One Hundred Nights At The Cinema: Nos. 20 - 1Jan 27, 2003 Write an essay on this topic.
The Bottom Line Mission: Accomplished
Nos. 100 - 81: http://www.epinions.com/content_2970853508
Nos. 80 - 61: http://www.epinions.com/content_3007160452
Nos. 60 - 41: http://www.epinions.com/content_3034226820
Nos. 40 - 21: http://www.epinions.com/content_3058999428
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This is the final installment of my list of Top 100 Favourite Movies of All Time. The first four installments can be found at the links above. If you haven't already, take a moment to peruse them. There's some fascinating reading there, methinks.
My goal, when I originally conceived this project, was that I would publish a 20-film segment of the list every two weeks, until all 100 films were accounted for. The first part of the list would honour (and become) my 100th review here at Epinions.com. The last part of the list, if I timed things right, would be published on my 28th birthday. Being the sort of soul who often conceives enormous projects for himself, then fails to follow them through until completion, I wouldn't have been surprised if I'd given up somewhere in the mid-60s. But I didn't. The first part was indeed my 100th epinion. And today not only sees the publication of the last part of the list (and the revelation of what will most undoubtedly go down in history as the undisputed choice of the Greatest Movie of All Time) but is also my birthday.
Don't feel bad if you didn't get me anything. A friendly (or fiery) comment, after you've read the Top 20, always makes a great gift.
20. Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, a.k.a. Amélie
directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001
Much has been said about the whimsy of " Amélie". And the sheer romanticism of the whole thing. And the fact that Paris has never actually been this beautiful, but really should have been. And people love the garden gnome bit. And the Glass Man. And the talking pig lamp.
I love all this stuff too. But " Amélie" really hits home for me in its portrayal of shyness.
I am a shy person. I suspect writing close to 25,000 words on my 100 favourite films might have sent you off that scent, but it's true. In person, I am. Audrey Tautou, as our titular hero, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, as our writer/director, bring an eerily accurate representation of shyness to the screen. I've heard many a complaint from extroverts of all ages who loathe this movie, for the simple fact that Amélie doesn't open up and bare her soul to Nino. But I know better. I see it in her eyes, and her shaking hands, and her pursed lips. Amélie is a shy soul. And it strikes me that her actions here are just so perfect and real.
Am I Amélie? Well, minus the crooked bob and clunky boots (while adding a Y-chromosome), I guess I am. Which is why I love my little Parisian counterpart all the more.
directed by Woody Allen, 1979
"Manhattan", to me, was the first time Woody Allen managed to make an adult comedy that lived up to its artistic pretensions. It is art on a visual, sonic, aesthetic, and emotional level. All this, and terribly funny too.
My favourite sequence is when a couple takes shelter from the rain inside a planetarium. It's a very self-conscious moment that fits nicely into the midpoint of the film. Also, it allows Woody to (later) deliver my favourite line of the movie: "I wanted to throw you down on the lunar surface and commit interstellar perversions." The wit flies fast and furious. Listen to Woody's response to his girlfriend's declaration that a child raised by two mothers has a good chance at turning into a healthy result: "It's my experience that most people don't survive one mother." Or his rejoinder to a woman whose doctor told her she had the "wrong kind of orgasm": "Even my worst one was right on the money." The writing is solid, and sometime brilliant.
A "film" strives towards an artistic message, combining poetry with humanity. A "movie's" main goal is to entertain, with art as an afterthought. After seeing "Manhattan" for a second time, I came to the conclusion that it's a better "film" than "Annie Hall', which is a better "movie". You go to one for an entirely different purpose than you go to the other for. When taken for what they are, however, both are as perfect as Woody Allen is going to get.
directed by Roman Polanski, 1974
"Chinatown" works (wonderfully, marvelously, magically) on two levels for me. First, it is a technical masterpiece. Roman Polanski's direction moves the story along with ease, sparing no expense on style or panache. Robert Towne's screenplay is a textbook example of how to handle complex structure, while sprinkling flowery dialogue into your characters' mouths. The actors are all note-perfect, save Faye Dunaway whose penciled-in eyebrows and wails of passion always strike me as false. Although, for a character hiding a secret, maybe this was intentional. John Huston, Polanski in a cameo, and, of course, an on-top-of-his-game Jack Nicholson all inhabit their characters like they were well-worn overcoats.
