The following list provides a semi-anarchic ranking of all the great movies out there in the world, found worthy of rewatch, grouped into hopefully compelling double to sextuple billings that might spark new ideas.
The Tree of LifeMalick’s personal version of cinéma pur or a city symphony, a genre of film characterized by an emphasis on environment, light, abstract composition, camera movement and soundtrack, and the complete exclusion of characters, name-brand stars, and narrative. Malick’s vision includes everything, includes big stars speaking lines, but Malick takes a minimalist approach to character, allowing a tragic event, the fragments of their thoughts, the delineation of time passing, and the contemplation of how the viewer would react in the same situation, to suggest a story, rather than declare it explicitly through exposition. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s perhaps only through a viewer’s personal reflection on the choices of edits and elided shots of unexplained visuals that meaning forms. Characters stare off into space, hunted by an always drifting camera capturing Tarkovsky-like long takes. Through various clues provided via voiceover we wonder about a parent’s fears or grief, about a boy’s impressions of his parental role models, about the parents as representations of Grace and Nature, about the evolution of Earth and the Afterlife. It leads to an experience that might conventionally be described as pretentious, but only to the same degree that poetry is pretentious, which is to say this film is poetic, tonal, monumental, gorgeous, heartbreaking, and overwhelming. The lightest touch is taken to the history of the universe, filtered through a few years in the lives of a simple suburban Texan family. Somewhere in there a dinosaur chooses not to kill, and another admires a sunrise, and it means either nothing or everything to that family.More: Getting to The Root of the New Tree of Life, The Tree of Life: Let the Wind Speak, Traveling Across the Eons in The Tree of Life, and perhaps compare the Mother’s possible thought process to this quote from Eliza’s father in My Fair Lady:
Alfred P. Doolittle: What’s half a crown after all I’ve give her?
Friend: When did you ever give her anything?
Alfred P. Doolittle: Anything? I give her everything. I give her the greatest gift any human being can ever give to another. Life. I introduced her to this here planet, I did, with all its wonders and marvels. The sun that shines, the moon that glows. Hyde Park to walk through on a fine spring night. The whole ruddy city of London to roam around in, selling her blooming flowers. I give her all that. Then I disappears and leaves her on her own to enjoy it.
Age of InnocenceA dexterous display of adaptation and collage. Wondrous, brutal passages of Wharton’s exposition are carefully translated visually. The three leads (Pfeiffer, Ryder, Day-Lewis) employ subtle timing choices and interpretations of posture within the frame of Scorcese’s dynamic camera and exquisite compositions to recreate those otherwise missing layers of meaning. As soon as you catch up to what a character is thinking, you realize he or she actually, probably, has two or more motivations. Grace and desire brawl within a ring of invisible societal rules where financial ruin is ever on the periphery, a lurking ruthlessness is the most powerful weapon and the domination of souls is the ultimate trophy. Schoonmaker balances languor and momentum to such a degree that you might feel you’ve watched an epic chase or fight sequence instead of a love story. The influence of Visconti’s vibrant if melodramatic Senso is everywhere, from the operatic impulses of the characters to the sweeping opera house environment, from the massive aristocratic homes to the camera’s attraction to the opulent furniture, glassware, and tapestries found inside, as well as to Alida Valli’s chromatic gowns, veils, scarves, and gloves, and even to the treatment of fonts in the title sequence. More: The Age of Innocence: Savage Civility, Martin Scorsese’s Film School: The 85 Films You Need To See To Know Anything About Film, His Girl Friday: Thelma Schoonmaker Cuts Things Down to Size, Senso and Sensibility, Luchino Visconti: Count Zero
