Daffy Duck’s Movie: Fantastic Island (1983, Friz Freleng)
* This has to be the most unimpressive of the WB package features, and the only one that sort of takes away from the greatness of the cartoons, which are rather poorly chosen.
Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters (1989, Greg Ford) [r]
This has to be the best of the WB package features, and the only one that doesn’t get in the way of the greatness of the cartoons, which are brilliantly chosen. Wrapped together with a great plot about Daffy opening a paranormal detective agency.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013, Jean-Marc Vallée) [r]
Interesting, well-acted biopic of Ron Woodroof, an AIDS victim who helped bring proper medications to Texas at the height of the crisis in the ’80s. The background characters and story structure are very Hollywood, and its concentration on a straight man played by Matthew McConaughey will probably date it quickly, but it’s engrossing all the same.
Damsels in Distress (2011, Whit Stillman) [r]
I quite liked this offbeat, winning, verbose comedy, but I’m probably just a playboy or operator type.
Dancer in the Dark (2000, Lars Von Trier) [A+]
A woman (Björk in the performance of a lifetime) who lives in a fantasy world informed by the Hollywood musicals she adores is slowly going blind and attempting to pay for an operation to prevent her son suffering the same fate. One is humbled by the degree of effort that must have gone into making this project feel so present and real; it’s genuinely devastating as a story, playful and infectious as a musical, and sublimely single-minded and extremely impressive as a movie. It’s bound to leave most viewers motionless.
Dances with Wolves (1990, Kevin Costner) [NO]
Next time you accuse any other movie of being narcissistic, remember this one and see if the adjective still applies. Incomprehensibly overblown junk created by a bad actor and one of the most hideous of Hollywood personalities, this is some of the worst time you’ll spend at the movies, and my word it’s long.
Danger: Diabolik (1967, Mario Bava) [r]
* If only this Italian ’60s spy flick stayed as nutty as it is for the first twenty minutes, it would be a masterpiece.
Dangerous (1935, Alfred E. Green)
Weak, talky romance melodrama from Warner Bros. has bland architect Franchot Tone delving into a self-destructive affair with drunken past-her-prime stage actress Bette Davis; the latter won an Oscar, but this isn’t the place to gain an understanding of her enduring appeal (camp or otherwise). The story takes no opportunity to explore any of its characters or situations in any but the most generic manner. On the other hand, Davis does get to deliver the unforgettable line “You cheap, petty bookkeeper, you! Every time I think that those soft, sticky hands of yours ever touched me it makes me sick!” but little else makes this worth even its brief 75 minutes.
Dangerous Liaisons (1988, Stephen Frears)
The obvious Oscar bait in the costumes and art direction here is offset by the bizarre performances, which are pitched as though the film is lampooning Merchant-Ivory while longing for such prestige. John Malkovich’s Valmont is a Nosferatu figure, shot from below with emphasis on that cruelly shaped, dispassionate face. The rest of the cast mostly just dances around him and Glenn Close, who’s in full Fatal Attraction mode. Stodgier and more artificial than it could have been, this nevertheless is more entertaining than most films of its ilk from the ’80s.
A Dangerous Method (2011, David Cronenberg)
Typically I’m not much for Cronenberg’s morbidly schlocky fixations, but I dearly wish his film of the play about the relationship between Jung and Freud and its complication by Sabina Spielrein wasn’t so mannered. Or was at least something besides talk, talk, talk, talk, talk and an insipid Howard Shore prattling in the background. I liked the sexy bits though.
The Danish Girl (2015, Tom Hooper) [NO]
Another homophobic, transphobic, deplorably ahistorical and homogenized piece of empty Oscar bait that harnesses and violates a real person’s life for award-mongering Hollywood prestige, hitting all the pre-cise-ly sanc-ti-oned biopic grace notes. This time the victim (and that’s very much the way the film processes and understands this person, and LGBT people as a group) is Lili Elbe, Danish transgender artist, portrayed by Eddie Redmayne with astonishing incompetence that must be seen to be believed. One of the worst films of the decade.
Darby O’Gill & the Little People (1959, Robert Stevenson) [r]
* Slick, very absorbing Disney entertainment featuring fake munchkins and a very young Sean Connery.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007, Wes Anderson) [r]
Anderson’s most narratively focused film since Rushmore is his least compelling cinematically, full of pointless whip-pans and a constant stream of self-conscious quotes from Renoir’s The River and the films of Satyajit Ray, but the new maturity in Anderson’s pervasive angst and hopelessness offset the usual case of the cutes to achieve a balanced, encouragingly sophisticated story anchored by three deeply felt characters and a refreshing lack of coy irony. The problem is the rather appalling sexism, an issue for which Anderson is too rarely criticized; his women are woefully underwritten as sexy caricatures, if that.
Dark City (1998, Alex Proyas)
* Laughable story and dramatics harangue a visually thrilling, hypnotic supernatural fake film-noir. OK, not great, but some people get something out of it that is completely invisible to me.
The Dark Crystal (1983, Jim Henson & Frank Oz) [r]
* Clichéd fantasy story, but great puppet work and unforgettable visual brilliance.
Darkest Hour (2017, Joe Wright)
Another of Wright’s bland prestige pictures for the PBS set, this Gary Oldman vehicle, caking him with makeup to play Winston Churchill in his first month as Prime Minister, isn’t terribly boring but does pretty much exactly what you expect with the material, and it feels like we’ve watched this movie hundreds of times by now, even if it looks slightly nicer than usual in Wright’s hands. And I suppose the film fancies itself a nuanced view of Churchill as icon and folk hero and “troubled” leader but his actual flaws went a hell of a long way beyond yelling at typists.