The second level on which "Chinatown" works is a more visceral one. It'll make you laugh (detective Jake Gittes antics are mirthful in the beginning) or cry (the famous revelation scene where Nicholson smacks the truth out of Dunaway) or reel in horror (when the truth about Huston's Noah Cross bubbles to the surface, the flaws of humanity are made apparent). And it will have you on the edge of your seat (forgive the cliché) in anticipation of just how all of this will turn out. For a story about water in 1930s Los Angeles, it's quite the surprise that you just can't forget "Chinatown".
directed by Terry Zwigoff, 1994
When I began compiling this list, I had but one rule for inclusion: the film in question must be a fiction, or at the very least a docudrama/biopic. Thus, no documentaries were allowed. It was hard to exclude such powerful pieces of work as "Roger & Me", "Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse", "Hoop Dreams", and "When We Were Kings" (not to mention recent contenders "The Kid Stays In The Picture" and "Bowling For Columbine").
But when I got to Terry Zwigoff's "Crumb", I just didn't have the heart to let it go. I've seen the films at least half a dozen times, and it never fails to knock me over with its power. Quite strange, when the subject is a burnt out comic strip artist, best know for the phrase "Keep on Truckin'" and the character Fritz the Cat. I have to believe that if you are put-off by R. Crumb's "other" art (the headless women with monstrous thighs; the caricatures of blacks as wild jungle-dwellers), or find his frank admissions of "perverse" sexual attractions uncomfortable, or find yourself with a wardrobe full of San Francisco 49er memorabilia, then you will be put off by Crumb's character as well.
I'm not. He's fascinating. Crumb, armed with a voice that's both nasal and incredulous, and his lunatic family are a fascinating bunch to watch. You can't help but feel their pain, their social awkwardness, and their insecurities, while admiring their enormous talents. It's a fascinating portrait that deserves its lofty place on this list.
16. Before Sunrise
directed by Richard Linklater, 1995
I have these two rules, regarding romantic comedies and what I need to enjoy them. First, I have to fall in love with the girl. Second, I can't envy the boy who gets to have that girl fall in love with him.
I fell in love with Julie Delpy. Her Celine is doe-eyed and precious, moving effortlessly through the streets of Vienna like a water nymph. And she is whip-smart to boot, demure, shy, and hopelessly romantic. Then, in moments, she is shockingly blasphemous (her exclamation under the stars is the most apt use of the f-word I can think of). Then we have Ethan Hawke, who is deserving of her affection. Even though we've seen Ethan play this kind of character before (unwashed, verbose, faux-beatnik), his Jesse is not the least bit annoying. He is her equal in intellect, innocence, and world-weariness.
These two have a wonderful time in this movie. From the first, electrically charged moments when they meet on the train, to their long walk-and-talks through the Viennese streets, to their inevitable parting, every moment was entertaining, alive, and true.
There really is no story here. They meet, they talk (great dialogue, by the way; feels improvised, but in a good way). What gives the drama weight is that they (and the audience) know that they're obviously perfect for each other, yet will only have one night together. It's a great setup that's executed perfectly. Some would say the ending is kind of hokey, but really, what would you do in the same situation?
15. Chasing Amy
directed by Kevin Smith, 1997
Boy meets girl. Boy finds out girl is a lesbian. Boy pursues girl anyway. Girl changes teams. Girl finds out boy is an insecure jerk. Boy loses girl. Boy proposes bisexual three-way in an attempt to get girl back. Boy fails miserably.
