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.


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.


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 Amazing Vanishing Act of Cloud Atlas

What happened to Cloud Atlas? My favorite film of 2012 has totally vanished from the face of the Earth. It was made by the highly successful, mainstream Wachowski siblings and their collaborator Tom Tykwer, who has also had mainstream success. It featured some of the biggest names in Hollywood (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant), as well as a huge, well-known supporting cast. It was so grand in scope and spectacle, so bold and daring, so unique, and so expertly executed that it was bound to leave audiences awed and inspired. As I sat dumbfounded in my seat after seeing it, I fully anticipated that it would pile up accolades through awards season and cement its status as a classic.

Enter crickets chirping. None of that happened. No accolades, no awards, and very few Top 10 lists. It didn’t even get any nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards, which is amazing considering it was one of the most ambitious independently funded films of all-time. It was even branded the worst film of the year by Time Magazine, and its DVD/Blu-ray release has been delayed not once, but twice.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but it seems like something fishy is going on here. I know I couldn’t have been the only person to be totally blown away by Cloud Atlas, so why is it being neglected, ignored, and buried by the industry?

To go back to beginning, it was incredibly difficult to get the film made in the first place, and the project likely would have been abandoned if it weren’t for Tom Hanks’ enthusiasm for the project and his determination to make sure it was completed as written. Which leads me to what I assume is the real issue here. The subject matter.

Yes, Cloud Atlas is a sweeping, genre-bending epic with big name actors and incredible special effects, but it’s also highly political. And not just political, it’s revolutionary. The narrative weaves together several stories that take place over several hundred years, but the theme of openly resisting injustice and authoritarian power is carried throughout. It’s proudly anti-establishment and openly embraces resistance and revolution as the solutions to human exploitation and oppression across the ages. While right on the money politically, that’s not a line the major studios are too keen to finance, promote, and distribute.

And even though the film has one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen, an incredible 6-minute composition in its own right, the film wasn’t marketed on television very well. The TV spots focused on action scenes, flashed generic critical praise on the screen like, “A remarkable movie experience,” and left out all the political content that would actually make people want to see the movie. Cloud Atlas is an intricate, philosophical, politically timely film, but it was promoted as a run of the mill thrill ride of the week. And, not surprisingly, its low box office numbers reflect that generic style of marketing. When you’ve got a film like Cloud Atlas in your hands, a film that has something important to say about the human experience, you’ve got to sell it based on what it actually is and hope it connects with the intended audience. You don’t advertise it as a roller-coaster ride… unless of course you’re afraid of the message and hope to limit the audience to people who just want to see things blow up on screen.

And once the film was considered a “flop” it became poison to awards nominating organizations. And thus, the best film of the year was buried. Its dvd/blu-ray release date originally set for January, was pushed back to March, and eventually delayed until May 14.

There are those who will argue that Cloud Atlas has been forgotten and buried by the industry just because it didn’t perform well, and perhaps others will say it’s just not a very good film. Those people are entitled to that opinion, but in my mind it seems clear that the reason the industry mishandled this project from the beginning, from the difficulty in acquiring funding, to the poor marketing, the lack of critical acclaim, the way it was conspicuously ignored by all the major award shows, and the twice delaying of its home video release… was a chain reaction caused by the desire to suppress the film’s progressive, anti-establishment, revolutionary political content.

It’s a film about how human beings are connected to each other, and the way we treat each other matters. It’s about finding the strength to resist evil, even if it seems like that evil is permanent and the entire universe is against you. It’s a film that desperately needs to be seen right now. We need some revolutionary hope. We need to learn that things don’t always have to be the way they are, and that if enough people get together and decide to do the right thing we can truly change this world for the better. The fact that Cloud Atlas, a film that champions this anti-establishment position and embraces a spirit of human interdependence and revolution, has been shoved in the corner, mocked, and left to be forgotten is practically criminal, especially while so many negative, politically harmful films are upheld critically and widely promoted.