Hachi (2009, Lasse Hallström) [NO]
Hail, Caesar! (2016, Joel & Ethan Coen) [hr]
A day in the life of a fictionalized version of MGM studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has him dealing with caricatures of studio-era stars and directors while entertaining a job offer from another industry. A rare film from the Coens that communicates real joy at times, especially for classic Hollywood buffs and particularly in scattered musical numbers, and a surprisingly nonjudgmental portrait of a person who lives for his career. The directors’ trademark smarmy surrealism actually fits well here.
Hair (1979, Milos Forman) [NO]
* Don’t let anyone who came of age in the ’60s try to deny their part in the blame for this!
Hairspray (1988, John Waters) [NO]
* With director Waters having already conquered a certain kind of tastelessness, this obnoxious “camp” musical crosses every line into another kind. If nothing else, it’s bound to enrich one’s appreciation for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Halloween (1978, John Carpenter) [NO]
* This tragic waste of human energy originated the modern slasher film and may well deserve some ire just for that, but it’s also gratingly smarmy, cynical, and directionless. It’s impressive that it was so cheap to make, but that changes nothing about its content.
Halls of Montezuma (1951, Lewis Milestone) [c]
* Tiresome action flick about U.S. Marines features not nearly enough halls.
Hamlet (1948, Laurence Olivier) [r]
Despite the truncation of the text (which results in the total exclusion of important characters like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), this is one of the more fascinating Shakespeare adaptations; Olivier’s sense of open-air claustrophobia is unforgettable, and the performances are solid, particularly Eileen Herlie’s haunting Gertrude.
Hamlet (1990, Franco Zeffirelli) [NO]
* If there’s been a more boneheaded casting decision than “Mel Gibson as Hamlet,” I can’t imagine it. Gibson not only lacks the range to exhibit the eponymous character’s emotions, he doesn’t even really seem to understand the lines he’s reciting robotically. Glenn Close is over the top as Gertrude, but she’s Agnes Moorehead compared to Helena Bonham-Carter, woefully embarrassing as Ophelia.
The Handmaiden (2016, Park Chan-wook) [hr]
Audacious adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Gothic novel Fingersmith transforms it into an over-the-top fusion of Foolish Wives, Diabolique and, er, Wild Things, with Ha Jung-woo’s absurd “Count” out to deceive an aged, pervy Japanese book collector by seducing his heiress with the help of a pickpocket. Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri’s work in the latter two roles is engaging and fearless. Park takes advantage of not just Korea’s natural beauty but the visual lexicon of Merchant-Ivory films, which he gleefully subverts in favor of a narrative deeply reliant on both genuine, hard-won eroticism and lurid dirty-old-man sexuality.
Hanna (2011, Joe Wright) [hr]
Extremely smart, well-developed and visually breathtaking espionage thriller follows a young girl (Saoirse Ronan), the nature of whose existence makes her a target for a nefarious figure from her past as she and her father traverse separately across the globe. Worthy of Hitchcock at certain moments, with numerous telling details, genuine suspense, incredibly resourceful location photography, and a revisit to the long-lost tradition of taking characters seriously in a thriller format. Virtually everything we see here is memorable.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986, Woody Allen) [A+]
Three sisters — an anchored independent woman, a deadbeat, and an idealistic lost soul — see life swirl around them over the course of two years as the husband (Michael Caine, at career peak) and ex-husband (Allen, ditto) of the first, Hannah (Mia Farrow), both contemplate earth-shattering changes and questions. Every moment of this movie is magic. It begins with words on a screen — “God, she’s beautiful…” — that usher us into a new kind of material for the director, warm and heartfelt and stunningly ecstatic.
The Hangover (2009, Todd Phillips) [c]
“Bros” are the worst thing about modern American film. The catharsis this movie gets from shutting down its errant female character with the audacity to expect responsibility from one of its overgrown children (the always annoying Ed Helms) is disgusting, making this wasteful “comedy” a real indictment of our times.
Happiness (1935, Aleksandr Medvedkin) [r]
Visually majestic sort-of-comedy about a peasant’s search for contentment shot in the lubok style is very different from most of the Soviet propaganda that survives in the cultural memory; its wit and eye-popping moments of freeform avant garde expression will make it irresistible to anyone enamored of silent and early sound film techniques. With a character named Loser, a “horse-wife” and a walking house, this demonstrates an off-kilter Russian humor that’s not exactly Buster Keaton but isn’t a great distance from Buñuel either.
Happiness (1998, Todd Solondz) [A+]
Solondz has said that he wants to undercut the comfort of everybody, even those who like his work. That’s the noblest of missions, and this unflinching, uncompromising movie will find you in the rarest of forms: afraid of yourself and your emotions. With a set of characters quite similar to those of Hannah and Her Sisters, the film follows the crimes and misdemeanors of a set of disparate men and women trying in their various ways to find happiness, and more often than not obstructing other lives in the process. Rarely has a film offered such an opportunity to examine and understand humanity at this core level, particularly not with this amount of dark, delicious humor. Not for anyone who is squeamish about… anything.
