O (2001, Tim Blake Nelson) [c]
* Is this someone’s idea of a joke? Although the two leads are excellent in this modern high-school shooting revision of Othello, the flawed, goofy script and awful performer Josh Hartnett (as Iago) turn the whole affair into kind of a bust. Little attempt is made to allow the play to function in a modern context.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000, Joel Coen) [r]
The Coens’ usual condescension toward simple folk is given a fresh Homeric makeover; the pleasures (including John Goodman as a corrupt Bible salesman and some sublime bluegrass music) are ample, the calculation tiresome. And the cleverest joke is the title, an allusion to Sullivan’s Travels.
Obsession (1976, Brian De Palma) [c]
* De Palma doesn’t deserve quite as much drubbing for this as he gets. For those who never saw Vertigo, Obsession is probably a delight, though of course De Palma — capable of brilliance though he may be — goes too often for schlock over substance, and the result is a film closer to average Hollywood horror than the sensual masterpiece that is its predecessor.
October (1928, Sergei Eisenstein) [r]
Another of Eisenstein’s visually sumptuous silent propaganda films, but in contrast to Strike and Battleship Potemkin this dramatization of the Revolution is so overloaded with icons, frenetic fast cutting and wild imagery that it’s on the faint border of incoherence, more avant garde than Intolerance-comparable storytelling.
Octopussy (1983, John Glen)
* These days no one would get away with this. And yet how can it be so boring?
Odd Man Out (1947, Carol Reed) [hr]
Remarkably mature and gripping British thriller follows an IRA leader (James Mason) who becomes a silently suffering Christlike figure after a robbery attempt ends in outright disaster. The tone is uneven but all of the characters are vividly eccentric (and mostly believable) hard-boiled noir creations, and the emotions are palpable well past the allegorical content. Everyone is firing on all cylinders: Mason is a low-key wonder, R.C. Sherriff’s script is deeply intelligent, the score by William Alwyn expands the scope to the level of an epic drama, and Reed and cinematographer Robert Krasker’s staging and photography are chillingly beautiful and enveloping.
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982, Taylor Hackford) [r]
Entertaining nonsense about a flyboy in training (Richard Gere) having a fling with a factory worker (Debra Winger) that develops into something deeper as their lives intertwine with another Naval trainee (David Keith), and a brutal drill sergeant (Louis Gossett Jr., unforgettable). With Gere and Winger nailing the slick romantic portions, this is enjoyable if formulaic Hollywood schmaltz, with a memorable score by Jack Nitzsche that comes particularly in handy for the famous, triumphantly ludicrous final scene.
Office Space (1999, Mike Judge) [hr]
The fine cartoonist Judge scores with his first live action effort, a relentless and quite hysterical portrait of cubicle drones who decide to find a unique way out of their shitty jobs. Judge’s cynicism never falters, and his characters are all charming and memorable.
Of Mice and Men (1939, Lewis Milestone) [hr]
Poetic and effective visualization of Steinbeck’s novella is a dramatic portrait of the poor in America that neither condescends nor hedges in its brutality. It benefits from Milestone’s remarkably agile camera and his stunning compositions that demonstrate an awareness of both the ugliness that permanently taunts these migrant workers’ lives and of how the relationships among the characters, especially the leading smartass George (Burgess Meredith, flawless) and his disabled hanger-on Lennie (Lon Chaney Jr.), manifests in the spatial distance between them. The effect is of feeling as if we know and live among these people.
Oh, God! (1977, Carl Reiner) [c]
* If there were a God (and I concede that George Burns is fairly convincing in the role), he would agree with me that “Rocky Mountain High” is something only Satan would tolerate.
O.J.: Made in America (2016, Ezra Edelman) [hr]
Engrossing, exhaustive documentary about the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the impenetrably complicated racial and cultural context surrounding it. Seven and a half hours, not a moment of which feels wasted. There’s a lot to juggle here, as crime reportage and as sociological investigation, and it’s done with mastery and grace. Edelman repeatedly reminds us of the grisly nature of the murder itself, something that frequently got away from us when it was constantly the butt of late-night jokes and cheap novelty books and such. One of the definitive L.A. movies of all time.
