22 April 2013

Three Favorite Films From Some of my Favorite Directors Much Annotated And This is Part 3

"If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything." -- David Foster Wallace
Here is what I said before part one of this series which I have by the way decided will have three parts:
The title says it. I take a favorite director and pick my three favorite films he's done or did. Then I write something though sometimes off topic and not necessarily about all three films. I'm calling this part one which suggests that there will be parts to follow. When I don't know. Who can know such things. Truly. 

There was -- as you may have guessed -- a part two which preceded this un and followed the first part. I'm very ordered. (Anal?)

Lars von Trier. Europa (1991). Melancholia (2011). Breaking the Waves (1996). Long nights of wondrous moonlight and paintings produced before your very eyes while you contemplate that concerto and the ethereal beauty of a lover in repose. Stories of revolution and death and contemplations of forever and musings on never. A play at understanding and an acceptance of the unknown and a wink a the unknowable. von Trier iconic enigmatic and challenging and there have been some misfires but oh what home runs he has hit.

Francis Ford Coppola. The Godfather (1972). The Godfather: Part II (1974). Apocalypse Now (1979). Beyond these three masterpieces he made one other great film (The Conversation) and all in an eight year span. And then....But once you've made these kind of movies you are forever in the pantheon of legendary film makers. Period.

Jean-Luc Godard. Vivre Sa Vie (1962). Band of Outsiders (1964). Breathless (1960). Mister New Wave, A career that has stretched on for five decades and has included some real howlers. The self indulgent film maker showing off. But when he's gotten it right -- and boy howdy has he gotten it right -- there are some shiny golden nuggets of cinema. Those fast cuts that narration those dances that spontaneous action. The more out of bounds Godard goes the more real his stories seem. They capture not just a time that was but a time that is with us still and always. There is the willingness to experiment or perhaps it is a need but it is done and it fun.

Vittoria De Sica. Umberto D (1952). Two Women (1960).  Bicycle Thieves (1948). Mister Neo Realism. He seems to say that this is story and you may not be pleased with how it ends but consider how it gets there. Consider the truth of it. The courage to make stories true to the characters and their circumstances. De Sica's stories feature the young the old the unlucky and the unhappy but they also feature people trying. Trying to survive and prosper and to hell with the odds. Beautiful.

Howard Hawks. The Big Sleep (1946). His Girl Friday (1940). Red River (1948). Mr. Everything. You want a noir you got one you want a western that's done who's looking for a screwball comedy because we got it right here. He could even toss in a gangster film, Whatever you need. Hawks was extraordinary for a prolific career that featured most of the stars of the day. Muni Grant Hepburn Barrymore (John) Lombard Cooper Arthur Monroe Robinson McCrea Hayworth and Bacall.

Joel and Ethan Coen. No Country For Old Men (2007). A Serious Man (2009). The Man Who Wasn't There (2001). Whatever will they think of next? However will they tell us this next story? Such clever lads but not in love with their talents but with what their talents can produce. And they are meticulous. There is an attention to detail and details that grab our attention. Their are characters that stretch bounds and help us access the story and the wonders of these amazing story tellers.

Preston Sturges. Sullivan's Travels (1941). The Lady Eve (1941). Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). Six great films made in five years with nothing to speak of before or after. But what greatness he used up in that short time. Whacky characters and stories but never silly. Often pointed. Stanwyck Lake McCrea Fonda Colbert and a cast of reliably entertaining regulars led by Demarest Pangborn and Donlevy. Sturges made comedies without cheap laughter he was smart enough to appeal to smart audiences. He also had some points to make and make them he did. He was a comet.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974). The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979). The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972). The mad German. A prolific director writer addict wild man who poured everything into anything he did. Thankfully this included the films he made and there were some doozies. His stories could be a bit strange and unpredictable just like their director. But they were compelling for their lack of self consciousness and their forward movement. Propelled toward waiting denouements of 

Well that's rather the point isn't it.
It could be a kiss or a murder of a melancholy moment of reflex....You know.