Harakiri (1962, Masaki Kobayashi) [hr]
“The world does not bend on sentimental tales,” Tatsuya Nakadai — as a fallen samurai warrior ostensibly in search of an honorable suicide — is told in this impressive, mesmerizing tragedy. We are not certain at the end of it all what kind of world is meant. Director Kobayashi’s uncompromising film of devastatingly moral and humanistic politics can easily be read as a celebration of life and love, an indictment of government, and even an outcry against the celebratory violence of our cinematic arts (particularly in Japan). Stunning use of widescreen, flawless photography by Yoshio Miyajima, and haunting music by Tôru Takemitsu.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964, Richard Lester) [A+]
Three movies come closest of any I’m aware of to capturing life itself as a bewildering, ever-moving force. There’s The 39 Steps, then The 400 Blows, and most importantly this, the Beatles’ exuberant, exhilarating, stunningly powerful debut feature. Lester’s direction is both intimiate and tirelessly energetic in this hilarious, iconic fictionalized account of a day in the life of the world’s greatest rock band. Nothing in the world comes closer to turning the very essence of joy into something as tangible as images on celluloid. And good lord, the music.
Hardcore (1979, Paul Schrader) [c]
* George C. Scott is outstanding in this hamfisted account of a man’s investigation of a hardcore porn ring into which his daughter has drifted. So needlessly moralistic I was surprised William Friedkin wasn’t involved.
Harold and Maude (1971, Hal Ashby) [c]
Simplistic comedy about a brooding death-obsessed teenager falling in love with an elderly woman stands on the shoulders of better, far more daring movies like The Graduate but proved even more influential.Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon are both splendid, but the movie is overly idealistic and naive. I much prefer Ashby’s later films.
Harry and the Hendersons (1987, William Dear) [NO]
Harry and Tonto (1974, Paul Mazursky)
Long-winded road movie follows Art Carney, displaced from his demolished NYC apartment, and a cat on a leash as he runs across various semi-interesting individuals, family and exes and strangers, on an accidental cross-country trip slash “spiritual self-discovery” or whatever. Inoffensive, occasionally funny, but too similar to other, better movies.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002, Chris Columbus)
Slightly more attractive, humorous and well-plotted than the first movie, but even more exhaustingly bloated, so kind of a wash. The child actors seem to have grown into their roles a bit but the script sticks them with far too much confusing exposition; oddly, the strongest parts are in the first half-hour before the actual story kicks into gear. In most respects this and Stone are the same film; Columbus only demonstrates anything beyond the simplest competence in one or two scenes.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010, David Yates) [r]
Taking obvious inspiration from The Empire Strikes Back, also an emotionally complicated twist on an unlikely foundation, this is solid popcorn entertainment, a drastic darkening of the series wherein six films of buildup finally start to pay off, as does our sometimes onerous investment in these characters and events. It also gives all three leads a chance to really act for a change. It wouldn’t work as a stand-alone feature, but stripped of the need for so much exposition it’s a more enjoyable, effortless diversion than most movies of its stripe.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011, David Yates)
Conclusion to the very uneven series is too neat and tidy, like a march into adulthood never really is, with an OK climax and a depressing flash forward in which we learn precisely what grown-up banalities are in store for these characters (not that you’d expect anything else for a guy like Ron Weasley).
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005, Mike Newell)
The most episodic of these so far, with Radcliffe and Grint awkwardly hitting puberty, really brings home the feeling that we’re watching episodes of a middling TV show. It’s almost completely unstructured until the third act introduces a greater level of danger and destruction than we’ve seen yet in the series. Newell hasn’t nearly the pluck and deviousness of his predecessor; his take co-opts the tone set by Prisoner of Azkaban without retaining its relative elegance.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009, David Yates) [c]
The first truly bad film in the series, less because of the story than because of the fatally haphazard way it’s blocked and edited, not to mention its ugly, confusing compression from a presumably fairly complicated and plotty book. It might be cute to watch the kids’ romantic lives develop if one of them wasn’t Rupert fucking Grint.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007, David Yates) [r]
More tightly scripted than the first four films (though less visually interesting and tense than Prisoner of Azkaban), with a taste for the macabre and surprisingly believable character development, though the film is stolen and made irresistible thanks to the ingenious casting of Imelda Staunton as the prim and terrifying school master Umbridge. The entire sublot covering her reign of terror over Hogwart’s is the most fun portion of the entire set of films.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, Alfonso Cuarón) [r]
You can immediately tell a difference when comparing this to the two earlier films directed by Chris Columbus; Cuarón’s camera moves with far more agility and brings a much greater level of cinematic power and a knack for the grotesque to these films that remain little beyond illustrations of popular novels. He even changes the color scheme. The characters (save Hermione) are still limited and the script is only slightly less cluttered, but there are several truly inspired moments that can make an outsider almost comprehend this phenomenon.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001, Chris Columbus)
Bad plotting, bad CGI, random “stuff” happening all the time, an exhausting number of cutesy-pie cameos from seemingly every living British actor, slavish adaptating of source material (J.K. Rowling’s series of novels immensely popular with both kids and adults) that doesn’t lend itself well to a cinematic retelling, but hey… it is what it is.
Harvey (1950, Henry Koster) [c]
A sort of metaphysical Arsenic and Old Lace, this is a lot of stagebound nonsense regarding the craziness and bits of business that abound as a result of Jimmy Stewart’s long-running hallucination that he is best friends with a six foot-tall invisible rabbit. Stewart is brillant, but the sledgehammer whimsy wears out its welcome after after half an hour.
The Haunting (1963, Robert Wise) [c]
Talky horror film’s scariest element is the argument it generates from fans when anyone points out that it’s wrongheaded bunk. “You just don’t like subtlety or craft.” Nah, I just don’t like ghost stories that preach to me all night about how closed-minded I am. Has one good special effect, though.
