La Bête Humaine (1938, Jean Renoir) [hr]
Troubling, extremely absorbing proto-noir, based on an Émile Zola novel, about the lives of a vengeful, jealous station manager and a mentally ill and lovesick train conductor colliding with sickening inevitability. As usual, Renoir’s feel for people and location is infallible — you feel the soot and the energy of the trains running all throughout, and deeply understand how their mechanical reliability runs against the wildcard of human emotions — and it’s intriguing to see those inclinations applied to a rather nasty and nihilistic thriller with no real heroes, and many breaches of trust with one another and with the audience.
Labyrinth (1986, Jim Henson) [r]
After a slow and painful start, this fantasy about a girl’s journey through a mystical world to track down her baby brother suddenly lights up with inspiration and excitement and doesn’t really let up for the remainder. Even David Bowie comes off rather well. A bit dated (hasn’t aged nearly as well as the similar Time Bandits), but Henson’s imagination shines through. And a few scenes, one in particular, approach sublimity.
La Chienne (1931, Jean Renoir) [hr]
Renoir’s second sound film advertises its absence of a moral or point at the outset and proceeds to toss us headfirst into a bleak story of deception and vile behavior within a working-class love triangle in Paris involving an amateur painter (Michel Simon, stunting his usual persona) and a prostitute and pimp who mistake him for rich and see him as their way out. Might be the most honest narrative film ever made; it has the air of real tragedy, real life, happening to real people and demonstrates little life, poetry or irony in the cruel world we occupy. It’ll ruin your day, but it’s terribly engrossing.
L.A. Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson) [hr]
Call it derivative and soulless all you want, but this fake film noir from renaissance-man Hanson is still monstrously entertaining, featuring top-quality work from Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, and (wow) Kim Basinger! James Ellroy’s backward-looking mystery was one of the top slices of ’90s cynicism.
La Dolce Vita (1960, Federico Fellini)
Fellini’s magnum opus about decadent life at the turn of the decade is now well past its expiration date, overlong and annoyingly superficial. The first and last scenes are gorgeous, as is the satire of sensationalistic journalism at the midpoint, but aside from that (and Nico!), the whole thing is a bit dull.
Lady and the Tramp (1955, Geromini/Jackson/Luske) [hr]
A return to form for Disney, this lifelike cartoon crafts vivid, sympathetic characters out of a group of neighborhood dogs and manages to create a complex story in the course of less than eighty minutes. Beautifully composed in CinemaScope, it’s a movie that captures the beauty, wonder and complexity of the early 20th century America of Walt Disney’s youth, but also its decadence and danger.
The Lady Eve (1941, Preston Sturges) [A+]
Phenomenal, liberating, socially radical, unconventionally structured screwball is the very best kind of comedy, revealing the possibilities of the genre far beyond even most of Howard Hawks’ best films. Green young Henry Fonda (brilliant) falls in love with crooked heiress Barbara Stanwyck — love and heartache and anger ensue in a human, layered masterpiece.
The Lady from Shanghai (1948, Orson Welles) [hr]
Bizarre, creepy Orson Welles project made for Columbia is a thriller too fast and furious for character connection, exposition, development. It never, ever stops to breathe. What story there is involves Welles (with ridiculous Irish accent) as a drifter who’s taken in by Rita Hayworth, with whom he is unashamedly smitten, and her psychotic husband for a long boat ride. There are several of the most amazing scenes in cinema here, but there is little gluing it together. Prepare to be creeped out, confused and dazzled.
Lady in the Water (2006, M. Night Shyamalan)
Shyamalan’s version of 8½ or Stardust Memories is a failed hybrid of knowing pop commentary and fairy tale, but it is beautifully shot and well-acted, and throws around a few good ideas.
The Ladykillers (1955, Alexander Mackendrick) [r]
A charming black comedy about a group of crooks led by Alec Guinness who invade the home of an old lady and eventually conspire to murder her, this isn’t as much fun as it probably should be and it’s sorely lacking in any kind of real complexity but the performances are dazzling, and it’s interesting to see Peter Sellers play the straight man.
The Lady Vanishes (1938, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
What kind of foreboding heaven must this have been crafted in? Francois Truffaut famously told the director about his inability to concentrate on the technical achievements of the film, thwarted and seduced on every attempt by the winning humor, complex characterization and beautifully crafted story. Margaret Lockwood is knocked on the head and finds that her friend Miss Froy has disappeared without a trace, so she enlists the aid of charming jerkass Michael Redgrave. Won’t reveal anything about the glorious darkness of the final half-hour except to say that Hitchcock knew damn well the world was on the brink of destruction in 1938. Totally disarming and irresistible.
Lagaan (2001, Ashutosh Gowariker) [c]
I’d rather watch this 225-minute dancing dissertation on colonialism and sport than any number of stupid American films, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a saccharine bore with tepid characterization and mediocre songs that ends with 85 minutes of a cricket match. It’s beyond me why and how the eminently punchable Aamir Khan managed to become the international face of Indian cinema. Always casting himself as the all-knowing alpha with all the answers, he’s like Paul Newman at his most expressionless and Kirk Douglas at the height of his egomania rolled into one — no nuance, no self-examination, just exhausting surface glee and hollow dramatics.
L’Age d’Or (1930, Luis Bunuel) [hr]
This is a pretty hilarious movie written by Salvador Dali about this cranky guy trying to have sex with someone and then there’s a cow in her bed and then she sucks off a statue. It’s sort of a sequel to the peerless short Un Chien Andalou. And at the end the movie declares for no reason that Jesus was a serial rapist. Classic stuff.
La Haine (1995, Mathieu Kassovitz) [hr]
Gritty, lively, compassionate chronicle of a trio of impoverished friends in Paris turns ’90s “slacker cinema” pointedly on its head. That it manages to perfectly define its characters in very little time — with the help of terrific actors — allows one to forgive some of the contrivances in the script. The big attraction here is the frenetic shooting style, translating Godard to a new time and purpose — its sense of exhilaration, freedom and doom elicit a nearly physical reaction.
