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The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker (2009)

The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.

What does it take to keep a person running into a burning building even if it’s to save someone’s life? How do police step into dangerous situations every day? What makes a person tick who can risk his or her life repeatedly defusing bombs? The Hurt Locker takes a look at that last question, and does so in a breathtaking, adrenaline rush of a film.

This may be the most exciting film that came out last year. It was far more nail-biting than any ordinary action film that I sat through. Thanks to Kathryn Bigelow’s direction and Barry Ackroyd’s dynamic camerawork, we become a part of Bravo company as they attempt to locate and disarm IEDs in Iraq. Each situation is a little bit worse than the last and we worry a little bit more each time.

The performances are top-notch. Jeremy Renner plays Staff Sergeant William James, a man that is driven to figure out his lethal puzzles despite the qualms of his comrades. This creates tension with the other two members of Bravo company: Sgt. J. T. Sanborn and Spc. Owen Eldridge. Sanborn is a man imbued with a healthy dose of common sense and a natural instinct to survive. He has little patience for James’s insistence on personally disarming every bomb. Poor Eldridge is caught in the middle and has his own issues. A couple of big stars show up for well-crafted cameos: Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pierce. Still, this movie belongs to the newcomers and they rise to the occasion.

Thinking of this film, I was reminded of my younger days as a student in an Electronic Engineering Technology program. I think several of the guys I met during that time would understand James’s addiction to figuring out the explosive devices…how he feels a personal challenge between himself and the bombmaker. I think that under different circumstances one or two of those guys might be another James. I hope they never get there. We need people like James and Bravo company, but I’d like to think that most of them have Sanborn’s healthier attitude toward his job than James’s. Anything else is too sad to contemplate.

List of 300 Films

Well, I finally finished my list of the 100 Greatest Love Stories. I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. This is the larger list of 300 movies that I started with before limiting the final product to just 100. I thought people might be interested in seeing it.

