, but it never received much support from the network and subsequently was aired years after it was completed with little fanfare. It’s the story of an upper-middle class woman’s political awakening as she learns why there is such a massive gap between the rich and the poor, while coming to a realization about her own place in society. It utilizes long monologues and animated sequences to illustrate certain points, and it powerfully describes the exploitative and imperialistic relationship the first world has with the third. While some reviewers say it’s about “white guilt,” more accurately it’s about understanding the true nature of capitalism, as well as what is necessary to bring a new and better world into being: revolution. Hollywood legend Vanessa Redgrave stars and lends considerable gravitas to the controversial material. good-night-and-good-luck98. Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005, G. Clooney) 

Set during the reign of Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt, Good Night, and Good Luck. is the story of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow’s public battle against the senator. Shot in a beautiful black and white, the film details the pressure put on the public to declare loyalty to the United States and denounce Communism, as well as the struggle to resist that pressure. Murrow was able to leverage his position in the media to expose the evil of McCarthy’s crusade, and the film shows the lengths he and his team had to go to do that, as well as some of the contradictions and compromises involved. David Strathairn is brilliant as Murrow, and all in all the film captures the mood and explores the terms at stake in that era with clear purpose. It’s also an interesting film on the question of objectivity in journalism. Murrow has a definite perspective, and yet his reporting is fair and accurate. This kind of “activist” journalism is more honest and truthful and ultimately informative than the kind of false “objective” reporting we’ve been conditioned to accept as the standard.

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99. North Country (2005, N. Caro) 

A film inspired by the first ever successful sexual harassment class-action lawsuit against a corporation in U.S. history, North Country is based on the case of Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines. Charlize Theron turns in a powerful leading role as a coal miner who, along with her fellow female workers, endures a range of sexual harassment and assault. The film provides a clear road map for how to fight institutionalized injustice. While most people try to convince Josey to keep quite, keep her head down, and suffer through her work while being harassed, she refuses to take it and fights for her human dignity head on, in the process convincing several of her co-workers to join her struggle. The film features an excellent soundtrack of Bob Dylan songs, as well as excellent cinematography. The mine is always shot in wide angle, looming large over the landscape, often dwarfing Josey or her car in the foreground. It’s a David vs. Goliath story, but with a powerful lesson in strategy against seemingly impossible odds. Bravery and perseverance in directly standing up to injustice and exploitation is contagious. fastfoodnation100. Fast Food Nation (2006, R. Linklater) 

While perhaps not a cinematic masterpiece on par with much of what’s on this list, Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation is one of the most brutal anti-capitalist films I’ve ever seen. It’s an uncompromising take-down of the American fast food industry, following multiple narrative threads from the top to the bottom of a fictional (but all too real) restaurant chain. It exposes the exploitation of migrant and teenage labor, the chemical manipulation of ingredients, the cover-up of contaminated products, as well as unsafe working conditions, sexual assault in the workplace, and perhaps most powerfully, the torture of animals in slaughterhouses. This is a film that forces us to examine the way corporations allow nothing to stand in the way of the profits made on the backs of exploited labor and the rape of the environment.

- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 41-50)
- 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 Top 10 Films of 2013

Film is an amazing medium that combines a huge variety of artistic pursuits, and 2013 was a year that saw a great diversity of quality films. The goal of this list is to highlight the best and most socially important films, some of which were widely seen, and others that deserve a much wider audience than they received. Each in its own way, they speak to what it means to be human and they have important things to say about the world we live in and the societies we’ve created. I definitely encourage everyone to seek out these special films, and to embrace the genuine art that finds a way to succeed under conditions that often discourage creativity.

Enjoy this list, and please feel free to comment with your own favorite films and top 10 lists.

