‘Nosferatu’ 1929

In this highly influential silent horror film, the mysterious Count Orlok summons Thomas Hutter to his remote Transylvanian castle in the mountains. The eerie Orlok seeks to buy a house near Hutter and his wife, Ellen. After Orlok reveals his vampire nature, Hutter struggles to escape the castle, knowing that Ellen is in grave danger. Meanwhile Orlok’s servant, Knock, prepares for his master to arrive at his new home.

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (German: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens) is a 1922 silent German Expressionist horror film directed by F. W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck as Count Orlok, a vampire with an interest in both a new residence and the wife (Greta Schröder) of his estate agent (Gustav von Wangenheim). The film is an unauthorized and unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. Various names and other details were changed from the novel, including Count Dracula being renamed Count Orlok to avoid copyright issues.

Even with several details altered, Stoker’s heirs sued over the adaptation, and a court ruling ordered all copies of the film to be destroyed. However, a few prints of Nosferatu survived, and the film came to be regarded as an influential masterpiece of cinema.

Reception & Legacy

Nosferatu brought Murnau into the public eye, especially when his film Der brennende Acker (The Burning Soil) was released a few days later. The press reported extensively on Nosferatu and its premiere. With the laudatory votes, there was also occasional criticism that the technical perfection and clarity of the images did not fit the horror theme. The Filmkurier of 6 March 1922 said that the vampire appeared too corporeal and brightly lit to appear genuinely scary. Hans Wollenberg described the film in photo-Stage No. 11 of 11 March 1922 as a “sensation” and praised Murnau’s nature shots as “mood-creating elements.” In the Vossische Zeitung of 7 March 1922, Nosferatu was praised for its visual style.

This was the only Prana Film; the company filed for bankruptcy and then Stoker’s estate, acting for his widow, Florence Stoker, sued for copyright infringement and won. The court ordered all existing prints of Nosferatu burned, but one purported print of the film had already been distributed around the world. This print was duplicated over the years, kept alive by a cult following, making it an example of an early cult film.

The film has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 97% based on 63 reviews, with an average rating of 9.05/10. The website’s critical consensus reads, “One of the silent era’s most influential masterpieces, Nosferatus eerie, gothic feel—and a chilling performance from Max Schreck as the vampire—set the template for the horror films that followed.” It was ranked twenty-first in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films of World Cinema” in 2010.

In 1997, critic Roger Ebert added Nosferatu to his list of The Great Movies, writing:

Here is the story of Dracula before it was buried alive in clichés, jokes, TV skits, cartoons and more than 30 other films. The film is in awe of its material. It seems to really believe in vampires. … Is Murnau’s Nosferatu scary in the modern sense? Not for me. I admire it more for its artistry and ideas, its atmosphere and images, than for its ability to manipulate my emotions like a skilful modern horror film. It knows none of the later tricks of the trade, like sudden threats that pop in from the side of the screen. But Nosferatu remains effective: It doesn’t scare us, but it haunts us.

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‘Three Colours: White’ 1994

Polish immigrant Karol Karol finds himself out of a marriage, a job and a country when his French wife, Dominique, divorces him after six months due to his impotence. Forced to leave the France after losing the business they jointly owned, Karol enlists fellow Polish expatriate to smuggle him back to their homeland. After successfully returning, Karol begins to build his new life, while never forgetting his old one.

Three Colours White, the second part of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy based on the colours of the French flag and upon the precepts of liberty, freedom and equality, is the easiest of the three films to negotiate but by no means the least in weight. It’s the kind of comedy only a hopeful pessimist could have made and, if that sounds like a contradiction in terms, you don’t know Kieslowski very well.

The film, like most of Kieslowski’s which deal with Poles and Poland, is less headily stylish than Blue or Red, made in France and Switzerland respectively. But it feels somehow truer, as if the director instinctively knows how his characters should react and can thus afford a more direct, less elliptical approach. And it contains not only a superbly self-effacing but apt performance from Zamachowski, first as the damaged exile and then as the conquering entrepreneur at home, but also a strikingly deft portrait of post-communist Poland, where the most baleful kind of capitalism reigns and it’s every dirty dog for himself

 

‘Intouchables’ 2011

After he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, an aristocrat hires a young man from the projects to be his caregiver.

