29 June 2007

IT RETURNS

HOLY TERROR

Honestly, there doesn't seem to be any reason to dogpile on the summer's first outright flop, Evan Almighty, any more than has already been done. I don't know what I could add, anyway: every single review has already mentioned that the film sucks because Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) has been twisted from the smug asshole who was the sole justification for 2003's Bruce Almighty into a stock "emotionally distant dad" (true); because there is no story logic at all for the animals to exist in this updated Noah's Ark tale (true); because the idea of God (Morgan Freeman) commissioning an ark because he wants to flood a McMansion suburban tract is theologically incoherent (true); because it's a disgusting validation of the "Hollywood liberals are elitist!" meme that director Tom Shadyac and his merry men thought that they could pawn this sort of swill off on the American Christian moviegoer (true); because the $175 million budget is nowhere to be seen onscreen (true); and above all else, because Evan Almighty is unapologetically, aggressively unfunny (so, so true).

So I'm not going to do that. Instead, I thought it might be fun to think up some other ideas for family comedies that make a complete hatchet job of biblical narratives:

-Rita Almighty: Former congressional aide Rita (Evan's Wanda Sykes) gets a job as a bartender, where she listens to people complain about their lives and more importantly, their dreams, which she can interpret with uncanny precision - thanks to God (Morgan Freeman), of course. At first, she uses her amazing ability just to gain notoriety as a TV personality, but when the President of the United States comes to her with a dream that prefigures a massive drought, she learns that it is important to use your skills for the betterment of all.

-Eugene Almighty: Intern Eugene (Evan's Jonah Hill) leaves Washington to work as a forest ranger. Although he enjoys working with kids, he gets increasingly frustrated at the cruelty of one of his fellow rangers, a great tall bully who enjoys terrorizing the little ones. God (Morgan Freeman) asks Eugene to step up and save the children by beating the bully with a slingshot, which Eugene learns to shoot in a series of hilarious misadventures. In the end, the bully runs away rather than fighting, and Eugene learns an important lesson about bravery.

-Jack Almighty: News producer Jack Baylor (Bruce's Philip Baker Hall) is instructed by God (Morgan Freeman) to move to northern Canada and have plenty of children to create a new nation to stand against the decadence and corruption of the godless United States. After Jack and his estranged wife get back together in an hysterical courtship sequence, God fixes things to make the two old-timers as frisky as teenagers, thanks to a Canadian pharmaceutical company's experimental anti-aging vitamins. It's comic proof that you're never too old to enjoy life, by God!

-Marty Almighty: Evan's old chief of staff, Marty (John Michael Higgins) finds a new career in catering, and overnight becomes the biggest thing in Washington. But when, on the eve of a major peace summit , he finds himself with only five loaves of bread and two fish, it's going to take a miracle to prevent war with Pakistan! Thank God for...God (Morgan Freeman)!

-Grace Almighty: After her husband Bruce dies, Grace Nolan (Bruce's Jennifer Aniston) is left to raise their son alone. That's fine until God (Morgan Freeman) comes down to tell her that he demands the sacrifice of her child. Thinking God is just playing around, Grace ignores the request - then he rains brimstone upon her city and visits plagues upon the children of her family verily unto the seventh generation. Their women are raped and sold as slaves. In a very funny way, of course.

-Jon Almighty: TV personality Jon Stewart (Evan's Jon Stewart) is ordered by God (Morgan Freeman) to journey to the Middle East, but fearing that his brand of political commentary won't translate (also: wars) he hops on a ship for Tokyo. The side-splitting hjinks that ensue when he gets picked up by a Japanese whaling ship not only teach him a healthy respect for God's will, he also learns a thing or two about animal conservation. Also, he converts to Christianity; because, ain't no Jews in heaven.

-God Almighty: God (Morgan Freeman) comes to earth and beats Tom Shadyac about the face with a car fender for two hours. Well, I'd watch it.

2/10

28 June 2007

YIPPEE-KI-YAY

Perhaps you, like myself, made the assumption that a 12-years-later sequel to an action series noted for its significant fluctuations in quality and the PG-13 sequel to an action series noted for its violence and rough language, would be a feeble excuse for anything other than assuaging its over-the-hill star's ego, and ultimately a fair waste of summertime moviegoing energy. Perhaps you made that assumption. If you did, you would be just a flat-out wrong as I have turned out to be, because Live Free or Die Hard, for all its flaws (and they are not insignificant) turns out to be pretty much awesome. Like, "best American action movie in years" sort of awesome.

Here's a weird little observation: if you'd asked me ten years ago what I thought the biggest problem was with American action movies, I would have replied that it was the genre's inability to break out of the formal shackles of the 1980s: a wisecracking cop, ex-cop, ex-Army, or some other damn gun-trained fellow who just wants to get out of the game, probably with a minor substance problem, squares off against some sort of embittered genius, probably foreign-born, with an improbable small army. There are quips, there is gun play, lots of things shatter, and some comfortably R-rated blood splatters all about. And by the late 1990s, it was pretty old. I'm not sure what the final straw was - Lethal Weapon 4, maybe - but there comes a point when a change, any damn change, seemed extremely important.

Now I'm ten years older and wiser and much more cynical, and in those ten years we've had The Matrix and its normalisation of wire-fu; the Besson School, which ranges from very good to unwatchable, usually within the space of a single film; Vince McMahon and his troupe of WWE cardboard standees have managed to turn countless mediocre scripts into tedious video game pastiches; and along with every other movie genre under the sun, the action film has been sanitized and scrubbed and turned into a Disneyland experience when it isn't far worse. In that environment, the return of those very same tropes that once made me so extraordinarily bored feel like the freshest winds that e'er have blown through the immortal halls of the cinema.

Live Free or Die Hard is a throwback, in other words, but it's an extremely proud throwback that has the basic decency to steal from the very best. To begin with the story, New York detective John McClane (the inimitable Bruce Willis, who has changed from 1988, 1990 and 1995 only in his baldness) is tasked to find a hacker (Justin Long) and bring him safely to the FBI; easily ignorable contrivances and McClane is chasing the notorious computer genius Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphaunt), who has orchestrated a massive countrywide crisis to hide the theft of an almost unthinkable sum of money. It's basically the same notes as Die Hard with a Vengeance, then, and many other movies besides, with Long stepping in for Samuel L. Jackson, Olyphaunt nicely taking over for Jeremy Irons and the destruction of the East Coast power grid replacing the demolition of Wall Street.

Not that With a Vengeance was a model of originality in 1995, any more than people didn't instantly recognize that Die Hard 2 was a fairly alarming retread of Die Hard. That's not why we go to movies like these. If anything, the complete lack of narrative surprise is a major part of the appeal: if you're not busy trying to figure out what is going on, you're better able to enjoy the particular explosions and postmodern quips that make this film different than the other films just like it (I hope to be forgiven for saying that in this respect, action movies are like slasher films, where the tiny details make all the difference; although there's a whole lot more brain-rot attached to one genre than the other).

With that in mind, how are the specific explosions and quips in Live Free or Die Hard? Pretty damn good. There's a lot more fantasy to the action setpieces than in the previous installments, maybe (a standout: McClane rides a fighter jet from the outside), but that does not inherently mean they are less exciting, especially given that the CGI is mostly not obvious. And there are plenty of scenes, especially in the first half, especially an elevator shaft fight, that are just plain good old-fashioned gun 'n' fist choreography.

Director Len Wiseman (of Underworld, but more importantly, the other Underworld) is no John McTiernan, and the action sequences are not remotely so tight as in Die Hard (though they are about as good as the third film), but neither is he Renny Harlin, and the film is unquestionably more exciting than Die Hard 2. It's too long, by a solid fifteen minutes of explanatory scenes in the final third, but if one is sufficiently starved for good 'splosions (as your humble blogger), one will tend to forgive those fifteen minutes because of the film that contains them.

Not that anybody goes to see a film with Die Hard in the title because of their hope for rare and subtle craftsmanship, but it won't hurt anyone if I briefly mention: the mostly serviceable visual direction and cinematography by Simon Duggan never looks particularly bad, but there's one shot in particular that uses the 'scope image in a way that I had long since given up hoping for in American summer films, putting two patches of light on the extreme sides of the frame, a building in between them, and forcing us to constantly divide our attention between them. It's an amazingly tense moment. On the downside, the film is plagued by really sloppy overdubbing, made worse by some very peculiar editing.

But editing and cinematography are beside the point. Any true believer can tell you that the reason to see this film is to see Bruce Willis kick ass, which he does very well for his age (and his age is referenced in the film, without ever being smart-alecky, for which I am grateful), and he kicks much ass. Indeed, he kicks enough ass that one only intermittently notices the absence of the R rating, and while I'm of the opinion that bloodless PG-13 violence is actually more problematic because it is so desensitized, this is a film that still manages to get some pretty visceral shocks in here and there. It's altogether less cool that McClane has been denuded of his traditional potty mouth, but those are the breaks, and it would take a real crank to let the absence of the word "fuck" spoil an entire movie for you. This is a damn fine mindless summer action film; it is indeed a potent reminder of the days when mindless action films were brilliantly fun instead of tedious drudge work.

