Friday, June 3, 2011

The Runners-Up to Junta Juleil's Top 100, Part 2

Ah, more spillover. But next, we'll be cracking the Top 100 for real.

DRACULA (1931, Tod Browning)
I've said before that "DRACULA is a monster classic, full of fleeting, mystical moments and ethereal majesties. Exceedingly atmospheric and possessing one of the most iconic leading performances in film history, DRACULA is a Halloween fixture and a classic of early sound cinema; it's mandatory viewing not only for horror fans, but for cineastes in general." The maniac élan of Dwight Frye; the ineffable, funereal poetry of Lugosi's performance; the weight and the torment of centuries... while it may not be an objectively perfect film, dammit, it's close enough for me.

STROZEK (1978, Werner Herzog)
"No one kicks you here, Bruno." –"Not they do it spiritually." So Herzog tackles the American Dream, er, let's make that the American Nightmare. How do we get from a point where the emotionally and institutionally damaged German street performer Bruno S. (played by the emotionally and institutionally damaged real-life German street performer, Bruno S.) is escaping thugs in Germany to find a better life in America, to the point where a cop is screaming "WE CAN'T STOP THE DANCING CHICKENS! WE CAN'T STOP THE DANCING CHICKENS, SEND AN ELECTRICIAN!?" Well, I'm not going to tell you how. See the film for yourself. But be prepared for more humanity in non-actor Bruno S.'s little finger than in the entirety of your average, unfortunate member of that species we call Homo sapiens.

THE MECHANIC (1972, Michael Winner)
A Michael Winner movie permitted to even bask in the presence of the top 100?! Yeah, you heard me right. While this might not be the best movie that Bronson was ever in, this is probably the best "Bronson movie." I've written of my love for this flick before: It's a detached, melancholy thriller with crisp, artistic cinematography; a dissonant, unnerving Jerry Fielding score; and perhaps Bronson's most complex, compelling performance. And, boy, has it got a doozy of an ending. Highest marks. (Plus, this might mark the beginning of Bronson's love affair with ice cream– not to be confused with his love affairs with chicken or bananas.)

THE LIMEY (1999, Steven Soderbergh)
The style of swingin' 60's Godard, but without all the pompous, pseudo-revolutionary hogwash and self-congratulatory pretension that've infected his films sometime since 1965 or so, THE LIMEY has what every movie should have: an aged, blood-spattered Terence Stamp screaming at the top of his Cockney lungs, "Tell him I'm fucking comingggg!" The brutality of a POINT BLANK or an OUTFIT combined with the thoughtfulness of a Jean-Pierre Melville or an Antonioni, THE LIMEY is, hands-down, Soderbergh's masterpiece. Cliff Martinez's somber, furtive score; the use of counter-culture icons like Peter Fonda, Barry Newman, and Joe Dallesandro; the lunatic improvisations of a pony-tail'd Nicky Katt; brilliant, deadpan sidekickery by Luis Guzman; and the ethereal cinematography of Edward Lachmann all revolve around the furious, uncompromising, force-of-nature lead portrayal by Terence Stamp. It's THE REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST for the Sons of Lee Marvin.

EXTREME PREJUDICE (1987, Walter Hill)
Because I can't really think of any way to put it better than I already did, I'll say this: "Before you stick this thing in your player, I want you to mark out an 8 foot radius around your TV set. Then I want you to make sure there's nothing in that zone that you wouldn't mind having 40 gallons of testosterone poured over. EXTREME PREJUDICE has been proven to make wombs shrivel and has turned the frilliest of ladies quite husky; it makes men stumble, confused, into the street with a mysterious desire to chomp on cigars and arm wrestle. It's robust, potent, severe, and is completely safe when used as directed." It's the ultimate manly man's 'manly man' movie, and just about the most fun you can have indoors on a hot summer's day. And I'll leave you with two words that you should always remember: "Michael," and "Ironside."

"If you're sad, and like beer, I'm your lady." To that, I answer "why, I'm all of the above, but I thought Isabella Rossellini was already my lady." Guy Maddin, George Toles, and Kazuo Ishiguro put their heads together for a completely deranged, nostalgia-soaked, impeccably-desinged paean to silent and early sound cinema, a film so utterly bizarre and completely sincere that it avoids the typical pitfalls of pastiche. And even though the ending is borrowed from HANGOVER SQUARE, by God, it still takes the guts outta ya. (Also: Isabella Rossellini has prosthetic legs filled with beer, which might be enough to get this near the Top 100 alone.)

