Thanks to the generosity of my employer, I enjoyed a very relaxing break over the Christmas/New Year's holiday. I used the time to do a bit of writing, clean up my office, and build my library. I also watched a bunch of movies:
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy, 1932)
Fury (Fritz Lang, 1936)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sidney Lanfield, 1939)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Alfred L. Werker, 1939)
Bad Day at Black Rock (John Sturges, 1955)
Blackboard Jungle (Richard Brooks, 1955)
A Face in the Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1957)
Advise and Consent (Otto Preminger, 1962)
The Americanization of Emily (Arthur Hiller,1964)
Shivers (David Cronenberg, 1975)
Hellboy (Guillermo del Toro, 2004)
Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Guillermo del Toro, 2008)
Doubt (John Patrick Shanley, 2008)
Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, 2009)
Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
To one degree or another, I can recommend each of these films; there's not a stinker in the bunch.
Cronenberg's pro-sex horror film, Shivers, is certainly the most subversive of the bunch; there are scenes in that film that I doubt would make it past the censors today, proving that the liberalization of societies does not progress steadily, but with periodic steps forward and back. Even in this early effort, Cronenberg's demented genius and unflinching adherence to his particular vision of the world shines through, despite a bargain-basement budget.
My second-favourite of the bunch is probably The Americanization of Emily, Edmontonian director Arthur Hiller's thoughtful satire of the glorification of war. James Garner's zest for life, which he unselfconsciously calls simple cowardice, is a joy to watch.
Bad Day at Black Rock is a short, powerful thriller about the importance of justice to civilization. It's suspenseful, exciting, and in the end, moving.
Blackboard Jungle is inspiring thanks in great part to the performances of Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier, as a struggling teacher and a promising but troubled student.
Slumdog Millionaire and Toy Story 3 are shamelessly feel-good productions, wearing their hearts on their sleeves without pretense.
The two Hellboy films have a wry sense of humour and use their fantasy trappings to tell two very interesting tales of alienation and loneliness.
As a communications professional working in politics, I probably should have watched Advise and Consent and A Face in the Crowd some time ago. The first film reveals the skullduggery of everyday politics, while the second shows how the media can transform any unknown into a celebrity - and then banish him right back into obscurity.
David Fincher's Zodiac isn't as groundbreaking as his earlier Fight Club, but it's still visually interesting and suspenseful, even though the murders it recounts took place decades ago.
Similarly, Fritz Lang's Fury isn't as good as Metropolis or his Mabuse films, but it remains an energetic portrait of one man's justifiable rage, and the revenge that nearly destroys him.
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang features a Paul Muni performance that might seem somewhat affected to today's eyes, but the final scene is unforgettable.
Doubt is all about the performances. Meryl Streep is as amazing as she always is - so much so that it's easy to taker her for granted; the same goes for Philip Seymour Hoffman. But Amy Adams is the real treat in this film. Her innocence and compassion form the film's moral and emotional centre.
The two Sherlock Holmes films feature fairly pedestrian direction, but the scripting is witty and the leads archetypal. I found Baskervilles the more compelling of the two; it's more suspenseful, and the hound itself is quite terrifying; several times I wondered how the stuntmen escaped injury. Perhaps they didn't!