Movie Year
Broken Blossoms 1919
Way Down East 1920
Flesh and the Devil 1927
Sunrise 1927
City Lights 1931
Love Me Tonight 1932
Trouble in Paradise 1932
It Happened One Night 1934
Of Human Bondage 1934
The Thin Man 1934
Twentieth Century 1934
Alice Adams 1935
Top Hat 1935
Camille 1936
Libeled Lady 1936
Swing Time 1936
Theodora Goes Wild 1936
Love is News 1937
Shall We Dance 1937
The Awful Truth 1937
Topper 1937
Bringing Up Baby 1938
Holiday 1938
The Adventures of Robin Hood 1938
Dark Victory 1939
First Love 1939
Gone With the Wind 1939
Midnight 1939
Wuthering Heights 1939
All This and Heaven Too 1940
His Girl Friday 1940
Rebecca 1940
Remember the Night 1940
Shop Around the Corner 1940
The Letter 1940
The Philadelphia Story 1940
Waterloo Bridge 1940
Ball of Fire 1941
Meet John Doe 1941
The Lady Eve 1941
Casablanca 1942
Now Voyager 1942
Random Harvest 1942
Woman of the Year 1942
You Were Never Lovelier 1942
Cover Girl 1944
Double Indemnity 1944
Gaslight 1944
Jane Eyre 1944
Laura 1944
To Have and Have Not 1944
Brief Encounter 1945
Christmas in Connecticut 1945
Leave Her to Heaven 1945
Spellbound 1945
Gilda 1946
It’s a Wonderful Life 1946
Notorious 1946
The Best Years of Our Lives 1946
The Big Sleep 1946
The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946
Black Narcissus 1947
Lady from Shanghai 1947
Out of the Past 1947
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir 1947
Easter Parade 1948
Key Largo 1948
Portrait of Jennie 1948
The Red Shoes 1948
Adam’s Rib 1949
The Heiress 1949
All About Eve 1950
In a Lonely Place 1950
Summer Stock 1950
Sunset Boulevard 1950
An American in Paris 1951
People Will Talk 1951
Streetcar Named Desire 1951
The African Queen 1951
Singin in the Rain 1952
The Quiet Man 1952
From Here to Eternity 1953
Mogambo 1953
Niagara 1953
Roman Holiday 1953
Brigadoon 1954
Rear Window 1954
Sabrina 1954
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers 1954
The Country Girl 1954
Guys and Dolls 1955
Lady and the Tramp 1955
Marty 1955
Oklahoma 1955
Summertime 1955
To Catch a Thief 1955
Anastasia 1956
Giant 1956
The King and I 1956
An Affair to Remember 1957
Desk Set 1957
Funny Face 1957
Love in the Afternoon 1957
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958
Gigi 1958
Indiscreet 1958
South Pacific 1958
The Long Hot Summer 1958
Vertigo 1958
North by Northwest 1959
Pillow Talk 1959
Some Like It Hot 1959
The Apartment 1960
Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961
Splendor in the Grass 1961
The Hustler 1961
West Side Story 1961
Charade 1963
Cleopatra 1963
Marnie 1964
My Fair Lady 1964
The Americanization of Emily 1964
Dr. Zhivago 1965
How to Steal a Million 1966
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf 1966
Barefoot in the Park 1967
Bonnie and Clyde 1967
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 1967
Two for the Road 1967
Funny Girl 1968
Romeo and Juliet 1968
The Lion in Winter 1968
Anne of the Thousand Days 1969
Cactus Flower 1969
Harold and Maude 1971
Klute 1971
McCabe and Mrs. Miller 1971
The Way We Were 1973
Chinatown 1974
Network 1976
Robin and Marian 1976
Annie Hall 1977
Coming Home 1978
Days of Heaven 1978
Grease 1978
Manhattan 1979
The Empire Strikes Back 1980
Body Heat 1981
On Golden Pond 1981
The French Lieutenant’s Woman 1981
An Officer and a Gentleman 1982
Bladerunner 1982
The Year of Living Dangerously 1982
Romancing the Stone 1984
A Room With a View 1985
Ladyhawke 1985
Out of Africa 1985
Witness 1985
Lady Jane 1986
Dirty Dancing 1987
Fatal Attraction 1987
Moonstruck 1987
Roxanne 1987
Some Kind of Wonderful 1987
The Big Easy 1987
The Princess Bride 1987
The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1987
Bull Durham 1988
Dangerous Liaisons 1988
Tequila Sunrise 1988
Working Girl 1988
Always 1989
Say Anything 1989
sex, lies and videotape 1989
When Harry Met Sally 1989
Dances With Wolves 1990
Pretty Woman 1990
Dead Again 1991
Frankie and Johnny 1991
Enchanted April 1992
Like Water for Chocolate 1992
The Crying Game 1992
The Cutting Edge 1992
The Last of the Mohicans 1992
Benny and Joon 1993
Groundhog Day 1993
Much Ado About Nothing 1993
Sommersby 1993
The Age of Innocence 1993
The Piano 1993
The Remains of the Day 1993
Four Weddings and a Funeral 1994
Legends of the Fall 1994
Queen Margot 1994
Reality Bites 1994
A Walk in the Clouds 1995
Angels and Insects 1995
Braveheart 1995
Carrington 1995
Clueless 1995
Desperado 1995
Don Juan Demarco 1995
How to Make an American Quilt 1995
Leaving Las Vegas 1995
Month by the Lake 1995
Othello 1995
Persuasion 1995
Rob Roy 1995
Sense and Sensibility 1995
The American President 1995
The Bridges of Madison County 1995
Waiting to Exhale 1995
Emma 1996
Hamlet (Branagh) 1996
Jerry Maguire 1996
The English Patient 1996
The Truth About Cats and Dogs 1996
The Whole Wide World 1996
Twelfth Night 1996
As Good as it Gets 1997
Chasing Amy 1997
Mrs. Brown 1997
Oscar and Lucinda 1997
The Boxer 1997
Titanic 1997
Wings of the Dove 1997
Elizabeth 1998
Ever After 1998
Out of Sight 1998
Rushmore 1998
Shakespeare in Love 1998
Sliding Doors 1998
The Mask of Zorro 1998
10 Things I Hate About You 1999
An Ideal Husband 1999
Never Been Kissed 1999
Notting Hill 1999
Runaway Bride 1999
The End of the Affair 1999
The Thomas Crown Affair 1999
Almost Famous 2000
Bounce 2000
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2000
High Fidelity 2000
House of Mirth 2000
A Beautiful Mind 2001
Amelie 2001
Bridget Jones’s Diary 2001
Enigma 2001
Moulin Rouge 2001
About a Boy 2002
Far From Heaven 2002
Possession 2002
Unfaithful 2002
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2002
Big Fish 2003
Cold Mountain 2003
Down With Love 2003
Lost in Translation 2003
Love Actually 2003
Something’s Gotta Give 2003
Under a Tuscan Sun 2003
A Very Long Engagement 2004
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 2004
House of Flying Daggers 2004
Kinsey 2004
Sideways 2004
Stage Beauty 2004
Brokeback Mountain 2005
Match Point 2005
Prime 2005
The Constant Gardener 2005
The New World 2005
Walk the Line 2005
Casino Royale 2006
Miss Potter 2006
Once 2006
Something New 2006
Stranger Than Fiction 2006
The Fountain 2006
The Illusionist 2006
The Lake House 2006
Across the Universe 2007
Atonement 2007
Becoming Jane 2007
Australia 2008
Revolutionary Road 2008
Slumdog Millionaire 2008
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 2008
The Reader 2008
Wall-E 2008
(500) Days of Summer 2009
Up 2009
Magnificent Obsession 1935/1954
A Star is Born 1937/1954
Pride and Prejudice 1940/1995/2005
Beauty and the Beast 1946/1991
Silk Stockings/Ninotchka 1957/1939
Before Sunrise/Before Sunset 1995/2004