From this rather rudimentary(!) structure, writer/director Kevin Smith weaves a tale of romance that is at once complex and simple. It is without a doubt his most adult work, as it manages, between the references to "Jaws" and "Star Wars" and cunnilingus, to ask thoughtful and serious questions about the nature of love, the nature of sexuality, and the nature of friendship.
Ben Affleck, despite the hastily-grown goatee, is as authentic and real here as he's been in a role since (not saying much, but we'll take what we can get from Gentle Ben). His Holden is love-drunk, but still manages a number of witty and relevant speeches. The recipient of said speeches, more often than not, is Joey Lauren Adams. Smith wrote the part of Alyssa for Adams, his ex-girlfriend, as a way of explaining the demise of their relationship. Adams takes the pain the part must have drummed-up and channels it into a dramatic and heart-wrenching performance. And Jason Lee, as best bud Banky, shows a propensity for deadpan scatology and busy hands in a performance that is both juvenile and impressively mature.
And Smith, who had just come from the critical mess "Mallrats", shows that he is a real filmmaker and not just a purveyor of poopy jokes. Not that I mind the poopy jokes. But with "Chasing Amy" you get so much more.
directed by Doug Liman, 1996
At my parents' house, we used to have one of those illegal cable boxes that gave us free access to the pay-per-view movie channels. You know, the ones that play the same movie over and over and over again, all day long, all weekend long (rest assured, all you law enforcement types, the box is long gone by now).
Well, when "Swingers" came to pay-TV, I wasn't overly anxious about seeing it. The whole "swing" scene of the early nineties was a mystery to me, a seemingly inconsequential trend more concerned with materialistic things (zoot suits and martinis and Dean Martin, etc.) than with anything of value.
But I started watching "Swingers" early one Saturday morning. And by Sunday night I must have seen it a dozen or so times. The darned thing caught me, hook, line, and sinker. Was it Vince Vaughan's irresistible star-making performance as lothario Trent Walker? Or Jon Favreau as Mikey, the recently-dumped nice guy, looking for love in Los Angeles (Favreau, impressively, also wrote the script)? Or the climactic scene where Heather Graham (gasp!) flirts and dances her way into Mikey's heart? Well, it's all three and so much more.
"Swingers" is leaps and bounds above the trifling little comedy that I expected it to be. It's got much to say about life and love and love lost. And yeah, sure, the music is pretty money, too.
13. Citizen Kane
directed by Orson Welles, 1941
If you ever get the chance or the urge to put together your own top 100 films list (My advice: don't! It'll eat you alive!), and don't include "Citizen Kane", there could only be three justifiable reasons:
1. You haven't seen the movie. Not a crime in and of itself, but an indication that you need to get yourself to the video store. Pronto.
2. You're actively rebelling against the staid conservatism of the AFI Top 100 list. Not a very mature reason, but I understand it nonetheless.
3. You are blind, deaf, and can only experience sensory input through your fingertips. "Citizen Kane", sadly, is not a very tactile film.
I have seen "Citizen Kane", am willing to own up to its greatness, and have full use of my eyes and ears. I'm more than willing to call Orson Welles' cinematic tribute to one man's hubris, and America in general, a groundbreaking film. An important film. And, most importantly, an enjoyable film. Herman J. Mankiewicz' script (with help from Welles and John Houseman) is as sharp as the key of D-flat, the performances (esp. Welles, but also his Mercury Theatre cohort Joseph Cotton) are stylish and sassy and oh so delightful. And the film's technical aspects provide a visual treat that filmmakers are still trying to emulate, if not just catch up with. A solid flick on all accounts, thta more than earns its lofty reputation.
12. The Royal Tenenbaums
directed by Wes Anderson, 2001
I'm almost aghast when someone tells me they didn't find "The Royal Tenenbaums" funny. Sure, I suppose that some might find it tough to laugh out loud at a film that prominently features references to incest, cancer, and attempted suicide. But those features make it even more hilarious to me. "The Royal Tenenbaums" goes to the deepest mines of the human soul, takes great pains to gather the most precious ore, buffs it up and presents it to the audience as beautiful brass.
