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City Lights (1931)

A+ | **** | +1| Kids & Up

City Lights is the quintessential Chaplin film — both the most perfectly crafted and satisfying of all his films, and also the most representative of all the different textures and tones for which Chaplin is remembered, from slapstick and pantomime to pathos and sentiment, farce and irreverence to melodrama and social commentary. Read More >

Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius (2004)

C+ | **½ | +1| Teens & Up

The most successful sports movies (recent examples include Miracle, 61*, and The Rookie (starring Caviezel’s Frequency costar Dennis Quaid), reach out across the divide separating fans from non-fans, finding ways of making the drama compelling to the uninitiated as well as aficionados. Bobby Jones, while sweetly sincere and uplifting, doesn’t fully succeed in doing this. Read More >

Spider-Man (2002)

B+ | *** | +0| Teens & Up*

From its breathless, cartoony title sequence, with the letters of cast members’ names stuck like flies in a vast spiderweb, Spider-Man makes its intentions crystal clear: This is one wide-eyed comic-book movie that revels in its pulp origins. Read More >

Two Brothers (2004)

B+ | *** | +1| Kids & Up*

Annaud’s skill and subtlety elevate what is essentially a simple, fable-like throwback to the sort of live-action feature Disney used to make in the 1950s. Read More >

Our Hospitality (1923)

A | **** | +0| Kids & Up

Buster Keaton’s first feature-length comedy is one of his best, a comic gem set against a backdrop of a Hatfield-McCoy style family feud. Raised far from the scene of generations of “McKay-Canfield” violence, young Willie McKay (Keaton) knows nothing about the bad blood between the two families — until the time comes for him to go home and claim his inheritance. Read More >

Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

C | ** | -1| Teens & Up

Without a doubt, the best thing about Frank Coraci’s Around the World in 80 Days is the fight scenes. Read More >

Stagecoach (1939)

A | **** | +0| Teens & Up

Stagecoach is not the greatest Western of all time, but has been called the first great Western, and played a key role in the status of the Western as the quintessential American genre. Read More >

The Decalogue (1988)

A | **** | +3| Adults

The Decalogue, Kieslowski’s extraordinary, challenging collection of ten one-hour films made for Polish television in the dying days of the Soviet Union, doesn’t answer those questions either. What it does is pose them as hauntingly and seriously as any cinematic effort in the last twenty years. Read More >

Mean Girls (2004)

D+ | **½ | -1| Adults

(Written by Suzanne E. Greydanus) At school, Cady is befriended by two social outcasts: an artsy girl named Janis (Lizzy Caplan) with an all-black goth look, and her sidekick Damian (Daniel Franzese), whom Janis describes as “almost too gay to function.” She is also befriended by the clique of popular girls (dubbed “the Plastics” by Janis), queened by Regina (Rachel McAdams), who think Cady pretty enough to be their friend despite her ignorance of proper social rules for high-school “success.” Read More >

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

B | *** | +1-2| Teens & Up

Where its predecessors felt a bit padded and overlong, The Prisoner of Azkaban feels incomplete and overly edited. If the first two films could easily have been tightened up by a half-hour or so, this one left me wishing for the first time that there were an “extended edition” DVD coming, as with the Lord of the Rings films. Read More >

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

B | *** | +1-2| Teens & Up

Harry Potter is back, and in this second outing the stakes are higher, the themes darker, the Malfoys nastier, the action grander, the monsters scarier, the gross-outs ickier, the climax stronger, and the movie longer. Read More >

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

B | *** | +1-2| Teens & Up

Fans of the books will be gratified by a warm rush of recognition at every turn. From the growing anticipation as the mysterious invitations to Harry at the Dursley’s begin their inexorable multiplication, to Robbie Coltrane’s comforting performance as the genial giant Hagrid, to the dazzling Hogwarts grounds, to the exhilarating speed and excitement of Quidditch, the book’s main pleasures have been expertly realized. Read More >

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

A- | ***½ | +0| Teens & Up

Much of the comedy comes from reversal of stereotypes, with the mild-mannered, middle-class Holland aspiring to the role of criminal mastermind, and Holland’s elderly landlady (Edie Martin) knowledgeably conversing with bemused bobbies in street slang learned from dime-store crime fiction. And while the caper-gone-wrong comedy genre has been done to death in recent decades, The Lavender Hill Mob avoids most of what became the clichés of the genre. Read More >

Dersu Uzala (1975)

A | ***½ | +3| Kids & Up*

Vladimir Arseniev was an early 20th-century explorer who mapped much of the krai territory of the Russian Far East and studied its indigenous peoples. Based on his memoirs, Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala tells the story of an unusual friendship between Arseniev (Yuri Solomin) and the nomadic tribal hunter for whom the film is named (Maksim Munzuk). Read More >

Citizen Kane (1941)

A+ | **** | +2| Teens & Up

While working on Citizen Kane, Welles joked that "If they ever let me do a second picture, I’m lucky." He was only half right. He was lucky enough to make many additional pictures, some of them masterpieces in their own right. But the luckiest he ever got, which is more than lucky enough, was getting to make Citizen Kane itself. That unprecedented level of control and magical synergy was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — and, to his immortal credit, Welles made the most of it. He made Citizen Kane. Read More >

The Son (2002)

