Tag: The Night of the Hunter

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

Night-of-the-Hunter-Direction2

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 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.

Top 100 Films List (2013): Movies about Brothers and Sisters

Time to come down to earth a little bit. After the portion of this list presented earlier in the week about God(s), my focus now turns to brothers and sisters. I have one of each and the relationships that form between brothers and sisters are some of the weirdest and sometimes strongest that we build in our lives. This is our family, and different though we may be, we are generally forced to live with each other for the developmental periods of our lives. Neither my brother nor my sister are very much like me, though I can see myself in facets of each of them. It’s this relationship that fascinates me and forms the basis of this part of the list. Some of these films will just be about brothers, or just about sisters, but they’re all about how these people that we don’t choose to affiliate ourselves with have a profound and lasting influence on our lives. And now, the poll.

Now that the voting is out of the way (you did vote for your favorite, right?), let’s get into the meat of it all. I don’t think I included any cannibal brothers or sisters here, but let’s start with the more strained relationships. Some of these are small in scope, take the snowball fight in Where the Wild Things Are as an example of a very minor but very important scene of brother and sister fighting. It’s a scene that provides a very grounded basis for the rest of the film, and also a scene likely acted out by every brother and sister in the known universe. A young boy spies on his older sister and her friends as she leaves the house to hang out. He goes into attack mode and tosses some snowballs at them while they are getting into a beat up old car and when she and her friends retaliate it all seems like a good time. That is, until one friend goes too far and jumps on top of the snow cave the brother built. What was fun turns instantly into a sad, angry scene as the brother gathers up some snow and throws it on her bed after she leaves. It’s almost too real a scene to be included in a fiction movie, but it’s that scene that sets in motion the rest of the film’s fantastical-if-sadly-strange wonderland. There’s a similar scene in Punch-Drunk Love, where Barry, a weird and lonely man, is invited to have dinner with his multitude of sisters. What starts as a nice, if forced, dinner conversation turns into a typical rage fit for Barry after all of his sisters pile on and pester him about his weirdness. It’s the ugly side of sibling relationships, but they do exist.

Even twins have antagonistic tendencies. Adaptation is a weird movie about a weird man trying to write a weird movie about a weird book. He becomes a character in his own film, and his twin (who doesn’t exist in real life) tries to be like him but fails spectacularly, writing all the wrong things and falling into all the screenwriting traps he is trying to avoid. Melancholia features, in its first half, the wedding of a young depressed girl. Her sister is organizing everything and as the wedding falls apart thanks to the bride’s depression, the sister gets more and more exasperated. All of these sibling rivalry type relationships are pretty obvious in their construction, but I think they say important things about the way we treat those that are related to us. Perhaps the biggest, and certainly the loudest, example of this is from The Lion in Winter, a movie based entirely around familial bickering over important and not so important things. On the important side, which of three brothers will take over as King of England, on the not so important side, which of the brothers is loved more by which parent. And then, to take it one step further, Halloween features an older brother who goes crazy and kills one sister and then spends the rest of the film trying to kill another. This relationship isn’t revealed until the second film, so it’s a bit of a cheat, but it’s too fun to keep off this portion of the list.

Of course, not all brothers and sisters want to kill each other. Sometimes they’re the only source of hope and the only people one can rely on in rough situations. The Night of the Hunter features a ferocious performance by Robert Mitchum as an evil step-father who tries to extract the location of stolen money hidden by the father of the young brother and sister at the center of the film. His evilness is elaborated upon as the film goes on, which only serves to bring the two kids closer together as everybody around them that should be their protectors are revealed to be ineffective.  The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are a little more obviously and immediately life threatening and as such the brother and sister in that film don’t demonstrate much beyond some playful jabs at each other’s nerdiness, and they learn just how resourceful they can be when the other is in danger. The Proposition‘s Australian outlaw brother trio is as messed up as they can be, and yet their relationship grows stronger and deeper the further into trouble they get. The titular family in The Royal Tenenbaums is falling apart and at the outset this movie would seem like it should go more in the first category of unfriendly siblings, but as the film develops the second generation comes together, puts aside their petty fights and hidden jealousies to save their family from dissolution. It’s a group of true and real relationships painted with Wes Anderson’s typical style, which elevates the movie into greatness. Similarly, Pan’s Labyrinth features a girl who’s mother is pregnant, and whose pregnancy is jeopardized by health risks and an evil stepfather (noticing a trend?). At first Ofelia is angry at her soon-to-be-sister for endangering her mother but once she grows up a little she realizes how much this relationship will mean and tries her best to save the recently-born child. Not all fathers must be evil, of course. Terrence Mallick’s The Tree of Life might seem at first to feature an evil father but repeat viewings reveal Brad Pitt’s father to be a loving, flawed human being. Still, the brothers often find themselves uniting against him and going on young boy quests through the wilds of the mid-century mid-west. Fanny and Alexander again features an evil stepfather and a brother and sister who team up to weather any abuse they must endure while their mother fights her own battles against the tyrannical man she married.

