Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Infernal Question

You can ask me about my favorite food (eggs benedict), beer (Widmer), car (1997 Porsche 911 Turbo S, black), bad 80s song (St. Elmo's Fire), Simpsons episode (Homer the Vigilante), military aircraft (A-10 Thunderbolt), Henrik Ibsen play (A Doll's House), Madonna era (short hair, circa 'Cherish') or pre-war Heisman Trophy winner (Nile Kinnick), but I don't know how many more times I can hear 'what's your favorite movie?' without someone (possibly myself) getting hurt.

If not for one of my weaker moments in fourth grade when I responded to this question with RoboCop 2 (which offers a look into just how feelbe-minded I was at that point: putting RoboCop 2 above RoboCop), I cannot think of an instance when I could provide a singular answer to this query. It seems to be a prequisite for being a movie snob (hmm, good idea, more on that in a later post) that you have to list multiple movies in regards to this question. Why is it so easy to have just one favorite of the above categories, yet so sickenly far from one with movies?

It's also essential to note that this question refers to "favorite" movies, and not what I think is the "best" movie, of which I can easily say Citizen Kane. Yes, not the most original answer, but as you may have read, I qualify as a Kane Snob. With my favorite movies, I've never even been able to rank them, preferring rather to keep them to a listing of the 10 most essential movies to me. These films I can pop in at any time and watch, or sometimes need to pop them in, depending on my mood. I am incapable of putting one over another, as my affection for them usually runs in cycles (I always forget just how much I love Jaws). I am always afraid of some snob like me calling my essentials list 'predictable,' only because it would be semi-justified. There are some no-brainers on here, but also a few picks that might surprise some people. Now, in the interest of limiting this post to under 2,000 words, I will not go into full essay mode with these selections. I already have given this treatment to a couple of them, and more may be in the works.

Adam's Essential Ten (in no order):

The Third Man
Some of you may recall a small blurb I wrote about The Third Man in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as I immediately thought of the movie while watching images of the storm's aftermath. This thinking still holds true, as 'The Third Man' is all about the way people react to destruction around them: some continue to live their lives, some crumble like the buildings around them and a few take advantage of the situation. All three of these types collide head on in this 'they don't make 'em like that anymore' thriller/mystery/romance on the streets of post-war Vienna.

This is Spinal Tap
It's rare that you can still laugh at a comedy during the 44th viewing of it, and even rarer that you laugh harder on said viewing than the 43rd viewing. This is Spinal Tap is just this movie for me. I can never make it through Marty DeBergi saying 'they are treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry' without busting up, same goes for 'what's wrong with being sexy?' Then there are the little visual touches that garner even more laughs, such as the few shots in the background of the early interview that show that Tap's castle is probably little more than a set from a high school Hamlet production. I'll never tire of watching this.

The Last of the Mohicans
I touched on my favorite scene in 'Mohicans' in an earlier post, and it's a great example of director Michael Mann's range. He may have been accused of over-using the downtown setpieces he has made famous over the years, and certainly quashed that theory by going back to one of the classics. Mann's unique lens just makes this ageless tale look and sound unlike anything else. He utilizes extended closeups Leone-style to great effect and uses the wilderness setting as almost another character (which he does masterfully with his L.A. movies as well). The last 20 minutes still floor me. Nearly perfect.

The Bridge on the River Kwai
Even with the big budgets and endless CGI shots of today's Hollywood, a better adventure film will never be made. The Great Escape is usually handed this title, but nothing in that film can match the pace, boldness, ferocity and suspense of The Bridge on the River Kwai, whose plot is a dizzying tower of equal parts loyalty, revenge and courage raised to levels that approach stupidity. Through flawless timing and execution, 'Bridge' builds (pun intended) the most suspenseful climax of any movie, ending with one of the most emotional and entertaining payoffs possible.

Alfred Hitchcock was of course known for producing scares, but his best skill was portraying the emotions produced by entrapment and desperation, two of the most common themes in his films. Vertigo is the best example of both, as Hitchcock produces a love story equally twisted as it is tantalizing. The story is so rich I won't even begin to describe it, but what I can gush about is the still wondrous visuals Hitchcock creates, which have a luminescent quality usually reserved for dreams and are graced by Bernard Herrman's most haunting and timeless score. 'Vertigo' draws me in every time, I can't leave it off the list.

Dark City
I just touched on this (not gonna link it, just scroll down dummy) and Dark City is one flick that I find myself liking more every time I pop it in. One note to add to my previous post about it is the brilliant 'Shell Beach' theme, which acts as the beacon that keeps the city's inhabitants going about their daily 'lives.' Somehow, some way they'll get to Shell Beach. The people in the city are able to live like they once did because there was a Shell Beach for them at one time, and they're still trying to find out how to get there.

The Night of the Hunter
I'll always stand by the fact that Robert Mitchum's Harry Powell is the most terrifying character ever put upon audiences. With 'LOVE' and 'HATE' tattooed across his knuckles, Powell is able to slither into people's trust through the guise of a do-good preacher. Yet he also believes that God is standing by all his killings, doing the Lord's work for him. It's Mitchum's performance that creates an air of madness in The Night of the Hunter, ratcheting up the suspense with every passing minute. 'Hunter' also contains a number of haunting scenes that you'll never forget, and one that may be my all-time favorite (watch for the fish hook).

Citizen Kane
Yes, the easy choice, but I can't leave it off. Citizen Kane, outside of its mountain of accolades, remains one of the best combinations of every kind of film genre. It literally has it all, including visuals and editing techniques that forever changed Hollywood. It's still easy for me to put 'Kane' on any time and watch it through. I talked about one of my favorite moments in 'Kane' in a previous posting.

I still feel Jaws is a very under-valued film. Before its release, the fear of sharks that everyone has today was almost non-existant. You can only imagine how scarier 'Jaws' was to audiences in 1975 who had little knowledge of the dangers of sharks. But the suspense still holds up today: the underwater scene with the head (maybe the top 'jump' scare of all time), a swimmer's detached leg gracefully descending to the ocean floor, the way the Orca fills with water so fast and starts to sink. I can't watch the Orca scenes (nearly a separate movie) without feeling like a complete wuss, and I love every minute of it.

Sin City
The newest addition to the list. When I went back and saw it for a second time the day after it came out, I knew it had to be included. While it's definitely not for everyone, it is for me. The cast is simply perfect (Rutger Hauer!?!), the visuals are ground-breaking and the violence is suitably out of this world. Part of the reason I appreciate Sin City so much is how absurdly difficult I know it should have been to port the comic books to the big screen. Take a look at some of Frank Miller's work and you'll see why he's listed as co-director, because the film is literally a shot-by-shot remake. Can't do without it, and cannot wait for the sequels.


Aleah said...

Not "The Wild Duck"?

Adam Ross said...

Okay I'll admit it: I like any Ibsen play that has a character named 'Hedwig' in it, that may eliminate about two of his works.

Mike Sheffler said...

Did you ever see that SNL cartoon (it was one of the Robert Smigel ones) where Mr. T crashes the set of a production of 'A Doll's House'?

Mr. T: I wanna play Torvald!

Adam Ross said...

"But we already have a cast!"

"I need work!"