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The Criticwire Survey: Recommended Viewing For An Aspiring Cinephile

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by Matt Singer
June 11, 2012 9:57 AM
15 Comments
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"The 400 Blows."
Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you the responses in The Criticwire Survey.  We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters.  The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post.  But first, this week's question:

Q: This week's question is more of a request, and it comes from Criticwire contributor Rania Richardson, who writes:

"I mentor a 14-year-old from Harlem and nothing would make me happier then to have her enjoy 'art house' movies.  She goes to Hollywood movies in chain theaters, and doesn't particularly like what she sees.  Of course, the fact that she's African-American makes it even harder for me to find movies that I think would speak to her. She is sophisticated and would probably not mind some subtitles and nontraditional narratives. Help!"

So help Rania out: what one "art house" movie would you recommend Rania show her 14-year-old mentee and aspiring cinephile?

The critics' answers:

Cole AbaiusFilm School Rejects:

"I wish I had more titles, but this is a tough one. The first that came to mind was 'Black Orpheus.' It has some adult themes, but it's a beautiful film about love and the difficulties that that foolish notion has in store for us mere mortals. As for other candidates? 'Rushmore,' 'Coraline,' Cuaron's 'A Little Princess,' 'Whale Rider,' 'My Neighbor Totoro' (really any Ghibli), and 'Pan's Labyrinth.' Plus, there are a ton of classic films that are friendly for that age range -- depending on how loose you want to get with the definition of "art house." Mine is pretty loose."

Danny BowesTor.com/Movies By Bowes:

"Gillo Pontecorvo's 'The Battle of Algiers.' It's got all the vitamins and minerals (read: documentary-like realism, radical politics, inspirational fervor) a growing cinephile needs."

Christopher CampbellDocBlog

"Going by what little we know of this person, I think it best to just name a film we think would be a good start for anyone interested in venturing outside of mainstream Hollywood entertainment. Since I’m a documentary enthusiast, I might as well select a nonfiction film with the idea that maybe that’s what she’s looking for. Again, it’s difficult to come up with the perfect gateway without knowing what the person’s interests are, so I choose 'The Thin Blue Line,' one of the most entertaining docs with crossover potential, as it plays as a great detective story regardless of its being true, and it exhibits the greatest amount of power the medium holds. If she doesn’t like it, well maybe movies just aren’t her thing."

Matt CohenMeets Obsession:

"I think I was about that age and first saw Jim Jarmusch's 'Down By Law' and thought 'Wow, they make movies like this?' and started seeking out indie and 'art house' movies I'd never heard of. In Rania's case I think she should absolutely go with Robert Townsend's 'Hollywood Shuffle.' Townsend's sly satirization of racial stereotypes in Hollywood is dynamic, groundbreaking, and hilarious, requiring just enough of its audience's wit to realize the grand gesture it makes. A perfect introduction to the anti-Hollywood world of 'art house' cinema for a 14-year old."

John DeCarliFilmCapsule:

"It might be liberating for your mentee to see interesting depictions of city life or of adolescence, so I've got two suggestions. The rawness and immediacy of the French New Wave might appeal to your sophisticated young friend, so why not try the unapologetic truth of 'The 400 Blows?' For something more contemporary but still off the mainstream radar, I'd recommend 'George Washington' as a lyrical and unique portrait of youth."

Tim Grierson, Deadspin/Screen International:

"I would recommend showing her 'Hoop Dreams,' which I think is one of the finest examples of what documentary film can achieve. I don't know if she likes basketball -- or sports, for that matter -- but 'Hoop Dreams' is so powerful that it transcends its subject matter. Also, since she's 14 and has her whole life ahead of her, I think she'll appreciate the journey undertaken by high-schoolers William Gates and Arthur Agee in the movie as they try to position themselves for a career in the NBA. The movie is all about the social, cultural and economic realities that keep young people from reaching their dreams, and filmmakers Steve James, Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx utilize the documentary form for its highest purpose: to show us our world as it is today. In recent years, documentaries have too often become glib infotainment -- it's as if they're afraid to be genuinely thoughtful lest they get dismissed as being boring -- but 'Hoop Dreams' towers above them with its seriousness of purpose. And for all that, it's also more entertaining and engrossing than any Hollywood movie out right now."

