A Page of Madness (1926, Teinosuke Kinugasa) [hr]
Supremely perverse psychological terror out of Japan, ostensibly about a custodian trying to break his wife out of a mental ward, comprises a surrealist series of wildly edited filmed dreams that fall on the viewer — with missing footage and absent narration both complicating and underscoring the experience — as teasingly oppressive sensory overload that ebbs and flows in intensity. Comes about as close as anyone has to capturing the feeling of an actual dream on film.
Paisan (1946, Roberto Rossellini) [r]
War stories, but not the kind you tell your grandkids; these brief, semi-true and semi-fictionalized tragedies set in the Allies’ campaign in Italy during the penultimate year of WWII brilliantly communicates the life-loathing destruction and dehumanization of war, though some are considerably stronger than others. Two of them — one about a black MP befriending a small child, and the finale chronicling a group of OSS members and American soldiers attempting in vain to hold court against brutal, desperate Nazis around the Po River — could’ve constituted features all on their own.
Palindromes (2004, Todd Solondz) [A+]
A 12 year-old girl wants to have a baby, gets pregnant and then is forced by her idealist parents into an abortion. And that’s just the beginning of this insightful, horrifying, funny, moving rampage of a movie. The protagonist is played by eight different people at different points in the film but the result is not off-putting, nor is it some work of distant experimentation. It’s truly a must-see for anyone who isn’t easily offended or shocked, and it probably ought to be even for those who are.
Pandora’s Box (1929, Georg Wilhelm Pabst) [hr]
Scandal! Adultery! Lesbianism! Feminism! Prostitution! Gambling! A host of other behaviors — good or not, housed in the unlikely framing of a silent film of 1929. A German one, to be fair, but this is not your traditional expressionistic Ufa cinema, this is a beautiful, only marginally stylized human story, shot with a classical delicacy and vibrant energy, a movie that seems neither apart from its time nor of it. Rather, it seems startlingly modern, even permanent, and insanely seductive.
Panic in the Streets (1950, Elia Kazan) [hr]
Outstanding thriller starring Richard Widmark as a public health professional trying to stave off a potential plague epidemic in the streets of New Orleans, which requires him to infiltrate the criminal underworld controlled by a young and crazed Jack Palance. A real capturing of place and time — you can sense the fever, smell the smells, feel the tension — and yet remarkably modern. Vastly superior to Kazan’s better-known films of the period.
Panic Room (2002, David Fincher) [c]
* Fincher shies away from catharsis in this bland pseudo-Rear Window thriller that offers several good characters but lacks a coherent or enjoyable storyline and is not nearly as suspenseful as it thinks it is. Though technically proficient, it’s quite a disappointment.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Guillermo del Toro)
Genuinely imaginative at times, this fantasy film about a sullen but enterprising young girl dealing with a cartoonishly evil buffoon of an army stepdad in WWII Spain is nevertheless fatally maudlin with no nuance to its characters. Ivana Baquero’s central performance is marvelous, but it feels like the entire movie is a simple exercise in applying explicit gore and unforgiving brutality to traditional tropes of children’s films, which are much more effective when they’re subtle anyway. Exquisite production design is also hampered by fairly rote CG effects work.
The Paper Chase (1973, James Bridges) [c]
Watching Gordon Willis use Harvard Law (real and simulated) as a Cinemascope stage for his typically gorgeous and distinctive photography is the only thing about this sneering, toxic, crashing bore of a movie that is of even the slightest interest. That includes John Houseman phoning it in as a professor who installs fear in top caliber students by calling on them when they didn’t raise their hands. Maybe this will appeal to academics, but probably not.
Paper Heart (2009, Nicholas Jasenovec) [r]
Actually sweet-natured and genuinely funny vehicle for the incredible Charlyne Yi, seeking answers about love, got a bad rep for its pseudo-documentary structure, but at bottom its fusion of reality and fabrication is no different from something like Borat, which is far less humanistic and celebratory. Yi and costar Michael Cera may come across cutesy and overwrought at times, but the pathos is beautifully presented and the film’s so good-hearted it’s difficult to resent it.
Paper Moon (1973, Peter Bogdanovich) [A+]
An almost indescribably lovely yet admirably tough-minded and complex comedy, completely separate from rose-tinted memories and the director’s usual slightly lecherous impulses, about a chain-smoking ten year-old girl tagging along with a con man during the Depression. The all-too-rare movie that has everything: it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s sweet, and it’s even threatening at times. It’s also shot magnificently in black & white by Laszlo Kovacs. Both O’Neals — Ryan and Tatum — are tremendously appealing.
Papillon (1973, Franklin J. Schaffner) [r]
Faithful adaptation of Henri Charrere’s wonderful (if largely fabricated) autobiography about his time in the French penal system and his many escape attempts boasts superb performances by Steve McQueen and a well cast Dustin Hoffman. There’s a grand sense of adventure and unassuming boldness that speaks to Schaffner’s underrated qualities as a fine popular director.
The Paradine Case (1947, Alfred Hitchcock)
The hems and haws of Gregory Peck as a lawyer in a good marriage but smitten with his latest client, rich and apathetic Mrs. Paradine, who apparently offed her husband. Hitchcock in strangely pessimistic, aimless mode, his own wild ambitions for the project offset by intrusions on the part of David O. Selznick (this, significantly, was the last film that Hitchcock did not produce himself). In the truncated form in which it now exists, the film is interesting but no gem.
Paradise: Love (2012, Ulrich Seidl) [c]
The exploitation travels freely in both directions when a middle-aged white woman from Austria makes her way to Kenya for a sex-tourism vacation and gets incessantly hoodwinked while staying at a hideously gaudy Euro resort, where the shenanigans eventually harden her. Well-directed and acted but repetitive, smug and pointless.