Lakeview Terrace (2008, Neil LaBute) [NO]
How far LaBute has fallen, whether being forced or volunteering to shove this nihilistic, painful-to-watch garbage down our throats. The always tasteless Samuel L. Jackson is a nasty racist who hates interracial couples so renders unbearable the life of one living next door to him — and things escalate ridiculously in typical Hollywood fashion. It’ll make you hate life for sure, right up to its inevitable, pointless conclusion.
La La Land (2016, Damien Chazelle) [r]
Melancholy, unabashedly nostalgic and slightly overlong musical about a couple of career-oriented artists (a passable Emma Stone and an entirely charisma-free Ryan Gosling) crossing romantic paths in L.A. over the course of one year. A stylistic pastiche of Jacques Demy and MGM and a possibly ever so slightly sardonic valentine to Hollywood itself, this is fun and boasts a few solid numbers with good choreography by Mandy Moore, suffused with a feeling of just-missed true love that might have been intoxicating in that self-conscious Cinemascope frame if the story and characterizations weren’t so frustratingly thin.
The Land Before Time (1988, Don Bluth) [NO]
* More maudlin shit. Can’t Bluth leave anything alone!? What’s next, some sentimental slopfest about Rambo’s sensitive side? Dinosaurs never ever cried, goddammit! They just ate one another and turned into fossils.
Land of the Dead (2005, George A. Romero)
Disappointing but enjoyably frenetic fourth film in Romero’s Dead series lacks the satirical insight of the other three, but certainly improves on Day of the Dead in the thrills department. Dennis Hopper is out and out horrible. Love the gas station zombie!
Last Action Hero (1993, John McTiernan) [NO]
* Incomprehensible meta-reference-filled movie about movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, I think, who kidnaps a little boy and traps him in his movie? Or something like that? Anyway, loud, long and too much.
The Last Command (1928, Josef von Sternberg) [A+]
Playful, probing silent classic about a tyrannical Russian military general reduced to working in poverty as a Hollywood extra when, ten years after the Revolution, he’s asked by an enemy from his past — now a film director — to recreate his old ways for the camera. Infinitely complex and visually sumptuous, this is the sort of film people refer to when they talk about what cinema lost with the advent of sound.
The Last Detail (1973, Hal Ashby) [A+]
A film that lingers long after it fades, this comedy about a couple of profane soldiers escorting a peer across the U.S. for a prison tenure is stunningly moving, thanks in large part to Ashby’s flawless and endlessly right staging, to say nothing of Robert Towne’s vibrant script. Jack Nicholson and Otis Young are excellent, but Randy Quaid steals the film as the doomed, perpetually hopeful young man.
The Last Emperor (1987, Bernardo Bertolucci)
Gorgeous visuals abound but can’t make this telling of Puyi’s life story particularly interesting, especially after the departure from the Forbidden City, which affords Bertolucci all of his cinematic opportunities here.
The Last King of Scotland (2006, Kevin MacDonald)
Forest Whitaker’s embodiment of Idi Amin is compelling, but this illuminates very little about him; instead it focuses on a fictitious punching bag of a doctor (James McAvoy) who somehow becomes the paranoid Amin’s confidante. The relationship of the two men is basically a slightly high-stakes office sitcom. There are insufficient portrayals of the human rights violations of Uganda under Amin, and this just transports traditional melodramatics to a politically exotic time and locale.
The Last Laugh (1924, F.W. Murnau) [hr]
Beautiful, strange, revolutionary German melodrama — a silent film all but free of title cards — about a hotel doorman coping with humiliation when he’s stripped of his uniform. Full of rich irony and wit, and a startling visual tour de force for director Murnau and the legendary Ufa studio, with a great, wild-eyed performance by Emil Jannings in the lead.
The Last of the Mohicans (1992, Michael Mann) [NO]
* Brainless, smug retelling of James Fenimore Cooper’s tale stages it like some unholy hybrid of Dances with Wolves and The Terminator. That someone could manage to create this joyless action film from such off-the-wall source material is the only remarkable thing about the dull movie.
L.A. Story (1991, Mick Jackson) [hr]
Steve Martin wrote this answer to Manhattan (inspired by The Tempest) and in the process crafted an arresting, peculiar love story with tinges of satire and surrealism: a TV weatherman is torn between an addlebrained 23 year-old woman and a witty, complicated British journalist, all the while seeking advice from an enchanted freeway sign. British director Jackson enlivens everything with a sense of whimsy and creates beautiful images to match Martin’s gorgeous, larger-than-life story.
The Last Picture Show (1971, Peter Bogdanovich) [A+]
The rare “nostalgic” film that isn’t a lie, Bogdanovich’s portrait of a small Texas town is enrapturing, full of uncompromising sadness and complexity. Many wonderful performances abound, but Cloris Leachman is heartbreaking and owns the final scene as few actors have owned anything. Beautifully shot in black & white.
La Strada (1954, Federico Fellini) [r]
Well-mounted but oppressive story of a helpless girl taken in by a surly circus performer who beats her and makes her life miserable. The tale is touching, the performances (except Richard Basehart as the hunk who temporarily steals the girl’s heart) excellent, but the structure is off-balance, making the whole thing seem pointless. Fellini would have done well to allow us to learn more about his characters.
Last Tango in Paris (1973, Bernardo Bertolucci) [hr]
* Widowed man goes to Paris and wanders into a destructive relationship. Not as much fun as a movie that features Marlon Brando engaging in anal sex probably ought to be, but a film of many dimensions and emotions anyway and quite a treat to watch, especially if you’re in one of your brooding stages.
L’Atalante (1934, Jean Vigo) [hr]
Lyrical romance set aboard a dodgy shipping vessel about the strikes made by circumstance, jealousy and lust against a new love, illustrated in the language of nearly uncontrollable physical need. It is pure, drunken cinema, with more stunningly beautiful shots and eerily believable moments of undiluted life than can be reasonably counted out — the death of director Jean Vigo in the months past its completion only underlines its mysterious, inscrutable sensuality, because it’s a final statement never to be elucidated.
Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928, Herbert Brenon) [c]
Disappointingly maudlin story of a circus performer (Lon Chaney) dealing with an unrequited infatuation toward a girl he raised (14 year-old Loretta Young) — yes, creepy, though nearly identical in premise to Frank Borzage’s Lazybones — only has a handful of opportunities to put its leading man’s talents on full display; it’s otherwise a slow-as-molasses, overly conventional melodrama deserving of its obscurity.
Laura (1944, Otto Preminger) [c]
This movie’s score, by David Raksin, is stunning. Almost everything else in it is useless. Though it’s said to be the ultimate film noir, it’s actually a rather weak murder mystery that goes nowhere with any of its more interesting notions and wastes time with all of its weaker ones. None of the performers are charismatic enough to carry anything special with them that might make it less bland and inoffensive. As it stands, this is exactly like dozens of other movies and has not one character who is any different from the person you think you see when s/he first appears.
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951, Charles Crichton) [hr]
Quintessential Ealing Studios comedy casts Alec Guinness (who else?) as charming, wily money-grubbing hedonism personified — the mild-mannered banker who plans to gut his workplace for everything it’s got. The joy and pure life in everything, moral and otherwise, is celebrated in this hilarious and beautiful must-see.
La Vie en Rose (2007, Olivier Dahan)
Impeccable production values and period authenticity in this gorgeous-looking Edith Piaf biopic, plus a memorable performance by Marion Cotillard, but that doesn’t make it more than a mildly interesting movie. The constant chronological jumps render the narrative all but incoherent.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean) [c]
Lazybones (1925, Frank Borzage) [hr]
Enchanting and beautifully acted silent comedy-drama about a layabout who takes care of an orphan girl to protect an injustly shamed woman. Borzage may not move the camera much here in the pre-Sunrise era, but the way he captures details of human behavior and relationships is as staggering to behold in this tale of accepting disappointment as in Bad Girl and 7th Heaven. There’s a mildly troubling plot twist that dates it but also occasions a forecast of Lon Chaney’s role in The Unknown!
Leaving Las Vegas (1995, Mike Figgis) [c]
Mournful ballad of a fallen, nihilistic Hollywood hotshot (Nicolas Cage) drinking himself to death, enabled somewhat by an all too accepting Vegas sex worker (Elisabeth Shue, terrific) who’s just glad to be around a guy who doesn’t flagrantly mistreat her. More openly sleazy than usual for Hollywood in the ’90s, but the lush lite-jazz soundtrack and the glamorous abandon of it all doesn’t help much with the impression that it’s trapped in the romanticizing of alcoholism and suicide. On the whole it’s hard to imagine what we’re expected to get out of this.
Le Corbeau (1943, Henri-Georges Clouzot) [hr]
Poison pen letters penetrate a French town in this savory thriller made in France in the midst of the Occupation. Full of clever visuals and sheer psychological horror, this is a worthy precedent to Clouzot’s later, more dangerous masterpieces.
The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972, Charles B. Pierce) [c]
* Hilarious drudgery about Bigfoot-spotting professor who bores a bunch of people with his findings and hires a team that runs around screaming in the woods for him. Fails to deliver on the trashy promise of the opening half-hour.
Le Havre (2011, Aki Kaurismäki) [c]
Garishly colored, fatally friendly bit of whimsical dramedy swirling around a cancer diagnosis, a young refugee and the French harbor city of the title. The actors’ faces are tirelessly expressive but the film is too static to do anything with them. You might find it pleasant if you can tolerate the color scheme; Jeunet fans take note.
Le Jour se Lève (1939, Marcel Carné) [r]
Marcel Carné’s landmark of France’s poetic-realism cinema announces itself at the outset as the story of a murderer (Jean Gabin, who else?) sitting in a room and contemplating the chain of events that led to his crime. The context we receive is almost disappointing in its straightforwardness, though there is occasion for a bizarre, flamboyant performance by Jules Berry (the two men are juggling the same two women, and neither shows human regard for their lovers even though it’s clear we’re meant to see Gabin as the less flawed, more kindhearted character) who breaks through the convention a bit.
Le Million (1931, René Clair) [hr]
Clair’s delightful musical comedy is more charming than funny, but almost Lubitschian in its sheer buoyancy. René Lefèvre stars as a philanderer who robs from Peter to pay Paul and has a Paris full of creditors and a handful of women coming home to roost all at once, when the news comes that he and his friend have won the lottery. A madly convoluted chase follows as he seeks to recover the missing coat that houses his ticket, and there’s no point trying to explain the rest. The song sequences are lovely, the whole film ceaselessly inventive and alive; Clair communicates the sheer joy of unburdened youth like few other directors.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004, Brad Silberling)
Although I’m not familiar with the source material, I know enough about it and its author to suspect it deserves far more coolheaded wit, less obvious tampering, and less Jim Carrey mooning than Silberling’s typically hollow film version provides. What’s left in story terms is amusing, sometimes effectively creepy.
Léon (1994, Luc Besson) [c]
The occasional glimmers of subversion and passion that show up in this reflective thriller, featuring Natalie Portman as a young girl who wants to be and/or fuck a hitman, aren’t worth all the routine action-movie boredom you have to dig through to get at them.
Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man (2006, Lian Lunson) [r]
Messy hybrid of concert film and human documentary haphazardly but fascinatingly tells the story of Cohen’s mysterious life and illustrious career through forthcoming, warm interviews and archive footage. The rest of the movie consists of younger artists covering Cohen’s classics to varying effect. For all its faults as a film, this is a must for Cohen addicts.
Le Quattro Volte (2010, Michelangelo Frammartino) [c]
The Men Who Stare at Goats for 88 Minutes and Feel Like They’re Being Trolled
Les Misérables (1998, Billie August) [c]
* The best version of Les Miserables I’ve ever seen is a 1970s TV movie starring Anthony Perkins and Cyril Cusack. It is sweeping, miraculous, and beautifully executed. This feature, on the other hand, is a flop despite a perfect cast simply because it doesn’t take the time required for a full level of involvement in the story. In the TV film, we saw Veljean at the top and the bottom, and the difference was miraculous. For the duration of this film, Liam Neeson is basically Liam Neeson. Which is fine to an extent, but…
Les Misérables (2012, Tom Hooper) [c]
Hooper’s screen adaptation of the celebrated French stage musical is not really any more or less than exactly what you’d expect, your opinion of it undoubtedly tied to how you feel about having the characters in Victor Hugo’s passionate, philosophical novel of poverty and exile in post-Revolution France belt out big production numbers and sing nearly every line between them. Like Oliver! it’s an inherently poor idea, but the public demanded it so here it is. The actors are decent, the production values (rife with CGI grime) clearly high-level, the direction by Hooper abysmal. Not even a shadow of a surprise visible.
Lethal Weapon (1987, Richard Donner) [c]
* At least it’s not over two hours, but I really couldn’t find anything to like about this movie featuring Mel Gibson as a serial killer dressed like a cop and his pal Danny Glover, too good an actor to waste away in junk like this. Gibson’s right at home, of course.
Let It Be (1970, Michael Lindsay-Hogg) [c]
Watching dour and irritable rock musicians is not fun, even if they are the Beatles. You have to admire how down-to-earth they seem to be even at this point, but their bickering grows tiresome, albeit not nearly as tiresome as the third-rate editing and the incompetent length and pacing. As a rock movie, it’s passable because the music is good, even if the cameras only expose the “back to roots” idea as even more hollow than it already sounded; as a documentary, it just doesn’t work.
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006, Clint Eastwood) [c]
Theoretically, there’s something to admire by default about the audaciousness of this project, an American movie about Iwo Jima taking the Japanese perspective of Eastwood’s prior film, Flags of Our Fathers, but the problem is that it almost seems as if Eastwood sees the sheer fact of making the movie this way as its primary statement. It’s the same trite war movie bullshit with a different set of faces and maybe some thirdhand Lewis Milestone / Jean Renoir / Stanley Kubrick insight haphazardly thrown in.
A Letter to Three Wives (1949, Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
Mankiewicz almost manages to go somewhere grand with his half-baked idea this time out, but doesn’t quite make it. Three vignettes explore the married lives of a trio of women who have just received, yes, a letter informing them that one of their husbands has just run away with an unseen Celeste Holm. Two of the sequences are quite good, one is awful, and there are a few interesting experiments, but the film overall just feels like a few episodes of a reasonably entertaining TV show.
Let the Right One In (2008, Tomas Alfredson) [r]
Though bogged down with an ugly and superfluous subplot, this is probably the best vampire movie since Romero’s Martin, a romantic horror film about a bullied young boy who makes a mysterious new friend. The gravity and wondrous, secretive beauty of the world they create is the intoxicating backdrop for this often lovely film. Its bloody climax is a particular stunner.
Leviathan (2012, Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel) [r]
Surreal, nonverbal documentary about commercial fishing is more of an art installation than a movie, but also scarier and more immersive than any Hollywood horror picture.
Leviathan (2014, Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Kind of a Russian House of Sand and Fog but grim, bloated and dull.
Libeled Lady (1936, Jack Conway) [hr]
An MGM screwball comedy of the ’30s is anonymously directed by Conway, but it hardly matters. The complicated series of engagements regarding a financially motivated love affair, two reporters, and a lot of slander is so ingeniously written and acted that it ceases to need any cinematic identity to be deservedly taken into the heart. You barely have time to take a breath before you start laughing. Spencer Tracy and Myrna Loy are expectedly great, but Jean Harlow is tremendous in a thankless role and William Powell steals the film with his casual, intelligent, prophetic reading of perfecto down-luck playboy in love. Prepare to relish the balletic structure of everything going wrong.
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972, John Huston) [c]
* Paul Newman grins that awful smug grin of his for the duration of this lazy, equally smug comedy-western. It’s neutered whimsy, and it’s mostly just annoying.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004, Wes Anderson) [r]
Despite the escapist-comedy plot (and the feeling that it’s all just an intellectual exercise), Bill Murray lends this perhaps his best performance thus far, one that balances his two worlds of whimsy and earthiness. The movie is charming and sometimes funny, so Murray isn’t faced with anything like the task in front of Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, but he carries the film anyway. Anderson and Baumbach’s script is marred by at least one melodramatic plot twist; stop motion effects by Henry Selick are uninspired.
Lifeboat (1944, Alfred Hitchcock) [hr]
A melting pot of wartime folks struggle to survive on the eponymous vessel, from which the film itself never escapes. From John Steinbeck’s concept, this is the first of Hitchcock’s great “experiments.” It tackles heavy-handed topics and severely limits its dramatic scope, but manages to be as gripping and entertaining as the director’s more conventional films. In these people Hitchcock creates an image of the world that’s alternately bleak and hopeful, and even if specific to 1944 it remains powerful today.
Life During Wartime (2009, Todd Solondz) [hr]
Stark, intensely melancholy sequel to Happiness catches up with the tormented characters from that film but with a wholly new cast. Warmer and gentler than usual for Solondz, this brims with unexpected emotion — and political subtext. The performances are outstanding, especially by Ciaran Hinds as the disgraced pedophile just out of prison, Paul Reubens as a ghost.
Life Is Beautiful (1998, Roberto Benigni) [c]
I don’t like Roberto Benigni much so this already was at a disadvantage for me, and add that to the sort of glorified Hogan’s Heroes plotline (bringing the Holocaust into your comedy is pretty tricky and I’m not sure Benigni knows enough about the subject matter to sell it, but what irks me much more is the flippant kids-are-stupid-and-will-believe-anything conceit of the whole franchise) and you’ve got yet another WWII-related flop. On the upside, a couple of the scenes are better directed than I would have expected (the star’s last scene is pretty good, as is his discovery of the mountain of corpses), but it’s still a vanity project from an obnoxious actor slash low-tier filmmaker.
A Life Less Ordinary (1997, Danny Boyle) [c]
Romantic comedy (?) about angels following a kidnapper and his hostage, with whom the captor begins to fall in love. Boyle has no right to subject people to this, but up to a point it’s tolerable if twee. It’s only at the ending that it becomes really unbearable and impossibly heavy-handed.
Life of Brian (1979, Terry Jones) [r]
That a film with a concept this subversive — skewing the Jesus legend and religion in general, climaxing with the revelation that “life’s a piece of shit” — manages to be so benignly cute is impressive in a fashion. Python fans will be in heaven. For the rest of us, this is fun in fits and starts, with a few hearty chuckles.
The Life of David Gale (2003, Alan Parker)
Another somewhat half-hearted liberal guilt movie from Parker, positioning him (as Mississippi Burning once did) as our modern Stanley Kramer, a dubious honor for sure but one he’d probably appreciate judging from the way this anti-death penalty screed rather ridiculously stacks the decks with bizarre characterizations and a charmingly contrived Twilight Zone twist ending. The performances are uniformly good, especially by Kate Winslet and Laura Linney, and one ends up wondering how on earth Parker convinced so many A-listers to go along with this shaggy-dog practical joke.
The Life of Emile Zola (1937, William Dieterle) [r]
Not really a straight biopic of the incendiary author of the title (though Paul Muni turns in an enjoyably bravura performance in the role) so much as a depiction of Zola as the context for a gripping exploration of the Dreyfus affair, which Dieterle handles splendidly. The courtroom drama and political thriller elements have aged strongly; the rest, less so. Plan your evening accordingly.
Life of Pi (2012, Ang Lee)
I don’t believe in tigers. I just believe in me.
Life of Riley (2014, Alain Resnais) [c]
I’m not trying to be mean to One of the Greats but between the braindead goofball music, the plastic sets and weird surreal drawings and flat backgrounds, and the ponderous procession of characters wandering into the center of the frame, waving their arms around and having extremely inane interactions, this is pretty much Teletubbies for adults.
Life Stinks (1991, Mel Brooks) [c]
* Brooks’ worst film, a wrongheaded attempt at social commentary about a millionaire who accepts a bet that he can’t survive on the streets. Homeless people don’t come off too well here, but then, no one does.
Like Father, Like Son (2013, Hirokazu Koreeda)
Warm drama about families coping after they learn their six year-olds were maliciously switched at birth features a class-conflict dynamic between the two dads that rings true, which is a good thing because the rest of it is overly telegraphed and rather ludicrous, with sub-sitcom character tropes running their course. Not emotionally sterile by any means, but so much more skeletal and superficial than it should be.
Like Someone in Love (2012, Abbas Kiarostami) [r]
Kiarostami follows up Certified Copy with another international leap, this time to Japan for a sumptuously illustrated and fascinatingly humane portrait of a student and sex worker whose interaction with an aging translator has rapidly accumulating consequences during a 24-hour period. Be prepared for an unresolved cliffhanger and you’ll find much to admire here.
Like Stars on Earth (2007, Aamir Khan) [c]
All but insufferable. Why does every movie about an Inspiring Teacher have the exact same scene in which the other instructors have a good laugh over his Unorthodox Methods while the Hero releases some coolheaded bon mot and strides triumphantly out to save more young lives? But one thing here is kind of magic, Darsheel Safary’s performance as the young boy Ishaan. When the film’s dedication is to reeling us into his world, cut off by dyslexia, it establishes a surprisingly clever and expressive language that utterly shames the rest of it. Safary is perfect throughout — his face says more in silence than the other actors reveal in their pages upon pages of hollow do-gooder dialogue.
Lilies of the Field (1963, Ralph Nelson)
Not-unpleasant trifle about drifting handyman Sidney Poitier wandering into the orbit of a group of very poor nuns, led by an ornery Mother Superior who expects him to build them a chapel (for free). Not a thing wrong with this low-key, unassuming drama, but it just isn’t particularly interesting. Poitier undoubtedly won his Oscar for his cumulative career rather than anything he does in this specific performance.
Liliom (1930, Frank Borzage) [r]
For the first half-hour this bizarre concoction, remade as Carousel, is absolute mastery — Borzage shooting a sound film with every bit of the confidence of the best Fox silents. The story is kind of a dog, especially with its justification-of-domestic-violence subtext. While it’s interesting to hear Charles Farrell’s voice — a scrawny little squeak — in his role as a irresponsible carny and bad husband, it’s hard to buy him as a real person or accept the relationship he has with his wife Julie as remotely plausible. But see this for the visuals. It’s sumptuous and almost surreal in its drunken, half-mad beauty.
Lilo and Stitch (2002, Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois) [hr]
A little girl ends up keeping an alien as a pet, to the chagrin of his leaders. Blockbuster Disney hand-drawn film — among the last to date — is pure heaven for the first forty-five minutes, executed with sublime wit and perfection, but then they throw in the plot, which is just a bore. Still a fine attempt at recovery.
Lincoln (2012, Steven Spielberg) [r]
Political nerds will have fun with its precision, though it doesn’t go as deep as you want it to except in the admittedly bracing emotion and complexity of Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance, but weep for the generations of high schoolers who’ll now have to sit through this during U.S. History.
Lion (2016, Garth Davis)
A story this inherently interesting — about Saroo Brierley’s separation from his family in India at age five, leading to a long quest to reconnect with them as an adult long after being adopted and transported to Australia — requires considerable chutzpah to really screw up, but leave it to the Weinstein machine to process it conveniently into the most arid, tasteless brand of prestige picture cheese that amounts to Google Maps: The Movie, endless buildup to a rushed climax. This is what “deep” moviemaking for grownups is nowadays? This formulaic shit, with all the dramatic revelations and confessionals in ex-act-ly the cor-rect pos-i-ti-ons?
The Lion in Winter (1968, Anthony Harvey)
And you thought Bob Dole’s Viagra ad was too much.
The Lion King (1994, Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff)
Semi-retread of Bambi from the Katzenberg years follows the story of a lion cub who ascends to power in the wake of his father’s death while being trailed by the Mob, or something. Some sublime animation here, and the serious scenes are kind of ingratiating while the levity, however forced, is welcome in contrast to the typical maudlin tripe of the Don Bluth school.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005, Andrew Adamson)
C.S. Lewis’ first Narnia novel comes alive, sort of, in this fast-paced action film that looks more like a video game than a movie. Oppressively straightforward adaptation will be fun for those who like the book a great deal, but it does nothing with the material, not that it really could.
The Little Mermaid (1989, John Musker & Ron Clements)
* Supposed return to greatness for the Disney studio under the leadership of Jeffrey Katzenberg really isn’t terribly inspired at all, with weak characters and animation, exploiting nothing interesting about Hans Christian Anderson’s material. The music, however, is tremendous.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris) [hr]
You wouldn’t expect that a movie this humanistic and lively could possibly come out of such a basic stock American comedy plotline: a family goes on a long road trip to take a little girl to compete in a beauty pageant. By the time you reach the ice cream sequence, which by itself tackles more idiotic cultural concessions to conformity than a hundred more serious films, you realize you are witnessing something. Kudos to a fine cast, with special note for the delightful Alan Arkin.
A Little Princess (1995, Alfonso Cuaron) [hr]
Smart girl is stuck at a shitty boarding school during WWI, does something about it. The kind of movie people are always saying isn’t made anymore, this brilliantly crafted Frances Hodgson Burnett adaptation crafts a world apart and manages more wonder and dimension than a thousand Little Mermaids.
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960, Roger Corman)
* The part with Jack Nicholson really is funny, but nothing else in this dumb Corman black comedy about a murderous plant is worth more than a faint chuckle. Still, it certainly beats the musical.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986, Frank Oz) [c]
* Dull Ashman-Menken musical is basically just an excuse for a bunch of overwrought special effects; at least I hope it is, as weak as the “humor” in the first half is. I don’t remember any of the songs; I’m sort of glad.
Little Women (1933, George Cukor)
The agreeable slyness of Katharine Hepburn’s Jo — and Cukor’s obvious love for Alcott’s characters — can only go so far in making this anything more than a rote MGM literary adaptation.
Little Women (1994, Gillian Armstrong)
This was clearly a labor of love for actress Winona Ryder, so one wishes Armstrong directed the sometimes sly and touching script less anonymously.
Live and Let Die (1973, Guy Hamilton) [c]
* A pretty good (and rather goofy) James Bond film, a dismal film by all other standards. I do enjoy the part where the guy blows up, though.
The Lives of Others (2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) [r]
This deserves a place in history for its sense of setting alone; the stillness and cold mechanics of life in East Germany before the Wall collapsed are eerily captured. The story, while gripping, is more problematic — Stasi are monitoring a writer who is a professed and recognized socialist (and a terribly boring character) for nefarious, lustful purposes, but the surveillance expert in charge finds his heart melting. Certainly noteworthy, this could have used a couple of rewrites.
The Living Daylights (1987, John Glen) [c]
* Timothy Dalton debuts as Bond in this tiresome, fully-loaded action pic, darker than usual for the Bond series but sadly no more interesting.
The Lobster (2015, Yorgos Lanthimos) [hr]
Engagingly probing black comedy about a hellscape in which anyone not in a relationship is shuttled off to a hotel where they must find a mate in 45 days or be turned into an animal; meanwhile rogue singles wander the forests, hunted for sport. Lanthimos’ deadpan humor — much of which will ring true for anyone who’s ever dealt with the dating world or with bad relationships they stayed in for too long — is by no means for all tastes but it’s an absolute riot in the same way Todd Solondz’s work is, and as with Solondz, it’s only aloof or heartless if you’re unwilling to cope with its uncomfortable honesty. Colin Farrell’s brief affair with the Heartless Woman would make a monumental short all by itself.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998, Guy Ritchie) [NO]
I think fookin’ Charlie Brown fookin’ said it fookin’ best: AUUUUUUUGH!!
The Lodger (1926, Alfred Hitchcock) [hr]
Hitchcock’s first major film (about the dubious identity of Ivor Novello, who may or may not be Jack the Ripper) and very first suspense thriller bursts with potential; the German influence is obvious in this expressionistic, shadowy mystery. The memories that result are vivid to the point that one can scarcely believe there’s no dialogue.
Logan’s Run (1976, Michael Anderson) [NO]
* Just in case you need to be reminded, it isn’t all George Lucas’ fault.
Lolita (1962, Stanley Kubrick) [A+]
Intricate, funny, unexpectedly moving story of an English professor’s infatuation for a young girl and the ups and downs that result in their lives. Kubrick has a major task to contend with in adapting one of the greatest and most beautiful novels ever written to the Hollywood screen, but what he crafts is truly extraordinary, containing stunning work from the entire cast, particularly the shattering Shelley Winters and of course Peter Sellers, in his greatest role ever as Quilty. The movie is gleefully complicated, gleefully amoral in its characterizations.
Lolita (1998, Adrian Lyne) [r]
Dark, dreary, elegant, yet oddly simplistic reevaluation of the novel claims to be a more faithful adaptation than the one Kubrick made, and that may be true in theory, but in spirit Lyne misses the boat, cutting things far too neatly. And where’s the humor? Nonetheless, excellent performances by Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain.
The Lonely Guy (1984, Arthur Hiller)
* Lazy Steve Martin comedy has its moments and a great lead performance, but loses energy fast.
The Longest Day (1962, Ken Annakin/Andrew Marton/Bernhard Wicki) [r]
Star-studded, meticulously detailed account of the D-Day invasion from nearly all possible angles deserves credit for not being a bravura cheerleading of wartime violence, and for building to an anticlimax. Despite several harrowing setpieces, there’s a lot of arrhythmic editing and a decent amount of the dialogue is poorly written and read, a weird clash of old-Hollywood sensibilities with the film’s gritty ambitions. These problems fade somewhat as the excitement of the impending action mounts, and the battles themselves demonstrate outstanding camerawork and gargantuan-scale blocking whose logitisics are difficult to even fathom.
The Long Voyage Home (1940, John Ford) [r]
This chronicle of male camaraderie and enmity aboard a British merchant vessel feels more like Hawks than Ford, apart from the lovely opening act that mostly consists of the cast waiting to set sail, as though suspended in midair; though the narrative finds them suddenly tasked with hauling munitions for the war effort, it remains episodic. Ford humiliates John Wayne by trying to pass him off as a Swede of few words, but the rest of the cast is fine — particularly Mildred Natwick in the only major female part — and Gregg Toland’s photography is of course magnificent. There’s believable grit in the reproduction of drunken European sailors and the haphazard, unpredictable lives they were then leading.
