Sunday, May 31, 2009

Film Review: The Two of Us

"The Two of Us" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

To be honest I've grown a little tired of Holocaust movies. Every year I'd say we get at least 92 Holocaust themed movies. It is one of Hollywood's favorite subjects. But Claude Berri's "The Two of Us" (1968) is not so much about the Holocaust as it is about tolerance.

The film is said to be based on the real life experiences of the director, Berri. A Jew who was sent to live with strangers during the Nazi occupation of France. The boy's parents were afraid young Claude would expose their identity and their hiding spot. Claude was the kind of child who got into much trouble in school.

With the fear of war looming over their lives the parents decide it is best that Claude go into hiding with a Catholic elderly family. The problem. The people are anti-Semitic. Therefore the boy's religion is kept secret.

It is an interesting set-up which becomes scary when we think that it is all true. To think what families had to endure during the war. The constant fear of the Nazis taking you away and sending you to your death. To split a family apart.

The boy is played by Alain Cohen and his name is Claude. The elderly man is Pepe (Michel Simon). They are the heart and soul of the film. The two form a bond. The young Claude learns of all the prejudice in the world and in man's heart as Pepe may or may not have learned all people are equal.

What I think makes "The Two of Us" so enjoyable to watch is the way it treats its characters and situations. The film doesn't become a big cliche. We believe in these characters. We come to like them. We believe in the friendship formed between the boy and the man. Director Berri has a way of fleshing these characters out. The film has sentimental moments but never goes overboard.

What is remarkable about that is that this was Cohen's first movie role. He has a natural quality to him. He isn't one of those disgustingly cute kids who say the darnest things. He is a character with emotions. The film is basically told from his point of view. We see the world as he does and as a result we understand his concerns and fears. The viewer is able to see him grow as a human being. That's no small feat for a filmmaker and child actor.

Pepe is played by the legendary actor Michel Simon. Movie buffs will recall his performances from the 1930s and working with such highly regarded filmmakers as Marcel Carne in "Port of Shadows" (1938), one of my favorite films. And Carne's "Drole de Drame" (1937) as well as Jean Renoir's "Boudu Saved From Drowning" (1932) perhaps his most famous role though strangely enough, not one of my favorites.

The viewer may not like what Pepe says. He is a kind of Archie Bunker type. He believes in all the stereotypes thrown at Jews. That they started the war by financing it. That all Jews are only out to make money and such. But, while we may not like what he says Simon is somehow able to make us like his character. I suppose, for no matter how backwards his thoughts may be, he is capable of love. He does love this child. He treats him as his own. This reminds us that no person is perfect. Sometimes even bad people engage in kind acts. Of course the looming question is, what would Pepe do if he found out Claude was a Jew?


Some have suggested that Pepe's last line in the film hints that he has found out about Claude. Others, such as myself, believe this is not true. As Pepe complains that the world around him is going crazy, my feeling is, Pepe has simply given up. His life is too short to hate everyone. Better to just realize, yes, the world is full as people I don't like, but, you know what, I can't change it.

Still, part of me does wish there was a scene where Pepe does find out Claude is a Jew. If the movie were remade, I bet there would be a scene like that. The film would show us Pepe learning the error of his ways. He may hate Jews but could he hate a child?


Claude Berri is probably best known in this country for his epic film series; "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring" (1987). And he was the producer of Roman Polanski's adaptation of "Tess" (1980), which was nominated for an Oscar. His films have a way of getting inside their characters' heads. He shows us simple people with problems we can relate to. His films show us the ugly nature of society but counter it with hopeful messages.

Thinking it over, the film probably should have been included in my "Masterpiece Film Series". It meets my qualifications. However, it was only recently I made an entry. It is too soon for another. But, whether or not I include it in the series doesn't matter. The bottom-line is I'm telling you to see it.

"The Two of Us" is one of those rare movie experiences that can make us laugh and cry. It is one of those movies we don't want to end. We hate to part with these characters. Some will wonder, will then am I giving the film 3.5 stars instead of 4? I do have a few problems with the film. After Claude is sent away I wish there were some scenes dealing with the parents (Charles Denner and Zorica Lozic) showing us the toll being away from their son had on them. We don't even hear Claude speak of them or ask about them. And I revealed another plot point I don't like in the spoiler. But these are minor complaints when you compare it to how much the film gets rights and how it makes us feel.

