The Eagle Has Landed (1977, John Sturges) [c]
* It would seem that a movie with this cast and storyline couldn’t miss — it involves a Nazi attempt to kidnap Winston Churchill. The result, however, is unbearably sanitized, although it may be appreciated by those who enjoyed Jack Higgins’ book.
Early Summer (1951, Yasujiro Ozu) [A+]
By this stage Ozu is so fluent in the language of his modest, familial stories that they seem to capture, with the illusion of the incidental, a remarkably clear-eyed and direct appreciation of day-to-day life in all its natural rhythms and earth-shaking feeling, utterly free of artificial sentiment. This one revolves around the sprawling, three-generation Mamiya household, where independent-minded secretary Noriko, 28, is regarded by disparate characters in and out of the house as overdue for marriage. The family, their friends and neighbors all become intimate with us, helped along by a serious of performances that are frankly as good as film acting gets.
The Earrings of Madame de… (1953, Max Ophüls) [hr]
In one of the signature moments of French cinema in the decade before Nouvelle Vague, Ophüls whips around in a state of unlikely euphoria as bored, debt-ridden aristocrat Danielle Darrieux betrays her husband (Charles Boyer) when she falls for the warm, personable Baron Donati (Vittorio De Sica). The story is tied together with a pair of earrings — their symmetry mirroring the story’s — that attain considerable import as narrative device, spiritual symbol, fetish object, grave marker. Ophüls’ famously magisterial, elegant camera movements are as breathtaking as advertised — they walk the hallways of refinement but uncover almost overwhelming compassion and emotion.
Earth (1930, Aleksandr Dovzhenko) [r]
Another silent abstraction from Dovzhenko; Arsenal was confusing to me, and this seems rather facile, but it certainly is more complicated in its storyline — about resistance and violence in response to farm collectivization — than pure propaganda would be. But everything dazzling and impressive about the film is in its visuals and editing, particularly in the last twenty minutes when it for all intents and purposes becomes a stunningly poetic avant garde film. Those closing montages are extraordinary and will live in the mind for far longer than the relatively thin story itself.
Earth (2007, Alastair Fothergill & Mark Linfield)
Disney truncation of the miniseries Planet Earth cutes up some of the most breathtaking footage from that landmark documentary series, but there’s really no reason to see it instead of the whole package. Unless you’re especially attached to Morgan Freeman’s voice (which, in fairness, is probably more appealing than Sigourney Weaver’s).
Earthquake (1974, Mark Robson) [NO]
* Irritating disaster flick in the Irwin Allen mode features a fun (read: terrible) Charlton Heston performance, nothing else of interest.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956, Fred F. Sears)
* Half-baked “literate” sci-fi is only for those who count “literacy” as the mark of cinematic quality. Ray Harryhausen’s special effects are fine, but this is just another stupid B-movie with a mysteriously bloated critical reputation.
East of Eden (1955, Elia Kazan) [r]
Soapy, bludgeon-force Steinbeck adaptation underlines its central conceit of Cain and Abel allusion so many times in the third act it becomes like a drinking game. In pre-WWI California, James Dean portrays an angsty twin trying to win the love of his father, a perpetually ruined and devout farmer, with more than one secret up his sleeve. Kazan’s CinemaScope presentation of all this turmoil is a stirringly beautiful sight, and while Dean sometimes falls down melodramatic Method actorly rabbit holes, he does figure in a few magnificently riveting scenes, especially those with Jo Ann Fleet as his mother.
Easy Money (1983, James Signorelli) [NO]
* Rodney fucking Dangerfield in a very polite comedy that would really be too monotonous to be offensive if not for its lead performer.
Easy Rider (1969, Dennis Hopper) [c]
This doesn’t have much going for it: It’s directed by professional moron Dennis Hopper, is a “definining film of the 1960s,” features a heroic journey to wrap up a cocaine deal, and has been touted as the beginning of a New Hollywood. It’s as bad as you expect, maybe worse: stereotypes conquered by stereotypes, ineptitude masquerading as artistry, and a rock soundtrack doing the director’s work for him. Pretty dismal stuff unless you have some nostalgic memories of the era of its release to work from.
