List: Future Shock

Next Thursday, Oct. 27, Turner Classic Movies will be airing films that represent 70s future shock. There are some great movies for that theme, but I thought it would be more interesting to broaden it to all time periods of film. So here’s my list of the great future shock movies.



5. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The world is shocked by the presence of aliens, but these aliens don’t come to invade the earth. They come to heal it. They know that the real source of the world’s future shock is its fear and unwillingness to unite with other people.


4. Modern Times (1936)

Chaplin’s classic comedy shows fear of a very soon-coming future. The combination of mechanical advancement with increasing poverty gives the hilarious futuristic machines created in this film a somber and frightening backdrop in Chaplin’s own present time.


3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Mostly a wondrous and beautiful look at the future, HAL represents all that is also scary about the future. The shock comes from getting the answer to the question the astronauts don’t really want an answer to: Can something humanity created become human and even replace humanity?

2. The Time Machine (1960)

The starkest look at the potential future, George Pal’s masterful adaptation of the H.G. Wells’ classic novel includes a future without the capacity for thinking, individuality, or love. As the result of centuries of cultural brainwashing, this is the thought of what the world will look like. It’s especially shocking for Americans right now, living in a country led by someone so insecure that he wants to make everyone like him (in both senses of the word “like”), creating some segments of the country that look a lot like this movie’s dismal vision of the future.


1. Metropolis (1927)

Fritz Lang directed the greatest of all silent films. A futuristic retelling of the story of the Tower of Babel, Metropolis shows how future shock is often the result of fearing that the past will repeat itself. With loads of biblical imagery placed in a sci-fi setting, Metropolis, like 2001 and The Day the Earth Stood Still, has a potentially hopeful view of the future. But it understands that shock must come before the hope, and that the hopeful possibilities can only occur if there is a Mediator willing and able to lead people through the shock and into the hope.


List: A Star Goes Out

Two weeks ago I published a list called “A Star Is Born” like the three movie versions of the same story with that title. I listed movies about stars being born. In mentioning the 1954 version of A Star Is Born with Judy Garland, I said that it is just as much a story about a star going out (about the fading star who discovered her, played by James Mason) as it is about the birth of Judy Garland’s character’s stardom. So, here’s a list of the greatest movies about fading stardom, about a star burning out.



10. Stranger than Fiction (2006)

Emma Thompson plays a has-been novelist trying to write one last great masterpiece, but a matter of morality gets in her way. The choice to let her most likely let her stardom die forever is clearly the right choice to make since the other choice inevitably involves the death of another person.


9. In a Lonely Place (1950)

Humphrey Bogart plays a screenwriter whose career is ended as a result of murder allegations. What follows is one of the great examples of film noir told through the eyes a man grieving many losses, including the loss of his career and potential loss of freedom though as the narrator, he tries to convince us that he’s innocent, but we’re not so sure.


8. Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)

Playing Batman in the 1980s and 90s, Michael Keaton experienced the height of movie stardom in a superhero franchise that many actors also look at as the death of their art. That’s certainly the case for the actor that Michael Keaton plays in Birdman. Trying to regain a connection to his art, his star burns out.


7. Amadeus (1982)

Antonio Sallierri was never as great of a star in the classical music world as he could have. He believes it’s because of Mozart, when the reality is he was much more of a star than he could even realize, but he willingly burnt out his own stardom because of his jealousy towards the greater star.


6. I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955)

The results of being a has-been are often destruction addictions. I’ll Cry Tomorrow very compassionately tells the story of Broadway and Hollywood star Lillian Roth (played by Susan Hayworth) from her tumultuous start as a reluctant child star forced by her mother to the eventual fall from stardom with tragic results.


5. Ed Wood (1994)

Bella Legosi had a similar path after his movie stardom ended as Lillian Roth’s. Legosi is played brilliantly by Martin Landau, hilariously realizing his macabre sensibilities while sensitively and beautifully portraying his mental and emotional trauma and drug addiction.


4. A Star Is Born (1954)

As Judy Garland’s character is the star born, James Mason’s is the star that goes out. He discovers her at the end of his career. A romance begins between the two of them along with a replacement of sorts where she takes his place in the limelight, but it’s his support that keeps her star alive and it’s her life that keeps him alive at all.


3. The Joker Is Wild (1957)

Joe E. Lewis was a famous singer whose career was cut short by gangsters who cut open his voice box. Ironically, Frank Sinatra gives one of the greatest acting performances ever put on film playing a man who couldn’t sing.  Joe E. Lewis tried to regain his stardom through comedy, but mostly his star went out and like many others on this list the results are tragic.


2. Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)

In the saddest and most tragic movie on this list, Anthony Quinn plays a boxer whose last knockout forced him to quit. We follow him trying to find any work he can, being unsuccessful at everything he tries, never being able to be who he thought he was as a boxer. This movie was probably inspirational to the brilliant melancholy Simon & Garfunkel song, “The Boxer.”


1. Sunset Blvd. (1950)

And of course, Norma Desmond is the perfect example of a star going out. But unwilling to let her stardom die in her own mind, she is controlled by delusions, and she controls other people by those same delusions. When asked, “Didn’t you used to be big?” she responds, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” And of course when about to be arrested, she doesn’t pay attention to the police around her, all she sees are the cameras saying “I’m ready for my closeup.”

