It all still seems so small.
Barely 24 hours after the film world lost a giant in Roger Ebert, we are still collectively reeling from his passing, both immensely sad and yet joyous of the life that he lived, influencing an entire generation of film fans. But with the weekend approaching, what better way to honor the late writer’s legendary life than to watch a handful of films? The only thing better would be to watch the films, and then discuss them with friends as the discussion that Ebert forced the world to have about and with film is as important and influential as any one single word, phrase, paragraph or review the icon ever wrote. Here are five films that you should watch this weekend, and hopefully, they’ll make this weekend a little more enjoyable.
This one is for you, Roger.
While not the first film Ebert ever championed, for many of this generation, it was the first time we bore witness to a writer truly getting behind a picture, and ultimately its filmmaker (Steve James). The masterpiece of documentary film known as Hoop Dreams follows the story of two high school basketball stars as they go through their four years of high school with the hopes of ultimately becoming college, and then professional, athletes. Giving the viewer a glimpse into just about every aspect of these men’s lives, the film is a truly beautiful look at inner city life, the film is a meditation on everything ranging from race to education. It’s simply a classic documentary.
But then again, these are just my words. Here’s Ebert’s review, one of the best bits of criticism I’ve ever read.
4. Cover Girl (TCM; Sunday, April 7 @ 1:30pm EST)
There are very few things in this world as life affirming as watching Gene Kelly dance. This 1944 King Vidor-helmed classic tells the tale of a nightclub dancer who watches as her life changes after trying to make it big in modeling, only to see her relationship with her fellow dancer boyfriend get rocky. Featuring a fantastic turn from the always fantastic Rita Hayworth and one of Kelly’s best performances, this film also happens to feature one of the most remarkable dance sequences to date. Known as the Alter Ego sequence, the sequence is set up by Kelly’s character telling himself that he knows that his love is out with another man, but that instead of sulking, he should let her go. However, when his mirror image leaps out from the window of a store front, the two have one of the most superbly choreographed dance sequences you’d ever see from the legend. A truly fantastic film, this is every bit as good as anything Kelly made.
3. Peppermint Frappe (Hulu)
Speaking of dance sequences, there’s a mighty fine one near the end of director Carlos Saura’s unsung gem of a drama, entitled Peppermint Frappe. A film dedicated to Luis Bunuel, the film almost implicitly derives itself from the ideas found within Bunuel’s pictures, and follows the story of a man obsessed with his friend’s new lover, a gorgeous blonde, so much so that he, in a Hitchcockian turn, falls for his co-worker only to turn her into a mirror image. Featuring a lead performance ripped right out of the Freudian ooze that birthed various characters found within the films of the master of suspense, this film blends Bunuel surrealism and Hitchcock eroticism into a film that is as startling a thriller as you’ll see. Toss in a pair of top notch performances from co-star Geraldine Chaplin, and you have a film that shouldn’t be scoffed at when perusing Criterion’s Hulu Plus lineup.
2. A Legend Or Was It? (Hulu)
Another fantastic film that may be overlooked on Criterion’s Hulu Plus page, this time from director Keisuke Kinoshita, A Legend Or Was It may be one of the director’s very best films. Seemingly mentioned on this site weekly, the director’s massive output has been shockingly deep. Legend follows the story of a husband and wife who are caring for the husband’s mother, only to find themselves the ire of a trio of criminals waiting to take the right moment to strike. However, when plans at the house begin to change, the film turns from a beautiful meditation on post-War Japan seemingly inspired by John Ford into a startlingly tense Peckinpah-esque thriller. While I’ve been impressed with Kinoshita’s output ever since truly digging into his canon way back when his films began hitting Criterion’s Hulu Plus page, but this may be my favorite film I’ve seen of his to date. Ballad Of Narayama is a prettier film, but Legend is a gritty drama that may very well be one of the best films streaming that you probably haven’t heard of.
1. Samurai Jack (Netflix)
Mentioned last week when Netflix added a cavalcade of Cartoon Network shows to their service, yours truly had the pleasure of marathoning through this legendary animated series, and it lived up to every bit of hype, if not exceeding it. From Genndy Tartakovsky, the show follows a samurai who, with his enemy on the ropes, is sent forward in time where that very villain, Aku, is the ruler. Bent on getting back in time and finishing what he started, Jack meets various groups of people, saving some, defeating others, in what is possibly one of the best bits of animated television I’ve ever seen. Only one season is available on Netflix, so it’s a breeze to dig through in one sitting, but it will leaving you absolutely addicted, only to be left without your fix.