Easy Virtue (1927, Alfred Hitchcock)
Provocative and entertaining first half gives way to lazy, redundant second half in story of a divorced woman alienated by her new family when she remarries. Anticipations of Rebecca and The Birds abound in a film that is valuable in its proof of the vitality of Hitchcock’s constant Woman Alone theme.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016, Kelly Fremon Craig) [hr]
Delightful awkward-adolescence story from Gracie Films is funnier than par for the genre, with Hailee Steinfeld a magnetic, immensely likable lead who weaves her way through the occasional spell of stilted dialogue in Craig’s script like a true natural, meeting her match only with Woody Harrelson as an acerbic English teacher. Nadine’s alienation from her family is exacerbated after her jock brother begins a relationship with her longtime best friend, and there are typically awkward sexual encounters, moments of well-observed friendship, and the unfortunate entrance of a Nice Guy stereotype, but despite its issues the film cogently gets across how inadequate family can sometimes be as a source of warmth and comfort, especially at this age.
Edward Scissorhands (1990, Tim Burton) [hr]
Burton’s Frankenstein parable about an inventor’s almost-human unfinished creation who is taken home by an Avon lady after his creator’s death and encounters a stunning range of sweetness and aggression. Brilliant performances (especially by Alan Arkin and Dianne Wiest, to say nothing of Vincent Prince), wild set design, and an often hilarious script light up this frequently stunning satiric fantasy whose final lapses into sentimentality are unfortunate but almost inevitable.
Ed Wood (1994, Tim Burton) [A+]
An out and out masterpiece, with Burton stretching himself like never before or since to create a genuinely brilliant movie about the infamous director of Plan 9 from Outer Space, his excruciating enthusiasm, his unusual vices, his lost and gained loves, and his friendship with the constantly ailing Bela Lugosi. Funny and sad, with a gamut of emotions maintained throughout, this is more than a character study, it’s a warm and humanistic story of the natural need to keep trying until we get it right, even if we never do. Johnny Depp, Martin Landau and Patricia Arquette are astonishingly good, but so is everything else in this one.
8½ (1963, Federico Fellini) [r]
Fellini’s black & white films are a treat to look at, breathtakingly stylish, lovingly composed, and full of expressive, fluid, impeccably designed movement that weaves in and out of the carefully crafted world in three blooming dimensions. But almost no scene in this film doesn’t overstay its welcome, and in such an episodic and jumbled narrative that tendency adds up quickly. More than in most films about filmmaking, the traces of self-criticism here are moving, but the too-much-is-never-enough sensibility is hard to take.
Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years (2016, Ron Howard) [r]
We already had ten hours of The Beatles Anthology, one and a half hours of the vastly superior The Compleat Beatles, and of course Mark Lewisohn’s prodigious in-progress biography, so what can a Ron Howard movie possibly tell us about the years when the Beatles were live performers? Not a whole hell of a lot, but if you love them you’ll still have a great time watching this, even if it’s annoying that Howard constantly cuts away from songs in progress and hardly lets a single one of them play out. He does capture the universal appeal of rock’s most deserved titans without a trace of pretension or overstatement, which is welcome.
Eighth Grade (2018, Bo Burnham) [r]
Exactly what the title promises with all mortifying cringes thus implied, and despite the explosion of Insta and Snapchat it looks to me like not much has really changed over the last couple of decades. The film’s a little schematic in some ways, but its depiction of anxiety is touching, and the performances — particularly Elsie Fisher’s phenomenally believable, almost artless rendering of the central character — are sublime.
Él (1953, Luis Buñuel) [hr]
When Buñuel cunningly turns melodramatic convention on its head, poking fun at its excesses and extrapolating his disdain to the real-world counterparts of the toxic behaviors therein, he ends up not only with a more keenly observant film about an abusive relationship than almost any other of the 1950s but also gives a home to a brilliantly rendered, terrifying performance by Arturo de Córdova, who makes Charles Boyer in Gaslight look like a sitcom character. Buñuel’s perversity thrillingly slaughters every attempt at a grace note.