The film was nominated for a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival where Simon did win an acting award. Sadly it wasn't nominated for an Oscar. When will the Academy ever do anything right?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Film Reviews: Tenebre, Scarlet Diva and Skupljaci Perja

"Tenebre" *** (out of ****)

I know it has been a while since I have written anything on here but there were a lot of personal factors at play which prevented me from writing on here. But, I won't get into that because I realize full well, no one cares. This blog is about movies not my personal life. So, lets get down to it.

To make up for lost time I'm going to review a group of films together. Two of them share a common thread the other is a Serbian classic.

Lately I have been watching a lot of films directed by the Italian filmmaker Dario Argento. Few seem to raise the interesting questions "Tenebre" (1982) does. It seems to be the most self-reflective film the director has made, which I have seen.

A crime novelist, Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) has come out with a new book. He travels to Rome, on a publicity tour, where the book has been on the best-seller's list for 12 weeks. But when he arrives there the police bring it to his attention that a woman has been murdered. The murderer stuffed pages of Peter's book, "Tenebre", into the victim's mouth, forcing the police to suspect the killing may have been motivated by the novel. The killing was done with the same type of weapon described in the book, an old-fashion shaving razor.

Argento makes the viewer suspect everyone as a suspect. First we have his agent, Buller (John Saxon), his secretary Anne (Daria Nicolodi, Argento's one time lover), with whom he has been having an affair with. His wife, Jane McKerrow (Veronica Lario), whom has flown to Rome unexpectedly, for unknown purposes. Perhaps it is a lesbian journalist, Tilde (Mirella D' Angelo) who finds Peter's work sexist. Or even head detective Germani (Giuliano Gemma) who says he is a big fan of Peter's and has read all of his books.

The film, which was supposedly inspired by true events, where Mr. Argento was stalked by a fan, who eventually threatened his life. "Tenebre" hits at the nature of art and its influence on society. Much of the criticism thrown at Peter for his violent novels is what some have said about Mr. Argento's films. Especially the sexist nature, since most of the victims in Argento's films are usually women.

Some people have often wondered what makes someone come up with such violent stories. For years people thought Alfred Hitchcock must have been evil. But, those you knew him well, say he actually had a good sense of humor and a sharp wit. What about Argento though? What does it say about his mind when you see the death scenes in his movies?

Readers unaware should known Dario Argento has a reputation of being one of the most gruesome filmmakers not only in his native Italy but in the world. He has an almost fetish with blood. His camera lingers on it like a wild animal going after its prey.

"Tenebre" was made after Argento released two of his best known films "Suspiria" (1977) and "Inferno" (1980), both have been reviewed on here already. And is a return to his well known giallo genre. The other two films were more supernatural horror films. Giallo, for those unfamiliar with the term is actually Italian for yellow. It is used to described cheap paperbacks which centered on crime fiction mixed with horror and mystery.

The film has some of the most bloody death scenes I have seen in an Argento film. Except maybe for one death scene at the end of his masterpiece "Deep Red" (1975). But that is what you have to expect walking into an Argento film.

"Tenebre" comes to some interesting conclusions about the artist and what inspires them. The answers are not what you may expect and lead one to wonder what is Argento saying about himself? The film is often considered among Argento's best and I would agree, coming after "Deep Red", "Suspiria" and "Inferno". I feel this is Argento's "Vertigo" in the sense that, that particular Hitchcock film is often thought to be the most telling about his personality. "Tenebre" is the most telling about Argento. Among Argento's films however it seems the most closely related to one of his later works "The Stendhal Syndrome" (1996), which I have also already reviewed on here.

The film managed to get released throughout much of Europe without any problems but in America was heavily edited as it was seen as too violent. The film was chopped down and released two years later as "The Unsane". It opened to horrible reviews and was immediately dismissed. Now that the film has been put on DVD in its original form it has caused some critics to re-evaluate the film and give it higher praise.

I also like to mention the actor in the film, Anthony Franciosa, may be the best actor Argento worked with. He is perhaps the most accomplished person to perform in an Argento film. Oddly enough Argento said he was also the most difficult. I don't know how many of today's movie fans will recognize him but he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "A Hatful of Rain" (1957). Also in 1957 he appeared in "A Face in the Crowd" and "Wild is the Wind". He takes his performance very serious here. Maybe a little too serious or maybe he had the right approach. Perhaps otherwise it would have turned into camp.