The Old and the New (1929, Sergei M. Eisenstein & Grigori Aleksandrv) [r]
Eisenstein’s equivalent to Pudovkin’s Mother concentrates on a single character as a microcosm for its celebration of agriculture, with condensed milk and tractors as measures on the march to socialism. As usual, this is an avant garde experiment in montage technique that happens to have a government-sanctioned political message; the performances are good, the editing and photography mind-boggling, and Eisenstein’s love of abstract grotesquerie makes you wonder what he really wanted to talk about.
Oldboy (2003, Park Chan-wook) [r]
An off-puttingly brutal film, to say the least, a hybrid of mythological hero-revenge with psychological thriller and torment, akin to what might have happened if Hitchcock had tried to put Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho into the same movie. A man inexplicably imprisoned for years is suddenly let out and plots turnabout. The climactic twist is masterfully achieved, the final effect of admirable devastation.
Old Joy (2006, Kelly Reichardt) [r]
The suffocating melancholy of this mundane camping trip delivers justified pangs of nostalgia and regret up to a point, but the two characters we spend the entire time with only occasionally feel like real people; they otherwise fill in the stereotypical blanks of the roles we can tell they’re bound to serve in their very earliest scenes. Still, the arc is admirably subtle and the melding of locations and mood music (by Yo La Tengo) is superb, and maybe the absence of surprise is kind of the point.
Old Yeller (1957, Robert Stevenson) [c]
* Disney schmaltz about a dog. They shoulda stuck to cartoons.
Oliver! (1968, Carol Reed) [NO]
Putrid nonsense that could drive a perfectly reasonable person to psychosis, this alarmingly dreary, saccharine musical version of Oliver Twist is the kind of thing Boomers try to pretend never happened in the ’60s. Not only did it happen, it won an Oscar! In the year of 2001: A Space Odyssey! Your revolution failed!
Oliver & Company (1988, George Scribner) [NO]
* Even by the remarkably dim standards of ’80s-’90s Disney Feature Animation, this is a hell of a bad movie, a stray-dog musical version of Oliver Twist (as if we needed another one) with songs by the Devil’s messenger, Billy Joel. The animation sucks, but in a film this badly written it’s almost beside the point.
Olympia Part One: Festival of the Nations (1938, Leni Riefenstahl) [hr]
Olympia Part Two: Festival of Beauty (1938, Leni Riefenstahl) [hr]
Riefenstahl’s eclectic document of the 1936 Olympics is so exciting you can’t help wishing that she (or maybe a director with similar talents and less, uh… concerning political associations) was there to film every sporting event you’ve ever had to sit through. Its shimmering cinematography, remarkably fluid and kinetic editing, and almost drunkenly beautiful awe at the wonders of the human body can’t be diluted by the years; and even though these events are now 81 years in the past, you’re at the edge of your seat through most of both films. Triumph of the Will shouldn’t be in the same sentence.
The Omega Man (1971, Boris Sagal) [c]
* Charlton Heston is the last real man on earth and he has to kill all of the undead fucks. Fun at first, then boring, then increasingly stupid, but nothing to get pissed off about.
Once Bitten (1985, Howard Storm) [NO]
* Jim Carrey — not yet popular enough to act like an asshole — is restrained but not exactly competent as a young man who gets the vampire bite and hangs with the crazies. Stay away.