El Cid (1961, Anthony Mann) [c]
* Mann’s able juggling of overloaded material is overshadowed by the awful performances of Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston, not to mention Miklos Rosza’s irritatingly overblown score. A waste of time.
Election (1999, Alexander Payne) [hr]
Appealingly complex satire about a school election in which resourceful campaigner Reese Witherspoon is a shoe-in until button-down teacher Matthew Broderick sticks his nose in by persuading a dumb but popular jock to join the race. Smart, daring and deliciously acid, especially at the finale.
Elena (2011, Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Zvyagintsev shows a real flair for composition and for directing actors in this domestic chronicle of a middle-aged woman’s dispute with her rich husband over finances, but it’s ponderous and prolonged enough that even when something ultimately does actually happen it feels strangely inconsequential, as if the mere suggestion of possible events constituted drama.
Elephant (2003, Gus Van Sant) [NO]
A few days before opening fire on their classmates, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold debated on videotape whether the big budget Hollywood film based on their story would be directed by Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino. Wouldn’t you love to invade that moronic conversation long enough to say “It will be directed by Gus Van Sant — yes, the Good Will Hunting guy — and it will be an appallingly out-of-touch failure with no understanding of teenage life, bad enough to make you wish for not just Tarantino behind the camera but Michael Bay.”
The Elephant Man (1980, David Lynch) [r]
The true story of Joseph (John) Merrick (John Hurt, excellent), a disfigured circus performer taken in by kindly doctor Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins, also excellent) is painted by Lynch with a bit of a superficial brush. But visually, it cannot be faulted, with gloriously languid production design and lyrical black & white cinematography, and the tale is beautifully told all in all.
Elizabeth (1998, Shekhar Kapur) [r]
Kapur’s handling of this subject is undeniably glorious, with wild, almost Wellesian visual choices and storytelling economy making it a hard project to forget. He’s helped by Cate Blanchett, who makes a stunning Elizabeth I. But the script sells the rest short, falling apart somewhat in the last half and finally landing a disappointment.
Elmer Gantry (1960, Richard Brooks) [r]
Burt Lancaster exhibits unstoppable charisma (supported gamely by Jean Simmons and Shirley Jones) in the title role of this loose-ish Sinclair Lewis adaptation, which however muddled and overly sprawling is one of Hollywood’s more intriguingly dark explorations of religion in America.
El Topo (1970, Alejandro Jodorowsky) [c]
Legendary cult western — about a mythic gunslinger and his bizarro encounters in the desert, to the slim extent it’s about anything — has some indelible images in the vein of L’age d’Or and various Magritte paintings, but it wears thin at least an hour before its conclusion. Its sophomoric surrealism is like the worst parts of Easy Rider stretched to feature length, but it’s impressed leagues of viewers (and not even just rock stars, acid heads and David Lynch) for whom “weird for weird’s sake” is plenty.
Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970, Denis Sanders) [r]
This concert film documenting the first week of Elvis Presley’s 1970 residency at the International Hotel in Las Vegas exists in two distinct versions — a trendy, frenetic mess interspersed with often banal talking heads and ample footage of Presley fucking up and exhausting himself; and a 2001 recut that emphasizes the band and the music from rehearsal to fruition nearly without interruption. What the two films have in common is that they communicate that Presley was a peerless showman even on the cusp of his decline; he is an engaging and magnetic presence throughout.
Emma (1996, Douglas McGrath)
We love Gwyneth, we love Jane, we love Douglas (who cowrote Bullets Over Broadway), but the director simply can’t think of much to add to what’s already there.
Empire of the Ants (1977, Bert I. Gordon) [c]
* Ridiculously cheap H.G. Wells adaptation is bleak, stupid, and disgusting, and sometimes horribly amusing.