8/10

27 June 2007

JUST TRYING TO INCREASE THE NUMBER OF TIMES I SAY "COLOSSAL DICK" IN THIS REVIEW

Okay, I'll admit: I didn't do my due diligence for this review and watch Napoleon Dynamite, a film that I have not seen and doubt very strongly that I would enjoy even a little bit. Particularly because nearly everyone is claiming that the sour New Zealand indie Eagle vs. Shark is very much like Napoleon Dynamite, and I surely do not have a very soft place in my heart for Eagle vs. Shark.

Here we go: Lily (Loren Horsley, the story co-writer) is a relentlessly shy fast-food worker with a huge crush on Jarrod (Jermaine Clement), who is a colossal dick. As much by accident as anything, they start dating, she goes with him on a trip to his hometown, and his colossal dickitude gets in the way of their happiness. For 94 minutes.

Obviously, the only reason that I am so dismissive of this film is because I am profoundly mirthless. Hell, I've never even seen Napoleon Dynamite! But I'll tell you what, there's funny "ha ha" and funny "fuck you," and while it probably just means that I'm a 90-year-old prude, I don't get what's supposed to be funny about humor that exists solely on the level of we the audience feeling so damn clever compared to the morons on camera.

Not that I have any particular hatred for the genre of "cringe humor" or whatever the hell they're calling it - I'm a big fan of both iterations of The Office, one of the cruelest comedies ever put forth in the English language. And such comedy luminaries as Billy Wilder and Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges managed to get big laughs at the expense of the "dumb" character.* Even Shakespeare knew that it was funny to have the audience look down on some poor rube without a hint of smarts or self-awareness.

But there's something much more diabolical about the humor in a film like Eagle vs. Shark. Jarrod isn't a funny jerk, après Oscar Wilde or Groucho Marx. He's an asshole who treats Lily throughout like she's a prop in his great life-plan. I'm honestly not sure if we're supposed to find his treatment of her funny; if we're supposed to find her puppydog-like acceptance of his cruelty funny; or if we're supposed to find the desperation of the situation funny. I just know that Eagle vs. Shark is a romantic comedy where one of the participants treats the other like crap, and that's not very funny. Funny is when Groucho treats some stuffed-up pill as a verbal-punching bag; but if Groucho directed his barbs, unabated for over an hour, at a sweet and sympathetic heroine, I don't suppose he'd be all that funny, after all.

That's the hell of it, you see. Horsely is so extremely good at embodying the simple desires and optimistic naïvete of her character that she makes the movie almost painful. I imagine that in the script, Lily was just a dumb cipher who got what was coming to her for being so clueless, but Horsely is good enough at fleshing out Lily's very real hopes and fears that she becomes a totally sympathetic character. It's hard - real hard - to mine laughter out of the suffering of a genuinely sympathetic character. Sometimes this sort of story works when the sympathetic main character has some significant blind spot that needs a dose of comeuppance, but Lily is kind of perfect the way she is, and it's not funny when Jarrod abuses her; he's just a colossal dick.

Maybe I wouldn't be so hellbent in this belief if not for Flight of the Conchords, a show currently airing on HBO featuring Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie as the sitcom version of their comedy/musical act. Clement plays a character very much like Jerrod in this series: an arrogant wannabe lothario who completely fails to notice that his constant failed romances are the by-product of his dickish attitude to women. The tricky bit is, we don't hate Jermaine (the character names are the actor names); we want him to get his head out of his ass and stop making stupid mistakes because he seems cool enough and we'd like him to be happy if he could engage in just a little bit of self-reflection.

Besides proving that Clement can be absolutely hilarious when he's got the right script to work with, Flight of the Conchords proves an almost perfect counter-example to my problems with Eagle vs. Shark: it is cruel to people who kind of suck, but it mines no humour out of our desire to see them humiliated; it is funny in that cringey Office way because the humor all comes out of a character we mostly like living down to our expectations. It's not any more humane, necessarily; but it's a hell of a lot more human.

Maybe I'm just a cranky old man. I just don't get what's supposed to be funny about this kind of hyper-ironic bone-dry humor. It's cruelty, pure and simple, and therefore the rom-com counterpart to torture porn in the realm of horror. Getting enjoyment out of other people's suffering isn't entertainment. I'm sorry to be such a killjoy about it.

The Official "But Fair is Fair" Moment: the soundtrack by Wellington band The Phoenix Foundation will surely not open anybody up to new realms of sonic possibility they had never considered. But as far as Shins-tinged power pop goes, the music is suitable enough to give you something to hum on the way out. Which beats the hell out of thinking about the movie once it's over.

4/10

26 June 2007

AN OLD MAN'S THOUGHTS ON YOUTH

A little while ago, I briefly touched upon the three great Japanese master filmmakers of the mid-twentieth century. At the time, my goal was to provide some small context for the oldest, most prolific, and now the most obscure of the three, Mizoguchi Kenji; now, let me turn to the second, both in age and in number of films: Ozu Yasujiro.

It's probably not an exaggeration to suggest that Ozu is currently enjoying his period of greatest popularity in the West: although this popularity is based on an extremely small subset of his films, primarily Tokyo Story and Late Spring. The lucky among us have seen I Was Born, But... and therefore have some sense, not suggested by the first two, that the director was capable of making light movies with a good sense of humor.

It's only because Tokyo Story holds such a dramatic place of importance in our modern appreciation of the man that it comes as a surprise how much of his career was given over to comedy: his career was born in the notorious "salaryman" genre (notorious only for how poorly it translates to non-Japanese culture; also, for a very small number of cinephiles, because of how many Japanese sci-fi features were ruined due to their awful salaryman b-plots), those genial satires of white class life as traditional Japanese mores gave way to the hectic pace of Western industrialism. It may or may not qualify as a surprise that after his early post-war run of masterpieces that effectively carved in stone what we now think of as the "Ozu Style," the director returned to light social satire, not entirely like the salaryman films, but also not entirely different. It seems to me that we can probably think of his late run of films as combining the weighty domestic tragedy of Tokyo Story and its fellows with the genial humor of a salaryman film, and hence we arrive at the paradoxically light and serious Equinox Flower, Good Morning, or The End of Summer.

The End of Summer - or Early Autumn, or best of all, Autumn of the Kohayagawa Family - was the director's second to last film, and its simple story bears the instantly recognizable marks of an Ozu narrative: Kohayagawa Manbei (Nakamura Ganjiro) is an old widower, the owner of a tiny sake company, and the father of three daughters: Akiko (Hara Setsuko), the widowed eldest; Fumiko (Aratama Michiyo), married to Hisao (Kobayashi Keiju); and Noriko (Tsukasa Yôko), the youngest, still single. Everyone is much concerned with finding Noriko a husband, a touch less concerned with the same goal for Akiko, and as they're all dealing with various dramas in that vein, Manbei quietly resumes an affair with his old mistress, Tsune (Naniwa Chieko).

Throughout his career, Ozu was much concerned with the generational struggles of Japanese culture, particularly as the tension between the traditionalist elders clashed with their Westernized children, but in the final run of films of his life, he grew more and more to sympathise overtly with the younger generation and the new face of his country. In The End of Summer, this idea reaches a sort of peak: for not only does Ozu frame the Kohayagawa daughters as the protagonists simply from their presence and point-of-view, he constantly links their father to immaturity childishness: Manbei is frequently seen in the company of his young grandson, whom he seems to relate to more successfully than to any of his adult children, and he indulges in his love affair with the entitled attitude of a lovestruck teenager, right down to the ways in which he has to sneak around to see his lover. Which is not to say that Manbei is a dolt or an idiot; he is treated entirely sympathetically. It's just that his time has passed, and at the time the film has begun, it is already on the shoulder of the daughters to carry the respect of the Kohayagawa name. It is difficult to know what this meant to the 57-year-old director, two years away from his death and making his penultimate film; but it is impossible to think that it meant nothing at all.

It seems to me that I called this a light comedy, didn't I? And so it is. Considering how implicitly the film is about his own increasing irrelevance and approaching death, Ozu approached the matter of The End of Summer with good humor and high spirits. The early passages of the story are all cheerful and familial; it is only towards the end as death becomes a meaningful component of the story (Manbei suffers a non-fatal heart attack a bit past the half-way point) that the humor slows down and stops, and is replaced by the fear of loss. It's tempting to suggest that the arc of the film follows the arc of Ozu's career (from social comedies to family dramas) or really the arc of life itself (when we are young, we are playful, when we are middle-aged we are serious, and perhaps when we are very old, we are playful again).

This isn't just carried out in the story, but in the fabric of the filmmaking itself. Perversely, while Ozu's style is one of the most distinctive and important in the cinema, and while there are very few directors historically who have been better able to tell complete stories using just the simplest elements of visual composition, it is nearly impossible to explain how that style works without lapsing into repetition. For Ozu's style is nearly unchanging from film to film, and the elements of that style and how they work are well-described in too many places for me to think of imagining that I can bring something new to that conversation.

What I would like to argue, specifically in the context of The End of Summer and its generally good cheer, is the important difference between Ozu's color films and his black-and-white films: his color films are more fun to look at. I don't mean, for God's sake, that Tokyo Story or Early Summer aren't visually breathtaking movies. Rather, I mean that in those films, the use of composition and frame, of light and shadows, of movement, are all extremely specific and significant. In his color films, by contrast, while the composition and movement are all still very important, his use of colorful objects seems almost...arbitrary? I don't know what else to call it. It's using color just for the fun of it, not because there is any meaning to the color but because it is a delight to the eye. I find myself thinking of a shot in The End of Summer of a hallway, with men talking, all browns and blacks and greys, and then there is one bright blue lantern hanging just a bit above and to the right of center. It has nothing to do with the conversation being had, nor with the meaning of the film; but it is a playful thing to see, and that, I believe, is an incredibly important matter of tone. These last color films of Ozu are gentle and forgiving, and that is why they have visual elements that exist solely to appeal to the eye.

