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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.

The Fighter

There are just a handful of good boxing movies, but The Fighter must be ranked among them.

THE FIGHTERThis 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.  As with most biopics, 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.

It’s no accident that the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two, for Melissa Leo and Christian Bale as Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor.

Dicky Eckland (Christian Bale) had a very promising career as a boxer–in fact, in 1978, he actually went the distance against Sugar Ray Leonard—but addiction to crack brought it to a standstill.  Since then, he has been training his younger half-brother, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), who is managed by their mother, Alice Ward (Melissa Leo).  But between the mother and brother, Micky always seems to get bad fights.  His brother fails to show up to train him and is usually wacked out when he does.  HBO has shown up to make a documentary that Dicky claims is about his comeback, but which is actually about the effects of crack on wrecked lives.

Following a terrible loss to a beast of a fighter, Micky begins to question his choices.  A promoter from Las Vegas offers Micky a chance to train year round in Vegas and get the fights he deserves, rather than being a “stepping stone” for other fighters.  At the same time, Micky meets Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), a former college athlete who drank her way out and now works as a bartender.  The two fall pretty deep in love, but Charlene isn’t putting up with Micky’s situation and they decide to revolt, hire their own trainer, and pull back from his family.

Begging for another chance, Dicky promises them that he will raise the money to support Micky training year round in their hometown of Lowell, MA, so they decide to give him a chance, even though Charlene is highly skeptical.  Dicky’s pyramid scheme to raise money fails, so he puts his girlfriend on the street so they can fleece cash out of unsuspecting Johns.  When it backfires, Dicky is arrested and sent to prison as Micky begins to climb the ladder to success.

Leaving aside the solid performances by Wahlberg and Adams, this is a truly strong cast from top to bottom.  I was knocked-out, surprised by just how truly great an actor Christian Bale is.  His performance as Dicky is one of the best I’ve seen in the last twenty years and—even as a supporting actor—he carries the film to levels far beyond what it might have been.  Also, one cannot say enough about the amazing Melissa Leo’s, whose performance in Frozen River probably should have won her the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1978.

Even with enough downers to bring down an elephant, this movie still manages to be a terrific feel-good film.  I love movies that show us how we can all be so much more than we are, how we should be awake to change and set goals that move us beyond what we are now—and this movie delivers that in spades.  It is a terrific film that I very highly recommend!

Frozen River

frozen-river-pic-melissa-leoThere 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.

The film is set in the fictional town Massena, New York, the Akwesasne St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, and–believe it or not–the St. Lawrence River that marks the Canadian border. Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) is raising two sons, age 5 and 15, with a husband who is addicted to gambling. When the film opens, he has just run off to Atlantic City with their savings, intended as the balloon payment on a new double wide trailer home. The opening shot shows Ray as she sits in her car smoking and crying, the glove box where the money was kept sitting empty. The camera pans up her body to her face, the extreme close-up showing vividly how life has torn this woman apart.

She works in a discount store part time and the family is now in a desperate situation, with practically no money to survive. Dinner consists of popcorn and Tang and the film unrolls with the threat of having their TV repossessed.

When a Mohawk girl, Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham) steals the car Ray’s husband had left at the bus station, she chases the girl down. Lila tells her that she knows someone on the rez who will buy the car for $2,000, so they set off across the frozen river to the Canadian side of the Mohawk reservation. But instead of selling the car, they are passed $1200 and asked to pop the trunk. When they do, two illegal aliens jump in.

This new source of income intrigues Ray and she returns to Lila to do another transfer. And so, the two become embroiled in a life of illegal gains that make both of their lives better. And over time, an unlikely friendship develops between them.

Written and directed by Courtney Hunt, this wonderful film stars Melissa Leo a haunting, true-to-life performance that won her multiple awards. Although she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, she did not win. Courtney Hunt was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, and also did not win. Throughout the world, the film was nominated for an won a great many awards. Besides great acting and directing, the cinematography in the film is truly outstanding, presenting us with a realistic winter life on the very edge of survival.

At 93 minutes, it is nearly the perfect length. I highly recommend this movie for all to see.