Time for another list of things I think are awesome. Why are there no books on this list? Pipe down, you’ll get a book review soon.
A Touch of Evil
I like Citizen Kane, and I love The Third Man, but I think A Touch of Evil has just taken my “favorite Orson Welles Movie” slot. It’s super awesome. It starts with one of the most famous opening shots in movie history, with a single tracking shot that lasts about 5-7 minutes, as we watch a man plant a bomb in a car and then follow the car, and its unwitting occupants, through a busy Mexican street. Waiting for that bomb to go off is an incredible example of how to build tension in a scene. The rest of the story is about an American cop (Orson Welles), a Mexican cop (Charlton Heston, for some reason), the Mexican cop’s American wife (Janet Leigh), and a gang of criminals spanning both sides of the border. It’s a very famous old movie, but I was genuinely surprised at how well it holds up today, and I think most modern audiences would still love it.
Children of Men
If we’re talking about movies with long, unbroken shots, Children of Men is the gold medal winner. The premise is simple and horrifying: sometime in the near future mankind loses the ability to reproduce. One of the characters was a midwife when it happened, and gives a chilling speech about how their clinic had 5 miscarriages one week, then 10 the next, then more and more until finally the entire schedule was clear–there were no pregnant women left. The movie starts with a news story about how the youngest human being, an 18-year-old kid, was killed in a riot. The world is falling apart, because without children there is literally no future. For its ideas alone it’s one of the best SF movies in recent memory, but what makes it really stand out (at least for me) is the stunning work of the director, Alfonso Cuaron, particularly in the realm of long, long, very long takes. I love long takes because they make a movie more immediate, drawing you instead of pushing you away with constant cuts, and Cuaron uses that immediacy to incredible effect. The crowning achievement is an epic battle scene filmed in a single unbroken shot nearly 18 minutes long–I’m not kidding, it’s unbelievable–culminating in one of the most touching, heartrending things I’ve ever seen in a movie. This is a very dark movie, which some people find incredibly depressing, but for me it was cathartic and hopeful. I highly recommend it.
Yet another selection from TMC’s Oscar-winner marathon from way back in February (yeah, I’m way behind on my DVR). Morituri is a WWII movie from 1965, starring Yul Bryner as a German freighter captain and Marlon Brando as a German expatriate blackmailed by the British to infiltrate the freighter in preparation for an attack at sea. The next two hours are one of the tensest thrillers I have EVER SEEN, including a transfer of American prisoners, a surprise visit from the SS high command, and a band of mutinous German criminals led by Hans Christian Blech. Nobody trusts anybody else, loyalties shift like the wind, and the tiny ship becomes a pressure cooker of lies and secrets and treachery. Janet Margolin shows up halfway through as a beautiful Jewish woman haunted by the past and terrified of the future; it’s one of cinema’s most tragic roles. It’s a very dark movie (the title is Latin for “we who are about to die”), but it’s awesome.
(500) Days of Summer
I talked about this in yesterday’s post, but I need a happy movie for this list, so here it is again. And as happy movies go, it’s an odd choice: it’s a story about love that begins with the line “this is not a love story,” and then immediately shows the two main characters breaking up. The rest of the movie shows the course of their relationship, each day numbered yet remembered out of order (the break-up happens around 290 or so), allowing us to see every stage of love: the first sight, the distant yearning, the shy attempts to strike up a conversation, the exuberant confirmation of love, and then the downward spiral as the relationship slowly falls apart and our hero, Tom, finds himself unable to deal with it. How can such a movie possibly be happy? Because as you watch it you realize it’s not a story about this love in particular, but about love in general, and how Tom learns to deal with heartbreak and move on. The final lines of the movie, and the final graphic, are as inevitable as they are wonderful. Plus, the movie has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time. Do yourself a favor and see this one.
Another recent movie (to make up for the two black & whites I threw at you earlier), this was kind of a blockbuster so most of you have probably already seen it. The performances are great (though Rachel McAdams felt like an afterthought), the production design is salivatingly gorgeous, and the ideas are clever, but what I liked the most about it was the portrayal of Holmes as a man literally too brilliant to function in society. It’s so hard to bring anything new to Holmes (especially with Rathbone’s characterization looming so large in the cultural subconscious) but this was a Holmes I’ve never seen before: cold, misanthropic, childish, and unapproachable by almost everybody simply because he thinks on a completely different plane. Very cool stuff. I’d like to see more reimaginings of classic characters if this kind of thought and care is put into them.
The Philadelphia Story
Now I’ve pandered to you enough, and it’s time for another black & white. The good news is, this is a hilarious comedy of manners starring Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and the funniest child actress I’ve ever seen, a girl named Virgina Weidler. The dialogue is quick and snappy, the jokes are subtle, and the very first scene has Grant clocking Hepburn right in the jaw, so you know it’s going to be awesome. But as the movie goes on you start to see a lot of drama under the comedy, and the characters, especially Hepburn, have a surprisingly strong arc of growth for a story pretending to be so fluffy. I watch a lot of movies late at night, but this is the one that made my wife come in from the other room to ask what I kept laughing at. Very good stuff.