Cabaret (1972, Bob Fosse)
Classic musical is as exuberant as you remember in fits and starts, but its story lumbers awkwardly.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Robert Wiene) [hr]
Chilling, truly disorienting prototype of the horror genre borrows considerably from traditional silent melodrama in its story of a sleepwalker terrorizing a town, hypnotized by the deranged director of a nearby asylum, but it flies into a delightful cinematic bliss thanks to its remarkable production design and unforgettable, angular sets. This film alone seems to have fathered German Expressionism as we remember it; it’s one of the few times cinema lives up to the ideal of transferring our strangest dreams and nightmares to celluloid. The string-pulling Caligari is a stand-in for the boldly irrational artist overlording all that we see; he is cinema.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Drew Goddard)
Writers Goddard and Joss Whedon fear repercussions for participating in a straight slasher film, so they add extra Ironic exposition to make it “smart.” Stick to the real thing — or better yet, don’t.
Cabiria (1914, Giovanni Pastrone) [r]
One of the earliest truly epic films to survive, this legendary Italian historical melodrama unmistakably sparked the cross-cutting and spectacular sets of Intolerance, but its less pretentious story — a long-term rescue mission with a strong touch of Douglas Fairbanks-like heroics — gives it a levity all but absent in Griffith’s work from the period. The main thing to know is that it’s eye-popping; the camera is incredibly agile for the time, which makes the elaborate sets and locations look even more impressive.
Caddyshack (1980, Harold Ramis) [c]
* Dull, hamhanded golf comedy has no charm whatsoever, one or two laughs at most; typical ’80s waste of a fairly good cast.
The Caine Mutiny (1954, Edward Dmytryk) [c]
A batshit Navy captain steers his ship in circles and sends his crew on a painstaking investigation to find out who stole a quart of frozen strawberries. Humphrey Bogart is terrific as the nutty, benignly villainous Queeg and the special effects are impressive, but virtually everything else about the movie (particularly the lax supporting cast) is remarkably irritating.
Calvary (2014, John Michael McDonagh) [hr]
A fascinating mystery whose layers of meaning will require multiple viewings to fully unravel, though it’s in essence a remake of High Noon with I Confess baked into it. Brendan Gleeson (magnificent) is an Irish priest given a seven-day warning during a confession that he is to be murdered, not for being a bad man but for being a good one. During the week to follow we meet the scattered denizens of his small town, whose opinion of him runs a broad gamut, and it serves as both a rollout of the man’s loved ones and of the suspects. The story ruminates without being dour, slow or humorless.
Camelot (1967, Joshua Logan) [NO]
* Candyfloss junk.
Camille Claudel 1915 (2013, Bruno Dumont) [c]
Grim episode from the institutionalized, abandoned, conspiratorial final years of the title sculptor boasts Juliette Binoche doing excellent work, but does she ever not? Praised for its spareness and precision, the film is as fatalistic and vaguely “historical” as The Turin House, only with less action (!). Admirers of Claudel as an artist wishing for illumination will likely be disappointed.
The Candidate (1972, Michael Ritchie) [r]
The point is that idealist Robert Redford, as a senatorial candidate, gets subsumed by the blank slate-ism of American “cult of personality” politics. The problem is that Redford is vastly more believable as a blank slate than a charismatic idealist. Stunningly realistic feel for the campaign trail, though, and an outstanding performance by Peter Boyle as a wily campaign manager.
Can’t Buy Me Love (1987, Steve Rash) [NO]
* Hugely creepy teen comedy from the John Hughes era is worse than usual, mostly because of its unapologetic sleaziness.
Cape Fear (1962, J. Lee Thompson) [c]
Essentially useless thriller is a good indicator of what happens when people who have never seen a Hitchcock film try to make one. Gregory Peck is a lawyer being chased around by a man he prosecuted, Robert Mitchum (in a creepy performance similar to Robert Walker’s in Strangers on a Train). The movie has no resonance, no characterization, no real technical assets, no real value at all.
Capote (2005, Bennett Miller) [hr]
Extremely economical, clipped narrative of the writer’s life during the Clutter case and trial is not really an indictment or a celebration. Much like In Cold Blood itself, it feels like truth even if it isn’t, and it invades the dreams.
Captain America (1990, Albert Pyun) [NO]
* Forgotten comic book movie is painful to watch.
Captain Phillips (2013, Paul Greengrass) [hr]
Billy Ray, the director of Shattered Glass and Breach, wrote this even more compelling true life thriller that has the added touch of a nail-biting action film thanks to Greengrass. The two of them make the story of the Somalian pirate crisis of early 2009 tense and engrossing to the point that you feel as winded by the end as if you lived through something yourself. Tom Hanks’ performance in the title role — and Barkhad Abdi’s as the ringleader of his Somalian captors — is stunningly real and complex.
Captain Ron (1992, Thom Eberhardt) [NO]
* Ladies and gentlemen, the most hateful, evil, nihilistic comedy in the annals of cinema! This film is about misery, the misery of everyone in it, the misery of the actors, the misery of the crew, everybody. The only possible reason one can have to create something like this is a desire to hurt other people.
Captains Courageous (1937, Victor Fleming) [r]
Spencer Tracy is wonderful in this cranky MGM Kipling adventure but there are too many overlong action sequences, and it’ll likely test your tolerance for movies about boys Learning to Be Men.
Capturing the Friedmans (2003, Andrew Jarecki) [hr]
No clear-cut “message,” no condescending narration from the filmmakers, no screen appearances by the filmmakers, no kicking people when they’re down, not even appropriate pop songs to match the footage, just a powerful, ambiguous, emotionally exhausting true story, brilliantly told, of an accused pedophile and the way his family falls apart.
The Care Bears Movie (1985, Arna Selznick) [NO]
* Strictly for very, very young children.
Carlos (2010, Olivier Assayas) [r]
No one can accuse this epic account of the times of notorious terrorist Carlos the Jackal — conceived and best seen as a five-hour miniseries — of glamorizing the man or glorifying his violence. While humanizing him and feigning neutrality, it unmistakably casts an unflattering light on his lifestyle and the emptiness of his ideals, suggesting finally that the chief factor in determining his legacy of womanizing and semi-competence was his psychotic quest for control and self-aggrandizement. This character study (with an outstanding central performance by Édgar Ramírez) is long but personally and politically incisive, and never boring.
