Features

Auto Added by WPeMatico

10 Great 2019 Horror Movies You May Have Missed

The last few years of horror productions have shown a lot of technical ingenuity and imagination. The screenplays became smarter, there was more focus on choosing the right cast, and talented new directors proved that horror films are about more than ghosts and monsters hiding behind the curtain on a stormy night.

After films like “Midsommar,” “Us” or “It Chapter Two,” it was quite difficult for other productions of the horror scene to be in the centre of attention in 2019. But this certainly does not mean that there was any lack of great horror films in 2019. On the contrary, the list of amazing and scary horror films of 2019 can be very long, with new independent productions, the usual Halloween releases, and some international spooky films.

Below you can find some of those films that did not receive enough attention. Nonetheless, these films can give you chills on any kind of night or day.

 

10. Haunt

Directed and written by Scott Neck and Bryan Woods, “Haunt” is an American production about a group of college friends who are looking for an adventure on a Halloween night, and end up getting more than they expected or wanted.

The story in “Haunt” is certainly not new, and the beginning of the film offers nothing more than the typical slasher horror, with the group splitting up way too early as well as some very predictable scenes.

However, the two talented directors (the creators of “A Quiet Place”) do not disappoint with “Haunt,” despite the foreseeable twists. As the characters in the film become face-to-face with their fears and nightmares in a labyrinth of scary costumes and blurred rooms, terror and fright are delivered through more than cheap jump scares.

An interesting aspect of the film is the emphasis on the psychological behaviour of the characters. In the case of Harper, the main character in “Haunt,” the flashbacks and references to her past throughout the film offer an interesting perspective to the main plot.

In the end, even with a mediocre story, “Haunt” delivers exactly what it’s supposed to deliver: fright, suspense, bloody scenes, and Halloween entertainment.

 

9. Daniel Isn’t Real

“Daniel Isn’t Real,” directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer, is a psychological horror film about the complicated and dangerous relationship between an adult and his imaginary friend. It is based on the novel “This Way I Was Saved,” written by Brian DeLeeuw, who also wrote the screenplay for the film.

The film presents the peculiar and dangerous relationship between Luke, a young adult who is losing touch with reality, and Daniel, his imaginary friend.

The relationship between the two starts when Luke is a child, but from the start of the film, when Daniel appears to be an innocent invention of a child’s rich imagination, a sinister side of Daniel emerges. Luke eventually lets go of his imaginary friend, but Daniel returns to his life when they are both grown-ups. At first, it is all fun and games, with Daniel helping Luke gain the confidence he needs to live his life, but as expected, things slowly start to grow threatening again and the level of terror has new dimensions.

The acting, with Miles Robbins playing Luke and Patrick Schwarzenegger as Daniel, is very good. If there is any problem with this film, it’s that the suspense does not emerge enough from the story because there is too much focus on what is visual, not leaving enough to the imagination of the audience. The visual part also had some flaws and poor effects, which is understandable for a low-budget film, but could have been left out and compensated with better dialogue.

Overall, the narrative is engrossing, and in dealing with mental illness, inner demons, and past traumas that never cease to haunt their victims, “Daniel Isn’t Real” manages to be a strong psychological horror.

 

8. Harpoon

“Harpoon” is a Canadian film directed by Rob Grant, an already skilled editor and director of horror films.

In this violent horror, three friends remain stranded at sea on a yacht for days and conflicts soon emerge between them. The three friends are Jonah and Richard and the latter’s girlfriend, the attractive Sasha. They are presented to us by a narrator’s voice, one that could be considered a fourth character, making observations about the nature of friendship. The introduction of the voice-over in the film, with its philosophical and sarcastic tone, creates a distinctive atmosphere, one that actually saves the film in the moments when the plot seems too extreme.

From the beginning of the film, it becomes clear that the relationships and the behaviour between the three friends are very tense and disturbed. The film opens with a brutal fight between the two guys caused by Richard’s jealousy, who suspects Jonah of having an affair with Sasha. This conflict is rapidly solved, but their adventure on the yacht brings other past secrets and issues into discussion and leads to new scenes of violence and brutality. When they remain adrift in the great and terrifying ocean, danger and bad luck take the worst out of these already troubled people.

The film, which is ludicrous in the beginning with its funny dialogues, actually manages to show disturbing truths about human nature. The interesting aspect is that it does so in a very natural way, without complex psychological tricks or fancy special effects. “Harpoon” is more than the bloody and violent horror it seems at first sight. It is a film that becomes scary not because of its violence, but because it succeeds in showing the very thin line between sanity and insanity.

 

7. The Nest

The Italian horror film “The Nest” is a dramatic and emotional story centred around a paraplegic boy who is caught between his mother’s authority and his love for a new girl who wants to show him the world. Though it is one of the least talked about horror films of 2019, “The Nest” skillfully combines mystery and the emotions of adolescence in this captivating film, directed by Roberto De Feo.

“The Nest” starts like just another ghost story in a big and mysterious mansion, only to prove that real horror can come from totally unexpected places.

The protagonist is Samuel, a sensitive boy who lives in an old mansion with his mother and a few other people. His father is dead after an accident, the same which left Samuel in a wheelchair. Their life in the imposing and gothic mansion is almost isolated, which gradually changes when the bright young lady Denise arrives at their house.

Much of the horror comes from the setting, with old furniture, long hallways, and abandoned vehicles. The characters’ look, from clothes to their makeup in a Victorian gothic style, also contribute to the mysterious setting and are intriguing for the story. While everyone is dressed in old-fashioned outfits, Denise looks like a modern girl, with worn-out contemporary clothes and an iPod, creating a strange but important contrast.

De Feo’s “The Nest” is a film that lacks profoundness in some of its key moments, but its technique, with multiple layers of mystery and suspense, is gripping and ultimately offers a smart and frightening horror.

 

6. Sweetheart

Produced by Blumhouse, “Sweetheart” is a story about survival on a deserted island that manages to express the anxiety caused by loneliness and to capture the fright of real dangers.

Jenn, played by Kiersey Clemons, remains on a deserted tropical island after her boat sinks during a storm. After burying one of her friends, she discovers the presence of a terrifying two-legged creature. Scared, anxious, and confused by the situation, she tries to survive and to fight the sea monster, and keep her mental sanity in an unfriendly place.

A film about surviving on an island while being threatened by a creepy big monster, “Sweetheart” is without a doubt very terrifying. At the same time, it is very different from other monster horror films because most of the focus is on the main protagonist and her struggle. The behaviour and reactions of its main protagonist make the story engaging, and Clemons’ role as Jenn is one of the greatest choices in the film. She delivers an almost perfect performance that is very natural and expressive.

