List: The Movies of Germany

MV5BMTg1NzE3NTQ1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTI1Njk3MTI@._V1_Continuing our summer vacation in the movies, we’re going to a different European country each Thursday in August. This week it’s Germany. This list is not of my picks for the best movies that happen to be set in Germany but the best portrayals of the country or part of it that I’ve seen in the movies. So here are the 10 best portrayals of Germany in the movies.

 

10. Morris from America (2016)

In one of the great coming-of-age films, Morris is an African American 13-year-old living in Germany. His attempts to fit in and to bring his old life in America with him to Germany give us a unique picture of German culture through the eyes of teenagers.

 

 

9. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

American politics and American criminal justice are placed in Germany for the famous Nuremberg trials of Nazi war crimes. The intense rarely leaves the court room, but when it does it shows the ruins of a city destroyed mostly by the actions of its own people. What we see of this historical picture of Nuremberg in a few scenes outside the courtroom is the same reality we see among the Germans inside the courtroom in an intimate, personal way.

 

8. The Blue Angel (1930)

This journey into the cultural and moral world of 1920s Germany, we follow a teacher who has the responsibility not only of teaching a curriculum to his high school students but to be an example of morality to them. He’s done a good job most of his life until a seductress at a local cabaret turns his reputation and everything he believes about himself and about right and wrong upside down.

 

7. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

The plot to kill Hitler begins and France. As the story progresses, people from every Allied country get involved, but the closer they get to carrying out their plan, the more of them show up in Germany. The time in Germany is spent mostly in bars and other places where the conspirators can trick Nazis enough Nazis to keep their plans alive. The picture of Nazi Germany that Tarantino gives us is a picture of the perpetrators enjoying all the evil they were accomplishing unaware of what is coming against them.

 

6. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

The movie is set during a punk rocker’s American tour, but we see many flashbacks to his life in Germany overlapping with many of the country’s most important events between the 1960s and 80s. And his act itself, both the songs and the stories he tells about his life back in Germany, take us on a tour of Germany even when the main character is in the U.S.

 

5. Bridge of Spies (2015)

This may look like a very strange choice for this list since it’s set almost entirely in New York City developing the relationship between a lawyer and the alleged Communist spy he’s defending. But the whole point of the movie is to get the spy to the bridge. That bridge of course is Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. Because the scenes that takes place at the bridge are so spectacular and this is the only movie I know of to recreate the common Cold War use of the bridge, it offers a picture of Germany that no other movie does even if it is a very short one.

 

4. Cabaret (1972)

Like The Blue Angel, Bob Fosse’s musical takes us on a journey of the moral and psychological world of thought in Germany but this time shortly before WWII. Obviously the cabarets and their prostitutes are the centerpiece of this moral journey but everything that happens in the cabaret is juxtaposed with the rise of the Nazi party showing Sally Bowles’ love of “divine decadence” as having a role in the decline of morality of the nation. Even though the characters in the cabaret are politically opposed to Naziism, the movie shows them as a part of what allowed the movement to happen.

 

3. A Foreign Affair (1948)

Marlene Dietrich sings a song called “The Ruins of Berlin.” While she sings it, we so those ruins very vividly. The movie is about the attempts at reconstruction after WWII, so we see both a very ugly (physically and morally) Berlin and the attempt to make a new, better city.

 

2. Wings of Desire (1987)

The original German title of Wim Wenders’ masterpiece translates to “The Heavens over Berlin.” We see the city of Berlin from the point of view of two angels assigned to watch over it. That’s all they do, watch it. It sounds like it must get boring for the angels, but for us to get to watch over Berlin and its people for a couple hours is fascinating and intreguing.

 

1. Metropolis (1927)

Fritz Lang’s sci-fi masterpiece is set in a Germany of the future, so the sets and costumes might not look much like 1927 Germany, but the story is about the very real crisis the nation found itself in. So even though we get a futuristic facade with the production design, we get the greatest picture of the real Germany the movies have ever given us. Financial crises cause a perceived need for a strict class system, and any breaches of that system are met with strong resistance and violence. The story is looking for a pair of hands (a mediator) to join the heart (the workers) to the head (the elite). Doesn’t sound too far fetched does it?

