Films A-Z

A day late, a dollar short and wearing a brand-new shirt with a food stain on it — that’s my life story and I’m sticking to it. So naturally on the heels of so many other movie bloggers, I decided to participate in the A-Z film lists.

Enjoy…

A is for “Apocalypse Now”

 

 

B is for “Blazing Saddles”

 

 

C is for “Clueless”

 

 

D is for “Dead Man Walking”

 

 

E is for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

 

 

F is for “The Fall”

 

 

G is for “Gojira”

 

 

H is for “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”

 

 

I is for “Idiocracy”

 

 

J is for “Jindabyne”

  

K is for “Key Largo”

 

 

L is for “Lars and the Real Girl”

 

 

M is for “The Maltese Falcon”

 

 

N is for “No Country for Old Men”

 

 

O is for “Out of the Past”

 

 

P is for “Plan 9 from Outer Space”

 

 

Q is for “Quills”

 

 

R is for “The Rules of Attraction”

 

 

S is for “Secretary”

 

 

T is for “12 Angry Men”

 

 

U is for “Unforgiven”

 

 

V is for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

  

W is for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

  

X is for “XXX” (a.k.a. “That Movie Where Vin Diesel Was Not Shirtless Often Enough”)

  

Y is for “Young Frankenstein”

  

Z is for “Zoolander”

Desert Island DVDs: The Big 8

So you find yourself, in true “Lost” fashion, stranded on a desert island in the vast sea, with nothing but your wits, your wiles and your good looks to keep you company. (OK, so it sounds a little nonsensical. Life doesn’t always have to make sense, does it? Willingly suspend your disbelief, people.) Since there’s no sunscreen, the sun’s going to dispatch that lovely complexion right quickly. With no one to parlay to your thrust in verbal jousting matches, the wit will be the first to go. And since there are no objects of lustful desire, the wiles, well, they aren’t worth a fig.

But wait! Suddenly you remember that you had the forethought to pack not one, not two but eight DVDs before the terrible stranding went down! Because you, die-hard movie lover, unlike 98 percent of the world’s population, know what’s really important: not sunscreen or non-perishable canned goods or a first aid kit or even a chummy volleyball named Wilson, but films. A world without water is palatable, but a world without movies?

That’s just crazy talk, is what that is.

Here’s my humble list of eight movie-films — divided into what I deem to be eight “essential” categories or groups — I’d require to keep me entertained on this neverending island venture:

 

Action

Why: Despite the a-changin’ times Bob Dylan crooned about, strong female action heroes remain in short supply in the world of film. And so James Cameron’s tense-as-hell, gripping, action-dense thriller stands apart because of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), a fierce heroine who throws punches with the best of them yet retains that elusive quality — empathy — so little seen in action heroes. With Weaver’s iconic, brilliant performance, every viewing of “Aliens” feels like the first time.

 

Comedy

Why come I picked this: You were expecting something a little “Holy Grail”-ier, perhaps? No offense to the Greatest Movie Ever Made, but there are times when British tomfoolery hits the spot and times when a desert island dweller wants to see that the world-at-large — poor people, with their dwindling IQs and those climbing Costco Law School prices — is far, far worse off than she is. Plus, there’s nothing like 10 seconds of “Ow, My Balls!” to clear those island doldrums riiiiight up.

 

Drama

Why: Back in his younger days, Marlon Brando wasn’t just a contender, he was THE contender — for coolest cat in any room, best method actor alive, name the category and he’d be fighting for a top spot in it. Though his career is studded with amazing and accomplished performances, his turn in “On the Waterfront” as one-time boxer Terry Malloy shows the actor in total command of his gifts. Pair that with a stellar ensemble cast (including heavyweights Lee J. Cobb and Karl Malden) and it’s a knockout. Every time.

 

Foreign

Why: Some people like their thrillers fast-n-furious, with lots of explosions and a juggernaut soundtrack that drowns out any hope of character interaction. Me, I like a slower burn that takes longer to take effect but packs a whallop when it does. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s beautiful film about 1984 Socialist East Germany, living under the thumb of the Stasi secret police, fits that bill and contains a stunning performance by the late Ulrich Mühe. This is a movie that will change your life.

