Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best Movie I've Seen in 2012

Ok so I'm not doing a top ten by year's end.  I know it's lame, but if you've been reading this blog you know it shouldn't come as a surprise, but this isn't some last ditch effort to come from nowhere and produce said list.  However I did see something great today, at long last but before that. . .

I was browsing the forums on Mubi, as I often do when I noticed a thread asking the question whether Les Miserables or Lincoln would win best picture.  My first reaction was "oh god please don't tell me it's between those two".  I feel like we're back in election season and I have red or blue as my only options and people will just laugh at my longing for a third party like I'm some eccentric crackpot.

I'll be honest I haven't seen Les Miserables, or rather I haven't seen this version of it.  I vocally disliked The King's Speech so I can't say I'm all that excited about Mr. Hooper's follow up.  The fact that it's a remake of a remake of a play that was based on a book, etc. doesn't drum up much enthusiasm for me.  I've enjoyed some incarnations of the story but rarely have I said "I'd love to see this made today with an all star cast as a musical".  Well sorry if I start looking at this film like Rob Marshall's god awful film Nine, which was also based on a musical based on a film that was perfect to begin with.  I don't think a single person appeared in that film who hadn't won an Oscar, but no matter how great the cast and even crew you couldn't wipe the stale stench of horse shit from the screen.

When the Academy nominations are announced I'll probably see Les Miserables, because if it get's nominated I'll have to, you know this is a weakness of mine.  Until then, to hell with the film.

Now let's talk about Lincoln.  I didn't blog about it when I saw it, but let me tell you something, ugh.  Yeah that's my one word review of the film, "ugh".  Boring, overly long, and far too bloated with infuriating Spielberg cheese that seemed more infuriating than insulting.  I mean that random black soldier finishing the Gettysburg address?  I was lost by that moment and the film never got me back.  Perhaps a sweeping film of Lincoln's life would have been great, or just one focusing on the end of the war and the assassination, however the politics of an amendment passing might seem like an interesting special on the History channel but it doesn't make for a great movie no matter how many heavyweight actors you cast.

If I were to rate Lincoln, which I will on my next film journal I'd probably give it two stars (or 4/10).  I may just reduce this rating because to hell with this film.  There were things I liked, mainly Tommy Lee  Jones because that man should be on currency.  Other than that I could have done without the entire picture, I would have rather spent those 4 hours sleeping or watching another movie that deals with slavery in a much, much, much, much, much more badass way.



Yeah you read that right, Tarrantino is back and god damn is it satisfying.  He was having me worried, as much as Inglorious Basterds was a satisfying film I didn't think it was quite the redemptive masterpiece I needed after the boring talk fest known as Death Proof.  I was worried that the man who occasionally dabbled in nostalgic throwbacks might be inept at an outright period picture.  Well I was wrong.

See Tarantino knows a lot about violence.  I'm not saying he was a violent man, or he was beaten senseless throughout life, I'm saying he knows what violence works and how to use it to his advantage. He knows that Jews killing nazis in WWII is awesome, because everyone hates nazis, and who better to get some vengeance than the poster boys for his hate?  Well if there's anything people enjoy more than seeing Jews kill nazis its slaves kill white people down south.

This might seem a racial thing, a move designed for black people but oh no.  I did a report on Nat Turner not because I had to but because I thought he was a revolutionary bad ass.  Turns out Nat was a bit delusional and thought god spoke to him in a field and told him to kill those white people, so who knows about him, but he did kill a lot of white people.  Tarantino takes something of a Italian western archetype (Django is far more Leone than Ford), and makes him a former slave.  Rather than a runaway, he is given his freedom by a European, who takes him along in his business in killing.

Now I don't want to spoil all of the fun, but when Django performs his first job as a bounty hunter it is damn satisfying.  The script is damn brilliant, including an absolutely hilarious exchange about white hoods and eye holes.  Whereas I felt some of Tarantino's last two films might have felt like he was using his actors as a mouthpiece for himself, here everything seems natural, as it did in Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction.

Spielberg might be terrified of saying "nigger" even in a film about the abolition of slavery, as if ignoring that word can make it go away, but Tarantino knows this is 1858 in the South, that's what people referred to all black people regardless of social status.  He perhaps rightfully was criticized for using the word so freely in Pulp Fiction, but here it fits, just as it did in Roots.  It also makes things so much sweeter when Django finally lets loose.

I can't really call this his "Western" because well it's not really a Western in the traditional sense.  Hence why Dr. Schultz says they'll refer to Django one day as "The fastest gun in the South".  It's specifically a southern film about a slave who is that "one in ten thousand".  The supporting cast is damn excellent as well and I can't imagine Leonardo DiCaprio ever having more fun with a role.

Point is see this movie, do yourself a favor.  If you like Tarantino you'll love it.  If you like westerns, it should suit you fine.  If you were disappointed with Lincoln, this will redeem it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Film Journal 2012 - November

Hooray we’re less than three weeks away from Christmas.  Ok maybe the excitement can die down a bit when you think of the horrible, horrible, agonizing torture that is Christmas music.  It appears my lack of a social life might not be as bad as expected.  Sure I’m still working 7 days a week but well I might not be there for 60-70 hours as originally feared.  A mere 50-56 hours a week, practically a vacation.  I have taken advantage of my extra time this week to get a few movies in, but that’s for next month.

As of today, December 5th I have 42 films left on my re-watch checklist.  This may or may not seem like a lot, but I happened to watch about 30 films from my list in the month of November, and considering I may have less time this month the outlook is somewhat grim.  Now on the plus side I’ve asked a few people to participate in doing their own top 100 so this gives everyone a little more time to do some research, but I hope to have my list done around the time They Shoot Pictures Don’t They updates their top 1000 (sometime around the third week of January). 

Some things are getting clearer.  A few films that I wondered whether they held up on a second (or third) viewing did just that.  A few others although still great perhaps didn’t wow me quite like they did the first time.  I had a few very pleasant surprises, most notably I may now think Life of Oharu is Mizoguchi’s best film, stay tuned to see if it make the top 100 cut.  You may also notice my quality was quite high this past month.  7/10 was the lowest rating for any film, which is why I’m going to avoid offering one of those above average films the distinction of worst film of the month. 

Other than Man With the Iron Fists, an enjoyable but far from perfect movie, I saw nothing in the theater.  Didn’t get to see Lincoln, Flight, or anything else that will be getting Oscar nominations.  Perhaps this week, maybe next, maybe never, who knows the way things are going.  So regardless of my progress on the top 100 list, I can almost guarantee I won’t be contributing a year-end top ten.  Sad as it might seem, I just simply haven’t seen enough movies, and perhaps more important haven’t seen enough good movies from this current year, and I’m not sure the next 26 days will change that.

I am going to break from protocol yet again and explain one of the other reasons besides procrastination and work for the late arrival of last month’s film journal.  Last night Kate and I watched Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed, and yes this was the last film on the National Society of Film Critics A-List.  We did it, it took about a year but we sat through every damn movie on that list whether they deserved to be on it or not.  I should also mention, I forgot to write about Les Vampires on the last blog, so I’ll pick up with that right about now.

Les Vampires (1915)

The incredibly convoluted and confusing epic serial from Louis Feuillade was something of a revelation when it was re-discovered some years ago.  Popular in his day, but hated by critics, his work was ripe for re-evaluation.  People started analyzing his staging, the plot twists, how he handled suspense, etc.  There are remnants of his work all throughout cinema, and for all intents and purposes this has been the de-facto masterpiece of his.  Mainly because for years it was the only one available on DVD, but well I think people just like it.  Now I’m more partial to Judex and might like Fantomas better (I’m no expert on his 20s work), but I appreciate a lot of moments in this series.  I didn’t give it my highest rating for one simple reason, it’s unbelievably confusing.  Even though this was the second time I saw it, and re-reading the plot synopsis of each episode online AFTER watching it for the second time, I still didn’t remember nearly everything that happened.  Part of this is the fact that they rarely had a script and with actors being called off to fight in WWI, and gaps between shooting, characters were shuffled, killed off, identities switched and the improvisational qualities of it make continuity a nightmare.  So don’t feel bad if you watch this and didn’t know what the hell was going on, neither did the filmmakers. 

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

It might seem odd that one of the very first films I watched during my initial cinema obsession would be damn near the last film we watched for this list.  The reason has more to do with Lawrence’s incredibly long running time than any personal knock on the picture.  Pretty much since I first saw it in 1999 this film has been residing in my personal top ten.  I had something of an obsession with David Lean’s films for awhile, and at one point made a top 100 list with 6 of his films on it (that number has since come down a bit), but it’s hard not to appreciate his work especially here.  A master of several styles I would say no one has combined the big budget epic with the art film quite like Lean.  Even William Wyler’s impressive (and personal favorite of mine) Ben-Hur lacks some of the compositional strengths of this film.  It is as rich a character study as you’re likely to find.  The only valid complaint I can think of is Hollywood’s typical assumption that everyone must be played by white people, and adopt accents.  Kate wondered aloud why everyone knows English, even the lowliest Arab soldier, and I just said that’s how they made movies back then.  A product of it’s time in some respects it’s a forgivable sin for a movie this fantastic.