Some of the more observant of my readers might notice a few films on this list that seem like they shouldn’t fit the topic at first glance. What brothers or sisters are there in Blade Runner, for example? Well, if you’ll allow, I extend the idea of siblings into friends that have a tighter relationship than the norm. So the similarly created robots in Blade Runner share an impending death and they fight the system that tries to keep them less than human. The World’s End, too, features friends that, at the beginning, have fallen out with each other thanks to the destructive habits of their leader. Still, that leader succeeds in bringing them back together as they fight an evil extraterrestrial threat (and try to drink 12 pints from 12 different pubs at the same time). In Never Let Me Go the nature of the relationship between all of the characters in the film is left a mystery for much of the run time, but their strange situation brings them together and they form bonds that act similarly to the brother and sister relationship. There’s always the other side of that coin, though. The rival magicians in The Prestige know each other so well that they develop a deep jealousy which turns murderous. There Will Be Blood seems like a movie that features a real brother-brother relationship, with the introduction of Henry, a man who says he’s Daniel Plainview’s long lost brother (turns out, no) and the brothers that hate each other, Paul and Eli Sunday. The two young basketball players with dreams of going to the NBA in Hoop Dreams aren’t related by blood, but they nevertheless support and cheer for each other through high and low.

And then there are the siblings torn apart by circumstance. The Mortal Storm begins with a strong family bond which breaks as Hitler declares war on the rest of Europe. The older brothers become surprisingly fascist and leave to join Hitler’s fight while the only sister, the incomparable Margaret Sullavan, stays behind to help her elderly and disgraced father retain some kind of dignity. Later in the film she goes to one of her older brothers to ask for his help in escaping their country for one that has been kept out of the war. The conflict between his duty and his family is strong and quite affecting which, after several rewatches, is elevated to being at least as moving as the love story at the film’s center. Anna Karenina spends the first part of her movie trying to help her lecherous brother through an affair but turns into an adulterer herself as she leaves him to figure out his own issues. The sibling rivalry in City of God gets to quite destructive ends, as one brother tries desperately to stay out of the gangs that rule the slums and the other tries just as hard to get into one, to his ultimate demise. The problem between brother and sister in The Quiet Man isn’t quite life or death. Maureen O’Hara’s crazy older brother is dead set against her betrothal to John Wayne and gets into a hilariously long (in both time and distance senses of the word) fight scene over her. I guess that’s some kind of love. And, though they call themselves a family, the organization in The Godfather is a kind that says it’s all about loyalty at the front and will turn with jealousy at the drop of a hat. The secrets and lies that boil underneath the relationship between the two sisters in A Streetcar Named Desire are what leads to that film’s climactic battle of words.

Brothers and sisters are a strange bunch. Through love and jealousy and hatred and reverence they idolize and vilify each other. A port of refuge in a storm or a strong wind that sets the other adrift, the relationship between siblings, blood or otherwise, is difficult to get right. These 26 movies do, and for that I salute them.

That’s all for now. If you have another movie you like about brothers and sisters, leave a comment for me! If you haven’t voted for your favorite from my list, go do that. And if you’re on Letterboxd (and you should be), check out this list there and be sure to check off all that you have seen. And tune in sometime next week for the next installment of this ongoing series. It’ll be another familial relationship. Or not! Who knows!

Top 100 Films List (2013): Movies about God(s)

Welcome to the first real post about my new top 100 movies list! It’s very exciting, at least to me. The first grouping will be, as the title suggests, movies about God(s). As a not-religious person my interest here is not to affirm my own point of view or force it upon you, but to see how movies about god(s) and religion raise questions that matter deeply to us as humans. How does the presence or lack of a god inform our lives? How do we cope when we try to approach something beyond our understanding? Who do we blame when something goes wrong, or praise when something goes right? Religion has been a large part of our cultural heritage and movies are no different. Without further ado, here are, in alphabetical order, the movies from my top 100 list that are, in some way, about God(s).

