Saturday, June 30, 2007

Evan Almighty review

Evan Allmighty (2007) dir. by Tom Shadyac, starring Steve Carrell, Lauren Graham, Wanda Sykes, John Goodman

Evan Allmighty is kind of a half-sequel. It carries over half the title from the original 2003 film "Bruce Allmighty" and it has half of the main duo from the last film: Morgan Freeman as God. On a tangent, I think didn't realize how good a choice Morgan Freeman is as God when I saw Bruce Allmighty for this reason: Freeeman's known for his narrational work, and the narrator of a film often plays the role of God. So because the film's not really a sequel, it's kind of a cheap attempt to be perceived as a sequel by the moviegoing public, because sequels are such surefire bets in terms of box office draw. This probably is what irked critics more than anything else.

The other half of the God-Human Muse partenrship in this film is Steve Carrell as Evan Baxter, the obnoxious anchorman with very limited screentime in the last film. Carrell's Baxter is not really much at all what he was in the first film, perhaps because Steve Carrell himself has become such a likeable star persona in the last four years. I think with Steve Carrell we have the "TV Star=Movie Poision" problem. It's hard to get worked up about seeing Steve Carrell being funny in a movie when he does that every week on TV and the problem becomes exacerbated when you consider that the writing staff of The Office can make Steve Carrell funnier than Tom Shadyac as a screenwriter can. Still, the film has its humorous moments. Surprisingly, many of these come from Wanda Sykes, the brilliant female comic, who used to have her own show (she doesn't have one anymore, because, well, TV networks are just plain stupid). I was kind of thinking as I was watching this that perhaps Wanda Sykes should be the leading lady in a comedic movie or two.

I want to touch up on a couple things that this movie had going for it and one thing the movie didn't have going for it:

Bad things:
I don't think the film could ever decide if the film was about a congressman gone crazy or a father and husband trying to win his family back. I'm not sure if the film understands the gravity of being a congressman. This isn't the typical, "I can't play with you kids, because I've got a lot of work at the office" job. He's a FREAKING CONGRESSMAN. He's one of 435 people that create laws in this nation. It's a very, very big and important job. Evan's wife shouldn't be nagging him on "why did we leave Buffalo and move here. It wasn't beneficial to the kids." For god's sake, woman, he's IN CONGRESS.

Congressman's kids and wives usually bend around and have to play the political game. If Lauren Graham's character left Steve Carrell, she'd have to understand that that would be political suicide for him and for her causes. That's why the wives of congressman don't divorce their husbands in the middle of a scandal. She would also have been followed around everywhere with TV cameras, especially the night after he shows up to congress in a big beard.

The film also doesn't understand how office politics and congress aren't two different things. I've been to Capitol Hill three times in the last few years (I'm a native Washingtonian) and everyone gets a big office. This isn't Office Space or The Apartment. Evan Baxter shouldn't have to suck up to the guy who gives him a big office for survival.


Good things:
When we were kids, my sister once expressed an interesting thought when we were driving home from religious school: If the Messiah were to come down today, who would believe him? It was a kind of eureka moment she had and that kind of reminds me of the thematic content of this film. Yes, I did say thematic content. This is a Steve Carrell comedy but it does have a pedagogical aspect to it. It’s not a religious parable on the level of Passion of the Christ, but on a level that’s not too impressively complex, Evan Allmighty has a theme to it about the widely growing gulf between our religious convictions and the cynicism that has come with our modernization. It’s the same point that was thought up by my sister when she was maybe 12 and on that level, I think this is a good family movie for that reason: behind the comedy is a theme and a moral lesson that will appeal to children and perhaps even the children in adults.

The other good thing is the way everything works out in the end. I won't give a spoiler but I consider it one of the foremost examples of movie magic when a filmmaker can take disparate plot elements and storylines that he has been juggling around through the course of the movie and weave them all together in a clever way, so that everything makes sense, and while the family conflict subplot, the Congress subplot, and the ark subplot seemed like they all were on different planes of existence, Shadyac skillfully fits the pieces of the puzzle in a "ohhh, so that's how it works" moment that redeems the story.

The fight against bad movies

I was inspired by an article I read about how as cinephiles, we hate it when people brandish what they consider to be a good film without knowing what a really good film is because they’ve never seen anything before 1980.

I generally would fall a little on the softer end of most reviewers and approve of mainstream fare more than some of the more artsy film critics. Last year, when I was employed by a Maryland newspaper, I gave positive reviews to Lady in the Water, Poseidon, You, Me and Dupree; and some people thought it was ridiculous to give such a high review to War of the Worlds, and by putting Anchorman in my top ten of 2004, I probably lost significant credibility as a film critic. I can generally see things I like in most movies.

Some people say that the state of movies today is terrible, the studios are taken over by accountants with no idea how movies work, and commercial interests have won out over art. I don’t believe the state of movies is bad. I see a number of masterpieces each year (last year I would count Prairie Home Companion, Prestige, Hollywoodland, Little Miss Sunshine, Blood Diamond, and Departed in that group) and a variety of good and interesting films. It’s a little difficult to declare the state of movies today to be a failure when we can point to good movies coming out and we can’t all agree on what’s bad. There’s not really as much critical consensus on much of anything except Duece Bigalow and Gigli. I think the big publicity crazy over how terrible Gigli was 4 summers ago, was a mutual celebration of film critics nationwide that it was the only time they had all ever unanimously agreed on anything.

I think the solution though is for the small portion of films I see, that I dislike, I need to unabashedly state my dislike for them and we need to unite more often and publicize these bad choices. Film critics are generally most visible in society for the praise they give films like Little Miss Sunshine, The Prestige, Letters of Iwo Jima or The Queen. This is especially the case with indie films and documentaries like Hustle and Flow, Spellbound, Tea with Mussolini, Junebug or Little Miss Sunshine. It’s the growing consensus of great reviews from critics that do the word-of-mouth publicity that would ordinarily be done by a massive supplemental budget.

But why don’t critics ever have much effect on keeping the crappy movies at bay. I’m sure critics are just as unanimous in their love for Little Miss Sunshine as they are of the ridiculousness in Jesssica Simpson, who has no acting ability whatsoever, being cast in the film “Employee of the Month” because her dad’s a producer. I’m sure no critic, except possibly James Lipton, has ever felt that the Wayans Brothers are comparable to the Marx Brothers or even the Affleck brothers. And just think, if the critics voiced such unanimous support against Tomb Raider, The Fast and the Furious or Rush Hour II, they might not have had to sit through Tomb Raider II, 2 Fast 2 Furious, or Rush Hour III.

So let me present a list of films from the last few years, which I would like to unabashedly denounce as crimes against humanity (or at the very least, crimes against the intelligence of the moviegoer). I am not a full-time critic so I do not need to review every movie that comes out, therefore I generally am smart enough to avoid something like “White Chicks”, “Norbit”, even what might look like a dumb cop thriller like “Shooter” or “SWAT,” but in some cases I have seen films like these which I'd like to defiantly state are bad movies which shouldn't be made let alone be given a sequel. This is a list of dissapointing movies i've seen from the last few years:


Snake Eyes
Sin City
The Perfect Man
Click
Igby Goes Down
League of Extroadinary Gentlemen
Johnny English
Showtime
Summer Catch
Sweet Home Alabama
Down with Love
Timeline
Spy Kids
Along Came Polly
Hardball
Swordfish
Tomb Raider
Not Another Teen Movie
Scary Movie
Rush Hour II
Gone in 60 Seconds
The Wedding Singer
Cruel Intentions
Happy Gilmore
Anger Management
Mission to Mars
Liar Liar
The Mexican

Friday, June 29, 2007

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

I just saw this AFI top 100 entry and you know there's no greater feeling in movies than watching an established classic for the first time. That's why i haven't seen every movie on the AFI top 100, The National Society of Film Critic's top 100 list, or every Oscar winner: there are a lot of rainy days to save them for.

