Posts Tagged ‘cinematography’

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Answering Clayton Dillard’s 100 Top Movies of All Time

May 2, 2011

Clayton Dillard is a smart 23-year old grad student in film at San Francisco State.  I first met him at a screening of some retardation at the local Midnight Movies, and found him to be real quiet.  Then I got to know the REAL Clayton.  The one who’s seen as many movies as my Claude.  The one who has more Criterion Collections than Claude. (He secretly hates you for that, CD.)  And the one who now won Criterion’s cool contest AND was mentioned as one of the three favorites from a field of 60 winners (Claude and I were both unfairly shut out and might protest.).

But I digress.  Clayton is 23.  Claude and I, we are much older, much more seasoned, lived through the 70’s, understand things, etc.  Clayton put out his Greatest 100 Movies of All Time, and I just shook my head, cried, laughed, then cried again.  Then laughed again.  Then wrote down a bunch of movies I need to watch.

THIS RIGHT HERE IS NUMBER ONE, CLAYTON.

1.  2001:  A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1969)

2.  The Third Man (Reed, 1949) (I love you for that one.  I’m sure Sir Carol appreciates being Number Two.)

After those two, in no particular order come my favorites, the films I could not look away from, the ones that left me feeling like I was punched in the gut, or the movies I could watch repeatedly without getting tired of them.  I’m leaving off the ones on Clayton’s list that I would put on here, like his #1 and #15, and Citizen Kane, and Viridiana, and Apocalypse Now and The Seventh Seal and Bigger than Life, and Piranha 3-D .

Clayton has  given me a good list of stuff to watch.  And fortunately, Claude owns almost all of it.

Please remember, these are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER.  Listing is fine; ranking is nearly impossible.

3.  Clayton, are you including documentaries on your list? “Stevie” (James, 2002)

4.  The White Ribbon, or Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte  (Haneke, 2009) – I know you love me for that one, Clayton.  Mwwwah.

5.  While we’re on Haneke, how about Cachet (2005)?

6.  Fiddler on the Roof (Jewison (who was not Jewish), 1971) for personal reasons

7.  Funny Girl (Wyler, 1968) – I know you and Claude just wince at these two.  That’s ok.  I’m older than both of you.  Put together.  Squared.

8.  Barton Fink (Coens, 1991)

9.  Simon of the Desert (Buñuel, 1965)

10.  Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Kubrick, 1964 [a very good year – Rankin-Bass’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer also made its debut, as did the Beatles in America, and yours truly])

11.  The Player (Altman, 1992)

12.  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Huston, 1948)

14.  The Lady from Shanghai (Welles, 1947)

15.  Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958)

16.  Crimes and Misdemeanors (Allen, 1989)

17.   The Phantom of Liberty (Bunuel, 1974)

18.  Little Murders (Arkin, 1971)

19.  Carnal Knowledge (Nichols, 1971)

20.  Taking Off  (Forman, 1971)

21.  The Exterminating Angel (Bunuel, 1962)

22.  This is Spinal Tap (Reiner, 1984)

23.  Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (Mazursky, 1969)

24.  All That Jazz (Fosse, 1979)

25.  Deconstructing Harry (Allen, 1997)

26.  I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (Averback, 1968)

27.  The Odd Couple (Saks, 1968)

While we’re on Matthau, how about

28.  A New Leaf (May, 1971)

29.  The Bad News Bears (Ritchie, 1976)

and

30. Bigger than Life (Ray, 1956 – oh yeah, that was on your list)

31.  In the Loop (Iannucci, 2009)

32.  The French Connection (Friedken, 1971)

33.  Duel (I really don’t want to type his name, 1971 – that seemed to be an exceptionally good year for movies)

35.  The Bridge (documentary, Steel, 2006)

36.  Cruising (Friedken, 1980)

37.  Lost Highway (Lynch, 1997)

38.  Sleeper (Allen, 1973)

39. Salesman (Maysels, Zwerin, 1968) – my Essential Criterion pick

40.  Gimme Shelter (Mayslels, Zwern, 1970)

41.  Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger, 1969)

42.  The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)

43. The Godfather Part II (Coppola, 1974)

It’s hard to do this list without leaving off some of yours, like Citizen Kane.  I may only get to 50, simply because I  haven’t seen nearly as many films at all as you have.

