Some More Movies

Politics being at the moment somewhere between boring and motionless, on the one hand, and terrifying and depressing on the other, So I crave some alternatives to politics — at least once in a while. Various people have thanked me for recommending movies that they enjoyed, so I’m gong to take some time here to do another little list–a lot shorter than my run-through of the 21st Century, and therefore I hope more accessible. Almost all are available from Netflix, with a few exceptions to stream from Amazon Prime.

The following are films about all of which I say the following: They are works of brilliance, originality, and in some cases genius. Above all, they are in one way or another, gripping, and mostly follow the classic rules of drama: unity of action, unity of place, and unity of time. And they are satisfying: they throw in no made-in-the-studio happy endings, but leave us seeing something that tells us its version of the truth.

For everyone, I think, some of them will also, due either due to age or lack of obvious notoriety, be unfamiliar. Thus there’s something for everyone here, and for all tastes.

1) The Red Shoes.

If you’re under 70, you probably never saw thus movie. If you are a couple, then for $390 you can sit in a close row of the New York City Ballet and enjoy beauty at its best. Or for the cost of Netflix (amounting to $3 per film), you can sit in front of your TV screen and watch Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes, along with several other truly great dancers of the time. From the Andersen fairy tale of that name, d. by Powell and Pressburger, the most creative British movie directors of that period.

2) The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Attack (1956)–the latter available on Amazon Prime.

Robert Aldrich was a great and unique director whose cinematic obsessions are first, contempt for officers and authorities as opposed to enlisted men and (male) victims of authority; and second, as in his best films, an unequaled ability at filming a climactic and desperate run against impossible odds. Of these two, the first is a classic, remade in one way or another several times, even by an all-female cast. It features football legend Jim Brown who must make the run through a field of fire to save the day. Attack is to my mind the best post-WWII film; the man by man charge of the doomed platoon down the hill, orchestrated by Jack Palance, is one of the great scenes in film history. See either of these films and you’ll be on the edge of your couch.

3) Red Desert, 1964

One of Antonioni’s greatest films. Visually one of the most stunning movies ever, but the beauty is in the service of a critique of industrial capitalism, the void at its heart, without any speeches or polemics. Can be seen over and over. Put it on a canvas big enough and call it “A Study in Red.” It would be one of the great works of art.

4) Chimes at Midnight (1966)

The greatest film adaption of Shakespeare, ever. None of that stiff RADA/National Theater presentation. Instead Orson Welles directs himself as Falstaff, rampaging drunkenly, desperately, and hopelessly, through all the House of Lancaster plays–Henry IV-VI. The height of cinematic tragedy. Wonderful.

5) Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A work of genius. George Romero created an entire genre: movies, television series, novels, comic books, even a network. By now it may seem old hat but for sheer spellbinding shock it’s never been equaled. And amplified by an underlying social critique that was novel for its time, and still resonates.

6) Medium Cool

Another work of genius. Haskell Wexler, a cinematographer by profession, inserted the story of a flaring love affair into authentic footage of the demonstration/rebellion/brutal police repression at the Democratic National Convention of 1968: As the batons flailed, delegates leaned out the windows above screaming, “The whole world is watching!” And it was. We were. How he did it so seamlessly? Well, that’s what genius is like, you can’t explain it.

7) The Conversation (1974)

I’ve recommended it before. Francis Ford Coppola made this film in between the Godfathers, and for me it’s his best, maybe the best film of the 70's–which I’d nominate as the best decade ever for American cinema. (Godfather, Mean Streets, Nashville, Taxi Driver, Chinatown…) A perfect film noir: quiet, almost silent, but never stops moving toward its cinematic climax.

8. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

John Carpenter’s second movie, before he became a horror-meister (Halloween, e.g.). Another work of, let’s call it, near-genius. A no-name cast, police and prisoners trapped in a under-manned precinct house, besieged and outnumbered by heavily-armed gangsters. Never lets up. The 2005 remake is ok, but continually over-elaborate. Keep it simple!

9. Speed (1994)

Sandra Bullock never disappoints. A passenger on a bus that’s carrying a time bomb, she takes over the wheel for the wounded driver and here we go: speed! An absurdly elaborate plot,, but an all-time thriller.

10. A Perfect Getaway (2009)

The Fifth Element (1997) an entertaining futurist sci-fi introduced American audiences to former super-model Milla Jovovich, who went from being Joan of Arc to to become the number-1 zombie fighter in the film universe. A Perfect Getaway is a kind of bookend, one of her rare “ordinary person” roles. As Wikipedia puts it, “Two pairs of lovers on a Hawaiian vacation discover that psychopaths are stalking and murdering tourists on the islands.”A can’t-put-it-down, a small, perfectly pitched film–but Jovovich is in it; watch out.

11). The Gauntlet (1977 ) and 16 Blocks (2006)

I’ve recommended these before, but can’t resist doing so again. A cop who’s a drunk and a loser, an assignment that he’s meant to fail: transporting a witness to a trial on behalf of his corrupt superiors who’ve arranged for his death.. Clint Eastwood directed and stars in the first, Bruce Willis is the doomed loser in the second. Both actors are utterly believable. As the witnesses scheduled for murder, Sondra Locke is wonderful in the first, Mos-Def in the second.

12 All Is Lost (2013)

J.C. Chandor made Margin Call (2011),which I consider the best film about the 2008 collapse of the global financial econom,y, (His father’s a banker!). All Is Lost is a different kind film, a unique nail-biter: In a movie without dialogue, a very aged Robert Redford is “a man stranded alone at sea, courageously battling a ferocious storm as he struggles to survive.” So authentic-feeling you fear for Redford’s life. Terrific.

13. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)

Written and directed by Elizabeth Littman. If Nomadsland was the Best Picture of 2020, then this was IMNVHO the second best, and unheralded. A 17-year-old pregnant girl, unable to get an abortion in Pennsylvania without parental consent, failed by one of those phony “counseling” agencies and her own futile attempt to induce a miscarriage, sets off for New York City with her cousing, who steals the cash two buy their bus tickets. This is a no-punches-pulled movie that is just mesmerizing–and a sort of paean to Planned Parenthood!

And finally, one for good measure:

14. Contagion (2011) To repeat: (2011)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, a a brilliantly structured medical thriller that, well, to quote: “…concerns the spread of a virus transmitted by respiratory droplets and fomites, attempts by medical researchers and public health officials to identify and contain the disease, the loss of social order in a pandemic, and the introduction of a vaccine to halt its spread.” Yes: see it!

Emeritus Professor of Gov’t, Smith College, Visiting Professor, The New School, Editorial Board, The Nation,