Remind me why The Babadook always follows the Tracks

By the Law (1926)

By the Law (1926)

Five prospectors head to the Yukon. After one of them kills two of his compatriots, the survivors, a husband and wife, subdue him, but, isolated from civilization, struggle deciding how to proceed. Should they extract justice or wait weeks for the authorities to come?

Adapted from a novel by Jack London, this early Soviet film probes the purpose and function of civilization. By asking where society begins and individual responsibility ends, it continues the work of philosophers such as Plato and John Locke and anticipates later work such as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and Lord of the Flies.

When every other film features a masked vigilante taking the law into their own hands, this is a compelling exploration of the true purpose of justice.

Tracks (2013)

Tracks (2013)

In 1977,  Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) traveled almost 1700 miles from Alice Springs, Australia across the desert to the Indian Ocean with only her dogs and a pack of camels while Rick Smolan (Adam Diver) chronicled her journey for National Geographic.

Wasikowksa is well-known as the title character in Tim Burton’s unfortunate Alice in Wonderland (2010), but shows more talent and promise here in a much more difficult and physically demanding role.

Adam Driver is an immensely gifted actor who will soon become a household name following his role in the next Star Wars movie.

The comparisons to Wild (2014) were inevitable. Both films feature strong-willed women challenging themselves with a physical test of endurance as a way to overcome past emotional trauma.

But while Witherspoon’s film makes it clear her trek is Strayed’s coping mechanism following her mother’s death, this film focuses exclusively on Robyn’s journey to enlightenment, obscuring her motivation.

Strayed’s grieving comes across as whiny and self-indulgent, but leaving Davidson’s motivation unknown opens this film up to interpretation and makes it more accessible.

I loved this film and will think of it and Davidson’s inspiring journey often.

The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook (2014)

Widow Amelia (Essie Davis) struggles raising her emotionally disturbed son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), whose father, Oskar, died in a car accident the day he was born.

One night, Amelia allows Samuel to pick what book they’ll read before bed, and he finds a mysterious pop-up book about a monster called Mr. Babadook.

In the following days, as unexplained things happen at their house and Samuel harasses his mother about seeing a monster, Amelia starts believing Mr. Babadook has invaded their lives.

First time feature film director Jennifer Kent masterfully combines the visual aesthetic of German Expressionism (Mr. Babadook looks Mr. Hyde via The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) with the storytelling techniques of Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg, refusing to show us the monster and forcing us to insert our own far scarier imaginary horrors in its place.

Anchored by outstanding performances from Davis and Wiseman, this refreshingly old school film is unlike most modern horror films, which focus on titillating gore instead of suspense. By demonstrating what can happen when you trust the story and don’t rely on shocking visuals, I hope this film reinvigorates the genre.

What Now? Remind Me (2013)

What Now? Remind Me (2013)

Portuguese filmmaker Joaquim Pinto takes a year-long selfie, chronicling his life as he struggles with HIV treatment.

This is an occasionally fascinating look at what it takes to survive such a debilitating illness and the lengths people will go for one more moment with their loved ones, one more day on God’s green earth.

However, there are times Pinto goes too far, showing us scenes of raw intimacy between him and his boyfriend which are best left to the two of them and like a bad reality TV show or an unfortunate invasion of privacy.

Best of the 1910s

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)

I’m a huge fan of the fantasy world Frank L. Baum created: his books, the authorized sequels by the “Royal Historians of Oz”, The Wicked Years, and the miraculous 1939 film.

This isn’t the best adaptation of his most famous tale (Toto is replaced with a cow and Dorothy meets the scarecrow in Kansas before arriving in Oz). However, the joy of the material bleeds through and makes it more captivating than it should be, showing how fertile it would become for the imagination of others.

Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics (1911)

Winsor McCay created Little Nemo in 1905 in a comic strip for the New York Herald, and the techniques he developed to tell the story of Nemo’s adventures in Slumberland would soon become standard.

This adaptation, one of the earliest animated films, is not particularly sophisticated, but holds up fairly well in its 110th decade.

