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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Five Movies I Watch Again and Again

Some movies stay with you all your life, and you revisit them, like old friends. I particularly delight in introducing them to others, hence this list. What follows are not the classics that everyone who loves movies will likely know (Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, etc.), but lesser-known movies that are favorites of mine. It was very hard limiting myself to just five, so at the very end I've added a "Runners Up" list of some other films you might want to explore if you like the ones I've selected for the top five.

1. TRUE ROMANCE (1993)
This may be my favorite movie of all. Yes, it's very violent, but it really is an amazing love story starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette (later TV's "Medium") as a young couple who fall in love at first sight and then must battle a drug mafia on their way to happiness. The Quentin Tarantino script is over-the-top and constantly shocks the viewer as to what will happen next. The film is filled with wonderful performances by everyone, particularly actors who were not famous when the movie was made, who therefore have small parts, but who nevertheless create great scenes together. James Gandofini (later the lead in TV's "The Sopranos") is a hit man who first plays a scene with a spaced-out Brad Pitt (only his second movie, but he has super time playing this druggie) and then a spectacular one in which he corners Patricia Arquette in a motel room. Gary Oldman is a wigged-out drug dealer and Samuel L. Jackson is one of his victims in an early scene. Bronson Pinchot almost steals the show in a comic turn as a snotty Hollywood executive.  And good fun is in store when Val Kilmer plays the ghost of Elvis!  The ending is one of the most fantastic shootout sequences ever put on film. But the best segment of the movie is a single scene between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper in which they have a verbal interrogation battle that is an actor's tour-de-force, and, for all its terror, quite funny.

Brad Pitt, high

Someone once said that the goal of all entertainment is "surprise me." This movie does that, and if you can take the violence, I promise this is—as the title tells us—a true romance, well told.




2. THE COURT JESTER (1956)

I argue that The Court Jester is one of the very best comedies ever made. Danny Kaye, a very funny man, has never been better than in this medieval comedy. He plays a court jester involved in helping overthrow a kingdom, and he sings, dances, does multiple accents, switches roles in a nanosecond and back again, engages in complicated duels, and does it all effortlessly. The songs are all in the first part of the movie, but they are very clever—"Never Outfox the Fox" will stick with you a long time. Also on board for the fun is a very young Angela Landsbury, playing the King's daughter, Basil Rathbone as (of course) the villain, and Glynis Johns (later the mother in "Mary Poppins" and the first person ever to sing "Send in the Clowns" in Sondheim's "A Little Night Music") as our heroine. The "flagon with the dragon and vessel with the pestle" dialogue—quite the tongue-twister—and the "get it?/got it/good!" exchange entered the language as a result of this movie. In my marijuana days The Court Jester was the film of choice for absolute hilarity, but, trust me on this, it's every bit as funny with no pharmaceutical help whatsoever.

3. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

Chrisoph Waltz
No movie I've ever seen has started so tensely and kept up that tension throughout like this brilliant film. Moreover it's beautifully thought-out, filmed, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, who's not afraid to do things no one else has tried. He'll show the audience maps, include a 30 second documentary on how film burns, and blatantly rewrite history to make sure the audience is grappled close to his chest as he plunges down one extraordinary rabbit hole after another. Nominally his star is Brad Pitt, a tough Tennessee Jew leading a military expedition against the Nazis in World War II, and Pitt has a good time with his role. When he has to say lines in Italian with a Tennessee accent, the fun is on. But the real star of the movie (who actually has more screen time than Pitt) is Christoph Waltz as a Nazi Colonel—and a more evil man has never been in a movie. Waltz, an Austrian by birth, is one of the best actors of all time, and here he easily switches from French, to English, to German, and finally Italian, all spoken fluently. Waltz was given the Best Supporting Actor Award for this role, but that's just Hollywood afraid of a new name—it should have been Best Actor. Interestingly, the longest scene in the movie takes place in a basement bar in Paris, and not one of the major actors does more than make a minor appearance in this incredible scene. Warning: the film is violent, but it's also beautiful (the red and white juxtaposition in the shootout in the film room is terrifyingly gorgeous) and moving and funny and much much more, working up to one of the great movie climaxes ever. Inglourious Basterds (deliberately misspelled as a joke) is a movie that stays with you a long time. It's quite a ride.


4. GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)


Let the Groundhog Drive
Groundhog Day is a puzzle of pure fun. Weatherman Bill Murray is trapped in reliving the same day, over and over until he can find a way to start time again and progress to tomorrow. Watching him start as a surly know-it-all and become humbled and then enlivened by his predicament is very entertaining. The movie is filled with inventive ideas, clever scenes, much humor, and a romance that develops in a very convincing way. But Murray is the star of this inventive and fascinating little movie.


5. THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2006)

This German film won the 2007 Best Foreign Film Academy Award but in a fairer world would have won Best Picture. It is certainly one of the finest movies I've ever seen. It explores the transformation of an East German Stasi (the communist German Democratic Republic's secret police before that country's reunification with West Germany) officer who's running a Big Brother-type surveillance on the home of a playwright and his lover, trying to catch them in traitorous activities. The officer, played with very moving but incredible minimalism by German actor Ulrich Mȕhe (who, alas, died shortly after the movie won all its awards), discovers his own humanity as he listens in on the lives of these people and their friends, and his transformation is every bit as great as Bill Murray's in Groundhog Day, but much more poignant. The scene Mȕhe plays in an elevator with a small boy who asks him if he's really a spy ("My father says you are Stasi, is that true?") is a pivotal moment. The movie will astound you with its portrayal of how much like "1984" the East German police state had become, and overwhelm you to realize how hard it would have been for people to live this way. The last line of the movie will bring a broad smile to your face—it's a beaut.

Runners Up:

Comedies:

a. Lust in the Dust (1984)—84 minutes of pure madness in the Old Wild West as Tab Hunter, Lainie Kazan, and the famous drag queen Divine skewer every cliché of that genre and have a rollicking time doing it. Not for children, but for adults with a broad sense of over-the-fence humor.

b. Life of Brian (1979)—the famous Monty Python movie creating a parallel version of the life of Christ that supposedly was going on in Israel at the same time, but in the usual Pythonic nutty fashion. Irreverent and blasphemous, sure, but funny as funny gets.

c. Galaxy Quest (1999)—Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Rickman star as the washed-up actors who used to be on a "Star Trek" TV show but now only sign autographs for hyper-fans at conventions. Their pitiful lives change dramatically when aliens kidnap them for help in an intergalactic battle. Great fun.


Drama:

a. Inherit the Wind (1960)—The famous 1925 Scopes trial brought to life in a fictional version, as the State of Tennessee bans the teaching of evolution in public schools, a teacher is prosecuted for doing this, and one of the greatest trials in American history occurs. Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly are superb in the lead roles. There is no finer production of this great work possible. Fascinating.

b. A History of Violence (2005)—Another contender for Best Picture, this movie rewards repeated viewings also. It's the tale of a violent man who changes his life, disguises his past, starts over, only to have the past catch up with him and his new family. Viggo Mortensen stars, but William Hurt steals the show at the end. He's only on for about fifteen minutes, but his turn as the hero's violent older brother earned him an Academy Award nomination. Warning: steamy sex and, as the title implies, much violence.

c. Brokeback Mountain (2005)—Though it makes my heart hurt to watch it, this haunting story of two gay men finding love in 1960 Wyoming is terrific. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver stellar performances. The whole movie is beautifully filmed and acted, and should have won Best Picture, damn it.

Horror:

Prophecy (1979)—One of the movies that's scared me most in my life.  Director John Frankenheimer takes us to the Maine woods where an ecological disaster has created large monsters.  The creatures terrify a doctor and his wife (Robert Foxworth and Talia Shire) in ways that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.  The scenes with the hunting dogs in the beginning, the terror of the tunnel under the Indian smokehouse, the camper trying to jump away in his sleeping bag, and other moments will stay with you a long time.  Like being scared?  This is the film.  [Don't confuse this unknown beauty of a thriller with the 1995 movie of the same name.]
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Related Posts:
"The Best of My Library," August 27, 2010
"Some Cartoons I've Saved," October 20, 2010
"Doug's Favorite Jokes," November 13, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

1 comment:

  1. I may have to Netflix a few of the ones here I haven't seen. Thanks for the tips!

    ReplyDelete