Gallipoli (1981, Peter Weir) [r]
* Haunting WWI movie (one of the few) has everything going for it — superb writing and photography, a stunning finale. But Mel Gibson was annoying even in 1981.
The Game (1997, David Fincher) [r]
A truly odd Hollywood film about Michael Douglas getting involved in a “game” (based on the actual Game, sort of a twisted geeky Road Rules) features some enormously creepy and intriguing sequences and superb technical work from Fincher, but after all the false endings it gets to be a bit too much, and ends with a whimpering copout. Still fun, with Douglas’ usual shitty yuppie act and the very Hollywood disintegrated-marriage subplot not too much of a problem for this kind of a story. Silly, slightly whimsical, mostly just… weird.
Gandhi (1982, Richard Attenborough) [r]
Mammoth enlightened epic in the David Lean tradition is as disengaged as such films usually are, but Attenborough keeps this behemoth moving, and the pacing combined with Ben Kingsley’s outstanding lead performance provides a film that is always interesting, quite educational, and never dull, despite its extravagant length.
Garden State (2004, Zach Braff) [r]
Not as bad as it might seem at first, this does have a certain charm — it’s likable enough, but so was Poltergeist. It’s also built on a reasonably good idea and even features a few strong visual moments. But Braff’s lead performance is largely execrable, the Natalie Portman character is insanely annoying, the “emotional climax” attempts are ludicrous until the last couple of minutes, when one finally surrenders, and the whole air of magic/surrealism is a failure. Your tolerance will probably depend in large part on your feelings about Braff.
Gaslight (1940, Thorold Dickinson) [r]
Terse, harsh Brtish thriller of a murderer (Anton Walbrook) inflicting psychological terror upon his wife works better as a harrowing portrait of terrifying sadism than as a conventional mystery, which it the direction it eventually takes. Less flowery than the Hollywood remake, but also less nuanced.
Gaslight (1944, George Cukor) [hr]
Lavish MGM psychodrama is judged by some to tone down the British thriller it’s based on, but with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer taking over in the roles of a toxic husband and the long-suffering wife he’s trying to drive insane, we earn a subtler, effectively simplified story and a well-deserved climactic catharsis. We often question ourselves just like Bergman thanks in part to the elaborate, shadowy sets that make the night scenes genuinely spooky and unnerving; you can feel the madness begin to permeate. No wonder the title has entered the cultural lexicon as a word for the emotional violence it exemplifies.
The General (1927, Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman) [hr]
Although the reputation is accurate and this is still hilarious after eighty years, what really strikes you about it is both its succinct, minimalist narrative clarity and the outlandish acrobatics; the sense of adventure is stronger than in any straightfaced action film made today.
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947, Elia Kazan) [c]
I loathed this comic-book Social Problem pap as imagined by Hollywood phonies, but as Gregory Peck would say in the film, maybe I just felt that way because I’m Jewish. Eh? Eh??? [nudge]
Get Back (1991, Richard Lester) [c]
* The Lester style deadened down to nothing, or close, in this humdrum documentary of Paul McCartney’s humdrum 1990 world tour. Skip.
Gettysburg (1993, Ronald Maxwell) [NO]
* If you’d like to make three hours pass by like they were fourteen…
Ghost (1990, Jerry Zucker) [c]
Though Whoopi Goldberg is genuinely funny and the actors in general do the best they can with very maudlin material, this Bruce Joel Rubin pap about yuppie Patrick Swayze posthumously making good on love and crooked accounting is all very much a relic and its far-reaching cultural impact is hard to understand. The story is incredibly senseless, in both its actual narrative and the bizarre morality it seems to suggest, set up solely to push easy pleasure buttons for people who expect very little from a night at the movies.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947, Joseph L. Mankiewicz) [r]
A woman moves into an old house and begins to fall in love with a ghost who resides there. Much of Mankiewicz’s script here is sitcom-level goofiness, and Rex Harrison’s portrayal of the swashbuckling ghost in question could not be more obvious and boring. But it’s a genuinely haunting idea, and in atmospheric terms, Mankiewicz is able to run with it; there are some moments of real resonance, generally accompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s excellent music.
Ghostbusters (1984, Ivan Reitman) [r]
* Bill Murray is particularly good in what could in theory have been the ideal escapist comedy; unfortunately, it’s just slightly too overblown to really deliver on its promise. It’s still a pretty delightful movie, with many inspired moments, and much better than most of the other “effects comedies” of the ’80s.
