Written by Melissa Matheson
Directed by Martin Scorsese
When I was eleven years old, I watched the Oscars and saw actor Richard Gere come out to give an award. Instead of going into the teleprompter text, he spent thirty seconds talking about China and its occupation of Tibet, imploring then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to move his soldiers out and allow Tibet to be free. I had no idea what he was talking about, but it certainly left an impression on me. All I knew about Tibet was that it was close to the Himalayas at the time. I certainly didn’t comprehend the history of Tibet and China. I also had no idea who the Dalai Lama was.
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Written by Nicholas Pileggi & Martin Scorsese
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Goodfellas is without a doubt one of the most influential films of the last 50 years. I would argue this movie has influenced East Coast Italian Americans’ portrayal far more than Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather films. While Coppola’s work is concerned with the mythic figures at the top, Scorsese explores the regular working class wise guys who have to hustle every day to make money and stay alive. This makes them incredibly relatable. Audiences will always relate to the guy who’s just trying to get by, then the mafia kingpin at the top. I would say Goodfellas is the best gangster film ever made.
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Raging Bull (1980)
Written by Paul Schrader & Mardik Martin
Directed by Martin Scorsese
By 1979, Martin Scorsese wondered if he might die soon. The depression that hit after New York, New York’s box office and critical failure was tremendous. He entered into a period of wild partying, with cocaine being his self-medication of choice. Scorsese abused his body to the point that he was hospitalized for internal bleeding and was thoroughly addicted to cocaine. Robert De Niro is credited as one of the people vital in saving Scorsese’s life. He visited the filmmaker in the hospital and proposed that the two collaborate on adapting a book DeNiro had given Scorsese years earlier. The book was Raging Bull, a memoir by Bronx boxer Jake LaMotta. Scorsese had been reticent to make the film because he didn’t get it initially. Now, as he lay in a hospital bed, his body ravaged, he began to understand how people destroy themselves and climb to get back to where they started.
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The Wrong Man (1956)
Written by Maxwell Anderson & Angus MacPhail
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
You know something is immediately different when Alfred Hitchock himself appears on the screen, in the shadows, to tell us this film is based on actual events, unlike his other pictures. The picture is in black and white and, while the credits tell us the score is by Bernard Hermann, the music is more sedate than we expect from that composer. Events happen on screen in almost methodical fashion, people walking from one place to the other, little emotion. The first display of emotion by a character, fear, leads to everything falling apart for one person whose life ends up in tatters by the end of our tale.
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Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Written by Robert Bolt & Michael Wilson
Directed by David Lean
In the 19th century, Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle gave a series of lectures positing the great man theory. This belief is that history is simply the impact of a series of great men who were highly influential and better than the ordinary person. This was attributed to some innate superiority or divine providence. This has become a well-deserved point of contention in modern history discourse as it’s become clear that white men did a very efficient job of suppressing the accounts and perspective of women, black people, and other non-white, LGBTQ+ people that lived alongside them. T.E. Lawrence was definitely seen as a great man, but David Lean’s controversial film about the historical figure explores that the myths and stories did not match the reality.
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Written by Jack Fincher
Directed by David Fincher
Jack Fincher died in 2003. He was a screenwriter and journalist out of Texas who married a nurse after serving in the airforce. Eventually, he would come to serve as the San Francisco bureau chief of Life magazine and pen a script that would be merged with others to make Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator. After a year-long battle with cancer, Jack Fincher passed away at the age of 72. His son, David Fincher, had become a critically acclaimed director by Jack’s passing. David had wanted to adapt his dad’s script about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and the development of Citizen Kane, but the insistence on shooting in black and white led Hollywood to balk at the idea. It would be seventeen years after Jack’s passing that David would finally release his dad’s movie through Netflix.
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Erin Brockovich (2000)
Written by Susannah Grant
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh had quite a year in 2000. In March, he released this film, and in December, Traffic came out. In both these films and others, Soderbergh focuses on themes centered around working-class/poor people being victims of a cruel, uncaring system. Even Ocean’s 11 is about an ex-con with nothing trying to screw over selfish, evil, wealthy people. Magic Mike is all about people struggling to make ends meet and raise themselves out of the poverty they seem stuck in while being exploited. Soderbergh doesn’t make traditional advocacy films and is more interested in telling character-focused stories that touch on economic struggles & hardships.
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Written by Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, and Oliver Stone
Directed by Oliver Stone
I’m never sure how I feel about Oliver Stone, and he seems to be a polarizing filmmaker for many people. His particular style of storytelling grates on me, and I think he slips into maudlin melodrama and absurdity way too quickly. There seems to be a lack of cleverness or subtlety in his work. I believe early pictures like Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July are okay. I have never really been able to get my head around Natural Born Killers. His George W. Bush film was a complete disappointment for me. I think JFK is probably his best work because the paranoid conspiracy focus matches Stone’s manner of directing best. Then we come to Nixon, his three hour plus presidential epic.
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Written by Sarah Gubbins
Directed by Josephine Decker
This is not a biopic about Shirley Jackson. This is an adaptation of a novel that is, in turn, a fictionalized version of Jackson’s life. In particular, it focuses on the tension between Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman, a literary critic and professor. The film attempts to tell this story in the style of the writer’s gothic psychological short stories, with lots of people descending into a realistic form of madness. There’s no homicide involved, just humans breaking down and resisting saying the most horrible things to each other. On paper, this sounds fantastic, but something happens in the translation that renders the film lacking in the emotional impact I believe it should have had.
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Dead Man Walking (1995)
Written & Directed by Tim Robbins
In the last couple of weeks, I have felt so much anger & hate towards the police. I won’t repeat things I’ve said in the privacy of my home with my wife, but they have been rancorous things I never thought I would say about anyone. There is a part of me that knows this depth of hate isn’t good for the human psyche, and yet it is so easy to give in to these violent thoughts. I’ve watched over 300 videos of police brutality done on protesters, which has had a powerful effect on me. The police shouldn’t be let off the hook for a single act of cruelty and murder, but I think I needed to see this film right now to help temper my justified outrage.
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