Monthly Archives: April 2008

Stop the downloading. I’m a computer.

36. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)

So when I first started working on “the list” in October, I was helped immensely by the Calgary Public Library and their rather decent collection of DVDs(including many from the Criterion Collection). I would go there almost daily and grab whatever was on the list and sign it out. Eventually I exhausted that, and started placing DVDs on hold to pick up later. This was a great set-up, because it was cheap and convenient, and despite some notable omissions: they don’t have “Jaws“, I was able to find some obscure things like “Sherman’s March“, and a bunch of Criterion stuff. Eventually I more or less exhausted the DVD collection of the library in regards to the list.

This lead me to try the Rogers Online DVD rental. Because most video stores suck, and I couldn’t bring myself to go downtown to one of the 2 independent video stores in my city, I went with online rentals. I had actually been with them about a year ago, when I was obsessively watching whatever baseball films I could find, and they worked quite well. They have great selection, and the turnover rate was quite good.

But alas the second time around with the Rogers Video Online rental was pretty disappointing. If you have movies in your online queue that are popular, as many of the movies on the list are, you don’t get them right away, you get sent what’s available, so some DVDs you have to wait for. This is pretty bad when renting DVD sets. I got the 2nd DVD of the fabulous French serial “Les Vampires” about a week before the first, so I had to wait until watching. This is problematic because you are only allowed to have a certain amount of DVDs at any given time(depending on the plan you chose, mine was 3 at a time).

So basically I would watch the DVDs quickly and hunger for more. The other significant problem, was that the mailing time seemed to slow dramatically during the 8 months between when I was originally signed up, and when I re-joined. Given that I was unemployed for several months and watching movies from “the list “voraciously, the waiting time really cramped my style.

This leads me to the wonders of region-coded DVDs. In perusing the Rogers Online catalogue, I discovered that many of the films on “the list” were either not on DVD, or not available on DVD in North America(known as Region 1 in DVD lingo). Most famously American classics like “The Magnificent Ambersons“, “The African Queen“, and “Greed” are not available on DVD in North America(Greed is only on VHS). “The African Queen” won best picture at the Oscars and yet still does not have a North American release. That just seems retarded to me. I get why many key foreign films wouldn’t have Region 1 releases, but Hollywood classics? Really?

So this fact put me in a dilemma. Do I buy a bunch of movies in Region 2, 3, 4 without having seen them? Or is there another way. Luckily my brother gave me an all-region DVD player before he moved, so I had some options. But nonetheless I don’t like buying movies without having seen them, because they might suck. Given the significant number of films not easily available, I made the choice to start downloading films and/or watching them online(youtube actually has quite a bit of stuff). It’s convenient and inexpensive and allows me to have a reasonable shot at completing the list.

And the very first film I downloaded was “The Magnificent Ambersons”.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 7/10. It’s got Joe Cotten which is always I plus, and it looks really nice. I just didn’t get what the hub-bub(my new favorite colloquialism) was about. It just didn’t feel all that substantial. Not a bad follow-up to Citizen Kane, but it seemed quite pedestrian in comparison.

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Old women were once hot too.

35. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)

Faye Dunaway was pretty ballin’ in this. Even with the incest and all.

My theory is that the majority of actresses who are old today(like over 50 say), are old-looking and possibly haggard, and either still work in major parts or are in the public eye were at one point ballin’. The reason for this is that most actresses depend heavily on their appearance to get parts. So young actresses use their looks to get parts, hone their craft(theoretically), and gain a reputation that supercedes their appearance. Once their reputation is firmly established, looks become less important and the actress is able to age somewhat gracefully while still working regularly(even if its old people parts).

It is uncommon for an older actress to maintain a level of stardom without having achieved that level of stardom when they were younger. There are exceptions, but in those cases its usually because an actress becomes identified with a type or a specific role: ie Marjorie Main a moderately successful character actress who become very popular in the 1950’s as Ma Kettle, or for those of you who aren’t dead, Gloria Stuart who worked regularly in the 1930’s without achieving stardom, but became famous for her role as the old-lady in “Titanic” for which she received and Oscar nomination.