Ghosts of Mississippi (1996, Rob Reiner) [c]
* Obvious, manipulative attempt at social relevance by Reiner is watchable, following the story of Myrlie Evers avenging the murder of her husband, civil rights activist Medgar Evers. Whoopi Goldberg is OK, Alec Baldwin preens, James Woods is fairly good but not a tenth as scary as the real Byron De La Beckwith; the cartoonish way racist losers are portrayed in movies like this is tiring in its resistance to the disturbing core of their evil hatred. Anyway, nothing can overcome the trite script.
Ghost World (2001, Terry Zwigoff) [hr]
Thora Birch is phenomenal as an isolated, aimless high school graduate who drifts away from her best friend and begins a relationship with the man who almost unavoidably represents her future, a lonely fortysomething geek who collects blues records, played with unusual ease by Steve Buscemi. Talented Crumb director Zwigoff scores big on his first narrative feature with a multilayered, vivid, cynical, and relentlessly witty comedy that uncomfortably conjures up the stunted emotional frustration of early adulthood up to its sad, ambiguous finale.
The Ghost Writer (2010, Roman Polanski) [r]
Polanski coasts through some silly but fun eye candy about the mysterious death of a ghost writer working for a Tony Blair figure (cleverly embodied by Pierce Brosnan), the true circumstances of it uncovered by his replacement: a confused-looking Ewan McGregor. Based on a Robert Harris bestseller, this fails to do much to elevate its hollow material despite the ample creativity expended, but it’s enjoyably tense, boasts one magnificent performance (by Olivia Williams), and is full of striking compositions and great style.
Giant (1956, George Stevens)
Do you really think I would subject myself to the torture of trying to summarize this?
Gigi (1958, Vincente Minnelli) [NO]
Moldy MGM musical — starring a dubbed Leslie Caron as a schoolgirl taught to keep in line to make sneering men like her more — is among the Freed unit’s worst, likely because it was designed to follow up Lerner & Loewe’s stage musical My Fair Lady and is thus positioned as a clone of sorts to that already dismal effort. The music is lifeless, the sexist and pedophilic attitudes creepy, the film a completely alien artifact today — and it won the Academy Award in the year that non-nominated Vertigo was released.
The Girl Can’t Help It (1956, Frank Tashlin) [c]
* Here’s what many consider the definitive rock & roll film… and it’s a huge disappointment. Its visual insights into the excitement of the form I love above nearly all other forms of expression are rare, its comprehension of the culture it attempts to define half-assed and rife with boorish caveman banalities. Look, I love seeing the Platters, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, and Little Richard in color and widescreen; they are all beautiful people and brilliant musicians and I would love seeing them in almost any context. And I know Tashlin to be a gifted and smart person, but his understanding of rock & roll as exhibited here is rudimentary at best. No matter what Paul McCartney says.
A Girl in Every Port (1928, Howard Hawks) [r]
A few big laughs in this buddy comedy about a couple of promiscuous sailors sparring then bonding over their shared sexual history, with two terrific lead performances from Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong, the latter particularly expressive and neither resorting to farcical broadness. Meanwhile Louise Brooks has fun with the traditional “evil slut” role as an acrobat who tries to tear the pals apart, which points up what’s so tiresome about this and the modern bromances it uncannily resembles. Hawks’ agility and feel for genuine male camaraderie are already admirable despite that.
Girl, Interrupted (1999, James Mangold)
Hackneyed dramatization of Susanna Kaysen’s unconventional memoir of her time in a mental ward shoves it into very ordinary Hollywood screenplay format and stuffs it with celebrity cameos by the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Vanessa Redgrave. Winona Ryder portrays Kaysen, Angelia Jolie her sociopathic friend Lisa, with Clea Duvall and Brittany Murphy among others elsewhere in the institution, and the actors do well enough but Ryder in particular is stuck delivering idiotic voiceover (“maybe it was the sixties; maybe I was just a girl… interrupted”).