Parenthood (1989, Ron Howard) [hr]
* Howard throws together a cunningly perceptive and moving comedy; it could easily be sappy beyond forgiveness, but it’s enlivened with just the right kind of spark by its wide-ranging cast. If it is idealism, it’s beautiful idealism and ranks as one of the better crowd-pleasers of the ’80s.
The Parent Trap (1961, David Swift) [c]
* This dismal Disney comedy about a couple of conspiring lookalikes has a premise that betrays the promise of its title: the bringing together of two annoying people by their wacky kids. A squeaky clean bore.
The Parent Trap (1998, Nancy Myers)
* Several years prior to her ascension to stardom, Lindsay Lohan puts in quite excellent performance(s) here as the duplicate kids trying to play matchmaker. Far more charming than the original film, but still rather worn out.
Paris, Texas (1984, Wim Wenders) [A+]
Stunningly beautiful film about a three-piece family scattered across the continent, gradually working toward reforming themselves. Take time out for this one and prepare to be run down with the emotional catharsis of its climax — among the most rapturous, delicate moments in cinema — and final scenes.
The Parson’s Widow (1920, Carl Theodor Dreyer) [hr]
Gently absorbing, surprisingly funny tale of a couple pulling a fast one on an old woman: because of unseen oppression from family they can’t marry until he becomes a parson (?!), and the parson in this tiny town inherits the elderly wife of his predecessor. So they pose as brother and sister, riding out the clock until her death, but she is master of this house and has no intention of stepping aside. By turns eerie, funny and in the third act, rather touching if a bit tough to swallow in its easy, cyclical structure.
The Party (1968, Blake Edwards) [hr]
A film that seems to move ultimately beyond the screen, this Peter Sellers comedy approaches its own reality, a real-time exploration of how he gradually destroys a high-class California party.
A Passage to India (1984, David Lean)
This Forster adaptation (all about colonialism, racism and class) is one of Lean’s better films, in part because of the subtleties of the novel guiding him along, and perhaps more so because it’s the only film he made after 1960 in which he really gives actors any room to perform, limiting the attractive landscapes that usually suffocate his films mostly to establishing shots, time lapses and mildly surreal interludes. Basically, we’re left with a highly competent if wonkily edited (by Lean himself) BBC film with a few very elaborate shots and Alec Guinness’ most humiliating performance (yes, including Star Wars).
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer) [A+]
The cinema has very seldom approached this level of rhapsodical beauty, and it has never again managed this kind of otherworldly menace. Deceptively straightforward account of Joan’s trial ventures into all manner of fascinating psychological territories, feels like a documentary, with its use of closeups and eerily barren sets keeping it thoroughly minimal and disturbing. There is no other movie like it, no celebration and condemnation of humanity more stirring in any medium.
The Past (2013, Asghar Farhadi) [r]
Old-fashioned melodrama about a man traveling to Paris to grant his wife’s divorce only to be caught up in a web of secrets and lies is essentially a daytime soap with good acting. Farhadi’s empathy for his characters comes across in every moment, and he has a real understanding of the way people in interpersonal duress communicate. However, the story comes about its various plotty turnarounds entirely through dialogue, which is mercifully clean and free of excess but there is so much of it that this can feel as talky as a 1930s stage adaptation.
A Patch of Blue (1965, Guy Green) [r]
The story of a young blind woman (Elizabeth Hartman, outstanding) venturing tentatively outside of her abusive home into a nearby park, where she’s taken under the wing of Sidney Poitier’s good Samaritan, who befriends and tries to deprogram her. This doesn’t wholly escape the trappings of so many socially conscious Hollywood films of the ’60s dealing with race, seemingly all of them starring Sidney Poitier, but it’s far more nuanced and mature than it initially seems. Writer-director Guy Green never permits the stock male fantasy of serving as naive woman’s teacher-savior to transition into the inappropriately sexual power dynamic that you’re conditioned to anticipate; Poitier’s Gordon chooses his actions carefully and compassionately, as does Green.
Pather Panchali (1955, Satyajit Ray) [hr]
Like the Italian neorealists and some of the more humane Hollywood directors (Wyler, Borzage, Capra), Ray takes the everyday lives of people seriously, and treats them as inherently dramatic and interesting, in this genuinely beautiful, sensitive, poetic story of a poor Indian family not getting by, the young son Apu (Subir Banerjee) quietly bearing witness to tragedy and poetry, which is everywhere, but with no sense of beautification of poverty. The characters are universally deep and well-drawn; Apu is less an Antoine Doinel than an audience vessel through which the curiosities, sadnesses, fears, weird unexpected miracles of life come careening toward us.
Paths of Glory (1957, Stanley Kubrick) [hr]
Though I admit it seemed even more vital and badass to me as a teenager, this ferocious antiwar classic should give pause to anyone who argues that Kubrick was the “cold, heartless” filmmaker; by the end it has reached an emotional level almost unmatched in American film.
Patriot Games (1992, Philip Noyce) [c]
* Jack Ryan’s family comes under attack by blah blah blah. Sequel to The Hunt for Red October is less professional, slightly more interesting.
Patterns (1956, Fielder Cook) [hr]
Rod Serling’s arresting teleplay — the project that put him on the map — about harrowing competition in the boardroom of a corporation remains startlingly prescient and believable today, and this film adaptation opens it up agreeably. Performances (especially by Everett Sloane as the modern-day monster in charge), intelligent and naturalistic script, and bleak noir direction by Cook all superlative.
