The Best Movies

The best guide to movies is the rating.

Check out their top 250.

I looked over the top 100 Sunday and rented The Lives of Others and Downfall.

Both are superb German films.

A Londoner writes about Lives:

The former East Germany, a relatively small country of 16 million people, was controlled by the most sophisticated, cunning, and thorough secret police the world has ever seen, the East German Ministerium für Staatsicherheit, or "Stasi." The Stasi had about 90,000 employees — a staggering number for such a small population — but even more importantly, recruited a network of hundreds of thousands of "unofficial employees," who submitted secret reports on their co-workers, bosses, friends, neighbors, and even family members. Some did so voluntarily, but many were bribed or blackmailed into collaboration.

Das Leben der Anderen, ("The Life of Others") German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s debut, builds this painful legacy into a fascinating, moving film. In its moral seriousness, artistic refinement, and depth, Das Leben der Anderen simply towers over other recent German movies, and urgently deserves a wide international release. The fulcrum of the movie (but probably not its most important character) is Georg Dreyman, an up-and-coming East German playwright in his late 30s. Played by the square-jawed Sebastian Koch, Dreyman is an (apparently) convinced socialist who’s made his peace with the regime. His plays are either ideologically neutral or acceptable, and he’s even received State honors.

Although he is a collaborator, he is also a Mensch. He uses his ideological "cleanliness" to intervene on behalf of dissidents such as his journalist friend Paul Hauser (Hans-Uwe Bauer). These unfortunates must contend with every humiliation a totalitarian state can invent: their apartments are bugged, friends and family are recruited to inform on them, and chances to publish or perform can be extinguished by one stray comment from a Central Committee member. The most recalcitrant can be kicked out of the country and stripped of their citizenship, like the singer songwriter Wolf Biermann.

Dreyman lives in a shabby-genteel, book-filled apartment with his girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), a renowned actress who often appears in his plays. At the beginning of the movie, Dreyman himself comes under the regime’s suspicion, for reasons that become clear only later. The fearful machinery of the Stasi rumbles to life: his movements are recorded, and his apartment bugged. The Stasi had bugging down to a science: a team of meticulously-trained agents swoop into your apartment when you’re not there, install miniscule, undetectable listening devices in every single room — including the bathroom — and vanish in less than an hour, leaving no trace. Agents set up an secret electronic command post nearby, keeping a written record of every joke, argument, or lovemaking session.

The "operative process" against Dreyman is overseen by Stasi captain Gerd Wiesler, played by Ulrich Mühe, an actor from the former East who was himself once in the Stasi’s cross-hairs. Captain Wiesler starts the film as a colorless, icy, tight-lipped professional who shows no mercy in fighting the "enemies of socialism": if he needs to interrogate a suspect for 10 hours without sleep to get a confession, he will do so — and then place the seat-cover the suspect sat on in a vacuum jar in case the miscreant should later need to be tracked by bloodhounds. At night, Captain Wiesler returns to his tiny apartment in an grubby, anonymous high-rise. He settles himself among his inexpressibly drab furniture, eats a meal squeezed out of a plastic tube while watching reports about agricultural production, and then goes to bed alone.

As Captain Wiesler listens to Dreyman and his girlfriend he begins to like them, or perhaps envy the richness and depth of their lives in comparison with his own. Perhaps he also begins to wonder why a stranger should have the right to become privy to Dreyman’s most intimate secrets: his occasional impotence, his girlfriend’s infidelities, his artistic crises. At the same time, though, Wiesler is under pressure: a Central Committee official has made it clear to Wiesler and his toadying supervisor Lieutenant Colonel Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), that Dreyman has to go down.

I won’t discuss more plot details, as there are unexpected twists. Each of the main characters is drawn deeper into the conflict between Dreyman and the State, and each is torqued by loyalty conflicts that intensify as the pressure increases. The cast is outstanding. Sebastian Koch finds the right combination of poetic detachment and watchful sophistication for Dreyman. Martina Gedeck, as his girlfriend, has the most challenging role, since she’s buffeted from all sides: by her suspicious partner, by Stasi agents trying to turn her, and by a lecherous Culture Minister. Ulrich Mühe plays the Stasi agent’s transformation with reserve, only hinting at the stages in his character’s secret, but decisive, change of heart.

