Friday, August 21, 2009

Top 100 Films - 85-76

85.Ridley Scott convinced Harry Dean Stanton to sign on for Alien by likening it more to Ten Little Indians than the typical science fiction film. The comparison is apt. In the lonely isolation of space, the crew of the Nostromo is picked off one by one by an enemy they know next to nothing of. There’s a lot of terror to be mined from that situation, but the same formula has been mishandled by countless horror films ever since. Alien gets it right because it’s in no hurry to toss in a make-you-jump moment. There’s a solid 45 minutes of setup before things get critical, but those 45 minutes are so packed with a steadily building sense of suspense that when the infamous gut-busting sequence comes along, it’s justifiably one of the scariest things you’ve ever seen. And of course, that’s only the beginning of the crew’s problems.

Watching Alien is an instant reminder of a time when horror films could, on occasion, be great films. A cast of Ian Holm, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton and Sigourney Weaver on board does lend a bit of legitimacy to the project, but none of the characters just feel like bodies waiting to be torn limb from limb (even if that’s what they are). Weaver, in particular, is exceptional. It’s a performance as important as it is effective. Hollywood needed a female action hero. In Ripley, they got one to equal any male action heroes they had.

84.Sand clings to every frame of Woman in the Dunes. We’re used to sweeping cinematic shots of desert, but here’s the rare film that dissects that desert grain by grain. And if the vastness of the dunes seemed mind-boggling before, the idea of billions upon billions of particles surrounding you, keeping you in, is enough to overwhelm just about anyone. The entomologist finds himself trapped in a hole in the dunes, his only companion a woman who’s been there far longer than he has. They form a relationship that is beyond odd. They satisfy their every erotic need, yet can’t be bothered to help each other escape the sandy shack at the bottom of the hole. Faced with the infinity in grains of sand that surround them, they regress. Primal instincts take hold as their world closes in. It’s a film as haunting as it is beautiful, and like the grains of sand, its curiosities are endless.

83.Less a traditional choice than most films on the list, 8 Women earns its spot for successfully packing just about everything I love from movies into one. It’s a whodunit, and a clever one at that, so I was already bound to love it, but add to that the brilliant cast of classic French actresses, the high melodrama homage to Douglas Sirk, and the vibrant color palate that comes along with that and I’m hooked. Oh yeah, it’s also a musical. It’s by necessity over-the-top and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The cast is thankfully all in on it. The ladies are marvelous, from Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darrieux to Emmanuelle Béart and Ludivine Sagnier. It’s Isabelle Huppert that steals the show though in a roll that’s fun to consider in comparison to her part in The Piano Teacher.

8 Women is based on a stage play that I’ve never seen and likely never will, but the adaptation to the screen seems to have been carried out successfully. The dialogue often fires back and forth at a rapid pace, and with no less than eight motives and alibis to keep track of, I find myself very thankful for the use of close ups. Yes, it passes my admittedly strict test of stage to screen adaptations. François Ozon uses the inherent advantages of cinema well. There are also the subtle references to classic films waiting for the right eye to pick up on them. Each character’s style harkens back to an actress of classic Hollywood for instance, and there’s that portrait of Catherine upstairs that seems to come straight out of Belle de Jour. But there’s no need to dig this deep. I fell in love long before I considered any cinematic merits it may have.

82.The film that ended Michael Powell’s career was among the best he ever worked on. Like any film tackling voyeurism head on, Peeping Tom is far creepier than it is terrifying, but that unnerving feeling that rides you throughout the film is all part of the horror. Powell brings back Moira Shearer for a far different dance than she stepped to in The Red Shoes, but here her audience is one man and his camera, and her stage a television studio. It was reviled upon release, unfairly so, but not unsurprising considering that the searing indictment of voyeurism here involves the camera itself, by extension the film, and therefore the audience. Its initial reception seems only to prove that the film hit its mark. It’s rightly considered a classic now, but to have seen it in theaters back in 1960, well, that would have been something.

The entire experience of viewing Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon plays out like the most surreal of dreams. It last but a few minutes (around 14 I believe) but feels anywhere from mere moments to an eternity. That is, time steps aside as the viewer slips into a beautiful trance. A feverish mystery plays out before our eyes, but dissecting the dream while under its spell would do nothing except ruin the moment. Much as with a David Lynch film, it’s the experience of watching Meshes of the Afternoon that awakens the greatest emotions.

