Midnight Cowboy (1969) dir. John Schlesinger
Despite all of the controversy surrounding this X-rated Best Picture winner upon its release, nowadays it's the sort of "classic" film that people just don't seem to talk about that much. After finally seeing it, it's somewhat understandable. Jon Voight and especially Dustin Hoffman are outstanding, and the two play off of each other's extreme differences quite well. Yet even though there's plenty to admire, Schlesinger's direction sometimes feels too chaotic for the story's own good.
Lolita may not be up there with Kubrick's most memorable films, but it does still feature the director's ability at exercising complete control over a film's imagery and themes. At two and a half hours, the film does drag in spots, but the black humor and excellent performances often make up for it. James Mason and Sue Lyon have just the right chemistry as Humbert and Lolita, never letting us in too deeply into the relationship between step-daughter and step-father. The real highlights, however, are Shelley Winters as Lolita's volatile mother and Peter Sellers as the eerie Clare Quilty. The film's marketing back in 1962 teased audiences with the question, "How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?" The answer is with snark, subtlety, and black-as-night humor.
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007) dir. Cristian Mungiu
I've been meaning to catch this 2007 Cannes champion for a while, but haven't had the chance until now. Having finally seen it, I can only say that I'm glad I waited as long as I did; the 'me' of 2007 probably wouldn't have appreciated Mungiu's work as well then. Though the first 30 minutes are dedicated all to basic character intros and sketchy plot setup, once the two female protagonists find themselves locked in a vicious argument with the abortionist they've sought out, the film flies off into the stratosphere. Mungiu's style, in keeping with the Romanian New Wave, features lots of long shots, which lends a nice amount of documentary-like style to the gritty, frank tale. But even though the story may be about a girl helping her friend secure an abortion (at a time when the procedure was completely outlawed), Mungiu's film is more focused on painting a general picture of life and friendship (or lack thereof). Anamaria Marinca is brilliant in the lead role, while Vlad Ivanov lends a realistic sense of menace to the abortion doctor, a man who feels as though his clients are both cheating him and possibly endangering his life. The level-headed, even distant treatment, though off-putting at first, pays off, and creates a brutally realistic sense of unease that is critical to the film's tremendous success.