"SCARLET DIVA" * 1\2 (out of ****)

And so we go from one Argento to another. "Scarlet Diva" (2000) was the feature film debut of Asia Argento. She is of course Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi's daughter. Back in 2000 Ms. Argento was emerging as one of the big names in underground film circles. She has a perceived reputation as a wild party girl headed down the wrong path.

By the time "Scarlet Diva" was released Ms. Argento had already appeared in several of her father's work. And according to Ms. Argento much of what we see in this film was auto-biographical. She claims the film saved her life. And that is a big theme in the film; redemption.

But "Scarlet Diva" just comes off as too pretentious. I had no interest in the story or in Asia Argento's character, Anna Battista, a wild actress who hooks up with a rock musician, Kirk Vaines (Jean Shepard) and ends up becoming pregnant, but he is on tour and is unaware of these events.

Much of what is in "Scarlet Diva" reminds me of Tony Gatlif's "Transylvania" (2006) which also stars Asia Argento. The story lines are almost identical except Gatlif's film involved gypsies. But both stories are about a pregnant woman searching for their lover, who may or may not love her back. "Transylvania", while not a great film (I did review it on here) does offer some insight into human relations. "Scarlet Diva" lacks the passion and life of that movie or any good movie.

If "Scarlet Diva" is known for anything it is probably because it is rumored that some of the film's sex scenes are real. But that is not the best reason to watch a movie. Ms. Argento may be considered a talented actress but she is not a born writer/director.

SKUPLJACI PERJA *** (out of ****)

"Skupljaci Perja" (1967) is considered to be one of the all time great films to come out of Serbia. Back in 1996 a Serbian film board declared it the second best film made between 1946-1996. It was even nominated for an Oscar in the foreign language category and was nominated for a palme d' or at the Cannes Film Festival. And put the director, Aleksandar Petrovic, on the map as a new international talent. He would eventually have four films nominated for the palme d' or.

The film was released in American under the title "I Even Met Happy Gypsies" which is not a direct translation. I know for a fact the word "gypsy" is nowhere in the original title. Serbians and Hungarians have the same word for "gypsy" we say "cigany". A Croatian friend of mine told me the title means "expensive sand". That doesn't make sense to me unless my friend was mistaken and meant "expensive feathers".

The film follows Bora (Bekim Fehmiu) a gypsy who is some sort of feather merchant. His profession is not made very clear. Regardless, he has grown tired of his wife, (Etelka Filipovski) and has fallen in love with a younger woman, Tisa (Gordana Jovanovic) another gypsy. Tisa is still a teenager however.

I have seen a few films which deal with gypsies; "Black Cat, White Cat" (1998) and "Crazy Stranger" (1998) among them. "I Even Met Happy Gypsies" doesn't help bring us into the gypsy community. We have no real understanding of who these people are. Or to narrow my criticism, we have no real sense of who these particular characters are. The film had possibilities given its story line. It sounds close to what some consider a classic comedy, "Divorce Italian Style" (1961). But doesn't take all of the dramatic and comedic possibilities.

Still there are things to admire about Mr. Petrovic's film. It does have some humor and sentimentality. The ending is quite moving and I enjoyed the music. The songs are song by the Lence (Olivera Katarina) character. Why Bora doesn't go after her is a mystery to me. I don't know if she is Serbian or a gypsy or both but it doesn't matter. As Woody Allen once said at the sight of a pretty woman, "I'd sell my mother to the Arabs for her".

The film takes place in the town of Vojvodina. It is an interesting community. Serbs, Romanians, Slovaks and Hungarians all live there. I don't know if this is still true or not but at one time the mayor of the town was actually a Hungarian, Jozsef Kasza. Sadly, because of the bad blood between Serbs and Hungarians, many death threats were made against him. As some of the Serbians in the community demanded all the Hungarians leave.

A film which would show this community in a realistic light would be quite interesting. If only to see how all these different ethnic groups interact. Historically, blending different groups together hasn't quite worked out. Just ask people of the former Yugoslavia or the old Czechoslovakia. And speaking of Czechoslovakia, Jiri Menzel's "Closely Watched Trains" (1967) is what beat this film for the Oscar that year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Film Review: Inferno

"Inferno" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

I have now seen five films directed by the Italian horror master Dario Argento. As one might expect, the more films I see of his the more I learn. What I have learned so far is his earlier films are much better than his more recent work.

