Saturday, June 17, 2006

great movies

The other day I was wandering through Barnes and Noble looking for the latest book about Spinoza - "The Heretic and the Courtier," can't wait to read it - and I stumbled across a series of books called
1001...You Must...Before You Die. The title inspired me to make a list of my own. So here are my top 5 movies you positively must watch before you die.

The Crowd (1928)-

When John or Joan Q. Moviegoer thinks of silent films two things usually come to mind: 1) that silly looking, Hitler 'stached fellow with the funny walk and 2) those movies are more boring than watching piss cool. The latter point is true for some of the movies of that era, but can't the same be said of today? This film is a sterling example of the merriment contained in these nearly forgotten treasures. King Vidor, director of The Crowd, had a sharp sensibility and, much like Ernst Lubitsh, had his own "touch." The plot is simple, it chronicles one man's life from birth to adulthood with all the hills and valleys of the journey. The film impresses without being showy. Sure there's lessons on the futility of the American dream, man's struggle to reconcile his dual nature and what happens to faulty cogs in the grand social machine, but that's all there only if you want. On the surface it's a sturdy portrait of an American family brimming with poignancy and warmth. Whichever level you choose to view it you'll walk away smiling/thinking.

Holiday Affair (1949) -

What word best describes this movie? Cute? It is definately that yet there's something more to it. Rollicking? Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh and a mischievous youngster surely deliver a lively jaunt through New York, but that doesn't quite pin it down. Ah, I got it - ingratiatory. You can't dislike this movie, it won't let you. Leigh is sprightly as a widow with a young boy, Gordon Gerbert, who receives a toy train from Mitchum's character as an unselfish act of Christmas cheer. It's a shame Holiday is only played sparsely during the Christmas season while so many others are rerun ad nauseum on seemingly every network. This year try replacing A Christmas Story (you can recite all the good lines from memory anyway) and It's a Wonderful Life with this smaller picture.

Burden Of Dreams (1982) -

Think of that one thing you've always wanted in your entire life, the thing that would make life worth living. Winning the lottery. Finding your dream home. Having a threesome. This is a movie about that. The subject of this documentary, director Werner Herzog, will do whatever neccessary to film his movie, Fitzcarraldo, in the Amazon jungle. Trouble threatens his project from all sides, from a tantrum-prone star, Klaus Kinski, to the perils of the wilderness. The sequence with the Amazonian tribesmen pushing and pulling Herzog's massive ship up a slick, muddy incline will never leave you. I'll let you supply your own Sisyphean metaphor.

Salvador (1986) -

How Salvador was born: First, Oliver Stone heard a Chomsky lecture. Second, Stone took a filmcrew down to El Salavdor. Lastly, Salvador is released and tanks at the box office. Don't let that scare you, though, the movie far surpasses the sum of its parts. Starting as a fun travelogue the mood stops on a dime and sucker punches you with the stark brutalities of Central America in the 1980s. Never didactic or condescending, its sole aim is to report through the lens of opportunistic photojournalist and famed alcoholic, Richard Boyle. This is the news that never was, at least for Americans. A whole new perspective of Reagan's legacy emerges by the end. Before Stone became the master of bloated epics he made this taut distillation of American foreign policy. Absolutely peerless.

Side Note: Look for Jim Belushi giving a career-defining performance as James Woods' second banana.

Cinema Paradiso (1988) -

A movie about movies. More accurately, a movie about loving movies. Starring a wide-eyed boy growing up in a tiny Italian village, he befriends an old man, the only projectionist in town, and quickly learns his craft. Some of life's weightiest subjects - death, estrangement, heartbreak - are handled with a light touch. As memorable as Ennio Morricone's score is, the visuals are even more fetching. Take the stone lion temporarily coming to life in the imagination of the little boy or when they are forced to project the town's most popular movie outside on the facade of a building. And the ending is one of the most stirring affrimations of the revitalizing power of cinema. It reminds me of why we watch movies in the first place, it's because we relish a good story. This movie will have you falling in love with movies all over again.

No comments: