Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Dracula's Daughter (Lambert Hillyer, 1936)
I've been slacking on my classic universal monsters this year, and this one came highly recommended so I decided to give it a whirl. It attempts to pickup right where Dracula leaves off, which makes plenty of sense although it comes off a bit hokey when they treat the Count's body as an important prop without ever showing it. A stronger film would have shed these heavy ties to the original and gotten going that much quicker (especially considering it's barely over an hour as it is). But once Dracula's daughter takes over, the pace picks up and we get a few memorably creepy set pieces, the strongest being when she seduces a young model in her studio. It could have used a bit more substance, but I liked it, and it was a welcome break from the more obvious scares of the post-60s horror films I've otherwise been binging on.
Martin (George Romero, 1977)
Another vampire flick, and a very cool one if I do say so myself. This has (understandably) slipped under the radar thanks to Romero's famous zombie films, but it's just as good and at times, I thought, even better. Martin is a teenage (not really, not even close) who is in fact a vampire, despite the lack of fangs, distaste for garlic and daylight allergies. He goes to live with his uncle (actually cousin), who for the sake of this I will call Hungarian Colonel Sanders, but their arrangement isn't ideal because Martin wants to be free to drink all the pretty girl's blood and Hungarian Colonel Sanders wants to drive a stake through his heart. Which is to say, this was a blast. Best of all was the ridiculously intense break-in scene halfway through, where Martin stealth maneuvers through a house and brings down a shrieking girl and her meathead boyfriend. Yet another great vampire film from this October's batch.
Jacob's Ladder (Adrien Lynne, 1990)
Adrien Lynne is a schlock director trapped in a Hollywood budget and it turns out that makes for some truly abysmal movies. This is especially true of Fatal Attraction (there are few films I hate more than Fatal Attraction) and it remains true for Jacob's Ladder. Let's not blame the acting. Tim Robbins, who I like far more than my opinions of his movies would show, does what he can here, but the script is just a series of cheap shocks and plot twists piled onto a story that is simple, but frankly, dumb. There's not a worse twist than "It was all a dream" (although M. Night will no doubt find one sooner or later) and so its especially migraine inducing when this happens multiple times here. Which of course overrides basically everything else that happens, not that it will stop me complaining about it. It takes my least favorite horror film convention - no one believes the main character who must try to convince the world what happened - and draws it out ad nauseum. It also loses any scary edge the hallucinations might have had because the film feels too polished. For all I know, this would have been palatable on a lower budget, but not here. This is Hollywood at its worst. Also, once you know how they came up with the title, it becomes amazingly lame.
Quatermass and the Pitt (Roy Ward Baker, 1967)
Another terrific Hammer horror film from the late Roy Ward Baker. The budget is low, but the direction is seamless and the acting never veers into camp. An ancient (otherworldly) evil is unearthed in the London subway and scientists and military men clash over the proper handling of the bizarre spacecraft they discover. It's got Julian Glover as the villain, which is always a good sign, and Andrew Keir brings the perfect measures of wonder and outrage to the titular Professor Quatermass. Some of the props are what you'd expect from low-budget horror (the insect creatures especially) but others, like the horrifying devil projection in the sky, are very well done and sent a good number of shivers down my spine. I also loved the abrupt ending. The shot held over the closing credits is restrained, but such a perfect cap to the film.
Lizard In a Woman's Skin (Lucio Fulci, 1971)
Perhaps the best giallo I've come across (ok, except for Deep Red), which I would consider high praise even if others would not. There's no lizard here, just a serial killer and a whole lot of hallucinatory drugs. The later lead to some extraordinary dream sequences that we're among the highlights of the film, although so was the lengthy chase through the bizarre mega-church or wherever she found herself in before stupidly stranding herself on the roof. Lucky for her, guardian angels carry sniper rifles and she escapes with a minor stabbing. My, that was a cryptic rambling, but it's kind of a cryptic, rambling film, and I kinda loved it.
The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963)
It comes so so close to being a total masterpiece that I'm just going to get the bad out of the way upfront and then start singing praises. Robert Wise is far from a great director and he clearly doesn't trust his audiences enough, which is why he saddles Julie Harris's otherwise pitch-perfect Eleanor with obnoxious internal voice-over at every turn, spelling out the thoughts she already (as Claire Bloom plainly puts it) wears on her sleeve. It's a blunder that I was quite miffed about as I was watching, but have since settled down over, because honestly, there's so much good going on here (which Wise deserves heaps of credit for) that I honestly can't stay mad.
