I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932, Mervyn LeRoy) [hr]
Les Miserables for the Depression. Paul Muni, an idealistic chap trying to make his fortune, is wrongly imprisoned. His escape sends him on a lengthy, seemingly permanent journey. LeRoy’s film is startlingly prescient; it makes one feel as if the time it documents so brilliantly is happening right now.
I Am Legend (2007, Francis Lawrence) [r]
Richard Matheson’s fine novella inspires more popcorn hokum; it misses the point of the book (and title) entirely, but who knows whether Matheson’s abstract moral idea could present itself properly in this context anyway? The man of the hour is Will Smith, who’s forced to carry the film nearly on his own and gives an outstanding performance: shattering, complex, detailed, achingly sad, even surreal.
I Am Not Your Negro (2016, Raoul Peck) [hr]
This is essentially a visualization of an unfinished text of James Baldwin’s dating from the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it doubles as a survey of his sociopolitical outlook overall, and no descriptor can prepare you for how vital it feels. So many modern documentaries of this nature are glorified PowerPoints — and there are some unwelcome traces of that here and there — but this exuberant, bleak, celebratory, cautionary, unfailingly honest investigation of race in America as manifested in protest, politics, Hollywood and everyday life is for the majority of its runtime like a tornado sweeping you up and tearing you apart.
The Ice Storm (1997, Ang Lee) [A+]
This funny, moody tale of recovering hippies, their sex drives, and their alienated children is among the best films ever made about what keeps (or doesn’t keep) families tied together, and one would be hard pressed to name a better one about the universal nature of sex. Wonderful cast topped by Kevin Kline and Joan Allen as an increasingly distant couple. This one gets better every time, and perhaps the best mark of director Lee’s expertise is how much he makes you feel the chills in the storm of the title.
I Confess (1953, Alfred Hitchcock) [r]
One of Hitchcock’s most relentlessly bleak films concerns Montgomery Clift as a Catholic priest to whom a murder is confessed. When he is himself framed for it, he’s put in an unenviable position of choice between his life and his priesthood. Throw in Anne Baxter (brilliant and nuanced) as a long-lost love interest and it’s all very startling. But while this is a technical masterpiece, it is dark to the point of oppression and one of the most difficult Hitchcock films to watch, perhaps because it’s the only one that’s basically humorless.
Ida (2013, Pawel Pawlikowski) [r]
Stunning photography and aching performances enliven this minimalist story of a nun on the verge of taking her vows and how revelations from an estranged aunt about her confused, tragic heritage alter her intentions. A quiet, brief meditation on the long shadow cast by the Holocaust and the core of what informs our gravest decisions. This could be a master class on developing characters with little dialogue, as both the leads — refreshingly, two women on a road trip — are revealed to us as complete, complex human beings, their relationship real and telling.
Idiocracy (2006, Mike Judge) [hr]
The breakneck pacing is a bit much, some of the special effects are horrible, and one yearns to see the original longer cut, but this is another perceptive, scathing comedy from Judge. Luke Wilson gets stuck in the future after a cryogenic experiment, lands in a world where everyone is stupid. Fearless and biting.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018, Barry Jenkins) [r]
Give Jenkins ample credit for not resting on his laurels with his follow-up to Moonlight; this James Baldwin adaptation is risky, strange and aesthetically jaw-dropping, with a sumptuous color scheme, haunting Demme-like close-ups and wildly unpredictable camerawork. However, the text suffers a bit in the transition to screen, especially in an early dialogue-heavy scene that goes on too long and feels too theatrical, and a finale that doesn’t seem to functionally justify or earn its own sense of resignation — but these are only problems against the restless, emotionally rich, brilliantly performed cinematic grace of the rest of the picture.
I Heart Huckabees (2004, David O. Russell) [r]
A bit of metaphysical nonsense brings this harmless quirk down a few notches, but it’s smarter and more appealingly weird than a lot of overrated indie comedies of the ’00s. The idea of Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin as “existential detectives” is really a good enough joke in itself, though after multiple viewings it’s hard to tell if it’s enough to carry a feature film.
Ikiru (1952, Akira Kurosawa) [hr]
Far away from feudal systems and Samurai battles, Kurosawa’s moving, playful early classic stands above many of his better-known films. A profoundly emotional story in a rainy, chilly urban environment, it is concerned with the human fallout of postwar Japan: a man with stomach cancer, local city director of public affairs, who is struggling to find a way to stop wasting his life in his final months. With impeccable timing, an opportunity comes up involving a sewage spill and a clamoring for a public children’s park. Takasha Shimura is idiosyncratic, subtle, and haunting in the lead.
I Know Where I’m Going! (1945, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) [hr]
A charming, stupendously shot, partly comic romance completely unlike the films for which Powell & Pressburger are best known, but with the same oversized emotions and sheer awe at the possibilities of life and cinema. Wendy Hiller stars as a self-possessed, headstrong twentysomething determined to get a position for herself in the commercial world through a convenient marriage. While she’s stranded in the Scottish Hebrides due to bad weather, she finds cracks forming in her long-decided destiny. A valentine to Scotland sent by a film camera, idealized but deeply felt.
I’ll Do Anything (1994, James L. Brooks) [c]
* Brooks filmed this weird dramedy about Nick Nolte and an obnoxious little girl as a musical, with songs by Prince. I’ll do anything to see that, because it sounds so much better than the disjointed, flaccid misfire this turned out to be.