A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)

After substantial losses, Mr. Sharpe (John Bunny) swears off gambling, until a friend convinces him to attend a poker game without his wife’s knowledge.

After Mrs. Sharpe (Flora Finch) deduces what’s really happening, she stages a fake police raid to punish her husband, and he once again swears off gambling forever.

Now largely forgotten, John Bunny and Flora Finch formed a hugely popular comedic duo for Vitagraph Studios in cinema’s early days, making over one hundred shorts together until Bunny died unexpectedly in 1915 at the age of 51. After his death, their fame was soon eclipsed by the next generation of comedic performers like Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, and Buster Keaton.

The humor hasn’t aged well, but this is an important window into the mindset of America at the dawn of the twentieth century and a bridge between vaudeville and the slapstick style which dominated American cinemas in the 1920s.

A Day in the Life (1913)
Mack Sennett

A Life in the Balance (1913)

When an unnamed landlord catches three Italian tenants making bombs and chases them away, the evil Italians conspire to murder his child in a ridiculously complicated plot. Fortunately, their plan is thwarted.

This film destroys the idea of a harmonious melting pot in early twentieth century America, and like most other films directed by Mack Sennett, it’s as subtle as Hans Moleman’s epic.

A Flirt’s Mistake (1914)

Things go awry when a flirtatious husband (Fatty Arbuckle) mistakes a bearded raja for a woman.

This quaint film is a great showcase for Arbuckle’s immense charisma. Now primarily remembered for the sordid trial which ruined his reputation and career, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was a formidable silent screen star in the early twenty century, before he was surpassed by Charlie Chaplin and his former protegee Buster Keaton.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Based on a novel by Thomas Dixon, this film argues the Ku Klux Klan was formed to combat angry white northerners, who used black people as pawns to advance their preferred policies in the South following Lincoln’s assassination.

Against this historical backdrop, D.W. Griffith weaves a pair of love stories in an epic, updated version of Romeo and Juliet.

The first film to become an American cultural event is a masterpiece of innovation. The films released before, small in scope and focused on domestic arguments and minor love affairs, all run together. This epic, ambitious film stands apart and unleashed the power of the burgeoning art form.

I hope modern audiences can see past its damnable message regarding race relations to appreciate its artistry and allow the uncomfortable, racially charged scenes to serve as reminders of how far we’ve come in a relatively short time. Less than one hundred years after this film portrayed the KKK as historically justified crusaders, the United States elected a black man as President, twice.

Intolerance (1916)

Intolerance (1916)

With four distinct stories, this film argues humanity’s intolerance for other points of view is the source of humanity’s ills.

The first story features a conflict between stubborn devotees of two different gods, Marduk and Ishtar in ancient Babylonia in 539 BC and

The second story details the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus.

The third story concerns the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, one of the bloodiest encounters between Catholic and Protestant factions in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation.

The final story takes place in contemporary America and demonstrates the evils and ruthlessness of capitalism.

Without a trace of irony, this beautiful, sentimental film argues reliance on sentimentality is the cause of humanity’s downfall.

Stung by the harsh critical response to The Birth of a Nation, Griffith produced this epic as an apology, but while audiences flocked to see the allegedly offensive Nation, they largely ignored his mea culpa.

The Immigrant (1917)

The Immigrant (1917)

While crossing the Atlantic, The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) has a series of comic misadventures.

Upon arriving in America, he reconnects with a woman he met during the trip (Edna Purviance) and takes her to dinner, but his happiness is short-lived when his money falls through a whole in his pocket.

Chaplin tapped into our universal fear of ridicule to create a slightly out-of-place, overly self-conscious, lovable loser, and his genius interpretation of the everyman character continues to resonate into a second century.

The Blue Bird (1918)

When wealthy children Tyltyl and Mytyl are rude to their poor neighbors, the fairy Berylune sends them on a magical quest searching for the bluebird of happiness. Various mystical creatures join them, including a talking dog and the souls of fire, water, and light.

The group travels to the Kingdom of the Future where Tyltyl and Mytyl meet their yet-to-be-born brother and learn to appreciate the blessings of their life, particularly their mother’s love.

