Tag: Fanny and Alexander

Back Catalog Review: Stalker

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How come nobody told me this was a horror film? Well, maybe it’s my fault, since I tried to avoid spoilers for a movie I suspected would be a unique experience. I wasn’t wrong. The movie is poetic in the way that people get upset at, slow and full of impenetrable visuals married with philosophical ramblings. But it’s also poetic in the sense that it is like poetry, built on images and details and not really a story as much as a flow of feelings and a sense of place. This is the stuff that makes it a horror film, the way that the Zone (which mysteriously appeared one day and caused its inhabitants to disappear and is now a trap-filled ruin that has nature mostly taking over human constructions) feels like the fourth character, and it’s not a benign one. Though nothing really happens, it feels like something might at any moment. The characters walk in straight lines, wary that their footsteps might doom them to an incomprehensible death. The camera follows behind, one of my favorite kinds of shots, and the characters often turn to look back at the camera/the others. It’s paranoia 101, and it’s so interesting here juxtaposed against the sheer beauty and ruin that the Zone represents.

The three characters are a Writer looking for inspiration, a Scientist looking for truth, and a Stalker, looking to get them where they’re going. Tarkovsky, of course, doesn’t let it lie at that, and the paranoia builds as they start to reveal their deeper selves. This is all fine and dandy, story-wise, but it isn’t really a story movie. It’s a Zone movie. The camera seems to take up the point of view of the Zone. It’s a point of view that rarely blinks as many of the shots are long and often contain several recompositions (a wide shot turns into a close up as a character enters the frame from below, for example). So you get absorbed into the world of the film, you succumb to its slow flow of time and space. You see the way the world works and recognize that it isn’t at all like our world. And it’s a little terrifying and a little exciting but mostly you’re just waiting to see if you can get out of this camera setup all the while knowing that the next one will be just a little bit more twisted as the characters and you delve deeper and deeper into the Zone. Once Stalker has its grip on you (and for me that happened with the shot of the family at the beginning in the bed), it doesn’t let you get away easily.

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I’ve said several times that this isn’t a story movie, but there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, so to speak. Somewhere in the Zone is a room that will give you your deepest desire once you enter it. Seems like a good deal, except maybe it isn’t. The final half an hour or so becomes less about the Zone and more about the nature of humanity, desire, happiness, faith, and, most interestingly for me, cynicism. That this movie which spends so much time on what seems like an absurd quest to an impossible destination ends up as (so far as I can tell) an argument for the power of belief (and cinema to create that belief, because what have I been talking about except the very pinnacle of believing in an unprovable thing) is what moves this from a high spot on my next top 100 to a likely top 10 spot. It is like that other movie you’re probably all tired of hearing me talk about, Fanny and Alexander, in that its own technical prowess is not only a tool for the story being told but also the essence of the story itself. Stalker is a truly amazing film experience that demonstrates exactly why movies are magic.

Being a snob and a slob

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Those 80’s high school movies were full of snob vs. slob stories. On one side you had pure animal instinct. The slobs were maybe not the cleanest of the high schoolers on display, but they made up for their general sweatiness with a raw physicality that attracted – at least at first – all the pretty girls. The snobs, on the other hand, were decidedly unathletic. They relied upon their brains to make up for their lack of physical prowess. There was never a snobby slob, or a slobby snob. You were either one or the other and never the twain shall meet. Luckily, in this golden age of enlightenment, we have realized that you can be both. Or, at least I can.

See, I have this thing about movies. I like all of them. Give me a Bergman meditation on the problems of religion or a slasher with a huge body count and I’ll be equally happy. Well, maybe not equally, but it’d be close. The visceral enjoyment I can get from something like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is hard to replicate in a slow-paced drama about a failing marriage. So if we can separate the way a movie works into two categories, brain and body, we can come to some kind of understanding of what kinds of movies you might like. Brain movies, those for the snobs among us, will attack our beings with ideas and words and pictures that make us think about things. They stay with you long after the film has finished and maybe even change the way you look at the world. Body movies for the slobs skip straight past the brain and go to our primal instincts. Fight or flight kicks in until we realize that the things we’re reacting to are just on the screen. And it’s not just horror that usually works in this territory. Look at most blockbusters and you’ll see a general dearth of ideas and a massive outcropping of titillation, be it in the form of half-naked bodies or explosions. Musicals, too, are usually slob movies, at least the ones that heavily involve dance. If there’s sweat somewhere, you can be sure you’re watching a slob movie. Liking either is fine, great even, and plenty of people are perfectly happy to entrench themselves into either category and rarely venture into the other realm. For me, though, the place to be is in the middle.

