Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Top 100 British films

TimeOut recently polled many critics, actors, directors, producers, and journalists to compile a list of the top 100 British movies ever made. Surprising to me, as I like to think of myself as a film buff, I've only seen just over 1/5th of the list. I've at least heard of the majority of them, but even then there were more than I expected where my reaction was "What the hell is that? I've never even heard of it." The list shows the growing reputations of Nicholas Roeg, and the continued legendary status of Mike Leigh, and the revered legendary status of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Of what I've seen, nearly all of them deserve to be there, and the #1 on the list is a personal favorite of mine, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it. But really, what lists like this tend to do is give people recommendations and hopefully spur them into seeing some great movies. I know this's done that for me, many of the movies that would not previously have been on my radar now are, and I hope to get a chance to see as many of them as I can.

The top ten ended up looking like this, with comments on the ones I've seen:

1. Don’t Look Now (1973), directed by Nicholas Roeg

I've seen this movie a couple of times, and it's a brilliant psychological nightmarish horror movie. Like all great horror movies, there isn't much in the way of gore or onscreen carnage, but Don't Look Now drips with atmosphere. There's also a legendary sex scene between the lead characters (played flawlessly by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) that is the reason many people know the movie.

2. The Third Man (1949) directed by Carol Reed

Famous for its cinematography, the first appearance of Orson Welles' character, and a speech he eventually makes on a ferris wheel, The Third Man was a movie that, I felt, didn't live up to its reputation. It's a very good movie, highly recommended, but hardly #2 of all-time deserving.

3. Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) directed by Terence Davies
4. Kes (1969) directed by Ken Loach
5. The Red Shoes (1948) directed by Powell and Pressburger
6. A Matter of Life and Death (1946) directed by Powell and Pressburger
7. Performance (1970) directed by Nicholas Roeg
8. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) directed by Robert Hamer

Supposedly a brilliant black comedy, I simply found it boring. Alec Guinness is absolutely wonderful in his multiple roles, but other than that I couldn't find a single thing I cared about in the movie. I seem to be in the vast minority though.

9. If… (1968) directed by Lindsay Anderson
10. Trainspotting (1996) directed by Danny Boyle

I thought perhaps that I simply didn't "get" Trainspotting the times that I watched it, but from Danny Boyle's career since this movie, it seems I simply don't like him as a filmmaker. Again though, I seem to be in the minority.

You can see the rest of the list, including TimeOut's writeups on each movie, here:

Should 'based on a true story' movies have an obligation to facts?

My wife and I got into an argument on this subject recently. After watching The Social Network and looking into what the real people depicted in the movie thought of the movie, one of them described it as "about 40% accurate." This really upset my wife, because although she didn't love the movie like I did, she felt that the filmmakers had an obligation to not make up what are essentially "lies" about the actual people they were portraying onscreen.

I have always felt that a filmmaker has only an obligation to the audience in the form of making a good movie. The truest of "based on a true story" movies is still a fiction film, so I don't take any scene in the movie as "what actually happened" anyway and only take it on the value of what it means to the movie. My wife contends that a majority of filmgoers believe any "based on a true story" movie wholeheartedly, so if a film is making up 60% of the story (especially when it portrays its lead character as a douchbag), it's a form of slander against the real people.

I agree that your average moviegoer believes "true story" movies without question, but I don't see why that is the problem of the filmmakers. Roger Ebert once said "Artists cannot hold themselves hostage to the possibility that defectives might misuse their work." He was talking about even negative portrayals of the KKK possibly seeming cool to Joe Idiot out there, but the point can be used across the board, I think. Then again, writer Paul Schrader has said he felt a certain responsibility for Taxi Driver supposedly inciting John Hinckley, Jr.'s attempted assassination of President Reagan.

So where does a filmmakers obligation lay when it comes to telling the truth in "based on a true story" film? And do filmmakers have a responsibility in regards to audience response to their work, positive or negative or blissfully ignorant of facts? I don't think so, what do you think?

Oscar Bait

This is a term thrown around a lot when it comes to this time of year. Recently crowned Best Picture The King’s Speech had been called “Oscar Bait” by many people, accused of playing to the Academy’s penchant for royalty, movies based on a true story, triumph over adversity, and of course Britishness. But I wonder when the term started coming into vogue. When Robert De Niro was banging his head against a concrete wall in Raging Bull, were there some people in the audience thinking “Oh, this is Oscar bait” or were they just thinking people were trying to make a good movie? I guess that’s my biggest problem with the term Oscar bait, because I feel that it negatively applies to filmmakers trying to make serious attempts at storytelling. wrote an article back in October called “2010’s Most Transparent Oscar Bait”, which included 5 of the 10 movies eventually nominated for Best Picture. They had criticisms like “The Fighter has Oscar bait written all over it. Just look at all of its Oscar-friendly traits: It's a Paramount Vantage flick, Christian Bale lost a ton of weight for it, and it's based on a true story. Not to mention it's a boxing movie, which have been Academy attention magnets for films like Million Dollar Baby and Ali” Couldn’t it be possible that the filmmakers were just trying to make an interesting movie? That notorious weight fluctuater Christian Bale simply was at his old tricks again (none of which had previously nabbed him an Oscar nomination)? I guess it’s the cynical view of artists making art for money or awards rather than for the sake of creating art that bothers me. Call it naiveté, but I sincerely believe that these folks were just trying to make a good movie. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that there aren’t filmmakers out there who maybe tailor some things to awards voting trends, but I have rarely seen a movie that made me actually think it was made solely for awards contention.

So, why do some people use the term “Oscar bait” when referring to the serious movies we’re treated to at the end of the year? Is it simply to disrespect the movies, or is it because they actually think the movie was created simply for awards consideration?