Ok, have you voted? That’s a poll, go vote on it! Pick one that is your favorite. Do it!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk a little. First, movies about playing God. We have within us a deep desire to create and specifically to create life. That is often seen as the territory of God or Gods, depending on the creation myth you like best. Through movies we’ve come up with some fantastic creation myths of our own, none better than Jurassic Park. Here’s an example of creating life gone wrong, bringing back what should have been left dead, or at least should have been created with a little more care and foresight. “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.” This pretty accurately describes the thought process up to the beginning of the movie as wryly stated by the one and only Jeff Goldblum. Laura Dern counters with the potential plot of the rest of the film, “Dinosaurs eat man … woman inherits the earth.” But Jurassic Park isn’t the only movie about humans trying to reach god-like status as creators of life. Blade Runner, too, concerns itself with the perils of trying to re-create humans and improve upon them. At what point does that creation turn on its creators for being imperfect as some would argue we have done with God? Roy Batty is perhaps the most human character in the film as he struggles with this question, though beneath his synthetic skin an artificial heart beats and a computer thinks. The Truman Show goes on a bit of a different path as a tv producer creates not life but a life for the titular character. Everything is controlled and broadcast for all to see and though it may seem idyllic initially, soon the curated life becomes a prison, which leads the viewer to ask whether or not the same would be the case if we were to know with certainty that our lives are curated in a similar respect.

Some movies warn of the perils of religion and religious thinking. Doubt, for example, presents some obvious issues with the concept of certainty when it comes to things that are immensely complex, whether it be belief in God or the relationship between a man and a boy. That film does a wonderful job of not answering any of the factual questions we have as that would not accurately reflect the situation the characters find themselves in. Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages is an early documentary that explores the way religion has treated anybody that isn’t normal in the society of the time. Even in 1922 the movie is smart enough to link this bad behavior to the treatment of mental illness in “modern” times, a situation that hasn’t improved as much as it should. In The Wicker Man a Christian detective is brought to an island of pagans to investigate a missing girl. It’s a clash of religious ideas that is as loopy as it is unsettling, with its nude ritual scenes and creepy costumes. Fanny and Alexander is a movie in which an artistic family is subjected to the strict religious rules thanks to a mother’s second marriage. The bishop she marries is one of the greatest screen villains precisely because he is almost always certain he is doing the right thing. The Night of the Hunter has a similar father figure, and though his evil is even more apparent, it is no less scary.

It’s not always so obvious, though, the insidious implications of religion. The Long Day Closes shows a boy struggling with his sexual identity in the face of religious doctrine which states that he is ill-formed. The Seventh Seal demonstrates that life during the Black Plague was a nasty one, and religions reflected and enhanced that nastiness with their own misguided beliefs. In A Serious Man, the Job story from the bible is reinterpreted for the 60’s as a Jewish man’s life is ripped apart in any way possible while his religious leaders offer little comfort. And finally, in There Will Be Blood, capitalism is set against harsh Christianity as two ideals enter and both lose. There is very little up side to either as the deep-seated flaws are laid out in the forms of Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday. Metropolis, too, shows us that economics are nothing to be worshiped.

Of course, God and religion are really just one way of trying to understand things that are bigger than ourselves and beyond our current understandings. As our scientific knowledge grows we answer questions with facts that we had once answered with gods, though new questions always appear in relation to even crazier things that happen in the natural world. Sunshine shows us a man who has lived so close to the sun for so long that he has gone crazy, believing that the sun is God incarnate and that he is an angel sent to destroy humanity. Cloud Atlas has, in one of its stories, a woman who becomes a god-figure thanks to her deeply human act of freeing millions of slaves. How one person can be so good is deified through countless retellings of a story. The Devil’s Backbone shows young orphans as they try to comprehend the insane violence of the Spanish Civil War through an unexploded bomb in the middle of their orphanage and tales of a ghostly kid who will exact revenge. Melancholia is a planet that appears out of nowhere and is on a collision course with the earth. As it nears us, a young woman deals with depression and the pressures of life. The Tree of Life and The Fountain are twins of a sort, both of which examine the role of God in our day to day lives, however mundane or grand they may be.

We also have, in movies, a great way of exploring whether or not God even exists. The Seventh Seal and Doubt ask the question early and often, while movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fantasia, The Exorcist, and Contact answer the question with a resounding yes, and that God is kinda scary. Fantasia and Throne of Blood explore non-christian religions through sometimes creepy and sometimes glorious imagery. Haxan, too, has a terrifyingly beautiful vision of hell, while Contact‘s heaven might be some distant planet. Holy Motors posits that movies are our new religion where we can make our own heavens and hells and realities. That’s the one that appeals to me most, I think. Cameras and projectors as instruments of revelation. That’s my kind of religion.

That’s enough for this subject, I think. I hope you voted. I’ve compiled this list on Letterboxd as well, so you can check off what you’ve seen. If you have any thoughts on what I’ve shared here, or a movie you think might fit this topic that you love, or anything at all, please leave a comment below! Tune in soon for a new topic of consideration.