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Let’s look briefly at my top 100 list from last year. Out of the 100 movies on the list, I would categorize only 9 as primarily slob movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Alien, Halloween, North by Northwest, Girl Walk//All Day, City of God, Fantasia, The General, and The Proposition. All these films aim primarily at your body, hoping that you’ll feel excited or happy or scared and they don’t really care if you think about much while you do it. Sure, Alien can be seen as a rape allegory and The Proposition is about lawlessness as much as it is about the people who are lawless, but those ideas are secondary to the visceral reactions you have to the events in the films. Still, 9/100 is a pretty low percentage.

And now let’s turn our gaze to the other end of the spectrum, the snob movies. These are the ones that don’t care about your body, they want to attack your mind with ideas or emotions to make you feel and think about things. By my reckoning, I can find only 5 movies that fit this category, and some of them are on the edge: Before Midnight, Manhattan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, In the Loop, and The Fountain. By all rights you could exclude all comedies from the snob list, since there’s a distinct instinctual reaction that humor invokes. I’ve laughed at the dumbest things for reasons I can’t understand other than that it was funny. But then this list would be even shorter, and we can’t have that. It’s already only 5 percent of the whole list.

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Any mathletes out there have already done the calculation, but for the slobs in our midst, these extreme ends only occupy 14 of the 100 total spots, leaving 86 movies which play in both realms. That’s an impressive number. Let’s take a closer look at a few of them, shall we, and where better to start than at the top? Fanny and Alexander made its triumphant debut at the number one spot last year and shows no sign of losing it when I remake the list this year. It is primarily a snob movie, being five hours long and in a foreign language will do that to most things. But the slob factor doesn’t ever stray too far from the film. One of the first things people think of when it comes to Fanny and Alexander is the fart joke. It’s an epic one, involving some vigorous exercising to work up the gasses necessary for such an explosion, and it also marks the end of the happy times in the film, when a fart joke is enough to entertain the kids for a while and send them to sleep with a smile on their face. All that remains in the first hour is a bedtime story and some squabbling grown ups, but if it weren’t for the silliness of the fart joke the movie might have veered into the sadness sooner and lost a moment to finalize just how carefree the family was at that time. Several hours later will be the confrontation between Alexander and the mysterious Ismael, a scene which evokes both a physical reaction to the strange sensuality of the character and a thoughtful reaction to the weird things he says.

Horror movies make up a large-ish percentage of my list and at first blush they might all be categorized as slob movies until you look closer. Black Swan is a movie about perfection and identity, The Thing‘s paranoia is a snob undercurrent to the slobish physical effects and both are equally potent, the same goes for Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and An American Werewolf in London has an outsider literally turning into a non-human entity, plus he has a walking reminder of his guilt in the guise of his murdered best friend. There’s a three hour documentary about the weird theories that surround The Shining, and that’s just the extra-textual stuff. The weirdness of that film works on your brain as the blood rushing from the elevators mimics the adrenaline that pumps into your body when you see shots like this:

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I won’t go into all 86 of the movies that straddle the line here, feel free to ask me about any that I haven’t covered, but let’s wrap it up with a few that seem like snob movies but which use moments of slobishness to amplify and punctuate the ideas they’re playing with. Never Let Me Go involves a lot of love and sadness and melancholy, all of which is called into clarity by Andrew Garfield’s outburst in the middle of the road bathed in the light from his beat up old car. He is isolated in a visual echo of his larger situation, and his scream digs deeper than the mind into our body, anchoring his emotion with ours. The Tree of Life goes in the opposite direction. The best scene in the film features a quiet duet with a son and a father. Brad Pitt’s character is cold, distant, and angry, but he is able to connect with his son through music, that age-old slob machine. Music cuts out all the pretext and the ideas until only the gut remains. It allows for people to just be with each other.