Greed (1924)

As far as I can tell this film has never been released on DVD anywhere.  Looking it up on Amazon the only import DVD’s seem unavailable and the VHS is pretty damn expensive.  I recorded it off of TCM many years ago and was a bit put off by the reconstruction strategy of showing production stills.  It’s not substitute for the real thing but what survives of the film itself is remarkable.  Erich Von Stroheim was legendary in his extravagance and as long as his films made money (and some of them did) his producers put up with his ridiculous demands.  Irving Thalberg and Von Stroheim however couldn’t resolve their differences with this, and the producer chopped several hours off of Von Stroheim’s obscenely long 9 ½ hour original cut.  Today this would be released as a trilogy to milk the profits, but in 1924 no one anywhere would sit through a 9 ½ hour movie, no matter how much they liked the book.  I’ll admit even in it’s four hour cut the film gets repetitive and a bit redundant at parts, but as a filmmaker I wonder if Von Stroheim was ever better (The Wedding March a possible exception).  He was moving his camera around before the Germans, he was staging in depth long before Citizen Kane, or even Renoir, and although he didn’t invent location shooting, it was quite remarkable for a studio film of the time.  The butchering of this film is perhaps travesty in the history of cinema, perhaps topping the studio edit of The Magnificent Ambersons, but what survives is still a masterpiece.  Perhaps someday they can figure out who has the rights to this and put the damn thing out on Blu-Ray. 

Take that Orson Welles

And that’s all folks, see you next month.

Red River (1948) 9/10
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) 10/10

The Man With the Iron Fists (2012) 7/10
Planet Terror (2007) 10/10

Fires on the Plain (1958) 10/10
A New Leaf (1971) 8/10
The Cranes are Flying (1957) 10/10

The Lady Eve (1941) 10/10

Napoleon (1927) 10/10
Winchester ‘73 (1950) 9/10

Variety (1925) 10/10
Odd Obsession (1959) 8/10
The Days of Wine and Roses (1962) 10/10

The Passenger (1975) 10/10
Flowers of Shanghai (1998) 10/10

Jules and Jim (1962) 10/10

The Deer Hunter (1978) 10/10
Battleship Potemkin (1925) 10/10

Zvenigora (1928) 10/10

Landscape in the Mist (1988) 10/10

The General Line/Old and New (1929) 10/10

The Wild Bunch (1969) 10/10

Storm Over Asia (1928) 8/10
Earth (1930) 10/10
Vivre sa vie (1962) 7/10

8 ½ (1963) 10/10

Floating Clouds (1955) 10/10
Les Vampires (1915) 9/10

The Lady Vanishes (1938) 8/10
LA Confidential (1997) 10/10

Los Olvidados (1950) 10/10

Life of Oharu (1952) 10/10

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) 10/10

Best film of the Month - Lawrence of Arabia
Worst Film of the Month - none (Merry Christmas everyone)
Best New (Re)Discovery - Life of Oharu

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

RIP Social Life 1983-2012

Ok last week was Thanksgiving and we all stuffed ourselves to the point of contemplating seppuku.  You may have also noticed that horrible music is playing everywhere you go now and like it or not Christmas is upon us.  Now some of you know that my day job has nothing whatsoever to do with film (degree be damned), and has everything to do with delivering mail.  So for all of you doing your Christmas shopping online, you’re the reason I will have no life for the next month.  My schedule went from 40 hours to 48 to 50, to 56, and god only knows what it will be starting next week when there’s no more penalty time (all hours over 40 are time and a half, no double time, etc.)  So there you have it, I’m taking some time today on what may be my last 8 hour day in a month to write a little because lord knows when I’ll be able to again.

So you can imagine the first thing I might do is start to make a preemptive excuse for not finishing my top 100 by the end of the year.  My goal still stands, and through some minor miracle I may pull it off, after all the week after Christmas and before New Years ought to be nice and easy.  I am tentatively giving up my chance of producing a top ten of 2012 by the year’s end, because despite my half-assed best efforts I am nowhere close to putting together a list like that and have consistently failed at getting to the movie theater.  I did however say I wouldn’t make the overall top 100 until I finished all the films on my checklist, so allow that to be my first warning.


Ordinarily I’d post about these films either in separate reviews (fat chance) or during my film journal section.  To save time on that post I’ll just write about the few films we watched this month.  As of 11/27/12 Kate and I have two films left, Lawrence of Arabia and Greed.  Both of these films are ridiculously long so we may or may not finish them by the end of the month.  Plenty of films on the list Kate slept through (a lot of them really) so you can make the argument that we should revisit Touch of Evil, Enter the Dragon, Godfather 2, and some others but well close enough.

Winchester ‘73 (1950)

The first of the Anthony Mann-James Stewart westerns that marked a turning point in the maturity of the Western.  We have dark psychological themes, anti-heroes, questionable morals, and a lot of casualties.  Now I’m personally a bigger fan of The Far Country and Man from Laramie, but I still have to tip my cap to Winchester.  The biggest flaw for an audience today is the stereotypical Indian attack that seems unprovoked and not without it’s share of racism.  This seems more of a side track and just seems to shoehorn some action in the middle of the film.  The sharp shooting near the beginning is ridiculous and is the stuff you’d expect more in a Sergio Leone film.  However in terms of plot and character I think it’s still a great film and this set up a growing trend of dark and slightly off balance “heroes” played by James Stewart peaking with cinema’s ultimate obsession Scotty Ferguson in Vertigo.

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

I’ve written about this film before during my breakdown of the last Sight and Sound poll (and by last I mean 2002).  Not much more to add considering my fourth (5th?) viewing of the film didn’t exactly reveal new depths.  I will say this is the first time I can recall staying awake for the whole film so that’s something to marvel at.  I considered doing a whole blog about this, The General Line, Zvenigora, Storm Over Asia, and Earth which when you see my film journal you’ll notice I watched all of these in a short period of time.  I consider this the “Soviet” section of my film research.  Eisenstein’s film was considered the high water mark of this from the time it premiered in 1925 until really this year when The Man With a Movie Camera rightfully displaced it from Sight and Sound’s top ten.  This is a film that survives more on reputation considering like many of Eisenstein’s films it’s far from subtle.  He would take his sarcastic intertitles much further in October, and then presumably tone it down for The General Line a film that I believe stylistically is his best.  I’ll admit watching it again that I found The General Line relatively free of conflict, something that Potemkin has plenty of.  However it’s still far from perfect.  I feel like the much obsessed over Odessa steps sequence seems to come out of nowhere and this may make it all the more horrific to some, but it somehow lessens the impact of the massacre because it’s not entirely clear why the hell it’s happening.  This still would probably rank as perhaps the greatest propaganda film of all time and will continue to be taught in roughly every editing class from here on out.

Landscape in the Mist (1988)

My first encounter with Theo Angelopoulos was one of my great revelations in cinema.  It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the comically long take, and Greece’s greatest director took his complicated camera movements to absurd heights.  Now I understand some first time viewers having a bit of apprehension for the film.  For starters it is slow paced, it’s also a depressing European art film, and it also has the second most pretentious title for a film (Story of the Weeping Camel is by far the king in that department).  I can’t stress enough how much this film is worth the effort.  Emotionally devastating, powerful, and expertly filmed it reveals more to me each viewing.  I may think Ulysses Gaze is his best now, but there will always be a spot reserved for the film that introduced me to him.

The Wild Bunch (1969)

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen this film, I’m guessing it’s around 5 or 6.  Point is I’ve always been a Sam Peckinpah fan and this is his masterpiece by a mile.  It’s bloody, dirty, and awesome.  The restored director’s cut that surfaced sometime in the mid-90s helped re-establish this as one of the true classics and the last great Western of the 60s.  For many the final sequence of this film was viewed as a last great hurrah not just for the aging actors in it, but for the genre in general which would never reach the heights of this or Leone again.  A lot more I’d like to say about it, but well this probably isn’t the last time I’ll blog about this film.