(If I were doing more parts of this -- which I am not -- I would have included directors such as Josef von Sternberg Akira Kurosawa Quentin Tarantino King Vidor Fritz Lang Luis Bunuel Jean-Pierre Melville and John Huston.

17 April 2013

Three Favorite Films From Some of my Favorite Directors Much Annotated And This is Part 2

Here I am trying to live, or rather, I am trying to teach the death within me how to live.- Jean Cocteau

Here is what I said before part one of this series which I have by the way decided will have three parts:
The title says it. I take a favorite director and pick my three favorite films he's done or did. Then I write something though sometimes off topic and not necessarily about all three films. I'm calling this part one which suggests that there will be parts to follow. When I don't know. Who can know such things. Truly.

Roberto Rossellini. Roma, citti aperta (1945). Stromboli (1950). The Flowers of Saint Francis (1950). Neo realism as it was meant to be. The human drama. In World War II. In a lonely fishing village. Among monks. The evil the beatified the depraved the tortured. I've never seen a spectacular shot within a Rossellini film but I've seen the spectacular. How do you film desperation or fear or moral decay or certitude? Seems impossible but he did it. There was magic in his style in that he created such depth and drama so effortlessly to our eyes and senses. It just sank in. Sinks. His films don't won't age.

William Wellman. Wild Boys of the Road (1933). Heroes For Sale (1933). Westward the Women (1951). Someone asked me the other day what films most captured the spirit of John Dos Passos and his novels that comprised the USA Trilogy. I said the pre code films of William Wellman which include Wild Boys and Heroes. Like Dos Passos these stories had the power of relevance truth honesty and authentic American style characters often bucking up against the rich and powerful. The struggle of individuals to survive in a cold mechanized and heartless society. Usually finding strength and comfort in numbers. Wellman was a truly American film maker who never bent his films in the direction of easy popularity. He didn't soften characters or stories. There is a timeless quality in his films just as there is in the novels of Dos Passos.

Stanley Kubrick. A Clockwork Orange (1971). 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Barry Lyndon (1975). Here comes the kitchen sink. Stanley did not play ladies and gents. Everything went into the picture all his energy and creativity and attention to detail. And it showed. What spectacular visions. Creations of worlds. Beautiful to behold even when what was taking place in the was repellant. The people were props used masterfully. Kubrick had a way of exaggerating characters to help fill the frame and fill out the story. Films that lasted in your mind and heart and ideas and wow.

Louis Malle. Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987). Elevator to the Gallows (1958). Murmur of the Heart (1971). What is he? New Wave? Noir? There are war pictures. Romances. Family drama. Philosophical meditations. There is Jeanne Moreau in the rain. There is a young Jewish boy being taken away by Nazis. There is oedipus. Lurking lurching loving and leaving and moving and heaving. Camera left and stage right and the eyes of man wandering the city. The artful director and the precise moment captured that lives a lifetime in our memory and can never be wiped away. That indelible moment. That moment. The expression. That sigh. That sign. That director. That man Malle.

Aki Kaurismaki. Ariel (1988). Le Havre (2011). Lights in the Dusk 2006). My Finnish brother. don't come to his films looking for beautiful people or action scenes or special effects. Come for the humanity and the simplicity and the beauty of human experience. The luck good and bad of being alive and going through whatever comes. How people handle the mundane and the interruption of that by the wildly unexpected. Dude is very Finnish. My father told me the Finnish proverb about a man being chased by a bear. He is relieved to come upon a river knowing the Bear won't follow him. Half way across the river he sees another bear waiting for him on the other side. He laughs.

Frank Capra. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Meet. John Doe (1941). It's A Wonderful Life (1946). A softer gentler America then Wellman but a liberal sentimental fighting underdog loving one. Capra was a Republican but his films were often about battles with powerful establishment figures. A neo fascist tycoon in John Doe a predatory banker businessman in IAWL and a corrupt political machine in Smith. One man taking on the vested interest against impossible odds. Very American characters played by the likes of Gary Cooper Barbara Stanwyck James Stewart and Donna Reed. Good clean believable dialog. Easy to root for stories.

