In July, 2015, the BBC released a list of the 100 Greatest American Films, curated by polling critics all over the world. I’m watching them and writing about them as a form of self taught film school. This week, Take 45: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

I’ve got to admit that when I saw John Ford’s name and the title The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and that the film was released in 1962, I was preparing to dream up yet another perspective on a classic American Western. Seeing John Wayne’s billing on the picture confirmed my suspicions — until I was surprised to see his co-star was James Stewart. The same Jimmy Stewart who leads at least two other films on this list including It’s a Wonderful Life and Vertigo. These two stars would easily be on the Mt. Rushmore of mid century cinematic actors…


In July, 2015, the BBC released a list of the 100 Greatest American Films, curated by polling critics all over the world. I’m watching them and writing about them as a form of self taught film school. This week, because I’m dreaming of the Hamptons, Take 53: Grey Gardens

It might be cliche to say that you don’t watch Grey Gardens, you experience it, but I’m going to roll with that description because the documentary is ripe with visceral intimacy — evoking the same feeling of sickness that accompanies laughter in the presence of something unsettling. Edith and Edith Beale are aunt and cousin to Jackie (Kennedy) O., and their stark, remote, mansion in the Hamptons is littered with vestiges of a squandered aristocracy.

To say their home is in disrepair would not adequately communicate the grotesque conditions of the property. A squad of not-quite-feral skinny cats share inlets…


In July, 2015, the BBC released a list of the 100 Greatest American Films, curated by polling critics all over the world. I’m watching them and writing about them as a form of self taught film school. This week, I’m biting the bullet and wading into Take 39: The Birth of a Nation

Disclaimer: this film is racist propaganda, and my words are an inadequate attempt at exploring the impact of its release on cinema and race in America. Given the choice, I would prefer for readers to hear directly from Black commentators on the piece. Here are some I found enlightening:

  • Ava Duvernay, 13th (Netflix)
  • Wesley Morris The New Black Power (NYT)
  • “Spike Lee takes on the Klan” (NYT)

I struggled with whether or not to watch this film. I revived this project in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and am writing this piece about two weeks after the murder of…


In July, 2015, the BBC released a list of the 100 Greatest American Films, curated by polling critics all over the world. I’m watching them and writing about them as a form of self taught film school. This week, in honor of Pride, Take 30: Some Like It Hot

Some Like It Hot is a persistent force in American cinema. It is referenced, recreated, and beloved, decade after decade — long past the expected shelf life of comedies. The plot, centered around two men in the 1950s dressing as women to escape the mob, makes the odds of the film dodging the pitfalls of political correctness seventy years after its release very slim. Of course the movie does not perfectly align to modern sensibilities of gender, but it does a remarkable job of avoiding the temptation to lean on the base level gendered humor that has cropped up in…


In July, 2015, the BBC released a list of the 100 Greatest American Films, curated by polling critics all over the world. I’m watching them and writing about them as a form of self taught film school. This week, in honor of Pride, Take 34: The Wizard of Oz

While I can’t definitively say that I’ve never met someone who hasn’t seen The Wizard of Oz, I can’t remember anyone ever claiming to have never seen it, and for some reason I think I would. I also am struggling to think of an American film with quite so ubiquitous viewership. More often than not, the people I know have some kind of visceral childhood association with this movie. My sister would sing “ding dong the witch is dead” when she fought with my mom to irk her. My college roommate had nightmares about flying monkeys that she can vividly…


In July, 2015, the BBC released a list of the 100 Greatest American Films, curated by polling critics all over the world. I’m watching them and writing about them as a form of self taught film school. This week, Take 60: Blue Velvet

David Lynch is a director who leaves big vivid fingerprints all over his work. I haven’t seen Eraserhead and it’s been a very long time since I watched The Elephant Man, but I am a fan of the (original) Twin Peaks and expressed my adoration for Mulholland Drive early in this series. He is the type of creator who must be discussed when his work is under review because of how inextricable his unique aesthetic is from his films. Lynch gives me the sense that he is a born desert artist that seems to have learned to survive with less…


In July, 2015, the BBC released a list of the 100 Greatest American Films, curated by polling critics all over the world. I’m watching them and writing about them as a form of self taught film school. This week, in honor of the 40th anniversary, Take 82: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark is at once timeless and transient. Directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 1981, there is something specific to the styling of the film that makes it inextricable from the time period in which it was produced. …


In July, 2015, the BBC released a list of the 100 Greatest American Films, curated by polling critics all over the world. I’m watching them and writing about them as a form of self taught film school. This week, Take 88: West Side Story

I doubt it will come as a revelation to anyone reading this blog that West Side Story is a 1950’s musical rendition of Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet set in New York City. The largest plot points of the stories are identical: feuding gangs, star crossed lovers, a series of tragic deaths. If you have talked to me over the last few years, I’ve probably mentioned my recent obsession with The Affair and I think that Noah Solloway sums up the heart of both West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet poignantly and succinctly in this short clip:

“Pure…


In July, 2015, the BBC released a list of the 100 Greatest American Films, curated by polling critics all over the world. I’m watching them and writing about them as a form of self taught film school. This week, because it’s summer baby! — Take 38: Jaws (not sure how or why I wrote four pages on this so buckle up)

I am not someone who was raised on Jaws. I saw it for the first time two summers ago, and beyond the vintage theme music, and “we’re gonna need a bigger boat” I was slightly more than totally ignorant. I was raised on other Spielberg though, E.T. was my first favorite movie, and I would watch Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones at every opportunity.

Is there any evidence that it’s possible for another human being to produce an action adventure movie with such cross generational appeal as well as Spielberg? The rugged leading men who trotted across his sets are…


In July, 2015, the BBC released a list of the 100 Greatest American Films, curated by polling critics all over the world. I’m watching them and writing about them as a form of self taught film school. This week, in honor of my current obsession “For All Mankind” — Take 65: The Right Stuff

I was excited to see The Right Stuff on this list, even though I had never heard of it. It had been awhile since I had a chance to watch and write about a movie made at least within a decade of my birth, so seeing the 1983 release date was a bit of a relief. But when I saw that I had never heard of the director, Phillip Kaufman, I was a bit concerned. When I saw that the run time was 3.25 hours, my stomach plummeted. When I saw that Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, and Jeff Goldblum were…

Jessie McAskill

Watching movies and writing essays.

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