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And finally the last (top) 10 films available for streaming.
I first started a list of the 50 best films available for Netflix streaming, that eventually became this one, all the way back in May 09, (there's no way it's been that long!) published part one in July and wrapped it up in August with this Top 10. Not surprisingly, given the temporal nature of streaming status, the relevancy of a list such as this is likewise transient. I'm pretty sure most of these films, are actually still available however, and that is surprising.
"Must" lists are always a little dubious, at best they can be helpful but do so at the risk of being boring and unimaginitive compilations of popular/critical opinion, at worst they are so personalized the titular insistancy of it's own unsubstantiated importance is insulting, to anyone who disagrees with just one choice. With this list I may be in danger of both, which may be as good as it gets for this type of thing.
So, for what it's worth...
10. Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
If there was such as thing as a cautionary comedy Dr. Strangelove would fit in that category. It might be a relevant caution against war and the proliferation of nuclear weapons if it wasn't so deliberately absurd. The film is perfectly and completely goofy, committed to it's spoofery with a kind of total sobriety that makes the whole thing that much funnier and this is the real genius of Dr. Strangelove. It's a lark, but a deadly serious one. The film concerns the initiation of nuclear war at the hands of a dillusional military officer and stars George C. Scott and Peter Sellers (who plays two roles). Both actors give great performances and the film provides plenty of opportunities for them to thoroughly enjoy the comedic posturing of their respective roles. The writing is superb and supplies several classic lines ("...you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!") Dr. Strangelove is one of the iconic classics of comedy.
9. Breathless (1960)
Considered by many to be acclaimed director Jean Luc Godard's finest, About De Suffle (french title) took first place on the British Film Institutes de-centennial survey of the greatest films of all time the only time Citizen Kane hasn't (That was 1952). A seminal work of the French New Wave it practically defines it and to this day is perhaps the finest example of it's self-liberation, youth, social anxiety and boldness. The film and it's revolution has influenced the course of cinema and it's contemporary form with it's liberating approach to story, characters and technique as well as it's self awareness and angst. The rebellion of it's young couple is reflected in Dunaway and Beatty's Bonnie and Clyde and echoed again in Pierrot Le Fou (also available in streaming) which Godard made years later. The lengthy exchange between man and woman which anchors the film was a method he later relied upon in Contempt as well. To watch Breathless now is to look back on a film that reverberates with the nerve and passion of a movement in which film was being rediscovered as a medium as well as a social statement. There is a violence, not only in subject matter (the New Wave drew from the provocative cool of earlier gangster and crime films) but in the recklessness with which it is told. The French New Wave was a time of discovery, and necessarily as a result, one of letting go.
8. Casablanca (1942)
So well known, it's easy to take Casablanca for granted or even dismiss it as an over-appreciated antique. However the stature of this film is warranted and so to the enduring memory of it's images not out of posterity for a cherished relic but for it's brilliance as a film which still holds up today as an example of sublimely perfect filmmaking. The efficiency of the screenplay is one of the first things I noticed re-visiting the film. The way it shuffles a deck of characters, sub-plots and back-story deftly blending them together as an endearing drama and cultivates them within the exotic antiquity of it's setting and that of Rick's Cafe is amazing. It works on practically every level and deserves credit for it's performances, writing and technical precision, the culmination of which result in a dream of a picture. The unanimity of certain classics can sometimes exhaust their appeal and deplete our interest in them. They're great. We know it. Next. We don't deny their quality, but we often forget about it. Casablanca might be the most universal classic of them all. Watching it again more recently I was reminded why. It deserves the respect and status it has attained and as well as a second look, and naturally a first should that be the case, as a funny, stirring, romantic, highly entertaining and unforgettable film.
7. On the Waterfront (1954)
Elia Kazan's classic tale of guilt and redemption emanates with the grit, texture and desperation of it's setting. Brando's performance as Terry Maloy is one of the greatest in cinema, a gripping incarnation of the film's tormented conscience. Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb give equally potent performances as two sides of an emotional and spiritual conflict fighting for his soul. The penetrating realism and passionate suffering depicted is remarkable. It is very similar to the tormented laments of Scorceses with it's preocupation with the guilt and sin of those trapped by the social conditions of class and status and the compromise of one's soul demanded as the price of survival. Similarities also abound in the admirably realistic portrayal of the urban underworld and the criminality that exists within the fabric of everyday life. It has a look and feel that radiates with the primal yearning of the oppressed and those trapped by themselves and the depravity they succumb to. The film's wounded heart and soul culminates in Brando's unforgetable "Contender" speech that is one of the most iconic moments in film.
6. Singing in the Rain (1952)
Gene Kelly is at his best in the classic, comedically affectionate, satirical tribute to Hollywood and the glorious studios and stars. As with other enduring classics, such as Casablanca, it's easy to take Singing in the Rain for granted and forget just how brilliant it is. Featuring some of the most memorable dance sequences captured on film and the extravagance of Kelly's threatical set pieces, it is also one of the most superbly crafted motion pictures in history. The "Gotta Dance" sequence is signature of Kelly and reminiscent of the extravagant Ballet in An American in Paris in it's Operatic overtures and romantic treatment of a classic story (the sequence itself refrences the character arc of Kelly's Don Lockwood). In addition to it's memorable songs and comedy Singing in the Rain is a visual delight, a flourishing almagamation of special effects and technique. Note for instance one of the very best examples of montage transition in all of cinema during the "Would You" number, as a multitude of graduating scenarios and progressive cuts are smoothly blended, masterfully elevated to poetry. The screenplay is marvelous, the acting, dancing and songs unforgetable and the technical aspects of the camera work, editing and special effects all coelesce into one of the most perfect cinematic confections ever made.
5. Vertigo (1958)
Though Psycho is his most iconic and best known, Vertigo is widely considered the finest example of Hitchcock's genius. Less obvious then some of his other masterpieces such as North by Northwest, is has gained traction lately as the greatest from a director who braught us countless classics. When detective John 'Scottie' Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart), disturbed by a recent traumatic experience, is hired by an old friend to find out the truth behind his wife's strange behavior, his diligent surveillance and observation of the troubled woman (Kim Novak) leads him into a spiral of troubling obsession. As he grapples with his own inner demons, John pursues catharsis through his fixation with the haunted woman. Vertigo is not about international espionage, innocent men wrongly accused, or cross country chases. Hitchcock utilizes his mastery of mood and his remarkable talent for subversion to craft his most potent and brilliant film. As he did throughout his career and most apparently in Pyscho, Hitchcock is able to conjure an extraordinary amount of suspense, fear and anticipation with the genius of his camera and the patience of his technique, weaving psychological tapestry of Freudian complexity. The deep, anxious undertones that run beneath the surface are expressed in the brilliant musical scoring by the great film composer Bernard Herrmann. Hitchcock is known for the psychological depths with which his characters are steeped (The Birds, Marnie, Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt...) With Vertigo he composes a symphony of subversion, a masterpiece of subconscious presence.
4. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
Kluas Kinski stars as the eponymous Conquistador who's self enobling obsession to lead a band of soldiers and natives to the fabled Mayan city of Gold borders precariously on the indistinguishable edge of madness. One of Werner Herzog's very best, the unconventional director shot on location in the inhospitable jungles of South America, arduously transporting film equipment and actors through the mud, rain and swamplands. Like many of his protagonists, Herzog himself is a man of singular vision in the pursuit of his goal and, as with many of his films, the story behind it's production is as fascinating as the movie itself, as his artistic ferver is reflected by the stories he tells and the harrowing journies he embarks upon to do so. The density and frightening omipresence of the jungle envelops the actors and the reality of the setting overtakes the film. The passionate performances and realistic spectacle of men pushed to the limits are fascinating to behold. Kluas Kinski again demonstrates fervant dedication and commitment to his role as the demented Don Lope de Aguirre. Comparisons between this film and the story Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now can be made as the adventurers' single-minded pursuit down a river becomes a descent into madness and self destruction.
