The Political Battleground of the 2015 Academy Awards

In 1978, Vanessa Redgrave won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the film Julia, about a woman who is murdered by the Nazis for her anti-fascist activism. That same year, Redgrave also produced and narrated a documentary called The Palestinian about the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). In protest of her nomination, the Jewish Defense League picketed the Academy Awards and burned effigies of the actress. When Redgrave took the stage to accept her Oscar, she used the opportunity to take a political stand.

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She thanked her co-star Jane Fonda and Julia‘s director Fred Zinnemann, and then went on to express gratitude to the millions who sacrificed in the struggle against fascism and the Nazis. Redgrave then thanked the Academy for resisting intimidation from “Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression.” But she didn’t stop there. She continued, “I salute all of you for having stood firm and dealt a final blow against that period when [Richard] Nixon and [Joseph] McCarthy launched a worldwide witch-hunt against those who tried to express in their lives and their work the truth that they believe in. I salute you and I thank you and I pledge to you that I will continue to fight against antisemitism and fascism.”

Two hours later during that Academy Awards ceremony in 1978, Paddy Chayefsky took the stage to present the awards for Best Writing, and he fired back at Redgrave, “I would like to say, personal opinion, of course, that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda. I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.”

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The Oscars in 1978 provided a clear example of how conflicting political attitudes and ideologies compete on stage in front of millions. Under the surface, the Academy Awards always reflect the prevailing politics of Hollywood at a given moment in time, but sometimes these ideological struggles bubble over for all to see when participants in the ceremony seize the opportunity to speak out, or to condemn those who do.

Like the Oscars in 1978, last night’s 87th Academy Awards were also defined by politics, starting long before the ceremony even took place. Immediately following the announcement of the nominees on January 15th, a Twitter hashtag was created (#OscarsSoWhite) to mock and protest the Academy for failing to consider a single non-white actor or actress in any of the four acting categories. All 20 nominees were white for the first time since 1995. Many were also outraged that Ava DuVernay, the black, female director of Selma was also not nominated in the Best Director category. After the diverse Oscar ceremony from the previous year, it was clear the Academy was taking a step backwards, and controversy swirled leading up to the Awards, amplified by the context of recent events in Ferguson, MO and the social awakening in the wake of a rash of cases of police brutality.

When the Academy Awards broadcast began last night, race was an obvious elephant in the room. In an apparent attempt to compensate for the lack of black nominees, host Neil Patrick Harris conspicuously incorporated black people into the show, as if to say, “See, we’re not racist!” He enlisted Oscar winner Octavia Spencer to participate in a gag that ran throughout the broadcast, and she was also an award presenter. Harris also interviewed David Oyelowo from his seat in the crowd, and later on, when Oyelowo and Jennifer Aniston appeared on stage to present an award, Harris announced them as people “who absolutely deserve to be here,” in a not so subtle reference to their snubs by Oscar.

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But despite a drastically less diverse field of nominees this year, several of the winners rose to the occasion and spoke out on relevant and important progressive political issues, just like Vanessa Redgrave did in 1978. Patricia Arquette made the first bold statement of the night. On the issue of women’s equality she said, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” she demanded from the stage, which got the audience fired up. Most notably, Meryl Streep jumped out of her seat, cheering and pointing at the stage in approval. Arquette won Best Supporting Actress for the film Boyhood, which depicts a single-mother struggling to raise two children over the course of 12 years, while suffering from a pattern of domestic abuse and financial difficulties.

The ceremony was also marked by a pointed political conflict in the style of Redgrave and Chayefsky, with a progressive speaking out on an issue, followed by the voice of the establishment responding. Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour won for Best Documentary Feature, a film about how she and Glenn Greenwald worked with Edward Snowden when he came forward to leak classified documents about the NSA spying program. During her acceptance speech she said, “The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy, but to our democracy itself. When the most important decisions being made that affect all of us are being made in secrecy, we lose our ability to check the powers in control. Thank you to Edward Snowden for his courage, and for the many other whistle-blowers. I share this with Glenn Greenwald and the other journalists who are exposing truth. Thank you.”

