The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988, David Zucker) [r]
* Decent expansion of the semi-forgotten ’80s TV series Police Squad! finds the boys of ZAZ up to their usual no-good. Leslie Neilsen is fun as a cop too incompetent to be corrupt in this silly, funny nonsense. Not up to Airplane! or anything, but solid.
The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991, David Zucker) [c]
* A surprisingly inoffensive farce, this is a sequel too restrained to be funny, too obnoxious to be charming.
The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994, Peter Segal) [c]
* Considerably more entertaining than the second film, this isn’t really a lot better, outside of a few excellent gags, overstacked at certain points in the picture. Interesting to see O.J. Simpson just prior to his little diversion.
The Naked Jungle (1954, Byron Haskin) [r]
* Hilarious, bold George Pal movie with Charlton Heston (perfectly cast) and Eleanor Parker dealing with giant ants that have surrounded their home. Even better than it sounds.
Nanook of the North (1922, Robert J. Flaherty) [r]
Flaherty’s initial “docufiction,” a mostly staged exploration of an Eskimo hunter’s day to day life, is celebrated for establishing the potential for documentary as poetry. It doesn’t wear well today for non-students, so reliant on obvious contrivances and cutesy, racist asides revolving around the “simplicity” of the people whose cheeriness and expertise it’s supposed to be celebrating. It’s easy to see, though, why it kicked off an entire genre of ethnographic docudramas; its ability to transport one to an unfamiliar world is still compelling if not absolutely arresting. Along with Intolerance, one of the finest early examples of film editing as an art unto itself.
Napoleon (1927, Abel Gance) [r]
Four curiously reverent hours covering the first sixth (!) of Napoleon Bonaparte’s biography, as often dull and politically risible as impressive. Everything admirable about the film is technical, but if you approach it as avant garde it’s one of the most ambitious creations of its day. Gance wrote, directed, produced, acted in and edited the film, and his wild fast cutting, fluid location shots, use of handheld camera and spirit of experimentation mark him as a peer to Griffith and Eisenstein.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004, Jared Hess) [hr]
Extraordinarily perceptive comedy — classic heightened realism — about high school losers attempting various social connections to try and improve their status. Made with finesse and a welcome sense of wonder.
Nashville (1975, Robert Altman) [r]
Sensory overload from the first second of this mosaic of displaced lives in the title city. There’s humor, emotion, impressive trickery and plenty of great music, but as its deplorable subplot takes the center stage there’s hell to pay. Walk out after the next to last song and you should be OK. As for the messy opening bits, I reckon it’s all “real” but “real” in the way that overheard snatches of conversation in a restaurant are “real,” not like the intimacy of inner worlds this film could’ve offered us.
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978, John Landis) [c]
* The crop of awful ’80s comedies can be traced back to this, an extremely irritating film with John Belushi in a frathouse that numerous people find inexplicably hilarious. Maybe it requires a lot of drinking?
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989, Jeremiah S. Chechik) [c]
* There’s only so much amusement one can get out of Randy Quaid. And as for Chevy Chase, the only thing that prevents one from automatically hating him in this movie is its strange insistence on sentimentality at the finish. All of its situations are too obvious and tragic to be amusing.
National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985, Amy Heckerling) [r]
* Intriguingly angry, cynical comedy finds bickering, sex-crazed family taking an exotic vacation, learning to hate each other and everyone else more and more. Some find this nihilistic and horrifyingly trashy. I call it comedy. Easily the best of the Vacation films.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983, Harold Ramis) [r]
Until Chevy Chase begins screaming at everybody and holds up John Candy at the amusement park, this is actually rather frighteningly realistic. Imogene Coca is brilliant.
National Velvet (1944, Clarence Brown) [r]
California stars as England in this pleasant, sentimental MGM sports drama about a young butcher’s daughter improbably named Velvet (Elizabeth Taylor) and her horse The Pie (!?) who triumph with the help of wandering Mickey Rooney, who seems resentful and noncommittal except when the scene calls for him not to be. It’s exactly like a dozen other movies but you can’t really fault it, especially with strong performances from Taylor and the wonderful, Oscar-winning Anne Revere and the splendidly lean script by Helen Deutsch that reminds us why people go on and on about “screenplay structure” and such: sometimes it really is mighty rousing.
