Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Movies Of The Year: 1970

Even fewer movies this year, but they're all definitely worth seeing. That might be the only year so far that I can say that about, though 1982, 1981, 1979 and 1978 come close. The worst film this year is probably better than any of those years though.

9. The Aristocats - One of the strangest animated Disney films is this jazzy story about cats in 1910 Paris trying to save an inheritance or something. It's the trippy visuals and cool music that make this memorable. Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway and Scatman Crothers are some of the voices. Director Wolfgang Reitherman also directed the two Winnie The Pooh movies, Robin Hood, The Sword In The Stone, 101 Dalmations and The Jungle Book.

8. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls - Director Russ Meyer's story of the rise and fall of a girl band in Hollywood features a screenplay by none other than Roger Ebert. When Ebert mentions it, he cites a review that calls it "simultaneously the best and worst movie ever made." And that pretty much sums it up.

7. Little Big Man - Revisionist Western starring Dustin Hoffman. This isn't really fair of me to rank it, because the only time I saw it was just after I had my wisdom teeth removed and was full of painkillers. But, it's my list and I'm not planning on watching it again anytime soon.

6. Catch-22 - Another perhaps unfair rating, considering that I've only seen this Mike Nichols film on TV. A few years ago, it seemed Turner ran this every other night on TNT or TBS, so I've seen it a lot, I just don't think I've ever seen it from beginning to end uncut and without commercials. It's got a cast of thousands: Jon Voight, Art Garfunkel, Bob Newhart, Martin Balsam, Buck Henry, Anthony Perkins, Martin Sheen, Bob Balaban, Norman Fell, Charles Grodin and Orson Welles. Alan Arkin is outstanding in the lead role as Yossarian, the WW2 bombardier that gets caught up in the insanity of war and bureaucracy. I've been wanting to read the book for years too, but I've yet to get around to buying it.

5. Dodes'ka-den - Akira Kurosawa's first color film is a collection of stories set in a Tokyo slum. The individual stories aren't particularly memorable, much like the sentimental parts of Dreams (#3, 1990). This film actually has a lot in common with that one, made 20 years later. While the politics are somewhat simplistic and the stories melodramatic, the visual style and beauty of the images is remarkable. The film isn't so much shot as it is painted.

4. The Wild Child - From what I've seen, period films are a rarity among the french New Wave. This film by Francois Truffaut is the only one I can think of off the top of my head. Based on a true story, Truffaut himself plays a doctor who attempts to socialize a young boy who was found raised in the French countryside in the late 18th Century. The story's very simple, and Truffaut keeps the stylization to a minimum. There's some cool old fashioned wipes and irises, but as far as I can remember, that's about it, all of which helps the period feel of the film. A very nice little movie.

3. Woodstock - I've been saying for years that Martin Scorsese won an Oscar for helping to edit this massive concert film, but I was wrong. While it was nominated, this film did not when the Best Editing Oscar. He really hasn't ever won one for anything. Anyway, while this works great as a concert film: great performances from The Who, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Ritchie Havens, Joe Cocker, Santana, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. But more than that, it's the record of an era, the Boomer Ideal that they've all spent the last 36 years selling out, betraying, and generally making a mockery of.

2. MASH - It's tough to separate this film from the TV series that was so ubiquitous on TV when I was growing up. I wonder if kids today, or people who've just never seen the series have a totally different reaction than I have. It's a lot better than the TV show, of course, more anarchic, funnier, darker and not nearly as melodramatic. The cast is great: Elliot Gould, Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, Tom Skerritt, Rene Auberjonois and Sally Kellerman.

1. Patton - A strange film. George C. Scott is brilliant as the famous general, it's one of the most famous biopic portrayals ever. Karl Malden is great as General Omar Bradley. It's not an anti-war film, and it's not really a pro-war film either. It doesn't seem to take any position on war at all, just as it doesn't really take any position on Patton himself. He's shown as both brilliant and crazy, inspiring, authoritarian, scary, funny and nice to dogs. While confining it to only a few years out of Patton's life, it still manages to create a whole portrait of the man, in a way that's always compelling, something that few biopics can manage to do. It's closest analogue has to be another war movie that is ultimately ambivalent on war itself and features a remarkable lead performance: Lawrence Of Arabia.
During the aftermath of the Oscars, I looked up how many Best Picture winners also managed to be my #1 Movie Of The Year. I came up with six: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Annie Hall, Amadeus, Unforgiven and Schindler's List. This will make seven.

A few big Unseen movies this year, mostly lesser films by art directors like Melville, Herzog, Bertolucci and Altman. I've made it halfway through Five Easy Pieces twice, does that count as watching the whole thing?