The Haunting is the haunted house film if there ever was one. It doesn't need to kill characters to build momentum nor do ghosts or monsters ever need to pop out of the shadows. There's nothing, essentially, to see - and that's absolutely terrifying. Acting from the four principles is strong, and each builds an interesting relationship with the others, although Russ Tamblyn never really connects as much as he could have. But the show belongs to Harris and Wise's ghosts behind the scene. In Eleanor's most intense moments, the camera closes in, quick and throbbing so that you don't dare blink, and her feeling that the house is closing in around her becomes mutual. Doorknobs turn, noises sound off and the walls seem to breath fast and heavy. It's a very disorienting film and despite spending nearly the entire film trapped within the house, we never quite get out bearings. And I love gothic mansions, haunted or not, so imagine my sheer marvel at this one. Yeah, my quibbles seem more and more insignificant when I think back.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
OK, I'm putting the brakes on this horror marathon to cycle through my thoughts on the film I saw last night, which judging from the lack of buzz this is creating, could seriously use a cheerleader right now. The film is Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go, an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, and currently the most unexpectedly devastating movie of the year. And if I'm going to discuss this at length (and that is the plan), it's going to be impossible to stave off spoilers for too long. You get one more paragraph, which hopefully will be enough to convince you to see this film.
You may have seen the posters - two young friends (lovers, in a way) running down a bleak pier - a pretty if uninspiring sight, and hardly a hint as to what the film is about. Nor should it be. That Never Let Me Go becomes something more than a love story set against the backdrop of dreary British vistas is best discovered when the movie means you too, roughly 1/3 of the way through the storyline. Even before this staggering revelation, a cloud hangs over the film. It never goes away. We follow three main characters, Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, from boarding school into adulthood, and by the time the child actors of the first segment of the film have been succeeded by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Kiera Knightly, we both know and feel deeply for them. The performances are exquisite, weathering the unrelenting storm of the film with measured bits of optimism and joy. Mulligan, for the second year running, gives one of the year's best performances, and both Knightly and Garfield would also find their way into the Oscar race if there was any justice (alas, there won't be). But the film is heartbreaking, and I mean that in the deadly serious Dancer in the Dark/Grave of the Fireflies sense of the word, so approach looking to have the sunshine sucked out of your day. If that sits alright with you, then get to the theater and watch one of the best films of the year.
So what's going on? (spoilers, they start now) Well, although slyly masquerading as a story of young, fragile love, Never Let Me Go is actually science fiction, and honestly one of the best forays into the genre that's come out in recent years. The characters are clones, raised in seclusion from the rest of society at a boarding school and groomed into safe, healthy adults who's destiny in life is to act as organ donors for a society flourishing thanks to medical advances. In withholding this back story at first, the film (as well as the source material) gives viewers the chance to see these students as humans first and foremost, a distinction which they find themselves fighting against all their lives. That is, apparently, how the rest of society can sleep at night, convinced that these donors are somehow lesser creatures, and even as they resist such, they're weighed down by the worst inferiority complexes imaginable.
Never Let Me Go then becomes about courage in the face of impending death, which comes after two, three, sometimes four transplants leave you unable to carry on. It's honestly more horrifying than any film I've watched this month, because instead of making light of death, it forces you to contemplate it, and there's not much scarier than that. Presented as an alternate history, it also raises the idea of an alternate humanity. From childhood on, these donors are raised on different ideals, and even as they leave school and mature together, their actions and decisions (and lack thereof) are informed by what they've been taught humanity is. The performances bear testament to this, never more so than when the characters make a foray into the real world, visiting a diner and wandering the streets. If they're vaguely sheeplike, it can be blamed on years of isolation from the rest of society, and left to wander in a world where everyone is supposedly different from them, it's no surprise that they cluster together.