3. The Bicycle Thief (1948)
The seminal classic of Neo Realism Vittoro De sica's masterpiece has become one of the darlings of film connoisseurs, a requisite favorite of the cinema intelligentsia. However you don't have to be a movie snob to appreciate the story of an impoverashed man's search for a stolen bicycle he desperately needs to keep his job and support his family. The naturalistic appeal of Neo Realism (the use of non actors and real locations) ads to the film's texture and character. The man's quest through the streets and lives of Rome is a profoundly effective and touching journey and, given the authenticity of the style, nearly documentarian in nature. Joining him in his pursuit of the thief is his young son Bruno. The father son dynamic is one of the films greatest charms and fundamental attributes as the search becomes a struggle not simply to survive poverty but to maintain basic human dignity. The Bicycle Thief is one of the cornerstones of cinema one of the most enduring and humane tales ever committed to film. (Also check out De sica's Umberto D.)
2. 8 1/2 (1963)
The consumate movie about movies by master director Federrico Fellini. Often regarded as his best work (though some would argue La Dolce Vita) 8 1/2 is the first full fledged expression and purest incarnation of the carnival eccentricity, whimsy, indulgence, and autobiography that came to define the great Director's style. Guido Anselmi (Fellini's favorite on screen persona, Marcello Mastroianni) is a succesfull Director facing both a midlife crisis and the stifling expectations of a public awaiting his next big production. Typical of Fellini, 8 1/2 follows the discheveled director through the encounters of nightlife, parties and his own whimsical imaginings in his pursuit of emotional and intellectual clarity, absolution and purpose. A profound culmination of Fellini's directorial pursuits and social, intellectual commentary, 8 1/2 is a magnificent condensation of his artistic essence and, like Juliet of the Spirits, is more of a justification of his own flaws then a confession. The opening sequences and the last revelry are two of the most magnificent and brilliant sequences ever shot and express the film's poetic conceptualism. 8 1/2 was one of his first to completely embrace Fellini's unique style of films, later dubbed Felliniesque, and probably the best representation of the man himself. It is one of the fundemental landmarks of cinema.
1. 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)
A peerless sci-fi classic and example of the power of imagery, Stanley Kubrik's uber cerebral Neitsiche think piece and meditation on human enlightenment is one of the cornerstones of cinema. With only 45 minutes of actual dialogue throughout it's vacuous 2 1/2 hours, it is a testimate to the power of images as a conveyance of ideas, communicating complex theories on the progression of civilization and the nature of enlightenment with the measured span of imagery, putative leaps and some seriously trippy visuals. The film's slow deliberate pace might bely the expectations some have towards Sci-fi, and the tedious procedral nature of the story and screenplay might seem plodding and dull to some. Eschewing the action element of other classics of the genre such as Star Wars or Blade Runner, 2001is an immaculately crafted, deliberately paced work of intellectual filmmaking that argues the validity of film as a platform of profound literary power. Kubrick's use of symbolism and the orchestration of images and sound as a language of thought is simply brilliant. There are lots of great films, but there are some, like Last Year at Marienbad, 8 1/2, or Apocalypse Now, that achieve something beyond the ordinary and remind us of the possibility of film as an art and a medium of ideas. 2001 perhaps more so than any other is an achievement of this caliber. The computer Hal is one of the best villains in film and every evil computer from thenceforth from I-Robot's VIKI to Skynet, owes a debt to this movie. Even though the film was drastically different than most Sci-fi it has had a definite influence on the genre and films such as Andrei Tarkovsky's similar masterpiece Solaris, and the recent Moon. Everyone should see it at least once. There's nothing else quite like it.
I considered making a follow-up list, more of a supplement than an update or replacement, to include any great films recently made available, or those still available that I simply couldn't fit on this list, but I'm not sure if it's worth it. At this point, I think it would be, A: unnecessary, and B: impossible, just because of how good the service has become over the past few months. Another list would be fun but it would have to include something closer to 100 films, even without duplicating any of the ones on this list.
Not only has Netflix increased the amount of films available for streaming, including some great contemporary films like Being John Malkovich and Black Hawk Down, but have apparently, given the sudden influx of foreign classics, reached an agreement with Criterion Collection (who have also introduced online viewing on their own site), which, over the past few weeks has made available a steadily increasing number of the great films of world cinema. Au Revoir Les Enfants, Amarcord, Jules and Jim, Seven Samurai, and Rashomon, are just a few of the greats that have been added in the last month or so, with more of the CC library on the way.
There where always enough films for me to confidently say 'here are 50 you must see' but considering how exclusive the list was supposed to be, I never felt like I was overwhelmed with candidates either - a situation that has changed. The problem now is that with so many seminal classics available it would be too easy to populate the list with a predictable filmography of cinematic canon. I may still do this because even though L'Avventura and The Seventh Seal are indispensable works, many people still haven't heard of them, let alone seen them, so a list to this effect could still be a good opportunity, but we'll see. I'd like to do something a bit more creative and accessible. I want to touch on more than just the highest, distant, echelons of cinema as I could easily do, with little more than the Criterion Collection itself.
I don't want to leave anything out just because it's too obvious or obscure, but as much as I want the list to be accurate and informative, I also want it to be interesting, a balance harder to achieve then you might think. It would be easy enough to preface the list with a PSA to the effect of "Put anything from the Criterion Collection in your que" for the sake of expediency, instead of actually putting them on the list. That's a lazy short change though.
Whatever I end up doing, the amount of good stuff available for streaming means that no longer will this type of list merely represent the best options available for instant enjoyment, but that the list in it's entirety can measure up to any 'great movies' list regardless of the criteria.
After the Thin Man (1936)
Though the series began to tire a little as it lost it’s novelty in later sequels, the direct successor to The Thin Man followed in the footsteps of the original brilliantly, doing everything right as a sequel. The Thin Man series incorporates elements of Noir, detective films and stars William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. Nick is a famous “retired” detective reluctant to involve himself in new capers and Nora is his wealthy socialite wife, always interested in seeing him return to form and crack a case. The two share some of the best on screen chemistry of any famous pairing and are one of the classic couples in cinema, sharing cocktails and wisecracks with effortless timing. Nick carries himself with an inebriated swagger that belies his prowess as an investigator, the sharpness of his wit and genius for deduction. After the Thin Man is a bit more deliberate in it’s who-done-it setup then it’s predecessor but is still serviceable as a plot vehicle for the entertaining escapades of Nick and Nora and the cast of characters is varied and interesting. Though fairly standard the it does feature a nice twist, interesting locations and memorable scenes but the real attraction and the center of the series is the unforgettable antics of the sleuthing couple.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)
Noteworthy for several reasons, the silent film Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was one of the earliest horror films and most prominent examples of German Expressionism (the use of distorted and imaginatively configured sets to convey emotion and tone.) The film also featured a shocking twist that today has become a well travelled device of shock thrillers. Above all The Cabinet of Caligari is an exercise in imaginative expressionistic film making, a phantasmagorical excursion into a nightmarish fantasy. The disfigured architecture and bizare perspectives is straight out of a cubist painting and the film as though from the collective imagination of Picasso and Salvador Dali. The deranged sets fully serve the creative vision of the film and help transport the viewer into an immaterial world, not of logic and certainty, but shadow and creeping terror. The film is a classic entry in cinema canon and is worth viewing as an example of a style now extinct and the striking concept of Mise-en scene which has also similarily vanished from the medium.
The Good The Bad and The Ugly (1966)
One of the most popular westerns ever made, The Good The Bad and The Ugly isn't even an American production. Filled with in your face grit and style Sergio Leone's quintessential Spaghetti Western features the maverick autuer's remarkable style at it's purest; a fetishistic glorification of western cliches and larger than life bravado that was inspired as much by Samurai culture and the films of Akira Kurosawa as it was by the American old west it's supposedly set in. Leone's technique was characterized by dramatic and stylish exxagerations of classic Western scenarios. His films include some of the best examples of the classic showdown ever put on film. His fearless command of style and it's personafication in his characters is unique among the genre. Leone had a talent for channeling the mythic undercurrent of the old west, manifesting it in the hyperbolic overture of his characters, story and pacing. As a result his hodgepodge Westerns of blood and sweat were elevated to something lyrical and poetic. The final duel is brilliant and illustrates how Leone is able to evoke the lyrical immensity of his myth.[COLOR=#262626] Notice how long he is able to sustain what might have been merely a few seconds of tired cliche into a magnificent crescendo, with each increasingly fast cut also conveying a remarkable amount of narrative. The images of his Westerns resemble something out of a tall tale or American mythology more so than the actual old west. The film is accompanied by one of the greatest and most memorable film scores by the incomparable Ennio Morricone. Leone's captivating style and quasi-poetic dialogue, punctuated by sudden violence and death has influenced the works of Quenten Tarantino and resonates throughout the tributary director's filmography.[/COLOR]
Grande Illusion (1937)
Jean Renoir’s acclaimed humanistic war film tells the story of french prisoners and a German high commander during WWI. The film artfully depicts the lines that both separate and unite countries and classes. Considered to be one of Renoir’s finest it is arguably one of his most personal as a filmmaker as it was partially based off his own experiences as a WWI pilot. Though the impact of movies dealing with the social or political climate of a particular time or region can diminish with age, great films always possess qualities that are exempt from such limitations. With the Grand Illusion it’s the way it’s observance of class, etiquette and protocol help us to understand war as a state of mind rather than a necessary or absolute reality. The courtesy or disregard for individuals based on the notion of class or nationality are lines we ourselves except for the comfortable security of our own prejudices. Concepts such as this exist in the fiber of the Grande Illusion, to which the name itself is a reference, and sustain the timelessness of one of the greatest and most enduring war films ever made.
