Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
If you sat through the Daniel Craig version of author Stieg Larsson’s best-selling book and thought, “I wish there were at least six more hours of this,” then Swedish version of Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy is surely for you. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo re-creates the books scene by scene, starting with an investigation into a 40-year-old case and ending with an engrossing murder and government conspiracy. Also, Noomi Rapace’s portrayal of the lead heroine is impeccable.
Director-writer Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie remains the highest-grossing French film released in the United States — and for good reason. It’s the whimsical tale of a shy waitress in contemporary Paris who decides to return a collection of toys she found behind a baseboard in her apartment to their original owner, an act that helps her cope with her own isolation and despair after a difficult upbringing. Still, the film is warmhearted and quirky, with laughs to spare.
There are hundreds — if not thousands — of kung fu movies on Netflix, but few of them are as good as the film dramatizing the life of Yip Man, one of Bruce Lee’s teachers and the first to teach Wing Chun martial arts in China. Film title controversy racked the film even before its debut in Hong Kong, and though we wouldn’t say the film is historically accurate when it comes to detailing Ip’s life in the city of Foshan during the Sino-Japanese War, the spectacular stunts make up for any inaccuracies.
Spanish director Pablo Berger’s modern retelling of the classic Snow White story is not what you might expect — and the band of bullfighting dwarves and remarkable gladiatorial scenes don’t even begin to sum it up. The silent film is shot entirely in black-and-white and brims with an eerie sense of ambiguity and melancholia, which further capitalizes on the sadomasochism of the evil stepmother and inspiration drawn from the likes of horror masterminds such as Alfred Hitchcock and Tod Browning. It’s a dark portrayal of Spanish culture set in 1910, yet there’s also an unspoken beauty lining the vivid close-ups and flamenco-flecked score.
Spike Lee should have never remade the South Korean Oldboy, especially with Josh Brolin in the lead role. The 2003 original — based on a manga and anchored in bloody, operatic anguish — is still a standout. In the film, Choi Min-sik plays a businessman who’s drugged, imprisoned, and tortured for 15 years before seeking revenge on his captors. It’s a statement, violent and maddening, with unforgettable scenes and a thought-provoking climax. There’s a reason Quentin Tarantino praised the film at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.
Living is Easy with Eyes Closed
Living is Easy with Eyes Closed is an appropriate title for this Spanish comedy, given the title is taken from a Beatles song and revolves around an English schoolteacher (Javier Camara) and two hitchhikers who go on a road trip across Spain in 1966 in the hopes of meeting John Lennon. The low-key film swept the country’s Goya Awards upon its release, and was even selected to represent Spain at the Academy Awards, owing to Camara’s winning performance and that of fledgling actress Natalia de Molina. It’s also based on a true story, one that takes a tender turn with the help of director David Trueba’s vision and subtle, political undertones.
The Admiral: Roaring Currents
South Korean director Kim Han-min’s look on the 1597 Battle of Myeongnyang is a David-and-Goliath tale of the highest caliber. It focuses on Korean admiral Yi Sun-shin — played by Choi Min-sik of Oldboy acclaim — and his efforts to thwart an encroaching fleet of 330 Japanese ships with little more than 12 of his own and a literal boatload of courage. However, the characters in the film are only secondary to the Michael Bay-esque action sequences strewn throughout, all of which seamlessly combine model warships and computer-generated effects to great effect. The way Sun-shin utilizes the currents and whirlpools to his advantage is captivating, even if Han-min doesn’t delve into the logistics of it all.
Ode to My Father
South Korean director Yoon Je-kyoon’s Ode to My Father is teeming with political controversy — some feel it attempts to idealize the country’s past under the rule of a authoritarian regime — but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the country’s most glorified films in recent years. The epic melodrama traces Korean history from the 1950s through the present day using the lens of one Yoon Deok-soo (Hwang Jung-min), an everyday refugee and shopkeeper who spends his life attempting to care for his family after the death of his father and sister. The film’s merit lies in its resounding ability to interweave historical events, such as the Hungnam Evacuation, with a concise narrative, while managing to wring a sentimental tone from the distant events.