Thursday, November 30, 2017

Let's Do It Again: My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #20 - #11

Finally moving into the top 20 here with my next batch of 10 favorites, a mix of horror, comedy, silent, epic, erotic and bizzare, cool, iconic and even a dash of superhero mixed in. Plus this list includes some back to back Oscar Isaac. Every list could use more Oscar Isaac.

20. Halloween

The original masterpiece that jump started a franchise, and the finest straight up horror film ever made, John Carpenter's Halloween is brilliantly paced and sublimely creepy and I have always admired the way the first half of the film utilizes daylight rather than Myers constantly lurking in the shadows, but because of the fact that he can get away with stalking the streets in a mask on Halloween, it never seems silly. Because of this, I have been terrified of the idea that a real maniac could roam nearby in costume on October 31st and no one would question it. I thank Mr. Carpenter for that fear, because it makes his film that much more effective.

19. The Passion of Joan of Arc

By the time I watched The Passion of Joan of Arc, a film by the legendary Carl Theodor Dreyer, I had already seen and loved plenty of silent cinema like the listed only two films ago Metropolis, some of the Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd greats, but this masterwork was the first to truly take my breath away. The lead performance from Maria Falconetti is one of the most powerful and perfect ever delivered, and when I watch it I think about the fact that she passed away over 60 years ago now and yet here I am, moved to tears by her own in 2017. What an incredible gift we received that people work so hard to preserve art so future generations can appreciate it.

18. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Before you think to yourself, this must mean that Return of the King is even higher on the list because this guy listed The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, let me just get it out of the way that The Two Towers is in my opinion easily the finest of the trilogy, and that Return of the King is actually the most flawed. Yes I said it.

The Two Towers has a flow to it that feels almost poetic, like every beat is in the perfect place and every musical note is in the perfect pitch and every line of dialogue is perfectly said, and here's the real kicker for me: this movie actually ends exactly when it should, unlike the third film of the trilogy. Even as much as I love Fellowship, it starts to wear out its welcome ever so slightly by the time it wraps up, but not The Two Towers. When this beauty ends, I want more.

17. The Dark Knight

You know how every single time a new superhero film comes out that gets outstanding reviews, a new batch of articles appear online questioning whether it will be the first of the sub-genre to receive a Best Picture nomination from the Academy? I love film awards and I follow them closely, but I don't get upset about any of them because frankly, who cares, love what you love regardless of who does or does not win a trophy...but The Dark Knight should have already been the first superhero picture to be nominated for that top award. Approaching the 10 year anniversary of this caped crime caper and still nothing comes close to topping it.

16. Take Shelter

A film I have watched maybe 4 or 5 times and I reflect upon each viewing with amazement over how perfectly and delicately handled the subject matter of mental illness is handling but the outstanding cinematic storyteller Jeff Nichols. He has made other great films but Take Shelter is his masterpiece, featuring supremely powerful and important performances from Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain.

15. Inside Llewyn Davis

Up to number 15 on the list and this isn't even my favorite Coen brothers film, so yeah, I'm kinda a fan of their work. Inside Llewyn Davis is a movie that continues to age like a fine wine, my love for it growing with each passing year and each subsequent rewatch. When I first watched it four years ago I don't think I even ranked it in my top 10 films of that year, and now I am putting it all the way up to 15th ever because there is so much to chew on beneath the surface and so much nuance to catch by watching it again.

14. Drive

I am not exaggerating when I say I have watched Drive ten or more times in the six years since the film was released, and yet my first reaction when I found the image above from the film was, man, I need to watch Drive again. A stylistic neo-noir crime masterpiece from director Nicolas Winding Refn, this baby cuts into your life in a lean 95 minutes and between the music, the visuals (and I include looking at Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in perfect lighting when I say visuals), the style and the sleek, perfect direction from Refn, Drive is stunning. 

