Beyond the Sea (2004)

Written, directed and starring Kevin Spacey, this film is an interesting look at the life of renowned singer Bobby Darin. Spacey, though significantly older than the Darin he plays, does a fantastic job both physically and vocally; dare I say that it is the part he was born to play? The rest of the film is more of an artistic musical film, rather than simply a literary representation or biopic. It focuses on Darin’s rise to fame in the music and film industry, as well as his marriage to actress Sandra Dee. With a cast that include Kate Bosworth (Dee), John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, the film is a fun, musical ride, and examination of an icon.

The film received mixed reviews, one major criticism is the use of Spacey’s singing voice. But, as I said, I find his voice to be incredibly close to Darin’s. Also, the film itself addresses the issue of Spacey’s age early on, and just rolls with it; you quickly forget all of these inconsistencies with reality, since the film it not realistic itself. The cast does a fantastic job, and the story is inspiring and touching. Spacey was even nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance. I would certainly recommend watching it, whether you know much about Bobby Darin and his music or not. If for no other reason, it should peak your interest to know that Sacey, in addition to being a great actor and director, is also a phenomenal singer.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

In the final installment of The Red Curtain Trilogy, Moulin Rouge! joins Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet in Baz Luhrmann’s films about various theatre motifs. Having not yet seen Strictly Ballroom, which focuses on dance, and with Romeo + Juliet as a modern retelling of Shakespeare, Moulin Rouge! is wonderful new musical, combining a turn of the 18th Century setting with 20th Century music. It stars Ewan McGregor as Christian, an aspiring writer who falls in love with Satine (Nicole Kidman), a courtesan and star of the Moulin Rouge. When a jealous duke backs their newest show, the couple must hide their relationship under the guise of the show itself. It also stars John Leguizamo and Jim Broadbent.

Running at just over two hours, this film has it all. It’s hysterically funny, with absurd musical humor, as well as incredibly touching. The film gathered mostly positive reviews, and I personally consider it an amazing accomplishment in terms of jukebox musicals. The film earned eight Oscar nominations that year, including Cinematography, Best Leading Actress for Kidman, and Best Picture, winning two: Best Art Direction-Set Direction and Best Costume Design. I was really blown away by the film I had kept in the back of my mind, and finally got around to watching. I would highly recommend this film for musical lovers, as well as those who simply enjoy a good film. Be sure to check it out.

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A Single Man (2009)

Based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel, A Single Man stars Colin Firth as George, a gay college professor who is coping with life after the sudden death of his partner Jim (Matthew Goode). The story revolves around a typical day in 1960’s Southern California, as George is constantly haunted by Jim’s memory. As he attempts to cope with everyday life, he interacts with his longtime friend (Julianna Moore) and a young student. Without revealing much of the plot, it’s a fantastic film with beautifully stylized elements that should not be missed. 

The story’s transition to the screen marked the directorial debut of Tom Ford, who does a phenomenal job, particularly in terms of cinematography. The trailer alone was what first peeked my interest in the film, and the work done within it far exceeds the expectations for a first-time director. Despite the limited release, the film gathered mostly positive reviews. Firth’s performance in particular was so acclaimed that he received a Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actor that year. Having also read the novel, I can say that while there is one significant difference in character motivation, the story and mood is exactly the same. I would highly recommend both the film and its source material.

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American Beauty (1999)

If I were to make a list of the top movies that define modern American cinema, it would include Fight Club, The Shawshank Redemption, and American Beauty. It openly mocks the ideas of what American society is all about, and confronts a number of ideals, including loveless marriages, homosexuality, self-image problems, and the lies we tell to conform to normalcy. It’s a fascinating film, and quickly becoming one of my favorites. It stars Kevin Spacey, in perhaps one of his greatest roles, Annette Bening, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper, and Peter Gallagher.

Running just about two hours, this film swept the Oscars that year, winning five out of eight nominations, including Best Actor for Spacey, Best Director for Sam Mendes, and of course Best Picture. This film also gave us one of the most infamous film images ever: the roses covering Mena Suvari’s body. In short, this film is a classic. Without giving much of the plot away, it’s easily one of the best films made in the last two decades and has set the bar high for other films to follow. Be sure to check it out.

