Tag: movies

Top 100 Movies (2017 Edition): The Index

As long-time followers of mine might remember, I used to make really complicated plans for unveiling my yearly revisions of my Top 100 Movies lists. Those kinda went out the window recently thanks to a very busy grad-student schedule. But I’m on a temporary (fingers crossed!) break from that for the moment and so I can take a little bit of time to do up something fun for this year’s list. I’ve made the list already, and for the first time ever, it’s longer than 100 films. When it came right down to it, I just couldn’t justify cutting any of the films to make it an even hundred. That’s kind of exciting!

This year I want to do a mix of things I’ve done in the past. Since this is one big list, I thought breaking it down into mini-lists would be a fun way of exploring a topic or director or technique that features in 5 films from my list. These Top 5 posts won’t be crossing over with each other and they’re totally arbitrary, but that’s part of the fun, I think. Anyways, since I won’t be spending a whole ton of my time on this project (I hope to do one list per week), I’m also including the full list here for your immediate perusal. It’s not super different from past lists in that you’ll see quite a few movies return, but the spots are all different.

Some people like to be mathematical in their calculations on lists like this but I think the best method is to embrace the arbitrary subjectivity of it all. So like, I really loved The Sound of Music when I revisited it two years ago, so much so that I rewatched the first half while reviewing student papers this past semester and avoided the second half which just isn’t as fun as those amazing first half scenes and songs. So this year it rocketed up to the third spot on my list. And I just watched Stalker a month ago but loved it so much that it’s now occupying the second spot on my list. It’s likely to move down in subsequent lists, but I’ll leave that to future-Alex to decide.

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The Back Catalog

I, like many cinephiles, own a lot of movies. I have not yet been lured to the world of primarily streaming films at home and every time there’s a sale on a Criterion (or similar) edition of a movie or a fun box set it is hard for me to resist slapping the money down to purchase a few, even if I don’t have a ton of money at the time. While I sometimes buy old favorites, I’m more likely to pick up something I haven’t yet seen based on the director or reputation or even supplemental features on the Blu-ray. The problem is that I’ve developed a bit of a back catalog of movies that I own but haven’t yet watched. I’ve got some time on my hands, so now’s a good a time as any to get them watched. This project is already 3 films deep (Stalker, Forbidden Planet, and Breathless) and since it seems like it’ll likely stick now, I’m making it official by putting the reviews of those films up here along with the full list of films I own but haven’t watched. This’ll be an index of sorts for keeping track of what I’m watching. There are around 90 movies on the list and I want to get to all of them by this time next year. I think that’s pretty doable, even with other obligations peeking their dumb faces in to distract me. It’ll be fun, follow along.

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Top 100 Movies (2014 Edition): Scenes from Numbers 31, 58, 48, 19, and 73

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I went on a mini-vacation but now I’m back with more scenes from movies randomly selected from my new top 100 list. See entry one and two for more fun. Movie titles will be linked to full reviews if I have one.

31. The Thing – Blood Test (WARNING! Not for the squeamish)

The Thing is one of the most macho films on my list. There’s not a woman in sight, and the men become more and more paranoid as the movie progresses until it reaches its zenith in this tense scene. It’s the paranoia running just barely under the surface here that makes everyone in the first half of the scene utterly still. The bursts of fire from the flamethrowers are the only real movement, echoing their pulses, maybe, or their anxiety. So they sit their as each sample of blood gets tested until one of the people starts shaking and transforming. Then one of the best practical effects movies starts showing off again and there’s blood and grossness and everything you ever wanted in a movie.

58. City Lights – Drunk at a Restaurant

This scene takes place after The Tramp rescues a rich man from an attempted suicide. As thanks, the rich man stuffs The Tramp full of alcohol and takes him out on the town. What follows is maybe the funniest I’ve seen Chaplin be. His faux-gentility gets amplified by the alcohol and the frou-frou setting and the absurdities of it all. We go from questioning why a person wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between eating spaghetti and a coiled streamer to laughing at just how long he eats that streamer. And when the music takes over his body and he charges onto the dance floor we can see just how great a performer Charlie Chaplin was.