Wes Anderson -- who I'll readily admit to having a complete obsession with for the last 5 years -- creates a hermetically sealed world that is at once specifically Manhattan while also being completely fiction. His shot compositions are like Bosch painting, filled with details covering every inch, depicting a world that is at once Heaven and Hell. His musical tastes, while they don't overlap with anything I've been listening to, always lead me to discover new songs and new emotions. And his work with actors is impeccable. Sure, he got a great performance out of Gene Hackman. But isn't that a given? The surprise is that Luke Wilson, who one reviewer here once described as having a "slight" quirkiness which "prevents him from being the dullest leading man ever", delivers an emotionally raw performance that serves as the centrepiece of the movie.
Okay. So you're not sure if "Tenenbaums" is for you, right?. Let me offer you a quick taste to whet your whistle of the kind of shenanigans Wes Anderson indulges himself in: A scene between Hackman and Kumar Palana takes place in Battery Park, and is staged so that in Hackman's point-of-view shot Palana is standing directly in front of the Statue of Liberty, obscuring it from view. Why? Only Wes knows. Intrigued yet? See the film.
11. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1964
I realize I've said this before (at Nos. 78 & 60), but at one point I considered "Dr. Strangelove" my favourite movie of all time. The fact that this designation has changed so often throughout my life only proves the folly of etching such a list as this in stone (pun intended). But here we are, so we may as well continue.
It always floors me when I realize that this is a Stanley Kubrick movie. Sure, the man has put laughs on celluloid before and since, most of them as black as the stuff you'll find here (e.g. The ending of "The Killing"; R. Lee Ermey's dialogue in "Full Metal Jacket"). But in "Dr. Strangelove" he found such a correct balance between broad and subtle comedy. Witness George C. Scott, whose character (General Buck Turgidson), is a cigar-chomping, eyes-bugging-out, head-wagging, suspender-snapping, dancing-monkey of a man. Broad as all outdoors. But he's talking about serious things, such as the apocalypse, as if the only fallout would be that we "get our hair mussed". Or the triple-threat work of Peter Sellers. In one corner he's a staid British Group Captain, just trying to keep his wits about him. In another corner he's the never-flustered President, trying his best to cut through the Vodka-induced haze of the Soviet Premier and stop WWIII. And in a third corner he's the title character, an over-the-top ex-Nazi scientist, confined to a wheelchair and tormented by a sentient right hand. And did you know that Kubrick actually shot footage where the War Room finds out Armageddon is upon them and a pie fight breaks out? Ha!
(Which reminds me, "Strangelove" contains possibly my favourite movie line of all time: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here this is the War Room!" I don't know who came up with that one, but I'm inclined to give Terry Southern credit.)
(Finally, the Top Ten. I feel like there should be a huge ceremonial ball, somewhere, starting its descent.)
10. Reservoir Dogs
directed by Quentin Tarantino, 1992
First off, here are three possible explanations for the film's title (quoted verbatim from several internet sites):
*When Tarantino worked in a video store, he referred to the French film "Au Revoir Les Enfants" as "the reservoir film" because he couldn't pronounce the title. He combined this with "Straw Dogs", a Sam Peckinpah film from 1971, to produce the title "Reservoir Dogs".
*It's a bad pun on "damned son's of bitches".
*Laurence Tierney (Joe Cabot) once said to a German journalist, "Well, you know, 'reservoir dogs' is a very famous expression in America for dogs who hang around the reservoir." (this is my new favourite)
Whatever the explanation, the rest of "Reservoir Dogs" makes perfect sense. I know, the structure is fractured, and the characters are highly stylized, not to mention the otherworldly dialogue (which is of course the hallmark of any Tarantino film). But that's all part of the fun. And even though most will point (justifiably) to the ear-slicing scene and the Mexican stand-off scene as the high points of the film, I would urge you on your next viewing (because of course there will always be another viewing of "Reservoir Dogs" to come) to closely watch Tim Roth's performance. It is a staggering thing when you realize just how many layers this guy has to bust through in order to realistically portray a man of such complexity. There's a quiet moment in front of a mirror that just punches me in the gut every time I see it. Roth doesn't get enough credit, here.
