18 years later, Breaking the Waves might still be the grand accomplishment of Lars Von Trier's lifelong ambition to make his viewers feel terrible. Only, when I say it like that, it sounds like a bad thing. Von Trier, the consummate provocateur, is - whatever you may think of his movies - one of the most talented directors working anywhere in the world today. Breaking the Waves was the film that took him from something of an arthouse cult superstar to something very like a household name. Their shattering performances likewise raised the profile of stars Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard.
Allow me to take a few moments in remembrance of Christopher Lee's remarkable career in movies. As Lee said in a 2013 interview with The Guaridan, "Making films has never just been a job to me, it is my life. I have some interests outside of acting - I sing and I've written books, for instance - but acting is what keeps me going, it's what I do, it gives life purpose." True to form, his wikipedia filmography lists 206 entries, a remarkable 30 of which came after he turned 80. Even with notable roles in the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars-prequel trilogies, he will probably remain best remembered for his genre-defining work with Hammer Studios and for his singular turn as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (by his own account, the best film he ever worked on).
Some facts: he played Dracula ten times, in three different decades; in addition to Dracula, he also played Frankenstein's monster, Rasputin, Fu Manchu (five times), a Bond villain, the Mummy, Mephistopheles, Lucifer and Willie Wonka's dad; he played, in different films, Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes and Sir Henry Baskerville. By all accounts he was a wonderful human being, and he will certainly be missed.
If you've liked the documentaries of Frederick Wiseman (whose recent At Berkeley and National Gallery seem to suddenly have netted him a new generation of fans), Les Blank seems like a natural next step. Simple, honest, life-affirming documentaries on occasionally surprising subjects. You'll like 'em.
Luchino Visconti's 1943 debut is a stunning take on James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, is possibly the first film in the Italian Neo-Realist movement, and is a film that shows up occasionally on the periphery of discussions of the medium's Greatest of All Time. Cain's novel has been made into no less than seven different movies, most famously this one, the surprisingly poor 1946 version featuring a startlingly miscast Lana Turner, and the better-than-you've-heard 1981 Jack Nicholson/Jessica Lange version. Doing a side-by-side-by-side wouldn't be the absolute worst way to spend 6+ hours.
Modern minds are boggled by the fact that the Monkees sold more records in 1967 than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined. Which makes Harold Lloyd a sort of curious genremate of theirs, having been more popular with contemporary audiences than either Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. But before we judge historical audiences too harshly, remember that Kevin James' Zookeeper made about twice as much money as There Will Be Blood.
But, I digress. Lloyd's Safety Last! may not equal the artistic pinnacles of either Keaton or Chaplin, but it is a tremendous entertainment, and the climactic stunt of Lloyd climbing straight up the side of a skyscraper (including, as he hangs from the hands of the big clock high above a crowd of onlookers, one of the most famous images in the history of movies (many more people know the image than know Lloyd's name)) is definitely Keaton-worthy. Thanks to Criterion Collection for giving their special loving treatment to this lesser known classic.
At long last, Penelope Spheeris' out-of-print music documentary trilogy finally sees official release on DVD. 1981's The Decline of Western Civilization documents Los Angeles' fertile hardcore scene, featuring ferocious live performances by Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Fear and - most importantly - X. 1988's Part II: The Metal Years has become something of a cult touchstone largely because of Spheeris' decision to allow the musicians to choose the setting in which they were interviewed, leading to some farcically over-the-top hair-metal posturing, though (and amusing as it is) the film is more than just another Heavy Metal Parking Lot. 1998's self-financed, never-released-on-home-video Part III - Spheeris' avowed favorite - is a deeper look at the culture of homeless gutter-punk teenagers living in Los Angeles. Essential.