Archive for July, 2009

My response to Iain Scott's "Top 50 Greatest Films" post

Here is Scott’s original post. Here is Andrew O’Hehir’s post on Salon, where I originally learned about Scott’s post. Regarding Scott’s methodology, O’Hehir says,

Iain Stott of the One-Line Review just completed his 2009 poll of 187 critics, filmmakers, bloggers and other cinephiles, and the results make fascinating reading.

O’Hehir goes on to speculate that critical opinion has ossified: few new movies are getting added to best/top lists. I was just talking about this topic with my best friend recently. O’Hehir cites The Shawshank Redemption (which I despise) as a movie that’s quite beloved yet never makes critics’ lists, and my friend wondered whether The Princess Bride would ever get the cred it deserves.

My opinion as to what films are great doesn’t match up with these critics opinions very well at all. Here I have divided up the movies based on whether I’ve seen them and what I think of them, adding comments here and there as the spirit moves me.

Would make my own top 50

7. Taxi Driver (1976) Martin Scorsese
22. 8½ (1963) Federico Fellini
42. The Apartment (1960) Billy Wilder
44. Ikiru (1952) Akira Kurosawa
45. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra
47. The Wizard of Oz (1939) Victor Fleming

Like to some degree

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Stanley Kubrick
5. Casablanca (1942) Michael Curtiz
6. The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed
23. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) David Lean
25. Apocalypse Now (1979) Francis Ford Coppola
39. Raging Bull (1980) Martin Scorsese

Dislike to some degree

1. Citizen Kane (1941) Orson Welles

This is not a movie I find good in any dimension, and I’ve never understood its critical appeal.

2. Vertigo (1958) Alfred Hitchcock

The above-mentioned best friend and I have always held that Hitchcock is a horrible director. No, not just overrated–horrible. If film historians insist that he was an innovator, I see no reason to dispute that opinion, but as a viewer I feel that there is not a single movie of his that holds up today. The pacing is leaden, the scripts are boring, the performances he elicits from actors I usually enjoy are lifeless. In truth, what movies by Hitchcock do critics really find enjoyable, exciting, thrilling? If ossified critical opinion is anywhere to be found, it is in regard to Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

4. The Godfather (1972) Francis Ford Coppola
16. Chinatown (1974) Roman Polanski

8. Seven Samurai (1954) Akira Kurosawa

If you can understand Japanese, a lot of the mystique of Kurosawa’s movies disappears. A lot of the dialog is really exaggerated and hackneyed. Seven Samurai is extremely long and boring. Kurosawa did make some great movies, however: Yojimbo would be in my Top 10, and Ikiru is in my top 50, which would probably include about 6 or 7 Japanese movies in toto.

9. Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock

10. Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) Stanley Kubrick

Tried to watch this not recently. It has some good stuff in it, but the pacing is truly awful, and, overall, it just doesn’t work.

13. Rear Window (1954) Alfred Hitchcock
14. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
17. Sunset Boulevard (1950) Billy Wilder

20. Pulp Fiction (1994) Quentin Tarantino

I think Tarantino is better than any director in history at creating a feeling of menace, of absolute terror, and he does so in this movie–several times. That said, his movies are ugly, violent, vulgar, and–what I can’t forgive–ignorant. He never seems to be presenting things he knows from experience but instead a bunch of junk he’s learned second-hand. I always feel that I am being lectured by a child.

26. City Lights (1931) Charles Chaplin
28. Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen
29. Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles
31. Blade Runner (1982) Ridley Scott
32. M (1931) Fritz Lang

33. The General (1927) Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton

One thing about these critics lists–they often include stuff by my favorite directors but just not their best work. I love Keaton, but this movie is boring beyond belief.

34. Some Like It Hot (1959) Billy Wilder
37. Duck Soup (1933) Leo McCarey
38. Double Indemnity (1944) Billy Wilder
41. A Clockwork Orange (1971) Stanley Kubrick
46. Rashomon (1950) Akira Kurosawa
48. Do the Right Thing (1989) Spike Lee

Have not seen

11. The Godfather: Part II (1974) Francis Ford Coppola
12. The Searchers (1956) John Ford
15. Persona (1966) Ingmar Bergman
18. Sunrise (1927) F.W. Murnau
19. Tokyo Story (1953) Yasujiro Ozu
21. La Règle du Jeu (1939) Jean Renoir
24. The Night of the Hunter (1955) Charles Laughton
27. Bicycle Thieves (1948) Vittorio De Sica
30. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) Carl Theodor Dreyer
35. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Sergio Leone
36. The Four Hundred Blows (1959) François Truffaut
40. All About Eve (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
43. La Grande Illusion (1937) Jean Renoir
49. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) Sergio Leone
50. L’Avventura (1960) Michelangelo Antonioni

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Movie review: "Observe and Report" shows us how hard it is to love ourselves


Observe and Report on IMDb
Observe and Report on Metacritic
Observe and Report on Rotten Tomatoes

Matt Rouge’s score: 4.5/5.0

Pros. Very strong performances by all. Engaging story. Dead-on satire of many familiar things. Interesting characters.