Butch Cassidy is a Western that's injected with more humor and a sense of casual ease between the characters that I've never seen in a Western before, except a flat-out parody like Blazing Saddles. The very nature of the two main characters even lends itself to comedy. Comedy is often based around characters who are insanely stupid or intellectually deficient in some area. Butch and Sundance possess great intelligence when it comes to pretty much everything except they cannot grasp the concept of how much trouble they're going to get themselves into by robbing. Consider the inherent humor of these situations:
  • You would think that they went to Bolivia to try to get away from being chased, but once they get down there, they go and start robbing every chance they get. Their excuse is that they don't think they'd make good farmers or ranchers. The scene in which they discuss this with Etta plays out as if they're going to a career cousnelor trying to figure out what their ideal job is and they have no sense of "well, maybe we should pick career choice A or career choice B because career choice C will severely increase our chance of getting killed."
  • They think that they're going to be eligible to join the army despite the fact that they're the most wanted outlaws in the West
  • They have Etta give them a crash course in Spanish so they can properly rob a bank as if the sight of guns and hand motions won't be enough. Butch also fumbles the presentation of the initial bank robbery and has to resort to some crib notes in his coat picket
  • They're chronically inefficient as bank robbers. You would think that like in "The Wild Bunch" or "Unforgiven," Butch and Sundance would try to score one big job that would be enough to be financially secure, but Butch and Sundance rob with no end in sight. They do almost as if it's a weekly 9-5 job they have to show up to work at, as if they have rent and bills that need to be paid. There's no sense of "this is how much we need to buy some land." I don't even get the sense that they're even keeping track of how much money they're making. Etta says that they take too many expensive vacations and are poor gamblers, but somehow I don't buy that explanation entirely.
The main strength of the film is the chemistry between the two stars. The verbal interplay between Redford and Newman is the work of a great screenwriter as much as it is the work of two actors on their game, and Katherine Ross's character seamlessly blends in with the other two. Although we can admire her character for being romantically faithful to the Sundance Kid, she romantically fulfills the desires of both men in a sense. Butch Cassidy has prostitutes to go to for his sexual desires but Etta Place fulfills Butch's need for a domesticator (an emblematic figure in Western). She's someone that can cook him a hot meal and someone he can show off his bike to. I think the line, "You're riding on my bycicle, in some countries that would mean we're married," has a lot more to it beneath the surface. The beauty of this threesome is that she can give Butch something along the lines of what Ethan Edwards never got to have with his sister-in-law in the Searchers, yet she never betrays the Sundance Kidd. More than anything else, she acts as the moral compass that women often portray in Westerns. She goes along with the two to Bolivia when we feel that the heroes are justified in their quest for survival but when they can't stop robbing like it's a disease, that's when she foresakes them. Unlike, the classic Western hero, the Sundance Kidd's life does not revolve around a woman. In High Noon, My Darling Clementine, Stagecoach, Shane, or The Searchers, a woman or the awareness of a lack of a the domesticating woman plays a role in the resolution of the heroes' story. In this film, the characters are too oblivious to their goals to even notice she's gone, and perhaps if they noticed that she were leaving, then they might have known how far they'd have strayed.

Lastly, I want to touch up on another source of the film's greatness. The film is great because of the sense of suspense it builds up. Particularly when the railroad-possee is hunting them down and we don't even know who they are, it feels like the shark in Jaws where there's the thrill of an unkown enemy.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

my top 100

Note: If someone wanted to try to analyze what cinemafusion's online film community's top 100( http://www.cinemafusion.com/index.php?/weblog/More/the_online_film_community_presents_the_top_100_movies_of_all_time/)based on what it's contributors voted for (of which I am one), keep on mind, I sent a different list to him, because I based it on different criteria. These are simply my list of most enjoyable films and not films based on importance within the course of film history, cultural impact, and demonstrations of exemplary filmmaking. I factored in films by impact and did vote Citizen Kane as #1 on his list among many other things I did differently. I also did not want my favorite film of all time, Indiana Jones and the last Crusade, a somewhat oddball choice, to greatly skew the results if noone else voted for it, so i bumped it down to #6. I also feel that putting a film like Schindler's List, Citizen Kane or Gone with the Wind on my list does little to really introduce people to interesting choices and they're very generic. I don't have any great passion for Schindler's List, I thought it was obviously a well-made film and a monumental turn for our generation's most relevant director, but i didn't like it that much more than what the general consensus feels it deserved.

This is my top 100. I found myself omitting things like Schindler's List and Citizen Kane simply because everyone knows their great, what's the point. I also didn't add It's a Wonderful Life because I've seen the stage play, not the film, and i haven't seen the film start to finish, but I've seen the film out of order like 100 times, and it was the stage play that moved me so much. Also no films 2004 or later to give them time to age. If i could add films after 2004, my list of films that Ive found to be 4 star quality so far are Anchorman (in a way, Anchorman is 4 star), Aviator, Life Aquatic, Sideways, Spanglish, Fahrenheit 911, Finding Neverland, Ray, New World, Junebug, Walk the Line, Babel, Prestige, Hollywoodland, Departed, Blood Diamond, Prairie Home Companion and Little Miss Sunshine:

50 films ranked:
1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Stephen Spielberg/George Lucas (1989)
2. Touch of Evil, Orson Welles (1958)
3. Chinatown, Roman Polanski (1973)
4. Vertigo, Alfred Hitchkock (1958)
5. Grand Hotel, Edmund Goulding (1932)
6. Rules of the Game, Jean Renoit (fr) (1939)
7. The Apartment, Billy Wilder (1960)
8. Back to the Future, Rob Zemeckis (1985)
9. Apollo 13, Ron Howard (1995)
10. From Here to Eternity, Fred Zimmerman (1953)
11. Star Wars, George Lucas (1977)
12. Some Like it Hot, Billy Wilder (1959)
13. City Lights, Charlie Chaplain (1931)
14. Singing in the Rain, Stanley Donen/Gene Kelley (1952)
15. Wild Strawberries, Igmar Bergman (sw) (1957)
16. North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchkock (1962)
17. The Searchers, John Ford (1956)
18. Third Man, Carol Reed (1949)
19. Gods Must be Crazy, Jamie Uys (1981)
20. West Side Story, Jerome Robbins/Rob Wise (1964)
21. City of God, Fernando Meirelles (Br) (2002)
22. Manchurian Candidate, John Frankenheimer (1962)
23. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Frank Capra (1939)
24. American Graffiti, George Lucas (1973)
25. Gladiator, Ridley Scott (2000)
26. Bridge on the River Kwai, David Lean (1958)
27. African Queen, John Huston (1951)
28. Double Indemnity, Billy Wilder (1944)
29. MASH, Rob Altman (1970)
30. The Client, Joel Schumaker (1994)
31. Life is Beautiful, (Sw) Roberto Begnini (1998)
32. Spirit of St. Louis, Billy Wilder (1952)
33. Good Morning Vietnam, Barry Levinson (1987)
34. Ninochtka, Ernst Lubitsch (1939)
35. Ball of Fire, Howard Hawks (1941)
36. High Noon, Fred Zinneman (1952)
37. Duck Soup, Leo McCarey (1942)
38. Dead Poets’ Society, Peter Weir (1989)
39. Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpaugh (1969)
40. Witness, Peter Weir (1985)
41. Sabetour, Alfred Hitchkock (1943)
42. The Fugitive, Andrew Davis (1993)
43. Big Sleep, Howard Hawks (1946)
44. Wonderboys, Curtis Hanson (2000)
45. Meet Me in St Louis, Vincente Minelli (1944)
46. It Happened One Night, Frank Capra (1935)
47. 12 Angry Men, Sidney Lumet (1957)
48. Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick (1957)
49. Gambit, Ronald Neame (1965)
50. Treaure of the Sierra Madre, John Huston (1947)

50 Other Films (unranked):
Film Noir:
Murder, My Sweet, Edward Dymytrick (1946)

Westerns:
Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood (1992)
Stagecoach, John Ford (1939)
McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Rob Altman (1971)

Musicals:
42nd Street, Busby Berkley/Lloyd Bacon (1933)
American in Paris, Vincente Minelli (1951)
Evita, Alan Parker (1996)
Swing Time, George Stephens (1934)


Sports Movies:
Chariots of Fire, Hugh Hudson (1981)
League of their Own, Penny Marshall (1992)
Seabiscuit, Gary Ross (2003)
Mystery Alaska, Jay Roach (1999)

Hitchkock:
Lifeboat, Alfred Hitchkock (1944)

Screwball Comedy:
Charade, Stanley Donen (1974)

War Films:
3 Kings, David O Russell (1999)
Great Escape, John Sturges (1963)

Classic Comedy:
Safety Last, Harold Lloyd (1923)
Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks (1974)
Monty Python and the Life of Brian, Terry Jones (1973)

Films from the ‘00s:
X-Men 2, Bryan Singer (2003)
Master and Commander, Peter Weir (2003)
Pirates of the Carribean, Gore Verbinski (2003)
Cold Mountain, Anthony Minghellia (2003)
Finding Nemo, Andrew Staunton (2003)
Last Samurai, Ed Zwick (2003)
Road to Perdition, Sam Mendes (2002)
Catch Me If You Can, Stephen Spielberg (2002)
About a Boy, Paul and Chris Weitz (2002)
Ghost World, Terry Zwigloff (2001)
Royal Tannenbaums, Wes Anderson (2001)
Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Joel and Ethan Coen (2000)
Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe (2000)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee (Ch) (2000)
You Can Count on Me, Kenneth Longorean (2000)
Gangs of New York, Martin Scorsesee (2002)

Others:
Cider House Rules, Lasse Holstrom (1999)
Goodfellas, Martin Scorsesee (1990)
Rain Man, Barry Levinson (1988)
Man Who Would be King, John Huston (1975)
On Golden Pond, Mark Rydell (1981)
Mississippi Burning, Alan Parker (1988)
Quiz Show, Robert Redford (1994)
October Sky, Joe Johnston (1999)
To Kill a Mockingbird, Robert Mulligan (1962)
Goldfinger, Guy Hamilton (1962)
Salt of the Earth, Herman Biberman (1954)
Brazil, Terry Gilliam (1986)
Key Largo, John Huston (1948)
Judgement at Nuremberg, Stanley Kramer (1961)
25th Hour, Spike Lee (2002)
Scent of a Woman (1992)
Forrest Gump, Rob Zemeckis (1994)
Thief of Baghdad, Douglas Fairbanks (1924)
Network, Sidney Lumet (1976)