 

Horror

Why: Cast aside all thoughts of the 85 remakes that followed John Carpenter’s low-budget 1978 classic that frightened viewers everywhere way, way down in their primal scare spots — they matter not. The original “Halloween” has no equal, for no other horror film has managed to create a character 1/16 as terrifying as Michael Myers, a masked force of evil that cannot be stopped. Carpenter outdid our imaginations in ways that still make us cry “uncle,” and that’s one hell of an achievement.

 

Independent

Why: Sometimes stories are compelling because the characters are extraordinary, or their deeds are, or their circumstances baffle or astound us. This is not the case with “The Station Agent,” an unassuming but enormously touching independent film about three wildly different people who, through nothing more than proximity and chance, stumble into one another’s company and discover they share one thing: loneliness. Never underestimate the power of simple human connection to touch the soul.

 

Romantic Comedy

Why: Love stories that don’t follow a traditional arch, that take bold risks and play about with our sense of time and space and memory, are rare, so when you find a good one the tendency is to hold on tight. Few romantic comedies manage to be as poignant, achingly bittersweet and unexpectedly funny as Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” an unconventional tale of two lovers that suggests, gently but clearly, that sometimes love does not conquer all or end in smiles and rainbows.

 

War

Why: Quentin Tarantino is a director who delights in messing with our heads, taking what we know of linear storytelling and throwing it in a Cuisinart; for him, originality is king. In that respect, “Inglourious Basterds” may well be his one true masterpiece, at once a tongue-in-cheek rewrite of World War II’s ending, a war film, an ensemble drama, a madcap comedy, a wild adventure. And now that I’ve seen it once, I can’t spend another second of my life without Christoph Waltz in it.

——

Complete Catalogue of Desert Island DVD Lists

  • Tara from 101 Goals in 1001 Days
  • Shawn from 7 Dollar Popcorn
  • Andrew from Andrew at the Cinema
  • Castor from Anomalous Material
  • Dylan from Blog Cabins
  • Nick from Cinema Romantico
  • Wynter from Cinemascream
  • Aiden from Cut the Crap Movie Reviews
  • The Mad Hatter from The Dark of the Matinee
  • Lady Hatter (posted on Hatter’s blog)
  • Sebastian from Detailed Criticisms
  • Elizabeth from Elizabethan Theatre
  • Andy From Fandango Groovers Movie Blog
  • Steve from The Film Cynics
  • Alex from Film Forager
  • Ripley from Four of Them
  • Ruth from FlixChatter
  • Marc from Go,See,Talk!
  • Jason from Invasion of The B-Movies
  • Caz from Lets Go To The Movies
  • Kai from The List
  • Olive from Movie News First
  • Darren from the mOvie blog
  • Travis from The Movie Encyclopedia
  • Heather from Movie Mobsters
  • Wendy from The Movie Viewing Girl
  • Paul from Paragraph Film Reviews
  • Phil from Phil on Film
  • Faith from Ramblings of a Recessionista
  • Nick from Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob
  • Ross & Ross from Ross v Ross
  • Meaghan from Wild Celtic
  • Mike from You Talking to Me?
  • No. 12: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)

    “Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. But I’m just a fucked-up girl who’s lookin’ for my own peace of mind; don’t assign me yours.” ~~Clementine Kruczynski

    If it’s true that the course of love doesn’t run smooth, it’s also true that our memories of that trip don’t follow a timeline. In the beginning, there are the obvious landmarks: the first meeting, a tentative investigation; the first conversation; the first kiss. But once affection sours, time goes full Cuisinart on those recollections, scrambling them so hopelessly we couldn’t reorganize them if we tried.

    Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) experience this reality not once but again and again in Michel Gondry’s tender and achingly beautiful “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” a film with a script that mimics the curious effects of time upon our memories of lost love. Here, the end and the beginning bleed together, and they also cloud the way we see everything in the middle because the boundary lines are loose and fuzzy. Charlie Kaufman, who penned the knotty script, seems intent on drawing us in by providing all the answers and letting us ferret out the equation.

