Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Runners-Up to Junta Juleil's Top 100, Part 1

Ah, so many films and so few spaces on the Top 100. Naturally, there had to be some spill-over.

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994, John Carpenter)
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"Reality isn't what it used to be." A Lovecraftian ode sung, naturally, toward the abyss, it's Carpy's last (thus far!) unadulterated, undeniably "Great" film with a capital G. IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS prints the fall of man upon celluloid, shows it to our protagonist- shows it to us- and together we cackle in the darkness, senselessly, because there's nothing else we can do. Previously reviewed HERE.

BABY DOLL (1956, Elia Kazan)
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Kazan can wring more forbidden sexuality from the subtle rocking of a porch swing than all the R-Rated movies ever made, put together. A Southern Gothic chamber piece like no other, it develops into a tête-à-tête-à-tête between long suffering perv Karl Malden, the creepily childish Carrol Baker, and the inimitable Eli Wallach, and it's no exaggeration to call it a blazing tour de force and perhaps the most vigorous, deranged examination of American repression ever made. It's a bottle of cheap champagne on a hundred-degree day, only someone's been shakin' it up for twenty years, and you have to open it without spilling a drop– good luck!

FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965, Sergio Leone)
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FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is not, in fact, Leone's greatest achievement, but it's probably his most fun. In fact, perhaps one could go out on a limb and say that it's one of the first "buddy movies;" or at least the first "spaghetti western buddy movie," but even if that's true, it's a more-than-occasionally dark one. From a raging, hunchbacked Klaus Kinski to Lee Van Cleef's flinty, hawk-nosed countenance to Gian Maria Volante's wildly hallucinating madman to Clint's cigarillo-chomping roughneck with no name, one might call this film a meditation upon faces. Faces and guns. And it's all tied together by Morricone's sweeping score, which pendulates between primal grunts from the pit and overpowering Bach organ fugues!

BLACK BOOK (2006, Paul Verhoeven)
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After a few explorations of hollow men, CGI bugs, robot cops, showgirls, ice-pick murderers, and the like, Verhoeven returns to where he began– visceral, dark, Dutch art film. Verhoeven usually takes the dim view of mankind, and here he quite effortlessly develops his hypothesis that we exist in a state of neverending war; it's just that big men with small ideas are always submitting these arbitrary labels, like "1914-1918," or "1939-1945," and to tell you the truth, Verhoeven doesn't know quite what those are supposed to mean...

DIRTY HARRY (1971, Don Siegel)

I said before that DIRTY HARRY is "a complex dissection of the 'man of values' in a world that has none, with our hero gradually realizing that his supposed values systems are in fact shadowy and undefined, and aww, who the hell cares anymore, let's shoot some people." Sure, it's sorta fascist. Sure, it stacks the deck, unimaginably. Sure, it has laughable depictions of hippies. But dig that groovy Lalo Schifrin score! Check out that classic a-hole authority figure, John Vernon! Behold the simpering, insane majesty of psycho-killer Andy Robinson! See Clint Eastwood's noon-day hot-dog interrupted by the magnum-blasting of goons! You know, just another Don Siegel masterpiece.

CREEPSHOW (1982, George A. Romero)
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As I have written before in these hallowed pages, I would like to invest in a bumper sticker which says "I'd rather be...watching CREEPSHOW." Now I could say that this film flirts with the Top 100 entirely by virtue of "Ed Harris disco dance mania," but it's really because Romero lovingly recreates the morbid fantasias of childhood, the sensation of reading a book beneath the covers with a flashlight; the impressionability of youth, whereupon a dark and stormy night can inspire a sense of unrestrained, gleeful dread... Also: Tom Atkins.

EATING RAOUL (1982, Paul Bartel)
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"I'm the host here, goddammit, now get out of your clothes and get into the hot tub, or get out! We don't want any wet blankets or spoilsports at this party...we're here to SWING!" "-Yeah, well, swing on THIS!" EATING RAOUL is probably Paul Bartel's (DEATH RACE 2000, SCENES FROM THE CLASS STRUGGLE IN BEVERLY HILLS) greatest, loopiest trashterpiece, and it's one that pushes the envelope considerably. Comedy this quirky can be a slippery slope, but Bartel and Mary Woronov, who were quite obviously born to work together (as our 80's cult Hepburn and Tracy), soon brush aside our fears with an impossibly perfect combination of slapstick, refinement, and obscenity.

MILDRED PIERCE (1945, Michael Curtiz)
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"That Ted Forrester's nice-looking, isn't he? Veda likes him." –"Who wouldn't? He has a million dollars." Film noir, melodrama, woman's weepie, whatever the fuck you want to call it, MILDRED PIERCE (based on the novel by James M. Cain) is goddamned fantastic. Joan Crawford, as a hard-workin' small businesswoman who can't seem to catch a break exudes genuine frustration, pathos, and the weight of life's disappointments...she's at the height of her shoulder-padded powers. I don't wish to reveal much of the plot, but Ann Blyth's spectacular, spiteful portrayal of Mildred's money-hungry daughter, Veda, has got to be one of the most hate-able screen villains of all-time.

