Rabbit Hole (2010, John Cameron Mitchell) [hr]
Subtle, sobering, impressively believable story about a bereaved couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) still struggling with their grief eight months after the accidental death of their son. Both central characters are as complex and contradictory as real people. This is more of a moment in time than a story — deftly adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own play, and directed with completely palpable familiarity and discomfort with the suburbs by Mitchell.
Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977, Bill Melendez) [r]
* The last two Peanuts features continue to display the usual economic wisdom of Charles Schulz, doing a dandy job of working outside his ideal medium, but suffer from a lack of ambition on the part of the animators. So the result is fun but rather anonymous.
Rachel Getting Married (2008, Jonathan Demme)
Well-meaning, refreshingly humanistic, gorgeously natural Demme slice of life about a depressed woman taking time out of rehab to attend her sister’s wedding works best the farther it stays away from its rather hollow storyline; the performances (particularly by Bill Irwin and Anne Hathaway) and especially the soaring document of the wedding itself rescue it from the humdrum psychoanalysis of Jenny Lumet’s script.
Radio Days (1987, Woody Allen) [hr]
Euphoric, charming Allen period comedy stacked with vignettes about growing up in New York in the 1930s. Numerous laughs, lamentations, and cinematic stunts abound in this effort of the director at his most populist and warm.
Raging Bull (1980, Martin Scorsese) [c]
Good — if showy — acting and supreme technical brilliance liven up this incompetently structured, terribly unpleasant biopic of boxer Jack La Motta. The work of Scorsese and his crew here is clearly designed to be impressive, but no real humanity ever seems to enter the equation. The movie is dispassionate, sluggish, and at the finale, pointless.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg) [hr]
Spielberg’s hyperkinetic update of Saturday matinee serials is too awash in their genre redundancies to make as much of an individualistic statement as it should, but it offers some of the best action setpieces in cinema and is completely perfect as a great night out at the movies. Harrison Ford is made for the role of bold archaeologist Indiana Jones, and for all its stereotypes, the movie is hedonistic without being superficial, with great dialogue and a wonderfully pessimistic ending.
Rain Man (1988, Barry Levinson) [c]
There seems to be no fake “poignant” Hollywood cliché Levinson can’t find a way to fit into this shrill story of a yuppie attempting to “deal” with the autistic older brother he’s just kidnapped, moments after learning of his existence. The film would be even more painful if not for Dustin Hoffman’s brilliant performance, which is wasted on such a pointless, hokey script.
Raise the Titanic! (1980, Jerry Jameson) [NO]
* Pointlessly long, drawn-out filming of the Clive Cussler book only justifies its existence at the bravura finale, and even then you sort of wonder why they bothered.
Raising Arizona (1987, Joel Coen) [hr]
Arresting, spectacular comedy about sterile couple who conspire to kidnap a quintuplet; the Coen brothers and cameraman Barry Sonnenfeld are a heavenly match.
Ran (1985, Akira Kurosawa)
King Lear. Lots of battle scenes. Too long.
Rango (2011, Gore Verbinski)
Surreal animated remake of Chinatown in a western setting follows a displaced chameleon (a funny premise by itself) seeking “the spirit of the West.” Some lilting sequences and gorgeous effects animation can’t move this beyond gimmickry, though unlike most non-Pixar CG features it does seem to take its story and emotional content seriously. If only the characters weren’t such state-of-the-art, arid special effects they could actually express something meaningful, probably too much to ask for the first full-length film produced by ILM.
Rashomon (1950, Akira Kurosawa) [hr]
Haunting and beautiful Kurosawa classic about disturbing schisms between four different accounts of a rape and murder. The story gets sold short by a pat conclusion, but until then it’s so direct and clear you start to worry that you’ve become part of it.
Ratatouille (2007, Brad Bird) [A+]
Pixar and Bird pick up on the promise of The Incredibles with a very different film that’s just as revelatory, from the unlikely notion of a rat — who is secretly a brilliant cook — hiding out in a Parisian restaurant. Funny, charming, immediate, unique and artful, it is the sort of movie that people who care about movies are always waiting for.
Ray (2004, Taylor Hackford) [r]
Biopic of Ray Charles attempts to cover so much ground in one of the most eventful and culturally vital lives of the 20th century that it seems never to stop to take much of a breath. As a result it lacks nuance, though it is often utterly electrifying in the sequences dealing with Charles playing live and recording. But nearly everything is redeemed by Jamie Foxx’s magnificent performance — one of the best portrayals of a real person ever recorded on film.