Cheating, you say? Yes, well, I can’t really deny that. Kieslowski’s trilogy is connected only loosely, thematically and by an incident, but it just made more sense to include all three together rather than set aside separate entries for both Red and Blue (both would have made it regardless). And don’t get me wrong, White is wonderful, definitely the underrated one of the bunch, but the trilogy makes the list primarily on the strength of first and final installments. There’s far too much ground to cover so I won’t even attempt to break each film down measure for measure. Across the board we are treated to some of the most striking cinematography imaginable, adjusted for the appropriate color of course, with the visual resplendence of Red standing as the most unforgettable. Also present in all the films is Kieslowski’s empathy, perhaps the greatest asset in his direction. The performances he is able to glean owe much to his deep respect of the characters themselves. All are handled with the utmost delicacy. Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant seem perfectly matched against each other, but the real marvel is Juliette Binoche. Her performance in Blue ranks among the finest ever.

Also, apologies on the lame graphic for the one. I considered picking through all three films (which I own) to make screencaps, but ultimately decided I’d never sum all three up in such few images anyway, so I might as well save myself some time. So yeah, between that and including a trilogy in one spot, I’m all about cutting corners here. Incidentally, if pressed to choose one, I’d go with Red.

There’s two ways that I prefer to see horror films handled. They can be a spectacle, dramatic and elaborate deaths accompanied with buckets and buckets of blood, or they can run on practically nothing but the suspense and instability of their little worlds. Now, simple and stripped down are things I don’t abide well, but they can be strong assets in the best horror films. Repulsion witnesses a woman alone in her apartment gradually drive herself into madness. Catherine Deneuve has never been better, precisely because of the instability that her character brings to the film. Roman Polanski’s hand holds tight control, and lets the reigns loose at just the right time. His films often exist in collapsing worlds, and the mental world of Repulsion is darker than any other he’s given us. And trapped there in that apartment, we begin to mentally unravel with Catherine. It’s the best psychological horror film ever made.

78.I can only speak for the two Atom Egoyan films I’ve seen, this and Exotica, but damn do they have a way of lingering with you long after the credits stop rolling. The Sweet Hereafter, especially, really wrenches itself into your conscience. Like Exotica, the story springs from a tragedy, only here we’re familiar with the basic details from the outset. The fatal wreck of a school bus in a small Canadian town is enough to shake up life considerably for the community. Enter the lawyer, Ian Holm in his finest hour, urging them to sue for damages. Everyone involved has their reasons, and it’s a struggle to take a stand amid all the uneasiness these characters have toward each other. There’s a beautiful sorrow to it all, a sadness that extends far beyond the initial accident that looms over all the proceedings. And I couldn’t bear not to mention Sarah Polley as well. As the crippled survivor of the crash and the assumed voice of the community’s lost youth, she gives a positively devastating performance.

77.Few directors can get under our collective skin like Michael Haneke. Funny Games, as you may or may not have found out by now, is the great sadistic experiment of cinema. Cache isn’t quite as ruthless, and it certainly tortures us in a very different way, but Haneke’s mark is unmistakably there. That is to say, he’s still playing games with us. This time, it’s what’s held back that becomes maddening. An unknown stalker torments a family. The father hides a tumultuous past. The wife may be committing adultery. The son disappears. Secrets abound, but is doesn’t take long to come to terms with the fact that answers are not on the way. We’re treated to some disturbing memories, a continual accumulation of unsettling souvenirs and visual clues, and a brief moment as shocking as anything seen before on film, but they never come together in the end. But even the most tightly wrapped up narratives are rarely entirely satisfying. The ambiguity of Cache, driven home doubly by the shot that plays over the closing credits, gives us a film that never suffers upon re-viewings and can keep us scratching our heads time and time again. Also, Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche rock, but you already knew that.

76.Yes, I’m aware that this is the film sticking out in sore thumb fashion from the rest of my lovely list. Am I permitted a defense? Well of course I am, and I doubt it’ll convince you otherwise if you’ve already started scoffing. But here goes.

There’s obviously a nostalgia value here, but that alone wouldn’t have done it. I’ve trimmed countless films which I once obsessed over from my list because, well, they just weren’t that good in retrospect. Yet I’ve watched Clue more times than any other movie and while the direction is uninteresting and the set decoration is unusually stale for a mansion, it soars entirely because it’s running with one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled. The performances can’t get more campy and the clever, if ridiculous, dialogue is fired back and forth so fast that it’s a challenge to recover from laughing quick enough to catch the next bit. Most importantly, every last one of them is having a blast running amok in what is truly a madcap murder mystery. There’s not a week link, though Eileen Brennan as the overly dramatic Mrs. Peacock steals scenes like no one else, but then again Madeline Kahn’s icy husband-killer exterior is so perfect that I wish Mrs. White was always like that and not some stupid house maid.

