Evan Davis on Orson Welles's OTHELLO

Friday, February 6th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay discusses Orson Welles' Othello and was written by UW Alum and former Cinematheque staff member Evan Davis. Othello screens in a new restoration in the Cinematheque's regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall, on Saturday, February 7 at 7 p.m.

By Evan Davis

By virtue of its production and for its aesthetic qualities (and trust me, the two are interwoven as tightly as thread), Orson Welles's Othello represents a rebirth in his filmmaking career. It was the first film he made in Europe; it was the first film he financed independently, mostly from his own pocket; and it was the first film to abandon his trademark deep-focus, mobile long-take style for one more reliant on editing to provide its stylistic ballast. The fact remains, however, that Othello is one of Welles's greatest triumphs--and one of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever committed to screen. It would serve as the template for Welles's working methods for the rest of his life.

Welles had escaped both the artistic and political turmoil of postwar Hollywood in 1947, just after finishing his version of Macbeth for Republic Pictures. A year later, an Italian producer asked him to make Othello. It seemed only fitting, as Welles was a great admirer of the play and had played the Moor at various points throughout his life. Financing was put together, and a plan was in place to shoot multiple scenes in single takes at a studio near Nice, France. But of course, as it would so often for the rest of Welles's career, the producer's finances dried up at the last minute. Welles was not deterred, however. Instead of building sets in a studio and shooting long takes, he decided to continue working, shooting on location in such far-flung places as Italy, Morocco and Tunisia. A simple enough fix, right? Wrong.

Welles was financing the movie from his own bankroll. That bankroll would quickly run out, and the cast and crew would have to shut down production. Welles would then take acting jobs (The Third Man, Prince of Foxes and The Black Rose among them) to raise more money to keep going. The obvious problem was that his actors and crew members wouldn't always be available at the same time, as months would pass between production sessions. Welles was then forced to use editing to maintain continuity within a scene. So rigorous were his scheduling and budgetary limitations that locations often moved a thousand miles from shot to shot, even though Iago (Micheal MacLiammoir) may only pass through a door in the scene. (Both MacLiammoir and Welles told a famous story of the scene in which Roderigo is murdered: Welles had ordered the costumes for the scene, but they never arrived. He only had so much time to film it, so on the fly, at the suggestion of his production designer, Alexandre Trauner, he converted a fish market into a Turkish bathhouse, shot the actors topless, and finished the scene.) All in all, the film took three years to film and edit.

How did Welles prevent Othello from becoming a jumbled mess? He was very conscious to obey the basic rules of classical continuity editing. Eyelines always match up from shot to reverse-shot; matches on action are smooth and graceful; lighting cues are consistent and properly sourced within the frame; even the locations themselves are visually complementary. Welles shot for three years on multiple continents with multiple cinematographers, with no script supervisor, and yet the film is seamless. To say that this is a phenomenal achievement is understating the case.

Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine the film without its extraordinary location work. Welles put his camera in every possible place within castles, on turrets, behind doors, above stone columns. His vision of Cyprus is an expressionist nightmare, with chiaroscuro pools of light piercing a labyrinth of secrets and betrayals. Welles's images are graphically overloaded with patterns and barriers, separating characters, always peering in with nefarious intent. The final, high-angle shot of Othello's death is cut with such perfectly brilliant force that Welles may never have made so starkly lonely an image for the rest of his career. Chimes at Midnight is Welles's heart, but Othello is the darkness inside his soul.

The version screening at the Cinematheque demands some commentary. Welles completed Othello in 1952, and then re-edited it slightly for its American release in 1955. The inferior dubbing equipment found in Europe at the time made the dialogue synchronization a little precarious. In 1992, Welles's youngest daughter and Othello's rights holder, Beatrice, commissioned a restoration to resync the dialogue. Beatrice and restoration producer Michael Dawson went further, re-recording the score in stereo based on a flawed source, and altering many of the film's sound effects. Some mistakes were corrected upon the restoration's release to home video, but the fact remains that the soundtrack is not Welles's. Carlotta Films recently digitally restored the film, and there is no doubt that this edition looks astonishingly beautiful; however, the same soundtrack from the 1992 restoration remains.


