Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day 130: Donnie Darko

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #126
Year: 2001
Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone

Should I really do consecutive posts about cult science fiction movies about time travel that I can't stand? Probably not, but I'm about to. Although, to be fair, next to Donnie Darko, 12 Monkeys looks like Citizen Kane. Hell, next to Donnie Darko, Darko Milicic looks like Orson Welles. I can't even describe my feelings for this film without sounding like a third-grader. What I want to call it is "stupid" and "bad," because it doesn't even have any of the necessary qualities to earn a more fair-handed criticism. It's a childish movie made for people with childlike minds for film who want to be intellectually stimulated on their level, and who want to have something ostensibly highbrow to wear on their Hot Topic-bought t-shirts. In short, Donnie Darko tries way too fucking hard. It's probably guiltier of that offense than any other movie I've seen.

Call me lazy if you must, but I'm not going to dignify this movie with a plot summary. The plot is just too asinine. The performances aren't any good, either. Part of me is annoyed with how popular this movie has become and how zealous its fans are, but part of me just wants to know what it is they're seeing. Perhaps I'm wrong and they aren't just simpletons who got their minds blown by something extremely un-mindblowing (Inception, while great, suffers from the same phenomenon), and there's something great about Donnie Darko that just didn't click with me the first time I watched it in slack-jawed disbelief that it had a generally positive reputation. I'm just not sure I'm willing to watch it again to find out.

And yes, I know this blog post will go down as one of my worst. I just can't dedicate 800 words to something I hate without coming off as an enormous douchebag – which fans of the film probably think I've already proved myself to be.

The Good: Am I going too far if I say nothing? Because I'm going to.

The Bad: Probably the post-production that is still finds itself in. I'm constantly baffled by how much people want to talk about this movie like there's anything to talk about.

The Skinny: Might be my least favorite movie on the list that I've seen thus far.

Day 129: 12 Monkeys

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #173
Year: 1995
Director: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt

I used to have my head so far up Terry Gilliam's ass I could see through his eyeballs, and excluding his work with the Monty Python gang (oddly, the only work of his that really holds up for me today), 1995's 12 Monkeys was my gateway. I worked my way through about half of a totally arbitrary online Top 100 Cult Movies list when I was in 8th grade, and this film placed very highly. I watched it, was enamored by it, and quickly became a huge Terry Gilliam fan and set out to watch all of his movies. Today, I'm not so fond of Gilliam or of this film – I think he's guilty of making every frame so visually interesting (erm, "interesting," I actually hate his visual identity) that the actual plot content of at least half of his scenes becomes utterly uninteresting. He's guiltier of that in fare like Brazil and the still-fairly-charming Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but it exists here, too. Fortunately, Brad Pitt's towering mid-'90s screen presence (Not in stature, but in total dominance of every frame he's a part of – this guy was a star even before he was the great actor he is today.) makes most of the film easy to stomach. But is this a great film? Maybe with a more restrained director at the helm, but not in its existing form.

The plot depicts a futuristic sci-fi dystopia where a deadly virus has forced humanity to live underground. The film explores the realms of mental illness, totalitarianism, corporate interests causing society's downfall, secret societies, conspiracy, and, most questionably and yet most importantly, time travel. All of this stuff intrigued me when I was fourteen, but now I've come to realize it's just kind of a mess. Here Gilliam not only made his scenery too cluttered but also his storytelling, and a final scene that should have packed some emotional punch along with its "a-ha!" realization (like a Christopher Nolan ending, for example), it's just an opportunity for Gilliam to put yet another level of sci-fi intrigue into his muddled plot. I know it's kind of a stretch, but I recently wrote about Back to the Future, a film that makes time travel its principle endeavor. That movie works because it only requires us to think about one thing, and that thing happens to be somewhat complex. 12 Monkeys throws an extremely complex concept at us in the midst of everything else that's already going on, and it doesn't add anything to the film. It just makes it more unnecessarily complicated in an attempt to be almost condescendingly clever.

It's not a totally worthless film, though. As I mentioned earlier, Brad Pitt starring in damn near anything in the 1990s is worth a gander because of the way his young face just lit up a screen. His performance as anti-corporatist animal rights activist mental patient Jeffrey Goines is no exception. But 12 Monkeys is still a rental copy at best. (Do people still say that when they recommend movies? Should I instead say "Put it toward the bottom of your queue"? I'm so

The Good: Pitt's performance.

The Bad: Terry Gilliam making a Terry Gilliam movie. Sorry, Terry Gilliam fans.

The Skinny: I wouldn't put it anywhere near the Top 250.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Day 128: The Graduate

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #161
Year: 1967
Director: Mike Nichols
Starring: Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft

Ah, looking at that poster brings back some fond memories. When I was a senior in high school preparing for my graduation party, I made a pretty wicked PhotoShop of the poster to The Graduate – a movie I was slightly obsessed with at the time – putting my face in place of Dustin Hoffman's. Subtlety wasn't (still isn't) my forte, but hey, it made me laugh. I wouldn't have been inspired to make that poster if the source material wasn't excellent, and even though it's been since my high school graduation that I've actually watched the film, I can assure you that it is. It's given us some truly timeless quotes, it gave Simon & Garfunkel an excuse to write one of their best songs ("Mrs. Robinson"), it has some entries in the canon of oft-imitated-but-never-replicated movie scenes (See the last twenty minutes of Wayne's World 2, which parody The Graduate by restaging it with Mike Myers and changing nothing. And I thought I was unsubtle.) and, above all, it's an enjoyable, funny movie that lives up to every bit of the hype it has generated in the 40+ years since its release.

The film follows recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock (a very young Dustin Hoffman in his first movie role) as he returns to the West Coast where he grew up and is seduced by a friend of the family while accidentally falling in love with her daughter. It's one of those movies that even if you haven't seen it, you've seen it because of how many times it's been parodied, paid tribute to, and referenced in pop culture since its release – and as such, I'll forgo a proper plot summary here. I'd kind of like to look at the culture impact of the movie over the past forty years, but that sounds like a 2000 word essay, and I'm writing three blog posts tonight and have three research papers to finish by Saturday, so, uh, nah. So yeah, you're kind of getting ripped off with this post. As with a lot of comedies, it's kind of difficult to write a self-contained piece about the film and nothing else that's very useful or interesting, so I'm copping out. If you want a paragraph on Wayne's World 2, I could probably do that, but somehow I doubt if that's in high demand. At least you learned about some fun I had with PhotoShop in high school, so this wasn't totally a wash, right?

