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Francisca

Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira made this amazing film in 1981, at the age of 72; as powerful as it is stark, it suggests a blending of the modernist, minimalist techniques of Jean-Marie Straub with the elusive spiritual subject matter of Max Ophuls. In 19th-century Portugal, a rising young novelist falls in love with the […]

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Making Love

The gay theme was placed at the center of the publicity for this Arthur Hiller film, but in the movie it’s off to one side—it occupies, in fact, the same structural position that fatal disease did in Hiller’s Love Story. The film is about the breakdown of a beautiful relationship caused by forces beyond anyone’s […]

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A Little Romance

A genuine charmer by George Roy Hill, a director best known for such ersatz charmers as Butch Cassidy and The Sting. His crowd-pleasing instincts have been subsumed by a bracing technical assurance here; the contrivances are still there, but they’re presented with a smooth and rare professionalism. The plot of this self-styled trifle recalls one […]

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1900

Great moments stud Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1976 Marxist epic, but the end result is ambiguous. Robert De Niro is a landowner, Gerard Depardieu is a peasant; they share a birthday and most of the history of the 20th century—the fall of feudalism, the rise of fascism, and two world wars. In the film’s four-hour version, at […]

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The Angel Levine

Touching, funny tale of a maverick jive-talking black angel named Levine (Harry Belafonte) who tries to redeem himself with the higher powers by helping a poor, moaning Jew named Mishkin (Zero Mostel). Jan Kadar directed this 1970 fable.

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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. […]