Written by Larry Gelbart
Directed by John G. Avildsen
Animal House and The Blues Brothers are probably the only films John Belushi was in that a large number of people agree were good pictures. Neighbors is a movie that held a consensus as a complete disaster. This was the final film Belushi would star in, dying from a drug overdose, a combination of heroin and cocaine. When you look at the final product and Belushi in it, there’s a lot to like, but so many elements fail hard. Part of the film’s inability to find success in the box office lies in the fact that it’s an art-house picture, not a mainstream comedy. But when your two big names are Belushi and Dan Akroyd, and it’s 1981, you are going to try and sell this as a comedy for the crowds.
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The Children’s Hour (1961)
Written by Lillian Hellman and John Michael Hayes
Directed by William Wyler
The Bad Seed is an iconic film that established the trope of the evil child with actress Patty McCormack delivering a stunning performance. I have to believe this movie was the inspiration to bring The Children’s Hour to the big screen. Originally a stage play first performed in the late 1930s, The Children’s Hour is a melodrama with witch-hunt elements. But the catalyst for all the conflict is an evil little girl, a truly despicable young lady who I’m sure you will grow to hate as much as I did.
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The Last Detail (1973)
Written by Robert E. Towne
Directed by Hal Ashby
The Last Detail chronicles the birth of a friendship that has to die. It’s a portrait of masculine camaraderie wounded by the artificial structures of authoritarianism. This is a tragedy where everyone physically lives, but spiritual dies because they are asked to do what is unnatural. It’s a quiet and profane road trip buddy film that meanders and wanders on its way to the final destination.
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Day of the Locust (1975)
Written by Waldo Salt
Directed by John Schlesinger
There’s an exhausting sunbaked feeling surrounding Day of the Locust. The music and the soft lighting make conflicting claims, but if you pay close attention, you notice the rotten smell wafting up from underneath. You see it in the cracks in Tod Hackett’s apartment, hidden by a framed quote claiming the presence of God is protecting the people within. This is shown as the landlady tells Tod about the earthquake of 1932, where she and her tenants were spared while others died across the city. Tod ends up covering the crack with his artwork, slowly building a fresco of Hollywood in flames, hollow, empty faces screaming out.
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The Landlord (1970)
Written by Kristin Hunter & Bill Gunn
Directed by Hal Ashby
Hal Ashby was an unlikely person. His films reflect that, focusing on the buffoonery of the privileged class, always giving the upper hand to the vulnerable, people of color especially. Ashby grew up in a dysfunctional family in Utah that culminated with the suicide of his father. The young Hal dropped out of high school and never got a degree. Years later, when the studio would put out biographies of filmmakers in press packets, they lied and said Ashby graduated from the University of Utah. Unlike his contemporaries, like Francis Ford Coppolla or Martin Scorsese, Ashby had no formal academic background.
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Little Women (2019)
Written & Directed by Greta Gerwig
There is a moment early in Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, where aspiring author Jo and her new friend Laurie are dancing on the front porch of the house where a party is taking place. The characters are lost in the silly joy of the evening in a way that is entirely genuine. The music is playful alongside them, and I couldn’t help but find myself smiling, totally absorbed in that piece of the story. This is how it feels throughout this version of Louisa May Alcott’s novel, a celebration of life that doesn’t hide the fact that bad things still happen. How we use those tragedies to inform our understanding of ourselves is what matters.
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An Elephant Sitting Still (2019)
Written & Directed by Hu Bo
For four hours, we follow a quartet of people through the bleak, washed-out industrial landscape of northern China. Their stories are not exclusively experienced by the Chinese people but are suffering humanity feels across the globe, particularly those living in the husk of communities hollowed out of unfeeling powers that exist in an abstraction that leads to ennui. How can you do anything about inter-generational pain that comes from a source so distant and seems so endless? This is what our four protagonists struggle with as their lives intersect and converge.
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