Sunday, February 1st, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay on the battle for box-office supremacy between the 1984 breakdancing movies Breakin' and Beat Street, was written by Jenny Oyallon-Koloski, Fellow in Film in the UW Communication Arts Department at UW Madison. A 35mm print of Breakin' will kick off our Marquee Monday: Cannon Fodder series on Monday, February 3, in the Marquee Theater at Union South. The screening will be preceded by 20 minutes of vintage Cannon Films trailers!

By Jenny Oyallon-Koloski

1984 was a busy year for break dancing in the movies. Hollywood studios, afraid that hip hop would be a short-lived phenomenon, attempted to capitalize upon the South Bronx-based artistic movement that was gaining awareness and popularity. “The breakdance tornado approaches,” touts Variety, announcing the May release of Breakin'. The trade journal describes the dance-centered movie as a “surprise break-dancing hit,” but Cannon Films went to extreme measures to ensure its success.

Like the rivalry between the dancing crews of its plot, Breakin’ had to compete for audience attention from Orion Pictures’ Beat Street, another “contemporary new directions musical film” as Variety puts it. Beat Street was certainly lauded as the more prestigious film, with Harry Belafonte as a co-producer, location shooting in New York City (as opposed to the Los-Angeles-based production of Breakin' ), and a world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Citing the “hourly” change in youth market musical trends, Beat Street’s producers rushed production of their film to ensure they didn’t miss out on the vogue of the break dancing craze. So they must have been infuriated to learn that Cannon Films was also rushing the release of Breakin’, now scheduled to appear in theaters one month before their film. Beat Street even had to share its Cannes limelight with Breakin’ and two other films that contained references to the popular new dance form, Body Rock and Prison Dancer.

Things went downhill for Beat Street from there. Variety’s review of the film was positive, but their prediction—“success of the recent ‘Breakin’’ bodes well for the b.o. potential of this much larger Harry Belafonte-David V. Picker production”—didn’t quite pan out as expected. Cannon was able to “steal a march on Orion,” says Variety, “whose more expensive breakdance and music pic ‘Beat Street’ opened Friday.” When Beat Street finally hit theaters in June, it received only lukewarm enthusiasm from audiences. In contrast, the Variety reviewer predicted Breakin’s box-office success, given its low cost, light tone, and entertaining breakdancing sequences. Try as they might, Beat Street’s producers couldn’t make up the box office momentum Breakin’ gained from its earlier release.

Breakin’ did well on two additional counts. While the U.S. Catholic Conference deemed most of 1984’s film content “morally offensive” or for “adults only,” as Variety reports, Cannon producers could rest easy knowing that Breakin’ was one of the few films of the year deemed appropriate for adults and adolescents. Cannon Films also wasted no time putting a sequel into production. Variety ads for Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo appeared only a month after the initial film’s release, with Cannon modestly heralding the new film as “The Making of the 7th Major” (despite the superior title, Breakin’ 2 did not live up to the widespread success of its predecessor, though it does get a shout-out in Gilmore Girls [S2 E12] as a contender in “the worst film festival ever”).

The competition for audiences between Breakin’ and Beat Street was more balanced in album sales. The importance of selling pop soundtracks and singles alongside their cinematic counterparts was an important marketing strategy for both films. Mutual interest existed between Hollywood and record companies to produce films with “pop-oriented soundtracks” that could help sell the albums and vice versa, with Flashdance (1983) and Footloose (1984) as recent, successful models. Variety suggests Breakin’s album was a hit for Polygram Records, with the soundtrack “shaping up as the diskery’s biggest soundtrack LP since ‘Flashdance.’” Atlantic Records used a cluster release strategy for Beat Street’s singles, a relatively new way of selling records and building hype for the movie right before it hit theaters by flooding the radio waves with multiple singles. Based on this model, used successfully for the wildly popular Footloose and its soundtrack album, Atlantic had four of Beat Street’s singles in circulation while the film was in release. A loftier goal, per Variety, was the hope that the album would “help hip-hop to make the transition from an urban phenomenon to a more widely accepted form of mainstream entertainment,” with some help from a promotional video on hip-hop culture narrated by co-producer Harry Belafonte.

Beyond their cinematic rivalries, Breakin’ and its break dancing cinematic counterparts seem to have had some unexpected effects on dance culture in cities beyond New York. In July, when both Breakin’ and Beat Street were battling it out at the box office, city councilors in Boston were considering enacting an ordinance against public exhibitions, given the rise of breakers performing in the streets. In addition to the complaints about inconveniences to pedestrians, Variety reports, city officials expressed concerns over potential “lawsuits against the city if the dancers trip over the parking meters.” So much for the short-lived nature of break dancing that Hollywood anticipated.

