Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Junta Juleil's Top 100: #80-76

80. THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (1997, Whit Stillman)

"You know that Shakespearean admonition, 'To thine own self be true?' It's premised on the idea that 'thine own self' is something pretty good, being true to which is commendable. But what if 'thine own self' is not so good? What if it's pretty bad? Would it be better, in that case, NOT to be true to thine own self?" Welcome to Jane Austen's SATURDAY NIGHT PYREXIA, a world where the silver-tongued parry, slash, and down vodka tonics (and whisky sours) deep into an endless night of excess, crippling malaise, and the sweet, sweet disco beat. The most clever, nuanced work of art ever written with "Disco" in the title, I've said before that it "follows a circle of UHBs (Urban Haute Bourgeoisie) as they simultaneously wrestle with preconceived notions of failure AND try to get the most out of their nightlife. If you prefer your comedy subtle, intricate, and full of stinging wordplay, then LAST DAYS OF DISCO will likely rank among your all-time favorites. Stillman's characters are at once extremely lovable and hateable; they either possess no sense of propriety or far too much, they won't take 'no' for an answer, or will, cheerfully." Also, we've got Chris Eigeman as, uh, well, Chris Eigeman. And make no mistake, that's one of the best things a movie can have. One of the great comedies.

79. NAKED (1993, Mike Leigh)

Ah, NAKED. A misanthropic cry unto the night. It's like FIVE EASY PIECES meets STREET TRASH. If ever there was an actor's director, it's Mike Leigh, whose rigorous rehearsal process and proclivity toward improvisation have allowed some of the finest performances of the last thirty years to flourish. David Thewlis is "Johnny," an on-the-dole-off-the-dole miscreant with scraggly beard, a bad attitude, horrifically misogynistic tendencies, and constant commentary about your "diminishing pachyderm collection" or "the 'ole Highland fling" or this or that or the other. He gravitates toward people to whom he can feel superior; it's important for him to continue believing that he's 'above it all,' and that no one is capable of understanding his suffering. His nocturnal journey takes him past a security guard who protects empty space; a sad sack waitress who sits at home and does nothing; a man who pastes retraction posters over posters for concerts that have been cancelled; and all manner of fascinating, disturbing, and well-written characters and vignettes. And who can forget Greg Cruttwell's insane, ever-snickering evil yuppie, who seemingly exists only to show that there are indeed even worse people than Johnny? Lesley Sharp is genius as the perpetual doormat, who possesses a certain command over her life despite a gullible streak, and Katrin Cartlidge plays the "wicky wacky friend Sophie" with strung-out, wounded aplomb– a truly connected performance. And yet for the hideous way the film makes you feel, it's endlessly quotable ("Ya big girl's blouse!," or "Jane...Austen...by...Emma"), and offers even greater rewards on subsequent viewings. Also: a fantastic, billowing harp and string score by Andrew Dickson and sordidly beautiful visuals courtesy of Dick Pope.

78. THE SHINING (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

Looking at this list in its entirety, it's sort of hard to believe that this is my highest-ranked Kubrick, but here it is, so I guess it must be true. It could have easily been eclipsed by A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (#88), or by 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, PATHS OF GLORY, or even THE KILLING. So there must be a logic behind it. Maybe it's because, in a way, it's his most focused film. He zeroes in, amidst the vast, solemn expanse of the Rockies (set to the sounds of another "fantastique" Wendy Carlos reimagining), into the phantasmagorically deteriorating psyche of one man, and the effect that it has on the family around him. Rarely has such an exquisite sense of foreboding, of pure, tangible dread, been built by a film, between the architecture, the empty spaces, the sounds, the explosive imagery, the sense of being watched. And, of course, there's Nicholson's terrifying, deadened stare, which is perhaps even more frightening than his notorious deranged leering! Also: the insanity of Kubrick forcing Scatman Crothers to explain "the shining" for 148 takes, or him calling up King at 3:00 AM and asking if he believes in God– yep, Kubrick's nuttiness goes a long way, too. See ya in Room 237!

77. THE PIANO (1993, Jane Campion)

I mean it's not often that a face-tattoed quasi-Maori Harvey Keitel squaring off against an axe-wielding, stuffed shirt Sam Neill over the love of a mute, piano-playin' Holly Hunter, but here we are, so I guess it happened. Years before THE LORD OF THE RINGS introduced your average joe to the natural beauty of New Zealand, Keitel lorded over the majesty of its landscapes, and he was naked at the time, too. In all seriousness, though, this film is fantastic: the swirling through-line of Michael Nyman's masterful score and the intense, committed performances preside over disparate ideas on colonialism, ownership, emancipation, nature, gender, art... People occasionally try to pin down THE PIANO, either insisting that it beautifully depicts a woman's struggle for independence, or, on the other side of the coin, saying that it shows a woman traded from one brute to another ("I want to lie together without clothes on"), but it's not a film that trades in moral absolutes; it's just a tale of love and abuse and defiance and music and fleeting moments of joy and tenderness in one of the furthest corners of the world..

