M (1931, Fritz Lang) [A+]
Peter Lorre offers one of the great performances in cinema in this horrifying, modern, multifaceted, uncompromising thriller that stands as one of the first great sound films. Lorre is a compulsive child murderer haunting the streets of Berlin; a group of criminals band together to capture him. The film is a great challenge, offering a rebuttal to every prejudice (or rebuttal to prejudice) one might have. It remains a model of provocative storytelling, and despite its grim subject matter, a wild ride.
Macbeth (1948, Orson Welles) [hr]
* Welles films this like it’s the sexiest nightmare anyone’s ever had. Shadows and delicately evil performances dominate this top-notch Shakespeare film. Great fun and a solid introduction to the director.
Macbeth (1971, Roman Polanski) [hr]
* One of the best Shakespeare films made to date, Polanski’s bloody, horrific Macbeth is the opposite of Orson Welles’ in a number of ways, save the fact that both are dazzling. The gruesome murder sequence is unforgettable, as is the performance of the under-utilized Jon Finch.
The Machinist (2004, Brad Anderson)
This quite intriguing followup to Session 9 about a man who cannot sleep includes fabulously realized atmosphere, brilliant performances by Christian Bale and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and a satisfying conclusion. But it’s basically little more than an extended Twilight Zone episode (“You Drive”).
Madhouse (1990, Tom Ropelewski) [NO]
* John Larroquette and Kirstie Alley graciously remind us why they are now forgotten.
Mad Max (1979, George Miller) [c]
* Ex-cop Mel Gibson is out for revenge in yet another apocalyptic sci-fi action film. This is not without its Aussie charm, but Peter Weir could have done it better. And please, get another lead actor.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, George Miller)
Long-gestating fourth film in the series features admirable pacing, stunts and a bluntly feminist angle, although the editing remains as much a confusing irritation as in most modern action pictures. It’s one long balls-to-the-wall chase scene, which is an idea with some merit if only the characters weren’t such ciphers.
Magical Mystery Tour (1967, The Beatles)
Scary, funny sixty-minute thingamajig was a big flop (the Beatles’ first) when it premiered on British TV, eventually gained a huge following as a midnight movie in the United States. Like so many surreal hat tricks, this displays novel imagination for the first twenty minutes or so then grows stale aside from some knockout music video-style performances by the band (who wrote and directed this curio themselves). For Beatles fans and druggies, this is essential; others needn’t bother, as its ’60s kitsch is imbued with too much dread to appeal to campaholics.
The Magic Christian (1969, Joseph McGrath) [r]
* Smart Terry Southern satire of humanity’s thirst for money starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr is episodic, to say the least, but offers sharp humor and sheer weirdness for those so inclined. Obviously not for everybody, but an underrated gem.
Magic in the Moonlight (2014, Woody Allen) [r]
Colin Firth plays sort of a Richard Dawkins-circa-Twitter caricature: he’s a skeptic, he’s right about lots of stuff, but he’s a complete fucking prick about it. Though the movie delays it as long as possible, he does find himself drawn to the charlatan played by Emma Stone, who isn’t much of a character. As ever, Allen fits some surprisingly strong and searching moments into a fairly silly, frothy narrative, and the eye-popping camerawork and color courtesy of Darius Khondji justify some of the dross.
Magic Mike (2012, Steven Soderbergh)
“My first sexual experience? Well, I went to some stripper movie and instead of dicks wagging around it was Steven Soderbergh’s finger in my general direction, so out of boredom and resistance to paying to watch a fucking Sally Jesse Raphael episode I just started fucking everyone else in the theater. Then Channing Tatum saw what we were doing and walked off the screen and…”
Magic Mike XXL (2015, Gregory Jacobs) [r]
A big improvement on the great-looking but surprisingly conservative Magic Mike that works well as a hyperactive and nearly structure-less hybrid of road movie and musical, its thin story essentially an excuse for dance sequences and male eye candy.
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942, Orson Welles) [r]
Heartbreaking followup to Citizen Kane was obviously once a masterpiece, but RKO and editor Robert Wise got their hands on it in postproduction and cut it from 128 minutes to 80, shorting out much of the imagination in the process. You can sense the innovation and beauty in what remains (and at the very least, Anne Baxter manages to get a hell of a performance in there), but what’s missing is the movie part. Unlike others, I can’t look past the butchering to appreciate what’s there. So proceed at your own risk.
Magnolia (1999, Paul Thomas Anderson) [c]
* Anderson’s multi-character pastiche is not without its virtues. It’s mildly interesting and offers an outstanding performance by — ready for this? — Tom Cruise. It’s also clumsy, poorly written, and three fucking hours of directionless pap. If the director is as hyperemotional as this and Punch Drunk Love suggest, I don’t know how he gets out of bed. If he does. The musical interlude is either the best or worst moment in this confused film, as it is for Interiors.
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937, Leo McCarey) [r]
Tearjerker about a loving elderly couple forced to separate due to economic pressures (and the semi-neglect of their hustling bustling children) is overly manipulative and simplistic until its magical climax, set in Manhattan.
Mallrats (1995, Kevin Smith) [NO]
Unfunny John Hughes-style teen epic suffers not from unwatchability — Smith’s work is, if nothing else, consistently likable — but from lazy writing and awful performances, especially by Jason Lee. Someone could probably have made something of this, but Smith couldn’t.
The Maltese Falcon (1941, John Huston) [hr]
Bogart upstages even the immortal Peter Lorre in one of his most impressively superhuman performances. It’s very plainly Huston’s first film, with a few clumsy cuts and shots throughout, but the star makes it work and is truly a joy to watch — and the story itself remains riveting, with one of film noir’s most satisfying (and emotionally hefty) conclusions.
A Man and a Woman (1966, Claude Lelouch)
Manchester by the Sea (2016, Kenneth Lonergan) [hr]
Examination of inconsolable grief has Casey Affleck as an apathetic, alcoholic janitor making his way to his hometown after his brother dies, there confronting harsh memories of a horrendous tragedy in his past. Like Margaret, Lonergan’s follow-up has numerous tangents that add up to something rich and believable, but it lacks that film’s catharsis — which is probably the point. Affleck and Michelle Williams give indescribably raw performances that make an often very funny film intensely troubling.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962, John Frankenheimer) [A+]
Frank Sinatra begins to remember a few disturbing details about his time in the Korean War that could have a bearing on the country’s future. I refuse to say anything else. This brilliantly paced, written, and performed hybrid of political satire and suspense thriller is one of the finest movies ever to come out of Hollywood. Former live TV director Frankenheimer enlivens the bold, daring story with a sense of urgency clearly derived from Hitchcock in one of the few innovative films that can be said to belong in the tradition of the Master. And the love story, ordinarily tacked-on in thrillers, is one of the most subtly moving in memory.
Manderlay (2006, Lars Von Trier) [r]
This sequel to Dogville, one of the best movies of the concurrent decade, falls considerably short of its origins. It follows Grace (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard, who is phenomenal) as she attempts to bring a group of black men who’ve been living as slaves seventy years after the Civil War into Normal Life. Von Trier’s script is somewhat stilted; it makes good points but clouds them up beyond recognition. In the meantime, the stunning Howard finds a way to wring infectious, miraculous depth and eroticism out of this clinical, discomforting film.
A Man for All Seasons (1966, Fred Zinnemann) [r]
The thrill of watching Robert Shaw have the time of his fucking life as King Henry VIII is such that the admirable restraint of and your mild absorption in everything else is just gravy. “Everything else” is the saga of Thomas More, well-envisioned by Robert Bolt, and this is such a persuasive bit of period storytelling for a widely fetishized period in British history that it’s incredible it’s not enjoyed a resurgence with the King’s Speech crowd.
