Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Junta Juleil's Top 100: #75-71

75. HANA-BI (1997, Takeshi Kitano)

Takeshi Kitano– one of the great, unsung heroes of contemporary filmmaking. Comedian, actor, novelist, director, painter, poet, singer, tap dancer, game show host– you name it, and he's done it. Do yourself a favor and read about his occasionally bizarre, occasionally incredible life story, which encompasses strip club stand-up comedy, a burgeoning art career, hitting rock bottom, a suicide attempt, rebirth, and a new Kitano renaissance. It's difficult for me to pick a favorite Kitano– amongst the films he's directed, there's SONATINE, VIOLENT COP, ZATOICHI, KIKUJIRO, and BROTHER; amongst the film's he's appeared in there's BATTLE ROYALE, GOHATTO, MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE, and JOHNNY MNEMON– er, forget I said that last one. Anyway, HANA-BI (FIREWORKS) is presently my favorite. Kitano took up painting in a big way after his suicide attempt, and he often credits it as a factor in his rehabilitation and recovery. As such, painting is a central motif to HANA-BI, and there's a grand stillness in this film; somehow Kitano makes the act of soaking in a painting a kinetic, cinematic act. But it's not all tranquil musings on our own impermanence, it's also cool, calm, collected nihilism punctuated with sporadic, impromptu thunderheads of violence which would make Joe Pesci blush. In short, it's essential cinema.

74. DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993, Richard Linklater)

While it might be heresy to rank this film higher than its inspiration, AMERICAN GRAFFITI, it's so much damned fun, I can't help it. Talk about a movie with a high rewatchability factor– I can watch this film anytime, anyplace. But probably the best time is late spring or early summer, so you can duplicate, even vicariously (especially vicariously!), that ecstatic feeling of 'SCHOOL'S OUT FOR MUTHAFUCKING SUMMER!' The feeling of an endless (well, it sorta felt like it at the time), boundless vacation as you're jamming spiral-bound notebooks into the trash and purging the piles of lead-scuffed busywork from your locker– it's the ultimate cleansing, a feng shui of the soul! Linklater unravels his tale with the ensemble-cast storytelling acumen of a Renoir or an Altman, portraying a rogues' gallery of middle and high school types with playful honesty and complete sincerity. Nicky "WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?!" Katt's raging asshole townie; Parker Posey's shrill, hazing harpy; Wiley Wiggins' newly-minted high schooler with a penchant for nose-touching; the trio of lovable proto-intellectuals (Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, & Marissa Ribisi); Matthew "it'd be a lot cooler if you did" McConaughey; a paint-bedaubed Ben Affleck (which is the proper state for an Affleck)...I could go on. Pass the Lone Star.

73. PHENOMENA (1985, Dario Argento)

There's not too much to say that I haven't said already, so I'll say it again:
"Jennifer Connelly plays a girl named Jennifer who can telepathically communicate with insects in this Dario Argento masterpiece. The atmosphere is exquisite- dreamlike, comforting, dangerous. Something about his use of the Swiss Alps, the rustling pine trees, the ominous mountain winds, and the over-the-top gore... it's a throwback to the original R-rated storybooks: brutal folklore like the Brothers Grimm. I love this movie. I love the fact that there is one line of narration in the entire film, spoken about twenty minutes in. I love that in that one line of narration, they mispronounce the name 'Richard Wagner.' I love that there is a chimp with a straight razor (in homage to Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"). Between this and SUSPIRIA, it is clear that Dario Argento loves maggots, retching, girls' boarding schools, brutal murders, and the volatile combination of all four. I love that he loves that. I love that there's not only ladybug POV, sleepwalking POV, murderer POV, and Great Sarcophagus POV, but there's also MAGGOT POV. I love that the supernatural is represented by fan-blown hair. I love that the ending somehow manages to be as abrupt AND more ridiculous than the screamfest at the end of TENEBRE. I love the inappropriate use of heavy metal, the baroque visuals, the viscerality, the Bee Gees & Richard Gere references, the charming and sympathetic Donald Pleasence (in spite of Argento dialogue), the evocative soundtrack, the bitchy teachers straight out of SUSPIRIA...in fact, there's nothin' NOT to love here. The only way it could be more ridiculously perfect would be if she made out with the chimp." Amen, Dario. Amen.