Jordan HoffmanScreenCrush:

"It's hard to say what is 'art house,' obviously. Need it be on a musty film studies syllabus? While it is hard to believe that something I saw as a young 'un, in a theater, for entertainment might be considered a 'cultural vegetable,' I offer up Woody Allen's 'Hannah and Her Sisters.' To a 14-year old raised on today's popular garbage, a film like this may as well be Eisenstein. But is it *that* different from one of those romantic comedies with two dozen characters like Valentine's Day? Well, I wouldn't know, because I haven't seen Valentine's Day.  But you catch my drift -- lots interesting storylines of romantic mishegas, some funny, some sad, some filled with angst.  Only, of course, 'Hannah and Her Sisters' is a masterpiece.  Hopefully it could lead this young woman to better things, and won't be such a shock to the system. Additionally: I don't buy that this particular girl's African-American-ness means that she'll have a tough time identifying with ANY movie she sees. She's a New Yorker, and New Yorkers -- all New Yorkers -- are international. If she was from Mississippi that'd be a different story, but let's give this young woman some cred."

John Keefer51Deep.com:

"Can't go wrong with Jean Cocteau's 'Beauty and the Beast,' a familiar story so beautifully told I'm tearing up just thinking about it. And anything by Powell and Pressburger. You wouldn't label them 'art house' but if you're just going for great go 'The Red Shoes.' Kids like dancing still, right?"

Adam KempenaarFilmspotting:

"I think Vittorio De Sica's 1948 neorealist classic 'The Bicycle Thief' is a perfect entree into the world of arthouse/foreign language film. Young adult, adult, middle age... inner city, suburbs... doesn't matter. With a running time of just 93 minutes, it shouldn't be overwhelming for anyone, and the stakes are as straightforward and dramatic as you can get. Man needs job; man needs bike for job; man's bike is stolen; man tries to regain bike. Only his pride, humanity and the future survival of his family are on the line. It's heavy stuff in an accessible package, and a must-see."

Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies/Some Came Running:

"It's certainly an unusual question and it's very kind of you to pose it on behalf of Rania. I honestly have no idea. Frankly, to be told the pitchee is an African-American girl from Harlem tells me nothing. Is she looking for something 'real,' something 'relatable,' or something fanciful? You know, 'Zazie in the Metro' and 'The 400 Blows' are BOTH 'art house' films, both French, both from the same period, both with young protagonists that their directors are sympathetic to...and both ENTIRELY different films. Now granted I am delighted by them both and loved the Truffaut when I was this girl's age. But... does this young woman like mind-blowing visuals? 'The Red Shoes.' Does she mind having her heart broken? 'Kes.' Has she seen enough of 'life' to dig 'The Connection?' I can see aesthetically/intellectually curious teens getting into any of these pictures but even if I knew more about this person I'm not sure I'd be so presumptuous as to propose anything as a surefire art house 'open sesame.'"

Peter LabuzaLabuzaMovies.com/PressPlay:

"When I think of my own experience learning to switch from more mainstream films that we are all brought up watching (my kids will only be watching post-60s Godard of course), I remember the first film that really challenged how I watched films beforehand, and that was Quentin Tarantino's 'Pulp Fiction.' The film works so well because it has its obvious pleasures -- the cool dialogue and the gratuitous violence -- but it also has it's winding narrative, it's emphasis on making the mundane into myth, and so many other elements that break what we are used to seeing (though, 18 years later, many of Tarantino's breakthroughs have become mainstream). But often, works like Tarantino's work so well because they come from genres we know well, giving us the particular pleasures we are used to, while playing in those structures to create unique visual stories. Plus, seeing 'Pulp Fiction' will certainly inspire someone to check out 'Band of Outsiders,' 'Kiss Me Deadly,' and other films it references."

Will LeitchDeadspin:

"'The Class.' I suspect this will make her feel better about her school. (And maybe help her understand the teachers.)"

Christy LemireAssociated Press/What The Flick?!:

"Well I suspect a lot of people are going to pick this but my immediate thought was 'The 400 Blows.' Youthful angst and rebellion are universally relatable, no matter the language or time period. And that famous, long shot at the end is just so beautiful. Also, if she loves film, I bet she'd dig 'Cinema Paradiso.' I know this isn't the most fashionable choice, but admit it: The Ennio Morricone score alone gets you choked up."