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Immediately following Poitras’ speech, cameras cut back to host Neil Patrick Harris, who right before a commercial break said, “The subject of Citizenfour couldn’t be here for some treason.” The pun was not funny and the crowd did not laugh. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room, perceptible even on TV, for a few moments before ABC faded out for commercials. The “joke” was reprehensible, especially after the meaningful speech by Poitras to raise awareness about the crimes of the government and the vital importance of both whistle-blowers and independent journalists. Even if Harris’ rebuttal was simply a poor attempt to improvise a joke while under the enormous pressure of live TV being watched by millions (which is giving him a tremendous benefit of the doubt), there can be no doubt that what he did, in a single sentence, was defend the establishment and mock the bravery of people like Edward Snowden while endangering future whistle-blowers by publicly floating the idea that what they’re doing amounts to treason, which is one of the most serious charges that one can have leveled against them.

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Later on, Graham Moore took the stage to accept the Best Adapted Screenplay award for The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing, a gay man who helped develop methods to crack Nazi codes during World War 2. Turing was later prosecuted for “Homosexual Acts” which were illegal in the UK at the time. He was chemically castrated, and not long afterward in what was a possible suicide Turing died from cyanide poisoning. Graham Moore used his moment in the spotlight as an opportunity to speak about those who are made to feel different in society being driven to suicide. “I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.”

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However, given the controversy surrounding the all white slate of acting nominees, perhaps the most cathartic moment of the night came during the performance of “Glory” by John Legend and Common, the nominated song from Selma. The crowd was flooded by an emotional release in which many in attendance were reduced to tears, culminating in a standing ovation. Shortly following the performance, “Glory” won the award for Best Original Song. During his acceptance speech Legend said, “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now! Because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the voting rights that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised in this country today.” He continued, “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were in slavery in 1850.”

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Of course the ceremony also had its negative moments, such as when Sean Penn yelled “Who gave this SOB his green card?” before announcing Alejandro G. Iñárritu the winner of the Best Director award, but at least in that instance Iñárritu had the opportunity to get the last word, using his time on stage to shine a light on immigration policy. First, in direct response to Penn’s “joke”, Iñárritu said, “Maybe next year the government will inflict some immigration rules to the Academy. Two Mexicans in a row, that’s suspicious, I guess.” He was referring to Alfonso Cuarón winning Best Director the year before for Gravity. He then concluded by saying, “Finally, I just want to, I want to take one second, I just want to take the opportunity, I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and build this incredible immigrant nation. Thank you very much.”

The 87th Academy Awards will be remembered for the way winner after winner used the stage to bravely take a progressive stand on one of many important political issues. There will likely be detractors who come forward to denounce this type of acceptance speech activism. They’ll say things like Paddy Chayefsky said in 1978, the essence of which is that people shouldn’t “abuse the platform” to drag whatever their “pet political cause” may be into the spotlight; that they shouldn’t “bring politics into it.” But when detractors make arguments like this, what they’re really saying is that they don’t want progressive politics brought up, because of course the dominant ideology in this society is the reactionary default of the ruling elite class, and that default isn’t considered “political” by the same standard. So, given this, that’s actually all the more reason why it’s important for progressive people to step forward and make their voices heard, both through their art, as well as on stage at the Academy Awards.

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.

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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.

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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.

northcountry
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 Good Guys Won the Oscars (This Time)

rs_634x1024-140108134218-634.Ellen-Degeneres-Oscar-Promo.jl.010814This year’s Academy Awards were special and historic, and they stood in stark contrast to last year’s ceremony, and to the Oscar’s long history of stealing victory away from deserving progressive films. The tone of the broadcast was radically different than last year, including the way the show was hosted. A year ago we were subjected to Seth MacFarlane’s misogynistic, mean spirited, and offensive “humor” during a ceremony that culminated with Michelle Obama awarding the reactionary film Argo the top prize while surrounded by military personnel.

This year, a strong progressive wind blew through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. If last year’s Oscars were a reactionary celebration of “guy culture” this year was a progressive tribute to the oppressed minorities of society, including women, the LGBT community, and black people. Ellen DeGeneres, an openly gay woman, hosted the ceremony for the second time. Her jokes were funny without the need to be offensive simply for the sake of shock value, and her best line of the night was when she alluded to the ceremony’s racist history. “Possibility #1: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility #2: you’re all racists.” It was a joke, but it definitely contained an element of truth.