The Good: "Plastics" and "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me, aren't you?" are two of the greatest movie lines ever, and the Simon & Garfunkel song is so good, but I think the final shot of Dustin Hoffman looking out the back window of the bus with his presumed bride-to-be and that incredible look of doubt and apprehension on his face as the film cuts to credits says so much of what needs to be said about this movie. It's one of Hoffman's single greatest moments ever as an actor.

The Bad: Anne Bancroft's performance is surprisingly a little bit shaky, and not nearly as sexually enticing as Hoffman's character plays it as. Honestly, it's mostly creepy.

The Skinny: #161 sounds a little low to me. This one's a classic.

Day 127: The Princess Bride

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #184
Year: 1987
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Cary Elwes and Robin Wright

I'm gonna take a lot of crap for this one (just kidding, no one reads my blog), but I don't love The Princess Bride. I guess I get why people love it so much, but to me, it doesn't rise above the level of any other fairytale movie, and I'd much rather watch Labyrinth for the umpteenth time than watch The Princess Bride again, and that's not even to mention the dozens of superior Disney movies that adhere to the same formula. There's still a lot of charming things about this film, many of which stem from its excellent supporting cast (headlined by the greatest bit part actor of all time, Wallace Shawn, the late, great Andre the Giant, and the immortal-line-spewing Mandy Patinkin). Still, something keeps this movie strictly in the cult phenomenon zone for me and well shy of the "great film" range.

The plot is pretty standard, though it has its twists. A beautiful girl falls in love with a poor man but is betrothed to a rich prince. She gets kidnapped before the wedding can happen, and the kidnappers are pursued by both of the beautiful girl's suitors. Her true love (the poor man) catches up with her and they eventually ride off into the sunset together after the man weasels his way out of a duel with the prince. This is all framed by a grandfather (who may or may not be the poor lovestruck man himself) reading a story to his sick grandson. There's lots of other, more interesting things happening in what I would call the "B-plot" if this were a TV recap, but you don't need those here. If you're going to watch the movie, though, those are the bits you'll want to watch it for. The three aforementioned supporting actors, along with Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest, are all hilarious and better than the two leads (Robin Wright and Cary Elwes).

I'm not here to hate on The Princess Bride, though. Seriously. If I was eight years old in 1987, I would probably have a poster of it on my wall right now. But I didn't necessarily see it first at the right age or in the right environment to care very deeply about it, so it's easy to look for comparable movies that do what it does in a more interesting way. At worst, it gives me a chance to see Wallace Shawn – an actor whom I'm pretty sure I like more than anyone else on Earth does – in a relatively big role. Top 250, though? Inconceivable.

The Good: The scene wherein Wallace Shawn's character overthinks which cup the poison is in...

The Bad: ...leading to his death. This movie needed more Wallace Shawn.

The Skinny: Nah, it's not Top 250 good, at least not in my opinion.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day 126: Glory

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #248
Year: 1989
Director: Edward Zwick
Starring: Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington

Contemporary filmmaking hasn't been particularly kind to the American Civil War. It's mostly been reduced to four-hour blocks of fan service for the kinds of guys who subscribe to Blue and Gray and reenact the battle of Antietam in their local parks, and when truly great movies taking place during the Civil War are made, they're generally not really about the Civil War at all (see Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The). Glory is one glorious (heh) exception. It's got some of the hallmarks of ho-hum Civil War movies – namely extremely long battle scenes and resulting shots surveying fields covered in bodies that directly reference Matthew Brady's photography – but the story it tells is a fairly unique, or, at the very least, interesting one. Most of the credit goes to the casting, which gave Denzel Washington his first Oscar, gave Morgan Freeman a chance to shine as the wise, simple older man two years before he'd perfect it in Unforgiven, and gave Matthew Broderick the chance to reinvent himself as someone besides Ferris Bueller (it didn't stick, but hey, he pulls it off well here).

Criticisms have been leveled at Glory for being a black movie with a white hero. Okay, fair enough; Spike Lee probably wouldn't have jumped at the chance to direct this script, but this was a movie based on a series of letters from a white colonel in charge of a black regiment. I'm not saying history isn't sometimes racist, but that being said, it is history. The degree to which the black characters are integrated into the United States Army in Glory is pretty much the most equality they could hope for in 1863, and I think Edward Zwick does a fine job of reconciling that. Morgan Freeman has spoken out in defense of the film against black critics who argued that it was an "Uncle Tom" movie, and I'd say that the film's reputation has mostly been restored in the 21 years since its release.

Glory is not a perfect film (far from it, in fact), but considering the odds that are stacked against it – accusations of veiled racism, the handicap of making a Civil War film, the apparent obligation to show at least twenty minutes of boring war film footage complete with clichés like the formal rivals saving each other on the field of battle – it's a damned fine effort. The plot is immaterial because it's pretty much like that of any other war film about an embattled regiment, just this time it's about race, but the excellent cast makes it worth at least one viewing.

The Good: Washington, Freeman, and Broderick give an excellent trifecta of performances.

The Bad: Why the hell did Zwick decide to put Frederick Douglass in this film? So, so, so gimmicky and unnecessary. Also, ending your film with an utterly cliched battle scene and, of course, a shot of a battlefield strewn with bodies followed by, you guessed it, title cards? Pretty lame, Zwick. It's easy to tune out the last twenty minutes.

The Skinny: Yeah, sorry, it definitely isn't Top 250 material. I liked it more in 8th grade, and even then I'm not sure I would have totally understood it being on the list.