72. FLESH + BLOOD (1985, Paul Verhoeven)

Another sort of rehash here:
"I'll begin with two quotes by Paul Verhoeven which seem apropos to this film: "People love seeing violence and horrible things. The human being is bad and he can't stand more than five minutes of happiness. Put him in a dark theater and ask him to look at two hours of happiness and he'd walk out or fall asleep." and "Remember that Christianity is a religion grounded in one of the most violent acts of murder, the crucifixion. Otherwise, religion wouldn't have had any kind of impact."
A lot of people like to pin down Paul Verhoeven as 'the guy who did SHOWGIRLS,' and while he cannot erase the fact that he is indeed guilty of being the guy who did SHOWGIRLS, he's one of the most audacious filmmakers to emerge from post-WWII Europe. FLESH + BLOOD is Machiavellian power games, feculent whores, stillborn children, nun snipers, yellowed teeth, and dogs lapping up pools of diseased gore. This movie is absolutely BRUTAL. Every single character looks out for number one, and here, 'looking out for number one' means ripping an earring (and a chunk of flesh) from a woman as she's being raped or using 'God's word' when it's to your liking (Verhoeven has called organized religion a symptom of societal schizophrenia). Any time there's a moment for levity or genuine romance, it's immediately undercut by something like the rotting genitals or random carrion. It’s not exactly a historically accurate depiction of medieval warfare and the Black Death, and it doesn't quite take place in the 14th Century... sixty years ago it took place on the battlefields of Europe. Verhoeven was just a kid then, but he was there. As we speak, it's being waged by talking heads on TV, by hypocrites behind closed doors, and by vicious opportunists from here to the far corners of the world. Where an exploitation flick would insert a rape scene so the viewer could feel 'morally superior' as they enjoyed some T&A, Verhoeven stages sexual assault as a grotesque vortex of ever-shifting power dynamics between man, woman, and the collective. The performances are outstanding: Susan Tyrrell was born to do the Dark Ages- she enters the scene as a bawdy, pregnant, perpetually wasted whore whose life is a series of the highest, barbaric highs and the lowest, 'WHY ME?' lows; Brion James is pure animal, ruthless but bewildered; Ronald Lacey is the sinister Cardinal- malicious, but sincere (not that it matters when he's got his sword in your guts); Jack Thompson is the beleaguered hunter, embodying an almost Peckinpah-style morality (think Robert Ryan in THE WILD BUNCH); and Tom Burlinson is the man of science, but his singlemindedness gives way to a sanctimonious depravity. Rutger Hauer simmers and scowls- a calculating, towheaded, serpentine fiend, rapist, and murderer who might be the closest thing we've got to a 'hero.' Jennifer Jason Leigh- in possibly her finest performance- is a privileged, maid-beating blueblood who attends the condottiere's ‘school of hard knocks’ and emerges as perhaps the most complex and guileful of the bunch." It's nihilistic entertainment at its best, and my favorite Vehoeven (today, anyway).

71. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939, Frank Capra)

A film which seems to grow in relevance with each passing year. Politicians love to reference this film in attempts to inflate their perceived "inner-patriotism" and vaunted "outsider" status, yet if there was indeed a real life Mr. Smith, soon after the events depicted in this film he'd probably be killed in a Cessna crash that'd be deemed "completely accidental." Oh, and by the way, it was written by a socialist who refused to name names to HUAC and got blacklisted for it (Sidney Buchman). Jimmy Stewart is absolutely brilliant as the callow, unsophisticated vacancy-filler with truthful eyes and hay behind his ears, and his journey perfectly illustrates how the powers that be have hijacked patriotism and hammered it into submission, recreating its twisted form in the new normals of jingoism, belligerence, graft, and corruption. Shouldn't we trust in humanism instead of the oligarchs' smear factory? Ah, well– I guess we're just doomed to repeat history, whether we can remember it or not.

Coming up next... silent film, Gary Busey, and what some have called "the most-hated film in the Criterion Collection besides ARMAGEDDON!"

Previously on the countdown:
#80-76
#85-81
#90-86
#95-91
#100-96
Runners-up Part 1
Runners-up Part 2

A glimpse of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DOLLS

Thanks to all who came out this Sunday, and apologizes to those who were plagued by persistent and fearsome nightmares afterward. Below is a glimpse of my ventriloquist's dummy play, "Lester's Hidden Talent."

Mommy (Jillaine Gill) clutches Lester as she contemplates a better future. Photo by Michael Blase.

Friday, June 24, 2011

This Sunday: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DOLLS!

