Posted 22 May 2009 - 09:04 AM
It’s my belief that actually writing about a movie is one of the best ways to show you love it and feel strongly about it. It goes beyond rating with stars or points or percentages or thumbs or useless one-liners, which I find are imperfect and boring ways of showing your appreciation. Lists too, are limited.
So let’s try and create a list of movies that we really think are great. Just write shortly (please proofread as best you can) about why you think a particular film is great and submit it here. Whether canonical, contemporary, or obscure, I don’t care. All I want is that you back up your love for the movie. OK?
Have at it! (And only submit write-ups here. Comment in the comment thread, please)
Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
Sátántangó (Béla Tarr, 1994)
Singin' in the Rain (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1951)
Posted 22 May 2009 - 09:08 AM
Director: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Screenplay: Adolph Green and Betty Comden
Starring: Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, and Cyd Charisse
Singin’ in the Rain is, for me, on a short list of films that comes as close to perfect as a movie can get. It is not merely a textbook example of what musicals do best, it is the textbook. I think of it as both the Sunset Blvd. and 8 1/2 of musicals, because it satirizes Hollywood brilliantly (albeit more lightly that Sunset) as well as explores the realities and fictional personas of the medium. In spite of only one original song being written for the film, it manages to be effervescent, clever, and original, proving that how material is handled is far more important than merely handling it and going through the motions.
What makes the film so fascinating is that it does so much on many levels, all while being incredibly entertaining. In about the first 15 minutes, the Lockwood & Lamont persona, which populates the minds of the masses and tabloid covers is both set-up, then shot down by Gene Kelly’s speech on “dignity” while a contradictory montage subverts everything he says, including their relationship. As he so wonderfully tells Lina Lamont, who herself believes the tabloids rumors of their “love,”: “There’s nothing between us, just air.”
Musicals are invariably at their best when they involve breaking barriers and satirizing conventions because it’s inherent to their nature (i.e., to break out into song is to break inhibition). They are not so much about plot (consider the flimsy clotheslines of the Astaire & Rogers pictures), but the best ones still use the numbers in the context of the story and enhance our understanding of characters’ feelings (a technique Ernst Lubitsch practically invented). Singin’ in the Rain does this beautifully. When we see the “You Were Meant for Me” number, it is done on a stage. It is as self-aware as when The Dueling Cavalier talkie hilariously goes out of sync. There is still a degree of apprehension between Kathy and Don, and the film is simultaneously telling us that the screen persona of Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds isn’t real (in fact, Gene Kelly supposedly ridiculed Reynolds' dancing to the point where Fred Astaire found her crying under a piano). And when the title number “Singin’ in the Rain” comes, he is completely convinced he’s in love.
I could go on and on about every nook and cranny of this film, but I think everyone’s better off just watching it. The greatest musical ever? It’s a superlative that’s beaten to death, but it’s nevertheless true. Singin’ in the Rain is great because it manages to do what so many movies strive for: to be both a great work of art while being sublimely entertaining. As Cosmo says in “Make ‘Em Laugh:”
"And you can charm the critics and have nothin' to eat
Just slip on a banana peel, the world's at your feet!"
And if you want to read more on why I love this movie so much: Singin' in the Rain
Posted 22 May 2009 - 09:10 AM
Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, and Walter Newman
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Bob Arthur, Porter Hall, Frank Cade, Richard Benedict, Ray Real, and Frank Jaquet
For me, Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole is one of the greatest films ever. At the time it was released, it was a box office flop and most critics were none too happy with its scathing attacks on journalism. I suspect people were turned off by how closely Wilder took aim at the audience itself, completely exposing the idiocy of the American populace and equating them to sadistic vultures. While the film may not look it on the surface, it is one of the great film noirs out there. The setting is actually not unfamiliar ground for noir, since movies like Out of the Past and On Dangerous Ground do bring themselves to the open spaces of the countryside. Ace in the Hole certainly has its share of noir-ish moments as well, but what I like about it the most is how it manages to completely ridicule the media circus and the society out of which it was born. That it was made during the height of the Hays Code is even more astounding (it did run into problems with the Code, but the final product is nevertheless potent).
