45. THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALD DE LA CRUZ (1955, Luis Buñuel)
One of the wildest and weirdest films in Buñuel's entire oeuvre. Often, cineastes delve into Buñuel from one end or the other (either from his early, surrealist works like UN CHIEN ANDALOU and L'AGE D'OR, or from his latter-day international arthouse successes like THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE or BELLE DU JOUR) and neglect the lesser-well-known films of his Mexican catalogue (roughly 1947-1960). There's some real gems in there, films like EL, FEVER MOUNTS IN EL PAO), SUSANA, NAZARIN, and THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALD DE LA CRUZ. Following a daydreaming milquetoast who believes himself responsible for a series of murders (and maybe he is...), the film delves deeply into thought crimes and 'the murderous urge.' Is it aberrant? Perverse? Can it be healthy if not acted upon? Toss in some insane, uncomfortable imagery and a wicked sense of humor and this is one of Buñuel's finest works.
44. KICKING AND SCREAMING (1995, Noah Baumbach)
I first watched KICKING AND SCREAMING the weekend before I graduated from college. I thought it was funny and quotable, sure, but I can't say it had too much of an impact. Then I watched it again about eight months after graduation, and suddenly it was relevant, it was poignant, it was real and it was true. I can't really think of a better example of a film that improves with real-life context, and perhaps it can all be summed up in one critical line of dialogue: "What I used to be able to pass off as a bad summer could now potentially turn into a bad life." But it's hilarious, too, and the whole pre-SQUID AND THE WHALE Baumbach gang is here, and in top form: the deadpan, crossword puzzling Chris Eigeman who at one point faces off with his trashy teenage girlfriend against a man who "ALREADY would rather be bow-hunting," Carlos Jacott's propensity for pajama tops and hiding from the cookie man, Eric Stoltz as the aging perpetual-college-student-bartender dispensing nuggets of wisdom and overseeing an awkward two-man book club, Baumbach himself accusing you of cow-fucking. We've got Parker Posey as the typical (but always welcome) lovably bitchy character that she plays, Elliot Gould as another cypher for Baumbach's own father, and Josh Hamilton and Olivia d'Abo as a doomed(?) couple that forms the emotive core of the picture. In the end, it seems that either you'll connect with the subject matter in KICKING AND SCREAMING, or, like the cacophony of anti-Baumbach voices that accompanied it when it entered the Criterion Collection, you plainly just won't get it. But it doesn't matter– for its target audience, KICKING AND SCREAMING (like other early Baumbachs like HIGHBALL and MR. JEALOUSY) initiates you into a devoted cult where the members say things like "Ding!" and "Gotta have id" and "There's food in the beer" and then chuckle and remember how damned good this film really is. Alright– two last selling points: it features Dom DeLuise's son as a bouncer and the line "Is that copy of DR. GIGGLES letterboxed?" is uttered. Okay, I'll stop now.
43. SEVEN BEAUTIES (1975, Lina Wertmüller)
I don't know what happened to Lina Wertmüller. In the 1970s, she was a top dog in the art film world, she became the first woman ever nominated for the Oscar for Best Director, and her films were adored by critics. In 2011, when I try to have a discussion about her, invariably I have to mention that she did the original version of a terrible Guy Ritchie/Madonna movie (SWEPT AWAY) before I see a flicker of recognition. It's a goddamn shame, because SEVEN BEAUTIES (her masterpiece, as far as I'm concerned) is one of the finest films ever made about the Second World War. Giancarlo Giannini (who would be Wertmüller's De Niro if she were Scorsese) is Pasqualino "Seven Beauties," a pompous, struttin' two-bit hood with seven ugly sisters who becomes wrapped up in a picaresque plotline which ferries him from vicious murder to an insane asylum to a conscription in the Fascist army to the shivering, cold, hard realities of a concentration camp. Darkly comic throughout, it frequently meanders into the grotesque– a starving man must seduce an obese Nazi Shirley Stoler, whose character is based on the notorious "Bitch of Buchenwald;" Buñuel-crony Fernando Rey gives a partly hilarious, partly terrifying performance as a concentration camp prisoner who may have the greatest exit line in filmdom ("I go into the shit!"); and Tonini Delli Colli (who worked with Leone, Fellini, Malle, Polanski, et al.) films for us grand, operatic, colorful images (which are occasionally intruded upon by bodily fluids). Could make for a good double-feature with THE TIN DRUM if you're interested in hastening your own suicide. Regardless, it's a bold vision of passion and hate and war and survival, and it really deserves an exalted position in the canon of world cinema.