 

List: Movies about France

Continuing our summer vacation in the movies, we’re going to a different European country each Thursday in August. This week it’s France. This list is not my picks for the best movies that happen to be set in France but the best portrayals of the country or part of the country that I’ve seen in the movies.

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10. The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

The seaside community of Rochefort gives us beautiful scenery and a delightful musical comedy from masterful director Jacque Demy (the first of three films he has on this list).

 

9. The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

The only movie I know of that takes place at the Tour de France, Sylvain Chomet’s wildly drawn animated film introduces us to some crazy old women (the triplets), a bizarre kidnapping, and a hero dog all centered around France’s great sporting event.

 

8. Lili (1953)

Leslie Caron plays Lili, a 17-year old trying to find a way to live after the death of her father. She does so through working at one of the great carnivals so common in provincial France locations in the first half of the 20th century.

 

7. The Rules of the Game (1939)

A harsh indictment on the urban upper class France of his time, Jean Renoir’s comedy both pokes of the rampant immorality and oppression against servants in his society in what is probably the angriest and most incendiary comedy of all times that still manages to stay hilarious every second.

 

6. Ratatouille (2007)

What would a trip to France be without the food? Master chef Remy the Rat introduced not just his co-workers and friends, but the entire world to what was once was known as a peasant dish but has become a staple at fine-dining restaurants worldwide only in the last 10 years thanks to Remy and Disney/Pixar.

 

5. Lola (1961)

The second Jacque Demy film on the list, this tale of the joys and heartbreak of first love and its effect on entire life spans is set in Nantes. The coastal views are beautiful, and the film ends at one of the carnivals I mentioned with Lili a few movies earlier.

 

4. Hugo (2011)

Martin Scorsese’s family movie about film preservation is one of the strangest phrases I’ve ever said. The strangest thing about Hugo is how wonderfully it works. And it works so well in part because of the extravagantly beautiful sets that are equal parts 1931 France and a fantasy world created by Scorsese for a spectacular 3-D interpretation of Brian Selznick’s novel. French literature, French architecture, French music, and especially French film (and even more especially Georges Méliès’ 1902 A Trip to the Moon) are beautifully presented in Martin Scorsese’s family movie about film preservation.

 

3. Les Misérables (2012)

This masterful adaptation of the Broadway musical that itself adapted the Victor Hugo novel of the same name takes us to a very ugly France during the French Revolution. But the hope, the faith, and the willingness to fight for what is right in its characters bring the beauties of France to light even within the ugliest of situations.

 

2. Charade (1963)

Stanley Donen’s comedic espionage thriller finds Audrey Hepburn running for her life with the assistance of many people though she never knows (and neither do we) if they’re actually out to help her or to kill her. All the chasing is done throughout Paris, and we see many sites of the city as we watch her frantically run, hide and fight for her life however she can.

 

1. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

The best portrait of France that I know of in the movies is Jacque Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Set in the town of Cherbourg, the title refers to the umbrella shop that the main character helps run with her mother who owns it. The 1960s pastel colors bring the streets to life even in the rainiest of scenes, and with a title like this, you can expect that it’s raining most of the time but that never dampens the color and the beauty of this magical, romantic trip to France.

The Full Monty (1997)

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Desperate times calls for desperate measures, so the adage goes. Peter Cattaneo’s little gem shows the results of this in a hilarious, sensitive, and extremely intelligent way.  The great British comedy made a surprising splash in America in 1997 making more money than any low-budget foreign film before it and receiving four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture at a time when there were only five Best Picture nominees, and comedies were hardly ever nominated.

Beginning with an actual news reel video advertising Sheffield as an economic powerhouse in England because of its steel mining, the rest of the movie shows how much Sheffield changed in the 25 years after that news reel. The characters we get to know are all men who are unemployed, underemployed, trying to adjust after being released from jail, socially marginalized, suicidal, or some combination of these characteristics.

Only from a movie out England could a crew like this be part of a comedy, and a very funny one. These men don’t just come together to make money, though that is a need for all of them. Though they don’t realize this until the end, they come together to learn from each other what it means to be men. Whether because of the states of their marriages and families, their difficulties finding or keeping work, their sexual identity, or their self-esteem, each one of these men sees his manhood as in crisis. That’s what spawns their crazy scheme.