Day 125: Citizen Kane

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #34
Year: 1941
Director: Orson Welles
Starring: Orson Welles and Dorothy Comingore

Full disclosure: I'm three days behind, so I'm doing this blog post with Glory on the television. Don't worry, I've seen it before, it doesn't require my full attention, but I feel guilty enough about it to admit it. After I type up Citizen Kane and Glory, I'll turn my attention to two other films that I've seen enough times to blog about without re-watching, and boom – I'll be caught up. Did I mention what a huge fucking mistake it is to promise to write about 250 movies in 250 days?

On the subject, it's worth noting that Citizen Kane is the 125th movie I've written about, which means I'm officially halfway through this journey. I'll be honest, it feels like it's been a hell of a lot longer. But enough bickering about the practically Sisyphean task I've forced upon mine own brow, let's talk Kane. Critics have, more often than they have any other movie, called it the greatest film of all time. It's considered one of the most revolutionary films ever made, and its larger than life main character Charles Foster Kane is brought to the screen epically by its even bigger writer/producer/director/lead actor, Orson Welles. He was as much an iconoclast as the beleaguered newspaper mogul he sought to immortalize – and he perhaps too successfully communicates Kane's hubris. Citizen Kane is kind of like the Chicago Bulls' 1990-91 championship team, with Orson Welles filling the role of Michael Jordan. Yeah, it's one of the greatest, but if it weren't for him, it sure as hell wouldn't be. There is no Citizen Kane without Orson Welles. You can't have someone else write a thinly veiled biography of William Randolph Hearst, have someone else direct it, get someone else to finance it, and cast someone else in the lead role and get Citizen Kane out of it. Without Orson Welles, this movie doesn't exist, and it's a testament to the triumph of the individual in Hollywood that has never been replicated.

I do have to briefly take issue with the cult that has arisen around this film, though – you know, the one that has placed it atop the Sight & Sound and AFI list every year for the last half-century. I've got to be totally honest: I don't understand that at all. Citizen Kane is a great movie, but when it's so difficult to arrive to a consensus on what the greatest ever is, why has it seemed to earn the title time and again from the people who allegedly know the most about films? It's a little frustrating, even though Welles' motion picture is undoubtedly a masterpiece. Here the IMDb Top 250 is a bit fairer, I think. I'm not saying that there's only thirty-three better movies than Citizen Kane, or that the thirty-three that are above it on the list are all better than it, but it does put it in a more realistic, less ivory-towered perspective than those AFI and Sight & Sound lists do. I think if you put your finger on the pulse of movie-loving America, you'd find that Casablanca and Gone With the Wind have more support in the ill-defined "classic film" category.

Getting into the plot of Citizen Kane feels superfluous, but I'll take a small stab at it. It follows the life of newspaper mogul Charles Foster Kane by opening with his death. The story is told in a "Rashomon-style" fashion (And yes, I know that Citizen Kane came out over a decade earlier than Rashomon. I'm totally taking the piss out here because I'm getting really fucking sick of critics using that stupid term to describe anything where multiple people give different perspectives on a character or event.) as a newsreel editor sends his team out to learn what Kane meant when he uttered "Rosebud" as his last word on his deathbed. This narrative structure lets the story breathe, and effectively retells Kane's life and times from his youth to his death, leaving very few stones unturned. In the greatest already-spoiled spoiler of all time, it turns out Rosebud was the name of Kane's sled. Yep. There's been entire books written on the meaning of this, and whether it was effective or not. I'm not in a position to judge since I, like most people with the Internet or who have ever talked to someone about movies, already knew the ending going in, and I think a lot of its emotional punch was taken away due to that fact. Still, I can appreciate that it was a good ending, and it came at the end of an unquestionably great film. Just not the greatest film ever.

The Good: Orson Welles! This is the greatest one-man show in movie history.

The Bad: This is one of those movies where I can't find anything I have a problem with, but I still can't quite say it's one of my favorites. It did exactly what it set out to do, though, so give it a lot of credit.

The Skinny: I addressed this above, but I'm extremely comfortable with Citizen Kane at #34.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 124: The Wrestler

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #143
Year: 2008
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei

Growing up in southwest Ohio in the 1990s, I was inundated with pro wrestling. T-shirts and trading cards bearing the likeness of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Goldberg were some of the hottest commodities in the halls of my elementary school, and when Booker T brought his TNA tour to my suburb's hockey arena, everyone in town knew at least ten people who were in attendance. I was always a casual fan of the sport; I owned WWF War Zone for the Playstation, and I tried to keep up with what was happening with The Undertaker, whose dark, evil image made him my favorite wrestler. For the most part, though, I was allowed to spend my childhood with a kind of detached fascination with just how fucking into pro wrestling people were. It would probably be fair to say, too, that I didn't totally get it.

Darren Aronofsky's 2008 film The Wrestler is for people like me. Hardcore fans of pro wrestling would probably rather not see the scenes in locker rooms where the wrestlers talk about what moves they'll do on each other and who will win the bouts. People repulsed by the spectacle of pro wrestling would probably rather not see two sweaty, musclebound men throw each other onto barbwire. But I – and, I imagine, much of non-metropolitan America – understand both elements and appreciate the sport for what it is, and Aronofsky's film plugs right into that consciousness. It's not exactly an exposé of pro wrestling even if it sometimes comes off like one; but it's only observational, never condemning. Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) has a crumbling life – living in a van, hated by an estranged daughter, only able to personally connect with a stripper (Marisa Tomei), a recent heart attack victim and bypass surgery recipient, and downtrodden grocery store deli employee. The brilliance of Rourke's performance comes through in his resilience in the face of life shitting on him so goddamn much. When life finally gives him more than he can take, he goes against his doctor's orders and decides to get back in the ring. Tomei's character, who he fell in love with, comes to the match and tells him not to wrestle, but he ignores her. He gets dizzy during the bout but insists on continuing to fight. As he climbs onto the post to deliver a finishing move to his opponent, he sees that Tomei has left the arena. Then he leaps. Cut to black.

