Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kevin's Favorite 25 Movies: 20-16

Woo Hoo! Here's selections 20-16. Troy has is up on his blog, check 'em out. I have come to realize that this list is getting harder and harder to write about and rank. I mean, all ratings are arbitrary anyway, because I would gladly take any of these films to a desert island with me. But I keep finding myself reshuffling all of these selections and moving them around into different slots. Well, at least number one has stayed the same, but I found myself with these selections moving a Bergman film out of the top 10 and into the number 16 slot. Please don't smite me Lord Bergman, you are still the best filmmaker to ever have's just...well these are favorite,anyway...I'll explain later. Enjoy!

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20) Casino
dir. by Martin Scorsese

Remember how I talked about the difference between best and favorite? Well this is a perfect example of why this list was so hard to come up with. Certainly not the best Scorsese film (Raging Bull is) or even the most radically unusual or visually appealing of his films(I love the underrated Bringing out the Dead), but Casino is a film that I just kept coming back to.

Yeah's Goodfellas-lite; so what? The wonderful performances and dialogue, the shiny and beautiful cinematography amongst all the brutal violence, the sheer madness and fun Scorsese and lifelong editor Thelma Schoonmaker have splicing this thing together. It's just a blast to watch. Every time it's on tv, I end up getting sucked in for 15-20 minutes, especially when Joe Pesci is edited for television, which adds a whole other element of funny to the film. It has all of the classic Scorsese moments with its quick cuts, brutal violence, lush cinematography, whooshing cameras, long tracking shots, great soundtrack, and a wonderful and completely over the top performance by Joe Pesci. It's not as good as Goodfellas, and not even close to as perfect as Raging Bull, but give me the option of which three to watch, and I would go with Casino.

I don't know what it is about the movie that I like more than Goodfellas except for the fact that maybe you can see Scorsese and his cast playing it more for comedy than they did with their previous outing, which was better at the drama part. Casino is funny and violent, and anytime James Woods and Don Rickles can steal the spotlight from Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro, then you know you have something special.

The clip above is something that is found all throughout the film (and Goodfellas for that matter) as Joe Pesci's intensity makes a simple conversation spiral into something so tense and oddly funny that you are not only caught of guard by the subtle and quick change of tone, but by how subdued he is in his threats. It's so uncomfortable, but you can't look away. It's something that Scorsese has mastered, the art of directing Joe Pesci. Because really, he hasn't ever been this fun to watch. He takes this scene and turns it into something special by slowly leading up to all out insanity, any other actor would want to jump right into the threats, but for awhile, Pesci's character has you thinking he might be cordial, and then before you know it, you'll find yourself being stabbed in the neck with a pen. The man plays crazy like no one else. And he is the main reason why Casino is so entertaining.

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19) The Killer
dir. by John Woo

I was first introduced to this fine film when I was in 7th grade. I used to rent this movie all of the time. I was in awe of the poetry in which John Woo portrayed violence. It was as if his actors were in a ballet of blood and bullets. Also, I was obsessed with Chow Yun Fat as he was a total bad 'A' in this and in Hard Boiled. It's too bad that he never clicked in American action films, because he was an icon of the Hong Kong action thriller. The story is irrelevant as it was typical John Woo soap opera mixed with some of the most amazing action sequences you'll ever see. The film is based on Woo's favorite film, Jean Pierre Melville's Le Samourai, a story about a hitman who is betrayed by his own mentor. The scene above is an homage to the classic scene from Melville's film, one that Woo said inspired him for all of his Hong Kong action films.