Francois Truffaut. Jules and Jim (1962). Shoot the Piano Player (1960). 400 Blows (1959). Exuberant and stylish but never showy. An attention to the little movements and the short seconds that can fly by unattended. But he was a joyful director with a free floating and happy camera. Grounded in his art and telling the story just so. Just so that we would appreciate -- almost like he did -- what an amazing story he was telling.

Charlie Chaplin. City Lights (1931). Modern Times (1936). The Great Dictator (1940). The pathos. The little tramp. The comic genius. The pratfalls the chases the choreography the cute man the pretty girl the darling child the adorable mutt the pulling of heart strings...the tear -- never two. Then the silents ended and Charlie adapted but never yielded. Still mostly silent realizing that words can be so limiting. The sheer brilliance of the above three films. The painstaking attention to detail that created the  large gaps between pictures but resulted in such fine craftsmanship. Such great art. No one to compare him with before during or after.

12 April 2013

Three Favorite Films From Favorite Directors Much Annotated And This is Part 1

"Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo."
 - From 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Pufrock' by. T.S. Eliot.
The title says it. I take a favorite director and pick my three favorite films he's done or did. Then I write something though sometimes off topic and not necessarily about all three films. I'm calling this part one which suggests that there will be parts to follow. When I don't know. Who can know such things. Truly.

Ingmar Bergman. The Seventh Seal (1957), Winter Light (1963), Fanny and Alexander (1982). I started with my favorite of my favorite directors and immediately see that three is not enough but that rules are rules. I could have a dozen easily for Bergman. Woody Allen called The Seventh Seal one of the few perfect films and I make it a point never to argue with Woody Allen. Winter Light is a small picture could say bleak -- very black and white --  which could say about god's silence. While. Fanny and Alexander is a huge picture full of color and people and drama and laughter and life and villains and heroes. Opposites attract. Bergman films don't make me think they allow me the option of it. They do make me feel. Feel good. I love the depth and the humanity and oh the faces.

Federico Fellini. Amarcord (1973), La Dolce Vita (1960), Nights of Cabrira (1957). The broken record is saying there are so many that could have should have would have been here. His films so Felliniesque you might say. The drama never too heavy but inescapable. The humor never blaring just there to find and to hold. The characters so rich and wonderful. And life so very much on display and never gray. Just touchable. Films like a great meal with many courses. Faces again. The greats appreciate them.

Woody Allen. Manhattan (1979). Midnight in Paris (2011) Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). Wry smiles and broad jokes and the sound of Sidney Bechet or Benny Goodman or Cole Porter for crissakes. Pathos. The distracted love of the pixilated. Pondering the imponderable but always. Discordant but happy. Keaton Farrow Johannsson Cruz Cotillard. Beautiful vulnerable soft but strong. Bergman made the most great films but Allen has made the most good ones. That opening of Manhattan with Gershwin announcing and the skyline and the narration and then to the restaurant and oh my.

Michelangelo Antonioni. L' Eclisse (1962). Red Desert (1964). L'avventura (1960). Enchanting miles of drivers distracted confused by unspoken poetry. Lyrics of songs dying as the vipers in their engines devour large swaths of deaths for them. We linger on moonlight nights in soft winds of our fingers. Feelings not spoke only hinted at by the obtuse. So long the days of our splendor and the wonder of our confusion. Everyday. To be beautiful. Distracted. And thinking. All at once. So lonely. So ill-timed the forgetfulness of our sated sorrow. And still yesterday approaches.

Alfred Hitchcock. The 39 Steps (1935). Notorious (1946). Foreign Correspondent (1940). Wow what a list you could make what arguments you could have what fun it is to discover Hitch and then re-discover him. Master of Suspense is somewhat limiting a moniker. There is suspense created sure but there is also character and content and a camera that surprises titillates and amuses and dramatizes and captures. We start from the top of the stairs as we take a long trip to visit a key in a woman's hand. Masterful.