Randy "The Ram" Robinson's life was so indelibly tied to professional wrestling that he would rather potentially die than have to live without it. It's a fairly standard plot device, but Rourke sells his obsession so well – and Aronofsky brings it to the screen so brilliantly – that the movie works better than you'd expect. When Rourke was heavily favored to win the Best Actor Oscar for this performance and it went to Sean Penn in Milk instead, I was smugly happy because I loved Milk, hadn't seen The Wrestler, and thought a portrayal of a gay politician was intrinsically of greater artistic value than a portrayal of a pro wrestler. Now that I've seen The Wrestler, I might still slightly prefer Penn's performance, but none of my smug delusions remain, and I'm extremely impressed by Rourke's work in the film. It's fairly well-documented how much I hate Requiem for a Dream, but that has everything to do with the subject matter and nothing to do with Aronofsky's direction. The Wrestler proves to me once again that when he has a script that I like, he's one of my favorite directors working today.

The Good: Rourke's performance would seem to be the obvious answer, and I probably agree. More specifically, the scenes where The Ram is out of his element working in the deli are some of my favorites. He's alternately charming and destructive, just like in the ring. Also, Marisa Tomei's breasts. Sweet Lord.

The Bad: Not much, really. I wouldn't call it one of my favorite movies but I can't point out anything that it didn't do well.

The Skinny: Yeah, it deserves its place on the list.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 123: Cinema Paradiso

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #85
Year: 1988
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring: Phillippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio

I wouldn't say that I've particularly seen a lot of Italian films, but I've seen enough to share the opinion of those who feel that the Italians are responsible for the most beautiful national cinema in the world. Perhaps not the best (though they would almost certainly be in the top five), but unarguably the most beautiful. Roger Ebert has even recently posited that the films of Federico Fellini are as gorgeous and moving in audio only, and, well, he isn't wrong. There's something inherently beautiful about the Italian language itself that translates wonderfully to the screen and makes directors who choose to film in it instantly demanding of one's full attention. Not all beautiful films are good films, though, and even some of Fellini's work is a little too obsessed with its own beauty to be good for much. Such is not the case with Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso, one of the best Italian films that I've ever seen. Like Fellini's 8 1/2, it is a movie about the movies, but instead of focusing on the process of making films, it invites us to the cinema that screens them. There we are sucked into the world of projectionists Toto (played by three different actors over the film's five decades) and Alfredo (played by the inimitable Phillippe Noiret, a brilliant French actor who would go on to give one of the finest performances I've ever seen three years later as Pablo Neruda in Il Postino). Over the incredible chronology of the movie, we become so attached to these two men that the event used to frame it – Alfredo's death, revealed in the first five minutes – becomes progressively sadder as the film goes on.

The relationship between Toto and Alfredo is crucial to the film's plot, and their father-son-like bond is what allows the script to breathe, but it's not what Cinema Paradiso is about. It's about the way that we react to art – movies, in this case – and how it impacts our lives. It's about the permanence of images on a screen while life remains utterly transitory. And most importantly it's about how, in spite of the ever-changing nature of being, some things will always be exactly the same as we remember. The film takes the old "You can never go home again" adage and turns it on its head as Toto returns to the town he grew up in after thirty years away for Alfredo's funeral and finds that the old Cinema Paradiso is to be demolished and that his long-lost love has married an old schoolmate of his. At the demolition of the theater, as Toto looks around at the sea of people watching it fall, he sees that everyone is exactly as he left them. They're older, and their lives have changed, but the lovers are still in love, the cinema's proprietor is still business-minded, and the town hobo is still crazy. It's comforting to him, even if it doesn't provide total catharsis. No, that's saved for the final scene.

I'll save you the spoilers, but for those who have seen the film, I'm about to talk about the scene in which Toto unpacks what Alfredo left him in his will. Okay, are you with me? I seriously almost cried. My eyes stung with tears that I didn't let roll, but by God, I could have. It's a gorgeously shot scene, and it wraps all of the tender emotionality inherent in the film into two minutes or so. It serves as more of a postscript than anything; the movie doesn't lose anything if it never existed, but it's the very definition of beautiful, and it reiterates a central theme of the movie, that films have the power shape our lives and affect us in deeply personal ways. I'm just wondering how many royalties Tornatore had to pay for the scene. It had to be a lot.

The Good: The final scene, and Phillippe Noiret's performance.

The Bad: Salvatore Cascio, who plays Toto ages, let's say, 17 to 23 or so, isn't very good.

The Skinny: #85 does sound just a bit high to me, but I would be okay with it closer to #100.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 122: The Truman Show

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #236
Year: 1998
Director: Peter Weir
Starring: Jim Carrey and Laura Linney

It is both surprising and completely unsurprising that I had never seen The Truman Show until last week considering how often TBS runs it. On one hand, it's totally ubiquitous, and logic would dictate that on some channel-surfing Saturday afternoon I would have hit the film and sat through it. On the other hand, though, it is TBS that typically runs it, and considering the quality of most of the other fare they're obsessed with airing – Rush Hour trilogy marathons are commonplace, and they continue to pacify the only audience The Steve Harvey Show and Yes, Dear has left – it's not all that shocking that I didn't think it would be any good. When I saw it on the IMDb Top 250, I was stunned silent. Apparently this mid-'90s Jim Carrey movie that I knew nothing about is actually good. Not Ace Ventura "good," but actually, honest-to-God good. Having finally gotten around to watching it, I agree that it's good, but I take issue with TBS rolling it into their "Very funny" ad campaign, and indeed, with its general classification as a comedy film. It's not one. It's a dark, dystopian drama that happens to have a comedian in the lead role. The comedy that is present is just a byproduct of that casting.

The premise is not one completely unvisited by previous speculative fiction writers. In it, Truman Burbank (Carrey) is a happily married insurance agent living in the picturesque town of Seahaven. What he doesn't suspect until he's thirty is that his life is actually a sham, and that everyone he interacts with on a daily basis is an actor on a television show about his life. He was selected in utero to participate in the world's only 24/7 reality show, and people all over America have become obsessed with watching his life unfold in the thirty years since the day of his birth. Naturally, when Truman realizes something is up, things go haywire. He starts lashing out at his wife, recklessly driving his car in an effort to go somewhere besides Seahaven, and finally overcomes his fear of the water by literally sailing to the edge of the map, where he runs up against the wall that serves as the border of Seahaven's bubble. There he is confronted by Christof, the creator of "The Truman Show." He urges Truman to stay, and when he doesn't say anything, he implores him to say something because he's on television. Knowingly, Truman looks at the camera and says his trademark line – "If I don't see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night," – before leaving Seahaven forever. The individual triumphs against the system, and everyone goes home happy.

