Three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone has made some interesting choices in his career, from instant classics (such as 1987’s Wall Street) to real head-scratchers (2010’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps). Leaning more into the latter camp is Savages, a beautifully photographed romantic crime drama about equally beautiful people who just so happen to be drug dealers by trade.
When your breakout movie, Seven, ends with Gwyneth Paltrow’s severed head in a box, what do you do for an encore? 1997’s psycho thriller The Game is director David Fincher’s emphatic answer. Nobody plays a cold, callous one-percenter better than Michael Douglas. His Nicholas Van Orton here is clearly intended as a through-the-looking-glass play off of his iconic, late-’80s portrayal of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.
It’s 1941. Eleven-year-old Jamie Graham is living a privileged life in Shanghai’s International Settlement with his English parents. Japanese troops have occupied much of mainland China over the previous four years but remain outside of some of the country’s major population centers, including Shanghai. Following Pearl Harbor, however, the Japanese move into the city. Panic erupts and Jamie becomes separated from his parents and ends up in a Japanese prison camp for Allied civilians.
When Seymour Krelborn, a schlub working at Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists, finds a strange and exotic plant, his life suddenly takes a turn for the better. But when the plant begins to speak, it offers him a Faustian bargain, promising Seymour fame, fortune, and Audrey, Mushnik’s flower arranger and Seymour’s secret love. In exchange, Seymour must provide the plant, which he has named Audrey II, with the food it needs to grow—human blood.
Wong Kar-wai, the greatest living Hong Kong filmmaker, is a weaver of smoldering dreams, and In the Mood for Love is his masterpiece. He may be the most intense practitioner of pure cinema. Very little happens in this film, but his brash colors (like something out of a Matisse painting), arch compositions (long shots at slightly off angles, slow tracking shots signifying the passage of time and the ache of waiting), and use of music (a languorous, longing string motif) sow a hypnotic tension and a charged passion (though its beautiful lead actors, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, barely touch each other and show not a smidgen of bare skin).
Alfred Hitchcock was a supremely gifted and innovative filmmaker and master of suspense…and a bit of a psycho in his own right, according to recent biographies on him. His films are the benchmark standard that nearly every suspense thriller since has taken its cues from. And in 1954, Hitchcock shot Dial M for Murder in the 3D format at a time when the novelty of 3D films was waning.
If you aren’t a fan of 1980s rock music or musicals, stop reading right now and save yourself a few minutes because you’ll absolutely hate this movie otherwise. For those of you who have stuck around, you’ll absolutely love this movie—as long as you aren’t turned off by actors bursting out in song in the middle of a scene.
It’s more than a little ironic that Tim Burton’s best film as a director, from top to bottom, is about one of the most notorious bad filmmakers who ever lived. Actually, Edward D. Wood Jr. (Johnny Depp) is known for two things: spectacularly bad sci-fi/horror movies that are ridiculously fun to watch, and being a cross-dresser before it was cool. Both traits are given full attention in Burton’s 1994 love letter to offbeat movies and their makers, Ed Wood.
Within the first few minutes of E.T., old-timers like me who remember seeing it on the big screen 30 years ago can’t help but recall why this movie was a bona fide cultural event, the likes of which we seldom see anymore. Oft copied, never equaled, it is an exquisitely crafted piece of cinema by a virtuoso at the top of his game. E.T. tells the tale of a lost, lonely visitor and his equally lonely host, an ordinary boy named Elliott. It celebrates the universal childhood fantasy of a secret best friend…and that other one about the flying bicycles. Rough around the edges though it may seem by today’s standards, this 1982 original version remains one of the most profoundly moving films most people will ever see.
What a swift kick in the ass! Co-written and produced by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly on TV, The Avengers), The Cabin in the Woods is the most self-aware and gleefully gory comedy-horror flick since the Scream series devolved into a parody of a parody. As I write this, there are probably forums of fanboys aflame, identifying and exchanging the horror movie references throughout. Its plot practically defies description, but the elevator pitch would be Evil Dead meets The Truman Show.
Chico & Rita is a wonderful movie, a valentine—poignant, sweet, but never sentimental—to Cuban jazz, bebop, and the street scenes of 1940s and ’50s Havana and New York. It’s a sophisticated animation, drawn in an evocative sketch-edged style similar to that of Waltz With Bashir. (It’s based on a graphic novel, a few pages of which are reproduced in the Blu-ray box’s booklet.)
Kicked out of his band and desperate for work, Dewey Finn intercepts a call meant for his roommate and lands an extended gig as a substitute teacher at Horace Green Elementary, a $15,000-per-year private school in the Northeast. The school’s uptight principal suspects something is amiss when the new teacher is less concerned about the students and is more interested in when the school day ends, but he gets the gig anyway. Dewey’s attitude changes when he hears the kids in their music class and realizes they have some serious potential if he can take them under his wing. He forms his own “classroom band” and involves the entire class with a costume designer, backup singers, security, and even a band manager with two goals in mind—to not get caught by the principal and to win the local Battle of the Bands contest.
How do you make a blockbuster film based on the all-too-familiar tale of the doomed luxury liner Titanic? Try giving it a context of modern-day exploration and discovery, weave in a resonant theme of class struggle and the folly of ambitious men, and put at its heart a romance that epitomizes the sweet stupidity of young love. And don’t forget to execute it all with an unprecedented technical genius.
Oliver Stone practically had to sell his soul to get Platoon made at a time when no movie studio wanted to revisit the Vietnam War. After that film won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1986, however, it kicked open the floodgates, and suddenly movie theaters everywhere were inundated with Vietnam War films like Hamburger Hill, Casualties of War, and Full Metal Jacket, and all paled in comparison with Platoon. With Full Metal Jacket, legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick examines the ritualistic dehumanization of the American Marine through rigorous boot camp training and transformation into a remorseless killing machine.
Tom and Violet had the makings of a beautiful relationship. They met at a New Year’s Eve costume party in San Francisco, and exactly one year later, Tom popped the question on a rooftop building with the lit-up Bay Bridge in the background—only in the movies. While in the process of picking a wedding date, Violet gets a chance to study for a year with a noted professor of psychology at University of Michigan. Tom puts his career on hold to allow his future bride to further her education. Her initial study was only supposed to last one year but turns into a permanent position when the professor has ulterior motives. Can their relationship survive?