9. The Philadelphia Story
directed by George Cukor, 1940
"The Philadelphia Story" does an interesting thing: it casts the pulled-himself-up-by-his-bootstraps working-class-hero as the stuffed-shirt villain, and gives the layabout yacht-building millionaire the hero's role. Then, it asks that you sympathize with the stuck-up rich girl, and begs you to understand why her character is still too good for the struggling and sensitive artist. Finally, it features a scene where a precocious (ugh) little girl shows off by singing a blaring version of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" (a song that should only be sung if your first name is "Groucho" or if your last name is "The Frog").
Despite these bouts with iconoclasm, "The Philadelphia Story" manages to be an easygoing and enjoyable picture. Set on a weekend where a society daughter plans to marry a nouveau riche industrialist, it features a script by Philip Barry (and Waldo Salt) that captures the whip-smart theatricality of David Ogden Stewart's play. The story moves forward with the force of a charging rhino, and not only features a blockbuster party scene, but the epic hangover scene that would logically follow it.
All that, and I haven't even mentioned the divine acting troika of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart. Kate is gorgeous, sassy, and vulnerable; Cary is strong, smart, and a little bit damaged; while Jimmy, in his only Oscar-winning role, is wise, funny, and terribly conceited. Their chemistry together is perfect, and so is the movie.
8. Bull Durham
directed by Ron Shelton, 1988
One of the most inexplicable things about contemporary Hollywood cinema is how much Kevin Costner sucks. I mean, he really sucks. When he tries to do a regional accent, it sucks. When he tries to direct important epic stories, they suck. When he just walks down the street minding his own business, miles away from anything remotely resembling a movie theatre, he sucks. Sucks. Sucks. Sucks.
This fact is inexplicable because in at least the two movies he made with Ron Shelton (not to mention "Field of Dreams", which already made its appearance on this list), he's been downright perfect. Sure, "Tin Cup" was a rambling mess, hampered by Don Johnson's charismatically challenged appearance as the villain. But Costner was damn good in it. And in his first Shelton collaboration, "Bull Durham", Costner showed why movie stars get paid the big bucks: you can't take your eyes off him, so drenched in cool is he.
Okay, you probably should take your eyes off him once in a while, lest you miss the Walt Whitman-reading sex bomb performance of Susan Sarandon, or the royal rubeness of Tim Robbins. They're both great. But it is Costner who really makes Shelton's script (so smart, it doesn't even need a climactic baseball game to round out its story; it just lets its people live their little lives) come to life. He's worn down, wise, handsome, athletic, and not an easy sufferer of fools. He's so good here, in a movie that keeps up with his performance, I can forgive all the sucking he's done since.
(And Sarandon delivers a line here that might as well be my mantra: "The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness." So true, that.)
7. The Godfather
directed by Francis Ford Coppola, 1972
Have you ever taken a look at the Internet Movie Database's (IMDb.com) list of "Top 250 movies as voted by our users" (http://us.imdb.com/top_250_films)? I check it out all the time. It seems to have found a great middle ground, between the populist tastes of the masses and the credibility of the critics' picks.
Anyway, I remember when I first got online, "The Usual Suspects" was the #1 movie. A dubious choice, to be sure, owing more to the hype surrounding it at the time than anything else. Then, for a short stretch, "The Shawshank Redemption" topped to list. Ever since then, and we're going on what must be three years now, the number one film, as voted by the IMDb's distinguished vox populi, has been "The Godfather".
