Friday, October 10, 2008


Okay, after all that build-up and hoo-ha yesterday, you didn't think I'd just present a straightforward list of favorite movies and let it pass without comment, did you? Ha! Of course not. I mean, it's me. I'm going to spend at least a little bit of time writing about each and every one of these babies, so this could take a few days. But look at the bright side: A few days during which I'll be too distracted to whine about Sarah Palin or post clips from bad seventies variety shows.

Anyway, the number comes to thirty, and we're counting backwards:

30. The Purple Rose Of Cairo.

I swear I'm going to get around to spending more time writing about Woody Allen, but until I do, let me just say that while this isn't his most ambitious effort, or most personal, it may be the best, formally speaking. What could have been merely a clever conceit--a character walks off a movie screen and into a woman's life--becomes much more: an admirably constructed farce, a thoughtful meditation of the power of film, a heartbreaking romance. You want perfection? This movie is it.

29. The Howling.

One of the things that's becoming obvious as I construct this list is that I'm going to have to include a lot of stand-in pictures, one John Huston film or Warren Oates picture to represent an entire body of work. That said, I'm going to stuff as many Joe Dante pictures in here as possible, because I just love them so much.

So The Howling. What is it? Is it grubby fodder for grindhouses and drive-ins? Is it a spoof? Is it a clever satire of the New Age movement, a surprisingly affecting character study, a fountain of in-jokes, a full-bodied horror epic? Is it the best damned werewolf movie ever made? Hey, it's a Joe Dante picture; it can be all of those things and more!

28. The World Of Henry Orient.

Nobody puts George Roy Hill on that list of filmmakers who redefined cinema in the sixties and seventies. If he's mentioned at all, it's usually for his huge commercial successes Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid or The Sting, as if he was never anything more than a proficient hack.

Oh, but there's his fine adaptation of Slaughterhouse Five and his sharp, hilarious Slap Shot. Above all, there is The World Of Henry Orient, a funny and troubling portrait of two girls on the cusp of adolesence, when all their childish games will take a dark turn. Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth disappeared into obscurity after their terrific performances in this film, which also features career-best work from Angela Lansbury and Tom Bosley, and a hilarious turn from Peter Sellers (we'll be seeing much more of him on this list!) in the title role.

27. Ghost World.

Take the central characters from Henry Orient, age them by about four of five years and plop them down into a contemporary urban landscape and you'll get a little of the feel of Terry Zwigoff's adaptation of Daniel Clowes' graphic novel. Zwigoff's eye is amazing, his editing rhythms are sure, the characterizations are memorable down to the bit parts. But let's be honest: This movie belongs to Thora Birch. Whether dyeing her hair green or wearing a bondage mask, she's all uncorked id and confused sexual urges, pure impulse and zero reason, a danger to herself and others. Which kinda describes my dating history, but that's another story...

26. The Pirate.

I've written so much about this movie (I'd link to my two previous posts, but I'm too lazy) that there's not a whole lot I can say about this I haven't said before. Airtight plotting, wonderfully over-the-top performances (Is it possible Gene Kelly is right behind Peter Sellers on my list of all-time favorite actors? Quite possible, indeed.), lushly stylized settings and atmosphere courtesy of ace stylist Vincente Minnelli. I should point out that many people actively dislike this movie, but those who love it do so to an almost irrational degree. Which camp do you think I'm in?

25. Blazing Saddles.

Say what you will about Mel Brooks' ham-fisted abilities as a director, this Borscht Belt Western made me laugh harder than anything I'd ever seen back when I first saw it at the age of ten, and there is literally not a day goes by that I don't quote at least one line from it. I could defend it as a surprisingly tough-minded satire on racism, but what would be the point? The main point is funny, and this movie has it up the wazoo.

COMING UP: More of the same--but completely different!