The Illusionist (2006, Neil Burger) [r]
Edward Norton. Anything beyond those two words expended in discourse on this movie is a waste of energy, so again: Edward Norton.
The Illusionist (2010, Sylvain Chomet) [r]
Chomet’s second feature has the unfortunate distinction of following up a masterpiece (The Triplets of Belleville) and attempting to make a coherent character study of a sulking, unfinished-feeling Jacques Tati script about an unlucky magician and his complex relationship with a curious servant girl. The animation is dreamy and immersive, the absence of dialogue again resolved ingeniously, but the characterization and storytelling are a broad and disheartening step down. Still worth a look, not least for its melancholy ending.
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968, Hy Averback) [c]
It’s a kick to see Peter Sellers as an uptight L.A. lawyer, and he even gets to genuinely act in a couple of scenes, but this ugly stereotype-filled, painfully dated film is one of the dumber ones he took part in. Derivative of numerous better ’60s movies, this hippie free-love story is market-tested bullshit. I did enjoy this exchange between potheads after a phone rings: “Would someone get that?” “What is it?”
I Love You, I Love You Not (1996, Billy Hopkins) [c]
* I knew this well as an adolescent because Claire Danes makes out with herself in a mirror in it. Its story is risible and pandering, the film otherwise deservedly forgotten.
I Love You to Death (1990, Lawrence Kasdan) [r]
* Keanu Reeves — back when he knew he couldn’t act, and took advantage of it — offers the comedic highlight of this amusing film about a restauranteur whose wife attempts to murder him. Kevin Kline and Tracey Ullman are quite good; the film is inconsequential, but still enjoyable.
Imagine: John Lennon (1988, Andrew Solt) [r]
* Insightful but sometimes overbaked documentary about Lennon’s life and passions features a couple of riveting sequences rarely seen elsewhere, such as the infamous Al Capp confrontation. As cinema, it’s not much, but for Lennon’s fans, it will be a treasure.
The Imitation Game (2014, Morten Tyldum) [c]
Disappointing biopic of Alan Turing (played with condescending, Sheldon Cooper-like cuddliness by Benedict Cumberbatch) falls into the traditional A Beautiful Mind trap of forming an inherently fascinating story into Hollywood goo. Artlessly directed without a trace of flair or grace, the script lays things out with the insight-free straightforwardness so favored by the Weinsteins and the Oscars; the treatment of Turing’s sexuality is as bizarre and problematic as advertised.
Imitation of Life (1934, John M. Stahl)
Universal offers up a confused mess of tiresome social-problem narrative and fantasy wish fulfillment for Depression-era audiences in this chronicle of a female entrepreneur named Bea (Claudette Colbert) who teams up with her live-in maid Delilah (Louise Beavers) to sell millions of boxes of pancake mix; their lives change, Bea meets a man but her daughter falls for him, and Delilah’s daughter doesn’t want to be black. As dated as this obviously is, it’s an interesting enough snapshot of the period, though because it’s never sure which of its many threads it wants to concentrate on, all of them end up feeling dreadfully underdeveloped.
In a Dark Place (2006, Donato Rotunno) [NO]
Ridiculous bit of horror-sex exploitation designed mostly as a vehicle for softcore lesbian porn is an adaptation of Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw” with some nonsensical allusions to better movies like Rebecca. Indistinguishable from any other horror film — painfully stupid and forgettable.
In America (2003, Jim Sheridan) [hr]
Ron Howard, take note: This is an example of how a straightforward, sweet-natured, even sentimental story — of an Irish family’s trials upon immigrating to the U.S. after the death of one of their children — can be told beautifully with tasteful direction, fine acting, emotional weight, and tremendous personality. In fact, the film is so frank and personal it becomes enormously moving, no matter how structurally obvious its situations and ideas may be.
In & Out (1997, Frank Oz) [hr]
* Kevin Kline again! This time as a groom-to-be who may or may not suddenly be learning that he is gay. Slow at first, but increasingly charming and layered, and surprisingly subtle for a ’90s film of this subject matter.
In a World… (2013, Lake Bell)
Charming but excessively familiar romantic comedy with writer-director-star Bell as a voiceover artist whose accidental venture into trailer work leads to a sea change and a rift with her father, legendary for his trailer narrations. What might be a clever glimpse into a typically unheralded branch of the film industry is instead a clone of a million other movies, with all the meet-cutes and labored “snappy” dialogue thereby implied. The cast is willing and able, and Bell deserves credit for not staging her very conventional script at all conventionally, but it’s a pity that the film ignores the opportunity to explore its premise in a more cinematic manner.
Incendies (2010, Denis Villeneuve)
This mystery of Middle Eastern unrest and unspeakable, almost ridiculous tragedy is lamentably noncommittal about its political content, bogged down behind a compelling but hollow and dishonest suffering narrative that follows twins trying to solve a puzzle inexplicably left for them by their newly deceased mother. It’s gripping in a Agatha Christie / Nancy Drew sort of way, only with all sorts of excruciating unpleasantness thrown in.