In Paris, the aristocratic and intellectual Philippe is a quadriplegic millionaire who is interviewing candidates for the position of his carer, with his red-haired secretary Magalie. Out of the blue, Driss cuts the line of candidates and brings a document from the Social Security and asks Phillipe to sign it to prove that he is seeking a job position so he can receive his unemployment benefit. Philippe challenges Driss, offering him a trial period of one month to gain experience helping him. Then Driss can decide whether he would like to stay with him or not. Driss accepts the challenge and moves to the mansion, changing the boring life of Phillipe and his employees.

The Intouchables is a 2011 French buddy comedy-drama film directed by Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano. It stars François Cluzet and Omar Sy. Nine weeks after its release in France on 2 November 2011, it became the second biggest box office hit in France, just behind the 2008 film Welcome to the Sticks. The film was voted the cultural event of 2011 in France with 52% of votes in a poll by Fnac. The film has received several award nominations. In France, the film won the César Award for Best Actor for Omar Sy, and garnered seven further nominations for the César Awards, including the César Award for Best Film, which it lost to the Best Picturewinner The Artist.

The plot of the film is inspired by the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French-Algerian caregiver Abdel Sellou, discovered by the directors in À la vie, à la mort, a documentary film.

Critical Reception

The film holds a 74% approval rating at the film review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, which includes 89 positive reviews out of 120, and an average score of 6.7 out of 10. On Metacritic, the film has a score of 57 out of 100, based on 31 ratings of professional critics.

The film won the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix award given to the best film at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Award for Best Actor to both Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy in 2011. At the César Awards 2012, the film received eight nominations. Omar Sy received the César Award for Best Actor on 24 February 2012 for the role of Driss (defeating Jean Dujardin, nominated for The Artist) and being the first French African actor to receive this honor.

In September 2012, it was announced that The Intouchables had been selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar for the 85th Academy Awards. In December 2012, it made the January shortlist, but was ultimately not selected for inclusion among the final nominees.

 

 

‘Three Colours: Blue’ 1993

A woman struggles to find a way to live her life after the death of her husband and child.

The first part of Kieslowski’s trilogy on France’s national motto: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. ‘Blue’ is the story of Julie who loses her husband, an acclaimed composer and her young daughter in a car accident. The film’s theme of liberty is manifested in Julie’s attempt to start life anew, free of personal commitments, belongings, grief or love. She intends to numb herself by withdrawing from the world and living completely independently, anonymously and in solitude in the Parisian metropolis. Despite her intentions, people from her former and present life intrude with their own needs. However, the reality created by the people who need and care about her, a surprising discovery and the music around which the film revolves heal Julie and draws her back to the land of the living.

Three Colours: Blue is a 1993 French drama film directed and co-written by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski. Blue is the first of three films that comprise the Three Colours trilogy, themed on the French Revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity; it is followed by White and Red. According to Kieślowski, the subject of the film is liberty, specifically emotional liberty, rather than its social or political meaning.

Set in Paris, the film is about a woman whose husband and child are killed in a car accident. Suddenly set free from her familial bonds, she attempts to cut herself off from everything and live in isolation from her former ties, but finds that she can’t free herself from human connections.

Blue is among Kieślowski’s most celebrated works.

Critical Reception

Three Colors: Blue received wide acclaim from critics, with review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reporting a 98% and an average rating of 8.5/10. It also holds an 85/100 on Metacritic.

 

‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ 2004

When an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking castle.

A love story between an 18-year-old girl named Sophie, cursed by a witch into an old woman’s body, and a magician named Howl. Under the curse, Sophie sets out to seek her fortune, which takes her to Howl’s strange moving castle. In the castle, Sophie meets Howl’s fire demon, named Karishifâ. Seeing that she is under a curse, the demon makes a deal with Sophie–if she breaks the contract he is under with Howl, then Karushifâ will lift the curse that Sophie is under, and she will return to her 18-year-old shape.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a 2004 Japanese animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The film is loosely based on the novel of the same name by British author Diana Wynne Jones. The film was produced by Toshio Suzuki, animated by Studio Ghibli and distributed by Toho. The Japanese voice cast featured Chieko Baisho and Takuya Kimura, while the version dubbed in English starred Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall and Christian Bale.

