‘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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‘The Illusionist’ 2006

In 1900s Vienna, mesmeric entertainer Eisenheim’s magical abilities are wowing the crowds, with an act that ranges from mere tricks to an apparent capacity to raise the dead. However, he has also long been in love with Duchess Sophie von Teschen, which puts him in dangerous competition with the violent, scheming Crown Prince Leopold, who jumps at the opportunity to have the magician arrested grounds of necromancy.

The Illusionist is a 2006 American romantic mystery film written and directed by Neil Burger and starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Jessica Biel. It is based loosely on Steven Millhauser’s short story “Eisenheim the Illusionist”. The film tells the story of Eisenheim, a magician in turn-of-the-century Vienna, who reunites with his childhood love, a woman far above his social standing. The film also depicts a fictionalized version of the Mayerling incident.

The film premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and opened the 2006 Seattle International Film Festival; it was distributed in limited release to theaters on August 18, 2006, and expanded nationwide on September 1. The film was a commercial and critical success.

Critical Reception

As of June 29, 2008 the film had earned worldwide box office receipts of $87,892,388, including $39,868,642 in the United States, exceeding its reported $16.5 million budget. In the first five months after it was released on DVD in January 2007, the film earned $35.99 million in rental revenue.

The Illusionist received mostly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval score of 74% based on 194 reviews, with an average rating of 6.94/10. The consensus reads, “The Illusionist is an engrossing, well-crafted story of mystery, magic and intrigue that is certain to enchant, if not hypnotize, audiences.” On Metacritic, the film has a score of 68 out of 100 based on 37 reviews, indicating “generally favorable reviews.”

Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review in The Chicago Reader praised Paul Giamatti’s performance of “a character who feels sympathy for the magician but owes allegiance to Leopold and is therefore divided and compromised … Giamatti’s performance is subtle, expressive, and richly nuanced.” Stephen Holden, in his review for The New York Times, praised Edward Norton’s role, which, according to him, “perfectly fits his disturbing inscrutability”. Variety wrote that Jessica Biel “is entirely stunning enough to fight to the death over”. Roger Ebert rated 3.5/4 and wrote that, “The movie sets up a fascinating parable about art, religion and politics, and the misty boundaries between them”.

Director of Photography Dick Pope earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, losing at the 79th Academy Awards to Guillermo Navarro, cinematographer for Pan’s Labyrinth

‘The Red Shoes’ 1948

In this classic drama, Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) is an aspiring ballerina torn between her dedication to dance and her desire to love. While her imperious instructor, Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), urges to her to forget anything but ballet, Vicky begins to fall for the charming young composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). Eventually Vicky, under great emotional stress, must choose to pursue either her art or her romance, a decision that carries serious consequences.

The Red Shoes is a 1948 British drama film written, directed, and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and starring, in the same order as the movie’s opening credits, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring and Moira Shearer. It follows the beautiful Victoria Page, played by Moira Shearer, the ballerina who joins the world renowned Ballet Lermontov, owned and operated by Boris Lermontov, played by Anton Walbrook, who ultimately tests her dedication to the ballet, when she must choose between her career and a romance with composer Julian Craster, played by Marius Goring. It marked the feature film debut of Shearer, an established ballerina, and also features Robert Helpmann, Léonide Massine, and Ludmilla Tchérina, other renowned dancers from the ballet world. The plot is based on the 1845 eponymous fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, and features a ballet within it by the same title, also adapted from the Andersen work.

The Red Shoes was filmmaking team Powell and Pressburger’s tenth collaboration and follow-up to 1947’s Black Narcissus. It had originally been conceived by Powell and producer Alexander Korda in the 1930s, from whom the duo purchased the rights in 1946. The majority of the cast were professional dancers. Filming of The Red Shoes took place in mid-1946, primarily in France and England.

Critical Reception

Upon release, The Red Shoes received critical acclaim, especially in the United States, where it received a total of five Academy Award nominations, including a win for Best Original Score and Best Art Direction. It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, and was named one of the Top 10 Films of the Year by the National Board of Review. Despite this, some dance critics gave the film unfavorable reviews as they felt its fantastical, impressionistic centerpiece sequence depicted ballet in an unrealistic manner. The film proved a major financial success, and was the first British film in history to gross over $5 million.

Retrospectively, it is regarded as one of the best films of Powell and Pressburger’s partnership, and in 1999, it was voted the 9th greatest British film of all time by the British Film Institute. The film underwent an extensive digital restoration beginning in 2006 at the UCLA Film and Television Archive to correct significant damage to the original negatives. The restored version of the film screened at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, and was subsequently issued on Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection. In 2017, a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine saw it ranked the 5th best British film ever.