LA Confidential (1997)

Speaking of losing track of how many times I’ve seen a film.  When I discussed this book in a capstone class at DePaul my teacher scoffed at the inclusion of this film above all others.  He didn’t outright say it was a bad film but couldn’t fathom how it was an “essential”.  I’ll admit that there are tons of films that could have conceivably taken it’s place but few that would have been better.  Curtis Hanson would never come close to making a film this good again, and it’s amazing to look back at how extraordinary the cast is here.  It seems everyone is a seriously gifted actor.  You can argue whether Kim Bassinger deserved her Oscar here but she is pretty damn good and holds her own against everyone.  There is so much information here that I had to applaud the way that Hanson reinforces details and clues.  It might seem like he’s talking down to us reminding us of things we might not have been paying attention to, but it helps not only to make the film coherent a first time but stick with you long after.  One of those rare films whose characters are forever a part of my film consciousness.

If you ask Kate what Los Olvidados was about this would be her answer

Los Olvidados (1950)

Bunuel’s brilliant rebuttal to the sentimentality of Italian neo-realism is still a remarkable film today.  Brutal in it’s depiction of the underside of Mexican youth, it’s a film with no heroes only a few victims.  It seems everyone is a horrible person and as awful as the shiftless kids are, the parental figures are worse.  “Little eyes” is abandoned by his father, then abused regularly by a blind man who gets no sympathy, even after “Jaibo” and company beat him and ruin his bass drum.  Pedro’s mother seems to deliberately push her son away and when she makes a half-assed attempt at parenting it’s far too late.  There is an idea that not everyone is awful here but Bunuel seems to think the majority of poor people are.  The highlight (despite Kate’s fascination with the random dancing dog pictured above) is still Pedro’s dream sequence, which more than anything marks this as a Bunuel film.  For me this is his masterpiece and the best film to ever come out of Mexico.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Film Journal 2012 - October

Alright we’re behind schedule on this.  And I’m course speaking in the editorial, the royal we here, I write these things by myself.  Funny I should mention the “royal we”, because Top Hat features one particular manservant who is consistently tells everyone that “We are Bates”, but more on that film later. 

It’s nice to cross off that 100 Favorite Horror Films list.  I’m glad you all liked it, and if you didn’t then I’m not glad, I’m deeply saddened and hurt.  I realize I forgot a few films, particularly Near Dark and more importantly Possession which I fully intended on adding to this list, but well I forgot to write them down.  I may update it, or well now you know.

Getting this list crossed off allows me to focus more heavily on my all time top 100.  I’m thinking of sticking with the “favorite” theme rather than “greatest” for that list, because well I like keeping it completely subjective.  You’ll probably notice the majority of the films I watched this month are part of my research for that list, hence the reason for so many highly rated movies.  In fact a lot of the “new” films I watched were short films included as special features, so sorry if I didn’t expand my cinematic horizons as much in these 31 days.

There are a few new new films on this list.  I finally saw Cabin in the Woods and as you can see I liked it a hell of a lot.  In fact I enjoyed it probably more than Joss Whedon’s much bigger budget Avengers movie.  Not to say I disliked The Avengers, just think Cabin in the Woods might have been a better film.  By the way I also acknowledge that Drew Goddard directed CITW so don’t worry about it. 

I also got to see RZA’s directorial debut The Man With the Iron Fists, but I guess that’s for my November film journal.  A few things real quick about it.  I enjoyed it, the gore was comically funny, and the plotting was solid.  My main complaint was the unnecessary blatant cop out on nudity.  No idea why a film this gory couldn’t have some nudity.

Yes RZA punches someones eye out

I realize though that although the path seems clear to researching my top 100, there are a whole ton of films I need to see before making my year end top ten for 2012.  In fact to date I’m still about half way to my goal of fifty films, so there will probably be a mad dash to the finish line.  Especially when you consider how many films on that other list I still have to see.  It’s not impossible but well that’s my lot in life, so call it first world problems. 

Side note, I attempted to have shorter paragraphs from here on out, hope you noticed and appreciated it.

Failure on another front

Remember when I thought Kate and I could finish the National Society of Film Critics A-List in the month of October?  Yeah well we didn’t get there, in fact it seemed like we barely made any progress.  Well we did get 8 films done, but that’s about half of what I thought we could do, guess I just over thought that one.  So let’s see if we can’t wrap this up in November.  Anyways with the exception of Night of the Hunter and Trouble in Paradise which I already posted about here, I offer you an account of the other A-List films viewed in the month of October.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Spike Lee’s masterpiece was a film I fully intended on blogging about intensively when we watched it at the beginning of the month.  I actually wrote, and later revised, a nice long essay on Spike Lee’s financing and marketing of his first five features.  I’ve seen Do the Right Thing multiple times and along with Malcolm-X I’ve always considered it his best.  Now there are plenty of people who aren’t terribly fond of Lee.  It was hard at times to like him in the 90s seeing him courtside during all those classic Bulls-Knicks playoff games, but well Chicago got the better end of that deal.

Over the years I’ve seen all his features minus one or two documentaries and there are a number of them I love.  In fact even his films that everyone hates I generally like more than I probably should, although The Miracle at St. Anna was a deplorable mess despite Lee’s well meaning intentions.  Do the Right Thing might be slightly dated in it’s fashion and pop culture references but I think the film still holds up remarkably well.  It’s fast paced, the dialogue is great, and the characters are all pretty well developed.  Sometimes the characters seem to react in unrealistic ways, but well when it’s well over 100 degrees outside you might be quick to snap as well.  It was fun watching this and Night of the Hunter in the same week because of Radio Raheem’s love and hate brass knuckle reference to the Preachers tattoos.  Stellar cast and incredibly well made this was in many ways the fulfillment of Lee’s prophecy.  It was a clear evolution and it’s still a mind boggling travesty how neglected this film was Oscar time, I mean when is the last time you heard someone say Driving Miss Daisy was a great film? 

Top Hat (1935)

One of my long standing favorites this is as good of an escapist musical as the 30s produced.  The Astaire-Rogers musicals began to get a bit formulaic as they went on and there are several plot devices that seem to repeat themselves even in this film.  For starters it is a cliché today to base a romantic comedy on some misunderstanding predicating from a mistaken identity.  Somehow in this film it’s charming and delightful, maybe because everything looks better in black and white and with Irving Berlin songs.  I still find the film pretty damn funny and it’s remarkable today how many gay or ambiguously gay characters are in the film.  There’s something that was always queer about Edward Everett Horton and he made a career of playing slightly effeminate stooges.  Eric Blore who played the aforementioned Bates seems gay enough to be a judge on Project Runway, and Erik Rhodes Beddini certainly adds to the campiness. 

I would agree with Danny Peary’s minor complaint that Ginger Rogers could stand to have a few more numbers here.  “The Piccolino” is the only solo number she has here whereas Astaire gets a share in all the songs.  However there are few more iconic moments in movie musicals than the pair dancing to “Cheek to Cheek”?  Admittedly I haven’t seen every one of their musicals together so calling Top Hat their best is a bit facetious of me, but well I might have a hard time believing they could top this.  A nice contrast to Trouble in Paradise when you compare this films Venice with a much more realistic rendition in the Lubitsch film. 

Children of Paradise (1945)

In the days immediately following WWII few international films seemed as symbolic of the allied triumph as Children of Paradise.  Seen by many as a triumph simply by being made it is a truly remarkable and monumental achievement.  True Jacques Prevert was known for his dialogue and his characters deliver some of the best lines in French film history here, albeit with characteristically unrealistic wit.  It is perhaps a testament to his abilities then that he would tackle a film with a mime as one of it’s major characters.  Based in part on the lives of some real life famous French people, it’s account of interweaving characters centered around a mysterious object of desire is remarkable.  Brisk, full of life, and at times literally bustling with activity it has always been one of my favorite films. 

This is the first time I actually watched the film in two separate installments.  Seeing it this way emphasized how different the two segments are.  We can look at the first part as a before story, where everyone is coming along and starting in their lives.  Perhaps the only character who seems established in any degree is Garance, whose life in the second part seems to be more of a kept woman.  She is the only one who seems to have found a false security in the second segment, the elusive object of desire that seems somehow past her prime later in the picture.  This might be due to the actress Arletty’s age at the time of filming, but her character seems to lose something in the second installment while at least the two actors who simultaneously courted her earlier have flourished and become champions in their respective careers. 

Raise the Red Lantern (1991)

The last of the Yimou films included on this list, this is by most accounts the best.  Again starring Gong Li one of the interesting things about this, along with Red Sorghum is how ancient the film at first appears yet how modern it is.  This took place during the early part of the 20th century and it seems like a historical fossil.  A fable that could take place anytime, anywhere.  There’s something about the decision to set the picture in the 20th century that makes it seem like an old antiquated tradition that would soon be wiped out.  It is as though you can be thankful for the communist revolution because it forever altered such ancient ideas of “marriage” and ended the reign of these sort of lords. 