This owes much to the fact that "The Godfather" is both a crowd-pleasing blockbuster and a rich thematic story full of technical proficiency. In the former category, there are enough bang-bang shoot-em-ups to appease the guns-n-ammo crowd, and an overloaded cast (Brando, Caan, Duvall, Cazale, Keaton, and most especially Pacino are all wonderful) for those wowed by star-power. In the latter category, there are enough simply stated revenge sequences to satisfy those with a taste for time-honoured themes, and enough complex familial strife to satisfy those with a taste for America allegories. But above all, "The Godfather" achieves such universal acclaim because at nearly three hours, there isn't a boring or inconsequential or shallow moment to be found. Take that to the bank.
directed by David Fincher, 1995
(There might have been a certain poetry if "Se7en" had clocked in here at #7. Missed it by one. Alas.)
I watched "Se7en" again recently, for something like the hundredth time. I still get a crackle in my nether regions (an excitement of an aesthetic, not sexual, nature) every time the detectives and the SWAT team bombard Sloth's apartment. And then I jump -- without fail -- when that victim takes his last dying breath. The tableaus of the murders, a series of grisly scenes, are a tour de force performance of production design meshing perfectly with directorial vision. We never see the blood being spilled; but we do see it, the next morning, drying on the carpet. I dare you to study closely the Lust aftermath, to give but one stunning example, without imagining the crime. Horror, as director Fincher presents it, is better left in the mind's eye.
Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker's take on the buddy cop flick and the serial killer movie manages to gang rape the conventions of both genres, and throw in some nifty storytelling tricks too. I mean, any movie where the killer is revealed like he is here has got the market cornered on originality. Unless you've already heard the details of the gruesome ending, I'll bet you'll experience it like I did upon my first viewing; someone could have taken the rest of me seat away, for I only needed the edge.
Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play the lead cops, the dynamic rookie and the tired veteran respectively. Only their performances, and their chemistry together, are far and above anything else this genre has to offer. You can see the two men, and the two actors, slowly learning from each other. The time spent with the characters -- developing them, getting to know them, learning to like them -- makes the payoff that much more powerful.
I'll stop hyping now. You now know where I stand.
5. Say Anything...
directed by Cameron Crowe, 1989
There's something about the combination of Cameron Crowe's unabashed romanticism and John Cusack's hard-won live-in-the-moment pragmatism that I find endlessly appealing. One takes the edge off the other, while the other fights long and hard to keep the edges sharp, and the story as complex as real life.
Their shared creation, uber-teenager Lloyd Dobler, embodies everything I strived to be when I was his age. Who am I kidding? I'm still striving to achieve the perfect state of Lloyd-ness. His focused intensity, his individuality, his idealism, his optimism mixed with a healthy dose of reality, his heart-on-the-sleeve emotional openness. Lloyd is nearly the perfect role model for the modern man. He embodies all these characteristics, and can also take a kick to the face without crumbling up in the fetal position.
Diane Court, his beloved, is a bit of a mixed bag. I never understand why Lloyd pursues here, but then again if I understood Lloyd completely he'd be that much less interesting. Ione Skye is plenty pretty as Diane, but she's got a frilly-dress immaturity about here.
Still, Crowe's ode to teenage romance is deceptively simple, yet fraught with an army of adolescent issues. And on top of that, there's a neat little subplot, involving the great John Mahoney as Diane's father, which could have been easily excised, but exists to add depth and scope to the story.
Alright. I'm also a sucker for the boombox scene. Sue me.
4. Pulp Fiction
directed by Quentin Tarantino, 1994
"Pulp Fiction" is rated highly on this list for reasons that you, an informed cinephile, will most likely have already heard. I'm not going to rehash its importance here.
But I will say that it always stuns me when I'm watching the film, and loving the film, that I would, if given powers of cinematic omnipotence, recast most of the movie's major roles.