Cons. At 88 minutes, the movie feels a little short. The characters are interesting enough to support several more scenes adding to the story and laugh count. Some of the dialog and character behaviors are over the top even for the movie’s wild, farcical style.

Observe and Report is the story of Ronnie Barnhardt, a bipolar mall cop who is trying to catch a flasher and creating a considerable mess in the process. It’s a dark comedy full of expletives, nudity, and material that may shock and offend. The reviews among both pro and amateur critics are definitely mixed, but I found it to be a hilarious movie with an important message for our times. I highly recommend it.

I think this message is striking a deep chord in people, whether their view of the film is positive or negative, but I have yet to see it articulated in any review. It may be possible that even the film’s creators were not cognizant of it but instead worked with it on a gut level. Once one sees the message, however, it is striking and obvious. Here it is:

In today’s society, we feel miserable and invalidated until one of our dreams comes true in a way that everyone must recognize.

Ronnie craves validation; one of his chief characteristics is insecurity. He wants to become a real cop and dreams, most nights, of saving the world from a black cloud of evil and earning the approbation of the masses.

In some dimensions, Ronnie is hyper-competent. He defeats six crackheads single-handedly. He takes on a troop of cops, losing but doing palpable damage. Ronnie passes every test to get into the police academy save one: the psych evaluation. At the same time, Ronnie is a complete, unhinged idiot. He fails to detect who has been burglarizing the mall at night, instead suggesting suspects on the basis of race. When it comes to relationships of any type, Ronnie is completely clueless.

Ronnie is a complex character, combining both admirable traits and despicable. Persons’ reactions to him are likewise complex: his boss, despite misgivings, supports him, and the cute girl working at the cinnamon bun shop finds him admirable and attractive.

Now we come to our own discomfort in watching Ronnie. We are in the same boat. We don’t know what to think of ourselves.

In our own minds, we are fighting the good fight, but we see others on the opposite side who are equally confident. Or perhaps equally in doubt. We waver. We worry that we are like Ronnie, clueless and not aware of our own cluelessness. We consider how other people think about us, hoping to find validation in their opinions, but we sense–we know–that opinions are divided. Some people love us; others hate us. Some people at work admire us; others mock us. Some praise; others trash. Our friends and family love us, mostly, but we are aware of their bias. (In Observe and Report there is a wonderful scene in which Ronnie’s mom deconstructs the very notion of a parent’s validation, observing that her affirmation of her son’s dreams is merely what a parent is expected to say.)

We long to accomplish one great thing (e.g., becoming a police officer, nabbing a sex offender) that once and for all will prove that we deserve the respect of others and ourselves, but satisfaction is elusive.

I remember job hunting in Chicago in 1994, and I sat next to a guy on the South Shore, and we had a very good conversation. “The thing about Americans,” he said, “is that no one’s satisfied until they become a doctor or a lawyer–something like that.” He was right then, and he’s even more right now. In 2009, as in 1994, it’s hard to love ourselves as we are, and Observe and Report invites us to face that difficulty as few movies ever have.

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Not nostalgic

Not for any time period. Not for any relationship. Not for any past self. Career, friends, location–all great. The future looks brighter than the past, not only for myself but for the world.

My nostalgic period was between 1985 (when a bunch of family problems started) and 1992 (the year I graduated college). I looked back wistfully at the 1970s: the music, the style, the vibe, and Indianapolis–our beloved city we had left in 1978 only because my dad had needed to take a job in the Chicago burbs.

In 1992 I graduated college and went to Japan. I had a mission. In 1996 the Internet entered my life. Today, I can’t imagine living without it; in fact, it’s a big part of my career. Since 2002 I have been working in advertising and PR, which had been my longtime goal.  In 2005 my daughter was born–the world’s greatest child. Since 1992 new and good things have come my way, as well as many big struggles, so I have taken and loved the good and fought and overcome the bad and am happy where I am right now (with a healthy list of caveats to that, but such always is life).

In 2004 I moved back to Indy, and it’s exceeded all my expectations. I don’t long for the Indy of the 1970s, since the city is even better now than it was then.

I am thankful for all of my blessings. My fingers are crossed, but I looking forward to the future and, in many ways, feel that life has just begun.

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