Ellen also made several genuine attempts to connect to the audience in a personal, fun way. At one point she ordered pizza for the audience, and then got the celebrities to cough up money for it later on. She also took a hilarious selfie with several actors crammed into the frame, and then posted it on Twitter, involving the audience around the globe. As of now that image has over 3 million retweets, breaking the previous record set by Obama’s tweet announcing his reelection campaign. The ceremony also included a tribute to The Wizard of Oz in which the singer Pink sang a beautiful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which reinforced the progressive theme of the evening, celebrating women in film and supporting oppressed minorities. Overall, it was a refreshing and much needed alternative to the open celebration of reactionary values from a year ago.

12-Years-a-Slave-Gravity-strike-Academy-Award-gold

Most importantly, and perhaps amazingly, virtually all the major awards went to progressive films, capped off by the historic victory of 12 Years a Slave, now the first film principally about the oppression of black people to win Best Picture. Director Steve McQueen became the first black person in the history of the Academy to win a Best Picture Oscar. Lupita Nyong’o won the statue for Best Supporting Actress, marking just the 15th time a black actor has taken home an Oscar, and John Ridley won for 12 Years‘ Adapted Screenplay, which is only the 2nd time a black person has won an Oscar for writing.

86th Annual Academy Awards - Show

Dallas Buyers Club, a film that powerfully skewers the corporate health care industry while embracing the humanity of the oppressed LGBT community and those suffering from the HIV/AIDS epidemic, also won three Oscars. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto received both of the male acting awards for their transformative performances, and the film also won for Makeup.

The most prolific winner of the night was Gravity, which won seven total Oscars, including almost all of the technical awards as well as Best Cinematography for Emmanuel Lubezki and Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron. Given that female actors are still paid significantly less than their male counterparts and most major blockbusters are male driven films, Gravity proved that original, female driven films can be both highly entertaining and financially successful, and hopefully Hollywood is getting the message.

Best Actress went to Cate Blanchett for her brilliant role in Woody Allen’s film Blue Jasmine. Despite the controversy surrounding the director, Blanchett didn’t hesitate to praise Allen in her acceptance speech, which was brave considering it would have been all too easy to simply avoid the issue. Piggy-backing on Gravity‘s success, she spoke about the importance of making female-centered films and argued that they can connect with audiences, while celebrating Allen’s contribution to women in film.

la-et-mn-oscars-2014-show-pictures-012

While it’s important to focus on the progressive winners, it’s also worth noting what didn’t win. The film that glorifies Wall Street hedonism, The Wolf of Wall Street, went home empty handed, despite heavy campaigning by Leonardo DiCaprio. In a delightful irony, DiCaprio’s other film, the one he didn’t go to the mat for, The Great Gatsby, won two Academy Awards (Production Design and Costume Design). American Hustle, the drastically over-hyped snooze-fest, also went home with zero Oscars, and the deeply pessimistic film with the most publicized Oscar campaign of the year, Inside Llewyn Davis, received only a single nomination and also went home with its tail between its legs.

The only potential missteps during yesterday’s Academy Awards were in the Documentary Feature and Foreign Feature categories. While 20 Feet From Stardom is certainly a progressive documentary about important issues, considering the gravity of alternatives like Dirty WarsThe Square, and The Act of Killing, it was perhaps a missed opportunity for the Academy to make a major statement on some very serious and controversial issues.

It’s also a shame that The Broken Circle Breakdown, a brilliant Belgian film about a couple in a folk band suffering through a religious conflict during a personal tragedy, lost out on the Foreign Feature award. The Academy had the opportunity to make a significant progressive statement and they passed on the chance.

Though, it’s worth mentioning that this year’s Academy Awards closely mirrored the traditionally more progressive Independent Spirit Awards. All the same actors won in both ceremonies, as well as 12 Years a Slave for Best Film, and John Ridley for Best Screenplay. The Independent Spirit Awards also honored 12 Years‘ director Steve McQueen and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. Gravity, which wasn’t eligible for the Spirit Awards, won those two awards at the Oscars.