The reason this is on my mind is that as I watch more and more films, particularly older films, I realize what all the hype is about with certain actresses. Up until a few months ago, my only recollection of Elizabeth Taylor was as a fat diamond shill, who married a construction worker, and was friends with Michael Jackson. But having seen a number of her old films, she was a pure sex bomb. She was hot. Ditto someone like Shirley MacLaine, who might be a fine actress(and apparently writes new-age books), but really not much to look at. But watching “The Apartment” from 1960, she is pretty swank. And the list goes on and on. Katharine Hepburn is pretty much my favorite actress now, but for most of my life I only knew her as being old, and having a constantly shaking head. Hell even someone like Liza Minnelli, who is as big a trainwreck as they come nowadays, I thought was pretty cute in “Cabaret“.

On filmaffinity.com I gave this film an 8/10. It’s quite good and contains one of the only really good Jack Nicholson performances I can think of, by good I mean Jack Nicholson not being Jack Nicholson, but actually trying to act. It’s the kind of movie I think I am under-rating, because I don’t have any explicit criticisms of it, but rather I never felt like I could get really into it.

Mrs. Bouvier! Mrs. Bouvier!

34. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)

Pretty much most famous for the roll dance(depicted above) and Charlie Chaplin eating of his boot. Also a direct influence on this Simpsons episode.

I liked the movie, but it was bit underwhelming when I first saw it. With some of the films especially the top 100 on the list, there is a disconnect between my expectation due to their ranking, and what my response actually is.

Having now seen almost every Chaplin feature length film, I am starting to understand how good he was, and how intricate his films are, and how rich his comedy is. All these gags that have been redone endlessly are really well thought out and well executed, and I think my being underwhelmed by “The Gold Rush” is more due to 83 years worth of comedy having followed it, and seeing all his techniques and ideas used over and over again to the point that the revolutionary aspects of Chaplin’s work seem commonplace.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film an 8/10, but the more I think about it, I would probably give in a 9/10. It’s the best of his big 3 films: “The Gold Rush“, “City Lights“, and “Modern Times“.

Slower than Chris Dingman in a vat of molasses.

33. L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)

Let me start by saying that Monica Vitti is ballin’.

You know that fable of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race? That’s crap. Fast and reckless wins the race every time. Just ask Dale Earnhardt. Too soon?

My point is that I generally think speed is an asset. I like things to move fast rather than slow, I like movies to be short rather than long, ditto books, music, etc. I do like baseball though, so my desire for speed and brevity isn’t 100% universal.

Antonioni’s films move slower than Molasses. Lots of silence, lots of introspection, most of the plot development is of the personal kind rather than action based, oh yeah and most of his movies are in Italian, so you have to read too(unless you understand Italian). Plus they are always about bored, rich, white people.

That being said, I am starting to come around on him. I watched a documentary by Martin Scorsese on Italian film and he critiqued this film and the rest of the so-called “alienation trilogy”(L’Eclisse and La Notte). Scorsese points out that Antonioni uses slowness and quiet as tools to tell the story. They are used to heighten the themes of the film, and increase the sense of alienation among the characters. The audience is forced to identify with the characters because there is no alternative. The story moves slowly, and is secondary to the emotions and feelings of the characters. The audience feels the isolation and loneliness and emptiness along with the characters.

L’Avventura is famous for seemingly forgetting what it’s about. Basically a bunch of rich, bored, white people go on a yachting trip, and the protagonist’s fiance disappears. The first half of the movie involves him and his fiance’s best friend searching for her, but slowly they start to develop a relationship, and the fiance is forgotten. The major plot point is completely forgotten about and never resolved. But that’s the whole point. The story doesn’t matter it’s simply a contrivance to get people together so they can express their dissatisfaction with their lives. It’s all very self-indulgent, but somehow it works.

Antonioni’s films tend to stick with you for a while, partly due to their existentialist tendencies, and partly because you have no idea what you have just seen. No one really makes films like him.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 7/10, it could end up higher, as a rewatching would probably help me understand the film more.