Inception (2010, Christopher Nolan) [c]
Is this a terrible, terrible movie about how much Christopher Nolan hates you, or is it a satire about how decades of moronic action films have so invaded our brain that now all our dreams are essentially glorified cop pictures with terrible dialogue? It’s such torture to sit through I can’t really tell, but whichever option suggests more nihilism on Nolan’s part is, I’m sure, the correct answer.
In Cold Blood (1967, Richard Brooks) [c]
A clinical, pointless adaptation of Truman Capote’s book (using actual locations and crime scenes) achieves some artistry as a perverse road movie in the earlier moments, features gorgeous black & white Panavision cinematography by the legendary Conrad Hall, and is honestly frightening during the murder reenactment that, as in the book, is saved to the end to prevent identification with the murderers (Robert Blake as Smith, Scott Wilson as Hicock) from completely taking hold. But stage director and scribe Brooks’ handling of material and actors is as earnest and boring as ever.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006, Davis Guggenheim) [r]
Al Gore puts on one hell of a show for this PowerPoint thingy he does illustrating the threat of global warming. Gore’s contribution to this brief documentary is engaging, sobering, and powerful. But the film itself doesn’t look bound to have much of a shelf life. It’s appropriately dry, but is only really fascinating when it sticks to science; examinations of Gore’s career are less meaningful and far less interesting, not to mention noticeably uncinematic.
The Incredible Journey (1963, Fletcher Markle) [r]
* Low-key family fare about three pets making the trek across Canada to find their owners. Superior to the remake Homeward Bound (also from Disney) for so many reasons, most notably the absence of wisecracks.
The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964, Arthur Lubin) [c]
* Don Knotts is — never mind, you won’t believe me if I tell you.
The Incredibles (2004, Brad Bird) [A+]
Fusion of the world’s greatest animation studio — Pixar — with one of the world’s greatest animation directors — Bird — with a story that can’t lose, a comedy/fantasy about a family of superheroes alienated upon being forced to give up their identities. A bravura, impeccable action film, and as passionate a plea against conformity as has ever come out of Hollywood.
Incredibles 2 (2018, Brad Bird) [r]
The first film was so fresh and exciting and it’s fun to see its characters again, but a decade into full superhero saturation, this is practically a clone — dreadfully predictable, almost beat for beat — rather than a sequel; the clever idea of setting it immediately after The Incredibles ends up cutting it at the knees in terms of deep character development, and the sense of danger (and infinite graphic possibility) is lacking. Bird remains one of the best living architects of a great setpiece, but he’s better off here when he sticks to comedy and avoids his tendency toward positioning characters as his philosophical mouthpieces.
Independence Day (1996, Roland Emmerich) [NO]
* Did you ever ride the school bus? Did the kid behind you ever, for no reason whatsoever, stand up and start slamming you on the head? Strangely enough, this movie has the same exact effect on me, and I’m not saying that to be cute, it’s really true. Some movies give me a migraine every time I see them. E.T. is another one. But this is the worst of all. I think when you suddenly find yourself this distant from all humanity and forgiveness, immersed in relentless noise and CGI FX, you just get cast off to such an extent and feel lost. And that is why I hate this movie. Plus, it sucks.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008, Steven Spielberg) [r]
Long-overdue fourth film in the series plays the hero, now a grizzled old man, strictly for laughs: spouting Eisenhower catchphrases, fighting man-eating ants, dealing with greaser fights, and getting bugged by McCarthyites. Sadly, everything seems a bit rushed; a lot of fun opportunities for depth are wasted and the climax is batshit weird, but the film is a good deal of fun anyway.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989, Steven Spielberg) [hr]
Not the best film of the Indy series, but it was my favorite for a long time; its action setpieces are the tightest, the humor is the smartest, and the characters actually seem to breathe and exist a little bit. And then, of course, there’s Sean Connery, in one of his best roles ever as the commanding father of the professor. Delightful from start to end.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, Steven Spielberg) [c]
Don’t let anyone tell you this is unwatchable; it’s hardly a chore for anybody who loves the other films, and it is fun to watch the director go out on a limb with nutty ideas like the musical opening, but taken on its own it really is one obnoxious blockbuster — overbearing, hyperactive, surprisingly mean-spirited, and often dull. And the raft scene… come on.
The Indian in the Cupboard (1995, Frank Oz)
* Let’s get this straight: The book by Lynne Reid Banks is, frankly, nothing special. The goofy sequel is even worse. The third book is fun but, again, unremarkable. However, the final book in the series, The Mystery of the Cupboard, is unexpectedly grand, one of the best children’s books of the ’90s. If only for that reason, it’s a shame the Frank Oz film of the original is so safe and sanitized and boring; we’ll never get all the way to number four.
Infernal Affairs (2002, Andrew Lau & Alan Mak)
The only two things that distinguish this cable TV-quality crime drama from Hong Kong are its streak of inexplicable sentimentality and the way its ludicrous, confusing but uniquely intriguing criss-cross premise lends itself to a series of bravura suspense setpieces. Nearly all of those were co-opted for Martin Scorsese’s remake The Departed and his version isn’t nearly as corny, at least not in the same ways.
Infinity (1996, Matthew Broderick)
* Broderick — as a physicist at work on the Manhattan Project — does well for himself in his first film as director, all told; it’s the overbearing script that hurts the movie. Fun to see at least once, anyway, with some great visual ingredients.