Greatest Love Stories 5-1

I’m dedicating this February to counting down the 100 greatest love stories of all time. I’ll be posting five films every day, Monday through Friday.

Disclaimer: Any film list is fairly subjective, but I think putting together one person’s idea of romances or love stories might be the most subjective list of all. What one person considers powerful, another considers depressing; what someone thinks is sigh-inducingly romantic, someone else thinks is tooth-decayingly sappy. Any interesting list is bound to create comment and controversy and that’s okay. This is my personal list of 100 films. I picked them from a larger list of 300 movies. Once I have completed the top 100, I’ll post the entire list of 300. Perhaps one of your favorites that didn’t make the final cut was there…or maybe not.

5. Romeo and Juliet (1968): Most cineastes point to one film that they claim changed their lives. This one is mine. I first saw it when I was ten years old and it left me with a lifelong love of Shakespeare. It was the first movie to shake me up and make me recognize it as something beyond a pleasant entertainment. The music of the score, as well as the lyricism of the poetry, wound its way into my heart in such a way that they’ve never left.

4. Casablanca (1942): Is there anything left to be said about this most famous of all movies? We all remember this, whether or not we’ve actually seen the movie – like Shakespeare’s Hamlet this is one of the most quoted works in our culture. Humphrey Bogart was never as romantic, Ingrid Bergman never so radiant. The characterizations ring so true that the movie seems timeless not dated. This was AFI’s pick for the most romantic movie of all time and it’s easy to see why.

3. Notorious (1946): It’s a hard decision, but I think this is Hitchcock’s most romantic film. It raised eyebrows at the time for the length of the love scene where Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman kiss, mumble a few words, kiss some more, talk, lather, rinse and repeat. That’s a great scene, but for me the most memorable kiss is the one later when they are about to be discovered by Claude Rains. The kiss is to mask the fact that Bergman is actually reporting to Grant about Rains’s actions as a Nazi agent. The tension that has built up between these two estranged lovers pops in that scene. The most romantic scene, though, is at the end. Hitchcock masterfully draws out the tension in every scene whether it’s the dysfunctional romantic relationship between Grant and Bergman or Bergman’s investigations as a spy. (This film has been remade and copied many times, both in television and the movies. Mission Impossible 2 was a thinly veiled remake, but nowhere near as good.)