Hawaii (1966, George Roy Hill) [NO]
* Hey, want to watch me play Duke Nukem for three hours while I refuse to give you a turn? Or would you rather watch Hawaii? I thought so. It’s time to kick ass and chew bubblegum.
Häxan (1922, Benjamin Christensen) [hr]
Eerie survey of “witchcraft through the ages” is a presentation more than a movie, but it breathes with a keen sense of fun and absurdity without shying from the extreme horror documented herein. Christensen’s commitment to skepticism is commendable here, as he explores the way unenlightened superstition destroyed and killed innumerable women. His points are still relevant even if details may date it, and the cinematic flourishes that anticipate a century of horror films are dazzling.
Head (1968, Bob Rafelson) [r]
Bizarre survey of the cultural cornucopia of the late ’60s by the Monkees (constantly maligned pop group manufactured for a TV sitcom that recorded some magical singles) is El Topo with teen idols (which might make it more subversive than Jodorowsky), or Help! with no story. Uproariously funny at times, far too long, far better than the group’s TV series, and a cult item that absolutely cannot be accused of failing to live up to its reputation as unforgettably, genuinely strange. Best moment: a staggeringly choreographed and edited dance scene between Davy Jones and Toni Basil, bolder and more exhilarating than anything in Magical Mystery Tour.
Hearts of Darkness (1991, Fax Bahr & George Hickenlooper) [hr]
It’s a calm, reserved publicity-hound version of Francis Coppola that stands before a crowd at Cannes at the beginning of this documentary and gleefully announces “Little by little, we went insane.” But Coppola visibly falls apart at the seams in the footage presented of the infamously arduous production of Apocalypse Now deep in the Philippine jungles. It is rather a glaring mishap that this documentary about creating a film is more compelling and a better piece of storytelling and adaptation than the film itself. The only debit to this gripping piece of hypnotic magic is the lack of coverage of the two-year editing process that shaped Apocalypse Now, to the extent it even could be.
Heat (1995, Michael Mann) [r]
Sprawling L.A. romance between two men: Al Pacino’s obsessive cop and Robert De Niro’s methodical, emotionally contained professional thief. Mann’s alternately ridiculous, generic, and tense fact-based crime thriller was originally written as a telefilm and seems to yearn for more time; it remains exciting for 170 minutes but fails to fully explore any of its occupants beyond the two leads.
Heathers (1989, Michael Lehmann)
Yes, I know it’s Really Cool when Winona Ryder lights her cigarette on the ashes of her annihilated boyfriend, but this overconfident faux-satire about teen death and destruction comes off like a 14 year-old’s entry to a writing contest. There are some fine scenes, but the two lead characters (Ryder, the disaffected unmotivated type A, and Christian Slater, the type ZZZ emotional violent hunk) are so ridiculous and the film’s general tenor so relentlessly bleak to the point of silliness that one can hardly help but find it more repellent than inclusive.
Heaven Can Wait (1943, Ernst Lubitsch) [r]
This colorful and sometimes witty and affecting lite comedy about chronic infidelity and the afterlife is unfortunately rather bland and directionless. A lot of forced sentiment and bad jokes build to a pointless finish, but along the way there is a real flavor of unfaked feeling and romance; Don Ameche and Gene Tierney are wonderful as the couple of note.
Heaven Can Wait (1978, Warren Beatty & Buck Henry) [c]
Pedestrian remake of the slightly uncomfortable 1943 comedy Here Comes Mr. Jordan serves as a vanity project for star, producer, cowriter and codirector Beatty, who takes the Robert Montgomery role of a sax-playing jock who dies in an accident then is permitted by angelic forces to insert himself in other bodies and lives. The story has comic possibilities that it never fully investigates, not least because it doesn’t permit any other actor the challenge of “becoming” Beatty, who isn’t much of a comic actor in the first place. Much of the latter half relies on the absurdity of a tycoon trying to secure a position on a pro football team, which means there are a lot of football scenes, which means it’s intolerably boring.
Heavenly Creatures (1994, Peter Jackson) [hr]
True story of two isolated, imaginative teenage girls bond despite the suspicions of their respective parents and grow ever closer until they feel a necessity to take drastic measures to avoid separation. A small classic, with Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet wildly charismatic in this disturbing, honest and engrossing thriller. Jackson’s atmosphere of dread and oppression is as effective as Hitchcock at his least forgiving.
Heavy Metal (1981, Gerald Potterton) [r]
* Dated but charmingly honest and fun set of comic book fantasy vignettes is one of the few attempts at adult-geared animation that honestly works, though of course its audience is hardly as adult as it (or they) think(s).
The Heiress (1949, William Wyler) [hr]
In this loose Henry James adaptation Olivia de Havilland is a sheltered, naive misfit whose cruel father considers her unworthy of marriage; Monty Clift is a hunky but broke philanderer who slides into her life with lots of empty promises contingent, unbeknownst to her, on her sizable inheritance. In the course of the film de Havilland has an opportunity for a sudden transformation from waifish and vulnerable to hard and cold, leading to one of the most delightfully malicious and icy endings to a non-noir Hollywood film.
Hello Again (1987, Frank Perry) [NO]
* You remember Shelley Long? She’s in this. You remember those terrible Must See TV sitcoms? That’s what this is like. You remember the ’80s? They’re in it too.