John LichmanFreelance:

"'Kikujiro.' It may not be the first choice when folks consider Takeshi Kitano, but it's an art film that masquerades as a family picture. It's a great representation of what you can do with adaptation, since Kitano drew heavily from 'The Wizard of Oz," but also made it inherently Japanese with use of referencing the tengu to playing children's games. It's not a hard art film, but a colorful entry drug that could get kids into less formulaic expectations with how to compose a shot."

Joey MagidsonThe Awards Circuit:

"There's no limit to the possibilities here ('The Battle of Algiers' nearly was my choice), but I would suggest that the young lady be shown 'Half Nelson,' which should be like an oasis in the desert when compared to how similar stories have been treated in Hollywood.  A strong female co-lead, a realistic take on New York City public schools, and just overall a magnificent and human tale.  I think it would turn her on to a whole new type of film, not just what's at the multiplex."

Mike McGranaghanThe Aisle Seat:

"I'm a believer that, when it comes to art house films, you don't throw someone into the deep end of the pool. I still remember being assigned to watch 'Blow Up' in college. I wasn't prepared for a film so abstract at that point in my life, and I resented the confusion it made me feel. So for that reason, I'd recommend this young woman be shown a picture that's fairly straightforward in plot but more complex in theme. And if it was something she might identify with, all the better. This being the case, I'd recommend Sofia Coppola's 'The Virgin Suicides.' It has an easy-to-understand story with a lot of rich, underlying meaning. She might also relate to its portrait of adolescent infatuation and rebellion. Plus, it's a darn good flick."

Rudie ObiasShockYa.com:

"I feel I can recommend Spike Lee's new film, 'Red Hook Summer.' The movie comes out this August but I got a chance to watch it at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It's not a clean or cohesive film but it's full of imagination, excitement and joy with a very dark tone and feeling. It takes a look at growing up in Red Hook in Brooklyn but makes this neighborhood feel like a fairy tale world. It's a film that informs us of the pitfalls of growing up while showing us that evil comes in unlikely packages. I feel 'Red Hook Summer' and 'Crooklyn' are great ways to get into Spike Lee's filmography and art-house cinema in general. I'd also recommend Hayao Miyazaki's 'Spirited Away' as another great entry point into world and anime cinema for teenagers."

Nick SchagerSlant Magazine:

"While I'd suggest that Rania's 14-year-old mentee try out as many different types of art-house films as possible, a good starting point would be 'Run Lola Run' -- an accessibly fast-paced, philosophically inclined art-house hit that would likely prove an exciting and unique introduction to the headier genre pleasures afforded by both independent and foreign cinema."

R. Emmet Sweeney, Movie Morlocks:

"I will recommend the one film I wish I watched when I was 14, Jean Vigo's 'Zero For Conduct' (1933). Anarchically funny, it enacts every rebellious fantasy a schoolkid could dream of. A group of rambunctious boarding school urchins instigate food fights, pillow battles and toss garbage during the commemoration day. It's also beautifully shot and all that, and teaches important lessons about ignoring authority. In French and black and white, but if even if she doesn't like it, it's over in 45 minutes!"

Andrew WelchAdventures in Cinema:

"Recommendations are always tricky without knowing the person in question, but just as tricky is the term 'art house.' Are all art house films from major distributors really so strange or difficult that they couldn't just be wide releases? I think 'Moonrise Kingdom' is a great example of a movie that's unconventional but could win over (almost) anyone of any age. But if I were going to recommend a foreign film, I might recommend one of the first foreign films I ever saw -- 'Cinema Paradiso.' I think it's a good movie for a young person to get their feet wet with, and if she's a cinephile there's also the fact that it's a love letter to movies."

Chase WhaleNext Movie/Twitch Film/MovieWeb:

"'City of God.' At the beginning of college, I was struggling with watching foreign films. I just started wearing glasses (too terrified of contacts) and had problems with subtitles. I had to tilt my head into an unpleasant position to read, which meant that the rim of my glasses would block the action. When I saw 'City of God,' that all changed. I became so entranced with the movie, my glasses were not a bother, and that spilled over to every film I watched that came with subtitles. I'm pretty sure I just didn't learn -- at that moment -- how to read faster, but how to become completely hypnotized by a movie which requires reading."

