My Neighbor Totoro

The climax of My Neighbor Totoro doesn’t involve the Volvo-sized hamster of the title, nor does it involve a sick mother who can only be cured by magic – it involves only a five-year-old girl who is lost and scared because she thinks that she can. Like childhood the film involves a lot of running around and laughing and getting grass stains in exotic places. And it drifts into genuine fear, and magic saves the day.

The African Queen

Movies of this kind had a habit of staging an adventure but keeping emotions safe and detached, with characters that went through the bother of dressing in jungle wear but without the bother of acting beyond their British parlors. But here Huston aims at unprecedented realism in confecting a gritty jungle for his two stars to get entangled in, particularly in the unsightly pairing of the two leads themselves, who at first seem no more compatible than they really would be.

The Incredibles

The film blasts an affectionate symphony of action spy movie set pieces, which Bird composes with such a self-believing style that he reminds me less of a director than of a virtuoso performer. And even they become a back-drop to what is essentially a mid-life crisis film, about a man who misses himself so much that he doesn’t even notice he has a family. Bird offers a genre fattened on mythic pretension a trimming alternative of joyous energy and dazzling characters.

Battle Royale

Fukasaku proves to be a master of the micro-story, the combinations of tiny joys and creeping terrors into one huge, fleeting, emotional whole. After decades of cultural regression, he evokes Japanese cinema’s desperate, horrific roar. It has a primal beauty, of the kind that will always be repressed, misunderstood.

Punch-Drunk Love

At the core of the Sandler character is an unwillingness to be stepped on, a rebellious energy merely playacting as perverted. His films have never taken notice of him, but it seems like we’ve been doing it all along. And Anderson, a Sandler fan first, saw an old-timey romance at the center of a geek’s just rage at a society in which he doesn’t fit.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

A rom-com in which two conflicted lovers try to forget each other by hammering on actual drugs wouldn’t be more surprised with itself than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is with its own matter-of-fact science fiction substitute. Kaufman has made the 2001: A Space Odyssey of love affairs.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

In Spade we find the perennial dark hero, the guy with toughness stitching up all the broken promises and empty bottles. Here’s the lusty dame with her own agenda. Here’s the story-less plot of dialogic violence. A villain like a plaster figure of deadly sins. A night capped by the hardest goodbye of the movies.