Monthly Archives: February 2008

More perfect than Curt Hennig.

18. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)

Ranking Scorsese:

  1. King of Comedy
  2. Raging Bull
  3. After Hours
  4. Goodfellas
  5. Mean Streets
  6. Casino
  7. Gangs of New York
  8. Taxi Driver
  9. Cape Fear
  10. The Departed
  11. The Color of Money
  12. Bringing Out The Dead

This is my candidate for the perfect film. Not my favorite mind you, but rather a film that is perfect in every facet. I don’t really know what you could criticize about it. I mean it’s beautifully shot with a great score, great performances, the best boxing sequences ever filmed, iconic images and lines, great screenplay, and it’s both engaging and well paced. Like honestly I don’t know what fault this movie has.

The only other films out of the top 20 that I would even consider being on the level of “Raging Bull” are “The Godfather” and maybe “Seven Samurai”. When I say on the level, I mean in terms of just being close to perfection, like I can’t think of a fault the film has. But with “The Godfather” I could argue that its attempts to negatively depict the underworld ostensibly fail, because the Corleone family is so compelling. As entertainment it succeeds wonderfully, but if one sees it as a morality play(which I kind of do), it fails(as gangster pictures always do). “The Seven Samurai” is wonderful in so many ways, but it demands a rewatching before I can assess it in the context of perfection.

The only piece of filmmaking that really resonates quite as strongly in terms of causing to me to think this is perfect is the first hour of “The Best Years of Our Lives“, which to me trumps even “Raging Bull” in terms of just being incredibly well done. But “Raging Bull” is the only film that I have seen that I would classify as perfect from start to finish.

On I gave the film 10/10 (My initial viewing from about 6 years ago left me with a hazy 8/10). I recommend the shit out of this film.

At least it doesn’t have Sofia Coppola.

17. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

My expectations were pretty high going into this one. A lot of people swear that this is best movie ever made, even better than the first one. I once heard someone describe it as having the best screenplay ever written. This film is so well-regarded it hurts. And unfortunately it was pretty underwhelming. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, because I did. It was good, just not Van Johnson good.

Most of the reviews I read offered much ballyhoo about the seamless transitions between Michael Corleone’s life in the present and Vito Corleone’s life in the past. But at times I found it very clunky. It would just sometimes happen out of nowhere, and there didn’t seem to be a connection between what was going on in past and present. Come on Coppola at least gimme some heavy handed symbolism man.

It seemed like it was almost an arbitrary decision to incorporate Vito Corleone’s story into the film. Somebody was probably like “hey lets get Robert De Niro to play that guy Brando played in the first one”. I think the Don Corleone sequences would have worked better in the context of the first film, as they would coincide with Michael’s own entry into the underworld.

I can’t help but think that Leone’sOnce Upon A Time In America” did the whole multiple time-frame thing so much better. Everything just went smoother, and being that it was only one character’s life being dealt with it just made more sense to tell his story with flashback sequences. Plus it has Robet De Niro too.

What I did like about the film was that it made me feel gangsta once again. It’s well acted and fast paced. Plus the sequence described below is pretty much the greatest shit ever:

Frank Pentangeli has made a deal with the FBI to testify against Michael, believing he was the one who organized the attempt on his life. At the hearing in which Pentangeli is to testify, Michael arrives accompanied by Pentangeli’s brother Vincenzo, brought in from Sicily, whose surprise presence causes Frank to recant his previous statements about Michael. When Pentangeli is pressed, he claims that he just told the FBI what they wanted to hear. With no witness to testify against Michael the committee adjourns, with Hagen, acting as Michael’s lawyer, loudly demanding an apology.

Vincenzo is pretty much awesome. He says nothing, does nothing but show up and look indifferent, and then he leaves. But he is so badass, the personification of intimidation.

On I gave the film 8/10 simply because I gave part 1 a 9, and I didn’t like this one as much. But really the only fault I have with film is just the clunkier aspects of the screenplay, which to be honest is a pretty small detail.

But I really wanna hit it girl, no means no.

16. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1927)

As far as bald chicks go, Maria Falonetti(who plays Joan) ranks a close second to Sinead O’Connor in my books. You see I think Sinead is pretty fucking great. She’s smart, talented, political, outspoken, can sing the shit out of things, and she’s self-assured in a way I think few people ever are. I think it’s great when a person can go through the heat and controversy she went through and come out the other side, with their heart and mind still in tact.

