Monday, April 24, 2006

Vote for the Best of the Best Pictures

There's just a few days left to vote for the best Best Pictures in Edward Copelands survey. I sent my ballot in already. I've heard from several people who said they wouldn't vote because they hadn't seen enough of the movies or felt like they lacked the authority to decide. Fiddle Faddle! Pshaww! Nonsense! You guys should vote anyway. If nothing else, it will help represent the Best Pictures that people got off their duffs to actually watch. Click on Edward's link, and follow the easy instructions. And click here to see the results of Edward Copeland's worst Best Pictures survey. Now I will list my top five pics, the main ones that I care about.

1. Casablanca Try to imagine the Hollywood of today making a bigtime, major melodrama with A-list Stars and a plot ripped from the headlines that also serves as a righteous piece of propaganda, urging people to CHOOSE A SIDE on the major events of the day, and the right side too. Now imagine that every line of dialogue and every plot point quickly becomes a popular cliche, and I mean cliche in the good sense, as in originality with staying power. Can you imagine all this? Are you in the Twilight Zone yet? In an age when most Hollywood movies tend to reverse that famous speech, by having world events and moments of great import not amount to a hill of beans when compared to the problems of three little people, this is the movie that got it right the first time. Casablanca works on so many levels it is mind-blowing. I once watched it just for the continuity, paying attention to how far down Bogie's cigarettes were smoked, and whether the glass on the table was half-full or half-empty, and the movie still kicked ass. I see that imdb says I don't know what I'm talking about; Casablanca has several continuity errors. A couple of these are undeniable, but I would still challenge and beg to differ with most of them. No, I still say the movie kicks ass continuity-wise and all other wises too.
Caveats: None
Quotability Quotient: 100%
Double Featured with: Rossellini's neorealist melodrama Open City.

2. It Happened One Night This Capra movie is pure magic. I have nothing to add that hasn't already been said about the laughs, the romance, and the charisma of its stars. I will add that this ain't no studio bound production. This is a movie that gets out and sees some country. Much of it now works as docu-drama. I love its sketch of the roadside sleeping cabins, with weary travelers standing in line to use the bathhouse. Perfect. A funny, sexy gem that is very modern in its pacing.
Caveats: None. (Don't get suckered into looking for that always-filming-one-side-of-Ms. Colbert's-face thing.)
Quotability Quotient: 92%
Double Featured with: That Uncertain Feeling - very loosely our couple seven years later.

3. Lawrence of Arabia I never understood the critics who compained that after seeing Lawrence of Arabia they still didn't know much about the enigmatic T.E. Lawrence. Whatever. Those guys should try reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom sometime. Lawrence of Arabia is the ultimate in cinematic teletransportation. I had already fallen in love with it on badly cropped video, but seeing it in glorious 70mm was a true revelation, and I count myself one lucky s.o.b. to have seen it on the big screen twice in Dallas, once at the Castro in San Fran, and a few more times while operating the only 70mm projector in Oklahoma City. Once upon a time, I had to tutor and watch after some preteens. To entertain them, I just ripped off Lawrence and told large chunks of the first half in the first person. Those kids were on the edge of their seats. The sensory experience of Lawrence was so strong that it was easy to tell it like it happened to me.
Caveats: Sure, it's super long, and the second half isn't as tight as the first, but I love the whole thing.
Quotability Quotient: 74%
Double Featured with: It's its own double-feature, so how about something short about Persians, not Arabs, but still nomads, like Merian C. Cooper's Grass.

4. All About Eve Who writes dialogue like this now? I'd say we're no longer worthy. Even today's best practitioners provide only a little fire or some music but never both the Fire and Music that Joseph L. Mankiewicz provided on a regular basis. This is one of the sharpest, most paradigmatic films about theater life, not that I'm in any position to know. And thank god these characters are in the theater, because if you made them all wear little Hitler mustaches and goose-stepped them through the plot, then the rest of the world had better watch out!
Caveats: A tad long.
Quotability Quotient: 99%
Double Featured with: Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter.

5. The Best Years of Our Lives As a kid, I fell in love with this movie right at the beginning, with its long takes of our returning heroes looking out the front of a B-17 as it flies over the home they've been homesick for: Boone City. The audience might get homesick for the movies' portrait of Anywhere, U.S.A. There's great deep-focus camerawork from Gregg Toland, and William Wyler stuffs the screen with wonderful details. I liked the folks in this movie, and the bottom line is I believed it. Sure, this wasn't the whole story after the war (and how could it be?) but with Best Years a whole swath of Americana comes to life.
Caveats: Long and soapy.
Quotability Quotient: 46% The same as its release year. Very weird.
Double Featured with: Let's start the evening with Raoul Walsh's WWII actioner Desperate Journey.


Jeffrey Hill said...

The second features for my top five weren’t as thematic as yours:

1 Casablanca shown with To Have and Have Not – I hate to change diapers in mid stream, especially when Casablanca already bogarted my heart. After Bogey does Rick coming to his senses, I want to see him do Harry coming to his! I don’t know which is better, having a Sam around or an Eddie. Actually, I do. Sam by a long shot. But, you know, Eddie is pretty hard not to like.
2 It Happened One Night shown with It’s a Gift – I liked your choice of That Uncertain Feeling. It was certainly inspired. But I think I’ll go for another dish of light Depression fare, which like Uncertain Feeling, is down the road of marriage. And it’s a road movie of sorts, too.
3 Lawrence of Arabia shown with Ben Hur. Why not? You’re obviously in it for the long haul…make it mean something. Check it out, so-n-so is already crashed out on the couch, they won’t mind. Need a change of diapers? Put on the coffee and let’s go!
4 Best Years of Our Lives shown with nothing. That’s right, nothing. Once your finished with this film it will be close to bedtime. This picture gives you plenty of food for thought – and it’s best that you just go ahead and get to bed with it still fresh in your mind. Besides, after the Lawrence of Arabia/Ben Hur bender, you must be real tired. For Pete’s sake, get some rest!
5 Gone with the Wind shown with Jezebel. Gone with the Wind is certainly a better picture, but Jezebel’s got some good stuff. Nice southern detail. Whereas Gone with Wind has the Civil War as a backdrop, Jezebel’s got the fever line. Both are scary as hell.

Jeffrey Hill said...

Wagstaff: Your quotability quotient perplexes me. Why is All About Eve 99%? And why is It Happened One Night a mere 92%

Wagstaff said...

Jeffrey, sorry I'm so late geting back. I like your double features. ALL ABOUT EVE is entirely quotable, but it was docked a percentage point for not being CASABLANCA. In IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, there is a small handful of lines that aren't quotable. I would tell you which ones but then I would be quoting them. There is a complex, painstaking methodology used to compute the quotability quotient, and it is located somewhere in the vicinity of my ass.