44. Crumb (Zwigoff, 1994)

45.  Seconds (Frankenheimer, 1966)

46.  Night of the Demon (Tourneur, 1957)

47.  Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski, 1968)

48.  Paths of Glory (Kubrick, 1957)

49.  The Killing (Kubrick, 1956)

50.  Rope (Hitchcock, 1948)

51.  Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943)

52.  Lolita (Kubrick, 1962) – I really believe this is James Mason’s finest performance besides “Bigger than Life”

53. Defending Your Life (Brooks, 1991) – a personal favorite, even though the ending is so much of an upper, it’s really a downer.

54.  Donnie Darko (Kelly, 2001)

55.  Manhattan (Allen, 1979)

56.  The Freshman (Newmeyer and Taylor, 1925)

57. Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922)

58.  American Beauty (Mendes, 1999) (Yes, Claude, I know.)

59.  Best in Show (Guest, 2000) – one of the deleted scenes involving Guest is actually the best scene in the film, and fully improvised.

60.  A Christmas Story (Clark, 1983)

61.  Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in The Hood (Barclay, 1996)

62.  Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)

63.  Sweet Smell of Success (Mackendrick, 1957)

64.  Bullitt (Yates, 1968)

65.  A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971)

66.  Take the Money and Run (Allen, 1969)

67.  A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (Allen, 1982) – the cinematography, lighting and set design are worth this alone

68.  Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Aldrich, 1964)

70. Them (Moreau, Palud, 2006)

71.  The Up Series (Apted, 1964-present)

72.  Jackie Brown (Tarantino, 1997)

73.  Repulsion (Polanski, 1965)

74.  The Shout (Skolimowski, 1978)

75.  Five Easy Pieces (Raefelson, 1970)

76.  Husbands and Wives (Allen, 1992)

77.  Beyond the Sea (Spacey, 2004) – no matter what anyone says, Kevin Spacey completely transforms into Bobby Darin.

78.  Burn After Reading (Coens, 2008)

79. The Front (Ritt, 1976)

80.  The Picture of Dorian Gray (Lewin, 1945)

81.  Key Largo (Huston, 1948)

82.  Black Orpheus (Camus, 1959)

83.  The Blair Witch Project (Myrick, Sanchez, 1999)

84.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1920)

85.  The New Age (Tolken, 1994)

86.  Rocaterrania (Ingram, 2009?)

87.  God’s Country (Malle, 1985)

88.  Happiness (Solondz, 1998)

89.  Life During Wartime (Solondz. 2009)

90.  Dog Day Afternoon (Lumet, 1975)

91.  The Endless Summer (Brown, 1966)

92.  Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005)

93.  Ghost World (Zwigoff, 2001)

94.  The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)

95.  Glengarry Glen Ross (Mamet, 1992)

96.  Encounters at the End of the World (Herzog, 2007)

98.  Heavy Metal (Potterton, 1981)

99. The Out-0f-Towners (Kellerman, 1970)

100.  Cabaret (Fosse, 1972)

101.  And because I named one of yours, Clayton, I’m gonna have to go with Clambake (Nadel, 1967) for the opening credits and font alone.

I can’t possibly rationalize and say these are the best films ever made.  I’m surprised I could even name 100 that I’ve seen, and a good 70% were introduced to me by Claude.  So I’ll just stick with, these would be the 100 films I would recommend.  Clayton, I hope you are proud of me for one thing:  the only chick flick that shows up is Funny Girl.  Congratulations on your Criterion win, dude.

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Fitfully Amusing, Says Claude about “The Men Who Stare At Goats”

April 17, 2010

Claude and I watched The Men Who Stare At Goats last night.  Just learned from Claude that the source material for this film was written by the guy who did the BBC series “Secret Rulers of the World” which included such topics as the Bilderberg Group, Bohemian Grove and David Icke.  That was a fascinating series, and I had no idea of this fact until Claude just, from his vast photographic memory, pulled that little tidbit out of his a–  brain.