Kirk Douglas really does give one of the great performances out there, and Chuck Tatum belongs on a list of deeply flawed, yet fascinating characters that includes Fred C. Dobbs, Hank Quinlan, Dixon Steele, Jim Wilson, and more. From the opening shot, we can see he is an opportunist and a parasite, riding on the coattails of others. The great unwashed are also parasitic, feeding off the misery of others, but it would be a mistake to lump Tatum in the same pile. Whereas the public are essentially morons, Tatum is clever, manipulative, and most of all, he’s aware of his opportunism.
What the film does best is expose the media for what it really is: A circus built upon raking in profit and catering to their readers’ interest, rather than tell any valuable news. There is no dignity, nothing is sacred (just as Leo disregards the hallowed Indian burial grounds), and all that matters is getting to the top. Those early scenes where Tatum is selling himself for a price and prostituting his services don’t show his journalistic integrity but rather his willingness to do whatever it takes.
Ace in the Hole is a great film. I haven’t seen many films from Classical Hollywood that match its relentless attacks on the media, and moreover, the audience itself. The final shot of the film, with Tatum staring at the camera, is a chilling reminder of where much of the blame rests for the disintegration of the media’s value.
More gushing love here.
Posted 22 May 2009 - 09:11 AM
Because, for 7 beautifully engrossing hours, I get to live as the shadows of an entire village of people. An isolated people that are not understood because we are them.
I chose this film before any other of the thousand or so movies I've viewed because it had, upon first viewing and still has, this overwhelming power to make you really take to heart what you just experienced. I say experience because the film cannot merely be viewed or watched. The director so beautifully captures life and forces you to meditate on it to the point where, at times, I forgot I was watching a movie; I honestly felt as I was living as the shadow of the voyeuristic obese man that never left his chair that was so carefully placed in front of the window just so he could view the towns people so he could understand.
The movie is life captured on celluloid. Or should I say created?
I honestly don't really know what else to say about this film. We could probably start an entire thread on it and just debate, discuss and debate.
Posted 22 September 2009 - 04:39 PM
Sho o suteyo machi e deyo (1971)
aka Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets
Director: Terayama Shuji
Screenplay: Terayama Shuji
Starring: Sasaki Hideaki, Saito Masahiro, Kobayashi Yukiko, Tanaka Fudeko, Hiraizumi Sei, and Niitaka Keiko
Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets is sort of like the spirit of punk rock distilled into film and warped by Terayama's candy-coated, yet foreboding camera for 138 minutes of pure insanity. From the first scene, the medium of film and the act of film-watching is turned on its head. After a minute or so of a black screen with only faint sounds in the background, the star appears. "Me", played by Sasaki Hideaki stares into the camera in the blackness. He confronts the viewer, asking what they are doing there, what they want from the film, deconstructing the point of films and direct messages. After this opening, which completely warps the mindset of the viewer, "me" sets up the scene. He explains what his family is like, a typical Japanese family (
The film disperses and becomes a number of strange sketches and scenes, with some amazing Japanese punk rock on the soundtrack, which compliments the film in uncanny ways. The film captures rebellious teen angst, the confusing world, and general feelings of displacement flawlessly while still being a powerful political piece for its time and beyond. It deconstructs the medium of film, turning it into a hallucinatory world full of a whole range of different emotions and provocations. It may sound like something flimsy and random that could fall apart, but Terayama keeps it from becoming stale. I'd guess at least a third of the movie (probably closer to a half) is shown in strange tints, like in the picture above. It takes a minute to get used to, but it truly gives the film a feverish madness that feels completely right. Scenes flow, transition, twist, turn to the places