Patton (1970, Franklin J. Schaffner)
ARF! ARF! ARF! ARF! ARF! arf arf arf arf… arf?
PCU (1994, Hart Bochner) [NO]
* Very 1994 movie about a college taken over by the PC mob, only to be infiltrated by George Clinton! Decent idea wasted.
The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996, Milos Forman)
Larry Flynt is not the great and fascinating man that he and Forman seem to think he is, but he does figure in a somewhat entertaining biopic. It serves more to muddy up the more interesting factors of its story than to illuminate them, leading to a half-baked and deeply unsatisfying trifle. As Flynt’s wife, Courtney Love is very good, as is Edward Norton as his long-suffering lawyer. But a movie opposing censorship shouldn’t be this bland.
Pépé le Moko (1937, Julien Duvivier) [hr]
Pépé le Moko is a bastard, a nihilistic flipside of Rick from Casablanca hiding out from constant police attention in the labyrinthine Casbah of French-occupied Algiers; Jean Gabin opens the film fully in ownership of the role, robbing and dealing and womanizing, but he quickly begins to lose control and it becomes clear that despite not yet being arrested, he is already caged. The sophisticated, tormentingly believable world swallowing him, adolescent and fearless in its maxed-out alertness and emotional energy suggest Renoir at his best, but with such a strong suggestion of New Wave and film noir you feel as if you can draw a map from every subsequent film you love about a lost soul with a criminal heart right back to it.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012, Stephen Chbosky) [r]
Like most movies of its brand, this is adolescent-male wish fulfillment despite its lip service to LGBTQ and mental health causes. But the young actors are uniformly excellent and the film, for the most part, is competently directed (by the novel’s author) and touching at times. The main takeaway is that the really and truly wonderful, perfect moments in even a charmed life are fleeting; that this in fact enhances them immeasurably.
Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman) [hr]
The story here of an unstable actress and somewhat naive nurse whose roles reverse when they retreat to a beach cottage is somewhat overwrought, with overly literal dialogue, but the film is formally so fascinating, stark and innovative, the performances so exquisite, that it doesn’t matter much — we are still completely immersed in the terror and sensuality of this strange, high-contrast ride through a harrowing mutual unraveling. The opening avant garde montage is furiously unsettling, and Sven Nykvist’s photography is as astoundingly intimate and spare as ever.
Personal Shopper (2016, Olivier Assayas) [c]
A trashy horror-thriller disguised as arthouse fare with badly performed nonsense dialogue spewing from Kristen Stewart. There’s an endless sequence devoted to her texting someone, which might evoke title cards in silent films if the dialogue were less mundane or if anything of interest was happening onscreen during the entire half-hour. The cheapness of the ghost-hunting scenes is unworthy of everyone involved, but it seems as if Assayas, like so many others, had to get some basic-cable stupidity out of his system.
Peter Pan (1953, Clyde Geronimi & Hamilton Luske)
* After failing at the box office with Alice in Wonderland, the Disney studio created its most conventional feature to date, and also its least inspiring. The Pan story is a fairly anemic one to begin with, and the Disney retelling is straightforward to the point of monotony, with only sporadically inspiring animation. Even the songs are weak. It fortunately made money, leading to the far superior Lady and the Tramp.
Pete’s Dragon (1977, Don Chaffey) [c]
* Disney at death’s door in the late ’70s, doing anything to get out of its rut, ending up with a childish, condescending kiddie film with cloying animated characters and poor writing and acting — everything that Disney himself wanted to avoid. Halfhearted attempt at Magic misses the target again.
Pet Sematary (1989, Mary Lambert) [NO]
* Aggressive, contemptuous horror film from Stephen King’s novel has a threadbare plot and many awful preformances, replete with a ridiculous visual textbook imitation of German expressionism, in full color and featuring children getting tormented by dead animals and barking directors.
Petulia (1968, Richard Lester) [A+]
Mournful drama from Lester shares the nonlinear storytelling with his best-known films but is an entirely different kind of movie, the story of a doomed affair between easily manipulated dreamer Julie Christie and aging surgeon George C. Scott. Both performances are extraordinary, the cinematic aplomb staggering, and the whole production seems to ache with unrequited emotion.
The Phantom Carriage (1921, Victor Sjöström) [hr]
Enchanting at times, overly mannered at others, this Swedish folktale is a serious affair, unlike the German Expressionist horror films of the period. A solemn horse and buggy occupied by the dutiful soul of the last person to die on New Year’s Eve each year figures in what’s really a domestic religious melodrama about alcoholism and abuse ravaging a family, with disease, the Salvation Army and Death itself mixed into the unholy brew. It’s all rather dire and upsetting, but its narrative sophistication is astonishing for its time.
The Phantom Menace (1999, George Lucas) [c]
Many Star Wars hangers-on were enormously disappointed with this long-awaited reboot of the ultimate post-cocaine ’70s franchise, but it doesn’t seem all that different to me from the original films — the same Kurosawa rhythm and editing tricks, amusingly dunderheaded dialogue, flat characters, overlong cross-cut action scenes and undeniably brilliant production design. Lucas even writes in a part for the average Star Wars fan, a bright but bratty nine year-old.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925, Rupert Julian) [hr]
Lon Chaney’s signature role, and it’s a wild one. After so many decades of horror outcasts with gentle hearts and even after seeing any of Chaney’s other films, it’s oddly refreshing that his Erik is so unambiguously evil. This is deftly directed and is among the absolute strongest showcases for the influence of German expressionism on American films as early as 1925; the spectacle is something to behold, from the outlandish set design of the catacombs to a surprisingly chilling color sequence suggestive of Poe’s Masque of the Red Death.