Naughty Marietta (1935, W.S. Van Dyke) [r]
This operetta, revolving around a fairly routine story of a princess traveling undercover to avoid an arranged marriage and instead meeting up with Nelson Eddy, is less ribald than a Jeannette MacDonald vehicle with this title should be; but it benefits from the neatly frantic plotting of director Van Dyke, MGM’s usual ridiculous production values, some significant chemistry between the leads and even some actual comedy here and there. The “Sweet Mystery of Life” climax packs a bigger wallop than you’d begin to expect a film with this premise and staid atmosphere could generate.
The Naughty Nineties (1945, Jean Yarbrough) [r]
Abbott & Costello goofiness that contains some of their most famous skits. No plot whatsoever but fun, especially for kids.
Nausicaa (1971, Agnès Varda)
Ambitious but unfocused Varda response to the Greek coup of 1967 was unfinished when its elements were confiscated by the government, and it’s a bit difficult to judge it by the rough workprint that survives. Much like Lions Love, it’s a busy fusion of reality and fiction and doesn’t really gel. It leaps back and forth between raw interview footage and a constructed narrative about college students taking in a refugee in France, plus some satirical sketches and even some material that heavily features Varda’s personal narrative about her father. Though noble and intriguing, it feels longer than it is.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984, Hayao Miyazaki)
Dry run for Miyazaki’s later Princess Mononoke is equally reliant on the viewer enjoying the intricacies of the fantasy genre; for the rest of us, it boasts gorgeous backgrounds and a solid environmentalist message. It’s nice to see a film like this with a girl hero, too.
The Navigator (1924, Buster Keaton & Donald Crisp) [hr]
One of Keaton’s funniest films (though as racially tasteless as ever), because its gag sequences emanate logically from an elegantly skeletal story as in his best shorts. Basically it’s The General on a boat but somehow even more fun than that implies. For once Keaton gives himself an excellent comic foil in Kathryn McGuire, whose role is just as physically demanding as his, and — in the oft-imitated deck chair gag especially — she more than rises to the occasion.
Nebraska (2013, Alexander Payne) [hr]
On one level, this gorgeous film is pure black & white Americana — but go deeper and it’s as cynical and melancholy as Payne’s best work, with scenes that can simultaneously brace you in their absurdity and choke you up with emotion. Bruce Dern, as an elderly man under the delusion that his ship has come in, gives a controlled, funny, brutal performance that may be his best ever.
Neighboring Sounds (2012, Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Lively, character-filled drama about how the occupants of a neighborhood of condominiums in Brazil react when a security team is hired for their street. It’s quite engaging, but doesn’t justify its own attention to detail and constant straying and meandering; there’s simply no excuse for a film with its ultimately simple structure to be as long as it is. It’s caught halfway between having a plot and ignoring the idea of having one, so all roads lead to nowhere — it’s like an Antonioni film, only ugly.
Neighbors (1981, John G. Avildsen) [NO]
* The director of Rocky offers an even more pointless exercise, an aggressively awful comedy about John Belushi’s annoying neighbors who hate him and destroy his life. Fun! Based on a novel.
The Net (1995, Irwin Winkler) [c]
* Laughable “thriller” about the potential terrors of being electronically savvy! Sandra Bullock’s identity gets stolen by hackers! As if it’s really so hard to steal Sandra Bullock’s identity. Tron and Wargames both have funnier fake hacker-speak.
Network (1976, Sidney Lumet) [A+]
The kind of movie in which every scene is a masterpiece. Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant script about a fourth network that will do anything to get ratings is satire that stings and horrifies with truth. The cast is wonderful, with Faye Dunaway, William Holden, and Peter Finch giving career-best performances, to say nothing of a wonderful cameo by Ned Beatty.
The Neverending Story (1984, Wolfgang Petersen) [NO]
* They say “neverending” like it’s a good thing. Rips off every good fantasy film you can think of, all for the dubious cause of crafting a bad one. The message is unsubtle, the acting ham-fisted all the way.
