The Insider – 15th Anniversary

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The Insider (1999) An almost unrecognizable Russell Crowe plays famed whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, who agrees to expose the unethical practices of the tobacco industry to 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino). When CBS declines to air the complete story for fear of a lawsuit, Wigand and Bergman fight to save their reputations and to air the entire story.

Even after 15 years, this film still packs a powerful punch, exposing the ramifications of the fear of legal retribution when journalists attempt to expose illegal and harmful actions committed by powerful corporations.

Russell Crowe’s Oscar nominated performance remains one of his best performances of his entire career. Also featuring excellent performances by Al Pacino as Bergman, Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace, and Diana Venora as Liane Wigand. Directed by Michael Mann. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

Food and Wine Documentaries

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) An exploration of the career and personal life of the man considered to be the greatest sushi chef in the world. Jiro became world renowned with only a 10 seat restaurant located in a subway station in Tokyo, inspiring loyal customers to make reservations months in advance and pay high prices. You’ll be wishing you can sample his sushi while watching this delightful documentary.

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John Cleese’s Wine for the Confused (2004) The Monty Python alum guides you on a journey of wine appreciation for the novice. Offers some of the best pieces of advice you’ll ever need to enjoy wine such as: just because a wine expert gave the wine a 99% score  “won’t make it taste any better to you” and “do not let anyone else tell you what wine you should like.”

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Kings of Pastry (2011) This delightful documentary about competitors for the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman in France) proves to be a suspenseful and exhilarating exploration of the fine art of pastry making presented as a three day battle between 15 of the best pastry chefs.

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Somm (2013) An entertaining exploration of hopeful sommeliers preparing for the Court of Master Sommeliers exam. Wine lovers will find plenty in this film to satisfy their palates. Even if you have no interest in wine, this film is a compelling, amusing, and suspenseful examination of other people’s obsession with it.  

Food and Wine Movies

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Julie and Julia (2009)  In two separate storylines, Meryl Streep plays Julia Child at the beginning of her career as she learns the skills to become a superior chef, and Amy Adams plays a young blogger named Julie who devotes a year to attempting to make one or more recipes a day from Julia Child’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking and then writing about her success or failure. A charming and amusing film about finding joy in both cooking and writing about food.

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Bottle Shock (2008) The somewhat fictionalized true story of several Napa Valley Wineries in the 1970’s who competed in a wine competition in France. The results gave worldwide recognition to several wineries, including Stag’s Leap and Chateau Montelena.  The cast includes Alan Rickman, Chris Pine, and Bill Pullman. Based in part on wine connoisseur and commentator Steven Spurrier’s book about the event The Judgment of Paris.

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Big Night (1996)  In this highly acclaimed Indie film, two brothers, who own an unsuccessful restaurant, decide to make one daring attempt to make their mark in the restaurant world by throwing a party for bandleader Louis Prima. A fussy chef, erratic staff, customers, and rivals may ruin their chances of a successful “big night.” The cast includes Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Minnie Driver, and Isabella Rosellini.

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Sideways (2004) This critically acclaimed comedy-drama features Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church as a pair of 40-something buddies who take a road trip through the Santa Barbara wine country. They find themselves drawn to a pair of local women (Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh) with the same passion for wine, who inspire them to rethink the direction of their lives. (Oscar winner for best adapted screenplay)

Chasing Ice (2013)

Nature photographer James Balog spent three years documenting the effects of global warming on glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, Glacier National Park, and Mt Everest. By strategically placing cameras that took one picture every hour  for three years, Balog reveals through some stunning images the dramatic effects  of climate change.

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(available on DVD and Netflix streaming)

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters (2012)

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Crewdson’s elaborately staged cinematic photographs depicting scenes from American life are stunning examples of photography as art and social commentary. Each photo is an evocative psychological moment in time captured with a richness of depth and a haunting perspective of the sadness and beauty of human life.

(available on DVD and Netflix streaming)

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters Trailer from Benjamin Shapiro on Vimeo.

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An Edgy Little Christmas (part 3)

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One Magic Christmas (1985)
A modern, and somewhat bleak version of some of the elements from It’s a Wonderful Life. Mary Steenburgen plays a cynical, hard working mother who learns how easily either one act of desperation or one act of kindness can change lives in ways she’d never expect. Contains one of the most lovely moments in cinema involving a letter to Santa. (available on Netflix Streaming)

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The Ref (1994)
During a home invasion, a thief (Denis Leary) becomes embroiled in the constant arguing of his hostages (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) a couple who hate each other more than the man holding them prisoner. This dark and hilarious comedy provides holiday delight in both cynical and sentimental ways.

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Saturday Night Live Christmas Special (1999)
This one is not a film, it’s a diverse collection of Christmas themed sketches from the early years of Saturday Night Live. Highlights include: The cynical and violent “Lost Ending” to It’s a Wonderful Life, and Alec Baldwin as the infamous Pete Schweddy, whose company is famous for their Christmas balls, which inspired an infamous and short-lived Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor…

An Edgy Little Christmas (part 2)

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Joyeux Noel (2006)
An emotionally moving French language drama based on the true story of three armies in the trenches of World War I, and the remarkable Christmas Eve truce they unexpectedly choose to share. This unforgettable film illustrates the power the Holiday spirit can inspire even in the most dire of situations.

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Love, Actually (2003)
An entertaining collection of both sweet and cynical love stories for those of us who usually dislike romantic comedies. Familiar British stars (Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Keira Knightly, etc) share screen time with emerging stars including Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead) and January Jones (Mad Men). (available on Netflix streaming)

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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Tim Burton’s fusion of iconic elements from both Halloween and Christmas tells the story of a multi-talented skeleton who wants to take over as “Sandy Claws” because he’s tired of Halloween. If you’ve been to Disneyland during Halloween and Christmas time, you’ve already seen some of the visual delights this film offers. It also has a few catchy tunes and one lovely ballad in its Golden Globe nominated score. (available on Netflix streaming)