Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Quick Ten Plus 3

Casting about for something worthwhile to write about, I discovered that I had not yet graced the world with a list of my ten favorite movies.  IMDB's Top 250 was a good memory-jogger, since the last few listed have been faves for a long time...I just forgot about 'em.

They are not in any particular order or rank beyond the first two.

  • Love, Actually  
    • Why is it on this list?  My son turned me on to this one.  It has an ensemble cast (Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Professors Snape and Trelawney, and one well-known American who wasn't allowed to bring his Sling Blade on the plane, hint hint), catchy tunes, ridiculously funny scenes, plenty of "Aw" moments, and situations everyone can relate to, at least half the time.  A very good first-date movie for the open-minded.
    • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor:  Well, I know a couple of people who didn't appreciate this movie.  First, my husband, who doesn't like Hugh Grant.  Second, my cousin, who said it took her half the movie to figure out what was going on.  Though she said she liked it more by the time it ended, she didn't request a replay, so I take that as a "meh."  There's simulated sex (one of the couples meets while working as body-double in a movie that features nudity and simulated sex), so I would definitely caution you -- it's sweet and Christmasy, but absolutely NOT a family flick
  • The Natural
    • Why is it on this list?  I'm generally neutral on the subject of sports, but have always been attracted to the human side of it.  The Natural, based on the novel by Bernard Malamud, embraces the viewer with a lovely vision.  Like Love, Actually, this film is suitable for a first date.  There's a smattering of nostalgic 1920s Americana, as we follow Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) out of the cornfields of his youth, making his way toward what he confidently expects will be a long and awe-inspiring career in baseball as "the best there ever was."  Roy's blithe confidence leads him directly to a devastating early setback, and the rest of the story is a continual object lesson for him on the choices we can make in life.  
                    Barry Levinson (Director), Glenn Close (three years and a lifetime before Fatal Attraction), Kim Basinger, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey and just the right amount of Hollywood magic dust make this movie my second favorite.  I find it far more profound than Field of Dreams, perhaps because it so much less ambitious.
    • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor:   Well, Roger Ebert didn't think much of it.  But then, by the time he reviewed it, he was 42 and a 17-year veteran film critic.  The movie was made for people like me who appreciate happy endings and pretty music.  And some baseball.

    • Hannibal
      • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor: I'll put this part first because so many people absolutely hated this movie.  Those can be further subdivided:  Fans of Silence of the Lambs who expected this to be a sequel in a similar vein, and those who loved Thomas Harris' novel Hannibal and wanted to see it brought to life on screen.  If you fall into either category, skip this film altogether or proceed with extreme caution and a generous tolerance for disappointment.  And all of this apart from the grisly scene toward the end when Ray Liotta gets his skull sawed open and his brain eaten by Anthony Hopkins.
      • So why is it on this list?  Well, I certainly did love the novel and still do.  [spoiler alert]  Thomas Harris and a whole bunch of his readers thought it would be quite plausible for the Cannibal and the FBI agent to find, shall we say, common ground.  They also felt that Lecter was entitled to reveal some of his earlier experiences (despite claims to the contrary in SOTL) as a way of explaining his proclivities.  This is what drove us Lecterphiles to spend a heretofore unheard-of ten bucks on a movie ticket.  Suffice it to say, Ridley Scott, Stephen Zaillian and Dino DiLaurentis didn't agree with Mr. Harris on either count.  But they made the movie anyway!  Go figure!  So aside from that one tiny problem, they agreed that  hanging a greedy police detective from a balcony in Florence, stalking an FBI agent in a state park and getting to know her better by licking her steering wheel (deleted scene in the movie but not the book), and ultimately snacking on a slimeball's cerebrum would provide approximately 2 hours and several million dollars' worth of fun-fun-fun for cast and audience alike.  I was happy to see the characters get off the page and onto the screen for a little while, but I think what I liked best about this movie was the soundtrack, which you can't get from a book, so far, even with a Kindle.   
    Yeah, yeah, I know, there's a pattern here.  You can hook me with good tunes.