“Sweetheart” is J.D. Dillard’s second film, but he definitely succeeds in offering a captivating suspenseful story from the beginning until the end.

10 Great Bizarre Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen

Although cinema is a very contemporary art form in the grand scheme of history, it would still be impossible to see every movie ever made in the past century alone. Many great and bizarre films have been released since the birth of cinema, presenting and expanding upon countless subjects and characters throughout global history, at times presenting offbeat and unique creations to the world. This list highlights 10 diverse and bizarre films from many decades of the history of cinema.

 

1. Beauty and the Beast (1946,Jean Cocteau)

Beauty and the Beast

One of the first adaptations of the classic fairytale, the 1946 film version of Beauty and the Beast has been long celebrated in the culture of French cinema. With the iconic tale known by the masses, Cocteau embeds his version with romance, charm, and a uniquely bizarre style that makes for a classic tale worth revisiting.

Beauty and the Beast relies on little dialogue, instead speaking through the film’s grandiose settings and colossal emotions. Elements of the surreal are also found throughout the film from the beast’s makeup to the stilted abstract set pieces. These surreal touches fuel the lush visual language of the film. Cocteau is an important filmmaker in the history of France’s cinema, and this early dream-like adaptation of a film we have seen in many other forms stands out as a quintessential French film to see.

 

2. Woman in the Dunes (1964, Hiroshi Teshigahara)

Woman in the Dunes

Woman in the Dunes is an avant-garde film of the 1960’s that should always be remembered. Popular upon its release, the film was even nominated for two Academy Awards. When Japanese bug collector Niki Junpei misses the last bus out of a desolate town, he is taken in by a widow who lives alone in the bottom of a quarry, only accessible by a rope ladder. When Junpei finds that the ladder has been taken away and he is trapped, he learns that he is the victim of a scheme to keep him there as a worker in place of the widow’s husband, and the film turns into a strange analysis of the conditioned human psyche.

Shot in black and white, the film shows a barren landscape that is not typically present in depictions of Japan. Woman in the Dunes has nuanced tones of hyer-sexual tension and power struggle between the widow and her trapped lover, which also are not conventionally portrayed in Japanese films of the time. As the bug collector is captured much like the bugs he gathers, Woman in the Dunes expands into an offbeat film loaded with anxiety and suspense. Fans of the unusual would very likely find many ways to enjoy the eccentricities of Woman in the Dunes.

 

3. Watership Down (1978, Martin Rosen)

watership down

1978’s film adaptation of Watership Down must agreeably be one of the most terrifying animated movies ever to be marketed towards an audience of children. It is the story of a group of English rabbits who set out on an expedition to create a new society based on equality and safety. In some ways a survival film, Watership Down captures the unique tangibility of life experienced by prey animals such as rabbits.

Watership Down portrays the danger of being a small animal with many altercations between the rabbits and the rest of the world with a sense of realism that seems difficult to achieve within an animated film. Throughout the film, the focus group of rabbits also battle with personal freedom and dictatorial leadership, interestingly mirroring issues of humankind. Highlights of Watership Down include scenes representing the past as the rabbits share stories of the beginnings of their kind, with rough, almost-psychedelic animation that is captivating to watch. While it may be too much for young children, Watership Down is a striking animated film that vividly depicts the opposing forces of real life and is a work that should be noticed by many.

 

4. Cat People (1982, Paul Schrader)

Cat People (1982)

Cat People is a quintessential erotic horror film that still sparks provocative interpretations nearly forty years after the film’s release. Loosely based on a 1942 film of the same name, Cat People concerns the story of Irena, a strikingly beautiful woman who resettles in New Orleans to meet her long-lost brother. After meeting a man who gets Irena a job at a zoo that houses many large cats, the two connect romantically and a twisted story of obsession and desire unfolds.

Schrader’s Cat People explores the implicit and explicit taboos of lust, attraction, voyeurism and even incest in a stimulating manner. Irena is an interesting seductress to watch, as her intense allure puts all other characters to her mercy, or inversely her beauty puts her at their mercy. Balancing the more perverse elements, Cat People also possesses the entertaining qualities of a slasher film in many ways, literally emphasizing the film’s notions of carnivorous desire. Astonishing cinematography and a theme song by the iconic David Bowie are other contributing reasons that Cat People is a horror film to be seen.

 

5. Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch)

Set during the 19th century, Dead Man tells the story of William Blake, a man like many others who becomes disillusioned by promises of success in the developing American Western Frontier. A violent confrontation in a Western outpost town leaves a wounded Blake fleeing the town’s elite, wanted dead or alive. An encounter with a Native American man named Nobody (Gary Farmer in the role) then leads Blake down a path of spiritual rebirth as he moves towards his physical end.

With Dead Man, Jarmusch subverts myths of the American West and reinterprets the past with a dispirited and deliberate tone unique to his work. Dominated with outdoor sequences, the film depicts the destruction of the American West in a bleakly hypnotic manner, often mixing carnage and beauty within the same shots. Blake’s journey into nature led by the all-knowing Nobody is mournfully incredible, with Blake even learning the origins of his own name. Heightened by a superior cast and a score provided by Neil Young, Dead Man is a strange but rewarding period film that should not be missed.

The 10 Most Overrated Movies of 2019

So, you’re heading to the cinema, the film you’re about to see is critically acclaimed. There are a few sniffy reviews, but you know how critics are and you’re ready to embrace and enjoy the film. You sit down full of anticipation; this won the audience award at a festival, right? Your favourite critic enjoyed it immensely right? Ok it’s started slowly but I’m sure it’ll pick up. Oh, the middle part isn’t all that good, I’m sure they’ll pull the cat out the bag towards the end. Oh, it’s finished. That wasn’t that good.

 

1. Ford v. Ferrari

Directed by James Mangold who has impressive credentials such as Logan and Walk The Line; both great films. So, when Ford v. Ferrari (Or Le Mans 66 if you’re from England) came racing onto screens big things were expected and it received mostly glowing reviews.

Ford v. Ferrari isn’t a bad film, far from it. It holds your attention well enough and boasts typically impressive racing sequences and editing. However, this doesn’t hide the fact that it’s bang average. For starters every character feels like they’re in a pantomime, Enzo Ferrari is depicted as this evil, General Snoke-esque leader as he sits in the heavens looking down begrudgingly at Matt Damon.

All the while his equally ridiculous right-hand man tries to sabotage Damon’s racing team, all he needs to complete the look is a monocle and twirly moustache. As for Chrstian Bale, he’s an exceptional actor and even here he’s decent. But his accent sounds like he’s doing a walking tour of the United Kingdom which becomes massively jarring and takes you out of the film.

At two and a half hours, the film outstays its welcome by at least half an hour and becomes tiresome towards the end. You don’t hugely care for the characters and while the story is told competently it lacks real spark and ambition.