Her first album is really good, and “Throw Down Your Arms” is tremendous(Sinead does reggae!), but the album that introduced me to Sinead was her biggest hit: “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got“. I think it’s one of those rare instances where something legitimately great makes it huge in the mainstream, kind of like Swirl 360 or K-Ci & Jo-Jo. It’s one those albums to that you can find in dollar bin at Cash Converters. The dollar bin is mostly overflowing with No Mercy, Right Said Fred, and C&C Music Factory CDs, but occasionally as in Sinead’s case you can find an album that made it really big that’s actually good: examples of which include Hole‘s “Live Through This“, or Arrested Development‘s “3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of…“.  It takes patience though and a strong stomach combined with ability to make quick judgments and categorize albums into the category of guilty pleasure(Mark Morrison‘s Return of the Mack), or gives me sense of nostalgia(for me it’s the first Our Lady Peace album), or legitimately good(I once found The Verve‘s “Urban Hymns“), and finally just plain terrible(most of the Can-Con bands that were played ad nauseam on Muchmusic such as Ricky J. and Shawn Desman). The whole scene is actually kind depressing as you ask one of two questions: “someone actually bought this?”, and “8 people actually bought this?”. Soul Decision? Deep Blue Something? Love Inc? I mean seriously. To be fair I was once 13 and not immune to the popular culture. I did own a Jeff Foxworthy tape once, but I later repented for my sins. My only hope is that the rest of society has repented for theirs.

On the subject of Sinead O’Connor, I think a parallel can be drawn between Sinead and Joan(at least as she is depicted in the film). Sinead’s greatest battle was started when she tore up the picture of the pope on SNL(pretty ballin’ in my opinion), an act of defiance against the Catholic Church and in particular their response(or lack of one) to the growing allegations of child abuse by Catholic clergymen. Sinead was vilified for her stand, which many misinterpreted as anti-God(it could be strongly argued that her very belief in God is what caused her to take such a stand). The setting of The Passion is her trial for heresy, and is based on the actual court records. The conflict is essentially built out of Joan’s deep-seeded belief that she was in direct communication with God, which the Church found abhorrent. Throughout the film she is constantly asked to renounce her belief in God, in favor of believing in church doctrine. The connection I see between Joan and Sinead is that both were/are faithful believers in God, but this belief didn’t manifest itself in a safe way. It lead them to do radical things that conflicted with the expectations of the Church.

I find the conflict between Church and God to be very compelling. It’s interesting to me that 600 years after Joan of Arc, people can still be persecuted and labeled heretics for suggesting ideas about the world which conflict with the Church’s(or any religious entity) viewpoint. People is the same old shit.

On I gave this film 8/10, because I found the story very interesting, and the conflict presented in way I strongly identify with. Plus Maria Falconetti gives a tremendous performance which is probably the main point of interest.

Brother can you spare a dime?

15. Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio Di Sica, 1948)

Another from the fabled film class of 2002, which served as my introduction to the world of arthouse cinema. It was in this class that I first started thinking somewhat critically about film. It also kind of established a solid base from which I have since branched out.

That being said, I was already pretty open-minded to what existed outside of Hollywood. I was fortunate to have an older brother who force fed me Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and endlessly pimped Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa. There were some bumps in the road, like the time I threw a tantrum and refused to watch Akira. By the time I was 14 or 15, I knew that most movies really sucked, and that you really had to dig to find good cinema. Thanks to the teachings of my brother, I was unafraid to watch almost anything(although I still haven’t gotten around to Akira).

So on to this film. A strong argument could be made that this is the film that introduced foreign cinema to America. It was among the first of a wave of international films that achieved great commercial and critical success in the post-war US.

I think the main part of its appeal is that it’s a very simple story: poor-ass dude gets a job putting up posters, the only catch is he needs a bicycle, so him and his wive pawn their bedsheets to get his bike out of hoc. His first day on the job, the bike gets stolen. Him and his young son go searching through the streets of Rome trying to find the bike, but have no success. Then in total desperation he tries to steal a bike himself, and is quickly apprehended, all this taking place in front of his heartbroken son.