Dark Horse (2011, Todd Solondz) [hr]
Solondz’s biting, in the end deeply touching response to the Apatow breed of overgrown-bro movies casts Jordan Gelber (wonderful) as Abe, an overconfident dweebish toy collector living with his parents trying to break out of his shell. Never dismissive of his plight, the film nevertheless is unflinching before its hero’s unpleasant nature and never takes the easy way out. Don’t expect a straight comedy and prepare to be upset and confused, and for the finale to tear you up. But would you expect any less from one of America’s greatest living filmmakers?
The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)
This is how my generation has fun at the movies: a convoluted story about civic disputes, a man in a bat suit sometimes doing battle with a benignly menacing villain who terrifyingly blows up empty hospitals, plenty of damsel-in-distress misogyny, and a general air of pointless cruelty and darkness. But perhaps it’s appropriate that the defining movie of our era — hugely popular and universally acclaimed, replete with Oscar-baiting dead actor — has the inevitability and misery of doing one’s taxes in a dark room with the constant threat of moralistic, intellectually aimless evil looming outside.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan) [c]
Which is funnier: that Nolan’s idea of an action hero is Joseph Gordon-Levitt or that his idea of an all-powerful enemy of the people is Tom Hardy underneath a muzzle? Not even in the same football field as The Dark Knight, which wasn’t a very good movie anyway.
Darling (1965, John Schlesinger) [hr]
Julie Christie is luminous and tragic in this haunting document of a model’s life in the dark side of Swinging London — more generally, of the consequences of allowing jet set artifice to rule over oneself. Compassionate, original, deeply intelligent.
Darling Lili (1970, Blake Edwards) [r]
* Edwards’ infamous musical flop is really not half-bad, featuring a good performance by his wife Julie Andrews.
D.A.R.Y.L. (1985, Simon Wincer) [c]
* Robot kid. That’s really all there is to say…
Das Boot (1981, Wolfgang Petersen)
Grueling chronicle of life on a German U-boat in WWII is note-perfect in execution and detail, but Petersen’s cut is simply too much, literally going on for hours with no deviation. It’s realistic, but it’s also a certain degree of torture — claustrophobic torture — to sit through. Whether that is or isn’t the intention is your call. The ending is a kicker, anyway.
Dave (1993, Ivan Reitman) [r]
* Gary Ross wrote this agreeable Capraesque fantasy about a man who ascends to power because he looks like the President. With Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, and Ben Kingsley, you can’t beat the cast.
David Copperfield (1935, George Cukor) [r]
The impressive machinations of MGM breathe fiery life into a tepid script that attempts to compress a discursive eighteenth century masterwork into 130 action-packed minutes. The first half is engaging and works well enough as a very thin Cliff’s Notes, with Freddie Bartholomew wonderful as the young David and Jessie Ralph a joy to watch as the kind housekeeper and caregiver Peggotty, but its scenes are so rushed that the attempts at long-term resonance in the second half, plagued by Frank Lawton’s boring central performance, come off as completely empty; and as ever, paring something like a Dickens novel down to a series of events just feels totally pointless.
Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955, Norman Foster)
* Disney buffs will at least be somewhat interested in one of Walt’s monstrous hits, this TV miniseries here compiled into a theatrical film. I don’t really get the appeal, but maybe in 1955 it was clearer.
Dawn of the Dead (1978, George A. Romero) [A+]
A few fortunate survivors of the zombie invasion in Night of the Living Dead hole themselves up in a mall, the setting for a masterful hybrid of comedy, drama, satire, and horror; it’s at the top of the heap in all four genres, with brilliant performances, direction, and almost ridiculously good writing. If not the greatest movie sequel ever made, very close. If not the greatest horror film ever made… well, never mind, it is.
The Dawn Patrol (1930, Howard Hawks) [hr]
This early Vitaphone feature — Hawks’ first full-length talkie — has been maligned over the years as a dated example of the transitional problems of early sound cinema, but it’s hard to sympathize with such a viewpoint when its action sequences and antiwar sentiment seem so ageless and taut. For my money, it’s nearly on a level with the unassailable All Quiet on the Western Front and features far more harrowing and heartbreaking moments than the more famous WWI air-force epic Wings.
Day for Night (1973, Francois Truffaut) [hr]
Deeply felt and honest Truffaut comedy about the trials of a film crew attempting to make a romance picture, faced with obstacles undoubtedly not new to the director. Full of character and charm.
The Day He Arrives (2011, Hong Sang-soo)
I always wanted Groundhog Day to be black & white, Korean, sluggishly paced and dour. Alternately: I always wanted 8½ to have a Certified Copy-style gimmick. Either way: you already know from reading those two sentences whether you will appreciate this or not.
A Day in the Country (1936, Jean Renoir) [r]
Sumptuous, intoxicating Renoir paean — from a Guy de Maupassant story about a spontaneous affair on a single afternoon — to the idyllic glories of the French countryside will make anyone with a pulse want to join the picnic it documents, but was left incomplete with forty minutes shot. Even apart from that it’s a bit toxic, hinging on an unlikable philanderer (Jacques Brunius) and his tagalong (Georges D’Arnoux) discussing the seduction of their female visitors as if it’s some kind of game being played with plastic toys. Worse yet, its cavalier treatment of subtle brutality at the climactic encounter traps it in its time.
Daylight (1996, Rob Cohen) [c]
* Urban disaster flick with Sly Stallone is quite passable, really.
Day of the Dead (1985, George A. Romero) [c]
* Huge turnaround from Dawn of the Dead finds Romero stumbling through an attempt at grandstanding; result works as neither horror or satire.
The Day of the Jackal (1973, Fred Zinnemann) [hr]
Stunning political thriller following a seemingly foolproof attempt to assassinate Charles de Gaulle. The story is told in detached manner, which only adds to the suspense. A rollicking good time.