Never Let Me Go (2010, Mark Romanek)
Highly formal science fiction centering entirely on a love triangle set against a dystopian alternate history comes off like Harry Potter and the Romantic Replicants; the stars are attractive and it’s all very professional, but it reaches valiantly for devastating emotional catharsis it’s much too Merchant-Ivory polite to actually reach.
Never Say Never Again (1983, Irvin Kershner) [c]
* Sean Connery returns as James Bond in this “unofficial” entry to the canon. It’s a bit livelier than usual thanks to its resistance to the usual tired series mainstays, but after a bright opening half-hour it just becomes another rotten action movie. Connery is a lot of fun, though.
The New World (2005, Terrence Malick) [r]
oh god… john smith… he’s colin… farrell and now he’s
… pocahontas … and they
are really in
and oh god
it hurts man it
… hurts so bad that they have…
to. speak. in. monosyllabic.
phrases to explain
are so beautiful
i gotta go
and will it really be
The Nice Guys (2016, Shane Black)
Diverting neo-noir comedy that puts a private detective and a civilian enforcer on the trail of murder and intrigue within an L.A. porn ring in the late ’70s. Probably plays better if you like either of the lead actors (Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, neither of whom has much of a gift for this stuff); though often clever and funny, it suffers from flimsy action setpieces and is too much a retread of Black’s much better Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Although Angourie Rice steals the film as Gosling’s savvier-than-thou teen daughter Holly, there’s something severely displeasing about her constant presence around adult sexuality and physical danger.
Nicholas and Alexandra (1971, Franklin J. Schaffner)
At 188 minutes, Franklin Schaffner’s Sam Spiegel-produced drama of the final days of Tsarist Russia is anything but expedient, though often pleasingly composed with the unmistakable influence of David Lean and a similar lack of resistance to bloat. There is virtually no dramatic content in the film’s last hour that isn’t obvious from everything that came before it, and the death of Tom Baker’s outré Rasputin robs the movie of its only real notes of flavor or eccentricity.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008, Peter Sollett)
Weird teen romcom derives from the same hipster subculture as Adventureland (with Chris Bell on the soundtrack!) but isn’t nearly as magic or real, though it tries. Has disappointingly nothing to do with The Thin Man, and the characters make no sense, but: harmless fun.
A Night at the Opera (1935, Sam Wood) [hr]
It’s true, you want to murder both of the romantic leads, but the Marx routines in this film are true high art… hilarity that hasn’t aged a second in seventy plus years and two hard boiled eggs. Three hard boiled eggs.
Nightcrawler (2014, Dan Gilroy) [hr]
Riveting, tense neo-noir about a Travis Bickle-like amateur cameraman (Jake Gyllenhaal, chilling) who starts selling increasingly bloody videos of L.A. crimes and accidents to a local news station. Builds to almost unberable, Clouzot-like intensity at the climax, though its satirical undercurrent places it closer to the likes of Ace in the Hole and Network. Superior to many other modern films of its type, Drive especially, despite regressive sexual politics.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, Henry Selick) [hr]
Sparkling designs and wonderful music (by Danny Elfman) enliven this incredible stop-motion feature — crafted by Tim Burton — regarding a bored skeleton’s retreat from Halloween town to explore (and invade) the world of Christmas. Even if it has now been hijacked by the emo set, this is pure joy.
Night Moves (2018, Kelly Reichardt)
The usual naturalistic expanses of Reichardt’s cinema, bent not-very-seamlessly into a thriller structure with an environmental conscience. In Oregon, three nervous outsiders (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard) perpetrate a dam explosion then scatter but are reunited in mutual anxiety by an unforeseen bit of violence. Starts out well, atmospheric and suspenseful, but lacks a coherent way to wrap up its intriguing premise.
The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton) [hr]
Laughton’s bizarro thriller will leave you dazzled, enchanted and uncomfortable. Robert Mitchum is the creepy ultra-religious stalker of a pair of children who know the whereabouts of a gigantic sum of money he’s after. Lillian Gish eventually figures into the tale as well, and one shouldn’t fail to mention Shelley Winters. This stark, unforgiving thriller is completely magical and childlike in certain places, wonderfully terrifying in others.
