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This is my other top 10 favorite Criterions list.
When people look back on the history of theatrical legends, they'll think Shakespeare, Beckett, O'Neill and of course, David Mamet. "Raw" and "Uncompromising" are some of the words used to describe Mamet's work, often highlighting the human condition at it's ugliest. His work is like a raw nerve that keeps getting touched and he always does that in interpersonal relationships between people, often correlating the truth of male behavior with the expected code of ethics they often gloss over. I love "Homicide" because Mamet channels his raw energy into film by way of the cop genre and this film is certainly no run-of-the-mill police procedural with polished dialogue and performances you'd find in a "Law & Order" episode. It's that stream-of-consciousness style to Mamet's films that I dig, as if we're watching a play that just happened to have been filmed as a movie. There's not much of a music score to the film, and every scene feels organic in the way the actors act and the way the situations unfold. We're in full Mamet territory as we follow a detective (a fantastic Joe Mantegna) as a cop, cynical and hard boiled as he represents an institution he's become disenchanted.
I remembered watching this as a 9 year old boy with my brother, and it left one hell of an impression on me. It's a very distinct kind of love story, despite the fact that both characters are young sociopathic murderers. This will stand out as one of Martin Sheen's best performances, and I can't get over the resemblance his son Charlie has to him. The scene that I remembered was the dance between Sheen and Spacek's characters at night. A little tidbit: I worked as an extra on "The Departed" in the scene where Sheen's cop is being followed by another cop. He was a very nice guy on set.
Another coming-of-age yarn from Richard Linklater, and probably the personification of Linklater's work as a director who can place his independent vision on what is ultimately a studio film. Plus the cast is full of people at the early stages of their career: Matthew McConaughey as a classic past-his-prime-but-not-quite car jockey (who also got some of the greatest lines); Ben Affleck as that one asshole in every graduating class (although Affleck's O'Bannon missed the boat repeatedly); Adam Goldberg and Anthony Rapp's affable pseudo-intellectuals; Parker Posey's catty teen and Renee Zellweger in a role that you don't see shine as much as her later films among many other future notables. Plus the pair of soundtracks to follow are absolutely kickin'. This movie can apply to any decade and any teen can relate, whether it's the 70's or now.
Peter Bogdanovich's best work really came from the 70's after critical and commercial hits like this one, "Paper Moon" and "What's Up, Doc?". But of his films, I consider this one of my favorites and a movie that could really apply to any teenager growing up in any decade as they come of age. Bogdanovich's film is hardly easy to stomach, as the characters encounter romance, heartbreak, anger and maturity. The scene where Sam the Lion (an Oscar winning Ben Johnson) goes fishing and relates a story from his past, is the magic of this film, by mining it out of the minute. Bogdanovich knew precisely how to shoot that scene and wisely hands it over to Johnson to do the rest. It's that moment where the camera pans in and out on Sam's face, catching every frame of a man representing a bygone era and a town that will essentially end with him. You can tell how much Bogdanovich loves film and uses this movie as a metaphor for things past when the theater plays it's last show. The film was followed up by a sequel "Texasville", focusing on Jeff Bridges' character nearly two decades later. Personally speaking, I thought "Texasville" was pretty decent. Horror extraordinaire Stephen King makes this film the favorite of one of his characters in "Lisey's Story", as a main character watches the film over and over again.
Richard Linklater gets serious points for making a totally senseless movie that I can't stop watching. It's as if the point-of-view camera is our main character, as we're an unseen observer to it all. I love the opening where Linklater appears as a drifter, discussing the merits of "The Wizard of Oz" as to picking a path that would lead to a different adventure. That ultimately sums up "Slacker" as a whole.
When I first heard of the premise for "Eating Raoul", I thought it was totally bizarre. But I think this film best exemplifies the spirit of independent filmmaking with stories you wouldn't envision anywhere else. You can tell Paul Bartel shot this with passion, and used whatever resources he had available to get it made. I love the clashing of social and sexual mores here, contrasting the square ideals of the Blands (Bartel and Mary Woronov) with the freespirited sexual friskiness of the Sexual Revolution. That pairing creates the blackest of black comedies. Plus Buck Henry as a prick bank manager had me in stitches.
