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.

6bad5ce346834e99886c7723ea5d39b8

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.

vlcsnap-2010-09-14-13h04m24s59

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.

hero_EB20051215REVIEWS51019006AR

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.

do-the-right-thing1

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.

cloud-atlas-doona-bae-jim-sturgess

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.

lgqxwillaQe0a0J67brbZ7nWEtf

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.

url

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.

photo-les-moissons-du-ciel-days-of-heaven-1978-6

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)

Godzilla and Reckless Arrogance in the Nuclear Age

:::SPOILER ALERT FOR GODZILLA (2014):::

The original Godzilla (a.k.a. Gojira) was released in Japan less than a decade after the end of World War II. In 1954, the reality of nuclear annihilation was still fresh in Japanese consciousness after the United States dropped two atom bombs on the already devastated and defeated nation. Gojira (1954), inspired by a real nuclear “accident” in which a ship of Japanese fishermen was irradiated by an American hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific, was a powerful anti-American* film that warned against the rush to use science as a weapon and condemned the arrogance of those who thought they could keep such destructive forces under control. The monster set loose by nuclear testing in Gojira is essentially a living atom bomb.

Godzilla-1954-4

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, descending into camp with outlandish, silly creatures and bizarre scenarios, there can be no denying the impact the original film has had on society. It was a terrifying but highly entertaining film whose politics were integral to the plot, and its pointedly anti-nuclear stance obviously resonated with millions of people around the world.

When Roland Emmerich directed the first Hollywood remake he openly admitted to not being a fan of the original film, and, not surprisingly, Godzilla (1998) de-emphasized the anti-nuclear theme. While the monster in Emmerich’s film was the result of French nuclear testing (not American), beyond that the morality and politics of nuclear power plays virtually no role in the film. Dr. Tatopoulos, a scientist studying the effects of nuclear radiation (Matthew Broderick) seems to have no qualms with hunting down and eliminating the monster, in direct contrast with the scientific minded characters in Gojira who caution against violent reaction and stress the importance of knowledge and patience.

Godzilla-CTIT-94

For Emmerich, nukes are just a convenient plot device to set the story in motion. Ishiro Honda, on the other hand, used nuclear terror to craft a metaphor of essential importance to the original film. Honda’s Gojira is a walking lesson in the destructive consequences of arrogance and imperialistic greed, and retaliation against the monster only makes him more angry and destructive, while Emmerich’s Godzilla is just an overgrown animal who happens to be inconvenient for mankind’s modern civilization, and therefore must be destroyed without question.

Emmerich’s take on Godzilla was met with harsh criticism from fans and professional critics alike. Many pointed out that the film lacked the “spirit” of a genuine Godzilla film. The heart of this criticism, whether the film’s detractors realized it consciously or not, is that the missing spirit was political in nature. Fans also didn’t like how the monster looked and behaved, but ultimately Godzilla (1998) simply had nothing of value to say. When Emmerich cut out the progressive core of the story there just wasn’t much left. What remained was a sarcastic, militaristic, reactionary mess.

The next Hollywood take on Godzilla was just released on May 16. While Roland Emmerich’s version was perhaps deliberately belligerent to fans of the original franchise, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) is clearly trying to be a crowd-pleaser. It pays homage to the Japanese films by bringing back Godzilla’s “atomic breath” and by incorporating other monsters for Godzilla to battle into the plot. Edwards’ version also restores the iconic monster to his lumbering, powerful, and self-aware roots. Here Godzilla appears capable of complex thought and operates on more than just base instincts, which is much more in line with the original conception of the monster.

Godzilla-2014

Edwards also brings the nuclear issue back to the forefront. Gojira (1954) was inspired by a real life nuclear incident, and it appears that Godzilla (2014) was similarly inspired by the Japanese nuclear power plant disaster of 2011. The film begins with the meltdown and destruction of a nuclear plant and a government cover-up to conceal the true cause of the disaster. But while Godzilla (2014) dedicates a lot of screen time to the topic of nuclear power and nuclear weapons, the film doesn’t take nearly as strong an anti-nuclear stance as the original film, even if on the surface Edwards wants you to think it does.

The central protagonist, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is a military explosive ordnance disposal officer. At one point when asked how the “bomb business is going” he says it’s his job to get rid of bombs, not to set them off. However, despite his claim, he demands to be assigned to the team ordered to set off a nuclear bomb in the ocean as a trap for the monsters. Never once does he say that it’s a reckless idea and that exploding nukes so close to the coast should be avoided at all costs.

