Monday, June 23, 2008

Kevin's Favorite 25 Movies: 25-21

Here are places 25 - 21. Each film will have a nifty little video to go with it. I hope you enjoy. You can expect the next installment Wednesday. Troy has started his list too, so head on over to his blog and check out his entries as well. Alright...on with the show:

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25) Open Range
dir. by Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner's western is the best modern entry into the genre since Unforgiven. It is a call back to the kind of western that Raoul Walsh would have made, a film that is conventional in plot, but unconventional in its execution of the plots action. I put this film on here because I like a different Eastwood western more, so I decided to leave off the obvious pick of Unforgiven and go with a pick that maybe some of you haven't seen. The acting is superb, especially by the veteran Robert Duvall who owns this movie from beginning to end. What's even more interesting about Open Range is the detail that Costner put into the film. I have read interviews where he talks about how he was interested in the loudness and abruptness of violence (evidence by the final shootout scene in the clip above), and how the towns had to deal with this. He mentions in the same interview that he saw pictures where there were bodies everywhere, obviously someone had to remove those bodies. He was so used to watching westerns growing up where the bodies just seemed to disappear, and the town rejoiced with piano and whiskey as the bad guys were now banished from the town. But Costner was more interested in showing how a town has to deal with the aftermath of a shootout, and what kind of closure does it really bring anyway?

The logistics of the final scene mixed with the aforementioned loud and abrupt violence, make the final shootout scene one of the best ever filmed. It's great how the camera sweeps in and out of corridors and buildings throughout the town. But above everything is Robert Duvall's performance as Boss. The way he tries to rehabilitate Charley (Costner), a former hired-gun from the Civil War into a functioning member of society. And watch his speech in the tavern the first night they go into the town, and the concern he has for a cat floating down the street via a flash flood. He is just so fun to watch in this role, and it's a shame he was never properly recognized for it. A great, great movie.

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24) The Beyond
dir. by Lucio Fulci

Ah Fulci. God bless you, you blood thirsty lunatic. If that scene above made you laugh more than cringe, well then, The Beyond is the movie for you. In typical Italian horror nonsensical fashion, The Beyond is a movie that is impossible to explain. It has something to do with an artist in the 1920's not being liked, getting quicklimed, which apparently unlocks the gates of hell. What's fascinating about The Beyond is to see what the movie could have been if its producers weren't so interested in just trying to make back their money (hey I know it's their job, but still, artistic integrity is something you don't find in Italian horror films). You can see glimpses of odd eerie brilliance lurking in every frame of Fulci's best film. It has its camp factor, which for Troy and myself is one of the reasons we revisit it constantly. But aside from the camp, and the jello/acid, the fake dog biting the fake ear off a blind girl, the killer spiders, and the random appearance of zombies at the end, the film is actually pretty spooky.

Okay, I know I know, there are too many caveats in that last sentence, but The Beyond is a wonderful starting point for anyone who wishes to start watching some Italian horror, and more specifically Italian zombie films. The dubbing is awful, the synth music kicks much butt, and the violence, well Fulci would never again top himself. It's the only time the viewer ever got the sense that Fulci was really having fun making a movie, and not just hackin' it up trying to steal from everyone else and make lots of money. The inane storyline that drifts in and out of comprehension adds to eeriness of the film. It's a film that should be experienced by any horror buff as it was truly the last great film Fulci ever put his name on.

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23) High Plains Drifter
dir. by Clint Eastwood

Another reason that I couldn't put Unforgiven on the list (remember we can't repeat directors) is because I tend to like High Plains Drifter a lot more. It's a western that is ultaviolent and interested in how the audience weighs vengeance vs justice; a philosophical debate that is also broached in Costner's Open Range. High Plains Drifter concerns itself with a small town who is afraid of the pending return of three outlaws, jailed for their brutal murder of the local sheriff (they whip him to death). A stranger comes to town though, and after an unsuccessful attempt by some of the local toughs to kill him (the scene above) the town tries to woo the stranger into staying and protecting them from the returning outlaws.

It's a dark western compared to the cheesy and campy Italian westerns Eastwood was making with Serigo Leone. Those are great and fun films no doubt, but I love how Eastwood plays with the mythological in High Plains Drifter, something that the genre has always lent itself to. It is never made clear who the stranger is or what his purpose in the town is, but it was purposely left ambiguous by director Eastwood. Is the stranger the brother of the murdered sheriff, out for revenge on not only the outlaws who killed him, but the town for allowing it to happen (again, this isn't the most lighthearted of westerns)? Or is he a ghost, sent to amend the wrong that's been done, a mythological figure on horseback who has come to the town for revenge. There are so many great moments here, the aforementioned 'shave and a bath' scene (the clip above) and also the inspired moment when the stranger convinces the townsfolk to pain the entire town red, and rename it Hell in order to intimidate the returning outlaws (and adding to the mythological aspect of the film).

It's a great western that is often overlooked in Eastwood's long distinguished career, but I think it's the one film that let everyone know that Clint Eastwood was on the scene as a director, and that he would have a long brilliant career.

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22) Out of Sight
dir. by Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight is a film I probably watched once a week when it came out on DVD. It also was the first movie I ever bought on DVD, so it holds a special place in my heart. The film is another great Elmore Leonard adaptation, after Get Shorty and Jackie Brown. And, unlike a lot of films released at the time, Out of Sight felt fresh, a film that was inspired by Pulp Fiction to play with the same style of time shifting narrative and cool gangster speak, rather than simply aping it. Soderbergh also has a lot of fun with the style of his film. As is the case with all of his movies, he is always doing something with the cinematography (he shoots his own movies now, he learned on the set of Out of Sight how to be his own DP) and with the editing, both are crucial to the successes that Out of Sight has.

