Friday, April 29, 2011

What's Your Favorite Movie? Part 2

Part 1 of this self-serving blog entry brought a few comments, though not as many as I would have hoped. Also, I wrote it 2 weeks ago. Hey, not everyone has something to say. Or maybe not many people are reading my stuff. I'm going to lean towards the former and plow ahead with part two. Now where was I?

N is for North By Northwest (1959)

While A Night at the Opera is a great comedy, as are most of the Marx Brothers films, North By Northwest is a combination of a bunch of genres: mystery, drama, and some wry Hitchcock-style humor well-delivered (as always) by Cary Grant. This is back when movie bad guys were more dangerous because of their intellect and James Mason is one of the best. And why not? He has a pre-Mission Impossible Martin Landau as a henchman.

O is for Ordinary People (1980)

I admit that I could think of too many "O" movies. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975) is certainly great but I'm drawn to the quiet anxiety of Ordinary People. A sad movie about a family trying to get past a couple of tragedies that happened about a year before the movie started, not ending on a completely low note but not very high either. This is also one of the rare times when the movie is on par with the book. Great casting, too, with Mary Tyler Moore playing completely against type as the mother trying desperately to make things normal again. It was also Timothy Hutton's screen debut and Robert Redford's directorial debut. But if it's a "hey look, it's that guy" experience you want, check out the early screen appearances in Cuckoo's Nest.

P is for The Producers (1968)

I debated this one for awhile. I could have gone with Philadelphia (1993) but I get angst watching it now because I have to wait too long for the denouement and it's hard watching Andy (Tom Hanks) go through all the hell he does until the victory at the end. And I really like "The Princess Bride." But I'm going with the early Mel Brooks comedy. You know the set up: a fading Broadway big shot of a producer realizes he can make more money with a flop than with a hit. Hilarity ensues. Great casting--Zero Mostel is a great sleazy scam artist. Gene Wilder is a great milquetoast. Then there was the Broadway play, which was good, and the movie, which wasn't. So I watch the original, just to cleanse my palette.

Q is for...

I can't think of one. Quiz Show was okay, I think. I don't remember. I fell asleep during The Queen. I think I liked Quantum of Solace. Any suggestions?

R is for Raising Arizona (1987)

I originally picked Rain Man (1988) but it was a little slow and Valeria Golino, while beautiful, was annoying. Raising Arizona is a great screwball comedy and Nicolas Cage was awesome. This is a movie I can watch over and over from any point. Great characters and a story that really doesn't have any slow parts. Nicolas Cage when he was still making good movies and Holly Hunter in what may be her only role where I don't want to put a bag over her head and suffocate her. Well, her characters. Not her.

S is for The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

This was the hardest letter to choose a movie from. Serpico (1973), Say Anything (1989), The Shining (1980), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Sixth Sense (1999).  All great flicks.  But how many movies are there where you can look at a buddy, say "oh man, Shawshank" and you'd both know what you were talking about.  This is also one of the flicks TBS plays to death but it's also one where I can pop in at any point any get sucked in.  I'm not even sure I've ever seen it on a screen bigger than my TV.  I know what you're thinking: you picked Shawshank?  Not Spinal Tap?  Hold that thought...

T is for This is Spinal Tap (1984)

No one ever says, "hey, wanna watch This is Spinal Tap?"  To most of the free world (and some of the non-free world), it's Spinal Tap.  It's really the first movie that was able to capture the deadpan style of humor that everyone was trying to copy since "Airplane!"  It's another one of the most quotable movies ever.  I was going to talk about what a great script it was but I read that most of it was ad libbed, which makes it that much more amazing.

U is for The Usual Suspects (1995)

You know what a great "U" movie was?  "Uncle Buck" (1989).  One of John Candy's best, I think. Comedy with heart--vintage John Hughes.  But The Usual Suspects was a really great mystery with a simple question: Who is Keyser Söze?  I was first drawn in by the title--a clear homage to "Casablanca" ("round up the usual suspects").  Then I was sucked in by all the hype.  I'm always one of the last to see a film the rest of the world has already seen.  A great ending I didn't see coming at all.  Unfortunately, movies like this or "The Sixth Sense" make it impossible to watch any other mystery because I've been trained to watch for any little clue and to suspect everyone.  "Shutter Island" (2010) could have been an awesome film.  Instead, it was just really good because I figured it out halfway through.

