Being as big of a film fan as I am, you would think I’d seen this one long ago. But, I never did. It was not intentional…just an oversight. Recently, I made up for that by finally watching the extended edition on DVD. This is a fabulous movie that will be around forever as a testament to filmmaking and movies in general. Destined to be a timeless classic, Cinema Paradiso tells the story of a man, Salvatore, who finds out his childhood hero has passed away. We are taken into his memory and back in time to his childhood when he first meets his hero Alfredo, a movie projectionist in a small-town cinema. Then, we move into Salvatore’s adolescence where, though Alfredo is still part of his life, his romance with a lady becomes Salvatore’s consuming passion. The movie comes full circle, back where it started with Salvatore as an adult and returning home to the town he grew up in. Cinema Paradiso is a masterpiece about filmmaking, love, regret, and loss. Just when you think it’s as good as it’s going to get, it gets better. Put off seeing this one and you’ll be sorry (like I was).

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A charming film for the whole family about a school for unruly children in post-war France and the man who makes his way into his students’ hearts through music. Incorporating elements from many other teacher-student films (Heaven Help Us, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dead Poets Society, etc.), The Chorus stands above those because it is able to be endearing without being too corny and hokey. As with many other teacher-student films, there always is a hard-nosed disciplinarian…and that is the case here, with the school being run by an evil headmaster. When the new prefect, Mr. Mathieu, arrives on the scene, he and the headmaster immediately clash but the prefect hangs on and helps the children reform with the help of his musical background. Sounds corny, I know…but the script takes its time and doesn’t ever force anything onto the audience. None of the emotions the children feel towards Mathieu and vice versa seem strained or unnatural. And the way the story is book-ended by present-day scenes only adds to the film’s charm, especially with the way the ending comes together and pleasantly surprises.

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A riotous, toe-tapping adaptation of the Kander-Ebb Broadway musical that will keep you dancing and singing along from start to finish. Told through the eyes of wannabe star Roxie Hart, the movie’s tone is much lighter and more fun than the Broadway musical, which spends more time on the dark side of Roxie. Great performances by Renee Zellweger as Roxie and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Roxie’s nemesis Velma Kelly but that stand-out performance is by Richard Gere, who is just phenomenal as the conniving lawyer Billy Flynn. If you’re not still humming the songs of this Best Picture winner a day later, there’s something wrong with you!

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If you can get past the annoying whistling (of the soldiers whistling a certain march, which is the movie’s theme music), this David Lean epic is one of film’s true masterpieces. William Holden stars as the tough, bitter Shears, who has been imprisoned in a POW camp for months when British colonel Alec Guinness and his troops are captured and sent to the camp. For me, this movie is one of the few large-scale epics I ever liked, mostly because it’s not too corny and sentimental. Don’t get me wrong…I like sentiment as much as the next gal but I prefer it in a romantic comedy or a melodrama. Corny romance and dialogue always seemed out of place, to me, in an epic. The one question I have, though, with the film is the ending. Not the finale—which ends with the train scene of all train scenes—but, rather just the second half of the film. After Holden’s character escapes from the camp, he finds himself enjoying his freedom. When he is propositioned by superiors to take them back to the camp so they can bomb a bridge the Japanese are building (with the help of Guinness’ soldiers), he reluctantly agrees. Reluctantly or not, I would never have agreed. We are told (through previous dialogue and through a montage of shots during the escape) that escaping the camp was an arduous ordeal and we already know that life inside the camp was hell. Nothing or no one would make me go back to hell once I got out, so I never really do get why Holden agrees. But, alas, if he didn’t there would not be a movie. And what a great movie it is! And that’s not just my opinion—ask the Academy. Winner of seven Oscars, including ones for Guinness and Lean.

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Peter Sellers stars as Chauncy, who, up until his eviction from his wealthy employer’s home, has never been outside the house, never been in a car, never learned how to read or write, and never learned how to exist without television. When Shirley MacLaine and her billionaire husband take Chauncy in, he becomes a celebrity through some twists of fate. Even though this film is mostly a drama, Sellers’ performance as the naïve Chauncy is so convincing that at times, funny moments surface because of his simplicity. Sellers might have honed his comic skills in the Pink Panther films, but he succeeds here as a serious actor who takes bold chances.

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Once in a while a movie comes out that takes you totally by surprise. That’s what The Barbarian Invasions did for me. I’m not that big into foreign films. So, when I put the DVD in, it was mostly reluctantly. For 99 minutes, I was entranced with the story and the characters. I fell in love with the seemingly unlikable father who, even in the hospital, surrounds himself by his former mistresses. The friends that come to gather around him are a group of vibrant, quirky souls that have small enough roles not to interrupt the main story but who add color while they are on screen. The relationship between the father and his son is the heart of the film and what a believable, realistic relationship it is. There is no canned, Hollywood dialogue here…just two people who have been estranged for a while and are forced together by difficult circumstance. A good film for anyone who is a son, daughter, or even a parent because the film is filled with so much realism that situations like this could occur in anyone’s life.

