Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Favorite Films, Part X

The tenth and final part of my 100 favorite movies list. As is painfully obvious, the last two decades have seen, for me, a steady decline in the total moviegoing experience.

“Time After Time” (1979): An earlier 100 favorite movie entry was “The Time Machine” (1960) based on H.G. Wells’ famous story. This fantasy/love story/thriller posits that Wells really did build a time machine and used it to track Jack the Ripper from Victorian England to modern-day San Francisco. This is a winner all the way, with enormously appealing performances by Malcolm McDowell as Wells and Mary Steenburgen as Amy, the liberated modern day woman he falls in love with. The always underrated David Warner makes a menacing Jack the Ripper. Many hybrid movies don’t work, but this one does. I can remember seeing this at a film club screening and the scene where Wells tells Amy he would like her to go back in time with him. This very sophisticated crowd started applauding and yelling at the screen, “Go back, go back.” Miklos Rozsa provides one of the greatest scores of his long and illustrious career, with an end credits treatment of the love theme that is glorious beyond words. It literally gave me goose bumps the first time I heard it, and it’s still one of my all-time favorite pieces of music.

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981): Probably my favorite Steven Spielberg film, and one of the most enjoyable times I ever had in a movie theater. Nazis make the perfect villains. They have no redeeming qualities, there’s nothing good to be said for them. There are no gray areas with Nazis, just stick a swastika on some bozo’s arm and we have every right to cheer and applaud when Indiana Jones forces their jeep to go shooting over a cliff or we watch their faces melt courtesy of a Higher Power. Hopefully, it brought people’s attention to the great Republic serials of the 1940s, serials they might likely have never seen. While I’ve never seen it, I think Raiders’ main inspiration comes from the well-regarded “Secret Service in Darkest Africa” (dynamite title, by the way), featuring Nazis looting archaeological treasures from the Dark Continent.

“Conan the Barbarian” (1982): Mainly for the Basil Poledouris score, which is one of the greatest ever written; an absolutely towering landmark in film music. It’s so good it was naturally ignored by the Music Branch of the Academy, so no Best Score nomination for Mr. Poledouris, which is one of the biggest oversights in Academy Awards history. In addition to the music, there is an epic quality to the story that so many fantasy films fail to achieve. We can thank director/writer John Milius for that. I wish he had been given another Conan assignment. Heck, I’d settle for any new Milius movie. The man loves history, storytelling, larger than life characters and is one of the best dialogue writers in the business.

“Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” (1985): The first time I saw this I had no idea who Pee Wee Herman was. I had never seen the TV show, did not know anything of the character, and was unaware of director Tim Burton. I did remember that USA Today had given it four stars, which intrigued me a bit. Still, it was one cold and rainy Sunday afternoon that I decided to check it out at the Glenwood Theater. To say it was a revelation is an understatement. I was as flabbergasted as I’ve ever been in a movie. From Danny Elfman’s wonderful music, to the inspired production design, reams of quotable dialogue and a wonderful supporting cast, every second is pure joy. There’s more consistent big laughs in this than most comedies from the last 20 years combined.

“The Untouchables” (!987): I guess being from the Chicago area, there’s a special resonance to this highly romanticized look at the gangland wars and Eliot Ness’ (Kevin Costner) busting of Al Capone (Robert DeNiro). The first three fourths are exemplary, but unfortunately it falls apart towards the end. Why have Ness throw Frank Nitti off a roof to his death, when its common knowledge he ran the Capone criminal empire while Al was in jail? And the final courtroom shouting match between Ness and Capone is ludicrous and irritating in the extreme. But before then, we get a great performance by Sean Connery, dynamite Chicago locations and a pace that never lets up. Despite the histrionics at the end, all is forgiven with that final shot, a marvelous pullback of the LaSalle Street Canyon accompanied by Ennio Morricone’s swelling score.

“Field of Dreams” (1989): For anyone who loves baseball, is there a more perfect movie? No, I don’t think so. Beautifully written and directed by Philip Alden Robinson, do you think there’s any chance this would be made today? Sadly, I think not. If it were, I shudder to think of the CGI special effects that would be used to denote the return of the baseball players.