In the continuing series of one-night events at the Bowery Poetry Club as part of a joint-residency ("the Psycho Space Laboratory") between my Junta Juleil Productions, Rachel Klein Productions and BlueBox Productions; the Rachel Klein Theater presents:

It will be a variety hour of burlesque, theater, dance, circus, and a frightening ventriloquist's dummy routine featuring yours truly.

The details:
WHO: You.
WHAT: Night of the Living Dolls!
WHEN: Sunday, June 26, at 9:30 P.M.
WHERE: The Bowery Poetry Club. 308 Bowery, between Houston and Bleecker. F train to 2nd Ave, or the 6 to Bleecker.
WHY: Support independent theater and the imbibation of libation.
HOW MUCH: $10, cash only, at the door.

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

Friday, June 17, 2011

Junta Juleil's Top 100: #85-81

85. INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989, Steven Spielberg)

I really need to do a full-fledged review of this one of these days. Following two installments chock full of visual and choreographic mastery, Spielberg, Jeffrey Boam, and script doctor Tom Stoppard add something which would be inconceivable in a Republic serial: emotional resonance. The relationship between the Joneses (Ford and Connery as Jr. and Sr., that is) is a flawless synthesis of actor and role. This, of course, is steadily peppered with exquisite action sequences and visual gags- as if THE GREAT ESCAPE and THE GENERAL could somehow cohabitate on the same reel. This sort of film could easily fall flat, but under Spielberg's firm, unwavering hand, there's not a single note which rings false. There's so much to love here: the incredibly clever prologue (starring a vibrant River Phoenix) where it seems that every single event which molded Indy's life occurred on one summer's day in 1912, Indy's 20th Century motorcycle-jousting knight (and his father's phlegmatic reaction), the incredible stuntman's leap from galloping horse to hurtling tank, the breathless speedboat pursuit through labyrinthine canals, Connery and Elliott's silly secret handshake, the dour librarian with the world's noisiest stamp (in a touch worthy of Tati), or Connery slapped by a Nazi's leather glove and fiercely growling in retort- "It tellsh me that goose-schtepping morons such as yerschelf schould try RRREADING BOOKCHS inschtead of BAURNING THEM!" All of this is accompanied by John Williams' greatest score; and the payoffs- involving the three challenges and the reveal of the grail- have left an entire generation of adventure films stumbling and teetering in their wake.

84. CHARLEY VARRICK (1973, Don Siegel)

This movie has a finale which involves a '67 Chrysler Imperial versus a biplane. And no, that's not the only reason it cracked the Top 100. As I've said before, CHARLEY VARRICK is one of the best gritty, 70's, take-no-prisoners crime films populated with brutal, pistol-whippin', lady-slappin sons-of-bitchery. This movie isn't just cynical, it's amoral. Cutthroat. A lot of these flicks are like a punch in the guts– CHARLEY's a kick in the teeth! You could call it a series of clichés– it's "every-man-for-himself," "dog-eat-dog-eat-dog," "lookin'-out-for-numero-uno" etc., but Siegel takes it over the top to such a degree that we see (between the setpieces and the tough talk) the crumbling social structure, an America where calculated ruthlessness is a matter of survival, the ice-cold blood flowing through your veins a necessity. Walter Matthau is brilliantly inscrutable as our anti-anti-hero (usually the cop-killer is not the most pleasant character in a film). And Joe Don Baker's sadistic "Molly" is one of the great screen villains. Highest marks.

83. PARIS, TEXAS (1984, Wim Wenders)


A work of tenderness, of mystery, of reassurance. Robby Müller shows us the vastness of the desert landscape; Harry Dean Stanton shows us the vastness of the human soul. The pacing may be slow, but it's the sort of film in which you can lose yourself, just as you would while traveling by foot through a wild expanse. Wenders has always been deliberate; fascinated by nostalgia, sentiment, music; the ways in which we try to find order, meaning, and respite in our lives. Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, and Nastassja Kinski deliver moving, realistic portrayals; you get a sense of the spaces they inhabit, and those boundless spaces within their characters' minds. It's a movie through which you can roam, and maybe the epitome of Americana as represented on film (naturally, directed by a German).