48. The Night of the Hunter – “The Devil Wins Sometimes”

How insidious a character is Robert Mitchum’s Mr. Powell in The Night of the Hunter? Here is a con man, a thief, a murderer whose false religiosity combines with his powerful charisma to fool nearly everybody he meets throughout the course of the film. The husband and wife who run the local ice cream shop are probably the worst part of the whole movie, and yet this scene, in which Mr. Powell explains his new wife’s transgressions, still works thanks to Mitchum’s amazing pull on screen. Of course, it’s all just a build up to one of the best visuals in all of cinema, his wife floating in their car at the bottom of a river. The floating plants mirror her flowing hair, and the whole scene takes on an eerie beauty. That beauty is only increased when viewed from above and then from the side, allowing us to appreciate her naïveté and the power Mr. Powell had over her from the start. Amazing.

19. Hoop Dreams – Graduation

If you’ve been around the block with me a few times in this whole top 100 thing, you probably already knew the scene I was going to pick for Hoop Dreams. I teared up again when I watched it for this post. When Roger Ebert reviewed the film he started with these words: “It takes us, shakes us, and make us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself.” The scene that exemplifies this power is suprisingly one in which the two stars of the film, William Gates and Arthur Agee, take a back seat in favor of Shelia Agee, who finds out that she’s graduating from a Nursing Assistant’s program at the top of her class. It’s her joy that makes you realize just how powerful achievement can be. She is, as she says, at the beginning of her journey, but it’s an important first step and an example for her son, Arthur, who will have his own ups and downs in his life. Shelia is the center of the movie.

73. Repulsion – Cracks, clay, and creatures

What tricks will our minds play on us when we are alone? Do you run up the stairs when you turn out the light with visions of hands grasping at your legs? Are you brave enough to turn around after that quick ascension to see if there really was anything there? There isn’t much dialogue in Repulsion but there is a lot of noise. Flies buzz around a rotting rabbit corpse left out of the refrigerator, clocks tick away the seconds minutes hours and days, and walls moan and crack under the pressure. While the specifics are never clarified, Catherine Deneuve’s character is clearly messed up, and her weekend alone is bad news for her and the unfortunate people that come into contact with her over the course of it.

Those five will do it for today. Any thoughts or other favorite scenes from these movies to share? Leave a comment and let’s talk a bit.

Top 100 Movies (2014 Edition): Scenes from Numbers 51, 50, 28, 75, and 61

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Second verse, same as the first. Mostly. Again, like the first in the series, I’ll be talking about a scene from five movies in my top 100 list. The movies will be chosen at random, but you can see the full list here.

51. Rear Window – Meet the Neighbors

The opening scene of Rear Window is a masterpiece of table setting. First, we’re introduced to the world around us via a push through an open window and a nice, leisurely pan around the buildings that make up Jimmy Stewart’s visible world. The camera then finds each neighbor in turn and gives us a fleeting glimpse at their situation via a shot (always from the apartment’s POV) and some sound, but not too much sound. We need to feel like we’re spying on these people, so we never get their full story, only what Stewart can observe from his lonely wheelchair. It plays wonderfully on the big screen, which at once makes the movie feel larger than life and confines us to what the camera can see. The screen becomes a second window, and we are fully controlled by Alfred Hitchcock’s genius.

50. Jaws – “Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

Look at the shots Spielberg uses here. We start with a medium two shot, Quint in the foreground and Hooper unfocused in the back. This is how we see about half the speech. We get 3 cuts to Brody and one or two to Hooper, but for the rest we’re seeing Quint in some way or another. The shots break from the medium two shot as Quint looks back and forth between Brody and Hooper (glances that the camera mimics, of course) and then we get a much closer version of the shot that opens the scene. Here the tension increases, as people start to die. Finally, we get a slow push in on Quint as he describes the time he was most frightened. That shot ends with the line quoted above. It’s an intense speech that is heightened perfectly by Spielberg’s supreme understanding of movie making.

28. Miller’s Crossing – The End

After two movies talking about camera stuff, let’s give the sound guys some love. This scene happens out in the woods, so the only noises for the majority of it are the leaves crunching underneath Tom and Leo’s feet. Except, of course, after the line, “Goodbye, Leo.” There, we hear the trees creaking in the background. It heightens the silence between the two men, and in a movie so literate and talky, that silence is key. And then, of course, the spectacular Carter Burwell score kicks in as the two men put their hats on (“There’s nothing more foolish than a man chasing his hat.”) and we’re left with a kind of pleasant melancholy. Music to my ears.