Let's revisit my "The Truman Show is not a comedy" theory. The fact that the scene in which Jim Carrey draws an astronaut helmet in the mirror with soap and proceeds to talk to an imagined space station is kind of funny is negated by the fact that all of America can voyeuristically see him doing it. There's other funny moments that are created by the way that Carrey interprets the script, but the reality (or lack thereof) of his life makes them irrelevant in deciding whether the film is a true "comedy." To some degree, it even makes you think too hard for it to be comedy – or at the very least, too hard for it to be farce. Does anyone have thoughts on this? I've never seen this film not listed as a comedy, but after watching I'm having a really hard time figuring out why. Help me out in the comments section.

The Good: Jim Carrey's performance keeps the script from careening too far into pretentiousness. This is something he would fall just shy of accomplishing in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, his other classically "good" movie.

The Bad: There's more than a few dystopia cliches in the script, which for the same reasons as Brazil makes me a little wary.

The Skinny: I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I Top 250 enjoyed it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Day 121: Back to the Future

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #73
Year: 1985
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd

Well, I'm back, again. Last week was just as rough as I predicted. This coming week isn't much better, but I fancy myself something of a trooper, and I'm ready to blast you with all the blog posts you can handle. But you don't read this blog to hear about my life, you read it to see what I have to say about great movies. Today's great movie is Back to the Future, a film I rewatched today after something like ten years since my last viewing. Not only did it hold up, I think I liked it better this time than I did as a kid. It's not impossible that this could be the most fun movie ever made. It reeks of 1985 pseudo-coolness, but somehow even the extremely dated aspects come across brilliantly today. I think it's the fact that it tackles the heady science fiction fixture that is time travel with a wry, comedic bent. Despite not taking it totally seriously, it is the quintessential time travel movie, and time machines will forever be pictured by moviegoers as Deloreans.

Robert Zemeckis' script is what makes the movie, even though Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd's performances as Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown respectively have become iconic in their own rights. Without Zemeckis' script, though, the characters don't have any of the scenes that made them iconic. There's no less than a dozen scenes – too many to list here, anyway – that have become absolutely classic, instantly recognizable, and repeatedly parodied. The climax of the film, after Marty has successfully orchestrated his parents' courtship back in 1955 and blasts out a shredding rendition of "Johnny B. Goode," had me fondly remembering how great it was the last time I saw it at age 10, and had me smiling even wider – and it wasn't the only scene that did that for me. Even the crass sequel setup in this movie gave us one of its most memorable lines with "Where we're going, we won't need roads." Back to the Future is exactly the kind of movie that the IMDb Top 250 exists to serve. It's considered a classic by most average American moviegoers, but would never get a nod on any sort of critics' list. This is why the Top 250 is useful. It gives us a list a movies that are, by and large, very good, but it combines the kinds of films that find their way onto the lists of AFI types (films with James Stewart in them, for example), the lists of art house critics (Kurosawa's works), cult movies with relatively broad appeal (The Big Lebowski and the like) and entertaining movies that everyone loves but no critic nor Oscar voter would dare to praise (this). Sure, some stuff from each of these four categories makes the list that absolutely doesn't deserve to, but the presence of movies from each makes this list what it is, and serves as the main argument as to why it's a good list.

Back to Back to the Future, perhaps my favorite thing about this movie is the total lack of reverence it has for time travel. It pretends to care deeply about the ethical questions brought up by time travel, but brushes them off just as quickly – when Marty discovers that Dr. Brown had been wearing a bulletproof vest when the Libyan terrorist shot him the second time around, he asks him whatever happened to not changing the course of history. Brown answers, deadpanning, "Well, I figured, what the hell." That's it. That's all they need to say. There needn't be an explanation for why Marty's whole family changed but he didn't, why there could be two Martys when he returns to 1985, what holes in the space-time continuum were torn as a result of Marty and Dr. Brown's meddling – none of it matters, because, well, what the hell? It's purely an entertaining movie. If you don't think too hard about it everything makes sense, and its approach to the time travel concept sheds all the needless pretension inherent in the genre. If I could hop in a Delorean and go to 1985, I would love to know how it felt to see this one in the theaters. It's a hell of a lot of fun.

The Good: The never-reverent-but-never-mocking tone.

The Bad: Like most mid-'80s movies, it suffers ever so slightly from being way too fucking mid-'80s. Why did people dress/talk/act/look like that, ever?

The Skinny: Deserves its spot.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

No, Really, I'm Sorry, You Guys: Another Off-Week

If I had a scanner, I would scan my planner for this week and upload it here so you could see precisely why I'm not going to be blogging this week. I'll still watch a couple of movies and build up a memory bank to pull from when I dive back in next Sunday. I just can't possibly balance this week's schoolwork with watching and blogging about six movies. There's gonna be a few rough weeks here until the end of the semester (December 18th, and believe me, I'm counting down) but this one is by far the worst. Even without requiring myself to watch movies and blog them, I'm looking at an average of maybe an hour to myself each day this week. I hope you'll accept the above picture of me from Halloween dressed as Blondie from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as a small token of my apology – for those of my regular readers who have never seen me, here you go. Now imagine that guy wearing big black glasses and a t-shirt and none of that Western shit, and you've got the real me down. Sorry again about this off-week, I guess it's safe to say that the list has definitely defeated me and my 250 day goal is shot to hell, but hey, I'm sticking with the project until it's done. I'm a lot of things, but a quitter isn't one of them. Talk to you all Sunday.