42. TENEBRE (1982, Dario Argento)
Oh, boy. TENEBRE. How is it possible that I haven't reviewed this? Where do I even begin?? The ludicrously long crane shot around a piece of modern architecture which has curled the toes and blown the minds of the likes of Brian De Palma and Quentin Tarantino? The skillfully crafted twists and turns which make it, alongside DEEP RED, the most exquisite and hilariously twisty giallo ever written? The stylized murders, which eschew the typical expressionist Argento colored lighting in favor of pure imagery– dilating pupils, the black glove, spurts of blood, and Antonioni-style locales of urban alienation? The tough cop who says he only drinks on duty? The mind-blowing, arcade-frequenting Italo-lesbians? Goblin's pulsating disco score, which, with a roll of synthesized timpani somehow nullifies and transcends all of their prog rock roots? The mind-blowing, transgendered flashbacks? Tony Franciosa's amateur detective work and gosh-darned likability? John Saxon's sleazitude? Daria Nicolodi's endless, endless, endless screams? The incredibly and outrageously self-reflexive plot, which begs the question: DOES DARIO ARGENTO ACTUALLY KILL PEOPLE? Yessir, TENEBRE is all this and more. A dark, bold statement from a master of horror who pulls no punches in his dogged pursuit of cinematic truth and, uh... artistic murders of beautiful women.
41. WILD AT HEART (1990, David Lynch)
As I have said before: Magnificent, beautiful, and disturbing, Lynch's Palm d'or-winning adaptation of Barry Gifford's novel, filtered through the emerald lens of THE WIZARD OF OZ, is certainly as fiery and unpredictable as the slow-motion flames that are wont to erupt intermittently from the screen.
A masterpiece of style, a frequent complaint is that the whole is less than the sum of the parts. I can concede that this film is not for everyone. It's not. But how can you say 'no' to a Nic Cage that's so intense, he karate chops the air when he dances and wears thong underwear; a Laura Dern so sultry, she's posing with her hand sweeping through her coiffure for most of the film; a Willem Dafoe so creepy his gums cover half of his teeth (and whose first appearance, a slow stroll amid Christmas lights and morbidly obese porno actresses- is one of the most comically terrifying entrances in film history); a Harry Dean Stanton so endearing he tugs at your heartstrings even as he yips and yaps at hyenas on TV; a crippled, lipstick-smeared Grace Zabriskie who is so goddamned freaky that she'll make your hair curl; or a Diane Ladd whose tremendous performance is punctuated by the real-life mother-daughter relationship? There's a cameo by Crispin Glover that packs more material and layers of performance and meaning in a mere two minutes than most actors can aspire to in a feature. There's John Lurie in a Confederate flag hat. There's Jack Nance with an invisible dog. There's Angelo Badalamenti making the most blood-curdling use of a brass section, ever. There's homage to Jacques Tati (involving a giant red pipe in Big Tuna) and Akira Kurosawa (the feed store dog with the severed hand like in YOJIMBO). It's 124 minutes of exhiliration, dread, and magical Americana. And there's as much oddness, terror, love, and joy as there really is in this world that's so "wild at heart and weird on top," and to give any more away would do the film a disservice. One of the greats.
Coming up next: Magic glasses, nosey noses, and my favorite ghost movie!