Hell or High Water (2016, David Mackenzie)
Neo-western heist movie about a couple of brothers, one (stop me if you’ve heard this one) cool and collected and the other unhinged and hair-trigger sensitive, probably deserves a little credit for feebly trying to introduce some class commentary… but it totally fails to do anything that other movies haven’t done better and often. It’s also clumsily directed, and the script just seems lazy, filled with obvious sub-Coen sub-Breaking Bad one-liners and sledgehammer characterization.
Hell’s Hinges (1916, Charles Swickard) [hr]
This classic William S. Hart feature is more an anti-western (and a filmed nightmare) than an ordinary, earnest entry in the genre, transmitting from a period when the American film market was oversaturated with convention. It starts out off-kilter and stays that way, with savagely ironic jabs at a Man of God whose eyes are roving toward promiscuity and a futile attempt to send him out west for impulse control. The crime-ridden town he finds is a rebuttal to any vision of an idyllic west, further corrupting him and sending his sweet sister into the arms of town outlaw Hart. It culminates in a fire that seems to nip at the edges of the celluloid and threaten us; the Old Testament melodrama refuses to lend space for forgiveness to its audience or characters.
Help! (1965, Richard Lester) [hr]
One of the funniest movies ever made, a British comedy classic about a group of religious fanatics on the trail of an excellent rock band called the Beatles, specifically their drummer, who has somehow happened upon their one-of-a-kind sacrificial ring. Follow-up to A Hard Day’s Night is more exotic, more frivolous and in color but no less delightful, with a nearly equal number of priceless quotable scenes.
The Help (2011, Tate Taylor)
Entertaining, vastly overlong white-people-solve-racism fantasy about an anonymously recorded book of revelations from black maids in Jackson. There’s too much empty feel-goodery in its facile, overly earmarked characterizations. What makes the film (just barely) worth seeing is the ensemble cast, uniformly superb.
Henry V (1944, Laurence Olivier) [r]
Olivier’s central conceit, of staging this like a Globe Theatre performance that slowly moves outward with the audience’s imaginations into the full visual manifestation of the Hundred Years War at its height, is truly ingenious, giving the entire affair a dreamlike, absorbing quality that leads beautifully to the expansive, climactic, immaculately designed battle — one of the best action scenes in cinema. These virtues cannot mask Olivier’s shortcomings as an actor in the title role, too slight for his own valor; also, not to question Shakespeare, but the text can’t really sustain the excitement achieved during the Agincourt scenes.
Her (2013, Spike Jonze) [NO]
The most self-obsessed, whiny vision of the future ever conceived, wherein a narcissistic dweeb falls in love with the voice that comes out of his computer. That sounds like the premise for a playful novel or something, but keep in mind that Jonze’s conceit here is to take all of this very, very seriously and wash away all your skepticism in an overwhelming wave of hazy, cutesy-pie “sincerity.” It’s fucking brutal; mope around in an Apple store for a few days instead.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941, Alexander Hall) [r]
Studio pictures were allowed to look and feel like episodes of Desilu sitcoms back then (before those existed). We miss those days, and yet we don’t.
Hero (2004, Zhang Yimou) [r]
More tolerable than you expect as a piece of storytelling: Rashomon combined with the kind of batshit story that gamer types eat up. But the reason to see this is that it is possibly — with The River, Fahrenheit 451, and Black Narcissus — one of the most beautiful color films ever shot, and a totally unexpected achievement in this respect.
He Who Gets Slapped (1924, Victor Sjöström) [r]
Slightly disappointing Lon Chaney classic for MGM benefits somewhat from director Sjöström’s many odd abstractions. The story is bizarre but not bad — taken from a Russian play, it follows a scientist driven insane by his wife’s infidelity with a baron and intellectual rival, leading him to become a masochistic clown who relishes being slapped in front of people — and extrapolates wildly into offbeat, unexpected and violent tangents while unfortunately retaining its basically formulaic structure.
High and Low (1963, Akira Kurosawa) [A+]
Kurosawa’s best film has nothing to do with samurai or Shakespeare; it’s a gritty, intelligent thriller based on a trashy Ed McBain pulp novel. Methodically paced with intrigue, ambigous characterization, and terror, it uncovers a level of detail that becomes cumulatively harrowing as it follows a troubled top-level executive’s victimization by the kidnapper of his chauffeur’s son. Not content to leave it at that, the director manages to splice in a haunting message about poverty (note the title’s double meaning), the capability of a man in good standing to become broken and the hidden sense of justice in the act of breaking him. Various brilliant setups on trains, visceral handheld camerawork, and a terrifying scene in a junkie habitat are so astonishing no one has ever even tried to imitate them. A feast for the eyes, and one of the greatest crime films ever made.
High Anxiety (1977, Mel Brooks) [hr]
Some Brooks fanatics feel this adoring parody of Hitchcock films to be inferior to a lot of his other work, but anyone who loves Hitchcock will have a field day spotting all of the in-jokes and references to the Master’s classics and non-classics. An appropriate coda to AH’s career, to boot. Highlight is easily the newspaper sequence.
High Art (1998, Lisa Cholodenko) [hr]
A wide-eyed young magazine editor drifts into the world of a heroin-addicted photographer and her consortium of layabouts, soon finding ambiguity in her feelings about her own sexuality and lifestyle. Doesn’t sound half as fascinating as it is, thanks to stellar script and provocative direction from film student (!) Cholodenko. Ally Sheedy is tremendous, finally allowed to really bloom in a role, but the performance of the film is Radha Mitchell in the lead, exhibiting just the right measure of naivete and eroticism.