Cinephiles are from Mars, Everyone else is from Venus

This is a great article



http://throughablogdarkly.blogspot.com/2007/06/cinephiles-are-from-mars-everyone-else.html



5. Fear of black-and-white films. Seeing something in black-and-white instantly turns people off. A study from an article I read on colorization said something like 85% of people will automatically switch the channel if they see a movie on TV and it's in black-and-white



6. Belief that the farther back in time we go, the less funny people were. Charlie Chaplain has probably never been topped, and he didn't even have the convinience of dialogue to work with in his best films. The R-rated comedies by Judd Apatow and starring the Frat Pack are only now starting to approach to the raunchiness and political incorrectness that Billy Wilder subversively achieved. I also like to cite Duck Soup is proof that humor is something that's only modern.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Top 100 Movie Songs

In honor of the blog-a-thon, I reproduced a copy of the top 100 movie songs of all time. I made this after I saw the AFI special and it when I was far less knowledgeable about film than I was now. The listings are as follows: song/musician/movie. By musician, it could be the person who wrote it or the one who sang it. Whichever one i found first:


1. Singing in the Rain, Gene Kelly, Singing in the Rain-The title song from the quintessential musical. I think what people love about this number is how much fun Gene Kelly is having. He starts jumping up and down in the puddles as if he almost forgets he’s supposed to be tap dancing.
2. Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Judy Garland, Wizard of Oz-I didn’t realize how good Judy Garland was until watching this special.
3. Mrs. Robinson, Simon and Garfunkel, The Graduate-I listen to it and don’t really know what they’re talking about (like references to Jesus and Joe DiMaggio) but it’s certainly very interesting
4. Tonight, Tonight Quintet, West Side Story-West Side Story was a fusion between drama, movement and music that I don’t believe had ever been seen before and has ever been replicated since. The Tonight quintet is so perfectly integrated between different singers, it’s almost like an audio montage.
5. Moon River, Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s-The guy who wrote this is Henry Mancini, who did a lot for movie music, mixing jazz in with traditional movie fare (he did the Pink Panther too), and Audrey Hepburn looks so emotionally drained in that scene, it’s incredible.
6. As Time Goes By, Casablanca-The AFI had it at #2 or something. I don’t hate the song or anything, so I’ll put it there
7. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, Tex Ritter, High Noon-This is one of the first movies in history to be marketed based on the song. It’s sung over the opening title credits and must have really been something new.
8. Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas, Judy Garland, Meet me in St. Louis-considering that this song was written for this movie, (I thought it had been around forever) I’d say it had a really pervasive effect, since it’s now like THE Christmas song
9. Ol’ Man River, Paul Robeson, Showboat-I think this song is really powerful and in a way beautiful, considering its time, it was sung by a black man and the words are about hopelessness (“but ol’ man river, he just keeps rolling along”), he personifies the river, and because the river keeps rolling along, as he says, therefore boats will go down it, and as long as boats go down the river, this guy along with all the other poor black people have to work on the boats and, it’s just a cycle, the man singing just has this sense of weariness to him.
10. American in Paris, Gerswhin, American in Paris-Does this count as a song? It was quite an interesting way to end a film at the time, to have the character resolve his conflicts entirely through song and dance. At the beginning of the song, he doesn’t have the girl, at the end of the song, he does have the girl, which suggests that the ballet itself changed the course of the storyline. That is quite abstract and far-fetched outside the realm of the integrated musical, but the integrated musical is an abstract and nonsensical genre in itself, so that does sort of make sense, in that respect.
11. White Christmas, Bing Crosby, Holiday Inn-I don’t know if I like it that much, but it had an impact.
12. When You Wish Upon a Star, Glenn Miller Orchestra, Pinocchio-It was written by Glenn Miller I found out the other day, and I like a lot of his stuff
13. Summertime, George Gerswhin, Porgy and Bess-Kind of like Ol’ Man River, this song is like THE SONG. I love Gerswhin and this is probably Gershwin’s most definitive one. He was just a Jewish guy from New York City, yet with Porgy and Bess, he really captured the plight of sharecropping Southerners.
14. Jailhouse Rock, Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock-It’s hard to explain how cool this number is (or how cool Elvis is, for that matter), without just showing it to you. Elvis Presely is so effortless in his choreography, he’s like the Fred Astaire of cool.
15. Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, Gerswhin (per. by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers), Shall we Dance-Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on roller skates. We gotta award them twice the degree of difficulty for that!
16. Que Sera Sera, Doris Day, Shall We Dance-First, Doris Day is really too good looking and young to be a mother-figure in that movie, but she really pulls it off. Her sheer anxiety over her son being kidnapped, really comes through in that song. While she’s singing, she’s banging the keys a little too hard in frustration, also within the context of the movie’s plot it’s ingenious how the song ties in.
17. Rock Around the Clock, Bill Haley and the Comets, Blackboard Jungle-It’s pretty much the embodiment of rock and roll and the 60s
18. I’ve Had the Time of my Life, Dirty Dancing-Of the 80s songs on their list, this is probably the one that’s really good and not just retroactively a joke. I agree with the person from the show who said that the song starts out slow and tender than speeds up to the point where it’s kind of wild and party like, and the great thing is that the dancers on screen are convincingly having fun up there, by the time the song kicks in
19. 42nd Street, Ruby Keeler, 42nd Street-A familiar tune about show business, high life glamour, etc. It’s also the pivotal point of this dramatic musical.
20. Buffalo Gals, Jimmy Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life-It’s a Wonderful Life is an exceptional film, and it’s all embodied in Jim Stewart’s youthful joy which comes out a lot in that song.
21. I’ve Got Rhythm, George Gerswhin (perf. Gene Kelley), American in Paris-The challenge for Kelly was to recreate a number he already did in a previous movie, which he does by teaching the song to half the children in Paris. It’s a pretty fun number.
22. My Favorite Things, Julie Andrews, Sound of Music-The song is memorable because Julie Andrews really gets into it and unleashes her inner child. The lyrics are so inventive, too.
23. Somewhere, Natalie Wood (Marni Nixon) and Richard Beymer, West Side Story-First, it’s a beautiful song with two parts that beautifully compliment each other. It’s also a great moment of fantasy escapism in the middle of a really terrible situation, most of us feel like that when we decide to go to a movie in the first place
24. All My Loving, The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night-The best track from The Beatles musical medley “Hard Day’s Night.”
25. Zippady Doo-Dah, Song of the South-Since Disney did a lot for music, I should probably put an abundant # of Disney songs in, and this one’s pretty fun and it has a simple message
26. I Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston, The Bodyguard-It’s well-remembered, and it’s an incredibly well-crafted performance from diva Whitney Houston, she could have overdone the embellishments but I think she got it just right
27. Spoonful of Sugar, Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins-Pretty memorable song, I’m sure there’s some kind of bite-sized theme behind it like adding little bit of fun to life makes the hard parts of it easier. Personally, I’ve always interpreted it literally and added a spoonful of sugar to that nasty cough medicine when I’m sick.
28. On the Street Where You Live, Jeremy Brett, My Fair Lady-This guy is standing on a street waiting for this girl to come out of her house that he likes, we’d call that stalking today, but who cares, the guy’s genuinely in love and he expresses his intentions so beautifully that he oughtta be aloud to stay there and stalk her forever. Another plus: Add a little swing to the song and it’s a great jazz standard.
29. Jonny B Goode, Michael J Fox, Back to the Future-Even though it’s obviously dubbed, you gotta love that scene where Michael J Fox takes down the house of a 1950s gym with a song that hasn’t even been invented yet. After watching the movie for the 8th time, I finally got the inside joke where Marvin Berry tells his cousin Chuck “you’ve gotta hear this,” meaning that Chuck Berry actually ripped off the song from Marty McFly, who ripped it off from Chuck Berry, so…ehh, time paradoxes are confusing.
30. Get Happy, Judy Garland, Summer Stock-Judy Garland’s seductive side mixed in with Judy Garland’s childhood dreamy side, what a perfect combination.
31. Luck be a Lady, Marlon Brando, Guys and Dolls-Clever lyrics, great melody, a key change or two to build suspense, great choreography, and best of all, Marlon Brando’s singing it. This is so disorienting to see Marlon Brando in here. I had no idea that he did anything other than serious depressing movies, but here, he’s just having some light-hearted fun
32. Don’t Rain on my Parade, Barbara Streissand, Funny Girl-The melody bounces around all over the place, and Barbara Streissand really takes over on the syncopation, and I love how truly integrated this number is. She’s moving around at a hectic pace and is so engrossed in the reality around her, that the number feels like she’s just singing as a natural form of expression, rather than singing for the camera.
33. I Could’ve Danced All Night, Audery Hepburn, My Fair Lady-Like they (the commentary people in the AFI film) said, Audrey Hepburn is really really exuberant with joy and considering for most of the film, her character’s not really in a happy state, the contrast hits you.
34. Aquarius, Fifth Dimension, Hair-This song is so out in left field, it’s really a unique song, not really rock, not really ballad, it starts out with a kind of psychedelic intro “when the moon is in the seventh star, and Jupiter aligns with Mars”, and then takes off at just the right moment into a multi-harmony 60s rock song.
35. Almost Like Being in Love, Gene Kelly, Brigadoon-It’s pretty much the best mushy love song there is. Consider that he’s not even singing this love song to her. He’s just singing to grass and trees and to his grumpy friend who doesn’t even believe in love. That’s really a powerful show of being in love, isn’t it?
36. Good Morning, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, and Donald O’Connor, Singing in the Rain-Debbie Reynolds takes charge and kind of holds her own against the other two, what strikes me about this song is it’s very egalitarian, it’s not like a usual song where the women are singing about men or the men are singing about women, it’s two men and a woman singing to each other, or not so much singing but just expressing a simple sediment “good morning” and the way they move and their sing really shares the joy among all three of them. It’s also so well-timed
37. Summer Nights, John Trovolta and Olivia Newton-John-I don’t think I can get away with not putting a Grease song in my list, and as far as Grease songs go, this is the best showcase of John Trovolta’s stuff. It’s a very accurate high-schoolish kind of thing too, where the guy is bragging about his summer conquest and the girl is bragging about being in love.
38. Born to be Wild, Steppenwolff, Easy Rider-Pretty ahead of its times.
39. Anything Goes, Kate Capshaw, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-I thought this was from Cabaret or something, but Kate Capshaw sings her heart out here, and captured mine too in the process, great way to start off an action-packed opening scene
40. Theme from Shaft, Isaac Hayes, Shaft-Definitely had an impact, and upon hearing the full version of it, it’s pretty exciting, building up as it goes along
41. Trolley Song, Judy Garland, Meet Me in St. Louis-It’s really exciting, there’s a lot of motion and imagery, of the trolley clanking and the heart beating, really a brilliant song. Garland is really exceptional in this film and inserts inflections into certain parts of the song to enhance it. She just has a natural feel. And the whole feeling of everyone on this trolley wanting to hear her story and being in this trance-like state must have just felt delightfully absurd if you were watching it in 1944. I believe Meet me in St Louis is one of the first integrated musicals. Judy Garland’s daughter said the movie is so great, you just want to live in it. Obviously, cause if you sang on any public transit vehicle, you probably wouldn’t be met with as friendly of a reaction.
42. My Heart Will Go On, James Horner (Celine Dion), Titanic-James Horner made a really great score to the Titanic and this song is kind of an extension of that, to be fair it sounds better when it’s reused throughout the movie rather than when it’s being sung by Celine Dione at the end.
43. Stormy Weather, Lena Horne, Stormy Weather-Whenever my dad hears that Nora Jones song “Don’t Know Why”, he starts singing to himself “Don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky, stormy weather” which is the words to this song, evidently. It seems like in retrospect, that single performance was the most common thing (and in many cases the only thing) that Lena Horne was remembered for.
44. Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat, Stubby Kaye, Guys and Dolls-A really great and catchy song, that deserves to be in a better musical. Like Luck be a Lady it has really good interplay with the chorus and words that have such rich imagery.
45. Thanks for the Memories, Bob Hope & Shirley Ross, Big Broadcast of 1938-Didn’t think much of it when I first heard it, but in the film it registers as a very poignant moment expresses Bob Hope’s shy way of saying “I really really like you, and after you leave I’ll be miserable.” Bob Hope, ironically, was never shy or at a lack of words, which might be what makes the song stick out more
46. America, Rita Moreno, George Chikaris and the Sharks, West Side Story-These Puerto Ricans make urban poverty look pretty fun. Those triplets are hard to pull off, too
47. Suicide is Painless, Johnny Mandel, MASH-The words are very poetic, but somehow I don’t think the song really is meant to be read at face value. It’s incredible to think that a 14-year old wrote that
48. On Broadway, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, All That Kazz-The song fits the movie so well, you’d almost think it was written specifically for that opening montage where the Broadway dancers are auditioning and being cut one by one. It’s about the only 5 minutes I really liked in All That Jazz
49. Moonlight Becomes You, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Road to Morocco-The catchiest tune from the many that littered the road movies.
50. Streets of Philadelphia, Bruce Springsteen, Philadelphia-It really ties itself together in many ways, Bruce Springsteen is kind of singing about brotherhood and man helping man, “ain’t no angel gonna greet me, it’s just you and I, my friend”, there’s really a beautiful sense of desperation there with Springsteen’s words and music, just calling out to your fellow man to help you, and it ties in to the fact that Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love
51. It Might as Well be Spring, Rogers and Hammerstein, State Fair-Another song with a great melody, especially the inverted arpeggio in the second phrase
52. Tiny Dancer, Elton John, Almost Famous-It was written probably 30 years or something before being put in a movie, but really fits the film perfectly.
53. Put the Blame on Mame, Rita Hayworth, Gilda-Suddenly, you want to go see this film after seeing that number. Hayworth is very seductive and ironically, the film is classified by imdb as a film noir.
54. Sounds of Silence, Simon and Garfunkel, The Graduate-I’m deducting points because I never understood why it plays during the airport stroll/opening credits. Still, a pretty definitive song of the 60s.
55. Beauty and the Beast, Alan Menken and Howard Lashman (per. by Angela Lansbury)-I’ve never seen a song get away with throwing in so many clich├ęs and still sound original
56. Cell Block Tango, Catherine Zeta Jones and friends, Chicago-Much more memorable than All That Jazz in my opinion. It’s very clever how they simulate murder through ballet and the six or seven murderesses sound so distinct when they join into the chorus.
57. Swinging on a Star, Bing Crosby, Going my Way-Peter Boyle said that every catholic school boy grows up singing this song, I’ll take his word for it. Also, it’s moderately catchy.
58. Twist and Shout, Isley Brothers, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-Pretty much the high point/culmination of all of Ferris Bueller’s mischief
59. Lullaby of Broadway, Dick Powell and Wini Shaw, Gold diggers of 1935-Like 42nd Street, a good ode to Broadway number, I really like the references to things like “the rattle of a taxi” “the milkman”, etc. It paints a vivid picture
60. Shadow of Your Smile, The Sandpiper-I’m sorry, I’m going back through this list and can’t remember why I put i on. It struck a chord with me about 45 minutes ago when I got to #62. that’s all I can report.
61. Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head, Burt Bacharach, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidd-It could’ve been sung better and Bob Westall of “Forward to Yesterday” makes a persuasive argument on why the song fails within the context of the scene. On its own, however, the song itself stands as a good song and especially uplifting one, in the movie (which I haven’t seen), I’ve heard it’s even better
62. Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, Marilyn Monroe, Gentlemen Perfer Blondes-The melody’s good and Marilyn Monroe is ever so photogenic. I wonder if she was able to memorize her lyrics for this one.
63. 9 to 5, Dolly Parton, 9 to 5-I don’t like country but Dolly Parton’s song has a nice rhythm to it and works as a working class anthem.
64. Yankee Doodle Boy, George M Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandee-I don’t think I can appreciate it as well as the people who saw it back then, but you can easily tell that James Cagney gives the performance 110%. I also kind of like how they mix the song in on top of the basic “Yankee Doodle” melody
65. Goldfinger Title Theme, Shirley Bassey, Goldfinger-Blaring wawa muted horns and Shirley Bassey’s alluring voice set the stage for a Bond film better than any other, it also has elements of Barry’s score mixed into the film
66. Bridge on the River Kwai March, Traditional, Bridge on the River Kwai-If I remember correctly, I think school kids use this song substituting disgusting lyrics for fun. That’s how much of an impact it has
67. Just the Way You Look Tonight, Jerome Kern (per. by Fred Astaire), Swing Time-A great song considering Fred Astaire sings and doesn’t dance which is quite unusual, considering a) Astaire always dances when he sings and b) this is because his singing would’ve been scarcely good enough to fill out the chorus of a Hollywood Revue without the dancing to go along with it. Perhaps, the film’s choreographer got lazy. At the same time, it’s just a very heartfelt and natural moment (the number can neither be categorized as backstage or integrated) when he just sits on the piano and lets the song pass him by.
68. Bali Hai, Rogers and Hammerstein (perf. By Anita Hall) South Pacific-American Musicals are an improvement over their predecessors because they take the songs and steep them into the folk traditions of the setting. With that, Bali Hai sounds very exotic.
69. I Enjoy Being a Girl, Nancy Kwan, Flower Drum Song-Really an unusual statement, don’t you think? for someone to shout out that they enjoy being whatever gender they are, most of us never think about it. In the movie, it really strikes you, it’s a very striking statement, and the song backs that up, especially since the film is a culturally eye-opener for Asian-Americans who never really appeared sexualized in films.
70. Chim Chimaree, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins-Part of the somewhat haunting element Mary Poppins has to it, the song single-handedly adds a lot more depth to the film
71. Broadway Rhythm, Gene Kelly, Singing in the Rain-Kelly’s reinvention of the original Broadway Melody number is sped up, livelier, and pleasantly surreal. It’s one of the most ambitious numbers of the film.
72. *Springtime for Hitler, Mel Brooks, The Producers-This song is obviously intended for comic effect, but the melody is actually quite humnmable.
73. *Blue Moon, Elvis Presley, Mystery Train-The movie could have easily been called Blue Moon because the song is the motif that links all the stories in the movie together. It’s really amazing, how the song kind of serves as a photographic essay as its emotions seep into the movie’s different characters over one point in time
74. *What a Wonderful World, Louie Armstrong, Good Morning Vietnam-I’m probably the only person on the planet who thinks Louie Armstrong can sometimes sound annoying, but I can’t deny the power of this song over the Vietnam War Montage (even though the AFI did).
75. Chatanooga Choo Choo, Glenn Miller Orchestra, Sun Valley Serenade-Not a well-known film, but it’s a great dance scene, it’s incredibly exciting to see Glenn Miller’s band up close, and it’s such a great portrait of 1930s life.
76. Our Love is Here to Stay, Gene Kelly, American in Paris-Not one of Gershwin’s best songs, but it’s song with a lot of conviction by Gene Kelly and it’s sung at least 3 times in the movie at different points, so it ends up being stuck in your head for a while.
77. Rainbow Connection, Jim Henson, a Muppet Movie-A song for dreamers
78. Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do), Christopher Cross, Arthur-A pretty catchy song. That line of “being caught between the moon and New York City” is very memorable for some reason. It just sounds so abstract. Oh and did you know, Burt Bacharach worked on it?
79. Stranger in Paradise, Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, Kismet -I really like this song, I love the movie too, but the scene is that the King of this far off Arabian land leaves the palace and enters the garden of a woman who doesn’t know he’s the King, who asks her “to take my hand, I’m a stranger in paradise”, really beautiful moment, and the song’s awesome
80. Gonna Fly Now, Bill Conti, Rocky-Bill Conti was able to hit a lot of different emotional tones just by experimenting with the same basic riff
81. Someone to Watch Over Me, Jean Louisa Kelly, Mr. Holland’s Opus-Mr Holland’s Opus might not have left a lasting legacy, but the song in this film really is a moving rendition of a great number
82. Be Our Guest, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, Beauty and the Beast-Let’s call this the token fun Disney song on my list (the other list had Hakuna Matata), it’s the song that’s not meant to be sung during the end credits, but provides more light-hearted fun, like My Favorite Things, it just has a lot of fun rhyming and makes your head go dancing
83. Gangsta’s Paradise, Coolio, Dangerous Minds-Has this song been forgotten by our culture? It was really moving when it came out, and I’d like to think it still does, this came at a time when rap wasn’t as pervasive and overdone as it is today, and it cleverly starts with a bible verse and it caps off a pretty powerful movie
84. Whistle While You Work, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs-Snow White is like the first Disney animated thing ever, so props to that
85. New York, New York, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munchin, and Gene Kelly, On the Town-As Rita Moreno points out, it was one of the first musicals shot on location. But then again, isn’t New York the media capital of the world? That’s not that exotic of a location.
86. Pick Yourself Up, Jerome Kern, Swing Time-You gotta love the concept of Fred Astaire trying to pretend he doesn’t dance. And then when Ginger Rogers suddenly realizes that Astaire can dance, that look of “ok, let’s have some fun” is priceless. And then the actual dance they do is one of the most inventive numbers I’ve ever seen.
87. Buttons and Bows, Bob Hope, The Paleface-It’s a pentatonic song that you could play really easily just by hitting the black keys on the piano, but Bob Hope adds a whole lot more into it.
88. A View to a Kill, Duran Duran, A View to a Kill-The only James Bond song ever to hit #1 on the charts, the punctuated base line ups the excitement, and reinvents the Bond theme.
89. Do Re Mi, Julie Andrews, Sound of Music-A simple song but this song demonstrates how a simple idea can be made into something great.
90. Circle of Life, Elton John-The opening montage when the baby lion is lifted up to be shown to the animal kingdom in the African setting, really captures the beauty of the shot
91. Meet Me in St Louis, Ensemble, Meet Me in St Louis-I like how the song spreads from person to person but I also wonder if the entire film was sponsored by the St Louis Chamber of Commerce.
92. Putting on the Ritz, Peter Boyle and Gene Wilder, Young Frankenstein-A parody of the show stopper musical number. A well-placed bout of hilarity.
93. Fight the Power, Do the Right Thing-Spike Lee deserves some props on my list, and according to Rosie Perez, the song “makes everybody want to get up and dance.” Why would I disagree with her?
94. Cheek to Cheek, Irving Berlin (perf. by Fred Astaire), Top Hat-Astaire is so serene in this number. One of his best vocal performances
95. Somewhere Out There, Linda Ronsdadt and James Ingram, American Tale-The song is beautiful on its own but as an interaction between two voices, and two characters, it comes out even more
96. Road to Morrocco, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Road to Morrocco-Hope and Crosby paired up in the Road pictures for what might have been the most lightweight escapist entertainment the world has ever seen. This jokes are so low-key, they just fly under the radar.
97. Lose Yourself, Eminem, 8 Mile-It would be a mistake to say this is the pinnacle of Eminem’s career or representative of Eminem in any way, because Eminem’s popularity thrives on controvoursey and bad words, which are absent from this song, but nevertheless this is a great marriage between what’s hip right now, in pop culture, and film music
98. I am the Man of Constant Sorrow, Dan Tyminski, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou-It wasn’t sung by George Clooney, he lipsincked it, and the song wasn’t written for the film, but that’s the point of the whole thing, it’s a throwback (or not even a throwback since it’s very much alive) to the Southern music culture of bluegrass and what not, and the song plays is such a prominent center to the whole film
99. Diamonds are Forever, Shirley Bassey, Diamonds are Forever-One of the more haunting scores from the James Bond collection.
100. Killing Me Softly, Hugh Grant, About a Boy-A poignant moment to end a film on, and Hugh Grant sounds appropriately awful.