“Such ingratitude after all the times I’ve saved your life.”
Hoop Dreams (1994)
One of the wonders of film is it’s detachment from the limitations of time and place: it’s capacity to express ideas and perspectives on life that would otherwise be difficult to comprehend. In the transcendence of cinema, by the vision and patience of the filmmaker we are afforded a glimpse at life as we cannot see it from within. It’s a virtue put to good use in films such as the Up Documentaries and one of the greatest films from the 90’s; Hoop Dreams, another one of the best documentaries of all time. To experience life and it’s spectrum of years and events and dramas unfolding before our eyes in a few brief moments is one of the great freedoms and exultations of film as an art, as well as a historical document. Hoop Dreams chronicles the high-school years of two promising young basketball players as they struggle to attain their dreams of playing in the NBA. The film follows the everyday lives of the boys and their families, through good times and bad, victory and defeat. A poignant real life drama, the film is so much more than a basketball documentary and over the course of a few hours captures 4 years in the lives of two boys and the dream of a lifetime.
In Cold Blood (1967)
Based on Truman Capote’s novel of the same name, in Cold Blood is the brooding account of drifters Perry Smith and Richard Hickock and the infamous murder of the Klutter family in Kansas 1959. The film’s respectful treatment of the material does not coerce sympathy, nor does it pass judgment, but in the meticulous recount of two stray lives, finds poignancy that transcends both. It draws an intimate portrait of the two men who’s pathetic dreams and aimlessness in life led them on a tragic journey across the country. The story follows the two companions from the beginning of their fateful road trip, depicting them with honesty as men embittered by society and their own pasts but with a tenderness it also reveals their own trials and suffering as wounded souls. The film’s great achievement is it’s humanity. It never makes excuses for their actions nor ignores the terrible consequence of their choices but is honest enough not to make it’s own condemnation. It is merely an account of a tragedy and the unfortunate circumstance that brought two misguided deadbeats to murder. Shot in black and white, it is one of the most beautiful and appropriate uses of the style. The heaviness of guilt and the anguish of ruined lives pervades the film and the brilliant performances, particularly by Robert Blake as Smith, give it an ennobling authenticity. It has a style and mood remarkably unique and truly powerful in it’s realism.
“Come on, let’s get something to eat. I’m thirsty.”
Though better known for his controversial milestone Birth of a Nation, Master of the silent epic D.W. Griffith made what is probably the crowning achievement of his grandios style and personal philosophy with Intolerance. A collection of historical vignettes the film is a three hour journey that looks at hate and prejudice through the ages. There is something extraordanary about the great fantasy dramas of the silent era, with the ingenuity, craftsmanship and imagination of their special effects and the startling imensity of sets. Intolerance is an epic in every sense of the word with a visionary story concept and composition ahead of it’s time, (preceding films with similar approaches such as Babel, The Hours, Crash and Magnolia) as well as magnificent sets and spectacular set pieces (compare scenes from the siege of Babylon to those of Return of the King, or Kingdom of Heaven.) Intolerance is an amazing film of breathtaking scope. It’s sheer size, the enormity of it’s production, the sets, costumes and number of actors involved, is to this day astounding. Life and death, love and hate, greed and charity. In all the superficial scale and visual hyperbole of modern CGI, I seldom find anything as truly breathtaking as this classic epic. If you think silent films are boring or never think about them at all, you owe it to yourself to see Intolerance. It is a culmination of everything they where capable of, a marvel of cinema and a film to behold.
Man with the Movie Camera (1929)
In some ways an early precursor to the brilliant and visually peerless Baracka, Man with the Movie Camera is one of those films that reminds us of the simple wonder of the motion picture as an invention and the capacity of film as an experimental art form. We become accustomed to the conventional format of “movies” and fixed in our expectations of just what one is, but every so often we experience a film that doesn’t passively abide by established convention but instead simply explores it’s possibilities as an art form as well as an amazing and mysterious phenomenom. Man with the Movie Camera is a collection of images, moments and scenes, that capture life as it progresses through a single day. The self referential title as well as the conceptual nature of some of the techniques used are also indicative that the artist was going for something beyond mere objectivity. It is in fact a film about film and the voyeuristic eye of the cameraman, as well as the audience and in some ways resembles films such as The Player, or Blow-Up. Still revolutionary to this day, I can only imagine how much it must have been in it’s time.
“Such a wonderful king. If only he thought as we do.”
The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
In the tradition of the sensitive contemplative Westerns such as High Noon and My Darling Clementine, Ox-Bow examines the estate of the human heart and the nature of pride and vengeance when the of the law is stretched to accomodate both. The Western has always been the great American mythology and one of the most accomodating of genres for moral parables. The frailty of true justice in the hands of men and the restraint that destinguishes it from lawless retribution is one of the intriguing aspects of the old west because while technically the difference between murder and justice is a matter of legal positioning, morally it’s a matter of the heart. The Ox Bow Incident makes such an observation when hate and vengeance are concealed by facades of duty and justice. Henry Fonda stars in this lyrical tale of a would-be posse so consumed by the desire to render 'justice' on an accused murderer, the boundaries of law of the land and that of the heart are pushed to the limit. Fonda, with a similar restraint and sensitivity he demonstrated in My Darling Clementine, plays Gil Carter, a man torn between the logical arguments in favor of condemning the accused man and the reasonable doubts of his conscience. Fonda was born to play this type of role. As a withdrawn man haunted by the moral obligation of his own conscience in the face of opposition, his performance echos throughout his career in films such as 12 Angry Men and the Grapes of Wrath.
Say Anything (1989)
The films of Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) exhibit emotional complexities seldom allowed in formulaic Hollywood. His characters don’t just go through the motions of a plot but struggle with themselves and their feelings. They are flawed but try very hard to do what is right. Crowe’s sensitivity to life’s ambiguity, demonstrates honesty and integrity. The moral and emotional vagueries that challenge his characters and their consciences is what makes his films so fascinating and elusive. They are closer to the reality of real life than the manufactured happiness of most movies. As a result his films, like life itself, are often times more resilient, harder to predict, and more engaging. Though 2000’s Almost Famous is a great film in it’s own right, Say Anything and it’s observance of a blossoming relationship between two adolescents is perhaps his most profound.
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As excited as I am for Jame's Cameron's imminent Avatar (it isn't every decade the man makes a film after all), watching the trailer again I have to wonder if the unprecedented amount of CGI has taken attention away from other important areas. Nothing major, just some of those minor details like story and characters and originality.
Somehow I get the strong impression that after seeing the trailer, I've pretty much seen the movie. This is a problem/mistake a lot of movies seem to have. And as with many of these films, it's a combination of the trailer revealing too many crutial story points and plot details (it's 3:30 long), as well as the sheer predictability of the plot itself.
Avatar seems culled from the fragments of many other Cameron films, and includes giant robotic exo's, space marines, aliens, which is fine. I like all that stuff. His imagination has been augmented by some of the most impressive and ambitious special effects ever created and it's good to see great directors being able to unleash their creativity and realize their wildest visions. We live in an age when a talented director is limited only by his imagination.
The problem however is that while Cameron is reaching for the stars in terms of visual splendor he seems to have neglected the better part of any story; compelling human narrative. From what I've seen so far, there's plenty of potential for quality drama but there may be a chance the film won't deliver. Mostly because the story arc itself, strikes me as a painfully predictable plot we've seen before in everything from Lawrence of Arabia, to the Last Samurai and dozens of other films and it's for this reason I think it's a slightly lazy choice.