STAR WARS (1977, George Lucas)
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One of the most enjoyable adventure movies ever made. Continuous revisions, CGI shitstorms, and seemingly endless, doltish pop culture quotings cannot dampen the effect of the Star Destroyer thundering overhead, the menagerie of rubbery buddies at the intergalactic dive bar, Harrison Ford's lopsided grin, Alec Guinness' soothing self-assurance, Carrie Fisher's privileged but gutsy revolutionary, the cathartic roar of the angry Wookiee, the sad bleeps and bloops of a forlorn R2-D2. The attention to detail in the starship models; the sprawling, ramshackle sets and rundown futuristic equipment; the imaginative aliens and innovative special effects; the nods to Kurosawa, Curtiz, and Hawks; the childish wonder and excitement... ah, the heart swells! (But goddamn, what a pity the way things have turned out...)

JFK (1991, Oliver Stone)
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Whether or not you agree with Stone's politics, or all, or none, or 10% of the conspiracy theories contained within the hefty treatise that is JFK, you must admit that it is something of a piece de resistance in terms of the fusion of editing, music, narration, and camerawork. At times it feels as if you are situated upon the tail leader of the Zapruder film; it's already been projected, and you're whirling around in the darkness afterward, confused, spooked, disoriented... A monument should be built to Joe Pesci's eyebrows in this film. And Tommy Lee Jones' mysterious, frightening portrayal of Clay Shaw just might be his finest work. Also: Gary Oldman, gay Kevin Bacon, Jack Lemmon, and Donald Sutherland... as "X!"

HOUSE (1977, Nobuhiko Obayashi)
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Though it pains me to say that HOUSE does not quite pack the same punch the second time around, nothing can compare to the feelings of sheer shock, confusion, elation, and general bogglement that HOUSE instills in the first-time viewer. As I've written, "To avoid comparing it to other films, I would simply describe the HOUSE experience as akin to being trapped inside a kaleidoscope as a cackling madman rams and twirls and flips and submerges it with reckless abandon as upbeat music and ludicrous sound effects ricochet here and there and everywhere, dueling one another for dominance." Theoretically, I feel as if I've often thought that there were "no rules" in cinema, but only after seeing HOUSE did I realize that such a seemingly meaningless conceit could actually, successfully be put into practice!


TRUST (1990, Hal Hartley)
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Hal Hartley's a personal American indie film hero of mine, and it was difficult to decide whether TRUST, SIMPLE MEN, AMATEUR, or HENRY FOOL belonged on this list. I settled on TRUST, a film I've described as "REBEL WITHOUT AN APARTMENT." It's a stirring, contemplative, and frequently deadpan hilarious tract; suburban malaise in a world on the verge of... something.


7 comments:

Henry Swanson's Glasses said...

The nutty thing about your list, is that a bunch of those I could easily see in my top 20-30 (depending on my mindset on that given day).

I honestly don't envy you having to narrow this down to 100 titles. Brutal mental wrestling match that is.

J.D. said...

Nice list so far. Good to see some faves that you've already reviewed in there (MOUTH OF MADNESS!) and other gems like JFK - great film. I'm torn between it and NIXON as being my all-time fave Stone films.

Austin said...

Oh, shit, this is exciting. Is the top 100 going to be ranked and revealed in reverse numerical order in installments of 20, vh1-style?

I'm setting some over/unders for the top 100. Guesses, everyone?

Bronson: 3.5
Ironside: 2.5
Lynch: 3.5
Clint: 4.5
AFI's top 100: 9.5
Fangoria's 101 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen (http://www.listsofbests.com/list/30714-101-best-horror-movies-you-ve-never-seen): 6.5

Sean Gill said...

Henry,

Thanks for stopping by- there's certainly been a fair amount of mental wrestling in compiling my list (see also: the abundance of runners-up here). Lists themselves are pretty fun, but the sheer number of great films that must be excluded by virtue of there being more than 100 of 'em, is pretty maddening.

J.D.,

Ah thank you, sir. I definitely need to watch NIXON again, even if only for the Ed Harris/Powers Boothe/James Woods trifecta of greatness.

Austin,

Ha- glad to see you're enthused. I'll be revealing, VH1-style, but maybe more like 5 at a time, depending on how much time I have to write. At this time, I refuse to comment on whether or not your odds are on the right track, however...

PS- And I enjoyed that Fangoria list, as well.

Jason said...

Haven't see Baby Doll, but now I really want to! Good call of For a Few Dollars More, too, hope to see some more Leone.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

A really nice selection here.

I too love In The Mouth Of Madness, Star Wars [although quite frankly I'm tired of Lucas pushing the trilogy and prequels on us- I've really moved on from that universe I must profess- you heard it here first- classic first film though!], and anything by Leone & Eastwood are in my MUST SEE book.

I love their work.

Fun look back. sff

Sean Gill said...

Jason,

Thanks for stoppin by and don't be surprised if you end up seeing a good two or three more Leones before I'm through.

SFF,

Thank you, my friend. Agreed on Star Wars, Leone, & Eastwood, though still think that EMPIRE STRIKES BACK holds up wonderfully, as well- but damn George for the rest!