Skip to Content
This article is by Lawrence Toppman, originally written for The Independent Picture House’s bi-monthly newsletter exclusively for members! Be the first to see in-depth reflections on film and know about upcoming events by becoming a member today

This month, I celebrate myself and sing myself. I quote Walt Whitman not just because he finished Leaves of Grass in Camden, N.J., 20 miles from where I grew up, but because he has a movie connection: He’s buried within walking distance of the spot where the first drive-in theater opened in 1933.

Walt went on in “Song of Myself” to say “And what I assume you shall assume/ For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Which means I hope you’ll enjoy watching The Critic’s Eye, the first film series I’ve ever curated, as much as I enjoyed planning it.

The Charlotte Ledger and The Independent Picture House asked me to assemble this five-picture lineup, which begins May 14. I was tasked to find movies that transcended genres (easy), were made since 1990 (still easy) and permanently redefined how storytelling formulas are approached (nigh impossible, nearly a century after feature films got underway).

So I collected features at or near the apex of the filmmakers’ achievements, pictures I have watched multiple times and added to my own library (which is surprisingly small for someone who spent 30 years as a film critic). I’ll show them every other Tuesday through July 9, chat about them afterward, and hope you end up loving or respecting them as much as I do.

Here’s the roster:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), May 14 – This visually sumptuous masterpiece jump-started the international wuxia boom and won four Oscars, including foreign film. My dictionary defines wuxia as “a genre of Chinese fiction or cinema featuring itinerant warriors of ancient China, often depicted as capable of superhuman feats of martial arts.” That sums up a story that also has multiple layers of romance and deals with honor and sacrifice in a beautiful way.

Shutter Island (2010), May 28 – Call it horror, film noir, suspense, whatever you like. For me, it’s one of Martin Scorsese’s three best films. Davidson College graduate Laeta Kalogridis cleverly adapted Dennis Lehane’s fine novel about a man investigating a disappearance, which may solve a murder in his past. Leonardo DiCaprio has never given a better performance than he did as the main character, a U.S. marshal sent to an insane asylum on a remote island.

Being John Malkovich (1999), June 11 – Absurdist comedy may be the hardest genre to pull off, but director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman (both Oscar-nominated) nailed it here. John Cusack stars as the woebegone porn puppeteer who discovers a portal allowing people to enter the body of John Malkovich in this parody of superstar worship. The overrated American Beauty (yes, I said that) denied Jonze and Kaufman the Academy Awards they deserved.

Zodiac (2007), June 25 – David Fincher may be the most adventurous director working in the mainstream today, and this carefully observed police procedural (mostly without police) doesn’t seem long at 157 minutes. Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. play a cartoonist and reporter in San Francisco who try to identify a serial killer after cops fail to do so. The quest consumes both men, leading to the tagline “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer.”

Unforgiven (1992), July 9 The best film Clint Eastwood has directed is also the greatest western of the last 50 years. When a prostitute hires an unschooled gunman to kill the man who disfigured her, ex-outlaw William Munny (Eastwood) comes out of retirement to help. “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man,” says Munny. “You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.” The exemplary cast includes Gene Hackman (who won an Oscar) and Morgan Freeman.


Lawrence Toppman reviewed movies at The Charlotte Observer from 1987 through 2017. He’s a lifetime member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association.
powered by Filmbot