13. Eyes Wide Shut

I'm not usually much of a contrarian. I'm the guy who usually loves the films that dominate at the Oscars (important to note the word usually, because this is not always the case), but when it comes to Stanley Kubrick, my favorite of his films is many peoples least favorite. The final film of a legendary career is chalked up by many to be his biggest mistake, but man I love every second of this bizarre, beautiful beast of a picture, from the performances to the unnerving imagery and musical score. There is no moment of Eyes Wide Shut that takes a wrong turn for me.

12. The Godfather

I know exactly what you are thinking right now. You are thinking, Scott, please explain this film to me because I have never heard of it.

Kidding, of course.

No, what you are probably thinking is, of course The Godfather is ranked highly on a best of list, how typical. That's because it is iconic and easily one of the greatest achievements the medium has ever encountered. Nothing else needs to be said.

11. Gravity you hear that? Listen really closely. Do you hear it?

It's the sound of me sitting in the theater crying from four years ago. You can still hear it echoing off the depths of the universe because I couldn't control myself. 

Gravity was released at a time when my daughter had just turned 6 and this Alfonso Cuaron metaphor for overwhelming, incomprehensible grief set in space just punched me in the god damn gut. Something about it all clicked the first time through and I simply couldn't stop crying, and I loved every single second of it. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Justice League Review

I was driving home from the theater, daughter in the back seat behind me, and we discussed what we thought of the new film Justice League. We both agreed that it was a fun, enjoyable time at the movies, myself applauding the fact that there was surprisingly no bloat whatsoever on it (although maybe it actually could have used some, but I will get to that later), as this superhero team up picture runs less than 2 hours and moves briskly with plenty of very entertaining scenes. The kid continues to love Wonder Woman, and who can blame her, although I will take Gal Gadot teaming up with director Patty Jenkins over her fighting alongside Batman and Superman any day, and she thought The Flash was really funny.

After our mini discussion ended, I thought about it for a second and I looked in the rear view mirror and asked, "Do you remember a single thing the bad guy does or says the entire movie?".

She couldn't. Neither could I.

That villain is Steppenwolf and frankly, he's terrible. The sub-genre is riddled with examples of completely uninteresting bad guys, so it isn't solely a DC issue, but if they want to tell compelling stories they are going to need some new actually interesting blood on that side of the fight going forward. Man of Steel cast Michael Shannon as General Zod, and I love Michael Shannon a whole hell of a lot so I assumed that would be assume, but it really wasn't. He was fine, certainly not the worst of the bunch, but I can't fathom anyone walking out of a Man of Steel screening saying "Zod was so awesome!". Batman v Superman went the best direction with Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in concept at least, playing him as a young ego-maniacal billionaire who's lost his damn mind was a cool idea, but I didn't care for the performance as I found him to be too much, too often. Suicide Squad is entirely made up of bad guys and it is an atrocious film, so that is a good example of bad villains. Wonder Woman is a great film with so-so bad guys, sort of stock World War I evil characters and one super villain in disguise, but the rest of the movie is so beautifully handled that I completely forgive it for lacking any form of epic opposition.

All of those examples though, even the awful Suicide Squad, are better than two specific characters that have popped up in the two team up pictures. First it was Doomsday, who was basically a giant, ugly pile of shit but he isn't enough to really bring BvS down any notches because he isn't THE bad guy, he is just A bad guy. Steppenwolf is the worst failure of a adversary thus far in the DCEU because he is the force that the Justice League is fighting throughout the entire film, and he is just a total waste. He's another grey CG thing thrown into the frame, as aesthetically and narratively exciting as watching someone paint a room beige, and I legit couldn't remember a single interesting thing he did throughout the movie. Nothing.

Let me get another issue I have with this movie out of the way right now. I remember like 18 months ago when a Facebook/Twitter debate was whether or not Ben Affleck was the best Batman. On November 18th, 2017, I exited the theater and declared his portrayal of the Bat deceased. I have zero interest in seeing him continue the character in any way. No life, no charisma of any kind to be found in Justice League and even the demons that haunted him in BvS seem to have vanished, as I gave him some credit in the previous film for seeming tortured and complex. I'm the one who feels tortured now trying to figure out some way to enjoy my personal favorite comic book character in this movie, because he gave me nothing. Let's move on to someone else for Matt Reeve's The Batman, thank you.

