French actress turned director Maïwenn’s socially-minded film POLISSE is a dramatically charged ensemble portrait of the French police, a collage of characters, narratives, and tones centered on a dozen men and women who work for the Child Protection Unit in Paris. It is packed with raw, visceral performances from an accomplished cast.This raucous, close-knit group, which goes after molesters and abusive parents, and finds shelters for unwanted children, is constantly in action. Its emotionally grueling work seeps into its members’ often-chaotic home lives. POLISSE was a winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and one of the most successful films of 2011 in France, POLISSE was nominated for 13 Cesar Awards including Best Film, Director and 6 individual acting nominations for its phenomenal ensemble cast.
Though it is a fictional feature (written by Maïwenn and Emmanuelle Bercot), “Polisse” feels less dramatized than witnessed. It has a rough, ragged narrative structure and a correspondingly hectic visual style. It plows through some harsh, horrifying realities with unflinching sobriety, concerned less with social problems than with facts and in the process illuminates French society with a toughness and fidelity that few other recent movies have dared. The film uses actual events from the files of a real-life police unit, and the gritty realism is evident throughout the film. It aims for a picture of the underbelly of life that is at once broad and biting, and it is successful most the time. Though the cases we see – molestation, exploitation, heartbreaking poverty – are gripping, the main focus of this drama is the officers themselves.
Maïwenn has gathered an accomplished ensemble cast of French actors—including Karin Viard, Marina Foïs, co-writer Emmanuelle Bercot, Nicolas Duvauchelle, and rapper-turned-actor Joeystarr—who convey the emotional strain of the unit’s work with gritty realism (the director herself plays the role of a photographer embedded within the unit). Poliss covers much ground, and even with its loose threads and frenzied structure, it convincingly jumps from laughter to tears and back again, never losing sight of the brutal realities at its core.
The cases these officers deal with — parents who sexually abuse their children or force them to commit crimes; children who do terrible harm to themselves and one another — routinely expose the foulest aspects of human nature. The members of the Child Protection Unit must also contend with bureaucratic intransigence, petty corruption and perpetual competition for scarce resources. And also, once they leave work, with messy marriages, tumultuous friendships and the ordinary pains of adulthood.
One of the themes of “Polisse” is the fundamental benevolence of the state, an idea alien to American viewers. The idealism that Maïwenn detects beneath the grit is nonetheless disarming. Instead of overt displays of heroism or resistance, there are the satisfactions and frustrations of difficult labor in a righteous cause.
Another theme, one that emerges through scenes that are especially painful for being utterly matter of fact, is the pervasiveness of violence, sexual and otherwise, against girls. An officer is so spooked by cases of incest and molestation that he has difficulty giving his own young daughter a bath. One of his colleagues, a woman from a Muslim background, explodes in rage at a smug imam who plans to marry off his underage daughter. An upper-class father, arrested for raping his daughter, is almost boastful about what he has done. There are boys who suffer too, but “Polisse” makes a devastating, empirical argument that female children are especially vulnerable.
From its opening scene, in which a little girl tells one of the officers, Chrys (Karole Rocher), that her father sometimes “scratches her butt,” the film presents the difficulties in distinguishing truth from speculation in child sex abuse cases, especially when kids and parents offer conflicting testimonies, or take issue with police workers poking into their private lives. Maiwenn and co-writer-star Emmanuelle Bercot insert a number of such interrogations throughout the story, and they run the gamut from disturbing to hilarious to downright tragic, especially in one emotional wallop of a sequence where a little boy is separated from a mother who can’t provide him adequate shelter.That moment occurs about midway through the movie, and that fact that it runs on for longer than expected is revealing of Maiwenn’s approach to such uneasy material. Instead of playing scenes safely via evocative cutaways or trying to up the cute factor whenever a kid appears on screen, she allows – like fellow French directors Abdellatif Kechiche or the late Maurice Pialat – for the intensity of the situation to take over in all its rawness. Another prime example is a late scene between two officers and sometime buddies, Nadine (Karin Viard) and Iris (Marina Fois), whose explosive office shouting match is something to behold.Very much like David Simon’s Baltimore-set HBO series, Poliss concentrates on the strain the job puts on policemen and women who deal day in day out with hard knocks cases and bureaucratic pigeonholing, and how that affects their generally chaotic home lives. In fact, all of them, including Melissa (Maiwenn), the timid photographer who’s been commissioned by the Interior Ministry to document the unit’s activities, are undergoing either a divorce, a separation, or are defiantly and unhappily single.
While these cops work very hard to mend other peoples’ nightmares, they are unable, through the sheer exhaustion of their métier, to take care of themselves, relying on each other for all kinds of support, friendship, or, in a few instances, love.Their work hard, play hard attitude is best exemplified by Fred (Joeystarr), a wiry cop whose estrangement from his own daughter makes him take every case to heart, putting him increasingly at odds with a superior (Frederic Pierrot) who caves in too easily to the power above.