The movie is about Jack Foley (Clooney) a suave bank robber who finds himself in the trunk of a car with federal agent Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). This leads to all kind of hip dialogue and a plot that finds itself with the oddest of pairings: Don Cheadle and Albert Brooks. The casting for Out of Sight is masterful as there isn't a miscast person, even Steve Zahn is funny and not annoying like always. Foley and his partner played by Ving Rhames find themselves mixed up in a heist attempt with Cheadle and his buddies and in between the film tells the most unconventional of love stories between Foley and Sisco. The 'time out' scene, an opposite sex version of the scene from Heat, is so wonderfully acted. It's beautiful and heartbreaking the way they know it won't end happily, but go through with what they do anyway. The decisions to edit the sequence out of order and the use of freeze frames all add to the emotional effect of the scene, and aren't just neat little post production tricks.

Out of Sight was the first film where you could really tell Soderbergh was let loose and just let his creativeness out for the first time in a bigger budget film. It's easy to see the sleek and sexy filming style of Out of Sight and see how he came to the point of a film like Traffic or the Ocean movies. Soderbergh was always a little bit on the outside of Hollywood looking in with pictures like King of the Hill, the Sundance smash Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and the flawed but experimentally interesting Kafka. With Out of Sight he had arrived, and was able to not only get the budget to films like the Ocean movies, but also more experimental stuff like Solaris and Bubble. He is one of the most important filmmakers in the business, and is often penalized by film critics for having too much fun with the cheesy Ocean films and not making enough films like Traffic. However, even though most people don't mention him when they mention some of the top directors in Hollywood, he is certainly at the top of the list, and Out of Sight is a great film to start with if you are unfamiliar with his pre-Ocean films.

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21) Crimes and Misdemeanors
dir. by Woody Allen

When Woody Allen decides to venture into the more existential and serious he usually makes his best films. As he did with Interiors and Husbands and Wives, Allen's well noted love of Bergman comes out in all of his most serious works. To me these are his best films, none better than Crimes and Misdemeanors; a film that has all of the elements of a Greek tragedy.

At the heart of the story there is Judah (Martin Landau), and eye doctor beloved by family and friends, a staple of the community, highly regarded by his patients, yet living another part of his life with another woman. This woman (Anjelica Huston) takes things a little more seriously than Judah would like and it gets to the point where she writes a letter to Juddah's wife explaining the affair. Judah reads it and burns it, afraid that his status and comfortable lifestyle is about to be shattered, he calls his brother (Jerry Orbach!), a mob affiliated henchman, to 'take care' of Judah's mistress. That is the skeleton for a plot that is fleshed out by wonderful performances by not only Landau but Saw Waterston as Ben, a Rabbi going blind (Allen, like Bergman is not very subtle with their religious metaphors) and by all three of the character who inhabit the comically tragic subplot.

In this sub plot Allen stars as Cliff, a documentary filmmaker who is always turning down chances to do better work for work that he feels is more important and useful. Lester(Alan Alda in a great performance) plays his brother in law, a rich television producer who has many Em mys, and is willing to do his wife a favor by letting Allen direct a documentary about how he goes about making a project. While filming the project, Cliff meets Halley (Mia Farrow) and they instantly have an intellectual connection when it comes to film (she loves his documentary about Philosophy Professor). The tragedy comes in the form of the typical Allen comedy character: the lovable loser. But, it's in the way Allen balances these two styles of tragedy and juxtaposes them against each other, until the final scene at the end where Judah and Cliff sit side by side at Ben's wedding and have a conversation that is simply put, the best thing Allen has ever written. The scene that follows (the clip above) is both heartbreaking (in the context of the film) and uplifting (in the context of life) and is something that never fails to bring tears to my eyes. It's Allen's best film by far, he would later try to duplicate this kind of story and success in Match Point, but it was missing the comic tragedy to counter the more serious.

It's the only time I have ever seen Allen clicking on all cylinders (I've never been a HUGE Allen fan), with his religious metaphors (Judah's father being a Rabbi always talking about the eyes of God watching us, Judah as an eye doctor, the blind rabbi, etc.) and his classic dopey comedic hero, you have two of the best characters Allen has ever imagined.


  1. Finally, a chance to comment on these...

    Open Range - I haven't seen and have been meaning to for a long, long time...I will have it watched by next week.

    The Beyond - well, we agree on that one as it's the first film to make both of our lists.

    High Plains Drifter - Great movie, although I haven't seen it for a long time. Eastwood's westerns all pretty much expand on his character from the Leone films, although in a more Westernized (i.e. American) fashion. You can see that it Josey Wales, through High Plains Drifter, then Pale Rider, and finally, it's completion and ending in Unforgiven. For me, I enjoy Unforgiven more slightly more (I'd put Josey Wales and High Plains Drifter on par with each other in a close second). For me, the themes in Unforgiven just stike more of a chord.

    Out of Sight - forgot about this film. Fun, fun movie. Remember when people thought J-Lo might actually have talent!

    Crimes and Misdemeanors - I'm not much of a Woody Allen fan, so I can't really comment on this. Might have to check it out as it sounds less Woody Allen-ish than a lot of his other films.