82. CRASH (1996, David Cronenberg)

"They bury the dead so quickly; they should leave them lying around for months." I've written before that "the car itself is a conceptual hotbed of primordial fears and visceral desires: the stifling, claustrophobic space; constrictive belts and cold metal clasps; exhilarating accelerations and jolting stops– it's even the site of many a Baby Boomers' first sexual fumblings... and, oh yeah– the ever-present threat of death and shattered glass and crumpled metal and blood and fluid and bodies penetrated, torn, and ripped by the thundering collision of jagged steel and spongy tissue. We are surrounded by machines: they are part of us, and there is no escape. So we adapt, we integrate, we re-form ourselves like the maladjusted flesh sculptors we are. Howard Shore's dark, entrancing score sends metallic echoes and screeching guitar reverberations up from the pit of our deepest fears– it's as relentless and hypnotic as a highway cloverleaf. It taps into some primal fascination we don't quite have the vocabulary for– from watching bacteria mingle under a slide to pornography to, say, KOYAANISQATSI." Many great artists and writers wring truth from tracking the progress of the human mind; Cronenberg forces us to confront the progress of the body. It's ugly yet sterile, like a hideous medical tattoo. The performances are magnificent: the intensity of Elias Koteas, the smarm of James Spader, the commitment of Holly Hunter, or the gleefully misshapen Rosanna Arquette. And rarely is such a disturbing film so goddamned hilarious. Enjoy that car ride home, kiddies!

81. TOTAL RECALL (1990, Paul Verhoeven)

"If I am not me, den who da hell am I?" Now that is a fine question, sir, and perhaps the most eloquent philosophical inquiry posed to humanity since the days of Voltaire; maybe even since Montaigne. But maybe, just maybe, TOTAL RECALL is the future of human thought. Post-thought. "I've got to hand it to you, Cohagen – that's the best mindfuck yet." See what I mean? Short-attention-span philosophy with a satisfying payoff: the mindfuck. We don't have to fritter away hours flipping through the vellum of dusty tomes: that time is over. It had it's couple centuries in the sun, but now it can go the way of the Dodo. How 'bout instead– er, what was I talking about? I got over here some salacious photographs and a bunch of puns about Weiners. Er, wait– this is loosely based on a story by Philip K. Dick! How 'bout some Dick puns? How 'bout that instead?
This is what Paul Verhoeven means when he says he makes the movies that America deserves. TOTAL RECALL is completely fucken ridiculous, and meant to be enjoyed on many levels– as a latter-day Hitchcock sci-fi suspense thriller, as a quasi-Philip K. Dickian paranoid tract, as a joke on what passes for entertainment these silly days. I mean, he introduces a character, Benny, over and over and over again, just in case we've forgotten, in case we've been distracted by all the Martian mutants and gunplay and midget hookers. "Hey, it's Benny, remember me? Remember me?! IT'S BENNY!" Ah, a goddamned fun time if ever there was one. Also: Michael Ironside, in one of his finest, most startling performances; insane eye-bulging and rubbery Arnie faces; a sweeping Jerry Goldsmith score; and some of the most incredible special effects ever committed to celluloid. And, of course, I wrote this short story about what really happened behind the scenes. Pass the Labatt Maximum Ice!

Coming up next... Harvey Keitel gets naked– TWICE!

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

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:
#95-91
#100-96
Runners-up Part 1
Runners-up Part 2

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Junta Juleil's Top 100: #95-#91

95. ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1938, Howard Hawks)

I'm not sure anyone has ever matched the skill with which Hawks integrated exposition, character development, and sheer entertainment. He makes it look so damned easy, too. He often sets up a situation where men are doing a serious job, a dangerous job, and then events simply unfold. As they unfold, we learn everything we need to know about the characters because we've been there with them, in the trenches, seeing how far they can be pushed, and how hard they can push back. You don't feel as if you're watching something contrived by sheltered Hollywood-types, because it's not– he's incorporating details, the way his men act under pressure, the way he directs a picture, even, from his real-life experiences as an aviator, a race-car driver, an army man, and a factory worker. This is the sort of film to which I give my highest recommendation; I don't even think I have to tell you about the plot. Just another one of his immaculately constructed tales of men's men and ladies who pull no punches. Did I mention that Hawks' middle name was WINCHESTER?

94. MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937, Leo McCarey)

"It would make a stone cry."
–Orson Welles.
Sweet God in heaven, I'm not sure that any movie has ever jerked as many tears from its audiences, per capita, as MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW. Leo McCarey, who won a Best Director Oscar the same year for the well-made, but far lesser film THE AWFUL TRUTH, said in his acceptance speech: "Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture." It'd be a difficult movie for audiences to 'enjoy' in any time or place because it asks difficult questions about the relationship between parents and their children; how we care for them, how they cared for us, and what fate is to be earned for all "as the long day wanes." Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi play the elderly couple at hand, delivering a couple of the most purely, emotionally reactive performances in the history of the medium. The clock ticks, the children wait, and the old couple relive youthful memories, a moment of respite before moving on. Dr. Samuel Johnson said it better than I ever could: "We never do anything consciously for the last time without sadness of heart..." And so I join the ranks of viewers who find themselves grasping for the telephone as the final reel ends, calling up loved ones, contemplating these fleeting moments, and hoping for the chance to have more of them.

93. ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968, Roman Polanski)

From producer William Castle– yeah, you heard me right!– comes one of the finest horror films of the 1960's, or of any other era. Castle recognized his dramatic limitations (handing the reins ultimately to master of claustrophobic/metropolitan/conspiracy-horror, Roman Polanski), but he does show up for a brief, wordless, yet somehow amazingly hammy cameo during the phone booth scene. Regardless, this is really Polanski's film, and he spins the tale with paranoid gusto and eye-popping imagery; swirling, hallucinogenic dream sequences and off-kilter quotidian happenings. It's a hotbed of primal fears and existential dread: Polanski has got his finger on just the right nerve, and he plucks and twangs it unceasingly– rape, domestic terrors, body horror, the things we try to hide, the things we don't understand, our fear of doctors and the elderly and babies and enclosed spaces and antiquarian objects and of failure and of seeming crazy and of going crazy; and it all begins to collapse upon you like a black hole and a cry unto the pit– SWEET GOD, WHAT A MOVIE!!!
Also, Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer are just about the most adorably frightening and frighteningly adorable elderly actors I've ever seen (not to be confused with the elderly actors from #94!). And I have to say that John Cassavetes' "I didn't want to miss baby night" has got to rank as the most hilariously inappropriate excuse ever uttered, on or off a camera. (You'll know what I mean if you've seen the film– yikes!)

92. FAIL-SAFE (1964, Sidney Lumet)

It's difficult to incorporate methodical, systematically structured storytelling with genuine emotional stakes, but goddamn, does Lumet pull it together, and with the fate of the human race in the balance, no less! Most prefer DR. STRANGELOVE, which is sort of a loose, parodic retelling, but for my money, FAIL-SAFE's the stronger film. Some have said that STRANGELOVE's satire cuts to the bone, but I say FAIL-SAFE cuts to the bone, then fractures the bone, and then looks down at the bone, somberly, as tears well up in FAIL-SAFE's eyes. FAIL-SAFE then clenches its jaw; anguished, but with an abundance of dignity. As a side note, by and large, though your average fictional president is more appealing than your average actual president, I have to say that Henry Fonda's portrayal in this film goes beyond that– he is so sincere, so thoughtful, so determined, so damned invested, that you wish he really was the president. Also: Dom DeLuise in a serious role– chew on that for a little while.

91. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986, John Carpenter)

"Have you paid your dues, Jack– yessir, the check is in the mail." I've written a few observations about BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA before, saying "it's about the exhilaration of being ALIVE in a world of unfathomable mystery," and, of Kurt Russell's performance, "he's a runaway train of swagger, guts, and bluster...I never tire of his maniacally youthful cackle, or his proclivity toward moaning 'Awwwwww, CHRIST!'" In short, it's one hell of a time, written, directed, and performed by artists and craftsmen who are having one hell of a time. But it's no mindless shoot-em-up: it's a Hawksian ode to the bonds of friendship, the measure of character, and those ecstatic moments of temerarious action, where, against all better judgment, you feel damn near invulnerable. (Also, you just drank from the six-demon bag.) And, while we're at it, how 'bout that kickin' song over the end credits?


Coming up next...
George Romero's favorite movie, a legendary documentary, and... a movie with a lesser Baldwin!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

DARK OF THE SUN finally coming to DVD!

I've written of this film's bareknuckle-to-chainsaw brilliance HERE, and, after years of unavailability, the Warner Archive has seen fit to release it. Supposedly it is the uncut version, but I guess we won't know until the reviews come in.