The Horror: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Begone Dull Care, Powers of TenThe essential brazenness at the core of 2001 is its four part structure, where each of the four short stories, “The Dawn of Man”, “Moon Mission”, “Jupiter Mission”, and “Jupiter and beyond infinity”, share truncated, unresolved endings and very loose, somewhat imperceptible, links to each other. Typical movie-goers, having expectations defined by classical cinema, must reorient themselves at least four times, starting with the very first frame, right from the jump, thrown into a prehistoric landscape when all the posters show spaceships. What do primitive man-apes, a reoccurring black rectangular slab (which isn’t always visually identifiable in the frame and creates a kind of negative space in the celluloid), and a long, abstract animation to close out the picture have to do with each other? It’s all completely unpredictable, and that Star Gate sequence comes so out of nowhere that it overwhelms your sense of what came before. It acts like a memory wipe. Kubrick provides no info dumps. The viewer is invited, or challenged, to tease out the connections for themselves. And, in the end, Kubrick’s aim is not to explain. Instead, he uses his four episodes to sketch out the existential horrors of metamorphosis and scale.2001‘s vast influence on all science fiction since rarely includes the film’s profound dislocating weirdness. Spielberg translated the shapes, colors, and score of the Star Gate sequence into all the different spaceships in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Nolan used aspects of the Star Gate to inform the black hole sequence and the four dimensional library of Interstellar. 2001‘s sound design, the creepy heavy breathing effect, the orchestral soundtrack, all repeated in Alien, along with elements of the spacecraft and spacesuits. You’ll also find its computer displays and sound effects in Blade Runner and an almost identical set and costume design — with neon lights, reflections and everything — in the Tie Fighter interiors and Tie Pilots of Star Wars and The Force Awakens, as well as the protracted flybys of spacecraft of their opening shots. 2001‘s Escher-like playfulness with autonomous zones of gravity can be found in Inception, Gravity and Dr. Strange. But most of these films strive for clarity, for classical narrative structure and a standard emotional resonance. None of these films attempt to bend the rules of what a movie is supposed to be to the degree attempted by 2001. Even the novelist behind 2001, Arthur C. Clarke, clearly didn’t understand what Kubrick crafted from his work, or he wouldn’t have approached his abomination of a sequel, 2010, by over-explaining all which is left obscure in the original. The choice to present the head trip that is the Star Gate sequence without explanation proves the absolute essentialness of preserving mystery. Created in part by Douglas Trumbull, adapting a process of photography called the “slit screen” first developed by experimental animator John Whitney for the title sequence of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the sequence clearly represents some kind of involuntary and evolutionary metamorphosis of astronaut into Star Child. Which means what exactly?Kubrick retains a quality of the unknown by not only choosing a specific technology but also a sphinx-like aesthetic previously employed exclusively by artists in the field of experimental cinema. These art film makers, the artists that animated abstract shapes before a camera or drew directly on the celluloid, include Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann, Viking Eggeling, Oskar Fischinger, and Len Lye, along with John Whitney and his brother James Whitney. Some aimed to create “visual music”, some had different concerns. The group may be epitomized by Norman McLaren, whose work was produced under the umbrella of the National Film Board of Canada and is still free to view on their website. Perhaps McLaren’s best film, directed alongside Evelyn Lambart, is Begone Dull Care, a drawn-on-film mini-opus choreographed to the bebop of The Oscar Peterson Trio. The film is doing more than simply visualizing a piece of music, however. We’re watching scratches and paint become a painting in motion. We’re watching a representation of pure evolution, of metamorphosis, similar to the aims of the Star Gate or, perhaps, like a sped-up proof of Darwin’s theories, or the moment a sentient AI becomes a serial killer. It’s an ethereal/otherworldly/alien experience that creates a very pleasurable impression of dislocation. In kind, Kubrick’s career modus operandi is subtle disruption, always breaking from norms in hopes of discovering the new, especially if it leads to horror. In 2001 he does this by using these color abstractions to enhance the inherent disturbance of the enormity and deadliness of space. He took many cues from another National Film Board of Canada production, 1960’s Universe. Kubrick hired the artists behind the animations of planetary bodies in that film, duplicated elements of the pacing and musical score, and, of course, expanded on the suggestion of interstellar travel. In the end Universe isn’t as mind-bending as the Eames’ Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero which, like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Contact after it, effectively visualizes the scale of our imperceptible little planet to that of the solar system, galaxy and universe beyond. Both Universe and