The Informant! (2009, Steven Soderbergh) [r]
Some notes on a lysine pricing scandal as embodied by a whistleblower (puffed-up Matt Damon) whose own motives turn out to be shady. This is like two quite fun movies — an oddball, colorful comedy about ’90s office culture and an exposé of corporate deal-making — attempting to fuse as one. It doesn’t really work, and it smirks way too much a la Schizopolis, but it’s pretty fascinating.
The Informer (1935, John Ford) [r]
Tense drama of one IRA member betraying another during the Irish War of Independence is absorbing in fits and starts, but of interest primarily to see Ford atypically display his shadowy German Expressionist influences, crafting a sort of proto-noir in the process.
Ingeborg Holm (1913, Victor Sjöström) [r]
Very early feature-length film showcases all the limitations of so much cinema through 1915: the static camera, the very lengthy takes, the self-conscious acting, the blazing uniform lighting. But even if it’s all very theatrical, the story — a tearjerker of a woman driven mad by despondency after her husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her with insurmountable debts — is compelling, and shows a gifted director adapting to feature length. Not a film to convert anyone but an intriguing artifact.
Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino) [r]
Revenge fantasy of a Jewish theater owner planning a sabotage on high-ranking Nazis is taut and gripping much of the way, though it suffers from bloat and falters into a disappointing conclusion — along with wasting time on a team of vengeful renegades led by Brad Pitt. Tarantino is adrift when he attempts to say anything significant about the war, but perceptive when he uses this story to talk about cinema itself — and proves, as in Jackie Brown, that beneath all of his pandering there lies a good storyteller.
Ingrid Goes West (2017, Matt Spicer) [c]
Billed as a black comedy, this is really a car-crash rubbernecking observation of a mentally ill young woman (a credible Aubrey Plaza) whose entire world is centered on her Instagram likes, her desperation for friendship and stalking of a hapless influencer. Spicer is good at ramping up thriller scenarios but this is a strange context for them, especially when the mood is so frequently disrupted by bouts of rather broad jokes and commentary about the ugly world of life lived exclusively via social network. Ingrid feels more like a outsider’s punching-bag caricature of the needy online denizen than a person who’s hurting and slowly collapsing.
Inherent Vice (2014, Paul Thomas Anderson) [hr]
By no means unique as a detective story wherein the pot-stoked plot becomes increasingly unclear, but this sad, strange neo-noir from Thomas Pynchon’s novel hinges upon a sense of loss and melancholy it’s too overwhelmed to fully articulate despite gorgeous dialogue, beautifully broken images and performances. It’s also screamingly funny, but even that merely enriches the paranoia. A loving, brutal cityscape laced with sleaze and kink but also unspoken and wary understanding.
Inherit the Wind (1960, Stanley Kramer) [hr]
Spencer Tracy is phenomenal as a lawyer who takes the journey to a small town in which the teaching of evolution is being challenged, and the school biology instructor jailed as a heathen. Unfortunately still relevant, this courtroom powerhouse still carries the ability to shock, though its final concession to religion is a bit of a copout. For once, Kramer’s worst tendencies are reined in.
Innerspace (1987, Joe Dante) [NO]
* Someone let Dante into the toy store again, and now poor Dennis Quaid is trapped in Martin Short’s body. An unfunny waste of time that goes on for a couple of centuries.
In Old Arizona (1929, Raoul Walsh & Irving Cummings) [r]
Early talkie western with a pretty basic plot, about a charming fugitive gunslinger (Warner Baxter) and army sergeant (suave Edmund Lowe) in love with the same femme fatale (Dorothy Burgess), is quite intriguing for anyone with a special interest in early sound-era Hollywood. And as innocuous as it initially seems, it boasts one of the most startlingly, rather delightfully mean endings in movie history.
In Old Chicago (1937, Henry King) [r]
Brassy, slick Fox variation on the MGM classic San Francisco spins a whopper of a yarn about the Great Chicago Fire that has a mythologized Mrs. O’Leary (Alice Brady) mothering three sons, one of whom is a nefarious gangster (true) and another the Mayor of Chicago (lolz), plus of course a mischievous cow. You know how this works: an hour and a half of petty infighting and buildup, here revolving around both the law vs. order conflict between the brothers and on Tyrone Power’s rather creepy romantic attachment to dancer and businesswoman Alice Faye, followed by a climax filled with eye-popping, remarkable and fully convincing special effects.
Inside Job (2010, Charles Ferguson) [r]
Gripping, vitriolic documentary about the late 2000s financial crisis presents its facts and context rather well and somewhat cinematically, though its fixation upon the drama within the banking sector leaves too little time for attention to larger societal consequences. One particular passage about the corruption of economic academia is likely to be the film’s major long-term legacy.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, Joel & Ethan Coen) [r]
A stark, depressive examination of the Greenwich Village folk music scene circa 1961 revolves around the cruelties and desperation of its embittered title character (Oscar Isaac, who is haunting). The more it allows itself to capture a sense of its time and the music in it, the more compelling it is. The more it shifts toward typical Coen quirk and cruelty, the more tiresome it gets.
Inside Out (2015, Pete Docter) [r]
Pixar envisions the battle between emotions inside the head of a preteen girl whose world is undergoing some upheaval as a showcase for comic timing and terrific character design. That said, the emotional content and story points feel overly familiar, the actual struggles are honestly a bit petty, and the characterizations of the girl’s parents are truly dire, on the level of a mid-’80s sitcom or some bad comic’s stand-up routine about the differences between men and women, y’aaalll. Disappointingly conventional on the whole.