“Bride of Chucky” (1998): No, I’m not joking and I’m not being sarcastic. I think this is a gloriously demented masterpiece. Audacious, brash, violent, full of energy and very, very funny, this was one of the most unexpected pleasant surprises I’ve ever had in a movie theater. The fourth Chucky movie is hilariously deadpan, shamelessly ridiculous and revelatory in its lunacy. Writer Don Mancini is some kind of genius and director Ronny Yu matches him every step of the way. Jennifer Tilly’s fearless performance will be cherished and remembered long after…who won the Academy Award for Best Female Performance that year? I had to look it up. Gwyneth Paltrow in “Shakespeare in Love”? I rest my case.

“Office Space” (1998): I’m proud to say I actually saw this in the theaters. Alright, it was a second-run theater, but I still saw it in the theaters. I immediately liked it and found myself thinking about it much more than most highly regarded movies at the time. There was something about it that stuck with me. I was very pleased to see it find its audience on cable and video. The genius of Mike Judge’s script is the instant audience identification. Everyone knows or works with someone just like the characters in the movie.

“Ghost World” (2001): A journey of self-discovery between two people; recent high school graduate Enid (Thora Birch) and nerdy jazz vinyl record collector Seymour (the great Steven Buscemi). Enid and her friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) pull a mean prank on Seymour, but Seymour and Enid begin a tentative romantic friendship, both learning something about the complexities of life in the process. I don’t know if I should admit this or not, but I found myself strongly identifying Seymour, as both of us have an abiding interest in an outré subject (in my case film scores). One of my favorite lines of dialogue ever is when someone tells Seymour maybe he can meet a woman who shares his interests. He says, “I don’t want to meet a woman who shares my interests. I hate my interests.” That’s a classic line. There’s a riotous sequence where Seymour brings Enid to a party of jazz aficionados and they look at her as if it’s an alien invasion. It reminded me of a gathering of film score nerds. A wonderful movie full of dead-on performances and insights. I also love Seymour’s look of utter disdain when a waitress complains about Laurel and Hardy being nothing more than a fat guy beating up on a little guy. I think I used that same expression when a former co-worker said the exact same thing. Great, great movie.

“Across the Universe” (2007): A stylish and wholly original musical using Beatles tunes to chart the course of several character’s lives during the turbulent 1960s. I went into this with the greatest of trepidation, sure it was going to be another aural and visual assault like “Moulin Rouge” (2001), still the most soul-sucking, unendurable and painful experience I’ve ever had in a movie theater. My trepidation was forgotten early on when a character named Prudence sings “I Want to Hold Your Hand” but not in the breezy fashion we’re familiar with, but in a melancholy and haunting manner to an unobtainable object of her affection. From that point on I was hooked and stayed that way through the rest of the film. Like songs from master composers like George Gershwin, Cole Porter or Jerome Kern, great songs are open to all kinds of interpretation, and these Beatles songs offer choice opportunities to be heard in new ways. “Let It Be” is re-imagined as a gospel number (beautifully done) and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) makes her awakening feelings about Jude (Jim Sturgess) known as she sings “If I Fell” to herself. Director Julie Taymor has an amazing visual eye (I liked the soldiers carrying a replica of the Statue of Liberty through a toy jungle) but unlike “Moulin Rouge” the cutting allows the eye to grasp what is happening. The performances are all sincere, and while all the clichés of the “turbulent ‘60s” are present, they don’t seem forced but appear naturally from the material. A wonderful film that I think will be studied, and enjoyed, for decades to come.


Dees Stribling said...

"Oh, and remember: next Friday... is Hawaiian shirt day. So, you know, if you want to, go ahead and wear a Hawaiian shirt and jeans."

Kevin Deany said...

"Office Space" is one great scene after another. Mike Judge's latest which came out this ear, "Extract" is also very appealing, though not on the level of "OFfice Space." But I expect it will find its audience on cable and DVD.

Keith Buckley said...

