Thursday, December 10, 2015

Top 50 movies: 36-40

36. Blowup
Year: 1966
Country: England
Language: English
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

The first English language movie from Michelangelo Antonioni, Blowup is a hell of a good time at the movies. The Hitchcockian tale of a photographer who may or may not have accidentally photographed a murder, and the ensuing 24 or so hours after he did it. Antonioni doesn't give us any easy answers, and never answers the question of what "really" happened. But he doesn't need to, because that's not what he's after.

I think he's after a couple of things. 1.) He shows his main character, Thomas, bored with the mundanity of his fashion shoots and longing to be artistically motivated again. Antonioni had not really been going through a dry spell as an artist, but I think all artists feel bored and feel a need to reconnect or rechallenge themselves again. But to what end? Thomas almost becomes stuck in his project, not sure of how to get out (or if he even wants to) 2.) Antonioni is commenting on the nature of reality and perception. The famous ending scene with the mimes playing tennis as Thomas watches is a perfect distillation of Antonioni's asking of the question "what is reality? How is it different from perception? IS it different?" Few thrillers have ever challenged us to ask such deep questions before.

37. Wall-E
Year: 2008
Country: USA
Language: English
Director: Andrew Stanton

Wall-E is one of the most lovable characters we've ever had. He's right up there with Winnie-the-Pooh and Wallace and Gromit. The mostly silent love story he has with EVE is one of the great ones in cinema history. From how he is immediately enamored of her, she thinks he's adorable, the way they dance in space, to the way Wall-E adorably says "E-va" since he can't say EVE. The fact that they're animated robots doesn't lessen their impact in the slightest. When EVE has to rebuild Wall-E near the end, the emotional longing and hope and love we can feel from her is as extraordinary as anything a real actor could've given us. And though the second half of the movie is indeed inferior to the first, as most people recognize, I love the logical extension that writer/director Andrew Stanton takes for our laziness and reliability on machines. That Stanton also tackles ecology, consumerism, and the future of the human race in the middle of his mostly silent love story is further proof of the genius of this movie, Pixar's best.

38. Don't Look Now
Year: 1973
Country: England, mostly filmed in Italy
Language: English
Director: Nicolas Roeg

As I recently wrote a bit about this movie again when I put it on my top horror movies list, I won't write too much more. Just to say that mood and atmosphere are the best friend of the horror movie, yet too many filmmakers think it's blood or gore or stupid jump scares. Nicolas Roeg, working from an adaptation of the novella by Daphne du Maurier, creates a movie that oozes with death and fear and a surprising amount of emotion. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as the grief stricken couple trying to hold things together after the death of their daughter, are both absolutely superb. But it's the forbidding mood of the movie (despite, if I remember correctly, only a body count of 2) that always sticks with me. And, of course, the image of a little girl in a red rain coat.

39. Chinatown
Year: 1974
Country: USA
Language: English
Director: Roman Polanski
A favorite sub-genre of mine, what I call the "daylight noir", has its pinnacle here in Roman Polanski's masterpiece Chinatown. One of Jack Nicholson's best slow burn performances, as PI Jake Gittes, is actually overshadowed here by the villain Noah Cross, played by legendary director John Huston. The way he subtly digs Jake by always calling him by the wrong name. How he always already knows the things that Jake is trying to figure out. Huston's voice and arrogant manner have stuck with me from the first time I saw this movie. Though he could be an imposing figure due to his height advantage over Jake, Cross is an old man now, but still has that air of power and importance about him. He seems to contain a darkness we're not sure we want to know about, he holds secrets we're not sure we can handle, and he has a politicians unbeatable snakelike ability to always survive. He's one of the great characters, and Chinatown is one of the great movies.

40. The Empire Strikes Back
Year: 1980
Country: USA
Language: English
Director: Irvin Kershner
Perhaps fitting that this should come up in this list, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens to come out next week, but the gold standard of the series is, and likely will stay being 1980's The Empire Strikes Back. George Lucas stepped aside, handing over directing duties to accomplished journeyman Irvin Kershner, who crafted the most exciting, intense, emotional, and overall satisfying movie in the series. It's often pointed to as one of the best sequels ever for a reason. The entire Hoth sequence alone would make this movie remarkable, but the way Kershner handles the Dagoba section with Yoda is the best thing in the Star Wars universe. The planet is dark and dingy, Yoda is funny and wise (true credit for this goes to Frank Oz's astounding work on the puppeteering and voicing of Yoda), and the growth our hero Luke experiences has real emotional impact. So it's everything a big Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster should be, but rarely is.

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