Monday, May 23, 2011

Movies Nobody Loves but Me (The Sequel)

See the far superior original here.

Babe: Pig in the City: Everybody knows and loves the first Babe the Pig, and far be it for me to feel anything but great love for a movie about every self-hating Jew’s favorite animal. But the far less known sequel is, perhaps, even better. If Babe the Pig is really a movie about life in the country and how different types of people cope with living (and it is,...really!), then Babe: Pig in the City is a movie no less about life itself, and deals with the obverse question of how people cope with city living. It seems ludicrous, and probably downright pretentious, to read all sorts of comments upon philosophy, politics and historical events into a movie about an anthropomorphic pig. But I put it to you that that is precisely what the Babe the Pig is. They are two of the greatest allegories ever made into movies. And they’re about my favorite animal!!!!

Frost/Nixon: It’s still recent enough to be remembered, but Frost/Nixon has ‘forgotten sleeper’ written all over it. Ron Howard, longtime purveyor of boring movies about interesting subjects, got his hands on a script that he could not dilute. Peter Morgan, more than Aaron Sorkin, is the best writer about politics in the movies (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland, The Special Relationship). He does not have Sorkin’s urge to romanticize everything he writes about, and he has few illusions about the kinds of people who lust for power. In Frost/Nixon he creates a far more compelling portrait of Richard Nixon than Oliver Stone’s larger-than-life attempt. Morgan’s approach to portraying Nixon is far more human, and therefore both far creepier and far more moving. The script is hilarious, the movie has an incredible feel for the 70’s, and you will remember the dialogue from whole scenes years later. The ‘phonecall’ scene should be remembered as one of the very greatest scenes in any movie.

United 93: It should be impossible for any work of art to recreate the circumstances of historical atrocities with any plausibility. I don’t doubt that there are people who feel that this movie is exploitative and completely unappreciative of the heroism of passengers who rebelled against their terrorist kidnappers, even if it meant near-certain death. But this movie is, very simply, a plausible re-enactment of what happened. It asks the question, what would we have done in their place? In place of a hagiography, it supplies us with the confusion, the fear, the claustrophobia and the bravery which these people must have felt in their situation. It is, simply, an enormous achievement.

Innocence: This is a beautiful movie about a subject no young person wants to think about - old love. It is about the rediscovery of forgotten passion, of joy in living, of the reclaiming of dignity and the invariable humiliations that accompany. It is one of the most moving films I’ve ever seen, and I doubt that any friend of mine has ever seen it.

I <3 Huckabees: It’s all too easy for people to rag on the art-school pretense of this movie. But how many art school students have a sense of humor? This movie was billed in the trailers as an ‘existential comedy.’ I still have no idea what that means, but it succeeds as a comedy full of sadness and anger - like Candide (or Cheers). The whole movie is paced at the fever pitch of a screwball comedy, and balances a huge ensemble cast in which every character is equally well developed. Few movies were more unfairly maligned.

Pleasantville: Another under-appreciated movie which I’m not sure is under-appreciated enough to belong here. Pleasantville is a movie that anticipates Mad Men in its ability to show why America’s mid-century Pastoral had to end. Pleasantville shows us that the past is something to which we cannot return no matter how much we wish, and the future is something unavoidable which we can either choose to meet with hope or fear. I don’t recall any movie which makes me feel more hope for the future than this one.

A Simple Plan: I’m fairly sure that this is a movie beloved by anyone who’s ever seen it, it’s just a shame that more people haven’t. This a rare foray by Sam Raimi (Spiderman, Evil Dead) into realism, and makes me sorry he never went again. The result is a Great American Myth, about small-town people who struggle to live well from day to day. One day they happen to come upon a few million dollars lost in the woods, and in their desperation for better lives, they perpetrate betrayal after betrayal against one another. I can recall very few movies that take us further into the darkness of human nature, and no movie with a more heartbreaking climax. Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton are the kinds of actors movie stars should be, and would be if they had less vanity - taking us far further into the desperation of real people than Sean Penn ever does.

Eve’s Bayou: Roger Ebert listed this as his #1 movie of 1997. If he didn’t, nobody would have ever remembered it. It is one of the greatest movies ever made on the subject of family. Like The Night of the Hunter, a movie which clearly influenced Eve’s Bayou, it has the dream-like tone of an adult’s half-remembered childhood memories, with every event taking on a tall tale significance. It is a film about the medieval superstitions from which all our families originate, and still permeate our lives’ fabric in ways we never want to admit. It is both a drama about eroticism and the sternest of morality tales. It’s been ten years since I’ve seen it, yet few films stay as vivid in my memory the way this one still does.

Everyone Says I Love You: I am not a movie musical person. Not because I hate musicals, only because I don’t care for movies that tidy up human nature. The world is too interesting to always be an adorable place. But Woody Allen came up with a great solution to the problem of musicals, stage a musical sung by people who can’t sing. The result sounds far more personal, more like a soliloquy than a song. The songs they sing are uniformly excellent songs from the days of Tin Pan Alley and the Great American Songbook. And, of course, it also helps that the movie is really funny.

Autumn Sonata: One of the less-remembered Bergman films from the end of his career. It was touted in its time as the long-overdue collaboration between the two great Swedish Bergmans - Ingrid and Ingmar. Bergman’s earlier movies, while they had more humor than is generally supposed, were full of unrelentingly serious themes - with famous scenes of playing chess with the angel of death, dream sequences of watching one’s own funeral, and Pagans raping Christians. But beginning with Persona, a new Bergman began to show himself. The older Bergman was more interested in portraying human beings than in black-and-white allegory. This movie is nothing more or less than a scorching confrontation between mother and daughter (played by Bergman’s favorite actress, Liv Ullman). Bergman, whose mother was a theater director, learned as much about the awfulness of family dynamics from watching Strindberg and Ibsen as he did from his own family. His movies are never better than when they deal with questions of family, and few movies have ever portrayed the misunderstandings between family members better.

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