Saturday, 9 June 2012

My Top 30 films part 1: Numbers 30-11

What makes a movie great?

Struggling to answer the question? We all are. Years as a cinephile and still I cannot testify to any great certainty what the secrets of a great movie are. I only wish to offer up some films that I feel are worthy of the title "great". These 30 films sample various eras, genres, disciplines, and ideologies of film. What they each have in common is that I am staggered when I watch them.

We've all been stuck in conversation with men in football shirts who only watch Oscar-bait, the middle-agers who only watch movies based on books, or the computer programmers that use words like "Marxism" to discuss Stargate (1995)...

I am a film for film's sake guy. I am also a champion of the intellectual/art-film side of the medium.
Godard said that "film is the truth"-I do not agree. Film is fiction, but damn good fiction. These are some movies that do it best...

Here is part one of my 30 favourite movies:

Firstly, honorable mention to:  Magnolia (1999), Faust (1926), Thief (1981), Double Indemnity (1944)...and many others....

So, here goes...

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Dir: Sergio Leone
Starring: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Tuesday Weld, Joe Pesci

De Niro, Woods and co. transcend the eras in new York.

Being a Peeping Tom never seemed so cute.
What it is: Sergio Leone's final film is his first set in truly "modern' times and is his sweetest and his most personal of works. The story spans several decades in the lives of a gang of small time crooks living in the New York area. Starting in the 1920s and finishing in the 1980s, it is a story of life, love, ambition, betrayal, and death set against a haunting New York landscape.

Why it's great: Aside form being one of the the all-time great films about growing up, it is also a priceless document on loss, friendship, and the regret of past mistakes. Look out for Morricone's minimalist score.

My favourite moment: The almost unbearably sweet moment in which a young Deborah reads a love poem to a vulnerable Noodles.


Manhunter (1985)
Dir: Michael Mann
Starring: William Peterson, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan.

Tom Noonan-no introduction necessary.

Thats the power of blue, my lady...

What it is: FBI special agent Will Graham is enlisted to help catch the infamous Tooth Fairy killer, a psychopath who chooses his victims seemingly at random.

Why it's great: The first adaptation of Thomas Harris' "Red Dragon" (and, thus, the first film to depict Hannibal Lecter on screen) is a shamelessly stylish orgy of colour and images that proves that a talented filmmaker can make an art film and a mainstream narrative simultaneously. It is fascinating to see Brian Cox play Lector, a part so synonymous with Anthony Hopkins. However, what steals the show for me is everything else. The movie is a style-enthusiast's dream! A great story, stellar performances (Tom Noonan is one of film's creepiest killers), and one gorgeous scene after the next make this one of American film's wildest rides.

My favourite moment:The film's climax is electric, playing out to Iron Butterfly's "In a Gadda Da Vidda".

The old Flamin' Wheelchair routine...classic.


Halloween (1978)

Dir. John Carpenter
Starring: Jamie Lynne Curtis, Donald Pleasance

What it is:  The modern-slasher genesis centres around one of horrors most fabled figures-Michael Myers. On Halloween night in sleepy Hadonfield, a young Michael Myers murders his sister in cold blood. Years later, almost to the day, Myers escapes his institution to return to Hadonfield to finish the massacre he started.

Why it's great:  It is easy to forget how inspired it was for Carpenter to impart super human traits to a human antagonist. Nonetheless, it is the heroic Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) that truly stands out for me. because we care for Laurie, we feel every bump in this great ride.

Favourite moment: The first half hour is essentially a cinematic canon to the chest...
Jamie Lee Curtis-she used to look female...


Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

What it is: The film follows the deterioration of the gregarious but strange Friedman family. The Friedman's were obsessed with capturing every moment of their lives on film via their home movie equipment. This habit became especially damning when father Arnold "Arnie" Friedman and youngest son Jessie were accused of serial rape and molestation of children in their home computer class in 1988.

Why it's great: This is the only documentary on the list for a reason-I believe that it is the best documentary ever made.  The film's tagline "Who do you believe?" basically sums it all up. Every person interviewed in this movie is, essentially, in absolute denial on some level. Throw in hypnosis, conflicting stories, and bizarrely candid home movies and you've got yourself a case!