That stance is left to Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), the man, apparently named after the scientist in the original film, who had been overseeing the study of the newly discovered MUTO monster who had caused the destruction of the power plant. His is the only voice of dissent against the unwise and obviously dangerous plan to detonate nuclear weapons as the first course of action. He proposes that the military should allow Godzilla to battle these new monsters that feed off nuclear energy, thus letting nature take its proper course. Though his view is eventually vindicated, his protests against the official plan are pretty timid, especially for someone whose grandfather was killed in Hiroshima. Of course the military is completely unmoved by his argument until circumstances prove him correct.

It could be argued the film is making a statement against nuclear energy through the MUTO monsters in the same way Gojira (1954) did, by metaphorically making the monsters living nuclear power plants, just as Godzilla was envisioned as a living atom bomb. The MUTOs feed off nuclear energy and then harness that power to create massive electromagnetic pulses (EMP) that cripple society. But while it could be argued the film is creating that metaphor, the association is weak at best, and the point is never driven home with clear intention the way it was in 1954. The difference is a question of priority.

godzilla_2014___m_u_t_o__monster_concept_by_dj1nnsgr1mo1r3-d78y1dn

With Gojira is was obvious that the film makers made the film in order to send a message. “The theme of the film, from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind,” said Gojira‘s producer Tomoyuki Tanaka. The resulting film was raw, powerful, aware of its politics and direct about its intentions. With Godzilla (2014) the priority seemed to be making an entertaining movie that just so happens to include monsters that feed off nuclear energy. They have to eat something, right?

In the end, the strongest case the film makes against nuclear weapons is the way the military rushes to justify their use, and the cavalier way the weapons themselves are handled, easily falling out of their control in a situation they didn’t fully understand. However, the film misses its biggest opportunity drive home this message. While the “nature” plan proposed by Dr. Serizawa is ultimately successful and nuclear weapons ultimately revealed to be unnecessary, or indeed counterproductive, when the bomb does inevitably explode, it’s somehow, inexplicably, harmless.

In Gojira (1954), the monster is defeated with an experimental new technology called an Oxygen Destroyer. However, the scientist responsible for developing the technology, Dr. Serizawa, does not want to use it. He says it needs more research and that if they use it as a weapon that’s all it could ever be, just another weapon for people to kill each other with, as opposed to discovering more beneficial uses after further study. He believes this so firmly that before agreeing to use the technology to defeat the monster he burns all of his research, and then allows himself to be killed along with Gojira, ensuring the knowledge in his head could never fall into the wrong hands.

There’s a similar moment of potential self-sacrifice in the new film, but it doesn’t come to fruition, and somehow in only 5 minutes they are able to escort a nuke from the middle of the San Francisco Bay far enough into the ocean to detonate safely. No mention of damage, fallout, or any ill effects whatsoever. It’s all too convenient and easy, and the film makers passed on an opportunity to end the film with a brutal, powerful lesson in the arrogance, recklessness, and inhumanity of using nuclear weapons. Why not let the bomb explode in the middle of San Francisco after it’s already been established they were never needed in the first place? Imagine the irony of an ending where nature takes care of itself but mankind destroys itself trying to control it. The film wouldn’t have had a comfortable, feel-good ending, but then again, neither did Gojira, which, even in victory, ends on a somber note that forces the audience to reflect on the realities of the nuclear age.

godzilla12-e1335466173289

Godzilla (2014) isn’t a bad film. It’s extremely well made technically, has a plot based on solid character development, and it takes itself seriously enough to provide a sense of realism to the drama. It’s a vast improvement over the terrible 1998 version in every conceivable way, and it was a genuine, visceral cinematic experience, especially in IMAX 3D. But, ultimately, it’s still only a pale reflection of the original’s power and influence, even if it had some good intentions. As fun as it was to watch in parts, its inability to follow through with a cohesive anti-nuclear message and its missed opportunities will always outweigh the positives.

* It should be noted that the original Japanese version, Gojira (1954), was so threatening to U.S. interests that for the the American release of the film a significant amount of footage was cut from the original and new footage starring Raymond Burr was shot and added to the film. This version was called Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) and it largely eliminated the judgments the original film made on the U.S. and its use of nuclear weapons. It is, unfortunately, the version most people outside of Japan are most familiar with, but it should by no means be considered “the original” film, even though it was more widely distributed and popularized than the true original.