You might be asking, who cares? What’s the point? Why does it matter who wins Oscars and who doesn’t? The Academy Awards have always been political, and these days the studios spend a lot of money to lobby for Oscar wins. Given that all films serve one sort of politics or another, and represent the worldview of the film makers in some way, the awards handed out by the Academy carry political weight and can be interpreted as approval for what a film stands for. An Oscar gives prestige to a film and guarantees that people will seek out those winners for years to come. So, when the Academy honors reactionary films, or chooses not to honor quality progressive work, it does actual harm to society.

slave

This year however, progressive politics held sway at the Academy Awards in a way they never have before. In past years when powerful progressive films were up for major awards, such as Reds in 1981, Brokeback Mountain in 2005, Avatar in 2009, or even Django Unchained last year, invariably those films aren’t allowed to win, and often films with reactionary politics are upheld instead (The Hurt Locker, Argo). And given the history of progressive films being denied on Oscar night, that just makes this year’s progressive sweep all the more powerful and important.

Steve McQueen’s film 12 Years a Slave strikes directly at America’s ugly, racist history, and forces the audience to confront the true nature of this society. Its victory at the Oscars reinforces and amplifies this powerful progressive message against slavery and ongoing racial oppression, and guarantees that it will be seen for decades to come, rather than being swept conveniently under the rug.

Last night, for once, the good guys won decisively, overcoming the reactionary forces that often influence the Oscars’ outcome. Though you can bet that next year a strong campaign will be mounted on behalf of a reactionary film in retaliation for this year’s defeat at the hands of progressives, for now, we can celebrate the victories of Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club, The Great Gatsby, Blue Jasmine, and especially 12 Years a Slave.

There’s a Reason it’s Called *American* Horror Story

“I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.” — Malcolm X

There’s widespread consensus that television is currently experiencing a golden age of the serialized drama characterized by the literary format of the novel being applied to TV. The staggering list of high quality serialized television novels on the air right now includes Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, House of Cards, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead, just to name a few.

HBO’s mob drama The Sopranos, which began in 1999, is largely responsible for triggering this tsunami of high-quality serialized programming, which imported the artistic sensibility and production value of film to the small screen. Shows like Six Feet Under and Lost soon followed. AMC’s Breaking Bad, which ended last year, is perhaps the high water mark of this flood, representing a pinnacle of artistic achievement during this renaissance of the medium.

AHS-Opening-Title-Sequence-Name

But now that Breaking Bad is off the air, there’s one television drama that stands above the rest; fearlessly, creatively, and artistically redefining the possibilities and the limits of the medium. FX’s American Horror Story is unlike anything else on the air right now (or perhaps ever before), both in terms of its general concept and its ability to put forward a bold artistic vision, which includes powerful social commentary, all while being deliciously entertaining.

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk created a unique format for a television series. Each season of American Horror Story is a self-contained mini-series, and a troupe of actors play different parts each year. This concept allows the show to explore new themes and subjects each season while retaining a core group of talented actors who thrive in a variety of roles.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN -- Pictured: Jessica Lange as Fiona

The focal point of the cast is the magnificent Jessica Lange, whose career has been reinvigorated by the three roles she’s played so far. In season 1, retroactively named “Murder House,” she played a conniving next door neighbor to a family who moves into a house that traps the souls of anyone who dies inside. In season 2, “Asylum,” she played a nun who oversees a horrifying mental hospital in the mid-1960s. In the latest season, “Coven,” she plays a witch bent on obtaining eternal life no matter the cost to the coven she leads.

The cast also includes Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Zachary Quinto, Dylan McDermott, and Jamie Bewer, all of whom have all appeared in at least two of the three seasons. There have also been strong supporting roles by major actors such as Kathy Bates, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Angela Bassett, Connie Britton, Danny Huston, Chloe Sevigny, Kate Mara, Emma Roberts, and Gabourey Sidibe. Ryan Murphy has admitted that he’s had Academy Award winning actors practically beg him for parts on the show.

American Horror Story is a highly stylized drama. Virtually every shot is pushed to its artistic limit. The camera floats around the action and establishes a perpetual sense of unease by presenting awkward angles that bend and twist reality in a way that enhances the atmosphere of the show without being a distraction to the narrative or appearing cheesy. The show blends the real world with a spiritual realm, and brilliantly treats each with complete legitimacy. At any given moment you can’t be sure of what you’re seeing, or even if a character is dead or alive. And the hideously creepy opening title sequences, which perfectly set the tone for the show, are amazing achievements in their own right.