Day of Wrath (1943, Carl Theodor Dreyer) [hr]
A 16th century study of the eggshells-walking that endures when living under oppression, or a subtle horror scenario about witchcraft — Dreyer gives us just enough of a compelling, haunting narrative here that it can become either story, each with the same strange sense of dread, erotic charge and often terrifying extremity. It is so gripping that you have to remind yourself to take a breath; the prologue about the execution of a “witch” portrayed by Anna Svierkier is the stuff of harrowing nightmares, yet you can also comprehend an interpretation in which this is among the most romantic films of all. It’s the cinema of empathy, of incompatible empathies.
Days of Heaven (1978, Terrence Malick) [A+]
To film this moody and sumptuous Depression period piece about scandal between a poor couple and a wealthy farmer, Terrence Malick threw out the script and shot whatever happened. The result is surprisingly seamless, incredibly atmospheric, and impressively brief. Even the voiceover narration was largely improvised — and is hauntingly beautiful, like everything else about this fragile masterpiece.
Days of Wine and Roses (1963, Blake Edwards) [hr]
Edwards goes for a slow burn in this uncompromising, searing study of alcoholism that features Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in astonishing performances as the longtime alkie and his beautiful, sweet wife who sadly falls under his influence. Film has a few unfortunate detours, but is mostly a triumph. The final moments are haunting.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, Robert Wise) [r]
There was a time when this classic production for 20th Century Fox was considered the greatest of all science fiction films. Certainly, it had a profound influence on other genre efforts in the twenty years afterward. Seen today, its virtues are less obvious than they undoubtedly once were: The hamminess, the sledgehammer political subtext, the strained seriousness, the ludicrous plotlines all render it difficult to separate from hundreds of other musty space pictures of its era. In a sense, though, this may add to its charm on balance; the polemic may be awkward but it captures the perfect balance of camp, menace and joyous futurism.
Dead Again (1991, Kenneth Branagh) [r]
Slightly overwrought but enjoyably twisted thriller about reincarnation and revenge has a detective, played with suitable American accent by the director, trying to pick the brain of a jumpy mute woman, Emma Thompson. Lots of fun, and lots of scissors.
Dead Alive (1992, Peter Jackson) [r]
* Peter Jackson gets blood everywhere — all over the carpet, all over the ceiling, etc. Endlessly gory horror film is repugnant, tasteless, and surprisingly, very funny.
Dead Man Walking (1995, Tim Robbins)
Susan Sarandon, solid as always, is the only redeeming facet of this utterly bland social problem screed dominated by a painfully showboating Sean Penn as a death row inmate, a composite version of two executed men counseled by Sister Helen Prejean as recounted in her book of the same name. The film is balanced enough, not shying away from the horrible crimes for which Penn’s Matt is being executed or from the righteous indignation of the victims’ families, but that balance keeps it from saying much of anything until a dreadfully on-the-nose finale.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982, Carl Reiner) [hr]
Daring, playful Steve Martin comedy places him in the middle of a bunch of old movie clips to form a semi-coherent story of its own. On one level, this works as a great wild comedy and a film-noir parody, but it also comes with a sense of obsession — rather than reverence and adulation — for its sources, and the need for all of us to pry at these monuments.
Dead of Night (1945, Cavalcanti / Charles Crichton / Basil Dearden / Robert Hamer) [r]
Head-spinning British horror anthology from Ealing Studios has slow spots but gradually becomes oppressive, and downright terrifying at the finale. Best of the episodes is certainly Alberto Cavalcanti’s vetriloquist-dummy tale featuring Michael Redgrave.
Dead Poets Society (1989, Peter Weir)
Weir’s impossibly sappy tale of prep-school boys and the teacher who inspires them is hackneyed in a specific manner that implies it’s ideally designed for adolescent viewing, or for the enjoyment of adults with a rather severe persecution complex (so it’s very popular with educators). It’s basically one long straw man argument, suffused with English class platitudes.
Deadpool (2016, Tim Miller) [c]
Self-aware smug idiocy: still smug idiocy.
Death Becomes Her (1992, Robert Zemeckis) [NO]
* Zemeckis stumbles finally, and it’s a huge misstep, a confused attempt at black comedy that might play better if it concentrated on humor, character, and story rather than wild effects shots. Bob Gale could have improved this so much…
Death Proof (2007, Quentin Tarantino): see Grindhouse
Deathtrap (1982, Sidney Lumet) [c]
* Inhumanely disappointing film has everything going for it — Jay Presson Allen adapting an Ira Levin play, a great director, a great cast including Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, a swell idea — but abandons all credibility after twenty minutes and becomes a bore after forty. What a waste.
Deconstructing Harry (1997, Woody Allen) [hr]
Audaciously crude, profane, candid, and adamantly indecent treasure starring Allen as a sexaholic pill-popping writer on his way to receive an honorary degree while juggling a dying man, an estranged son, and a prostitute. Reworking of Ingmar Bergman’s classic Wild Strawberries features some of the wildest humor in an Allen film since the ’70s, and is the kind of brash, uncompromising comedy we need now. Allen bites at his own wounds until they bleed, setting us all free along with him.
The Deep Blue Sea (2011, Terence Davies) [r]
“Lust isn’t the whole of life, but Freddie is, you see, for me. The whole of life. And death. So, put a label on that, if you can.” Davies’ film of the Rattigan play is an opulent, expansive and touching examination of suicidal grief and romantic despair. Rachel Weisz and Simon Russell Beale are stunning, Tom Hilddleston less so. A film that might well be a comfort in a dark time, though nothing in it will stick with you like a flashback to the Blitz that’s one of the best moments in recent cinema.
Deep Impact (1998, Mimi Leder) [c]
* Armageddon was big, irritating, and boring; Deep Impact settles for just the last one. Lifeless disaster film goes against the tide of the Irwin Allen tradition by attempting to establish vivid characters; the result goes too far in the opposite direction of most in the genre, but to be fair, it’s probably valid that disaster films just don’t really work as anything but escapist bilge. Terrific casting includes Morgan Freeman as the president, but the way these people act on camera it’s a wonder they bothered showing up at the studio.
