Friday, July 1, 2011

Junta Juleil's Top 100: #70-66

70. FAT GIRL (2001, Catherine Breillat)

I'm the first to admit that, like BAD LIEUTENANT, CRASH, and any number of movies on this list, FAT GIRL is not for everyone. But I will also say that it's probably the truest, most important film about adolescence to come out in years, and its final, 400 BLOWS-mirroring freeze frame conveys an intent to shatter the complacency of watered-down "youth in turmoil" movies, just as Truffaut's film did back in '59. Catherine Breillat is a provocateur, to be sure, but she's neither a dime-store shock-peddler nor an obnoxious feminist. Her films attempt to glean meaning from the ever-shifting dynamics of sex and power which govern human interaction, and she doesn't shy away from asking the tough questions or handing out the tough answers. This is her masterpiece.

69. THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982, Jim Henson & Frank Oz)

I've said this before, but here it goes again:
True creativity, for me, is and has always been the ability to build something out of nothing- with your hands. THE DARK CRYSTAL is the apex of Jim Henson and designer Brian Froud's interminable artistry (they also collaborated on LABYRINTH), and here, they've built a timeless universe of breathtaking spectacle, exotic unfamiliarity, fanciful magic, ancient mysticism, exacting detail, and uncompromising depth. They are so confident (and deservedly so!) in their vision, that they've chosen to dispense with humans altogether, relegating them to puppeteering and vocal duties. There's no CGI here, no poorly rendered computer animations fabricated by some lazy skeeze at his PC. Everything's been rigorously fashioned and laboriously crafted from the ground up. While it's been designed for children to grasp, this is by no means merely a children's film. Using the familiar framework of the "quest" mythos, there's still philosophical complexity, palpable trauma, and visceral evil. Certain images possess a real potency, and stand out from the others: the dying Skeksis Emperor literally crumbling away in mid-screech as his vile, potential successors circle like vultures; the charming, faithful, lovable Fizzgig and his impossibly gaping maw; the genius matte paintings and meticulously sculpted forests that spare no detail from the tiniest of insects to the largest of trees to creatures I cannot even begin to describe. There is a certain REALness to the entirety of the proceedings because the screen is full of objects, animals, and characters that ARE real- someone could hold and manipulate them by hand or by string or by lever, and this is what gives them the breath of life. And with that breath, this film exhales upon the viewer the vivacity, exuberance, and sincerity that were poured into it by its creators. So eff you, CGI. You can toss my motherlovin' salad.

68. PULP FICTION (1994, Quentin Tarantino)

It was difficult to pick a favorite Tarantino. In general, he's something of a polarizing figure– in turns he's pompous, restrained, and occasionally misunderstood by slavering fanboys and disapproving critics alike. RESERVOIR DOGS has the tautness and intensity of a capital-G Great stage play, JACKIE BROWN features Tarantino at the height of his powers as an actor's director, KILL BILL is a helluva lot of well-orchestrated kung fu-spaghetti western fun, DEATH PROOF features perhaps the greatest car chase ever filmed and Kurt Russell's sleaziest, most ridiculous performance since BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS forces us to question how each of us (consciously or subconsciously) constructs narratives out of history. In fact, I might have even picked BASTERDS for this list, but I think I need to sit on it for about ten years first. Regardless, PULP FICTION is perhaps the most lovingly-constructed paean to American cinema ever to be sung from the rooftops; it's KISS ME DEADLY and PSYCHO and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and RIO BRAVO and CHARLEY VARRICK and SHAFT and ZARDOZ and THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK rolled into one, razor-sharp, fast-paced indie crime-fest that got Travolta dancing again, Keitel into a tuxedo, Eric Stoltz eating Fruit Brute, Uma looking like Anna Karina, and Amanda Plummer shivering and shuddering with the force of her own insanity! ...I could go on. A damn good movie, and my only complaint is that Dick Miller got left on the cutting room floor!

