Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Some Favorite Films, Part I

Occasionally I refer to my list of Top 100 Favorite Movies. This list does not actually exist, so I decided to start it today. 

As I jotted down movies off the top of my head, I noticed they often clump together in categories. So here's my first installment of 21 Top Favorite Movies, arranged in categories (they could be mini film fests).  

Bonus Category: men doing yardwork, which I was surprised to note emerged as I searched for pictures. 

A 1955 Sex Threesome

1. Picnic: (1955, dir. Joshua Logan, USA, from a play by William Inge, a closeted gay man who grew up in 1920's Kansas) 
Favorite scene: William Holden and Kim Novak slow dance to "Moonglow", and the repressed sexuality makes us squirm with embarrassment. And then watch it again. (Well, I do, anyway.)
 "I know how to clap."

Holden was too old for the role, but he still looks OK doing yardwork.

2. Summertime (1955, dir. David Lean)

This movie is Brief Encounter, Italian style: on vacation in Venice, the Katherine Hepburn character in Summertime gets the sunny-side-up sexual satisfaction with a married man (Rossano Brazzi) that is denied the Celia Johnson character in Lean's damp and overcast Brief Encounter (1945).
3a. All That Heaven Allows (1955, dir. Douglas Sirk, USA)
Jane Wyman's grown children try to convince her to settle for a new-fangled television and give up her shameful love for her young gardener, Rock Hudson. [In real life, Wyman was eight years older than Hudson.]
Yes, she's brave not to give in, . . . but then again, he is Rock Hudson (if Rock Hudson were straight). 
 Bonus: Sirk's gorgeous cinematography.
3b. In 1974, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, wunderkind of New German Cinema, made a lovely version of this movie, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, in which an older German woman falls for a younger Moroccan migrant worker.

History x 3

1. Battle of Algiers (1966, dir. Gillo Pontecorvo, Italy/Algeria)

Enter the tangles of history: with the feel of a documentary, this classic film sympathetically presents freedom fighters in Algeria who resist French colonizers. 

The French use torture such as water-boarding to extract information that helps them win the battle. 

The war is still going on today, however, and we are the inheritors of this story of terrorism. 
But who's the terrorist? 

2. Caché/ Hidden (2005, dir. & written by  Michael Haneke, France)
The dirty history of France in Algeria resurfaces with quiet desperation in one man's life. This tense film captures the way the large issues of history & politics are carried and passed on by anonymous, unimportant individuals.

3. The Lives of Others (2006, dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany) 
For a little relief, a sad but romantic tale about an individual's collision with and effect on history: a grey little Stasi spy in East Germany falls in love with the life of a playwright he is wiretapping.
Think Beethoven.

Speaking of wiretapping...  Movies About Sound

1. The Conversation (1974, dir. Francis Ford Coppola, USA)  
A very, very satisfying little film, made in between Coppola's huge successes The Godfather (1972) and Apocalypse Now (1979):
a audio-surveillance nobody in a cheap raincoat (Gene Hackman) overhears a murder plot. But who's the victim?

2. Blow-Out (1981, dir. Brian De Palma, USA)

A nasty piece of work, well worth watching. John Travolta accidentally records the murder of a politician and uses the surviving young woman to trail the killer.

3. Red Like the Sky (2007, dir. Cristiano Bortone, Italy)
For joy! A boy who is blinded in an accident discovers the power of telling stories with sound. The story is based on the life of an Italian movie sound editor.

4. Berberian Sound Studio  (2012, dir. Peter Strickland, Britain)
A meek English sound engineer (Toby Jones)  finds himself manipulated into mutilating vegetables to create disgusting sound effects for an Italian horror film.

Some Movies About Making Movies

1. Day for Night (1973, dir. Francois Truffaut, France)
On the set of magic and neurosis. This movie made me want to make movies, but I was growing up long before videocameras.

2. Son of Rambow  (2007, Garth Jennings, England)
A boy from a strict Christian sect that forbids media of any sort sets out to make a remake of Rambo. (The boy's mother, who defends him, is played by Jessica Hynes, co-creator with Simon Pegg of the wonderful British TV show Spaced. )

3. Be Kind Rewind (2008, USA, dir. Michel Gondry--director of 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which I also recommend)
When Jack Black's character accidentally erases all the VHS tapes in a crummy video-rental store, he remakes the movies, with some help from the neighborhood. 
A celebration of homemade movie-makers and the kind of in-camera/real life effects that Gondy himself prefers to CGI (computer generated images).
Above: Jerry (Jack Black) and Mike (Mos Def) remake Ghostbusters. All you need is a little tinfoil.
4. The Wolfpack (2015, Crystal Moselle, USA) 
A documentary about six brothers whose parents have kept them isolated them from society in a high-rise apartment building. They brothers keep themselves sane by watching and remaking movies. 