Phantom Thread (2017, Paul Thomas Anderson) [hr]
A chamber piece about the House of Woodcock, where a dress designer (Daniel Day-Lewis) maintains a carefully cultivated, oppressive kind of order over the two women (a sister and a lover) living there with him. Like the Hitchcock films it looks upon as inspiration, this is more complex than a morally righteous Gaslight; it’s about a duel of control between an impassioned artist with troubled-genius syndrome and a woman whose potential power over him is greater, and more enticing, than he could ever have imagined. The film looks and sounds beautifully, sumptuously old and “classic”… but it’s also kinky pornography and uproarious comedy.
The Phantom Tollbooth (1969, Chuck Jones & David Monahan)
* Aside from The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, possibly the most lamentably overlooked children’s film ever made. Jones’ one full-on feature film brings Norman Juster’s book to vibrant, imaginative life. Despite the year of production, this is wonderfully weird without being “psychedelic.” The songs are good too, particularly the one about noise.
Phase IV (1974, Saul Bass)
* Yikes! Premier title designer Bass’ loony attempt at a sci-fi feature — regarding ants, of all things — is recommended on the basis of its visual invention but really lacks any kind of storytelling drive that the film requires and might have had in other hands.
Philadelphia (1993, Jonathan Demme) [c]
Demme’s strange, extremely subjective signature approach did wonders for the psycho-killer genre in The Silence of the Lambs, but he falls flat in his attempt to apply it to a Social Message movie featuring Tom Hanks as an AIDS sufferer who files a discrimination suit against the law firm that fired him. Hanks is good, but the idealistic script lacks every kind of real dimension — especially in its simplistic characterizations — and cops to cliché more times than can be counted.
The Philadelphia Story (1940, George Cukor) [r]
Though regrettably stagebound, this juggernaut of acting performances starring Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant is redeemed somewhat by its sheer wit and sparkle. The cracking dialogue is a fair enough distraction from the absence of cinematic craft here, and if you like these actors you’re likely to get involved enough in their tale of stymied divorce bliss that you won’t care much.
Philomena (2013, Stephen Frears) [r]
It’s strange to see a harrowing tale of a mother forcibly separated from her child staged as a politely comedic road-movie, but curiously enough the resulting film works rather well — and to its credit, despite its frothiness it doesn’t skimp on making the Catholic Church look pretty terrible.
Phoenix (2014, Christian Petzold) [r]
Mannered variation on Vertigo has a concentration camp survivor (the outstanding Nina Hoss) who’s undergone a facial reconstruction pursuing her husband, who believes she died in the war and is looking for a handout. A bit too formal and airless, but stick with it for one of the most impeccable ending scenes in modern cinema.
Phone Booth (2002, Joel Schumacher) [NO]
Bewildering mishmash of thriller stereotypes puts Colin Farrell in a phone booth, because there’s his wife who doesn’t know that he’s got the eye for Katie Holmes, but the guy who’s going to be shooting at him doesn’t know him, and there are these hookers, and… forget it. Schumacher admittely tries damned hard to make this make sense, but it just doesn’t, and his faux-Truffaut “tricks” with superimposed “real time” boxes and other such nonsense are almost as annoying as the fast cutting and endless close ups and slowmo tricks other “stylish” films of this period employed.
Pi (1998, Darren Aronofsky) [r]
A lovely film, really, about a computer geek’s obsession with pi and how it apparently means something with regard to Higher Beings trying to communicate with him. Neat semi-remake of 2001 is fun, sometimes oddly amusing, and really only takes a couple of poor sidetrips.
The Pianist (2002, Roman Polanski) [hr]
Of course, in some capacity it repeats points other movies have gone over a hundred times with equal or better skill. But once this film kicks in truly as the story of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman — whose skills are depicted with considerable reverence by Adrien Brody in the film’s most stunning sequence — rather than the tragedies around him, it becomes a shattering, life-affirming odyssey. And best of all, it’s determinedly unsentimental.
The Piano (1993, Jane Campion) [hr]
Holly Hunter is devastating in an absorbing, fable-like narrative of a mute woman caught in an arranged marriage in New Zealand, caught in a love triangle when she begins giving dubious piano lessons to the weirdo down the street (Harvey Keitel). Between Campion’s stark color palette, the oddball humor in her script, a touch of genuine sensuality, the enchanting solo piano music and one of the best performances by a child (Anna Paquin) in any film, it’s hard to name a romantic film more utterly beguiling, especially one driven completely by emotional subtleties rather than dialogue.
Picture This (1991, George Hickenlooper)
Disappointing twenty-years-after-the-fact documentary about the production of The Last Picture Show, during which Peter Bogdanovich allowed his personal life to be subsumed and destroyed by the movie he was making in the hometown of author Larry McMurtry, who clearly based the major characters in his novel on real people he knew then, several of whom Hickenlooper interviews and most of whom are forthcoming with their resentments. The result is shoddy, rushed and disorganized, with mere quick excerpts from what appear to be fascinating interviews, especially those with Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman.
Pillow Talk (1959, Michael Gordon) [c]
Sexual assault, the shaming of female independence, and Tony Randall: three things that were no funnier in the 1950s than they are now.
Pina (2011, Wim Wenders) [r]
Lovingly shot Wenders tribute to the German choreographer Pina Bausch was intended as a collaboration between them, but she died before production and instead it became a eulogy. It’s fascinating to watch these bodies in motion on constructed sets as well as on city streets and in parks, but the spell cast by the music and dancing is broken every time there’s a cutaway to an interview, and they’re constant; devoted just to the dancing, this could have been more immersive (and longer).
