Friday, September 02, 2005

Movies Of The Year: 1980

The 80s kick off with the best year yet.

15. American Gigolo - How did Paul Schrader go from Taxi Driver to this? What a freak. Richard Gere still isn't awful, but he's well on his way.

14. Breaker Morant - I've got to rate this movie this low because I don't remember too much about it. It's a Paths Of Glory-esque war movie set in Australia, starring Bryan Brown, from Cocktail, among others. I do recall thinking it was very good. I should see it again.

13. Flash Gordon - One of the few A sci-fi films to follow in the tradition of the great Barbarellla, only without all the sex. By the director of Croupier and the original Get Carter. I wonder if people understand that it's camp is intentional. . . .how could it not be? Max Von Sydow, Tomothy Dalton and Brian Blessed are the famous people. The girl who plays Dale Arden went on to star in the TV series 'Manimal'.

12. The Gods Must Be Crazy - One of those movies my family is obsessed with. Surprisingly, other people seem to like it too. It's a very strange movie, I don't know that there's been any American film quite like it since World War II. Just a straight forward slapstick comedy, mixed with dry British humor. I could be wrong, but I think this is only only movie by a South African director I've ever seen.

11. Superman II - I've actually seen this more often than the fist one, and I always liked it better as a kid. But I haven't seen either in years and years. Terrence Stamp gives an iconic performance as General Zod. Gene Hackman is still inexplicably in a Superman movie. The Fortress Of Solitude is awesome. Directed by Richard Lester, the guy who directed A Hard Day's Night, Help! and the richard Chamberlin version of The Three Musketeers.

10. Stardust Memories - One of Woody Allen's strangest films, it doesn't quite work, but is still pretty interesting. It is to Fellini what Interiors was to Bergman, and it's much more successful than that other film. A great performance by Charlotte Rampling.

9. Ordinary People - I feel bad rating this so low, but every film in the top 8 this year is a indisputable classic. Tremendous acting all around here, as Timothy Hutton, Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore are all award worthy. It's the first film Robert Redford directed, and he'd get a lot better at it as time went on. The direction here mainly serves to highlight the terrific performances. A profoundly depressing movie.

8. The Big Red One - Samuel Fuller's autobiographical masterpiece follows five guys through the course of World War II, based on his own experiences there. It's the movie Saving Private Ryan wants you to think it is. A really great war movie, dragged down by some poor non-Lee Marvin performances, notably the woefully inadequate Mark Hamill.

7. Kagemusha - Though it is largely overshadowed by and seen as merely a test-run for Ran, this is still a terrific movie. One of the most static films Kurosawa ever made, there are long stretches where the camera never moves. I wonder how influential these two films were on the Chinese films of the 90s. Seems to me Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige are also notable for very composed, colorful, static shots. Tough to say, after all, it isn't like Kurosawa invented this style, though he does it exceptionally well. Tatsuya Nakadai gives a terrific performance, though Toshiro Mifune probably would have been better. If you ever played Nobunaga's Ambition on the Nintendo, this movie's for you.

6. The Blues Brothers - Great music, great car chases, Carrie Fisher with many many guns, nuns, rednecks, Nazis, this movie has it all. John Belushi gives his best performance. Not only the best musical of the 80s, but the best car chase movie of all-time.

5. The Shining - The best haunted house movie ever made, maybe the best horror movie ever, period. Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall give wonderful, appropriately over-the-top performances, and Kubrick provides suitably over-the-top direction. Brilliantly weird and disturbing.

4. Caddyshack - One of the most quotable movies ever, 25 years later it's still hilarious. Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield get all the best lines. The nobodies who played the caddies could have really dragged the movie down, as it is they're unremarkable, which is great because it allows the comic geniuses (Dangerfield, Chase, Murray and the guys who wrote the script: Harold Ramis, Brian Doyle-Murray and Dougls Kenney) to be the real stars of the movie. And the gopher. the gopher's alright too. In contention for greatest comedy ever.

3. Raging Bull - A great looking movie, but it's never grabbed me the way it seemingly has so many others. Jake LaMotta just isn't sympathetic enough for me to become very concerned with his downfall. Don't get me wrong, I don't think Scorsese expects us to feel sorry for him, it's just that tragedies with wholly unsympathetic heroes aren't particularly interesting. The Age Of Innocence has the same problem. It is also an amazing looking film that is nonetheless relentlessly dull. Perhaps I'm missing something. . . .Anyway, still the best boxing movie ever.

