This week’s picks run the gamut from a classic Hollywood epic to one of my favorite action flicks. I’ve also chosen a bunch of foreign fare. Something from Russia, from Hong Kong, from France, from Iran, and from Spain. There’s romance, betrayal, chases through the Paris Metro, and desert battles.

And what they all have in common is great storytelling. Great characters. Compelling stories.




Check out: Lawrence of ArabiaBurnt By the SunLeon: The ProfessionalThe Skin I Live InIn the Mood For Love; Diva; A Separation


Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
This classic stars Peter O’Toole as the legendary T.E. Lawrence, an English military officer during World War I who united and led a coalition of Arab tribes to fight the Turks. Lawrence was controversial, and frequently did not listen to his superiors. But he did the impossible; he lived and fought alongside people that were considered uncivilized by the so-called civilized world. And he became one with them, earning their respect and loyalty. It’s the definition of an epic, spanning deserts, mounting scenes with hundred of people, a story that’s so important it seems to be fiction. The dialogue, cinematography, soundtrack and especially direction are superlative; likewise the supporting actors. But it is O’Toole at his charismatic best who steals the show in his starring debut. He was truly beautiful!  The film introduced audiences to Omar Sharif. It also stars Alec Guinness, Claude Rains, José Ferrer, and Anthony Quinn. It’s rightly considered one of the greatest films ever made.

The director’s cut, which was restored in 1989 is 216-minutes long, with intermissions. It’s is worth your time.  The film won 7 Oscars out of 10 nominations (Peter O’Toole lost Best Actor to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird.)



23. Burnt By The Sun (1994)

A heartbreaking and beautiful film written by, starring, and directed by Nikita Mikhalkov.  Set in the Soviet Union during the summer of 1936, Army commander Sergei (Mikhalkov) is enjoying his vacation with his wife and daughter at their beautiful dacha. But when his wife’s ex-fiance who’s been missing for 13 years appears everything falls apart. At first they think it a lovely social call, but it turns out he’s there to arrest Sergei on made up charges of conspiracy to assassinate Stalin.

It’s a beautifully shot tale of love and betrayal set against the bloody politics of Stalinism.



24. Léon: The Professional (1994) 

It’s one of the best action films ever! In it 12-year-old Mathilda’s family is murdered while she is out buying milk. Her dad was a drug deal and her mom wasn’t the nicest person, but… In order to save herself when she comes back, after seeing what she might walk into, she pretends that she lives down the hall and is reluctantly taken in by Léon, a professional assassin, who teaches her the tricks of his trade so she can avenge her family. Mathilda is played by Natalie Portman and the role made her a star. I loved Jean Reno as Léon, the hit-man with a heart. And Gary Oldman turns in a killer performance as the corrupt cop on their case.

The relationship that develops between the assassin and the kid is fabulous. He’s been a loner for so long, he’s new to the caring stuff. But she’s just a kid, though one with a lot of guts. And they’re there for each other.

Of course, when the bullet start flying, it’s hell on earth. And those scenes are amazing!

I loved this film and still do. It’s one I can watch over and over.

25. The Skin I Live In (2011)

It felt like an unusual film for Pedro Almodóvar, very different from his usual eccentric families and pop culture and such, but it was one of my faves that year. In it, Antonio Banderas plays a brilliant plastic surgeon who creates a type of synthetic skin following his wife’s suicide after being horribly burnt in an accident. But he needs someone to test the skin on and there are ethical problems. Fortunately he has a state-of-the-art lab in his mansion and “finds” a subject. And the skin is not the only thing he alters. The less said about who and what the better, but it’s a twisty, weird plot and Banderas is brilliant as an obsessed father, mad scientist, and vengeful psychopath.

The story unfolds in a way that keeps you constantly guessing what is going on, not so you are confused, but in a wicked smart way. At the end with all the puzzle pieces in place, it is all very clear, but getting there, you cannot imagine how it will all come together that might make sense. The Skin I Live In is beautifully shot and the script is really oddly wonderful.

26. In The Mood For Love (2000)

This gem from director Wong Kar-Wai is one of the great romance films ever. Two neighbors in 1960’s Hong Kong, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung (Infernal Affairs) move into the same apartment building on the same day. But they come to lean on one another after finding that their spouses are cheating on them with one another. They agree to keep their relationship platonic so as not to be hypocrites. But still it’s the most sensual of films, from the lushness of the shots, to the glances and angles of the camera. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle is the master!

New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell wrote the best one line review of In the Mood for Love when he said that it is “dizzy with a romantic spirit that’s been missing from the cinema forever.”

27. Diva (1981)

This one from director Jean-Jacques Beineix may be the most stylish thriller ever made. In it Jules, a young mail delivery man who’s an opera fan, becomes the target of the mob when he accidentally comes into possession of a tape made by a prostitute that incriminates a senior police officer in a drug and prostitution racket. He’s also illegally taped his favorite opera diva who refuses to be recorded. And there are people after both tapes. The police for obvious reasons, and some Taiwanese businessmen who want the only recording ever made of the diva.

After being chased through the streets and Metro of Paris, Jules takes refuge with a philosopher and his muse. He also begins a relationship with the opera singer after returning a dress he stole from her. Their scenes are a great counterbalance to the mobsters racing to kill him. The pace of the film is rapid and the shooting gorgeous and the soundtrack is fabulous. Loved this one!

28. A Separation (2011)

This powerful film won the 2011 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, marking Iran’s first Academy Award ever. It was also nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category, unusual for any foreign film. While the world frets about their nuclear intentions and tension mounts, it is nice to see a fairly non-political depiction of life there. This is a film about relationships and cultures and power and truth, pretty universal themes played out on a very human scale and directed with a masterful hand. It begins with the couple in front of a judge arguing over their divorce. The wife, Simin (Leila Hatami), wants to take her daughter to another country for a better life. The husband, Nader (Peyman Moadi) feels he needs to stay in Tehran to take care of his father who has Alzheimer’s. And unable to come to a consensus, they are denied their divorce. A Separation is an amazing film on so many levels — amazingly drawn characters, a perfectly constructed script, fabulous acting, a fascinating look at another culture, and so intelligent.


All of these are streaming and some of the older ones you can find at your library.

And in case you missed them, here are the links to the previous weeks: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3.  

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