 

2. Jojo Rabbit

Written and directed by the highly rated Taika Waititi, the creator of some genuinely great films such as Boy, What We Do in The Shadows and Hunt for The Wilderpeople. He also has an inventive, distinctly Waititi Marvel film under his belt, Thor: Ragnarok. So Jojo Rabbit was one of the most anticipated films of 2019 and the recipient of multiple writing awards and the people’s choice award at the Toronto film festival. So why oh why is it so unfunny, cliched and formulaic?

It’s painful to say because Waititi is an immensely likeable person who’s done some incredible work, but he really dropped the ball on Jojo Rabbit. It has worked for many people who seem to have found a profound connection with the material and there’s definitely a sweet element. Unfortunately, the humour is repetitive and generally quite unfunny. Waititi seems to rely on his actors keeping the energy level on 100 throughout and sacrifices subtly to his humour for over egged charisma.

The idea is pretty formulaic, and the message comes across as derivative – Nazi equals Bad, Love equals Good, War equals Bad, Family equals Good. He pulls off a few smart surprises, especially in one instance but a lot of it is easy to predict and the ending is laid out on a plate, it’s easy to see where Jojo Rabbit is heading.

 

3. IT: Chapter 2

Andy Muschietti delivered an effective and entertaining version of Stephen King’s wildly successful story IT back in 2017. So, when IT: Chapter 2 surfaced in late 2019 there were many high hopes.

With an impressive cast and the same crew that made Chapter 1, it is a real shame that Chapter 2 was so un-scary, unentertaining and felt like it lasted about two days. The whole film is basically comprised of a set number of jump scare scenes that could be rearranged in any order and solved almost immediately due to the fact that every single form of a certain creature is obviously going to be pennywise. This ends up feeling like a run of the mill quiet, quiet, BOO! fest and completely sucks the tension out of every scene.

We then go on to a final battle that involves the cast running around screaming at various aberrations of Pennywise with the most ill-judged humour filling any moments that even begin to feel uneasy. The solution to defeating the mad clown is so simplistic and uncinematic that the whole of the two films feel worthless and the two and a half hours beforehand seem to melt away as Pennywise is vanquished in about thirty seconds.

IT: Chapter two is unbearably long, mind-numbingly boring and ultimately a complete waste of time.

 

4. Spider-Man: Far From Home

The perfectly cast Tom Holland does his energetic best to invigorate the first step of Marvel’s “Phase Three” but Spider-Man: Far From Home ultimately lacks the spark of its hugely successful predecessors.

Infinity War and Endgame were always going to be hard to follow and the film does have a certain breezy, infectious fun we usually associate with Marvel films. But the story feels weaker and more geared towards humour which will work for some people but also makes for a less humanistic and powerful story. The film can be slightly explainy in places as Mysterio (who actually does work as a character) seems to lay out his plan more for the audience than the sake of realism which weakens the foundations the film is built upon. It mainly seems to lack the cutting edge, notably of the first new Spider-Man film: Homecoming.

Far from home is a good time and sets up the next instalment nicely but with overwhelmingly positive reviews across the board it’s simply not at that level.

 

5. Rocketman

Directed by Dexter Fletcher and critically lauded also featuring an award nominated Taron Edgerton in the lead role, Rocketman made waves upon its release as it told the story of mega star musician Elton John’s troubled career and life.

There are some immense scenes in Rocketman and Edgerton’s performance is no exaggeration, he really is terrifically cast and gives the film a layered and tragic look at a complicated character. However, the reviews were absolutely glowing, and the film ultimately feels quite repetitive and fails to grab you in the way some critics and the audience felt it did. Elton’s music has the ability to shake you with its sheer effectiveness and there are some brilliantly conceived set pieces. Although, the script seems a little off and some of the characters fall into the bracket of caricatures, the third act lets it down as we repeatedly see an array of parties and Elton’s descent into addiction which becomes tiresome towards the end.

Overall, it’s not a film which affects you in the way it should and seems a little overly long and cringe.

All 30 Akira Kurosawa Movies Ranked From Worst To Best

In 1942, the respected Japanese screenwriter and director Mansaku Itami read a movie script titled A German at Daruma Temple. It had been rejected for filming by Japan’s wartime censors, so it was published in a journal, but Itami was greatly impressed by what he read and predicted the script’s author, Akira Kurosawa, would one day represent the new standard for Japanese cinema. Itami died just four years later, but history soon proved him right when Kurosawa was promoted to the director’s chair and became not only one of Japan’s finest artists but one of the most influential directors of the 20th century.

Kurosawa’s impressive body of work ranges from lightweight comedies to searing masterpieces on the human condition. He made thirty motion pictures, all of which have been ranked below, from worst to best.

 

30. Dodesukaden (1970)

Even the masters slip once in a while. Kurosawa’s first color movie Dodesukaden represented an attempt on the director’s part to renew interest in Japanese cinema, at a time when domestic audiences were turning to foreign movies and television for their entertainment. Unfortunately, his noble intentions seldom pay off in this grueling drama about life in the slums. Kurosawa once remarked that even a great director cannot do much with a bad script, and it’s certainly true of this film and its excess of unmemorable characters and tedious subplots.

Lesser Kurosawa films usually have striking images and crisp editing to fall back on, but Dodesukaden falls short in this department as well, offering nothing but cheap-looking sets and murky, unimpressive lighting. The result is a visually ugly mess exacerbating an incredibly poor story.

 

29. Sanshiro Sugata: Part II (1945)

The sequel to Kurosawa’s directorial debut is most memorable as a display of wartime politics. “Highlights” primarily consist of the film’s pure-hearted hero coming to the rescue of his countrymen whenever they’re tormented by American sailors and boxers. One might or might not take issue with such scenes today, but these jabs of anti-western sentiment are sadly more interesting than the film around them.

The main narrative is stale and awkwardly put together, repeating scenes from the original Sanshiro Sugata with less panache, and the only engaging character disappears just when he seems to be making an impact. Kurosawa turned out this sequel at the behest of the studio and confessed years later it had been of no personal interest to him. “This was just warmed-over,” he said.

 

28. Dreams (1990)

dreams-banner

An uneven anthology film reportedly based on Kurosawa’s actual dreams. Some episodes are exquisite and beautiful (an early one of a boy witnessing a fox dance in the forest and later finding a huge rainbow stands out as a highlight). Others, however, are mixed bags and some are even flat out terrible — the low point being a static vignette in which a man finds demons in a grotto.

Interestingly enough, the most memorable episode bears similarities to a dream experienced not by Kurosawa but by his close friend Ishiro Honda (director of many of the original Godzilla movies). In this episode, called “The Tunnel,” a homeless war veteran encounters the ghosts of his long-dead platoon (Honda served in World War II and regularly had nightmares in which he saw the souls of friends who died in combat). Contrary to popular misconception, though, Honda did not direct “The Tunnel” (or any episode in Dreams, for that matter).