I've already stated, at least a couple of times here, my intense dislike for John Travolta. As far as I can tell, any actor with a modicum of rhythm and a bit of dishevelment could have played Vincent Vega. Bruce Willis doesn't do much for me here either. I just can't see him as a washed-up boxer (or even a successful boxer). Eric Stoltz has no credibility as a suburban drug dealer. And Uma Thurman doesn't even come close to giving an authentic dialogue reading. Okay, maybe she has a nice moment at the end with Travolta on the porch, but that's about it as far as I can tell.
(In smaller roles, I always find it distracting when I notice the least funny ever "MadTV" cast member, Phil Lamarr, or "The Doors" Robby Krieger, Frank Whaley, lurking around in the background.)
Despite these dubious decisions, Tarantino still manages to make a diamond out of a lump of coal. Sam Jackson, Ving Rhames, Chris Walken, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Harvey Keitel, even Tarantino himself(!) are all super. I could watch "Pulp Fiction" all day long, and the jolt of energy it gives me would never dissipate.
3. The Silence of the Lambs
directed by Jonathan Demme, 1991
In the early versions of this list, made for fun years ago, "The Silence of the Lambs" held the top spot like Hannibal Lecter held on to Lt. Boyle's tongue. There was no prying it off.
So why did it drop two spots? Well, the two less-than-complimentary sequels/prequels, whose existences only serve to tarnish the patriarch's image, certainly didn't help. And the power of Anthony Hopkins' performance, as the ur-serial killer of the nineties, has diminished over time. I'm no longer bowled over by his menagerie of affectations (okay, yes I am; just not nearly as much). And, let's face it, it's been so long since my first, terrified viewing. The frights, after having seen them many times over my many viewings, no loner get me on a visceral level.
That being said, the reason "Silence" maintains a lofty perch in the Top 5 is that, while some of its prominent features have weakened, others have gained strength.
Jodie Foster's performance, which I first classified as fraudulent, I now understand is supposed to be fraudulent. She is covering up a past best left forgotten. Note the slight change in her accent when she tells the story that explains the film's title. It is a superb case study in actor's control. The cunning, craftiness of the screenplay still works for me. Ted Tally, who with every increasing film I see more and more as a one-hit-wonder, captures the tight plotting and exquisite characterizations of Thomas Harris' novel, while offering up its own cinematic tricks. And Jonathan Demme's direction, especially when compared with Brett Ratner's attempts to ape it, is low-key but always effective. He manages his actors with supreme grace, and delivers all the punches of the story using just the right tone.
Falling from #1 to #3 is probably not as fatal a nosedive as I made it out to be initially. "The Silence of the Lambs", in my estimation, is still a killer flick (the banal pun is, of course, quite intended).
2. Fight Club
directed by David Fincher, 1999
With only the simple pattern of his filmmography as evidence, David Fincher has made a deal with me. He gets to alternate between making lukewarm exercises in high-concept earnestness that I find admirable but tedious ("Alien³", "The Game", "Panic Room") and brilliant mindf**ks starring Brad Pitt. So far the pattern has held true. But with the announcement that Finch will tackle "M:I-3" next, thus breaking the pattern, does that mean I have to wait until 2006 for the follow-up to "Fight Club"?
The interesting thing about "Fight Club" (well, one of them, anyway), is that on the surface it plays out like a condemnation of the society that produces "thirty year old boy[s] a generation of men raised by women." They're the kind of people that need to take back their masculinity by participating in underground bare-knuckle boxing matches (that slowly grow violently out of control). But on another level, a level that I find devilishly appealing, it also brilliantly and subtly satirizes the whininess of said generation. For one such example, check out the blank stares, the anti-individualism, and, yes, the quasi-fascism of the "His name Robert Paulson" scene. Tyler Durden is not only a freedom fighter; he's also a power-monger. A paradox of ridiculous proportions.
"Fight Club" is such an overwhelming experience -- visually, thematically, etc. -- that every time I watch it I find myself in a hyper-focused state for hours afterward, staring with laser-like intensity at the world around me, quite sure that I understand it just a little bit more. Take that for what it's worth.
