Friday 6 January 2012

Great Films

I thought that I should add to this blog a short list of films that I love. I studied film in university and have seen all the movies by all the directors studied (in that era) in film courses: Orson Welles, Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, Nicholas Ray and so on.

After that, I went on and found others that I loved: Nicholas Roeg, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, and most of all, the Coen brothers. I confess a penchant for the underside of films, or perhaps in a better phrasing, films about the underside of life.

Here is a list of my favorite movies:

1. Miller's Crossing, by the Coen brothers; Chicago-Irish gangster story, starring Gabriel Byrne and Albert Finney and John Turturro and Marica Gay Harden. I have seen this film at least 40 times and can quote almost the entire script (I flub a line here and there).

2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Julian Schnabel; in my opinion the finest cinematic achievement to date, bar none. Shnabel made his name as a painter, and in this film it shows; the cinematography is ground-breaking; one needs only think of the scene when the eye is sewed shut, but there is a lot more to this film than that. It's a recursive excursion into the fact of having a stroke, and fighting one's way out of it, and it is nothing short of a masterpiece. The only reason I rank it number Two is because I haven't yet viewed it as many times as I have Miller's Crossing.

3. Pulp Fiction, by Quentin Tarantino; perhaps the most misunderstood film of its generation. I have read reviews that declare it to be "amoral" or "immoral" or "degenerate", and worse, but that is most emphatically not how I read it. From my take, Pulp Fiction is scene for scene a seriously moral film: every single scene turns on the morality of the immediate situation, from the opening discussion about "when a guy kisses your girlfriend's toes, is ge thinking about her toes? to the consequent response: is it morally appropriate to toss him from a fourth-floor window? We progress further into the plot and find our characters being raped in the basement belonging to one of a pair of seriously twisted men, after which they agree never to discuss this event. Then our characters find themselves confronting each other at a stop sign; and so on. Play this movie again and observe what goes on in each scene. Oh, I forgot to mention the restaurant robbery scene at the beginning of the film.

4. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and I don't mean the remake. Sir Alex delivered the goods in this one like no other can. He can act with the creases beneath his eyes. I don't know how it's possible, but he can convey the depths of sorrow and regret combined with commitment to a cause greater than oneself like no other can. I haven't yet seen the Gary Oldman version, but I think that he can turn on this part quite nicely. I admire his work from way back, Sid and Nancy, True Romance, etc., and I think that he can inject a new spin into George Smiley.

5. The Godfather I and II: these must be viewed back-to-back. If you've viewed them separately, you may not have noticed that the last frame in GF I is the first frame in GF II. They are of a piece, and that's the only way to view them. GF III is, while logically contiguous, no match for the previous two. GF I and II stand as the most significant achievements of American gangster cinema ever made.

6. Don't Look Now, directed by Nicholas Roeg, and starring Donald Sutherland and Theresa Russell. For personal reasons concerning an obsession I had with a particular woman, this film struck home in a deep way. In fact, I took said woman to see it with me, and it hit me so hard that it cured me of my obsession with said woman. If you've never been obsessed by a woman, then I don't know what you might think of it, but what I can say is this: Don't Look Now cured me, healed me, and I walked out of the theater cured and freed. And for that, I thank Nicholas Roeg forever.

That will do for now. I can describe a hundred other movies that have changed my view of the world, but this list will do for now.

I invite your contributions to this list of important and life-changing films.

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