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I recently took part in a 30 Day Movie Challenge, a little Faceboock-based activity in which I wrote a brief summary about a movie I like under various headings.  Here, I have just re-posted those 30 Day Movie Challenge entries.They’re an ok introduction to myself and my tastes.

Favorite Film:

Taxi Driver” –  (1976)

Written by: Paul Schrader

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle

A violent and angry film that observes human nature at it’s scariest. Schrader’s script and Scorsese’s gritty portrait of New York are trumped only by what I consider to be the best performance of DeNiro’s career. I’ve watched Taxi Driver probably more than two dozen times but it still manages to leave me with a knot of sadness in my chest, yet shivering with excitement at the power of cinema.

Least Favorite Film:

Tie – Avatar” –  (2009)

          “Twilight” –  (2008)

Avatar – Written by: James Cameron

                   Directed by: James Cameron

                   Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver

Twilight- Written by: Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer

                     Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke

                     Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson

I know these are rather contemporary choices, but I feel like they both speak to a depressing trend of spectacle-over-substance. To my mind, James Cameron is a monster, stuffing gaudy 3D trash down the throats of his viewers, grinning as he steals their wallets. This fluorescent odyssey through the uncanny valley has wafer-thin layers of romance, animism, anti-imperialism, anti-materialism and pro-environmentalism all stitched together in a poorly-conceived sci-fi mythology.

Twilight is equally enraging as the producers seem to have cut every single corner until they held a perfectly spherical cash-cow. The acting is so bad it’s as if the cast has never experienced a human emotion, the cheap digital photography combined with the laughably amateur special-effects make this movie hard to look at and the script, at it’s heights of angsty melodrama, make it impossible to take this film seriously. As vampire lore, Twilight is a waste of time, and if one were looking for a timeless love story why would they ever come looking here? Most troubling of all, however, is Twilight’s ubiquity combined with its problematic sexual morality, making this film a scary presence in the lives of the young tweens that have devoted themselves to these stories.

It’s not that I begrudge anybody the right to enjoy these movies, I am simply annoyed at their undeserved success. Avatar and Twilight are completely vacuous, nutritionless and unnecessary yet they’re both some of the highest-grossing films of all-time and have grown rather sizable fan followings. Meanwhile, there are dozens of unseen or unnoticed films that deal in many of the themes of Avatar or Twilight, yet manage to successfully access some sliver of truth or poignancy. Neither Twilight nor Avatar have anything within them to justify their success, yet somehow a combination of pushy marketing and a growingly-complacent viewing public have made sure that both films have spawned numerous sequels and booming franchises

Favorite Comedy:

Annie Hall” –  (1977)

Written by: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman

Directed by: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts

“There’s an old joke, um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know; and such small portions.’ Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life”

From the young boy not doing his homework because he’s too afraid of the expansion of the Universe, to the strange cameo by Marshall McLuhan, Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” is funny, tender, and most of all it’s immeasurably lonely. The apex of Allen’s career and the most enjoyable appearance of the “Woody Allen” character, “Annie Hall” withstands infinite viewings as one of the greatest American comedies of all time.

Favorite Drama:

The Bicycle Thieves” –  (1948)

Written by: Vittorio De Sica, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Gerardo Guerrieri, and Cesare Zavattini
Directed by: Vittorio De Sica
Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola

Vittorio De Sica’s short, taut neorealist drama is the story of a man searching desperately for his stolen bicycle, and is one of the most powerful films I’ve watched. The man, played by Lamberto Maggiorani (a non-actor) tries so hard to remain strong and hopeful in the eyes of his son who watches as his father grows increasingly dejected and forlorn. The film in composed mostly of tender, patient shots of just father and son, contrasted with shots of the busy, disorienting streets of Rome. A scene where the two have lunch in a restaurant the father cannot truly afford is one of the most accurate and sympathetic I have ever seen on the subject of the father-son relationship. “The Bicycle Thieves” is not a hopeful film and De Sica leaves the viewer feeling that not only is the father trapped a life of desperate poverty, but his son has been learning the lessons of life through a series of disappointments and tragedies.
Favorite Action:
The Bourne Ultimatum” –  (2007)

Written by: Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Albert Finney, Joan Allen 