The movie never attempts to depict stripping as anything other than degrading, regardless of the gender doing it. Because the men find themselves seeking the desperate measures that many women before them have, they learn what it means to be judged by their physical characteristics, to experience body shamming as it’s now called, and how much more difficult it can be for women than for many men to learn to respect themselves.

A strange and beautiful thing about The Full Monty is that it’s a feminist movie with all male heroes. They’re heroes because they grow as people, they become men, and they learn to respect women out of the desperation they endure and the degradation they subject themselves to. But because they come together and reach this goal together, they are forced to give up self-centeredness and wrong ideas they had been clinging to about what it means to be a man. Their eventual victory over their difficult circumstance doesn’t happen because they’re chippendale dancers who go “the full monty” (complete nudity), but because they join together, they learn to put each other’s interests ahead of their own and to work together as a team. Their success happens because none of them does it for himself but for each other and for their families.

Having said that, The Full Monty is not only one of the funnies movies ever made but also one of the most inspiring. Dustin Hoffman said about his performance in Tootsie that it made him a better man because he learned what it meant to endure the many hardships that women do. All the actors in The Full Monty went through that same type of journey. It shows in the movie because the changes in the characters flow so naturally, because the laughs and the emotions are never forced but come as the result of bringing viewers in right in the middle of that journey. The Full Monty is a smart, joyous, delightful experience that encourages all of us to make sure our lives are filled with others who we empathize with, share life with, and grow with, others who make us better people.

List: The Movies of New Orleans

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As we’re taking a summer vacation through the movies Thursdays in July and August, this is our last week looking at U.S. cities in the movies. We’ve already been to New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In August, we’ll go to five different European countries. Now, here are the best New Orleans movies. That doesn’t mean the best movies that happen to be set in New Orleans but the best portraits of the city that the movies have given us.

 

8. Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)

Often disregarded as a worthless and unfunny movie, Abbott and Costello Goes to Mars may be far from a masterpiece but it does succeed at one thing. It shows just how unique a city New Orleans is. The characters end up in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but they think they’re on Mars!

 

7. Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Based on a play by Tennessee Williams, who loved to write about New Orleans, Suddenly Last Summer is set in the city’s Garden District. Though the movie doesn’t deeply explore the dark mystical practices known to be so common in New Orleans, the movie explores very deeply a family that has probably been influenced by those practices, with a very creepy woman in a very creepy home in what the movie makes to look like a very creepy Garden District.

 

6. The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The movie fails to bring the charm and joy of most Disney animated films, but there is one thing The Princess and the Frog does very well, and that’s portray the city. Randy Newman’s opening song “Down in New Orleans” shows us the French Quarter, the street musicians, the palm readers, and especially the restaurants since the story’s “princess” isn’t really a princess but a girl who dreams of owning a restaurant, and the animated food looks so real that it makes us as hungry for creole and fried food as Ratatouille does for all things of French cuisine.

 

5. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Another Tennessee Williams adaptation, this time adapted into a great film for Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, shows a very dark picture of New Orleans that reflects Blanche’s stereotypes more than the city in any time period. Yet her insane caricature of the city, of its people, of all people she thinks of as “common,” and especially her own family is all set in something that looks very much like the real New Orleans, no matter how unrealistic the story may deal with its culture.
4. Jezebel (1938)

The quintessential movie of the South before Gone with the Wind, Bette Davis plays a role very much like Scarlet O’Hara in a film that recreated the New Orleans of the Reconstruction period just like Gone with the Wind recreated the Atlanta of the same time.

 

3. All the King’s Men (1949)

A fictionalized version of the corrupt Louisiana senator Louis P. Long, Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) is definitely a product of his culture. We see the character formed by the good, the bad, and the ugly of his surroundings, including the city of New Orleans.

 

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

“The Bathtub” is a fictional bayou, but the filmmakers leave no room for doubt that it’s part of New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina. Like many bayou communities in New Orleans, the residents of the Bathtub are so cut off from the rest of the world that they don’t even have a name for the storm that’s coming (and I mean a name as basic as hurricane, not the specific name Katrina). Beasts takes us to the extremely self-sufficient, self-governing, self-enclosed bayou communities that really do exist around New Orleans.