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Finally, Metropolis basically wrote this whole thing 90 years ago. “Between the mind that plans and the hands that build,” it argues, “there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.” The movie dramatizes and visualizes this conflict in a fantastic expressionist manner which features the snobs lording over the slobs, who can’t stand their oppressors. In the end, though, the snobs and slobs are brought together by the robotic woman at the center of the film. She is our middle ground. I don’t care if a movie is trying to get my blood pumping or my brain working, I just want it to do things to me. Change me. People talk about thinking about a movie long after it ends, and that’s usually a snob reaction, but the slob horror film can cause a sleepless night or two, and if that’s not basically the same, I don’t know what is. George Saunders writes about the way art can change us, “Now I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters. He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The writer gets no points just because what’s inside the box bears some linear resemblance to ‘real life’ — he can put whatever he wants in there. What’s important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the reader between entry and exit.” Give me something undeniable and nontrivial, and I won’t care if you’re a snob or a slob or something in between.

Top 27 Movie Discoveries in 2013 Part 2: 13-1

Part 1 of this list can be found here. This post will count down from 13 to 1 for all of the movies I saw in 2013 that were made in earlier years and to which I gave at least 4 stars on Letterboxd. Any questions? Remember, each title is a link to my full review.

13. Cabaret (1972)

It doesn’t get much better than the opening of this film. We’re thrust into a world of escape and sex and sadness all through the power of dance and music and the great framing. Liza Minnelli is a wonder in this film, a combination of razzle dazzle and loneliness that feels so real. But boy can she light up a stage.

12. Videodrome (1983)

Although videotape has long been obsolete, this film loses none of its punch thanks to a fantastic performance by James Woods and David Cronenberg’s patented body horror imagination. He creates a world that feels alive and breathing, thanks in large part to the seemingly alive and breathing television set that serves as the film’s centerpiece and most iconic image.

11. American Movie (1999)

Mark Borchardt is a character, man. He’s just a normal movie nerd trying to make a film with no budget and the help of his friends and family. This documentary doesn’t hide any of his flaws but it’s much more of a celebration of him and his dream than it is a biting look at failure. As such, and since Borchardt is so much fun, it’s a really entertaining and enlightening film.

10. Tesis (1996)

From the director of the fantastic gothic horror film The Others comes this earlier film that doesn’t stray into the supernatural but also doesn’t skimp on the scares. It’s similar to Videodrome in theme but different in execution as it uses some of the found footage tropes years before they became popularized by the likes of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity.

9. The Fog of War (2003)

What ho! Another documentary! It’s like I was expanding my horizons or something last year. Anyways, this one is super great because Robert McNamera, former Secretary of Defense and subject of this documentary, is almost ridiculously intelligent and able to speak articulately about the triumphs and mistakes he made in his career. I’ve also been catching up with The West Wing and seeing the real deal makes that show all the sweeter.

8. The Seventh Seal (1957)

2013 was the year I started watching Ingmar Bergman movies. Don’t ask me why I took so long, I have no reasonable explanation for you. I’m just glad I finally got there. The Seventh Seal shows off his directorial abilities as he makes what might have been the depressing movie into an often comedic little movie about life and death. It’s all so great.

7. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

You’ll notice this is the third musical on this list. Whenever I finally do my list of 2013 movies you’ll probably also notice that movies which feature even one musical scene often make a strong impression on me. So this really lovely tale of romance interrupted feels like it was made for me, even though I was more than 20 years away from being born when it was released. The last scene which takes place in a snowstorm at Christmas is just wonderful.

6. Sleuth (1972)

To say too much about this movie would spoil some of the fun of it. And make no mistake, this is maybe one of the most fun movies I watched all last year. You’ve got two of the best British actors working at the time matched up against each other with a hyper-literate script and some fantastic set design thrown into a pot boiling thanks to a fire of deception and lies. Fun fun fun.

5. Modern Times (1936)

Is there anything funnier than Chaplin at the hands of an automatic feeder machine? Or more thrilling than his blindfolded rollerskating next to a several story drop in a huge department store? Not really. Chaplin likes to stick up for the little man in his movies and this time it really works to sell the existential crises normal people were facing in the mid thirties. Also, it’s hilarious.

4. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

I’ve been told a few times that I messed up by having this be the first spaghetti western film I watched, since none will likely compare to it favorably. Well, if that’s truly the case, at least I got to see one amazing movie out of the genre. The title warns us that what we’re getting isn’t just a western by a kind of fairy tale version of the end of the old west. And what an ending it is, filled with standoffs and harmonicas and good guys and bad guys.

3. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Not only is this movie consistently very funny, it also has a huge heart that makes it worth of standing alongside such holiday movies as It’s a Wonderful Life and The Shop Around the Corner. It is probably the best Thanksgiving movie there is thanks (heh) to Steve Martin and John Candy’s fantastic chemistry. Of course, they can’t help but get in each other’s way but this film sells that thing better than most in the genre and the ending is a great topper to an excellent film.

2. Before Sunset (2004)

I caught up with the Before films just as Before Midnight was leaving the theaters (in fact, I caught the last showing of the last day) and I’m so glad I did. I liked this entry better than the first as it built upon the solid foundation laid by Before Sunrise with great dialogue and an amazing final scene. People often say it’s the more pessimistic of the first two films in the series but I don’t get that at all. Just look at the end and what happens in Before Midnight.

1. Fanny and Alexander (1982)

The title links to my initial impressions, after which I wrote a two part blog post (Part 1, Part 2) proclaiming it as my new favorite movie of all time. So any of you following that kind of stuff probably aren’t that surprised by this choice or placement. It truly is a singular work of art, comparable to any masterpiece of any form, media, or genre. Somebody find me a better movie than this and I’ll eat my shoe.

And that’s the end. What were your discoveries last year? Leave a comment! Find the full list at Letterboxd. Stay tuned for a books list!

25 Christmas Things: Thing 14 – Fanny and Alexander

I’ve already written at length about my new favorite movie of all time (part 1 and part 2), but I’m not done yet! Yes, the first of five “episodes” in this great film focuses almost entirely on the Christmas celebrations of the prosperous Ekdahl family. At nearly an hour and a half in its full version, Ingmar Bergman doesn’t skimp on the details of a early 20th century Sweedish Christmas celebration. The servants are invited to join at the family table and the adults become more childish the more they drink. Sounds modern to me. But more than all of this there’s a special warmth that Bergman captures on film here, a kind of sprawling intimate epic where no one character takes precedence over another. As the night winds down the different pieces of the family split off into their own little dramas. One uncle struggles with being distant from his long suffering wife, another cheats on his wife with a young maid, the kids all get into some late night shenanigans and the matron of the family rests content that she’s created a safe space for her family to be together in and celebrate the season. Of course, later in the film that safety gets shattered, but for that fantastic hour and a half, all is at least close to right in the world.

Top 100 Films (2013 Edition): Part 5 of 5

The cream of the crop! See the full list here. Or on Letterboxd.

20. Hoop Dreams

That’s why when somebody say, “when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me”, and that stuff. Well, I should’ve said to them, “if I don’t make it, don’t you forget about me.”

Since this list is a yearly tradition and really like using quotes to introduce a movie and I’ve been a big fan of Hoop Dreams since first watching it while I was in college all those years ago, I’ve always struggled to find a variety of quotes for movies that perennially make the list. Especially when a documentary like this one has such a profound and compelling summary of the 3 hours a viewer must invest to see the full stories of the two young basketball phenoms at the center of this film. Those three hours give it room to breathe and consider all facets of their drive to become famous basketball players, including one’s inspirational push for his mother to receive her nursing certification in the film’s best scene. It’s all great.

19. The Exorcist

There are no experts. You probably know as much about possession than most priests. Look, your daughter doesn’t say she’s a demon. She says she’s the devil himself. And if you’ve seen as many psychotics as I have, you’d know it’s like saying you’re Napoleon Bonaparte.

Some great movies are scary and some scary movies are great. This one falls into both categories quite easily. Half family drama and half spectacularly scary horror film, it is a classic for a billion reasons. Just check the set design in those later scenes for a truly tremendous transformation.

18. Raiders of the Lost Ark

What a fitting end to your life’s pursuits. You’re about to become a permanent addition to this archaeological find. Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something.

If Jaws is Spielberg being perfect technically and Jurassic Park his attempt at proving that movie magic exists, Raiders is him simply having a blast. It is the cinema’s most fun film. Again, I got to see this on the big screen this year and it was a great experience. It’s old and new, an exciting throwback to the serials of the 30s and 40s with some slick writing and Spielberg’s propulsive style carrying anything Harrison Ford can’t lift on his own (which, it turns out, isn’t much).