The Night of the Iguana (1964, John Huston)
A disgraced clergyman and drunkard (Richard Burton at his hammiest) takes a dead-end job with a touring group in Mexico and runs afoul of constant if justified hostility. The stark photography, Huston’s unorthodox blocking and the superb supporting performances by Ava Gardner and Grayson Hall fail to redeem the talky, ponderous nature of the Tennessee Williams source material; the film screeches to a halt after a half-hour and becomes irredeemably annoying.
Night of the Living Dead (1968, George A. Romero) [A+]
Classic low-budget horror film exhibits considerable brilliance on the part of Romero, who crafts one of the scariest movies ever made out of laughably scant resources. The acting by Duane Jones in the lead is unforgettable, the atmosphere of terror sustained palpably throughout as a houseful of ordinary people deal with the onslaught of zombies outside; as tense as any conventional thriller.
Night of the Living Dead (1990, Tom Savini) [c]
* Makeup artist Savini’s sympathetic but tiresome attempt at a remake shows just how much George Romero (and his black & white film stock) enhanced the 1968 classic. This film is excessive, garish, ordinary.
Night Shift (1982, Ron Howard) [r]
* Howard’s directorial breakthrough is a blast, top of the heap ’80s comedy encompassing prostitution, a mortuary, the Fonz in subdued mode, and Michael Keaton’s best role ever.
A Night to Remember (1958, Roy Ward Baker) [hr]
* Beautifully restrained — if a bit cold — chronicle of the sinking of the Titanic in stark documentary format. Good performances and just the right amount of spectacle.
Nights of Cabiria (1957, Federico Fellini) [hr]
If it lacks the technical aptitude, breadth and immersive nature of La Dolce Vita, this earlier Fellini classic achieves a more deliberate and heartfelt kind of sweep through its hyper focus on the life of the title character, so beautifully played by Giulietta Masina in what easily qualifies as one of cinema’s signature performances. The camera seems constantly aware of the larger world and the limitations of Mastroianni’s basically empty life, but here, the headstrong and world-weary but still naively hopeful Cabiria lives through a series of disappointments that become completely our own, feeling as insular for us as for her.
1941 (1979, Steven Spielberg) [r]
High-octane effects comedy about hysteria in L.A. resulting from the threat of Japanese attack just after Pearl Harbor was a major bomb, but actually looks pretty good today. It’s engrossing and awe-inspiring, though to be honest it isn’t all that funny… mostly it’s scary. And that’s not a complaint. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote the sharply cynical screenplay.
Ninotchka (1939, Ernst Lubitsch) [r]
Greta Garbo is great as a strict, principled government agent from Russia who comes to the U.S. to straighten out some Soviets who are goofing off in America. Then she gets swept off her feet by… eh, some guy. This is occasionally funny but also risibly sexist, even by the lax standards of the time.
No (2012, Pablo Larraín) [r]
You don’t need any prior knowledge about the unseating of Pinochet to be pretty involved in this story of an ad-man (Gael Garcia Bernal) who becomes a harbinger of things to come in his “selling” of a side (the correct side) in a democratic election, the 1988 Chilean plebiscite. The film is appreciably ambiguous about the means of achieving a result it views as necessary, and there’s a lot here to mull over — as much about advertising as politics. The archival material is fascinating and seamlessly integrated.
No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel & Ethan Coen) [hr]
Killing machine (exceptionally portrayed by Javier Bardem) vs. loser and lawman in an admirably tense Texas-set thriller from Cormac McCarthy’s sparse, deeply moral novel, absolutely gloriously filmed by Roger Deakins. The Coens’ weirdly off-putting attitude toward perceived simple folk is reined in for this wonderful genre exercise that pushes itself into the territory of brilliance at the finale. So much more than Fargo II, not least because it’s bound to invade your dreams a good deal more.
