Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Exceptional Films

Steve Barnes recently posed a question on his blog.  I started to get wordy with my response, so I decided to crop it and continue my thoughts here.

The question was:  What would be your vote for Greatest Movie, especially from the perspective of studying film?

You all know me.  I have lots of favorites, which means I'd have lots of votes and so it would be really hard to pin down one.  I ultimately went with Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)

Someone posted Secondhand Lions.  So I responded--

Secondhand Lions would be close to the top of my list too! Really excellent writing and acting in that one. Casablanca has also already been mentioned. Cyrano de Bergerac (1990) with Depardieu is masterful on so many levels--character focus, sets, lighting, acting, music, extras, choreography -- even the level of craft in the subtitles is incredible. I've probably watched it a hundred times and it amazes me every time. Curse of the Golden Flower--except I felt the spilled poison on the tapestry end wasn't quite right. Maybe I'm too western to appreciate it. It just wasn't quite enough. Galaxy Quest. A lot of excellent elements came together to make this one of the most appreciated genre films out there. Part of its genius is that it knows its audience and plays both the positive and negative sides of the culture to its complete advantage. And, I hate to say it, but Dude, Where's My Car from both an entertainment and craft perspective is scarily amazing. I was very resistant to watching it the first time and sat down in total resignation. And was blown away. I dunno. Maybe my expectations were so low ... someone tell me I'm crazy! It was particularly masterful with its reveals and the level of plot acceleration. Chocolat, Forrest Gump, Kung Fu Hustle and Spirited Away are also amazing and I think they teach a lot about storytelling and visual presentation.  

There are six other films that stand out very strongly in my mind, but I believe it's mainly due to subject matter although craft certainly played a role. The LotRs trilogy, Schindler's List, Braveheart and Lion in Winter. Since the subject matter is so compelling to me I can't look at these films rationally.  

Schindler's List and Braveheart fall into a separate category with Pillow Book of films I love but can't rewatch. Actually, I rewatched Braveheart on DVD when we bought it, didn't regret it, but still can't make myself watch it again. It's too hard. I can't even own Schindler's List or Pillow Book. I'm such a wuss.

On the flip side, there's a film everyone loves and I could barely sit through it. The only reason I did was because it was part of a double feature and Casablanca was the second feature. (It was worth it.) That's Fargo. Ugh. No, double ugh.  In my mind it had no redeeming qualities. None.

I'm more in the norm with considering Brokeback Mountain not all it was cracked up to be. It was groundbreaking but not an exceptional film. Lots of missed opportunities in dialogue, storytelling, and overall film craft. I'm glad it made a splash, but I've seen much, much better on equally difficult subjects and I don't think it deserved most of the awards it got. If there was an award for "Should Have Been Mainstream A Long Time Ago" then it should have won that one, hands down. I fear that future generations will consider all the awards given to Brokeback Mountain the cinematic award equivalent of a pity f*ck.

So how 'bout it? From not just a good time perspective or made me cry perspective or made me rewind it three times because I couldn't believe what I was seeing perspective but that critical craftsmanship perspective where, if it's not perfect you can see perfection easily within its grasp--what's your list of outstanding films? Any recent ones, like The Dark Knight stands out for me, that stand out for you?

1 comment:

Things that puzzle this other goddess.... said...

I'm even more of a wuss, movie-wise (probably physically too!) than you are. :) There are very few dramas I will watch, I just don't have the energy to invest in an emotional hip bath.

I love the LOTR trilogy, much more than I loved the books. I thought they did an excellent job of translating 3 intensely intricate stories into a film environment. Reading their boards to understand the reasons, cinematically, for their additions and subtractions made me understand ploting and timing in movies a bit better.

I'm changing your question a bit to be memorable movies. So, I will go out on a limb and name the one movie that I will not let my children watch, probably for a good few more years.
(realizing they are 13 and almost 15 and in a very emotionally committed time in their lives).

That movie is, "The Passion of the Christ." I wasn't enamored of the subject matter and it's not on the top of my list of all time favorite movies (I liked, "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" and quite a few comedies better for their entertainment value!) but this movie spoke to my soul and made me remember the stories of the suffering of the MAN, Jesus of Nazarath. The experience, though I'm not a Christian, raised the hairs on the back of my neck and reminded me of my feelings as a teenager going to the "Seven Stations of the Cross" service at a Catholic church. There is a sense of awe that comes from that strong of belief.

For being without words, and intense, and KNOWING I was going to hate the ending, the movie actually said quite a bit to me.