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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. 18: “On the Waterfront” (1954)

    “Hey, you wanna hear my philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you.” ~~Terry Malloy

    More people live in the world of What Could Have Been — that place where the past looms so large it’s more like the present — than would care to admit the fact. In “On the Waterfront,” aimless dockworker Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is one of those people. Once a promising boxer, he threw a fight to let his brother’s boss (Lee J. Cobb) cash in on the weaker opponent — a choice that changed the course of Terry’s life, landing him what he bitterly calls “a one-way ticket to Palookaville” and a dim future as a bum. What’s worse, he can’t forget his old life for everyone reminding him of the past glory, all the promise he had that withered away. So he’s stuck in the worst kind of limbo.

    Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles by New York Sun reporter Malcolm Johnson, Elia Kazan’s resolute, powerful drama examines the price of bad choices in the past and the way they inform the present. But the film, which nabbed eight Oscars, also grapples with the nature of conscience and civic duty. Every character, on some level, faces a dilemma that pits morality against loyalty and fear of retaliation. For Terry, it’s a question of whether it’s better to work for a murderous crook than be in his path. Others, like Father Barry (Karl Malden) or Terry’s fellow dockworkers (most notably Kayo Dugan, played by Pat Henning), must decide whether exposing corruption in the longshoreman workers’ union is worth their lives. The setting — scenes were shot on the rundown docks of Hoboken, N.J. — offers a silent reminder that their choices will have harsh and inescapable consequences.

    No one knows this more than Terry, an errand boy for criminal Johnny Friendly (Cobb, menacing as he is explosive), who exploits New York’s dockworkers at every turn, pockets the profits and kills anyone who questions his authority. At the opening of “On the Waterfront,” Terry finds himself in a difficult position when his boss makes him an unsuspecting accomplice in the murder of Joey Doyle, a fed-up dockworker ready to expose Johnny Friendly’s corrupt enterprise. The event spurs his sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) to press Terry for answers about her brother’s murder and push Father Barry to rally the dockworkers against Friendly. Suddenly Terry, who’s never wasted two seconds thinking hard about much of anything, much less right and wrong, can’t play deaf and dumb (the dockworkers call it “D&D”) anymore. And as his life splits down the middle, Brando demands our attention, making Terry’s confusion and agony plain on his face. Forced to pick a side, he ends up at the docks in a violent showdown with Friendly and his henchmen, all out for blood.

    Though this crisis of conscience forms the center of “On the Waterfront,” there are other elements at play that make the film compelling. Budd Schulberg’s airtight screenplay includes a thread about the tentative affection Terry forms for Edie. Given that he is, as she calls him, a man without “a spark of sentiment or romance or human kindness” in his body, their unlikely relationship softens his edges and allows us to see gentler aspects of his character. (Their barroom scene and early walk capture the essence of the rough-yet-sensitive charisma that made Brando’s name.) The script also brims with unforgettable lines like Brando’s iconic “I coulda been a contender” speech, Father Barry’s comparison of Joey Doyle’s murder to a crucifixion or Brando’s offhand “everybody’s got a racket.” When coupled with Boris Kaufman’s bleakly effective cinematography, lines like these give “On the Waterfront” an almost epic power.

    The acting, naturally, finishes that job. Eva Marie Saint is affecting as Edie, whose kindness Terry hopes will fill the gaps in his life. Cobb,  so towering in his rage, suggests the unchecked menace he did in “12 Angry Men.” Nobody plays a villain with quite his mix of entitlement and menace. Malden provides an effective foil for Terry in his choice, early on, to take action. Ultimately, though, it is Brando who commands the screen with his raw and dynamic performance. He sees Terry as much more than a has-been; Brando finds in him the need for redemption. His performance is the greatest revelation in a movie already filled with them.