High Fidelity (2000, Stephen Frears) [c]
Rock & roll buffs may enjoy all the geeky details (I didn’t) and John Cusack’s performance is fine, but this touchy-feely comedy about a record store owner’s love life is as petty and annoying as the stereotypical indie snob. Again, rock & roll ideally is an escape from this kind of hair-splitting nonsense; this resembles far too much a feature length version of the “don’t touch my records” scene in Diner. The film would be at least worth a look (it does have a side-splitting scene involving Tim Robbins and an air conditioner) if not for the intolerably obnoxious Jack Black, who should be in jail, but it’s too late to recast.
High Noon (1952, Fred Zinnemann) [c]
Do not forsake Gary Cooper, who in this politically murky “anti-western” is a suicidal oaf making wife Grace Kelly wait while he awkwardly tries to protect his town from the vengeance of an old enemy. Ambitiously formatted in real-time but perfectly awful as a piece of storytelling, its most contemptible element is nevertheless the influence its incomprehensible editing has managed to exert over decades now of poorly directed action films.
High Road to China (1983, Brian G. Hutton) [NO]
* Some drunk guy goes off to find this other guy to help some lady, or something. And there’s something about China, I think. Was this a hit!?
High School High (1996, Hart Bochner) [NO]
* Stupid comedy starring the able Jon Lovitz suffers from perhaps too easy a target: troubled urban high school films like Dangerous Minds, The Principal, and, why not, Blackboard Jungle. Apparently there’s some praiseworthy social consciousness in here, so I’m told, but the movie is so crude and nondescript I can’t imagine it even trying to make a difference in the world.
A Hijacking (2014, Tobias Lindholm) [r]
Taut drama of parallel responses to a hijacking of a commercial ship by Somalian pirates, taking place halfway aboard the chaotic vessel and halfway in the corporate boardroom. It’s a remarkable setup that seems to have a harsh message about the relationship of business to labor, clientele and the public, but the characterizations of the shipping company reps are too broad; the tense negotiation scenes make the film unique, but they also lack the depth of the less structured moments at sea.
His Girl Friday (1940, Howard Hawks) [hr]
A divorced newspaper reporter (blazing Rosalind Russell) spends a long breathless night of breaking news dealing with ex-husband Cary Grant and fiance Ralph Bellamy’s juggling of her. Low-budget, stagy comedy crackles with prescience and intelligence, with remarkably fast-paced rat-a-tat dialogue and storytelling. Russell falls into the material like it’s a song she’s singing, and the absolute trust and familiarity that she exhibits with Cary Grant and the other “newsmen” is full-bodied and three-dimensional. The relentless overlapping dialogue is easy enough to catch, as is the strength, wisdom and resilience of Russell’s character, but the surprising thing is how much gravity it has, the pain under the sarcasm that flies back and forth in the press room. Somehow it’s the real world: unvarnished, wonderful, tragic and painfully direct.
History of the World–Part I (1981, Mel Brooks) [hr]
Over-the-top satire of epic films betters nearly all of them. In several vignettes, some long and some short, Brooks explores the textbooks. The most infectious and unforgettable sequence is the brilliant Spanish Inquisition production number, but the Roman Empire and French Revolution scenes are priceless, and don’t forget “Jews in Space.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005, Garth Jennings) [hr]
Douglas Adams’ multimedia masterpiece (radio show, TV series, record, book series, video game, towel) finally hits multiplexes after a two-decade wait. An effects picture with a brain, an ingenious and painfully funny valentine to beautiful Earth, with some of the best casting in recent memory: Mos Def as Ford Prefect, Zooey Deschanel as Trillian, Alan Rickman as Marvin, and Sam Rockwell as Zaphod, among others. Divine bit of low-key mastery was well worth the wait.
Hocus Pocus (1993, Kenny Ortega) [NO]
* Dire Disney Halloween comedy involving three witches, one played by Bette Midler, and some stuff about virgins. Movies this convinced of their own ingenuity are always a tough proposition, but this one is unusually rotten; one feels unpleasant in a most irrational way, as though something subliminal is involved.
Holiday (1938, George Cukor) [hr]
Erudite but warm comedy about an outsider (Cary Grant) infringing upon the day-to-day decadence of a house full of dysfunctional rich folks led by black sheep Katharine Hepburn, whose sister he’s about to marry. The relationship between the three siblings has a lived-in honesty, likely inherited from Philip Barry’s play, that rings out and grabs you along with the scattered moments of atypically unguarded emotion that peek through, especially in Hepburn’s performance. The characters’ affluence is finally irrelevant because the film as a whole is such a strong and surprisingly brutal attack on bourgeois ideals of work ethic and social standing, and it’s also on the very short list of Hollywood movies that seem to actually “get” real-world romantic love, even as it only portrays it on the sidelines.
Hollywoodland (2006, Allen Coulter) [r]
Never let it be said that Zodiac, released a year after this, was solely responsible for reviving the notion of the detective film that ends with a stalemate. Ben Affleck convincingly portrays troubled Superman actor George Reeves, and the portions of the movie dealing with his life, following, typecasting and ambiguous death are superb; the problem is that the story is framed by a far less interesting “character arc” involving Adrien Brody as a private dick with a broken marriage and an estranged son. This distraction works only for the first thirty minutes or so before the audience becomes impatient for each provided tidbit of the Reeves story. Additionally, it’s a pity that the great Bob Hoskins was wasted with only a few minutes of screen time in a pivotal and engaging support role. However, this is probably the best Superman movie that will ever be made.
