Must-Sees: July 2011

Sometimes we see movies that we wish that we could tell the whole world about.  Well, these are five such films that I think are all gems.  I suggest that you make it a point to see these by the end of the month since they are all completely worth your time.  Picnic at Hanging Rock and Black Narcissus are available for instant streaming on Netflix and Buried is probably offered in your local Redbox.

La Jetee (1962)

La Jetee or The Pier is said to be the inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s time-traveling sci-fi, 12 Monkeys.  It is a heart-pounding short film of about thirty minutes that will only show the core of its brilliance in the final seconds.  The rest of the movie incorporates sound effects in a frightening, fantastic way.  Those who love classic sci-fi and/or great surprise endings will enjoy Chris Marker’s masterpiece to the full.  La Jetee is a must-see for every film enthusiast.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

What appears on the surface as another chick flick about a girls boarding school soon becomes a rather ominous thriller.  So ominous that it establishes a rare, supernatural feeling that is hard to come by even in many sci-fi and horror films.  Weir and company have created something beautiful with scenic photography and seductive elegance.  Its innocence is marvelously disturbed by haunting danger.  The music is also a large part in the experience, building suspense and expressing the desires of its characters.  Hanging Rock is just too delightfully eerie to miss out on.

Buried (2010)

If Alfred Hitchcock was alive today, this is the type of films he’d be making.  It’s thrilling and intense, full of eye-opening suspense, and while boasting an incredible amount of varying camera angles.  The whole picture takes place underground in the coffin in which an innocent truck driver (Ryan Reynolds) is buried with nothing more than a phone and a lighter.  Reynolds is excellent in this darkly claustrophobic thriller.  Though it is contained in a very limited space, this film is intriguing and never boring for one second.

Black Narcissus (1947)

Black Narcissus is a picture of enchanting beauty and innocence disrupted by evil temptations.  It’s the story of five nuns struggling to keep their vows in the midst of servitude in the Himalayan mountains.  Excellent filmmaking is combined with director Michael Powell’s masterful cast.  Scenic beauty is captured in one of the most intoxicating ways in the history of film.  Deborah Kerr is superb in this colorful classic.

Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)

I would argue that this film contains Richard Dreyfuss’ finest performance to date.  His character is an inspired musician who fills his free time with composing… until he becomes the new music teacher at the local high school.  This one might be most special to me because my mother is also a high school music teacher.  Nonetheless, Mr. Holland’s Opus blends humor, great acting, and an unforgettably touching finale to create wonderful entertainment.

Film Review: The Red Balloon (1956)

For most American audiences the short film is a lost art form that was never found to begin with.  Though films festivals around the world as well as the Academy Awards recognize numerous films in this category each year, the general public hasn’t quite caught on.  But aspiring filmmakers of the craft need not worry, for their time is nearing.

With the invention of the Internet came several resources that made short films a more accessible art.  YouTube is one, users are provided with thousands of videos ranging from home-made movies to the pictures of Hollywood, and independent short films are among them.  (I myself have vitalized the site many times, the first of which I watched Vincent, a six-minute animated short which was Tim Burton’s first movie to direct).  iTunes as well, sells the latest and most successful of these pictures, available for a price around two or three dollars.

So while they may not receive the same amount of commercial success or popularity that feature-length movies enjoy, based on my experiences with both, the average short film out does the average Hollywood picture.  A short feature such as The Red Balloon is one of the best examples of this statement (others are La Jettee, Un Chien Andalou, and even Burton’s Vincent).  This one in particular though, is built quite simply on even simpler ground.

It shows a young, Parisian boy who lives in an apartment with his mother, treks through the city to school each day by himself, and stumbles onto a bright, shiny balloon one morning.  The balloon soon becomes a trusty companion to the boy, so much so that it doesn’t float away when the youth loses hold of the orb’s hanging string.  But unlike many family-oriented films made today, director Lamorisse does not make his film overly sympathetic.  None-the-less, it achieves something like movie magic.

There is some sense of energetic fun buried within the core of the movie, which can only be accounted for by the human-like, care-free movements of the balloon.  The ending, the highlight of the whole half-hour, is a joyous and triumphant sight to behold, but I won’t spoil it for you.  Lamorisse wisely uses as little dialogue as possible, giving it a naive tone that matches its protagonist.  The Red Balloon is light-hearted yet emotional, but above all, it is fully enjoyable and magically transports the audience to the gritty streets of Paris.

Rating: 4/5