17. Miller’s Crossing

All in all not a bad guy – if looks, brains and personality don’t count.

Miller’s Crossing is much closer to the fast paced dialogue of something like the Howard Hawks Scarface than it is the Brian De Palma version of that film. It concerns itself with seedy people at least pretending to be upstanding citizens, double and triple crosses, and some excellent machinegun fire to go along with the motormouths in the cast. It’s a credit to the film that it is steeped in a genre that I generally hate and still it maintains a spot in my top 20 of all time. Of course, the Coen brothers have a large part to play there, focusing on the inherent silliness of organized crime and emphasizing that the violence they perpetrate is ultimately quite stupid. “Nothing more foolish than a man chasin’ his hat.”

16. The Sixth Sense

And the tiny hairs on your arm, you know when they stand up? That’s them. When they get mad… it gets cold.

I guess I had forgotten how great this movie is until I rewatched it this year. What had faded in my memory was the emotional impact outside of the obvious ghost stuff and the thing that everybody talks about with this movie. Those are important, sure, but it’s the mother-son relationship that catapults this film so high on my list. The scene when Cole and his mother, played marvelously by Toni Collette, are stuck in traffic and Cole finally confesses his ability to see ghosts is garanteed to make you cry. It becomes a conversation about death and the difficult roles mothers must play in their kid’s lives. It’s a truly beautiful scene, one which lifts the otherwise great movie into near-masterpiece status.

15. The Iron Giant

Sorry about the crowbar, kid. You’d be surprised how many people want to steal scrap. But, man, once I make it into art, I can’t give it away. I mean, what am I? A junkman who makes art or an artist who sells junk? You tell me.

You may notice a trend as we get closer and closer to my number one: the films become a little less think-y and a little more feel-y. It’s not on purpose and it’s not to say that this film or the examples still to come are dumb, of course, but they are often more concerned with making you feel something than making you think about something. Movies have a unique ability to do that with not only words but also images and sounds, combining the strengths of books, photography, and music into one super-powered medium for making the audience feel what the filmmakers want them to. And as a work of feelings, few are as good at making me feel happy and sad at the same time as The Iron Giant which features a great vocal performance from Vin Diesel as an alien robot guy who must try to understand people or pay the ultimate price.

14. The Shining

Do you have the slightest idea what a moral and ethical principle is? Do you?

The feeling Stanley Kubrick is trying to get us to feel while watching The Shining can best be described as an unsettled, primal fear. There are forces at work here, including the strange geography and the power of alcohol to mess up a man faster and more thoroughly than nearly any other thing, which go beyond the ghosts that inhabit the Overlook Hotel. Though those are scary, too. It’s pretty crazy how the majority of the film contains very little in the way of actual scares, only the events in room 237 and some brief visits from those poor, bloody young girls qualify as typical horror stuff in the first two hours of this film. But those two hours are still deeply off-putting thanks to the near constant score which keeps the audience perpetually on the edge of their seats and Kubrick’s masterful compositions. It’s a simple family in the process of breaking apart story with trappings of psychological horror and pitch-black comedy (see: Dick Halloran). And those last 15 minutes are the scariest things in all of movies.

13. The Searchers

Well, Reverend, that tears it! From now on, you stay out of this. All of ya. I don’t want you with me. I don’t need ya for what I got to do.

The old west isn’t as lush as the Irish hills in The Quiet Man but The Searchers is no less starkly beautiful for it. It’s a harsh land and people must be harsh to survive it. John Wayne is atypically sad throughout this film, though he disguises it with anger and unwavering dedication. To save his family he must be alone, an idea echoed in the final shot and foreshadowed in the early goings. Wayne isn’t a good guy here as his racism belies his war hero past. Of course, as Zero Dark Thirty reminded us last year, depiction doesn’t equal endorsement and Wayne’s character is clearly shown to be an outsider in the slowly civilizing society of the old west.

12. Princess Mononoke

Ah, you’re awake. I was hoping you’d cry out in your sleep, then I would have bitten your head off to silence you.

