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By Anna

1. The Social Network

Fittingly fast-paced, The Social Network brings clever dialogue, great direction, editing, and a pithy soundtrack making it the best film of the year. Aaron Sorkin’s a Shakespearean master in this film, and the cinematography takes itself seriously in a film that might not otherwise be concerned with perfect camera angles—everything fits.

2. 127 Hours

Speed-induced. From beginning to end, director Danny Boyle doesn’t take us out of the action, but makes each thought and action real. Because of James Franco’s apparent propensity to his character, the film needs few others. 127 Hours shows us what film is capable of by giving us a story of a man whose most heroic actions cause him to disparage the title of hero and become selfless—sacrificing part of himself to do so. Boyle trusts his audience to get what he puts in front of them and satisfies every feeling he evokes.

3. Toy Story 3

As anyone who has gone off to college may know, the transition from being well fed and taken care of to being on your own is easier said than done. This is just what the gang finds out in Toy Story 3, but they grow closer to each other and the audience than ever before. It’s hilarious and heart wrenching with enervating suspense to boot.

4. The Kids Are All Right

Taking its audience through all the emotions of a lifetime, it’s no wonder I couldn’t pull myself together for a couple days after I saw this film. It is so well executed and acted (by all) that you feel a part of their family—understanding the fun, pain and anxiety of what can happen to any family.

5. Inception

When I first saw Inception, I thought it was the best movie I’d seen in years. Then I started to think about it more and more and realized it was a great movie, but couldn’t be the best, because it lacked that old fashioned storytelling rule: show, don’t tell. However, it’s in my top films of the year list because it’s an amazing idea, executed to the fullest extent of filmmaking possibilities, and leaves you just plain awestruck.

6. The Town

My initial review of The Town stays the same: it uses the emotional scenes not only to develop characters but to also build suspense to the next action scene. The audience wants action, and director Ben Affleck delivers without letting go of his mission of declaring war on the system.

7. Greenberg

Though this is the last on my list and the most likely to drop behind the following unseen picks, it’s still noteworthy because Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig, under Noah Baumbach’s direction, are infelicitous and ingenuous. Rhys Ifans role should also be noted in this quirky, lovable film.

Films I haven’t seen yet, but could very likely take a top spot (in no particular order):

  1. True Grit: If it’s better than the original film (for which John Wayne won his only Oscar), then damn if it won’t near the top of my favorites for the year. I only expect the best from Joel and Ethan Coen.
  2. The Fighter: We know what Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale are capable of alone, but their being together can only mean greatness.
  3. Winter’s Bone: Nature v. nurture. This film by Debra Granik looks beautiful and thought provoking.
  4. The King’s Speech: A stuttering royal who is going to be king under the direction of Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter? I’m in. Did I mention the royal was Colin Firth?
  5. Exit Through the Gift Shop: Banksy, Banksy, Banksy. You’ve got me more than intrigued.
  6. Somewhere: Each of Sofia Coppola’s films are more than magnificent, I expect nothing less from Somewhere.
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By Anna

I blocked so much of E.T. out as a kid—the “bad guy” scientists and the decrepit grayness E.T. became as he struggled to survive on earth.

I know, that’s practically the whole film, but what I remembered was the tenderness E.T. showed toward Elliot, Gerti and Mike.

Since most children’s first experience with death is the death of a pet, E.T. fits perfectly in relaying the message that even though those we love have to leave earth, they are always in our hearts and minds. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s a comfort to kids, and adults—earth slowly kills us all.

The film opens in the wooded forest of Northern California with E.T. being left behind as his family flees the humans hunting them. No one speaks for the first eight and a half minutes as John Williams’ score floods the green vegetation and ears of the audience.  This first eight minutes is a perfect snippet of the entire film’s simplicity: from Elliot showing E.T. who Boba Fett is to Elliot and E.T.’s final bike flying together. The story is basic, yet affects all of us on the deepest level. It is love and mystery that keeps humanity alive beyond reasonable understanding in a world that is full of violence and hate.