      • Into the Night
        • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor: 
      Never heard of it? No surprise if you haven't; it's fairly obscure, as well as old (from the mid-1980s, like a few others on this list).  It's stuffed with cameo appearances by various A-list Hollywood directors, so you'd think they could come up with a better vehicle for Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer, who were both at their peaks when this was made.  Quick summary:  Goldblum is a corporate drone experiencing insomnia and depression.   His marriage bottoms out, so he drives aimlessly to the airport, only to find himself embroiled in an incomprehensible mob-oriented web of intrigue and violence, with Ms. Pfeiffer at the center.  It's not a great movie, by any stretch.  Doesn't even have a great soundtrack.
        • So, again, why is it on this list?  Because it's atmospheric, with a few attention-getting scenes (David Bowie putting a gun in Jeff Goldblum's mouth, but no brain appetit) and just general escapism.  I've seen much, much worse.

        • L.I.E.
        Never heard of it?  I hadn't either, until a few months ago.  The setting (Long Island, where I'm from) and one of the actors (Brian Cox, the first guy ever to play Hannibal Lecter onscreen) attracted me to it, but the storyline and performances ended up being the real draw.
          • Why is it on this list?  Because, as Stephen King might put it, it's the truth.  It's as cold and real as a glass of ice water dashed in your face.  If you like antiheroes, they don't get much more anti than Big John Harrigan.
          • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor:  What's there to like in a movie about a middle-aged guy who preys on dysfunctional teenage boys?  Simple.  It's handled intelligently and assumes the audience is intelligent.  It's not exploitive, and while you may go into it cringing, expecting the worst, you'll probably come out of it glad for having seen it.  

        • The Year of Living Dangerously
          • Why is it on this list?Mel Gibson when he still had his looks and his marbles, Sigourney Weaver, LINDA HUNT ... and the soundtrack.  
          • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor:
            Even loving this movie as I do, it is now impossible not to see glimpses of 21st century Mel in his characterization of Guy Hamilton.  And it's striking how much slower-paced films were, just 25 years ago.

        • A Clockwork Orange
          • Why is it on this list?
            Exploitative camp, social commentary or something in between, it's a classic and impossible to ignore.  So is the soundtrack, of course.  Like Alex, you'll never listen to "Ludwig Van" quite the same way.
          • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor:
            There's way more than a little of "the old ultra-violence," but it's still not "torture-porn" like
            Saw.  Try the book, too.  It makes the movie easier to understand, and vice-versa.

        • Wait Until Dark
        Never heard of it? I pity you.
          • Why is it on this list?.  Hmm...where to start?  Audrey Hepburn as the World's Champion Blind Lady was probably the inspiration for Jodie Foster's role in Panic Room.  Jodie should have slept in.  And Alan Arkin, who most of us are used to seeing as a bumbling, genial senior citizen?  Ahem.  Harry Roat Junior From Scarsdale will make you reorder your list of Favorite Onscreen Villains.  
          • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor: This movie probably couldn't be made today, not with cell phones as ubiquitous as they are.  For the story to work properly, you need that phone booth.  The last 2-3 minutes, I could have done without, but you can't have everything.

        • Die Hard
          • Why is it on this list?  This is the first of the endless series with Bruce Willis in increasingly absurd renderings of John McLane.  This one worked.  First time I saw it, in 1988, I had had some minor surgery and was still experiencing the sedative effects of the pain meds.  But friends were visiting from out of town, so we went out to see this.  I slept through most of it, startling awake every 10 minutes or so when something exploded loudly.  Needless to say, it didn't make for a sound sleep.   Neither did Alan Rickman, doing what he does best:  sneering, threatening, and entertaining us with a brief lapse into an American accent.  I went back alone to see it again the following week, wide awake.
          • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor: Well, it's escapist entertainment, but nobody said it was a PBS documentary.  No particular musical soundtrack for this one, but plenty of good lines.  "Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker."  "Now I have a machine gun.  Ho, ho, ho."  "That's not the police, you idiot -- it's HIM."

