Saturday, October 11, 2008


Back in high school, if you had asked me to name my favorite movies, Apocalypse Now would have had a guaranteed spot at or near the top of the list. Now, even naming thirty favorites, it isn't here. The movie hasn't changed, but I have.

Partly, I've come to realize it wasn't as original as I once thought. Other movies have done similar breakdown of civilization stories better. Maybe it's not as profound, as deep, as anything as I used to believe it to be. Possibly I no longer consider Francis Coppola a major filmmaker, and I don't care to endure a lecture from the guy who made Bram Stoker's Dracula and Jack.

Most likely, I just don't need it anymore. Apocalypse Now moved me profoundly when I was a teenager, and I'll always retain a great affection for it (and can pretty much quote the whole thing in its entirety, if you're interested), but I'm no longer the person I was back then. I don't even recognize that person anymore. Other movies from that era are on this list, and films that had a profound effect on me at a younger age. But those films still hold up, at least for me, and I still see in them what I saw at the time. I'll likely never again find profundity in Apocalypse Now.

On with the list:

24. Nashville.

Robert Altman's brilliant mosaic of lives intertwining in Music City USA is made up of small moments that add up to something much greater, random glimpses of joy and despair, and showcases an absolutely amazing collection of performances. My favorite story arcs involve Keenan Wynn's grieving husband and Henry Gibson's smarmy superpatriot country star, but the great thing about this movie is it changes every time you watch it, and what seems minor in one viewing will leap to greater significance the next.

23. Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia.

Sam Peckinpah's foul, misogynistic, at times incomprehensible story of greed and failed redemption plays almost as if Mickey Spillane and Malcolm Lowry attempted to rewrite The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. It's full of embarrassingly pulpy melodramatics and strained psuedoprofundities...but dammit, it's great. For better or worse, this is Peckinpah unfiltered, every good and bad idea utilized, full of digressions that go nowhere and hairpin plot and character turns. What grounds it in reality and makes it so achingly human is the lead performance from the late, great Warren Oates as a man who has lost his last trace of humanity, then regains it to lose it again.

22. The Shining.

There are some horror movie tropes in Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's potboiler (rotting corpses, rivers of blood), but I prefer to think of this as the story of a marriage coming apart. Or maybe it's just about an author with a really bad case of writer's block. I don't think Kubrick was as misanthropic as his reputation would suggest, but there's no doubt he takes perverse pleasure in watching his characters squirm.

21. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I have never understood how Joel and Ethan Coen got the reputation in some critical quarters as cold, unfeeling, condescending. Yes, their characters are usually goofy, but also endearing, and when bad things happen to them, we care. (Usually.) The Coens may have made better movies than this Depression-era journey through an imaginary South, but none more endearing. Amazing music, big laughs, inventive staging & camerawork and perfect casting--Tim Blake Nelson's sweet but dim-witted character is named Delmar, and yes, this is where my beloved psychokitty got his name.

20. West Side Story.

Granted, this adaptation of Jerome Robbins' stage musical about singin', dancin' juvenile delinquents only intermittently works as a movie. Though Robbins is credited as co-director, he was fired during production (his vibrant staging of several sequences stands out clearly from the rest of the film), and remaining director Robert Wise acted mostly as an efficient but unimaginative traffic cop, making sure the story goes from Point A to Point B at necessary intervals. Lead Richard Beymer is an amazingly bland presence, and Natalie Wood a patently unconvincing Puerto Rican.

But you know what? I don't care, because this movie, with its hyper-dramatic storyline, killer Leonard Bernstein score and awe-inspiring choreography, pinned me to the wall on my first viewing (I was twelve), and I fall for it every time I see it, and believe me, I've seen it plenty. Flaws may be noted, but they don't matter because I absolutely love this movie. And as we all know, when love comes this strong, there is no right or wrong...

TOMORROW: More ridiculously idiosyncratic choices!