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The Aviator is a good film. It is the kind of film that has epic qualities…large scope, vast landscapes, array of characters, historical, romance, action, drama…things that Lawrence of Arabia and more recently, Braveheart have. But, an epic by Martin Scorsese is guaranteed to have at least one other thing…quality. Basically a biopic of billionaire Howard Hughes in his early movie-making and piloting days, Scorsese choose Leonardo DiCaprio to play his Hughes…and even though my feelings are highly mixed on DiCaprio (basically, I don’t like him as an actor), I admire how Scorsese uses DiCaprio in this film and the chances the actor takes with the role. Though DiCaprio is good, what makes this film a grand epic is the way Scorsese shot it. When Hughes is working on his Hell’s Angels film, Scorsese is able to capture both of determination of Hughes and the danger of the stunts on the screen. Yet, when Hughes’s character retreats into himself and shows the first stages of the recluse he will become in later years, Scorsese also captures that using his camera…the inner pain and turmoil of Howard jumps out at the audience, even though often there is no dialogue to indicate that. In recent years, Scorsese has steered away from making personal films about New York and/or Italian-Americans, such as his earlier works like Raging Bull, Mean Streets, and Goodfellas. Even 2002’s The Gangs of New York, though about his hometown, felt less personal and more epic in scope. The Aviator might not be Scorsese at his best, but I would take his “epic” films any day of the week over some other films out there.

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A fledging office clerk finds out the hard way that getting to the top of the corporate ladder is not easy after he falls for a lady he is unknowingly sharing with his boss. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. It’s not the plot that makes The Apartment a masterpiece…it’s Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray and director Billy Wilder all working together to make one of the best comedies ever. Or is it one of the best dramas ever? Some of the funniest movie moments ever are captured in this film…just as some of the darkest are as well. Before this, Wilder had proven he could excel at any genre of filmmaking…out-and-out comedies, dramas, thrillers, romances, and even other dark comedies (Stalag 17). With The Apartment, Wilder really sealed his mastery of cinema by combining most of those genres to make one fabulous film. Sadly, this is his last great public or critical success. Talk about going out with a bang!

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Writing this on June 3, 2005, the whole world now knows the identity of the mysterious “Deep Throat.” Having that newly revealed information does not diminish the impact of this film. Neither does knowing the outcome of the story. People flocked to see Titanic even though that outcome was also infamously known. The ending…or resolve…of All the President’s Men really is not the reason to watch it. Watch it for everything that leads up to the finale of Nixon as president—the detailed investigative reporting, the danger, the deadlines, the fear of incomplete information…or inaccurate information…the threat of losing jobs and even lives while covering this story. All of those pieces make this film about a very well-known time in American history a taut, fast-paced thriller. Yes…thriller. A movie about Nixon and Watergate and reporters and reporting is a thriller…all with an ending that is not a surprise to viewers? Hard to believe, I know, but nonetheless true. From start to finish, this film is packed with tense, exciting moments…all while making investigative journalism look like the coolest profession outside of taste tester for Ben and Jerry’s. The famous book that this film is based on, by then-Washington Post up-and-coming journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (who is now an editor at the Post), is dryer and more dense. The movie takes all of the many facts and details of the book and lays them out in a complex, tight structure that makes us sit on the edge of our seats.

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When you watch a film that, within the first ten minutes, makes you laugh so hard you can’t catch your breath, it’s a sign that it’s going to be a pleasant cinematic experience. This film, though, knows it’s funny…knows it’s WAY over-the-top…and knows that the audience is either going to love it or be offended by its touchy subject. This “touchy” subject matter deals with three homosexual men…one transsexual and two transvestites. They, for lack of a better term, are drag queens. They get a job to perform several hundred miles from home and accept it…finding a broken-down bus to get them there. As I said, this movie KNOWS it’s dealing with campy material and truly makes the most of it. These drag queens are flamboyant…outspoken…raunchy…not politically-correct by any means (can a drag queen be politically correct?). And the plot and the dialogue cater to this flamboyance. I would almost call this film a musical because of all of the production numbers…some “gay” films try to steer away from the stereotypical ideal that all gay men love dancing and performing, but this film not only doesn’t steer clear from musical numbers, it gives new meaning to the term “outlandish.” Yes, the subject matter is touchy so I guess I should “advise” some to stay away, but I think that it is a film that, no matter what your personal, political, or religious views are, you will still be able to find the humor in it. At least I hope so. My suggestion is that if you don’t like to laugh, just stay clear of this one.

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