And yet after everything else, it's still about love, an eternal kind that Kathy and Tommy seem to experience, and that underscores more than anything their humanity. There's a chilling moment near the end, where nearly 20 years after their days at school, Kathy and Tommy see their old headmistress again. Although now wheelchair bound, she looks no different from how they knew her long ago, surely to the credit of these medical advances. And yet Tommy is visibly weary from two transplants, and Kathy carries a debilitating cynicism with her. They're closer to the grave than the old headmistress is, and they all know it. It's not about morality. We see too little of the other side of society for any cost/benefits analysis to be made. But we do believe in their humanity, there's little question of that, and the muted yellow screen that closes the film gives us a final time for reflection on our own.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Back again with a delicious update filled with poisoned zombie wine, strangers with candy, strangers with rabies and still movie lesbian vampires. This is the party that never ends.
A Tale of Two Sisters (Ji-woon Kim, 2003)
A spellbinding film that unfolds almost entirely in the confines of an old house, where two young girls take on an evil stepmother and other mysterious forces. The detailed exploration of the house makes for a very contained feel, one that serves the insulated narrative well. There’s some shocking and brutal moments and a whole lot of mounting dread, and in a particularly anemic decade for horror, this one does leave an impression. The only trouble, and I plan to address this on further viewings, is that things get confusing, really confusing, near the end. But if I’m left to sorting out the details on my own, I still prefer that to have everything neatly spelled out. Curiousier and curiouser this one is, and plenty creepy too.
If the French have one weakness, it’s for wine, which is why this film about contaminated grape juice turning all merrymakers into zombies must have brought the entire country to its knees (should’ve thought of that, Germany, huh?). A bit too episodic to feel definitive, it’s still a killer entry into the zombie genre with a glorious ending that I saw coming, but couldn’t wait for. The final moments are particularly chilling, where the gorgeous photography is at its eeriest. And as for French zombies, they aren’t especially frightening, but they do have a feral taste for female flesh, which usually happens after they stare longingly for some time as puss oozes down their forehead. It must be a European thing.
Leave it to David Cronenberg to craft one of the great outbreak films. Everything begins when experimental surgery following a motorcycle accident leaves Marilyn Chambers (in a rare, non-pornographic role) thirsty for blood. She begins ravaging the countryside, zombiefying the decent folk of Canada, culminating in Montreal being locked down under marshal law. Cronenberg’s film lacks a strong central narrative, but it thrives on downward spiral of Chamber’s character, the ripple effect of her feedings being felt far and wide. Bleak and depressing, Rabid offers few moments of relief, although there is some comfort in knowing this is a Canadian affliction, and they can just wait and see what happens when they try to cross the border.
Ringu (Hideo Nakata, 1998)
It’s been some time since I’ve seen The Ring, but I do remember liking it, though how much my crush on Naomi Watts played into that I can’t be sure. But if memory serves, this original classic wasn’t bastardized too badly, and if Naomi is nowhere to be found, her predecessor Nanako Matsushima is equally strong, plus there’s the perpetually pensive Hiroyuki Sanada tagging along as her ex-husband. I appreciated how readily it embraced the supernatural, and unlike so many horror films, valuable time is not spent telling the main character she must be crazy. Basically, spooky shit is happening here and everyone knows it. Furthermore, we’re spared all the false alarms and cheap shots that have become genre staples lately, which alone is enough to garner my respect. A damn fine piece of J-Horror.
Candyman aspires to be something greater than it ultimately is. It’s one of the few horror films I can think of that actually has a thesis, that urban myths are dynamic things and adapt to whatever environment they’re carried to, but like The Dark Knight, there is danger in demanding to be taken too seriously, and Candyman loses track of its point for too long, even if it does wrap things up nicely at the end (and like The Dark Knight, it feels the need to declare its thesis, here embarrassingly in the form of a graduate thesis). But contrary to my ramblings above, there’s a lot here that does work. The bird’s-eye panoramas and the pulsating Phillip Glass score evoke Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi, a nice touch that highlights the power myths have to connect across society. There’s also black Captain Hook, the Candyman himself, who makes for a decent urban legend – his successor at the end, not so much – and all in all, it is nice to see a mainstream horror film aiming high, even if it doesn’t quite deliver.