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1. 12 Years a Slave

One of the most powerful films in decades, 12 Years a Slave tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Steve McQueen directs this beautiful film that thrusts the audience directly into America’s ugly history. As Northup awakens to the terrible shock of having his freedom suddenly wrenched away, the audience is forced to confront the brutal horror of an institution upon which a nation was built right along with the central character. People may think they understand what slavery looked and felt like, but depicting the entire process from the beginning, showing the dehumanizing impact on a man who was once free, forces the audience to acknowledge slavery with new eyes.

12 Years a Slave is a film that comfortably explores duality. It is both subtle and direct, nuanced and bold. It’s a powerful examination of the human condition, illuminating both the best and the worst in mankind; the will to persevere against all odds, and the forces of oppression bent on achieving total domination over others. A devastating contrast, for example, is made between a “good” slave owner and a “bad” slave owner, and of course, both scenarios are equally awful experiences for Northup, damning slavery from every angle, and refusing to give apologists an inch. Its ending, just like the rest of the film, brilliantly inspires conflicting emotions; the joy of freedom paired with the bitter pain of ongoing institutionalized racism.

Chiwetel Ejiofor turns in a commanding and heartbreaking performance as Northup, who struggles throughout the film to maintain his human dignity and hold onto hope in the face of incalculable hardship. Hans Zimmer provides a haunting musical score that perfectly accentuates the emotion of the film, especially the sinister tones that accompany Northup’s trafficking into the South, and Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography is breathtaking, contrasting the beauty of the natural world with the ugliness of slavery.

Steve McQueen has crafted a near perfect film, a masterpiece that cries out to be seen, because by illuminating the past we can better understand the root causes of the ongoing horrors of the present. 12 Years a Slave is the best and most important film of the decade.

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2. Prisoners

Prisoners is a mesmerizing crime story about two families whose daughters are kidnapped in broad daylight on Thanksgiving in suburban Pennsylvania and the desperate search to find them. The film is a slow, agonizing burn, gradually building tension as the investigation stretches on over the course of several days, testing the moral strength of both sets of parents, and the skill of the lead detective on the case.

Hugh Jackman’s intense performance as Keller, a desperate father who takes the law into his own hands, is one of the best of his career, and Jake Gyllenhaal also crackles as an edgy, arrogant detective who has to meticulously comb through the clues and evidence while also keeping an eye on the suspicious activity of the missing girls’ families.

Prisoners takes a story that could have easily been dumbed down to the level of a “Law and Order” episode and elevates it to high art. Not only is the film exquisitely made on a technical level, due in large part to Roger Deakins’ masterful cinematography, it also incorporates heavy moral, philosophical, and religious themes on top of the narrative’s mystery.

The title of the film refers not only to the kidnapped girls, but also to the person Keller believes holds the key to his daughter’s location, as well as those who are trapped under the spell of religious fanaticism. The film, featuring strong supporting roles by Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, and Melissa Leo, is a searing and emotional exploration of the limits and hypocrisy of religious morality.

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3. Before Midnight

The third film in Richard Linklater’s fantastic ‘Before‘ series might be the best yet, which is extremely high praise. Midnight arrived right on cue, nine years after Before Sunset (2004), which came nine years after the original, Before Sunrise (1995). The latest installment in this cinematic dissertation on love follows the star-crossed relationship of Jesse and Celine, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who also co-write the films along with Linklater. They know their roles inside out and they embody their characters so deeply that they don’t appear to be acting at all, allowing Linklater to shoot very long, naturalistic takes. This technique pulls the audience into the film as if it were an extension of real life, making the exploration of contemporary love all the more compelling.

In Midnight, we step into Jesse and Celine’s lives while they’re on vacation in Greece after they’ve been a couple for several years. The film sets up a scenario where there are couples from several different generations gathered together, and they have the opportunity to discuss the dynamics of romantic love at various stages of life. Jesse and Celine fall somewhere in the middle, and this moment allows them to evaluate their relationship and examine what they’ve each sacrificed to be together. While Before Sunrise is about the thrill of new possibilities, and Before Sunset is about the regret of missed opportunities, Before Midnight is about the consequences of actually getting what you want. It strips away the fantasy and idealism of the first two films and dives right into the everyday reality and struggle of sustaining a long-term relationship.