The Men Who Stare At Goats, directed by freshman director Grant Heslov (Oscar nominated for writing and producing Good Night and Good Luck), is a very entertaining film.  This movie seemed to be critically panned by a lot of movie critics, save Onion A.V. Club, who said it was underrated.  I could  not agree more.  Very strong performances by George Clooney (who looks his absolute hottest when they have him made up as a 19- or 20-year old fresh in the Army), Jeff Bridges, who nearly reprises his Big Lebowski “Dude” role, and my favorite, Kevin Spacey, who plays the smarmy guy so well.  Kevin Spacey has incredible range in my opinion – really wish I could get people to watch Beyond the Sea and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and this film to see his incredible range. And who can forget Ewan MacGregor, who has completely conquered his heavy Scottish accent in this and The Ghost Writer – he has magnificent range (see Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, Brassed Off and playing a Jedi master in the Star Wars prequels, which is a BIG component of the plot of The Men Who Stare at Goats) and is going to win an Oscar at some point, I’m sure of it.

Readers know I’m all about cinematography and shot selection, and this definitely has it.  The film is largely set on the base of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a place I know a little something about since I grew up in Fayetteville, NC and worked on the base.  I could tell immediately that these shots, supposedly images from the early 70’s, were not filmed on the base, but they worked anyway.  The Men Who Stare At Goats was filmed in New Mexico, Puerto Rico and California.  The desert scenes are stunning, and the shots and angles make this a very visually interesting film.

The humor in The Men Who Stare At Goats is intelligent, very unexpected at moments, and really does make you laugh out loud.  If Claude’s laughing out loud, it’s funny, and he did.  I thought it was extremely funny with smart humor that didn’t dumb itself down for laughs.

The premise of the film is this: During the Vietnam era, the military became interested in psychic warfare because the Soviets were supposedly interested in psychic warfare (there’s a great scene of two officers going back and forth – “they know, we know, they know we know, we  know they know we know, they know we know they know we known they know…”) and allowed a group to develop to study this, led by Jeff Bridges’ character.  Clooney’s character becomes his top protege and Spacey comes in and wants to compete with Clooney.  Hilarity really ensues as we see these characters go further into the fringes of “new age” thought into what really saves some lives in the end.  The story is largely told in flashback, as we open with current times and Ewan MacGregor as a reporter who wants to “embed” himself in Iraq to win the respect of his wife, who is leaving him.  MacGregor meets up with someone who tips him off to Clooney, and then begs to write the story of this psychic warfare development from its beginnings to the present day.  I don’t want to give away too much, so hopefully I’ve piqued your curiosity enough.

I’m sorry The Men Who Stare At Goats didn’t fare well at the box office.  I encourage readers to rent it – it’s definitely entertaining, thought-provoking and enjoyable.  I especially encourage my readers who grew up with me in the Ft. Bragg area and went into the military to watch it.  You’ll get a real kick out of it.

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The Man Who Wasn’t There by Joel & Ethan Coen

March 29, 2010

If you’re like Claude and me and have a love for black and white film, then you will probably enjoy The Man Who Wasn’t There, a 2001 film by the Coen Brothers. The Coen Brothers have quite a filmography, many of which are favorites of mine, and this one ranks pretty high on the list. The Man Who Wasn’t There is a throwback to film noir and femme fatales and movies where the lead character narrates throughout the film. Billy Bob Thornton is haunting on many fronts: his highly-made up appearance, his stone-cold face which never smiles throughout the film, and his slow, deliberate pacing. Thornton plays a barber who finds himself, quite by happenstance, caught up in a scheme with a man (Jon Polito) who wants to bring dry cleaning to the world. He learns that his wife, (played brilliantly by Frances McDormand, a Coen favorite and probably her best role for them) has been having an affair with his sister’s husband (James Gandolfini). So to obtain the money to invest in the dry cleaning business, he sets about blackmailing his wife’s lover, to dastardly ends for all involved.