Junta Juleil's Top 100: #100-#96

Alright, here we go, ladies and gentlemen:

#100. AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973, George Lucas)
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Ah, how I love the late 50's, early 60's nostalgia pic, of which AMERICAN GRAFFITI is the beloved grandaddy. Though I and many of the genre's admirers cannot lay claim to having experienced the era firsthand, so many films which I deeply enjoy (THE WANDERERS, STAND BY ME, CHRISTINE, etc., etc.) use it as an effective template for imparting profound lessons about the nature of adulthood and what it means and feels like to be on the cusp of it, the cusp of that storied abyss. (They also use it as an effective template for cramming in as many great Oldies tunes as is humanly possible!) In retrospect, I can't help but feel that these films go even further, sort of imparting mythical lessons about what life was like Before Things Got Shitty, or the fairy-tale time When People Had Something To Look Forward To. Now perhaps I'm being somewhat facetious, but it certainly feels that way these days. Regardless, this is a humanist masterpiece with a vital young cast (Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Charles Martin Smith, Paul Le Mat, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, among others) and a bittersweet ending that speaks toward What Came Next. It's George Lucas (or was it really Marcia?) at his best.

#99. SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980, Jeannot Szwarc)
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I'm not exactly a fan of the 'Romance' genre by any means, but the genuine aura of tenderness and melancholy which flows forth from this movie can play my emotions like a piano. As he has proven again and again, Richard Matheson's mastery of time travel as a narrative device is rarely (if ever) matched; he tackles it not as science, but as a reverie, an abstraction, a wandering sense of nostalgia and regret. John Barry's score is a pleasure to the point of pain, and Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour's connectedness easily make us forget about pop culture personas like "Superman" and "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." A beautiful film, and one which didn't blow 'em away at the box office, but which has inspired a rabid cult following, including an extremely dedicated fan club which predates the Internet.

#98. RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985, Andrei Konchalovsky)
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A prison escape film, of sorts, which passed through the hands of Akira Kurosawa, Paul Zindel, Eddie Bunker, and Golan & Globus before it became white-knuckle reality. RUNAWAY TRAIN is scraping steel, snowy vistas, blood and oil and grease and steam. The sheer, absolutely brutish intensity of Jon Voight and John P. Ryan is mind-blowing- we see men become animals, we see animals become men. Eric Roberts gets in on the action, too– this thing is a goddamn master's course in acting. One of the most potent, well-constructed thrillers in recent memory.

#97. THE PENALTY (1920, Wallace Worsley)
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Some of you know that I'm quite the Lon Chaney devotee; I've said in the past "from his achievements in self-mutilation to his mind-blowing makeup effects to his mastery of the crazy-eye to his portrayals of mad jealousy, mangling frustration, and unfettered pathos; he assembled a vast body of work that really can't be matched for variety, commitment, or poignancy- and half of his films are lost!" The man's masochistic streak and tortured countenance are well-demonstrated here in THE PENALTY as he plays a frightening gangster named "Blizzard" whose legs were mistakenly amputated as a boy. The apparatus he uses to sell the effect is astounding, as are the nuances in his facial expressions, particularly given the fact that he was in enormous pain and hence prone to losing consciousness for the duration of the shoot. This is silent melodrama at its finest: whether it's slugging you in the gut or tugging at your heart-strings, you feel as if you've utterly surrendered yourself to the experience– it grabs you by the lapels and takes you for a ride, and isn't that what cinema's all about?

#96. ACE IN THE HOLE (1951, Billy Wilder)
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Ah, the "newspaper flick." They're full of gritty, fast-talking men who're part-time wordsmiths and full-time swindlers, the sort of men who'd rather die than see some rival publication get the scoop. Enter Kirk Douglas, a gal-slappin' sonofabitch named Chuck Tatum who turns manipulatin' the masses into a spectator sport. I applaud this film and its ridiculous cynicism; it knew that that the days of aw, shucks truth-bending ("when the legend becomes fact, print the legend," anyone?) would one day give way to poisonous, THEY LIVE-grade distortions on a global scale. The alternate title was THE BIG CARNIVAL, and how goddamned right they were, what a big fucken carnival, indeed. As this list progresses, I'll likely say that a number of films seem prophetic in today's world (including this one!), but then again I suppose the repressers of the truth have always been sonsabitches; just who knew to what scale they'd end up takin' it? ACE IN THE HOLE is a movie that takes you by the throat, leads you toward the glory of "The Information Age," and shows you a few of the uglier pit-stops along the way. I also highly recommend: SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and NETWORK.


Coming up next...some Carpy, some Polanski, and possibly the biggest, baddest tear-jerker of all time!

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)
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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)
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"No one kicks you here, Bruno." –"Not physically...here 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)
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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)
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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)
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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."

THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (2003, Guy Maddin)

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"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)
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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)
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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)
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"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)
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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)
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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)

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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.

THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE (1987, Rod Amateau)
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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

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.