Girls Town (1996, Jim McKay) [hr]
* Obscure, largely improvised film about inner-city girls (from music video director McKay) and the way they cope with a friend’s suicide is insightful, emotionally rich, and defiantly uncinematic. It’s also strangely radical in its tiny suggestion that everybody’s got the same weird shit going on underneath. The closing scene is lovely.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, Ana Lily Amirpour) [r]
The novelty of an Iranian vampire movie with a streak of feminist justice doesn’t quite see this all the way through to being as compelling as something like George A. Romero’s unforgettable Martin, but the scenes that capture the urban grime of a desolate city in its loneliness and emotionally strung-out beauty are like the best parts of It Follows finally finding a home, and the controversial molasses-slow love scene, set to a White Lies song, is brilliant.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011, David Fincher) [r]
A popular pulpy novel with a totally preposterous murder mystery at its center is injected with quite a bit of style and vitality by Fincher, who backgrounds the plotty seriousness (handled with typical wit) in favor of a remarkable chronicle of the relationship between a journalist-cum-detective (Daniel Craig) and his plucky new research assistant (Rooney Mara, brilliant), whose tough-as-nails resourcefulness is really the center of the film. Tense, exciting, sleek, and just a little bit goofy, this is fine entertainment if a bit superficial compared to some of the director’s other efforts.
Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984, Peter Webb) [NO]
* Totally inexcusable low point from the once-mighty Paul McCartney is a rich man’s self-indulgence elevated to stirring, ghastly heights. He plays millionaire rock star Paul McCartney on the trail of “missing tapes” for his new album. Ringo’s there too, and it doesn’t help. McCartney has a certain knack for accidentally giving more credit to John Lennon for the Beatles than is necessary, because if there’s one thing we do know, it’s that Lennon would never have done something this cheap and cynical. Paul pens a couple of good new songs, including the brilliant “No More Lonely Nights” (a fine song precisely because it doesn’t get lost in Paul’s tiresome conflict about commercialism). But most offensive of all in a movie full of offensively twee sights and sounds are the Paul remakes of old Beatles songs. He got better after this, but at this point I think retirement might well have felt like the best idea.
Gladiator (2000, Ridley Scott) [NO]
Too shit to review.
Glen or Glenda (1953, Edward D. Wood Jr.)
* Wood may have been a man full of bad ideas, but at least he did have a vague notion of what to do with those ideas, which is more than can be said for many critical darlings today. At least he tries to craft something of twisted psychological significance out of an internal/external sexual conflict. And at least the movie, beyond all else, is fun to watch. How can you look down on that, even if the script is horrible and technical competence thoroughly lacking?
Gloria (2013, Sebastián Lelio) [r]
Charming but molasses-paced (or subtle, depending on your viewpoint) comedy-ish thing chronicles a woman in her early fifties seeking romance, finding IT in the form of an amusement park owner who turns out to be a total card. Paulina Garcia’s wonderful performance is the primary point of interest here but the film does build to a winning, carefully earned finale.
Glory (1989, Edward Zwick) [r]
Nearly a bust due to the inexcusable miscasting of a slight, hesitating Matthew Broderick, this is otherwise a fine Civil War drama about the 54th Mass. Infantry Regiment, the Union’s first company of black soldiers, and is at least a hundred times more entertaining than the detached, sickeningly routine Gettysburg. The devastating conclusion is perfect, and refreshingly in a film of this sort, the running time is just barely two hours.
The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)
A great film if you like to watch irresponsible characters you don’t care about in the least slaughter people, beat each other up, and scream back and forth for three hours, all the midst of some vague and random claptrap about the importance of family attachment or some damn thing. Otherwise, it’s hard to find a reason to connect with anything non-technical (Gordon Willis’ layered-black photography is brilliant) in this melodramatic American epic that’s mostly just annoying and eventually numbing. 175 minutes of dull self-satisfaction in a naively uncomplicated celebration of violence (and not even a fun one).
The Godfather Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola) [r]
Despite the problems it inherits from its predecessor, this is a strong and exciting film, good storytelling full of character and life, as well as biting commentary on the corruptibility of American capitalism. Subtracting Marlon Brando and all of his orange-sucking, it bears less resemblance to a soap opera and doesn’t overreach, nor does it wallow in its violence. Questions about the absence of a broader context remain, and are crippling to any true enjoyment — to say nothing of the inevitable difficulty of deeply caring about these people, in particular the increasingly off-the-rails psychotic Michael Corleone (Al Pacino).
Gods and Monsters (1998, Bill Condon) [r]
Fictionalized chronicle of the final days in the life of beloved film director James Whale doesn’t strike all the right notes but is a must for any lover of Whale, movies, or American mythology. Brendan Fraser is surprisingly good as Whale’s friendly gardener, but Ian McKellen has the showpiece role and he wears the legend perfectly.
