Sunday, December 02, 2007

Top Ten Movies

For some reason I couldn't sleep last night (perhaps it was the pot of coffee?). Anyway, I ended up in that bath tub at 1:00AM re-reading Chuck Klosterman's excellent dissection/attack on pop culture SEX, DRUGS, AND COCA PUFFS*. The book is interesting, but only if you're under 35 or a really BIG couch potato (there is a whole chapter devoted to '90s teen-sitcom SAVED BY THE BELL...yeah, it's that kind of book).

Reading it is kinda like watching one of those "list shows" that all the music channels (MTV 1-3, VH1, FUSE, etc.) like so cram down our throats. Does anyone else besides me enjoy these as much as they hate them? They're like crack (I imagine), once I start watching one (like "I Love the 90's Part II") I nearly always end up watching all 8 hours of it.

Anyway, SDACP's is a good read, the guy has some interesting theories that will make you laugh if you're a culture junkie.

Anyway, I can't watch those list shows anymore (no cable) so I'm doing my own (also, I'm very bored). I'm starting with my Top 10 movies (all time):

10. THE INCREDIBLES--I make no secret about it, I (still) like comic books...but let's face it, super heroes only work on the page for the most part. For every BATMAN BEGINS there are a dozen like ELECTRA, CATWOMAN, SUPERMAN V, DAREDEVIL, etc. The chief problem I have with most comic book movies is that, no how much money they throw on the screen, they always fail to capture the wonder of comic books. Brad Bird and the good folks at Pixar perfectly encapsulate everything that's good about super heroes--and what would happen if they were real. On top of that, the animation is top-notch, and the voice cast is fantastic (Sam Jackson, anyone?). The best part though, is that underneath the film's cape and spandex is a movie about the importance of family.

Of all the musicals ever made, only OZ is the one I could watch over-and-over and never get sick of it. The story is bizarre (if you think about it) and the famous transition from black and white to color is the perfect metaphor for the film's overall place in movie history--it helped usher in an era of bright, beautiful Technicolor dreams. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is probably one of the best happy/sad songs ever written (and to think it was almost cut from the movie!). Plus any flick with flying monkeys is alright by me.

8. STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK--Universally agreed by everyone as the best in the series, EMPIRE had everything the first STAR WARS (Episode 4) had...just more of it. There was more action, romance, drama, special effects. But it was the ending that really made an impact--it was the first movie I ever saw where the "good guys" didn't win. Think about it, at the end of the movie: Luke has lost his hand(!), Han is frozen (taken God knows where), the rebels have lost their base...Vader is Luke's Dad!? And yet, despite the gloom the film does end on a (somewhat) happy note as Luke and Leia gaze hopefully out into space--reminding us that it's always darkest before the dawn.

Even though most people have probably never seen The Beatles first movie, it has changed the way every subsequent generation experiences music. Without this movie there would be no music videos and (for better and for worse) no MTV. Think about that. The film depicts The Beatles as they prepare for a really big/important gig (hilarity ensues). Wacky British comedy+good music=awesome. A double threat, this film paved the way for J. Lo and the like (again for better and for worse).

6. KING KONG (the original)--The original Kong is the granddaddy to movies like GODZILLA, JURASSIC PARK, ALIENS, and the upcoming CLOVERFIELD (of which, I am obsessed). There were "monster" movies before KONG, but nothing on the scale of RKO's classic monster movie. Sure, the effects are dated...but they still hold up in a way that CGI doesn't. There's still something creepy about the way the creatures move (thanks to the organic feel of stop-motion animation). Go watch it, the thing still holds up. The excitement, the danger, the thrill of watching Kong get shot down from atop the Empire State Building...It's the stuff movies were made for--allowing us to have impossible experiences with people (and things) that couldn't possibly exist in "the real world."

5. CITIZEN KANE--I love Orson Welles because he's proof that a single mind, when given the necessary tools, can create a masterpiece. Written, directed, staring, and produced by Welles, CITIZEN KANE should be a piece of shit (think about it, would a radio actor be your first choice to direct and star in a big-budget movie?). I love this movie because it could never happen today (at a studio), and yet...with improvements in recording technology virtually anyone reading this could make their own "Citizen Kane." All you need is the nerve (or balls) that Welles had in never compromising his vision. Beyond all that, though, the story of Charles Foster Kane scares the shit out of me (as a young person about to enter "the real world"). Kane's good intentions are quickly buried under egotism and the lust for power (and women). Watching KANE isn't as difficult for young people as a lot of other black and white movies because despite it's age, it seems very modern since many of the film conventions still used today were invented by Welles while he was making KANE (camera shots/placement, montages, wipes and pans, scene pacing). There's a reason this movie is still a film school staple.