Evan Davis on Orson Welles's 2nd & 3rd Features

Friday, January 30th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay discusses Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons and The Stranger and was written by UW Alum and former Cinematheque staff member Evan Davis. The Magnificent Ambersons screens in the Cinematheque's regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall, on Saturday, January 31 at 7 p.m., followed at 8:45 p.m. by The Stranger. Both films will screen in original 35mm prints.

So much of The Magnificent Ambersons has passed into the realm of myth. Orson Welles's second feature carries with it the inglorious reputation of potential unfulfilled, its lost elements never to be recovered. Joseph McBride has claimed that its original form, before the butchers at RKO got their hands on it, was likely to be "the greatest American film made up to that point," and it would be hard to argue, based on what remains. Citizen Kane certainly announced Welles to the world, but Ambersons was much closer to his heart. As a tragic and nostalgic portrait of Midwestern America—a time just before Welles's birth—the film is a heartbreaking elegy to lost time. But, of course, RKO didn't see it that way.

The history of Ambersons' fate is labyrinthine. A great many factors contributed to its final form and theatrical release. For many decades, however, RKO had successfully tarred Welles as a tyrant gone mad, wasting the studio's time and money on something pretentious and unentertaining. It was their job, RKO argued, to bring him to heel. The studio system was at the height of its power in 1941 and 1942, when Ambersons was being made. But as film historian and UW alum Douglas Gomery has demonstrated, Welles should be better understood as an independent filmmaker working within Hollywood. After all, he had his own production unit inside RKO. He wrote, produced, directed and starred in his own projects. His first contract guaranteed him final cut, a rarity for directors at the time. Welles enjoyed making mainstream art, but didn’t have much interest or gumption for being part of the economic structure offered by Hollywood.

Welles worked on numerous projects at once, rather than take on one film at a time. While filming Ambersons, he co-wrote, produced, and starred in Journey into Fear, shot simultaneously. He started developing an omnibus, It’s All True, a documentary about Brazil made at the behest of the Roosevelt administration. All of these projects, including Ambersons, happened in the months after the release of Citizen Kane—an extraordinary amount of work, especially considering that Welles was also producing radio and theater throughout that whole period. John Ford and Howard Hawks were great artists; one-man bands, they were not.

So, how did Citizen Kane become a sensation, while Ambersons was shunted to the dustbin of movie history? First and foremost, Welles negotiated away his right to final cut in order to get It’s All True made in the timeframe both he and RKO demanded. Second, he wasn’t in Hollywood to personally oversee the editing of Ambersons; he was down in Rio de Janeiro filming It’s All True. Third, editor Robert Wise was supposed to fly to Brazil with a workprint so that he and Welles could work on the film together; that never occurred, either due to flight restrictions during the war or because RKO prevented it. Fourth, RKO production chief George Schaefer was ousted and replaced by Charles Koerner in June 1942, who famously issued a memo with the letterhead, “showmanship, not genius.” No more stinging a rebuke to Welles and those who protected him could have been uttered. When all was said and done, Wise, along with assistant director Fred Fleck, business manager Jack Moss, and actor Joseph Cotten, had cut almost 40 minutes from the film, along with rewriting and re-shooting a great many scenes, including the ending.

The myth has persisted—strongly under the lasting influence of RKO’s publicity machine—that Welles was profligate in his handling of both Ambersons and It’s All True, and therefore the studio was justified in their behavior. Gomery even agrees with Ambersons’s editor and re-shoots director, Robert Wise, in claiming that the studio made the right decision in re-cutting and re-shooting the film. We’ll never know the answer, as the studio destroyed the footage. What we can evaluate is the remaining work, which remains a powerful, emotionally rich and tragic elegy to the power of memory and history, as told through a group of lovely, damaged people.

