Tabloid (2011, Errol Morris) [r]
Whether Morris’ purpose in this amusing but empty documentary — about a beauty queen who kidnapped a Mormon missionary in the ’80s — is to murkily show how press attention can drive someone bonkers or to emphasize the oddness of a specific dedicated eccentric, it seems trivial and mean-spirited. Joyce McKinney is an engaging, fascinating, sometimes compellingly irritating presence, but pointing and laughing at her seems like the easy way out.
Tabu (1931, F.W. Murnau) [hr]
Made in semi-collaboration with Robert Flaherty, Murnau’s triumphant last film — possibly his most poetic and elegant apart from Sunrise — is an “ethnofiction” setting a sort of dreamlike variant on Romeo and Juliet among the occupants of the South Pacific island of Bora Bora. The intensity of their love is put to the test when the young girl Reri is marked as a chosen one who must be untouched to appease the gods. Their escape, romantic and impassioned and urgent, and its many complications become our harrowing, finally bleak story about a cruel world determined to crush the abhorrent youth and lust of its central couple. By the conclusion, Murnau has fully secured his title as cinema’s greatest lyricist of images.
Tabu (2012, Miguel Gomes) [r]
Have I ever told you how good it feels to hold you? It isn’t easy to explain.
Take Shelter (2011, Jeff Nichols)
Risible domestic drama about schizophrenia is worth seeing if only because of the lead performances by Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain but features one of the most infuriating conclusions to a film in recent memory. It’s as though someone just put an arthouse pretense atop one of M. Night Shyamalan’s bad, audience-screwing ideas.
Take the Money and Run (1969, Woody Allen) [hr]
Riotous, gag-filled fake “biography” of Woody’s legendarily inept criminal shows off the then-untamed filmmaker’s impressive sense of timing and already a willingness for directorial stunts.
Take This Waltz (2011, Sarah Polley) [hr]
Michelle Williams is a married writer in a rut, coping with a mutual awkwardness in her affable, slightly chilly relationship with her incessantly cooking husband while nursing a growing erotic attraction to a neighbor; it’s not a new story, but it is a well-observed one despite some occasional tone-deaf dialogue. The script continually trips you up with scenes so that are horrendously cringey in the most admirable way, and Polley’s directorial choices throughout her documentation of the sickeningly inevitable fissure that ensues are audacious and abrasive, full of risks, without being gimmicky or overly artificial.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013, Isao Takahata) [r]
Lovingly presented folktale, overcoming Studio Ghibli’s usual arbitrary plotting with a sense of ancient lore and a touchingly compassionate center, with a wonderfully distinctive, minimalist watercolor design. It explores the life of a girl with supernatural origins who is discovered in the forest by a bamboo cutter, who then seeks out a title for her; easy, unforced humor and class commentary arises from his, his wife’s and eventually an entire world’s difficulty with comprehending that material desire isn’t the essence of her dreams. A much more humane and multifaceted film than Grave of the Fireflies, though there’s still some emotional distance.
A Tale of Two Cities (1935, Jack Conway) [r]
Solid literary adaptation, surely ammo for someone’s “Dickens is foolproof” thesis, given extravagant production values by MGM and David O. Selznick — and generally quite well cast, though the plot has so much ground to cover in 125 minutes, incorporating a big Bastille-storming setpiece, that the characterizations don’t really come through apart from Ronald Colman’s cynical Carton. Conway pulls off the finale with great sensitivity; it’s genuinely moving, thanks largely to Isabel Jewell’s performance as the Seamstress.
Tales of Hoffmann (1951, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) [hr]
Strange, surreal opera documenting a man’s life of unrequited love is the stuff of genius visually, although the translation to English is awkward; it’s the fault of the source material that the characters don’t make a lot of sense. But it’s an absolute must-see, a film that will transport you and articulates with glorious, ornate sincerity the mind of a lovelorn human in remarkably lyrical color, sets, and visual audacity.
Tales of Terror (1962, Roger Corman) [r]
* Succinct but unfortunately inaccurate title announces a trio of Poe stories adapted by Richard Matheson, mostly played here for laughs. Interesting but flaky.
The Talk of the Town (1942, George Stevens)
Wildly uneven, plotty “comedy” about a wrongly jailed anarchist hiding in the attic of an ex who happens to have a potential Supreme Court justice staying as a tenant. Stevens is uncomfortable with his characters’ interactions, filling the frame with off-putting closeups and unintentionally funny emotional flourishes while fumbling his attempts at slapstick. The script’s busy wordiness indicates its authors thought they were really on a roll, and you truly feel sorry for them. Cary Grant and Jean Arthur are wonderful but they’re drowned out entirely by Ronald Colman, hamming it up as the highbrow lawyer whose beard is treated like the Monolith from 2001.
Talk to Her (2002, Pedro Almodovar) [r]
Ingeniously structured but morally troubling story about two men taking care of invalid women and how their lives intertwine, full of strangeness and discomfort tempered by beauty. A difficult film to watch, but one cannot escape mentioning that the silent film sequence is remarkable.
The Taming of the Shrew (1967, Franco Zeffirelli) [r]
* Illiterate but technically skillful and surprisingly witty film of Shakespeare’s play, a welcome detour from the usual procedure of just filming his work straight-on with no imagination. Zeffirelli doesn’t do anything great with it, nor do Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but this is far more fun and professional than his Romeo and Juliet.
The T.A.M.I. Show (1964, Steve Binder) [A+]
The appeal of this premier concert film goes beyond just the performances — which include Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Beach Boys, James Brown, the Supremes, and many others at peak power — and into its effortless, lively documentation of rock & roll at its graceful, magical pinnacle. How can we not wish we lived in this world still?
Tangerine (2015, Sean Baker) [r]
Baker’s compassion toward his subjects isn’t really questionable; where one might philosophically differ with him is in what seems to be a morbid fascination with people in their most desperate moments. Here he folds pure comic mania and well-observed detail into the day-to-day plight of two trans sex workers and their noirish gallery of associates and clients as a woman tries to confront her cheating partner in the course of a single 24-hour period. The more ridiculous and elevated it all gets, however, the more one wonders if it’s really meant to function as a gawking comic freakshow rather than a slice of life.
Targets (1968, Peter Bogdanovich) [hr]
The increasingly crippling psychosis of a nice young all-American middle class boy leads to his murder of his entire family and a long session of senseless sniper attacks; meanwhile, Boris Karloff, having retired from the movie business, is on the way to his last public appearance, where the two stories converge. Amazingly resourceful Bogdanovich project is almost rapturous in the ways it finds to comment on cinema itself; it’s very much the work of a first-timer on a budget, but it does showcase considerable panache and an uncanny ability to generate fear and excitement.
The Tarnished Angels (1957, Douglas Sirk) [r]
Sirk’s film of Faulkner’s Pylon bears all the usual hallmarks of a cerebral novel being shifted to Hollywood melodrama format with stilted and uneven results. Rock Hudson’s central reporter character, becoming a nuisance within the layered psychodramas of a team of flying acrobats led by Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone, feels too much like an idea rather than a person; you can’t escape the notion that their story would be more compelling and complete without his “perspective.” The flying scenes, capturing all the glorious and dangerous sleaze of small-time showbiz, are an absolute thrill.