The Coens have a real knack for shot selection, lighting, and strong character development. I usually go either way (this movie is great for cinematography, that movie is great for acting) but The Man Who Wasn’t There has it all – not unlike another great Coen movie, The Hudsucker Proxy. I believe both these films are lesser known than their blockbusters such as No Country for Old Men and O Brother Where Art Thou?, but nonetheless, well worth a screening. I saw a lot of Barton Fink in this film too, which is my personal favorite Coen Brothers movie. One thing I did not notice – in many Coen Brothers movies, there seems to be a running thread about shoes or feet. This didn’t appear that I could see in The Man Who Wasn’t There – it seems the obsession was about hair and shaving, since, after all, Thornton’s character is a barber. That’s one of the interesting things about Coen Brothers movies – there are these little touches that reappear throughout each film, and make you wonder what they mean. The Coens themselves have gone on record that there is no underlying meaning in any of what we might perceive as symbolism in any of their films, but I think they are being a bit evasive about that.

For black-and-white film lovers, The Man Who Wasn’t There has one of the best ending shots I’ve ever seen in black and white. Coen films are rich with set pieces, set design, lighting tricks and unusual shots, which make for incredibly interesting viewing. They also have marvelous use of contrast of the black and white hues through such clever means as costuming, furniture, lamps, everyday objects. This one, like others mentioned, also has the advantage of stand-out performances by some of the Coen’s oft-used actors – particularly McDormand and Polito (lead in Miller’s Crossing) and brings more talent to the film with the use of Thornton, and the actress who plays Gandolfini’s wife, one of the most stark and haunting faces I’ve ever seen. This is not unusual for Coen films – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad performance in one of their films, and they rank among my favorites. I’m glad Claude asked me to watch this one, as I had not seen it before, and it gave me a chance to make comparisons to other Coen films.

My favorites stand in this order: Barton Fink; The Big Lebowski; Burn After Reading; The Hudsucker Proxy now tied with The Man Who Wasn’t There;; Raising Arizona; O Brother Where Art Thou? I have not seen the entire catalogue of their films…yet….but I’m sure I will. What are your favorites?

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Why 2001: A Space Odyssey Remains My All-Time Favorite

March 28, 2010

When I was in college many MANY moons ago, I majored in broadcasting and wanted to go into cinematography.  The visual image was (and to a large extent remains) much more important to me than the character study brought about by the actors.  Shot selection, set design, lighting, all those technical details were what caught my attention in film.

I don’t remember the first time I saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I remember my sister and grandmother telling of seeing it in the theatre and putting on sunglasses and laughing at it.

I have seen 2001 many, many times.  The most memorable was on our tv in HD.  So many people I’ve talked to about this movie are unaffected by it because they don’t “get it.”  It’s not a  movie to be understood at the plot level.  It’s a movie to be savored for the sheer majesty of its visuals.  The makeup in the “Dawn of Man” sequence is by far the best human-to-animal makeup ever committed to celluloid.  Why they could not reproduce this later in Planet of the Apes is beyond me.  As I first viewed this film in adolescence, I was not sure that these were not real, trained animals.

There’s been many an article written about the technological and astronomical (space) elements of 2001 that have since come true, which is another fascinating element of this film.  The shots in space, although not technically completely correct, are very close to what we are accustomed to seeing from actual camera shots in space today.  This is a film that, visually and technically, holds up very well today, with the exception of some of the costuming, particularly in the scene where the “stewardess” walks the 180 degrees to come put Dr. Heywood Floyd’s pen back in his pocket.

Then, with several re-watchings, one begins to get the sense that the plotline involving the HAL 9000 computer (over-parodied in my opinion) is actually a horror story in its most sterile and austere sense.  One of my favorite shots in the film is the sequence where Dave is unplugging the memory from HAL, as HAL begs him not to, and sings “Daisy” in an increasingly lowering voice.

The ending doesn’t make much sense to me, but just look at the set and the set design in the room with Dave as an old man.  Again, stunning, a feast for the eyes.  Not to mention the beautiful Strauss in the soundtrack.

I have yet to find someone I personally know who agrees, but 2001: A Space Odyssey remains my favorite movie of all time.