It's as though the creators figured they'd bit off enough with the immensity of the films scale and vision, that attempting to tackle an original and nuanced plot would be too much for either them or the audience to handle. Our eyes will no doubt be popping out of our heads with some new magnificently rendered vista or spectacular action sequence every 3 seconds. Perhaps asking us to ponder a deep story simultaneously would have made our heads explode altogether. There may be film theory to that effect.
The spectacle here is a visual one. The film is extroverted not introspective and maybe a simple storyline is the best compliment to the grandeur of it's scope. In this way I hope the story works as a 'classic' in the same sense mythology and simple good vs. evil stories never age, rather than seeming lazy or cliched. After all Lawrence of Arabia is a masterpiece and Last Samurai was pretty good as well.
I'm sure I'll enjoy it either way and the film is going to make bookoos of cash. but the problem with building a film entirely as a CGI spectacular, however is that, it wont be long before you're upstaged by the next big thing. I'll enjoy sitting in the theater with my $75 medium soda, taking in Avatar's visual splendor, but will I care in a month or two. There's always something newer and prettier, but a great story lives forever. If you have that, your film will be remembered, otherwise it will have it's 15 minutes and then disappear. Example: who gives a crap about The Phantom Menace?
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All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
One of the early anti-war gestures in film, Lewis Milestone crafts in All Quiet on the Western Front a film remarkable for it’s time in it’s intelligence and the richness of it’s production. Compared to the near unanimity of patriotic bravado that characterized most early war films it was an unconventional repose about the devastation and tragic cost of war. The film follows several school friends at the outset of WWI. Filled with the idealism of youth the boys are incited to action by the sanctimonious declarations of patriotism and glory given by their professor. The film’s lyrical symmetry brilliantly portrays it’s message about the naivety of youth, the foolish glorification of war and the loss of innocence both material and ideological. As the boys march from the simple idealism of the classroom right into the battlefield their ennobling concepts of war are replaced by it’s bleak desolate reality. A poetic and allegorical commentary of war, All Quiet on the Western Front is a haunting and sensitive lament on the toll it exacts on the souls of those who fight.
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Like many of Sergei Eisenstein’s films, Battleship Potemkin is essentially a Russian propaganda piece and as such is less accessible to modern audiences with regards to it’s story. It is, none the less one of the greatest achievements in silent film. A stunning demonstration of visual storytelling through brilliant editing and montage, Potemkin and it’s story of revolt, may not be the most relatable but the manner in which it is told makes it necessary viewing for any film fan. Their is a strange frenzy in the stillness and silence of Eisenstein’s films that is a result of his editing; a pent up energy that culminates in the speechless expression of cuts, both their timing and destination. The crescendo of his style in Potemkin is the famed scene on the Odessa Steps. There are things that qualify films beyond simply how much they amuse us or satiate our desire to sit back and be entertained with pretty sights and sounds. Like many films, especially silent, Potemkin makes you work a little. It’s not the easiest film to enjoy, nor the most entertaining on this list. It’s one of those films that’s remarkable for it’s artistic craftsmanship and satisfying to behold and appreciate as a work of technical brilliance. You need to invest yourself as the viewer but the reward for doing so is worth it.
Das Boot (1981)
An opera of faces. Wolfgang Petersen’s 3 hour WWII epic resides primarily in the claustrophobic confinement of a German U-boat (Submarine) and finds significance in the earnest hopes and fears of it’s crew. At the end of the film I couldn’t tell you a single name but I knew very well those onboard, not by rank or position except the captain (Jürgen Prochnow) but the personality and meaning in their faces. The eyes betray what words alone can never convince us of. Petersen has not crafted a war film of action and bravado but one that finds the human element essential to it’s universal importance. It’s grandeur is not visual but psychological. The men aboard cannot see beyond their metal undersea prison into the murky depths and must rely on their own instincts to ascertain what is happening during hostile confrontations. The speculative nature of these battles is where the film draws it’s greatest strength. The fear of the unknown and the terrible possibilities of what could be happening on the other side of the hull create a war thriller of powerful drama and suspense. The focus is not so much on the action but the crews’ reaction to it. We do not see them with historical prejudices because the film wisely omits most of the national specifics of it’s conflict, generalizing politics and hostile encounters. It is viewed not with the deceit and corruption of the German hierarchy but through the eyes of young men forced to shoulder the duties of their nation. The war has made them “the enemy” but fear makes them simply human beings and the resulting film avoids the negative stigma of Nazism by demonstrating and relying, not on the flags or politics which separate us, but on the humanity that unites us.
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Part of the cerebral cyberpunk Anime culture that has informed other contemporary sci-fi classics such as Dark City, and most strikingly, The Matrix, Ghost in the shell is a provocative thriller that ponders the nature of the human soul and conciousness. Based on the Manga by Shirow Masamune, the world of Ghost in the Shell is set in the very near future, in which the advent of highly advanced cybernetics allows the human body to be partially or completely replaced (cyberized) by superior prosthetics. The processes of the human brain can be mapped digitally and transferred across or even simply reside within cyberspace (thus the most prominent Matrix link and the allusion to new “realities” and the substance thereof). Ghost in the Shell explores just what it is that makes us human. In a world where our minds can be hacked, memories forged, and AI is as sophisticated as the human brain, what defines a living being and what is the truth of our reality? If your body and mind are artificially duplicated and your consciousness digitally transferred, where is your soul? Can it be defined algorithmically? In the vein of theoretical fiction visionary Andy K Dick, who’s meditations on the nature of memory as it relates to the being, have been adapted into classic films such as Blade Runner, and Minority Report, the film uses logical scientific propositions to ask profound questions about the nature of humanity and whether we are more than the sum of our accumulated experiences. The film would have benefited from a more substantial story arc but it’s most compelling feature is the questions it’s source material suggests than the details of it’s plot.
[CENTER]“Hail and victory and sink ‘em all!”[/CENTER]
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Perhaps the greatest of all Noir. Humphry Bogart stars as another classic literary “shamus” as Dashiel Hammett’s Sam Spade in a superbly written an acted film that is one of the most distinguished and dramatic examples of the genre. Somewhat less ostentatious than The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon still features all the cynical edge but ingrains it deeply within characters it treats with more brooding sobriety. Bogart plays Spade with more refrain and slightly less swagger than his Marlow in the Big Sleep, but with the same prowess and self possession. When beautiful damsel in distress Brigid O’Shaughnessy comes to Spade for help finding her sister, Sam becomes embroiled in the affairs of a treacherous group of international thugs, all in pursuit of a legendary and valuable statue. Sydney Greenstreet (who also appeared with Bogart in Casablanca) gives a delightful performance as the unscrupulous Kasper Gutman. Spade never really trusts Miss O’Shaughnessy but is attracted to her and involves himself in a dangerous game on her behalf. Putting himself precariously in the middle of the various gangsters and police with the kind of Machiavellian duplicity characteristic of classic detective stories, Spade attempts to unravel the convoluted case of theft, blackmail, extortion and murder before it’s too late.
Bela Legosi created, what has become, the classic Dracula persona with his interpretative performance in the 1931 film based on Bram Stoker’s legendary character. Long before Legosi invented the henceforth stereotypical standard of Vampiric aura and manner, Max Schreck had created his own iconic presence in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Roger Ebert comments that "To watch F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu" (1922) is to see the vampire movie before it had really seen itself." Murnau did not have the rights to the Dracula name but the story is virtually identical. Schreck’s Nosferatu is not the debonair aristocrat of seeming ageless experience and command, implied in Legosi’s performance but instead a withered, ghastly presence. Since the film was silent, the performance is contained in his physical presence and posturing not the dialogue or the iconic accent Legosi famously attributed to Dracula. It’s this difference as well as the unique name that help distinguish the two roles and make the Nosferatu character so enduring to spite it’s obscurity and later displacement by the 'definitive' hollywood version. What is most memorable about F.W. Murnau’s vampire however is that unlike the 1931 version there is nothing suave or charming about him. He was not a creature of social grace and accomplishment but a hideous and reclusive being. One of the most memorable things however is simply the way he looks, with an elongated sunken face and slender limbs, and a prominent set of fangs protruding from the center of his mouth instead of the sides. Silent film is well suited to the kind of creepy pervasive atmosphere Murnau, a master of German Expressionism, uses here. The solitariness of the images, amplifies the physical persona of a given character. It is this unequely subversive language and Schreck’s affecting demeanor that makes simply the presence of Nosferatu so ominous. Culled from the mood of the Expressionist movement and Murnau’s own genius as a stylish filmmaker, Nosferatu is a lesser known but superior version of the famous legend.
