Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) English 9

Starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman

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(9-Great Film)

Idiosyncratic. Appealing. Frenetic.

An implosive and lonely bathroom supply salesman, Barry (Sandler), constantly bullied by his seven sisters, finds love when he meets one of those sister’s coworker, Lena (Watson). It’s probably too strange for the mainstream, and some might find its peculiar soundtrack grating, but this is a great movie. The movement, that soundtrack, and the suspense of watching an always on-edge Sandler give the film a sense of energy and a tone sustained to the end. I think it’s the best depiction of the anxiety and desperation that can sometimes come with love.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


La Notte (1961, Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni) Italian 8

Starring Jeanne Moreau, Marcello Mastroianni, Monica Vitti, Bernhard Wicki, Maria Pia Luzi

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Bleak. Beautiful. Brooding.

La Notte, Antonioni’s mood piece, seems influenced as much by jazz music as by any film that came before it. The plot, if one exists, is irrelevant. The dialogue is almost exclusively small talk and the characters, specifically, the two leads, unhappily married couple, Lidia (Moreau) and Giovanni (Mastroianni), seem to consistently circumvent what it is they mean to say. Their story is told over the course of a night, beginning with a visit to a dying friend, and ending with a dubious reconciliation, and dubious reconciliation is actually my optimistic reading. A more negative view of the finale in which husband and wife talk, at last, would be to note that the wife is attempting to speak honestly and the husband is in denial. You could say that his kissing her in the end, rather than being romantic, is him willfully ignoring her. The entire film drifts through, a beautiful malaise. I look forward to revisiting La Notte at some point down the line.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Nightfall (1957, Directed by Jacques Tourneur) English 8

Starring Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft, Brian Keith, Rudy Bond, Frank Albertson, Jocelyn Brando, James Gregory

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Taut. Spare. Expert.

Average Joe James Vanning (Ray) might know where some money is hidden; money stolen from a bank. An insurance investigator, Ben Fraser’s (Gregory), been following him for months now, and things escalate when two men from Vanning’s past catch up to him-the two men who actually robbed the bank, John (Keith) and Red (Bond). Anne Bancroft plays the femme fatale turned angel who takes it on the lam with Vanning. This is a terrific film. The plot, structure, characterizations, acting are all first-rate in what I think was considered a B-film. Aldo Ray, who I was previously unfamiliar with, has a very easy going demeanor that belies the situations he’s put in throughout this film, and it doesn’t seem forced. He’s a natural. The villains-the two criminals on Vanning’s tale-are excellent; cold-blooded and menacing, sadistic at times. At roughly 80 minutes, Nightfall is a masterclass on economy of time and gripping from start to finish.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Get Carter (2000, Directed by Stephen Kay) English 5

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Mickey Rourke, Miranda Richardson, Michael Caine, Alan Cumming, Rachel Leigh Cook, John C. McGinley

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(5-Okay Film)

Tame. Misguided. Inferior.

The original Get Carter is a classic British gangster film: raw, relentless, bleak, and brutal. Michael Caine starred as Jack Carter, a gangster out for revenge on his brother’s murderers. As portrayed by Caine, Carter was nearly as ruthless as the “bad guys,” cold and methodical. Stallone’s Carter is a big softy. That’s not to criticize his performance. Stallone is quite good in this role, but the filmmakers or writers or whoever decided to water down the material. It’s as if Get Carter was remade by people who didn’t even like the original. Instead of raw, gritty filmmaking, we get polished, overly-stylized filming here, and instead of a morally ambiguous hero, we get a righteous mob enforcer. Maybe if they had just called it a different name, severed its ties to the original, this film might have had a chance. We know that Stallone is very compelling in these roles, but this Get Carter is wildly inferior.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Manchurian Candidate (1962, Directed by John Frankenheimer) English 10

Starring Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Henry Silva

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Raw. Gripping. Brilliant.

Political thriller about a group of soldiers returning to the States after a harrowing campaign in the Korea War. But Captain Marco (Sinatra) starts to doubt his own memories and understanding of what took place overseas, and all signs point to brainwashing. Soon Captain Marco finds a major Government conspiracy that involves turning soldiers into helpless killing machines, and Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Harvey), son of Svengali-like Senator’s wife Eleanor Iselin (Lansbury), is at the heart of it. Communist paranoia at its finest, as well as a razor-sharp satire of the McCarthy era, this is such a fine film. Gripping, odd, suspenseful, layered. A masterpiece of its genre.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Gosford Park (2000, Directed by Robert Altman) English 10

Starring Clive Owen, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Richard E. Grant, Kristen Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Kelly Macdonald, Emily Watson, Stephen Fry, Derek Jacobi

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Intricate. Masterful. Witty.

It’s 1930’s England. Sir William McCordle is throwing together a hunting party and the list of invitees include friends and enemies alike, though there’s little distinction between the two in his case. Soon he is dead, and we’re left with a good old fashioned whodunit, but this is a Robert Altman film, so it’s a little bit more. Full of amusing characters (Maggie Smith’s subtly insulting dame, chief among them). Filled to the brim with secrets. This is an odd whodunit where none of the characters in the film actually care who killed the victim, and a murder mystery film that invites multiple viewings and improves with time. Written by Julian Fellowes who went on to great heights with Downton Abbey, another take on the upstairs-downstairs dynamic of Old English life.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Bridge of Spies (Directed by Steven Spielberg, 2015) English 7

Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Austin Stowell

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(7-Very Good Film)

Polished. Expert. Absorbing.

Sophisticated, if somewhat glossy spy thriller starring Tom Hanks in classic good guy form as a lawyer who must defend a known Russian spy during the height of the Cold War. Mark Rylance plays the Russian spy and his deadpan demeanor gradually becomes endearing. The second act of the film where Hanks goes to East Germany to broker a deal is phenomenal, while the rest of the film is a little too sentimental.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-