Welcome to our new feature, What to Watch. Each week we will recommend five or more films based on a single theme. We hope you discover some great films this way. We also encourage you to guess the theme below in the comments!

ikiru1Monday: Ikiru

What: A bureaucrat who’s had the life nearly beaten from him after a lifetime behind a desk as a city servant learns he has stomach cancer, and in Akira Kurosawa’s most beautiful film (quite a damn statement) he resolves to do one deed of moral heft with what’s left of his life: build a park for the kids in a poor neighborhood.

Why: Ikiru is essential viewing because the Japanese at one time (the 1950s) made the absolute greatest films in the world, films almost invariably about the experiences of the common Japanese. At the same time, Kurosawa became the most famous Japanese filmmaker outside Japan, but for making samurai films, which wouldn’t become popular in his home country for another 10 years. This is one of cinema’s greatest artists at his best.

How: Criterion has released a very nice Ikiru.

zero-for-conduct1Tuesday: Zero for Conduct

What: Jean Vigo’s third of four films was banned for its damning, anarchistic indictment of France’s education system (and by extension, the entire political establishment) shortly after completion in 1933. It would remain banned until the end of World War II. Zero for Conduct depicts a group of boarding school boys who, fed up with the cruelty of their instructors, plan a rebellion—perhaps the first such story of its kind.

Why: It influenced widely-seen, subsequent masterpieces like If…. and The 400 Blows. Despite its low budget, Vigo manipulates mise-en-scène with trick shots and camera placement that make this roughly-sketched portrait ring true. Authority figures are shot from below so as to look tall and menacing, touches of surrealism and cinematic references bring life to the film and Vigo’s restraint combined with his utilization of nonprofessionals meant emotions could grow organically.

How: You can see all of Vigo’s films in a Criterion Collection box set.

broniesWednesday: Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony

What: From insular small towns to BronyCon in the big city, director Laurent Malaquais’ documentary follows the young male devotees of a cartoon targeted to little girls.

Why: It’s impossible not to have preconceptions about Bronies, but Malaquais observes this strange pop culture phenomenon without resorting to common snark. The result is an oddly moving documentary about a kind of community and belonging that defies ordinary notions of conformity.

How: Netflix Instant

missileThursday: Missile

What: Another fly-on-the-wall Frederick Wiseman portrait of a complex organization in action, Missile delves into the mechanics of the US rocket defense system, following trainees as they engage in a 14-week training course, getting suitably groomed to be the ones with their fingers on the buttons.

Why: Framed around a series of moral questions posed by instructors, each with its own eventual justification, the charade of logical procedure swathed around illogically catastrophic force makes this quiet documentary feel increasingly absurd as it details the huge institutional effort to justify the impulse toward apocalyptic nuclear warfare, an act so destructive that it’s beyond the realm of consideration as an ethical act.

How: Technically, Wiseman’s films are strictly available from his own Zipporah Films. They aren’t cheap, which means you’ll likely have to engage in some non-conformist behavior to snag one of the copies floating freely among some dark channels of the internet.

clockwork1Friday: A Clockwork Orange

What: Any cinephile worth his or her salt has likely seen A Clockwork Orange. It’s the tale of young Alex and his friends, a marauding gang of misfits riding about a future Britain and getting into all kinds of mischief. But when Alex is betrayed by his gang and taken prisoner, he decides to sell his soul to the government just to taste freedom again.

Why: Spring this one on a friend who has never seen the film. Tell them nothing. Make them watch it like they force poor Alex to viddy the ol’ in-out and ultraviolence when in prison. Nothing like experiencing A Clockwork Orange with a newbie. Then tell them it was banned in England.

How: This film has been remastered on DVD so many times that finding a copy should not be difficult.

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