My Top Ten | Movies
1 | Horseman on the Roof or Le hussard sure le toit, directed by John Paul Rappeneau in 1995 starring Juliette Binoche and Olivier Martinez. Subtitled. Set during the 1832 cholera outbreak in southern France, the main characters meet through happenstance and set out on a journey together with their own objectives in mind.
While none of my "Top Ten" lists are in any specific order, this very well may be the exception. Don't be alarmed by the subtitles as the dialogue comes secondary to its action, beautiful people, stunning landscape, passion, chivalry, honor, and well-researched historical events. It's a package deal.
Along the same lines, and much more well-known, is Casablanca. I don't consider either of these movies to be about lovers, per say. They are about heroes, people who act without self-interest given their stations in life and "do the right thing". But unlike Horseman on the Roof, it's the selected dialogue as delivered through Rick Blaine by Humphrey Bogart that makes the film so powerful for me...most notably, "But I've got a job to do, too. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of. Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that." The irony is that the "problems of [those] three little people" have captivated me emotionally like no other film can.
In contrast, Wuthering Heights (1939), is undoubtedly about lovers and all about self-interest. Emily Bronte's storyline is the emotional counterpart to Shakespeare's brutally violent tragedies...on steroids, in which no one leaves unscathed. No one. A story such as this demands a stellar cast, and Laurence Olivier more than steps up to the plate. Yes, it's over-the-top, emo, melodramatic...but it's supposed to be. And there are not many actors I can think that can deliver the following lines without making me laugh: "Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest so long as I live on! I killed you. Haunt me, then! Haunt your murderer! I know that ghosts have wandered on the Earth. Be with me always. Take any form, drive me mad, only do not leave me in this dark alone where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life! I cannot die without my soul!". I even giggle as I type and reread this, but to see the performance in its context still sends shivers down my spine.
"Dr. Strangelove's humor is generated by a basic comic principle: People trying to be funny are never as funny as people trying to be serious and failing. The laughs have to seem forced on unwilling characters by the logic of events. A man wearing a funny hat is not funny. But a man who doesn't know he's wearing a funny hat ... ah, now you've got something. The characters in Dr. Strangelove do not know their hats are funny."
This not only sums up the movie but perfectly describes my sense of humor as well. I think it's why I normally don't find mainstream "in-your-face" comedies funny, not even in the slightest. For me, it's all about the funny hat and whether or not you know your are wearing one. In terms of movies, it explains why director Ed Wood is a personal hero of mine; more on that later in another TopTen.
Other fav comedies: Breakfast at Tiffany's (who *looks* like that after waking up in the morning?), A Christmas Story (who doesn't have their own version of a Red Ryder BB Gun? For me, it was the Easy Bake Oven), Princess Bride (brilliant dialogue/wit... "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means"), and Amelie (subtitled, but a clever and original movie...especially the traveling garden gnome). Why do I feel the need to defend/disclose subtitled movies? Likely because it's usually associated with "artsy" type movies... which doesn't quite "fit" me, yet I am surprised how many actually made it on this list.
3 | La Femme Nikita (Action/Thriller), directed by Luc Besson in 1990 starring Anne Parillaud, Marc Duret, and Patrick Fontana. Subtitled. It's the story of a derelict street-girl turned professional government assassin turned civilized woman, in that order. A movie which proves that the French can blow things up along side any of the best Hollywood studios -- but with heart and style that only Parillaud can effectively deliver through Nikita's character. If you enjoyed the American remake Point of No Return starring Bridget Fonda (right), this is a must-see. Bridget does a fine job in this movie, flawlessly executed in fact, but you don't get the same sense of heart-bleeding sadness that Parillaud brings to the original. This difference can be immediately seen in the images of these two taken during a virtually identical scene.
4 | The Wizard of Oz (Family), directed by Victor Fleming in 1939 starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, and Margaret Hamilton. Ya know, as a child, this film was so memorable I simply had no choice but to include it, even though I was thinking it didn't hold the same appeal to me now. And as I was searching the internet for pics in preparation to push through a brief commentary, it *all* came back. By the "all", I am referring to the first time I saw the transition from black-and-white to color (well, technicolor). Then came the slippers, Glenda, the Yellow Brick Road, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, the FLYING MONKEYS...need I continue? Oh, and the poppies! **Bounces in chair excitedly** It's the very first movie I remember watching. For years to come, I would comb through the 8.5"x11" TV Guide (remember that??) in search of this movie on a near weekly basis, only to find out later in life it's on a yearly syndication. Nevertheless, It is comforting to know that the "all" still exists.
In stark contrast is
(Family) in 1957. I've only seen this movie once. As a kid, I sobbed quietly to myself for days and never looked
at a lab-like dog quite the same ever since. Even now, I can't help but feel as though this movie was someone's idea of a cruel joke.
I recognize that this is a classic story of "love and loss" suitable for a young audience, but I had *plenty* of opportunity to work
through those issues on my own as a child. I didn't need the practice. One word comes to mind: Kthxbai.