Or maybe it gets a spot here just to deliberately knock my reputation as a movie-elitist down a notch. I’ll admit that it’s just plain weird to sandwich Clue in between Cache and the even loftier entry that’s to follow, but what the hell, these are my favorites and I couldn’t bear not to find some place for this one a list of 100.

Continue to 75 - 66.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Top 100 Films - 95 to 86

Fellini's progression as a director fascinates me to no end. But while I have a hearty appreciation for where he both started and ended up, it was that period in the middle where his work became simply extraordinary. After Nights of Cabiria showed the rougher edges to Roma, La Dolce Vita showers us in Italian style. We move from one swinging party to the next and along with Marcello spend time in the company of a collection of beautiful women that could only come out in The Eternal City. It's as fine a depiction of fame and celebrity as we've ever seen. The film never lingers too long on any one episode. It's essential to keep moving, lest we become bored like so many of celebrities that Marcello mingles with. And though the characters find their share of misery, it's hard to sympathize when we're too busy taking a midnight romp in a fountain, witnessing a miracle, going on a ghost hunt or gawking at a monster freshly dragged up from the sea. Yet while the frivolous adventures may not be emotionally satisfying, they're still loads of fun. In the world Marcello and his paparazzi prowl, life really is sweet, but the film never really claims to be anything else.

94.I’ve got a feeling that when my list is posted in its entirety, the entries that will strike most people as out of place are the comedies, because nestled among American classics, art house favorites and more obscure findings, they just don’t carry the same weight and ambition. But while a select few comedic geniuses need no defense (Keaton, Chaplin, Tati), going to bat for the others could prove challenging. It’s a genre that we all to quickly disregard, but a brilliantly written comedy, coupled with just the right cast, has the ability not only to have us in stitches, but to do so time and time again. Good comedy has to age well.

Maybe I’ve made too big of a deal with the setup, because it can’t be so hard to see why A Fish Called Wanda would rank among anyone’s (cinephile or not) favorite films. It’s pedigree combines influences from the two great forces in British comedy, Ealing Studio comedies and Monty Python. Director Charles Crichton was responsible for The Ladykillers far earlier in his career and John Cleese and Michael Palin deliver some superbly over-the-top performances. It’s the story of a jewel heist gone horribly wrong, complete with a stuffy British barrister, an animal-loving henchman with a deep love for animals and a meddling old lady with her three precious dogs. And then there’s Otto. He’s a blundering idiot who fancies himself an intellectual. He misquotes Nietzsche on a regular basis, spews phony Italian while seducing his girlfriend and has a tendency to show up at the most inconvenient times. Kevin Kline’s performance is a work of mad genius. There’s not one ounce of restraint to be found, but any would surely spoil the fun. His surprise appearance inside John Cleese’s house is so far as I can tell the only moment in a movie that has ever had me fall out of my chair and roll on the floor laughing. And it happens every time I see it without fail. It’s the kind of laugher that comes from the kind of careful writing that builds a situation into something truly hilarious. Every moment grows funnier in light of what’s already happened. So maybe it’s the brilliant script penned by Cleese himself, or maybe it’s just fun to laugh at stuffy Brits and stupid Americans, but A Fish Called Wanda earns its place as my gold standard for comedy. And it can spar with most films on this list any day.

Apologies for what is bound to be a lackluster review here. It’s been over a year and a half since I’ve seen Masculine Feminine and since I didn’t have a chance to revisit it, my praise will be tempered slightly. That’s really unfortunate because it’s a film that won me over through the little moments, not through its grand design. Gender, politics and music, three of Jean-Luc Godard’s favorite subjects, drive the deep discussions and refreshingly candid interviews that string the film together. It’s the honesty of it all with which I fell in love. Godard taps into youth culture (of the 60s, naturally) with a precision that I’ve rarely seen otherwise. Every character rings true. I hung on every moment, and in all likelihood another viewing would have it jump considerably in my rankings, but that’s a day I’ll just have to look forward to.

I can’t imagine someone loving musicals (hell, loving movies in general) and not finding something special in Singin’ in the Rain. All the best movie musicals have uniquely cinematic to them, and of course the easiest way to insure that is to have them written for the screen in the first place. Singin’ in the Rain couldn’t have started anywhere but the cinema because it’s a celebration of the grand tradition of entertainment at the movies. It being set during the sound revolution at the end of the 20s is crucial. Sound gave life to the screen musical and solidified movies as a key form of popular entertainment. Here, the most iconic musical of them all is itself devoted to entertaining the audience. “Make ‘Em Laugh” indeed. Each number is unforgettable. The performances are all larger than life. And it’s also one of the few truly beloved classics that I don’t begrudge one iota of its fame. If all my favorite films conjure up in me some sort of emotional response, Singin’ in the Rain elicits my absolute favorite emotion, pure joy.

