Tag: movies

The Genre Question; or Rambling about Genres

In Sullivan's Travels a director finds out that comedy can be more important than drama.

Genre is a bookstore problem, not a literary problem. – Rick Moody

What the heck do genres mean to artist and their audiences? I recently made my top 100 films list and at the end I did a little wrap up and broke down the number of movies from each genre. Seems like a simple task at the start. We all know what the basic genres are: comedy and drama, sci-fi and western, war and romance. Where it becomes difficult is trying to pinpoint each movie into the confines of one genre. Let’s look at my top 5. Magnolia is a drama, certainly. But it’s also pretty funny. And the ending makes it a kind of fantasy, or at least a fairy tale. Which brings us to Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s a fairy tale, too. But it’s also a war film. And a coming of age story. Raiders of the Lost Ark is probably the easiest to classify as one thing. It’s an adventure film through and through. Blade Runner is sci-fi, obviously, but it’s also a neo-noir romance. And There Will Be Blood is a character study-western-epic. It’s not so easy to just pick one of these and put them on that particular shelf. So what does genre matter?

As an aspiring writer, I struggle with my choices about what I read and what I write. I feel like I read way too much fantasy and everything I’ve written has been in that genre to some degree. There’s a sense among literary people that genre fiction is somehow less valuable than straight literary books. There’s a reason why the sci-fi/fantasy sections are always at the back, behind romance and before comic books. Is there something wrong with reading and writing genre pieces?

Pity those—adventurers, adolescents, authors of young adult fiction—who make their way in the borderland between worlds. It is at worst an invisible and at best an inhospitable place. Build your literary house on the borderlands, as the English writer Philip Pullman has done, and you may find that your work is recommended by booksellers, as a stopgap between installments of Harry Potter, to children who cannot (one hopes) fully appreciate it, and to adults, disdainful or baffled, who ‘don’t read fantasy.’ Yet all mystery resides there, in the margins, between life and death, childhood and adulthood, Newtonian and quantum, ‘serious’ and ‘genre’ literature. And it is from the confrontation with mystery that the truest stories have always drawn their power. – Michael Chabon

I have, in my travels through literature and movies and music, decided that magical realism is the best of all possible genres. In fact, with a few exceptions, I think it could probably be used to describe every work of fiction. There’s something about storytelling that necessitates both invention and some degree of grounding in the real world which leads to every story being a little bit fantastical. The idea of Magnolia, that each of these lives are connected in obvious and obscure ways is fantastical without the ending, though that ending cements it firmly into the fantasy-ish genre. The act of condensing stories to be told in two hours or two hundred pages or two minutes means you have to cut out the boring parts inbetween the big events. There are exceptions, of course, but those exceptions often change the story in other ways so that everything becomes both magical and real at the same time.

There're more important things to struggle with when it comes to writing than genre.

A movie I like has a line in it that goes like this, “All stories say something.” I think that’s true, and that’s the most important aspect of art, for me. The way a story is told shouldn’t matter as much as what the story is trying to say about the act of living. A genre has almost nothing to do with the potential quality of a story. Sure, sci-fi movies have a bit of an easier time talking about technology and humanity while romance has it pretty easy when talking about the love element of our lives and comedy allows the inherent silliness of our existence to be pointed out better than any other genre. But none of that says you can’t have a really great sci-fi story that gets at what it is to love somebody or a fantasy story that demonstrates how absurd our ways of thinking are. Heck, that’s what Terry Pratchett has done his entire career. So don’t be afraid to read what you want and write what you want. There will be people that make fun of you for it, but those guys are the real suckers, falling for silly distinctions while you enjoy great art. Ha!

Top 100 Films: Complete list and stats

We did it!

I had a lot of fun making this year’s list. I think my little gimmick of presenting the list by the digits in the ones spot made it a little more interesting to follow along with and gave some fun ways to talk about the list that might not have been present if I did it in a straightforward way. I have an idea for next year’s list but you’ll have to wait to find out what that is.