Fisher King review

The Fisher King (1991):
Dir. by Terry Gilliam, Starring Robin Williams, Amanda Plummer, Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl

The Fisher King is one of Terry Gilliam’s least bizarre adventures but it certainly is a wonderfully bizarre movie by the standards of the average movie. Jeff Bridges, in a role that seems fairly similar to his persona in The Big Lebowski, plays an emotionally devoid radio DJ who hits rock bottom when one of his callers goes on a killing spree. Three years later, he’s an unemployed bum who feeds off a live-in girlfriend (Ruehl in an a role that won her the supporting actress oscar) who runs a video store in Brooklyn. His life turns around when in a drunken stupor he falls into an alleyway where on the verge of getting beaten to death, a crazy homeless man named (Robin Williams) saves his life. The lives of the two become interconnected as Bridges’ character learns that Perry (Williams) was once a respected professor of medieval history whose downfall into the bottom rungs of society he is indirectly responsible for.
Gilliams’ films are usually bizarre visually, but this is one of the few Gilliam films that possesses that wonderful sense of imagination in its storyline (the other one would probably be Brazil). It’s thoroughly engaging and has a good amount of depth below the surface. It was also probably the most challenging role of Williams’ career to date and holds up as one of his best. It does not fit the typical Robin Williams’ mold of inspiring leader (i.e. Patch Adams, Dead Poets’ Society, What Dreams May Come), the funnyman (i.e. Flubber, Good Morning Vietnam) or his desperate attempts to go against type performances in 2002 (Insomnia and One-Hour Photo). His role in Fisher King combines perverted elements of Robin Williams the funnyman, Robin Williams the romantic, and unique elements of Robin Williams’ range that have never been seen before or since.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Knocked Up review (2007)

I think there's been a general notion recently that, at least among the mainstream demographic, the Romantic comedy is dead. So with that in mind, there's some good news and bad news. The good news is that the genre has been saved by a gifted young writer named Judd Apatow. The bad news: It isn't very pretty.

It's sad but true. His film here is crude and does very little to restore confidence to the institution of fatherhood. I think the PTA in this California neighborhood where Seth Rogen and Kate Heigel's kid is going to attend school a few years down the road is rightfully going to be frightened to death.

At the same time, it probably comes closer to portraying modern romance more than any attempt at romantic comedy in recent years. As sad as it is to admit, romance these days is more about drunken hook-ups than it is about screwball-comedy-type courting and today's standard of chivalry might be a guy like Rogen's character, willing to commit to a girl he knocked up, and not Cary Grant.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Film Review: 1408 (1 1/2 stars)

1408 is a thriller that sets few narrative rules for itself in trying to establish its thrills.