The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983)
Tony Scott directed this? I’ve got a new respect for him. The film is dark, stylish and raw, an impressive feat of direction for someone who, like his vampires, has not improved with age. Well, he went a bit overboard on the doves, but it was in the harmlessly hokey John Woo kinda way. Honestly, what could go wrong with a lesbian vampire movie starring David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve? Oh, right, Susan Sarandon, horribly miscast and utterly lacking in the allure that the role demands. It’s a paltry complaint, but it does weigh on the second half of this otherwise refreshing take on the vampire movie.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
The Fearless Vampire Killers (Roman Polanski, 1967)
I stand aghast at how underrated this film is. Sandwiched in Polanski's canon between Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby, two of the greatest horror films of all, it must be easy to dismiss this. But if The Fearless Vampire Killers isn't exactly scary, it just might be the definitive horror comedy - spoken with all reverence to Young Frankenstein, Gremlins and Shaun of the Dead. Jack MacGowran and Polanski himself comprise the titular duo scouring wintry Transylvania for fanged foes. It's a comic match made in heaven, hitting some hilarious highs with MacGowran's Professor getting stuck in the castle window, and their short-lived undercover stint at the vampire ball. There's also Sharon Tate, staggeringly beautiful and perfectly at home in Polanski's goth-comic wonderland. The movie is one hilarious set piece after another and surely ranks among the great vampire films, and I will forever more devote myself to spreading the word on this one.
Tombs of the Blind Dead (Amando de Ossorio, 1971)
Despite a helluva buildup and the terrifically terrifying scene in mannequin land pictured below, this was a bit of a let down. The opening half an hour is masterful, with a Pandora's Box type feel as a woman forsakes her travel companions and ventures into an abandoned settlement on her own, unwittingly disturbing the undead Knights Templar hanging about the ruins. But the suspense gets squashed as soon as these mummified creatures make an entrance. The downfall of low budget horror is showing too much, and the unseen threat of these guys was more horrifying than the reality. Alas, not all that it could have been, but well worth a look, especially for devotees of 70s foreign horror.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (Guy Maddin, 2002)
Paperhouse (Bernard Rose, 1988)
Although it's not exactly terrifying, I'd still file this under horror. It's an exceptionally inventive tale of a young girl who creates a simple fantasy world from pencil and paper, and gradually begins interacting in her hand-drawn world. Things take a sinister turn when she pencils in a menacing father-figure and both her and the boy living in the drawing find themselves in danger. Gorgeous art direction makes her fantasy world all the most unsettling, and much of the suspense comes from never knowing what could lurk behind the corner. It was dark in places, but also warm and sentimental - a bit more than I usually go for, but the sheer imagination behind it made up for that.
Female Vampire (Jesus Franco, 1973)
Franco is not known for his wholesome filmography, but I (perhaps unfairly) expected a little plot to go along with the flesh. In fact, this is essentially just a medium-core porn flick masquerading as a vampire movie (she wears a cape, I guess) and not a particularly engaging one at that. I'll chalk it up to Franco, who seems perfectly content splashing around in the trashy erotica pool, which is a shame since great films and lesbian vampires are not mutually exclusive, as I will get to shortly. To be fair, his only other film I've seen was Vampire Lesbos, another disappointment, and I haven't given up just yet. But things are not looking good for the Jesus.
The Vampire Lovers (Roy Ward Baker, 1970)
That, my friends, is how you make a lesbian vampire movie. Granted, Hammer knows what they're doing, and having a cast that can act their way out of a paper coffin helps, but this felt fresher and sexier than usual. Not to knock Drac, but it's always nice to see some of the classic female vampires get screen adaptations, in this case, the lusty Carmilla, no stranger to female neck. Peter Graves shows up as a tireless vampire hunter, but this has quite an ensemble, with everyone slipping comfortably into Hammer's gothic studio atmosphere. Between this and Daughters of Darkness, I'm ready to dub the early 70s the golden age of sapphic suckers.