Alan ZilbermanBrightest Young Things/Tiny Mix Tapes:

"I think Rania should show her mentee 'Ballast,' the patient drama written and directed by Lance Hammer. It's got elements of a coming-of-age story and she may find the Mississippi Delta setting haunting. The pacing is a little slow, especially at the beginning, but I think a curious 14 year-old is more open to a movie like it than the typical adult."

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on June 11, 2012:

The Most Popular Response: "Moonrise Kingdom"
Other Movies Receiving Multiple Votes: "Prometheus"

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15 Comments

  • Travis Bickle | July 31, 2012 4:00 PMReply

    I know this post is an old one, but it really affected me to the point that I had defend this "African" - American girl from the most misinformed commentators. First, i would like to bring attention to Rania's statement: " Of course, the fact that she's African-American makes it even harder for me to find movies that I think would speak to her." I find this a bit offensive, and for obvious reason. When I was 14, I was a black male with Latin roots, one of six kids, living in a three bedroom apartment in a per-war Bronx building, a few blocks away from the public housing. My upbringing consisted of anime, comics, video games, drawing, and music. One day, my mother hands me the phone and says it's my brother from another mother (literally). I found it weird that I've never met this 30 something year before, yet it made sense, because due to my father's love of women, he had a few paramours, and lacked the obedience to protect himself from having multiple offspring, his legacy lives on. Now this brother, was very knowledgeable about all things cinema, he never looked down upon me for never knowing who, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kubrick, Kurosawa, or even Welles; he just simply took me to the Landmark sunshine, Angelika, Film Forum and opened my mind to their masterworks. He wasn't concerned wither my race would hinder me from understanding or even enjoying film, as long as it told a great story, and was visually engaging, he knew that I would relate to the dialogue that was being projected on the screen. You see, when you're honest, you are daring. The courage to completely immerse a mind to the arts, is the biggest reward a mentor could give. Don't concern yourself with appearance, just perform, and the rest will come to fruition.

  • Joe G | June 17, 2012 6:07 PMReply

    What about the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, like:

    Amelie
    City of Lost Children
    Micmacs, etc?

    Also,

    Brother From Another Planet
    Black Dynamite
    Badass

    P.S.
    Numerous films talked about here as well:
    http://politicalfilm.wordpress.com/

  • Laurie Kirby | June 17, 2012 5:25 PMReply

    Without being crucified here, am I correct that these are all men (probably mostly white) positing on what a 14 Afro-American girl should watch? Really. I fell in love with films watching Frederick Wiseman, Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles. How about Raisin in the Sun, Shawshank Redemption and Far from Heaven? Maybe mainstream but with people of color.

  • andrew | June 13, 2012 6:47 PMReply

    Chungking Express fothewin.

  • The Astonishing Movie Moment Page | June 11, 2012 7:26 PMReply

    I recommend Rania show her 14-year-old mentee and aspiring cinephile Steven Spielberg's 1977 UFO epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Here are what some respected critics have said about the film: Jonathan Rosenbaum of The Chicago Reader says Close Encounters is "one of Steven Spielberg's best films (1977), and perhaps still the best expression of his benJonathan Rosenbaum ign, dreamy-eyed vision. Humanity's first contact with alien beings proves to be a cause for celebration and a form of showbiz razzle-dazzle that resembles a slowly descending chandelier in a movie palace. The events leading up to this epiphany are a mainly well-orchestrated buildup through which several diverse individuals—Richard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Melinda Dillon—are drawn to the site where this spectacle takes place. Very close in overall spirit and nostalgic winsomeness to the fiction of Ray Bradbury, with beautiful cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond that deservedly won an Oscar. This is dopey Hollywood mysticism all right, but thanks to considerable craft and showmanship, it packs an undeniable punch. With Teri Garr, Cary Guffey, and Bob Balaban.