My TopTens are not necessarily my "favorites". They represent something and/or someone that has proved, over time, to have had an impact or influence on my small world (for better or worse). It's the same reason Time named Hitler (almost twice), Stalin (twice), and Ayatullah Khomeini as "Man of the Year".
5 | The Day the Earth Stood Still, directed by Robert Wise in 1951 starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. Gort is one of cinema's most influential robots, unimaginatively simple yet classic...and played by a really tall, frail, and unknown doorman. He spends much of the movie motionless (due to the weight of the costume), and does not speak. But who needs vocal cords when he is fitted with laser weapons which deploy directly from his visor? As a member of the intergalactic "United Nations", he is to combat all violence and aggression which can only be stopped with the words, "Klaatu Barada Nikto". What's not to love here?
As a side note, I am much more a fan of the 50s and early 60s sci-fi films (those likely falling into the B-movie category) than the more current classics such as Star Wars, E.T., Blade Runner, and Alien. Quite frankly, I find them boring. 2001: A Space Odyssey made me downright angry. At its first screening, Rock Hudson stormed down the aisle, complaining, “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?''. I concur.
6 | Aguirre, the Wrath of God, directed by Werner Herzog in 1972 starring Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo, and Del Negro. Subtitled. Set in the 16th century South America, the ruthless and insane Aguirre leads a Spanish expedition in search of the legendary city of treasures, El Dorado.
I sometimes wonder if I enjoy the "making" of this movie more than the actual film (same applies to Herzog's Fitzcarraldo ...which involved moving a 320-ton steamship over a hill without the use of special effects. Herzog believed that no one had ever performed a similar feat in history, and likely never will again, calling himself "Conquistador of the Useless"). There are a couple of reasons for this: 1. Because this movie was filmed entirely on location in the Peruvian rainforest along the Amazon River and was fraught with unusual difficulties. The film was made with $370K, one-third of which went towards Kinski's salary. 2. Because of my fascination with the highly emotionally-charged relationship between the eccentric Herzog and the volatile Kinski (as depicted in Herzog's documentary, My Best Friend).
is said that on one occasion, irritated by the noise from a hut where
cast and crew were playing cards, Kinski fired three gunshots at it,
blowing the top joint off of an actor's finger. Subsequently, Kinski
started leaving the jungle location scene (over Herzog's
refusal to fire a sound assistant), only changing his mind after Herzog
threatened to shoot first Kinski...and then himself. Herzog and Kinski
argued about the proper manner in which to portray Aguirre.
Kinski wanted to play a "wild, ranting madman", but Herzog wanted
something "quieter, more menacing". In order to get the performance he
desired, before each shot Herzog would deliberately infuriate Kinski.
After waiting for the hot-tempered actor's inevitable tantrum to "burn
itself out", Herzog would then roll the camera. As for the movie
itself? It is captivating. Kinski is famous for his ability to
project onscreen intensity, but you don't get a sense of what that
actually means until you see the movie in its entirety.
7 | Streets of Fire , directed by Walter Hill in 1984 starring Diane Lane, Micahel Pare, Rick Moranis, and Willem Dafoe. Did I just post this publicly? You bet. Not only is it a movie comprised entirely of "one-liners", it's also a Rock & Roll Fable of "another time, another place". Surrealists would be impressed with Hill's juxtapositionalistic (I just made that word up) skills since it's chalk full of contrasts: an ominous Sin City atmosphere filled with Studebakers and soda fountains, Diane Lane in the ultra sexy and slinky red dress dress that looks like it's on backwards, stylish song and dance routines with bad lip syncing, and bad-ass Dafoe donning vinyl overalls and fighting with a pick. Technically, this movie could find more of a home on my B-Movie list, but I am downright serious about liking it...not because it's bad, but because *I* think it's really good (not necessarily well-made). And I don't know why, other than I just think it's sexy and cool; I also own the soundtrack. Hill does it again with The Warriors, about a gang from Coney Island (right). Yes, they fight on the beach... against other gangs wearing baseball uniforms. Don't ask, it just works for me and my A-list.
Speaking of "cool and sexy", there is always Samuel L. Jackson in Shaft and Russell Crowe in
Gladiator representing crime-ridden NYC and toga-wearing Ancient Rome.
Can.You.Dig.It? Hell yeah. Again, not "great" movies in the technical sense, but I am not going to complain about watching either movie multiple
In these images, I picture both of them thinking, "Who wants some of this, HUH?" Um, I do? Last, but certainly not least, in my line
of guilty pleasure films is *totally hip*
Out of Sight with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.
A movie that proves flirting can be an art likened only to that of Bogey and Bacall but without the creepy 25-year age difference.
Although to be fair, Bacall looked *and* acted 15 years her senior.
8 | Bicyle Thief or Ladri di biciclette, directed by Vittorio De Sica in 1948 starring Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola. Subtitled. The plot is quite simple: A man and his son search for a stolen bicycle that is vital for his job in post-war and poverty-stricken Rome.That is not the abridged version, that *is* the movie. At least the premise anyway; however, it packs a punch that will knock you off your feet. Only if, that is, you have ever found yourself in a position that is completely out of your control. I know I have. It clearly shows how something that has no consequence to many is vital to some.