DOWN BY LAW (1986, Jim Jarmusch)
Picking a favorite Jarmusch film is a lofty task; I've got major soft spots in my heart for STRANGER THAN PARADISE, DEAD MAN, GHOST DOG, and MYSTERY TRAIN, to name a few. But nothing can match what Tom Waits called "a Russian neo-fugitive episode of THE HONEYMOONERS," the dingy-bayou prison-break (that doesn't actually show the prison-break) classic, DOWN BY LAW. You can almost touch the peeling paint, feel the haze of everpresent New Awlins humidity, smell the stench and stagnancy of the swamps... And that's not the half of it- there's the inscrutable John Lurie, the drunken Tom Waits, and the never-better zany Eye-talian, Roberto Begnini!

LE TROU (1960, Jacques Becker)
Speaking of prison breaks, this one's all about the logistics, the timeframe, and the little details that make it feel real. Jacques Becker's observational style is applied to a group of desperate, jailed men, and the results are astounding. He documented the behavior of criminals before in TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI, but these men are anguished, doomed souls, yearning for freedom– they aren't zoot suit-wearing bon vivant gangsters; they're working-class buddies who had to push the acceptable limits of human behavior to survive in the free world (until they got busted), and now they have to push the limits of their own ingenuity if they want to survive a caged world. Often, in a film of this type, we'll see a man digging with a spoon or a toothbrush or a what-have-you, and then, via montage, we see the completed tunnel. There's an economy of storytelling in that, but it occasionally feels staged, contrived, or worse. In LE TROU, some men in real-time pass around a steel bar, taken from a bed, and smash at the concrete. When one man tires, he passes the bar to the next, and then to the next. Finally, with nary an edit, they break through, creating a hole. We've just seen the process and the effort which went into making the hole, and that is strangely satisfying. No smoke and mirrors here; it's real men doing real things. Strange that a genuine moment as simple as this should stick out to me in a life-time of film watching. Of course, it's not as simple as pointing a camera at someone doing something real and recording it– but I suppose therein lies Becker's genius.

BLOODSPORT (1988, Newt Arnold)
"What?!," I see you saying, way in the back, lurking in the darkness. "Who the hell lets BLOODSPORT within 30 miles of a Top 100 list?!" Well, 'Mr. Too-Fancy-to-Appreciate-Van-Damme's-Mastery-of-Splits-and-Full-Contact-Martial-Arts,' I do. Because there's something to be said for a movie (even if it's a big, dumb, fun movie) that can be watched again and again and again and again, forever. Cannon Films churned out some silly content and some serious content, but it was always audacious– ballsy, even- brimming with a genuine joie-de-vivre that was infectious then, and it's infectious now. Golan and Globus were producers who allowed their directors artistic control, who refused to stomp upon their creativity, and infused their production company with the sense that something new and exciting was happening– yeah, what were they thinking, right?! "Golan and Globus used to be big," says the naysayer in the rear. "No," I say, "they ARE big– it's the pictures that got small! KUMI-TE! KUMI-TE! KUMI-TE! KUMI-TE!"

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975, John Huston)
A grand adventure film from a time when that didn't mean a CGI fuckfest with a heavily airbrushed poster, a $200 million budget, a cast of brain-dead fluffballs for the younger demographic and "wait, do we have a script yet?– here, let's assign these eight guys to it, each of whom has a notable credit from a high-profile reboot." Rudyard Kipling's tale of fortune and glory and deification has been laid out on the screen here by John Huston, perhaps the best-suited man for the job from Kipling's time to ours. Somehow, all at once, he captures rollicking fun, the absurdities of imperialism, the outrageous hubris of man, and the pathos which often swells beneath it. And rarely have two lead actors (here, Sean Connery and Michael Caine) been so perfectly cast, so full of life, so connected to material that flits to and fro from the light-hearted to the downbeat like the oscillations of a river's current, flowing through a dramatic, uncharted slit of a canyon, somewhere on the other side of the world...