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Nine (2009)

Having already discussed the Italian masterpiece that is 8 1/2, I was anxious to see how Nine was. Based on the musical of the same name, Nine gives a new interpretation the the story of Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis), the famed director. Having not seen the stage show, I can only write about my experiences with the film. The story revolves around Guido as he attempts to balance all the women in his life (Marion Cotilliard, Penelepe Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Fergie, Judi Dench, and Sophia Loren) while suffering from writer’s block. It is a fun cinematic ride, with a number of visual homages to its original source material.

Directed by Rob Marshall, who thoroughly impressed me with his film adaptation of Chicago, this film was met with mixed reviews, claiming it to be a washed-down version of the musical and, even worse, the original film. Without seeing the musical, and being a fan of the original, my inclination is to merely see it as another interpretation of Guido’s life and struggles as a filmmaker. It was nominated for four Oscars that year, including a Best Supporting Actress for Cruz as Carla, Guido’s mistress. It’s a great film for those of us (myself included) who enjoy films about filmmaking. While not as great as perhaps Ed Wood was, it focuses on the struggles of the creative process. That, and the fact that it’s a good musical, have me recommending it. With a run-time of just under two hours, I say give it a watch. And, if you still haven’t seen the original, be sure to check that out as well.

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The very definition of a cult film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was based on the 1973 rock musical comedy, The Rocky Horror Show, by RIchard O’Brien. Like its source material, the movie is a cheesy, comedic musical that mocks the traditional elements of science-fiction films. The story revolves around a young couple (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) who find themselves stranded at creepy mansion owned by Dr. Frank-N-Furter, played by TIm Curry in his film debut, and easily the greatest performance of his career thus far. Several actors in the film also appeared in the original stage version, including Curry and O’Brien himself, and subsequent stage versions, such as Meat Loaf, who plays Eddie.

With a run-time of about an hour and a half, this film is considered the longest-running film in history, having continual midnight showings ever since its initial release in 1975. These showings are attended by patrons in full costume and often include props to interact with the film. Although I have not attended one of these showings, I’ve heard it’s something truly impressive to be apart of. O’Brien also created two, indirect sequels: Shock Treatment (1981) and the never-produced Revenge of the Old Queen. For now, I’d recommend giving this film a watch and truly appreciating the subtle line between mockery and embodiment of true sci-fi camp.

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The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Based on the short story, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” by Stephen King, this classic film is considered one of the greatest films ever made, currently #1 on IMDB’s Top 250 List. The story takes place in a prison in the 1940’s when Red (Morgan Freeman), the local entrepreneur, meets the newly-imprisoned Andy (Tim Robbins). Over the years behind bars, they explore the meaning of friendship and forgiveness, and the true meaning of rehabilitation.

With a run-time of nearly two and a half hours, this masterpiece was nominated for seven Oscars that year, including Best Actor for Freeman, Best Adapted Writing, and Best Picture; but, unfortunately, success at the awards that year clearly belonged to Forrest Gump. It was directed by Frank Darabont who, as I’ve mentioned previously, also directed another film adaptation of King’s work, The Green Mile; between the two films, Darabont received three Oscar nominations. This film is a classic in many ways; the story is one that has to be seen to be fully appreciated, and can be watched many times afterwards. Enjoy!

Die Hard (1988)

Considered one of the greatest action films of all times, Die Hard stars Bruce Willis as John McClane, a cop who is forced to battle a group of German terrorists when they take control of his wife’s office building. Leading this group is Hans Gruber, also considered one of the greatest movie villains of all time, portrayed by Alan Rickman in his film debut. It’s an excellent film that defines the action genre, and is well worth a watch.

The film, running a little over two hours, was nominated for four Oscars: Sound Effects, Visual Effects, Film Editing, and Sound. It also spawned three sequels: Die Hard 2 (1990), Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995), and, most recently, Live Free or Die Hard (2007), with plans for another in the works right now.

  While not as good as the original, Die Hard 2 is still a great film, in which McClane battles a group of terrorists, led by William Sadler, (most well-known for his role in The Shawshank Redemption) who hold an airport hostage. Despite the plot similarity, it’s actually a very different movie, and also quite good. It also stars Dennis Franz, Fred Dalton Thompson, and a young John Leguizamo. Although I haven’t seen the other yet, but I’ll be sure to report back. Alan Rickman fans: Die Hard is a must. Yippie ki-yay.