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Alfie and Shotgun Stories: Atmosphere and shot selection

February 23, 2009

Alfie and Shotgun Stores:  Atmosphere and Shot Selection

We had a film snob lovers’ weekend this weekend, Claude and I.  The great upside of being married to a film snob is the vast variety of films one will be exposed to, no pun intended, over the course of the relationship.  Some really good, some really bad, but none uninteresting, and never without stimulating a good conversation with Claude.

This weekend, we watched two movies that struck me in their use of atmospheric shots.  I digress for a moment:  I remember dating a man, briefly, before Claude, who was an art teacher.  We went to the local art gallery a couple of times, and he kept asking me how different pieces of artwork made me feel.  I have to admit, I haven’t had the experience of feeling emotions too terribly often when looking at static artwork, but film affects me much differently, sometimes even the most banal of scenes.

Alfie is a well-known film from (1966) starring a dashing and young Michael Caine.  What seems to start out as a light-hearted romp quickly turns dark, and Caine is brilliant in his performance.  But what stuck with me most about this film are the shot selection and the scenery.  In one scene, Alfie and a woman are on their way home from visiting the woman’s husband in a sanatorium.  Along the way they stop and take a leisurely canoe ride.  The shot selection from the woman’s point of view of the sky and the trees as they go past above her and the sun streaming through the branches is really breathtaking, and elicited strong feelings from me.  Feelings of what temporary peace and bliss feel like – you know it’s fleeting, so you want to drink it all in, and its sheer beauty is both bitter in its temporariness and sweet in its ability to sear itself eternally in your brain.  Of course, scenes of London in the 1960’s are also quite interesting, and Sonny Rollins’ post-bop musical score really added to this movie for me.  As I said, having never seen it and only knowing a little about it, I was surprised that it took the dark plot turn that it did, but for that reason, and for the shot selection, I was quite satisfied and would recommend this movie highly.  Our good friend from Turner Classic Movies Robert Osbourne was less than complimentary about the remake with Jude Law, so I would probably stay away from that one.

The other film we saw this weekend was one from 2007 entitled “Shotgun Stories” staring Michael Shannon as a dead-ringer for a young David Letterman.  This film was dark from start-to-almost-finish.  Filmed in the small town of England, Arkansas, the long, lingering shots of rural landscapes where you hear nothing but birds or crickets really brought back what living in the country was like.  A couple of shots in particular were exceptionally stunning – one simple shot of sycamore tree leaves on the ground – I know it sounds boring, but the composition and the color of that one shot is one that will remain with me for a long time.  Those particular shots – the rural, quiet ones, elicit the same bittersweet feeling that I described having when watching the canoe scene from Alfie.  The feeling is almost like being homesick – longing for something you know you can never have, or once had and can never have again, or dreaming of some unattainable future event or place or mood.   Michael Shannon is a remarkable actor, and this movie was very thought-provoking, until its end when it just tied up too neatly for Claude and me.  Claude has conditioned me not to like happy endings anymore, and really, when I look back on the films I liked before I met Claude, the ones I found to be more satisfying are the ones that don’t have a neatly-tied ending.  Even the musicals that I hold most dear are the ones with downer endings – Fiddler on the Roof and Funny Girl and All That Jazz come to mind.  I would definitely recommend Shotgun Stories especially if you have memories of rural life in America in the past 45 years.  It is a dark tale, and has some pretty strong implied violence.  It’s clearly an interesting film both visually and thematically.  I’d give it 3 stars on a 1-4 rating.  I think I’d give Alfie the same rating.

Now for the film snob part – as we’re watching the end credits of Shotgun Stories, Claude says, “A-ha!  I thought I’d see that name pop up.”  Claude has a photographic memory for film details (and book details and pretty much any details except taking food out of the freezer to thaw for tonight’s dinner), and he remarked that one of the executive producers of Shotgun Stories, David Gordon Green, is a filmmaker who directed “Pineapple Express.”  There’s where I just simply will never be able to keep up with the “big boys”, Claude and his friends.  I don’t have a memory for details such as that, and can’t put all the pieces together or get all the references.  I guess that’s why I’m lucky to be the wife of a film snob.