I have a gigantic soft-spot for The Bourne Trilogy.I have been told they do not live up to the books,but as films they brought something fresh to the high-gloss, gadget-heavy action films of the late 1990s (think The World Is Not Enough). Paul Greengrass’ use of shaky-cam and fast editing techniques have gone on to engulf the action genre like a sickness, but in this film it adds layer of tense reality to thee film. The Bourne Ultimatum gives Jason Borune the upper-hand and he repeatedly brings himself tantalizingly close to the CIA, while dragging their henchmen over the colourfully scummy rooftops of Tangiers on (pre-Casino Royale) parkour-style chase-scenes and exciting backwards car-chases.
Favorite Horror:
Paranormal Activity” –  (2007)
Written by: Oren Peli
Directed by: Oren Peli
Starring: Katie Featherson, Micah Sloat

It’s not “Psycho” or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or any other of the truly great, classic horrors, but “Paranormal Activity” stands as the only film that has given me the right and proper willies. Alfred Hitchcock once said that if there’s a bomb under the table and two characters are having a conversation, if the bomb goes off, that’s surprise. Instead, if the viewer sees the bomb placed there and it never goes off, that’s suspense and it makes even the most innocuous conversation immediately thrilling. “Paranormal Activity” adheres very closely to this principle and the film makers, who leaked the film online, achieved a strikingly believable atmosphere of “found footage” and if you happen to see the best ending (there are 3), the film never dissolves into the supernatural and instead, nothing ever really happens. A door slams shut, there’s a noise downstairs, but there’s never a monster or a ghost or a man with an axe, just two yuppies afraid of what they can’t explain. In terms of pretty much any way a film can be good, I have many more favorites than “Paranormal Activity” but none of them can claim to have actually scared me and really, isn’t that the point?

Favorite Animated Feature:

Fantasia” –  (1940)

Written by: Various

Directed by: Various

Starring: Various

In the 1940 animated feature, Walt Disney united animation and symphonic music in the one thing they both do best: elicit the intangible. Some parts of “Fantasia” are more literal than others, such as during the Nutcracker Suite or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice but in my opinion the film works best when it’s a little more abstract. My favorite such section is during Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, in which the animation is often no more than shapes and colours, moving in response to the music. Beginning by simply showcasing the movements of the musicians on stage in the same way one is very aware of the musicians at first when seeing a symphony in concert, the film slowly and easily slips into swooping colours and dancing shapes. It wasn’t easy for me to pick a favorite animated feature, but “Fantasia” is beautiful (though more than a little racist…),energetic, fun and absolutely unique.

Favorite Thriller:

Rope” –  (1948)

Written by: Hume Cronyn, Arthur Laurents, based on the play by Patrick Hamilton

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, Farley Granger, John Dall

The story of two friends who murder their friend for no reason other than to see if they could get away with it, and who then throw a party of the victim’s closest friends and family with the barely-concealed body in the same room. Hitchcock filmed “Rope” in a more-or-less single, continuous shot (limited only by the length of a reel of film) which demanded a brilliant economy of set and movement, and also makes the film tense as a bowstring. Featuring pitch-perfect performances from James Stewart, John Dall and Farley Granger “Rope” is a boldly homoerotic game of cat and mouse (CAT AND MOUSE!). I also find it, along with “Rear Window,” to be perfect examples of just how talented a director Hitchcock was.

Favorite Musical:

West Side Story” –  (1961)

Written by: Ernest Lehman, based on the musical by Arthur Laurents

Directed by: Robert Wise

Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn

Generally speaking, I don’t like most musicals. “West Side Story” is not only a musical that I like, but it is possibly the only musical I really truly love. All of the elements of this movie slot perfectly into place, the amazing choreography, the sumptuous lighting and set-design, great acting, bold direction, everything works. I will never stop wondering how a knife fight composed mostly of dancing can still seem so savage.

Favorite Foreign Film:

The Double Life of  Véronique” –  (1991)

Written by: Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz

Directed by: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Starring: Irene Jacob

I fell in love with this movie when I saw it a year or two ago. The photography is so rich and gorgeous, and Kieslowski’s ability to find fleeting, tender moments is enough to break your heart. The film pulls back and forth between feelings of intense loneliness and the sense of some unseen spiritual connection between strangers. Irene Jacob stars as Weronika/Véronique and she just happens to be the most beautiful actress I’ve encountered in any film.