Wolfpack is a real-life Be Kind, Rewind, in some ways, celebrating the power of homemade moviemaking and human resilience;
but it's also somewhat like The Conversation: the director spies on children who make movies to survive their imprisonment, raising a bit of a moral quandry (not that the movie reflects on its own making at all)...

Camp Horror Trio

1. Gods and Monsters, (1998, dir. Bill Condon)

Elderly, gay James Whale (Ian McKellan), the real-life director of the Frankenstein movies, schools his young gardener Brendan Fraser in campy horror as a response to life's horrors, including Whale's experiences in WWI.

Oh, these gardeners...

 2. The Old Dark House, (1932, dir. James Whale, USA) 
Adorable scary movie about travelers taking shelter in an old dark house

3. Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, dir. Jim Sharman, UK/USA)
Adorable musical about about travelers taking shelter in an old dark house, in the campy style of Whale, with benefits.


1, 2. Singing in the Rain / Bandwagon 
Consider fast-forwarding through the talking parts of these song-and-dance classics. Of course the stars are Fred Astaire & Gene Kelly, but Cyd Charisse and Donald O'Connor are pure pleasure too.
Cyd Charisse & Fred Astaire ^ "Dancing in the Dark", Bandwagon

3. Pina (2011, dir Wim Wenders, Germany) 
The trailer is good.
Documentary about the  choreographer Pina Bausch. I don't care much about dance, but hers was something more. I first saw her dances in the Pedro Almodóvar's film Talk to Her.

4. Pedro Almodóvar's All About My Mother (1999, Spain)   
No dance, but plenty of theater:
Almodóvar dedicates this film, "To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother."

Speaking of transgenderism, Antonia San Juan as "La Agrado" gives a great speech about being authentic in your body (and how much it costs).
"... because you are more authentic the more you resemble what you've dreamed of being."


Lady Chardonnay said...

The "Dancing in the Dark" scene from The Band Wagon is PERFECTION. LOVE. LOVE. I've seen the movie quite a lot, but I've watched that scene approximately 1 million and seven times. LOVE!!!!!

Lady Chardonnay said...

Oh, and also: I have the LP of the score to "Picnic" framed and hanging in my downstairs bathroom. The walls are pink, it looks killer.

This is what the LP looks like:

Holden and Novak are SO. HOT. Yummy!

Zhoen said...

That is an impressive array of quality movies. I don't think we overlap on our preferences much, though.

Fresca said...

LADY C: Me too! 1,000,007 times I love that Dancing in the Dark scene---the way Cyd's white dress moves. OMG.

I laughed out loud (with delight) at the Picnic LP cover--looks like she's ripping his shirt off!
I am so glad you agree that they are hot together---other friends tell me that they're repulsed. I need new friends, obviously. (Welcome.)

ZHOEN: Ah, well, it's just the first installment---maybe our tastes in the sci-fi or mystery/spy realms will overlap.

Michael Leddy said...

Some list! Or list-installment. I remember seeing Battle of Algiers sometime before or after the invasion of Iraq and feeling sick, sick, sick.

I was hoping to see Splendor in the Grass in your ’50s trio, but looked it up and saw the date: 1961. I now immediately want to see The Old Dark House. (I have seen, and liked a lot, Gods and Monsters.

Men doing yardwork: don’t overlook Groundskeeper Willie.

Fresca said...

MICHAEL: I know! It *is* sickening the way Battle of Algiers is backdrop for our current wars--I want to scream, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!?
Haven't you ever seen the movie?
I should add to this category Lawrence of Arabia for background too (and, hey, that's another David Lean film).

I did think about Splendor in the Grass for overwrought sexuality born of repression---and did you know that's also William Inge play, like Picnic.
Guess he knew what he was talking about...

The Old Dark House is a treat, I think.
I was so glad to learn from G&M that Whale and Co. intended these films to be funny.

Fresca said...

P.S. I had to look up Groundskeeper Willie to learn he's from the Simpsons, which I've never seen. (I've lived without a TV for 25 years, so I've missed so much I can't even catch up on Netflix.)