Late in the film, the two single daughters talk between themselves about the need to follow what society and family demand, as opposed to living according to their own happiness. Even in the face of death and doom, they maintain an upbeat certainty that the first thing is to be happy, and the rest will follow, and Ozu is glad to allow them their private happiness. The last shot of the film is a visual reminder of mortality straight out of Bergman, and it is clear that we are meant to regard this film as an elegy for the dying generation, but somehow it is not a sad elegy; instead, it takes comfort in the knowledge that no generation will ever be final, and that humanity goes on far beyond the facts of social change or one old man's life, be that man Kohayagawa Manbei or Ozu Yasujiro.

BLOGGERY

Between this, that and everything else, I should hate to forget: I'm tweaking the film blogroll a bit. The latest additions include Nathaniel R's Film Experience (and thanks to Nathaniel for the real nice plug a few days back), Joe R's Low Resolution (check out the fantastic "Greatest Working Actor" deathmatch he's set up) and Joe Valdez's This Distracted Globe (Joe was brave enough to wander in between Will and myself during the AFI debate). Read them.

Meanwhile, if anyone can recommend some other great film thinkers, I'd be much obliged. It doesn't do for a film blogger to have a political blogroll four times bigger than his movie blogroll.

25 June 2007

BE COOL

Quite the checklist: the writers of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe team up with the director of Joy Ride and The Great Raid to bring us a trendily dark indie featuring the comic stylings of Sir Ben Kingsley. I know, you can hardly keep from running right out to see it, yeah? Well, wonder of wonder and miracle of miracles, You Kill Me, the result of this surreal dream team, turns out to be a pretty fine motion picture. Not a masterpiece, mind you, nor the funniest thing you could see on a lazy summer afternoon; but a fine motion picture.

Here is one of those magnificently high concepts that you just know made some studio execs positively faint during the pitch meeting: an alcoholic hitman is exiled from Buffalo to San Francisco until he can dry out. Like any story idea, that could have gone very bad or very good, and one could do a whole lot worse to push things towards the "good" end of the spectrum than getting some free gravitas in the form of Kingsley, who in the cultural mind is likelier to call up images of Sexy Beast and not so much BloodRayne (or the all-cat version of Romeo and Juliet in which he played Capulet).* It's easy for a script to tell you, "this guy is a bad-ass," but it's not so easy to make a thing like that stick. Ben Kingsley can't help but make that stick. He carries bad-ass around him like a shroud.

And, it turns out, he's really damn funny. From time to time, he is called upon for a funny line delivery, but I think that You Kill Me might well be his first outright comedy, and it works much better than I would have guessed likely. I don't suppose I'd trust him in a Marx Brothers film, but for this role, which consists largely of being a slightly absurd straightman, he is mostly perfect.

His opposite number, in the role of our requisite romantic leading lady, is Téa Leoni, an actress that I first fell in love with all the way back in 1995 with the sitcom The Naked Truth, and have subsequently wondered with every new release why she isn't more renowned, and why she doesn't get better scripts. It's impossible to argue that she and Kingsley have natural chemistry, but their hard-earned artificial chemistry is chemistry nonetheless, and like her co-star, Leoni gets a great deal of mileage out of a constant deadpan expression and a refusal to treat the laugh lines as anything but straight dialogue.

Here's where things get a little bit weird: you noticed how I just claimed that the two leads are both straightmen? Well, so is the rest of the cast: Luke Wilson as a gay AA member, Philip Baker Hall as a gang leader, Dennis Farina as another gang leader. They're all very good, I don't mean to suggest otherwise. But none of them is the "funny" character. Basically, this is a comedy centered around people pitching straight lines at each other.

There's nothing exactly wrong with that: it is funny after all, or at least I found it funny. Nor is it exactly unique in this respect. The modern indie scene is positively littered with the too-hip bone dry kind of comedy in which all of the humor comes out of the quiet desperation of characters who deal with the absurd with irony, or by ignoring it. But it's worth remembering that a whole lot of modern indie comedies kind of suck.

You Kill Me does not suck. But it comes much closer than I'd like it to. The fact is, the film is simply too laid-back, detached, cool, casual, whatever, for its own good. I am reminded of Woody Allen's line: "If I get too mellow, I ripen and rot." That's more or less what happens here. It's such a low-key movie that it traipses into actual boredom by the end, and it doesn't really recover. This happens pretty late - basically, once the alcoholism subplot has been mostly resolved in favor of the "will he ever be a hitman again?" subplot - so it doesn't topple the whole movie. But it's awfully hard to be enthusiastic about a film that ends in a materially worse place than it begins.

Hard, but not impossible. There's too much too like about You Kill Me, and even a tiny bit to actually love, and until the laid-back antienergy turns into a liability, it's an unmistakable boon: it gives the movie an easy insinuation that makes it almost impossible to defend against it sneaking under your skin before you realize what's going on. It's no less playful because the ending turns lazy, after all.

Or, put it another way: this week you have two comedies to chose from: You Kill Me or Evan Almighty. That's what they call a "moment of clarity."

7/10

24 June 2007

SUMMER OF BLOOD: THE BATTERY'S DOWN

The first wave of American slashers began quite distinctly in 1979, when Friday the 13th was released, spawning dozens upon dozens of imitators; it peaked around 1983 and should have been dead by the end of 1984. However, then as now, there was an unaccountable amount of money to be made from a very small investment in stage blood and terrible actors, and so the damn things just kept coming and coming.

None can make the definitive argument for when this first wave ended; obviously before 1996, when Scream ignited the second wave, but how long before? I would argue in favor of the relative elegance of picking 1989, for the reason that it was the year in which the three greatest slasher franchises released the film that, in some way or another, killed that series financially. After 1989, not even the fanboys could be arsed to pretend that the movies were worth seeing.

Halloween 5 turned a profit, but not nearly enough (it barely doubled the $5 million budget), and the next entry would not come out for all of six years. A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child was met with screaming derision (although it made money), and rather than try to fix the series, the producers simple declared that the next film would be the last. We could perhaps even count Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, which was originally planned for a 1989 release before getting dropped in January; its profit, after marketing, could be measured in six digits, and the next film, five years later, was a massive restart on the series continuity that was an immediate failure.

The splashiest disaster of these films, of course (for what film am I reviewing, after all?) was the notorious Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, the most expensive slasher film ever made by some counts, and the worst-performing film in the series even as of this writing (not adjusted for inflation). So dire was the film's box-office fate, and so loud the fan hatred, that it forced Paramount to take the rather extreme step of selling the entire franchise, rather than continue its association with such a sinkhole.

It's a sad thing: prior to beginning this summer project, Jason Takes Manhattan was the only Friday the 13th film I'd ever seen, and I was convinced, both from the words of others and the experience of my own eyes, that it had to be the series nadir. No way a franchise that has so far produced ten entries could possibly survive a film even worse than this one, right?

Unfortunately not. Now that I am wiser, sadder and more scarred, I know the bitter truth: Jason Takes Manhattan in all its excruciating mediocrity, is right in the middle of the series in terms of quality. I think we could break the existing seven films into two camps: the first, Part 2, The Final Chapter and The New Blood all do something at least a little bit interesting, and are all somewhat watchable (though The Final Chapter tries hard not to be). Meanwhile, Part 3, A New Beginning and Jason Lives are punishing exercises in audience abuse, stupid in those rare moments that they are not dangerously stupid. Jason Takes Manhattan is in a third category: it is quite awful, but nothing will rot your brain with its insipidity. It is the first flat-out boring Friday the 13th movie.

Are we surprised? Well we shouldn't be. By the fourth film, there was not one single idea left to throw at the formula, and the subsequent three entries were increasingly baroque attempts to twist that formula into something remotely interesting. So when we get to 1989 - as I argued up top, the final year of the Slasher Era - there's nothing but flop sweat and a title that wears its desperation like a scarlet letter. Sure, Part VIII changes the formula: and it leaves behind an inscrutable narrative that pukes its way across an unforgivably long 100 minutes.

Jason won't start taking Manhattan for a hell of a long time, but the film teases us some with some random shots of New York scored with a truly evil bit of synthpop (the music in general will be pretty bad; Fred Mollin even screws up the "ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha" motif). This ends and we find ourselves on a party boat on Crystal Lake, helmed by two very horny teens, Jim (Todd Shaffer) and Suzi (Tiffany Paulsen), listening to a New York radio station. For no reason at all, Jim is telling Suzi about Jason Voorhees, this version suggesting that Jason came back to life to avenge his mother's death, and he caps his story by jumping out at her with a fake knife and a hockey mask that just happens to have a notch in the forehead where Jason's mask always had a notch (from the axe wound in Part 3), and there's no reason for that, either. In the real world, Jim would probably get pushed overboard for this, but writer-director Rob Hedden decides instead that this just makes Suzi all the hotter for Jim's bod, and they hop in bed (giving us a glimpse of Paulsen's breast, in the only moment in this tedious film that could possibly be thought of as exploitation), right after Jim tosses the anchor overboard.