V is for Vertigo (1958)

Lots of people say "Psycho" (1960) is Hitchcock's best film.  It may be the most popular but Vertigo is the best. Or maybe it's "North by Northwest."  Anyway, Vertigo is a wonderfully tense drama with James Stewart cast a little against type (for me, anyway) as a bit of an anti-hero. Kim Novak is beautiful in a late-50s-hypercolorized way.  It's hard not to feel bad for Stewart at the end.  He fights so many demons and then...well.  It also had Barbara Bel Geddes in the only role I'd ever seen her in outside "Dallas."  I thought she was only Miss Ellie.

W is for When Harry Met Sally (1989) or West Side Story (1961)

I really couldn't choose a favorite for "W."  They're two completely different movies so it's not as if I'm comparing them.  But I really could go either way.  Wait, it just occurred to me...are these both chick flicks?

When Harry Met Sally was such a great story told over such a long period of time.  And who knew Billy Crystal could pull off a romantic comedy?  Maybe he got lucky.  I mean, there was also "Forget Paris" (1995). Know what I mean?  There was something about this movie that made me want to be in it--not as an actor, but just the whole thing with the lost acquaintance who becomes a part of your life many years later and you realize that the thing you're looking for has been right in front of you the whole time. Plus it was when I fell in love with Meg Ryan.  Don't tell her.  I don't think she knows.

West Side Story wasn't my first musical.  But it was the first one that didn't have a happy ending.  I hate happy endings, especially when they're choreographed to music.  West Side Story had memorable music, and updated Romeo and Juliet (1478?) story, and an ending so frustrating that when I watch the movie, I still think Tony's going to live.  He and Maria were so close to being happy together (although they probably would have divorced later on) but circumstances out of their control would keep them apart forever.  If the movie was made today, it would probably be 20 minutes long.  I mean, a gang fight with fists?  Come on, guns would be pulled and everyone would be shot Reservoir Dogs style.  Or at least sent into the future to learn how to live together.

X is for American History X (1998)

Yeah, I'm cheating a little.  But can you name any "X" movies besides "X-Men"?  American History X is a great little story that really doesn't have any wasted scenes.  Very tight.  Plus Edward Norton, who's basically great in anything he's in.  The black and white flashbacks are compelling as you watch Norton descend into overwhelming hatred as the leader of a white supremacist group.  Then prison shows him the hypocrisy of the whole movement. When he returns to his family (now in color, like Wizard of Oz!), he wants to fix everything he left behind but the world doesn't want to change.  The hardest thing about watching the movie is deciding what to think of Norton's character.  Do you hate him because he's a white supremacist?  But he wasn't always like that.  But he was such a dick in prison.  But then he realized he was a dick.  It's exhausting.

Y is for Young Frankenstein (1974)

This is a Mel Brooks masterpiece which really shouldn't have become a musical but no one asked my opinion.  I saw this when I was a kid and didn't get most of the jokes.  I got the "what knockers" joke and the whole "Puttin' on the Ritz" scene with the monster.  The rest was just waiting to see Marty Feldman on screen.  Mel Brooks tends to be guilty of pushing the jokes way too far to the point of predictability.  I saw "Robin Hood: Men In Tights" (1993) when it came out and I knew the punchlines before the actors said them.  But Young Frankenstein never crosses that line.  It was silly without being goofy slapstick.  It wasn't played for the jokes, whereas "Spaceballs" (1997) definitely was.

Z is for Zelig (1983)

"Z" is another letter I had trouble with but then I remembered Zelig.  When it came out, it was pretty groundbreaking.  Woody Allen managed to edit himself seamlessly into actual historic footage, which allowed him to play the chameleon who couldn't find his own identity so he adopted those of the people around him.  I don't recall Zelig getting the credit it deserved when "Forrest Gump" (1994) came out and did the same thing visually.  The thing that's hard to watch now is Woody Allen and Mia Farrow together.  It's okay in "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986) because they're not together.  They're divorced, ironically enough.

# is for 12 Angry Men (1957)

I wanted to squeeze in a number movie and this is the best of them.  A movie with no main star for the most part.  Yeah, Henry Fonda is the big name.  But watching it now, you recognize just about every one of the 12 jurors.  The story is so tight and moves so well that you forget 99% of the film takes place in that jury room.  You never learn anyone's name (until the very end, where you just get 2 of them) but you get a fantastic sense of each character and how they react when they're around stronger characters.  This was Sidney Lumet's masterpiece.  I read in his book "Making Movies" that the scenes all start wide, but gradually, the camera gets closer and closer until the viewer feels the tension in the room.  I didn't even notice that before I read the book, but I certainly felt it.

So that's the list from A-Z.  Sorry it took so long to finish.  I'm glad new letters weren't invented while you were waiting.

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