FilmJerk Favorites

A group of unique directors and the essential works that you've got to see.

||| Alfred Hitchcock |||
Alfred Hitchcock

This is perhaps an obvious choice, however, most people tend to overlook the Master of Suspense’s early work as well as the relevancy of his last film as a key element in the continuing transition and development of the genre he defined.

One of Hitchcock's early triumphs, this predecessor to the mistaken identity man on the run scenario Hitchcock turned to time and again, stars Robert Donat as the innocent wrongly accused of murder and pursued by both the police and enemy spies. This is the first example of Hitchcock’s mastery over the suspense tale, giving us a glimpse of the greatness to come.

Considered to be one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest works, this story of two men who meet by chance on a train and frivolously discuss swapping murders is a prime example of a common Hitchcock theme of the man who suddenly finds himself within a nightmare world over which he has no control. You can easily see how this film lays the ground work for the more popular “North by Northwest”.

Alfred Hitchcock's final film is a light-hearted thriller involving phony psychics, kidnappers and organized religion, all of which cross paths in the search for a missing heir and a fortune in jewels. Here, Hitchcock has brilliantly developed his signature form to include the now common, and often overused, device of plot twist, after plot twist, after plot twist. Widescreen!

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Sweet Land

By BrianOrndorf

October 20th, 2006

If eye-popping period cinematography and the lovely build of romance is your thing, "Sweet Land" is the best film out there right now.

Sweet Land

Inge (Elizabeth Reaser) is a German immigrant sent to Becker Country, Minnesota for an arranged marriage to man she’s only known through letters. The man turns out to be Olaf (Tim Guinee), a shy Norwegian farmer who maintains a solitary work life. When the local church finds difficulty with Inge’s paperwork and birthplace and cannot marry them, Inge and Olaf decide to live together anyway, causing uproar in the community that threatens to ostracize them and ruin their chances at love and prosperity.

“Sweet Land” is a stunning, tenderly made picture that evokes a lush sensation of time and place. This is Minnesota farmland in the WWI era, resting on expansive open spaces where the breeze can play all day long and the sun reaches every nook and cranny.

Truthfully, however, “Sweet Land” won’t win any awards when it comes to narrative innovation. This is an unhurried type of “Romeo & Juliet” story, set against the backdrop of small town religious repression and unmerciful industrial and economic growth. It contains all the genre basics: a meet cute, forbidden love, and slowly melting devotion. Actor John Heard portrays the Lutheran minister keeping Inge and Olaf apart, and his confusion with their living arrangement sets up a mild, but effective antagonistic relationship that helps develop the passions even further. Even spying a simple dance between these two unmarried people tightens his collar.

It helps that writer/director Ali Selim recognizes the film’s classical structure, using it to create a meticulous portrait of the era and the landscapes to give his film its gracious personality. The Minnesota immigrant experience is not a subject routinely covered by filmmakers, providing Selim plenty of space to breathe in the hardship and work detail of the land, where bankruptcy was a growing concern for individuals unprepared for farming invention. Selim illustrates to the viewer the backbreaking labor, the homegrown payoff of the work, and the solitude of life on the prairie.

The director employs cinematographer David Tumblety to capture the sun-coated, heavenly vistas. “Sweet Land” is literally painted with light; each frame filled with a Midwestern sense of interior shadow and glow, while also permitting the expansive countryside to speak for itself in progressively more luminous ways that would make Terrence Malick green with envy. This is one of finest shot films of the year.

With the ice slowly melting between Inge and Olaf, “Sweet Land” turns into an unexpectedly sensuous affair as Inge grows more confident in her new home and with her husband to be. Selim concentrates on the looks and silence between these two, toying with the language barrier to create a more soulful way to express attraction. Actors Guinee and Reaser plays the parts superbly, expressing romantic yearning, Midwestern bluntness, and social frustration with the most minimal of dialog and movement. They bless “Sweet Land” with their hearts and enthusiasm, gracing the picture with a dramatic beauty that almost, almost, equals the scenery.

My rating: A-