2. Airplane! - Wow, was 1980 a great year for comedies or what? Do not let the string of god awful early 90s parody movies prejudice you: the original is a nearly perfect comedy. A worthy inheritor of the Marx Brothers tradition of putting the jokes first, and the plot 512th or so. A relentless barrage of jokes, the film never slows down and remains consistently rewatchable as a result: every time you see it, you catch another joke you'd never noticed before. career altering performance by Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielson and Robert Stack are the acting highlights, along with a classic cameo by June Cleaver. My pick for the funniest movie of all-time.

1. The Empire Strikes Back - The Out Of The Past podcast for this week is on Blade Runner, and in the course of the conversation about noir influence in sci-fi, one of the profs mentions that one of the main reasons people think Empire is the best Star Wars film is because of the noirish dialogue Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett brought to the screenplay. Its a great point, I'd never though of it before, but it makes total sense. its not just the events of the film that make it seem so dark (though they are dark), it's the script. Being called the best written Star Wars film is about like being the best utility infielder for the Kansas City Royals, but still, Empire is a tremendously well-written action movie. Added to that great screenplay is the very good direction by Irvin Kershner, every bit as good as Lucas's in the first movie (which I think was very good as well). There's a neat twist at the end, too, but I promise I won't give anything away.

Some decent movies in the unseen list for this year, though I doubt any would finish above #9:

Heaven's Gate
The Elephant Man
Friday The 13th
Gates Of Heaven
The Big Brawl
Melvin And Howard
The Last Metro
Coal Miner's Daughter
Atlantic City
The Final Countdown
Dressed To Kill
Somewhere In Time
Nine To Five

Movies Of The Year: 1979

Another great year in 1979.

10. Kramer Vs. Kramer - Divorce is bad. The kids are the real victims. Yeah yeah yeah. Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep are great, as always.

9. The Black Stallion - I haven't seen this since I was a kid, but I really loved it then. I don't remember any of the dialogue, just sequences of amazing images and vibrant colors. I need to see it again to see if it's as great looking as I remember.

8. Being There - A clever movie, but not as smart as people seem to think it is. Peter Sellers is great. It's one joke gets a little tiresome after awhile.

7. The Great Train Robbery - Very energetic, entertaining Sean Connery film written and directed by Michael Crichton.

6. The China Syndrome - One of the great "social problem" films of all-time. Stars Jack Lemmon as a whistle-blower at a nuclear power plant. Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas play the journalists to whom he blows the whistle. By the director of the Paper Chase.

5. The Jerk - Just as classic as Animal House, but it slows down too much in the second half and wasn't nearly as influential. Still one of the funniest movies of all-time, the first half hour or so can't be topped.

4. Alien - Ridley Scott's best movie. Possibly the best horror movie of all-time. Great performance by Sigourney Weaver as one of the all-time great badass women. Enormously influential, yet it's lost none of it's effectiveness over time.

3. The Life Of Brian - My personal favorite of the Monty Python movies. It's the combination of absurdist comedy and actual historical-political critique that makes it so much more resonant than The Holy Grail or Meaning Of Life. Unfortunately, it's only become more relevant over the last 26 years. I'm not the Messiah, really I'm not!

2. Apocalypse Now - Wow, was this a tough call for #1. I really do love this movie, every bit of it. I know it doesn't make any sense, and that Coppola had no real idea what he was doing, but that doesn't make it any less effective. the chaos and bizarre primitive lunacy of this totally unrealistic film does a far better job of explaining Vietnam than any realistic treatment could hope to. it's reality that's screwed up, not the film. Someday, this war's gonna end.

1. Manhattan - Has held the default position of My Favorite Movie for over a decade now. Not Best, Favorite. A important distinction, I guess. Just as funny as Annie Hall, but less fantastical. It's a Woody Allen movie that scathingly critiques the type of people who watch, and the characters who appear in, Woody Allen movies. As depressing and critical as it is though, it still manages to have a totally effective and believable happy ending. The best looking of Allen's films (it really isn't close). Tremendous integration of an all-Gershwin score. Allen's best acting, Diane Keaton is excellent as an anti-Annie Hall, Mariel Hemingway brings a lot of humanity to an essentially symbolic role. You have to have a little faith in people.

A lot of Unseen Movies from this year as well:

The Warriors
Escape from Alcatraz
The Muppet Movie
Mad Max
Zulu Dawn
North Dallas Forty
The Castle Of Cagliostro
Nosferatu The Vampyre
All That Jazz
The Tin Drum
. . .And Justice for All

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Movies Of The Year: 1978

The best year for movies yet is 1978. And the first time all of my top films are actually good.

