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Weekly Top Five

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The end of Weekly Top Five: Peter Bogdanovich's five best films

Posted By on 08.30.15 at 08:00 AM

Paper Moon
  • Paper Moon

I'm all done writing top five lists for the Reader. Last week was my final week on the job, and I've had a lot of fun concocting these posts for the last couple years. Hopefully one or two of you enjoyed reading them. If you'd like to go back and see the others, they're archived here.

She's Funny That Way, Peter Bogdanovich's new film and his first theatrical release since 2001, is in the midst of a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center. It's another screwball escapade, full of bubbly dialogue and narrative crisscrossing, and it's a strong reminder of the director's grasp of classic Hollywood. His run of similarly themed films in the 70s—The Last Picture Show, What's Up, Doc?, and Paper Moon—maintained a certain tradition while his New Hollywood peers emulated the then-fashionable modernism of European art cinema. 

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

The top five Anthony Mann films

Posted By on 08.23.15 at 08:00 AM

The Man from Laramie
  • The Man from Laramie

Later this week, the recently revived Northwest Chicago Film Society presents a screening of Anthony Mann's Bend of the River, one of the director's numerous collaborations with actor James Stewart. Mann and Stewart made different kinds of movies together, but it's the westerns that endure. Psychologically knotty and unconventionally violent, the films' revisionist nature reshaped the traditional western landscape by acting as allegories of masculinity under fire during the Cold War. Mann's characters struggle with any number of personal crises—paranoia, insecurity, delusion—and are often searching for things that start out clear but grow murkier as their stories progress. His films are almost always suspenseful, but not in any sort of obvious or cloying way. As much as his legacy is tied to his westerns, he excelled in noir and character drama, and more often than not, he utilized the same stylistic conventions across all genres, transcending Hollywood convention and paving the way for the iconoclastic directors of the late 60s and 70s. (Mann's influence on the likes of Martin Scorsese and Sam Peckinpah cannot be understated.) You can find my five favorite Mann films after the jump.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

The top five kung-fu flicks by Shaw Brothers director Lau Kar-leung

Posted By on 08.16.15 at 08:00 AM

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
  • The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

Later this week, the Logan Theatre presents a screening of Hong King action filmmaker Lau Kar-leung's late-period breakout Drunk Master II, released stateside asThe Drunken Master. Lau, who passed away from complications related to lymphoma a couple years ago, was a fight choreographer and later director at Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers Studio, helping create the look and tone of the popular kung-fu genre. He specialized in mixing traditional martial arts styles with old-school Hollywood showmanship and good-natured humor, and he experimented with staging, characterization, and genre, often bucking trends he helped create. Ironically enough, his most sustained run for Shaw Bros. coincided with its decline—just as studio head Run Run Shaw turned his attention to television—bridging the gap between more traditional wuxia films and the "gun fu" days of John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Wong Jing. In these directors, Lau instilled the notion that Hong Kong filmmaking sticks to rhythmic staging and editing. Even in scenes not centered on action and fighting, the director found ways to emphasize and dramatize motion. Movement becomes transmittable, with one characters’s motion followed by another's corresponding gesture, be it a tilt of the head, a twist of the torso, or the force of a punch. You can see my five favorite Lau Kar-leung films after the jump.  

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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Orson Welles's five best performances in films he didn't direct

Posted By on 08.09.15 at 08:00 AM

The Third Man
  • The Third Man

Orson Welles has invaded Chicago movie screens. F for Fake played at Doc on Friday; The Lady from Shanghai is currently at the Gene Siskel Film Center, alongside Carol Reed's The Third Man; the Music Box's weekend matinee is Welles's adaptation of Kafka's The Trial; and the Northbrook Public Library, which recently resumed its screening series after a prolonged break, is showing Martin Ritt's The Long, Hot Summer, in which Welles plays "a ceegar-chomping southern paterfamilias," according to Dave Kehr. The Third Man and The Long, Hot Summer give audiences the chance to see Welles act in a film he didn't direct. He was an atypical leading man, not particularly handsome nor traditionally charismatic but nonetheless enchanting and impossible to ignore. Even when he made only brief appearances onscreen, you can sense the action sort of slowing to a halt, as if he's pulling the film into his own personal orbit. His intensity set him apart, as did his obsession. It didn't matter if somebody else was running the show—if Welles was onscreen, he made the film his own, which is why I decided to limit my list of favorite Welles performances to those in films he didn't direct. You can see my selections below.