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929, Charles Reisner)
Stilted, creaky early MGM talkie is a story-free collection of vignettes; most of their stable of stars come out to perform in little skits that are mostly stiff, with boring flat set design not helped by the pair of two-strip Technicolor scenes.
Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax)
Episodic odyssey of cinema and film acting follows Denis Lavant as M. Oscar, whose “job” is to wander in a limousine taking on various roles during one long and emotionally taxing today. Film is at its best when utterly crazy, which happens less frequently than you’d like thanks in large part to its overly literal structure and what seems like a rather hollow message about the POWER of CINEMA.
Home Alone (1990, Chris Columbus) [c]
* Violent and cynically sugary John Hughes hit about a series of bizarre coincidences that, fortunately for 20th Century Fox, lead to Macaulay Culkin being in a house all by himself for the holiday season! Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, also coincidentally, have a plan to steal all his family’s stuff that very week. But Culkin has a plan too. This is what happens when the main purpose of entertainment is to have something playing on the TV to keep the kids occupied while Mom and Dad go out for brunch and poker with Aunt Margaret and Uncle Ed.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992, Chris Columbus) [c]
* Improves on the original in one respect: it has Tim Curry. Otherwise, a washout, a clone of the original blockbuster with even more cynicism and maimed criminals. It took John Hughes one day to write Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Wonder how long this one took.
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993, DuWayne Dunham) [NO]
* Repugnant junk about incessantly whiny animals wandering around the country in search of their owners is nothing more than annoying and oddly stressful.
Honey I Blew Up the Kid (1992, Randal Kleiser) [NO]
* This goo follows the story of a toddler who is now 100 feet tall or so, as well it should since it is the sequel to the movie in which some teenagers become tiny. Amazing that Hollywood could fail to deliver on a movie about an overgrown baby.
Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989, Joe Johnston) [c]
* In a film that seems like it should have involved Jerry Lewis somehow, inventor Rick Moranis “accidentally” shrinks his kids to microscopic size, forcing them on an arduous journey across the backyard. Not terminally unlikable, but lacking in any shred of imagination that might have made it worth the trouble.
Hook (1991, Steven Spielberg) [NO]
* One of Spielberg’s biggest gaffes to date, this seemingly promising story of Peter Pan in the modern day (he grew up to be… Robin Williams!?) boasts a priceless opportunity to see Dustin Hoffman playing a villain, and not just any villain but Captain Hook! Unfortunately, it’s a very ’90s, very in-your-face, very cheap spectacle of studio drudgery with absolutely nothing redeeming. People talk about Spielberg exhibiting the eyes of a child, but in this case the child is a dirt-caked ten year-old boy who’s way too loud. The role plays to Williams’ worst and most mawkish tendencies, too.
Hoop Dreams (1994, Steve James) [hr]
* A documentary telling the sweeping American story of two teenagers recruited to play basketball at an Illinois prep school. James doesn’t shy away from making this a defiantly real, emotional and sometimes disturbing document of youthful naivete, success and failure.
The Hospital (1971, Arthur Hiller) [c]
Paddy Chayefsky did many good things; wasting a sublime performance by George C. Scott as a disgruntled doctor in this misogynistic, distasteful black comedy is not one of them.
Hotel Rwanda (2004, Terry George) [hr]
Extremely involving, feverishly paced tale of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who sheltered refugees during the Rwandan genocide. Not incredibly innovative in cinematic terms (it does borrow some good tricks from Altman, especially the way it presents the violence-inciting radio station seemingly everyone is listening to) but gripping, and the rare heroic story that doesn’t have to stretch or resort to sentiment to be inspiring.
Hot Fuzz (2007, Edgar Wright) [r]
As in Shaun of the Dead, Wright and cowriter/lead actor Simon Pegg fashion an interesting if slightly confused mixture of pop-cultural parody and solid characterization that could lead them to great and unusual places in the future, though for now it does tend to mire them in far, far too much plot; Hot Fuzz runs a somewhat ridiculous 121 minutes, and I don’t think they meant to carry the police-bilge genre parody to the extent of miming the traditional overlength. But the comedy is first-rate most of the way, the ironic depiction of small-town politics the most astute since Christopher Guest’s Waiting for Guffman, and the cast — including the always wonderful Jim Broadbent, an unexpectedly brilliant turn from Timothy Dalton, and a short but perfect cameo by Martin Freeman — is terrific.
Hot Shots! (1991, Jim Abrahams) [c]
* Noble — and completely likable — attempt at a parody of Top Gun and the like is about six years too late and really makes no sense today, which says a lot about it since Airplane! still works now that nobody’s seen Airport.
Hot Shots: Part Deux (1993, Jim Abrahams)
* Occasionally brilliant sequel takes out everything in Hot Shots! that made sense, and goes instead for sweet insanity, even succeeding a few times. Worth seeing.
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939, Sidney Lanfield) [c]
* Fun to see Basil Rathbone as surly Sherlock Holmes but I always thought the detective was kind of an asshole, and thus he remains in this sterile big-budget production.