Carnival of Souls (1962, Herk Harvey) [hr]
Scary, effective and very atmospheric low budget horror film is highly obvious from the get-go and very campy, but still solid and well-shot. The abandoned bath house used by the filmmakers gives them most of their mileage; it’s horrifying in itself. Don’t miss this film, if only for that. A frame from this film is the banner across the top of all pages of this blog, FYI.
Carol (2015, Todd Haynes) [hr]
Richly sad but surprisingly hopeful love story from Patricia Highsmith’s pseudonymous romance novel The Price of Salt has Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett connecting in early 1950s NYC and traveling together to escape the difficulties of the latter’s divorce. Everything the 16mm camera captures is somehow magical; the entire world of the film seems bathed in the haze of a fevered love affair. The characters and performances are developed gradually, no shortcuts taken, and end up so complex and real that the slightest changes in facial expressions can feel like earth-shaking plot points.
Carousel (1956, Henry King) [c]
* Slick and completely empty Rodgers & Hammerstein musical has only technical qualities to recommend it, so it’s best not to recommend it at all.
Cars (2006, John Lasseter)
The first sign of strain in the Pixar dream factory and a major step down for Lasseter after Toy Story 2, this talking-car parable is a kiddie Doc Hollywood, all mealy-mouthed morality and forced nostalgia.
The Cars That Ate Paris (1974, Peter Weir) [hr]
* Exuberantly bizarre Australian sci-fi will double you over; it’s a cold calculation, whatever its origins, but it’s also a thrill.
Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz) [A+]
It’s adored above and beyond any other Hollywood film for good reasons — its sense of romance and journey breathes life into a brilliantly written and performed story, adding up to a time capsule that brings humanity to the period it depicts, not least because the ultimate direction of the world was in the air at the time it was made. Endlessly humbling, even comforting film improves every time.
Casino (1995, Martin Scorsese) [NO]
Or: The Long, Long Trailer. What happens when three macho titans — Scorsese, De Niro, and Pesci — who’ve made the same movie four hundred times are turned loose in Las Vegas? I totally and completely don’t give a shit, and the only reason anyone does are the healthy shares of extraneous cokehead violence designed for fanboy jackoffs, not to mention the lovely degradation and deconstruction of an initially strong female character. Excessive and smug in every way.
Casino Royale (1967, Val Guest / Ken Hughes / John Huston / Joseph McGrath / Robert Parrish) [c]
Flagrantly indulgent 007 parody with a once-in-a-lifetime cast doesn’t do anything that Get Smart, Help! and a host of other satirical jabs at that particular easy target hadn’t already, and more skillfully. Barely coherent, not to mention painfully unfunny — though there are some eye-popping set designs and enjoyable psychedelic sequences thrown in for no apparent reason. The Wikipedia page is more interesting than the movie itself.
Casino Royale (2006, Martin Campbell) [r]
The best film in the James Bond series. Beyond its gritty origin-story elements, it destroys the 007 fantasy in favor of revealing a human being with a cold exterior; rather than transporting a seemingly invincible figure to the “real world,” this simply lays out how such a creature could never exist. For much of the film, Bond is weakened, flummoxed, stymied, even vaguely incompetent at times; Daniel Craig brings more dimension to the role than it’s ever had before. More to the point, the stunt sequences are outrageous and gripping and remarkable but never ridiculous.
Casper (1995, Brad Silberling) [NO]
* Contempt and nothing but.
Cassandra’s Dream (2007, Woody Allen) [r]
Another starkly imagined drama for Allen, this one about two doomed brothers (Colin Farrell and Ewan Macgregor, both quite good) and their freaky-deaky murderous uncle, is notable for Vilmos Zsigmond’s glorious cinematography and Philip Glass’ haunting music (the first original score for an Allen film since the ’70s). There’s nothing really new here but it is beautifully made and a lot of fun to watch.
Castle in the Sky (1986, Hayao Miyazaki) [r]
An orphan of mysterious origin falls to Earth under the protection of a self-reliant, hard-working kid and they soon find themselves on the run from pirates and the military because of a powerful stone in her possession. Entertaining Ghibli film is strongly directed, featuring some of the most striking action sequences and moments of genuine suspense in any animated film. At bottom, this is just a fine, well-told story, and it uses effects animation to erode its limitations.
Cat Ballou (1965, Elliot Silverstein) [NO]
Nat King Cole’s voice is the sole saving grace of this obnoxious western comedy from the louder-is-funnier / the-more-violence-the-better school about a woman (Jane Fonda) avenging her father’s death with the help of various annoying side characters. Lee Marvin’s overbaked dual performance as a drunk and a silent movie-style megavillain won an Oscar somehow.
Catch Me If You Can (2002, Steven Spielberg) [hr]
Unexpectedly engaging caper of forgery master Frank Abagnale’s globetrotting youth, played with even more unexpected depth by Leonardo DiCaprio, and his counterfeit travelogue. It’s in the style of North by Northwest without the danger, and at first it seems a bit fluffy (and maybe a little too impeccable and polite), but parts of it keep coming back to you along with its unorthodox emotional center. Excellent showcase for its cast, particularly Christopher Walken, Amy Adams and Tom Hanks in one of his best latter-day roles.
Cavalcade (1933, Frank Lloyd) [c]
Noel Coward’s Carousel of Progress, a maudlin and irritating wealth-flogging case of Twentieth Century Blues.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010, Werner Herzog)
The birth of art, padded. Would give anything to find out if Herzog narrates his vacation videos like this.
The Celebration (1998, Thomas Vinterberg) [r]
Cheaply shot Dogme 95 soap is strangely hilarious and consistently harrowing, but on the whole surprisingly warm and optimistic — in the simple tale of a grown man calling out his father for prior abuse; political and symbolic ideals about oppression and liberation explode from all sides. For all its visual anti-cinema rhetoric, it’s really a modern play on Rules of the Game with a bit of Jerry Springer thrown in. Quite good.