The story is set in a fictional kingdom where both magic and early 20th century technology are prevalent, against the backdrop of a war with another kingdom. The film tells the story of a young hatter named Sophie after she is turned into an old woman by a witch’s curse. She encounters a wizard named Howl, and gets caught up in his resistance to fighting for the king.

Influenced by Miyazaki’s opposition to the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003, the film contains strongly anti-war themes. Miyazaki stated that he “had a great deal of rage about [the Iraq war],” which led him to make a film which he felt would be poorly received in the US. It also explores the theme of old age, depicting age positively as something which grants the protagonist freedom. The film contains feminist elements as well, and carries messages about the value of compassion.

Critical Reception

Howl’s Moving Castle was praised by critics. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports an 87% approval rating based on 175 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The website’s critical consensus reads, “Exquisitely illustrated by master animator Miyazaki, Howl’s Moving Castle will delight children with its fantastical story and touch the hearts and minds of older viewers as well.” The film also holds an 80/100 average on Metacritic, based on 40 reviews, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.

USA Today critic Claudia Puig gave the film a positive review, praising it for its ability to blend “a childlike sense of wonder with sophisticated emotions and motives”. Helen McCarthy in 500 Essential Anime Movies said that the natural world was “beautifully represented”, with “some absolutely breathtaking mountains and lakeside landscapes”. She also praised the design of the Castle and added that Miyazaki added his own themes to the film: “man’s relationship to nature, the futility of war, and the joy of flight”. Joel Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal called the film “a moveable feast of delights”. Richard Corliss of TIME magazine wrote, “Palaces and shimmering lakes, warplanes and fire sprites all come to life at the breath of Miyazaki’s graphic genius.” Writing for The Boston Globe, Ty Burr said, “At its best, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ offers a rich fantasy of adolescent escape, of romance in the old and epic sense. At its worst, it’s the most amazing 12-course meal you can’t bring yourself to finish.” A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote, “Admirers of [Hayao Miyazaki’s] work, which is wildly imaginative, emotionally intense and surpassingly gentle, will find much to appreciate in this film because it demonstrates, once again, his visual ingenuity and his sensitivity as a storyteller. For newcomers to his world, “Howl’s Moving Castle” is a fitting introduction to one of modern cinema’s great enchanters.”

‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover’ 1989

The wife of an abusive criminal finds solace in the arms of a kind regular guest in her husband’s restaurant.

The wife of a barbaric crime boss engages in a secretive romance with a gentle bookseller between meals at her husband’s restaurant. Food, colour coding, sex, murder, torture and cannibalism are the exotic fare in this beautifully filmed but brutally uncompromising modern fable which has been interpreted as an allegory for Thatcherism.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is a 1989 British-French romantic black comedy crime drama film written and directed by Peter Greenaway, starring Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, and Alan Howard in the titular roles. The film’s graphic scatology, violence, and nude scenes, as well as its lavish cinematography and formalism, were noted at the time of its release.

Critical Reception

The film received largely positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, it currently holds a 90% score based on 39 reviews, with an average rating of 7.4/10. The site’s consensus states: “This romantic crime drama may not be to everyone’s taste, but The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is an audacious, powerful film.” Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars, noting that the film’s raw emotion and violent interpersonal conflict was a departure from Greenaway’s typically cerebral and intellectual films.

‘Cinema Paradiso’ 1988

A filmmaker recalls his childhood when falling in love with the pictures at the cinema of his home village and forms a deep friendship with the cinema’s projectionist.

A boy who grew up in a native Sicilian Village returns home as a famous director after receiving news about the death of an old friend. Told in a flashback, Salvatore reminiscences about his childhood and his relationship with Alfredo, a projectionist at Cinema Paradiso. Under the fatherly influence of Alfredo, Salvatore fell in love with film making, with the duo spending many hours discussing about films and Alfredo painstakingly teaching Salvatore the skills that became a stepping stone for the young boy into the world of film making. The film brings the audience through the changes in cinema and the dying trade of traditional film making, editing and screening. It also explores a young boy’s dream of leaving his little town to foray into the world outside.