Romantic epics are my kryptonite. I am willing to forgive a great many flaws in exchange for the perfect story of sweeping romance. Revolutions would seem to provide a good backdrop, also World War II. And Doctor Zhivago is directed by the grandmaster of epic films himself, David Lean. My thoughts on the movie don’t run deep. I simply love everything for what it is. The cinematography is jaw dropping, particularly depictions of the Russian winter. Great performances abound. It’s here where I first fell head-over-heels in love with Julie Christie. It’s here where I’ll maintain that Rod Steiger give his best performance. There’s also the score, Maurice Jarre’s finest, which is among the most stirring pieces ever composed for film. To watch it all is an endeavor. Some might even say torture. But epic and I get along very well, and doomed romance piques my interest without fail. Doctor Zhivago won’t be the last of such to show up here.

Geraldine Chaplin shows up for her second film in a row on this list. Impressive, and I think the only time that happens on this list. It’s not her last appearance either. But anyway, onto this fascinating and scarcely seen gem of Spanish cinema. It’s the story of a family, seen through the eyes of a young girl, which serves as an allegory for the end of Spain under Franco and the rise of a new generation. However, there’s a lot more here than a mirror for historical events and for that we can thank Ana Torrent whose heartfelt performance holds up the center of the film. Chaplin too is wonderful as both Ana’s mother and future self. And throughout it all, we here on repeat an infectious Spanish pop song, “Porque Te Vas” by Jeanette, which is bound to play over and over in your heads for many nights to come. But it’s sound seems so appropriate for the new Spain that is coming around. Cria Cuervos is a landmark for Spanish cinema, but for all the concern it expresses toward the state of the nation, it still feels incredible personal. Credit is owed to director Carlos Saura who strikes just the right balance with the story. It’s a marvel. Naturally, I recommend it.

Blair Waldorf would be proud. There’s no more iconic image of 60s cinema than Audrey Hepburn standing outside Tiffany’s, and image has everything to do with my adoration of this film. Like Marlene Dietrich, I may hesitate to commend Audrey Hepburn on her acting ability, but there’s no denying her presence as an actress. There’s certainly a difference, and it’s not necessarily worse to have presence but not talent rather than the other way around. She’s the height of fashion, so glamorous that you can hardly look away, and the whole film exists at the height of style. It’s not without shortcomings, or rather, Mickey Rooney, but there’s so much charm everywhere else that I can put up even with his ridiculous caricature of a role. Blake Edwards has the rare ability to make a film burst to the seams with class without ever entering into the realm of pretension. Audrey Hepburn’s image may just be the most beautiful thing ever captured on celluloid. Together, they’re unstoppable.

88.The South American jungle makes for some fascinating cinematic odysseys, but rather than hauling a boat or a house through the wild, the four men at the center of The Wages of Fear are transporting two truckloads of nitroglycerin. Put quite simply, never has a film created so much tension as here. The stakes are high, and a happy ending seems entirely out of the question, so with that in mind, it’s just a cruel waiting game before everything blows sky high. The intensity comes from everywhere. It’s in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s deft direction and in four stellar performances where characters get pushed to the edge only to come face to face with their own mortality. Each obstacle the drivers encounter kicks the suspense up another notch. Any reprieve is minimal. It’s hard to feel completely at ease with two truckloads of nitroglycerin that’s not going anywhere except out with a bang. It might just be the most terrifying road movie ever made.

87.I’ve got a general rule of never read the book once you’ve seen the movie. I hate the common sentiment that the book is always better and I’m always terribly worried that I’ll come away thinking exactly that. Books and movies are simply different beasts and they’ve got to be handled as such. What works in one medium won’t work in another. Some parts will be cut. New scenes will work their way in. One can only hope it’s for the better.

