Wednesday, December 31, 2008

#90 Swing Time (1935, Astaire/Rogers)

Apparently Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers did some 10 movies like this together, but this is the first one I've seen. Aside from talking about the movie itself, it gave me two interesting insights into cultural change in the past 70 years.

1. Gayness. If Fred Astaire were alive and doing his thing today, he couldn't have gotten away with being straight. He would likely have been consumed by the overzealous gay culture. He's a real ladies' man, an actor, a singer, and a dancer. Okay, strike that. Justin Timberlake can get away with it, I guess Fred probably could, too.

2. Specialization. As there are more than twice as many people in the US as there were at the time of this movie, there has been a greater need for everyone's talents to become pigeonholed. The only ones who get away with doing everything are those who are marketed well in one thing and get oodles of money for it, then do a lot of other things badly with their brand, yet mucous-brained Americans everywhere love them for it. These cats could sing and dance and act, and did it all in one movie.

There are some efforts today, like Julia Stiles in Save The Last Dance, but these are merely actors learning how to dance well enough for the screen, not professional dancing. For that, we have to watch Dancing with the Stars. This movie puts it all together in one spot with people who are talented in many things. It was a simpler time.

Oh, and I checked out the modern-day value of the $25,000 Fred Astaire needs in the movie, and it would be almost $400K today. Quite a bit for a bride, don't you think?

Monday, December 22, 2008

#88: Bringing Up Baby (1938, Katherine Hepburn)

Very glad I saw this movie. It's completely ridiculous and introduced me to a couple of the old time stars in Hepburn and Cary Grant. The pace of the dialogue is fantastic, the sort of thing that Jennifer Jason Leigh threw back to in The Hudsucker Proxy. Hepburn is oblivious to the world as it is, instead hearing what she wants to hear and doing what she wants to do. After 10 minutes, I wanted to slap some sense into her.

That's the whole point of the movie, though, tangling the poor man in her fiasco run to the country with a leapord. It's so maniacal and fast-paced, so well-orchestrated, that it's definitely worth checking out if you haven't seen much of the old movies and don't know what they're about. And...there's no ulterior motive or message theme, which I really like.

Friday, December 19, 2008

#95: The Last Picture Show (1971)

This is a film before its time, shot in the old black and white. It's a coming of age tale in a small North Texas town, so small that everyone is in each other's pants and everyone else knows about it. The entire movie revolves around fairly poor yet successful attempts at seduction; the central young seductress being Cybill Shepherd, who I didn't know was gorgeous because I'd only seen her years later. I understand now why Scorsese nabbed her as his ideal for Taxi Driver. People die, rebel, get jilted, and make ignorant old man commentary. It's almost like a Coen Brothers film noir, that's what it reminded me of most.

Perhaps the most encompassing quote came from the 40-year-old Ruth when she was being picked up at the clinic by high school senior Sonny. He asked, "Anything bad?" to which she replied, "No, just dreary."

This film could easily have been made sometime in the past 10 years, and that's saying something. I guess we can add sex to the controversial list of race, religion, drugs, and the Holocaust. Oh well. Think Fast Times at Ridgemont High with a wide range of ages. Thumbs up.

#91: Sophie's Choice (1982, Meryl Streep)

Alright, AFI. You're starting to show a pattern early on. I've watched four movies for the first time since I started this, and they have been about race, drugs, religion, and Auschwitz. I guess Americans really are so dull as to show their greatest interest in themes that are easy to grasp. I guess I should stop saying "It wouldn't be on the countdown if it wasn't about..." because it feels more and more like the list will be full of gimmicks.

Sophie's Choice is a story of a bizarro isosceles love triangle with two tragically flawed characters. It's a venture into being a product of one's circumstances. A movie generally for chicks from 25 years ago is not something I'd normally pick and watch on my own. C'mon, Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep are not actors in my normal movies. I only know the third guy from Ghostbusters 2. It's a lot about relationships, a lot of people sitting around in pink rooms. Anything well-made with the Holocaust, though, is a recipe for critical success. I'm learning as I go.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

#100: Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston, 1959)

This is the sort of movie I'm watching this list for. There was a time in classical music when they thought they could actually make perfect music. It was called Baroque, some of the most famous composers from the time being Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. I think there was a baroque sense about movies of this era, with the technological advances of color and camera speeds making it possible for filmmakers to do anything they could imagine. They wanted to make the perfect movie.