The film is designed to look as if it were haphazardly put together, with quick editing, a huge load of characters, and cases that weave in and out without resolution. At times, this style is quite immersive. If the film suffers from anything, its still the writers’ choice to shove in so many plots, subplots, and episodes within its limited running time, and the finale especially takes a turn that doesn’t seem warranted by what preceded it. Because we haven’t had much chance to live with her story, her end feels inexplicable. On the other hand, the film’s style doesn’t allow scenes and characters to unfold in anything like real time or even narrative time, causing an abruptness that undermines the storytelling. This is most evident in the ending, when an officer suddenly commits suicide.
Despite these, Polisse is a powerful document of how people deal with impossible situations. It is a brilliant example of how to show the strengths of an ensemble cast. It sustains the feeling of never-ending struggle that clearly hounds its characters, yet manages to do so without losing a certain cigarette-smoking, meal-enjoying languidness that seems unmistakably French.Whether performances were improvised or not is unclear, but they’re reigned in enough to feel polished and real. Ditto for the tech, which feels free and un-mannered as it captures the grittier neighborhoods of northeast Paris, though it never drops to the handheld quirks of many a young director.
“Polisse” feels a bit like a season of television compressed into a little more than two hours. (This theatrical cut was reportedly culled from nearly 150 hours of footage.) The action also veers now and then into melodramatic overstatement, in particular toward the end. But the messiness of the film seems appropriate to its subject, which is the attempt to bring at least a measure of order — and even a touch of grace — to a chaotic and frequently ugly reality.
POLISSE: Directed by Maïwenn; written by Maïwenn and Emmanuelle Bercot; director of photography, Pierre Aïm; edited by Laure Gardette and Yann Dedet; music by Stephen Warbeck; production design by Nicolas de Boiscuille; costumes by Marité Coutard; produced by Alain Attal; released by Sundance Selects. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes. This film is not rated.
Films about teachers and students are commonly inspirational melodramas about overcoming adversity inside and outside the classroom. The teacher is usually a newcomer to the school and initially dismissed by the students, but over the course of 90 minutes or so they wind up touching each other’s lives and all that mushy stuff. It’s a formula audiences are comfortable with. Writer-director Philippe Falardeau‘s Monsieur Lazhar breaks this mold and delivers a haunting look at grief, compassion, and boundaries through the eyes of both children and adults, while also examining the bureaucratic problems in contemporary teaching.Mr. Falardeau’s fourth feature film, adapted from a one-person play by Evelyne de la Chenelière was Canada’s entry in the 2011 foreign language Oscar and nominated for best foreign language film.
In an opening scene of the film it’s Simon’s day to pick up cartons of milk and deliver them to his Montreal fourth-grade classroom before the school day begins. Only one other student sees this before the teachers usher all the students back into the playground. This incident, reported in a Quebec newspaper, is the inspiration for Bachir Lazhar (Algerian writer and actor Fellag) to present himself at the school principal’s office and volunteer to teach the class. Bachir Lazhar is a refugee from Algeria where he taught primary school for 19 years.
The principal at the school is Mme. Vaillancourt (Danielle Proulx), who like most school administrators is rigid in conforming to the rules. Hiring Monsieur Lazhar is a bit of an excursion for her, but he is a well-spoken, presentable man and makes a good impression. The film chronicles events in the classroom throughout the year, as Lazhar tries to help his students cope with feelings of abandonment and loss, while balancing educational policy that requires teachers to relate to children at a physical and emotional distance. The students take to him fast though and as days go by we learn more details about Lazhar’s personal tragedies and loss. Like the children he’s now responsible for, Lazhar too is in need of a safe haven. As the details of Lazhar’s own life come into focus, his journey and that of his charges begin to dovetail in mournful, deeply meaningful ways.
The film begins in the dead of winter, follows his work in the classroom all the way through until summer. During that time, he — and we — get to know the students, who are generally cheerful and well-behaved, and get on well with their new teacher. They are assumed to be traumatized by their teacher’s suicide, and a psychologist is assigned to spend closed-door sessions with the class. We, and Monsieur Lazhar, are closed out of these sessions, but Lazhar on his own tells the students some gentle truths and assures them it wasn’t their fault. For this and other transgressions, he is criticized by the principal; to follow the rules, a teacher seems hardly allowed to be human.