Taxi (2015, Jafar Panahi) [hr]
Still technically forbidden from making films in Iran, Panahi stars as himself, posing as a cab driver using mounted dashcams spun around to capture conversations with various nonprofessional actors he seems to have planted around Tehran, setting up an escalating series of absurd situations — which feel spontaneous, ridiculous and funny even when they’d be downright terrifying in almost any other context — until he picks up his cantankerous niece and she engagingly lectures us all on Iranian film censorship. Like This Is Not a Film but considerably funnier and more cunning, this is another minimalist but spirited tribute to the creative impulse.
Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese) [c]
A waste of beautiful photography and an excellent Bernard Herrmann music score. Scorsese’s technical mastery can’t make up for the lack of connection he forges with his characters and the joy he shows at wallowing in the mire of human misery. That’s passable to a point, but by the time we reach the bloody climax of this bleak film following the adventures of a traumatized, restless Vietnam vet in NYC, we are numbed, only awake enough to be insulted by the calculated irony of the ending.
Team America: World Police (2004, Trey Parker) [r]
Funny marionette action film is more dead-on in its targeting of the blow-shit-up genre than it is in regard to American values circa the 2004 presidential election.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze (1991, Michael Pressman) [c]
* Nothing boiled my blood more in the early ’90s than the Ninja Turtles, at least until Trolls had their resurgence. This film includes Vanilla Ice, and looked at in retrospect, it’s awful but rendered less unpleasant by its complete absurdity. I’ve never seen the first film, nor have I had the inclination to catch Turtles in Time.
10 (1979, Blake Edwards) [r]
* Edwards plays his cards with multiple hidden surprises in this disjointed but marvelous comedy about Dudley Moore’s midlife crisis and lusting after Bo Derek.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016, Dan Trachtenberg) [hr]
The tenuous connection to 2008’s Cloverfield barely even registers in this genuinely tense, frightening confinement thriller that has survivalist John Goodman holding two people hostage in his bunker, warning them of terrors outside; Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are phenomenal, the latter holding us completelhy in her corner for the duration. Each of the various horrifying turns the plot takes in the last half packs a real punch, like a whole season of Breaking Bad packed into a few minutes.
The Ten Commandments (1956, Cecil B. DeMille)
Campy, sexualized Biblical epic is overblown in the usual DeMille fashion, and chances are that you’ve already seen its signature moment (the parting of the Red Sea), so unless you have a great fetish for fine actors lowering themselves to big dumb spectacle and you’ve run out of Marvel movies to watch…
Tender Mercies (1983, Bruce Beresford) [hr]
Stark but warm chronicle of a recovering alcoholic (Robert Duvall) walking away from a singing career and finding solace in a relationship with a widow and her son. The kind of film in which very little happens, that instead slowly and persuasively develops its characters until we care more than we ever thought we could.
The Terminal (2004, Steven Spielberg) [hr]
Involving, smart comedy-drama, Spielberg’s take on post-9/11 America set in the Kennedy Airport. Tom Hanks is an immigrant whose country has gone to war and no longer exists; as a result, he cannot leave the building and is stuck there for months, acquiring a new life in the process. A Capra-esque story that could easily have been made syrupy, maudlin, or worse, this is handled with appealing restraint up to its surprisingly low-key ending. After attempting to make a comedy for his entire career, Spielberg finally gets it right.
The Terminator (1984, James Cameron)
Extremely violent action film plods along with little thought seemingly given to how we are expected to connect to or care about it. Schwarzeneggar is certainly believable and the pacing is taut, but this is the same crass, cipher-filled macho posturing as any more generically manufactured action movie one can name, skillfully but absently directed by Cameron.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron)
A major improvement on the first film, this one drives forward propulsively with some keen science fiction ideas, though by the conclusion it has become so senseless and hyperactive that one is desperate for it to just be over.
Terms of Endearment (1983, James L. Brooks) [hr]
Excellent adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s book about a mother and daughter’s years-running battle of the wits is brought to the screen with dark wit and intelligence by Brooks (in his debut as director), enlivening the film with observations and cutting insight. One of the most painfully funny (and quotable) slice-of-life comedies crafted in America, this owes a lot to all of the actors but especially Jack Nicholson as the promiscuous astronaut next door.
Tess (1979, Roman Polanski)
Though lovingly photographed and centered upon a heartbreakingly good performance by Nastassja Kinski, this mannered, cautious Thomas Hardy adaptation just isn’t very cinematic. It does absorb, but it’s little more than a straightforward transition from page to screen.
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933, Fritz Lang) [hr]
A series of stunning thriller setpieces rife with mystery and menace, pretty much exactly the same movie as Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler not to mention Spies, but a little more cunning and oppressive in its fetishizing of grisly doom and actual terror. One phenomenally nail-biting chase, trap or eye-popping special effect follows another, and Lang establishes an anything-goes environment of cutthroat organized crime so well it’s kind of disappointing when he lets so many of his innocents and semi-innocents escape unharmed. Less than the sum of its parts but still one of the most fun, flamboyant movies of the ’30s.
That Darn Cat! (1965, Robert Stevenson) [c]
* That darn cat is a spy, apparently, who is able to help people solve crimes. Dumber than it sounds.
Thelma & Louise (1991, Ridley Scott) [r]
Callie Khouri’s screenplay about two women going on the lam after one kills the other’s rapist is for the most part an elegant creation — both title characters are strongly defined and fleshed out, and the manner in which the story spirals out of control is all too believable in our culture. The acts of revenge are cathartic, as is the flipping around of conventions within road heist and buddy movies. It’s just too bad that there’s no subtle point in the script Scott deems unworthy of pointlessly amplifying.
The Theory of Everything (2014, James Marsh) [r]
Solid biopic of Stephen Hawking doesn’t wholly escape the bothersome troubled-genius-rescued-by-long-suffering-lady stereotype but succeeds modestly on its own terms by placing emphasis on how all-consuming it is to live with and take care of someone like Hawking, especially when fame and its attendant pressures come knocking. Eddie Redmayne’s performance in the role is certainly credible, but Felicity Jones’ much subtler work as Jane is the more impressive accomplishment.
There’s a Girl in My Soup (1970, Roy Boulting) [NO]
* Waste of Peter Sellers and Goldie Hawn was apparently put together with nudity, not comedy, in mind.
There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson) [hr]
Part Citizen Kane, part Giant, with visually literate use of western vistas and breathtakingly vast industrial symbols, this melodrama about a ruthless oil prospector proves Anderson’s technical competence; few American movies of recent years have felt so engagingly huge. Daniel Day-Lewis as Capitalism and Paul Dano as Religion make for an fascinating, if occasionally over-the-top, adversarial pairing.
They Call Me Trinity (1971, Enzo Barboni) [c]
* Overload of slapstick in Seven Samurai parody that never stops to breathe or bother with a coherent storyline.
They Had to See Paris (1929, Frank Borzage) [r]
Another complete trifle from Borzage’s Fox period, a weak comedy of stock poor-people-strikin’-it-rich plot points and gags, but historically interesting for its painfully ragged early use of sound and for Will Rogers’ charmingly incompetent performance. Borzage is completely subsumed here but it was quite a big hit for him. Also features a bizarrely suggestive scene of two men waking up together, for what that’s worth.