The Razor’s Edge (1946, Edmund Goulding) [c]
When it comes down to it, I just don’t care about these out-of-touch, vapid rich people. I don’t care about Gene Tierney’s love for her husband-to-be being contingent upon a certain rate of income. I don’t care about returning WWI veteran Tyrone Power’s quest to “find himself,” which amounts to an expensive vacation to a prototype version of MIU, after which he gains the ability to hypnotize people into being better salesmen, or something. I don’t care about Herbert Marshall’s interpretation of W. Somerset Maugham, who inserted himself as a character in this novel but never begins to serve any kind of purpose in the film version except to glare sternly at various story developments. I care about Anne Baxter, but only during her big drunk widow scene.
The Reader (2008, Stephen Daldry)
Decades-spanning narrative of a German teenager’s affair with an older woman and the shadow it casts over his life after he learns of her involvement in war crimes. An excellent cast — Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and especially Bruno Ganz — is mostly wasted for a lot of manufactured tearjerking and the sheen of default Importance that is afforded films about the Holocaust. Daldry’s biggest mistake is approaching this impossibly soapy story with such grave overseriousness. For crying out loud, a guy finds out his Mrs. Robinson killed 300 Jews and is illiterate, and he then spends decades recording audiobooks for her; let’s have some fun with this trash!
Reality Bites (1994, Ben Stiller)
Though awash in gen-X clichés and cursed with one of the dumbest resolutions in history, this fairly restrained film about post-college layabouts does offer good performances and some laughs.
Real Life (1979, Albert Brooks) [hr]
Cynical and alarmingly prophetic directorial debut from Brooks wherein he plays a cartoon version of himself, an opportunistic comedian who decides he wants to make a movie starring real people about their day-to-day lives but of course is unable to divorce himself from the proceedings, so that in the end the verité project becomes more or less what he wants it to be as the family he is spying on grows more and more complacent to his intrusions. It’s a fusion of horror and laughter that is often delightful, always confounding and provocative.
Real Men (1987, Dennis Feldman) [NO]
* James Belushi and John Ritter, a pair of bottom-tier comedy actors even by the harrowing standards of the ’80s, participate in a parody of spy flicks that simply could not have been written by a human being.
Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
While Grace Kelly does everything she can to try and get into Jimmy Stewart’s pants, he glares out the window and starts to see things happening. Searing entertainment, this wry and scary comment on the voyeurism that constitutes the meaning of the medium of film itself is filled with crushing suspense and wild eroticism. It is one of the few absolutely perfect films made to date, and a masterpiece by every conceivable standard.
Rebecca (1940, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
A woman (the brilliant Joan Fontaine) lives in the long Gothic-romantic shadow of her husband’s deceased wife, Rebecca. Gorgeous, atmospheric, intoxicating and terrifying Du Maurier adaptation is a tour de force for Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick. You cannot help but live in Joan Fontaine’s world for the duration of this nightmare put on film. She’s perfect for the subdued and intensely sympathetic central role, while Judith Anderson is equally great as the frightening Mrs. Danvers. Comic highlight: George Sanders barging into a car stealing chicken.
Rebel Without a Cause (1955, Nicholas Ray) [A+]
Operatic tale of three misfit teenagers aroused both by violence and by their increasing need for responsibility, that which draws them together into a makeshift family as frustrated boy (James Dean) becomes father and lover. The film is probably the only one to date to get adolescence completely right, to portray confusion rather than antagonism, as individuals struggle to become themselves. It’s an achingly beautiful film, overflowing with emotion, and one of the most moving stories Hollywood has put on celluloid.
The Reckless Moment (1949, Max Ophüls) [hr]
James Mason plays a terrifying blackmailer who unexpectedly softens in this unusual noir, with Joan Bennett’s shaky but tough matriarch going to the moon and back to protect her impressionable art-student daughter who fell into a toxic relationship with an older sleazebag, newly deceased. Now the whole family is trapped in a world of racketeering, bloodshed and the usual intimidating Mr. Big behind the scenes. This is a tremendously entertaining thriller, gaining a lot from its positioning of an outsider from the criminal underworld as its protagonist, and playing on the classical upper-middle class fear of nefarious influence infiltrating the nuclear family.
Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947, Yasujiro Ozu) [hr]
Simple, funny, touching chronicle of a neighborhood of surly adults’ response to a war orphan’s appearance in their neighborhood, focusing mostly on Chōko Iida as a widow and tinkerer whose open disdain after being stuck taking care of the boy is the uneasy prelude to a reluctant respect and affection. The material could easily become goopy and sentimental; but Ozu’s calm, slow approach allows it to come across as real life, subtly encouraging an embrace of the children whose lives were left broken by the war without judging any of its characters for the one-day-at-a-time routines in which they mire themselves.
Red (1994, Krzysztof Kieslowski) [hr]
A stunningly romantic dream, like Donnie Darko married to the Hitchcock-Selznick collaborations, that defies any description a brief capsule could offer; just see it.
The Red Badge of Courage (1951, John Huston) [NO]
* Huston can’t really do much to help the shrill, deathly slow nature of Stephen Crane’s turgid novel; outside of a couple of charged sequences, the director and fine cast simply can’t justify 64 minutes that drag by like a root canal.
Red Dragon (2002, Brett Ratner) [NO]
Indescribably bad third (technically fourth) entry in the Hannibal series features good actors doing decent work in the command of Z-grade director Ratner. How he got this job is anybody’s guess; this one is heinous.
Red River (1948, Howard Hawks) [hr]
Messy, busy, and one of the most lyrical westerns of all: the story of a cattle drive, a power struggle, and of people and their many riveting misdirections and screwups, all riveting. John Wayne’s performance is as profound and sublime as his work in The Searchers — a stubborn, corruptible cad, but there are moments when the depth of his pain registers and somehow your heart moves, probably cause you’re soft just like Matthew Garth (this may also be Montgomery Clift’s best performance). You need’t break classic Hollywood down via postmodernism to subvert its iconography; in the hands of someone like Hawks, it’s already there with you.
Reds (1981, Warren Beatty) [c]
Bloated, mind-bogglingly dull story of journalists John Reed and Louise Bryant (played with no depth whatsoever by Beatty and Diane Keaton) before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution. About three hours are spent on this, and then there are the pointless interviews thrown in so that Beatty can make sure his point is made with proper sledgehammer precision. Two hundred fucking minutes.
The Red Shoes (1948, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) [hr]
If there is a god this movie touches him, however briefly; this story of the mounting of a ballet from the Hans Christian Anderson story is absorbing enough in itself, but the dance sequence itself that divides the film in half is as sublime a piece of filmmaking as anyone has managed to date. The film can’t be expected to recover from that moment of genius, and it does not.
Red Zone Cuba (1966, Coleman Francis) [c]
* Turgid home movie about three drifters getting involved, sort of, in the Bay of Pigs invasion is as poorly made as films get, yet carries a certain mythic curiosity in its many bizarre tangents. The quintessential Coleman Francis project.
The Ref (1994, Ted Demme) [hr]
* Ordinary ’90s comedy made exceptional and galvanizing by its rather ambitious casting of Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey, both brilliant, as a bickering couple taken hostage by a cynical con man.
Regarding Henry (1991, Mike Nichols) [NO]
* To begin with, this a syrupy and annoying story and should never have been filmed. But if you insist, why Harrison Ford? The whole time he has amnesia you keep waiting for him to break out the whip and go look for the ark. Overwrought sludge.
Regeneration (1915, Raoul Walsh) [hr]
A staggering film, making miraculously vivid use of Bowery locations — a morality play of a troubled boy who becomes a gangster then seeks to redeem himself, deftly underplayed by a fine cast and elaborately, artfully shot with ageless aplomb. Even if you know D.W. Griffith’s features from this era quite well, you can scarcely believe this is a hundred years old.
The Reluctant Dragon (1941, Alfred L. Werker) [r]
Maybe we could do without the live action sequences with Robert Benchley touring the Disney studio, and we may not even need the Goofy cartoon, but I don’t think you can ask a lot more from a movie that contains two of the most startingly clever and wonderful Disney cartoons, Baby Weems and The Reluctant Dragon.
Renaissance Man (1994, Penny Marshall) [c]
* Very mild comedy with Danny Devito teaching English to a group of military recruits starts out inoffensive but fair, dwindles soon enough into easy sentiment.
Repulsion (1965, Roman Polanski) [hr]
One of the most terrifying films ever made, Polanski’s English language debut is a knockout about a paranoid woman left alone in the apartment for a week by her amorous sister. Soon enough, she barricades herself inside and begins to be torn apart by nightmares. Truly harrowing and hypnotic.