Monsieur Lazhar is an honest simple film that nicely balances melancholy with humor. The story of how an Algerian substitute teacher in French-speaking Montreal and his middle-school class help each other confront the presence of death in life, this film deals almost casually with a range of issues and themes, handling with a light and even affectionate touch weighty subjects like grief, guilt, community and love. It’s difficult doing what “Monsieur Lazhar”does, conveying the delicate reality of human emotions in a way that engages without being overdone. The film delivers an affective message of compassion without any kind of sweeping, artificial sentimentality – a welcome deviation in the library of teacher-student films. What is most effective about “Monsieur Lazhar” is the natural, unforced but unmistakable way these two sides of the coin, the teacher and the students, help each other cope with the different but related issues of memory, regret and healing they face.The title character in “Monsieur Lazhar” is powerfully embodied by Fellag, an Algerian theater director and actor known for his one-man shows, who has lived in Paris since 1995. Fellag delivers an understated performance that miraculously brings forth the humor in all this mournful subject matter.
Monsieur Lazhar: Written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, based on the stage play by Evelyne de la Chenelière; director of photography, Ronald Plante; edited by Stéphane Lafleur; music by Martin Léon; production design by Emmanuel Fréchette; costumes by Francesca Chamberland; produced by Luc Déry and Kim McCraw; released by Music Box Films. In French, with English subtitles.
WITH: Fellag (Bachir Lazhar), Sophie Nélisse (Alice), Émilien Néron (Simon), Danielle Proulx (Mrs. Vaillancourt), Brigitte Poupart (Claire), Louis Champagne (Janitor), Jules Philip (Gaston), Francine Ruel (Mrs. Dumas) and Sophie Sanscartier (Audrée).
Spain’s “Chico & Rita” was one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 Oscars by winning a nomination for best animated feature. In the 11 years since the Oscars introduced an award for Best Animated Feature, the category has been dominated by children’s movies, often with computer-animated pandas, penguins and ogres at their center. This one a little different.
The film depicts a nearly operatic romantic tragedy, involving a lifelong affair of the heart between two Havana musicians telling a distilled version of the 20th century history of jazz in about 90 minutes.. With irresistible Latin jazz, the animated feature captures seductive pre-Castro Cuba as it tells the story of a singer Rita, a promising young singer with a smoky voice and Chico, a piano man and their on and off romance over the years as they rise to fame. The attraction is strong and mutual, not to mention powerfully erotic, especially for a cartoon. But personal and professional jealousies intervene as the story moves forward, and as its protagonists’ advancing careers take them from Cuba to New York, Paris and Las Vegas, swept up by forces that alternately throw them together and keep them apart. The story is told in flashback from Chico’s current lonely life, and Rita’s equally cheerless existence. A subtext of race — Chico and Rita, both Cubans of African descent, must also deal with discrimination and exploitation as they pursue fame, fortune and artistic fulfillment – lends the film a somber grounding in reality.
It begins in Havana of 1948 in the pre-Castro years when rich Americans jetted down for entertainment, and Havana was a hotbed of jazz and Afro-Cuban music, where luxurious clubs, casinos and hotels have created a Caribbean entertainment mecca, mostly controlled by American gangsters and corporations.
There are two journeys here: Rita is a shooting star, soon heading to New York alone with a record contract. Though her vocal chops get her there, her beauty soon has Hollywood calling. Chico is making a name for himself too. The New York club circuit is his ticket out of Cuba.Their mutual problem is that Chico is unfaithful by nature, and although Rita is the woman he loves, when he’s not with the one he loves, he loves the one he’s with. Rita is two-timed once too often and sets off on her own — a mistake, because when they’re together, they have a taste of stardom, and when apart, a tendency to self-destruct.
In a fluid scene – in one night Chico (who hasn’t got a gig tonight, so he’s out on the town hitting the clubs) gets his first glimpse of Rita, sidling into a spotlight, closing her eyes and purring “Besame Mucho” into a mic at an open-air club. Instantly smitten, Chico follows Rita to the Tropicana Club. The owners piano man is sick, and when Chico is recruited to fill the empty piano stool, it’s clear how talented he is, and in no time at all, he and Rita team up to win a talent contest on a radio station and a lucrative contract. They even have a hit record, masterminded by a breezy con man named Ramon, who dedicates himself to managing them. Life takes them to New York and a hit record, but the faithless Chico loses Rita to the company of a slickster Yankee named Ron, who gets her a few good bookings before she blows a Vegas gig by being drunk onstage.
“Chico & Rita” is an animated valentine to Cuba and its music. Rita’s songs are performed by Cuban singer Idania Valdés, the daughter of Buena Vista Social Club’s percussionist Amadito Valdés. Chico and Rita also mingle with real-life legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk and the great Cuban conga player Chano Pozo, a crucial figure in the era’s mixing of styles and genres. Pozo died a violent death in Harlem in 1948, an event that injects a jolt of surreal gangster brutality into “Chico & Rita.”