Powers of Ten, like 2001, in repositioning human life as a mere blip in time and space and malleable to the whims of forces beyond our ken, either accidentally or purposively conjure up the horrors of the unknown at the core of existence.More: Pauline Kael Eviscerates 2001: A Space Odyssey, Roger Ebert Loves 2001: A Space Odyssey, Douglas Trumbull: Slit Scan Photography, 2001: A Space Odyssey at Fifty, How 2001: A Space Odyssey Has Influenced Pop Culture, 50 Years Later, Behind the Scenes of the Strangest Blockbuster in Hollywood History, Happy 50th, HAL: Our Favorite Pop-Culture References, How Stanley Kubrick Broke the Rules of Classical Hollywood Cinema, Something Bold, Something Pure – The 50-year Long Legacy, What It Means, and How It Was Made, Sometimes a Broken Glass Is Just a Broken Glass, Typeset in the Future, 10 Great Films that Inspired Steven Spielberg, Scratches in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interpretations of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Senses of Cinema: Begone Dull Care
Unreliable: Rashômon, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
The Forbidding World: Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Encounters at the End of the World, Fata Morgana, Lessons of Darkness, Grizzly ManWerner Herzog has traveled to the outposts of this “forbidding world” seeking the hidden and highly mysterious, reveling in strangeness. He fills the frames of his many documentaries with mischievous and murderous landscapes. Think the horizontal limbs and torsos of the Sahara Desert in Fata Morgana and the Hothian ice planet with its own nomad culture in Encounters at the End of the World. Herzog maintains his sense of fascination by taking the point of view of an alien, newly arrived on our planet, awed and perplexed by the details in the surroundings and humanoids he meets. The alien is enthralled with mirages in Fata Morgana, capturing the reflections or refractions bounced into one environment from somewhere else miles away through temperature transference, perhaps reflected multiple times to arrive in the filmed location. The “heated strata of air that function like a mirror” puts a science to ghosts, ghosts manufactured by a planetary machine. Epitomized in Grizzly Man and Lessons of Darkness, the alien seeks transient artifacts, wanderers, the lost, experimental juxtapositions, and harsh environments threatening untimely death. He braves both extreme elements and dialogues with potentially unhinged subjects, and most importantly he abstains from judging. The world feels too small in his confident body of work. Too limited by classical physics. If Herzog had the means for interstellar travel, he’d be Doctor Who. No, the Silver Surfer, due to a similar morose and ultimately doomed nature. More: Ecstatic Truth: ‘Ferocious Reality’ Dissects Herzog’s Doc Aesthetic
Shakespearean: Ran, Throne of BloodMore: On Ran, Throne of Blood: Kurosawa’s Fog-Drenched MasterpiecePersona, The Wizard of Oz, Sunset Boulevard, Mulholland DriveLife in Turmoil: Koyaanisqatsi, SolarisMost films are concerned with your pleasure. Your escapism. Horror movies aim to create jolts of fright along with the relief of laughter. All the cinematic decisions are made to assail you with regulated thrills, while steering clear of any troubling metaphysics that might come up. Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Reggio and Fricke’s Koyaanisqatsi share at least one thing in common: neither is that type of movie. Instead, they’re trying to freak you out intellectually.Koyaanisqatsi is the artiest of art films, exemplifying Andre Bazin’s term “montage of attraction”, leaning on no other other narrative tools. As Bazin describes in “What is Cinema?”, the “montage by attraction” is “the creation of S. M. Eisenstein… which may be roughly defined as the reenforcing of the meaning of one image by association with another image not necessarily part of the same episode”. The montage of Koyaanisqatsi consists of slow motion and time-lapse shots colliding urban landscapes against the immense canyons of the Four Corners, accompanied by an incessant, epic Phillip Glass score, and creates a hallucinatory and purgatorial view of our world. Koyaanisqatsi is a city symphony about North America, but an America as a stand-in for Dante’s Inferno. The particular images chosen and assembled here also make for a fast 80 minute watch.One definition of the Hopi word used for its title is “life of moral corruption and turmoil”, or perhaps corrupted existence, or chaotic existence. “Crazy life”. “Life in turmoil”. It opens with a cave pictograph of an alien visitation, followed by the fire of a space shuttle launch, then moves on to the savagery of nature: volcanic activity, desert dunes, massive cloud formations, oceanic chaos. But it’s the man-made, from industrial construction to the multitude of cars, bombs, military