Requiem for a Dream (2000, Darren Aronofsky) [NO]
Why exactly do hip college types, who abhor the condescension of anti-drug PSAs, like being preached to so long as it’s in a stylishly edited movie with hot actors? Maybe I answered my own question. Pi director Aronofsky’s entry in the Stupid People Doing Stupid Things genre doesn’t hold up to much analysis.
The Rescuers (1977, John Lounsberry & Wolfgang Reitherman) [r]
* The first rather bright detour in a good long while for the post-Disney Disney studio, this fun cartoon about a pair of mice entangled in intrigue is unremarkable in the animation department but frothy in its voice acting and keen writing.
The Rescuers Down Under (1990, Hendel Butoy) [r]
* These enterprising mice offered the one and only virtuous animated feature for Disney in the bleak ’70s, so why shouldn’t they do the same for the more popular but still artistically dismal Disney renaissance? This by-the-numbers sequel is decent fun and a good deal better than The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin
Reservoir Dogs (1992, Quentin Tarantino) [c]
Unlike Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, his first film does have a couple of good visual ideas and performances, yet the story is just as simple-minded, derivative and smug as that of the later film. Like most of his work, it mostly amounts to a big empty-headed commercial for its director’s supposed craft. Wait for the Broadway musical.
Restrepo (2010, Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington) [r]
Sebastian Junger is a great writer and journalist but I could have probably gone my whole life without being “on the ground” with American soldiers in Afghanistan, a truly nightmarish and anxiety-inducing experience that anchors this documentary. There is revealing, valuable footage here, gathered heroically, laying out several reasons why war is such a blight on our planet and our character as a species — but said reasons are drawn only from the American side, thus only half of the relevant angles.
Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand) [NO]
Easily the worst and most anonymously mounted Star Wars film, this opens by resolving the cliffhanger of The Empire Strikes Back with an overlong sequence in Jabba the Hut’s lair, then finally has the nerve to close this infantile institution with an unashamed, impossibly twee toy commercial! Even fans don’t seem to have much affection for this bewildering mishmash.
The Return of the Pink Panther (1975, Blake Edwards)
Over ten years after Sellers hung up the Closeau hat and six after Alan Arkin’s vain attempt at capturing the character, Blake Edwards — at the nadir of his reputation — sells out with this commercial and mostly harmless retread of the first film. The jokes are mostly a bore, but the performances are bright and the music is wonderful, and the movie certainly doesn’t try to be anything but Cinemascope escapism.
The Revenant (2015, Alejandro González Iñárritu) [c]
A miserable macho slog, redeemed only by Emmanuel Lubezki’s breathtaking photography, retells the story of Hugh Glass, a trapper left for dead on a fur-trading expedition. Ostensibly a revisionist western, but really just an endurance test that consists mostly of lingering scenes capturing Leonardo DiCaprio’s Glass crawling tortuously back home, though there are of course bonus rape victims and overwrought antagonists to consider along the way.
Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978, Blake Edwards) [r]
The finest of the “Revival” Panther films of the ’70s — and the last one Peter Sellers completed — features the most rapid-fire gags and eccentric humor of the series. It’s brainless mayhem that consistently works.
Revenge of the Sith (2005, George Lucas) [c]
For all its whiz-bang firepower and mythological dread, the last film in the Star Wars series brings the epic full-circle with the final admission that it’s all an inherently pessimistic diatribe about deeply felt emotions not paying off for the greater good. Which, given the cold-hearted precision of every film Lucas has ever put his name on, seems completely appropriate, and he has the bank account to prove such a depressing, soul-crushing message strikes a chord all over the galaxy.
Reversal of Fortune (1990, Barbet Schroeder) [r]
Half true-crime mystery, half infomercial for Alan Dershowitz’s capabilities as a defense attorney. Slick and entertaining, and the detective-work scenes are surprisingly raw and engaging a la the “war room” scenes in The Candidate, but there are limits to what we can learn about a man like Claus von Bulow (portrayed about three pitches above cartoonish by Jeremy’s Iron) in context like this, which makes the exercise seem a bit pointless. Far more palatable than most prestige films of this dire period.
Rich and Strange (1932, Alfred Hitchcock) [hr]
Buried in Hitchcock’s hit-and-miss early filmography, this coyly perceptive comedy he fought to make is a must-see about a married couple on a disastrous vacation that finds them both straying. It’s revealing to watch the director involve himself in highly personal, eccentric story prior to the years when he learned how to bury all that intensity in the thrillers.
