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Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
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The most typically American movie opening this Fourth of July weekend is Baby Driver, made by a quintessentially British auteur — Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead fame. 

It’s no secret that we’re anglophiles here at The Thread (even though one of us was born in Ireland). And when we see American culture reflected back in a British mirror – well, sometimes it seems like those English directors love America better than we love ourselves. 

This week — definitive American movies that were made by UK directors. 


Baby Driver

Edgar Wright had barely finished his genre-steeped, culty, and ultra-British zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004) when Universal offered him a big-budget job directing comic book adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs The World(2009).

Wright enhanced his homeland cred by going back repeatedly to finish his UK-set “Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy” (Shaun, Hot Fuzz (2007), The World’s End(2013).   But he was also dating Anna Kendrick and co-writing The Adventures of Tin-Tin and Ant-Man, anchoring him firmly in LA

Baby Driver is a hybrid heist movie/romance, softer-edged than Tarantino but equally soundtrack-driven and film-buff referential.

Baby-faced Ansel Elgort (The Fault In Our Stars) plays a moody savant getaway driver whose tortured genius is fueled by an iPod for each mood and occasion.  He owes his soul (for at least one last job) to boss Kevin Spacey.  But things are complicated by a whack-job thug (Jamie Foxx) and a waitress named Debra (Lily James) who reminds him of his mom.

P.S. – if you happen to be in NYC this week, Edgar Wright has curated a series of Heist Films at BAMcinématek




North By Northwest

By the time he made North By Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock was an American citizen, a huge TV celebrity, and had been making movies longer in Hollywood than in England.

Hitchcock loved iconic settings; Cary Grant’s smug but charming ad man Roger O. Thornhill flees from The Plaza to the UN to Mount Rushmore – stopping along the way at a deserted, treeless Midwestern landscape.

Thornhill is being hunted by foreign agents who mistake him for a spy – who in the end doesn’t even exist.  The cool Hitchcockian blonde is Eva Marie Saint, who despite working for the enemy ends up in Thornhill’s arms.

This just may be our favorite Hitchcock film, but we’re hard pressed to say why.  Maybe the Americana, maybe the simplicity.  Maybe it’s just that in his mid-50s he was at the height of his craftsmanship.

And on a run…the film before this was Vertigo (1958), and the next would be Psycho (1960), which Hitchcock made on a TV budget and went on to be a global blockbuster, making him extremely wealthy and allowing him to eventually own a third of MCA Universal, the studio he worked for.

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Thelma Louise

 Even after he had become passionately attached to Callie Khouri’s script, Ridley Scott was not his own first choice to direct Thelma and Louise.  Scott had years of highest-end commercials under his belt, and was famous for his darkly stylish sci-fi flicks –blockbuster creature shock-fest Alien (shot in London), and the considerably less-successful Blade Runner (L.A.).  He was also seen as pretty macho — for a Brit anyway.

Eventually he realized that he was so invested in the project that he had to direct it himself.   And when he did, the result was yet another  cinematic landmark.  But rather than being set in a shadowy future, it was set the sun-drenched cutting edge of the present.  The result was a feminist road moviestatement that redefined a classic American genre, redefined the kind of characters that women could play, and took Scott’s career new heights.

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American Beauty

 Sam Mendes is really a theater director.  But a theater director who won an Oscar for his first film (American Beauty) and is one of two directors ever to have done two James Bond films.  Go figure.

Alan Ball wrote American Beauty as a spec script to get himself out of the sitcom business.  He never thought it would get made, but it did, and empowered him to become the moving force behind HBO series like Six Feet Under and True Blood.

At a young age Mendes was a founder of London’s Donmar Warehouse theater; after his Broadway success with Cabaret (Alan Cumming version) he took a trip to Hollywood, was offered the chance to direct, and pulled American Beauty out of a pile on an agent’s desk.

Even though it’s not a pure genre piece, American Beauty taps a well-mined vein in American film: the struggle to find yourself when you’re lost in the existential desert of the suburban American Dream.

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 Both Scorsese and Oliver Stone tried and failed, but Terry Gilliam was born to make this movie.  And, like the two leads — Johnny Depp and Benecio del Toro — you can’t imagine anyone else pulling off Hunter Thompson’s this drug-fueled, gonzo tour de frenzy.