 

27. Madadayo (1993)

Tatsuo Matsumura is excellent in Kurosawa’s swan song, playing an inspiring elderly professor who insists on pushing on with life despite the roadblocks brought about by age. The title loosely translates to “Not yet!”, the catchphrase the professor gives to declare he’s not finished with living.

Madadayo hangs pretty far back on this list as it is about thirty minutes too long and most of the side characters are not especially memorable. That said, it’s still an interesting picture and its final scene is nothing short of perfect: a consummate visual and emotional sendoff for one of the finest directors in cinema history.

 

26. I Live in Fear (1955)

i_live_in_fear

Films about nuclear devastation and paranoia had been greatly restricted during the postwar occupation of Japan from 1945-1952. But once the ban was lifted, filmmakers were free to make movies about how they believed nuclear technology had changed the world.

Kurosawa’s I Live in Fear opts for character study, focusing on a seventy-year-old patriarch (marvelously played by a 35-year-old Toshiro Mifune) so afraid that Japan will one day perish in nuclear war that he tries to uproot his entire family and move them to another part of the globe. The old man’s concerns draw mixed opinions from his children as well as the people called in to evaluate his condition. Some think his paranoia is merely a symptom of old age; others don’t necessarily believe Japan’s in danger but still sympathize with his fears.

I Live in Fear is not in the same league as the best anti-nuclear Japanese films (Godzilla, Children of Hiroshima, etc.) but has a number of haunting moments, most of them coming from Mifune. A scene of the old man tearfully begging his children to leave Japan with him is especially powerful.

 

25. Sanshiro Sugata (1943)

i_live_in_fear

Kurosawa’s directorial debut is a little hard to evaluate given that seventeen of its ninety-seven minutes have been lost. Current copies feature intertitles to help fill in the gaps, but since the missing scenes were key to enhancing character motivations and behavior (and reactions to scenes that still exist in the film), their absence diminishes the film’s power considerably.

Based on what does survive, though, Sanshiro Sugata already shows the technical brilliance and interest in character progression that would define Kurosawa’s best work. He later wrote he had the time of his life making this film, and that’s certainly evident in his energetic direction. A scene in which he indicates the passage of time via a montage (of a sandal carried around in flood waters, later buried in snow, etc.) shows the director was already keen on how to use imagery to tell a story.

 

24. Scandal (1950)

Even lesser Kurosawa films tend to have fascinating components and scenes of tremendous power. Scandal, a critique of yellow journalism in postwar Japan, isn’t quite as searing as its director intended, yet it still has much to offer through its plethora of intriguing characters — most notably a weak-willed lawyer played by that wonderful actor Takashi Shimura. And let it be said the Christmas sequence in this picture ranks among the finest individual scenes Kurosawa ever directed.

 

23. Sanjuro (1962)

Sanjuro (1962)

A clever and amusing follow-up to Kurosawa’s previous film, Yojimbo (1961). In the original, Toshiro Mifune’s wisecracking samurai pitted two imbecilic gangs against one another to wipe them both out; here, he takes a side, trying to help besieged (rather, naive) people take a stand against their persecutors. Having the ronin come to lament violence and cry out in anger whenever he’s forced to pull his sword on another man is another nice touch which makes this a truly worthwhile successor and not just a pale retread.

 

22. The Most Beautiful (1944)

By 1944, it was apparent Japan would lose World War II. Despite facing imminent defeat, Japanese filmmakers were encouraged to make “spiritist” films: movies showing ordinary civilians dedicated to the national cause. The Most Beautiful is interesting in that it’s not overly sweet or optimistic; it supports the war effort while also detailing the physical and emotional hardships civilian workers went through in showing their patriotism.

The story focuses on young women employed in a war factory as they set unreasonably high expectations for themselves, experience injuries on the job, make mistakes for which they feel guilty, and forge permanent gaps between themselves and their families. Tears are shed aplenty in this film, and more often than not, they are tears of sadness. (Compare this to other Japanese propaganda movies, in which mothers beamed with pride upon learning of their sons’ deaths in battle.)

Kurosawa himself was quite fond of The Most Beautiful, describing it in his autobiography as not a major film but “the one dearest to me.”

 

21. The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945)

Denjiro Okochi steals the show in this highly entertaining period film. Okochi plays the leader of a group of samurai who disguise themselves as monks in order to sneak their lord through enemy lines. In the film’s most effective sequence, Okochi verbally squares off against an enemy retainer relentlessly questioning him about Buddhist beliefs and practices, Okochi improvising at split seconds to maintain his charade and protect his master.

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail was not released until 1952 due to a plethora of political roadblocks — a shame audiences had to wait so long to see this tightly paced (less than an hour long), suspenseful gem.

10 Great 2019 Movies No One Talks About

Every year a bunch of films aren’t talked about; they aren’t necessarily overlooked for awards or recognition, but they are films that dropped, overlooked at festivals, or even both. Sadly, they don’t get the attention they deserve, but true cinephiles can discover them in time. Therefore, here are 10 great films from 2019 that no one talks about.

 

1. 3 Faces – Jafar Panahi

Ever since his house arrest, the relentless Jafar Panahi has found ways to express his artistry in his native Iran. This time, alongside fellow actress Behnaz Jafari, he goes searching for a missing girl and aspiring actress in northwestern Iran, after witnessing a devastating plea over her iPhone.

What follows is a road movie with an observant approach and patient camerawork that makes you feel like you’re in the lands of northwestern Iran. We see the people, the culture, and landscapes change, much like the thought process of Panahi and Jafari. Of course, the film secretly comments on Iranian society, the outside cities, and the repression of its people, particularly women, in the case of the missing girl.

Panahi definitely crafted his most cinematic film since 2011 and his most diverse film as well. With beautiful moments on the road going from fierce to comedic and never shying away from the commentary on culture, it’s a film to be explored, much like Panahi and Jafari do in their own country.

 

2. The White Crow – Ralph Fiennes

Featuring an international cast and assorted direction by Fiennes, the film tells the story of Rudolf Nureyev and his ultimate defection to the West as a dancer from the Soviet Union. Shot in a beautifully 16 mm portrait, making this larger-than-life story more personal and in a form of documentary style, he sees this artist’s turning point and his life’s background to that point.

Fiennes manages to explore many elements of Nureyev’s decision and artistry in the film with different results. For example, we see young love, psychological thriller aspects, or the spy genre, all mixed into one man’s mind. This might cause the narrative to drift, but it ultimately supports the reasons for his ultimate defection in 1961. With stunning dance numbers and a commitment to craftsmanship, such as the different ratio and look of flashback sequences, Fiennes captured the man and moment with grace.