75. Oslo, August 31st  – Sitting at a Cafe

One of my favorite ideas to see dramatized is the fact that everybody you meet has their own story. You can sometimes see your role in the lives of your friends or family members, but usually we’re just background players. Every once in a while, a book or movie will demonstrate this concept and I’ll pretty much always fall in love with it. Here is Joachim Trier’s version of that scene, replete with snippets of conversation. It also engages in some active imagination on the part of our protagonist, following people as they finish their run or sit on a park bench. We all do this kind of thing and Oslo, August 31st is really great at capturing that, among other other events small and large.

61. The Quiet Man – Falling In Love in the Falling Rain

There are few scenes more romantic than this one. As the winds howl and branches shake, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara take refuge (of a sort) in an old cemetery. The sound and fury of the storm matches their tempestuous embrace, and signals that this won’t be your typical romance. Indeed, this one ends with a ten minute long fight scene that starts at one end of town and finishes at the other. The passion that begins here will only end in bloodshed and then, finally, acceptance. For those that like their love stories to be biblical in scale, this is the movie you need to see. (And if you can, see it in its newly restored format. So pretty.)

That’s all for now. Do you love these movies or scenes as much as I do? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it!

Top 100 Films (2013 Edition): Part 4 of 5

40. The Grapes of Wrath

I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.

The quotes will be getting longer, probably, as this and the next entry go along because the movies are getting better and the scripts are usually a large part of that for me. That isn’t to say that the director has little say, of course, and this being the third John Ford movie on the list it’s pretty clear that I like the guy. I like this movie better than the book upon which it is based, in fact, because Ford brings his understanding of the harsh surroundings for which family is the only salve to the table and does so wonderfully. And you can’t go wrong with Henry Fonda as Tom Joad.

39. Sunshine

At the end of time, a moment will come when just one man remains. Then the moment will pass. Man will be gone. There will be nothing to show that we were ever here… but stardust.

How fantastic are the visuals for this film? They’re so great that the oft-maligned third act is redeemed by the last five minutes based on their beauty alone. A film about the immense power of the Sun and our understanding of our place in nature being thrown off balance by it must make channel that power effectively to work and Sunshine does through the use of some amazing visuals and clever sound design.

38. Halloween

I- I- I watched him for fifteen years, sitting in a room, staring at a wall, not seeing the wall, looking past the wall – looking at this night, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off. Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it.

Last year I watched the predecessor to this film, the real start to the slasher genre, Black Christmas. That film has a lot of fun elements and some which are clearly given homage four years later in Halloween, including the first person perspective for the opening sequence and the young woman protagonists. Still, Halloween is a much more accomplished film, one which gets many of its scares not from loud noises nor sudden appearances but rather solid filmmaking and a constant sense of dread. There’s a reason why it is often shown on the holiday that gives it its name, and it’s not just the coincidence. The movie gets the feeling of the season very right and is maybe the quintessential fall movie.

37. I’m Not There.

You know, saying ’cause of peace’, it’s like saying, ‘hunk of butter’, you know, I don’t want you to listen to anybody who wants you to believe is dedicated to the hunk and not the butter.

Bob Dylan deserves no less than this films fractured portrayal for his biographical film. The man has undergone so many transformations that each of the seven characters here could play dual roles and still not cover all of his bases. Highlights include everyone, plus the excellent soundtrack with covers by modern indie bands. Each of the versions also gets a genre of their own to play around in, echoing Dylan’s own dalliances in various sounds and spaces.

36. Scream

Did we ever find out why Hannibal Lector liked to eat people? DON’T THINK SO. See it’s a lot scarier when there’s no motive.

Scream not only works quite well as one of those slasher films inspired by Halloween and its ilk, it also effectively and hilariously skewers them and their audiences with a good dose of post-modern commentary provided by the media saturated characters in the film itself. There’s so much greatness underneath the surface that it’s sometimes easy to forget just how much fun the film is and how scary some scenes are. The movie even follows in its predecessor’s footsteps by having several sequels which pale in comparison to the film that started it all.

