Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Movie List: 60-56

60. "My boy's wicked smart."

Good Will Hunting (1997)

I’ll undoubtedly take my lumps for this one, too. There’s a personal reason for its inclusion, as you might imagine. When it was released, in 1997, I was a daydreamy 23-year-old living in Dallas and wondering fairly constantly if I should move, and if so, where. Plus, I had girl trouble. Plus-plus, Ben Affleck wasn’t Ben Affleck yet. (And he's never been as well cast as he was here.) So it was easy for me to overlook or forgive some of the movie’s weaker elements (and there are several). It ends with a shot of Will hitting the New England highway en route to California, and that was a moment the 23-year-old liked quite a bit. But I can explain my affection for the movie on more objective grounds. I think it’s especially interesting as an example of what can happen when an auteur (in this case, Gus Van Sant) is constrained by the aims of a more conventional project. Some of the distinct mood that permeates a movie like Paranoid Park is present in Good Will Hunting (partly in the lilt of the Elliott Smith soundtrack, which might be partly responsible for the fact that every minor surgery on Grey's Anatomy has to be accompanied by a Joshua Radin song but sounded quite fresh at the time).

59. “I’m nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday.”

Kicking and Screaming (1995)

I don’t know what happened to Noah Baumbach. Lots of people love The Squid and the Whale, but I had a Randy Jacksonesque reaction to it: I thought it was a little pitchy, and it was just OK for me, dawg. The reviews of Margot at the Wedding were forbidding enough to keep me away. I’ll probably see Greenberg, though it sounds dreary. But Baumbach’s debut, Kicking and Screaming, is a hilarious (if sometimes stiffly acted) look at post-collegiate life. I’m willing to admit that if this hadn’t been released within a year or so of my own college graduation, it might not have had the impact it did -- not just because of its overlap with my own timeline, but because its brand of absurdist, highly quotable humor is generational. My generation. Sloane Crosley parsed the quotability here.

58. “You are a sad, strange little man.”

Toy Story (1995)

I’m a vocal fan of Pixar, and the studio really came storming out of the gate with its first full-length feature. The animation may have been less mind-boggling than it is now, but the story is still one of the best Pixar has created. Buzz Lightyear, the toy who doesn’t understand he’s a toy, is a great character. (And the scene in which he discovers the truth while watching a TV ad for himself is genuinely touching.) He and Woody have a classic odd couple dynamic, and the movie is full of funny gags, like the arcade toys who worship the mystical claw that plucks them away for children. (Go to 5:20 in this clip. “The claw chooses who will go and who will stay.”) The sequel was strong, too, and we’ll see if the upcoming third installment is a good idea soon enough.

57. “My real message? Keep a good head and always carry a light bulb.”

Don't Look Back (1967)

D. A. Pennebaker’s chronicle of Bob Dylan’s 1965 UK tour is one of the great documentaries for all kinds of reasons. First, there’s the access. While you get a sense of Dylan controlling things, more or less, the camera goes places in a fashion that it’s impossible to imagine a major star allowing today. We see Dylan’s tense silences with Joan Baez, his interaction with Donovan at a party, his conversations with manager Albert Grossman in taxis. We see him performing in Royal Albert Hall, and we get amazing vintage footage of him singing at a 1963 voter registration rally in Mississippi. But mostly we get him as a contradictory bundle: star and regular guy, joker and jackass, manipulator and cipher. I’ve seen it several times now. After the first time, I came away a bigger fan of Dylan the artist and a bigger skeptic of Dylan the legend. His dealings with the British press, in particular, are maddening, as he greets vapid questions with adolescent jousting, and those exchanges foreshadow the total, unceasing triviality of entertainment “reporting.” A female journalist asks him, “Would you say that you cared about people, particularly?” And he answers, “Well, yeah, but we all have our own definitions of all those words, ‘care’ and ‘people’ and . . .” An exchange we could certainly do without, on both sides.

56. “I don’t wanna talk to some flunky pig tryin’ to calm me, man.”

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

I’ve already mentioned how my respect for Al Pacino has only grown while putting together this list. I’m going to keep mentioning it. Pacino is incredible, and this is one of his best roles. As a Brooklyn bank robber with a struggling family and a boyfriend who wants a sex change, Pacino erupts through the famously loud scenes, like “Attica!,” but the subtler dimensions of the character are lost when that scream is what’s remembered best. A. O. Scott put it very well in his video review of the movie for the Times (this series of smartly condensed capsules is addictive). He said, “[Dog Day Afternoon] turns the archetype of the solitary, antisocial outlaw on its head. What motivates Sonny to rob the bank in the first place is an almost oppressive, desperate sense of responsibility -- to his family, to his mother, to his boyfriend. And this proves to be his undoing as an effective criminal. Because once he’s taken all of these innocent people hostage, what he ends up doing is spending the rest of the day trying to keep them safe.”



Blogger Dezmond said...

I guess I could go after you on "Good Will Hunting," but I won't. The fact that Robin Williams is associated with it is bad enough.

I too appreciate Pixar and other quality kids films. as a new parent, I will probably grow in my appreciation of the fact that Pixar will give my child some product that I can also stand and enjoy along with her.

"Don't Look Back" is great, and I agree with most of what you say. The Donovan stuff is really funny throughout ("I want to meet Donovan"), although, Donovan is not quite the joke the film makes him out to be. I've come to enjoy Donovan's music in the last year or so.

Agree with you on Pacino. Truly great. As you know, "Dog Day Afternoon" also made my list. It is not my favorite film with Pacino in it, but I think it features his greatest performance of his career, overall.

1:06 PM  
Blogger ANCIANT said...

I'm sure you've seen it already, and thus probably already know this, but Tim Robbins' "Bob Roberts" takes a lot of its best moments from "Don't Look Back." If you haven't seen Bob Roberts recently, it's worth rewatching in light of Don't Look Back. If you have, nevermind.

Good Will Hunting is just terrible. I dare you to rewatch it all the way through. I dare you! Although I have come to believe, despite wanting to, that Matt Damon is actually one of the great actors of his generation. Really. The older he gets, the more I see of him, the more I see to admire. A good guy and a good actor. (His recent cameo on Entourage, by the way, was hilarious).

Any movie in which Robin Williams plays a wise, crinkly-eyed sage should be destroyed. Pretty much any movie Robin WIlliams has been in, I guess.

I'm pleasantly surprised to see you've got Don't Look Back so high. "Anarchist! Anarchist! Give the anarchist a cigarette...."

No complaints with anything else.

3:48 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Well, you guys have gently torn me apart, if that's not an oxymoron. GWH should have been much lower on the list, an acknowledgment of a highly subjective and dated affection. Still, I think Robin Williams is not terrible in that. I think he gets smeared (rightfully) for all the crap he associates himself with, but I think he's capable of being OK. And I was going to mention Damon -- in retrospect, it doesn't seem nearly so weird to like him in that movie. He's good.

I'm sure there will be more disagreement in the list's future, but that's likely the last of the real sticking points. Well, maybe not; we'll see...

4:34 PM  
Blogger Jason Zinoman said...

i would like the rest of the list to be in the voice of randy jackson. that cracked me up.

1:35 AM  

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