[CENTER]“We all go a little mad sometimes.”[/CENTER]
Odd Man Out (1947)
Director Carol Reed (The Third Man) again proves his ability to get the most out of his environment, this time the underworld of Belfast Ireland. An entertaining human study, Odd Man Out takes a candid look at the heart of man and what motivates our choices, compassion or judgment towards others. When a bank robbery goes wrong Johnny McQueen (Played by the great thespian James Mason) is left behind, wounded and on the run from a police manhunt closing in around him. In a bad way, desperate and cold, Johnny makes his way through the seedy underbelly of the city. Forced to rely on the help of compassionate strangers he encounters a variety of different people, from all walks of life. Reed uses these encounters to explore the inscrutable nature of the human heart as some fear him, some misunderstand him and some avoid him while still others take compassion on him. For some their attitude towards him good or bad is immediate and unthinking while others struggle to reconcile their conscience towards a dying man and their civic duty against a criminal. Odd Man Out is superbly crafted entertainment, cleverly devised and well executed, poignant, emotional and wise.
Paths of Glory (1957)
No stranger to war films, Stanley Kubrick directs his most powerful and complete in Paths of Glory, a scathing deconstruction of the politics of war and the meaning behind it. Kurt Douglas gives an intense performance as a Colonol tasked with selecting three soliders to take the fall for an operation gone wrong. The film is a brilliant portrayal of the inhuman nature of war as soldiers are used and discarded with callous inhumanity. The effect of the social political machine of war reduces the value of human life to numbers on paper and the deaths of thousands are not regarded as horrific tragedy but instead merely interpreted through the lens of public and military opinion, discussed over glasses of cognac by high command. The film takes an unflinching look at the harsh reality behind war, where the lives of men are arranged and manipulated to serve the arrogance and stature of high ranking officials or the national favor. It concludes with one of those profound and moving moments in film where, for a brief time, barriers fade away in revelation of the human condition we all share. As an epilogue, the scene is perfect.
As an exercise in convention defying style and surprisingly visceral filmmaking, Psycho is a timeless work of horror and one of the definitive examples of the genre. Revisiting it now, as is often the case, I was amazed at how original and brilliant it really is. Hitchcock’s remarkable command of his camera has never been better as one of the greatest Directors of all time demonstrates a mastery of style and technique, building a supernatural suspense and expectation with every cut and every angle. The range of cinematography exhibited, and the extraordinary expression Hitchcock evokes with his method is amazing. The film is remembered most for the infamous shower scene (not what it sounds like), in which Hitchcock famously used 78 cuts in 45 seconds. This is one of the most consummately crafted films I’ve ever seen and there is not a moment when the pervasive atmosphere or unsettling camera work isn’t slowly building in suspense towards some unknown terror. Through it’s course the film is taught with this kind of primal energy, punctuated only a few times in sudden moments of shocking violence or revelation. From beginning to end this film is pure, magnificent cinema.
The Up Documentaries (1964 – 2005)
I cheat a little to include the 5 available instalments of the “Up Documentaries,” a series of 7 total episodic documentaries that comprise a whole work and a concept 49 years in the making. The saying goes, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” The Up Documentaries began in 1964 when Director Michael Apted selected a group of seven year olds to film as part of a social cross section. Since that day, Micheal has revisited these children every seven years. The series is comprised of these septennial interviews in which we observe the amazing phenomenon of life unfolding in 7 year chapters. The series begins with 7 Up and concludes, thus far, with 49 Up (though sadly 7 Up and 21 Up are unavailable for streaming). The culminative experience and the unprecedented glimpse into the sum of these individuals lives is a revelation. One of the most amazing things committed to film and one of surprising power are the brief montages that show each progressive encounter of a given subject. To see the lives of these individuals pass before you and the faces gradually mature and age in 7 year leaps is stunning. The Up Documentaries is similar to the great documentary Hoop Dreams, which follows the lives of two students for the duration of their high-school basketball careers, yet it surpasses it in the expanse of it’s scope. It is a modern time capsule containing real human lives. Rarely do we see the amazing power of film to transcend, nor see so clearly the fleeting brevity of our lives.
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The Adventures of Robin hood (1938)
A merry swashbuckler, The Adventures of Robinhood is one of the quintessential examples of the daring-do genre that delighted in classic tales of cavalier heroism and thrilling escapades. Steeped in the classic adventurism of action serials such as Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy and Tarzan it's the genre in which Errol Flynn's legacy was forged. Here the dashing action star is at his best as the high spirited, sharp tongued hero of Sherwood, bravelly defending the weak against wicked Prince John, (Cluade Rains) and the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham (Basil Rathbone), and winning the heart of the fair maid Merrian (Olivia Dehavaland). Flynn's Robin of Loxely characterized a hearty and unwavering regard for justice, a sense of righteousness that he embraced as much with dutiful stoicism as sporting good humor. The clarity of his resolve, unmuddied by self interest or pyschological undertones, is a novelty by today's standards. Like others of it's kind The Adventures of Robinhood is a simple good vs. evil tale uncomplicated by subterfuge or political vagaries. It's for this reason and it's giddy embrace of high adventure, that it remains one of the liveliest and most purely entertaining films you will see.
The Big Sleep (1946)
A classic example of film Noir, The Big Sleep elevates fast witty banter and sardonic innuendo to an art form. Naturally great performances and chemistry by Bogart and Bacall in a plot so convoluted author Raymond Chandler himself had a hard time explaining ‘who done it.’ When detective Philip Marlow is hired by a wealthy invalid to deal with a man blackmailing his youngest daughter, he becomes involved in the complicated affairs of the family, romantically so with the eldest daughter (Bacall). The plot features all the traditional staples of vintage Noir including blackmail, murder, gangsters, racketeers and dames. Verbal exchanges between the players are hugely entertaining. Conversations are engaged in with the dexterity and strategic prowess of a fencing match as characters trade words with swift, eloquent cynicism. One of the very best of it’s kind, The Big Sleep is a wonderfully labyrinthine web of Noirish style, dialogue and atmosphere.
Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Sir Alec Guinness received an Oscar for his portrayal as the proud, dignified Colonel Nicholson in David Lean’s other great WWII character study (In addition to Lawrence of Arabia). Chronicling the efforts of British POW’s in a Japanese prison camp to build the eponymous bridge, the film assumes the stature of a war epic while pondering surprisingly deep concepts. Typical of his ability, Lean balances broad spectacle with intense personal drama and manages to orchestrate the physical peril and moral dilemma of a many different individuals into both a great war film and a remarkable study of human nature. The center of the film is the confrontation between Nicholson and Japanese Colonel Saito who presides over the prison camp with a severe sense of pride and duty similar to Nicholson’s own. The implications and consequences of their confrontation are surprisingly complex. Both opponents conceal pride and ambition from everyone and themselves with facades duty and honor. Religiously adhering to personal codes of conduct both similar yet unreconcilable, the two remain at diametric opposition yet ultimately make the same choices and compromises. In the end when both begin manipulating the rules they strictly observe in order to accommodate personal accomplishment, the film suggest intriguing questions concerning the heart of man. The relationship between Nicholson and Siato is one of the great ironies of the cinema. The film’s famous climax is an amazing culmination of action and symbolism, poetically summarized in both Nicholson’s iconic revelation and the final line of the movie. Bridge on the River Kwai can be enjoyed solely as a great war film but is surprisingly rewarding as a human study. With superb acting, strong writing and great action it’s a masterpiece that works equally well on both levels.
“Let me do the talking, angel. I don’t know yet what I’m going to tell them. It’ll be pretty close to the truth.”
A Christmas Story (1983)
A perennial holiday classic and warm tribute to the days of childhood and a past era, A Christmas Story is one of the most beloved and well traveled comedies and one of those rare films that has become a cultural milestone of sorts. It’s story involving Ralphie’s indelible childhood quest to receive the famed Red Rider BB gun for Christmas is a series of memorable episodes, the iconic images and quotes from which have become ingrained in pop culture (”You’ll shoot your eye out!” The effectiveness with which it evokes a fondness and a genuine sense of nostalgia for mid-century Americana, is due in large part to the delightfully engaging narration by Jean Shephard. I think everyone has seen this film by now. It’s hard to miss the 24 hour marathons that run Christmas day, but who feels like waiting for December. “Ho. Ho. Ho.”