Welles couldn’t get a job as a director for over three years after Ambersons and It’s All True fell apart. His next mission was to demonstrate (though he didn’t have to) that he could bring a movie in on time and under budget—in other words, be a Hollywood filmmaker. The project he settled on was The Stranger (1946), a thriller set in a small Connecticut town about a government agent (Edward G. Robinson) trying to smoke out a Nazi (Welles) hiding in plain sight, just after the end of the war. The film is notable for being one of the first (if not the first) to use footage from Nazi concentration camps, and its appearance toward the film’s end is jarring and raw. Indeed, it is a documentary flourish with which Welles was often preoccupied, as seen in the “News on the March” sequence from Citizen Kane and the masterwork that is F for Fake. The Stranger is Welles at his most Hollywood, but its grotesque, warped vision of small town America, its political leanings, and its comically over-the-top violence render it very much of a piece with Welles’s narrative and thematic interests. Almost 30 minutes was cut from the film by producer Sam Spiegel, so not even Welles’s most Hollywood picture could be saved from the cutting room floor. By all appearances, this is his least significant work. But William Friedkin recently declaimed, quite emphatically, that The Stranger “is NOT minor Welles!!!” I am inclined to agree. At the very least, enjoy the four-minute lateral tracking shot that marks a murder in the woods, and Edward G. Robinson’s incredibly fun performance. The Stranger was Welles’s first thriller, but it certainly would not be his last.

Wisconsin's Own Agnes Moorehead!

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay on Agnes Moorehead and her performance in Citizen Kane was written by Evan Davis, UW Alum and former Cinematheque staff member


What is there left to say about Citizen Kane, the “greatest movie ever made” (or second-greatest, depending on who you read)? The stories of its production and release have been visited and re-visited, refuted and affirmed, analyzed and and analyzed and analyzed. On a personal level, the film was my cinephile origin story: A late-night viewing in September 2001, at the raw age of 16, changed my life forever. But even that experience has been picked through in the dark corners of my own psyche. Orson Welles’s first feature is a bleached skeleton on the dried riverbed of movie history, the vultures fat and happy from their feast. So I’m just going to talk about Agnes Moorehead, the most underrated actor of her generation.

Moorehead has deep Wisconsin roots. Her family moved to Reedsburg from St. Louis in 1919, when Moorehead was a young woman. She earned a Master’s degree in English at UW-Madison, working as a teacher throughout her young life. She studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, and just before turning 30, she decided to chase her childhood dream of being a star. But it wasn’t to be, not at first, anyway. Moorehead struggled to find work, going hungry for much of those early years in New York. Radio gave her a steady paycheck, and in 1937, the 36-year-old Moorehead met a hotshot 22-year-old theatre director who would become the catalyst for her nascent career: Orson Welles. Moorehead spent two years as part of the Mercury Theatre on the Air and Campbell Playhouse cast, in addition to playing Margo Lane opposite Welles’s Lamont Cranston in The Shadow. When Welles uprooted Mercury to Hollywood in late 1939, Moorehead went along. Citizen Kane was their first film, and dear old Agnes was off and running.

Moorehead’s role in Kane is not exactly a large one based on screen time; she’s in only one scene—two shots total—for all of four minutes. But as Mary, the mother of Charles Foster Kane, she may have the most important role in the whole film. She is, after all, the psychological engine that drives Kane for the rest of his life, the symbol of lost innocence, of love never received; Rosebud in the flesh.

Moorehead has to make quick work of her time onscreen in order to convey the importance of Mary’s position in relation to young Charlie, but also the importance of the decision she makes. Welles helps anchor those acting choices by using the famous long-take, reverse tracking shot that keeps the young Kane perfectly framed in the boarding house window while Mary signs her brand-new gold fortune—and Kane’s legal guardianship—over to Walter Thatcher’s (George Coulouris) bank in the foreground. Watch Moorehead in this first shot, the icy resolve in her face, curtly shutting down Kane’s father, Jim (Harry Shannon). It’s all business, an investment made for future return. Jim subtly shuts the window as she signs the papers, closing the link between Mary and Charles, however briefly. And in a feat of pure, unbridled power, the camera tracks forward again as Mary goes to open the window, restoring the maternal bond.

It’s the first part of that second shot where you realize that Mary Kane is not simply a woman doing what she thinks is best for her son, but is bearing the full, tragic weight of that decision. A part of her is being severed. She stares out the window in medium-close-up, Thatcher and Jim in deep-focus midground, framing her. She maintains the same steely resolve, but her pain boils underneath her face, simmering and seething with false placidity. Citizen Kane comes down to this face, and the single line she utters: “I’ve got his trunk all packed. I’ve had it packed for a week now…” Mary Kane is confident that her son will be better off. But she can barely suppress the tragedy of losing him to the pages of history. Most actors portray such a loss by using every facial contortion and bodily gesticulation in the book; Moorehead doesn’t move an inch.

