Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Movie List: 50-46

Man, that was a long time to have Phil Collins at the top of the page. Sorry about that.

My friend “Dez,” God bless him, is paying close attention to this list, and he has complained (as I knew he would) about the “ties.” A quick note about them: They’re not ties. They’re simply movies that, for one reason or another, go very well together, and they just give me an excuse to add (and discuss) more movies. Of course, they do fall in a similar place in my ranking, but they’re not technically tied. To Dez and anyone else who is bothered by this, there’s only two instances left. Not counting the one below. Counting that one, there’s three.

50. “He’ll flip ya. Flip ya for real.”

The Usual Suspects (1995)

I saw this three times in the theater when it was released during my senior year of college. The Washington Post said, “The Usual Suspects may be too clever for its own good,” and I can see that. Roger Ebert gave it one and a half stars out of four, and included it on a “most hated” list, proving that, despite his recent high-quality blogging and Twittering and deserved public sympathy, his taste has never been the most reliable barometer. I enjoyed the complexities of the caper, but it wasn’t the Keyser Soze “reveal” that kept me coming back, it was the ensemble cast, especially Benicio Del Toro (shockingly young-looking) as the marble-mouthed Fenster. Haven’t seen this one in years and years, but the initial impression it made on me is enough to put it this high.

49. “I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.”

Say Anything... (1989)
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
High Fidelity (2000)

John Cusack is the cinematic avatar of my generation, and we could have done a lot worse. If any of your heads are about to explode because this entry contains three movies—hi again, Dez—just be glad it’s not four. I almost added Better Off Dead at the last second. These movies constitute a progression, or a non-progress: Lloyd Dobler holds up that boom box, teaches a generation to yearn for girls out of their league to a Peter Gabriel soundtrack, and then a decade later, Rob in High Fidelity is still trying to figure out him and women (and soundtracks) as he approaches mid-life. In these three movies, Cusack—sorry, the characters he plays—deals (or doesn’t deal) with getting older, something my generation was never going to be very naturally talented at, for a multitude of reasons. Maybe the most appropriate pairing in pop-culture history is Cusack and High Fidelity, since the novel the movie was based on included this passage:
What came first—the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?

People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands—literally thousands—of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.
Likewise, no one warned me off John Cusack movies.

48. “You don't look out for yourself, the only helping hand you'll ever get is when they lower the box.”

Hud (1963)

Few phrases in the English language are as appealing as young Paul Newman. In this adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s debut novel, Horseman, Pass By, Newman plays Hud Bannon, the son of a Texas rancher. Hud is a drunken, brawling, womanizing . . . well, tool. (“The only question I ever ask any woman is ‘What time is your husband coming home?’ ”) His father, Homer (Melvyn Douglas), is an upstanding, old-school exemplar of manly decency. The conflict between them is the center of the story. I think I’ve read understandable criticism that says Newman is too cool as Hud, that he makes it too easy to sympathize with and want to be the character who is tragically flawed. I say, who cares? He’s great in the role, and I think the more you can side with Hud, the better and more complicated the story becomes—otherwise, it’s almost too neatly Manichean. Maybe I’m making up that I ever read that criticism, in which case thanks for reading a conversation between me and myself. The black-and-white movie is full of great dialogue, beautiful cinematography, and a stark, incredible scene involving the mass killing of cattle.

47. “You gonna finish that?”

Diner (1982)

OK, so maybe my Cusack-educated generation doesn’t have a monopoly on having trouble growing up. Barry Levinson’s semi-autobiographical directorial debut is set in Baltimore at the end of the 1950s, and follows a group of friends in their 20s reunited for a wedding. The cast is a 1980s potpourri: Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly, and Paul Reiser. There’s something blessedly universal in the American experience about sitting around a diner late at night and bullshitting with friends. The sometimes ad-libbed scenes in Diner capture it as well as almost any other movie (there are a couple of movies still to come on the list that strongly compete in the Male Banter category). One blogger points out that the movie was in a distribution purgatory because the studio heads were mystified by its lack of incident. Then Pauline Kael wrote a rave in The New Yorker that gave the movie life. She called it “wonderful,” and wrote of the men in it: “Conversations may roll on all night, and they can sound worldly and sharp, but when these boys are out with girls, they're nervous, constricted, fraudulent, half crazy.” Kael’s right; this is very much a movie about boy-men trying to wrap their heads around women, and thus life in general. Geoffrey Macnab wrote, “the film expresses perfectly the incomprehension these men have for the women in their lives.” Levinson makes gentle fun of that incomprehension, as when one character devises a football quiz for his fiancee, and makes the wedding dependent on the results.

46. “I wrote a hit play and directed it, so I'm not sweating it either.”

Rushmore (1998)

Having loved Bottle Rocket, loving Rushmore had me figuring that Wes Anderson could do no wrong. Well, you live, you learn. I’d still say everything he’s done is worth seeing, but as I’ve probably already written a hundred times (apologies), it’s been dispiriting to watch his style devolve into a calcified set of tics. (They’re tics that fully survived the transition to stop-motion animation in The Fantastic Mr. Fox.) I’m sure you all know about Rushmore, when the tics were fresh (refreshing, even), so I’ll just close with an excerpt from Anderson’s funny essay about personally screening the movie for Kael, a hero of his:
Finally, the movie ended, and I took Ms. Kael's hand and walked with her out of the theater.

“I don't know what you've got here, Wes.”

I nodded.

“Did the people who gave you the money read the script?”

I frowned. “Yeah. That's kind of their policy.”

We started slowly down the steps. “Just asking,” she said. It was a short walk to the car. “At this point, I would usually tell you not to worry if you have to carry me, since I only weigh 85 pounds. But you look like you don't weigh much more than that, yourself.”



Blogger Dezmond said...

I can tell you know, deep down inside, that your multiple ties are wrong. I can tell because you try and head off my complaints at the pass. Not only do you have ties, but now three-way ties? And it is not even necessary, because "Gross Pointe Blank" was not very good. The other two Cusack specimens are classics, though.

A friend of mine told me a funny story related to "Usual Suspects." He was in Europe somewhere when it was playing in theaters over there, and he came across the movie poster on the wall in the subway. Someone had written "Keyser Soze" on the poster and then drew an arrow to the appropriate actor. Funny.

"Hud" is stone cold brilliant filmmaking. LOVE that movie and LOVE Newman's acting. I assume we will see more "young Paul Newman" films on this list?

I find diminishing returns with Wes Anderson as well. Loved "Bottle Rocket" (I still remember seeing that here in SA with you and Wiseman, and Wiseman's laughter echoing throughout the theater). "Rushmore" was great, but not as great as "Bottle Rocket." And so down the line, each new one worse than the previous. It is cool that it was filmed in Houston, on the St. John's High School campus. Been there many times.

8:50 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

There may be some more Young Newman. If you're lucky.

That is a funny story about the Usual Suspects poster in Europe.

Grosse Pointe Blank is not on the level of the other two movies, granted, but I thought it was charming and definitely funny in its strange way. Alan Arkin was hilarious.

You and I agree completely about Anderson, which gives a hint about at least one movie to come...

12:40 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home