76. BAD LIEUTENANT (1992, Abel Ferrara)

Keitel, passed out on a couch, suffering the ill effects of crack, meth, coke, heroin, and God knows what else; a child, a niece or nephew of some kind, clambers over his prostrate body as a vintage cartoon depicting hardworking mice blares in the background: "WE'VE DONE IT BEFORE, AND WE CAN DO IT AGAIN, ANNNND WE CAN DO IT AGAIN!!..." Just another day in the life of Harvey Keit– I mean, the "Bad Lieutenant."
This nameless "bad" lieutenant (Harvey Keitel in perhaps his most crazed and convincing portrayal yet) wanders through his waking life with the sole intent of pleasuring himself (something shown quite literally in one notorious scene involving the Lieutenant and some teenage girls which probably gave it its NC-17). As the Lieutenant investigates the rape of a nun and his gambling debts continue to escalate, he begins a simultaneous downward spiral of depravity and an upward surge toward the divine. As with almost every Abel Ferrara film, plot and coherence take a back seat to character study and a twisted look at spirituality. The Lieutenant's overindulgence in drugs, sex, gambling, petty theft, and poor parenting (amongst many other vices) leads many viewers to take an unsympathetic stance; as the film progresses, however, we see that the Lieutenant is something between wounded animal and man-child, wavering between cruel intensity and pathetic innocence as he forever nears the bottom of a barrel that never quite comes into focus. He steals food from the store in which he is investigating a robbery. Is this the bottom? He does coke off of his children's photos. Is this the bottom? Perhaps a scene between the Lieutenant and a junkie (played by Ms.45 herself, Zoe Lund, also a co-writer for the script) puts it best as she says, "Vampires are lucky, they can feed on others. We gotta eat away at ourselves." We've seen stories like this before, but Ferrara and Keitel create such a raw, low budget (under $2 million) atmosphere of existential doom that it makes MEAN STREETS look like a walk in the park.

Coming up next... Maggots and Jimmy Stewart!!!

Previously on the countdown:
#85-81
#90-86
#95-91
#100-96
Runners-up Part 1
Runners-up Part 2

5 comments:

J.D. said...

Wow, you run the gamut here from LAST DAYS OF DISCO to BAD LT. We are certainly in agreement about these films belonging in the cinematic pantheon. Ah, DISCO... love that film. Pull it out every so often just to bask in snotty UHB humor as only Whit Stillman can pull it off. Sure hope Eigeman is in his new film - would be a bummer if he ain't.

Based on his shambolic, rambling, hilarious commentary track for KING OF NY, I really need to buy the BAD LT. DVD if only for Ferrara's, instant-classic commentary on that one! you could create drinking games for this man's commentary tracks. Awesome.

Austin said...

Aaahh! You had warned us about naked keitel twice, but you hadn't said it would be BACK-TO-BACK! that is so intense I am still recovering.

And I'm guessing that seeing LDoD means we have more White Stillman to come?

Sean Gill said...

J.D.,

Thanks for the comments! Yeah, from imdb's (often-wrong) info, it looks as if Eigeman isn't in the new one, which leaves me kind of perplexed. I assume that they're still on good terms though, because they appeared together at a Lincoln Center screening of DISCO in the last year or so (which was quite the event, I must say!).
And Ferrara is indeed a force of nature who refuses to the rules, whether they be the rules of a polite society, the rules of cinema, or the rules of commentary track coherence. BAD LT. is my favorite as of right now, but on any given day it could be KING OF NEW YORK, or shit, maybe even GO GO TALES!

Austin,
Well you may be relieved (disappointed?) to know that while there is more Keitel on the list, I don't believe there's any more naked Keitel. And there is one more Stillman title to come; it pains me that I didn't have room for all three.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Sean

I have not seen Bad Lt. I purchased the disc and it is colelcting dust. I look forward to it. I think Harvey Keitel is a joy to watch. Maybe we'll see Mean Streets on Blu-Ray someday.

Any thoughts from you on Abel's The Funeral with Christopher Walken. I've been interested int hat DVD but have yet to pull the trigger. Good pun.

... and of course you mention Keitel in The Piano- another one I have not seen. Just busy. Too many films never enough time.

The Shining! A must for any list. Just amazing. This and One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest would make my list too!

Oh, and more Keitel! Awesome! Reservoir Dogs!? Bring it on!

Great list!

Sean Gill said...

SFF,

I enjoyed THE FUNERAL, but I wouldn't exactly call it top-tier Ferrara. BAD LIEUTENANT, KING OF NEW YORK, MS. 45, THE ADDICTION, THE BLACKOUT, and GO GO TALES would all rank above it in my book.

And I'm afraid there's no RESERVOIR DOGS; I only made room for one Tarantino, but I must say that it was a difficult decision.