Sunday, March 26, 2017

Brandon's #91: Ulzana's Raid (Robert Aldrich, 1972)

I'm trying to avoid rattling off the obvious ones. I know John said he probably didn't have it in him to go from 101 to 200, but part of me thinks that would be a more interesting list. I'm not a subscriber to Sturgeon's Law, though the flooding of content in recent years has me second guessing. Brandon's Law states that there have been plenty of movies made between cinema's inception and today that I would consider great. Not just good or passable or fine, great. This is not to suggest that these "great" movies are perfect, few if any are, but I think in some cases that their flaws only strengthen them in the end. 

I'm not sure if Aldrich will appear again on this or any other list but here is what I wrote moments after watching for the first time, four plus years ago...

The disillusionment of all things religious, patriotic, or morally absolute. If I were to go along with Manny Farber's feelings toward Robert Aldrich, I'd call this an anti-ideology film goaded by our futile involvement in Vietnam. U.S. abuses lead to Ulzana's (Joaquin Martinez) escape, which leads to more abuse as violence and betrayal begets violence and betrayal, and on and on it goes. It's also fascinated by insurmountable odds and unconquerable nature. It follows the naive Lt. Garnett DeBuin (Bruce Davison), who is sent to stop Ulzana with the aid of a world weary scout named McIntosh (Burt Lancaster), with Ulzana's wife's sister's husband also serving as a tracker. 

DeBuin's Christianity is viewed as a tactically hazardous handicap in the midst of such reprehensible reality. Aldrich portrays the actions of the title marauder as horrific and unconscionable, though most of us know that the actions were perpetrated on both ends of the divide, most of all the scouts. 

Ulzana is treated with a fearful reverence, with a constant regret in his eyes. The violence is as horrendous as the heat and dust, the terrain as unforgiving and coldblooded as conditions in which these soldiers battle. It's interesting to watch this film only a week after De Palma's CASUALTIES OF WAR, a similar film of disenchantment also dealing with callous wartime brutality committed in front of a morally terrified military neophyte. One film wants us to share said rookie's maddened headspace while the other seems content to observe atrocity with a battered but wise assessment of the nature of combat. Both acknowledge the tragedy while Aldrich seems spellbound by the honor amongst fiends in the midst of battle.

Jeff's #92: Moonrise

#92: Moonrise (Frank Borzage, 1948)

I wish I had been able to watch this again, but alas, it seems to be completely unavailable.  For a while, Netflix was streaming a low quality version of it, but like nearly all their classic films, it has since disappeared.  This would be a prime candidate for a shiny new Criterion release some time down the line.  As would much of Borzage's filmography, which sadly is not only unavailable to stream anywhere but barely available on DVD.  Even though I didn't get to rewatch MOONRISE, I still really wanted to get it on my list, if only because I relish any opportunity to champion Borzage's work.  I've only seen MOONRISE twice, but I have a feeling that if I could've seen it for a third time, it would likely have been in my top 30.  As it stands, I'm just glad I could get it on here.

I first saw MOONRISE for my golden age lists project as part of my excursion into 1948, one of the best years in cinema history.  I recall trying to rank 1948 as being nearly impossible.  Half of the top 10 could have been #1 for most other years.  I think I ranked MOONRISE somewhere around 5 or 6.  Though I struggled with the ranking, 1948 was also one of the best times I've had writing up a year in review for our old film blog.  I noticed while watching many of the films from that year that "redemption" was a pervading theme throughout most of them.  I ended up doing a write-up where I tried (and mostly failed) to explore the theme of redemption in each of my top 10 picks from the year.  It was fun.  Here's what I wrote about MOONRISE at the time:

"MOONRISE, a gorgeous, poetic, sensitive, and emotional noir is really what started this whole redemption theme in the first place. I apologize for having it so low on the list, but I’ll need to see it more or reflect on it more before I let it rise the way it probably will. The Self-Styled Siren has a nice little write-up for this film about how jarring it’s opening images are and how unusually humanistic it is for a noir (two things that stood out to me as well). It’s basically the opposite of something like CRISS CROSS or ANGEL FACE. It is actually actively seeking redemption and healing for itself. The final moments of the film are so beautiful that I couldnt help but tear up. A broken piece of flesh is literally learning to become a human being again. He greets his fate, accepts his punishment, but takes both with a newfound dignity that has eluded him his whole life. His embrace of the dog he previously kicked pulled at my heart. His final promenade with the woman who has always believed in him made the tears grow. If the sort of redemption in JEZEBEL is rare nowadays, then the sort of redemption in this film is just nonexistent. Beautiful, beautiful movie."