The movie was directed by Fernando Trueba, a filmmaker responsible for the 2000 documentary on Latin/Cuban-jazz “Calle 54”; Javier Mariscal, a Spanish artist and designer; and Tono Errando. Mariscal also created the film’s bold modern look. Cuban musician Bebo Valdés, one of the featured players in “Calle 54,” handled the music, scoring and composing. He also stepped in to perform Chico’s musical numbers. Bebo Valdés, the great Cuban-born pianist, composer and bandleader (now 93) is also the physical and biographical inspiration for Chico. Valdés worked for years at Havana’s Tropicana Club, and both played for and orchestrated songs for the likes of Woody Herman, Dizzy Gillespie and the many other jazz greats whose stylings grace the movie’s soundtrack.
Mariscal uses the color palette to set the mood as the star-crossed pair make their way through various cities: We see Havana in its pre-Fidel days of big spenders, New York in the heyday of jazz, Paris when foreign musicians were hot, Vegas in its early golden years. Architecture, neon signs and big classic American cars are all done with brio and abandon. Havana is rich with strong colors on an earthy background, New York is monochromatic, Paris is almost as gray, Hollywood is dry and desert bright, Las Vegas awash in neon and night.
“Chico & Rita,” is a reminder not only of the aesthetic vitality of hand-drawn, two-dimensional animation, but also of the form’s ability to provide entertainment and enlightenment for adults. A costume drama or a documentary would not have been as charming or as surprising.The music however, is really one of the stars of this film. It truly works to transport you to another place.
CHICO AND RITA: Directed by Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal and Tono Errando; written by Mr. Trueba and Ignacio Martínez de Pisón; animation direction by Manolo Galiana; edited by Arnau Quiles; music by Bebo Valdés, songs performed by Mr. Valdés, Idania Valdés, Estrella Morente, Freddy Cole, Jimmy Heath, Pedrito Martínez, Michael Phillip Mossman, Amadito Valdés, Germán Velazco, Yaroldi Abreu and Rolando Luna; produced by Christina Huete, Santi Errando, Martin Pope and Michael Rose; released by GKIDS and Luma Films. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH THE VOICES OF: Limara Meneses (Rita), Emar Xor Oña (Chico) and Mario Guerra (Ramón).
With 11 nominations and five wins for Hugo at the 2012 Oscars, Martin Scorsese remains one of the most influential directors in Hollywood. But what influenced him? Here’s an A-Z list of the films that mattered to Scorsese (in other words, the films you need to see to be the film expert you think you are).
Interviewing Martin Scorsese is like taking a master class in film. Fast Company’s four-hour interview with the director for the December-January cover story was ostensibly about his career, and how he had been able to stay so creative through years of battling studios. But the Hugo director punctuated everything he said with references to movies: 85 of them, in fact, all listed below.
Some of the movies he discussed (note: the descriptions for these are below in quotes, denoting his own words). Others he just mentioned (noted below with short plot descriptions and no quotes.) But the cumulative total reflects a life lived entirely within the confines of movie making, from his days as a young asthmatic child watching a tiny screen in Queens, New York to today, when Scorsese is as productive as he’s ever been in his career–and more revered than ever by the industry that once regarded him as a troublesome outsider. Hugo leads the Academy Award nominations with 11 nods, including Best Picture and Best Director. Several Oscar pundits believe he’ll nab his second Directing win. If so, he owes a lot to movies like the ones below.