Who Can Kill A Child (Narcisso Serrador, 1976)
Beyond a doubt, the most outright disturbing horror film I've seen this year. Here's the premise: a vacationing couple find themselves on a remote Mediterranean island where the only occupants appear to be children. Turns out, this is because the children have gone bonkers and murdered all the adults. Logically, there's going to be trouble, and with a setup like that, horrible, socially unacceptable things are going to happen. And they do - but not until late enough in the film for you to wonder whether it has the stones to follow through with the concept. The build-up though is concerned with stranding you on this darkest of streets, and it's enough to tie your stomach in knots. One particularly graphic scene finds a crowd of urchins overwhelming an old man and turning him into a human pinata, and from that point forward, the malicious grin on every child's face is truly terrifying. And the ending, it's enough to make you lock your children in their room every night, and maybe premeditate several ways to fend them off should they bare their teeth.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, movie lovers are fortunate to have someone like Guy Maddin, whose work is something of an alternate cinematic history. It's no surprise then that his take on the age old Dracula story is presented not just as a silent film, but as ballet, a brief and breathtaking one at that. Set design, choreography and music swirl together in an icy, spellbinding hour, timed perfectly so as not to wear out its welcome. Scary it ain't, but it is a vampire movie, one unlike any other you're bound to see, and it reminded me in a way of Haxan; a bit silly, but sufficiently spooky to fit right in at Halloween.
The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961)
Deborah Kerr had never watched Who Can Kill a Child, so she didn't know that the way to deal with possessed children is to kill them quick as you can. So she spends most of The Innocents scared out of her mind while being framed by some of the most stunning cinematography of the decade. She's like the anti-Mary Poppins, governess of two children who walk all over her and pull spooky stunts that make her head spin. It's a mesmerizing movie and actually holds a few genuine jump-from-your-seat moments. Kerr, as always, is sensational, and this was my favorite performance of hers outside of her Powell & Pressburger collaborations. And again, that cinematography is marvelous, just look at the image below.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I've been at this now for a week, and before things pile up any further, I'll spew some thoughts on the six films I've caught so far.
Let's Scare Jessica To Death (John Hancock, 1971)
Pictured above. This will sound like a back handed compliment, but this was a good tame way to break into a month of horror. But consistently creepy is often better than occasionally terrifying, and like Jessica herself, Hancock's film hangs on the edge of sanity. Zohra Lampert is plagued by all manner of spooky shit, which on the one hand makes her mental deterioration all the more dire, but it also throws a bit too much into the mix. This is everything but the kitchen sink horror, with vampires, tribal etchings, family curses, scary old people, eerie photographs, and an ominous cello case; there's just a few too many threads here, and they don't all successfully merge. Overall though, it's well worth the look, and it set the pace for the string of effective and unsettling films I would follow it with.
Alice, Sweet Alice (Alfred Sole, 1977)
Does this man terrify you? Because he terrifies me, although it's more in the way he stares you down like you're a bacon cheeseburger trapped in albinoland. He might be the scariest thing about Alice, Sweet Alice, which is saying something since it involves a sweet little girl who just might be a pint-sized serial killer. The film sports some down-right dingy art direction, which adds nicely to the ambiance, although the twists seemed too obvious to me to sincerely impress. But still, just look at that man. Look at those eyes. How can you say no?
Let The Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
With the American remake having just hit theaters, I'm officially behind the times on this one. In my defense, I netflixed it the day it came out on DVD, only to hear about all the subtitle woes and ship it back until the studio corrected the problem. They did, and I finally caught up, and to all the hype I have to say I'm just a little bit baffled. Shot with icy-cold beauty, it's certainly a welcome variation on vampire love, but it has these ridiculous slips every now and then (the body bursting into flames is overdone, and Jesus Christ, what the hell were they thinking with the cat attack?). But yeah, it's still one of the better horror films from the last decade, not high praise, but there's a lot to like here, and now I'm curious how the remake addresses some of my problems with the original.
The Funhouse (Tobe Hooper, 1981)
Carnivals and cannibals - those are the two ultimates in creepy for me - and Tobe Hooper gives us his take on one of those here. The Funhouse almost wastes its first half in run-of-the-mill teen horror territory, but I'll vouch for the setup being worth the payoff. Once these blazingly stupid high schoolers decide to spend the night in the funhouse, things get good and dark soon enough. Because, let's face it, animatronics are terrifying, as are people who wear scary masks because their real face is even scarier, and those are the things that The Slut, The Jock, The Virgin and The Pothead have to contend with inside this nightmare maze of death. The final confrontation in the bowels of the funhouse is especially suspenseful, and whatever its shortcomings, this did it for me in the end. Definitely more Texas Chainsaw than Poltergeist, which is certainly a good thing.