craft, and buildings, and buildings being demolished, to assembly lines of office workers, engineers and food, people churning through Grand Central Station, speeding cars turning into streaks of light at night, and big-wigged Las Vegas ladies, that the crazy life of the 20th century is rhapsodically portrayed. And it ends brutally, with an unedited stock shot of the 1962 Atlas-Centaur rocket exploding after liftoff and spinning, like a dancer, in a fiery free-fall, supplemented by Glass’ requiem mass “Prophecies”. It was un-manned, but after well-documented NASA failures easy to picture manned. Put yourself in the place of a 12th century Hopi Native American Indian, known as “The Peaceful People”, standing somewhere on the very green Mogollon Rim escarpment of what is now Arizona, trying to imagine what a “crazy life” would look like… Koyaanisqatsi‘s New York and falling fireballs might be it.Or the space station of Solaris, too, positioned over a roiling, sentient alien ocean far from the green pastorals of Earth, either attacking, or trying to communicate with, the visitors above with corrupted visions. Solaris is a means for Tarkovsky to record his own haunted thoughts on the meaning of life. He steers straight for the metaphysical, building on the doubling tactic found in Hitchcock’s Vertigo where the existence, and murder, of multiple versions of a person make you question your own definition of what’s real. In this quasi-science fiction adaptation of a Lem novel (without an easily available, decent English translation yet), relying on fairly amateurish but sort of quaint special effects, Tarkovsky marries long, inert scenes with heavy passages of dialogue that all eventually coalesce into a kind of dazzling, glittering arabesque about love, memory, reality, and reasons for being. Solaris is actually a fun watch in the end. It’s not the opaque slog of The Mirror‘s memory palace, nor Stalker‘s talky allegorical journey through the decaying, and clearly toxic, infrastructure of the Soviet military industrial complex, two other Tarkovsky mystery boxes often cited as masterpieces that don’t provide much incentive to crack open. Solaris‘ narrative aims are straighter, and it also achieves a palpable horror, if a more intellectual than visceral one. As Kurosawa said of the film: “Sheer fearful emotion this film succeeds in conjuring up… It truly somehow provokes pure horror in our soul.” Lots of dangerous questions arise, like gangplanks cantilevered over oblivion. Tarkovsky doesn’t pretend there are any easy answers, although he lets his main character, Cosmonaut/Psychologist Kris Kelvin, accept a few for his own brittle sanity. “Don’t turn a scientific problem into a common love story” one of the smarter characters says, completely in vain, to Kelvin. Our hero, like a typical cinema-goer, ignores him and turns to what he knows.It’s a simple warning also unheeded by many recent, potent, technically extraordinary but surprisingly sanctimonious sci-fi films, all determined to provide a semblance of closure. Nolan’s Interstellar immediately comes to mind, informed by rigorous scientific fact but ultimately built for a sentimental notion of the power of love. Or there’s Villeneuve’s Arrival, Cuarón’s Gravity and Chazelle’s First Man, breathtaking films that, in exploring interstellar travel, language and technology, open up a ton of potential lines of inquiry about the meaning of life but ultimately serve a singular purpose, to provide one character the grief counseling they so desperately need. Instead of allowing this big old universe of chaos, complexity and mystery to change everyone’s perceptions, these directors adhere to simple cornball themes rooted in pop psychology. On the other hand, in Andrei Rublev Tarkovsky has his characters quoting a bit of scripture: “In much wisdom there is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow”. So maybe Tarkovsky wouldn’t wish his dark thoughts to creep into the heads of the buzzy directors above. Like Tarkovsky’s Cosmonaut, better to be guided by their hearts and ignore the oblivion. More: Cinema Sounds: Koyaanisqatsi, Koyaanisqatsi on YouTube, Watch Koyaanisqatsi in Reverse, Akira Kurosawa on watching Solaris with Andrei Tarkovsky, Solaris: Inner Space, Lost in Space: Tarkovsky’s Solaris, The Clone Returns Home: Solaris-ishness…, A Drop in the Ocean: One Scene from Solaris, On Both Page and Screen, Polish Master Stanislaw Lem Makes You Question RealityFun with Feudalism: Seven Samurai, Princess MononokeBicycle Thieves, Man with a Movie CameraCitizen Kane, It’s a Wonderful Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!Vertigo, Don’t Look NowDo the Right Thing, The Third ManLiberties Taken: Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Lawrence of ArabiaGaianism: The New World, Walkabout, My Neighbor TotoroOnly Connect: In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express, A Room With a ViewThe intimate non-affairs of Wong Kar Wei’s two great films, shot in a uniquely futuristic palette of colors, trace the playful, exceedingly charming but tragically brief connections that two people can have. In the Mood for Love explores its deeply connected couple in an unusual way: when they realize their often absent spouses are having an affair, they role-play various scenarios as their spouses, correcting each other to make the performances more accurate. It sounds theatrical and melodramatic, but it’s all presented on screen in a fragmented, improvisational style. Although they traverse cramped Hong Kong offices and apartments and find solace and moments of happiness sitting very close to each other, sharing meals and taxis, writing at the same desk, and acting out a love affair on the stages of barren, nighttime streets, the gulf created by their marriages, their own need to remain faithful to their spouses, and possibly their fear of ruining the romance, is vast, and a distinct, deliberate pacing heightens that distance. The longing of the characters to not be lonely is palpable, and it was clearly created more in the editing room than on the page. Did they fall in love for real? In a series of dreamy epilogues we see many conventional changes in their ordinary lives, but also hints that the love forged from the delicate affair persisted. The woman revisits her old home and sheds a tear. The man whispers a secret into an empty hole at Angkor Wat, which in the next shot is overgrown with grass. Wong Kar Wei wants us to think so. All the same filmic elements are present in Chungking Express, the colors, the editing style, the charismatic players, and it also, in the same way, tracks the initiating events of two people meeting, which then coalesces into romantic, if ultimately unfulfilled, reveries that propel us along. The characters are always seeking something but finding nothing, except longing and emotional solitude. When E.M. Forster wrote “Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect…” he specifically wrote it about “the difficulty of connecting our ordinary, conventional personalities with our transgressive erotic desires” 1, but as a universal conceit it certainly works, too. In A Room With a View, Forster concocted a fantasy love affair to fulfill the “only connect” edict. A young woman coming of age is challenged to see past her pompous fiancee for a passionate devotee of truth and beauty. It takes her quite a while to make her decision. The power of the novel and its filmed adaptation is in the extended disconnection of the two people we want to see get together. And whether their attraction is erotic or not is never actually said. All three films share a look at deep yearning, often unrequited, the isolation of the soul or the monumental effort to break that isolation. All three lean on the interiority of characters, on their mysterious thought patterns and un-acted on desires. Wong Kar Wei’s less idealistic approach to romance suggests isolation is the norm, but an isolation that breeds personal euphoria and defines a way of being that leads to a peaceful soul. More: Barry Jenkins on Wong Kar-wai, In the Mood for Love: Haunted Heart, English Hearts and Italian Sunshine, 1. The Prose and the Passion: A New Life of E.M. ForsterStar Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, The Force Awakens, The Last JediRear Window, No Country for Old Men, Women on the Verge of a Nervous BreakdownWho Am I?: I Am Cuba, Ghost in the Shell (1995)Artists in Crisis: Singin’ in the Rain, 8½ (1963), Topsy-Turvy, Irma Vep, Day for NightGodless: Andrei Rublev, Amadeus, Duck AmuckAnnie Hall, Pulp Fiction, Being John MalkovichThey Need to be Dee-stroyed: Cabaret, The Sound of Music, Inglourious BasterdsChinatown, On the WaterfrontAlien, Nausicaä of the Valley of the WindFamily: Tokyo Story, The Royal Tenenbaums, Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the StreetsMore Human Than Human: Blade Runner, AlphavilleBlade Runner is not officially a remake of Alphaville, but it sure feels like it. In Godard’s surrealistic take on science fiction, the traditional film noir private eye, a cynical and violent Lemmy Caution, enters an alternative universe where elements of normality are flipped. Everyone seems like a replicant. The absurdity becomes normal. You learn to expect all no’s are yeses. Natasha became Rachael. Lemmy Caution became Deckard. In Alphaville, the Outlands stand in for Earth, while in Blade Runner, Offworld is Alphaville. Professor Vonbraun is Tyrell. Both end with a ride out of the city into nothingness. Like Deckard’s Voight-Kampff test, the Alphaville cops have Natasha tell “Story 842” to Caution as either a suppressive tactic or a test of his criminality.
[Four agents appear, two from the bathroom and two from the hallway]
-Come with us!
