Thursday, June 28, 2007

My Top 95 films, Part I

While making up this list (presuming that 5 of the 10 movies I hadn't seen would have made my top 100, therefore leaving 95) I saw movies on the official list that after some more thought decided don't belong there to begin with (conveniently clearing up more room for movies I like ... what a coincidence, huh?).

So here are more movies that don't belong among the big boys:

"The Sixth Sense," 1999: Yeah, I liked it when it first came out. Now it just seems to be a great idea for a movie than an actual movie. Plus, now that M. Night Shamalamadingdong has become a "Robot Chicken" punchline ("What a tweeest!") I can't take it seriously anymore.

"Forrest Gump," 1994: It's not the worst movie to be best picture (that's either "The Greatest Show on Earth" or "The English Patient"), but it's the one that kept "Pulp Fiction" from being best picture. That's good enough for me.

"12 Angry Men," 1957: A classic, but something had to give when I started listing my movies, and this one was on the bubble.

"A Clockwork Orange," 1971: It's never been my favorite Kubrick movie like "2001" or "Strangelove," or ones I can't stand like "Barry Lyndon" or "Eyes Wide Shut." It's in the middle with "The Shining."

"Yankee Doodle Dandy," 1942: Taking this one off hurt, but something had to go.

"Sophie's Choice," 1982: Haven't seen it in years, and I remember it being good, but the ones I thought up I think are better. That's my choice.

So now, here's the first part of my list. I bold-faced the ones I added, and the ones I haven't discussed yet ... I'll discuss.

51. "Spartacus," 1960.
52. "The Apartment," 1960.
53. "The Right Stuff," 1983.
54. "The African Queen," 1951.
55. "Sunset Blvd.", 1950.
56. "Toy Story," 1995.
57. "Annie Hall," 1977.
58. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," 1975.
59. "Sullivan's Travels," 1941.
60. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," 1937.
61. "The Best Years of Our Lives," 1946.
62. "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," 1948.
63. "The Sound of Music," 1965.
64. "A Streetcar Named Desire," 1963.
65. "Jaws," 1975.
66. "The Silence of the Lambs," 1991.
67. "All the President's Men," 1976.
68 "Bonnie and Clyde," 1967.
69. "The Philadelphia Story," 1940.
70. "To Be Or Not To Be," 1942. The bravest film to come out of the early 1940s, made when it still wasn't clear Hitler was going to lose. It really deserves more respect than it gets.
71. "The Deer Hunter," 1978.
72. "Rocky," 1976.
73. "Unforgiven," 1992.
74. "Back to the Future," 1985: Perfect movie. Enough said.
75. "M-A-S-H," 1970.
76. "The Ten Commandments," 1956
77. "Nashville," 1975.
78. "Double Indemnity," 1944.
79. "Rio Bravo," 1959: In "High Noon," Gary Cooper spends a lot of the movie trying to round up help. John Wayne spends this movie trying not to get help because he doesn't want to get anybody killed. Which one sounds more like a hero to you?
80. "Cabaret," 1972.
81. "Patton," 1970. This got booted off the list for some reason, probably to make room for "Titanic." Bad idea. I'm booting it back on.
82. "American Graffiti," 1973.
83. "Tootsie," 1982.
84. "Taxi Driver," 1976.
84. "Do the Right Thing," 1989.
85. "In the Heat of the Night," 1967.
86. "The Wild Bunch," 1969.
87. "Platoon," 1986.
88. "The Thin Man," 1934: I like to think of this as a musical without music. The sharp dialogue and banter between William Powell and Myrna Loy is a duet for writers.
89. "Apollo 13," 1995: A classic workplace drama, only the workplace is space and the drama is whether they can get three men back to Earth alive.
90. "Blazing Saddles" 1974: It was a coin toss between this and "Young Frankenstein." This won because of the campfire scene, Lily von Schtupp's "I'm Tired" and Harvey Korman's timeless performance as Hedy Lamarr ("That's HEDLEY!")
91. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," 2000: This probably violates some AFI rule since it's in Chinese, but I don't care. It's the purest cinema I've ever seen. And I still think Ang Lee would have made a better "Star Wars" prequel than George Lucas did.
92. "The Last Picture Show," 1971.
93. "Memento," 2002. When they list the best movies of the decade, this will be up there, mark my words. It plays with the notion of memory and story structure, and best of all, it respects the audience to come up with its own answers instead of spoon-feeding them like we're morons.
94. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," 1969.
95. "It Happened One Night," 1934.

