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Sand Storm

A fairly familiar critique of patriarchy from a humanist and feminist perspective, but one that’s put across with some very impressive filmmaking skills by a…

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Deepwater Horizon

Everything here feels routine—more like an inevitability than a work of art or even a piece of entertainment.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Power to the people

Q. I'm just curious, what led you to give "Black Swan" a rating of 3.5 stars, while "The Wrestler" got 4? The two films have been compared a lot, so I'm interested to hear why you thought one was slightly better than the other.  (Sarah S. Evans, Indianapolis)

A. And they were directed one after the other by Darren Aronofsky. They're both powerful movies.  It's hard to say. The star rating system is the bane of critics because of questions like yours. How's this for an answer: The half-star difference was accounted for by an ineffable difference in the intensity of my emotions.

Q. I just this weekend watched Leo McCarey's "Make Way for Tomorrow" (1937), which you wrote a Great Movies article about. That may be the best 1930s movie I've ever seen. But it's so unbearably sad. Do you think that's maybe why it's relatively obscure? I mean, I've never seen "it" stated like that, not even by Ozu. My question really is: why the heck do some of us respond to "really sad" movies so strongly, while others would rather steer clear? I mean, as sad as it was, the movie made me extremely happy, in awe at its wisdom. (Yancy Jack Berns, Los Angeles)

A. "It" refers to the way some younger people put old people like their parents on the shelf and consider them a nuisance. Ozu's masterpiece "Tokyo Story" (1953) told a similar story set in Japan. His screenwriter, Kogo Noda, saw McCarey's film and said he was influenced by it. There's a lot of sentimentality about old folks, but if they fall into sickness or poverty not a lot of modern young couples want to let them move in. They'll be "happier" elsewhere. Regarding your second question: In thinking about "depressing movies," many people don't realize that all bad movies are depressing, and no good movies are.

Q. It has always puzzled me how a film director can take the complete title credit for directing a film, when it is common practice to employ second unit directors who contribute their own unique vision to complete the shoot. If the director goes on to win a major award such as a Director's Guild Award or ultimately an Academy Award, isn't it a bit of a cheat to take the sole credit without also including the other director's efforts? (Kevin Fellman, Phoenix, AZ)

A. True, and Riccardo Muti doesn't play all the instruments in the Chicago Symphony. But the director is responsible for selecting and supervising his team, and many work with the same second unit directors over time. This is well understood. As a general rule, second units don't handle dialogue scenes.

Q. Many of my friends and I are anticipating the release of "Black Swan" in our town or even close by. Why would such a popular movie restrict its release to only a few theaters? After all, the budget for the film was about $9-16 million, is this a wise move? (Aviya Ilia,  Laredo TX)

A. Apparently it was. The film racked up the second highest per-screen average of the year in its limited opening weekend (slightly behind "The King's Speech") and benefited from a lot of publicity. Some films are designed to open wide and make a quick killing. Oscar contenders are designed to open gradually, build an audience and have staying power. They appeal to a different audience, somewhat older, that thinks it over before going to a movie.

Anyway, "Black Swan" is opening wider on Friday, Dec. 10.

Q. In "Love and Other Drugs," I was flabbergasted at the way James and Maggie meet.  Not only is it wrong, but violating and upsetting. As a woman who has had many creepy doctors from adolescence to adulthood, I would like to share my opinion that it is not acceptable in a romantic comedy. I doubted what I saw. Surely the public would be angry with something like this so it can't be real. When your review of the film came out I thought, at least Roger Ebert will be angry like me!

Sure, you commented, "doctors aren't supposed to do that," but I didn't find the passion I was hoping for. This film uses a lighthearted romantic comedy setting, and pairs it with the violation of Maggie's body and rights as a human being.  It is treated like something cute -- as if Jake Gyllenhaal's blue eyes erase something that is not only illegal, but an assault to Maggie's privacy. Then it rewards the "lovable scamp" with sex from the woman he violated. What I find scary is the lack of waves this has caused. (Megan Coker)

A. Jake Gyllenhaal is a drug salesman and the pal of a doctor (Hank Azaria) who disguises him in interns' scrubs and brings him into a private room to observe as he examines Anna Hathaway's breasts. This might be grounds for losing his license. Yes, it was offensive. Yes, perhaps I should have been more angry. So much is permitted in modern movies that sometimes we get desensitized. These days we are desensitized to a lot of things. At the risk of sounding political, I'll ask: If America now feels it can legally commit torture, how much is left?

Q. What do you think about ABC's latest "Best in Film" series? I hate best film lists because they always leave out some of the best films that other people don't think are great. But then again, who can really define the best film? According to ABC, the American public is about to. And this isn't even going to come close to correlating with the Internet Movie Database, and those results are skewed as well. Will there ever be an end? (Richie Starzec, Middletown CN).

A. It might help if you thought of it this way. ABC is using a formula to create a bogus "awards show" with no credibility, on a small budget, and depending on lots of film clips to carry the day. All "Best Films of All Time" lists are meaningless and all internet polls are meaningless, because there has never been a single list to satisfy everyone, or even most people.

In this case the short lists of finalists in several categories were selected, I understand, by various critics and "experts" who made nominations. (Between them, all of those authorities were unable think of a single silent film that qualified.) The finalists were such suspiciously popular mainstream titles that one wonders how expert the experts were, or how ABC selected from their recommendations.

Let me complain about something, and then explain why complaining is useless. In the category of "Best Kiss," one of the nominees was not the most famous kiss in movie history, between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Hitchcock's "Notorious" (1946). That was also for many years the longest kiss in movie history. How a list of finalists could forget it is inexplicable.

But that's just me. And that's the flaw. The moment a list is announced, everyone like me works up a lather complaining about what's on it and what got left off. And then when the votes are announced by ABC, there will be learned analysis of the winners and losers and the meaning of it all. All of the analysts will begin with the assumption that they know best, and everybody else is wrong.

Of course, most of the votes will have been cast by the kinds of people who vote in online polls. Those who engage in such a futile enterprise aren't always the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree. You know what would amuse me? If real movie buffs (like you and me) went online and simply voted for the best films in every category. Then ABC would be stuck with a lot of truly good choices, and its ratings might suffer. Heh, heh.

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