Welles’s critics often like to paint him as a showboat, a clever trickster more interested in showing off with the camera than a director possessed of any emotional or thematic depth. One can charitably describe this position as foolish. The man knew what he wanted to convey in his work, and used the oft-unconventional, always expressive tools at his disposal to get there. But when it came down to it, he loved actors most of all, and knew how to get the best out of them. With Moorehead, he had a perfect foil. It’s not insignificant that Welles called her “one of the best in the world.” Moorehead’s greatest performance was probably Fanny Minafer in The Magnificent Ambersons, but in her four minutes of screen time in Citizen Kane, she set in motion the tragedy of Charles Foster Kane’s life, all while masking the anguish of doing so. Those two shots never fail to bring me to tears, and it’s all because of Agnes Moorehead’s quietly devastating performance.

Lea Jacobs' New Book!

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

By Amanda McQueen

We at UW Cinematheque are pleased to announce the release of a new book from our founder and former director Dr. Lea Jacobs, entitled Film Rhythm After Sound: Technology, Music, and Performance. Jacobs' book focuses on the early years of sound filmmaking and the evolving methods for synchronizing sound and image -- both technological and formal -- that transitioned us from the awkward first talkies to the comparatively advanced films of the late-1930s. In particular, Jacobs examines the strategies filmmakers employed during the early sound period to create cinematic rhythms. Looking beyond just the beat of the score or the speed of the editing, Jacobs analyzes the intricate relationships between music, dialogue, acting, and visual style that were made possible by the coming of sound.

Jacobs undertakes her analysis through a diverse set of case studies, which she combines with discussions of sound technologies and examinations of contemporary discourse on film tempo and rhythm. She begins with director Sergei Eisenstein's theory of rhythmic montage and an analysis of his collaboration with composer Sergei Prokofiev on Ivan the Terrible (1944). Jacobs then turns to a number of prototypical examples of early sound filmmaking, including:

  • Walt Disney cartoons like The Three Little Pigs (1933) and Playful Pluto (1934)
  • The Paramount operettas directed by Ernst Lubitsch and Rouben Mamoulian, such as Monte Carlo (1930) and Love Me Tonight (1932)
  • The early sound films of Howard Hawks, such as The Dawn Patrol (1930)

Through these examples, Jacobs shows how filmmakers in the early sound period experimented with different sound synchronization technologies and developed a variety of formal strategies to create rhythmically unified scenes. Jacobs thus demonstrates that cinematic rhythm can take many forms -- from the tight matching of sound and image known as "mickey mousing" in the Disney cartoons to the carefully timed dialogue in Hawks' films -- and her book offers a new method of audiovisual analysis that takes into account how rhythm, as a formal device, is best understood as a complex relationship between multiple elements of film style.

The detailed prose analysis in Film Rhythm After Sound is also nicely supplemented by online clips, which generally place the scene under consideration alongside a musical score that has been annotated with lines of dialogue and key figure movements. As the clip plays, the annotations help the reader see and hear how various filmic elements work together in real time to create the scene's overall rhythm. As an example, here's one of Jacobs' annotated clips of Ivan the Terrible.

Lea Jacobs' Film Rhythm After Sound offers fascinating new insights into early sound filmmaking practices and has been receiving high praise within the academic film community. We hope that you'll check out this work for yourself. For those interested in film sound and music, in films of the 1930s, or in questions of film history and aesthetics, Jacobs' book proves a particularly rich and readable source of information. Film Rhythm After Sound is currently available from the University of California Press.

NINJA III - Screening Date Changed

Monday, January 5th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

Due to a scheduling conflict, the screening date for Ninja III: The Domination, part of our Marquee Mondays: Cannon Fodder series, has been changed from Monday, March 2 to Monday, March 9, 7 p.m. The 35mm screening will take place at the Marquee Theater at Union South. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Amanda McQueen's Favorites of 2014

Sunday, January 4th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

Amanda McQueen is a Programmer and Project Assistant of the UW Cinematheque. She is also a Programmer and Print Traffic Coordinator of the Wisconsin Film Festival.