Thankfully a few years ago I got to see the film again and it did rise even further in my estimation.  But I do stand by everything I originally wrote here.  In fact, I probably agree with it more now having seen more of Borzage's films since.  There is a nonpareil sincerity to Borzage's work that utterly defies cynicism.  They affirm nothing post-modern and do not contain a shred of irony.  They believe unabashedly in the power of love to restore and to heal.  MOONRISE is one of his finest examples of this earnest belief in love as a form of immanent grace.

STATS: Unfortunately, the only Borzage film on here.  I'd love to make room for the likes of  MANNEQUIN or MAN'S CASTLE, but haven't been able to see them in a long time.

Also, while I'm on the topic of love and healing, I want to seriously send all my love and prayers for healing to Brandon's dog, Lou, who is one of the best dogs to ever bless this earth.

Mike ODonnells 94 "Hud"

Since I'm on this Newman kick I'll make 94 Hud. I dare say I love Hud even more than The Hustler, from start to finish. From landscape to the dialogue Hud shines, the score from the opening credits when Brandon De Wilde first arrived in town, to the silence that follows as he wanders the streets looking for his Uncle Hud. We get an immediate introduction to who Hud is from a bar owner sweeping up broken glass from Huds previous nights activities.

We finally stumble on Hud leaving a married woman's house to his Pink Cadillac, greeted by his nephew Brandon De Wilde. The husband comes home and they make there getaway. As the movie progresses we meet Huds father, Homer played by Melvyn Douglas to perfection. Homer is the owner of a cattle ranch, a stubborn old man who labors away day and night with nothing but love for his land, until his whole herd come down with foot and mouth.

As the ranch looks under the prognoses we begin to dive into the depths of Huds arrogance and egotism and his fathers resentment and distain for his sons character. Character is the keyword, this film is all about men and there character, what makes them and what drives them. Not to mention one of my favorite scenes of all time is in it, I've posted the link below!

Chris' #91: It Happened One Night

Starring: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, Jameson Thomas
Director: Frank Capra
Writers: Robert Riskin (story by Samuel Hopkins Adams)
Release Date: February 22, 1934

Quick Synopsis: A spoiled heiress running away from her family is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story.

First Time
I searched through my old CR5FC blog for mentions of this film, and I didn't see anything about my first viewing. I suppose it was sometime between 2007 and 2010 - another Netflix DVD rental.

Why it's on the List
When I did watch It Happened One Night for the first time, admittedly, I was a little disappointed. It was a case of my expectations not matching up with what I saw the on the screen. In time I've grown to appreciate it more, and when I purchased/watched it recently, it cemented its place among my favorites. There are a few films on this list that I've wrestled with over the years, and it's interesting to track changes in perception.

I've always been drawn to Claudette Colbert, and it's difficult not to be; she was a great actress and had an unforgettable face. For whatever reason, Clark Gable did not seem like the right fit for Peter Warne when I watched this for the first time. This might be the biggest reason why my feelings have changed over the years, because now I couldn't disagree with that opinion more. Gable has the perfect levels of charm and snark, and combined with Colbert's grit and inexperience, they make the perfect pair.

The shining example of this chemistry is on display during hitchhiking scene. It's a refreshing break in the film, which mostly moves at a quick pace. Here Peter and Ellie really start to fall for each other, and it's easy to get lost in it and forget that you're watching a movie. Seeing Clark Gable fail to get cars to stop for him as he uses his three different hitchhiking techniques is one of my all-time favorite moments.

Additional Notes/Stats

  • This is the last time I'll get to talk about Frank Capra. It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Arsenic and Old Lace are all great and probably belong somewhere on my list. I'd like to see Meet John Doe, since I love Barbara Stanwyck.
  • Same for Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. The only other Gable movie I've seen is Gone With the Wind, so that should probably change. I also love Colbert in The Palm Beach Story, Midnight, and Torch Singer.
  • It Happened One Night will probably the first instance of a movie moving up my list.

JRO's #91: The Plumber (Peter Weir, 1979)

I'm a bit bummed that I didn't make the time to re-watch this one.

This is the first film on the list that I've only seen once instead of at least half a dozen times.

I remember it being an uncomfortable film.