My Favourite Moment: The insanely apt use of The Beatles "In the Movies" in the opening credits is great. Also, how about the attorney's anecdote about Arnie and the young boy in the prison meeting hall-chilling, no?

Arnold and Jessie Friedman


Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Dir. Ingmar Bergman
Starring. Harriot Anderson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Max Von Sydow

What it is: Tough Question! Well, having spent time in a psychiatric facility, Karin returns to the family island to spend time with her father, brother, and successful fiancee. Her father and fiancee's commanding attitude contrasts her young brother's sweetness. Soon, Karin's sanity begins to unravel once more.

Why it's great: You may not get it, but you won't forget it. Bergman's usual theatrical exploration of the soul and iconic images create one amazing set-piece after the next, and are married together with one a great, sensual performances from Harriot Anderson; worthy of any actress in history.

My favourite moment: Karen and brother Minus stage their own play in the family garden; a production worthy of Shakespeare.


Ran (1985)

Dir. Akira Kurasawa
Starring. Tatsuya Nakadai, Pita, Mieko Harada

What it is: Loosely adapted from King Lear and borrowing heavily from Japanese folklore tradition, Ran depicts the tragedy of the Ichimonji family. When aging King Hidetora bequeaths his kingdom to his three sons, a tragedy is set in motion in which the greed of two divides and ultimately destroys the kingdom and the family.

Why it's great: Frankly, because of everything about it. It is one of the most aesthetically beautiful films of all time (every scene is based on oil paintings by Kurosawa himself), it is the boldest adaptation of Shakespeare every committed to film and, by no means least, has perhaps the best female villain in any movie in (the amazing) Lady Kaede.

My favourite moments: Any scene that features Mieko Harada's Lady Kaede (particularly the last one!) Evil people shouldn't be this sexy...

Lady Kaede-she can usurp me anytime, 'know what I'm saying??


Straw Dogs (1971)

Dir. Sam Peckinpah
Starring. Dustin Hoffman, Susan George.

Dustin Hoffman-s'up?!

Susan George-The beautiful ones are always crazy.

What it is: Sam Peckinpah's succesfull attempt to bring the Western/vigilante genre to the British countryside produced one of the most shocking and thought provoking films ever made. It is a fish out of water vigilante story in which a meek american mathematician holidays with his beautiful british bride in her hometown. However, his wife's frustration and the threat of the dangerously conservative townsfolk quickly lead the film towards a pitch-black climax.

Why it's great: Simply put, it is the thinking man's bloodbath. The film says as much about relationships and manhood as it does about conservative/fascist ideals. It is a pity Susan George's career didn't continue to blossom as Hoffman's did.

My favourite moments: It is a toss-up between a curious Amy exposing herself to roof tilers and a crazed Hoffman telling one of his attackers "I hope you cut your throat."


The Graduate (1967)

Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate

Dir. Mike Nichols
Starring. Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katherine Ross

What it is: One of the great coming of age storys, the film follows Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) as he  lazes at home the Summer after his college graduation. Eventually, Benjamin falls hopelessly in love with the gorgeous Elaine. There is only one problem-Benjamin has already been "seduced" by Elaine's mother, known simply as "Mrs. Robinson".

Why it's great: Another great Dustin Hoffman vehicle. The film is so refreshingly frank about love, sexual attraction, boredom, and ennui. It manages to be sweet without being schmaltzy and is terribly romantic because of it's lack of traditional sentimentality.

Favourite moment: Illuminated by a Simon and Garfunkel classic, Benjamin "rescues" Elaine...from her wedding!!


Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Hannibal Lector in a face mask-yup.

Dir. Johnathan Demme
Starring. Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, Scott Glenn

What it is: FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Foster) is sent to consult improsoned serial killer Hannibal lector for advice on how to capture active serial killer Buffalo Bill, a man who captures and skins women. Lector, however, proves to be no easy interviewee.

Why it's great: The mother of all modern thrillers is aesthetic, taut, and well-paced, and brilliantly acted all around. It works as well as any popcorn thrill-ride ever will.

Favourite moment: Our first glimpse of Lector-an icon is born.