Agent: Residents’ Control. When he doubles up, get him
…Story 842, Miss
Natasha: One day a tiny man entered a North Zone café…
…and ordered a cup of very hot, sweet coffee…
…adding, “I shan’t pay, because I’m afraid of no one”
He drank his coffee
He didn’t pay for his coffee
For the sake of peace, the café owner said nothing
But when the tiny man repeated the trick three times…
…the café owner decided to get a tough to sort him out
So, on the fourth day…
…when the tiny man called for his cup of coffee…
…the tough lumbered up to him and said:
“So you’re afraid of no one?”
“Well, neither am I”
“Make that two cups of coffee”, called the man
[Johnson begins laughing hysterically]
Like anecdotes about calfskin wallets, butterfly collections, full-page nudes, flipping tortoises, and boiled dog, stories are weaponized by government officials.M, Wings of Desire, Berlin: Symphony of a Great CityOn Endurance: The Martian, Doctor ZhivagoEpic Spaghetti: Once Upon a Time in the West, The Good, the Bad and the UglyThe Godfather, Miller’s Crossing, Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, The Maltese FalconCuban Links: The Godfather Part 2, Memories of Underdevelopment, Buena Vista Social ClubFollow up with DePalma’s Scarface to return gangsters to America. More: A Cuban Masterpiece Returns to the Screen in a New Restoration, 10 Things I Learned: Memories of Underdevelopment, Buena Vista Social Club: A City in TimeDiabolus ex Machina: Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Apur Sansar i.e. The Apu TrilogyAkira (1988), Moonlight (2016)Naked (1993), The MatrixGoodfellas, Jules and Jim, Vicky Cristina BarcelonaClose Encounters of the Third Kind, North by Northwest, The Day the Earth Stood StillJaws, Psycho, The BirdsYou Is a Marvel: My Fair Lady, Paris is BurningOf course Eliza Doolittle, in this world we all live in, with her thin frame and 90 degree jawline and porcelain skin, was able to transform from a “guttersnipe” to a duchess in six months time. Her only barriers were her manners and her accent. Her margin for error was wide and her avenue for success was straight and short. Doolittle’s story arc, propelled along by clever, incredibly memorable songs, represents a bootstrap-type fantasy — leaping into the highest social strata through hard work — but only an achievable fantasy for a select few with her specific characteristics. Consider the dreams of the subjects of Paris is Burning who would naturally switch the gender roles around in the lyrics to Henry Higgins’ “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” just to achieve one of the endless traits that catapulted Doolittle, who was born with all of them, forward.
This is white America. Any other nationality that is not of the white set, knows this and accepts this till the day they die. That is everybody’s dream and ambition as a minority – to live and look as well as a white person. It is pictured as being in America. Every media you have; from TV to magazines, to movies, to films… I mean, the biggest thing that minority watches is what? “Dynasty” and “The Colbys”. Umm, “All My Children” – the soap operas. Everybody has a million-dollar bracket. When they showing you a commercial from Honey Grahams to Crest, or Lestoil or Pine-sol – everybody’s in their own home. The little kids for Fisher Price toys; they’re not in no concrete playground. They’re riding around the lawn. The pool is in the back. This is white America. And when it comes to the minorities; especially black – we as a people, for the past 400 years – is the greatest example of behavior modification in the history of civilization. We have had everything taken away from us, and yet we have all learned how to survive. That is why, in the ballroom circuit, it is so obvious that if you have captured the great white way of living, or looking, or dressing, or speaking – you is a marvel. ~ Pepper LaBeijaIt makes you wonder why our world of division and poverty ever became the way it is based on the flimsiest and most random set of criteria. More: Roger Ebert on My Fair Lady.Cléo from 5 to 7, Snow White and the Seven DwarvesLa Dolce Vita, The ConformistPan’s Labyrinth, O Brother, Where Art Thou?Marketa Lazarová (1967), Excalibur, Game of Thrones (2011-2019)The Seventh Seal, Monty Python and the Holy GrailBrazil, Raising ArizonaAssassin Week: Le Samouraï, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance, Harakiri, Blast of SilenceSingular Obsession: First Man, Unforgiven, The Silence of the Lambs, Taxi DriverNeither Right- Nor Left-wing, First Man Plants Its Flag in a Troubling AmbivalenceGod Guise: Fitzcarraldo, Devi (1960), Burden of DreamsBewitchery: Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, PonyoAll About My Mother, All About EveCollapse: Weekend (1967), Mad Max: Fury Road, Sorcerer“What a rotten film. All we meet are crazy people.” More: Socialism and Barbarism: On Godard’s Weekend, Gary Indiana: The Last Weekend, Revolution & Car Crashes: 5 Things Learned About Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Weekend’ From The Criterion Collection’s New ReleaseColonial Rot: Apocalypse Now, The Year of Living Dangerously, A Passage to IndiaHedonistic: Valmont, The Unbearable Lightness of BeingMore: Milos Forman, 1932–2018, Insdorf on KaufmanHero Deconstruction: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Casablanca, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Wages of FearRaise the Red Lantern, Thelma & LouiseAmerican Goofballs: M*A*S*H, The Right StuffGreat American satirists like Robert Altman and Tom Wolfe eagerly eviscerate traditional ideals, revealing the bureaucratic absurdity at the heart of war and patriotism, not to mention other great characteristics like hotheaded competitiveness, media consumption, consumerist excess, and political aggression. In every scene we find men as children playing at adulthood. Except that foremost among the tools of resistance in these films is the formation of a natural camaraderie among the charismatic players. The playgrounds forge alliances, and through teamwork we transcend stupidity and actual great things happen. But The Right Stuff goes for something greater still when the exotic and unknown powers of an aboriginal ritual and a mesmerizing burlesque act serve as ultimately life-protecting incantations, stepping in where the common and jingoistic (and middle manager and engineer) fail. In doing so it rises from satire and attains a higher level.A Slice of Chicago: Some Like It Hot, The Untouchables, Eight Men OutLa Strada, Fight, Zatoichi, FightA Place in the Sun, GiantManifest Destiny: Gangs of New York, West Side StoryLike the era of Day-Lewis’ tour de force, hate-filled construction Bill the Butcher, the politics of the 2010’s in America has laid bare bitter divisions about what is America. The need to either define or redefine a concept of “America” has emerged, probably mainly because one rich clown, protected by an army of lawyers, backed by a cable “news” channel happy and willing to lie to its audience, emboldened by rallies filled with a base of Libertarian Alt-Right neo-nazis, paid his way up to the highest seat in the land relying on racist and jingoistic tactics. These entirely cynical tactics appear throughout cinema history, where the faux distinctions make for explosive confrontations, dynamic drama. Latin American exodus, emancipated blacks, seekers of religious freedom, refugees running from genocide, victims of expansionist doctrine… the background of the immigrant changes, but there’s always a self-proclaimed “nativist” to get their knickers in a bunch about them. “Once an immigrant, always an immigrant” says Anita in West Side Story, to introduce one of Cinema’s most entertaining and poignant musical numbers, “America”, but the concept is not true if you take the long view, or the Native American would be running the world. In America, apparently, anyone can become the nativist, if they are willing to to ignore those pesky little facts about where they originally came from, and abide a necessary generational patience, and engage in grisly, bare-knuckled, eye-gouging political combat, and, of course, to ignore basic human decency.
Such is the impact of a politics of anger. For a time, it attracts followers and cements loyalties, breeding a spiraling mass of dangerous passions, inspiring some Americans to cast their opponents as a dangerous “other,” dividing the nation, and linking manhood with authority in rhetoric as well as fact. ~ Joanne Freeman, Professor of history and American studies at Yale University, “America Descends Into the Politics of Rage” for The AtlanticMore: Scorsese’s Film Portrays Racist Mass Murderers as Victims, West Side Story: The Blood and Dirt of the Streets, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and the Road to West Side Story, Classic Films: West Side Story, Dance Review: West Side Story, Coming to America: 19 Movies About U.S. Immigration, Fire, Hatred and Speed! The Glamour, Bullying and Violence of the Libertarian Alt-Right Has a Direct Political Ancestor, and It’s Not Nazi GermanyHormonal Imbalance: Band of Outsiders, Grease, Sign o’ the TimesYou could chalk up every move, either mental decision or physical locomotion, every character makes in all these movies to out of whack hormones. They say “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast”1. For the short attention spans of young adults you might prescribe music and dance. And in a different way for moviegoers, too. In a noteworthy scene in Bande à part, Godard follows an innovative aural experiment with an influential line-dancing number his leads dubbed the Madison. Both of these elements invigorate an otherwise pretty standard tale of juvenile delinquency. The Madison scene also serves to redirect its chaos-making characters’ nervous energy for a