I’ve not read Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, but it’s one I’d consider bending my rule for. I say this because while the story itself is wonderful, the real fascination here is the character of Mr. Stevens, a character so authentic and believable, yet impossible to fully understand. He’s the loyal butler of Darlington Hall, instilled with such a sense of duty that nothing, not relationships, morals or world affairs, is allowed to come between him and the constant task of maintaining an orderly house. Mr. Stevens is one of the greatest tragic figures I’ve ever come across, of such interest that I’d pick the book up in a heartbeat to see how he’s depicted there. Anthony Hopkins performance in the film is astounding. A lifetime of lost opportunities wear away behind a facade of strict responsibility. His pain is subtle, but not small. All would have been lost on a lesser actor, but Hopkins never missteps. As if he weren’t enough of a reason to see the film, Emma Thompson and James Fox bring a great deal to their roles as well. In particular, Fox as Lord Darlington offers an intriguing parallel to Stevens as another man whose sense of duty blinds him, though this time to the needs of his country rather than himself. As a story, The Remains of the Day is positively engrossing. As a character study, it’s simply remarkable.

The title doesn't promise anything cheery, though we do get a good laugh here and there, but while we prepare ourselves for death and despair, Jim Jarmusch's masterwork takes us down another path entirely. Through the most unfortunate of circumstances, a man named William Blake finds himself in the wilderness, on the run from the law. Pursued by bounty hunters and the law alike, he stays alive for some time on pure luck, luck that he knows can't last forever. Yet amid the constant dread, he somehow finds peace with himself. Jarmusch's film functions much like a cleansing rite of passage from one life to the next. The journey is one of the most fulfilling I've seen on film. Johnny Depp fills the role so perfectly that I can't imagine another in his place. Beyond there, it's a parade of cameos by the oddest collection of actors, none of them more memorable than Robert Mitchum who with one foot in the grave is easily more imposing than the taxidermy grizzly bear in his office. Dead Man is as ethereal a film as there ever was. We're halfway away from civilization by the time the opening credits role and as the film plunges further and further into uncharted wilderness, we become increasingly aware that there's no going back. Not that we'd want to.

Continue to 85 - 76.

Film Review - Ponyo

For a moment I actually forgot the last time I had seen a hand-drawn animated film in the theaters. It occurred to me later that there was Persepolis not so very long ago, but in truth the strengths of that film lie elsewhere than the art of it all. Ponyo is life in beautiful cartoon motion in which two vibrant worlds, one above the sea and one below, intermingle in almost symphonic fashion. We’ve not seen such glorious animation since Spirited Away. That’s no surprise as this is Hayao Miyazaki at the top of his game. Nothing about Ponyo suggests that this is a minor work.

Where to even begin? The animation is enough to make you gasp in awe. Miyazaki may have outdone himself, because I’d easily place the artwork here among his very best. The opening sequence is burgeoning with serene sea life, painted in gorgeous visuals that put anything Finding Nemo has to offer to shame. Nature is handled here with the utmost care, and that we experience it in such beauty only reinforces Miyazaki’s longstanding environmentalist theme that not surprisingly is intrinsically tied to this story. Equally etched in my mind after the film was the magnificent sequence of newly human Ponyo running across the waves as Sosuke and his mother race the storm home. Joe Hisaishi’s score swells along with the sea, waves take the form of giant fish, and the image of a little girl sprinting toward the only thing outside the ocean she knows becomes unforgettable.

And there’s a backbone to all this beauty. The basic concept of sea-princess wants to become human has been covered before, but the imagination behind this telling runs wild, and we waste no time into diving into a world that is nothing if not magical. It’s remarkable to see an animated film sustain such an epic feel without even a villain to menace the characters. Miyazaki’s worlds avoid such clear-cut depictions of good and evil and despite how fanciful Ponyo may be, this quality lends it that bit of authenticity that your average animated fare lacks.

And cartoon or not, this is a film for all ages. The heart of the story may be a fantastic childhood adventure, but the characters range from the young to the old to the ancient. I was particularly taken with the depiction of Sosuke’s mother, both a concerned parent and a frustrated wife, brought to life by delightful voice-work by Tina Fey. Speaking of the dubbing, it’s all handled quite well. Despite some rather big names attached, not one overrides the character with their star vocal presence.

Finally, a Miyazaki film wouldn’t be what it is without a handful of moments of the ordinary that somehow eclipse all the showy animation and endear themselves to me on a very personal level. I’m talking moments like Totoro standing at the bus stop in the rain and Chihiro riding up in the elevator with the radish spirit. In Ponyo, my favorite scene of such occurs after a great flood, when Ponyo and Sosuke on their little ship come upon a young family in a rowboat. The family’s infant child exchanges some indescribable stares with Ponyo and it would seem they develop some unspoken bond. It’s a thing of beauty. But really, everything here is.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Top 100 Begins - 100 to 96

You'll have to put up with my ramblings for just a moment longer before this thing gets off the ground. In the course of obsessively reordering this little list of mine, I've looked for patterns and statistics that may give me insight into my subconscious movie preferences. What I've determined hasn't been earth-shattering, but here are my findings nonetheless.