you'd least expect. The lack of narrative doesn't make the film uninteresting, it makes it rather gripping. Never does one know what just happened, what will happen, or where this is going, but it feels right. It's an opus, a symphony, an epic. The juxtapositions of the film give it a strange power. There's many candid scenes on the street with people who were likely unaware of their being filmed combined with radical, surreal, scenes that look as fantastical as can be. This pegs Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets as a sort of branch between his low-key, pseudo-documentary-ish (but still weird as hell) Emperor Tomato Ketchup and his later films that look like carnivalized nightmares (such as Pastoral: To Die in the Country, Grass Labyrinth, and Farewell to the Ark). It also balances scenes of pure terror and emotion (
Kiss my ass
Posted 12 April 2010 - 03:33 PM
Taxi Driver (1976: Martin Scorsese):
Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is one of the great ineffable anti-heroes of the twentieth century. He is analogous to Joe Christmas of Light in August. They are characters of great loneliness, confusion, and angst. However, they would take opposite paths in life. Bickle is a mysterious figure who applies for a taxi position, because of his long bouts of insomnia. He is a former marine, honorably discharged, and is distrustful of blacks. The taxi is Bickle's vessel of loneliness. His interaction with humankind is the meager conversations with cabby clients and the small talk with other taxi-drivers. Most of his time spent is driving in the urban maze of the city during the night. This is Paul Schrader's version of Hell.
One of the key scenes in Taxi Driver is when Travis Bickle is talking to Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) on a payphone after a disastrous date and the camera pans to an empty hallway. It is as if Travis's pain is too much for us to watch. Scorsese said that this was one of the most important shots in the movie. The scene also represents many transitions for Bickle. Betsy represents a possible happiness for him. However, with Betsy breaking off the relationship, Bickle goes into a state of monomaniac insanity. He shifts his focus from Betsy to trying to save Iris (Jodie Foster), a teenage hooker.
The relationship between Bickle and Iris was influenced by John Ford's The Searchers where John Wayne searches for his niece whom is living with a tribe of Indians. When he finally finds her, she does not want to be saved. He saves her anyway. This is analogous to Iris who is hesitant to leaving or staying, but her destiny is not in her hands. She is under the guise of a pimp named Sport (Harvey Keitel) who sports a quasi-Indian hairdo (Searchers allusion), has one red long fingernail (Lucifer allusion) and calls Bickle "cowboy" (Searchers allusion). He promises much for Iris, but will not let her leave. Bickle wants to help Iris, but she says that she does not need it. She can handle herself. Bickle will save her anyway.
Palatine is Bickle's embodiment of evil. He is a hypocrite who will not clean up the filth, the scum of the streets. He is also the controller of Betsy. Bickle can see the lies and the evilness of Palatine, yet Betsy will spend countless hours trying to elect him and will not return Travis's telephone calls. After the failed assassination attempt on Palatine, Bickle then goes after Sport -- the scum of the streets and the controller of Iris.
The chaotic bloodbath that follows is Bickle's catharsis and redemption. . "Here is a man who would not take it anymore." After he disposes of Sport and several other people, he sits down bleeding on a couch. The camera looks down and slowly scrolls away showing all the carnage. It is as if Bickle's spirit is floating away. What happens next really surprised me.
The camera slowly scans several newspaper clippings. Apparently, Bickle went into a coma and eventually came out of it. He is considered a hero. Travis gets a letter from Iris's parents and they thank him for finding her. Later he picks up Betsy as a fare and she seems apologetic and asks how is he doing. Nothing more comes of that, because Travis lets her off at her stop and just smiles and takes off without even collecting a fare. It seems that everything right is now happening to Bickle. This cinematic masterpiece actually ends semi-happy. A twist I hope Hitchcock could have approved of.