And now, finally, the top of the heap
[be patient delayed gratification is good for you]
directed by Wes Anderson, 1998
I was going to do something rather high-concept with this mini-review of "Rushmore" (now definitively known as the Best Movie Of All Time!). I was going to pick out one scene, detail its components in the most effusive language possible, with the hopes that you the reader -- like Pavlov's dog -- would start to salivate at the prospect of watching this wonderful scene and, by extension, the whole movie.
Then I was going to tell you that said scene was my least favourite in the entire film, further proving the movie's greatness through the inherent value of its weakest link! Ta-da!
The problem I ran into was this: when I went to re-watch the movie again (not for the purposes of this list, mind you; I pretty much watch "Rushmore" at least once a month), I couldn't find a scene worthy of the designation 'worst scene in the film'. To use an inappropriate example, it was like "Sophie's Choice", and I was Meryl Streep. Every scene is a perfect mixture of low-key but realistic acting, lush cinematography, picture-perfect shot composition, dense and substantial production design, timely editing, simple yet flowery dialogue, narrative propulsion, and pleasing musical scoring.
Much of the credit goes to Wes Anderson, director and co-screenwriter, who has assembled a perfect cast and crew to help him realize his vision. Co-screenwriter Owen Wilson, actors Jason Schwartzman ('Max Fischer'; possibly the best acting performance by a relative amateur that I know of), Bill Murray ('Herman Blume'; a different kind of Murray role, but still spot-on), Olivia Williams ('Rosemary Cross'; the justifiable love interest, and a complete character in her own right), Seymour Cassell, Brian Cox, Mason Gamble, and Sara Tanaka, cinematographer Robert Yeoman, composer Mark Mothersbaugh (ex-Devo frontman) I could go on through the entire credit list dishing out kudos.
But I won't. You've been patient enough, reading through my deserted island filmmography. It was a lot of fun to write, but also kind of a chore by the end. Still, as Max Fischer might say: "It went okay At least nobody got hurt."
Thanks for hanging in with me. If you agree with most of my choices, then congratulations on having excellent taste. If you disagree, then feel free to rag on me in the comments section.
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Directors with 2 or more entries:
(5) -- Coen, Joel (w/ bro Ethan)
(3) -- Allen, Woody; Anderson, Wes; Coppola, Francis Ford; Kubrick, Stanley; Tarantino, Quentin
(2) -- Crowe, Cameron; Fincher, David; Gilliam, Terry; Hill, George Roy; Hitchcock, Alfred; LaBute, Neil; Lean, David; Lehmann, Michael; Newell, Mike; Polanski, Roman; Reiner, Rob; Ritchie, Guy; Spielberg, Steven
Actors with 3 or more entries:
(6) -- Buscemi, Steve
(5) -- Keaton, Diane; Tarantino, Quentin*
(4) -- DeNiro, Robert; Duvall, Robert; McDormand, Frances; Murray, Bill; Pitt, Brad
(3) -- Allen, Woody; Caan, James; DeVito, Danny; Farina, Dennis; Fishburne, Laurence; Ford, Harrison; Gandolfini, James; Guinness, Alec; Hackman, Gene; Jackson, Samuel L.; Jones, James Earl; Keitel, Harvey; Linney, Laura; MacDowell, Andie; Pacino, Al; Pantoliano, Joe; Redford, Robert**; Robbins, Tim; Shearer, Harry; Travolta, John; Turturro, John; Walken, Christopher; Wilson, Luke; Wilson, Owen*
* - includes 1 film as screenwriter only
** - includes 1 film as producer only
Films by decade:
1920s or prior: 0
Films by genre
(according to the IMDb; of course some films may fit into more than one genre but you knew that already)
Films that won the Best Picture Oscar (9)
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Godfather: Part II
Lawrence of Arabia
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The Silence of the Lambs
Until next time
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