I've got quite a range of film history covered; the earliest entry coming from 1924 and the most recent from 2007. It's no surprise to me however that after relatively few favorites coming from the 20s, 30s & 40s, the 50s begin to see a change that truly explodes when it comes to the 60s. The 60s have the most films on the list with 23, just one more than the 70s managed to get. It's no surprise that as director's gain more creative control over their films, I find more in these films to love.

My favorites are decidedly modern. I appreciate many of the long standing classics, but they're just not present here in great numbers. There's 11 entries from the current decade, 12 from the 90s and 11 again from the 80s. I include all without hesitation. Film isn't in a sorry state these days. There may be a lot to complain about, but there's also a lot to love.

I'd secretly been hoping that the United States wouldn't be responsible for the most films of any country on the list, but they walk away handily with that title, boasting 28 of the entries. France scores second place with 19 and the UK is just behind them with 17. 15 countries get films on the list, which ain't bad. Of course, these numbers are all a little muddled. There's more than a few international co-productions and there's not really a best way to qualify all of them. It's a nice mix though. I'll leave it at that.

And that's enough of that for now. There's movies to talk about so it's about time I shut up. Here we go.


One of the great horror films of the 60s (and not the last to appear on this list), Onibaba earns it's scares through an unsettling build accompanying a chilling story of survival in war-torn Japan that culminates in the arrival of a demon mask. The mask is terrifying, as is the deep hole in the earth where unfortunate warriors find their final resting place, but it's the tall, blowing grass that makes the haunting hunting grounds one of the scariest locations in a horror film imaginable. Watched simply for the scares, or looked into as a commentary on the post-atomic ailing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Onibaba is not a film easily forgotten.

99.The Production Code ushered a slew of unwelcome restrictions on Hollywood film starting in the mid 1930s, but in years right before the Code mucked everything up, some films were deftly pushing societal boundaries of the time, specifically through sexual innuendos. Ernst Lubitsch was one of the great classic Hollywood directors and certainly one of the most hysterical. Trouble in Paradise may not be his greatest comedic effort, but it's loaded with class and bursting at the seems with sexiness. A cunning thief is torn between two women, his partner in crime and his mark. The setup is simple and effective. It's funny and impossibly romantic, but the true joy of the film lies in it's subtlety. And for those without much patience for classic Hollywood fare, I sympathize with you, but the delights of this one should not be overlooked.

98.Another trend I noticed glancing over my list, apparently I've got a thing for fallen women, and the titular character here puts most women of the kind to shame. Lola Montés is paraded around as a circus attraction as her life, loves and downfall are shown through several exquisitely shot flashbacks. It's a visually remarkable film, and though it's been long since I've seen it than nearly every other film on this list, it's managed to stay with me because the whole experience is so breathtaking. Martine Carol as Lola holds our interest throughout the ups and downs of her life, and Anton Walbrook is always a welcome presence in any film. I'd love to see the Criterion Collection get their hands on this one, and given their recent release of some of Max Ophuls other classics, I hope this isn't far behind.

97.Could I have made a top 100 list without including either Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin? I very nearly did, but then I carefully considered Sherlock Jr. and realized that there's precious few films made even today that make me laugh as hard as this. All the more impressive considering that this comes from 1924. It's short, roughly 45 minutes if I recall correctly, and maybe just for that reason it never has a chance to grow stale. But hell, the epic motorcycle chase at the end could have gone on interminably and I still doubt I'd get tired of it. His gags are crafted masterfully, but consider that he performs all his own stunts and they earn a whole new level of appreciation. And of course, there's another running theme of this list, I love a good detective story.

Fallen women - what did I tell you? But there's a whole lot more going on her that draws me in than merely the story of a daytime prostitute. For starters, there's Catherine Deneuve (who I believe ties compatriot Juliette Binoche and Claudia Cardinale for most appearances on this list) at her most radiant, even when covered in cow manure. But there's also Luis Bunuel who's surrealist presence her can't be overlooked. Though it still must rank as one of his most normal films, it's still more than a little bizarre, and of course that's precisely what draws me to it in the first place. But as much as I love Bunuel, his films do run a bit cold at times. Here though, the teaming of the classically beautiful actress and the reliably uncanny director find something of an emotional spark. Much like in their other collaboration, Tristana, Deneuve and Bunuel create a main character we can empathize with. Overall, Belle de Jour's peculiarities render it not for everyone, but if surrealism is your thing, or perhaps if beautiful whores are your thing, you might want to give this a shot.