2. Bringing Up Baby (1938): This is one of my favorite movies of all time. As mentioned earlier it defines the term “screwball comedy” but in its day it was considered a complete failure, resulting in Katharine Hepburn being labeled “box office poison.” May we all make such mistakes! Grant and Hepburn, who made four films together, were never so wickedly comical as here and their chemistry was never so combustible. Both stars play against type with the dashing Grant portraying an absent-minded paleontologist and the intellectual Hepburn playing the ditzy mad-cap heiress. Sheer screwball perfection.

1. Shakespeare in Love (1999): It was very hard to choose what I thought number one on my list should be. Any of the top five have equal rights to be here, and Bringing Up Baby very nearly won.

The deciding factors were these:

1)      There’s more Shakespeare.  Obviously, I have a weak spot for Romeo and Juliet, but in this film we get several performances of that play.

2)      The romantic lead was Shakespeare himself. This is irresistible for me.

3)      It skillfully balances drama and comedy. This is a hilarious movie, but I’d hesitate to completely label it a comedy. There are many serious scenes, and it does not have a traditional “happy ever after” romantic comedy ending.

4)      It’s inspirational. Many people might see the ending as being depressing, but I’ve never thought so. Every single time I watch this film, I walk away on a cloud. I’m filled to the brim with the desire to write, to create, to sing songs, to tell tales. The story is about the birth of inspiration and in turn it inspires.

So, that’s the end of my list. Next week, I will post the 300 films I chose this list from. I will also start getting back to my regular reviews with a delayed look at The Hurt Locker (and if the weather cooperates, perhaps a review of Shutter Island). Thanks for your interest!

Greatest Love Stories 10-6

I’m dedicating this February to counting down the 100 greatest love stories of all time. I’ll be posting five films every day, Monday through Friday.

Disclaimer: Any film list is fairly subjective, but I think putting together one person’s idea of romances or love stories might be the most subjective list of all. What one person considers powerful, another considers depressing; what someone thinks is sigh-inducingly romantic, someone else thinks is tooth-decayingly sappy. Any interesting list is bound to create comment and controversy and that’s okay. This is my personal list of 100 films. I picked them from a larger list of 300 movies. Once I have completed the top 100, I’ll post the entire list of 300. Perhaps one of your favorites that didn’t make the final cut was there…or maybe not.

10. Brokeback Mountain (2005): Yes, I think Brokeback should have won Best Picture instead of Crash, but at least Ang Lee won Best Director. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his unnerving turn in The Dark Knight, but I think his work here is just as good, if not better. It’s a subtle, nuanced performance giving us a man who is extremely guarded with his entire life, including his words, but beneath the surface feels deeply. Jake Gyllanhaal is also excellent. These characters became live flesh and blood human beings for me and my heart hurt for all of their sorrows. Ang Lee specializes in stories with star-crossed lovers. His films are full of deeply felt but understated longing and this may be the saddest.

9. The Fountain (2006): This film notoriously split critics right down the center with 50% panning and 50% praising. It seems to be a love it or hate kind of movie. Obviously, I love it. The viewer is presented with three different storylines occurring at three different time periods with different characters, but the main characters in each are played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. I have my own theory(ies) about how to interpret the film, but part of the appeal is deciding for yourself what is going on. The middle story line involving a husband’s frantic search for a cure for his wife’s cancer is the emotional touchstone. This is Hugh Jackman’s finest performance so far. We understand that his deep love for his wife is driving his obsession, but also recognize that in choosing to pursue this path he is denying himself precious time with her. His grief is gut-wrenching. Rachel Weisz is absolutely transcendent. Her character has accepted that she is dying, and her spirit is at peace. Her only concern is the effect of her passing on her husband. This movie is not easy, but it is beautiful.

