Friday, November 27, 2015

Top 50 movies: 41-45

41. Annie Hall
Year: 1977
Country: USA
Language: English
Director: Woody Allen

The movie that led to the rest of Woody Allen's career. Before Annie Hall, Woody's output was silly, episodic, occasionally hilarious but ultimately wildly inconsistent farcical comedies. With Annie Hall he took a bit more time, more focus, and created a story and characters that really resonate. My favorite part about the movie is the theme of enjoying life while you're living it. Allen's character Alvy doesn't appreciate Annie while he's with her, it's only after she's gone and he tries to recreate some of the fun things they'd done only to realize that those were particular moments that can't be recreated, no matter how much you wish they could. This kind of wistful and mature look at relationships is what has always put Annie Hall above Woody's other movies, for me. But there's also hilarious gags and one liners and surreal bits that have kept audiences loving it for nearly 40 years.

42. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Year: 1984
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

I watched Nausicaa not really knowing what to expect. It's not Hayao Miyazaki's most acclaimed movie (that'd be 1998's Princess Mononoke or 2001's Spirited Away, which won Miyazaki an Oscar), and I watched it because I was on a Miyazaki quest and it was simply the next on the list. But what I got was among the best post-apocalyptic movies ever made. The world building in this movie (based on Miyazaki's manga of the same name) is really extraordinary, and serves as the best representation of all of Miyazaki's favorite themes: ecology, flight, and a strong young heroine. Nausicaa's impassioned adventure through the unforgiving and toxic landscape, looking for answers on how to make the world a better place, is also Miyazaki's greatest action/adventure story. Joe Hisaishi's score, when it doesn't sound like a Nintendo game, might be the most beautiful score I've heard to go with Miyazaki's best imagery. There's not enough I can say about this movie (it also inspired one of my favorite video games, the NES's Crystalis), I enjoy certain anime, but for me this is the big daddy of them all.

43. The Haunting
Year: 1963
Country: England
Language: English
Director: Robert Wise

I recently wrote about this movie again when I placed it on my top horror movies list, but I'll just say again that what makes it work is that the characters are set up as real people and not just as "types". So when our supernatural haunted house happenings start to go down, we know these people a bit and it's interesting to see what happens, rather than the characters just being fodder for ghosts or typical horror shenanigans or whatever. But also the horror shenanigans work dramatically too, so it's got that going for it, which is nice.

44. Do the Right Thing
Year: 1989
Country: USA
Language: English
Director: Spike Lee

Like Almodovar's Talk to Her, this movie has so much life in it. Spike Lee overloads this movie with characters, details, music, and dialog. We get a vision so specific to it's time and place that it becomes universal. As the unease builds throughout the hottest day of the year, we end up in an explosion of hurt and pain accumulated over years between these people. The movie's riot finale has become famous, as well as the question of "did Mookie do the right thing?" (spoiler alert: no, literally nobody does the right thing and that's what makes the movie so emotionally affecting). But all of that ignores the genius of Lee's writing and directing and casting. This movie is filled to the brim with everything you could want in a movie. It's the best work of Lee's great (but uneven) career.

45. Dog Day Afternoon
Year: 1975
Country: USA
Language: English
Director: Sidney Lumet

Sidney Lumet nearly made my top directors list, and this is the best work of the masters career. Dog Day Afternoon is funny, tense, emotionally affecting, and impeccably done by everyone involved. Lumet lets the tension build and build as the cat and mouse game goes down between Al Pacino and John Cazale's bank robbers and Charles Durning's cops surrounding the building. Lumet subtly ratchets this tension up by allowing no music to come in and underscore anything or break the energy, a brilliant directorial choice. There's also Chris Sarandon's supporting turn as Pacino's gay lover and he is just extraordinary in his limited screen time. The phone call between he and Pacino is some of the best acting you'll ever see. 

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