Spettacolo (2017)

If there can be autobiographies, why not autodrama? Every year a rural Italian town writes and performs a play; what began as a means of recording history evolved into social commentary. It was never satire merely for laughs but what happens when meanings and motivations change? The irony is in the meta.

The purpose tradition serves is as varied as opinions about it. While it can preserve culture and thus unify a community, the very same can seem burdensome. There’s no easy answer to whether you should stick it out to protect history from being lost to modernity or embrace the future, which threatens/ promises to assimilate everything you’ve always known.

Since documentary filmmaking is mostly decisions about what to include, editing will spin a situation in a certain direction. Not that the tourists who visit the annual production don’t interpret things from their own perspective but surely for people to tell you about themselves in their own words goes beyond mere ritual…

Blood Work (2002)

This “whodunnit” may be not the most notable to mystery fans but none other than Clint Eastwood directs an impressive ensemble while staring as an FBI profiler who’s recovering from a heart transplant and finds out the identity of his donor may lead to an elusive serial killer. In classic Eastwood style, an ordinary cop drama forgoes excessive violence/ gore and calmly stays focused on the cat-and-mouse game afoot.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Cameos are fun; even more so when they’re by historic figures, who shaped the world’s Art and Culture. The City of Lights shines brightly in this whimsical tale of a screenwriter, who’s struggling to find inspiration for his first novel. He mysteriously finds himself transported back to the 1920s at midnight throughout the duration of his vacation with his fiance, who doesn’t share his nostalgia. Though heavily romanticized, there’s great fun to be had in recognizing the various icons along with the main character, who’s just as surprised by who he runs into along the way.

Wait Until Dark (1967)

With as much suspense as you can stand, a young woman learning to cope with her recent blindness is terrorized by henchmen of a crazed killer desperate to find smuggled heroin that was given to her husband at the airport. The very limitation that makes her vulnerable provides an unmatched skill she’ll need to survive after letting the thugs into her home, believing they’re old friends of her husband’s.

Sabrina (1995)

This retold tale of Sabrina, who grew up above the carriage house of her chauffeur father’s wealthy employers, isn’t slapdash like the original (1950s) version, which made me uncomfortable and confused. Upon coming-of-age abroad, Sabrina returns as a fully grown– not to mention sophisticated– woman. The two brothers slated to inherit their father’s company, who still attend lavish parties at the old estate, have differing attitudes toward her maturity. Stodgy, responsible Linus tries to shield Sabrina from playboy, David, on whom she had a childhood crush. The fantasy her father hoped would fade is further thwarted by Linus’ plan to woo her as a distraction. But how long can a workaholic loner remain unaffected by such a smart, vibrant and beautiful woman?

What the Deaf Man Heard (1997)

That it was originally made by a greeting card company shouldn’t dissuade you from giving this a chance. Before Hallmark (or anyone else, for that matter) had an entire channel, they made dramas that aired on network TV. In this clever story, a boy finds himself alone on a bus, which arrives at a small town depot. Unaware of how frightened he is, everyone assumes the boy is deaf and mute (except, perhaps, the local rum runner). He plays the part out of convenience and grows up privy to all the town’s secrets. Instances of prejudice against his supposed handicap notwithstanding, he enjoys being the keeper of information… until circumstances require eyewitness testimony to catch a con artist who’s been scamming the town.

Catch-22 (1970)

War is absurd in many ways, especially the unique subculture that forms in isolation. The very qualities that make this depiction stand alone keep it from being a favorite. Though adaptations of the novel abound– it’s easy to see why an Air Force pilot would be desperate for a diagnosis of “crazy” so he can get out of future missions– never has such a notable cast been assembled.

And unlike like modern stories that mostly highlight the seeming thrill of combat, this film’s non-linear structure gives a surreal quality to an ordinary routine, in which trauma blends with even the most mundane tasks, such as clerical duties and laundry. Unlike depictions of war that debuted around the same time (e.g. MASH), rather than merely utilize sarcasm, its unflinching dry humor highlights the same dark comedy found in the desperation, resourcefulness, futility (and, of course, the irony) of hollow victories.

The Iron Giant (1999)

This easily passes for a children’s movie given its young main character and sentimental tone. However, the historic context is noteworthy. Long before adventures were musical– certainly before computer animation, cartoons (such as the earliest depiction of the original superhero, Superman) were infused with a wariness of technology, especially in the era of McCarthyism.

This story captures the intrusion of industrial experimentation upon optimistic innocence, a concept lost on kids. Moreover, the military’s response to a creature capable of humanesque emotions will likely be disturbing to young viewers. But for a relatively mature audience, the theme of self-sacrifice will underscore the sweetness of friendship between a boy a robot during a time when the world needed it most. Perhaps it still does.