8. The Lady Eve (1941): Once again great character actors enhance the antics of the romantic couple at the center. This is not your typical romantic comedy, however. It possesses a bit of a dark side. The heroine, Barbara Stanwyck, is a con artist, but when she actually falls for her mark (Henry Fonda) only to have him reject her, she concocts the most hilarious revenge scheme. Who can forget her line, “I need him like the axe needs the turkey.” Yet, the movie manages to stay light-spirited. It never feels mean or depressing. It takes a writer/director like Preston Sturges to pull off that sleight of hand and stars like Stanwyck and Fonda. This might be Stanwyck’s best performance in a career full of astounding parts.

7. The Thin Man (1934): If you ever go looking for the coolest married couple in the movies, you wouldn’t have to look any farther than Nick and Nora Charles as portrayed by William Powell and Myrna Loy. Their repartee, their affection, and their respect for each other make them timeless. The way they make each other laugh is very sexy. Asta, the dog, tries to steal all of his scenes, but our attention always comes back to Nick and Nora.

6. Top Hat (1935): Although I love the dancing in Swing Time, I think Top Hat is, overall, the better movie. I show this film to my Introduction to Film class every year. Several of them groan at the beginning because they don’t think they’ll like a black and white musical. Most of them change their minds by the end. They are constantly surprised by how funny the movie is. It is a musical, but it is also a screwball comedy. The character actors are Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Helen Broderick and Erik Rhodes – the familiar crew for Astaire-Rogers films, although they weren’t in every one. Fred and Ginger’s chemistry is as potent as ever, and we have two of the best partnered dances on celluloid: “Isn’t It a Lovely Day to Be Caught in the Rain?” and “Cheek to Cheek.” “Cheek to Cheek” is the one most often remembered, and it is as lovely and unabashedly romantic as ever. “Isn’t It a Lovely Day” is a marvelous work: Astaire and Rogers work as true partners. From her riding outfit with its trousers to the two of them paralleling each other’s moves, even a throw, this is a dance of equals.

Greatest Love Stories 15-11

I’m dedicating this February to counting down the 100 greatest love stories of all time. I’ll be posting five films every day, Monday through Friday.

Disclaimer: Any film list is fairly subjective, but I think putting together one person’s idea of romances or love stories might be the most subjective list of all. What one person considers powerful, another considers depressing; what someone thinks is sigh-inducingly romantic, someone else thinks is tooth-decayingly sappy. Any interesting list is bound to create comment and controversy and that’s okay. This is my personal list of 100 films. I picked them from a larger list of 300 movies. Once I have completed the top 100, I’ll post the entire list of 300. Perhaps one of your favorites that didn’t make the final cut was there…or maybe not.

15. Out of Africa (1985): This life of Karen Blixen, or as she’s better known Isak Dinesen, taught me to truly value the word “storyteller.” Coming from a culture that has a long oral tradition, I think that to call someone a good storyteller is one of the highest compliments. One of my favorite scenes in this film, therefore, is when Karen spends the night telling Denys Finch-Hatton and Barkeley Cole a story that she made up using a few prompts that Denys threw out. Karen’s writing is wonderful, which is a legacy that I enjoyed after watching and loving this film. The relationship between Karen and Denys is powerful but quite complex. Neither of them were easy people, but with the help of Sydney Pollack’s direction and John Barry’s beautiful score, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford help us to understand Karen and Denys a little and appreciate them even more.

14. Ball of Fire (1942): This film is Billy Wilder’s homage to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Barbara Stanwyck plays Sugarpuss O’Shea, a nightclub singer who takes refuge with seven isolated professors working on an encyclopedia. Gary Cooper plays Bertram Potts, the youngest of the professors. He is first drawn to Sugarpuss because of her colorful language, but sparks soon fly. This is a sweet, funny romantic comedy. Barbara Stanwyck is glorious as a woman hoist on her own petard. The other professors are played by some of the best character actors in the business and they are expert in stealing scenes. If you’ve only known Stanwyck as a femme fatale, be sure to check her out here and in The Lady Eve. She is wonderful in comedies.

13. Spellbound (1945): Ingrid Bergman seems to have inspired romantic impulses in Alfred Hitchcock because he made two of his most romantic with her: Spellbound and Notorious. Spellbound teams her with Gregory Peck. Peck has lost his memory and may or may not be a murderer. Bergman is a psychiatrist who works with Peck to regain his memory. She famously interprets one of his dreams, a sequence which was designed by Salvador Dali. As is usual in a Hitchcock picture, the score is also quite memorable, with one of Miklos Rosza’s best.