De Niro would receive an Academy nomination for best actor, but would lose to Peter Finch who would win posthumously for his performance in Network. Robert's performance is perfectly played. Before shooting for the role, De Niro actually got a taxi license and picked up passengers for several weeks. He borrowed the clothes from Paul Schrader. Many scenes are improvised including the famous "You talking to me?" which is one of the most famous cinematic lines along with Midnight Cowboy's "Can't you see I'm walking here?!". What I like most about this film, besides the great performances and the great musical score by Bernard Herrmann -- his last, is that it is like a Melville novel where there is allegory and the writing transcends a straight narrative. Many film critics have different interpretations for what the allegorical nature of this film is. Great films should be like that. Multiple viewing should be rewarded.
My Criterion Collection (408; I Own and Have Watched):
1-16, 18, 19, 20, 21(2nd), 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51(1st & 2nd), 52, 52, 53, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86. 87, 88, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 105, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 121, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151(1st), 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 164, 165, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 177, 180, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 190, 193, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 201, 202, 204, 205, 206, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 216, 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, 222, 224, 226, 227, 231, 232, 233, 234, 235, 237, 239, 239, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244, 245, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 260, 263, 266, 267, 268, 271, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 288, 289, 290, 291, 292, 293, 294, 297, 298, 300(2D), 301, 302, 304, 305, 306, 308, 309, 310, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 318, 319, 320, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, 330, 331, 332, 335, 336, 338, 339, 340, 341, 342, 343, 344, 345, 346, 347, 348, 349, 351, 352, 353, 354, 357, 358, 359, 362, 363, 364, 365, 366, 367, 368, 369, 370, 371, 372, 373, 374, 375, 376, 378, 379, 380, 383, 385, 386, 387, 388, 391, 392, 393, 394, 395, 396, 397, 398, 399, 402, 404, 405, 408, 409, 410, 412, 413, 414, 415, 416, 417, 418, 419, 420, 421, 422, 424, 425, 427, 428, 429, 430, 431, 432, 433, 434, 435, 437, 439, 441, 445, 446, 447, 448, 451, 453, 455, 456, 457, 459, 460, 461, 462, 465, 470, 475, 476, 478, 481, 482, 487, 490, 497, 498, 499, 500, 501, 503, 505, 512, 524, 525, 526, 528, 529, 530, 531, 539, 540, 543, 556, 565, 572, 578, 579, 580, 586, 596, 650, 664, 677
Previous Editions: 2,
Eclipse: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 23, 26, 33
“Empty your bladder of that bitter black urine you call coffee.” – The Tick
My HK movie reviews
My Amazon Reviews
Posted 13 April 2010 - 12:11 PM
Director: Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly may be the film that instigated my love of film, but Once Upon a Time in the West convinced me that popular entertainment could also be great art. Sergio Leone's masterpiece is among the greatest examples of showing a story rather than telling it that exist in sound cinema. There is dialogue in the film, but it is completely abstract and has next to nothing to do with the plot. "You know, Wobbles, I'm kind of mad at you."
Everyone remembers Henry Fonda - Mr. Lincoln, Wyatt Earp himself - as the murderous pig who, in his first scene and brilliant introduction, kills and entire family, including a young boy, in cold blood. No less impressive here is Charles Bronson, who essentially plays the same character he always played, and yet is infinitely more effective and haunting in this role. And then there's Claudia Cardinale, who I fall in love with every time I watch the film. To be sure, Leone's depiction of women in his films is problematic at the very best and Cardinale here plays a prostitute, but she's probably the loveliest hooker in all of cinema. Stuck with the thankless role - and I think he steals all his scenes - is Jason Robards as, ahem, a Native American outlaw. The casting is preposterous, but he really hits all the right notes, and by the end, you feel for this man who is sick of the life he has led.
An then there's the film's MVP: Ennio Morricone. In two and a half hours, Leone and Morricone turn this film into a true horse opera. Music is so vital to this film, and so perfectly integrated, that at one point Henry Fonda's horse is galloping in time. In contrast to his theme-filled, elaborate score for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Morricone here opts for a more intimate approach. Each of the four main characters (and one supporting character) have their own themes. In a perfect world, As a Judgment, Frank's theme, would play every time I walked into a room.