Certified Copy (2010, Abbas Kiarostami)
The mindplay and are-they-or-aren’t-they sleight of hand here dealing with the dubious reality of a man and woman taking a long walk who may or may not be a couple really just serve as a distraction from what might otherwise have been an insightful relationship drama; instead it’s like a metaphysical Before Sunset. Juliette Binoche is terrific, though, and the jaw-dropping beauty of the Tuscany locations is a distraction as well but it’s one we don’t really mind.
The Champ (1931, King Vidor) [r]
Legendary Irving Thalberg MGM production, written by Frances Marion, set the stage for a century of tearjerking crowd-pleasing sports pictures. One of the essential documents of where our culture came from, with dynamic, sentimental lead performances by Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper.
Champagne (1928, Alfred Hitchcock)
A society girl is tricked by her father into mending her excessive ways. Emotionally relevant at times but largely silly silent Hitchcock is par for the course for his early features with some fascinating, fiery visuals but few ideas to back them up. Lighter than Easy Virtue, more lively than The Farmer’s Wife, less revealing than The Manxman, not nearly on the level of The Lodger.
Chances Are (1989, Emile Ardolino) [NO]
* Audio commentary by Robert Downey Jr., please.
Charade (1963, Stanley Donen) [hr]
Although — let’s be honest — it’s no more than Hollywood style and calculation, here is a wonderfully lively mystery-comedy that excels in both departments. Story of Audrey Hepburn (playing Audrey Hepburn) and Cary Grant (playing Cary Grant) on the trail of some stamps or something offers remarkable supporting cast and occasional hints of danger, genius, and realism. No depth whatsoever, and it unintentionally reminds us of the virtues of Hitchcock, but say this: Hitchcock’s most hedonistic, meaninglessly slick film, To Catch a Thief, is not nearly as much fun.
Chariots of Fire (1981, Hugh Hudson)
A quaint, polite, well directed and acted little sports movie about two British racing competitors in the 1924 Olympics that came from nowhere to capture the Best Picture Oscar — but is now all but forgotten in the States. Hudson keeps too much distance from the story for the film to be truly compelling or cathartic, but his period sense is so flawless (despite Vangelis’ anachronistic score) and the film’s serious-minded elegance so oddly comforting that it makes you long for a time when something this offbeat and intelligent could be so successful. I have to imagine that those with an interest in the subject would rate this much more highly, and I only don’t because I don’t care much for sports stories.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005, Tim Burton) [r]
Rigorously bright, funny, and clever Roald Dahl adaptation — a very different film from the 1971 Gene Wilder attempt — turned out better than even the director probably anticipated. It replaces the older film’s cutting satirical humor and even more cutting palpable terror with whimsy and family-friendly surrealism. It’s out of character for the director, and it works. Johnny Depp and the cast of bizarre children are very good despite being unable to compare to the earlier cast, and Danny Elfman’s songs — using Dahl’s lyrics — are utterly magnificent.
Charlotte’s Web (1973, Charles A. Nichols) [r]
Hannah-Barbera’s animation for one of their few features is very good by their standards, mediocre by others, but the intelligent beauty of E.B. White’s story — his only children’s book that doesn’t sell itself out halfway through — shines through, with some impressive musical sequences and a sense of real personality.
Charly (1968, Ralph Nelson) [c]
Irksome adaptation of Flowers for Algernon is reasonably engaging at first thanks to Cliff Robertson’s likable performance, but approaches its emotional content with telefilm-level brashness: as in so many films of the era, a rape somehow leads to a consensual relationship, and in Charlie’s transformation he becomes not just a smart guy but also a leering macho brute. Nelson, typically a rather generic director, thinks he’s doing New Wave and thus stuffs the thing with awful montages, annoying split-screens and a Ravi Shankar score to remind us all that it’s the ’60s and he’s “with it.”
Chasing Amy (1997, Kevin Smith)
Smith’s most acclaimed film is actually a rather obvious, Hollywood-derived love story when it isn’t busy upholding male/female stereotypes. The lead character (played by Ben Affleck) is so incomprehensible and stupid, and the film’s opening half-hour so poorly written and executed, that the movie is an extremely tough sell. Surprisingly, it ends up reeling in some real laughs and impressive emotional range once it gets started, using old-fashioned movie magic, but — despite its admirable resistance to cop to cliché — wears itself out with a rotten, silly conclusion. Smith is talented in some ways, but he is also frustratingly juvenile; whether he will ever tap into that talent to the real benefit of himself or anyone else remains to be seen.
The Cheat (1915, Cecil B. DeMille) [r]
Greed overtakes a charity treasurer, leading her into an ugly situation after her husband strikes it big on an investment and she reneges on a promise of sexual favors to a wealthy hanger-on of hers. This is impressively outrageous when it gets violent and visually sumptuous to boot, with inventive lighting and brilliant use of physical space (particularly in a bloody scene involving shadows on Shoji screens). A pity it winds itself up into a conventional melodrama with a ludicrous finale, and that anti-Japanese racism makes it harder to see its virtues today.
Chicago (2002, Rob Marshall) [r]
Glitzy musical about would-be gangster’s moll jailed for a passion killing is more fun than most Oscar bait, but it would be nice if its early energy had been carried through to even its halfway point, if its brilliantly designed song sequences weren’t so ruthlessly over-edited, and if we didn’t automatically have to embrace every Hollywood musical we were handed these days. Delightful to a point, all the same.
Chicken Run (2000, Peter Lord & Nick Park) [r]
Spotty stop-motion feature from the Aardman team of Wallace & Gromit fame is technically brilliant and admirably cinematic, but the story is extremely derivative, the jokes tired and dull. Mel Gibson’s “flying chicken” character makes the film more difficult to sit through than it would be otherwise. Still, there’s something to be said for any modern children’s film that goes out of its way not to make little girls feel like shit by centrally featuring a heroine who does something besides check her makeup.
Children of a Lesser God (1986, Randa Haines)
Two movies you’ve seen — a teacher (of deaf children in this case) inspires his students; a Nice Guy brings a Flawed Woman out of her shell and he “fixes” her once and for all — mesh together imperfectly. Marlee Matlin’s robust performance gives an edge to a character who seems inadequately defined by the screenplay. Scattered good intentions are generally overwhelmed by clichж (and a parade of lengthy shots of William Hurt staring at us).
