Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) - dir. Mike Nichols

Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is terrific. It reads magnificently. Tom Hanks is passable, but not entirely believable as a playboy-congreesman. Julia Roberts is not passible and entirely unbelievable. Philip Seymour Hoffman is terrific.

The film would have been leagues better if you replaced Roberts and Hanks with Glenn Close and Kevin Spacey. But you can’t just do that, so don’t be bothered to view it, just read Sorkin’s wonderful script.

5.8

Kinsey (2004) - dir. Bill Condon

While Gods and Monsters was a sporadically terrific, but ultimately flawed film, Bill Condon’s best work came with 2004’s Kinsey. As a biopic, the films holds true to the genre, delivering its information via a slew of educational vignettes, and intercutting them with some tried-and-true (yet incredibly effective) writing techniques. The interviews work to establish the film’s pace, beginning with the not-so-subtle foreshadowing of Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson), and ending with the terrific performance from Lynn Redgrave.

In the between, however, the film is the perfect model of consistency. Laura Linney is once again perfect (though under-utilized) as Clara McMillan, who becomes Mrs. Kinsey. A swell group of supporting performances round out and really amplify Condon’s picture-perfect script. Hopefully, the film will lead you to research further, as the Kinsey Institute Library is a terrific landmark.

8.2

Rebecca (1940) - dir. Alfred Hitchcock

It’s a matter of brevity. If we’re citing the three-quarters of a century that has passed since Alfred Hitchcok’s only Best Picture Winner came out, then, of course, the film is dated. However you can still feel the innovation. First and foremost the establishing shots. They’re mechanical, rigid, yet effective. The first act is almost a thirty-minute montage of quick scenes - but it’s effective. We know where it’s going but still end up rooting for our protagonists.

So why, with the film so concerned with backstory, would the pace drop off? Joan Fontaine is lovely as the mousy little farm girl, attempting to live a lavish life of elegance, shadowed in every corner of Manderley by the titular ghost. But it goes on for far too long, we start to rebel against her, what was once a blissful naivety, is now a spineless busybody. But then comes the films gorgeous finale, with Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) stealing the show.

7.6

Cabaret (1972) - dir. Bob Fosse

Oh musicals. The thing with musicals is that they were meant for the stage. Sure, when “talkies” came out they were all musicals, and they had a bit of renaissance in the 60s and early 00s, but for the most part - skip them. They don’t work. The story and the music never match up, they always feel like two separate entities… however, there are always exceptions. Cabaret won 8 Academy Awards and deserved every single one of them, except maybe not Best Cinematography (though Geoffrey Unsworth’s work was better than the rest of the field, I still don’t know how Gordon Willis didn’t get nominated for the Godfather).

Sally Bowles (Liza Manelli) is a sexually-charged wannabe femme-fatale, she’s sexy (though not as sexy as she’d like) and she’s talented (though not as talented as she’d like). The film bounced back wonderfully between the Kit Kat Club and 1931 Berlin. The background setting works wonderfully with the music, always elaborating upon the relatively simple (yet incredible perverse) plot. Joel Grey is spellbinding as Emcee. Michael York is believable as the bisexual Brit, and once again Liza Manelli. You’ve heard her the name, you’ve heard her sing, you’ve seen impressions done… but you need to see her as Sally Bowles in order to really get it. Cabaret is just one of those classics that we should keep returning to.

8.6

The Chaser (2008) - dir. Hong-jin Na

The main difference between these Korean revenge thrillers and your typical American action film really isn’t that big a deal. Sure, the Korean films are far more brutal, the Chaser being no different. But the story is always about the one man for the job, the one evil man, the love interest and exaction of revenge. Apart from the goriness of the crimes, the substitution of a hammer instead of a gun (guns are so boring), there is one other difference that separates a film like the Chaser from something like… Taken.

And it is the filmmaking. The way the editor strings the all of action sequences together is fascinating. If the filmmaking is strong enough, you forego the plot and are placed directly into the chaos of the scene at hand. The Chaser would have been an American cliche (ex-cop turned pimp tracks down a serial killer who has killed three of his prostitutes), but these are some really strong characters. Nothing, not the violence, not the story, holds a candle to the way it was thrown together. The Chaser is fascinating from start to finish, and it’s not one of those films you think about after, turning it over in your mind - it’s one of those films you think about after because of how memorably framed the whole damn thing was.

7.9