For us, this movie captures the Vegas zeitgeist in a way that no other film has: utter chaotic decadence.  Even though it relates more closely to real life than any of Gilliam’s other movies, the result is less structured and tenuously tethered to reality.

Fear and Loathing was widely panned upon release, but with every year that goes by it becomes more beloved.  Beloved may be a weird word to use about a movie this debauched; but it’s clear from fan reviews that for those who have been there – in body or in spirit — it’s an irreplaceable document of a certain state of mind.  The film’s even gotten a Criterion Collection release, which is akin to being accepted into the Library of Congress – but more exclusive.

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The Grifters

Like songs, some movies mark a very particular moment in time.  My Beautiful Laundrette is one of those movies.  For us it marked the first moment when a broader definition of racial and sexual identity became an ordinary part of cultural discourse — for the first time not as some special case, but just as everyday facts of life, like hair color or eye color.

So for some strange reason we’ve always been happy that Stephen Frears found Hollywood a nice place to visit but never really came to live there.

The word “grifter” is a mashup of “grafter” and “drifter”, American circus slang for the smalltime con artists who followed circuses in the early 20th century.  It’s a person who lives by being smarter and more charming than their marks – and yet is temperamentally unable to think any bigger than one move ahead.

It’s an amazing, bright, bleak movie, our most favorite of many favorite Anjelica Huston performances, and with John Cusack (they do look alike, don’t they?) and Annette Bening, a near perfect three-hander.

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Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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In this politically inflamed, socially mediated era, large groups of people feel abandoned by society and their government. Alongside such alienation has come a spike in hate crimes triggered by the “fear” of people with different religious, ethnic and economic backgrounds. 

More a cry of rage than a real solution, the border wall between the US and Mexico has turned into an ideological litmus test. Ironically, the fact that the wall is actually out for bids seems to have only increased the anger and violence.

This week’s film, The Bad Batch, tracks people in a very near future who are cast out of American society and banished to a desert wasteland.

As they enter the wasteland a sign reads:

“Beyond this fence is no longer the territory of Texas. Hereafter no person within the territory beyond this fence is a resident of the United States of America or shall be acknowledged, recognized or governed by the laws and governing bodies therein. Good luck.”

badbatch THE BAD BATCH (2017) 

Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) directs The Bad Batch, a multi-genre mashup of slasher-meets-horror-meets-dystopia- meets-love story.

Leading the way is Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), an apparently wholesome individual who is tossed into the Mexican desert in the film’s opening scene: she is part of the “bad batch”, inferior citizenry who are no longer wanted in the U.S. After briefly wandering the arid flats, she is kidnapped and taken to an encampment called The Bridge, filled with bulked-up steroid abusers; in short order she is chained up and two of her limbs severed for food like other “bad batchers” who have shared the same fate.

Arlen escapes thanks to a Fisher King-style hobo wandering the wilderness (Jim Carrey), and ends up in a second camp, called Comfort– a place of equally metaphoric implications. Comfort houses the real outcasts – immigrants, the mentally ill, the disabled – but on first inspection at least, appears to have rough charm and some form of rubbing-along livability.

Comfort, however, is controlled by a comically sinister cult leader (Keanu Reeves), who urges the inhabitants to “follow the dream” in an excellent deadpan.


bombaybeachBOMBAY BEACH (2011)

“The harder you work, the richer you’ll die.” Maybe this single line justifies the price of admission to Bombay Beach, an eerily compelling documentary about lost souls in a lost place, made by the former music-video director Alma Har’el.

Bombay Beach is the name of a ruined town on the Salton Sea, a saline lake in the middle of Southern California’s Colorado Desert. It was a smart vacation resort in the 1950s and 1960s, but abandoned when the water level rose. Now its seedy chalets and trailers are homes for America’s most needy, like a refugee holding camp for the poor, surreally living in the fragments of a forgotten dream of leisure and prosperity.

Har’el tells the story of three of these marginal souls, and does so with compassion and insight. One man had been arrested just after 9/11 on charges of maintaining what appeared to be a huge weapons and ammo dump in this wilderness. He says he’s no militia extremist, just a regular guy with an American affection for guns. Now he’s out of prison, and his son is addicted to Ritalin and other prescription medication.