Director von Donnersmarck, a blue-blooded West German, has re-created the gray, drained look of the former East, and the nature of Stasi intimidation, with a fidelity that has earned the praise of East Germans. His pacing is relaxed, but doesn’t drag; although there are a few longueurs, most scenes unfold at just the right pace, and there are several great set-pieces. One is a bone-rattling episode in the Stasi canteen in which a young recruit is caught telling a joke about East German premier Erich Honecker. Another is the penultimate scene, a masterstroke in which Dreyman gains access to his massive Stasi file, while reading it, suddenly understands episodes of his own life which had never made sense to him before. The ending is perfectly judged; bittersweet and moving without swelling strings or teary confessions.

Marcin writes about Downfall:

Der Untergang is not a movie, as some people would probably expect, that shows the leaders of the Third Reich as real monsters. It is a psychological attempt at creating a slightly different image of Hitler and his closest "companions" than has been preferred by many so far. The "monsters" appear to have human feelings. They, however, have mostly dark rather than black souls. The whole movie is truthful to history since it is highly based on the notions of Hitler’s secretary, Traudl Humps – Junge. To my surprise, she herself appears at the end of the movie, old, tired of her sad memories from the 1940s. Her words "One could look for the truth even if we did not know the scale of human tragedy" prove that she was not one of the blind Nazi propaganda followers but someone who believed that everyone is a child of God and it is not right to kill. The strange destiny of hers led her to Hitler somehow unconsciously.

The thing that seemed the most significant for me is the effect that the movie has on a viewer. All of the scenes take place in Berlin bunker, in very small rooms where the leaders of the Third Reich are hiding. Hitler, though cruel, deadly furious, and far from consciousness (for long he still believes in victory), is also able to show human feelings, especially to women. Eva Braun, escaping from the cruel facts of her lover’s (later husband’s) downfall, wants to be cheerful and entertain. One of the most memorable scenes was the one where Eva wants to have a party and dance although Berlin is full of bombarding. This is a sort of escape from the reality, a feeling that every human has in despair. Others, including Magda Goebbels and her husband are sheer fanatics. I will never forget the moment when Mrs Goebbels kills her children, calm, not showing any feelings at all. With reference to Speer’s words, she does not even hesitate to deprive her children of future. One of the few people who retained reason is Traudl and Prof. Ernst Guenter Schenck.

The cast are really great. These are mostly German stars, some not very famous, but they perform wonderfully. Bruno Ganz portrays Hitler really well. From fury and devil’s cruelty to politeness and calmness. However, never accepting compassion! A young, beautiful rising star, Alexandra Maria Lara, feels her role of Traudl. Sometimes, she feels empathy with Hitler, but in other moments she is shocked by his furious behavior. Corinna Harfouch as Magda Goebbels is great in this role. She seems to have calm nerves for most of the time, even while killing her children, but when Hitler plans to kill himself, she kneels down before him, panics begging him, in sheer mad fanaticism, not to leave his people. Great acting

Finally, the most unforgettable performance, in my opinion, is Juliane Kohler’s Eva Braun. I loved all the scenes she appeared in. For most of the time a viewer can distinguish two sorts of personalities in her: on the one hand, someone who wants to be happy and live a cheerful life, and, on the other hand, someone who does whatever the fuhrer says, no matter if it destroys her personal happiness. Consider the scene when she begs Hitler for the life of Hermann Fegelein (Thomas Kretschmann), her sister’s husband, to spare. She feels compassion, says that her sister is pregnant… but when Hitler is not able to feel empathy, she wipes off the tears of her face and calmly says "You are the fuhrer!" I saw the film for the second time partly for the sake of Juliane and her performance.

There is one more topic which I have to mention in this review, though long. Some people in Poland said that Oliver Hirschbiegel, the director of the movie, raised nationalism in Germany through this movie. Isn’t it silly? It would mean that people would go to the cinema and the film would teach them nationalism or other sick and corrupted ideologies. The film clearly conveys one message "Hitler was evil, he killed many innocent people including millions of Jews, but he was not a devil. He was only a tool in his/her hands and a "god" for blind Nazi fanatics! What is more, there are always good and bad Germans like there are good and bad people in every nation on earth!" Even the title says clearly, it was the DOWNFALL of the Third Reich! If someone is a racist or Nazi, the film does not change anything. The corruption comes out of one’s heart!

THE DOWNFALL is a must to see. It is a film that will be surely regarded as one of the most ambitious films ever made. The content is very hard to present, but Mr Hirschbiegel together with Bernd Eichinger (by the way, he produced a wonderful movie in 1986 The Name of the Rose) managed to do it perfectly. I give this film 10/10 with no hesitation!

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Hollywood and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.