In addition to understanding nothing about women, Hedden understands nothing about seamanship, for we are treated to numerous shots of the anchor drifting across the lake bed, until it snags on an electrical cable which it drags over to the ruined pier from The New Blood, breaking the cable open and electrocuting Jason back to life. I'm sorry for the glut of italics there, but it's hard to stress how fucking stupid this is without them.

First Jason kills Jim (I mean, first he climbs on board, but I'm cutting to the chase) by harpooning him - yes, there is a spear gun on the party boat - and then showing the camera the spear which for some reason has beige rubber tubing dangling from it.

Apparently, this is all that remains of the film's show-stopping gore effect, in which Jim's intestines were to get slopped all over everything, but you know something? Armed with that knowledge, I rewatched the shot three or four times, and every single time I came up with the same thing: beige rubber tubes with a bit of red tempera paint.

Anyway, Jason kills Suzi in one of those "stalk the women, shock the men" dichotomies that makes the series so damn classy.

The next morning, we are in what appears to be a shipping port on Crystal Lake, which is apparently somewhere in size between Lakes Erie and Huron. The good ship Lazarus (Oh, Jesus), out of Panama - seriously? - is docking, and we meet Colleen Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham), a high school English teacher and Rennie (Jensen Daggett), who is such a Final Girl that it makes you hurt, both because of her androgynous name, and the wealth of tepid character details that get thrown at her all at once, including Colleen's gift of a pen that Stephen King allegedly used in high school. Yes, that Stephen King. No, I don't believe it either. Yes, complete bullshit. Anyway, I got a bit of a lesbian vibe off of Colleen, but I think that's only because I desperately wanted to film to be remotely interesting.

Up comes Charles McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman), Rennie's uncle, legal guardian, and principal. "I'm a dick-faced douchebag," he says when he gets out of the car, "you can't wait to see me die." I might be paraphrasing a little bit.

The Lazarus turns out to be a sort of cruise freighter, and it is the site of a graduation cruise from Crystal Lake to New York. We'll learn shortly that Crystal Lake, surrounded by beautiful 800 foot mountains, connects to the ocean via a river, and it's not at all clear whether this port is on the lake, the river, or the Atlantic, and it's even less clear what route they take to New York (it helps if Crystal Lake is in Maine, not New Jersey), it's not clear whose idea this cruise was, and it's clear least of all why you'd take a cruise on something that is so obviously a cargo ship. What is clear is that the party boat from earlier drifts up and Jason clambers on board. And that, at least, makes sense: Jason kills teens, and there are teens on the boat. QED.

The next forty minutes are the cinematic equivalent of that grinding noise a car makes when the starter is busted. We've got some 9 teens to keep track of, plus McCulloch and Van Deusen, three crew members, Rennie's dog Toby that looks exactly like the border collie/Labrador mix that I had growing up, and a random dude that I can't quite place. I shall list them by trait and manner of death:

-Rennie we have met, survives the boat, after seeing many visions of Child Jason
-Her kind-of boyfriend Sean (Scott Reeves) survives the boat
-The black kid Julius (V.C. Dupree) who is given a characterisation beyond being "the black kid if you can believe it, survives the boat
-J.J. (Saffron Henderson), a Joan Jett wannabe (get it?), smashed in the face with a guitar in rather unusual "Victim's POV" death (red goo splashed on the camera lens)
-Pointless jock who boxes with Julius (David Jacox), chest caved in with a sauna rock
-Tamara (Sharlene Martin), horrible coke-head rich bitch who has been constantly vicious towards Rennie, tries to sexually blackmail McCulloch, and in all ways hurts your soul by existing, stabbed with a broken mirror in the bathroom where we very much do not see her breasts
-Mr. Carlson (Fred Henderson), the only engineer, harpoon'd
-Admiral (!) Robertson (Warren Munson), the captain, Sean's overbearing father, cut with a fucking godfucking goddamn machete; the machete is clearly never close than two inches to his throat and the subsequent wound is quite tiny and boring
-Eva (Kelly Hu), the Asian girl, Tamara's only friend, trapped in the ship's discotheque and stalked in the weirdest scene ever: Jason seems to teleport around the room just to fuck with her. Then he strangles her. Strangles! In a slasher film!

Interlude: they figure out something is going on, and they arm themselves

-Random crew member or student, it's hard to tell which, shot accidentally by...
-Wayne (Martin Cummins), horribly annoying wannabe filmmaker who carries his damn video camera everywhere, thrown against a control panel that thereupon explodes. For some reason, Jason triggers the fire alarm, and people start trying to abandon ship.
-Miles (Gordon Currie), who is a high school student, Caucasian, um...male; impaled on a post of some kind
-Crazy deck hand (Alex Diakun), who kept warning everyone cryptically, axed in the back.

Rennie, Sean, Julius, McCulloch, Colleen and Toby-the-Dog get on a lifeboat, and drift about in the fog looking for land, for when one is travelling by sea from New Jersey to New York, one ends up in some deep open water. Pure fucking luck brings them to Upper New York Bay, which they realize when they are about 200 yards from the Statue of Liberty.

They land; Jason follows them; and after 65 minutes, the Taking of Manhattan begins.

No it doesn't. Jason stalks the five survivors, kills as many as he can and kills those who get in his way, but he leaves dozens of people entirely unmolested. So much for the "psycho killers kill" argument.

The film's depiction of New York is a very nasty one, although except for three shots in Times Square it's actually Vancouver. Anyway, some of the kind people populating the Big Apple are rapists (in a horribly atonal scene that simply doesn't belong here; but Jason kills them before anything happens, in the closest the film gets to a decent gore effect) and restaurateurs who would rather see you dead than let you call the police. Also, the sewers of New York apparently run with toxic waste. Also, they are full of red plastic barrels that say "DANGER - TOXIC WASTE" on them.

The only thing less interesting than watching Jason kill teens whose names we can barely keep straight on a boat, is watching him chase five people around a stage version of a city. There is less of a sense of urgency than in any prior film, because of some truly awkward editing that basically gives up on trying to establish where anybody is relative to anything. Eventually, Rennie gets a flashback in which we see McCulloch throw her in the lake to force her to learn how to swim, at which point she is grabbed by Jason as a zombie boy, and the last vestige of narrative continuity between these films goes up in a puff of smoke.

Everybody pretty much dies in terribly unimaginative ways (McCulloch particularly has been set up as too much of an asshole to get such a low-key exit), and at last it's Rennie versus Jason in the sewers. Yada yada yada, he gets drowned in the toxic waste that is flushed out every night at midnight, and he turns into a dead 10-year-old boy lying on the floor of the sewer. I hate these movies so much. I don't know why I'm doing this to myself anymore. Oh my god. Then, one very stupid "spring-loaded cat"-style false scare later, the movie ends.

Oh lordy.

Fair's fair, Kane Hodder returns to play Jason, and he does it well. But this is such a ponderous affair overall that I no longer care about the niceties of his performance. There is not one film in the series that feels so absolutely perfunctory as this, so totally uninvested in telling any sort of story or doing anything besides showing us people running and dying, and not even very much of the latter.

As I've mentioned, some of these films have been less exploitative than the others, but the aggressive lack of nudity and blood in Jason Takes Manhattan trumps them all. What the hell is left? Nothing in this film is even a tiny bit diverting, or amusing, or scary (okay, there's one kind of amusing scene, and it's due solely to Hodder's performance). It just happens. It happens all over the screen and I will be honest: I fell asleep, and then I had to rewatch the last 25 minutes, so now I've seen that goddamn "Jason turns into a boy" scene three separate times.

It is my contention that the kind of delightful poster seen above, pulled after the NY tourism board raised a stink, is the only element of Jason Takes Manhattan that contains any sort of entertainment value at all. Small wonder that this after this film, the very title Friday the 13th was retired in shame.

Body Count: 21, one of them an accidental shooting, and one of them a simple matter of being in a car when it a-splodes. This, by the way, is a perfect illustration of the idea that more deaths = more obnoxious movies. Oh, and the Lazarus has a lot more kids on it than we see die, but counting them would be unfair.

The F13 Dating Controversy: It hasn't been so long since The New Blood that the wood trapping Jason on the lakebed has rotted, though there's the usual business where a Crystal Lake resident has never heard of the Camp Blood murders, implying that it's been 20 or 30 years since the last film. Chalking that up, as usual, to desperate writing I'm willing to say that it's been about one year, setting Jason Takes Manhattan in May, 2003.

BUT! Jim tells Suzi that Jason drowned "thirty years ago," i.e. thirty years before the film was released. That sets it in the late '80s, during the gap between The Final Chapter and A New Beginning/Jason Lives, which means-

Fuck that shit. Life is too short.

Oh, if my timeline is right, Rennie meets boy Jason in the water a few months after Jason Lives.

Reviews in this series
Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980)
Friday the 13th, Part 2 (Miner, 1981)
Friday the 13th, Part 3 (Miner, 1982)
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Zito, 1984)
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (Steinmann, 1985)
Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (McLoughlin, 1986)
Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (Buechler, 1988)
Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (Hedden, 1989)
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (Marcus, 1993)
Jason X (Isaac, 2001)
Freddy vs. Jason (Yu, 2003)
Friday the 13th (Nispel, 2009)

22 June 2007

CINÉMA FRANÇAIS

After my brief fling with the world of middlebrow American cinema, it's time to return to what I do best: impenetrable French movies.