The Gods Must Be Crazy (1981, Jamie Uys) [r]
* Enjoyable but benign (despite title) comedy from Botswana is practically engineered for U.S. consumption, and indeed, it was one of the most popular foreign films ever released. Interesting to see what it takes to earn a title like that.
Going My Way (1944, Leo McCarey) [NO]
Turgid and extremely annoying drama featuring Bing Crosby as a down-to-earth Catholic priest who breaks windows, wears T-shirts, “raps” with the “kids,” and saves the neighborhood (possibly the world) is Hollywood at its vapidly sentimental worst. Key line: “Remember Timmy? He’s a priest too!”
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933, Mervyn LeRoy & Busby Berkeley) [r]
This rather ordinary, sporadically funny story of bed-hopping, mistaken identity and philandering between rich and poor would be much more tolerable if broken up more frequently by the Busby Berkeley numbers that prompt the film’s high reputation, but there are only four of them. “We’re in the Money” and “The Shadow Waltz” are both treats that feel too short; “Pettin’ in the Park” and “Forgotten Man” are somewhat inexplicable thematically despite some strong choreography and camerawork. None are among Berkeley’s best, though perhaps that would be excusable with a more compelling plot, better jokes, something.
GoldenEye (1995, Martin Campbell) [c]
* Remington Steele is quite convincing as James Bond, if only because he seems like a total creep. Supposed ’90s revitalization of the series doesn’t do anything with it, but since every Bond film to date has been basically the same, I doubt there were many complaints. There’s a reason it’s so goddamn easy to throw this stuff out.
Goldfinger (1964, Guy Hamilton) [c]
* Many consider this the definitive Bond film, and it probably is; it’s also deathly boring, like so many of the others in the series except even more so. Sean Connery’s later comment that he personally would like to kill James Bond seems especially valid here. Nice theme song, though.
The Golem (1920, Paul Wegener & Carl Boese) [hr]
Ufa’s surviving treatment of the Jewish legend takes place in Prague during the Middle Ages: an edict barring Jewish citizens from a ghetto is lamented by a Rabbi, who takes the unorthodox step of fashioning a mechanical man from clay and sending it out to take action and reverse the oppression. Unnerving, strange film contains some of the most impressive visual effects of the silent era and is the film equivalent of great folklore, so immense was its impact on the horror genre.
Gone Girl (2014, David Fincher) [hr]
Funcomfortable stuff, an ice-cold black comic thriller about the death, destruction and consternation surrounding an unhealthy marriage. Ben Affleck is terrific as the maybe-abusive husband, and the only problem is a streak of sexism not really excused by the novelist and screenwriter (Gillian Flynn) being a woman. The wicked Room at the Top-like conclusion is worth everything; so nasty that Robert Hamer might’ve dug it.
The Gold Rush (1925, Charles Chaplin) [hr]
A great mind at work: the chicken setpiece, the harrowing house-on-cliff sequence, the Tramp listening to his faraway lovely wail “Auld Lang Syne,” and the formation of a great comic voice wrapping itself around feature film format. Among the best and most well-sustained of all full-length silent comedies.
Gone with the Wind (1939, Victor Fleming) [A+]
If this immortal film — the peak of the Hollywood studio system and of David O. Selznick’s output — is an example of many things that shouldn’t work which nevertheless do, it isn’t by accident. Probably more manhours and hard labor and long Benzedrine nights went into the creation of this Civil War romance epic than into any other American film. And the energy is fully palpable, the final result totally disarming and absorbing. It really is a fascinating artifact.
The Goodbye Girl (1977, Herbert Ross) [r]
Fitfully amusing, conventional Neil Simon romcom about a disputed sublet situation between a pretentious actor and a perpetually brokenhearted dancer and single mom is not half-bad, though it derails eventually. The film coasts on charm all through the third act, and you could still do worse; the biggest artistic coup is the delightful performance by young Quinn Cummings as the precocious, genuinely witty Lucy.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939, Sam Wood) [r]
Robert Donat gives a nuanced, lovely performance as a prim schoolteacher in this sentimental, overlong story of his decades of service that kicks into emotional MGM high gear during its midsection, when he courts and marries Greer Garson; everything else seems superfluous.
Goodbye to Language (2014, Jean-Luc Godard)
Finally, the perfect film to put on when you want any unwanted company to leave immediately. It’s the cinematic Metal Machine Music. Supposedly the 3D effects are outstanding, so there’s that?
