Thursday, February 24, 2011

Film Fan #401-425

#401. 16 Blocks (2006)
The thing about Bruce Willis is that he’s still hugely underrated. The fact that he’s never been considered even a suggestion for an Academy Award is something of a joke, since he’s by far one of the most skilled practitioners of his chosen craft. It’s just, I guess, he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. He’s too versatile for his own good, and worse yet, he never really goes for a gimmick. He simply acts. He has lately transitioned back into action mode, but not in the way that Clint Eastwood is still doing the same shtick he did forty years ago. Bruce does it because it’s truly relevant, he ca still pull it off, and he’s got new facets to explore. Watching him in RED is completely different from watching him in Die Hard. Part of the reason is that he’s done things like 16 Blocks in the meantime. Blocks is a Richard Donner movie (Donner being another of the great unappreciated Hollywood talents) that pairs Willis with Mos Def (yet another such talent) on a redemption ticket, allowing Bruno to explore all the depth and pathos he’d touched on with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and others, but this time in a totally human context. He literally almost disappears, and this may be the first time he does that. Once the novelty of this hits parade wears off for him, I expect Bruce will return to this territory. And maybe he will even get some respect for it this time.

#402. The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Speaking of publicity trends, none bothered me more in recent years than the lovefest for Meryl Streep. It actually kicked off after the most interesting period of her career, and probably ended right around The Devil Wears Prada, and included Adaptation and this movie, in which she plays a version of Hilary Clinton, better than Hilary herself ever did (which might be one of the many reasons she didn’t and/or hasn’t officially become president). But the acting stories don’t end there. Denzel Washington, of course, is the lead actor. Third lead is Liev Schreiber, one of Hollywood’s best actors, who has never truly broken into popular relevance. He’s also another Bruce Willis, deserving of critical acclaim but never having sniffed an Oscar. He should have here, since it’s his best work to date on the big screen. What sunk this movie is that it is, of course, a remake of a popular classic. No matter that this version is infinitely better. Some people like to protect all the wrong reputations.

#403. The Pink Panther (2006)
A franchise now in its fifth decade and with Steve Martin its fifth actor in the lead role of Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers is justifiably the most famous, but there really were three others, including of all people Roberto Benigni). Of course, like most people, it’s easiest for me to associate Clouseau with Sellers, but over the course of two films (just the one would have done it, really) Martin has succeeded in warming his way into the role and my heart (awww). For most viewers, just as Sellers is Clouseau, Clouseau is just another role for Martin, but Steve really does make it his own, not just by way of pratfall, but in how he makes Clouseau’s increasingly tortured relationship with the English language (the character is technically French, even though it really doesn’t make any difference otherwise to know that) an artform.

#404. Casino Royale (2006)
The fact that I have elsewhere linked the Pink Panther franchise as the comic version of the James Bond films certainly makes this segue easier. This, of course, is not the Peter Sellers (how appropriate again!) version, but the Daniel Craig bow, which bounces with kinetic energy (a chase sequence in which Craig bounces down balconies is a particular highlight) and strong sense of character makes this a movie I can really care about. As you might otherwise tell, I’m not really a Bond enthusiast (though if there were presently room, Connery and Brosnan would be represented), so for me to care about this much-ballyhooed relaunch is pretty much because of Daniel Craig, who finally earned the acclaim he had long suggested earlier in the decade.

#405. Bruce Almighty (2003)
This is a bit of an odd one for me. On the one hand, Jim Carrey was clearly trying to recapture the spirit of his earlier successes, so some of the spirit of it seems artificial to me, a bit mechanical. On the other hand, it allows for a little more room around him. Steve Carrell, for instance, had his breakout performance here (which actually led to a spin-off sequel). Morgan Freeman lampoons his reputation, and has a rare comedic performance. Jennifer Aniston, while she mostly reacts to Carrey, has one of her biggest successes, so this can technically be counted as a Jennifer Aniston movie, too. Also, “It’s goood.” I like that one. I still try to use it, even though I can never get it right.

#406. Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Hey, so Will Ferrell piles on the irony train I’ve already got going this segment, as this is basically his Truman Show. It’s a shame that people haven’t generally reacted to it as such.

#407. Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Adorable bunnies, British humor, good stuff.

#408. Ali (2002)
This was Will Smith’s most blatant stab at an Oscar before Pursuit of Happyness (the latter still rings a little more true), and I still need to feel fully comfortable with it, so here it is. I think this is the general reaction to Ali.

#409. Babel (2006)
After Traffic, a backlash set in on disjointed ensemble movies, with separate narratives following an expansive cast, which is unfortunate, because more often than not, they really work, and there’s no reason to automatically assume otherwise. Anyone who assumes the best way to tell a story is to keep to a single narrative has probably never consistently read books. Anyway, here you can find Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett struggle, along with a bunch of other characters, with the interconnectedness of life, not just in an increasingly globalized world, but as life works in general.

#410. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Coming smack dab in the middle of an avalanche of Jude Law movies, the sheer novelty of Sky Captain was almost entirely lost. But sheer novelty is not the only thing this movie has going for it. Beyond Law, you’ve also got Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, among others, giving better classical Hollywood performances than classical Hollywood did (blasphemy!). This is basically pulp storytelling, incredibly stylized, so I guess the audience ultimately would always have been limited, but it’s still a shame that the audience really has to be even more limited by crack judgments.

#411. The Island (2005)
Ewan Macgregor and Scarlet Johansson (who I still contend to this day has never looked better than she does in this film) discover that they’re clones harvested to provide spare parts for the originals, and face to avoid the apparently inevitable. At one point Ewan runs into his alternate self, and that’s pretty awesome. An apparently easily overlooked but incredibly fun ride.

#412. Lions for Lambs (2007)
Mass audiences very quickly made it clear they didn’t much care for any movie that spun out of the Iraq War, and this movie was dismissed as far too preachy. It’s too bad, since it’s another of those movies where you could see that the politics of the filmmakers should have produced one message, but the finished product can satisfactorily be interpreted however you want. It’s compelling, and filled with great performances from old pros, including Meryl Streep (just to prove that I really don’t actually hate her, just in case you were still wondering, ‘Mamma Mia’ fans), Robert Redford, and yes, Tom Cruise. I would suggest that this one is minor genius, a classic just begging to be discovered.

#413. The Love Guru (2008)
Ha! So let’s go for controversy again! This has been dismissed as a dud pretty much from the start, the Mike Myers comeback attempt that fell flat, not even a trace of the old Wayne and/or Austin Powers flare apparent in this self-help put-on. In the era of self-help put-ons (that actually take themselves seriously), there’s no way this movie would ever have been received favorably anyway. But for those who do get it (I’m still searching for the other guy, but in the meantime, “Mariska Hargitay” to you, too), no explanation is necessary. Plus, I get to enjoy Jessica Alba while I’m at it. And “Le Coq,” Justin Timberlake.

#414. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Speaking of mind-blowing juxtapositions, did I really just suggest that The Love Guru is better Best Picture winner ‘No Country for Old Men’? Apostasy! Truth is, both were made, it seems to me, almost exclusively for me. No Country, for instance, was made as a vehicle for Josh Brolin. Doesn’t matter what else you’ve heard, how many Coen brothers you can name, or Javier Bardem deadpans you can imitate (“Call it, friendo”), or if this is the last film Tommy Lee Jones ever makes that anyone actually cares about. 2007 was pretty much the Year of Brolin in my book. He showed up in supporting roles with an alarming frequency usually only Morgan Freeman or Christopher Walken can attain. (2010 was the Awesome Reprise, by the way.) Yet overall, I felt as if the attitude of the movie was a little too loose. But that’s me. I did just list The Love Guru as one better.

#415. V for Vendetta (2006)
I’m no big Alan Moore fanatic. In fact, I find all the Alan Moore to be something of a joke at this point. I do admire Alan. I do respect him. But I think he takes himself a little too seriously. There’s no reason to automatically reject Hollywood adaptations of your work, and certainly not when they give Hugo Weaving an actual starring role (even if you never actually see his face), or Natalie Portman one of her occasional truly noteworthy roles. I also like that the Wachowski Bros. Were involved, but those are another few filmmakers that I seem to be in a minority of still admiring.

#416. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)
A surprisingly awesome confection. I admit that I like it more for Sienna Miller than Channing Tatum, and for a whole collection of similar reasons. I love that Joseph Gordon-Levitt really seemed to believe Cobra Commander was his Joker (it really isn’t, or at least, not as he performed it). I love Dennis Quaid being all stolid. I love Rachel Nichols, and have since Alias. I love Brendan Frasier’s random cameo. I can’t wait for the sequel.

#417. The Buddy Holly Story (1978)
Sorry, Gary Busey, but I really like this one because of Buddy Holly.

