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Today in Movie History: September 12

Academics tend to cite Rules of the Game as Jean Renoir’s indisputable masterpiece, but I much prefer La Grande Illusion, his tale of French soldiers plotting an escape from a German POW camp during the First World War. The strange fluidity of their bonds gives their relationship real heft, and Renoir’s observations about class and prejudice are sharp, sad and always true to life. On top of all that , the film work’s splendidly as a war-time adventure as well. It opened in the U.S. today in 1938.

I can’t claim to be a big fan of Five Easy Pieces, which helped established Jack Nicholson’s credentials as an actor of substance and today is regarded as one of the classics of his canon. I find it meandering and a little whiny… though there’s no denying Nicholson’s ability to hold you rapt whenever he’s on screen. (And his increasingly exasperated attempt to order breakfast here is justly celebrated.) Five Easy Pieces opened today in 1970.

Lost in Translation, on the other hand, is a film I never get tired of. Sofia Coppola’s triumph features Bill Murray as a successful actor filming a commercial in the bewildering chaos of Tokyo, who meets a young newlywed (Scarlett Johansson) in the hotel and… well, to say further would be telling. It opened today in 2003, and if you haven’t seen it in a while, it holds up exquisitely well.

Finally, we’re gonna leave a little space for The Blob, in which a meteor from outer space deposits an ever-growing amoeba in the heart of a small town, and it’s up to Steve McQueen and the local teens to kick its slimy butt. It opened today in 1958, and cinema is a richer place as a result.

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