Insanity Necessary: An argument for going all out

At the beginning of one of this summer’s biggest blockbusters we are treated to maybe the craziest thing anyone will see in theaters this year. Respected actors like Russel Crowe and Michael Shannon are dressed up in super-nuts outfits and barge in on a council meeting of people with silly hats to argue about eugenics. After a quick fight, Crowe jumps on the back of a giant four-winged beast and flies back to his house to witness the birth of his child, the first naturally born and conceived child on his home planet in ages. While all of this is happening, a battle rages outside among a planet that seems to be exploding at all times. It was crazy, it was weird, and I loved it. Man of Steel didn’t end up being a great movie, but it did succeed, at least early on, in doing what too few movies are brave enough to do: trying whole-heartedly to just do something.

All too often I have a moment of clarity while watching a movie. Most recently, The Purge came to a tipping point, a time when the narrative could go one way or another, and the movie’s success felt like it would live or die based on what the writer and director (the same person in this case but not always) decided would happen. In The Purge, a doorbell rings and the locked down family is brought into the moment, the beginning of the rest of the movie. The identity of that doorbell ringer will shape what kind of film the rest will play out as. Will it be a deeply cynical, biting social commentary where neighbors that smile in your face during the day turn into ruthless, jealous killers at night? Or will the ringer be revealed as just some guy, a less biting, less interesting choice which punts the potential of the film on third and one? Well, unfortunately, it’s the latter. The Purge goes from potentially great to boringly normal. Subpar, even, though that lies more on the lack of skill behind the camera than it does on the premise of the film. The Purge was never going to be a masterpiece given how poorly it was made, but it could have been a messterpiece, a movie which, as its most admirable quality, can claim that at least they were doing something. Trying something, giving it all they’ve got. I appreciate craziness, I appreciate insanity.

A few of my favorite messterpieces include Thirst, which melds uber-violent vampire things with wacky slapstick stuff and one of the silliest, most beautiful endings of the past decade, Synecdoche, New York, a movie that takes about a billion threads and tries to weave some of them into a truly emotional epic and mostly succeeds, and The Night of the Hunter, a mashup of a whole mess of techniques and styles that nonetheless congeals into a moving fairy-tale about growing up and being pure at heart. All of these movies are on my current top 100 list of all time, alongside other messterpeices like The Shining, Magnolia, and Brazil. None of these films lack ambition, though they might not quite reach what they’re grasping for. I will always give the edge to a movie that’s going for something with all of its heart over a movie that plays it safe with any kind of subject matter. This generally will reward genre movies as they often have a bit more leeway in terms of what they can go for and even more leeway as to what the audience will forgive. But serious dramas can go crazy with the best of them. The Lion in Winter doesn’t do a whole lot in the directorial department but the dialogue and the glee with which the actors say their lines is so delightfully over-the-top that I can’t help but fall under its spell of deceit and family politics. Punch-Drunk Love takes the patented Adam Sandler man-child and throws him into the real world where his immaturity helps him fall in love with a girl and endangers his life when a mattress salesman goes bananas at him. The Truman Show has a lot of logistical problems and plot-holes when you think about the situation for a while, but the power of the film and its crazy premise overpowers those nits and becomes something great. Again, all of these films are in my top 100 list. I just love a movie that aims high, even if it doesn’t reach its lofty target.

There are a few movies in my top 100 that are restrained, content to be the best that they can be. I’d put movies like Days of Heaven and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Raiders of the Lost Ark in that category, all of which might go all out for a scene but generally keep their ambitions close to their vests. It’s perfectly fine to do so. Last year Lincoln was one of my favorite films even though it was pretty much just a straight biography. But movies like The Cabin in the Woods and Cloud Atlas and Holy Motors occupy a greater amount of my thinking about last year’s films, and are the first titles that come to mind over the more staid films of the year. It’s something almost intangible, and I know that there are people out there that just prefer to have their movies be what they are and then be done. But why go to the cinema to see something you can outline in advance? What purpose do movies have if not to surprise us in their stories or their techniques or their ideas about life? Even today’s safest bets, superhero movies, are embracing the absurd. The opening of Man of Steel is just the most recent in a list of superhero films breaking out of the mold and becoming crazy. Thor: The Dark World had a trailer debut today and looks to capitalize on the biggest strength of the previous film, its sense of humor and high drama. Thor was peppered with Shakespearian dialogue and wacky outfits and canted angles and surreal sets. It’s the craziest of Marvel’s movie universe splinters and I can’t wait to see what happens next.