Once Upon a Crime (1992, Eugene Levy) [c]
* Levy’s directorial debut, as far as anyone cares to know, is this anemic multi-character comedy about murders and mayhem. While hardly embarrassing, it doesn’t merit much more than a few chuckles.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984, Sergio Leone)
The first half of this four-hour behemoth film of organized crime in Prohibition-era NYC is almost worthy of Leone’s westerns, strange and lively. But its troubling sexism turns into the usual gangster-flick bullshit in the misogynistic, violent, and pointless second half. The rape scene is simply unforgivable.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Nuri Bilge Ceylan) [r]
Sobering, agonizingly detailed police procedural about a late-night search for a body and the relevant aftermath is the ideal antidote for the action-packed forensics of American shows like CSI, and a long humane staredown at the ache, sadness, private pleasure and half-truth at the heart of the way we live our lives, whether on the side of truth and justice or not.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019, Quentin Tarantino) [r]
La Dolce Vita in L.A., an ethereal portrait of the transition between old and new Hollywood and the short-lived innocence growing out of the collision. Intersecting threads follow Leonardo DiCaprio as a former TV star, ever-charismatic Brad Pitt his faithful stuntman, Margot Robbie the doomed Sharon Tate, and a whole bunch of fake-hippie members of the Manson cult that will call the whole 1960s southern California dream into question. Very little actually happens in this lengthy, intoxicating tone poem of sorts, which would be fine if Tarantino’s creative juices didn’t clearly begin flowing anew when he briefly lets it turn into a thriller.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, Sergio Leone) [hr]
One of the finest westerns ever made, this epic Leone slow-burner is unlike any other movie, with a grit and florid bigness that set it apart. Start with the stunt-casting of Henry Fonda as a cold-blooded killer and Claudia Cardinale the tough widow he targets, but beyond all that, it’s a film with such strange, beautiful melancholy — a tribute to a dying era of both history and cinema.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, Milos Forman)
Though brilliantly shot and acted with a strong finale, this adaptation of Ken Kesey’s book lacks dimension and is all too obviously a threadbare offspring of much more robust source material. The humor works, and so does much of the drama, but the supposed high satire adds up to zilch, and in the end this is just another overlong, episodic Milos Forman movie with an ugly dollop of misogyny.
One Hour Photo (2002, Mark Romanek)
Robin Williams is more convincing than ever before, which of course means he plays a total creep, an eccentric stalker-type working in a photo lab who duplicates pictures of a certain family on which he’s been fixating. Too cut and dried at the conclusion and very much aloof at times, but interesting.
One Hour with You (1932, Ernst Lubitsch) [hr]
The final Paramount Lubitsch-Chevalier musical is as delectable as the rest, a remake of Lubitsch’s silent comedy The Marriage Circle that improves upon it immeasurably, mostly by making both the lead characters less innocent, and being less pathological about the destruction of their relationship. The film’s liberated attitude toward infidelity is charming because it feels hard-won and (somewhat) realistic, with Lubitsch’s usual ebullience, charm, great jokes and general naughtiness.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961, Hamilton Luske & Wolfgang Reitherman) [r]
* For once, a Disney movie with better writing than animation, this film achieves a wonderful sense of journey and boasts some amazingly well-rounded characters, especially considering its brief running time. But its much-hyped “rough” Xerox-driven animation style recalls Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear more than Bambi.
127 Hours (2010, Danny Boyle) [hr]
High survival adventure doubling as intimate character study, this harrowing and brilliant one-set picture places James Franco as real-life climber Aron Ralston alone with an 800-pound rock pinning him alone in a narrow canyon with no phone in 2003. The excruciating detail of what follows provides some personal redemption and a fair bit of acting prowess, but more than anything just superlative filmmaking that makes you appreciate your circumstances as much as Ralston comes to.
The One I Love (2014, Charlie McDowell) [r]
A youngish married couple with communication issues find themselves at a private retreat where they seem to immediately reconnect, until a strange phenomenon begins to cast a shadow. Though the shortcomings in its logic and writing come to a head at the finale, this balances the intrigue of its simple but effective sci-fi premise with some well-integrated insights about fraying relationships.
One More Time with Feeling (2016, Andrew Dominik) [r]
Emotionally fraught documentary about the creation of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ sobering 2016 album Skeleton Tree, the songs on which Cave had mostly written before his 15 year-old son’s tragic, sudden death. Dominik’s film shows how Cave carefully returned to work after this loss; without becoming exploitative or intrusive, it gives insight into how one (specifically an artist) copes with this level of grief. It also provides an intimate look at the making of a fine record, deepening one’s appreciation of the songs and how they changed after what Cave, understandably cryptic, calls “the event.”
