Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest: #670 Thru #679

Considering I am just a couple of films away from #700, I am a bit behind on writing about the films I am seeing.  So in a frantic bid to catch-up, here is a look at the (almost) latest ten films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These ten films were seen between Oct. 19 and Nov. 11.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.  To keep the catching-up going, the next batch of ten will be coming soon.

#670 - They Died With Their Boots On (1941)
(#926 on TSPDT)  The great Tasmanian Devil swashbuckler Errol Flynn and the drop dead gorgeous damsel-not-so-in-distress Olivia de Havilland made eight films together - all of them under the Warner Brothers banner.  The first seven were directed by Michael Curtiz.  This one, the duo's final film together, was directed by Raoul Walsh.  A rabidly inaccurate story of General George Armstrong Custer, played by the dashing Flynn of course, They Died With Their Boots On is still a solid typical adventure story of the times.  The chemistry between Flynn and de Havilland is as good here as it is in any of the better films they did together (Captain Blood, Dodge City, The Adventures of Robin Hood) and it is fun to see them together onscreen - even if they never really got along off screen.  Walsh was always a fun, though somewhat uneven director (the curse of working in the studio system), and this may not be him at his best (that would be his gangster films with Bogie in the 1930's) but it is indeed quite fun.

#671 - Lolita (1962)
(#530 on TSPDT) I am finally coming close to being a Kubrick completist (just Spartacus and his debut Fear and Desire are left on the unseen pile) and I am beginning to think that the man never made a bad movie, not even a mediocre or average one.  Lolita, based on Nabokov of course, is no exception to that rule.  Pure Kubrick, with its sharpened image, glaring medium shots, blatant audacity and bravura performances, Lolita is nothing shy of a masterpiece of subversive moviemaking.  Granted, the subject matter - a sexually proactive twelve year old (Sue Lyon) and the older man she seduces (James Mason) - had to be cooled down for Hollywood (the book itself was quite controversial at the time considering how Lo is shown not as a victim, at least not wholly, but as an aggressive pursuer of Humbert Humbert) and Lyon, fifteen at the time, portrayed the character as a high schooler.  But even with these artistic limitations, Kubrick hands us a masterstroke of sexual innuendo.  All this and Peter Sellers, as the tenacious diddler Claire Quilty, handing in the most daring and unique performance of his already daring and unique career.

#672 - Halloween (1978)
(#291 on TSPDT)  There was a time, back in the late 1970's and early 1980's, when John Carpenter was a master genre filmmaker.  The director has lost much of that in more recent days (though his latest, The Ward, is edging toward a return to form) but once upon a time, this fervent cinephile was on top of his game - and Halloween was the top of that top.  Many today would probably look at Carpenter's horror classic (I can call a film just 33 years old a classic, right?) and think it to be full of cliche's and slasher film typicalities - but they would be wrong, dead wrong.  Seriously though, this surprisingly low key, rather bloodless horror movie (as opposed to the bloodletting of Rob Zombie's ugly remake), was the one that started the whole damned genre in the first place.  Sure, perhaps Black Christmas and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came first, but it was Halloween that gave the genre all its tricks and tropes.  It of course helps that Carpenter brought such a vast love and knowledge of cinema and its history to his film.  To read more of my thoughts on the film, (or ramblings - you decide) please read "Some Good Old-Fashioned Halloween Fun w/ Michael Myers, John Carpenter and the Scream  Queen Jamie Lee Curtis."

#673 - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
(#220 on TSPDT)  Gotta admit it - not a fan of this movie.  How it is so high on this list I do not know.  It is even above its much superior genre-mate Halloween.  A travesty if you ask me.  Now the film is not horrible (there are several films on this list that are worse - see the final entry in this post for one example) but it certainly, to speak in the movie's redneck vernacular, ain't no winner either.  Now I can forgive the bad acting, for the low budget almost necessitates such a thing, but really, this film is nothing more than 68 minutes of idiot kids riding around in a van and 14 minutes of a guy wearing a skin mask chasing down and killing these same said idiot kids.  Perhaps my timetable is a bit off (but not by much) but seriously, this film has no heart, no soul, no anything.  It is purely just a sick and twisted precursor to the torture porn of today.  I will give it one thing though - the opening sequence and the climactic chase are both great.  Sadly nothing in between ever matches the intensity of either.

#674 - The Innocents (1961)
(#428 on TSPDT)  Since it was the end of October, I thought I would catch up on all those as-of-yet-unseen horror movies on the list.  The two previous entries can attest to thus (as can a few of those on the last collection of ten) and this one, watched on Halloween night, is yet another.  A psychological thriller playing out like a classic ghost story, Jack Clayton's modern retelling of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw is a moody, restless horror movie.  Starring the fabulous Deborah Kerr as the new governess to a pair of young children at a stately and downright scary country estate, The Innocents has a creeping dread that builds and builds and builds until the final climactic powerhouse of an ending.  Martin Scorsese calls this film one of the eleven scariest movies ever.