Five Easy Pieces
Kelly's Heroes
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Love Story
The Conformist
Zabriskie Point
Gimme Shelter
Le Cercle Rouge
El Topo
Rio Lobo
The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis
The Honeymoon Killers
Darling Lili
Bed & Board
Claire's Knee
Even Dwarfs Started Small
Ryan's Daughter
Brewster McCloud

Movies Of The Year: 1971

Not a particularly good year, either for movies I've seen or for ones I haven't seen, as far as I can tell. A couple good ones at the top of the list, though.

10. Bedknobs And Broomsticks - Generic Disney musical starring Angela Lansbury, far away from her role in the Manchurian Candidate. There's a Mary Poppins-esque mix of live-action and animation, but nothing especially remarkable.

9. Carnal Knowledge - Disappointing Mike Nichols film that I guess is supposed to be a comedy but really isn't all that funny. It's three episodes in the life of Jack Nicholson's character (college with Art Garfunkel and Candace Bergen, mid 20s with Ann-Margaret and middle age, by himself), tracing his descent into annoying misogyny. Bleh.

8. The French Connection - William Friedkin's ode to the wonderful world of police brutality and fascism. It has something in common with 24 in that it makes an argument that the police should be allowed to do whatever they want, but 24 is nuanced and thoughtful in a way this isn't (and 24 ain't that nuanced or thoughtful). Nice car chase though.

7. Diamonds Are Forever - Speaking of misogyny and violence, this is Sean Connery's last James Bond movie. I honestly don't remember anything about this movie, but I'm sure I've seen it. Someday, I'm going to take a week and watch all of the Bond movies in order. With martinis, of course.

6. The Last Picture Show - Peter Bogdanovich's first movie, and the only of his I've seen (or want to see). There are some nice performances, and some pretty black and white images, but it's just not as good as other nostalgic films (American Graffiti) or films about Texas (Hud). I like Bogdanovich better as an actor (he's great in a recurring role on The Sopranos) and film expert (commentaries on DVDs and such).

5. Harold And Maude - Overrated cult classic that's a fine film, but not the masterpiece it's often made out to be. Hal Ashby directed the story of a suicidal young man and an elderly woman who fall in love. It's fairly funny and romantic, but it's hard to separate it from all the hype.

4. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory - Much better, on the whole, than Tim Burton's remake, largely because of Gene Wilder's performance in the lead role. Johnny Depp's is way too close to Michael Jackson to be enjoyable, whereas Wilder's Wonka is funny, magical and not a little mean and nasty. That's part of the fun of the film, watching the bad kids get their comeuppance by that instrument of divine retribution: Wonka candy. The kid who plays Charlie is really bad though, that's one thing that was really good about Burton's film.

3. Bananas - Woody Allen heads off to the jungle to fight the revolution in one of his wackier comedies. It's more hit and miss than his next few comedies, but there's good stuff here. A famous performance as an extra on a subway by Sylvester Stallone, and a moderately funny performance by Howard Cosell as a commentator on Allen's life.

2. McCabe & Mrs. Miller - Robert Altman's great film isn't really a western in the way the genre is generally thought of. It is the story of how the West was built, which is the subtext of all westerns, sometimes more explicitly (The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, Once Upon A Time In The West, Deadwood) than others (Unforgiven, Rio Bravo, The Searchers). Warren Beatty and Julie Christie star as the brains behind the creation of a mining town in the Northwest, centered, of course, around the tavern and brothel. Rene Auberjonois, Keith Carradine, Shelly Duvall and William Devane co-star. Oh, and the soundtrack's all by Leonard Cohen, and it's great.

1. A Clockwork Orange - Might be Stanley Kubrick's most misanthropic film, and that's saying something. It's a classic, of course, something every movie fan has seen, so there isn't much to say about it that you don't already know. What I like most about it, and the reason I can watch it again and again is the sound. Namely the narration by Malcolm McDowell with the famous Anthony Burgess dialect and the music, mostly various incarnations of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Off the top of my head, my favorite Stanley Kubrick films: 1. Dr. Strangelove 2. Paths Of Glory 3. 2001 4. The Shining 5. A Clockwork Orange 6. Spartacus 7. Eyes Wide Shut 8. Full Metal Jacket 9. Lolita 10. Barry Lyndon.

Some fine Unseen movies this year, I'm sure, but nothing too spectacular, as far as I know. And yes, while I've seen both Shaft sequels, I've never made it all the way through the original film, at least not that I can recall.

Straw Dogs
Get Carter
Johnny Got His Gun
Dirty Harry
Fiddler On The Roof
THX 1138
Play Misty For Me
Vanishing Point
Big Jake
Panic In Needle Park
Two-Lane Blacktop
Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Minnie And Moskowitz

Movie Roundup

Lots of movies to catch up with here.

Andrei Rublev - Long, slow and depressing, but a masterpiece nonetheless. Not as famous as Solaris, but this is a much better Tarkovsky film. Not nearly as solipsistic or pessimistic as that one, there's actually some hope for humanity and society by the end of this film, though the three hours leading up to that point aren't exactly fun.