Dear Zachary (2008)
When his childhood friend Andrew Bagby, is murdered, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne sets out to make a sort of memoir documentary for his unborn son. The resulting film, begun shortly after Andrew’s death, gradually becomes consumed by the startling events that transpired thereafter and is an unnerving mixture of the heartfelt remembrance it was intended to be and the shocking chronicle of events it became. Much more than a simple tribute or recollection, Kurt Kuenne has composed a work of remarkable life and nuance that takes many forms. Dear Zachary is extraordinary in it’s indefinable form and the range of emotions and thoughts it expresses to us and invokes in us. Hard to watch and impossible to forget, the film is at times frightening, disturbing, sad, and uplifting. Were it not for it’s capacity to invoke a certain amount of healing and hope in the face of tragedy it would be difficult to recommend at all. As it stands it’s tragedy and the gut wrenching realism of it’s subject matter nearly overwhelms it’s redemptive qualities. It’s fervor and raw emotion are deeply affecting but it’s also a psychological intense and devastating film that is hard to come to terms with. It’s a brutal experience that makes you question whether or not it is actually a valuable one. In the end it stands out to me as a remarkably powerful encounter, that I cannot help but talk about, less out of enthusiasm than simply astonishment at it’s potency and respect for the individuals it honors. It is the most personal documentary I have ever seen, but this recomendation comes with a sincere caution: This is a hard film to see and not the kind of viewing experience to be taken lightly.
“Excuse me. Who are you?”
Double Indemnity (1944)
One of the seminal works of the Noir genre, Billy Wilder’s, imitation Hitchcock, personified the hallmarks of the new art form with a clever one of a kind film that blended the crime genre with a kind of black satire. As the maverick director attempted to prove himself in the suspense genre the youth and rebellion of his style showed through. The result was something completely new as the film borrowed elements of crime procedurals and suspense films but couldn’t help but express the director’s own sardonic wit. Double Indemnity pioneered and identified many of the hallmarks of the style, helping to define Noir and set it apart as a new movement in film. The dialogue, as with any really good Noir is an absolute treat and the performances by Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G, Robinson are right on the money. Double Indemnity is great entertainment.
The Host (2006)
Korean monster movie, The Host is dissimilar to the style and pace we’re used to in American creature flicks. Unlike most, Director Joon-ho Bong, doesn’t forget that it’s the human aspect that makes, suspense, action, horror, whatever, effective. He never leaves his characters behind but instead uses their humanity to drive his story. He doesn’t mistake sound and fury for profundity. He doesn’t substitute superficial special effects for meaningful characters and story, nor does he dilute his film with gratuitous gore and special effects under the pretense of great spectacle. Instead he uses these elements effectively to support the integrity of the film, frightening, suspenseful and thrilling, as a human drama. Like Jaws or Jurassic Park before it, The Host is effective because we care about the people in it. When a hideous abomination, begins wreaking havoc on the shores of the Han river, the government, intervenes by zoning off the river and quarantining the victims. The film centers around the Park family, father Park Hie-bong, and his three grown children, (Park Gang-du, Park Nam-Joo and Park Nam-il). A family of half successes and partial failures, they band together to escape quarantine and rescue Park Gang-du’s daughter when she is abducted by the creature. The themes and symbolism of the family unit introduce an interesting dynamic to the story.
“Why, you speak treason!” – “Fluently.”
Matchstick Men (2003)
One of the virtues of any good film is the human story within it. Too often the real motivation and power behind movies is lost when style and attitude is mistaken for meaning and purpose. Every so often a good film by a good director reminds us how it’s done. Compare Minority Report with Paycheck (both based on stories by sci-fi luminary Philip K Dick), or the first two Alien movies with the last two and you get the idea. Matchstick Men, directed by Ridley Scott, is a fine example of good storytelling based on interesting characters we like and empathize with. Nicolas Cage stars as idiosyncratic, phobic con artist Roy Waller who’s sterile regimented life and routine is turned upside down when he learns he has a daughter. Cage again proves his versatility in a performance that must have been as fun to give as it is to watch and Sam Rockwell, does a great job as Roy’s protege. Rockwell is an underrated talent and his unique onscreen persona works well opposite Cage’s obsessive compulsive Roy. Alison Lohman is perfect as Roy’s sprightly 14 year old daughter Angela (she was 24 at the time). The relationship between the uptight but lovable Roy and the effervescent youth is what makes this clever con film so endearing. It manages to be sweet and likeable without compromizing it’s intelligence as a con film. It doesn’t dillute it’s plot or insult the audience with patronizing sentimentality but relies on it’s genuine humanity to carry it through to the end.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2007)
Visually inventive filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Mimic, Hellboy) crafts his opus in a fairy tale that doesn’t transport us outside our world but suggests instead that fantasy exists within it. Set in 1944 Spain, it tells the story of Ofelia, a young girl who comes to live in a Fascist outpost when her mother is married to it’s commanding officer, the cruel and ruthless Captain Vidal. She soon encounters an enigmatic Faun and the strange kingdom he introduces her to. By setting his fable within the fabric of real life and the dark heart of World War II, del Toro contrasts the escape of fantasy and imagination and argues their validity to the innocence of childhood. This is the subtle brilliance and mystery of Pan’s Labyrinth; the coexistence of fact and fiction and the possibility that Ofelia’s world, which del Toro makes no qualms about presenting with the utmost realism, may in fact only exist in the heart of a child. He accomplishes this partially with less abrupt tranasitional cuts such as swipes and similar associative techniques, which imply the proximity of Ofelia’s imaginary world with that of our own. From a filmmaker like del Toro and a film like Pan’s Labyrinth, we expect him to simply imply the reality of fairy tale (and it’s for this reason we may underestimate this film) but here he does something much more profound and psychological. Unlike a film such as Hellboy, which simply presents the literal existence of myth, Pan’s Labyrinth suggests them with the same respect and authenticity but never confirms them outside Ofelia’s imagination. There is the possibility that the hope they represent may in fact be imagined. I’m reminded in some ways of the brilliant film Eve’s Bayou and how cause and effect often translate differently in the mind of children. Only Ofelia can see the Faun, because only a child is willing to believe him.
Perfect Blue (1998)
Mind bending Anime autuer Satoshi Kon’s breakout hit pushes the limits of reality and perception in this story about a young actress who is stalked by a mysterious and dangerous stranger. The plot routinely turns back on itself and it’s hard to distinguish reality from hallucination. Like many of his Japanime contemporaries, Kon is obsessed with visual, metaphysical and psychological paradox. His style explores the limits of reality through the literal and figurative contortions of his images and complex plots, through the freedoms afforded by the animation medium. His first film as director, it’s an experiment in bending the rules of storytelling. It uses it’s altered realities to engage the viewer on a more intimate level, drawing them in by constantly shattering the logical solidity of a given reality. The film resembles something like Memento or, though with more cohesion, the works and style David Lynch. Kon is one of those artists that reckognizes the truth of art; that no matter what form it takes, is not literal but the translation of the abstract through a physical medium. Replicated adherance to the rules of reality is acceptable but not necessary in order to accomplish this communication. Kon ’s style came into full fruition in 2007’s Paprika but it was Perfect Blue that paved the wave for the latter film’s mainstream recognition.
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A while back I wrote an article for EverydayGamers.com listing the 50 best films available for Netflix Streaming and have been meaning to include it here as well. The list was broken up into five weekly segments concluding with the top 10 films 'that should be in your que.' The initial 40 are only listed in alphabetical order, whereas the top 10 where the only ones I listed according to prominence.
A brief description accompanies each film and describes why the film is one of the 50 best worth checking out. Since availability of the streaming titles is temporary I'm not sure how many of these are still available although I believe most still are. There where a lot of films left out that I wanted to included and there have since been made available many more I would have strongly considered. I want to do a follow up soon, maybe make an updated list. Since availability fluctuates, I think this list will be pretty fun to revisit on occasion.
Since the article is pretty long I'll stick to the 10 at a time format that I originally used.