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018, Morgan Neville)
Pretentious, tangential attempt to “contextualize” Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind by sort-of telling the story of its lengthy genesis in the bombastic, fast-cut style of the film itself as well as F for Fake. When you’re not Orson Welles, attempting to imitate Orson Welles is a rather foolish task to set for yourself, so everything here except the on-set footage and the actual interviews from Welles’ family, friends and associates is extremely tiresome. Watch the forty-minute Netflix making-of A Final Cut for Orson instead, unless you just get a kick out of watching the great man work, which is understandable.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969, Sydney Pollack) [hr]
At a Depression-era dance marathon we spend harrowing hours of physical distress with an ensemble composed of Hollywood hopefuls and several people at the end of the line. The fight’s fixed, and it’s not just the happenings in the oceanside dance hall that are a lurid, unjust scam. The obvious conclusion has rarely been made with such convincing hopelessness in a Hollywood film. Don’t come in expecting The Towering Inferno; as gripping as this is, as dramatically subtle and believable as it is, it means to ruin your evening and it will.
The Thief and the Cobbler (1993, Richard Williams) [r]
Decades-in-production animated epic is something to see, but its hollow princesses-and-monsters story makes it hard to justify its troubled history. Still, certain moments are unforgettably beautiful, a feast for the eyes.
The Thief of Bagdad (1924, Raoul Walsh) [r]
As visually dazzling as reputed, with outstanding special effects and production design (courtesy of William Cameron Menzies) that give a childlike feeling of grand adventure. This is most compelling and fun in the first half hour, when Douglas Fairbanks is still an amoral bastard stealing stuff from everybody. Once romance and “learning” kick in the film becomes kind of a slog, though still a visual feast, and Fairbanks’ physicality is something to behold. Very much an antecedent of the Gunga Din–Robin Hood-George Lucas school of spectacle.
The Thin Blue Line (1988, Errol Morris) [hr]
Subtle and incredibly scary, this documentary presents an embarrassing amount of evidence that a man convicted of the murder of a cop in Texas was innocent and that a brief acquaintance, now incarcerated for other reasons, committed the crime. Morris offers no narration or any such outside interference, allowing the involved parties to speak for themselves. What’s more, he manages to be darkly comic even in this very grim documentary.
The Thing (1982, John Carpenter) [c]
Anemic horror film of isolation — a remake of a Howard Hawks-produced classic — about men on an Antarctic outpost fighting a nefarious menace is known for its famous(ly cornball) SFX. The acting is uniformly atrocious, and the dialogue and blocking are both clueless.
Things to Come (2016, Mia Hansen-Løve)
Not only is Isabelle Huppert brilliant and an absolute marvel to watch in this, Hansen-Løve gives her an extraordinarily well-drawn character with enough flaws and contradictions to approximate an actual human being. But she then gives that character almost nothing to work with; the story here is a banal, aimless odyssey of a well-off philosophy teacher enduring several personal crises (including the end of her relationship with her husband, also a philosophy teacher!?) and heavy-handed metaphors about life and death. It’s a bizarre combination of dramatic subtlety and thematic sledgehammering with nothing that rings false but nothing that surprises.
The Thin Man (1934, W.S. Van Dyke) [hr]
Myrna Loy and William Powell are delightful as newlyweds who get mixed up in a Dashiell Hammett murder case; though the whodunit elements of the film build almost incidentally to a total anticlimax, the laughter and sensuality along the way carry a gripping premise through to complete satisfaction and remind you, with the help of its Pre-Code vintage that allows for a good number of naughty jokes, how irrelevant the practical stuff is when the company’s this good. Hollywood probably never depicted a good marriage more sympathetically or accurately.
The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed) [A+]
A pulp author (Joseph Cotten) goes to Vienna looking for help from an old friend, only to find that he has been killed, hit by a car, and police are now labeling him responsible for a series of heinous crimes; Cotten sets out to clear his name. A brilliantly performed, stylish masterpiece of a thriller with a script that never trails off. Cotten is wonderful as usual, and the film is a lively rollercoaster bubbling over with great ideas, most of them visual. Chase scenes and the ending offer stunning, kaleidoscopic highlights.
Thirteen (2003, Catherine Hardwicke)
Accidentally funny “exposé” of problem teenagers is cursed with horrendous overuse of handheld camera, but the acting isn’t all bad, and it’s mindless fun to watch these bad girls give their parents a hard time in the most obvious and stupid of ways.
The 39 Steps (1935, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
Dangerously close to perfect. Robert Donat runs from police who think he killed the spy in his apartment, ends up handcuffed to cranky woman (Madeleine Carroll). A nailbiter even on repeat viewings; every shot is beautiful, the black & white photography and rapid-fire editing lending this witty but dark thriller a sense of undeniable life. Episodic in the best of ways, with Peggy Ashcroft and John Laurie both unforgettable in small roles. Hitchcock’s worldwide breakthrough, still one of his best films, the atmosphere of both joy and terror realized with a skill absent to nearly every other major director.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006, Kirby Dick) [c]
A documentary exposing the bullshit of the U.S. ratings system is a nice idea, but Dick can’t pull it beyond reality show doldrums. The interviews with directors who’ve been fucked by the system are nice, but the film has no sense of its own cinematic possibilities, and it’s a flat cultural document that will lose all its relevance within a year or two.
This Island Earth (1955, Joseph Newman) [c]
* Some have an inexplicable attachment to clunky old science fiction movies like this, but despite their protests to the contrary, this is one of the worst of all the stuffy, clinical live action cartoons Universal produced in the ’50s, poorly acted and nonsensical, and only slightly forgivable on account of unintentional laughs. What is so “intelligent” about this, I wonder?
This Is Not a Film (2011, Jafar Panahi) [hr]
Filmmaker Jafar Panahi documents his time under house arrest in Iran. What’s most moving is how this defines the creative mind as something that can’t be suppressed. As cinema, it’s at first constrained and mundane by necessity but in the final twenty minutes it becomes a comedy, a probing suspense, a harrowing celebration. In not attempting to tell a story, he ends up telling more of them than one can really count. In an age of multiplexes filed with the humdrum, cynical and dire, as life-affirming a film as I can name.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984, Rob Reiner) [hr]
* Another film too accurate to be as funny as it wants to be, this sensational parody of pompous ’70s rock & roll groups — largely improvised by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer — contains moments of mastery and is sustained with more skill than most “mockumentaries.” The songs are a riot.
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965, Ken Annakin) [c]
* Title sequence is only saving grace of this tired, overbaked long chase sequence involving men in an airplane race who are not really all that magnificent. Quite boring and much too long, with the only real thrills overconcentrated at various points in the narrative.
Three Amigos (1986, John Landis) [NO]
* Stupid, stupid, stupid comedy must be punished even if it is well aware of its stupidity. This rambling excuse for actors who like working together to romp around unrestricted is free of brains, restraint, and any kind of respect for its audience. Landis seems to make movies strictly for his friends’ amusement. The songs are fun, though.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017, Martin McDonagh) [NO]
McDonagh’s smug, condescending portrait of middle America inspires unpleasant memories of Crash, daring you to endure some of the most abysmal dialogue ever heard in a motion picture. Using a past assault and murder as a prop to justify an endless parade of aimlessly bad behavior, the film tracks a lot of fuss about the titular artifacts, three roadside adverts by the victim’s mother (Frances McDormand) shaming the town sheriff (Woody Harrelson) for his failure to make any arrests. A glorified school play so incomprehensible in its plotting, characterization and tone that it doesn’t even seem to know what it’s trying to accomplish.
