Sunday, June 29, 2014

Movie Guy: AFI Countdown 85 to 81

Now, in the mid-80s, I'm going to probably start making some people mad, but first:

A Night at the Opera (1935)
This is one of two Marx Bros. films to make this list, and this is probably only because voters restricted themselves from including all the Marx Bros. films. Is A Night at the Opera actually that much better than A Night in Casablanca, Monkey Business, or A Day at the Races? Probably only by a few degrees of measurement. Perhaps Opera gained the edge because of some impressive operatic numbers from Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle. Whatever the case, it definitely belongs here, but don't let the exclusion of some of the other Marx Bros. films from this list dissuade you from seeing those as well.

Easy Rider (1969)
Okay, I know: avant-garde director, counter culture film, yadda yadda yadda. I believe that this movie is here because of the nostalgic "remembrances" of viewers who haven't seen this movie in decades (if at all, completely) and are recalling a much better film than this really is. I know that this will anger some people, but look: this movie is an extended music video, and not a very good one at that. It feels like  director Dennis Hopper had a very loose idea for a movie and then decided to flesh it out with some improvised or hastily-written scenes that create a very flimsy storyline. It also seems like he might have been stoned out of his mind for much of the filming. (He was.) In my opinion, this is a mediocre student art film with a great soundtrack and some aesthetically-pleasing motorcycle scenes. it doesn't belong in the top 100 films. Probably not even the top 200 films. I'm open to debate on this one, but I would just ask that you watch it again first, all the way through.

Titanic (1997)
There are plenty of Titanic haters out there. Anytime that a movie with a central love story and a young heartthrob is that popular, there is bound to be some backlash. To me, this movie is a modern answer to W.S. Van Dyke's great disaster film of 1936: San Francisco. (Curiously, this movie did not make the list.) James Cameron hits all the right notes to marry star-crossed love story with a real-life tragedy. The effects are brilliant. This movie would be in the top 50, I think, if not for the irrational backlash.

Sunrise (1927)
Also known as Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, this American film from German director F.W. Murnau has all of the Murnau touches, and it brings elements of German Expressionism to this story creating an almost fairy tale feel. If you're not accustomed to silent film, you might find some of the acting a bit exaggerated and hokey, but stick with it, because this story will draw you in. It is heart-wrenching and joyful and heart-wrenching and joyful again. There are very few silent films on this list, and this and Intolerance are the only two that aren't a comedy or a monster film. I think that speaks to the effectiveness of this story.

Spartacus (1960)
Based on the real-life story of the Thracian gladiator and warrior of the Third Servile War, director Stanley Kubrick paints some amazing scenes of battle, both in the arena and out. Kirk Douglas is great in the lead role, but it's really the supporting performances in this film that are the most compelling: Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis, Peter Ustinov, and Charles Laughton. We are all Spartacus.

BONUS - Since I mentioned it, here's the trailer for W.S. Van Dyke's San Francisco, even though it doesn't make the AFI list:
*Something fun to watch for in this film: There is a scene between Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy where Tracy takes advantage of director W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke's reputation as "One-Take Woody" by slipping in an ad-lib gag referencing Mickey Rooney (his young co-star in Boys Town). MacDonald reacts noticeably to the joke, and it's right there in the movie because: One-Take Woody. 

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