I mentioned in the first paragraph how perhaps Justice League could have used a little bit more fat on his bones in terms of its story because it flies by so fast basically, well, without a story, but I'm not sure I mean that. I have no issue with the fact that there wasn't much story to tell here, honestly, which sounds odd but maybe I just really wanted an action spectacle that hit the right notes for me, and a lot of the time Justice League did. The problem here is that you can't do a film with no story while introducing 50 percent of the league without previous origin story solo films. You just can't, as proven this weekend, it doesn't work. Aquaman lives and fights in the ocean and Amber Heard plays someone, I'm sure we will learn more about that next year when his movie comes out. The Flash has no friends and his dad is in prison, which sounds like it could be the foundation for a story that I would care about, but when you dedicated roughly 7 minutes to building it up, it is hard for me to feel anything in the end when they spend 2 more minutes on it again wrapping it up with a nice little bow. Cyborg is a machine monster man who ended up that way because of an accident that also killed his mom, but that's the extent of information we gather on him. I guess we will know more when Cyborg hits theaters in 2020!

Despite all of this complaining I have done for multiple paragraphs here, I liked Justice League? No, no question mark needed. I liked Justice League. It was a lot of fun, some of the action sequences specifically involving the Flash were extremely well done, but being totally honest, this isn't a good movie. It's fun, which is something that couldn't be said about the DCEU until Wonder Woman came along, and the characters are all good minus a kinda brooding but mostly boring Batman, but removing my own desire to be entertained and accomplishing that, this is otherwise a misfire.


Friday, November 17, 2017

A Ghost Story Review

It has been one week since the first time I sat down and watched A Ghost Story, and exactly 90 minutes less than that since the second time I watched it. For the first time since my first viewing of Stanley Kubrick's masterful war film Paths of Glory (not comparing the two works, just stating a fact), I sat in the same spot and watched the same film twice consecutively and my mind never even skipped a beat as to wondering whether I should or not. There was no, but my time could be spent better doing this or that, or I could watch something else instead. I couldn't. My mind was swimming through a vast ocean of WTF after witnessing this extraordinary film from writer/director David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Pete's Dragon), and I knew instantly I needed more time to dive in and try to understand everything. All I knew through my first 90 minutes was that I absolutely fucking loved it.

A young couple is shown living in a small home, C (Casey Affleck), a struggling musician and M, (Rooney Mara) his wife. Early on in the film they are awoken to a loud bang sound on their piano but upon closer inspection, there doesn't seem to be a explainable reason as to what caused it. They return to bed, and based on the title of the film, if you didn't know the type of narrative you were about to explore with A Ghost Story, you might have thought that the piano scene was the beginning of a typical horror genre picture, one that sets the table slowly and builds the terror. Nothing about A Ghost Story is typical, horror, or a genre pick of any kind. This is a wholly original, fascinating work.

The camera cuts to a straightaway look at their home, with a bit of smoke floating through the frame from the right hand side, and we pan over to see what is creating it: a car accident. C is the driver of one of the vehicles, his lifeless body resting on the steering wheel, and Lowery lingers his shot on him to make it abundantly clear that this is not a wreck he will be walking away from (alive, at least).

The film is slow paced, focusing on love and what it means to lose it, how much it hurts, and how it can haunt those left behind, in more ways than one. I'm certain that some viewers will be turned off by the way time can seemingly stand still during specific moments on the film, like watching M break down eating an entire pie, and we just sit and watch like a fly on the wall seeing something deeply private, deeply personal. Time is a tricky thing through A Ghost Story, the way a moment can feel like an eternity and an eternity can bounce by in a blink.

I found every damn second of A Ghost Story to be ravishing, a film that touched me personally and honestly quite profoundly. It's why I had to watch it twice back to back and why I haven't stopped thinking about it for a week now. It might just be the best movie of 2017 thus far.


Friday, November 3, 2017

Let's Do It Again: My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #30 - #21

Getting closer here, entering my top 30 favorite films. If you're not familiar with the image above, then you obviously weren't as haunted and confused by this scene as I was growing up. Either that or you haven't seen the film, which if that's the case lord what are you doing, go watch it right now.