And now, the statistical breakdown of my top 100 films list. Enjoy.

By Decade:

1920’s: 3

1930’s: 3

1940’s: 8

1950’s: 5

1960’s: 4

1970’s: 10

1980’s: 10

1990’s: 11

2000’s: 40

2010’s: 6

Movies from before I was born: 41

Movies from the year I was born: 2 (Die Hard and A Fish Called Wanda)

Movies from after the year I was born: 57

Terrifying!

By Genre:

I’m going to split them into drama and comedy, each film fits into one of these. Then I’ll do the more specialized genres.

Drama: 71

Comedy: 29

Horror: 13

Sci-fi: 9

Fantasy: 6

Western: 6

Action/Adventure: 14

Romance: 18

Crime: 20

Documentary (faux or real): 3

Other: 11

Directors!

Directors with more than 1 entry

Paul Thomas Anderson (3)

Darren Aronofsky (2)

Frank Borzage (4)

Danny Boyle (2)

John Carpenter (2)

Joel and Ethan Coen (3)

David Cronenberg (2)

Guillermo del Toro (2)

David Fincher (2)

John Ford (7)

Rian Johnson (2)

Spike Jonze (2)

Stanley Kubrick (3)

Ridley Scott (3)

Steven Spielberg (5)

Quentin Tarantino (2)

Edgar Wright (2)

Links to each section of the list with pictures, quotes, and commentary:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section

Click through to see the full list

(more…)

Top 100 Films: The _1’s

Here we are. The end of the list. Tomorrow I will be posting the entire list in order for your personal files along with some fun statistics. But today check out the final entry in the list proper. Horror, action, western, comedy, drama, canonical, crazy. This list has it all. More than any other segment I think this group is categorized by the ambition of the films. Each is going for something more than your typical movie, and they all get there.

Before you see the rest of the list, please consider subscribing to my blog. There’s a button on the side under “Subscribe here!” and you’ll be updated as soon as I post something new. I’ve changed the feed link, too, so if you’re already subscribed you should make sure you have the up-to-date feed.

91. Scream (1996)

Directed by Wes Craven. Starring Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox

Now Sid, don’t you blame the movies. Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative!

The slasher movie about slasher movies has a billion layers going on. The amazing thing is that they all work. It’s a great slasher, a great meta-movie, and a great meta-slasher-movie. The script by Kevin Williamson is the real star of this movie, with great laughs and screams all over the place.

81. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

Directed by Banksy. Starring Banksy and Thierry Guetta

I think the joke is on… I don’t know who the joke’s on – really. I don’t even know if there is a joke.

This maybe-documentary is not clear about its verisimilitude. What is clear is that it’s a fun movie to watch. Whether Thierry is a real guy or a Bansky creation almost doesn’t matter, because he’s such a compelling weirdo that you can’t look away. As a movie about art it can be a tiny bit preachy, but that’s subverted by the silliness that’s going on throughout.

71. The Proposition (2005)

Directed by John Hillcoat. Starring Ray Winstone and Guy Pearce

I was, in days gone by, a believer. But alas, I came to this beleaguered land, and the God in me just… evaporated. Let us change our toast, sir. To the God who has forgotten us.

Unlike the previous two films, The Proposition is a deadly serious film. One of those new westerns that shows just how horrible the west, or in this case, Australia, would be to live in. Written and scored by Nick Cave, it’s bleak and unpleasant, but masterfully so. And, as you can see by the screenshot, it is a beautiful film to look at.

61. Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Directed by Charlie Kaufman. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Samantha Morton

I will be dying and so will you, and so will everyone here. That’s what I want to explore. We’re all hurtling towards death, yet here we are for the moment, alive. Each of us knowing we’re going to die, each of us secretly believing we won’t.

