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…

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

At the urging of a summer camper with Downs Syndrome who wanted to be a movie star, a pair of writers/ directors made a movie just for him! It’s rare for any dramatic movie to have just the right timing of genuine humor without being trite but to procure such big names, who bring the characters to life is a remarkable thing. Best of all, it illustrates the big joyous heart of a man searching for a place to belong while retaining the dignity of so many whom he represents. Only a small, independent film such as this could stay true to its message without wandering down rabbit trails of gratuitous content that would only distract from its engaging premise and compromise the believability of its likable characters. The consistency of its quality is evidence of talent, especially considering its budget constraints; this inspiration story lacks nothing.

Crazy Stupid Love (2011)

It takes a delicate hand to capture modern relationships in all their complexities. That’s not to say there’s no place for humor; the skillful balance of drama–both poignant and entertaining– and humor–both silly and dark– keep this movie from being schmaltzy or condescending. Rather than resorting to flippant stereotypes, the characters are people we know (and perhaps are) and their realistic situation turns familiar tropes on their head. As they reveal what we’re afraid to admit, a little bit of honesty goes a long way and we’re all the better for it.

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.

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?

Living in Oblivion (1995)

I love movies about movies, anyway. But this one is far from farce; it’s realistic almost to the point of being painful as it manages to capture both the spirit and technical process of independent filmmaking. Should I mention the allstar top-notch cast? The meta cherry atop an already delicious sundae.

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.

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)

Campy was never so astute as when former losers, Heather Mooney– still a dour loner– and Romy & Michele– two ditzy optimists, who are still BFFs– form the perfect yin and yang to face an intimidating 10 year reunion. Through facing their bullies, shedding their insecurities and appreciating their true selves (not to mention a little help from Sandy “The Frink-a-zoid” Frink), friendship blossoms.

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.