67. LOST HIGHWAY (1997, David Lynch)

A spider climbs the wall. Gary Busey whimpers. Robert Blake points a camcorder at you. David Bowie croons "Funny how secrets travel..." You careen down a highway into blackness, the only illumination coming from your flickering headlamps... LOST HIGHWAY is truly an experience. And it makes plenty of sense if you think about it long enough, so don't tell me that "it's needlessly confusing"– it just demands a certain, brooding sort of viewer who'll allow themselves to be lured into the veritable labyrinth that Lynch has constructed. Plus, Robert Loggia's livid, red-faced rant about tailgating is surely worth the price of admission alone. And one of my favorite facets of Lynch's oeuvre is the fact that his movies often linger, long after you've finished watching them; hanging dangerously at the periphery as you continue your day. I first saw LOST HIGHWAY on a VHS with my sister during an overcast, Midwestern afternoon in late summer. Afterward, we went out to dinner with the rest of my family, as it was a special occasion. As afternoon turned to evening, the sense of mystery and uncertainty remained. As I walked into the restaurant, I took a fleeting, sidelong glance into a dimly-lit room adjoining the kitchen. I saw an older woman chopping something, quite robotically, and with a hint of menace. She turned toward me, our eyes locked, and in one forceful movement, she shut the door. The entire exchange couldn't have lasted more than four or five seconds, but it carried with it a frighteningly palpable sense of dread. The only reason I repeat this story is to illustrate that Lynch's power is such that his films don't just invade your dreams (as many have already posited), they invade your waking hours! The best ones are potent enough to put you in a genuine state, whereupon you see the hidden menace in everything. Obviously, it's not a state you ought to be in all the time, but it's a darkly magical one that I deeply appreciate. Brace yourselves for more Lynch as this list continues.

66. THE UNKNOWN (1927, Tod Browning)

Almost everything I could say about this film carries with it the potential of sullying your maiden viewing by way of 'knowing too much.' So I'll tell you this: It stars Lon Chaney, whose virtues I have extolled HERE; co-stars Joan Crawford, whose acting talents and frightening eyebrows I have praised HERE; and was directed by Tod Browning, whose penchant for nightmarish silent and early sound cinema has been raved about HERE. All I'll say is that it deals with ill-advised obsessions, the blossoming of twisted love, and the madness that dances around a man's eyes when he discovers the senselessness of it all. Oh yeah, and it takes place at A CIRCUS. It's bold, it's brutal, and Lon Chaney (near the finale) delivers what has to be the finest reaction shot in all of cinema. One of the greatest films from the silent era (or any other, for that matter).

Coming up next... Philip Glass, my second-favorite ghost story, and Ed Harris fights the dragon!

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


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hey Sean

It's hard not love or at least like Quentin's work.

I have yet to see Inglorious Basterds but it's on my list.

I've seen everything else and it's all fantastic.

Now, interestingly, I hate CGI most of the time. I like it some applications, the new Battlestar Galactica series comes to mind. I really enjoyed what they did with it there.

But my love for models and miniatures seems to know no end, which is why you'll be as stunned and surprised as me that I simply couldn't get into The Dark Crystal.

A friend of mine LOVES the film. He lent it to me recently. I tried to get into it, but I found it to be a little bit of a bore. My good man Sean should I give it another chance?

By the way, this from a guy who looooves Farscape! Go figure right.

Now, lastly, I have a very limited knowledge of Lynch. I finally watched Dune- interesting - and J.D. and others have me convinced that I must purchase Twin Peaks soon, which I plan to do.

Let me ask, if I had to give Lynch a go again, what do you recommend first, Twin Peaks? Blue Velvet? Mulholland Drive or your selection of Lost Highway? Please excuse my Lynch ignorance, but I am open to the education.

Cheers for this fine countdown as it continues.


Sean Gill said...


How far did you make it into DARK CRYSTAL? My gut says you should give it another chance, but maybe when you're in a more pensive mood. It's more deliberately paced than the average fantasy film, and the lack of human characters has been cited as an obstacle to getting into it; but for my money there's just so much ingenuity and creativity on display that I'm consistently transfixed. How do you feel about something like LABYRINTH? (Which I enjoy quite a bit, but it's markedly more commercial and lighthearted than DARK CRYSTAL.)

As for Lynch, I think TWIN PEAKS is a great place to start– addictive and weird, but not SO weird or incomprehensible that it'll turn off the uninitiated. If you're diggin' TWIN PEAKS, then I'd say move on to either BLUE VELVET or MULHOLLAND DR.; they're both hilarious and frightening films that create exquisite moods and practically demand re-viewings (in a good way). If you're still on board, I'd move on to the next tier, stuff like WILD AT HEART, LOST HIGHWAY, TWIN PEAKS-FIRE WALK WITH ME, etc.

J.D. said...

What? No love for THE STRAIGHT STORY? ; )

Ryan said...

Glad to see some love for The Unknown on your list, Sean. I wrote about the movie in a short piece a couple of months back myself:

Sean Gill said...


The brilliance of THE UNKNOWN can't be emphasized enough. I enjoyed your writeup, too. And if you haven't seen them, I highly recommend THE UNHOLY THREE, WHERE EAST IS EAST, and WEST OF ZANZIBAR for more perverse Browning/Chaney insanity.