From E.T.’s first breath on earth all he wanted was to explore and find a place of safety (and maybe Reese’s Pieces), and Elliot gave him this.

Steven Spielberg created a masterpiece because he used a simple storyline and instilled the knowledge of E.T. and Elliot’s love in his audience, without having to explain anything—and we are enraptured by it.

Ebert’s review of E.T. was formatted like a letter to his grandchildren. He watched E.T. with them and was astonished at their critique of the film: “…the adults don’t take him (Elliot) seriously. A kid knows what that feels like.”

With childlike astonishment we watch, laugh and cry. In the end we remember truly what it was like to be a kid—riding around our neighborhood on bikes, and with tears, we watch E.T. leave earth.

By Anna

It takes a lot of patience and a lot of guts to follow (and watch) two boys from middle school age to college. If nothing else, that’s what makes Hoop Dreams a great film—persistent and patient filmmaking.

But Steve James’1994 Hoop Dreams is great for more than filmmaking. It’s got a little of a devil-may-care feel as it runs at 171 minutes with little mood-manipulating music. The documentary is raw and gets the audience into these boys’ lives so much that the viewer knows them.

Hoop Dreams follows William Gates and Arthur Agee for almost six years as they attempt to fulfill their dreams of playing in the NBA. As the young boys try to make it into a high school (and then college) with a good basketball program in Chicago, everything gets in their way: hormones, parents, drugs, school, injuries, and death.

Gates

Gates has a natural ability and can dunk the ball at 14. At St. Joseph’s High School he had a kid, injured his knee, and took the ACT four times to finally get the 18 he needed to attend Marquette University. His brother, Curtis, went to college on a basketball scholarship, but was “uncoachable” and ended up dropping out. He wants a better life for his brother. Almost 10 years after the film’s release, Curtis was murdered.

Agee

Agee worked at Pizza Hut for $3.35 an hour. He was recruited by predominately white St. Joseph High School, but couldn’t afford it after his sophomore year, so he attended public school (though St. Joe’s is still after him, but not for his skills this time, for his $1,300 in tuition he owes). Before his junior year, his dad left home and appears on and off screen and in his life until he was murdered in 2004.

Both attended St. Joe’s and hated academics. But they don’t talk about each other and, as far as we know, hardly knew each other. Gates started on Varsity as a freshman and Agee started on the freshman team.

Though Gates was the more naturally talented, Agee is the one to go onto the University of Illinois and succeed (even after having two kids of his own in junior college). Gates will finish at Marquette and become a real estate agent.

Spike Lee, Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzeski all make appearances in the film (at the Nike Camp Gates attended), but nothing about the documentarian’s interviews with them or shots of them are glorified. They are not the story. Basketball isn’t even the story.

The story is found in the playground in inner city Chicago and in Agee’s mother’s words about wanting the best for her son no matter what she has to sacrifice (including having no electricity or water part of the time). And it’s compelling in the fact that after six years the filmmakers had a story, where they couldn’t be sure they would find one.

Like good art, Hoop Dreams has so much to offer that after every viewing the audience will walk away with more than they got the previous time.

By Anna

Don’t try to understand this film because it’s not to be understood from a realistic point of view.

Just take it as a necessary 1929 gross-out precautionary tale that will make you “cooler” in the intellectual circles you run in because you know Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel created this in order to put on screen the stuff dreams are made of (well what their dreams are made of).

“Dream logic was always likely to interrupt the realism of his (Buñuel) films. That freedom gave them a quality so distinctive that, like those of Hitchcock and Fellini, they could be identified almost immediately,” says Ebert. This signature of being able to identify a film’s director by the first scene is a quality found in only the greatest of filmmakers.

But all I can really say is I hate watching the man slice the woman’s eye out with a razor (though it’s actually a cow eye) and I hate the near rape scene—in fact I find the entire film quite appalling and not great at all, except for its significance in pushing what is done in front of a camera.

“It is disturbing, frustrating, maddening. It seems without purpose (and yet how much purpose, really, is three in seeing most of the movies we attend?),” says Ebert. His point reinforces the significance of the film, especially for surrealist filmmakers.

