Faces Places (2017, Agnès Varda & JR) [hr]
In under ninety minutes, this lovely, inexhaustibly charming documentary about beloved Nouvelle Vague director Agnès Varda and photographic artist JR riding across France to meet people, learn about their lives and paste large photos of them on buildings and other artifacts manages to encompass so much: a portrait of unlikely friendship, a treatise on aging and loss, a persuasive valentine to the miracles of everyday humanity, a hit piece on Jean-Luc Godard, a direct rebuke to any notion that working classes are blind to or ignorant of the pleasures of art, and more than anything, a sense of nearly boundless fun and curiosity.
The Faculty (1998, Robert Rodriguez) [NO]
* Painfully stupid attempt by Rodriguez to “define” generation Y by setting their horror film in a Breakfast Club-style high school, or setting their Breakfast Club-style coming of age amid the convenient backdrop of a horror film. It all depends on where the dart landed that morning.
Fahrenheit 451 (1966, Francois Truffaut) [A+]
This film stuns me every time I see it. The film elaborates on so many of Bradbury’s points and is such a strange, magic creation in its own right that if I had to burn one I’m afraid it would be the book, and that irony is delicious. Truffaut could barely even speak English and didn’t get along with his leading man (they weren’t speaking at all by the end of the shoot), but he managed one of the great translations of novel to screen, one of the few completely brilliant science fiction films, and for my money a masterpiece.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004, Michael Moore) [c]
Undoubtedly a defining moment in American culture, pop and otherwise; what’s surprising is not that this film is crass and manipulative but that it’s so goddamned boring. It would be easy enough, by the way, to defame President Bush without having to resort to these circus-like theatrics. If you don’t understand yet why people hate Moore, watch his presentation of “Iraq before the war.” Can the Left please have a new spokesman? One who doesn’t wear flannel?
Fail-Safe (1964, Sidney Lumet) [hr]
* Stanley Kubrick kept this film out of wide release in 1964 because it shared source material with his Dr. Strangelove, and he felt that a comedy couldn’t compete with a drama that had the same subject matter. Of course Strangelove is better, and Kubrick was probably right. All the same, it’s a missed opportunity that this is not a more famous movie, because it’s a real firecracker. Lumet, as usual, avoids Hollywood trappings and creates something of breathless intensity. Excellent performances all around, too.
Fame (1980, Alan Parker) [NO]
* The intentions of Parker’s jigsaw-cut festival of random imagery revolving around a group of performance art students are hard to read. It’s so scrambled one is hard pressed to get much out of it other than a kind of blank complacency.
Family Plot (1976, Alfred Hitchcock) [hr]
Wondrous thriller-comedy about two crooked couples (one a phony psychic and a deadbeat, the other a pair of jewel thieves) whose stories converge and fold onto one another in delightful, engrossing fashion. This was Hitchcock’s last film, and he shows no direct signs of flagging.
Fanny & Alexander (1982, Ingmar Bergman) [r]
Bergman’s career-summarizing, semi-autobiographical examination of childhood, fear and family is intriguing and achingly beautiful in its truncated theatrical print, but evidence is everywhere of the strain to cut it down to three hours. See it for the lovely opening hour — a Christmas gathering, all exuberance, hushed voices and barely restrained erotic energy — and Sven Nykvist’s extraordinary photography if nothing else, but probably move straight to the extended miniseries.
Fantasia (1940, various directors) [A+]
Surely no introduction is needed for this extraordinary cinematic experience, a bold experiment by Disney of fusing his brilliant animation with classical music. Even on a TV screen, the movie has transporting power, and don’t let elitists tell you it’s “kitschy” (only the Pastoral sequence, the film’s weak link, applies). It’s one of the all-time unforgettable movies, however you see it.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, Wes Anderson) [hr]
Anderson’s finest film to date, a selfless exploration of and fleshing out of the lovably flawed characters, heroes and villains alike, in Roald Dahl’s slim children’s novel. This is the sort of entertainment that truly engrossed us as children — never moralistic or condescending, just unflappably fun and utterly devoted to the personalities driving it. The casting is terrific, and the emotions and oddball jokes perfectly balanced. Stop motion provides the perfect context for the director’s normally precious visual ideas.
Fantastic Voyage (1966, Richard Fleischer) [NO]
* Isaac Asimov’s novel about a journey into the human body is given schlocky, slick Irwin Allen-style treatment but comes off as clinical and detached in the same way as nearly all filmed science fiction of its era. And in this case, that’s a real crime since the movie really should be about human beings.
A Farewell to Arms (1932, Frank Borzage) [r]
Robbed of Hemingway’s mulling of the nature of war, this is purely a tearjerker about a military couple (Gary Cooper, never better, and Helen Hayes) separated determinedly by malicious outsiders then by illness during WWI; but if you’re making that movie and you want people to genuinely believe in it, the person you bring onboard is Borzage. There are some serious lapses in emotional credibility here, but when Borzage turns his camera on what he perceives as the behavior of couples, magic happens. Most literary adaptations are creaky and dull; in this one, the cracks that form and widen are where all the intriguing stuff hides.