By far the most quotable movie I have ever seen
. There is so much myth surrounding this movie, I have no idea if the rumors of most of it being ad-libbed are true, and I don't care...all I know is this movie has some funny lines. Period. The cast was great, the effects are amazing (for the time), but they don't steal the show--modern filmakers take note: make the people real and audiences won't care if your Marshmallow Man has a zipper or not. Oh, and the soundtrack is awesomely bad.

3. THE GODFATHER--What can I say? THE GODFATHER is a world unto itself. The movie is long, but it has to be. The story is epic, the characters are incredibly real. Sure, Brando's character is a bit of a joke now, but if you go in cold (no expectations) you cannot watch this movie and not be impressed. The period sets and costumes immerse you in the era perfectly. A great, great movie...less of a crime picture and more of a human drama (I mean, who hasn't looked at their parents and said "God I don't want to end up like that" only to end up just like that?). I'm still amazed when I meet people who haven't seen this movie.

2. PULP FICTION-- A lot of people dismiss the film's non-conventional/non-linear plot as just a gimmick. Look beyond it's structure--the dialogue is some of the best ever committed to celluloid and the cast is phenomenal (again Sam Jackson). Tarantino's movie, like THE GODFATHER is a world unto itself. There are so many memorable scenes and characters--Travolta stabbing the needle of adrenaline into Uma Thurman's chest, Mr. Wolf the underground "fix-it" man who comes to help clean up a horrible mess...As a short-story writer I can't help but admire how each of the film's little segments work both independently and as a greater whole. People complain about the language, and the drug use. It's true, all the characters are criminals, their world is a dangerous, dirty place. And yet...even in this world of filth, there are a few moments where human decency shines. Consider my favorite moment of the entire movie: Bruce Willis has just escaped from what is, without question, hell on Earth. He gets himself to safety and is fully prepared to abandon an man who, moments before was bent on killing him...but just before he goes, we see a little flash of humanity in Bruce's eyes. He can't just leave Ving Rhames to be brutally raped and tortured. So, despite the danger, he starts picking stuff up...looking for a weapon. PULP FICTION is filled with little moments like that, where you can almost see the gears turning inside the characters heads. I've seen it at least 100 times, and every time I always catch some little detail I missed the time before. That's the stuff of great movies.

And finally...Number 1:

Rick and Ilsa. There have been better screen couples, but none that you want to get together so badly (probably because you know they aren't going get together in the end, that's not a spoiler, by the way, because the film's ending so iconic it's impossible not to know how it ends). I studied this movie in my junior college Film as Literature class, and even the professor couldn't explain what it is that makes this movie so great. When they were making the movie, the people involved viewed it as just another flick. Back in those days (the late 40's) the studio's where run like factories, constantly churning out movies...CASABLANCA was one of hundreds. And yet, somehow it emerged as a critical darling--this is not the first, nor will it be the last time CASABLANCA will be put at the top of a list of "Best Movies." Like Tarantino's PULP FICTION, there is something special about the dialogue. Whereas Tarantino's characters all talk like wise-ass pop-culture geeks, everyone in CASABLANCA talks like they had a team of old-school Hollywood writers penning every witticism, every seems that way because that's exactly what happened. There were a slew of writers, the cream of the crop back then, who worked on CASABLANCA--and it shows. Rick's late night confessional (just before the flashback scene) gives me chills just thinking about it. No one does "tortured tough-guy" like Bogart. Sure, the movie may have a slightly jingoistic motive (the lovers give up happiness for patriotism), but that's what America needed back in1942 (hell, it's what America need today). If you're a young person, or if you hate black and white movies, you STILL need to check CASABLANCA out. You've never seen a true Hollywood movie, until you've seen CASABLANCA.


Eternal Sunshine of Katie's Mind said...

Hey, I haven't seen half of these, but I do have A Hard Days Night (Along with Help). Good stuff. I haven't watched them in FOREVER. Maybe I'll do that this weekend. I think I'll make a list of my own. Now you should do all your other top 10's. (Songs, tv shows, books, etc.)

Jason said...

Yeah you're right I should make this a regular segment!

I love HELP! (did you know they just put it on DVD?).

And if you make a TOP 10, I'll check it out!