The Nightmare On Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
Easily my biggest horror blindspot, it didn't disappoint me, although its lofty place among scary movies is a little misguided. The concept carries the film. Don't go to sleep is a frightening mandate, and Craven wisely doesn't overdo the dreamworld, which keeps the films instability eerily unpredictable. Funny enough, it's Freddy himself that's the letdown. He flails around like a drunken scarecrow and instantly knocks the chills out of me whenever he surfaces. But his kills as observed from reality are fantastically excessive (as seen in the pic) and are worthy highlights of the film. Glad I finally got around to it.
The House With Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati, 1976)
By far the bleakest film so far, and commendable for managing to go through obvious motions in less than obvious ways. By that, I mean that I called most of the twists here, but they still took me by surprise when they came about, and damn did they manage to make my skin crawl in the process. A painter arrives in an Italian village to restore a sinister painting in the local church. There's another thing that terrifies me, disturbing religious iconography, and that's essentially the springboard for some grisly murders and troubled town history. Creepy townfolk begin coming out of the woodwork and pretty soon our protagonist painter is up to his neck in a local mystery. So far, it's the best of the lot, and I'll try to catch another Pupi Avati film before the month is up.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Or something like that. Or not really not at all. It was August 2009 when this list finally got rolling, following several months before that of hemming and hawing over what exactly deserved to make the cut, and here I am, 14 months later, finally putting the finishing touches on this project. A project which was out-dated by September of '09, and would look entirely different if I started from scratch today.
I had finally resolved get to work on the project after graduating from my undergrad at Michigan State. That was the first time I felt I could confidently cobble together 100 films I was passionate enough about to call favorites. I'm relieved that looking back on it no atrocities jump out at me, as I would no doubt recoil in horror at Tristan's favorite films circa 2006 (which was that regrettable period in my life where I knew just enough about movies to think I knew everything, and hell if I wasn't an ass about it too).
But as I said, it's been 14 months, and with so much time passed, I feel it only right to cap off this project with an addendum. Because in that time, I've revisited many films, some which no longer seem worthy of a top 100 (Eraserhead, 8 Women, much as I still love both), others which I was clearly out of my head when I left off (Vertigo, Le Samourai). There's also the directors who I've reconsidered, reassessing my personal preference for their films, however close the call may have been. These days, I'm inclined to rank A Brief Encounter over Doctor Zhivago, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg over The Young Girls of Rochefort, and To Be Or Not To Be over Trouble In Paradise. Finally, there's the new, which are the additions I'm most excited about - essentially the greatest films I've seen over the past few months. This group includes the likes of Dogville, The Red Balloon, The Tales of Hoffmann and Love Me Tonight.
Out with the old and in with the new, then. Here's what I would change, with no guarantee that this won't change again tomorrow.
Being John Malkovich
Belle de Jour
Breakfast at Tiffany's
La Dolce Vita
The Remains of the Day
There Will Be Blood
Trouble In Paradise
The Young Girls of Rochefort
Bad Timing (Nicholas Roeg, 1980)
Branded to Kill (Seijun Suzuki, 1967)
A Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
Dogville (Lars Von Trier, 2004)
The Fall (Tarsem Singh, 2008)
Friday Night (Claire Denis, 2002)
Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)
Love Me Tonight (Rouben Mamoulian, 1932)
Malpertuis (Harry Kümel, 1972)
The Masque of the Red Death (Roger Corman, 1964)
The Red Balloon (Albert Lamorisse, 1956)
The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948)
Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955)
Le Samourai (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)
The Tales of Hoffmann (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1951)
To Be Or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964)
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Thin Man, Porco Rosso, Beau Travail and The Double Life of Veronique would come very, very close.
And with that, I'll declaring all this top 100 listing dormant for a while. With so many other films to catch up on, I should have fuel for a whole variety of listing and film review projects that I've already been tossing around in my head. Thanks everyone for bearing with me through this all and I really appreciate all the comments.
Look for my annual horror movie fest to start generating some reviews here. I've got a couple stored up that I'll hopefully bring you tomorrow.