    What’s so wonderfully original and mesmerizing about “Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind” is that Joel and Clementine are in the exact same position we are. Both find themselves in an odd situation with the facts of the present, yet they have no idea how they got there. And it takes quite some time before we figure out how they did, either. Since their story can’t quite be told in a linear fashion, let’s start somewhere in the muddy middle: On an uncharacteristic whim, timid loner Joel skips work and hops a train to Montauk. The ride back leads him to meet Clementine, a chatty free spirit with unruly blue hair (“I apply my personality in a paste,” she offers brightly) who’s sure she’s met Joel before. There’s an unexpected connection that threatens to become more, and that’s when everything goes pear-shaped: Seems Joel and Clem not only know each other, they used to be lovers. The reason neither remembers this has to do with Lacuna, Inc., an odd little business run by Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) that specializes in erasing painful memories.

    Additional stories funnel into “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” involving Patrick (Elijah Wood) and Stan (the invaluable Mark Ruffalo), Lacuna’s memory-vanquishing technicians, and Mary (Kirsten Dunst), Mierzwiak’s receptionist. Their lives intersect with Joel’s because they’re charged with erasing Clementine from his mind, and all three are so wrapped up in their own strange realities that they don’t realize Joel wants to stop the procedure right in the middle of it. Not that his protests matter, really; he’s hidden too far in his own mind to be heard. This makes his anguish all the more wrenching, for who hasn’t let heartbreak lead to a bad choice screaming to be taken back?

    There are, perhaps, no appropriate words to describe what Carrey and Winslet bring to this bittersweet examination of love. The kooky plot requires them to anchor their characters in reality, make them human enough for us to suffer their hurts and feel their joy. Carrey quiets himself enormously to play Joel, a lonely man who guards his heart closely. Winslet’s more open but no less touching as Clementine, a woman whose flightiness covers a deep core of insecurity and self-awareness. Together, with their stirring chemistry, they make Joel and Clementine’s love story one of the greatest ever told. 

    Worry not, though, that “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is some kind of repackaged epic romance with a comedic twist. Elements of the universal exist, certainly, but with Gondry behind the camera this is love story that feels almost shockingly intimate. We catch glimpses of under-the-cover confessions, lazy afternoon strolls, early dinners uncomfortable in their cold silence — the things no one ever sees. All the shots are so gorgeously lensed, so precisely placed and edited, that what we have is a story told in scattered Polaroids. And sometimes it’s the snapshots, creased and smudged with fingerprints, we keep closest to our hearts.

    Embrace the mush: A few really good V.D. flicks

    I made this New Year’s resolution, see, that it seems I’m going to have to keep in the face of the most unspeakable, unholy, unfathomable truth: Saturday is Valentine’s Day.

    Still, I am nothing if not steadfast in keeping resolutions, and so I will struggle valiantly to accomplish Number One on my list: Do things people don’t expect. And you see, anyone who knows me will tell you the LAST thing I’d ever do on or near V.D. is make a list of ooshy, gooshy Valentine’s Day movies that warm this cold, cold heart of mine like a Snuggie.

    Yet do the unexpected I must, so I dug down deep (whoa, alliterate much?) into the darkest corner of my psyche and unearthed a list of romantic movies — some comedy, some drama, some a McCombo of both — I’ll watch any day of the year, but especially on Valentine’s Day.

    Because as it turns out, there is a tiny shred of romance left in me.

    Great. I outed myself. Congratulations, universe. You win.

    * “Lars and the Real Girl” — How could a film about a man in love with a life-size, anatomically-correct doll be funny, whimsical and deeply moving, you ask? There’s no way to explain it; you have to see it for yourself. What Ryan Gosling accomplishes as Lars, a tactile-phobic recluse, is spectacular. The expressions, the gestures, the quiet lines of dialogue all add up to an enormously entertaining little movie that’s as much a coming-of-age movie as a romantic comedy. This is beautiful, masterful work.

    * “Slumdog Millionaire” — I suspect throwing “Slumdog” in the mix is cheating because it’s not out of theaters yet, but this is the kind of sweeping, decades-spanning romance that could not be left out. From frame one, “Slumdog” stamped out all my cynicism with its wild tale of two star-crossed lovers, Latika (Freida Pinto) and Jamal (Dev Patel), who spend a lifetime trying to reconnect. There’s passion, drama, intrigue, excitement and a soul-satisfying kiss. What more do you need?

