Tag: The Seventh Seal

Top 100 Movies (2014 Edition): Scenes from Numbers 34, 12, 59, 57, and 76

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Does the title confuse you? Let’s break it down together. First, it’s my annual top 100 Movies List time. Every year I update my top 100 movies list with things newly watched and rewatched, and newly ordered based on whatever whims were coursing through me roughly 2 hours ago, when I (mostly) finalized my list for 2014. I say mostly because summer has become my most fruitful movie watching season and it isn’t quite over yet, so I want to give myself some room to mess around with the back end of the list by having only 99 movies on the list as currently composed and with the last two in the list holding temporary spots. This leaves between 1 and 3 spots available for movies that wow me in the next month or so, and that’s certainly possible, as two movies that I watched over the weekend will be appearing here at some point in the future.

Now, for the format of the presentation. I’ve grown tired of just doing a mini paragraph about each movie with a quote and a link to a full review. If you want that, go to last year’s version of the list. For this year I’m doing something completely different. I’ll be picking one outstanding scene from each film and doing a write up about just that scene. And, to make it even more fun, I’ve run my list through a randomizer and will present five random movies from it every other day or so (don’t worry, fans of order, my full ordered list is available on letterboxd). Wherever possible, I’ll link to a youtube or vimeo version of the scene so you can play along. Where that isn’t possible, I’ll do a quick recap of the scene so that we’re all on the same page. And as always, the title of each movie will link to my full review if I’ve written one. Ready, begin.

34. The Long Day Closes – A Boy’s Places

The Long Day Closes is one of a good few coming of age movies on my list. It’s something I’m really attracted to in stories, for whatever reason. This particular one is a fictionalized autobiography of director Terence Davies focuses on four places which shaped him: his house, his church, his school, and the movie theater in which he would escape the above three for a few hours at a time. The conclusion of the film takes us back to all of those places and does so in a way that emphasizes their similarities and differences. The entire sequence is shot from above and tracking to the left and as church pews fade into school desks and one authority figure dissolves into another, we see the summation of the forces that guide an shape a young man, this young man. And that song is just perfect.

12. Modern Times – The Tramp Eats

Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp is one of the most indelible characters of cinema. Always disrespected but never disrespectful, he is the hero of genteel politeness in a body that distracts everybody but the lucky few from his underlying humanity. In this scene he is the test subject of a new machine which will allow factory workers to continue eating while they work, doubling their efficiency. The first fourth or so of the film is as lucid a critique of the modern factory system as we have and the silly invention is the height of both hilarity and satire. When it fails spectacularly, the boss rejects it: “It isn’t practical.” Nevermind the human toll, as the Tramp has collapsed on the floor from the invention’s cruel(ly funny) aberrations.

59. The Seventh Seal – Burning a Witch

“Will you every stop asking questions,” Death asks Antonius Block. Max von Sydow’s voice answers, but it’s director Ingmar Bergman’s words, “No, never.” The three Bergman movies I’ve seen are all about questions without answers, and the sometimes joy and sometimes terror they can bring. Here, it’s terror, as a young woman is burned for consorting with the devil. Block inquires about the devil, if only to ask him about God. His constant search brings him to much suffering, and only Death remains absolute.

57. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – A Phone Call

Max von Sydow makes another appearance here, this time towards the end of his acting career. It’s 50 years after The Seventh Seal and he’s playing the father to Mathieu Amalric’s Jean-Do, a paralyzed man who can only move his left eye. This scene captures the difficult relationship between the two, as they are both trapped, one by age and the other by his body. The movie is about the failings of our physical beings and the triumphs of our spirits, but it’s the gradual defocusing at the end of this scene that seals the movie for me. Throughout the film, the camera often takes the POV of Jean-Do and here, as elsewhere, it tells as much as the words through just the image. 

76. Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs – Snowball!

There is something to be said for silliness. Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs has silliness in spades, and rarely is it more on display than in this fun scene that involve karate, ice cream, breaking and entering, poop, and weather reportage. Sometimes you’re asking questions about if God exists, other times you’re throwing mint chocolate chip snowballs at a grown woman’s face.

Do you have a favorite scene from any of these movies, or anything else to add? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you!

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

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

13. Cabaret (1972)

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

12. Videodrome (1983)

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

11. American Movie (1999)

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

10. Tesis (1996)

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

9. The Fog of War (2003)

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

8. The Seventh Seal (1957)

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

7. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

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

6. Sleuth (1972)

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

5. Modern Times (1936)

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

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

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

3. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

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

2. Before Sunset (2004)

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

1. Fanny and Alexander (1982)

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

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

Top 100 Films (2013 Edition): Part 3 of 5

We cross the halfway point in today’s part of the list. Some of these are even more idiosyncratic, which I enjoy. I hope you do, too! Part 1 and Part 2 at the links.

