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George Cortina's Must-See Film Recommendations
Fashion Stylist George Cortina has taken the past week reflecting on his favorite films—ranging from classic Italian cinema to historical drama and film noir to satirical comedy—and compiled a list of nine must-see movies.
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1. Death in Venice / Morte A Venezia (dir. Luchino Visconti) - Based on the classic novella by Thomas Mann, this late-career masterpiece from Luchino Visconti is a meditation on the nature of art, the allure of beauty, and the inescapability of death. A fastidious composer reeling from a disastrous concert, Gustav von Aschenbach travels to Venice to recover. There, he is struck by a vision of pure beauty in the form of a young boy named Tadzio, his infatuation developing into an obsession even as rumors of a plague spread through the city. Setting Mann’s story of queer desire and bodily decay against the sublime music of Gustav Mahler, Death in Venice is one of cinema’s most exalted literary adaptations, as sensually rich as it is allegorically resonant.
2. Les Damnés / The Damned (dir. Luchino Visconti) - The Damned is a 1969 Italian-German historical drama film which plot centers on the Essenbecks, a wealthy industrialist family who have begun doing business with the Nazi Party, a thinly veiled reference to the Essen-based Krupp family of steel industrialists.
3. Bonnie & Clyde (dir. Arthur Penn) - Starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the title characters Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, Bonnie and Clyde is considered one of the first films of the New Hollywood era and a landmark film. It broke many cinematic taboos and for some members of the counterculture, the film was considered to be a "rallying cry." Its success prompted other filmmakers to be more open in presenting sex and violence in their films. The film's ending became iconic as "one of the bloodiest death scenes in cinematic history."
4. Teorema / Theorem (dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini) - Terence Stamp stars as the mysterious stranger—perhaps an angel, perhaps a devil—who, one by one, seduces the members of a wealthy Milanese family, precipitating an existential crisis in each of their lives. Unfolding nearly wordlessly in a procession of sacred and profane images, this tantalizing metaphysical riddle—blocked from exhibition by the Catholic Church for degeneracy—is at once a blistering Marxist treatise on sex, religion, and art and a primal scream into the void.
5. Porter De Nuit / Il Portiere di Notte / The Night Porter (dir. Liliana Cavani) - A 1974 Italian erotic psychological drama film starring Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling, and featuring Philippe Leroy and Gabriele Ferzetti. Its themes of sexual and sadomasochistic obsession have made the film controversial since its initial release, dividing critics over its artistic value.
6. Network (dir. Sidney Lumet) - In this lauded satire, veteran news anchorman Howard Beale discovers that he's being put out to pasture, and he's none too happy about it. After threatening to shoot himself on live television, instead he launches into an angry televised rant, which turns out to be a huge ratings boost for the UBS network. This stunt allows ambitious producer Diana Christensen to develop even more outrageous programming, a concept that she takes to unsettling extremes.
7. Five Easy Pieces (dir. Bob Rafelson) - Rejecting his cultured upper-class background as a classical pianist, Robert Dupea (Jack Nicholson) opts for a blue-collar existence, working in a California oil field and spending time with his waitress girlfriend, Rayette. But when Robert discovers that his father is gravely ill, he wants to reunite with his estranged family in the state of Washington. He and Rayette take a road trip that brings the two paths of his life to an uncomfortable intersection.
8. Chinatown (dir. Roman Polanski) - A 1974 American neo-noir mystery film directed by Roman Polanski from a screenplay by Robert Towne, starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. When Los Angeles private eye J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by Evelyn Mulwray to investigate her husband's activities, he believes it's a routine infidelity case. Jake's investigation soon becomes anything but routine when he meets the real Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) and realizes he was hired by an imposter. Mr. Mulwray's sudden death sets Gittes on a tangled trail of corruption, deceit and sinister family secrets as Evelyn's father (John Huston) becomes a suspect in the case.
9. Shampoo (dir. Hal Ashby) - Against the backdrop of Nixon's election to office, Beverly Hills hairdresser and notorious rake George Roundy (Warren Beatty) runs into trouble when his lascivious habits begin to clash with his more responsible business ambitions. Things get even more complex when Roundy asks his wealthy mistress, Felicia Karpf (Lee Grant), for a business loan, unaware that his best friend and ex-girlfriend, Jackie (Julie Christie), is sleeping with Karpf's husband, Lester (Jack Warden).
Descriptions sourced from Wikipedia or written for Criterion Collection.