    * “Harold and Maude” — I’ve blathered on endlessly about my love for this 1971 cult favorite, but I’ll repeat myself (the movie’s that good): This is the kind of movie that redefines the rom-com genre. This is what romantic comedies should be: quirky (what’s quirkier than a life-loving octogenarian dating a morbid, death-obsessed teen-age boy?), intelligent, thoughtful, unexpectedly touching and life-affirming. It’s a work of art, plain and true, and it deserves a spot in the heart of anyone who appreciates truly original romantic movies.

    * “Benny and Joon” — There’s nothing I love more than a romantic comedy that’s about more than two characters locking lips, and “Benny and Joon” fits the bill. This quaint little jewel tells the tale of an illiterate, Buster Keaton-imitating eccentric (Johnny Depp) and a whip-smart schizophrenic (Mary Stuart Masterson) who meet, change each others’ lives and then fall in love. This one aims to warm the cockles of the heart. Consider them warmed.

    * “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” — “Sunshine” isn’t so much a movie as a total experience for the mind, the heart and the senses. The costumes and colors and sequences are overwhelmingly original, and then there’s the plain love story: an emotional hermit (Jim Carrey) falls for an impulsive free spirit (Kate Winslet), and their relationship is simultaneously expectedly mundane and beautifully epic. And that, perhaps, is what makes “Sunshine” so brilliant; after all, isn’t every relationship boring and legendary in the mind of the lovers involved in it?

    * “Definitely, Maybe” — Here’s a movie I walked into expecting to hate (the trailers alone made me gag) and walked out of thoroughly impressed. You see, “Definitely, Maybe” is smarter and twistier than the average rom-com; it uses the girl-meets-boy formula (times three, actually) but subverts it, then serves up an ending that is satisfying yet completely unexpected. It doesn’t hurt that it stars three first-rate actresses — Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz — who understand the importance of subtlety and comic timing. This is a romantic comedy for people who enjoy using their brains to watch movies.

    * “Under the Tuscan Sun” — OK, confession time: I’ll watch any movie starring Diane Lane. She’s an actress of such vulnerability and wit that she elevates every project she takes on (well, except for “Untraceable”). “Tuscan Sun” is no exception. This is another gem that uses your own expectations against you, surprises you at almost every turn and leaves you feeling all warm and happy inside. As Frances, a divorcee who buys a crumbling villa in Italy, Lane is divine, and she’s surrounded by a strong cast — including Sandra Oh — against the backdrop of beyond-gorgeous Tuscany. If this one doesn’t lift your spirits, it’s because you have none.

    * “High Fidelity” — Ah, nothing beats a movie that lets John Cusack do what he does best: Be John Cusack. (If you don’t get what that means, ask any reasonably intelligent woman. They get it.) And “High Fidelity” gives us Cusack at his witty, snarky best as Rob, a music snob reeling over a breakup with his girlfriend. His narration alone is great, but what makes “High Fidelity” memorable — and timeless — is Rob’s transformation from selfish S.O.B. to actual human being. And Jack Black’s in it. That doesn’t hurt, either.

    * “Secretary” — Call me a cynic, but I fell hard for this WAY offbeat pitch-black romantic comedy about a self-mutilating secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal, who makes me go all aquiver inside even though I am a heterosexual woman) who engages in a little S&M with her unflinchingly rigid lawyer boss (James Spader). This isn’t “Debbie Does Dallas,” though — far from it. It’s the story of two outsiders who discover common interests — in this case, uh, bondage and whips — and begin to open themselves to the possibility of happiness and romance. They get all the neuroses and love each other because (not in spite of) them. I can’t think of anything more romantic than that.

    * “Sideways” — For me, “Sideways” will forever be the movie where Paul Giamatti — who gets my vote for Sexiest Man Alive over Mel Gibson or Brad Pitt any day — stepped out of the shadows of two-bit sidekick parts and became a leading man. And what a leading man he is: As balding, failing writer/high school English teacher Miles Davis, he’s drowning his depression in Pinot and Xanax. Then he meets Maya (Virginia Madsen), a kind-hearted waitress and budding botanist who convinces Miles not to give up on life (or love) quite yet. There’s comedy, sure, but the real meat of “Sideways” is Miles and Maya’s tentative, awkward, slow-blooming relationship. This is no Cinderella tale — and thank God for that.