Floating Weeds - I haven't seen his silent film that this is a remake of, but I plan to eventually. The Criterion version comes with both versions. This is the third Ozu I've seen, and all of them are great. Late Spring's my favorite, and that's coming out later this year. Tokyo Story's the most famous, the first I saw and the one I enjoyed the least. I probably should watch it again.

Hiroshima Mon Amour - A pretty perfect little movie. The lead actress, Emmanuelle Riva, played Juliette Binoche's mom in Three Colors: Blue and gives an outstanding performance here. My first Alain Resnais movie, I really want to see Last Year At Marienbad though.

Band Of Outsiders - Totally charming. It's easy to forget just how fun Godard can be. Anna Karina was, predictably, adorable and Michel Legrand's score was terrific. I think it's now my second favorite Godard, after Pierrot Le Fou.

Fitzcarraldo - My new #1 film from 1982 is this Werner Herzog movie about a crazy guy who wants to move a boat over a mountain so he can bring opera to the jungle. Stars Klaus Kinski (also crazy) and Claudia Cardinale (from Once Upon A Time In The West).

Dave Chappelle's Block Party - Really just a pretty good concert film. The Fugees reunion at the end of the show was pretty cool, but the highlight was an amazing performance by The Roots with Jill Scott and Erikah Badu. Not a ground-breaking film by any means, but I certainly liked it more than the only other Michel Gondry film I've seen, the drastically overrated Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. Now my #22 rated film of 2005.

Week End - Another wacky Godard film, this one is like Pierrot Le Fou, but mixed with cynicism and Maoist politics. There's so much to love about it, though, that I can overlook the long anti-colonialist speeches (which are nothing but simple-minded justifications of terrorism). Someday, when I have my own movie theatre, I'm going to name it the End Of Cinemas.

Tristram Shandy - Very funny. It's in a close race with The 40 Year Old Virgin as the Best Comedy of 2005 (I ended up rating it 9th, two spots behind Virgin). Right up there with the best movies about making movies (Living In Oblivion, The Stunt Man, Day for Night, etc.)

Burden Of Dreams - Les Blank's documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo is alright, but the only really great parts are a pair of rants by Herzog (The birds are not singing, they are screaming in pain!"). The second best movie about crazy people making a movie in a jungle. The #11 film of 1982.

George Washington - Indie film overrated for it's admittedly very cool visual style (very Ozu influenced, naturally), while overlooking the fundamental silliness of its plot. There are some attempts at poetry, in the narration and the ending that mostly just don't work. Still, a fine first film for director David Gordon Green. The #7 film of 2000.

The World - A stunningly beautiful film about workers at a Beijing amusement park that recreates the whole world, or at least the famous parts: Manhattan, the Eiffel Tower, London Bridge, the Pyramids. It's magic realist Ozu, with text messaging. The film revolves around the two of the workers, with a little bit of every type of post-communist social issue thrown in: foreign workers forced into prostitution, country folk moving to the big city to try to make their fortune and failing, organized crime, overworked workers in unsafe conditions, plus your typical romantic issues. Interspersed are chapter breaks (one chapter's even called "Tokyo Story") and some clever animated sequences. A great first big-budget film by director Jia Khang-ze. I wish I had grabbed the poster when I had the chance last year, but I forgot. The #4 film of 2004.

Kill! - Adapted from the same source novel as Akira Kurosawa's Sanjuro, I have a feeling that this is closer to thee novel than that one, the sequel to Yojimbo. This is a darker, less satirical, more densely plotted film than that one, but it's still a very fine film. Tatsuya Nakadai's performance in the lead role, while it can't match the comic intensity of Toshiro Mifune's in Sanjuro, is still quite good. The film is very nice looking: crowded frames, at times shockingly graphic violence, and New Wavy editing. Director Kihachi Okamoto also did Sword Of Doom, which stars Mifune and Nakadai and which I'll be seeing very soon.

Samurai Spy - Another part of Criterion's Rebel Samurai boxset (along with Kill!, Sword Of The Beast and Samurai Rebellion, which I saw years ago). Directed by Masahiro Shinoda, this is a remarkably beautiful film about, well, samurai spies (they actually seem more like ninjas, but I don't know if there's a difference). The plot's ridiculously complex, but that's OK because the movie's just so damn cool. And there's even a nice supporting role for the guy who played the Master Swordsman in The Seven Samurai.

Oldboy - If Danny Boyle made a Takeshi Miike film, this is what would result. It's not nearly as original or interesting visually as Boyle's films, though it does have some nice flourishes. And it's not nearly as gross or disturbing as Miike's (the the end comes pretty close), which in my opinion is a good thing. There's one long fight that's pretty cool looking, but this film has more in common with Japanese horror than Hong Kong action. Still, a pretty good revenge movie. The #8 film of 2003.