A+ | **** | +4| Teens & Up*

A tightly wound, middle-aged carpenter named Olivier (Olivier Gourmet) works with young boys at some sort of center. His inner life, his motives and emotions, aren’t revealed to us, and he doesn’t seem preoccupied with them himself. He wears a leather back brace, and has perhaps been injured at some point; and his work itself may be a similar sort of prop against some injury of his past. Read More >

Shane (1953)

A | **** | +2| Kids & Up*

If the Western is the quintessential American mythology, Shane (Alan Ladd in his best-known role) is the Western’s great knight–samurai archetype: stern in battle, mild with women and children, siding with the wronged, honoring marriage. Read More >

On the Waterfront (1954)

A | **** | +3| Teens & Up

“A Going My Way with substance” is how Elia Kazan’s classic, controversial On the Waterfront was recently described in a lecture at Boston College. Read More >

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

A+ | **** | +4| Kids & Up

In the end, perhaps the most enduring achievement of The Gospel According to Matthew is an ironic one, given Pasolini’s Marxism: No other life-of-Christ film is so contemplative, inviting the viewer simply to meditate on the life and teaching of Jesus. Read More >

Shrek 2 (2004)

B | *** | +1-1| Teens & Up

If Pixar’s Toy Story movies connect with the child in all of us, DreamWorks’ Shrek pictures are aimed squarely at our inner adolescent. I suspect I may be more in touch with my inner child than my inner adolescent. Read More >

Shrek (2001)

B | *** | +1-1| Teens & Up

Loosely based upon a story by children’s author William Steig (Sylvester and the Magic Pebble), Shrek is a satiric, updated fairy-tale love story, sort of like The Princess Bride, if André the Giant had been the hero, and had worn Lou Ferrigno body paint. And if Princess Buttercup did Matrix-style wire-fu and knocked out bad guys. Read More >

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

A+ | ***½ | +3| Kids & Up*

L’Chaim! Life itself, joyous and tragic, is the subject of the boisterous, comic, heartbreaking vision of Fiddler on the Roof. Read More >

Troy (2004)

B | *** | -2| Adults

So long is the shadow of The Iliad over the history of Western literature that before considering the merits of Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy it may be helpful to recall that the story of the Trojan War was not only likely told by poets long before Homer, certainly after Homer it has been retold and reworked by numerous poets and writers, including Virgil, Euripides, Quintus, Chaucer, and Shakespeare. Read More >

Emma (1996)

A- | ***½ | +1| Kids & Up

If love makes the world go round, the dizzily whirling globe in the opening title credits of Douglas McGrath’s Emma is a clear statement of intent regarding the film’s theme. And when we see the globe is a painted model spinning on a thread in the hand of Emma (delightfully effervescent Gwyneth Paltrow), it’s clear how Emma sees herself — pulling the strings, orchestrating the happy convergences that make the world go round. Read More >

Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)

B+ | *** | +2| Teens & Up

The Gilbreths were certainly disciplined and well-behaved, but there was also something a bit "off" about the whole family, and one could be excused for getting the definite impression that only a professional efficiency expert like Mr. Gilbreth could even think about having so many offspring. Read More >

Little Women (1933)

A | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up

Thus, while Little Women is far from hostile to its male characters, it has a positive feminine character and defines its protagonists not by relationships with men but by moral choices, experiences, and relationships with one another, their mother, and their community. Part comedy of manners, part morality tale, it’s more interested in its heroines "conquering themselves" than in a man conquering their hearts. Read More >

The Iron Giant (1999)

B+ | ***½ | +2-1| Kids & Up*

One of the pinnacles of non-Disney American animation, Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant is a nostalgic fantasy in the spirit of E.T. about a young boy (Eli Marienthal) growing up in a fatherless house, whose unusual friendship with a being from outer space — here a giant robot (Vin Diesel) with a penchant for eating metal — has to be hidden from his mom (Jennifer Aniston) and the federal government. Read More >

Man on Fire (2004)

F | ** | -3|

"In the Church they say to forgive," one character observes dubiously. But in Creasy’s book, to forgive is divine, to mutilate and butcher human. "Forgiveness is between them and God," he says, conveniently overlooking the relevant biblical injunctions even though we know he can quote chapter and verse when he wants to. "My job is to arrange the meeting." We know we should agree with Creasy, because his murderous rampage is scored by a cool rock soundtrack and sanctified by a mother’s kiss. That’s got to be righteous. Read More >

Ben-Hur [A Tale of the Christ] (1959)

A | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up*

The grandest of Hollywood’s classic biblical epics, William Wyler’s Ben-Hur doesn’t transcend its genre, with its emphasis on spectacle and melodrama, but it does these things about as well as they could possibly be done. Read More >

Places in the Heart (1984)

B+ | ***½ | +2| Teens & Up

Sally Field gives an Oscar-winning performance as Edna Spalding, a wife and mother of two whose life is shattered by a sudden, pointless tragedy. In the aftermath, she is confronted by a bewildering array of hurtles which she never have imagined having to deal with, but must now rise to the challenge. These hurtles include financial dealings with condescending businessmen, a possibly shifty black drifter (Danny Glover), an unwanted and ungrateful boarder who is blind (John Malkovich), and a devastating act of God. Read More >

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