The premise established in an introduction that doesn't even try to hide the film's silliness is that a skeptical writer of ghost stories (John Cusack in a role that's miscast on the grounds that it resembles his persona in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" too closely) travels to his latest conquest: not the usual haunted house but, instead, a room within an elegant hotel, that's said to be haunted.

According to the hotel manager (Samuel L Jackson) the room is never checked out but the hotel chain wants to keep the outward appearance that there' nothing wrong with the room to make the other customers feel comfortable. Jackson's character tells Cusack's character incredible stories of how haunted the room and how once a maid stayed in the room too long and slit her wrists, or something like that in a scene that plays off as too melodramatic. The writer's cynicism is too strong for the hotel manager's appeal and he decides to take the room. Of course once he gets there, bad things happen but the audience can see that coming from a mile away.

What 1408 ultimately comes down to is an adaptation problem. The film was adapted from Stephen King's short story which probably worked great as an Edgar Allen Poe-type exploration of the darker recesses of the human mind. On screen, however, the mobius strip plot contraptions wear thin. With nearly everything on screen happening only in the character's mind, there's little reason to care.

Review of All That Jazz (1979)

I once had a website where I posted some movie reviews and the most controversial one was "All that Jazz." It was the first Bob Fosse film I'd seen and while people familiar with the director found him brilliant, I thought it was basically a piece of crap. I didn't understand who Bob Fosse was, but I don't think it should've mattered. For someone unfamiliar with the Fosse it was uninteresting and the job of a biopic isn't to cater to fans who like the film, it's to make you want to be interested in the person:

All That Jazz is a biopic that reminds me of the recent Oscar winner Chicago in that the main character is so passionate about show business that the line between reality and the stage become blurred. Chicago, I really did enjoy watching because it took this idea and went with it full-force fusing melodramatic scenes with musical song-and-dance numbers, whereas All That Jazz didn't really go full-force in any direction and ended up in an awkward middle ground. Centering on Broadway dancer Joseph Gideon, played by Roy Scheider, the film relies on a couple recurring motifs and chronological disorder in its storytelling to convey its effects. One of the motifs is that Scheider starts out every day taking some kind of prescribed drug, drinking a cup of water with alka-seltzer, putting eye drops in his eyes and smiling in front of a mirror exclaiming to himself, `It's Showtime', which just has the overall effect of making him appear distanced from reality.The other big motif is that there's a certain blur of events time wise, especially when there are frequent interruptions in the story in which Gideon is talking to a pretty attractive woman, Jessica Lange, who happens to be the Angel of Death, so that makes the film a sort of surreal flashback. The whole thing left me more confused than anything else, and also by the time I figured out who she was, the story's protagonist was in the hospital and it was unclear whether he would survive, so I felt like the answer to that question was ruined.I really liked the opening musical number as a crowd starts out on a Broadway stage trying out for a show while the song `On Broadway' is playing and one-by-one Gideon sends them home until he whittles it down to the cast we'll become more familiar with over the course of the film. It really has an interesting vibe to it as are some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of Broadway we see in this film, but they didn't show too much of that.When I really think hard about why this film didn't cut it for me, it points to the fact that despite Scheider's efforts, Joseph Gideon, and I don't even know if he's an actual real-life person, just isn't anyone interesting enough to make a biopic about. The gist of the man's life was that he was very talented and genuinely cared about those who loved him, but he also couldn't stay loyal to any one woman and slept around, even while he was married. Well, I'm sorry, being a talented womanizer is nothing new judging from all the scandals and divorces going on in Hollywood. In fact, you'd probably find it harder to find a talented performer who IS loyal to his wife.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The AFI 100 is finally rereleased: preliminary thoughts on the new films

First of all, here's the list in case you missed it last night. It's actually relatively annoying that the AFI isn't publicly displaying it:
http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2007-06-20-AFI-movie-list_N.htm



Now this is basically the only time in 10 years that knowledge of classic film and current events ever mix together, so I better take advantage of that and start writing away. This was such an exciting event for me, because I didn't even recognize the names of most of those movies the last time around. So here are some notes:

-I talked to a spokesman for the AFI in an interview and she said the AFI is redoing the top 100 list to account for the last 10 years of film, but she also said that no films from the 400-ballot date later than 2004 because the films do need time to breathe to be properly evaluated and I agree with that. The end result is a little bit low, though. Only 4 films were included: Saving Private Ryan, Titanic, Lord of the Rings and The Sixth Sense. The most frustrating thing about this is the incongruity of this is that since only one of these films was in the 2000's, this could almost, almost pass for a 20th century list right up to the very last year.

-It also has me worried that perhaps since film critics are exposed to so many more Oscar contenders and there is so much Internet criticism out there, that maybe we can't agree on greatness anymore. During the Great Depression, films like It Happened One Night and 42nd Street pulled people together. I don't know if that's the case. We can still all get excited over Spiderman, Pirates of the Caribbean and X-Men, and Brokeback Mountain, Dreamgirls and Departed do dominate water cooler buzz, but maybe it's a fracture between the critics and the public. Spiderman, Shrek and Pirates were all on the ballot as were many of the Oscar nominees. At the very least it's nice to see a few films added:

  • Lord of the Rings is an undeniable safe choice because it has been both part of the Blockbuster culture and the Oscar culture which divides film viewing now more than ever.
  • I've already seen a lot of complaining about the Sixth Sense on message boards, but I say, let's just try to agree on something, rather than have this decade not represented. Sixth Sense is an interesting offbeat pick from a director who has a gift for originality. Even if he's currently struggling a little with where to go with it at the moment (Lady in the Water hit a nerve with audiences and it ended the director's streak of commercial success), let's honor how he once showed us something new and original.
  • Saving Private Ryan was a film that came along when there was nothing left to say about World War II. It's another war classic and it shows that the tradition of making great war movies has not been forgotten. Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima is the recent continuation of this.
  • Titanic is such an interesting pick. When the last list came out in 1998, Titanic seemed like the biggest cinematic event to hit the face of the Earth. It broke all box office records and it had the biggest production budget ever and it won a record number of Oscars. Nowadays, box office draw and critical acclaim are two different things entirely. The box office champions of the last few years Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Star Wars III, Shrek II, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Spiderman, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Mission Impossible II, have virtually no chance at a best picture nomination and seldom appear on critic's top 10 lists. But back then, Titanic was unstoppable. Even if you wanted to hate it because it was a Goliath of a film and you tend to root for the Davids, the story was so damn moving and emotional, that you couldn't deny it's greatness. If Titanic was eligible for that ballot, who knows how high it would have gotten on the list. Some might have voted it #1 due to the fact that box office draw and greatness might have been more correlated. Nearly 10 years later, Titanic is almost forgotten and its entry onto this list is a fairly heavy reminder of the pervasiveness Titanic once held in our culture that one year. I still think it's relevant because Titanic was the last box office champ to even be nominated for an Oscar and for that might have been the last true blockbuster before our blockbuster culture got saturated. (Sixth Sense cracked the top 10 all time and it was nominated, however)
-The two preeminent directors of this decade, Eastwood and Scorsese, who collectively have earned 6 of the 25 best director nominations given out by the Academy since 2002, both enjoyed massive upgrades. Scorsese's Raging Bull catapulted to #4 ahead of "Gone with the Wind" and Eastwood's Western Unforgiven, previously in the 90s on the list, catapulted to the 68. In my opinion, Eastwood had one film that would be considered a classic before Mystic River and that was Unforgiven. In between, he had unextroadinary output with films ranging in quality from Space Cowboys to Bridges of Madison County. In recent books that have come out where film scholars dissect Eastwood's filmography movie-by-movie, it's kind of funny to see these guys try to dissect Space Cowboys with the same attention to detail reserved for Mystic River.



-I noticed 3 directors who moved up from being one-hit wonders to two-timers and that's because they had a good decade: Mike Nicholls who had recent critical successes with Closer and Angels in America got his 2nd best film, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff added to the list in addition to "The Graduate." Rob Altman had a modest success in Prairie Home Companion and a big one in Godsford Park, but more importantly he strategically passed away right before they were balloting. No, I'm just kidding. Rob Altman's 2nd entry to the list "Nashville" was one of the glaring errors of the first list and with McCabe and Mrs. Miller or Godsford Park he could have easily had three or four. The same is true for the ever-so-prolific Sidney Lumet, recent recipient of the Honorary Oscar whose film 12 Angry Men made the list. 12 Angry Men is very deserving.

-The "Third Man" is a great film. One of my favorites. The photography is beautiful, Orson Welles' sudden appearance is so unexpected. It works on so many levels. I personally read it in so many ways: a pulp fiction novelist trying to give himself his own storybook ending with the girl at the end, the American literature form trying to return to its European influences. Maybe it didn't make the list this time, because it just wasn't an American production?

