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20th Century Women

20th Century Women (Mills, 2016)

January 14, 2017 – 7:55 pm

Mills loves the small moments of life too much to let them add up to any grand narrative. He would rather just watch the memories float by, like a slideshow at a birthday party or graduation.

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“Feel Better” Movies — Rachel Davis’s List

December 1, 2015 – 10:37 am


To me, the ultimate “Feel Better” movie is an escape. Read the full story »

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“Feel Better” Movies — Josh Wartel’s List

November 28, 2015 – 10:32 pm

As a college student, I watch most of my movies late in the evening, after a day reading Holocaust literature, 60-page papers on early Christian almsgiving and Freud. As much as I would like to lie in my bed and watch American History X or 12 Years A Slave, I find myself reaching for simpler, lighter and less violent films. At least until final exams are over, I’ll be watching movies that make me laugh and remind me of my friends and family hundreds of miles away. As I formulated this list, there was no unifying theme or principle that defines a “Feel-Better Movie.” However, it does help to have memorable scenes (I’ve watched the bar scene in Good Will Hunting dozens of times) and a good soundtrack. Evan already selected two recent films, Moonrise Kingdom and Frances Ha, that I love. If only real life could be so whimsical. My recommendations, without further ado: Read the full story »

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“Feel Better” Movies — Evan Cogswell’s List

November 21, 2015 – 2:30 pm

When Ken asked me to participate in compiling five “Feel Better” movies, I initially planned to balance my selection among different types of films, but then I realized the films that really help me feel better in dark times are offbeat comedies and tragic cautionary tales. In the interest of some diversity I did select four comedies that are all quite different (satire, screwball, comedy-drama, and something that defies description), which left me a final space for a tragic cautionary tale that I find strangely uplifting. Read the full story »

Essays, Reviews, Top 10s and Other Lists »

Feel “Better” Movies — What to Watch When the News is Bleak

November 15, 2015 – 9:26 am

The news has not been good this week.

I’d contextualize that statement, but I realized that in a month or two or six, today’s senseless horrors will probably have given way to others and that such a statement may be equally apt, even if it has a different antecedent.

“If it bleeds, it leads,” is a cynical but seemingly indisputable description of how media (mainstream and social) gets our attention. The psychological effects of being constantly asked to focus on the world’s problems is paradoxically well documented and perhaps only peripherally understood. (I recommend The Culture of Fear for a better articulation of those costs than I can give here.)

I wanted to write a post about films I turn to when I just can’t take the bad news any more, when I’m fed up with human nature, or when my capacity to respond productively to the “real” world is exahausted. Here’s the thing, though: I dislike the term “feel good” as a label for grand art. For me, it connotes something chippy, chirpy, maybe even facile. The films that help me most in such times are seldom cheerful, never superficial. They do, however, remind me that while we as a race are capable of great evil, a catalog of our worst atrocities is not a sufficient description of who we are.

Here are five films that make me feel better when I’m feeling bad about…everything else. Read the full story »

2016 Top Ten, Top 10s and Other Lists »

2016 Top 10

January 1, 2017 – 5:33 pm
2016 Top Ten

My favorite films of 2016 depicted a lot of suffering. The characters in them faced that suffering with courage, determination, compassion, and introspection. That’s not to say they were all saints. Pain, like fear, can drive us to extremes to try to make it stop. Anger is often the fuel that energizes us to confront injustice, and comedy often rests on a foundation of sadness. If the subjects of documentaries and the characters in narrative films were not uniform in their response to suffering, they never failed to provoke empathy…and maybe catharsis. Read the full story »

The Fight Within (Gordon, 2016)

November 24, 2016 – 7:33 pm
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The Fight Within, a Christian-themed movie about a reluctant Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, begins with Logan Chandler (John Major Davis) honing his skills working out at the punching bag. With each jab and thrust he flashes back to his father angrily admonishing him for some error in form or perceived error in character.

O.J. and Amanda: Will Television Productions Revitalize the Documentary?

November 20, 2016 – 1:13 pm

You know awards season is approach (or well underway), when people start making short lists of documentaries. What critics groups have to say about Fantastic Beasts, Doctor Strange, or Rogue One is unlikely to make much difference to these films’ bottom lines. But for films that move from festival circuit almost directly to the long tail, every bit of recognition counts.

3 Screenshots: The Martian

November 5, 2016 – 6:14 pm

I enjoy films that reward close scrutiny, and I felt I could pause the movie at any point and mediate on the elements of composition.

New Life (Waters, 2016)

October 25, 2016 – 1:47 pm

New Life is one of those Christian movies that is so earnest and so sweet that one almost feels guilty about being indifferent towards it.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Zwick, 2016)

October 20, 2016 – 8:34 pm

Tom Cruise is not my ideal choice to play Jack Reacher; let’s just get that out of the way.

Shut Up and Sing!

October 20, 2016 – 5:01 pm

Monkeys on the barricades
Are warning us to back away
They form commissions trying to find
The next one they can crucify
–“Easy Silence,” The Dixie Chicks

Call For Papers: Critical Essays on the Films of Hirokazu Koreeda

October 14, 2016 – 9:37 pm
Photo credit: Georges Biard 
Permission to reprint posted at Wikipedia

The editors of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema (three volumes, Cambridge Scholars Publishing) are seeking proposals for the first volume of a …

Killing Reagan (Lurie, 2016)

October 13, 2016 – 2:21 pm
Geoff Pierson (as Jim Baker), Cynthia Nixon (as Nancy Reagan), Jeff Harlan (as Mike Deaver), Joel Murray (as Ed Meese) and Tim Matheson (as Ronald Reagan) in Killing Reagan.
(Photo Credit: National Geographic Channels/ Hopper Stone, SMPSP)

Killing Reagan is not great art and it certainly isn’t great politics. But in an election year that seemingly reveals America is more polarized than ever before, there is some cultural value in its ability to humanize a controversial figure.

Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story (Heikin, 2014)

October 11, 2016 – 8:34 pm

“We were inclined to accept a little erratic behavior, given his status,” says Ron Carter, jazz bassist, “when he (Frank Morgan) played the horn, you forgot about those things.”

Coming Out (Peters, 2015)

October 4, 2016 – 1:54 pm

Peters’ inclusion of other perspectives, as well as the universality of much of the film’s message, makes it an emotionally moving and thought-provoking 72 minutes for viewers of all backgrounds.