        • Silkwood
          • Why is it on this list?  Ask me what's the scariest movie I've ever seen, and I'll give you this one.  Imagine David vs. Goliath, except Goliath knocks the slingshot out of David's hand, drop kicks him into a ravine and proceeds to kill him so effortlessly that all David's friends are scared away.  And it's essentially a true story.  Karen Silkwood was employed by a major nuke plant in Oklahoma, and if you didn't work there, you probably didn't work.  She and her two friends (played by Cher and Kurt Russell) are just getting by, and that's fine, since they have no ambitions or prospects.  They worry a bit about plutonium exposure but it's only a reality when one of their fellow technicians gets "cooked" and has to be painfully decontaminated.  Karen's motives for allowing herself to be recruited as a whistle-blower against the company are never clear, even to her.  It appears, even at the end, that she isn't entirely aware of the magnitude of the situation or the personal stakes. Good soundtrack, too.
          • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor: Not sure there is one, unless you simply dislike any of the actors enough to resist how well they played the roles.  Or you own lots of stock in a nuclear-energy firm.

          • Sophie's Choice

            • Why is it on this list?Yet another standout from the early 1980s.  Streep deserved the Oscar she won for this.  Kevin Kline should have gotten one, too.  As with Hannibal, you have a book so well-written (by William Styron) that you hunger to see the characters come to life on screen.  The movie is an emotional rollercoaster -- romance, with Kline's portrayal of Nathan Landau as knight in shining armor to a malnourished Polish refugee.  Then fear and heartbreak as we learn that Nathan has more than a few demons of his own. Hilarity as the young Southern narrator attempts to lose his virginity with a woman he'd have sworn was a nymphomaniac.  And ultimately sorrow and horror as we learn, scene by scene, of Sophie's past.  As Styron reminds us, she is but one of "the beaten and butchered and betrayed and martyred children of the earth." 
            • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor: As with Silkwood, I wasn't able to come up with one.  If you don't like long, emotionally wrenching flicks that deal with the Holocaust, then you  probably ought to skip it. 

          • Groundhog Day
            • Why is it on this list?  It's funny as hell, but by no means light or fluffy -- at least not after you've slept on it, waking to recall the movie and think "What if, every day, I woke up and it was exactly the same thing for endless repeats?"  Not what most of us consider our lives -- this is same people, same word for word conversations.  Bill Murray, as weather forecaster Phil Connors, experiences this after visiting Punxsutawney Pennsylvania to cover the annual appearance of the famous groundhog.  The "different shit, same day" storyline can't help but make us think about what we might do in Phil's shoes.  
            • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor:  I guess my only criticism here is that we don't get the slightest hint as to what causes this little wrinkle in time for Phil.  The writers obviously consider that question utterly beside the point, and it probably is.  Any attempt at an explanation would cheapen the product as a whole.  But some of us like to wonder anyway.

          • Rain Man
            • Why is it on this list?  Two words:  Dustin Hoffman.  Someone else (Bill Murray was initially considered) might have pulled this off, but with any luck, we'll never find out via a remake.  Tom Cruise was excellent as the cluelessly opportunistic brother, but this film, like most others, is the result of a collaborative effort.  Except for Hoffman.  No director or writer could have wrung such a performance from anyone who didn't already have it inside. 
            • You Gotta Be Kidding Me factor: Truthfully, I've seen this one so many times, my rating has probably fallen from 10 to maybe 8 or 9.  But Dustin Hoffman's work alone still redeems it.  The movie has become such a pop-culture landmark, it's fallen prey to a lot of parody.  Just don't make the mistake of thinking you've seen this flick if you haven't.


          Al Penwasser said...

          Whew! I was worried when I thought that I hadn't seen any of these movies. Luckily, I saw "Groundhog Day." Before I saw "Groundhog Day." Which was right before I saw "Groundhog Day." Thankfully, it finished just in time for me to catch "Groundhog Day." Golly, Volly, these are probably predictable jokes. Sorry.
          Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe I can catch "Groundhog Day" on TBS.
          Oh, my, I'm a sad, sad, demented little man.....

          Volly said...

          That's okay, Al. Your high-school classmate who sells insurance is bound to find you sooner or later. Just watch out for that last's a dooozy!

          Barbara Bruederlin said...

          That's quite a diverse list. And diversity in film selection is the key to a healthy personality, I think. It's got me thinking about my own top films list...