#418. Veronica Guerin (2003)
Another piece of evidence for the case that Joel Schumacher is a legitimate filmmaker, it’s the story of a real reporter who came to a bad end for the sake of her ideals. Cate Blanchett stars, and what can I say, I love Cate Blanchett. Colin Farrell has one of his miniscule roles, back when it was still assumed his presence was an audience magnet. Unfortunately, it really isn’t.

#419. El Mariachi (1992)
Otherwise known as Robert Rodriquez and the Original Version of Desperado.

#420. 12 Monkeys (1995)
Terry Gilliam, Brad Pitt, and Bruce Willis combine for a project that’s equally distinctive for each of them, and an experience I’m still trying to process. At the moment, I will suggest that it’s Pitt’s work that has most helped make it personally remarkable, but as I said, I’m still working on it.

#421. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
The last of the Mad Max trilogy is sort of like the exact equivalent of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, bringing the character into a more direct context after a couple of movies letting an icon just sort of flail around.

#422. Ask the Dust (2006)
Salma Hayek. Ahhh. A stunning beauty guaranteed a certain amount of Hollywood success. Then again, also guaranteed to be forgotten and replaced after a certain point. Well, she resurfaced after being granted a certain amount of critical praise in Frida in this movie, which pairs her with Colin Farrell, inhabiting one of his earliest characters. Sure, the fact that he’s Irish would be character enough, but to succeed in Hollywood, he had to embrace an American face for most of his performances, until someone realized he’s as interesting as a character actor as he is as a leading man. The challenge Farrell faces is successfully combining the two. I think he’s more than up to it. Here you can share with him the enthusiasm for the task.

#423. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Daniel Day-Lewis overwhelms this movie, one that I had been hotly anticipating, but grew a little weary of the more critics exaggerated its success. What’s worse than the actor’s mugging is the fact that it’s a virtual carbon copy of his performance from Gangs of New York, with a few modifications. Still, all told, it’s a pretty remarkable study of an dangerous character, almost a modern equivalent of Ahab, without a lot of the piercing insight Melville brought to the table in order to contextualize the obsession. “I drink your milkshake,” indeed!

#424. Quantum of Solace (2008)
One of the great quasi-sequels, in that viewing it in the context of Casino Royale would certainly help you, but watching it on its own gives Solace a whole new level of intrigue as well. I love Daniel Craig, of course, but you’ve got a couple of interesting “Bond girls,” too, including Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton, who went on to steal a couple of moving in 2010, plus Mathieu Almaric and Geoffrey Wright, plus some chick named Judi Dench, the only real link between two different eras of James Bond, and this is probably her best appearance to date.

#425. Burn After Reading (2008)
The Coens issued their own response to the critical acclaim of No Country for Old Men with this follow-up, a madcap study of all the idiots there really are in the world, with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, J.K. Simmons, John Malcovich (“fucking morons”), and others gamely playing along. If I weren’t scared of completely crossing the Hollywood Heresy Line I would probably claim this is better than No Country.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Film Fan #376-400

#376. Young Guns II (1990)
This is one of those unfortunate little movies that probably becomes very easy to overlook after a while, a sequel to what at the time must have seemed like a very nice gimmick movie, a young cast in a Western, at the end of the period where that sort of thing was really relevant. But Young Guns II is surprisingly awesome, and covers a lot of Billy the Kidd territory, playing almost like a trick on those who might have been expecting far more throwaway material.

#377. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
By most accounts an all-time classic, and seen that way, it surely has to be. But it’s this low on the list because without those filters, it really does begin to fall apart a little. The best things about it, the real timeless elements, are the songs and Dorothy’s companions, the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion, plus Toto!

#378. Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)
Working my way through the Marlon Brando catalog (something I’m still working on, because as his reputation decreased, it apparently became acceptable to let most of it basically get lost) helped me discover this unusual and compelling character study, which also has the virtue of standout cinematography.

#379. The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
Charlton Heston is probably one of the greatest Hollywood stars to have been almost completely forgotten after a brief period of brilliant work. Here he’s Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, which, as the title suggests, was no simple task.

#380. Cape Fear (1961)
Nothing against the Scorsese remake, but Robert Mitchum and more stellar cinematography help keep this one timeless.

#381. The Terminator (1984)
James Cameron couldn’t have made this as timeless without Schwarzenegger, but there’s already so much of what would make this franchise a movie classic that you can overlook how much it aged in a short period of time.