Given the empty, formulaic romantic comedies that Hollywood has churned out for decades, Linklater’s Before series is a breath of fresh air. All three films are both humorous and serious, and they provide a huge number of topics and themes to ponder long after the credits role. Hopefully Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy revisit this brilliant romantic series in 2022. Before Twilight, perhaps?

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4. Big Sur

Based on the novel of the same name by Jack Kerouac, the film picks up the story of the legendary author’s life as he struggles with the success of his classic On the Road. After helping to define the Beat Generation, Kerouac feels a great burden on his shoulders. People expect him to be Sal Paradise, his alter ego from Road in his mid twenties, but the real Jack Kerouac is approaching middle age, and the world is changing around him. The film follows Kerouac as he seeks refuge and solitude in the Big Sur region on the central coast of California.

Michael Polish’s film is exceptionally beautiful, and not just because of the natural scenery on location. His camera captures the magnificence of the surroundings- the forest, the sky, the waves on the beach, and the dramatic rock formations jutting upward from the ocean- in a way that appears effortless, but is the result of a perfect union of subject and artist. Polish conjures a true character from the environment surrounding the cabin that Kerouac inhabits as he undergoes an existential crisis. A last gasp, of sorts, as his restless soul continues to struggle for meaning in life.

Big Sur integrates Kerouac’s words into the film through a beautiful use of voice-over, which, in combination with the breathtaking scenic elements, is almost Terrence Malick-esque. The film also has a fantastic musical score by composer Kubilay Uner and brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the rock band The National. All the performances in the film are very high caliber. Jean-Marc Barr plays the aging Kerouac with great depth. It’s not easy to carry a film as an actor, but Barr does so with a nuanced performance that owns the screen without overshadowing the supporting actors. Josh Lucas plays Neal Cassady, who even as he approaches middle age, shows shades of what made him such a charismatic and inspirational figure in Kerouac’s life. Rhada Mitchell plays Cassady’s wife, and a strikingly beautiful Kate Bosworth plays his mistress. Big Sur is a magnificent film; a genuine work of art in all aspects of the medium.

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5. Gravity

In a Hollywood that pumps out sequels and comic book films at an alarming rate, Gravity was perhaps the most refreshing big-budget film of the year. It centers around astronaut Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock, who after an accident in outer space must survive a series of obstacles in the harshest of environments. Alfonso Cuaron’s exciting film follows Stone on a metaphorical life cycle from fetal state to birth as she struggles to rediscover her will to live while up against seemingly impossible odds, and by the end she must either “evolve” or die.

Gravity is a technical and artistic marvel, blending life-like digital effects with human performances in perfect harmony. Emmanuel Lubezki, arguably the greatest cinematographer working today, composed several long shots that develop character while moving the narrative forward, maintaining a sense of motion and a heightened state of suspense throughout much of the film. In perhaps the best use of 3D technology yet, the screen seems to melt away, enveloping the audience in the action.

Though the film suffers from some weak dialogue that feels a bit forced and at times unnecessary, Gravity is one of those rare gems that thrills through the sheer force of its unique concept while simultaneously allowing the audience to connect to the human drama.

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6. Fruitvale Station

Oscar Grant, a 22 year old black man, was murdered on New Years day in 2009 by a white police officer at the Fruitvale BART station in San Francisco. Fruitvale Station follows Oscar on the last day of his life, painting a vivid portrait of a man, flaws and all, attempting to change the direction of his life during difficult circumstances, before it was unjustly cut short.