Monday, June 25, 2007

My Top 95 Films, Part II

Without further ado ... or any ado at all for that matter, my picks for the best movies ever. Or at least the ones that qualify for the AFI list (if we go outside that, then we've got "Seven Samurai" and "The Seventh Seal" to deal with).

1. "Lawrence of Arabia," 1962.
2. "The Godfather," 1972.
3. "Casablanca," 1942.
4. "Singin' in the Rain," 1952.
5. "Schindler's List," 1993.
6. "The Wizard of Oz," 1939.
7. "The General," 1927.
8. "It's a Wonderful Life," 1946.
9. "King Kong," 1933.
10. "The Lord of the Rings" 2001-03: I don't care that there were three parts that came out over three years. You can't take these three films apart and say any one part stands on its own. It's a single 10+ hour movie, not one movie and two sequels. And it's one of the most amazing achievements in film history when you look at it all together. To try to take one part over the others is to diminish the whole thing. It's best to look at them as one film and honor them that way.
11. "The Godfather Part II," 1974.
12. "Raging Bull," 1980.
13. "Citizen Kane," 1941.
14. "The Empire Strikes Back," 1980.
15. "The Quiet Man," 1952.
16. "Modern Times," 1936.
17. "Gone With the Wind," 1939.
18. "Star Wars," 1977.
19. "To Kill a Mockingbird," 1962.
20. "The Third Man," 1949.
21. "2001: A Space Odyssey," 1968.
22. "The Maltese Falcon," 1941.
23. "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," 1982.
24. "Dr. Strangelove," 1964.
25. "North by Northwest," 1959.
26. "Duck Soup," 1933.
27. "Raiders of the Lost Ark," 1981.
28. "The Matrix," 1999.
29. "Vertigo," 1958.
30. "The Searchers," 1956.
31. "Pulp Fiction," 1994.
32. "The Bridge on the River Kwai," 1957.
33. "Rear Window," 1954.
34. "The Shawshank Redemption," 1994.
35. "Bride of Frankenstein,"1935: The class act of all monster movies.
36. "Sherlock Jr.," 1924.
37. "Psycho," 1960.
38. "Safety Last," 1924: If you're gonna have a list like this, you need to include Harold Lloyd, because he pioneered the thrill comedy. When Jackie Chan acts like he's hurt his hand in the middle of a fight, that's Lloyd. When Butch and Sundance argue before going over a cliff, that's Lloyd.
39. "Chinatown," 1974.
40. "Saving Private Ryan," 1998.
41. "The Grapes of Wrath," 1940
42. "The Graduate," 1967.
43. "Bringing Up Baby," 1938.
44. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," 1939.
45. "Some Like It Hot," 1959.
46. "Goodfellas," 1990.
47. "Finding Nemo," 2003.: For me, this is the apex of the animated movie. It's got a lot of heart, it tells a story you couldn't do in live action, and it transports you to a place as real as any other. And it's funny as all get out.
48. "Apocalypse Now," 1979.
49. "A Night at the Opera," 1935.
50. "Fargo," 1996.

Why "Lawrence" as No. 1, when most people would pick "Kane" or "Godfather" or even "Casablanca"? A lot of it is personal choice. I was raised in the desert, and it gets the feeling of endlessness right.

And it properly captures the enigma of humanity. Here we get a three-hour movie about one man's life, and you come out of it with the feeling that you still don't know the man at all. No one truly gets to know another person, no matter how hard we try.

It gets everything right, from the epic sweep of the battles to the tiniest supporting role (watch how Lawrence's two servants appear to be comic relief at first, then become pivotal to the plot. And the guy who brags about shaking Lawrence's hand at the beginning of the movie turns up right before the end). While I can go back to "Casablanca" a hundred times and enjoy the same joys, when I watch "Lawrence" I find new things to ponder and new discoveries.

