Monday, June 30, 2014

Movie Guy: AFI Countdown 80 to 76

Okay, are you still with me after I bagged on Easy Rider? Good, let's continue...

The Apartment (1960)
This dark comedy was a bit controversial in its time given its themes of infidelity and adultery. (Apparently sexual harassment in the workplace was less of a concern to 1960 audiences.) Fresh off their success in Some Like It Hot (1959), director Billy Wilder and star Jack Lemmon find humor and genuine pathos in this very unconventional love story, and, of course, Shirley MacLaine is heart-wrenching and lovely. This is a great movie and it deserves far better than #80 on a list of the top 100.

The Wild Bunch (1969)
The Hollywood Western is one of those animals that is constantly evolving and there are films that serve as periodic "markers" of change: Stagecoach (1939), High Noon (1952), A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Unforgiven (1993), and this film by famed action director Sam Peckinpah. The story of four crude criminals trying to adjust to a changing West bears some comparison to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid from the same year, but it is a very different movie: far more bleak and violent and with a largely different style - a style that is most closely associated with Peckinpah. Slow-motion violence has become a bit clich├ęd due to its over-use in B-movies that followed. Even some of Peckinpah's own later films relied upon it almost as a gimmick, but in this movie it works as the artistic flourish that it is intended to be. I don't love this film as much as some do, but I wouldn't contest its position on this list.

Modern Times (1936)
There are three Chaplin films on the AFI list, and this one holds the lowest position at #78. This must be something akin to favoring one daughter over another - or perhaps more like one niece over another. Such a great, funny film: where does one begin? At its core an indictment of industrialization, Chaplin manages to comment upon the Great Depression and the rise of Socialism, but with a knowing wink. Highlights include Chaplin singing a nonsense song, an episode in the jail with - actually, you know what? The whole film is a highlight.

All The President's Men (1976)
The Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration - leading to its ultimate downfall - is sometimes pointed to as the point at which the American people lost their innocence regarding the Presidency. We went from suspecting that our leaders might be misleading us to knowing that they had. Personally, I think it's naive to think the public had really been so long fooled, but it was still a very shattering moment for this country. Based on the book by the two Washington Post reporters who uncovered the conspiracy, Alan J. Pakula's film is suspenseful, consuming, and exciting.

Forrest Gump (1994)
It's difficult not to be moved by the tale of a noble but simple young man who - through single-minded perseverance and an awful lot of bizarre good fortune - becomes a hero and and a millionaire entrepreneur. The performances are impressive and charming, the special effects are astounding, and story is both witty and poignant. What I think some people forget in this movie about the "noble idiot" who achieves the American Dream, is that the lovable Forrest could not care less about that dream. His guiding philosophy is love and kindness. He puts others before himself, and he doesn't view wealth as something that must be accumulated nor does it place you above anyone else. It's hokey at times, sure, but we can all do with a bit of hokeyness in our lives from time to time.

The Apartment found its way to Broadway in 1968 as musical called Promises, Promises with music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David. It was revived on Broadway in 2010. Dionne Warwick had a big hit in 1970 with her rendition of the lovely second-act tune "I'll Never Fall in Love Again."

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