‘Amadeus’ 1984

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is a remarkably talented young Viennese composer who unwittingly finds a fierce rival in the disciplined and determined Antonio Salieri. Resenting Mozart for both his hedonistic lifestyle and his undeniable talent, the highly religious Salieri is gradually consumed by his jealousy and becomes obsessed with Mozart’s downfall, leading to a devious scheme that has dire consequences for both men

Considered one of the greatest films of all time, Amadeus was nominated for 53 awards and received 40, including eight Academy Awards (as well as the Academy Award for Best Picture), four BAFTA Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, and a Directors Guild of America award. As of 2020, it is the most recent film to have more than one nomination in the Academy Award for Best Actor category. In 1998, the American Film Institute ranked it 53rd on its 100 Years… 100 Movies list. In 2019, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Amadeus is a 1984 American period biographical drama film directed by Miloš Forman and adapted by Peter Shaffer from his 1979 stage play Amadeus. The story is set in Vienna, Austria during the latter half of the 18th century, and is a fictionalized story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from the time he left Salzburg, described by its writer as “fantasia on the theme of Mozart and Salieri”. Mozart’s music is heard extensively in the soundtrack of the film. The film follows a fictional rivalry between Mozart and Italian composer Antonio Salieri at the court of Emperor Joseph II. The film stars F. Murray Abraham as Salieri (who received the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance) and Tom Hulce as Mozart (who was also nominated for the same award as Abraham).

In his autobiography Beginning, Kenneth Branagh says that he was one of the finalists for the role of Mozart, but was dropped from consideration when Forman decided to make the film with an American cast.

Mark Hamill, who replaced Tim Curry as Mozart towards the end of the run of the stage play on Broadway, recalled in an interview that he read with many actresses auditioning for Mozart’s wife Constanze and after the reads, Forman decided to not cast him because of his association with the character of Luke Skywalker, believing that the audience would not believe him as the composer. Tom Hulce reportedly used John McEnroe’s mood swings as a source of inspiration for his portrayal of Mozart’s unpredictable genius.

Meg Tilly was cast as Mozart’s wife Constanze, but she tore a ligament in her leg the day before shooting started. She was replaced by Elizabeth Berridge. Simon Callow, who played Mozart in the original London stage production of Amadeus, was cast as Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist of The Magic Flute.

The film was shot on location in Prague and Kroměříž. Notably, Forman was able to shoot scenes in the Count Nostitz Theatre in Prague, where Don Giovanni and La clemenza di Tito debuted two centuries before. Several other scenes were shot at the Barrandov Studios.

Forman collaborated with American choreographer Twyla Tharp.

Critical Reception

Amadeus holds a score of 93% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 95 reviews, with an average rating of 8.92/10. The site’s consensus states: “A lavish, entertaining, powerful film about the life and influence, both positive and negative, of one of Western culture’s great artists.” Giving the film four-out-of-four stars, Roger Ebert acknowledged that it was one of the “riskiest gambles a filmmaker has taken in a long time,” but added “(here is the genius of the movie) there is nothing cheap or unworthy about the approach,” and ultimately concluded that it was a “magnificent film, full and tender and funny and charming”. Ebert later added the film to his Great Movies list. Peter Travers of People magazine said that “Hulce and Abraham share a dual triumph in a film that stands as a provocative and prodigious achievement.” Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic put it on his list of films worth seeing. In one negative review, Todd McCarthy of Variety said that despite “great material and themes to work with, and such top talent involved,” the “stature and power the work possessed onstage have been noticeably diminished” in the film adaptation. The film’s many historical inaccuracies have attracted criticism from music historians.

13 Lucky Films by Chaz Ebert


Chaz Ebert highlights 13 films from this year that he loves.  See full article 

loving1. Loving

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga portray Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple who were imprisoned in Virginia for getting married in 1958. Their story eventually led to a historic Supreme Court ruling, Loving v. Virginia, that invalidated all laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Director Jeff Nichols has made a film as subdued and eloquent as his real-life subjects, portraying the truth of their love and right to freedom with a simplicity that is arrestingly beautiful.

birth-of-a-nation2. The Birth of a Nation

Nat Turner is an enslaved Baptist preacher who lives on a Virginia plantation owned by Samuel Turner. With rumors of insurrection in the air, a cleric convinces Samuel that Nate should sermonize to other slaves, thereby quelling any notions of an uprising. As Nate witnesses the horrific treatment of his fellow man, he realizes that he can no longer just stand by and preach. On Aug. 21, 1831, Turner’s quest for justice and freedom leads to a violent and historic rebellion in Southampton County.

Disturbing.jpg3. Disturbing the Peace

In a world torn by conflict -in a place where the idea of peace has been abandoned-an energy of determined optimism emerges. When someone is willing to disturb the status quo and stand for the dream of a free and secure world, who will stand with them? DISTURBING THE PEACE is a story of the human potential unleashed when we stop participating in a story that no longer serves us and, with the power of our convictions, take action to create new possibilities.

Moonlight.jpg4. Moonlight

A young man deals with his dysfunctional home life and comes of age in Miami during the “War on Drugs” era. The story of his struggle to find himself is told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality.

Continue reading “13 Lucky Films by Chaz Ebert”