Now I won’t get into how the class system has changed in China over the last several decades but in this film things are practically set in stone.  A servant despite sleeping with the Master has no prospects of ever being made the next wife.  The story however relegates the male characters to minor and supporting roles.  They play huge roles in the outcome and fates of the characters, but Yimou decides to primarily focus his attention on the various wives.  Gong Li’s fourth wife seems at first like she’ll be too pretty and too educated to fall into the somewhat silly games the other women play, but well when in Rome . . .

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Perhaps the ultimate screwball comedy and the film perhaps above all others that Kate hated.  The fast paced dialogue and the constant misunderstandings got on her nerves quick and I think she just quickly shut her brain off to it.  Now truthfully I wasn’t a huge fan of this film the first time I saw it, but I can’t say I have any idea why.  Maybe I thought it was annoying, or it’s plot was just too damn stupid, but well by the second time I saw it I loved it and well that’s the same feeling I’ve had the couple of times since then.

Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant teamed up several times over the course of their illustrious careers and just like Sylvia Scarlett this film was panned during it’s initial release, seems more people didn’t enjoy it too much the first time around.  Although I believe Sylvia Scarlett is an interesting failure, I can easily say that the trilogy of Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, and Baby are among the best screen comedies ever made.  I might lean a little more towards The Philadelphia Story because as good as this film is I can appreciate the more subtle and finer points of that film. 

Happy Together (1997)

The cinema of Wong Kar-Wai is one of those treasures that you never quite forget being introduced to.  His narratives are sprawling, the camera work is fantastic and they all seem to play on a similar theme.  Happy Together is an auspicious place to start if for no other reason than it’s rather in your face opening scene.  Almost immediately you have two dudes going at it in bed, and I mean going at it.  For those terrified folks don’t worry there’s no visible penetration, but man I don’t think Wong shot a more graphic sex scene in any of his films.   The story then lets us know somewhat haphazardly that there are two displaced guys from Hong Kong that are somewhat lost in Buenos Aires.  They have jobs and a place to stay but they always seem like transients, they’re at this point because they really don’t know what to do with their lives.  Their alienated in multiple stages, by being from Hong Kong they are alienated from China, in being gay they’re alienated from heterosexuals, and by living in Buenos Aires they’re alienated from their culture.  There is a telling line later in the film that sums up Wong’s filmography great when Tony Leung says “Lonely people are all the same.”  And how can you not love the ironic use of Frank Zappa’s “I Have Been in You”?  For what it's worth this is probably my favorite film of his.

Close-Up (1990)

The lone Iranian film on this list and one of the last foreign films we have left to see comes from the master Abbas Kiarostami.  Like so many of his films it blends that grey area between fiction and documentary.  It is filmed largely as a documentary and features several re-enactments done with the actual people involved in the case.  The notion of pretending to be a filmmaker whose making a movie that eventually gets to be in a movie playing that role has a sort of irony to it all.  Now feel free to cast the first stone at me but I’ve always thought Kiarostami was a tad bit overrated.  His reputation as Iran’s greatest filmmaker I’ve somewhat argued against because of the director who appears as himself in this film, Mohsen Makhmalbaf.  You’ll see that I also watched The Cyclist this month, the film that plays a large role in the movie here.  You’ll also notice I rated that film a little higher.

In fact that Makhmalbaf film was the first non-Kiarostami Iranian film I saw and also the first one I thought was an outright masterpiece, so maybe my tastes are just different.  I appreciate what Kiarostami does here, and it’s case is interesting.  I’m always fascinated by the judicial process of Iran, and this offers a rare look into a courtroom for what the judge thinks is a minor case, but enough to fashion an entire movie out of.  This film is exclusively Iranian by it’s premise.  Only an Iranian could impersonate a director like Makhmalbaf and convince a family that they would be the subject in his next movie.  Long after Italy’s celebrated neo-realist movement ended the tradition was long lasting in Iran, and Kiarostami has spent a large part of his career blurring the line between truth and fiction. 

Well hopefully we get through the rest of the list in November, here’s hoping.

She-Beast (1966) 3/10

Cabin in the Woods (2012) 10/10
Do the Right Thing (1989) 10/10

Gojira/Godzilla (1954) 7/10
Meet John Doe (1941) 10/10
The Burmese Harp (1956) 10/10

The Blue Angel (1930) 10/10

Cries and Whispers (1972) 8/10
A Propos de Nice (1930) 8/10
Taris (1931) 6/10
Zero for Conduct (1933) 9/10
The Grand Duke’s Finances (1924) 4/10

Top Hat (1935) 10/10

Night of the Hunter (1955) 10/10

Camp de Thiaroye (1987) 10/10

L’Eclisse (1962) 9/10
Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven (1975) 6/10
Another Way (1982) 8/10

Landscape After Battle (1970) 9/10
Ivan the Terrible Part I (1944) 9/10

Ivan the Terrible Part II (1946) 9/10
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964) 8/10

Children of Paradise (1945) 10/10
The Cyclist (1987) 10/10

The Last Laugh (1924) 9/10

Brief Encounter (1945) 10/10
Raise the Red Lantern (1991) 10/10

Last Tango in Paris (1972) 10/10
Bringing Up Baby (1938) 10/10
Trouble in Paradise (1932) 10/10

Jaws (1975) 9/10

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932) 10/10

Dead Man (1995) 10/10

Oliver Twist (1948) 10/10
The Third Man (1949) 10/10

To Be or Not to Be (1942) 6/10

Interiors (1978) 8/10
Happy Together (1997) 10/10

Witness for the Prosecution (1957) 10/10
Close-Up (1990) 9/10

Aliens (1986) 10/10

Romeo and Juliet (1968) 10/10

Red Desert (1964) 9/10
The Navigator (1924) 10/10

Gente del Po (1947) 6/10
N. U. (1948) 5/10
Design for Living (1933) 10/10
The Big Heat (1953) 10/10

The Bicycle Thief (1948) 10/10
Lost Highway (1997) 10/10

Cure (1997) 7/10
Society (1989) 8/10
The Mirror (1974) 10/10

Best Film of the Month - Romeo and Juliet
Worst Film of the Month - She-Beast
Best New Discovery - Cabin in the Woods
For no reason, here's Buster Keaton having a sword fight with a swordfish

Thursday, November 1, 2012

100 Favorite Horror Films

Well a day late and . . . you get the idea.  Anyways as promised here’s my top 100 horror films.  You can call this my personal 100 Favorite Horror Movies list rather than any sort of objective 100 Greatest.  It’s a question of nomenclature, but whatever it is here’s 100 films that in some way shape or form fit the description of horror and they’re arranged in a somewhat random order as I saw fit.
Now I went into a whole definition of what horror is when I mentioned this list forthcoming some time ago.  I won’t rehash again what is a horror film and what isn’t.  In the case of a few films I referred to IMDB for clarification.  Granted I vocally despise that site, but for certain things it can help.  For this reason The Testament of Dr. Mabuse can be counted as a horror film, however M, Blue Velvet, and Lost Highway didn’t fit that bill so off the list they went.  There may or may not be more films on this list that don’t fit your definition of horror, or my brother’s for that matter but what of it. 

Somehow Lost Highway still isn't a horror film

Genre definition can be tricky and I wasn’t so hell bent on excluding a bunch of on the fence films to make room for others like my brother.  For that matter feel free to check out his list, I wouldn’t say it’s better, but he went through the trouble of offering film by film commentary, I’m far too lazy for that.  Likewise I didn’t create a whole blog for the sole purpose of this list like he did.  Excuses again, I also didn’t do nearly as much research as he did, so what of it.

I may revisit this topic a year from now and dedicate a good solid couple of months to research.  Hell I may offer a complete essay on every film to one up my brother.  For now I’ll just offer some commentary on the top ten as is my custom.  Considering we asked several friends and family to post their own lists we were the only two who actually did it on Halloween, so those people who shall not be named here are all proverbially fired. 

My Facebook friends should have noticed this list when it was posted yesterday, and if you didn’t then this is a more detailed version.  In my laziness I didn’t bother putting years so here you can find out which versions of which films are on my list.  There are two absolutes in horror films:  1) Every horror film will get a sequel and; 2) They will all be remade.  Typically when the sequels reach the saturation point, usually after they visit the ghetto, outer space, or turn into downright comedies of the straight to video variety, they get remade, or what’s politely called the “re-boot”.  It’s the reason Scream will probably get it’s own remake/reboot in a few years considering how much people hated Scream 4.  Although you don’t have to like or even acknowledge these sequels exist, I mean there are 5 Wrong Turn movies for example.  As for remakes even Day of the Triffids was remade, remember that?  Of course you don’t.  Point is these are the films that transcend the shit, or rather the films that eventually get their own sequels and remakes.  Feel free to question my sanity or complain as you see fit.

Many of these films have alternate titles so in most cases I used the title I saw the film under. 