Some say that Kaufman’s first directorial project suffers from a lack of focus. There’s nobody to tell him no, and the film spirals out of control as it gets bigger and bigger. I don’t disagree. I think that’s what makes it such a great movie. Synecdoche, New York is a messterpiece of the highest order.

51. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Starring Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood

I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

I did not like this movie when I first watched it. It was too slow and the ending made no sense. When I got a Blu-ray player it was one of the first movies I got for it because I heard that it really benefits from being presented in the best possible format. And while I haven’t seen it projected yet, the Blu-ray really made me appreciate everything that was going on. It deserves a place in the canon of sci-fi movies and movies in general.

41. Chinatown (1974)

Directed by Roman Polanski. Starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway

But, Mrs. Mulwray, I goddamn near lost my nose. And I like it. I like breathing through it. And I still think you’re hiding something.

Polanski is the king of paranoia. Nicholson is always a step behind everybody else and we as an audience feel the same growing paranoia that he does as he tries to uncover the truth. The stakes get bigger and bigger and we get more and more uncomfortable. It’s great.

31. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Starring Yôji Matsuda and Yuriko Ishida

Look, everyone! This is what hatred looks like! This is what it does when it catches hold of you! It’s eating me alive, and very soon now it will kill me! Fear and anger only make it grow faster!

Based on Japanese folklore and the idea of industrialization and the way it destroys nature, Princess Mononoke is a profound and beautiful film. There’s a lot of melodrama but everything feels earned and true.

21. The Lady Eve (1941)

Directed by Preston Sturges. Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda

You see Hopsi, you don’t know very much about girls. The best ones aren’t as good as you think they are and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not nearly as bad.

Henry Fonda plays against type here as a hapless snake scientist who falls for a con-woman on a boat back to America. He never has the upper hand in the first half of the movie. The second half turns the tables a bit, and it works most because of the acting because the script asks a lot of the audience. Also, it is hilarious.

11. City of God (2002)

Directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund. Starring Alexandre Rodrigues and Matheus Nachtergaele

A kid? I smoke, I snort. I’ve killed and robbed. I’m a man.

City of God is a movie about how much it sucks to grow up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. It’s a gangster movie of sorts, but the exotic locale and the juxtaposition of people just trying to survive against the people wringing all the power they can out of a crappy situation is an interesting enough dynamic for me to overlook my problems with the genre. It also helps that it is kinetically shot and the main character is a photographer. Hey, I’m easy.

1. Magnolia (1999)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Tom Cruise and Julianne Moore

I’ll tell you everything, and you tell me everything, and maybe we can get through all the piss and shit and lies that kill other people.

While the overwhelming feeling that one associates with Magnolia is probably sadness, I think the ending does a lot to prove that there is room for happiness in a world that is mostly screwed up. Anderson handles ensembles with grace and care, giving each person their due attention. Check this out for more on Magnolia.

The rest of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section

Top 100 Films: The _2’s

The penultimate segment of the list! A lot of physical films this time around. Only two were released after the year I was born, though only two are in black and white. Many of the films take place in only a few locations. Also, they’re all great.

92. The Wrestler (2008)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei

And now, I’m an old broken down piece of meat… and I’m alone. And I deserve to be alone. I just don’t want you to hate me.

That this film and Black Swan were once the same script makes total sense. Both examine how the body suffers from performance and willpower. The Wrestler is more grounded and heartfelt, though not sentimentally so. Rourke and Tomei give great, real performances and Aronofsky keeps everything immediate.

82. Days of Heaven (1978)

Directed by Terrence Malick. Starring Richard Gere and Brooke Adams

Nobody’s perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just have half-angel and half-devil in you.

Malick loves him some voice-over and pretty pictures. This tale of depression-era farming and a simmering romance is beautifully shot and told. The locust scene is spectacular filmmaking.

72. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Directed by Charles Crichton. Starring John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis

Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself.” And the London Underground is not a political movement.