My brother and I had played a game of who would win in a who-versus-who battle? When I said Steve McQueen versus the Hulk, we both said Steve McQueen. In his first breakthrough, McQueen on the verge of exiting his 20's, plays a teenager who co-discovers a man eating mass that seems to get bigger with everything it absorbs. McQueen tackles the role with vigor and like any actor, proves that it's about paying your dues and he does it with passion. Much of "The Blob" is mired in archetypal horror elements: the First Victim, the young protagonists that people take for granted and the big climax. But much of those elements began with "The Blob", pitting teens against a force from outer space that's truly unstoppable....or is it?
You take an acting legend like Henry Fonda and surround him with a crowd of tried and true character actors in a challenging piece about the legal system as seen from the view of the Common Man. What you get, is one of the greatest films ever made in history and the perfect debut for Sidney Lumet. There's only a handful of movies where a movie is an actors piece like "Glengarry Glen Ross" or "The Godfather". "12 Angry Men" can proudly list itself among those films.
"Young Mr. Lincoln" isn't a traditional biopic, in the sense that this movie basically asks you to look at Honest Abe at a snapshot in his life, as he deals with the first truly big case of his legal career. But it's this particular snapshot that will give us Mr. Lincoln's character as a whole: strong, stoic and principled if anything else. Those traits will be of value as Abraham must defend the innocence of two men wrongly accused of murder in a small town. It's the ending that truly gets to me, because John Ford mythologizes Abraham Lincoln here as he stands on a road, pauses and then continues walking down the road as he's leaving town and moving onto greater pursuits to build his legacy. Plus Henry Fonda shows that trademark restraint in the part that makes him all the more memorable as a movie star.
Walter Matthau as the perfect career veteran: world weary but sharp as a Ginsu knife. Miles (Matthau) has found out that his lifetime in the field as a CIA agent will have been done in vain as he's demoted to a menial desk job. Determined to both defy the system and piss off his superior (a wonderfully weaselly Ned Beatty), he writes his memoirs, which have damning information that could undo his superior and a few other higher ups. I love the cat and mouse angle in Neame's film and the chemistry between Matthau and his love Glenda Jackson.
Fitting that Guillermo Del Toro's directorial debut would be this film. What is essentially an adult fairy tale, is a rich moral fable about the desire to hold onto youth, even if our moral shield crumbles away in the process. This is a relatively simple story as an antiques dealer finds himself infected with life when he comes across a strange artifact, but with a sinister side to it. Del Toro's work as a director is in full brilliance and establishes his trademarks of fantasy merged with reality. That, and the casting of brilliant and unique looking Ron Perlman, who can play the perfect asshole when he does (See his performance as a gangster heavy in "Drive").
Redemption hangs over "Shallow Grave" like a noose over a body that has yet to be there, as we follow a moral compass that becomes increasingly twisted with each scene. There's nothing particularly likable about the three main characters, as established in the opening where they hold a series of interviews with potential flatmates. But what they treats the interviews in a half-assed fashion by never taking the interviewees seriously, but just as sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. Of course that changes when they clearly pick the wrong flatmate, who will draw them in a web of deceit, sexual tension, corruption and eventually murder. I've always been a fan of comeuppance, particularly at the expense of those certainly in need of it. Plus Danny Boyle's movie is a tense affair, starting the movie off as a comedy before descending into terror as the relationship between the three leads only crumbles, and the ones you least suspect to snap, prove to be the most dangerous of all.
Making good science fiction is tough, making good science fiction without franchise potential is impossible. Terry Gilliam however, did the ultimate trick here: an enjoyable sci-fi adventure coupled with a scathing commentary on our obsession with technology. It just so happens to be the boy's parents are so obsessed with gadgets and devices. This movie also has one of the cruelest endings I've witnessed to happen to a boy, and the ultimate ironic statement.