For any fans of biographical, historical, or European-centric films, don’t miss this film.

 

3. Donnybrook – Tim Sutton

In the earliest release of the year, Tim Sutton reaches new heights that explore the desperation of real America in a hauntingly brutal film. The film interweaves between a devil-like hitman and his young girlfriend; a man preparing for a bare-knuckle fight that can save his family’s life; and a down-and-out cop looking for peace of mind, amongst other things. Sure, this sounds maybe like a film noir or a B movie, but Sutton’s brutally poetic film must be experienced.

Despite the fact that it operates on a narrative that might be familiar, it is utterly unpredictable in terms of character, violence, and choices. It’s not necessarily a difficult watch, but you feel these characters’ pain and despair as Sutton doesn’t shy away from the commentary.

The film certainly captures real life in America in today’s age, but with Sutton’s approach, it’s elevated to brutal, violent poetry.

 

4. Frankie – Ira Sachs

After solidifying a string of New York films grounded in realism, Ira Sachs crafted an international cast led by Isabelle Huppert about three generations of a family over the course of a vacation day in Portugal. What follows is a conversation-heavy film on human relationships in the vein of Maurice Pialat or Eric Rohmer.

From an observant camera length and distance, his characters interweave and literally pass each other on the streets of Sintra. And we see the flaws, hopes, betrayals, and optimism of these people. It’s the tender moments of wisdom and grace mixed with uncertainty about the future that make us think about our own lives during the film, without ever leaving the characters behind.

Sachs has never shied away from difficult situations in his films, but here, with its minimal approach on storytelling, he gets to the roots of what these people want, think, and desire. It’s a film to watch on a Sunday afternoon, or to get you in the mood to think about what really matters in your life and the people to share it with.

 

5. End of the Century – Lucio Castro

A film that almost feels like a hidden gem of Queer Cinema from the 1980s, Lucio Castro explores the relationship between two men from the past and present. Played out in pure poetic realism, we see these two men from their casual sexual encounter to their first encounter, nearly 20 years earlier in Barcelona.

Castro allows for scenes and frames to linger, exploring these characters’s feelings of love, loneliness, and everything in between in the architecture of the city. It plays in fiction and the reality of the paths these two men take.

Never shying away from a sexy or haunting presence, it’s something that only film can capture – poetry, relationships, music, framing, and the sounds of any given moment. If you’re a fan of relationship films, straight or gay, or poetic cinema, this film feels both of the moment and classic at the same time.

The 25 Best English-Language Movies of The 2010s

best jazz movie scores

With 2020 already here, it’s time to recap some of the best films from the last decade. Without further adieu, here are the top 25 American-made movies from the 2010’s.

 

25. Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan (2010)

Starting from the bottom, Darren Aronofsky gives a hallucinatory take on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in Black Swan. Nina (Natalie Portman), is gunning for the lead role in an upcoming ballet. So is another talented, and tattooed, dancer (Mila Kunis) who uses sex to get what she wants. But who will she seduce; Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), the art director in charge of casting, or Nina herself? As the stress of auditions takes a toll on Nina’s physical, and mental, health, the line between real and surreal become blurred.

Steeped in obsessive one-upmanship and sexual tension, Black Swan demonstrates Aronofsky’s most mature filmmaking while earning Natlie Portman her first Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. It also suggests that even in the best of us, a dark side resides.

 

24. The Social Network (2010)

The 2010’s saw more people interacting through a screen than ever before. How was this achieved? Two words; social media. From Instagram to Twitter, LinkedIn to Tinder, David Fincher’s The Social Network identifies the foundation of all these online applications. Adapted from Ben Mezrich’s bestselling book, The Social Network documents the advent of the world’s most popular social media platform.

 

23. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

A folk-singing couch surfer (Oscar Isaac) finds himself questioning his career in the Coen bros.’ Inside Llewyn Davis. After a cat runs away from its owner’s Greenwich Village apartment, Llewyn Davis, the former member of a popular duet folk group whose partner committed suicide, reluctantly assumes responsibility over it. He also discovers his angry ex-girlfriend is pregnant with his child and wants an abortion. Tired beyond belief, hitch-hiking his way across the state, Llewyn is about to throw in the towel. But if he does he may miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime.

Accompanied by the original song “Fare Thee Well” performed by Marcus Mumford from Mumford & Sons and Oscar Isaac himself, Inside Llewyn Davis offers invigorating insight into the life of a starving artist.

 

22. The Witch (2015)

Robbert Eggers caught audiences’ attention with The Witch set in 17th century New England. A christian father and his family are exiled and cast into the wilderness where they must fend for themselves. Finding refuge near a foreboding forest, what can only be attributed to witchcraft results in the disappearance of a newborn baby.

With tensions high and food in short supply the family begins to turn on each other, suspecting the eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) to be in league with Lucifer. As the influence of black magic escalates, evil manifests itself in the form of a billy goat named Black Phillip who kills Thomasin’s father and recruits her into his coven. Juxtaposing Old English monologues with pagan folklore, Eggers first film is a force to be reckoned with!

 

21. It Follows (2014)

David Robert Mitchell directs a modern horror about a supernatural STD that stalks its victims in It Follows. After nineteen-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) has sex with her boyfriend in the backseat of his car, a slow-moving entity that only she can see starts following her wherever she goes. To make matters worse, Jay must transfer the curse by sleeping with someone else otherwise she’ll die.

Where their parents’ teeth were chattering to Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street in their younger years, Mitchell places this millennial-drawn monster above the bed instead of beneath it. As convincing as it is ridiculous, audiences must decide for themselves whether It Follows is a scare tactic to discourage sexual activity among younger viewers or rather a campy horror, no more.

 

20. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

leonardo-dicaprio-the-wolf-of-wall-street

Having directed five films over the last ten years, it is difficult to choose which of Scorsese’s 2010-2019 releases most deserves to be on this list. Nevertheless, The Wolf of Wall Street seems like a pretty safe bet.

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a New York City stock broker who will do just about anything to make money. This includes selling penny stocks with get-rich-quick promises and defrauding his investors. Hopped up on cocaine and quaaludes, Belfort indulges in $25,000 dinners and five-star escort services.

Catching the eye of F.B.I. Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), Belfort can either cooperate with his investigation and inform on his accomplices or serve time behind bars. Supported by performances from Joah Hill, Margot Robbie and Matthew McConaughey and a budget of $100 million, The Wolf of Wall Street is an unfortunate true story about an industry that not only allows, but encourages, the same kind of recklessness that Belfort exemplified during the 1990’s.

