A lot of very good films will disappear from The Criterion Channel on December 1. If you want to see any of the movies listed below, stream them before December.
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A+ The Crowd (1927)
If you can only stream one of these movies, make it this one. Of all the films in my All-Time Great Films list, King Vidor’s silent masterpiece is by far the hardest to find and see, so now is the time to catch it. A young man comes to New York, dreaming of success and wealth. But reality refuses to live up to his dreams–perhaps because he dreams too much. Told with daring photography, real locations, surreal sets, and subtle pantomime, The Crowd brings you through dizzying joy and wrenching tragedy as it follows the story of an ordinary man who refuses to accept that he’s ordinary. Read my appreciation.
A+ Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s masterpiece just may be the best film ever about race relations in America. For a 30-plus-year-old film, it feels very much like the here and now. By focusing on a single block of Brooklyn over the course of one very hot day, Lee dramatizes and analyzes everything wrong (and a few things right) about race relationships in America. And yet this beautifully made film is touching, funny, warm-hearted, and humane. Read my Blu-ray review.
A The Apartment (1960)
Billy Wilder won a Best Picture Oscar for this serious comedy about powerful men exploiting both attractive women and their male underlings. Jack Lemmon gave one of his best performances as a minor white-collar worker who rises in the company by loaning his apartment to company executives—all married men–for private time with their mistresses. With Fred MacMurray as the top exploiter and Shirley MacLane as the woman he exploits and Lemmon loves. Read my Blu-ray review.
A After Hours (1985)
New York City can be very weird late at night. Or at least it is in Martin Scorsese’s almost surreal comedy. A young man (Griffin Dunne) goes out with the intention of getting laid. Instead, he spends a night wandering through a few blocks of one crazy neighborhood, finding himself in one strange predicament after another, until he becomes the target of urban vigilantes.
A Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Billy Wilder’s meditation on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly is the flip side of Singin’ in the Rain (now that would make a great double bill). Norma Desmond is very much Lena Lamont after twenty-two years of denial and depression. And in the role of Norma, Gloria Swanson gives one of the great over-the-top performances in Hollywood history.
A- Howl (2010)
What did you expect – a conventional biopic? Would that do justice to Allen Ginsberg epic’s poem, with which the film shares its title? Like the poem, Howl is challenging, innovative, and unconventional. By weaving together an extended interview with Ginsberg (played by James Franco), scenes from publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s obscenity trial, and an illustrated reading of the titular poem, Howl gives an overview of Ginsberg’s early life. It also cherishes the freedom that made the poem possible. Read my full review.
B+ Stalag 17 (1953)
Billy Wilder’s POW movie is no Grand Illusion, but it’s an enjoyable and sometimes comical mystery and adventure. There’s a stool pigeon in the barrack, and information is getting to the Germans. Everyone suspects it’s Sargent Sefton, because he’s an amoral outcast and a wheeler dealer who trades with the guards. We know he’s not the informer because he narrates the picture and he’s played by the film’s star, William Holder. Robert Strauss and Harvey Lembeck provide most of the comedy as a sex-obsessed prisoner and his much smarter pal.
B+ Ninotchka (1939)
Thanks to the great Ernst Lubitsch, Greta Garbo’s first comedy and penultimate film is sweet, charming, romantic, and quite funny. She plays a loyal Russian Communist who comes to Paris to supervise three bumbling comrades messing up government business. But she’s soon charmed by both capitalism and Melvyn Douglas. Billy Wilder’s script nails the absurdities of Communism: “The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.”
Long ago recommendations
I’ve seen all the films below, but not recently enough for me to write about them. And I haven’t seen any of them in years (or decades). So all I can say is I liked them long, long ago.
- Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
- Klute (1971)
- La Cage aux Folles (1978)
- Nothing Sacred (1937)
- The Out-of-Towners (1970)
- The Panic in Needle Park (1971)
- Point Blank (1967)
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
- Titus (1999)
You can find all the films that will disappear at the end of November here.