Children of Heaven (1997, Majid Majidi)
Kiddie variant on Bicycle Thieves and Breaking Away, sort of, with a boy and his sister trading off the same pair of sneakers after her shoes get lost. Simple and well-directed, but too long for such a facile story; it might work better as a Red Balloon-sized short. Also, I’m a little taken aback by how the kids’ father is depicted as an abusive monster then abruptly becomes a cuddly teddy bear as if nothing happened.
Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuaron) [A+]
One of the most emotionally supercharged films of recent years, this is an instant classic from one of the greatest directors currently working. Haunting story (loosely based on P.D. James’ “posh” novel) of apocalyptic world stunted by infertility and how quiet everyman Clive Owen gets involved with a terrorist group is seamlessly told through cathartic visuals, with Cuaron’s trademark handheld shots, breathtaking long takes, and shattering realism. As in his previous work, the director injects it all with humanity and a wryly pointed rejection of class division, his major theme thus far. After 109 brilliant and harrowing minutes, the only aftertaste we have at the end of Children of Men is the dread of having to wait for the next Cuaron film.
Child’s Pose (2013, Calin Peter Netzer) [r]
A contemplative tragedy about grief and guilt, following the aftermath of a fatal car accident as it falls in various ways upon the family of the man responsible — in particular his mother, played with devastating honesty and ambiguity by Luminița Gheorghiu. Those seeking catharsis or a narrative that winds itself up will be disappointed, but as a story wholly absent of heroes and villains it doesn’t seem far from something as wise and moving as A Separation.
Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski) [A+]
Irresistible Robert Towne neo-noir features Jack Nicholson as a private eye on the trail of a Los Angeles water scandal and a nebulously involved woman (Faye Dunaway). Tired genre raised to biblical level by the brilliant direction and even more brilliant script, herculean performances. This one’s impeccable, somehow begging to be seen again despite its suffocating darkness.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968, Ken Hughes) [c]
* Roald Dahl’s lowest ebb as a screenwriter, this film today has an audience comprised entirely, I would wager, of people who remember it fondly from their youth, and they are likely to still come away disappointed.
The Chocolate War (1988, Keith Gordon) [hr]
Adaptation of Robert Cormier’s OK young adult novel is a knowing, surreal, iconic, dark, and wildly entertaining snapshot of its time. Independently and cheaply made, the movie discovers a satirical goldmine in the story of the politics of a chocolate sale at a prestigious Christian boarding school. Simultaneously a stylized, menacing German expressionist interpretation of high school and a devastatingly real portrait of adolescent alienation on the order of Rebel Without a Cause. At any rate, unmatched in the subgenre of “prep school boy” films, this is a must-see. And what a soundtrack!
A Chorus Line (1985, Richard Attenborough) [c]
* Even if you have a natural suspicion (or hatred) of Broadway musicals, as I do, you may be surprised by how dull this movie is.
A Christmas Story (1983, Bob Clark) [hr]
The American experience.
Chuck & Buck (2000, Miguel Arteta) [A+]
Uncomfortable, hilarious, strange, moving tale (written by Mike White, who also plays Buck) of two childhood friends who meet again years later, with many dark secrets uncovered. Arteta’s film — shot on DV — is one of the definitive American movies about childhood, and sex; its characters are fascinating, the story completely surprising.
The Cider House Rules (1999, Lasse Hallstrom)
Eternally babyfaced Tobey Maguire is an orphan who becomes a reluctant abortionist, then flies the coop and Sees the World, which translates to picking apples, solving black people’s problems and gazing adoringly at Charlize Theron. Novelist and screenwriter John Irving’s liberal cynicism is tempered as ever by his love of gooey sentimentality, helped along by Rachel Portman’s syrupy score. It’s interesting to see such a bizarre cast thrown together but the result is just Miramax Oscar bait blandness.
Cimarron (1931, Wesley Ruggles) [c]
Abysmal episodic western won lots of Oscars, including Best Racism.
Cinderella (1950, Wilfred Jackson/Hamilton Luske/Clyde Geronimi) [r]
Disney’s Feature Animation comeback (their first of many) is little more than a showcase for their fine technical proficiency, lacking the emotional depth of their earlier films and the sense of adventure of subsequent ’50s efforts like Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty.
Cinderella Man (2005, Ron Howard) [NO]
Critics inexplicably loved this generic Based on a True Story Hollywood boxing corn. Everyone in the nation avoided it during its theatrical run. We were correct to do so.
Cinema Paradiso (1988, Giuseppe Tornatore) [r]
The film that launched the careers of a thousand projectionists, this romantic piffle really has far less to do with the Transporting Power of Movies than it thinks it does. But I cried at the end like everyone else. Still, from the degree to which it’s become a religion among movie buffs, you’d expect a lot more than schmaltz and sentiment out of this.
The Circus (1928, Charles Chaplin) [A+]
As brilliant as most of Chaplin’s features are, this one and City Lights — divorced from almost anything specific to their era — are a cut above, demonstrating the purity of his comedy as a force for engagingly vivacious storytelling. It’s often screamingly funny, harrowing just as often, and generally is an even stronger fusion of his delightfully constructed, balletic humor with effortless pathos than Modern Times or The Gold Rush. (But you should see them all, of course.) And that donkey was robbed at the Oscars.
Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles) [A+]
Everything they say is true; everything about Welles’ monument to a man destroyed is thoroughly and instinctively mounted to perfection. All the ingredients are of the highest caliber — the acting, the photography, the script — and what emerges is a delight; a brash, risky, youthful, vibrant entertainment experience. Forget the real life connections, forget the accolades, and just let yourself get absorbed in the live action cartoon of Welles’ utterly convicted imagination.
Citizen Ruth (1996, Alexander Payne)
Payne’s first film is an attempt at a satire of the abortion debate, but it only has time for a few good laughs and spends the rest of the time attempting to fumble toward a Message. Laura Dern is… convincing.