Favorite Kids’ Film:

Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory” – (1971)

Written by: Roald Dahl, based on his novel

Directed by: Mel Stuart

Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum

I love this movie. I have loved it for as long as I can remember, and I love it more each time I see it. It’s so weird and so remarkably well put-together. Gene Wilder defined his career with the role and the factory itself is such a wonder, watching the movie again sort of feels like going there. “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is massively inventive, and the songs are a lot of fun but what gets me every time is how dark this movie manages to get. The Oompa Loompa are odd and silly, but after a certain point their presence becomes eerie and ominous. Willy Wonka’s boat ride scared me then and it scares me now. Wilder spirals out of control so rapidly that, for just a moment, there is a fear of never getting off that boat.

Favorite Love Story:

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” –  (2004)

Written by: Charlie Kaufman

Directed by: Michel Gondry

Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, David Cross, 

Charlie Kaufman is, as far as cinema goes, the genius of our time. From the profoundly silly (Being John Malkovich) to the profoundly…other (Synecdoche, New York) Kaufman creates films that are lightyears ahead of anything else being produced. His screenplays are ecstatically clever, intellectual without apology and full of pain. Kaufman turns the everyday lives of his characters into dark, Borgesian daydreams and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is no different. The plot, more or less, points at the unbelievable resilience of true love in a way that a billion romcoms never will, and the fact that that’s hardly Kaufman’s point only goes to show the magnitude of his talent. Gorgeously directed (though not really a hard task) by Michel Gondry, the movie glides seamlessly between this and that. I also love this movie because it belongs to the very (very) exclusive group of movies that proves just how great Jim Carrey can be if he’s on a short enough leash.

Favorite Chick Flick:

Volver” –  (2006)

Written by: Pedro Almodovar

Directed by: Pedro Almodovar

Starring: Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo

I hate the term “chick flick” so I refuse to pick one. Instead I chose “Volver,” a film that demonstrates the strength, beauty, and life within its amazing female characters. Penelope Cruz is incredible in it, and it has hints of the noir style that will come in Almodovar’s recent film “Broken Embraces.” Watching “Volver” was the first time I’d seen an Almodovar film and I absolutely fell in love with his wit, heart and unique flair. This is a gorgeously shot film and nobody, absolutely nobody, writes roles for women like Pedro Almodovar.

Favorite Documentary:

Baraka” – (1992)

Written by: Constantine Nichols, Genevieve Nichols

Directed by: Ron Fricke

Beautifully shot on 70mm, “Baraka” is a doc with no plot and absolutely no narration. “Baraka” works like a poem, in that the juxtaposition of images is the source of its beauty and purpose. From silent mountainsides and bathing monkeys, to bustling city sidewalks and foundaries, the film provides the viewer with unique view of all the corners of Earth without having to wear a pushy Green agenda on its sleeve. “Baraka” completely floored me the first time I saw it, and I maintain it is the #1 reason for anybody to own a BluRay player.

I had trouble choosing between this, Crumb, Mr.Death and pretty much any of Werner Herzog’s ridiculous documentaries.

Favorite Play Adaptation:

Glengarry Glen Ross” –  (1992)

Written by: David Mamet, based on his play

Directed by: James Foley

Starring: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, AlanArkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce

Jokingly referred to as “Death of a Fuckin’ Salesman,” David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” is a movie about a bunch of down-on-their-luck salesmen who seem to work for a company that doesn’t make money. It’s a move about “being a man” and the cruelty is that you can be an ice-cold bastard who makes 970K a year, or you can be a good man, out of work (“Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. If you wanna work here, close!”). The whole movie seems to take place at night (though it doesn’t) as all the men scramble to close a deal or else lose their job. With an all-male cast, “Glengarry Glen Ross” boasts one of the strongest ensemble casts I’ve ever seen, with amazing performances all around from Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Al Pacino and an unforgetable Alec Baldwin. In particular, Jack Lemmon’s performance amazes me. Lemmon is one of the great comedic actors of all time, but what he proves here, as well in other films such as “The Apartment” is that he’s also capable of great sadness and tragedy and as Shelley Levene, Lemmon is aged, sad, desperate and pathetic. Mamet’s dialogue, as always, is like a gunfight as the characters lie, abuse, scream and sputter at each other.

