can I ever again
enjoy Mozart, one of my favorite composers, without
picturing his lusty, impish portrayal in AMADEUS?
Or why should I
try not to?
Even if the movie plays loosely with history
(said to malign Salieri), it's a fascinating tale,
before the many awards and box office hits, the Coen
Brothers were one of those odd talents you were sure no
one else could possibly appreciate.
Today, of course,
they’re appreciated by everyone. Almost every year since
1984 they’ve brought us cinematic gems.
Not David Lean
epics “with a cast of thousands” or movies reeking with computer-generated special effects. No,
it's "just" people we get, unforgettable people.
And some of the
best plots, dialogue, acting and cinematography committed to film.
So far only two of
their many films, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY and THE MAN WHO
WASN'T THERE, didn’t work for me. They had the Coen
Brothers’ visual genius, but were mere attempts to show
off their technical skills, I thought.
Almost any of their
other films will probably delight you. You already know
about FARGO, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, NO
COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and TRUE GRIT.
are wonderful, but I
also, maybe especially, enjoy their period noir films like BLOOD
SIMPLE, MILLER'S CROSSING, and BARTON FINK. They can do
comedy, too, among them BURN AFTER READING (2008) and
(my favorite) HAIL, CAESAR! (2016).
Basically, anything the Coen
Brothers do seems to be worth watching. How
much longer they can keep going, who knows. But if they stopped
right now, today, their place on the Deserted Island
would be assured.
I recognize the
dangers. Film can select facts, can manipulate our emotions in ways that
words on a page can't. But film can also let us see and
hear people almost as directly as being in the same room
I love documentaries, and
these are some
of my favorites. Thanks to Netflix and San Antonio's
great public library system, it looks like
I'll never run out.
In December 2015, I find I'm not
the only fan of documentaries. And apparently there are
so many out there.
Here's an article that lists many sources.
- THE NEW LAND. For the past four nights I've
been watching "The Emigrants" and "The New Land," taking
a break at intermission in both long films to digest
what I've seen.
Each film can stand on its own, with "Emigrants" one of
the best ever. But they're really just two halves of one
film, with "New Land" picking up where "Emigrants" ends.
Except for the first half of "New Land," where young
Robert goes to California in search of gold, and which I
found irrelevant, this may be the best film(s) I've ever
Unpardonable that it's taken me almost fifty years to
Look for the 2016 Criterion edition, with its high-def
digital restoration and its interviews of director Jan
Troell, actress Liv Ullmann and others.
FILMS. In the
past few years I've discovered foreign films. Their
common denominators seem to be that
1) they don't
approach Hollywood's budget
or ticket sales,
2) the actors are not famous, so are
characters in the film not celebrities, and
3) the plots
emphasize inter-personal relationships instead of explosions,
zombies, aliens, or computer-generated special
Sometimes, though, it's foreign
films, especially European films, that are the very
worst. Pretentious pap. Little to no plot. Inane
dialogue. Long takes without movement. The best (worst?)
example for me is NOSTALGHIA by Andrei Tarkovsky.
But when they're good, they're
these films, search for Kino Lorber, Criterion
or Film Movement. All three companies have gathered a large number of
quality films in their catalog. (And some terrible ones,
though I'm in a minority in my opinion of them.)
are some recommendations.
As always, I urge learning as
little as possible about the film before watching it. Let surprise
be among the pleasures these films bring you.
After creating this category in 2012, it
now occurs to me that some of my
favorites, like HERO (below), would certainly qualify as
a foreign film. I'll sort it out later.
It doesn't matter if we're not basketball fans, because this
film isn't about basketball...it's about family.
Two talented 14-year-old boys in Chicago -- and their families
-- are covered by the documentary team for the next five (5!)
years. After a while it's clear the cameras and microphones have
What we see in this landmark film could provide grist for an
entire year's curriculum in sociology, criminology, psychology,
leadership or education. Maybe religion and business too.
At the same time, it's as riveting and unforgettable a film as
we'll see in a long while.
films. He made his first movie in 1967, but
it wasn't until 2016 that I "discovered" him. I suspect
you haven't yet yourself, as most of his films are not
typical Hollywood blockbusters. I doubt he's ever used
computer generated graphics, and most of his films take
place in Great Britain.
Loach doesn't apologize for rooting for the the weak
and vulnerable in society, and that's clearly seen in
his films. Regrettably he thinks the Palestinians and
Arabs are the underdog in the Middle East, and foolishly
supports the BDS movement. Another sad example of the
heart over-riding the brain.
But it doesn't detract from the joy I get from his
films. I've now seen seven of them, all that were in our
public library's catalog, and liked or loved them all.
He's said he's made some clunkers, but I haven't found
one yet, and anyway, in forty years how could that be
On all of his films I've had to turn on subtitles.
Though the actors spoke English, the dialect was too
strong. Wasn't a problem, except to make clear how
utterly profane the normal language of northern Brits
As I write this in 2017, his 2014 JIMMY'S HALL proves
Loach is still on top of his game.
Afflicted as I am with a total inability
to dance, sing or play an instrument, I admire (and
so envy) all the more those who can.
Not just the
terrific dancing, but some good comedy. And of course, "Singin'
in the Rain" and "Make 'em Laugh."
"Some Enchanted Evening," "Bali Hai," "There Is Nothing
Like a Dame"....
MY FAIR LADY.
"Why Can't a Woman be More Like a Man," "I've Grown
Accustomed to Her Face," "I Could Have Danced All
(that would be better if shorter),
characters, amazing sets.
THE MUSIC MAN.
We got trouble in River City, friends ....
The musical I
might bring to the deserted island if I
could choose only one.
