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Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

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“Now you could study Shakespeare and be quite elite / And you can charm the critics and have nothin’ to eat / Just slip on a banana peel, the world’s at your feet / Make ‘em laugh, Make ‘em laugh, Make ‘em laugh!”

These lyrics prove exactly why Singin’ in the Rain is one of the most revered movies of all time – across both sides of the film spectrum. It at once charms the most elite critics, voted No. 20 all-time on the Sight & Sound critics poll and the AFI’s #1 Greatest Movie Musical of All-Time, while equally entertaining the masses, voted No. 85 on the IMDB Top 250. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard colleagues say, “I can’t stand musicals, but you know, that Singin’ in the Rain is alright.” Imagine what those of us who love musicals think. Continue reading

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Blue Velvet (1986)

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In the 2002 Sight & Sound critics poll, David Thomson voted Blue Velvet not just his favorite movie of the ’80s, but his favorite film of all time. Thomson sang the highest of praises, saying, “It would be as hard to advance on Blue Velvet as it must have been to work after Citizen Kane.” (A) That sentiment was echoed by Peter Travers, who called Blue Velvet a “perverse masterwork” and ranked it #9 in Rolling Stone‘s 100 Maverick Movies.

Why, then, is there a backlash from mainstream viewers, who gave higher box office receipts to 76 other movies that year? Why does the public rate it a 7.8 on IMDB? Why did Roger Ebert give it just one star in 1986? And why does it still only get two stars on my Comcast cable box, compared to the 92% rating on rottentomatoes?

The answer: Blue Velvet is not only odd, but it goes for something that transcends cinema. As a first-time viewer, you share in the main character’s uncomfortable departure from your safe movie-going existence. You go along with it, because you’re intrigued, but by the time the velvet curtain drops, you aren’t sure what to make of it. Wasn’t half the movie campy, corny, even poorly written? And how does that compute with the other half, which is the exact opposite — a brutally real underworld? Finally, you contemplate it long enough and you realize the corniness and brutality are both there for a reason: two contrasting views on the world around us, presented in two contrasting styles by a director daring enough to challenge us and to comment on the film medium itself. Continue reading

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Forrest Gump (1994)

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“The way our great director Bob Zemeckis would describe it,” said Gary Sinise, “sometimes we thought we were making Citizen Kane and other times we thought Roger Rabbit.” Is Forrest Gump a profound commentary like Kane, or an effects-driven romp like Roger Rabbit? Such a broad spectrum makes for a most fascinating discussion about the critics and the mainstream.

While the public made Gump the highest grossing movie of 1994 and votes it an 8.7 on IMDB today, the experts remain splintered. They simultaneously shower it with Oscars (six including Best Picture) and snub it entirely at Cannes, Venice and Berlin. They vote it into the AFI Top 100, but give it zero votes on the Sight & Sound critics poll. Most of all, they give it mixed reviews with a 72% on rottentomatoes, some echoing Pauline Kael — “I hated it thoroughly” — and others echoing Roger Ebert – “Forrest Gump is not only a great and magical entertainment, but the more you think about it, the more it reveals itself as actually sort of profound.” Continue reading

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The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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There may be no greater testament to The Wizard of Oz than the vast demographics it covers, from theater types who adore Broadway’s Wicked to stoners who watch the film in sync with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. After nearly 75 years, the film has transformed itself from mild box office showing to must-see annual TV event to timeless pop culture legend. It’s hard to think that the movie started as just that — a movie.

It’s almost impossible to look objectively at a film that’s so burned into our collective conscious that every song seems our own, every word feels part of our vocabulary and every touch appears as if fate intended it to be there. The film has become so mythical that many fans can no longer separate fact from fiction. Didn’t a Munchkin hang himself on screen? Aren’t there hidden metaphors for government policies? Wasn’t there some on-screen accident? Some off-screen illness? Some of these myths have been busted; others embraced. But one thing is for certain — a film that spawns so many legends must indeed be a legend itself. Continue reading

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