35. The Night of the Hunter

I can hear you whisperin’ children, so I know you’re down there. I can feel myself gettin’ awful mad. I’m out of patience children. I’m coming to find you now.

Perhaps the biggest cinematic mistake was the critical drubbing this movie received upon its release which warned Charles Laughton to stay away from directing any other movies. It’s a shame that this wonder of a first film was never followed up since Laughton shows a clear skill for making fairy tale stories in an expressive and dangerous style, and for getting great performances from some kids and the likes of Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish as opposing forces in those kids lives. The dark shadows and artificially beautiful sets heighten the fantastic vibe that pulses throughout this film.

34. 12 Monkeys

Telephone call? Telephone call? That’s communication with the outside world. Doctor’s discretion. Nuh-uh. Look, hey – all of these nuts could just make phone calls, they could spread insanity, oozing through telephone cables, oozing into the ears of all these poor sane people, infecting them. Wackos everywhere, plague of madness.

Terry Gilliam is a director that doesn’t hold back, ever. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes you get Tideland, which I couldn’t stand for longer than 20 minutes. 12 Monkeys is one of the good times. It uses Gilliam’s penchant for wackiness to its advantage by presenting the “present” to an outsider, a time traveler, so he can be just as confused and scared as we probably should be at some of the insane things that we just ignore on a daily basis. It’s also a really great time travel movie and has an early standout performance from Brad Pitt.

33. Punch-Drunk Love

I didn’t do anything. I’m a nice man. I mind my own business. So you tell me ‘that’s that’ before I beat the hell from you. I have so much strength in me you have no idea. I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine. I would say ‘that’s that’, Mattress Man.

What could be seen as a small detour between the sprawling movies early in his career and the more focused but no less epic later two films is actually an astute character study by Paul Thomas Anderson which takes a character that might be at home in Magnolia and treats him like Daniel Plainview or either of the two men at the center of The Master. It works as a bridge between those later, more serious films and the wide-eyed energy of the earlier movies and features a spectacular romance that basically takes the cop-and-druggie story from Magnolia and blows it up to feature length. It’s so great.

32. The World’s End

I remember sitting up there, blood on my knuckles, beer down my shirt, sick on my shoes and seeing the orange glow of a new dawn break and knowing in my heart life would never feel this good again. And you know what? It never did.

Yes, all three of the Cornetto trilogy of films directed by Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made my list this year, including this year’s entry, the sci-fi action/buddy comedy of The World’s End. It’s the strongest of the three films when it comes to style and theme, and the characters are just perfectly played and written. The beginning of the film tells you exactly what’s going to happen and it’s still a delight to go along with this ride. And the action is spectacular.

31. 2001: A Space Odyssey 

I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.

Though it took 45 years to happen, Gravity finally improved upon Kubrick’s vision of space. That film is a spectacle of the highest order but it lacks the absurdly brilliant thematic and story concerns that lift 2001 above the rest of the field. It’s a truly singular film, tracing technological warfare and humanity’s reaction to things it doesn’t understand throughout history and into the future. And if HAL singing about a bicycle fit for two while slowly ceasing to exist isn’t horror I don’t know what is.

30. A Serious Man

You understand the dead cat? But… you… you can’t really understand the physics without understanding the math. The math tells how it really works. That’s the real thing; the stories I give you in class are just illustrative; they’re like, fables, say, to help give you a picture. An imperfect model. I mean – even I don’t understand the dead cat. The math is how it really works.

A not-entirely serious movie, A Serious Man is the Coen brothers at their very best. It’s so well studied in its time and place and the characters are at once unique and relatable. A man’s marriage is falling apart, along with the rest of his life and everybody to whom he reaches for support is unhelpful or actively working against him. No Country for Old Men won all the awards, but A Serious Man remains their best movie in a decade.

29. Jaws

So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.

What is left to be said about Jaws? It’s nearly perfectly constructed and spawned a whole new kind of movie, the summer blockbuster. It’s horror and adventure and a bit of family drama all wrapped up in one, and it’s shot with an impeccable eye. I don’t think Spielberg has ever reached this level of iconic, painterly composition again since the summer of ’75.