The Hours (2002, Stephen Daldry)
Hollow, overwritten, overacted Oscar bait has heaps of unsubtle Thoughts about repression, particularly in conjunction with same-sex attraction, and ties it all — in three distinct A Letter to Three Wives-style episodes — to Virginia Woolf (played by Nicole Kidman). Superficial as hell but mercifully short, and apart from some bizarre dialogue the performances aren’t awful.
The Hours and Times (1992, Christopher Münch) [hr]
A sparse, minimalistic black & white film, running just an hour, about the brief affair John Lennon had with Beatles manager Brian Epstein (alleged by Lennon himself in the ’70s) during an excursion to Barcelona in the spring of 1963. Neither exploitative nor gentle, this is an arrestingly poetic and multilayered study of two unique men and a torment between them. The performances are adequate but it is the camerawork and writing that sell the story as the very truth it pretends — in a glib disclaimer — not to try to be; the characterization of Lennon particularly is hauntingly real.
House of Pleasures (2011, Bertrand Bonello) [hr]
Lyrical, felt, well-researched but playfully surreal investigation of the sensuality and tragedy inside a brothel in 1899 Paris. A true ensemble piece, brilliantly performed, with a breathtaking and overwhelming sense of loss and sadness. Just ignore its occasional pretentious indulgences; for the most part, it has surprising gravity.
House of Sand and Fog (2003, Vadim Perelman) [hr]
Beautifully mounted tragedy about the fight between Good and Good. A depressed woman’s house is unfairly taken from her and sold immediately to a hard-working Middle Eastern family; their ensuing battle is heartbreaking and explosively resonant. Perelman tells his story slowly, deliberately, allowing the chips to fall into place in devastating fashion. Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley are excellent.
House of Strangers (1949, Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
Brothers have a falling out over the bank their father owns. Instantly forgettable.
House of Usher (1960, Roger Corman) [r]
Corman’s first Poe film is well-written, brilliantly directed, and enjoyably over-the-top, with the outstanding production design especially notable. Vague sense of fearful insanity will raise chills.
The House on 92nd Street (1945, Henry Hathaway) [hr]
Fascinating, enormously entertaining documentary-like noir about Nazi activity in the U.S., with G-men on the trail during World War II. Operates with appropriate and absorbing distance at first, then gradually goes wonderfully mad by its smoked-out conclusion.
HouseSitter (1992, Frank Oz) [c]
* Depressing nonsense about Goldie Hawn pretending to be Steve Martin’s wife for some reason. Artificial and tired.
Howards End (1992, James Ivory) [r]
Another Forster adaptation from Merchant-Ivory. Despite overly busy production design, it’s absorbing, establishes its characters extremely well — thanks largely to luminous performances, especially those of Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter — and boasts a quick-witted screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The only problem is that Forster’s mannered payoff doesn’t translate well to the screen, especially because the film and Anthony Hopkins’ one-dimensional portrayal don’t give us much reason to like or forgive his Mr. Wilcox, disrupting what’s intended as a delicate balance of sympathies.
Howard the Duck (1986, Willard Huyck) [NO]
* I’m not surprised George Lucas produced this; what surprises me is that anyone did. A giant duck shows up on planet Earth and starts doing it with Lea Thompson and hiding from bad guys. As turgid as often reported, but mostly just weird and off-putting.
How Green Was My Valley (1941, John Ford) [c]
This whitewashed drama of a mining town in Wales took the Best Picture award in the year of Citizen Kane. Theories abound as to the politics behind that decision, but the timing is such that I wonder if the Academy along with the rest of the country was trying to hunker down and ignore the larger issues that had murderously asserted themselves in the months between the film’s release and the Oscars. This award likely had nothing to do with the film’s quality — it’s pleasant, sometimes visually stimulating, and aggressively boring all in all — and it says a lot that the Kane fiasco is pretty much the only reason anyone talks or cares about it these days.
How I Got into College (1989, Savage Steve Holland) [r]
* Holland’s third film, this one about the painful journey downward into the foreboding caverns of higher education, sorely misses John Cusack but does fit in some enjoyable and still relevant commentary on high school/college sleaziness.
How I Won the War (1967, Richard Lester)
Ridiculously paced, incomprehensible antiwar film about a series of coincidences that allow a plucky loser to claim responsibility for the victory of WWII. John Lennon has a notable role in this and there are several fun sequences, but where it’s all going is anyone’s guess.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004, Hayao Miyazaki) [r]
Likely Miyazaki’s most Western-friendly film, with a British children’s novel as its source. The premise of the chameleon-like shelter of the title is enthrallingly bizarre, and one riveting early chase scene has a strength and physicality unseen elsewhere in the director’s oeuvre; you feel as if you’re flying. But the story unravels slowly until it’s barely coherent and, as so often with Ghibli’s features, the human characters aren’t engaging enough to make the descent into fantasy routine emotionally resonant. But how can you not enjoy a movie that includes a sentient scarecrow named Turnip?
How the West Was Won (1962, Henry Hathaway / John Ford / George Marshall)
Big dull Cinerama splurge was the last gasp of the Hollywood western and maybe the Hollywood epic. The most entertaining way to watch is to pretend each of the three directors controlled one of the three cameras used for the entire panorama.