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The show is totally diabolical and unrelenting, and it’s not for the faint of heart. There have been Horror shows on television before, but none quite as jarring, visceral, and purely entertaining as this. It is also unique in its ability to incorporate deliberate social commentary into its narrative. It’s a show that definitely has something to say, which justifies the violence and gore during its descent into darkness. American Horror Story wants to shock, horrify, and entertain, but it also illuminates the repulsive underbelly of America that is all too often kept safely out of sight.

Each season, with a different setting and cast of characters, American Horror Story has new themes to explore. The first season, “Murder House,” seems to be about the dark side of American domestic life, the illusion of the American Dream, and the haunting of the past. It deals with infidelity and betrayal within families, and the struggle to maintain family cohesion through the inevitable harsh realities of life. It’s a horrific exploration of the “traditional family” and the Murder House setting allows for a bleak and morbid view of the idealized American household. Secrets don’t stay secret, the dead don’t stay dead, and the past always comes back to haunt you. Moving into the perfect big house is nothing but an attempt to avoid facing problems, and so much is sacrificed to maintain the appearance of a perfect family. “Murder House” seems to imply the question: is it worth it?

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“Asylum” takes on the treatment of the mentally ill in America and deals with religious based oppression, race relations, and discrimination against homosexuals, all of which are issues deeply embedded in America’s roots. The second season is an absolute television masterpiece that ends up in a totally different emotional place than where it begins due to its meticulously crafted story arc. There are characters you loathe at the start but find yourself rooting for toward the end, and vice versa, and all the plot lines are tied off in the most emotionally satisfying way possible. It’s a journey from darkness to the light in a way that is oddly uplifting because of the depth of the terror experienced along the way. “Aslyum” shows there can be hope and redemption, even for the most lost among us, as long as oppressive conventions are broken with and love for humanity is kept in your heart.

The third season, “Coven,” is perhaps the boldest, most over the top chapter of American Horror Story, and its critique of American society is the sharpest the series has offered so far. It follows a coven of witches who are under assault both from society at large as well as from a rival group of voodoo witches. American Horror Story has always been a female driven show, but the focus on the all-female coven brings themes of women’s oppression in society into focus. Zoe, the newest member of the coven, can kill men by having sex with them. Madison, another young witch, is raped early in the season, and she kills the men responsible with a flick of her wrist. These are the ultimate fears of a patriarchal society that wants to maintain ownership over women’s sexuality. “Coven” also explores America’s crime of slavery and its deeply entrenched and ongoing racial discrimination. In one moving scene, a black witch forces a racist serial killer to watch the mini-series Roots as punishment for her crimes.

American Horror Story tackles these issues head on, and the show definitely has a point of view. It’s a perfect demonstration of the way art can be utilized to offer pointed social commentary in a highly entertaining form. It’s a free-form, sometimes abstract show, but despite its avante garde presentation, or perhaps because of it, it clearly articulates a political worldview that condemns inequality, discrimination, and oppression of all kinds, while putting forward strong female characters who challenge a male-dominated world. The show’s social critiques are organically embedded into the narrative, which allows the audience to be horrified and repulsed by the fundamental ills of the system they live under. American Horror Story does not hesitate when forcing viewers to deal with brutal and uncomfortable truths.

In each season of American Horror Story real life characters are introduced. “Murder House” incorporates the famous Black Dahlia murder, as well as a sub-plot with a Columbine-like school shooting. “Asylum” imagines a grown up Anne Frank, and also deals with an ex-Nazi party member who performs sadistic medical experiments on human beings. “Coven” brings to life the true story of the New Orleans serial killer known as the Axeman, as well as Madame Delphine LaLaurie, a New Orleans socialite who tortured and murdered her slaves. These historical figures are woven into the fabric of the show and reinforce American Horror Story‘s underlying concept of exploring the deepest fears and horrors of American society.

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In this golden age of the television drama there’s a great show out there for everyone. If The Walking Dead or Falling Skies aren’t your thing, you might love Game of Thrones or House of Cards. However, because American Horror Story is unafraid to approach uncomfortable subjects in the most grotesque manner possible it’s obviously not a show for everyone, but it’s possibly the best and most important show on television today because it exposes the horrors at the roots of America through a unique artistic vision. It pries up the floorboards to examine the foundation upon which America is built, and it’s not afraid to reveal the ugly truth, while still holding on to the hope that people can be good. As Kathy Bates said in an interview with Collider, “That’s what I like about what Ryan [Murphy] does. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘American’ Horror Story.”

