Friday, February 08, 2008

criterion pt. II

i've been browsing the criterion website more frequently, getting a rush similar to walking through a fine bookstore, that feeling of being immersed in art and culture. and, like walking through a bookstore, i'm often awaken by the realization that instead of dreaming of feasting on what's around me, i may as well get home and actually take in what i have.

one of the features on the website is a series of 'top 10 lists' by people on the artsy edge of film, asking them to name their ten favorite criterion movies. reading the various choices and their reasons behind them is like being in the 'finer things' club; my eyes are opened to so much more.  and since criterion probably won't be asking me to submit a list for while, i'm going to do so here and now.

1. the rules of the game- the first time i saw it, i walked away wondering what all the fuss was about.  each subsequent viewing has deepened my love and admiration for it exponentially.  renoir is famous for his compositions and blocking, for placing the camera and letting us watching the foreground then sneaking a peak into the shenanigans going on behind them.  i'm glad i didn't fall in love with this until after it was already on dvd; i don't know how i could have lived during that dark age.  it's cinema at its most near-perfect. and it has jean renoir in a bear costume.

2. fanny and alexander- when i first saw the three-hour theatrical version, i left the theater speechless. actually, i could make noise, but i couldn't form a coherent sentence to describe what i'd just seen. every element of cinema is used to perfection, and, like life, you don't often understand or appreciate everything that is going on until the end, when bergman somehow causes you to emotionally step back and, like having previously viewed painting at nose-length, now see the immense canvas in all it's glory. why this isn't on more world top 10 lists is a genuine mystery to me.

3. rushmore/royal tenenbaums- 'rushmore' is a better movie. the style was fresh and clean, working so lyrically in a bizarre yet universal love story. everything fits so well, it's always funny, and i can't help but feel cool seeing max walk out of that elevator carrying a hive of bees in slow-motion.

but 'tenenbaums' is my personal preference; maybe it's because i saw it first. the style is perfected but not as fresh; the ensamble cast is brilliant, and despite having to shoot in that tiny cramped house, this would have been a fantastic set to work on. in the end, this gets my nod because i fall in love all over again every time i see the 'goodbye ruby tuesday' scene in the tent in the middle of richie's room. 
and i really dig criterion's cover designs.

4. traffic- i once tried making a list of the ten greatest films of the last ten years.  after 'saving private ryan', 'babel', and this, i started to have trouble. there were plenty of worthy movies, but to find films of this calibre, it got a little harder. i've never seen a soderbergh movie that wasn't great, but this is his masterpiece. i love that there is no opening sequence other than the title appearing briefly in the corner, that the guns don't fire like hollywood sound design, and that luiz guzman holds every scene with don cheadle. pardon my soapbox, but this is a much better movie than 'gladiator' [which took the 'best picture' oscar that year].
thank you.

5. solaris- gosh, i was starting to worry myself; there were too many recent american movies on this list.... 
yes, it's three hours long and in russian. yes, the people mostly just stand around and talk. yes, armageddon is also on my shelf if this isn't your idea of watching a movie. but if it is, you're in luck, and the time actually flies by. philosophies of what it means to really know someone and the risks that come from letting yourself connect with another person are far more fulfilling than lasers or aliens. this should come with soderbergh's version; not so much a 'remake' as a 'reinterpretation', the two movies complement different facets of the story and philosophy. [as i write this, i can't help but wonder how they got financing for the american movie; did the studio really think they would recoup their $60 million with such an esoteric movie, even with george clooney?]

6. M- i think it's sometimes easy to think that human culture and insight had to be re-invented with cinema; that it took us until the sixties to start telling complicated stories equal to the centuries of our literary legacy. then you see M again, and suddenly that fallacy is dashed to pieces. yes, it took a few years to learn the new art, but not decades. ripped from the headlines of the day, a child killer haunts the streets, causing paranoia and panic, bringing both the police and the 'reasonable' underworld after him.

7. the seventh seal/ rashomon- i combined these because they're rough equivalents, landmarks of their nation, signals to the world that movies were no longer just escapes into the dark. instead, it was time to think about life and death, about truth and reality. i also combined these because i already have a bergman movie listed. and because i wanted to fit 'rebecca' on here.

8. rebecca- one of hitchcock's lesser-known movies [despite having lawrence olivier], the director's only best picture oscar, and some of the most luscious black-and-white cinematography ever.

9. the battle of algiers- this is the kind of movie i was talking about when i said i liked discovering movies i'd never heard of before. everything was staged, yet it feels like a 100% verite documentary of a revolution, following both the calculating government and the tenacious rebels.  i watched it by myself in the middle of the afternoon and i was still on the edge of my seat.

10. f for fake- orson welles: he made 'citizen kane' when he was 25.  a year or two later he made 'the magnificent ambersons' [hopefully that will be on criterion some day soon!].  and 34 years later, after 'touch of evil', after 'chimes at midnight', he took everything he knew [and invented] about film-making, turned it upside down and backwards, and ran it through the 'post-modern' machine.  out came a documentary about forgery.   ...i think.  this isn't a forgotten gem of cinema, it's a forgotten penny whistle.  sometimes we see him in the editing room, editing the footage we were just watching.  sometimes he's talking about ufo's.  and picasso somehow shows up.  i can't tell you what to expect, and if you go in knowing that, you'll enjoy the ride.  

and movies i'd like to see on the collection:
1. metropolis [with the optional 80's soundtrack]- one of the legends upon which modern cinema is built.  there so many versions out circulating, and kino has finally put out a very good and solid edition.  but to give it the criterion treatment would be grand, with the optional 'disco' soundtrack [as em calls it]
2. 2001- a very good two-disc set was just released a few months ago, but i love this so much, i want it to be canonized.
3. stalker- supposedly tarkovsky's most 'difficult' movie, i found it more accessible than 'solaris'.   that probably means i missed the point entirely, which means i need to see it again.  and who better to bring it to me?  [if not 'stalker', then how about 'primer'?  anyone?]
4. anything by zhang yimou- anything, though my votes go to  'to live', 'hero', or, preferably, 'raise the red latern'.
5. bill & ted's excellent adventure- i'm dead serious.  please.

next on my 'to watch' list:
*ali: fear eats the soul
*berlin alexanderplatz-- i left film history knowing almost nothing of fassbinder except that darl couldn't show any of his movies in class; i've read that this is one i could probably watch, and i'm a sucker for long, artsy movies, so i'm up for the 15-hour challenge.
*army of shadows- how did i leave film school without ever hearing about jean-pierre melville?
*stray dog
*the bad sleep well-- kurosawa made movies without samurai.  'the bad sleep well' is 'hamlet' in a japanese corporate setting; i'm sold.


Jack said...

I love the way Jeff loves movies. This isn't because I love them less, but because his love of them has helped me to appreciate them so much more. Never again will I just "watch a movie". That ended in early 2003 when we were first flat-mates.

Now I drink them in. I pay attention to things I never knew existed before and I appreciate the art of film so much more.

Thanks Jeffie!

-->jeff * said...

i was kind of hoping that this would bring forth comments, insights, and comparisons from the other cinemaphiles who frequent here.

though i do take a satisfaction in having inspired someone who didn't wasn't in the tma department.

thanks, manfriend. i suppose that all started with me demanding the whole apartment watch 'transformers: the movie' the nigh you moved in [and you mentioning it in church two days later].
thanks for loving '2001' and 'the rules of the game' with me.