28. Three Comrades

I drink to us, the three of us. Not from day to day now. From year to year.

This is not the first Borzage movie to make the list nor will it be his last. Three Comrades is the best of his talkies and is a wonderful little movie about friendship and romance and life changing circumstances. Margaret Sullavan (in her third appearance on this list) is typically great and Robert Young does a wonderful job. It’s so lovely and sad.

27. The Thing

I know what you mean, Blair. Trust’s a tough thing to come by these days. Tell you what – why don’t you just trust in the Lord?

Isolation and an inability to trust anybody will lead to the most intense paranoia captured on film if John Carpenter is to be relied upon for such things. The Thing maintains that high-strung tension throughout its runtime and continues to scare 30 years later thanks to his wonderful direction and some of the best creature design I’ve ever seen. And Kurt Russell armed with a flamethrower and an awesome hat is nothing to scoff at, either.

26. Before Midnight

I am giving you my whole life ok? I got nothing larger to give, I’m not giving it to anybody else. If you’re looking for permission to disqualify me, I’m not gonna give it to you. Ok? I love you. And I’m not in conflict about it. Okay? But if what you want is like a laundry list of all the things that piss me off, I can give it to you.

Three movies released this year might be blasphemous on other lists but I take no time considerations into account. If I see a movie that I think is great, I’m going to put it on my list, not wait a few years to see how it’ll settle. If Before Midnight slides off of this list, or off of it, in the coming years, so be it. But the 2013 list is a reflection of the movies I loved in 2013, and Before Midnight, the third of the Before trilogy which follows the young love, reunion, and now the ramifications of a marriage with kids and time taking their tolls on Celine and Jesse, is one of the movies that I love right now.

25. The Lion in Winter

I’ve snapped and plotted all my life. There’s no other way to be alive, king, and fifty all at once.

Like Doubt, an earlier entry on this list, The Lion in Winter is a shouty movie based on a play that takes a certain historical scenario and turns it into a fountain of ideas battling through words instead of swords. Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn are amazing as the feuding royal family heads, each jockeying for their favorite son to take control of the throne. The words and the way that these actors say them are the real treats of this film, it’s almost too much fun to watch this family tear each other apart.

24. The Royal Tenenbaums

I think we’re just gonna to have to be secretly in love with each other and leave it at that, Richie.

And look, another family in turmoil. Though this one was never really together to begin with. It’s the first Wes Anderson movie I ever saw and I can’t say I liked it. I revisited the film after appreciating Anderson’s later works and the scales fell from my eyes or something like that. Anyways, I really liked the movie and could finally get into Anderson’s persnickety style of filmmaking and writing.

23. Alien

I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.

The title of this film doesn’t just refer the the killing machine that terrorizes the crew of the Nostromo for much of the movie. It’s also a reference to the cold, inhospitable nature of space and the environments in which these weak humans find themselves. No, nothing here is ordinary. Ridley Scott creates an uncommon sense of terror based around superb sound design and his background as a set designer. The world of Alien feels real and alive, though that life is murderous

22. Adaptation. 

Yeah but it’s easier for plants. I mean they have no memory. They just move on to whatever’s next. With a person though, adapting almost shameful. It’s like running away.

Given the task of adapting Susan Orlean’s book, The Orchid Thief, Charlie Kaufman found himself at a loss. So instead of presenting her story at face value, he wrote a movie which starred him and Susan and his imaginary twin brother and folded in on itself a few times. It’s a brilliantly confusing work, but it also has a beating heart which shines through the murk of cleverness. The emotions are real, which makes all the silliness surrounding them even more effective and astounding.

21. Jurassic Park

John, the kind of control you’re attempting simply is… it’s not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh… well, there it is.

Earlier in this section I stated that Jaws was Spielberg’s best movie, formally speaking. While that is likely true, it’s still doesn’t compare to the feat he pulled off with Jurassic Park. The sheer imagination and cine-craft that went into bringing the dinosaurs to life for this movie combine to illustrate exactly why movies are so wonderful. They give us pictures and sounds we can believe in, if done well enough, and can show us things that can’t or haven’t or couldn’t exist. I finally got to see this movie on the big screen this year thanks to a 3D re-release and it was everything I ever wanted from a movie.