-I think it is upsetting that films like "A Place in the Sun," "Stagecoach," and especially "From Here to Eternity" (my favorite war film) were omitted from the list but i don't think that necessarily renders them historically irrelevant. The fact that they were on the first top 100 list cements them as classics, and it's simply that they wanted to mix it up a little. Mostly what the list did was introduce the public to some films that should have made the list last time (and probably almost did):


  • Do the Right Thing: Spike Lee has combined his filmic ambitions with his desire to infuse the country with racial awareness
  • Blade Runner (Ridley Scott): The film didn't have enough sci-fi the first time, and Blade Runner was aside from being a great and highly praised film, a great influence in the genre. It also introduced Ridley Scott to the list
  • Cabaret (Bob Fosse): I saw this film in my film genres class when we studied musicals and in terms of reinventing the conventions of a genre, it's hard to top this film. In musicals, the songs are used to celebrate life, courtship, community and vitality. In Cabaret, the musical numbers are used to illustrate decadence and foreshadow death.
  • All The President's Men (Alan Paluka): This film was basically the 1970's version of "Good Night and Good Luck," only it was actually relevant to the times. A strict docudrama that featured Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford running around and looking busy like the casts of Aaron Sorkin shows traditionally like to do, All the President's Men was as great of a suspense thriller as it was a history lesson. All the recent buzz about the story with Mark Felt's identity revealed as deep throat might have contributed to the film making the list this time around
  • Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges): I've seen two of the three really famous Preston Sturges films: Palm Beach Story and The Lady Eve and wasn't much of a fun of either of them. The third, Sullivan's Travels, looks quite appealing now that I've seen clips of it and I'm thinking I might watch it. Perhaps, three times a charm. Many film historians consider him to be a historically significant film director because he was ingeneous at getting racy dialogue past the censorsing board.
  • The General (Buster Keaton): The great silent film star who has been considered 2nd best next to Chaplain for the last 40 or 50 years or so. The General was his most epic film and I believe his most expensive to produce. I did see it and personally did not think it was as great as Chaplain or even Harold Lloyd's films, but it is certainly a different brand of comedy.
  • 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet): Along with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (also on the list), there is no film that captures the spirit of American Democracy better than this film. It's also such an impressive film because its setting is pretty much confined to one single room and there's nothing but the dramatic tension to keep things moving
  • Swing Time (George Stephens): If you thought that with A Place in the Sun and Giant that George Stephens got eliminated from the list, that's not true, because he got represented with "Swing Time." This is a far better and more convincing film than the other film that's cited as the best Astaire-Rogers pairing "Top Hat." Swing Time has a more endearing love story, a lightning-fast opening that grabs your attention right away, the brilliantly conceived dance number in which Astaire saves Rogers job by showing how quick of a study she is, a more convincing pairing of romantic doubles in Viktor Moore/Helen Broderick; a very nice change of piece in "Just the Way You Look Tonight" where Astaire just sings without dancing, and a more menacing foil in Ricky Romero.
  • Sophie's Choice: This is the only film on the list that I know absolutely nothing about (there were other films that I knew close to nothing about). All I knew about this film was that it won Meryl Streep an Oscar and I wasn't even sure of that. Once again, the AFI list made me feel stupid, but that's ok.

-I think the biggest waste of a choice was Night at the Opera because one Marx Brothers film is enough. Honestly, I can't even remember if I've seen a Night at the Opera. I've seen about 4 or 5 Marx Brothers Films and i can't remember them by name. I think they all just blend into each other. Some have Zeppo and some don't, that's the only difference.

A breakdown of must-see movies this decade

Some of my responses to this article that I made in response to the flooding of views and negative comments I received today in response to this article being selected to the imdb.com hitlist can be found here:
http://sophomorecritic.blogspot.com/2007/06/in-response-to-my-article-on-must-see.html


I think this would be a great topic to debate so i'd love to have everyone contribute your thoughts and lists:

I think that there are movies that are just must-see films. I think since pop culture is getting so much more scattered these are fewer than before. At the same time, there is no current shortage of production resources, in terms of gifted actors, writers and directors; and studios are so market-saavy that they try to market a greater variety and greater volume of their films as must-see films. I'm gonna throw out a list of films which I feel one has to see to consider themselves culturally literate. I haven't personally seen all of these, but at the same time, my film literacy suffers if I miss any of them. For example, I couldn't figure out why Mark Wahlberg is becoming more of a visible star if I haven't seen Departed, I couldn't understand what people are referring to with their Borat jokes and immitations if I haven't seen them onscreen, I couldn't tell you if all five Oscar nominees deserved their nominations without seeing them, and I couldn't render an opinion on whether Entertainment Weekly Magazine were out of their minds when they listed Children of Men as one of the top 25 sci-fi phenomenons of the last 25 years without having seen the film.



My criteria is based mostly on what drew people to the movie theaters at the time the films were released and not as they pertain to whether people needed to see the films on DVD:
-Films that generate a lot of water cooler buzz (either controvoursey, topics of interest, or good word of mouth
-Films that are nominated for Oscars or get strong consideration for Oscar nominations, or in other words.....
-Films which are considered to be of good quality (an oversimplification of this is very good critical acceptance)
-Films which are considered to have a quality performance (acting, directorial, or in rare cases screenwriting

-Sequels/Prequels and other tent poles
-The hype which precedes Blockbusters and/or their how contagious they can be once they start breaking records

-Adaptations of some big play, book, or movie (can also be a remake)



2006:
Babel-Quality, Oscar nominee, Performance (acting: Pitt & directorial: Inarritu)
Queen-Water cooler buzz, Oscar nominee, Quality, Performance (acting: Mirren)
Little Miss Sunshine-Blockbuster, Water cooler buzz, Quality, Oscar Nominee
Flags of Our Fathers-Sequel, Performance (directorial: Eastwood)
Letters from Iwo Jima-Sequel, Water Cooler buzz, Quality, Performance (directorial: Eastwood)
Departed-Oscar nominee, Quality, Blockbuster, Performance (acting: DiCaprio, Wahlberg and Nicholson & directorial: Scorsese)
Dreamgirls-Oscar contender, Quality (acting: Hudson and Murphy), Blockbuster hype, Adaptation
Da Vinci Code-Water cooler, Blockbuster, Adaptation
Pan's Labyrinth-Performance (directing: Guillermo del Toro), Quality, Oscar contender
Children of Men-Performance (directing: Cuaron), Quality, Oscar contender
Borat-Water cooler buzz, Quality
Casino Royale-Sequel, Quality, Performance (a in Daniel Craig), Blockbuster Hype
Last King of Scotland-Performance (a in Forrest Whitaker)
X-Men 3-Blockbuster, Sequel, Water cooler buzz
Superman Returns-Blockbuster, Sequel/Prequel
Devil Wears Prada-Quality, Performance (acting: Meryl Streep), Adaptation, Water cooler buzz
Prairie Home Companion-Performance (directorial: Rob Altman)
Blood Diamond-Water cooler buzz, Oscar contender
United 93-Quality, Water cooler buzz
World Trade Center-Water cooler buzz
Inconvenient Truth-Quality, Water cooler buzz
V for Vendetta-Quality, Performance (directorial: McTigue)

2005:
Brokeback Mountain-Quality, Oscar Nominee, Performance (a: Heath Ledger), Water Cooler Buzz
Munich-Quality, Oscar Nominee, Performance (d: Spielberg), Water cooler buzz, Blockbuster
Crash-Quality, Water Cooler buzz, Oscar nominee
Capote-Quality, Performance (a: P.S. Hoffman), Oscar nominee
GN&GL-Performance (a: Strathain and d: Clooney), Oscar nominee, Quality
Squid and the Whale-Quality
Sin City-Water cooler buzz, Performance (d: Rodriguez and Tarantino)
Star Wars III-Sequel, Blockbuster hype
Producers-Adaptation
Constant Gardener-Performance (d: Fernando Meirelles), Quality
Match Point-Quality, Performance (d: Woody Allen), Water cooler buzz, Oscar contender
King Kong-Blockbuster, Performance (d: Peter Jackson), Water cooler buzz, Adaptation, Quality, Oscar contender
Syriana-Oscar contender, Water cooler buzz
Chronicles of Narnia-Blockbuster, Water cooler buzz
New World-Performance (d: Terrence Malick)
History of Violence-Quality
40 Year Old Virgin-Quality, Water cooler buzz, Performance (director/writer: Judd Apatow)
Wedding Crashers-Water cooler buzz
Star Wars III-Sequel, Blockbuster
Serenity-Quality, Adaptation
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-Adaptation, Blockbuster
Fantastic Four-Adaptation, Blockbuster
Batman Begins-Quality, Prequel/Sequel, Water Cooler Buzz
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire-Performance (acting: Ralph Fiennes), Sequel/Prequel, Adaptation
Walk the Line-Sequel/Prequel*, Performance (acting: Phoenix and Whitherspoon), Oscar contender
March of the Penguins-Quality, Water cooler buzz
Hustle and Flow-Performance (a: Terrence Howard), Water cooler buzz
*Walk the Line was not a sequel to anything, but it sort of rode the wave of musical biopics originally started by Ray


