“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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.