The film cuts through stereotypes, allowing the audience to get to know Oscar both as a fully developed character, and as a human being, which amplifies the tragedy of his death. During the course of a single day we meet Oscar’s girlfriend, daughter, mother, grandmother, and several friends, as well as a couple new acquaintances. We witness the struggle of his everyday life. He just lost his job but doesn’t want to fall back into a life as a drug dealer. Unsure of how he will make ends meet in the future he decides to have a fun night out with friends to celebrate the new year. His spontaneity, his kindness and compassion, his positive outlook, and his desire to do the right thing are all illustrated through several episodes that all lead up to his murder at the hands of the police who don’t see him as a nuanced human being. To them, he’s entirely defined by his race, and all his human complexity is ignored.

Fruitvale Station is the first feature film by director Ryan Coogler, a Bay Area native who felt compelled to make a film about an event that rocked his community in the hope of showing people the humanity of a person who became a symbol to rally around. And in his first leading role, Michael B. Jordan brings Oscar’s story to life in haunting fashion. Octavia Spencer, fresh from her Academy Award winning role in The Help provides a powerful cornerstone for the film. Fruitvale Station is an important film. By telling this story, hopefully people will understand that it’s important to see each other as human beings, to not be so quick to leap to conclusions, and also to understand the real role that police play in this oppressive society.

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7. The Great Gatsby

Others have tried to adapt Fitzgerald’s classic novel to the big screen and achieved nothing but lifeless tedium, which makes Baz Luhrmann’s successful attempt at The Great Gatsby all the more impressive. Luhrmann is definitely a true artist, and his film is alive, colorful, and exciting. While other film makers have struggled with a way to translate the internal monologue of the novel to the screen, Luhrmann solves that problem in the boldest ways possible. He puts Fitzgerald’s words directly on the screen and places the narration front and center, which allows the prose to drive the narrative, just as it does in the novel, while utilizing a visceral and inventive visual style to establish the setting.

The Great Gatsby is a film that simply must be surrendered to. It has flaws, some of which are inherited from the source material, but the film is a force of nature. While perhaps not exactly the anti-Wolf of Wall Street, Gatsby is a loud, bold look into American style capitalism that succeeds while Leonardo DiCaprio’s other major film on the same subject fails. Though Gatsby does maintain a certain level of admiration for the pursuit of wealth, it does so with great disdain for the outlook of the elite, personified by Tom Buchanan’s paranoid racism, greed, and misogyny, as well as Jay Gatsby’s own corruption, and the story clearly articulates the consequences of giving material wealth greater value than human life.

Luhrmann’s style has always been divisive because of his willingness to take artistic risks, but here it pays off in extremely entertaining fashion, as long as you give yourself over to the unconventional experience and enjoy the ride.

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8. Don Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon, in which he also stars, is a surprisingly layered and intelligent film about relationships in the age of internet pornography. The title character, Jon, is obsessed with porn and masturbates compulsively and almost ritualistically. He lives a highly structured and routine oriented lifestyle, keeping to his weekly schedule of working, cleaning his apartment, going to church with his family, working out at the gym, and going to the club with his friends to pick up women. There’s nothing out of place and nothing to disrupt his pattern until he encounters Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) at the club.

Jon and his friends always stand in the center of the club to look for women to potentially take home, sizing them up from a distance, instantly rating them on a scale of 1 to 10. Barbara is “the most beautiful thing” Jon has ever seen, and he becomes determined to make her his ultimate sexual conquest. This is the point where Don Jon could have easily descended into formulaic drivel typical of romantic comedies, but it masterfully avoids going down that road and instead takes on a wonderful complexity.

Don Jon becomes a major statement against a culture that celebrates pornography as a form of women’s liberation. Having developed totally unrealistic expectations from his pornography obsession, Jon is unsatisfied by the real women he objectifies, and he must be jolted out of his old habits. Barbara starts him on the right path, but the brilliance of the film is that it isn’t black and white and it criticizes her controlling perspective, too, ultimately arriving at a highly enlightened view of romantic relationships.