The Three Caballeros (1945, Norman Ferguson) [r]
Strange, opulent Disney WWII package feature is a series of batshit vignettes about Central and South America that has gained a somewhat mysterious but not entirely unwelcome cult following today. Some of the animation really is dazzling. Considerably better than Saludos Amigos, if nothing else.
Three Coins in the Fountain (1954, Jean Negulesco)
Dull, unmemorable triple romance story set among three American secretaries in Rome is badly written and full of mediocre acting; its one saving grace is that Negulesco makes use of the Cinemascope frame for travel porn, which is somewhat better than Fox’s usual application of it to overblown period films. The opening montage set to Frank Sinatra is nice. But this is an extremely dated, superficial idea of classed-up entertainment, not funny or sexy and not nearly as “adult” as it thinks it is.
The Three Faces of Eve (1957, Nunnally Johnson)
Ostensibly true story of a woman’s three personalities, presented with blandness and cringey discomfort as an opportunity for Joanne Woodward to play both docile and “slutty.” This might have camp value if it didn’t fall into an ugly presentation of domestic violence. It’s also too pat to feel really honest, like the last scene of Psycho drained of all irony and stretched to 90 minutes.
3 Idiots (2009, Rajkumar Hirani) [c]
Overlong, superficial and more than a little sexist, this Americanized frat-ish comedy about engineering students engaging in ordinary mischief then tying off plot strings ten years later has a few interesting points about education and success but never stops feeling like a motivational video one might be expected to watch at a high school assembly. Sprawled painfully over three hours, the story’s initially ordinary then becomes outrageous like a soap opera comic strip. Aamir Khan, here of course playing the Jesus figure who knows and imparts all, may be the most unremittingly smug actor ever photographed.
Three Smart Girls (1936, Henry Koster) [c]
Dreadfully thin comedy about three sisters (one Universal’s “new discovery,” Deanna Durbin) living in Switzerland who go to NYC to visit their uncaring, aloof father who divorced their mom a decade ago, determined to Parent Trap him back into their young adult lives as he stands on the cusp of marrying a gold-digging opportunist. It’s a parade of high-pitched whining with periodic stabs of random opera, smug schmoozing around by the likes of Ray Milland and John King, casually toxic behavior by nearly everyone, and the weakest and most ineffectual kind of farcical “business” filling the time between awkward crises.
3:10 to Yuma (2007, James Mangold) [r]
A blisteringly well-mounted western (about a common rancher transporting a fugitive to jail) obviously influenced by cable TV’s ultraviolent ultrasexual Deadwood, this attempts to gain provocative ground both by ignoring the tired story threads of the genre in favor of a more standard suspense melodrama, and by filling the frame with stars; Russell Crowe’s stunt casting as a coldhearted, sniping villain is head-spinningly perfect.
Throne of Blood (1957, Akira Kurosawa) [r]
Even Harold Bloom likes this one! This is Kurosawa’s take on Macbeth — it feels like he could have made a film like this in his sleep in the ’50s, but it’s still enjoyably morbid, especially the first half. It unfortunately loses some of its goodwill as time presses on and the staging becomes less imaginative, but the death scene is particularly magnificent.
A Thousand Clowns (1965, Fred Coe)
Jason Robards is superb as a former joke writer who’s been unemployed for months and has carved out an impoverished bohemian existence for himself and the nephew he’s raising in NYC; child welfare officials come calling and he’s forced the indignity of trying to get his career back. What seems to be a fairly conventionally staged play is given exceptionally stilted, wildly over-edited Godardian treatment, drowning out the unsettling messages about integrity and responsibility. The city looks great.
Thunderball (1965, Terrence Young) [NO]
* Slowest, dumbest Bond film of the Connery period doesn’t seem quite as ridiculous now that it’s been followed with stuff like Moonraker, but still exhibits a distressing lack of faith in the judgment of those seeing it.
THX-1138 (1971, George Lucas) [c]
* Intriguing (visually, at least) debut for director Lucas is mostly just a catalog of elements seen in numerous other sci-fi films about oppressive future worlds. While more respectable than his other films, it gives no more reason than they do to believe that he actually knows how to tell a story.
Tideland (2006, Terry Gilliam)
This controversial slice of unfiltered Gilliam is obviously made with the knowledge that many viewers will want nothing to do with it. The story — of an orphaned girl escaping into fantasy to deal with the horrors around her in a creepy rural semi-neighborhood — shows great promise, but the execution suggests that whatever the things were that tempered Gilliam and kept him at least slightly on the sunny side of convention in older projects was an integral part of what made his work so appealing. Because this isn’t.
Timbuktu (2014, Abderrahmane Sissako) [r]
Sketchy but valuable exploration of the 2012 Jihadist coup in Mali — in which everything from music to feet without socks became a crime — is sort of a West African variant on Altman’s Nashville, with equally brilliant music. The performances are wildly uneven, probably because the actors in the various subplots are so rarely required to mesh the way the film itself must, and the story feels somewhat haphazard. But as a compassionate act of protest, it’s a must.
Time After Time (1979, Nicholas Meyer) [hr]
* Silly but hugely entertaining movie about H.G. Wells building a time machine, taking it to the ’70s and confronting Jack the Ripper, who also has come to the future. Mary Steenburgen serves in a fun, innocuous romantic subplot. It’s all a bit trashy — with bizarrely full-blown scenes of violence — but, in its strange way, magical.
Time Bandits (1981, Terry Gilliam) [hr]
Gilliam’s first non-Python film is an ingenious journey through history, with a bright, alienated young boy taken through time holes with a group of thieves to meet various luminous figures. Weird, funny, and thrilling, this is a work of great imagination and astonishing energy — and one of the all-time best children’s movies.
The Time Machine (1960, George Pal) [hr]
Very likable and admirably full-blown H.G. Wells adaptation is beautifully directed by Pal, with the future vision and sense of menace both well-realized, although the monsters at the finale may be a bit ill-advised. It’s completely lacking in sophistication and (mostly) politics, but the sweeping, dazzling story survives intact to become a first-rate science fiction picture. Rod Taylor is brilliant in an unusual, difficult role.
A Time to Kill (1996, Joel Schumacher) [r]
* As with The Client, Schumacher turns a boring over-the-counter legal thriller by John Grisham into an exciting film, severely undercut by the performances here of Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock, poorly chosen leads. Still, this is a 150-minute Hollywood movie that’s actually not a total slog to get through.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011, Tomas Alfredson) [hr]
Attention: spy movie buffs. Years of glorified, overlong toothpaste commercials starring James Bond have ruined your palate. Let Alfredson’s flawless direction and Gary Oldman’s beautifully contained performance tell you a real story.
Titanic (1953, Jean Negulesco) [c]
Fairly good cast wanders through a routine, detached telling of the story (iceberg hits 17 minutes before the end; until then, it’s all half-baked familial melodrama). This is upstaged by both of the other major films about the tragedy.
Titanic (1997, James Cameron) [hr]
Entertaining three-hour epic about the sinking of the famous vessel, led by Leonardo DiCaprio and (the excellent) Kate Winslet, became the highest-grossing movie of all time (until being unseated by Cameron’s own Avatar). It is Cameron’s best film to date, despite its dramatic flaws and laughable characterizations, not to mention a script that could have used a rewrite or two. But anyone is bound to surrender to the seductive, dazzling portrait of the event and its aftermath.