#382. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
This is a movie I watched in school. See? School is good for something. This is a pretty well nuanced look at the Pacific theatre of WWII, giving a lot of time to the Japanese side, well before the extraordinary Letters from Iwo Jima, which isn’t on this list, but probably will have to be at some point.

#383. The Fountainhead (1940)
I came to determine, after increased exposure to the career of Gary Cooper, that outside of High Noon, I may not be a very big Gary Cooper fan, but this is a definite standout, thanks to the big ideas of Ayn Rand.

#384. Rear Window (1954)
This is one of those classics that I watched during my childhood, and I haven’t watched it since, so clearly it’s a classic that has staying power, thanks to Jimmy Stewart, no doubt.

#385. Serpico (1973)
Al Pacino is almost another Charlton Heston. Sure, he’s still very much active and still regarded as one of the finest actors alive, but he really doesn’t get a lot of respect, and really hasn’t since about the first decade of his career. He’s one of those actors who the more he sticks around, the more familiar audiences become, and the more they assume they’ve seen everything already. That’s a shitty way to approach talent, because he consistently brings it. Anyway, ah, here’s an early classic.

#386. Vertigo (1958)
See: Rear Window. I think some dude named Hitchcock may also be involved.

#387. Mean Streets (1973)
Early Scorsese, and Robert De Niro’s first standout performance. He’s so radically different here than in anything else I’ve seen him in, it’s incredible. His career happens to be subject to the same rules as the ones I was explaining about Pacino, which doubly sucks. But there you go.

#388. Psycho (1960)
At the end of the movie, when they’re psychoanalyzing Anthony Perkins, I think that’s the really interesting part. What other movie has done that?

#389. The Thing Called Love (1993)
River Phoenix is one of those actors who famously died at a young age, but he had a leg up on the likes of James Dean, since he started acting far sooner. This is one of his final roles, as a hopeful country singer (Sandra Bullock plays another, and she’s predictably charming). He seems to have been born with an authenticity. The songs are all good, too.

#390. Talk Radio (1988)
Oliver Stone is the directing equivalent of the Pacino/De Niro Law, in that everyone seemed to love him early on, and then started going stone silent on his later work. Here’s actually one of his earlier movies, one of several that was completely overlooked. It’s probably one of his purest studies, too, just a shock radio host who talks himself into disaster. I’m guessing there’s a lot of Stone to analyze here.

#391. Primal Fear (1996)
Richard Gere bears keeping in mind with that pattern I’ve been talking about, but he may be an infamous member of another Hollywood blacklist, for personal matters that really ought to never have affected his career, but I guess that can’t really be helped. The real kicker is that this movie gets completely stolen from him by Edward Norton’s breakthrough performance, the one that set a recurring pattern of a whole different kind, of Norton trying to pull fast ones, either on the audience or the characters around him, sort of like the Shyamalan of actors.

#392. Scream (1996)
I’m not a big fan of the horror genre, finding most of it to be excessively repetitive, so an exceptional spoof, one that plays so well you don’t even need to view it as a spoof, is going to be right up my alley. The cast is so good that this year a fourth movie is going to be released, so that whole story can continue one more time. Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Liev Schreiber, those are the standouts for me, but there are plenty of others.

#393. Wild Bill (1995)
There were so many attempts during this particular period at reviving the Western it was almost a joke, so there was bound to be an overlooked gem or two. Here’s one of them, Jeff Bridges’ first attempt (he’s also in that True Grit ditty, in case you haven’t heard), in an incredibly focused study of the title character, which almost plays like a reverse of all the decisions made with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford about a decade later.

#394. Noises Off (1992)
You can take your pick with this one: enjoy the terrific cast, made up of a bunch of established names that span a number of eras; the raucous story, which follows actors staging a play while engaging in personal wars; or remember your experience enjoying it live. You really can’t lose.

#395. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
By the time audiences watched this in theaters, all the magic seemed to have drained from the series. Watching it back with a little perspective from the passage of time, you can see a lot more to like about it now, not the least being that it plays almost as a more direct sequel to the original film than even Superman II (which shot virtually simultaneously and was obviously intended in every way to; you can watch Richard Donner’s version to it do so more literally, which I highly recommend) or Superman Returns, Bryan Singer’s highly reverent latterday revision. Anyway, don’t take my word for it. This is one of those movies that it benefits to forget everything you think you know, and just give it another shot.

