Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sight and Sound Movie List - Der Huber

I want to preface this with a note about my own confusion at being asked to contribute. I've never thought of myself as a particular fan of film. I take them in every once in a while, but without condition for actors, directors or cinematographers. I don't know the shibboleths of describing film. This will be a list of films that I've enjoyed, and the best explanation I can muster for why they're fantastic.

Alright, let's do this by category, since that's the best way I can think to go over this. I will spoil things about most of these movies. Consider yourself advised.

I hate horror movies. I really do hate them, which is why I feel compelled to find a good one to put here. 
Last House on the Left (1972, dir. Wes Craven) - This is the best horror film I've ever seen. Shying away from the startling style of horror, this is more depraved. It's much darker, in a way that only the 70s could have captured. Apparently it's also Wes Craven's first film. Don't let that dissuade you. It's actually a good horror film. Be forewarned that it is dramatically more graphic than most horror films. It relies much more on the horror of meeting a random psychopath, and less on the supernatural.

Romantic Adventure Fantasy:
Stardust (2007, dir. Matthew Vaughan) - It's hard to beat this for Fantasy Romantic Adventure. A young boy sets out on a quest to prove his love. A basic story that's well portrayed, and really well executed. It's cheesy, in a way that only a good fantasy movie can be. Claire Danes is great. Robert De Niro has some incredible scenes. And the whole fairy-tale storyline plays out to a T.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988, dir. Frank Oz) - How can you go wrong watching a competition between a high-class European con man vs. a low-class American grifter? Michael Caine and Steve Martin play off of each other so well. For such a mindlessly silly movie at times, it's probably the apex of bad 80s comedies.

Best Extreme Movie:
Requiem for a Dream (2000, dir. Darren Aronofsky) - This movie is incredible. It's awful, and wonderful, and depressing and horrible. It terrifies me how well this movie links up the different forms of substance abuse and destructive behavior, alongside the underlying narrative that all any of these characters ever wanted was some attention and love. If we were really serious about scaring kids off of drugs, the D.A.R.E. program would show this movie to 5th graders. 

Film Noir:
Night has a Thousand Eyes (1948, dir. John Farrow) - I like my Noir a bit on the cheesy side, and this one has that in Spades. From Wikipedia:
The film opens in San Francisco, where John Triton (Robinson) is "The Mental Wizard", a nightclub fortune teller. During a show one evening, Triton suddenly urges an audience member to rush home, cautioning that her son is in danger. As the story unfolds, Triton struggles with his newfound psychic ability, as all of his relentlessly bleak predictions prove accurate. Jerome Cowan (of Maltese Falcon fame) plays Whitney Courtland, Triton's best friend, who becomes wealthy using tips from the now-psychic Triton.

Young, innocent and wealthy Jean Courtland is the subject of intrigue when John Triton has a vision of her untimely demise, accurate down to the hour and the location. The intrigue abounds. This movie hits the campiness factor so well given how it has aged. It contains all the critical noir elements, the pretty girl, the old cynical man, the ill-gotten fortune, and a cosmic sense of justice. 

It also has such lovely gems as asking a Geologist "You're a man of Science, is such a [psychic] phenomenon possible?"

Science Fiction:
Gattaca (1997, dir. Andrew Niccol) - I always thought this movie best described the kind of dystopian future that's possible. It's not perfect, and the story is about an intensely motivated exception to the rule. It's also a friendship story, albeit a rather 1-dimensional one. Like all great science fiction, the main character and premise carry the entire story. The rest of the environment is set up to play out the internal conflict of the protagonist against the dystopian future.

Made-up Categories:
Best Movie I thought was an inch shy of being perfect:
Se7en (1995, dir. David Fincher) - This move came so close to being everything I could want in a thriller. Senseless murders with a shocking mystery element. A plot with a reasonable amount of twists that doesn't lose sight of the destination, and a fantastic ending. There's only one problem with it, one little criticism that keeps me from fully enjoying it.

The center of the plot is that the killer arranges for the deaths of those seen as committing each of the seven deadly sins. The progression goes quite believably well except that he convolves envy and wrath together. It would make much more sense, both from a narrative perspective, and from a plot consistency, if Brad Pitt's character were to kill the killer, then commit suicide. Then you're balanced, envy and wrath have both paid the price. Without that balance, it doesn't make any sense. As it stands, the killer is just a monster, rather than a psychopathic genius. In a movie about the villain succeeding, the villain doesn't succeed in his intention.

Lastly the narrative feels imbalanced with Both of the detectives alive at the end. It would have felt more balanced for Morgan Freeman's character to end the movie in the same place it began, with him isolated and alone in a city that's killed everything he ever believed in.

Modern Noir:
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002, dir. Chan-Wook Park)
I call this Modern Noir because it follows the classic noir formula, but is made recently. Similar to Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, this a tale of committing a horrible crime for extenuating circumstances. The main character is especially sympathetic as a deaf, impoverished worker in Seoul. He kidnaps the daughter of the owner of the electronics factory he works at. With the ransom, he intends to pay some organ smugglers enough to get a replacement kidney for his dying sister, in exchange for one of his own. 

It gets very extreme when his handicap causes the tragic death of the young girl, setting off a series of events which can only end with vengeance. This movie can be held in contrast with Se7en (above), in that the ending has balance. All the characters have closure.

Best pair of movies that are the same movie:
Fistfull of Dollars (1964, dir. Sergio Leone) & Yojimbo (1961, dir. Akira Kurosawa) - I always have to look up which of these movies was made first (it's yojimbo). I oscillate between which one is my favorite, but the reality is that they're exactly the same movie. They have the same set of characters, with the same motivations and outcomes. The entire movie is almost shot-for-shot the same movie. 

In terms of the actual movie, and why it's fantastic, that's a bit harder to tease out. It is a classic, archetype of the "a stranger comes to town" story. An unnamed wanderer comes in and rights wrongs on no one's side but his own. For a Fistfull of Dollars, it's unburdened by the standard 'how the west was won' nationalism I rather despise. Yojimbo also avoided feeling caught up as an example of a larger societal shift, as 7 samurai was. They're both movies with what seems like an intentionally isolated scope, telling a tale where the good guys aren't that good. It's brutal and honest and fantastic. 

Best Sexy Movie:
Secretary (2002, dir. Steven Shainberg) - There's something about the transformation of Maggie Gyllenhaal throughout this movie that works. I love that it takes the premise seriously, runs with it, but does so in a lighthearted, romantic way. James Spader is his usual creepy self. They set each other off so well, and it just works.

Best Movie About Friendship:
The Shawshank Redemption (1994, dir. Frank Darabont) - I really enjoy this movie. It's well paced, and evolves the relationship between Red and Andy over 20 years. Over the countless trials inside of the prison, they build a deep friendship. I always found it fascinating that this movie never cast named female character. The movie is strictly about male friendship. 

Honorable Mentions (twitter style):
Old Boy (2003, dir. Chan-wook Park) - Extreme and Intense. 
Pan's Labyrinth (2006, dir. Guillermo del Toro) - For Whom the Bell Tolls meets Alice in Wonderland
Waitress (2007, dir. Adrienne Shelly) - Saccharine Sweet
Up (2009, dir. Pete Doctor, Bob Peterson) - I'll admit it, I cried the first time I watched the opening
In Bruges (2008, dir. Martin McDonough)  - Of Mice and Men for European Hitmen 

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