That ending is pretty heavy shit. Basically a man becomes the very thing he despises and does so in front of his kid. It’s all pretty devastating. Di Sica really uses everything at his disposal to create the sense of desperation the father feels. Post-war Rome is shown to be bleak and sparse, with dilapidated buildings and lots of rough looking dudes. Kind of like Compton with less gunfire. Di Sica also used non-actors in many of the roles, so everything feels very natural and unforced. The dialogue is simple, and there is no Hollywood touches. No promise of a better tomorrow is suggested, in the end the father is jobless, bikeless, and has lost the faith of his son. He is defeated. Most movies wuss out when it comes to endings. This one doesn’t. It’s just plain bleak.

On I rated the film a 9/10. It’s powerful but the exposition is bit drawn and keeps me from really investing myself in the film until the last half hour.

When in doubt just make an obscure Simpsons reference.

14. L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)

To be honest I don’t really get this film. Basically a guy and a girl get married, and set sail on L’Atalante, cargo the ship that the dude is captain of. They fight, are separated briefly, and then get back together. All this in 73 minutes. Za?

Some people swear by it, but I just didn’t get it. The only explanation I have read that makes any sense to me is that it’s really simple and that is where the beauty lies. It is a movie without pretension. It’s not like Lawrence of Arabia where it aspired to some epic greatness, rather L’Atalante was just a simple film that only took up an hour of my time. But other than my feeble attempt to comprehend the film I don’t have much to say.

So I will talk a bit about the crazy looking guy in the poster. He is awesome. He works on the boat and is pretty much crazy. He collects junk and has bunch of swank tattoos. He’s loud, gregarious, and abrasive. If at like age 60 I am anything like that guy I will consider my life a success. Ornery, with tattoos, and a passport with lots of stamps, that’s how I wanna end up.

I particularly like the weird accordion-dealy thing he plays. It reminds of Handsome Pete who dances dances for nickels. I wonder if it’s a sailor thing, to be able to play that old-timey accordion. I think that’s my new goal. Learn to play old-timey sailor accordion-dealy. I should probably learn the name too.

On I gave the film 7/10, because it was somewhat interesting even if I didn’t get it. I want to revisit it at some point and see if I can learn to understand it.

I’m the Wiz!

13. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

I was really hyped to watch this film, as much as anything on the list. I mean it’s a classic with billions of Oscars. I remember always hearing people talk about watching it like it was a notch in the belt, that they were better having seen it. Forget Citizen Kane, this was the one people held in reverence when I was younger. Plus it has the awesomeness Alec Guinness and Omar Sharif (actually I am kidding about Omar Sharif). An entire generation of movie-goers can’t be wrong can they?

I am afraid they can be. This movie stunk. Long, boring, no character development. There was some gun fights, umm and some sand, actually lots of sand. Oh yeah, there were camels too. It was one of those films where you keep waiting for some reason to care, some means by which to invest yourself, and yet that reason never comes. I really tried to like it, and it just didn’t happen for me. I read reviews post-viewing and still nothing clicked. Why the hell is this movie rated so highly?

Basically all it’s got going for it is that it’s shot in widescreen. I have read some reviews that insist this film must be viewed in a theatre, and that the experience is life-changing. Oh and some people gush over Peter O’Toole’s beautiful eyes, which to quote a character from my favorite Canadian melodrama are “as blue as swimming pools”, but I am more partial to this guy‘s hypnotic stare.

So if you want to spending 227 minutes looking at sand in beautiful widescreen, whilst drooling over Peter O’Toole’s eyes, this is the movie for you. Otherwise stay the hell away.

On I gave this film a 4/10 for all the reasons stated above. It’s the lowest ranked out the top 100, and as of now the lowest ranked of the 440+ films I have watched on the list.

It’s a shame that such a boring movie has such a ballin’ poster.

Shampoo is better! I go on first and clean the hair! Conditioner is better! I make the hair silky and smooth!

12. Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)

This might be the only film on the list that gets referenced directly(or indirectly) by “Naked Gun 33 1/3“. Please compare to two videos below:


I think the “Naked Gun 33 1/3” version is better personally but you be the judge. While the “Potemkin” version marks a powerful use of montage, and alludes to the oppressive regimes of both Czarist and Communist Russia, I believe the Naked Gun version to present a microcosm of modern American society in under 2 minutes.