Manhattan (1979, Woody Allen) [A+]
Allen toys with his persona, his audience, and his city in this almost unbearably beautiful comedy-drama that marks his first foray into hyperrealism. In a relationship with a much younger woman, our hero finds himself attracted to a pretentious bohemian (Diane Keaton) with whom his best friend has been having an affair. More than Allen’s other movies, this film is about his unusual take on the everyman whose pretensions and hangups are all somehow bound to his sentimentality and domesticity. The city that dominates the beautiful black & white Cinemascope — is just one of those hangups, just one person’s rock. And you know, another person’s rock might be this movie. The final scene, inspired by City Lights, is overwhelming.
Manhattan Melodrama (1934, W.S. Van Dyke) [hr]
Stunningly perfect screenplay casts two best friends as professional rivals: one a district attorney, the other a notorious gangster. Their conflicting loyalties lead both down a desperate path. Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy make one of the screen’s great ensembles. A well-deserved icon.
Mannequin (1987, Michael Gottlieb) [NO]
* Rod Serling’s “The After Hours” stretched to obscenity.
Man of the House (1995, James Orr) [NO]
* Why, you ask? My friend wanted to go. Only I know the true horror, you see. A slur on everyone who’s seen it, this cursed tripe from the Disney studio shows how much people in the industry are bound and destroyed by their misunderstanding or hatred of children.
Manon of the Spring (1986, Claude Berri) [hr]
The brilliant second part of Jean de Florette wraps everything up deliciously. To say more would be obscene. But you have to see them both. The first half is better, but this half is more fun, more crushing.
Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966, Harold P. Warren) [r]
Now-classic Z-movie made by a fertilizer salesman in Texas, made famous in 1993 by the MST3K team. But the amateurish, horribly executed film is genuinely fascinating, and haunting in a weird sort of way. Yeah, it’s a bad movie, but it is creepy, unlike most horror films, and for whatever reason, I love it and I treasure my un-MSTed copy. And the music, by any standard, is superb.
Mansfield Park (1999, Patricia Rozema) [NO]
Transplant of Austen into the, uh, enlightened era has too much superfluous “conscious” content tacked onto the story.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
After attempting other genres for four years, Hitchcock moved over to Gaumont and began a series of thrillers that made the ’30s a powerhouse decade for the British film industry. This one quickly displays why he’s never been matched; his command of all the tools at his disposal is incredibly proficient, most clearly here in the form of his characterization. Leslie Banks and Edna Best, the married couple whose daughter is kidnapped when they accidentally discover plans for an assassination, feel like real people; the villain, portrayed with elegant menace by Peter Lorre, is a charming bastard who makes your skin crawl. And the tension is breathless, the climax an explosion of joy.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956, Alfred Hitchcock) [hr]
It may be a bit unfair to try and put this side by side with the original, but Hitchcock’s one and only remake undeniably falls a bit short of the excitement in the older film. Still, it’s a fun ride, with both Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day delivering fine performances. Many great scenes exhibit Hitchcock at his tirelessly thrilling best but the characters are not as interesting, nor are the situations as poignant. On its own, however, it’s a top-quality (if overlong, 120 minutes up from 75) slick thriller done with the kind of panache no one else could expend.
The Man Who Laughs (1928, Paul Leni) [hr]
Gothic melodrama starts out so imaginatively and wickedly — full of audacious camera tricks and an unembarrassed attraction toward the lurid — you can’t help being disappointed when it falters into a relatively ordinary Lon Chaney-style narrative, about a nobleman’s heir (Conrad Veidt) with a grotesque smile permanently surgically affixed to his face and his difficulties with romance and, uh, the monarchy. But those early scenes are as wild as Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a few years later.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, John Ford) [r]
Another small town subverted, another astoundingly weird and wonderful cast (James Stewart and John Wayne’s coeexistence adding to the surrealism of the entire production). Stylistically, this rivals Hitchcock’s Marnie as the most seamless integration of abstraction and convention in a narrative film of the ’60s, but its story and character work are only sporadically as insightful and emotionally weighty as Ford at his best.
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001, Joel Coen) [r]
Despite elegant black & white photography and a chilling performance by Billy Bob Thornton, this is Coen by numbers: a seemingly normal man’s stupid action and its wild domino effect, the flippant attitude toward characters, random events and ideas strung awkwardly together, all fused with a superficial appropriation of the base elements of film noir. It’s enormously fun while it’s on, but its attempts at substance via rambling voiceover undercut the airless exercise in style.
Man with a Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov) [hr]
An exhilarating if abstract symphony of a hybrid Soviet city and a miracle of frenetic, playful editing. In just over an hour it explores the possibilities of its own form more than a narrative feature ever could. Even for a story-stalwart like me who admires avant garde film but normally can only take it for about twenty minutes or less, the wisps of people and reality this captures are invaluable.
The Man with One Red Shoe (1985, Stan Dragoti) [NO]
* Dull North by Northwest ripoff.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974, Guy Hamilton) [c]
* Jubilant candyfloss, this is the usual shit. Rejuvenating a franchise with Roger Moore is not the best road to health.
The Man with Two Brains (1983, Carl Reiner) [r]
* Agreeable Steve Martin goofiness starts out well but is not as enjoyable as the other Reiner/Martin collaborations.
The Man You Loved to Hate (1979, Patrick Montgomery) [r]
Solid, basic rundown of Erich von Stroheim’s career won’t provide new information to most viewers who’d bother to seek it out, but is interesting for capturing interviews with a number of associates, professional and private, before the silent cinema generation had wholly left us.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977, John Lounsberry) [r]
* This film is actually just the three ’60s Disney Milne shorts strung together. The characters are fun and there are a few fine sequences, but this is by and large kids’ stuff, if admirably made.
The Manxman (1929, Alfred Hitchcock) [r]
She was going to marry one guy, but he’s dead, so now she’s with another guy, but the first guy shows up again and now she’s pregnant! However overlong, this melodrama (Hitchcock’s last silent film) reveals some sublime moments on repeat viewings, especially at the end, and in terms of setting must be the director’s most elaborate project of the ’20s.
Margaret (2011, Kenneth Lonergan) [hr]
The blight man was born for: the detailed, frustrating, deeply involved three-hour rumination of a tormented teenage girl (Anna Paquin, excellent) attempting to atone for her role in the accidental death of a woman she didn’t know. Harrowing, strange, uneven, agonizing — a true work of art.
Margin Call (2011, J.C. Chandor) [r]
The best thing about this financial crisis soap opera is the conceit of its eve-of-recession histrionics all taking place in about 36 hours, which renders the first act impressively taut. Sadly, the dialogue is sub-telefilm shit; all of the characters in the massive cast sound like they’re constantly giving rehearsed pep talks.
Margot at the Wedding (2007, Noah Baumbach) [hr]
A difficult film that takes a great deal of time to digest, this occasionally funny, bitterly sad story of a dysfunctional family sets itself apart from the many efforts in that perverse subgenre in three ways: the performances by Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh are magnificent, hypnotic, flawless (to say nothing of Zane Pais as Kidman’s son); the direction is engagingly different for an American film, shot handheld in natural light; the script is metaphorically powerful, startlingly literate and detailed, so full of material it’s impossible to fully interpret from one viewing. If not a great movie, it’s one of the most haunting I have seen, particularly at its powerful opening and closing sequences, both on buses.
Marie Antoinette (1938, W.S. Van Dyke) [r]
* Tyrone Power is a statue, but this lightweight MGM biopic is otherwise interesting. Norma Shearer is surprisingly convincing as the title figure; the finale is highly effective.
Marie Antoinette (2006, Sofia Coppola) [A+]
Left-field, impressionistic follow-up to Lost in Translation concentrating movingly on the controversial queen’s alienation and youth proves its director seemingly capable of anything; her Malickisms are more Malick than Malick. The movie is almost obsessively detailed, gorgeously designed, utterly unique. Strangely, the rock music and hot pink and American accents only aid the illusion.
Marie-Louise (1944, Leopold Lindtberg) [r]
Sobering time capsule about a French teenager sent to live temporarily in Switzerland during the operation is one of the few films to elaborate (in real time) upon the horrors inflicted upon the European citizenry by the war. Though it won an Oscar for its screenplay, it’s now undeservedly obscure and well worth seeking out, if you can.