I wrote the following about it on my old film blog:

The Plumber is a perfect horror film. A very well-to-do intellectual woman, wife of a researcher/professor, has become a housewife while finishing her own anthropological studies. While her husband is away at work, a man comes to their apartment, claiming to be the university's plumber, there to check the pipes in their university apartment. Horror ensues. The psychological tension explored here provides a backdrop for discussing issues of culture, class, interpersonal relationships, and human vulnerability. I've never seen a bad Weir film. The Plumber is one of his best.

I described it then as a horror film, but it's worth noting that The Plumber is also a black comedy.

Peter Weir is a consistently good director and is well known for his big hits (pretty much every single one of his films has been a big popular success even if most filmgoers wouldn't recognize Weir as an 'auteur' in the way other directors are easily recognized). I won't be surprised if any of his other films make it onto other lists. I hope that they do so that I have an excuse to re-watch them! He will appear again much higher on my list with one of my favorite films of all time. I need to refrain from writing about that one here!

Okay. I'm done.

EDIT: One little tidbit: This is one of five films from 1979 on my list. I'll have to look over my list, but this might be the lead for any year. It also happens to be the year of my birth.

JRO's #92: A Serious Man (Coens, 2009)

I spent too much time this week watching everyone else's picks and did not spend any time re-watching my own picks for this weekend.

I loved A Serious Man when it was released. I've re-watched it a handful of times on DVD since the initial couple of times in the theater (one of those with co-lister Mike W after a good dinner and liter mugs of German beer), but the last re-watch was at least a couple of years ago. I think that my appreciation for this one has cooled a bit, that I kinda feel like I've gotten everything out of this one that I'm going to get. Maybe. Maybe not. For now, it's on the list.

Since I'm not writing about it here, I'll link to my initial thoughts on my retired film blog:

I love the Coens. I will see every new film they make and I will see it as soon as I can. They would make it very high on my list of favorite living film directors. That said, they only appear three times on this list and, spoilers, the highest they appear is #47. Alas, we all know that this ranking project is stupid. Depending on my mood, I may want to watch Raising Arizona or Miller's Crossing over every single film on this list, but, spoilers, those two films aren't on my list. Ah, so it goes. Film nerd meltdown. I've toyed with the idea in the past of making a list of 1,000 films after seeing Edgar Wright's list: 1,000 films seems likes a huge number, but I'm pretty sure that if any one of us here put the time into it, we could each come up with our own 1,000 list.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mike W: #92 Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson)

This may be the first Jackson on my list but it certainly wont be the last. He will appear here 2 more times, once a lil higher and one contender for a Top 10 slot (no, not LOTR). I'll save my praise for Jackson then.

I hated Kate Winslet until i saw this movie. Now i only kinda dislike her.

Jackson must have been smitten with Melanie Lynskey because she returns in his next movie The Frighteners (which did NOT make my 100, but def worth an honorable mention)

Jackson must NOT have liked Winslet, for she did not return in any subsequent Jackson films.

Chris' #92: Dumb and Dumber

Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly, Karen Duffy
Directors: Peter & Bobby Farrelly
Writers: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Bennett Yellin
Release Date: December 16, 1994

First Time
My brothers and I recorded it off of the TV at some point around '95. We were pretty diligent about labeling VHS tapes, and even though I can see the words "Dumb and Dumber" written on the label, I can't remember the other movie that we recorded on that tape. That's one thing that younger generations have to understand about the first world problems of the VHS age--you'd only be able to fit two feature-length films onto a single tape. The double-feature pairings seemed to be arbitrary in the Howard household--with kids movies paired with hard Rs.

You'd also have to record over shit that you didn't care about anymore. Sometimes this led to tough decisions or accidents where you'd record over a movie or show that someone really cared about. Eventually my older brother, Brent, bought Dumb and Dumber on DVD, and that copy is probably laying around somewhere at my parents' house right now.

Why it's on the List
One of the most intriguing aspects of a "favorite movies" list is the focus on what it says about its creator. Right now my list probably looks as if a weird-ass man-child constructed it. I feel a little self-conscious about all of these nostalgia picks, mostly because they're cliche. The back half of my list is loaded with movies that I am torn on. It becomes a game of, does this one hold up or not? I was hoping to re-watch this over the past week, but didn't get the chance. But I've also seen this movie enough times to remember every scene vividly.

I'm willing to bet that when I do re-watch this, it'll be a little similar to Robin Hood: Men In Tights - some jokes will hold up; others will embarrass me even though I had no hand in making it. With many of the jokes still fresh in my mind, I feel confident saying that their quality is much better than that of RH:MIT. Mel Brooks made movies that actively engaged with kids - while the Farrelly brothers wrote dirtier stuff that you couldn't watch with your parents. 