How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989, Bruce Robinson) [NO]
* Distressingly awful followup to Withnail and I features Richard E. Grant as an adman whose… I don’t even want to explain. Truly disgusting.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967, David Swift) [NO]
* Oily Broadway shitstorm of “clever” production-number commentary is guaranteed to evoke dread and perhaps eventual madness. You can only take something this twee for so long, and there’s nothing more offensive than that which thinks it’s funny but absolutely, positively isn’t.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010, Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois) [c]
Action-packed CG feature from the directors of Lilo & Stitch is lovingly designed but suffers from a lazy, overly telegraphed script; the dragon Toothless, based clearly on someone’s pet cat, is cute but can’t carry us through all the hackneyed stuff any more than the scenery can. The voice acting is unbelievably annoying; the lead character sounds like the titular narrator in the Barbarians’ “Moulty” — a great song, but there’s a reason it fades after two minutes.
Hud (1963, Martin Ritt) [r]
A neo-western absorbing and resonant in its lethargic despair, thanks to sophisticated performances and the beautiful photography by James Wong Howe, that’s superficially about a foot-and-mouth epidemic threatening a shutdown of a family-owned farm, but really explores the infighting and complex history of that family. Major debit is that star Paul Newman plays a complete asshole, and while the film expects we’ll come to loathe him, it’s still not exactly a blast to spend time with a cocky loner so committed to taking the easy way out in every possible respect.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994, Joel Coen) [hr]
Coen Brothers pastiche of crazed production design and clever 1950s postmodern humor offers ample pleasures. Tim Robbins figures prominently as the inventor of the hula hoop; he’s on top of the world, but when the fad dies, what now? Maybe a little too artificial, but still exquisite. I’d rather watch this than most of the Coens’ mean-spirited, cold-hearted thrillers.
Hugo (2011, Martin Scorsese) [r]
One of the director’s less cynical films, this children’s book adaptation follows a bright orphan boy who lives a secret life in the walls of a train station. Eventually this builds to an extended rant by Scorsese about film preservation, which occasions some wonderful recreations of George Méliès’ film sets in 3D. The convoluted, languidly paced story is a bit too overextended (for real, is Scorsese obligated to plod every film out for 2+ hours?), but at least it doesn’t talk down to kids.
The Human Comedy (1943, Clarence Brown) [c]
No wartime rationing of schmaltz, I guess.
Humboldt County (2008, Darren Grodsky & Danny Jacobs) [hr]
A relatively nondescript story, almost Doc Hollywood-like, tosses a med student in a tiny backwoods communion of pot growers whose mutual respect and eventually love he gradually earns — but the directors and performers play it with such nuance and strangely real grace that it attains an unexpected lyricism and magic realism in the vein of Hal Ashby. The camera is charged with emotion, and as a bonus Peter Bogdanovich figures in a hilarious cameo as the boy’s father.
The Hunger Games (2012, Gary Ross) [r]
Interesting allegory of Bush-era America is more cinematic than most popular book adaptations, mostly because the reality-TV subject matter makes it easier to integrate large amounts of exposition and toy with the audience’s participation. The thing is too damn long and the action scenes are fucking incoherent, but that just seems to be the way movies are going and I guess I should just shut up about it at this point.
The Hunt (2012, Thomas Vinterberg) [NO]
A narrative of the suffering of a male schoolteacher falsely accused of molesting a young girl. Vinterberg was apparently hired by mouth-breathing men’s rights activists to put on film all of their paranoia about the constant swirling threat of bogus rape charges. The furthering of this misogynist narrative is the last thing we needed in the age of Twitter and Reddit.
The Hunt for Red October (1990, John McTiernan) [c]
* Loud, action-drenched fakery places Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery in the middle of the dull Tom Clancy bestseller. Connery is fine but Baldwin is a big mistake, and it doesn’t matter anyway because the movie is generic and runs an inexcusable 135 minutes. Popcorn should be short and sweet.
Hurlyburly (1998, Anthony Drazan) [NO]
* Egad! A truly shitty stage play about the Hollywood sharktank of cokeheads turns into a labored semi-movie with really horrible stagebound dialogue as spewed out by Sean Penn and Kevin Spacey, among others. What a terror. What a surprise.
The Hurt Locker (2008, Kathryn Bigelow) [r]
Hyperkinetic action film follows the high-stress, near-intolerably dangerous work of a bomb squad in the midst of the Iraq war. Unsentimental, documentary-style storytelling and a real taste of the terrors of war bring this a cut above most efforts of its stripe, despite an overly episodic script that will piss off structure nerds and devolves into rote Apocalypse Now FUBAR cliché at times.
Husbands and Wives (1992, Woody Allen) [A+]
Faux-documentary follows a pair of splitting couples and their lives in the aftermath. Allen’s script is full of complexity and keen observation, and the performances (especially by Judy Davis) are incredible. Funny, real, and unexpectedly moving, this also features some of the most uncomfortable moments on film (that’s a good thing), many of the most painful and truthful views on marriage, and is a career highlight for all. Allen and Mia Farrow filmed their shattering breakup scene shortly after their well-publicized falling out, making it all the more powerful.
The Hustler (1961, Robert Rossen)
A general vibe of low-key sleaziness runs through this drama about a pool hustler played by Paul Newman; shot like a telefilm and all too believably capturing the dead-end despair of his chosen profession and its setting, this is credible enough until it introduces Piper Laurie as a female punching bag whose purpose in the film is essentially to be abused and discarded and thus force Newman to “grow up.” One’s tolerance for the rest depends on how exciting you find the game of pool; there’s a lot of it here.