 

19. Drive (2011)

Dialogue takes a backseat to an 80’s synthesizer in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. When he isn’t daylighting as a mechanic/stuntman, a mobster (Ryan Gosling) transports criminals in five minute increments. But as the little-to-say and less-to-lose stick shifter falls for his nextdoor neighbor (Carrie Mulligan), a robbery gone wrong sends apathy out the window. With on-screen contributions from Bryan Cranston and Oscar Isaac, Drive is high-octane action with a neon-noir twist.

Following his European crime series the Pusher trilogy featuring an up-and-coming Mads Mikkelsen, Drive is Refn’s second movie to make it to mainstream screens after Bronson (2008) and the first to be filmed in the U.S. With an affinity for graphic violence and drug smuggling, the Danish director would return to obscurity in 2013 with Only God Forgives, also starring Gosling, that centers around eye-for-an-eye crime in Thailand.

 

18. Get Out (2017)

After establishing himself as a talented stand-up comedian alongside Keegan-Michael Key on Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, Jordan Peele changed lanes for his directorial debut Get Out, a horror about brainwashing racists.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an African-American black and white photographer, takes a trip with his girlfriend, Rose (Allison William), to meet her seemingly innocent, albeit ignorant, parents for the first time. Before he knows it, Chris is hypnotized and sitting at the center of a huge conspiracy. With nothing but cotton swabs to intercept his captor’s white-supremesist plans, Chris must defeat his girlfriend’s family and put an end to their Aryan ideals.

Given the prevalence of racial tension throughout the 2010’s, Peele takes this opportunity to make some unnerving observations about how we as a society treat people of color. Deeply embedded in behind-the-scenes bigotry, Get Out invites us to discuss these issues openly instead of masking our intolerance with insincere pleasantries.

The 10 Best Written Movies of 2019

“To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script, and the script.” — Alfred Hichcock.

As stated by many masters of cinema, the script is one of the most important aspects of a film – perhaps the most important aspect. Some may claim that images, experimentation, and atmosphere are superior, and while those contribute a lot, it’s the script that creates characters that remain in your memory and change with the audience; it’s the script that grants themes for the audience to question; it’s the script that ultimately calls the audience to action, for better or worse. After all, look at the numerous crimes and dreams inspired by movies. Words are equally as important as celluloid. Words are what bring celluloid into existence.

Without further adieu, these are the best written movies of 2019, in no particular order. The themes, ideas, and characters in these movies will remain within you, inspiring you, challenging you, all the while making you laugh and cry.

 

10. I Lost My Body

In a world where animation isn’t considered by most to be a legitimate, serious art form, it’s an enormous gulp of fresh air when an animated movie surfaces that isn’t a mindless cash grab from some big studio, and Jeremy Clapin’s “I Lost My Body” does not disappoint. Based on the book “Happy Hand” by Guillaume Laurent, it’s the story of a disembodied hand that breaks free from a Parisian lab, embarking on a quest to find its body. As the hand journeys, it receives flashbacks to its life with a body. This hand is revealed to belong to Naoufuel, a young pizza delivery boy living a tragic and emotionally numb life, until he falls in love with the mysterious Gabrielle, a late night pizza client with whom Naofuel converses.

This film could have taken a more conventional approach with a teen love story, but the surrealist aspect it dons creates a more daring, emotionally raw experience for the viewer, unafraid to roam into disgusting territories. One can appreciate the surface level creativity that the juicy, visually driven surrealism has to offer, but if one decides to delve deeper, they will be rewarded with themes of loss, love, growth and life. “I Lost My Body” is a perfect anthem to the broken-hearted and sever-handed. Perhaps one must lose the body in order to discover the mind.

 

9. The Irishman

It’s a shame that so many wished for “The Irishman” to be a miniseries, because it’s best watched in one sitting.

“The Irishman” encompasses the life of Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran as he reminisces the defining moments in his life – the good, the bad, the big, the small, and the downright ugly. He’s been a veteran, a gangster, a leader, a father and a friend. And although from the outside it may have seemed that he lived life to its fullest, he suddenly finds himself an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone. He accomplished much, but failed to focus on life’s most important thing: family. Friendship is one thing, and the interactions between characters Sheeran and his mob friends Hoffa and Bufalino are expertly written – a little slice of heaven incarnated onto the silver screen – but friends don’t stay young forever. When you put love into a family, you’ll experience a love everlasting.

“The Irishman” is screenwriter Steven Zaillian’s finest work alongside “Schindler’s List,” serving as a call to action, telling this world not to be obsessed with the gangster life, and instead to pour that ambition into the dad life. The themes of life and age’s consequences are bound to wrench tears out of its audience. It’s Martin Scorcese’s thematic companion to “Goodfellas,” but as a tragedy.

 

8. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a historical revisionist Hollywood fairytale that follows actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double/best friend/personal assistant Cliff Booth, and their strange cruise through a Hollywood that’s passing them by, with the Manson murders and the career of Sharon Tate serving as the story’s backdrop.

The film doesn’t have much of a “plot” to speak of, so Dalton and Booth’s relationship is the glue that enhances its ambling tone. When the two are introduced, Dalton is a tad bit unlikable due to his unfiltered narcissistic tendencies, and we’re unsure of what to feel for Booth because of his shady wife-killing past. But their interactions with themselves and others grow on you until you’re completely in love with them. We realize Dalton’s flaws and Booth’s dedication are what makes them grounded and relatable.

It seems that ever since 2011’s “Django Unchained,” several internet critics have complained to have a “Tarantino fatigue,” dismissing him as derivative, edgy, and controversial just for the sake of sparking controversy. His latest entry disproves those claims. Wholesome and vulgar, over the top and grounded, violent, but also oddly… heartwarming? These may be a few words to describe this movie. What could’ve been another homage to exploitation is instead a meditation of a Hollywood that could have been. What if Hollywood was still a place of unashamed genre pieces and auteur-driven works? What if all its great tragedies were non-existent, unable able to define Hollywood into what it’s become today? By the end, you’ll yearn to return to the Hollywood of Tarantino’s childhood, too.

 

7. Doctor Sleep

In a year flooded with Stephen King content, “Doctor Sleep” stands superior to the peanut gallery. Mike Flannagan perfectly meshes Stephen King’s “The Shining” with Stanley Kubrick’s, and this makes for a very entertaining watch. It leaves behind the atmospheric horror of the 1980s classic and instead is a pretty accurate dark fantasy adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “Doctor Sleep.” Picking off years after the traumatic events of the Overlook, Danny Torrance and his mother are living in Florida, and Danny is struggling to outgrow the cycle of alcoholism that he inherited from his father. His encounter with another teen who has the “Shining” (telepathic powers) lead him on a journey to defeat Rose the Hat and True Knot, a vampyric cult that feeds off innocent Shiners.