The Insider (1999, Michael Mann) [hr]
Weaving the high and low culture of television (and the turn-of-the-century downfall of 60 Minutes, long ago a symbol of American enlightenment) into a narrative that conveniently indicts Big Tobacco, Mann produces a new touchstone of the liberal cinema that for once holds up outside of its immediate timeliness. Artful, detailed and understated, this taut drama bites off everything it can think of — it’s an Issues film, it’s a crime film, it’s a journalism picture, it’s an anti-tobacco story, it’s a personal whistleblower odyssey, it’s a modest character study — and chews it all with elegance and ease, presenting entertainment that is absorbing and fascinating for nearly three hours.
Interiors (1978, Woody Allen) [r]
Dreamlike, intelligent and yet seemingly unfinished (and surprisingly humorless) drama from Woody Allen (his first) about three sisters (again?) and their reaction to their parents’ divorce and the entrance of a free-spirited new stepmother into their lives. Staged and structured in a wonderfully surreal manner, with a truly disarming dance sequence adding to the surprises.
Intermezzo (1939, Gregory Ratoff)
Ingrid Bergman’s first American movie. Very short. Cool violin sex scene. Otherwise, nothing noteworthy.
Interrupted Melody (1955, Curtis Bernhardt) [c]
Biopic of opera singer Marjorie Lawrence is obnoxious MGM fakery, despite the ear candy. Eleanor Parker isn’t permitted to sing, nor is Lawrence to dub her, but that’s less embarrassing than the half-assed Australian accents and the shoehorned career-marriage conflict (Glenn Ford’s doctor can’t bear the idea that he won’t be the breadwinner). After Lawrence gets polio, the abuse peaks when she’s forced to crawl on the floor to turn off one of her own recordings. Reality can be cruel, but seldom with such sneering polish.
The Interrupters (2011, Steve James)
The intimacy achieved by James with his subjects is still remarkable, but this deep dive into an attempt by the University of Illinois to circumvent an epidemic of violence in Chicago in 2009-10 struggles with the enormity of its social obligations. The best moments are those that zoom squarely in on specific individuals — organizer and mediator Ameena Matthews above all — who manage to back up the film’s thesis without simplifying the breathing humans involved. Sadly the film’s already a bit dated, through no fault of its creators; organizational disarray and police violence have rendered some of its points moot and/or quaint. More Flamo, please.
Interstellar (2014, Christopher Nolan)
Epic sci-fi thinkpiece about two father-daughter bonds stretching through dimensions, centuries, laws of physics. Easily an improvement on Inception despite the laughable dialogue and a weaker cast, but the Spielbergian flourishes don’t fully convince. Nolan shoots for 2001 but manages something closer to the inane sentimentalism of Contact and 2010, though at least he’s addressing human emotion for once.
Interview with the Vampire (1994, Neil Jordan) [r]
* Trashy, beautifully shot adaptation of Anne Rice’s equally trashy novel features a clueless Tom Cruise and a startlingly good Brad Pitt as bloodsuckers making the best of their 200-year existence. Martin is sadder, Browning’s Dracula is scarier and sexier, both are funnier. But this movie is quite fun to watch, thanks to vivid production design and Jordan’s eye for the weird and wonderful.
In the Bedroom (2001, Todd Field) [hr]
A story as unstructured and unpredictable as life itself, starting with a teenager whose affair with an older woman is met with mild consternation by his parents and much worse by the girlfriend’s former husband. What we’re treated with is a powerhouse showcase for actors (Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek, both so inspired it makes many more amply rewarded screen marriages look extremely goofy) not because it affords them any opportunity to chew scenery or to assert themselves loudly but because the script’s constantly flowing stream of real, yet unfathomably tragic, life is so rich, well-judged, built to be imparted beautifully by their subtle understatement.
In the Company of Men (1997, Neil LaBute) [hr]
* Disturbing, discomforting maverick film tells the story of a couple of disaffected angry young men who decide to woo a young (and disabled) lady and dump her, just for the hell of it. The rare independent film that is as challenging as indies were generally reputed to be by the overexcited ’90s press, this is starkly funny and creepy. Aaron Eckhart is unforgettable in a slimy role he’s never really escaped.
In the Fog (2012, Sergey Loznitsa)
Like My Joy, an interesting and beautifully shot film that’s just too ponderous. The tortuous quandary — a false accusation of collaboration with the enemy — it sets up in its lead character Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy, outstanding) is fascinating and as a result the first third of the film, when all of the crucial portions of the story occur, is riveting and emotionally complex if slow. But the last half is absurdly glacial, like a parody of arthouse cinema.
In the Heat of the Night (1967, Norman Jewison)
Cop Sidney Poitier spends a few off-duty days in the beautiful Southern U.S., where racists attack him with big pieces of scrap metal, local asshole Rod Steiger sneers at him, and an aging Aryan botanist makes snide botany remarks to his face, all while there’s a totally uninteresting murder to solve. If you still care by the second half-hour, it’s likely because of the believable atmospherics and Quincy Jones’ impressively oddball music score.
