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Paul Jensen

Gold Winners: 21-30

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THE TREE OF LIFE (2011) 5 star

Reportedly an autobiographical tale, this is cinema as touching and brave as your going to get out of Hollywood. It puts everything into perspective. As you leave the film experience, you feel awake and ready to embrace the world around you. The feeling and images stay with you just as powerful memories do. The film begs to be deciphered with each sequence bringing a plethora of hidden secrets that enrich the viewer with insight and beauty. Sorrow, envy, joy, love and bitterness are all shown with astonishingly genuine performances, while Malick follows them with a metaphorical representation in nature. After all, our complex emotions are only natural.

It truly is a love poem to Malick's mother. She permeates the film - notice how it begins with her. The enigmatic imagery expresses humanity in a way that we're not accustomed to in traditional narrative. A child swimming out of a door like a baby from a womb, a boy leaving a negligee by the river because of his shameful feelings; that same river where the awe-inspiring dinosaur shows both threat and mercy - a perfect summary of all the differences of the world, culturally and racially.

In the end, Sean Penn's character must let go of the memories to be able to fully live in the present. The candle signifying the anniversary of a sibling's suicide. It's a cathartic and exquisite finale to a film that can only be compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey. If that isn't enough, we get a truly transcendent sequence that boldly illustrates the creation of the universe. To call it a religious experience is almost an understatement. Apart from Kubrick, who else would dare to present such a mind-blowing cinematic experience? Terrence Malick has earned his place alongside the all-time great filmmakers. Tree of Life is one of the most personal, ambitious and uncompromising films we have ever seen. It begins and ends with God or you might say the beginning of all creation...and then there was light, cinema, a bridge from one world to another. In summary, this film is pure enlightenment.

 

Genre: Drama
Director: Terrence Malick

 

THE THIN RED LINE (1998) 5 stars

A Zen masterpiece on war. Malik has returned with such profound perspective and insight. The viewer gets three movies in one. First, it's a riveting story with elements of suspense and intense action revolving around "seizing a bunker." Second, there's such a collection of strong actors and characters that linger with you long after the film is over. The unconventional narration helps identify emotionally with each soldier. Third, Malick takes us on an odyssey for the ages that is both meditative, spiritual and aesthetically beautiful. From man to nature to animals, we are constantly reminded of beauty and horror co-existing. After my fifth viewing, the film still feels fresher that most everything else in recent memory. Ultimately, this is a strong contender for the greatest war film ever made.

 

Genre: War
Director: Terrence Malick

 

THE SACRIFICE (1986) 5 stars

Stark, religious, physically and emotionally draining. Tarkovsky's crowning achievement on an astonishing career. Nykvist's cinematography is like painting with light. Its theatrical approach appears almost 3-D at times. The long takes help us experience time in another way and the pacing draws us into a story that is challenging yet artistically rewarding. Tarkovsky brings us on a journey where we truly feel as if we've descended into despair and darkness. At one point, we journey through an entire night and then awaken, cathartic, as if after a dream. He then gives us one of the greatest climactic shots in history which literally almost killed him during filming. Obviously, the film is a major homage to Bergman whom Tarkosvky worshiped. The final image of The Sacrifice blends life, death, God and Tarkovsky's own real-life son gazing up with hope and confidence. I have never experienced such a profoundly realistic spiritual crisis.

 

Genre: Foreign
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

 

L'AVVENTURA (1960) 5 stars

This challenging and profound film simply revolutionized cinema. Eros is sick indeed. Antonioni created his own film language with this masterpiece and many regard this as the first "modern" movie. Be careful not to dismiss it on the first viewing. Like any new language, it takes a while to understand. But once you know what to look for, every frame is loaded with intense meaning. (All hail Monica Vitti. Her interior neo-realist performance is stunning.) Also worth mentioning is that L'Avventura owes something to Rossellini's masterpiece Voyage to Italy.

 

Genre: Foreign
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

 

RAN (1985) 5 stars

Kurosawa's most epic and vibrant masterpiece. Loosely based on King Lear, it is gloriously tragic. Akira's crowning achievement could only have been made at his ripe old age, bringing infinite wisdom to the story. The authenticity is assured and the humility and grand scale is awe-inspiring. The battle scenes are perceived as if through the perspective of the Gods. They weep at our tragic chaos. At one point, even their weeping is silenced as the Eldest brother is shot. Straight through the image of the sun, representing a God-like death. By the end, humanity is on the edge of disaster, blind and ignorant with the loss of spirituality. Shakespeare would have been proud.

 

Genre: Foreign
Director: Akira Kurosawa

 

PERSONA (1966) 5 stars

A minimalist exploration of the human psyche. Bergman's supreme masterpiece. It could possibly be the highest level of art in cinema. There's a reason why Bergman's considered the greatest screenwriter of all time. Two women in a summer cottage in just over 80 minutes and somehow Bergman’s able to sum up the entire human psyche. Like Bresson, so much is said with so little. A true master.

 

Genre: Foreign
Director: Ingmar Bergman

 

THE RED SHOES (1948) 5 stars

The always inventive Powell & Pressburger's greatest achievement. Glorious photography and passionate storytelling with a remarkable ballet sequence that still astonishes. The age-old dilemma of art versus love life has rarely been explored with such elegance and exuberance. The script is also surprisingly modern and expertly written. By blending both the art of cinema and dance, the Archers re-invent cinema and make a hybrid of two elaborate art forms. They never followed the rules and that's what makes their films last. Stellar performances also help this flawless film touch me on a profoundly deep level.

 

Genre: Drama
Director: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

 

THE BICYCLE THIEVES (1949) 5 stars

The greatest Italian neo-realist film. A boy loses his innocence and a man becomes what he hates most. Simplistic yet universal and timeless. What I find most astonishing about this gentle film is how the most tender and simple images can evoke such a strong emotional response. De Sica knows that a simple gesture of a boy taking his father’s hand can be as moving and profound as anything in cinema.

 

Genre: Foreign
Director: Vittoria De Sica

 

THE GODFATHER (1972) 5 stars

It's all in the details. Coppola achieved greatness with this daring gangster film. The mature pacing and dark photography contribute greatly to its legendary status. Brando is riveting and it's also hard to take your eyes off Pacino's transformation. Ultimately, it's top-notch screenwriting with concise set-ups and pay-offs. The first Godfather is more accessible and perhaps a tad bit too simple in comparison to the later sequel but nevertheless it remains highly entertaining. It’s often cited by audience members as their favorite film.

 

Genre: Crime
Director: Francis Ford Coppola

 

LA DOLCE VITA (1960) 5 stars

A Fellini masterpiece. Exuberant and exhilarating. It was both scandalous and thrilling. A smorgasbord of themes reach dizzying heights in this decadent epic dealing with celebrities, paparazzi and debauchery. By the end, he’s sadder but wiser. He feels as bloated as the beached whale. But at least now he understands the shallowness of his lifestyle. The young girl across the river is his lost innocence. Does he change? No, it’s easier to keep up the charade. The most touching scene in the movie for me is when he stares at the back of his father’s head.

 

Genre: Foreign
Director: Federico Fellini

 

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