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Douglas Sirk's five best films

Posted By on 08.02.15 at 08:00 AM

All That Heaven Allows
  • All That Heaven Allows
Later this week, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents a new 4K DCP digital screening of Douglas Sirk's final film, Imitation of Life. Sirk is one of the most influential directors of his era, a master ironist with an ear for dialogue and an eye for baroque mise-en-scene. The characters in his films wrestle with feelings and conflicts familiar to the audience, but he often adds an extra thematic or stylistic dimension, an unexpected perspective on a routine engagement. He once said, "Your characters have to remain innocent of what your picture is after." In his best films, people who've seemingly overcome their problems are actually left with new and deeper issues—the characters in a Sirk film experience change, though the films also question the nature of their emotional and spiritual transformations.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

The five best British films

Posted By on 07.26.15 at 08:00 AM

Dont Look Now
  • Don't Look Now
Last week, the BBC asked 62 film critics from around the world to each submit what they considered the ten greatest American movies of all time. The subsequent list is filled with canonical favorites, including Citizen Kane (which took the top spot), Singin’ in the Rain, and The Godfather, as well as a few surprise appearances—Groundhog Day checked in at number 71, and Steve McQueen's recent 12 Years a Slave showed up at number 99. The online response was predictable—mostly of the "This list sucks" variety—and after some brief commotion, everyone went back to talking about Star Wars and Marvel movies.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ingmar Bergman's five best films

Posted By on 07.19.15 at 08:00 AM

The Silence
  • The Silence
Chicago moviegoers are glad to have the Northwest Chicago Film Society back in business. The venerable screening series has seen its share of upheaval over the last couple of years, but after a brief hiatus, things are up and running at Northeastern Illinois University's Fine Arts Auditorium, where quality 35mm repertory screenings await. This week, the NWCFS presents Ingmar Bergman's Summer with Monika, a slow and low ode to teenage love that marked the director's first major stateside success. Bergman is sort of the quintessential art-house director, one of the first stops you make when developing a serious interest in the movies. As such, his merit tends to decrease in the minds of ultraserious cinephiles—some people even grow to outright deride him. Certain other directors receive similar treatment (Francois Truffaut and Akira Kurosawa come to mind), but Bergman seems to be a particular point of contention, sparking legendary debate.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

The best films shot by Jack Cardiff

Posted By on 07.12.15 at 10:00 AM

The Red Shoes
  • The Red Shoes
Later this week, the University of Chicago's Doc Films screens the documentary Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, a look at the legendary UK cinematographer. The film chronicles Cardiff's long and varied career in the movies, including his directorial efforts and stint as a child actor, so it's a decent introduction if you're unfamiliar with his influence, but why bother with a biographical doc when you can dive right into the work itself? Cardiff's innovative use of Technicolor is evident throughout his career, starting with Wings of the Morning—Britain's first Technicolor film—and coming to fruition with the films he shot for directing team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (aka the Archers): A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes. Cardiff was a versatile photographer, equally comfortable on location or on a soundstage; in some cases, it's impossible to tell whether he was shooting outside or on some sort of man-made set. For instance, a particularly harrowing scene in King Vidor's War and Peace (1956) looked to me as if it had been shot on a frozen tundra, but Cardiff later revealed it was shot onstage. In retrospect, the fact that you can't see the actors' breaths should have been a dead giveaway, but I was so entranced by the images that I wasn't focused on petty details. But that's what made Cardiff great. He transformed mere movie scenes into vivid, metaphysical spaces. You can find my five favorite films shot by Jack Cardiff after the jump.

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Frank Borzage's five best films

Posted By on 07.05.15 at 08:00 AM

History is Made at Night
  • History Is Made at Night
Last week, the University of Chicago's Doc Films presented a screening of Frank Borzage's A Farewell to Arms, an adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel. Borzage is a great filmmaker, but the general consensus surrounding him seems to argue that he is a neglected director, even though his work does not lack for incisive and important critical commentary, particularly here in the pages of the Reader. And yet his films have never really captured the public's imagination, perhaps because they deal so closely with matters generally considered sentimental, frivolous, or—for lack of a better word—uncool; stuff like love, romance, hope, and emotion. So much of the writing on Borzage general scholarship restricts him as a sort of transcendental romantic, a director whose films envision a world where romantic love holds limitless power, even the ability to transform time and space. Admittedly, there's enough evidence in his work to support such claims—including the final sequence in A Farewell to Arms—but the more I work through Borzage's filmography (and I regret to admit that I haven't seen nearly enough) the more I detect a sort of earthbound humanism that runs parallel with his mystical romanticism. Taken hand in hand, these seemingly disparate elements allow for a deeper appreciation of the director and his work. You can find my five favorite Borzage films below.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Christopher Lee's five best performances

Posted By on 06.14.15 at 10:00 AM

The Wicker Man
  • The Wicker Man
Last week, Sir Christopher Lee, the remarkably prolific actor best known for his run of films with Hammer Pictures and for playing Saruman in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, died at the age of 93. Lee starred in more than 200 films, and he worked right up until his death, having most recently appeared in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, part of Jackson's gluttonous attempt at reeling in more Tolkien dollars. His acting career notwithstanding, Lee led a sensational life. Before he started in movies, he had a storied military career serving in Intelligence and the Special Forces during World War II. His transition into acting was marred by his unusual height: standing six-foot-five, he was told to remain seated during his first screen appearance, as a nightclub customer in 1948's Corridor of Mirrors.

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