The Mark of Zorro (1920, Fred Niblo) [r]
* Excellent early take on the Zorro legend is a blast and, for younger film buffs, one of the best introductions to silent films.
Marnie (1964, Alfred Hitchcock) [hr]
Sean Connery tries to creep inside the mind of compulsive crook Tippi Hedren, who lives in the shadow of her vibrant and unsteady mother, a woman who no longer seems to care for her. Hedren is much better than in The Birds in this dreamlike wonder, a “sex mystery” that unfortunately flopped at the time due to its lack of clear-cut genre. The script by Jay Presson Allen is great (but unapologetically pessimistic), and the movie is visually gorgeous. The director’s fans will delight in investigating the subtext here, featuring a broader awareness of the dark side of human nature than almost any other vintage Hollywood film.
Marooned (1969, John Sturges) [c]
* Tired old space effects picture is often defended but really just doesn’t play well today at all.
The Marriage Circle (1924, Ernst Lubitsch) [r]
A bit of proto-screwball from Warner Bros. and Lubitsch, set in Vienna, jumbles up two marriages, one intensely passionate and one waning and fractious, and has a lot of innocent-mistake intermingling, private detection and outright ruthless adultery among the four involved parties plus an extra. It’s entertaining but it’s basically a movie about people maliciously brewing discontent in a secure relationship, more callous than funny.
Married to the Mob (1988, Jonathan Demme) [c]
* Demme’s annoying attempt to fashion a fun comedy out of a Mafia story is just as obnoxious as Mob and gangster flicks tend to be, except perhaps more so because it tries so desperately to be funny.
Mars Attacks! (1996, Tim Burton) [hr]
Dead-on, widely misunderstood satire of 1950s science fiction (and, accidentally, Independence Day) features giggles aplenty and lots of wonderfully hammy performances. Sylvia Sidney and Jack Nicholson are standouts. Relentlessly violent and ridiculous, this brilliant movie features comedy that’s so cutting and dry that a few critics mistook it for a serious pie-in-the-sky film! One of the director’s best.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011, Sean Durkin) [r]
Sad, stilted chronicle of the paranoia abiding an escapee of a Manson-like cult, her story told in flashbacks while she tries to assimilate with her estranged sister. Intriguing and well shot (with a faded look that resembles old Polaroids, inspired partially by Margot at the Wedding) but harmed a bit by its distance from its lead character and the abruptness of its ending, though these aspects do linger in the mind as symptoms of broadly credible storytelling. Elizabeth Olsen is engaging and tragic in the lead.
The Martian (2015, Ridley Scott)
Dialogue-heavy sci-fi about a smug astronaut (Matt Damon) left on Mars accidentally; after a couple of hours of exposition, rogue libertarians must save him. Less cinematic than Gravity, less humane than Interstellar — which I didn’t even like, but I miss it in the face of spending 140 minutes watching someone play a strategy game. It’s all very professional and expensive-looking and it’s not boring exactly, but it quickly gets repetitive and doesn’t extrapolate anything probing from its basic idea.
Martin (1977, George A. Romero) [hr]
Beautiful, tragic film is the story of a teenage vampire wandering through an unfulfilling life for two hundred years, yearning for companionship but unable to stop drinking blood. Yet again, Romero proves himself incapable of creating a simple horror film, instead crafting a moving and sad character piece. Brilliant work until its disappointing final moments.
Marty (1955, Delbert Mann) [r]
Paddy Chayefsky’s gentle teleplay about a lonely, friendly bachelor in a lonely, unfriendly city doesn’t necessarily make for great cinema — though the unvarnished portrait of 1950s Brooklyn it captures is to die for in accidental-documentary terms, and Ernest Borgnine’s performance is pure, sweet magic — but its point remains salient, that new love makes hope-filled, energetic children of us all, age and family interference notwithstanding.
Marwencol (2010, Jeff Malmberg) [hr]
Breezy but haunting documentary about a miniature world — with extensive back story! — built by a man coping with a massive head injury, and that’s just the beginning. Malmberg stays out of the way except when the story he’s telling demands a cinematic approach, and the results are transcendent.
Mary and Max (2009, Adam Elliot) [r]
Refreshingly unconventional stop-motion feature about a couple of pen pals — a little girl in Australia and an antisocial bachelor in NYC — is lovingly designed and quite funny, with cutting and warm observations about the lives of the alienated, but it eventually becomes maudlin and crude. The film’s hard truths and understanding of under-represented kinds of people (particularly those living with disability) are a good modern antidote to typical cartoon whimsy.
Mary Poppins (1964, Robert Stevenson) [hr]
I had a kindergarten teacher who looked exactly like Julie Andrews in this movie. Andrews’ performance, indeed, is almost creepily believable in this classic Disney musical. The film is a bit too long and disjointed, but nearly every one of its segments is masterful, the final effect one of strangely consuming sadness.
MASH (1970, Robert Altman)
Some say this has a boldness and firepower the later TV series lacks, but its gains in this area are compensated by a comparative lack of decent characterization, in favor of Altman’s trademark haphazardly structured lunacy. Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould may be engaging enough, but they don’t live in these parts. This is a lethargic film whose watchability will depend entirely on whether your sense of humor gels with its laid-back juvenilia and sexism.
The Mask (1994, Charles Russell) [NO]
* Jim Carrey is as annoying as ever in this half-assed “comedy.” The brilliance of the special effects has been greatly overstated; there’s nothing in here that Tex Avery didn’t do half a century prior, and better.
The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson) [hr]
Spellbinding and evocative mood piece, shot in 70mm, about a fanatical cult leader and his evolving father-son dynamic with a desperate drifter in postwar America. Long, difficult, ambitious and startling, this is a challenge as thought-provoking as a latter-day Kubrick film, and features three unforgettable performances by Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and (especially) Amy Adams. And on top of all that: my god, it’s something to look at.
Match Point (2005, Woody Allen) [hr]
This wickedly ironic return to form for Allen marks his first straight thriller (though Crimes and Misdemeanors comes close) as well as his first film made in Britain. The well-spun tale is of a man whose cushy, aristocratic existence is threatened by his affair with the woman who almost became his sister-in-law. Scarlett Johansson exhibits impressive virtuosity in a movie that grows more and more intense until, in its last half-hour, it becomes damn near maddening. For once, a film often labeled “Hitchcockian” that actually is.
Matilda (1996, Danny Devito) [NO]
* The mere casting of Mara Wilson in the title role would have been enough to wreck this well-intentioned sludge, but even outside of that, what Devito did to Roald Dahl’s humanistic, joyous masterwork — turning it into condescending kiddie garbage — is inexcusable.
Matinee (1993, Joe Dante) [hr]
Dante goes all the way with an idea for once and even manages to give the fine John Goodman a good role in the process. Goodman plays a consummate showman, a horror film producer taking his latest invention — a flick equipped with such gimmicks as seats that shock and a guy in a rubber fly suit to come out and torment the crowd — to Key West during the month of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Disturbing but funny and oddly nostalgic.
The Matrix (1999, Lana & Lilly Wachowski)
Been cornered at bars by the human equivalent of this movie so many times.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971, Robert Altman) [r]
Altman’s habit of letting it feel like we’re witnessing the stories that are central to his films strictly by accident is maddening. This neo-western’s mumbled dialogue and excessive use of the zoom lens is cute to a point, but there are ways in which it seems possible to be too idiosyncratic — particularly when the shots of convention border on being parodies of movie tropes, Evil Land Developer and all. Nevertheless one of the most visually attractive films of its time thanks to Vilmos Zsigmond’s lyrical photography; the ache of winter melancholy is intoxicating.