“Doctor Sleep” isn’t superior to its predecessor, but the screenplay presents a scenario with themes of fathers and their sons that are far more character-driven and relatable to the average audience.

 

6. Ad Astra

“Ad Astra” is this year’s daunting, transcendental space epic. A brilliant fusion of nuanced writing and filmmaking from director/screenwriter James Gray and screenwriter Ethan Gross comes a story about Roy McBride, who receives news that his father (lost from a deep space mission 30 years before) may still be alive. McBride, a person as emotionally distant as space itself, must travel to Neptune to solve the mystery of his father as well as the ominous power surges threatening the safety of the solar system.

Through the realistic depictions of space travel, Gray is able to show us the emotions of McBride, which are restrained yet visceral. Marrying the meditation of Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” with the suspenseful intensity of Nolan’s “Interstellar,” “Ad Astra” is able to explore themes about the weaknesses of humanity, fathers, and their son’s silent image of God.

The 10 Worst Movies of 2019

x-men-dark-phoenix-2018_

Though it is always preferable to celebrate and recognise the films that audiences and critics enjoyed and rated highly in any given year, inevitably along with the best films of the year lists will come the worst films of the year lists too.

Film is, and will always be, subjective. And so, box office ratings and reviews may not always be the best signifier of what any one person will enjoy or on the flip side, hate. That being said, there are certainly films where the general consensus is that of derision and so the films in question are often ones that do fall below the standards expected from audiences and critics.

2019 saw a number of films that disappointed audiences and that did not live up to their potential. These films spanned many genres and showed that even well-established actors and directors were not immune from producing bad films.

 

1. Polar

A wannabe Quentin Tarantino/Frank Miller inspired film that is an insult to the genre. It is so stupidly unintelligent that it is cringeworthy to watch at times. The plot is weak, the writing is full of embarrassing exposition and the acting is awful. Mads Mikkelsen, who by all accounts is a great actor, looks completely bored in a tedious role which ticks every trope in the book.

The plot is repetitive and just feels like a series of a different ways to shoot someone’s brains out all over the wall. Imagine if you gave a group of particularly immature and violently minded teenage boys a film budget and Polar is what they would probably come up with. Perhaps it can be argued that Polar is meant to be received as pure trashy entertainment, but it fails even as that. If you want to watch a film that has multiple close ups of a corpse’s erection, then this is the film for you.

 

2. After

Based on the popular book series, After already had a legion of fans ready to adore the adaptation of their favourite novel. But what about everyone else? Would they be able to enjoy After regardless? And therein lies one of After’s biggest problems – it doesn’t know who its target audience is meant to be.

Yes, of course the readers of the novel form a part of the target audience, but they are going to watch it regardless. After follows students in college and deals with sex and relationships, so in that way it suits a more mature audience. But the romance is so insipid and silly that it feels more like the film is aimed at younger teenagers. Neither of these aspects marries up properly, so overall After seems slightly inappropriate for the younger audience and a bit too silly for an older audience.

The characters are terrible. Every one of them is a stereotype – the good girl, the bad boy, the nice boy, the bad girl, the suffocating parent, the absent parent, blah blah blah. Sometimes stereotypes cannot be avoided and are inevitable, but none of the characters had any depth. It was difficult to root for anyone or to be invested in them.

The main plot point of the film is the supposed ‘intense’ romance between Tessa and Hardin, an attraction that cannot be denied or contained. That’s all well and good – until it becomes clear that that the chemistry between the actors is not really that strong. It is also a problem if the romance comes out of nowhere, with little build up.

Throughout After, the disappointing trope of the nice girl falling for the bad boy is at the forefront of all that is happening. If this film ends up mainly being enjoyed by a younger audience, then it feels like it is setting an uncomfortable precedent for its young viewers. Putting that issue aside, Hardin’s ‘badness’ appears to be based on little else than his tattoos and penchant to be quite moody.

After does boast some nice shots, and a surprisingly emotional end scene, which could have almost saved the film, but overall After is just not strong enough in any category to elevate it from ending up on lists such as this.

 

3. In the Tall Grass

There may be nothing obviously wrong with the performances, cinematography or technical aspects of In the Tall Grass – those are all fine. No, the main issue with In the Tall Grass is that the film’s premise hinges on one very particular and major element. And that element is this – can grass ever really be that scary? And unfortunately, the answer to that is no grass is not scary. It’s not scary at all. And then later on, another nature-based element is added in an attempt to ramp up the scares. This time we must ask ourselves – is this rock scary? And again, the conclusion is no it is not.

If faced with the situation that the characters in the film found themselves in, then the nature in question probably would be terrifying but on screen and as a horror film concept, In the Tall Grass just comes across as laughable. As a breeze ripples across the vast field of rich, green grass, it’s just very pretty and scenic. It’s not like the scene in Jurassic Park where the grass is moving because there are velociraptors in it – now that was pretty scary! But more importantly, because the core premise of the film doesn’t work, the rest of the film just feels pointless and silly. In the Tall Grass completely fails as a horror film because it is not in the least bit scary.

Based on the novella by prolific horror author Stephen King, In the Tall Grass may work well on page but it doesn’t translate well to the screen. Even more common horror tropes like the creepy kid fell flat (because the kid was actually quite cute). And the gore felt like a desperate attempt to somehow make this film worthy of a horror tag.

 

4. Rambo: Last Blood

Sylvester Stallone is adept at getting a lot of leverage from his film franchises (Rocky being the perfect example) and so why not return yet again with another popular character? Wouldn’t it be nice to give John Rambo a proper send off and wrap the character up? Well yes it would, so it is a pity that Rambo: Last Blood does nothing of the sort. And shock horror, it even leaves the door open for another film – Rambo: Last Blood One Last Time anyone?!

Mindlessly gory and ingloriously mind numbing, Rambo: Last Blood fails on almost every level. The script is clunky, the characters are boring and the entire film appears only to be setting up to the violent climax at the end. A finale that is reliant on CGI gore and brutality.

If Stallone is intent on giving audiences more from the characters that they know and love, then everyone should cross their fingers and hope for more Balboa and let Rambo be at rest forever.

 

5. Serenity

So, you have just watched the trailer for this film and now for fun, think of an unexpected twist that might happen during the film. No matter what strange or out there twist you come up, it is incredibly unlikely that you will guess what actually happens – and that is not meant in a good way. It is like someone had the skeleton of a really clever and intriguing premise for a film and then put it into the completely wrong setting, wrote a questionable script and then somehow made Academy Award winning actors look like amateurs.

In a crowded film market chock full of remakes and sequels, perhaps Serenity is the unique and original film that we all need. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that this is the only worst films of 2019 list that Serenity has ended up on. At least Serenity will provoke discussion, if not a lot else.