The Good Earth (1937, Sidney Franklin) [r]
Engrossing Pearl S. Buck adaptation proves MGM’s capability with lavish popular entertainment is unquestionable even now, despite various dated elements (particularly the casting of two white actors as a Chinese farming couple, good as their performances are). The pointed anti-capitalism bent has remained relevant, but even more impressive are the special effects; the storm and locust invasion sequences are awe-inspiring even now.
Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese) [r]
At first, Scorsese is on to something here; a highly subjective narrative that takes on Mob stereotypes and brings movie violence crashing down to its real counterpart. But the film, like most of its type, is far too long, far too dispassionately macho, and far too self-adoring. By the second hour, it’s out of control with a sexist/masochist/evil streak of its own. But even I can’t believe people actually preferred Dances with Wolves to this, and besides, sometimes you just have to surrender to a director who spends hours pointing out just what a motherfucker he is.
The Good German (2006, Steven Soderbergh) [hr]
It’s easy to dismiss this as an excuse for achingly beautiful black & white cinematography in the style of 1940s Hollywood — it was shot on the Warner backlot with old equipment — but the story is gripping, the romance infectious, the mood appropriately noirish and muddy. Masterful entertainment with excellent performances by George Clooney, Tobey Maguire, and Cate Blanchett.
The Good Girl (2002, Miguel Arteta) [hr]
An unhappy woman working at a retail store, ignored by her pothead husband, finds herself drawn to a much younger man. Sad, moving film from the same team as Chuck & Buck (director Arteta and writer Mike White) creates a vivid atmosphere and crafts story and characters of greatly consuming complexity, with much engaging comedy along the way.
Good Night, and Good Luck (2005, George Clooney) [hr]
Clooney’s second film as director is the stark and well-told tale of Edward Murrow’s televised confrontations with Joseph McCarthy. The one major flaw of this risky and entertaining film is that it seems to exist in a bubble, where no one outside the world of television is engrossed in the happenings of the McCarthy period. But the performances are beautifully understated and the whole thing comes together thanks to the visual brilliance of the production, photographed in glorious black & white.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966, Sergio Leone) [hr]
Although it has nothing on Once Upon a Time in the West, this third entry in the Dollars series, despite its inflated reputation, is lots of fun, a delightful — if overlong — semi-retread of Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Eli Wallach is the greatest.
Good Will Hunting (1997, Gus Van Sant)
A generation-X date movie about the apathy of its lead character, a brilliant Bostonian orphan who doesn’t Apply Himself played by Matt Damon (who also wrote the script with Ben Affleck). As a rogue psychology teacher, Robin Williams gives a few speeches about relationships that achieve something resembling wisdom and an extremely warm Minnie Driver fills a typically, insultingly underwritten love interest role with more enthusiasm than it deserves. But the best thing about this time capsule is Elliott Smith’s music, which is far beyond it artistically.
Gosford Park (2001, Robert Altman)
The Rules of the Game + Murder by Death + soap operatics of future Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes + All-Star Cast + Altman still staging everything like you’re the odd one out at a party full of compulsive talkers = this. It’s not bereft of charm and humor and even pathos, but it remains a murder mystery wherein the murder only happens after 75 minutes and in which an inexplicable, historically inaccurate facsimile of Ivor Novello plays the piano for seemingly hours.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1966, Pier Paolo Pasolini) [hr]
* The only biblical epic you will ever need, this film is emotionally stirring enough not to make a believer out of you but certainly to make you admire the scope of those beliefs, in magnificent black & white. An outstanding film, the best thing they ever show on TBN.
The Graduate (1967, Mike Nichols) [A+]
Hilarious, discomforting masterpiece — scripted gracefully by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham — of an aimless Dustin Hoffman wandering post-college into a torrid relationship with an older woman (Anne Bancroft, in one of the best performances in American film) before Falling in Mad Irrational Love with her daughter. A challenge to everything and a portrait of inevitability. At the time of its release, the movie was embraced by hippie sympathizers as the Defining of a Generation, but the entire point is its rejection of that and all such cultish traps, hopeless romancticism included. The harder Benjamin fights, the more he unconsciously surrenders. The film’s sense of cynicism and beauty are perfectly balanced, its subtly crushing finale a moment of dread and complexity that will resonate forever.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson) [hr]
The sheer wonder of seeing Ralph Fiennes embrace so wholeheartedly a fever-pitched screwball comic role as a manic hotel manager who faces the numerous complications in his life and relationships with a clinked glass, a broad grin and a hint of real pain underneath would be enough to make this film an unforgettable experience even if almost everything else about it wasn’t brilliant. But guess what.
