Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Special Double Post: #50-31: Malcolm, McQueen, Mockumentaries, a Modern Mephistopholese, and Many ways to Make Brent Mad

I'm stepping up my production of these posts, because the AFI list comes out on the 20th of June, and because I'm going to Mumbai and Greece and don't know how often I'll be able to do this. So here's 20 more movies on my list. Most of which are too low for Brent (but I have to make room for Rocky's II-IV somewhere)

50 Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers—I am not one of those who thinks that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the new Godfather. Then, why, you may ask, have I put one of the three above things like Taxi Driver and Ben-Hur? One simple reason my friend(s): the marriage of technology and classic film performances. Forget the hobbits, forget the sword fights and Orlando Bloom’s flowing silver hair. Focus on Andy Serkis, giving a performance as Gollum that is to modern audiences what Karloff in Frankenstein was to audiences in the 30s. Soulful, full body acting, using technology not as eye candy for fan boys, but as a way to make the story and the character come alive.

49 Lawrence of Arabia—If he was any prettier he would have been “Florence of Arabia.” If he was any better on screen…well…uh…there’s really no where to go in that sentence is there. He’s Peter O’Toole and he is the bomb, the desert commanding, camel riding, bomb. True, it’s long, really long, and (like Lean’s Doctor Zhivago before it) seems to present the simple truth that barren landscapes can be pretty, but life in them really sucks, but whenever you reach the point of, boredom, O’Toole turns up to keep you in your seat.

48 Psycho—This is probably going to engender one of those furious Brent postings. It’s not that Psycho’s bad. In fact it’s quite good. It’s just not everything that people build it up to be. If you go in expecting to be scared out of your wits, you’re going to yawn, especially given that so many people talk about it that unless you live in a cave you already know the shower scene is coming. It’s not a grand experiment or exploration of fear, it’s just a surprising, stunning, shocker. Alarming, but not incredible.

47 Wizard of Oz—I recently re-watched this with some friends of mine, and, between the shouts of “SHUT UP LION, I HATE YOU!!” I remembered what it is that makes this movie beloved: tradition. It’s really not that incredible, the songs aren’t so much catchy as they are part of the lexicon. The characters aren’t so much riveting as they are loved. It’s like a plate of cookies and a glass of milk at the end of the day. It’s great because every April, you’ll watch it and smell fabric softener and know that you’re family’s watching it too. It’s great because you’re comfortable and cozy when you curl up with the story

46 Waiting for Guffman—I’ve read three articles in the last week alone about the new “mockumentary” trend in comedy. It is not a new trend, it’s just been made popular by a TV show. The show is amusing, but not remotely close to this, one of the pinnacles of “mocku”comedy. Anyone who has ever been in, or seen Community Theater hurts when they see this movie. It’s a bittersweet look at people who genuinely believe they’re good, and who truly are terrible. It’s scary and sad to see, and at the same time, you end up loving the characters (which is more than you can say about almost any other “mockumentary”) because they’re more real than any of the others that follow.

45 Traffic—Like mockumentaries, complex, multi-national, multi-story-line dramas are the rage in movies today. That doesn’t mean they’re better than most, it also doesn’t mean they’re worst than most. And what makes Traffic the best of them all is that director Steven Soderbergh takes clearly separates the story lines to the point that you can distinguish everyone and then slowly slurs them together to show you how everyone is part of the same problem. He doesn’t sacrifice depth for breadth, the characters are developed, the performances are gripping and by humanizing all sides of the issue he makes it palatable regardless of politics.

44 Casablanca—Even I’m surprised I have this movie, this low. We all know the reasons it’s good (romance, passion, and pretty cinematography), so I’ll focus on why it’s not higher. Much as I hate to say it, it lags, it sags, and even a die-hard romantic like me rolls his eyes at Bergman’s doe-eyed innocence at the end. It’s much more fun to enjoy Peter Lorre and Claude Raines (“I am shocked, shocked to discover that there is gambling going on in this establishment!”), but sadly, there’s relatively little of him to go around.

43 The Searchers—I think I might have used the phrase “epic western” in connection with John Ford about 7 times already on this list. So here’s lucky number 8. It’s an epic western, sprawled out over the southwest. And, despite the long running time, despite the unfortunate undertones of mockery and racism towards Native Americans, the grandeur of the west and unflappable flawed focus of John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards makes this worth watching again and again.

42 In the Company of Men—Maybe it’s that I’m a theater geek and dig Niel LaBute. Maybe it’s that I’m a nice guy who always finishes last. Maybe it’s that I’m secretly psychotic, but this is the kind of movie that holds me and keeps me coming back. It’s the anti- Waiting for Guffman where you see people and smile and love them, here, you see people and feel sick, because they’re actually deplorable. The discordant jazz notes, the blaring, riotous anger and vitriol that colors the film and Aaron Eckhart as the most Mephistopholese-esque villain on film leaves you sick inside and with every stumble towards grace you think a little bit harder about what you’re doing to the world, and what it’s doing to you.

