Monday, March 22, 2010

The Movie List: 65-61

65. "Kid's got alligator blood."

Rounders (1998)

I’m willing to half-apologize for this one. Several movies below this on the list -- and several that were left off altogether -- are better movies. There are distracting flaws here: In a minor role, Gretchen Mol is terrible, and even Matt Damon is a little stiff in the lead. And Damon’s voice-over work (voice-overs are a common complaint of mine) strikes a consistently annoying, explaining-things-to-people-who-have-never-played-cards-or-seen-a-narrative-unfold tone. But I like stories about gambling, and the movie’s huge strength is Ed Norton as “Worm,” Damon’s friend from prep school who’s just been released from jail for fixing high school basketball games. His charismatic performance carries things, and once you accept that the rest of the movie isn’t Citizen Kane (not on my list, by the way), then even its cheesier elements, like John Malkovich’s insane Russian accent (and ridiculously obvious tell), are fun.

64. “This time I really think I have something.”

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Hannah has a few things going for it, including a strong trio of female leads in Barbara Hershey, Dianne Wiest, and Mia Farrow. Woody plays himself, more or less, or at least the “himself” that is his usual character on screen. In fact, he probably nails hypochondria better in this movie than in any of his other works, and that’s saying something. His fear and grappling with mortality in the face of a possible brain tumor is hilarious and then somewhat poignant, a combo at which Allen once excelled. Despite the fact that the movie features relatively sober adult themes compared to movies like Sleeper and Bananas, it also has some great laughs, like when Allen’s character complains to his father that the Holocaust makes him question religious truth, and asks him to explain away the existence of Nazis in a universe overseen by God. “How the hell do I know why there were Nazis?” his father answers. “I don't know how the can opener works.”

63. "I'm gonna nail you for pickin' your feet in Poughkeepsie."

The French Connection (1971)

I caught this one a couple of years ago in New York, which was a good refresher. I don't think I would have remembered it well enough to put it on here otherwise. Its famous car chase gets most of the love when people talk about it now, and that scene is pretty great, though it's really a car-train chase scene as Gene Hackman's character, "Popeye" Doyle, races to catch a subway car that's been hijacked on elevated tracks. Doyle and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) are two Brooklyn narcotics cops, and the movie tracks their efforts to tie the mob to a drug smuggling ring in France. Hackman's performance is the best thing here (he won an Oscar for it, and the movie won a slew of others as well, including Best Picture), but there are plenty of runners-up: vintage '70s American moviemaking, great, gritty shots of New York, and a brilliantly built scene during which a car is taken apart in a search for drugs.

62. “Walter, you're wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way.”

His Girl Friday (1940)

This classic might get a little too screwball in its second half, but the chemistry between Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell is A+. Russell is Hildy, an ex-reporter, and Grant is Walter, a newspaper editor; they’re divorced and he’s trying to get her back into both the journalism game and his heart. This exchange, early on, is something the makers of today’s putrid romantic comedies should study more often:
Walter: Been seeing me in your dreams?

Hildy: Oh, no, Mama doesn't dream about you anymore, Walter. You wouldn’t know the old girl now.

Walter: Oh, yes, I would. I'd know you anytime.

Hildy: (mockingly, over his continuing voice) “Anyplace, anywhere.” Ahh, you're repeating yourself, Walter. That’s the speech you made the night you proposed.

Walter: I notice you still remember it.

Hildy: Of course I remember it. If I didn't remember it, I wouldn't have divorced you.

Walter: I sort of wish you hadn't done that, Hildy.

Hildy: Done what?

Walter: Divorced me. Makes a fellow lose all faith in himself. Gives
him a . . . almost gives him a feeling he wasn't wanted.

Hildy: Ah, now look, Junior, that’s what divorces are for.

Walter: Nonsense, you've got an old-fashioned idea [that] divorce is something that lasts forever, till death do us part. Why, divorce doesn’t mean anything nowadays, Hildy. Just a few words mumbled over you by a judge. We've got something between us nothing can change.
Go here, and the exchange above starts (more or less) at the 3:50 mark. Just the way Russell says “Mama doesn’t dream about you anymore” would be enough to get this move on the list.

61. "Anyway, we delivered the bomb."

Jaws (1975)

Kind of like His Girl Friday, but with a shark. Well, no. In fact, if you could go back in time and show the opening night crowd at His Girl Friday a screening of Jaws, their heads might explode. And that’s OK, because it’s what followed Jaws that was a problem. And no, I don’t just mean Jaws 2, Jaws 3-D, Jaws 4: Fool Me Three Times, and Jaws 5: The Fulfillment of Louis Gossett Jr.’s Contract. I mean a solid 98% of everything that has come out of Hollywood since. But looking back, Jaws is quaint. Spielberg famously had to keep the shark largely off-screen, because from most angles it looked like what it was, a giant fake shark. This had the benefit, however unintentional, of building suspense and of keeping the focus on a human-scale story. (My friend Dez made the same point on his movie list, where Jaws occupied the top spot.) Would that all filmmakers had such constraints.



Blogger ANCIANT said...

"Rounders" is not even one of the 1000 best movies of all time. Ed Norton!? That's your saving grace? I don't get it. But then, I've never liked Norton. I was stunned a few weeks back to find him listed, along with Wes Anderson and someone else as people that EVERYONE from my demographic (white, 30s, etc) admires. Do they? Is Edward Norton that respected? I thought he chewed off the scenery with both jaws in that film.

I approve of the rest, however. Aren't you lucky! I'm actually surprised "His Girl Friday" isn't higher.

1:34 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Apology accepted on "Rounders." I don't think I dislike it as much as ANCIANT, but it is an entertaining diversion at best. definitely not a film to return to and discuss, as all films on this list should be. I like Ed Norton, but I do not think he is this generation's De Niro or Pacino like many others do.

More Woody.

Surprised to see "French Connection" on your list. Not sure why I'm surprised, but I am. great movie.

Haven't seen "Hi girl Friday", although I own it. I need to watch that soon. (It was in a stack of DVDs that I sort of inherited from my deceased aunt. By sort of inherited, I mean nobody knew what to do with them all so I took them.)

"Jaws." Happy to see that it is somewhere on your list. Thanks for the plug.

8:20 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

Ed Norton is talented. Hasn't done much with it recently, but...

Dez: "definitely not a film to return to and discuss, as all films on this list should be." This makes me think two things:

1) You're going to be really disappointed with some of the movies to come. And,

2) You had Fandango and a Bond movie in your top 10. Sure you don't want to take back that quote?

Plus, Woody. It's just the second movie of his. Is that crazy? Well, there are two more left, so brace yourself.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Returning to and discussing a film does not mean it has to be serious and no fun. I guess what I mean is that a film should not be inconsequential, and "Rounders" is. I agree with "Airplane" being on your list, for instance.

The best Bond film is not inconsequential. "Fandango" is awesome. The "more Woody" comment was perhaps a bit anticipatory as well, since I know there is more to come. You are a New Yorker, so you have the Woody disease. It's OK. You people can't help yourselves.

7:28 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

I'm sorry. Of course, Fandango was incredibly consequential.

[standing behind you, moving my index finger in circles next to my ear]

3:59 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

We're not discussing my picks, we're discussing your picks.

9:24 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

Fandango, Fandango, Fandango.

12:35 PM  

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