Flags of Our Fathers

Flags of Our FathersFlags of Our Fathers: the back-and-forth structure muddies the story of this film (of one of the iconic images of its century); it is, nevertheless, a delicate war movie which avoids the typical jingoistic tone as it portrays the hell of war (not only the combat, but also ancillary aspects of it). Clint Eastwood extracts subtle performances from his cast; but other than the main group, most of the other characters are virtually undistinguishable (even physically, which aggravates the confusion created by the structure). His score, moody and simple, fits the film quite well. The war scenes are well-shot by Tom Stern, but the desaturated palette makes them somewhat unattractive.

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Il Sorpasso

Il SorpassoIl Sorpasso: in some ways, an archetypical road movie; Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant play the odd couple perfectly (particularly the former), making the whole journey very entertaining and interesting to watch; at the same time, it’s not simply comedy for comedy’s sake, as there is great care for the all the people in the film, not simply the main characters. Dino Risi makes great use of the locations, both the eerily empty Rome and the enchanting countryside; Alfio Contini’s camera work, of course, is an important factor in that. Music also plays an important role, both the original soundtrack and the songs.

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Red River (1948)

Red RiverRed River: Howard Hawks (I wrote about my appreciation of his work before) weaves a great tale; it contains elements which are very particular about the place and time (the hardships of that life, the arrival of civilization) and also universal (the indomitable human spirit, sense of honor and companionship). It’s also, more relevantly, supremely entertaining; it has both tight action scenes and lots of low-key funny moments. The flawless cast is a big reason for that: a great gallery of character actors, led by the peerless Walter Brennan. However, Montgomery Clift and John Wayne are also impressive in their roles. Music, as is usually the case in Hawks’ films, is very important, and Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is a joy to listen to. Visually, there are no frills, just a great sense of efficiency both in the camera work and editing.

To be clear, this film is near the top of the list of my favorite films of all time.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the GalaxyGuardians of the Galaxy: James Gunn’s film is very entertaining, thanks to the light tone (it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but doesn’t fall into parody territory) and the inspired choice of soundtrack. The relentless pace (the action scenes are varied and efficient) hides somewhat the fact that the story is formulaic (and suffers from an excessive number of villains and/or antagonists, not allowing most of them to feel well-developed), but still gives enough space for the characters to display an attractive banter and relationships. Visually, the film is well-done; only the character design is mostly lacking (since they don’t go much further than a neon-colored skin). The obvious exceptions are Rocket and Groot, also the best characters in the film, grounded on good voice acting by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. In fact, the five central characters and well-played by the cast, and they bring some heart to the proceedings.

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Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

Investigation of a Citizen Above SuspicionInvestigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion: Elio Petri’s film certainly is politically charged and courageous; very much a product of its time and place, thematically. Gian Maria Volonté creates a character that is unpleasant to watch, but at least is interesting; his acting is borderline histrionic, but that’s part of the aesthetics chosen to tell the story, alongside Ennio Morricone’s stylized score, Luigi Kuveiller’s interesting camera work and Ruggero Mastroianni’s editing (all a reminder that the story is a satire, should not be taken too seriously, even if the message is important for the filmmaker.)

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The Freshman (1925)

The FreshmanThe Freshman: the strongest aspect in Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor’s film is the character created by Harold Lloyd; he is very relatable common man, with desires and fears that all know, unremarkable in every sense except how he is remarkably like someone the viewer knows. The story, simple and sweet, is not just a bridge between comedic set pieces, but something well-conceived. That said, the film is very funny, showcasing Lloyd’s physicality.

(While it’s not a piece of the original film, Carl Davis’ score, used by the Criterion Collection in its recent Blu-ray and DVD release, is great and fits the film like a glove.)

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Umberto D.

Umberto DUmberto D.: the simplicity of Vittorio De Sica’s film begins in its title; it presents the focus of the story without any shred of a doubt. It’s not the story of its time and place, but of the central character (who happens to live in that time and place). Carlo Battisti plays him with touching simplicity, and makes the connection all the more powerful for it. The result is a very emotional and humane journey. G.R. Aldo’s camerawork is unadorned, but far from dull; Alessandro Cicognini’s score is a thing of beauty.

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Game of Thrones – Season 4

Game of Thrones S4Game of Thrones – Season 4: much has been written already about the production values of this series (it remains great; locations, set and costume design are top-notch once more) and the violence (this season saw an increase of it; by now it became expected and lost its shock value, as did the liberal use of nudity). While the series continue to pull-off the trick, mostly, of juggling an almost inordinate gallery of characters and story-lines (most of which should be seen more, some less), the simple fact that at its center this season was the most interesting character being played by the best actor of the generally strong cast (Peter Dinklage) makes this the strongest season so far. Also making a powerful impression was Rory McCann.

Read also: Game of Thrones – Season 3

Game of Thrones – Season 2

Game of Thrones – Season 1

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I Married a Witch

I Married a WitchI Married a Witch: while the high concept of René Clair’s romantic comedy is interesting enough, and the central characters are attractingly played by Veronica Lake and Fredrich March, this film unfurls too quickly, too suddenly for it to be fully enjoyable. There are certainly many interesting moments, but the story seems almost an afterthought. Visually, the film has a cute solution on how to present the characters, which match perfectly the overall feeling.

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Safety Last!

Safety LastSafety Last!: while this film has just a sliver of a plot, what matters the most is that the character played by Harold Lloyd is both engaging and relatable; a common man with some of the physical prowess of Buster Keaton and the mischief of Charlie Chaplin, but somehow still quite unique. Nevertheless, the set piece at the center of this film is what makes this iconic; extremely well-done (shot and edited beautifully), taking turns being hilarious and thrilling (quite often, both at the same time).

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