If you think about it, though, Alain Resnais is totally the sort of filmmaker that the AFI would love. After all, he made a movie about the Holocaust, just like #8,Schindler's List. He made a movie about life after WWII, just like #37, The Best Years of Our Lives. He made a movie with "American" in the title, just like #62, American Graffiti.

His latest is a story about six interconnected Parisians looking futilely for companionship, and sometimes love. Adapted from the British playwright Alan Ayckborn's Private Fears in Public Places (the title it's being released under in the US), Cœurs (Hearts) is a potent reminder of what our national cinemas have in common: photosensitive celluloid.

Structured, much like Bergman's Saraband, as a series of tableaux involving two characters at a time, Cœurs introduces us in no real order to Nicole (Laura Morante) who is apartment-hunting with her increasingly unresponsive fiancé Dan (Lambert Wilson), who often spends time at a bar tended by Lionel (Pierre Arditi), who has just hired Charlotte (Sabine Azéma), an evangelical Christian with a naughty streak, to take after his angry invalid father Arthur (unseen, but voiced by Claude Rich). By day, Charlotte works at a real estate office with Thierry (André Dussolier), Nicole's agent, who lives with his sister Gaëlle (Isabelle Carré), who is increasingly tired of living with her brother, and who strikes up an affair with Dan.

That seems very precious and even a bit overdetermined, but throughout the running time of the movie we accept it without noticing a hint of contrivance. It helps immeasurably that Resnais turns the film into something like a fable or fairy tale, through the delicate application of poetically real touches like the day-glo colors of Lionel's bar, the cheerfully anachronistic production values of the religious music show that Charlotte foists on Thierry, or above all the "snow transitions" between almost every scene: as one image dissolves into another, they are both overlaid with the image of bright white snowflakes against a blow background. This last detail is what really makes the story feel airy and charming, a winter's tale told over wine after a full dinner, maybe.

The result is something that seems like it should be a contradiction but isn't in the Frenchest way possible: a film that deliberately alienates us from the mise en scène and reminds us always that we are watching a movie, and thereby becomes that much more agreeable and pleasant and accessible. For it is largely because of the artifice of the whole movie that the artifice of the storyline becomes easy to ignore, leaving us with the chance to attend to the emotional resonance of the wandering plot, and not its mechanics. For this is quite an emotive film, a gentle look at the pain of loneliness that almost all of us feel from time to time, if not always. It is a film in a minor key, but it is beautiful and true anyways. 9/10


And now, a film that really does feel like it might have been made in America: La Môme [The Kid], or as we know it these United States, La Vie en Rose (if I may be so bold, Je ne regrette rien would have been better than either of those titles). Or rather, it feels like the French making an American film: for while it's essentially a by-the-book biopic of legendary French cabaret singer Edith Piaf, it's just different enough in tone and plot that you can tell that it's not quite the same cloth that gave us such modern masterpieces as Ray, Walk the Line and Beyond the Sea.

It's a sign of a good biographical film when you can fill almost two-and-a-half hours of balls-out absurdity, all of it true, and still not fit in everything that made the woman unique (for example, there is not even a whisper about her time with the Resistance). Piaf's life was a collection of miseries that would elicit howls of derision if we encountered them, say, in a Dickens novel, yet they happened: born to an alcoholic busker mother, stolen by her father and left to be raised by prostitutes in a brothel, briefly blind as a child, catapulted to stardom out of the seediest cabarets in Paris, addicted to heroin when the pace of international touring got to be too much, prematurely aged and dead before her 48th birthday, looking like a woman twice her age.

The arc of the biopic is set in stone: first we are introduced to the future star, we are censorious of their hedonistic lifestyle, then we are made glad by their climactic shift to good behavior. But we are always encouraged to view the star as a sort of lapsed angel, temporarily bad but never truly wicked. That's maybe the subtlest and most important way that La Vie en Rose is different from its American cousins: Piaf is never made to be anything other than what she is, which is extraordinarily talented, sort of bitchy and very crude. We are not asked to accept her as a good person, but we're not permitted to judge her: she is just what she is, and we must respect that she lived the life she lived. As she sings in one of her most famous songs, the one that the film privileges by placing it at the climax of the film, "No, nothing; I regret nothing."

The unsubtle way that this is not your standard-issue biopic is that it's impossibly convoluted. Opening in 1959 at a New York concert where Piaf collapsed, the script then flashes back to her childhood and forward from 1959; and when the flashback reaches 1959, it just keeps on moving forward even as the 1963 plot occurs at the same time. There's really no hope of actually getting a sense of the events of Piaf's life from this movie; instead there is a flow of emotions and moments that culminate in an understanding of how she felt about her life. It's frustrating, but at the same time it's hard to imagine how a life this messy could be well-served by an "A then B then C" plot.

Holding it all together, in the finest performance of 2007 thus far and the finest performance of a real-life person since Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, is Marion Cotillard, a 31-year-old actress whose career has been marked by mostly irrelevant pictures, culminating in Ridley Scott's A Good Year. I have no idea who looked at her and thought, "That's the one! She is my Edith Piaf!" but that person is godly, for Cotillard is perfection itself in this role. As an act of sheer mimicry, it's flawless, but she does not rest there: her performance is a performance, and it's one of the most physical I've seen in many a year. Every move of her hands, twitch of her eye, curl of her mouth; is Piaf. She somehow manages to diminish herself into the 4'8" Piaf's frame, and yet still dominate every scene. At no point from age 20 to the crypt-like age 47 at which Piaf dies (perhaps surprisingly, on-screen, in a scene that is as heart-wrenching as any cinematic death ever has been) does Cotillard falter in her performance.

Fair is fair: this is not a masterpiece. Like all biopics, it shows much more than it derives meaning from showing. But it is a great biopic for all that, one of the greatest that I've ever seen. "The Little Sparrow" she was called, but there's nothing little about the Piaf of La Vie en Rose: she is extraordinary and larger than the mere details of her life, however strange and melodramatic they might be. 8/10

21 June 2007

AFI: FINAL THOUGHTS

First, I'd like to respond to the charge levelled in comments that I am pretentious. Yep! Been practicing since I was eleven. Second, while I agree with the idea that this list isn't for people like me but for the masses, I don't see why the masses can't take a little bit of smart cinema now and then. Even though I know that the idea of a populace well-educated in art is against the founding intent of America.

Enough of that, though: on to the list itself. (This, by the way, is invaluable)

I'd reiterate being shocked - shocked! - that Spartacus made the list. There's an obvious reason for just about every other entry, but that film? Who actually loves that film?

I haven't seen Sophie's Choice, but my understanding has been that, absent its central performance, nobody particularly likes it.

Generally, the additions made up for what was dropped, although Fargo, Stagecoach and especially The Third Man are particularly missed (especially The Third Man: if you're going to have the balls to call it "American," it damn well ought to be on your damn list).

On reflection, I should not have said last night that It's a Wonderful Life was "the classic example of of a movie that I liked a lot more before I know much about the movies." What that meant is that, like Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry, I though much more of its story structure before I learned how very far from unique that structure really was. It's a good movie with some strikingly bleak imagery and one of Jimmy Stewart's five best performances. There's no justification for ranking it in the top 20.

It is good that Preston Sturges has been ranked, although I'm not entirely sure why Sullivan's Travels got more votes than e.g. The Lady Eve. I think it has to with ST's presumed "importance." Which is ironic, given the film's theme.

It is very good that Buster Keaton is ranked. It is bad, but not very surprising that Harold Lloyd is not ranked. FWIW, I still feel sort of guilty for only including one Lloyd film on my list.

I ask this periodically: why do people love The Shawshank Redemption? I mean that in the spirit of sincere inquiry. I have never encountered an explanation that isn't tautological (I love it becuase it is something I love). The AFI brought out M. Night Shyamalan to defend it, and I was too busy screaming inside my brain to listen to what he had to say.

Given how surprising and interesting so much of the list was, all the way up to City Lights at 11 and The Searchers at 12, the top 10 - minus Vertigo - felt horribly pre-ordained.

20 June 2007

AFI'S "100 YEARS, 100 MOVIES" 2007: PART THREE

My immediate count is that there are 41 films in common between my list. For what it's worth.

My immediate reactions to the list:

-Where are the Coens?
-Only 2 Ford films?
-Spartacus? Really?
-It's less conservative than the last one, but it's still pretty safe: is any film here obscure? Sunrise, maybe, but that's too depressing to contemplate.

*****

Post-mortem will have to wait a bit. I'm kind of brain-fried. But I will say that I'm a lot more happy with this list than 1998's.

*****

Morgan Freeman burbles about this and that. I think he's stoned. Seriously, look at his eyes. It's not that bad, Morgan!

*****

1. CITIZEN KANE
Well, duh. People assume it's the best film ever made, so they rank it that high.

You know what's a tragedy of unmentionable proportions? That if Welles could have finished AMBERSONS like he wanted, it would have been even better.

It bothers me that people talk about how every shot in this film has a narrative meaning, as though that wasn't the point of the cinema, as though no other movie even thought of using using the visuals to tell a story. These people need to see more silent films, European films, and above all, European silent films.

But it is immaculate, and I'd be an asshole to pretend it isn't.

2.THE GODFATHER
People like Sheen can come out and say that it's the best American filmmaking ever, because of blah blah I was on THE WEST WING, but I have honestly never understood why people think it's the best of the best of the best.

