Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wrap Party!!!

The Grand Recap.

It’s been over three-and-a-half years since I started this labor of love. It’s involved, by my math, well over 400 hours of viewing, researching, and writing about the 105 films listed by the fellows at TIME magazine as “100 All-TIME Great Films.”

To give myself some kind of closure, I just wanted to go back over the entire list and, for my own edification, express just what I took from it all.

The reason I started this entire thing back in the cold winter of 2010 was that film have given me incalculable joy during my entire life. Of course, the more movies one sees, the more difficult it becomes to find ones that have the same impact as when you’re younger. When I came across the TIME list, it seemed like a nice mix of the familiar and the unknown. It was a perfect chance to revisit some classics and hopefully find some new favorites. This, indeed, happened, though it wasn’t without suffering through some films that I wouldn’t watch again if you offered me guilt-free night alone with Barbara Stanwyck (well, maybe not).

Without further ado, here are my final thoughts on the entire task, presented in a few groupings:

“Not Even if it’s in the Dusty, $0.99 Bargain Bin” Group

Sitting through some films can make you want to do something...drastic.

The films from the list that demanded the most steadfast determination on my part. The only reasons I didn’t push “Stop” and snap the DVDs in half was my promise to myself to watch them all, along with the potential for massive fines from Netflix:

Some of these films actually have a few redeeming qualities, like His Girl Friday and Leolo. On the whole, though, I found them frustrating and tiresome. Many say that all of these are stamped in the history of cinema; as far an I’m concerned, history can keep them.

“Best of the Decades”

My favorite film from each of the nine decades covered by the TIME list. Keep in mind that by "favorite," I don't necessarily think that these are the "best" films. They're just the one's that I enjoyed the most and would likely watch again (and again and again...):

1920s:   The Last Command (1928) – incredible silent film that tells a beautiful and epic story of lost honor and grandeur.

1930s:   Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – Maybe it’s just the current Halloween spirit in me, but this film is no end of fun. I don’t know if it’s the Alpha of campy horror films, but it certainly is one of the greatest.

1940s:   Casablanca (1942) – The 1940s were phenomenal, with some of the greatest films of all time being produced during that span. Casablanca, though, is still my favorite. Often, and understandably, called “the perfect film,” it’s difficult to imagine this one ever fading away.

1950s:   In a Lonely Place (1950) – Humphrey Bogart takes another one. In one of several great films from the list that I had never heard of before, Bogie is astounding as a dark, tortured screen writer who is suspected (with very good reason) of murder.

1960s:   The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966) – This was a tough one, with Yojimbo (1961) being an awfully close second. Still, this Leone western is a seminal one in my education as a cinephile. It’s one a handful of movies that changed the way I watched and thought about the medium.

1970s:   The Godfather (1972) – I defy anyone to tell you that this isn’t one of the best films ever made. It may not be the most profound or novel, but like Casablanca, it executes the elements of film storytelling about as perfectly as possible. And I love a good gangster movie.

1980s:   Blade Runner (1982) (director's final cut version) – This one was neck-and-neck with Raging Bull, but the science-fiction geek in me won out by a hair. Still slick and hypnotic, even these three decades later, Ridley Scott’s altered vision of Philip K. Dick’s brilliant novel is a pillar of the genre. Its’ brilliance makes the glaring shortcomings of Scott’s recent Prometheus all the more baffling.

1990s:   Unforgiven (1992) – Within the decade in which I came to truly love films, Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece is still my favorite. One of the very few films that can shatter one’s cherished romantic notions about a genre, while enthralling you by revealing the darkest aspects of the human soul.

2000s:   The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001 – 2003) – Yes, I’m going to cheat a little bit here by putting all three movies together. The pickings were slim for this decade anyway (the latest film was from 2003). Even people who couldn’t care less for the fantasy genre of storytelling would have to admit that this film series is an outstanding achievement in film. These movies are going to be imitated, probably in laughably poor form, for years to come (actually, they are right now, by Peter Jackson himself).

“Top O’ the World, Ma!!!” Award – My pick for my absolute favorite film from those reviewed. And the winner is…

Unforgiven (1992)

This was a tough pick to make, but I have to go with the tale of the spectral Will Munney. No other film conjures up such conflicting feelings in my red-blooded American male psyche. The more juvenile, macho part of me always gets a thrill from seeing just how efficient a killer the central character is. William Munney is, truly, a bad-ass. Conversely, the more mature, philosophical side of me is always quietly terrified of just why Munney kills people, and the cold brutality with which he does it. The dark abyss that lurks inside of him, taking the place of compassion, is the stuff of nightmares come to life.

Eastwood has starred in and directed quite a few excellent films, but this is the one that put his indelible mark on the history or film.

An Overlooked Director:

The Russian director asked for more meditation and patience from his viewers than most directors, but I've always found the exercise well worth it.

If anyone who loves movies really spent a lot of time thinking about it, they could probably come up with a dozen directors and a few hundred movies that could or should have been on the TIME list, in the places of the one’s chosen. For me, one stood out more than the others: Andrei Tarkovsky.

I haven’t seen all of Tarkovsky’s movies, but the ones I have seen I’ve found to be astounding. Andrei Rublev, Solaris (the original; not the respectable Steven Soderberg remake), and Stalker are amazing films. They are long, ponderous, and they make demands on the viewer, no doubt. But there is a beautifully hypnotic pacing to his movies that I love. He seemed to have a fantastic sense of how to use negative space and silence within an aural-visual medium to tell vastly different stories. If you’ve the patience for longer films that give you the space to immerse yourself in some philosophical quandaries, you should definitely try him out. Solaris is probably the most accessible of the ones I’ve seen, making it a good one to start with.

A shot from Solaris, sometimes referred to as Tarkofsky's answer to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Where the latter can come off as cold and purely cerebral, Solaris deals with deeper, more personal and emotional issues in the context of space exploration.

Final Thoughts and the Next Episodes:

It’s been fun, no doubt. This is not the end, though. I’ll now start doing reviews of whatever movies (and maybe the odd TV show seasons) I see, without the demands of a self-imposed list or anything. The reviews will be shorter and more to the point. I’ll divide them into only two segments: a “no-spoilers” general review and a “spoiler-addled” detailed review.

Coming Soon: Gravity (2013)

The recent critical and popular darling, as seen by me.

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.