To Be or Not to Be (1942, Ernst Lubitsch) [hr]
The political, the personal and the farcical mingling with unforced grace, with Carole Lombard luminous and Jack Benny an amusingly lopsided ham as a Polish theatrical couple, half of whom likes to step around, which gets them tangled up with the Gestapo after Hitler invades. The plotting is masterful, withholding just enough information to continually delight in its unexpected turnarounds and one-ups, never permitting an easy shortcut out of its uncomfortable, hilarious situations; at the same time the film is to be commended for making the Nazis look extremely foolish and advocating a violent, fiery resistance against fascism.
To Be or Not to Be (1983, Alan Johnson) [NO]
* Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft are wonderful in half-baked, irritating remake.
To Catch a Thief (1955, Alfred Hitchcock) [r]
No plot, just an excuse for French Riviera photography and lots of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly looking great. Some great scenes, but this is slick and inconsequential; with no sense of danger or any real moral weight, it’s hardly an actual thriller. A vacation for the director, to say the least.
To Each His Own (1946, Mitchell Leisen) [hr]
On paper this is a soaper in the fashion of The Sin of Madelon Claudet, with Olivia de Havilland as a woman forced to give up her son after her fighter-pilot boyfriend is killed in action. However, as beautifully staged by Mitchell Leisen, written with wit and major emotional payoff by Charles Brackett and with its lead characterization exquisitely presented by de Havilland, this stands as a prime example of Hollywood tearjerking at its best. Imbues each portion of its sprawling story with levity, restraint and a warmth it comes about naturally.
To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday (1996, Michael Pressman)
* AKA Claire Danes on the Beach.
To Have and Have Not (1944, Howard Hawks) [r]
Not exactly the poor man’s Casablanca — too well-written, and with an even better director — but a conscious variant on the formula whose atmosphere could sustain you for days if the hackneyed story didn’t have to take over.. Humphrey Bogart is even more apathetic here, driven by often obscure personal motives, and his relationship with Lauren Bacall is much more blatantly sexual and hedonistic. Their chemistry is astounding, as you’d expect, and completely overtakes the film, and Bacall provides most of the moments that ignite, especially her saunter toward the camera and the smile that follows in the final moments.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, Robert Mulligan) [c]
How in the hell do you fashion such a dull movie out of such a perfectly fine book? By miscasting Gregory Peck, first of all, and by adapting the text in such a clinical yet overbearing fashion that not only do few people protest the result, you win a few Oscars! Grossly disappointing.
Tokyo Chorus (1931, Yasujiro Ozu) [hr]
An insurance salesman with a lingering thread of childhood rebellion walks out on his job in solidarity with an elderly coworker, prompting hardship on the part of his wife and three young children. Several Ozu “tropes” about children and the men who resemble them make their probable debuts here, but as usual, the movie surprises at every turn in what it doesn’t do, and in how simultaneously warm and cutting it manages to be. It’s a cliché to watch a silent film and proclaim that it lives in the memory as a talkie, but the acting in these early Ozu titles is really that bracing in its realism.
Tokyo Story (1953, Yasujiro Ozu) [hr]
Ozu’s methodically well-observed drama of an elderly couple’s visit to Tokyo to see their children and grandchildren makes no sudden moves, nor does it suffer from tearjerking mawkishness or didacticism — it just comes about its emotional beats and character portraits in slow accumulation of details. As a result, when it ends and you regain consciousness, its world is so complete and lived-in you feel you’re entering and not leaving a dream.
The Toll of the Sea (1922, Chester M. Franklin) [hr]
The first color Hollywood feature looks a bit better than most early two-strip productions, perhaps because this semi-adaptation of M. Butterfly is designed to feel like a painterly dreamscape, something it achieves with almost accidental completeness thanks to its necessary reliance on natural lighting. Wrapping up in a surprisingly elegant 54 minutes, it also has an admirably uncluttered spareness in its storytelling, though it also can inflict some eye-rolling at its dated dramatic sensibility. The performances are a combination of well-timed nonverbal beats and overwrought melodrama, the finale achingly beautiful.
Tom Jones (1963, Tony Richardson)
Energetic sex comedy does a poor job of marrying its liberated attitude to the puritanical censorship of the times, but thanks to a great-looking cast and lots of cleavage and oddly eroticized eating, it’s probably still acceptable as cinematic Viagra for autumnals. Practice safe sex, though, folks; you never know.
Toni Erdmann (2016, Maren Ade) [c]
Excruciatingly overlong glorified afterschool special about an annoying eccentric trying to teach his grown daughter how to enjoy life. One of the most celebrated indie comedies of recent years, this is nails-on-chalkboard insufferable if you don’t immediately subscribe to its sensibility, or find middle-aged goofballs pulling faces to be inherently funny, and there’s no logical reason for it to be this long, ponderous and astoundingly banal.
Tootsie (1982, Sydney Pollack) [c]
Pollack misses one opportunity after another to make this Some Like It Hot ripoff an interesting movie. Dustin Hoffman crashes and burns as an out of work actor who dresses as a woman to get a role on a top-rated soap opera, then becomes world famous. There are a few laughs provided by Bill Murray and Teri Garr, and some valiant attempts at strong emotional moments, but the movie is just too conventional to have fun with its premise, has many shades of stupidity (especially the awful songs and montages), and ends in the worst possible fashion. I’m amazed anyone feels this to be one of the all-time great comedies.
Topaz (1969, Alfred Hitchcock) [r]
French spies need to find stuff out about Cuba. If you can ignore one annoying character, this is an enjoyable film until the last fifteen minutes. Hitchcock simply didn’t know to end his story.
Top Gun (1986, Tony Scott) [NO]
* Appallingly bad, pandering ’80s movie is engineered to annoy. Humans could not possibly be responsible for it; it must have been created by robots, starting with lead actor Tom Cruise.
Top Hat (1935, Mark Sandrich) [hr]
Fred Astaire’s character is a cad, but unusually for such an impeccably stylish Hollywood musical, this has a terrific screwball-inspired premise and an astonishing number of jokes that really land, thanks to Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ mind-boggling eclecticism (their musical and physical prowess combined with flawless timing and undeniable chemistry) as well as a clever, unstoppably witty script and the note-perfect supporting cast, especially Edward Everett Horton and Helen Broderick. The numbers get more bombastic as the film goes on, but they never improve on the magical “Isn’t This a Lovely Day,” imitated by probably every film musical made since.
Topkapi (1964, Jules Dassin) [r]
Rififi 2.0, lighter and more lovable thanks to its very 1964 swinging vibe of jet-set frothy aloofness and abandon that is so much fun to revel in; as usual in jewel-thief stories it’s hard to be too involved when the stakes are outwardly so low, but Peter Ustinov’s absolutely perfect comic performance as a bumbling cad takes this beyond escapism and, if only fleetingly, into the realm of art.
Top Secret! (1984, Jim Abrahams/David Zucker/Jerry Zucker) [r]
* Val Kilmer doesn’t come off much more convincingly in a comedic role than he does anywhere else, but this is a surprisingly funny successor to Airplane!, with more than one side-splitting sequence in a parody of Cold War spy thriller-melodramas.
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970, Richard Fleischer) [r]
* One of the few war movies that is genuinely interesting and even entertaining, this tale of Pearl Harbor seen from perspectives on both sides of the war was a box office flop but remains the definitive film on the subject, with brilliantly-mounted depiction of the attack itself.