It's great, but there are better movies. And as I made clear yesterday, I prefer THE CONVERSATION to Coppola's mob epics. You know how some movies are great to look at because they have a visionary director, and some have a cinematographer who makes his director look really good? This is absolutely one of the latter.

*****

They are stretching this way the fuck out. By the way, we all know that it's KANE and GODFATHER as 1 & 2, right? Good.

*****

3. CASABLANCA
This is my favorite movie of all time. This is the best Hollywood movie of all time, with the second-best script in the history of the English language, and and the best ever to be written essentially on the fly. So, I dare not judge the AFI too harshly for its position.

4. RAGING BULL
Okay, it's just about that good, and it's kind of satisfying to see a group so stodgy as the AFI has tended to be try this hard for relevance. "It's violent! And it's in our top 5!" It sure is, AFI.

5. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN
Righteous. Top 10 was a foregone conclusion, but I'm happy to see it squeak above no. 10, where it was in 1998. Is there a better Hollywood film? Only one. and It will be somewhere in the top four. And it's name rhymes with "Rasablanca."

I haven't watched this movie in ages, either. I should fix that, when I'm done spending time with the truly important FRIDAY THE 13TH series.

6. GONE WITH THE WIND
In addition to being a contrarian, I have issues with the film's basic racism, and I've always felt that the second half is at least twice as long as it needs to be. If David Nothing Selznick hadn't bought this film's way into history, I'm not sure what aspect of it would still be remembered today...the cinematography, maybe. There are some damn nice shots in that movie.

*****

7. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
British. SO British. SO freaking British. Is it good? Sure. But it's British.

Also, too easy. I mean, I love it and I love David Lean, but this is as safe a choice as you could get if you're over thirty years old.

8.SCHINDLER'S LIST
Because it's "important." The older I get, the more I'm convinced that it's a cornucopia of lies about the Holocaust, the most sacrosanct topic of the modern age; but as I get to be more and more of a formalist, I fall more and more in love with the way that the Great American Populist uses black and white.

Spielberg Count: 5

9. VERTIGO
Someone at the AFI likes me. I kind of didn't expect to see this at all.

Is there a sea-change a-coming? Am I the harbinger of a new mode of film-viewing? Or just a part of that new mode? Or am I going to be really pissed off by the next few?

On the other hand: they didn't even fuckin' put Fuller on the goddamn longlist. So I can still be angry at them. Ah...

10. THE WIZARD OF OZ
Of course it's up here. I wonder if I put it too low. Of course, 10 is too high. but it's one of the best musicals that MGM ever produced, which is a lot like saying "the best sex you'll ever have with a supermodel."

*****

Morgan Freeman: only one film hods the same slot. Prediction: CITIZEN KANE

*****

11. CITY LIGHTS
On the 1998 list, but now ranked somewhere that's actually appropriate. Nice change.

I'm growing dangerously mellow towards this list.

Jack Lemmon cries at the end! Even though he is dead! Dead Jack Lemmon and I have something in common!

12. THE SEARCHERS
HOLY SHIT. I really did not expect to see this year. Just like THE GENERAL, I almost want to forgive them everything. Nice choice. IN the last...3 years, maybe, I've come to respect the hell out of John Wayne's acting ability.

Spielberg and Scorsese wax orgasmic As well they should.

Can a movie at no. 12 be "too low"? We'll see what comes up above it.

13. STAR WARS
Fuck George Lucas and his joyless reduction of what used to be one of the great b-movies of all time. This movie is dead to me. DEAD.

I can't tell if the clips are Special Edition or not. If they're not, I'll confess that maybe it's okay that it's here. But not in the top 20. Or top 50. Or top 75.

14. PSYCHO.
Last time, this movie was behind REAR WINDOW. Good to see it get its due.

I have to be honest: I don't think it's aaalll that. The final scene comes powerful close to wrecking the whole damn thing. But it might actually be the most important movie ever made. I don't think that's hyperbole. I mean, it is, but it's easy to defend it.

As Bogdanovich says: he'd never experienced anything like it.

15. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
I used to like this a bit more than I do now (mostly because I started watching European art films in from the '60s and I found that Kubrick wasn't operating in a stylistic vacuum), but this is still almost undeniably the smartest sci-fi film ever made, or perhaps ever makable.

They got Arthur Clarke to talk about it! Or maybe it's just stock interview. He's alive, but I think he's older than that.

16. SUNSET BLVD.
I haven't watched this movie in like, four years. I should change that. Jesus in a breadbasket, this is a fantastically perfect motion picture.

17. THE GRADUATE
I think I figured out why I left this off my list: I am tired of 1960s English-language cinema. So hip and cool and swanky and sly.

Also, the more you think about this film, the more that Benjamin is kind of a shitheel.

18. THE GENERAL
Good Lord! No Keaton at all in 1998, and now his masterpiece in the top 20? I'm tempted to take back everything I've said against the list just for this one film. Now slap up some Harold Lloyd, and we've got ourselves a show.

19. ON THE WATERFRONT

The one Brando performance that I grudgingly admit is actually kind of a good thing to have captured on film. That said, I don't get why people like Elia Kazan. His movies are so shrill and personality-free.

*****

20. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
Ye gods, this is a boring, safe choice. That's all we're going to have going forward, isn't it? Boring, safe choices.

I think it might be the classic example of of a movie that I liked a lot more before I know much about the movies.

21. CHINATOWN
Damn, this is a good script. I mean, damn. That's probably why they brought screenwriter Robert Towne out to talk about it. And Angelica Huston. Wait, what?

I think I ranked this too low. Except I have no recollection of where I ranked it.

22. SOME LIKE IT HOT
It makes me quite the bitch to say that 22 is too low, but really! I's the most flawless script in the history of Hollywood. So at least I can remain smug that I Top-10'd it, and they'll have, like, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY.

Cameron Crowe: the iconic film about cross-dressers...really? That makes me sad for the cross-dressers out there

Obviously, they go right to the final line in the clips. I think that's a law somewhere.

23. THE GRAPES OF WRATH
Literally the only John Ford film I would call "overrated." Which, obviously, is why it's the only Ford film on this list. I assume. I mean, there are 22 films to go. For the first time, my amusement at the list's straining for "social significance" has turned to anger.

24. E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL
Spielberg gets off on his own movie. The clips are from the whored- up 2002 CGI cut.

Yeah, the movie makes me cry. With embarrassing regularity. Proof that Spielberg's cynical manipulation of the audience can be used for the forces of good.

Spielberg Count: 4

25. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Dangerously naive. Gregory Peck's best performance, but there are so many better films about race in America, that it makes the crypto -racism of this one all the more diabolical

26. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON
Naive, but not dangerously so. Jimmy Stewart is fantastic.

AFI'S "100 YEARS, 100 MOVIES" 2007: PART TWO

27. HIGH NOON
That's high. Blimey. It's so close to being a great western, and yet there are so many that are so much better.

By the way, the closer we come to the top, the more banal the commentary gets. Jeff Bridges reminiscing about ruining a take when he was visiting a set.

28. ALL ABOUT EVE
Oh, it's fun. I won't get all huffy about it.

29. DOUBLE INDEMNITY
Well, that is sure higher than I would have expected. We all see the same two Wilder films remaining, right? I can't believe I went for the same four Wilder films as the AFI. Maybe I should have tossed in THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES for shits and giggles.

30. APOCALYPSE NOW
Hm. Hmmm. Well, why the hell not. A The only film in history that's not as good as its making-of documentary.

I think it's awesome that it nearly doesn't work at all, but I still get nervous about putting it on lists.

31. THE MALTESE FALCON
Nothing reminds you of why you love adore this movie better than opening on a shot of Sydney Greenstreet. No quibbles.

32. THE GODFATHER, PART II
I think that's exactly where I ranked it. Although I put good movies higher than it, and we're starting to run out of those. So I dare not complain. Although for the record: so much better than the first. Seriously

33. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST
One of the great "maybe you had to be there" films of the 1970s. I don't hate it, by a long shot, but Milos Forman, Jack Nicholson, and the 1970s all did so much better.

But hey, Shyamalan loves it, so I must be wrong!

34. SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
I remember thinking this was Disney's masterpiece. I was 8, and seduced by its absence from videotape. I got better.

*****

CBS has a new series about sugar barons. Awesome.

*****

35. ANNIE HALL
The Woodman's only film. Maybe my favorite, certainly his "best." It is also way too low. I need to stop saying that. God, it's smart. I always forget how supernaturally smart that script is. And how much I quote it.

36. THE BRIDGE OF THE RIVER KWAI
First, it's better than no. 36. Second. It's not American. Ben Kingsley comes from nowhere to vend his thoughts on war. Watching the clips, I am reminded that Alec Guinness gives one of the finest English language performances ever.

37. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES
Jesus, I don't get this movie. It's about nine years long. Myrna Loy is an incandescent delight, in the only dramatic role I've ever seen of hers, but the rest of it is the worst kind of post-war Americana.

38. THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE
It's Mel Brook's' "favorite picture." I used to love it to bits, until I started to actually get into the "album cuts" of American genre pictures. I think I had it at no. 104, or something.

39. DR. STRANGELOVE
A tiny bit high, but people love it (I would call it Kubrick's 4th best). Probably the most perfect satire in the American cinema.

Robin Williams [hearts] Peter Sellers. He proves this by doing an awful riff on Seller's Strangelove accent.

40. THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Oy. I'm a musical lover, mind you. And Oy.

As Debbie Reynolds puts it, this is a masterpiece because it makes you uncritically happy. Good when a Nazi movie can do that to you.

Also, Liza Minelli looks nice without makeup. I've been thinking that all night.

41. KING KONG
I have nothing to say against this choice or its ranking

*****

42. BONNIE AND CLYDE
Like BADLANDS or THIEVES LIKE US, only not as interesting. Truly important, though. I thought about including this on mine, but it felt like homework.

43. MIDNIGHT COWBOY
Spike Lee: "A great New York film." Then they cut to that Nilsson song. This is surely one of the most dated movies of all time. I wouldn't trust anyone who actually agreed that it was a better film than 1969's other taboo-buster, THE WILD BUNCH.

Watching the clips: Dustin Hoffman is rocking the "Adam Sandler in PUNCH DRUNK LOVE." I'd forgotten that.

44. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY
As Julia Roberts notes, Having Hepburn, Stewart and Grant in one place makes this a masterpiece, no matter what else. Then, it has a great screenplay. Good ranking.

45. SHANE
That's one fantastic ending. No denying that. But this might be the most perpetually-overrated Western in history. You know what wasn't on the longlist? RIO BRAVO.

46. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT
Yeah...it's good. It's real good. I maybe should have put this on mine. But it's certainly not better than BRINGING UP BABY.

47. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
Marlon Brando is not a good actor. God, Jesus, Muhammad and Stanley Kubrick could all tell me I was wrong, and I wouldn't change my mind. And Kubrick, at any rate, would agree with me.

48. REAR WINDOW
Don't get me wrong - there's nothing to dislike here at all. But I do think, and always have, that it's possibly Hitchcock's most overrated picture.

49. INTOLERANCE
Much better to see this than the vicious BIRTH OF A NATION. I don't love it, but its historical importance is unmistakable.

50. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING So is this the token appearance, or will we see the others? And is it possible to respect, intellectually or morally, anyone who thinks that the films are in the top 50 of all time?

*****

Morgan Freeman says hi. He goes on about about new tech toys, setting up no. 50.

*****

51. WEST SIDE STORY
I remember when I loved this movie. And I still "like" it. Liza Minelli rambles incoherently. Anyway, Then I started getting into Sondheim, and I just kind of find the songs embarrassing for him now. You know what's going to be awesome? Tim Burton's SWEENEY TODD.

52. TAXI DRIVER
Here's why I think this movie is overrated: the ending is a disaster, the violence is over-the-top in a "shock the squares" way and not a "poetically needed" way, and it really would be completely fascist if not for the incredible genius of its director.

53. THE DEER HUNTER
I've never seen this. I'm hugely unlikely to. Message movies from the 1970s had a short shelf life.

54. M*A*S*H
Surely to be the highest-ranked Altman. He hated it, you know. He wasn't "right," but it's not even one of his 15 best. I could probably validate that if I wasn't doing this in realtime.

55. NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Bogdanovich has a mancrush on Cary Grant. God I love this movie. I should have ranked it higher. At least over PSYCHO.

56. JAWS
Clearly, it's only this low because it's a popcorn movie and not a) important, b) sentimental. Whatever.

Spielberg relates the story of the broken shark, because somewhere in Montana, somebody didn't know that.

Spielberg Count: 3

57. ROCKY
My father defends this movie every time I call it drastically overrated. Maybe you had to live through Nixon.

Hey, Shyamalan loves it, so I must be wrong!

58. THE GOLD RUSH
Too low. That's becoming a rather depressing refrain of mine, isn't it?

Robin Williams is anti-funny.

59.NASHVILLE
Hot damn! This missed out last time; this is such a better go-round. Ask me if I still think so when STAR WARS hits the top 10.

60. DUCK SOUP
Way too low. But I'm not going to complain.

61. SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS
Meh. It's surely the only Preston Sturges we'll see on this list (and any Sturges is much better than 1998's no Sturges), but it's also far - really far - even, objectively far - from his best movie.

62. AMERICAN GRAFFITI
Harrison Ford: "warm and generous." Yeah, it is. I might -might - have put this on my list, in the 90s, if That Bearded Dick hadn't directed it.

AFI'S "100 YEARS, 100 MOVIES" 2007: PART ONE

63. CABARET
This is the point that I admit that the 2007 list is so much better than the 1998 list. I mean, it didn't make it for my list, but compared to say, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, this is an edgy motherfucking film.

64. NETWORK
Yeah...hard to fault anyone for loving this, although it's easy to overrate. Really easy. By the way, I deliberately ignored this movie on my list.

65. THE AFRICAN QUEEN
Jeepers, from the teens last time to this. Maybe in 2017, it will be gone entirely, and what a great day that will be.

For the record: WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART is five times the movie this dreams of being

66. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Yay for Indiana Jones! This is, as I may or may not have mentioned, my desert-island movie. And I ranked it at like 63, so I'd be a hypocrite to complain.

Spielberg count: 2

67.WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINA WOOLF
I've never seen it. And I know I probably should, but I've never felt very enthusiastic. Somewhere on the internet there's a really awesome drinking game for this movie.

68. UNFORGIVEN
Hey! Nice improvement from the last list. Great movie, and pretty good rank. Again, it's going to wind up better than about 90% of what precedes it.

69. TOOTSIE
Yeah...no.

Oh, right, it's a masterpiece because it has a method actor in drag.

Wow, Hoffman gets really. into the movie. Calm down, pumpkin.

70. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Kubrick gets the first second movie of the night. The first British movie on this American list, as well.

What can I say? It's a great movie. Although Malcolm McDowell has an extremely problematic understanding of this film's themes.

71. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
The greatest cinematic lie of the 1990s! Hey, you know what wasn't on the longlist: THE THIN RED LINE, THE BIG RED ONE, THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

Spielberg Count: 1

72. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
My opinion that this is one of the most overrated movies in history is well-expressed. How anyone who knows anything about the art of cinema could think this is better than just decent is beyond me.

Case in point: Shyamalan adores it.

*****

73. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
Okay, it's fun. It's not one of the 100 best movies of all time, and I'm really sad to think of all the better Westerns that won't make the list. But I'm not such a crank to pretend I don't enjoy this movie.

Ben Stiller likes it, though. It MUST be good!

74. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Wow, 74, wow. Really? I mean, I like the movie. but wow. 74. It's not that good. Foster and Hopkins are that good.

75. IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
Our first "Mediocre movie with warm & fuzzy politics" of the night.

Being important doesn't make it a good movie, Oscar or not.

76. FORREST GUMP
Blow me. At least it's not higher. That was a strong risk. Do people still like this? Obviously.

Watching the clips from this film, I'd forgotten how violently it manipulated the audience.

77. ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN
I came really close to including this on mine. I went with THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR instead. Still, a fine example of the '70s thriller, and well-ranked.

78. MODERN TIMES
Already, Chaplin is doing better than the last list - this was 83, City Lights was 81 (I think). Just about right, I think. But better than what comes higher?

79. THE WILD BUNCH
Scorsese: it's the "Vietnam" western. Whatever. In the category of: I'm happy it's here such that I won't quibble with it's ranking.

80. THE APARTMENT
Billy Wilder! I wouldn't mind this being at this low, if I wasn't certain that almost everything above it will be worse.

Jack Lemmon's ghost tells the camera that he loved working with Wilder. Someone at the AFI needs to be fired for okaying that footage.

81. SPARTACUS
Wha, huh? This is like, the tenth best Kubrick film, let alone one of the 100 best movies ever. I honestly never thought that anyone living liked this movie that much.

Lumet sez: the "I am Spartacus" scene makes it great. Okay, then.

82. SUNRISE
I would never have assumed there was even a possibility of this making the list. Sure, it;'s about 90 spots too low, but it's heartening. Bogdanovich tells us why it isn't a boring ol' silent movie.

*****

Worth mentioning: I'm watching this special with a martini and a bag of cheap barbecue potato chips. Which, I think, is appropriate.

*****

83. TITANIC
I really feared this would be higher. Still, I'm of course sad it's here at all...

You know who hated this movie? Robert Altman. We miss you, Robert.

Friedkin just compared TITANIC to CASABLANCA, because he is a psychotic assclown.

84. EASY RIDER
This movie is an overrated sack of crap. End of discussion. Okay, that's limiting of me. What do you think: sack of crap, or bag of ass?

85. A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
This augurs well for two Marx films - surely they won't forget DUCK SOUP? Which is awesome.

86.PLATOON
Sigh...I've never seen this, either...I've actually never seen any good Stone film. Isn't that sad? Just WALL STREET and ALEXANDER.

87. 12 ANGRY MEN
Awesome. Great movie. And yes, I did forget about Lumet.

88. BRINGING UP BABY
Hey, it's higher than last time. Still evilly low, but better than missing it entirely, like they will with every other Hawks film.

89. THE SIXTH SENSE
Aw damn. I mean, it's a fine thriller, but Shyamalan is such a fuckwit. I really don't want him to have this to his name.

90. SWING TIME.
Awesome. I really didn't expect to see Rogers/Astaire at all.

Sharon Stone tells us about Ginger Rogers's feminism. Whee!