13. Coming Home - I don't generally like depressing movies, and this is a Depressing Movie. It's redeemed by the great performances by Jon Voight, Jane Fonda and Bruce Dern.

12. Interiors - Woody Allen follows up the best romantic comedy ever with. . .his most boring movie ever. Like Coming Home, this is Depressing, but there is also some terrific acting. But if you wanted to watch a Bergman movie, you should just watch a Bergman movie. Allen would get better at serious movies. This has the same relation to, say, Crimes And Misdemeanors as Hollywood Ending has to Sleeper.

11. Game Of Death - Bruce Lee only made half of this before he died, but they released it anyway, with a different actor pretending to be Lee through much of the movie. Really, you're better off just skipping ahead to the climax, wherein the actual Lee has to fight his way up a tower (including a tremendous scene with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to get to the bad guy.

10. The Five Deadly Venoms - A Shaw Brothers genre film, built around a fairly tedious mystery plot. Really picks up towards the end when the fighting starts.

9. Grease - A very strange film. I've only seen it once, unlike, apparently, everyone else. More interesting than funny. There's some catchy songs, but I like dancing in my musicals and none of the sequences here stick in my memory.

8. Halloween - The best film of its genre, not counting Alien. But I'm not a real fan of the genre. It towers above its competition, really. Genuinely scary.

7. Dawn Of The Dead - Zombies invade a shopping mall: pure genius. The best of Romero's Zombie Quartet and the one where his anti-capitalist metaphor works the best. Watch the long version.

6. Superman - What are Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman doing in this movie? A really great looking movie, made believable by the work of actors who should be above this sort of thing. After almost 20 years of post-Batman, post-modern superheroes, I'l admit a little nostalgia for a movie that plays the superhero thing totally straight.

5. The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin - Apparently the Shaw Brothers masterpiece, though I've only seen the two films on this list. A great epic martial arts film. Remember the funky logo at the beginning of Kill Bill Vol. 1? That's the Shaw Brothers. Gordon Liu stars in this movie, and plays one role in each of the Kill Bill movies.

4. The Last Waltz - The Band's last concert, chock full of guest appearances. My favorites are Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and, I guess just for the hell of it, Neil Diamond. The concert's great, but it's the way Scorsese cuts between the songs and the interviews to always keep the movie moving forward, that makes this one of the few great music documentaries.

3. The Deer Hunter - Quite the year for depressing movies. The scope and weight of this film is unmatched in Vietnam films. But it is so dark and depressing. The cast is truly amazing: DeNiro, Walken, Cazale, Savage and Streep are all outstanding. Two things keep this from being #1. First, I've never found what happens to Walken's character to be realistic. Not just the going nuts and playing Russian Roulette part, but DeNiro going back and finding him and what happens then. . . .it's just too much for me to believe in a film that seems so relentlessly realistic in every other aspect. Second is the relationship between Streep and DeNiro. I'm not sure exactly why, but it never worked for me. A great movie, the third best Vietnam movie ever, but not the best of 1978.

2. Days Of Heaven - Terrence Malik's never failed to make a Great Movie. Of course, he's only made three movies (the fourth is coming out this fall, oh yeah, I'm excited). This one stars Richard Gere (before he became a star, and therefore when he was good) and Brooke Adams as Depression Era wanderers who end up working on the always great Sam Shepard's farm. Shepard falls in love with Adams and bad things start to happen in incredibly beautiful ways. One of the very best looking movies ever made.

1. Animal House - How can I put this #1 ahead of Serious Movies like The Deer Hunter and Interiors and Coming Home? Because it's my list, dammit. And also because Animal House is a better, more innovative, more important movie than any of those others. Ask yourself honestly which you'd rather watch: John Belushi being fat, drunk and stupid, or Jon Voight as a paraplegic trying to steal Bruce Dern's wife because Vietnam sucked? That's what I thought. Animal House created a genre that has had way more than its share of crappy movies, but it also spawned some classics (Caddyhack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, etc). Interiors spawned, um, er, nothing. Just because it's funny, doesn't mean it isn't respectable. And Animal House might be the funniest movie ever made.

Some pretty good movies I haven't seen from this year, but I'd be surprised if any made my top 8:

Drunken Master
I Spit On Your Grave
La Cage Aux Folles
Foul Play
Heaven Can Wait
Up In Smoke
Midnight Express

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Movies Of The Year: 1977

I'm missing more from 1977 than 76, but I really doubt any of them would break into my top 5.