Fargo (1996, Joel Coen) [hr]
Why it won so many awards is a mystery, since its humor seems like just the sort of thing Academy voters would not understand at all, but they seemed somehow to follow The Silence of the Lambs as well, so who knows? Anyway, this classic deadpan Minnesota comedy with many enjoyably subtle touches is highlighted by William Macy’s performance as a nervous wife-killer. Simple yet layered, this film is bound to reward repeat visits and is commendably quiet in its convictions.
The Farmer’s Daughter (1947, H.C. Potter) [hr]
Witty, insightful film about a prospective nursing student (Loretta Young) from a Swedish immigrant family working temporarily as a maid for a U.S. Senator (Joseph Cotten) after being hoodwinked out of her cash; while intending to do housework long enough to get back on her feet, she ends up falling into politics after she can’t suppress her opinions on various social issues at opportune moments. Far more perceptive and relevant in both its sexual politics and its politics, period, than you’d expect of a film from the 1940s; Young’s outspoken, progressive Katie Holstrom is that sadly rare thing in classic Hollywood: an inspiring female role model.
The Farmer’s Wife (1928, Alfred Hitchcock)
Wildly extrapolated but often sweetly funny story of a lonely farmer seeking a new bride. If not for overlength, Hitchcock’s silent comedy — his first self-indulgence after one big hit and one minor success — might charm anyone, and it does offer in its lovingly desolate portrait of rural England a dry run for his enormously realized humanist triumph The Trouble with Harry three decades later.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982, Amy Heckerling) [hr]
Cameron Crowe’s book is a flat journalism experiment. His screenplay is a lively collection of honest observations and wise, realistic exposures of the contradictions, joys and terrors of teenage life. Funny and sad, it’s not just smart, it’s truthful, making it perhaps the finest teen movie since Rebel Without a Cause.
Fatal Attraction (1987, Adrian Lyne)
Yuppie lunkhead (Michael Douglas) ruins everyone’s life in this anti-feminist Big ’80s touchstone.
Father Goose (1964, Ralph Nelson)
Not much to this one, a silly island farce set during World War II. As is typical of Cary Grant’s last few films, a reasonably pleasant but forgettable trifle.
Father of the Bride (1950, Vincente Minnelli) [r]
* Harrowing comedy of title situation is a lot of fun to watch, almost entirely because of Spencer Tracy’s performance.
Father of the Bride (1991, Charles Shyer) [NO]
* Harrowing comedy of title situation is… joyless.
Faust (1926, F.W. Murnau) [A+]
A symphony in motion picture form, Murnau’s engrossing retelling of the German folklore legend is overflowing with images and magic that sweep even the most cynical viewer into a sheer celebration of the power wielded by a great director and storyteller. Nearly the most immersive film ever made, showcasing a level of pure cinematic seduction rare for narrative film.
Faust (2011, Alexander Sokurov)
Time-shifted version of the legend contains some beautiful, lovingly saturated images — visually akin to 15th century Flemish paintings and Inside Llewyn Davis, which inherited its cinematographer — across its 130-odd minutes but it’s mostly just endless philosophical yammering and general grotesquerie. Not worth the effort unless you’re really, really keyed into Sokurov’s tastes.
The Favourite (2018, Yorgos Lanthimos) [hr]
Delectably vulgar and perverse historical comedy-drama that revels in its own adolescence, as Emma Stone’s once wealthy, now traumatized Abigail Hill connives her way into the secret lives of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her adviser-paramour Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). Three outstanding, dynamic performances, Lanthimos’ sheer glee at the graphic indulgence of it all, and the total shunning of slavish accuracy in favor of decadence, fun and ribald satire of the ruling classes make this a richly amusing night out, but it’s also cinematically audacious and robust with complex, well-drawn characterizations.
Fear and Desire (1953, Stanley Kubrick)
Kubrick’s no-budget debut feature, consisting of lots of philosophy-major conversations set in a fictitious and ambiguous war, is as maudlin, pretentious and amateurish as advertised — though its sincerity is obvious. His instinct as a still photographer is evident everywhere, but he carries with his journalistic past a self-importance that only makes the weak dialogue in Howard Sackler’s script more unbearable, the blatant misogyny more off-putting.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998, Terry Gilliam) [r]
A director who, so he says, has never been on drugs sets out to define the drug experience with Depp and Del Toro using the words of Hunter Thompson. All he gets is a movie of much visual intrigue with lots of laughs, the vast majority of them overstacked in the first thirty minutes. An hour in, the film has gone from discomforting to completely unpleasant and repellent. Maybe that was the intention, but I doubt the same could be said for having no respect whatsoever for the involved parties, specifically the writer.
The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967, Roman Polanski) [hr]
For his atmospheric and zany vampire movie, Polanski fuses wacko comedy with overwhelming visual sense, demonstrates his own comic timing as an actor and, as a bonus, offers the only real glimpse of Sharon Tate’s talents. The dance sequence is tremendous.
Fences (2016, Denzel Washington) [r]
Washington directs himself in this adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning play by August Wilson, playing a mildly tyrannical father and husband whose embittered attitude is sometimes well justified by the race and class-motivated injustice he can’t bring himself to take in stride, sometimes just results in him being a scumbag, especially when his midlife crisis starts to break down his marriage. It’s admirably complex and nuanced despite an unfathomably hokey finale, with a number of showpiece moments for both Washington and Viola Davis (playing his long-suffering spouse) as well as a fine supporting cast.
FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992, Bill Kroyer) [NO]
* 20th Century Fox’s early-’90s attempt at capitalizing on the short-lived animation renaissance follows the template of the films Disney was making at the same time. In other words, avoid it.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986, John Hughes) [hr]
One can have any number of protests to this — the smarmy self-righteousness (however deliberate) of its lead character, the sometimes claustrophobic (and hypocritical?) high-mindedness of Hughes’ script, Jeffrey Jones’ overbearing subplot, a smattering of overly moralistic dialogue — but there’s no hope of any of them being ultimately sincere. If any ’80s comedy qualifies as irresistible, this is it.
F for Fake (1974, Orson Welles) [A+]
A documentary about art forgery by Orson Welles. A piece of lively, awe-inspiring pure cinema. Just watch it, and don’t read anything else about it.
Fiddler on the Roof (1971, Norman Jewison)
Three-hour musical about an impoverished Jewish family in pre-Revolution Russia nearly replicates all of the content of the famous Broadway production, with Chaim Topol in place of the presumably more charismatic Zero Mostel, though Topol is perfectly OK. Some of the songs are good enough to have passed into the cultural lexicon, like “Sunrise, Sunset” and “If I Were a Rich Man,” but the film goes on forever at a glacial pace, really capturing nothing more than how one father gradually breaks away from Orthodox tradition as his daughters begin to marry off. The tone is comic and wistful for the first half, tragic and bleak in the second, and the use of a musical to talk about antisemitic Tsarist edicts generates the same kind of oppressive discomfort in me as turning Oliver Twist and Les Miserables into big song-and-dance productions.
A Field in England (2013, Ben Wheatley)
Credit to the lovely black & white cinematography, witty dialogue and keen sense of open-aired claustrophobia, but it’s hard to genuinely like Wheatley’s bizarre treatise on the Aguirre-like fate befalling a group of deserters from the English Civil War who fall in with a nefarious alchemist and get high on shrooms. The whole thing is so dense and never really finds a groove after its intriguing initial setup; frankly, the aesthetic ingredients might well have been better suited for a straightforward war movie.
Field of Dreams (1989, Phil Alden Robinson) [NO]
* Cruddy dad-movie involves Kevin Costner grimacing through a baseball story that runs through the full catalog of romantic sports clichés, in and out of Hollywood, several times. Even if you don’t hate Costner, it can be rough going, but it may be a moot point since those who don’t hate Costner are far enough from my own scope of taste that this guide is bound to be useless to them.
The Fifth Element (1997, Luc Besson) [r]
* Beautiful junk.
Fight Club (1999, David Fincher) [hr]
Funny, smart satire with wonderful echoes of Animal Farm barks back at gen-Xcesses of the ’90s with screaming (but immaculately controlled) vitriol. Edward Norton plays a sheltered type alien to responsibility who is determined to be a powerless shill first to his career, corporations, sleeplessness, then to new-age therapy, and finally to the Old Testament-magnitude ideologies of his utterly bonkers new friend Tyler Durden. Not since Deliverance has there been such a truthful, joyful illustration of what happens when people grow up far too late; not since The Graduate has there been such an apt, honest, lively evocation of the inevitability of being, as Lou Reed sang, “set free to find a new illusion.” And much like the latter, Fight Club manages the feat with consistently barbaric, cutting humor.
The Fighter (2010, David O. Russell)
True-life boxing melodrama about the Ward brothers from Lowell, Massachusetts benefits from a rush of energy in its photography and pacing; at times it’s as alive as Christian Bale’s hyperactive, Oscar-winning performance. Story wise there are some scattered winning moments but we’ve seen it all before, many times; sports fans might feel differently. I’m not convinced Russell thinks much of these people, and it’s disappointing how formulaic the third act becomes. Plus, quite honestly, the accents wear me out.
The Final Countdown (1980, Don Taylor) [c]
* Made long before Viagra.
Finding Dory (2016, Andrew Stanton) [hr]
Hilarious, well-paced sequel to Pixar’s infallible Finding Nemo shifts the focus to forgetful blue tang Dory on a quest to reunite with her parents, who apparently are living in a marine life rescue. Not a revolutionary or terribly ambitious film, nor one of Pixar’s trademark acts of putting their audience through an emotional wringer, but genuinely engaging, funny, unforced. So it’s more Freleng-DePatie than Dumbo; for me, at least, both have their place.
Finding Nemo (2003, Andrew Stanton) [hr]
Massively successful undersea rescue mission from Pixar is an unrelenting delight and a model of technical chutzpah, wit, excitement and inventive storytelling; it only stops to breathe a couple of times, and then for fully earned pathos. As astounding as its conception of the ocean remains, the most arresting parts of the film revolve around nothing more than a fish tank in a dentist’s office. Dazzling in its varied, winning characterization; even the voice acting is exceptional.