Torn Curtain (1966, Alfred Hitchcock) [c]
Paul Newman is a spy trying to get a formula, with his fiancée Julie Andrews following him around. Fluffy and inordinately forgettable, not to mention woefully miscast, but give it credit for being watchable and for Hitchcock’s intriguing action setpieces — in particular one of the most excruciating murder scenes in the film annals.
To Rome with Love (2012, Woody Allen) [r]
Allen coasts along in another tourism postcard masquerading as romantic comedy, full of the usual gorgeous photography of location porn and equally lovely-looking actors (among them Greta Gerwig, Penélope Cruz, Roberto Benigni, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, Alison Pill, and Allen himself, for the first time in six years) — divided into four fluffy sequences of varying ambition and comedic effect. It’s hardly a revelation but it’s surprisingly optimistic, lightweight, and silly, and it’s fun to see a modern-day Allen film in which his usual weighty questions remain untouched.
Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven) [NO]
* Wacky cartoon of Philip K. Dick story has all the usual sci-fi mainstays (no flinching at improbability, unnecessarily ornate production design, fake intelligence and mindless action) and fails to intrigue past the first few minutes, with director Verhoeven’s excesses growing intolerable by the time the second hour begins. No real saving graces aside from the solid effects work.
To the Wonder (2012, Terrence Malick) [c]
Awful / sublime (choose one) dependent on exactly how you’ve felt about all of Malick’s recent work. Seriously nothing left to say.
A Touch of Class (1973, Melvin Frank) [c]
Barely a pleasant moment in this cutesy-pie garbage fire of a “romantic” “comedy,” which subscribes to the vision of romance whereby people express affection by exchanging sneering cutdowns; it’s as though Frank wanted to ape screwball comedy but didn’t feel like bothering with the “wit” part. Between the smarmy leads, the unbearably dated song score and the irksomely cavalier, Guide for the Married Man-style attitude toward infidelity, it seems fair to guess that movies like this are the reason people think they don’t like older movies.
Touch of Evil (1958, Orson Welles) [A+]
Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh get thrown into their own personal hell at the U.S.-Mexican border, besieged by a hostile, corrupt police captain played brilliantly by the director. Convoluted story may lose some, but the film’s menace and chilling finality survive regardless, with ambiguity crafting heroes from villains and tragedy from comedy.
A Touch of Sin (2013, Zhangke Jia) [r]
Gorgeously directed tract of sorts about violence, murder and suicide in China is meant as a challenge to cut-and-dried morals — we are by turns repelled by the bloodshed and drawn to it — and to the conventional wisdom of political reality there. But it could just as easily be set in the U.S. One only wishes that it didn’t consist of four wholly disconnected episodes — each of them, particularly the finale, could be a feature of its own.
The Towering Inferno (1974, John Guillermin & Irwin Allen) [c]
* Jaws may have begun a new era of blockbusters, but this insulting escapist disaster film is much more responsible for the brainlessness of the movies that came forward in its wake. Amazingly enough, this moronic drama of a burning building received a Best Picture nomination!
Toys (1992, Barry Levinson) [NO]
* Levinson tried for over a decade to get someone to finance this, and it turned out to be one of the most horrifyingly bad movies of the early ’90s, creating a strange parallel to the story, which concerns a man fulfilling his dream of building a toy factory only to have this go awry. Self-consciously cutesy film attempts valiantly to impress with its over-the-top production design, but all you feel is exhausted.
Toy Story (1995, John Lasseter) [hr]
Exquisite debut feature from Pixar (and Lasseter) was the first all-CG full-length cartoon. It’s a film arguably made more for the Boomers who flocked to see the Event picture than for the kids who have made it immortal ever sense, but it is still a finely crafted tale of penis envy between favored toy Woody and new kid on the block Buzz Lightyear. The animation, of course, is startling, especially when the film ventures outside of the bedroom, but it’s the characters that make it memorable, and the wild, relentless comic chases that make it so much fun.
Toy Story 2 (1999, John Lasseter) [hr]
One of the best sequels ever made, this stunning work of virtuosity turns the original film upside down to create something funnier, more ambitious, sadder, and far more universal than Toy Story. An arrogant collector steals Woody with intentions to send him to a museum in Japan! Buzz Lightyear and the other favorites from the first movie go on a hazardous journey to rescue their friend. Scenes range wildly from universally hilarious to universally heartbreaking; this is absolute top-quality entertainment, and a signal of Pixar’s growing sophistication.
Toy Story 3 (2010, Lee Unkrich) [hr]
Outstanding debut from director Unkrich veers Pixar further still into its increasing proficiency at subjecting kids and their parents to pure emotional terrorism the likes of which we’ve not seen since Bambi’s mother was shot. Through its laments about adolescence to its ruggedly charming update of the classicist prison film, this sequel bears little artistic resemblance to its ancestors, which is all the better. Pixar’s storytelling has never felt tighter or stronger, and the payoff — well, get out your handkerchiefs.
Trader Horn (1931, W.S. Van Dyke) [c]
MGM’s big African safari epic, one of the first Hollywood talkies shot overseas, is so brazenly racist it actually sustains interest for a while in a train-wreck sort of way, helped along by some of the arresting nature photography and accidental documentary (and in all likelihood, tastelessly intrusive) excursions into traditions and culture that would be heretofore entirely unknown to its audience. Van Dyke wasn’t Merian Cooper, though — no respect or even misguided envy for his subjects — and he was in over his head; people died and became ill as a result of this mad stunt, which grows even more irksome when a character voices the true message of the film: “Don’t you understand? White people must help each other!” It’s that kind of film; there are very good reasons it’s more or less buried now.
Trading Places (1983, John Landis) [NO]
* Horribly unlikable comedy — its “plot” defined completely by the title — is full of whiny, annoying characters and train-wreck attempts at winning humor. Useless Landis pap, wasting a rather interesting cast.
Traffic (2000, Steven Soderbergh) [c]
Remake of Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue deeply suffers from replacement of Alf with Michael Douglas.
Trail of the Pink Panther (1982, Blake Edwards) [NO]
Or, So It’s Come to This: A Pink Panther Clip Show. Following Peter Sellers’ death, Edwards tries to use deleted scenes from the five Panther films as well as clips from their highlights and form them into a vague story about a reporter investigating Clouseau’s disappearance. Needless to say, it’s a failure. Edwards made this and Victor/Victoria the same year, in what may be the broadest juxtaposition of quality in back-to-back films for any director in history.
Training Day (2001, Antoine Fuqua) [r]
Gritty-ish studio thriller about an opportunistic rookie cop (Ethan Hawke) and his corrupt training officer (Denzel Washington) on a 24-hour whirlwind of Rampart scandals, killings, payouts, fake warrants, the works. Washington flagrantly chews scenery, Hawke’s role could’ve been played by anyone, and the film — generic but exciting for the first 2/3 — spirals into the usual nonsensical action film bullshit by the finale.
Trainspotting (1996, Danny Boyle) [hr]
Danny Boyle’s breakthrough is a straightfaced, frenetic drug film in the vein of a subdued Lester or Godard that is neither sensationalistic or condescending; it’s human, warm and quite funny, but also refuses to gloss over the agony of the Scotland underworld it depicts, casting an unblinking eye toward the squalor caused by heroin addiction while never ignoring the things that keep the users enslaved. Boyle’s dabblings in surrealism make the whole thing move quite smoothly without overreaching like so many drug movies. The job of this film is to make hip Scottish addicts human — it succeeds brilliantly.