The show is uniquely American, both in form and in subject. Set in any other country it would be a wildly different show. From its inception America has been wrestling with fundamental contradictions; “founded by slave owners who wanted to be free,” as the late, great George Carlin was fond of pointing out. American Horror Story dives right into those contradictions and uproots them for all to see, creating an unnerving and terrifying experience in the most gratifying and entertaining way possible.

The Myth of Innocence in Two Seminal Films About the Vietnam War

by David Zeiger

In the ten years following the defeat of the United States and its allies in Vietnam, no fewer than 200 films were produced in Hollywood about that seminal event in U.S. and, indeed, world history–the first and to date only decisive defeat of the United States military. The subjects ranged from revenge fantasies like First Blood (the opening film in the Rambo franchise), to agonized explorations of the trauma of American veterans like Coming Home. While their points of view varied wildly, what all of these films shared was an underlying unease with the war and its aftermath. World War II netted scores of films celebrating and mythologizing the “American Fighting Man,” but even the most patriotic Vietnam War films had to confront not only the defeat of American forces by a peasant army, but the widespread rejection of and anger at that war from our own shores.

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In the midst of that crowded field, two films stand out. Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) and Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978) are today considered classics and prominent representatives of the 1970s golden age of American cinema when sixties rebels ruled the day. Coming out almost simultaneously, both won numerous Academy Awards (Best Picture for The Deer Hunter, Best Director for Apocalypse Now), and were hailed as brave explorations of both the horrors of the Vietnam War and the emotional damage wrought on American veterans. Products of a liberal perspective, they were widely considered to be condemnations of the war itself.

The stories of the two films are quite different, but they share the same central theme: the immense and poisonous savagery of the war. As such, they are seemingly in line with the opposition that, by the early seventies, had spread to the majority of Americans. But it’s in examining the source of that savagery as depicted in both films that their essentially reactionary and revisionist nature becomes apparent. Most importantly, they are deeply rooted in the myth of American innocence and the supposed tragedy of its loss.

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Apocalypse Now, an adaptation to the Vietnam War of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, tells the story of the boyish Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), who has received the seemingly incomprehensible order to track down and “…eliminate with extreme prejudice” Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a renegade officer who is hiding out in Cambodia with his band of American and Vietnamese deserters. As Willard ventures further into the deep recesses of Southeast Asia he encounters scene after scene of the “absurdity” of the American war–a colonel (Robert Duvall) who orders the strafing of a coastal village so that his troops can surf, a USO show featuring Playboy Bunnies in the middle of constant fighting, and the trigger-happy crew members of the boat ferrying him to his destination.

But it is when he encounters Kurtz that the heart of this film is revealed. As Willard has learned from the documents given him for his mission, Kurtz has been engaging in wantonly brutal attacks on soldiers and civilians alike. What Willard is completely unprepared for is the “primitive” nature of Kurtz’s encampment–a nightmare vision sprung from every colonialist’s fever dream of an African and Native American village, replete with naked bodies hanging by ropes and human skulls prominently displayed on stakes.

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In the film’s penultimate moment, Kurtz reveals to Willard his philosophy that it is only by learning to kill without emotion, to allow oneself the ultimate brutality, that the war can be won. And where did he learn this? From the “enemy,” of course. His awakening came, he recounts, when he saw Viet Cong (National Liberation Front, or NLF) troops enter a village and chop off the arms of children the Green Berets had just inoculated against malaria. To his amazement, they carried out their brutal slaughter with no visible signs of emotion. “These were not monsters, they were men,” he tells Willard, “but they had the strength to kill without feeling, without emotion, without judgment.” And it was “judgment,” the product of civilization, Kurtz muses, that would lead to America’s failure in Vietnam. Kurtz had, in essence, “gone native.”