Favorite Book Adaptation:

No Country For Old Men” –  (2007)

Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly MacDonald, Woody Harrelson, 

I’m not a stickler for reading the book before I see the movie, and in this case I’d seen the movie 3 or 4 times before I read the book. What shocked me is that as an adaptation, “No Country For Old Men” is as faithful to the source material as can be expected. This is as close to a word-for-word book adaptation that I’ve ever seen. What’s most surprising, is that it actually works! Perfectly placed direction by the Coen Brothers, always-stunning cinematography from Roger Deakins and amazing lead performances help recreate the tone of McCarthy’s book. In particular, Javier Bardem’s work as Anton Chigurh adds an element to the character that makes him an even more spooky and unpredictable presence than in the book.

“Least Favorite Book Adaptation:

Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas” – (2000)

Written by: Jeffry Price, based on the children’s book by Dr. Seuss

Directed by: Ron Howard

Starring: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor

With this movie, Ron Howard succeeded in turning Dr. Seuss’ delicately balanced, lovingly crafted Christmas staple into a garish nightmare. In general, the make-up is weird but in particular Jim Carrey’s bizarre Grinch costume is uncomfortable to look at. The lighting and colour palate is nauseating and Jim Carrey’s performance is a perfect example of just how dreadful he is if he’s not kept on a leash.

A Film That Is Your Guilty Pleasure:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show” –  (1975)

Written by: Jim Sharman, based on the musical by Richard O’Brien

Directed by: Jim Sharman

Starring: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Meat Loaf

Richard O’Brien wrote the “Rocky Horror Show” when he was something like 13 and it shows. It’s terrible. But it revels in its own juvenility and goddamn it’s a blast! I first saw “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” when I was in high school and it was so brazen in its sexuality I felt a little like I was breaking the rules by watching it. The ‘Time Warp’ is one of the most memorable songs from a movie ever and Time Curry is ridiculous as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Along with other bizarre greats such as John Waters’ terrible “Pink Flamingos” and David Lynch’s weirdo masterpiece “Eraserhead,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” exploded as a Midnight Movie. Anybody who has done it knows that there is nothing at all like seeing “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with the right audience.

A Film That Made Your Cry The Hardest:

The Elephant Man” –  (1980)

Written by: Christopher DeVore

Directed by: David Lynch

Starring: John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud

Not only do I rarely cry at a film, I am rarely moved to feel anything much at all. I have cried exactly twice at the movies, and the first, and most unexpected, was “The Elephant Man.” I have only seen it the one time, but I remember it like this: When Merrick is in public, Lynch recreates the tone of a Lon Cheney monster flick, so that in contrast, the scenes when he’s all alone are even more tender and affecting. John Hurt plays Merrick with such a sadness, he doesn’t attempt to fill the character with any sort of false sentimentality or courage. He’s a sad man who likes to read and wishes to share a his mind with those he meets. Anthony Hopkins stirs up the real tragedy of the film as he plays his doctor with enough warmth to make Merrick think he has a friend but with enough clinical distance that the audience knows Merrick is all alone.

The other movie is “Precious”

A Film With Your Favorite Actress:

Julia” – (2008)

Written by: Michael Collins

Directed by: Erick Zonca

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Saul Rubinek, Kate Del Castillo

I don’t really have a favorite actress, I tend to prefer people as they are in certain roles, rather than their career as a whole. Right now I’m really into Tilda Swinton’s work, so I’m going to talk about her.

Sometimes glowing and elegant, sometimes pale and creepy, Tilda Swinton is one of the most versatile and artful actresses working. She got her start in some of the cracked films of Derek Jarman and has worked with greats such as the Coen Brothers and Jim Jarmusch. She has contributed spoken-word material on a Patrick Wolf album and she is cooler than everybody.

In recent years Swinton has been doing some particularly engaging work and has appeared in three films that, in my opinion, are better than they otherwise could be simply because of her performances. Those are “Michael Clayton,” “I Am Love,” and “Julia.”