I’m often behind on new releases, as I somehow never manage to make it to the theater, and I spent a lot of time in 2014 re-watching movies for my dissertation that I’d seen many times before. Nevertheless, I did manage to see enough new and new-to-me movies this past year to put together a short list of those I enjoyed. Here’s my top ten in alphabetical order: 

The Double (Richard Ayoade, 2013)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014)

I’m So Excited! (Pedro Almodovar, 2013)

Into the Woods (Rob Marshall, 2014)

The Man in the White Suit (Alexander Mackendrick, 1951)

Rock ’n’ Roll High School (Allan Arkush, 1979)

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon Ho, 2013)

What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi, 2014)

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Sion Sono, 2013)

And some runners up:

Black Jack (Ken Loach, 1979)

Dom Hemingway (Richard Shepard, 2013)

The Duke Wore Jeans (Gerald Thomas, 1958)

Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014)

Le Week-End (Roger Michell, 2014)

Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014)

Xanadu (Robert Greenwald, 1980)

Ben Reiser's Favorites of 2014

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

Ben Reiser is a Programmer and Accounts Manager of the UW Cinematheque, as well as the Coordinator of the Wisconsin Film Festival

THE GUEST The only film I saw twice in a theater this year. This is a pitch perfect amalgam of Halloween and The Terminator. THE GUEST is an embarrassingly entertaining genre film mash-up in which the whole is even greater than the sum of it’s parts.

THE ONE I LOVE – What starts out feeling like a gimmick winds up mining surprisingly deep territory when it comes to how married people feel about each other after the bloom is off the rose. I was really impressed with the subtleties of Mark Duplass’s performances.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – Not all Wes Anderson movies are created equal, and this one transfixed and delighted me in a way I hadn’t experienced since THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS. I watched it a second time recently paying exclusive attention to Ralph Fiennes and got the sense that I could probably do the same thing with equally enjoyable results with some of the other performances.

IT FELT LIKE LOVE – Made me feel like I was seeing the Brooklyn, New York of my youth as it had never been seen on screen before.

UNDER THE SKIN – I’ll entertain any arguments about the rest of the film, but the scene on the beach is the stuff of nightmares – the kind that rarely get captured on film as convincingly and excruciatingly as they do here.

THE SACRAMENT – Ti West continues to know exactly where to place the camera for maximum tension and suspense.

THE DROP – This kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini are both riveting in this film.

JOHN WICK – The most purely pleasurable action film I’ve seen since ROADHOUSE.

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES – If I’m being honest with myself, only two of the six Tolkein films made by Peter Jackson are what I would consider to be good movies – THE TWO TOWERS and now this one. It’s tightly focused and full of classical visual storytelling.

Mike King's Favorites of 2014

Friday, January 2nd, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

Mike King is a Programmer and Chief Projectionist of the UW Cinematheque and Senior Programmer of the Wisconsin Film Festival.

Top ten new films to play Madison in 2014, in alphabetical order:

Cutie and the Boxer (2013, Zachary Heinzerling)

The Double (2013, Richard Ayoade)

Force Majeure (2014, Ruben Ostlund)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson)

The Homesman (2014, Tommy Lee Jones)

Lucy (2014, Luc Besson)

Manakamana (2013, Stephanie Spray, Pacho Velez)

Night Moves (2013, Kelly Reichardt)

Person to Person (2014, Dustin Guy Defa)

Stray Dog (2014, Debra Granik)

Runners up:

Actress (2014, Robert Greene)

Domestic (2013, Adrian Sitaru)

Edge of Tomorrow (2014, Doug Liman)

Goodbye to Language (2014, Jean-Luc Godard)

Life of Riley (2014, Alain Resnais)

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013, Sion Sono)

Jim Healy's Favorites of 2014

Thursday, January 1st, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

Jim Healy is Director of Programming of the UW Cinematheque and the Wisconsin Film Festival.