Cinema Paradiso is a 1988 Italian drama film written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. The film stars Jacques Perrin, Philippe Noiret, Leopoldo Trieste, Marco Leonardi, Agnese Nano and Salvatore Cascio, and was produced by Franco Cristaldi and Giovanna Romagnoli, while the music score was composed by Ennio Morricone along with his son, Andrea. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 62nd Academy Awards.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Cinema Paradiso was a critical and box-office success and is regarded by many as a classic. It is particularly renowned for the ‘kissing scenes’ montage at the film’s end. Winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1989, the film is often credited with reviving Italy’s film industry, which later produced Mediterraneo and Life Is Beautiful. Film critic Roger Ebert gave it three and a half stars out of four and four stars out of four for the extended version, declaring “Still, I’m happy to have seen it–not as an alternate version, but as the ultimate exercise in viewing deleted scenes.”

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 90% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 70 reviews, with an average score of 8/10. The film also holds a score of 80 based on 20 reviews on Metacritic. The film was ranked #27 in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema” in 2010. The famed “kissing scene” montage at the end of the film was used in an episode of “Stealing First Base”, an episode of The Simpsons that aired on March 21, 2010, during its twenty-first season. The scene used Morricone’s “Love Theme” and included animated clips of famous movie kisses, including scenes used in Cinema Paradiso as well as contemporary films not shown in the original film.

 

‘The Holy Mountain’ 1973

In a corrupt, greed-fueled world, a powerful alchemist leads a Christ-like character and seven materialistic figures to the Holy Mountain, where they hope to achieve enlightenment.

A Christlike figure wanders through bizarre, grotesque scenarios filled with religious and sacrilegious imagery. He meets a mystical guide who introduces him to seven wealthy and powerful people, each representing a planet in the Solar system. These seven, along with the protagonist, the guide and the guide’s assistant, divest themselves of their worldly goods and form a group of nine who will seek the Holy Mountain, in order to displace the gods who live there and become immortal.

The Holy Mountain, reissued as The Sacred Mountain, is a 1973 Mexican surrealist fantasy film directed, written, produced, co-scored, co-edited by and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, who also participated as a set designer and costume designer on the film. The film was produced by Beatles manager Allen Klein of ABKCO Music and Records, after Jodorowsky scored an underground phenomenon with El Topo and the acclaim of both John Lennon and George Harrison (Lennon and Yoko Ono put up production money). It was shown at various international film festivals in 1973, including Cannes, and limited screenings in New York and San Francisco.

Inspiration

The film is based on Ascent of Mount Carmel by John of the Cross and Mount Analogue by René Daumal, who was a student of George Gurdjieff. In this film, much of Jodorowsky’s visually psychedelic story follows the metaphysical thrust of Mount Analogue. This is revealed in such events as the climb to the alchemist, the assembly of individuals with specific skills, the discovery of the mountain that unites Heaven and Earth “that cannot not exist”, and symbolic challenges along the mountain ascent. Daumal died before finishing his allegorical novel, and Jodorowsky’s improvised ending provides a way of completing the work (both symbolically and otherwise).

‘Quoi?’ ‘Che?’ ‘What?’ 1972

A young American woman (Sydne Rome) traveling through Italy finds herself in a strange Mediterranean villa where nothing seems right. Her visit becomes an absurd, decadent, oversexed version of “Alice in Wonderland”, with Marcello Mastroianni as the maddest of mad hatters and Roman Polanski a kinky March hare.

What? (Che?, also variously titled Quoi?, Was?, and Diary of Forbidden Dreams) is a 1972 comedy film written and directed by Roman Polanski, starring Marcello Mastroianni, Sydne Rome and Hugh Griffith. Set in an unnamed coastal city in Italy, the film tells a story of an American girl, Nancy (Sydne Rome) who,takes shelter in a villa filled with strange guests. There, she gets into a relationship with a retired pimp, Alex (Marcello Mastroianni). The film was shot on location in Amalfi, Italy, in a villa owned by the producer, Carlo Ponti. Some of the action was improvised.

Critical Reception

According to Roger Ebert’s adroit half-star review, What?’s title came from Ponti’s enraged response to being shown the film for the first time. It’s easy to see where Ponti was coming from. “What?” is the only sane reaction to Polanski’s film. It’s the rare title that doubles as a review. Ebert goes on to note that in spite of Mastroianni, Polanski’s presence as director and actor, and gratuitous nudity of considerable quantity and quality, it took years for the film to find a distributor in the United States. A big drawback: distributors’ maddening insistence on actually seeing the film before agreeing to release it.