Empire of the Sun (1987, Steven Spielberg) [hr]
* If not the most tragically misunderstood film of the ’80s, certainly the undeserved underdog of a great filmmaker’s career. Unorthodox, strangely affecting story of a boy, beautifully played by Christian Bale, forced to learn self-reliance after he’s separated from his family during the war. Really excellent stuff, with images that stick.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kerschner)
The best film in the Star Wars trilogy by a longshot, though it’s also a bit painful in its attempts to force us to suddenly take the archetypes of the first film seriously as characters. However, the movie looks beautiful, is quite exciting and extremely well-structured, even if it is as soulless as the others in the series. It’s still hard to ignore how poor its foundation is, but if you’re into this sort of thing…
The Endless Summer (1966, Bruce Brown)
* If you like watching people surf…
The End of St. Petersburg (1927, Vsevold Pudovkin) [r]
As iconic and affecting in some places as the tremendously moving Mother, this — like Eisenstein’s October — is an example of Soviet propaganda tied so much to the context of its time and politics that it’s hard to get much out of it from any sort of distance. It’s a must for students and scholars, and the editing is heroically brilliant, dizzying even, but it fails to connect emotionally the way Pudovkin’s better work does.
The End of the Tour (2015, James Ponsoldt)
A narrative strung together from a long exchange of conversations between onetime renegade David Foster Wallace and a less famous writer, David Lipsky, in the last days of Wallace’s book tour for Infinite Jest. If you’re not an acolyte of Wallace’s writing, this is just a long two-hander and a somewhat atmospheric road movie, skillfully directed by a filmmaker whose work continues to suggest (see The Spectacular Now) that he has smart, occasionally insightful ideas and a youthful pretension that hasn’t quite left him yet. Jason Segel is sweet and unassuming as Wallace, and Jesse Eisenberg is his usual oddly menacing self.
The English Patient (1996, Anthony Minghella) [r]
Meditative novel becomes plotty romantic drama, but if you’re going to fawn and gasp over dying in caves, burned faces, severed thumbs, World War II, and the fellating of Ralph Fiennes’ appendages, do it in full-on kitschy style.
Enough Said (2013, Nicole Holofcener) [r]
Good romantic comedy of errors is rendered essential by the wonderful lead performances of James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Writer-director Holofcener isn’t afraid of the fact that people over forty have sex, which is nice.
Enter the Void (2009, Gaspar Noé)
A recasting of the Tibetan Book of the Dead as a first-person funhouse ride. Target audience reports that the film is “sweet” before it “bummed me out, man.” Watch a Kubrick movie instead, or just go hang out at the Blue Post on Saturday night for the same effect.
Erie (2010, Kevin Jerome Everson) [hr]
Everson’s finest and most formally ambitious documentary is an exploration not just of a region and its people — the daily tribulations, frustrations and sometimes relief of largely working class Black citizens around Lake Erie — but of the camera and its multiple languages, especially time, movement and distortion. The film consists of a series of long, usually uninterrupted takes tracking multiple kinds of events of both mundane and miraculous variety. Eventually it reframes your eyes and your mind: what you observe, what is important and “interesting” about it, is altered by the stretching and distortion of time.
Erin Brockovich (2000, Steven Soderbergh) [r]
The procedural aspects of this true life drama about legal assistant Brockovich’s fight against Pacific Gas and Electric’s water quality coverup are engrossing, even if Soderbergh doesn’t approach it with much energy. Julia Roberts and Albert Finney, as her cantankerous boss, are fun to watch together, but a lot of the excessive runtime is occupied by an insipid love story with a miscast Aaron Eckhart. As usual for later Soderbergh, this is colorless and flat but fitfully engaging.
Ernest Goes to Camp (1987, John R. Cherry) [NO]
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988, John R. Cherry) [NO]
Ernest Scared Stupid (1991, John R. Cherry) [NO]
* Ernest films have a way of talking about one thing while being about another. Ernest Goes to Camp was the only one of his ’80s movies to be received with unqualified admiration at the time, lauded as a warmly humane indictment of war, a pacifist statement as nobly moving as All Quiet on the Western Front. Practically nobody noted the irony with which this archetypal prison camp escape story also outlined a barbed social analysis, demonstrating how shared aristocratic backgrounds (and military professionalism) forge a bond of sympathy between the German commandant and the senior French officer; how the exigencies of a wartime situation impel Ernest to sacrifice himself (and Vern to shoot him) so that two of his men may make good their escape; and how those two escapees, once their roles as hero-warriors are over, will return home reduced to being working class and dirty Jew once more. Ernest Scared Stupid, often cited as an enigmatic title, is surely not a suggestion that peace can never be permanent, but that liberty, equality and fraternity is ever likely to become a social reality rather than a token ideal.