The Deer Hunter (1978, Michael Cimino) [NO]
If it were twice as fast, this would be one hell of an offensive movie; a ludicrous idea of Vietnam with suspicious ignorance of political context and plenty of weepy Oscar bait scenes, many of them involving Meryl Streep. Instead, it’s maybe the dullest goddamn thing that ever crossed your path. Rarely has a three-hour film done so appallingly little to justify its extravagant length.
Defending Your Life (1991, Albert Brooks) [r]
* Brooks tones his shtick down somewhat for a film about the afterlife that takes an altogether more optimistic view of romance and humanity than is his wont. Meryl Streep doesn’t really jibe with the Brooks style, but the movie is mostly amusing.
The Defiant Ones (1958, Stanley Kramer) [c]
Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis shackled together, chit-chatting on the run and learning to respect one another. Director Kramer’s less interested in involving the audience in their plight than in shouting at us about injustice; it’s a long 90 minutes.
Delirious (1991, Tom Mankiewicz) [r]
* Much-maligned John Candy vehicle about a loser who finds himself trapped in the soap opera for which he writes is actually surprisingly inventive, and often very funny. Directed by Joseph’s son, and featuring a priceless Raymond Burr performance.
Deliverance (1972, John Boorman) [A+]
Chilling, complex James Dickey commentary on the struggles and egomania of modern man has four city boys, led by sensible Jon Voight and macho Burt Reynolds, attempting to prove their prowess over the wild by taking a canoe ride through an untamed Southern river. The adventure becomes more harrowing than any of them imagined. This challenging and unforgettable film of beauty and terror is flawlessly acted (especially by Voight and Ned Beatty), with an ending that will never loosen its grip. One of those rare “perfect” movies.
Dementia (1955, John Parker) [hr]
Utterly terrific silent fever dream, a B-picture about a woman’s descent into patriarchy-imposed madness — the glorious collision of cult-movie sleaze with avant garde beauty. Do not, do not, miss this film.
Demolition Man (1993, Marco Brambilla) [r]
* Odd but very entertaining sci-fi action/comedy starring Sylvester Stallone, of all people, has many good jokes and a generally absorbing sense of fun. Sandra Bullock is in the wrong movie, but Wesley Snipes is delightful as the villain.
Dennis the Menace (1993, Nick Castle) [NO]
* Who asked?
The Departed (2006, Martin Scorsese) [r]
Scorsese’s smug, testosterone-driven pessimism is no better here, but this time he marries a deliberately contrived genre story (a reasonably faithful remake of Infernal Affairs) with his technical mastery to produce pulp entertainment that’s engrossing and nasty. There are excesses, and the coincidences are even more ludicrous than in the Hong Kong original, but the characterization and plotting improve considerably. It’s too long and the ending will have you repeating “waste” like a mantra at the water cooler, but the futility is surprisingly poetic.
The Descendants (2011, Alexander Payne) [hr]
George Clooney is a fussbudget of a father who is informed by his teenage daughter that his comatose wife was carrying on an affair before a boating accident left her unconscious; now he’s setting out to find the bastard while juggling an important land sale and a fateful decision about his family’s future. As usual, Payne undercuts his warm Wilderesque story with telling detail and cutting cynicism, so that we’re left with a subtle but deeply affecting portrait of a dysfunctional family that finds time to both twist the knife and give us some scant hope for humanity.
Design for Living (1933, Ernst Lubitsch) [hr]
Naughty and naive, this splendidly bubbly comedy substitutes Noel Coward’s sophistication with Ben Hecht’s incisive, direct earthiness. He and Lubitsch manage to sell a tangential story whose silly twists and turns depend on the believable likability of its three delightful characters — dirt-poor but somehow freewheeling artist layabouts in Paris pretending they’re not engaging in a prolonged menage a trois; you barely notice the last thirty minutes have little to do with anything else because you’ve become so involved in the surprisingly organic way that maturity has let this perverse romance blossom, two men agreeing to one another’s presence.
Designing Woman (1957, Vincente Minnelli) [r]
Periodically funny, periodically obnoxious MGM romantic comedy features Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall in an update of the Tracy and Hepburn roles in Woman of the Year, only this time the Mafia somehow gets involved. Stylish and imaginative but overbearing and disrespectful toward career women even by the standards of ’50s studio films. There are a few big laughs — especially one involving ravioli and Peck’s crotch.
Destiny (1921, Fritz Lang) [hr]
A young couple runs across certain doom when they meet up with Death, but they’re given three chances to make things right, which is really an excuse for Lang to wander into an Intolerance-style portmanteau. Comedy and melodrama ensue. Though its visual effects and blocking are primitive when compared to F.W. Murnau’s Ufa films of just a few years later, Lang’s early work of magic tomfoolery — supposedly based on a dream he had — is a majestically enveloping story, well and evocatively told in the best folklorist’s tradition.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2006, Jeff Feuerezeig) [hr]
Vivid, entertaining documentary illuminating a most curious soul, eccentric folkie Daniel Johnston, who writes simple love songs and sees demons in his Mountain Dew. Idiosyncratic but not exploitative, the film neither glosses over nor dwells on his dark side.
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941, William Dieterle) [r]
The often staid awards-bait dispenser Dieterle went over to RKO and made this batshit dark fable riffing on the Faust legend, which feels at times like an American prediction of Ealing Studios in its almost cruel humor and cinematic ingenuity. Sadly it’s also a mess; its determination to wrap up with a rather contrived “trial” forces us to spend a lot of time throughout the picture with the titular Webster, a lawyer-politician played with thundering obviousness by Edward Arnold in what feels like a parody of a Frank Capra character — you’re much happier to see Walter Huston’s grinning, delightfully ambiguous Scratch. The mixture of idealism and pointed political commentary fits only haphazardly with Stone’s story arc, whose most intriguing elements — the appearance of a temptress played unforgettably by Simone Simon, and the way Stone’s soul is infected by capital — run afoul of the distractingly overbearing “conscience.”