In “Julia” Swinton plays the title character, a drunk hired to kidnap her neighbour’s son. Julia wields her instability like a weapon she’s never fired, and her plan falls apart. The movie is brutal and Swinton’s performance is so full of sadness and desperation, it is more convincing than most performances I’ve ever seen.

A Film With Your Favorite Actor:

Brazil” –  (1985)

Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert DeNiro, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Katherine Helmond, Michael Palin, Jim Broadbent

This was by far the hardest choice yet. I’ve chosen films and written blurbs now for Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine, Alain Delon, David Bowie, Jimmy Stewart, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Cary Grant, Lawrence Olivier, Sean Connery, Bill Murray and Christian Bale. I damn near used the one I put together about George Clooney.

I’ve decided on Robert DeNiro. He’s so talented, he’s got such a fire and few are so dedicated to their roles. He learned to play the sax for “New York, New York,” he drove real cabs for “Taxi Driver,” he really filed his friggin teeth for “Cape Fear”!! A real human truth hides within DeNiro’s characters, they aren’t facades; he turns them into living, breathing human beings.

I chose Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” because DeNiro’s appearance is really something special. As the weird vigilante heating technician Harry Tuttle, DeNiro’s screen time in “Brazil” is absolutely minimal but he steals the show.

A Film You Wish You Could Live In:

Men In Black” –  (1997)

Written by: Ed Solomon, based on the comic by Lowell Cunningham

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Rip Torn, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio, Siobhan Fallon, 

It’s not so much that there is a special world created here, it’s basically just New York with a couple extra freaks. The thing is that I want to be a MIB. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to be a MIB. I love the gadgets in this movie, the Noisy Cricket gag used to slay me, I still think the Neuralyzer is the greatest idea for a gadget ever. I love the lines in “Men In Black” ; Will Smith’s smarmy “I make this look good!” was at one time the epitome of cool as far as I was concerned. The way Siobhan Fallon says “Edgar suit” in that weird “Eggar szoot” way has always stuck with me.

Most importantly I have always been enamoured with “Men In Black” because of just how damn cool those guys are! A pair of cheap knock-off Ray Bans came with my VHS copy of MIB and I used to wear those glasses all the time, running around with a toy gun pretending to be Agent P. I wanted to wear a suit, I wanted to meet an alien, I wanted to have a chat, witty and cold-as-ice, with that alien, I wanted to shoot that alien in the face!!

I still want to do all of those things. I would trade EVERYTHING to do them. My childhood love of MIB has never really gone away, it stands as the coolest non-existent profession of all time and one day I’ll come to embrace the reality that I might never get to be an agent for the MIB.

A Movie That Inspires You:

The Films of Werner Herzog

I am not one who could be said to be inspired by a film. I don’t really root for an underdog or or feel moved by the success of a character when they’ve fought for it. In fact, if anything I’m drawn more to characters who fail and suffer. In the typical sense, I cannot be said to be inspired by movies.

When I watch the movies of Werner Herzog, some of the bleakest, cruelest films of all time, I leave them feeling electrified and excited, not by their content but by their construction and attitude. I have chosen “Fitzcarraldo” as the face of this entry, because, well… look at that face, but this is really about Herzog’s entire body of work.

Herzog’s fictions are so bizarrely constructed and he’ll spend more time showing his audience jellyfish swimming or a dancing rooster than he will spend on plot development, because for him those images fly much closer to a truth than narrative ever will. Herzog’s documentaries are entirely unique as well, he finds his subjects between the cracks and obsesses about outcasts and loners. He’s widely known to include fictionalized or embellished elements in his non-fictional stories, and has even presented completely fictional stories as “real.”

In “Wild Blue Yonder” he finds a narrative in NASA test footage he found in a dumpster, and in “Heart of Glass” he hypnotized his entire cast. He made “Little Deiter Needs to Fly” in 1997 and then retold a fictionalized account of the same story in 2006 with “Rescue Dawn.” His ‘remake’ of “Bad Lieutenant” makes no attempts whatsoever to resemble the first film of that name. Most recently he has been given very very exclusive access to film in the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave and chose to do so in 3D.