10 Great Movies To Watch If You Liked Sergio Leone

The impact of Sergio Leone’s filmography is colossal. Many of Leone’s signature touches from his classic Man with No Name trilogy become norms in the Western genre. Ultimately, his tragically short filmography leaves one wanting  more. Fortunately, a quick Google search of popular spaghetti westerns can offer a long list of films that very closely resemble Leone’s iconic output. Therefore, the purpose of this list is to uncover — for the most part — movies that unexpectedly reveal similarities to Leone’s signature style or sensibilities that most Google searches won’t offer.

 

1. Track of the Cat (1954)

Track of the Cat (1954)

William A. Wellman’s Track of the Cat is a bold American western, fusing elements of arthouse and melodrama. The movie follows a Califronian family isolated in a ranch. Gradually, they become overcome by domestic tensions, hostile weather, and fear of a panther supposedly prowling in the mountains. Wellmam, the director of Wings and The Ox-Bow Incident, conceived of the movie through its relationship to colour. The film relies predominantly on the high contrast between the overwhelming shades of white and black. With some vibrant exceptions, most other colours are muted. Indeed, it’s a heavily symbolic film and a definitive outlier in the landscape of 1950s westerns.

Far more subdued and foreboding than anything Leone ever touched, Track of the Cat nonetheless shares a similar taste for genre subversion. At a time when the western genre was dominated by John Wayne/John Ford or James Stewart/Anthony Mann collaborations, Wellman aspired to take the genre in a different direction. In Track of the Cat, everything is a metaphor and there’s no hint of glory in the Wild West. Other westerns of the era would still sometimes critique the idealized underpinnings of masculinity and racist American valor embedded in the genre. Yet Wellman’s film takes a more radical stance, revealing these qualities as myth from the very beginning.

 

2. Yojimbo (1961)

Yojimbo (1961)

Cinema of the West owes a lot to Akira Kurosawa. Star Wars is, of course, The Hidden Fortress reimagined as a space opera. Even countless classics from the western genre are remakes or riffs on some of Kurosawa’s most iconic samurai films. John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven is Seven Samurai with cowboys. Even Leone’s own A Fistful of Dollars is an unofficial remake of Yojimbo.The premise is the same: a lone figure finds himself in the midst of a conflict between two rival gangs and begins playing them against each other. However, Leone’s own creative impulses result in a very different movie.

Perhaps most notably, Toshiro Mifune’s performance is in stark opposition to Clint Eastwood’s. Mifune is wild, energetic and bubbling with violent glee. Eastwood is famously stoic, watching situations unfold without seeming particularly engaged. Yojimbo is, as a whole, some of Kurosawa’s most unrestrained action cinema. Mifune’s hacks his way through assailants, splattering blood and scattering limbs. Kurosawa collaborates with legendary cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, filming in stark, gorgeous black and white. The film’s aesthetics and temperament are vastly different from Leone’s rendition in A Fistful of Dollars. Yet the two distinct films are united by a gleeful predilection for suspense and deception.

 

3. The Great Silence (1968)

The Great Silence (1968)

Sergio Corbucci, a contemporary of Leone, delivered his magnum opus with The Great Silence. Jean-Louis Trintignant plays a mute gunslinger named Silence who’s hunted by a collective of bounty hunters led by a sadistic Klaus Kinski. While the movie leans into similar iconography and stylings as Leone, it’s ultimately far more mournful and elegiac. Even Ennio Morricone’s score avoids the grandiose dramatics he brings to Leone’s works, instead focusing on the sadness of the western. The film is among the western’s bleakest works, trampling over any sense of hope. Corbucci was influenced by the recent, tragic murders of Che Guevara and Malcolm X, and wanted to craft a condemnation of America’s eternal tendencies towards hatred and violence.

The Great Silence is packed with unforgettable imagery. Corbucci avoids the classic western landscapes of wide deserts and sun-glowing skies. His film is cold. Landscapes drown in thick snow, and a wild wind howls across the soundtrack. The warmth and radiance of the old John Wayne western is dead. The Great Silence is about a transition into a period without hope. In Corbucci’s western, there’s no room for heroes. His take on the spaghetti western is far more nihilistic than Leone’s. In The Great Silence, America is irredeemably broken.

 

4. The Wild Bunch (1969)

The Wild Bunch (1969)

After the success of Italy’s spaghetti westerns, American westerns changed. It happened pretty abruptly with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, a film whose slow-motion, blood-splattering shootouts feel revolutionary to this day. The movie is far more chaotic than anything Leone ever released. With its signature quick cuts rapidly teleporting the camera across a battleground, it can be hard to follow the fight. That’s, however, what makes The Wild Bunch so mesmerizing. Peckinpah and his editor Lou Lombardo make visceral action scenes, prioritizing chaos over coherence. The film’s hectic cuts toss the audience headfirst into violent shootouts.

Peckinpah is a tremendous filmmaker, maligned in his own time and still underrated today. His films, bloodsoaked and gritty, introduced a newfound depravity to mainstream American cinema. However, his reputation as merely a sadistic artist feels reductive. Peckinpah was also an incredibly sincere filmmaker, deeply concerned both with how his characters repress their emotions and also the life-shattering consequences of violence. He wasn’t merely a trigger-happy lunatic.

There’s no better evidence than Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, a film where countless acts of violence have severe and devastating emotional repercussions. This degree of sincerity is absent from much of Leone’s early work, but it begins to trickle in. By the end of his career, with Once Upon a Time in America, Leone’s relationship to violence had changed. America, like best Peckinpah’s work, is a film deeply concerned with the results of violence, both on its victims and its perpetrators.

 

5. 1900 (1976)

Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 is the director’s finest work. It’s a five-hour epic, tracking the history of Italy’s political landscape in the first half of the 20th Century. The movie follows two childhood friends (Robert de Niro and Gérard Depardieu) into adulthood. The men are opposites, raised from contrasting socioeconomic backgrounds and maturing into polarized ideologies. Bertolucci uses these characters to explore the clash between Italian socialism and fascism.

Leone’s films were never overtly concerned with political systems or ideology. However,  1900 bears the markings of a clear predecessor to Once Upon a Time in America. Some of the key players are present; De Niro and Ennio Morricone are some of both movies’ greatest assets. 1900, much like America, is concerned with tracing the evolution of a country through specific relationships. At the core of both movies is a tragic friendship. Bertolucci and Leone both shared a knack for capturing something grand and epic through moments of intimacy.

Unfortunately, 1900 was a commercial failure at the time of its release. Its catastrophic box office revenues drove producers away from the risk of distributing incredibly long films in wide release. As a result, Once Upon a Time in America was cut into an increasingly short film, until it was released domestically at almost half its full length.