As a Cinematheque Curator and as a Wisconsin Film Festival Programmer, I usually have the great luxury of not having to see every “new release”, unlike most film critics. This means that on an annual basis, I will usually see more movies from cinema’s past than its present, but I don’t really believe in “old movies”; there are movies I’ve seen and movies I haven’t seen. Because I’m allowed to follow my interests and instincts when selecting the movies that I watch, the average quality of each film I see is pretty high and I saw a lot of great and very good things last year. Of the nearly 550 feature films that were all new to me in 2014, these 20, presented here in alphabetical order, were my very favorites (I've written in greater detail on some of the more vintage titles here at Brian Saur's Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog):

BOYHOOD (2014, Richard Linklater)

COUNTER-ATTACK (1945, Zoltan Korda)

THE CROWD (1928, King Vidor)

FIVE CAME BACK (1939, John Farrow)


A HIGH WIND IN JAMIACA (1965, Alexander Mackendrick)

THE HOMESMAN (2014, Tommy Lee Jones)

THE IMMIGRANT (2013, James Gray)

JUDEX (1963, Georges Franju)

JUKE GIRL (1942, Curtis Bernhardt)

THE KEEPING ROOM (2014, Daniel Barber)

LIFE ITSELF (2014, Steve James)

LISTEN UP PHILIP (2014, Alex Ross Perry)

MADEMOISELLE FIFI (1944, Robert Wise)

MR. TURNER (2014, Mike Leigh)

NORA PRENTISS (1947, Vincent Sherman)

THREE SECRETS (1950, Robert Wise)

IL SORPASSO (1962, Dino Risi)



I also enjoyed these movies; some more than others, of course, but I offer the list in alphabetical order instead of any sort of critical ranking. Consider it a highlighted sampling of my 2014 viewing adventure:


ACTRESS (2014, Robert Greene)

AMERICAN SNIPER (2014, Clint Eastwood)

APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT (2014, Amanda Rose Wilder)

THE ARNELO AFFAIR (1947, Arch Oboler)

THE BABADOOK (2014, Jennifer Kent)

BAD GRANDPA (2013, Jeff Tremaine)

BEATRICE CENCI (1956, Riccardo Freda)

BEWITCHED (1945, Arch Oboler)

BIG EYES (2014, Tim Burton)

BIG HERO 6 (2014, Don Hall, Chris Williams)

THE BIG LAND (1957, Gordon Douglas)

BLACK HAND (1949, Richard Thorpe)

THE BOXTROLLS (2014, Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi)

THE BOYS IN THE BAND (1970, William Friedkin)


CALVARY (2014, John Michael McDonagh)

CHAMPION (1949, Mark Robson)

CLAUDELLE INGLISH (1961, Gordon Douglas)

THE CRAZY-QUILT (1966, John Korty)

CRIME WAVE (1985, John Paizs)

THE CROSS OF LORRAINE (1943, Tay Garnett)


DRAFT DAY (2014, Ivan Reitman)

DUST BE MY DESTINY (1939, Lewis Seiler)

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2014, Peter Strickland)

EDGE OF TOMORROW (2013, Doug Liman)


ENOUGH SAID (2013, Nicole Holofcener)

THE EQUALIZER (2014, Antoine Fuqua)

THE FAREWELL PARTY (2014, Sharon Mayman & Tal Granit)

FELIX AND MEIRA (2014, Maxime Giroux)

THE FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST (1958, Gordon Douglas)

FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (2013, John Maloof and Charlie Siskel)

FLAMINGO ROAD (1949, Michael Curtiz)

FOUR HOURS TO KILL (1935, Mitchell Leisen)

FURY (2014, David Ayer)

THE GO GO BOYS (2014, Hilla Medalia)

THE GREAT MAN (2014, Sarah Leonor)


THE GUEST (2014, Adam Wingard)

THE HANGMAN (1959, Michael Curtiz)

HAPPY CHRISTMAS (2014, Joe Swanberg)

THE HARD WAY (1942, Vincent Sherman)

HERCULES (2014, Brett Ratner)

THE HITLER GANG (1944, John Farrow)

HOTEL (1967, Richard Quine)

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (2014, Chris De Blois)

HUMORESQUE (1947, Jean Negulesco)

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 1 (2014, Francis Lawrence)


INTERSTELLAR (2014, Christopher Nolan)

INTO THE WOODS (2014, Rob Marshall)

I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965, William Castle)

IT FOLLOWS (2014, David Robert Mitchell)

IT’S A SMALL WORLD (1950, William Castle)

JACQUOT DE NANTES (1992, Agnes Varda)

JOHN WICK (2014, Chad Stahelski)

JOHNNY BELINDA (1948, Jean Negulesco)

JOHNNY COME LATELY (1943, William K. Howard)



LADIES OF LEISURE (1930, Frank Capra)

LAND HO! (2014, Martha Stephens & Aaron Katz)

LIFE OF CRIME (2013, Daniel Schechter)