And in the meantime, everyone should really read my recent posts on My Neighbor Totoro, Fargo, Downfall, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and especially V for Vendetta. They're really pretty good. Don't read the Scarface one. It isn't.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Day 120: My Neighbor Totoro

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #246
Year: 1988
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Dakota Fanning and Elle Fanning (English version)

Hayao Miyazaki is an animation icon, and after seeing only Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, I'm starting to hold his Studio Ghibli in nearly as high a regard as Pixar Studios. Miyazaki's visual identity is completely unique and immersive, and Totoro has become the flagship film for Ghibli, even lending the studio its now instantly recognizable logo. Totoro has even crossed the border and made an appearance in Pixar's latest film, Toy Story 3, indicating a very strong influence on their studio. My Neighbor Totoro is probably the earliest Miyazaki film familiar to most Americans, and it's a wonderful starting point. It brings in all of his strongest elements – childhood innocence forced to mature rapidly, supernatural forces that interact in the human realm, an overarching feeling of whimsy played off of even in the darkest moments – and is as expansive as any animated film I've seen.

Miyazaki's gorgeous animation, as one would expect, drives the entire movie. The artwork is often pastoral and picturesque in the non-supernatural parts of the movie, reflecting the move of a father and two young daughters to the countryside to be closer to their mother, who is recovering from an undisclosed long-term illness and never leaves the hospital over the course of the movie. The two daughters, ten-year-old Satsuki and four-year-old Mei, take comfort in the companionship of a forest troll called Totoro – a completely different conception, by the way, than the Western vision of a troll; Totoro looks and acts more like Pokémon's Snorlax than, say, something out of The Lord of the Rings. Totoro rides on a bus made out of a giant cat and gives acorns to the girls to plant in their mom's garden. It's left ambiguous whether he actually exists, but either way, he represents a sense of comfort for two girls going through a lot in their lives, and their friendship with Totoro is beautiful, with each party doing wonderful, adorable things for the other. The famous scene where Totoro and the girls wait at the bus stop in the rain and they teach him how to use an umbrella is seriously the cutest thing I've ever seen.

I think it's wonderful that the Walt Disney Company has picked up distribution rights for Studio Ghibli titles and given them high-quality dubs and a wider Western audience. The films of Hayao Miyazaki need to be seen, and unfortunately in our occidental-centric world, people outside of Asia would rarely see them if there weren't dubs. Disney has made sure that the dubs that do exist are of the very highest quality, and even if American kids won't go out to the theaters in droves to see the latest Miyazaki picture, they're at least much more likely to see it than they would be if they were forced to read subtitles or listen to terrible, low-budget dubs. This is one of those times where the megacorporation has done something to help art. God bless 'em.

The Good: Something as vague as "Miyazaki's art" probably won't suffice here, so I'll zero in on the animation in the tree-growing sequence. My God, it's gorgeous. Also, I appreciate that Miyazaki doesn't pull any punches about the girls' mom – it's entirely possible that she might die (the girls address it themselves), and at the end of the film, even though she promises to get better quickly, she's still in the hospital. Pretty bold move, which should be applauded.

The Bad: Jeez, I dunno. It's pretty consistently great. Not my favorite genre and therefore not one of my favorite films, but for what it does I can hardly imagine it being done better.

The Skinny: I would say it should be higher than #246, and it should, but if you look at the list now, it's moved into the top 200. Well done, voters.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Day 119: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #113
Year: 1939
Director: Frank Capra
Starring: James Stewart and Jean Arthur

Hey, I'm blogging two things tonight, so for the first time in a week, I'm actually going to be caught up! (Well, relatively caught up. I'm a week behind, but we all knew that. I won't make up for that for a while yet.) With the American elections just five days behind us now, it makes a lot of sense for me to blog the greatest movie about democracy ever made, Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It is the story of a gleaming idealist appointed to a Senate seat and promptly crushed by the cynical machinations of Congress. It reflects exactly how I feel about the state of American democracy right now! But seriously, folks, this film is an absolute masterpiece, and James Stewart is as wonderful as Jefferson Smith as he has ever been in any role. I've seen him be great in at least six or seven movies, but this really feels like the role he was born for. And Jean Arthur is old-timey gorgeous in a way that only Grace Kelly has ever topped, but that's neither here nor there.

Interestingly enough, the big heroic move that Jefferson Smith makes when the Senate is trying to kill all his ideas about funding a boys' camp is to stage a filibuster. Now, in 1939 this might have been fairly innocent – Strom Thurmond hadn't yet filibustered to prevent Civil Rights legislation from going through, and it wasn't a very commonly used tactic. So portraying the filibuster in a heroic light wasn't questionable. Nowadays, I'm pretty sure I want legislation passed to outlaw it – legislation that, ironically, would certainly be filibustered. It's a terrible, powerful thing that was meant to prevent tyranny and now prevents progress. But hey, here it was a way for Jefferson Smith to stop graft, so whatever. It's played in the same way that Henry Fonda would play his jury duty in 12 Angry Men eighteen days later, and for what it's worth, it does stir up civic pride. Unfortunately for civic pride, for much of the movie, Smith is bossed around and trampled by longtime senators with their pockets full of money from special interest groups, and it paints a depressing picture of democracy. This was 1939, though, so the film bends over backwards to resolve everything and make the message unambiguously positive at the ending. Still, the seed is planted, and most people in the pre-cable news era probably went home from the cinema with a bummed out, realistic vision of how Congress works that they didn't have before.

Pound for pound, though, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is one of my favorite movies of the 1930s, perhaps second only to All Quiet on the Western Front. It's the perfect film to show in a high school civics or government class, and it sees James Stewart giving his most impassioned performance ever – and this is a guy who paid his bills with extremely impassioned performances. It's a movie that every American should see, and one that most foreigners can probably appreciate.

The Good: Stewart's performance. He makes a case for my favorite old-timey actor, the definition of old-timey being completely open to the reader's interpretation.

The Bad: When Paine tells everyone the truth and we all live happily ever after. How crazy would it be if he just killed himself?

The Skinny: I can dig it at #113.