#396. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
After two incredibly focused classics that funneled the group’s energies into more or less traditional films, Monty Python came back with a big screen version of its TV show. I thought it was pretty good, anyway.

#397. Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971)
James Garner returns for another round of his irreverent take on Westerns. This one is totally stolen by the spectre of Swifty Morgan, the villain who Garner prepares for all movie long, like a riff on High Noon.

#398. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
The Man With No Name trilogy concludes with a truly epic showdown that finally does away with all those punks getting the jump on Clint Eastwood, and just lets the shooting begin.

#399. The Sword in the Stone (1963)
The Disney factory was cooling off when this was released, but decades later, I still got to enjoy it, perhaps igniting my passion for King Arthur.

#400. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Here’s another classic that I don’t easily ken to, but permeates enough of cinema lore that I can’t entirely ignore it, mostly because it’s easily Alec Guinness’ most famous movie outside of Star Wars. Gotta represent.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Film Fan #351-375

#351. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
This is a real strange one to list, because even Star Trek fans hate this one. But I don’t exactly ken to a lot of the standard Star Trek opinions (go back and see where I’ve ranked the others, since this is the last of the eleven films to date). I like this one, too. I think it’s deeply flawed, but there’s enough that’s absolutely right about it that I can overlook the imperfections. The idea of it is pure Star Trek, and that’s what I like most about it, and how most of that is disguised by the fact that, aside from The Motion Picture and about half of The Voyage Home, there’s really no comparison among the other original cast films, which strive so hard to be anything but what the original series was like, you’d guess the films and the show were only distant cousins. So yeah, when I watch this one, I’ve got a lot more on my mind than just what’s strictly on the screen. I think you ought to approach any movie like that. If you don’t, then all you’re doing is watching, and the movie itself has already failed. I figure if it can provoke more positive thoughts than negative ones, then you’ve got a success, no matter what.

#352. Excalibur (1981)
The above is kind of how this one is on the list, because on the whole, I think this is kind of a spectacular failure. It’s like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but without all of the jokes, like watching Graham Chapman clomp around the whole film, all self-serious, without any real conviction anywhere (and there’s the real joke of that film, by the way; this is not to take away from the performance of the late Chapman, but if you were to isolate that performance, I don’t think much of an argument could be made against that view). I love, however, the fact that this is an epic Hollywood version of the King Arthur myth, because even in 2011, it’s the only real Hollywood version of that myth to speak of, and I guess that speaks about King Arthur’s relative importance in today’s culture. (Hell, even the movie King Arthur, which attempted to strip away most of that myth, really didn’t do much of an impact.) I know there’s been a lot of work done on television in recent years, with a lot of it centering around Merlin, but that’s not really the same thing. Here you can see the potential, in the young careers that can be glimpsed: Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne. Maybe this entry is really a holding place for the theoretical movie that absolutely gets it right, brings together a truly all-star cast, at the height of its powers, and doing this thing right. Because Excalibur is only about halfway there.

#353. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
I don’t think the actual film itself is as good as the combined talents of Eastwood, Leone, and Morricone, or at least their reputations (or perhaps it’s simply that it was Leone’s genius to combine Eastwood and Morricone), but as far as Westerns go, this is an undeniable touchstone.

#354. Out to Sea (1997)
Most of the fun here is to see another variation of the classic and timeless pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathieu, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I don’t treasure this film for pretty much the same reason I treasure Conspiracy Theory: it gives a Star Trek actor a rare opportunity to shine outside of a spacesuit. Here it’s Brent Spiner, as a tyrannical cruise director. If Spiner had come up from, say, Saturday Night Live, this would have been the first of many comic gems.

#355. Batman Returns (1992)
It’s always funny to hear the same reiterations that Schumacher ruined the Batman films, because aside from Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman (which in hindsight, while undeniably a highlight of Pfeiffer’s career and having a certain sensual appeal…really isn’t all that special; you’ve seen Helena Bonham Carter recreate exactly the same performance many times since), nobody was really all that excited about Tim Burton’s second shot. But that’s the funny thing, because this is the one he truly makes a Tim Burton movie, with the spotlight squarely on Danny DeVito’s Penguin, with a more complete arc than the Joker got in the first one, complete with a full origin, motivation, and appropriate fall. Christopher Walken makes good work of his chance at the position of third villain. Batman himself exists even more as a visual afterthought, which is why I myself haven’t really considered this movie too much over the years. When I see “Batman” in the title, I expect to see, well, Batman. But I think Batman Returns is better than most people think, and maybe it’s reputation will one day grow.