Gordon-Levitt’s film is what great art is all about. It’s entertaining in a way that’s very accessible, but it packs an extremely relevant and important message. It suggests that we might all be better off by breaking with some debilitating habits that we’re convinced are normal, altering our rigid routines that isolate us from the world, and learning to truly connect with other people as equals.

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9. Dallas Buyers Club

Set in the mid-1980s, Dallas Buyers Club is about Ron Woodroof, a hard living racist and homophobic man who is diagnosed with AIDS and told he only has one month to live. After overcoming the denial that he has a “faggot” disease, he seeks help through a drug trial for the experimental treatment AZT. However, he soon realizes that the drugs he’s been given are doing more harm than good, and, unwilling to give up, he searches for ways to circumvent the medical establishment. Along the way he has to become allies with people he previously despised in order to combat the powerful forces of the for-profit medical establishment and the government.

Woodroof is played by Matthew McConaughey who lost a significant percentage of his body weight for this incredible, career defining role. He’s supported by by Jared Leto, who turns in an iconic performances as Rayon, a transsexual Woodroof meets in the hospital who forces him to put his bigotry aside for mutual benefit.

Dallas Buyers Club is no technical marvel. It’s a sparse film that used almost no artificial lighting and put little effort into visual style. It also suffers from several noticeable background props out of place in the 80s. But these problems become virtually insignificant next to the overpowering substance of the narrative. What makes this film great is the way it exposes the collusion between the government, pharmaceutical companies, and health care practitioners to make a profit at the expense of patient’s health, and the lengths ordinary people must go in order to get the care they need.

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10. Lore

Germany is losing World War II, and as the Allied forces push into the country, the rank and file Nazis scramble to avoid justice. Hannelore (Lore for short) is the eldest daughter of a Nazi officer. After being abandoned by her parents she is forced to care for her siblings as they flee to the countryside.

Having been poisoned by Nazi ideology throughout her life, Lore harbors a deep hatred of Jewish people while blind to the true horror of Hitler’s genocide. So, when she and her young family encounter a Jewish refugee on their journey she has to confront the beliefs her parents and Nazi society instilled in her head on.

Lore is a fresh look at an era that has been documented extensively in film, showing the collapse of Nazi Germany from the perspective of children and adolescents. It’s a coming of age story set in the upheaval of a crumbling society; a loss of innocence as the central character comes to understand the true horror of the Holocaust, and that everything she thought she knew is a lie.

Lore is a beautiful film that flows through its narrative arc with a dream-like quality, as if being recalled from a deeply repressed memory. Indeed, the film drew inspiration from director Cate Shortland’s husband’s family history. Saskia Rosendah leaps off the screen as Lore in her first major role, and Kai Malina turned in a haunting performance as Thomas in which he refused to say most of his scripted dialogue, allowing the pain behind his eyes to speak louder than words. And the film’s ending is a powerful break from the poisonous ideology of Fascism as Lore rejects the temptation to turn a blind eye to genocide.

 

10 More 2013 Films I Highly Recommend

The Broken Circle Breakdown
Her
Frances Ha
As I Lay Dying
Blue Jasmine
August: Osage County
The Place Beyond the Pines
Something in the Air
Upstream Color
Spring Breakers

The Worst Films I Saw in 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street
42
Man of Steel
Inside Llewyn Davis

What I’m Watching Right Now

I haven’t been able to get to many films lately, but I have been doing a better job keeping up with television. So, here’s a list of the shows I’m currently in the process of catching up on, or have recently watched. If you’ve been following any of these shows, please feel free to ask me questions or raise topics of discussion in the Comments section of this post. Keep in mind that I’m not totally caught up on all of these shows, but these are the programs that have caught my attention recently.