Grand Hotel (1932, Edmund Goulding) [r]
This should be seen, if for no other reason, as the perfect explication of what Irving Thalberg’s MGM was all about: meaninglessly audacious glitz and glamour, a sturdy reinforcement of the star system, and anonymous writing and direction. This Oscar-winner about the comings and goings in a high-class Berlin hotel does manage to inject some subversion in the form of Lionel Barrymore and a strong anti-capitalism bent.
Grand Illusion (1937, Jean Renoir) [hr]
Witty but sobering, subtle but full-bodied portrait of life among French prisoners of war in WWI Germany; Renoir’s capacity for finding the depth and warmth in all of his characters is without peer. Builds to one of cinema’s most overwhelming third acts.
The Grandmaster (2013, Wong Kar Wai) [c]
Much as I can sense the technical and aesthetic beauty, this genre (martial arts) is just never going to appeal to me — and moreover, all of the slow-mo and the restless fast cutting is the kind of stuff that drives me actively up the wall. Just not for me — I had a reeeeeally hard time sitting through it, and this was the short version.
Gran Torino (2008, Clint Eastwood)
Grouchy widower helps young boy resist gangs, become honest red-blooded Amurican. I tend to feel that the narrative of adorable-racist-coot-is-actually-a-big-hearted-hero was worn out circa All in the Family, though there are some scattered (and very easy) laughs here. It’s pure schmaltzy bullshit but basically harmless.
The Grapes of Wrath (1940, John Ford)
Ford does a fine job here and so does the cast, particularly Henry Fonda, and the movie is unflinching for its time, but I found Steinbeck’s novel a torturous bore and the film is only slightly more acceptable. Those who love the book may love it or may hate it. Others might consider it worthwhile for a one-time viewing for Fonda alone.
Grass (1925, Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack) [hr]
Cooper and Schoedsack’s directorial debut is a documentary as exciting as King Kong, following a tribe of nomads in what’s now Iran on their annual journey across snowy terrain to take their animals back to fresh grass. It’s harrowing, beautiful, and still impressively huge today.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988, Isao Takahata) [c]
Notwithstanding the reputation of this dour Studio Ghibli gawkfest, its semi fact-based tale of two children wandering Japan during the waning days of WWII struggling to survive derives extra mawkishness from the fact that their deaths are completely unnecessary. There is some lyricism in the composition and camerawork, but the character animation is terrible and the film’s scope is too limited for it to achieve any greatness as a political statement, too detached to be effective as a human story.
Gravity (2013, Alfonso Cuarón) [hr]
The nightmare for which one pays an admission fee. The button-pushing manipulation you leave behind exhilarated. The thriller of the century. The story of evolution.
Grease (1978, Randal Kleiser) [NO]
* Though not as pretentious or as romanticized as American Graffiti, hideously simplistic musical vision of idyllic ’50s youth in the years of leather jackets and the rhythm method lacks wit, purpose, and — especially — intelligence. Unforgivable on all counts save the sometimes charmingly stupid production design. The songs are all garbage. Even Happy Days had a sharper sense of irony.
The Great Dictator (1940, Charles Chaplin) [hr]
If Chaplin’s painfully funny, effortlessly moving plea for action against Germany amounts to propaganda, it sure beats The Eternal Jew; as Hitler, the director gives the performance of a lifetime. And it is still lively enough to exude the kind of charm that makes one think we could not possibly have lost the war, and its message has resonance now as much as it ever did. And it’s hilarious, by the way.
The Great Escape (1963, John Sturges) [hr]
Irresistible classic ensemble adventure about Steve McQueen and company’s intricate escape from Luftwaffe imprisonment is a delight for all of its three-hour running time; if anything, there’s just enough detail and depth here that you just want more when it’s finished. This is how Hollywood screenwriting should work — believable dignity outweighs bravura heroism, and the sense of ebbing, flowing, intensifying rhythm is virtually without peer as an archetype of the action film.
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952, Cecil B. DeMille) [r]
In semi-documentary format, the madcap action and chaos behind the scenes of a traveling circus, with game performances by Charlton Heston, Cornel Wilde, James Stewart (as a clown wanted for murder!), and Betty Hutton enlivening what DeMille clearly sees as a familiar portrait of good people doing their damndest to put on great entertainment for the populace. Harrowing stunt work, one of the best pre-Ben-Hur Hollywood action sequences, and a general air of vastly absorbing weirdness; what more could you really want from a movie?
