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 Save the Last DanceSave the Last Dance

Save the Last Dance is a surprisingly well-thought out film.  Although it is primarily concerned with dance, it also deals with some big issues.  Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick  Thomas are great as two dancers with completely different backgrounds who come together to merge classical and hiphop dance styles.  Lots of fun, great music, and some serious issues.


Viola and Shakespeare in bedShakespeare in Love

Written by Tom Stoppard (author of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) and Marc Norman, this 1998 film is both a comedy and a romance–and it is very successful at both.  Great performances by Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, and Judi Densch fuel this terrific comedy and unpredictable romance!


Silence Lambs 01The Silence of the Lambs

When a serial killer dumps the bodies of several young women into various rivers between Ohio and Pennsylvania, with parts of their bodies skinned, newspapers anoint the unknown assailant as “Buffalo Bill.”  The head of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI recruits a beautiful young agent-trainee, who is earmarked for his division, to help him out by interviewing one of the most notorious serial killers of all: Hannibal Lecter, a cannibal.


Cooper and Lawrence Silver Linings PlaybookSilver Linings Playbook

This delightful comedy/drama was written and directed by David O. Russell, adapted from the book The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick.  Centered around two quirky people, both at a crossroads in their lives, the film presents bi-polar disorder as a condition that can be overcome.  Jennifer Lawrence gives an Academy Award performance opposite Bradley Cooper, with Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver, and Chris Tucker.


Speak-Movie-kristen-stewart-7224892-960-540Speak

Here’s a 2004 film that really went under the radar.  It was screened at Sundance and aired on Showtime and Lifetime, but I’d never heard of it.  Based on the novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, it tells the story of a high school freshman, Melinda Sordino, who is brutally raped at a party by a senior boy.  Starring Kristin Stewart in a wonderful performance.


Shailine Woodley int The Spectacular NowThe Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now aims much higher than any run-of-the-mill teen romance and its success in achieving a film that goes beyond the limits of genre is to be highly commended, yet there are problems in the movie and it would make the film an excellent study for any film theory class.


amy adams emily blunt sunshine cleaningSunshine Cleaning

Sunshine Cleaning is a delightful comedy and drama, with a great cast, a strong script by Megan Holley and crisp, clean direction by Christine Jeffs.  Although it hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, the two performances at the center of it by Amy Adams and Emily Blunt really propelled the two actresses to the acclaim they so richly deserve.

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Fargo Frances McDormandFargo

Alfred Hitchcock would have liked this 1996 Joel Coen and Ethan Coen quirky thriller that contains so much comedy it transcends genres.  It borrows a number of techniques from the master of thriller movies, including a clever McGuffin, a villain with empathy, horrific incidents that are hilarious, and a tremendous environmental atmosphere.


THE FIGHTERThe Fighter

There are just a handful of good boxing movies, but The Fighter must be ranked among them.  This 2010 film written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson is based on the true story of two brothers who each attained some degree of success in the world of boxing.  There is some stretching of the truth in order to make a good movie—and that is just what director David O. Russell gives us.


First TimeThe First Time

The very sweet teen romance written and directed by Jon Kasdan is disarmingly honest, with characters that feel so real there isn’t the hint of artifice.  Centered around two teens who meet by accident, become friends, and each decide to give up their virginity to the other, this film will leave you with a warm, gooey feeling that makes it a worthwhile viewing experience.


Fly Away PictureFly Away

Written and directed by Emmy Award winner Janet Grillo, this 2011 low-budget independent film, shot in a mere 14 days is full of emotional punch and great characters brought to life by a bright and talented cast.


French ConnectionThe French Connection

If you are looking for the meaning of life, this movie is not for you.  Indeed, if you are looking for any meaning at all, this is not your movie.  Rather, it is a completely kinetic film.  Directed by William Friedkin, it echoes the French cinema of the 1950’s, which itself echoes the American gangster films of the 1930’s.  It is all movement and action, with practically no dialogue, moving in a steady arc of energy toward a violent ending.


french kissFrench Kiss

Sometimes the charm of two charismatic actors with great chemistry, combined with a smart, talented director, can make even the most banal of screenplays work to perfection.  Such is the case with Lawrence Kasdan’s 1995 romantic comedy, French Kiss.


Friends with KidsFriends with Kids

This 2011 movie, written, produced and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt, is about a group of shallow, sex-obsessed Manhattan Yuppies who start having children. It stars Adam Scott, Westfeldt, Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm and Maya Rudolph.


frozen-river-pic-melissa-leoFrozen River

There are a lot of great movies that somehow never make it into the public eye and Frozen River is one of those films.  It deserves to be seen–and probably deserved a lot more national attention than what it actually got.

Silver Linings Playbook

“The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday. That’s guaranteed. I can’t begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else. But guess what? Sunday’s my favorite day again. I think of what everyone did for me, and I feel like a very lucky guy.”

Cooper and Lawrence Silver Linings PlaybookThis delightful comedy/drama was written and directed by David O. Russell, adapted from the book The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick.  Centered around two quirky people, both at a crossroads in their lives, the film presents bi-polar disorder as a condition that can be overcome.

Pat Solatano, Jr. (Bradley Cooper), a former high school teacher, is held in a Baltimore psychiatric hospital for an episode in which he beat another teacher after finding him in the shower with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee). After serving his court-ordered eight months, his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) gets him out.  In the parking lot, a fellow inmate, Danny (Chris Tucker) jumps in the car, announcing that he has been released, too, but Dolores gets a call from the hospital asking that Danny be returned.  Arguing with his mother, Pat grabs the steering wheel and almost gets them in an accident.