Pineapple Express (2008, David Gordon Green) [c]
What unexpected pop culture disasters Freaks and Geeks has wrought. A rambling embarrassment on the order of zillions of “raunchy” ’80s comedies; we’re a long fucking way from Preston Sturges.
Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982, Alan Parker) [NO]
* Like the music it’s based on, this film is stultifying and obvious, just another reminder of what bored rock stars push us into if we let ’em.
The Pink Panther (1964, Blake Edwards) [hr]
Classy, feverish escapism features proto-yuppies living the hedonistic life at a ski resort in Stockholm, where womanizing polyamorous diamond thief the Phantom is pursued by the inept Inspector Closeau. Peter Sellers and David Niven are brilliant, but the performance of the picture is that of Robert Wagner as the Phantom’s conniving nephew. Masterfully filmed with many of the most perfect comic setpieces ever put together, and the music is of course extraordinary. Very different from the sequels but just as funny.
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976, Blake Edwards) [r]
One of the best Pink Panther sequels is the first to really go for broke on the insanity, with Sellers’ boss Herbert Lom losing his mind and preparing to enact revenge on the universe! Bizarre and messy but fun entertainment.
Pinocchio (1940, Ben Sharpsteen) [A+]
Disney’s second, darkest animated feature is a cinematic masterpiece telling the classic story of the wooden doll desperate to become “a real boy.” Full of incredible characters and often astonishing emotional range, with several sequences guaranteed to stir the deepest (and most forbidden) of psychological secrets.
Pirates (1986, Roman Polanski) [c]
* As the title would suggest, this is a movie designed to serve a very specific purpose, and pirates it does indeed deliver, but as a movie it’s a sad, flaccid bust.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003, Gore Verbinski) [r]
The first result of a cockamamie Disney scheme about turning rides into movies is a solid distraction, pretty fun at times even. Some excellent stunt sequences in the classic Douglas Fairbanks vein that aren’t necessarily incoherent, nor is the plot (which is generally a passable, old-fashioned supernatural adventure). Johnny Depp is funny. It’s way too long and the CGI looks dreadful now, but this registers low on the offensive blockbuster scale.
Pit and the Pendulum (1961, Roger Corman) [r]
Cheerfully repugnant horror movie full of dazzlingly scary images and deliriously fun performances has little to do with Poe’s short story but does do great things with its central idea. Richard Matheson’s script explores Vincent Price’s guilt about his father’s involvement in the Inquisition. There’s a surprise at the end, and the biggest creepout of all in the final shot.
A Place in the Sun (1951, George Stevens) [hr]
Bizarre and deliciously multifaceted American film based on Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (and an obvious forerunner to Woody Allen’s Match Point) features unusually naked romance, raw suspense, and in general a shatteringly intense emotional level. A haunting, halting Montgomery Clift is torn between homey, sweet, pregnant Shelley Winters and glam queen Elizabeth Taylor. Brilliantly shot and performed; fabulous through and through.
Places in the Heart (1984, Robert Benton) [c]
Forgettable, unfocused Depression melodrama is written and shot like a Hallmark Hall of Fame telefilm — volleying between the contrived, sentimental comings and goings of Sally Field (who won an Oscar for speaking in hackneyed monologues), Danny Glover and John Malkovich playing vastly beneath their abilities in a tale that peaks with a cotton-picking contest (that’s after the tornado and before the KKK intervention); and some soap opera material involving the extramarital affairs of characters that we have no reason to care about. Does anyone remember this movie five minutes after it ends?
The Plague Dogs (1982, Martin Rosen) [r]
In this very adult cartoon, a pair of dogs escape from a animal-testing lab and wander the English countryside looking for undefined escape. Rosen’s followup to Watership Down, also based on a Richard Adams novel, is just as technically flawless and well-directed, but the story is repetitious, the dialogue shrill and extraneous, the character animation annoying in its precision. As an argument for animal rights, however, it’s a firecracker, and chillingly frank in its violence and portrait of oppression.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987, John Hughes) [r]
* Two brilliant performers — Steve Martin and John Candy — coast through a frequently entertaining but often maddening epic comedy of sorts about a man trying desperately to get home for Thanksgiving, trailed at every turn by inhumanely annoying drifter Candy. There are scenes of comedic perfection, but the pathos is ill-advised.
Planet of the Apes (1968, Franklin J. Schaffner) [r]
* Reasonably smart sci-fi classic scripted by Rod Serling throws Charlton Heston in with a bunch of apes, watches what happens along with the rest of us. A bit silly, but great fun.
Planet Terror (2007, Robert Rodriguez): see Grindhouse
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959, Edward D. Wood Jr.) [r]
* It is not an explosion of glorious bad taste on the level of Manos: The Hands of Fate, but this does stand as truly one of the best accidentally wonderful movies in history. Wood, of course, has all the right ideas about what his films should do but no clue how any of those ideas apply to the craft itself, which is what makes his work so charming. Perhaps no one in Hollywood has ever been so earnest, and the result is a kind of distressing, warm honesty to his work that gives it a strange layer of sincere appeal. Can you prove it didn’t happen?
Platoon (1986, Oliver Stone) [c]
Acclaimed, colorful, vaguely homoerotic Vietnam movie is basically the antithesis of Full Metal Jacket. Though it’s consistently entertaining, it’s also a mass of stereotyped, secondhand emotion, has little to do with the realities of war, and cops a more than sizable chunk from Paths of Glory. Willem Dafoe is wonderful, but he’s gone all too soon. Charlie Sheen sits and stares, sits and stares.