Finding Neverland (2004, Marc Forster) [r]
Forster knows something or another about hitting people where it hurts. I almost cried several times at this film, and that’s despite not really caring much about J.M. Barrie, and despite the fact that the movie isn’t all that great. It does have some superb performances and is genuinely affecting, but it’s also lacking in real humor and personality, and one won’t remember much after it’s over with.
The Firm (1993, Sydney Pollack) [c]
* Miserably contrived Grisham legal thriller can’t even allow itself to be as trashy as the (rotten) book. Tom Cruise is fairly convincing but that doesn’t mean he’s fun to watch.
First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff) [c]
* Five minutes of this is plenty, even after a stressful day at work.
First Family (1980, Buck Henry) [c]
* I wanted this to be good, I really did, and nothing I say will make fans of Buck Henry or Bob Newhart stay away, but beyond a few outrageous moments, it isn’t worth the trouble. And it’s never funny, it’s just… odd.
First Men in the Moon (1964, Nathan Juran) [r]
* Half-baked cartoonish sci-fi flicks were a dime a dozen in the ’60s, but this one is a little different. Science fiction buffs hate it, which says plenty in itself. It’s loud, incredibly stupid, and over the top, and you will have the time of your life. The sets are hysterical (on purpose, I’m willing to wager), the performances divinely ironic. Don’t miss this pop-art kaleidoscope.
A Fish Called Wanda (1988, Charles Crichton) [hr]
Ealing Studios director Crichton emerged from retirement to take the helm of this peerless heist comedy, a superb intersection of talents: the script by John Cleese delivers suspense and a pretzel-bent plot with delightful understatement, but the movie wouldn’t deliver without the cast’s manic eccentricities. Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin and Kevin Kline bring characters who might be outrageously weird on a printed page to breathing life, and it’s their work that turns this into a masterclass of balletic timing and rich, nuanced characterization.
The Fisher King (1991, Terry Gilliam) [r]
To say the least, a frustrating experience. In Gilliam’s first commercial hit, a talk radio host is forced to contend with the weight of his words just before a delusional bum changes his life. Unusually straightforward for this director, and it has at least one of the greatest scenes in film history (the waltz in the bus station), but it’s by turns obnoxious and exhausting, despite an impressively original story. Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges are both thoroughly unappealing, though Amanda Plummer is a delight as the object of Williams’ (highly creepy) affection.
Fish Tank (2009, Andrea Arnold) [hr]
Nothing about this story — of a hotheaded British teenager becoming attracted to her mom’s boyfriend while coping with the lingering threat of boarding school — is particularly unfamiliar, but the characters feel fully formed, the composition and photography are as beautiful and distinctive as a Wes Anderson film sans gimmickry (shot in Academy and with eye-popping colors that give Mia’s drab surroundings a dreamlike flair), and our entrance into a brief chunk of this impulsive 15 year-old’s angry young life lingers as though personally experienced.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964, Sergio Leone) [r]
The first of Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy is fun but awfully slight, and plotter than a film of its size has any right to be. I strongly prefer the way Leone’s later westerns prod and challenge the hollow “hero” narrative to the way this one doggedly preserves it, which it certainly didn’t inherit from Yojimbo. Clint Eastwood, the title sequence and the climax deserve their place in the iconography, and Leone’s energy is obvious and invigorating throughout.
The Fits (2015, Anna Rose Holmer) [r]
Splendidly lean and vague, visually sumptuous exploration of a young girl’s initiation into a dance troupe does get slightly bogged down in heavy-handed metaphor, but it’s difficult to moan about that too loudly when it’s formally so remarkable and absorbing, with a welcome injection of the enigmatic (and even a nod to horror) with the introduction of a plague of spasms afflicting the team. Royalty Hightower anchors it all brilliantly, a beguiling lead performance for an equally beguiling film.
Five Easy Pieces (1970, Bob Rafelson) [hr]
Masterful character study brings a former rebel into stunted adulthood, anchored by one of Jack Nicholson’s finest performances. Thanks to Carole Eastman’s winding, complex screenplay, there may be no film about an asshole that so well clarifies his sense of being trapped and confusion at being a screwup from an elite family, of having a part of himself reborn then buried again. Meanwhile, cinematographer László Kovács’ unromantic evocation of America rivals Paris, Texas for poetic anguish.
Five Star Final (1931, Mervyn LeRoy) [hr]
An incendiary screed against yellow journalism, though it does stack the decks a bit ridiculously, this seems set to be a fun His Girl Friday-style look at the bed-hopping and corporate intrigue across several floors of a tabloid paper whose bigwigs want higher circulation numbers, but the humor cuts out after half an hour. Edward G. Robinson snarls thrillingly as a morally conflicted editor getting pushed in multiple directions as he uses dirty tricks to wreck the lives of a family whose matriarch long ago murdered her rapist and has lived in relative anonymity up to now. If you admire the deep-rooted cynicism of Ace in the Hole, see this next.
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953, Roy Rowland) [hr]
* For some reason, the populace at large does not seem aware of this absolutely brilliant, unforgettably surreal musical envisioned by Dr. Seuss. In a perfect world, it would hold on unshakable Willy Wonka-style position in the pop culture lexicon. Show it to your kids; it’ll make their childhood more bearable.