Princess Mononoke appeals to so many of the things I like in films. It creates a fantastically detailed world which feels real and vibrant at the same time, steeped in traditional Japanese culture and ideas about industrialism. It’s a mythic story which concerns itself seriously with gods and monsters and forest spirits alongside iron forges and the development of advanced war machines. But it’s the smaller things, the kodama pictured above and the peaceful woodlands that are portrayed so specifically and wonderfully which make this movie so great.

11. Lucky Star

I guess you can make somethin’ outta just about anythin’, can’t you?

The third Frank Borzage film on this list is his best one. Lucky Star is Borzage at his melodramatic peak, a place where love rules all and can make even the worst of situations into a chance for magic to happen. The dresses, the amazing set design and cinematography, and the super fantastic performances from Janet Gaynor  (also great in the more popular but less awesome Seventh Heaven) and Charles Farrell combine wonderfully into this simple, silent tale of love and loss and, ultimately, snow. Best ending ever? Perhaps.

10. Blade Runner

It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?

Ok, maybe that last statement was a bit rash. Roy Batty’s final monologue is one of the best ever written for the screen and goes a long way towards cementing this film as an all time classic. Of course, the rest of the movie helps there, too, with its wildly inventive future-noir look – neon lights and a constant rain/fog combo – and compelling story involving hunting down androids that just want to be treated like real people. It’s got all kinds of existential questions (a theme you’ll see popping up throughout the top ten movies on this list) plus some pretty great action scenes. There’s not much better than Blade Runner.

9. There Will Be Blood

There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone.

There are two levels, at least, going on here and each informs the other in fantastically intricate ways. The first is the historical battle between commerce and religion for the soul of society at large. These are embodied in the skins of Daniel Plainview, the ruthless and relentless oil tycoon, and Eli Sunday, a young preacher trying to bring his own twisted version of Christianity to the wild west. As money and faith duke it out we get the second layer, the portrait of a deeply flawed but somehow admirable man (Plainview) who must figure out who he is and what he actually wants from life. Unlike most films, it’s not exactly a pretty end to that part of the story. The stark beauty of the turn of the century west provides a perfect background to all of these elements, ensuring that nothing is hidden from its harsh winds for too long.

8. Pan’s Labyrinth

The captain has been so good to us… Please, Ofelia, call him father. It’s just a word, Ofelia, just a word.

Those of you who have been following this list as it evolves from year to year probably aren’t surprised to see any of the last 5 or 6 entries on this list, but their placement might be a bit of a shock (as much as this kind of thing can be shocking). For the longest time Pan’s Labyrinth was my number two film of all time and deservedly so. Its artful melding of the real and fantastic, wars and fairy tales, is only one of the multitudes of reasons why this film is so great. Guillermo del Toro moves his camera so fluidly and purposefully that we feel like we’re being carried along by the story rather than just told it. It should be noted that this 6-spot drop isn’t because I love it any less, I just grew in appreciation for some other films.

7. Inglourious Basterds

It seems I’ve created a monster. A strangely persuasive monster.

Not only is this movie more entertaining than any other in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre so far, it’s also the deepest by a very long shot. His typically talky scenes often frustrate as we want to get to the bloody action quicker but here they speak volumes about the power of cinema and stories and spectacular showcases for the best cast he’s ever had. It’s a nutty propaganda movie about propaganda and revenge fantasies overflowing with historic and filmic references as he so often likes to do. The climax is an amazing confluence of these ideas and supremely bloody violence. It’s everything I want from a World War II movie.

6. Where The Wild Things Are

There were some buildings… There were these really tall buildings, and they could walk. Then there were some vampires. And one of the vampires bit the tallest building, and his fangs broke off. Then all his other teeth fell out. Then he started crying. And then, all the other vampires said, “Why are you crying? Weren’t those just your baby teeth?” And he said, “No. Those were my grown-up teeth.” And the vampires knew he couldn’t be a vampire anymore, so they left him. The end.

So many coming of age movies on this list! I guess it just appeals to me, that transition into becoming who you’re going to be is one which can only really be appreciated in retrospect and movies give us a great way to transport back to those moments for a few hours at a time. This one is filled with imagination and uses the classic children’s book as a jumping off point rather than a blueprint. At its time of release there was some talk about whether a kid would actually enjoy this movie. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know I love the hell out of it with all of its melancholy and anger and beautiful happiness.