Transylvania 6-5000 (1985, Roy DeLuca) [NO]
* Terrible comedy satirizing classic horror films. I think it’s a comedy, anyway. You’re a saint if you don’t run screaming from the room after about fifteen minutes.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, John Huston) [A+]
Don’t get me wrong, I love Humphrey Bogart, but look down his list of classic movies and surely you notice that there is little variance in terms of the characters he was permitted to play; he’s always the kind of guy the rest of us wish we could be. Enter this wonderful exception: this time, Bogart is the kind of guy we fear we would be if our luck changed. This is Lord of the Flies with real dimension: humanity unhinged at its nastiest, but Bogart and his castmates, Tim Holt and the great Walter Huston, never lets us forget that the monster is in all of us.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945, Elia Kazan) [hr]
Kazan’s first film, from Betty Smith’s celebrated novel, is a sensitive portrait of a tumultuous year in the life of an pre-adolescent girl (Peggy Ann Garner) in Brooklyn during the 1910s. Her strong bond with her habitually drunk father (James Dunn) and uneasy relationship with her put-upon mom (Dorothy McGuire) are given warmly realistic treatment that captures what feels like a real family, with numerous moments that fall with well-earned weight. If you’re like me, you’ll cry.
The Tree of Life (2011, Terrence Malick) [NO]
Best movie ever. [takes another hit]
Tremors (1990, Ron Underwood) [NO]
* I don’t even know what to say about this.
The Trial (1962, Orson Welles) [A+]
Welles’ clever, witty, moving, eye-popping Kafka adaptation deserves just as much recognition as his Citizen Kane, and probably far more than films like Brazil that have liberally plundered its ideas. Anthony Perkins’ Josef K wakes up accused of a crime, the nature of which is never revealed; maybe he’s guilty and maybe he isn’t, but his plight is ours, and it’s unstoppably riveting from the first to the last frames of this brilliant film that far, far, far more people need to see.
The Triplets of Belleville (2003, Sylvain Chomet) [A+]
Thanks to Chomet, we got at least one silent movie in the 2000s: this ingenious French-Canadian animated film telling, with very little dialogue, a blissfully dreamlike tale of a lost bicyclist. It’s also the first example we’ve had in ages of hand-drawn animation being used effectively in a film; it’s wonderful to see a cartoon instead of an “animated feature” for a change. This offers something we don’t get very often in modern films — pure, unadulterated joy.
The Trip to Bountiful (1985, Peter Masterson) [r]
Wistful ode to aging and regret by Horton Foote about an elderly woman yearning to escape confinement in an apartment building with her son and horrible daughter-in-law in order to visit her former hometown one last time. This cops to sentimentality a little too often but is occasionally incisive, thanks largely to Geraldine Page, who forms Foote’s slightly caricatured dotty heroine into a palpably real human being and renders his monologues not just credible but moving.
Triumph of the Will (1935, Leni Riefenstahl)
Tron (1982, Steven Lisberger) [r]
Stupid but delightful and infinitely well-meaning WarGames-ish film about The Computer Age, as perceived in 1982. Jeff Bridges is furious because the computer ripped off some of his creative work, so it sucks him inside and he does battle with the CPU! Early use of CG animation is intriguing, and the movie is a lot of fun to watch, for all its weak metaphoric silliness and only the coldest sort of imagination. Old-computer buffs (and Atari 2600 fans) should consider this a must-see.
Troop Beverly Hills (1989, Jeff Kanew) [NO]
* Shelly Long grins through this dismal, forgettable comedy about girl scouts.
Trouble in Paradise (1932, Ernst Lubitsch) [A+]
Masterful, erudite adult comedy about a couple of jewel thieves screwing over a perfume magnate who begins to show a strong attraction to one of them. As close as movies can get to the rhythm and tease of great sex, and a jarring portrait of the Hollywood we could have had without the Code.
The Trouble with Harry (1955, Alfred Hitchcock) [A+]
In a small town, a corpse belonging to a man named Harry is a major nuisance. Whoever gave this its reputation as a clunker had no sense of humor. It’s ruthlessly weird and is most likely Hitchcock’s funniest film (and one of his most wistful), the laughs sprinkled liberally throughout an excellent script by John Michael Hayes. Exceptional performances, too.
True Grit (1969, Henry Hathaway)
Mediocre, ponderous western dulls Charles Portis’ novel with off-pitch performances (including one from Glen Campbell, of all people) and lazy directing. The Coens’ remake is much better even if still far from perfect.
True Grit (2010, Joel & Ethan Coen) [r]
There’s much to enjoy in this subdued Coen brothers western, Hollywood’s second pass at adapting Charles Portis’ novel, most of all its air of genuine melancholy and the central performance by young Hailee Steinfeld as a young girl out to avenge her father’s death. There are drawbacks — awkward dialogue, an overlong midsection, the miscasting of Matt Damon, the presence of a muttering Jeff Bridges — but the last twenty minutes are gorgeous enough to justify everything.
True Lies (1994, James Cameron) [c]
* The title and early scenes involving the lead characters’ marriage promise an intrigue that is ultimately betrayed in favor of routine Cameron-action tomfoolery. A real shame, because a film noir with Schwarzenegger could be a riot.
True Stories (1986, David Byrne)
Rarely has a film so precisely reflected a director’s personality, with the first hour of this crazy “rock” movie an exploration of Byrne’s mind, formed in delightful non-sequiturs and strange but alluring eccentricities. Unfortunately, when Byrne corresponds to story conventions enough to add a climax, he falters, the last half-hour a bore highlighted only by John Goodman’s rendition of “People Like Us.”
The Truman Show (1998, Peter Weir) [hr]
Weir might have made the definitive meditation on movies, TV, and reality here; he settles instead for a Capra fantasy about a man (Jim Carrey) who is unaware he is the subject of a reality TV show that airs 24 hours a day. Eerily prophetic, even for a film made as recently as 1998, but Weir is too fond of his characters to do anything except what amounts to — when you ignore the bells and whistles — a fairly conventional story about a lost soul, elegantly told.
Truth or Dare (1991, Alek Keshishian)
* Arresting at times, this documentary about Madonna’s 1990 world tour captures dynamic performances and plenty of intriguing candid moments. Unfortunately, the brilliance of the filmmaking only matches the blissful pop of the subject to a limited extent, so the film doesn’t really know what it’s about but it’s still fascinating stuff; highlight: Madonna’s argument with her dad about the use of sex in her concert.
Tuck Everlasting (1980, Frederick King Keller) [r]
* Intelligent, low-key adaptation of Natalie Babbitt’s ghostly novel about a family blessed/cursed with eternal life comes across with the ideal measure of reality to balance out its fantasy elements, retains the beautiful conclusion and only cops out on one point (the mother, not the father, pulls the gun in the book, and the change is greatly disappointing in the film).
The Turin Horse (2011, Béla Tarr) [hr]
Nearly three hours of ponderous black & white existence, maintaining the day-to-day drudgery, fighting off vagrants, eating the daily potato. All with rumors of impending catastrophe swirling around. It’s all claustrophobically bleak, and somehow never once boring — fascinating, in fact, and even maybe just self-aware enough to be rather funny. In a Love & Death sort of way. It’s just sometimes things are so awful you just have to laugh, right?
Turner & Hooch (1989, Roger Spottiswoode) [NO]
* Tom Hanks suffers through this detective-and-dog claptrap with such dread you don’t blame him for wanting to escape to the likes of Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. This film includes Reginald VelJohnson.
