Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Movie List: 75-71

I've said this process will speed up when we get to the top 50 or so, and that's no lie. I have no idea why you would believe me at this point, but it's still no lie. Also, the rankings also mean very little until then (and even after then, to some degree). These five were ranked completely differently (though within this same grouping) about ten minutes ago.

75. “It’s me, Ana . . . It’s me, Ana.”

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

In 1940, a traveling cinema comes to a small town in the Spanish countryside in director Victor Erice’s story of a young girl in the shadow of Franco’s dictatorship. The movie being shown is Frankenstein, and the girl, Ana, goes to see it with her older sister, Isabel. Ana becomes obsessed with the story of the monster, and she attempts to conjure one of her very own. Then one day, in a remote, abandoned house, she finds a wounded soldier. What happens in Beehive is not terribly much, but the cinematography is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The movie subtly addresses themes of war, trust, and innocence, but what stays with you are the images, how carefully they’re framed and colored and paced. It’s a lo-fi cousin of Pan’s Labyrinth, where the imagination is called on in the absence of special effects. I wrote about the movie at greater length here.

74. “Coffee is for closers.”

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

I recently saw Glengarry again, which reminded me of its strengths and weaknesses. I tend to like movies that are based on plays, but the scope here does seem a bit constrained for the screen. David Mamet’s script follows a day in the life of desperate salesmen looking to close real estate deals. When someone steals the company’s best leads, we’re left to wonder who did it while the cast sweats out the investigation. The entire ensemble is so good. Alan Arkin and Ed Harris stand out in small roles, as they often do. I’ve never been a big Kevin Spacey fan, but that works here, because he’s supposed to be unlikeable. Alec Baldwin, Al Pacino, and Jack Lemmon are the movie’s holy trinity. Baldwin famously steals the whole thing with his one scene, a brutal emasculating of everyone in the room. I’ve (re)learned from making this list that Pacino was brilliant for a really long time; longer than we tend to remember now that he’s constantly teased and criticized for indulging the “hoo-ah!” phase of his career. As the office’s best earner, he’s almost perfect. Lemmon is my choice for Best in Show, though, as Shelley “The Machine” Levene, a sad-sack update/continuation of Willy Loman.

73. “War starts at midnight!”

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

A couple of years ago, I found an interview with Anthony Lane in which he expressed love for this movie. It immediately went on my Netflix queue, since in addition to loving Lane’s style, he’s the only movie critic whose taste I trust entirely. (Or very nearly.) In addition to its other charms, the movie has one of the best named characters of all time: Major General Clive Wynne-Candy, played by Roger Livesey. It opens with a scene that only makes sense as the movie unfolds. It’s 1943, and an older Candy is enjoying a Turkish bath when a group of younger soldiers capture him during a training exercise. Candy is incensed, saying that the exercise was supposed to commence at midnight. The younger troops tell him, essentially, that this is an insurgent tactic and that he is behind the times. See any possible parallels to the current day? The film then flashes back to cover Candy’s career, which spans the Boer War, World War I, and World War II. The character of Colonel Blimp originally appeared in a comic strip, but the movie's creators the idea originated elsewhere (and indeed, curiously, the name Colonel Blimp doesn’t appear in the movie):
According to the directors, the idea for the film did not come from the newspaper comic strip by David Low but from a scene cut from their previous film, One of Our Aircraft is Missing, in which an elderly member of the crew tells a younger one, "You don't know what it's like to be old." Powell has stated that the idea was actually suggested by David Lean (then an editor) who when removing the scene from the film, mentioned that the premise of the conversation was worthy of a movie on its own right.
The movie features plenty of drama, but it has a lively, sometimes humorous tone, buoyed along by its pioneering use of Technicolor.

72. "So, to go against what is predestined, one must jump."

The Vanishing (1988)

I mentioned in the last installment that I tend to prefer psychological creepiness to gore. This Dutch/French movie (which was remade into an American bomb by the same director five years later, though I haven’t seen that version) begins with a woman (Saskia) disappearing at a highway rest stop in France in broad daylight. Her partner (Rex) spends the next few years trying to figure out what happened to her. As his futile search continues, we see flashbacks of Raymond, an outwardly normal guy who’s plotting to abduct a woman. We know from early on that he’s the one who takes Saskia, and the amount of time we spend from his perspective is considered one of the movie’s more innovative elements. But we don’t know how he did it, at least not for a while. Eventually, Rex and Raymond cross paths, and the movie reaches what I found to be a fever pitch of psychological weirdness, culminating in a supremely creepy final scene that reveals Saskia’s fate -- and Rex’s.

71. “Demented and sad, but social.”

The Breakfast Club (1985)

I’m not even sure how The Breakfast Club has aged, or how much that matters to my judgment of it. What matters is that, when I was 12, 13 years old, this was the coolest thing going. In naming it the best high school movie ever made, Entertainment Weekly said, “if hell is other people — and high school is hell — then John Hughes is the genre's Sartre, and this is his No Exit.” That might be a little heavy. The movie succeeds on a pretty frothy mix of one-liners, authority-fighting, conveniently pot-aided group therapy, revenge (or at least reconciliation) of the nerds, and “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, which is a much, much cooler, more inspiring, more nostalgia-inducing theme to a movie than anything any generation has had since. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.



Blogger Dezmond said...

Good choices, although I haven't seen all of them. You've got your quotes all wrong, though.

"Glengarry Glen Ross" should be: "Homemade?" "No, store bought." "F*ck her."

"Breakfast Club should be: "Mess with the bull, you get the horns, young man."

10:34 PM  

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