My Favourite Films
The American-ization of Emily
This is my favourite film. I still remember first seeing it in 1964 at Lowe's Downtown theatre in Toronto and how I reacted to the movie's cutting dialogue and its powerful anti-war message. A major reason why we go on engaging in endless wars is because of a wrongheaded belief that they are somehow moral and right. This movie is like a sharp slap in the face. Every year on Remembrance Day I have a desire to watch the film again. Given the movie's cast we would expect a light comedy, and it is that up to a point. James Garner is perfect as a cocky American naval officer in war-torn England leading up to "D" day. His driver is played by a very proper and British Julie Andrews who asks Garner to come home to meet her mother. Over tea in the garden the talk becomes tense after the mother makes the predictable wartime comments about loved ones who've died in the war.
She is in denial after having lost her husband and a son. This prompts Garner to reply boldly: "It may be ministers and generals who blunder us into war Mrs. Barham, but the least the rest of us can do is resist honouring the institution". The brilliant antiwar dialog for the film was crafted by screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky who also wrote the screenplay for "Network". If this movie had been released in the 50s, instead of the more liberal 60s, it would not have been released at all and Chayefsky would have been placed on some anti-communist blacklist. The thing that really tops off this story for me is the moral dilemma at the end of the film as our hero is forced to make a most difficult decision: Will he remain loyal to his ideals or will he choose instead a more pragmatic choice? Most of the principles in this movie claim this as their favourite film and it's my choice as well. When it was released in 1964 the movie was criticized harshly and not surprisingly by a largely pro-war America. Directed by Arthur Hiller.
Arthur Hiller, USA, 1964
I’ve always agreed with Roger Ebert’s view that there should be more movies that show people in their jobs and careers and that many movies focus too heavily on personal relationships from which we learn very little. In the film “Sideways” we found out things about wine as the personal lives of the characters go sideways. The movie “Wild” has Reese Witherspoon setting out on a 1100 mile hike all alone through the beautiful Pacific Crest Trail. Great, but to me the film was ruined by too many flashbacks of the crappy life she left behind instead of the film focusing on the challenge of the hike and the perilous struggles she met along the way. Last year Robert Redford showed us in “All Is Lost” that just one man struggling to stay alive on a sinking sailboat can make for a very entertaining film. Movies about musicians, such as “Ray”, the 2004 film about Ray Charles, or “Bird”, Clint Eastwood’s 1988 film about Charlie Parker the music is often secondary to the tortured personal lives of the artists yet these films are always a bit corny to some degree.
There is nothing corny about “Whiplash”. This film is brilliantly written and directed by Damien Chazelle and it’s easily the best film I’ve seen that’s based on the lives of musicians. Here the personal relationships play second fiddle to the pursuit of greatness. Miles Teller is perfect as a talented freshman jazz drummer at a prominent New York music academy as he deals with an aggressive over-the-top teacher, played by J.K. Simmons, who uses extreme force like an army sergeant to bring out the greatness in his students. The film begs the question: “are the actions of the teacher justified?” I can’t quite come to grips on this. One thing I am certain of however is that the direction by Chazelle is nothing short of remarkable in a film that must have been a challenge to get right.
Damien Chazelle, USA, 2014
Fifty years after an alien attack on Earth an elite troop of soldiers are trained to ward off any future invasion. Exceptional children are recruited to lead this force and one of them, Ender Wiggin is the cream of the crop and is chosen leader for a preemptive attack on the alien's planet. I can’t think of a sci-fi film that I’ve enjoyed more. It even asks some profound philosophical questions. Such as should we treat intelligent creatures on other planets with compassion? Or, if we are able should we eliminate all life on another planet that is thought to be a threat to humans? We have not yet have to faced these questions but I think if a movie like this helps us to think deeper about these dilemmas it may help us to better understand the problems today here on Earth. I was also impressed that there are no prolonged chase scenes nore shaky camera crap in this movie. Gavin Hood, USA, 2013
Political thrillers don't get any better than this. Meaningful, courageous, well acted and directed this is the story of Valerie Plame's outing as a covert CIA operative by the George Bush administration in the run up to the war in Iraq in 2003. It was payback for a New York Times op-ed piece penned by Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, a former US diplomat, that made it clear that evidence which claimed that Saddam Husain was close to building weapons of mass destruction was concocted to sell the war to the American public. Aware that there was no proof of WMDs a subservient CIA, aside from Plame, went along with the murderous charade. The film's courageous stance surprised me as everyone was clearly named in the movie: Bush, Cheney, Carl Rove, the whole lot. What are they going to do, sue the movie for telling the truth? Certainly they all committed war crimes that resulted in many thousands of casualties but only Scooter Libby, an adviser to Dick Cheney, was charged and spent a little time in jail as the fall guy. He was no doubt paid handsomely for this. Both Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as Joe Wilson were excellent and perfectly cast. The television series "Homeland" must have been influenced by this movie. Watts role as a CIA operative and that of Claire Danes are strikingly similar.