LIVING IN A BIG WAY (1947, Gregory LaCava)

LOCKE (2014, Steven Knight)

LOUIE BLUIE (1985, Terry Zwigoff)

LOVE IS STRANGE (2014, Ira Sachs)

LUCY (2014, Luc Besson)

MACABRE (1958, William Castle)

MACISTE ALL’INFERNO (1962, Riccardo Freda)

THE MAGGIE (1954, Alexander Mackendrick)

THE MAGIC FACE (1951, Frank Tuttle)

MALEFICENT (2014, Robert Stromberg)

THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (1952, Alexander Mackendrick)

MANDALAY (1934, Michael Curtiz)

MANGE TES MORTS (2014, Jean-Charles Hue)

MAN WITHOUT A STAR (1955, King Vidor)

MARGIN FOR ERROR (1943, Otto Preminger)

MASSACRE (1934, Alan Crosland)

THE MERRY WIDOW (1925, Erich von Stroheim)


MILLION DOLLAR ARM (2014, Craig Gillespie)

I MISERABILI (1948, Riccardo Freda)

LES MISERABLES (1935, Richard Boleslawski)

THE MOONSHINE WAR (1970, Richard Quine)

MUPPETS MOST WANTED (2014, James Bobin)

THE NAKED DAWN (1955, Edgar G. Ulmer)

NIGHTHAWKS (1978, Ron Peck, Paul Hallam)

NON-STOP (2014, Jaume Collet-Serra)

OKLAHOMA! (1955, Fred Zinnemann)

THE ONLY SON (1936, Yasujiro Ozu)

PARACHUTE JUMPER (1933, Alfred E. Green)

PARRISH (1961, Delmer Daves)

PASOLINI (2014, Abel Ferrara)

PHILOMENA (2013, Stephen Frears)


RAPTURE (1965, John Guillermin)

RAIN OR SHINE (1930, Frank Capra)

THE REACH (2014, Jean-Baptiste Leonetti)


THE REVOLUTIONARY (1970, Paul Williams)

RIDE A WILD PONY (1976, Don Chaffey)

THE RIVER WILD (1994, Curtis Hanson)

RUN FOR THE SUN (1956, Roy Boulting)

A RUN FOR YOUR MONEY (1949, Charles Frend)

SABBATICAL (2014, Brandon Colvin)

SABOTAGE (1936, Alfred Hitchcock)

SABOTAGE (2014, David Ayer)

SANTIAGO (1956, Gordon Douglas)

LA SAPIENZA (2014, Eugene Green)

SEED OF CHUCKY (2004, Don Mancini)

SHOOTER & WHITLEY (2014, Laura Stewart)

SHOOT FIRST…DIE LATER (1975, Fernando Di Leo)

SIDDHARTH (2013, Richie Mehta)

SILK STOCKINGS (1957, Rouben Mamoulian)

SOMETHING, ANYTHING (2014, Paul Harrill)

SPECULATION NATION (2014, Bill Brown & Sabine Gruffat)



STRANGER ON HORSEBACK (1955, Jacques Tourneur)

STRAY DOG (2014, Debra Granik)

SUSAN SLADE (1961, Delmer Daves)

TEODORA (1953, Riccardo Freda)

THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL (1939, Busby Berkeley)

THIRTEEN (1998, David D. Williams)

TILLIE AND GUS (1933, Francis Martin)

TIM’S VERMEER (2013, Teller)

THE TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT (1952, Charles Crichton)

TOMBOY (2011, Celine Sciamma)

22 JUMP STREET (2014, Phil Lord, Chris Miller)

2 DAYS, 1 NIGHT (2014, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)

UNBROKEN (2014, Angelina Jolie)

UNDER THE SKIN (2013, Jonathan Glazer)

UNION DEPOT (1932, Alfred E. Green)

A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS (2011, Todd Strauss-Schulson)

THE WALKING DEAD (1936, Michael Curtiz)

WALK SOFTLY, STRANGER (1950, Robert Stevenson)

WELCOME TO HARD TIMES (1967, Burt Kennedy)


WHERE EAST IS EAST (1929, Tod Browning)

WHIPLASH (2014, Damien Chazelle)

WHY BE GOOD? (1929, William Seiter)

WILD (2014, Jean-Marc Vallee)

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014, Bryan Singer)

YOUNG AT HEART (1954, Gordon Douglas)