#356. Mars Attacks! (1996)
Speaking of Tim Burton, this is probably his best movie, and it’s only ranked this low because I’m only beginning to grow in my appreciation of it, so I didn’t want to exaggerate. Really, the cast itself is beyond phenomenal, but the Martians themselves steal the show. It’s like a parody of Independence Day, released only a few months later. I don’t even know how that’s possible. And it’s not obvious, like the rash of parody movies that have been released over the past decade. It’s sublime. It’s brilliant. It’s not like any other Tim Burton movie you’ve ever seen. It’s all so deliriously entertaining, it’s got none of the pastiche you normally expect from him. It’s pure, it’s completely unfiltered. It really is his best film. I expect in some later version of this list, it’ll be ranked much higher.

#357. The Million Dollar Hotel (2000)
I sought out this movie because Bono of U2 had a considerable part in getting it made, and there’s a lot of him and a little of his band on the soundtrack, but really, among a number of other things, this may also be the one movie that truly does justice to the unique talent of Jeremy Davies, who would one day create one of the most indelible later characters on Lost.

#358. Out of Sight (1998)
Here’s the irony of this movie. Yeah, and so while George Clooney managed to trick critics at this point in his career to actually respecting him, here’s Jennifer Lopez, who at this point in her own career was actually respected. She was respected so much that a TV show was eventually created for the character she played in this movie. It sucks, because once she decided to have a music career, everyone completely overlooked the fact that she really does have talent. It’s like Clooney made some wicked deal over this movie, and the reward was that he would eventually get respect, and that Lopez wouldn’t. George Clooney, you are an evil, evil man.

#359. The Quiet American (2002)
I love careers where an older actor only really seems to have succeeded relatively late in life. On the one hand, it might sound a little depressing (but you do have to keep in mind that as far as being movie stars go, it’s not as if they would truly have been suffering beforehand, and to have wild success later, that’s almost better, if you’re not embittered by that point, but I digress…). On the other, you’ve got someone like Michael Caine. This is something like a latterday noir thriller, but the real treat is simply enjoying Caine, the very definition of a pro, enjoying a rare headliner.

#360. Highlander 2 (1991)
The secret here is that this is probably the best overall Highlander experience. It sounds a little stupid to say something like that, since this is basically the Star Trek V of that franchise, but there’s enough evidence, and versions of this movie, for the truly discerning to reach that conclusion for themselves.

#361. Romancing the Stone (1984)
Michael Douglas is a movie star at any age, and this is basically his Indiana Jones, as a romantic figure. The movie may also be enjoyed for a classic score.

#362. Chaplin (1992)
Movies made out of real life are a tough genre; you never know if the real impact is based on your thoughts of the real events or the movie itself (I’m looking at you, manipulative Social Network). And here’s the challenge with this one, do you enjoy Robert Downey, Jr.’s best performance (rather than his more recent unhinged deadpan routine), or are you simply fascinated by the life of Charlie Chaplin?

#363. Henry V (1989)
I skip over Hamlet (there are other versions on this list, that I have more recent experience with) to reach Kenneth Branagh’s other notable Shakespeare adaptation, the one he handles with a little less finesse than Much Ado About Nothing, where the Shakespeare dominates a little more, risking more alienation with modern audiences. But it’s a challenge worth taking, to get over that hump.

#364. Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen scores his biggest triumph by making everyone fall in love with Diane Keaton.

#365. Cop Out (2010)
Kevin Smith is the reverse Quentin Tarantino. Both of these guys were rental store clerks who broke into filmmaking based on the strength of their passion for the things they used to immerse themselves in. The difference between them is that Tarantino exhibited real filmmaking talent in his own right. Smith, not so much. The irony of this movie is that it’s Smith’s most purely Hollywood production, which he found the courage to eventually denounce, because it was only a directing gig, and he had gotten tired of not being loved by Hollywood. Tracy Morgan is always better than most people admit, and so is Bruce Willis, but the real treat of this movie is Seann William Scott, bouncing all around, even when no one is paying attention, and delivering a knockout performance.

#366. The Pink Panther (1964)
The original Inspector Clouseau movie, though in some respects you’d hardly know it. Almost directly a straight parody of the then-incipient Bond films, with Peter Sellers attempting to solve the mystery of the Pink Panther (a diamond), which has gone missing. Excellent Henry Mancini score.