41 Shawshank Redemption—The kind of movie you forget, but can’t pass up if you find it on TV. It takes the standard prison movie formula and twists and turns it until you let your eyes ping-pong from Morgan Freeman to Tim Robbins again and again, relishing everything they say, and every turn of the plot that comes to be. The heartbreaking simplicity of characters and natural rhythm of the performances leaves you satisfied and guarantees that you’ll go back for more the next time you nearly flip by.

40 The Great Escape—More than the origin of British soccer chants, more than the embodiment of Steve McQueen’s cool (even in Nazi Germany), this is perhaps the most soulful action movie you could ever hope to see. (It’s also fun to see James Coburn and Charles Bronson do vague accents)Yes it has the standard, best friend dies in the arms of the hero moment, but it also has an original spin on revenge. Everyone loves Steve McQueen jumping over the fence, and coming back with a smile on his face, but James Garner resigning himself to fate, turning blithely away from his superior officer, turns the obvious into the remarkable.

39 The Gold Rush—The fifth and final Chaplin movie to make my list, the Gold Rush has everything that the other movies have (lovable tramp, nearly falling over the edge of something). But it has something else that separates it from the other movies (besides the fact that he eats his shoe). We get the Tramp’s soul more clearly than ever before, and his heartbreak when the girl (rather than being blind, or lost) rejects him out of hand (at least at first). Oh, and potatoes dancing. Funny.

38 West Side Story—Musicals tend to live or die by two things: the music (obviously) and how completely the actors captivate the audience. What’s great about West Side Story, besides the music that makes everyone either want to be a street thug or a senorita, is that while the leads are genuinely engaging, the supporting players hold us much more than anyone else. (“America” and “Officer Krupke” are a lot more fun than “Maria” and “I feel Pretty”)

37 Third Man—You know who you don’t hear much about? Joseph Cotten. Jedidiah from Citizen Kane (overshadowed by big ol’ Orson) and the lost in Austria pseudo-sluth in the Third Man. Unfortunately he’s once again overshadowed by Orson (even though Welles is on screen for only a few minutes), but he’s superb, distraught and raw when he’s pounding the cobblestones searching for Harry Lime. (Welles, is awesome too, but I felt like giving Cotten his due.)

36 The English Patient—Something of a return to the big sprawling movies in exotic locales with romance and intrigue, but the complication of the standard story line with flashbacks and side stories makes it compelling. The jumps to scenes in the present and examination of what love hath wrought in the lives of four people gives you a taste of deeper philosophy and thought without cramming it down your throat. And, as Brent will no doubt explain in more detail, erotic without giving in to simplistic pornographic detail.

35 Manhattan—Nobody does romance like Woody Allen. Which is a good thing because anyone who had a wife leave him for another woman, was dating a 17 year old and broke up his friend’s romance would need serious counseling. Much is made about Allen’s funny quips and quirks but this is really a movie made by the women, Streep, Keaton and most heartbreakingly of all: Muriel Hemingway in an honest, tender goodbye that makes Casablanca look bland by comparison.

34 The Lion in Winter—“By God I’m King, fifty and alive all at once.” Peter O’Toole is again the bomb, only this time, instead of camels and Omar Sharif he has Katherine Hepburn’s mania and Anthony Hopkins ready to cap a sword in his ass. It’s intrigue, violence, family, deception, and some of the wittiest wordplay on film. Made even stronger by the simplistic stupidity of Prince John’s, “you’re a stinker do you know that. You’re a stinker and you stink!”

33 Silence of the Lambs—Maybe it’s the more modern sensibility that makes this psycho story, more riveting than the Hitchock marvel. Or maybe it’s the fact that Lecter just looks more fierce in his mask than Bates does in his housecoat. Or maybe its that there are more compelling twists and stunning results here than the obvious ending everyone knows is coming in Psycho. Whatever the case, here is your modern treatise in fear.

32 Toy Story—It should be applauded for doing what Disney and family films in general haven’t done in decades: make something that kids giggle at with just enough reality and subtle wit that parents who have to pay for the kids, get a good laugh too. Some would criticize it for giving us Shark Tale and Robots but they miss the point. It has the eager adventurousness of kids in general with the search for identity that makes it relevant long after you’ve stopped playing with toys.

31 Malcolm X—A compelling, complete look at an American icon who is usually left to simplistic generalizations. Denzel and Spike make him complex and human, they give motive to his beliefs, and though they take a good deal of license adjusting his biography to suit the needs of their story, they make it both a film and forum for ideas, leaving the audience agape, and stunned as they hear Ossie Davis’ soothing basso into a deeper study of the man and his methods.

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