The Devil’s Advocate (1997, Taylor Hackford) [r]
* Hackford admirably goes for broke in this well-acted, almost exploitative nonsense about an attorney who goes to work for the Devil (played by Al Pacino in his most convincing role to date). Keanu Reeves is atypically good in the lead, but Charlize Theron steals the movie as his wife, who gradually falls apart. Neat ending.
Diabolique (1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot) [hr]
In this masterly, calculated thriller about two women enacting revenge on a toxic boss and husband, Clouzot asks you to surrender to the abyss. You will feel hammered, destroyed, cheated. Have a great night!
Dial M for Murder (1954, Alfred Hitchcock) [hr]
Hitchcock tackles a stage hit, undoubtedly because of the technical problems it presented. The film is not as good as Rope but features many excellent sequences and a fine performance by Grace Kelly. Story is of a husband plotting to kill his adulteress wife, going into panic when she is too sprightly for the man he hires to do it. The only real debit is the lack of charisma from either of the actors playing Kelly’s lovers in the film. Robert Cummings is miscast, Ray Milland is Ray Milland. But the movie, originally filmed in 3D, is very exciting.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971, Guy Hamilton) [c]
* The most numbing, overbearing Bond film, with Sean Connery back in the series after the short Lazenby takeover. Only exhaustion results.
Diary of a Lost Girl (1929, Georg Wilhem Pabst) [hr]
Pabst and Louise Brooks’ follow-up to Pandora’s Box is not quite so striking and rapturous but just as prescient, a proto-feminist story about a woman cast off, shamed and rejected, forced to slum through cruel boarding houses and brothels, after being raped and impregnated. Though harrowing, it’s not as dire and nihilistic as reported. Performances, editing, photography are magnificent and the film has scarcely aged at all despite its frayed condition.
The Diary of Anne Frank (1959, George Stevens)
Otto Frank had a hand in making this curiosity as authentic as reasonably possible for a Hollywood film, but it’s still hard to understand why it exists. Millie Perkins is too young and deadpan to play Anne — it’s cheap to try to place the heartbreaking and personal narrative of her last years in the context of a thriller about hiding out — and despite William Mellor’s stunning photography, Stevens can’t really put across the sense of confinement in the Annex.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015, Marielle Heller) [hr]
Darkly funny, sobering coming of age film follows Minnie, an 15 year-old aspiring cartoonist surrounded by 1976 S.F. parties and drug use, who longs to get laid and falls into an extended affair with her bohemian mom’s layabout boyfriend Monroe, to escalating but all too believable consequences. Sourced from an autobiographical graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, enhancing its constant feeling of private truth rendered universal, putting us inside its heroine’s head; Bel Powley is heartfelt magic in the lead.
Dick Tracy (1990, Warren Beatty) [c]
* The set design is pleasant, but the film is hyperactive pap, and its few virtues feel somewhat redundant after Batman.
Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan) [r]
Hollywood wanking at its best, this senselessly explosive action flick about Bruce Willis (excellent) as an off-duty cop dealing with terrorists on Christmas Eve is exactly what you want from any film of its kind — fun free of pretension, simultaneously silly and gripping. Irving Thalberg for the ’80s.
Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924, Fritz Lang) [r]
Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Revenge (1924, Fritz Lang) [r]
Lavish Ufa production “dedicated to the German people” essentially invented the epic fantasy film; what’s amazing is that thanks to Lang it feels, technically and dramatically, no more “primitive” than any of the thousands of productions that owe a debt to it. Story-wise, it has all the limitations inherent to any film adaptation of a work of epic poetry with the inevitable ciphers and the many plot convolutions, but there is so much to see here that one can hardly feel much except awe.
Diner (1982, Barry Levinson) [hr]
* Neurotic rebels without any cause whatsoever. Levinson’s impeccably (woefully?) accurate coming of age story rings even more true in the Internet age. Badly cast, with Steve Guttenberg and Mickey Rourke unfit for the film, Daniel Stern in the wrong role, but the message and atmosphere come through very well.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988, Frank Oz) [c]
* Aggressively banal comedy about competing womanizers would be inoffensive enough if the existence of a movie with this title directed by Frank Oz and starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine didn’t scream “must see.”
Disraeli (1929, Alfred E. Green)
Talk, talk, talk in this creaky Vitaphone stage adaptation with George Arliss, old enough to actually remember the events depicted, as the title Prime Minister known for the Suez Canal purchase. Despite his distinctive countenance (and amazing hair) his performance, like the film, is nearly dull beyond tolerance.
The Divine Lady (1929, Frank Lloyd)
Flabby costume picture from the transitional Vitaphone period, of interest primarily for the way it manages to be insufferably talky despite being a (mostly) silent film. It’s plenty opulent, but just as static as director Lloyd’s later, more famous movies.
The Divorcee (1930, Robert Z. Leonard) [r]
Norma Shearer divorces her jealous moron of a husband; life ensues. Maybe if you shut this film down two thirds in, its treatment of her free spirit and passion would ring true. Instead it’s absurdly moralistic and highly dependent on abhorrent double standards. A pity, because at its liveliest moments this is a kinetic treat — like a film that wishes it could be a screwball Comedy of Remarriage but can’t get there — and Shearer is magical as always.
Divorce Italian Style (1961, Pietro Germi)
The flights of whimsy that populate this jet-black comedy about an Italian nobleman (horny for his teenage cousin) conspiring to murder his loving but “ugly” wife are only funny insofar as they distract you from how reprehensible the whole business is. Marcello Mastroianni is genuinely amusing and understated, but the anger at the core of even something so benign as his dream of sending his faithful bride into space on a rocketship is pretty hard to take.