A favorite films list unfolds like a strip tease, the mystery and allure gradually tossed aside as the performer reveals every elegant curve and inescapable blemish. Which means that I’m now standing stark naked, much like you were when you told me your favorite film was Fight Club or Donnie Darko or Boondock Saints or whatever it was that made me nod and pretend I was interested. That’s my roundabout way of saying two things; first that I feel that nothing, absolutely nothing, exposes all my inner-workings quite like Celine and Julie Go Boating does and in propping this up atop my list I’m laying my very soul bare to the uncharted wilds of the internet and the vultures of anonymity that circle high above; second, that I don’t expect any of you to share my enthusiasm. But as long as I have your attention, I’m going to make a case for why – out of thousands of films – it all boils down to this.
Jacques Rivette taps into a state of eternal adolescence, the feeling of childhood before being banished from the Wonderlands, Neverlands and Chucky Cheeses, fueled by curiosity and awe for as long as they linger. Call it nothing short of magic, for that’s exactly what Celine and Julie is; an unexpected and dynamic world that moves from a playful chase down a rabbit hole to a madcap murder mystery, and where two extraordinary girls explore, experiment with, and ultimately make up the rules as they go along.
Unfolding over three hours, vast thematic ground gets covered and never once with an ounce of pretension. Disguises and role reversal are played for laughs, particularly in two hilarious sequences where each girl spends the afternoon impersonating the other, as well as in the manic trade-offs that define the story within the story that consumes the second half. It precisely what a film about the wonder of storytelling ought to be, bursting at the seams with fantasy and intrigue, ever drawing the viewer further into its spell. Like any great storyteller, Celine and Julie are world builders, and we observe them from beginning, watching as a friendship develops and secrets are divulged, following them through the depths of imagination without ever leaving their flat. That the convoluted sense of time and space becomes dizzying by the end is all part of the charm.
And Rivette himself creates something entirely new. Celine and Julie is an unstable, mercurial film, the boundaries of which swell and collapses with the irregularity of Alice biting into her mushrooms, and yet we feel entirely safe, confident that neither the director nor his fanciful heroines will abandon us along the way. Not to lament the philosophies of so many other directors, but Rivette’s optimism is refreshing, especially the idea that passion, friendship, and a little art are all that’s needed to get through the day. Of course, tomorrow the cycle may just start up again, but like Celine and Julie it will begin with the promise of a new adventure, never quite the same as the last.
Mythic, reckless and spellbinding, Aguirre: The Wrath of God is everything it claims to be; a tall tale told by an idiot concealing a taller tale from a raving madman, a director’s plagued endeavors to drag cast and crew through the South American heart of darkness to tell the story of a conquistador’s doomed quest for the fabled El Dorado, Werner Herzog’s sound versus Klaus Kinski’s fury. Two parallel legends feeding off each other, creating a haunting cinematic experience the likes of which have never been replicated. You can feel the effects of Herzog’s lunacy, of Kinski’s rage; present on the haggard faces of the cast and in the increasingly delirious visuals. It’s the very thought of impending, inescapable doom, the only thing more terrifying being the man charging into it full speed ahead. There’s a moment where the widowed noblewoman, resigned to fate, elects to march away from the madness into the unforgiving jungle, her actions exercising the only free will she has left; the chance to meet death on her own terms. Without so much as a declaration or an eyebrow raised, she just quietly walks away and disappears, swallowed whole by the jungle and the film itself. A shiver runs down your spine. This is Aguirre at its bleakest and most harrowing.
But not bleak without beauty. Aguirre, for all its insanity, is remarkably intimate. A butterfly lands on the finger of a weary soldier. A native musician repeats a simple, mesmerizing tune on his flute. Herzog on occasion lets his mind and camera wander from the path of despair long enough to capture these rare instances of tranquility, reminders that even when caught up in the most dire of circumstances, we can still make our own kind of peace, if only for a little while. This is why you don’t finish Aguirre feeling drained, but very much alive. In the final legendary moments of the film, Herzog draws back from Aguirre, forsaking him on his raft littered with monkeys and death, and spins the camera in delirious circles around the scene, dancing at last on Kinski’s grave. And right along with that camera, we’re pulled out of the vortex, reminded that we’re still spectators in this horror show, spared like Ishmael on the coffin from going down with the ship. It’s an oddly exhilarating end to the unrelenting descent of Aguirre: The Wrath of God, which comes so very close to claiming the distinction of my favorite film of all time.