Play It Again, Sam (1972, Herbert Ross) [hr]
Much charm in this adaptation of Woody Allen’s play that feels like one of his own films (although it would be several years before he would adopt this kind of realism). Allen is an obsessive Bogart fan whose best friends, a married couple, are trying to hook him up with an appropriate femme fatale. Unfortunately he has fallen for the wife. Allen and Diane Keaton offer excellent performances in a restrained but immensely likable comedy.
Pleasantville (1998, Gary Ross) [r]
Technically marvelous comedy/satire about a ’90s teenager whose idyllic view of ’50s existence is disrupted when his TV set, thanks to Don Knotts, sucks him along with his sister into his favorite old sitcom. It’s eventually as treacly as the shows it’s making fun of, but the dazzling use of color and exquisite performances by Joan Allen and Jeff Daniels (and William H. Macy as the ultimate foot-stomping wronged male) make up for some of that.
The Pleasure Garden (1925, Alfred Hitchcock) [r]
Throttlingly impressive debut from cinema’s finest director contains everything you could want from a mid-1920s film — flappers, a ghost, scantily clad women, and right out of the gate the indictments and celebrations of voyeurism that would mark Hitchcock’s entire career, to say nothing of his intense knack for audience identification with female characters who are forced to climb a mountain alone. Much better (and more exotic) than its reputation suggests.
Pocahontas (1995, Mike Gabriel & Eric Goldberg) [NO]
* The Disney of Eisner and Katzenberg offers its most sickeningly PC statement to date with this pandering, insincere telling of the John Smith-Pocahontas legend, created with a bloated sense of style, dull revisionism, and the worst “comedy” ever seen from the studio’s feature animation unit. The dramatic “power” is no less insulting and there have been more convincing characters in Don Bluth films. A total disgrace.
Poetry (2010, Lee Chang-dong)
Sensitive, often lyrical drama about an aging woman beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s and exercising her mind in a poetry course derails itself with several ugly subplots that feel shoehorned in — but Yun Jeong-hie’s lead performance is such magic that the film’s a must-see even though it fails to fulfill its potential.
Point of Order (1964, Emile de Antonio) [hr]
If you’re interested in the tragicomic, terrifying political career of Joseph McCarthy, see this before you move on to either Good Night, and Good Luck or the unfiltered Kinoscopes of the Army-McCarthy hearings, which are here edited down into a dynamic, engrossing narrative as powerful and dramatic as any fictitious thriller. De Antonio structures the footage brilliantly, whittling it down to a slim collection of telling, fascinating moments. Whether McCarthy is a lingering obsession to you or not, this is the best-ever telling of an essential and disturbing part of American history.
Police Academy (1984, Hugh Wilson) [NO]
* Horrendous low-concept ’80s comedy with Steve Guttenberg somehow spawned an armload of sequels, but this is the lowest ebb of moviemaking for sure, all excess and aggression.
Pollock (2000, Ed Harris)
Decidedly ordinary if technically proficient biopic of major abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, with good performances by Marcia Gay Harden as Lee Krasner (Pollock’s wife and longtime supporter) and by director Ed Harris as Pollock himself. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this but like most biopics it shows little real depth and doesn’t do much to justify its existence except as a showpiece.
Pollyanna (1960, David Swift) [c]
* Don’t tell me you couldn’t make this work, because you can really make almost anything work, especially when you have the resources of the Disney studio at hand. But this is entirely lazy material from people who felt they wouldn’t be judged harshly for it. It’s not too late.
Poltergeist (1982, Tobe Hooper)
Steven Spielberg was heavily involved in this likable but benign horror flick, and it shows in the persuasively vivid characterization of the family members. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help much in making the film scarier or more convincing, just more pleasant to sit through.
Popeye (1980, Robert Altman) [NO]
* You just have to wonder how the hell this happened.
Portrait of a Young Man in Three Movements (1931, Henwar Rodakiewicz) [r]
Consisting mostly of static shots of the ocean and crashing waves as well as some footage of a factory and various other settings — no humans — and intended to be seen in complete silence, this avant garde film is initially quite hypnotic, but the second and third “movements” seem wholly superfluous. If you’re impatient, watch the first movement and you’ll get the idea.
Portrait of Jennie (1948, Willaim Dieterle) [r]
Joseph Cotten grows infatuated with a woman he meets who does not seem to actually exist except in his mind and paintings; grand statements and sweeping love ensue. Batshit Selznick production is either the most over-the-top romantic film ever made or the most off-the-rails document of filmmaking insanity that exists. Artful and commercial excess combine for a bewildering experience.
The Poseidon Adventure (1972, Ronald Neame) [c]
* Big cruel joke of a movie from the Irwin Allen universe about a cruise ship turned upside down. As escapism, it is crude but acceptable, but its technique is amateurish, its unwelcome attempts at humanity crushing and offensive, with every performance shrill and infuriating save that of Jack Albertson.
The Post (2017, Steven Spielberg) [hr]
You can shoot cynical holes through this slick, middlebrow exploration of the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times and the Washington Post; it’s weird that the film is about the Post and not the Times, the casting of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks potentially puts it squarely in prestige picture hell, and it has the usual excessive hand-holding and syrup so common to Spielberg’s films. But what can you say? He’s the best there is when it comes to telling a cracking good story, and for someone who finds the subject interesting, this is as exciting as Marvel movies are to their audience.
The Postman (1997, Kevin Costner) [NO]
* Costner’s second film is far better than his first, Dances with Wolves, but still reflects an astounding level of excess on the part of its egomaniacal director and star. Three hours are thrown away — in a symbolic gesture of the money burned on this garbage — with an inane story about the post-apocalyptic U.S., various sections livened up by the presence of what appears to be a postal worker. Costner is a self-absorbed child, but even a good director couldn’t have done much with this material.
