Bananas (Woody Allen, 1971)
I'm a huge Woody Allen fan, but I'm actually not that crazy about his "early, funny" movies, or at least not the ones I've seen (pretty much just this one and Sleeper). Like Sleeper, this is a rather haphazard collection of slapstick bits and sight gags hung on a thin plot with some mild political commentary. It's a little more pointedly satirical than Sleeper was, especially in the opening scene featuring Howard Cosell doing play-by-play on an assassination in a small South American country (a stand-in for Cuba). The bits were hit and miss, although some were very funny, and I did like how all the South American revolutionaries behaved like neurotic New York Jews half the time. The best scene, though, had nothing to do with the South American revolution plot: It was Allen being dumped by his girlfriend, played by Louise Lasser, as she casually named off all his shortcomings while trying to put her finger on why exactly their relationship wasn't working. A very funny glimpse into the more typical Allen scenes of future films.
The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953)
Serendipitously after I so enjoyed Dreamgirls last week, this classic musical showed up at the top of my Netflix queue (although really the two films are quite different). Despite my genuine enthusiasm for Dreamgirls, I still find musicals often tough to get into, and this one grabbed me a little at the beginning only to lose me completely in the last third or so. I liked the allegory for the decline of Fred Astaire's career (although this is the first Astaire movie I've seen), I liked the classic "That's Entertainment!" number, and I liked Nanette Fabray as the spunky comic-relief redhead. I was less crazy about bland Cyd Charisse as the love interest, and the abandonment of the already thin plot at the end for a bunch of random set pieces that relate to each other in only the loosest of ways. I did like the dancing, but I feel like a little of that goes a long way for me, and I sort of tuned out after a while. I preferred the last Minnelli musical I saw, Gigi, which had more substance to its plot and characters. This is basically just an excuse for Astaire and friends to goof off and have fun, which is fine for dedicated fans of his, but not enough to hold my interest.
Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
Here's another one of those classics that presents a viewing experience full of waiting for famous lines to be uttered, which is something I find unavoidable. At the same time, this is a very satisfying noir with a plot that actually makes sense and has some interesting political ideas (it's hard now to fathom anyone being neutral in WWII and seeing Nazis as just another political group, but undoubtedly it was not uncommon). Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains are all wonderful, and, even though I loved Steven Soderbergh's The Good German, you can see how this film was genuine and passionate in a way that Soderbergh's film school exercise could never replicate.
Tango (Carlos Saura, 1998)
This one is a musical, too, in a way, although there isn't any singing. The description of Saura's film makes it sound like a straightforward drama about a divorced director working on a show about the tango who falls in love with his star, the girlfriend of a powerful gangster. But it's actually an oddly impressionistic presentation of that story, with a blurred line between fantasy and reality, a weird meta element that finds Saura purposely showing his camera in mirrors around the dance studio, and long dance sequences meant to tantalize the senses and illuminate...something. My senses were mostly confused and bored.