Flashdance (1983, Adrian Lyne) [NO]
* What can you really say about a film with Kevin Bacon living in a place where dancing is unlawful?… Oh, wait. That was Footloose.
Flesh and the Devil (1926, Clarence Brown) [r]
Flimsy melodrama catapulted Greta Garbo into the pantheon of Hollywood legends; she has a good time with the stereotype she’s expected to embody, essentially of a power-hungry whore whose evil sexuality rips a couple of “blood brothers” apart. This being MGM, the film is handsomely shot — especially an early duel scene played in silhouette and a climax that makes skillful use of artificial sets — but everybody comes here to see Garbo and John Gilbert making out, and theirs are the most electric kisses to make it to camera since probably Edison’s.
Fletch (1985, Michael Ritchie) [r]
* Chevy Chase’s contribution to the bizarre glut of ’80s comedy fusions with the mystery genre. Chase wisecracks his way through some kind of plot about drug lords and shit. Reasonably entertaining, but I’m clueless about why it has such a large following today.
Flight (2012, Robert Zemeckis) [r]
Not to state the obvious or anything but at his best, Zemeckis is one hell of a director; he livens up this addiction drama — about an alcoholic pilot (Denzel Washington, excellent) whose troubles only begin when he safely lands a malfunctioning plane — with two of the most impressive sequences he’s ever made: one an air crash and one involving nothing more than an unlocked door and a refrigerator. But it says a lot about Hollywood today that this kind of bold-colors story that would once have been A-list box office gold and Oscar fodder now struggles so much to be made that it’s seen as a small, low-budget niche picture when it finally is. Not sure if that makes it more or less disappointing when it falters in its amoral convictions toward the end.
Flight of the Navigator (1986, Randal Kleiser) [c]
* Yes, this is the (boring boring boring) movie with the kid in the spaceship that plays Ronny and the Daytonas’ “GTO.”
The Florida Project (2017, Sean Baker) [r]
The title alludes to the original code name for Walt Disney World, and crudely, to the makeshift co-opting of motels along the Kissimmee highway as a cruel haven for impoverished families. Baker’s film tries to illuminate one such single mother and child and their haphazard circle, and often succeeds at rendering their world in three dimensions, but he’s more comfortable with the perspective and inner life of children than adults, save a long-suffering motel super modeled beautifully by a low-key Willem Dafoe. And as the tension amps up following an accidental act of arson, the film becomes more a source of stress and panic than of any deep insight.
Foolish Wives (1922, Erich von Stroheim) [hr]
An even nastier overview of slimy human behavior than Greed; Stroheim’s target this time is the idle rich and the scammers who scam them; he has a field day playing a phony nobleman “named” Count Wladislaw Sergius Karamzin. The director’s love of taking things too far is an asset here, with sets so elaborate it feels like a macabre capitalist critique when so many of them are destroyed or turned into fixtures of dread. An engrossing mixup of art high and low.
Fools Rush In (1997, Andy Tennant)
* Comedy-drama with Matthew Perry (?) marrying into Hispanic family boasts a strong performance by Salma Hayek. Not bad.
Footloose (1984, Herbert Ross) [NO]
* What can you say about a movie with a girl shaking it to that song “Maniac”? Wait, that was Flashdance.
Footnote (2011, Joseph Cedar) [hr]
In summary, this sounds like a deadly serious enterprise: rival Talmud scholars who happen to be father and son struggle through the accidental issuing of an award to the former instead of the latter. In fact, it’s handled with cutting, wicked humor and fully earns the pathos it eventually comes around to. The characterization is so strong it’s nearly beside the point that the film contains one of cinema’s best and most carefully observed takedowns of academia.
For a Few Dollars More (1965, Sergio Leone) [r]
Leone speaks his own peculiar cinematic language, not heard elsewhere; the busy plottiness in the sequel to A Fistful of Dollars works against it a little. As impeccable as the first act and climax are, it seems like the story is more than ever incidental to what actually interests the director. We’re left with a very good exercise in style, but one whose pleasures seldom dip below the surface. And without Ennio Morricone and an amusingly emasculated Clint Eastwood, it’d be nothing.
For All Mankind (1989, Al Reinert) [hr]
Space. Sigh. Get ready to be thrust into the most compelling story of the 20th century. The age of space travel comes alive in this exceptionally restrained documentary. Some of the most exciting visuals you will ever see, some of the finest tales ever told. Our superheroes, alive in the sky.
The Force Awakens (2015, J.J. Abrams)
Unabashed nostalgia trip from the talented Abrams is meant to evoke the wonder many experienced when they first saw the original Star Wars, marked by the return of most key characters. It’s not that different from the first six — overlong action sequences, awful characterization, convoluted storytelling, magnificent art direction — but you can’t live in this culture and be fully immune to its charm, disregarding the dreadful miscasting of Adam Driver as the villain.
Force of Evil (1948, Abraham Polonsky) [r]
Initially intriguing characterizations and convincing sleaze in this noir from MGM, which lacks mystery even in its best moments, give way to rote organized-crime programmer nonsense. John Garfield stars as a corrupt lawyer lending phony legitimacy to a numbers racket and participating in a scam that’s bound to put his paranoid, unhealthy brother (Thomas Gomez, quite good) out of business. It’s bleak and violent all right, but its protagonist — in the script as well as in Garfield’s performance — lacks depth or discernible motivation. The romantic subplot feels even more tacked-on than usual for noir.