60. Once

During the daytime people would want to hear songs that they know, just songs that they recognize. I play these song at night or I wouldn’t make any money. People wouldn’t listen.

A really lovely “realistic” musical. I already really like this kind of folksy rock music and with the bittersweet love story added on top I was destined to love this film. “Falling Slowly” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard and the quaint setting in this film allows the viewer to fully invest in the story and emotions of the song. Just wonderful.

59. Cloud Atlas

Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limitations of me.

An adaptation of the superb book on which this is based would have to do one of two things to work. Either it would have to be a delicate balancing act, one which tones down a lot of the philosophical mumbo jumbo which works well on the page but often doesn’t translate when people have to say the words, or it could steer into the skid and, by holding nothing back, transcend the silly and reach a level of emotional and technical wonder that few films even aspire to. This is the latter and, though it is a mess, it is a spectacular and thrilling mess that really got under my skin.

58. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

We’re not so different, you and I. We’ve both spent our lives looking for the weakness in one another’s systems. Don’t you think it’s time to recognize there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is perhaps the opposite of Cloud Atlas in every way except their ultimate quality. A quiet spy movie with only a few explosions to speak of, it relies instead upon intricate character work and a deliberately plotted story that takes its time getting where it’s going. Centered around a quiet but forceful Gary Oldman, the story takes many twists and turns and I’m still not sure I know all the ins and out of it as cold war spies deal with the end of their career’s work. A dense and marvelous clockwork spy drama.

57. The Shop Around the Corner

Flora, take a letter. Ah… To whom it may concern. Mr. Vadas has been in the employ of Matuschek & Company for the last two years, during which he has been very efficient as a stool pigeon, a troublemaker, and a rat.

This is one of the top 5 most delightful movies I’ve ever seen. A story of people who love each other in writing and hate each other in person which jumps to life thanks to the wonderful chemistry of Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. The other characters get a bit to do, as well, giving it a nicely rounded happiness. An all time great Christmas movie.

56. The Tree of Life

Toscanini once recorded a piece sixty five times. You know what he said when he finished? “It could be better.” Think about it.

Here is a film so rich that subsequent rewatches can seemingly change the film itself, morphing it from a coming of age story to a parable about mothers and fathers to a study of the evolution of man and nature together.  Beautifully shot, a given for Terrence Malick, it mushes all kinds of stuff together into one floaty whole.

55. Throne of Blood

Admirable, my Lord. You, who would soon rule the world, allow a ghost to frighten you.

Throne of Blood is what happens when a master of cinema decides to do a mashup of a traditional Japanese theatrical style and one of the best plays Shakespeare ever wrote. Decidedly over the top actors play on relatively sparse stages and still the creepy ghosts and witches spook and the royal plotting delights. Our hero meets his end by a thousand arrows and it’s intensity defined.

54. The Quiet Man

There’ll be no locks or bolts between us, Mary Kate… except those in your own mercenary little heart!

John Ford’s most John Ford-y movie doesn’t even take place in the West! It does have all the myth-making and lush beauty (especially on the recently released Blu-ray) you come to expect with him, and the central romantic pairing totally works. Maureen O’Hara might be the only person who could ever put up with John Wayne’s particular brand of manliness. There’s some questionable sexism type stuff that happens here, but taken in the spirit of the film it’s only a minor bump in an otherwise exquisitely gorgeous road.

53. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Hallie’s your girl now. Go back in there and take that nomination. You taught her how to read and write; now give her something to read and write about!

One of John Ford’s more complex westerns is at least in part a meta-western about the end of the wild west and the beginning of bringing civilization to those untamed lands. Those two opposing forces are embodied by John Wayne (of course) and Jimmy Stewart (again, of course) with Vera Miles trapped in between and Lee Marvin providing the cold violence to get the story going. Shot in beautiful black and white, this movie does all kinds of nuanced things that one unfamiliar with the director and genre might not expect.

52. Manhattan

What are you telling me, that you’re, you’re, you’re gonna leave Emily, is this true? And, and run away with the, the, the winner of the Zelda Fitzgerald emotional maturity award?

I’ve still only seen three Woody Allen movies, but each of them (Annie Hall and Midnight in Paris being the other two) is great in its own right. Manhattan is consistently funny and really pretty to look at, much like Diane Keaton. It’s one of those movies that I can see myself coming back to every other year or so.

