All the President's Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976)
Fucking awesome. The whole renaissance of mainstream American cinema in the 1970s has been one of my favorite periods to explore, but I was a little disappointed by the last two movies I saw from the period, The French Connection and Last Tango in Paris. I was almost beginning to think I'd been fooled by a couple of really good movies I saw in film classes in college. But this is exactly what I loved about other great movies of the '70s, with complex, layered storytelling, brilliant, naturalistic acting (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman are great, as is the entire supporting cast) and a strong social conscience. It's almost hard to believe that this film was made right in the aftermath of Watergate, when all that stuff was still raw. It'd be like someone making a brilliant movie about the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1997. Even with all the mixed feelings that must have been floating around at the time, this film takes on the scandal head-on and pulls no punches, but it's also in no way sensationalistic. It gives you a clear sense of who Woodward and Bernstein are as people without letting their personalities overwhelm the story. It's straightforward but has plenty of clever cinematic touches, including the way Pakula marks time with news footage that's always playing in the background, or the occasional flashy shot to emphasize the enormity of the conspiracy and the undertaking of these two guys in getting the whole story. It also really makes you believe in the crusading power of journalism, something that, as a journalist (albeit not the kind depicted in the movie) I wonder if even exists anymore. Really great filmmaking, the kind of thing I wish we saw more of in mainstream cinema today.
Living in Oblivion (Tom DiCillo, 1995)
Really a trifle of a film, but a fun look into the ridiculous world of low-budget filmmaking. DiCillo basically strung together three short films here, and it shows, as the movie is a little disjointed and unfocused. But Steve Buscemi is great as the harried director for whom nothing goes right, and Catherine Keener is awesome as always. A must-see for aspiring filmmakers; will easily turn you off to the idea of ever making a movie.