Foreign Correspondent (1940, Alfred Hitchcock) [hr]
Hitchcock bursts onto the American scene with an ominous push toward the beginnings of war. So much to say: suave lead performance by Joel McCrea, badass George Sanders as a thrill-seeking journo named ffolliott, and still-incredible setpieces (umbrella murder, windmills, plane crash). Only note of contrivance is the romantic subplot.
For Love or Money (1993, Barry Sonnenfeld) [NO]
* Michael J. Fox is nicely understated as usual in yet another waste of his talents, this one a curiously lifeless yuppie comedy from a director who typically lacks the restraint to pull something like this off. It comes off as insincere and restless and just doesn’t work.
Forrest Gump (1994, Robert Zemeckis) [NO]
Zemeckis drops the ball for the second time in a row with this schmaltzy dreck which gives Tom Hanks a chance to follow up his award-winning turn as an AIDS victim with an award-winning turn as an idiot savant. And the formulaic dread doesn’t stop there. Winston Groom’s novel has the reputation of being playful; if that’s true, it’s a feature of the book that is as long gone by the time the film hits the screen as Zemeckis’ once-shining gift for comic insanity. He hasn’t lost his knack for strong special effects, and if ever a movie offered a convenient reminder of how little that matters, it’s this one. A Best Picture winner, one of the most inexplicable; Lt. Dan was right the first time about this gawking clown.
The Fortune Cookie (1966, Billy Wilder) [r]
Walter Matthau stars as an ambulance-chasing lawyer who ropes his brother-in-law (Jack Lemmon), a high-spirited and decent cameraman, into trumping up a minor accident he suffers for profit. As fun as it is to watch Lemmon dance around the room in an electric wheelchair, Matthau gets to have all the fun as the ice-cold ramshackle attorney. Funny in the usual jabbing, cynical way for Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond despite its overlength, and shot beautifully in black & white Cinemascope to boot.
45 Years (2015, Andrew Haigh) [hr]
A week ahead of their 45th anniversary — marked by a big, terrifying-looking party at some sort of convention center — a placid couple’s world is rocked by news that the body of husband Tom Courtenay’s former lover has been found in Switzerland. He sinks into distraction and subsequent revelations rock the world of wife Charlotte Rampling, who sees the entire fabric of their relationship questioned. Two painfully realistic performances anchor this unsettling story of a comfortable but passionless partnership threatening to shatter.
49th Parallel (1941, Michael Powell) [hr]
Engrossing propaganda effort from Powell & Pressburger is a fascinating reversal of The 39 Steps: again we follow intrigue over rough terrain, but this time we’re moving through Canada and our protagonists are Nazis out to infiltrate the U.S. border. The film was meant to scare Americans into ceasing their isolationism in the year before Pearl Harbor. These days it’s just a cracking, intense thriller.
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005, Judd Apatow) [hr]
Apatow could stand to tone down the bro stuff a little; it’s hard to believe this bears the same sensitive hand as Freaks and Geeks. And while this is a splendidly funny script, it’s the actors — Steve Carell (in a phenomenal, Oscar-worthy turn), Jane Lynch, Seth Rogen, et al. — who make it something beyond just pleasurable and more like balletic art.
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943, Sam Wood) [r]
An awful lot of movie. Hemingway’s story of teamwork, discord and derring-do during the Spanish Civil War is given an exhausting 170-minute treatment through Paramount’s Technicolor resources, William Cameron Menzies’ designs and a pair of disheveled stars, Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, both good but handily upstaged by Oscar winner Katina Paxinou as unforgettable guerrilla lifer Pilar. Despite the sprawl, this can’t escape the feeling — familiar from so many other literary adaptations — that it’s a summary of a much more emotionally sophisticated work, so airy and detached it seems to go away as soon as you’re finished watching it.
For Your Consideration (2006, Christopher Guest) [c]
Aimless, unfunny, pointlessly vindictive, and mostly just tired. A satire of something Guest should know well — Hollywood — leaves him, along with his whole repertory company of great improv performers, looking more out of touch than ever before.
For Your Eyes Only (1981, John Glen)
* Much-hyped attempt by the James Bond producers to create a restrained, Dr. No-style entry without all the over-the-top gadgetry and silliness does little to help the underlying problem with the entire series — that James Bond is a criminally uninteresting character. As with most Bond films, if you’re a fan, you may find it spectacular; if you’re not, you will be bored after thirty minutes, spectacular or not.
The 400 Blows (1959, Francois Truffaut) [A+]
Truffaut’s autobiographical portrait of a troubled adolescent who runs into hostility at home, school, and in the streets, finding solace only in a sweet-natured latchkey classmate, is a stunning debut, with numerous unforgettable and often overwhelming scenes, a genuine sense of discovery and excitement, a nearly unbearable level of identification, gorgeous black & white photography, a boundless warmth and humanism, and perhaps the most glorious final shot in all of cinema. This is Truffaut’s best film, and it contains many of the best things anyone has ever managed to put into a movie.