51. The Long Day Closes

“Wish I knew if he knew what I’m dreaming of.”

Yet another coming of age story graces my list. And again it delves into issues of religion and sexuality and escape-via-film. A deeply felt film which has stuck with me for over a year now, one which I find myself returning to in my mind quite often. The recently announced Criterion version will be a must-buy when it comes out in January.

50. The Truman Show

I have given Truman the chance to lead a normal life. The world, the place you live in, is the sick place.

The Truman Show has only gained cultural relevance in the years since its release with the proliferation of social media instigating a lot of intentional oversharing of a person’s life. Centered around a career best performance from Jim Carrey and smart direction by Peter Weir, this movie is one for the ages as it is entirely of its time and feels specially timeless.

49. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

No, that’s just dried blood. THOSE are his brains.

There really needs to be another movie in this series because Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany are too much fun to watch when they go sailing. The ship fights are great and the naturalism subplot adds a really interesting historical and thematic hue to the proceedings. And with a mostly child-populated cast it comes off as a well acted and well directed swashbuckler of a time.

48. The Seventh Seal

I shall remember this moment: the silence, the twilight, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of milk. Your faces in the evening light. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lyre. I shall try to remember our talk. I shall carry this memory carefully in my hands as if it were a bowl brimful of fresh milk. It will be a sign to me, and a great sufficiency.

For a movie about death and the absence of God, The Seventh Seal gets a lot of play out of being kind of pleasant, especially in its middle section. It’s also pretty funny, given all those things. There are intense and scary scenes and a lot of deep philosophizing, but it’s those other, calmer scenes which work to make the existential angst even more effective and give it a spot on my list.

47. The Act of Killing

You acted so well but you can stop crying now.

As a movie about movies, The Act of Killing is a really fascinating look at the power of film to play into ideals and perverse fantasies. As a movie about insane people, it’s even scarier. It’s a truly singular documentary that leaves the viewer shocked, grossed out, and thinking.

46. In Bruges

A great day this has turned out to be. I’m suicidal, me mate tries to kill me, me gun gets nicked and we’re still in fookin’ Bruges!

Last year Martin McDonagh finally released his follow up to this sweet-and-sour little movie and, though it wasn’t as good as the intricately plotted and intimately performed In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths at least proved that he’s not a one trick pony in the film world. Though, if In Bruges was a once in a lifetime kind of thing I’d be cool with that because it’s just so darn good.

45. Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages

And then we will console ourselves with the notion that the mildly temperate shower of the clinic has replaced the barbaric methods of medieval times.

Haxan is a compelling mishmash of “documentary” and reenactment footage compiled to both scare and draw parallels between our treatment of so called witches in the past and the mentally ill in the present (of 1922). It’s weird and totally interesting.

44. His Girl Friday

Of course he had to have a gun to re-enact the crime with. And who do you think supplied it? Peter B. Hartwell. B For brains.

How hilariously fast can a movie possibly be? I think this one pretty much maxes out both categories. Howard Hawks pairs Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell plus a guy that looks a lot like Ralph Bellamy to perfection. All wits and barbs here, and it’s all super fun.

43. Girl Walk//All Day

You should always be happy.

The unparalleled joy of Girl Walk//All Day can hardly be explained in mere words, so for the first and only time in this countdown, let a clip from this full album length dance video suffice. It’s got a flowing artistry that is really something special and can be seen in its entirety on youtube.

42. North by Northwest

Not that I mind a slight case of abduction now and then, but I have tickets for the theater this evening, to a show I was looking forward to and I get, well, kind of unreasonable about things like that.

And look, another Cary Grant movie! Hitchcock deftly plays into action movie tropes while maintaining a really fun romance and his impeccable direction. Just really well made.

41. Doubt

I will step outside the church if that’s what needs to be done, ’til the door should shut behind me! I will do what needs to be done, though I’m damned to Hell! You should understand that, or you will mistake me.

You may have figured out by now that I like super-verbal films. Throw two or three people into a room and get them talking and I’ll be in, especially when it’s the likes of Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman (plus scenes with Viola Davis and Amy Adams) speaking the words of John Patrick Shanley. Doubt is a triumph of talking that doesn’t skimp on more typically movie-ish elements in the direction.

See, wasn’t that fun? The lower 60 are now done and the top 40 on their way sometime soon! Let me know anything you feel like saying here in the comments and check back for the penultimate section.

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.