#367. Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969)
James Garner undercutting the Western genre, which probably helped to bring it to a popular close.

#368. Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)
Inexplicably (or maybe some kind of punishment and/or backlash), Marlon Brando delivers a towering performance in a well-known story, and nobody really cares.

#369. The Ten Commandments (1956)
Became a holiday TV staple, so clearly it’s memorable in some regard. There are so few actual Hollywood standards, ones that anyone can just watch without really thinking about it, you’ve got to support them. The true immortality of Cecil B. DeMille.

#370. The Untouchables (1987)
You’ve got Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and yes, Robert De Niro (as Al Capone!). You’ve got a winner.

#371. Amadeus (1984)
I became obsessed with the idea of Mozart because of this movie. It’s a real shame that F. Murray Abraham hasn’t really been able to parlay a career out of it.

#372. The Little Mermaid (1989)
Disney got back into the game with this one, realizing that the modern era, at least to that point, depended as much on the music as anything.

#373. High Anxiety (1977)
Mel Brooks parodies Hitchcock and who knows how much else of what was then dominating culture at the time. Still deserves to be popularly revisited.

#374. The Lion King (1994)
Disney’s last big hit was the first one the studio turned to in order to transform that musical genre into an effort to revive some floundering pop star’s career. Here was the perfect bridging of that ambition, with Elton John.

#375. THX 1138 (1971)
Star Wars has come to so thoroughly dominate the legacy of George Lucas that it’s become easy to believe it’s all he’s capable of delivering. I will have to revisit American Graffiti in another version of this list, but for now let’s go back to the beginning, THX 1138, which anticipated The Matrix, The Island (obviously), and hard science fiction on the big screen, with Robert Duvall, of all actors, portraying a man trying to break free from the system, represented by of the most purely visual experiences ever set to film. This is basically impressionist filmmaking. This is George Lucas, master filmmaker.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Film Fan #326-350

#326. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Combine a timeless novel with an actor’s most iconic performance (that would be Gregory Peck, in case you were wondering), and you can’t help but have some kind of classic on your hands.

#327. Rashomon (1951)
I don’t have a ton of experience with Akira Kurosawa, but I acted in a stage version of this one, so I had ample enough reason to catch it.

#328. The Trial (1962)
Hey, so combine a timeless novel and one of the greatest directors ever (that would be Orson Welles), and you can’t help but have some kind of classic on your hands.

#329. Waterworld (1995)
Here’s one that’s a little trickier to defend, because there’s not a lot of reputation to fall back on. Kevin Costner was at the tail-end of the peak of his career, and this one pretty much, well, sunk that phase but good, one epic too many, it seemed. I’ve always found it to be a rollicking adventure that just happens to be set in a post-apocalypse of a world that’s, er, covered by water. Costner makes a good fit as a reluctant (one might even say extremely reluctant) hero who is otherwise up for the task, even if he doesn’t realize it. If John Wayne had done it, chances are good that its reputation would be a lot better.

#330. Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987)
Not a lot of foreign language films here, mostly because, aside from college, I haven’t had a ton of opportunities to fall into world cinema. This is one I watched in my dreaded French classes, and not during a general campus screening, but it stands out all the same, a sad, sad story about the effects of war on students and the teacher dragged away from them because of it.

#331. Hook (1991)
Another movie that suffers from a bad reputation is one of Spielberg’s rare popular misfires. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for Peter Pan, but I’ve always loved it. Robin Williams is an inspired and absolutely brilliant choice for the grown-up Pan, while Dustin Hoffman makes Captain Hook his own.

#332. Dances with Wolves (1990)
Oh, and so the highpoint of Kevin Costner’s career? That would be this one, which he directed himself. Mary McDonnell, who would later be one of the standouts in Independence Day and make her biggest career mark in the Battlestar Galactica reboot, makes her first big performance here, as Costner’s strange counterpart.

#333. Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Kenneth Branagh became the most recent actor to completely seize the Shakespeare canon for his own, and this is probably the highlight of his efforts, a light and breezy, star-studded romantic comedy that feels absolutely contemporary, even though it’s in full period, and verse.

#334. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The first Indiana Jones isn’t quite like the first Star Wars, but it might as well be, launching a franchise that’s four films strong and with plenty of spin-offs to its credit, the darling of the modern adventure genre, and all based on an homage to how it was all done originally. Not too shabby. And with all due respect to Han Solo, but this is really how Harrison Ford’s career took flight.