Some readers may contend that is usually the case. When a filmmaker is young and starting out their vision is fresh and bold. As the years go on they merely repeat themselves. Maybe this is true. It depends on the filmmaker. In the case of Argento however, it is not so much he repeats himself it is that he has taken his work in a new, disappointing, direction.

I have only seen two of Argento's early films. These movies were "horror" films in the traditional sense. But they were done with a visual style which in a weird way turned them into eye candy. They were suspenseful and provided some chills. His work of late is more camp then horror.

"Inferno" (1980) is the second part in Argento's "Three Mother" trilogy. The series began with "Suspiria" (1977), so far the best film I have seen by him, and concluded with "Mother of Tears" (2007). "Suspiria", which I reviewed on here, is a horror masterpiece. It is one of my favorite horror films. It belongs in a class with "The Exorcist" (1973) and "Rosemary's Baby" (1968). "Inferno" tries to follow in the same footsteps, but just doesn't quite compare.

This sequel takes place in New York, where a young woman, Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) has discovered a book titled "The Three Mothers". She learns who the three mothers are and what they represent. There is the oldest, the mother of sighs (which is what "Suspiria" was about), the most beautiful, the mother of tears, and the cruelest, the mother of darkness, which is the subject of this film. Rose believes what she reads in the book and in a moment of fear writes to her brother, Mark (Leigh McCloskey), who is studying music in Rome.

One of the problems I have with "Inferno" is the film's structure. Everything I have just described takes place in the film's first few minutes. Everything is described to us in a voice-over while Rose reads the book. The reason I think this is a mistake is because it takes the mystery out of everything. These secrets should have been slowly discovered by Rose and her brother. This would allow the film to invite us into this world of witchcraft much like how "Suspiria" did. With "Inferno" Argento just seems to want to get the explanation out of the way and get to the killing. This isn't as effective. What "Inferno" becomes now is a collection of set pieces where we follow one character at a time until they meet their ultimate end. But there little holding the plot together.

Like "Suspiria", "Inferno" makes special use of colors. Notice the attention placed on the color blue in the beginning. "Suspiria" was the last film to use Technicolor, while "Inferno" can't achieve the exact same look it does a good job trying to capture it. It is visually arresting on its own.

The best sequence in the film is the beginning. It is an underwater sequence involving Rose as she tries to recover a key she has dropped. In this sequence Argento keeps the intensity pretty high. To be honest, he does for most of the film. We keep expecting something or someone to pop out of nowhere, as is usually the case with such films. Argento also puts in small touches of sexuality. Another staple of horror films.

Other good sequences involve Sarah (Eleonora Giorgi). She is a fellow music student and friend of Mark. She picks up the letter which Rose has sent to Mark, which he has left behind. She now becomes part of this puzzle. Her sequence is suspenseful as well.

And finally I liked the introduction of the Elise (Daria Nicolodi) character. A friend of Rose, who lives above her. Ms. Nicolodi was at one time romantically link to Mr. Argento. She supposedly is the one who came up with the idea of this series. She received writing credit for the first film but this time goes uncredited.

But not all of the horror sequences work. I didn't care for the scenes dealing with a book seller, Kazanian (Sacha Pitoeff). A cripple who sells Rose the book on the three mothers. His actions are bizarre. One scene seems to have been inspired by "Willard" (1971), the film where a man trains rats to kill. I can stand a lot in a movie. Blood and guts don't bother me. But there is something about seeing rats on-screen which makes me squeamish.

I also wondered about how did Argento come up with this film's title. Why did he call it "Inferno"? Why not "Mother of Darkness"? Or "Tenebrarum", the witch's name?

In an introduction on the DVD Agrento says says this about "Inferno", "it is one of my most sincere and purest films." In one sense I understand what he means and in another I completely disagree. It is his purest film in the sense the movie does not involve itself so much with a story. Argento is using cinematic devices, like cinematography or music, to create atmosphere. That leads me to appreciate certain elements of the film. But I disagree because the movie doesn't seem to be having much fun playing around with the genre.

"Inferno" could have used a more coherent plot and some edits. Near the end of the film it just seems to be lingering. The finale is slightly disappointing. Not much is uncovered because everything was explained in the beginning. And the music by Keith Emerson is too forceful at times. It suggest too much not to mention it is too loud.

But I've made it seem "Inferno" is a bad film. It was only disappointing to me because I kept comparing to it "Suspiria". But "Inferno" does put on a good show. It still lacks logic however but does have suspenseful moments. It is also much better than "Mother of Tears".