Great Expectations (1946, David Lean) [r]
Lush black & white Dickens adaptation is respectably faithful, too faithful at times, and both the ridiculous ending and Jean Simmons’ characterization of Estella suggest that Lean has little understanding of story structure and women, respectively, which the remainder of his career would bear out. But the opening half-hour is a stunner and makes the film worth seeing all by itself. Don’t expect too much out of Alec Guinness here (as Pocket), though.
Great Expectations (1998, Alfonso Cuaron) [hr]
Largely ignored at the time of its release (although it was a minor commercial hit), this fine and thrilling literary adaptation from a later-proven master director takes a book that cannot be improved upon in any fashion and, rather than attempting to duplicate it, simply captures its thematic spirit — concentrating on the abortive romance of Pip and Estella, which of course is just one thread of the novel. Cuaron’s usual wry comments on class division sting throughout. Cast is magnificent (including the best role of Robert De Niro’s career) — that Gwyneth Paltrow received more recognition for the drab Shakespeare in Love than this says a lot about the American attitude toward cinematic imagination — but the production itself is the real star, stunningly beautiful in all ways.
The Great Gatsby (1974, Jack Clayton) [r]
* A fun movie, at least fun enough to make me seek out and really love F. Scott Fizgerald’s novel. On revisiting the film it suddenly seemed far less interesting, but in and of itself it’s still worth a look.
The Great Lie (1941, Edmund Goulding)
Amazingly schlocky Warner Bros. melodrama about Bette Davis and Mary Astor sparring over the love of an arrogant pilot (the totally innocuous George Brent) who leads them both on then disappears in the jungle. It gets wackier after that; Astor, looking fab, rises above the fray by having fun with her callous and aloof character who hates the smell of food (!?), but even she can’t maneuver past a script that wants her to deliver a tearful monologue about how much she misses eating pickles.
The Great McGinty (1940, Preston Sturges) [r]
The great Sturges’ directorial debut is rife with sprightly cynicism but his genius can’t quite overtake a bland cast and a story (about a corrupt politician, a patsy taken off the streets) that compromises too many ways to justify its labored, circular narrative. The dialogue comes close to redeeming all, of course.
The Great Mouse Detective (1986, Ron Clements/Dave Michener/John Musker)
* It seems that Disney features since Walt’s death are either bombastic or boring, and this certainly belongs to the latter camp. I’m amazed so many adults have managed to sit through (and admire) this overblown Sherlock-with-mice adaptation, much less children. Excellent animation at the climax, though, and hardly without charm. These days it would be kind of nice to see a cartoon so low-key.
The Great Muppet Caper (1981, Jim Henson) [r]
* Henson’s marvelous staging and numerous gags are brilliant, offsetting a curiously stagnant plot and script.
The Great Outdoors (1988, Howard Deutch) [NO]
* You remember it as the dismal John Candy/Dan Aykroyd comedy with the bear. Having lived through it twice, I remember it as the fascist propaganda it really is. Mercifully short, yet even worse than the trailers indicated.
The Great Ziegfeld (1936, Robert Z. Leonard)
Say this for it: it’s audacious. Biopic of one of many earners of a ’30s Hollywood biopic who absolutely didn’t need one, Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, runs a completely ridiculous three hours, is tortuously detailed about his thoroughly irrelevant love life, forces William Powell to run through a catalog of loverboy poses, and oh yes, features some of the most jaw-droppingly elaborate musical sequences ever captured on film. It’s a mess and catastrophically overwrought, but once you see it, it’s a sure bet you won’t be forgetting it.
Greed (1924, Erich von Stroheim) [hr]
The lives of an ordinary man working as a dentist and his pensive wife are slowly torn apart after she wins the lottery. A long, involved film but hardly a festival of florid self-indulgence; rather a subtle story of minor people experiencing gradual change. Novelistic and absorbing, it’s been butchered over the years and will likely never be seen in its ideal form, but apart from some weak peformances it’s a high-water mark in self-expression within the studio system.
Greenberg (2010, Noah Baumbach) [hr]
A warm character study of an ornery gen-Xer (Ben Stiller) and his budding relationship with a patient woman doing her best to try and understand him (Greta Gerwig) gives Baumbach all he needs to craft an impeccable piece of empathetic storytelling that, in all its telling detail and curious poignancy, will set a good number of otherwise perfectly sane people to berserk cheering at its note-perfect finale.