One Night of Love (1934, Victor Schertzinger)
Innocuous opera-comedy about an up-and-coming singer played by the sadly ill-fated Grace Moore, wringing her through the usual beats about her sparring with a controlling lover-manager (Tullio Carminati). Cheap-looking and weakly directed, this just barely passes muster thanks to several unexpectedly witty jokes, surely the result of some rogue dialogue insertions on the part of somebody among the five credited screenwriters; the leads do OK but can’t really conquer their inconsistent and quite persistently unlikable characterizations. The performance numbers, mostly just straight lifts from M. Butterfly and Carmen, are thoroughly forgettable.
One Way Passage (1932, Tay Garnett) [hr]
Glorious Warner Bros. romance has William Powell and Kay Francis both doomed to die, each unknown as such to the other, falling in love on a cruise ship. Do you honestly need to know more? Frothy, sad, economical, expert.
On Golden Pond (1981, Mark Rydell)
Greeting-card story of a boy forging a bond with his grandparents is mawkish and obvious. The only strong reason to see it is the chance to see Henry Fonda, just months before he died, playing a total crank and interacting with a nurturing and amusingly impatient Katharine Hepburn.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969, Peter R. Hunt)
* One of the few James Bond films that seems to have been made with any sense of quality control outside of the technical, this is also the only one to star slick George Lazenby. Amazing how many of these British guys look the same… Come back, Sean! the world screamed, and come back he did.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Howard Hawks) [r]
There are few first acts more promising and rich than the opening half hour of this, with Jean Arthur as an entertainer stopping in South America and getting caught up in the web of interpersonal drama within a tiny private airline managed by Cary Grant… but it loses its thread in the reels thereafter and is overlong and episodic. Individual moments are engrossing and the performances are almost uniformly excellent, but the narrative thread gets lost a lot and sometimes wanders into unsavory and soapy tangents.
Only God Forgives (2013, Nicholas Winding Refn) [NO]
More garish basic cable bilge from the bilge merchant who brought you Drive, also starring popular petrified wood specimen Ryan Gosling. College students and bros will presumably get off on the bloodshed and “symbolism.” It’s so completely ridiculous that it’s harder to loathe than Drive, though just as intolerably smug and self-important.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013, Jim Jarmusch)
The foolish one is me for watching a movie about hipster vampires — they like “good music” and high-quality electrical wiring — and not expecting it to be quite this silly. Detroit looks gorgeous though.
The Only Son (1936, Yasujiro Ozu) [hr]
The outwardly straightforward story of a boy whose mother makes sacrifices to ensure his education, but who grows up in fear of disappointing her, balloons out to become a challenge to the personal philosophies and convictions of anyone watching. The film is free of easy answers, and as ever, Ozu’s beautifully still moments are steeped in their place and time — here contemporary as of the film’s release — but seem to sing out with both universal emotion and the specific tics of their characters and performances. The entire cast proves adept at exploring the unsaid, even as their polite smiles and bows only subside a handful of times.
On the Waterfront (1954, Elia Kazan)
The failing of this shallow, overrated film about a supercool mob informant in the midst of a labor crisis in a New York harbor is less its politics (it’s credited as a response to The Crucible, but in that sense it really just seems like clumsy excuse-making) than its oh-so-serious casting of Method actor Brando, who is embarrassingly excessive in the lead, chewing up the celluloid. Equally problematic is the presence of a pointless love story, which climaxes of course with the brutish man-child gleefully participating in a rape that the film looks right past. Thanks a million, Hollywood.
Open Water (2004, Chris Kentis) [hr]
Excellent Blair Witch-style suspenser about a pair of divers who are accidentally left in the middle of the ocean is the best stay-the-hell-out-of-the-water picture since Jaws. It’s also a surprisingly well-mounted portrait of a marriage, as the couple learn to cope with their situation together. Riveting to the horrifying conclusion.
Operation Petticoat (1959, Blake Edwards) [hr]
Hilarious and poignant film of wacky submarine in WWII occupied by orderly straight man Cary Grant and his boisterous foil Tony Curtis, focusing on what happens when a group of women take up residence onboard. Well-directed and extremely lively.
The Opposite of Sex (1998, Don Roos) [r]
* Insightful film about various characters’ sexual hangups, and lack thereof, is missing the narrative spark that would make it great but still has lots of laughs and fun eccentricities.