Post Tenebras Lux (2012, Carlos Reygadas) [c]
Dear smart, gifted young filmmakers: please stop letting Terrence Malick’s relentless self-enabling influence you.
Powder (1995, Victor Salva) [NO]
* Alleged child molester Salva creeps the world out (with Jeff Goldbum in tow) for a story about an albino kid with Incredible Powers dealing with love and alienation in high school. Fake, insipid, insulting, offensive, this is entirely free of worth and function.
Prancer (1989, John Hancock) [NO]
* Shockingly dull children’s film about one of Santa’s reindeer showing up in a girl’s backyard, or so she believes. If your kids fall for this, they’ll fall for anything.
Precious (2009, Lee Daniels)
Mawkish suffering narrative about a sexual abuse victim attempting to lift herself up via alternative education during a second pregnancy. Precious’ plight is so severe, in the vein of a Dave Pelzer book, that it seems exploitative; the movie might be more successful if not for its grave social-problem overtones, not to mention Daniels’ inexplicable stylized flourishes. Gabourey Sidibe’s range of emotions is a welcome distraction from the film’s overall dourness.
Predator (1987, John McTiernan) [NO]
* Mindless sledgehammer thriller with no story, poor acting.
The Premature Burial (1962, Roger Corman)
* Ray Milland is awful in one of the most tired and faceless of Corman’s Poe adaptations, involving a man’s fear of the titular ailment. Entertaining and short but a bit of a cheat.
The Prestige (2006, Christopher Nolan)
Beauty buried by technique in this hip, technically proficient ballad of dueling magicians. There’s no time to explore emotional depth, too much plot to cover, which is just how whiz-kid Nolan likes it.
Presumed Innocent (1990, Alan J. Pakula) [c]
* Another tits & cash film from Pakula, this one with one-note Harrison Ford charged with the murder of a lawyer he fucked. Those who enjoyed Scott Turow’s popular book will go for this, but with this film’s sense of style now so terribly dated I doubt it can have much attraction today, especially at its dramatic length.
Pretty in Pink (1986, Howard Deutch) [r]
One of John Hughes’ best scripts explores the budding high school relationship — with many false starts — between a girl from a low-income family and a rich kid. Though it’s identifiably fake, it tries harder for a ring of truth than almost any other teen comedy of the ’80s. Harry Dean Stanton is phenomenal as Molly Ringwald’s dad, James Spader wonderfully wicked as a local privileged asshole; unfortunately, the entire film is knocked out of alignment by the presence of obnoxious Jon Cryer as a leeching “friend” named Duckie. If you survive the film without wanting to murder him, you’re better than me.
Pretty Woman (1990, Garry Marshall) [NO]
* Ugly, hate-filled drivel about a hooker’s Genuine Love for Richard Gere is the usual Pygmalion shit, this time with two almost intolerable performances driving it. Julia Roberts reaches heights of banality heretofore unknown to mankind.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969, Ronald Neame)
Odd showcase for Maggie Smith, loosely adapted by Jay Presson Allen from Muriel Spark’s novel, as a prim but covertly manipulative teacher at a girls’ school in the early 1930s, exploring the intricate relationships between her, a couple of male staff members and four students who become enamored of her. Bleakly suveys how the power balance of teacher-pupil relationships can impart corruption, misery, jealousy. Smith delivers her snooty aloofness to a point that she seems inhuman.
The Princess Bride (1987, Rob Reiner) [hr]
Hilarious and rapid-fire fantasy about a separated couple dealing with a limitless supply of hazards — including Christopher Guest — in an attempt to reunite, all narrated by Peter Falk reading a book to his grandson. Full of boundless energy, swashbuckling action and irresistible charm — and despite having its every moment completely absorbed into the culture, it remains genuinely funny.
Princess Mononoke (1997, Hayao Miyazaki) [c]
Weird, elaborate animated fantasy is a triple threat to those who can’t tolerate anime, fantasy, and incomprehensibly convoluted storylines. At least it’s shorter than Lord of the Rings.
Princess O’Rourke (1943, Norman Krasna) [hr]
Made in advance of the very similar Roman Holiday by a decade, this is a cute romance with very funny moments — and Olivia de Havilland proving her comic mettle — but what gives it gravity and pathos is the lingering “is-everything-ever-gonna-be-okay?” that lurks behind every moment in the midst of the war. Silly as it can be, it’s silly because to directly contemplate its raw emotion is almost too much.
The Principal (1987, Christopher Cain) [NO]
James Belushi does his best in the title role in a remarkably stupid movie about an inner city high school and what happens when the local gang gets a taste for the new prinicipal’s blood. The clichés of this genre are set in stone to such an extent that not one scene in the movie hasn’t been seen before in Blackboard Jungle or any given one of the hundreds of B-movies about problem teens. Formulaic writing at its most basic.
Prisoners (2013, Denis Villeneuve) [r]
This crime-fiction pulp about the fallout from the disappearance of two young girls grows more and more preposterous as its two and a half hours unfold — as absorbed as one is in it, its reliance on absurd coincidences and a completely ridiculous, Friday the 13th-like resolution become hard to tolerate in the moment and inexcusable afterward. Helpfully, most of the performances are solid; Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal sometimes slip into melodrama, and casting Paul Dano as a weirdo is not exactly a stroke of originality, but all three are compelling.
The Private Eyes (1980, Lang Elliott) [r]
* Don Knotts plays the straight man to boisterous Tim Conway in frivolous but enjoyable comedy set in the Biltmore House, with the pair investigating a murder. You’ve seen it a million times before, but it’s still fun, especially with these performers.