The 39 Steps (1935)
[/B]A British production made before he gained notoriety as a Hollywood director, The 39 Steps is one of the most delightful, yet lesser known Hitchcock masterpieces. It’s a fine example of many of his favorite themes including the ‘wrong man’ scenario and one of the most classic uses of the “Mcguffen.” In an on the run plot similar to his later Saboteur (also available in streaming) a young man stumbles into an international mystery involving murder, espionage and government secrets. Attempting to stay one step ahead of spies and other shadowy forces as he gradually makes his way across the British countryside and through a variety of entertaining encounters. Deftly blending lighthearted comedy and romance with thrilling adventure, it’s one of the best and most entertaining examples of the classic Hitchcock chase film. Incorporating several of his most prolific plot devices The 39 Steps was an early precursor to his later works such as North by Northwest to which it bears a resemblance.
[B]Blade Runner – Director’s Cut (1982)
[/B]Few films have been so generally accepted as classics yet at the same time so thoroughly divided critics and fans over that assumption. Based off of Philip K. Dick’s short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Blade Runner fails to fully deliver on the cerebral depth of it’s source material, especially compared with similar films such as Minority Report (also based on a Philip K. Dick short), but where it falls short in substance it makes up for with style. The film’s foreboding depiction of future Los Angeles is unforgettable, with it’s dark industrialized cityscape, billowing flames, and crowded, rainy streets teeming with neon lights and exotic characters. The art style was influenced by a variety of sources and is a strangely harmonious marriage of gritty Sci-Fi and vintage Noir. The eerily timeless aesthetic of sets and costumes is complimented by the magnificent ethereal score by Vangelis. Part of the film’s lasting appeal is the seemingly ageless quality of it’s ambiance as well as it’s brilliant special effects, which, similarly to Kubrick’s 2001, have a kind of flawlessness that holds up impeccably well today. While criticisms about the story are in some ways valid, these arguments fail to account for the true essence of a film that succeeds not as a masterpiece of literary depth but of beautiful, haunting atmosphere and encompassing vision.
[B]Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
[/B]Though inspired in part by early Noir such as Double Indemnity and Gun Crazy, Bonnie and Clyde is unlike any other movie or genre. One of the defining films of the new era that emerged in the 60’s Bonnie and Clyde characterized it’s raw energy and fearlessness. Bold and provocative, the film’s unflinching candor and brazen style ignored the inhibitions of conventional filmmaking, embodying the exciting spirit of a new kind of cinema in the rebellious attitude of America’s most notorious couple. It’s reckless beauty parallels the youth and violence of the famous outlaws, their exploits, and eventual downfall. It’s edginess however, does not detract from it’s power as a portrait of America and two tragic human beings. Ned Beatty and Faye Dunaway give meaningful performances as the fated lovers. The final sequence is an extraordinary example of editing, a furious choreography of frames that manages to convey a remarkable amount of information, expression and revelation in the final moments. Stunning in it’s ferocity and majestic in it’s tragic parable, Bonnie and Clyde is a seminal classic and stirring American elegy.
[B]Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro: Special Edition (1980)
[/B]One of the great directors, Hayao Miyazaki is less conspicuous being a Japanese director of animated films. He is none the less one of the most consistently brilliant and sensitive storytellers of recent years. Like many Japanime directors Miyazaki is himself an artist. A consummate craftsman and master of his art form he often contibutes many of the frames to his own films. The Castle of Cagliostro was his first feature film. Based on the Manga, it features the suave criminal Lupin III and his companion in crime Jigen as they investigate the mysterious kingdom of the sinister Count Cagliostro. It’s an action adventure instilled with the cool of both a heist film and spy flick. Though dissimilar to the myth and magic that would come to characterize Miyazaki’s later films such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, the Manga translation still benefits from the imagination and intuitive storytelling of Miyazaki’s genius. Steven Spielberg himself called it “One of the greatest adventure movies of all time.” Not bad coming from the director of Indiana Jones.
[B]“We rob banks.”
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
[/B]The strange and fantastical talents of off the wall genius screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) shine in this metaphysical romance about the intricacies of the heart and the reconciliations of love. Jim Carey gives a very likable performance as the quiet, gentle Joel who’s relationship with wild child Clementine (Kate Winslet) struggles to find balance, and the couple, mutual serenity. When they decide to end their relationship Joel turns to Lacuna, a curious institution that specializes in the removal of unwanted memories. As a writer, Kaufman demonstrates one of the principles of good science fiction: Using the liberating nature of fantasy as literal illustrations of figurative principles. By using Joel’s memories as a stage, Kaufman brilliantly illuminates abstract concepts by spatially defining them within the environment of Joel’s imagination. Kaufman needed only the convenient vehicle of Lacuna’s fictional memory science in order to create a fantastic visual illustration of an emotional odyssey. As Joel’s memories of Clementine are removed, will he have a change of heart? Will it matter if they are soul mates?
[/B]A fascinating spectacle. Acclaimed director Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn, Encounters at the End of the World), studying some of his most common themes (the madness of obsession and man pushed to the physical and psychological brink) brings us the story of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald “Fitzcarraldo” (Herzog favorite, Klaus Kinski) who’s dream and determination to build an opera house in a remote Peruvian village, leads him on a quest to exploit the local rubber industry to acquire funds. In pursuit of a valuable but nearly inaccessible parcel of land, his indomitable will to realize his dream prompts him to haul a 300 ton steamer ship over a mountain with the help of the local, potentially hostile, natives. Herzog did not cut corners in the creation of this scenario and the images of such an extraordinary feat are a sight to behold. Kinski, as usual, gives an ardent performance as a man driven by a consuming obsession.
[B]“How happy is the blameless Vestal's lot...The world forgetting by the world forgot...”
The General (1927)
[/B]Though overshadowed by and lesser known than Charlie Chaplin, who is one of the few, if perhaps only, silent comedians still universally recognized today, Buster Keaton was one of the few who’s comedic brilliance and physical dexterity rivaled Chaplin’s own. Though less of a sensitive storyteller than his peer, Keaton outdid him in the physical and mechanical invention of his comedy. Less graceful and balletic than Chaplin, his style was more plainly acrobatic. Keaton made around 10 full length silent films and a multitude of shorts. All of which are worth seeing. Of all his movies, The General, is the most commonly acclaimed as the masterpiece of his career. At the outbreak of the Civil War, derided by by his fellow southerners when he is rejected for enlistment, (due to his value as a railroad conductor) Johnny (Keaton) embarks on a trek through the war torn south to regain his honor and rescue his southern belle who is kidnapped by Northern spies. The General is also respected for it’s authentic production values.
[B]Groundhog Day (1993)
[/B]The concept of a man who inexplicably begins living one single day over and over again, alone would have provided enough gags for a few films or even a sitcom. Thankfully though, the comedic potential of such a set-up was not abused. Director Harold Ramis did not take the lazy approach and rely on the automatic nature of such a gimmick, like most directors today would have, but instead used it in a heartfelt and meaningful take on a classic theme about a selfish and indifferent man who slowly learns to care about something other than himself. Bill Murray, in a role the deadpan smart-alec was born to play, is perfect as a weatherman who’s blatant immaturity, conceit and bored sarcasm suggests a man who stopped caring long ago. When he is inescapably trapped in the repetition of a single day, he is forced to experience the same encounters again and again until he learns to get it right and he learns how, with a little practice, just one day can change your life. The film is loosely based on a myth with a similar moral. Oh yeah, it’s absolutely hilarious.
[B]“It’s only the dreamers who ever move mountains.”
No Country for Old Men (2007)
[/B]A harrowing moral fable, No Country For Old Men was based on the book by Cormack McCarthy and directed by the eccentric Coen brothers (Fargo). It won three Oscars in 2007 including Best Picture. When Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) happens upon the bloody aftermath between drug lords he also discovers a suitcase full of cash. Surrounded only by the dead, he assumes he can take the money without consequence and makes off with the bag. But the tag line goes “No getaway is clean.” and soon Moss finds himself hunted by a sociopathic hitman, played brilliantly by Javier Bardem who’s chilling performance as the nihilistic madman won him an Oscar for supporting actor. Tommy Lee Jones plays the local sheriff, a stoic but weather worn old timer who acts as a symbol of reason and sanity in a world that has seemingly hardened itself to both. Anytime an adaptation is so obviously laden with heavy moral themes and symbolism it’s easy to wonder if the story is still better served as a book but regardless, No Country for Old Men is a powerful movie. Not an easy one to watch, however, it is one of the most gripping films I’ve seen in some time. “What’s the most you ever lost in a coin toss?