 

 

1. Easy Rider (1969)

Billy and Wyatt travel through many parts of the U.S., but through their whole trip, they talk about their plans for Mardi Gras so vividly that we get a tour of New Orleans before the characters ever get there. When they do get there, we see a lot of the French Quarter and its most famous Beale Street, we see the festivities of Mardi Gras, and we even get a scene taking us through one the city’s above-ground cemeteries.

List: The Movies of Chicago

Continuing our “summer vacation” in the movies that we’ll do every Thursday in July, this week’s list is the best Chicago movies. That doesn’t mean the best overall movies that happen to be set in Chicago, but the best portrayals of the city in film.

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10. Harry and Tonto (1974)

Two unlikely travel partners join together out of desperation and eventually find great joy from each other’s company and friendship. Their travels take them to many parts of the country, but starting in Chicago we see many sites of the great city as they begin their journey together.

 

9. Chi-Raq (2014)

Dealing with the realities of gang violence in Chicago using the strange but brilliant background of the Greek comedy play Lysistrata, Spike Lee gives a darkly realistic yet shockingly entertaining view in a part of Chicago that is full of hurt and need but ultimately hope.

 

8. Some Like It Hot (1959)

Though most of the movie is set in Florida, Billy Wilder’s comedy classic begins with the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, taking us into the world of 1920s Chicago organized crime and prohibition.

 

7. Airplane (1980)

Whatever isn’t set in the plane is in the O’Hare airport. Unfortunately, that’s the only part of Chicago many people know but it certainly is an important part of the city. And the insane brilliance of the Zucker Bros. anarchic comedy makes the most of the chaotic nature of the busy airport for some of its most hilarious moments.

 

6. Only the Lonely (1991)

Like Moonstruck‘s view of Little Italy in New York, Chris Columbus’s remake of the 1955 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Marty, feels almost like it’s set in a small town because the little Irish community we’re taken to in Chicago is so close-knit, closely linked to the culture of the old country. One of the most underrated and too-little-seen romantic comedies gives a very different view of Chicago than we’re used to seeing.

 

5. Home Alone (1990)

Kevin’s Christmas Eve escape from the armed robbers attacking his house takes us to one of the oldest, most beautiful church buildings in the country and many of the best decorated spots in Chicago at Christmas.

 

 

4. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1931)

Another interesting look at Chicago crime, this great classic is set mostly in a chain gang where we don’t see much of Chicago, but we hear the characters talk a lot about the city they either love or hate, what they miss about it, and we get a tour of the city through their conversations.

 

3. Chicago (2002)

Much more than just the title makes the hilarious musical that satirizes the American criminal justice system worthy of this list. Like Some Like It Hot, it shows the thriving of Chicago’s underworld during the time of prohibition.

 

2. The Blues Brothers (1980)

We get a thorough, though very fast tour of the whole city during what is probably the longest chase scene in movie history. Running from the police, Jake and Elwood drive past and sometimes even through some of Chicago’s most memorable places of interest.

 

1. The Sting (1973)

And at the top is yet another movie about Chicago crime. Set in the 1930s, there are enough different chase scenes to probably add up to the same amount of time as the long one in The Blues Brothers. But in The Sting, almost all the chases are on foot. Each chase scene is shot in a way that doesn’t just show the shot but gives a unique view of a part of the city.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

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The funniest movie ever made is also one of the most intelligent statements fit ever made about sex, gender and morality. It’s also one of the first movies to use very violent situations as the basis of comedy, and it probably was the first to ever incorporate a real, violent event in its fictional story. The fictional characters Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) become Josephine and Daphne because they witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that happened in 1929 in Chicago.

Most of the movie is about the hilarious charade that Joe and Jerry have to play to save their lives. But we do see the gangsters of the massacre several times in the movie. The mob may have a goofy name, The Friends of Italian Opera, and some of them may be pretty stupid, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous since Joe and Jerry aren’t very bright either. There’s a moment when the head of the Friends of Italian Opera watches the hit he ordered. He was just speaking to a group and adjusts the volume on his headset when the noise of the gunshots is too much for him. He sits back in his chair and casually enjoys the show. This scene gives a parallel between the head mobster and Joe and Daphne. Joe and Daphne are innocent witnesses of the violence, so they’re not desensitized to violence but they are desensitized to the harm that can be caused by misogyny and too casual a view of sex.