Meek’s Cutoff (2010, Kelly Reichardt) [r]
Stark, sumptuously cinematic western follows a wagon train on the Oregon Trail hitting increasingly desperate straits as a result of a guide, Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), who seems to have led the group down an ominous path. In the meantime, they’re besieged by a constant dearth of water and the unexpected entrance of a Cayuse man they capture. One of the most contemplative and character-driven of the many neo-westerns of recent years, this has a soft aimlessness appropriate to its subject matter. Though repetitive, it’s quite tense at times, and the cast (especially Michelle Williams and Paul Dano) is excellent.
Meet the Feebles (1989, Peter Jackson) [r]
Like most of Peter Jackson’s earlier films, this bizarre Muppets parody features more imagination than you’d reckon possible from the slavish Tolkien adaptations to come. This particular selection is disgusting, tasteless, as lazy as often as it’s funny — but when it hits the mark, like in an extended Deer Hunter parody and a puppet bloodbath at the finale, you can sense why it’s become a cult favorite.
Melancholia (2011, Lars Von Trier) [A+]
Drop-dead beautiful End of the World parable is Von Trier’s most exhilarating and ferociously emotional film so far; it’s less sci-fi than a knowing, complex chronicle of depression as it falls upon a new bride (Kirsten Dunst) and wreaks havoc on her familial relationships… just before a planet is discovered careening toward Earth, leaving only Dunst resigned enough to accept her fate. From its ethereal prologue to its stirring final shot, this is pure cinema, packed with metaphoric power and an overwhelming sense of real humanity and impending doom. If only more apocalyptic dramas played it this small and this humorously, but of course the apocalypse isn’t really the point.
Melinda and Melinda (2005, Woody Allen) [hr]
Melinda and Melinda are Radha Mitchell, a miserable woman whose life goes through chaos in comedy and tragedy as defined by two men at a dinner table debating the space between the two extremes. Far from Allen’s low-key material like Mighty Aphrodite, this is stylish but mature and, at various times not necessarily exclusive to either half, funny and moving.
Melvin and Howard (1980, Jonathan Demme) [A+]
Howard Hughes crashes his motorcycle Lawrence of Arabia-style and is helped back into town by an all-American loser, one Melvin Dummar. The film investigates Dummar’s life — finding, as Demme often does, the glorious in the ordinary — and what happens when the motorcycle incident unexpectedly pays off. Beyond simple Americana, the director’s affection for his characters could make you weep.
Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan) [hr]
Remarkable thriller about a man with short-term memory loss on the trail of his wife’s murderer is admirably open-ended and very well acted by Guy Pearce. If you can handle a movie that unfolds backwards, you don’t want to miss this.
Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992, John Carpenter) [NO]
* Carpenter’s stab at mainstream filmmaking is a bust; neither the script nor the lead actor (Chevy Chase, of all people) is remotely convincing.
Memories of Murder (2003, Bong Joon-ho)
Clearly a structural influence on David Fincher’s Zodiac, this devotedly unpleasant CSI-style investigative drama about a series of unsolved serial killings unfortunately is far more lurid and tonally uneven. It plays much of the narrative for laughs, and the stuff we’re supposed to find funny is, frankly, horrifying: brutal police eliciting false confessions, the immediate jump to violence during interrogations, and the implication that all this is normal and expected.
Memphis Belle (1990, Michael Caton-Jones) [c]
* Hazy WWII pap about said aircraft and its crew feels like the sort of movie that was made during the war to provoke nationalism. Garish and offensive.
Men in Black (1997, Barry Sonnenfeld) [r]
* Unoriginal but amusing distraction features the story of secret protectors of the galaxy, snuffing out evil aliens and other nuisances. Vapid indeed, but fun.
Mermaids (1990, Richard Benjamin)
* Winona Ryder and Bob Hoskins both come off quite well in a film in which they are unfortunately forced to be supporting players for Cher, who brings the production down.
The Message (1977, Moustapha Akkad)
A defiantly old-fashioned religious epic tracking the story of Muhammad, though in accordance with the tenets of Islam the prophet is never actually shown. This is long and florid and hyper-serious, but as someone raised on movies like this it actually is comforting in its dryness, though my interest wanes as battles and action take over the narrative. Refreshing to see a film of this size earnestly address a religion besides Christianity, but it really does feel at least twenty years older than it is.
Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang) [A+]
Beautiful silent German science fiction masterpiece that feels incredibly prescient today. Workers living underground begin to revolt against the cold perfection of The System, led by an ideological young man from above. Astounding visuals are everywhere, and while the tale is naive (if heartfelt) it figures in as sweeping an act of storytelling as we can witness on a screen.
Michael (1924, Carl Theodor Dreyer) [hr]
Elegant, subtle story of unrequited love shows the fracturing relationship between a celebrated gay painter (Benjamin Christensen) and his most favored model (Walter Slezak). Dreyer, cowriter Thea von Harbou and Danish novelist Herman Bang paint a portrait of a man pining for the past without denying him his dignity. The matter-of-fact approach to the characters’ sexuality as well as Dreyer and Karl Freund’s ability to use space to communicate intimacy make this one of the most modern and emotional of all silent films.
Michael Clayton (2007, Tony Gilroy) [r]
Gritty, talky George Clooney vehicle resembles nothing so much as a stylish, self-regarding TV crime drama with showy acting bookended by two artistically risky strokes: a disorienting introduction and a quiet, nonchalant finale. The chronological jump that it depends on for its explosive opening feels gimmicky and done-to-death, but the story of a law office’s financially shaky “fixer” discovering that he’s tasked with defending the actions of a murderously corrupt chemical company is intriguing and absorbing all the same… it’s immediately evident, however, that it’s written by its director, as anyone else would have cut down at least some of the interminable monologues that populate it, especially those foisted on poor Tom Wilkinson.
A Midnight Clear (1992, Keith Gordon) [hr]
A slow and meditative but genuinely heartbreaking and brilliant war film, moreover a bracing, intelligent story about the way introspective young men relate to and protect one another. In this sense, while the film does proud the (probably autobiographical) novel by Birdy author William Wharton, it equally serves as a true thematic follow-up to director Gordon’s wonderful The Chocolate War… and a solemn cinematic experience that deserves placement in the class of All Quiet on the Western Front and Full Metal Jacket.
Midnight Cowboy (1969, John Schlesinger) [hr]
Jon Voight is brilliant as a male prostitute who befriends an aimless young badass (a heartbreaking Dustin Hoffman). Not so much a story as a lonely cry into the night; not so much a portrait of a generation, as was proposed at the time, as a poem of growing up, outward, and wrong. A beautiful, meditative film.
Midnight Express (1978, Alan Parker) [NO]
Oliver Stone wrote this.
Midnight in Paris (2011, Woody Allen) [hr]
Allen’s best film in nearly two decades, a witty and romantic work of magic about wistful Owen Wilson inadvertently traveling back in time to 1920s Paris and meeting all of his idols. The kind of bewildering night at the movies you dream about; you’ll smile the entire time. And it will make you want to go on a trip, preferably with someone.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997, Clint Eastwood) [hr]
Eastwood adapts yet another New York Times Bestseller List mainstay; this time, the results are extraordinary. John Berendt’s nonfiction book becomes a sublime portrait of the Gothic South, with a fine lead performance from John Cusack and an effectively sustained mood. Kevin Spacey also stands out in this richly entertaining film.
Midway (1976, Jack Smight) [c]
* Well-acted but meandering war film.
Mighty Aphrodite (1995, Woody Allen) [hr]
The remarkable Mira Sorvino amps up this light Allen comedy about a man’s search for the biological mother of his adopted child. Helena Bonham-Carter is also excellent. The material — despite its debt to Greek tragedy — is less sophisticated than the director’s films from this period usually are, but there’s a certain delight in watching him handle a different kind of movie.
A Mighty Wind (2003, Christopher Guest) [hr]
A group of folk singers unite for a farewell concert in memory of a recently deceased friend. Guest’s biggest triumph in the mockumentary field to date is a film so realistic as to be believable, so believable it’s funny, so funny it feels honest, so honest it’s ultimately even moving, a great accomplishment for light satire.