Firstly you have the police presented as being overwhelmed by the problems of modern society. Whether it be general public safety(represented by the babies), whether it be homeland security(the president and/or the terrorist), or simply organized crime(the mobsters), the police are shown to be an ineffective in the face of increasingly diverse problems.

Secondly you have the war on terror being depicted in graphic detail. A suicide bomber is gunned down, which gives the audience some comfort, but think how close he got to the president and the pope. The filmmakers clearly recognized that danger was near, and next time we might not be so lucky.

Thirdly you have the disgruntled postal workers who can be seen to represent the middle and lower classes (and perhaps their economic struggles). As the comfort of middle class life erodes, and as people become increasingly alienated from their surroundings and from the American dream they are shown to react violently as a means of lashing out at the perceived injustices they have suffered. The recent wave of random shootings can be seen as evidence of this.

Fourthly you have O.J. Simpson as both a representative of racial turmoil and the failing legal system. One might even argue he is also a symbol of the silent epidemic of domestic violence. All this and we haven’t even touched on the Mexican migrant worker or the Pope.

So in the span of 2 minutes we have seen astute commentary about the police, public safety, homeland security, the war on terror, illegal immigration, race relations, domestic abuse, the Catholic church, the economy, the justice system and class warfare. Beat that Potemkin!

On I gave the film a 7/10, primarily because the ‘Odessa Steps’ sequence from which the “baby carriage” scene is taken is as powerful as anything ever put to film. The rest of the movie isn’t very good mainly because it’s slow and the acting is pretty over the top. But the Odessa steps sequence is highly recommended. As a treat to the several Arcade Fire fans who read this blog(you know who you are), here is the film in abbreviated music video form:

It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Hurrancarana to Cry.

11. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)

There is so much I want to write about this film. I could write about how I really like musicals, how I think Gene Kelly is pimp, how this was another movie I watched in film class at Mount Royal, or how I love movies about making movies. I could write about how this movie depicts the struggles some silent stars faced in transitioning to sound, and then I could write about silent star “Marie Prevost“, drank herself to death in 1937, and was found dead in her apartment with dog bites all over her. Then I could drop a Nick Lowe reference from his song Mary Provost: “she was a winner who became the doggie’s dinner”. But instead I will narrow my focus to the ridiculously awesome “Make ‘Em Laugh” sequence starring Donald O’Connor.

The whole sequence has an anarchic quality, where rules of physical movement are ignored, and the effect is for me pretty mind blowing. Just to sound pretentious, I will call it “audacity of movement”, basically meaning the O’Connor in this sequence is audacious enough to try physical things that seem impossible, and yet he does them beautifully. From flipping off walls to being tossed around by a dummy, anything seems possible. Hell, he even does this, I didn’t even know it was possible. The only thing I can compare it to is watching Rey Mysterio Jr. wrestle, and just being in awe of what is happening. The amazing thing isn’t simply that a man can move like that, but rather that a man can even think up moving like that. It’s the kind of thing that can bring tears to my eyes, just the sheer imagination of it.

The rest of the film has a ton great sequences and great music, but nothing really tops the “Make Em Laugh” sequence. The greatness of the film is that the sequences are equally matched by a great screenplay which is both enjoyable but also pretty interesting from a historical perspective. Just seeing a little bit about how films were made in 1927(even if it’s not meant to be accurate) is for me pretty thrilling. This film combine history, music and mayhem into a tight 100 minute package.

On I gave this film 9/10, but it’s a really strong 9 which could easily be a 10 with some more thought. I recommend the shit out this film.

Here she comes, you better watch your step.

10. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)

For those who don’t know, Murnau is the same guy who directed “Nosferatu“. This was one of two films to win best picture at the first ever Oscars(technically it won for “Best Unique and Artistic Production, while the lesser “Wings” won for “Best Picture”).

The premise for the movie is simple: small-town husband wants to leave his wife and run off with a big-city woman. They conspire to kill the wife, but the husband gets cold feet after spending an eventful night in the city with his wife. He realizes he loves her and all is well.