Herzog is weird, intimidatingly smart, darkly funny, passionate, obsessed, volatile, gentle, and driven more than any other. Herzog has such a perceptive eye, that his largely improvised films end up feeling like agonizingly considered masterstrokes. He doesn’t give a goddamn about what anyone expects a film should be like, and it can be felt in every beat of every one of his films.

I don’t feel like I’ve done a great job of clarifying exactly why I consider Herzog’s films inspirational. It’s Herzog’s amazing spirit and the extraordinarily singular films he creates that absolutely electrify me.

The Film With Your Favorite Soundtrack:

O Brother, Where Art Thou?” –  (2000)

Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen, based on The Odyssey by Homer

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Chris Thomas King


“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is an incredible film. One of the Coen’s absolute finest, and the first I ever saw. A striking retelling of Homer’s “Odyssey” the Coen’s clearly had a lot of fun finding clever counterparts for the elements of that ancient tale. This movie made George Clooney one of my favorite actors of all time, and cemented the talents of John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson in my mind forever. As with any Coen bros. film, rhythms are found in the language of a place and time that elevate the everyday chatter of normal folks into the realm of poetry.

However, the real ruby in the dust of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is T-Bone Burnett’s soundtrack. The music in this film is perfect, all the way through. Music is a major part of Homer’s epic, and its one of the most recognizable features of Depression-era, American dustbowl culture. A mix of haunting traditional songs and Burnett’s endlessly fun “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow,” the music takes this movies from period piece and slots it firmly into the folk tradition.

The movie is fun, it’s smart, it’s beautiful. It’s bona fide!

The Film With The Most Beautiful Scenery:

Days of Heaven” –  (1978)

Written by: Terrence Malick

Directed by: Terrence Malick

Starring: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Linda Manz, Sam Shepard

I only saw “Days of Heaven” recently, so it’s been in my life for a much shorter time than most of the other movie’s on the list but even still it is inarguably the most gorgeously shot film I have ever seen. Set in 1916 it follows a man and his girlfriend and his sister as they run from the law. They end up working on a farm and the film mostly focuses on the relationships that develop between Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and a baby Sam Shepard. What’s most striking, for me, is the performance of Linda Manz as the young sister and narrator.

Malick and his cinematographer Nestor Alemendros apparently shot most of the film during the sunset, giving them only about 25 minutes a day to shoot their movie. That limitation paid off, as when I think of “Days of Heaven” my mind is filled with golden images and hypnotizing wheat fields. The film was scored by Ennio Morricone who is, as he always is, centrally responsible for crafting the tone of the film.

A Film You’re Embarrassed  That You Like:

Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom” –  (1975)

Written by: Pier Paolo Pasolini, based on the novel by the Marquis De Sade

Directed by: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Starring: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi

Well, “embarrassed” isn’t really the word, because I don’t feel shame about it. And “Like” is probably not the word either. But “Salò” is a movie that I hold in very high esteem, that if you bring up in polite company brings a chorus of contempt and disgust. Based on “The 120 Days of Sodom” by the Marquis de Sade, Pasolini’s most infamous masterpiece is brutal, unflinching, revolting, and damn-near impossible to sit through. I also think it’s one of the sharpest and most important films of the 20th Century. During the final days of Mussolini’s regime, four fascist officials kidnap 19 young people and bring them to a giant mansion. In the mansion, the officials, along with a number of prostitutes, begin to ritualistically torture the young men and women in increasingly debauched ways. I doubt this is the place to go into details, but suffice it to say your wildest imaginations couldn’t fulfill the levels of depravity these people achieve.

This is in no way a movie for everyone, and it’s not the kind of thing you watch with popcorn. I respect it, however, as a startling political statement. The danger of “Salò” is taking it at face value, or mistaking Pasolini’s observation as condonation. When taken as purely metaphorical, however, “Salò” is a blazing socio-sexual commentary that targets everything from fascism to fast food.

A Movie With Your Favorite Villain:

Cache” –  (2005)

Written by: Michael Haneke

Directed by: Michael Haneke

Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche 

An upper middle class Parisian family begins to receive videotapes, surveillance footage of their home. What at first seems to be a benign prank, rapidly becomes a nightmare.

It’s hard to discuss “Cache” without spoiling the tension. All I will say is that someone has to be behind the tapes, and what greater villain than an unseen villain?