ON THE ROOF.
Or this one. "If I Were a Rich Man," "Tradition,"
"Sunrise, Sunset," "Do You Love Me?"
CHARITY. So sexist, so Sixties, but
how to deny the charm of Shirley MacLaine. A Bob
ALL THAT JAZZ.
Speaking of Fosse....
This is a movie, not a musical, but filled with
much music and dance, and how I admire
it. The first half hour or so is boring but don't
give up. Only
later do we understand why it had to be.
LAND. With two great actors (Stone and
Gosling), smart lyrics, fine songs, sharp dialogue, an
important story, and images that never stop pleasing,
what's not to like? Absolutely nothing.
at this list of concerts and musicals, I see they all had, in addition to great
songs, some quite serious themes.
Next, the concerts:
DOWN THE ROAD (John Fogerty)
FROM THE MOUNTAIN (John Hartford, Cox Family,
Allison Krause, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, others)
CLAPTON GUITAR FESTIVAL "CROSSROADS" 2004, 2007,
2010, 2013 (countless musicians, most
THE AFRICAN CONCERT (Paul Simon)
HOME & AWAY REVISITED (Leo
MAN (Leonard Cohen)
THE GREEK THEATER (Joe Bonammasa)
JAPAN (Rodrigo y Gabriela)
LONDON (Leonard Cohen)
McGARRIGLE HOUR (McGarrigle Sisters)
PLAY THE BLUES
(Wynton Marsalis and Eric
REAL LIVE ROADRUNNING (Mark
Knopfler and Emmylou Harris)
2008 (varied performers)
STOP MAKING SENSE (Talking
Played at home on a good quality
HDTV and sound system, these concerts are matchless in
entertainment value for me. Not as good as being at the
concert itself; in fact, better.
Movies. I had to think twice about
including the genius of Pixar, something already known
by everyone. It goes a little against the spirit of this site,
which tries to give glory those unfairly overlooked, and
Pixar surely isn't.
But how can the most wonderful
animators ever not be honored for their brilliance? Aren't
their movies delightful?
These are just
children's movies like fine wine is just grape juice.
No, not the 2003 remake with Robert Downey Jr, but the
1986 original with Michael Gambon.
THE SINGING DETECTIVE
was actually -- amazingly -- a BBC 6-hour series, not a
movie shown in theaters.
Fortunately, it's now available
in a 3-DVD package (though the third disk, with extra
features, could be discarded).
Fortunate also is anyone
seeing this movie for the first time. Your mind
will go places it had never been before.
SPIELBERG films. Steven Spielberg's films
seem to be the antithesis of the foreign films I love,
which have small budgets, mostly unknown actors, and few
explosions or special effects.
But what list of deserted island movies could leave out
Spielberg? And who could say they did not like this
master of cinema?
Many of the films he's produced or directed are classics
and will, safe to say, be watched forever. For example:
Some films he directed:
-- Jaws (1975)
-- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
-- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
-- E.T. (1982)
-- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) (plus
-- Jurassic Park (1993)
-- Schindler's List (1993)
-- Saving Private Ryan (1998)
-- Minority Report (2002)
And some he produced:
-- Back to the Future (1985) (and II and III)
-- Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
-- and the many documentaries on World War II
An excellent summary of his remarkable life is the 2017
HBO documentary, "Spielberg"
showing us he's more than a craftsman, he's a wonderful
Let's count them all as one. They're all pretty much the
same, anyway, a continuing riff on the fundamental
questions of man/woman/life/death that Allen makes
enjoyable with his wit and heart.
He's made a movie a
year for 46 (!) years now. We can't say the recent
ones have been among his best, but that's only because
some of his earlier films were so very good. Maybe we
can. Some of the last decade's films were great, too.
liked these the most, and recommend them to you.
ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK
LOVE AND DEATH
NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY (1982)
ROSE OF CAIRO (1985)
HANNAH AND HER
VICKI CRISTINA BARCELONA
YOU WILL MEET
A TALL DARK STRANGER (2010)
MAGIC IN THE
The only of Allen's movies I
will never watch again are WHAT'S UP TIGER LILY; ANOTHER WOMAN; TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN; SHADOWS AND FOG; STARDUST MEMORIES
and TO ROME WITH LOVE.
But they got good
reviews, so give them a try,
Allen may have
brought tragedy to his private life. He's brought joy to
the silver screen.
has a short interview with Allen you might enjoy.
films. What comes to mind when I hear his
name is artistry, imagination, craftsmanship.
I won't have any idea what the film will be like. Will
it be set in ancient times or modern? A comedy or a
drama? Fantasy or realism?
Unlike Woody Allen, his films are all over the place.
They include "flying through air" martial arts wonders
like HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, comedies like
HAPPY TIMES, art films like JU DOU, absolute tearjerkers
like COMING HOME, and a brilliant remake of BLOOD SIMPLE
by the Coen brothers but set in China, A WOMAN, A GUN
AND A NOODLE SHOP.
The only film of his I didn't like was THE FLOWERS OF
WAR, but that was probably for the terrible script.
Zhang is a master director, but even he couldn't make
gold out of tin.
I look forward to watching more by Zhang Yimou. As much
as I can.
"Given a reasonable budget, it
is hard to make an entirely boring movie." -- Kenneth Tynan (in his essay,
"The Difficulty of Being Dull")
But apparently, at whatever
budget, it seems hard to make a great movie.
A great movie makes us forget
it's a movie we're watching. We become so completely
lost in it that at least for a while we're taken to a different
place and time.
In the end, a great movie is an
engrossing story, presented with skill and commitment by
a talented team of writers, actors, directors,
cinematographers, production designers, costumers and
I am so grateful to them.