Touch of Evil (1958)

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A stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in a Mexican border town. (IMDb)
Brilliant cinematography and editing, from the opening 3 minute take (and many other mesmerizing tracking shots to follow) to the ingenious overlapping of scenes (a character in the background of one becomes the focus of the next) to the stark use of shadow and light. It’s got a solid noir plot, too, with a unique focus on the cops, not the crime, though here a white-washed lead role, a cringe-y damsel-in-distress, and some questionable performances from the supporting cast mar things a bit.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

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While travelling in continental Europe, a rich young playgirl realizes that an elderly lady seems to have disappeared from the train. (IMDb)
The lazily paced opening act kept me waiting for the thriller part to come, but then I realized it was actually super funny (see C+C at dinner with Miss Froy) and it ended up setting up the ensemble cast of characters perfectly for the uniquely comedic thriller to follow (see Caldicott during the gun fight: “We’ll never get to the match now”), with the witty banter of Gilbert and Iris carrying us breezily through the engaging mystery right to its ending that hits all the right (piano) notes.
8/10 (Great)

 

The 39 Steps (1935)

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A man in London tries to help a counterespionage agent. But when the agent is killed and the man stands accused, he must go on the run to both save himself and also stop a spy ring which is trying to steal top secret information. (IMDb)
It’s bookended by a slow beginning (Miss Smith is annoyingly cryptic) and an abrupt, too-easy ending (Hannay figures things out super quickly) but in between them is fun fugitive plot that constantly dishes out unexpected twists: Just when you think he’s getting away he gets caught; just when you think he’s done for he finds a new way out. Dashes of comedy (see the hilarious impromptu political speech scene; Hannay and Pamela’s handcuff experience) mix well with the film’s solid suspense.
7/10 (Good)

 

Paths of Glory (1957)

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After refusing to attack an enemy position, a general accuses the soldiers of cowardice and their commanding officer must defend them. (IMDb)
A solid, if unspectacular war piece, well-acted (Douglas especially) and efficiently told: What seems at first like it will be an underdog battle epic takes a sinister turn with the general’s first long walk through the trenches and only gets more horrifying from there: Unjust political structures of the army are uncovered in two strikingly contrasting settings through chilling conversations on both ends of the hierarchy that climax with a gut-punch ending and a thought-provoking epilogue.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

Psycho (1960)

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A Phoenix secretary steals $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother. (IMDb)
The fugitive first act offers solid suspense, but the film reaches another level of intrigue with Marion’s arrival at the isolated Bates Motel run by the charmingly chatty yet discomfortingly awkward and odd Norman (Perkins’ detailed portrayal is superb–see his nervous candy eating). With some disconcerting slow pans and zooms and a few unsettling edits (see the shower murder), Hitchcock adds just the right amount of flair to the perfectly paced mystery as it builds to its shocking conclusion.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Vertigo (1958)

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A San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend’s wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her. (IMDb)

What begins as an engaging but slow-paced (lots of long driving scenes) supernatural-tinged mystery comes to a tragic climax unexpectedly early, setting the stage for a uniquely extended and deliciously eerie epilogue dealing with the devilish psychological aftermath. The doppelganger intrigue could have been dragged out a little longer before the shocking twist reveal, but an excellent thread of torturous dramatic irony takes its place. A well-acted and surprisingly emotional thriller.

8/10 (Great)

Rear Window (1954)

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A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbours from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder. (IMDb)
A unique isolated apartment setting, natural city soundscape, and cinematography firm in its limited “rear window” perspective aren’t enough to stir substantial interest during a slow first act, but when the note of intrigue strikes, they take on new brilliance, crafting a tight, authentic thriller with a mostly voice-less villain that gets you to spy and speculate right along with the great characters (the charming, restless Jeff and the refreshingly competent for the 50s Lisa and Stella).
7.5/10 (Really Good)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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In future Britain, charismatic delinquent Alex DeLarge is jailed and volunteers for an experimental aversion therapy developed by the government in an effort to solve society’s crime problem – but not all goes according to plan. (IMDb)
Alex: All at once a terrifying dystopian pirate, raping and pillaging with a song on his lips (I’ll never hear “Singin’ in the Rain” the same way again), and an amiable English lad. The film follows, as Kubrick mixes his visually searing scenes with the more mellow (see Alex’ prison admittance), all underneath an overwhelming classical soundtrack spiked by a sinister synth. Still within this emotional barrage is an intellectual commentary on free will and good and evil. A spectacle, to be sure.
9/10 (Amazing)

The Breakfast Club (1985)

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Five high school students, all different stereotypes, meet in detention, where they pour their hearts out to each other, and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought. (IMDb)
Discounting the disappointingly cliche ending romances, this is teen drama at its most authentic, dispensing with plot contrivances in favour of a dialogue-driven stage-play-like script–expertly shot and acted–that oscillates between vicious conflict and heartwarming bonding. Splashes of goofy humour (see oddball Allison’s sandwich meat toss) and feel-good shenanigans (see the dance number, hallway run), along with surges of sentimentality (see John’s parent reenactment), are tastefully added.
8/10 (Great)

Raging Bull (1980)

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An emotionally self-destructive boxer’s journey through life, as the violence and temper that leads him to the top in the ring, destroys his life outside it. (IMDb)
The beautiful black and white gives this compelling character study-led by a dominating De Niro turn-a uniquely natural tone, making its drama all the more devastating, from the brutal boxing bouts (“You didn’t get me down, Ray”) to the dangerous domestic paranoia. A brilliant final act in which LaMotta’s underlying insecurity comes to the forefront (see the bookending green room clips, painful jail scene) mostly overshadows the at-times frustrating pacing (post-retirement came very suddenly).
8.5/10 (Amazing)