Continue to 95 - 86.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tristan's Top 100 - Films on the Verge

Alas, the honorable mentions segment. I can't proceed without it, and for various reasons, chief among them guilt. I love too many of these films to not at least casually name drop them. Tragically, for one reason or another, when the tough choices had to be made, these films got dropped. And it's more random than you'd think. There was a time when any one of 40 odd films were vying for the final 15 spots. At some point I just had to cut myself off and lock in a definite final 100. I already made too many additional graphics. My indecision was holding back the project. So, for better or for worse, I made up my mind, and in the end some titles had to go. So now I present to you the films that didn't make the grade, sorted not by preference, but by reason they got left off.

Films I need to rewatch: Who can I blame here but myself? Some films I unquestioningly claimed as favorites the first time we met, but I've never had a chance to revisit them since. If I were more confident in my love of them, or my ability to wax poetic for a paragraph or two on exactly why they belong on my list, I'd likely have included them. Missing out on these grounds are Persona, The Double Life of Veronique, L'avventura, The Battle of Algiers, On Top of the Whale, Kandahar, El Topo, Ugetsu and Paris, Texas among others no doubt.

Films by directors already well represented on the list: And bear in mind, I never set limits on my list. There was no cap on how many films by any one director, from any certain decade or in any given language. But when it came time to finish this list off, that kind of criteria helped me make up my mind. I'd have loved to have included The White Diamond, but Werner Herzog has a respectable share of my favorite films already. In much the same way, I gave the heave-ho to Greenaway's The Baby of Macon, Miyazaki's Porco Rosso, Bunuel's L'Age D'or and Godard's Contempt. There's one director with four films on the list. A few others have three. Tragically though, some excellent directors have none, bringing me to my next point.

Directors who I don't have a clear favorite from: Tricky situation here. There's several directors who just seem like they belong on a list of my 100 favorite films because they so thoroughly fit my style, and yet you won't find them here, all because I can't decide which film to include. Pedro Almodovar, for instance, has given me All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Volver and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, but my favorite is prone to switching depending on the day. And much as I love them, it's not enough for me to justify multiple spots on the list. And so, Almodovar gets the shaft. But he's not alone. Cronenberg could have easily had The Brood, The Fly or Naked Lunch, but instead has none. Kubrick could have had Dr. Strangelove, Barry Lyndon or A Clockwork Orange, but I simply couldn't choose. Scorsese very nearly had After Hours, but Taxi Driver and King of Comedy kept me second guessing myself. It's best I not even get into the quandary that Woody Allen was giving me. He too misses out. But all the aforementioned films are great ones, easily alternates to this list on another day, so don't take their absence too hard. I'll try to make up for them with my other inclusions.

Films I'd never be able to make a legitimate case for: Oh, what else to call this section? Guilty pleasures isn't fair because I feel no guilt in loving them. But to throw Tank Girl in alongside everything else would imply that, to use a random example, I like it that much more than Belle de Jour, but not quite as much as La Dolce Vita. That's just weird, and I'd get tired of trying to explain why I placed it exactly where I did. Perhaps it's irrelevant because Tank Girl wouldn't quite have made the cut anyway, but I'd be lying if I didn't toy with the idea of putting it or other similarly eyebrow raising selections on the list. Some others I'd mention: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Sex and Fury, Pink Flamingos, Flesh For Frankenstein and Starship Troopers. All have a special place in my heart, but not a place on this list. That having been said, since my list is of favorites, not "the best," I did include a few choices that I'd never dream of placing among the greatest films of all time. On a list that essentially defines my taste in movies though, I'd be remiss to leave them off.

Special Cases: Only two more mentions. First, the only film that I can recall doing a complete 180 on, Powell & Pressburger's marvelous ballet epic The Red Shoes. I was cold to it at first, not the gorgeous cinematography, but the story itself. I've since revised my opinion considerably. I suspect with another viewing, The Red Shoes will catapult into the upper tier of my list, but I'll reserve that placement for later. The other film I wanted to give a shout out to is Robert Bresson's Mouchette, which for whatever reason I just couldn't see on the final list. I set it apart from the others because it's just about the only thing Bresson has done that's ever impressed me, minimalism is as contrary to my style as you can get, and I had to call attention to one way or another since it didn't fit under any of the other categories.