V For Vendetta (2006)

Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, this film gives a fantastic look at a futuristic British society under a totalitarian rule. It stars Natalie Portman as Evey, an average citizen whose life changes when she meets a masked anarchist named V (Hugo Weaving), who tries to inspire the people to rise up against their government. Despite the variations from the source material, and the disapproval from the author, the film is excellent. Director by the Wachowskis, best know for their work on The Matrix, the film also stars John Hurt and Stephen Fry.

Although the film received mixed reviews from critics, viewers have enjoyed it immensely, bolstering its popular above just a cult film. It is an interesting blend of The Phantom of the Opera and 1984. It’s an excellent film, and, with all due respect to Alan Moore, is an improvement in certain ways to the original story. Moore is a genius, and unfortunately has had no luck transitioning his works to screen; such films as From Hell and Watchmen are bold attempts and good films, but ultimately fall short of their source material. I would highly recommend both reading the graphic novel as well as watching the film. If nothing else, it will give you a reason to celebrate the fifth of November.

Inception (2010)

Marking my return to tumblr with what I considered to be the best movie of 2010, Inception is a masterpiece created by director Chris Nolan, known for his work in the most recent Batman franchise, as well as such films as The Prestige and the cult favorite Memento. This action packed film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb, a professional thief of people’s thoughts; Joseph Goedon-Levitt, as Arthur, his partner; and a team including Ellen Page and Tom Hardy, as they attempt to finish one final job, so that Cobb may return to his family. The film also stars Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, and Nolan veteran, Michael Caine.

Upon the film’s release, it was met with general praise. Although the complexity of the plot may throw some viewers, that is what makes it so enjoyable for the rest of us. The score, by another Nolan favorite, Hans Zimmer, is fantastic, and was one of the eight Academy Awards nominations it received, as well as Best Picture, Best Writing and Art Direction; the film won four, including Cinematography and Visual Effects.

Without revealing much of the plot, it certainly keeps you involved, guessing, and focused for the entire two and a half hour runtime. Most reviews place this as either the greatest film ever, or highly overrated. I say it is a little of both. My recommendation: try to go into this film with an open mind and make your own decision about it. That being said, it’s a great film; it’s as close to a new story as we’re likely to get in the world of reboots and sequels. The effect that this film has is similar to the effect that The Matrix did a decade ago; this is The Matrix for a new generation. So, give it a watch, and get ready to have your mind blown.

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Se7en (1995)

Se7en stars Morgan Freeman as Somerset, a retiring, well-read detective; and Brad Pitts as Mills, his hot-tempered replacement. During their one week transitional period, they stumble into the sadistic murders based around the seven deadly sins. As the killings rack up, the two detectives try to discover who the killer is by any means necessary. This film is incredibly gruesome, well directed, and received mostly positive reception from the critics. Today, it remains one of the best crime thrillers ever. The film also stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Mills’ wife.


Running just over two hours, it was nominated for an Oscar for editing. The cinematography is very well done, with the opening credits as the greatest example. This film is full of interesting information, as well as twists which are some of the best. As the elusive killer claims more and more victims, and the chase picks up speed, this film will certainly keep you on the edge of your seat right until the very end. Highly recommend giving it a watch.

Casino (1995)

Based on the book by Nicholas Pileggi, Casino stars Robert DiNero as Sam “Ace” Rothstein, gambling handicapper turned owner of a mobbed Vegas casino in the 70’s and 80’s, based on the life of Frank Rosenthal. Martin Scorsese directs another fantastic mob film, using a similar list of notables, including Joe Pesci in his usual loud-mouth gangster performance. It also stars James Woods, Don Rickles, and Sharon Stone as Ginger, Sam’s wife, This all-star cast of actors, director, and writer, create a mob-standard that has seldom been followed since. The rise-and-fall story arch that has become synonymous with the greatest of mob film is mixed with the compelling personifications of greed, success, and the search for trust.

As any good mob film should, it runs about three hours, and leaves you wanting more. Sharon Stone was nominated for a Best Leading Actress Oscar, but there are excellent performances all around. As usual, Scorsese combines his excellent films with an equally-impressive soundtrack of period songs. While in my opinion not as good as Goodfellas, Casino is still a fantastic film, and among Scorsese’s collection of his finest. Be sure to give it a watch! Oh, and just as a side-note, when released, this film contained the most uses of the “f word” with a count of 422 in the entire film. Today, it is fourth on the list of films that use it the most, the number one being a documentary on the word. So, be sure to check out this film, if for no other reason than to try to count them all.