30. The Matrix

I recall actually wondering after seeing The Matrix for the first time, which crazy enough was already 18 years ago, whether or not it would withstand the test of time. Sure, for 1999 standards it felt like a piece of revolutionary filmmaking, but eventually what we were seeing would not only become the norm but it would continue to be outdone. What's truly remarkable is that it not only holds up, it hasn't lost a step. 

29. Zodiac

The box office performance of David Fincher's Zodiac is a god damn tragedy. 33 million domestic on a 65 million dollar budget and the film is a work of art. The good news is, the picture seems to be appreciated now 10 years after its release, finding a home in a lot of collections which is good considering it deserves numerous rewatches in order to catch as much of the nuance as possible. If you still haven't seen Zodiac, see Zodiac

28. No Country for Old Men

2007 was a terrific year for film, with back to back entries here coming from that year and another pretty substantial piece of cinema that was featured much lower on my list also being a 2007 release, that movie being There Will Be Blood. No Country for Old Men is a masterful adaptation of a great book by Cormac McCarthy with the Coen brothers channeling the perfect tone and all the necessary substance from the page to the screen while still managing to make it their own. 

27. Mad Max: Fury Road

I admitted a few films ago that when I first saw The Matrix, I had doubts as to whether it would hold up over a long period of time. I have no such doubts about George Miller's batshit crazy action masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road, as it absolutely will stick around for the long haul, a dizzying, brilliant movie that leaves you feeling bruised and tasting the dirt and dust of the landscapes in your mouth even though you watched it from a theater or the comfort of your own home.

26. Pulp Fiction

On the last list of ten I included Inglourious Basterds and I mentioned that I not only understand with some recent complaints about the work of Tarantino, I actually agree with some of them. Pulp Fiction, however, is pretty much a perfect film, the one piece from his filmography that continues to rise above the rest and will likely always be regarding as his most important masterpiece.

25. The Shining

Still won't be done with Kubrick on this list, even after his horror masterpiece The Shining makes the cut at the back end of my 25 favorite films of all time. If you haven't been paying attention to my previous lists, you might assume that 2001 is the remaining film of his. You would be wrong as that checked in at number 37. No, I have a favorite Kubrick that most people are shocked by, and many consider to be a lesser achievement of his. Obviously I disagree.

24. Psycho

Back to back horror classics make the cut with Hitchcock's incredible Psycho just in front of The Shining. Just an iconic film in every sense, while much like The Shining isn't my favorite Kubrick, Psycho isn't my favorite Hitchcock...

23. Aliens

Ranking Aliens in front of the original Alien feels like an invitation to be asked what the hell is wrong with me. To be fair, it's not like it's an easy decision or a clear cut preference as I had Alien ranked only 9 spots lower, but Aliens always seems to gain the edge for me, probably because of the nostalgic value of it. When I was a kid, it was Aliens all the way, watching it on repeat while Alien gathered dust. It wasn't until I got older that I figured out why the first film was a masterpiece, but 25 years after seeing it for the first time Aliens still hasn't lost a single step, a horror action extravaganza that utilizes expert tone and pacing to deliver every possible thrill at exactly the right moments.

22. Boyhood

How the hell is Boyhood three years old already? I just realized this. Seeing it for the first time feels like yesterday. Richard Linklater's masterful 12 year cinematic experiment paid off beautifully, a heartfelt and astoundingly real feature that told the story of a boy growing up, but the greatest aspect of this was that Linklater didn't feel compelled to focus in on all the expected "big moments" in life but rather the little, quiet ones in between the cracks that seem like just another day at the time but shape who we become. 

21. Metropolis

This film is 90 years old. I repeat, 90 years old. Fritz Lang's brilliant science fiction wonder of a film Metropolis was far ahead of its time, a stylized and insane silent experience that amazes me each time I watch it. Obviously I wasn't alive when this was released, but I have to imagine at the time Metropolis was a pretty mind blowing peak behind the curtain as to what cinema was capable of achieving in the future.