Django Unchained (2012, Quentin Tarantino)
Another bloody revenge picture from Tarantino, this one inspired by western-movie archetypes and wrestling sometimes uncomfortably with the history of slavery in the U.S., is his most agreeably melodramatic work so far — though it desperately needed a heavier hand in the editing room.
Doc Hollywood (1991, Michael Caton-Jones) [c]
* Michael J. “Good But Wasted” Fox kills some time in the South on his way to becoming a plastic surgeon in Cali. As boring as it sounds.
The Docks of New York (1928, Josef von Sternberg) [hr]
During a 24-hour period, an ill advised marriage is formed and then compromised and abandoned, with hopeless lives from around the waterfront — completely drenched in fog and sadness — cheering on every moment in a strange way. The finale is tacked on and difficult to trust, almost a kind of violation to an until-then uncompromised story of hopelessness itself as a guard its characters use to shield themselves from unfathomable misery. In its perception of suicide, fraught emotion, men being cads because they know nothing else to be, this is as sobering and palpably real as The Crowd
Doctor Dolittle (1967, Richard Fleischer) [NO]
Bad book becomes worse musical.
Doctor X (1932, Michael Curtiz) [hr]
One of the most unfettered and delightful of the 1930s horror pictures. Theoretically a museum piece thanks to its use of typically hideous two-strip Technicolor, it actually harnesses every criticism you might throw at it — leading man Lee Tracy’s incongruous affability, Fay Wray’s constant screaming and sexy outfits, and of course the unabashed, illogical silliness of the bizarre, sick plot (a scientist takes his coworkers on a retreat to find out which of them is a notorious serial killer) — and fuses it all with genuinely brilliant direction and photography, makeup and set designs. It’s all weird, engaging, and frequently hilarious — true pre-Code bliss.
Doctor Zhivago (1965, David Lean)
Yeah, it’s sappy, loud, and overbearing, and much too long, but it’s also a monumentally entertaining and gorgeously photographed film that — while it reflects no personality whatsoever on the part of its director or anyone else responsible — certainly scores as mindless fun, at least the first time.
Dodsworth (1936, William Wyler) [A+]
Domestic drama from Wyler based on a Sinclair Lewis novel that reaches unusual heights of emotion and beauty. There’s sincere writing and excellent photography in spades, but what turns the film into a classic is the stunning performance of Walter Huston as the millionaire car manufacturer who gives up his career to retire with his wife, only to be shunned by her in favor of flashier sorts. A naturalistic and genuine film for adults, one of the finest Hollywood produced in the ’30s.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975, Sidney Lumet) [hr]
Dynamite performances and beautiful photography, energetic direction light up this satiric thriller and tragedy about a botched bank robbery that features Al Pacino bursting apart on a sweltering day in Brooklyn.
Dogma (1999, Kevin Smith) [r]
* A pair of exiled angels scheme to return to Heaven. Smith gets halfway toward a great movie here — closer than ever before or since — but he just has too many hangups, cinematic and otherwise, to sell the story completely, and it ends up sitting uncomfortably between good satire and the Clerks guy overstretching himself. Worthwhile, even lovable at times.
Dogville (2004, Lars von Trier) [hr]
This brilliant, disturbing storybook about a town whose populace corrupts an outsider (heroically played by Nicole Kidman, showing here the capacity to be a true legend) — filmed without sets — is not didactic or cheeky. It is funny, in the way that Barry Lyndon is funny, and it’s also sweeping and masterful. The many ideas communicated about violence, class, and responsibility only serve to complement a great story, wonderfully told. Whatever Trier may say about striving for the antithesis of cinema, he knows how to use his medium in the most expressive of ways.
Dolores Claiborne (1995, Taylor Hackford) [hr]
A woman accused of murder for the second time is visited by her estranged daughter, who still holds a grudge over the previous killing — of her father. Resonant film brings a Stephen King novel to screaming, vibrant life with ingeniously expressive techniques as well as the basics: great acting (Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh are beyond words), great writing, great music (by Danny Elfman), great filmmaking. It’s difficult and painful but also stylized and fun, all in the best traditions of the form.
Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly)
Kelly may be on to something with his multi-pronged attack on sheltered private school life — no Chocolate War but surely miles beyond Heathers or Dead Poets Society — but his metaphysical time travel plotline is a self-serious bore. The period setting does not aid the sincerity of its cause.
Don’t Look Now (1973, Nicolas Roeg) [c]
A sex typically sex stupid sex horror sex movie sex with sex good sex visuals sex from sex a sex story sex by sex Daphne sex du sex Maurier.
The Door in the Floor (2004, Tod Williams) [NO]
In which children’s author and gangsta rap fan Jeff Bridges strips naked, bathes outside, and doesn’t really have time to dwell on the fact that his new assistant is fucking his wife Kim Basinger doggystyle within earshot of his son. The film makes even less sense than that sentence suggests, and the ending that ties it all together is a complete letdown.
The Doors (1991, Oliver Stone) [NO]
* It’s only too obvious that this is exactly the movie Jim Morrison hoped would be made to finalize his legacy. It’s even more obvious that Oliver Stone’s understanding of ’60s culture is only the most rudimentary and superficial. He’s akin to the scientist tearing open a cat or dog to watch their functioning bodies because they are just machinations to him. One thing’s for sure: Morrison was a scumbag, as is Stone, and they are therefore a better match than, for instance, the fairly inoffensive Alex Cox was for the hateful idiot Sid Vicious. But the movie is such a piece of horrible myth-encouraging, romanticized bullshit — particularly for those who believe rock music wields incredible power when not in the hands of inexcusable deadbeats like Morrison — that it would seem outright harmful if Stone had not followed it up with the even more offensive JFK, or if Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan were not unintentionally hilarious. One good point: Crispin Glover as Andy Warhol.
Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee) [hr]
At once challenge and requiem, Lee’s comedy about one day in the life of a tight-knit Brooklyn neighborhood gradually turns into a tragedy of misunderstanding and flared anger — smartly political, humanistic, and structurally brilliant, it is a devastating triumph.
The Double (2013, Richard Ayoade) [r]
Gorgeous-looking, witty and well-acted nightmare from writer-director Ayoade is reminiscent of Welles’ The Trial in its tirelessly inventive inscrutability, taking a Dostoyevsky novella for inspiration. Jesse Eisenberg gets thrown into a cornucopia of hopelessly thankless, hellish work and Manic Pixie Dream Girls, his bleak existence upended all the more when his uber-Alpha doppelgänger shows up. The level of visual detail here, and the fun Ayoade has dooming his protagonist, forgives some of the half-baked avenues the story takes. Wallace Shawn is hilarious as the boss in the boy’s unfathomably depressing office.
Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder) [A+]
Wilder’s extraordinary film noir follows Fred MacMurray as a scummy insurance salesman who gets himself caught in the web of mysterious, manipulative Barbara Stanwyck. Brilliantly written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, this dark thriller is among the greatest Hollywood pictures of its kind; the viewer will be fully embroiled in the many near-misses and pratfalls of the unfortunate lead character. The film ranks with the best of Hitchcock, by Hitchcock’s own admission.
A Double Life (1947, George Cukor) [r]
Over-the-top Ronald Colman headlines this middling noir as an actor whose role in a Broadway production of Othello interferes with his perception of reality and fantasy, with bloody consequences. Entertainingly dark and sophisticated, but the characterizations are so thin that the burgeoning darkness never seems real or genuinely threatening.
Down & Out in Beverly Hills (1986, Paul Mazursky) [c]
* Trashy Hollywood remake of a Renoir film from the ’30s is not even particularly diverting.
Downfall (2004, Oliver Hirschbiegel) [r]
Using the firsthand accounts of Adolf Hitler’s secretary, Traudl Junge, this superbly mounted German film describes in stunning, claustrophobic detail the final days of the Fuhrer in his bunker. Sensitive, intelligent, and almost oppressively sober, this film humanizes Hitler without excusing him. It is unsentimental and direct to the point that it’s hard to encourage it as a fun night at the movies, but it’s nevertheless worth seeing.
Downhill (1927, Alfred Hitchcock) [r]
Hitchcock’s first true piece of subjective cinema; a benign moralist play by star Ivor Novello and Constance Collier, about a schoolboy falsely accused of rape who subsequently falls in with hookers and drugs, is put through the wringer to give the director an opportunity to test his mettle with ingenious set pieces and visual ideas while maintaining a close empathy with the hero that’s only sold short by a routine ending.
Down Periscope (1996, David S. Ward) [c]
* Unforgivably slow farce in the Operation Petticoat vein starring the able Kelsey Grammer. The film unfortunately has far too much cheap sentiment and too little comedy.
Dracula (1931, Tod Browning) [hr]
Bela Lugosi gives one of the most famous performances in screen history in Browning’s twisted, definitive film version of Stoker’s tale. Retains all of its mystery and vitality (and plenty of the fear) all these years later.
Dragnet (1987, Tom Mankiewicz) [NO]
* Tired bastardization of a TV show that didn’t need help parodying itself.
The Dreamers (2004, Bernardo Bertolucci) [c]
The sex scenes in this film — involving an incestuous movie-addicted brother and sister and the American pretty boy they take in — about the 1968 hubbub in Paris aren’t bad (though it isn’t as playful as it should be and cannot possibly succeed fully without a final explosion in the vein of Y Tu Mama Tambien), but it’s otherwise tiresome and superficial. Ironically, Bertolucci’s adamantly un-erotic film about sex, Last Tango in Paris, is infinitely better.
Dreamgirls (2006, Bill Condon)
A waste of an enthusiastic cast (with Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson both genuinely dazzling), this offensively superficial musical follows the career of a girl group clearly based on the Supremes and their run-ins with a corrupt, manipulative manager clearly based on Berry Gordy, but its Broadway slickness renders it gutless; the last two thirds are just a collection of showbiz clichés built as an excuse for the increasingly desperate tunes that couldn’t be a less accurate representation of either the period or of the Motown sound.
The Dream Team (1989, Howard Zieff) [NO]
* Horribly derivative comedy wastes both Peter Boyle and Christopher (!) Lloyd, steals jokes from A Fish Called Wanda and pretty much anywhere else it can think of. Michael Keaton is made for this kind of thing, but why should we suffer?
Dressed to Kill (1980, Brian De Palma) [hr]
Coy, ultraviolent thriller and Hitchcock homage full of psychological underpinnings and, unlike the less inspired Sisters, brilliant ideas. Perhaps the closest thing we have to what Hitchcock’s 54th film might have been like; approaches true cinematic genius at times, especially during the scene at the art gallery. At the end, De Palma gives in to the temptation to make an art film out of this, and he’s better off for it, though it may not seem so at first. Give it time.
Drive (2011, Nicholas Winding Refn) [NO]
Appallingly empty, boneheaded, but oh gosh “hip” film stars Ryan Gosling as a stunt driver who does part-time getaways, Carey Mulligan as an empty vessel, Albert Brooks as a gifted actor embarrassing himself, and an exploding head as itself.
Drive, He Said (1971, Jack Nicholson) [r]
Another BBS production you can scarcely believe was issued by a major studio, Nicholson’s directorial debut is aesthetically promising; it follows a college basketball player (William Tepper) who’s growing increasingly rebellious and apathetic, alienated from his peers and the “jock” sensibility, while carrying on an affair with a married woman (Karen Black, in possibly her finest performance) and coping with a politically radical roommate who’s gradually losing his mind. Nicholson feels some strange need to escalate from this, which perversely kills its momentum.
