The Essentials: Part 1

By Emily Bonkoski

For years I’ve loved watching “The Essentials” presented on Turner Classic Movies.  I love hearing about why the guests pick what they do.  I love when they acknowledge that “hey this might not be the best film in the world but I love it, it’s important to me” or “I know they’re not the greatest actor ever but they’re a knock-out in this.”  So naturally, for a long time I’ve tried to think of what my essentials would be.

It’s incredibly difficult to pick ten essential films that I think everyone should see because I’ve seen so many great pictures.  My brain automatically jumps to old films that are must-sees, but there are modern films that are of just as great importance.  It has been extremely difficult to narrow down anything so I’ve decided to break it into a few parts:

  1. my top ten films that I attempt to push on people, convince them to watch, or am maybe obsessive about which is totally fine and sane.  Really.  But if I were to be stranded on an island, these are what I’d pick to watch ’til the end of my days.
  2. my modern top ten films, from 1980-present
  3. ten other films that are just as excellent as my top ten that are necessary to watch.  Because I said so.

So let’s begin with the first.  These are presented in no particular order because I love all of these equality, except number one which has a little bit of a one-up from the others.  Numerous times I’ve been asked what my favorite film is and I’ve always said the same answer.  I plan on writing about all these, but for now a brief rundown will have to suffice.

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Violent Things to Ordinary People: “Brief Encounter”

By Emily Bonkoski

I’ve been so foolish; I’ve fallen in love.  I’m an ordinary woman.  I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.  It all started on an ordinary day, in the most ordinary place in the world…

It seems as though films have a way of resurfacing in life just when I need them.  Who knows why particular pictures resurface at given points, but when I sit down and watch it, it’s the best and only thing I need in that moment.  Lately, the David Lean film Brief Encounter from 1945 has been flashing through my head.  Admittedly, I only discovered this film within the last year, but the moment it was over, I immediately wanted to watch it again.  And if memory serves me right– I did.

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Getting back on the boat: “Ship of Fools”

By Emily Bonkoski

Wow.  It has been quite some time since I’ve written last.  It seems as if I’ve jumped ship on the ol’ film blog, but alas, I’m back.  With it being the first day of spring, the motivation to analyze and write has sprung.  So, sticking with the “sorry I jumped ship” mode, it seems appropriate to write about the film Ship of Fools from 1965.

Do you ever find yourself replaying a scene from a movie in your head either because it just popped up, something reminded you of it, or because you just can’t stop thinking about it?  That’s been happening to me for weeks with a few scenes from Ship of Fools.  Admittedly, I don’t particularly care for the film as a whole.  To be honest I had only watched it because it was Vivien Leigh’s last movie (before she sadly died too young at 53).  When I realized it also happened to be a Stanley Kramer movie (who also did the brilliant Judgment at Nuremberg and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner), that was a nice little bonus.  In my opinion, the only real reason to watch it is for her character’s storyline (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a massive Vivien Leigh fan, really).

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Close Up: “Carnal Knowledge”

By Emily Bonkoski

Close Up focuses on an important individual scene in a film, closing in and discussing it’s details, motives, and meanings.  Feel free to join the discussion.

When I first saw this scene in Carnal Knowledge (1971), the moment it was over, I had this immediate whoosh feeling of amazement.  What did I just watch?  I was stunned and didn’t know what to say afterwards.  This is what frustration sounds like.  This is what true honesty sounds like.  This is what wanting to be heard and the pain of neglect is like.  It’s littered with things we might’ve said to someone else or desperately have wanted to.  It’s realism threw me, and it torn out of the film, shattering what was an otherwise quiet, steady ride.

Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margret are completely brilliant and raw.  Jack Nicholson has always been a firecracker, but this was a new road for Ann-Margret who was seen as a sex symbol rather than an actress who could give raw performances.  And for her bare emotions in this pivotal scene, she was rightly nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress.  When watching this scene, notice the small facial movements that are given– the looks exchanged and not exchanged.  What adds to this scene is it isn’t rushed through.  This argument is given all the space and time it needs to unfold and doesn’t feel rushed.  It happens in real time, which connects us even more to it.

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Year in Review

By Emily Bonkoski

This past May, I found myself in a bit of a personal lull- I was done with my Master’s program but still felt directionless.  For the first time in three years, I actually had time to read the books I’ve been collecting and watch the films I’ve been missing out on and been wanting to see for many years before school that I just never made time to see.  I decided in June that from now on, any new film I see I have to write my thoughts on it, whether I liked it or not.  Since I started this notebook, I’ve seen 102 new-to-me films (and just think about the number of films I’ve rewatched this year- I’m looking at you, The Graduate).  I carry this notebook with me just about everywhere I go.  When I flip through it, I remember some great films I’ve seen this year– one’s that want to tell everyone about, one’s I can’t stop thinking about, one’s that challenged my perspective on what I think about people and situations, and one’s that didn’t make much of an impact initially but then I realized to which my mind kept bouncing back.  So, for the last week of 2014, here’s some of the best I’ve seen this year (I’ll delve into these deeper in the future).

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Every time a bell rings…: “It’s A Wonderful Life”

Written by Emily Bonkoski

“Strange, isn’t it?  Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

I’m willing to bet that if you were to ask a number of people what classic movie they watch around Christmas, that the majority will answer with “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  Today we know this film as a staple of Christmastime; it’s one of James Stewart’s most famous roles.  Originally released in 1946, this was the first film he made after returning from World War II, where he served as a pilot (earning numerous military honors).  Amazingly though, when this premiered in December of 1946 it wasn’t well received– it was a box office flop and reviews were fairly mixed.  It was heavily overshadowed by William Wyler’s hit The Best Years of Our Lives, which went on to win seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.  However, It’s A Wonderful Life stood it’s ground and snuck in with five nominations, including a third Best Actor nomination for James Stewart.  Although a disappointment when originally released, 70 years later it has become ingrained in culture not just because it’s a good story, but because of what question it poses to you: what would your life look like without you?

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Great balls of fire!: The lasting impact of “Gone With the Wind”

Written by Emily Bonkoski

This date today, 75 years ago, one of the most influential films ever created premiered in Atlanta, Georgia.  It’s held it’s position as highest grossing film ever since it’s release in 1939.  The public unanimously declared Clark Gable their Rhett Butler, the biggest star of the time.  It was notoriously plagued with issues from the beginning, one issue being the public upset that a unknown British actress was cast as the Southern bell heroine.  Producer David O. Selznick was a mastermind at publicity and turned public opinion around while keeping many production, financial, and director issues out of the public (it rotated between 3 different directors hands, ultimately landing in Victor Fleming’s, who at the same time was filming the Wizard of Oz).

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