In The Deer Hunter, a trio of steel workers from a small Pennsylvania town (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage) enlist in the wake of one of their member’s wedding. The ultimate “innocents” (all of them, not coincidentally, white), they are immediately thrust into the unremitting brutality of the war. After witnessing an NLF soldier wantonly massacre dozens of villagers, they are captured and imprisoned in tiger cages (bamboo cells too small to stand up in). In the film’s central metaphor, their drunken captors force them to play a deadly game of Russian Roulette. The result of their torture is that only one, De Niro, returns home with any semblance of sanity. Savage, now a paraplegic, is hiding in a mental institution. And Walken, who has deserted and disappeared in Saigon, has become a “professional” Russian Roulette player in underground gambling clubs–and ultimately kills himself. With their youth and innocence shattered, the remaining characters end the film sitting around a kitchen table singing “God Bless America.”

thedeerhunter2In interviews, Cimino related that his inspiration for the Russian Roulette metaphor was Eddie Adams’ famous photograph of a South Vietnamese general summarily executing an NLF soldier by shooting him in the head. That photo, with the cringing, horrified soldier about to die and his stone-faced executioner calmly, emotionlessly placing his gun against his victim’s head, had become an iconic symbol of the war–not its generalized brutality, and certainly not that of the “enemy,” but very specifically the calculated, inhuman brutality of the United States and its South Vietnamese allies.

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The image said, simply, that it was the United States and South Vietnamese government that held a gun to the head of the Vietnamese people. Yet now, only three years after the end of the war, Cimino not only appropriated the image but completely reversed its meaning (Adams even looked into suing Cimino and the studio for this blatant falsification of the meaning of his photograph). In fact, every scene in both The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now purportedly depicting the inhuman brutality of the NLF was a mirror image of the policies and actions of the United States in the Vietnam War: civilian massacres were, as occurred in the hamlet of My Lai, commonplace (recently declassified DOD documents reveal that the military knew of and covered up over 200 massacres equivalent to or worse than My Lai); the infamous Tiger Cages were an invention of the South Vietnamese government, which imprisoned and tortured thousands of people in them; and, in actual reality, there were never any incidents, or even claims, or American POWs being forced to play Russian Roulette or NLF soldiers chopping off the arms of children in retaliation for accepting American aid (Yes, they were metaphors, but metaphors impart a view of reality, in this case a false and politically directed one). These things were widely known, and yet Coppola and Cimino’s slight of hand was praised and feted in liberal Hollywood, and to this day Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter are celebrated as masterpieces of antiwar cinema.

How can this be? How, after ten years of growing outrage of millions at the relentless carpet bombings of North Vietnam and the use of Agent Orange and Napalm–chemical weapons dropped on South Vietnam to destroy foliage and burn villages and their inhabitants, all leading to the deaths of three million civilians–could amnesia have set in so quickly and ubiquitously? There are, of course, the financial and political constraints of producing big budget Hollywood films, but the deeper answer lies in the cherished myth of American Innocence. Despite its flaws, the myth goes, America is at its core and in its heart a “good” country–always striving toward more freedom and more democracy, even if it sometimes uses distasteful methods. Yes, there are bumps along the road (two hundred years of slavery, just to mention one), and the Vietnam War certainly qualifies as one of those bumps (“A mistake,” in the words of John Kerry). But somewhere, somehow, the motives must be pure–if not in the hearts of the politicians, then at least in those of the soldiers, the true innocents.

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But there’s still that problem of the unfettered, near genocidal slaughter that was unleashed on the Vietnamese people for over ten years. How does that fit within the comfortable confines of American Innocence? To keep the cocoon intact, the answer can only lie in the Vietnamese people themselves. “They made us do it,” became, in essence, the rational for anything and everything done in the course of the war.

In 1974, General William Westmorland, commander of American forces in Vietnam during the Johnson Administration, famously told an interviewer in the film Hearts and Minds, “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner…We value life and human dignity. They don’t care about life and human dignity.” That statement enshrined for millions the racism and imperial arrogance of the American venture in Vietnam. But ironically–and disturbingly–just four years later it was the antiwar liberals Francis Coppola and Michael Cimino who, in essence, said the very same thing in their films–and won accolades for their insights.

 

David Zeiger, a Guggenheim Fellow, has been making documentary films for twenty years. His 1999/2000 series, Senior Year, following the senior class at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, was a landmark PBS broadcast in 2002. His 2006 film, Sir! No Sir!, telling the long-suppressed story of the GI Movement against the Vietnam War, was seen on television in over 75 countries worldwide. This piece will be appearing in the 2014 anthology, Innocence and Loss: Representations of War and National Identity in the United States.