THE BEST OF YOUTH MARCO TULLIO GIORDANA The lives of two brothers--one a doctor, one a soldier--mesh and collide over 40 years in this fascinating and often moving six-hour drama. Six hours? Yep. Too long for a sit in a movie house, but just right for an evening or two's home adventure. This is old-fashioned filmmaking--beautiful people facing horrible problems--at its most seductive. At times it strains to represent every aspect of late 20th century Italy in one family (a Red Brigades radical is told to kill a prominent attorney, who is--her brother-in-law!). But that happens in novels, and this is a picto-fiction that truly deserves the word epic.
HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE HAYAO MIYAZAKI This Oscar-nominated antiwar fable was an art film in North America (box office: $4.7 million) but a popular smash worldwide ($229.6 million). That was nothing new for Miyazaki. His hand-drawn animated fantasies (Porco Rosso, Spirited Away) have long appealed to kids and connoisseurs alike. Here he has transported his gift for alchemizing the mundane from Japan to Western Europe a century ago. A spell instantly ages the heroine, Sophie, from 18 to 90 and lands her as a housekeeper inside the walking wonder house owned by a dishy shape shifter. Following the plot may be a burden for adults--children will revel in its complexity--but the whole enterprise has Miyazaki's air of immaculate enchantment.
THE VIRGIN SPRING INGMAR BERGMAN He dismissed it as "a lousy imitation of Kurosawa." Yet The Virgin Spring won Bergman his first of three Foreign Film Oscars and landed him on the cover of TIME. In this adaptation of a medieval ballad, expanded and Freudianized by scripter Ulla Isaksson, a sweet, pampered girl (Birgitta Pettersson) is murdered by herdsmen, who are in turn killed by her father (Max Von Sydow). A miracle play and a horror movie--it was remade in 1972 as The Last House on the Left--the movie retains its stark grandeur in the chiaroscuro cinematography of Sven Nykvist. As a peasant girl who witnesses and wills the murder, Gunnel Lindblom has a feral magnificence.
3 FILMS BY LOUIS MALLE A sort of foster brother of the New Wave directors, Malle is matched only by François Truffaut as a memorializer of youth in all its enthralling achiness. This Criterion Collection package brings together (with the usual fabulous extras) three mini-masterpieces: the 1971 Murmur of the Heart, the 1974 Lacombe Lucien and the 1987 Au Revoir les Enfants (below). Sexuality, fascism and racism are the respective issues addressed, but it's the mood that sticks with you: a wise, indulgent longing that is immediately French, indelibly universal.
LA BêTE HUMAINE JEAN RENOIR Many years later, Renoir described this streamlined 1938 version of the Zola novel as a love triangle about a man, a woman and a locomotive. That sells short the sullen passion that binds sooty engineer Jean Gabin to kittenish femme fatale Simone Simon. An implacable film noir before noir was cool, this is atypical but essential Renoir, and a reminder that subtitles are no hindrance when a great director paints in the visual language of film.