12. The English Patient (1996): Detractors of this film think it long and boring. I find it hypnotic and beautiful. Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott-Thomas are quite good as the doomed lovers at the center of the story, but Juliette Binoche and Naveen Andrews are also charming as the second romantic couple, Hana and Kip. Colin Firth went through a period of playing the other man, but his Geoffrey is the most sympathetic of these. John Seale’s cinematography is lyric – the opening shot of the plane flying over the desert is pure visual poetry. Gabriel Yared’s score is the perfect accompaniment.

11. The Awful Truth (1937): There are certain films that define the screwball comedy: It Happened One Night and Bringing Up Baby certainly come to mind. This is one of those movies as well. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne spark off each other as the wittiest, most urbane of divorced couples. Their banter and their antics are irresistible as they make themselves laugh just as much as they make us.

Greatest Love Stories 20-16

I’m dedicating this February to counting down the 100 greatest love stories of all time. I’ll be posting five films every day, Monday through Friday.

Disclaimer: Any film list is fairly subjective, but I think putting together one person’s idea of romances or love stories might be the most subjective list of all. What one person considers powerful, another considers depressing; what someone thinks is sigh-inducingly romantic, someone else thinks is tooth-decayingly sappy. Any interesting list is bound to create comment and controversy and that’s okay. This is my personal list of 100 films. I picked them from a larger list of 300 movies. Once I have completed the top 100, I’ll post the entire list of 300. Perhaps one of your favorites that didn’t make the final cut was there…or maybe not.

20. The Constant Gardener (2005): Ralph Fiennes plays a man who is forced to reevaluate his life and his relationship with his wife after her death. The things he learns about her surprise him. Rachel Weisz won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the wife, and she is marvelous. Her character is tenacious, exuberant and enigmatic. We grieve with her husband at losing such a free spirit.

19. Swing Time (1936): “Never Gonna Dance” is one of the most sublime dances ever put on screen. Ironically, it’s a failed seduction. Ginger Rogers’s character walks away from Fred Astaire at the end of it. During the course of it, though, the heightened emotion is extraordinary. Swing Time contains several of Fred and Ginger’s best moments. Their first dance to “Pick Yourself Up” is sheer fun and perfection wrapped up in one package. “Waltz in Swingtime” is bubbly and energetic. “The Way You Look Tonight” won an Academy Award. “A Fine Romance” is one of the funniest, most sarcastic love songs ever written. That leads us to “Never Gonna Dance” which is dreamy, bittersweet and longing.

18. Walk the Line (2005): What separates this 2005 biopic from the rest of the pack is the strength of its real life love story. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon do their own singing which adds to the authenticity, and Witherspoon in particular is marvelous. It’s easy to understand the devotion that Johnny felt towards June made even more poignant by the knowledge that he only outlived her by a matter of months.

17. Persuasion (1995): I have a special fondness for this Jane Austen novel, and this is a very good adaptation. Anne is a very Cinderella-like character. She was encouraged by her family and friends to break off an engagement with a man she loved. Instead, she spends her days doing everything that her family wants. They take her generosity and kind spirit for granted. Amanda Root brings Anne’s quiet demeanor and loving heart straight to our own hearts. Ciaran Hinds is the captain that she loved who suddenly returns to her life.

16. Pride and Prejudice (1940, 1995, 2005): There are three extraordinary productions of Jane Austen’s most famous work. The first stars Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier, the second Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth and the last Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyn. The second is technically a miniseries and not a feature film, and yet when I re-read the novel this month I kept envisioning Ehle and Firth as Elizabeth and Darcy. The other two are wonderful, and yet somehow the mini-series is the first that I see in my mind’s eye. Elizabeth Bennett is so popular because she is such a modern character. She is independent, spirited and fairly direct in speech (although witty). Mr. Darcy’s appeal as one of the most beloved of all romantic leading men is well documented.