bit, as does a breakneck race through the Louvre to beat a world record. These jack rabbits need constant diversions. Godard, a pioneer cinephile, is known for films in which the Hollywood musical is translated into cinéma vérité.2 West Side Story, a global phenomenon released three years before, looms large here, as it also follows young, easily enraged characters as they fall in love, create chaos, face death. This meditation on wild youth is often rewarding. It creates dynamic screen energy. Also concerned with lustful young adults, Prince’s frisky Sign o’ the Times, a concert film of non-stop, athletic choreography, is seemingly highly influenced by West Side Story, too. One might note a similar freedom in the use of a stagey urban artificiality to enhance emotional associations, washing sets in pure color, playing with forced perspective, adding jazzy interludes, and relying on a distinct, if opposite, point of view on the cultural barriers between love and race relations. Evident in Bande à part, Sign o’ the Times *and* Grease is how Robbins and Wise transitioned in to and out of moments of magical realism with camera tricks and quick cuts, and all three movies engage in West Side Story‘s implication of sexual repression. Grease both parodies and mimics the constant agitation, quick mood swings, short attention spans, and rapid sexual development of out-of-control teenage hormones from its romantic seaside start to aroused finish at a fair. The film skims whole plot points to get to the goods, and finally sexualizes the very last innocent character in the climactic number. And Prince, well, needless to say his whole world-view might be characterized by one song, “D.M.S.R.”, which goes “All I want to do is dance, Play music, sex, romance, And try my best to never get bored”. Sign o’ the Times hints at story but all it really wants to do is have sex with you through the screen. Bolstered by wild edits of teeming, spastic crowd scenes, exaggerated movement and facial expression, both later films achieve a sustained state of unhinged intensity that the more classically languid West Side Story does not. More: The Philosophical Beauty of the Movie Musical, Revolution & Car Crashes: 5 Things Learned About Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Weekend’ with a lot on Band of Outsiders. Notes: 1. Comin’ atcha all the way from 1697 thanks to ol’ Bill Congreve’s The Mourning Bride; 2. Film Studies: Sit Down, Child, and I’ll Tell You All About Jean-Luc GodardPerpetually Haunted by Death: There Will Be Blood, The Shining, DecasiaThe Minors: Bull Durham, Sugar, Ballplayer: PeloteroRequiem for a Dream, Amélie, Masculin fémininThe 400 Blows, Au Revoir les Enfants, American GraffitiThe Cotton Club, Once Upon a Time in America, ManhattaEssential Jarmusch: Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law, Mystery TrainBack to the Future, The Way Things Go, La Jetée, Canon (1964)I Was Born, But…, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Black StallionMessianic: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Superman (1978), Ben-Hur, SpartacusPlus The Dark Knight, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Wonder Woman (2017).More: TV Tropes: Messianic Archetype, The DCEU Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Camp, The Package – Pauline Kael on SupermanHeists: Riffifi, Bob le Flambeur, Mission Impossible, Ocean’s Eleven, Reservoir DogsRaising Hell: Bonnie and Clyde, The Harder They Come, Heat, The Battle of Algiers, City of GodIs This Love?: Before Sunset, Before Sunrise, Before MidnightCamps: The Bridge on the River Kwai, La Grande Illusion, Schindler’s ListMore: 10 Great Prisoner-of-War FilmsThe Emerald Forest, DeliveranceBreathless, Boogie-DoodleFight Club, A Clockwork OrangeUp, Wild Strawberries, Lost in Translation, ManhattanOld white guys reconnect with the world through energetic youth.Traumatize the Kids: Mary Poppins, Bambi, The Witches (1990)Playtime, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant ChildThe Great Chases: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Italian Job, Bullitt, The Last of the Mohicans, The French Connection, The Road Warrior, Project A, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, To Live and Die in L.A., Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Ronin, The Fast and the Furious, The Bourne Identity, The Matrix Reloaded, Casino Royale, The Dark Knight. More :Ranked: The 28 Best Car Chases in Movie HistoryLoaded with Gags: Modern Times, The Philadelphia Story, Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera, It Happened One Night, Roxanne, The Jerk, L.A. Story, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, The Producers, The Gods Must Be CrazyBest Fights: Gravity (Bullock fights with Zero G momentum), Iron Monkey, House of Flying Daggers, every Marvel movie since Iron Man, tbd
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