2004:
Sideways-Quality, Oscar nominee, performance (d: Alexander Payne)
Ray-Performance (acting: Ray Charles), Oscar nominee, water cooler buzz
Aviator-Performance (directorial: Scorsese and acting: DiCaprio), Quality, water cooler buzz (over whether it would be Scorsese's year or not), Blockbuster
Finding Neverland-Performance (acting: Depp), Quality, Oscar nominee
Million Dollar Baby-Oscar nominee, Performance (acting: Swank and directing: Eastwood), Quality, Water Cooler buzz
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind-Oscar contender, Quality, Performance (acting: Carrey and Winslet)
Phantom of the Opera-Adaptation
Kill Bill Vol. 2-Sequel, Performance (dir: Tarantino and acting: Uma Thurman), Quality
Hotel Rwanda-Water cooler buzz, Performance (acting: Don Cheadle), Oscar contender
Incredibles-Quality, Water cooler buzz, Blockbuster
Kinsey-Oscar contender, Water cooler buzz, performance (acting: Liam Niesson and Peter Sarsgaard)
Fahrenheit 911-Water cooler buzz, Quality, Blockbuster
Passion of the Christ-Blockbuster, Water cooler buzz, performance (directorial: Gibson)
Terminal-Performance (dir: Spielberg and acting: Tom Hanks)
Spiderman 2-Blockbuster, Sequel, Quality, Water cooler buzz
Shrek 2-Blockbuster, Sequel
Manchurian Candidate-Adaptation, Water cooler buzz, Blockbuster hype
Garden State-Water cooler buzz
Napoleon Dynamite-Water cooler buzz
Dodgeball-Water cooler buzz
Anchorman-Water cooler buzz
Mean Girls-Performance (acting: Lindsay Lohan and writing: Tiny Fey)
Supersize Me-Water cooler buzz
Meet the Fockers-Blockbuster, Sequel, Performance (acting: De Niro and Hoffman)
Collateral-Quality
Bourne Supremacy-Sequel
Closer-Oscar contender, Performance (acting: Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azhkaban-Water cooler buzz, adaptation, sequel, blockbuster

2003:
Lord of the Rings III: Quality, Performance (directorial: Peter Jackson), Oscar nominee, Blockbuster, Sequel, Adaptation
Mystic River: Quality, Performance (acting: Laura Linney, Sean Penn, Marcia Gay Harden and directing: Eastwood), Oscar Nominee
Seabiscuit: Oscar nominee, Quality, Blockbuster
Master and Commander: Performance (acting: Russell Crowe), Quality, Oscar nominee, Adaptation
Lost in Translation: Performance (dir/writer: Coppola and acting: Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson), Oscar Nominee, Quality, Water cooler buzz
X-Men 2: Blockbuster, Sequel
Matrix Reloaded: Blockbuster, Water cooler buzz, Sequel
Bend it Like Beckham: Quality
Kill Bill I: Performance (directorial: Tarantino), Water cooler buzz, Quality
In America: Quality
21 Grams: Quality, Performance (acting: Sean Penn), Oscar contender
Last Samurai: Performance (acting: Tom Cruise), Water cooler buzz, Blockbuster hype
Cold Mountain: Oscar contender, Blockbuster hype, Adaptation
Big Fish: Quality, Blockbuster hype
Elf: Performance (acting: Will Ferrell)
School of Rock: Performance (acting: Jack Black)
Finding Nemo: Water cooler buzz, Blockbuster hype
Thirteen: Quality, Water cooler buzz
Pirates of the Caribbean: Water cooler buzz, Blockbuster, Performance (acting: Johnny Depp)
American Splendor: Performance (acting: Paul Giamatti)
House of Sand and Fog: Performance (acting: Ben Kingsley), Oscar contender
Love Actually-Water cooler buzz
Monster-Performance (acting: Charlize Theron)

2002:
Chicago: Oscar Nominee, Water cooler buzz, Blockbuster, Performance (acting: Gere, Zellweger and Zeta-Jones)
Gangs of New York: Oscar nominee, Performance (directing: Martin Scorsese and acting: Daniel Day-Lewis), Water cooler buzz
The Hours: Oscar nominee, Quality, Adaptation
Pianist: Oscar nominee, Performance (directing: Roman Polanski), Water cooler buzz, quality
Lord of the Rings: Two Towers: Oscar nominee, Blockbuster, Sequel, Performance (directing: Jackson), Water cooler buzz, Adaptation
About Schmidt: Performance (writer/director: Alexander Payne and actor: Jack Nicholson), Oscar contender, Quality
Adaptation: Water cooler buzz, Performance (Writer: Charlie Kaufman and actor: Nicholas Cage), Quality
My Big Fat Greek Wedding: Water cooler buzz, Blockbuster
Catch Me If You Can: Blockbuster
Road to Perdition: Quality, Performance (Acting: Tom Hanks), Water cooler buzz
Far From Heaven: Oscar contender, Performance (Acting: Dennis Quaid and Julianne Moore)
Austin Powers in Goldmember: Sequel
Minority Report: Performance (Dir: Spielberg), Water cooler buzz
Signs: Performance (Dir: M Night Shamylan)
Bowling for Columbine: Water cooler buzz
Die Another Day: Sequel, Blockbuster, Water cooler buzz
8 Mile: Blockbuster, Water cooler buzz
About a Boy: Quality, Performance (Acting: Hugh Grant), Adaptation
Insomnia: Quality, Performance (Acting: Robin Williams), Water cooler buzz
City of God: Quality
Y tu Mama Tambien: Quality
Talk to Her: Quality
Sweet Home Alabama: Water cooler buzz
Unfaithful: Performance (Acting: Dianne Lane)
Bourne Identity: Water cooler buzz
Punch Drunk Love: Water cooler buzz, Performance (acting: Emily Watson and Adam Sandler)
Harry Potter II: Sequel, Adaptation, Blockbuster
Star Wars II: Blockbuster, Water cooler buzz, Sequel, Performance (dir. George Lucas)
Spiderman: Blockbuster, Water cooler buzz, Sequel/Prequel, Adaptation


2001:
Godsford Park: Oscar nominee, Performance (Acting: Robert Altman), Quality
Moulan Rouge: Oscar nominee, Performance (Acting: Nicole Kidman, Dir: Baz Luhrmann), Water cooler buzz
A Beautiful Mind: Oscar nominee, Performance (Acting: Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe), Water cooler buzz, Blockbuster
In the Bedroom: Oscar nominee, Performance (Acting: Sissy Spacek), Quality
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: Prequel/Sequel, Adaptation, Quality, Oscar nominee, Water cooler buzz
Mullholland Drive: Performance (Directing: David Lynch), Water cooler buzz
Amilie: Oscar contender, Performance (Acting: Audrey Tatou), Water cooler buzz, Quality
Black Hawk Down: Oscar contender, Water cooler buzz
Momento: Water cooler buzz, Quality
Shrek: Blockbuster
Ali: Performance (Acting: Will Smith), Water cooler buzz
Artificial Intelligence: Blockbuster hype, Performance (dir. Stephen Spielberg, writer: Kubrick), Water cooler buzz
Royal Tannenbaums: Quality, Performance (dir. Wes Anderson)
Training Day: Performance (acting: Denzel Washington)
Zoolander: Water cooler buzz
Hannibal: Sequel/Prequel
Legally Blonde: Water cooler buzz
Man Who Wasn't There: Performance (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, acting: Billy Bob Thornton), Oscar contender
Monster's Ball: Performance (acting: Halle Berry), Quality
Shallow Hal: Performance (acting: Jack Black), Water cooler buzz
Rush Hour 2: Sequel
I Am Sam: Performance (acting: Sean Penn)
Ocean's 11: Quality

2000:
Gladiator: Oscar nominee, Quality, Water cooler buzz, Performance (acting: Russell Crowe, directing: Ridley Scott), Blockbuster
Traffic: Oscar nominee, Quality, Performance (director: Stephen Soderbergh)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Water cooler buzz, Oscar nominee, Quality, Performance (dir: Ang Lee)
Chocolat: Oscar nominee
Erin Brockovich: Oscar nominee, Performance (acting: Julia Roberts)
Almost Famous: Quality, Water cooler buzz, Performance (acting: Kate Hudson and dir/writer: Cameron Crowe), Oscar contender
Wonderboys: Performance (acting: Michael Douglas), Quality, Adaptation
You Can Count on Me: Performance (acting: Laura Linney), Quality
Oh Brother Where Art Thou: Performance (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)
Contender: Performance (acting: Jeff Bridges and Joan Allen), Oscar contender
X-Men: Prequel/Sequel, Adaptation, Performance (acting: Hugh Jackman), Blockbuster
Requiem for a Dream: Performance (acting: Ellyn Burstyn and directing: Daron Aronofsky)
Cast Away: Quality, Water cooler buzz, Performance (acting: Tom Hanks), Blockbuster
Mission Impossible II: Sequel, Blockbuster
Remember the Titans: Quality, Water cooler buzz
Quills: Oscar contender
Best in Show: Quasi-Sequel, Water cooler buzz
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas: Adaptation, Blockbuster
Amorres Perros: Quality
High Fidelity: Water cooler buzz, Adaptation
What Lies Beneath-Water cooler buzz