12 Angry Men (1957, Sidney Lumet) [hr]
Still-riveting Reginald Rose drama — brilliantly staged by first-time feature director Lumet — about a juror (Henry Fonda, fantastic) on a murder trial with doubts about the defendant’s guilt slowly making his case to his reluctant peers. The film belongs to Martin Balsam as the jury foreman but the entire cast is excellent, and the movie is sustained beautifully, maintaining interest up to the last second.
The Twelve Chairs (1970, Mel Brooks) [r]
The story of a madcap quest for an antique chair in which a fortune is hidden brings forth welcome shades of Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Though it does incorporate a few wild comedy setpieces — all of them hugely out of place but still very good — the film is highly atypical of Mel Brooks’ work. It’s beautifully and almost romantically shot, with brilliant use of Yugoslavian locations. It’s not among his best but it is highly entertaining and interestingly restrained; in addition to writing and directing, Brooks wrote a wonderful song that plays over the opening credits.
Twelve Monkeys (1995, Terry Gilliam) [hr]
Warped, sometimes delightful sci-fi actioner has Bruce Willis traveling back in time to determine the source of a deadly virus; the film is about a hundred times more idiosyncratic than that summary implies, and in fact is a popular variation of sorts on Brazil and La Jetee. Willis is excellent, his brokenness and self-doubt a perfect antidote to action hero stereotypes, and Brad Pitt’s probably never been better. There’s something amusingly subversive about seeing Gilliam’s brand of wild ideas and almost unnecessarily elaborate production design in service of a big studio movie.
Twelve O’Clock High (1949, Henry King) [r]
Only one real battle scene in this WWII drama with Gregory Peck, who’s actually well cast here for a change as a hard-boiled commanding officer trying to bring a “hard luck” Air Force fleet back into the fold after they lose a leader who coddled them excessively. This is also marked by a great slate of Fox character actors and a whole lot of talking, which is occasionally taut thanks to good writing and atypical realism, plus an admirably ambiguous finale. The archival air fight footage is integrated very well when it does appear.
12 Years a Slave (2013, Steve McQueen) [r]
Harrowing narrative of American slavery based on the writings of Solomon Northup, a violinist who was captured in Washington and taken from his family, forced to slave in various plantations for over a decade. McQueen’s film is courageous, beautifully filmed and acted — but somehow it still leaves me cold, perhaps because it sidelines Northup in order to attempt to be the film about the Antebellum south. Nevertheless, it’s formidable and essential.
Twentieth Century (1934, Howard Hawks) [r]
Stagier than Hawks’ other work, and certainly more than screwball comedies should be, but John Barrymore and Carole Lombard illustrate — as counterparts All About Eve and Bullets Over Broadway later would — the idea of theater people being thoroughly invaded and redefined by their occupation. The physicality of all of the actors here is something to behold, but Lombard’s control is sublime even when the character or the material is beneath her, and it usually is. The over-the-top goofiness of Barrymore is a lot to take, but admirable in its extremity; the major drawback is that the film’s sheer loudness — and its theatrical tendency to rely on transformations and character beats unseen to us — overwhelms what’s often an extremely clever and witty script.
20th Century Women (2016, Mike Mills) [hr]
“Just be there,” it says, and it’s talking to us as much as it’s talking to Jamie, the gentle and confused teenager at the center of this deeply sensitive, beautiful film about the people swirling around him in 1979 Santa Barbara, their pasts and futures. It wants us to bear witness to everyday life much as William Wyler once did, and what we see is complicated, messed up, lovely, but never in an obvious fashion. Its peculiarities are unforced, and you well up from the secrets it unveils, the mysteries it keeps, its hauntingly vivid compassion. I would wish we could get a hundred movies like this a year if I thought my heart could take it.
21 Grams (2003, Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu)
A hard-hitting movie about strangers brought into one another’s lives by a car accident, ergo basically a revision of the same team’s Amores Perros, this time with a bit more plot but the same unfortunate maudlin, self-serious tendencies in the script by Guillermo Arriaga.
Twilight Zone–The Movie (1983, Joe Dante/John Landis/George Miller/Steven Spielberg) [c]
No one asked, but these four directors delivered anyway. Joe Dante offers a visually inventive “It’s a Good Life” that lacks all of the power of the original episode. Spielberg’s “Kick the Can” is possibly the worst thing he has ever directed. Miller’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is exciting but adds very little to what was already there. Worst of all is certainly Landis’ untitled sequence, never an episode of The Twilight Zone but a weak invention of his; the filming of it — and, apparently, Landis’ overzealous need for danger — led to the death of Vic Morrow by decapitation. What a fucking waste.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992, David Lynch) [NO]
* This is the kind of dramatically laughable surrealism that’s really impressive to MTV executives and skateboarders.
Twins (1988, Ivan Reitman) [NO]
* Sloppy “comedy” of genetic experiment that results in DeVito and Schwarzenegger being “twins” who find one another years later. Evil.
Twister (1996, Jan De Bont) [c]
* I saw this in a packed theater in 1996 and found it dizzying; later that year, I saw it on home video and realized that sometimes, the medium is the message. And it probably shouldn’t be.
Two Arabian Knights (1927, Lewis Milestone) [r]
Solid WWI buddy picture with plenty of gritty macho derring-do, some good laughs and a few keenly impressive visuals, though its most startling effect is probably its resourceful use of studio backlots to simulate the Middle East.
Two Days, One Night (2014, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne) [r]
This is a feature film version of that horrific Fiverr ad about a woman who foregoes eating in favor of “follow-throughs” because she is a “doer,” only the Dardennes aren’t celebrating such a lifestyle… though in their usual straightforward, unwavering fashion they don’t exactly seem to be strongly condemning it either. Marion Cotillard is outstanding as a clinically depressed factory worker cruelly forced to campaign to her coworkers over a weekend in order to keep her job, at the expense of their annual bonus; the responses she receives serve up a cross-section of humanity with almost mathematical precision. It’s like Norma Rae rendered as an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick) [A+]
Ceaselessly beautiful, almost overwhelming open-ended masterpiece about the evolution of mankind, the embracing and defeating of technology, and finally, the individual curiosity — scientific and personal — that makes us human. Kubrick dares to stage his film with little dialogue and manages to tell a story of great sensory impact without explicit explanation of every plot point. I’m convinced this as close as you can get to a religious experience on the screen, maybe anywhere.
2010 (1984, Peter Hyams) [NO]
* I admit that maybe on its own this would not be as offensive as it ends up being, but this turgid, idiotic, mindless sequel rides the coattails of its brilliant predecessor and ends up being an insult to it. Certainly, Clarke or no Clarke, the most unnecessary sequel in history, beyond even Jaws 2 or Psycho II. And Hyams just has no clue what he’s getting himself into here.
Two Women (1960, Vittorio De Sica) [r]
Wrenching tale of a mother and daughter trying to stay ahead of the Allied victory in Italy and enduring constant, ultimately shattering hostility from men (soldiers and otherwise) is gripping and the performances are extraordinary; Sophia Loren’s Academy Award was well deserved. But like many Neorealist films this feels like an exercise in futility, without much to do beyond documenting misery that goes from bad to worse. As a character study it’s hard to fault but neither its fatalism nor its seemingly begrudging acceptance of rape and violence as a fact of male character make it an easy sell.