Day 118: V for Vendetta

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #169
Year: 2005
Director: James McTeigue
Starring: Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman

Remember, remember the Fifth of November...although it's past midnight and thus technically the Sixth of November, and even though this is a makeup post thus making it the post for the Fourth of November. Anyhow, I think it's become a tradition for most fans of this film to take the opportunity to rewatch it every November 5th, and I did just that earlier today. It's no secret that I'm in love with Natalie Portman. Not quite in the creepy, going to get a restraining order put on me because I try to go to her house way, but I think she's the most beautiful woman alive, she's my favorite actress, I greatly admire her philanthropic work, and she's one of the best guard-down interviewees of all time. V for Vendetta is a big reason why she's become my favorite actress in the five or six years I've been intimately familiar with her work. This might be a message-heavy action film based on a comic book, but dammit if Portman's performance isn't nuanced, tragic, powerful and beautiful. She didn't really generate any Oscar buzz for it, but it's her best performance to date in my book. The gripping head-shaving scene alone is almost enough to earn it that distinction.

Unlike some people who see V for Vendetta as a gimmicky movie that basically exists for the producing and writing Wachowski Brothers to show a masked man doing Matrix fight scenes and communicate a heavy-handed, misguided message about the role of government in the post-9/11 world, I genuinely love James McTeigue's adaptation of Alan Moore's book. In fact, it's a rare instance (Kick-Ass may be another) where I actually prefer the big-screen adaptation to the comic it's based on. I saw V for Vendetta the day it came out in the States in a dark, creepy theater with a capacity of about twenty, and as it crackled onto the screen, I was captivated for the next two hours and change like I had rarely been captivated at the theater before. I was grabbed by the message, the visuals, the storytelling, and the performances, and being previously only familiar with Natalie Portman from her work in the questionable Star Wars prequel trilogy, I was enraptured by her in every frame. This was a time before and The Dark Knight and Avatar, so there was precisely no chance that she would be nominated for Best Actress, but dammit if she didn't deserve to be. She didn't completely own a character quite like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or Heath Ledger as the Joker, but her performance was just as good as those two, and she brings a convincing pain to the role of Evey that most young actresses today could only dream of bringing.

And for all the buzz about the plot being controversial ("The hero is a terrorist!?") or heavy-handed ("Oh, the hero is a terrorist..."), I unequivocally love it. So many works of literature and films post-George Orwell have made their tweaks on Nineteen Eighty-four, and most have been utterly unnecessary and insulting to the audience. Alan Moore's graphic novel and, in turn, the Wachowski Brothers' screenplay, is not that. It's a unique vision of a dystopian government with an oddly empowering message of using violence to overcome that iron fist. V is undoubtedly a terrorist, but his intelligence and sophistication make him a more appealing hero, and the truly evil behavior of Chancellor Adam Sutler (Played brilliantly by John Hurt, in a role that comes forty years after my favorite role of his, as Richard Rich in A Man for All Seasons. This guy's been around for a minute or two.) and his cronies basically justifies V's violent reactions. The only negative thing about this script is that, inevitably, it stirred up truly stupid discussions among Americans about how George W. Bush was just like Sutler, and now, how Barack Obama is just like Sutler. Hey, dumbasses, no. You don't live in constant fear. V for Vendetta is a cautionary tale, but it doesn't take place in the present, and its key contribution is entertainment, not public service.

After watching V for Vendetta for the probably tenth time today, I realized that, even though it's probably not a popular opinion, the film would almost certainly make my top ten of the 2000s, and could even make a slight case for being in my top ten of all time. I love this fucking movie.

The Good: Natalie Portman's career performance – that is, until Black Swan comes out later this year.

The Bad: Eh, I don't really want to think about the few flaws that this movie has because the positives more than make up for them. The flashback scenes could be better, I guess.

The Skinny: I'd have it a hell of a lot higher, but I can imagine a lot of people would like to see it off the list altogether.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day 117: Scarface

Ranking on IMDb Top 25o: #160
Year: 1983
Director: Brian De Palma
Starring: Al Pacino and Steven Bauer

I'll be perfectly honest with you right now, dear readers: I haven't seen Scarface in a long time, and the only reason I'm blogging it without it fresh in my mind is because I never want to see it again. I think it's a bad movie, I think it feeds negative stereotypes about both real-life Cubans and gangster films, I think its so-called immortal lines and scenes are rather poorly written, I think it embodies the 1980s (my least favorite decade of film since the advent of the talkie) in all the wrong ways, I think Al Pacino is bad in it, I think its popularity among rappers somehow made people want to reconsider it and give it the benefit of the doubt, and I know for a fact that I'd rather play Grand Theft Auto III – the reason I watched the movie in the first place – than ever, ever have to sit through Scarface again.

I know that wasn't really much of a review, and I do feel like I owe you all more, but I know myself well enough to admit that I wasn't going to watch this movie again, and without more recently acquired insights, it's really all I can give you. I promise a more in-depth, thoughtful post later tonight once I watch another film. For Scarface, this is the best I can do.

The Good: I can't remember if there's good things. I can only remember the bad.

The Bad: Probably the unofficial and constant post-production it has undergone, with every fucking rapper who ever appeared on MTV Cribs bumping it and every goddamn frat boy finding an excuse to appropriate "Say hello to my little friend!" at least once a day.

The Skinny: No, I don't think it should be on the list.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Day 116: Fargo

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #118
Year: 1996
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi

I watched Fargo this morning. It wasn't because I needed to refresh my memory of it before I blogged about it – I've seen it easily twenty times, more than any other movie save a couple. I just wanted to be reminded of why I love this medium called motion pictures, and perhaps no other film reminds me more than this one. Any attempt to say how great I think it is will only come off as hyperbole, and a comprehensive list of the reasons why I like it would take up more space than my bandwidth can handle. Fargo is simultaneously simple and complex, and it lends itself to a wildly fun, unthinking first watch and a thought-provoking, analysis-driven twentieth viewing with equal dexterity. Every actor, from leads Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, and William H. Macy down to one-scene performers like the impeccable Steve Park (whose one scene happens to be my favorite in the history of cinema), gives a career performance, and the original screenplay from the Coen Brothers may be their best ever. Fargo is not my favorite movie of all time – though dedicated readers of this blog can by now deduce what is – but it's damn close.

