The Shapiro Files

Friday, March 31, 2006

Netflix in 2005: Five-Star Reviews

Marcie and I haven’t had a chance to sit down and watch any of our Netflix DVDs for a couple of weeks — thus the dearth of “Netflix Weekend Wrap-up” postings lately. But I started thinking about how Brad has been teasing me in his comments to my various Netflix-themed postings about how I almost never deem anything good enough for a five-star rating. He’s right: I am very particular about what I think is worthy of a full five-stars. So I thought it would be fun to look up my Netflix rental/return history for 2005 and list here all the movies to which I did give five stars over a one-year period. In the order in which I watched them, here they are:

    Before Sunrise (1995)
    A true rarity: a love story that’s actually intelligent and original. Who knew two people talking for 90 minutes would make such an excellent film?

    Before Sunset (2004)
    Nine years after Before Sunrise, the same director and actors reunited for a sequel that’s actually just as good (arguably even better) than the original.

    Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
    Just one of many random things I wanted to accomplish before Melody’s arrival was to ensure I had seen all 100 films on the AFI Top 100 Films list. This movie was #100 on the list, which meant I actually made it all the way through. I would have never been interested in seeing this movie had it not been for the list. I’m certainly glad I did. It’s a wonderfully entertaining movie with James Cagney giving one of the all-time great starring performances.

    The China Syndrome (1979)
    Still relevant today with one of my all-time favorite actors, Jack Lemmon, giving another great performance. Gripping and intense. Good stuff.

    The Godfather (1972)
    After finishing my AFI list with Yankee Doodle Dandy, I thought I’d go back and watch a few films on the list that I had already seen, but not for quite some time. It was great to see this movie again. It’s such a tremendous piece of work in every regard.

    The Godfather, Part II (1974)
    Equipped with a much bigger budget for the second time around, Francis Ford Coppola was able to make a sequel just as good as the first film. How great are Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in this movie?!

    Mean Creek (2004)
    An exceptionally well-executed little independent film about being a kid, dealing with bullies, and learning lessons the hard way.

    Mean Streets (1973)
    It’s just a coincidence that my next 5-star review of the year also began with the word “Mean.” This early Martin Scorsese film has everything you go to see in one of his movies: gritty realism, great writing, and amazing performances. “What’s a mook?”

    La Dolce Vita (1960)
    Classic Felini film that I had always wanted to see. Fortunately, Netflix has the wonderfully restored Criterion Collection DVD release. Both visually and thematically, it’s a very rich film. For anyone new to Felini, after watching it, you might want to re-watch it with the audio commentary. It’ll help highlights aspects of the film that might be missed the first time around.

    City of God (2002)
    The Godfather for the next generation. An amazing film about gang violence in the slums of Rio De Janeiro. One of the best new films I’ve seen in years.

    Nashville (1975)
    Robert Altman’s masterpiece that I finally got around to seeing. The acting is so real that you feel like you walk right into the screen.

    Ikiru (1952)
    A wonderful film by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Akira Kurosawa. A very quiet masterpiece about post-occupation Japan an old man facing his own mortality. Beautiful.

    Tape (2001)
    A single set (a hotel room) and three people. Director Richard Linklater at his “art film” best. Incredible writing, excellent performances.

    The Killing (1956)
    An early Stanley Kubrick film that was even better than I expected. Surprisingly gripping and tightly paced. An extremely well-made film by a master director.

    Waking Life (2001)
    Another impressive Richard Linklater “art film” project. This one involved shooting the entire film on video with real actors and then having every frame manually “drawn over” using computers to create a weird live-action/animation hybrid that fits the subject matter perfectly. It’s very talky, sometimes pretentious, a little long, but it’s consistently fascinating and even challenging.

    The King of Comedy (1983)
    Martin Scorsese’s brilliant dark comedy that’s often overlooked among his amazing filmography. It’s surprisingly ahead of its time and much more relevant today than when it was made. Great performances across the board. Very funny and quite powerful.

    Sanjuro (1962)
    Yet another masterpiece from Akira Kurosawa’s highly acclaimed period of Samari-themed films. Endlessly entertaining, beautifully filmed, and starring the great Toshiru Mifune.

    Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004)
    I grew up in the L.A. area and remember the Z Channel well. This was a predecessor to cable TV as we know it today. But this film is more than just a very well-made documentary about a groundbreaking pay channel; it’s a celebration of great and courageous filmmaking — something at the heart of Z Channel programming. I was very surprised by just how much I enjoyed this film.

    King Kong (1933)
    The original King Kong finally made it to DVD in a beautifully restored special edition. Sure the dialogue is clunky and the acting is wooden, but the innovative special effects still hold up today. You gotta love that giant monkey!

    Ugetsu (1953)
    A gorgeous Feudal-era Japan ghost story directed by the great Kenji Mizoguchi. Beautifully restored on DVD by the Criterion Collection company.

    Arrested Development: Season 1
    We ended the year with a couple of discs from the first season of Arrested Development, a show we never got around to watching on regular TV. Wow, what a brilliant show. This is easily one of the funniest, best-written, best-performed television programs to come along in years. It’s no surprise it was canceled: Shows this good (and this intelligent) never find much of an audience.


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