In 1960, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment garnered kind words from the New York Times (“gleeful, tender and even sentimental”) and Time (“funniest film made in Hollywood since Some Like It Hot” ). It was nominated for ten Oscars and won five. In 2015, this beloved film received an A+ from IndieWire, while The Guardian called it “absolutely brilliant.” Yet as I rewatched it, the film’s dark humor has transitioned into an almost-gallows humor, often uncomfortable in the implications as they reflect where we are today – which is to say, the film encapsulates a criticism of modern society that we seem to have only amplified.
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At the height of his fame, Jim Henson delivered two films that deviated from his renowned Muppets and Fraggle Rock franchises. The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986) hint at where Henson could have taken puppetry had he lived longer. They represent the best of Henson’s fantasy world-building, beautifully crafted scenery, and, mastery of the puppet arts. More than thirty years later, revisiting these films produces two insights. The self-evident one is that they withstand the test of time; still heavy, haunting, and Homeric in the case of The Dark Crystal, while Labyrinth remains charged, comical, and campy. The lesser realized truth is that both films are hallmarks of a storytelling that sought to strike a balance between adult and child audiences, challenging adult notions about certain forms of entertainment.
Hollywood never goes too long without holding up a mirror to itself. Biopics like Ed Wood or Hollywoodland explore (somewhat) true stories of Hollywood. Other films explore Hollywood through a more fictional lens and include King Kong , Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ In the Rain, The Day of the Locust, Sunset, Get Shorty, and Adaptation. God’s and Monsters, a film adapted from the novel, The Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram, does both, offering a fictional take on the final days of James Whale, who directed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. But in choosing a fictional account of James Whale’s life for the silver screen, Hollywood perpetuated its troubled relationship with queer identities that it has grappled with since the birth of film.
Vertigo (1958) remains the top contender for the best film of Hitchcock’s impressive oeuvre. In the film, John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) suffers from vertigo after pursuing a robber over rooftops and plummeting nearly to his death. After his near-fatal accident, he is hired to investigate Madeline (Kim Novak), the wife of an old college friend, who is acting strange, almost possessed. As Ferguson pursues Madeline, he not only saves her from drowning, but ultimately falls in love with her. But his vertigo prevents him from saving her life a second time when she appears to throw herself from a church tower. The second half of the film follows Ferguson as he recovers from a mental breakdown and meets Judy, a woman with such a striking resemblance to Madeline (Judy is also played by Kim Novak) that Ferguson becomes obsessed and remakes her in Madeline’s image.