Driving Miss Daisy (1989, Bruce Beresford) [NO]
Yikes. Hallmark greeting card whose laughable perspective on aging, the South and Civil Rights is expressed with sub-Lifetime movie hamminess. It’s clearly a stupid and simplistic movie almost from its first moments, but as soon as Dan Aykroyd appears and opens his obnoxious mouth, you know this is going to be a long ninety minutes. Pointless, tin-eared, witlessly written, lazily directed, and performed with the worst kind of stunting obviousness by two principals who were/are so much better than this material. And the insult on top of insult is Hans Zimmer’s ludicrously quirky synth-score. Truly fucking abysmal; this might actually be as insufferable a feat of self-serving Americana as Forrest Gump.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932, Rouben Mamoulian) [hr]
An imaginative and often downright surreal Paramount adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, with Fredric March genuinely unnerving in the lead. Rouben Mamoulian’s creepy-crawly atmosphere of wild angles and camera movements, odd close-ups and first-person perspective scenes, spookily foggy set design and a truly off-putting sense of dread and fear are intoxicatingly oppressive.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941, Victor Fleming) [hr]
Sensual and high-minded adaptation with Spencer Tracy quite good in the title role(s), Ingrid Bergman exceptional as his understandably confused lover.
Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922, Fritz Lang) [hr]
Lang’s exciting, Feuillade-influenced epic feels much shorter than its four hours, though the first half is much slower than the second. Rudolf Klein-Rogge plays the master criminal, chameleon, hypnotist and psychiatrist Dr. Mabuse, center of a living nightmare of conspiracy, murder and Weimar hopelessness; as lively as it all is, the intermission is a welcome break from its absolute bleakness. Somewhat akin to Lang’s later Spies, its madness is penetrative, surprisingly prescient and astoundingly gripping, full of breathless excitement despite its overstuffed cast of characters and all the complicated card-playing scenes.
Dr. No (1962, Terence Young)
The first James Bond film provides much handsome eye candy in the form of both Sean Connery and Ursula Andress (it’s to the movie’s credit, probably, that he’s half-naked almost as much as she is); the story manages somehow to be both low-key and ridiculous, somewhat in the vein of a low-tier Roger Corman picture. Well-directed, though, and mostly clear of the flamboyant obnoxiousness the series later displayed.
Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, Stanley Kubrick) [A+]
A madman in the U.S. sets the wheels in motion for an atomic war, just for the hell of it. Kubrick’s satire finds him in rare form; this cinematic masterpiece also features a career-best performance by George C. Scott and three legendary turns from Peter Sellers. Kubrick would later say about 2001: “The realistic hardware and the documentary feelings about everything were necessary in order to undermine your built-in resistance to the poetical concept.” The comedy has the same effect on the despair at the center of this almost equally remarkable film.
Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965, Gordon Flemyng) [c]
* Never was much for Dr. Who, but kept trying. I checked out the movie, don’t really remember it, but you might like it if you go for this stuff.
D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994, Sam Weisman) [c]
* Teamwork propaganda for kids who get out of line. This film’s perception of life is more depressing than Ingmar Bergman’s income tax forms.
The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox (1976, Melvin Frank) [NO]
* Frank tries to get by on the appearance of his cast, ends up with a tired and very dated bore.
Duck Soup (1933, Leo McCarey) [hr]
In the beginning, the world was bland and lifeless. One day, Groucho Marx rose up from out of nowhere and everything suddenly went crazy, and everybody started dancing and having a great time. Oh yeah and there also might have been a story or something, I forget.
DuckTales: The Movie– Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990, Bob Hathcock) [c]
Duel (1971, Steven Spielberg) [hr]
Spielberg’s first film (actually made for TV but later released theatrically), written by Richard Matheson, is wrenching, terrifying, and painfully realistic, taking a cue from Hitchcock as the director presents an ordinary, conflicted man on the road suddenly chased by a huge truck. No irony, no twist, no fakery, just a horrifying story of fear and escape. Dennis Weaver is good in the lead (despite excessive voiceover).
The Duke of Burgundy (2014, Peter Strickland) [r]
Formally astounding drama set in a mysterious, insular world populated solely by entomologists and sex-bed manufacturers revolves around a lesbian couple in a master-slave relationship and (hilariously) the master’s frustration with the extremely specific, ultimately exhausting requirements of her partner. Strickland allows an emotional center to shine through all the wicked cleverness — with flights of dreamlike fancy and a well-placed Brakhage homage — but while the film’s nonchalant attitude toward both kink and its all-female cast is praiseworthy, it slips out of our lives without a sense of real resolution or satisfaction.
Dumbo (1941, Ben Sharpsteen) [A+]
The great and undisputed masterpiece of animated film, Disney’s fourth and best feature, about a circus elephant’s affliction with gigantic ears, is almost impossible to criticize. A single hour is packed with some of the most memorable scenes in movie history, and all with stunning prescience and impact. Rich in beauty both metaphorical and direct, this one is electrifying. Its economy and breadth of emotion will wipe you out.
Dune (1984, David Lynch) [NO]
* Sting in tights, pompous narration, science fiction so overblown it makes George Lucas seem like a fairly modest guy. And the book is even worse.
Dunkirk (2017, Christopher Nolan) [r]
A sensory experiment of sorts, the Alfonso Cuarón version of a war film, with the less gifted Christopher Nolan tracking the titular battle from three angles but with the constant exposition of his other films nixed in favor of storytelling that’s both more visceral than you’d expect and less pure and elegant than he seems to think. Your mileage will vary on this depending on how much you feel like living through a futile moment of tragedy and destruction with this level of immediacy and neatness is a worthy cause, but there’s no doubt it’s an impressive piece of film.