The best Swedish porn. XXX

32. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)

Ranking Bergman:

  1. Persona
  2. Cries & Whispers
  3. Wild Strawberries
  4. Fanny & Alexander
  5. The Seventh Seal

There’s a lot more Bergman on this list, but his movies kind depress so I generally avoid him. It’s not that he makes bad films, it’s mainly that they always deal with some existential crisis and they have are always blak, with a cold Nordic kind of atmosphere.

I don’t watching movies and feeling depressed by them, but I prefer failed relationships, heartbreak, and sad deaths over existential crises over the futility of wife. And I know that’s what I’ll get with Bergman, so I have to be in the right mood to watch. Give me melodrama anyday.

That’s being said I do like Persona, partly because I like the concept: a famous actress all of the sudden stops speaking and no one can figure out why, and partly because it’s only 80 minutes. Short movies can be boring, but 80 minutes is still only 80 minutes. Despite being so short the film is incredibly dense with ideas and existential ramblings, but the general premise of the film is enough of a hook that the film doesn’t get bogged down. Plus the Liv Ullmann who plays the actress, and Bibi Andersson who plays the nurse who tries to help her are both pretty ballin’. Swedish chicks=pure sex.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 8/10, it might be the only Bergman film I have seen that I would genuinely like to re-watch. Some of his other stuff is good, but requires to much thinking. Thinking is totally for chumps and people whose moms went to college.

I AM big. It’s the PICTURES that got small.

31. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)

I chose this poster cos it’s all po-mo, and if you don’t know what that means then it’s T.S.(tethered swimming) for you (2 Simpsons references in one sentence).

Gloria Swanson gives one of the greatest performances ever in terms of watching someone deconstruct their public persona, and leaving themselves exposed.

A bit of backstory on Gloria Swanson: she was a massive star(she was big…Gabby Hayes big, Simpsons reference #3) during the silent era of the 1920’s. Her stardom faded with advent of the talkie. From 1934-1950 she appeared in 1 film. “Sunset Boulevard” would mark her comeback and her first film in 9 years.

So the premise of the story is this: a hack screenwriter named Joe Gillis(played awesomely by William Holden), shacks up with a delusional ex-movie queen named Norma Desmond(played by Swanson) and mayhem ensues(well not mayhem, more like well-supervised craziness: Simpsons reference #4). Desmond has visions of a big-screen comeback, and Gillis is helping her write a script.

The film also stars ex-director turned character actor Eric von Stroheim as Max, Norma’s chaffeur/butler and one time director. This is where art even further imitates life. One of Swanson’s last starring roles was in the Eric von Stroheim directed “Queen Kelly” which ran way over budget, was never officially completed, and bombed when released. It’s actually pretty awesome, but that film’s failure killed von Stroheim’s directorial career, as well helping to kill Swanson’s film career. So what you have in this film is von Stroheim, and Swanson playing versions of themselves.

It’s common nowadays for stars to parody themselves and poke fun at their celebrity, but in 1950 it wasn’t especially common, and what makes Swanson’s portrayal so incredible is that it’s not played for laughs. It’s actually pretty fucking uncomfortable. There is one scene that is as awkward as anything ever shown on “Curb Your Enthusiam“, where Norma, Max, and Joe show up to the set of Cecil B. DeMille‘s latest film. DeMille was one of Hollywood’s biggest directors from the 10’s to the 60’s. Norma thinks DeMille wants her to star in a film(he actually just wants to use her old-timey limousine for a scene) and shows up demanding the full star treatment. Everyone kind of humors her, but no one has the heart to tell her what’s going on. It’s depressing man. It’s the kind of thing you could imagine someone doing in real life.

Swanson’s willingness to completely embrace the role is what makes it so great. It takes a a hell of a lot of guts to look so pathetic on screen.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 9/10, but that could easily turn in to a 10(I try and be judicious and not give 10’s until I have watched a film more than once). Just a great film in every facet. I recommend the shit out of this film.