Richie Rich (1994, Donald Petrie) [NO]
* One of Macaulay Culkin’s final films before his retreat into Hollywood limbo, this is notable only for having been shot at the Biltmore Mansion, where I had just been a few days before filming started. Claim to fame, bra.
Rififi (1954, Jules Dassin) [hr]
Blacklisted American director Dassin moved to France and became a superstar with this remarkable, endlessly plundered heist drama; it adds delicate characterization and a sense of profound loss to the now-routine pattern of crime and comeuppance. Jean Servais is the perfect antihero, dignity and regret cast all over his wearied face, nevertheless capable of unforgivable, unglamorous hatred. The film’s stylish, slow early moments don’t give a hint to the tension in the mostly silent burglary sequence and the gripping, magical third act.
The Right Stuff (1983, Philip Kaufman)
Exceedingly off-putting narrative of the early U.S. space program, focusing on the Mercury 7 astronauts and the absent idol Chuck Yeager, a juxtaposition that makes more sense in Tom Wolfe’s rambling, stream-of-consciousness book… as does the confused tone, volleying between reverent wonder and flippant tongue-in-cheek lampoon, which makes it impossible to enjoy the serious moments or the humorous ones, because you’re never quite sure whether the film means to impress you or is mocking everything you’re seeing.
The Ring (1927, Alfred Hitchcock) [r]
Interesting silent Hitchcock has a rather conventional story — two competing boxers are out for the affection of the same woman — but early marks of considerable maturity in the visual execution, worlds beyond even the very inventive Easy Virtue. Unlike The Lodger, which regurgitated German expressionism techniques in an exciting new context, The Ring is a thoroughly unique achievement in aesthetic terms, which may be why the director remained so fond of it. He would not hone his storytelling craft for several years, but his technical mastery was already formed.
The Ring (2002, Gore Verbinski)
This beautifully photographed horror film does toy with ideas of delicious intrigue but it isn’t scary, even for the genre, trudging along with uninspired lunacy about some little girl stuck in a VHS tape or some crap.
Rio Bravo (1959, Howard Hawks) [hr]
Hawks’ westerns are more immediately engrossing than John Ford’s, but linger less for me in the long run as anything except cracking good times; but that’s more than enough to make this totally delightful. Despite its relaxed pacing, this drama of a town besieged by a gang of violent hooligans and the sheriff who takes them on is gripping from its earliest frames and uses its tremendous cast well, with Dean Martin and Angie Dickinson turning in surprisingly grand performances backing up John Wayne, who is as John Wayne as ever. The overt brassiness fully sells Hawks’ vision of the western as populist entertainment even at its most cinematic.
Risky Business (1983, Paul Brickman) [NO]
* A red-blooded American teenager bursts out of his shell, and that might make sense if he weren’t played by Tom Cruise, who has no blood. Obnoxious and unfunny.
The River (1929, Frank Borzage) [r]
Only a fragment of this charged romance still exists — if a lengthy one — and it doesn’t contain very much of the actual story information. We’ll log it as an incomplete, though the one thing about it that really tickles, wild pre-code eroticism notwithstanding, is the way Mary Duncan keeps rolling her eyes when Charles Farrell shirks sex in favor of playing checkers or whatnot. An interesting and beautifully photographed curiosity as it now stands, but little else.
The River (1951, Jean Renoir) [A+]
Renoir intoxicates the audience with a colorful India in this emotionally rich film from Rumer Godden’s novel about a girl’s first crush and first hints of true maturity. A beautiful film full of unforgettable characterizations and gentle, absorbing — but never slow — pacing. This movie gives you a world to live in and makes no secret of its mission to stir at the core.
The Road Warrior (1981, George Miller) [c]
* I would not hire Mel Gibson to take care of my oil. Boring series of stunts and laughable, artifical scenes of weak dialogue will certainly please its core audience, who may also enjoy The Sidehackers.
The Robe (1953, Henry Koster) [c]
Atrociously acted dress rehearsal for Ben-Hur is slick enough and serves mostly as a showcase as the first narrative film in the new Cinemascope process; its main claim to fame therefore is initiating the move toward widescreen formats in Hollywood, though the splashes of Renaissance-like Technicolor manage at times to distract from the insipid, dull story, performances and direction (which really does nothing inspired with the extra horizontal space).