In making the argument as to why this one does hold up after all these years, I would say that the jokes work for teenagers and adults. Dumb and Dumber instilled in me a fondness for intelligently constructed "dumb jokes." Later, I'd go on to buy seasons 1-9 of The Simpsons on DVD and relish the Homer Simpson lines written by Harvard graduates. This was also another movie that I got to discover new jokes every time I rewatched it, and favorite jokes changed over the years.

Dumb and Dumber clearly embraces its absurdity, but I also enjoy that fact that it embraces its trashiness as well. It's not meant to be anything other than stupid fun for 107 minutes.

UPDATE: The unrated version (released in the mid 2000s?) of Dumb and Dumber is terrible, and I regret watching it. It seemed to be more sexual and cruder. While the theatrical release definitely has crass moments, it doesn't rely on that or overcommit. The movie works better with a consistent tone of innocence. The unrated version is a bastardized abomination.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • I've attempted to watch the sequel, Dumber and Dumber To, but did not make it all of the way through. The prequel was awful as well, and the two movies have probably helped to chip away at the original.
  • Jim Carrey will make one more appearance on my list, though it's pretty easy to guess which movie that will be. I'd like to revisit The Truman Show someday because I really enjoyed it when it was released. It feels ahead of its time.
  • This is it for Jeff Daniels, who is great a lot of things--including Radio Days and The Purple Rose of Cairo--but they didn't make the cut.
  • Dumber and Dumber's soundtrack is completely frozen in time (with the exception being the Nick Cave song)
  • In the summers of '07 and '08, I worked just outside of Aspen. Most of the shots in Colorado were filmed in Breckenridge, which is about a two and half hour drive from Aspen. One day when my brother Brent, our friends, and I had a day off, we drove over to Breckenridge to do a Dumb and Dumber tour. We should've gone to Estes Park to see the Stanley Hotel and some of the more recognizable locations, because the consensus in Breckenridge was that, while all of it felt familiar, there weren't any opportunities for photos.

Sending love to Lou. Always enjoy playing with him and watching him hide his toys.

Brandon's #92: Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)

It's a tempting for me to limit a movie to what my mind fixates on as its "central theme." This is especially true of horror. Carrie is about menstruation, Cat People = repression, Antichrist = depression, etc. I think groupthink/junket critic culture only contributes to this narrow perspective. I'm guilty. The first time I saw Possession, probably seven years ago, my mind kept repeating, "love is nuts." While I think that about sums it up, there is so much more to Zulawski's vision. 

Filtering it through my limited (insert pronoun here) perspective, I was reminded of two instances where my significant other had simply gotten over me. It's maddening, especially when you have such a conceited view of companionship. As I tried to reason and talk my way back, I found the other person as steadfast as a brick wall (pun intended as this was filmed in West Berlin.... Junket wisdom). The inability to bend another person's will is the ultimate spat in the face of privilege and, in the case of myself, the best way to chisel through. Pride is the most potent ingredient for madness.

Possession was being filmed as the director was ending his marriage to actress Malgorzata Braunek. I know none of the details other than that junket wisdom implies that it was "messy." They had a ten yr old son at the time, which can only add more pain and guilt to the equation. 

Possession follows a married couple in the throes of divorce, sparing us none of the messy drama therein, including the slimy/bloody/tentacled materialization of Anna's anguish or empowerment, or both, or much more. Shit hits the fan, but it's all still somehow grounded in real emotions, ones that I happened to be feeling at the time. The creature calls Pickford's Model to mind, specifically how monsters can be summoned and given life through delving deep into one's mind and emotions. John Carpenter's underrated In the Mouth of Madness did too. I like directors like Zulawski, who don't hide their dirty side. I think the same could be said for Denis, Ferrara, Cassavettes, Scorsese, Peckinpah, and Lynch.

If all of this is muddled and chaotic, it's true to the movie itself, which you should all see.

Brandon's #93: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)

I had one of the toughest weeks of my life last week and haven't been very motivated to do much of anything. Any of you who have spent time with me know that my dog Lou is something like a third child in the Musa household. On Monday, while I was in Cleveland finishing out an otherwise great tour, I got a call notifying me that he suddenly started dragging his back legs. The verdict is that he is suddenly paralyzed and for a while there it looked as though we were gonna have to put him down. I've been a mess. I haven't slept and have been as low as I can ever remember. Glimmers of hope that we can keep him happy and readjust have changed the overall outlook and we are much happier today.