HIGHBALL (1997, Noah Baumbach)
Though this film's cult following outside of my apartment is likely pretty slim; I will say, that inside my apartment, said cult following is rather extensive and rather rabid. I've spoken of my love for this film before, and I have to say "it's the ultimate party movie for people who generally dislike party movies." Rae Dawn Chong as herself, Chris Eigeman, Carlos Jacott, John Lehr, Peter Bogdanovich... it's fantastic. Acerbic wit, low-budge' moxie, and an incredible re-watchability factor.

THE SCARLET EMPRESS (1934, Josef von Sternberg)
Holy shit– let von Sternberg do whatever he wants, and this is the result: a cast of thousands; imposing, grotesque statuary and sets that spiral toward the heavens; intertitles and silent film techniques in the midst of sound film; Sam Jaffe leering with half-witted insanity (he gives Dwight Frye a run for his money); and Marlene Dietrich in opulent period costume pieces and shot with starry-eyed closeups. Some have described it as "kitsch," and maybe it is, but it's really a weighty examination of the nature of power: we only see Dietrich become the "Scarlet Empress" at the film's close, in fact, we spend the majority of our time with her as a frightened young woman spirited away to a foreign land, yanked to and fro by forces beyond her control. Ultimately, she embarks on an inevitable, fascinating journey towards becoming the sort of deadened, manipulating individual capable of wielding absolute power. It's pretty damned spectacular.

Now I've done it– I've put Josef von Sternberg and John Huston in the same room as the Garbage Pail Kids, and I'll defend that decision to the death. Rarely does a movie achieve such a perfection of badness; not even TROLL 2 can quite compete with this schizophrenic tale of one-dimensional misfits. Take Ali Gator, for example. His dogged, single-minded quest to eat people's toes quickly vaults him onto the shortlist of my favorite characters in all of cinema. Seriously, his only character trait is that he longs, unswervingly, to hasten the union between your toes and his teeth. We've got little people in hideous, quasi-animatronic costumes. We've got "Captain Manzini," a sort of gutter-Shakespeare stock player. We've got bodily functions. Vomit. Farting. Musical numbers. We got a plot that revolves, entirely, around a fashion show. There's underage romance. Genuine rage. Powerlessness. Cries unto the night. Biker gangs. Toxic sewer sludge. Is it burlesque? Is it grotesque? The modern-day GARGANTUA AND PANTAGRUEL? WHAT THE HELL IS THIS THING?! All I do know is that it's truly something special, and if you'd caught me on a different day, hell, this thing could've cracked the Top 100 proper. So consider yourselves lucky. For now.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Oh yeah, DOWN BY LAW - quite possibly my fave Jarmusch film, just edging out DEAD MAN if only for the "i scream you scream we all scream..." scene with Waits, Benigni and Lurie. Awesome.

Jason said...

I can't decide if your defense of Garbage Pail Kids is scary or hilarious. Spot on about The Limey, nice to see Bloodsport on there, and Man Who Would be King, wow what a great film!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Love The Limey. Garbage Pail Kids not so much. To be honest, I've never seen it, but even you Sean cannot convince me to seek it out. I'm sorry. : ) No way.

The Limey is hands down one of the best.

I'm very interested in seeing Down By Law.

I will say, it is quite possible, with the inclusion of the Gabrage Pail Kids, Bloodsport looks like a classic. : )


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

By the way Sean Mystery Train was something special too.

ALso, very interested in Extreme Prejudice. Anything by Walter Hill is interesting to me.

ALso, your expressive reviews are an exceptional read.

Sean Gill said...

I guess you'll have to see THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS for yourself- heh. But ah, yes, THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING- what a film, indeed!

Ha! Well, I can certainly understand your reservations regarding GPK, it's not everyone's– well, possibly make that ANYONE's– cup of tea, but I still stand by the mind-blowing heights of lunacy which it achieves. Even holding the disc in my hands, I can't be completely sure that something this nuts actually exists.

LIMEY is great, and if you enjoyed MYSTERY TRAIN, then DOWN BY LAW is certainly a more raw, gritter, lower-budge' cousin. It's difficult for me to pick that top Jarmusch. Also, if you've ever enjoyed a movie with gunplay, tough talk, and massive quantities of spilt blood and tequila, then you and EXTREME PREJUDICE are gonna a heckuva time.

And, as always, thanks for all your kind words!

Jillaine said...

I'm so proud that we are related