Roman Holiday

By Eric Shoag

One of the more enchanting and effervescent romantic comedies to come out of any era, Roman Holiday (1954) is certainly an anomaly among films from the frantic 1950s, a decade remembered for its deadly serious dramas, oppressive crime stories, ponderous literary adaptations, epics and musical productions. No, Roman Holiday is something completely different, unique unto itself; one of those magical motion pictures in which every element combines to form an exquisite, uplifting entertainment that transcends time and still feels as fresh, surprising and spontaneous today as on the day it was released.

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Purple Rain

By Chelsea Spear

In the days following Prince’s death, a series of memes made the rounds comparing the songwriting and guest-appearance credits on the fallen icon’s albums to those of Beyonce’s recent release Lemonade. These charts reinforced the rockiest belief that artists who write their own songs and play all their instruments are true artists, where pop singers who collaborate with songwriters to achieve their vision are puppets in thrall to their record companies.

If Prince were alive to see these memes, he would probably respond with the same shady expression immortalized in so many reaction gifs. Though he wrote all his songs, played many of the instruments on his albums, and produced much of his recorded output, he had a strong interest in collaboration—particularly with accomplished female artists who had strong perspectives. Esperenza Spalding, Misty Copeland, Sheila E., and—yes—Beyonce worked side-by-side with Prince at different points in his career.

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Cultivating Taste for Small Pleasures: Amélie

By Natalie Jones

As an introduction to the titular protagonist of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie (2001), the narrator declares in the opening scene that she “cultivates a particular taste for the small pleasures” such as sticking her hand into a sack of rice, satisfyingly cracking crème brûlée with a spoon, and skipping stones across a river. Through this scene, the audience becomes almost instantly familiar with Amélie (Audrey Tautou), a character whose personality is defined and shaped by the minutiae of daily life.

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Carol

By Leo Racicot

Director Todd Haynes, so good at recreating the feel of certain eras in American culture, here in Carol, fully and beautifully realizes the 1950s, particularly the 1950s of the upper classes. The costumes, the nightclubs, the Manhattan house parties and restaurants, a fancy store’s toy department — all are stamped with Haynes’ magic eye for period flavor and detail. This becomes our setting for one of the most honest, deliberate love stories in recent memory. This is, in fact, the first movie I can recall that treats lesbians as flesh-and-blood human beings with human passions – absent from Carol are the shame and fear of the two schoolteachers in 1951’s The Children’s Hour, directed by William Wyler from the hit Lillian Hellman play, or the over-the-top histrionics (which, don’t get me wrong, I liked) of The Killing of Sister George (1968, directed by Robert Aldrich). Every character in Carol is an original, genuine, open. Everybody cares and cares deeply about the other, which makes the hurt, when hurt does come, all the more palpable, deep.

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Glorified Cheer and Discarded Noir: Oscars in the ‘50s

By Juan Ramirez

Following the more economical wartime cinema of the ‘40s, the 1950s offered a chance for American filmmakers to revel in their newly self-proclaimed #1 status, ramping up production values and grandness to match their hubris and reach. The Academy followed suit, honoring films that celebrated human triumph, even if some of the best-remembered movies of the decade focused instead on the frailty of an increasingly connected world.

Though the decade’s first Best Picture statuette went to the low-key backstage drama All About Eve (1950), it was a period that rewarded large productions. Four of the decade’s winners were returns to the cinema-as-theatrical-spectacle mindset of the form’s earlier days, which would later morph into the action-thriller extravaganzas we roll our eyes at today. Of these, only two can be said to have held up over time, their monumental scope a necessity for themes of an epic nature rather than a plastic exploitation of the more-is-more mentality.

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“Targets,” Monsters, and Filmmakers

By Brandon Irvine

You might have the feeling, watching Targets, that director Peter Bogdanovich has welded together two unconnected movies. I’m not talking about the intercutting of two plots – a ubiquitous storytelling technique – but the weaving together of two narratives that feel starkly dissimilar. We begin the movie following Byron Orlok, an aging actor who resembles, in almost all ways, Boris Karloff, the actor playing him. Orlok is sick of being an actor, tired of the same-y scripts and the inanities of being a thespian in slow decline. His back-and-forth with the various facets of the Hollywood machine trying to get him into another picture is a farce, setting the tone for half the movie.

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A World of Darkness: Night of the Demon

By Michael Roberson

Dr. Julian Karswell, as embodied by Irish character actor Niall MacGinnis, is one of the great unsung villains in horror film history. A charming – if perhaps a bit smug – occult expert and cult leader, Karswell is gregarious, honest in his intentions, and at all turns pleasant. However, as another occult expert points out to the rationalist protagonist Dr. John Holden, “[the Devil] is most dangerous when he’s being pleasant.”

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I Haven’t the Humility: Groupthink, Censorship and Ken Russell’s The Devils

By Justin LaLiberty

There’s a scene in Ken Russell’s long-controversial, rarely-screened-in-its-entirety film, The Devils, wherein Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) riotously exclaims, “Don’t look at me! Look at your city! If your city is destroyed, your freedom is destroyed also. If you would remain free men, fight. Fight them or become their slaves.” By the time this speech unfolds, we have seen Grandier become the victim of Otherness, a martyr to hypocrisy and the lies of men, and an image of what it means to push the limits of social acceptance. For a film that has been accused of various levels of indecency for over four decades – where The Devils now lacks in its ability to shock via its viscera or willingness to expose pubic hair to the masses, it manages to shock in its capacity to mirror both the ideology of the time in which it was produced, as well as our own. It’s not often that a film which takes place in the 17th century can be considered prescient.

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Film Noir and the Deception of Control: Lord of Illusions

By Greg Mucci

Lord of Illusions plays out like Clive Barker’s take on film noir, introducing us to wealthy and notorious stage illusionist Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Conner): a Criss Angel performer who can float and juggle fire without batting an eye. Swann’s wife Dorothea (Famke Janssen), our film’s femme fatale, requests the presence of hard-boiled private eye Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) after a fellow illusionist is murdered by Butterfield (Barry Del Sherman), an occult-leader’s disciple. After a fatal accident involving Swann’s newest illusion, Harry and Dorothea become entangled in a case that fears the return of Swann’s supposedly dead mentor, Nix (Daniel Von Bargen), a man now known as ‘The Puritan’.

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When Evil Leaves the Castle: The Devil Rides Out (1968)

By Kerry Fristoe

1968 was a great year for demonic possession. In June, William Castle produced Rosemary’s Baby and put a hex on New York City real estate forever. A month later, in the UK, Hammer Film Productions pitted Christopher Lee against the fiendish Charles Gray in The Devil Rides Out. Both films brought the devil out of Gothic castles and into modern apartments and smart country homes, portraying the sects as more realistic and, therefore, more threatening. It’s terrifying to think that the tacky busybody next door is a witch plotting to set you up on a blind date with Beelzebub or that your neighbor might be summoning the Goat of Mendes.

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