The AFI 100 -- Part III: What To Put In

All right, I've dropped eight movies from the list. What would I put in to take their places?

Let's start with two movies that dropped off the list that shouldn't have dropped off the list:

The Third Man (1949)
"Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly." -- Harry Lime

The best Orson Welles movie not directed by Orson Welles (and maybe even by him, though no one seems sure). When you watch it, you're transported to a specific time (right after World War II), a specific place (Vienna) and a specific mindset (trust no one). It's the most egregious omission on the list.

Fargo (1996)
"So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don't you know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well, I just don't understand it." -- Marge Gunderson

The Coen brothers must have at least one movie on this list. "O Brother, Where Are Thou?" "The Big Lebowski" and "Raising Arizona" would easily be in my top 200 list. But as for their best, it's clearly "Fargo." The Coens sometimes get so involved in making a technically perfect movie that sometimes they don't put as much heart into it as they should ("Hudsucker Proxy," I'm looking at you). "Fargo" has a great big pregnant beating heart named Marge in it. So while Steve Buscemi and William H. Macy's characters dredge the bottom of humanity and greed, Frances McDormand's Marge not only solves the crime, but asks the question we all want to ask those who step outside the lines to cheat and harm their fellow humans: "There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don't you know that?"

That leaves me six spots to fill.

"The Right Stuff" (1983): The only flaw I've ever found in this movie is there isn't anything for Deke Slayton, Wally Schirra and Scott Carpenter to do. I guess something had to give so they could spend time on Chuck Yeager, but this is supposed to be about the Mercury 7, so I feel slighted by not getting to know them all. Aside from that, this is the quintessential American movie. Envelopes are pushed, males bond, things go fast, things go boom ... why this movie doesn't have a bigger following has always surprised me.

"The Empire Strikes Back" (1980): If you're going to put "Star Wars" on the list, you have to put "Empire," because it's a better movie, period. The characters are more developed, the acting is better, the action is well done. If you can give two slots to the "Godfather" films, you can give two to "Star Wars."

"The Quiet Man" (1952): How did this get left off this year and in 1998? Come to think of it, there's only two John Ford movies on the list, "The Searchers" and "The Grapes of Wrath," Now, I admire those two as much as the next guy, but come on. "The Quiet Man" has more humanity than "The Searchers." It's got John Wayne's best acting in it AND a great fight scene. I can also make arguments that "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance" and "Stagecoach" belong in the top 100, but I'll try not to get carried away. Let's just point out that John Ford won more directing Oscars than anyone else and leave it at that.

"The Ten Commandments" (1956): I'll swap this in for "Ben Hur." It's cheesy and the dialogue is so far over the top you need a ladder to reach some of it ("Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!"), but you gotta give it this: It's never boring.

"The Matrix" (1999): The sequels sucked, no doubt. But since the point of the last two movies seemed to be that the Matrix had started over several times before and Neo kept showing up, that means it could happen again, with a different (and hopefully, more conclusive and less confusing) ending. In the meantime, the first one stands on its own. It's revolutionary in its special effects and storytelling, and the kick you get when you start thinking, "Hmm ... if I were living in the Matrix right now, would I be able to tell?" remains.

"Sherlock Jr." (1924): There's as much invention and creativity in this 44-minute film than in all of "The Matrix." I think the AFI voters were so busy trying to squeeze Charlie Chaplin movies in they forgot about this one.

Now I'll start working on my top 100. Considering there's 10 movies on the list that I can't honestly judge, I will presume at least five of them would make the list if I saw them in their entirety. That gives me five more spots to play with.

Check back soon.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The AFI 100 -- Part II: What To Leave Out

OK, now, here are the movies that I think have no business being on a top 100 list of the best movies ever. Not that I think they're bad, just that if you're going to count down to 100, they'd get crowded out:

11. "City Lights," (1931): There are three Charlie Chaplin films on the list, and that's two too many. I think Chaplin is overrated and aged very badly. The only one that should be on a top 100 list is "Modern Times." I don't dislike "City Lights," but I think it's too sentimental for its own good.

