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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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 Across_the_Universe_3lgAcross the Universe

Conceived, produced and directed by the eclectic Julie Taymor, this film is a romantic musical that incorporates parts of 34 songs composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and the three of them plus Ringo Starr (“Flying”).  Most of the songs are sung on-screen by the characters, though there are some instrumentals.  This places the film in the category of old-style musicals where people seem to burst into song as a part of the story.  To everyone’s credit, it actually seems to work very well indeed.


1-adjustment-bureau-copyThe Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau, based on a Phillip K. Dick story, is a far-fetched, but very engaging film.  David Norris (Matt Damon) is a Brooklyn politician who meets a fascinating woman, Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) on the night that he has just lost the Senate election.  When she runs away, he is motivated to give a galvanizing concession speech that will reenergize his career.


AdventurelandAdventureland

Adventureland is a funny and moving teen romance written and directed by Greg Mattola about a group of teens working at a summer carnival.  The main character, James Brennan, is a student who has just graduated from a small college and is saving up his money to go to the Columbia School of Journalism so he can begin a career in travel writing.  Played with both humor and angst by Jesse Eisenberg, James is trying to find romance, but his own geekiness stands in his way.


All is Lost RedfordAll is Lost

A man sleeps peacefully aboard his small yacht when it suddenly bangs into some sea debris, tearing a hole in the side.  This begins a great survival story where one problems piles upon another as he is tossed across the Indian sea toward shipping lanes and possible rescue.  But he must first face storms, sharks, and other menaces.  And even when he reaches the shipping lanes, will anyone see him?


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Amadeus

A terrible way to triumph over God.  These are the words of 18th Century Italian composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) referring to his murder of the brilliant, meteoric Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ((Tom Hulce). He tells the story to Father Vogler (Richard Frank) who has come to hear his confession at the insane asylum to which Salieri has been confined following a suicide attempt.


 american-hustle-posters-sonyAmerican Hustle

Loosely 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.


Art of Getting By3The Art of Getting By

In The Art of Getting By (2011), George (Freddie Highmore), a high school senior living in New York City, falls into a fatalistic funk.  Although he is a gifted artist, he realizes that he’s going to die some day and asks himself: What is the point of trying?  Seeing no point, he gives up working on his school assignments, skips class and tests and just skates by as a loner.  Facing this failure, he is placed on academic probation.


Austenland PictureAustenland

The heroine of the movie, Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is a disheartened Jane Austen fan. Obsessed with the writer, she looks at her own life and sees failed relationships, a dead-end job and no future, so she decides to spend her life savings on a trip to England to resort called Austenland

 

Speak

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.

Speak-Movie-kristen-stewart-7224892-960-540Unable to deal with her experience in any way, Melinda doesn’t tell anyone about what happened, but does call 911, which brings the police down on the party.  In a state of shock, she walks home alone, then retreats into herself and goes nearly silent to the world.  Shunned by her friends, targeted by other students, she finds it nearly impossible to deal with high school.  Pushed by her art teacher, she begins to draw and sculp.  Continually backing away from others, she finds an abandoned janitor’s closet and makes it her own, filling it with her art and retreating there during pep rallys.

At the time this movie was made, actress Kristen Steward was only 13 years old, but her performance is stunningly beautiful.  (Whatever you may think about Stewart because of Twilight, the girl is just an excellent actress, hands down.)  She is completely believable as Melinda as the story of the rape is told in flashbacks spaced throughout the film.  The excellent supporting cast includes Elizabeth Perkins as her mother, Steve Zahn as her art teacher, Mr. Freeman, and Allison Siko as a girl named Heather who adopts and then abandons Melinda.

The adaptation was written by Annie Young Frisbie and Jessica Sharzer, who also deftly directed the movie inside a 21 day shooting schedule.  The film moves quickly and is so absorbing it’s almost impossible not to watch once you get going.  At a near perfect 89 minutes in length, the film should be on everyone’s watch list.

Adventureland

AdventurelandAdventureland is a funny and moving teen romance written and directed by Greg Mattola about a group of teens working at a summer carnival. The main character, James Brennan, is a student who has just graduated from a small college and is saving up his money to go to the Columbia School of Journalism so he can begin a career in travel writing. Played with both humor and angst by Jesse Eisenberg, James is trying to find romance, but his own geekiness stands in his way.

It doesn’t take long after meeting Em for him to start falling for her. Older and wiser, she is a student who lives and studies in New York (NYU) during the school year, but works as a carny in the summer. She’s also having an affair with Mike (Ryan Reynolds), a guitar player who also fills in there in the summer as a maintenance man. Married, his one claim to fame is that he is rumored to have jammed with Lou Reed, James’ hero.

The film is a period piece, set in the summer of 1987 and Mattola has gone to great lengths to make the film of its time. The park seems quite old by today’s standards and the costumes and hair styles all reflect the late 80’s very well. Although some of the humor is a bit juvenile, it generally works well. The supporting characters are sharply defined and quirky. Kristen Wiig as the park manager and Bill Hader as her husband and assistant are both quite funny and Martin Starr is quite good as James’ pal Joel.

Both Eisenberg and Stewart are very good and this is probably Stewart’s best performance. They are the only two characters in the movie who have serious scenes and they carry them off very well. It’s a fun movie and worth spending the time watching.