Here's the list:

11. Saturday Night Fever - Yeah the dancing is kinda cool, but this is a truly terrible movie. Painfully bad.

10. Pete's Dragon - The first of several kid's movies this year. Mediocre live action, partly animated Disney movie. Mickey Rooney's in it.

9. Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo - I loved the Herbie movies when I was a kid. This is a Herbie movie. Ignore the Lindsey Lohan version.

8. Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown - Never one of my favorite Peanuts films, but it's alright.

7. The Rescuers - A lesser Disney cartoon, but it does star Bob Newhart. So that's cool.

6. The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh - A much better Disney cartoon. One of the best, in fact. There's a big gap between 6 and 7 here.

5. New York, New York - A great, underrated Scorsese movie, it's a very dark musical with the unlikely cast of Robert DeNiro and Liza Minelli. Basically the same story as A Star Is Born, but elevated by some of Scorsese's best looking scenes. The opening set-piece on VE day is amazing.

4. A Bridge Too Far - More than the epitome of the Caine-Hackman Theory, it's a great war movie in it's own right. Really the last great classical war movie. All-star cast (Caine, Hackman, Connery, Caan, Redford, Ryan O'Neal, Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Liv Ullman, maximillian Schell, Denholm Elliott, Elliott Gould, etc) epic scope, complex action sequences, interesting story, it's got it all.

3. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind - Possibly Spielberg's best movie. Great performance from Richard Dreyfuss. Chock full of visually stunning sequences. Francois Truffaut co-stars as a scientist. Classic That Guy Bob Balaban plays Truffaut's assistant. This means something.

2. Star Wars - Very tough call between 1 and 2. Ask me ten minutes from now and I might reverse them. It's fashionable to prefer Empire, but it's Star Wars that is the truly revolutionary film. I refuse to blame it for the crap that came after it, or the effect it had on industry strategy (the creation of the blockbuster-event film).

1. Annie Hall - The best romantic comedy of all-time. Iconic performances by Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. One of my 5 favorite movies ever. Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum have cameos. We need the eggs.

The Unseen:

That Obscure Object Of Desire
Slap Shot
Smokey And TheBandit
The Kentucky Fried Movie
The Goodbye Girl
Oh, God!
Looking For Mr. Goodbar
Pumping Iron
Black Sunday
3 Women

Movies Of The Year: 1976

Starting a new feature here on TINAB, I'm going to countdown the top movies of the year for every year for as long as I can. I'm going to start with 1976, because that's the year I was born and it's as good a year as any. Each year will rank the top ten or so films from that year, along with some mentions of films I haven't seen yet. What year a film is categorized as will be determined by IMDB.

So here we go, the top films of 1976:

12. The Omen - A truly awful movie, though it was a big hit and is interesting as a cultural relic.

11. The Song Remains The Same - A mediocre Led Zeppelin concert film. The introductions of the band members before the show are pretty cool, especially the devilish Jimmy Page. Robert Plant is really bad as he manages to butcher his own songs.

10. Rocky - I've tried to watch it many times, but I've only made it all the way through once. It's a good movie. Stallone really isn't that bad. And the story is terrific. The problem is that it is BORING. I put it in all-caps, so you know it must be true. Not even the best sports movie of the year.

9. Network - One of those movies that you're supposed to like, so you watch it, think it's alright, and then can never remember anything about it. I've seen Network 4 times at least, yet I can remember hardly any of it.

8. The Seven Percent Solution - A terrific cast (Alan Arkin, Laurence Oivier, Robert Duvall, Joel Grey, Nicol Williamson) stars in this Sherlock Holmes meets Sigmund Freud movie. I remember liking it quite a bit, but don't remember enough to rank it any higher than this.

7. Bound For Glory - Hal Ashby's biopic of Woody Guthrie,starring David Carradine, who's very good in the role. Ashby's a great underrated director, this isn't his best movie, but is still pretty good. The biggest problem is that there just isn't enough there. The film stops just as Guthrie's career gets going.

6. Carrie - Perhaps the only good Brian DePalma movie. A dark version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, wherein adolescence = freaky demonism. Great horror movie performances from Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek.

5. All The President's Men - Another film that just isn't long enough. Very slick, efficient film. Redford, Hoffman and Robards are great. Great script by William Goldman. But you only get the beginnings of the Watergate story. Maybe that's where Woodward and Bernstein's story ends, but it doesn't make for a wholly satisfying film.

4. The Bad News Bears - A classic sports movie. The vicious anti-establishment humor still works. One of the great last scenes in movie history. I plan to avoid the remake at all costs. I recommend you do the same.