- Breaking Bad

- American Horror Story

- The Walking Dead

- Homeland

- Real Time With Bill Maher

- Game of Thrones

- The Newsroom

- The Killing

- Dexter

- Ray Donovan

- Archer

- House of Cards

- 666 Park Avenue

- The Americans

- Revolution

- Eastbound and Down

- Boardwalk Empire

- Luck

- Girls

- Last Resort

- The Bachelor/The Bachelorette

My TOP 10 (+10) FILMS of 2012

2012 was an extremely good year for film, especially mainstream film, which is an improvement I’ve been dreaming of for quite a while. Though 2012 yielded only a small handful of absolute masterpieces, the sheer number of extremely high quality films this year blew me away. So, in recognition of this, I’m trying something new with my annual Top 10 list… I’m including 10 extra films that I feel would be criminal not to mention. This was a year where I felt there were 20 films that would ordinarily be Top 10 material, and I figure if the Academy can change the number of films it nominates from year to year, why can’t I? I’ve ranked the official Top 10 like I always do, and beneath I’ve also listed 10 others in alphabetical order that I highly recommend. So, without further ado, take a look at the list, and please give me your feedback. I want to hear your opinions, thoughts, comments, and gripes!

 

1. Cloud Atlas

A sprawling, visionary, nearly flawless epic, Cloud Atlas, though totally overlooked by all the major award shows (possibly for political reasons), was my clear-cut choice for Film of the Year. This film was so ambitious in scope that it required three directors working as a team to shoot it (Andy and Lana Wachowski along with Tom Tykwer). It takes place over several hundred years and is about human decisions rippling through time, ultimately resulting in a revolution aimed at ending class oppression. Several actors play multiples roles and the film utilizes reincarnation as a symbolic device to advance the complex narrative, based on the novel by David Mitchell. It’s a nearly unclassifiable film as it incorporates elements of drama, comedy, action, sci-fi, and mystery, all combining to create an incredible epic about the human struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the master and slave, and the revolutionary spirit it takes for to overcome injustice. Perhaps the only flaw the film has is the casting of Tom Hanks, who is the only actor in the film unable to seamlessly disappear into his various roles. On the other hand, Hanks’ involvement was a major factor in getting the film made in the first place, so it all comes out in the wash because the most important thing is that people seek out this film and become exposed to what it has to say about human life.

 

2. The Master

The Master, indeed. Paul Thomas Anderson has once again proven that he deserves to be named among the very best directors working today. In his latest masterpiece, Anderson tells the story of a troubled war veteran who returns home directionless and prone to violent outbursts. Joaquin Phoenix turns in the best acting performance of the year, fully immersing himself into the lead role and exuding a palpable sense of danger, like he could snap at any moment. He drifts aimlessly, often getting himself into trouble, until he crosses paths with a charismatic cult leader who takes him under his wing and teaches him The Cause, a fictional version of Scientology. Ultimately, it’s a film about human behavior and relationships. Phoenix’s Freddie Quill is broken, violent, frightening, socially awkward, and obsessed with sex, even though he might be a virgin (the film is vague on this point), and the audience experiences his attempt to become a less volatile person. It’s impossible for me to fully explore the depths and implications of the interpersonal relationships explored in the film in this short space, but it has a lot to say about friendship, love, jealousy, and the human need for personal connection, both physical and emotional.

 

3. Django Unchained

I didn’t think it was possible, but Quentin Tarantino has finally made a film exactly like I’ve always wanted him to make, reaching the height of his potential in the process. Here he’s managed to set aside those “Tarantinoesque” gimmicks he’s always relied so heavily on, and made a mature, intelligent film about a serious subject. Yet, amazingly, Django Unchained is undeniably recognizable as a Tarantino film, incorporating all his best talents as a film maker while discarding everything that normally make his films impossible to take seriously. Slavery is as serious a subject as can be explored, and Tarantino, as only he can, has crafted a film that exposes the brutal horror of slavery, while simultaneously providing a cathartic antidote to the institution. In reality, reconstruction was never fully completed after the Civil War, but Tarantino shows us what should have been done: the righteous obliteration of the culture that sustained slavery. The only thing that could have improved this film is an expanded role for Kerry Washington.