The film holds a special place in my heart because it was one of those films that first got me interested in what inspired a director and the films he liked. When I read about Woo's love for Melville's film, I went out to all the video stores and tried to find it. When I finally did come across a copy of it, I was at first bored, because it was nothing like a John Woo film. How could this director I like so much like such a boring movie? Surely there must be more to it, more to why he likes it so much? So I watched it again and dug a little deeper, which was hard for a 7th grader (now going on 8th took me a year to find the movie), but I persevered and found what it was that Woo loved about the film. The idea of the lonely hitman and a film interested in the personal/emotional conflict of the hired killer, instead of the physical conflict. Well Woo meshed those two ideas together beautifully in the best Hong Kong action film ever made. The last scene at the church may have the most bullet to gun ratio I have seen in any movie. It's just insane. Truly a fun movie, and it will always be one of my favorites. Plus, the films popularity and cult status started the trend of a guy needing to have two guns, because it looks cool (its popularity referenced by Samuel L. Jackson in Tarantino's Jackie Brown) and establishing the two-shot of the bad guy and the good guy pointing their guns at each other at the same time -- also referenced by Tarantino in the final scene of Resevoir Dogs.

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18) Fletch
dir. by Michael Ritchie

One of the funniest movies I have ever seen, Fletch still holds up today for its sheer lunacy and irreverence, and its rapid fire one liners and gibberish uttered by star Chevy Chase. Chase cracks wise whenever he gets the opportunity and he's also good here when he has to be semi-serious. The films iconic score still gets stuck in my head, and whenever I hear it I always just laugh and smile and start quoting lines to myself. "I'll have a bloody marry, a steak sandwich and...a steak sandwich." "I'm Dr. Rosenrosen." "Moooon river." And well...I don't want to ruin the best ones if you haven't seen it yet, but my favorite exchange:

Pan-Am clerk: Mr Stanwyk, you are confirmed on Pan-Am flight 441 to Rio de Janiero tomorrow evening eleven PM first class.
Fletch: That's terrific, thank you.
Pan-Am clerk: You re-confirmed this morning.
Fletch: You bet I did. I'm a bearer for detail. I hope there's nobody sitting next to me. You see I always travel first class and I er, take both seats up. I'm in bridge-work, construction. These fold-outs take a tremendous amount of space up and I need the space.
Pan-Am clerk: I'm afraid there is someone sitting next to you.
Fletch: Oh for God darn, darn! Who is it? Mr Sininlinden?
Pan-Am clerk: No, the name's Cavanaugh.
Fletch: Cavanuagh. Ah, is that Maurice or Pierre?
Pan-Am clerk: Sally-Ann Cavanaugh.
Fletch: Sally-Ann? Well, terrific.
Pan-Am clerk: In fact, you purchased the ticket for Miss Cavanaugh.
Fletch: Doesn't mean I want her sitting next to me does it?

But, yeah, the movie never fails to make me laugh as all of Fletch's disguises are brilliant and hilarious and actually further the plot, instead of just providing quick humorous site gags and lame jokes. I have always been a fan of Chase's smart ass humor and his cynicism, and he has never been better than he is here in Fletch. It's too bad that so much went wrong in the Chase's career. Aside from Christmas Vacation and a brief, hilarious bit role in the Norm MacDonald comedy Dirty Work, he has been pretty much forgot how to bring the funny post-Fletch with awful films like: Cops and Roberson's, Snow Day, Man of the House, Nothing but Trouble, Spies Like Us, Vegas Vacation, and yes...I'm sorry but I have to say it...The Three Amigos. It's just not that funny. Especially when you compare it to Fletch. Plus, I mean really...we would all like to forget Caddyshack II. Poor Chevy Chase, at least we'll have has Irwin Fletcher to look back on as the pinnacle of your career, a character that is one of the most memorable and most quotable in any comedy.

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17) A Nightmare on Elm Street
dir. by Wes Craven

Wes Craven's seminal horror film still gives me the willies. It was one of those rare moments in horror (especially for the 1980's) where the director decided to go for atmosphere over gore[edited to add: okay okay...I mean gore in the sense that it is meant to look real, and gross you out like todays torture porn horror films. I realize that the clip above has a TON of blood, but in no way is that meant to be taken seriously]. Everyone knows the story of burned up child murderer Freddy Kreuger terrorizing the kids of Elm street in their dreams, so there's no real point in rehashing the major plot points. What's so great about the film, and one of the reason it still holds up by today's standards is the way that Craven used the gimmick of dreams to create a surreal horror experience. With rotating rooms, bizarre special effects, nonsensical moments (like a goat in the high school highway), there were almost always key signifiers telling you that the character was now in the dream world and something bad is going to happen.

