Extremely varied suggestions from Netflix/Amazon:
Bombshell (2017) An unexpected documentary on the beautiful Hedy Lamar – from Austrian heritage through escaping Nazis, to Hollywood fame, six husbands and co-creation with George Antheil of the technology of frequency hopping = the basis for Bluetooth technology. Interviews, archival material, film clips, even home movies. Fascinating.
A Little Chaos (2014) Landscape designers from all over France submit plans to Andre Le Notre for a new garden at Versailles. Among them, widow and single mother Sabine de Barra who’s inherited her husband’s business. Sabotaged and romantically entangled, Sabine produces a marvel. Directed by and co-starring Alan Rickman as King Louis XIV with Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Stephen Waddington, Jennifer Ehle, Stanley Tucci. Evocative film. Great characters.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) Historical romance/drama about a disorganized book club that got an odd group of neighbors through WWII when the island was occupied by Germans. When a resident writes to a popular, London-based author with writer’s block, they exchange letters precipitating a visit. The author gets her next book. Lily James, Jessica Brown Findlay, Matthew Goode, Tom Courtnay, Penelope Wilton. Charm without treacle.
Hugo (2011) Based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Martin Scorsese’s love letter to cinema. A 12 year-old orphan boy secretly lives in the attics of Gare Montparnasse railway station in Paris in the 1930s. When his clockmaker father dies, he takes over servicing the station’s giant time piece while trying to complete repair of an automaton his father found at the museum at which he was employed.
Hugo finds a friend in young Isabelle, whose bitter old grandfather runs a toy booth at the station. While trying not to get caught and placed in an orphanage, secrets and dangers are shared, lives entangled. The toy man turns out to be Georges Méliès, one of the first filmmakers and the father of special effects. Opportunity to see the icon’s backstory and how he did it are as enchanting as the story itself. Beautifully shot and acted. Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Morantz, Jude Law…
Words and Pictures (2013) Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen play a fine art painter and an advanced writing teacher who find themselves competing at the prep school that employs them as to which is more validly expressive, images or words. He’s a high functioning alcoholic womanizer. She’s a famous artist angry about losing control to increasingly crippling rheumatoid arthritis. You can guess what happens, but the journey is smart and fun, not Hollywood. Binoche does her own painting.
A Thousand Times Good Night (2013) also stars Juliette Binoche, here as a photo journalist obsessed with exposing the atrocities of war. (Director Erik Poppe works from his own experience.) Documentation of a group of female suicide bombers in Afghanistan is bone chillingly realistic. After being wounded and despite her husband’s objections, the photographer goes back …insistent daughter in tow, using the excuse of humanitarian work in Africa. Things don’t go as planned. Executed with respect and verisimilitude.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018 ) by Joel and Ethan Coen. Six tales of life and violence in the Old West, following a singing gunslinger, a bank robber, a traveling impresario, an elderly prospector, a wagon train, and a perverse pair of bounty hunters. Black comedy as only the brothers conceive it. Everything ends in period barbarity. Deadpan stylization makes it work. Tim Blake Nelson, Willie Watson, Clancy Brown.
Change in The Air (2018) A quiet young woman moves into a pretty, mostly elderly neighborhood. She’s polite to those who approach, but keeps to herself. Unusually, an enormous bag of mail is delivered to her door every day. This makes everyone curious and one nosy neighbor determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Birds play an important part in the gentle fantasy. Acting is authentic. Rachel Brosnahan (before The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), M. Emmett Walsh, Aidan Quinn, Mary Beth Hurt, Olympia Dukakis.
Suffragette (2015) The beginning of the women’s rights movement in the United Kingdom. Suffragettes campaigned for votes for middle-class, property-owning women and believed in not always possible peaceful protest. Well researched and truly horrifying, the film puts a human face on what women went through to be recognized and considered. Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whitshaw.
The Shawshank Redemption (2004) A non-fantasy, highly psychological Stephen King piece about the shape and toll of incarcerated lives, friendship, a wrongly imprisoned man, his cleverly gaming a corrupt warden and the system. Perhaps not since the very different 1962 film Birdman of Alcatraz (Burt Lancaster), has cinema given us a good look at prison life. Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton.
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