Kevin - here is my list, in decade order:

1. Adventures of Robin Hood
2. Boy’s Town
3. A Christmas Carol
4. The Devil’s Brother
5. Dracula
6. Duck Soup
7. Gone with the Wind
8. Way Out West
9. Wizard of Oz

10. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein
11. Here Comes Mr. Jordan
12. It’s a Wonderful Life
13. Miracle on 34th Street
14. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
15. Pinocchio
16. The Wolfman

17. 12 Angry Men
18. Anatomy of a Murder
19. Ben Hur
20. Gentlemen Prefer Blonds
21. Oklahoma
22. Some Like it Hot
23. The Ten Commandments

24. The Birds
25. Bonnie and Clyde
26. Brides of Dracula
27. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
28. Ghost and Mr. Chicken
29. The Great Escape
30. Guess Whose Coming to Dinner
31. The Jungle Book
32. Mary Poppins
33. The Music Man
34. Oliver!
35. Planet of the Apes
36. Sink the Bismark!
37. The Time Machine
38. To Sir with Love

39. Alien
40. Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind
41. Count Yorga, Vampire
42. Fiddler on the Roof
43. The Godfather
44. Jaws
45. Love and Death
46. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
47. Oh God
48. Paper Moon
49. The Poseidon Adventure
50. Rocky
51. The Spy Who Loved Me
52. Star Wars
53. The Sting
54. Time After Time
55. The Three Musketeers

56. Back to the Future
57. Big
58. A Christmas Story
59. Crossing Delancy
60. E.T.
61. Field of Dreams
62. Fright Night
63. Peggy Sue Got Married
64. Plains, Trains and Automobiles
65. Raiders of the Lost Arc
66. Sixteen Candles
67. The Terminator
68. Trading Places
69. Uncle Buck
70. When Harry Met Sally
71. Yentl

72. Apollo 13
73. Braveheart
74. City Slickers
75. Evita
76. Father of the Bride (Steve Martin)
77. A Few Good Men
78. Goodfellas
79. Jerry Maguire
80. A League of Their Own
81. Men in Black
82. Mr. Destiny
83. My Cousin Vinny
84. Pulp Fiction
85. Pretty Woman
86. That Thing You Do!
87. The Sixth Sense
88. Titanic
89. Under Seige

90. Casino Royale
91. Chronicle of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
92. Cinderella Man
93. Crash
94. The Dark Knight
95. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
96. Iron Man
97. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
98. Million Dollar Baby
99. Pearl Harbor
100. The Wrestler

Kevin Deany said...

Keith: A very strong list, though some of your tastes skew more contemporary than mine. But no westerns? For shame. Just take away some of those dreadful John Hughes movies and replace with John Ford and you'll have a great list (says the man who has "Prince Valiant" and "Bride of Chucky" on his list). Thanks for sending.

Keith Buckley said...

From your list, only 19 of your 100 favorite movies came from the past four decades, and of those only 4 came from the 1990s and 2000s! My list saw 62 of the 100 films come from 1970 and forward. So while I am skewed more modern, my list is also arguably more "balanced" than your list between the first and second 40 years of sound film making. Neither is right or wrong -- just interesting to observe.

"Lonesome Dove" -- a great, great western -- would easily be on my top 20 list if it wasn't really a TV mini-series (and thus I assumed it was disqualified for purposes of this list). I do like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "How the West Was Won" and several Clint's, but not quite in my top 100 (though possibly "Unforgiven" could be but it has been so long since I saw it, I forgot too much of it to consider it here, though I remember really liking it).

Kevin Deany said...

Oh, I agree, your list is much more balanced. When I made the initial list, I knew I would skewer towards older titles, but I was surprised at how much I did.

Yep, if I had included TV movies, "Lonesome Dove" would definitely have made the list.

Aki said...

Kevin, I have always loved Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer. I recently both them on a DVD with one movie on one side and one on the other. I like the first movie the best, but still like the second. I love the Basil Poledouris score and have it on my iPod.

Kevin Deany said...

Aki: The Basil Poledouris score for the first Conan movie is one of the great achievements in film music.