City Girl (1930, F.W. Murnau) [r]
Don’t come here looking for the life-saving beauty of Sunrise, rather for the hints of that artistic grace that still shine through the studio dross in this late Murnau silent for Fox.
City Lights (1931, Charles Chaplin) [A+]
Chaplin spent years working meticulously on this incalculably brilliant silent comedy-drama, fusing with almost showy genius a delicate story of unrequited love for a blind flower girl and another wild slapstick binge featuring The Tramp. The film grows both funnier and more poignant — insanely difficult to pull off — as it reaches its devastating finale.
City of Angels (1998, Brad Siberling) [NO]
* Chances are that if you loved anything about Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, you will find nothing but repulsion in its Hollywood remake. This film spells out all the problems with the by-the-numbers routines of a studio system (which is only fair since we have plenty that display the benefits of same). Everything virtuous about the original movie is not just dropped but spat upon in favor of an infuriating, clichéd, ugly, stupid, endlessly irritating piece of insipid product. (Worst of all is the new ending that gives in to the worst “tearjerker” conventions of all, robbing the story of much if not all of its potential.) If not one of the worst movies ever made, certainly one of the most offensive.
City of God (2002, Fernando Meirelles) [A+]
The City of God is a real-life ghetto of Rio de Janeiro where gangs and crime run rampant; the movie is an epic history of conditions there in the ’60s and ’70s and how they fall on one young boy, an amateur photographer named Rocket, somewhat in the style of Goodfellas but infinitely superior. This universally acclaimed Brazilian film is indeed something to put in the capsule: It’s an embodiment of near-flawless directing, every idea applied with absolute perfection and grace. And what’s most lovable about this violent, sometimes bleak picture is how you can feel it winning you over with the charming coming-of-age chronicle it secretly holds.
City Slickers (1991, Ron Underwood) [NO]
Billy Crystal goes to a Robert Bly workshop; very formulaic hijinks ensue, directed with sledgehammer obviousness by the guy who made Tremors. This isn’t even funny if you’re drunk while it’s on; Jack Palance’s talents are stymied in a role so stereotyped — in itself as well as in terms of its story function — it’s not worth explaining.
Clear and Present Danger (1994, Philip Noyce) [c]
* Yet another Jack Ryan movie, and say this for the filmmakers: you get what you pay for.
Cleopatra (1963, Joseph L. Mankiewicz) [c]
* One of the all-time Weird Hollywood monuments, this entirely ridiculous four-hour “epic” flop was big trouble for 20th Century Fox and the industry in general, fast becoming a great American joke. Elizabeth Taylor is… Elizabeth Taylor in the title role, most everyone else is there just to read goofy lines and pretend this is all very serious, and director Mankiewicz has no clue what he wants to say, nor does he care. It’s amazing that this wasn’t the result of somebody’s cocaine binge. Decadent, expensive, half-assed and insanely long.
Clerks (1994, Kevin Smith) [r]
Smith’s first film, a comedy about guess what, is crass, dumb, underdeveloped, amateurish, badly photographed, often badly acted, and full of stilted, overbearing dialogue. It’s also inexhaustibly funny and well-structured, hinting at larger themes in just the right fashion. But don’t let people tell you that low budget doesn’t hurt a film like this, at least when run by somebody who doesn’t really know how to use his limitations. It’s finally just a glorified student film or home movie or, worse yet, a teleplay. But it is entertaining all the same.
The Client (1994, Joel Schumacher) [r]
Child actor ghost Brad Renfro is the sole witness of a Mafia suicide, gets pawned around by lawyer Tommy Lee Jones and pals it up with Susan Sarandon. Laughably calculated and fake, as anything with the names of Grisham and Schumacher attached must always be, but richly executed and a lot of fun, with powerhouse actors anchoring the silly story. The attempts at deeper emotion are all wrongheaded and failed.
A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick) [hr]
Kubrick indulges himself with this over-the-top Anthony Burgess adaptation, a film about the importance of free will that is dazzling and tough but full of stylistic contradictions, which may be the intention. As science fiction, it is excellent; as farce, it is even better; as satire, it is no Dr. Strangelove, but we love it anyway.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Steven Spielberg) [A+]
Spielberg takes 2001: A Space Odyssey to the home front, following Richard Dreyfuss as a man who settled down, it would seem, a bit too early, and is now haunted after sighting a UFO by strange signals and omens leading him away from his family. Spielberg’s setpieces — many of them derived from horror rather than sci-fi — remain stunning no matter how many times one sees them. Francois Truffaut’s performance is a standout, but the director’s emotional deconstruction of Dreyfuss’ irrational behavior is what makes this profoundly moving — more than any generalized comment about mankind’s evolution.
Closer (2004, Mike Nichols) [hr]
Enjoyably risky, almost oppressive drama about four people who slide in and out of relationships with one another at breakneck speed, all of them liars and, of course, humans. The vivid people populating the film — nicely performed, even by Julia Roberts — will feel unreal only to those who view themselves as immaculate. A most discomforting voyeuristic experience that is all too familiar and, at times, enticing.
Cloud Atlas (2012, Lana Wachowski / Lilly Wachowski / Tom Tykwer) [r]
Interesting collection of six short stories across multiple time periods connected tenuously by art and literature, I guess? Science fiction? Uh, Tom Hanks? Like I said, interesting.
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014, Olivier Assayas) [hr]
An absorbing, complex twist on Persona and All About Eve, chronicling a middle-aged actress’ insecurities and messy relationship with her long-suffering assistant, blown up life-size by Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart respectively. Besides the often surprising visual loveliness implied by the title, the pleasure here is watching two actors do extraordinary work and bounce off one another in scenes that run an incredible emotional gamut even as they document a dissolution of warmth between people.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009, Phil Lord & Chris Miller) [r]
Cute Sony Animation project places too many contrivances in a relatively simple easy reader of our childhood — but then, so did Spike Jonze this same year. The influence of Pixar is clear in this good-hearted but, perhaps, overly adult-specific piece of fluffy entertainment about food, meteorology, and peanut allergies.