Now the question of how I numbered them is worth noting.  There were a few strategies.  For one I could have listed these in terms of how scary they were.  Seeing how It traumatized me for weeks and will forever make me convinced that clowns are the most evil creatures in the universe, that should top the list, but take a good look it’s not even in my top 100.  When you consider only about three other films in my life have scared me, this would be a very short list.  Also take into account that no one born after 1935 has been scared by a Universal monster movie, even though a horror list without these classics could rightfully be discredited. 

Seriously fuck you Tim Curry

Next idea is to rank these films in terms of the best films that happen to be horror.  This would allow me to name this the 100 Greatest Horror Films, or more accurately “The 100 Greatest Films That Can Be Considered Horror”.  The second title isn’t quite as catchy and it poses some problems.  For one Psycho is probably the greatest film that can be called horror, but it wouldn’t be my favorite horror film.  Looking at my list there are plenty of five star films that are among my very favorites but place somewhat low here because well I chose not to number my list that way.  Simply put I didn’t think this would work.

The other theory is to number these films in terms of how they adhere to the horror genre.  Films that are quintessentially horror should get preference, and how well they employ the conventions of the genre, help define them and how well they execute their horrific ideas.  I may lean towards this, but well how about the genre bending films, this ranking would seem to reinforce the stereotypes which with few exceptions (Cabin in the Woods) usually are the mark of a formulaic and uninspired film.

So the result I went with is simply any god damn order I wanted.  Films I love get priority.  Films that actually scared me will get some consideration, but seriously fuck the movie It, I will never forgive that film for making me terrified of shower drains for the entirety of my childhood.  Likewise some of the films I really love that don’t adhere as neatly to horror conventions aren’t rated as high as films that may be overall inferior but are better “horror” movies.  In other words, this is my arbitrary ranking and deal with it, or send me a nice email/comment about how you beg to differ, I’m quite amicable to dialogue on this subject.

I should point out that if a particular favorite of yours isn’t on the list there are only four reasons.  First reason is that I haven’t seen it.  Keep in mind before I made this list I had never seen The Omen, Hellraiser, Re-Animator, and a whole lot of other crap.  The second excuse may be that I did see it and didn’t like it.  This applies to the entire Friday the 13th series, Rob Zombie’s movies that aren’t The Devil’s Rejects, The entire Saw series, as well as the Scream films.  The third reason may be I don’t consider it horror.  My brother and I disagreed on a few of these, and I wasn’t willing to call Twin Peaks:  Fire Walk With Me a horror film, although it wouldn’t have been nearly as high as he put it.  The fourth reason is that I never heard of it.  There are so many god damn horror films made every year and very few of these pop up on critic’s lists that they often go years under the radar.  So shoot some at me, and maybe I’ll check them out.  Oh there’s also the chance that I saw it, liked it, and didn’t include it because I saw and liked 100 other films more.

One extra note, I cheated with The Ring/Ringu.  I know these are two separate films and one is the remake of the other, but well I consider them pretty damn equal and even if The Ring was a faithful remake and didn’t really improve on the original, it did have Naomi Watts and I’d watch that women do her taxes. 

100. Martin (1976)
99. Viy (1967)
98. The Seventh Victim (1943)
97. The House of Whipcord (1974)
96. I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
95. Interview with the Vampire (1994)
94. Cronos (1993)
93. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
92. Black Christmas (1974)
91. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

90. The Others (2001)
89. Society (1989)
88. John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998)
87. The Wicker Man (1973)
86. The Innocents (1961)
85. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
84. Let the Right One In (2008)
83. Isle of the Dead (1945)
82. Dr. Terrors House of Horrors (1965)
81. Nosferatu:  The Vampire (1979)

80. Fascination (1979)
79. Rabid (1977)
78. The Old Dark House (1932)
77. Kwaidan (1964)
76. Bay of Blood (1971)
75. Candy Man (1992)
74. The Black Cat (1934)
73. The Wolf Man (1941)
72. The Crazies (1973)
71. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

70. Day of the Dead (1985)
69. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
68. The Body Snatcher (1945)
67. Dead Ringers (1988)
66. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
65. Dracula (1931)
64. The Birds (1963)
63. The Sixth Sense (1999)
62. Repulsion (1965)
61. Night of the Hunter (1955)

60. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
59. City of the Living Dead (1981)
58. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
57. Carrie (1976)
56. Last House on the Left (1972)
55. The Host (2007)
54. The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
53. Hellraiser (1987)
52. The Tenant (1976)
51. The New York Ripper (1982)

50. Horror Rises From the Tomb (1972)
49. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1972)
48. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
47. The Thing From Another World (1951)
46. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)
45. Freaks (1932)
44. Deep Red (1975)
43. Peeping Tom (1960)
42. Cabin in the Woods (2012)
41. King Kong (1933)

40. The Cremator (1968)
39. Les Diaboliques (1955)
38. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
37. Suspiria (1977)
36. Messiah of Evil (1973)
35. The Haunting (1963)
34. The Mummy (1932)
33. Nosferatu (1922)
32. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
31. The Unknown (1927)

30. Planet Terror (2007)
29. Videodrome (1983)
28. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
27. Funny Games (1997)
26. Vampyr (1932)
25. Antichrist (2009)
24. Dead Alive (1992)
23. Henry:  Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
22. The Fly (1986)
21. Frankenstein (1931)

20. The Ring/Ringu (1998/2003)
19. Alien (1979)
18. The Raven (1935)
17. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
16. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
15. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
14. Halloween (1978)
13. The Thing (1982)
12. Eraserhead (1977)
11. The Exorcist (1973)

10. Shivers (1975)

Cronenberg's first masterpiece

Yes this is also called They Came From Within, so in case you were wondering, consider that riddle solved.  I first heard of this film in a brilliant documentary called American Nightmare, which focused on six landmark independent horror films over a decade.  Those films were Night of the Living Dead, The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Shivers, Dawn of the Dead, and Halloween.  Take a look around they’re all on this list.  In the case of Shivers and Last House on the Left, this is the first time I heard of them.  This is long before David Cronenberg was a household name to me, and Shivers was the first of his films I saw.  I may now believe he’s possibly the best horror director ever, and Shivers could very well be his best film.  Unlike so many of his contemporaries he’s managed to stay relevant, even if he’s somewhat abandoned his horror roots.  The film can be somewhat described as Invasion of the Body Snatchers in a hotel with a lot of sex.  Sound like a winning combination for you?  Glad you’re on board.

9. Kill List (2011)

Here's where the Wicker Man references come in

Remember when I said “see this movie now” a few months back?  You should I said it a few times, and I didn’t tell you anything about it.  By now you should have seen it.  It’s on DVD, it’s readily available and although it came and went without notice in theaters it is that type of rare horror film that sticks with you for days/weeks/months.  There’s so much going on here, I couldn’t sleep after I saw it.  Not because I was scared but because there were so many thoughts going through my head.  If you like your horror films all wrapped up with a little bow this won’t be for you, but if you dig a bit of ambiguity and something open for interpretation this is as good a horror film as you’re likely to find.  I won’t break my silence regarding the details of the film, but for Christ’s sake see the damn film already.

8. The Invisible Man (1933)

Perhaps Universal's most evil monster

Awhile back me and Shawn Reilly got together and watched all six of Universal’s flagship films.  They’re all on this list, but even though I’ve seen them all more times than I can count, I never realized how psychotically evil Claude Rain’s Dr. Jack Griffin was.  Nearly all of Universal’s classic monsters were somewhat sympathetic.  They were victims of circumstance.  Dracula needs blood to live, The Wolf Man was changed by a curse, Frankenstein’s monster just wanted a friend, and well The Mummy was clearly fucked over in his previous life.  Griffin on the other hand discovered the secret to invisibility and decides he’s going to take over the world.  He kills randomly, reeks havoc, and is something a general anarchist.  We may think that the formula warped his brain, but I think he’s just evil.  He is a much more frightening monster than the others who may have had more gruesome makeup because as horror movies always point out we fear what we can’t see.  James Whale uses a nice blend of humor to balance the mood and this could easily be his masterpiece if it weren’t for another film made two years later.

7. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Yeah you're fucked

That rule about everything getting a sequel and being remade applies to Dawn of the Dead on both accounts.  It was one of the rare sequels that I feel far surpassed the original.  I’ll give credit where credit is due and I have no problem calling Night of the Living Dead the most important independent horror film ever made, but we’re talking my favorite horror films, not the most important.  For that I go with Romero’s sequel.  Sure this should have stopped as a trilogy because no matter how cool the deaths were in Diary of the Dead the film itself was still painfully unnecessary and well I haven’t met a single person who liked Survival of the Dead.  Here however we get awesome gore courtesy of Tom “Sex Machine” Savini, and as my brother said this has arguably the best setting ever for a zombie movie.  I mean who wouldn’t want to holed up in a mall during the zombie apocalypse?  Especially one with a sporting goods store and a grocery?  I’ve seen all three cuts of this film and they’re all fantastic, so go with the nice and long extended unrated cut, and think twice time you want to check your blood pressure during a zombie apocalypse.  