Four Lions (2010, Chris Morris) [r]
Surprisingly bold Spinal Tap-like satire about a group of British Jihadists has the guts to humanize its characters more than most serious films that touch on this subject matter. It’s usually amusing and occasionally uproarious but its substance comes from the incisive undercurrent of criticism toward the so-called War on Terror. Still, this does sometimes straddle an uncomfortable line between cheerful black comedy and a reinforcement of pure irrationality (and Islamophobia).
Foxcatcher (2014, Bennett Miller) [r]
Stark true story of wealthy wrestling coach and murderer John Du Pont hangs back and illuminates little. The characterizations are superb, brilliantly capturing the subtle jealousy that brews between two inarticulate, lost men — Steve Carell’s Du Pont and Channing Tatum’s Mark Schultz. This is not a mood you’ll want to revisit much, but it is effectively rendered. Carell is good if gimmicky as Du Pont; Tatum is absolutely superb.
Frances Ha (2012, Noah Baumbach) [hr]
Describable only as “exuberant,” Greta Gerwig’s New York movie is to remain one of the most breathlessly fun establishments of a persona we’ve had in some time. Her Frances is a wondrously familiar and frayed creation, and the film’s sense of small triumph and of youth slipping loudly away will make you nod, and dance out of the theater.
Frankenstein (1931, James Whale) [hr]
Whale brings the Mary Shelley freakout on with a deliciously cynical edge; he conquers mediocre performances by virtually everyone except Karloff to create what is rightly known as the monster movie. People still borrow liberally from this, but unfortunately miss out on its sense of fun and daring.
Frankenweenie (2012, Tim Burton) [hr]
Calm down, I know you’re excited about seeing a black & white stop motion animated film expansion of Tim Burton’s oddball 1984 short, but let’s be rational about t– fuck it. You’re right. It’s hilarious, warm-hearted, goofy, Burton’s best work in years, and though it cops out at the end, it’s a jolt of pleasure that will mean the world to the alienated young at heart. Its clever James Whale allusions notwithstanding, this is the closest we’ve had in a while to the fun-loving Burton of the early days.
Freaks (1932, Tod Browning) [A+]
Browning strives for — and achieves — Shakespearean transcendence in this haunting, beautiful drama about a group of circus sideshow performers, one of whom is duped into an empty marriage by a conniving “normal” woman. With a third act that is bound to leave a permanent mark on everyone who sees it, and an ending that is as mortifying as it is satisfying, this is close to the greatest of all horror films. And at 64 minutes, there’s not a single wasted or false scene.
Freaky Friday (1977, Gary Nelson) [c]
* Typical switcheroo concept gets typical Disney treatment in typically bland kids’ comedy.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003, Ronny Yu) [NO]
Not nearly as trashy and fun as its title suggests, this is just a welcome reminder that even if people have built up some kind of nostalgic admiration for them, slasher films just plain suck.
A Free Soul (1931, Clarence Brown) [hr]
Provocative, surprisingly modern pre-code MGM melodrama about a free-spirited woman’s affair with a gangster client of her dad, an alcoholic lawyer. Potent shots of class-consciousness, violence and sexuality are muted in the aftermath somewhat thanks to Lionel Barrymore’s rather over-the-top courtroom finale, but the real attraction here is the category-5 hurricane that is the funny, luminous Norma Shearer, in a beautifully understated performance.
The French Connection (1971, Willaim Friedkin) [A+]
Intelligent, freakishly paced thriller about an attempt to infiltrate a heroin ring in early ’60s NYC and the amoral determination of both the cops and drug dealers involved therein — a gripping, detailed, tense film that never does anything the easy way. Friedkin’s staging and direction are impressive, with his normally overbearing sense of right and wrong tempered nicely by the performances of Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider. Do I need to tell you this has the best chase sequence in cinema history? Of course not.
Frenzy (1972, Alfred Hitchcock) [hr]
Hitchcock’s penultimate film finds him in peak form, with one of his most relentless and disturbing wrong-man tales. This story of a rapist framing a friend features the director taking full advantage of the new opportunities presented to him by the 1968 upheaval of MPAA ratings, and as such it’s necessarily explicit, meaning that it is not for everyone, particularly with its horrific rape scene, bawdy imagery, and sensationally black humor. It’s simultaneously Hitchcock’s darkest film and his funniest, and that’s a large achievement for a 72 year-old man on both counts.
Friday the 13th (1980, Sean S. Cunningham) [c]
* Or, Anyone Can Act. Hot teenagers cavort around in a summer camp and start getting systematically slaughtered by someone in a hockey mask in this delightful coming-of-age comedy. Not the end of Western civilization, just the end of Western film. But I’m sorry, it is funny.
Friday the 13th–The Final Chapter (1984, Joseph Zito) [NO]
A Friday the 13th movie with Crispin Glover?? Holy shit, I had to see that! They kill him off within half an hour, just so you know.
