Thursday, July 21, 2011

16. Psycho (1960)

Got back from out of town a few days ago, so I can finally start writing again. I promise I'm going to do everything I can to do more than one entry a week like I've been doing. I feel like I've been going through this list too slowly, and so I hope I am able to speed it up.

Next up is Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1960. As it is the only Hitchcock film on my list, I feel that I should address his other films as well. The ones I have seen at least. Of course Hitchcock made LOTS of films, and I'm embarrassed to say I have seen a rather small number of them. As for his lesser known works, I have only seen The Wrong Man and Notorious (I'm categorizing Notorious as a lesser known work or his for the simple fact that a more recent film about the rapper Notorious B.I.G. came out a few years ago with the same title, and I want to assume that it was out of ignorance alone and not out of indifference or lack of respect toward Hitchcock). The Wrong Man has Henry Fonda being the awesome 12 Angry Men Henry Fonda that is so beloved, and Notorious has Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Raines, which is enough said for the quality of that film. Still, these movies haven't cracked the top tier of known Hitchcock works.

The Birds is his best known film that's not really important. Yes, it's a pretty good thriller/almost horror film that has been influential, but it doesn't really break any new ground. It's still way better than giant spiders with David Arquette or zombies with Milla Jovovich(at least she's pretty to look at) though. That leaves his four most critically acclaimed works.

Vertigo is perhaps the one that critics love the most. It wasn't thought of very highly when it came out, but these days you'll find it referred to often as Hitchcock's best movie. I've actually gone back and forth on the issue. It did little for me the first time I watched it, but the second time I came to respect it a lot more. The movie has more than one major twist, and I think that is the real strength of the film. After my third viewing though, I noticed that one important scene where you learn someone's identity really stifles the film. There is no more guessing game after that point, and it nearly ruins the movie for me. However, James Stewart is excellent as always, and the film does teach about the dangers of obsession. Oh yeah, and then there is the unique camera trick that the movie is known for as well. It looks a bit dated today though.

Rear Window is an amazing film in that so much of it takes place from a view at a window, and yet it still manages to stay engaging. James Stewart is confined to a wheelchair after hurting his leg, and he takes to looking out the window at the people in the adjacent building for entertainment. He learns about their lives, and about what he begins to suspect is a case of homicide. We see so much through his eyes, and feel helpless along with him as it's almost like we are stuck in that wheelchair as well. The films climax is rather silly, but otherwise I can see why some people find Rear Window to be their favorite Hitchcock film.

Then there is North By Northwest. It's Cary Grant in one of his defining roles, predating James Bond in a tale of espionage, action, romance, and betrayal. You know, all the good stuff. It also happens to have a great deal of humor as well. In fact, it may be the most well rounded thriller of all time. The crop dusting and Mount Rushmore scenes are some of the most well known moments in cinema. And dat music! Bernard Herrmann is a god among composers. He also composed the music to my favorite Hitchcock film, Psycho.

Psycho is one of the most important and influential films of all time. This is for a number of reasons. First off, what happens half way into the movie really changed what could happen in popular cinema. As to avoid spoilers I won't mention what actually happens, but this plot twist has been used so many times since Psycho that it has become more than cliche. However, shocking the audience in such a way in 1960 was a much bigger deal, and how genius was this idea, to have inspired so many knock offs? In fact, go walk into the theater and see any current thriller/horror film out there today and the chances are probably 50/50 that they will throw this twist in. Then, there is good old Norman Bates. Has there ever been such a lovable character? A boy's best friend is his mother indeed.

Psycho is also the movie that brought horror to life in film. Hitchcock had been making thrillers his whole career, and with Psycho he made the jump to something new. Before it, horror meant Dracula and Frankenstein. It might be scary, but in the end we know it's a fantasy. Psycho is about a real guy. One messed up guy, yes, but a guy with psychological problems that exist in the real world. The idea of depicting this kind of person on screen in 1960 was so radical that the movie makes a point of explaining everything to the audience at the end, just so viewers can make some sense of this character. Of course today the psychological thriller is its own genre of film. And Psycho's influence has perhaps permeated television even more than film. So many episodes of CSI, Criminal Minds, Bones, are about murderers who have mental problems.

In any case, Psycho is a movie that everyone should see once, even if they already know what's going to happen. It's a classic film, and it won't hurt a fly to see it :)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hey Guys!