Doug Liman, USA, 2010
The 1950s were the hay day of the cowboy movie. Here, James Stewart stars and Jeff Chandler is terrific as Cochise. This is a great western in the American tradition. There are the good guys and the bad guys. And the movie is so politically correct – look for the line "you're either with us or you're with the Apaches." Like George Bush said of the Iraq war. The visuals are stunning and the message is meaningful and up-lifting, a real joy. Delmer Daves, USA 1950
Judi Dench is delightful as an Irish woman who was separated from her son through adoption by an American family nearly fifty years ago. The son later became the chief legal council to Presidents Reagan and Bush. The woman asks a journalist, perfectly played by Steve Coogan, to help her find her son in America. This is brilliant story telling as the woman is full of surprises and the film exposes the harsh and illegal actions of the Catholic church. Stephen Frears, UK 2013
Tom Hanks plays a container ship captain who's ship is boarded by Somali pirates. Hanks gives a wonderfully realistic performance but is still upstaged the desperate and scary Somali aggressors. Paul Greengrass, USA 2013
On The Beach
We're in Australia were the life killing radio active fall-out has not yet arrived. Navy man Gregory Peck and the lovely Ava Gardner as well as the rest of the country know that doom is imminent. Fred Astaire fearlessly drives that one last sports car race. Unforgettable. Stanley Kramer, USA, 1959
Police brutality during the Detroit race riots of 1967. Powerful. 2017
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as well as wrote and directed this surprisingly good study in macho culture. At the top of his peer group he rated women in bars from 1 to 10. He gets his way with a 10 played by Scarlett Johansson but as great as she is he admits that any woman is inferior to his obsession to internet porn. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, USA 2013
Frank Sinatra is intense as a psychotic ex-military man bent on assassinating the US president from a house overlooking a train station. The film was withdrawn from distribution following the Kennedy assassination. Many call this a 'B' rated film but I find it quite gripping. Lewis Allen, USA, 1954
This just has to be the best motorsport movie ever made. It stars Steve McQueen who was a real life racer himself. He was good with motorcycles too in "The Great Escape" and "On Any Sunday". Lee H. Katzin, USA, 1971
Inappropriate behavior with an alter-boy by a catholic priest makes you wonder all the way through if he really was guilty. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the priest. Meryl Streep is the harshly aggressive nun/principal and accuser who would not let go. Great performances were even bettered by co-stars Amy Adams and Viola Davis. John Patrick Shanley, USA, 2008
Witness For The Prosecution
This classic courtroom drama twists and turns and even fools the wise old iconic lawyer played by Charles Laughton. Featuring Marlene Dietrich: 'Damn you -- DAMN YOU!", and Tyrone Power. Even the movie's trailer is terrific. Billy Wilder, USA, 1957
Morbid, well known subject matter in the hands of Steven Spielberg turns out to be uplifting and inspiring. One of the few really great movies in the last twenty years. I think it's interesting that I can't quite get myself to watch this movie again. It's those grim images. Steven Spielberg, USA, 1993
A brilliant film about a dancer during the AIDS crisis 1n 1985 SanFrancisco. This meaningful film is a diamond in the rough. Chris Mason Johnson, USA, 2013
The Ugly American
This is so timely. An American ambassador, played by Marlon Brando, sets out to show a South East Asian country how it's done – yet it's he who learns a lesson. George Englund, USA, 1963
Bradley Cooper as a struggling author who can't finish anything then stumbles upon a black market pill that lets him access 100 percent of his cognitive potential. Nothing can stop him now. Real fun. Far better than the TV series. Neil Burger, USA, 2011
The theme of revenge is familiar but this is a exceptional western by the Danish director Kristian Lavring. In the brutal American west during the 1870s a man's wife and boy are murdered. Photography is exceptional. Kristian Levring, Denmark 2014