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Film Review: She

"She" *** (out of ****)

Man has always tried to find a way to stop death. As far as I know, there is no cure to stop the aging process. It has been the subject of several films, few have been as notorious as this adaptation of "She" (1935).

This 1935 version of H. Rider Haggard's novel was the seventh and final screen adaptation. The first dates back to 1899 and was directed by George Melies (probably best known for the film "A Trip to the Moon" (1902) under the title "La Colonne de feu".

RKO studios and producer Merian C. Cooper were just coming off the success of "King Kong" (1933). Seeking another hit they turned to Haggard's novel (who also wrote "King Solomon's Mines"). And one can clearly see the comparisons. A group of white people travel to an unchartered land where the mysterious happens. They run into an ancient civilization. While there is no giant monkey in "She" we are still dealing with the bizarre.

In the end the film proved to be a flop upon initial release. It was re-released to greater attention and today, thanks to KINO has gained a third life on DVD where younger fans, if they are hip enough, can seek it out and enjoy it. The KINO print not only has additional lost footage but also has a colorized version, which was suppose to be how the film was intended to be released. But to cut back on the budget RKO changed their plans to Cooper's disappointment.

Before I saw "She", just looking at the DVD cover, I always wondered what the heck could this film be about? It was on my mind for a long time. Should I see it or shouldn't I? Then I took the leap.

"She" has Randolph Scott as Leo Vincey. A young man who learns from his dying uncle of a family secret. It seems 500 years ago one of Leo's relatives had discovered the eternal flame of youth. He found it in the frozen Russian arctic in a place known as Kor. His uncle, a man of science, was at first skeptical. But after years of research with a family friend, Holly (Nigel Bruce) now believes the stories to be true. It is now up to Leo to travel with Holly to discover this mythical land. If it is true, they will have made the greatest discovery known to mankind. A way to stop death. To be young forever.

On this journey the two men meet Tanya (Helen Mack) a young women with an abusive and opportunistic father. Believing the two men may be on to something big he offers to help the men find their way, with help from natives, if they will include him in on what they are looking for. It become clear however that an attraction has started between Tanya and Leo.

And now we are on our adventure as the group must face the elements and the savage beast they encounter. They discovered a frozen sabre-tooth tiger.

When they arrive in Kor they meet the ruler of the land, the queen. Simply known as "She" (Helen Gahagan). She has been waiting for a stranger to arrive. A man she loved hundred of years ago whom she is sure will return to her.

"She" suffers from problems a few films from the era suffer from. The dialogue is pretty bad. It is over dramatic and simplistic. It doesn't sound realistic. Randolph Scott in the lead didn't seem right to me. He seems uncomfortable to me. He could play a tough guy but I think you needed someone who had more of a balance to them. Who could be the action star and handle the serious moments in the film. Scott never struck me as an actor who could do that. On the other hand Nigel Bruce is perfectly casted as the side-kick, since he played one of the most famous side-kick ever, Dr. Watson to Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes. Helen Mack is OK. She is not a great talent. I haven't seen her in much. She did appear in a Harold Lloyd comedy "The Milky Way".

The real star of "She" though is Helen Gahagan. This was her only on-screen appearance. She was a stage actress. She eventually enter politics where she ran for U.S. Senate in 1950 and lost to Richard Nixon. She is the one who coined the phrase "tricky dick".

Helen Gahagan is a little over dramatic here but does probably give the best performance in the film. It is without doubt the most memorable in the film. Her impact in the film was so strong that it has been suggested she was the inspiration for the Evil Queen character in Disney's "Snow White" (1937).

"She" is flooded with lavish, expensive costumes and sets. This is the kind of film Cecil B. DeMille or D.W. Griffith with "Intolerance" (1917) would have been proud of. Directors Lansing C. Holden (his only directing credit) and Irving Pichel ("The Most Dangerous Game" (1932) know how to fill the frame with lots of eye candy. Though that doesn't translate into a great film.

"She" has a few plot holes in it, especially at the end, but it also has moments that are suspenseful and adventurous. It's not up to par with Frank Capra's "Lost Horizon" (1937) with Ronald Coleman but it has its own charms. Movie buffs and especially those who enjoy cinema from the 1930s will enjoy this.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Top Ten Films Of The 1980s

As I had expressed in my previous "top ten" list, where I named the best films of 1990. I have no such "top ten" lists for the decade of the 1980s. So I thought maybe it would be interesting to just give a "ten best" list of the decade and the decades which preceded.