Clue (1985, Jonathan Lynn) [hr]
Lynn’s comedy based on, of all things, the Parker Brothers board game is commercial claptrap and a ripoff of Murder by Death. Who fucking cares? You get Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Tim Curry, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, and Eileen Brennan in top form, among others. You can’t miss that.
Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980, Michael Apted) [r]
Sissy Spacek’s absolute embodiment of the great Loretta Lynn from age 14 to career peak is so riveting — her singing voice a remarkable dead ringer, her mild frame and visage tapping into astounding depth even as she plays a teenager at thirty — it nearly excuses all of this film’s excessive biopic conventions. We rush at breakneck speed through Lynn’s life and career, the biggest problem being we want more: more music especially, and certainly more of the equally riveting Beverly D’Angelo as Patsy Cline. At its best, though, this soars.
Cocktail (1988, Roger Donaldson) [c]
* Tom Cruise plays himself, running a bar in New York. Why? Only the gods can say. That the terrible song “Kokomo” is the most memorable thing about this — even if it owes its success to Cruise’s pretty-boy looks — speaks for itself.
Cocoon (1985, Ron Howard) [NO]
Insulting Spielbergian tripe with a gaggle of old-time Hollywood character actors plus marginal sometime leading man Don Ameche finding the Fountain of Youth in a nearby private yuppie pool with mysterious giant eggs in the bottom of it; the discovery essentially provides them with Viagra ten years early. It somehow gets dumber from there, with outer space and Steve Guttenberg involved. A waste of fine performers.
Cold Comfort Farm (1995, John Schlesinger) [hr]
A girl (played stunningly by Kate Beckinsale) who idolizes and wants to become Jane Austen moves out to a country farm to find her inspiration and ends up reshaping the lives of those around her, while suddenly involving herself in life rather than observing it from a distance. Funny and brilliant entertainment with an unforgettable set of great characters and plenty of warm observances about growing up.
Cold Mountain (2003, Anthony Minghella)
Nicole Kidman is a glamorous supermodel inexplicably thrown into the middle of a Civil War variant on The Odyssey — from Charles Frazier’s novel — that uses Romania as an all too obvious stand-in for Appalachia. Its fable-like premise is intriguing during the first act but takes a sharp turn toward the overly literal with the inevitable Sirens sequence then falls completely apart at the halfway point, redeemed strictly by some attractive cinematography, but all it really amounts to is a parade of good-looking people play-acting; very much the dispiriting stereotype of early ’00s Miramax Oscar bait.
Collateral (2004, Michael Mann) [r]
Mann hits the sublime for the first hour or so of this excellent thriller about a cab driver stuck in his car with a hitman played rather well by Tom Cruise (who is only really convincing as a villain). The movie starts out wonderfully and gets better and better until Jamie Foxx throws Cruise’s suitcase off the bridge, initiating a break in the narrative from which the film never recovers; thereafter, it gets ever closer to being a standard Hollywood action movie, which is a shame. Foxx is outstanding.
Color Me Kubrick (2006, Brian W. Cook) [r]
It really happened — a wacko named Alan Conway really did claim to be Stanley Kubrick, who looked nothing like him, in order to pick up guys (and food) — but it comes off as the biggest dadaist comic put-on of the new millennium, with Conway played with perfect nonchalance by John Malkovich, who talks at length of “Little Tommy Cruise” and “Miss Kirk Douglas”. The movie plays essentially like a long Kids in the Hall sketch or an Albert Brooks film until its messy, meandering climactic sequence (before coming back for a bright finish). So if that’s your cup of tea…
The Color of Money (1986, Martin Scorsese)
Superficial sequel to The Hustler is entertaining in a slick Reaganomics sort of way; Paul Newman believably inhabits a character that could easily have been a hoary archetype of an aged-out former hero. The obsession with wealth is very much of its time, though the way it’s all steeped so firmly in an authentically seedy bar culture lends its predictable script a lot of atmosphere. Biggest debit is young Tom Cruise, who’s only justified by unintended laughs.
Come and Get It (1936, Howard Hawks & William Wyler)
Superficial melodrama with Edward Arnold as a lumberjack turned powerhouse capitalist whose creepy, lecherous attraction to an ex-lover’s daughter takes over his arc to such an extent that it’s hard to generate much consternation about his work and its toll on the land, which was the chief purpose behind Edna Ferber’s gargantuan novel. Hawks and Wyler (the former fired and replaced by the latter) cut the Ferber’s essence at the knees, not that it would have made much of a movie if they hadn’t.
Come and See (1985, Elem Klimov) [c]
A Soviet WWII propaganda film that got lost in the series of tubes and showed up forty years late, this incomprehensible mishmash of war-is-hell fear and loathing, poorly placed surrealism, greeting card poetry, Monty Python-ish ridiculousness here meant to be taken seriously, and extreme close ups of a boy looking like he’s about to hurl ends with said boy firing gunshots at footage of Hitler while screaming. If possible, it’s more cartoonish and pointlessly vindictive than it sounds, and the grim spirit of revenge hanging over the piece does little but nauseate. Harrowing at times, with ingenious sound design by Viktor Mors and some fine handheld camerawork.
Come Back, Little Sheba (1952, Daniel Mann) [r]
A difficult film to watch, this somewhat stagebound but searingly well-acted adaptation of a William Inge play follows a troubled, middle-aged married couple whose buried, unspoken demons of repression and alcoholism are thrown into harsh light when a young boarder enters their lives. Burt Lancaster seems a bit young for his part; Shirly Booth’s performance, by contrast, is deservedly legendary, attaining catharsis and unforced heartbreak independent of the often overly busy dialogue.
The Comedy (2012, Rick Alverson) [NO]
Excruciating series of sketches about how Tim Heidecker and his lowlife friends, all of whom seem too old by at least ten years to be playing these parts, discover that ironic detachment cannot save them from Real Emotions, Aging, etc. This is an act of trolling made by and for people who have nothing but contempt for interesting, lively cinema.
Coming Home (1978, Hal Ashby) [r]
Ashby’s most accomplished, perhaps least eccentric film is masterfully cinematic, lit up by Jon Voight in the lead as a disabled and emotionally shattered Vietnam vet. Ashby uses rock music well and has a perfect storytelling instinct, resulting in a disturbing, effective, and human antiwar film. Neither Bruce Dern nor Jane Fonda are up to Voight’s standard.