Returning home, Pat stops by the library to pick up all of the books in Nikki’s literature syllabus, intending to read all of the books. He is determined that their marriage can be saved, even though Nikki has moved and taken out a restraining order against him.  Pat’s father, Pat, Sr. (Robert De Niro) has recently lost his job and is supporting the family working as a bookie, although he intends to open a restaurant so that he can look legitimate.  Family and neighbors are all passionate Philiadelphia Eagles fans and Pat, Sr. is hopelessly superstitious about wearing the right jersey, putting his remote controls in certain positions, and rubbing a green handkerchief so that the can bring good luck, “juju” to the Eagles.  He also has a temper and is barred from actually attending Eagles games because of his violent behavior.  His friend, Randy (Paul Herman), is a Cowboys fan and tries to make money in bets off of Pat, Sr. by gaoding him into making foolish bets.

Pat stays up all night reading Ernest Hemmingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms and then blows up at 4 AM because it doesn’t have a happy ending.  He throws the book out the window and harangues his parents.  Pat believes that the key to overcoming his illness is to find a silver linings in his every day life.  He tries to live by the motto Excelsior (ever upwards) and shares this vision with his therapist, Dr. Cliff Patel (Anupam Kher), who replies that he must get a strategy to live with his illness.

His friend, Ronnie (John Ortiz), invites him to a Sunday dinner. Married to a beautiful girl, Veronica (Julia Stiles), and with a baby, Ronnie is a broker who is suffering anxiety from fluctuations in the market.  Veronica’s sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose cop husband was recently killed, shows up at the dinner and she and Pat find that they can talk about their various medications.

Tiffany agrees to deliver a letter to Nikki if Pat will dance with her in a competition and he reluctantly agrees. They begin to rehearse, but the dance competition takes on a new meaning when Pat, Sr. and Randy make a parlay bet that the Eagles will beat the Cowboys and that Tiffany and Pat can score at least a 5 in the dance competition.

The story is completely engaging. Even though the film runs nearly two hours, every single moment is compelling and one doesn’t notice the time.  Cooper and Lawrence are both really terrific, portraying characters that are complicated and yet disarmingly simple.  Lawrence won Best Actress for her role as Tiffany.  DeNiro is at his very best as Pat, Sr. and Jacki Weaver gives wonderfully believable and warming performance as Dolores.  All of the supporting cast are terrific.

Russell’s script and direction are spot on. The editing is amazing, as is the use of music and sound.

It is a movie that deserved all of its nominations and it should be seen by everyone. It is funny, full of pathos, and very moving.

American Hustle

american-hustle-posters-sonyLoosely based on the FBI ABSCAM sting operation, this 2013 film was written by David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer and directed by Russell of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook fame.  Bringing along Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook, he has created a brilliant sting comedy that takes place at the height of disco mania, 1978.  It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including all four major acting categories.

Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a good man at heart. He has a home in New Jersey, a wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), and he has adopted her son, Danny, whom he loves.  But Irving is a small time hustler and he makes his money off of people about to under financially.  When he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), herself a small time hustler, they fall in love and she joins in his financial fraud scheme, posing as Lady Edith Greensly, a wealthy Englishwoman with connections.

Their secret life goes very well until they are caught in an FBI sting, led by agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Although technically they only have Sydney on the hook, Richie uses Irving’s love to get him to agree to a deal.  If they help him make four busts, he’ll let them both go scott free.  Thinking they’ll just be bringing down small time hustlers, Irving is all for doing the deal, but Sydney just wants to run away with him (she’s even willing to take his son Danny with them).  She is certain that something stinks about the deal and that if they do it, they’ll have to have an ace in the hole, but Irving is insistent.  Sydney tells him that if that’s what he wants to do, she’ll distance herself from him and get close to Richie instead.

Irving proposes using a friend of his posing as a sheik to sting some hustlers he knows, but Richie and the FBI have different ideas. They want to go after Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) of Camden who is looking for investors to help revitalize Atlantic City.  Irving thinks the deal has now become too big for them and Richie’s boss Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K.) is also against it, but the FBI wants to do it.  In setting it up, Irving becomes friends with Carmine.  Seeing that he is also basically a good man, Irving tries to find a way to keep Carmine out of it, but things are beyond his control.  When he brings Rosalyn to a dinner with Carmine and his wife, she sees a chance to improve her own lot.

Carmine brings this unlikely group of people to a casino to meet the Mafia, led by Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro), right-hand man to Meyer Lansky. Richie is posing as the sheik’s interpreter, but it turns out that Victor actually speaks Arabic and the whole plan falls into jeopardy.  This begins a hilarious series of plot twists and turns that lead to the conclusion of the movie.

Christian Bale turns in one of the best performances of this new century as Irving. He has crafted a character both deep and shallow, so well-layered in nuance that Bale himself completely disappears in the character.  Typically, he carries the film.  Adams, Lawrence, and Cooper are all very good, but pale beside the brilliance of this one truly great American actor.

The script is incredibly well-crafted and the direction is superb.  Russell is emerging as one of America’s finest cinematic minds and he brings all of his talents to bear in this period comedy that never ceases to entertain.  From beginning to end, the viewer is caught up in one bizarre scheme after another as the plot moves through unexpected twists and turns.  As the story gets deeper and deeper, a kind of tension is created behind the comedy that impels the viewer to watch, rooting for Irving and also fearing for him at the same time.

The film is beautifully crafted and should be seen by everyone!