Green Card (1990, Peter Weir) [c]
* There’s something fun about imagining a romantic comedy from Peter Weir starring Gerard Depardieu, but neither the director nor the star come up with anything of significance except an unpleasant date movie.
The Green Mile (1999, Frank Darabont) [NO]
Green Room (2015, Jeremy Saulnier) [hr]
Superb thriller about a punk band getting coerced into playing a gig at a middle-of-nowhere venue occupied by an organized syndicate of Neo-Nazis, where they witness a crime that soon has them fearing for their safety. Despite the violence and gore, this is an uncomfortably believable vision of a precarious situation going horribly wrong, and it’s incredibly effective and resourceful, making full use of punk mythos and the terrifying economics of being a working musician in the 2010s, as well as the mundane practicalities of rock venues, especially the ones run on the cheap. Entire cast is visibly having the time of their lives.
Gremlins (1984, Joe Dante) [c]
* Crummy effects picture tries to fuse its smarmy self-awareness with some kind of a sense of wonder, but Dante has a heavy hand and all we get is sludge.
Grindhouse (2007, Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino) [c]
The nastiness of the general air of exploitation here overcomes any affection it’s meant convey. Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is silly fun, with an ending that’s admittedly hysterically funny; Tarantino’s Death Proof varies crazily between genuine eroticism, juvenile annoyance, and appalling mean-spirited misogyny — but it’s one of the most likable and least pompous things he’s ever directed.
Groundhog Day (1993, Harold Ramis) [hr]
Bill Murray’s wiseass weatherman is amusingly forced to endure the same day of cheerful small-talk and bad weather over and over, and anyone who struggles with relating to other people will find something resonant about his forced search for self-improvement. It’s also a bit of a nightmare — the day stretching into years, the ghostly tones of the Pennsylvania Polka echoing into infinity — and cinematically risky in its use of repetition and resourceful staging.
Grumpier Old Men (1993, Howard Deutch) [c]
* Better than the original. Not as funny as reading National Review.
Grumpy Old Men (1993, Donald Petrie) [c]
* Fun to see the stars. Not fun to hear their dialogue.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn) [r]
First half of this pricey, clever Marvel Comics thingo is breezy and funny whenever the main cast is onscreen, with a few laugh-out-loud moments and even a good action scene or two; you just have to withstand the dull expository and cartoonish “villain” scenes. Unfortunately, no prizes for guessing which elements completely overtake the film during its second hour. Andy Dwyer, Rocky Raccoon, Chewbacca and the wrestler guy make a fun team, though Zoe Saldana sadly doesn’t get a chance to really do anything.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967, Stanley Kramer) [c]
Well-intended self-congratulatory antique about interracial marriage between two perfect people is offensively weak and transparent, but Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (in his last screen appearance) make an enormous impression as the couple whose liberal compassion is called upon for their daughter’s forbidden lurve. Dismal, but for Tracy’s presence and Hepburn’s heartbreak alone, a must one-time viewing.
The Guest (2014, Adam Wingard) [NO]
Dumb and bad thriller about a Stranger in Town wedging his way into a family’s life, quickly becoming violent. Pastiche of poorly acted z-grade trash is still poorly acted z-grade trash. There are so many better ways to have fun.
A Guide for the Married Man (1967, Gene Kelly)
* Ponderous, self-satisfied edgy “satire” about finding the best ways to cheat on your wife. Well-made, with many interesting (if never side-splitting) setpieces, but too inherently mean-spirited and wrongheaded to come off as anything but depressing.
Gulliver’s Travels (1939, Dave Fleischer) [c]
* The second full-length animated feature made in the U.S. is as vast a step down from Snow White as can be imagined. Jonathan Swift’s classic is neutered and truncated until nothing remains except a condescending kiddie movie, sadly the first of many. Even today it’s hard to imagine something this uninspired getting into theaters.
Gunga Din (1939, George Stevens)
Action-packed, as they say, and equipped with a few good laughs, but this prototype of the modern popcorn flick is just as numbing and dull as they are today, despite fine work from Cary Grant and a few enjoyable sequences. Except for the wonderful title sequence, nothing for the time capsule.
The Guns of Navarone (1961, J. Lee Thompson)
* This is one of those WWII movies that presents a more honest picture of the time in which it was made than of the war itself. It also loses nearly all of its (admittedly infectious) momentum around the 70-minute mark, after which it’s laborious.