Ace in the Hole: “This Billy Wilder film was so tough and brutal in its cynicism that it died a sudden death at the box office, and they re-released it under the title Big Carnival, which didn’t help. Chuck Tatum is a reporter who’s very modern–he’ll do anything to get the story, to make up the story! He risks not only his reputation, but also the life of this guy who’s trapped in the mine.” 1951
All That Heaven Allows: In this Douglas Sirk melodrama, Rock Hudson plays a gardener who falls in love with a society widow played by Jane Wyman. Scandale! 1955
America, America: Drawn directly from director Elia Kazan’s family history, this film offers a passionate, intense view of the challenges faced by Greek immigrants at the end of the 19th century. 1963
An American in Paris: This Vincente Minnelli film, with Gene Kelly, picked up the idea of stopping within a film for a dance from The Red Shoes. 1951
Apocalypse Now: This Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece is from a period when directors like Brian DePalma, John Milius, Paul Schrader, Scorsese and others had great freedom—freedom that they then lost. 1979
Arsenic and Old Lace: Scorsese is a big fan of many Frank Capra movies, and this Cary Grant vehicle is one of several that he’s enjoyed with his family at his office screening room. 1944
The Bad and the Beautiful: Vincente Minnelli directed this film about a cynical Hollywood mogul trying to make a comeback. It stars Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon and Dick Powell. 1952
The Band Wagon: “It’s my favorite of the Vincente Minnelli musicals. I love the storyline that combines Faust and a musical comedy, and the disaster that results. Tony Hunter, the lead character played by Fred Astaire, is a former vaudeville dancer whose time has passed, and who’s trying to make it on Broadway, which is a very different medium of course. By the time the movie was made, the popularity of the Astaire/Rogers films had waned, raising the question of what are you going to do with Fred Astaire in Technicolor? So, really, Tony Hunter is Fred Astaire–his whole reputation is on the line, and so was Fred Astaire’s.” 1953
Born on the Fourth of July: Produced by Universal Pictures under Tom Pollock and Casey Silver, this Tom Cruise movie (directed by Oliver Stone) was an example of how that studio “wanted to make special pictures,” says Scorsese. 1989
Cape Fear: As he once explained to Stephen Spielberg over dinner in Tribeca, one of Scorsese’s fears about directing a remake of this film was that, “The original was so good. I mean, you’ve got Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen, it’s terrific!” 1962
Cat People: Simone Simon plays a woman who fears that she might turn into a panther and kill. It sounds corny, but the psychological thrills that directors Jacques Tourneur got out of his measly $150,000 budget make this a fascinating movie, with amazing lighting. 1942
Caught: “There are certain styles I had trouble with at first, like some of Max Ophuls’ films. It took me till I was into my thirties to get The Earrings of Madame de…, for example. But I didn’t have trouble with this one, which I saw in a theater and which is kind of based on Howard Hughes [protagonist of The Aviator].” 1949
Citizen Kane: “Orson Welles was a force of nature, who just came in and wiped the slate clean. And Citizen Kane is the greatest risk-taking of all time in film. I don’t think anything had even seen anything quite like it. The photography was also unlike anything we’d seen. The odd coldness of the filmmaker towards the character reflects his own egomania and power, and yet a powerful empathy for all of them—it’s very interesting. It still holds up, and it’s still shocking. It takes storytelling and throws it up in the air.” 1941
The Conversation: Gene Hackman stars in this thrilled directed by Scorsese’s friend, Francis Ford Coppola. It’s a classic example of stuido risk-taking in the early 1970s. 1974
Dial M for Murder: When discussing the creation of Hugo, Scorsese referred to this Hitchcock film as an example of other directors who have tangled with 3-D over the years. In its original release most theaters only showed it in 2-D; now the 3-D version pops up in theaters from time to time.1954
Do The Right Thing: Spike Lee’s film was the kind of risky production that drew Scorsese to Universal Pictures when it was run by Casey Silver and Tom Pollack. “Then Pollock left,” says Scorsese, “and it all changed.” 1989
Duel in the Sun: Scorsese went to see this movie, which some critics called “Lust in the Dust”, when he was 4 years old. Jennifer Jones falls hard for a villainous Gregory Peck in this lush King Vidor picture. A poster of the movie hangs in Scorsese’s offices. 1946
The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse: Rex Ingram made this movie, in which Rudolph Valentino dances the tango. Ingram stopped making films when sound came in. Michael Powell’s father worked for Ingram; living in that milieu gave Michael the cultural knowledge that informed his own movies like The Red Shoes. 1921
Europa ’51: “After making The Flowers of St. Francis, Rossellini asked, what would a modern day saint be like? I think they based it on Simone Weil, and Ingird Bergman played the part. It really takes everything we’re dealing with today, whether it’s revolutions in other countries or people trying to change their lifestyles, and it’s all there in that film. The character tries everything, because she has a tragedy in her family that really changes her, so she tries politics and even working in a factory, and in the end it has a very moving resolution.” [Also known as The Greatest Love] 1952
