Tuesday, January 10, 2006

5-Star Movies, Part 2

Just because I have a degree in film doesn't mean I am, by necessity, a film snob. In fact, I can think a movie is one of the smartest films I have ever seen, but unless it was also very entertaining, it won't make this list. One of the most tiring things for me in film school was all the pretentious students who talked about their favorite films as being the kind of stuff we were force-fed in class. Ok I liked some of that stuff a lot too, but don't try to fool me. I know you fell in love with film because you adore the movies churned out by the big machine.

Ugh. You know how annoying it is when someone asks you, "what's your favorite...?" Well in the critical film world it is worse. Such a loaded question when they ask who your favorite director is, what your favorite film is, etc.. When they hear the answer, they have everything they need to sum you up and either decide you are cool enough to be in their elite circle, or are pathetically uneducated and lacking the fine, sophisticated palate that they themselves, of course, possess.

Unlike any other artform, film has the biggest divide between popular taste and "high" art. (The closest is probably music.) And that's probably because there is just so much of the medium that is made explicitly for popular tastes. But just because it is "low-brow," doesn't mean it always lacks quality. But there is such a stigma against us pop-movie watchers, that film students, critics, and art-house crowds think we have the intellect and taste of a goldfish. When the truth is more likely that these elitists just like the movies they are supposed to like. Sounds kind of sheep-like, huh?

Guess what? I like movies! Not just film (and all that that connotes,) but also good, ole, snuggle-on-your-sofa-in-your-PJs, stuff-yourself-with-popcorn-n-coke kind of movies. That's not to say that those kind of movies can't be thought of critically. They absolutely can. And that's one of my favorite pastimes.

And now that I have sufficiently defended my right to like low-brow movies, here is the second installment of my list which, coincidentally, contains mostly low-brow movies this time.

Finding Neverland (Forster, 2004)
Depp as the famed author of Peter Pan. A fantastical vision of how he created the story.
The acting was spot on, the writing imaginitive. Wonderful story. But the best for me was the integration of fantasy and reality.

From Russia With Love (Young, 1963)
Second installment in the bond series.
This was when they figured out how to make Bond sooo Bond, but before Bond became a formula. My favorite Bond flick. Connery shows us that great action heros are more about wit and ingenuity than brawn, and can always wriggle out of inescapable death!

Four Weddings and a Funeral (Newall, 1994)
Hugh Grant is smitten with Andie MacDowell when he spots her at a wedding. Their relationship changes as they keep bumping into each other at further weddings (and one funeral.)
I tire of Hugh in anything but Bridget Jones and this movie. Here he is perfect. Ok, this movie doesn't have the greatest depth, but as an entertaining comedy, it's flawless. It has a lot of heart, and using the weddings/funeral as a structural device works really well.

The Full Monty (Cattaneo, 1997)
A British comedy about some out-of-work men and their kooky plan to make money that involves taking their "kit" off for women.
A little more raw than FW&aF. And perhaps even a little funnier. These guys aren't smooth, they aren't dancers, they aren't conventionally attractive, and they don't have good bodies, but they will really give it their all to make sure they put on a real show for the ladies.

Gigi (Minelli, 1958)
Gigi is coming of age as a trained courtesan in the turn of the 20th century. But she has ideas of her own.
Wonderful songs, amazing sets, splendid costumes. Leslie Caron is charming, Louis Jourdan is gorgeous, and Maurice Chevalier sparkles.

Grease (Kleiser, 1978)
Danny & Sandy come from two different worlds. Can they ever work it out? Maybe in song and dance they can.
You might criticize this for not being so cerebral. Lighten up! Besides, there was some wit involved in creating this part-nostalgic, part-satirical story and especially the wonderfully irreverent songs.

Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993)
Blind with ambition, a wealthy man creates an island sanctuary and hires scientists to fill it with dinosaurs!
Some of Spielberg's finest work. Still probably the best use of CGI I have seen. Great plot structure, great mood, good use of suspense. I just wish he had cast different kids. Ah well.

Life is Beautiful (Benigni, 1997)
A story of romantic and paternal love in the Holocaust.
Some movies are so poignant and honest that they touch you deep in your soul. This is one of those movies.

Mary Poppins (Stevenson, 1964)
A nanny with some special skills gains employment with a banker and his family (concidentally named "Banks".) She gives them the little extra TLC they need to deal with Pappa Banks's workaholism and neglect.
If it wasn't for the fact that I object to some of this movie from a feminist standpoint, it would be virtually flawless. (Well, Van Dyke left some things to be desired, but I did say virtually flawless.) In fact for this reason alone I have considered reducing the score I gave it. But despite myself, I can't help that I completely love this movie. I still don't know if I will show it to my kids if I ever have any. (Yes my objections are that strong.)

The Matrix (Wachowski, 1999)
Is life what we really think it is? Or are we secretly slaves to a big machine? The real question is: would you take the red pill or the blue pill?
As Keanu would say, "woooaah!" This movie is mind-blowing. Revolutionary. I saw it three times its first week of release.

Meet the Parents (Roach, 2000)
Poor Ben Stiller just can't seem to do anything right and win the approval of his future in-laws.
I never tire of watching this one. The comedy never gets tired, even if its delivery is sometimes a little over-the-top.

Memento (Nolan, 2000)
Can you imagine how confusing would life be if you had no short-term memory? Then add figuring out a mystery to your problems.
This movie is brilliant beyond words. (But let me waste a few anyway!) Absolutely genius structure. How can we work backwords and still get a cohesive picture? But we can! One of the best movies (for its entertainment value and "film" value) I have ever seen.

Monsoon Wedding (Nair, 2001)
Love and marriage, Indian-style.
Accessible movie, that appears as fluff on the surface, but is secretly filled with depth and even a little edge. I love how this movie deals with class issues, and especially women. Nair knows how to portray women as women without subjecting them to the kind of reductionism or villification that occurs in so many movies.

Well, that's part 2... tune in tomorrow for the rest of the list!
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