Unlike some movies with this much greatness in the dialogue, cinematography, character development, acting, and directing departments, Fargo doesn't sacrifice an ounce of great story. The "homespun murder story" promised in the tagline is delivered, but it's far from the only thing going on in this script. Every character, right down to the aforementioned Steve Park's one-scene wonder Mike Yanagita, has a fully developed arc that ties into every other character's arc without being gimmicky. The film's narrative is built around a kidnapping, a triple homicide and a police investigation, but judging by its tone, you'd never know it. If Dirty Harry turned the crime genre on its head by throwing out the first big renegade cop, then Fargo turned it on its ass. Marge Gunderson (McDormand) is unlike any other movie cop in history. She's seven months pregnant, friendly, unassuming, and incredibly goddamn good at her job, if a little naïve. Marge (and, interestingly, her husband and the rest of her police department) is the only wholly likable character in the movie, and the Coens do a great job of keeping the film enjoyable when she's not in it against some tall odds – she isn't even introduced until thirty minutes into Fargo's 98-minute duration. McDormand earned her Best Actress statuette here beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Since I've mentioned it twice already, I would be remiss if I didn't talk about why the Mike Yanagita scene is my favorite movie scene of all time. For a Fargo first-timer, it undoubtedly seems completely random and unnecessary. It's just an amusing scene in which an Asian gentleman very awkwardly hits on Marge in a Radisson bar. He hugs Marge for a little too long, tries to sit next to her on a tiny booth, cries about his wife's death, and tells her she's "such a super lady." It's that kind of painfully awkward funny that shows like The Office would pick up on several years later, and in that respect, it works brilliantly. Later in the film, however, we find out that Mike Yanagita was never married to the woman he claims died of leukemia, and that he actually had "psychiatric problems" and had moved back in with his parents. Marge freezes when she learns this, completely surprised by this news given what happened earlier. And that's it, right? Far from it. After learning the truth about Mike, Marge returns to the dealership where Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) works to question him some more about the missing car. She gets firm with him, and he flees the interview. She decides to follow up on a lead about the suspects in the murder going up to the lake, and stumbles upon the famous Buscemi-in-the-wood-chipper scene. How does this relate to Mike Yanagita? A studied viewing of the film reveals that until her revelation about Mike, Marge was mostly naïve, believed people were generally honest, and didn't read too much into people who might have been concealing truth. She was a good police officer, no doubt, but her methods didn't pry too much. Once the Mike Yanagita bombshell was dropped, she started to question whether anyone was honest, which sent her back to Jerry's and caused her to check out the lake. None of this is stated; it's all subtext. So the scene with Mike at the bar is not only an awkward, funny, and incredibly well-acted scene (just look at McDormand and Park's faces next time you watch it!), it is also the catalyst for the rest of the film, and its thrilling climax. It's brilliant, and there's nothing else I can really say about it.

The Good: Most everything. It's probably my second-favorite movie of all time.

The Bad: Nada.

The Skinny: I'd have it at #2, duh.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Day 115: Downfall

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #83
Year: 2004
Director: Oliver Hirschbeigel
Starring: Bruno Ganz and Alexandra Maria Lara

Alright, fair warning: This (and the second post, forthcoming tonight) will be a somewhat distracted blog post. Elections were tonight, they didn't go well, I'm angry, I'm disappointed, I'm starting to question a lot of things about my country in general, and my mind is anywhere but on film. But we're gonna truck through, because that's what we (sometimes) do here at Twohundredfifty. I'm a lot of things, ladies and gentlemen, but I'm not a quitter. Today's is an ironically poignant movie for a day when men like Rand Paul assumed high offices in the United States. I'm writing about Downfall, a German film about the last twelve days of Adolf Hitler's life. (Too harsh?) It was incredibly controversial in Germany on its release, as it was the first time that Hitler was the main character in a German film after the fall of the National Socialist Party. Adding more fuel to the fire, many people felt that it painted the Führer in too much of a sympathetic light. He's seen as a very human leader whose emotions when realizing that the end of the war is near mirror those of anyone dealing with a loss – it's just that his loss is that of a Jew-murdering empire and not, say, a beloved family pet. The problem with these criticisms is that Hitler's personal stenographer, present in his bunker in the weeks leading to his suicide, helped write the script and shared her story with the director, who also did a documentary on the subject. In short, it's all true.

Thanks to the Interweb, Downfall has tragically become famous primarily because of a meme taking a scene from early in the film where Hitler begins to realize that Germany will not be able to win the war and erupts in rage. The subtitles are changed by oh-so-clever YouTubers to be about Hitler getting banned from XBox Live and things of that ilk. Like most things on the Internet, it's funny the first time, but it's now completely irredeemable thanks to being overdone a thousand times over. The scene that it apes is actually one of the best scenes in the film, and one that shows Ganz's incredible range in portraying Hitler. Without a doubt his highly controversial performance is the highlight of the film. One moment he's doting on his dog or Eva Braun, the next he's melting down on the entire German high command, and the next he's blaming his countrymen for the failure of the Third Reich's war efforts and praying that they all die. If this portrayal of Hitler is sympathetic, people have far too much sympathy for bipolar madmen.

If the rest of Downfall was as good as Ganz's performance, the film would be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, in this case, history didn't lend itself all that well to drama. Hitler's last twelve days on Earth were a sadly redundant twelve. At least fifty times, Hitler screams a battle plan that the rest of the high command knows will not work, then sulks about it. At least fifty times, someone says "We will never surrender!" At least fifty times, someone (often Hitler) talks about committing suicide – and, somewhat more visually interestingly, at least fifty people actually commit suicide onscreen. The movie's repetitiveness doesn't take away from its gloomy atmosphere or terrific performances, but it does sink the overall quality quite a few notches. Fascinating subject matter in theory gets you a lot farther than it does in practice.

The Good: Bruno Ganz. How he didn't receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination is beyond me.

The Bad: It's an interesting story, but it would possibly be communicated better by simply reading about it. On film it's way too redundant.

The Skinny: #83 is ridiculous, and probably mostly based on people's awe at Ganz's performance. I'd be comfortable with it in the low 200s simply because of, yes, Ganz's performance, and also the barriers it broke down for the German national cinema regarding portrayals of Nazism and Hitler in particular.