#675 - A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958)
(#985 on TSPDT)  I came to Douglas Sirk rather late in life.  I actually just saw my first Sirk earlier this year.  This is now my fourth (my fifth and sixth to come within the next few weeks, he said with insider knowledge as he writes these words a bit on the late side).  It may not be one of Sirk's more famous works of melodrama, but it still beautifully reeks of that Sirkian flair that gives his fifties work such style and panache.  Some say that the work of Sirk is nothing more than tear-jerker drivel, and I suppose to a point, that may be true, but this kind of criticism itself is nothing more than a naive look at a very complicated, and quite subversive filmmaker.  To read more on this film, check out my piece (elsewhere on this very site), entitled, "The Tragedy or War Meets the Tragedy of Love in Douglas Sirk's Melodramatic War Film, A Time to Love and a Time to Die."

#676 - New York, New York (1977)
(#884 on TSPDT)  Scorsese.  De Niro.  Liza.  The music of Kander and Ebb.  In the midst of a string of gritty, urban monster movies (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, King of Comedy), Martin Scorsese handed us this classically styled musical.  Meant to show the great director's love of classic Hollywood cinema, Marty's film (I can call you Marty, right?) is a tribute both to the tradition of the musical genre and to the director's beloved New York itself.  Lavish and bold, with sets designed to have an artificial look to them (another way of sending tribute to old Hollywood), Scorsese's foray away from the ultra-realism of Taxi Driver, was a box office failure.  Certainly not your typical Scorsese picture (the same can be said of the auteur's latest Hugo), the blatant undying love of Hollywood and cinema itself (again, like Hugo), a nostalgic look back at the films that influenced Scorsese as a child growing up in  makes this one of the director's most personal projects.  As for me - I quite enjoyed the whole thing.  I would place this much higher on the list - perhaps in the top 300 or 350 even.  A fun and quite gorgeous piece of moviemaking.  My fifth favourite Scorsese.

#677 - Shoeshine (1946)
(#782 on TSPDT) Though I tend to gravitate toward the more colourful facets of cinema (Powell/Pressburger, Scorsese, the Sirkian melodramas of the 1950's, later Visconti, Kubrick) I will always have a soft spot for the Italian Neorealists.  This particular one, by Vittorio De Sica, (his Bicycle Thieves graces my own personal top twenty) has moments of pure cinematic joy. - both in beauty and in sorrow.  Based around the tragic lives of children (a strong and popular neorealist theme), Shoeshine is a powerful tale of juvenile prison life in the ugly world that was post WWII Italy.   I would personally put this film quite a bit higher than the list does.  Perhaps even in the top 200.  A beautifully hungry looking film, with haunting (sorry for such a cliche'd term, but it is quite accurate) and unforgettable images.  That is what movies are supposed to be, right?

#678 - Heaven Can Wait (1943)
(# on TSPDT)  No, not the 1978 Warren Beatty film.  That film is actually a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which in turn was an adaptation of the play Heaven Can Wait - also not related to this film, which is based on a play called Birthday. Anyway, I digress.  I have been on a bit of a Gene Tierney kick recently, so I figured I should take the opportunity to watch this Ernst Lubitsch directed work - one of five Tierney's on the list (Tobacco Road still to come).  Considering the typical (well, typical for Lubitsch) kind of films the director made in the pre-code era - sexually charged, sophisticated comedies that showed a gleeful disdain for the staid real world around them; films like Trouble in Paradise, One Hour With You and Design for Living - Lubitsch's later works seem quite staid themselves.  Still showing some of that famed "Lubitsch Touch" that helped make him the toast of the pre-code town in later films like Ninotchka and To Be Or Not To Be, one cannot help but think how much better a film like Heaven Can Wait would have been with the ribald sophistication of the pre-code mentality.

#679 - The Gleaners & I (2000)
(#829 on TSPDT)  Ugh!  God I hated this movie.  It is nothing more than a bunch of people picking wheat and stealing potatoes and digging through garbage, with occasional shots of director Agnes Varda doing something ridiculous and/or pretentious.   "Here I am holding a bundle of wheat.  Here I am holding my camera.  Here I am being a pretentious buffoon."  That last statement may be made-up, but sadly enough the first two are actual quotes from Varda.  Seriously, how ridiculous and boring can a film be?  Especially considering how much I enjoyed some of the director's earlier works.  Again, ugh!

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