6. Masque of the Red Death (1964)

The face of the Red Death

When we started this project I would have been amazed to find I had a Vincent Price film ahead of my brother, and for that matter way ahead of him.  The man we can easily call the greatest horror actor ever, and one of the greatest people to ever live, is at his best here.  Teamed up with low budget exploitation master Roger Corman the pair adapt yet another Edgar Allen Poe story and take massive liberties with it.  Price’s Prince Prospero isn’t just evil, he’s gloriously satanic, delivering some of the screens most blasphemous and awesome lines in movie history.  Nicholas Roeg who went on to become an occasionally brilliant director in his own right shot the film, and I can’t think of a horror movie that makes better use of color than this.  In the subgenre of satanic gothic horror this is as good as it gets.

5. Return of the Living Dead (1985)


Before uninspired George Romero sequels and an unwatchable show on AMC made zombies officially passé they were pretty fucking awesome.  There’s a good chance I’ve seen more zombie movies than you and I’d like to consider myself something of an authority on the subject.  Most zombie movies are lazy, really lazy, like Walking Dead lazy.  There characters suck, there’s no backstory, and the zombies don’t pose any threat whatsoever.  So let me explain why Return of the Living Dead is the greatest zombie movie ever.  For starters we set up why there’s zombies.  Trioxin 245 is a chemical that we find out the government made.  Night of the Living Dead was apparently based on a real incident.  Two guys messing around knock the gas loose and before you know it there are some reanimated corpses in their warehouse.  Then you have the impossible to kill zombies.  After taking a pick axe to one, it doesn’t stop coming at them.  They have to saw off all of it’s limbs and they’re still trying to get some delicious brains.  Oh and did I mention these zombies run top speed and they can talk?  Oh yeah if the apocalypse happens and this is what we’re up against, we’re all going to die bottom line.  The characters are also awesome.  The outrageously 80s group that parties at the graveyard works together.  They don’t bicker and bitch like everyone in a Romero film does.  Oh and Linnea Quigley is responsible for probably the greatest nude scene ever.  If you watch this and still don’t agree with me, then clearly you and I don’t agree about zombies.

4. Psycho (1960)

The unblinking eye of Marion Crane

Whenever I get around to making my all time top 100 list, this will probably be the highest film from this list.  Some people don’t consider it even a horror film but it’s influence on the genre is undeniable.  1960 was a landmark year for cinema.  Michelangelo Antonioni showed once and for all that narratives need not have closure with L’Avventura, Federico Fellini ushered in a new age of sex and celebrity culture with La Dolce Vita, Jean Luc Godard showed that there were no rules for film anymore with Breathless, and Alfred Hitchcock set a new standard in screen terror.  After years of low budget schlock that needed gimmicks to give their audiences frights, Hitchcock showed that the scariest thing of all could be just some random stranger.  He flipped the script on the movie monster and made an entire generation terrified of the shower.  The film still can shock today and I envy anyone who doesn’t know of it’s twists and turns.  This is the film that inspired so many others, and it’s questionable if films like Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Masssacre, Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, Se7en, or any film capable of creeping us out without any supernatural element would be possible without it. 

3. Paranormal Activity (2009)

The only movie where someone standing in a room is terrifying

Well here lies the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.  As sequels continue to be made on an annual basis they each take a little away from the original story.  Truth be told I have given up on the franchise and prefer to just stick to the original which was so undeniably creepy it made even the most hardened of horror movie fans freak the hell out.  Really since The Blair Witch Project, which I didn’t particularly care for, the found footage subgenre of horror has been more gimmick than anything else.  There have been some decent offerings, like Cloverfield for one, but mostly it’s been garbage like The Last Exorcism.  This takes everything back to it’s bare roots.  It’s shot on a microscopic budget and takes it’s sweet time building terror.  By the time things really start going you’re ready for anything and are just sitting in sheer terror.  I was convinced at the age of about 13 that films couldn’t do that anymore.  That people couldn’t be scared like they used to, that I couldn’t be scared by a movie.  This single handedly redeemed years of awful horror films and let everyone know that yes we still can have the ever loving shit scared out of us once in a while.

2. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The greatest sequel of them all

If you read my brother’s list you may have been baffled at the fact that the 1931 Dracula was his highest Universal film, and it didn’t even crack the top ten.  Well for shame on him, because the only film other than my number one that was set in stone was Bride.  It’s fitting that the greatest horror sequel ever made would come in at number two.  James Whale, who had four films on this list, was Universal’s best horror director, and you can argue their best director period during those shaky early sound years.  This was his best, campy, creepy, atmospheric, and featuring the most iconic movie monster in history.  Fans of Mary Shelley’s book have always taken these films with a grain of salt, but on their own merits they are as good as the Universal horror cycle ever got. 

1. The Shining (1980)

The only good creepy twins are dead creepy twins

This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, and well you can and probably have read my nice long winded review/essay on the film I posted earlier.  Check it out, and if you haven’t seen The Shining, then I can’t believe you even know me.  Chances are you don’t know me and you just stumbled onto my blog randomly.  I first saw this film at the age of 11 or 12, so if you’re older than that you have no excuse.  It’s simply the best horror film directed by the greatest director of all time, featuring my favorite Jack Nicholson performance.  It also happens to be based on my favorite Stephen King book.  King famously hates the picture, but well he might be the only person who doesn’t think this film is a masterpiece.  This is what happens when you put top talent together, give them a budget, creative control, and enough time to produce a truly exceptional film.  Unfortunately most of horror is simply up and comers dying to make a movie with a shoestring budget.  Everything about this film is brilliant from the steadicam work by John Alcott, to the creepy score courtesy of the transexual Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, and the performances, particularly Nicholson.  King envisioned Jack Torrence as a man who is beaten by outside forces, driven to madness by things he can’t control.  Kubrick’s Jack is a little off center who finds his home at the Overlook and takes to his new role with relish, it’s a far creepier choice.  As King described it in his book the hotel burns, in Kubrick’s it freezes.  Either way it doesn’t get better than this.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trouble in Paradise (1932) - Ernst Lubitsch

Prior to 2002, Trouble in Paradise was considered as a rarely seen Lubitsch gem, but when you really think about it, nearly all of his films early Hollywood films suffered a similar fate.  Trouble in Paradise was the first of what will hopefully be many Lubitsch films to receive the Criterion treatment. A film that helped to establish sophisticated romantic comedy for the sound era. Calling this a screwball comedy would be a misnomer.  This does not have the pratfalls and gags of a film like Twentieth Century or Bringing Up Baby. However what this film does have is a triangle. The title of the film is obviously derived from a playful phrase for marital strife, but of course none of the main characters in the film are married. As a matter of fact even looking at the supporting players none of them seem to be married. Kay Francis' Mariette Colet we find is a widow, and can only assume she was married to a much older man when we meet her late husband’s child hood friend played by 60+ C. Aubrey Smith.

Top billing in the film went to Miriam Hopkins as Lily, who had previously appeared in Lubitsch's Smiling Lieutenant, playing part of a triangle opposite Maurice Chevalier and Claudette Colbert. Her very next Lubitsch film would be Design for Living where again she was thrown in a love triangle only with two men clamoring for her attention. Now the three-way in this film does not have the same camaraderie that Cooper, March, and Hopkins shared in Design for Living. Francis remains completely oblivious to Hopkins throughout the film, but Hopkins never ceases to be jealous of her wealthy would be usurper. She takes her anger in part out on Gaston (Herbert Marshall) delivering my favorite line of the film "I wouldn't fall for another man if he were the biggest crook in the world". It is crime that brings these two together. Not like the lovers on the run who rob banks to get by, these two have made a life for themselves as pickpockets and have met each other with the sole purpose of robbing each other. When they meet they’re both masquerading as being attractive members of the noble aristocracy. When they both discover the other to be a thief, instead of recoiling in shock and disappointment they promptly discover they have met their soul mate.

Kay Francis, Miriam Hopkins, and Herbert Marshall from left.

Their initial seduction of theft is repeated at the end of the film brilliantly reinforcing that no matter how much of a temptation Francis may have appeared, she really posed no great challenge to a woman of Lily‘s skill set. Gaston however did succumb to her charms. He was ready to risk his own possible imprisonment for a night in her bed (or his bed considering they slept next to each other in connecting rooms). In a way that few films could make explicit at the time we know that Gaston is looking to sleep with her, whether or not he is in love with her. Mariette always seems slightly more sure of herself than need be. She is almost embarrassingly trusting and she is so sure of her own sexual prowess that she remains blind to the fact that this thief has only an intention of robbing her.  Sure Kay Francis was pretty, but the film seems to imply that her money and position is what gives her confidence.  She’s used to giving orders and this naturally carries over into her personal life as well.  Her attraction to Gaston might seem a bit odd, but after being courted by the dull Edward Everett Horton and Charles Ruggles, Herbert Marshall doesn't seem like too bad of a choice.  Although one can argue he doesn’t have the same charisma as say Gary Cooper in Design for Living.