[B]The Third Man (1949)
[/B]Quintessential thriller, The Third Man, is one of the most respected and prominent films in history. The movie is a kind of Noir drama, though it has a tone unlike most from either genre. It stars Joseph Cotton as, naive pulp writer, Holly Martin, who has just arrived in post war Vienna after receiving an invitation from an old friend. Upon arriving, he soon learns his friend was killed in an accident. Everything is not how it appears however and Holly is quickly thrust into a world of foreign intrigue, police, spies and dubious characters. Falling in love with his late friend’s girl, Holly remains in Vienna under the pretense of absolving his memory from accusations of corruption. The cinematography is gorgeous and the bombed out city is a character all it’s own. A sense of antiquity presides over the mystery, as Holly attempts to uncover the truth behind his friend’s untimely and suspicious death. The film also stars Orson Welles as Harry Lime. He gives a typically great performance, simultaneously threatening and charming, and delivers one of the best lines in any movie (The cuckoo clock speech).
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It's been a while since I've written anything on the old blog. I've been pretty busy, preoccupied with a lot of other stuff, work, other writing, graphic design blah-dee-blah, which are all good enough excuses but quite frankly the reason I haven't written anything on this blog in a while is for one simple reason: IT DOESN'T WORK!! actually it does, sort of, as you can tell since you're reading this but the problem is that it's still too "beta" and I've had a lot of problems rating movies, adding reviews etc. You know, all the stuff I actually use this blog for. So until RT gets their act together and this blog to actually function I'll have to wait.
Still been at it though. I knocked out a little ditty on the Wages of Fear, I've still got a Persepolis review sitting around and I finally saw Last Year At Marienbad, which is easily one of the best films I've ever seen...ever. Reviewing that film is complicated. It's more like writing some kind of thesis paper in college, but yes I've got it started though it's as convoluted as the movie itself. It's sufficient to state my admiration for it and say it makes my top 10 or all time.
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I've just seen the trailer for the new Sherlock Holmes film and boy oh boy, what a piece of crap!
Whoever thought making Sherlock Holmes into an action movie starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes needs to have his credentials revoked, whatever those may be. Downy Jr. is a fine actor and has proven he's got the action chops. My problem is the star with the genre it's the genre with the story and the star with the role.
These are the two grievous problems with this movie. Isn't action beside the point with Sherlock Holmes? Why beat a man with your fists if you can beat him with your wit? Even being generous, I just don't understand how this is a good idea. On top of that I can't see how anyone thought Downy Jr. was suited to the role. Even if you're going to make Holmes an action star there has to be someone with a more familiar resemblance to the literary slueth.
Another egregious miscast is Jude Law as Watson. Not only is he a good deal younger than his character, he is also younger than Downy which is a reversal of the pairing as far a s I know. Just so everything's backwards Downy himself is also a tad young for the role, or at least appears too youthful and utterly lacking in the stuffy self composure of Holmes' intellect.
Ironically Law, with his slender features and superior height to Downy does bear a certain likeness to the Holmes character.
I really just don't understand. Who thinks this is clever? Why even bother making adaptations if you're going trample all over them. Why bother if you're simply going to throw everything out the window?
I'm so tired of the modernization of classic themes and ideas into slick, glamourous productions that rely on the sensuality of aesthetics, CGI, and cocky bravado to seduce the filmgoer. Rather than having faith in the good old fashioned qualities of intelligence and wit that made these stories interesting in the first place, Hollywood dispenses with anything resembling true artistic character or integrity, mistaking racy showmanship and spectacle (300 anyone) for meaning and importance. There is a dignity in the patience, decorum and modesty we so immaturely discard in favor of more alluring but ultimately shallow attributes in our entertainment.
Complaining about individual instances of superficiality in Hollywood is like trying to prune a cactus; if you're worried about getting pricked you should just cut the whole thing down. I understand the need for embelshment and there is naturally a certain glamorization of most any film, this is theatre after all, but these things need to be balanced with some good sense and wholesome qaulities, such as patience and prudence in the application of exxagerations. There needs to be a certain responsibility that comes with the excesses make-believe grants us. What's the line? "With great power comes great responsibility?"
My problem is the ratio of attitude to substance and the substitution of the former for the latter. Clearly this is a reimaging of the classic character of Holmes but the excessive liberties taken with the spirit of the original have resulted in a film that can scarcely be called by it's name.
I may be proven wrong. I sincerely hope so but sincerely doubt it. There are some films you can just tell about. The shallow ones are the quickest to give themselves away. You can usually see right through them a mile away, which is about as close I ever care to be to a screen showing this malarky.
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-Having Just seen the latest Watchmen trailer I thought I'd do a little pontificating. (yes I'm joking)(sort of)
Ordinarily I would be enthusiastic but I stop short given the particular work being brought to the screen and the conclusions I draw thereby. I imagine it nearly impossible to translate the literary depth, the symbolism, metaphors and parallels, of Alan Moore's original work faithfully, by compressing it into film and 2 hours, or 3, or whatever. Moore himself has expressed his disapproval of the idea and, I'm not sure about his reasons but I can't help but agree for many of my own.
I'm not crazy about Zack Snyder as director for one thing. He definitely has the willing enthusiasm to wield his digital paintbrush with appropriate verve but he's hardly the master of this field as Moore was his. Snyder's has demonstrated a fondness for the pulp fictional, pop cultural material and the attentive adherence to the artistic soul of the originals, at least visually. His films however have never been particularly, how should I say...deep. It's hard enough to translate literature into cinema without sacrificing a majority of detail and subtext. The complexity and layering of The Watchmen is practically beyond doing so in any proper degree and would require a far more cerebral director than Snyder, a far more intuitive approach than the superficial exuberance of an art style saturated in CG.
As an artistic work Watchmen has already found the appropriate medium as a graphic novel. Watchmen is a graphic novel. What it is and what it accomplishes it does because of it's particular format. There's no need for further translation since doing so will only distort the original. This reasoning could be applied to any piece of great literature I suppose. I wouldn't argue against it, though there are many translations I value and others I would invite. In this case however I'm inclined to be stubborn with respect to the singularity of the original and the fruitlessness of it's "adaptation." The marvelous choreography of words and images Moore and, it should be noted, his artist Dave Gibbons achieved was a balletic symphony of philosophical and artistic symmetry. I've never seen images and ideas flow with such poetic symbionce.
The interesting thing is that the artistic brilliance of the Watchmen novel shares attributes with that of film. This is ironic because one of the qualities of literature is it's ability to take in and consider information in any quantity and at any pace the author desires. It can speed through events or labor scrutinously over the smallest detail. The graphic novel in some ways bridges the gap between film and literature. It is still afforded some of the privileges and freedoms of the written word yet is tied to the flow of images and the demand of the reader's eyes that they must consistently progress and develop before them. There is an element of expedience in visual media that's hard to explain, except to say the eye is more impatient than the mind. It's as if the mind is a mature adult saying 'let's enjoy the scenery' and the eye, a child asking 'Are we there yet?'
Because the progressive fluidity of Moore's work lends itself naturally to film, there are ways in which the movie can succeed. The foremost of which is it's need to distinguish itself from the nature of the original, as a kind of homage and not a duplication, since I doubt the breadth of the book can be adequately compressed (I wouldn't say it's impossible, just very nearly.) This in itself is a challenge because alteration of the source material (character's, names, plot) would be detrimental. Fortunately Snyder seems to have faithfully retained everything possible. By 'distinguish' I mean it cannot assume to put itself on the same footing or attempt to accomplish what the novel did by exerting the Watchmen license in this respect but instead simply, and by virtue of the truncated nature of cinema, humbly, do only what it can do.
Since movies are typically no match for the spatially interminable capacity of literature, what it 'can do,' is invigorate the visual aspect of the novel, almost as if it where a companion piece, expressing the same thing in the manner in which it is best suited to do so. In order to do justice to the flow of the original the film needs to maintain it's brilliant use of parallel cutting with a cadence of skillful editing. This, again is something the film medium can excel at. If it can succeed in this respect and at least dignify itself in the others it can work.
Any partiality to the novel aside, this film looks half decent from the trailer but I hate to say i still think Snyder is going to miss it on this one.