One of the smartest movies I’ve seen, A Fish Called Wanda is a hilariously absurd film that manages to get some real emotion in while crushing dogs under pianos. Kevin Kline won an Oscar for his performance as the monumentally stupid and confident Otto and he deserved it.

62. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Directed by Elia Kazan. Starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando

I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don’t tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth.

The key word for this movie is heat. There’s the obvious and overwhelming sense of heat in terms of temperature but the real heat comes from the characters. There’s something boiling under everybody’s surface and as the film goes on it gets closer and closer to exploding. Kazan cleverly changes the room where the majority of the film takes place to get more and more claustrophobic as the movie progresses.

52. 7th Heaven (1927)

Directed by Frank Borzage. Starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell

Chico… Diane… Heaven.

Though I don’t like it as much as Lucky Star, 7th Heaven is another fantastic film pairing Gaynor and Farrell under the direction of Borzage. There’s a lot about levels and rising and falling, along with some terrific romance and Borzage’s typical miraculous ending.

42. Die Hard (1988)

Directed by John McTiernan. Starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman

“And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.” Benefits of a classical education.

Yes, for those of you that didn’t know, my blog name is a quote from Die Hard. It’s the best of the 80’s and 90’s action films, mostly because of Willis and Rickman and their superb bantering. Die Hard is a movie that will never age.

32. North by Northwest (1959)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint

No. No. Mother, I have not been drinking. No. No. these two men, they poured a whole bottle of bourbon into me. No, they didn’t give me a chaser.

Cary Grant is one of the best people ever. This is scientifically proven. Here he gets to be caught up in a smuggling plot and a delightfully devious romance. When I finished watching it I remarked that it felt very modern and retro at the same time. I could see Steven Soderbergh doing a remake like he did the Ocean’s movies. But they wouldn’t have Cary Grant and that would be a travesty.

22. Fantasia (1940)

And then we hear the “Ave Maria”, with its message of the triumph of hope and life over the powers of despair and death.

Fantasia was supposed to be the beginning of a continued experiment where Disney would create a visual accompaniment to a work of classical music every year and put it on the front end of their flagship releases. That, unfortunately, didn’t happen. Fantastia is a fantastic work of art in its own right, though. Each piece works for me and the animation is beautiful and compelling. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait 60 years for another sequel.

12. Jaws (1975)

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss

Martin, it’s all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, “Huh? What?” You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.

If you haven’t seen Jaws I don’t know what you’re doing reading this list. The original summer blockbuster, it has a lot more depth than most of the crap we get during the summer now. It is superbly directed and the acting is just great. Where is the Quint speech about the Indianapolis in Transformers or the restraint about showing the bad guy in the later Pirates films? Yeah, the shark they built didn’t work so Spielberg couldn’t show it but the way he handled that technical glitch created one of the most terrifying monsters in cinema history.

2. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Ivana Baquero and Sergi López

The moon will be full in three days. Your spirit shall forever remain among the humans. You shall age like them, you shall die like them, and all memory of you shall fade in time. And we’ll vanish along with it. You will never see us again.

More of a war drama than a fairy tale, Pan’s Labyrinth subverts expectations at every moment. The real world horror is worse than any fantasy could be, thanks to an all-time great performance by Sergi López as the evil step-father and fascist general. Whether the fantasy world exists outside of Ofelia’s head isn’t important because it is entirely her story and it is real for her. Another film where I wouldn’t change a thing.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section

Top 100 Films: The _4’s

The 4’s contain, by a lucky coincidence, the oldest and newest films on my list. They span a period of 85 years. Every movie but one is in a well defined genre, the other being mostly just a drama. Besides also containing the longest title on my list,  four of the movies are from before I was born.

94. Hanna (2011)

Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Saoirse Ronan and Cate Blanchett

I just missed your heart.

A fever dream of a movie. Hanna is a coming of age tale with a dark side, told like a fairy tale and impeccably directed and acted. It is always moving forward, whether it be plot driven or character based. An early contender for the best film of 2011.