What of course makes this film different from one that would have been made roughly 18 months later was that these two thieves do rob Mariette and they do get away with it. She lets them go, and Gaston even robs the pearl necklace that Lily had her eyes on and tells Mariette "Your parting gift to her". Again Mariette's character flaw comes out and she just lets it go. As Lily chastises her "You paid 125,000 francs for a handbag you can pay 100,000 for Gaston". Everything with these two becomes monetary. When they realize they can't wait for the 850,000 francs Gaston says "100,000 francs in the hand is worth more than 850 in jail." They're always aware of what things are worth, and in this way the film makes some indirect comment on the depression. Mariette gives Lily (who's now working as Gaston's secretary) a 50 franc raise, which she says is her payment for Gaston. When Gaston brings the bag he stole back a Bolshevik is there criticizing her for spending that money on a bag and being wasteful in this day and age. Gaston yells at him in a different language that results in nothing but a "Phooey" from the revolutionary. In this way Lubitsch and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson are saying "yes there is a depression going on, but these characters are in a different world". Of course with Lubitsch we're always in a different world, were people seem to wake up in formal wear and money seems to grow on trees.

Madame Colet confiding in Lily

The Venice in this film however seems a bit more rooted in reality than a much more blatantly escapist picture like Top Hat, whose canals and hotels seem better suited for Las Vegas than Italy.  The films first joke shows a trash collector singing opera on the famed canal.  A visual gag that shows the uglier side of the city.  People actually do work here and in Lubitsch’s films, but Mariette is more willing to pawn Gaston’s work on to Lily.  Despite her allure and her wealth she doesn’t seem like a real threat.  Gaston and Lily aren’t crooks who long to become legitimate, they’re just playing at it to get their next big score.  They even get the large reward for returning a purse they stole in the first place.  Gaston with as much dignity as he can muster tells her to make the check out to cash.

Gaston and Lily’s personal game of one-upping each other is as playful a sexual courtship as you’re likely to find, capped off by Gaston revealing he stole Lily’s garter.  This subtlety and sophistication is what has been described as the “Lubitsch touch” a phrase that was as widely used in it’s day as now.  A hard to define style that’s easier felt than seen, it is one of subtlety and that’s perhaps the best reason why audiences still appreciate his films, at least the more even keeled ones.  It is interesting to think Lubitsch’s first films that made their way to America where his historical epics Passion/Madame du Barry and Deception/Anna Boleyn which had many critics calling him the German D.W. Griffith.  Yet even from his early stage roles as an actor, Lubitsch seemed best suited for comedy, and his somewhat warped sense of morality made the early sound period the most interesting phase of his career.

Gaston revealing the garter he stole from Lily's leg

Trouble in Paradise also makes a wonderfully light portrait of it’s lovers criminal activities.  What would have been inexplicable a few years later is the fact that they get away with it.  They steal, they don’t get caught, and despite the fact that Francois (Horton) finally discovers who Gaston is (he robbed him in Venice just before he meets Lily), you never get a sense that they’re in real danger of being captured.  Sure Gaston is willing to risk his neck quite literally for Madame Colet, he comes to his senses and in a playful mockery of marriage and infidelity he returns to his “wife”.  The status quo is returned and the back to square one, complete with the reprisal of their stealing from each other has an ending reminiscent of a sitcom today.  Not to put the ending down by comparing it to such a low form of entertainment, but these characters don’t really grow.  Perhaps Colet has learned a lesson and will be less likely to trust her next personal secretary, but these two thieves have just escaped all consequences and despite their domestic bliss being threatened they clearly are in no hurry to mend their ways. 

For many Trouble in Paradise is his ultimate film.  It has a continental feel, playfully amorous characters, and a type of moral code that could only be possible in that brief window from 1929 to about halfway through 1934.  As the audience interest continues to grow for the celebrated Pre-Code era of Hollywood the DVD release of Trouble in Paradise can be seen as a landmark in it’s revival.  This set the stage for the release of the Complicated Women book and documentary as well as several collections of “Pre-Code Hollywood” or TCM’s Forbidden Hollywood collections.  Since it’s been available for nearly a decade now it’s hard to think back to a time when this film was never even available on VHS.  Following the Hayes code enforcement in 1934, this film was kept out of circulation for decades. 

People who discovered the Lubitsch touch had to base it on his more tame films like Ninotchka, The Shop Around the Corner, To Be or Not to Be, and Heaven Can Wait.  What a shock to see a film like this or Design for Living, which I feel takes things one step farther.  Sure other audiences might come into the film expecting some sort of raunchy sex romp and they’ll be disappointed.  If the production code was one of subtlety Lubitsch was a master of the power of suggestion.  The difference is what you could get away with suggesting.  In Design for Living a few cutaways and a line Hopkins delivers saying “But I’m no lady” clues us into all we need to know, just as a follow up shot of her new husband walking out of the bedroom in the morning and kicking a plant because he very clearly didn’t “consecrate his marriage”. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

New (and Improved?) Layout

Hello kids, I'm taking a few minutes to let you all know I've tinkered with the look of the blog.  Perhaps part of it was the fact that I was powerfully lazy when setting it up and never bothered to consider much what it would look like, or perhaps it's just been a few years so I feel like looking at something else.  So take a look see if you dig it.  If the background colors make the posts harder to read let me know.  If you hate the color blue for the titles feel free to inform me.  If you happen to love every change I've made then by all means I wouldn't mind hearing that either.

The major change I made is that you can now see the titles of all my past blog entries by clicking on the drop down tab for each month in the archive.  These are located to the left side of the page.  So if you wanted to know where my top films of the 2000s list was located, just click on 2011 and scroll down until you find March, and there you go.  I find this makes finding old entries much easier than the typical guess and check system and now that I'm closing in on my third full year, it's a little easier to navigate.

Coming Soon . . . 

Remember kids that my 100 Greatest/Favorite Horror film list is tentatively scheduled to be posted by the end of the month, possibly as early as Sunday the 21st, but almost guaranteed to be up by Halloween, so perhaps you can get a few last minute recommendations before the 31st.  Oh and by the way, see Kill List, I keep harping on this but seriously what's your excuse I even saw the DVD at my local library so it's everywhere, go get it.

Also I have already been plugging away at the overall top 100 list coming out but there's another little gem I'm getting set to unleash upon the world before then.  This is my Film Cannon.  I'll get into what exactly this means when I post it, but essentially it's a giant chronological list of what I would consider 5 star films.  So if you ever wanted to know what films from 1954 I love, this is the reference for you.  A list like this is something akin to a life's worth of film watching so it's far from final.  I plan on updating it perhaps once a year, if for nothing else to keep it current with the year's best released films.  I'm not going to make my list up to 1000, or start chopping off films when I get over that number, and consider it the good sportsmanship award of film.  Now I should also mention that if a film isn't on the list it doesn't mean I hate it, although it could mean I think it's overrated.  Hell I may even post this later today depending on how I feel.  So whenever I post it, I recommend making the page a sticky, possibly even copying it into a text file and using it for your own private checklist every time you go to rent a film or whatever it is you do when selecting what to watch.

So take a minute to browse around and check out the new layout.

One more thing . . . 

I really hope that Lena and Yulia can get past their differences and reunite for another t.A.T.u. album.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Night of the Hunter (1955) - Charles Laughton

Charles Laughton made only one film as a director and Night of the Hunter is akin to Orson Welles retiring after making Citizen Kane.  I won’t say that this film is as good as Citizen Kane, but it’s hard to think of any director whose first (and in this case only) film was this good.  Along with producer Paul Gregory the pair made a few celebrated stage productions before tackling their first screen project.  It came from a long knowledge of film, of how to tell a story and from making movies in nearly every conceivable style from slapstick comedy to horror.  Laughton had been around for decades and won an Oscar early in his career for The Private Life of Henry VIII, but his most significant contribution to cinema will most likely be remembered as Night of the Hunter.

Defining the film in terms of genre can be problematic.  This can fall into a horror subplot because after all there is a monster in the film who is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing (Robert Mitchum).  However the lack of supernatural elements generally lend itself more to horror’s rational cousin the thriller.  I would argue it doesn’t matter what you call the film, but since there is an impending greatest horror list I’m putting together at the end of the month, I’m willing to call it a horror film.  All of the horrific elements stem from Mitchum’s Preacher Harry Powell. 