Escape from Alcatraz (1979, Donald Siegel) [r]
* Another snazzy Alcatraz movie. Keep ’em coming.
Escape to Witch Mountain (1975, John Hough) [c]
* If you grew up with it…
Eskiya (1996, Yavuz Turgul)
After completing a thirty-year prison sentence, a legendary underworld figure takes on a troubled protege while seeking revenge on the man who informed on him and ran off with his wife. Taking cues from Unforgiven, Leon, Michael Mann’s work and various cable TV staples, this generic actioner is watchable but doesn’t seem capable of revitalizing the Turkish film industry, which is supposedly what happened. Şener Şen is oddly lifeless and passive in the lead role.
Eternal Love (1929, Ernst Lubitsch) [hr]
One of two dramas Lubitsch made in Hollywood, this perfectly agonizing romance of a Swiss couple doomed by scandal, religion and jealousy is among the most unfiltered, drunken expressions of romance and sex of the era. John Barrymore is the salt-of-the-earth rebel, Camilla Horn his beloved whose uncle, a clergyman, doesn’t approve of the partnership. As gorgeous as any of the more celebrated Hollywood silents of the late period, with Alberta convincingly standing in for the Swiss Alps.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry) [hr]
Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay for this film is much more superficial than those for Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, but the direction is equally good, featuring many remarkable in-camera special effects; the acting is phenomenal (particularly by Kate Winslet), and the setup is first rate: A man who’s just suffered through a breakup goes to have his entire recollection of the relationship erased, only to discover midway through that he doesn’t want to lose all of the memories. Unfortunately, the plot complications and resolutions ring a little false, but the film is wonderful when it sticks to the two leads.
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982, Steven Spielberg)
Spielberg’s most maudlin film, this science fiction classic has flashes of genius (the cross cutting of Elliott and his pet alien, the entire Halloween sequence) but is underdeveloped, especially in terms of the lead character when compared to Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Many have called this Spielberg’s most personal effort, but its vision of childhood is considerably more calculated than such a label would promise.
Europa ’51 (1952, Roberto Rossellini) [r]
Achingly tragic scenario of Ingrid Bergman as a self-involved woman trying to come to terms with her aloofness as a mother when her young son commits suicide, with rich performances and often stunning visual flourishes and settings, collapses into a religious parable about saintliness that just feels all too well-trodden and obvious. Rossellini’s moral uncertainty rescues it from total banality but, as with The Flowers of St. Francis, for a nonbeliever it all just seems like a gross misappropriation of beauty.
Event Horizon (1997, Paul W.S. Anderson) [r]
* Hollywood horror/sci-fi claptrap that does manage to affect a mood of threat and significant fear.
Ever After (1998, Andy Tennant) [c]
Well-acted and pleasant version of the Cinderella story, modern but not modernized, doesn’t play so well on second viewing.
Everything Is Illuminated (2005, Liev Schreiber) [r]
Ethereal, visually strong Elijah Wood vehicle about a man seeking information about his ancestry in the Ukraine mostly plays its moving source novel (by Jonathan Safran Foer) for laughs, its nods to the book’s darker themes feeling obligatory and forced — and there’s simply no way to place Foer’s sense of humanist beauty on a screen painlessly. But as the restless cohort Alex, Eugene Hutz is a bounding delight, giving the film more energy than it probably deserves.
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972, Woody Allen) [r]
A series of Woody Allen vignettes ranging from brilliant (“What’s My Perversion?”) to gross (Gene Wilder in love with a goat) to disturbing (the man who likes to put on his female friends’ dresses without their knowledge) to unfunny (the opening Medieval sketch) to all of the above (the horror film parody featuring the giant nipple). Certainly worthwhile but extremely uneven.