49. "Intolerance," (1916): D.W. Griffith's Ku Klux Klan valentine "Birth of a Nation" was on the original list, but it dropped off and this Griffith film replaced it, in an apparent sign of political correctness. They got it right the first time, sadly. I can't defend the racism in "Nation," but it's a better, more exciting film that "Intolerance," a slow-moving, confusing morality piece that's practially unwatchable today. Better to leave both movies off than to stick an unworthy movie on the list.

58. "The Gold Rush," (1925): The other Chaplin that shouldn't be on the list. I don't dislike it, and it's got some great bits to it, such as him eating his shoe and the dinner roll dance, but it hasn't aged well, certainly not as well as some Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd comedies have. It's maybe 101 or 102, but it shouldn't be this high.

64. "Network," (1976): It was cutting edge 31 years ago, and it certainly was prophetic, but I watched it a year or so ago and now I find it too over the top and preachy. It's got one of the greatest performances ever with Peter Finch as Harold Beale, going completely around the bend and straight to the moon as the cracked-up anchorman. The rest ... not so much.

83. "Titanic," (1997): This one is the easiest to kick off the list. It's entertaining, and for guys with a Kate Winslet fixation such as myself it has the greatest scene in all of cinema history (you know the one I'm talking about). But one of the greatest films of all time? Does one of the greatest films of all time have a loogie-hocking scene? Billy Zane as a villain straight out of "Dudley Do-Right"? Blaming the whole disaster on the lookouts being transfixed by the sight of Rose and Jack kissing? The scene where in the midst of everybody dying and the biggest ship in the world is sinking, Rose tells Jack, "This is where we met"? Nah.

84. "Easy Rider," (1969): I'm sure this meant a lot to voters of a certain age, and it was a revolutionary film. But coming from the generation that grew up after that one, I have to say ... the 1960s are over, folks. This one's overrated. Jack Nicholson's the best thing in the movie, but it's time to let the rest go. I'll give you "The Graduate," but this one ... let it go.

97. "Blade Runner," (1982): Which "Blade Runner" are we talking about here, because if it's the one that actually came out in 1982, it has no business being on this list. The narration by Harrison Ford kills the movie and completely mucks up the ending. If we're talking about one of the several director's cuts that have come out since then, we need to be specific. Until that's cleared up, this has to be eliminated for clarity's sake.

100. "Ben-Hur," (1959): I like "Ben-Hur" a lot, especially after I heard that Gore Vidal wrote the Judah/Masala relationship as if the two were lovers at one point and the reason Masala ruins Judah's life is because he rejected his advances. Gives the whole thing a new context. And through the chariot race it's a great movie. Then ... it drops off the edge. The last hour or so is dull. Deathly dull. Watching ruins crumble to the ground dull. I think the same thing about "Gone With the Wind" after the intermission, but it's got Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh to carry you through. Charlton Heston isn't up to the task.

Next time, the movies I would put in.

The AFI 100 -- Part 1

The American Film Institute has issued its latest top 100 movies list, and I have got a lot to say about it. But instead of writing one long piece on the things I want to say, I'm going to break it up over several days. Movies I thought were left off, movies I thought shouldn't be on the list, and if I can carve out enough time, my own top 100 list.

But let's start with the actual list.

