The Wicker Man (1973, Directed by Robin Hardy) English 10

Starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt

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Righteous, determined Seargeant Howie (Woodward) comes to Summerisle, an island inhabited by a pagan religious cult, to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Tempted and repulsed by the people who deny the girl even have existed, Howie finds it increasingly difficult to think straight. Horror icon, Christopher Lee plays Lord Summerisle , King of the heathen island. Thoroughly bizarre and mysterious, The Wicker Man boasts one memorable sequence after another. Edward Woodward, with his theatrical delivery of the lines, is spectacular, and in other circumstances would make a perfect hero. Here though, there seems to be no hope at all, and the end is suitably devastating. Beautifully shot, written, and performed. At times hilarious and shocking, and I loved the outlandish musical numbers. I could see this film influencing David Lynch, especially his series, Twin Peaks.

Phantom Thread (2017, Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) English 10

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Camilla Rutherford, Brian Gleeson

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Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a world famous designer. Like many great artist, he sacrifices all else in favor of his craft. He needs everything to be just so, and the opening reveals, how this forces the women from his life. Then one day, he meets Alma (Krieps), and while Alma too marvels at Woodcock’s work,¬† where other women were pushed away, she gradually begins to push back. Paul Thomas Anderson, who hit the ground running with Hard Eight and Boogie Nights, has, over the years, has grown more enigmatic and opaque with his work. I’m sure there will be several essays deciphering what exactly is going on between Woodcock and Alma (and the indomitable sister, Cyril, looming over the picture, played expertly by Lesley Manville). I saw, in the end, a strong male figure who ultimately wants to be mothered, with the ghost of his departed mother casting a shadow over his life and work. It becomes nearly masochistic by the end. What’s clear and indisputable, however, is the skill involved, both in front of behind the camera. The film, for large segments, becomes akin to one of Ingmar Bergman’s chamber plays, with three dominant characters stuck in a confined space, allowing their quirks to plays out. I also was reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, wherein Professor Henry Higgins takes a woman named Eliza Doolittle off the street, and attempts to mold her in the image of his liking. Only in Phantom Thread, Alma, unlike Eliza, does the final molding.

The Exorcist (1973, Directed by William Friedkin) English 10

Starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller

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A young girl, Regan (Blair), raised by her single mother, Chris (Burstyn), plays with a Ouija board. Not long after, Chris sees dramatic, inexplicable, terrifying changes in her once innocent daughter. Exhausting all other resources, Chris eventually turns to Father Damien (Miller), a priest and doctor working through spiritual doubt in his own life. Finding Regan to be possessed, Father Damien and a more experienced priest, Father Merrin (Von Sydow) set about her exorcism. An early standard bearer of the genre, many of its tactics have been borrowed across dozens of horror flicks, but rarely used as effectively as they are here. The Exorcist, aside from being genuinely thrilling and affecting, is an impeccably made film. From pacing to acting to its notorious special effects, the film remains an impressive horror classic. Beyond the evil and the fear of demons, the film is rooted in the horror of watching these terrible things happen to a little girl, and watching a loving mother at a loss to help her daughter.

Toy Story 3 (2010, Directed by Lee Unkrich) English 10

Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberger, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Timothy Dalton, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg, Blake Clark, Laurie Metcalf

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Andy’s grown up. It’s been ages since the heroes of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 have been played with. Most of the toys in Andy’s box are gone, and the ones that are left, led by Woody (Hanks) and Buzz (Allen), contemplate the next stage in their lives. With the dusty attic as their future, they find an alternative in a local day-care center, but the seemingly perfect center turns out to be more of a prison, and so the toys look to escape. Wonderful storytelling, dialogue, and animation as with all of the Toy Story movies. Woody and Buzz are classic film buddies and their exploits are unforgettable. There are some very funny new characters, mainly Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton), and the emotional ending is a perfect finish.

Paperman (2012, Directed by John Kahrs) English 10

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One of my favorite short films, Paperman tells a romantic story of a listless company man who meets his dream girl through a chance encounter. Separated before he can make a move, he later sees her across the street from his office building, and uses paper airplanes to try and reach her. The black-and-white animation is magnificent and integrated perfectly within the story. The triumphant idea is executed perfectly by Disney.

Little Women (1994, Directed by Gillian Armstrong) English 10

Starring Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Kirsten Dunst, Gabriel Byrne, Christian Bale, Trini Alvarado, Claire Danes, Eric Stoltz, Mary Wickes

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Adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, and probably the best adaptation, though there’s been several. The story of Jo March (Ryder) and her sisters, Meg, Beth, and Amy unfolds; their trials and moments of happiness detailed as the years pass. It’s simply a wonderful movie made from a wonderful book. We come to care for each distinct character, but especially the heroine, Jo. This adaptation boasts lavish visuals and a beautiful score. It also captures the joy and sadness of life’s constant passing as the March family perseveres.

Inglourious Basterds (2009, Directed by Quentin Tarantino) English 10

Starring Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, B.J Novak, Diane Kruger, Michael Myers, Eli Roth

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Unfolded in a lengthy episodic style, a renegade (or clandestine) group of Jewish soldiers led by Aldo “The Apache” Raine wreak havoc and vengeance on the Nazis during World War II time. Meanwhile, pure evil masquerades as a mischievous rogue in the form of Colonel Hans Landa (played brilliantly by Waltz in a star making turn). He’s coined the Jew hunter, and makes it his mission to track the Basterds down. With only a handful of scenes, the film’s 2 and half hour running time blows by. Each scene is a tour de force of verbal suspense, and the finest example of Tarantino’s unique gift. A fantastic cast fills out even the bit parts making every character memorable; Til Schweiger as Hugo Stiglitz for example. At the end, when Pitt’s character says, “I think this might just be my masterpiece,” I feel that it applies to Tarantino and this incredible film he wrote and directed.