    James Berardinelli of Reelviews wrote "Close Encounters is one of those rare films that works equally as well for children and for adults. Kids see this film as a promise of what might be out there and an unthreatening look at the possibilities that the universe holds. How many UFO believers today began their fascination with alien life after seeing this movie as a child? Adults, even skeptics, see Close Encounters as an accomplished fairy tale. Whether UFOs are real or not, this movie beautifully postulates the best of all alternatives - that the government cares about first contact and about the welfare of its citizens, that the aliens are benevolent, and that we can take comfort from the fact that "we are not alone". Remarkably, a film like Close Encounters speaks to the adult in the child and the child in the adult."

    I First saw Close Encounters when I was 11 years old. On September 30, 2011, I got to see it again in a movie theater on huge movie screen. Close Encounters of the Third is a movie that is just as awsome to see now as it was when I first saw it 34 years ago.

  • MbFilmmaker | June 11, 2012 2:44 PMReply

    When dealing with young people it's important to remember there's a significant context gap. More contemporary films that lead back into the canon help bridge that gap. For that reason, I'd recommend a film like "Brick". It makes full use of the grammar of film noir but gives enough contemporary handles for a sophisticated youth to hold on to.

  • Adam | June 11, 2012 2:39 PMReply

    Actually, I'd recommend A Separation. It's a great gateway to the wider world of cinema. I'd also toss Tokyo Story out there.

  • Rania | June 11, 2012 2:37 PMReply

    Thank you for your suggestions, folks!

    Nick Schager's pick RUN LOLA RUN stands out because (and you guys didn't know) she speaks a little German. There is also a cool-looking female protagonist and action.

    I'm going to review this list in depth and watch the films I haven't seen myself (such as RED HOOK SUMMER per Rudie Obias) and get her started on a film education. Thanks!

  • Edward | June 13, 2012 6:15 AM

    If she's willing to read subtitles, then she absolutely must see the French film INTOUCHABLES. It might still be in theaters in the States. My French is non-existant and German is just so, so and I saw the film with German subtitles and laughed my ass off. Sometimes you can craft a cinephile with contemporary films too. Omar Si is a comedic genius and plays a character who comes from a part of Paris comparable to New York's Harlem. If she's speaking German, I recommend BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX, it's also contemporary (2008) and also can educate her in a really entertaining way on the history of East and West Germany. It's rated R in the sates, but rated 12 in Germany... so it's up to you if you think it's too violent. I think it's fine. Though a little more emotional and difficult, I also highly recommend THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Das Leben der Anderen), but that might be a bit too old for her. However that was given a 15 rating in England... again it's your decision. You don't always need to dig into the deeeeep past to craft a cinephile. Good luck!

  • MDL | June 11, 2012 2:18 PMReply

    The kid is 14. Some of these choices are a bit heady. What 14 year old is up for watching Bergman? Or even The Red Shoes? I recommend some good old Buster Keaton films. I think the doorway to cinephilia begins with good quality laughter.

  • Tyler | June 11, 2012 12:32 PMReply

    Gran Torino is the one film that made me realize that there was more out there than just silly comedies and bad dramas. It's pretty well-known, but a great film regardless.

  • MAL | June 11, 2012 12:17 PMReply

    Bergman's "Fanny and Alexander". It has everything: religion and spirituality, family drama, horror, comedy - with some of the most stunning cinematography ever. It is also a story told with epic grandeur through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy and witnessed by a 9-year-old girl. While it has no connection to inner-city life, the connections to growing up, and all that entails (love, loss, fear, stubborn resistence) will alway be relevant.

  • Kenji Fujishima | June 11, 2012 12:06 PMReply

    I wasn't able to come up with anything before the deadline for this week's survey, but only NOW, after reading through some of these responses, do I have a suggestion for Rania: Charles Burnett's "Killer of Sheep." Beyond the fact that the film features a predominantly African-American cast of characters, perhaps this 14-year-old mentee might find something eye-opening about the film's seamless intermingling of gritty realism and deeply felt lyricism. At the very least, "Killer of Sheep" might be as revelatory in that regard to the possibilities of cinema for reflecting human experience the way Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets" was to me.

  • Squasher88 | June 11, 2012 11:03 AMReply

    Most definitely "City of God". It really made me realize the art of cinema.

  • ottomarcos | June 11, 2012 10:46 AMReply

    I agree with those critics who suggest "The 400 Blows". What a great film about the angst of being young and misunderstood!

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