It should be stated that I am a sucker for an evil woman. In this film the big city woman(played by Margaret Livingston, pretty decent by 1920’s standards) is the one who wants him to kill his wife. What I as a viewer am supposed to find abhorrent, somehow becomes attractive. I think it is connected to both my status as a “good-natured doormat“, and the fact that I like strong women. Something about submission and degradation has always interested me, and I guess evil women and femme fatales as they appear in film and other media allows me to explore that without having to do something I might regret.

On I rated the film a 9/10, because it’s an engaging melodrama, which is beautifully shot, and technically very innovative. Films shot in 1927 aren’t supposed to look this good.

Bastards of Young

9. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)

I was trying to explain to somebody the other day what I love about The Replacements, but I don’t think I did a very good job. For the unwashed masses who know nothing of 1980’s indy rock, The Replacements were a Minnesota punk band famous for lead singer Paul Westerberg‘s tremendous lyrics, and their sloppy brand of rock and roll. They never really made it as big as a lot of people thought they should have, and their legacy is as much their music as their incredible ability to fuck things up. And their ability to fuck things up is I think their greatest charm.

But what made their fuck ups beautiful was that they were conscious fuck ups, orchestrated by the band in order to resist the trappings of success. If they were playing a show in front of a bunch of A&R types, the band would get really drunk and play as sloppy and incoherent as possible. When the band finally signed to a major label in 1985, they released their first video for “Bastards of Young“. Instead of making a video that featured the band, they simply filmed a speaker playing the song. When they performed on SNL that same year, they got really drunk on champagne, antagonized the cast, and then Paul Westerberg proceeded to mouth a silent “fuck you” during their performance, an act that earned them an informal ban from the show. They would play arena shows and play mostly covers, or they would just change the lyrics to their own songs, or sometimes combine covers with their own songs. Anything to annoy. They were consciously trying to alienate anyone who wasn’t willing to accept them as is. Their hardcore fans loved the act, but the general public never could grasp what the hell they were doing.

The beauty in all of this, is that the band realized it was all a big joke. They knew they were only going to be exploited by the mainstream, so they just made it as difficult as possible for anyone to see them as a viable commodity. By perpetuating their reputation as unreliable and unpredictable goofs, they were able to avoid all the bullshit of success. They resisted where most others wouldn’t. To me that is a beautiful thing in that they stood their ground even if it cost them a chance at stardom. Even if I can’t comprehend their motivations entirely, I still admire them and what they did.

So on to “Tokyo Story“, which I will preface with Justin’s 1st rule of cinema: Old Asian people depicted on film are awesome(they are also awesome in real life to varying degrees). Basically the story of the film is this: a retired husband and wife who live in a small village in Japan travel to the big city(Tokyo) to visit their adult children. For various reasons none of the children really spend anytime with their parents, viewing them more as a burden than a blessing. The only person who seems to care is their son’s widow, Noriko, played by Setsuko Hara (who is famous for both her roles in Ozu’s films and her later reclusive nature, for which she is known as the “Greta Garbo of Japan”), who welcomes them into her home, and acts much more like a obedient daughter than their selfish children. Eventually the children decide to send their parents to some mountain spa for relaxation, but the mother gets sick, and eventually the parents return to their village. The mother gets sick and dies, and the children all feign concern at her funeral, but seem anxious to get on with their lives. The widow again is the only one who shows consideration for the father and seems genuinely grieved at his loss. End movie.

So what does this have to do with the Replacements? Well the final scene involves a conversation between the youngest daughter and Noriko, in which the daughter chastises her siblings for being so selfish and inconsiderate. Noriko responds by noting that the children have their own lives, and that everyone becomes like that, even stating that she too will be like that. The daughter then asks Noriko: “Isn’t life disapointing?” to which Noriko responds with a bittersweet smile “Yes, it is”. That realization and the beauty of it is the message of the film. Life will let you down, people will screw up, and you aren’t exempt from these things. And that I think is the beauty of the Replacements, they fully understood what life is about, they knew they couldn’t please everybody, so why try.

And now I am back where I started. I love the Replacements because of how they lived their lives, and I love this film(and Noriko) because of what it says about life. But to quote Paul Westerberg: “I don’t begin to understand”.

On I gave this film an 8/10, as I only am beginning to understand it, mainly through reading about it. I think I would need to rewatch it to give a more appropriate rating.