Mildred Pierce (1945, Michael Curtiz) [hr]
Extraordinary performances from Joan Crawford, Eve Arden and a subtle Bruce Bennett set this noir ablaze despite its being a whitewashed take on James M. Cain’s ice-cold novel. It opens with the title character attempting to frame an annoying suitor at a crime scene, then via flashbacks turns into a surprisingly feminist-leaning studio picture; Curtiz delivers it with atmosphere and engaging flamboyance. A muddle of confused intentions here, but heartfelt and striking at its best.
Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant) [hr]
The triumphant and tragic story of martyred gay rights hero Harvey Milk, the San Francisco city supervisor murdered along with the mayor in 1978, is unsentimentally pushed forward by Van Sant and a cast of magnificent performers until it feels almost alive — it becomes one of the best sociopolitical films of the era, and one of the best biopics ever made.
Milk Money (1994, Richard Benjamin) [NO]
* It’s amazing what you get subjected to as a child.
Miller’s Crossing (1990, Joel Coen) [r]
I’m conflicted about this film, which is both a pure-style rehash of gangster-film clichés (replete with the Coen brothers’ trademark mean-spirited humor) and a fairly interesting character study. It’s so driven by cool shots and slick action scenes, photographed with the usual intensity by Barry Sonnenfeld, that the potentially more interesting shreds get a bit lost; for the Coens, it seems as if filming the genre in the hippest fashion imaginable was more important than filming any particular story. And don’t worry, there’s plenty of time for a Third Man ripoff.
Million Dollar Baby (2004, Clint Eastwood) [c]
Eastwood gives himself a plum role in this Paul Haggis-penned, dismally pessimistic and cornball boxing movie about incomprehensible people doing incomprehensible things. Wasted lives in the modern world. Maybe there’s some truth in it, but nothing expressive or cinematic.
Min and Bill (1930, George W. Hill) [hr]
Splendidly loudmouthed MGM comedy-tearjerker about a dockside speakeasy where oddball superstars Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery try to protect an abandoned teenager from her abusive lush of a mom. Sappy as it threatens to be, this boasts great, believable characters and builds to an emotionally overpowering conclusion.
Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg) [hr]
Harsh, thrilling sci-fi amping up the old Hitchcock “wrong man” theme, marred only by the performance of Tom Cruise and a few curious visual choices. This dark, frenzied Phillip K. Dick adaptation is Spielberg’s most exciting film in years.
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944, Preston Sturges)
Stagy, silly comedy was considered bold in its day but comes off now as a bit tired. Sturges’ heroine, played by Betty Hutton, has a night of wild sex then must endure the consequences. Well-written but just not fully functional as a film.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947, George Seaton) [r]
Priceless Christmas fantasy is highlighted by the wonderful Edmund Gwenn as a store Santa who convinces a young girl (Natalie Wood) that he’s the real deal. Sentimental but sharp, this is ideal seasonal entertainment, especially for children.
Miracle on 34th Street (1994, Les Mayfield) [NO]
* John Hughes’ exhaustingly stupid slapstick remake of the classic has nothing whatsoever to recommend.
The Miracle Worker (1962, Arthur Penn) [r]
Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke are both brilliant in this film about Helen Keller and her early encounters with her famous teacher Anne Sullivan; this is beholden to its stage and live TV origins but is still harrowing and impressively mature.
Misery (1990, Rob Reiner) [r]
Although one is completely and unrelentingly drawn in to this superbly directed thriller about a bestselling author kidnapped and tortured by his “#1 fan,” it doesn’t do nearly as much with its tantalizing premise as one would hope, despite a fantastic performance by Kathy Bates.
The Misfits (1961, John Huston) [r]
Melancholy portrait of post-marital angst has a newly divorced woman entering a circle of all-star cowboy weirdos and finding herself enamored of their freewheeling machismo but increasingly disturbed by their attitudes toward other living things, herself included. Arthur Miller’s dialogue is good, the story reassuringly small, the fluid camerawork engaging. Most modern viewers come to this to watch three actors (Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift) on the eve of untimely demises; all three are good, but upstaged by both Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter in subtler, more nuanced roles.
Missing (1982, Costa-Gavras) [r]
Interesting and politically sharp procedural mystery of sorts — based on the risible true story of Charles Horman — suffers from off-pitch performances throughout and only catches visual fire in a bloodcurdling scene inside a horrifically disorganized makeshift morgue. The biggest sour note is struck by Jack Lemmon, playing the well-to-do old-world hangups and grumpy self-righteousness of Disapproving Dad all too straight, essentially melding a real person into a stereotype.
Mission: Impossible (1996, Brian De Palma) [NO]
* Completely confusing and dull hyperactive revision of the popular ’60s TV show has one solid suspense sequence, is otherwise a lost cause.
Mississippi Burning (1988, Alan Parker) [r]
This is a riveting, well-acted civil rights drama, but it is also one so by-the-numbers and rife with Hollywood cliché (Gene Hackman gets into a physical scuffle with the KKK husband of the girl he digs) that by the time it closes with the saccharine gospel song, you don’t put stock in anything it bothers with.
Mister Roberts (1955, John Ford & Mervyn LeRoy) [r]
Mostly notable for a once-in-a-lifetime cast living up completely to their respective brands (Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, Jack Lemmon) and a tortured genesis involving three directors, this is a mildly memorable story about camaraderie enduring on a stagnant Naval ship during WWII despite the tyrannical leadership of its intolerably petty captain. Most of what happens is more than a bit obvious and juvenile, but there’s some great dialogue, some solid jokes and relatively honest characterizations.
Mistress America (2015, Noah Baumbach) [hr]
Lola Kirke is Tracy, a lost soul and aspiring fiction writer among many at Barnard College. She funnels her experiences of whirlwind nightlife in NYC with her stepsister-to-be Brooke (Greta Gerwig) into a short story she then submits to a campus literary guild while openly supporting Brooke’s cockamamie scheme to open up a restaurant in the city. Their intentions and various peripheral figures come to a head in a long Howard Hawks-like scene of screwball, dialogue-heavy chaos at a suburban house. Baumbach’s third comedy with Greta Gerwig is funny, sharp and cinematically daring, as usual.
Moana (2016, John Musker & Ron Clements)
A mishmash of market-tested impulses from the over-employed architects of Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and other toy and ride-centered properties that incidentally involved motion pictures at some point. At first there’s dignity in the story of a girl with the fate of the world resting on her shoulders as she’s swept up in a Polynesian mythology story, but with the invasion of the demigod Maui, voiced with a charmless thud by the Rock, there’s the usual refusal for humor or pathos to come organically. Impressive effects animation can’t redeem dull character designs or the dreadful songs. Your kids deserve better movies than this.
Modern Romance (1981, Albert Brooks) [hr]
Stunning satire takes on relationships and jealousy with cruel, cynical finesse. Brooks is a lost soul after ending his affair with Kathryn Harrold… then finds himself unable to escape the evil clutches of love. Often hauntingly truthful, always insanely funny, and one of the great movies about movies to boot: the hero is a film editor, and Brooks twice stops the narrative to study how impressions are created, where the “truth” comes from.
Modern Times (1936, Charles Chaplin) [hr]
A third of this film is a weepy drama, which is saccharine but nevertheless often effective. Another third is a commentary on the Depression, which is enormously moving. But the first third is a physical comedy of the Tramp’s battle with modern technology, and it is here (and in the final seconds) that Modern Times goes somewhere incredible.
Mom and Dad Save the World (1992, Greg Beeman) [NO]
* While you watch this, I’ll go clean out the toilet.
Mommy (2014, Xavier Dolan)
Canadian social problem picture about a violent, unstable teenager with ADHD shepherded back into attempted normalcy by his stressed-out mother and a traumatized neighbor. Exquisite, believable performances from the three leads (Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon and Suzanne Clement) fail to conquer the empty, obvious platitudes that litter the script, the hollow “after-school special with swearing” story and director Dolan’s groan-inducing pretensions, most annoyingly an aspect ratio gimmick that has no good reason to exist.
Mona Lisa (1986, Neil Jordan) [hr]
London comes alive in this sumptuous and enveloping noirish thriller about an ex-con who helps a prostitute find a long-lost friend and finds himself embroiled in intrigue. Toward the end this becomes a bit overwrought, but it’s quite a thrill along the way nevertheless.
Money for Nothing (1993, Ramon Menendez) [c]
* The guy who wrote this killed himself right before the movie came out. It’s really depressing.
The Money Pit (1986, Richard Benjamin) [r]
* Wonderful comedy about Tom Hanks’ disastrous move to a new home is wild slapstick. Nothing new, but still a blast.
Monster (2003, Patty Jenkins) [r]
An economical and brilliantly acted portrait of two complex women in a love affair that has the unpredictable, emotionally fiery feel of reality. Unfortunately it’s in service of a biography of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, and — complex a figure as she was — it’s thus a highly unpleasant viewing experience, regardless of one’s very human fascination with crime and murder. Charlize Theron’s embodiment of Wuornos is startling only afterward, such is her disappearance into the role.
Monster’s Ball (2001, Marc Forster)
Aesthetically hideous, this collection of feel-bad histrionics, executions, racist epithets, sex and misery might be entertainingly gritty were it not so reliant on strained coincidences: a corrections officer by convolution happens to start an affair with a woman whose husband was in his charge while on death row. The actors — Billy Bob Thornton especially — deserve commendation for making this big pile of plotty ridiculousness at least somewhat earthy and sincere.
Monsters, Inc. (2001, Pete Docter) [hr]
A brilliant Pixar film about an alternate universe filled with monsters devoted to scaring children, one of whom somehow finds her way into this world and creates pandemonium. With great characters and some portions that echo classic Looney Tunes, many others that are unexpectedly moving, this is entertainment that’s massive in all senses.
Monsters University (2013, Dan Scanlon) [hr]
A prequel to Pete Docter’s lovely Monsters, Inc. and not quite up to that film’s standards, but a genuinely winning comedy about the familiar characters as younger monsters — amusing and surprisingly subversive without violating the earlier film. Shed of the pressure to innovate, the Pixar folks seem to have a bit more fun than they’ve allowed themselves in a while.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones)
Outside of a few sketches, I don’t enjoy Python; I recognize their creativity and charm, but it just isn’t my sense of humor — I don’t feel much irony or sharpness from the word games and exaggerated ultraviolence, and the “surrealism” just isn’t surreal enough to work for me. It’s not “too silly” or anything like that, I just don’t find the same things funny that they do. What can you say about that? This film is so liberally quoted in certain circles (as though the perpetuation of a gag was its reason for existence) that its impact has probably been dulled through the years anyway.
Moon (2009, Duncan Jones) [r]
Intelligent, starkly realized science fiction about a commercial astronaut (Sam Rockwell) beginning to doubt his identity after three years on a moonbase — when he wakes up from an accident to find that he’s been joined by what appears to be a clone of himself. First-time director Jones keeps it simple and emotional, adding no filler to a story that moves along at a clip to its throught-provoking conclusion. However, the reason to see the film is Rockwell, who’s magnificent.
Moonlight (2016, Barry Jenkins) [hr]
A more cinematic Boyhood, three episodes in the life of an introverted black kid trying to form a self and coming to terms with his sexuality. Formally astonishing, breathtaking in its lyrical minimalism and impeccably performed, it feels like a Sunrise-scale fable, emotion written in space and color and movement in the manner of Wong Kar Wai, but it also feels like you have really lived through these experiences, and the halting dialogue and knowing glances attain an incredible weight.
Moonraker (1979, Lewis Gilbert) [NO]
* The most ridiculous James Bond film ever, this nonsense throws him into space; despite that he still manages to have lots of sex, even though he is Roger Moore.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson) [hr]
Sincere and witty, gentle portrait of young love between two adolescent runaways boasts a wonderfully weird cast (Bruce Willis and Edward Norton are standouts in stunt-cast roles as a tightly wound, square, “sad” policeman and a tightly wound, square, over-eager scoutmaster respectively) and is Anderson’s best live action film since Rushmore. It might take place, quite believably, in 1965, but its perspectives on childhood, first love and growing up in an isolated community are endlessly evocative and universal. The narrative gets muddled toward the end, with lightning strikes and a baffling cameo by Harvey Keitel, but so what? The world of the movie’s what matters, and it’s sumptuous.
Moonstruck (1987, Norman Jewison) [c]
Middling series of conversations between and monologues from vacant stereotypes of New York Italians in a very humdrum love triangle plot. There are some enjoyable performances, particularly those of Olympia Dukakis and Danny Aiello, but you have to cut through the dross of a slobbering, slack-jawed Nicolas Cage giving overwrought speeches and pretending to be really into “opera.” John Patrick Shanley’s verbose, overly theatrical script is an embarrassment that somehow scored an Oscar.
The More the Merrier (1943, George Stevens) [hr]
Winning romantic comedy makes the most of its time and place — Washington DC during World War II, in the midst of a housing crisis that necessitated mass bunking — and irresistibly places Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea in a sensual head-to-head in tight spaces, egged on by co-boarder Charles Coburn. As the film builds to screwball scenarios involving pending tours of duty, an erstwhile fiance, a diary and six dollars, it generates some major belly laughs but the real attraction is the arresting chemistry between the two leads.
Morning Glory (1933, Lowell Sherman) [r]
Elliptical narrative wrung out by RKO from Zoe Akins’ play features a very young and already mesmerizing Katharine Hepburn as a starry-eyed, naive but ambitious young actress attempting to land a career-making role, chattering an unstoppable mile a minute while cavorting around at play auditions and parties. The film’s stage origins are made explicit by the extreme length of each of its scenes, but there’s some good dialogue and some interesting calls ahead to All About Eve.
Mortal Thoughts (1991, Alan Rudolph) [NO]
* Pointless, slick thriller about the bloody aftermath of a rape is uninvolving and eventually ludicrous.
Moscow on the Hudson (1984, Paul Mazursky) [NO]
* Robin Williams is thoroughly unconvincing as a Russian wandering around New York in this overwrought “comedy.”
A Most Violent Year (2014, J.C. Chandor)
Odd thriller with heavy borrowings from gangster movies has Oscar Isaac — uncannily resembling Al Pacino circa Godfather II — very good as a sloppy, pensive oil man whose trucks keep getting stolen in NYC and whose money problems are coming to a head with an investigation from the DA looming. Impressively detail-oriented but a tad silly, and it all seems so familiar, to the point of coming off like a parody of Scorsese movies.
A Most Wanted Man (2014, Anton Corbijn) [hr]
Le Carre dives into the War on Terror and the results are intricate, stormy, upsetting, completely steeping you in recent history then sending you off a cliff. A politically brave, dispiriting drop into the catacombs and I’ll take it over the likes of Zero Dark Thirty in a walk; Corbijn’s visual style is distinctive without distracting, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is huffing, messy magic in the lead.
Mother (1926, Vsevolod Pudovkin) [hr]
Indelible as the imagery is, this propaganda film lands today because of Vera Baranovskaya’s aching, utterly believable performance as the mother of a revolutionary; her passion and concern for her son almost destroys him, then aligns her with his cause. By the finale, even any cerebral fascination with technique is secondary to the way you feel all this in the depths of your gut.
Mother Night (1996, Keith Gordon) [r]
Nick Nolte is excellent as a playwright-cum-spy in Germany, whose life falls apart when he’s misidentified (?) as a Nazi after the war. Vonnegut cultists are highly supportive of this barbed adaptation from brilliant director Gordon, and it even features a cameo from the author himself, but while the filmmakers have a blast wringing suspense out of the Hitchcockian switcheroos in place here, they fail to take the emotions of the story seriously enough (possibly a result of Vonnegut’s own traditional sarcasm), resulting in a film that asks thought-provoking, difficult questions but repeatedly undercuts them. Fun but aloof.