91. SOPHIE'S CHOICE
Jeeze. I've never seen this either. I suck.

92. GOODFELLAS
Again, it least it made the list.

*****

93. THE FRENCH CONNECTION
Um...I've never seen this movie. I know.

Friedkin: "The chase scene was a metaphor." Shut the hell up, Friedkin.

94. PULP FICTION.
No complaints.

Aw hell, Shyamalan is on hand to talk about it. "The best film of my generation." Sure as hell better than yours, you little turd.

95. THE LAST PICTURE SHOW
I really don't like this movie very much. Too aware of its own profundity.

I can't see Peter Bogdanovich now without thinking of THE SOPRANOS.

96. DO THE RIGHT THING.
Way too low. But at least it made the list.

Spike Lee tries to explain what the title means. Yeah, we got that.

97. BLADE RUNNER
That's low. But at least it made the list. Last time? Not even that. First film common to my list, as well.

Harrison Ford rehashes the"controversy" about whether he played a robot. Duh.

98. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY
Fuck me, it moved up from last time. That's disheartening. Is there a worse James Cagney film? And yet, it will surely be the only one here.

99. TOY STORY.
Huh. I'm cool with that. Higher would have been nicer. But it certainly deserves a spot on the list somewhere.

Awww. Tim Allen is proud of TOY STORY.

100. BEN-HUR
Thank God, it's not as high as it was last time. Shit movie. Marty Scorsese comes out to talk about how awesome the chariot race is. Sure, but the rest is kind of unbearable.

******

Montage, montage, montage. Yep, those are movies, is what those are. Goddamn PRETTY WOMAN better not make the list.

Also, this is a terrible song. "Slaying dragons, scaling mountains?" And then then a whole lot of references to titles, with clips of the that movie. Barbarically literal.

Oh, yay, DREAMGIRLS.

Why don't these montages ever have, like, GLEN OR GLENDA or CLEOPATRA JONES? Those had meaningful social statements.

Tim Allen is a "special guest." Woo.

Remember last time, when Bill Clinton talked about how much he loved the music in HIGH NOON? That was a freaky moment. I Hope Bush comes on to talk about IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT.

Morgan Freeman: whore of mankind.

First line: justifying the existence of a second list. Because "100 Years, 100 Sex Scenes" wouldn't get past the CBS censors?

Oh, because our "perspective changes" Okay.

Freeman is reading off a teleprompter. Badly.


*****

Hey all.

First, thanks to those who commented on, or had otherwise nice things to say about my top 100. Like I said, it's not perfect. But it's better than the alternative, which will almost certainly contain Crash. We'll know in a bit.

Here's how I hope for this to work: at each commercial break, I'm going to post my thoughts on the preceding segment. At each hour, I'll hide that third of the list in an extended entry and go to a new post. I've never done this before - wish me well.

19 June 2007

GREAT AMERICAN MOVIES

Tomorrow night, at 8:00 EDT, the American Film Institute will unveil the second edition of their list of the 100 best American movies of all time. This 10th anniversary edition of a nine-year-old list has been given the name "100 Years, 100 Movies," despite the fact that they're dating from 1895, which would make it "112 Years, 100 Movies," and their 400 film longlist of candidates starts with The Birth of a Nation and The Cheat from 1915, which would make it "90 Years, 100 Movies."

Either way, the list is apt to be a celebration of the tedious and mediocre, just like the original. Which means that we're only about 40 hours away from the angry ranting of all the world's cinephiles about "where is this?" or, "they included that?" I've decided to beat the rush, and also stick my neck out a little bit: my pre-emptive critique of the AFI list will be a Top 100 American Films list of my very own.

Within some limits. I'm using the AFI's rules, which dictate that these must be feature-length (so none of the half-dozen Warner shorts that define the limits of American animation), fiction narrative (no Errol Morris, Albert Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker or The Last Waltz) American-produced films released before 2006. Actually, the write-in rules permit films released in 2006, but the longlist ends with 2005, and given that my own inclination is to set a much stricter 10-year cutoff, I'll resist the urge to include Snakes on a Plane.

I've given myself an additional rule: no more than five films from any given director (in 1998, only Spielberg met this number). It really should have been four (or even three!), but I had a hard enough time limiting myself to five John Ford films.

To the AFI, an "American" film ultimately just means, "made with some American money," but I'm not okay with calling Lawrence of Arabia or Barry Lyndon "American" on those grounds (and those grounds still don't explain The Third Man, which you can most certainly expect to see on their list tomorrow). For my purposes, I'm including anything which feels more "American" than Brazil, which was produced by an Israeli through a British company, and directed by an expatriate American.

The AFI also encourages "awards won" as a criterion, which is just stupid. Historical significance I'll accept (there is one film on my list that I've included solely for its historical importance. See if you can guess which one), but the Oscars are a much better barometer of changing tastes than cinematic importance. This is how you end up with things like Ben-Hur on, or anywhere near, top 100 lists.

Oh, and I'll obviously be live-blogging the special tomorrow.

(By the way, I just want to cut off the obvious complaint: yes, ranking films is stupid and futile and arbitrary. It is also fun, in the way of many stupid and futile things. Let's all agree that this isn't the last word on anything - it's not even my last word. By the time I hit "publish" I'll probably already regret something).

Films marked with * are common to the the 1998 AFI Top 100 (37 total)
Films marked with † are not on the 2007 ballot (27 total)

1. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
*2. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
*3. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
4. The General (Buster Keaton, 1926)
*5. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
*6. Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen, 1952)
*7. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
*8. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
9. A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)
*10. City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931)
*11. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
*12. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
13. Sherlock, Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1924)
*14. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
15. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
*16. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
*17. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
*18. Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950)
*19. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
†20. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford, 1949)
†21. Short Cuts (Robert Altman, 1993)
22. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) [1991 cut]
23. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
24. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
25. Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1972)
26. Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944)
†27. Angels with Dirty Faces (Michael Curtiz, 1938)
*28. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
*29. The Gold Rush (Charles Chaplin, 1925) [1925 silent version]
*30. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
*31. The Godfather, Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
32. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
33. The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1983)
34. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)
35. Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932)
*36. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
37. Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935)
*38. The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)
†39. 3 Women (Robert Altman, 1977)
†40. Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller, 1953)
*41. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
†42. Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen, 1986)
43. Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942)
*44. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
*45. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
†46. Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon and Busby Berkeley, 1933)
†47. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)
*48. Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
49. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958) [1998 restoration]
*50. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
51. White Heat (Raoul Walsh, 1949)
52. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
53. The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937)
*54. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
55. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
56. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
*57. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)
*58. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
59. The Outlaw Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood, 1976)
60. Pinocchio (Hamilton Luske & Ben Sharpsteen, 1940)
*61. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
62. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, 1938)
*63. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
†64. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)
*65. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992)
66. Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979)
†67. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)
*68. King Kong (Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933)
*69. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
†70. Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1978)
71. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Preston Sturges, 1944)
*72. Fantasia (Disney Animation Studios, 1940)
†73. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
74. Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (D.W. Griffith, 1916)
75. Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951)
76. The Quiet Man (John Ford, 1954)
*77. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
78. The Freshman (Sam Taylor and Fred C. Newmeyer, 1925)
†79. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976) [1976 cut]
†80. The Bitter Tea of General Yen (Frank Capra, 1933)
†81. Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1977) [1978 theatrical cut]
†82. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Martin Scorsese, 1974)
†83. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
†84. Barton Fink (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1991)
†85. California Split (Robert Altman, 1974)
*86. Modern Times (Charles Chaplin, 1936)
†87. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
*88. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
†89. Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)
†90. Three Days of the Condor (Sydney Pollack, 1975)
†91. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
92. Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)
93. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
†94. Schizopolis (Stephen Soderbergh, 1996)
95. Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1949) AKA Deadly Is the Female
96. Adam’s Rib (George Cukor, 1949)
†97. Miller’s Crossing (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1990)
98. Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946)
†99. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
†100. My Dinner with Andre (Louis Malle, 1981)

Fun with statistics: by decade, there is one film from the 1910s, 5 from the 1920s, 15 from the 1930s, 19 from the 1940s, 13 from the 1950s, 6 from the 1960s, 20 from the 1970s, 8 from the 1980s, 11 from the 1990s, and 2 from the current decade.

Robert Altman and John Ford each have 5 films on the list.

Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Billy Wilder each have 4 films.

Woody Allen, Charles Chaplin, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Curtiz, Howard Hawks and Stanley Kubrick each have 3 films.

11 directors have two apiece: John Cassavetes, George Cukor, Clint Eastwood, Buster Keaton, Ernst Lubitsch, David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Leo McCarey, Ridley Scott, Preston Sturges, and the Coen brothers.


What about...

More modern films?
Four movies made in the last ten years were quite all my heart could take. Let's wait and see what we think of Eternal Sunshine around 2010, okay?

Ace in the Hole?
Horribly, I've never seen it.

The African Queen?
The AFI might have a hard-on for this film, but that doesn't mean everyone else has to.

The Bridge on the River Kwai?
Fails the "Brit Test."

Close Encounters of the Third Kind?
Five Spielberg films? I think not.

Gone with the Wind?
Sheer contrarianism.

The Graduate?
Would you believe it was no. 101?

The Grapes of Wrath?
Not even close to Ford's best.

Greed?
Again, horribly, I haven't seen it.

High Noon?
I fucking hate "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling."

Star Wars/The Empire Strikes Back?
Punishing Lucas for the prequel trilogy. Because, obviously, he's reading this.

Titanic?
Eat me.