|Being a place where I say whatever comes to mind about the movies I watch.|
On this side of the screen, you'll see the list of my favorite movies. These
are the movies that I will gladly watch again and again, just soaking in the energy.
Some of them are flawed, but they all have good qualities that make up for those
Amadeus: Very simply, the coolest movie ever. Theater purists may dislike some of the liberties taken with the play on which the movie was based, but I didn't see the stage play until 15 years after first seeing the movie, so... to each his own. The moment at the end, with the priest hanging his head as Salieri toys with him---ah, priceless. Just priceless.
Casablanca: It's kind of like a lightning strike, really. Casablanca was a nothing movie---yes, with name actors, but it was mass-produced, with no expectations in particular. Of course, many of the sentiments are terribly old-fashioned. But the chemistry and the performances were brilliant; and then there's The Scene. That would be when Victor Laszlo marches down the staircase and tells Rick's band to play the Merseillaise. They look at Rick, and you can see right at that moment that Rick is out of dodges, and has no choice but to show his true colors. My favorite scene of all time. And of course, you can do a lot worse than "Major Strosser has been shot---round up the usual suspects!"
The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001): All right, I know what you're thinking. Too recent, super-hyped, etc. But let me just say this: I was absolutely certain, before this film came out, that Lord of the Rings was an impossible project. The expectations of the fans were sky-high. Again and again I would hear people who had seen the trailer muttering about this thing or that. You'd get an easier ride from fundamentalist Christians if you decided to bring the Bible to the big screen. But I went to see it, and poof there it was, three hours of Essence d'Tolkien. Peter Jackson did the impossible. (About the others? They may have been just as good, just as fun; I like them fine and will watch them over and over. But Fellowship was the revelation of what Peter Jackson could do with the books. In the other movies, some of his tricks became less fresh because we'd seen them before. They satisfied me, but they didn't blow me away like Fellowship did.)
The Empire Strikes Back: Oh, for the days when George Lucas had it all: unique effects, great imagination, and snappy writing, all in the same movie. See the other column for more on that.
The Blues Brothers: A vintage straight-man routine from Dan Aykroyd, a cast full of musical legends, and an unreservedly absurd plot make this movie something that everybody should see, preferably with a kickass sound system.
Aladdin: Hey, Disney had a great run there with Ashman and Menken. Aladdin is my favorite of those gems. Jafar, Jafar, he's our man!
La Femme Nikita: Not to be confused with the junky American remake, whose name I will not write here. Grit, grit, and more grit. The origin of Victor the Cleaner. Jean Reno came over to the states to seek his fortune, but he'll never outdo that role.
The Princess Bride: OK, get this. The marriage homily, delivered as a reading at a real wedding, straight-faced, with correct pronunciations (i.e. no "mawwage"). I saw it once. It's a beautiful little homily, actually. Brought tears to my eyes, because bursting out laughing during a wedding is a major no-no.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: Harrison Ford, come on down. Another throwaway flick that caught fire; smashing Nazis has never been more fun. This movie was from the old days when, if you wanted to depict someone being dragged along a gravel road underneath a truck, you dragged them along a gravel road underneath a truck. You know you're a war history nerd when you see that movie and, every time, say "but the Germans weren't in Egypt in 1936!"
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Just as Harrison Ford's career got white-hot, they teamed him up with Sean Connery. The result: a tour de force for both actors and for the franchise.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail: An irreverent farce from the days when humor was constructed from irony, satire, absurdism, and hyperbole, instead of by writing perl scripts to combine random chains of profanity.
Aliens: It's all about the shooting, and the APC, and the blowing stuff up, and Hudson's wisecracks. Actually, that's four things. This is my standard for action flicks.
Ghostbusters: I could do without some of the tasteless parts. That would reduce this movie to a forty-minute romp of screaming laughter. Delivery, writing, chemistry---all brilliant. Almost as impressive was the efficiency with which all of that magic was eradicated from the sequel.
Dark Knight: I know a lot of people who felt it was overhyped, and didn't quite deliver. It's an interesting test case of art for me. I can see the flaws, and the overreach, and I can say "you know, if I just decide to accept the flaws, and credit the director for what he was trying to do, then it's awesome."
On this side of the screen, you'll see a list of movies that I'm motivated to
say something about. Some of them are flicks with at least one shining moment that
deserves a reward. Others make me want to unleash a blood-curdling scream of frustration. You will
not find it difficult to tell which of these is the case.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones: George, George, George... Yes, it's true, I will keep forking over the dough to watch your movies in the theaters, and I will still play the DVDs over and over again, but only for the eye candy. I have one line for you. "I've failed you." A decoy eats the incoming shot from the assassin, and then apologizes to the boss for failing. Failing at what? Hello? What are decoys for? You know, when you become successful enough to fire your editor, that's usually when the quality of your writing goes in the tank. This line is my poster case for the temptations that an artist faces--you have this thing, you've always wanted to do it, and you force it into your art, and if nobody is there to stop you, it just looks bad, bad, bad.
Pearl Harbor: Oh, God, how shall I count the atrocities? Yomamoto preaching about awakening a sleeping dragon? Roosevelt standing up to cheer his cabinet? Playing chicken in your Wildcats to induce the Japanese to collide in midair?
Ruthless People: A fun little movie, not one for the ages, but with that beautiful line from Judge Reinhold: "I'm not ruthless! I can't even sell retail, and that's legal!"
Men In Black: Another fun little movie, all lines and style. The lines and style were beautiful. My hat is off to the makers of the sequel for producing a work which was, if less inspired, at least not an insult to the fans of the first movie.
Demolition Man: Did you have any idea that Sylvester Stallone knits? No? Neither did I. "We're police! We're not equipped to handle this kind of violence!"
Dogma: You know, if I were suddenly confronted with God in all Her majesty, my reaction might be kind of like Jay's. Because, you see, there are some questions I'd like to have answered, and some of them make me a mite cranky. "Oh Bartleby--was Wisconsin that bad?"
The Wizard of Oz: I realized, many years after first seeing it, that the witch-melting scene was well-done in a way that many modern movies aren't. You have to wonder why they put the pail of water there, but there it is at the top of the scene, hung right on the wall. And it's not overdone, just done. What a pleasure.
We Were Soldiers: One of the best big-name war movies I've seen. Gritty and respectful in its portrayal of the action, and cognizant of the humanity of both sides without pandering to revisionist BS. Compare Yamamoto's sermon from Pearl Harbor above with the Vietnamese commander's closing comments and you'll see why PH should languish in movie hell. (For the record, I don't remember the exact quote, but it was basically "Damn. They're going to walk away saying they've won, and that means they're going to keep coming back.")