Moulin Rouge! (2001, Baz Luhrmann)
Luhrmann certainly knows what he’s doing, with an undeniable command of his form, but his movies are still overwhelming and annoying. This numbing cacophony of sound and image will either endear itself to you immediately or make you sick to your stomach. It does get better as it goes along, but it never does anything terribly wonderful.
The Mouse That Roared (1959, Jack Arnold) [hr]
* The movie that made Peter Sellers a superstar, this masterpiece about a war against the U.S.A. is endlessly surprising and hilarious. Finally given the chance to sparkle, Sellers is simply unforgettable.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941, Alfred Hitchcock) [r]
Screwball film about a couple that finds out they aren’t legally married. (Didn’t this happen on The Dick Van Dyke Show once?) All right, Bringing Up Baby it ain’t, but Hitchcock’s only straight American comedy brings one great comic situation after another. It may not add up to anything life-changing, but the setpieces are wonderful. The only problem is that Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery have great chemistry but we barely get to see it!
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936, Frank Capra) [r]
Snapshot of the Great Depression explores just what Gary Cooper does when he unexpectedly becomes a millionaire. If only it were about what it yearns to be: his thorny relationship with an independent reporter played by Jean Arthur. Worth seeing, but one of the weakest of Capra’s upper-tier productions.
Mr. Destiny (1990, James Orr) [NO]
* Michael Caine and James Belushi figure in a valiant but horribly superficial attempt to bring Capra to the ’90s; Belushi wishes for a bigger house and a hotter wife, and gets it. And then, predictably, he realizes Success Isn’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be.
Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995, Stephen Herek) [NO]
* Obnoxious, namby-pamby trash about “inspiring” music teacher who hates his deaf son, loves the Beatles. Maybe people this simplistic do exist in real life, but if they do, that’s no reason to write about them. If only John Lennon were alive to see this and throw up…
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993, Chris Columbus) [NO]
* Someone puts Robin Williams in an old-lady suit and sets his tits on fire. I’ve long dreamed of doing this, but unfortunately the attacker is Chris Columbus, the most evil director of them all, who does it because he thinks it’s funny. Guess what? (And you don’t even want to know what this gruesome twosome finds “touching.”)
Mrs. Miniver (1942, William Wyler) [hr]
Witty and sobering, this missive about the impact of World War II on a British family is easy to dismiss as propaganda, but that would mean dodging its universal and touching ideas about community and family, and the way that humdrum, unexciting everyday life is what ends up mattering the most, war or no war. Teresa Wright and Greer Garson are luminous, and the climactic loss is unexpected and devastating.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939, Frank Capra) [hr]
Sharp, cynical drama about wide-eyed Eagle Scout Jimmy Stewart becoming a senator, learning the truth about corruption and evil at the highest levels of government. Splendid, smart, moving film is patriotic without being mawkish, incredibly uncompromising in its vision of power misused. Stewart and Jean Arthur are both unforgettable.
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994, Alan Rudolph) [r]
Jennifer Jason Leigh is flat-out stunning as the great Dorothy Parker in this enjoyable biopic that chronicles the Algonquin Round Table in studiously polite fashion. Much of the blood it draws comes thanks solely to Leigh, but the film is fine entertainment regardless.
Mr. Turner (2014, Mike Leigh)
Inoffensive but aimless character study of painter J.M.W. Turner, balancing his callousness with his gradual softening but offering little insight to speak of into his work. This fusion of historical biopic, benign prettiness and utter narrative banality just sits there, and for an eternity. Timothy Spall’s lead performance is showy to the point of unintended humor.
Much Ado About Nothing (1993, Kenneth Branagh)
* Branagh’s casting of Keanu Reeves is just one questionable decision in this busy Shakespeare movie that entertains for a time but comes off in the end as just a lot of fluff.
Much Ado About Nothing (2012, Joss Whedon) [hr]
The best romantic comedy to hit cinemas in probably a decade was written in the late sixteenth century. For which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?
Mud (2012, Jeff Nichols) [c]
Great Actor Matthew McConaughey looks like a swamp monster who has trouble digesting food in this highly telegraphed collection of suspiciously familiar subplots about growing up rural leading up to a ludicrous climax straight out of a made-for-cable feature. Every woman in the film is treated as a buzzkill for existing and is talked about in a manner lifted from erotic pulp novels circa 1957 and/or Reddit. From the writer-director of the equally overpraised Take Shelter, this almost couldn’t be more misguided or preposterously lazy.
Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch) [hr]
Playful, creepy, extremely funny neo-noir that is in its own way as charming as Lynch’s previous film, The Straight Story, but this time there’s sex in it. Naomi Watts gives an absolutely perfect performance as a wide-eyed young actress who visits L.A. for the first time and stumbles into an amnesiac’s Raymond Chandler nightmare just before falling madly in love with her. After that it starts to get kind of odd. Oblique and over-the-top (shot with no budget as a TV show, putting it in good company with Psycho) but consistently absorbing film is a near-delirious cross between Eyes Wide Shut, a Nancy Drew novel, and Cinemax porn. Movies more fun than this are simply not made.
Multiplicity (1996, Harold Ramis) [c]
* One Michael Keaton is generally more than enough for me; this plotless comedy would be a bore even if, I dunno, Bruce Willis were the one being cloned.
Munich (2005, Steven Spielberg) [hr]
Spielberg’s Day of the Jackal with morals: A staggering chronicle of the aftermath of the 1972 Olympic massacre. We follow the excellent Eric Bana as he works with a group of assassins to enact revenge on the plotters of the killings. As in Amistad, everything is questioned in this brilliant, savagely daring film displaying the director at his best.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992, Brian Henson)
* Henson does his best to match his father’s wit and whimsy, but despite a few fair gags, this is just a tired retread of a story that has been told many, many times by people with deeper knowledge of how to tell it.
The Muppet Movie (1979, James Frawley) [r]
* Harmless feature film starring Jim Henson’s delightful creatures has moments of enormous comic brilliance, though its attempts at plot are quite ridiculous; at least the movie admits that much in the final musical number, urging people to write the ending themselves.
The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984, Frank Oz) [r]
* The only Muppet feature that completely works, this serves as both an excellent family movie and a tremendously fascinating snapshot of NYC in the early ’80s. Oz captures time and place with great skill that enhances the film considerably, despite its predictable conclusion.
Muppet Treasure Island (1996, Brian Henson) [c]
* While there is the usual charm in this Muppet adaptation, and one cannot overstate the fun of seeing Tim Curry as Long John Silver, Henson doesn’t really know what to do with these characters, who never really served features that well to begin with.
Murder! (1930, Alfred Hitchcock) [hr]
An innocent woman gets the death penalty for killing her friend. Like Fritz Lang’s M, Hitchcock’s only contribution to the “whodunit” genre is incredibly modern for a film from the first few years of widespread sound. Creepy atmosphere and great characterizations even with a fairly basic plot.
Murder by Death (1976, Robert Moore) [hr]
* All-time classic mystery-comedy — with every great detective invited to Truman Capote’s house to solve a crime — features incredible cast and set design, is easily Neil Simon’s best work.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974, Sidney Lumet) [r]
Lumet’s glee at Agatha Christie’s dim view of humanity — underlined in a painstakingly detailed, violent flashback at the climax — offsets the hamminess of several members of his once-in-a-lifetime cast, Albert Finney’s Hercule Poirot the silliest of all. Numerous others appear in what are really just walk-ons; the standouts are Rachel Roberts and Anthony Perkins, not Oscar winner Ingrid Bergman. If the thought of a murder mystery set aboard a train with a bunch of your favorite stars excites you there’s no reason you won’t find this engaging, and as a bonus its amoral perspective ensures that it doesn’t result in your brain falling out.
Murphy’s Romance (1985, Martin Ritt) [r]
* Warm, perceptive comedy has Garner as the classic second husband who woos a divorcée in a small town. Often very funny, though of course a bit too idyllic for its own good. The scenes with the equally classic first dummy are utterly priceless.
