Favorite Movies A-Z: The Empire Strikes Back

Perhaps it falls under "damning with faint praise", but this is the best movie in what has become a sprawling, bloated, incomprehensible monstrosity of a "universe". It's a relic of a leaner, more thoughtful, artistic time. It might be lacking, but it had aspirations and made the effort and I'll always have a soft spot for fine craftsmanship even if it doesn't quite rise to the level of art.

Favorite Movies A-Z: The Emperor’s New Groove

There are some serious plot holes, but if you're coming to a Disney animated film for strict narrative consistency, well that seems like a reason for some introspection on your part. The movie follows a pretty simple plot, at least in the broad strokes: spoiled royal learns virtue and humility through adversity and companionship with a noble peasant. The genius is in the details and in the characters.

Favorite Movies A-Z: Early Summer

Unlike other notable Ozu movies, say Late Spring and Tokyo Story, this ends on a happier note. It is not storybook, nor Hollywood happy, but upbeat nonetheless. Instead of closing with the struggle and loneliness that is sometimes an inevitable part of life, we conclude with the bittersweet joy of being reminded that life carries on despite the changes we encounter.

Favorite Movies A-Z: Dr. Strangelove Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

On the other hand, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, has in past 30 years or so lost some of that tension with the ending of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. God send that it never return to haunt us again! The humor and awkwardness in Dr. Strangelove arose from the juxtaposition of incompetence in the bureaucratic political sphere and military poised against the high stakes of a nuclear stand-off between superpower states.

Favorite Movies A-Z: Double Indemnity

Their encounters have an electricity borne of sweltering heat, low light, and raw animal magnetism. Neff is inexorably drawn in until he can't turn away even after it becomes clear she's not looking for a dalliance or even a divorce, but wants help in accomplishing her husband's death. Which, again Dear Reader, you knew was coming because you're familiar with the tropes of the noir drama.

Favorite Movies A-Z: Dial ‘M’ for Murder

In a plan that is clearly long-established and coldly calculated, Tony blackmails an old college classmate with a criminal bent into being his semi-willing assistant. He threatens exposure of his past crimes along with the bait of a large cash payment and secures someone to do the deed while Tony is busy establishing an air-tight alibi. The plan is thoughtful, cautious, executed with care, and runs into serious problems. It is a Hitchcock film, after all.

Favorite Movies A-Z: Dark City

There are also certain similarities with The Matrix, but this was the earlier of the two films. Here Rufus Sewell as John finds himself in a world that has stopped making sense. He begins to wonder if he has lost his grasp on reality or if there is a secret hidden behind a facade. William Hurt is the cop chasing him, Keifer Sutherland is a mysterious doctor who may know more than he's telling and Jennifer Connolly is John's wife(?) who doesn't remember him.

Favorite Movies A-Z: Duck Soup

The whole thing is a well-crafted masterpiece of absurd silliness from start to finish. It is a lean, mean, comedy machine. Even the quick, almost throwaway asides sparkle and you might find new jokes when you watch it a second time because you laughed right through and over them the first time. Some of the jokes have been obscured by the nearly 90 years of distance, but pratfalls and mocking the rich and politically powerful will never grow stale.