Dark Night (2016)
Written & Directed by Tim Sutton
On July 20th, 2012, during a midnight screen of The Dark Knight Returns, a man wearing tactical gear set off tear gas inside the theater and proceeded to fire into the audience using multiple firearms he’d prepared for this occasion. 12 people were dead, 58 were wounded in the shooting. What followed was another cycle of the gun/mental health debate in America, which ended, as always, with nothing done on either front by leaders who feared political reprisal if they were to act. It was another reminder that we live in a society where the average and considered politically safest response of an elected official in the wake of mass murder is to do nothing.
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The King of Comedy (1982)
Written by Paul D. Zimmerman
Directed by Martin Scorsese
The King of Comedy came out in the wake of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull. It features no gratuitous sex or nudity, little profanity, and not one drop of blood (well DeNiro does get a small scratch on his hand in the opening scene). It is a Scorsese film with a PG rating. When it was initially released, the film was a total failure. People went in expecting laughs with a title like The King of Comedy, but instead from an uncomfortable and cringe-inducing character study about the demented nature of fame. Todd Phillips cites this as one of the primary influences on his recent movie Joker, but it’s relatively clear he couldn’t reproduce the script that makes The King of Comedy one of Scorsese’s best.
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Wings of Desire (1987)
Written by Wim Wenders, Peter Handke, & Richard Reitinger
Directed by Wim Wenders
In the late 1980s, the city of Berlin was divided, split down the center by the construction of the Berlin Wall by the Soviets in 1961. This wall served as a physical representation of the ideological rift that existed in the world during the Cold War. While Wings of Desire is not about this wall, it is ever-present in the background, a reminder that West Berlin was once part of a whole and in 1987 a fragment. Our first scene puts the audience above the city, through the eyes of the angel, that is the film’s protagonist. We see the complexity and beauty of this place through the perspective of one who loves it and the people dearly.
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Support the Girls (2018)
Written & Directed by Andrew Bujalski
Double Whammies is a sports bar modeled so directly after Hooter’s, the once-popular American chain, that most audiences will know right away what world is being explored in this film. Yes, there are twenty-something scantily clad women slinging beers and wings, but this isn’t an exploitative picture. Support the Girls is a story about working-class women, a companion piece in some ways to Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, though not as well-made as that movie. The central character is not one of the waitstaff mentioned above but manager Lisa, who is spending a day dealing with crises of small and earth-shattering potential. The conflict in every instance is deeply grounded, and human and Regina Hall’s performance as Lisa is the strongest element of this film.
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Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Written by Giuseppe Tornatore and Vanna Paoli
Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Cinema Paradiso did a lot of things. It garnered a lot of attention for Miramax, who distributed the film in the United States. By winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture and helped revive Italy’s faltering cinema industry which had once dominated cinema with the New Wave films. When you watch Cinema Paradiso, it feels like a template for audience-pleasing Oscar movies to come, but you have to remember the movie wasn’t made with those pretensions in mind. One thing it did not do was bring its director, Giuseppe Tornatore a large amount of attention, but it kept him working even today.
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Stand By Me (1986)
Written by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon
Directed by Rob Reiner
Stephen King’s name is mostly associated with horror, rightfully so, as that’s the genre he primarily works in. However, he’s written some realistic dramatic fiction that has resonated with readers as much as his horror books. The Body was one of four novellas in the collection Different Season, published in 1982 as a way for King to present some of his non-horror work. Included in this book alongside The Body was Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, and The Breathing Method. The last novella is set to become a film in 2020, meaning that the entirety of Different Seasons will be adapted at that point. The Body has a complex structure, being told as the memories of an adult, but with chapters about characters separate from the narrator’s point of view present information he likely never knew. There are also short stories written by the narrator in the middle of The Body, presented as if they have been published later in his life.
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Leave No Trace (2018)
Written & Directed by Deborah Granik
PTSD is a quicksand nightmare, especially if the person afflicted by it doesn’t have a support system or rejects the support available. Too often, American culture tells people to tough out mental illness which is entirely unrealistic. The trauma of conditions like PTSD is also infectious, particularly on the children of those with the disease. As a schoolteacher, I often have a heartbreaking front row seat of seeing how the conflicts and challenges of the parents are visited upon their children. Some of the most deeply affected are veterans, returning home to a nation that has no limit to cheering to send off soldiers but is awkwardly silent with receiving them back home. So many of these stories end with suicide because a person is told they must be firm but simply doesn’t possess the ability to push through such a devastating condition.
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