The Muse (1999, Albert Brooks) [r]
In yet another cynical satire of the movie business, screenwriter Brooks and his wife are taken in by Sharon Stone in an excellent performance as an all-purpose “muse” who supposedly helps writers deliver top-quality scripts. Brooks’ ending is a bit too subtle, but the rest of the movie is a scream, deceptively low-key and full of acid.
Museum Hours (2012, Jem Cohen) [r]
Elliptical, quiet immersion into the lonely power of art museums, married to an anti-aethesticism philosophy of filmmaking. Equal time is made for conversation between friends and strangers and for the hidden ways in which art infects and alters our relationship with the world around us. Though undeniably beautiful, this wears its lack of focus proudly, but see it if you like a film that makes you feel you’ve really traveled somewhere.
The Music Man (1962, Morton Da Costa) [NO]
* Intolerably trite, fake “Americana” about a con artist who invades a small town, or rather, the Hollywood/Broadway vision of what small towns are like. At least Leave It to Beaver didn’t have a bunch of shitty songs.
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, Frank Lloyd) [r]
High Hollywood art. Irving Thalberg’s dubiously honest telling of the story — the first of many — is dominated by Charles Laughton’s Captain Bligh, and yet there’s barely enough of him and the film is riveting for a time but dull by the end. Anyway, unmissable for the two lead performances, Laughton’s lunatic and Clark Gable as his straight man.
My Architect (2003, Nathaniel Kahn) [r]
Kahn’s documentary about his own mission to learn more about the life and death of his mysteriously distant father, famed architect and apparently secret polygamist Louis Kahn, sometimes resembles a personal diary entry a bit too much, but its sweep of years and sense of ache live on in the mind nearly (but not quite) as much as its sometimes breathtaking photography of the elder Kahn’s work.
My Blue Heaven (1990, Herbert Ross) [c]
Steve Martin is overbearing, Rick Moranis wonderful — quite a role-reversal — in harmless but boring comedy about supposedly reformed Mob man being relocated to a quiet neighborhood, soon returning to his old ways.
My Bodyguard (1980, Tony Bill) [r]
* Sweet, captivating portrait of teenaged wimp gets across some of the unmitigated horror of attending high school in the United States. You know it’s a movie because the geek befriends a tough, sensitive James Deanish outcast who rescues him, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a lot of fun. Just don’t forget: This never happens; in real life, the Adam Baldwin character would be off 69ing with someone.
My Cousin Vinny (1992, Jonathan Lynn) [r]
This courtroom-based comedy is a novel reversal of the usual “backwoods lawyer tries to make good in the big city” formula, with leather-suited, inexperienced Joe Pesci coming down from Brooklyn and making an ass of himself in rural Alabama to defend his cousin, one of two men charged with attempted murder after a bogus series of unfortunate coincidences. Well-acted, engaging and surprisingly believable, with the most cogent rebuke of eyewitness testimony since The Wrong Man, this is half an hour too long and not as funny as it ought to be, but because its humor comes fairly naturally and the farce is kept to a minimum, it’s easily a cut above most mainstream Hollywood comedies of its vintage. Marisa Tomei is brilliant and deserved the Oscar.
My Fair Lady (1964, George Cukor) [NO]
The so-called Great Woman’s Director crafts a film that should be offensive not only to women but to everyone of every race, color, creed, sex, and intellect level. To begin with, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is bullshit; adding songs is like a small-scale hate crime. Conform, everybody! Then Rex Harrison will like you, and win his bet, and you’ll get to sing lousy songs! This is the kind of movie that makes you want to claw your way through the walls and run screaming into the night.
My Girl (1991, Howard Zieff) [NO]
* Chris Columbus, amazingly, did not make this movie, but it has all his trademarks: aggressively maudlin story, precocious child, Macaulay Culkin, horribly out of touch “well-meaning” parents, various attempts at moral weight, and a finale so sugary it could induce retching in a nun. They knew it was a bad movie when they made it, but they figured the kids wouldn’t care. Fuck that shit.
My Joy (2010, Sergei Loznitsa)
Basically: life is short, life is shit, and soon it will be over. The narrative debut feature from documentarian Loznitsa carries elements of everything from The Wages of Fear to Straw Dogs, with hapless truck driver Viktor Nemets doing his best to keep his cool in a hostile Russia. The first half is full of tangents but remains somewhat comprehensible; in the second half Nemets is virtually unrecognizable and the story is completely insane. Too much of an unrewarding investment for my tastes, but if you’re in a bleak mood you’ll love it — and its frame-filling widescreen photography is quite a marvel.
My Left Foot (1989, Jim Sheridan)
Warm but saccharine biopic of cerebral palsy-suffering author and painter Christy Brown is most remembered for netting Daniel Day-Lewis the first in his armload of Oscars, and his work here is of course extremely compelling, but Jim Sheridan’s interpretation of the material only sporadically rises above the generic. It’s hard to avoid the sense that Brown frequently comes across as a complete dick, particularly in his dealings with women.
My Man Godfrey (1936, Gregory La Cava) [hr]
Supposedly a screwball comedy, this intriguing study of an odd family dynamic is never uproariously funny, with William Powell a cool-headed homeless man trying to build his life back up while resisting the pull of the band of blood-tied and fractured kooks who hire him as a butler. All the while that he’s pushed and pulled by warring factions in said family, Carole Lombard is the film’s sole stroke of real wildness, lusting after him relentlessly, and she deserves credit for how surreal a performance it is. Her presence enlivens the innocuous family scenes and the explorations of Godfrey’s character; she and Powell are mesmerizing.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988, Hayao Miyazaki) [r]
Two sisters cope with a creepy new house and a mysteriously hospitalized mom by discovering the wondrous nature around them and befriending a trio of cuddly critters that only they can see. Includes some of the loveliest backgrounds in any animated film, and at least one of the most enchanting moments in cinema, period (a long sequence at a bus stop), but the characters feel like ciphers and the story trumps up mild moments of conflict and fear instead of embracing its smallness. Still, any movie with a “Cat Bus” is OK with me.
My Science Project (1985, Jonathan Beteul) [NO]
* Quickly thrown together teen comedy, one of the early non-family Disney movies, is an embarrassment on every level.
My Stepmother Is an Alien (1988, Richard Benjamin) [NO]
* Dan Aykroyd is a bore, Kim Basinger a statue in this miserable comedy explained as well as can be hoped by its title. My stepmother got her visa through marriage; big deal.
Mysteries of Lisbon (2010, Raúl Ruiz) [r]
One of Snoopy’s best screenplays. “Could it be that the girl in the tattered shawl was really the lover of the pirate who sold the little boy to the gypsy who later became a priest???”
Mysterious Island (1961, Cy Endfield) [c]
* Mysterious only if you’ve never seen a movie with Harryhausen effects before. Still, great score.
Mystery Men (1999, Kinka Usher) [NO]
* It was under miserable circumstances that I saw this film. And it was a chicken-or-egg situation, if you get my drift.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996, Jim Mallon) [r]
The best TV show of the ’90s makes a reasonably smooth transition to the silver screen; the jokes are more generalized and the movie (This Island Earth) is more famous, but the concept is the same. As an episode of the show, it’s a bit below par (and short), but it’s still fun — and seeing host segments on film is a great thrill.
Mystic River (2003, Clint Eastwood) [c]
Shoddy attempt at “moral ambiguity” is all for naught in this shockingly bad mystery about three men, one of whom was abused as a child, and their involvement in the murder of a sexy sexy teenager. Eastwood’s storytelling (abetted by novelist Dennis Lehane) is confused and nonsensical; his conclusion is infuriatingly lazy.
The Myth of Fingerprints (1997, Bart Freundlich) [NO]
* Yet another young writer-director’s lame attempt to take on The Corruption of the American Family. Angst-ridden losers deal with life’s disappointments in tired, poorly acted holy terror of a movie.