I still encourage you to see it if you’ve got a spare 20 minutes and want to be in on the film students’ world of trying to understand why we watch films at all. With that I will end this column on a different note:

Avoiding any soundtracks with songs that were inspired or commissioned for a specific movie (i.e. Twilight, Spiderman, etc…); here is an entirely self-indulgent list of songs whose lyrics are based on and inspired by characters or films. And in fashion with my Ebert pick this week the first goes to Dali:

1. “Debaser”—Pixies

A debaser reduces the value of things or people, and just as the male character of Un Chien Andalou attempts to rape and pillage, the Pixies “want to grow up and be a debaser.” The song is based entirely on the film—check it out.

2. “Carlotta”—Harvey Danger

“Carlotta Valdez I will make you her … I’ll follow anywhere that is until you climb too high, cause I get VERTIGO!”  This song is also entirely about Hitchock’s Vertigo. And it’s great, but better if you’ve seen the film—which shame on you if you haven’t.

3. “Buddy Holly”—Weezer

Classic Weezer song that also mentions Mary Tyler Moore.

4. “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad”—Brand  New

Though not really about Jude Law, it’s about his sexiness and about the fear a guy should have if his girlfriend studies abroad in Great Britain.

5. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”—Deep Blue Sea

Oh how a film can make you fall in love—and though the book is a far cry from that sentiment, this song is about how Breakfast at Tiffany’s can be the common bond for love.

6. “Clint Eastwood”—Gorillas

Also a song not really about the man, though I think you could read it that way. “I’m happy, I’m feeling glad, I’ve got sunshine in a bag,” all set to creepy circus type sounds/music, which could represent Eastwood’s persona of happy cowboy hero turned solemn cowboy hero with a conscience around 1992.

7. “Clark Gable”—The Postal Service

To take after this great actor’s suave and debonair personality is to be brilliant, and the perspective of The Postal Service is just that.

8. “Ramble On”—Led Zepplin

I’m not saying they implement Lord of the Rings well into this song, but somehow they do it, and minus the goofy lyrics it’s a great Led song. “T’was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair. But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her, her, her.”

By Anna

Peeping Tom is about Mark Lewis’ search for peace.

Being probed, studied and filmed his entire life, it’s no wonder Lewis just wants to stay behind the camera, using it to search for what or who will fulfill him—but when they fail it means death.

Think of Johnny Depp’s character in Edward Scissorhands. He and Lewis are the same—built by scientists, now living on their own, both driven to kill. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tim Burton is a fan of Peeping Tom.

But Peeping Tom falls in the cracks of great films for the average great film lover because it’s been alluded to and fallen victim to copy-catters following its 1960 British release. Blow Up and The Graduate reflect scenes, editing and pacing of this horrifying murder mystery. The difference between these copy-catters is that their stories are a little less horrifying and have slightly less creepy leads. However, all three male protagonists are searching for something greater in their everyday circumstances—without finding it.

Director Michael Powell isn’t entirely innocent of his own copy-catting.

Watching Lewis strain after women, trying to save them while not understanding his own illness is the same story Alfred Hitchcock gives us in Vertigo (1958). The opening shot of a woman’s eye being metaphysically violated by a camera she’s unaware of reminds us of Un Chien Andelou’s opening shot of a woman’s eye being physically cut out.

These references borrowed from and stolen by Peeping Tom gives it significance in a long line of great films to come before and after it (including Psycho released just a few months after, which also depict a horrifying young man with parent issues). However, what gives Peeping Tom significance apart from its chronological existence is it makes you the voyeur as much as Lewis, as much as Powell and Hitchcock.

“Other movies let us enjoy voyeurism; this one exacts a price,” says Ebert. Hence why no one mentions it as one of the greatest horror films of all time, unlike Psycho, because it makes us uncomfortable for all our voyeurism.

Being unable to find peace, we go into that same dark room Lewis does and watch with anticipation as the horror unfolds—making monsters of us all.