Friday, April 23, 2010

The Movie List: 55-51

55. “See, what this really could be is a gigantic favor to both you and your future husband to find out that you're not missing out on anything.”

Before Sunrise (1995)

I think there’s something like a critical consensus that the sequel, Before Sunset, is a better movie, and that might be true. But this one has a larger claim on me. I was in college when I read Anthony Lane’s enthusiastic review in The New Yorker. Finding the movie in San Antonio wasn’t going to be a cinch, but it did play at what passed for the local art house. I remain a sap, but I was a real sap back then, and the movie’s chatty flirtation knocked me over. It’s also associated with an anecdote I’ve probably shared before here, and that I love: I raved about it to a post-college girlfriend with whom I felt a strong connection. We rented it and watched in silence. I imagined, of course, that her silence was a product of rapt appreciation. As the credits rolled, she turned to me and asked, “Why did you like that?” Ah, love. In the glimpses I’ve seen since, I can imagine age might lessen this movie’s impact on me, but Richard Linklater’s calm touch still makes it a treat.

54. “You have no respect for order, you are arrogant, you’re disruptive, and you celebrate chaos!”

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

I wrote a full post about this movie soon after I saw it, which is here. It begins like this:

Albert Camus famously wrote that the most important philosophical question, the one that must be answered before any others can even be asked, is whether or not to commit suicide. It’s a question that wouldn’t occur to Poppy, the playful, tittering center of Mike Leigh’s terrific Happy-Go-Lucky.

Happiness is something that philosophers and artists alike largely ignore as a subject of study. Torment, tumult, grief, unrequited love, and boredom are more common inspiration. And the ledger shows that this is a good thing. On the one side, you have Anna Karenina, Mozart’s Requiem, David’s The Death of Marat, hell, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. On the other, you have “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

To examine the causes of suffering, and how we react to them, tends to be both more interesting and more edifying than portraying how we surf along on times of joy. But sustained happiness is another thing, and it would be fascinating -- maybe even helpful -- to see it depicted more often.

53. “I had a mad impulse to throw you down on the lunar surface and commit interstellar perversion with you.”

Manhattan (1979)

This would have been a lot higher if I hadn’t rewatched it recently. It’s not that it’s bad (53 ain’t chopped liver). It’s just that . . . well, OK, parts of it are bad. Allen’s worship of New York is probably stronger when it’s less blatant than it is here, but still, Gershwin on top of black-and-white shots of the city is a good combination any way you can get it. And even though Allen's character's relationship with Muriel Hemingway’s character was stilted and creepy even before, you know, real life unfolded, and even though Diane Keaton’s character takes some time to like . . . OK, I’m going to talk myself out of this choice if I’m not careful. No, no, I’m still a sucker for the New York stuff, and the movie is funny, like when Allen says, “My first wife was a kindergarten teacher. She got into drugs, and she moved to San Francisco; went into est, became a Moonie. She’s with the William Morris Agency now.” Or when he accuses someone of being “the winner of the Zelda Fitzgerald Emotional Maturity Award.” I no longer think this is his second-best movie, which is the position it occupies on this list. But I think the world will survive the error.

52. “A minute of silence can be a long time.”

Band of Outsiders (1964)

I’m more of a Truffaut guy than a Godard guy. There, I said it. God, I feel liberated. But I love Band of Outsiders. You can still see its impact on filmmakers all the time. Quentin Tarantino’s production company is called A Band Apart, a play on the film’s French title, and Wes Anderson should be paying royalties to Godard’s estate. (Tarantino was also reportedly influenced enough by the movie’s famous dancing scene that he echoed it in Uma and Travolta’s dance together in Pulp Fiction.) In Outsiders, Odile (Anna Karina) and two new male friends, Franz and Arthur -- who both fall for her, and why not? -- plan to rob the villa where Odile lives with her aunt. The movie only features the kind of suspense that description would imply toward the very end. Until then, it’s all slow charm. The three friends run through the Louvre, trying to see the entire thing in a world-record time. (The previous record was 9:45.) Criminals exist in a distinctly New Wave mode, with their fashionable caps and argyle sweaters and guns under the kitchen sink. Watching it again not long ago, I also remembered it uses soundtrack better than most movies on the list. Only the sag of some early scenes keeps it from being even higher.

51. “I demand to have some booze!”

Withnail & I (1987)

Some cult movies, like Spinal Tap or Rocky Horror, actually outgrow the cult label. I don’t think this one has. Set in London and the English countryside at the end of the 1960s, and based on the experiences of writer-director Bruce Robinson, Withnail & I follows two struggling actors as they run out of money in the city and go to an uncle’s estate for some R & R. Paul McGann is very good as Marwood (the “I” of the title), but Richard Grant as Withnail is just brilliant. (In fairness to McGann, the script favors Grant tenfold.) Withnail is a raging drunk, and Grant, who allegedly never drank in real life, gives perversely entertaining line readings in scenes like the one where he takes to drinking what I'm pretty sure is lighter fluid, or when, biblically hung over, he moans, “I feel like a pig shat in my head.” When the two do get to the country, they realize they’re singularly unsuited for it. (A local rides by, and Withnail frantically tells him, “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!”) Almost nothing at all happens in Withnail & I. The sole drama is whether Withnail’s portly uncle, played by Richard Griffiths, will have his way with Marwood. But the script is great, the performances are four stars all-around (leave that to the Brits), and the final scene, in which Withnail recites a soliloquy from Hamlet in the rain, standing at the outskirts of the London Zoo, is profound, revelatory, and on a short list of the very best endings I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen the movie, you really should watch it before seeing the finale. But if you have seen it, and just want to be reminded, it’s here.



Blogger Dezmond said...

I must confess that I haven't seen many of these, but you got me interested in a couple. I think I did see "Manhattan," though. Wasn't that the one where Woody was in New York?

10:12 AM  
Blogger ANCIANT said...

Withnail's in my top 50. The rest are not. Woody Allen's movies all get worse the more you watch them. It's true. (I have a long rant in one of my unpublished blogs posts on the subject. How sad we all are not to see that!) He's the living director that's least likely to age well. Freud jokes and stupid 70s-era kitsch. Bleh.

2:42 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

It's not true that all of Woody's movies get worse. Some do.

And when's your list gonna start??

12:27 PM  
Blogger ANCIANT said...

My list exists only in the pure world of Platonic ideas. It can never be seen, only thought about.

12:46 PM  

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