Got dragged into going out of town so I probably won't get my next review up until after this weekend. I will say that my next pick is an Alfred Hitchcock film. But which one is it? You might get Vertigo, or go Psycho, staring out your Rear Window at The Birds while you try to figure it out :P Yea, that was lame, whatever.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

17. Raging Bull (1980)

I can't believe it's been a week since I last wrote a new entry. Sorry about that! In any case next up is my favorite Scorsese flick, Raging Bull. Scorsese is definitely one of the best directors out there. He almost never makes a bad film, and most are of a very high quality. He likes making movies about gangsters, or at the least he likes having gangsters involved. This is true for The Departed, Goodfellas, Casino, Mean Streets, Gangs of New York, and, well, Taxi Driver has pimps, that's close right? After Hours is a bit of a weird anomaly in his film resume (still an interesting movie though), and then there is the more recent Shutter Island, which was pretty dreadful for a Scorsese film. You aren't M. Night Shahoweveryouspellit, you are better than that Mr. Scorsese! But besides that hiccup, his list of films is nearly as good as any director out there. And I find that Raging Bull is at the top of his list. I did not feel that way at first though. For a long time I debated whether Good Fellas or Taxi Driver was my favorite. Both are remarkable films, but then one day I decided to see Raging Bull again.

Though Scorsese likes his characters stuck in the gangster world, it's always just a backdrop for the personal turmoil of his main character, and in Raging Bull that turmoil is more centered than in any of his other films (well, you could argue for Taxi Driver too). This is the classic rise and fall story. A character study of one man. It's drama, at it's purest form. Yes, it's like Citizen Kane, but with boxing. That was a joke, by the way, because really the actual boxing isn't what's important. This is not a sports movie. The boxing never lasts very long, and it comes second to the character himself. It is instead the basis from which we understand the character. That character of course being Robert De Niro, who somehow I haven't even mentioned yet. I believe this is also his first collaboration with Joe Pesci, and if not then this film definitely contains the roles that show off their collaboration the best. Sure, Pesci is insanely fun in both Goodfellas and Casino, but it's hard to top the serious drama that these two actors give here.

Now, I can't talk about this movie without mentioning De Niro quoting On the Waterfront. You'll know it when you see it, and it's one of the best moments in the film. It really caps all the drama, and this movie bleeds drama. It's also interesting since in The Godfather Part 2 De Niro plays a young Marlon Brando, and here he quotes a young Marlon Brando. Another cool tidbit is that Scorsese was apparently listening to a lot of The Clash's London Calling album while filming this movie. It's a great album to go along with a great movie.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

18. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

This is the only pure comedy I have on my list, and I find that it's rare for a comedy to make a lasting impression on me. I think this is because since a comedy's primary intention is to make you laugh, any purpose, meaning, or message isn't as important and tends to be a weaker aspect of the film. There is nothing wrong with this of course, but it is a big reason why I rarely give a five star rating to a comedy. Holy Grail deserves five stars though. I first saw this movie over a decade ago and like many young dorks I ended up quoting way too much of it way too often. But it's easy to see why the movie is so quotable. Besides being genuinely funny, Holy Grail is really just a bunch of skits put together to tell a story. In fact, nearly every scene in the film could exist on its own as a comedy skit, and funny skits are easily quotable. So line after line of Holy Grail gets passed around by geeky people everywhere, to the point where even if you haven't seen the movie you have probably heard a line from it. It's overexposure has diminished the film's impact a bit, but I just saw it again a few months ago and it still makes me laugh. It was probably the 20th time I have seen it. And when I consider that I wouldn't care to watch most comedy films twice, that's really saying something.

But why do I consider this my favorite comedy? First, the film devotes itself to comedy and nothing else. Remember how I mentioned earlier that in comedies the message tends to suffer? Well there is no message here, no lesson for you to learn. It's just funny. Also, I think that because the film is really just one skit after the other it gives each scene more humorous opportunities than most films. Holy Grail never feels like the story is the priority. Instead, it flows like Monty Python were writing one skit after the other. So the story never gets in the way of the humor, but goes where the humor needs it to go. I think this is a major reason why it's my favorite comedy.

I won't get into individual parts of the film, because I could type forever about coconuts and black knights and killer bunnies, but I will say that I love how as soon as the credits start the humor does as well. Also, I love how we find out early on that the film is really taking place in present day. Oh, the absurdity! I will also say that I'm not really a huge Monty Python fan in general. Don't get me wrong, some of their skits are hilarious, but sometimes they can be hit or miss with me. I was also a bit disappointed with Life of Brian. That film felt far more story based, and I rarely found myself laughing. I have sadly still never seen Meaning of Life though. Gonna go put that on my to-do list.