The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933, Alexander Korda) [A+]
Whether or not you give a toss about the British monarchy, you’ll eat up this chronicle of Henry VIII’s marital life — thanks in large part to Charles Laughton’s wild, broad but sensitive performance in the lead. Still, pretty much everything about this blackly comic, witty and boisterous concoction is a delight and a breeze; few things are so thrilling as watching great power put in its place, even if it’s by love.
Private Parts (1997, Betty Thomas) [r]
* Howard Stern does a suspiciously good job of playing himself in this fun remembrance of his early career. Likable but thoroughly innocuous, its appeal goes far beyond Stern’s usual audience but won’t prepare them for what his charmless humor is really like.
Prizzi’s Honor (1985, John Huston) [NO]
Shockingly incompetent lite-gangster story, allegedly a comedy, about two contract killers (Kathleen Turner and Jack Nicholson) falling in love. Huston was in his final years at this point and there’s nothing here to suggest he had more than the faintest memories of how to effectively block, edit or photograph a movie, or certainly how to work with actors. Not even Anjelica Huston having a fairly decent time with a particularly nefarious part can rescue it.
Problem Child (1990, Dennis Dugan) [NO]
* Much energy is wasted in this sappy, violent, maddeningly stupid supposed kids’ comedy that makes the Home Alone films seem suddenly classy. John Ritter panders as put-upon adoptive father to aggressive bad seed. Trash like this proves that the studios have no respect whatsoever for children.
Problem Child 2 (1991, Brian Levant) [NO]
* It would not seem possible that a sequel could be any worse than the original, but this is a movie so murderously horrible it could humiliate a college-aged perv.
The Producers (1968, Mel Brooks) [hr]
Brooks’ directorial debut is a passionately mounted, rousing success, and one of the most fun movies to watch with someone who’s never seen it, just to see the discomfort rise. An unsuccessful producer of plays conspires to create a show that is bound to flop so he can collect on the funding; the result is the unforgettable “Springtime for Hitler” and some of the most divinely crafted comic scenes you’ll ever see. Zero Mostel is great, but Gene Wilder anchors the movie.
Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
They don’t make movies more exciting than this one, throwing us fully into a quick-paced world of sinister people, inviting murderers, and that certain sinking feeling. A masterpiece not just in terms of its visual finesse and low-budget realism — it virtually created the modern horror genre — but particularly in regard to its dialogue; Joseph Stefano’s script is magnificent and thought-provoking. A complete turnaround from Hitchcock’s previous American films, it’s nonetheless likely his most famous movie; from breathless start to finish, it fully earns its high reputation.
Psycho (1998, Gus Van Sant) [NO]
* If I do a shot by shot remake of Good Will Hunting, is that paying tribute or is that ripping off and stealing the work of others? Van Sant’s unforgivably offensive “film” is a fuck-you to everything right and good about the first hundred years of cinema. It is an insult to originality, an insult to Hitchcock, an insult to any modern filmmaker who takes his work seriously.
Psycho II (1983, Richard Franklin) [c]
* I cannot disagree with the legions of others who’ve commented that this film is better than it has any right to be; in fact, for the first hour or so it’s so entertaining you keep spinning your head around to make sure no one else is watching you enjoy it. And compared to, say, Jaws 2, this is inoffensive all the way. But even outside of a general questioning of Franklin’s motives, the film’s thoroughly insulting conclusion gives the lie to any claim this might have to being a worthy sequel. And at its best, the film has none of the grace and wisdom of the original.
Psycho III (1986, Anthony Perkins) [NO]
* Perkins takes Shatner’s classic “if you can’t beat them” approach to dealing with typecasting by directing himself in a retread of his most famous role. This is a commercial but amateurish slasher film at best, a contemptible stain on a classic at worst. But compared to the Gus Van Sant remake of the original or to the dreadful TV movie Bates Motel, this is a tribute to the Master as honorable as that nonexistent Oscar. (Incidentally Psycho IV, also made for TV, is good for a laugh and probably more fun than either of the theatrical sequels.)
P.T. 109 (1963, Leslie Martinson) [c]
* Young John F. Kennedy does stuff, is hero.
Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino) [NO]
Tarantino’s cut-and-paste job of a sensory overload joins the mob of films drenched in anonymous style and no substance led by Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia. If you could take every bit of every movie I’ve seen that has made me want to gag and put them all in the same place, this is fairly close to what the result would be. It’s sheer torture and unbearably smarmy, like trying to have a conversation with an overzealous video store clerk. Wait a minute…
Punch Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson) [NO]
Whether it’s the irritating soundtrack, the irritating Adam Sandler (and he’s supposedly good in this!), the irritating lack of a script, the irritating lack of a story, or the more than irritating and nearly intolerable pretension, something about this pushes it over the Magnolia edge into a world of syrupy imitation-indie sludge. Pretty to look at but dull and superficial.
Purple Rain (1984, Albert Magnoli)
Film scholar Fox Mulder said it best: “Great album. Deeply flawed movie.” Stick with the music (and the poster).
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985, Woody Allen) [r]
One of Allen’s most widely beloved films is actually one of his most cloying and insincere. It’s the tale of a lonely girl who is joined in the Depression by a favorite movie character who literally jumps out of the screen and grabs her. Though it sounds good on paper, there just isn’t much more to it, and any film that is meant as a testament to the healing power of its medium should probably be a lot less calculated than this. Generally Allen’s personality oozes from everything in his movies. It’s nowhere in this one, and that’s the problem.
Pygmalion (1938, Anthony Asquith & Leslie Howard) [NO]
The directors do, to their credit, bring some visual life to bits and pieces of this miserable story, but George Bernard Shaw’s play remains ill-spirited and irritatingly smug. The movie is hardly any better.