An unconventional choice if you were to look at it as a typical 80's action-sci-fi hybrid but a deeply biting satire if you're willing to examine what's underneath. Director Paul Verhoeven has always been a man to examine what's already out there under the guise of spoof and really insinuate the satire to it all. He did this in "Starship Troopers" fairly well, if you're willing to look past that film's sheer absurdity. In "Robocop", it's about the relationship between big business and law enforcement in the form of Murphy (Peter Weller), a police officer brought back from the dead in metal weaponry, with just a tinge of his past self left intact. Kurtwood Smith has always been a solid character actor in film & TV, but I don't think you could play a prick any better than he did here, as a hired thug who spits blood at police paperwork and proudly says "Just give me my fuckin' phone call." Smith also makes a small but worthy impression in "Hitchcock" as an oppressive MPAA head honcho too.
Fellini returns to his hometown in what is easily one of the most autobiographical movies ever made. "Amarcord" is many parts comedy, many parts drama and many parts tragedy for a coming of age picture. I love the relationship between the young man and his father, always tense and on the verge of total collapse but in a cartoonish way. The father reminds me of a Yosemite Sam brought to life. He's just a total buffoon. I gotta say the ending to "Amarcord" will reduce you to tears.
When I was in college, there was a guy who looked far past the prime of college students with a receding hairline, a growing beard and glasses. I graduated of course and then years later, had to return to my school to meet with an old colleague for a work project. Who do I run into, but this guy? He had been at the school for more than the average four years, still an eternal college student. His presence at the school is why this film is in my list, because I'm sure many people at college, remember there was that one person who always seemed to hang around. In this film, it's a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals living a hermetic existence, refusing to face responsibility or grow up, but just stay in their little academic bubble. It's evident throughout muck of K&S that their educations have been overcooked, insulating them from everyday responsibilities by analyzing a world through knowledge than experience. Josh Hamilton's character drove me nuts when his father (Elliott Gould) makes him an offer to stay at his apartment in Greenwich Village of New York, and he dawdles! But this film is definitely a key film from the 90's independent film movement, as each character represents a certain subculture within a group of friends.
"Something Wild" really threw me off for a loop, because here I was, thinking it would be a conventional romantic comedy of uptight boy meets punk rocker girl. I was still right in my thought process, and then I finally saw "Something Wild" and must say, I was totally stunned at what happens after they meet. Director Jonathan Demme has always been able to move around genres, and he does it swimmingly here. Ray Liotta turns in a hell of a performance as a hotheaded ex-con/ex-boyfriend on their trail. I might also say that this film has one twist that you don't see coming at all. For what you might gather from a trailer, you expect a conventional boy-meets-girl romance but it's the surprise that's the best of them all.
This film should have gotten more love than it did, like a Best Picture nomination. Tough to watch as we're introduced to one Brooklyn Bed-Stuy block on one blazing hot day (and if you've been to NYC in the dead of summer like I have, you'll understand). "Do the Right Thing" is about racial tensions simmering to a boil at the top, before erupting into all out violence. I love that Spike Lee's film is an ensemble, focusing on characters who live and work in these neighborhoods like Danny Aiello's pizzeria owner or Spike Lee's delivery man. A classic scene consists of Sal (Aiello) arguing with Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito) over the lack of African Americans on Sal's wall in favor of Italians, which escalates toward the end. The irony is that in real life, Esposito is part Italian. But this really is a great film, given that Spike Lee basically holds a live grenade in his hand and lets it set off a bunch of racial tensions as walls are broken down, lines are crossed and blood is shed, no matter what color or creed. I think this is important viewing for any film buff. Having hung out in Bed-Stuy, you can see in every nook and cranny of the neighborhood that Lee wanted to capture all these characters. Plus it's got Samuel L. Jackson in the early stages of his career, and he's just awesome at any role.