Faces: “[Director John] Cassavetes went to Hollywood to shoot films like A Child is Waiting and Too Late Blues, and after Too Late Blues he became disenchanted. Those of us in the New York scene, we kept asking, “What’s Cassavetes doing? What’s he up to?” And he was shooting this film in his house in L.A. with his wife Gena Rowlands and his friends. And when Faces showed at the New York Film Festival, it absolutely trumped everything that was shown at the time. Cassavetes is the person who ultimately exemplifies independence in film.” 1968
The Fall of the Roman Empire: One of the last “sandal epics,” this sweeping Anthony Mann picture boasted a stellar cast of Sophia Loren, Anthony Boyd, James Mason, Alec Guinness, Christopher Plummer and Anthony Quayle. And it failed miserably at the box office. 1964
The Flowers of St. Francis: “This Rossellini movie and Europa ’51 are two of the best films about the part of being human that yearns for something beyond the material. Rossellini used real monks for this movie. It’s very simple and beautiful.” 1950
Force of Evil: Another picture that defined the American gangster image, this noir stars John Garfield as the evil older brother whose younger sibling won’t join his numbers-running conglomerate. 1948
Forty Guns: Barbara Stanwyck stars in this Sam Fuller Western. She plays a bad-ass cattle rancher with a soft spot for a local lawman. 1957
Germany Year Zero: “Roberto Rossellini always felt he had an obligation to inform. He was the first one to do a story about compassion for the enemy, in this film–it’s always been hard to find, but now there’s a Criterion edition. It’s a very disturbing picture. He was the first one to go there after the war, to say we all have to live together. And he felt cinema was the tool that could do this, that could inform people.” 1948
Gilda: “I saw this when I was 10 or 11, I had some sort of funny reaction to her, I tell you! Me and my friends didn’t know what to do about Rita Hayworth, and we didn’t really understand what George McCready was doing to her. Can you imagine? Gilda at age 11. But that’s what we did. We went to the movies.” 1946
The Godfather: “Gordon Willis did the same dark filming trick on The Godfather as he had done on Klute. And now audiences accepted it, and went along with it, and every director of photography and now every director of photography of the past 40 years owes him the greatest debt, for changing the style completely–until now, of course, with the advent of digital.” 1972
Gun Crazy: A romantic example of film noir, this one features a gun-toting husband and a sharp-shooting wife. 1950
Health: This Altman movie came out at the same time as King of Comedy. They were both flops, and we were both out. The age of the director was over. E.T. was a very big worldwide hit around then, and that changed the whole business of film finance. 1980
Heaven’s Gate: Scorsese was with United Artists in the 70s, with producers he describes as ”understanding and supportive.” Heaven’s Gate, one of the ambitious films UA backed at the time, was a critical and box office bomb, although its reputation has improved over the years. 1980
House of Wax: This was the first 3-D movie produced by a major American studio. It starred Vincent Price as a wax sculptor whose sourcing was, shall we say, unusual. 1953
How Green Was My Valley: “I appreciate the visual poetry of [director John] Ford’s film, like in the famous scene where Maureen O’Hara is married and the wind blows the veil on her head. It’s absolute poetry. No words. It’s all there in the image.” 1941
The Hustler: Scorsese liked the Paul Newman character (Eddie Felson) in this movie so much that when Newman came calling about a possible update of the movie, he agreed to direct The Color of Money. He says the movie’s box office success helped rehabilitate his career after a tough slog. 1961
I Walk Alone: One of several movies that Scorsese says clearly defined the American gangster ideal, this one stars Burt Lancaster and the smoldering Lizabeth Scott. 1948
The Infernal Cakewalk: One of the many George Melies movies that have been restored and can now be seen on DVD. Melies, a French director of silent films, is at the center of the plot of Hugo. 1903
It Happened One Night: “I didn’t think much of this Frank Capra film, until I saw it recently on the big screen. And I discovered it was a masterpiece! The body language of Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, the way they related–it’s really quite remarkable.” 1934
Jason and the Argonauts: As part of his film education of his daughter, Scorsese screened a bunch of Ray Harryhausen classics, including this one. 1963
Journey to Italy: “After Rossellini married Ingrid Bergman he wiped the slate clean and left Neo-Realism behind. Instead he made these intimate stories that had a great deal to do with a certain intellectual mysticism, a sense of cultural power. In Viaggio [Viaggio in Italia is the Italian title], for example, the English couple played by George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman are traveling in Naples on vacation while marriage is faling apart, but the land around them—the people the museums, and especially their visit to Pompeii, these thousands of years of culture around them—work on them like a modern miracle. The film is basically two people in a car, and that became the entire New Wave. Kids may not have seen this film, but it’s basically in all the independent film of today.” 1954
Julius Caesar: “This is another example of Orson Welles’ risktaking, with Caesar’s crew as out-and-out gangsters.” 1953
Kansas City: “This is one of the great jazz movies ever. If you could hang on with Altman, you were going to go on one of the great rides of your lives.” 1996
Kiss Me Deadly: A great example of the noir genre that so inspired Scorsese. This one stars Ralph Meeker as detective Mike Hammer. 1955