A Film With Your Favorite Hero:

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” –  (1966)

Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone

Driected by: Sergio Leone

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef

“Leone cares not at all about the practical or the plausible, and builds his great film on the rubbish of Western movie cliches, using style to elevate dreck into art” – Roger Ebert

Sergio Leone’s unforgettable masterpiece trilogy starred Clint Eastwood as the astonishing Man With No Name. Stoic, sandblown, he’s just a dirty son of a bitch. With this character Eastwood stole the cowboy from John Wayne, and Leone stole the Western from America.

The trilogy as a whole is incredible, and this is its crown jewel. Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef with his face like a rat, star as the eponymous trio who are constantly hunting and out-witting each other. The Man With No Name is driven by his own personal sense of justice and will help whom ever will pay him the most. The movie is bizarre, with its almost cartoonish acting and the way that the Italian-speaking cast is overdubbed lends a particularly surreal element to the film. That Leone favours style and composition over continuity or logistics only amplifies the film’s dreamlike qualities. The reason the movie works so well is because Leone is able to abandon storytelling and rely on Ennio Morricone’s iconic soundtrack to do it for him. There are massive stretches in the movie in which nothing at all happens except the music, and it’s good enough that it’s all you need to follow along.

The First Movie You Remember Watching:

Jurassic Park” –  (1993)

Written by: Michael Crichton, based on his own novel

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Samuel L. Jackson

So here’s how I remember it: I’m 6 years old and I am allowed to watch “Jurassic Park” for 15 minutes every night before I go to bed until I’ve watched the whole movie. So every night I’d get my pajamas on and climb under the covers with Dad to watch those golden moments that brought dinosaurs back as a terrifying reality. Knowing my parents, the really terrifying bits were obliterated from my view by the fast forward button. I’m sure this is not totally accurate, but who cares? It’s how I’ve always remembered it.

This is the first time I saw “Jurassic Park” and as a kid I adored it. Like any 6-year-old boy I was interested in dinosaurs, and I loved playing with my JP toy dinosaurs with their little removable bits of flesh where I could pretend they were bitten.

I don’t remember watching the movie again until the Christmas of my first year of University, and for some reason I really didn’t like it. I don’t understand what happened, I love Spielberg, I love dinosaurs, I love nearly everyone in the cast, but something about the movie bored me. I’ve tried again a couple times and it’s always the same. The first half of the movie or so is electrifying, Spielberg creates his world like a true master and I am sucked right into the magic and wonder of such a place. I lose my grip around the halfway mark or so, perhaps a little later, but be certain that by the time raptors are opening doors, I’m itching to turn the movie off.

I know, I know! I’m wrong! I can admit that. It’s a great movie beloved by EVERYBODY. It’s made with great skill, with an immaculate mix of special effects and CGI. It’s got a great plot, it’s awesome. I want to love it again, and I will keep trying, but for now, tragically, I’m missing out on something very special.

The Last Movie You Watched:

Jackie Brown” –  (1997)

Written by: Quentin Tarantino, based on the novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert DeNiro

I can’t help but talk about “Jackie Brown” in superlatives. I think it’s probably Quentin Tarantino’s finest work. It contains some of his most well-written and memorable dialogue. His most sublime soundtrack. His most engaging and interesting plot. Pam Grier’s and Robert Forster’s most powerful performances. It contains the funniest and most endearing performance Robert DeNiro has possibly ever given, or at least in the wake of Goodfellas. It contains a post-Pulp Fiction Samuel L. Jackson very (very) vaguely doing something a bit different. Jackie Brown herself is, in my opinion, the most baadasssss of all Tarantino’s female leads. Jackie and Max are two of the most human characters ever written into a film that I’ve seen as two past-their-prime, lonely, desperate adults who have a chance to be something beautiful but just can’t right now. Tarantino’s direction is a stroke of genius as he moves deftly between daring camera angles and patient observation, waiting for his characters to work everything out in real time. I came late to “Jackie Brown” as it has become somewhat overshadowed by the massive reputations of “Resevoir Dogs” “Pulp Ficton” and “Kill Bill.” Those are all amazing films as well but when I eventually got around to “Jackie Brown” it became clear that Tarantino is cleverest when at first glance he’s not being clever at all.


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