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 a double feature, to celebrate this film streaming on HBO Max, Take 27: e Barry Lyndon. As always there will be spoilers.

I’m going to come right out and say it, Barry Lyndon is a really long movie. I will try not to let that contagion infect this essay but no promises. I think it’s fair to describe Barry Lyndon’s story as both epic and meandering, powerful and lackluster. As always, Stanley Kubrick’s intentions when he crafted the film remain ambiguous, but his talent does not. I’ve posed the theory in the past that Kubrick’s films are included in the conversation for “best of” in nearly every genre: 2001 tops most lists of best Sci Fi movies, The Shining is easily one…


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 a double feature, we’re going from the tippity top to bippity bottom, Take 100: Ace in the Hole. As always there will be spoilers.

Ace in the Hole opens on a young Kirk Douglas behind the wheel of a convertible, carelessly engrossed in a newspaper, as the New Mexico desert sun drenches the setting through the blazing light of the black-and-white imagery. When the camera pans to reveal a tow truck pulling the car, Billy Wilder’s fingerprint jumps off the screen — no shot is wasted and there’s always something more to see in every scene. …


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 a double feature, it’s the crown jewel, Take 1: Citizen Kane. As always there will be spoilers.

The first time I watched Citizen Kane I was motivated purely by a sense of obligation. After years of hearing references to “Rosebud” and seeing the film top almost every list of the best movies ever made, I took the dive and watched the story of Charles Foster Kane for the first of many times. The layers of complexity that make the film so enduring for film lovers are the same qualities that make it intimidating to write and talk about. It’s difficult to extract the heart of Citizen Kane from its legacy, compounded by equal parts brilliance and decades…


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 a double feature, Take 20: Goodfellas. As always there will be spoilers.

Goodfellas is one of four Martin Scorsese films included on the BBC’s Top 100 American Films list. Rounding out the top 20, it sits directly behind the other Scorsese / Deniro masterpiece, #19 Taxi Driver. I had never seen Goodfellas before, and when I saw that the Brattle was running a four day screening I was excited for the opportunity to check off a relatively recent film on the list. Released in 1990, Goodfellas is the most modern film in the top 20 by almost fifteen years. …


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 May the Fourth, Take 76: The Empire Strikes Back. As always there will be spoilers.

As I mentioned (repeatedly) in my Star Wars essay, I wasn’t raised on the franchise, and I wondered if I could ever fully appreciate it as much as a lifelong fan does. After watching the second film, a whole new set of inadequacies for the uninitiated dawned on me — Darth Vader doesn’t scare me because I’ve seen his likeness commercialized and bastardized throughout all of my life. I understand him to be one of the greatest cinematic villains of all time, but at this point, he’s more of a joke than an imposing force. Yoda does not pique my…


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 stoner holidaze, we’re looking at my personal favorite — Take 4: 2001: A Space Odyssey. As always, there will be spoilers. Get ready — it’s a long one.

Watching 2001: A Space Odyssey is a humbling experience. Knowledge of Stanley Kubrick’s genius preceded my first viewing of the film, and the grand scale of the subject matter only intensified my feelings of ineptitude. I am sure the letters appearing on the spacecrafts dashboards are anything but random, but I couldn’t tell you what they signify. I can’t claim to really grasp what’s going on in the last sequence of the film. But isn’t that the way it should be? …


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, no honor of the stoner holidaze, we’re looking at Take 69: Koyaanisqatsi. As always, there will be spoilers.

Koyaanisquatsi is described differently depending on where you look, but it is arguably the only documentary film to make the cut. Directed by Godfrey Reggio, released in 1982, the film is 85 minutes of slow motion or time lapse footage meant to evoke different emotions. There is certainly a hypnotic element to the sequences which begin with the cave paintings and cut to an incredibly slow motion tight shot of a rocket launch. That tug and pull will continue throughout the rest of the movie.

I would describe the film as having no narrative but a distinct message and point…


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, we’re looking Take 89: In a Lonely Place. As always, there will be spoilers.

In a Lonely Place is a hallmark of film noir, I think it’s the type of movie that people imagine when they think about old Hollywood. Black and white Humphrey Boagert as a screenwriter accused of murder, falling in love with perky blonde Gloria Grahame. The film is based on a book of the same name by Dorothy B. Hughes. I try not to let knowledge of circumstances behind the scenes of a film’s production impact my perception of the end result, and sometimes I’m more successful at that well intended goal than others. …


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, we’re looking at a fan favorite, Take 54: Sunset Boulevard. As always, there will be spoilers.

Sunset Boulevard accomplishes the difficult task of being an intriguing story primarily focused on endings and false starts. The film begins with the conclusion, protagonist and narrator Joe Gillis floating dead in the pool, immediately followed by a flashback of Joe giving up on his dying career as a film writer. His first meeting with former Hollywood starlet Norma Desmond occurs over the corpse of her dead pet chimpanzee — a vacancy soon to be filled by Joe himself. Norma had already witnessed the cessation of her career on screen, predicated by the overall demise of silent pictures.


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, we’re getting the scourge of number 12: Chinatown out of the way. As always, there will be spoilers.

For not the first time in this series, I’ll begin with a confession: I found the last act of Chinatown almost unbearable to watch. I know that there’s a lot to be said for the quality of the work, but in this case in particular, I cannot separate the artist from the art. This is a debate that has raged for years, fueled most recently by the vast revelations of the Me Too movement. I don’t have anything unique to add to that conversation, but I can say that on a personal level, it is something I morally contend with…

Jessie McAskill

Watching movies and writing essays.

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