In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-wai) [hr]
Portrait of a stymied love affair between two people too good-hearted to act on it, though their spouses are cheating on them together. Lyrical, opulent, surreal, an accumulation of small gestures. The use of exclusion by camera and script to render this the world of two people alone is a grand feat of cinematic sleight of hand, and the hazy mood is impeccable — finding an almost gleeful despair in how quickly a deep connection can be forged, and how quickly it can fade.
In the Name of the Father (1993, Jim Sheridan) [r]
Raw, impassioned dramatization of the horrifying story of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven, falsely accused and imprisoned for an IRA bombing in 1974 during a rash of paranoia about terrorism. Functions as thriller as much as it does historical drama, taking care to define a youth that’s vibrant and almost enviable in its petty aimlessness so clearly that it almost physically hurts when it’s stripped away. It doesn’t stray much from convention in regard to how to turn something like this into a capital-m Movie, but it really doesn’t need to.
In the Shadow of the Moon (2007, David Sington)
For me, this acclaimed documentary about the early Apollo missions pales in comparison to the classic, much more abstract For All Mankind. It does have some intoxicating, rarely seen NASA footage but is mostly a series of dull talking-head interviews. The primary motivation for the filmmakers was that many of the astronauts will be lost soon, but that doesn’t render their comments especially illuminating, at least in this rushed, detail-deprived format. The poignance is quite artificial, and it doesn’t need to be.
Intolerance (1916, D.W. Griffith)
It cries out and begs to be seen, filed away, consulted occasionally, and never watched start to finish again. Some choice moments, plenty of innovation (for whatever that’s worth, which is very little), and a nice Wall of Babylon. Griffith still matters, but do his loftier, more ambitious works stand up on their own now? It depends, but I’ll take the Biograph shorts, thanks.
Into the Abyss (2011, Werner Herzog) [r]
A no-frills account of a seemingly open-and-shut triple murder case and how the execution of one of the perpetrators (and capital punishment in general) impacts the others involved, rippling outward to encompass both sides of the law and every possible perspective on the death penalty. The interviews Herzog chooses to include often ache with loss and despair, perhaps most hauntingly one with a former Texas executioner, who quit because of PTSD, but frankly nearly all of them are troubling and fascinating. It just isn’t much of a movie, in some ways just a Forensic Files episode with a moral compass and the occasional jolt of Herzog weirdness.
Into the Night (1985, John Landis) [c]
* This is John Landis’ idea of playful cinema, which translates to the fascinating act of putting a bunch of his peers — for no apparent reason — in a movie about Jeff Goldblum cavorting around with Michelle Pfeiffer. Did people actually go and see this?
Into the Wild (2007, Sean Penn) [c]
Unlike Jon Krakauer’s sensitive biography of botched amateur explorer Christopher McCandless, Penn’s adaptation that has him played by a confused Emile Hirsch sems to buy almost wholly into the boy’s self-imposed myth… though one imagines he would’ve scoffed at its Hollywood excesses. Not sure how the ideal adaptation of this would look but I bet it’d have fewer shots of Chris standing on top of things, arms raised, with Eddie Vedder grunting emotively on the soundtrack.
The Intouchables (2011, Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano)
Ordinary, inexplicably popular story of an unlikely friendship between a paralyzed man and his caregiver: one is rich, one is poor, one is white, one is black, and guess what? Each kind of attains some of the traits of the other, and each learns valuable life lessons from their interactions! It’s hard to get mad at this crowd-pleaser, especially when it’s genuinely funny at times and slightly less offensive than you’d expect. Performances are excellent, especially by Omar Sy and Anne Le Ny, but it’s almost bold just how obvious and clichéd this is.
The Invisible Man (1933, James Whale) [hr]
Whale’s lovable perversity and amoral humor turn another Universal monster movie into something improbably beautiful, here with Claude Rains generating an impressively complete performance from behind mummifying towels and blankets as the misanthropic H.G. Wells villain, laughingly mocking people as he ruins or kills them. The special effects are exceptional and the story is compelling in all its anarchic extremity; so much pleasure comes from the film’s gleeful willingness to dispense with all decorum and embrace the chaos.
In Which We Serve (1942, Noel Coward & David Lean) [r]
Noel Coward trying to capture the camaraderie of common British soldiers feels about as awkward and stilted as you’d expect, but then again he really was a Black Book target and there’s an agreeable nonchalance to the political righteousness of this propaganda piece about a warship attacked during the 1941 Battle of Crete. There’s believable material about the war at home and at sea, delivered mostly through flashbacks; the cast is good, with Celia Johnson just as striking here as she is in Brief Encounter.
Ip Man (2008, Wilson Yip)
Action-filled biopic of Wing Chun martial arts master Yip Man is dramatically generic but entertainingly schlocky at times.
I.Q. (1994, Fred Schepisi) [NO]
* Amazing what separates movies that have ideas from those that don’t; watch this side by side with The Hudsucker Proxy someday. Meg Ryan is annoying as a woman who gets hooked up thanks to Albert Einstein. Some find this cute. Some find that dog in As Good as It Gets cute, too. I was forced to watch this in math class once.
