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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Absolute Best of the Best

Tomorrow evening the American Film Institute will celebrate the 10 year anniversary of its unveiling of the 100 Greatest American Films of All Time. Therefore Cinema Romantico was left no choice but to honor what we feel are the 10 Greatest Films of All Time (one of them isn't an American film but never mind). I believe most of you have seen this list before, but no matter. It gives me happiness to make it. The mere mention of the films on my list, the mere thought of them, fills me with joy.

I do not expect these 10 films to be in the same spot on the AFI's list as they are on mine. And that's okay since the AFI is, of course, wrong and I'm right.

1.) Chinatown. How is it perfect? Let me count the ways..........The acting (Nicholson when he actually acted and wasn't just a caricature & Dunaway when she was at her Ingrid Bergman-esque level). The direction (Roman Polanski includes not a single Show Off Shot, as in Look at me! Aren't I the coolest shot you've ever seen?!). The writing (my favorite line: "I take a long lunch hour. All day sometimes."). It's a murder mystery, yes, but it's so much more. It's about the deepest, most pertinent, most essential mysteries of life without being about them. Or, to say it more simply, it's unequalable.

2.) Annie Hall. As critic David Schmader has noted, this is the "best romantic comedy ever". Every wannabe' filmmaker has that one scene from a previous movie they dream of being able to duplicate. My scene comes via this one: when Woody is in line at the movie with Diane Keaton and the moron behind him is pontificating about Fellini and Marshall McLuhan and so Woody pulls the real-life Marshall McLuhan out from behind a movie stand to dismiss the moron and his ramblings and Woody looks right at the camera and declares, "If life were only like this." This scene sums up the movie - we all want life, and love, to be something it isn't and never will be.

3.) From Here to Eternity. It's an old story - men and women loving all of that which will never love them back, though no movie has ever told it better or made it matter as much as it does here. It's also the best argument I can find as to why they moved all the credits from the beginning of the movie to the end. The first time I saw this I vividly recall sitting in my cozy brown chair for at least 10 minutes after it ended, staring at the blank TV screen, muttering over and over to myself, "What a movie. What a movie." I mean, can you imagine seeing this in a theater at the time it was released and it ends and the lights come up right away and employees come in to clean up spilled popcorn and soda while you're sitting there in the middle of an emotional breakdown?

4.) Bonnie and Clyde. A Shakespearean tragedy for the modern age. Bonnie yearns for escape from her dead-end town and finds it in the form of Clyde only to realize - much later - what she had before is maybe what she still wants but can't have it back. And at the end, in that infamous hail of bullets, their even more infamous smiles say precisely what Springsteen said in his tune "Nebraska" about a different set of lovers on the lam - "At least for a little while, sir, me and her had us some fun".

5.) Once Upon a Time in the West. If I were asked to describe it with one word what word would I choose? Sweeping? Epic? Colossal? Operatic? Yes, that's it! Operatic! Everything is larger than life. Things don't happen in this movie. Things happen. Witness the opening credits as the trio of men wait for the train or Henry Fonda's villain emerging from the underbrush. People don't talk in this movie. They talk (-"So you found out you weren't a businessman after all." -"Just a man." -"An ancient race.") Yes, it's over the top but that's the point. It's an opera, after all. It's cinema's greatest opera.

6.) Casablanca. What can I say that hasn't already been said about this one? Absolutely nothing. So instead I'll let MaryAnn Johanson (of FlickFilosopher.com) testify: "Now, this is a movie. No, no -- wait. This is a religious experience. I'd never seen Casablanca before -- sure, bits and pieces here and there while channel surfing, but not as much as I thought I'd seen. And watching it at last was like a revelation. This is the ultimate movie. This is the purpose for which Hollywood invented itself. This is how good a film can be."

7.) Raiders of the Lost Ark. In terms of basketball there is Michael Jordan and everyone else. In terms of submarine trenches there is the Marianas Trench and everything else. And in terms of action movies there is "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and there is everything else. Or, as critic Christopher Null once so understatedly said, "You'd have to be a heathen to argue with the fact that 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' stands as the best action-adventure movie ever made."

8.) Million Dollar Baby. To anyone who moans "they don't make 'em like they used to", I hold up this film as proof that they do. This stands with everything from the golden age, all the classics. Perhaps I like it so much because it harkens back to those films. It does not rush, trusts it own sense of story and creates breathtakingly rich characters that do precisely what the characters would do (not what the writer would do, or the director, or the audience). An achievement so immense my pedestrian words do it no justice.

9.) Dr. Strangelove. Here's a little fact regarding this one that you may or may not know (and that I learned from Roger Ebert's book The Great Movies). The film was originally set to end with a pie fight. Yes, a pie fight. It would have concluded with all the characters in the war room slinging pies at one another. In fact, if you look closely you can see a table toward the end in the war room that is adorned with pies. But Stanley Kubrick chose to cut it and thank God because otherwise The Greatest Black Comedy Ever Made becomes That Pretty Good Movie That Ends With A Pie Fight. But do you think if it gets made today there's any way it DOESN'T end with the pie fight?

10.) The Third Man. If you don't mind, I'm just going to go ahead and reprint Harry Lime's Speech. "Like the man says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

3 comments:

Wretched Genius said...

I cannot argue much against your list, but I always die a little inside when people make a list of great movies and do not include "Jaws." It is the perfect blockbuster film. Everything about it (with the exception of the production itself) is flawless. The characters are richly developed, the suspense is actually suspenseful, the effects are seemless, and it has an ending so rousing you forget that sharks don't actually hold large metal objects in their mouths for long periods of time. And Williams' score is a classic. While I love "Raiders..", I will never place it ahead of "Jaws." And try to tell me that the monologue about the USS Indianopolis isn't brilliant. Or the scene where Roy Scheider is drunk at the dinner table. Watch the dinner scene again, but don't watch Scheider. Watch Dreyfuss and Lorraine Gary. Brilliant.

David said...

The list that you and the AFI have put together are erroneous at best. I can no longer stand by and allow one of the greatest movies of ALL TIME to not be mentioned at all. "Big Trouble in Little China." I will need a complete blog (under construction)to describe this film's wonder and magic. Considering your myopic thinking I will not distress myself in trying to enlighten a heathen. By the way, I love your blog. Keep up the good work.

Wretched Genius said...

If "Big Trouble in Little China" gets an entry, than you better make damn sure that you grant equal time to "The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension." Without the world's all-time greatest surgeon/physicist/lead-vocalist there would never have been a Jack Burton. Don't know the history? Look it up.