Sunday, January 13, 2008

One Hundred Movies!!! (31 through 40)

Zounds! More than a month has gone by...yeesh. So anyhow, when last we left this series, we'd explored 60 of my favorite movies. Let's bump that up to 70 movies now, shall we?

40. The Crimson Pirate

A different kind of pirate flick, existing in its own kind of world, neither an Errol Flynn-style swashbuckler nor a Pirates of the Caribbean-style epic. This film is executed in fairly tongue-in-cheek manner, with Burt Lancaster as the pirate captain who finds himself involved in some derring-do, as all pirates do, I suppose. What makes this one different is the way the thrills take place: Lancaster employs some spectacular gymnastic ability in some pretty wild action sequences, some of which are downright hilarious. If you think pirate movies mostly involve crossed swords and blazing cannons, check this out. Sure, swords are crossed and cannons blaze here as well, but they're not the focus they are in other films.

Signature moment: The Captain's escape from certain drowning.

39. My Neighbor Totoro

This is a children's film, quiet and contemplative, by Hayao Miyazaki, and it's one of his very best. Two young girls move with their father to a new house in the country while their mother recovers from an unspecified illness at a hospital. While exploring their new neighborhood, the younger of the two girls discovers that the giant camphor tree outside their house is actually the dwelling of a great magical being called Totoro and his two smaller brothers, or mates, or friends, or something like that. Their adventures with Totoro involve planting magical seeds, flying through the air by midnight, and going for a ride on a giant bus that is shaped like a cat. It's all pretty indescribable, but that makes it even more special.

Signature moment: Totoro discovers the pleasures of umbrellas.

38. Lethal Weapon

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in one of my favorite action movies, with Glover playing the aging cop (Roger Murtaugh) who's only looking to play it safe until retirement and Gibson as the suicidally depressed younger cop (Martin Riggs) who's been deemed too dangerous for just about anything. The crime they're called to solve is pretty pedestrian; the pleasure of the film is in the witty screenplay and the winning chemistry between Glover and Gibson, chemistry that would serve them well for three sequels (the first two of which are also, in my opinion, pretty good).

Signature moment: When Martin Riggs goes to a roof to talk down a jumper, with unorthodox results.

37. Jaws

I didn't see this movie in full until I was sixteen years old, and I watched it on TBS on a Sunday afternoon, in its pan-and-scan, edited-for-television version, and I still jumped when the shark rose from the water in front of Roy Scheider. Now that's effective movie-making. The movie never really falters in its pacing, and though its much-cited masterstroke of keeping the shark relatively unseen until late in the film was mainly due to the fact that the mechanical shark they built didn't work, the movie's a masterwork of mood. It also features the first truly great score by John Williams (who, I might add, did not steal the theme from Dvorak).

Signature moment: "Smile, you son-of-a-bitch!"

36. The Man Without a Face

This was the first movie Mel Gibson directed, and for some reason it never did all that well, which has always bothered me because it's very well-made, and it's a far better meditation on the relationship between good teacher and curious student than the stunningly overrated Dead Poets Society. By the way, whatever became of Gaby Hoffman? I thought she was a very promising child actor. I wonder what she's doing now.

Signature moment: Gibson and his young charge act out The Merchant of Venice in Gibson's living room.

35. Stand By Me

I made a number of attempts to read Stephen King when I was in high school, and I never much got into him. This, coupled with the fact that just about all of the movies they made from his books for a long time were crap, led me to conclude that King is a hack. I started to wonder if I'd misjudged him when I saw Stand By Me, based on a King novella. It's a solid, solid piece of storytelling, and highly insightful in its treatment of the dynamic between childhood friends who will inevitably drift apart in the end. I love the movie's elegiac tone, and the only fault I've ever felt with it is in the bookending bits with Richard Dreyfuss; I'm not sure that learning Chris's ultimate fate is really necessary.

Signature moment: It's a small moment, easy to overlook, but the shopkeep who speaks to Wil Wheaton as if a life without football is incomprehensible always stands out in my mind when I think of this movie.

34. Flash Gordon

What a cheerfully, deliriously fun movie this is! Seriously, it's just a blast. I recently bought the DVD and watched it with some trepidation, thinking it couldn't possibly live up to the hoot I'd had in the theater seeing it when I was nine, but no, it was just about as much fun as I remembered, if not moreso. Unbelievably goofy costume design, the two most wooden lead actors I've ever seen, some of the gonzoest action sequences ever filmed (that football fight especially), and production design that creates a look completely distinct from the reigning Star Wars and Star Trek look of SF films of the period. Oh, and the music by Queen? How can anyone not love it?

Signature moment: "Flash! I love you, but we only have eight more hours to save the Earth!"

33. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Steven Spielberg's tale of the Indiana electrical worker who finds himself having visions of unearthly origin, ultimately leading him and others to a rendezvous with earthbound aliens, has been a favorite film of mine for years. What's so great about this movie, as with Jaws, is the way Spielberg blends his mystery with the mundane, so that ordinary things take on ominous tones, such as when little Barry Guiler's toys all start lighting up and moving for no reason. The John Williams score makes a fascinating progression from atonal mystery toward tonal glory at the end, and the visuals are as stunning as anything Spielberg or George Lucas have filmed since. It's an amazing movie.

Signature moment: The abduction of Barry Guiler is one of the most unnerving film sequences I know. I've never been able to hear Johnny Mathis's "Chances Are" without feeling a sense of dread, thanks to this one scene.

32. 2001: A Space Odyssey

I saw 2001 when I was only nine years old. It was screened at a science fiction convention that my sister and I attended in Portland, OR. I didn't get it. At all. I didn't understand the movie to save my life. I'm a young kid who's all hopped up on Star Wars, and here's this movie supposedly about space starting off with a bunch of apes in the beginning. Then we're in space, but there's this tall black thing on the moon...and then there's a computer that goes nuts...and then the movie gets really trippy. No, I didn't understand this movie at all. But what was weird was that I wanted to understand it; I didn't hate it or feel bored. I'm still not sure I totally understand it, but I do think it's one of the finest films of all time.

Signature moment: The waltz of the space ships, over "On the Beautiful Blue Danube". There are a lot of film music fans who genuinely believe that the film would work better had Stanley Kubrick actually used the Alex North score that he rejected in favor of his classical music temp track, but I've never agreed.

31. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Well, I don't know what I can possibly say about this movie other than to just note its place on the list and leave it at that. So that's what I'm doing.

Signature moment: All of 'em. Picking a favorite moment from this movie is like picking the prettiest flower from a field full of poppies. Can't do it.

And that's all for this entry. Still no space-based swashbuckler movies! How long can this go on?!

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