Iris (2001, Richard Eyre)
Top-drawer actors faithfully reenact philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch’s decline from Alzheimer’s, with a few flashbacks to her budding marriage to John Bayley. Seeing Judi Dench chronicle the fragmentation of a once infallible mind is more resonant than most “disease pictures” since its events aren’t wholly invented and therefore have a ring of honesty to them, but the exercise might have more of a point if we spent more time with the younger versions of the characters, with Kate Winslet radiant as the young Murdoch, Hugh Bonneville the spitting image of Jim Broadbent (a treat as always), who plays the older Bayley.
The Irishman (2019, Martin Scorsese)
Inevitable Scorsese interpretation of the life and disappearance of disgraced union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) through the eyes of hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) reflecting on the busiest years of his life with a mix of longing and regret: the very end of Goodfellas now stretched to a crushingly protracted 209 minutes. The director seems enlivened by the relative freshness of the material that reflects aged-out semi-maturity, structured by the penetrating glare of Anna Paquin as Sheeran’s estranged daughter, as opposed to the many scenes that feel like reenactments of moments we’ve all seen before, often with parts of this same cast.
The Iron Giant (1999, Brad Bird) [hr]
Bird’s debut feature — and the final hand-drawn film from Warner Bros. Feature Animation — is one of the great first-time home runs of the decade. Bird’s pastiche of Frankenstein, McCarthyism, and beat mythology makes for a lovely, exciting night at the movies… and it’s worlds better than anything the Disney studio has produced since Walt died. Bird’s compositions are excellent, his storytelling abilities and understanding of hero worship stunning.
The Iron Horse (1924, John Ford) [hr]
A wide-eyed surveyor and his son caught up in rail fever are attacked by a group of Cheyenne and a short-fused white man; this sets events into motion that span decades and encompass love, war and revenge, and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Gripping, wildly ambitious epic western is still absorbing now because it’s so skillfully set up not just as the story of a hard-won achievement but of how the quest affects a specific group of people. Populist American moviemaking at its apex.
The Iron Lady (2011, Phyllida Lloyd) [NO]
Meryl Streep’s performance of Margaret Thatcher at various ages is obviously competent but not really anything special for her anymore, and even if it had been a miracle, nothing could save this badly written, badly conceived, badly staged chronicle of the controversial PM. My politics are, to say the least, at odds with Thatcher’s and I don’t have a positive view of her legacy, but I really don’t think that’s the problem here.
Irrational Man (2015, Woody Allen) [c]
A catalog of recycled clichés from the director’s other work, with Joaquin Phoenix managing some sort of Woody Allen triple word score by being (a) a tortured fatalistic man-child, (b) an older man having an affair with a much younger woman, (c) someone convinced he can get away with murder. One of Allen’s most embarrassing films, made even worse by its egregious misuse of upbeat jazz cues.
I Shot Andy Warhol (1996, Mary Harron) [r]
Lili Taylor is fun in this sly, strange biopic of SCUM Manifesto author Valerie Solonas and her attempted assassination of Warhol. A comparison of Harron’s recreation of the period and Oliver Stone’s reveals how a spirited desire to tell a story (even if that story is unsatisfying, even unfinished) wins over ridiculous attention to petty details. Yo La Tengo appear as the Velvet Underground!
Isle of Dogs (2018, Wes Anderson) [hr]
Anderson’s affectionate valentine to both the domesticated dog and to Japanese cinema is exuberant and fun, silly without being frivolous, and as visually sumptuous as any animated film ever made — even if the character work shows the usual limitations of stop motion. By some distance, a stronger post-apocalyptic kiddie fable than WALL-E.
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998, Danny Cannon) [NO]
* How can you hate a movie with this title? Well, it’s just that bad. I have no real line of comparison, my culturally illiterate ass having not seen the original (and I know my Southport sisters and brothers are ashamed to read that). But anyway, I still know this is routine boring slasher junk.
It (1927, Clarence G. Badger)
Clara Bow is irresistible and all but wholly surrounded by vapid hamming in this insipid trend-mongering comedy and blatant vehicle for her sexuality, described by Cosmopolitan columnist Elinor Glyn as “it,” hence “it”-girl. “It” is a thin premise for a movie, so the rest rides on a half-assed series of misunderstandings as a shopgirl (Bow) tries to court her own boss. its time, the film’s marketplace-minded crassness generally inspires exhaustion.
It Follows (2014, David Robert Mitchell)
Beautifully directed horror film about an abstract menacing force tormenting and killing sexually active young adults, uniquely staged with many breathtaking shots, is undermined by the silly, sex-negative storyline and thoroughly ineffective jump-scares.
It Happened One Night (1934, Frank Capra) [A+]
The only romantic comedy that matters. Clark Gable trails heriess Claudette Colbert across the country as she hides from the future she doesn’t know she doesn’t want. This delightful film hasn’t aged a bit. Capra knows how to affirm existence itself.
I, Tonya (2017, Craig Gillespie) [hr]
Hyperkinetic approach to the 1994 spat between figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding that took the nation and the sexist media by storm captures the frenetic nature of media in those and these times. Gillespie walks a tightrope in fashioning the lives of real people, victims and abusers alike, into something genuinely gripping even as you wonder if it should be. Allison Janney’s depiction of an embittered parent is frightening in its vividness; and the camera’s agility during the skating scenes, performed by Margot Robbie herself in the title role, underscores how Harding’s chosen sport is the only opportunity she has to escape into herself.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra) [hr]
People talk about longing for the simpler time when movies like this were being made, but there’s nothing simple about this, and the notion of Capra as sentimental sap is myth. This is a film about contemplating suicide; it’s healthy, cynical, sharp-edged, funny, and even angry, and that’s why it is ultimately so moving. Jimmy Stewart is one of the biggest reasons, of course, but don’t discount Donna Reed — their romantic life, pool dance and bushes and all, is everyone’s. Not Capra’s best film but certainly the quintessential example of his intimate understanding of people.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012, Don Hertzfeldt)
The story of Bill, an everyman struggling with a neurological condition that threatens his life and memories, in simple stick figures fused with elaborate editing and (sometimes) backgrounds. Hertzfeldt is effortlessly funny but has a tendency to overwrite verbally what he should present more naturally through visuals, constantly underscoring the points he wants to make. It’s tolerable in little bursts but too repetitive and sophomoric in its fatalism.
Ivan the Terrible, Part I (1944, Sergei Eisenstein) [r]
Ivan the Terrible, Part II (1958, Sergei Eisenstein) [hr]
The bombast and nationalistic glory of Eisenstein’s silent films are fused here with some covert rebelliousness and a bit of dry humor, with the director rapidly running through the Tsar’s coronation, marriage, illness, resurrection, abdication and popular triumph in the first half, then into decadence, scandal, camp and live-action Bosch paintings in the second. Almost every shot is inherently exciting; few black & white films capture actors’ eyes with such perverse intensity. Nikolay Cherkasov gives essentially the same performance as in Alexander Nevsky, but that’s not really a criticism since it’s clearly what both roles require.
I Vitelloni (1953, Federico Fellini) [hr]
Fellini’s debut is a beautiful, quietly powerful portrait of Italian youths that scores over and over again with intelligence and awe-inspiring visual emotion until its half-baked climax. Clearly a key influence on The 400 Blows, which does it one better by keeping up the pace until the final second, but this is still a kind of masterpiece, and as much as it may idealize life at twenty, it never feels like a lie.
I Walked with a Zombie (1943, Jacques Tourneur) [hr]
One of the most bizarre, soulfully pained mainstream pictures of the studio era, this Val Lewton-RKO horror has a rather vague spirital-sensual plotline that never states itself explicitly, and never presents anything conventional or particulalry melodramatic in its characterizations. It follows a nurse from Canada who is sent to look after a plantation owner’s debilitated wife in the West Indies, on an island shadowed by the slavery and violence in its recent past; the two worlds collide in dreamlike, unsettling ways without ever clearly relying on any supernatural happenstance. Instead the film — beautifully directed, treating horror concepts as dreadful reality in the same way as the team’s Cat People — is sophisticated, mysterious, probing, sumptuous and insatiably erotic… all while thoroughly subsuming itself to an atmosphere of indescribable fear.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978, Robert Zemeckis) [hr]
Zemeckis’ stunning first film as director, this is a suitably insane, life-affirming document of six teenagers doing everything they can to see the Beatles play Sullivan in person on February 9, 1964. As notable for its joyously unrestrained characterization (and realism) as for its relentless pacing, frequently unbearably funny script (cowritten by Bob Gale) and the best use of Beatles music on screen to date (check out the “Money” and “Love Me Do” sequences). If you haven’t seen this yet, go! Now! It’s one of the best forgotten flops in film history.
I Want to Live! (1958, Robert Wise) [hr]
Opening as a hard-boiled, hyper-stylized noir about the messy life of a prostitute — Barbara Graham, played with great sophistication by Susan Hayward — trying to go straight, this makes an impeccable tonal shift into a heartbreaking screed against capital punishment, harrowing in its aching despair and attention to dismaying detail. Barbara as we come to know her is among the most convincingly three-dimensional woman characters in the studio era.
I Was a Male War Bride (1949, Howard Hawks) [r]
Coasting amicably on the charm of its two stars, Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan, this Fox comedy is disjointed and doesn’t feel that much like a Hawks picture apart from a couple of bawdy punchlines. Its first half (two bickering comrades stuck with each other) barely seems to relate to its second and slightly more inspired (a man who’s married a female soldier gets stuck in red tape), so the characterizations suffer, though Grant’s has little discernible personality from the first, discarding his absurd existence as a supposed Frenchman. Sheridan, however, is a delight, and a rare 1940s portrait of an independent woman dedicated above all else to her work.
I Was Born, But… (1932, Yasujiro Ozu) [hr]
Spirited, elegant silent comedy about a pair of boys who find themselves outcasts after their dad moves them to a new town because of work opportunities. At first this is a familiar exploration of kids coping with various childhood rites of passage, with all the integrity of Frank Borzage’s impressionistic glimpses of then-modern life, but when the subject becomes the kids’ relationship with their dad it develops seamlessly into something deeper: about family, money, and the regular humiliation of living for the status quo. Of course, it’s absolutely gorgeous: so still and natural, but so expansive as if the whole world lives within it.
I Wish (2011, Hirokazu Koreeda) [r]
Good-hearted if overlong story of two groups of schoolchildren — led by a pair of brothers who are living apart after a family crisis — who hype themselves up on a “miracle” that can make a wish come true for each of them. A must-view for anyone whose parents split up, though it’s hard to believe the boys’ mom and dad were ever a couple (like Wallace Beery and his wealthy ex-wife in The Champ). Good, naturalistic acting from the leads.