Robin Hood (1973, Wolfgang Reitherman) [c]
* Though it’s innocuous by today’s unholy standards, this once was the worst Disney cartoon feature that had been made, and it is a permanent blot on the resume of these long-running animators who should have known better. A boring story, recycled character designs, poor animation, and no personality at all.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993, Mel Brooks) [r]
Brooks is a bit too gentle (and centralized) in this film, a parody of a box office hit nobody remembers now (see below) but it retains a lot of his charm and humor, with the unquestionable highlight being Patrick Stewart’s cameo. Some scenes are priceless, as usual, and the songs are wonderful.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991, Kevin Reynolds) [c]
* Alan Rickman is absolutely the only reason to watch this movie. Most of the rest of the cast is good but not good enough to justify looking at Kevin Costner’s face for 138 minutes. It’s hard to determine what’s most annoying about this blockbuster retread — Costner himself, or the self-consciously trendy script, or the pointless rapid-fire editing style.
Robocop 2 (1990, Irvin Kershner) [NO]
* I’ve never seen the first Robocop. I trust it was better than this one, which was just more like sitting in a studio board meeting than watching a movie.
The Rock (1996, Michael Bay) [c]
* Compared to Armageddon this is Shakespeare, but it’s still a loud, irritating, and unbelievably stupid action film. Bay’s usual 138-minute series of explosions makes no sense and will leave the viewer confused, bitter and numb.
Rocky (1976, John G. Avildsen) [c]
Actually a competent piece of populist cloud-of-dust moviemaking, but there’s nothing really there.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, Jim Sharman)
* The fun of this actually doesn’t wear off for thirty or forty minutes, and even after that there are a couple of bright spots. However, despite its ample cult following, this insufficiently flamboyant trans-musical frustrates to an extreme in its inability to live up to the humor and cynicism of its opening moments. But of course, you’ll regret it if you never give it a chance.
Roger & Me (1989, Michael Moore) [r]
Moore is no less a smartass here than in his later movies, but he still crafts in this case a rather splendid documentary about the town of Flint, Michigan, torn apart by the closing of a GM factory. Clearheaded portrait of working-class America in the late ’80s is genuinely funny and poignant, and much more than usual Moore allows the images he captures to speak for themselves.
Roma (2018, Alfonso Cuarón) [hr]
The beach is now as ubiquitous in Cuarón’s films as rain is in Kurosawa’s. The story in this beautifully respectful exploration of his own childhood, like Gravity, is so elemental it could be described in a sentence fragment, yet so very individual and telling thanks to the performances and Cuarón’s breathtakingly inspired presentation of it, which uses technology as a vehicle to the enlivening of memory. The images are harrowing in their simple forcefulness: the car storming into its narrow garage space, the theater filled with people looking away from the real story, the human body as vehicle of lust and instrument of destruction.
Romancing the Stone (1984, Robert Zemeckis) [r]
* I remember my teachers used to tell me I wasn’t living up to my potential, and that’s kind of the way it feels to see Zemeckis giving up on his wild, individualistic comedies to do a conventional (even throwback) escapist caper that would have been even more fun if he and Bob Gale had written it, but this is gold compared to what Zemeckis did in the ’90s and you may as well surrender. Not only is it the reason Back to the Future got made, it’s also funny and enjoyable.
Roman Holiday (1953, William Wyler) [hr]
Scripted by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, this popular romantic comedy conjures up a surprising gamut of emotions today. Audrey Hepburn in her first major role invents the good-hearted waif she would be stuck playing over and over again for the rest of her career. Eddie Albert, young, spry, sexual, and hilarious, steals every fucking scene. Gregory Peck is still a mannequin, William Wyler still a wounding humanist. The film’s melancholy sticks with you as much as its strong, vibrant use of Rome locations.
Romeo and Juliet (1936, George Cukor)
Badly miscast production headlines ridiculously aged-out Leslie Howard, hardly a spectacular actor at the best of times, and Norma Shearer, wasting away in an inappropriate role. The dialogue is obviously indestructible but this specific play loses every bit of its tenuous emotion when robbed of the haunting youth of its leads. The usual MGM opulence is everywhere if that’s what you’re here for.
Romeo and Juliet (1968, Franco Zeffirelli) [NO]
* Inappropriately twee semi-musical Shakespeare adaptation has the cute kiddies fighting for their naive connection and then killing themselves when their respective parents prove too stubborn to put aside their differences. Nice story, Shakespeare. Too bad Zeffirelli doesn’t know how to tell it, what to do with it or least of all how to film it. Maudlin pap has little to redeem its empty-headed excesses.