The Compleat Beatles (1982, Patrick Montgomery) [hr]
Exciting, intoxicating crash course on the Beatles’ history featuring great concert footage and other treasures including one of the best-ever interviews with George Martin. The viewer feels intimately involved, and the still remarkable story of the band’s rise is better told on film here than anywhere else.
Compliance (2012, Craig Zobel) [c]
Despite some creative license, this is a reasonably accurate — thus, horribly unpleasant — dramatization of the rash of sexual assaults that occurred in rural fast food joints and grocery stores via prank call in the early 2000s, especially the one in Kentucky that led to the perp’s capture. It’s well-acted and directed, uncomfortable to watch, and completely, irksomely pointless. At least the you-are-there feeling of United 93 could be construed as having some social purpose.
Computer Chess (2013, Andrew Bujalski) [hr]
Brilliant pseudo-document of a computer programming tournament circa 1980, shot on outdated video cameras, fully captures a culture, tempered by surrealism. Odd, memorable characters — performed with aplomb by a cast of improvisers — populate a hotel conference room; the focus is on frailties, errors and urges that exist outside the framework of the structured thinking implied by the group’s chosen field — the lines that fray between the left brain and the right.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002, George Clooney) [hr]
Clooney, in his directorial debut, is ambitious and insatiable on an Orson Welles level, littering the film — written by Charlie Kaufman, based on the controversial autobiography of game show maven Chuck Barris — with stunning visual ideas and large-scale indulgences.
Congo (1995, Frank Marshall) [c]
* You may buy into this Crichton fantasy for an hour or so, but like so much of his work, it is so lacking in all basic areas of narrative structure and restraint that it ends up feeling worse than it probably is.
The Conjuring (2013, James Wan) [c]
A modern horror film without excessive gore or too many stupid CGI shots, and yet, somehow, that doesn’t make it smart.
Consenting Adults (1992, Alan J. Pakula) [c]
* Hilariously dumb, miles over the top yuppie trash about middle-aged WASP dullard Kevin Kline (in one of his weakest roles) wife-swapping with unbridled psychopath Kevin Spacey, who is fun, odd, and very much the only reason to bother.
Conspiracy Theory (1997, Richard Donner) [r]
* Obvious but delightful Hollywood caper with atypically good acting from superstar leads Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. The title basically says it all. The resulting film is one of those scattered pieces of modern Hollywood product that does what it’s supposed to.
The Constant Gardener (2005, Fernando Meirelles) [r]
Spy Rachel Weisz and her widower, Ralph Fiennes, versus big pharma a Le Carre. Fluffier than it sounds but occasionally striking.
Contact (1997, Robert Zemeckis) [c]
* Zemeckis’ film of Carl Sagan book begins well, becomes ordinary, and finally grows insipid. Jodie Foster can only carry a movie like this for so long.
Contagion (2011, Steven Soderbergh) [r]
Outbreak, disease, you know the story. Takes on a lot of ’70s disaster-film baggage (dig that all-star Poseidon Adventure cast!) and feels a bit like a pro-science X-Files, but fitfully entertaining and freaky.
Control (2007, Anton Corbijn)
While very stylish, well-acted and of course stuffed with glorious music, this biopic of Joy Division’s troubled frontman Ian Curtis doesn’t illuminate anything — straightforwardly dramatizing scenes we’re familiar with from books about the band. If you love the Factory era, you’ll eat up the period flavor, but maybe Curtis would’ve been humanized more to us if an attempt had been made here to make the film feel like what he must have felt in those chaotic years. Instead it’s a remote tragedy, all too rational and dispassionate.
The Conversation (1974, Francis Ford Coppola) [A+]
One in the shamefully scant group of movies that take full advantage of sound, Coppola’s masterpiece of modern paranoia follows a skilled surveillance man on an ethical and personal breakdown. A completely galvanizing thriller in Hitchcock tradition, but with modern frailties and trepidation; Gene Hackman’s impressive characterization and Coppola’s excellent script bring us into his world, through the lengthy second act and into a concluding nightmare. You’re cheating yourself if you don’t see this one.
Cool Hand Luke (1967, Stuart Rosenberg) [r]
Some haunting moments in this dated chain gang movie, to be sure. It’s 127 minutes, it makes its point in less than 90, and there’s no conceivable reason why it keeps going afterward. Also Paul Newman is annoying.
Copycat (1995, Jon Amiel)
* Passable serial killer trash doesn’t make a lot of sense but has the distinction of using a Police b-side as a major plot point.
Coquette (1929, Sam Taylor)
Bogged down under the usual constraints of talkies in the ’20s, this is lurid even by the standards of domestic melodramas, particularly Mary Pickford’s broad overacting. She plays a rich girl whose overprotective dad goes to hyperventilating extremes when he doesn’t like her unclassy boyfriend. Of interest solely to those seeking either unintentional hilarity or insight into the creaky problems of early talkies; also contains the silliest courtroom climax in film history.
Coraline (2009, Henry Selick) [r]
Selick’s first worthwhile film since The Nightmare Before Christmas winningly adapts Neil Gaiman’s novel with some imaginative sequences and genuinely scary ideas, but what’s most pleasing about it is its plucky female protagonist; if only Pixar could follow Selick’s lead.
Corpse Bride (2005, Tim Burton & Mike Johnson) [hr]
Burton’s stop-motion tale of arranged marriage and love beyond the grave is perceptive, beautiful, and wonderfully noisy, with many good songs and quotes from classic animated films. The ending is inevitably unsatisfying.
Corrina, Corrina (1994, Jessie Nelson)
* Nelson’s charming film about blooming romance between a black nanny and a white songwriter is entertaining kids’ stuff, but it’s also rather simplistic, and before you protest, kids’ stuff doesn’t need to be.
Cosmopolis (2012, David Cronenberg) [NO]
Badly performed, sub-Cinemax pseudo-intellectual claptrap, like a TED talk with sex scenes.