Such a task is hard. I have already made a list for the best films of the 90s and was disappointed about all the titles I left out. Going over ten years of movies and limiting a list to ten films you are bound to leave some films off a list. This list will be no exception.

Cinematically speaking the 1980s were a disappointing decade. There was a bold, fresh, independent spirit which emerged in the 1970s, possibly the last great decade for films, but in the 1980s it all disappeared. Why? Did the conservative environment of the Reagan years constrict filmmakers? It didn't seem to stop them in the 70s under the Nixon administration and their anti-war films.

And it is not that there weren't great artist around. Ingmar Bergman was alive, though claimed to have "retired" in 1983. Scorsese, Allen, Altman, Kubrick, Bertolucci, Kurosawa and Fellini were all alive in the 80s and making films. You'll see their films on this list but the decade seemed to lack the intensity of the previous one. Films of the 70s seemed to have more of an edge to them. They were making films about something. Films with a conscience. Cinema in the 80s tended to play it more safe.

This list of the best films of the decade is going to upset some. Such list always will. People will tell me how could I leave such and such film off of my list? Why did I pick the ones I did? The answer to both is easy. I picked the films I did because I like them. As for why certain ones got left off, it could be a variety of reasons. I limited myself to ten, I may not have seen every film made in the 1980s but I can tell you this, more than ten films were made in the decade. Another explanation is, as awful as this my sound, I simply forgot some titles. I tried my best to think of all the meaningful films I've seen. Films which touched me. Which made me think about society and the world around me and of course films which simply entertained me. It didn't matter to me if the film is a popular choice or not. Some of the titles on this list are not what you'd expect. I purposely left some titles off. I'll reveal a spoiler. Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" is not on my list. I know, I know, it is generally thought of as the best film of the decade. While it is a very good movie, I never felt it was Scorsese's best. It has become such a cliche to put it on every list dealing with films of the 80s that I wanted to avoid it. This, I am sure, will upset some. But that is the nature of such list. To provoke. To start debates. In order to put one title on a list you must leave off another. It is tough to chose.

As I did in my list of the best films of the 1990s I am going to list the films here not in order of preference but alphabetically. Following the list will be a collection of runner's up. The list is not perfect but it reflects as best as any list could films which are meaningful to me. Here we go!

1. BLUE VELVET (1986, Dir. David Lynch; U.S.) - The first David Lynch film I saw was his "Mulholland Dr." It was an unusual experience for me. I enjoyed the film a lot but had honestly never seen a film like that. "Blue Velvet" is often seen as his best film, so I immediately decided to see it after "Drive". It was just as entertaining to me. A weird visual nightmare. One of Lynch's most stylish films. It was nominated for one Oscar, Lynch as "Best Director".

2. CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS (1989, Dir. Woody Allen; U.S.) - I wasn't quite sure which Allen film to pick. "Hannah & Her Sisters" or this one. Both are great and for a while I thought about making it a tie. But "Crimes & Misdemeanors" strikes me as a bit more mature. Allen is able to express his views on society a bit better here. I think he would find a much better metaphor in "Match Point", which deals with very similar issues, but "Crimes & Misdemeanors" is still very entertaining. Allen usually does a great job with these "novels on film". He always finds a good way to blend comedy and drama. The film was nominated for three Oscars including "Director", "Screenplay" and Martin Landau for "Best Supporting Actor".

3. FANNY & ALEXANDER (1983, Dir. Ingmar Bergman; Sweden) - It was suppose to be Bergman's last film, and most people wrongly believe it was his last directorial effort released. Actually he had a film released the following year, "After the Rehearsal", which many people seem to have forgotten. Regardless, you can tell Bergman meant for this epic to be his farewell. Its opening moments, at a Christmas dinner, are among the most joyous you will find on film. It has those dark elements we associate with the master but the film has a more positive attitude towards family than most other Bergman films. The cast consist of Bergman regulars such as Erland Josephson, Harriat Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstraud and Pernilla August. Originally a five hour Swedish television mini-series, it was released in America as a three hour film. The film has however been put on DVD. It includes both versions. Watch the five hour one instead.

The film was nominated for six Oscars and won four including one for "Best Foreign Language Film".