1. "Citizen Kane," 1941.
2. "The Godfather," 1972.
3. "Casablanca," 1942.
4. "Raging Bull," 1980.
5. "Singin' in the Rain," 1952.
6. "Gone With the Wind," 1939.
7. "Lawrence of Arabia," 1962.
8. "Schindler's List," 1993.
9. "Vertigo," 1958.
10. "The Wizard of Oz," 1939.
11. "City Lights," 1931.
12. "The Searchers," 1956.
13. "Star Wars," 1977.
14. "Psycho," 1960.
15. "2001: A Space Odyssey," 1968.
16. "Sunset Blvd.", 1950.
17. "The Graduate," 1967.
18. "The General," 1927.
19. "On the Waterfront," 1954.
20. "It's a Wonderful Life," 1946.
21. "Chinatown," 1974.
22. "Some Like It Hot," 1959.
23. "The Grapes of Wrath," 1940.
24. "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," 1982.
25. "To Kill a Mockingbird," 1962.
26. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," 1939.
27. "High Noon," 1952.
28. "All About Eve," 1950.
29. "Double Indemnity," 1944.
30. "Apocalypse Now," 1979.
31. "The Maltese Falcon," 1941.
32. "The Godfather Part II," 1974.
33. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," 1975.
34. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," 1937.
35. "Annie Hall," 1977.
36. "The Bridge on the River Kwai," 1957.
37. "The Best Years of Our Lives," 1946.
38. "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," 1948.
39. "Dr. Strangelove," 1964.
40. "The Sound of Music," 1965.
41. "King Kong," 1933.
42. "Bonnie and Clyde," 1967.
43. "Midnight Cowboy," 1969.
44. "The Philadelphia Story," 1940.
45. "Shane," 1953.
46. "It Happened One Night," 1934
.47. "A Streetcar Named Desire," 1951.
48. "Rear Window," 1954.
49. "Intolerance," 1916.
50. "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," 2001.
51. "West Side Story," 1961.
52. "Taxi Driver," 1976.
53. "The Deer Hunter," 1978.
54. "M-A-S-H," 1970.
55. "North by Northwest," 1959.
56. "Jaws," 1975.
57. "Rocky," 1976.
58. "The Gold Rush," 1925.
59. "Nashville," 1975.
60. "Duck Soup," 1933.
61. "Sullivan's Travels," 1941.
62. "American Graffiti," 1973.
63. "Cabaret," 1972.
64. "Network," 1976.
65. "The African Queen," 1951.
66. "Raiders of the Lost Ark," 1981.
67. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", 1966.
68. "Unforgiven," 1992.
69. "Tootsie," 1982.
70. "A Clockwork Orange," 1971.
71. "Saving Private Ryan," 1998.
72. "The Shawshank Redemption," 1994.
73. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," 1969.
74. "The Silence of the Lambs," 1991.
75. "In the Heat of the Night," 1967.
76. "Forrest Gump," 1994.
77. "All the President's Men," 1976.
78. "Modern Times," 1936.
79. "The Wild Bunch," 1969.
80. "The Apartment, 1960.
81. "Spartacus," 1960.
82. "Sunrise," 1927.
83. "Titanic," 1997.
84. "Easy Rider," 1969.
85. "A Night at the Opera," 1935.
86. "Platoon," 1986.
87. "12 Angry Men," 1957.
88. "Bringing Up Baby," 1938.
89. "The Sixth Sense," 1999.
90. "Swing Time," 1936.
91. "Sophie's Choice," 1982.
92. "Goodfellas," 1990.
93. "The French Connection," 1971.
94. "Pulp Fiction," 1994.
95. "The Last Picture Show," 1971.
96. "Do the Right Thing," 1989.
97. "Blade Runner," 1982.
98. "Yankee Doodle Dandy," 1942.
99. "Toy Story," 1995.
100. "Ben-Hur" (1959)

For the record, here are the movies I haven't seen on the list, so I'm not allowed to badmouth them or praise them:

"On the Waterfront"
"All About Eve"
"Midnight Cowboy"
"Swing Time"

And here's the movies I've only seen partially, enough to tell whether I like them or not, but since I haven't seen them completely, I can't honestly judge them:
"High Noon"
"West Side Story"
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
"The French Connection"

More later.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

No, I hate pina coladas

Yes, it's taken me 27 years to realize this, but the couple in "The Pina Colada Song" probably didn't make it in the long run.

Think about it. Both were clearly unhappy. He calls her his old lady, never a good sign. Both were so willing to get away from the other that they placed personal ads. Both were so ready to cheat they arranged a rendezvous after one, count them, ONE personal ad.

Sure they laughed after they realized they knew each other. They may have even gone out and made love at midnight in the dunes at the Cape after getting caught in the rain. Eventually, though, the mistrust was going to grow and they'd be scanning the personal ads again.

A mutual love of fruity drinks isn't enough to base a relationship on.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

"Sopranos" finale haiku

Tony and his kin
Eating onion rings in peace
Then suddenly there's

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Driving down Kennedy Boulevard, I saw a sign in front of a bar that read, "Topless Girls, No Cover."

I thought, duh. If they had cover, they wouldn't be topless.

Thank you, I'll be appearing at the Laugh Factory in Toronto on the 25th.