Ordet (1955, Carl Theodor Dreyer) [hr]
By turns riveting in its claustrophobic intensity and simmering menace, emotionally overwhelming in the purity of its love for its characters and the grief it shares with them, and in the end, staggering in its grace as a cinematic expression of the miraculous. A magnificent film about faith because it posits that faith will come to and rescue those who need it, and it comes about this process not through the factions and discord of organized religion but through the barer, more honorable paths of love and belief and through the yearnings of the outwardly simple. Dreyer’s hand is gentle on our shoulders.
Ordinary People (1980, Robert Redford) [c]
Worst MTM crossover fanfic ever.
Orphan (2009, Jaume Collet-Serra) [NO]
Another nasty, nihilistic horror movie, this one designed to encourage prospective parents never to adopt a child because all orphaned kids are shady murderers or something. Truly life-hating bilge.
Orphans of the Storm (1922, D.W. Griffith) [hr]
Griffith’s masterful portrait of sisters caught up in firestorm of the French Revolution is bold, hugely entertaining cinema and one of the great American silent films, still capable of holding anyone fully captivated today.
Orpheus (1950, Jean Cocteau) [hr]
The continuation of Cocteau’s inspiring, beguiling exploration of the agony and ecstasy of creation. Pretty and tough Jean Marais stars, in a liberal update to the Greek myth, as a celebrity poet shunned by the hipsters, beloved by the public, and whisked via limousine into a surreal, dreamlike but organic drama of death and love and impossibly high stakes. The cast never indicates anything except full commitment to Cocteau’s eccentric vision; and his harnessing of the camera as an engine of lyricism, with brilliant optical and practical effects as well as simply graceful and intimate compositions, has an excitement and restlessness you’d expect of a much younger director. The kind of movie that makes other movies seem faintly silly.
Osaka Elegy (1936, Kenji Mizoguchi) [r]
Bleak, humorless drama follows a young switchboard operator (Isuzu Yamada) suffering so much at the hands of her family and a chauvinistic boss — who seeks her sexual companionship in exchange for financial help, running afoul of his vengeful wife — that she comes to be seen by everyone in her life as a duplicitous monster and ends up driven to despair in the course of a stark 70-minute narrative. The fluid direction and calm realism of individual scenes are so vivid that the film lingers in memory as though it were something the audience witnessed firsthand or maybe even lived, but without the cathartic righteousness of Sisters of the Gion or the bitter ironies of The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums.
Oslo, August 31st (2011, Joachim Trier) [r]
A day in the life of a recovering addict; Anders Danielsen Lie (in a heartbreaking, powerhouse performance) gets to leave the treatment center for a day and tries to reconnect with friends, family, lovers. All of his encounters seem real, deeply felt and complex. His life seems almost enviously filled with hedonistic joy and people who care for him, so why the fatalism and futility? That, of course, is what makes this a believable chronicle of depression and addiction.
Ossessione (1943, Luchino Visconti) [r]
Cited as the first Italian neorealist film, Visconti’s gritty yet gorgeous debut feature uses James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice — with its brooding tale of a drifter taking a temporary job at a diner and falling for the cook and waitress who’s desperate to get rid of her husband — to organize its depiction of squalor and dread into a compelling narrative, even if said narrative is less important to Visconti than its impact on the characters. The subject matter is a bit too stylized and heightened to justify treating it with this kind of ruthless, lived-in detail, but it’s still a radical, inspired choice.
Other People’s Money (1991, Norman Jewison) [c]
* Opening with an incoherent rant from Danny Devito and going downhill from there, this well-intentioned satire never justifies the transition from stage to screen.
The Others (2001, Alejandro Amenábar)
Politest, prettiest horror movie I have seen.