Often in horror films there is a general sense of dread throughout the film.  False starts and spooky warnings that are foreboding, looking forward to later more tangible danger.  Laughton largely ignores these elements.  Sure the film opens with children playing around a corpse, but it doesn’t have that same supernatural “something is wrong” element that is so common among these films.  Laughton is identifying with the children here and is there any ruder way to shatter childlike innocence than that?  Powell is seen driving away right afterwards having his own one on one conversation with God.  He says he knows that God don’t mind the killing because “the bible’s full of killings”, but he knows God is on his side because God hates women just like him.  Not all women, just the ones that wear makeup, dress provocatively, curl their hair, wear perfume, and arouse man’s baser instincts.  What makes him so frightening is that he “knows this”.  He is completely convinced in his own mind that he is doing the lord’s work.  He can’t even recall if this is the 8th or 12th woman he’s married and murdered. 

The telling scene that takes place right as Powell is arrested points to perhaps one of his reasons for his incredible misogyny.  While at what appears to be a burlesque show/strip club he’s sitting around leering men watching a woman do her routine and as you notice the look of contempt on his face, he pops his knife out, through his pocket.  The phallic imagery is undeniable and it makes you ask the question.  Is his hatred based on his own inadequacies as a lover?  Is his natural instinct towards killing for his own frustration at being impotent?  Why the knife?  Why not a gun, a rope, or any other weapon?  Clearly the parallel is being drawn and it’s for this reason I believe he later turns Willa Harper (Shelley Winters) out on their wedding night.  He tells her that sex is only to produce children, but I wonder if it’s not because he simply can’t get it up.  I’m sure I’m not the first person to make this claim, and I would argue Laughton is anything but subtle in his symbolism here.

At the beginning of the film we even have a voice over warning us about wolves in sheep’s clothing and we know what to expect.  The entire film, which was based on the best selling novel by Davis Grubb, is steeped in a Southern Protestant brand of Christianity.  It differs dramatically from the catholic understanding of the bible and is something that anyone from down south can easily identify with.  The hymns that Powell sings are recognizable, and even one night Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) joins in singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” with him.  What’s noticeable about their duet is that she changes the lyrics to include Jesus in the hymn.  Powell makes no mention of Jesus and to him his brand of religion is just betwixt him and the Lord.  He has no denomination, and doesn’t even seem to acknowledge Christ in his travels. 

Some of the expressionist tendencies

Now according to Robin Wood most of the film’s more cinematic moments were part of James Agee’s script.  He was known primarily as a film critic and put out two volumes of film writing entitled Agee on Film.  Some people credit him with helping to revive Buster Keaton’s career following an article he wrote about silent comedians for Life magazine.  He was a huge alcoholic and Jeff Fahey’s character in White Hunter Black Heart was loosely based on him.  He died at the age of 45 just two years after this film was made.  The script apparently contained directions for helicopter shots, camera angles, and various other staging suggestions.  Laughton a first time director seemed content to follow his instructions, so you can make a claim which one of them really “directed” the picture.

Speaking of which Laughton was known for hating children.  So you can imagine a conflict of interest when the two main characters of the film happen to be 9 and 4 respectively.  From what I read in Danny Peary’s Cult Movies 3, Laughton detested Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce so left their direction to Mitchum.  His sympathies lie with Preacher.  Laughton spent the large majority of his career playing obsessed and ruthlessly evil one dimensional villains, so you can imagine how he saw himself in this character.  Of course one of the things that makes Preacher so effective is his charisma.  He gets nearly all the women around to fall for him, and he wouldn’t be nearly as competent at killing if they didn’t let their guard down immediately.  Charles Laughton was far from good looking ,and really he was far from average looking, the man was pretty damn ugly so there’s no way he could have pulled off this role.  Mitchum on the other hand was quite handsome and developed his own penchant for playing slightly psychotic men who seemed like good guys at first.  Although his turn in Cape Fear is all psycho. 

Pictured above, one sexy man

I won’t make the argument that the children deliver stellar performances although Billy Chapin does an admirable job.  As a child star, Chapin stopped acting entirely after 1959 so this is what he’ll always be remembered for.  Sally Jane Bruce might not be a terrible actress for her part, but the role itself is somewhat infuriating.  She seems like she’s quasi-retarded and even if she’s only 4 or 5 it seems she ought to have a much greater understanding of what’s going on.  However the story seems to dictate that women seem all but oblivious to Preacher’s evil.  It goes along with the theme that she would actually run to his arms when he finally shows up at Rachel’s house telling her the story of how he had been looking for them.  Even after being chased around, and even after he threatens to stick John like a pig and leave him bleeding with his knife (which he ironically is wielding in his hand with the letters L-O-V-E tattooed on it), she still doesn’t seem to recognize this man as pure evil. Ruby (Gloria Castillo) doesn’t even seem to fathom how evil he is when on trial for multiple murders, she lingers at the courthouse and still has that glassy eyed look in her eyes as if she believes he’s somehow not as bad as all that.

Another thing that makes the Preacher seem a little more classic movie monster is his persistence.  When John and Pearl spend the night hiding in a barn he hears his never ending hymn singing as he slowly rides on a horse never going too far from the riverfront.  John comments “don’t he ever sleep” and you know in classic movie monster terms, no he doesn’t.  Just like Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees, this is a monster who will never stop his pursuit, and he also doesn’t seem like he’s in too much of a hurry to find you either.  He knows that eventually you’ll have to sleep and he’ll just keep trotting along.  Like any great monster though he of course believes he is in the right.  He wants the stolen money to build a tabernacle to the lord, and never in the film does he even admit to himself that he plans on doing anything else with the money.  The fact that John and Pearl are so determined to risk their lives to keep a promise to their irresponsible father seems almost pointless.  It plays into the black and white nature of the fair tale which this film clearly situates itself in.

The intro which features all of Rachel’s children’s heads in the sky along with hers as she mentions those fore-warnings put us in a fable.  Perhaps to Laughton this rural south resembled more of that old time “once upon a time” land.  It is set during the Great Depression which accounts not only for how many children seem to be homeless, why the father went out and robbed in the first place, and how a man can go around as a preacher and be so instantly accepted.  When Willa confesses her sins she is completely convinced that her new husband is right about sex.  She recognizes herself as a temptress and blames her own greed for her husband’s crimes.  She is now prostrating herself in front of a burning torch and repenting just like anyone at a frantic revival meeting.  It’s the type of thing that existed for years, but took deep root during the destitute times of the 30s which gives the film much more credibility than if it had taken place in the more stable Eisenhower 50s.  Not just the reference to Preacher as a wolf abound, but throughout their journey down the river we get glimpses of animals looming large in the foreground which helps link the fairy tale mythology to the film.

More oblique angles
 There have been some contrasting ideas as to why Rachel sees through the Preacher.  Some ideas pointed out that maybe she is too old for his advances, and she’s past the point of being sexually attracted to him therefore isn’t under the same spell as the other women.  However when the noisy neighbor falls hook, line, and sinker for his charms it makes me think it has nothing to do with age.  She just simply is the first rational and level headed adult in the film.  Her character is balanced and keeping with the fairy tale mythology is the mother goose figure of the story.  Perhaps she is just too good or too saintly to fall for his deal.  When he tries to go into his well rehearsed speech about his matching love and hate tattoos she cuts him off long before he gets the chance.  She not only recognizes that he isn’t the father of John and Pearl, but knows he is no preacher either.  Those tattoos have been the stuff of homage and parody in everything from The Simpsons to Do the Right Thing.

The role was a great return to the screen for Lillian Gish who for many was a symbol of the history of film, as her time in films dated from Griffith all the way to the 80s.  She lived into the 90s and her death seemed to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the movies.  She always had that youthful look to her that allowed her to play much younger roles throughout the silent era, and it gives a certain vitality to her portrayal here.  She’s old enough to be a mother figure for these orphans but youthful enough to understand and relate to them, and energetic enough to fend off the would be predator.  There is a brief moment when she calls the children out following Powell’s arrival where you wonder if she won’t be like every other adult and send them off, but somehow we know she’s different and boy is it gratifying when she does finally call him out.

Regardless of who you wish to attribute the greatness of this film to, it can be agreed it is a collaborative effort.  Stanley Cortez does a fantastic job with the photography and even if Agee provided these shot ideas in the script, it still took a good cinematographer to realize them.  Laughton trusted in his performers and the story to make everything happen, and well would any of it had been possible without the original source novel.  The performances are strong throughout and Mitchum seems to genuinely relish going over the top at numerous turns.  The film has plenty of expressionist tendencies and he seems to be channeling some of those classic much more hysterical German performers of the silent era.  His gestures are wild and violent and he is animated in dialogue the way you’d expect a showman preacher to be.  Put together it’s just a damn good movie.