Scott Tobias

Hamlet has been sliced and diced dozens of different ways on screen, from the hidebound classicism of Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh's versions to Ethan Hawke giving the "To be or not to be" soliloquy in the "Action" section of a Blockbuster Video. But the play is malleable only so long as Shakespeare's language and plotting are preserved, because tinkering with the greatest work in Western literature is dangerous business, like staring directly into the sun.

If Hollywood studios are content to cannibalize the vaults in search of new hits, the first thing they should remember is why the original films were hits in the first place. For all the bells and whistles that went along with the original 1997 Men in Black, with its cutting-edge alien effects, the reason it works is extremely old-fashioned, rooted in an effective cross-pollination between fish-out-of-water comedy and mismatched buddy comedy.

When the Russian rock musical Leto premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival last year, it arrived without its director, Kirill Serebrennikov, who was arrested for embezzling about $2 million in state money intended for the avant-garde theater he operates. The arts community in Moscow widely contends that the charges are politically motivated, part of a crackdown on creative freedoms orchestrated by Vladimir Putin and other government officials.

In one of his earliest (and best) films, the 1974 cult musical Phantom of the Paradise, director Brian De Palma conjured a self-fulfilling prophecy, telling the story of an artist whose personal vision is co-opted and commercialized by industry star-makers while he's doomed to haunt the rafters.

Here's the scam that Penny Rust, a small-time con artist played by Rebel Wilson, runs in the opening scene of The Hustle: A sleazy bro walks into a bar, expecting to meet a beautiful, buxom woman he has spent a month courting on a dating app. Instead, he's greeted by Penny, who introduces herself as the woman's sister and makes up some cockamamie story about how her sister is really flat-chested but needs only $500 to get the augmentation to become the stunner he expected. And she takes Venmo if it's convenient to him.

There are two fantasies at play in Long Shot, a political rom-com about a scruffy, unemployed journalist and his unlikely relationship with the glamorous Secretary of State who used to be his babysitter. The first is more or less the same formula its star, Seth Rogen, rode to stardom over a decade ago in Knocked Up, in which he played the unfortunate half of a one-night stand that leads to pregnancy and a deeper commitment to a more attractive, responsible, career-oriented woman.

Released in 1895, the Lumière brothers' "Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon" is generally credited as the first motion picture ever made, and it's exactly what the title suggests: A 46-second static shot of workers leaving a factory. There have been claims of its significance as the basis for a realist or documentary tradition in cinema, but it was more simply a technical demonstration of what would evolve into the great art form of the 20th century and beyond. The development of film as a storytelling medium would take a little time.

The films of Alex Ross Perry thrive on discord, whether their rancor is couched in the high-falutin' language and privilege of literary comedy, as in Listen Up Philip, or festering in the hothouse confinement of Queen of Earth. Even Perry's last film, the uncharacteristically subdued slice-of-life Golden Exits, positioned itself as a subtle challenge for audiences to get on its wavelength.

There's so much to admire about Us, Jordan Peele's muscular follow-up to Get Out, that it's worth appreciating what Peele does when the ebb-and-flow of horror tension reaches low tide. Many of the most celebrated horror maestros are hailed for their big, atmospheric set-pieces, but getting to those moments can often feel like crude narrative patchwork, the listless verses before a killer chorus.

During the first eight years of a 20-year filmmaking ban imposed by the Iranian government, Jafar Panahi has been unable to leave the country, but he keeps pushing his creative limits, proving the adage that necessity is the mother of invention. His first film under the ban, cagily titled This is Not a Film, was produced under house arrest and smuggled to Cannes on a flash drive embedded in a birthday cake.

A sort of Look Who's Talking for grown-ups, Nancy Meyers' hit 2000 romantic comedy What Women Want now feels like a turn-of-the-millennium relic, recalling a time when Mel Gibson's smirking machismo was considered cute, like an office project worth undertaking. And the end result of that project was Gibson's character, an advertising executive, learning to understand women so he could better sell products to them.

There's a charming little subset of heist films about elderly men pulling off bank jobs, often out of boredom, and the authorities struggling to reconcile these crafty old geezers with the much younger hoodlums they might have expected. Just last year, Robert Redford evoked his Sundance Kid days by playing a genteel stickup artist in The Old Man & the Gun.

Framed through a narrow crack in an adjacent doorway, the opening scene of The Heiresses, a subtle and perceptive character study from Paraguay, plays out from the perspective of a middle-aged woman as strangers pick their way through her dining room. Many of the items are for sale, due to a financial crisis that's threatening her upper-class lifestyle, and the first-person camera seems to quake with anxiety.

In the early-to-mid 2000s, mainstream horror was dominated by series like Saw, Hostel, and Final Destination, each telling stories of torture and mechanized death that mostly repulsed critics, but reflected the darkening mood of the country more than other studio films dared. Look past their can-you-top-this grisliness and they tap into the common fear that young people have no control over their own destiny, that they've given themselves over to some faceless, malevolent force that's really pulling the strings.

There's a scene in Stan & Ollie when Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, a legendary comic duo approaching the end of the line, stare up at a large marquee poster of the new Abbott & Costello vehicle, entitled Abbott and Costello Go to Mars. The year is 1953, nearly two decades since Laurel & Hardy peaked in Hollywood with slapstick classics like Sons of the Desert and Way Out West, and now they're touring through second-rate venues and dodgy flophouses across England.

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