Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Junta Juleil's Top 100: #90-86

90. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995, Bryan Singer)

A heist film that's at once fun and fatalistic, it's cleverly written and incredibly well-constructed. However, its fanboyish following and unfortunate susceptibility to pea-brained parody certainly threaten to undermine any prospective "Greatness." But after a handful of viewings across the past decade and a half, I've come to the conclusion that it really holds up– John Ottman's flowing, occasionally beautiful, occasionally malevolent score; Christopher McQuarrie's razor-edged but never self-congratulatory dialogue; Kevin Spacey's furtive, crippled sad sack; Gabriel Byrne's classy Euro-gangster; Kevin Pollak's smartassed grease monkey; Benicio Del Toro's fashionable, generally incomprehensible sidekick; Pete Postlethwaite's ominous litigator; Chazz Palminteri's loud-mouthed, thick-necked cop; even Stephen Baldwin makes for a believably rugged gunman. And even beyond the intricacies of the now-notorious plot, there's plenty of layers to uncover here: blue collar (criminal) heroes overwhelmed by shadowy, international corporations; homosexual undertones fused with themes of criminality and counterculture that run far deeper than the surface gag of "going straight"; strange mirrorings of THE WIZARD OF OZ; and, hell, bit parts by Paul "EATING RAOUL" Bartel and Dan "COMMANDO" Hedaya. Yep, I still stand by this movie.

89. GREY GARDENS (1975, Albert & David Maysles)

Perhaps the ultimate experience in "cinéma vérité," GREY GARDENS observes the goings-on at the eponymous, ramshackle mansion which is home to a pair of reclusive, ex-high society Bouviers who go by the sobriquets "Big" and "Little" Edie. In turns funny, tragic, horrifying, heart-warming, and simply hard to watch, the Maysles brothers cross that sterile, journalistic boundary, going beyond simple exploitation and into a deeper truth; perhaps they even form a makeshift family along the way. It's a film about decay and aristocracy, sure, but its aims are chiefly humanistic– beneath each mould'ring shutter and crumbling wall we find alternations of genuine vibrancy and misplaced dreams. One of the great documentaries.

88. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971, Stanley Kubrick)

The sort of film that was my all-time favorite when I was seventeen, but now, apparently, it's somewhere closer to #88. Regardless, it's a work of operatic beauty and hideous ultra-violence, one of quasi-futuristic daydreams and elaborate linguistic fascinations, of oppressive institutionalization and unhinged criminality. Based on Anthony Burgess' novel of moral choice (a novel which I highly recommend, along with other Burgess classics like ONE HAND CLAPPING, ENDERBY, and THE LONG DAY WANES), Kubrick's film really feels like an event; a larger than life, more than occasionally grotesque extravaganza of free will and urban decay. Wendy Carlos' electronic reimaginings of Purcell, Beethoven, and Rossini lend the film an evocative, dystopian soundscape, punctuating the drama, in turns, with black comedy and Stygian dread. And how can I neglect to mention Malcolm McDowell, whose volatile, darkly enthusiastic portrayal has come to define the film and its place in history. Also, Patrick Magee's completely over-the-top, eyebrow-indicating appearance as a revenge-seeking writer is well worth the price of admission.

87. TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)

Hot damn– TALES OF HOFFMANN! The (Techni)colors, the sets, the choreography– pure, radiant, cinematic spectacle that has irrevocably and personally shaped filmmakers from George A. Romero to Martin Scorsese to Francis Ford Coppola. Powell and Pressburger's definitive adaptation of Jacques Offenbach's renowned opera is a smorgasboard of eye candy, enchanting harmonies, and morbid reverie. It's absolutely absorbing; I defy anyone to watch the first twenty minutes and not find themselves enthralled by the movement, by the dancers, by the overwhelming waves of joie de vivre and frenzied emotion... Eh, I'll shut up for now and let the damn thing speak for itself:

86. RIO BRAVO (1958, Howard Hawks)

John Carpenter's favorite movie and my most-beloved Hawks. One might accuse Carpy of overindulging in imitation (ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, GHOSTS OF MARS), but the set-up is too damned fun for even Hawks to resist– he remade it twice himself! (EL DORADO and RIO LOBO). What we got here is a stalwart sheriff (John Wayne) determined to make a solitary stand against a horde of voracious outlaws. Of course, there's a drunk (Dean Martin), a cripple (the adorably hilarious Walter Brennan), an up-and-comer-guitar-slingin'-show-off (Ricky Nelson), and a inscrutable, hard-drinkin' lady (Angie Dickinson) waiting in the wings, not yet sure what parts they'll play. The eventual shoot-outs and the gut-mashin' pay-offs are thrilling indeed, but the movie's not about them; it's about character development, it's about waiting, it's about the forging of regular dudes into men of action. It's got comic relief, silly romance, nail-biting suspense, but, most of all, a genuine depth of story, of character, of locale. It's the sort of movie that people mean when they say "Boy-o, they don't make 'em like that anymore."

Coming up next: Harry Dean Stanton, crumpled metal perversions, and eyeball-popping insanity!

Previously on the countdown:
Runners-up Part 1
Runners-up Part 2


J.D. said...

Ah, THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Still love that film. I think that it is the razor-sharp writing, awesome cast (Stephen Baldwin - who woulda thunk?) and the confident direction that invites repeated viewings even after you know the twist endings. There's the lovely nuances of the performances, like the jokey line-up where no one can keep a straight face or Kevin Pollack's snarky asides or studying Kevin Spacey to see if his character gives anything away during the course of the film. Great film.

Sean Gill said...


And again and again, the sort of film that I actually get excited about rewatching. Gotta love the lineup scene, too.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious to what you found horrifying in Grey Gardens. I recently watched it and found it very captivating.


Sean Gill said...


I suppose I mean 'horrifying' in the existential sense. Though they have largely come to grips with their present (1976) quality of life, and though Little Edie went on to (because of the film's success) do a few cabaret shows and become something of a counter-fashion icon, I can't help but at times be deeply unsettled by the lost hopes and dreams that hang over the film and the titular home like a shroud... Regardless, I, too, found it captivating, and horror is not the overwhelming emotion; it's merely one of many which GREY GARDENS stirs within me.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Gosh, The Usual Suspects is just fabulous. What a solid film with solid casting.

I completely agree with your assessment there and Kevin Spacey is a real highlight among highlights.

I should probably see A Clockwork Orange again. I saw it young. It was okay. I think Malcolm McDowell is an amazing actor and there has been so much I've enjoyed by him. I should revisit the film and his performance someday.

But I enjoyed your comments and my reaction to the film was not quite as strong as yours in my teens despite all of the assertions by friends that it was a must see. Your excellent reviews continue....

Best, sff

Sean Gill said...


Oh yeah, I never tire of Spacey's performance, which obviously reveals new layers with each reviewing.

Thank you for your comments!