An elegant oldster, like a character from a David Lynch movie, makes a living buying discount cigarettes from Native American reservations and selling them at a profit to his neighbors.

A young African-American boy has a future ahead of him with a possible football scholarship to college.

All these lives are recounted with flair and an eye for an exotic tale. It’s a rich slice of Americana, and there’s a great soundtrack from musicians including Bob Dylan.

iTunes    Amazon   Netflix  


Director George Miller’s follow-up to his own 1979 hit Mad Max is proof that not all sequels are inferior. If anything, this brutal sci-fi action film is even more intense and exciting than its predecessor, although the state of its post-apocalyptic world has only become worse.

Several years after the deaths of his wife and child, Max (Mel Gibson) has become an alienated nomad, wandering an Australian outback that has fallen into tribal warfare conducted from scattered armed camps.

After a road battle with psychotic villain Wez (Vernon Wells), Max meets up with the odd Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence), who takes him to the camp of a sympathetic group led by Pappagallo (Mike Preston). Since Pappagallo’s people are camped at a refinery, Max plans to take their oil — more precious than gold in this world — but eventually joins them to fight a band of marauders led by the evil Humungus (Kjell Nilsson).

The striking climax features a heart-pounding chase scene involving an oil tanker-truck and a frenzied rush for the coast, with Humungus and his forces in hot pursuit. Nilsson makes a scary villain, with huge muscles and a sinister pre-Jason hockey mask, edited at breakneck pace and staged with manic fury by Miller and stunt coordinator Max Aspin.

iTunes    Amazon   Netflix   Vudu  texas-chainsaw-1TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) 

Tobe Hooper’s film, made over 40 years ago, shocked the nation and gave birth to a new form of horror. The film’s release was troubled and there was increasing pressure to censor or ban the film but it has stood the test of time to become an iconic landmark.

When Sally (Marilyn Burns) hears that her grandfather’s grave may have been vandalized, she and her paraplegic brother, Franklin (Paul A. Partain), set out with their friends to investigate.

After a detour to their family’s old farmhouse, they discover a group of crazed, murderous outcasts living next door who also like to dabble in cannibalism. When the group is attacked one by one by the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), who wears a mask of human skin, the survivors must do everything they can to escape.

This film never fails to terrify.

 iTunes    Amazon   Netflix   YouTube

 cannibalCANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1985)

Ruggero Deodato’s film was banned and heavily censored across the world; the film’s director was even arrested on its release and the print was seized.

Deodato’s pseudo-documentary follows the plight of four arrogant filmmakers who fly out to the Amazon, in order to film their documentary The Green Inferno, believing that the scenes they capture will buy them inevitable success.  They are never seen again.

The footage is recovered by Professor Harold Moore (Francesca Ciardi) who travels to the Amazon and finds the remains of the film crew along with their unseen footage.

The footage reveals their vile treatment of the South American tribe of cannibals who ultimately turned on them. Their brutal deaths at the hands of the tribe becomes the subject of their documentary.

iTunes    Amazon   Netflix   YouTube   


SuspiriaDarioArgento2 SUSPIRIA (1977) 

Dario Argento’s 1977 slasher is arguably the artistic apex of the giallo movement, a horror genre he pioneered along with fellow Italians Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. This film has become the entry-level key to unlocking the whole genre, featuring its trademark lush, hyperstylized, color-saturated visuals, lashings of gore, its undercurrent of lurid female eroticism and its magnificent score —in this case provided by rockers Goblin and Argento’s “Tenebre.”

The film follows an American ballerina (Jessica Harper) who transfers to a sinister German dance academy covertly run by a satanic coven of witches, including Dark Shadows star Joan Bennett. The mish-mash of languages and accents from the multi-national cast doesn’t matter much since the whole thing was post-dubbed anyway. But once you become attuned to the garishness of Argento’s work, Suspiria is undeniably creepy and haunting, tuning in to burgeoning female sexuailty as a metaphor for a transformation process that is unknowable.

A remake directed by Luca Guadagnino starring Chloe Moritz and Tilda Swinton is being released later this year.

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