Nocturama (2016, Bertrand Bonello) [hr]
A French Dawn of the Dead only with millennial terrorists as the heroes, mostly devoid of political content and delighting in the perversity of its audience’s all but automatic identification with a group of misguided and fearful characters, whose actions turn on a dime from benignly symbolic to unforgivably violent. Taken as a thriller, the whole thing is tantalizingly uneasy and stressful, even as its climax peaks with dread and inevitability; as procedural or ensemble character study, it’s fascinating and wrenching. And it looks absolutely terrific.
Nocturnal Animals (2016, Tom Ford) [r]
An intellectual exercise in revenge fantasy: Amy Adams is an unhappily married artist who seems unsatisfied by her work and seemingly everything else; she receives a novel in the post written by her ex-husband, about whom her feelings have remained warm through the years despite an acrimonious breakup. We then see much of that novel visualized, occasioning a number of adept and terrifying suspense sequences despite the hackneyed noir plot: a family gets run off the road and terrorized, the survivor (Jake Gyllenhaal) spending the rest of the story trying to avenge his wife and daughter. Absorbing as hell, but builds to a terribly facile conclusion.
Noises Off… (1992, Peter Bogdanovich) [c]
* An absolutely stunning cast is thrown away in this stagy mess about the on- and off-stage insanity at a British domestic farce. Not a baseless attempt at comedy, but mostly just annoying.
Nomadland (2020, Chloe Zhao) [r]
An empathetic if slick narrative document of America’s forgotten and impoverished. Suffers from the hazy, telegraphed dramatics of fairly pedestrian modern awards bait, sure, but it’s also sensitive and (apart from the score) understated, with terrific acting — Frances McDormand and David Straitharn are both impeccable, and the injection of real-world characters never feels strained — and an appropriately bleak sense of atmosphere, even at the soul-crushing warehouses of Amazon. Vagabond it’s not, but it’s about as honestly distressing as you’d expect a mainstream film on this subject to get.
None But the Lonely Heart (1944, Clifford Odets) [r]
Cary Grant and Ethel Barrymore are remarkable in this solemn, righteously angry exploration (based on a Richard Llewellyn novel) of a Cockney drifter’s entrance into a life of crime after his mother becomes too ill with cancer to run the family store. It’s long-winded and sags in the midsection after a terrific first act and after the relationship between mother and son loses some of its initial complexity, but the dialogue — well adapted by writer-director Clifford Odets — is consistently sharp and realistic, the whole experience subtle, unsentimental and impressively complete in its capturing of a decrepit slum life without romance or condescension.
Norma Rae (1979, Martin Ritt) [r]
Ritt’s fictionalized account of union organizer Crystal Lee Sutton’s part in the awakening of a textile mill is compelling if broad. Sally Field overplays her hand a bit with the accent and the whole thing has a bit of a Rockwellian quality, breezy yet all but absent of telling details and deep politics.
Norte, the End of History (2013, Lav Diaz)
Impeccably acted and directed, this Filipino slow-cinema take on Crime and Punishment is to an extent rich, novelistic and absorbing… yet in the end it fails to justify our investment of time and empathy in its aimlessly fatalistic story and hero.
North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
Cary Grant is mistaken for a spy, then an assassin, in relentlessly nightmarish comedy of errors. In some ways virtually a remake of The 39 Steps, but a riveting one that launched a thousand Bonds (there’ve been a thousand, right?). One of Hitchcock’s greatest, most epic films, vast in every way. In the middle of a trilogy of reflections upon “the Hitchcock aesthetic” with Vertigo and Psycho, this is in a sense a rejection of Hollywood values by way of complete indulgence in them. “The Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures,” Ernest Lehman said, and it is. It was.
Nosferatu (1922, F.W. Murnau) [hr]
It’s odd today to see the bold strokes of the Dracula legend reenacted without any kind of a perverse twist or injection of humor. It’s all so unerringly straightforward, but Murnau’s bizarre special effects, dazzling sets and locations, and splendid expressionistic photography are worthy of awe even if the story feels weak. On the other hand, the enigmatic Max Schreck gives us probably the most effective vampire character ever captured on screen. An indispensable movie.
Nostalgia for the Light (2010, Patricio Guzmán)
Documentary that alternates between talking-head interviews and wild night-sky footage draws parallels between Chile’s dark political history — namely, the many disappearances during Pinochet’s dictatorship — and the famous clarity of its night sky. What’s here is quite interesting and sometimes sobering, but aside from some of the glorious astronomy lesson shots, it just isn’t very cinematic.