There are many things I can say about this. The first is that I am a big fan of Charlton Heston epics. That's probably why I love to watch the one-man-to-save-us movies of Keanu Reeves and Will Smith. Hest0n did it first, and he was magnificent. Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, Ben-Hur, and many more starring a magnanimous character of strength and passion against the forces of evil, with endings that surprise and remain.

The movie is 3-1/2 hours long. That's like 2 movies. It took me 3 days to watch. That's alright, I like to push myself with long things. I read Don Quixote a couple of years ago. Epic tales are by nature lengthy.

Seems there was still, at that time, a real reverence for the Christ, so that we never saw his face and he never spoke. Other characters had to relay his words to each other for the screen. They were all direct quotes from the Bible, so they were not completely in flow. The ending is predictable, even though it seems like they'll go another route about 10 minutes before the movie actually closes. It's very interesting that the entire movie was building to its second title, A Tale of the Christ.

Upon looking that up, I even see that it was a remake of a 1925 movie. You learn something new every day. That makes even more sense out of this baroque feel I described earlier.

Anyway, the chariot race is worth the hype. Lucas was trying to do this in Star Wars: Episode I, but the effect of the race is the fall and rise of one competitor at the hands of the other and the hatred each has, not the wager. This race had great complexity, it MEANT more. Also, the great sea battle was pretty spectacular. Like I said, I'm a fan of Charlton Heston epics, and this affirms their place in cinematic history. It did fall 28 spots on the list in the last 10 years, which is probably due to the current cultural swing away from religion and happy endings. Eh, the tale of Judah Ben-Hur is fanstastic. Glad I watched this one.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

#94 Pulp Fiction (1994)

The sad truth is as follows: I watched about 1/2 hour of this when I was a freshman in college, but it didn't hold my attention because I was very tired, so I went back to my room and slept. I didn't sit down to watch it again for 10 years. I apologize to myself.

Tarantino hasn't always hit the mark, but Pulp Fiction was a real triumph in nonlinear storytelling insanity. It requires a love of irreverent violence and Sam Jackson dropping F-bombs. There has been so much written about Pulp Fiction that I can hardly add a word.

My favorite scene is when Bruce Willis goes hunting through a pawn shop for a suitable weapon and comes back with...with...gotta watch it. Travolta and Uma dancing is classic. Heck, the whole thing is pretty classic. Somewhere they had this on the top 10 all-time movies. You really owe it to yourself to check it out.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

#97: Blade Runner (1982)

I own this movie and should really watch it again. I think I've seen it 3 times, but never the original version, only the Director's Cut and Final Cut. The crispness and color of the final cut is like watching Star Wars Special Edition, only without the director ruining it by adding in goofy CGI.

Harrison Ford, a really good actor back in the day as evidenced by his presence on at least 5 movies on the countdown, is a detective hunting down Replicants, which are man-made people. If you remember the Rob Zombie song More Human Than Human, well, that's the slogan of the company that creates Replicants.

Director Ridley Scott paints a dark and seedy futuristic landscape and ponders existence in what is essentially a huge "cult" film. This film gained such a following that its later cuts earned theatrical release, in part due to Ridley Scott's success with Gladiator and other movies. Anyway, watch this one, preferrably the final cut. There are great landscapes and interesting characters. It's a sci-fi dream. Please remember that it's from 1982 so don't gripe when some things are less fantastical than, say, The Matrix. It's good.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

36/100 Movies I've already seen

I just went through the list and have seen, in some form or other, 36 of the "Top 100" already. This means I get to take a pass on quite a few if I feel like it. The more I scan through the list, the more I think that many of the movies from my lifetime were more cultural phenomena than triumphs of filmmaking. Oh well, we'll see how it goes. At least I get to review Blade Runner soon.

#93: The French Connection (1971)

Guess what folks? Nobody wins the drug war.

The characters are pretty cool and there are a few memorable scenes, like Santa making a bust at the beginning, as well as the maniacal chase of an L train by a car on a crowded 2-lane New York street. We also get a lot of early 70's dead time with wide amateur-photographer shots of men walking and other men watching them from afar, with no soundtrack music to speak of.

Gene Hackman and Roy "Jaws" Scheider do a good job playing a couple of rough cops in New York, in a good story. However, most of the filmmaking felt pretty pedestrian 70's almost 40 years after the fact.

