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The Ascent

India’s land reform policies are attacked in a 1982 feature by Shyam Benegal, which follows four intertwined stories of peasants forced from their farms despite the government’s guarantees of protection. The central figure is a sharecropper who takes his case to court; his experiences turn him into a political activist.

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A Very Natural Thing

One of the first gay films to gain an above-ground release (1973). As the title suggests, Christopher Larkin’s feature is heavy on positive, healthy images—lots of romping in the surf and that kind of thing. It’s more than a little dated now (and its R rating remains a total mystery), but this was a stage […]

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Destry Rides Again

The most famous of the many adaptations of Max Brand’s story of a shy sheriff who tries to tame a wide-open town without using his guns (1939). The material makes no demands on the talents of James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, but they enter gamely into the farcical tone set by director George Marshall. Singing […]

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Doomed Love

Andrew Horn’s independent feature uses distorted, Caligari-like sets and a score by Evan Lurie of the Lounge Lizards to tell the tale of a suicidal English professor who falls madly in love with his psychiatrist’s nurse. Horn aims for an operatic expansion of the modest material, attempting to fuse camp detachment and melodramatic grandeur (1983).

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Splash

Not for nothing did Ron Howard grow up on television: even as a filmmaker, he’s got TV in his blood, slipping smoothly and instinctively into the chatty rhythms and open-ended sitcom plotting. This mild 1984 comedy about a mermaid (Daryl Hannah) who falls in love with a New York City yuppie (Tom Hanks) isn’t at […]

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The Last Hurrah

John Ford’s 1958 film looks like a family wake, only it isn’t his family that he’s invited. As the familiar faces glide past—Spencer Tracy, Pat O’Brien, Basil Rathbone, Edward Brophy, James Gleason, Ricardo Cortez, Wallace Ford, Frank McHugh—all at or near the end of their careers, it feels as if Ford is holding a funeral […]

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Foul Play

Director Colin Higgins plays foul with the audience, constructing some of the most dishonest suspense sequences ever filmed, and ends with a thriller that is obnoxious and manipulative in the extreme. If it were exciting, I suppose it wouldn’t matter, but it’s not: Higgins can’t be bothered to bring the slightest bit of conviction to […]

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L’ange

Patrick Bokanowski’s experimental animated feature takes as its framework a man ascending an apparently endless flight of stairs toward a zone of light. On each landing, he encounters various characters obsessed with tiny tasks—a man taking a bath, a maid filling a water jug, a group of librarians who jerk through their rounds like robots. […]

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Country

It’s disturbing to see erstwhile avant-garde icons like Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange involved in so trite a project—neither would countenance anything so conventional in the theater, but in the movies they’re happy to condescend. As Gil and Jewell Ivy, they spend the first half of the film embodying a lost pastoral ideal of American […]

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Dear Inspector

Philippe De Broca’s romantic comedy about a lady police inspector (Annie Girardot, the French Joan Crawford) who falls in love with a rumpled classics professor (Philippe Noiret). The standard French fare designed for export, complete with tons of whimsy and periodic shots of the Eiffel Tower. Cute as a bug, and utterly undistinguished.

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Public Hero Number One

G-man Chester Morris gets the goods on underworld czar Joseph Calleia with the help of the mobster’s right-thinking sister, Jean Arthur. An MGM programmer from 1935 with a good reputation; the director was J. Walter Ruben, the cinematographer Gregg Toland. With Lionel Barrymore, Paul Kelly, and Lewis Stone.