Romeo + Juliet (1996, Baz Luhrmann)
What what what what what!? Slow down! Claire Danes is Juliet, which in itself is enough to make the film worth seeing, but Luhrmann’s admittedly brilliant yet much too hyperactive direction in the style of a Pepsi commercial is far too much for most of us to take. There isn’t even sufficient time to take in the full scope of the ideas presented. Some of the acting is wonderful but it kind of gets lost in the shuffle. Having said that, do stick with the movie after its miserable opening half-hour; it does get a lot more tolerable as it goes on.
Rome, Open City (1945, Roberto Rossellini) [hr]
Grim, painfully realistic narrative of life in Nazi-occupied Italy now has the feel of a harrowingly detailed period piece but of course at the time was practically breaking news, with overwhelming grief hanging over it. The great success in the performances and screenplay is how familiar and intimate we’re allowed to become with the characters, who in contrast to so many movies about civilian life during wartime feel like they approximate the actual behaviors and attitudes of real people living day to day in such conditions, as opposed to one-dimensional victims.
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997, David Mirkin) [hr]
Witty satire about a pair of buffoons (Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow, both brilliant as usual) who take the dreaded trip to their ten-year high school reunion, consumed by the knowledge that they have accomplished nothing in the intervening years and must now invent a story in order to appear successful. One of the most assured and incisive comedies of the ’90s, this immaculately performed film matches Zelig in its exploration of the quiet satisfactions of not fitting in.
Room (2015, Lenny Abrahamson) [NO]
Lurid, exploitative, maudlin, often nonsensical garbage about a kidnapped woman attempting to escape the small room in which she’s lived with the son she had by her rapist for years. The ideal film for anyone whose favorite book is by Dave Pelzer or V.C. Andrews; the actors are all right but, without illuminating or really probing at anything, this just processes familiar headlines into sentimental misery porn.
Room at the Top (1959, Jack Clayton) [hr]
Stirringly dark Patterns-like story of a man simultaneously discovering the warmest and coldest regions of his heart, illustrated by his adoring affair with an older woman and a corporate temptation. Assuredly directed and acted, building to a truly devastating finale.
A Room with a View (1986, James Ivory)
Pleasant and at times very funny comedy of manners from Forster’s novel, with mostly good performances — Helena Bonham Carter doesn’t seem quite ready for this kind of material but Maggie Smith is perfect, and it’s fun to see Daniel Day-Lewis as a socially incompetent scoundrel. The characters and their relationships in the film aren’t very well-defined aside from some very of-another-time conflicts between societal ideal and passion, but you likely already know what you’re getting into with this.
Rope (1948, Alfred Hitchcock) [hr]
A couple of ambitious psychopaths have strangled a man; they hide him in a chest and then throw a party, all to impress corrupt nihilist Jimmy Stewart — unforgettable in a highly atypical role. And it’s mostly in one long shot (there are a few cuts, some carefully disguised). Hitchcock’s wildest experiment is quite successful; his camera remains as riveting in this guise as it does with the editing room as a tool. Extremely suspenseful, partially as a result of the filming technique.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Roman Polanski) [hr]
Polanski’s second movie about the horrors of apartment dwelling, from Ira Levin’s novel, has Mia Farrow staggeringly good as the high-spirited housewife who notices things falling apart in her life and health after she gets pregnant, prompted by a couple of nosy neighbors who seem to have ties to the occult. Goofy and kitschy at times but brilliantly acted and with a credible atmosphere of dread — with Polanski’s formal ingenuity enlivening a story in which the supernatural is really the least of the mortal threats in play.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990, Tom Stoppard) [r]
Stoppard’s unrelentingly great dialogue lights up an adaptation of his play that comes across as a hybrid of a literary Bill & Ted and the intensive interrogation episode of The Prisoner. Excruciating in the wrong mindset, sublime in the right one.
The Rose Tattoo (1955, Daniel Mann)
Overly chatty, stagy Tennessee Williams tomfoolery about an Italian-American widow (Anna Magnani, who won an Oscar) thrown into a tizzy by another of Williams’ alpha hunks, here an intolerably bombastic truckdriver played by an oddly cheery Burt Lancaster. There’s a lot of business about tattoos, adultery and a teenager who wants to kiss her sailor boyfriend, but everything just collapses into impenetrable word salad. The performances are hindered by the cartoonish way everyone is constantly screaming.