Drive (2011)

Drive-the movie pretty enough for Ryan Gosling

Dir. Nicholas Winding Refn
Starring. Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks

What it is: A stunt driver by day, getaway driver by night, and a closed book at all times, the Kid (Ryan Gosling) is a total mystery. However, when he meets a beautiful woman and takes to her and her son, he gets involved in a situation in which two dangerous mobsters wish to make an example out of him.

Why it's great: This one took me by surprise. The 'new addition' to my list, I had seen this film 5 times within three months. It's style oozes from every frame. Gosling's protagonist is a masterclass in the subtleties of acting. The film's non-sexual romance and intense violence evokes the idea of innocence and corruption existing in tandem; thus, a great depiction of LA life.

Favourite moment: How about the first glimpse of that jacket during the opening titles?!

Drive-the mask.


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)


The Hal 9000-not an satire of IBM...honest.

Dir. Stanley Kubrick
Starring. Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood.

What it is: Three intersecting stories from different eras of man depict encounters with a transcendant alien intelligence which, on all occasions, spurs Man onto the next stage of evolution.

Why it's great: Trust me; I have written a thesis on this. It represents the most insane gamble ever taken by a Hollywood filmmaker and may well be the most detailed film of all times. That, and it has apes, revolving women, and the only real bad guy is a talking computer...

My favourite moment: The bone/satellite transition still gets me every time.


Apocalypse Now (1979)

Ahh-that's better...
Kurz-charming paint off walls since 1979
Dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Starring. Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Sam Bottom, Lawrence Fishbourne

What it is: Disillusioned Captain Benjamin Willard (Sheen) is called out of inactivity to lead a group of soldiers toward the execution of rogue turncoat  Col. Kurz, who has developed an army of spiritual followers and terrified the high command into believing him to be insane.

Why it is great: Classic lines, tremendous performances, political relevance, and some of the greatest sequence in cinema history. I need not say more.

My favourite moment: The use of The Doors "The End"-timeless and perfect.


Psycho (1960)

Marion Crane.

Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Starring. Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins

What it is: When morally ambiguous Marion Crane steals money from her office to elope with her lover, she stops off at a motel mid-getaway. There she meets Norman Bates, a young man constantly struggling with his old mother. Marion will never be seen again. Her sister and boyfriend investigate her disappearance...

Why it's great:  My favourite Hitchcock film because of it's imagery, intrigue, and never-matched suspense. Hitchcock is the master of the tense sequence, never has this been more apparent. Furthermore, Leigh is phenomenal as a not-always-sympathetic heroin and Anthony Perkins is horror's best creepy customer. Oh, and the twist....

My favourite moment: The shower scene is cliche for a very good reason; it's amazing.


Blue Velvet (1986)

Isabella Rossellini- weird beauty-vintage Blue Velvet

Dir. David Lynch
Starring. Kyle MacLauchlin, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern

What it is: Following the discovery of a severed ear, young man delves into a mystery that involves drugs, kidnap, prostitution, and murder all under the guise of a simple suburban neighbourhood.

Why it's great: It's so cinematically perfect that you almost forget how insane it is...almost. Rossellini and Hopper give two of the most disturbing performances ever. Look out for the sumptuous score, too.

My favourite moment: "A candy coloured clown they call the sandman...."


Paris, Texas (1984)

Dir. Wim Wenders
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell

A pretty landscape.

A pretty Kinski.

What it is: Travis Henderson is found in the wilderness of the dessert having been missing from society for years. living with his brother Walt, Walt's wife Anne, and his estranged son Hunter who is now in their care, Travis must soon come to terms with fatherhood and the heartbreak surrounding Hunter's mother.

Why it's great: It is a visual spectacle and an intimate character piece all rolled into one over it's 150 minutes. Part western, part Greek tragedy, the film is one of the best  ever made about love and family. These must be the reasons why it held the distinction of being Kurt Cobain's favourite movie.

My favourite moments: The opening for visual effect, the "I knew these people..." monologue  for emotional resonance.


Point Blank (1967)

Dir. John Boorman
Starring. Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson

Cinematography-you gotta love it.