Klute: “There are movies that change the whole way in which films are made, like Klute, where Gordon Willis’s photography on the film is so textured, and, they said, too dark. At first this was alarming to people, because they’re used to a certain way things are done within the studio system. And the studio is selling a product, so they were wary of people thinking that it’s too dark.” 1971
La Terra Trema: This Lucchino Visconti film is one of the founding films of Neo-Realism. 1948
The Lady from Shanghai: “The story goes that Welles had to make a film and he was in this railway station, and there were some paperbacks there and he was talking to Harry Cohn of Columbia and he said look, I’ve got the greatest film it’s called Lady from Shanghai, which was this paperback he saw there. And then he made up this story, taking elements of Moby Dick, where he talks about the sharks, and the whole mirror sequence in that picture is unsurpassed. I don’t know if Lady is a noir, but it’s awkward, and it’s brilliant.” 1947
The Leopard: “Visconti and Rossellini and deSica were the founders of Neo-Realism. Visconti went a different way from Rossellini. He made this movie, which is one of the greatest films ever made.” 1963
Macbeth: “This was the first Welles movie I saw, on television. He shot it in 27 days. The look of it, the Celtic barbarism, the Druid priest, this was all very different from other Macbeth productions I’d seen. The use of superimpositions, the effigies at the beginning of the film—it was more like cinema than theatre. Anything Welles did, given his background in radio, was a big risk. Macbeth is an audacious film, set in Haiti of all places.” 1948
The Magic Box: “There were a number of people who felt that they had invented moving pictures. Robert Donat plays William Friese-Greene, one of those people, who’s obsessed from childhood with movement and color. Donat was a great actor. And this is a beautifully done film.” 1951
M*A*S*H: “I saw it at a press screening. That was the first football game I ever understood. Altman developed this style that came out of his life and making television movies, it was so unique–and his movies seemed to come out every two weeks.” 1972
A Matter of Life and Death: “This is another beautiful film by Powell and Pressburger, but it was made after World War II, so people said, ‘You can’t use the word ‘Death’ in the title!’ So it got changed to Stairway to Heaven, that’s what it was called in America. Now it’s A Matter of Life and Death again.” 1946
McCabe & Mrs. Miller: “This is an absolute masterpiece. Altman could shoot quickly and get the very best actors.” 1971
The Messiah: “Rossellini’s last film in this third period, the last film he made before he died, is this beautiful TV film on Jesus. He had planned on making more such films, like one on Karl Marx. He thought TV was the way to reach young people, to educate them. But then of course TV changed.” 1975
Midnight Cowboy: One of the great movies released by UA in its glory days, starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. 1969
Mishima: Scorsese describes this Paul Schrader film about the great Japanese author as a “masterpiece.” 1985
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town: In this Frank Capra movie, one of several that Scorsese has screened for his family, Gary Cooper plays a small-town boy who inherits a fortune–and a bevy of big-city sharpies that he can’t quite contend with. 1936
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: Jimmy Stewart stars in this Capra movie, one of the all-time greats, which features a dramatic filibuster. 1939
Nashville: “Altman had a point of view that was uniquely American and an artistic vision to go with it. All his early work pointed to this movie.” 1975
Night and the City: “It’s the essential British noir film. Harry Fabien, played by Richard Widmark, is a two-bit hustler running through the London underworld at night, and he always oversteps, particularly with the gangster played by Herbert Lom. From the very beginning you know Fabien’s going to fail, because he’s up against a power he doesn’t understand. 1950
One, Two, Three: A classic Billy Wilder comedy, starring James Cagney as a Coca-Cola exec in West Berlin. The dialogue crackles. 1961
Othello: “It took (Orson Welles) years to finish this. There were tons of quick cuts, and there’s a wonderful sequence where two people are attacked in a Turkish bath, and it works beautifully. They’re wearing towels, and one is dispatched under the boards. It has a strange North African whiteness. It turns out that he was ready to do the sequence, and the costumes didn’t show up. So he said, let’s put it in a Turkish bath. He had the actors there! He had to shoot it!” 1952
Paisan: “This is my all-time favorite of the Rossellini films.” 1946
Peeping Tom: “Michael Powell himself gambled everything on Peeping Tom and lost in such a way that his career was really ended. The film was so shocking to some British critics and the audience because he had some sympathy, sort of, for the the serial killer. And the killer had the audacity to photograph the killing of the women with a motion picture camera, which of course tied in the motion picture camera as an object of voyeurism, implicating all of us watching horror films. He was reviled. One critic said this should be flushed down the toilet. He only got one or two more movies done. He really disappeared. And now in England there are cameras watching everyone all over the street.” 1960
Pickup on South Street: Richard Widmark picks the wrong purse in this classic noir, unwittingly setting off a series of events that come to a violent climax. 1953
The Player: “In the years before this movie, the age of the director who had a free hand came to an end. And yet Altman kept experimenting with different kinds of actor, different approaches to narrative, different equipment, until finally he hit it with this movie, which took him off onto a whole other level.” 1992