3. Marathon Man - The second Goldman/Hoffman pairing of the year is a near-perfect suspense thriller. It shares the lean efficiency of All the President's Men, but manages to tell a complete story. One of Laurence Olivier's last great performances as the Evil Nazi Dentist.

2. Taxi Driver - Please don't take away my Film Geek Merit Badge. It's a great movie, but the ending never really worked for me. After two hours of angry misanthropy, with a horrifically violent climax, the even more misanthropic satire of the coda is just too much. For a long time I just ignored it. Now I understand it's supposed to be funny. I guess I'm just not demented enough to agree. DeNiro though, he's good.

1. The Outlaw Josey Wales- Clint Eastwood's second-best film as a director. A great revisonist Western, it makes the Western as chronicle of the development of civilization theme quite explict. But it does so with much more respect to Indians than any other Western I know of (especially Dances With Wolves). It's the yin to Unforgiven's yang.

Now the ones I haven't seen:

Logan's Run
Small Change
The Front
The Shootist
Family Plot
Assault On Precinct 13
Car Wash
Silver Streak

I'll Know My Song Well Before I Start Singin'

There were two new Dylan albums released today. The soundtrack for the upcoming Scorsese documentary (on DVD Sept. 20th, on PBS the week after that). "No Direction Home" and a Starbucks CD "Live At The Gaslight 1962". On first listen, both are worth picking up for Dylanphiles (if you aren't one, you should be).

No Direction Home is the 7th Bootleg Series, the first 5 of which are essential for any Dylan fan. It's 2 discs cover 1959-1966, just like the movie will. Disc 1 highlights include fantastic covers of This Land Is Your Land and Dink's Song, very good live versions of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, When The Ship Comes In, Blowin' In The Wind and It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.

Disc 2 is mostly alternate version of songs from Highway 61 Revisted and Blonde On Blonde, some of which are substantially different than the album versions. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, She Belongs To Me, Desolation Row, Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat and Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again are the highlights. The album closes with Like A Rolling Stone from the 'Royal Albert Hall' concert, previously available in its entirety as Bootleg Series Volume 4. If you don't already have it, you need to: probably my favorite live performance by anyone, ever.

The Live at the Gaslight album is actually 2 concerts spliced together. Only 3 of the songs are Dylan originals (Hard Rain, Don't Think Twice It's Alright, and the previously unreleased Rocks and Gravel). The last 7 are all covers of folk songs. All are interesting, but the best are John Brown (previously available only on the Dylan Unplugged album), Cocaine and Barbara Allen. definitely worth going into Starbucks to buy it.

Monday, August 29, 2005

New Age Girl

On Air America this week, Al Franken is on vacation. Filling in for him is Rachel Maddow, the best news broadcaster I've seen or heard in a long time. I've been addicted to her daily one hour show (5 - 6 AM eastern) for months now. It's informative and entertaining and very efficient. Should be an interesting week on AA as Maddow's backup does her show, she does Franken's show, and interns or something do Morning Sedition while Mark and Marc are on vacation. All these shows can either be podcast through iTunes or downloaded from Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sunday Olio (Not Oleo, That's A Butter Substitute)

Watched Brothers Grimm last night. I was disappointed. It's well down. The actors are good. The story is fairly interesting. There just isn't anything more there. It reminded me quite a bit of Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, another well-made, good-looking movie that I felt just didn't have any reason to exist. It feels like important parts of this film are missing, which is very possible. Terry Gilliam's set a very high standard for his films, and this is easily the worst one I've seen.

A couple days ago, I watched Spider-Man 2. It was good, but not as good as the first one. Just about what you'd expect I guess. I'm annoyed that they basically just recycled the conflicts of the first movie. Peter has issues with the responsibility of being a superhero, and committing to the hot girl. A scientist he likes and admires is twisted into a supervillain against his will. If they make a third one, it could potentially be the best of the three, what with a villain with a different motive (Peter's friend chooses to become the Hobgoblin in order to get revenge), and with (hopefully) the resolution of the inane Mary Jane-Peter conflict.

Felix Herndandez finally gave up an extra-base hit. Three of them in fact. But 8 Ks and 1 walk over seven innings, with only 3 runs allowed is nothing to sneeze at.

36 IP 23 H 8 R 7 ER 2 HR 5 BB 38 K 1.75 ERA

Wednesday night, The King takes on The Big Unit at Safeco. If you watch one Mariner games this year, this should be it.

And this is hilarious.