Roxanne (1987, Fred Schepisi) [r]
Steve Martin wrote this delightful revision of Cyrano de Bergerac and bravely performs the entire film with that gigantic nose of his. The film may be a little too easygoing, but its charm is boundless and the play’s sense of sadness permeates.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
Anderson continues the trend of young directors who simply cannot sleep at night if they don’t craft a multicharacter pastiche consisting of people defined lazily by their “quirks.” Tenenbaums is amusing at times and contains one excellent performance — Gene Hackman’s — and one fascinating plotline: the lust a boy feels for his adopted sister (Gwyneth Paltrow in Suicide Girls getup). Unfortunately it has no story whatsoever, and its characters are too great in number to have more than slight resonance, thus preventing it from any kind of true dimension.
Ruggles of Red Gap (1935, Leo McCarey) [r]
The classic 1930s rags-to-riches comedy formula gets one of its most refined workouts here, one that’s more wry than funny (its more cathartic moments suggest a class-reversal of Boudu Saved from Drowning), in a film about a British manservant gambled away to a couple of ragtag new-money Americans during a drunken game of cards. As the disputed Ruggles, Laughton’s facial expressions and restraint throughout the first act are marvelous, but the screenplay by Walter DeLeon and Harlan Thompson forces his transition too quickly and, while it has some fun with the weird contrast of a butler having more regard for social mores and classes than his down-to-earth boss, its situations never attain the kind of levity you hope for in a film like this.
The Rules of the Game (1939, Jean Renoir) [hr]
Renoir’s most beloved cinema classic is brilliant in fits and starts: there’s the classic opening scene, the unforgettable hunt sequence, and that incredible comic chase. But he fills his movie with archetypes that threaten to make this too emotionally distant to have anything more than an intellectual impact on the viewer… although then again, these are archetypes he clearly and sincerely loves, unable to escape his humanism as always.
Run Lola Run (1998, Tom Tykwer) [c]
It’s hard to take seriously a film that seems to accept music video cutting as a logical storytelling method. This story of alternate possibilities about a girl running crosstown to obtain and drop off some money in twenty-odd minutes is nothing that hasn’t been done in a more witty and revealing fashion a hundred times before, probably on your favorite TV show.
The Running Man (1987, Paul Michael Glaser) [NO]
* This really is a movie about a running man. Somehow, it’s goofy and campy without being fun, like Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies.
Rush (2013, Ron Howard) [r]
A director we don’t like much made us care about something that doesn’t interest us in the least (Formula One racing). Hollywood magic lives!
Rushmore (1998, Wes Anderson) [hr]
Colorful, melancholic comedy about a misfit prep school boy in denial about his own inadequacies who falls in love with an idealistic kindergarten teacher, gets embroiled in a friendship with a wealthy contractor played by an unusually restrained Bill Murray. The follow-up to Bottle Rocket is equally insightful but does ask its audience to put its faith in an immature jerk, thus reminding us that we were probably all immature jerks at one point. Gorgeous Cinemascope photography captures Anderson as a visual stylist on the order of Truffaut or Henry Orient-era George Roy Hill.
The Russia House (1990, Fred Schepisi) [c]
* Pretty boring stuff from John Le Carre about spies and intrigue and all that. Fun to see Roy Scheider, though.
The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966, Norman Jewison) [NO]
Painfully unfunny farce has fewer jokes that land than Powell & Pressburger’s similarly plotted 49th Parallel, which wasn’t a comedy. A Russian submarine lands in an idyllic oceanside community, causing very stereotyped and hacky small-town humor and much weak loudness and chaos under the Stanley Kramer-Blake Edwards theory that filling the frame with celebrities and weakly drawn characters and artificial zaniness somehow equates to high comedy. Jewison has no clue how to stage this, and it goes on forever.
Ruthless People (1986, Jim Abrahams/David Zucker/Jerry Zucker) [r]
* Atypical ZAZ film is not merely an endless series of jokes but a wild screwball comedy about a man’s intricate plans to off his wife with a wildly convoluted plot full of unexpected twists and turns. And what’s most unexpected of all about it is its odd sincerity — almost nothing in common here with Airplane! and the like.
Ryan’s Daughter (1970, David Lean) [c]
Postcard romance set in 1916 Ireland with incomprehensible characterizations and every key role miscast anyway; Robert Mitchum is a schoolmarm who hates sex and becomes an unwitting cuckold when his age-inappropriate wife (Sarah Miles) begins seeing a handsome British soldier (Christopher Jones, who has more seizures than lines of dialogue). The story, a Nora Roberts book blown out of proportion, is too slight to justify Lean and writer Robert Bolt’s bloated epic framework for it (200+ minutes).