E.T. reminded us of Lou, specifically the scene where Elliot's mom looks in his closet where the space friend blends perfectly with the stuffed animals. We have recreated that scene many times with Lou, who was able to sit remarkably still. 

I realized John Williams deserves a lot of credit for the emotional impact here, but I think Spielberg's understanding of childhood loneliness and confusion resonates. E.T. represents that non-human companionship that heals so many wounds so inexplicably.

I remember when my family uprooted and relocated to Vermont. I lost my friends, my home, my relationship with my father, and went from sharing a room with my older brother to having my own room (which most kids would prefer but I hated). The only consolation I had in those rough few first days at a new school were times I spent with our three Rottweilers: Fancy, Kinny, and Ruby. I would talk to them and cry while laying my head on their stomachs.

E.T. gives Elliott a sense of purpose, a reason to rebel. Through their relationship, he strengthens the boy's love for those around him and that love just seems to spread. It's a wide-eyed movie from an artist often considered a patsy (though recent output ought to nip that right in the bud). I should note that a recent viewing has confirmed my suspicion that this movie survives the miasma of nostalgia. I also should note that this movie scared me when I first saw it in 1988 at my grandmother's house. Give the opening credits another watch/listen. The music implies something far different lies ahead.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mike W: #93 Gummo (Harmony Korine)

These next 2 picks were both my introductions to directors i came to love who's movies individually would not place in my top 100 but who's work as a whole i believe belongs amongst this list.

What can be said about Harmony Korine that hasn't already been said. You either love or hate his movies, there is no in between. I happened to be on the love side. This was my first Harmony and will always be my favorite. 

I guess technically KIDS was my first Korine film, but i didn't know it at the time and he only wrote it, so it doesn't count. 

Mike W's #94: The Killer (John Woo) Sorry for the lateness guys!!

These next 2 picks were both my introductions to directors i came to love who's movies individually would not place in my top 100 but who's work as a whole i believe belongs amongst this list.

I didn't know who John Woo was and hadn't seen any of his movies until about 1994-1995. I had read an interview with Quentin Tarantino shortly after Pulp Fiction had come out and they were discussing his first film Reservoir Dogs. He had mentioned his love for John Woo and specifically the movie The Killer (it's final scene is very close to the final scene in Reservoir). I immediatley rushed out to find the movie and was happy to discover my local video store had it. I wound up renting this and Hard Boiled that day and LOVED them both. Woo has romance with gun fights and action scenes that i don't think anyone had been doing at the time of either of these releases but has since been LARGELY copied. If you haven't seen his late 80's stuff i highly suggest.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Jeff's #93: Man Hunt

#93: Man Hunt (Fritz Lang, 1941)

I love early 40s anti-Nazi films.  It's one of my favorite subgrenes of the first half of that decade. THE MORTAL STORM, ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT, NORTHERN PURSUIT, EDGE OF DARKNESS, and Lang's incredible HANGMEN ALSO DIE! are all fantastic anti-Nazi films from the period that deserve serious honorable mention for this list.

I saw this early on for my golden age film project, and it's remained a favorite ever since.  Lang is one of the greatest filmmakers in international or Hollywood history, and admittedly, there isn't a single film of his that I've seen that I haven't loved.  There a few that regrettably I had to leave off this list, and a few that honestly might be better films than MAN HUNT.  But for some reason or other, MAN HUNT has a sentimental edge in my heart, so it's gets the nod.  It's partly because it's a truly bold anti-Nazi film.  It was released in America in June 1941, right around the time the Nazi blitz of London ended after over a year of sustained bombing.  At the time of its release, the Production Code in America lambasted it for being too harsh on the Nazis.  Lang and Fox were originally asked to tone down their depiction of the Nazis as murderous torturers.  Thankfully, they refused and America was provided with Lang's intended vision of Nazi cruelty; a vision, no doubt, designed to galvanize Americans into supporting the war in Europe.

But my love for MAN HUNT goes beyond its wonderful hatred for Nazism and its taut rhythms as an espionage thriller.  There's a sense of 30s poetic realism to the relationship between Pideon and Bennett's characters that ties everything together emotionally.  Their relationship remains unconsummated, and it is all the better for it because it contains both a genuine tenderness and hidden longing that only becomes realized by the film's ultimate tragedy.

Stats:  Plenty more Lang films to come.