The film is full of visual references to other westerns, from Nicholas Ray to John Ford to Howard Hawks to Budd Boetticher and Anthony Mann. It's been called the first "post-modern film" because of this. Leone doesn't go for subtlety here, and yet the characters never tell us how they feel. Every scene is played with a sort of quiet bombast. Every act is ritualized to the point of near absurdity, and every scene plays out exactly how it is supposed to based on the rules set by filmmakers prior to Leone. At the same time, every scene and every character is cliche. Leone exaggerates these cliches until they become something wholly new. Every act is full of great importance, and none more than the final, inevitable showdown. It goes on three times longer than it has any right to, and right as it should be ending, we cut to a flashback. The end of this showdown, and how Frank realizes who Harmonica is, still gives me chills.
Posted 11 May 2010 - 08:07 AM
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999) and Team America: World Police (2004)
Director: Trey Parker
Fuck Dream Girls. Fuck Chicago. Fuck Nine. Fuck Evita. Definitely fuck The Phantom of the Opera and Rent.
With their brilliant blend of social and political satire, juvenile humor, and intentionally crude technique, no two films in recent memory can make me double over laughing like these. Between the two films, no one is left unmocked. Oh yeah, and they're the two greatest original musicals that the screens produced in years. If you exclude Disney films, they could be the best since the '40s and '50s heyday of the genre. Between the two films, you've got a dozen or more really great songs.
I doubt that anyone would suspect that South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, with its dick-joke title and construction-paper-looking animation, would be as smart and witty as it actually is. The film first and foremost is an attack on censorship and the lack of parental responsibility in America. When the kids start dropping F-bombs, it's easier to "Blame Canada", as the song says, than actually, you know, do anything about it. Elsewhere, "Mountain Town" and "Up There" are dead-on parodies of songs in several Disney films, most notably Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, respectively. "La Resistance" is another of these, this time paying tribute to Le Miserables. And then there are others: "What Would Brian Boitano Do?", "Uncle Fucka", "It's Easy MMMkay", and others. What is truly astonishing about these songs, though, is just how good they actually are. Curiously, too, there isn't a whole lot of irony to be found in them. I wouldn't say that the movie is "making fun" of musicals at all. In fact, it very sincerely, completely, and simply is one.
An then there's Team America: World Police, which is the closest thing this generation is going to get to a Dr. Strangelove. Here, the crude animation gives way to technically impressive marionettes, but the puppets are primarily and brilliantly to display how utterly ridiculous American action movies have become, specifically those of Michael Bay. Take out the songs and film this script with actors, and it would be indistinguishable from any number of shitty action movies that have come out since Top Gun. All the humor would be lost in the translation, as well, as American action films have forgotten how to not take themselves too seriously.
And again, you have a wonderful musical masquerading as something else. I'm honestly surprised that the Kim Jong Il ballad "I'm So Ronery" wasn't nominated for an Academy Award. It, like all the songs in the film, is hilarious, weirdly touching, and most importantly explores the depth of the film while advancing the storyline - something lost in the majority of drama-stop-song-continue drama modern musicals. Then there's "America: Fuck Yeah!", "Montage", "Freedom Isn't Free", and my personal favorite: "Pearl Harbor Sucks". Just reading the titles makes me smile.
Both films lampoon the simple-mindedness of Americans. In South Park, horrible violence and sex is perfectly acceptable...but swearing will not be tolerated. In Team America, the streets of Paris - which is filled with every French landmark that Americans would readily recognize in a single shot - are paved with croissants. Team America proceeds in leveling the entire city, and then tells the Parisians that "you're welcome" as a young puppet-boy surveys the damage wide-mouthed. These films work on many different levels, but are first and foremost absolutely hilarious and unexpectedly intelligent comedy-musicals.
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