The Other Side of the Wind (2018, Orson Welles) [hr]
Fully shot in his own lifetime with a tortuously long postproduction gestation, Welles’ last narrative film is a playful, rambling but impressively lively portrait of an enigmatic “great man” director’s 70th birthday party filmed and edited in fits and starts out of people’s houses with a cast and crew that was doing it out of love, right up to its bizarrely appropriate premiere on a streaming service four decades later, thirty years after Welles’ death. Despite its considerable wit and busyness it absolutely pulses with loss and disappointment that extends far beyond the matter of the lead character’s (and Welles’) demise. It’s so radical in its construction and editing it feels brand new, and even the “movie within a movie” designed as a parody of pretentious arthouse fare is as visually arresting and masterfully cut as anything in Welles’ career, therefore far more striking than anything in even great films of the modern era.
Our Hospitality (1923, Buster Keaton) [r]
Keaton’s second feature is listless compared to his best work. The “plot” — a potentially brilliant parody of the Hatfield-McCoy feud as it impacts Keaton’s totally oblivious heir– becomes kind of a nuisance. There are great stunts — including one of the most breathtaking in film history at the climax — but hardly any big laughs, and as a story it feels disconnected and facile. Still charming as hell, of course.
Our Man Flint (1966, Daniel Mann) [c]
* Horrible attempt at parody of the James Bond craze is shrill, overbearing, rarely funny. Get Smart did this much better, and with far more interesting characters.
Our Town (1940, Sam Wood) [r]
One of the strangest classic-era Hollywood films, which would be true by default of any faithful adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s extraordinary play. It’s eerie to watch studio stars and standards applied to the ghostly dread that overtakes in the third act, the surreal visualization of William Cameron Menzies and the awkward crescendos of Aaron Copland’s indescribable score permitting it to feel like radical art screaming out from a netherworld of commercialism. Sadly the finale negates much of the honesty and dismay of the play, underlining how much the work depends on the original sense of unresolved longing.
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976, Clint Eastwood) [c]
* Vigilante murderer Eastwood (with morals!) has cops and crooks on his tail in long, boring western.
Out of Africa (1985, Sydney Pollack) [c]
Languid, forcefully “exotic” romance is dead in the water thanks to the tiresome performances of its two cardboard leads, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep (a couple of lions in the last shot easily upstage them), who do with it exactly what you’d expect. The first hour contains some sweep, action, movement; the rest substitutes an enigmatic gaze for any relatable sense of life and/or love. The use of African locations is picturesque but marred by typical colonial condescension. Strange to consider a time when a major studio would fund something like this. Almost makes me glad for the Scorpion King era of cinema.
Out of the Past (1947, Jacques Tourneur) [hr]
So many of the iconic moments, sights, and words of film noir legend come from this endlessly plundered, borderline misanthropic movie; Robert Mitchum is priceless as the private dick cum petrol dealer so hard-boiled he chain smokes in his sleep. The surreal Americana of the supporting characters, the subtle but jabbing class commentary, and of course Mitchum’s sleepy-eyed seen-it-all portrait of macho invulnerability that has the rug taken from under it — it’s all intoxicating. Far from “cold around the heart,” this film actually bleeds with emotion, loss and regret, about a decent if flawed human being getting wrapped up in a kind of monumental funeral march in which there’s no possible way out even from the very beginning, which is finally the essence of the genre.
Outrageous Fortune (1987, Arthur Hiller) [NO]
* Icky comedy with Bette Midler and Shelley Long wrapped up in convoluted, stupid mystery involving a lover whose affections they both illegitimately enjoyed. Obvious attempts at unbearable hilarity are embarrassing.
The Outsiders (1983, Francis Ford Coppola) [c]
* Handsome production of the S.E. Hinton book is slick, straightforward, and brainless, an ’80s attempt to capture lightning in the bottle the way Selznick did with Gone with the Wind. Respectable but boring.
Overboard (1987, Garry Marshall) [NO]
* Offensive, irritating comedy with Kurt Russell courting and taking control of amnesiac Goldie Hawn. Not just misogynistic but simply hateful in general.
The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, William A. Wellman)
Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan are a wonderful if narratively useless team in this interesting Gothic western that indulges in masochism while it pouts about injustice. The potential for a sophisticated story in the morality tale about a lynching is there, but 20th Century Fox is more interested in producing a rollicking seventy-five minutes with plenty of speechifying and no sense of real gravity.