Directed by Elia Kazan
Gentleman’s Agreement, based on Laura Z. Hobson’s novel of the same name, is a drama about a non-Jewish journalist who poses as a Jew to research on exposé on antisemitism. The goal of the movie is to convince the viewer that discrimination against Jews in polite society is wrong. The film’s conceptions of politics, religion, and humanity, though, are all shallow and weak. Gentleman’s Agreement means well.
Would not see.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Seven Samurai is a Japanese samurai film. Seven Samurai is about as great a samurai movie as has been made. Its endlessly entertaining. Almost every seen is simply cool. Seven Samurai is 207 minutes long, but it feels like a short film.
Directed by Yasujirō Ozu
Tokyo Story is a drama about intergenerational conflict. There is little plot to speak of. The camera moves only once. The runtime is 136 minutes, but it feels longer. Still, Tokyo Story is one of the best movies ever made. Tokyo Story has an unsurpassed attention to detail, character, and emotion. It is a profound film.
The Jazz Singer
Directed by Alan Crosland
The Jazz Singer is a musical starring Al Jolson. His character, Jack Robin (born Jakie Rabinowitz), is a Jazz singer and the son of a disapproving cantor. The plot is melodramatic and inane. The dialogue and music fail to impress. The social commentary is insipid pablum. The blackface scenes are racist. The film says a lot about Jewish Americans and American society in the 1920s. And The Jazz Singer is the first full-length movie with a synchronized music score and lip-synchronous singing and speech in a few scenes. These are the only two reasons to watch this film.
Would not see.
Directed by Vittorio De Sica
Bicycle Thieves is an Italian drama about a father and his son. Casually tragic and artfully shot, the scenes and people feel almost more than real; Bicycle Thieves is a masterpiece is a masterpiece of Italian neorealism.
The Great Dictator
Directed by Charlie Chaplin
The Great Dictator is a political satire about Nazism. Charlie Chaplin wrote the music and the script; produced and directed the film; and starred as both the primary protagonist, a Jewish barber, and the primary antagonist, Adenoid Hynkel (Adolf Hitler). The Great Dictator‘s politics are naïve but sincere — Chaplin does not comprehend the vastness of the tragedy he’s satirizing, but he’s clearly offended by the transparent hate of Nazism. Some scenes drag and some tonal shifts are too abrupt, but the movie, overall, is entertaining and funny.
Directed by Sergei Eisenstein
Battleship Potemkin is a silent Soviet propaganda film. Many silent films, some propaganda films, and most films that are important in the history of movies are entertaining; Battleship Potemkin is not. The only reasons to watch Battleship Potemkin are its historical importance and its technical achievements.
Would not see.
Directed by Leo McCarey
Duck Soup is a Marx Brothers comedy. It is the last film to feature Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo Marx. Duck Soup is a hilarious, brilliant, and (perhaps unintentionally) trenchant satire of politics and war.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Directed by Robert Weine
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a German Expressionist silent horror film about a nefarious hypnotist and a somnambulist under his control. The film’s visual design is striking even almost a hundred years later, though the painted canvas scenery is often far better than what’s happening in front of it. The story, by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, is simple but incisive — or would be — if it weren’t almost completely ruined by a terrible ending not of Janowitz and Mayer’s writing.
Directed by Fritz Lang
M is a German movie about a serial killer. Fritz Lang’s first sound film, M is expertly plotted with near-flawless acting, music, and cinematography. M is a technical masterpiece and an insightful comment on the 1930s German environment that Lang would leave in few years’ time.