But there you have it. That's what you wo
n't be seeing. Or rather, that's what you won't be seeing that I feel guilty about. There's plenty of shocking exclusions that I'll leave you to find out as we go. And I won't hold you long in suspense. The first 10 will be up in a day or so. Along with them I'll post some preliminary statistics, because if there's one thing I love more than pointless rankings, it's pointless statistics.

On The Concept of a Top 100 List

There will be lists. Society's favorite obsession has become my own. You should expect nothing less from the little blog of mine. Give me a topic and I'll hand you back my hastily ranked preferences. It's what I do.

But really, it's what we all do. Flip through just about a
ny popular magazine and you're sure to find a list somewhere. We read them, we critique them, sometimes we swear by them and most often, we talk about how we could do better. Right now, however, I'm speaking in very specific terms: top 100 favorite films. That's the project I'm about to embark on, and so I thought I'd explore the idea behind it a little. For starters, here's some very recent thoughts by Roger Ebert on the topic.

Ebert's article touches o
n a couple of points that I want to emphasize here. First, that it's not what's left off a list that matters so much as what's included on it. I've got 100 open spots on my list, and that's just not going to be enough to contain all the great films, classics and otherwise, that I'd like to include. That's not even to mention the "great" films that won't come anywhere near my list. In obsessing over what doesn't make the cut, you're likely to miss the more interesting debate over why certain films did manage to sneak in.

The other poi
nt worth reiterating is that lists constructed by individuals are far more interesting than ones compiled from critics lists or magazine polls. It's not merely that favorite films lists compiled by famous directors, critics or industry folk give insight into their work, it's the idea that an individual list has actual personality. Greatest films of all time lists (I'm looking at you AFI) attempt to conform to an established cannon. Quite frankly, they're boring. I happen to like Citizen Kane a lot, but it's not in my top 100 and I'm much more inclined to perk up at a list that doesn't stick the same dozen or so films at the top all the time. An individual list tells you a lot about the person, and though some selections are prone to raising eyebrows, it's fun, dare I say fascinating, to see what someone might come up with that's a little bit out of the box.

nd ultimately, my top 100 are personal favorites. This is no claim to being "greatest" just a collection of films that have shaped me in one way or another. Some you'll know by name, some you may have seen, but I'll bet that a good portion will be news to you. And that's wonderful, because if you like lists for the same reasons I do, then seeking out unknown entries is all part of the fun. Hopefully, my selections inspire some additional viewing on your part.

nally, I guess the temptation to point out what's missing is great indeed, so great that I myself can't even resist. In the next entry, I'll cover some films you can expect not to appear in the top 100, perhaps inciting outrage at some of my exclusions, but I'd hate for you to wait all the way until #1 before realizing that 2001, The Godfather and Raging Bull won't be making the cut. Stay tuned.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Library is Open

And frankly, it's about time. I can't rightly figure out what took me so long to jump into the blogsphere, all I know is that I've spent my last four years soaking up every movie known to man (or at least the French) and I've had hardly a soul to pass my constant musings on to. OK, that's not entirely true, I've subjected my friends to so many of my cinematic whims that movies ranging from Mulholland Drive to Pink Flamingos have worked their way into our collective subconscious. But I had to go and graduate, and I sit here typing this first entry with less than 36 hours left in East Lansing. I'm moving on to bigger and better things, at least after a brief layover in Grand Rapids. Point is, those who may miss me and my critical eye for all things pop culture can take comfort in the existence of this blog, soon to be my regular outlet for culture commentary.

Welcome to The Library of Babel. The title alludes to my favorite short story, penned by esteemed dead Argentine, Jorge Luis Borges. This is my library. A collection of things I've watched, read, beheld, and rocked out to recently, and by extension, a list of things I either recommend seeking out or staying the hell away from. I don't doubt that movies will consume much of the discussion, but if the past year is any indication, you'll see a healthy sampling of television, literature, theater, art and music alongside my explorations of arthouse and trash cinema alike.

I've got a major project planned to coincide with the kickoff of the blog. Tristan's 100 favorite films. Coming soon, right here. And somewhere before, after, or in between that epic undertaking, I'll be posting my thoughts on Buffy the Vampire Slayer having plowed through all seven seasons over the last 6 months.

But enough about me (stupid words for the launch of a personal blog, I know), I want to hear from you. Agree with me to win my modest approval or disagree to assert the superiority of your artistic palate, I'll take whatever you've got. Even more, I'm interested in your recommendations, especially as it becomes apparent just what my personal taste is (and it will, I'm a peculiar one you'll find).

Art and music, television and theater, film and literature. Let's start talking.