Friendly Persuasion (1956, William Wyler) [r]
Gorgeously shot chronicle of a Quaker family’s plight in Civil War-era Indiana demonstrates that for all his ample talents, Wyler wasn’t much of a comedy director. Apart from a run of slapstick gags involving an angry goose, every moment that intends to land humorously is strained and artificial, while the solemn elements for the most part achieve more gravity and emotional connection. The cast is terrific, especially Gary Cooper as the stoic but open-hearted patriarch and Anthony Perkins, phenomenal as the elder son with an urge to fight for the Union whose internal conflict makes itself deeply felt without overstatement or sentimentality.
The Frighteners (1996, Peter Jackson) [hr]
* Finally, the underrated Michael J. Fox gets a good role besides Marty McFly; Peter Jackson follows up Heavenly Creatures with another excellent thriller, this one a delightful and wild ghost story with solid special effects and unusually (for horror) strong writing.
The Frisco Kid (1979, Robert Aldrich) [c]
* The automatic problem with a Gene Wilder-Harrison Ford buddy movie is that one of the actors has range and the other doesn’t. If one could let go of Wonka, surely the other could let go of Han Solo?
From Here to Eternity (1953, Fred Zinnemann) [r]
Languid, somewhat flat drama of Pearl Harbor in the days before the attack nevertheless has plenty to recommend, despite lazy direction by Zinnemann. Montgomery Clift and Deborah Kerr are exceptionally good, and several moments approach a strangely alluring kind of reality rare in U.S. films of the era. But as entertainment or art, it’s fairly nondescript.
From Russia with Love (1963, Terence Young)
* Bond #2 is one of the simpler and better in the series, and I never got the urge to turn it off or walk away. But it does feel a hell of a lot longer than it is. This is probably the last chance Sean Connery had to exhibit any kind of talent in this series.
The Front (1976, Martin Ritt) [hr]
One thing you have to get past in watching this beautifully-performed drama about the blacklist (highlighted by the excellent Zero Mostel) is that as much as you want it to be a Woody Allen movie, it isn’t. Allen is pretty solid in it, but Martin Ritt is so much more conservative as a filmmaker than Allen that there is a bit of disorientation with Allen’s eccentric quality of performing clashing with the fairly conventional storytelling around him. But Ritt manages to present a more real-world picture — and a more vivid representation of time and place — of McCarthyism than many have.
The Front Page (1931, Lewis Milestone) [r]
Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s wildly fast-paced newspaper comedy-drama about the 24 hours straddling an expected execution served as the source material for His Girl Friday, but first it was this unusual hybrid of proto-screwball and display of gritty pre-Code machismo. Some of the dialogue is stilted and the character relationships seem less believable than those in the larger-than-life Hawks variation, the script more tied to its time with talk about red-baiting and “the colored vote.” The most fascinating thing here is Milestone’s direction, which repeatedly employs an agility in the camera that feels like a vestige from the silent years.
Frost/Nixon (2008, Ron Howard) [r]
It wouldn’t be hard to make a case that Ron Howard isn’t the man to do this, his being a radically odd choice to bring Peter Morgan’s play to the screen, but the resulting film is entertaining enough even if it never fully justifies the inflated importance it gives to the David Frost interrogation of the former president; you might wonder why you shouldn’t just watch the TV special itself instead, itself a minor footnote in the Nixon saga, but as an exercise in acting and belatedly vindictive catharsis this has its place.
The Fugitive (1993, Andrew Davis) [c]
Generic revision of the culturally gigantic TV series about a man wrongly accused of his wife’s murder and searching for the real killer, led here by Harrison Ford in his Jack Ryan period. Thanks to its clear and simple premise this begins engagingly before getting bogged down in increasingly ridiculous business until an awkwardly wedged-in plot turn at the third act to make the whole thing Important. The parallel story about U.S. Marshal Tommy Lee Jones’ investigation is somehow even worse.
Full Metal Jacket (1987, Stanley Kubrick) [hr]
Though its two halves are perhaps divided too sharply in tone, this deserves its reputation as the most hauntingly real of all Vietnam films, despite being shot in the UK. Kubrick keeps things streamlined and gripping; the first half, a harrowing Boot Camp sequence featuring the unforgettable R. Lee Ermey, is as perfect a modern tragedy as we’ve yet been given.
Funny Farm (1988, George Roy Hill) [r]
* Oddly stuffy farce forces Chevy Chase to hold back on the sarcasm a bit and is genuinely funny in many places.
Funny Girl (1968, William Wyler) [c]
Biopic of Fanny Brice is most remembered for Barbra Streisand’s performance and several of her signature songs; as a film it’s a fairly anonymous love story, probably of interest solely to people who really love the lead actress and/or Broadway musicals. I enjoyed neither songs, acting nor staging. Wyler’s last big hit but you can hardly tell it’s even his work.
Fury (1936, Fritz Lang) [hr]
Lang’s first American film is a taut, pointed thriller about a man who gets falsely accused of a crime while on the way to see his fiancée. Even if you know where this chilling look at mob mentality and misguided vengeance is headed, you’ll still marvel at the righteousness of its messages and the clarity of its targets. Spencer Tracy and Sylvia Sidney are both phenomenal, and they define their characters so well that the chronicle of their long-distance relationship in the first scenes is sufficiently compelling to have been a film of its own. Lang proves adept at using a big studio’s resources to craft a personal, impassioned work of art.