A remnant of a bygone era of earnest sincerity, this gorgeous, sweet, film could not be made in today’s hyper-cynical environment, but it’s a great movie which reminds us of the power of fairytales, and more than deserves its placement on the National Film Registry.

Broken Blossoms (1919)

After escaping her abusive father, Battling Burrows (Donald Crisp), Lucy (Lillian Gish) finds refuge with a Chinese immigrant, Chen Huan.

When her father discovers where Lucy is hiding, he takes her home and beats her to death. Having arrived moments too late to save her, the devoted Huan kills Battling, takes his beloved Lucy back to his apartment, builds a shrine to Buddha, and commits suicide.

It’s amazing to think D.W. Griffith, the same man who made a film celebrating the birth of the Ku Klux Klan only a few years before, could make this poignant film about the ugliness of racism and the power of love (even if the Asian immigrant was played by a caucasian actor).

This is a great film, made even greater by its daring subject matter.

I silently killed the last Guardians of the last seductive Galaxy

Kill Your Darlings (2013)

Kill Your Darlings (2013)

Naive freshman Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) enrolls at Columbia University where he meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Edie Parker (Elizabeth Olsen).

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Don’t open the box, unless you want to know what’s inside

Pandora's Box (1929)Pandora’s Box (1929)

Lulu (Louise Brooks) convinces her former paramour, newspaper publisher Ludwig Schon, to marry her, but when he comes home and finds her with her “first patron,” they fight and she accidentally kills him.

Convicted of manslaughter, she goes on the run. When her limited money runs out, she turns to prostitution, and her life ends tragically at the hands of Jack the Ripper.

Remarkable in its era, this melodrama features an unrepentantly independent and sexually liberated woman. The film works because Brooks is captivating and possesses a rare ability to be overtly sexual without being slutty. We want her to find happiness despite her selfish, borderline abhorrent behavior. We’d like for her to escape her tragic fate, but we don’t pity her because she earned her demise.

This film was succeeded as my favorite film released in 1929 by Applause.

Big or Little? Who Cares?

Little Big Man (1970)

Ten-year old Jack Crabb is abducted by Pawnee Indians and raised by their leader Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George). “Rescued” by the US Calvary, he lives with Reverend Silas Pendrake and his wife Louise (Faye Dunaway). When she attempts to seduce him, he runs away, briefly working with a snake oil salesman before reconnecting with his long-lost sister, Caroline who wants him to be a gunslinger.

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Wandering In the Company of Four Horny Men Named Riley

Horns (2014)

Horns (2014)

When Ignatius Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) proposes to his longtime girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple), she rejects him, telling him she loves someone else. The next morning, Merrin is found dead and everyone in town, except for his childhood friend Lee (Max Minghella), believes a spurned Ig murdered her.

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Best of the 1920s

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Francis recounts the time he exposed Dr. Caligari as a murderous sociopath who hypnotized one of his patients to commit his crimes. As he finishes his story, we learn Francis is actually patient at an insane asylum and his account is his latest delusion.

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87th Academy Awards post mortem

Best Supporting Actor

J. K. Simmons deserved to win and if he’d been nominated for Best Actor (he’s really a co-lead), he might have still won. Terrence Fletcher was the best performance of the year and will be one of the most talked about and analyzed performances for some time.

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Don’t forget your mementos

215px-Memento_posterMemento (2000)

Leonard was viciously attacked and now suffers from anterograde amnesia.   Deprived of the ability to make new memories, every day he has to start over while the world around him changes.   He can’t develop new relationships, he can’t get a job; the only thing he can do is obsess and despair over his unfortunate predicament.

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Gleaning Miracles from the Edges of the Future

The Gleaners and I (2000)

The Gleaners and I (2000)

Agnes Varda’s beautiful film follows gleaners at work, from people who depend on the practice for survival to hobbyists. She exposes how connected we are and shines a light on our coldness to the needs of others as she pointedly interviews jurists about the seemingly arbitrary French laws which prohibit some forms of gleaning while encouraging others.

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