 

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The tagline for Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation was “Everyone wants to be found,” and it could have just as well been applied here. Perks is a coming-of-age film, following the path of an outcast high school freshman who is, to his surprise, accepted into a social circle of upperclassmen. Though slightly temporally ambiguous, it perfectly captures a certain era somewhere between the mid-’80s and mid-’90s when making a mix-tape (on an actual cassette) could perfectly represent how you felt about someone. It has an excellent script that deals with many heavy issues that kids sometimes unfortunately have to face on the path to adulthood, and it paints a portrait of friends as an alternative extended family that can be more important than actual family. To me anyway, the film is about how a group of friends who are truly committed to each other as human beings can literally save your life. There’s strength in unity, and in a beautiful way Perks provides an example of how the practice of acceptance and togetherness can be used as weapons to collectively survive in this society. Oh, and it’s got a great soundtrack, too.

 

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

The big story here is the arrival of the child actress Quvenzhane Wallis who was only 6 years old during production. And what a force of nature she is! I can’t think of any child actor since Shirley Temple who has completely carried a film at such a young age. Beasts is the story of a small, poor commune of sorts cut off from the rest of the world on the other side of a levee, and that’s the way they want it. The film opens with a holiday celebration and we discover a world of people better connected with the Earth and with each other. When a major flood comes, they survive together, but when Hushpuppy’s (Wallis) father becomes ill she has to grow up and learn to fend for herself. What’s great about this film is that it shows that children are people, too, and they can often understand and do much more than they are given credit for. The film also creates a stark contrast between our “civilized” way of life, and the lifestyle of the people of the “Bathtub.” Though the people of the Bathtub are poor and their society dirty, it’s also authentic and bound by a spirit of community. Beasts shows us what’s really important and how to really celebrate life, as it rejects almost everything that we take for granted.

6. Looper

One of the freshest and most innovative sci-fi films in recent memory, Looper is a rare gem. Sci-fi has always been a genre that can hold a mirror up to society, and Looper is no exception. Set in the not too distant future where time-travel has been discovered and is used illegally by the mob to dispose of its enemies cleanly, “Loopers” are specialized assassins who wait for their targets to be sent from the future to be executed on sight. While some elements of the way time-travel is explained in the film are slightly problematic, to dwell on that is to miss the larger point on the film. In the end, it’s about being willing to sacrifice your own future to make the world a better place overall, and that’s a lesson we need to hear loud and clear right now.

 

7. A Royal Affair

When British princess Caroline is sent to Denmark to marry King Christian VII, she had no idea what she was getting into. Christian suffered from a mental illness which wasn’t understood at the time, and which allowed his actions to be manipulated by those around him, some of whom had good intentions, and others sought only greater power and influence. It also made marriage extremely difficult. Johan Struensee was a physician hired to assist the king, and eventually he and Caroline begin an affair. As a student of the Enlightenment Struensee was able to gain the king’s trust and steer him into making many progressive reforms that benefited the people of Denmark. The film itself is beautifully shot and acted extremely well, and it highlights the struggle for progressive reform against a wealthy ruling class, and also illuminates constructive methods to deal with metal illness.

 

8. Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths is a wild, brilliantly written film, and is a great example of a film about its own creative process, similar in form to Adaptation. For a film about murderous psychopaths, it’s surprisingly complex and nuanced, and centers around a man struggling to write a screenplay about psychopaths simply because he finds the subject interesting, even though he’s repulsed by violence. Not knowing where to take the narrative of his script, the film itself delves into the creative process, and the lines between reality and fiction begin to blur as the story is pieced together. The film represents a subversion of the action/thriller genre, and provides an insightful commentary on the prevalence of violence in American culture.