5. Magnolia

I lost my gun today when I left you and I’m the laughingstock of a lot of people. I wanted to tell you. I wanted you to know and it’s on my mind. And it makes me look like a fool. And I feel like a fool. And you asked that we should say things – that we should say what we’re thinking and not lie about things. Well, I can tell you that, this, that I lost my gun today – and I am not a good cop. And I’m looked down at. And I know that. And I’m scared that once you find that out you may not like me.

I think I’ve identified most with Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) in this movie. He’s just a guy trying to do the right thing, perhaps a little blind to the darker elements of his surroundings and shy. This quote, outlining his faults in his rambling and oversharing fashion, is a really fantastic portrait of the man. But the best part is how it’s put up against Claudia Gator’s own failings and triumphs. This 3+ hour film has 8 or 9 main characters and each is slowly fleshed out so that the climax can bring them together in unexpected and potentially insane ways. Any movie that can get Tom Cruise to feel as vile as he does here and then twist that into a fascinating relationship between a father and a son is one that will always be special.

4. Black Swan

Because everything Beth does comes from within. From some dark impulse. I guess that’s what makes her so thrilling to watch. So dangerous. Even perfect at times, but also so damn destructive.

Aha! I think any movie that has occupied my top 4 or so has been bumped down a few spots at this point, so here at the very peak we have some fresh faces. When I first saw Black Swan I really liked it. As time has passed I’ve continued to think about it, there’s a kind of insidious simplicity to it that turns a pretty basic story of obsession and perfection into a movie about art itself, and what artists would do to achieve greatness. It’s also a pretty rocking horror film, full of frightening imagery and psychologically unsettling touches that worms it further and further into masterpiece territory. Have we talked about endings enough here? Not yet! This one is a spectacular example and at once inevitable and surprising.

3. Take Shelter

You think I’m crazy? Well, listen up, there’s a storm coming like nothing you’ve ever seen, and not a one of you is prepared for it.

If it weren’t for the next two movies on this list I’d be able to declare this the best family movie I’ve ever seen. That isn’t to say it’s a movie for families. I don’t think children will really enjoy the psychological horror that the father’s dreams portray nor will they understand the destruction they portend. But as a portrait of a family only two films top it. Michael Shannon gives an all-time great performance as a father struggling with keeping his family afloat amid a sea of bills and potential mental illness. Or are his visions which spur him into creating an underground shelter more than just dreams and is he a modern day Noah? The film is ambiguous when it comes to answering that question, but nobody can doubt that he and his wife (Jessica Chastain in a more down to earth portrayal than the same year’s Tree of Life) will meet the storm – real or metaphysical – together.

2. Moonrise Kingdom

Poems don’t always have to rhyme, you know. They’re just supposed to be creative.

Last year, the year Moonrise Kingdom came out, it roared onto my list at around the 50 spot. This year it takes a similar jump, all the way up to the penultimate spot. If you told me three years ago that a Wes Anderson movie would be my second favorite of all time I’d tell you to shut up with your lying lies. Impossible! Possible! All it took was a visit to the local theater to bask in Moonrise Kingdom‘s studied quirk. Critics often use that word and its variants (quirky, mostly) as an insult but with Wes Anderson it is more of a statement of purpose. He’s bringing his distinct point of view into the world of cinema and doing it with a nearly unmatched sense of artistry and detail. He likes broken families and this film is no different. Sometimes our families aren’t perfect and it is in those moments that we must rely upon friends and romances for our stability. This movie makes the point delightfully and thoroughly.

1. Fanny and Alexander

Therefore let us be happy while we are happy. Let us be kind, generous, affectionate and good. It is necessary and not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world.

I already wrote a twoparter post about this movie and why it’s my new number one, so go read those for a detailed explanation. For those that don’t want to read the nearly 3,000 words there, know that it’s a movie that hits each and every one of my buttons, has a fantastic Christmas celebration and a few horror elements, and is as comprehensive a family movie as I have ever seen. Good parents and bad parents and good parents gone bad, children coping with the world shattering changes they can’t avoid, and plenty of stuff about storytelling in the middle of it all. It’s glorious.

And that’s all folks! Another year and another list. This one was a bit of a shakeup and I like that a lot. It’s as much a list about me as it is about the movies on it and since I’ve changed in the past year I think my list should as well. Have anything to say? Do so in the comments! And stick around, the big movie season is just beginning.