John Ford. Grapes of Wrath (1940). The Searchers (1956). Stagecoach (1939). Soliders of dignity. Women of valor. Horses. Monument Valley. Tough guys with dimensions. Stories well told. Never angry stories never preachy stories. Always so wonderful to look at and regard. Maybe the ultimate maker of American stories. Exposing what's under the rock without stating that its there just the showing of it. A genius with a goddam camera if there ever was one. Placing it just so and just so wonderfully. Mmmm. Grapes of Wrath a film worthy of a great book -- that's a rarity. Stagecoach the ultimate Western of the first half of the 20th century and The Searchers the ultimate Western of the second half of the same century. But his stories are more than Westerns. Yeah. They're fucking great.

Jean Renoir. La Grande Illusion (1937). Rules of the Game (1939). The Lower Depths (1936). Grand Illusion is another film Woody Allen said was perfect. The man knows a perfect film when he sees one. How Renoir slaps classism in the face. How unafraid he is of his audience -- but how he respects them -- how faithful he is to ideas. Good ideas. That ennoble us by tearing down what is facile and corrupt and depraved. The flourish is not evident but the precision is and the craftsmanship and the message and the story. Always the story. Glory.

Martin Scorsese. Goodfellas (1990). Raging Bull (1980). The Aviator (2004). Look at me everybody. I put The Aviator ahead of Taxi Driver and Mean Streets and for that matter The King of Comedy. I'm a nut! But I say and write what I think because to do otherwise is lying. Scorsese at his best does not lie. He is an honest filmmaker telling true stories. True in the sense that they are meant to be.....A man who loves loves loves films and loves loves loves to make them and does so with verve and panache but most of all with honesty. Sometimes brutally so. The violence in Goodfellas the anger in Raging Bull the brilliant madness in the Aviator.

04 April 2013

RIP Roger Ebert An Appreciation for A Man Who Helped Film Lovers Love Films

He helped me love movies.

Whenever I watch a film -- especially if its for the first time -- I always drop by the movie's IMDb page to read a little bit about it. I'm always happy when there's Some words from Roger Ebert among the external reviews.

Roger did the most important thing a film critic can do. No I'm not talking about recommending or steering people away from a film. I refer to his ability to shed light on it and enhance one's appreciation. If I loved a movie and he did too then I loved it more because he helped me understand where that love came from.


The man was great because he loved movies. Passionately. He reviewed them for over 40 years. His reviews betrayed none of the arrogance or ego that come through in so many other critic's reviews. There was a blunt honesty. A truth telling. A witnessing. And it was articulate.

The fact that he was a recovering alcoholic is not coincident to his ability -- his need -- to share with readers his experience strength and hope about films.

I think I've read his review of every movie that we've both enjoyed and some we both hated. When his reaction to a film was different than mine I ignored his review. Why should friends share differences over a damn movie anyway? Friends? We never met of course. But Roger was around for so long that I felt as if I knew the man. Personally. (I feel the same about a few other famous people such as Dick Cavett and David Letterman. In all cases I have a lot in common with my famous "friend." Letterman Ebert and I have all given up alcohol after having previously over indulged.)

Roger loved films because he understood them. He was a thoughtful watcher who understood the art and craft of film making and story telling. He also loved to write and wrote well. He knew movies so well and writing so well that he was quite naturally the ideal film critic. Never has anyone combined two passions so successfully.

The internet has been a positive boon to cinephiles. It has allowed us access to reviews from all over the world and in the case of critics like Roger we've gained access to the full archive of a reviewers work. Roger also blogged and not just about films. When it came to politics I might have even agreed with him more than I did about movies. When I took to twitter Roger was one of the first people I followed. He proved well capable of being articulate in 140 characters or less. Plus he linked all manner of interesting pieces by others.

For years I've been aware that because of his cancer Roger's time with us was going to run out sooner than we would hope and I better get used to the day when we would have to make do without his words. That day has come and I'm not prepared for it despite my preparations.

When my father died it was easy enough to turn from mourning his passing to appreciating that he had spent so much time with his and had lived a full and mostly happy life. So too with Roger's passing we can be thankful that there are 40 years worth of reviews and countless blog posts and articles and op ads that will live forever.

Thanks Roger.