Craven also evokes a certain amount of fear because really, who hasn't at one time been afraid of the bogeyman? That's all Craven is doing here is taking the basic bogeyman storyline and setting it in the middle class neighborhood of Elm Street. Much like what John Carpenter did with his teenagers in Halloween, Craven too uses normal looking kids who seem like they would be just your average teenager. Even by todays standards to special effects still seem creepy; scenes like the latex wall, Freddy's arms stretching longer and longer, and Freddy's tongue coming through the phone.

The most famous scene of the film (the clip above) is still one of its best, even though I have seen it about 100 times. The end of the movie still rules and I can only imagine how truly surprising that was to have a horror film that had no clear resolution by the end. I mean, at least Halloween and Friday the 13th you knew you were still in the real world, even if the villains got away at the end; not with A Nightmare on Elm Street. The final moments evoke even more uncertainty and an overall sense of eeriness because it suggests that the whole movie was a dream. Nothing was to be believed.

The film was also successful because Freddy was portrayed as a scary bogeyman type character. After the success of this film, New Line Cinema wanted to make as much money as possible and decided to turn Freddy into a wisecracking sardonic killer, appealing to the college demographic, the studio was no longer interested in marketing Freddy as a scary monster, but rather someone you would like to hang out with. When Craven came back to the franchise ten years after the first film with New Nightmare, he made Freddy scary again, and built off the end of his original film, where nothing is quite as it seems and we are not supposed to believe anything is safe. A truly classic American horror film, especially considering it came out during the heyday of crappy slasher films.

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16) Cries and Whispers
dir. by Ingmar Bergman

I don't want to write too much about this film, because really I could write all day about it. What I will say is that it may still be one of the scariest films I have ever seen. When you watch Bergman's film about the pain of the past and coping with your demons, you just want to hide sometimes. The film is brutal and blunt, and yet its heavy themes are juxtaposed by some of the most beautiful and colorful imagery Bergman ever filmed. I don't know how often I can revisit Bergman, hence making it hard to justify putting one of his films on my favorites list. But he is my favorite filmmaker, the one who resonates with me the most. Every time I watch a Bergman film I am a better person because of it. His films have changed the way I have looked at life. He is like a great religious philosopher who instead of writing, picked up a camera and decided to visually present moments of genuine catharsis.

If this were a list of 'best' films, then this would be in the top five. Visually I don't think Bergman was ever this good, although Persona is a very close second. It's as powerful as anything you are likely to see. It came out the same year as The Exorcist and is just as unsettling. The opening scene (in the clip above) is a perfect example of how Bergman uses silence to suck you in to his films. His films are a meditative and contemplative experience unlike anything any filmmaker (save for Fellini) has ever tried to create. He is hands down the greatest filmmaker of all time, and Cries and Whispers is his best film , and the one I revisit the most.


  1. Comments on the latest batch of films here...

    Casino - Funny we should both pick the same Scorsese film for our lists. You might be even more shocked where it ends up on my list. I think my love of it goes along with my fascination of the era of mob-controlled Vegas. Plus, the dialogue and characters are much more humorous than in Goodfellas (which is probably a better film and would be in my top 20 if we didn't limit to one film per director). That scene in the video clip is hilarious. Let's also remember this film as the last film DeNiro was in before he became the self-parody that he is today.

    The Killer - Huh, The Killer IS just the Hong Kong version of Le Samourai, isn't it. I never realized that. Good, fun movie.

    Fletch - You forgot the Chevy Chase Show for moments that killed his career. I hope he saved his money.

    Nightmare on Elm Street - I went with New Nightmare, which I like more, but only because it was a unique horror film when it came out. Still, the original Nightmare is just as good and always a great watch (and it's actually scary).

    Cries and Whispers - I'm a Bergman neophyte, so I can't comment. Someday I intend to watch all of his movies in a row and slip in to a depression coma, or so I have read. Also, your list now contains two introspective, existential films and mine has two sprawling epics, so we can see where our tastes lie.