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Based on the 1979 musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, which itself is based off the 1973 play by Christopher Bond, which in turn is an adapted staged version of the Victorian Penny Dreadful The String of Pearls, Sweeney Todd is one not to be missed. Directed by Tim Burton, it stars Johnny Depp as Benjamin Barker, returning to London under after a judge (Alan Rickman) falsely imprisoned him in order to attempt to seduce his wife (who then killed herself) and subsequently adopt his daughter, Johanna. Returning as the rechristined “Sweeney Todd” Barker meets up with Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham-Carter), his once neighbor and less-than-savory pie baker. Together, they device a plan to enact revenge on the judge in a blood-soaked musical fashion. The film also stars Timothy Spall, Jamie Campbell Bower, and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Being a huge fan of the musical, I must first clear up that the film does cut a lot from its source material. But, knowing that Sondheim, who is incredibly protective of his works, loved Burton’s vision for the film helped me move past the changes and omissions, and enjoy it for the great film it is. Running almost two hours, initial reception for the film varied. While some loved the dark, gothic, bloody musical that it is, other felt deceived that they didn’t know it was a musical. Let me repeat: it is a musical! Although the trailer didn’t specifically say “musical” there is some singing in it, so I’m not certain where confusion came in. Anyway, it was nominated for three Oscars, including a Best Leading Actor for Depp, and won an Oscar for Art Direction. It’s a great film, with fantastic visuals and dark humor, so be sure to be check it out.

Just some trivia to leave you with: the original production opened on Broadway in 1979, and included among the cast Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury in the lead roles. It swept the Tonys that year, winning eight of its nine nominations, including Best Musical, Best Actor and Best Actress. It is one of only three musicals to date that have won the “big six” of the Tony Awards. It was revived in 1989, and in London in 1993 and 2004. In 2005, Michael Cerveris and Patti Lupone stared in another Broadway revival, this time winning two of six nominated Tonys, for Direction and Orchestration. And, to tie it all together with a film twist, next year, in London, it will be revived again starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton (Umbridge from the Harry Potter series).

Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Based on the Elizabethan play by William Shakespeare, this is a modern-set retelling of the story of star crossed lovers- two teenagers from feuding families that fall in love. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the title characters, as well as list of notables including Paul Sorvino, Brian Dennehy, Pete Postlethwaite, John Leguizamo, Paul Rudd, and Harold Perrineau (most recently notable for playing Michael on the television drama Lost). Retaining Shakespeare’s original language (although significantly edited), it begins and emphasizes the play’s comedic sides, but still packs an emotional punch in the end.

With a faithful runtime of exactly two hours, it’s a visual delight. It was nominated for an Oscar for Art Direction, and is full of symbols, comedy, and drama. While not exactly a faithful adaptation, it conveys the same emotions and feel of Shakespeare’s work. It brings together the genius of old, and new revisions and adaptations to make a fantastic film. Whether a lover of Shakespeare or not, be sure to give this film a watch.

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The Great Gatsby (1974)

Based on one of the greatest books of the 20th Century, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, this 1974 version of The Great Gatsby is a classic story about love and the American dream, and stars Robert Redford as the title character, and Mia Farrow, as his childhood sweetheart, Daisy. The story revolves around Nick Carraway (Sam Waterston), a young bond salesman spending the summer in Long Island, across the bay from his cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom. Next door, is a mysterious man named Gatsby, who throw extravagant parties in order to try to win back Daisy, who was unable to be with him because of their once vast class difference. Set during the Roaring 20’s, and Prohibition, the story focuses on the relationships and ignorance of the wealthy. 

This film was both praised for a accurate depiction of the 20’s wealth and poverty, and ridiculed from the diversions from the novel. I am a strict believer in following the original source material, and feel that making a film as close to the book as possible makes for excellent films (See The Green Mile). But, in this case, I feel that it was as close to the main story as possible without losing the feelings (and trust me, as this is one of my favorite novels, I’m highly critical of it). It is a captivating film, one that has been done before and after this version, such as in 1926 (a lost film), 1949, 2000, 2007, and plans for one in the near future. This version won two Oscars, for Costume Design, and Best Original or Adapted Musical Score. Running nearly two and half hours, this film is a great visual right into the 20’s, and the world Fitzgerald created. Despite its differences form the novel, I give watching this film the green light (right at the end of the dock).

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