Thursday, June 30, 2011

19. Annie Hall (1977)

I have a girlfriend. Well, she is sort of my girlfriend. Well, she was my girlfriend anyway. We want different things in our futures, but yet we still act like a couple. Relationships are weird sometimes I guess. Or maybe they are weird all the time. In any case, one thing that's for sure is that real life relationships aren't anything like the perfect way most movies portray them. How many times have you watched a movie and known within fifteen minutes who will be ending up together? And how many times have you seen the following formula. Guy meets girl > things look good for a while > there is a big misunderstanding and the girl leaves the guy > both guy and girl realize they are meant for each other > guy and girl get back together. If you answer isn't something along the lines of "too many times to count," then you must be lying to yourself. Of course, the movie never shows a month later where the guy cheats on the girl and they never speak again.

But I digress. My point is that Annie Hall (omg am I finally talking about the movie?!) falls into this category of movies, but it is one of the few movies, and the best one, that paints a portrait of a believable relationship. And when you can make a skinny, whiny Woody Allen getting some delicious, young Diane Keaton seem believable, well then your movie is doing pretty well. The movie also refreshingly diverts from that established formula I mentioned, both in story and in style. To discuss the story part would be a spoiler, but the style of this movie is one of its major positives. It flashes from scene to scene, and does so not always in chronological order (the whole movie is really just a flashback of the main character's life), so there is never any consistent flow. This might sound like a bad thing, but in doing so Allen is able to pick out all the juicy details and best parts without having to connect everything with unnecessary scenes. He goes further too, as the main character steps outside of his own life at times, and in one part is even represented as a cartoon. I find these varying modes of storytelling refreshing, and they keep me glued in, wondering what the director will throw at me next.

Now, with this being a romantic comedy, and with Woody Allen being a comedian, the director, and main character, there are of course going to be loads of stand up jokes scattered throughout the movie. And having never actually listened to his stand up, this film makes me regret it. He talks fast, talks a lot, and admittedly whines a lot, but he is great at making clever observations. He plays himself in the movie, and it really shows, and helps make the comedy believable.

That leaves the romance part. Diane Keaton is almost painfully cute in this movie, and she works with Woody Allen very well. Their entire relationship, their ups and downs, it's all believable. And I think it's so believable because we get this examination of the little details of their lives. We don't get scenes that are made to progress the plot, but instead are given moments that only matter in their own context, and only to these two people. When you finish the movie you will realize that there wasn't really any plot to it at all. It was simply life. A more recent movie that follows this same idea, and is actually quite similar in many ways, is 500 Days of Summer. It's a pretty good film too actually. It's no Annie Hall though.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

20. [Princess Mononoke] (1997)

I'm a big anime fan, but anime movies tend to disappoint me. Princess Mononoke, however, not only doesn't disappoint, but sits at the apex of anime films. A boy named Ashitaka becomes infected with an incurable disease, and he journeys to its source to learn what he can before dying. He finds a world where nature is making its last stand against technology, and he is thrown into the middle of the struggle. Yes, you can see a pro-environmental message in this film if you really want to, but it's really more about coexistence.

But what really sets this movie apart is the animation. Now, Miyazaki would later dazzle the world with the even more creatively animated Spirited Away, but I've always felt that film revolved around its creative animation so much that the story suffered. Miyazaki has a knack for creating an interesting and vibrant world, and Princess Mononoke seems to balance that talent with an engaging and epic storyline. This world includes giant boars, wolves, and an elusive deer that might just represent nature itself. And as the forces on each side collide, Miyazaki takes the story in surprising directions, and ends the tale in a bittersweet, yet joyful way.

Of course, whenever the man vs. nature topic comes up in film, most of the time man is portrayed as evil. But here things are not so black and white. Both man and nature have their own understandable claim to the world they inhabit. This makes the characters far more complex than simple good guys and bad guys, and these characters stand out as a result.

Lastly, like with all anime, I would recommend the subbed version of this movie over the dub. Despite the long list of stars in the dub, hearing the Japanese language with a Japanese movie always feels more natural.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

21. C'era una volta il West [Once Upon a Time in the West] (1968)

I'm not a big Western fan, and this is the sole Western movie on my list. Not being a fan, a quick glance at a film synopses would certainly make one ponder why this movie makes my list. I mean, the story here is nothing unique. The reason is direction, and Leone proves that superb direction can take a warmed over story and create meaning through music, camera work, and pacing. The score is consistently perfect, the shots are long and mesmerizing. You can really just forget the story. Well, don't really forget it, but pay specific attention to a director directing like a director should direct. Rarely is a film crafted so well that it makes one feel contempt for other directors, but Leone manages to evoke that response here.

But ok, enough about the direction, what about the rest of the movie? Well, it all comes down to the characters. Harmonica(Charles Bronson) and the bandit are both endlessly likeable good-guys-who-aren't-quite-good-guys, and Henry Fonda's icy heart shows through his icy eyes. It is pretty amazing he can go from playing the quintessential good guy in 12 Angry Men to pulling off such an evil part here. I find that the ability to convincingly play varied roles is the hallmark of a great actor, and Henry Fonda obviously demonstrates this ability.

Ironically, the pity in this story falls upon not the wandering loner, or the damsel in distress, but instead the rich business man. This is a world where civility is on the threshold of taking over, and chaos is attempting its last winning move. Oh yea, and there's the chick too. In fact, she's the center of the story. Silly me, I almost forgot seeing as she matters only as plot and never as a character. Leone would continue his career with another "Once Upon A Time," years later, and it would live up to the high standard Leone set with this film.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Finally Back

Started this blog a long while ago, but I have finally decided to start again. Funny how tastes change even over a years time (My 90s top ten albums would be a little different now). Anyway, I figure I will start out this time with my 21 favorite movies. Why 21? Not because I'm copying the nostalgia critic, but because that is the number of movies I have rated 5 stars over at rateyourmusic. Hopefully I will end up posting reviews here, and so this top 21 will give some idea as to what I look for in a movie. Look for the beginning of the list soon!