Discovering good movies, one bad movie at a time

No film has ever deserved its reputation less than How Green Was My Valley, an adaptation by Philip Dunne of Richard Llewellyn’s 1939 novel that carefully balances gooey nostalgic sentiment and troubling clarity, is one of the most beautifully-shot films of the 1940s, and represents one of the highest achievements of John Ford’s career-long fascination […]

Ask me to make a snap judgment, and I think I might very well say that 1983 is the worst single year in the history of American cinema. I’d also say that the 1983 Academy Awards, notwithstanding the gratifying overperformance of Ingmar Bergman’s monumental Fanny and Alexander (four wins on six nominations, for a subtitled […]

There’s a stock complaint about the Academy Awards that goes something to the effect of: “they don’t give Oscars for the Best Picture [Editing, Costume Design, etc.], they give Oscars for the Most Picture.” That’s usually at least a little bit true, but it becomes especially, spectacularly, in-your-face true in the case of 1956’s Around […]

On the one hand, Midnight Cowboy is exactly the kind of film that I wish they would try more often, and that they’d meet with this kind of success whenever they tried it. Here we have a film with unabashedly experimental editing, polished and tidied a bit for mainstream consumption of course; we also have […]

Worse films have won the Best Picture Oscar than 1933’s Cavalcade, though not many. I think there is a real argument to be made, though, that it is the most defective movie to win that award. Sure, 1929’s The Broadway Melody and 1931’s Cimarron are both weaker technically, with their janky early sound hiccups, and […]

As we all know, On the Waterfront exists because film and theater legend Elia Kazan, when called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in April 1952, complied by naming the names of eight people who had, at one point in the 1930s, been card-carrying Communists. This cost him many of his friends, and he wanted […]

Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the bibles of the 1960s counterculture in the U.S., a link between the Beats of the late ’50s and the hippies of the late ’60s and their shared belief in the fundamental rottenness of the The System. That it would be made […]

Before going into anything other details about 1944’s Going My Way, it’s probably appropriate to note that it was an enormous hit. It was the third highest-grossing film released during World War II in the United States, behind This Is the Army and For Whom the Bell Tolls (both released in 1943), making such an […]

I have a my disagreements with legendary film critic Pauline Kael, some of them fairly intense, but one thing I’ll never fault her for: she could write a hell of a sentence. And there’s no sentence of hers I co-sign more eagerly than the one that she used to start her review of Rain Man, […]

Fred Zinnemann is the epitome of a certain kind of film director. He was a workhorse – not a hack, not somebody who’d just show up and do the job in the most uninspired way, but somebody who still did obviously view it as a job. There’s nothing flashy in a Zinnemann film, but they’re […]

The learning curve for early sound cinema was steep and fast. In the immediate wake of the enormously popular sync-sound scenes from 1927’s The Jazz Singer, the American film indsutry jumped with great enthusiasm and no planning into making some of the most awkward, unwatchable films of its entire history across the course of 1928, […]

There’s no way around the elephant in the room, so it’s best just to start with it, and clear it out: yes, Shakespeare in Love won the Oscar for Best Picture, and because of that, Saving Private Ryan did not. If you click on that link and compare my star ratings, you’ll note that I […]