Lee Marvin in Point Blank-First you get the big gun, then the woman.

What it is: Having been betrayed by his partner and his girl, and left for dead in an abandoned Alcatraz,  the mysterious Walker nurses himself back to health. Then, in order to avenge his life and the money that was stolen from him, it's payback time.....60s experimental style!

Why it's great: The artsy-est and most spiritual of all revenge bloodbaths (save, perhaps, for The Limey-a film based on it), the story of Walker comes across like a sad parable of American emptiness. But that shouldn't suggest that it isn't sharp, gritty, and packed full of Lee Marvin ass-kickery amidst all of the intellect.

My favourite moment: Has to be the 'test drive' scene at the car dealership-hilarious.


Boogie Nights (1997)


Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring. Mark Wahlberg. Burt Reynolds, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham, Julianne Moore

What it is: A portrait of fictional porn star Dirk Diggler as he finds fame and fortune in the 70s and 80s. Driven from home, young Eddie Adams finds a parental figures in adult film director Jack Horner (Reynolds) and his partner Amber Waves (Moore). Dirk makes a life for himself along with the other wacky characters in the Horner stable and discovers the good and bad aspects of success.

Why it's great: Rarely have I ever seen a director more in control. The detailed depiction of periods gone by is Scorcese-esque. The film is so stylish and intelligently shot and composed that every scene seems like an explosive celebration of times gone by. It is tongue and cheek, even camp, but for me the difference between Anderson and Tarantino is heart-we care for his characters.
you can feel
My Favourite moments: Too many to note-"You've got the touch" and "I am a big bright shining star..." come to mind...

Boogie Nights-you can feel the mirror blush..


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

The Good The Bad The Ugly graveyard shootout-sometimes captions just don't cut it

Dir. Sergio Leone
Starring. Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach

What it is: Two small-time con men and psychotic killer set off in search of the same thing-a grave full of gold. Against the backdrop of the American Civil-War, these guys only have one agenda-getting what they want before the other guys do.

Why it's great: Frankly, because of every second of screen time. It's so gloriously amoral that the Eastwood's Blondie and Wallach's Tuco almost seem charming. The look, style, performances, editing, and music make this Spaggheti Western numero uno.

My Favourite moment: "The shootout at the end of The Good the Bad and The Ugly is the only thing I could never imagine topping"-Quentin Tarantino


The Exorcist (1974)
Padding on the bed-for when a situation isn't quite creepy enough.

Dir. William Friedkin
Starring. Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller

What it is: The chiller that ticks just about all of the boxes. 13 year old Reagan MacNeil begins to display signs of violent and paranormal behaviour. Terrified, her mother (Burstyn) reaches out to an educated skeptic in the church (Miller) and an ageing believer with experience in exorcism (Von Sydow).

Why it's great: For better or worse, nobody ever forgets what they see in this film. It is the horror genres most compelling example of the dichotomy between good and evil. It asks questions about fate, female sexuality, and modern psychology. Also, I find it scary as bejesus and (still) rarely watch it alone.

My favourite moment: The lump in reagan's throat-the first sign of the paranormal and the moment that most terrified me in horror.


American Beauty (1999)

Dir. Sam Mendes
Starring. Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari

Take that, Brad.
What it is: The definitive "get back at the norms' movie. The story centers around the Burnham family. Lester is the bored, unappreciated Dad, Caroline is the soulless carrer woman, and Janie...well, she's in love with a young man that likes to videotape dead birds. The lives of the family members and their society converge on the last few days of Lester's life.

Why it's great:  The film announces the death of it's protagonist in the opening scene (ala Ikuru) filling us with dread. Yet, the films notion that beauty lies inside (though cliched) is one of the most thoroughly explored motifs I have ever seen in cinema. American cinema is rarely this smart.

My favourite moment: Ricky Fitz and his "floating bag" monologue. The most memorable moment in almost any movie. Tears, anyone??

Angela and her roses-Jesus must be so embarrassed right now.

MAN THAT TOOK A LONG TIME>>>Top ten coming soon.
Peace, love, empathy.

PS Check out my Top Ten in the September blogs archive!!!;postID=6605710516125737327

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