List: True Crime in the Movies

Turner Classic Movies is spotlighting films about real life crime in their programming this month. So, responding to that, here are my picks for the best films about true crime that I know.


10. Goodfellas (1990)

The real life Wiseguys and Henry Hill’s decent into the underworld through his friendships with the other Wiseguys.


9. Psycho (1960)

While many details are changed, Norman Bates is a version of the real life murderer Ed Gein who committed his crimes in a small Wisconsin town between 1954 and 1957.


8. The Informant (2009)

Mark Whitacre was deeply involved with corrupt business politics and a lot of fraud and money laundering. Though he was far from innocent, he knew how to use all the ways to use his knowledge of corruption and truth to protect himself from the consequences.


7. Bugsy (1991)

The birth of Las Vegas through gang activity led by Bugsy Siegel.


6. The Joker Is Wild (1957)

Frank Sinatra gave his best performance ironically as a performer who couldn’t sing. Joe E. Lewis had been a great singer whose gang affiliations once funded his career and then ended it when he wasn’t willing to continue following their demands. His former partners cut his throat so he couldn’t make money singing for anyone else. Becoming a comedian and leaving his gang life, the realities of the life of crime he left behind are always with him.


5. Badlands (1973)

Kit and Holly are versions of the real life murder/romance spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in 1958. Though Bonnie and Clyde broke a lot of ground cinematically, Badlands tells its story in a far darker way that feels much more real.


4. Compulsion (1959)

Along with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope from a decade earlier, Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion recreates, though with different names, the case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb.


3. M (1931)

Peter Lorre’s Franz Becker is based on the real life child murderer Peter Kürten, and the investigator is based on Berlin detective mastermind Ernst Gennat.


2. On the Waterfront (1954)

A real Waterfront Commission existed. All the major characters in the movies are based on real people. Terry (Marlon Brando) is based on the whistleblower Anthony DeVincenzo. Father Barry is based on a real waterfront priest, Father John Corridan. And the mob boss Johnny Friendly is based on Michael Clemente.


1. In Cold Blood (1967)

Richard Brooks’ adaptation of Truman Capote’s book follows every moment of the events that led up to the heinous Perry Smith/Dick Hickock murder of a rural Kansas family.

List: The Movies of Italy


10. Satyricon (1969)

The first of 4 Federico Fellini movies on this list is a strange trip to the Roman Empire of the 1st century. With all its moral excesses and oppression of a majority of people in the Empire, this mockumentary doesn’t tell a story but takes us into the disturbing and dark ways of life of that world as best as it was understood in 1969.


9. Rome, Open City (1945)

Standing against Mussolini’s fascism, many characters are shown for their willingness to resist a system so harmful to the world gives a picture of a strong and unified people longing for justice in the midst of a dark and oppressive system that has taken over the great country.


8. We Have a Pope (2011)

The process of choosing a pope is shown in extreme detail including a hilarious scene that shows all the candidates praying that they won’t be picked. Michel Picolli (Belle de jourMy Night at Maud’s, Il Postino) gave the best performance of his long, distinguished career so far as the reluctant pope. We see all the Vatican but much more we see what normal life in the Vatican looks like and the abnormal adjustment of a new pope transitioning into his position.


7. 8 1/2 (1963)

Fellini shows the Italian film industry in a way that gives a lot of sympathy for the art but a lot of criticism for its artists. Following director Guido (Marcello Mastroianni), we see many parts of Italy from different time periods of the character’s life. We see these views of Italy mostly through dreams and flashbacks of memories, while the current story deals with Guido’s attempt to make a movie and balance his philandering.


6. Avanti (1972)

Wendell (Jack Lemmon) travels to Italy to make arrangements according to his father’s will. In the process he meets his father’s mistress that he did not know about before, and this leads many great sites of Italy and many hilarious situations in Billy Wilder’s last great comedy.


5. The Godfather Part III (1990)

Like most of the trilogy, a majority of the movie is set in NYC, but Anthony Corleone (Michael & Kay’s son) is an opera singer, and the family spends a lot of time in Italy for Anthony’s debut and of course for a lot of business. The business involves many hits coming directly from the Vatican giving a picture of that part of Italy that looks very beautiful but is certainly not as kind as what we see in We Have a Pope.


4. La dolce vita (1960)

Beginning with a helicopter transporting one of Rome’s most famous statues, taking it to one of Rome’s most famous sites, St. Peter’s Square. We don’t see St. Peter’s Square many times in the movie, but all of the isolated stories and all the characters have their crucial moments unfold in some way or another in relation to St. Peter’s Square.


3. Amarcord (1974)

The Italian word “amarcord” means “I remember.” Fellini’s masterpiece tells a story of memories. It’s not a coherent story but a beautiful collection of memories of growing up in Italy.


2. The Godfather (1972)

When Michael Corleone is in hiding, he spends his time in Italy in some of the most breathtaking views of the country the movies have ever given us.


1. Roman Holiday (1953)

As the princess of another country, Audrey Hepburn’s character travels to Rome anonymously and conspicuously seeing the Spanish Steps, the Bocca della Verità, and an outdoor party in the evening with exuberant Italian music. When she returns to her home country and is asked in a press conference about the highlight of her trip, she famously responds “Rome. By all means, Rome.”

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.



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.

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.


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.