#335. Higher Learning (1995)
Thanks to Spike Lee and other filmmakers, there was a flood of racial tension genres around this time, and this college campus-set version is my favorite, with a number of unexpected stars (Ice Cube? and that’s exactly how his acting career began) that add to its impact.

#336. Conspiracy Theory (1997)
Mel Gibson is super paranoid, and that’s fun to watch, because it’s like a completely pure version of every performance he’s ever done, and Julia Roberts dials down her charm to fit in, which she tends to do in all the films audiences don’t love. But what really stands out for this particular film fan is Patrick Stewart’s only truly noteworthy non-genre Hollywood role, as the villain no less.

#337. All the Pretty Horses (2000)
I kind of figured that after all the Cormac McCarthy love generated by The Road (at least in book form) and No Country for Old Men, this one might have been rediscovered. Alas, was not to be. Billy Bob Thornton has a director’s version that I figure is probably worth being seen publicly, but the time isn’t here yet.

#338. Trainspotting (1996)
Known as much for its shocking imagery as for making Ewan McGregor’s career, this one’s probably still waiting to be viewed as its generation’s A Clockwork Orange.

#339. Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
In which Kevin Cos…Oh, right, this is the Mel Brooks spoof, featuring Cary Elwes, who hardly ever gets the respect he’s earned, probably because he’s another Errol Flynn in a definitely post-Errol Flynn world (both because Flynn is, well, dead, and audiences don’t go for that kind of performance anymore, no matter if it’s Elwes, Antonio Banderas, or Jude Law). And hey! Patrick Stewart has an amusing cameo, mocking the one Sean Connery has in that other one.

#340. Happy Gilmore (1996)
Adam Sandler actually became a movie star several films later, but this one’s still my favorite, in which he completely loses himself into the working reality of the film, rather than attempting to make a character, and a film around it, which he’s basically done in every other film for which audiences will remember him.

#341. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Now, obviously, the Shrek films have done a good job parodying this one, but there was obviously something really worth parodying in the first place. Probably, pound for pound, the most pure Disney classic of that period.

#342. Ghostbusters (1984)
Bill Murray completely steals this one, when you think about it. I probably watched the cartoon series first, but in acquainting myself and then years later reacquainting myself with the source material, it’s so obvious. Bill Murray steals this one.

#343. Rattle & Hum (1988)
The only reason U2 never became as huge as the Beatles is because of this documentary concert film, which put the emphasis on the music, rather than a bunch of silly personalities and scenarios that sold a brand more than a band. And this I’m saying as a huge fan of the Beatles. I just also happen to love U2. When you’ve got a band willing and capable of exploring expansive social material, then I figure you might as well enjoy the resulting music.

#344. History of the World, Part 1 (1981)
Mel Brooks had a knack for being underappreciated before he brought his popular career full circle with the Producers revival as a Broadway musical. This was probably the first real victim of that trend, a collage of material that’s like an American Monty Python film, with Gregory Hines helping to lead the way through the nonsense. The fake trailer for the fake sequel only makes everything better.

#345. The Formula (1980)
George C. Scott. Now that’s a movie star. He stole Dr. Strangelove from Peter Sellers, and while I haven’t actually seen it to date probably made WWII seem awesome in Patton. He’s magnetic here, too, and eventually plays an extended scene with Marlon Brando, who takes the moment for another customary commentary on the state of humanity.

#346. The Sound of Music (1965)
Christopher Plummer, how is this the only movie I’m aware of from your younger years? I just don’t understand it. Well, a career in your advanced years is pretty awesome, too.

#347. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
This is one of those classic Hollywood epics that everyone is supposed to love, and while it stars Peter O’Toole, this is about as high as I can muster at the moment, as far as personal appreciation and this list goes.

#348. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The other sci-fi blockbuster from 1977 comes from Spielberg, and probably more than Jaws, probably today marks the start of his legendary career. At any rate, I finally saw it for the first time last year. Another movie that makes me wonder why it’s so hard for some people to love Richard Dreyfuss.

#349. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
John Cusack, Minnie Driver, classic soundtrack. But as Bill Murray stole Ghostbusters, Dan Ackroyd seems to have at this point finally decided to assert his cinematic presence. With guns.

#350. Donnie Brasco (1997)
The movie that helped critics love Johnny Depp again is also probably Al Pacino’s last genuinely acclaimed performance, and a mobsters classic.
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