4. GANDHI (1982, Dir. Richard Attenborough; U.K.) - The "David Lean" epic of the 1980s. Attenborough's "Lawrence of Arabia". A true, visual, masterful epic. Ben Kingsley not only gives the performance of his career (which says a lot about Kingsley, whom repeatedly gives great performance after great performance) but it is also one of the great performances ever put on film. You forget you are watching a performance and not the real Gandhi. As the film states at the beginning, no film can perfectly capture a man's life. But "Gandhi" serves as a wonderful introduction into a great man's life. The film was nominated for 11 Oscars winning 8, among them "Best Picture", "Best Director" and "Best Actor (Kingsley)".

5. THE LAST EMPEROR (1987, Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci; China/U.K.) - Another masterful epic. This is one of Bertolucci's great films, my second favorite behind "The Conformist". Like Attenborough, Bertolucci also knows how to fill up a frame. The film won every single Oscar it was nominated for. Winning a total of nine including "Best Picture", "Best Director" and "Best Screenplay".

6. THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988, Dir. Martin Scorsese; U.S.) - A film misunderstood by many and seen by even less. I chose this Scorsese film over "Raging Bull" for a reason. People should see it. The film has been a subject of so much controversy that people who never saw the film damn it. I find the movie actual has a positive message. This is not just "the film where Jesus marries Mary Magdalene." Pay attention to the film's title. I don't think Scorsese would damn the church. It is widely known he thought about becoming a priest. He is a man of faith. "The Last Temptation of Christ" is not a perfect film, why the heck did Harvey Keitel play Judas? But it is a deep, powerful, moving film. It is not an anti-religion film. Please give the film a chance.

7. MEPHISTO (1981, Dir. Istvan Szabo; Hungary) - The most acclaimed film by the great Hungarian filmmaker Istvan Szabo. In fact, sometimes it is the only film critics will give Szabo credit for. It is actually a clever retelling of Faust about an actor who sells his soul not to the devil but the Nazis in order to achieve great fame as a stage actor. The film, believe it or not, is actually somewhat auto-biographical. After the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 Szabo stood in Communist Hungary and worked as a spy. Here is a film which asked some very hard questions about achieving the "greater good". What will men do for fame and what difference can an artist make in this world?

The film is the only Hungarian language film to ever win an Oscar. It was part of a trilogy with Szabo and actor Klaus Maria Brandauer did of tragic figures in historical times. The other entries were "Colonel Redl" and "Hanussen". "Mephisto" was nominated for a palme d'or at the Cannes Film Festival and won the National Board of Review award for "Best Foreign Language" film.

8. MON ONCLE D' AMERIQUE (1980, Dir. Alain Resnais; France) - Sadly not as well remembered as it should be. Honestly, how many conversations have you had about this movie? But I think this is Resnais best film, which is saying a lot when you consider this is the man who made "Last Year at Marienbad", "Hiroshima, mon amour" and "The War is Over".

The film is about human nature. Is is predictable? How does one explain? It also deals with the theme of life imitating art and the influence cinema has on us. Gerard Depardieu, Nicole Garcia and Roger Pierre are the three main characters whose lives will intertwine. For the serious subject matter the film is actually joyous and carefree.

9. PLATOON (1986, Dir. Oliver Stone; U.S.) - My choice for the best anti-war film though "Oh! What A Lovely War" is close behind it. Oliver Stone's semi-autobiographical film on his experiences during the Vietnam war is gritty and powerful but never preachy. This marked the beginning of his war trilogy and the other entries are just as powerful. Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe and Charlie Sheen co-star in this "Best Picture" Oscar winner which was nominated for a total of eight, walking away with four.

10. RAIN MAN (1988, Dir. Barry Levinson; U.S.) - Might be considered too conventional for film snobs but it is a really entertaining film about two lost brothers coming together. It is funny and insightful and gives us one of Dustin Hoffman's best known performances, he also won an Oscar for it. It may not challenge us the way "Mephisto" or "The Last Temptation of Christ" does but it is worth seeing if only for the chemistry and the performances given by Tom Cruise and Hoffman. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four.

RUNNER'S UP! (In no order)
1. AFTER THE REHEARSAL (1984, Dir. Ingmar Bergman)

2. VICTOR/VICTORIA (1982, Dir. Blake Edwards)

3. TIE- RAN (1985)/KAGEMUSHA (1980, Dir. Akira Kurosawa)

4. THE SACRIFICE (1986, Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)

5. AMADEUS (1984, Dir. Milos Forman)

6. RAGING BULL (1980, Dir. Martin Scorsese)