 

9. Killing Them Softly

Andrew Dominick has created the perfect political allegory for today. Set during election season in ’08 when the financial crisis was in full swing, Killing Them Softly is a microcosm, centered around the economy of a local mob. After a mob run poker game is held up resulting in a “recession” in which the “confidence” of the mob is shaken, a “stimulus” of sorts is needed to return life to “normal.” A hit-man is dispatched to track down and murder those responsible for the theft, allowing the mob to begin sponsoring card games again. The story unfolds against the backdrop of inner-city poverty and the decay of America from within, and speeches from president Bush and candidate Obama are injected into the narrative to hammer home the metaphor. The film is very simple and direct, but extremely bold in its direct association between capitalism and murder.

 

10. Being Flynn

An excellent film about writing and writers, Being Flynn is a story about a father who thinks he’s a great writer, but isn’t, and his son, who actually is very talented but doesn’t allow anyone to read his work because of a tragedy in his past. Robert De Niro turns in an excellent late-career performance as the elder Flynn, and Paul Dano turns in another quality performance as the younger. The film exposes the severe class divisions in America, as De Niro’s character slips through the cracks into homelessness and ends up seeking refuge in the shelter where his son works. The film has many authentic scenes of how homeless shelters operate and the conditions the homeless live in on the streets. All the original music for the film was composed by Badly Drawn Boy which helps to establish the melancholy atmosphere in which the narrative operates. Overall, it’s an excellent film that very few people saw, unfortunately, and I strongly encourage people to seek it out.

- DeadfallA stylistic crime thriller that could easily be considered a Western if it weren’t set against a backdrop of snow in Michigan. Great film about family dynamics.

- The Deep Blue SeaA very deliberate, minimalist film set in London following WW2 about a woman who leaves her husband for another man, but ends up finding herself in the process. It’s an empowering and moving film, driven by the amazing performance of Rachel Weisz.

- FlightA surprisingly good film about an alcoholic pilot who successfully lands a damaged passenger plane and is dubbed a hero by the media, and his attempt to cover up the fact that he was drunk during the flight. A powerful film about addiction that very easily could have been named among my top 10.

- The GreyAfter surviving a plane crash a group of men attempt to survive another danger, a pack of wolves who consider them invaders in their territory. It’s a bleak tale of man against the elements, but with surprising depth and complexity.

- The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyThe first part in Peter Jackson’s second adventure into Middle Earth, The Hobbit is a worthy companion to The Lord of the Rings series. Though the jury is still out on the use of 48fps, the film itself was very well paced and provides valuable back-story to the Middle Earth saga.

- Holy MotorsPerhaps the most bizarre film I saw this year, Holy Motors is the story of a sort of freelance actor who travels from job to job by limo and changes into character on the ride. When he emerges, he fully embodies his role, and we experience one full day of his work.

- The Hunger GamesOne of the most politically important films of the year, along with Cloud Atlas, Django Unchained, and A Royal Affair. Set in a dystopian North America after a fascist takeover, children are forced to fight to the death in a tournament designed to intimidate and pacify the masses, but our hero Katniss attempts to resist.

- LawlessThree brothers in the moonshine business during prohibition are forced to fight both corrupt police and a powerful organized crime syndicate after refusing to pay a bribe. A great film about the hypocrisy of the law and law enforcement.

- Life of Pi - A stunningly beautiful film that makes excellent use of 3D technology and takes us on a journey of survival after a shipwreck leaves a teenager stranded on a lifeboat alone with a tiger. A great story that examines the importance of storytelling and art as an indispensable aspect of life.

- Silver Linings PlaybookAnother film that examines mental health, it’s the story of a man with bi-polar disorder moving back in with his parents in an attempt to put his life back together. He wants to reconcile with his wife, but he meets another girl and they decide to enter a dancing competition.

Worst Film of the Year (out of the 42 I’ve seen) - 21 Jump Street