I like it, I get it, but if the movie wasn't about drug trafficking, it wouldn't have made this list. It actually fell 23 spots over the past 10 years, showing evidence that culturally we're perhaps getting oversaturated with movies about drugs, so that the revelations of 1971 are no longer stunning. Watch it or don't.

Friday, December 12, 2008

#98: Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

I'm taking a pass on this one because I saw it as a kid. I'm sure it's a fine movie. I think I probably enjoyed at least a little of what I understood of it. It's about a guy who was a rich big deal, becomes a nobody, and then rises like a phoenix. All I remember really is a scene with some high school kids who asked him if the music he made was anything like the song "Jeepers Creepers", which is an odd twist in the era of horrible horror flicks.

This is the first reviewed in the B&W era of movies that I'm trying to become more familiar with. You can see I'm not reticent at all to watch them.

p.s. Upon seeing the image, I exclaimed to myself in my head, "Cagney! I f***ing KNEW it!"

#99: Toy Story (1995)

WTF Toy Story?! Are you serious? I guess there's all this emphasis on cultural significance and changing styles, but Toy Story? It was the first fully computer animated movie, but who cares? I find the computer animated movies to be inferior to their hand-drawn animated counterparts. Everything is so crisp, so clean, so inauthentic.

Give me Jungle Book, An American Tail, Robin Hood, The Lion King, the list goes on. I don't even find it that compelling of a story. Some band of idiots got together sometime in the mid 90's and decided that all movies have to include actual kids, like myth and fantasy can't exist without an "entry point" for children. Suffice to say, the goofy little stories they come up with for these computer animated films generally suck, and the humor "for adults" that they throw in is generally terrible by adult humor standards.

Toy Story was okay at best. Disney killed traditional animation after The Lion King with a string of terrible movies in order to usher in this new era, and we celebrate this by putting the first one of these silly little stories on the TOP 100 OF ALL TIME? In 10 years, it should be off the list. Good night.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

#96: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

With the inclusion of Spike Lee, you should now know that this is the 10th Anniversary edition from 2007. I can't believe that 1989 is almost 20 years ago. I was old enough to like girls in 1989.

The opening credits to Do The Right Thing are like The Cosby Show, only with an angry Rosie Perez instead of Raven Simone. After that, the plot is simply one day in the hood, which lets me see where Friday came from.

They open the fire hydrant and then douse an old white guy's convertible. The cops are predictably not happy about their jobs. One guy wanders around blaring "Fight The Power" on his boom box all day. The camera angles are good. The colors are bright.

The main character exists somewhere between his jobless contemporaries and his hard working pizza shop boss. Sal, of Sal's Famous Pizzeria, is a sufficiently complex character who's been running his shop there for 25 years and tries to act like part of the community for the sake of his business even though he and his sons don't fit in there and don't want to.

The movie is full of overt racial tension including Hispanics, Koreans, Italians, and Blacks. Typical racial overtones for Spike Lee, but this is where he gets the drive to make the rest of his films, which never live up.

Do The Right Thing is worth watching as a snapshot 20 years B.O. (Before Obama) into a people too frustrated with their situation to deal with it in an appropriate and successful manner. Where his characters fail, Spike Lee has hope they'll get it eventually.

Labels: , , , ,

(Re) Introduction

I just reopened my Netflix account with the intent of going through the AFI Top 100 from bottom to top. The American Film Institute is a bunch of folks who get together and decide what the best movies ever are. People tend to accept them as the experts. Here's what you will and won't find here:

  • You WILL get a few paragraphs about the movie.
  • You WON'T get those stupid links scattered through the blog like you don't know how to use Google, Wikipedia, and IMDB. I hate reading multicolored text.
  • You WON'T get to hear about the surprise endings. Even though these are mostly well-known movies and the surprise endings MIGHT no longer be surprises, you MIGHT not know the endings, so I won't ruin them. I hate that.
  • You WON'T get a rating from me like it matters, because it doesn't. These are the AFI Top 100, so it can be assumed they'd all be 4 or 5 star movies. It's not like Surf Ninjas is on the list.
  • You WON'T get them exactly in order. It will be close, but not quite, because some I've already seen and some I can watch online. #35 won't precede #89 in the countdown, but #44 might precede #45.
  • You WILL get a neat little picture, maybe also a YouTube video if I feel like it.
That's all. I'm a smart guy. I like movies. This gives me something to do in conjunction with watching them.

Labels: , ,