Joe is unquestionably misogynistic. From the very beginning of the movie we see the results of his using and abusing women to meet his self-centered desires. Jerry is disgusted by Joe’s actions against women, but he isn’t much better because he has absolutely no self-control. Although its unintentional for him, he objectifies women just as much as Joe does.

Meeting Sugar (Marylin Monroe), another character who’s not very bright, is the perfect situation for misogynists to take advantage of to get what they want, except that they have to convince her and everyone else that they’re women to stay alive. Their con against the conmen didn’t just save their lives but also rescued them from their perverse views of women and their self-centerdness. They had to become sensitized to the personhood of women if they wanted any chance of their scheme working. They had to learn what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. They had to learn how to look out for the good of other people and not just themselves.

So the funniest movie of all times is a movie about organized crime, violence, social justice, and sexual morality. The humor never detracts from the message and the message never detracts from the humor. That’s quite an achievement. Thank you Billy Wilder.

The Movies of L.A.

Continuing our “summer vacation” in the movies that we’ll do every Thursday, this week’s list is the best Los Angeles movies. That doesn’t mean the best overall movies that happen to be set in L.A. but the best portrayals of the city in film.

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10. What’s Cooking? (2000)

Set in one of the most multi-cultural parts of L.A. on the most American of all days, Thanksgiving, we get a glimpse into what it means to be American for several neighboring families, each from a different cultural background. We’re taken into the heart of the lives and families of a location that is truly a melting pot.

9. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Another set of intertwining stories combined into one perfect film, we follow the complex web of organized crime throughout many parts of the city, especially the San Fernando Valley. The sun and the palm trees almost make you feel like you’re there and all the sites of L.A. helped to make this groundbreaking masterpiece more palatable as it majorly pushed the limits of storytelling and how violence is depicted in film in 1994.

 

8. A Star Is Born (1954)

Judy Garland’s character first comes to Hollywood because she’s told by a former star that he can make her a star. Her first arrival at the studio gives us a small tour into the movie studios of 1954 Hollywood.

 

7. Double Indemnity (1944)

Almost all great noir is set in L.A. You’d never be able to tell that L.A. is one of the sunniest cities in the world with very little rain from the way it’s portrayed in noir. According to 1970s music, it never rains in southern California, but according to film noir, it always rains there. Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity is one of the darkest of all the noir visions of L.A.

6. Magnolia (1999)

Set in various parts of the city all on the very long Magnolia Blvd., Paul Thomas Anderson gives a tour of what he seems to think is the city’s greatest demon, a lack of fatherhood. With many references to the biblical passage “The sins of the father are passed on from generation to generation” and even an odd retelling of the plagues that result from that, we see the hurt of the city told in an extremely compassionate way that somehow manages to leave us with much hope.

5. Anchors Aweigh (1945)

We tour the TV and movie studies, get a great dance sequence with Gene Kelly and the animated mouse that would later be known as Jerry (though this scene has nothing to do with L.A., it’s just too great not to mention), and a chase sequence through the Hollywood Bowl.  Anchors Aweigh gives as an inside look into many different aspects of the arts at work in L.A.

 

4. Sunset Blvd. (1950)

In an old mansion on the iconic street lives Norma Desmond, former silent film star, now a has been obsessed with the unrealistic idea of returning to the movies. The idolatry of fame and the devastating effects (to self and others) of the grief over the loss of fame are shown with dark, though often hilarious sharpness.

 

3. Blade Runner (1982)

It always rains in future noir L.A. too. Ridley Scott’s vision of L.A. in the future is a bleak reflection of the problems it dealt with in reality in 1982. Many traces of L.A. as it is can be seen in Blade Runner but only through the very bleak lens that shows the expected results of police corruption and the media’s exploitation of those perceived to be weak.

 

2. Rebel without a Cause (1955)

The famous knife fight at Griffith Observatory and the confusion at the planetarium are two of the most iconic scenes in film history both at iconic spots of L.A.

 

1. La La Land (2016)

Last year’s musical gem goes to the same places as Rebel with a Cause since Rebel plays a major role in the Mia/Sebastian romance. We also see the Hollywood hills. And it all starts with a musical number on the 405. I bet everyone in L.A. wishes that driving the 405 had that much joy and excitement!