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2006, Albert Brooks) [r]
Comedian Albert Brooks (“I was in Finding Nemo!”) is sent by the government to the Middle East to find out what makes Muslims laugh. Out of that bizarre premise comes a genuinely (if subtly) vitriolic piece of sociopolitical satire. Hysterical but very low-key, it’s bound to create chasms in the audience and is all the better for it.
The Look of Silence (2014, Joshua Oppenheimer) [hr]
Sequel to The Act of Killing has Oppenheimer returning to Indonesia for a different approach to the same subject. The conceit of an eye doctor giving checkups to those who killed his brother is ingeniously pulpy, but the anonymous inquisitor’s steely gaze, begging to understand those he encounters, penetrates and implicates us, drawing analogies to any number of injustices from which a majority of the viewing audience regularly profits. A film you are unlikely to forget.
Look Who’s Talking (1989, Amy Heckerling) [NO]
* John Travolta and Kirstie Alley fuck around on the screen and Bruce Willis is relegated to providing the voice of Alley’s baby and thus a horde of obvious, obnoxious “jokes.” If there’s some ring of truth to all this I can’t sense it.
Look Who’s Talking Now (1993, Tom Riplewski) [NO]
Now it’s the dogs who are talking. Sooner or later the furniture will start.
Look Who’s Talking Too (1990, Amy Heckerling) [NO]
Holy shit, they make a sequel to this fast. It shows, too, with an appallingly dumb plot (the house burns down) and shitty voice work by an overbearing Roseanne Barr. Why?
The Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie (1981, Friz Freleng)
Second Looney Tunes “feature” is more of the same, a bunch of shorts the filmmakers pretend belong together, this time mostly with Freleng’s cartoons (far less vibrant than Chuck Jones’ or Bob Clampett’s).
Looper (2012, Rian Johnson) [c]
We didn’t have time to construct a time travel story that made any sense, just took a few pointers from 12 Monkeys, hired a creepy kid, and went for it — but look! Big guns and stuff!
Lord of the Flies (1963, Peter Brook) [r]
Brilliantly photographed film (with one of the all-time great title sequences) is cold and detached in such a manner that prevents it from really delivering as great storytelling or filmmaking. If the goal is simply to summarize a novel, why make the film?
Lord of the Flies (1990, Harry Hook) [r]
* Features one of the most excruciating death scenes in any movie. Otherwise, see above.
The Lord of the Rings (1978, Ralph Bakshi) [NO]
* I had to watch this in school once and couldn’t make head or tail of it; they say it ends halfway through the story. I certainly couldn’t tell.
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001, Peter Jackson) [c]
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, Peter Jackson) [c]
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003, Peter Jackson) [c]
Lots of platonic bro-love, lots of rotten and immediately dated special effects, lots of phony dramatics and narrative padding. A slavish devotion to the source material, and a certain admirable spectacle along with it, is obvious. Unfortunately the source material sucks, and so do the movies. By the third (and worst) entry, you’re just watching a lousy Saturday morning cartoon, just one with a gajillion dollars wrapped up in it. Disappointing distraction from fine director Jackson’s former great work. And, all told, nine hours of this shit! And some people have longer versions they like to watch!
Losin’ It (1983, Curtis Hanson) [NO]
* Hanson fans may wish to skip this boring ’80s comedy about Tom Cruise in Tijuana. I don’t know why I didn’t.
The Lost Boys (1987, Joel Schumacher) [NO]
* Typical moralistic Schumacher nonsense, refusing to cop to its own intriguing homoeroticism, about a bunch of teenage vampires who like the Doors and cause trouble in the suburbs. As if we needed a remake of Reefer Madness.
The Lost City of Z (2016, James Grey)
The distinctly James Franco-like Charlie Hunnam headlines this bleak adventure story based on the life of explorer Perry Fawcett; Robert Pattinson, looking strangely like John Lennon, is excellent as long-suffering fellow traveler Henry Costin. There are stretches when this is arresting, especially during the second trip to the Amazon that culminates in a battle of wills between Fawcett and James Murray, but the usual slick biopic trappings take over instead. There’s nothing really wrong with this film, but there isn’t much that’s memorable about it either.
Lost Horizon (1937, Frank Capra) [hr]
One of the most dreamlike Hollywood films, and among the most incisively political despite its fantastic elements. The plot is lifted from James Hilton’s novel that created the concept of Shangri-La, which in the descriptions passed through Robert Riskin’s screenplay sounds like a supernatural socialist paradise. The film’s strangeness and oddly ecstatic fervor are immediately engaging, largely thanks to the normally staid Ronald Colman’s unmistakable sincerity. Despite the flaws and mangled status, this is a deservedly legendary curiosity that gives a number of clues about the way Capra looked at people.
Lost in America (1985, Albert Brooks)
Brooks is lost indeed here, setting up a swell plotline about a couple of Boomers who sell their house, quit their jobs, and decide to live in a perpetual cross-country drive. Then the gambling starts. The film sells itself short halfway through and never recovers, with an uncomfortably abrupt conclusion. There are a few laughs, but it’s nothing new.
Lost in Translation (2003, Sofia Coppola) [hr]
Plotless but exhilarating, seductive poem of lonely wife Scarlett Johansson stuck in a hotel room in Tokyo, gradually forging a bond with culture-shocked actor Bill Murray. The performances of both are stunning, Coppola’s style and sense of place arresting, and the whole thing remarkably moving.
The Lost Weekend (1945, Billy Wilder) [r]
Wilder tries here to come up with a really uncompromising picture of alcoholism, ends up with a jumbled but visually striking cartoon about Ray Milland going nuts and hallucinating about bats. It’s terribly dated — and it doesn’t help that Jane Wyman periodically wanders in — but the script has a certain grit and spark that are hard to resist, and it does capture the feeling if not the reality of addiction rather well.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Steven Spielberg) [NO]
* Spielberg’s worst film to date, this irritating Jurassic Park sequel has one good setpiece — involving a rear windshield — but is insanely unfocused, loud and pointless, not even good enough to revel in the trashiness of its premise. This wasn’t directed, it was manufactured.