Nothing But Trouble (1991, Dan Aykroyd) [NO]
* I can’t imagine why Aykroyd never directed another film.
Nothing Sacred (1937, William A. Wellman) [hr]
Immortal Selznick screwball comedy about a woman faking radium poisoning for media attention and havoc in NYC has dated elements but retains much sparkle and excitement, and is the best place to bask in the Technicolor glory of Carole Lombard’s warm glowing warming glow. The sporadic location photography is fascinating, and Walter Connolly — who seems to have appeared almost exclusively in movies like this — is splendidly cranky as a newspaper editor.
Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
Cary Grant convinces Ingrid Bergman to be a spy, then she falls in love with him… but now she has to marry Nazi Claude Rains as part of her job. Enchanting, haunting fairy tale of a film noir, shot like an expressionist horror film, this was the peak of Hitchcock’s first three decades as a director; it engrosses with the greatest of ease and is the model for how every other thriller should work. You know how in some of your favorite movies there are scenes you look forward to while you watch? In this one, every scene is like that.
No Way Out (1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz) [r]
Fine racial drama from Mankiewicz, made just before All About Eve, about a black doctor who operates on a white supermacist and is then accused of malpractice, bringing the force of the community against him. Too long but hard-hitting and fascinating, with brilliant acting by Sidney Poitier.
The Nude Bomb (1980, Clive Donner) [NO]
* The first-ever Get Smart feature film — made ten years after the show’s cancellation — is the worst thing ever associated with that series. Don Adams is charming as always, but the film is a lame attempt to add bold texture to the show and allow it to persist without any of its classic supporting characters (even Barbara Feldon is absent). A sad waste, though for non-fans of the show it’s probably not terribly offensive.
Number Seventeen (1932, Alfred Hitchcock) [NO]
Hitchcock crept along on a shoestring for this brief, completely confusing Old Dark House mystery he made only so the studio would allow him to work on Rich and Strange afterward. Shelved for a year, this is Hitchcock’s worst film, a muddled series of random, unconnected images that betray the cheapness of the production rather than doing anything to capitalize on it. The only time in his filmography that Hitchcock doesn’t seem to know how to handle his material.
The Nun’s Story (1959, Fred Zinnemann) [hr]
Unexpectedly dark, honest, unsentimental chronicle — from Kathryn Hulme’s novel — of a wealthy Belgian woman sacrificing identity and forsaking temptation to join a convent. The film is long, slow, careful and detailed and completely immerses the viewer in the emotional plight of Sister Luke, brought to us in body and spirit by Audrey Hepburn in what might be her greatest performance. Zinnemann and cinematographer Franz Planer successfully contradict the aesthetic beauty of Sister Luke’s surroundings with the increasingly dire, lonely circumstances of her day to day life, leading to an effective, subtly stirring finale.
Nurse Betty (2000, Neil LaBute) [hr]
Betty is a soap opera fan whose husband is scalped and murdered before her eyes by a con man. She becomes delusional and sets out on a cross-country trip to marry her favorite soap character. That’s only the beginning of this imaginative, completely wonderful comedy about a woman’s loss (or acquisition) of identity. Excellent performance by Chris Rock, who gets to act alongside Morgan Freeman for the duration.
The Nutty Professor (1963, Jerry Lewis) [c]
* The Buddy Love concept is greatly amusing at first, but the film spirals out of control before one even really has the chance to fully process any of the information. Obviously, the performer’s fans will feel differently.
Nymphomaniac: Volume I (2013, Lars von Trier) [hr]
Nymphomaniac: Volume II (2013, Lars von Trier) [hr]
The finale in the director’s informally named Depression trilogy is his funniest and most literary film in some time, following Charlotte Gainsbourg through a life story of sex, destruction and shame — and thankfully, leaving it up to the audience how to feel about it all — but it’s also rather slight when compared to Antichrist and Melancholia. Still, a lot of fun if you’re the sort of person who’d ever in a million years consider any LVT movie “fun.”