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  • The Gold Rush

    The Gold Rush

    ★★★★★

    [Originally appeared at the now-defunct cinespect.com.]

    In 1952, the British film journal Sight & Sound published the results of the first of its decennial lists of the greatest movies ever made, compiled from a survey of respected international critics. First place went to Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist masterwork The Bicycle Thieves (1948), but in second and third place came two Chaplin movies–City Lights (1931) and The Gold Rush (1925). Chaplin’s reputation as the cinema’s greatest artist, both as a filmmaker and…

  • It's a Wonderful Life

    It's a Wonderful Life

    ★★★★★

    [Originally appeared at cinespect.com.]

    Few movies have benefited from copyright purgatory more than Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Beloved/barely tolerated for a generation after a lapse in ownership made it a ubiquitous television companion during the holiday season for about thirty years (until it eventually fell into the hands of NBC, which now only airs it a couple of times during the Thanksgiving to Christmas programming abyss) and thus redeemed a film that had marked the virtual end of…

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  • Belle of the Nineties

    Belle of the Nineties

    ★★½

    Some good one-liners, but ultimately disappointing given the star and director. McCarey's nostalgia for the period setting and West's petulantly modern sexuality mix uneasily and not at all. It's symptomatic of the movie's issues that the formal highpoint comes during a melding of an outdoor black church service and a torch song by Ms. West, a marriage of stereotypical clichés and stylistic ebullience that fails to synthesize into anything but a strange and patronizing muddle. And it's almost criminal how little use is made of Duke Ellington and his own elegant form of seductive modernism.

  • Man Under Table

    Man Under Table

    ★★½

    Stylized presentation of new variations of the same self-regarding inside indie filmmaking jokes that were getting stale around the time of Search and Destroy (1995). Acerbic and off-kilter enough to almost work despite the overfamiliarity (and the strain of petulant self-pity that comes with the territory when developing this kind of material), but ultimately undone by the feeling that we're seeing a 25-minute short film play out at three times that length, with gags and resentments getting beat into the ground a couple times over.

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  • Circus of Books

    Circus of Books

    ★★½

    The fact this doc spends more time on how the woman who co-owned a major gay porn book store in Los Angeles and co-produced a bunch of gay adult movies in the 80s had trouble accepting the coming out of her son than it does on how the AIDS crisis affected her business and the community it catered to and employed is both inevitable and understandable given the subject's daughter made said doc. But that's also why someone other than…

  • Double Indemnity

    Double Indemnity

    ★★★★★

    All you need to make a movie is a girl, a gun, and a life insurance policy.