Love and Death (1975, Woody Allen) [r]
* Woody Allen attempts to do something Highbrow for the first of many times; in this case he gets a few jokes out of his many allusions to obscure literature and Bergman movies, but the film feels a little bit like going out on a date with someone who is absolutely dedicated to nothing but convincing you of how smart they are.
Love & Mercy (2014, Bill Pohland) [r]
Sympathetic biopic of Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson is best when it focuses on a spry Paul Dano as twentysomething Wilson directing musicians, writing songs, bursting with promise despite breakdowns and abuse. John Cusack’s interpretation of Wilson’s shell-of-former-self 1980s floundering under the dictatorial guardianship of Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) is comparatively sour and depressing, but undeniably accurate. The sound design is absolutely brilliant, as is (of course) the music; walks the line between circus horror show and musical revelation as well as it probably could.
The Love Bug (1969, Robert Stevenson) [c]
* Back when the Love Bug was a car and not a disease, people had fun watching this Volkswagen terrorize people with its independent-minded behavior. These days we just can’t lose ourselves in the farce. It’s our loss, maybe.
Love Liza (2002, Todd Louiso)
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s wife kills herself and writes a note that no one wants to open, so he starts playing with model airplanes and drinking gasoline. Makes sense to me! What’s your problem?
Love Me or Leave Me (1955, Charles Vidor) [hr]
Harrowing musical biopic of Ruth Etting is really about the tragedy of subsuming oneself to a controlling spouse — and will inevitably resonate with anyone who’s been in or has witnessed a badly fraying relationship. Doris Day and James Cagney give two of the finest performances of the era, and they’re only part of why this is one of the best films MGM made in the ’50s.
Love Me Tonight (1932, Rouben Mamoulian) [hr]
What a splendid time. The persona embodied here by Maurice Chevalier isn’t particularly appealing, and the romantic story in which he participates is so threadbare it almost comes off as a bunch of empty gesturing, but the airy, blissful spirit and Mamoulian’s head-spinning number of inventive moments with offbeat gags and monumentally witty sound design and ambitious staging make its plot as irrelevant as you always hope it will be in a musical… only here it’s not even the music that rescues us, just the exuberance, sensuality and jaunty, winning humor of it all. Hidden MVP here is Charles Butterworth, who gets all the sharpest lines.
The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927, G.W. Pabst) [r]
The extraordinary first act of this odd romantic thriller is a melodrama of mixed loyalties, decadence and violence in post-revolution Russia, regarding a diplomat’s daughter (Edith Jehanne) in love with a Bolshevik agent (Uno Henning) who then murders her father because of a perceived betrayal. Pabst’s camera is startlingly agile and Mabuse-like until the film moves out of Russia and into Paris, starting to resemble conventional Hollywood formalism in the process; while the convoluted story threads do find resolution, this seems like two separate films, one only tangentially related to the other. A contrived happy ending particularly hurts.
Love on the Run (1979, Francois Truffaut) [r]
Supposedly a huge misfire, this episodic retrospective of the Antoine Doinel series serves as a career summary of sorts for the young hero and his creator. Clips from various films illustrate his manner and shortcomings while the women in his life discuss him. It’s a movie about choosing to live the way you wish and having a lot of trouble deciding which way that is. A little cutesy, maybe, and more inconsequential than the other films in the series, but insightful and fun.
The Love Parade (1929, Ernst Lubitsch) [r]
Lubitsch’s first surviving sound film and one of the earliest Hollywood musicals displays little of the expected creakiness; its clarity and opulence are staggeringly modern. Maurice Chevalier lays down the persona he’d revise repeatedly as a womanizing miltary attaché who marries into royalty via Jeanette MacDonald, who wants only for him to sit out his days as a placid figurehead and toy. Unfortunately this bends into a somewhat dull-spirited and aimless story, its actual unforced laughs rare. Despite Chevalier and MacDonald’s chemistry, their musical numbers pale in comparison to the moments shared by supporting players Lupito Lane and Lillian Roth, who bring the house down with “Let’s Be Common” and “The Queen Is Always Right.”
Love Potion No. 9 (1992, Dale Launer) [NO]
* It’s generally not a great idea to turn a pop song into a movie. Especially when Sandra Bullock is involved.
Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN (1966, Byron Paul) [c]
* Dick Van Dyke is rather fun in this colorful but incessantly annoying festival of bitchery about a castaway terrified by a group of scantily clad women who want him to… I’m not sure I know what they want. Van Dyke must get away! Because it’s a Disney film! After all, what would Laura say?
Lucy (2014, Luc Besson) [c]
Idiotic action film relies on the faulty premise that we only use 10% of our brains; what happens when party girl Scarlett Johansson gets a package of narcotics surgically placed in her stomach that subsequently causes her to use more than 10%!? She gets mixed up with criminals and uses her BRAIN to appear on a nearby quack professor’s TV set. Etc. Misguided attempt to turn Hanna and 2001 into The Matrix is a dive into the deep end of Besson’s traditional mixture of lechery and pop-art brainlessness.
Lucky Star (1929, Frank Borzage) [r]
More City Girl than Sunrise (but with the wit of neither), this is probably the weakest of Borzage’s surviving Fox silents. There’s actually not a thing wrong with it per se — it’s well-acted and quite romantic — but the story is sugary, humorless and not particularly interesting. It does have an incredible sense of rural atmosphere, but you expect that from the studio in this era. Gaynor and Farrell must have felt like pawns in a serial drama by this point.
Lust for Life (1956, Vincente Minnelli) [r]
Kirk Douglas is subtler than you’d expect as Vincent Van Gogh in this superficial but engaging biopic, unexpectedly low-key for a Cinemascope MGM production. He communicates the pain of the role without underlining it excessively, though he’s upstaged a bit by James Donald, sensitive as his brother Theo. Miklós Rózsa’s beautiful score is his best work, and the montages of Van Gogh’s work set starkly against his music are, while uncinematic, likely the best part of the film.