Excalibur (1981, John Boorman) [r]
* Bloody, self-indulgent King Arthur movie is good raunchy fun.
Exhibition (2013, Joanna Hogg) [c]
Self-conscious arthouse of the most bourgeois kind, a listless 109-minute film about a married couple, seemingly upper crust and both able to support themselves as artists, deciding to sell a house, a decision that one of them feels somewhat ambivalent about. Thin, barely sketched characters and barren writing coalesce into a series of disconnected minor events that don’t illuminate nearly as much as they intend to.
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010, Banksy) [hr]
It’s best to know very little about this going in, except: legendary street artist Banksy’s first feature film is one of the most compelling documentaries of our time, so much so that it really doesn’t matter whether or not it’s all a big put-on (as many suspect).
Ex Libris (2017, Frederick Wiseman) [r]
Engrossing but overlong verité examination of the workings and machinations of the New York Public Library is best when it sticks to day-to-day operations rather than budgetary meetings and guest lecturers, but it does capture some of the routine miracles and touching weirdness of the participants’ chosen profession, and quietly makes an ironclad case for how indispensable institutions such as this really are.
Ex Machina (2015, Alex Garland) [hr]
Enjoyably perverted, convincingly arid sci-fi sends a lanky programmer to the isolated home of an alpha-bro search engine mogul (played with delightful menace and eccentricity by Oscar Isaac) where he’s been working up an AI prototype (Alicia Vikander). The testing that follows probes lightly at the ethics of artificial intelligence from a tense thriller framework, with a marvelously sterile atmosphere and haunting soundtrack. Any sci-fi movie openly weird enough to stop things in the middle for a disco breakdown is probably worth watching.
The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin) [c]
Goofball sludge about a little girl (played with appealing panache and wisdom by Linda Blair) who becomes possessed by the Devil. The precedent for all modern horror, this movie makes no sense, is often laughably stupid, isn’t even as scary as returning an overdue book, and leaves us with a half-assed and idiotic “message.” Bleh. Some camp value, at least.
Experiment in Terror (1962, Blake Edwards) [hr]
After an unsettlingly calm drive home, Lee Remick is viciously confronted in her garage by a terrifying man who orders her to help him rob the bank where she works. She soon involves the authorities, which has potentially tragic consequences. Not a film noir, a bona fide escapist police thriller full of iconic beauty, deeply sensual horror. Edwards’ direction is wonderfully unnerving, his use of San Francisco locations outstanding.
Explorers (1985, Joe Dante) [c]
* One of those movies that is painful for me to even think about, Explorers opens brilliantly and is a genuine treasure for the first half, involving children who escape from their turbulent family lives by building a spaceship. Their characters are investigated with a sense of charming, low-key honesty. When their ship takes off, that’s bad enough, but when the film abandons all of its virtues in favor of a senseless, dumb, aggressively childish finale, it simply can’t be recommended.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011, Stephen Daldry)
Easy to harp on the complete absence of flavor or style in this pedestrian awards-bait; equally easy to scoff at the cutesy hyper-sincerity and contrivance of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel. And there’s something faintly exploitative about the heavy use of 9/11 imagery to tell the story of a boy searching NYC for the lock to match a key he finds in his late father’s closet… but Tom Hanks is effortlessly charming as the boy’s dad, Thomas Horn credible enough as the protagonist Oskar, and the whole thing is entertaining even if maudlin and artless, and not nearly as bad as was reported at the time of its release.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999, Stanley Kubrick) [A+]
Kubrick’s funniest, most honest, and most opulent put-on ever is the stuff of miracles; at the very end of his life, he creates one of the most multilayered commentaries on romantic love and sex ever devised in cinema, and easily one of the most fun, rife with allusions to everything from silent comedy to new age woo-woo to fairy tales to male fantasy to the celebrity subculture to Kubrick’s own films. It may not be for everyone, but for my money, it’s a piece of genius that actually justifies its admittedly outlandish length.