The Country Girl (1954, George Seaton) [r]
Bing Crosby is a singer (!) whose career has fallen by the wayside after the death of his son. With the help of egomaniac William Holden (!), he attempts a resurrection but is besieged by his manipulative wife Grace Kelly… or is he? Interesting hybrid of showbiz picture and domestic melodrama (probably influenced by the slower passages in All About Eve), nearly derailed by ludicrous third-act plot twist. But Kelly winning the Oscar for this rather than Rear Window makes even less sense than that whopper.
The Craft (1996, Andrew Fleming) [c]
Typical ’90s teen film in which the semi-fun premise — of Fairuza Balk leading a small coven of high school witches — lasts about ten minutes before the Important Moral Point (I guess) has to take over. It’s Heathers for the post-grunge era, kinda, and feels like the result of a lot of studio meddling. (Only the squeaky-cleanest of the characters comes out on top.)
Crash (2004, Paul Haggis) [NO]
Noisy, bratty, bitchy lives in L.A. converge, their stories all stroking the matter of Racism with one hand and patting their stomachs with the other, and my question is, how in the world did this act of superficial preaching get taken seriously? Even putting aside the clueless handling of the subject matter, the movie is easily the most amateurishly directed, if not the worst, ever to receive the Oscar for Best Picture. And it screams “screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby“; it’s maudlin, pretentious, stereotypical (while working through its supposed destruction of stereotypes) and rife with easy cynicism, just like M$B.
Crazy Heart (2009, Scott Cooper)
Song-filled odyssey of a renegade alcoholic country singer-songwriter played by Jeff Bridges driving around the southwest in a hearse is pretty much the worst case scenario of what would happen if a hack Hollywood screenwriter punched up the sublime Tender Mercies, relying upon a ludicrous love affair between Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a single mom and writer, written in a manner suggesting that the filmmakers are unaware that women journalists are actually professionals doing a job.
The Creeping Terror (1964, Art J. Nelson) [c]
Charmingly brash no-budget horror film is among the ugliest, cheapest movies to hit the drive-in circuit. Its ineptitude is the stuff of nightmares, but for the first half-hour, it has major train wreck appeal.
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, Woody Allen) [A+]
“Throughout life, we are faced with many questions.” Woody Allen’s most challenging film asks the audience to contend with many such struggles, while offering spellbinding suspense and many belly laughs in parallel stories about Allen himself as a long-suffering documentary filmmaker and Martin Landau as a desperate society man at the end of his rope. Sheer mastery that will force you to think like few other movies.
Crimson Tide (1995, Tony Scott) [c]
* By-the-numbers modern war film is hardly offensive, but not the least bit interesting.
Crocodile Dundee (1986, Peter Faiman) [c]
* Rendered obsolete by Animal Planet (RIP).
Crook’s Tour (1941, John Baxter) [c]
Tepid, poorly directed caper comedy lifts the cricket-obsessed comic relief characters Charters & Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne) from The Lady Vanishes and Night Train to Munich into their own ridiculous story of intrigue in the Middle East involving a secret message planted on a record. This dreadfully unfunny exercise is so short on story content it has to rely on three or four interminable song and dance numbers from Greta Gynt to reach even a modest 80-minute runtime.
Crossing the Bridge (1992, Mike Binder) [NO]
* Terrible coming-of-age film about would-be drug smugglers and the Decision That Will Change Their Lives. So incompetently directed and amateurishly performed, one is hesitant to believe it was granted a theatrical release. Worse yet, Judd Apatow was among the producers.
Cross of Iron (1977, Sam Peckinpah) [c]
* Peckinpah’s blood-drenched war flick is worthwhile for those who like this kind of thing, will be a pain in the ass for everybody else.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Ang Lee) [r]
It’s martial arts shit which I quite simply don’t care about, but it’s also funny, sexy, beautiful to look at, and as effortlessly fluid as Lee’s work usually is. Don’t know if it’s a lasting achievement, but it sure has its moments. And when the people fly around, it actually feels right for some inexplicable reason.
The Crowd (1928, King Vidor) [A+]
MGM’s passionately crafted examination of the trials in the life of a young couple is heartrending, sincere, and sobering. It may very well be the greatest purely American silent film (Sunrise having been directed by German F.W. Murnau, The Wind by Swede Victor Sjostrom), and certainly doesn’t do much of a disservice to those who claim that sound is extraneous.
The Crucible (1996, Nicholas Hytner) [hr]
* Arthur Miller’s play transported skillfully to the cinema by Hytner, who offers an unforgettable production that seems eerily present.
Crumb (1994, Terry Zwigoff) [r]
* Although R. Crumb’s work gives me little pleasure, Zwigoff has crafted a most peculiar and arresting documentary.
The Crying Game (1992, Neil Jordan) [A+]
A knockout. This ghostly, absorbing thriller is a testament to outstanding screenwriting, performance, and direction. It’s the story of a deflected IRA man, and on the offchance that you don’t know more than that already, who am I to say more? A film that the viewer will reap huge rewards for revisiting.
Cube (1997, Vincenzo Natali) [NO]
* Pretentious Twilight Zone ripoff lacks spark, intrigue.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008, David Fincher) [r]
It sounds strange that this director followed up Zodiac and the rest of his dark modern tales of alienation and obsession with a sentimental and folksy Forrest Gump-like fable about a man (Brad Pitt) who ages backward and all the gosh darned remarkable people he meets through the years. It doesn’t become any less weird after you actually see the movie, a technical marvel that feels somewhat surreally overwrought and even a little goofy. But you will cry, and you’ll feel something or other, and you’ll have a good old time.
Curse of the Pink Panther (1983, Blake Edwards) [NO]
* The second junk attempt to revive the Pink Panther films after Peter Sellers’ death is difficult to watch. Ted Wass tries to fill the Clouseau shoes but is horrible, and yet most of the blame has to go to the screenwriters.
Cyrano de Bergerac (1950, Michael Gordon) [r]
Slight but highly digestible low-budget Hollywood goo cannot hold a candle to Edmond Rostand’s beautiful, life-altering play, but it is entirely acceptable as hopelessly romantic entertainment. Jose Ferrer is good in the lead but William Prince is brilliantly empty as hollow pretty-boy Christian.