The Power and the Glory: “Directed by William K. Howard and written by Preston Sturges, it had a structure that Mankiewicz and Welles used for Citizen Kane.” 1933
Stagecoach: “Welles drew from everywhere. The ceilings and the interiors in John Ford’s classic western inspired him for Citizen Kane.” 1939
Raw Deal: NOT the Arnold Schwarzenegger pic. This one’s a noir directed by Anthony Mann, starring Dennis O’Keefe and Claire Trevor. 1948
The Red Shoes: “There’s something so rich and powerful about the story, and the use of the color, that it deeply affected me when I was nine or ten years old. The archness of the approach, and how serious the ballet dancers were … When they say, “The spotlight toujours on moi,” they mean it! The ballet sequence is almost like the first rock video. It’s almost as if you’re seeing what the dancer sees and hears and feels as she’s moving. It’s like in Raging Bull, where we never went outside the ring for the fighting sequences.” 1948
The Rise of Louis XIV: “In the third part of his career, Rossellini decided to make an encyclopedia, a series of didactic films. This is the first film in that series, and it’s an artistic masterpiece. He shot it in 16mm for TV, and called it anti-dramatic. Yet, I screen it once every couple of years, and when you look at frames of it on the big screen there are shots that just look like paintings. Rossellini couldn’t get away from it, he had an artist’s eye. There’s nothing like the last ten minutes of that film to show the accumulation and the display of power. It’s not done through the sword or the speech, it’s done through the theatre he created around him with his clothes, his food, the way he eats. It’s extraordinary.” 1966
The Roaring Twenties: James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart star in this homage to the gangsters of the 1920s. It was one of the many great films made in 1939 (like Gone with the Wind, The Women, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Stagecoach and many many more.) 1939
Rocco and his Brothers: “This Visconti film was also a major influence on filmmakers.” 1960
Rome, Open City: “I saw Italian movies as a 5-year-old, on a 16-inch TV my father bought. We were living in Queens. There were only three stations. One station showed Italian films on Friday night for the Italian-American community, subtitled, and the family would gather to see the films. My grandparents were there—they were the ones who moved over in 1910. So it became a ritual. [Director Roberto] Rossellini had an intellectual approach.” 1945
Secrets of the Soul: “This was a silent movie whose flashback structure was unlike anything else. Secrets of the Soul looked almost experimental.” 1912
Senso: “An extraordinary film by Visconti, another Neo-Realist masterpiece.”
Shadows: “I saw Shadows at the 8th Street Playhouse [in Manhattan], and when I saw such a direct communication with the human experience, of conflict and love, it was almost as if there was no camera there at all. And I love camera positions! But this was like you were living with the people.” 1959
Shock Corridor: A wild Sam Fuller movie about a journalist who enters an insane asylum to try to break a story. 1963
Some Came Running: This Vincent Minnelli melodrama is definitely not a musical. It’s a tough story about an alcoholic Army vet returning home. It stars Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine. 1958
Stromboli: “This too was a very important film of Rossellini’s second period. Very beautiful.” [During the shooting of Stromboli, the star, Ingrid Bergman, who was married to an American dentist, got pregnant with Rossellini’s child. She divorced the dentist, and became persona non grata in America]. 1950
Sullivan’s Travels: “Billy Wilder told me, you’re only as good as your last picture. Sullivan, played by Joel McRae, is in the studio system, under that kind of pressure. He makes comedies, but one day he decides he really wants to make ‘Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?’ He puts it all on the line to learn about the poor. The resolution of the movie is very moving.” 1941
Sweet Smell of Success: Like Ace in the Hole, this classic noir is about an unethical journalist who will stop at nothing to get his way. Burt Lancaster plays the journalist. 1957
Tales of Hoffman: “This was a great risk for Powell and Pressburger. In fact, they lost it on that. He had in mind a composed film like a piece of music, and played the music back on set during the shooting, so the actors moved in a certain way.” 1951
The Third Man: “Carroll Reed made one of those films where everything came together. It made me see, with Kane, that there was another way of interpreting stories, and another approach to the visual frame of the classical films…all those low shots, and the cuts.” 1949
T-Men: Another Anthony Mann noir with great cinematography, this one’s about Department of Treasury men breaking up a counterfeiting ring. 1947
Touch of Evil: “Welles’ radio career with the Mercury Theater made him a master of the soundtrack. Just listen to this movie–you can close your eyes and imagine everything that is happening. (Young people should listen to the radio soundtrack of War of the Worlds, which was so effective that people got in their cars and started to drive away, because they really believed that Martians were attacking.)
The Trial: “This is another film that gave us a new way of looking at films. You’re very aware of the camera, like when Anthony Perkins came running down this corridor of wooden slats and light cutting the image, blades and shafts of light, talk about paranoia!” 1962
Two Weeks in Another Town: The Vincente Minnelli movie stars Cyd Charisse, Kirk Douglas, and Edward G. Robinson. It’s a classic 1960s melodrama. 1962
This piece by Rick Tetzeli appeared in FastCompany/Co-Create