84. All the President’s Men (1976)

Directed by Alan J. Pakula. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford

You’re both paranoid. She’s afraid of John Mitchell and you’re afraid of Walter Cronkite.

When a movie about reporters figuring out a story is so compelling you know the movie is great. It takes a lot to get a movie that involves almost no action to feel so stimulating. Of course, the acting helps, as does the direction. There’s a lot of All the President’s Men in Zodiac, and even though I like the latter better, the former is still fantastic.

74. In Bruges (2008)

Directed by Martin McDonagh. Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson

I’m sorry for calling you an inanimate object. I was upset.

As dark a comedy as you can get, Martin McDonagh’s feature length directorial debut is one of the best first movies of all time. Intricately constructed and immaculately detailed, it’s got a lot going on so it might take a few times to get everything. But that’s just an excuse to watch it over and over and over again. As if you needed one.

64. The General (1926)

Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton. Starring Buster Keaton and Marion Mack

If you lose this war don’t blame me.

Buster Keaton is known for incredibly complex stunts that intensify as he goes along. Some of the action scenes here are 15 minutes long. There’s a lot to be awed by, but one of the best elements is how Keaton is able to build a character through these actions scenes. By the end of the film you really know who Johnnie Gray is and why he does what he does.

54. The Quiet Man (1952)

Directed by John Ford. Starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara

I have a fearful temper. You might as well know about it now instead of findin’ out about it later. We Danahers are a fightin’ people.

A good old fashioned love story. Full of kisses in the rain and fighting and dragging your wife across the Irish countryside. Almost mythic in how big it plays the emotions, The Quiet Man is a wonderful romantic comedy with great chemistry between Wayne and O’Hara, perhaps the only woman that could match up to Wayne’s powerful presence. If only there was a restored print that was widely available, the current dvd is a muddied mess that does no service to the beauty of Ireland and O’Hara.

44. The Social Network (2010)

Directed by David Fincher. Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield

I like standing next to you, Sean. It makes me look so tough.

When The Social Network hit theaters there was some controversy over whether the movie portrayed the truth of the founding of Facebook. There are exaggerations and outright lies in the movie. Luckily for us, it’s a movie and not a historical document. As a film it is a fascinating study of ambition and the things you lose when you get what you want. It is certainly biased but it is no less of a movie for that.

34. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Directed by Shane Black. Starring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer

Wow, I feel sore. I mean physically, not like a guy who’s angry in a movie in the 1950’s.

Delightfully meta and self-aware without being too cute about it. The relationship between Downey and Kilmer is the heart of this film. It makes you remember how awesome Kilmer is. Shane Black knows his buddy cop movies and works with the tropes quite well.

24. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Directed by Andrew Dominik. Starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck

Look at my red hands and my mean face… and I wonder ’bout that man that’s gone so wrong.

One of the half-dozen or so recent westerns that take a more thoughtful track than the typical good guy vs. bad guy idea you see in so many older films of the genre. This movie is about fame and adoration and legend. And it is beautiful. I can’t wait to see what Dominik does next.

14. Sunshine (2007)

Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Cillian Murphy and Rose Byrne

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

Sunshine gets a lot of crap for its third act. Allow me to state, here and now and for eternity, there’s nothing wrong with the third act of the film. It’s a different way of explaining the same idea that runs through the rest of the film: what do we do in the face of such power? And the final five minutes are supremely beautiful in both the visuals and the themes they express.

4. Blade Runner (1982)

Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer

Fiery the angels fell. Deep thunder rolled around their shoulders, burning with the fires of Orc.

The future never looked so grimy and gorgeous at the same time. This neo-noir is the best sci-fi movie ever made. It’s not perfect, there’s a romantic subplot that I don’t particularly care about, but that’s small fries when it comes to the sheer brilliance of the rest of the film. It’s telling that Ridley Scott started as an art director because the look of the movie is so singular.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section