Director: Jacques Tourneur (Night of the Demon)
Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph, Jack HoltIn Brief: The first and in some ways the best (certainly it made the most money) of the famous nine-movie series made by producer Val Lewton at RKO in the 1940s, Cat People (1942) offered audiences something a little different in that it suggested its horrors more than it depicted them. (Ironically, it also introduced a new kind of shock effect — one still in use today.) The story of a young Serbian immigrant (Simone Simon) who believes she will turn into a cat (specifically, a panther) should her husband (Kent Smith) make love to her, wasn't quite like any horror movie before — nor was the film's psychological approach. The style of the film would soon become its own formula — just as predictable as those it was trying to supplant — but here, it's fresh and effective.
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Director: Richard Curtis (About Time)
Starring: Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Alan RickmanIn Brief: Writer Richard Curtis' first film as a director is easily the best-loved of the three he's made. In terms of story lines, it's the most complex. In terms of pure, unadulterated joy, it is without equal from just about any filmmaker. Looking back on it after 10 years, Love Actually (2003) is also the only true Christmas holiday classic that this century has produced. It is an impeccable film with a flawless cast who are all at their best. Plus, it's the movie that introduced a lot of American viewers to Bill Nighy — and for that alone, we should be eternally grateful.
Genre: British Invasion Comedy-Drama
Director: Karel Reisz (Isadora)
Starring: David Warner, Vanessa Redgrave, Robert Stephens, Irene Handl, Bernard BresslawIn Brief: David Warner stars in his signature role as Morgan Delt — the young man deemed "a suitable case for treatment" in Karel Reisz's best and best-known film. It's the first film that can be said to be a part of the 1960s British film invasion that starts to question the hollowness of "Swinging England." It is a tale of good communist boy (he was raised as such by his mother) — an artist with a gorilla fixation and a grim determination to keep wealthy wife Vanessa Redgrave from divorcing him. Funny, oddly touching and ultimately disturbing.
Genre: Fantasticated Comedy Romance
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Micmacs)
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Lorella Cravotta, Serge MerlinIn Brief: The Asheville Film Society kicks off a month of holiday treats with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's most popular film, Amélie (2001), the movie that introduced the world to the charms of Audrey Tautou in the title role. It's not actually a Christmas movie, but its red and green color scheme makes it feel like a wonderfully wrapped Christmas present — and a delightful gift it is. It's endlessly inventive and contains just about everything you could want in one movie — romance, comedy, mystery, suspense, fantasy and just a generally good time — as it follows our heroine on her journey of good deeds and self-realization.
Genre: Surrealist Comedy on Religion
Director: Luis Buñuel
Starring: Paul Frenkeur, Laurent Terzieff, Edith Scob, Bernard VerleyIn Brief: Luis Buñuel’s playfully cheeky comedy about Catholicism finds the iconoclast surrealist and avowed atheist ("I'm still an atheist, thank God") in a surprisingly mellow mood. Oh, the film has its outrages against the Church and clearly finds religion very foolish indeed, but there's no real anger in this one. It's almost something of a romp. The biggest potential problem is that it works on the assumption that the viewer has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Catholicism.
Genre: Christian Anti-drug Gore Horror
Director: Brad F. Grinter, Steve Hawkes
Starring: A bunch of people you never heard of before and never will hear of again.In Brief: There is absolutely no excuse why Blood Freak was ever made, and there is somewhat less of an excuse as to why Orbit DVD is running it. That there is no excuse is, of course, exactly why this carbuncle on the posterior of cinema is being run — as a kind of Thanksgiving turkey. I will concede this much — it is the only faith-based, anti-drug gore movie with a turkey-headed monster ever made. That doesn't improve things much, but it makes it unique.
Director: René Clément
Starring: Georges Poujouly, Brigitte Fossey, Amédée, Laurence Badie, Madeleine BabuléeIn Brief: René Clément's Forbidden Games (1952) is one of those art-house staples where you can see what all the fuss was about, but may have a harder time actually feeling it. This simple tale — a young girl's parents (and dog) are killed in an air strike while fleeing the Nazis in WWII France — was expanded from a short film. Even at a brief 86 minutes, the strain sometimes shows. There are still moments of power and a perceptive look at childhood, but the much-praised naturalness of it all seems less remarkable now.
Genre: Sophisticated Romantic Comedy
Director: Billy Wilder
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, Walter Hampden, John WilliamsIn Brief: One of the most delightful and sparkling romantic comedies ever made, Billy Wilder's Sabrina -- the tale of a chauffeur's daughter who's besotted with the son of the rich family her father works for -- finds the usually cynical director in fine humor and high style. The impeccable stars -- Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden -- a funny, charming script and those shimmering Paramount production values do the rest. Shown here in a newly restored digital print, it's classic Hollywood at its best and as it was meant to be seen. Not to be missed.
Genre: MGM Musical Compilation
Director: Bud Friedgen, Michael J. Sheridan
Starring: June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Lena Horne, Howard Keel, Gene Kelly, Ann MillerIn Brief: Twenty years after they first milked the old MGM cow with That's Entertainment! (1974) and 18 years after they drained ol' Bossy dry with That's Entertainment, Part II, somebody got the idea that the old gal might have another quart in her. The result was That's Entertainment! III. Like its predecessors, it's worthless and misleading as film history, but it's also packed to the gills with stuff we've seen before and stuff we didn't need to see in the first place. The few points of genuine interest are from movies that never were finished, movies that were recast or movies that lost scenes.
Director: Peter Bogdanovich (What's Up, Doc?)
Starring: Ryan O'Neal, Tatum O'Neal, Madeline Kahn, John Hillerman, P.J. JohnsonIn Brief: Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon (1973) — the beguiling tale of a Bible-selling con man and the little girl who may or may not be his daughter traveling through the Depression-era midwest — found the filmmaker at the peak of his career and his popularity. Whether he ever made another film this good is open to debate, but he would never again make such a crowd-pleaser.
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