Monday, February 01, 2010

The Movie List: 90-86

I’d say this and the next installment (maybe two more) are the last that include some conflicted feelings. We’re still in territory where certain movies could have easily not made the list, and even though I enjoyed them, my affection for them comes and goes. (And I know the list is going slowly thus far. I'll try to get a couple more entries up by week's end.)

90. “I should like to propose the first toast.”

The Celebration (1998)

This Danish movie was the first to come out of the Dogme 95 movement, not a genre I’m normally excited about. (Given a choice to watch a Lars von Trier movie or a Pauly Shore vehicle, I might flip a coin.) This movie, directed by Thomas Vinterberg, is about a Danish clan gathering at their family-run hotel to celebrate their father’s 60th birthday. At the dinner, one of the patriarch’s sons, Christian, stands to give a toast, during which he accuses his father of having sexually abused him and his twin sister, Linda, who has recently committed suicide. Awkward. The father denies it, of course, and tries to convince everyone that Christian has lost his mind. The Dogme rules -- mostly dealing with the austerity of production values -- can feel like a stunt in certain movies, but here they only enhance the claustrophobic, emotionally tense environment.

89. “Match me, Sidney.”

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

This should maybe be higher, but I saw it for the first time within the last year and a second time around is probably needed to get a more accurate reading. Tony Curtis is Sidney Falco, an agent desperate to get a client’s name in an influential gossip column. Burt Lancaster, the real star of the show, is J. J. Hunsecker, the steely columnist who’s drunk on his power. Hunsecker dangles the possibility of helping Sidney only if Sidney will help him. Hunsecker wants to break up his sister’s relationship with a young jazz guitarist. This is because Hunsecker, in one of the creepiest relationships I’ve seen in a movie, harbors a borderline incestuous feeling for that sister, even creepier because that feeling is driven by a desire for control rather than affection. The movie is shot beautifully, the leads and everyone else are great, and the writing is snappy, as in this classic scene.

88. “Charlie, there was no special feeling, I just said there was.”

California Split (1974)

I’m not a big Robert Altman fan, but that’s a subject for another time. The one movie of his to make my list is this flick about two gamblers, Bill (George Segal) and Charlie (Elliott Gould). Charlie is a schemer and chronic gambler, Bill a straighter arrow who, through the influence of his friendship with Charlie, drives up a debt with his bookie. The two go to Reno, where Bill experiences a phenomenal hot streak. The story isn’t really the point, and there’s an oddball subplot involving the women in their lives. I like both Gould and Segal in general, and they’re terrific here. I’m also a very casual, occasional gambler myself, and not many movies depict that world, casually or otherwise. For that reason, the scenes with Gould, say, walking around Santa Anita race track stand out for me. In an issue of Stop Smiling devoted to the subject of gambling, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote abut California Split, and Joseph Walsh, who wrote the script, discussed the original, unfilmed ending.

87. “Ghost, you come back here with that freakin’ hat.”

Grizzly Man (2005)

Werner Herzog’s documentary is about Timothy Treadwell, a man who lived among Alaskan grizzly bears for 13 years before being killed by one of them in 2003, along with his girlfriend. It’s on the list for three reasons. First, it’s a slick ride with a lot of fantastic nature footage that Treadwell left behind. Secondly, it features two wildly crazy, entertaining characters -- the subject and the filmmaker. And third, because of those characters, it’s a very rare combination of tragic and hilarious. Allow me to quote myself:
It doesn’t seem right to laugh at such a tragic story, but there are several moments in this that are riotously funny – not guiltily-chuckle-to-yourself funny, but the-audience-is-collectively-swaying-side-to-side-and-popcorn-is-flying-around-like-
the-theater-scene-in-The-Muppet-Movie funny. Take my word for it. An interview with one woman in particular is something Christopher Guest couldn't dream up with the aid of hallucinogens.

My favorite subplot is Herzog’s disdain for Treadwell’s optimistic worldview. He feels, rightly so, that nature is often vicious, and that Treadwell was a deeply misguided do-gooder whose fate was inevitable. But when Herzog gives full voice to his pitch-black view of nature and life towards the end of the movie, with his alarmingly Schwarzenegger-like accent, you realize that you’ve spent the past hour and a half in the company of not one but two true nut jobs.
86. “I can honestly say I’m a changed man.”

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

This is a weird one. Ten years ago, it would have been a lot higher. And even now, I could see it being higher, though no better than 60 or so. I also toyed with the idea of leaving it off altogether. I guess the truth is somewhere in between all that, so here we are. In its favor are its ambition, some very affecting scenes, and lovely cinematography. Its two biggest demerits are both things I didn’t notice at the time: One is that Morgan Freeman’s voice-over has not aged well, probably because Freeman now does the voice-over for seemingly everything including my dreams. Because of his bodiless ubiquity, his narration here sounds cheesier and more a parody of itself than it did at the time. The second is Tim Robbins, who I once really liked. Now I think he’s often a ham, and it’s a rare role of his that I don’t look back on and devalue at least a bit. When I see certain clips of Shawshank now, like this one, I cringe a little at his delivery. There are also smaller problems I have with it, like the stirring of the soundtrack every time our hearts are supposed to stir.



Blogger Dezmond said...

LOved "Grizzly Man." You make good points about Herzog being as wacky as his subject. I think you exaggerate a tad on that, but the point is well taken. What makes the doc work is that the filmmaker's worldview is so opposed to his subject's.

Quite surprised to see "Shawshank" this far back. I remember a time where this would have scratched your top 20.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...

My big fear is rapidly becoming that some awful tragedy will befall you before you finish this list...and the awkward task of asking your family for access to your papers and personal affects will fall to me.

12:11 AM  

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